A few days after the downfall of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, the Iranian opposition leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi called for demonstration in support of Tunisian and Egyptian people, urging the Iranian people to take to the streets on February 14, 2011.
The street protests, staged in several cities in Iran, were violently suppressed by the Iranian government. Three people were reportedly killed and hundreds of others wounded. Members of Parliament chanted slogans demanding execution of the two opposition leaders on charges of ‘corruption on the earth’, though, ironically, Mousavi once served as prime minister and Karroubi as the speaker of Iran’s parliament. A few days later the authorities detained both men, and so far have refused to put them either on trial or in a conventional prison, keeping them under house arrest.
A few days before the second anniversary of their house arrest, The Majalla spoke with Mehdi Karroubi’s son Mohammad Taghi Karroubi, who holds a PhD in Law and is a veteran of Iran-Iraq War, during which he lost one of his legs. After several years of being banned from teaching or traveling outside Iran, he came to Britain a few months ago. The Iranian government, at first, did not allow the relatives of opposition leaders to leave the country. However, they reluctantly had to give him permission to leave the country due to health problems.
The Majalla: Mr. Karroubi, in a few days later, the house arrest of your father will enter its third year. Your father was one of the closest allies of Ayatollah Khomeini, the founder of Islamic Republic. Could you have foreseen a day that your father would be put under house arrest, and for this long?
Before the presidential election of 2005, to be honest, we could never have thought of this. But after the increasing, systematic influence of military power over the ninth presidential election and militarization of the government, I became concerned about my father because of his outspoken statements. I had repeatedly said that corruption had become a pervasive virus inside the state, making it extremely costly for anyone aiming to hold back this virus, which had infected most parts of the government. Later, my father called [challenging official corruption] ‘struggle in the path of God’ when he stood in the 2009 presidential election. Swearing by God that he was prepared for a struggle, he even hinted at the difficulties ahead in his television debate with Mousavi. [In the debate] he asked him [Mousavi] whether he would make a defiant stand against the grave difficulties ahead.
Many people at that time called those statements a political bluff. But he was wise in the way he approached the election, candidly believed in reforms, and has been resisting steadfastly like an unwearied fighter and has paid the price of it. I would like to mention the brave engineer [Mousavi] and his admired wife [Zahra Rahnavard], who have stood tall on this precarious path. Today, my father is in prison and the government is responsible for ensuring his safety. But let’s not forget that once the militia affiliated with the regime fired at his car with the intent of killing him—a case that has been ignored by the judiciary to date.
Q: Two years ago, state security forces arrested your parents. This happened after your father and Mir Hossein Mousavi released a statement calling for demonstrations in support of the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt. The regime’s reaction suddenly became much more aggressive after the street protests of February 14. Even MPs demanded execution of your father and Mousavi. In your opinion, what was the relationship between that period, the downfall of Hosni Mubarak, and the arrest of your parents?
The Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran, both in the preamble and general principles, underlines the important role of people in bestowing political legitimacy on the nation’s rulers. It decries authoritarianism and absolutism, declaring them contrary to Islamic concepts of governance. When people found out that it is not themselves but [the ruling elite] that, in the name of people, elect the president they saw it as a deviation aimed at strengthening absolutism and elitism. As a result, they continued to stage demonstrations, as is their right according to Article 38 of the Constitution. When the regime realized that its old trick had failed, it did not tolerate protests and ruthlessly suppressed the mass protest movement. Following the Arab Spring, Iranian leaders, who suppressed their own people in the years 2009 and 2010 in the harshest way, started to rebuke regional dictators, talked about the rights of nations, and announced their support for the uprisings, particularly in Egypt. Once the opposition leaders called on people to demonstrate, the regime was faced with a new challenge.
Choosing the way of suppression showed the true, deceptive nature of the regime. Some parliament members totally lost their self-control and their childish, ludicrous behavior made a complete mockery of the legislature. The regime had lost legitimacy with the people, and was then faced with a serious challenge in the Islamic world. I see a relationship between the arrests of Green Movement leaders and the downfall of regional dictators. Iran’s Islamic regime has lost its confidence and sees itself constantly at the point of crisis, and instead of understanding people’s demands labels them as foreign spies. This is the common feature among all despotic regimes.
