Middle East

Middle East

The Letter the Iranian Government Doesn’t Want You to Read

Brawl in the Majlis
Members of the Iranian legislative assembly, or Majlis, restrain conservative legislator Ghodratollah Alikhani (in the turban) from striking reformist legislator Reza Yussefian (off camera) at the opening session of the new Majlis, Feb. 23, 2004 (Photo: Atta Kenare/AFP-Getty Images).

On Feb. 18, 2004, in the immediate run up to the controversial Iranian legislative elections, two reformist Iranian newspapers, Yas-e no and Shargh, published an open letter to Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei signed by 70 reformist legislators who had resigned to protest a decree forbidding more than half of the candidates from running. The next day, the Tehran prosecutor’s office ordered the papers closed. Criticising the supreme leader is a criminal offence in Iran.

The following is WPR's translation of the letter as it was published on Shargh’s Web site.—WPR

A group of members of the Majlis [legislative assembly] who have in the preceding weeks resorted to a joint protest in the Majlis, have written a letter to the honorable leader [Khamenei] articulating their opposition to recent developments and, in particular, the disqualification of many candidates from standing in the elections. The letter states:

“We protesting members of the Majlis took part and played important roles in the revolution and have struggled for its victory and consolidation in various arenas. At the foot of Imam [Ayatollah Ruhollah] Khomeini (bless his soul) we have studied the lessons of honor, pride, veracity, piety, and freedom and we acknowledge his precedent and his way for the salvation and exaltation of the Islamic republic of Iran. And as we are aware of the duties of our position, of speaking the truth and enjoining justice, we are now frankly making our case to the honorable leader. You are the leader of a regime that, with the victory of the most popular revolution in the world and in the name of Islam, has presented freedom and independence to the country. But in the name of that same religion, a number of people have now trampled the legitimate constitutional freedoms of the people into the ground.

“Honorable leader, you have taken up a position that has consistently protected the rights of the people everywhere and has never allowed any pretext to be used to undermine their vote. For nearly four years, certain institutions have degraded and insulted the [outgoing] sixth Majlis and its representatives, blocked the path of legislation, and limited the Majlis’ powers. Now, on the threshold of the seventh round of elections, these institutions have negated the most obvious right of the people: the right to vote and be voted for. Allow us, with this introduction, to proceed with one of the most important episodes in the history of the Islamic Republic and in the current debate in Iran and around the world: the conduct of the elections for the seventh Majlis.

“In the current circumstances, all of us, at the very least, are agreed in supposing that regardless of the result, the higher the level of popular participation in the elections, the more auspicious it will be for the country and the regime. This common front could be the cause of unanimity and cooperation among the bodies faithful to the revolution and committed to the conscientious leadership of the people. If the people are the basis of the country’s strength, then the maintenance of this strength depends on particular circumstances—most importantly, the building of trust between the government, the people, and the administration—based on the wishes of the people.”

The letter affirms that:

“The people’s participation in arenas such as processions and religious and national occasions is a profound indication of their commitment to the ideals of religion and the revolution, and their presence is not to be read as a vote cast for a particular faction or school of thought. The people’s view of the government goes beyond the ballot boxes. The higher the number of votes, the more stable the regime will be. But the conduct of the elections for the seventh Majlis and the crisis of the widespread and unconstitutional disqualifications have become one of the factors of the decrease of popular participation in the public arena. It is our conviction that the root of all the present problems—the disqualifications—is the concept of ‘the defense of eligibility.’ This concept is both at odds with the clear text of election law and the commonly understood practices of a proper system of electoral regulation.

