Family Scandals Used to Attack Rouhani

family scandals

Although Iranian leaders will deny this for obvious reasons, there is a growing divide which threatens to tear apart the seemingly impregnable façade of the regime. The divide centered, at first, on Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and President Hassan Rouhani with Khamenei trying to maintain the spirit of the Islamic Revolution and Rouhani striving for “constructive engagement” and moderateness. The two have clashed on several issues including the JCPoA, the economy, women’s rights, foreign policy, free speech rights, the parliamentary elections, the rights of the IRGC, the disqualification of candidates etc…And yet, Rouhani formally rejects any inkling of division between the two, preferring to portray his acceptance of Khamenei’s will as final.

Hardliners are only too glad to support Khamenei in slamming Rouhani but they have to be careful since Khamenei has no qualms about criticizing Rouhani but he made a point repeatedly to not allow others to do so openly. So hardliners resorted to attack people who are close to Rouhani: the Iranian parliament forced some of Rouhani’s ministers to resign for various reasons and the IRGC initiated crackdowns on artists, journalists and moderate politicians. They also began to target specific politicians who are close to Rouhani such as his foreign minister Javad Zarif and his patron, supporter and former president, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani.

The latest attacks on Zarif and Rafsanjani are special in that they aren’t based on their actions but on the actions of their family members, Zarif’s “second wife” (mistress) and Rafsanjani’s daughter: Zarif’s “second wife”, Afrin Chitsaz, was arrested for being a “spy whose crimes were proven by the official authorities” and Rafsanjani’s daughter, Faez Hashemi Rafsanjani, is to face criminal charges for “strengthening the enemies of Islam”. Both Chitsaz and Rafsanjani face charges which could be punished by death but it is obvious to all that their fate is not the issue and that it is secondary to Rouhani’s political fate.

Rouhani is not commenting on these two cases, knowing full well that any comment for or against Saaz and Rafsanjani is bound to weaken his career and his chances at getting re-elected in 2017.


Tehran fosters a culture of oppression

In order to understand the situation of Chitsaz and Rafsanjani, one has to understand how the regime in Tehran deals with criticism. Modern democracies are built  to accept and even promote division – that’s what democracies are about. People in democracies enjoy a basic freedom which allows them to think and say whatever they want regardless of the narratives portrayed by the government without worrying about being censored or incarcerated. The right to free speech is a cornerstone of democracy allowing, and even celebrating, criticism by individuals, organizations, politicians and the media.

Iran presents itself as a democracy through the fact that elections are held every four years to choose a president but it is definitely a “flawed” democracy for several reasons:

  1. Many parts of the regime are chosen and not elected: some of the key governing bodies in Iran such as the IRGC, the Guardian Council and the Supreme Leader, to name a few, are all governing bodies which are chosen by the regime itself and are not elected by popular votes.
  2. Popular elections are preceded by selection by the regime: all candidates who are running for elections in Iran have to be approved by the Guardian Council which selects and disqualifies candidates based on political criteria including sex, religion and loyalty to the regime.
  3. Not all Iranian citizens enjoy equal rights: women may have the right to vote and get elected but are legally worth less than men and minorities such as Baha’is and Kurds are oppressed in such a manner that they are not represented equally in government.
  4. Political opposition is censored and shut out: harsh anti-regime and anti-Islam laws are used to brand political oppositionists as dissidents and they are either incarcerated (google crackdown on artists, journalists, activists etc… in Iran) or put under house arrest (Mehdi Karroubi and Mir-Hossein Mousavi).
  5. Fair trials in Iran are flawed by a politicized judiciary: Iran is notorious for informal arrests, torture during interrogations, forced confessions, incarceration without trial, preventing council with lawyers, impartial trials, “two-minute” trials, harsh sentences etc…all of which are sheltered by the Iranian constitution, “security laws” and the regime.


Zarif’s “second wife” is a spy?