Q: Your father is known for his frankness in Iran. Why did say it was neither Islamic nor a Republic? Was it because of changes in the ideals of your father, or in the regime?
After the Revolution , there were many shortcomings and mistakes. However, events after the election , particularly the ruthless, organized suppression of protestors in prisons, showed the serious deviance of Iran’s rulers and left no room for dialogue. This was intolerable for my father, who saw the only solution as exposing the crimes [of the state]. His frankness and bravery is admirable; but he saw it as a national and religious duty and openly prepared himself to pay the high price of it.
Maybe the best way to find out who has deviated from the path of the Revolution of 1979 and its ideals, my father and other opposition figures or the regime, is to take a brief look at the Constitution and Iran’s current situation. More than 80 percent of the Constitution is not enforced anymore. We should not expect from people who devoted their youth to the fight against a despotic regime [Pahlavi] and worked hard after the victory, despite all its shortcomings and inadequacies, to sit silent about the deviation of the ruling powers or join them. Fortunately, nowadays, scandals exposed as a result of intrastate disputes have made the situation crystal clear, and everyone who follows the news can easily distinguish between treason and public service.
Q: Basically, what was his intention in calling for protests? What reforms does he want to see?
The protests were triggered by people asking for their ‘lost’ votes. Once the state responded to their legitimate demand in such a brutal and violent way, people quickly became more extreme in their demands. With the election slogan ‘Change for Iran,’ my father expressed the need for fundamental changes and reforms, including reform of the Constitution. He is seeking to reform the structure of power and reclaim the political and economic rights of the nation in line with Islam and democracy. He believes that people are entitled to elect [their leaders] and their opinion must be respected even if it does not accord with his or those of others. Referring to the regime’s actions, he repeatedly argued that the present regime is neither a republic nor Islamic.
Q: The anniversary of the Iranian Revolution is a few days away. Your father was imprisoned and tortured because of his struggle against the Shah’s regime and support of the Islamic Revolution. Until now, he has not been put on trial in any of Islamic Republic’s courts, and yet he has been kept under house arrest for two years. Why has he not been put on trial?
This is our disagreement with the regime. The regime has decided to keep him, as well as Mousavi and Mrs. Rahnavard, under an unlimited illegal arrest. They are not interested in following legal procedures in this case. Their arrest contradicts the Principle of Legality of Crime and Punishment [an equivalent of ‘presumption of innocence’ in Islamic sharia], and according to the present law, if enforced, the perpetrators [those who ordered and carried out the arrest] are criminal and their crime is punishable. It seems that the state is in dire straits both politically and legally, and therefore, refuses to follow legal procedures and hold a fair, public trial.
Q: Let us return to Iran’s politics today. A presidential election is due in less than five months. Until several weeks ago some reformist figures seemed to be interested in contesting the election. But now those rumors and indications of interest have faded. What is your analysis of these developments? Do you think that reformist candidates will stand in the upcoming election?
The issues, events and changes in Iran will be unpredictable until the day of election. But if we want to analyze, only based on today, February 3, we have to admit that the regime continues to have the same attitude it have always had: not respecting the rights of the elected representatives and electors, while attempting to demonstrate the people’s participation. Unless a practical change occurs in the regime’s attitude, we should not expect an all-out presence of reformists in the upcoming election. We should however campaign for a free election.
Q: The political climate in Iran is relatively open during presidential elections. However, this year, in an unprecedented act, the government arrested 15 reformist journalists. Will the Iranian government try to prove that Iranian elections are free and fair? Or will it use repressive tactics?
You make a very good point. The government has lost confidence in its ability to manage society since the post-election protests in the country in 2009. This year they are not seeking a high turnout from the people because it may become a security challenge. For the Islamic Republic of Iran, elections have always been a means to show its legitimacy to the international community.