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Iran's Green Movement Leaders in Limbo After 4 Years of House Arrest

By Behrooz Samadbeygi (Source: Rooz Online)

House Arrest Continues: Rouhani Cannot or Does Not Want To?

In early 2011 on the anniversary of the day in Iranians had gathered to commemorate the support they had given in 1979 to Mehdi Bazargan - ayatollah Khomeini’s appointee as the first prime minister of the Islamic republic after the revolution - former Majlis leader Mehdi Karoubi and former prime minister Mir-Hossein Mousavi requested the minister of the interior to grant permission for a public demonstration of Iranians to demonstrate their solidarity and support for the peoples (recent) pro-freedom movements in the region, particularly the actions of Tunisians and Egyptians against dictatorship. The plan was for these two presidential candidates who had questioned the legitimacy of the 2009 presidential election to hold a march on February 14 in Tehran.

The permit for the demonstration was not issued and military and security forces launched a harsh assault on the public. This was not new to dissidents and protestors in Iran, but the protest movement and the political atmosphere in the country changed after the official permit rejection. That day, the leaders of the Green Movement were barred from leaving their home, in essence starting their house arrest condition which continues till today. Even President Hassan Rouhani’s positive promises have not broken the confinement.

The Policy of Favoring Release And Remaining Silent

In a month’s time, Karoubi, Mousavi and his wife Rahnavard will be under house arrest for over 1,460 days while Rouhani will be president for over 500 days. In early 2013 candidate Rouhani had expressed that there was no problem with lifting the house arrest within a year. Different reasons for the non-fulfillment of this promise have been cited and one of them is the will on the part of the president whereby it is said that the issue is beyond his authority. In contrast, other critics ask how could Rouhani who had been a member of the national security council for years not have known about the directive regarding the house arrests to have made a promise about the release of the leaders.

On the other breadth of the political spectrum are the hardline conservative Principlists who support the continuation of the house arrests. They actually welcome the dragging of Rouhani’s name into the issue. For example, hardline Ramz Oboor publication published a report in its latest issue titled, “What has not been said about the confinements” which writes that the decision to put the Green Movement leaders under house arrest was made at a security council meeting in the presence of Hassan Rouhani and received a unanimous vote. In an interview with this publication, Revolutionary Guards commander Naini has gone even further and said that Rouhani has supported the house arrest since day one and that he can end it if he so desires, but that he does not because of the competition this may create for him.

Since his presidency Rouhani has not mentioned the confinement but the spokesman of his administration has on a number of occasions said that the issue had been on the agenda of a number of government meetings. Last September spokesman Mohammad Bagher Nobakht even said, “The issue of the house arrest of reformers and release of political prisoners is on the administration’s agenda but the preference is that this issue be pursued in practice outside newspaper headlines. People need to trust the government and know that some things should be left for the government to act without talking about it.”

But from public comments, it appears that cabinet members do not have the same view on the issue. Among them is minister of justice Pour Mohammadi and the president’s cultural advisor Hesamedin Ashena who have said that Green Movement leaders need to “accept responsibility” and “repent,” a position that is consistent with that of conservative Principlists.

Because the policy of asking people to remain silent on the issue has continued for such a long period it has raised the protests of Mousavi’s daughters. They have said that during the last year, nobody has been able to even ask about the prison conditions of their parents. They have strongly protested the position of the administration. “Some say that demands in this regard should not be raised again as a way to prevent the situation from getting more complex and difficult. But this possibly results in forgetting the issue and softening the public demands in this regard,” they have argued.

Khamenei’s Responsibility Regarding the House Arrests

Even though the unlawful house arrests of the leaders of the Green Movement and the denial of their basic rights continues for years no official agency or institution has been identified to be responsible for this situation. Many believe that the national security council is responsible while there are those who argue that ayatollah Khamenei is the cause and continuation of the arrests. Some conservatives even argue that the house arrests are actually a demonstration of the regime’s leniency towards the leaders of the Green Movement by its policy of rejecting proposals to prosecute the leaders which would actually bring more harm to the “leaders of the sedition,” as regime insiders call the event. Tasnim news agency, for example, which is directly affiliated with the Intelligence Agency of the Revolutionary Guards Corps wrote that the house arrest of Mousavi, Rahnavard and Karoubi were the “religious punishment” and merci of the Islamic regime because they are less harsh than actual prison sentences. But some officials such as the head of the powerful Guardians Council Ahmad Janati had initially said that through house arrest, Mousavi, Karoubi and Rahnavard should be denied any communications with the public. “Their doors need to be locked and visits to and from them limited so that they cannot send message, receive message or telephone or Internet communications. They should be imprisoned in their own house.”

Ten days after these remarks, the spokesperson of the judiciary branch of government Gholam-Hossein Ejei spoke of an ultimatum to the leaders of “sedition” and said that “The communication and visitations, including telephone and non-telephone communications of the leaders had been for now cut off.”

At the same time two senior Revolutionary Guard commanders have also said that house confinement for the Green Movement leaders is a less harsh situation than other forms of punishment. In 2012, Hamid Reza Moghadamfar, the former head of Fars news agency and the cultural deputy of the Revolutionary Guards Corps force had very clearly said that ayatollah Khamenei was the decision-maker regarding this issue, adding that dealing with the Green Movement leaders was much more difficult than dealing with Tudeh Party leader Kianouri or the leaders of the Mojahedin.

A year earlier, ayatollah Khamenei’s representative in the Revolutionary Guards had said that the leaders of the Green Movement had not been tried, as called on by some, because they have public supporters, whose names cannot be publicly said.

As the house arrest of Mousavi, Karoubi and Rahnavard enters its fifth year, there is no clear picture about their freedom or future. At least not for the near future.


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