Tuesday, September 14, 2004

With his presidential campaign faltering, the last thing Sen. John Kerry needs is publicity linking him to a dubious lawsuit filed by one of his top financial backers that seems intended to silence a prominent Iranian pro-democracy organization. But unfortunately for the Democratic presidential nominee, that’s what’s coming his way.

Back in April, Hassan Nemazee, who has raised more than $100,000 for Mr. Kerry’s campaign, filed a $10 million lawsuit in a Texas court charging the Student Movement Coordination Committee for Democracy in Iran (SMCCDI) and its coordinator, Aryo Pirouznia, with libeling him by suggesting he is a supporter of the Islamist regime in Iran. At the heart of the legal dispute is Mr. Nemazee’s connection with groups such as the American-Iranian Council, an organization which has lobbied for a softer U.S. stance toward Iran. Now, according to Mr. Pirouznia, attorneys for Mr. Nemazee — who filed the suit nearly five months ago — want to delay depositions in the case until after the election because the publicity will hurt Mr. Kerry.

Veteran investigative journalist Kenneth Timmerman reported in Insight magazine that, in 2001, Mr. Nemazee joined the board of the AIC, which had long advocated a more accommodating U.S. stance toward the brutal dictatorship in Iran. Mr. Nemazee subsequently said he regrets joining the AIC board and resigned after serving on it for 12 months. He insists he is no defender of the current regime.

But Mr. Nemazee has attempted to do the impossible: defend Mr. Kerry’s weak position on Iran. Earlier this year, he told Insight that Mr. Kerry was not calling for a resumption of relations with Iran. Mr. Nemazee offered this disingenuous spin several months after Mr. Kerry’s Dec. 3 speech to the Council on Foreign Relations, in which he attacked the Bush administration for blocking a dialogue with Iran.

Now, Mr. Nemazee’s lawyers are demanding that the student group’s attorneys provide information on communications between Mr. Pirouznia and Bonafsheh Zand-Bonazzi, another prominent Iranian pro-democracy activist, whose ailing, elderly father has spent much of the past year in jail for having the temerity to criticize the regime. SMCCDI’s lawyers believe that if they are forced to provide this information in court, it could jeopardize the lives of student activists in Iran. Mr. Pirouznia says he would rather go to jail than permit this to occur.

Mr. Kerry’s current political difficulties will grow much more serious if a supporter of Iranian democracy is hauled off to jail for refusing to endanger the lives of Iranian dissidents by allowing their names to be publicized in court — at the insistence of a prominent Kerry financial backer, no less. For more information on this case, please see the Web site regimeinfluence.com.

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