Government chaos over ‘sacked’ ministers — President Ahmadinejad is looking increasingly beleaguered after a chaotic day of on-and-off dismissals of key ministers apparently left him unable to conduct any further cabinet business until his inauguration, now set for August 5. It looks as if the smoke may still have to clear to get the full story, but so far it appears to have gone like this: Trouble started when a number of Iranian websites reported that Ahmadinejad had sacked three, possibly four ministers in the wake of a bitter cabinet meeting on Wednesday over his futile attempt to appoint Esfandiar Rahim Mashaie as First Vice President. However, it was subsequently pointed out that the sackings had tipped the number of ministerial changes in Ahmadinejad’s cabinet to more than half during his four-year term. Under the constitution, this means he can conduct no further cabinet business without it obtaining a vote of confidence from a fractious Majlis. Shortly afterwards the government insisted that only one minister had actually been sacked, Gholam-Hossein Mohseni-Ejei, the controversial Intelligence Minister who has played a key role in the recent crackdown on post-election unrest.
The government denied any other ministers had gone, but PressTV insisted (but see Dirty Tricks story below) he had actually dismissed two others, Mohammad-Hossein Safar-Harandi (Culture and Islamic Guidance) and Mohammad Jahromi (Labour and Social Affairs) before rescinding the decision when he realised the consequences. A report that Kamran Bagheri Lankarani (Health) was another casualty had already been denied by his ministry. Even so, Ahmadinejad may not be out of the woods, with PressTV insisting his cabinet changes are still over the half-way mark – 11 out of 21 ministers.
The website quotes Mohammad-Reza Bahonar, the deputy speaker of Parliament, as saying that even with just Ejei’s dismissal all further cabinet sessions are illegal. “More than half of the cabinet members have been changed. So, with less than two weeks of the government’s tenure left, cabinet sessions are illegal,” he is reported to have told Mehr news agency. “If such changes occur in normal conditions, the president has to introduce the entire members of the Cabinet to the Majlis and seek a vote of confidence. But within two weeks, we cannot do this.”
The dismissal(s) puzzled seasoned observers of the Iranian political scene given that the cabinet had such a short time to go and Ahmadinejad had promised sweeping changes anyway when he introduces his new cabinet after his inauguration for the second term. There was some speculation that the ministers had quit rather than been sacked after what appears to have been a full-blooded row at Wednesday’s cabinet meeting. Even now Press TV quotes sources close to Safar-Harandi as saying he does not wish to stay in his post. Earlier it had made special mention of his “harsh criticism” of Ahmadinejad at Wednesday’s meeting. According to Tehran Bureau most of the cabinet members stormed out of the meeting in protest, led by Safar-Harandi and Ejei.
Why Ejei was left as the sole victim of the President’s wrath is unclear, although he may also have incurred displeasure by meeting Mohammad Khatami , during which arrangements were apparently made for certain families to speak to their detained children the following day. It was the next day, also, that Khatami made his proposal for a referendum on the election outcome. But Ejei’s ousting is still a puzzle given his close ties to his former religious mentor Ayatollah Mohammad Taghi Mesbah Yazdi, the hardliner who is also spiritual adviser to Ahmadinejad and is seen by many as one of the prime movers behind recent events. (Safar-Harandi is no bleeding heart liberal either and, as Tehran Bureau points out, his four years as guidance minister “mark the worst period of censorship over the past two decades”.)
Today’s somewhat chaotic events drew fire from some politicians. Ali Motahari, a prominent MP from the Principlist camp, suggested Ahmadinejad needed to “steady his nerves” adding: “It looks as if he intentionally brings tension to the country. If the removal of the minister is because of [a row over Mashaie’s appointment] it is an ugly act because it becomes a personal matter and has nothing to do with the country’s interests.” Ahmad Tavakoli, another MP, said running the country had been made “extremely difficult because of such behaviour, which is the poorest response to the confidence of 24.5 million voters who voted for him.”
Although Ayatollah Khamenei has signalled a wish to dampen down the Mashaie controversy, it continues to flare on other fronts too. The hardline Justice-Seeking Student Movement has attacked Ahmadinejad’s appointment of Mashaie as head of his Presidential Office as another act of defiance against the Supreme Leader. “Giving him another key responsibility does not ease the leader’s concern over the presence of Mashaie,” said the group, which has previously been regarded as a strong supporter of the president. In a statement the group demanded a parliamentary investigation of Ahmadinejad’s delay over the original appointment. That, and allowing him to resign instead of sacking him also represented an act of defiance against Khamenei “unprecedented in the history of the revolution”.
