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Funeral Renews Focus On Musavi, Karrubi House Arrests

Mir Hossein Musavi (left) and Mehdi Karrubi at an August 2010 meeting
Mir Hossein Musavi (left) and Mehdi Karrubi at an August 2010 meeting
During the mass street demonstrations that followed Iran's disputed 2009 presidential vote, protesters warned of "Armageddon" if the government dared to arrest opposition leaders Mir Hossein Musavi and Mehdi Karrubi.

Yet Musavi and Karrubi and their wives are under house arrest, and have been for six weeks now. So where have their supporters' promises gone?

For now, on the surface at least, all appears to be quiet.

The government's house-arrest approach has allowed it to effectively isolate the two opposition leaders, keeping them out of the global public eye. Iran's security forces have successfully kept a damper on domestic outcry from spreading by thwarting the few planned rallies in support of Musavi and Karrubi.

An immediate public arrest or trial -- or the execution of the two, as some hard-liners have called for -- could have led to a violent reaction from their supporters.

But keeping them under house arrest, while cutting off their contacts to the outside world, Washington-based political analyst Ali Afshari suggests, may gradually "desensitize" public opinion over the fate of the men.

'Psychological Campaign'

Officials deny that Musavi and Karrubi are under arrest at all, saying only that they are at home. At the same time, hard-liners have called for putting the two on trial and jailing them.

Afshari, a former student leader, says it's all part of "psychological campaign" by the Iranian establishment.

"In such a situation people keep thinking that [Musavi and Karrubi] have not been jailed and they haven't been put on trial either, and they wait for that [before reacting]," Afshari says. "At the same time, people's anger and outrage that could lead to a potential protest gradually wears out."

Mojtaba Vahedi, a close aide to Karrubi, says the events in Libya and the two weeks of holiday that follow Norouz, the Persian New Year, have also contributed to the silence over the situation of Musavi and Karrubi.

But despite the apparent silence, Vahedi believes the opposition is still very much concerned and "sensitive" about the fate of Musavi and Karrubi.

"The fear of [Iranian leaders] from the two opposition leaders has [also] not diminished," Vahedi says. "If the establishment were to think that society and the international community was not sensitive anymore about the fate of the two, they wouldn't turn the funeral of [Musavi's] 102-year-old [father] into a security and immoral matter."

Difficult Conditions

Musavi was not allowed to attend the funeral of his father, Mir Esmail Musavi, on March 31. According to opposition sources, at least seven people were detained and the funeral was interrupted by security forces.

Mir Esmail Musavi (left) withhis son, opposition leader Mir Hossein Musavi, in an undated photo

Vahedi, who managed to talk briefly to Karrubi earlier this month before all contacts were cut, tells RFE/RL the opposition leaders and their wives are held under difficult conditions while being deprived of the basic rights other prisoners enjoy.

The children of the opposition leaders, who have managed to meet them briefly on a few occasions, have said that their houses are essentially real prisons, where security forces watch their every step.

Afshari tells RFE/RL their plight could continue for many months to come.

"It doesn't come at a cost for the establishment," Afshari says. "Also, the conditions in the region are such that the government feels vulnerable in the event protests similar to those in Arab countries were to break out again in Iran. It feels it has to have greater control and keeping Musavi and Karrubi under house arrest, and preventing them from playing a role, helps its political goal."

Vahedi says the opposition movement is planning a protest in response to the house arrest of its leaders. However, he declined to provide any details.

The need for patience was reportedly emphasized by Musavi when he was allowed to view his father's body on the night of his death, March 30.

"He kept saying 'patience, patience, and patience,'" Musavi's niece, Leila, wrote on her Facebook page. "I don't know whether he kept saying that to us, who were crying from the joy and pain of seeing them, or whether he was sending a message to the people."

She said Musavi and his wife, Zahra Rahnavard, were surrounded by male and female security forces who took them away quickly.
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    Golnaz Esfandiari

    Golnaz Esfandiari is managing editor of RFE/RL's Radio Farda, which breaks through government censorship to deliver accurate news and provide a platform for informed discussion and debate to audiences in Iran. She has reported from Afghanistan and Haiti and is one of the authors of The Farda Briefing newsletter. Her work has been cited by The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and other major publications. Born and raised in Tehran, she is fluent in Persian, French, English, and Czech.

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