Since February 2011, Iranian opposition leaders Mir-Hossein Mousavi, his wife Zahra Rahnavard and Mehdi Karroubi have been effectively under house arrest with virtually zero access to the outside world. The punishment without trial came after Mousavi and Karroubi, two of the defeated candidates in the country's 2009 presidential elections, leveled accusations of vote rigging and called for public protests. Supported by a large majority of disillusioned voters, the two continued their unyielding defiance as the protests led to hundreds of deaths and left thousands behind bars.
Ever since the three were placed under house arrest, Iran's Reformist figures have been pushing for their release or at least some easing of the restrictions imposed on them. The debate was renewed Dec. 9 after a top adviser to President Hassan Rouhani said their release was just around the corner. Hesamoddin Ashna told a gathering of students in Tehran there is "only one last hurdle to be removed."
In a strongly worded statement, Kaleme, a website affiliated with Mousavi and his wife, denied the claim, stressing that the three are still continuously guarded behind barred windows and locked doors.
Karroubi's son was even more pessimistic. "I have to make it clear that the house arrests will never be lifted," said Hossein Karroubi, lamenting that the problem "has never been seriously followed up by the authorities."
Mojtaba Zolnour, a hard-line lawmaker and a relentless critic of the opposition leaders, believes that there will be no lifting of the house arrest "because all efforts meant to do so faced a deadlock after Karroubi's public letter." In that letter issued in September, Karroubi defiantly reaffirmed his anti-establishment positions.
Even politicians such as deputy parliament speaker and a popular moderate figure Ali Motahari, who have been exhausting all channels to put an end to the detention, are now voicing frustration. "There is no solution at the moment. The only way is for members of the Assembly of Experts to intervene and raise the matter with the supreme leader." Motahari added that he had already conveyed his message to the country's leadership that a continuation of the house arrests will harm Iran's national interests.
The question of the final say has also been a key element of the whole debate. While Reformists insist that the supreme leader has stood against their release, hard-liners claim the decision is in the hands of the Supreme National Security Council, which is chaired by Rouhani.
During his re-election campaign in 2017, Rouhani openly supported the three and promised an end to their ordeal. But his failure to bring it about has led many voters to argue that the president only jumped on the bandwagon to garner votes rather than genuinely advocating for the opposition leaders.
The Iranian leadership seems to be stuck between a rock and a hard place. It continues to be pressed by Reformists for their unconditional release, but adamant hard-liners still demand that the trio face trial for "the sedition," a term originally used by the supreme leader to describe the opposition leaders' calls for protests following the disputed elections.
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