The NCRI’s communications regarding this situation have also accused President Hassan Rouhani of being a party to it, in contrast to some Western analysts’ expectations that Rouhani would help to bring reformists to the forefront of Iranian politics, thereby heralding prospects for change. The NCRI’s criticisms were arguably underscored on Tuesday when Reuters reported that the Iranian president had spoken optimistically about the process, saying, “There should be no doubts in anyone’s mind about these elections, and we must all work actively towards that.”

These remarks appear to be encouraging the Iranian people to participate in the elections, even though their views may not be represented. This in turn could have the effect of helping the regime to portray those elections as a democratic outlet for the voice of the people, despite the relative absence of free choice.

As those elections approach, a number of critics of the Iranian regime are coming forward to publicly dismiss lingering expectations that a trend toward moderation or reform might emerge in the wake of the nuclear agreement and the ostensibly discord between factions affiliated with Rouhani and with Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. 

This sentiment was expressed for instance, by an editorial that appeared at Ground Report on Tuesday and insisted that “reform has proven impossible” in Iran, largely because any disagreements between figures like Rouhani and Khamenei are only over the tactics for how to achieve the same revolutionary aims of the Islamic Republic.

This dismissal of the portrait of Rouhani as a relative moderate is supported with reference to his domestic record during his two and a half years as president. Critics are keen to point out that that record includes a significant increase in the number of executions, totaling to nearly 2,300 since he took office in the summer of 2013. The same critics have tended to highlight a conservative crackdown that became particularly apparent in November when several journalists with innocuous connections to the West were arrested or summoned for questioning.

 In addition to journalists, the regime has been aggressively targeting artists, filmmakers and poets. Two prominent poets who had been sentenced to multiple-year prison terms and 99 lashes each, famously fled the country last month. But others remain under duress, either in prison or under threat of imprisonment for vague political charges related to supposedly un-Islamic cultural expressions.

The Human Rights Activists News Agency points out, for instance, that the poet Mohammad Mahdavifar was recently sentenced to a year and a half in prison for the crime of “spreading false news.” 

In the aftermath of the July 14 nuclear agreement, Supreme Leader Khamenei warned his subordinates against economic, political, and cultural “infiltration” by the West. Crackdowns on both Iranian cultural expressions and political participation may be reactions to this.