September 30, 2011
Espionage is a special crime that is considered serious not just by governments but also by peoples. They do not forgive it because it is seen as an act against the interests of people. But this is a peculiarity of societies that respect and trust their judiciary. In Iran, the crime of espionage lost its weight after the 1979 revolution. Writers, artists, intellectuals, critics, women’s rights activists, human rights activists, web bloggers, and in general all players/activists of civil society have been labeled spies in Iran and their basic rights denied so often that whenever a foreigner is proclaimed to be a spy, the majority of society in Iran today – and even the international community – does not doubt that the real purpose for detaining a foreign national, or even a prominent domestic personality, is to take a hostage for the purpose of extracting a ransom from someone. As is common in these situations, secret talks are launched and eventually these result in the release of the victims accused of spying. This narrative has been growing in Iran’s accusations of espionage by is judiciary. Even those who initially do not accept this narrative, ultimately and after the release of the victims, embrace it as easily. In addition to foreigners, Iranian dual nationals too have been victim of this in Iran. But why?
Articles 501 and 502 of the Iranian penal code, provide a definition of espionage which does not match the actions or the situation of the three American hikers who were recently released after a 2 year imprisonment in Iran. Iranian officials tried to portray the hikers as spies, but the charge did not fly. My purpose here is not to present a defense of the hikers, but to critique what has become the judicial process in Iran, which consequently threatens the country’s national security. Does the judiciary have the right to free individuals who it has been pressing are spies and which as a result imposed a heavy price on the country, prior to a court sentence that they are actually innocent? How could they hand over these individuals to the country that they themselves proclaim, through the Iranian government media, a hundred times a day to be their inherent and eternal enemy? How could they give the hikers a warm departure welcome after receiving a heavy bail in Dollars through official and unofficial diplomatic channels? These questions have been asked repeatedly by Iranians since the 1979 revolution, but with no response in return. Iranians feel their national dignity to be under threat through this policy of hostage taking so much that they rejoice every time a spy suspect is released. But the question remains and the victims of these espionage fabrications and their families who have no other nationality other than that of Iran to rescue them, feel the cruelty more than others.
In the course of many hostage takings, the Iranian judiciary has learned a new lesson: how to collect a handful of Dollars for those kids who believe deserve some “finders’ fees” for their findings. And while not a single case involving such accusations against individuals detained near the country’s borders has been proven in an impartial court of law, the issue of a finder’s fees, which they call bail, remains intact. Finder’s fees or rewards have lost their meaning because no crime has yet been proven in court. Such accusations become verdicts only at Kayhan newspaper and other similar dailies. The judiciary is usually a few steps behind Kayhan and takes action after the newspaper fabricates the espionage scenarios.
According to newspaper reports, even though the hiker suspects had been sentenced to 8 years of prison by a court, the chairman of the human rights commission of the judiciary Mr. Mohammad Javad Larijani presented a description of their crimes that appeared more like a whitewash job rather than a legal opinion. “The record and actions of these individuals shows that they are spies. But we will relegate the issue of whether they succeeded in spying against our country or not to another time,” he opined. No matter how you interpret these remarks we come to the conclusion that what he meant by “relegate[ing] the issue …. to another time” is nothing other than the extraction of some Dollars, something that Larijani tried to legitimize by calling it a bail.
Mr. Mohammad Javad Larijani and his brother Sadegh Larijani the head of the judiciary, and all judges and defense attorneys and even staff and clerks at Iranian courts well know that according to Iranian law those charged with espionage, or sentenced so, lack many rights such as conditional release, exiting the country, using prison leaves, being put on amnesty lists etc. Our Muslim and Bahai brethren who are in prisons on charges of espionage and face the most abhorable prison conditions face precisely such a predicament. They are deprived of these rights. Recently a man falsely accused of espionage whose requests to leave the country to see his family members after 10 years were ignored committed suicide at the age of 80 and died in Tehran. Siamak Pourzand’s repeated letters, and those of his family members, to the former president, current president, Mr. Sadegh Larijani and others are pieces of paper lying in a trash can and nobody cares to look into this man’s case who has been sentenced with espionage based on fake confessions derived under duress by judge Jaafar Saber Zafarghandi. Why? Because they could not utilize him for their personal gain as he was not American and the US government therefore was not going to provide Dollars for his release. So they set him up for his own death!
So this national and important question is now being asked. But not by the independent media in the country which is afraid to raise it. Only the Jomhurie Islami newspaper could raise it which like Kayhan is immune from so much but only in the context of the internal power battle against what is known as the “deviant current” and Ahmadinejad’s group, and who knows, perhaps even against Kayhan daily. Among Iranian people the news of the release of the three Americans brought joy, but the questions remain.
1-If the hikers were not spies, the Iranian government and the act of hostage taking is bullying which damages the Iranian image in the world. In this case, Iranian officials will either not implement the appellate procedures and if they do they will confiscate the money on grounds that the accused did not show up. This too is nothing but bullying. So how can a judiciary that practices bullying try real and serious criminals and embezzlers?
2-If the hikers were in fact spies, the judiciary had no right to release them. The release turned the Iranian regime into an illegitimate entity which acts against the national interests of the country and which sells the national interest in exchange for money.
3-Mr. Larijani’s comments, “We do not reward spies,” fall flat. In reality, if we assume that the hikers were spies as Iranian officials including Larijani claimed, the three Americans have now become international figures who in less than a year will write their memoirs of their prison days and will become millionaires. And as the Iranian government will continue to treat its own citizens with the most horrendous prison conditions and destroy their families, the government of the hostages will continue to support the hikers for being in prison for two years. If these are not rewards, then what is? Now international publishers will be competing to meet them. If these are not rewards then what is?
So what is the Iranian judiciary doing? It is supposed to be creating institutions and conditions where impartial and fair trails take place. Where discrimination is challenged. But in reality, it has become a front where foreign money guarantees the freedom of foreign prisoners. So while the Iranian government underwent detailed planning to take these hostages, the prisoners will now spread the message of the atrocious conditions of Iranian prisons to the world. From this perspective we should thank the Iranian officials for what they have done. Thank you for creating American witnesses and ambassadors for the horrendous Iranian prison conditions. The hikers will in fact confirm what Iranians have been saying about prisons in the country for years. What a shame that Iranian security and judiciary officials will resort to any cheap act for a handful of Dollars, without even thinking about the consequences of your actions, let alone the national interest of Iran!
Now, there is really no need for Ahmad Shaheed to come to Iran to inspect Iranian prisons and law suits. There is no need to get him a visa either. He has now been provided unprecedented information about human rights in Iran. What you gentlemen in Iran did was to point out to the need to focus the attention of world onto human rights in Iran. Thank you. Thank you for bringing this unforeseen gift to the world.