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Him again

Posted by Helen Monday, September 12, 2005

Jack Straw is in trouble again. Not big trouble, you understand. After all, he did not do anything bad, just showed his support for the new Iranian government that is full of people with interesting past histories.

In particular, the Iranian state news agency made much of a picture that shows our Foreign Secretary shaking hands with Esfandiar Rahim Masha'ie, who was recently appointed as a Vice-President and Head of Iran's Cultural Heritage and Tourism Organisation. Cultural Heritage and Tourism eh?

Little in the man’s past history indicates that these might be his interests.

“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.”

There is more:
“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”.”
What a delightful new friend for our Foreign Secretary and the Culture Commissar, Tessa Jowell. And how it takes one back to the Wilson government and the various welcome guests that arrived from the Soviet Union and other East European countries.

If I may just reminisce for a moment. One of the most odious of the Labour Government’s best friends was Mitja Ribicic, then Prime Minister of Yugoslavia, before that Prime Minister of Slovenia and before that Head of Secret Police in Slovenia. Never a man to shirk his duty, Mr Ribicic, though of exalted rank, was known to torture prisoners personally. One of them is the highly regarded expert on Communist matters, Dr Ljubo Sirc, happily still with us and still battling away. Less happily, Mr Ribicic is also still with us, though there are some desultory moves to have him charged with responsibility for various massacres.

There were others: Comrade Shelepin, the eternal head of the Komsomol, even though he was well into his fifties; Comrade Kosygin, described by Prime Minister Wilson as being “part of the British way of life”; and, above all, the butcher of Budapest, Comrade Andropov, the alleged jazz lover.

Well there we are. Reminiscence over. But what has changed? The names are different but the attitude is the same. As Hamid Solhju, an Iranian exile living in London said:
“Haven’t we had enough? Is there no end to this appeasement?”
It seems not.

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