Spy vs. Lawmaker: Iranian Bugging

Photograph by Vahid Salemi/AP Photo

Iranian lawmaker Ali Motahari, leaves the podium after delivering a speech on proposed ministers of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, at the parliament, in Tehran, Iran.

In America, members of Congress are investigating the nation’s electronic spying agency.

In Iran, it’s the other way around.

Iranian lawmakers are monitored by their own Intelligence Ministry, which is even listening in on the mobile phone conversations of the Islamic Republic’s lawmakers, according to Ali Motahari, a conservative member of Majlis (Parliament) from Tehran.

“The mobile phones of all members of Majlis are listened to,” Motahari told the Etemaad newspaper.

He had held a number of meetings with dissidents in his Majlis office. “`Because of these meetings,” he said, “some people became sensitive to the comings and goings in my office.”

Motahari added that there were two attempts to bug his Majlis office. Last July, he publicly complained that his office had been broken into by certain agents of the Intelligence Ministry who had installed secret microphones and video recording devices in the air conditioning unit, according to the Mehr news agency. He called on the Intelligence Ministry to present a report.

Motaheri, 56, is no Edward Snowden, the computer specialist who disclosed classified information about the National Security Agency’s surveillance programs to the press. Motahari is part of the Islamic Republic blue bloods — his father, Ayatollah Morteza Motahari, was a noted Islamic scholar and a disciple of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the force behind the Islamic Revolution which toppled Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi in 1979. The elder Motahari was assassinated in 1979 by members of an Islamic radical group, Forqan.

The younger Motahari has always been a maverick politician –think of him as Iran’s equivalent to Arizona Sen. John McCain, except that Mothari has a beard and didn’t spend five years in a Vietnamese prison camp.

Motahari has a habit of annoying the Ayatollahs and other politicians in his own conservative camp. For example, he has urged the release of the two opposition leaders, Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karrubi, who have been under house arrest for more than 1,000 days for leading the protests against the 2009 disputed presidential elections.

Last April, Motaheri became the spokesman for presidential candidate Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a moderate figure, who is reviled by hardliners.

However, Rafsanjani, 78, was disqualified by the Guardian Council, a body whose members are nominated by the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, for being too old and frail for office.

Motahari’s response: Let’s hold a 100-meter sprint between Rafsanjani and Saeed Jalili, the candidate favored by the hardliners, and a wrestling match with another candidate to determine who is the most fit candidate.

Motahari also wrote a letter to the Supreme Leader arguing that if the Islamic Republic’s founder, Khomeini himself was alive, he would have been disqualified.

Motahari displays his solid conservative credentials when it comes to issues of Islamic hijab. In July, he criticized state TV for showing close-up images of women in short-sleeved shirts and without veils during live coverage of a volleyball game between Iran and Italy. The match was held in Italy.

For now, it is not clear how far Motahari can push his campaign for greater transparency by the security forces.

If he doesn’t succeed, well, maybe he can find a warm welcome in Moscow.

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