MPs Demand Answers from Rouhani on Increasing Arrests Ahead of Elections
President Hassan Rouhani has yet to respond to a letter from four reformist members of Parliament demanding an explanation for the spate of arrests of activists and journalists ahead of the May 2017 presidential election.
“Foremost we expect your excellency to resolve this problem, but if no action is taken, we will invite the four ministers involved, namely the ministers of intelligence, justice, interior and Islamic guidance… to Parliament and pursue this matter until the truth becomes clear and the rights of the detainees are restored, even by impeaching the relevant ministers if need be,” said the March 17 letter, signed by Elias Hazrati, Abdolkarim Hosseinzadeh, Bahram Parsaie and Mohammad Ali Vakili.
“It is not clear which agencies carried out the arrests, although in reality you (the president) are accountable whether it was the Intelligence Ministry or any other organization because there was no due process,” added the letter.
“These individuals have been arrested at a time when our country is on the verge of important political events, as elections are to be held for the presidency, national councils and in some cases for members of Parliament,” continued the letter. “What’s needed at this time is peace, security and lawful actions in every manner.”
“It is unclear what logic prompted these arrests, but certainly they will provide excuses for enemies to badmouth our country,” said the letter.
The MPs continued: “All those who were arrested are journalists or political and civil activists close to the government or administrators of reformist and moderate political channels on the Telegram (social media) network who support the government.”
“At the same time, Telegram channels opposed to the (Rouhani) government are completely free to operate and are deploying all kinds of accusations, lies and fabrications to destroy your credibility,” said the letter.
Since December 2016, security agents from either the Intelligence Ministry, which answers to Rouhani, or the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), which answers only to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, have arrested several reformist journalists and activists.
The social affairs editor of the state-funded Borna News Agency, Tahereh Riahi, was arrested on December 27, 2016. Film director Saleh Deldam, and Zeinab Karimian, a former reporter for the state-funded Mehr News Agency were arrested on January 23, 2017.
Activist and journalist Hengameh Shahidi was arrested on March 9, and the managing editor of Farhikhtegan newspaper, Ehsan Mazandarani, was arrested on March 11. Morad Saghafi, the editor-in-chief of Goftegoo magazine, was arrested on March 15.
On March 15, conservative Deputy Parliament Speaker Ali Motahari warned that, “If the Intelligence Minister (Mahmoud Alavi) does not provide a reasonable explanation for the arrests of the 12 Telegram channel admins, Parliament would pursue the course of impeachment.”
No organization has so far officially claimed responsibility for the arrests, but families of the detainees have blamed either the Intelligence Ministry or the IRGC.
Rouhani has meanwhile been silent, but his political adviser Hesamoddin Ashena posted a series of tweets on March 17 describing the arrests as “a simple war of attrition” and joked about them being carried out just before the Iranian new year (March 21), when state offices close for two weeks.
“The city has shut down and no one is around to follow up. Election problem solved!” he wrote.
Former reformist MP Faezeh Hashemi, the activist daughter of late former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, was meanwhile sentenced to six months in prison for “spreading falsehoods,” “disturbing public opinion” and “propaganda against the state,” the Kalame website reported on March 17.