For many years, the Iranian Secret Police have been angered by vocal opposition to the régime on the part of students in Europe. Recently, a golden opportunity came their way to intimidate dissident students by threatening them with the firing squad when they returned home. In April last year a young conscript opened up with a few bursts of fire in the direction of the Shah, whose light by Divine Providence remained undimmed. After several months of research, interrogation and torture, the Secret Police succeeded in forging the tenuous links by which they could throw responsibility for the assassination attempts, not where it belonged—on the cruel and oppressive régime which so easily and frequently produces desperate illuminés and gunmen—but on a small group of intelligent and politically alert students, who had been active in student associations at British universities and technical colleges. They were put on trial on charges of conspiracy to assassinate the Shah and illegal membership of a communist association.

The linkage was contrived as follows: Shamsabadi, the Palace Guard who had made the attempt on the Shah’s life and who had been mown down on the spot, had come from Kashan, a town south of Teheran, noted for being the political base of Allayar Saleh, for a long time the only opposition deputy in the Persian Majlis and one of the leaders of the anti-governmental National Front. While in Kashan, Shamsabadi had been fairly active in pro-Saleh political groups and had, apparently, agitated in favour of better work conditions, higher pay and so on. Above all, he had nurtured a deep hatred for the Shah. In Kashan, he had known Ahmad Kamrani, who, shortly before the attempt, had moved to Teheran and, being lonely, had sought out acquaintances from his home town. Among them was Shamsabadi. Kamrani did not meet Shamsabadi often but, on one occasion, Shamsabadi confided that he intended to kill the Shah. Kamrani did not respond. Anybody who has lived in Teheran will confirm that there are countless Persians who would confess to a personal wish to kill the Shah. However, Shamsabadi’s confidences were enough to get Kamrani the death sentence.

Kamrani, after arriving in Teheran and taking a training course in radio mechanics, had been given a job at the Arj factory by Engineer Mansouri. Mansouri had previously studied in England, at Manchester University, where he had been sent on an Oil Company scholarship. The link between Kamrani and Mansouri is the crucial connection, joining the group of acquaintances from Kashan with the group of acquaintances from English student circles. Mansouri himself was interested in politics but proved, under interrogation and during the trial, the least stable of the defendants, chopping and changing his story considerably. At one point, soon after his arrest, he was taken to the Shah’s palace and confronted with the Shadow of Allah in person; he grovelled and broke down, later retracted and re-retracted. In any case, Mansouri discovered Kamrani’s interest in politics, which they discussed together and, as a result, Mansouri visited Kashan to meet various dissidents whose names Kamrani had apparently suggested. On one occasion, Kamrani mentioned to Mansouri that he knew a Palace Guard who intended to try and kill the Shah. This conversation led to Mansouri being sentenced to death. Mansouri is said to have judged that there were both advantages and disadvantages in the assassination of the Shah. He asked to be kept informed.

At Manchester, Mansouri had known Parviz Nikhkah, a former President of the Iranian Student Society in Britain. Nikhkah was politically active and astute. It is quite clear that it was Nikhkah whom the Secret Police were determined to have condemned. On his return to Iran from England, Nikhkah had kept in touch with Mansouri and two other students from English universities, Mansour Pourkashani from Manchester and Firouz Shirvanlou from Leeds. Together, they had intended to initiate studies and research into the socio-political situation in Iran, particularly the effects of the Land Reform, with a view to possible future political action. They had felt handicapped in their political discussions in Europe by lack of knowledge about the real situation in Iran and wished to make good this deficiency.

The problems facing Iranians in opposition are great. Since the repression and massacres of the fifties, which effected a hiatus in opposition continuity while not conferring any special status on the survivors—with the single, ambivalent exception of Mossadegh—it has been practically impossible to envisage building up an opposition organization. Consequently, most oppositionists have had to put faith in a mechanico-spontaneous solution, whereby the course of the land reform programme, imposed mechanically by the régime, would itself create a spontaneous demand for a different kind of land reform. Revolutionary intellectuals could then insert themselves into this wave of practical criticism of the régime, bringing with them the theoretical critique they had elaborated in isolation. This seems to have been roughly the course which Nikhkah wished to follow. It did not involve any premature dramatic shocks—which would only unsettle the peasants and probably cement their loyalty to the throne—or organizational initiatives. As Nikhkah constantly emphasized during the trial, the situation demanded intellectual work and study, carried out personally.

Nikhkah’s defence was the most interesting episode of the trial. Nikhkah was able to point out that he did not know anything of Shamsabadi’s existence, let alone his intentions, nor did he know Kamrani. The prosecution case seemed to be that Nikhkah had exercised an unwholesome political influence over Mansouri, which led him not to attempt to persuade Kamrani to attempt to dissuade Shamsabadi from carrying out the resolve which he had formed of killing the Shah. Evidently, this is not a conspiracy: it is guilt by association—and very tenuous association at that. However, military courts can be expected to ride roughshod over such niceties. The true case against Nikhkah can be seen from some of the prosecutor’s outbursts:

‘The standpoint of the Iranian nation and its basic ideology has illuminated our future road most clearly. Any deviation from this road, which is the road of the salvation, victory and greatness of Iran, will be impossible. Iranian youth should take heed and realize that if they deviate from the way of truth, this is the terrible fate that shall await them. It is, of course, incumbent on parents and families to give the lead in enlightening and guiding their children and youth, who are the main capital for the future of our country. If they are concerned about the well-being of their children, then they must warn them before they fall into the abyss of dissent and deviation, the consequences of which can be nothing but misery and destruction for them.’