Iran hard­lin­ers in­ten­sify crack­down be­fore polls

Dozens of jour­nal­ists, activists ar­rested

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

ANKARA: Ahead of two key elec­tions in Iran in Fe­bru­ary, the Supreme Leader’s hard-line al­lies have cracked down on activists, jour­nal­ists and artists to try to tighten their grip on the coun­try’s fac­tion-rid­den pol­i­tics, of­fi­cials and an­a­lysts say. Rights groups and op­po­si­tion web­sites said dozens were sum­moned by the in­tel­li­gence min­istry for in­ter­ro­ga­tion and had been de­tained. The Ira­nian gov­ern­ment has de­nied there has been a wave of ar­rests, de­scrib­ing the re­ports as “base­less”.

Some of­fi­cials and an­a­lysts be­lieve that the aim is to limit prag­ma­tist Pres­i­dent Has­san Rouhani’s in­flu­ence and pop­u­lar­ity af­ter his suc­cess in reach­ing a his­toric nu­clear deal with the six ma­jor pow­ers in July that ended over a decade-old stand-off. “The hard-lin­ers are wary of Rouhani’s in­flu­ence at home and abroad. They fear it may harm the bal­ance of power in Iran,” a se­nior of­fi­cial close to Rouhani told Reuters on con­di­tion of anonymity.

Hu­man rights groups and the United Na­tions have crit­i­cised Iran for what they say is a crack­down on free­dom of ex­pres­sion and the me­dia. There were no pre­cise num­bers of just how many peo­ple had been de­tained, no de­tails of what charges if any were brought or whether there had been any tri­als. An­a­lysts say that sup­press­ing dis­sent­ing voices has been stepped up since Septem­ber when the coun­try’s most pow­er­ful fig­ure Supreme Leader Ay­a­tol­lah Ali Khamenei warned of “in­fil­tra­tion” by Iran’s en­e­mies.

The ju­di­ciary has sen­tenced Ira­ni­anAmer­i­can Wash­ing­ton Post jour­nal­ist Ja­son Reza­ian to jail af­ter be­ing ar­rested in July 2014 on es­pi­onage charges. The US gov­ern­ment and the jour­nal­ist’s fam­ily re­jected the charges. The sen­tenc­ing was fol­lowed by the ar­rest of Ira­nian-Amer­i­can businessman Sia­mak Na­mazi when vis­it­ing his rel­a­tives in Tehran.

Grip on Power Iran’s eco­nomic hard­ships per­suaded Khamenei to sup­port Rouhani’s ef­forts to reach the nu­clear deal, un­der which Tehran agreed to curb its nu­clear pro­gram in ex­change for an eas­ing of sanc­tions on its flag­ging econ­omy. The an­a­lysts say the hard­lin­ers hope that the wave of ar­rests will help to tighten their grip on power and pro­tect Khamenei’s author­ity from be­ing chal­lenged by the pres­i­dent with the elec­tions just weeks away. An­a­lysts and of­fi­cials close to the gov­ern­ment be­lieve the ar­rests will also show the lim­its of the pres­i­dent’s power in­ter­nally and de­mor­al­ize Ira­ni­ans who could sup­port prore­form can­di­dates in the next elec­tions.

An elec­tion win in Iran’s par­lia­ment and the As­sem­bly of Ex­perts, a cler­i­cal body with nom­i­nal power over the supreme leader, would give Rouhani’s fac­tion too much power and in­flu­ence in the coun­try, hard-lin­ers be­lieve. “It has al­ways been the sit­u­a­tion in Iran be­fore the elec­tions,” said Iran-based an­a­lyst Saeed Ley­laz. “Of course the nu­clear deal and ef­forts to end Iran’s iso­la­tion have in­creased Rouhani’s pop­u­lar­ity,” he said, adding: “Rouhani’s op­po­nents are wor­ried about its im­pact on the vote re­sults.” Rouhani and his cen­trist and mod­er­ate back­ers could well be re­warded at the ballot box with their elec­tion prom­ises of de­liv­er­ing a freer so­ci­ety.

Khamenei’s ‘Red Line’ “Grow­ing pres­tige at home and abroad for Rouhani means less author­ity for Khamenei and it has al­ways been Khamenei’s red line,” said po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst Hamid Farah­vashian. “More flex­i­bil­ity in for­eign pol­icy, has al­ways led to more pres­sure at home in Iran,” he said. The United Na­tions has called on Iran to stop ar­rest­ing, ha­rass­ing and pros­e­cut­ing jour­nal­ists and other activists. “It is likely to con­tinue, at least un­til the up­com­ing votes and pos­si­bly be­yond ... the hard-lin­ers are wor­ried about Rouhani’s com­par­a­tively higher pop­u­lar­ity ... be­cause of the nu­clear deal,” said Meir Javedan­far, pol­i­tics lec­turer at the In­ter­dis­ci­pli­nary Cen­tre in Her­zliya. “By ar­rest­ing re­porters and activists, they are try­ing to make Rouhani look weak and in­com­pe­tent.”

Rouhani, who won a land­slide elec­tion in 2013 on a pro­gres­sive plat­form, has oc­ca­sion­ally crit­i­cised the crack­down but has done lit­tle to stop it. Some supporters of Rouhani are los­ing pa­tience, fear­ing now that he might lack the author­ity to cre­ate a freer so­ci­ety. “Rouhani blames hard-lin­ers for the lim­i­ta­tions but words are not enough. I still sup­port him be­cause there is no other op­tion,” said a jour­nal­ist in Tehran, who asked not to be named. “His only con­cern is the econ­omy and keep­ing his po­si­tion.” An­a­lysts say Rouhani lacks the con­sti­tu­tional power to take prac­ti­cal steps to stop the sup­pres­sion. Un­der Iran’s con­sti­tu­tion, Khamenei has the fi­nal say on all state mat­ters and he has made sure that no group, even hard-lin­ers, gain enough power to chal­lenge the supreme leader’s author­ity since tak­ing over the po­si­tion in 1989.

Rouhani Un­der Scru­tiny How­ever, some doubt that Rouhani, who rep­re­sented Khamenei on the Supreme Na­tional Se­cu­rity Coun­cil for more than two decades, has the stom­ach to con­front the leader and his hard-line supporters to im­prove Iran’s hu­man rights record. “He is part of the es­tab­lish­ment. He has gained this sta­tus be­cause of the Is­lamic repub­lic of Iran.— Reuters

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