A former vice president and chief of staff of former hardline President Mahmud Ahmadinejad, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, was detained on March 17, two days after a protest action outside the British Embassy in Tehran.
The Iranian Student’s News Agency cited Mashaei's lawyer, Mehran Abdollapour, as saying, “My client was probably arrested for having burnt a copy of a court verdict sentencing [Hamid] Baghaei during the latest protest.”
On March 15, in a protest outside the British embassy in Tehran, Mashaei burnt a copy of a court verdict sentencing Hamid Baghaei, another Ahmadinejad ally who was sentenced to 15 years.
Meanwhile, Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejei, the spokesman for the Iranian judiciary, said that Mashaei has been detained over several charges, and these charges will be announced after investigations.
Mashaei served as First Vice President in 2009 at the start of Ahmadinejad's second term in office. Earlier, in 2008, Mashaei's daughter married Ahmadinejad's oldest son.
He was viewed by many Iranian clerics as an anti-establishment activist and has been criticized by religious conservatives for alleged "deviant tendencies," such as elevating Iranian heritage and nationalism above Islam. Mashaei become increasingly isolated for challenging Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and his powerful allies, namely the judiciary.
Hamid Baghaei, a vice president under Ahmadinejad, was transferred to a prison on March 14 following his conviction for corruption. In December he was sentenced to 15 years for embezzlement and illegal business transactions. Ahmadinejad and Baghai both hoped to stand in the May 2017 presidential election, but the Guardians Council rejected their candidacy.
When President Hassan Rouhani took over in 2013, financial fraud charges were brought against several top officials that had served in Ahmadinejad’s administration, resulting in several of his allies having been sent to prison on charges of misappropriating public funds.
After leaving office Ahmadinejad has not stayed out of the limelight, and on numerous occasions has questioned the entire system. Khamenei has indirectly criticized the former president by suggesting Ahmadinejad was acting as if he were an opposition figure and not a former official of the country.
Ahmadinejad was reportedly detained in Shiraz for inciting unrest during the recent protests in the country in January and encouraging more demonstrations following statements he made earlier in Bushehr, but the Iranian officials didn’t confirm the detention report.
Following Mashaei's detention, Ahmadinejad defended his long-time ally in a statement, saying that "his arrest is clearly a violation of the constitution. That confirms the need for fundamental reforms within the judiciary".