Iran’s Minister of Intelligence Invites Activists in Exile Back, With a Caveat

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At a press conference yesterday, Iran’s minister of intelligence said that some individuals who left Iran after the 2009 election protests should not have doubts about returning to Iran.

Seyed Mahmoud Alavi, Iran’s new intelligence minister, was asked,“During the 2009 events, some individuals who were active on the campaign staff of two candidates, after the round of arrests began, without having committed any crimes or violations, because of fear or doubts, left the country. Now with the present condition they want to return back to their country, but they are scared and have doubts. What are your statements on this?”

Some key members of presidential candidates Mir Hussein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi’s campaign staff were arrested after the contested 2009 election. Fearing arrest, many others fled the country during one of the harshest crackdowns in the last 34 years. Dozens of top aides to Mousavi and Karroubi and many other activists received heavy sentences for their activities before and after the election. Mousavi, his wife Zahra Rahnavard and Karroubi are currently under house arrest without charge.

Alavi responded to the reporter’s question about certain individuals wanting to return to their country, “God willing, we will solve the unnecessary fear of all those who did not commit any violations and those who did not do wrong. We guarantee they will not encounter any problems.” However, Alavi did not elaborate on what the “violations” are.

On July 22, spokesman for the judiciary Mohsen Ejei made somewhat similar comments on the issue of individuals wanting to return to Iran. He said, “If someone committed a crime, whether outside the country against Iran, or committed a crime inside the country and then left, we do not forbid them from entering back into the country. But certainly, when they enter back into the country, the accusations will be pursued.” He continued, “For instance, in the sedition of 2009, which was an oppression against the nation and system of Iran, if someone committed a crime and left the country legally or illegally, we will not forbid them from entering the country, but immediately when they enter the country … we will pursue the charges against them.”

Reformist newspaper Arman wrote that after the 2009 election, some youth “out of fear of being confronted by the judiciary because of their activities for candidates who did not win left the country and are having poor experiences in other countries.” The article continued, “These concerns existed until the end of the previous administration. With the victory of Hassan Rouhani and the parliament’s vote of confidence for Hojat al-Islam Alavi, a moderate minister who has a reasonable relationship with his critics, has given hope to those who have not committed violations and only left the country out of fear.” Iran’s former Minister of Intelligence Heydar Moslehi is generally feared by many reform-minded activists due to his heavy role in the 2009 crackdown.

Arash Ghafouri, a member of one of Iran’s largest Reformist groups, the Islamic Iran Participation Front, who left Iran in 2009, said to me that one of the Alavi’s primary goals will to be break the “security atmosphere” of the country, which is one of Rouhani’s campaign promises. However, he cautioned that it is best to see if Alavi can “satisfy the other influential figures in the system” to achieve this goal.

Ghanoun newspaper also had a skeptical outlook toward Alavi’s comments about the return of those who left the country. “Certainly, materializing such plans is not without its trouble,” the article wrote, adding that such efforts were undertaken by previous presidents as well.