Iranian Leader Asks Eavesdroppers: Please Don’t Misquote Us

Photograph by Suzanne Plunkett/Bloomberg

Mohammad Khatami, former president of the Iran, left, and John Kerry during a panel discussion at the World Economic Forum in Davos.

Is Iran becoming an Orwellian state under the watchful gaze of a Big Brother?

Yesterday, former President Mohammad Khatami warned that state monitoring of citizens and electronic surveillance had become so prevalent that everyone assumes their conversations are being overheard.

At a meeting of former provincial governors under his presidency, Khatami complained that he was also a victim of wiretapping by intelligence agencies. Even worse, these agencies fabricated stories and distorted the audio tapes to discredit him.

If you are listening in, at least report my conversations accurately, Khatami said, according to the ISNA news agency (click if you read Persian).

“As for myself I will say that I wish they would transmit what they listened to directly,” Khatami said in the speech, rather than transmit “things that are complete lies from top to bottom in bulletins and sent to elders.”

Khatami did not elaborate on who the “elders” were.

The Intelligence Ministry and other security organs report to the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Last week, conservative lawmaker Ali Motahari complained that even mobile phones of members of Majlis (Parliament) were not immune. On Dec. 14, Moahari claimed two senior intelligence officials were removed from their post, according to Iranian reformist newspapers. Kayhan newspaper, which is close to Khamenei, denied that any officials were fired, suggesting that they were moved for administrative reasons.

The Intelligence Ministry hasn’t been completely “captured” by the new administration, said Ali Younessi, a cleric and former intelligence minister under Khatami. Younesi was in the running to take over the ministry under President Hassan Rouhani. His unofficial nomination met with opposition from hardliners. Younesi who serves as a special adviser to Rouhani, told ISNA it would take up to a year for the new administration to oust hardliners in various ministries and become established.

It remains to be seen how the debate over phone tapping will impact the final version of the new citizen’s rights charter. Rouhani unveiled a draft charter on Nov. 26 seeking comments before a final version is released next year.

At his meeting with former governors, Khatami commented on the draft charter.

“When we say citizen’s rights, this means that the country has a political system, has a constitution and must act accordingly to provide those recognized rights to the people,” Khatami said.

Not having security agents listening in might be a good start.

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