Rouhani and his colleagues have maintained that the judiciary’s independence prevents them from being able to step in to reduce the number executions, particularly of drug offenders and persons who were under the age of eighteen when they committed their crimes. This claim of independence ostensibly also accounts for the contradiction between some of Rouhani’s public statements and the actual conduct of the regime, as in the case of arrests of expatriates who have returned to Iran after the president promised that they would face no legal consequences for their dual national status.
But Jahangir insists that “the judiciary in Iran is neither independent nor free from influence from the executive.” Meanwhile, other critics of the clerical regime have emphasized that the judiciary appears also to be very much under the influence of the Ministry of Intelligence and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, both of which have been leading instigators of an ongoing crackdown on Iranian journalists, activists, social media users, and so on.
In Monday’s session, Jahangir also reported that as of December, at least 24 journalists and bloggers were being held in political imprisonment. By most accounts, the figures are a great deal higher. For instance, the website Journalism is Not a Crime says that there are currently 55 professional journalists in Iranian prisons, to say nothing of other persons who have been accused of vague national security crimes. The Committee to Protect Journalists consistently ranks Iran as one of the most prolific jailers of reporters in the world.
Among other political prisoners are the leaders of the 2009 Green Movement, Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi. According to Iran Press Watch, Jahangir also called attention to the persistence of this situation, as well as the arbitrary nature of detention and punishment in the Islamic Republic. Both Mousavi and Karroubi, as well as Mousavi’s wife Zahra Rahnavard have been kept under house arrest for nearly six years without ever facing trial or even being given formal charges.
Their continued detention also highlights the differences between Rouhani’s public commentary on human rights issues and his actual record as president. The release of these political prisoners was among his major campaign promises in 2013, but he has failed to take any noticeable initiative on this or other progressive-sounding promises, and has continued to contradict independent analysts and human rights activists who maintain that the president can wield considerable influence over the judiciary on these issues.
His apparent unwillingness to do so – or as Jahangir suggested on Monday, his desire to influence the judiciary only in the direction of further repression – once again highlights the longstanding argument by the regime’s harshest critics that internal moderation is not a realistic possibility. Upon his election, Rouhani was regarded by a range of Western policymakers as a compromise between Iran’s hardline leadership and the demands of the Green Movement. But opposition groups like the National Council of Resistance of Iran only regarded Rouhani as a pragmatic regime insider who would utilize new tactics in pursuit of the same repressive policies.
If this is true, there is little hope for progressive change in human rights or other areas following the forthcoming presidential elections, which are scheduled for May 19. Iran Front Page News reports that Iran’s reformist politicians have formally endorsed Rouhani as a candidate for reelection. He will face an as yet unnamed challenger drawn from the ranks of acknowledged hardliners.
There was previously some speculation that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whose disputed 2009 reelection touched off the Green Movement protests, might seek a return to the presidency, but this was effectively blocked by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. Nevertheless, Khamenei has also spoken out against the notion of “national reconciliation” between his hardline allies and the supporters of the Green Movement. In fact, at various times, the regime appears to have doubled down on its criminalization of that movement and other serious reform advocates.
In fact, this occurred once again on Monday when Iran’s semi-official ILNA news agency announced that it had sentenced Mehdi Karroubi’s son Hossein to six months in prison for publishing the letter his father had written to President Rouhani asking for an open trial. In reporting on this, the Washington Post gives no indication of a response by the Rouhani administration to Hossein’s arrest or prosecution, or even to Mehdi’s letter.
The Post also notes that the latest incident comes in the midst of a major campaign of arrests focusing in particular on dual nationals and garnering no apparent pushback from the supposedly moderate presidential administration.