The case of Zarif’s “second wife” being accused as a spy broke last week when Mohammad Hossein Rostami, who holds the incredibly long title of “the head of Iran the Revolutionary Guards-affiliated Center for Electronic Resistance, of Amariyun Strategic Center for Resistance to the Soft War waged Against Iran”, posted on his facebook page the following message: “I am about to unveil information that would cause a political earthquake…Afrin Chitsaz, Zarif’s second wife, is a spy whose crimes were proven by the official authorities”. Rostami made it clear that Saaz was not the problem and emphasized that the more urgent issue was that “the movement of foreign influence has arrived to your (Zarif’s) bed” implying that Zarif may have been an unwitting partner in her crime. Asked on the reliability of his information, he ominously wrote that all was true and that “when they sue me or the allegation being denied, then I’m going to publish the documents”.

Chitsaz’s “crime”, it must be understood, is punishable by death according to Iranian law but Chitsaz is just a pawn mean to hurt Zarif and subsequently hurt Rouhani. Chitsaz, an independent journalist, was arrested in the crackdown of November 2015 along with three other journalists charged with colluding with foreign “influences” to wage a “soft war” on Iran. She was denied access to a lawyer and is being held incommunicado in Evin prison and nothing was heard about her until she was sentenced to 10 years in jail for “collaborating with foreign governments” and “assembly and collusion against national security”.

The problem is that Zarif has never even acknowledged that he was having an affair with or is married to Chitsaz and he has not commented on her arrest or on the allegations of Rostami. Chitsaz’s connection to Zarif was implied by the IRGC last year prior to her arrest but Zarif didn’t bite the bait. So, for now, Chitsaz is still in jail for being a journalist and Zarif is ignoring the issue.

The regime is not only guilty for incarcerating a journalist, thereby exemplifying the lack of freedom of speech, it is guilty for trying to hurt Rouhani through Zarif.


Rafsanjani’s daughter is an enemy of the state?

The case of Rafsanjani is much clearer but equally as troublesome. Rafsanjani has distinguished herself as a political activist who openly criticized the regime since the notorious 2009 elections in which Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was re-elected despite accusations of a fixed elections which sent opposition leaders Karroubi and Mousavi to house arrest. She herself was arrested several times for her open protests. She was finally taken to trial in December 2011 and was sentenced to 6 months in jail which she served to completion in Evin prison. Rafsanjani is dangerous to the regime not only because she is the daughter of a president who is himself critical of certain aspects of the regime but because she is not willing to accept customs which are not “beneficial to society, especially to girls and women”. To make matters worse,  she claims that her time in jail was the “best time of my (her) life” and that she forged lasting relationships with some of her inmates.

It is exactly one of these relationships which is threatening to send Rafsanjani back to jail: two weeks ago, Rafsanjani visited a former inmate, Fariba Kamalabadi, a Baha’i activist serving 20 years in jail for being a part of “Friends”, a Baha’i organization aimed at supporting Baha’is in Iran. Kamalabadi was on a five day furlough from jail to visit her family and Rafsanjani made a point of visiting her former cellmate at her home. The main problem with this visit is that Baha’is are facing discrimination by the state in regards to the Baha’is “economic, civil an deducaitonla activities” since Baha’ism is viewed by the regime as a “deviant” and “fake” sect which is opposed to Islam and Baha’is are suspected of being “agents of Israel and America”. But the problems really began when a picture of Rafsanjani and Kalamabadi’s family was shared on social media.

Hardliners smelled blood and went on the attack by demanding that she be tried for her “crime”. The spokesman of the judiciary didn’t mince words: “This was a very ugly and obscene act

” and was further angered by the fact that Rafsanjani was not apologetic. In fact, Rafsanjani refused to apologize stating that she “didn’t regret it” and that she was ready to “pay the price” if necessary. Even her father admonished her visit: “Faezeh made a bad mistake and needs to correct it and make up for it…the misguided Baha’i sect is a colonially built sect and deviant”.
Once again, the regime is guilty not only of discriminating against Baha’is and anyone communicating with Baha’is, it is guilty of trying to hurt Rouhani through Rafsanjani.


