Iran After the Elections conference

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The "Iran After the Elections" Conference was a three-day social and cultural conference on reform in Iran organized by the Heinrich Böll Foundation and held in Berlin on April 7 and 8, 2000. The conference was notable less for its proceedings than for the disruption of them by anti-regime Iranian exiles, and for the long prison sentences given to several participants upon their return to Iran.

The conference[edit]

The conference was held in the wake of a sweeping victory by reformist candidates in the Majlis elections of February 2000, by the Heinrich Boll Institute, "an independent German cultural organisation close to the Green Party."[1] It was attended not only by "reformist intellectuals" from Iran, but by "banned and exiled Iranian political activists."[2] Unfortunately, the organizers did not anticipate the large political gap between the exiles and the more conservative Iranian reformists.

On the second day of the conference, hundreds of Iranians exiles stormed the Haus Der Kulturen Der Welt (House of World Cultures) and "staged protests both against the participants and the political situation in Iran." [3] Shouts of "death to Islamic Republic" and "Mercenaries, go home" prevented the participants from speaking, while according to anti-regime Iran Press Service, "a girl appeared on the main tribune and stripped to almost her last piece except for an Islamic scarf, and later a man climbed on a chair and fully undressed, exhibiting pictures of the clerical leaders of the regime" [4] for the benefit of television viewers in Iran where the conference was being televised. The BBC also reported the protesters "included a man removing his clothes and a woman dancing with bare arms."[5]

Hardline elements in Iran were infuriated by the broadcast of the protests, and following the conference "at least ten" [2] Iranian participants were arrested, tried and sentenced to several years in prison after their return to Iran for crimes such as "insulting the former Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Ayatollah Khomeini, and disseminating propaganda against the Islamic system." [6]

Aftermath[edit]

Prison sentences for participants[edit]

Among those sentenced were:

  • Saeed Sadr, a translator at the German embassy, was originally accused of 'waging war on God' (Moharebeh), a capital crime in Iran[7] by the prosecution. In the end he was sentenced to 10 years in prison. [5]
  • Khalil Rostamkhani, a journalist with the Daily News and Iran Echo and director of a translation company, was sentenced to nine years in prison.[8] He appeared before Teheran's Revolutionary Court on 9 November 2000. The prosecutor sought the death penalty and accused him of being a "mohareb" (fighter against god), of having "received and distributed leaflets and press releases from opposition groups based abroad and of having participated in the organisation of the Berlin conference, which posed a threat to the country's security."[9] Rostamkhani helped organise the conference, but did not attend it.[10]
  • Ezzatollah Sahabi, was managing editor of the now-banned journal Iran-e Farda (The Iran of Tomorrow. On 13 January 2001, the Islamic Revolutionary Court of Tehran sentenced him to four and a half years’ imprisonment. [11]
  • Ali Afshari, a well-known Iranian student leader, was sentenced to five years. After being released from prison on bail in 2002, he publicly apologized "to the Iranian people" for confessing to a "lie about his plot to overthrow the IRI and other allegations," and for not being unable to withstand torture he said was used to force his confession.
  • Mehrangiz Kar a feminist lawyer, was given four years, reportedly for "acting against national security by participating in the Berlin Conference, and by disseminating propaganda against the Islamic Republic of Iran." [3]
  • Shahla Lahiji a feminist publisher, was given four years also reportedly for "acting against national security by participating in the Berlin Conference, and by disseminating propaganda against the Islamic Republic of Iran." [3]
  • Akbar Ganji, celebrated Islamic revolutionary turned investigative journalist, and editor of Fath (Victory) newspaper, was sentenced to 10 years' imprisonment, to be followed by five years in exile (later reduced to six years imprisonment and no exile) for "retaining classified documents from the Culture and Islamic Guidance Ministry, insulting the former Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Ayatollah Khomeini, and disseminating propaganda against the Islamic system." [6] His prison time was marked by hunger strike and dramatic courtroom display of torture marks.[12]
    Further information: Akbar Ganji § Imprisonment
  • Shahla Sherkat, founder and publisher of Zanan (Women) magazine, was sentenced to four months in jail and two million tomans in fines.[13]
  • Hassan Yousefi Eshkevari, a religious scholar and journalist with Neshat and Iran-é-Farda, was imprisoned upon his return in August and tried before a Special Court for the Clergy beginning in October. He was originally charged with apostasy, [2] a capital offense, but was sentenced to seven years and serving four years.[14]

Protest of sentences[edit]

The German foreign minister Joschka Fischer expressing his "profound concern" over the sentences to the Iranian ambassador. [5] Human rights groups campaigned against the sentences.[6] [2]

The imprisonments were thought to have been part of an anti-freedom-of-expression clampdown by hardliners directed against reformers. In "April 2000 around 20 newspapers were closed by the Press Court. Also, other journalists including Mashallah Shamsolvaezin, Emadeddin Baqi and publisher Hojjatoleslam Abdollah Nouri have been imprisoned in connection with newspaper articles they have published." [6]

Criticism of the conference[edit]

The Iranian judiciary, which is often described as dominated by anti-reformist "conservatives," condemned the Conference as "organised by the `Zionists` who controls Germany’s Green Party to which is affiliated the Heinrich Böll Institute" that organised the conference. However conference attendee and political prisoner Akbar Ganji has cast doubt on this charge, pointing out that Iranians could not go to the conference without the authorities permission, and that the authorities themselves had received the leader of the allegedly Zionist-controlled Green Party, Mr. Joschka Fischer, the German Foreign Minister.

If the

Intelligence Ministry, the Judiciary, the authorities knew that the organisers were Zionist and let us go to Berlin attend the meeting, they have then encouraged us to commit an offence

and asking why

officials can talk to Zionists and not ordinary citizen? How come that out intellectuals and scholars and sportsmen can exchange with the Americans with who we have no relations but not with German counterparts?[15]

Others more sympathetic to the reform movement, such as Iran Press Service, have described the conference as "a good idea that backfired." The Service complained that organizers Thomas Hartman, Mehdi Ja'fari-Gorzini, Bahman Nuroumand "were unaware of the weight, importance and complexities of the task," and lacked "any experience or skill for such a highly sensitive and touchy diplomatic performance."

Visiting Iranians were "visibly shocked" at the un-Islamic irreverence and ridicule of the protestors, while the expatriates were "astounded by the low level of general knowledge, the lack of sophistication, low degree of education" of visiting Iranians, such as the newly elected MP Mrs. Jamileh Kadivar. [1]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

External links[edit]