Iranian cleric's Germany stay triggers heated social media debate

An Iranian ayatollah who was responsible for overseeing hundreds of death sentences received medical treatment in Germany in recent days. The case has stoked a fiery discussion among Iranian social media users.

Ayatollah Mahmud Hashemi Shahroudi was receiving medical treatment for a reported brain tumor at a private hospital in the northern German city of Hanover, when several cases were lodged against him stating that the top Iranian cleric was guilty of murder and crimes against humanity.

Shahroudi served as head of Iran's justice ministry from 1999 to 2009. During this period, an estimated 2,000 Iranian prisoners, including many minors, were executed.

German politician Volker Beck, who filed one of the complaints, told DW that "Germany should not be a haven for criminals."

"I also wonder how a man like Shahroudi could even get a German visa," he added.

Business | 05.01.2018

The filing of the cases prompted the Iranian cleric to abruptly end his stay in Germany and fly back to Iran on Thursday, January 11.

The incident drew sharp reactions from Iranian social media users across the world, with some lambasting the German government for allowing the ayatollah to go scot-free.

Expressing anger

The hashtag #Shahroudi is being used by Iranian critics to post their views on the issue. One Iranian Twitter user named Sam Vaseghi expressed his anger at Germany's inaction, saying: "Gabriel (Germany's Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel) arbitrarily gave an assurance to the Iranian government that Shahroudi would return safely to Iran following his medical treatment."

Another user tweeted: "Shahroudi's case shows that there is no safe haven in the world for criminals."

Some Iranians also used the hashtag #ShameonGermanGov to voice their disappointment.

A user named Farhang posted: "For several years, I was praising your country (Germany). Today I noticed I was wrong. You betrayed millions of people- again."

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Another user, Ramyar Hassani, who is a Kurdish activist in exile wrote: "European Foreign Policy towards Iran: Begging for the release of its innocent civilians from torture in Iran, meanwhile, providing best medical treatment to Ayatollahs who committed crime against humanity and escorting them back to Tehran."

Likewise, Ramin Dehghan tweeted: "Germany, you mat [might] have won the trust of a regime, but  you lost the respect of nations. People are waiting!"

Another user named Majid posted on Instagram: "Money has more power than justice even in Germany, which is a democracy and governed by the rule of law."

Facebook user "Hamebaham Iranian" wrote: "Didn't you expect it from Germany? Since years Germany has been turning a blind eye towards Iranian state criminals. Shame on you Germany!"

Sarcastic comments

Some users also wrote sarcastic comments, for instance tweeting an imaginary conversation between Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif and his German counterpart Gabriel, in which a deal was struck for the safe return of Shahroudi to Tehran in exchange for German firms receiving commercial favors.

However, not everyone agrees with this criticism. For instance, a Twitter user by the name of Sizdah wrote: "Those who are shouting for Shahroudi's arrest and believe 'Germany will not tarnish its relations with Iran over him' do not have the right view on an independent justice system, where judges do not care about the political and diplomatic interests. Don't you remember the American judge who ruled against Trump's travel ban?"


Disillusionment on the rise

High unemployment, high inflation and a deepening divide between poor and wealthy Iranians: The economic crisis in Iran is a major cause of frustration for many people. The easing of international sanctions following the 2015 nuclear deal has not improved people's living conditions as expected.


Public uprising

The majority of protesters so far are poor Iranians. People from major cities across the country converged on the capital, Tehran, to vent their anger when demonstrations began on December 28. They have since expanded to cities and towns in almost every province.


Political demands

It is not clear who is spearheading the protests, or if anyone is leading them at all. The demands have, however, become more political: stop backing the Hezbollah militia in Lebanon, no intervention in Syria and Iraq. The protesters are urging the government to focus on domestic problems. There have also been calls for Ayatollah Khamenei to step down.


'Enemies of Iran'

Five days after the demonstrators first took to the streets, Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, reacted to the protesters' demands, accusing "enemies of Iran" of using "different tools including cash, weapons, politics and [the] intelligence apparatus to create troubles for the Islamic Republic."


Harsh response

Authorities report that 450 people were arrested in connection with the protests. Twenty-one people are believed to have died in violent clashes, among them 16 demonstrators. They are the largest protests Iran has seen since the disputed 2009 presidential election.