Thursday, April 15, 2010

Former President Khatami prevented from traveling to Japan, say opposition legislators

Former reformist President Mohammad Khatami was prevented from traveling to a nuclear disarmament conference in Hiroshima, Japan, on Thursday, April 15, 2010, according to Parleman News, the news site of the Imam Line Faction of the Majlis.

Parleman News cited an 'informed source' as saying, 'This evening (Thursday), Seyed Mohammad Khatami was supposed to travel to Hiroshima, Japan, to attend the annual conference on nuclear disarmament.' But, according to the source, Khatami was banned from traveling abroad.

It is unclear from this article whether the alleged measure against the former president was taken at Tehran's Imam Khomeini Airport as he was preparing to leave the country or whether Khatami was informed of the travel ban before embarking on the visit. But Serajeddin Mirdamadi, a reformist journalist who is generally considered reliable, told Radio Farda today that according to information he had managed to obtain, the Islamic Republic's Foreign Ministry informed Khatami of the ban before the trip and that Khatami's office had been unable to get an explanation despite repeated requests to the ministry.

Ghodratollah Alikhani, an outspoken reformist member of the Majlis, said on Friday, April 16, that Khatami was not under any travel restrictions, but that 'because of some interests which have been determined in some circles, Mr. Khatami was respectfully asked not to participate in this conference.'

Neither Khatami's personal site, nor those of his two foundations, the Baran Foundation and the International Institute for Dialogue Among Cultures and Civilizations, commented on the news related by Parleman News. (Khatami's personal site does however deny another report in regime-affiliated outlets, according to which he recently met Ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani and discussed opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi's shortcomings.)

The news about the travel ban could have been planted by one of the Islamic Republic's intelligence services which regularly employ disinformation as a tool of psychological warfare. Khatami, who along with Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi is considered one of the leaders of the opposition, could be the target of a campaign to belittle and insult him.

In early March, the semi-official Fars News Agency, close to the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, reported that a travel ban had been imposed on Khatami. The report was subsequently denied by Khatami's lawyer, Mahmoud Alizadeh Tabatabie. (For the March report on this blog, please click here) The next day, on March 10, Javan newspaper, close to the regime, accused Khatami of wearing a suit instead of clerical garb in his new passport photograph. (For this blog's report, please click here).

But media outlets close to the regime are also good barometers of things to come. Analysts read newspapers like Keyhan, run by Leader Ali Khamanei's representative Hossein Shariatmadari, on a daily basis to glean not only what is happening in the backrooms of power, but also to determine the marching orders of the regime's various bodies.

Fars news and other news sources close to the government have been strangely silent about this alleged development. It would have been expected that they would at least gloat. Consequently the silence appears orchestrated. Khabar online, purported by some to be close to Majlis Speaker and Ahmadinejad rival Ali Larijani, posted a piece on the alleged travel ban without citing Parleman News.

Were the March stories simply attempts to humiliate Khatami and take away some of his presidential aura or were they trial balloons, hoisted to see the reaction of the body politic and also to herald things to come?

Alireza Nourizadeh, director of the Center for Arab and Iranian Studies, in London, told the Voice of America that he believed Khatami was already under a travel ban at the time of the Fars report, but that he had denied the news to save face and not rock the boat. This time, however, Nourizadeh said, Khatami was officially invited to the conference in Japan and was unable to issue a credible denial.

The veracity of the Parleman News report cannot be confirmed.

This blog was unable to find a nuclear disarmament conference taking place in Hiroshima until reader Wiitekr pointed out that the InterAction Council will be holding its 28th annual meeting in that city from April 18 to 20. (For the press release, please click here)

Whatever the truth -- the Khatami camp will have to issue a denial or confirmation in time -- this is the first instance that a news source which is not close to the regime has reported that such an unprecedented step has been taken against the popular former president.