A prominent Iranian political analyst has criticized President Hassan Rouhani for reneging on his pledge to free political prisoners and opposition leaders. The centrist cleric’s record as president will be heavily scrutinized ahead of Iran’s May 2017 presidential election as he vies for a second term.
During an interview, Tehran University Political Science Professor Sadegh Zibakalam praised Rouhani for signing the nuclear deal, but gave him a failing grade for failing to pursue political freedoms and civil rights.
“Hassan Rouhani gets an F for not carrying out his promise,” Zibakalam told Tarikh (History) Online on November 13, 2016. “Rouhani did not have the power to free political prisoners or end the house arrests, but he didn’t even pretend that he wanted to do something.”
Former presidential candidates Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, along with Mousavi’s wife Zahra Rahnavard, have been arbitrarily detained under house arrest since February 2011 for disputing the result of the 2009 presidential election and encouraging protests. The peaceful street protests, which continued for months despite violent state repression, came to be known as the Green Movement.
Karroubi’s son said on November 10 that recent behind-the-scenes mediations indicated that Judiciary officials were “not opposed” to ending the house arrests, but changes during the remainder of Rouhani’s first term were unlikely.
“Based on the information we have, we believe there will be no change in my father’s situation until after the presidential election,” said Mohammad Hossein Karroubi in an interview with the Iranian news site, Omid Iranian.
Meanwhile, Ali Motahhari, the conservative deputy speaker of Parliament who has publicly supported freeing the opposition politicians, defended Rouhani’s record and said the ultimate decision rests with the country’s supreme leader, Ali Khamenei.
In an interview with the semi-official Iranian Students’ News Agency on November 10, Motahhari said Rouhani had brought up the issue during “several discussions with the supreme leader,” but Khamenei was opposed to freeing the unrepentant politicians.
“The important point is that it is the supreme leader’s view that the house arrests should continue, and therefore other officials do not interfere in this issue,” he added.
Rouhani had pledged to end the illegal detention of the popular opposition leaders during his 2013 presidential campaign. “I believe the next president must reduce divisions and end the security climate in the country so that not only those under house arrest, but all those imprisoned in connection with the 2009 incidents could go free,” he said on May 13, 2009, a month before the presidential election.
Following his election, Rouhani avoided bringing up the issue.
“If we don’t talk about something in the media, it doesn’t mean we have forgotten about the public’s demand,” said Rouhani government spokesman Mohammad Bagher Nobakht on October 19 after being asked about the house arrests. “Sometimes it’s not productive to publicize the things the government can do or is doing. It won’t solve the problem.”
Iran’s Constitution grants wide powers to the supreme leader, but according to Article 30, “No one can be banished from his place of residence, prevented from residing in the place of his choice, or compelled to reside in a given locality, except in cases provided by law.”
Article 36 of the Constitution states that “The passing and execution of a sentence must only be by a competent court and in accordance with the law,” but despite being imprisoned for more than five years, Mousavi, Rahnavard and Karroubi have never been tried.
The decision to put the three under house arrest was made by the Supreme National Security Council (SNSC), according to Judiciary Chief Sadegh Larijani. “We will put them on trial at the appropriate time when we can, but we feel this is not just a judicial matter,” he said on December 31, 2014. “These individuals intend to start another sedition, but we will not give them the opportunity.”
Larijani has also attempted to frame the opposition leaders’ arbitrary detention as a legal decision. “The decision was made by the SNSC based on national security interests,” he said. “Those who say the house arrests are illegal only accept half the Constitution, not all of it. Article 176 of the Constitution has given certain responsibilities to the SNSC that are very clear.”
In an open letter response to the Judiciary chief on January 4, 2015, Motahhari questioned the legality of the house arrests and called for “a fair public trial without fear of an imaginary sedition.”