A number of senior Iranian lawmakers have criticized the country’s security and intelligence authorities for the latest wave of crackdown on journalists and social and political activists. On March 19, Mohammed Reza Aref, the head of reformist Hope Faction in the parliament, warned that the suppression of journalists and civil society activists will lead to the “securitization” of the society and harms the national interest. Reformist parliamentarian Mahmoud Sadeghi echoed a similar note in his letter to Major General Mohammad Ali Jafari, the chief commander of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (I.R.G.C.). Sadeghi wrote that the simultaneous arrests of several activists close to the reformist political parties were “apparently done by the I.R.G.C.’s intelligence” unit and added that the arrests discredit the I.R.G.C.’s claim that it does not interfere in politics.
Comment: Authorities from Iran’s Intelligence Ministry and the I.R.G.C. have stepped up efforts to crack down on political and social activists, journalists and internet users in the run up to the presidential elections scheduled for May. The lawmakers’ statements come as the I.R.G.C. agents last week arrested more than a dozen Iranian activists. Several journalists were also arrested. Deputy Parliament Speaker Ali Motahari threatened to impeach the minister of intelligence; and others linked the arrests to the upcoming elections.
The I.R.G.C.’s chief commander had recently said that “as in the past, no single I.R.G.C. member or commander has the right to political and factional meddling in the elections and to undermine the candidates.” In January, the head of Iran’s Basij Force also rejected the criticism that the paramilitary force was entering the political field. “Basij never belongs to politics. Our scope of responsibilities is defined and we operate within that framework. We only protect the country, the revolution, and the Islamic regime and its values and aspirations,” Brigadier General Gholamhossein Ghaib-Parvar stressed. The Iranian laws also prohibit the country’s military forces from interfering in the election process.
But contrary to these statements, the latest arrests show that the I.R.G.C. and the Basij Force play an active role in every election and undermine reformist candidates by launching a vicious propaganda against them and arresting their supporters. The Basij Force reportedly played a decisive role in former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s reelection in 2009, by establishing campaign offices in major cities, holding rallies in the incumbent’s favor, and intimidating opposition supporters. It was also instrumental in the bloody suppression of anti-government protests that rocked Iran after the 2009 controversial presidential elections. Its plainclothes agents and moral police regularly harass ordinary Iranians, university students, government workers, journalists, activists and politicians.