TEHRAN, Iran – President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad fired at least four senior Intelligence Ministry figures in a purge targeting officials who disagreed with the crackdown on the opposition after last month’s disputed presidential election, lawmakers and media said Monday.
The purge deepens a rift between Ahmadinejad and critics within his own conservative camp and also reveals splits within the security establishment itself over the heavyhanded suppression of the pro-reform opposition since the June 12 election.
The crackdown has already fueled public anger because of allegations that detainees have been tortured and abused in custody – including several who died. This weekend, a top opposition figure brought a new allegation that some arrested protesters had been raped by their jailers. Parliament speaker Ali Larijani – a powerful conservative – said Monday that a parliament committee would investigate the reports.
The Intelligence Ministry purge was reportedly sparked by the refusal of some top officials to back the government’s claims that the wave of postelection protests were part of an opposition “velvet revolution” aimed at overthrowing the clerical leadership. Some in the ministry had reportedly opposed broadcasting confessions by detainees that the opposition says were obtained by abuse.
Pro-reform Web sites reported that more than a dozen senior ministry officials were fired or forced to resign in the past few weeks, but the total number remained unclear.
Conservative and pro-reform media identified four deputy ministers who were removed – including the head of counterespionage and a 25-year veteran, both of whom were “trusted” by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, according to one conservative Web site Khabaronline.
The purge appeared to reflect tensions between the ministry and the elite Revolutionary Guards, which has been the main force behind the wave of arrests. The dismissals, ordered by Ahmadinejad and a deputy he appointed at the ministry, were supervised by two hard-line clerics, Hossein Taeb and Ahmad Salek, who are strong backers of Ahmadinejad and hold key positions within the Guards, according to Hasan Younesi, son of a former intelligence minister.
“Ahmadinejad has effectively taken command of the country’s most important security body and is settling scores,” said Younesi, whose father Ali Younesi served as minister during the 1997-2005 pro-reform administration. Both father and son maintain close links with the intelligence community.
Younesi said the dismissals targeted officials who did not support the government’s claims of a “velvet revolution” plot.
Ahmad Avai, a conservative lawmaker, said parliament was considering a probe into the dismissals.
“There is justified concern … if this trend continues, irreparable damage will be inflicted on the Intelligence Ministry,” Avai said, according to the hard-line daily Jomhuri-e-Eslami on Monday.
The ministry put out a statement Monday saying “some incorrect reports” have been made in the media, referring to the reports of dismissals, but did not elaborate. It warned that media publishing the names of ministry officials could be prosecuted.
Hundreds have been arrested in the past two months as security forces crushed the massive protests that erupted over claims Ahmadinejad’s victory in the election were fraudulent. The arrests were largely carried out by the Revolutionary Guard and its paramilitary militia, the Basij.
In the biggest political trial in years, some 100 politicians, journalists and activists have been accused of involvement in the alleged “velvet revolution.” Several top defendants have made televised confessions to the plot during the trial. The opposition, which claims that its leader Mir Hossein Mousavi is the rightful winner of the election, denies the accusations.
Late last month, Ahmadinejad fired his intelligence minister, Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ejehi, in a move that outraged fellow conservatives. Hard-line clerics denounced the removal in sermons, and 210 lawmakers in the conservative-dominated parliament thanked Ejehi for his service to the country in an implicit jab at Ahmadinejad.
Ejehi’s firing was believed to have been because of his opposition to Ahmadinejad’s attempt to name a controversial associate as vice-president. But the two also apparently differed over the postelection crackdown. A pro-Ahmadinejad Web site said recently that the president was unhappy with the Intelligence Ministry’s performance over the postelection protests.
Since Ejehi’s removal, Ahmadinejad has taken over as caretaker of the ministry pending the formation of his new government, expected soon.
Pro-reform Web sites have reported that top officials in the Intelligence Minstry opposed attempts to broadcast confessions by those arrested in the postelection crackdown. That put them in conflict with the Revolutionary Gaurd, where senior commanders were pressing for the confessions to be aired.
The purge was likely to anger conservative allies of the officials who were dismissed and deepen the rift within Ahmadinejad’s camp. Fellow conservatives have long accused Ahmadinejad of hoarding too much power for himself and his close circle.
Reports of abuse against detainees – several of whom have died in custody – have also brought criticism from conservatives and leading clerics in Iran’s religious hierarchy.
Mahdi Karroubi, one of two defeated pro-reform candidates in the disputed June 12 presidential election, said on his Web site Sunday that he has received reports from former military commanders and other senior officials that some detainees, male and female, were raped in custody.
“A number of detainees have stated that some female detainees were so brutally raped that their genitals were damaged. Others savagely raped young boys so that they suffer from depression and serious physical and mental damage,” Karroubi said in a letter posted on his Web site.
He said such crimes, if proven true, would “disgrace” Iran’s Islamic ruling system.
Parliament speaker Larijani said Monday that a committee that had investigated prisoners’ conditions would report on rape allegations. “The committee has conducted a thorough investigation and we have to see the verification report,” he said.
Senior police and judiciary officials acknowledged over the weekend that detainees have been abused in prison and called for those responsible to be punished, apparently in an effort to calm public outrage.
As the issue of detainee abuse has come to the fore, Amnesty International reported that the number of executions in Iran has risen sharply. The group said that between the June 12 election and Ahmadinejad’s inauguration on Aug. 5, there were 115 executions – an average of about two per day. Most of the prisoners are said to have been convicted of drug smuggling or similar offences.
“This represents a significant increase, even compared to the appallingly high rate of executions that has been so long a feature of the human rights scene in Iran,” Amnesty Secretary-General Irene Khan said in the report, released Friday.