Several recent headlines from Iran-focused news outlets point to the conspiracy of silence that the regime struggles to maintain with regard to many of these issues. Journalism is Not a Crime, for instance, pointed out on Thursday that authorities threatened the family of political prisoner and prominent civil rights activist Omid Alishenas, saying that they would be arrested as well if they spoke publicly about his case.
In another case also highlighted by Journalism is Not a Crime, the father of Iranian blogger Hossein Ronaghi-Maleki was sentenced to four months in prison on the charge of “publishing falsehoods” after he spoke to the media about his son’s case, which recently became the subject of an urgent action campaign by Amnesty International.
Despite the threats and the precedent, Alishenas’ mother also broke her silence by granting an interview to IranWire. She said that she felt the family had exhausted its options for direct appeal to Iranian authorities over her son’s 10 year sentence for peaceful activism. She is thus hopeful that international human rights activists will help to exert pressure on the case.
Alishenas’ family was also deprived of the right to visit him in prison, according to the Human Rights Activists News Agency. This appears to have served the dual purpose of subjecting the political prisoner to additional punitive measures and limiting the amount of information that could get out via his family if they did not concede to authorities’ threats.
HRANA explains that the denial of visitation rights was justified by Alishenas’ refusal to wear a prison uniform. But there is no legal requirement or fixed policy requiring such attire of prisoners. The arbitrary enforcement of this dress code for Alishenas alone is reflective of more general trends by which prison officials use dubious pretenses to exert additional pressure on political prisoners, or to limit communication with the outside world.
Journalism is Not a Crime explained last week that for roughly the last two years, Rajai Shahr prison has been outfitted with radio jammers for the purpose of preventing prisoners from contacting loved ones via mobile phone or otherwise disseminating information about conditions within the facility.
This suppression of communications technology also extends beyond the walls of Iranian prisons, with Iranian security forces routinely seizing and destroying satellite dishes for fear of citizen access to foreign media. The National Council of Resistance of Iran reported on Thursday that the cleric Mullah Amir Ahmadi told Iranian State Television, “Satellite television is more dangerous than a nuclear bomb.”
A former political prisoner in Rajai Shahr noted that the local jamming signal steadily became so strong that it made several prisoners ill, sending some of them to the hospital. In his interview with Journalism is Not a Crime, this prisoner, Heshmatollah Tabarzadi, went on to say, “I cannot remain silent… I will continue my [activist] activities.” The willingness of such figures to speak about their own experiences in prison helps to reveal information that the regime is recognizably attempting to suppress.
Certainly, repression of information, and not prisoner discomfort, was the aim of the radio jamming policy in Rajai Shahr. But other punitive measures have specifically served to make prison conditions more uncomfortable or more hazardous to prisoners’ health. HRANA reported on Tuesday that prisoners in Hall 10 of Rajai Shahr have no prospects for relief from unbearably hot temperatures. The prison itself has provided no climate control or ventilation, prompting a number of Sunni prisoners to purchase gas-powered air conditioners at their own expense. But the authorities have held onto these units since their delivery in winter, and thus far have been unwilling to let them be installed in the prison facility.
The resulting conditions are essentially a mirror image of those reported by Iranian-American Pastor Saeed Abedini in a letter home last Christmas, in which he complained that he had been forced to sleep on cold concrete, often near an open window.
Abedini was targeted by security forces for his support of the house church movement in Iran. Christians are subject to consistent persecution by the Iranian regime, but by most accounts they are not the most persecuted minority. The native Iranian Baha’i religious minority certainly stands near the top of the list, as pointed out again by the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran on Thursday, when it reported that the Baha’i art teacher Shahriar Siroos had been arrested in front of his students on June 30.
No reason was given for the arrest, which was accompanied by an unwarranted search of the building he occupied, as well as the seizure of the students’ mobile phones and temporary threats to arrest those individuals alongside their teacher.
But this is not the most egregious recent targeting of minorities by Iranian security forces. The NCRI also reported on Thursday that two young members of the Baluch ethnic minority were detained by agents of the Ministry of Intelligence last week, only to be released to the hospital later, where they were pronounced dead and their bodies were found to show signs of torture.
It is not clear what suspicions led to the two men’s detention, but their deaths are indicative of the lengths that the regime will go to in order to address perceived threats extra-legally. Yet a number of broadly repressive measures by the regime take place within the framework of its laws, particularly its religious laws. For instance, IranWire reported on Thursday that 160 people had been arrested during the holy month of Ramadan for having been discovered violating the requirement for fasting.
Other measures exist in a legal grey area, much like the arbitrary enforcement of punitive measures against political prisoners. But some of these also serve to emphasize the importance that the regime places on its theocratic ideology – an importance that often outstrips concerns about the public will or the public good.
To this effect, IranWire also reported on Thursday that violence erupted in Tehran as residents protested the destruction of a major section of a public park to make way for a mosque. The article notes that an administrative court ruled that the plans should be put on hold pending a final decision, but religious-political authorities ignored the recommendation and broke ground anyway, prompting popular protest.