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Backlash From Anti-Corruption Speech Hits Rouhani

Iranian President Hassan Rohani speaks at a public gathering in the city of Rafsanjan in Iran's southwest Kerman province, November 11, 2019

Attacks against President Hassan Rouhani continued Monday, one day after he blamed the hardliner Judiciary for not tackling major financial corruption cases.

Regardless of the accusations Rouhani levelled against the Judiciary, which is led by Ebrahim Raeesi, his rival in the 2017 presidential elections, critics keep targeting the president with similar charges.

Meanwhile, an anonymous statement circulated at the Iranian Parliament on Monday accused Rouhani of lying about corruption cases. Hardliner lawmakers are furious, demanding legal action against the president.

The whole controversy began on Sunday when demonstrators in Yazd, central Iran, chanted slogans during Rouhani's speech on Sunday calling him a "Liar". Rouhani got visibly shaken and began accusing his hardliner rivals Judiciary.

In another development, a statement issued by the Iranian Judiciary said, "No controversy should affect those who are fighting against financial corruption in Iran," stressing that "the campaign against corruption should continue with full resolve regardless of the controversies and blame games."

Rouhani had accused the Judiciary of "deceiving people by taking a few people to the courts for small cases and making a fuss about them" while "big cases of corruption involving billions of dollars remain unresolved." He also threatened he would point out those cases during his next provincial visits.

Iranians on social media charged that Rouhani was not brave enough to name those involved in major corruption cases and simply referred to an "entity" that got $947 million of government funds without any accountability. Radio Farda analyst Reza Haqiqatnezhad says that the institution Rouhani did not name is the Iran’s State broadcaster, which operates under the aegis of Supreme Leader Khamenei.

However, if Rouhani was referring to State TV, the money was given in 2014 when he was president and again his administration gave $100 million in 2018 as well as 150 million Euros out of the foreign currency reserve. These were in addition to the normal budget the state broadcaster received from the government. So, it is not clear how Rouhani can explain the discrepancy between what he says and what he does.

Social media users also wrote that why Rouhani calls on state officials to expose and stop financial corruption, someone should remind him that he is one of the highest-ranking state officials himself, so he should not shy away from naming corrupt individuals.

Judiciary Spokesman Gholamhossein Esmaeili as well as some conservative members of parliament also criticized Rouhani. Esmaeili said it was surprising that Rouhani thought the Judiciary was not tackling major cases of corruption.

Conservative lawmakers Nasrollah Pejmanfar and Hossein Naqavi Hosseini as well as some others charged that Rouhani spoke against the Judiciary because he was angry about his brother's imprisonment. Naqavi Hosseini also charged that corruption cases have taken place in the Rouhani administration.

Last month, the Judiciary jailed Rouhani's brother and advisor Hossein Fereydoun to five years for taking bribe.

A video on social media shows pundit Sadeq Zibakalam asking Rouhani if he would have made the same comments about corruption if his brother was not in jail.

Meanwhile, referring to the samizdat which was distributed in parliament, reformist MP Alireza Rahimi said on Monday, "Rouhani's critics have charged that the President's demand for transparency was tantamount to confrontation with Khamenei."

Maziar Khosravy tweeted that protests against Rouhani during his speech should be welcomed as the people's right, on the condition that they can protest against others too.

Another tweet carried a picture of Rouhani walking alongside his vice-president's brother in Kerman on Monday who is free on bail on charges of financial corruption.

Jalil Mohebbi, a cleric opined that Rouhani should be jailed for not openly speaking about the corruption cases he knew about.

Meanwhile, Mojtaba Zolnouri, hardline MP for Qom, said he feels a responsibility to topple Rouhani. He said he was going to file an official complaint against the president.