Iran murder case pits reformers against judiciary
By Jon Hemming
TEHRAN, Dec 26 (Reuters) - Iran's reformers rejoiced when it looked
as though a group of alleged secret police hitmen would be brought to book.
But with the case being held behind closed doors in a military court,
few are hopeful that justice will be done.
The second hearing in the trial of the 18 "rogue" agents and
their accomplices accused of the serial murders of liberal intellectuals
was held on Monday.
But the only information released from the day's proceedings was that
Mostafa Kazemi, a former internal security chief at the Intelligence Ministry
and an alleged ringleader of the group, had taken the witness stand.
"The court hearings on the serial murders case are not satisfying
public opinion," said reformist deputy Naser Qavami, the head of the
parliamentary committee on judicial affairs.
"It seems there is no hope that this court will administer justice
properly," Hambastegi newspaper quoted him as saying.
PUBLIC SHUT OUT
Both the public and the press have been shut out of the court "because
open public hearings could hurt national security and endanger public order,"
the presiding judge said in a statement after the case first opened last
Victims' families and their lawyers are also boycotting the proceedings
in protest at the removal of evidence and the restriction of the prosecution
to only four murders.
Reformers say the 1998 killings of nationalists Darioush and Parvaneh
Forouhar, and writers Mohammad Mokhtari and Mohammad Jafar Pouyandeh were
part of a wider campaign by state-sponsored death squads to silence opposition.
Parastou Forouhar, whose parents were stabbed to death at home late
that year, said what was important was to get to the root of who really
ordered the killings.
"The military prosecutors were paying no attention to the admission
by some of the suspects that they had received their orders from other
persons," she told Doran-e Emrouz daily.
Two reformist journalists were in no doubt who those "other persons"
They pointed the finger at two former intelligence chiefs and a powerful
judge -- all clerics -- saying the hitmen were mere pawns manipulated by
the clerical establishment.
Both reporters are now in jail and the judiciary has threatened to mete
out the same punishment for anyone else making "unauthorised"
revelations in the case.
ELECTION PROMISES UNDER THREAT
The affair does not reflect well on the government of moderate President
Mohammad Khatami, whose 1997 election promise was to ensure freedom of
speech and the rule of law.
His reform movement is already reeling after more than 30 pro-reform
newspapers and journals were banned this year by the conservative judiciary
after supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamanei pronounced them "bases
of the enemy."
Some reformers still take some solace from the fact that the "serial
murders" case has even come to court.
"Before Khatami's presidency the perpetrators of the serial murders
felt enough security and power to do as they wished without being questioned,"
said MP Ali Shakouri-Rad.
"The perpetrators now find themselves in a position where they
have to answer for their deeds."
But now the ring seems to be tightening around Khatami and his circle.
The president's brother Mohammad Reza, himself the leader of the biggest
reform party, said on Monday he and two close allies were now being prosecuted.
And some MPs have launched a bid to impeach Justice Minister Ismail
"It seems, unfortunately, that the judiciary system and some officials
in the judiciary think they can do anything they like and no one dares
to question them," the official IRNA news agency quoted MP Akbar Alami
as saying on Tuesday.
Since the minister has no power over the judiciary, which is appointed
through the office of supreme leader Khamanei, it is likely that, even
if successful, the censure will bid will have only symbolic value.