Published in “Die ZEIT” on September 30, 2009

An English translation kindly provided by Paleene can be read at

Published in “Die Tageszeitung” on September 28, 2009

The Iranian nuclear policy is first of all supposed to help Iran
Distraction politics with no end

Shortly before the start of new negotiations on the Iranian nuclear program, Iran once again is heading for a collision course: the provocative statements made by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at the UN General Assembly, the announcement of a new nuclear plant, and testing of new missiles.

“Why all this?” one might wonder. Even those in power should, after all, be aware that escalating conflicts will only unite the international community closer against the country. Even Russia has already joined the demands for tougher sanctions of the West, and China is to follow soon.

As for the reasons for choosing this high-risk approach, we are of course limited to speculations. An almost obvious answer is that Iran’s leaders believe that, by confronting the outside world, they will be able to divert attention from the severe crisis at home that has been going on since the presidential election in June.
The external enemy and the dangers threatening the country’s existence are supposed to reconcile the deeply divided population.

Also, the hint at threats from abroad are to legitimize the increasing repression against the opposition. In this atomic atmosphere it is much easier to declare critics as collaborators, protest movements as orchestrated from abroad. This is exactly the strategy that was pursued at the beginning of the Islamic Republic.
During the eight years of the Iran-Iraq war, tens of thousands of dissidents were executed. It is highly questionable, however, if this strategy will still work today. Back in the early years of revolution, the population almost solidly stood behind the new regime. Today, a vast majority of the population is supporting the opposition.

Published in weekly magazine “Stern” on September 24 2009

Published in “Sueddeutsche Zeitung”, September 15, 2009

By T. Avenarius
Clerics in Iran demand explanations for the violence imposed on the opposition – also from spiritual leader Khamenei himself.

Iran’s judiciary takes to court more opponents of the regime, while at the same time the spiritual leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, himself faces pressure from parts of the establishment who demand explanations. As was reported, a film maker who was until now known to stand behind the regime is now said to have addressed Khamenei, saying: “Your security forces did shoot, kill and beat people, destroy their property. Your share in the responsibilities for these actions must not remain unnamed”, wrote Mohammad Nourizad in an open letter which, according to the news agency Associated Press, was published on the internet.

To demand an excuse from Khamenei, the Supreme Leader of the country who has the last word on all political and religious questions, in the Islamic Republic is a form of injury to the Majesty. It shows to what extent Khamenei’s authority has been damaged by the events of the last months. As it said, Nourizad had pointed out that until now he had been supporting Khamenei, now, however, the freedom of speech was in danger. As the film maker continued: “You as the most powerful man of the nation have not admitted even one single mistake.”

In Iran, after the controversial presidential election of June 12, massive protests against the alleged victory of the incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had taken place. Police and pro-regime militias have confronted the opposition members in a violent crackdown, many were arrested, detained and tortured.

Meanwhile, even renowned Shia clerics have come forth against the regime with even more lucid criticism. Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, for example, called on his high ranking colleagues to finally take up a stance on the recent incidents: “In the eyes of the people, their oppression is a violation of Islam. How is it possible that the highest ranking clerics remain silent?”
Montazeri, who is a renowned theologian, had been one of the close fellows of the leader of the revolution, Ayatollah Rouhollah Khomeini. He was supposed to be his successor, but was sidelined. For a long time he has been critical about Khamenei.

Also, a grandson of Ayatollah Khomeini, who in Iran is worshipped like a saint, has showed his disapproval. Hasan Khomeini paid a visit to an opposition member right after his release from prison: Ali Reza Beheshti, who as well descended from a well-known clerical family, is the advisor of opposition leader Mousavi. Even before that, Hasan Khomeini had snubbed the controversial President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad: On occasion of a ceremony he had refused to greet the President at the shrine of Ayatollah Khomeini.

Such criticism emerging from clerical circles for the leadership of the Islamic Republic around Khamenei and Ahmadinejad bears more explosive potential than the conflict with a secular-acting opposition: It can question the basis of the foundations of the regime.

Published in “Der Spiegel” 38/2009. September 14, 2009

Student movement activist Abed Tavancheh, 28, on countrywide protests on the occasion of next week’s opening of the acedemic term

SPIEGEL: With the re-opening of the universities, will the students become a spearhead for the opposition?

Tavancheh: I assume so – even the regime is expecting it. Already, security forces have been placed on the campuses. Friends told me that even the dormitories are crowded with spies and police forces. Nevertheless, many are going to protest.

SPIEGEL: Are you ready to risk an open confrontation with the troops of the regime?

Tavancheh: The atmosphere is emotionally charged, even a small spark will be enough to trigger an explosion. Maybe more people will lose their lives. But violence against students would provoke further protests within the population.

SPIEGEL: The students would give the regime a reason to close the universities.

