Iranwire – Exploiting unelected institutions to advance his policies has become normal for Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. One of the institutions that has done the most to advance his plans, and those of Iran’s security establishment, is the country’s judiciary; which, in a functioning democracy, would have to be independent if the democracy were to work.
Article 86 of the Islamic Republic constitution, meanwhile, makes clear the principle of immunity for parliamentary representatives: “Members of parliament are completely free in expressing their views and casting their votes in the course of performing their duties as representatives, and they cannot be prosecuted or arrested for opinions expressed in parliament or votes cast in the course of performing their duties as representatives.”
But there have been quite a few members of parliament who have been arrested or summoned to court because of views they expressed in the chamber. The courts which summoned these parliamentarians could not have taken such unconstitutional actions without the approval and the support of the Supreme Leader.
Getting elected to Iran’s parliament is like surviving the seven labors of Hercules. The Guardian Council, an appointed body that vets parliamentary candidates, readily disqualifies any candidate that differs even slightly with the regime. But there have always been representatives who have not stayed silent in the face of corruption – “conscientious objectors” who have caused pain to the regime. The regime has always violated their parliamentary immunity in retaliation.
Below are some better-known examples of violations of parliamentary immunity in the Islamic Republic under Khamenei’s leadership.
1. Hossein Loghmanian
Hossein Loghmanian, the reformist representatives from Hamedan between 2000 and 2004, is one the most well-known victims of the violation of his parliamentary immunity. After a speech on the floor of parliament to protest the arrest of activists associated with the Coalition of National-Religious Forces of Iran, he was arrested while he was still a member of parliament, sentenced to 13 months imprisonment and sent to Evin Prison.
In his speech, Loghmanian criticized the judiciary for “decapitating freedom of expression” and “attempting to threaten and intimidate parliament” by closing many pro-reform newspapers.
If it were not for Mehdi Karroubi, then the speaker of parliament, perhaps Loghmanian would have remained in prison for the rest of his sentence. But in a public session of parliament, Karroubi threatened to resign as speaker if Loghmanian were not released. He left, went home and said he would not return until the parliamentary immunity of Loghmanian and other representatives was respected. Karroubi’s threat worked at the time and Loghmanian was released after 20 days – but this did not stop the violation of parliamentary immunity of other representatives.
2. Fatemeh Haghighatjoo
Fatemeh Haghighatjoo was another reformist member of parliament, between 2000 and 2004, whose immunity was violated. In 2001, after giving speeches in parliament and elsewhere in support of democracy and human rights, she was sentenced to 20 months in prison which was reduced to 17 months on appeal. The sentence was not carried out; but it hung over her head like the sword of Damocles. She was banned from leaving Iran for a year and she resigned from parliament in 2004 saying she was no longer able to keep her oath of office and as a sign of protest to “the incorrect, illegal and non-religious conduct of the appointed bodies,” i.e. the Guardian Council and the judiciary.
Haghighatjoo holds a degree in psychology and a PhD in family counseling. She had been a lecturer at the University of Tehran and Shahid Beheshti University before entering parliament but, after her resignation, she could not return to her previous jobs. With no way to make a living, and living under the threat of imprisonment, she was forced to leave Iran and take up residence in the United States. Haghighatjoo has been a faculty member at the University of Massachusetts, Boston, and the University of Connecticut, and has held fellowship positions at the Kennedy School of Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Center for International Studies.
3. Noureddine Pirmoazzen
Dr. Noureddine Pirmoazzen, a representative from Ardebil and a lung and breast surgeon, was a spokesman for the minority reformists grouping in the 2004-2008 parliament. He was not charged with any crimes by the judiciary while in parliament; but he was constantly threatened and was disqualified by the Guardian Council from running for a second term. After an interview with the Voice of America in which he criticized many policies of the Islamic Republic, the Intelligence Ministry threatened to take action against him for “treason” and he was forced to leave Iran before his term expired. Pirmoazzen now lives in the United States.
4. Mahmoud Sadeghi
Mahmoud Sadeghi, a representative from Tehran at the 2016-2020 parliament, was repeatedly summoned to court, tried on several occasions and eventually sentenced to 21 months in prison in May 2020. He was tried for statements in parliament including an attack on Ayatollah Sadegh Amoli Larijani, the former chief justice of the judiciary and the current Chairman of the Expediency Discernment Council, asking why Ayatollah Larijani could hold high public office while during his tenure there were so much corruption in the judiciary.
Furthermore, in an open letter in 2016, Sadeghi demanded that Larijani offer a public explanation regarding his bank accounts. According to some reports at the time, huge sums of money had been deposited in dozens of bank accounts in Larijani’s name instead of to judiciary accounts. The judiciary later claimed that Sadeghi was not convicted for his allegations about Larijani’s accounts but on other unspecified charges raised by private plaintiffs and public prosecutors.
