For a second day in a row, the incumbent president Hassan Rouhani continued his unprecedented confrontational rhetoric against Iran’s conservatives and hardliners, in a campaign appearance in the city of Hamadan, on Monday.
“I will not let a place that is supposed to be the “House of Justice” to turn into the “house of slander and lies”, Hassan Rouhani warned Iran’s judiciary.
A day earlier, in his weekly media conference, the judiciary spokesman, Gholamhossein Mohseni-Eje’i, had talked about the discovery of a consignment of contraband clothing at the residence of a cabinet minister’s daughter, implying that the government had tried to cover up the incident.
‘Amitis, Childhood Vivacity’, the clothing company accused of illegally importing the consignment to Iran, is owned by Minister of Education in president Rouhani’s cabinet, Fakhruddin Ahmadi-Danish-Ashtiani, and his daughter. Ahmadi chairs the board and his daughter is the CEO of the company, according to the judiciary spokesman.
“The company has also violated the law by importing a consignment under the trade license of another company”, Mohseni-Eje’i said.
In his campaign speech in Hamadan, 320 km (198 mi) southwest of Tehran, Rouhani retaliated by saying: “What has happened that in the past two or three weeks the spokesman of an institution has learned how to smear the government?”
The controversial news concerning Amitis has been a focal point for heated arguments during the past week. It was also mentioned in the presidential campaigns, as well as in the second live televised presidential debate, where the current Vice President and reformist presidential candidate, Eshagh Jahangiri, called the consignment a legitimate imported cargo. He regretted that it was mentioned in the debates and said: “discussing it here is an indication of the victimization of the government.”
Meanwhile, according to Iran Students News Agency, ISNA, President Rouhani, in his speech in Hamadan on Monday May 8, said: “In the May 19 election, the people will once again declare that they do not accept those who for the past 38 years knew nothing but execution and imprisonment.”
Rouhani’s comments could be also interpreted as an implicit reference to his mid-ranking cleric challenger, Ebrahim Raisi, who had a pivotal role in convicting thousands of prisoners to death in summer of 1988.
It was the first time that Rouhani, himself a secretary of the Supreme Security Council of Iran for more than fifteen years, talked against execution and imprisonment.
However, one should not overlook Rouhani's own cabinet. At least three key figures in his cabinet were essential parts of the Islamic Republic's repressive state apparatus; Mostafa Pourmohammadi, minister of justice, previously a judge in revolutionary courts and a member of the quadruple responsible for mass execution of prisoners in summer of 1988, where he worked alongside Rouhani's main rival Ebrahim Raeisi. Ali Rabiei, who is currently minister of labor, was a member of ministry of intelligence in charge of psychological operations and warfare and Secretary of National Security Council nd Reza Salehi Amiri, minister of culture, who was director of intelligence in Khuzestan province.
Rouhani’s new approach in targeting his challengers is a reaction to the barrage of intensifying criticism that his conservative rivals have recently let loose against him.
Although, in the past three years of his presidency Rouhani has had public disagreements with his hardline critics and even Iran’s supreme leader, ayatollah Ali Khamanei, he had never attacked the conservatives with the ferocity of the last two days.
Rouhani lambasted his challengers, by addressing his audience: “You do not know them; I know them! One day, at a session, they decided to raise walls on the pavements of Tehran streets, dividing them into male and female only zones; as they had already done it in their offices.” He did not elaborate on the details of the session or its outcome.
In an unprecedented tone, Rouhani directly addressed the conservative who call themselves ‘principlists’, saying: “We have entered this election to warn the proponents of extremism and violence that your era is over.” In a reference to former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s tenure, he added, “You were in charge for eight years and people witnessed what you did to the country.”
Although some voters and observers argue that ultimately it does not matter much who is elected president, as long as crucial institutions are controlled by the supreme leader, it appears that the campaign is turning harsh and at times ferocious.