Tavancheh: Apart from those who are worrying about their degrees, in Tehran alone tens of thousands of students side with the opposition. If the wave of protests rises again, most of them will care for freedom more than for their degrees.

SPIEGEL: Can you count on the support of the professors?

Tavancheh: Some professors have sold themselves to the leadership, but the others are with us. Several professors had to pay for their attitudes, they were forced into early retirement.

SPIEGEL: Revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei thinks that, above all, students of the humanities are infected with the virus of reform, he intends to have the respective faculties closely examined. Will this put the “academic freedom” at risk, as former President Mohammad Khatami warned?

Tavancheh: The purges have started four years ago, when President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad came to power. What we are witnessing now is only the latest stage of Iran’s Cultural Revolution. Even now, a part of the faculty members consists of revolutionary militias. And so-called disciplinary committees ensure that educational bans pour down on the students like autumn leaves.

Published in: “Süddeutsche Zeitung”, September 12, 2009

Published in “Die Zeit”, September 9, 2009
By Martin Gehlen

For the first time in 20 years, the Qadr Nights, a festival of religious speeches, will be cancelled in Iran. Out of fear of the opposition the regime no longer likes to celebrate.

The entire Muslim world is celebrating Ramadan – only the Islamic Republic of Iran is cancelling their Islamic holidays. Although the regime has defeated any rebellion in the streets since the unrests started. But religious celebrations can easily turn into a new showdown with the people – and there is no lack of occasions, such as the three Qadr Nights at the mausoleum of the founder of the Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, which begin on Wednesday evening and will be broadcast live normally in the Iranian state television.

The Qadr Nights are a time for spiritual talk, and the former president Mohammed Khatami was supposed to give a speech. Oppositional websites expected about four million visitors to participate in this event, and the opposition leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi had announced their presence as well. Now the regime has pulled the emergency brake and demanded that Ayatollah Khomeinis grandson, Hassan Khomeini, who as the prinicpal of the mausoleum is in charge with organizing the event, disinvite Mr Khatami.

However, he refused to do so, instead cancelling the entire celebration “due to problems to which the mausoleum is exposed.” Since Khomeini’s death 20 years ago this is unprecedented. The 37-year-old cleric is considered to be a supporter of Mir Hossein Mousavi. He and the entire Khomeini family did ostentatiously not attend the official appointment and inauguration of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Moreover, also the non-oppositional Iranian elite is anything but homogeneous: the President now had to face criticisms of the Supreme Leader of the Revolution, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, for the first time. The latter warned him of overestimating his powers and criticized the fact that Ahmadinejad had appointed friends instead of professionals to his new ministerial team.

But Khamenei, who is to hold the Friday prayers in Tehran this week for the second time since June 12, now also prefers to refrain from taking risks on occasions of public events. His traditional speech at the end of the fasting month, traditionally delivered to a large audience, has been transferred to a smaller location, reports Etemad, a newspaper associated with the opposition.
And no sooner was this organized, the next problem was approaching: “Jerusalem day”, launched in 1979 by the founder of the state, Khomeini and normally used as a government-organized rally against Israel.

Mehdi Karroubi called on the supporters of the “green movement” for a massive turnout in the streets on 18 September. “Then we again will experience the power of the people,” he said. “And we’ll see which side is supported by the people.” The alerted regime responded by having raided and sealed Karroubi’s personal office, and arresting his close associate, the former mayor of Tehran Morteza Alviri. This was while Iran’s police chief issued a dubious and sharp: “Jerusalem Day is meant to support the oppressed Palestinian people and to condemn the occupying forces. It should not be misused for political purposes,” he stated.

Published in “Die Zeit” on September 6, 2009
By: Charlotte Wiedemann

Show trial against the opposition: The regime in Tehran puts Iran’s most prominent reformer Saeed Hajjarian on trial

This is a summary of the article (by Julia)

The article starts by briefly and rather affectionately introducing Saeed Hajjarian, with whom the author seems to have met eight months prior to the publishing of this article.
Mr Hajjarian’s dramatic biography starts at the age of 18, when he hurls himself right into the struggle against the Shah – well-read, talented, rather leftist, the young engineer becomes a revolutionary of the first hour. From the very beginning he is concerned with the safety of the still-young Islamic Republik. He founds an anti-espionage committee, builds up the Secret Service.
In the late eighties, his concern for the survival of the Islamic Republic leads him to think in terms of change. After revealing the violations committed by his former colleagues at the intelligence service, he is punished by a bullet in an attempted assassination which leaves him partially paralyzed and with great difficulties in speaking.
In the week prior to the release of this article, Hajjarian appeared in Teheran’s show trial with an absurd confession of self-abasement, which has to be read to the court for him by his – likewise accused – confidant, his mouthpiece in political meetings. Hajjarian apologizes to the nation and students for his political theories, for his recommendations of Western literature, for the application of Max Weber on the analysis of the Iranian power structure. In the end he announces, together with his confidant, his resignation from the most important reformist Mosharekat Party.

