TEHRAN — An authoritarian state is like the universe in that the majority of its mass consists of dark matter. The actual beast that hides behind the visible façade can be glimpsed only in brief flashes as lightenings from occasional political thunderstorms adumbrate its contours. The lightening lasts longer when the authoritarian state is weak and to the extent that it contains democratic components. For both of these reasons scandalous events have been shedding a steadier light on Iran's political structure in recent years.
A great deal about the cloak and dagger operations of the Iranian Judiciary will be known before the storm over the death of Zahra Kazemi blows over. She was an Iranian-Canadian photojournalist who died on July 10th as a result of injuries sustained while being interrogated in an Iranian prison.
The contrast to what happened seventeen years ago during the Iran-Contra Affair is clear. In November of 1986 a rouge clergyman named Mehdi Hashemi embarrassed the revolutionary government by leaking the story of Iran's clandestine contacts with Americans to Lebanese newspapers. He was swiftly tried and put to death, but damage control was not optimal.
In its attempt to expose the gun slinging ayatollah's shadowy career, the state could not help exposing itself as a system in which such activities could go unpunished as long as the perpetrator did not defy the system.
But the revelations were too oblique, too scant and too controlled to bear comparison to scandals that in democratic systems locate and eventually dislodge illegal activities and occasionally bring down entire governments. In other words, the trial of the marauding clergyman did not amount to a “Hashemigate”.
At the outset of President Khatami's first term (1997-98) a band of state-sponsored assassins who had done away with scores of undesirables under the previous government concluded that the reformers lacked the backbone to interfere with their activities. This encouraged them to continue with the business of assassinating more dissidents ending with the grisly murder of the renowned nationalist politician Daryoush Forouhar and his wife.
But President Khatami stood firm (for the first and last time in his presidency) and as a result the perpetrators were brought to justice and the Ministry of Information was exposed as the den of their nefarious activities. However, the light sputtered out as soon as Khatami's government faltered in its his resolve to see the case through. As a result the lines of command leading up from the perpetrators were never officially explored.
What followed would make a Joe Pesci character blush: the ringleader was found dead (an alleged suicide) and the trials of the accused were so rigged by the partisan judiciary as to preclude references to those who had ordered the assassinations. Subsequently a veteran information official and reformist who headed an ad hoc committee that captured the culprits (Saeed Hajjarian) was assassinated.
The top journalist investigating the political network of the serial murderers (Akar Ganji) was also imprisoned on trumped up charges. Although the modus operandi of the rouge elements of the shadow government had remained in the limelight of the sandal for a much longer period compared to the trial of Mehdi Hashemi, a “Forouhargate” never materialized.
This summer's heinous murder of Zahra Kazemi at the hands of the right wing judiciary however, may very well turn into a “Kazemigate”.
To begin with, the victim's Canadian nationality insures that the investigation will not be compromised as a result of insider deals. The murder is now cast as an international crisis along with Iran's nuclear ambitions and the role it might have played in the attack on the Jewish Community Center in Buenos Aires. Therefore, it can't be sanctimoniously snuffed out for partisan and personal reasons and in the name of preserving the honor of “the holy order of the Islamic Republic.”
Furthermore, the murder of Zahra Kazemi is different from previous scandals in that it occurred on the active fault lines of the reform/ right-wing divide in Iran. After seven years of oppression by the right wing, such reform leaders as the parliamentarian Mohsen Armin (who regularly and publicly challenges the judiciary's fabrications about the death of Zahra Kazemi) have little to lose by hanging tough on this issue.
They consider the Judiciary a brutal and dastardly organization that has perverted the cause of justice to crush both reform and dissent. Khatami's Ministry of Intelligence has also refused to play the scapegoat and obtained the release of two of its employees who were wrongfully arrested by the judiciary as the main suspects in this case.
The coming Kazemigate will direct a powerful searchlight toward the violent and secret world which Akbar Ganji had called Iran's “dungeon of ghosts”. It will also focus the world's attention on the intractable problem of torture in Iran. But its disclosures will not be as devastating to the system as those of a Frouhargate might have been.
Unlike the serial killings, the murder of Zahra Kazemi does not seem to have been elaborately planned as part of a larger scheme. Nor is it likely that the lines of command would lead all the way to the top.
But at the very least some illustrious right-wing heads must roll, starting with that of the notorious judge Saeed Mortazavi who had personally supervised the interrogation of Ms. Kazemi and later attempted to cover up the crime by issuing false statements about the circumstances and causes of her death.
We can also expect a heavy blow to the right wing Judiciary for its perverted, proto-legal campaign against the democratic movement and for its brutalization and murderous torture of dissidents >>> News & politics forum
Ahmad Sadri is Professor and Chairman of the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Lake Forest College, IL, USA. See Features . See Homepage