Even among Iranian authorities who are not calling for an outright boycott, many have nonetheless declared the choice of speaker to be an affront, with some conceding to a continued Iranian presence only on the assumption that a boycott would generate publicity for Rushdie. However, The Guardian points out that among ordinary Iranians the 26 year-old fatwa is generally not taken seriously, but is viewed as an aspect of the regime’s ongoing rhetoric aimed at encouraging Muslim unity in opposition to supposed Western persecutors.
This contrast between the responses of citizens and leaders of the Islamic Republic says a great deal about the ideological divide between the two, with much of the population being highly educated, pro-democratic, and pro-Western in contrast to the regime’s strict Shiite theocracy. But what is arguably more crucial in light of recent efforts at Iranian-Western rapprochement is that the extent of the outcry from Tehran highlights the fact that the leadership’s attitude toward Rushdie and thus toward freedom of expression has not moderated in any noticeable measure.
The Guardian also points out that Tehran’s own book fair is a heavily censored affair, as is all media in Iran, save for that which is distributed online, behind the backs of the virtually omnipresent censorship authorities. This censorship and repression of information has not diminished any more that the Iranian government’s apparent commitment to carrying out Khomeini’s death sentence against Rushdie.
This is evident from a range of recent examples of Iran shutting down newspapers, arresting people for making objectionable Facebook posts, and so on. Iran is annually recognized by the Committee to Protect Journalists as one of the worst jailers of reporters in the world. This fact has been especially visible to the West over the past year, during which Washington Post correspondent and American citizen Jason Rezaian has been detained in Iran.
Most of that time was spent waiting for a trial on unspecified charges, during which he was held for eight months in solitary confinement. His espionage trial reportedly concluded last month but the judiciary has refused to announce a sentence or release any new information about his case, in violation of Iranian law.
On Monday and Tuesday, IranWire and the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran both provided new updates on his case, noting that the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps recently levied more specific but still unsubstantiated accusations against Rezaian, that he had plotted with the US government to facilitate the downfall of the Iranian regime.
Rezaian’s family and colleagues in the United States have consistently rejected the notion that he was engaged in espionage, so they can be expected to regard as outlandish the idea that he was engaged in such a highly ambitious project of espionage. The IRGC alleges that he had established a sophisticated spy network comprised of previously jailed journalists and other so-called enemies of the state.
But previous accusations against Rezaian maintained only that he had gathered information about Iranian economic and political affairs and discussed them with foreign entities. His brother Ali Rezaian characterized these accusations as criminalizing a journalist for watching the local news and talking about it with friends. The as-yet vague IRGC accusations can be viewed in the same light, as they seem to say only that Rezaian had contact with other people who shared his profession.
Even some of those who endorse the IRGC’s portrayal of the case have had to reconcile it with the innocuous history of Rezaian’s reporting, which reportedly hemmed closely to the regime’s defined restrictions. Iranian Member of Parliament Hamid Resaee, for instance, acknowledged that Rezaian’s Washington Post articles tended to be highly positive about Iran. But Resaee added vaguely that this “was not his main objective.”
He and other members of parliament have apparently taken the veracity of the IRGC’s claims for granted but are currently calling for Rezaian’s case and his supposed confession to be made public for the first time.
The International Campaign has thus concluded that it is increasingly clear that the Rezaian’s ultimate conviction will be based on nothing other than a forced confession, which will be broadcast via official state media to generate public support for the case, as has been done with many other forced confessions in the past.
“Iran’s Judiciary and Revolutionary Guards have a long and documented history of working hand-in-hand with the IRIB to extract forced confessions from political prisoners, often under the threat of torture, and then to publicly broadcast them in order to discredit the detainee and build support among the public for their prosecution,” the International Campaign’s statement said.
It added: “Such confessions have been, without exception, recanted by prisoners upon their subsequent release, who detailed the threats and conditions under which such confessions were extracted.”
The apparent use of these tactics against Rezaian mirrors a variety of other instances of political imprisonment and forced confessions that have taken place since the election of President Hassan Rouhani, who has been embraced as a moderate by some Western leaders. Rouhani’s critics have tended to identify him as a regime insider, and thus not fit to preside over genuine moderation. The continue repression of authors like Rushdie and journalists like Rezaian lends credence to the conclusion that the regime remains ideologically unchanged even under its supposedly moderate president.