What has happened to this man in the two months of his imprisonment? Iranian prisoners after their release tell on the Internet about the brainwashing they were subjected to.
When in late June rumors circulated that Hajjarian had died in custody, his wife – a doctor – was allowed a brief visit. As she told Human Rights Watch later, her husband was under severe pressure, had even cried. Most of the 140 people accused in the show trial are completely isolated from the outside world. Once, when the figures in their grey pajamas were escorted back from the Revolutionary Court to the prison vehicles, some wives managed to call out the names of their husbands, shouting: “Dear, you’re a hero. Many stand behind you. ”

In the evening of the same day clips from the process are broadcasted in the state television news. The first trial many Iranians were to witness was that of the popular cleric and former vice president Mohammed Ali Abtahi, a was spectacular, shocking sight. Since then, the state television as a whole has been facing declining viewing figures, artists and intellectuals boycotting talk shows, and the angry old Grand Ayatollah Montazeri once again raising his voice of dissent: The salaries at the state TV were haram, sinful, for they are a reward for supporting suppression.

Convinced supporters may consider the show trials as a confirmation. Apolitical Iranians feel rather disgusted. A Tehran grocer in his thirties says on the the appearance of the accused in pajamas and slippers “I would be ashamed to death if they publicly presented me like that and my wife saw it.” To see high-ranking people so humiliated makes him sad.

Older Iranians know the phenomenon of false TV-confessions from the early years of the revolution. Some historical examples are, almost like a consolation, available on YouTube. Reformists tried to respond with solidarity, at least on the Internet. Writes Hanif Mazrui, a prominent blogger: “Your resignation is not accepted. Your empty chairs are waiting for you. ”

Nevertheless, the case of Hajjarian illustrates a defeat that goes far beyond the defeat of an individual. “Creating pressure from the bottom, negotiating at the top,” has been his strategy for change from a decade ago: Developing a civil society, but within the set framework of the Islamic Republic. Now, for the second time, he has become symbol for the weakness of those reformers inherent to the system.

The attempt to liquidate him physically happened in March 2000 in broad daylight, in the center of Tehran. For three years, with President Khatami in office, Hajjarian was his closest adviser, while still a city councilor and an editor in chief. The guards on Paradise Street did not move when the perpetrators approached Hajjarian on a motorcycle and shot him in the face. – In one of his papers he had published revelations about the so-called chain murders, the assassination of many intellectuals in the nineties.

He was in a coma for 2 weeks, young Iranians waiting around the clock outside the hospital. When he woke up, he could only move his eyes. Iranian surgeons from abroad treated him for free. It took him years to regain life, language. As a martyr, he is loved, respected, idealized.

Like all the leading reformers, Hajjarian has never publicly reviewed his past, has never publicly admitted to any kind of responsibility or guilt. He is quoted saying: “I have been a reformer for 33 years.” Only few people get irritated by this – he remains a screen of projections in the search for identity, for hope. Paralyzed, yet not broken.

Exactly for this he was arrested three days after the election. Many Iranians are shocked – to again go after this man has a touch of cowardice. But some still have a score to settle with him. Those who are put on the show trials, as a matter of fact, are not those youngsters, fed up with the political system and driven to the streets by their hunger for political freedom. The defendants are a key link between the youngsters and the system: gray-haired men who, like Hajjarian, are flesh of the flesh of the Islamic Republic. This is an opportunity to get over with them at last.

The show trial is just one of many stages for the power struggle in Tehran. The fronts of this struggle is not just between hawks and doves, between reaction and reform. The bitter struggle over the character of the state takes place right inside the heart of the system, in and between its core institutions.
As soon as the prosecutor had called for a show trial against Hajjarian, in which the ultimate punishment is a potential death sentence, the revolutionary leader Ali Khamenei came up with a surprising response: There is no evidence that “the leaders of the recent events” had connections to foreign countries. President Ahmadinejad immediately contradicted – unprecedented in the Islamic Republic. Ahmadinejad is trying to gain independence, more than any president before. He is the first to appoint female ministers. But what does he want? Turn the semi-democratic Republic into an Islamic state?

Within days, Khamenei has placed opponents of the omnipotent plans of Ahmadinejad and the Revolutionary Guards into the judiciary. The new Chief of Judiciary, Sadegh Larijani, immediately removed from office Iran’s most dreadful lawyer: the Tehran prosecutor Saeed Mortazavi who has been accused of torture and murder.

Three committees are now investigating serious human rights violations, especially in prisons. In the so-called Truth Commission of the Parliament, there is a struggle between advocates of Enlightenment and of cover-ups – both are conservatives, and the subject of their struggle could hardly be more precarious. It’s a huge accusation: that women were raped in prisons, as well as men. A well-known journalist personally told Khamenei of his rape.

The Islamic Republic shows some weakness – more than ever before. This shows how uncertain the future is.