Honoring Abbas Amir-Entezam on the 25th anniversary
of his arrest
December 21, 2004
Twenty five years ago, on December 18, 1979, Abbas Amir-Entezam,
was arrested on charges of spying for the U.S. Clean shaven, handsome,
impeccably attired in suite and tie, fluent in English and French,
and sophisticated, Amir-Entezam stuck out like a sore thumb among
the fundamentalists who came to power in February 1979. Today he
is the longest-held political prisoner in the Islamic Republic
of Iran. Many regard him as "Iran's Mandela," and
some call him "Iran's Second Mossadegh," a higher
honor for Iranians.
Amir-Entezam's political struggles began when he was a high
school student in 1951 when Mossadegh became Iran's Prime
Minster on the platform of nationalizing Iranian oil from British
colonial control and democratizing Iran's political system
reeling under the Shah's dictatorship. After the CIA-engineered
coup in August 1953, Amir-Entezam, then a university freshman,
joined the National Resistence Movement led by Mossadegh's
One faction of the resistence was led by Mehdi Bazargan,
a centrist religious layperson and a university professor. Amir-Entezam
met Bazargan on campus. Bazargan and Amir-Entezam worked closely
after the coup. In 1961, they broke from Mossadegh's Iran
National Front and established the Liberation Movement of Iran.
The National Front was dominated by liberals and social democrats
who were secular and held a strong non-aligned foreign policy
orientation. The Liberation Movement's ideology was explicitly
and attempted to create a liberal democratic interpretation of
After his undergraduate education, Amir-Entezam came to the U.S.
and earned a Master's degree in architecture from the University
of California, Berkeley. Then he went to Paris for a second Master's
from the Sorbonne. He returned to Iran in 1971 and started an
engineering company. When the struggle against the Shah's dictatorship
heated up in mid-1977, Amir-Entezam was working closely with
and was one of the leaders of the Liberation Movement. A broad-based
coalition soon succeeded in overthrowing the Shah's dictatorship,
and Bazargan was named Prime Minister of the Provisional Government.
Amir-Entezam accepted Bazargan's offer to become Deputy Prime
Minister and Spokesman for the government.
During the perilous revolutionary period in 1978, opposition
leaders (Bazargan and the clerical leadership) assigned the dangerous
of meeting with American embassy officials to Amir-Entezam. On
numerous occasions Amir-Entezam met with Americans to ask them
to stop supporting the Shah. Moreover, he arranged meetings between
U.S. embassy officials and clerical leaders (e.g., Ayatollah
Mussavi Ardabili) and Bazargan. After the overthrow of the monarchy,
was his official duty to meet with U.S. ambassador as well ambassadors
of all other countries in Tehran.
As the struggle between the moderates in the Provisional Government
and the extremist fundamentalist supporters of Khomeini heated
up, Amir-Entezam came under increasing pressure. This reached
a crescendo when Amir-Entezam bravely opposed the efforts of
Assembly of Experts who were writing an extremely anti-democratic
constitution which concentrated huge amounts of power in the
hands of clerics. When Amir-Entezam succeeded in having the majority
of the cabinet sign a letter opposing the Assembly of Experts,
the fundamentalists decided to attack him. Bazargan quicky sent
him to Sweden as Iran's Ambassador to Scandinavia in order
to reduce tensions in Tehran.
On November 4, 1979, fundamentalist students stormed the U.S.
Embassy and succeeded in forcing the moderate Provisional Government
Although the repeat of the 1953 coup was a serious worry, the
main goal of the fundamentalists was to get rid of Bazargan and
moderate cabinet who wished to maintain friendly relations with
the U.S. Many fundamentalist clerics, such as Ayatollah Mohammad
Beheshti, Ayatollah Hossein-Ali Montazeri and Ayatollah Mussavi
Ardabili, had personally met American officials in the 1978-1980
None of the documents on the meetings between fundamentalist
clerics and American officials were publicized; however, the documents
on the meetings with Amir-Entezam were immediately shown on television.
Ironically because their content proved Amir-Entezam to be innocent
of any nefarious activity, the fundamentalists had to resort to
the use of the words "Dear" in opening greetings in
the official correspondence as evidence that a collegial relations
existed between Amir-Entezam and the "Great Satan."
Amir-Entezam was sentenced to life imprisonment in a closed kangaroo
trial where he was deprived of an attorney, could not consult with
anyone, he was not even allowed to have access to any legal books,
and there was no jury. Bazargan and other members of the cabinet
personally attended the trial and testified that every single meeting
was authorized by them and Amir-Entezam had provided summaries
of the meetings to them. The case was so flimsy--even for trials
in the Islamic Republic of Iran--that logically inconsistent charges
were added. In his memoir, entitled An
sooye etehaam (On the Other Side of Accusation),
Amir-Entezam enumerates some of the charges as:
* Rejecting God, the Islamic Revolution
and Imam Khomeini;
* Having ties with the pro-Moscow Communist Tudeh Party;
* Being a member of the Shah's secret police, SAVAK;
* Using the word "dear" when referring to American
officials in letters addressed to them;
* Allowing members of the Royal family to escape the country;
* Being a Bahai;
* Being Jewish and Zionist;
* Having improper relations with a women;
* Being extremely rich.
