Three Opposition Figures Detained for Almost Three Years Without Charge
November 12, 2013
The continuing house arrest and detention of these opposition figures is indicative of the continued repression and intolerance of government authorities toward dissent in Iran. Officials’ claims that there are no political prisoners in Iran flies in the face of the brutal reality of Iran’s still-jailed political leaders and activists.
Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director

(Beirut) – Three major opposition figures in Iran have been under house arrest or detention for 1,000 days with no charges against them, notwithstanding President Hassan Rouhani’s promise to release political prisoners, Human Rights Watch and the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran said today.

The Iranian government should immediately and unconditionally release the opposition figures and 2009 presidential candidates Mehdi Karroubi and Mir Hossein Mousavi, and Mousavi’s wife, Zahra Rahnavard, an author and political activist. On November 12, 2013, the three will have spent 1,000 days under house arrest or detention without charge or trial. No governmental agency or body has expressly accepted responsibility for the opposition figures’ detention or brought any charges against them.

“The continuing house arrest and detention of these opposition figures is indicative of the continued repression and intolerance of government authorities toward dissent in Iran,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Officials’ claims that there are no political prisoners in Iran flies in the face of the brutal reality of Iran’s still-jailed political leaders and activists.”

Officials placed the two former presidential candidates and their wives, Zahra Rahnavard and Fatemeh Karroubi, under house arrest on February 14, 2011, in response to opposition figures’ call for demonstrations in support of popular uprisings across the Middle East. Officials have released Fatemeh Karroubi from house arrest, but the other three remain detained. During almost three years of detention, officials have prevented the three from regularly contacting or seeing their families or receiving adequate medical care. They have also summoned and imprisoned relatives of the detainees for speaking out about their plight.

“Rouhani promised to seek the release of these opposition figures, and millions of Iranians trusted he would seek their release and voted for him,” said Hadi Ghaemi, the executive director of the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran. “His supporters are still waiting for him to end these extrajudicial detentions, and clarify which institutions of the state are controlling these people’s fate.”

Asked whether Rouhani’s government would set up a special committee to examine releasing the opposition figures from detention, Justice Minister Mostafa Pourmohammadi said, “The government will not interfere in these matters,” Iran’s semi-official Mehr News Agency reported on October 30. A few weeks earlier, Pourmohammadi had told reporters that the Supreme National Security Council would review the detentions. The council is headed by President Rouhani, and its members include the heads of the legislative and judiciary branches of government and other high-ranking political figures. Pourmohammadi hinted then that they might soon release the opposition leaders. Four days later, a judiciary spokesman denied that would happen. Senior officials have given varied accounts of the rationale for the house arrests and detention.

In November 2011, Mohammad Javad Larijani, head of the High Council for Human Rights, said that the detainees had engaged in “illegal activities” and incited violence. He also said that Iran’s judiciary would not place anyone under house arrest without trial and court order, and that the public would soon learn of the charges against the detainees.

More than a year later, on December 25, 2012, when officials still had not brought charges against the opposition figures, Iran’s police chief, Esmail Ahmadi Moghaddam, said that the country’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei had approved the detentions in advance.

Mohammad Taghi Karroubi, the Karroubis’ son, told the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran that the authorities are holding his father in a safe house controlled by security and intelligence forces, notwithstanding what he called “untruthful allegations” from the government about the circumstances of his father’s detention. Security and intelligence agents mostly prevent Karroubi from contacting or seeing others, and physically prevent him from leaving the premises, Mohammad Taghi Karroubi said.

Mohammad Taghi Karroubi blamed the detention for a “serious deterioration” in his father’s health, including the worsening of his heart condition. He said the family’s “most serious concern is that security officials allow [my father] to be treated by a specialist doctor selected by the family,” and reiterated his father’s call for the authorities to bring charges against him and try him publicly if he has committed a crime. Other sources familiar with Mehdi Karroubi’s medical condition also reported that his health has deteriorated dramatically during the past two-and-a-half years.

In July a source familiar with Mousavi’s medical problems reported that his blood pressure has fluctuated erratically due to a heart condition. He suffers from a blocked artery and underwent angioplasty in 2011. The source said that security forces had prevented him from receiving medical check-ups every 50 days, as doctors recommended and, during his latest visit to the hospital, prevented him from remaining in the hospital to receive medical tests.

Authorities also physically prevent Mousavi and Rahnavard from leaving their home and only allow them infrequent and preapproved visits from immediate family members.

On October 24, Mousavi’s adult daughters reported that a female security agent physically assaulted them after a visit to their parents’ home on October 24. Pourmohammadi later dismissed the claim as “noise from the media.” On February 11, two days before the second anniversary of the arbitrary detentions of their parents and Mehdi Karroubi, authorities arrested Mousavi and Rahnavard’s daughters, Zahra and Narges Mousavi, and Mohammad Hossein Karroubi, another of the Karroubis’ sons. Officials released them later that day.

Both Human Rights Watch and the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran have repeatedly called on Iran’s authorities, including President Rouhani, to push for the release of the opposition figures and give them adequate access to medical care.

Various United Nations organizations have repeatedly called on the Iranian government to release the three opposition figures, and have declared their detention arbitrary and unlawful. On February 11, 2013, three UN special rapporteurs called for the immediate release of Mousavi and Karoubi and their family members, along with other people who remain in prison for peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of opinion and expression, or freedom of association and assembly.

In August 2012, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, a body of five independent experts acting under the UN Human Rights Council, issued an opinion that the detentions are “arbitrary (and thus prohibited),” and recommended that the Iranian government release the detainees immediately and compensate them for their wrongful imprisonment. In September 2011, the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances initiated urgent investigations to determine the fate of the opposition figures, whose whereabouts had not been revealed at the time.

Other UN officials and bodies, including the secretary general, the special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran, the Human Rights Council, and the General Assembly, have also characterized the detentions as arbitrary detention and called for the detainees’ immediate release.

“These detentions, as well as the continued imprisonment of other political prisoners, are one of the most important barometers of the human rights situation inside Iran,” Ghaemi said.