The Defenders of the Human Rights Center, DHRC, has called on President Hassan Rouhani to tighten his supervision of the cabinet’s Intelligence Ministry, resist any violation by parallel intelligence institutions, and publicize their identities.
The DHRC, headed by Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi, made the plea to Rouhani in its latest monthly report on human rights violations in Iran.
“As the intelligence minister is presented by the president to the Islamic Consultative Assembly (parliament), any violation of law made by the ministry will be reflected in the government’s record,” the report reiterated.
Referring to the existence of parallel and illegal intelligence apparatuses, the DHRC urged Rouhani to resist their violations of the law and illegal activities and publicly reveal their identities.
“Naturally, the highest authority in the judiciary is aware of the illegal actions taken by parallel intelligence apparatuses, including illegally arresting political and civil rights activists, prosecuting them for fake and baseless accusations,” the report said.
“Parallel intelligence apparatuses are intelligence agencies within the Islamic Republic of Iran made up of personnel from multiple security organizations aggregated into ad hoc security bodies, with strong ties to the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps and the judiciary,” wrote Carl Anthony Wege in his 2015 essay, Iran’s Intelligence Establishment.
These parallel apparatuses significantly expanded during Mohammad Khatami’s two-term presidency (1997-2005). Khatami, who was twice elected by a landslide, was a reformist. The conservatives reacted to this by strengthening the security machinery and their hold over judicial bodies and the Revolutionary Guards. A series of crackdowns on students, media, and activists followed.
There have been unconfirmed reports concerning the bitter competition within these clandestine apparatuses, as well as with the legal intelligence organizations.
The DHRC report also highlighted the role of Intelligence Ministry agents in advancing lawsuits against prominent lawyer Abdol-Fattah Soltani and outspoken human rights activist Nargess Mohammadi. Soltani and Mohammadi are members of the DHRC, which is officially banned.
Meanwhile, Mohammadi’s husband, a self-exiled political activist in Paris, Taqi Rahmani, has said that his wife’s plaintiff is the Intelligence Ministry, and if it repeals the allegations she will be freed.
Many analysts believe that the Intelligence Ministry is, in practice, under the supervision of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei rather than the government itself.
The sacking of the intelligence minister by former President Mahmud Ahmadinejad during his second term led to a row between him and Khamenei. The supreme leader adamantly opposed the president’s decision. After 11 days of absence from the seat of the presidency, Ahmadinejad was forced to bow to the leader’s will and reinstate the minister.
“The Intelligence Ministry has not yet been captured by Rouhani’s government,” commented Khatami’s intelligence minister, Ali Younessi, in 2014. Later, he changed the word “capture” to “control”.
Furthermore, there have been reports on serious rifts between Rouhani’s intelligence minister, Mahmoud Alavi, and the judiciary and the IRGC’s intelligence apparatuses.
Notably, in March 2016, Alavi declared his disapproval of the arrest of several admins active on social media’s Telegram channels.
In retaliation, judiciary spokesman Ghholam Hossein Mohseni-Ejei dismissed Alavi’s opinion.
“[Alavi] is not qualified to comment on the case since there are some reports concerning him in the lawsuit against the arrested admins active on the Telegram channel,” he said on April 12.
On the same day, Alavi sarcastically responded, “I do not see any crime committed by the admins, let alone seeing myself as their accomplice.”
Based on the mood of the voters who re-elected the president and demands by human rights advocates and democracy activists, as well as his own promises of defending legality, Rouhani has a difficult road ahead in wrestling control of crucial institutions from the hands of various conservative and military centers of power.