[Updated 24 Sept. 2009]
An open letter purporting to be from a group of employees at Iran’s Interior Ministry says that a hard-line ayatollah authorized election supervisors to alter the election results so President Ahmadinejad would win re-election. According to contacts in the Iranian defense department, an IT (information technology) manager in the Interior Ministry was murdered after he leaked information about the fraud to opposition candidates.
The implications given in the paragraph above are difficult to confirm in depth, given the news blackout in Iran. However, I do have sources with connections in Iran that lend reasonable credibility to this account.
In terms of the fatwa authorizing election supervisors to rig the results, Tehran Bureau, a news organization reporting on Iranian affairs, has published an open letter purporting to be written by a group of employees in the Iranian Interior Ministry (the agency in charge of the country’s elections) — here is a link to a copy of the letter in Persian.
I don’t read Persian, but Tehran Bureau has furnished a partial translation — see “Open Letter: Fatwa Issued for Changing the Vote in Favor of Ahmadinejad.”
According to the translation, the fatwa came from a well-known cleric who previously preached about political philosophy at Friday prayers in Tehran, identified by Tehran Bureau as Ayatollah Mohammad Taghi Mesbah Yazdi.
The letter says that in May of this year the government realized that Ahmadinejad’s political support was waning in favor of opposers. This led Yazdi to meet in secret with election supervisors. Citing the Quran, Yazdi told the supervisors,
If someone is elected the president and hurts the Islamic values that have been spread [by Mr. Ahmadinejad] to Lebanon, Palestine, Venezuela, and other places, it is against Islam to vote for that person. We should not vote for that person, and also warn people about that person. It is your religious duty as the supervisors of the elections to do so.
After criticizing the other candidates, Yazdi said,
You should throw away those who are unqualified, both morally and lawfully. Your highest call of duty at this time is to preserve your achievement.
The open letter describes the election supervisors as “happy and energetic for having obtained the religious fatwa to use any trick for changing the votes,” and says they “began immediately to develop plans for it.”
Tehran bureau describes itself as “a virtual bureau connecting journalists, Iran experts, and readers all over the world.” A news release in February 2009 from the Columbia University School of Journalism says the bureau was started by Kelly Golnoush Niknejad, a U.S.-based journalist born in Iran. The release said that journalist Jason Rezaian would be covering the Iranian presidential election from Tehran.
I have sent an email to Niknejad asking more information about how her organization obtained a copy of the open letter, but she has not replied as of today.
In researching this story, I read in the Guardian about “unconfirmed reports” that an Iranian whistleblower had been murdered for revealing the election fraud — see “Iran protests: Regime cracks down on opposition as further unrest looms,” by Ian Black, Robert Tait and Mark Tran. Black and colleagues reported that,
Mohammad Asgari, who was responsible for the security of the IT network in Iran’s interior ministry, was killed yesterday in a suspicious car accident in Tehran. Asgari had reportedly leaked evidence that the elections were rigged to alter the votes from the provinces. Asgari was said to have leaked information that showed Mousavi had won almost 19m votes, and should therefore be president.
I found that it was difficult to get further confirmation of this report, but it seemed valuable to do so, as it in turn would confirm the implications of the open letter from the Interior employees.
Finally I was able to get in touch with Rob (Sohrab) Shahmir, an Iranian in Toronto, who is now chairman of E&I Renewable Energies and CEO of E&I Group. Shahmir was working in Iran from 1998 to 2007 in environmental services and removal of landmines and unexploded ordinance.
Shahmir still has contacts in the Ministry of Defense in Iran. He tells me that, according to his contacts,
Mr. Asgari was a manager at the IT department of the Ministry of Interior. He was one of the few semi-senior supporters of the moderates at the ministry. After the ministry was ordered to flip the results and declare Ahmadinejad the winner by the office of the leadership, Mr. Asgari released the information to the offices of [opposition leaders] Mr. Mousavi and Karoubi.
According to my contacts, after the Revolutionary Guards Counter Intelligence Group discovered his identity, Sardars (Generals) Naghdi and Safavi ordered his assassination. Consequently, his vehicle was run over by a truck (one the size of a coal truck).
Shahmir tells me that the photo shown here is the truck that was used to kill Asgari.
Update 11 Sept. 2009: Jeremy Hammond at Foreign Policy Journal has written an extensive analysis of the coverage of the reputed Yazdi fatwa. See “The Case of the ‘Fatwa’ to Rig Iran’s Election.”
Update 24 Sept. 2009: Muhammad Sahimi of Tehran Bureau has responded to critics of the account of the Yazdi fatwa — see “America’s Misguided Left.”
AB — 22 June 2009