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Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
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In Iran: A Wave of Arrests of the Regime’s Sharpest Critics

Filed under: Iran

In Iran: A Wave of Arrests of the Regime’s Sharpest Critics
Tajzadeh and his wife, Fakhrossadat Mohtashamipour. No one is immune, not even the sister of a founder of Hizbullah. (Wikimedia/Mehr News)

After changes in the top leadership of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC)’s Intelligence Organization, the regime is stepping up its repression of its critics. Three prominent critics of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei have been arrested, including a well-known politician and two prominent Iranian filmmakers, and more arrests are expected. The detainees are charged with harming national security. Regime opponents in Iran construed a statement in Khamenei’s speech for the annual day in honor of the legal system – ”The God of the 1980s is still the same God” – as a green light for the legal system and other institutions to crack down harder on the opposition.

Among those arrested was Mostafa Tajzadeh, former deputy interior minister in President Hatami’s government, a senior figure in the reformist camp, and a sharp critic of Khamenei, President Ebrahim Raisi, and the religious establishment. Before his arrest on July 8, 2022, Tajzadeh tweeted that the government was again making the dress code for women more onerous.1 He was charged with “organizing and conspiring against national security and publishing false information to disrupt public order,” offenses punishable by imprisonment and lashes. Tajzadeh was previously arrested in 2009 for his involvement in the Green Revolution that followed the presidential elections, in which Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was “elected” to a second term. He was incarcerated for seven years in Tehran’s infamous Evin Prison, and upon his release, Tajzadeh resumed his scathing criticism, particularly of Khamenei.

A few hours later, 15 Revolutionary Guards’ Intelligence Organization agents arrested Tajzadeh’s wife, Fakhrossadat Mohtashamipour, in her home. Fakhrossadat Mohtashamipour is the sister of prominent cleric Ali Akhbar Mohtashamipour, who was the interior minister after Iran’s Islamic Revolution, one of the founders of the Lebanese Hizbullah organization, and Iran’s ambassador to Syria. Tajzadeh’s brother, objecting to Khamenei’s government, left Iran and settled in Najaf, Iraq, a few years before his death from COVID-19 in June 2021. Not even Ali Akhbar Mohtashamipour’s distinguished record of helping found Hizbullah and serving the Revolution now helps his family members, who are repeatedly harassed by the current Islamic regime. Fakhrossadat Mohtashamipour admonished Khamenei’s wife: “Whatever happens to my husband in prison, the one responsible for it is Ali Khamenei, and your and his son, Mojtaba.”

Tajzadeh regularly criticizes the Iranian regime and Leader Khamenei. He has tweeted, among other things, that if the efforts to revive the nuclear deal fail, Khamenei must be held to account. “In light of the Iranian people’s support for the nuclear deal under the current wretched economic conditions and public discontent, the failure to revive the deal will have destructive consequences, and the responsibility lies mainly with Khamenei.”2

In a recently leaked tape, former Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif was heard referring to former Quds Force Commander Qasem Soleimani’s involvement in Iran’s decision-making processes and affirming that Iran prioritizes “the battlefield and resistance.” Tajzadeh, for his part, decried this order of priorities: “You now see the result of mixing weapons, information, money, and media together…the result is to prefer resistance and the battlefield to diplomacy. Will the lesson be learned? Or should we cleanse this disgrace with magical waters?”3

Meanwhile, on July 8, 2022, more prominent figures were arrested in their homes: internationally renowned filmmakers Mohammad Rasoulof and Mostafa Al-e-Ahmad, who won prestigious international prizes even as almost all their films are banned in Iran. The two were detained for issuing a call (also signed by at least 70 other Iranian filmmakers and movie-industry employees) on social media for members of Iran’s security services to lay down their weapons and refrain from assailing citizens demonstrating in the city of Abadan over a building collapse on May 23, 2022, that killed dozens of residents. For this, the two filmmakers were charged with trying “to foment tensions in society and undermine the public order.”

Remains of the Metropol Tower in Abadan
Remains of the Metropol Tower in Abadan (IRNA) View video
Protests in Abadan on May 25, 2022
Protests in Abadan on May 25, 2022 (Iran International)

Mohammad Rasoulof faces two pending prison sentences, which he has appealed, for offenses ranging from filming without authorization to “conspiring against national security.” At the Berlin Festival in 2020, he won the Golden Bear Prize for his movie There Is No Evil, which deals with Iran’s use of the death penalty. It was filmed surreptitiously in defiance of the censor. After receiving the prize, and with three of his other films denounced as “propaganda against the Islamic regime,” Rasoulof was sentenced to a year in prison and forbidden to make any more films or leave Iran. The hashtag “#Lay down your weapon”4 alludes to the violent repression of the protests sparked by the collapse on May 23, 2022, of the Metropol Tower in Abadan in southwestern Iran, where at least 41 people died. The collapse stirred painful memories of previous national disasters and triggered large-scale demonstrations in Abadan. The regime cracked down fiercely. Kava Farnam, the producer of Rasoulof’s films, told Radio Farda on July 9 that immediately after his arrest, the director was placed in solitary confinement in Evin Prison to be interrogated.

Film poster
Rasoulof’s film There Is No Evil won the Golden Bear Prize.

Since the launching in May 2022 of the Raisi government’s new economic program, which primarily cuts subsidies, Iranians have kept demonstrating at varying levels of intensity over price rises and subsidy cuts. Teachers, pensioners, and workers from various sectors have also been demanding better work and salary conditions. The more the regime’s economic distress grows, the more it turns the screws on the population by augmenting the severity of the dress code, stifling criticism, and crushing protest. Iran appears to continue to implement Khamenei’s “resistance economy.” The Iranian people pay the price.

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