(Translation from Farsi original by Fariba Amini in her article "The
Forgotten Prisoner: Abbas Amir-Entezam, Iran's Longest-Serving
Political Prisoner," in iranian.com, November 5, 2003;
I have made some modifications)
Having become a symbol of resistence to fundamentalist injustice,
the regime offered Amir-Entezam amnesty if he would accept guilt.
Entezam refused the offer, stating that it was the fundamentalist
judicial system that was guilty and that it was him who had to
forgive his captors. Instead, he demanded a public trial where
he could prove his innocence. According to his lawyer, Amir-Entezam
has made at least seven official requests for a public trial. The
regime has refused. If mere meetings with officials of "the
Great Satan" was a crime, then during what became known as
Iran-Contra scandal, Khomeini, Ali Khamanehi, and Ali Akbar Rafsanjani,
themselves were involved in secret dealings with "the Great
In the summer of 1997, under international pressures by human rights
organizations and UN Commission on Human Rights, the fundamentalist
regime furloughed Amir-Entezam from Iran's most feared prison,
Evin, and placed him under house arrest. In August 1997, Assadollah
Lajevardi, the notoriously brutal chief warden of Evin was assassinated.
After president Khatami eulogized Lajevardi as "a great human
being," Amir-Entezam in an interview with the Voice of America
called Lajevardi "the butcher of Evin," and added "A
man under whose watch great crimes had occurred." This single
statement ended Amir-Entezam's house arrest and he was sent
back to the notorious prison.
In January 1998, for his courage and outstanding achievement for
human rights, the prestigious "Bruno Kreisky" prize
was awarded to Amir-Entezam, a prize whose previous winners include
Benazir Bhutto, Nelson Mandela, Amnesty International, and Palestinian
non-violent activist Faisal Husseini.
In late 2002, increased international pressure and his deteriorating
health pressured the fundamentalist regime to give Amir-Entezam
a second furlough for surgery and medical treatment. After only
a few months out of Evin prison, Amir-Entezam gave
enthusiastic and grateful pro-democracy university students.
A year earlier, Amir-Entezam had left the Liberation Movement (which
was trying to be accepted as loyal opposition to the fundamentalist
regime), and had joined Iran National Front (which advocated the
replacement of the fundamentalist regime with a secular and democratic
In late 2002 and early 2003, Amir-Entezam issued his famous public
call for a referendum to replace the fundamentalist theocracy
with a secular democracy. After
the second call, Amir-Entezam was immediately
ordered to interrupt his convalescence from a recent surgery and
stop other required medical treatments and return to Evin prison.
In November 2003, the Jan Karski Moral Courage Prize was awarded
to Amir-Entezam. His daughter received the award on her father's
behalf at the Polish Embassy in Washington. Amir-Entezam sent
the following statement on accepting the award:
Having spent nearly
twenty-four years in prison, what still stuns
me is the courage of the students who, with nothing but faith
in a democratic dream, endanger their lives and keep the hope of freedom
Some may say that telling the truth is not enough. That military
muscle and violence are necessary to overcome this degree of
brutality. But let us not underestimate the power of courage
to speak out
the truth to their power. The Islamic Republic punishes those
who tell the truth, because simply telling the truth can produce
changes of unpredictable consequences and weaken their grip on
their ubiquitous might.
It is with a deep gratitude that I accept this prize. My greatest
hope is that you become messengers and tell the world about our
struggles for democracy and human rights in Iran. Help us end
the inhumane treatment of Iranian citizens. Support us in abolishing
the death penalty. Help us free all political prisoners and end
the discrimination against women and religious minorities. Help
us build the secular order that promotes peace and stability
If you let the world know, then the quarter of a century I
have spent in the dungeons of the regime will not have been
You have bestowed me an honor. I thank you for that. And I,
in turn, bestow you the duty to remembering, of never forgetting
and of speaking of my nation's plight for democracy.
has produced human beings of truly historical stature such
as George Washington, Mahatma Gandhi, Mohammad Mossadegh,
Martin Luther King, Jr., Nelson Mandela, and Desmond Tutu;
great figures who led their nations against injustice and oppression
by force of their intellect, personality and integrity. They
express the anguish of their people, articulate their desires,
them against tyranny. Abbas Amir-Entezam is such a figure.
December, pro-democracy Iranians honor him on the 25th anniversary
of his imprisonment. A man whose sacrifices, like a burning candle,
have provided the Iranian people with hope of liberation from
dictatorship and oppression. Although loved and respected by the
Amir-Entezam is little known outside of the global human rights
community. Perhaps, it is time to know him.
Masoud Kazemzadeh, Ph.D.
is Assistant Professor of Political Science at Utah Valley State
College [homepage]. He is the author of Islamic Fundamentalism,
Feminism, and Gender Inequality in Iran Under Khomeini (Lanham,
MD: University Press of America, 2002).