The Iranian government has seized and detained several hundred activists, journalists and students across the nation, in one of the most extensive crackdowns on key dissidents since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
Even as unprecedented protests broke out on the streets after the June 12 disputed presidential election, the most stinging backlash from authorities has come away from the crowds through roundups and targeted arrests, according to witnesses and human rights organizations. They say plainclothes security agents have also put dozens of the country’s most experienced pro-reform leaders behind bars.
The Iranian government says only that unspecified figures responsible for fomenting unrest have been taken into custody.
The arrests have drained the pool of potential leaders of a protest movement that claims President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad stole the election by fraud. They also point to the potential for high-profile trials – and serious sentences – before a special judicial forum created to handle cases from the unrest.
With the main reformist candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi under constant police surveillance, protests demanding a new vote have withered. Many of those rounded up during demonstrations have been released within days.
The targeted arrests appear to have begun the day after the election. Several of Iran’s best-known reformist politicians were taken into custody, including the brother and several close allies of former President Mohammad Khatami.
Since then, at least 230 more students, professors, journalists and reformists have been arrested, according to the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran. At least 29 are known to have been released, the New York-based organization said in a list released Wednesday, al- though it acknowledged that the numbers were constantly changing.
The crackdown appears to have grown bolder as the government escalated its use of force on the streets.
Security agents arrested nearly the entire staff of Mousavi’s newspaper, The Green Word, Monday night, seizing 25 people in a raid on its offices, according to a statement on Mousavi’s Web site.
On Thursday, authorities arrested 70 reformist university professors after they met with Mousavi, his Web site said. At least 66 were later freed, said Hadi Ghaemi, spokesman for the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran.
Among the most prominent reformists detained was Ebrahim Yazdi, 78, who was a key aide of the Islamic Republic’s founder, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, and served as foreign minister after the 1979 revolution. Yazdi was hospitalized with a bladder problem when agents walked into his room on June 17, had his intravenous tubes disconnected and took him to Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison.
Yazdi said he was treated respectfully and released the next day. But many other members of his Freedom Movement of Iran remain in prison along with leaders of other reformist parties, some of whom served in Khatami’s government.
Officials even briefly arrested the daughter and four other relatives of one of Iran’s most powerful men, Ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani. The detentions were seen as a warning to Rafsanjani, a former conservative president who many believe now favors the opposition.
Observers say the crackdown is the largest since Khatami’s 1997 election and the birth of the modern Iranian reform movement.