Former MP: Don’t Underestimate the New Restrictions on Reformist Ex-President Khatami
The increasingly restrictive judicial bans issued against reformist leader Mohammad Khatami could morph into something much bigger and enflame the current political climate, an ally of the former president told the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI).
“What we have at the moment is only this order from the prosecutor, but we should not underestimate what could happen in the future,” Ahmad Shirzad, who served as a reformist member of Parliament from 2000-04, told CHRI.
“It would not be in [Khatami’s] interest to give the conservatives a cheap excuse to take further steps,” Shirzad told CHRI on October 11, 2017, adding that the potential step of “putting Mr. Khatami under house arrest would carry a huge cost for the security agencies.”
“It would be a great disgrace,” he said.
Khatami—who provided crucial endorsements for President Hassan Rouhani’s first and second-term election campaigns—has been banned from appearing in the media since 2015.
Khatami’s bodyguards, operating under the direction of governmental security agencies, have occasionally been ordered to prevent the opposition leader from leaving his home in Tehran to attend public events, according to Shirzad.
“Mr. Khatami has not made many public appearances in recent years,” he said. “He wasn’t trying to isolate himself, but there were restrictions on his activities and he didn’t want to create any problems. Of course, many groups are interested in meetings with him, but he didn’t respond to many of the requests.”
“He limited his appearance to attending funerals for his friends and important people,” Shirzad told CHRI. “Does the new order mean that Mr. Khatami is not even allowed to attend these sorts of gatherings? I doubt it.”
The three-month ban, first reported on October 5, 2017, prohibits Khatami from making public appearances or receiving political guests. It was issued a week after seven prominent reformist politicians, including Khatami’s younger brother, Mohammad Reza Khatami, were sentenced to a year in prison for the charge of “propaganda against the state.” They were also banned from political and media activities for two years.
Raisi, the prosecutor who issued the new ban, unsuccessfully ran against President Hassan Rouhani in the country’s May 2017 election. Khatami has remained an important and crucial ally of the president since Rouhani’s first election victory in 2013.
“The next important elections [for Parliament] are more than two years away,” Shirzad told CHRI. “There’s no need for Mr. Khatami’s conservative rivals to put limits on his activities at this point.”
“It wouldn’t make any sense for them [conservatives] to enflame the current confrontational climate, which would make the reformists even more popular,” he added. “I think Khatami’s rivals are acting emotionally. They are jealous that he’s still so popular, despite all the restrictions put on him. They can’t stand it.”
The reformist politician expressed hope that the tense political climate in Iran, which has resulted in Rouhani criticizing the judiciary, will subside.
“We hope this situation will change, given the pressure from the public on social media in recent days and the help from Mr. Khatami’s supporters,” said Shirzad.
Legality of the Ban
According to Reza Bagheri, one of Khatami’s attorneys, the new ban on Khatami cannot be appealed.
“From a legal standpoint, the order is not a court verdict and therefore cannot be challenged,” said Bagheri on October 6, 2017, according to the semi-official Iranian Labor News Agency (ILNA).
“I ask members of Parliament, especially the national security and judicial affairs committees, as well as the government to clarify the limits of the prosecutor’s authority,” he added.
Shirzad expressed doubt that the conservative Guardian Council would do anything to undermine or limit the prosecutor’s authority.
“There are no problems with the existing laws; a prosecutor is responsible for preventing crime,” he said. “However, it’s disturbing when he goes after someone who was a popular president for eight years and never committed a crime. The way the law has been interpreted is disgusting.”
After the ban on Khatami was announced on October 5, more than 17,000 tweets were posted under the hashtag #خاتمی_ماندگار, “Khatami Forever,” the vast majority of which originated from inside Iran, according to an investigation by CHRI.
On October 8, members of the Hope reformist faction in Parliament issued a statement questioning the legality of the ban.
“We declare that the recent restriction on the attendance of Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami at political, cultural and religious gatherings is a clear violation of articles 20, 23, 36 and 37 of the Constitution,” said the statement signed by 85 MPs.
“What these actions have done is only make this great and honorable descendant of the Prophet Mohammad more popular in the eyes of our enlightened nation,” added the statement.