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memri
March 29, 2018 No.
7405

Iranian Regime Steps Up Its Repression Of Society Following The Popular Uprising Of December 2017 – Part I: Reformist Former Minister Tajzadeh, Reformist Website Slam Leader Khamenei For Suppressing Individual And Civil Freedoms, Persecuting Opponents

In the wake of the widespread December 2017 and January 2018 popular protests against the Iranian regime and Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, the regime stepped up its social and political oppression of the citizens and of its political opponents. This report, the first in a series, focuses on  reformist elements' criticism of the brutal repression practiced by Khamenei using the regime apparatuses under his control.

On March 19, 2018, the reformist former Iranian government minister Mostafa Tajzadeh wrote to Majlis member Ahmad Tavakkoli, who is close to Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), to protest against Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei's repression of Iran's citizens. In the letter, which followed a heated Twitter exchange between Tajzadeh and Tavakkoli about Khamenei's character and conduct, Tajzadeh wrote that Iran's Islamic regime was dictatorial and that Khamenei persecuted his political opponents and suppressed freedom of expression and political and civil freedoms using the security apparatuses he controlled, such as the IRGC and the Basij. He also warned that the Islamic regime would end the same way as the previous regime – by popular revolution.

Additionally, the reformist website Kaleme.com posted an article protesting against Khamenei's heightened suppression of citizens, and against his intent to block the highly popular encrypted messaging app Telegram in Iran because the regime has no control over it, and because it was used in the popular uprising against the regime in December 2017-January 2018.

It should be noted that, according to reports, on March 19-21, 2018 the political prisoners in the Evin, Gohardasht and Tehran prisons went on a three-day hunger strike to protest the corruption and oppression in Iran.

The following are highlights from the letter by former minister Tajzadeh, from the Kaleme.com article, and from a statement issued by the prisoners.


Mostafa Tajzadeh (image: payvand.com)

Tajzadeh: A Leader Who Controls All Regime Apparatuses Will Likely Advance His Own Interests Instead Of Protecting His Citizens' Political And Civil Rights And Freedoms

"Mohammad Reza Shah [Pahlavi, the last shah] closed all the people's airways and paths to democratic reform, and left the public no option but revolution. Based on this, I believe that if [the Islamic regime in] Iran also closes all paths to political competition and free participation in politics, it will leave no option but to remove it.

"One of the mistakes we, the revolution generation, made was that it was only in the institution of the presidency that we noticed an opportunity for a return of dictatorship, and therefore we effectively blocked [only the president] from becoming a dictator. But we did not notice that when the centers of power and the administration of the armed forces, the judiciary, the Guardian Council, the broadcasting authority, and most of the economy are in the hands of one man [Khamenei], there is a much greater chance that he will advance his own interests instead of protecting the citizens' political and civil rights and freedoms, particularly if the people become passive for any reason.

"I, of course, am sorry that after the victory of the revolution we did not manage to prevent the return of the conditions that led to the monarchy called the [Islamic] Republic [of Iran]... The truth is that over the past 20 years, the leader [Khamenei] has called several law-abiding reformists who oppose Iran's becoming a dictatorship 'bullies', acted to remove them from power in the last decade, and opposed their activity in civil society since 2009 [a reference to the reformists and the leaders of the Green Movement that emerged following the election fraud in June 2009 when Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was appointed president]...

"You deny that the leader [Khamenei] intervened [to try to prevent] the election of [the reformist] Gholamhossein Karbaschi as mayor [of Tehran; he served in this position from 1990-98] and [intervened also] in his conviction [in 1998 on charges of financial corruption]. I ask you: On whose instructions, immediately after the historic win of [Mohammad] Khatami [in the 1997 presidential election] did they begin to address the case of Karbaschi?... Why was he not convicted [of this crime] during the term of [president] Hashemi [Rafsanjani, 1989-1997]? On whose instructions was Tehran mayor Karbaschi's case handed to the police and to [police intelligence commander] Gen. [Mohammad Reza] Naqdi, who forced him to confess [to the corruption charges against him] through illegal and inhuman methods?

"The court dealt with complaints against Gen. Naqdi, and convicted him of using torture, but he never served his sentence – and was even promoted [to the position of Basij commander]. On whose instructions?...

