Iran’s Other Elections: Local Council Applicants Subjected to Arbitrary Vetting
In a surprising development, a few outspoken and prominent political activists have been approved to run in Iran’s elections for city and village councils on May 19, 2017. However, many well-known activists and reformists have been arbitrarily disqualified.
Applicants for local elections are vetted by monitoring boards set up by Parliament, while the Guardian Council vets parliamentary and presidential candidates. Iranians will also vote in their president on May 19, when current President Hassan Rouhani will be seeking a second term.
In the capital city, the Tehran Province Election Monitoring Board approved 2,722 out of the 3,000 applicants seeking to challenge 31 seats in the Tehran Islamic City Council.
Thousands of other applicants throughout the country also learned if they qualified on April 22.
The following progressive candidates made it through the monitoring bodies’ arbitrary vetting process.
Abdollah Momeni: Former student activist and political prisoner.
Abdollah Momeni, 41, was a prominent student activist in Tehran during his 20s and served as a spokesman for the nationwide Iranian alumni association, Advar-e Tahkim-e Vahdat.
He was arrested in 2009 for supporting presidential candidate Mehdi Karroubi, who peacefully disputed the vote count with fellow Green Movement leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi and Zahra Rahnavard. The three have been kept under extrajudicial house arrest since 2011.
After being tortured during long interrogations in solitary confinement, Momeni was forced to make a televised “confession.”
Televised forced “confessions” in politically motivated cases, often extracted under the threat of or actual torture, are a common practice in Iran.
In a letter from prison to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in August 2010, Momeni wrote: “From the start of the interrogations, I was forced to write against my friends and those close to me and when I resisted… I would receive beatings and insults and would be told that, ‘We will bring a prostitute to your court hearing to confess against you and say that she had illegitimate sexual relations with you.’”
In October 2010, the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) commended Momeni’s bravery and urged the Iranian judiciary to open investigations into his “report of prison torture and physical and psychological abuse, and evidence of unfair, inhumane, and illegal conduct on the part of the interrogators and judges.”
“Dear Citizens of Tehran. I, Abdollah Momeni, am offering myself for your vote in the city council elections in order to have a people-oriented and happy city,” he tweeted on April 23 while announcing his candidacy.
Momeni’s election has been widely welcomed on social media and among civil rights advocates in Iran.
Formerly imprisoned human rights activist Hossein Ronaghi Maleki reacted on his Twitter page: “Abdollah Momeni’s candidacy has a pleasant and hopeful meaning: That we must stay, endure hardship, stand up and strive for change and improving conditions.”
Yashar Soltani: Journalist and editor who exposed corruption in the Tehran city council.
The editor-in-chief of Memari News, Yashar Soltani was detained on September 17, 2016 after current presidential candidate and Tehran Mayor Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf and City Council Chairman Mehdi Chamran filed a suit complaining about the site’s publication of an official letter exposing corruption in the municipality.
Soltani is currently free on bail.
“Today’s problems are the result of actions by owners of wealth and masters of power (the state and the political parties)” tweeted Soltani on April 25. “If we want a better city, we have to make better choices.”
He added that he would “fight against corruption and for the free flow of information.”
Leila Arshad: Social activist and defender of homeless women.
Social activist Leila Arshad is the founder and director of Khaneh Khorshid (Sun House), a non-governmental organization operating in Tehran since 2006 to help battered, homeless and addicted women and their children. She was among the first to raise the issue of child street workers in the 1990s and to call for protective measures.
“So far I have Leila Arshad and Abdollah Momeni on my priority list for (Tehran) council, to support women’s rights and the rights of prisoners and their families,” tweeted journalist Elahe Khosravi on April 23.
Other approved candidates of note include journalist and social activist Amene Shirafkan, and Taraneh Yalda, a city planner educated in Italy and France.
Arbitrary Disqualifications and Attacks
Many registrants who had previously engaged in activism or defended human rights were meanwhile disqualified for vaguely defined reasons, such as “lack of commitment to Islam” and “membership in disbanded parties.”
According to attorney and reformist political activist Hassan Younesi, the vetting process lacks basic standards.
“The disqualification of some of the young candidates for the councils without clear criteria means that this process is arbitrary,” he tweeted on April 24.
Reformist activist Hossein Naghashi revealed on April 24 that he had been disqualified for “baseless reasons” while former political prisoner Emad Behavar tweeted that he was suddenly rejected after initially being approved.
Amir Raeisian, a lawyer who has represented imprisoned political and civil rights activists, tweeted on April 23: “I registered for the council elections and then got a letter that I was not approved. Interestingly, one of my former clients has been approved!”
On April 26, the Tasnim News Agency, which is close to the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), called for the disqualification of five reformist candidates.
“The process of investigating the qualification of candidates in this election cycle shows that the monitoring board has not observed the law,” said the unsigned editorial, which accused the Tehran election board of disqualifying several conservatives to “engineer” victories for reformists.
“We will stop anyone who tries to unlawfully enter the council,” warned Mohammad Mahmoudi Shahneshin, chairman of the Central Election Monitoring Board, on April 26.
He was responding to questions about candidates who were imprisoned for supporting protests against the disputed result of the 2009 presidential election.
“The security and judicial agencies, as well as other relevant authorities, will certainly report to us if they see a problem with any of the names,” he added.
According to the head of the Tehran council election board, Shahboddin Chavoshi, disqualified applicants can appeal the decision and a final ruling will be issued no later than May 7.