A day after Iran’s judiciary turned down a request by President Mahmud Ahmadinejad to visit Tehran’s Evin prison, the combative president has accused the judiciary of unconstitutional behavior.
Ahmadinejad had asked to visit the notorious prison following the imprisonment of his press adviser, Ali Akbar Javanfekr, who was detained in September while the Iranian president was attending the UN General Assembly in New York.
The judiciary -- one of the country’s three top political branches, along with the presidency and the parliament -- publicly reacted to the demand by calling the visit inappropriate at a time when the country is facing mounting economic problems exacerbated by Ahmadinejad’s economic mismanagement and Western sanctions.
"We must pay attention to major issues," Prosecutor-General Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ejei said, adding, “Visiting a prison in these circumstances is a minor issue."
In a sharply worded letter to the head of the judiciary, Javad Larijani, Ahmadinejad struck back by listing a number of articles in Iran's Constitution concerning the responsibilities of the judiciary and the president.
"I have to remind you that in the constitution, there is nothing that requires asking permission or agreement of the judiciary when it comes to exercising the president's legal duties,” he wrote.
'Very Harsh Attack'
Iran watchers see the escalating public dispute as further proof of the bitter power struggle ongoing within the Islamic republic, a power struggle that has significantly weakened but which has failed to fully neutralize the Iranian president, whose second and final term ends in 2013.
Paris-based political analyst Morteza Kazemian told RFE/RL's Radio Farda that Ahmadinejad’s letter demonstrates that he will continue to publicly spar with his powerful rivals, who are close to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
“In reaction to the humiliation he faced from Mohseni Ejei, Ahmadinejad launched a very harsh attack against the head of the judiciary. It shows that he is determined to make the maximum use of his position with an eye on the future presidential election," Kazemian says. "He is not willing to easily give the presidency to his rivals.”
In his letter, Ahmadinejad said that his demand to visit Evin -- which Ejei linked to the imprisonment of his aide Javanfekr – was aimed at seeing “how the nation’s rights are being preserved,” which he would report to the nation and the supreme leader.
Ahmadinejad said the jailing of Javanfekr, who was sentenced to six months for publishing materials contrary to Islam and for insulting Khamenei, was unjust, and asked in his letter, “How do you know that meeting with [Javanfekr] was on my work agenda?”
Ahmadinejad's demand to visit the prison -- home to many of Iran’s political prisoners, including those sentenced for protesting his disputed reelection in 2009 -- has been met with raised eyebrows by many in Iran’s media and political circles.
Journalist Mehdi Mahdaviazad believes the president’s sudden interest in Evin is a politically calculated move. Ahmadinejad has in the past been accused of trying to influence the 2013 presidential vote.
A prison guard stands along a corridor in Tehran's Evin prison. (file photo)
“Ahmadinejad, with his shrewd moves and games, is every day inciting the centers of power allied with Khamenei," Mahdaviazad says. "His latest game is his alleged interest to visit Evin after [not going during] seven years in power. Yet we know very well that he doesn’t care about the prisoners' conditions and democracy.”
Analysts say this latest move has marginalized Ahmadinejad even further and turned some of his former hard-line backers against him.
In an October 22 interview with the daily “Etemad,” Khamenei’s representative in the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Force (IRGC), Ali Saeedi, is quoted as saying that he regrets his past support for Ahmadinejad.
“We did not have the prescience to know what was going on in Ahmadinejad’s mind and what he wanted to do in the future," Saeedi says.
He said he personally told the Iranian president that he could have been a hero.
Radio Farda broadcaster Babak Ghafooriazar contributed to this report