Peaceful protestors in Iran: is their goose cooked?

By which I mean … are the mass trials in Iran ‘political’ and are people being set up by the Iranian authorities?

OK, the authorities are certainly putting a lot of politicians – past and present – on trial, so they’re literally political. (Imagine people like Tony Blair and Alastair Campbell in court next year for having allegedly organised some big demos after a hotly disputed Conservative election win).

But, are the trials ‘political’ in the usual sense of being unfair and not being about the punishment of real crimes?

Appearing in strange grey outfits that looked to me more like pyjamas than prison uniforms, you did get the impression that the world (and especially Iranians) was deliberately being shown images of the defendants designed to convey a simple message: THIS is what will happen to you if you defy us.

However, the mere sight of people being brought before the might of Iran’s legal apparatus hasn’t stopped others in Iran criticising what’s going on. The website of the former president Mohammad Khatami was emphatic: "The trial was a show and the confessions are invalid.” The opposition party Mosharekat apparently denounced the trials as “a laughable show trial”, memorably adding that “even a cooked chicken would laugh at the charges”. (No it wouldn’t, because … er, it’s dead. And chickens can’t laugh anyway …)

They seem to have a point. No defence lawyers at the weekend court appearance, no independent media and suspicious televised confessions. None of this – to say the least – inspires confidence.

Before long I think we’re likely to discover a lot more about these trials, but meanwhile we should perhaps be careful not to resort to kneejerk reactions. It may well turn out that dozens of the accused have been tortured and forced to confess and that their trials are an utter travesty (it wouldn’t exactly be total first in Iran). At the same time there are reports, including regarding the bombing of a bridge on Saturday, that point to a continuation of violent incidents from armed insurgents that have been part of Iran’s political scene for years. In other words, just because the Iranian authorities allege wild-sounding things it doesn’t mean they’re automatically false (just not proven).

Certainly the stakes seem to be getting higher. Pro-Ahmadinejad newspapers are now using language like “leaders of the civil war” when referring to the accused. Does that also mean people like the Nobel Peace Prize-winning lawyer Shirin Ebadi, who is apparently being viewed now as a “conspirator” and whose own husband (in a brilliantly unaware bit of male chauvinism) has been told to “stop her … talking too much”? (Incidentally, her interview with the Sunday Times yesterday came through Amnesty). In other words, is everyone in Iran now a conspirator if they defy the government?

One thing I would certainly endorse is what one of the defeated presidential candidates – Mohsen Rezaei – called for yesterday: total even-handedness. In particular, if protestors (and protest organisers) are to be tried for public order offences or inciting violence (which could be reasonable) then surely violent security forces and their superiors must surely face the legal consequence of their actions as well.

Funnily enough, I don’t see too many chiefs of police or Basij militia members on trial yet. What does the cooked chicken think of that….?

 

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