As we approach the eleventh presidential election in the Islamic Republic of Iran, two of the candidates from the previous election remain under house arrest. Ahmadinejad’s main opponents were Mir Hossein Mousavi who was the Prime Minister of Iran for ten years in the 1980s and Mehdi Karroubi who was the speaker of the third and the sixth parliaments. The days of campaigning and the passion and excitement in most cities indicated the high number of votes which the two candidates garnered. Furthermore, most political analysts believe Mousavi was the real victor of the election. It looked like the people who were dissatisfied with Ahmadinejad administration’s policies had hoped to change the president. However, the announced outcome was different; Ahmadinejad’s victory was decisive and there were few votes for Mousavi and Karroubi. Mousavi and Karroubi did not accept the results and called it a fraud, but the Guardian Council, the main body to oversee the elections rejected the protests. Some members of the council had backed Ahmadinejad during the campaign, so the impartiality of the council was under question. Three days after Election Day, the largest demonstration in recent years was held against the election results and nearly three million people with green symbols rallied silently. Their main question was: “Where is my vote?”
This is how the Iranian Green Movement was born; a movement that through peaceful demonstrations and tactics demanded a free and fair election. In his Friday Prayer a week after the election, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei clearly stated his support for Ahmadinejad and threatened the demonstrators with suppression. It was a threat that materialized the next day and the streets in different Iranian cities witnessed the security forces’ crackdown on the people. These demonstrations went on for months and were led by Mousavi and Karroubi through their written statements. In the end, the government managed to control the protests by imprisoning thousands and killing approximately a hundred people.
A year later the “Arab Spring” started. People rebelled against dictatorial governments in Tunisia and Egypt and many believed they had been inspired by the Iranian Green Movement. When the President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt was deposed, in a joint statement, Mousavi and Karroubi asked the ministry of interior for permission to hold a demonstration in solidarity with the people of Egypt and Tunisia. The letter partly read: “We would like to ask for permission to hold a demonstration in solidarity with the movements of the people in Egypt and Tunisia against their oppressive governments. We would like permission to invite the people to rally in accordance to the 27th article of the constitution in support of the uprising of two Muslim populations on Monday February 14th, at 3 p.m. from Imam Hossein square to Azadi Square.” (1)
Although no response was given to the request, many people took to the streets. This movement showed that although it has not had a public display for a while, the Green Movement is like a fire under the ashes, waiting for a spark. The government authorities, who had been taken aback, took desperate measures. The MPs chanted “down with Mousavi and Karroubi” in the parliament. Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, a Guardian Council member and Imam of the Tehran Friday Prayer, asked for the house arrest of Mousavi and Karroubi. He stated during his Friday Prayer: “What the judiciary can do – and I believe they are thinking about doing this – is to totally cut all their connections with the people. The doors of their homes should be shut, entering and exiting their homes should be limited. They should not be able to send or receive messages and their phones and internet access should be disconnected. They should be imprisoned in their own homes.” (2)
By early February 2012, what Ayatollah Jannati had said was done. Mousavi and his wife, Zahra Rahnavard, Karroubi and his wife, Fatemeh Karroubi were put under house arrest. Their contact with society was shut down and only their children were allowed to visit them on special occasions. Eventually, Fatemeh Karroubi was released from house arrest for a while but Karroubi was forced to stay under house arrest alone.
House arrest; a tool for dictators
It might be difficult for dictatorial governments to arrest and try political opposition leaders as they do to others. The political leaders of the opposition to dictators usually have a considerable amount of credit among the people and on the international level and that is what makes it difficult for the dictators to arrest and try them before a court. Aung San Suu Kyi, the Burmese democracy seeking leader and Peace Nobelist, is the most famous person to spend a long time under house arrest. Prior to this in Iran as well, Ayatollah Montazeri, a religious leader who opposed the government, spent part of his life under house arrest. He was supposed to become the successor to Ayatollah Khomeini as the Supreme Leader but he lost his standing in the regime following his protest about a number of actions by the regime, including the 1988 mass executions of political opposition activists. For years after that, he held his place as a religious leader among the people but in 1997 when he clearly criticized the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, his home was attacked by government forces. Upon a verdict from the Special Court of the Clergy, the entrance to his home was welded shut and only the entrance door to the inner part of his home was left open, and even that was controlled by the IRGC forces who controlled it from a kiosk that was installed there. He did not meet anyone except for his children, grandchildren and siblings for five years. (3)
800 day arrest
It is almost 800 days since the beginning of Mousavi, Karroubi and Rahnavard’s house arrest. No trial has been held to produce a verdict or prosecute any charges. The arrest is ongoing without a warrant from a court. This is an instance of “arbitrary arrest” and a violation of Article 9 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which reads: “No one shall be subject to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile”.
Numerous Iranian and foreign groups have protested the house arrests since their beginning. On BBC Persia, Shirin Ebadi, the human rights attorney and Peace Nobelist, commented on the news of Mousavi and Karroubi’s house arrest: “They have arrested them without due legal process, and sent them to an unknown location which we believe to be Heshmatieh prison. They have been in prison since February 14th. In the beginning, they were detained in their own homes and now are in an undisclosed location and this is an instance of arbitrary arrest.” (4) A while later, it was determined that these leaders had been detained in houses. The White House spokesman mentioned the difference in the Iranian government’s position on the democratic movements and domestic protests in Arab countries and called the actions of Iranian government “hypocritical.” He stated: “It is clear that we consider the arrest of opposition leaders unacceptable and we call for good treatment with them and their release”. (4)
Ayatollah Sanei, a religious leader based in Qom, also released a statement about this issue that partly read: “It is sad and surprising that some people believe that the protests by the political opposition is baseless and a lie; but even with having all the media and advertising power, they have not yet been able to hold a fair public trial where the opposition can defend their ideas and let society judge and see who is right.” (5) The council of National-Religious (another opposition group) activists’ statement also read: “The arrest and detention of these gentlemen is against the 22nd article of the constitution that points out the safety of people’s life, property and home from attacks. Article 33 mentions the ban of forcing people to stay in some location without a legal warrant, article 36 stresses that the punishment must be determined by fair trial, article 37 states one is innocent unless proven guilty and article 39 protects the honor of people.” (6) Lastly, in a statement Shirin Ebadi and six human rights organizations; Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Reporters without Borders, the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, International Federation for Human Rights, the Committee for Defense of Human Rights in Iran asked the Iranian authorities to end the “arbitrary” house arrest of Mehdi Karroubi, Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi as well as the harassment and detention of their children immediately. (7)
These days as we approach the eleventh presidential election, half of the candidates from the previous election are under house arrest. The Islamic Republic authorities claim that the election in Iran is one of the most free in the world. But can we really believe that claim?