Middle East


Smear Campaign

Iranian students hold up a protrait of Hamadani MP Hossein Loghmanian and shout slogans protesting his arrest during a gathering held Dec. 30, 2001, in the western city of Hamadan (Photo: AFP).

The latest attack of conservative Islamic hardliners against reformist supporters of Iran’s president, Mohammad Khatami, is a corruption charge against 60 unnamed members of the reformist-dominated Parliament. On Dec. 31, 2001, a conservative judge ordered the arrest of Hossein Loghmanian, a reformist MP from Hamadan, for calling the conservative judiciary “a ruin.”

Mehdi Karrubi, speaker of the Parliament, called the arrest “an assault against the sovereignty of the legislative branch by the judiciary,” and for three weeks every session of Parliament was about how to gain Loghmanian’s release. On Jan. 14, five representatives from Hamadan walked out in support of their colleague, and two days later Karrubi threatened not to preside over Parliament sessions if Loghmanian remained in jail. The pressure finally forced Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to interfere and pardon Loghmanian on Jan. 16.

As the reformists fought for Parliament’s independence, the hard-liners’ media started a smear campaign against the reformists. A headline in the main conservative mouthpiece, Kayhan, read: “The involvement of 60 MPs in a corruption case” (Jan. 1). The article accused 60 unnamed MPs of receiving bribes from Shahram Jazayeri, a 30-year-old businessman.

The conservative press has portrayed Jazayeri as the central figure in a campaign against corruption that started in July 2001. The campaign, begun on the orders of Ayatollah Khamenei, is supposed to investigate and prosecute Iranians involved in bribery and embezzlement, regardless of political affiliation. But according to the newspaper Norooz, whose writers are the most prominent members of the reform movement, “The campaign against corruption has become an alibi for the hard-liners to suppress the reform movement in the country” (Jan. 3).

Norooz’s publisher is reformist MP Mohsen Mirdamadi, who as a student radical took part in the 1979 siege on the U.S. Embassy in Tehran where 52 Americans were held hostage for 444 days. In an interview with Norooz reporters, Mirdamadi, head of Parliament’s National Security and Foreign Affairs Committee, said that “the hard-liners’ crisis committee, which was responsible for killing a number of intellectuals a few years ago, is the mastermind behind the new attacks against the reformists” (Jan. 3).

Hossein Shariatmadari, who was named by the Supreme Leader as Kayhan’s publisher, reveled in the fact that his newspaper’s headline caused such a stir. In a typically long editorial titled “Don’t Panic. This Is Just the Beginning,” Shariatmadari warned reformist representatives that “Kayhan is not afraid of these Don Quixotes and will carry on its struggle against those who are stealing from the people” (Jan. 2).

Norooz’s Jan. 2 editorial called Kayhan’s criticism “the biggest honor for the reformist Parliament.” It said that the accusations are only the beginning of a five-step strategy to shut down Parliament: “1. Spread rumors against the Parliament; 2. Show trial of Jazayeri where he will testify against some MPs; 3. Create a hostile atmosphere against the Parliament; 4. Stage... demonstrations against the Parliament; and 5. Solve ‘the problem’ of the Parliament in another so-called move on behalf of the people.”