On October 21, Iran’s judiciary denied President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad permission to visit his press advisor in Evin prison. Ali Akbar Javanfekr had been arrested and jailed for six months in September while Ahmadinejad was in New York for the U.N. General Assembly. The court convicted him of “insulting the Supreme Leader” and “publishing material contrary to Islamic codes and public morality.”
On October 22, the president wrote judiciary chief Ayatollah Sadegh Larijani that he had a constitutional right to visit the prison without the “permission or agreement of the judiciary.”
Two days later, Larijani countered that the president had an “incorrect understanding of the responsibilities of the three branches of power and the limits of duties.” He told Iran’s student news agency that “on no account will a visit to Evin prison be allowed without coordination.” On the same day, Larijani sent an open letter challenging Ahmadinejad to respect the constitution if he is truly “concerned about the protection of the people’s fundamental rights.”
The confrontation between the president and judiciary chief reflects growing domestic tensions as Ahmadinejad and his inner circle come under fire. The president now has few allies left in the government. His position began to weaken in April 2011, during a public dispute with Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei over Ahmadinejad’s dismissal of Intelligence Minister Heidar Moslehi. The president’s supporters also did poorly in both rounds of parliamentary elections in March and May 2012. And on October 23, 102 members of parliament signed a petition summoning Ahmadinejad for questioning on Iran’s growing economic crisis.
The following are excerpts from President Ahmadinejad’s letter, with responses from key Iranian leaders.
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to Ayatollah Sadegh Larijani
“You have twice insisted that inspecting Evin prison is not in the best interests of the country and you have said that you disapprove of it. But the constitution does not require any permission or approval from the judiciary for the president in administering his legal duties…
“How come administering the constitution is not in the best interests of the country? If that is the view that prevails in the judiciary, can't we assume that some constitutional laws and basic human rights are being violated or neglected – or sacrificed for the best interests of individuals in the judiciary?...
“In a situation where the president…is being so easily accused by you, how can [regular] people of this country, who have no supporter except God, ensure they have judicial security?...
“Based on what article of the constitution, can you [the judiciary] make a political interpretation of an issue and prevent the constitution’s implementation? Can you, as head of the judiciary, issue a verdict based on your political discretion?”
Ayatollah Sadegh Larijani
"This assumption that the president has supervision over other branches of power is totally wrong…It is unconstitutional to claim that the president has the right to visit prisons without permission from the judiciary." October 24 to the Iranian Students News Agency
Prosecutor General Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ejei
“As we are faced with special circumstances and the country's priorities are the economy and people's living conditions... visiting a prison is extraneous... and politically questionable.” October 21 to the Iranian Students New Agency and Mehr News
Hojatoleslam Ali Saeedi, Supreme Leader Khamenei’s representative in the IRGC
“The problem is that presidents confuse their roles and authority with the powers of the Supreme Leader... and they want act outside of their legal authority.” October 22 to Etemad newspaper