Friday, November 27, 2009

New video shows censored portions of Abtahi's confession

A new video of a jailed opposition figure's confessions was released by a group close to the Islamic regime in mid-November, but the footage went unnoticed until it was posted by a former reformist legislator on Wednesday. (video and translation at the end of this report)

Akbar Alami, representative from Tabriz in the past two legislatures, posted the footage of Mohammad Ali Abtahi, a former vice president in the government of reformist President Mohammad Khatami, on his personal web site. The new video, initially released by the hardliner group Bachehayeh Ghalam, appears to show segments of Abtahi's court confession which were censored from the state radio-television's extensive coverage.

Abtahi, a senior aide to opposition leader Mehdi Karroubi and a member of the reformist Association of Combatant Clerics, was arrested shortly after the disputed election of June 12. He was among the dozens of personalities who were brought before a show trial at the beginning of August.

Abtahi made what was widely believed to be a coerced confession in court. On August 2, he and Mohammad Atrianfar, a senior member of the Executives of Construction party close to Assembly of Experts head Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, appeared in a televised 'news conference' and again admitted to their supposed transgressions and denied that they had been tortured or fed psychotropic drugs in prison. (A translation of the transcript of an Iranian state radio program on the August 2 'news conference' can be read on Juan Cole's blog.)

Abtahi was sentenced to six years in prison and released on bail of 700 million toumans (about $700,000) on Sunday, November 22.

The reasons for the circulation of the new footage at this particular moment are uncertain, but former Tabriz representative Akbar Alami's critical tone on his blog towards Abtahi and the enormous number of comments it has provoked indicates that at least one consequence has been a rift among some reformists.

'During the time Mr. Abtahi spent in prison, he accused a number of individuals and groups of deviation and committing distasteful and illegal activities,' says Alami on his blog. 'Now that he is outside prison and has access to the media and his own web site, public opinion expects him to clearly express his official and honest position on the comments he made while incarcerated.'

Many users criticized Alami for his unflinching stand and said that some individuals, like Abtahi, had succumbed to pressure in prison. Alami responded, 'Dear friend, in politics they don't only hand out sweets. A person who seeks to become a fighter must also accept threats and pressure, as Khosro Golesorkhi did.' (NB Golesorkhi was a Communist activist who was executed by the Shah's government in 1974. He refused to repent during his trial, an act which would have saved his life. When the judge told him to present his final defense, he said, 'I have nothing to say in my defense. I can only speak in defense of my people.' the following is a video of that trial, which was televised:)

Alami continued, 'They've set up five serious court cases against me for insulting sanctities, the Revolutionary Guards, the Basij... Should I, because of these threats, stop writing and speaking about justice and start flattering the authorities and justify their actions and deny my own beliefs and insult other people? I just want to know what happened in prison and whether the confessions of Abtahi and Shariati and Hajjarian and Atrianfar were voiced out of conviction.'

In another response to a comment, Alami points out that some jailed figures such as Behzad Nabavi and Mostafa Tajzadeh, senior members of the Organization of the Mojahedin of the Islamic Revolution, have not implicated anyone in the show trials.

Alami was disqualified by the Guardian Council from running in the 2008 legislative elections. According to Rooz online, one of Alami's serious transgressions was a speech he made in Zanjan in 2007. In that address, Alami had said, 'Imam Hussein can form a cabinet too, but because I have taken an oath to ‎defend the rights of the people and the nation’s interests, if I determine that the Imam’s ‎cabinet has undermined the Constitution, I will impeach that Imam’s cabinet.'

Some of the information from the new footage, particularly Abtahi's account of an alleged meeting between opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi, Khatami, and Rafsanjani on June 13, had already been revealed by dailies and news services close to the regime at the time of the show trials.

'Mr. Mousavi, Mr. Hashemi Rafsanjani, and Mr. Khatami held a joint meeting on the Saturday right after the election,' says Abtahi in the video. 'That day, the group established a very strong support front for Mr. Mousavi.'

However, it is primarily the new information in the videotaped confession that may provide the most concrete clues as to the source of the footage and the motives for its release.

Abtahi clearly states that Mousavi began opposing the regime out of ignorance. 'Mr. Mousavi really had no idea about what was going on in the country,' says Abtahi. This places Mousavi in a much more lenient light than Khatami and Rafsanjani who are accused respectively of being treacherous and vengeful.

A number of senior conservative figures within in the regime, including former Majlis Speaker and Khamenei confidant Gholam Ali Haddad Adel, have been working on a plan to re-establish 'national unity' between conservatives and reformists in order to resolve the post-election crisis. They have strived to isolate and neutralize 'extreme elements' on both sides of the equation -- people like former Tehran Prosecutor Saeed Mortazavi on the right and Ayatollah Youssef Saanei among the reformists -- as they try to provide Mousavi with a face-saving way to come in from the cold. Branding Mousavi as a sheep who has strayed from the flock may be their misguided attempt to achieve this. These efforts have failed miserably thus far.

Ayatollah Saanei, an extremely vocal critic of the regime, is incidentally mentioned in Abtahi's truncated confessions which implicate not only reformist clerics in the Ghom seminaries, but also the Association of Combatant Clerics which is close to Khatami and Etemad Melli party chief Mehdi Karroubi.