Rezaian Caught in the Crossfire

caught in the crossfireJason Rezaian, the WaPo reporter with a dual American-Iranian nationality has been in jail in Iran since July 22nd, 2014, and is now to undergo a closed door trial.

His imprisonment and trial are travesties of justice and moralism. Answering three questions will lead the reader to understand that Rezaian’s crime is mainly to be at the wrong place at the wrong time:

  • Why is Rezaian in jail?
  • Why was Rezaian in prison until now?
  • Why is Rezaian isolated from help?

These three questions cannot be answered clearly unless one understands that Rezaian’s imprisonment and trial are based less on his actions than to the political conflicts between president Hassan Rouhani and his rivals.


Why is Rezaian in jail?

rezaian 1For 9 months, nobody could answer that question definitively because Rezaian was held in custody without formal charges. Word seeped out at first that he would be charged for “propaganda against the establishment”. As some journalists or bloggers in Iran know, such an accusation is enough to send you to jail for many years. But once the charges were upgraded to espionage, Rezaian suddenly found himself facing a possible death sentence.

What exactly are Rezaian’s alleged crimes? He seems to have passed on “privileged” information about the economy of Iran to the Washington Post and for some reason, this information, although never published, suddenly became “sensitive”. Without knowing it, it seems that Rezaian might have crossed two red lines in Tehran:

  • Freedom of Speech: Rezaian might be in jail for simply doing his job as a journalist in a country in which the notion of freedom of the press is not recognized or understood. He reported information that was privy to him without understanding that information is deemed free only if the regime decides it to be.
  • Political Ties: Rezaian reportedly had ties with Hassan Rouhani’s nephew, Esmail Samavi, who also acted as the president’s PR managers. Apparently, it was Samavi who supposedly procured the “sensitive information” to Rezaian. Although there is no evidence that Rezaian even had a meeting with Samavi, this did not prevent Rouhani’s enemies to use Rezaian as a means of attacking Rouhani who in turn was calling for a rapprochement with the West.

The final accusation of spying has very strong political overtones to it. Were Rezaian not a pawn in a political rivalry, these charges would probably never have been brought to light. But since this is supposedly classified information from Rouhani’s “inner circle”, the next question the hardliners will ask is whether Rouhani knew of or even authorized the leak or not.


Why was Rezaian in prison until now?

rezaian 2Were the charges against Rezaian clear cut, he would have been charged or released right from the start. Even if he were released on bail, he could at least have lived through the past ten months with much more ease. But that’s not how things work in Tehran which prefers to work on the motto that one is guilty until proven innocent.

But since there are strong political overtones in this case, every day that Rezaian lingered in jail symbolized a constant pressure onRouhani and his government. Not only was Rouhani under internal pressure for fear that the accusations of “espionage” would spill over to hime as well, but Rouhani, and his foreign minister Javad Zarif, also had to suffer international pressure. They were constantly grilled by Western politicians and reporters about the injustice to Rezaian, contrary to Rouhani’s efforts to present to the West a more moderate version of Iran.

Rouhani chose to evade the returning questions regarding Rezaian while Zarif blunderingly answered that “Iran doesn’t jail people for their opinion“. Meanwhile, Rouhani’s political opponents, the “hardliners”, were satisfied: Rouhani was under pressure in a “lose-lose” situation – were he to criticize the Iranian judiciary, he would be under attack by the hardliners, the Larijani brothers and perhaps even the Supreme Leader himself. Lack of criticism of the Iranian judiciary, led to constant attacks from the West.


Why is Rezaian isolated from help?

rezaian 3First of all, the Iranian judiciary does not recognize dual citizenship. Therefore, they are trying Rezaian solely as an Iranian. As such, Rezaian lost his rights to contact the Swiss embassy which acts de facto as the US embassy in Tehran. But Rezaian did not only lose his communications as a US citizen he was purposefully isolated from any contact with the world excpet sporadic communications with his lawyer and family.

