In his new role as a member of those critical of Iran’s unelected power centers, especially the judiciary, former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has now joined the ranks of those criticizing officials for a number of unexplained prison deaths that the authorities have labeled a suicide.
The latest incident of a mysterious death in custody has been of environmentalist Kavous Seyed Emami, whom authorities claim committed suicide two weeks after his arrest. In January, two individuals who had been arrested during the nationwide protests also had reportedly committed suicide while in prison. Both parliamentarians and activists have questioned the deaths and have sought answers from the judiciary.
Ahmadinejad’s foray into this latest scandal in Iran came Feb. 14 on the steps of an appellate court. Ahmadinejad and his former adviser Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei were denied entry into the courtroom where the corruption charges against Hamid Baghaei, his vice president at the time, were discussed. Instead, Ahmadinejad decided to deliver a speech to his supporters and onlookers just outside the court building.
“There was a revolution so that a few did not have absolute discretion,” Ahmadinejad began, speaking just days after Iran marked the 39th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution. Addressing the judiciary, he said, “Today, unfortunately, one of the organizations that must defend the rights of the people has stood against the people. The smallest criticism, the smallest protest is confronted with the harshest behavior.”
Ahmadinejad continued that some of the individuals who have rightful protests “are quickly arrested and taken to prison, and right after their bodies are turned over, [the authorities] say the individual was an addict or committed suicide.” He added, “It’s clear that the people do not believe it.”
Ahmadinejad said that there was no place to file a complaint against such institutions and they lack accountability. He added that Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has stated that responsibility of these institutions is not with him. Khamenei appoints the head of the judiciary, and Ahmadinejad’s comment is both an indirect criticism of Khamenei for not accepting responsibility for the organizations that operate under his authority and an insurance policy to say that he is not directly criticizing the supreme leader.
Ahmadinejad’s speech on the lack of accountability came on the seventh anniversary of the house arrests of the 2009 Green Movement leaders, whose imprisonment is linked to his presidency. Mir Hossein Mousavi, Zahra Rahnavard and Mehdi Karroubi challenged Ahmadinejad’s 2009 re-election claiming the results were fraudulent and calling for street protests that eventually led to their house arrests, although their cases never went to trial. Dozens were killed in the protests and a number were even killed while in prison.
Many Iranians online marked the seventh anniversary of the house arrest. BBC Persian analyst Hossein Bastani tweeted, “Seven years ago during such a day, with the approval of Ayatollah Khamenei, the house arrests of Ahmadinejad’s rivals began. Today, Ahmadinejad repeated the criticisms of those under house arrest that the institutions under the supreme leader are not accountable.”
Reformist activist Mostafa Tajzadeh, who was arrested in the aftermath of the 2009 elections, tweeted, “The house arrests are illegal and unjust. The continuation of the arrests also have no political or moral justification. No one has any doubt that the decision on these house arrests is at the discretion of the supreme leader. [We] expect that before it is too late, the supreme leader ends this illegal action.”