But the veiled warnings do not stop there. Rafsanjani is roundly accused by Abtahi of being one of the masterminds behind the plot for the 'soft overthrow' of the regime. As the head of the Assembly of Experts, he is one of the few men in Iran who has the nominal power to replace Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. Rafsanjani is widely believed to have met with other members of the Assembly of Experts after the post-election unrest to at least discuss the possible dismissal of Khamenei.

It is interesting to note that the only other person to be accused in the new footage is Majid Ansari, a member of the Assembly of Experts.


Video and translation:

The following is a translation of Mohammad Ali Abtahi's statements on the new footage(To download the video from Akbar Alami's web site, click here.):

Mohammad Ali Abtahi:
He (NB opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi) also made the false assumption that he was a part of the regime, the revolution, and the line of the Imam (NB Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini), and because he thought he was a part of the regime, the revolution, and the line of the Imam, he had no hesitation to say among some friends that he was closer to the Imam than even the Supreme Leader (NB Ayatollah Ali Khamenei). Whereas we often joked in our meetings that if it weren't for the Imam's daily intercessions while he was Prime Minister (NB Mousavi was prime minister from 1981 to 1989), he would not have been able to run the country's everyday affairs and that it was the Imam's daily support that allowed him to carry out everyday tasks. He thought that the line of the Imam was his own personal property and that, under this banner, he could garner the votes of the people who felt close to the Imam.
[Tape is cut] of them was a a joint meeting held by Mr. Mousavi, Mr. Hashemi Rafsanjani (NB head of the Assembly of Experts and the Expediency Council), and Mr. Khatami (NB former reformist President Mohammad Khatami) on the Saturday right after the election (NB June 13). That day, the group established a very strong support front for Mr. Mousavi. Then, from that same place, a message was dispatched to the [holy city of] Ghom seminaries, saying, If you also support us, it will be very significant in the current circumstances. Some marajeh (NB sources of emulation or very senior clerics) from the Ghom seminaries... Ayatollah Saanei... declared, If you ask us, we will extend our support. They sent a letter to Ayatollah Saanei and other marajeh in order to get the support of the Ghom seminaries. The Association of Combatant Clerics held a meeting that afternoon and called for the annulment of the election... an election in which 40 million ballots had been cast... they called for the annulment of the election. That was another serious false assumption by Mr. Mousavi, who thought that these groups supported him because of Mr. Mousavi himself, his views, or his statements, whereas they did not abandon Mr. Mousavi because of their own interests. I believe... and I apologize to the two or three people that I'm about to name. I do not intend to insult them. I'm just saying this because I believe it... Mr. Mousavi got into this situation out of ignorance. Mr. Khatami got into it because of betrayal. Mr. Hashemi Rafsanjani got into it out of revenge. Mr. Mousavi really had no idea about what was going on in the country, that's why I say out of ignorance. Mr. Khatami, on the contrary, knew full well about the authority of the government, the regime, the authority of the security forces, the judiciary... the spiritual authority of the Imam in the country... He knew about all of this, and yet because he wanted to take revenge for his own defeat in that situation where he had given his support to Mr. Mousavi, he induced Mr. Mousavi to beat that drum. And I believe that Mr. Hashemi Rafsanjani wanted to take revenge on Mr. Ahmadinejad because of the clashes he had with him over the past few years and, also in a way, to take revenge on the Supreme Leader... revenge indirectly on the Supreme Leader and directly on Mr. Ahmadinejad. These were the reasons for those developments. Their support was not, as Mr. Mousavi thought, really the kind of support--
[Tape is cut] the elections, I really underline the strength, determination, and the actions of Mr. Rafsanjani and the Executives of Construction party (NB close to Rafsanjani). The Executives and Mr. Rafsanjani had broad political and financial means. For Mr. Rafsanjani, rivalry with Mr. Ahmadinejad and getting rid of him were... principles that if he could get to this principle in any way possible, he worked towards that end. I... ummm... see the movements of the Executives and Mr. Rafsanjani as significant movements.
[Tape is cut]
I was at that the meeting of the Association of Combatant Clerics which is affiliated with the Imam and whose members are all clerics. Mr. Majid Ansari was there.. I don't know if they'll broadcast this or not, but it's an interesting point... Mr. Majid Ansari was there and he's a member of the Expediency Council (NB and the Assembly of Experts) and a member of the Imam's office. He sought to quickly release a statement in support of Mr. Mousavi that very Saturday. He said, We'll put this on the Association's web site right away, then two minutes later it will be on Ghalam News, which was a site that belonged to Mr. Mousavi and was run by one of his supporters. We asked, What happens next? He said, From Ghalam News it will go on the BBC's ticker tape three minutes later. Meaning that it would take that path with that speed...

'Who's on first?': Ahmadinejad-Chavez press conference turns into farce

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, self-professed religious millenarian, and Hugo Chavez, Socialist atheist, share a few moments of confusion as they try to sort out the difference between Imam Mahdi, the 12th Imam and Messiah of Shiites, and Imam Reza, the 8th Imam who is buried in the Imam Reza Shrine in Mashhad, Iran. Ahmadinejad invited Chavez to come on a pilgrimage to Mashhad.

The rest, as they say, is comedic history...

(For those unfamiliar with the 'Who's on first?' reference, click here)