Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Harassment of Iranian Opposition Leaders

Green Movement down but definitely not out.
By Arash Ghafouri
  • Opposition leader Mir-Hossein Mousavi meets a leading reformist figure, Feizollah Arab-Sorkhi of the Mojahedin of the Islamic Revolution, who was on temporary prison leave in April 2010. (Photo: Omid Iranmehr, kaleme.com)
    Opposition leader Mir-Hossein Mousavi meets a leading reformist figure, Feizollah Arab-Sorkhi of the Mojahedin of the Islamic Revolution, who was on temporary prison leave in April 2010. (Photo: Omid Iranmehr, kaleme.com)
  • Mousavi meets fellow opposition leader Mehdi Karroubi at his office. (Photo: kaleme.com)
    Mousavi meets fellow opposition leader Mehdi Karroubi at his office. (Photo: kaleme.com)

The offices of Iranian opposition head Mir-Hossein Mousavi are frequently raided by the security forces as the regime tries to prevent leaders of the Green Movement regrouping their forces.

A few weeks ago, the premises were raided and searched, while last month, Mohammad-Reza Khatami, brother of former President Mohammad Khatami and son-in-law of the late Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, was briefly detained after going there to meet Mousavi.

Officers of the security forces warned Khatami he would not get off so lightly next time.

Mousavi’s office, close to his home on Pasteur Street, is a particular irritant to the authorities because its central location is near the administration of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has to pass it every day on his way to work.

It must be galling for Ahmadinejad, as he makes plans to reshape the world, to be reminded that his number one opponent, who stood against him in last year’s election and refuses to accept that he won, is meeting opposition members just a few blocks away along the road.

Over the 15 months since the disputed presidential polls, the Green Movement has been systematically suppressed. Major reformist parties like the Participation Front, the Mojahedin of the Islamic Revolution, and the National Confidence Party, have been outlawed by the judiciary, while the Executives of Construction Party is now dormant.

Rank-and-file opposition supporters have not dared appear in street protests in many months.

Former officials who served as advisers to Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, another presidential candidate and Green Movement leader, are either in detention or under surveillance.

To avoid any possibility of the opposition regrouping, Ahmadinejad’s allies and security forces seek to disrupt contacts between Mousavi and Karroubi, and meetings between either leader and their supporters.

The conclusion, then, might be that opposition forces are to all intents and purposes dead.

That is certainly the view of one of their most dedicated foes, Ayatollah Mohammad Yazdi, former head of the judiciary and a member of the Assembly of the Experts.

“The leaders of sedition are now completely on their own,” he said recently. “Since they don’t have people any more, they meet and talk together just to prove they still exist.”

Yet the level of scrutiny to which the security services subject Mousavi and Karroubi, and to a lesser extent former president Khatami, suggests that the Green Movement leadership is still perceived to have the capacity to mobilise support.

Visitors to Mousavi and Karroubi report being intimidated afterwards. A few weeks ago, for example, the intelligence ministry summoned a group of journalists who were planning to meet Mousavi and warned them they would go straight to Evin Prison if they did.

In late summer, a crowd gathered outside Karroubi’s home, chanting slogans over several days. Shots were fired at the building. Karroubi said the crowd had been instigated by the police and Revolutionary Guards, and had made it impossible for him and his family to go to visit his father’s grave.

At the same time, within the regime there is not enough of a consensus to allow prosecution of Mousavi and Karroubi.

Even if the Green Movement is barely visible, some activities continue to show a degree of coordination  – political statements are published, information circulates fast, and cries of “God is Great” ring out sporadically across urban areas at nighttime – a hallmark of the opposition.

The internet, and social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter, play a key part in this coordination, as Iranian citizen-journalists scattered around the world wage virtual war on the regime despite its attempts to create an information vacuum.

What is happening, in fact, is the realisation of an idea voiced by Mousavi soon after last year’s election – “Every citizen a news outlet.”

A good example of this was when relatives of Mohammad Hemmat and Mehdi Bakeri, two famous Revolutionary Guards commanders killed in the Iran-Iraq war went to pay their respects to Mousavi during the anniversary of the conflict. Prevented from reaching the opposition leader by security forces ringing his home, they started chanting “Death to the Dictator” – this on the same street where President Ahmadinejad has his office.

News outlets in Iran did not cover the story, as they are barred from carrying reports or photos of Mousavi, Karroubi and Khatami.

Despite this, the network of internet users meant that news of the incident was beamed around the world within minutes of it happening.

Another area where the opposition enjoys some freedom of movement is in contacting political prisoners and their families, whom the government and security forces treat with kid gloves. When prisoners are released, they are able to meet  Mousavi, Karroubi and Khatami.

Another point worth noting is that Mousavi and Karroubi still have allies and sympathisers within the core of the establishment, including the Revolutionary Guards Corps and the office of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

One is Ali Akbar Nategh-Nouri, chief auditor in Khamenei’s office, and former speaker of parliament. He voted for Mousavi in last year’s election because he disagreed with Ahmadinejad’s policies, and refused to take a stand against the opposition afterwards. Ahead of the election, his brother-in-law Abbas Akhundi ran an group called Principalists for Mousavi.

The opposition leader also has supporters in the security agencies, the people who informed his election monitoring committee that 70 per cent of the votes cast in the intelligence ministry were for Mousavi.

Revolutionary Guards commander-in-chief Mohammad Ali Jafari has admitted that some of his men supported the “sedition”, but that they were not dismissed because they had done so out of “justifiable conviction”.

One of the few reformist leaders still visibly active is Abdollah Nouri, who served as interior minister under Khatami and his predecessor Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani. Nouri still holds monthly prayer meetings at his home at which opposition leaders are able to congregate. The last one, held two months ago was attended by Khatami, Karroubi and also Hasan Khomeini, grandson of the Islamic Republic’s founder, the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

The reform movement has not disappeared , but is certainly going through troubled times, or as Mousavi calls it, a “Year of Patience and Perseverance”. He may be only a few hundred metres away from the Presidential Palace in Pasteur Street, but he is still a long way away from it.

Arash Ghafouri is a journalist who was forced to leave Iran after the 2009 election, and now lives in the United States.