Alleged Role In State Crackdown Haunts Rohani's New Communications Minister
Golnaz Esfandiari August 20, 2017
Mohammad Javad Azari Jahromi is young and successful, but allegations about his past could come back to haunt him.
The 36-year-old electrical engineer, ICT manager, and deputy communications minister was nominated last week by Iranian President Hassan Rohani to lead the country's Communications Ministry. He was approved, along with 15 other cabinet picks, by parliament on August 20.
Jahromi thus becomes the Islamic republic's youngest-ever cabinet minister and, as Rohani noted, the first to have been born after the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
But his alleged role in the 2009 state crackdown that followed the disputed reelection of President Mahmud Ahmadinejad is leading some to question his fitness for office.
Hundreds of activists, politicians, journalists, intellectuals, and others were detained after participating in the mass protests that followed the 2009 vote.
Following Jahromi's nomination, several of those detained claimed -- some on social media, others through intermediaries -- that he was present during their interrogation sessions in 2009 and helped security forces search their homes and personal belongings.
The New York-based Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) says it has confirmed that five activists who campaigned for opposition leader and defeated presidential candidate Mir Hossein Musavi, who has been under house arrest since 2011, were personally interrogated by Jahromi.
Hamzeh Ghalebi, who campaigned for opposition leader Mir Hossein Musavi, said on Twitter that one of his friends had been interrogated by Jahromi, who, he claimed, had been abusive.
"He confirmed that Jahromi was his interrogator and that he had a very bad and insulting behavior," Ghalebi wrote.
CHRI said those raising the accusations against Jahromi are refusing to speak out publicly due to fear of retribution by security forces.
The rights group has also said that Jahromi, who worked in the feared Intelligence Ministry from 2005-09, built parts of "Iran's massive surveillance infrastructure."
The opposition website Kalame.com claimed earlier this month that Jahromi had become the head of surveillance at the Intelligence Ministry in 2009.
"The choice resulted in the expansion of the state surveillance and its use in the crackdown [on protesters]," the reports said.
Iranian pro-reform lawmaker Mahmud Sadeghi said on Twitter on August 11 that Jahromi had expressed readiness to meet with those claiming he had interrogated him.
But a Tehran-based journalist later said that the meeting didn't take place.
"Two of those claiming Jahromi interviewed them were supposed to come to the [reformist faction of parliament] and face him. But it was opposed," journalist Ehsan Bodaghi posted on Twitter.
In an August 13 interview with the government daily Iran, Jahromi rejected the accusations against him.
He said in 2009 he worked at the Intelligence Ministry as "the general manager of communications systems."
"All of the reports published in recent weeks regarding my activities, with the use of certain phrases, are aimed at defaming me," Jahromi said.
"I worked in the Intelligence Ministry, but unfortunately there's this approach that whoever works in that ministry is bad. If the [Intelligence] Ministry is bad, then why has it been created?" he asked.
Jahromi added that the Intelligence Ministry is one of Iran's most important institutions for establishing "security" in society.
"There are talks about my work at the Intelligence Ministry in 2009, that I did this and that. The Intelligence Ministry complex I worked at was fully engineering and, as a matter of fact, the highest development in all the country was seen there," he said.
On August 12, Jahromi told a group of lawmakers that he had not been in charge of surveillance at the Intelligence Ministry.
"I wasn't responsible for surveillance, but rather I was in charge of the technical infrastructure for the surveillance industry, and I consider it an honor," he said.
He also said the country needs surveillance due to "security issues."
Many Iranians, particularly political activists, are worried about the country's surveillance efforts, particularly since the 2009 crackdown.
CHRI says that while Jahromi was working in the Intelligence Ministry in 2009, "the Iranian government was on a buying spree to modernize its electronic spying operations and strengthen its ability to intercept messages and hack citizens' online accounts."
"I even remember my interrogator talking about conversations that I had only had with another person on the phone," an activist told the Center for Human Rights In Iran. "It was impossible for anyone to have known about them without phone tapping."
Prominent journalist and former Culture Ministry official Issa Saharkhiz, who was jailed in 2009, has said that authorities had traced him through his cellular phone.
"Selecting a man who said he's proud of making the technical infrastructure for the surveillance industry is a sharp shift from Rohani's election campaign promises to protect citizens' rights," CHRI Director Hadi Ghaemi said in an August 16 statement.
Ghaemi added that Rohani should have nominated "someone who will protect citizens' rights, not someone linked to human rights violations."
During the August 15 parliament session where his candidacy was reviewed, a lawmaker warned that, under Jahromi, the Communications Ministry could be turned into a "second Intelligence Ministry."
Others, including Mohammad Ali Abtahi, who served as vice president to reformist President Mohammad Khatami, praised Rohani for nominating Jahromi.
"I heard some say Jahromi previously served in the Intelligence Ministry. First of all, half of the members of the cabinet have an intelligence background. Secondly, Jahromi worked in the technical department of the Intelligence Ministry," Abtahi wrote on his channel on the popular app Telegram.
He added that Jahromi has been standing against state filtering.
"I thank Rohani for trusting a young man under 40 to lead a ministry," Abtahi wrote.
Copyright (c) 2017. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.
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