News / Middle East

Ill and Long Isolated, Iranian Opposition Leaders Smell Freedom

FILE - Iranian opposition leader Mirhossein Mousavi (L) meets with pro-reform cleric Mehdi Karoubi in Tehran, Oct. 12, 2009.
FILE - Iranian opposition leader Mirhossein Mousavi (L) meets with pro-reform cleric Mehdi Karoubi in Tehran, Oct. 12, 2009.
Reuters
Four months after President Hassan Rouhani's election, Iran is reviewing the house arrest of two opposition leaders, but conservatives may fear the consequences of freeing men who remain heroes to many Iranians.

Mirhossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karoubi, candidates who led the “Green Movement” that disputed the 2009 re-election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, have never been charged with any crime. Yet both men, former top officials now in their 70s and in ill health, have been held under tight surveillance since early 2011.

But now, as Iran seems keen to heal old conflicts both at home and with the West, their living conditions have been eased and their case referred to a powerful state security council.

To some, this shows Iran's most powerful figure, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, wants to resolve the issue - although so far the council has had no contact with either opposition leader or their families.

Under Ahmadinejad's hardline presidency, they were denounced as “seditionists” and accused of helping Iran's enemies to undermine the Islamic theocracy. Doors and windows of the house where Mousavi is held were welded shut, and both were allowed little contact with their families.

But since Rouhani's election, they now enjoy weekly visits from their families. Relations with security guards have softened and access to specialist medical treatment improved.

“The political situation has completely changed since Mr. Rouhani came to power and in some aspects the confinement of my father is absolutely better than before,” said one of Karoubi's sons, Mohammad Taghi who lives in Britain. “But this confinement according to Iranian law is completely illegal. No doubt about it.”

Under Rouhani the atmosphere is very different both in Iran's troubled relations with the outside world and at home.

Tehran has hinted at a possible readiness to scale back nuclear work - which it says is peaceful but the West fears is aimed at developing weapons - in exchange for relief from trade and financial sanctions which are crippling the Iranian economy.

No guarantee of release

In Iran, dozens of political prisoners have been pardoned and Rouhani seems intent on reversing the social and political restrictions imposed during Ahmadinejad's two terms in office.

But the case of a Mousavi, who was prime minister for much of the 1980s, and Karoubi, a former speaker of parliament, is complex. Four years ago, huge crowds protested against an Ahmadinejad victory which they believed was rigged.

Security forces put down the movement and in 2011 the two opposition leaders lost their freedom after calling for a rally in support of protests that were sweeping the Arab world.

Earlier this month, Minister of Justice Mostafa Pour Mohammadi announced their cases were being re-examined by the Supreme National Security Council (SNSC).

This body, which is responsible for setting defense and security policy, has undergone a reshuffle reflecting the changed times in Tehran.

Both men's health problems will worry the clerical leadership, as any significant deterioration while they remain detained would arouse fury among their supporters. Nevertheless, this does not guarantee their release.

“The authorities simply don't know what the reaction would be. Mousavi and Karoubi are lionized figures and their hero status will go through the roof. The right-wing camp still has serious misgivings,” said Siavush Randjbar-Daemi, an Iran expert at Britain's University of Manchester.

Security agencies are likely to fear their release would provoke huge rallies in their support and disrupt Iran's new political chapter under Rouhani. Above all, supreme leader  Khamenei is almost certainly intent on ensuring there is no repeat of the unrest in 2009 that eroded his authority and threatened the very existence of the Islamic Republic.

Improved conditions

Mehdi Karoubi, 76, is being held in a house in northern Tehran. He is now visited by his wife Fatemeh, two of his children and his grandchildren every Wednesday for several hours. During the visits, just one security guard is present in the room and the family can talk in relative privacy.

Before the election families of both men went for months without any contact. “We were so worried. No one knew what was going on,” Mohammad Taghi Karoubi said. During some visits up to eight guards were present and family members were not allowed any private contact. Any breach of the rules was punished by further visits being postponed.

