An audio file of Tehran Mayor and presidential candidate Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf has surfaced in which he highlights his personal role in the crackdown of protests in 1999, 2003 and 2009. Ghalibaf, who some have touted as a pragmatist and an able manager as mayor, reportedly spoke to a group of Basiji (members of a paramilitary group under the Revolutionary Guard Corps, Sepah) three weeks ago, during which he revealed a more hard-line side to his actions and beliefs.
Of the 1999 student protests in Iran under then-president Mohammad Khatami in which several were killed and thousands were arrested in a week-long protest, Ghalibaf said, “I was commander of Sepah’s air force at the time, and there is a picture of me on a motorcycle with a stick. I was on the street to clean up the streets. When it was necessary to beat people with a stick, we would; we were part of the group that beat people. And I am proud of it.”
Ghalibaf also said that it was he who wrote the famous letter to Khatami signed by members of Sepah warning him that if he did not take control of the student movements, they would act themselves and that their “patience has run out.” The letter marks a pivotal moment in Sepah’s interference in state affairs.
Of the 2003 student protests, Ghalibaf said, “I went to the State Security Council and made some very harsh statements, ignoring the customary language of such meetings, and said that if anyone comes to the dormitories and makes trouble, as police chief, I would crush them and sweep them to the side.” He added that after some initial reluctance, “I was able to get permission to have a police presence at the university and to shoot at protesters.”
Of the 2009 protests, which later became known as the “sedition” to Iranian officials, Ghalibaf said, “It was me who first used the word ‘sedition.’ I have done security and intelligence work and I am able to discern these things and I am an expert in this field.” He continued, “I had doubts about the wisdom, religion and politics of the leaders of the sedition.” The leaders of the protests of the 2009 protests were Mir Hussein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, two individuals who had played major roles in the Islamic Republic’s history and held some of the top positions within the system.
Ghalibaf highlighted the achievements of the mayor’s office in the crackdown of the 2009 protests. He said, “It’s important to know that the municipality is not part of the administration, but based on the assessments of various agencies after the sedition, the mayor’s office, among the five security agencies that were active, was ranked third.”
These statements by Ghalibaf have been shared and criticized widely on social media. Many critics believe this is an attempt by him to prove his credentials to Sepah and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei before the upcoming presidential elections on June 14. Although Ghalibaf is in the Principilist camp, he has been generally regarded as a moderate, and the contents of the audio file contradict the image he has crafted over the years as mayor of Tehran.
Ghalibaf is part of the 2+1 Coalition with Supreme Leader Adviser Ali Akbar Velayati and Haddad Adel. The Guardian Council announced today that the list of approved candidates will be released on Tuesday, May 21. Ayatollah Mohammad Momen, a member of the Guardian Council, said, “It’s possible that more than 10 individuals will be qualified to run.”
In response to the release and coverage of the audio file, Parviz Ismaeili, spokesman for Ghalibaf’s campaign, told Mehr News that “the project to destroy Ghalibaf had started long before at the Voice of America. And with the election scene becoming clear, the psychological and destructive tactics which have now been taken up by the BBC are predictable.”
As for the contents of the audio file and Ghalibaf’s actions, Ismaeili said, “Even the parts that were aired demonstrate the height of intelligent planning and policy for protecting the calm of the universities and the students.” He added, “Even our dear university students know better than anyone else that during Ghalibaf’s tenure as police chief, not a single bullet was fired on a university campus.”