His treatment is not so unusual for an Iranian convict specially for those who are arrested on charges with political or activist “crimes”: most of these types of prisoners are isolated as a method of “breaking them” and coercing confessions.

In the case of Rezaian which seems totally divorced from any real crimes, isolating him from his lawyers and family served to put additional pressure on Rouhani by Western powers since the lack of communication with Rezaian led reporters and leaders to constantly question Rouhani and Zarif about Rezaian’s fate.


Jason Rezaian is in jail and on trial for being caught in the crossfire between Rouhani’s efforts at rapprochement with the West and hardliners in Tehran who want to maintain the status quo. Those who want Rezaian’s fate to be part of a nuclear deal with Iran are dreaming: His fate is in the hands of only one person – Khamenei himself.


Relevant posts:

Rezaian’s Future Looks Bleak


WaPo reporter Jason Rezaian has been in an Iranian prison for the last seven months, isolated from his family and lawyers for a crime that is still unknown. The buzz from Tehran is that Rezaian has finally signed a “confession” to being a “spy” although the content and the veracity of this “confession” are murky and Rezaian is still not formally accused of anything.

Unfortunately for Rezaian, there is no good news: there is only bad news and worst news.


Bad News for Rezaian – Politics

rasaeiThe bad news is that the motives for jailing Rezaian seem to be getting clearer: Rezaian is a pawn in a political fight between hardliners and President Rouhani.

Hardliner MP Hamid Rasaei is not only accusing Rezaian of being a “spy”, he is accusing Rouhani, or someone in Rouhani’s administration, of “supporting” Rezaian in his spying activities. The details of Rezaian’s “spying” activities are undetailed but his motive for “spying”, according to Rasaei, is to “bring about more pressure on various Iranian industries“.

Rouhani or someone close to him are supposed to have helped Rezaian to get access to classified and vital information although right up to his imprisonment none of Rezaian’s articles contain any sensitive information of any kind. Most of his articles “focused on the lives of ordinary Iranians“.

It doesn’t really matter whether the spying accusations are true or false since Rasaei is a staunch opponent of Rouhani’s moderate foreign policy and is fighting hard to stop any form of nuclear deal. Following Zarif’s mid-day walk with Kerry in Geneva, Rasaei wrote in his weekly newspaper: “every one of Zarif’s steps destroyed 100 kilograms of enriched uranium.” The response from Tehran to his article was surprisingly swift: Rasaei’s weekly was banned for going “against the regime’s nuclear policy” but Rasaei’s loud objections are still to be heard in the Majlis, Iran’s parliament.


Worst News for Rezaian – Human Rights

SalavatiThe worst news is that the judge assigned to Rezaian’s case is also a staunch hardliner who might be sympathetic to Rasaei’s cause. Abolghassem Salavati, known as the “hanging judge” or “the judge of death”, has earned a reputation of favoring executions in cases concerning journalists and political activists. Salavati presided over hundreds of cases following the 2009 Green uprising, ruling in most cases against the defendants.

With Salavati as judge, if Rezaian does go to trial for spying, his chances of getting out of Iran soon (or at all) are slim. In an earlier case, he sent two doctors working on a HIV campaign to jail with no evidence except the indictment by the intelligence ministry and the doctors’ participation in a seminar by an NGO in Washington.

Salavati sentenced a Canadian-Iranian blogger to 20 years in jail based mostly on a letter of recommendation by a Columbian University faculty member which “demonstrated problematic connections with a hostile state.”

Furthermore, following some of his more dubious sentences, the EU has placed Salavati under sanctions since 2011 – he is not allowed to enter a European country – for “gross human rights violations“.


So, whether Rezaian did or did not spy, his cause seems helpless. Not only is he a pawn in a political game between a hardliner and Rouhani, his judge is a trigger-happy hardliner who will be only too happy to either send him to rot in jail for a long time or, more likely, to the gallows.

Rouhani, Stop Lying About Human Rights!

rouhani lies


As we’ve outlined in past posts, despite his promises for change, Rouhani’s record for doing something about the abuses of human rights in Iran is definitely not good.

