Thursday, December 23, 2004

U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson (R-Texas) Supporter of Terrorist Group

Fairfax Times: "UFormer Assistant Secretary of Defense Richard Perle delivered the keynote address, and an aide to U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson (R-Texas) read a message from the senator.

The event, which drew attendees from the Washington, D.C., area—home to more than 200,000 Iranian Americans—and others from across the United States, was not free of controversy, however.

Representatives of the American Red Cross, scheduled to be on hand to take donations for victims of a major earthquake that rocked the Kerman region of Iran on Dec. 26, 2003, and centered near the city of Bam, pulled out of the event.

More than 30,000 people were killed during the quake that measured 6.6 on the Richter scale. Another 30,000 were injured, and between 45,000 and 70,000 were left homeless.

"The Red Cross has no involvement," said Jacki Flowers, a communications and marketing associate with the charity, adding that the political nature of the event led to the decision.

"Any involvement would compromise our fundamental principles of neutrality and impartiality," she said.

With arrangements for the event made months in advance, the Red Cross was asked to participate only after the earthquake occurred, Nariman said.

"We thought the only international organization we could trust was the Red Cross," she said. "[But] the event was never planned as a fund-raiser to begin with."

A second controversy centered around allegations made by U.S. Rep. Bob Ney (R-Ohio) that some of the groups that participated or helped organize the event are headed by people with links to Mujahedeen Khalq (MEK).

Despite MEK's opposition to the current Iranian regime, which President George W. Bush has named part of the "axis of evil," the State Department during the Clinton administration placed the group on its list of terrorist organizations, where it remains to this day.

An article that appeared last week in the publication "The Hill" reported that Ney has asked U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft for an investigation. The congressman's office did not return phone calls made by The Times.

Nariman strongly denied the allegations.

"There is no member of Mujahadeen or MEK organizing this event," she said. "This is another smear campaign by the Iranian regime. They want to silence [those of] us abroad."

Many in attendance on Saturday came from Northern Virginia, including Shahab Sariri, a Fairfax resident and a student at Strayer University in Fairfax County.

Sariri said he played a role in the event, helping to get the word out to the Iranian-American community and working as a media liaison.

"The event is about solidarity with the earthquake victims and support for a referendum for regime change in Iran," Sariri said. "That's something I think that 99 percent of Iranians want."

Loudoun County resident Masomeh Ataey said she was also there to support the referendum for free and open elections in Iran.

"I'm here to support that [and] also to support the people of Bam, not because of the concert," said Ataey, referring to a performance by the musical group The Gypsy Kings and other performers held later that evening.

"The whole of Iran is a big prison," she said. "[But] you cannot keep the people in the dark forever.""