Iran's new revolutionary government has jailed about 2,000 persons on political charges and wants another 16,000 for questioning in connection with their activities under the deposed shah, according to official and unoffical estimates.
People apparently are still being denounced to the new Islamic authorites and indications are that Iranian men will not be permitted to leave the country for a long period while the government decides who belongs in prison.
The continuing travel ban reflects unsettled conditions here as the new government tries to take better control of the country, as well as a determination to punish Iranians condidered guilty of crimes sponsored or tolerated by Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi's disgraced royal apparatus.
The travel ban was to be lifted for all but the 16,000 wanted for questioning, it was announced a week ago. But that decision was countermanded, a high revolutionary source said, when it was realized that so many denunciations are pouring in that many persons connected with the old government might get away if the gates are opened too soon. Since then, the government has been allowing large numbers of women and children to leave, but no men.
Everybody on the list of 16,000 is not going to wind up in jail. It consists of whole categories of people, including everyone deemed to have been of managerial rank in the public administration and the semipublic sector and lists of rich businessmen who, it is felt, could have been involved in official corruption.
It was announced yesterday that 36 prisoners would be tried, and the new Tehran revolutionary prosecutor appealed for witnesses against the accused to come forward. Those to be tried include the former SAVAK chief and minister of information, Gen. Hassan Pakhravan and Gen. Jamshid Tabrizi, chief of staff of the Imperial Guard. No date was given for resumption of trials in the Revolutionary Court, whose judges were purged recently as part of a reorganization after summary trials and executions were halted.
It is unknow exactly how many political prisoners are in jail. but informed guesses by Red Cross representatives and civil rights lawyer Abdul-Karim Lapiji is that a government estimate of about 1,000 in Tehran seems right. %lahiji thinks government assertions that this is half or more of the total for the country also appears to be right.
Announcements of new arrests occur regularly, however, and the criteria are not altogether clear. One man went to Qasr Prison, the main jail for political prisoners in Tehran, to inquire about a friend being held there wound up being arrested himself.
"That was really very clever of them to arrest him like that," said a friend of the two me." It will stop the rest of us from protesting too loudly."
Some people inactive for years are being arrested. Last week Amir Hossain Atapour, 78, a general retired for 27 years, was arrested. Many people jumped to the conclusion that it was a move to silence his son, Fariborz Atapour, a political commentator for the English-language Tehran Journal who has been writing sharp leftist criticism of the new government for not carrying the revolution far enough.
Others arrested in recent days include Ali Gholi Ardalan, the shah's former court minister, Gen. Hossein Fardoust, chief of the Special Branch, and former lower house speaker Abdollah Riazi. Ardalan, 78, was ambassador to Washington from 1958 to 1960 and also served as ambassador to West Germany and the Soviet Union. He had been inactive for years but served on the Regency Council appointed on the departure of the shah with the aim of preserving the principle of the monarchy.
In those terms, he is a big fish. But there are a lot of little fish wondering whether they, too, will be brought to Islamic revolutionary justice. "Any could that made rain over the shah's place is guilty," commented an anxious businessman.
Then there are the big fish that got away. They include former prime minister Shahpour Bakhtiar; Gen. Karim Abbas Garebaghi, the last armed forces chief of staff, and Gen. Hassan Toufanian, the shah's chief arms procurer.
It was announced soon after Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's revolution that Toufanian had been arrested. But it appears certain he is not now in jail, and there are many good reasons to think he is in hiding somewhere as Bakhtiar is said to be.
Toufanian has been accused of involvement in many questionable financial dealings concerned with Iran's billions of dollars in arms purchases. There are many Iranians and non-Iranians who undoubtedly have big stakes in his not having to testify.
Persons seen in jail by Lahiji include former foreign minister Arsalan Khalatbari, Pakhravan, former parliament president Javed Said, two former mayors of Tehran, two former agriculture ministers, a former health minister and the last commander of the Air Force. Western military attaches estimate 40 generals are in jail.
Lahiji and International Red Cross representative Harald Schmid de Gruneck are the only outsiders who have been allowed to visit Qasr Prison. Lahiji had gone twice and spoken, he said in an interview, to about 600 prisoners over 10 hours.
Schmid is understood to have gone once and seen 150 to 200 prisoners. The Red Cross man has not returned because he insists on talking to prisoners without witnesses -- a right the shah's government gave the Red Cross in March 1977. The Red Cross expects to be authorized to resume visits under those conditions soon.
Prime Minister Mehdi Brzargan, who was Lahiji's predecessor as president of the Iranian Association for the Defense of the Rights of Man, is considered particularly sensitive on the prisoner issue. Bazargan offered Lahiji the post of justice minister, but Lahiji said he thought it was more important to stay outside the Cabinet as a force for human rights.
Lahiji nevertheless makes it clear that he is sympathetic to the Islamic revolution and says he thinks most prisoners in Qasr deserve to be punished. He says he just wants to be sure that their rights are respected in the process.
Lahiji said he has written to the revolutionary prosecutor, however, listing a number of prisoners who should be freed. The lawyer said the Qasr prisoners told him physical conditions are reasonably good and that they were not mistreated by guards. Among their requests were speedy handling of their cases, the right to see their lawyers and the right to communicate with their families.
Former prime minister Amir Abbas Hoveyda, the most important prisoner in the jail, is understood to have told a visitor, "They are doing their best. You have to take into account that this is a revolution. The conditions are acceptable."
Lahiji said he saw nothing to support allegations in the Tehran press that 7,000 prisoners are in Qasr in facilities designed for 3,000 and there is not enough room for prisoners to stretch out to sleep On the contrary, he said, one large room he saw with a capacity for 200 to 300 held only about 30.
The Bazargan government asked Khomeini to declare an amnesty for the Presian New Year covering prisoners and minor offenders still sought, but Khomeini refused on the advice of his Revolutionary Council.
"Having a good heart doesn't make a state run," said a Khomeini aide. "It is too soon. If we amnesty people now, it will backfire. Those we release could get killed. We must prepare the people and tell them that the time for revenge is over. The majority of those being held will get out in just a few years."