A PROMINENT Iranian women’s rights activist died yesterday when security forces attacked her father’s funeral procession in Tehran.
Haleh Sahabi, 54, apparently suffered a heart attack after being punched to the ground by police officers in plain clothes who raided the funeral to seize the coffin of Ezatollah Sahabi, a veteran Iranian dissident and scholar.
Witnesses said that Ms Sahabi was carrying a photo of her father at the head of the procession when the security forces moved in.
“Haleh was beaten up outside her house. One of the security forces approached her and grabbed the picture from her, she protested and this resulted in the security man first hurling insults at her and then a scuffle broke out,” one of the mourners, who did not want to be named, said.
The police then broke up the funeral, which had attracted about 800 mourners including several prominent opponents of the Government.
Witnesses said that Ms Sahabi was punched in the face and ribs before collapsing. The police bundled her body into a car. She was declared dead shortly afterwards. Her father’s body was also taken away and released later for burial.
“They killed her in front of hundreds of mourners. They killed a daughter who was mourning her father at his funeral. This shame will never be washed away,” the witness said.
Ms Sahabi, like her father, was a vocal opponent of the regime in Tehran. She had been allowed out of prison to attend the funeral but was serving a two-year jail sentence for protesting outside the Iranian parliament in 2009 when President Ahmadinejad was sworn in for his second term in office.
Since Mr Sahabi died on Tuesday there had been calls on opposition websites for activists to join the procession. The regime appeared determined that the funeral should not be allowed to develop into a protest. Witnesses said that the number of security personnel outstripped the mourners.
Though an influential figure during the Islamic Revolution in 1979 and an ally of Ayatollah Khomeini, who led it, Mr Sahabi became disenchanted with the direction taken by Iran after the clergy seized power. He served 15 years in jail on charges that included plotting the overthrow of the republic.
The regime in Tehran has used the international attention on the Arab Spring to begin a fresh crackdown on its opponents. Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, the two leaders of the opposition Green Movement, have been under house arrest since February, sparking renewed protests.
Within government however, dissent is mounting over Mr Ahmadinejad’s leadership. Iranian MPs voted yesterday to report him to the judiciary for appointing himself Oil Minister. The vote could have Mr Ahmadinejad impeached, although it is more likely that he will simply be stripped of the post.
Mr Ahmadinejad announced in May that he would run the Oil Ministry on a caretaker basis after sacking the minister, Masoud Mirkazemi. The move would bring Iran’s vital oil revenues under his direct control. MPs denounced the plan as illegal, with 165 members of the 290-seat house voting to report the President to the judiciary. The vote marks a further erosion of the President’s grip on power as he wages a public battle with the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Tension between the two camps came to a head in April when Mr Ahmadinejad sacked the Iranian Intelligence Minister, accusing him of bugging the offices of Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, the President’s chief of staff. Ayatollah Khamenei demanded that the minister be reinstated, prompting the President to boycott the Government for 11 days before he bowed to an ultimatum to return or be dismissed himself.
The vote yesterday underlines the shift in support away from the President. A parliamentary vote in November to impeach Mr Ahmadinejad for exceeding his powers gained support from fewer than 50 MPs.
The President, however, shows no signs of backing down and has escalated the row. Mr Ahmadinejad slashed funding to the Supreme Leader’s office on Saturday, blocking a dollars 390 million (pounds 235million) allocation in the national budget for Ayatollah Khamenei and his entourage to travel to Qom, the holiest city in Iran.