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Khatami Brother Questioned in Iran In Reported Plot

By Geneive Abdo
International Herald Tribune
July 20, 2000

TEHRAN - A brother of President Mohammed Khatami was summoned to court on Wednesday in a growing controversy over allegations that a vigilante had confessed to conspiring with senior clerics and security forces to attack leading reformers.

Mohammed Reza Khatami, who is deputy speaker of Parliament, was questioned along with a fellow pro-refom legislator, Mohsen Mirdamadi.

Two Iranian lawyers are already in prison for having allegedly made and distributed a videotape featuring the vigilante's confession. A member of the New York-based Human Rights Watch is also charged in distribution of the tape.

The videotape has not been shown in public, but a transcript is available on the Internet and copies of the confession have been circulated throughout Iran.

In the tape, a former member of the Ansar-e Hezbollah asserts that the extremist group had been permitted to disrupt public meetings, attack and beat up reformist activists and kill a former vice president, Abdollah Nouri, a powerful reform cleric who is in prison.

Amir Farshad Ebrahimi, the Ansar member, charges that powerful conservatives, including senior ayatollahs and politicians, approved of the plans.

He said the Ansar was funded by traditional bazaar merchants, known also to also support the conservative clerical establishment.

The Iranian judiciary, controlled by conservatives, has stepped in to defend the clerics and to discredit the reformers' accusations. The Tehran judiciary issued a statement this month saying that Mr. Ebrahimi had been coerced by the reformers into making the videotape.

The scandal became public when court officials said Shirin Ebadi, a human rights lawyer, and Mohsen Rahami, a lawyer and political activist, had conspired to make the film along with Elahe Sharifpur Hicks, a representative of Human Rights Watch, who was in Iran for one month in May.

Human Rights Watch has denied the charges in a letter to the judiciary chief, Mahmoud Hashemi-Shahroudi.

Mr. Ebadi and Mr. Rahami went on trial behind closed doors Saturday and remain in prison. A translator for foreign journalists is also in jail for allegedly circulating the tape.

It is impossible to verify the account provided by the Ansar member. But there is growing evidence that a loose coalition of clerics, security agents and extremists who strive for more political power have concocted such plots in recent years.

A key adviser to President Khatami was shot and seriously wounded March 12 by a network of Islamic extremists.

Newspapers reported that instructions were given to kill the adviser, Saeed Hajjarian, at a religious center in the district of Shahr-e Rey in outlying Tehran.

Five men were convicted and sentenced to terms of three to 15 years in prison and three men were acquitted. Mr. Hajjarian survived the attack but is partly paralyzed.

In May, a member of the elite Revolutionary Guards and also a presidential bodyguard was arrested after he tried to persuade two senior clerics to issue an edict allowing him to kill President Khatami.

The plot was foiled when the son of one of the ayatollahs informed the authorities.


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