New Convictions in Broad-Based Iranian Crackdown

The latest of these is Reyhaneh Tabatabaei, a 35 year-old Iranian reporter who was sentenced to one year in prison and a two year ban on joining political organizations or publishing her work in any newspaper or website. The sentence was handed down by Judge Salavati, who is infamous for harsh sentences and is often hand-picked by the judiciary and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps for political cases like these.

Salavati was also assigned to the case of Washington Post correspondent Jason Rezaian, who was the subject of baseless accusations of spying for the United States, and was held in prison for more than a year before being convicted last month and sentenced to an unspecified prison term that is expected to be in excess of ten years.

Such politically motivated trials are notorious for laxity in what is accepted as evidence. Past job applications and simple professional connections within the United States were apparently utilized against Rezaian, while Tabatabaei’s trial, according to IranWire, included her Facebook posts, descriptions of some of her charity work, and references to her support of the 2009 Green Movement, still referred to as the “sedition” among Iranian authorities.

Among the charity work that was apparently criminalized in her case was a trip to the southeastern province of Sistan and Baluchistan to assist orphaned children. Interestingly, this connects her case to that of Iranian-American Pastor Saeed Abedini who was arrested while on a trip to Iran to help establish a secular orphanage. He is now serving an eight-year sentence for “undermining national security” through his support for the Iranian house church movement.

In Tabatabaei’s case, the charges are “spreading propaganda against the regime” through her journalistic activities. The same charge was also levied against another journalist, the 33 year-old Solmaz Ikdar, along with a charge of “insulting the supreme leader.” Although her sentence has previously been reported on, the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran called attention to on Wednesday, as well as reporting on the Tabatabaei case.

Ikdar received a three-year sentence on November 10, following a trial that stemmed from her being stopped when trying to leave the country to study abroad in June. The Iranian judiciary reportedly accused her of intending to join the Voice of America as a television broadcaster, though no evidence has ever been presented to substantiate this.

Authorities have similarly tried to link many of the more recent arrestees to Western powers, in an apparent effort to portray any domestic dissent as the product of a foreign network aimed at infiltrating and influencing the Islamic Republic. The arrests have been complemented by an upsurge in anti-Western propaganda coming from the Revolutionary Guards, the supreme leader, and others.

At the same time, the effort to crack down on dissent has naturally been supported by ongoing attacks on the organized resistance to the Iranian regime. Since much of this resistance now operates in exile, the most prominent example of this aspect of the crackdown comes in the form of the rocket attack on a community of the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran living in Camp Liberty, near the Baghdad airport.

On Wednesday, this attack was addressed by General Hugh Shelton, the former chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, in an editorial in the Charlotte Observer. He criticized the US government for reneging on promises to protect the PMOI community formerly based in their self-built community of Camp Ashraf. Shelton alleged that in addition to damaging US credibility, the failure to defend the dissidents or respond to the October 29 attack also served to impede the pursuit of a democratic future for Iran.

In this way, attacks upon the exile group contribute to the same Iranian goal as the domestic crackdown, namely the reassertion of hardliners power over the whole of society. It also appears to contribute to the crackdown on pro-Western attitudes, as the PMOI has notable connections to the West including military figures like Shelton and a host of prominent US politicians.

The PMOI’s parent organization, the National Council of Resistance of Iran reported this week that Camp Liberty, which lost 24 residents in its attack, had held a memorial gathering for the victims of last week’s Paris terror attacks, which killed 129. Similarly, the NCRI, which is based outside of Paris, held its own gathering in remembrance of the victims and in solidarity with the survivors and the French government.

Such activities by the Iranian opposition stand in stark contrast to a variety of responses from the regime itself. This week it was reported that various statements by Iranian officials and state-owned and state-affiliated news outlets had blamed the ISIS attacks upon France itself, and used them in order to push for Western acceptance of Iranian policies in the Middle East.

On Wednesday, Arutz Sheva added that Brigadier General Mohammad Reza Naqdi, the commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Basij civilian militia, had gone even further, referring to ISIS as “the infantry unit of the US and the usurper Zionist regime.” Iranian propaganda networks have previously developed a reputation for dealing in conspiracy theories about the West, including assertions that the Islamic State militant group had been deliberately created by the US and Britain as part of a conspiracy to destabilize the Middle East.