In his latest criticism of a recent wave of anti-Western arrests, Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani publicly condemned his country’s conservative media outlets on Sunday, suggesting ties between some of them and security forces making the arrests. The speech, reported by The New York Times, called some hardline media “undercover police” who “even tell their audience who is going to be arrested tomorrow.”
Rouhani’s comments came days after he reportedly condemned in a cabinet meeting last Wednesday the arrests of five activists and journalists accused by the Revolutionary Guards of subversion and ties to the CIA. The Wall Street Journal quoted Rouhani as saying that the arrests were made without a valid pretext and blown out of proportion.
Rouhani also criticized the closing of newspapers, saying that the judiciary should be deciding on such issues, rather than intelligence officers.
The Revolutionary Guards, a conservative, ideological branch of the Iranian military, answers to Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei. Khamenei has harshly criticized supposedly growing Western influence in the country since July’s nuclear deal between Iran and six world powers. Rouhani is considered relatively more moderate.
In addition to journalists, recent months have seen the arrests of Iranian-American businessman Siamak Namazi and Lebanese information technology expert Nizar Zakka, who had permanent US residency. A Saturday report on Iranian state television showed a man identified as Zakka and claimed that he had planned to act to advance Western intelligence activity in Iran.
Meanwhile, reports in recent days have brought to light suspected hacking by the Revolutionary Guards of email and social media accounts linked to the US government.
Obama administration officials said that the attacks have grown since Namazi’s arrest last month, and that victims also include journalists and academics.