House Arrest for Former President Highlights Still-Worsening Crackdown

On Thursday, the Washington Post reported that Iranian security forces had barred former President Mohammad Khatami from leaving his home the previous day. Iran News Update had already picked up on reports of escalating restrictions on the apparent figurehead for the reformist wing of Iranian politics, but these restrictions had only gone as far as a temporary ban on public appearances and the acceptance of political guests, as well as the removal of Khatami’s image from all Iranian media.

However, some of those same reports emphasized warnings of further escalation in the regime’s crackdown on Khatami and other affiliates of the reformist wing. In placing guards outside his home, the regime has now subjected Khatami to what at least one official news outlet referred to as “temporary house arrest.” And this naturally gives rise to concerns among Khatami’s supporters that the campaign against him could rise to the level of more permanent house arrest, like that which has been given to Green Movement leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi.

The two figures who were at the center of the nationwide protests against the disputed reelection of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2009 were placed under house arrest two years later and have remained there ever since. Neither man has been presented with official charges or a defined sentence, despite their requests for a public trial.

In August, the 80-year-old Karroubi staged a hunger strike demanding the removal of Intelligence Ministry agents from his home, ahead of a public trial. After being hospitalized almost immediately, Karroubi ended his hunger strike when regime officials promised to remove the agents from his home; but they would not consider the latter demand.

The Center for Human Rights in Iran noted on Thursday that Mousavi’s daughter had written an open letter accusing Iranian authorities of “hoping and planning” for the “gradual death” of Mousavi, Karroubi, and Mousavi’s wife Zahra Rahnavard, who is being held under house arrest alongside her husband. “Their communication with the outside world has been completely cut off and they have been put under all kinds of restrictions that violate their human rights and dignity,” the letter explained. “Their most natural rights, such as access to medical care, are delayed for as long as possible so that the abuse impacts their health.”

The CHRI report added that Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has ordered that release for the three political prisoners cannot be considered until they apologize for their role in the 2009 protests, which the regime refers to as “the sedition.” The Intelligence Ministry and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps contributed to the violent repression of those demonstrations, leading to dozens of deaths and the long-term imprisonment of hundreds of Iranian activists.

The regime’s response to the Green Movement also apparently sparked a broader crackdown on dissent that is still ongoing to this day. The restrictions on Khatami can easily be viewed as a symptom of that crackdown, which has also been prosecuted by the Intelligence Ministry and especially the IRGC. The hardline paramilitary organization reportedly wields increasingly much influence over the supposedly independent Iranian judiciary, which the Washington Post report described as summoning growing numbers of people for questioning, without evidence of crime.

Of course, these summons and the IRGC influence in general have led to various arrests and convictions for peaceful activities. On Thursday, an article detailed some recent examples of this phenomenon, specifically as they relate to the crackdown on independent journalism. In the first place, the article indicates that the reformist journalist Saroush Farhadian had received a one-year prison sentence for his political campaign work ahead of the parliamentary and presidential elections that took place earlier this year. It is the second time he has been convicted of propaganda against the regime, the first coming after he criticized the house arrests. Evidence from the first case was reportedly re-used in the second, less than three months after the previous verdict was finalized by a court of appeals.

Those three months roughly line up with the time during which two other reform-minded journalists have been held in “temporary detention.” Sasan Aghaei and Yaghma Fakhshami have been given no notice of formal charges during that time and they remain in jail where they are barred from receiving family visits. All of this is fairly typical of political detention in Iran, and it is generally assumed that authorities are attempting to exert pressure on the two journalists, among others, for false confessions upon which to build a case after the fact.

The IranWire report also highlights the ways in which regime authorities use the push-back against this sort of repression in order to justify still further crackdowns. As an example, it cites Amad News, a popular channel on the Telegram messaging app, which has become a prominent tool for activists in Iran. Amad News describes itself as part of the Green Movement, and it has been accordingly criminalized. But authorities have evidently taken to asserting affiliation between that channel and reformist journalists of every stripe, in order to more easily build cases against them.

This, of course, speaks to the fact that independent journalists as a whole are subject to persecution by the Iranian regime. And just as this persecution has escalated in recent years, so has the persecution of other targeted groups, including religious minorities and dual nationals.

Another recent report noted that more than 20 members of the Baha’i religious minority are known to have been arrested this month alone, on the basis of nothing other than their faith. The article emphasizes one case in which a Baha’i mother and father were taken from their home in a raid by the IRGC, which left the couple’s seven year old child alone in the house until relatives arrived from hundreds of miles away.

This disregard for the welfare of children in the midst of targeted crackdowns in reminiscent of the case of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, an Iranian-British charity worker who was apparently targeted for arrest in April of last year based solely on her Western citizenship. The arrest made her one of several symbols of Western “infiltration” in propaganda spearheaded by the IRGC. The incident also involved Tehran effectively kidnapping Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s two-year-old daughter, who was traveling with her as they visited family in Iran. The child’s passport was confiscated and she remains in the care of her grandparents, unable to return to her father in the UK.

The Center for Human Rights in Iran reported anew on Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s case on Thursday, quoting her husband Richard Ratcliffe as saying that Iranian authorities were deliberately exaggerating her Britishness and her connections to British media in an effort to compel British authorities to negotiate for her release. Zaghari-Ratcliffe previously worked for the BBC, but only in a minor role as part of its charitable division. Tehran, however, has claimed that she worked for BBC Farsi and oversaw training of individuals “for propaganda activities against Iran.”

These statements illustrate the fact that among Iranian hardliners, affiliations with Western media stand alongside affiliations with non-Muslim religions or the Green Movement as reasons, in and of themselves, for arrest, prosecution, and punishment.