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Iran's Musavi and Karrubi Reportedly Jailed Ahead Of Planned Protests

By Golnaz Esfandiari, RFE/RL

The Iranian opposition website "Kaleme," which is close to opposition leader Mir Hossein Musavi, reported today that Musavi and reformist cleric Mehdi Karrubi are being held in a Tehran prison. The development comes ahead of opposition protest planned for March 1. Their wives, Zahra Rahnavard and Fatemeh Karrubi, were also reportedly jailed.

Opposition leaders Mir Hossein Musavi (left) and Mehdi Karrubi

The two opposition leaders had reportedly been under house arrest since calling for a February 14 rally in support of the uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia. The rally, although officially banned, reportedly attracted tens of thousands of protesters.

In recent days Musavi's and Karrubi's children and neighbors have said that they seemed to have been moved out of their residences.

"Kaleme," quoting "credible sources," reports that the arrest and transfer to jail of the opposition leaders and their wives is "certain," but the exact time of the move was not clear. The website said they are being held in Tehran's Heshmatiyeh jail.

Tehran's Heshmatiyeh jail (google map)

An unnamed judiciary official was quick to deny the report in an interview with the hardline Fars news agency that is said to have ties to the Revolutionary Guard.

"The two are currently in their house. There have only been some limitations on their contacts with suspicious elements," the official was quoted as saying.

Yet Amir Arjomand, a senior advisor to Musavi, who is currently in France, confirmed the "Kaleme" report in an interview with Radio Farda.

"It has been more than two weeks that Iranian authorities have put Musavi and Karrubi in a situation such that no one has any reliable information about their conditions and health. There have been many speculations. For us, after we investigated, the report about the transfer of Musavi and Karrubi and their wives to Heshmateiyeh, is considered credible," he said. 

The family of Karrubi was quoted by his website, "Sahamnews," as saying the denial published by Fars is an attempt "to justify illegal, immoral and un-Islamic behavior" against the two opposition leaders.

'Sitting On A Volcano'

Musavi and Karrubi have come under increasing pressure for challenging the disputed reelection of Mahmud Ahmadinejad in June 2009 and for condemning post-election crackdown.

Earlier today, Iranian State Prosecutor Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ejei said authorities have cut all outside contact with Musavi and Karrubi.

"As a first step, their contacts, such as meetings and telephone conversations, have been restricted," Ejei said. He added that "should circumstances arise, other measures will be taken." Ejei did not mention where the two are being held.

Abbas Milani, the director of the Iranian studies program at Stanford University, told RFE/RL that Iranian officials are not likely to confirm the news of the imprisonment of the two opposition figures because of their fear of angry reactions by opposition members.

"[Iranian authorities] know that their regime is facing political turmoil," said Milani. "They know they are sitting on a volcano that is ready to erupt. They don't know what might be the spark that would [catalyze] the people."

Radicalizing Moment?

The opposition movement had earlier announced a rally scheduled for March 1 in Tehran and other cities on to protest against the house arrest of Musavi and Karrubi.

A student activist in Tehran told RFE/RL that the reported arrest of the Musavi and Karrubi, who he described as "very popular," could make opposition members "more determined" to take to the streets.

Iranian journalist Shahram Rafizadeh believes the opposition Green Movement will continue to challenge the Iranian establishment regardless of whether Musavi and Karrubi are under house arrest or imprisoned.

"On February 14, Musavi and Karrubi were prevented from attending the opposition rally, yet we witnessed that may people participated in the protest," he said. "The Green Movement will continue to be active and protest without leadership. It's one of the outstanding traits of the movement."

Milani believes the arrest of the two opposition leaders, if confirmed, could lead to the "radicalization" of the opposition movement.

"With [Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei's] actions and comments, he is gradually closing all the doors to any reconciliation, any peaceful [solution] and arbitration between the majority of people who are against the establishment and the regime itself," said Milani. "Closing these doors is not going to put an end to the dissatisfaction. It will increase it."

With increasing dissatisfaction, he said, "an explosion" becomes more likely.

Meanwhile, in Washington, White House spokesman Jay Carney called Iran's reported detention of opposition leaders "unacceptable" and urged that they be released.

Copyright (c) 2011 RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

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