x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Iranian diplomat linked to reformists detained in Tehran

Bagher Asadi, who has previously been a senior diplomat at Iran's UN mission in New York and was most recently a director at the secretariat of the so-called D8 group of developing nations in Istanbul, was arrested in mid-March.

UNITED NATIONS // A senior Iranian diplomat linked to Iran's reformists was detained in Tehran in March, possibly as part of a crackdown on dissidents ahead of the June presidential election, sources familiar with the case said.

Bagher Asadi, who has previously been a senior diplomat at Iran's UN mission in New York and was most recently a director at the secretariat of the so-called D8 group of developing nations in Istanbul, was arrested in mid-March in the Iranian capital according to the sources, who requested anonymity.

"We don't know why Ambassador Asadi was arrested," a source said, adding that it could be part of a pre-election crackdown.

It was not clear where Mr Asadi was being held, the sources said. It was also unclear who arrested the 61-year-old and on what grounds.

Iran's reformists have been sidelined since Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the conservative former mayor of Tehran, won the presidential election in 2005, replacing reformist Mohammad Khatami.

Iran's UN mission did not respond to a request for comment on the alleged arrest of Mr Asadi, who in 2003 was appointed by former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan to a panel of eminent persons on UN relations with civil society. Emails sent to Iran's foreign ministry and interior ministry generated automated responses that said their mailboxes were full.

Last month Ahmed Shaheed, the UN special rapporteur on human rights in Iran, said Tehran's silencing of journalists and opposition leaders could jeopardise the legitimacy of the presidential election in June.

Mr Shaheed said dozens of Iranian journalists were behind bars, including 17 arrested during one week in January, and charged with communicating with foreign news outlets or rights groups. He added at least 10 lawyers were in custody for "spreading propaganda against the system" and other charges.

Opposition leaders Mehdi Karoubi and Mirhossein Mousavi, both candidates in the 2009 presidential election, are under house arrest following mass protests over alleged fraud in the re-election of Mr Ahmadinejad that year.

Some analysts say Iran's clerical leadership sees the risk of more serious unrest in the June 14 election and is cracking down in advance to minimise the impact.

In January 2004, Mr Asadi wrote an opinion piece that ran in the New York Times in which he made clear his affinities with the reformist philosophy of Mr Khatami.

At that time, Mr Khatami's push for reforms was buckling in the face of fierce opposition from conservatives. Mr Asadi warned that conservative victories in 2003 local elections had emboldened "the conservative bloc and its authoritarian fringe," who were determined to retake Iran's parliament, the Majlis.

He warned of the potential negative consequences of a conservative victory in the 2005 presidential election. Mr Ahmadinejad won that election.

After Mr Ahmadinejad took office, Iran was hit with four rounds of UN Security Council sanctions over its nuclear programme, along with more draconian US and European sanctions.

Mr Ahmadinejad, who is completing his second and final term, has since fallen out of favor with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.