CNN reported on Thursday that Khamenei was continuing this trend through tweets and other English-language messages ostensibly in response to a climate of Islamophobia that had taken root among many in the West in the wake of the terrorist attacks in Paris. In a tweet referring to the West in typical Iranian terms as “arrogants” and “hypocrites,” and repeating a claim that has been made many times by high-ranking Iranian officials, that the West is deliberately behind Islamic terrorists as part of a plot to spread fear of Muslims and sow discord in the Middle East.
This social media communication came alongside a more extensive and unusual effort to reach Western audiences – an open letter to Western youth urging them not to embrace a negative view of Islam. Although considerably more restrained in tone than many of his aggressive tweets, the supreme leader’s letter still espoused the same concepts of culture war, asking for instance, “Why does the power structure in the world want Islamic thought to be marginalized and remain latent?” before referring to “derogatory and offensive image-building” supposedly being carried out by Western powers.
Khamenei’s letter also took even more direct aim at Europe and the United States, in keeping with narratives that he has previously employed in response to reports calling attention to Iran’s poor human rights record. It asserts that those powers have a long history of oppressing non-Christians and people of color, suggesting that this is on par with – or worse than – Iran’s well recognized human rights abuses and repression of its own ethnic and religious minorities.
At the same time that Khamenei is striving to characterize the West as excluding and oppressing Islam, his domestic government is demonstrably using its view of Shiite Islam as a repressive force. As a recent example of this, last week the Iranian government shut down some 30 private commercial enterprises, mostly on the basis of their having somehow violated religious laws or failed to act in accordance with the country’s Islamic values.
But this religious repression is symptomatic of a more general repressive measures, some reports indicate that certain businesses may have been shuttered as a result of their use of social networks such as Twitter and Instagram, which are both banned in Iran and widely monitored for communications that can be prosecuted for insulting the Islamic religion or the ruling government.
The National Council of Resistance of Iran reported on Wednesday that in keeping with this religious rhetoric, the Iranian regime held a ceremony in the city of Shiraz where it destroyed some 6,000 satellite dishes on the basis of their being “enemies of Islam.” Banners at the event listed the supposed spiritual and moral consequences of satellite ownership while the dishes themselves were branded with slogans describing them as enemies of families, tools of “soft war,” and so on.
The NCRI also pointed out that just prior to this ceremony, at least 21 people were arrested for involvement in the production and sale of satellite dishes, and a number of foreign workers were deported. Furthermore, in early January it was reported that the regime had banned an additional 17 foreign satellite networks, claiming that they existed for the purpose of fostering sedition among Muslims.
The Iranian restrictions on free speech also extend to efforts to gather in groups and express social or political views. The regime arrested and issued summons to a number of women’s rights activists on Monday, in an apparent effort to prevent a planned gathering to address a recent spate of acid attacks mainly targeting supposedly improperly veiled women.
Women’s rights activism is arguably more important to Iran than ever, as the situation for women has apparently deteriorated in recent months amidst a conservative push to enforce strict gender separation, to encourage high birthrates, and to empower civilian militias to “enforce good and forbid wrong,” as by accosting or attacking improperly veiled women in the streets.
A previous protest in response to last October’s acid attacks led to the arrest of women’s rights activist Mahdieh Golrou, among others. Golrou’s case was highlighted by the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) on Wednesday in a statement calling attention to continued harassment of prominent human rights defenders. It points out that Golrou was arrested on October 26, spent two months in solitary confinement, and is still held in Evin Prison to this day but has never been allowed to meet with her lawyer.
FIDH also mentions the cases of Nargess Mohammadi and Mohammad Seifzadeh. Mohammadi, the vice president of the Defenders of Human Rights Center, has been told by the prosecutor’s office that she “must account for” her declared opposition to the death penalty because such views are contrary to the regime’s understanding of the “divine law” of qisas. Meanwhile, fellow DHRC member Seifzadeh is serving a six year sentence for his activities and has been repeatedly denied crucial medical treatment.