By The Guardian
Iranian president tells head of judicial system it is his constitutional right to inspect prison where media adviser is held.
Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has lambasted the country’s judiciary for not allowing him to visit Tehran’s Evin prison, where his media adviser is currently held behind bars.
Ahmadinejad on Monday wrote an unprecedented letter to Sadeq Larijani, the head of the judicial system, protesting that his constitutional right and duty required him to inspect the prison although officials have signalled he would not be welcome.
The letter, published on the president’s government website, disclosed that Larijani had previously dispatched a “top secret” communique, warning that the request to visit Evin was not in the best interests of the country.
Evin, situated in the north of the Iranian capital, is home to the country’s many political prisoners as well as some of its most respected human rights activists and journalists, including the prominent lawyer Nasrin Sotodueh.
“You have twice insisted that inspecting Evin prison is not in the best interests of the country and you have said that you disapprove of it,” he wrote. “But the constitution does not require any permission or approval from the judiciary for the president in administering his legal duties.”
Ahmadinejad’s opponents in the parliament and the judiciary have speculated that the president intended to visit Evin in order to highlight the case of his close ally and top aide Ali Akbar Javanfekr, who is serving a six-month prison term there.
Javanfekr was put on trial last year as the publisher of “materials contrary to Islamic norms”, a reference to a series of articles about the chador, the full-length cloak worn by Iranian women.
He was arrested in late September while Ahmadinejad was addressing the UN general assembly in New York, a sign that the president’s influence over Iranian politics is dwindling.
In his letter, Ahmadinejad insinuated that his visit was not aimed at meeting Javanfekr but to make sure the law was being justly administered by prison officials.
“How come that administering the constitution is not in the best interests of the country?” he asked. “If that kind of view prevails in the judiciary, can’t we assume that some of the constitutional laws and basic human rights are being violated or neglected – or sacrificed for the best interests of individuals in the judiciary?
“In a situation where the president, who is the representative of the people and administrator of the law, is being so easily accused by you, how can people of this country, who have no supporter except God, make sure they have judicial security?”
In recent years, Evin has also been frequented by many people who are or were working for the regime, including the son and daughter of the former Iranian president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who were arrested in September. In Evin, Javanfekr and a number of the president’s allies are kept not far from many opposition protesters who were arrested in the aftermath of the country’s 2009 disputed presidential election which saw Ahmadinejad taking the office for a second term amid unrest and allegations of fraud.
It is the first time Ahmadinejad has used such a strongly worded statement against the country’s judiciary, which is one of Iran’s main political institutions along with the parliament and the presidency.
Some activists said it was hypocritical of Ahmadinejad not to have requested such a visit in 2009, amid allegations that prisoners faced torture. However, Ali Motahari, an influential MP and an outspoken critic of the president, said that he should be allowed to inspect Evin, urging him to meet other prisoners, too.
On Sunday, Iran’s prosecutor general, Gholam-Hossein Mohseni-Ejei, embarrassed Ahmadinejad in public by saying that he could not go to Evin.
“We must pay attention to major issues … Visiting a prison in these circumstances is a minor issue,” he said, according to the semi-official Mehr news agency. “If we have in mind the best interests of the nation, a [prison] visit in these circumstances is not appropriate.”
The row is seen as the latest setback for Ahmadinejad and his team in an extraordinary power struggle at the top of the Iranian regime between conservatives close to the country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and those supporting the president.
In light of the setbacks, Ahmadinejad has lost a great deal of his influence, becoming increasingly marginalised, with analysts speculating that he is being used by his former allies as a scapegoat for the regime’s problems.
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