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Themes Why I Became a Dissident » Mohsen Sazegara

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Interviewed April 2010 and November 2010

Mohsen Sazegara is a former deputy prime minister of Iran and founder of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps who now serves as a leading supporter of the Iranian Green Movement.

In the lead-up to the Islamic Revolution in Iran, Sazegara served as a leading student activist against the Shah. After the Shah left the country in 1979, Sazegara traveled to Tehran from Paris with the Ayatollah Khomeini, joined the government of the Islamic Republic, and helped establish the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps. Sazegara then served as deputy prime minister and in several other senior positions.

Eventually, Sazegara became disillusioned with Khomeini’s regime and left government to study history. He came to the conclusion that Khomeini’s government was acting in ways that were incompatible with the principles of Islam. Following the publication of his numerous writings in reformist papers and his calls for a referendum on the Iranian constitution, Sazegara was arrested and imprisoned several times. He protested his imprisonment with hunger strikes, which severely affected his health. He eventually was allowed to leave Iran to seek medical treatment.

Sazegara now lives in the United States and is an active supporter of the Iranian Green Movement. He serves as president of the Research Institute on Contemporary Iran and as a visiting fellow at the George W. Bush Institute in Dallas. 

I remember that the first time that I was in jail only for 24 hours, was really a turning point for me. Because you know while I was out of jail. I was at the top positions. I heard about something. Some torture. Some-- brutalities in prisons. But believe me, I-- I-- I said to myself sometimes that they are exaggerations. They are propaganda of the opposition groups. But when I was for the first time in prison, I saw many things, I heard some things that-- when by the order of Ayatollah Khomeini, the leader, I was released, because-- I was at the head of IDRO and in charge of 140 factories of the country.

So, I was released, but-- directly in the morning. Early in the morning with-- Mr. Nabavi, we went to visit Ayatollah Khomeini, the leader, and his son Ahmad was in that meeting. In that meeting, I explained for Ayatollah Khomeini, the leader, that whatever Mr. Logivardi’s doing in Evin Prison, I don’t know if you are aware of that or not. If you know about whatever he’s doing, okay. And you agree. Please tell me.

I made a mistake that I came to Paris. I joined you. And I followed you to Iran. And I came-- I was with you. And if you don’t agree with whatever he does, why don’t you prevent it? Why don’t you-- dismiss him? Why don’t you-- even-- you know, trial him.

I remember that Ayatollah Khomeini was listening very carefully. And he-- he didn’t say anything. When we came-- you know, because I quoted him some scenes that I so-- especially a sentence from an interrogator that was shouting over the head of a girl-- that said that-- okay-- take her and-- torture her to-- to kick her more-- beat her more. And-- she said that, "No, please-- I can’t tolerate anymore-- anymore lashes."

And he said that the interrogator said that-- you-- when-- when you can’t tolerate-- some-- a few lashes from the interrogator, how you can tolerate the punishment of the god in the judgment day? I quoted this to Ayatollah Khomeini and said that-- who has told an interrogator that-- he is-- you know, an agent of the god? And-- he can judge the people like-- the god? And you know that this-- this type of idea is how dangerous.

And a person who thinks-- like this can easily kill the people. I remember that Ayatollah Khomeini listened very carefully and said nothing. Because he understood-- I-- I’m sure that he knew that-- this is a very, very-- you know-- dangerous deviation from-- for-- for the Islamic Republic. Anyway, when we came out of-- his house after that meeting. Ahmad Ahi his son, told me that write down whatever you explained for him in a letter and write it-- in big letters, because of-- his eyes can read them easily.

I did that-- in four or five pages. I-- I wrote it down. Hand-- handwriting. And I submitted to him to-- tomorrow morning. One week later, Logivardi was changed. He was replaced by Ayatollah’s son Ahi. But-- and-- and I said to myself that, okay, that’s-- just something-- relate-- related to this person. Fortunately, he-- he was replaced and-- but after awhile, gradually I found out that-- there-- as I said, these behaviors are not accidental. They are not because-- one person or one prosecutor or one interrogator. They are essential.

When you don’t have any accountability for the rulers. When you don’t have any independent judiciary power, elected by the people. When-- you don’t have any competition in the power. So, you don’t have any democracy. When the rulers they think that-- they are the emissaries of God. So, they don’t need to answer to the people. They can justify whatever they do. When you have school of thought-- based on jurist’s ideas. Jurisprudent ideas that they think that they can-- you know, justify any crime in religious orders. So, it will be repeated. It happened several times. 

Iran is a Middle Eastern nation with a population of just over 77 million. Iran’s population is predominately Persian, and Persian is the official language. The Shia branch of Islam is the official state religion, and approximately 90-95 percent of the population belongs to the faith. The second-largest nation in the region, Iran contains some of the world’s largest oil and gas reserves. The energy industry makes up a large portion of Iran’s economy, and the nation is one of the founding members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC).

The Islamic Republic of Iran is the world's only remaining theocratic state, in which political leadership is vested in religious authorities. The Islamic Republic was created in 1979 following a revolution against the Shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi. Although many elements of Iranian society led the revolution, ultimately Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and his followers gained control of the country. In December 1979, the country adopted an Islamic constitution providing that “all civil, criminal, financial, economic, administrative, cultural, military, political and all other statutes and regulations be in keeping with Islamic [law].”

Following adoption of the new constitution, Khomeini became the “Supreme Leader,” the ultimate political and religious authority in the country. Ayatollah Sayyid Ali Hoseyni Khamenei has been Supreme Leader since Khomeini’s death in 1989. The Supreme Leader is selected by a body of Islamic scholars called the Assembly of Experts. The Supreme Leader is responsible for the military and security concerns of Iran and has the final say on all issues. The president of Iran, who is elected by the public from a list approved by the Guardian Council (a body comprised of clerics and jurists), is nominally responsible for administration of the executive branch and is subject to the authority of the Supreme Leader.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was elected president in 2005. Ahmadinejad was viewed as an ultraconservative and his views a stark contrast from the relatively reformist policies of his predecessor, President Mohammad Khatami. Despite promises of equality and fighting corruption, Ahmadinejad and his administration cracked down on civil liberties and more strictly enforced religious-based morality laws.

Ahmadinejad was reelected in 2009 in an election widely viewed as fraudulent. Following the June 2009 election, hundreds of thousands of Iranians took to the streets in the largest protests in the country since 1979, which came to be known as the “Green Revolution.” The government responded to the peaceful protestors with a massive campaign of intimidation, violence, and limits on freedoms. Universities were closed down, media outlets and internet resources censored, and rights to assembly restricted.

In June 2013, Hassan Rouhani was elected President and replaced Ahmadinejad. Rouhani has a reputation as a relatively moderate reformer and has promised additional freedoms and rights. It remains to be seen whether or not these promises will be fulfilled.

According to Freedom House, Iran is one of the least-free countries in the world. In its most recent report, Iran received a score of six in both the political rights and civil liberties categories, where one represents most free and seven represents least free. Iran has been the subject of numerous resolutions at the United Nations condemning the country’s human rights record. Among other things, the government uses summary arrest and execution against its political opponents. The death penalty is applied even for nonviolent crimes, including adultery. Radio and television broadcasting are under the control of the government and provide only government-approved content. Women are denied equal rights in marriage and other areas.

More on this theme from Mohsen Sazegara

Mohsen Sazegara: Confronting Khomeini His decision to confront Ayatollah Khomeini.

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Mohsen Sazegara: Role of Women in Iran The role of women freedom advocates in Iran. Mohsen Sazegara: Prison Hunger Strike His hunger strike in prison and his decision to leave Iran. More +