The group was not alone in heaping ongoing criticism of Ahmadinejad. Major General Hassan Firouzabadi, Chief of the Joint Armed Forces, said Ahmadinejad should have sacked Mashaie immediately after Khamenei’s order. But an editorial by Hossein Shariatmadari, editor-in-chief of Keyhan newspaper appointed by Khamenei, said that despite the President’s “mistake” the paper would continue to support him. “Kayhan does not consider him to be straying from the path of the Imam and the leadership, so it will consider it its duty to defend him as long as he follows this path.” This follows statements by Khamenei himself on Saturday calling for an end to the argument. PressTV, AFP, Tehran Bureau, PressTV, PressTV, AFP
PressTV dirty tricks? – Intentionally or otherwise, PressTV today appears to have seriously misreported statements made by beaten presidential candidate Mehdi Karroubi in a way that make it seem he is breaking ranks with his fellow reformists. Quoting comments Karroubi is said to have made to newsmen, the website quotes him as chiding his reformist colleagues for backing Ayatollah Rafsanjani after his Friday prayers sermon attacking the regime. According to PressTV he said: “It is most interesting how the very reformist figures who had criticised Hashemi Rafsanjani and had stated that his political heyday is over, are now supporting him. This is not right.” However efforts to track down these comments to the website of Karroubi’s Etemad-e Melli party have drawn a blank. Instead, in his latest reported statement on the site, Karroubi attacks those who are trying to denigrate Rafsanjani. “Nowadays people who were not even in the revolution allow themselves to put down people who have worked for the revolution and have been there from the beginning … [People like] Rafsanjani have been harshly confronted … We should not allow this behaviour to be repeated. It is not right.”
The discrepancy throws into doubt the website’s entire report which has now been expunged from this website and serves as a warning about the output of the Iranian state broadcaster’s English language arm. Until now PressTV has been considered a reliable source on material that it does carry (the sin of omission being something one comes to expect of a state-controlled media outlet) and has even surprised with the extent of its coverage of opposition activities. But today’s discrepancy represents a serious black mark.
Meanwhile, Karroubi and Moussavi have joined to seek permission to hold a memorial service for the victims of the post-election violence. They have written to Sadeq Mahsouli, the Interior Minister, saying that the planned ceremony in a central Tehran mosque would involve no speeches and fully focus on recitals from the Qoran. “Participants are required to pay their respects in silence,” the letter added. PressTV, AFP
Habeus corpus, Iran style: the case of Mohsen Ruholamini – The death in detention of Mohsen Ruholamini, aged 25, is turning into another potentially pivotal moment in the current turmoil. But what marks his death out is not that he was a photogenic icon of the opposition protests, as in the case of Neda Agha-Soltan for instance, but that he is the son of a respected senior figure in the current regime – Abdolhussein Ruholamini, head of the Pasteur Institute in Tehran who was also the campaign manager of Mohsen Rezai , the former head of the Revolutionary Guards, in the recent election. His son’s death thus brings the issue close to the Iranian elite and has already persuaded several MPs to break their silence to raise some serious questions.
The New York Times reports that Ruholamini’s funeral on Friday was even attended by a representative from the office of Ayatollah Khamenei, alongside several conservative MPs, in sharp contrast to the regime’s usual practice of preventing families from holding public funerals or mourning ceremonies for their children. The paper said the head of the state broadcaster, a friend of the Ruholamini family, had offered to arrange a large mosque in Tehran for a mourning service today, which reformist leaders Mir-Hossein Moussavi and Mehdi Karroubi had planned to attend. “But the father … said he cancelled the event to avoid any possibility of violence or unrest”. The father said he had tried for days to find his son after his arrest in Tehran on July 9. The report adds: “Finally he was directed to the morgue, where he found his son’s body, brutally beaten, his mouth ‘smashed’, according to an account by a retired senior Revolutionary Guards commander that was posted on various Iranian Web sites and blogs.” The commander , who complains that no newspaper would publish his story, is not named, but the inference seems to be that it was Rezai himself. Other reports quote the father as saying his son had been left to die in solitary confinement after being beaten. He said the probable cause of death was meningitis brought on by septicemia triggered by his injuries and he vowed to use all means to find out what happened to his son and why.
