Iran’s Reformist Karroubi: “Take to the streets, be brave”


Published on the website of German weekly magazine “Spiegel” on 28. April 2010
Source (German),1518,691638,00.html
English translation provided by @germantoenglish

Mehdi Karroubi in an interview with Dieter Bednarz

Although he is placed under surveillance by Iran’s regime, reformist cleric Mehdi Karroubi is not to be intimidated. In an interview with SPIEGEL ONLINE, the prominent opposition leader talks about torture and rape in prisons, and also about renewed protests on the anniversary of the rigged election.

Mehdi Karrubi: The prominent reformist cleric is being consistently isolated from visitors

[Part 1]
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Mr Karroubi, until just now, two guards were standing in front of your house. Has the regime placed you under house arrest?

Karroubi: I would not put it this way. I am still allowed to leave the house. But they have dissolved my political party “Etemad-e Melli” (“National Trust”) and my office, my newspaper of the same name was banned. And I am always surrounded by police. Whoever wants to visit me – be it members of parliament, intellectuals, friends – will be registered, questioned, and must expect to face consequences.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Are your activities being monitored by the intelligence service?

Karroubi: The Persian language has a nice metaphor: The walls have mice, and the mice have ears, therefore, the walls are able to listen. Apart from that, the regime has seconded 14 people to ensure my so-called safety. They are supposed to “protect me from terrorists”, as I was told. However, the real purpose is to gather information. In case I will be killed, I highly recommend to check whether the perpetrator belongs to the circle of my protectors.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Despite the repression of the past months you have not lost your sense of humour.

Karroubi: Should I allow my opponents to wear me down? No. I was imprisoned under the Shah, I fought for this revolution together with Imam Khomeini. This state is my child that I will not abandon as long as I live.

“They severely abused my youngest son”

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Many people are not able to stand as firm against the pressure of the regime as you do. They are very afraid.

Karroubi: Yes, our people bear a great burden, and there is great fear. The people know the massive presence of police and militias that is ready to confront them. They know what to expect when they dare to revolt: They lose their jobs, their posts, their future. They face beatings, arrests, interrogations, and even worse things. This is the reason for the calm.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Do you still stick to your claims that arrested opposition supporters were tortured to death?

Karroubi: Of course I did not personally witness these incidents, but I trust the sources who provided the information. I know of four deaths that were caused by torture.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: The regime, that is flying the flag of virtue, was especially annoyed by your claim that even rapes took place.

Karroubi: I know of five cases: Three women and two men who were raped. Whatever they threaten to do to me: I stick to what I said. I was physically assaulted for this during a Friday prayer. But should I renounce my conviction because of this?

SPIEGEL ONLINE: The situation in the prisons is dismayingly reminiscent of the terrible times under Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.

Karroubi: There are two differences: Under the Shah, torture was carried out systematically, by “experts”. Today it is different. The cases of torture are excesses, breaches of some individuals who did not act on behalf of the leadership. Unlike today, though, at that time people were at least allowed to publicly grieve for the victims. This was beneficial for their souls.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Do you fear to become a victim of those torturers yourself?

Karroubi: No. We don’t have a system of torturers. Apart from that, I am a disciple of Imam Khomeini who had only three guiding principles: Steadfastness, honesty, and readiness to fight.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Isn’t it merely a matter of time before they will arrest you as well? Most of your staff have already been arrested.

Karroubi: They have taken away so many that I am unable to give an exact number. I estimate that about 50 of my combatants were captured, among them many important helpers, like the manager of my weblog. My youngest son Ali, 37, was severely abused.

SPIEGEL's editor Dieter Bednarz met with Karroubi in his house in Tehran.

Part 2: “Sanctions mean further hardships for the people”

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Does the former Prime Minister Hossein Moussavi, who like you ran against Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in the presidential elections of June 12 and whom many regard as the true winner, continue to stand at your side?

Karroubi: We still are in close contact, exchange letters, talk on the phone. At least once a month we meet for private talks. Our aides meet much more often, though. Mr. Moussavi and I work for the same goals: We do not want to change the system. Our constitution does guarantee freedom of opinion and democracy. We want those rights to be implemented.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: But the reformist movement has quietened down.

Karroubi: The streets are quiet. But don’t let yourself be fooled. Every day the ideas of reform continue to spread. The people are just waiting for a spark.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: And you are going to light that spark?

Karroubi: We are calling for another peaceful gathering on the anniversary of our mass demonstration of 15. June, when about 3 million people protested against the manipulation of election results. We have already applied for authorisation.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: The regime has issued a ban on demonstrations because it fears a show of force of your movement. It is very unlikely that this ban will be lifted on occasion of this anniversary.

Karroubi: It is important that we encourage people to continue protesting. Without violence, but with full determination.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: This means that new bloodshed is preprogrammed.

Karroubi: This government is brilliant in increasing the people’s dissatisfaction. Therefore, the people despite all misgivings will sooner or later revolt against the aggressive foreign policy, the lousy economic policy. I feel sorry for every single further victim. You can not imagine how much this affects me. But what else can we do? Give up? No, the people would be very disappointed if we urged them to stay home. They want us to encourage them, to tell them: Take to the streets, be brave.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: How much influence do you and Mr. Moussavi have on the movement today?

Karroubi: What has happened was a result of accumulated anger. The protestors share our call for freedom, they merely demand what is rightfully theirs.

“Ahmadinejad is a calamity for the people”

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Other demands have been voiced that go beyond that, though: The system must be abolished, the revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei must resign.

Karroubi: Very few people go as far as that. The vast majority says: We had a revolution, that’s enough. We don’t want a radical change, we want our prior course to be corrected.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: The UN Security Council will most likely issue another resolution for stricter sanctions soon, because the regime does not cooperate on the nuclear issue. Do you welcome that?

Karroubi: Absolutely not. Sanctions mean nothing but more hardships for the people. If foreign countries wish to help us, they should demand that human rights be respected. However, we don’t actually need the foreign countries. We have learned to stand on our own feet.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Should the world actually talk to this president at all?

Karroubi: This man is a calamity for the people. However, since he is in office, you can’t ignore him.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Do you accept Ahmadinejad as the president?

Karroubi: No. The election was rigged. But he is holding this position, and thus he must be held accountable for what is happening.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: The revolutionary leader has declared that the election was legitimate. Thus, who questions Ahmadinejad’s presidency at the same time questions Khamenei’s authority.

Karroubi: You may interpret it whatever way you like. I am not commenting on the revolutionary leader.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Do you expect the leadership to give in?

Karroubi: I don’t see a chance for Ahmadinejad to complete his four year term. Every day he causes new unrest. Even this conservative parliament has conflicts with him. No, it can’t go on like this.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Do you still believe in the future of the theocratic state?

Karroubi: I do, but I don’t believe in the theocracy of Dr. Ahmadinejad. In my theocracy people are free, and the government is elected by the people.

Demonstration in Tehran (photo from December 2009): 'The people would be disappointed if we urged them to stay home'

Translator’s note:
“Spiegel International” has also published an English article about this interview


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