Witnesses to the judge’s review of the case came away unclear as to exactly what Rezaian is accused of. Many outside observers have speculated that the journalist, who was not known for politically divisive or controversial writings, has been targeted merely for being a high profile American citizen living in Iran. The United States has asked that Rezaian be released, and his case has reportedly been mentioned on the sidelines of negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program, but some Americans have criticized the Obama administration for its perceived failure to take serious issue to secure his release or the release of other Americans imprisoned in Iran.
Rezaian’s arrest comes amidst an apparent conservative effort to reassert social control for the clerical regime. In many respects, this is merely an extension of the everyday government repression that keeps dozens of native journalists imprisoned at all times. But it has also been characterized by stronger or at least more public repression in other domains. This includes the domain of women’s rights, where female citizens are being pushed further out of public life and being kept legally isolated from men to a greater degree than in months past.
As a case in point, IranWire reports that Colonel Massoud Zahedian of the Iranian police force’s morality unit announced on Saturday a plan to detain women who do not conform to Iran’s strict Islamic dress codes and to take them “to designated centers to correct their appearance.” Zahedian explained that offenses might include wearing short or tight coats, or patterns that appear “foreign or unusual.”
Naturally, the environment characterized by this sort of public reeducation is not tolerant of political protest and activism. IranWire also highlighted on Monday a very recent example of Iranian security forces shutting down political activity before it could begin. This was apparently part of the motive for those forces arresting animal rights activist Ali Tabarzadi on Thursday, only to release him on Saturday. Tabarzadi had been organizing a protest that was scheduled to take place on Friday.
The police raid on Tabarzadi’s home resulted in the confiscation of laptop computers, mobile phones, and other belongings. These were not released along with the prisoner, but will reportedly be held for 10 to 20 days. But this is reminiscent of the high-profile arrest of Ghoncheh Ghavami, a protester for women’s rights who was arrested for attending a men’s volleyball game, released, and then re-arrested and detained without charge for five months when she returned to reclaim her confiscated belongings.
The police’s retention of Tabarzadi’s possessions may be aimed at utilizing them to build a case against him, possibly connected to his activities on Facebook, where he has managed a campaign against a recent bill criminalizing the ownership of dogs and other animals deemed to be symbols of Western influence. The Facebook campaign asks for opponents of the bill to post pictures of themselves walking their dogs.