Hossein Fereidoun’s detention comes a few weeks ahead of Rouhani’s swearing-in ceremony. Photograph: Vahid Salemi/AP
Saeed Kamali Dehghan Iran correspondent-Sunday 16 July 2017
The brother of Iran’s moderate president, Hassan Rouhani, has been arrested amid escalating tensions between the government and the country’s hardline judiciary ahead of his swearing-in ceremony next month.
Hossein Fereidoun, a top presidential aide who played a senior role in more than two years of high-level negotiations between Iran and the west over Tehran’s nuclear programme, was taken to prison after failing to secure bail on Saturday, local agencies reported.
The exact reasons behind Fereidoun’s arrest are unclear but it was reported that it was on charges connected to financial crimes.
Gholam-Hossein Mohseni-Eje’i, the spokesman for the Iranian judiciary, confirmed the news on Sunday during a weekly press briefing in Tehran. “A bail order was issued for him yesterday and because he did not secure the bail, he was taken to jail. If he does so, he will be released on bail,” he said, according to quotes carried by the semi-official Iranian Students’ News Agency.
Mohseni-Eje’i also announced an American dual national had been sentenced to 10 years in prison. He did not name the individual but said the accused was an “infiltrating agent”, terminology used to describe those collaborating with foreign governments. Mizan Online, a news agency affiliated to the Iranian judiciary, later identified him as Xiyue Wang, a Chinese-born American professor at Princeton University.
Rouhani’s supporters have seen his brother’s arrest as part of efforts to undermine him during his second term in office.
Fereidoun’s detention comes a few weeks ahead of Rouhani’s swearing-in ceremony following his landslide victory in May’s presidential election, complicating an already tense atmosphere between him and hardliners. The reformist-backed Rouhani increased his mandate by 5 million votes in an election that dealt a blow to conservatives.
A widening rift has since opened at the highest level of the Islamic republic between the president and the country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The dispute concerns who has the ultimate power in Iran, particularly over the judiciary and the armed forces.
Rouhani has recently sharpened his rhetoric over the conduct of the judiciary, saying recently that some arrests were arbitrary.
Iranian presidents are generally weakened in their second term and Rouhani’s predecessors have all fallen out with Khamenei at some point during their second term as they jostled to leave their own legacy and test their limits of power under Iranian constitution vis-a-vis Khamenei’s supreme authority. Former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was blocking from running in May’s election and his top aide was recently rearrested.
Rouhani was heckled in June during an annual pro-Palestinian rally in Tehran, with protesters allied with the hardliners shouting slogans comparing him to Abolhassan Banisadr, the country’s first president who was impeached and later exiled after falling foul of the clerical establishment.
Local news agencies, even the country’s state-run English-language Press TV, widely covered Fereidoun’s arrest in a sign that demonstrated hardliners were prepared for a showdown.
Fereidoun came in high-level contact with American officials during the nuclear talks. In March 2015, at the height of intense negotiations, when the news broke that the president’s mother had died, the then US secretary of state, John Kerry, went to Fereidoun’s room to personally express his condolences. Pictures of that meeting circulated online as a rare sign of an American official sympathising with a senior Iranian.
Prior to Rouhani’s first victory in 2013, Fereidoun was a veteran diplomat and had served as Iran’s ambassador to Malaysia for eight years and later as a senior diplomat at Iran’s delegation to the UN.
The difference between the two brothers’ surnames is due to the fact that the president changed his family name to Rouhani as a security measure to avoid the attention of the Savak secret police when preaching against the shah before the 1979 Iranian revolution. Rouhani means cleric in Farsi.