The son of Iranian opposition leader Mehdi Karroubi, who has been detained under house arrest without trial since 2011, told the Campaign for Human Rights in Iran that ultimate responsibility for the situation lies with Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, whose “personal decision” resulted in the extrajudicial act.
Mohammad Taghi Karroubi, who spoke to the Campaign from London on the sixth anniversary of the house arrests of Green Movement leaders Mehdi Karroubi, Mir Hossein Mousavi and Zahra Rahnavard, added that President Hassan Rouhani shares the blame for failing to carry out his 2013 presidential campaign pledge to free political prisoners.
“The whole issue comes down to Mr. Khamenei’s personal decision,” said Mohammad Taghi Karroubi. “He ordered the house arrests against the law… We have to see if he’s willing to listen to his own close advisers and act or not. We have to wait and see what impact these political pressures will have on the regime. The decision is in Mr. Khamenei’s hands.”
“Iran’s political atmosphere has changed,” he added. “Those who want to end the house arrests now include factions within the regime itself. This is a positive development, but we must bear in mind that there is a great deal of resistance to ending the house arrests, and against granting political freedoms and civil rights.”
More than 25,000 Iranians, including political activists, have signed an online petition asking the president, Parliament and the judiciary to resolve the situation.
“As the signatories of this letter… we believe a thoughtful resolution of this situation would have a definite impact on bringing harmony and removing pain and hatred from the people’s hearts,” said the petition. “More than ever, it will pave the way for people’s prosperity and helping the cause of those who really care about the country.”
Mehdi Karroubi, Mousavi and his wife, Zahra Rahnavard, were put under house arrest on February 13, 2011 for peacefully disputing the results of Iran’s 2009 presidential election, which brought hardliner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad a second term in office.
The Green Movement arose out of the peaceful protests—violently repressed by the state—that swept Iran after the election, and are still a highly sensitive subject in Iran, referred to by hardliners as “the sedition.”
Mousavi, Rahnavard and Karroubi were arrested in 2011 for calling for new protests.
The three remain confined to their homes while being denied access to legal representation, rights organizations, and the chance to defend themselves in court.
Khamenei has insisted that the three should apologize before being freed.
“Why and for what reason did those who claimed that the 2009 presidential elections were rigged pour into the streets?” said Khamenei during a speech to a group of students on July 29, 2013. “We have raised this issue not in public, but in situations where they can be addressed, but have not received a response. Why are they (the opposition leaders) not apologizing?”
Mohammad Taghi Karroubi, who lives in London, told the Campaign that there has been no change in his father’s situation, but events on the ground in Iran have the potential to force a resolution.
“The only new development was the chants against the house arrests at (former president) Mr. Hashemi Rafsanjani’s funeral,” he said. “It was a reminder to the country’s statesmen that the house arrests will not be forgotten with the passage of time.”
Some individuals carried signs and shouted slogans in support of Mousavi, Karroubi and Rahnavard, including, “Our message is clear: The house arrests must end,” at the January 10, 2017 state funeral of Ayatollah Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, which was attended by hundreds of thousands of people.
“Today those who bring up the issue of house arrests are not just reformist supporters of the Green Movement or those seeking reform,” said Mohammad Taghi Karroubi. “Some of them are also conservatives who have raised it in different meetings as an urgent matter for the country’s tranquility.”
“Especially now that Donald Trump has come to power in America, there’s a sense that this problem (house arrests) should not drag on any longer,” he added.
Conservative Deputy Parliament Speaker Ali Motahari told a gathering of students at the University of Ferdowsi in the city of Mashhad on January 20 that he and a group of other politicians planned to meet with Mousavi and Karroubi to mediate a solution.
“We are waiting for permission to go ahead and talk to them to see what they plan to do after they are freed and relay the outcome to the officials,” he said.
“Through intermediaries they have stressed their support for the state, the government, and national solidarity,” he added, indirectly addressing hardliners who advocate continuing the house arrests because they believe the opposition leaders are seeking regime change.
Motahari first raised the mediation idea with key judicial officials in mid-2016, Mohammad Taghi Karroubi told the Campaign. However, because the house arrests were implemented without a judicial ruling, the idea could not go very far without Khamenei’s consent.
“Some individuals from the conservative factions have visited my family from time to time to have discussions, but not always necessarily on behalf of the state,” he said. “They just want to get an idea of where everyone stands.”
Rouhani Shares Blame
Mohammad Taghi Karroubi also criticized Rouhani for not doing enough to end the house arrests after promising to free all political prisoners while he was campaigning for the presidency in 2013.
“The government could have played a serious role in ending this, but its response has been very weak,” Mohammad Taghi Karroubi told the Campaign. “The government got a good grade in international affairs during the nuclear talks, but in domestic affairs (Rouhani) has left a lot to be desired.”
“If the government, along with some of the rational conservatives, takes active steps, they could raise hopes to resolve issues not only with those kept under house arrest, but also all others who got into trouble after 2009,” he added.
Ending the house arrests was one of Rouhani’s top campaign pledges. At a gathering at Sharif University on May 13, 2013, he said he hoped he could free the three detainees within the first year of his presidency: “We can provide conditions such that over the next year, individuals who were imprisoned or put under house arrest for the 2009 events are released.”
In responding to criticism of Rouhani’s failure to free the detainees, government officials, including Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, have claimed that the president does not have the power to unilaterally free them.
However, Article 113 of Iran’s Constitution states: “After the office of leadership (supreme leader), the president is the highest official in the country. His holds the responsibility for implementing the Constitution and acting as the head of the executive, except in matters directly concerned with (the office of) the leadership.”
Hardliners and many conservatives have strongly opposed making any deals with the leaders of the Green Movement, and some have even demanded they be hanged for treason.
“If we want to serve Islamic justice to the leaders of the sedition, they should expect to be condemned to nothing less than death,” said Hojatoleslam Mojtaba Zolnour, a member of the Parliamentary Committee for National Security Affairs, at Tehran’s Friday Prayer gathering on December 23, 2016.
“Keeping them under house arrest is an act of Islamic mercy because the alternative is not going to be freedom but the death penalty for all the crimes they committed in vain to turn the people’s minds against the state,” he added.
No Trial Six Years Into Arrest
Mohammad Taghi Karroubi also told the Campaign that his father and Mousavi have repeatedly been denied their right to defend themselves in court.
“My father has demanded to be put on trial many times,” he told the Campaign in December 2016. “If the authorities had the fortitude, they would have done it. My father has never asked to be freed from house arrest. He wants to be tried.”
Judicial officials have claimed that Mousavi, Karroubi and Rahnavard were put under house arrest upon the orders of the Supreme National Security Council (SNSC).
“The decision was made by the SNSC based on national security interests,” said the chief of the judiciary, Sadegh Larijani, on December 31, 2014. “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.”
On January 5, 2015, Motahari wrote a letter to the judiciary chief pointing out that the SNSC does not hold the legal authority to condemn individuals to prolonged house arrests.
“The SNSC, as its name implies, can, at the very most, detain individuals in emergency circumstances, such as during street riots, until the crisis is averted,” he said. “But then it has to release them or hand them to the judiciary. Accordingly, the continuation of the house arrests without a judicial order has been a violation of several articles in the Constitution.”