Rights Group Accuses Rouhani Of Helping Destroy Iran’s Civil Society
Hadi Ghaemi, Executive Director of the United States-based Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI), has accused President Hassan Rouhani of complicity with security agencies and the judiciary in “destroying civil society,” including NGOs like the Imam Ali Popular Students Relief Society.
“Mr. Rouhani gained people’s votes by [promising] respect for citizens’ rights but his government is now axing the civil society,” Ghaemi said in a CHRI statement released on Thursday [March 4]. He stressed that given Iran’s difficult social and economic situation, it was imperative that NGOs such as the Imam Ali Society were allowed to exist.
Following a motion from the Interior Ministry − which registers and regulates non-governmental organizations − a court on Wednesday ordered the society disbanded. Saeid Dehghan, one of the attorneys for the Imam Ali Society, in a tweet Wednesday said the verdict had been dictated, presumably by higher-up judicial authorities and security agencies including those of the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC).
A statement issued by the society on June 22, 2020 after the previous day’s arrest of Sharmin Meymandinejad, the group’s founder, named the IRGC as the plaintiff. Meymandinejad has been charged with insulting the founder of the Islamic Republic Ruhollah Khomeini and his successor Ali Khamenei as well as with acting against national security.
A few months before Meymandinejad’s arrest Keyhan, the flagship principlist newspaper, claimed the charity was exploiting government services to expand its influence while using students “to recruit the impoverished” for political ends.
United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet called in July for Meymandinejad’s release, adding to similar calls from other world figures and international rights organizations.
Imam Ali Popular Students Relief Society is Iran’s largest NGO and the only one with consultative status with the United Nations. It has a nationwide network doing charity work that has often rivalled, or excelled, the work of the state’s official charities such as Execution of Imam Khomeini’s order (EIKO) and Astan-e Qods-e Razavi, which have become economic conglomerates. Both are sanctioned under United States policy of ‘maximum pressure’ on Iran.
“The ruling to disband the Imam Ali Society is a continuation of the systematic state policy of using the courts to do the bidding of the security agencies,” Ghaemi said. “This policy aims at creating parallel organization under its own control in order to eliminate independent and effective organizations from the society.”
As examples of parallel and seemingly-independent organizations created to replace real NGOs, Ghaemi has named Jamiat Emam Rezaeeha, or the Imam Reza Society, led by Mohammad-Hasan Yekta, a former IRGC commander. Yekta was an adviser to the Chief Justice Ebrahim Raeesi when he headed the Astan-e Gods-e Razavi and a parallel body, the Legal Advice Center, created by the judiciary to replace the Iran Central Bar Association.