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Majles Deputies Face Major New Restrictions

by RASOOL NAFISI

13 Apr 2011 04:31Comments

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Proposed legislation would effectively criminalize parliamentary dissent.

[ comment ] The Majles in Iran, despite all the measures taken to limit its powers, still enjoys a limited independence. It includes a minority faction that occasionally speaks up, associates with Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and other out-of-favor figures, and opposes President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's policies. To put an end to this semblance of independence, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in June 2010 ordered Majles deputies reined in by a "supervisory group." In a meeting with the Majles leadership, Khamenei said there is a need for a certain mechanism in the parliament to control those who "abuse" their positions, thus kicking off another round of measures to weaken the Majles.

Under Khamenei, the Guardian Council has grown in power, and the immunity granted to the deputies by Article 86 of the Constitution has been violated. The Sixth Majles, which was largely controlled by the reformists, witnessed the routine harassment and even detention of deputies. Some were later arrested largely for their statements and activities in parliament. Ali Akbar Mousavi Khoeini, who bravely advocated on behalf of student activists and other political prisoners, was later arrested and tortured. Other deputies who also defended students' and prisoners' rights like Fatemeh Haghighatjoo and Ali Tajernia suffered similar fates.

Ever since Khamenei ordered a supervisory body to control the Majles deputies, efforts have been made mainly by the faction of Principlists, the ultra-conservative representatives, to circumvent the Constitution and restrict the freedoms of speech and voting guaranteed by Article 86. A previous round of discussion held in late 2010 failed. At the time, Mehdi Karroubi, a former Majles speaker and one of the leaders of the Green Movement, strongly criticized the idea of a supervisory body and equated it to "killing" the Majles. He pleaded with the legislators not to turn their body into the regime's rubber stamp. Employing a clerical mode of speech, Karroubi said to the deputies: "Do not bear the shame of approving such a bill that is a coup de grâce for the Majles. Let those who want to do so carry it out from outside the Majles." Even the staunchly conservative Grand Ayatollah Lotfollah Safi Golapayegani spoke against the measure. He said by creating such a supervisory body, the majority -- that is, the Principlists -- would have full control over the minority faction, undermining the deputies' independence. Regardless, the Principlists pushed ahead with the measure.

Deliberations in the "Commission 100" formed by 23 deputies, largely Principlist, led to the passage of a new bill. Among various harsh measures it calls for against deputies culpable of financial offenses, the real intent of those who drafted the bill is revealed in its third section. This section addresses "Activities against national security, and other clandestine [activities] from the law enforcement perspective." These are code words for opposition voices, and they adhere to Khamenei's directives to quell dissension.

The bill also provides for the creation of a body that will serve as a liaison between the judiciary and the Majles to facilitate the detention of deputies, who are supposed to enjoy constitutional immunity. This is a sly way of circumventing the Constitution without bringing a constitutional amendment to a vote.

The bill has been sent to the Majles floor for final approval. If approved, it will seriously curtail the deputies' remaining ability to speak and vote freely and render the parliament even more meaningless. This appears to be exactly what Khamenei has in mind -- to debilitate any effective form of representation in the country and to rule by decree.

Copyright © 2011 Tehran Bureau

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