By Arash Karami, for Al-Monitor. Any opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iran Business News.
Members of President Hassan Rouhani’s Cabinet have publicly criticized the recent arrests of Reformist journalists and online activists on the threshold of a presidential election.
“From the beginning, the administration has been opposed to the arrests of account managers of Telegram channels and continues to be,” said Intelligence Minister Mahmoud Alavi to reporters April 5 after a Cabinet meeting. Telegram is a widely popular messaging service in Iran with users in the tens of millions.
The arrests of Ali Ahmadnia and Ali Heydar Valizadeh, two individuals with popular Telegram channels, surprised many and created the impression that the Intelligence Organization of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) was attempting to silence supporters of the Rouhani administration ahead of the May presidential and city council elections.
A number of Reformist journalists or those described as supporters of the administration, including Hengameh Shahidi, Ehsan Mazandarani, Morad Safavi and Ramin Karimian, were also arrested in recent weeks. Alavi’s criticism suggests there is certainly a clash between Rouhani’s Intelligence Ministry and the Intelligence Organization of the IRGC over the arrests.
Alavi’s comment comes after five Reformist parliamentarians gave the intelligence minister a written warning about the arrests. Ali Motahari, Mostafa Kavakebian, Mahmoud Sadeghi, Gholam-Reza Heydari and Alireza Rahimi issued the warning, asking why 12 popular Telegram channels were closed and the account managers were arrested. Motahari had previously threatened to impeach Alavi if he failed to address the issue of the arrests.