PHOTO: Mostafa Tajzadeh and Fakhrosadat Mohtashamipour after his release from Evin Prison late Friday
One of Iran’s leading reformists, Mostafa Tajzadeh, has been freed after seven years in prison.
Tajzadeh was suddenly released late Friday night, with no advance notice to his family.
A former Deputy Minister of Interior Minister, Tajzadeh was seized on June 13, 2009, a day after the disputed Presidential election “won” by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and two days before the first mass protests against the result.
He was initially sentenced to six years by the Tehran Revolutionary Court for “assembly and collusion against national security” and “propaganda against the regime”. In 2014, a year was added to the sentence because of Tajzadeh’s open letters to the Supreme Leader challenging the regime.
After his family celebrate the unexpected good news, a question will arise: will Tajzadeh — formally banned for 10 years from political activity — defy the sentence and risk a return to prison?
His wife Fakhrosadat Mohtashamipour said on Saturday, “This is not the time to talk about such things.”
Shima Shahrabi writes for Iran Wire:
Reformist Mostafa Tajzadeh Released After Seven Years
You can hear laughter and rejoicing over the phone. My five-minute conversation with Fakhrosadat Mohtashamipour, wife of just-released political prisoner Mostafa Tajzadeh, can hardly be called an interview since it is interrupted time and again by the hellos and goodbyes of her guests. But hearing laughter coming from their home makes for a sweet memory.
To start, I ask her whether Tajzadeh will stop making the harsh criticisms of Iran’s leadership that have caused him so much trouble. “This is not the time to talk about such things,” she says after a short pause. “We hope things will cool down and other loved ones will be freed as well.”
Can one hope for a calmer political environment in Iran now? “We hope that this administration and this parliament will act in accordance with the constitution so that everyone can converse calmly,” she says.
On the night of Friday, June 3, Mostafa Tajzadeh turned up unexpectedly at home, surprising his wife. “He came at midnight,” she says.
She first reported his return via social media such as Facebook and Telegram:
My loved one is back! He is back!
It was so strange. He rang the doorbell to the apartment and came in. Thanks, thanks, thanks to God. Nobody had told me and I had just returned home. What if he had been stuck outside?
Tajzadeh was first arrested on June 13, 2009, just one day after disputed presidential elections returned incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to office. Like many other reformists who were arrested in the course of the ensuing crackdown, Tajzadeh was charged with attempting a “soft overthrow” of the government.
Since then, Mohtashamipour has acted not only on her husband’s behalf but for other political prisoners and their families as well. She has joined family members in prayer and has used social networks to write about how Iran’s security forces have treated them.
Seven Years in a “Quarantine Ward”
Tajzadeh has just been released following seven years in Evin Prison’s notorious “Quarantine Ward,” which as the name suggests is separate from the prison’s general population. He was often held in solitary confinement.
Before the events of 2009, Tajzadeh was already a prominent reformist. He was acting Interior Minister under Iran’s reformist President Mohammad Khatami, who held office from 1997 to 2005. He was also a senior member of the Islamic Iran Participation Front, a reformist party.
Following the 2009 elections, Tajzadeh was tried publicly along with numerous other people who had protested against the official results. During the trial, which was broadcast on Iranian state television, the camera often zoomed in on his face. He looked around in surprise at seeing his friends, companions, and fellow party members in blue prison uniforms.
Tajzadeh had two other court sessions but did not defend himself. According to the website Kaleme, he had refused to defend himself unless the court investigated his complaint against Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, chairman of Iran’s Guardian Council which officially vets and disqualifies electoral candidates.
Tajzadeh’s complaint dated back to the 2000 elections for Iran’s Sixth Parliament. At that time, Tajzadeh was head of the Interior Ministry’s Elections Headquarters. Jannati was the chairman of Elections Supervisory Board. Tajzadeh complained when the board invalidated 700,000 votes, making it possible for a conservative, Gholam Ali Haddad Adel, to be elected to parliament.
Tajzadeh faced trial at Branch 15 of the Tehran Revolutionary Court under Judge Abolghasem Salavati, a figure known for his harsh sentencing. Tajzadeh faced charges of “assembly and conspiracy against national security” and “propaganda against the regime.” Salavati gave him six years in prison and banned him from “political and media activities” for ten years.
But last year, as Tajzadeh’s sentence drew to a close, he wrote a critical open letter to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Courts sentenced him to another year in prison as punishment.
Over the past seven years, Tajzadeh has repeatedly sent his writings to the media through his wife. He is perhaps best known for an open letter he sent to Khamenei on October 17, 2011, in which he sharply criticized the ill-treatment of political prisoners and their families.
Prior to the 2016 elections for parliament and the Assembly of Experts, he wrote to Khamenei to protest the mass disqualification of reformist candidates at the hands of the Guardian Council. He warned Khamenei that if the disqualifications were not stopped, people would hold him responsible for acting against the interests of the country.
“We Opened the Doors of Deceit and Duplicity”
Tajzadeh has written many other open letters, including one about the justice system, which he dedicated to Neda Agha-Soltan, a young woman shot dead during a post-election demonstration in Tehran on June 20, 2009.
In another letter, he apologized for his own mistakes following the Islamic Revolution of 1979. After listing prominent political figures and religious authorities mistreated by the regime, such as Ayatollah Montazeri and Ayatollah Shariatmadari, he wrote:
We must apologize for forcing people into a certain lifestyle and for interfering in their private lives. We thought that as mere humans we could close the tavern doors without opening the doors of deceit and duplicity.
In a May 2016 letter addressed to Revolutionary Guards interrogators, he asked the Islamic Republic to apologize to the families of political prisoners killed in mass executions during the summer of 1988.
Even though the Iranian judiciary has dissolved Tajzadeh’s party, his persistent political activism from prison, and his resistance to pressure from interrogators and security officials, has made him one of the most popular reformist figures in Iran.