Mohsen Sazegara, an Iranian political reformer who is currently a visiting fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, learned this week that he had been sentenced in absentia to seven years in prison in his home country. The charges against him were not clear, he said.
Sazegara, 50, was a founder of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps at the outset of the Iranian revolution in 1979 but evolved into an outspoken critic of theocratic rule. He said the court decision was read to his attorney in Tehran.
"The regret I feel is not only for myself but for the state of the judiciary in Iran," he said in an interview Tuesday. "The same destiny awaits everyone in jail. They will never appear in court; I have not." Iran's judicial officials, he said, "do whatever they want."
Patrick Clawson, deputy research director at the Washington Institute and a specialist on Iran, said the Iranian authorities broke the law by failing to send Sazegara written notice of the sentencing.
Sazegara was previously imprisoned in Iran for promoting changes in the constitution and for seeking a referendum on the charter. He tried to run for president in 2001, but Iran's powerful Council of Guardians rejected his candidacy, he said.
Sazegara requested an explanation from the council, the extra-governmental body that screens political candidates based on their loyalty to the Islamic revolution, but he said he never got one. The council, composed of hard-line clerics, has been the major obstacle for reformers seeking to obtain political posts in Iran.
"My history is that of all Iranian society," Sazegara said. "We were still young in 1979, but gradually we learned the facts from practice and experience. We used to believe in a socialist system, but I now know we need a market economy and democracy. To make it in this world we need cultural, political and social pluralism, not just Shiite Islam."
Sazegara was once a manager at Iran's Industrial Development and Renovation Organization, which manages 140 nationalized companies. He said he eventually realized the structure of Iran could not accommodate an effective reform movement, so he began writing in various publications urging change.
He said he became part of the reformist Kian circle, which included journalist Akbar Ganji, now in prison in Iran. The group publishes a quarterly journal on contemporary Islamic theory and philosophy.
"Like Akbar Ganji, Mohsen Sazegara is being punished for directly challenging" Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's supreme religious leader, said Roya Hakakian, an Iranian author and rights activist based in New Haven, Conn. "These challenges . . . are truly addressing the heart of what is holding back Iran from reaching a democracy."
When his fellowship ends in October, Sazegara said, he will undergo eye surgery and continue treatment for a cardiac condition. He said he hopes to establish a satellite TV station that would beam programming into Iran.
Kazakh Points to Progress
Kasymzhomart Tokayev, the foreign minister of Kazakhstan, told guests at a dinner hosted by the U.S.-Kazakhstan Business Association on Monday that his country's commitment to market reforms, launched a decade ago, was beginning to bear fruit.
"Ten years ago, our gross domestic product per capita was $700. Last year it was $2,700, and the forecast for this year puts it beyond $3,000," Tokayev said.
Tokayev, a 1975 graduate of the Moscow Institute of International Relations, also said Kazakhstan has held "regular democratic elections," though Western observers have expressed doubts that the elections were free or fair.
Sean McCormack, a State Department spokesman, said Washington would like Kazakhstan, a candidate for chairmanship of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe in 2009, to meet OSCE standards of human rights and democratic practices. Tokayev met with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice Monday and was scheduled to meet with Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld on Tuesday.
In an interview with Reuters Tuesday, Tokayev said his country was ready to "continue providing our airspace" and the use of one airport for emergency landings and refueling to support U.S. military operations in Afghanistan. He also said his government was committed to ensuring fairness and transparency in presidential elections set for Dec. 4.
Eye on Local Government
Four mayors from major Lebanese cities -- Beirut, Tripoli, Sidon and Zahlah -- are in Washington on a weeklong trip organized by the University at Albany and funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development. They will attend the National League of Cities conference in Cambridge, Mass., next week.
Abdel Menhem Al Ariss, the elected mayor of Beirut, said the group hoped to observe local government practices during the visit.