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City Council Member Arrests On The Rise In Iran

Members of the city council in the city of Abadan hosting journalists and reporters on the national day for reporters on August 16, 2018.

A city council meeting in the southwestern city of Abadan came to an abrupt end October 29 when police stormed the meeting and arrested one of the council members.

The Prosecutor-General of Abadan, a city in the oil-rich Khuzestan province, confirmed that the council member, whose identity he did not disclose, had been arrested in the middle of the session. While the arrests of city council members are fairly common in Iran, an arrest made during a council meeting is unprecedented.

"The city council member has been charged with bribery and taken into custody, pending further investigation,” said Prosecutor-General Nasser Gholami. “He was detained after Abadan's Intelligence Department reported that a series of mainly financial crimes have been committed by a ring of individuals in collaboration with this council member.”

Several people colluded with the council member to guarantee they and their associates would win lucrative city contracts, Gholami alleged, adding that he estimates the accused council member pocketed more than 2.7 trillion rials (roughly $64 million) in kick-backs and illegal payments from the city’s coffers. Once a contract was finalized, Gholami said, the council member was paid according to the value of the deal.

An undisclosed number of other individuals accused of participating in the ring have been charged with fraud and forgery, and warrants have been issued for their arrest, Gholami said.

The chairman of the nine-member city council, Abdollah Ka’bi, told the government’s official news agency IRNA that unidentified plainclothesmen burst into the room where the members were meeting and seized his colleague. He emphasized that he still does not know which authorities arrested his colleague.

Iranian state media have published several reports in recent months concerning the arrest of city council members across the country on myriad charges, including financial, moral, social, and political crimes.

Although the exact number of those arrested and records of their trials are not available, Interior Ministry Spokesman Salman Samani says 283 elected city council members have been expelled from their positions by the ministry since city councils were re-established in 1999.

City and village councils were originally created in 1968 under the reign of the Shah. Members were elected by direct public vote to a four-year term. With the downfall of the monarchy and the establishment of the Islamic Republic in 1979, the councils were abolished until the era of reformist President Mohammad Khatami (1998-2005).

Shiraz City Council Member Qasem Moghimi told IRNA September 27 that authorities had arrested his fellow council member Mehdi Hajati “for supporting Baha’is.” Baha’is are a persecuted religious minority in Iran. Also a member of the citizens’ rights commission, Hajati was reportedly arrested after tweeting September 25 that he had “knocked on every door to try to free two of my Baha’i friends from detention without success.”

Baha’is are regularly subjected to harassment and arbitrary detention in Iran for practicing their faith, which is not recognized by Iran’s constitution.

State media reported September 4 that five members of the city council in the city of Babol were arrested and removed from their position for their alleged involvement in a sex scandal.