One of the main NGOs fighting against poverty in Iran has announced the arrest of its founder, Sharmin Meymandineyad, and two other members last Sunday. The measure, disguised under the pretext of undermining national security and offending the country’s leaders, is yet another step to silence civil society, whose development ultraconservatives see as a threat to the Islamic regime.
“An hour ago, the security forces detained Sharmin Meymandineyad, the founder of the Imam Ali Association, at his home. Morteza Ki Manesh, the communication manager of the community, and Katayun Afrazah, one of its directors, have also been arrested, ”the NGO reported on its Twitter account.
Authorities have not publicly confirmed the arrests nor is it officially known what they are accused of. In information in which he is only identified by his initials, the Tasnim news agency (close to the Revolutionary Guard) accuses Meymandineyad of contacts with “anti-Iranian centers outside the country” under the pretext of charitable activity.
“They accuse him of offending[l guía supremo, Ali] Jameneí, and to[l fundador de la República Islámica, Ruhollah] Khomeini, and attempting against national security, ”a source close to the family explains to EL PAÍS. According to his account, last month of Ramadan, Meymadineyad delivered “a very harsh speech against the corruption of the system” after the NGO was accused of “misleading young people”.
Meymandineyad, 50, the son of a well-known scientist and author, founded the Imam Ali Association of Students Against Poverty in 1999 and was the first non-partisan student NGO in Iran. Two decades later, it has 10,000 volunteers who provide medical care and educational services to some 3,000 women and children in some thirty centers in the most neglected areas of the country.
The activist has always refused to allow the authorities to use the Association as a showcase to promote his image. Their refusal to accept public donations from some officials and their determination to maintain their non-governmental character collided with a controlling regime that distrusts civil society. The Ultra Conservative Diary Kayhan He began publishing slanderous articles accusing the organization of being a sect.
The allegations are not new. For years, the most conservative have criticized the Imam Ali Association for using charity for political purposes and harming the Islamic Republic by highlighting its problems, as well as working with other countries and international organizations. But the attacks had been reinforced in recent months. Last May, the head of the judiciary, the ultra Ebrahim Raisí, warned against plans by Iran’s enemies to finance charitable organizations with hostile objectives. Shortly thereafter, President Hasan Rohaní warned that NGOs should not allow “dishonest individuals” between their posts.
The Imam Ali Association has already complained last year that several of its members had received phone threats threatening to end their volunteering. The group also reported cyber attacks. The progressive consolidation of the ultras in power, favored in addition to the peculiar Iranian political system, by the US abandonment of the nuclear agreement, has resulted in the arrest of binationals, environmentalists and other citizens on charges of espionage that lawyers of human rights and foreign observers consider “without foundation”.