Karoubi keeps himself busy reading books his wife is allowed to bring and two newspapers he is given. He also spends time writing his diary.

He has suffered serious back pain for the last two months and has trouble walking. After making a request, a doctor chosen by the family was allowed to treat him at the house. “It's a change. It took four to five weeks but at the end of the day, they let the doctor come,” said Mohammad Taghi.

In late July Karoubi senior was admitted to Tehran Heart Center where he was treated for a blocked coronary artery.

Early that month, 71-year-old Mousavi was also taken to the same hospital twice in 24 hours suffering from rapidly fluctuating blood pressure.

Security guards escorted Mousavi, who suffered heart problems in mid 2012, to the hospital with his wife Zahra Rahnavard but refused to let him be formally admitted.

Mousavi suffers from stomach, heart and leg problems. His health and well being is “at the mercy of security forces,” Ardeshir Amir Arjomand an adviser to Mousavi, said from France.

“There is a certain amount of medical treatment but the family is still very concerned because the situation requires regular treatment in a calm atmosphere, without stress and by a doctor which the family trusts,” said Arjomand.

Mousavi and his wife now also have weekly visits from their daughters. “These are positive signs. We have new hope for the future,” said Arjomand, referring to the referral of the case to the SNSC. “But there has been no judiciary procedure and their confinement amounts to an illegal imprisonment.”

A political challenge

The SNSC comes under the presidency, giving Rouhani some influence over any decision on the two men's fate. Saeed Jalili, a hardline war veteran, was removed as its secretary in the reshuffle which installed several of Rouhani's most important Cabinet members.

“The Council's new head, Ali Shamkhani, is someone who has a track record of going against the tide and being a frank and rational security official. It's a very different outlook to the Jalili period,” said Randjbar-Daemi at Manchester university.

However, Khamenei also appoints a number of important SNSC members, including the chiefs of the armed forces and  Revolutionary Guards. These men are likely to avoid any decision to release if they fear this would lead to mass rallies. In any case, Khamenei must approve any decision the SNSC makes.

The two opposition leaders' isolation has now lasted for more than 950 days and it appears that neither will promise to remain silent in return for their liberty.

“Such a condition is totally and utterly unacceptable,” said Mohammad Taghi Karoubi. “During the last family visit, my father made it clear. He said, 'If I am a free man I will use all my rights as a free man. I will talk to my people, express my thanks and talk about the issues that people expect politicians to talk about. This is my job.'”

You May Like

Elusive Deal With Iran Could Yield Foreign Policy Legacy for Obama

A new Iranian leader -- and a strategic shift by the United States -- opens narrow window for nuclear agreement with Tehran More

Column: Saudi-Iran Meeting Could Boost Fight Against Islamic State

The fact that Iranians and Saudis are talking again does not guarantee a breakthrough, but it could make it easier to build a broad coalition against IS More

Thai Ruler Gives Top Cabinet Posts to Junta Inner Circle

Thailand's army chief has kept an iron grip on power as he extends the government, hand-picking an interim parliament that subsequently nominated him prime minister More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
West Africa Ebola Vaccine Trials Possible by Early 2015i
X
Carol Pearson
August 30, 2014 7:14 PM
A U.S. health agency is speeding up clinical trials of a possible vaccine against the deadly Ebola virus that so far has killed more than 1,500 people in West Africa. If successful, the next step would be a larger trial in countries where the outbreak is occurring. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
Video

Video West Africa Ebola Vaccine Trials Possible by Early 2015

A U.S. health agency is speeding up clinical trials of a possible vaccine against the deadly Ebola virus that so far has killed more than 1,500 people in West Africa. If successful, the next step would be a larger trial in countries where the outbreak is occurring. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
Video

Video Survivors Commemorate 70th Anniversary of Nazi Liquidation of Jewish Ghetto

When the German Nazi army occupied the Polish city of Lodz in 1939, it marked the beginning of a long nightmare for the Jewish community that once made up one third of the population. Roughly 200,000 people were forced into the Lodz Ghetto. Less than 7,000 survived. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, some survivors gathered in Chicago on the 70th anniversary of the liquidation of the Lodz Ghetto to remember those who suffered at the hands of the Nazi regime.
Video

