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Iran's President-Elect Pressed Over Release Of Opposition Leaders

National Confidence reformist party Mehdi Karrubi (left) and former Iranian Prime Minister Mir Hossein Musavi.

National Confidence reformist party Mehdi Karrubi (left) and former Iranian Prime Minister Mir Hossein Musavi.

The release of Iran's opposition leaders Mir Hossein Musavi and Mehdi Karrubi, who have been under house arrest for more than two years, has been one of the main demands of some of those Iranians who voted for President-elect Hassan Rohani.

In his campaign, Rohani reportedly promised that he would help release the two men -- both of whom challenged the disputed reelection in 2009 of Mahmud Ahmadinejad and condemned alleged postelection human rights abuses. Musavi, along with his wife Zahra Rahnavard, and reformist cleric Karrubi were put under house arrest in February 2011 following their call for a demonstration in support of the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt.

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In his first press conference, Rohani was asked indirectly by a reporter with the "Etemad" daily about his campaign promise to release the opposition figures.

The reporter, identified as Mohammad Hossein Mehrzad, asked Rohani about the country's police atmosphere.

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"You said many times in your election campaign that one of your goals is to eradicate the security atmosphere in the country and turn it into a political atmosphere. I have a serious example of this security atmosphere: What is your program for ending the restriction on some political figures who were among the leaders of the [1979 Islamic] Revolution?" Mehrzad asked.

WATCH in this IRINN broadcast as Rohani is asked about the "restrictions" on some of the politicians who were revolutionary leaders three decades ago:

"People changed the atmosphere," responded Rohani, adding: "It was agreed that the government will create an atmosphere of friendship, a cultural atmosphere. Thank God these days people changed the atmosphere."

Rohani also said that some issues will take time.

"Many issues are not just the work of a president and the executive branch alone. The three branches should work together. But I'm hopeful that the atmosphere will change and the ground will be paved for the realization of many of the demands."

The intrepid reporter didn't give up. He pressed Rohani by asking whether he promised that he would pursue the demand.

"So the things I said were what?" responded Rohani, laughing and eliciting laughter from the assembled media.

It's unclear whether Rohani will be able to deliver. The house arrest was reportedly imposed following orders from Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

The release of the opposition figures would be a positive sign for the opposition movement, and many of those who following Rohani's win chanted slogans in support of Musavi and Karrubi.

-- Golnaz Esfandiari

About This Blog

Persian Letters is a blog that offers a window into Iranian politics and society. Written primarily by Golnaz Esfandiari, Persian Letters brings you under-reported stories, insight and analysis, as well as guest Iranian bloggers -- from clerics, anarchists, feminists, Basij members, to bus drivers.