Marking one year of house arrest for the Iranian opposition leaders, Behrouz Samadbeigi records the events that led to their unprecedented confinement and their ordeals of the past year.
In February 2011, as the government was churning its massive propaganda machine to mark the anniversary of the 1979 Iranian Revolution, the joint letter from opposition leaders MirHossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, inviting people to a rally, drew much attention, and what ensued after the publication of this brief letter brought the Iranian people’s protest movement to a new level.
Karroubi and Mousavi urged the Interior Minister to issue a permit for a public demonstration based on Article 27 of the Islamic Republic Constitution. They proposed a demonstration starting at 3 PM on Monday February 14, 2011, from Emam Hossein Sqaure to Azadi Square, to “express solidarity” with the popular movements in the region, specifically the democratic uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt against despotic governments.
Although the permit was never issued, the demonstration took place. Military and security forces cracked down violently on the demonstrations, and the leaders of the “Green Movement” were forbidden from leaving their homes on that day. So it was that their house arrest began — a house arrest still in place after one year, which triggered another rally on its anniversary.
February 2011- The establishment is enraged
The large presence of protesters in the streets, despite oppressive measures like beatings, arrests and the blocking of internet and texting services, resulted in the direct attacks on the leaders of the movement. On the morning of February 16, 2011, parliamentary Speaker Ali Larijani called for the establishment of a committee to “carefully examine the nature of the devious sedition, so that the people and their representatives can determine how to deal with this movement and the various government institutions can proceed with their duties.”
On that day, for the first time during an official session of Parliament, the MPs took a strong stance against Mousavi and Karroubi, calling for their prosecution. Larijani went on to reproach the “gentlemen” who had issued the rally announcement: “Can you call such an action anything other than confusion and sedition?”
Several MPs gave harsh speeches calling for the immediate prosecution of the “heads of sedition,” which is how the Islamic Republic had come to refer to the two men who challenged Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s victory in the 2009 presidential election.
Finally, a letter signed by 233 MPs pointed out that “Mousavi and Karroubi had used solidarity with the people of Egypt and Tunisia as an excuse, in effect, to serve the United States and Israel, and had launched another seditious act by supporting the objectives of the enemy and feeding the Western media.” They maintained: “We, the people’s representatives, hold Karroubi and Mousavi directly responsible for the martyrdom of a Basiji student on February 14 and believe that the people are now fed up with showing tolerance towards these gentlemen and unanimously call for them to receive the highest punishment.”
That evening, a crowd gathered at Ark Square in Tehran. The Fars news agency, which is linked to the Revolutionary Guards, described it as a “spontaneous” event. The protesters called for the prosecution of Mousavi and Karroubi and burned an effigy of MirHosein Mousavi. At the same time, another group gathered in front of Mehdi Karroubi’s home, protesting and shouting obscenities.
On February 16, the two leaders of the Green Movement, who were not yet completely cut off from the outside world, issued a statement expressing their appreciation for the people’s presence on the streets on the day of the rally. Mousavi referred to the events of February 14 as a “glorious march” and wrote: “In addition to applauding the mesmerizing persistence of the people, I offer condolences for the martyrdom of your children.” Karroubi also announced that, despite the growing threats and pressure, he had no fear in denouncing the crackdown on protesters. He warned the government against “violent and inhumane and anti-Islamic actions” and called on them “to take the cotton out of their ears and hear the voice of the people before it is too late.”
On February 18, in his sermon at the Friday Mass Prayers in Tehran, Ahmad Jannati, the hardline cleric and head of the Guardian Council, announced the plan to imprison the protest leaders in their homes. “What the judiciary can do, and I think is in the works, is to completely cut off their connection with the people. Their doors must be closed, their comings and goings restricted, and they should not be allowed to send messages or have access to the internet. They should be imprisoned in their homes.”
February/March of 2009 – Imprisonment and confinement in the works
On February 20, Karroubi wrote a letter to the head of the judiciary, describing the nightly swarming of his home, writing: “About 100 bikers, together with a few pseudo clerics, have done everything in their power in the way of shouting obscenities and disturbing everyone’s peace in the neighbourhood. These individuals begin their ritual by using the vilest words in connection with the “so-called leaders of sedition” and other government officials and their families, and end it with prayers for a long life for the Supreme Leader!” He also called for an open and official trial, where a proper indictment and defence could be presented, and people could be informed about the truth.
The next day, Saham News, Mehdi Karroubi’s website, reported on the attack on Karroubi’s residence, in which windows were broken and sound bombs were thrown. The assailants, whom Saham News described as “government thugs” numbering about 30, had issued a resolution calling for a summons to Jihad from Ayatollah Khamenei and the beheading of Karroubi and his wife, so their heads could be mounted in the city’s squares.
Three days later, the opposition leaders’ confinement took a different shape, as security forces raided Karroubi’s home and locked the leader and his wife in separate rooms, confiscating books and documents and changing all the locks. At the same time, one of Karroubi’s sons and a daughter-in-law were also arrested.
