Human Rights Watch condemned the escalating campaign against independent political activists that began in late March and described it as taking on the dimensions of a coup d'etat.
Human Rights Watch warned that the crackdown could derail the presidential election scheduled for June 8. The arrests come as President Mohammad Khatami is evaluating a run for re-election. Khatami, who is widely expected to win should he stand, has complained about his inability to carry out his constitutional duties and mandate for reform because of powerful forces ranged against him.
"This campaign is beginning to look like a coup designed to deny the reformists electoral success," said Joe Stork, advocacy director for the Middle East and North Africa division of Human Rights Watch. "This is a blatant attempt to stifle free expression and activism for reform in the run-up to the election."
This week's arrests follow the previous detention of more than twenty activists in March. In a statement yesterday, President Khatami criticized the detentions, saying that such actions "boost the climate of intolerance in society."
Among those arrested is 80 year old Dr. Seyed Ahmad Sadr Haj Seyed Javadi, a founding member of the Freedom Movement and a prominent legal scholar. A valuable legal archive dating back to the pre-Revolutionary period was removed from his house at the time of his arrest.
The Freedom Movement is a tolerant religious political movement that also emphasizes Iranian nationalism. Although supportive of the Islamic Republic, the party has not been allowed to run for election or operate freely for decades.
The attack on the Freedom Movement comes at a time when its leader, Ebrahim Yazdi, is in the United States undergoing treatment for prostate cancer. The conservative press has long accused the Freedom Movement of foreign ties. For example, the leading conservative newspaper Keyhan carried an article on April 9 questioning the motivations behind Dr. Yazdi's stay in the U.S.
In the course of the raids, security forces ransacked the offices of the Bazargan cultural foundation and the Association of Islamic Engineers. They seized computers and files dating back many years. The Bazargan Foundation, a cultural institution, and the Association of Islamic Engineers were established before the creation of the Freedom Movement. Both institutions are legally registered under Iranian law.
"These arrests, coming on the heels of a wholesale closure of independent newspapers in Iran, represent a dramatic escalation," Stork said. "We fear further arrests of students, members of parliament, and other independent political voices in the period leading up to the election."
Ten of the political activists detained on March 12 remain incommunicado in violation of Iranian and international law. Among them, Dr. Habibollah Peiman is the leader of an Islamic militant party and Dr. Mohammed Maleki is former chancellor of Tehran University.
Human Rights Watch urged the immediate release of all political detainees seized in recent raids and for an end to the persecution of independent political activists for exercising their rights to freedom of expression and association.
The list of detainees from different cities available to Human Rights Watch appears below:
·Dr. Seyed Ahmad Sadr Hajseyed Javadi, former Minister of Justice and the Interior during the transitional government;
·Hashem Sabaghian, former Deputy Prime Minister and spokesman for the transitional government;
·Mohammad Tavasoli, former mayor of Tehran;
·Dr. Gholam-Abas Tavasoli, former chancellor of Isfahan University;
·Abolfazl Bazargan engineer and deputy prime Minster in the transitional government;
·Reza Masmouie, engineer;
·Mahmoud Naimpour, engineer;
·Dr. Hossesin Bani-Assadi;
·Mr. Abouzari, the head of Bazargan Cultural Foundation;
·Mr. Badeizadehgan, head of the Bazargan Foundation;
·Dr. Khossro Mansourian;
·Mr. Taher Ahmad-Zadeh, 80 year old former governor of Khorasan province;
·Dr. Del-Assay, Physician;
·Dr. Aliakbar Sar Jamei;
·Mr. Hamed Alavi;
·Dr. Hadi Hadizadeh, well-known Iranian physicist;
·Dr. Reza Gharavi;
·Mr. Mostafa Messkin;
·Mr. Salavati, managing director of closed Mofid newspaper
·Dr. Ghafar Farzadi , professor at Tabriz University;
·Mr. Ahad Rezaei;
·Khossro Kord-pour, teacher;
·Dr. Seyed Mohammad Mehdi-Jafari, professor of Shiraz university; and