"After the wave of arrests [in the late 1990s], Gen. Naqdi came to my office at the Interior Ministry in connection [Karbaschi's] this case, and let me understand that I had better stop supporting the detained [reformists]. I asked him why he was acting so brutally with the Tehran mayor and his associates. He gave extensive, irrelevant, and unconvincing explanations. Ultimately, in the face of all my explanations, he revealed the main reason for the arrests, and said that Karbaschi sought to be appointed president, and that we did not want a repeat of the mistake of [president Abo Al-Hassan] Bani Sadr [who was removed in 1981, after a disagreement with regime founder Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini], and therefore we wanted to block his path [to the presidency] from the outset...

"The leader's intervention in the election of cabinet members was officially revealed this year. According to an update from his office, [Khamenei] sees himself the appointer of the foreign and defense ministers, and calls this 'the regular process of all the governments' and explains this as the leaders' responsibility for defense, security, and foreign policy affairs. This update stated, for the first time, that the leader [also] has a sensitivity regarding the [Islamic] culture ministers. This is a clear sign that all [ministers] must be approved by him, otherwise, they will not be presented [as ministers in the Majlis]. The interior minister represents the leader in the police, and he too must obtain a positive opinion from the leader.[1]

"Accordingly, the defense, foreign, intelligence, culture, education, and [domestic] policy ministers are not  selected on the recommendation of the president and by Majlis approval; each of them must [first] obtain a positive opinion from the leader before they are presented to the Majlis [at all].

"With regard to the [August 2017] election of the new [Tehran] mayor [the reformist Mohammad Ali Najafi, who stepped down on March 14, 2018 after the release of a video showing him at a March 8 Mother's Day ceremony at which six girls danced, which pro-regime ayatollahs found objectionable]:[2] Who criticized [reformist vice president Eshaq] Jahangiri [who had publicly expressed support for, and was an activist in Najafi mayoral campaign]? Why did [Jahangiri] choose Najafi, and didn't he know that the leader [Khamenei] opposed him? Isn't it true that from the very first day, [IRGC intelligence chief Hossein] Taeb and the IRGC security and intelligence organization warned that 'Najafi must not be named mayor, and if he is, we and the judiciary will take care of him'?

"Why is it that, after the girls' dance incident [and Najafi's subsequent resignation], Iran's prosecutor-general issued a warning, and the Tehran prosecutor-general immediately summoned the Tehran mayor, and this [the fact of his summoning] was made public – yet these [same] two prosecutor-generals did not deal with the enormous real estate [corruption] case of the previous mayor [conservative Mohammad Baqr Qalibaf] or, more importantly, the corruption case that Najafi filed with the judiciary [which is part of Iran's ideological circles] with regard to the fight against corruption? To date, the previous mayor [Qalibaf] has not been summoned, and no information about this has been published.

"You call the leader [Khamenei] the standard-bearer of the fight against corruption. I agree with what you say in this matter [on the level of] expressing an opinion and making speeches, but not on the practical level, because: 

"- The institutions under the leader's oversight are either themselves corrupt, such as the judiciary, or have been, and still are, playing a role in indirectly spreading corruption – for example, the IRGC, in that it is intervening extensively in economic affairs.

"- The Guardian Council serves to oversee 'the elimination of the fittest' and the judiciary acts along party lines regarding politicians whose hands are clean but who are critical [of the regime]; thus, the possibility of benefit from people fit to run the country is at a bare minimum. Thus, the Guardian Council is indirectly allowing corruption to grow.

"- The judiciary has carried out mass closures of media outlets, thus allowing and giving an opportunity for corruption to spread...

"- The leader and his appointees are acting along party lines in light of the corruption, and say that one [individual suspected of corruption] should be treated leniently and the other should be treated with severity. This expands corruption. 

"- Today, the leader's appointees are making an effort to block the Internet and are ignoring the fact that this contributes to the expansion of corruption [by keeping information and criticism of corruption from the public]."[3]

Kaleme.com: "Khamenei Has Made Himself The Standard-Bearer Of Iran's Destruction"

In its March 17, 2018 article, titled "After the Resignation of [Tehran mayor] Najafi, Now They Are [Blocking] Telegram," the reformist Kaleme.com website protested Khamenei's intention to block the Telegram messaging app. According to the website, in late February Khamenei met with Iran's  Supreme Cyberspace Council to discuss the blocking of the Telegram and Instagram applications in Iran. In the meeting he brought up the issue of the uprising that took place in Iran three months ago, and criticized the unblocking of Telegram (which was blocked during the uprising),[4] saying that Telegram had been one of the factors that had enabled the riots. He also criticized the Rohani government and the council for not developing a national information network and a national internet with its own search engines.

