Lawmaker slams Iran Revolutionary Guards


TEHRAN: Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (right) listens to a speech by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani (center), in the presence of Iranian Guardian Council head Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati (left), and Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi (2nd-left) Chairman of Expediency Discernment Council, during a ceremony in Tehran. —AFP

TEHRAN: Iran's President Hassan Rouhani yesterday appeared to criticize the morality police after a video emerged of a violent encounter with a woman accused of breaching the country's strict dress code. "Some say the way to promote virtue and prohibit vice is... by going to the street and grabbing people by the neck," said Rouhani in a wide-ranging speech to government officials carried on state television. "Promoting virtue will not work through violence," he added. On Thursday, mobile footage went viral on Iranian social media showing a female member of the morality police violently beating a woman whose headscarf was not sufficiently covering her hair.

The video prompted outrage on social media and the interior ministry vowed an investigation, but also implied the woman may have provoked the violence by swearing at the police. Rouhani did not refer directly to the case, but appeared to use it to criticize recent efforts to clamp down on social media networks. "Mobiles are the way to promote virtue and prohibit vice. I don't know why some people don't like mobile phones or social networks," he said. "They don't like people having information. They think if people are in total ignorance, they can sleep better at night. "Being informed is people's right... Criticism is people's right," he said. "Let people live their lives."

There is mounting pressure to block foreign social media networks such as Telegram, which are the only way to spread information critical of Iran's Islamic system. But Rouhani said uncensored networks were vital to the economy, and warned that the Islamic revolution of 1979 would ultimately be judged by the regime's behavior towards its people. "If our behavior has gotten worse (since 1979), then this revolution is on the wrong path. The fundamental purpose of the revolution is to respect people and solve their problems," he said. "Whatever we want to do, if we convince people rather than threaten them... we will succeed."

The morality police have been far less visible in cities since Rouhani came to power in 2013, and Tehran's police chief claimed in December that a softer line was being taken on breaches of Islamic code such as clothing rules, with an emphasis on "education" rather than detention. But thousands of cases are still brought against women for breaching clothing rules, and a former police chief, General Hossein Sajedinia, said in April 2016 that 7,000 undercover morality police were operating in the capital.

MP slams Iran Guards

In another development, a reformist lawmaker in Iran criticized the Revolutionary Guards yesterday for holding a group of environmentalists without access to lawyers or their families. Outspoken member of parliament Mahmoud Sadeghi wrote an open letter to the head of the Revolutionary Guards' intelligence wing, Hossein Taeb, published on his Telegram channel. He accused the Guards of frequently breaching the "religious and legal rights of defendants during various stages of detention and interrogation." Sadeghi referred particularly to the recent crackdown on environmentalists, which has included the arrest of seven members of the Persian Wildlife Heritage Organization in January.

Their treatment "clearly violates the legal rights of the defendants who, three months into their detention, are deprived of access to lawyers or meeting up with their families," he wrote. The head of the NGO, Kavous Seyed Emami, died in custody two weeks after the arrests. The authorities say he committed suicide, which has been disputed by the family. He also criticized the treatment of Kaveh Madani, the deputy head of the government's environment agency who was forced to resign and leave the country under pressure from the intelligence services.

"Since my return to Iran, in the absence of any judicial permission, not only have my personal hardware and accounts been broken into, but my 'citizen rights' and privacy have also been violated right from the beginning," Madani wrote in a resignation letter, published on Twitter last week. Madani's boss, Isa Kalantari, wrote on the environment agency website yesterday that he had no choice but to accept the resignation, which was a product of "narrow-mindedness in the country". Sadeghi said the "behaviour of your agents towards an outstanding young man", who had given up a glittering scientific career abroad to work on Iran's major environmental challenges, had destroyed "the hope of young people that they can be of service to their country".- Agencies