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Source: RFE/RL

Apr 28, 2023

Iran Arrests Activists After 'Clubhouse' Meeting Calls For New Political System

By Golnaz Esfandiari and Kianush Farid

Iranian political activist Abdollah Momeni did not mince his words when describing the clerical establishment, comparing it to a drunken captain steering his ship toward a cliff.

The passengers on the ship, Momeni said, needed to take control and change course before it was too late.

“I believe the Iranian nation is currently facing such a situation,” Momeni said. “Finding a way to save Iran…is the natural reaction of the people, who want to prevent the destruction of their today and the tomorrow of their children.”

Momeni, a former student leader who was previously jailed, made the comments during a virtual event on the popular app Clubhouse during which dozens of rights campaigners, political prisoners, and academics called for a transition to a new, democratic political system in Iran.

Days later, on April 27, police arrested Momeni at his home in Tehran and confiscated his electronic devices.

Two others were also arrested over the Clubhouse meeting: journalist Kayvan Samimi and political activist and publisher Alireza Beheshti Shirazi.

The arrests come amid a state crackdown on dissent in the wake of the antiestablishment protests that rocked the country for months. The demonstrations that erupted in September were the biggest challenge to the clerical regime in years.

During the rallies, protesters called for greater social and political freedoms and the end of clerical rule. Opposition figures and civil society groups have called for a referendum on protesters' demands and the drafting of a new constitution that could pave the way for a new political system.

Political activist and publisher Alireza Beheshti Shirazi

More than 40 prominent figures inside and outside of Iran spoke at the Clubhouse event -- called To Save Iran -- held on April 21.

Many of them blasted the political repression and economic incompetence of the clerical establishment.

Nine of the attendees shared their written comments from prison, including jailed rights advocate Narges Mohammadi, reformist politician Mostafa Tajzadeh, and sociologist Saeed Madani.

Some of the participants were former aides or advisers to opposition figure Mir Hossein Musavi, a former prime minister who has been under house arrest since 2011.

Mir Hossein Musavi and his wife, Zahra Rahnavard

In February, the 80-year-old called for the "fundamental transformation" of Iran's theocratic political system, proposing the holding of a "free" referendum and the drafting of a new constitution. The proposal received support from prominent figures inside and outside the country.

Shirazi, who served as an adviser to Musavi, was arrested on April 25. During the virtual meeting, he said “change is a certainty, and we must prepare ourselves for it."

Ghorban Behzadian Nejad, the head of Musavi’s 2009 presidential election campaign, was summoned for questioning after the Clubhouse meeting. During the event, Nejad said Iran was caught in “a whirlwind of crisis.”

Reports said police searched his house in Tehran and confiscated his personal belongings. He was told to appear in court on April 30, the reports said.

Iranian journalist Kayvan Samimi

Samimi, a veteran journalist who was among the three arrested over the Clubhouse event, called for the creation of a democratic “front” that would bring together Iranians inside and outside the country opposed to the regime.

“Those inside the country are likely to face pressure, threats, and arrests, but have no fear because others from the front outside the country will work with international organizations and even some governments to create pressure and secure the release of those who might get arrested,” said Samimi, in a recorded video message shown during the meeting.

The 74-year-old was arrested on April 20, just a day before the online meeting. He has been arrested on several occasions in the past.

Clubhouse has become a major platform for dialogue among Iranians who join virtual chat rooms to hear from analysts, journalists, and dissidents. The April 21 discussion was open to the public, and a list of the speakers was announced ahead of time.

It was unclear what Momeni, Shirazi, and Samimi were charged with.

The news site Jamejamonline, affiliated with Iran’s state TV, said Shirazi and Nejad were facing charges over their alleged ties to “the opposition outside the country and anti-revolutionary individuals.”

Paris-based political activist Mohammad Javad Akbarein, one of the organizers of the online meeting, said the state crackdown will not deter dissenters.

“Yes, [the authorities] arrest them,” he said. “They’ve already arrested three over the meeting, and there could be more arrests. But the establishment has obviously failed when it uses all the tools of [repression] and still doesn’t control the courage [of the people].”

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