The public prosecutor also moved to arrest Sadeghi but parliament’s board of directors prevented the arrest. And yet his parliamentary immunity was never respected and he was disqualified from running in the February 2020 parliamentary elections.
5. Parvaneh Salahshouri
Parvaneh Salahshouri, a representative from Tehran to the 2016-2020 parliament, was summoned to court many times. In December 2019, she criticized the Islamic Republic for “grim despotism” and for the ever-increasing power held by unelected centers of power. Salahshouri said the concentration of power in unelected bodies was destroying the “republican nature of the system”.
The judiciary opened several cases against her and these are ongoing. Salahshouri was indicted on charges of “spreading lies intended to disturb public opinion” and “propaganda against the Islamic Republic regime.” In February 2020 she was summoned to the prosecutor’s office and was released on bail. Salahshouri was elected to parliament in 2016 with almost two million votes; but after experiencing judicial harassment and threats, she announced that she would not seek reelection. “Given the structures that restrict parliament’s authority, ignoring the people’s demands and wishes, improper supervision of the Guardian Council over elections … and despite what I owe to the people, I have decided not to run in the next election,” Salahshouri said.
Violations of parliamentary immunity are not limited to these five representatives. Many more members of parliament have been summoned to court because of what they have said while in parliament. And a greater number have been harassed and threatened but have preferred to keep silent. Some have been sent to prison after their parliamentary terms on trumped-up charges, including:
– Mohsen Mirdamadi, representative from Tehran, was arrested in June 2009 in the aftermath of the disputed 2009 presidential election, and was held in solitary confinement at Evin Prison for 110 days. He was released in 2015 after serving a six-year prison sentence.
– Mohsen Armin, representative from Tehran, was arrested in 2010 and sentenced to six years in prison in 2012, on charges including acting against national security and propaganda against the regime.
– Behzad Nabavi, representative from Tehran and deputy speaker of parliament, was arrested in the aftermath of the 2009 presidential election and sentenced to six years in prison. In 2014 he was released but was then sentenced to one year more in prison for “propaganda.” The judge reduced the sentence to a fine because Nabavi was in extremely poor health.
– Mohammad Hossein Naeimipour, representative from Tehran, was arrested following the disputed 2009 presidential election, sentenced to four years in prison and was released in 2015 after serving his sentence. While under arrest, he was pressured to condemn the reformist Green Movement in front of TV cameras.
– Ali Akbar Mousavi Khoeini, representative from Tehran and a defender of the rights of political prisoners, was arrested during protests in support of women’s rights in Iran on June 12, 2006, and was put in solitary confinement at Evin Prison for four months. Other detainees arrested at the same time were released much earlier. He currently resided in the United States.
– Ali Tajernia, representative from Mashhad, was arrested in the aftermath of the 2009 presidential election and was sentenced to six years in prison for activities against national security, and to 74 lashes for insulting then-president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
– Mohammad Dadfar, representative from Bushehr, was sentenced to seven months in prison in 2001 for criticizing the judiciary. “We simply cannot give in to illegal actions by a judiciary that is determined to trample the legal rights of the nation and their elected lawmakers,” he had said. Dadfar served his sentence in 2006.
– Esmail Gerami Moghaddam, representative from North Khorasan, was arrested in July 2015, at Imam Khomeini airport, after returning to Iran on the completion of his doctoral studies abroad. He had left Iran in 2009 following the state crackdown on political activists following the disputed presidential election. In September 2015, Moghaddam was sentenced by the Revolutionary Court to six years in prison for “collusion against the state.” He is a veteran of the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war and still has shrapnel in his body from injuries sustained during the conflict.
How Complicit Was Khamenei?
Can the judiciary violate the constitutional immunity of members of parliament so easily without the consent of the Supreme Leader? Ali Akbar Mousavi Khoeini, himself a victim, says that “in my view, the violation of parliamentary immunity is such a significant step that it could not be taken without the endorsement of the Supreme Leader. He has never taken a stand against this obvious violation of the constitution, whereas he has taken clear positions on much simpler issues. His failure to stand up to the judiciary despite intense protests by members of parliament is evidence that he supports these violations and even directs some of them from behind the scenes.”
Mousavi Khoeini believes that Khamenei’s behavior, when taken as a whole, shows that he does not favor a strong and independent parliament. “He wants obedient and submissive representatives, and that is why since the 6th parliament [2000-2004, when reformists had an absolute majority] he has given his full support to securing a rubber-stamp parliament through manipulated elections, and he does not mind if few [people] participate and it is a useless parliament.”
The indicators are that the parliamentary immunity of members is not violate, and no representatives are sent to jail, without Khamenei’s consent and permission. Despite the constitution guaranteeing immunity to parliamentarians, as they express their views on domestic or foreign affairs, violating this immunity has been a favorite tactic of Khamenei’s so as to disenfranchise the body. Khamenei’s lackeys in the judiciary have been only too ready to carry out his wishes.