TEHRAN — Iranian security forces arrested a prominent reformist politician on Monday, hours after he held a news conference thanking President Hassan Rouhani for a more open political atmosphere, several Iranian news agencies reported.
The arrest of the politician, Ali Shakorirad, put a damper on the hopes of Iran’s reformists. Just last week they launched the Islamic Iranian National Union Party, filling a void after the two original reformist parties were banned by Iran’s judiciary after antigovernment protests in 2009.
The arrest illustrates the uphill political battle Mr. Rouhani faces in executing his agenda of more political and personal freedoms.
Mr. Shakorirad has long played a central role in a movement calling for democratic political reforms in the Islamic republic. While many of his fellow critics received long jail sentences in 2009, Mr. Shakorirad, a physician, was released from a brief detention after pressure from reformist Shiite Muslim clerics.
Although the charges against Mr. Shakorirad were not disclosed, the arrest followed an awkward exchange at the news conference with a journalist with the semiofficial Fars news agency about what the reporter called “the sedition.” That is the official term for the 2009 protests, which followed the disputed election victory of former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
The official Islamic Republic News Agency reported that Mr. Shakorirad refused to acknowledge the word, even after the Fars reporter specifically referred to it.
“We do not have a clear understanding of the term ‘sedition’ that you use, and in our literature ‘sedition’ has no meaning,” Mr. Shakorirad said, according to Fars.
An official with the Islamic Iranian National Union Party, Gholamreza Ansari, called the reports of Mr. Shakorirad’s arrest “totally false” and said they were published with the aim of creating an adverse atmosphere in the news media, the semiofficial Islamic Students News Agency reported.
Mr. Ansari said that Mr. Shakorirad visited Evin prison after the news conference to complete the legal procedures for removing a travel ban that had been imposed on him. Other officials close to Mr. Shakorirad said they expected him to be released soon.
It was not immediately possible to reconcile the contradictory accounts, but Fars said that Mr. Shakorirad
was taken by security forces because of “his insistence on his previous offenses and seditionist activities.”
On Monday, Mr. Shakorirad’s mobile phone was turned off. One reformist figure, Hamid Reza Jalaeipour, suggested that the arrest was part of an intimidation campaign by hard-liners ahead of parliamentary elections in February next year. Hopes of a resounding victory are running high in the reformist camp, in the wake of Mr. Rouhani’s success in bringing about the nuclear deal with the United States and injecting new hope into society.
“Released or not, we can expect more of these cases in the coming months, as hard-liners do not want the reformists to gain power,” said Saeed Laylaz, an economist close to the government. “This is a warning for all of us.”
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(via NY Times)