“Also, according to most legal specialists, on the question of withholding universal rights [that is, to the right to serve in the Majlis], it is only defensible to rule standing legislators ineligible for the elections. In the elections for the sixth Majlis, an agreement on this matter was reached between the Council of Guardians and the Ministry of the Interior. Everyone knows that, with the exception of a few clear-cut reasons such as extreme old age or citizenship, the reasons for disqualifying a candidate, for rejecting his defense of eligibility, will always be subject to doubt. Based on this logic, ‘lack of [governmental] recognition’ will become ‘non-defense of eligibility.’ ”

The letter goes on to say “While it is your duty to oversee these matters, the Council of Guardians, in a series of unprecedented steps, has founded a system on the defense of eligibility, which led to the disqualification of two fifths of the candidates. The incredible thing is that in addition to the more than 2,000 candidates who had no previous experience of the process of registration, the Council of Guardians disqualified people who, throughout 25 years of the Islamic Republic, have been among the most well-reputed political, cultural, social, and executive personalities in the country, and have, in different ways, been the source of various important services for the country, the nation, and the regime. The matter looks even more perverse when you consider that all the supervisors are chosen from one particular faction and from among the most energetic opponents of reform.

“In this state of affairs, it is extremely easy to deny the eligibility of any candidate whose viewpoint does not agree with the Council of Guardians and the supervisors, particularly since they see themselves as the defenders of absolute truth and pure Islam.” In another section of their letter, the protesting members stated: “The reality is that these gentlemen, by means of a list, have preselected the people who must be disqualified. The available evidence shows that the Council of Guardians’ explanation for the disqualifications (not the defense of eligibility) was not sufficient, as it rests on the evidence of local investigations and reports by handpicked apparatchiks. In addition, the disqualification of the majority of the Majlis’ current members was based on various letters, utterances, and opinions. These have been described on one hand as lies, injustices, and breaking the law, and on the other hand as the defense of the rights and freedoms of the nation—based on legislators’ duties as expressed in Article 84 of the constitution [which says that every representative must answer to the entire country and has the right to express his views on all domestic and international affairs of the country].”

The letter continues as follows: “The unconstitutional steps taken by the Guardian Council were so egregious that they elicited protests from the president, the speaker of the Majlis, ministers, presidential undersecretaries, ministerial undersecretaries, and provincial governors. The president acknowledged this [the Guardian Council’s] trick as unjust, anti-competitive, and damaging to the rights and freedoms of the people. Indeed, you personally twice instructed the Guardian Council to re-examine the case, but they paid attention neither to protests nor to instruction.

The question is: Did the Council of Guardians then resist even your orders—when they call you the ‘final arbiter of rule,’ or did they...[The lacuna is from the version published on Shargh’s Web site. The BBC paraphrases this section thus: “Did the council dare to resist his orders...or could it be that he had said one thing in public and told the council something else behind the scenes?”]. Regarding the decision not to postpone the elections, the protesting members asked, “What is the reason for insisting upon conducting the elections on the date originally set?”

They also demanded to know the reasons why the supreme leader had deemed their resignations illegal.

In the conclusion of the letter, the protesting members stated: “From the very start of the Guardian Council’s illegal actions, based on the duties of membership of the Majlis, we protesting members struggled to comprehend what was happening as the government suppressed the nation’s will and set in motion events that can only alienate the people from the regime. But the behavior that began with the elections for the seventh Majlis, in our opinion, can neither be explained within the framework of the ideals of the Imam [Khomeini] and the revolution, nor based on the principles of conscientious leadership of the people, nor will it help the country down the path of expansion and development.

“A Majlis about to be stripped of members courageous in speech and action, a Majlis that is formed beginning with the ostracism of around 2,000 people, is a Majlis that will not only be unable to defend the national interests, the institutions of the country, and the rights of the nation, but will in all probability be cowed by threats to national security and sovereignty. We are supremely anxious that our regime (with the regretful loss of the great protector of the people) will be brought low in the face of the seen and unseen attacks of foreigners. In the presence of God and before the nation and our own self-examination, we are satisfied that we have had no part in these illegal actions and underhand erosion of the rights of the nation, and that, in line with the dictates of our constitutional duties, we have duly registered our protest against these steps. We pray that God almighty will have mercy on us and that he will reward the great steadfastness of this nation in its struggle to establish the rule of law in the hands of the people, and that he will relieve us of the problems we have created for ourselves through the prudence of his sincere servants.”