Iranian government under pressure to deepen reform
TEHRAN, Jan 7 (AFP) - The admission that Iranian intelligence agents
were involved in the murders of dissidents has shocked the nation and provoked
calls for structural reform of the government, notably the secret services.
The revelations Tuesday that renegade agents at the intelligence ministry
were behind the recent murders of several writers and opposition leaders
have led to a public outcry and highlighted the need for institutional
changes and establishing the rule of law.
Such reforms have been a top priority of President Mohammad Khatami,
but they have been slow in coming amid strong and often violent resistance
from Islamic hardliners.
The president's supporters, targets of a violent campaign by Islamic
extremists, are pressing for a shake-up of various institutions, mainly
the judiciary and security aparatus.
"The president must move ahead with reform in the intelligence
ministry without any political consideration," said a left-wing student
group, Reinforcement of Solidarity Office.
"The regime's prestige is on the line. People must know the truth.
The officials guilty of negligence must be sacked, expecially those at
the intelligence ministry," warned Mohammad Salamati, a leading left-wing
Newspapers too have demanded institutional changes and the public trial
of the killers in a bid to prevent a repetition of similar crimes.
"It is true that the intelligence ministry, like many other ministries,
needs to be revamped and cleansed," said Iran News.
"Publicizing the identity of the culprits and putting them on
trial quickly will greatly help the matter and appease the people,"
added the Tehran Times, another English-language daily.
Others suggested a conspiracy reaching beyond low-ranking secret agents.
"It is possible that such organized crime is committed with the
backing of people higher up, something that is not too difficult to uncover,"
said the newspaper Hamshahri.
Newspapers backing Khatami continue to call for or predict the ouster
of Intelligence Minister Ghorban-Ali Dorrie-Najafabadi, a respected religious
scholor and economist appointed after Khatami was sworn in as president
in August 1997.
Many observers believe Najafabadi was chosen to clean up the image
of the ministry after it was implicated in the 1992 murders of dissidents
in Germany and to appease hardline conservatives.
"Few people are in the dark that the intelligence minister was
not Khatami's choice, that his policies have not been in tune with those
of the president," said Salam daily.
"His ouster must be considered so that the policies of the intelligence
ministry are in harmony with those of the rest of the government and to
make it responsive to the people," it added.
But conservative newspapers backed the minister, complimenting him
for coming clean in revealing the involvement of his officials and breaking
with the ministry's long tradition of secrecy.
"There are people in the opposition who dream of the day to get
even with the intelligence ministry and to misrepresent the admirable
record of this hardworking body," said Qods daily.
"We have to be alert and protect this sensitive arm of the regime
from poisonous criticism coming from dissidents and their plots,"
it warned. The revelations that the murders were committed by agents
within the ministry have sent shockwaves through the regime, which has
always blamed Israel and the United States for any act of terrorism.
Until last week, many conservatives blamed the two enemies of the Islamic
Republic for the murders and even an attack here on a group of visiting
Americans by Islamic activists. Such views are now fast losing their
"Attributing such incidents to Arrogant Powers (the United States)
has made us the laughing stock of the public," said presidential economic
adviser Morteza Alviri.
Secular writers Mohammad Mokhtari and Mohammad Pouyandeh were kidnapped
and murdered in early December. Another intellectual, Majid Sharif, was
found dead under mysterious circumstances around the same time.
Secular nationalist leader Daryush Foruhar and his wife, Parvaneh,
were found stabbed to death at their Tehran home on November 22.