WASHINGTON -- On the day many Iranians were hoping to hear about the release of opposition leader Mir Hossein Musavi, his daughters were beaten up by security guards after a visit to their father, according to one of the women’s posts on Facebook.
The alleged incident on October 24 -- in which one of the daughters was bitten -- has led to anger and disappointment among opposition supporters who see it as a sign that the opposition leader will not be released anytime soon.
Musavi, along with his wife, Zahra Rahnavard, and reformist cleric Mehdi Karrubi, were put under house arrest in February 2011 after they called for a demonstration in solidarity with the Arab spring uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia.
Musavi and Karrubi had also challenged the 2009 reelection of President Mahmud Ahmadinejad by accusing the establishment of vote rigging and criticizing the postelection crackdown.
They were branded as "the leaders of the sedition" by the government.
Musavi and Rahnavard are confined to their house in central Tehran, and Karrubi is reportedly being held in an Intelligence Ministry safe house in northern Tehran. Their health has reportedly deteriorated as the result of their detention and they have been taken to the hospital several times.
This past summer’s election of President Hassan Rohani, who has pledged moderation at home and abroad, raised hopes that they might be released. Their detention conditions have reportedly slightly improved since Rohani took office in August.
The release of several political prisoners in recent weeks and reports that the opposition leaders’ case is being reviewed by a powerful state security council also contributed to the optimism.
Rumors circulated that the three might be released in time for the religious holiday of Eid Ghadeer, which was celebrated on October 24.
But on that day Musavi's daughter, Narges Musavi, wrote on Facebook that after she and her sister had lunch with their parents for the first time since their arrest, security guards, who had monitored the visit, assaulted them.
'Forced To Strip'
She said the attack took place after guards took them to an adjacent building and told them to strip. The two women refused to take off their underclothes and a female guard reportedly struck them.
“As I was trying to grab her hand to prevent her from attacking us any further, I faced her inhumane treatment when she savagely bit my entire wrist,” Narges Musavi wrote on Facebook.
The post and a picture
of what appears to be her bitten wrist went viral on social media and was picked up by Farsi-language media outside the country and news websites.
Many Iranians reacted angrily on social media, with some leaving comments on the Facebook pages of Iranian officials, including Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, whose page has more than 500,000 “likes.”
"Your back was damaged with a headline by [hard-line daily] 'Kayhan,' our back [was] broken with the slap on the face of Musavi's daughters," wrote one user, referring to Zarif’s back pain, which he said was triggered after the influential daily “misquoted” him.
There have been widespread calls to release Musavi and Karrubi, who are seen as heroes by many Iranians despite the establishment's attempts to make the public forget them.
Prominent Iranian lawmaker Mohammad Reza Bahonar said last week that the two men could influence their release by changing their positions.
"They created a lot of damage to the revolution, the establishment, and national interests. They cannot compensate for everything they did, and they should repent in the presence of God. But they can compensate to some extent and that would definitely affect the establishment's decisions," Bahonar said.
A political analyst in Tehran, who asked not to be named, said authorities are afraid that their release could trigger street celebrations that would embarrass the clerical establishment.
"Many of those who celebrated in the streets after Rohani was elected were calling for the release of Musavi and Karrubi,” the analyst said. “Authorities are not sure how people will react. There is also no guarantee -- for Iranian authorities -- that [the opposition leaders] will remain quiet if released.”