Video Cost to Raise Child in US Continues to Rise

The cost of raising a child in the United States continues to rise. In its latest annual report, the U.S. Department of Agriculture says middle income families with a child born in 2013 can expect to spend more than $240,000 before that child turns 18. And sending that child to college more than doubles that amount. VOA’s Deborah Block visited with a couple with one child in Alexandria, Virginia, to learn if the report reflects their lifestyle.
Video

Video Chaotic Afghan Vote Recount Threatens Nation’s Future

Afghanistan’s troubled presidential election continues to be rocked by turmoil as an audit of the ballots drags on. The U.N. says the recount will not be completed before September 10. Observers say repeated disputes and delays are threatening the orderly transfer of power and could have dangerous consequences. VOA correspondent Meredith Buel reports.
Video

Video Ukraine Battles Pro-Russia Rebel Assault

After NATO concluded an emergency meeting to discuss the crisis in eastern Ukraine, the country is struggling to contain heavy fighting near the strategic port of Mariupol, on the Azov Sea. Separatist rebels are trying to capture the city, allegedly with Russian military help, and Ukraine's defense forces are digging in. VOA's Daniel Schearf spoke with analysts about what lies ahead for Ukraine.
Video

Video Growing Business Offers Paint with a Twist of Wine

Two New Orleans area women started a small business seven years ago with one thing in mind: to help their neighbors relieve the stress of coping with a hurricane's aftermath. Today their business, which pairs painting and a little bit of wine, has become one of the fastest growing franchises across the U.S. VOA’s June Soh met the entrepreneurs at their newest franchise location in the Washington suburbs.
Video

Video Ebola Vaccine Trials To Begin Next Week

The National Institutes of Health says it is launching early stage trials of a vaccine to prevent the Ebola virus, which has infected or killed thousands of people across West Africa. The World Health Organization says Ebola could infect more than 20,000 people across the region by the time the outbreak is over. The epidemic has health experts and governments scrambling to prevent more people from becoming infected. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Asian Bacteria Threatens Florida Orange Trees

Florida's citrus fruit industry is facing a serious threat from a bacteria carried by the Asian insect called psyllid. The widespread infestation again highlights the danger of transferring non-native species to American soil. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Aging Will Reduce Economic Growth Worldwide in Coming Decades

The world is getting older, fast. And as more people retire each year, fewer working-age people will be there to replace them. Bond rating agency Moody’s says that will lead to a decline in household savings; reducing global investments - which in turn, will lead to slower economic growth around the world. But experts say it’s not too late to mitigate the economic impact of the world’s aging populations. Mil Arcega has more.
Video

Video Is West Doing Enough to Tackle Islamic State?

U.S. President Barack Obama has ruled out sending ground troops to Iraq to fight militants of the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS, despite officials in Washington describing the extremist group as the biggest threat the United States has faced in years. Henry Ridgwell reports from London on the growing uncertainty over whether the West’s response to ISIS will be enough to defeat the terrorist threat.
Video

Video Coalition to Fight Islamic State Could Reward Assad

The United States along with European and Mideast allies are considering a broader assault against Islamic State fighters who have spread from Syria into Iraq and risk further destabilizing an already troubled region. But as VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports, confronting those militants could end up helping the embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Video

Video Made in America Socks Get Toehold in Online Fashion Market

Three young entrepreneurs are hoping to revolutionize the high-end sock industry by introducing all-American creations of their own. And they’re doing most of it the old-fashioned way. VOA’s Julie Taboh recently caught up with them to learn what goes into making their one-of-a-kind socks.
Video

Video Americans, Ex-Pats Send Relief Supplies to West Africa

Health organizations from around the world are sending supplies and specialists to the West African countries that are dealing with the worst Ebola outbreak in history. On a smaller scale, ordinary Americans and African expatriates living in the United States are doing the same. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.

AppleAndroid