On Sunday 29 July Mohammad-Taghi Karroubi, son of the ex-parliamentary speaker and imprisoned Reformist leader Mehdi Karroubi, sent an open letter to the Islamic Republic’s senior leadership entitled “The time for detention: A conversation with high ranking officials of the regime.”
The leaders of the Green Movement and their wives, including ex-prime minister Mir-Hossein Mousavi, the elder Karroubi, and Zahra Rahnavard, have been under house arrest since 14 February 2011 when Green supporters came onto the streets of Iran to show solidarity with the Arab Spring. Around this time, the chairman of the Guardian Council Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati called on the regime to isolate Mousavi and Karroubi be imprisoning them, preventing them from communicating with their supporters, and cutting their access to all outside media (including newspapers, television, radio, and the Internet).
In the letter, which had a moderate tone, the younger Karroubi addressed the detention of his father for the last eighteen months. According to him, there is no law sanctioning his father’s detention and no regime official has taken responsibility for this illegal action. While there is no law in Iran’s legal system for this type of detention, Karroubi said that there were a number of apt historical comparisons to his father’s situation including Mirza-Taghi Khan Amir Kabir (a revered prime minister of the Qajar dynasty), Dr. Mohammad Mossadegh (a revered prime minister of the Pahlavi dynasty), and Ayatollah Ali Montazeri (a revered grand ayatollah and elder statesman of the Islamic Republic).
Reviewing his father’s experience under house arrest, Karroubi said that the conditions are harsh. Among other things, he claimed that the elder Karroubi is denied permission to leave the residence in which he is being held for anything including walks and getting fresh air and sunlight, basic rights afforded to regular prisoners. What is more, he alleged his father is denied human contact except for a brief visit every ten hours with the security agents overseeing his detention. While Karroubi had been allowed to see his family on a handful of occasions in the last 18 months, a security agent was present at all of these meetings precluding any intimate discussions.
In concluding his letter, Karroubi suggested that in order to end the cruel circumstances under which his father is being held, he should be transferred to his personal residence in the Jamaran neighbourhood of Tehran. Otherwise, he said that his aging father would be better off in the notorious Evin prison where he asserted that prisoners had many more basic rights and were not forced to pay for their prison or imprisoners, as Karroubi’s family is being forced to do.
In a statement yesterday, Iran’s attorney general Gholam-Hossein Mohseni-Ejei said that no changes would be made to the conditions under which Mehdi Karroubi is being held.
Editor’s note: Mohammad-Taghi Karroubi’s letter comes at a time when it seems like both the Reformist faction and society have forsaken the once heralded leaders of the Green Movement. In taking the risks that they did by being one of the few members of the regime elite to back demonstrators, Mousavi and Karroubi likely did not expect that they would be forgotten so quickly. Although they retain some level of popularity in society at large, especially among the middle class in large urban centers, their Reformist allies and supporters can do little to help them given the sensitivity of the regime toward the Green Movement and its leaders.
The Green leaders’ political fall from grace and detention despite their courage is important because it helps dispel a myth about why the Reform movement, despite some important successes, has in general been a failure. In the aftermath of the election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as president and the departure of the Reformist president Mohammad Khatami, some claimed the Reform movement’s disappointing time in power (1997-2005) could be attributed to Khatami’s lack of courage in confronting hardline Principalists who obstructed reforms at every turn. However, it is now difficult to deny that Reformist leaders behind the Green Movement, especially Mousavi and Karroubi, have shown courage in the face of hardliners. They are paying a high price for their deeds and actions.
This points to more fundamental problems in the Reform movement and their strategy of “pressure from below [society], negotiations from above [by the Reformist elite]”. This strategy sees a very limited role for society, which is supposed to bring “pressure from below” every election or through demonstrations but is otherwise limited in the role it can play. Rather, the Reformist leadership views its own role as being paramount and feels little need to help organize social forces into more powerful and independent actors or to give them concessions in areas of vital importance such expanded civil rights, social welfare, and more. In this sense Iranian society has been atomized and without strong civil society organizations such as labour unions, women’s rights groups, etc., meaning that it has been easier to repress by hardliners. It will be interesting to see if the Reformist approach evolves away from this failed strategy in the coming year.