Alongside the backdrop of ongoing tensions on the streets of Iran, former President Ahmadinejad entered the scene once again, lashing out at the regime’s handling of recent protests with criticism aimed directly at Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.
Referring to the recent spate of detainee deaths labeled “suicides” by government authorities, Ahmadinjad publicly accused Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) of reckless detentions and executions covered-up with excuses such calling the detainees “drug addicts” who committed suicide.
Speaking outside the courthouse where former ally Hamid Baghaei is currently on trial for corruption, Ahmadinejad criticized the judiciary after he was denied entry to the trial which was initially declared open to the public.
In reference to last week’s 39th anniversary of the Iranian revolution, Ahmadinejad insisted that “the Revolution happened so that people can express themselves and stand up for their rights” and queried Khamenei’s lack of accountability when claiming government bodies are acting independently.
Now, more than a month after economic pressures in Iran sparked widespread protests across the country, the environment on the streets is still described as “tense.”
In the final days of December, protesters who were initially angered by Iranian economic policies but quickly moved to express outrage against the theocratic regime and its policies of funding terror groups abroad over the plight of its own citizens, filled the streets of urban, rural and suburban areas in the country.
Government forces arrested thousands of protesters and several died while in detention; deaths the Iranian regime labeled “suicides” but were widely questioned.
Currently, several students arrested during the protests remain in custody with no access to lawyers, despite the regime’s public statements alleging that all detained students have been freed.
President Hassan Rouhani claims to have appointed a committee to investigate recent “regrettable incidents” at Iranian prisons, according to a statement on his website Wednesday.
“The committee is tasked with investigating the issues and reporting back to the president about possible negligence in this regard,” the statement said.
The latest reported prison death was Kavous Seyed Emami, a 63-year-old renowned Canadian-Iranian environmentalist accused of a being a CIA and Mossad spy. Iran alleges Emami killed himself in his prison cell last week; a claim his family has rejected.
“Just before the current uprising, Ahmadinejad had publicly challenged the supreme legitimacy of Khamenei, saying that people are allowed to disagree with the Supreme Leader, a statement unprecedented under the fearsome,” Iranian analyst Faryar Nikbakht told The Foreign Desk.
“Right now, all Iranian opposition groups and personalities are trying to catch up to the uprising, to lead it or at least jump on its band wagon,” Nikbakht said. “Ahmadinejad is trying to ride the street storm and place himself at the leadership of the new “opposition.””
Ahmadinjad, who remains popular among certain lower socio-economic brackets and conservative clerics in Iran for his anti-Western and anti-Semitic rhetoric, attempted a comeback in 2016 before bowing to the wishes of the Supreme Leader who vetoed his run in the 2017 presidential election.
“Ahmadinejad was humiliated by the Supreme Leader, when Khamenei “advised” him not to run for President again in 2016. Internal struggle over power and billions of dollars has always been the crux of the IRI internal conflicts,” Nikbakht said.
“There is a huge fight over the succession to Khamenei and most of the current conflict within the upper echelons of the Islamist regime in Iran are over this issue in addition to the regular dethroning of fallen officials and grabbing their loot,” he added.
In December, Ahmadinejad also criticized the judiciary, sarcastically suggesting that they wielded more power than the Supreme Leader.