With the official media tightly controlled, underground leaflets are fluttering around Iran like autumn leaves. Most are critical of either the regime or the ruling group and are distributed by anonymous writers or such groups as the leftist Fedayeen or Mujahideen guerrillas.
But when a strongly worded two-page critique of "both factions of the ruling power" was slipped under the doors of newsmen in Tehran's Intercontinental Hotel Feb. 16, it was found to be a little different from the general run of leaflets. It bore the name of "38 writers, academics, jurists, and journalists" and was accompanied by an English translation, for easy use by newsmen.
The leaflet criticized the "ruling power" for a series of shortcomings, ranging from "monopolization" of power in its own hands, rigging elections to the Majlis (parliament), repression of individual and social freedoms, and suppression of opposition political parties to "exploiting the hostage issue" for its own ends, and "leading the country to complete economic bankruptcy."
The statement bore a close resemblance to a series of "open letters" addressed by dissident intellectuals to the Shah in 1977, before the revolution that toppled him from power two years later.
However, one of the intellectuals contacted by a foreign newsman quickly denied there was any parallel. "You can't compare this regime with the Shah's. The old regime was much worse," he said.
"Speaking for myself, the statement was not a criticism of [Ayatollah Ruhollah] Khomeini or of the regime but of the two groups holding executive power in this country.
"It is a protest against unconstitutional action being taken by them and of action against the aims of the revolution."
The people who signed the statement apparently did not belong to any particular movement or party. "The statement was brought to me about a month ago and because I agree with everything in it, I put my signature on it," the intellectual added.
This was not the first such statement issued against "the ruling power." One protested the manner in which Muhammad Sadaati, a top Mujahideen-e Khalq guerrilla leader, was tried in a Revolutionary Court. Two statements signed respectively by 95 and 108 intellectuals protested torture in Iran's prisons by officials of the present regime.
The statements, he said, were likely to continue appearing sporadically "whenever we feel there is a need for them." The reason why the intellectuals allowed their names to be used in the statement was "first, because these are well-known people and secondly, the authorities have all the means available to find out who issues statements of this kind."
At any rate, the use of the names is apparently what gives this statement added weight. The leaflet of the 38 intellectuals happened to come at a time when the ruling Islamic Republican Party (IRP) has been under attack from other quarters as well.
Leading the fray was none other than Ayatollah Khomeini's son, Sayed Ahmed, who sent a strong letter to the Majlis protesting the growing use of violence by groups of "club wielders" who have been getting away with it each time, he said.
What prompted Ahmed Khomeini's outburst was an attack in Rasht on Ayatollah Hassan Lahouti, a supporter of Ayatollah Khomeini but an opponent of the IRP. Lahouti was nearly shot and killed, and his wife, who was in a car nearby, was also roughed u p.