Saeed Hajjarian: Destruction of a Hero


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.


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