Sunday, September 11, 2005

Straw’s handshake with the “Butcher” angers Iran dissidents

Iran Focus: a pro-MEK website
A handshake between British Foreign Minister Jack Straw and one of Iran’s new Vice-Presidents on Friday has aroused much anger and indignation among Iranian exiles, who say the official has a long history as a torturer and executioner of political dissidents in Iran.

Esfandiar Rahim Masha'ie, who was recently appointed as a Vice-President and Head of Iran's Cultural Heritage and Tourism Organisation, had two separate meetings with Jack Straw and British Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell while in London for the inaugural ceremony of an Iranian arts exhibition in the British Museum. READ MORE

The state-run Iranian news agency said that Straw welcomed Iran’s new hard-line government, led by ultra-conservative President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Masha’ie is from the northern Iranian town of Tonekabon, which was called Shahsavar prior to Iran’s 1979 Islamic revolution. In 1974, Masha’ie joined the Hojjatieh association. Hojjatieh was a semi-clandestine religious and political group that was set up in the early 1950s in Iran by Sheikh Mahmoud Tavallai, popularly known as Sheikh Halabi, an extremist Shiite cleric who founded the group to eradicate members of the Baha’i faith. Iran’s new President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was also closely associated with the leaders of the group.

In 1979, Masha’ie became a commander in the komitehs, a paramilitary armed organisation charged with law and order after the rise of Islamic clerics to power. He rose rapidly, becoming head of Tonekabon’s komiteh in the same year. He was soon appointed governor of the city and later became Deputy Minister of Mines and Industries. He also served for some time as the Deputy Interior Minister and worked for some time in the Ministry of Islamic Guidance. When Ahmadinejad was the Mayor of Tehran, Masha’ie became his deputy for social affairs.

Critics say throughout his career since the early 1980s, Masha’ie’s has been working for Iran’s secret police, the Ministry of Intelligence and Security.

According to knowledgeable sources, Masha’ie personally executed two of his close relatives: his nephew, Ali Salehi, and his cousin, Ahmad-Reza Rahim Masha’ie. Both were supporters of the Iranian opposition group, the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MeK).

Tonekabon residents say Esfandiar Rahim Masha'ie was known for his brutality against the relatives of dissidents. He once sentenced the father of an opposition activist to four years in prison. At the end of the sentence period, Masha’ie demanded that he continue to remain behind bars since the man had refused to disown his son.

They called him the Butcher in Tonekabon in the 1980s”, said Saeed Shirkhodai, who fled his native city in northern Iran and now lives in exile in Sweden. “People of Tonekabon, Ramsar, and other nearby cities and towns in western Mazadaran still remember the horrific crimes of Masha’ie”.

Masha’ie’s appointment by Ahmadinejad, who was himself a top commander in Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, follows the same pattern that characterised the selection of new ministers. Ahmadinejad’s cabinet includes about a dozen individuals who were at some stage in their careers officers in the IRGC or its affiliated organs and at least five former senior officials of the Ministry of Intelligence and Security.

Jack Straw’s handshake with a man identified as a killer and torturer of political prisoners has angered many in the Iranian exile community in Europe.

Hamid Solhju, an Iranian exile living in London, said the Foreign Secretary should not have met a man who has a notorious past as an executioner and a torturer.

Haven’t we had enough? Is there no end to this appeasement?”, he said.

Iran’s state-run media have given much coverage to Straw’s meeting with Masha’ie in a bid to counter the perception among ordinary Iranians that the country is becoming increasingly isolated under the new ultra-Islamist government.