As a result of Ruholamini’s death several MPs have now given the issue a much higher public profile. Mohammad Reza Bahonar, deputy parliament speaker, said: “We are concerned about the fate of other prisoners. All incidents, arrests and deaths are seriously pursued.”
Hamid Reza Katuzian, a Tehran MP and close family friend, said: “People call and complain to us and ask why no immediate action is taken on the death of young people and protesters. The authorities must be accountable.” He said the circumstances of the death were a cause for “shame and sorrow”, adding: “We did not even treat the detainees of the Mujahedin Khalq or prisoners of war in this way.” … Dr Ruholamini’s son was not among the rioters, and [in any case] protesters must not be treated in this way.”
Mentioning also the earlier death of Mohammad Kamrani which was highlighted when Mir-Hossein Moussavi visited his family, Katuzian complained that there was no information as to who was responsible. “The police and the Intelligence Ministry have told us they are on the periphery of these affairs and we do not know who, in the middle of all this, is responsible and who is answerable. Such conduct will create a bad political future for the country; it will not lead to the resolution of the crisis and will only make it worse.”
Ruholamini’s name was also brought up by Ali Motahari, another leading MP from the Principlist camp, as he called on the media to investigate interrogation methods used on detainees. “If confessions are to be broadcast, then breaches of interrogation regulations that may have, in some cases, led to the death of some detainees must also be given coverage,” he said. “Broadcasting confessions can only add to public awareness if they are made under normal conditions, not if they are extracted under irregular circumstances.” His comments are seen as a signal to the state broadcaster, since he is a member of the council that supervises it. “Based on available reports, the bodies of some of those who were detained were released some time after their arrest. So it must be clarified what the reasons were and whether there was any misconduct. The arrests may have been legal, but the important thing is how individuals were treated during interrogation, whether Islamic code was maintained, and whether they suffered any emotional, psychological or physical pressure or not.”
In addition Mohammad-Javad Larijani, Secretary of the Human Rights Headquarters of Iran’s Judiciary and seen as most likely to be Iran’s next head of the judiciary, said he opposed broadcasting any confessions made by those arrested during the protests. “I think it is the judiciary officials who should explain to the people the issues and violations of election laws by the reformists,” he said, emphasising that the rights of detainees should be respected. NYT, AFP, PressTV, PressTV, PressTV
— Amir Javadifar, a student of industrial management in Qazvin also arrested during protests on July 9, has died in prison, according to Etemad newspaper. It said his family has been asked to come for the body this morning. The report added that Javadifar had injuries in his arm and nose but the cause of death was unclear. Iranquest
In other news:
There is so far no word on the status of Ali Akbar Mehrabian, the Minister for Industries and Mines who was found guilty of fraud by a Tehran court Saturday. But then President Ahmadinejad does have other things to worry about right now (see above). He was accused of registering someone else’s invention as his own, in this case an “earthquake-proof room” for housing. Documents presented by Farzad Salimi showed he had put the invention forward to Tehran municipality, where Mehrabian then worked, in 2003. The municipality turned him away but then Mehrabian and another municipality employee registered the idea in their own names and published a book on it. This isn’t the first time one of Ahmadinejad’s ministers has been caught out in a lie. Last year Interior Minister, Ali Kordan was impeached by the Majlis after he confessed to holding a forged law degree from Oxford University. PressTV
At least three people have died after a passenger train from Mashad hit a maintenance train at Varamin on the outskirts of Tehran. Two other passengers were reported injured. PressTV
Swine flu sufferers now total 23, most of them returning Haj pilgrims, according to Kamran Lankarani, Minister of Health. PressTV
After the postponement of a death penalty for brother of Jundullah ringleader, Iran rejects the prospect of a prisoner exchange deal, saying the country does not negotiate with terrorists.
Ibrahim Hamidi, head of the judiciary in Sistan-Baluchestan, has denied that negotiations are taking place for a “prisoner swap” involving Abdulhamid Rigi, the jailed brother of Abdulmalek Rigi, leader of the Jundullah separatist group. Abdulhamid is still awaiting execution in Zahedan for terrorist acts even though 15 other members of the group have been already been put to death. PressTV