Iran Human RightsIran security agents in spotlight for plainclothed brutality

Iran security agents in spotlight for plainclothed brutality


ImageWashington Times: They wear no uniforms and, so far, they have not been held accountable for their deeds. But in the aftermath of Iran's disputed June 12 presidential elections, the spotlight is focusing on security agents known in Farsi as Lebas Shakhsiha – plainclothes security agents.

The Washington Times

No current accountability

By Mehdi Jedinia

ImageThey wear no uniforms and, so far, they have not been held accountable for their deeds.

But in the aftermath of Iran's disputed June 12 presidential elections, the spotlight is focusing on security agents known in Farsi as Lebas Shakhsiha – plainclothes security agents. They are thought to be responsible for the deaths of more than a dozen protesters, including Neda Agha-Soltan, the young woman who was fatally shot on the streets of Tehran on June 20 – an event captured on video and viewed by millions around the world via the Internet.

Mehdi Karroubi, a cleric and defeated reformist candidate, on Sundayurged Iranian authorities to investigate the shooting and not blame outsiders. Instead, he said, plainclothes agents were likely at fault.

"No more cock-and-bull story," Mr. Karroubi said in a meeting with his election aides and with staff writers of pro-reformist Web sites and newspapers.He compared the killing of Ms. Agha-Soltan to the "serial murders" of Iranian intellectuals a decade ago by members of the Iranian Intelligence Ministry.

Mr. Karroubi, Mir Hossein Mousavi – the main opposition candidate – and former President Mohammed Khatami met late Monday and issued a common call for the government to end its crackdown on protesters and release those arrested.

A moderate political party associated with another former president, Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, issued a statement calling the election results "not acceptable," the Associated Press reported.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Tuesday sought to put the turmoil over the disputed presidential election behind him and declared on national television that the contest was clean, fair and the start of a new era.

"The election … was completely clean and healthy. In the recount, no fault was discovered. The whole nation understood this," he said. "This election has doubled the dignity of the Iranian nation."

During the half-hour speech, Iranians in many parts of the city could be heard shouting from their rooftops: "Death to the dictator" and "God is great."

Opposition leaders have rejected government claims that foreigners instigated the protests against the purported landslide victory of Mr. Ahmadinejad.

State-controlled media have aired "confessions" to that effect from detained Iranians. Iranian officials say they also have uncovered a conspiracy in which armed saboteurs pretended to be members of the Basij, a paramilitary force that has acted as an anti-riot squad.

Once respected for heroism in defending Iran during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war, the Basij-e Mostazafan, or "Mobilization of the Oppressed," has in recent years become the enforcer of public morality and of loyalty to the regime.

Basij volunteers receive small-arms training and are subordinate to and under the direction of the elite Revolutionary Guard. In the mid-1990s, the Guard created a ranking system for the Basij, placing the most reliable members in the so-called Ashura battalion, named for the most important event on the Shi'ite Muslim calendar. It marks the death of Hossein, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad, in the Iraqi desert in the year 680 at the hands of a brutal ruler.

A 1995 photo showed a battalion membership card of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei with the number one, meaning commander in chief.

The government first used members of the Basij as an anti-riot force during Tehran University demonstrations 10 years ago.

Other plainclothes agents directed the Basij who, in addition to suppressing demonstrations, attacked student dormitories, flinging a few students from third-floor balconies. At least one student was killed, several hundred were wounded and more than a thousand were arrested during a week of demonstrations and riots – the worst civil unrest in Iran since the 1979 revolution, until last month.

It was during those student protests that Iranian journalists first began using the term "plainclothes agents" to refer to high-ranking security officials.

Abdullah Iraqi, commander of the Mohammed army – a unit of the Guard that directs the Basij in Tehran – has said that he employed only 30 percent of the city's Basij during the latest clashes.

The official Islamic Republic News Agency has estimated that the Basij have 12.5 million members. A 2005 study by the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington said there are 90,000 full-time members and 300,000 reservists, with several hundred thousand more available to be mobilized in emergencies such as earthquakes.

However, there are persistent reports that the government brought in Iran-backed Arab forces, including members of Lebanon's Hezbollah, to join the crackdown.

Several photos of a Hezbollah commander, Hossein Monif Ashmar, the younger brother of a well-known Hezbollah suicide bomber, were published on Twitter, Facebook and other social-networking sites. The pictures showed him in the midst of Tehran's recent protestsholding an Iranian military radio and carrying a pistol under his shirt.

According to witnesses and human rights organizations, many plainclothes security agents turned peaceful protests into violent clashes by beating young men and women and even shooting into the crowds.

The government accuses the protesters of attacking private and public property and assaulting members of the Basij who were trying to maintain order.

Despite government promises of an inquiry into the death of Ms. Agha-Soltan and some demonstrators, it is unlikely that any of these agents will be prosecuted.

"Security agents who are known as the plainclothes army are unlikely to appear in any court," said an Iranian judge who asked, for security reasons, to be identified only by his first name, Hossein.

Hossein noted that "these agents are well-trained for this sort of events" and can be recognized by their fast motorcycles.

A plainclothes agent on such a motorcycle is thought to be responsible for the attempted assassination in 2000 of Saeed Hajjarian, a top adviser to Mr. Khatami, the former president. Mr. Hajjarian, who was advising Mr. Mousavi this year, is among more than 1,000 people arrested and now is reported to be in a coma.

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