His story closely parallels those of various other arrestees, including prominent Americans who were released early this year under a prisoner exchange coinciding with implementation of the Iran nuclear deal, as well as several others who have been arrested and indicted in subsequent months. Several such individuals were indicted en masse earlier in July, and Iran News Update has repeatedly described these sorts of incidents as evidence of an ongoing crackdown on alleged sources of foreign cultural and economic “infiltration.”
The attack on foreign sources of influence expanded over the weekend when Iranian officials announced that they had destroyed 100,000 satellite dishes and receivers that had been confiscated from Iranian homes. The Basij commander General Mohammad Reza Naghdi issued a statement blaming foreign-based media for a range of social problems including the staggeringly high Iranian divorce rate and the persistent problem of drug addiction.
Naghdi also said that children exposed to such media tend to indulge in “improper behaviors.” Although the head of the civilian militia did not immediately elaborate, it is apparent from other Iranian statements and domestic activities that this phrase refers to social behaviors that contradict the theocratic regime’s principles, especially its principles regarding gender segregation and the role of women.
Iran News Update has also consistently linked the regime’s anti-Western crackdown to a broader crackdown on homegrown social trends that arguably reflect awareness of or interest in Western lifestyles or civic freedoms. In recent years, there have been numerous reports indicating that Iranian citizens, especially among the young demographics that make up about a third of the national population, have been defying the regime’s social strictures with increasing frequency.
Many of these reports indicate that there are highly trafficked but secretive business establishments and meeting places in which women appear without head coverings, men and women co-mingle and dance together, and people consume alcohol – all of which are in violation of Iranian law. Some reports have also suggested that Iranian authorities have been relatively permissive of these sorts of activities, as long as they have remained hidden.
But if this was ever the case, it appears no longer to be. On Tuesday, The Guardian pointed out that over roughly the past two months, there have been several raids on mixed-gender parties, leading to pass arrests, overnight prosecutions, and punishments ranging from fines to short jail sentences to flogging.
In late May, 35 Iranian students were arrested and immediately sentenced to 99 lashes each after attending a graduation party that involved mixed-gender dancing and alcohol consumption. Three subsequent arrests led to arrests of 62 people, 23 people, and 70 people. Even more recently, the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) reported that 50 more young Iranians had been arrested on Friday at a party just outside of Tehran after morality police apparently discovered announcements on social media and organized a raid of the location.
The Guardian’s recounting of previous incidents came in the context of yet another such raid, this one leading to the arrest of 150 individuals. A senior police commander, Mohsen Khancherli, told Iranian media that police had been given a tip about a party taking place at a garden on a property west of Tehran. “In this garden, which was situated next to an unlicensed studio for recording underground music, nearly 150 boys and girls had gathered in a mixed-gender party under the pretext of a birthday celebration,” he said. “But all participants were detained by the police and subsequently referred to the judicial authorities.”
These sorts of mass arrests of Iranian youth follow a wide variety of other enforcement measures, including individual arrests of journalists, artists, and religious or ethnic minorities, many of which have been detailed in previous reports at Iran News Update. This trend notably escalated in the wake of last summer’s nuclear agreement, which apparently increased social expectations of broader reconciliation between Iran and the West, thereby prompting the regime to crack down on activities that might further encourage those expectations.
The overall trend continues alongside the escalation in arrests of young party-goers. The Robin Shahini arrest is apparently one example, and a variety of others have emerged in diverse media outlets that are focused on Iran or worldwide issues of human rights and/or religious freedom. As just one example, the Christian Post reported on Tuesday upon the case of Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, who has been subject to repeated imprisonment and harassment as a result of his Christian faith, which is described by the Iranian judiciary as “undermining national security.”
Nadarkhani has recently been ordered to pay the equivalent of 33,000 dollars and told that if he does not do wo within a week he will be re-arrested pending his latest national security trial. The pastor’s legal problems go back several years and include a 2010 death sentence that was overturned on appeal. As such, his current situation does not necessarily highlight the particular abuses of the current government. But it, along with the party raids, destruction of satellite equipment, and other ongoing activities, serves to further undermine narratives suggesting that that current government is moderate by comparison with its predecessors.