Hamid Baghaei is one of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s closest allies
In another blow to the camp of Iran’s former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Hamid Baghaei — Vice President from 2011 to 2013 — has been imprisoned for corruption.
Baghaei was first detained in 2015 on the charges and again in summer 2017. Reports in December initially said he had been given a 63-year punishment, but the term was later reported as 15 years.
Baghaei, who was Vice President for Executive Affairs, is a close ally of Ahmadinejad and was a high-profile part of the former President’s effort to maintain a frontline presence in Iranian politics, often by criticizing others in the regime. Both he and Ahmadinejad were blocked by the Guardian Council from standing in the 2017 Presidential election.
Last autumn, Baghaei and another senior advisor threatened by prison, Ali Akbar Javanfekr, sought sanctuary in a south Tehran mosque. The area briefly became a rallying point, with Ahmadinejad giving fiery speeches.
Ahmadinejad has continued to jab at the current Iranian leaders, even supporting nationwide protests in January and — ironically, given his disputed re-election in 2009 which sparked mass protests — calling for free and fair votes in the Islamic Republic.
But the former President is struggling against the pressure of the Iranian system, with Baghaei’s detention confirming the challenge.
Another Ahmadinejad Vice President, Mohammad Reza Rahimi, was convicted of fraud in 2015 and is serving a five-year sentence. A Parliamentary Audit Court has ordered Ahmadinejead to repay $1.3 billion of Government funds which he allegedly diverted, although that punishment is symbolic and unlikely to ever be enforced.
Prominent Academic Zibakalam Given 18-Month Sentence
One of Iran’s leading academics, Tehran University professor Sadegh Zibakalam, has been sentenced to 18 months in prison for “spreading anti-state propaganda”.
Zibakalam said Wednesday that he has been banned from political and social activities, including writing for newspapers, giving interviews, and using social media, for two years.
The professor of political science was summoned by judicial authorities last week over an interview with Deutsche Welle’s Persian service earlier this year. His offense was to say that internal public discontent was the main factor behind nationwide protests in January, rather than repeating the regime line that external enemies had fomented the unrest.
He repeated the statement on Wednesday, “It’s because of the youth’s discontent with political, social and economic policies, and I predicted that just like the 2009 protests, the authorities will blame outsiders.”
Zibakalam’s trial was overseen by the hardline Judge Abolghassem Salavati, known for his lengthy sentences on political prisoners. The professor chose to appear without a lawyer “because accusations against me, in essence, are political”: “In my defense, I asked the judge if in this country we’re allowed to have an opinion which is different from that of the establishment.”
In 2014, Zibakalam was ordered to pay a fine of 40 million rials (about $825) for questioning in a public letter how beneficial Iran’s nuclear programme has been to the country.