Ruhollah Hosseinian, an MP put in charge of a parliamentary delegation investigating the events of February 14 (Bahman 25), published the results, saying the delegation had concluded that Mousavi and Karroubi were “corruptors on earth,” which according to Islamic Republic law is punishable by death.
Once the leaders’ confinement and house arrest were confirmed, Ayatollah Sanei, a senior cleric from Qom, spoke out publicly against the measures, saying a house arrest and the withdrawal of all basic human rights without a trial and a chance for defence revealed the “political desperation and weakness of the perpetrators of this act.”
On March 1, after rumours circulated on some websites that Mousavi and Karroubi had been transferred to Tehran’s Heshmatieh Prison, judiciary spokesman Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejei said: “With regards to the leaders of sedition, at this point all of their communications have been restricted, including visits, telephone conversations and other conversations, and if other needs arise in the next stage, other steps will also be taken. Right now they are restricted.”
Three days later, the daughters of MirHosein Mousavi and Zahra Rahnavard published a letter addressed to the people of Iran, expressing concern following 18 days of a total news blackout around their parents.
March/April of 2011 – Justifications for the house arrest
On March 26, the EU foreign policy chief issued a statement calling for the immediate and unconditional release of MirHosein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi and their wives, Zahra Rahnavard and Fatemeh Karroubi.
Catherine Ashton said Iranian authorities claim the house arrest is meant to protect the opposition leaders. Ashton said, however: “This justification remains unconvincing and does not explain why they have not been allowed normal communications.”
Five days later, Mousavi’s father passed away, and his funeral was held under strict security without his son present.
April/May of 2011 – The first details about being imprisoned at home
On April 25, Fatemeh Karroubi was released after 71 days under house arrest for five days of medical treatments. She gave an interview during her release, talking about her situation and that of her husband under house arrest. She said they are in effect not under a “house arrest” per se because the security forces have not only taken over the residential complex in which they live, they are actually inside their home. She also indicated that they are being denied the basic rights of any prisoners, such as the right to daily fresh air and access to a telephone.
Kaleme also reported that a visit between Mousavi and his family was allowed a few days after the Iranian New Year. Mousavi and Rahnavard’s eldest daughter, together with her family, were given an hour to see her parents in a location away from the opposition leaders’ home. Prior to this, another daughter had also been given the chance for a brief visit.
Later, Saham News reported that the authorities had agreed to allow the Karroubis move to a different location, so that the other residents of their complex could return to their homes.
June/July of 2011 – A conservative member of the establishment protests
Conservative MP Ali Motahari declares in an interview: “The fate of Mousavi and Karroubi has to be determined in an official court rather than confining them without a trial. I am totally against this approach.”
August 2011 – Letters to international bodies
Six months into the confinement of the opposition leaders, 300 political, social and cultural activists wrote an open letter to 11 world institutions and figures, calling on them to use every international and legal means to end the house arrest of Mousavi, Rahnavard and the Karroubis.
September of 2011 – Ahmadinejad claims he knows nothing
In September, Kaleme reported on the first meeting in seven months between Mousavi and Rahnavard and their daughters. They reportedly met in the presence of a high-ranking judiciary official, and it was clarified that the couple was being denied any access to newspapers, radio or even writing tools.
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said in an interview with the Washington Post that he could not report on when Mousavi and Karroubi might be released, since he did not “follow up” on such matters. “We have the judiciary, and the judiciary acts independently from the government,” Ahmadinejad said. “We do not choose judges for the trials. The law rules, and everyone is equal in the eyes of the law.”
Fatemeh Karroubi also wrote a letter to the head of the judiciary, saying that her husband had been allowed more rights as a prisoner of the Shah’s regime, whose ouster in the 1979 Iranian Revolution led to the establishment of the Islamic Republic. She also revealed that the authorities were demanding that her family pay the cost of her parents’ new location.
September/November – News of a kidnapping
Mousavi’s daughters expressed concern for their parents’ health. They said the guards do not allow them to see their parents’ medical files, claiming to have their own proficient medical team. The Mousavi children also reported that the windows of their parents’ home had been sealed, and the house was filled with cameras and spotlights. They also revealed that their father had told them that if people wanted to understand their situation, they should refer to Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s News of a Kidnapping.
December 2011 – They have a space and sympathizers
Ali Saeedi, who represents Iran’s Supreme Leader in the Revolutionary Guards, became the first Islamic Republic official to comment on why Mousavi and Karroubi had not been officially charged and put on trial. He said: “Some ask: why do they not put Mousavi and Karroubi to trial? It is because they have a space and a series of sympathizers, which cannot be named.” He added: “Other than Mousavi and Karroubi, the main elements and behind-the-scenes founders of the sedition are either hard to identify or difficult to expose, because they possess a political space, and this makes the sedition very strange and complicated.”
[translated from the original in Persian]