Thursday, August 20, 2009

Iranian Opposition Takes Initiative

The Iranian opposition seems suddenly bolder, their use of legal channels more sophisticated, and public discourse more outspoken in challenging the regime.

On August 19, Deputy chief of Karroubi’s Etemade Melli (the National Confidence Party) Rasool Montajabnia effectively challenged the new head of Iran’s Judiciary to serve as the defender of democracy:

Failure of law enforcement authorities to respect the law themselves would only encourage some officials to continue their illegal and ugly practices.

In case his point was missed, the Mehr News report added the following explanation:

Elsewhere, Montajabnia referred to actions by plain clothes, attacking demonstrators who protested the results of the June 12 election including a night attack on Tehran University dormitory, urging the Judiciary chief to bring to justice the perpetrators of such acts.

Recalling the unfortunate death of detainees in the notorious Kahrizak prison and the conditions of detention centers, Montajabnia said, “All detention centers should come under the close supervision of the Judiciary to prevent repeat of such ugly incidents in the future.

In spite of the harsh attacks of regime supports such as Ahmad Khatami, the critiques of torture by opposition leaders Karroubi and Mousavi, as well as civil society spokesmen such as Grand Ayatollah Sane’i appear to be having a fundamental impact on public political discourse in Iran. Montajabnia could be expected to support his boss, but the treatment of his remarks in Mehr News was supportive to the point of treating the opposition charges as fact.

On August 20, the opposition masterfully adopted one of the regime’s favorite methods of oppression, suing to have a defamatory newspaper banned. In a perfect response to the closing on Sunday of Etemade Melli, the opposition selected Kayhan, mouthpiece of Khomenei, and, far more surprising, won their case by default when Editor Shariatmadari, longtime nemesis of moderates, did not even bother to show up in court. It is hard to imagine that this ruling could stand, but the mere fact that it has gotten this far changes the political landscape of Iran. Regime defenders have repeatedly charged the opposition with being outside the law; now the opposition is using the system against the regime.

Will new Judiciary chief Larijani countenance the arrest of the offending judge just as he takes office or might this just possibly lead to a compromise strengthening freedom of the press in Iran? And exactly how can a regime claiming its legitimacy comes from god survive in a land with real freedom of press?

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