Profile: President Hassan Rouhani

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani has just months to influence the country’s economy in a wide range of areas before he must face re-election in May. Here’s a brief profile of his presidency so far:

Human rights

The UK’s Foreign Office described his predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as “totally unaccountable” and a “dangerous misogynist” but Rouhani has backed the UN’s most high-profile human rights watchdog, UNHRC.

Since the country’s last election, he has appointed an ombudsman who reports to parliament on any cases of political prisoner and a human rights commission, convened to promote a philosophy of inter-faith dialogue.

Both moves have been welcomed by opposition groups.

The government has abolished a repressive spy agency that held hundreds of Iranian political prisoners, gave visas to representatives of dissident groups and refrained from using domestic spies.

Political prisoners

Reza Shahabi, Mehdi Habibie, Shahram Akhavan and Laleh Erfanzadeh were released from prison on 11 February after serving a combined 43 years.

In June 2014, Abdolghani Mokhtarzadeh and Amir Mutazizadeh were released after serving 21 years in prison, and Arash Sadeghi and Sajjad Ghaemi were freed in February 2015 after serving 15 years.

In January, 40 people were freed from jail. About 50 other political prisoners remain in detention.

Freedom of information

Rouhani has said he wants to extend the existing two-year term of presidential terms by one year to make it easier for new candidates to run in the elections.

He wants to halt plans for the next elections to take place in 2021.

Rouhani has also vowed to create an independent judiciary, curb the increasing powers of security agencies and reduce restrictions on freedom of speech and expression in Iran.

Freedom of the press

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. (Photo: Official Website)

Rouhani had nominated some of his close aides for journalists’ awards. It was not considered a sign of his endorsement of press freedom, however.

But in December 2014 he appointed Ebrahim Yazdi, a former culture minister and a well-known figure among opposition groups, as the “freeeeeed” (“useless”).

The honour was presented by Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, Tehran’s current mayor and a supporter of a conservative government.

Arbitrary arrests

The last two years have seen a sharp increase in the number of activists, pro-democracy activists and writers arrested and their whereabouts remain unknown, some of them missing for several months, their families say.

Since Rouhani was first elected in 2013 more than 100 writers, bloggers and artists have been arrested.

Judicial authorities have arrested or tried some men and women who participated in mass anti-government protests that took place in 2009.

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