In fact, whenever it comes to answering questions on human rights, he becomes evasive. But when it came to the point of jailing journalists, whether foreign or local, Rouhani chose to simply lie.

But this time, 135 Iranian journalists decided that enough was enough and issued an open letter to Rouhani stating, in nicer words, that he was lying.

This is in tune with the regime’s attitude towards human rights: as far as most Iranian leaders in the regime are concerned, specially the human rights chief Javad Larijani, there is no problem of human rights in Iran.

What they find hard to understand is that if they are evasive and lie about human  rights, it makes it harder for the world to believe them on other issues as well and in the nuclear issue in particular.



Latest Report on Human Rights in Iran


Rouhani’s Focus is Mostly Outbound

Since President Rouhani’s election, most of the international media’s attention on Iran has justifiably focused on Tehran’s foreign policy and its nuclear program, since both these issues affect people outside of Iran. These issues seriously affect the Iranian people on a patriotic as well as economic level – the sooner Tehran accepts the guidelines of the UN Security Council, the sooner economic sanctions can be lifted and Iranians can go on with their “normal lives”.

Unfortunately, “normal lives” for Iranians is not just a question of economics – for most, “normal” is a distinct lack of freedom and basic human rights. Even if Rouhani does miraculously manage to defuse the nuclear debacle, his success would be hollow if the abhorrent state of human rights in Iran should remain as it is today.

Apropos: In the latest 20-page report to the UN General Assembly by Dr Ahmed Shaheed, the special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran, the human rights situation is summed up in the first paragraph:
gender discrimination, as well as systemic and systematic violations of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, continue to characterize the human rights situation in the country“.


More Violations in Iran

This report is really worth the 20-page read, but for now, here’s a quick glimpse at what we take for granted – and what Iranians cannot:

  • Lack of Digital Freedom: Tehran views the freedom of the internet as a threat and does not hesitate to curtail it – internet cafes are shut down, connection speeds are “throttled”,  millions of websites are blocked (including some 1,500 “anti-religious websites”), and journalists/ bloggers are arrested and serving prison sentences.

journailist wiki internet

  • From Torture to Executions:  On the whole, Iranian prisoners are systematically mistreated, underfed, lack medical treatment and undergo punishments and torture and announced executions – which represent only a fraction of all executions in Iran – are still a travesty (724 in 18 months).This situation has not changed since Rouhani took office, as can be gathered by the execution of 16 Sunni “Insurgents” a few weeks ago.
  • 10,814 Floggings in 8 months (in Mazandaran province alone): Before they are arrested or executed, thousands of “criminals are flogged – or have their limbs amputated – for such crimes as “sedition”, “acts incompatible with chastity”, drinking alcohol, “illicit” relationships and non-penetrative homosexual acts.” Legal action by the “criminals” and their families is seriously impeded and sometimes, simply disregarded.

The list goes on and on and on and includes legal and systematic discriminations abusing the rights of women, of different religious backgrounds and ethnic minorities.


Lack of Transparency, Denials and Accusations (again)

Shaheed’s report also includes a critique on the willingness of the Iranian authorities to cooperate with the relevant UN officials: Just as with its nuclear program, Tehran’s lack of transparency “continues to impede attempts to further ascertain the extent and nature of the country’s human rights situation” through general non-cooperation and specifically by not responding to “3 allegation letters, 9 urgent appeals and a number of questionnaires transmitted to several ministries”.

Tehran’s 56-page response contains the usual sets of denials and accusations that have become the symbols of the regime to any criticism: Not only has “the Islamic Republic of Iran (has) incessantly demonstrated its determination to cooperate” with Shaheed, but his report is “tainted by politicization”, “biased”, “inaccurate”, “unconvincing and lacks credit and does not merit public trust or confidence” and is “unacceptable” being based on “falsified and exaggerated data”.

The way Tehran tells it, human rights have never been better in Iran and anybody who says different is simply lying…either that, or they are lying.