In an unprecedented move, an ultra-conservative website run by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) has published an interview with former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, marking the first time state media has given the former president a platform since his term ended in 2013 amid soured relations between him and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
In the interview with Fars News Agency earlier this week, Ahmadinejad, known for not mincing his words, said Iranians are less free under the current cleric-dominated ruling system than they were four decades ago during the reign of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.
"Although the ruling establishment reacts less harshly against its dissidents, it has expanded the sphere of its confrontation with the people. I mean, comparing with the past (during the Constitutional Monarchy), the situation with freedom is much worse today,” Ahmadinejad said.
Claiming that the Islamic Republic is less brutal in its treatment of prisoners than it used to be, Ahmadinejad nevertheless lamented that the number of people incarcerated for criticizing the regime has increased.
“[The Islamic Republic's] prisons are currently crowded with the critics of the heads of the three branches of power, the judiciary, the Majlis (parliament), and the executive administration," Ahmadinejad said.
Though he has rebranded himself as an outspoken critic of Iran’s ruling establishment in recent months, during his presidency Ahmadinejad bragged about the “absolute freedom” enjoyed by the people of Iran.
After his second term ended amid clashes with the Supreme Leader, Ahmadinejad began to present himself as less of an establishment insider. When his close confidant and former Deputy for Executive Affairs Hamid Baqaei was sentenced to fifteen years in prison on corruption charges and his former Chief of Staff Esfandyar Rahim Mashshshaei was given five years on similar charges last year, Ahmadinejad became a vociferous critic of the regime, demanding the heads of the judiciary, parliament, and the executive branch step down and hold free elections.
Iran’s judiciary was repeatedly accused by rights groups of suppressing opposition during Ahmadinejad’s eight years in power.
“We were truly unaware of the unjustifiable actions by the judiciary at the time. We really did not know but later we were informed [of many facts],” Ahmadinejad said. “As you are not aware of many facts for the moment, we were also unaware of many cases and kept in the dark at the time. Nevertheless, God willing, you will soon be informed of the facts as well.”
In the latest of a series of open letters to the Supreme Leader the former president has penned in recent months, Ahmadinejad called the heads of all three branches of government a “gang,” and accused them of abusing their power to imprison his allies.
In the letter, Ahmadinejad accuses the speaker of parliament and the head of the judiciary, the Larijani brothers Ali and Sadeq, of joining forces with President Rouhani to attack the former president’s supporters. He also said they are responsible for the recent widespread unrest and protests expressing dissatisfaction with the ruling establishment.
In previous letters to the Supreme Leader Ahmadinejad has warned that “public dissatisfaction with the regime’s performance is serious and extremely high.” He also demanded structural reforms in institutions such as the conservative-led Guardians Council and the judiciary, and called for the establishment of a constitutional court and a ban on the armed forces intervening in political and economic activities.
Khamenei has so far not responded directly to any of Ahmadinejad’s comments or letters, though he has implicitly admonished him in speeches on at least two occasions