Last updated: 11 July, 2011

Iran officials ‘arrested for deviation’

Iran has made several arrests in connection with the “current of deviation”, a term used to refer to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s chief of staff and entourage, ISNA news agency said Monday.

“Those arrested, in addition to economic and moral issues, have security problems,” said the spokesman for the Iranian judiciary, Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejeie, adding the charges were yet to be “proven”.

“Some staff at the Organisation of Tourism and Cultural Heritage and one person working at the national museum have been arrested,” he said, without identifying those apprehended.

Hamid Baghaie, vice president for executive affairs, is under judicial investigation for administrative irregularities during his tenure as head of the tourism board.

Several lower-ranking officials within government and the presidential entourage have been arrested on various grounds in recent weeks, while a political crisis has pitted Ahmadinejad against conservatives in the run-up to 2012 parliamentary elections.

More than a dozen figures close to Ahmadinejad’s chief of staff, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaie, have been arrested on suspicion of corruption, financial irregularities and even “witchcraft”.

Mashaie is himself the target of regime hardliners, who see him as too liberal, too nationalist and of wielding too much influence over the president.

They accuse him of leading a “current of deviation” intended to undermine the Islamic principles of the regime.

Ahmadinejad’s ultra-conservative foes say the president is looking to gain control of parliament in March’s elections while grooming Mashaie for a run at the presidency in 2013, in which Ahmadinejad cannot stand.

Ahmadinejad in late June warned the authorities against making arrests of members in his government, whom he vowed to defend, saying any such attempts would be crossing a “red line”.

In response, Mohseni Ejeie said the judiciary recognised no such “red lines”, but said the recent arrests did not necessarily mean that government officials had necessarily been targeted.