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Civil Society Activists and Campaign Staffers Arrested As Iran’s Presidential Election Approaches

(June 5, 2013) --  The Iran Human Rights Documentation Center (IHRDC) has learned that several campaign staffers and members of civil society groups have been detained by the authorities in the Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI) in recent days in the lead up to the IRI’s eleventh presidential elections on June 14. 

On Tuesday, June 4, 2013 in Esfahan, the funeral procession of Grand Ayatollah Jalaleddin Taheri Esfahani—the reformist former Friday imam of the same city—turned into a protest: many participants chanted slogans criticizing the current political situation in general and the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in particular. Funeral participants also chanted in support of Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, the reformist candidates in the June 2009 presidential election who have both been under house arrest for over two years. Fazlollah Salavati, one of the city’s first post-Revolution Majles representatives and a prominent political figure in Esfahan, was present at the funeral procession. According to Radio Farda, Salavati estimates that “10 to 20 people” were detained in connection with the incident, allegedly in a detention center run by the local branch of the Ministry of Intelligence and National Security (MOIS). The detainees include Na’im Salavati, the son of Fazlollah Salavati. The families of these detainees have not received any news regarding the charges against or concerning the physical conditions of their detained relatives since the arrests. Taheri was buried on Wednesday, June 5, under the watchful eyes of several agents from the IRI’s security services. 

Tuesday was also the date of the 24th anniversary of the death of Ayatollah Khomeini, the architect of the 1979 Revolution. Seven of the eight presidential candidates attended a public ceremony in Tehran to mark the occasion. But Hassan Rowhani, one of the election’s two reformist presidential candidates, decided to forgo the event and instead traveled to Esfahan to attend Taheri’s funeral procession. Addressing the crowd, Rowhani declared that the hope and enthusiasm for the 1979 Revolution had evaporated and that the public expected a change in the country’s political atmosphere. It is uncertain whether Rowhani was present when the attendees were arrested. 

IHRDC has also learned through an informed source that several Rowhani campaign staffers were arrested Monday in Jamaran, a suburb north of Tehran, during a meeting with civil society activists belonging to a legally registered Iranian NGO called Saray Ahl Ghalam (House of Writers). Rowhani was also present for the Jamaran meeting, where he stated that "this year, 1392 (2013) will not end up like 1388 (2009)." Media reports from outside of Iran indicate that several of Rowhani’s arrested staffers carried posters of Mousavi and Karroubi, the detained former presidential candidates. Four members of Saray Ahl Ghalam—Mohammad Parsi, Shirin Mirkarami, Mohsen Rahmani and Nafiseh Nikbakht—were also arrested. The campaign staffers were released from Tehran’s Evin Prison at 02.30 AM local time the following morning, but the four civil society activists remain in detention. As of the time of publication of this report, the authorities have released no information regarding their conditions. 

Immediately following the Jamaran arrests, Mehdi Khazali, Saray Ahl Ghalam’s long-detained founder was granted a temporary furlough from Evin Prison’s Ward 350 (also under the authority of the MOIS) due to health complications arising from an eight-day hunger strike initiated in response to the rejection of Hashemi Rafsanjani’s candidacy. Khazali was arrested during an October 30, 2012 meeting of his organization—a meeting for which the organization had received a legal permit from the competent authorities. Since that time, he has been detained on charges of acting against national security and disturbing public opinion. 

While these events do not necessarily portend a return to the protests and volatile security environment of the weeks after the 2009 election, they present a troubling picture of the IRI’s approach to political discourse even within the limited bounds that it officially allows. Whereas Mohammad Reza Aref, the election’s other reformist candidate, voiced concerns about increasing restrictions being placed on the flow of information in Iran in the election’s second debate on Wednesday, June 5, Saeed Jalili, a hardline candidate, rejected the assertion that the political atmosphere in the country could be characterized by an increased police presence, pointing to his own harassment by students at a campaign event at the University of Zahedan in eastern Iran. The candidates did not address the recent arrests in the Wednesday debate.

Mourners chanting anti-government slogans during Ayatollah Taheri Esfahani’s funeral procession