Although the debate over the loaded term "free election" has receded in Iran as candidates ramp up their campaigns, rights groups continue to raise the niggling question whether human rights abuses will undermine the image of a legitimate Presidential ballot in June --- particularly as activists, journalists, politicians, lawyers, and protesters detained in the crackdown following the disputed 2009 election remain imprisoned.
Human Rights Watch warns today that "dozens" of political activists and reporters arrested four years ago remain in detention, while two of the candidates in 2009 --- Mir-Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi --- endure their 28th month of house arrest. The Committee to Protect Journalists reported earlier this month that Iran is holding at least 40 journalists in prison --- the second-highest figure in the world --- while Reporters Without Borders this week called on Iran's eight Presidential candidates to speak out in support of freedom of information.
HRW also note reports that the authorities have reduced Iranians' access to the web including by cutting internet speed and blocking virtual private networks.
The rights group said it spoke to two Iranian journalists, who said that the Ministry of Intelligence, the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance Ministry, and the Supreme National Security Council have issued "standing guidelines" to the Iranian media warning them to beware of breaching the government’s “red lines” when covering elections, including reporting about Mousavi and Karroubi and banned political parties such as the Islamic Iran Participation Front.
Meanwhile, the Guardian and activist Anita Hunt have created an interactive database of political prisoners in Iran, detailing some of the activists, students, journalists, women's rights campaigners, lawyers, artists, former politicians, and members of Iran's religious and ethnic minorities jailed in recent years.
Presidential candidate Saeed Jalili held a campaign rally today in Tehran's Shirudi stadium. Jalili's campaign team --- who have made extensive use of social media --- live-tweeted the event on his Twitter feed.
During the event, Jalili announced that Iran's deputy nuclear negotiator Dr Ali Bagheri would be leading his election campaign.
In attendance at the rally was Iran's Minister of Culture, Seyed Mohammad Hosseini.
Presidential candidate Saeed Jalili has announced he is employing a group of documentary filmmakers to make his campaign movie.
Jalili also tweeted that he had engaged a group of young documentary makers to produce the film.
ساخت فیلم تبلیغاتی سعید جلیلی در یک اقدام ابتکاری و کلیشهشکن به طور همزمان به چند گروه از مستندسازان جوان کشور سپرده شده است. #Jalili— Dr Saeed Jalili (@DrSaeedJalili) May 24, 2013
Filmmaker Mohsen Sohani told IRGC-linked Tasnim News --- which appears to be backing Jalili --- said that the documentary campaign film would take a humorous approach to tell the story of Jalili's discovery of a three billion fraud case. The film is in its last stages of shooting and will be ready early next week, Sohani added.
Presidential candidate and former IRGC commander Mohsen Rezaei has said that if elected on June 14, he would continue "constructive" nuclear talks with world powers.
Dialog and diplomacy were key to resolving the stand-off over the nuclear issue, Rezaei said, but opined that the "course of the negotiations" should be changed, since so far they have been "accompanied by intensified sanctions". Instead, the talks with the P5+1 should be "based on national interests and values of the [Islamic] Revolution", he explained.
The former IRGC commander accused Washington and "other enemies of the Islamic establishment" of time-wasting.
Reformist Presidential candidate Mohammad Reza Aref has said it would be better if there were fewer candidates competing in the Presidential election, because a large number candidates could confuse the electorate.
"Two or three" candidates would be better than the current eight, he added but noted that he would not step down in favor of another reformist candidate. .
Aref said he would focus on the economy, public welfare, inflation and unemployment if elected on June 14.
Iran's powerful Parliament speaker, Ali Larijani, hinted at possible support for Presidential candidate and Tehran mayor Mohammad-Baqer Qalibaf, lauding his achievements regarding construction of the Imam Ali Expressway in Tehran.
Larijani said the project showed Qalibaf's "jihadi efforts".
Regarding the election, Larijani said that there would be a good turnout and that the Iranian people could not be forced to vote a particular way by the West.
However --- in a hint that Presidential hopefuls need to unite behind a consensus candidate --- the parliamentary speaker warned candidates to be attentive, lest Western countries turned apparent disunity into internal divisions.
Mehdi Fazaeli, the former managing editor of IRGC-linked Fars News and current editor of Soroush Publications, has endorsed Presidential candidate Saeed Jalili.
Fazaeli said that "only Jalili can represent the masses, the marginalized, and those who seek justice".
Jalili noted the comments on his Twitter account.
Supporters of Presidential candidate Saeed Jalili have attacked moderate conservative MP Ali Motahari, suggesting in a scathing letter sent Thursday that would be "better if he became a member of the Olympic Committee rather than a member of Parliament".
Motahari had led the pre-campaigning efforts of former President Hashemi Rafsanjani prior to his disqualification.
In their letter, Jalili's supporters referred to comments Motahari made regarding Rafsanjani's disqualification. Motahari had said that the former President had been disqualified on two false reasons --- physical disability and a role in the "2009 sedition".
The letter noted that Motahari had protested Rafsanjani's apparent disqualification on grounds of disability, and had suggested a wrestling match between the former President, Jalili, and Gholam-Ali Haddad-Adel.
The letter added that Motahari was asking Jalili, a war veteran who had lost a leg, to play sport. "In this regard, we note a few points: the first thing is that we condemn the action of one who mocks and ridicules a proud veteran".
Jalili's supporters quipped that if Motahari was qualified to recognize sporting talents, then he should become a member of the Olympic Committee instead of an MP.