By Safa Haeri

TEHRAN 18 Mar. (IPS) In a letter to the nation, Iran’s longest political prisoner, Mr. Abbas Amir Entezam called on the ruling clerics to "bow" to the people’s aspirations for radical changes by accepting a referendum allowing Iranians to chose freely between a theocracy or a secular regime.

"I’m asking you to urge Mr. Khatami, the Majles, the officials, that reforming the Constitution would solve nothing. That we don’t want the powers of the Council of the Guardians being curtailed or those of the president increased. We don’t want the suppression of the Expediency Council or that of the velayat faqih", Mr. Amir Entezam wrote, adding: "We tell loudly both the Iranian authorities and the world at large that what we want is not reforms, but a democratic, secular regime that safeguards and respects the rights of all Iranians without any discrimination".

Official spokesman of Islamic Republic’s first government led by Mehdi Bazargan, Mr. Amir Entezam was arrested in 1980 on his return from Stockholm, where he was serving as Ambassador to Scandinavian nations.

Accused of spying for the American Central Intelligence Agency, Mr. Amir Entezam spent more than two decades behind bars; most of it in solitary cells, chained to is bed and tortured.

Eventually, he was released two years ago, without being charged or tried.

"The massive abstention by Iranians in the last cities and rural elections shows that people want more than change, or reform in the present Constitution", Mr. Amir Entezam observed, adding that choosing a secular system does not mean rejecting religion.

"When out people voted massively for Hojjatoleslam Mohammad Khatami in the May 1997 presidential elections, they did it with the hope that he could change the situation, bring reforms, introduce democracy. But the past five years are here to prove that unfortunately, Mr. Khatami has not been able to implement the reforms he had promised", Mr. Amir Entezam says.

Observers said by insisting on the organisation of a referendum under international observation, Mr. Amir Entezam has gone one step further than other dissidents calling for the same process of change in Iran.

In a letter to the leader of the Islamic Republic, Mr. Mohsen Sazegara, a veteran journalist and political activist also suggested holding a national referendum to allow Iranian chose their future regime.

However, the series of such letters, addressed to either the Iranian nation or to the senior leaders like Ayatollah Ali Khameneh'i did start some three months ago when Dr. Qasem Sho’leh Sa’di, a former Member of the Majles and a prominent lawyer wrote a letter to the leader, criticising his policies, both domestic and foreign, and also questioned his leadership.

As a result, he was arrested two weeks ago and kept in an undisclosed prison.

Observing, like Mr. Sazegara and Mr. Sho’leh Sa’di had done before, that 24 years of clerical theocracy has transformed Iran into a backward, "fourth world" nation, Mr. Amir Entezam called on fellow Iranians "not to be lured or misled by promises of reforms" and tell the authorities if they are so sure about their popularity, why not allowing a referendum under international observation giving the Iranians the possibility to chose between a theocracy or a secular democracy?". ENDS AMIR ENTEZAM LETTER 18303