WASHINGTON — Iran is escalating the crackdown on its domestic civil society, announcing a new round of arrests against activists its Intelligence Ministry claims were working closely with four Iranian-Americans who the regime detained in May.
The new detainees comprised a network seeking a nonviolent, or "velvet," revolution in Iran, Intelligence Minister Gholam Hossein Ejehei said. "Internal elements related to these people have been arrested," Iranian state radio quoted Mr. Ejehei as saying, according to the Associated Press. "We are hopeful their names and reasons of detention will be announced."
The latest arrests follow a pattern by the mullahs who run the Iranian government. Since the Islamic Revolution of 1979, the regime has conducted routine purges of Iranians it considers counterrevolutionaries. More recently, the purges have spread to members of the Reform Party, led by a former president, Mohammad Khatami, which was blocked by unelected councils from implementing its promised loosening of rules prohibiting free expression and the exercise of other political liberties.
Since the ascendancy of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to the presidency of Iran in 2005, the regime has issued bans on popular music and Western clothing, tortured labor leaders, harassed and detained Web loggers, and in recent days forced the confession of a detained Iranian-American scholar, Haleh Esfandiari, on state-run television.
The treatment of the four Iranian-Americans has drawn protests from nearly all political corners in America, including many scholars who have sought to excuse or ignore Iranian-sponsored international terrorism. One hundred forty-one people, including a Massachusetts Institute of Technology linguist, Noam Chomsky, signed a petition in the June 28 issue of the New York Review of Books demanding Ms. Esfandiari's release.
Yesterday, the founding chairman of the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict, Peter Ackerman, said the Iranian regime's actions betray its insecurities. "Their claim that the ‘velvet revolution' is being instigated by outside parties is nonsense," he said. "These revolutions only succeed by massive support and leadership inside the country.
"They cannot be instigated from the outside. The idea that America instigated 1 million people to spend 17 days in the freezing cold in Kiev is laughable," Mr. Ackerman, whose center has worked with opposition groups in 26 countries including Iran, said. "Similarly, the idea that democracy promoters from outside Iran will be the spark for regime change simply defies history. What they are trying to do, what they are doing as all desperate authoritarians do, is deflect attention from their own population's disaffection with their brutal rule."
Part of the Iranian government's case against the alleged velvet revolution network is that scholars like Ms. Esfandiari represent an extension of the Bush administration's plan for regime change. But in her position at the Woodrow Wilson Center, Ms. Esfandiari was reportedly a quiet advocate for engagement with Iranian reformers, and President Bush has never publicly called for regime change. Indeed, he asked a former Pennsylvania senator, Rick Santorum, to remove regime change language from his Iran legislation in 2006.
The president has, however, lent his voice at times to the struggle of Iranian democrats like Akbar Ganji, the journalist and philosopher who spent most of the summer of 2005 on a hunger strike. When he visited America in 2006, Mr. Ganji refused to attend a White House meeting or meet any Bush administration official. He currently resides in Toronto.
"We are not pursuing regime change in Iran," a spokesman for the State Department, Dave Foley, said. "We are pursuing behavior change."
When asked about the State Department program to make $75 million available to Iranian democratic causes, Mr. Foley said, "It's to support the activists and people who promote democracy and respect for human rights and civil society in Iran."
Since December, coalition forces in Iraq have waged a dirty war with Iraq's Sunni Intelligence Ministry against an Iranian Quds Force network in Iraq. The network is said by American military commanders to support both Sunni and Shiite terrorists. And Iran reportedly has given aid and training to Iran's three largest Shiite militias, which have fought Sunni jihadists in Iraq.
Despite the hostilities between Iran and America in Iraq, the American ambassador in Baghdad, Ryan Crocker, said at a meeting with his Iranian counterpart on Tuesday that the two countries had formed a provisional security committee to address Sunni-based terrorism.
Still, two administration officials yesterday said the new "committee" was little more than a promise to continue having meetings similar to the one on Tuesday, at which Mr. Crocker presented evidence that Iran had increased its support for terrorism, only to have Ambassador Hassan Kazemi Qomi of Iran deny the charges.
"So now we know Qomi is lying and Qomi knows we know he is lying," one American diplomat said. "What does that tell you about this process? No one is expecting anything more, either."