On this date in 1987,* Iranian cleric and revolutionary official Mehdi Hashemi was secretly executed … seemingly, for leaking the Iran-Contra scandal.
Hashemi had a series of posts in the revolutionary state generally relating to exporting the revolution, and under the aegis of Ayatollah Montazeri, who in the late 1980s was the heir apparent of Ayatollah Khomeini for leadership in the Islamic Republic.
Montazeri was a rival of parliamentarian Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani,† and further to that rivalry the Montazeri faction leaked embarrassing information about Rafsanjani’s dealings with the United States.
The Great Satan’s disreputable Middle East policy entailed playing both sides of the destructive Iran-Iraq War — arming Saddam Hussein‘s Iraq, while also making secret weapons sales through Israel to Iran despite a supposed arms embargo, thereby obtaining the release of American hostages in Lebanon.
This is the “Iran” half of the Iran-Contra scandal … which became the Iran-Contra scandal when Hashemi publicly exposed the existence of secret Iranian-American contacts to the Lebanese magazine Ash-Shiraa.
The immediate motivations appear murky even to specialists, of whom this writer is not one … but whatever they were, the leak backfired — as so often is the case — on the whistleblower himself.
While the authors of the covert policy in each country emerged stronger, Hashemi was arrested just before the story broke publicly and “persuaded” (with 75 lashes!) into one of those Soviet-style auto-denunciations, which was broadcast on Iranian TV.
Hashemi’s self-flagellation, as characterized here, runs thus:
Deviation is my ultimate sin. This is why I now stand before you. I began my career with minor infractions, gradually strayed from the correct path, continued with larger mistakes, then to major sins, and ultimately to the worst sin possible — that of heresy, apostasy, and treason against the Imam, the Community, Islam, and the Islamic Revolution. I have to ask myself what was the root cause of my downfall? …
(His answer: “carnal instincts”.)
I now realize that despicable sinners like myself had no business inside the heir-designate’s office. I thank God that I have been removed from that office …
I would like to plead with my former colleagues and friends who shared my deviant ideas to return to the correct path, relinquish their false notions, reform themselves, unite against imperialism, and overcome the carnal instincts that can lead them toward having relations with Satan and his representatives.
He was tried on a basket of nasty charges including “corruption on earth,” murder, kidnapping, plotting against the government … and, because state authority is not immune to irony, arms struggling.
Hashemi’s patron Ayatollah Montazeri worked unavailingly behind the scenes to save his man; Hashemi’s judge noted in his memoirs that the execution was carried out before the sentence went public, specifically to prevent Montazeri throwing his weight around to stop it.
But that weight would dwindle near to nothing in the months ahead, as the case opened a schism between Montazeri and the Iranian leadership.
After publicly calling for greater political openness, and criticizing a horrifying 1988 mass execution, Montazeri was officially demoted from the designated successor position in favor of Ayatollah Khamenei — who did indeed succeed to the Supreme Leader job, and holds it to this day.
Montazeri remained a frequent internal critic (and, for a time, political prisoner) of the Iranian government during the 1990s and 2000s; by the time of his December 2009 funeral, he was an emblem for the embattled Iranian reform movement.
* The execution was reported by Iranian radio as having taken place at dawn that same day, but opposition organizations immediately charged that it had actually been carried out some days before. (See New York Times, Sep. 29, 1987) If the matter has been definitively resolved, I have not been able to document it.
† Rafsanjani also has a son named Mehdi Hashemi Rafsanjani — who is not to be confused with the subject of this post.