Now, 12 more people have been sentenced to prison terms on this basis. According to the BBC, the charges included, “spreading prostitution and promoting corruption via the publication of obscene images online, inciting Muslims to corrupt themselves through putting on fashion shows, and spreading a ‘Western-style culture of nudity’.” The resulting sentences ranged from five months to six years, and most seemed to be closer to the upper limit. Most convicts were also barred from working in the fashion industry after their release, and also from traveling abroad for a period of years. 

The convictions and underlying accusations are very much in keeping with other reports of politically or culturally motivated arrests and intimidation. But the timing of this report also encourages readers to view it as contrasting with other recent Iranian rhetoric. Last week, it was reported that two Iranian nationals had been arrested in Kenya on suspicion of plotting terrorist activities. The World Bulletin noted that the Iranian Foreign Ministry had reacted angrily to the incident, demanding that Kenya release the two men. 

Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qasemi also seemed to blame Israel for the incident, referring to “hostile intervention of a third party in a finished case, undoubtedly with the intention of damaging good Iran-Kenya relations.” The arrestees, Sayed Nasrollah Ebrahimi and Abdolhosein Gholi Safaee were apprehended along with a Kenyan driver after they were seen monitoring and taking photos or video of the Israeli embassy. 

As various recent reports have made clear, political prisoners in the Islamic Republic of Iran are often convicted after being arrested without cause, after with a case against them is built through interrogations and torture, which sometimes last for months. Some targets of the current crackdown have been accused of being leading members in some sort of Western-based “infiltration network,” although the Iranians have provided no evidence of the existence of such a network, much less of the defendants’ memberships in it. 

It seems clear that these people tend to come under suspicion merely because they have personal or professional connections to the West or because they hold citizenship both in Iran and in a Western country. This was evidently the case, for instance, with Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who was sentenced to five years in prison after visiting her parents in Iran, along with her two-year old daughter Gabriella. It was apparently also the case with Robin Shahini, who was also visiting family in Iran after having lived abroad for 18 years, and who was given a staggering 18 year sentence for charges that were never made public. 

No such secrecy surrounds the case against Ebrahimi and Safaee, and The Tower reports that there is clear justification for suspecting them of terrorist activities. Before being spotted outside the Israeli embassy, the two men had visited two members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds Force, who are serving prison sentences for a 2013 conviction on charges of carrying out terrorist attacks against Western targets. The Tower also notes that their case fits a recognized pattern of Iranians using “diplomatic cover” to hide their “destabilizing behavior.”  

While it is still possible that the two men are innocent, there is a clear double standard in Iran’s objecting to the well-founded suspicions against them while rebuffing international criticism of arrests and convictions that stem from unsubstantiated claims of foreign “infiltration” and plots for the “soft overthrow” of the Iranian regime.