The article stated: "As time passes, Khamenei interferes more and more in all [the country's] affairs, from the color of people's clothing to the prohibition on teaching English, and orders to change things. Now he wants to block Telegram, on the grounds that the regime has already paid the price for blocking it [in terms of public resentment], and [asks the council:] Why did you unblock it?! [Khamenei] disregards the price [of these decisions]. Every day, the people lose their faith in the regime more and more and the gulf between [the people] and the regime widens.  Khamenei disregards the fact that the price he has forced the country [to pay] can have certain consequences for the regime, for the revolution and even for himself. It appears that Ayatollah Khamenei has become the standard-bearer for the destruction of Islamic Iran by means of [his] speeches, baseless directives, disregard of the people's vote and their elected representatives, hindrance of the electoral institutions [such as the Guardian Council, which vets electoral candidates], and so on. He gives orders, and people must quickly carry them out in order to please him, without considering their consequences or giving him good advice in order to avoid [these consequences]. One day the mayor of Tehran must be dismissed in order to please the leader, and the next day the conditions of [political] prisoners must be worsened in order to please him. Another day, [women] who refuse [to wear] the mandatory hijab must be severely punished in order to please him – because he is the Supreme [Leader] and he has called them 'despicable' – and now it is the turn of the Telegram [app]."

The article added that the people do not trust Iranian messaging apps, and therefore even if the two foreign apps, Telegram and Instagram, are blocked, the people will only turn to other foreign applications – "but Khamenei is unaware that not everything can be managed with orders from above."

"The protests of December 2017 and January 2018," it stated further, "had nothing to do with the reformists. [People] were protesting the difficult living conditions, and this was just the tip of the iceberg of their rage. [People] expected Ayatollah Khamenei to display a different style of leadership than in 2009.  This time it's not about any conflict between him and another political stream [the reformists] and some ongoing old feud. This time it's about the people, who are exhausted of the policy [that has prevailed] all these years. The people are demanding change in the economic situation and in the state of freedoms, and most of the calls were directed against [Khamnei] more than against others. The expectation was that, following this warning [i.e., the uprising], he would enact a thorough reform, remove corruption, fight his associates who have excessive demands, [remove] the obstacles facing the electoral institutions, and so on. But [instead] he ordered to block Telegram. As though by blocking Telegram, the absence of bread and freedom will be erased or forgotten."[5]

Political Prisoners Hunger Strike To Protest Corruption And Oppression

On March 19, 2018, it was reported that some of the political prisoners in the Evin, Gohardasht and Tehran prisons had started a three-day hunger strike to protest the corruption and oppression in Iran. A statement they issued said: "We, some of the political and ideological prisoners, are starting a hunger strike [that will last] from March 18, 2018 until the new year (March 21, 2018), to protest the following: the closed political climate in Iran; the absence of social freedom; the failure to ensure justice; the widespread corruption of the regime and the absence of a response from those in charge; the constant oppression and arrests of dissidents, critics and intellectuals, including young people, workers, women, students, members of religious minorities, environmental activists, bankruptcy victims and social activists; the growth and spread of poverty; the rise in unemployment; the people's harsh living [conditions]; the economic slump; the environmental problems; the uneven development of the country; and the inappropriate behavior of the prison authorities and judges towards the political prisoners and their families."[6]

 


[1] In July 2017, Khamenei's office published a report titled "Khamenei's Main  Concern with the Cabinet,"  which alluded to his involvement in the appointment of the above-mentioned ministers. (farsi.khamenei.ir, July 28, 2017).

[2] The video offended  leading pro-regime clerics, among them Ayatollah Alam Al-Hoda, who is close to Khamenei. In Iran, women are prohibited from dancing in public under shari'a law, and girls aged nine and up are considered women. Najafi stated that the girls were younger than nine. 

[3] Sahamnews.org (Iran), March 19, 2018.

[4] See MEMRI Inquiry & Analysis No.1370, The Popular Uprising In Iran 2017-2018: Lessons Learned By The Regime, January 17, 2018.

[5] Kaleme.com, March 17, 2018.

[6] Sahamnews.com (Iran), March 19, 2018.