Iranian moderate politicians yesterday called for the release from prison of former foreign minister Sadegh Ghotbzadeh, whose arrest three days ago has reopened a schism between the centrists and hard-line Moslem fundamentalists.
The fundamentalists, however, seemed to be ignoring the appeals for the release of Ghotbzadeh, who was accused by hard-liners yesterday of "seeking to discredit the revolution."
In addition, a fundamentalist newspaper charged Ghotbzadeh with "insulting the imam [Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeinie] and the revolution" during a televised debated Thursday that led the Tehran public prosecutor to order his arrest. Supporters of the powerful fundamentalist Islamic Republican Party also succeeded in pushing through a provision of a parliamentary bill that would require the appointment of only strict Moslems to the national radio and television service.
Among those coming to Ghotzbadeh's defense was former prime minister Mehdi Bazargan, who appealed to Khomeini to order the release of the jailed 47-year-old former foreign minister and Revolutionary Council member. Ghotbzadeh's detention also caused angry exchanges in the Majlis, or parliament, between fundamentalists and relative moderates, news services reported from Tehran.
Besides reopening a rift between the two factions, which have been struggling for power since the February 1979 revolution, the arrest of Ghotbzadeh appeared to threaten the degree of unity created in Iran by the war with neighboring Iraq.
Ghotbzadeh, the first chief of the national broadcasting service after the revolution, was seized at his home Friday by Revolutionary Guards and taken to Tehran's notorious Evin Prison. Tehran Public Prosecutor Assadollah Lajevardi ordered his arrest because of his remarks on television the previous evening that unauthorized persons were trying to impose their views on the broadcasting service, Voice and Vision of the Islamic Republic, Reuter news agency reported.
Appearing on the country's second channel, which is aligned with relatively moderate President Abol Haasan Bani-Sadr, Ghotbzadeh also criticized the running of the first channel, which reflects the views of the Islamic Republican Party hard-liners.
Also on the program with Ghotbzadeh was Mohammed Moballeghi-Islami, the former deputy director general of the radio and television service. He is still being sought by authorities, but signed an open letter published in an afternoon newspaper yesterday calling for a public airing of the facts in the case.
Writing in another newspaper, Bazargan said that arresting Ghotbzadeh was like "curing a toothache with a fist or a hammer," the French news agency Agence France-Presse reported. Bazargan called the arrest a blow to the honor of Islam, the revolution and Iran. He said the action would increase Iranians' "feelings of insecurity" and asked rhetorically, "What of the effect of this affair on the opinion of the world, where we hope to export our revolution?"
A clerical supporter of Bani-Sadr, Ayatollah Allameh Nouri, seconded Bazargan and said that if Ghotbzadeh's arrest were justified, "two-thirds of the Iranian people" should be arrested on the same charge, AFP reported. o
The criticism of the arrest grew particularly sharp in the Majilis, where several dozen legislators signed a protest letter to House Speaker Hojatoleslam Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani.
One protesting deputy, Ali Naqi Naqavi, charged that Iranian judicial authorities had "violated the constitution" and that people were being held without justification in Iranian jails. He cited the case of Abbas Amir Entezam, a former deputy prime minister under Bazargan arrested a year ago on charges of "spying for America," AFP reported. Naqavi demanded to know why the case had not yet been tried.
Naqavi was then denounced as a couterrevolutionary by an Islamic Republican Party supporter, and pandemonium broke out on the Majlis floor.