In Iran, nearly two months after the disputed presidential election that generated mass protests, the crackdown on opposition members, activists, journalists, scholars, students and ordinary citizens continues. As court proceedings in a mass trial of reformers and protesters continued into their second week, a top judiciary official acknowledged Saturday that some of the arrested protesters had been tortured in Iranian prisons. We speak with leading Iranian dissident and journalist Akbar Ganji. [includes rush transcript]
We turn now to Iran, where nearly two months after the disputed presidential election that generated mass protests, the crackdown on opposition members, activists, journalists, scholars, students and ordinary citizens continues. As court proceedings in a mass trial of reformers and protesters continued into their second week, a top judiciary official has acknowledged that some of the arrested protesters had been tortured in Iranian prisons.
Iran’s prosecutor general referred to the deaths of the detainees at the Kahrizak Detention Center in Tehran as, quote, "mistakes" and "painful accidents which cannot be defended." The director of the notorious prison has reportedly been arrested. The opposition says at least three protesters died in this prison, including a senior aide to the defeated conservative presidential candidate Mohsen Rezai. Defeated reformist candidate Mehdi Karroubi has alleged that some of the prisoners had been raped.
Meanwhile, the mass trial of over, well, 100 people accused of subversion and trying to topple the government continues. The court proceedings have been widely criticized as show trials. The accused have given controversial confessions and admitted to being involved in Western-backed plots to stage velvet revolutions and color coups in Iran. Opposition leaders have condemned the confessions as forced. And on Sunday, Revolutionary Guard officials called for the arrest and prosecution of opposition politicians, including the defeated presidential candidates Mir-Hossein Mousavi, Mehdi Karroubi, and the former president, Mohammad Khatami.
Well, we’re joined right now by the leading Iranian dissident and journalist, Akbar Ganji. In a letter to the United Nations High Commissioner on Human Rights, Ganji, along with other Iranian intellectuals, has accused Iranian political leaders of crimes against humanity. In 2001, Akbar Ganji was imprisoned for six years for writing about the murders of dissident intellectuals. He was finally released after an eighty-day hunger strike.
Akbar Ganji joins us now in our firehouse studio. He is translated by Hossein Kamaly, and that’s the translation you might be hearing in the background.
Akbar Ganji, we welcome you to Democracy Now! What is happening in these last weeks? What about these trials that are taking place?
[translated] After the elections that took place in Iran, Mr. Khamenei, who is the leader of the country, came to the Friday prayers and ordered that the people should be suppressed. And the people were gunned down. And according to their own admission, twenty people were killed. And according to what dissidents say, more than 300 corpses exist, and they are being returned to their families one by one. Thousands of people who were in protests in the streets have been detained. And almost all of the reformist forces and their leaders are detained and are in prison.
This is the Islamic Republic regime, and since its very inception and the very first decade of the revolution, started by omitting and deleting the communist dissidents, and then liberal dissidents, and now it’s the turn of reformists, who have been part of the Islamic Republic, and they have held positions, high-level positions, in the Islamic Republic. Now they are detained, they are imprisoned, and they are under torture. And they are kept in solitary confinement, and they are totally separated from the outside world, and they do not know what goes on in the outside world. Not only are they under torture, but under torture, according to their own admission, four people have been killed. And —
I want to just try a different form of translation, because I think we’re having a little trouble hearing the translator over Akbar Ganji. So let’s do it one at a time, just sentence by sentence.
[translated] Many of the detainees have been tortured in prison. And four of the detainees have been martyred under torture. Now it is known, it has been leaked, that men and women have been raped violently under torture in prison. This is the modus operandi of the regime. They take you into prison, and they put pressure on you until you break and you confess to whatever they want you to confess to.
What Khamenei demands now is for them to confess — the detainees to confess that they have been after a velvet revolution, instigated by the United States. And they are under torture to come and admit to such a crime in the court.
The truth of the matter, however, is that the detainees, those who are imprisoned, have held high positions in the Islamic Republic over the past thirty years. Some of them were senior members of the Intelligence Ministry and held important security and intelligence posts in the regime. This is the regime that keeps cleansing itself and purging parts of itself, decade after decade. Now it’s the turn for the reformists to be totally purged out of the system.
Even Hashemi Rafsanjani is now threatened. Twenty years ago, Hashemi Rafsanjani told a lie and made Mr. Khamenei into the leader of the country. After Mr. Khomeini passed away, the Assembly of Experts was in a coma, was comatose. They were not sure whether the United States or Iraq would launch another attack and destroy everything. At the time, Mr. Rafsanjani convinced the Assembly of Experts, who were terrified at the time, that he had heard through two intermediaries that Mr. Khomeini had said Khamenei is appropriate for leadership and whoever accepts this should rise. And everybody rose, and Khamenei became the leader.
Let’s bring this back to the present, Akbar Ganji. What are you calling for? You, along with several other Iranian intellectuals, have sent a letter to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. You’re very clear in the letter that this is not a call for economic sanctions. This is something that some right-wing politicians in the US continue to call for. It’s also not a call for military intervention. But what are you calling for?
[translated] I have repeated this several times, and a large number of Iranian intellectuals concur on this, that we disagree with military action. We also oppose economic sanctions. Economic sanctions did not weaken Saddam; they weakened the Iraqi people.
We have to two major requests. In the hunger strike that we held, our request was for the Secretary-General of the UN to send an envoy to Iran to visit prisons and to meet with prisoners and to ask for the release of all political — prisoners of conscience.
The new campaign that we have launched is against crimes against to humanity. The International Criminal Court considers crimes against humanity. And it is our belief and our suggestion that the leaders of the Islamic Republic have perpetrated crimes against humanity.
What we are suggesting to the West and to the United Nations is that if you launch an attack on Iran and if you enforce military sanctions, this will destroy the Iranian people. Why would you punish the Iranian people? You should not punish the Iranian people; punish the Iranian regime, rather. Whoever has taken part in oppressing and suppressing the Iranian people, including and especially Ali Khamenei, should be prosecuted for crimes against humanity.
Even though Ahmadinejad has been sworn in to another term, do you think the opposition movement will continue to grow? Do you think it has changed Iran forever? And will Mousavi remain the head of this movement?
[translated] Look, Mr. Karroubi, Mousavi, Khatami, so far, they have resisted, and they have stood up. So far, they have stood their ground, and none of the reformist groups has accepted this illegitimate government. And the people are resorting to every means to express their dissent and their protest.
Allow me to present an example here. The government in Poland presented itself as the representative of the proletariat. However, the proletariat rose against them. The Iranian government claims to be a religious state and government. The people who have stood up against it take advantage of all religious symbols and icons against it.
We will have to leave it there. I thank you very much, Akbar Ganji, Iranian dissident; investigative journalist; was imprisoned, himself, in 2001; now staged a hunger strike here in New York, leading the opposition outside the country against the Ahmadinejad government.