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Defiance Thrusts Iranian Lawmaker Into Spotlight

  • Golnaz Esfandiari
Iranian parliamentary deputy Mahmoud Sadeghi has been an irritant to Iran's conservative and hard-line establishment (file photo).

Iranian parliamentary deputy Mahmoud Sadeghi has been an irritant to Iran's conservative and hard-line establishment (file photo).

A reformist junior lawmaker creates a buzz for challenging Iranian authorities -- and facing down the cops.

Until recently, Mahmud Sadeghi was an obscure legal expert whose most conspicuous professional accomplishment was a two-year advisory stint with Iran's Education Ministry.

That changed with the 54-year-old's election to parliament in Iran's tightly controlled elections in February, as one of 133 relative moderates allied with reformist President Hassan Rohani to have won seats in the 290-seat legislature, known as the Majlis.

Government critics hoped their gains in parliament, and in the influential Assembly of Experts, would mark their return to relevance after more than a decade on the political sidelines.

Junior lawmaker Sadeghi, for his part, has been an irritant to the conservative and hard-line establishment ever since.

He has aired defiant criticism of state repression and censorship, grabbing the spotlight late this month as the target of an abortive arrest after he expressed suspicions around the financial dealings of one of Iran's most powerful political figures, Judiciary head Sadegh Larijani. (Larijani has rejected the allegations as "lies.")

Sadeghi rebuffed the security officers who arrived at his home on November 27 by citing parliamentary immunity, but it was arguably the mobilization of supporters via digital media that set the incident apart from other such raids in Iran.

News spread quickly on social media, users shared his address, and colleagues and activists gathered outside his house to prevent his arrest.

The officers backed down, although Tehran's prosecutor has pledged that Sadeghi must turn himself in or face detention.

Sadeghi then vowed via Twitter that "pressure" would not prevent him and other lawmakers from "seeking transparency and fighting corruption in all [Iran's state] institutions.

A 'Glimmer Of Hope'

Judiciary officials and hard-line media reported that Sadeghi was accused of "spreading lies" by private plaintiffs.

Sympathizers including deputy parliament speaker Ali Motahari suggested that Sadeghi's challenge of Larijani was the real reason for the pressure.

A number of Iranians have come out on social media to speak in support of Sadeghi, with some praising his "courage" and another suggesting that Sadeghi and Motahari alone deserve to be called people's representatives in the Iranian parliament, widely known as being a powerless body.

"[Mahmud] Sadeghi is the best reformist lawmaker in the parliament," wrote a Twitter user.

Another described Sadeghi as a "glimmer of hope" on the so-called List Of Hope, a reference to the coalition of reformist and pragmatist candidates ahead of February's elections.

"This gathering, the people's support, the writings -- all of these, the public opinion pressure is aimed at preventing anything from happening to the only truthful [politician] of this system," tweeted journalist Fateme Beykpour.

Attracting Attention

Even before the attempted arrest, Sadeghi, had garnered attention for condemning the arrest of journalists and criticizing Iran's aggressive filtering of Twitter.

Sadeghi was among 15 lawmakers who signed a letter to Larijani calling for a review of a 16-year prison sentence handed down to a leading human rights defender, Narges Mohammadi.

In an October speech to the parliament, Sadeghi blasted the arrest of a "significant number of journalists and media workers" on "vague accusations" -- including alleged "infiltration" by enemies -- that were raised by hard-liners following Iran's 2015 deal with world powers to curb its nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief.

On November 12, Sadeghi said he would work to eliminate the filtering of Twitter, which is widely used by even the most senior Iranian officials despite Iranian authorities' routine denunciations of such digital platforms as tools of the West.

"The filtering of Twitter has no justification," Sadeghi tweeted. "The activity of senior establishment officials and many figures in this social networking site is proof."

Days later, the lawmaker criticized a state ban on the commemoration of the killing of political dissidents Dariush and Parvaneh Forouhar, a crime that Iranian authorities blamed on "rogue" Intelligence Ministry agents.

Sadeghi said neither the "savage murders" of the Forouhars nor the ban on their death commemorations was defensible.

Iranian Koran reciter Saeed Tusi has vowed to fight accusations of sexual abuse.

Iranian Koran reciter Saeed Tusi has vowed to fight accusations of sexual abuse.

An Iranian Koran reciter known for appearing at state events has been accused of sexually abusing his students.

A prominent Iranian Koran reciter and teacher is facing allegations of sexual abuse lodged against him by several of his students, who claim that he sexually assaulted them several years ago.

Saeed Tusi who is known for reciting the Koran at state events attended by senior officials, including Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has denied the allegations against him as "false and spurious," and suggested the story was suitable only for the movies.

WATCH: Saeed Tusi Recites The Koran In The Presence Of Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei

Judiciary spokesman Hojatoleslam Mohseni Ejei said last week that "four plaintiffs" brought allegations against the 46-year-old Tusi, who rejects them. Ejei did not say specifically what charges Tusi might face, other than to say he was being investigated for "encouraging" moral corruption, but he confirmed that a court had decided that Tusi would not face prosecution for "acting" against public morals.

Ejei said a "religious and experienced" judge was being consulted and added that the case was being reviewed with "sensitivity."

"Some of the charges are difficult to prove. It is possible that the plaintiffs are right, but it is difficult to prove," Ejei told reporters last week.

"We've always had such cases, before the [1979] revolution and after," he added.

One of the plaintiffs quoted in a report published by the Persian service of the BBC on October 23 claimed that Tusi abused him twice, "five or six years ago," when he was "12 or 13."

The plaintiff, who requested anonymity, said he came from a religious family and that he met with Tusi because he thought that "Koran experts such as Tusi" could be a stepping stone to success.

He claimed that Tusi asked "unusual questions," including about puberty. Later, the teenager claimed, Tusi used the warm weather as an excuse to take him to a public bath and sexually abused him there.

"He did some things that are so shameful that I can't say," the teenager told the BBC.

It is unknown whether the charges could include homosexual rape, which could carry the death penalty.

The teen said that out of "fear" and "shame" he did not speak publicly about the alleged abuse. He said he decided to speak out about what he went through after he learned that others had experienced similar abuse.

He said later they later filed complaints against Tusi.

"It's been five years, 5 1/2 years now, and we haven't seen any action on the part of the government and the country," he said.

'Divine Test'

The teenager claimed he and others have provided the court with strong evidence, including "two repentance letters signed by Tusi" and text messages Tusi had sent.

Tusi has said that was prompted to publicly defend himself after "the satellite channel of the voice of the Great Satan," a term that the Islamic republic uses to describe the United States, covered the allegations against him.

He appeared to be referring to the Persian service of Voice of America (VOA), a U.S. government-funded media outlet, which was the first outside Iran to interview one of Tusi's accusers.

In an October 20 statement posted by the semiofficial ISNA news agency on its website, Tusi warned that he would take "legal steps" to preserve his reputation, and expressed hope that he would be able to successfully overcome this "divine test."

The Koran reciter claimed he had never engaged in "such sins" and "actions incompatible with chastity."

The accusations against Tusi have generated numerous messages of support and criticism.

"Death to America," wrote one commenter on ISNA's website. "I ask people not to believe these lies."

A Twitter user, meanwhile, wrote sarcastically that "holding concerts goes against the goals of the Islamic republic" -- a reference to recent efforts by conservatives to halt the staging of concerts in the religious centers of Qom and Mashhad -- "but raping children in Koran classes is in line with their religious upbringing."

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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.