Within the Iranian government and its mob of followers, fractures have begun to appear.
Iranian theoretical physics professor, Masud Alimuhamadi, was killed by a remote-control bomb at his house in north Tehran on January 12. Iran’s clerical dictatorship, headed by supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, quickly blamed the U.S. and Israel for the terrorist crime, and described Alimuhamadi as a “martyr.” They presented no credible evidence for their accusation, and an American official dismissed the allegation of U.S. involvement as absurd.
Alimuhamadi was not involved in Iran’s nuclear industry; he did not work for the country’s Atomic Energy Organization.
Two days later, on January 14, hundreds of mourners for the assassinated professor filed through Tehran. They were joined by groups who chanted slogans against America and Israel. But members of the Iranian reformist Green Movement, who also participated in the funeral march, are not convinced: Dissidents believe the slaying was carried out by the clerical regime, probably using its most extreme supporters, to demonstrate that the rulers and their fanatical adherents have the capacity and determination to keep power.
Alimuhamadi was a partisan of opposition-cleric, Mir Hossein Moussavi, in last year’s presidential election -- which the reformists allege was won by Moussavi but stolen by Khamenei and Ahmadinejad.
The assassinated physicist was a public speaker, a leader in the June 15 demonstration at the Tehran University campus against fascist thugs and police, who attacked the campus dormitory and killed several students.
Reform activists increasingly reject Tehran’s claims that all the country’s problems are caused from abroad as just crude efforts to silence the Green Movement, divert criticism of Iran’s economic failures, and neutralize the widening demands for real democracy and freedom of expression.
Reformists suspect the killing of Alimuhamadi was a specific response -- from within the regime and its periphery of violent defenders -- to the January 11 revelation that three dissidents had been beaten to death after large protests in July, with other people subjected to inhumane treatment in the Kahrizak Prison south of Tehran . The Iranian parliament had then ordered Kahrizak Prison shut down, and blamed the deaths there on former prosecutor Saeed Mortazavi, an Ahmadinejad supporter and opponent of closing the prison.
Mortazavi was discharged from his government position as an investigator of corruption and smuggling -- but opposition activists say that Khamenei and Ahmadinejad are afraid of the consequences if Mortazavi were arrested and tried for the Kahrizak Prison murders. A legal proceeding against Mortazavi might reveal even more shocking facts and lead to even more arrests. The assassination of physics professor Alimuhamadi is therefore perceived as a too-convenient distraction from the government’s crisis of credibility.
The decision to close Kahrizak Prison is ascribed to Khamenei, who spoke from the religious center of Qom against “irresponsible groups interfering in the legal and judicial process.” Reformists warn that the ruling circle will pursue an “Iraq strategy,” in which violent street elements spread fear and insecurity. But the reformists also believe that the regime fears that Khamenei’s most radical allies will escape his control.
The hardliners, however, wish to increase public fear by encouraging judges to answer protests with violent repression through the courts.
Less than two weeks before the Alimuhamadi assassination, the opposition Green Movement was threatened with mass murder by the clerical government: Iranian attorney general Golamhossein Mohseni Ezjei declared, “We have decided to execute at least three of the people arrested in the demonstrations on the afternoon of Ashura [December 27, 2009], because we consider them ‘fighters against God’ (mohareb).” This threat obviously preceded any trial for the participants in the Ashura events.
Although Ashura is always a major commemoration for Shia Muslims around the world, recalling the martyrdom for social justice of Imam Husayn, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad, the recent Ashura observance had a special resonance: it came soon after the death of Grand Ayatollah Ali Hossein Montazeri, the leading Iranian opposition religious figure and a sharp critic of the regime of Khamenei and Ahmadinejad.
Clerics serving the political establishment formulated the charge that protestors are “fighters against God” (mohareb), and should be sentenced to death.”
The first to proclaim this was apparently Ayatollah Alam Al-Hoda, who during a pro-government march in Tehran on December 30, said “among the protestors, some are sheep and some are goats;” he then called for the execution of Green Movement leaders.
Ahmad Jannati, president of the government’s Guardian Council, during a Friday sermon on January 1, repeated and emphasized that harsh punishment should be imposed on those who are “against the Islamic Revolution and against velayat-e-faqih,” or clerical governance. Interior minister Muhammad Najjar warned protestors that if new demonstrations took place, the police would deal decisively with them, and also called them mohareb, or “fighters against God.”
At the same time, Ismail Ahmadi Moghaddam, the head of the national police, said there would be no tolerance toward those arrested on Ashura, especially if they had fought police. Member of Parliament Ruhollah Hosseinian, planner of and a key figure in the “Cain Murders,” when at least 28 intellectuals were assassinated under the presidency of Mohammad Khatami, Ahmadinejad’s predecessor, said a law would be introduced for “summary execution of any mohareb.”
In reply, another member of parliament, Ali Motahhari, son of Murtaza Motahhari, a leading theorist of the Islamic Revolution who was assassinated in 1979 soon after the Islamic Republic was proclaimed, rejected Hosseinian’s proposal. Ali Motahhari commented that “Hosseinian loves executions too much.” Motahhari then went on Iranian television and said, “even those who do not accept the Supreme Leader or who oppose the current system should have freedom to present their viewpoint in a peaceful manner.”
Mohareb, or “fighters against God,” are clearly defined in Shiism as criminal killers, bandits, or those who disturb public security and spread fear through military action. Thus, the accusation applies more to Iran’s present rulers than to the protestors.
But those in power want it to be thought that anybody who rejects the government or the leadership -- and openly expresses such views -- will be sentenced to death.
For this reason, the physicist Masud Alimuhamadi is logically believed to have been the victim of an extrajudicial execution.
Center for Islamic Pluralism