As well as becoming the latest arrestee, Shariatmadari also became the latest symbol of the protest on social media after a video of her protest and subsequent assault by Iranian security agents went viral. After being approached by two police officers and told to get down from the utility box, the 32-year-old computer science student asked what crime she had committed.
Surrounded by a crowd of onlookers, one officer then climbed up beside the structure and violently pushed her off.
The fall caused her to fracture her knee and to require surgery five stitches on her leg. Supporters who witnessed the incident attempted to shield her from arrest, but the taxi that took her away from the scene was reportedly stopped a block away. The resulting arrest caused several delays in her receipt of medical attention for her injuries, as is a common feature of detention in the Islamic Republic, especially when arrests are politically motivated.
The CHRI report specifies that five security agents accompanied Shariatmadari to hospital sometime after her arrest but were then called away to break up a mixed-gender party, leading to her being returned to detention for several more hours. Even after receiving the necessary surgery on her fractured knee, she has reportedly been denied post-operative medical treatment and has been physically abused by authorities. Similar reports of abuse have been associated with all or nearly all of the roughly 30 “Revolution Street” arrests.
These broader details were the subject of an IW report, also published on Monday, regarding the regime’s tactics against the opposition movement against compulsory hijab. The report noted that Saturday marked the beginning of the trial for one protester, Narges Hosseini, who faces charges of “encouraging immorality or prostitution,” “failing to observe hijab” and “flagrant commitment of a forbidden act.” The first of these is the most serious and carries a sentence of between one and 10 years in prison.
The same report indicates that the potential penalties for Revolution Street protests could become even worse in the near future, as evidenced by the fact that another paticipant, Shaparak Shajarizadeh, has had her case referred to the Security Court at Evin Prison. In public statements on these protests and arrests, regime authorities have showcased familiar tactics for both discrediting peaceful activism and justifying extreme legal penalties. IranWire quotes Iranian judiciary spokesman Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejei as describing the Girls of Revolution Street as “substance-abusing saboteurs” and suggesting that some or all of them might have connections to “certain organizations” committed to the overthrow of the government.
Such statements are highly reminiscent of regime authorities’ commentary on the nationwide protests that took place in late December and early January, resulting in thousands of arrests and dozens of killings. According to the National Council of Resistance of Iran, at least 12 individuals were tortured to death in the aftermath of that uprising. In several of those cases, the regime insisted that the arrestees had been drug addicts and had taken their own lives. Other arrested protesters were reportedly forced to swallow pills and were also portrayed as drug addicts whose political activities could not be credible reflections of public opinion.
In addition to these efforts at character-assassination, Iranian authorities also sought to blame the protests on organizing efforts by the US government, with on-the-ground support from the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran. Although not named explicitly, it was presumably one or both of these groups that the Iranian judiciary had in mind when mentioning “certain groups” in reference to the Revolution Street protesters.
The US-PMOI narrative was advanced by no less an authority than Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, and it does appear to have spread beyond the context of the mass uprising. On Tuesday, Voice of America News quoted Khamenei as saying that recent labor protests are examples of an “enemy plot”.
Although labor unions are illegal in the Islamic Republic, informal organizations have spearheaded an upsurge in demonstrations against unpaid wages, which in some cases span months-long periods. Nevertheless, Khamenei told Iranian state media that the protests were actually the result of “provocation” by Iran’s “enemies,” typically a reference to the US and the UK. According to the supreme leader, the aim of this plot was to drive the Iranian economy into recession.
Although the December and January protests came to take on broad criticisms of the clerical regime and calls for the supreme leader’s resignation, their initial focus was reportedly runaway inflation and dramatic increases in the price of food and other essential items. The population continues to suffer from high levels of poverty and unemployment even after the lifting of sanctions under the 2015 nuclear agreement. The government blames the absence of economic recovery on the refusal of the US to facilitate Western investment in Iran.
Various human rights experts and political organizations have described the Islamic Republic as being in the midst of crackdown on any signs of Western influence or “infiltration” since the controversial nuclear negotiations were concluded. The recent remarks by Khamenei, Ejei, and others suggest that this trend is increasingly bound up with the broader crackdown on perceived domestic threats to the clerical regime. Meanwhile, the possibility of more serious charges for Revolution Street protesters suggests that the overall crackdown may still be intensifying.
Both IranWire and CHRI report that the regime has levied threats against not only those protesters but also members of their families. This same trend has been observed in the response after-the-fact to the mass protests in January, which saw the arrest of various activists who may not have even participated in the demonstrations.
At the same time, IranWire reports that Iranians continue to speak out in support of the Revolution Street protesters, as by using social media to share ideas about how to protect them in the future. Such persistent defiance has also been observed in the broader protest movement, as evidenced by numerous reports from the NCRI highlighting demonstrations that emerged even after the nationwide uprising had been suppressed. This in turn recalls attention to the widespread speculation that government repression would only engender another such uprising in the long run.