Inside Iran's Remarkable Show Trials

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on August 4, 2009

Iran's Show Trials

It cannot be emphasized enough that what is going on in Iran is nothing short of remarkable. Despite the crackdown imposed by the regime, the lack of press coverage that is going on in the country thanks to the regime’s decision to kick out the foreign press corps, and the degree to which the protesters are outmatched by the awesome power of the state, the reformist movement in Iran perseveres in its effort to change the country for the better.

One just does not encounter courage like that everyday.

Much has happened in Iran within the past few days to merit international attention. There were demonstrations to commemorate the deaths of people like Neda Agha Soltan, and others who were killed as a consequence of election day violence. Unsurprisingly, those demonstrations were broken up by regime thugs, conscious of the political power of martyrdom and eager to ensure that martyrdom was in no way displayed or used as a vehicle by which to rally the elements of the opposition against the regime. Pleasingly, the State Department denounced the use of force as “disturbing,” and made statements supporting the rights of the demonstrators to speak up on behalf of their rights. Why this rhetorical support could not have been lent to the reformist movement when the disturbances began is anyone’s guess, but when it comes to Iran, the Obama Administration has chosen to work in mysterious ways.

In any event, the reformist movement is relatively united. Not so, it appears, with the hardliners, given that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad himself has to deny reports of a rift between himself on one hand, and Ali Khamene’i, the Supreme Leader (along with Khamene’i's followers) on the other. Increasingly, it has become clear that Ahmadinejad is an embarrassment to the hardliners, which says something; when the regime’s hardliners find a particular individual distasteful, it speaks volumes to the degree that particular individual may have placed himself outside the mainstream of Iranian political life.

Of course, no accounting of what has gone on in Iran over the past few days will be complete without reference to show trials that demonstrate the depths of the regime’s barbarism and illegitimacy:

The Iranian authorities opened an extraordinary mass trial against more than 100 opposition figures on Saturday, accusing them of conspiring with foreign powers to stage a revolution through terrorism, subversion, and a media campaign to discredit last month’s presidential election.

The trial, coming just days before President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is to be sworn in for a second term, signaled an intensified government attack on the opposition movement, which maintains that the June 12 election was rigged and continues to muster widespread street protests.

The accusations read out in the courtroom were a broadside against virtually every major figure associated with reform in Iran, going well beyond those actually arrested. State television broadcast images of the defendants, who included a former vice president and a Newsweek reporter, as well as some of the reform movement’s best-known spokesmen, clad in prison uniforms and listening as prosecutors outlined their accusations in a large marble-floored courtroom. Some were shackled.

Opposition leaders angrily disputed the accusations on Saturday and protested that the defendants had had no access to lawyers or to details of the charges against them.

The show trials, and the charges that have led to them, are so transparently ludicrous, that they have prompted people like Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani–normally a mainstay of the regime, but recently, a firm critic of its actions–to denounce the show trials as detracting from any remaining vestiges of legitimacy for the regime. But no matter. The regime is prepared to charge people far and wide for the disturbances that have resulted from its decision to steal the election on behalf of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, facts be damned. No amount of opprobrium resulting from its actions appears to be enough to cause the regime to hold back, at least in the short term.

Despite all of this, despite the many obstacles in their path, the Iranian people seek to endure, seek to overcome the governmental impediments to their own collective pursuit of political and individual liberty. The story of Iran appears to have faded somewhat into the background; we know that the protests are continuing, but we are distracted by stories concerning Michael Jackson, or Sarah Palin, or beer summits at the White House. It remains a surpassing pity that so little attention is being paid to so momentous an event in Iran. Perhaps if more attention were paid, the reformists would find it somewhat easier to carry out their efforts to liberalize their country. Iran’s democrats could use a little of the world’s help. And the world has an interest in seeing Iran’s democrats succeed.

Read more at Pejman Yousefzadeh’s blog.

  • collectakon

    While all peoples deserve to control their government, don't get to Pollyanna here. Up until now, the Iranians DID have what they claimed, an Islamic Republic. The protesters are protesting the removal of the Republic, only. While a different administration in Tehran might be more open to some level of talks, even co-operation with the U.S., nether their nuclear ambitions, nor their hostility towards Israel, will much diminish.

  • collectakon

    While all peoples deserve to control their government, don't get to Pollyanna here. Up until now, the Iranians DID have what they claimed, an Islamic Republic. The protesters are protesting the removal of the Republic, only. While a different administration in Tehran might be more open to some level of talks, even co-operation with the U.S., nether their nuclear ambitions, nor their hostility towards Israel, will much diminish.

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