January 26, 2021
A recently-released video in which a traffic warden complains of being slapped by an MP in the course of his duties has caused a stir in Iran.
On Saturday, January 23, Hamed Akbari posted a video online in which he claimed that Ali Asghar Anabestani, who represents Sabzevar in Razavi Khorasan province, had assaulted him after being pulled over in Tehran.
In the video, the young conscripted soldier, who was working at the Darvazeh Dolat junction at the time, states: “The driver of this car, which was in the special lane [the lane used by ambulances and buses] without a permit, swore at me… I responded by calling him a fruitcake. The member of parliament got out of his car and slapped me around the ear. We have witnesses and a camera.”
The onlookers present in the video agree that they saw the incident and are willing to testify on Akbari’s behalf. The MP, for his part, has since denied the incident took place as described.
Regardless of the truth of the matter, the affair has caused uproar on social media, with users taking to Twitter to demand punitive action be taken using the hashtags #Slap_a_soldier and #Anabestani_resign. Meanwhile, Iranian politicians have also been quick to respond.
What Next for Anabestani?
Several Iranian members of parliament have weighed in on the incident and called for “decisive” action to be taken against the sitting MP for Sabvezar. “Everyone is equal before the law,” tweeted Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, the current Speaker of the Iranian Parliament. “In the event of a violation, the Board of Supervisors will take legal action without hesitation.”
Misconduct by an MP, however, is not easily proven and Anabestani himself has denied any wrongdoing, in turn complaining that Akbari has libelled him. Speaking to Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting later that same day, he insisted he had not so much as got out of the car.
But the MP later published a more detailed statement that contradicted this, admitting that he had “pushed” Hamed Akbari. He said his driver had entered the special lane by mistake due to being inexperienced and had been subjected to “insults” from the traffic warden.
“The driver,” he wrote, “pointing at me, emphasized that I was a member of parliament.” In response, he claimed, Akbari had said “I don’t give a rat’s ass who you are” and instructed the bus driver behind to press against the car’s rear bumpers to block them from moving off.
“I put my hand on his shoulder and pushed him,” Anabestani continued. “He took a step or two back, and swung his baton at me again.” The traffic warden, he said, had then started filming him, “shouting and insulting the parliament and deputies, and inciting the spectators of the scene against me.”
The MP finally said that if his “dignity” were not defended, “this will not be the last case… After this incident, the representatives of the people will be ridiculed and insulted.”
The Board of Supervisors is the parliamentary body tasked with regulating MPs’ conduct. It has the power to issue MPs with written warnings about their behavior, to publicly declare they have violated the rules in open sessions of parliament, and to ban them from certain parliamentary activities.
The Board’s name has been invoked in the past when evidence came to light that a given member of parliament had attacked or insulted the citizenry. So far, however, the subjects have generally either been acquitted or, at worst, subjected to a verbal reprimand. There has been a history of complaints being closed by the Board before time, perhaps most notoriously when former MP Salman Khodadadi was accused of rape by a young woman, Zahra Navidpour, who later died in suspicious circumstances.
Board member Mohammadreza Dashti Ardakani has confirmed the group is aware of the incident in Darvazeh Dolat, adding: “If a report reaches the Board of Supervisors, we will absolutely review it. I have inquired but so far we have not received a complaint.”
Perhaps with half an eye on the track record of the Board of Supervisors, the Chief of Greater Tehran traffic Police has said the Iranian judiciary ought to be the investigating body. Announcing that his organization would be sending all the relevant documentation to the judiciary instead, he said: “We have evidence about the physical contact of the MP with the officer, which is quite sufficient, and we’ll have to see what the judicial authorities decide.”
Parliament Must Step In
Legal expert Musa Barzin Khalifehlou tells IranWire that while any assault would of course be a criminal offence in the Islamic Penal Code, the Iranian parliament should not be let off the hook either.
“Unfortunately,” he says, “such behaviour by MPs has increased significantly in recent years. This in itself may be a sign that the supervision of MPs’ behaviour, both in the legislature and the judiciary, is not adequate. This negligence in turn can embolden other MPs to violate the rights of citizens.
“The Islamic Penal Code allows for a prison sentence of three to six months for proven assault on a government official. But we have never seen such a punishment being meted out to an MP who has insulted or beaten a government employee.
“In my opinion, it is primarily the parliament that should look at this as a violation of organizational rules, and deal with it severely. A failure to deal with these incidents degrades the status of parliament every day and deepens distrust in the institution.”
Furthermore, he adds, the Board of Supervisors’ own rules stipulate that the Board does not need to receive a complaint in order to commence an investigation. “The fact that some deputies are managing issues in this way, based on previous experience, shows they are trying to close this case pre-emptively without any confrontation with the offending MP.”
Hypocrisy of the Politicians
One of the more curious reactions to the Tehran traffic incident was a tweet by Hesamoddin Ashena, a senior advisor to President Hassan Rouhani. “How soon did they learn to beat!” this politician cryptically wrote.
It is not clear whether Ashena was referring to the traffic warden or the MP in his tweet. Either way, it was the administration he belongs to that allowed bloody crackdowns on the citizenry during the November 2019 protests, during which hundreds of innocent people were killed. Interior minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli, appointed by the Supreme Leader as deputy commander-in-chief of the armed forces, later confirmed police had shot protesters in the heads and in the legs: a clear violation of international law that forbids the targeting of unarmed people who do not pose a threat to others.
To this day the government has refused to accept responsibility for this mass atrocity, or to release accurate figures on the number of people killed and injured. Barely two months later, when Ukrainian Airlines Flight 752 was shot down over Tehran by the Revolutionary Guards, killing all 176 people onboard, Ashena tweeted again warning people not to protest or engage in “psychological warfare”.
Another MP who commented on Saturday’s incident was Mostafa Mirsalim, the representative for Tehran. In a tweet published the following day, he called the whole incident “suspicious”, adding: “The Board of Supervisors must not let anyone behind the story discredit the parliament.”
By now, however, there may be little left to discredit as physical altercations between MPs and ordinary people are nothing new. In September 2017, for instance, Nader Ghazipour, then-representative for Urmia, attacked Ehsan Badaghi, a reporter at Iran newspaper. Mehdi Kouchakzadeh, who formerly represented Tehran in the seventh, eighth, and ninth parliaments, clashed with reporters physically and verbally on several documented occasions.