Iran’s Crackdown Continues, but Counter-trends Persist as Well

 

It now seems clear that the crackdown is still ongoing. IranWire reported on Tuesday that the journalist and cartoonist Hadi Heydari had been arrested the prior day on unspecified charges, apparently making him the latest victim of hardline authorities’ attempts to discourage progressive sentiment at a time when the implementation of last summer’s nuclear agreement is reportedly contributing to hopes of more positive interaction between Iranians and Western entities.

Heydari had previously served a one-year sentence in 2012 after being arrested for drawing a cartoon that simply depicted a line of blindfolded figured following one another. His entire body of work was collected together by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps and presented as evidence. It is likely that this same work will be used to justify the new case against him, as persons who have previously served sentences as political prisoners are frequently targeted later on by the same authorities.

But this sort of recurring crackdown is also enacted against entire groups. New reports regularly emerge of new rounds of persecution against minority groups that hardline authorities regard as implicit threats to national security or Shiite ideology. One of the most prominent such group is the Baha’i religious group, which is the largest religious minority in the country.

On Monday, another report in IranWire indicated that the Baha’i faith had been caught up in the nationwide crackdown when at least 20 Baha’is were arrested across three cities in a single morning. At the same time, Baha’i-owned businesses across the country were forcibly closed by Iranian authorities in repetition of a repressive tactic that has been employed against them on many other occasions. The Baha’i are also routinely denied access to higher education and gainful employment, as a matter of policy.

But despite the ongoing crackdown on specific groups, professions, and political views, there are still trends of opposition, both among those who have already been caught up in the wave of arrests and among those who are still marginally free.

The International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran reported on Tuesday that 29 year-old political prisoner Ali Shariati had been transferred to the clinic in Evin Prison after he lost consciousness in the midst of a hunger strike that has been ongoing since November 4. Shariati has vowed to continue the strike until he compels authorities to look into the handling of his case.

Shariati was sentenced in September to 12 years 9 months in  prison for “propaganda against the state,” “acting against national security,” “insulting the president,” and “having a satellite dish at home.” He is requesting a professional review of his case because, according to a source quoted by the International Campaign, “he believes he has received an unjust sentence based on irrational evidence.”

Among the broader Iranian population, many citizens continue to use social media to resist the sorts of repression that lead to sentences like Shariati’s. And these activities are apparently continuing even after reports that users of the latest social media application, Telegram, were swept up in the current wave of reprisals, with members of 20 chat groups being arrested by the Revolutionary Guards.

IranWire indicated on Monday that longstanding social media campaigns against Iran’s religious-motivated repression had expanded into complementary and parallel campaigns. For instance, the famous My Stealthy Freedom campaign organized by Iranian-born journalist Masih Alinejad has spent 18 months encouraging women to post photographs of themselves to Facebook without their government-mandated headscarves.

Now, a new social media campaign identified as #kartmelichallenge asks both men and women to post images of themselves as they appear in their Iranian identification cards, side-by-side with images depicting how they see themselves. The Instagram project, started in October by a 23 year-old woman, serves as a visual representation of the oft-reported differences between the fundamentalist Iranian authorities and the generally well-educated, pro-democratic, pro-Western civilian population.