As Agence France-Presse noted in its coverage, these arrests come only about a week after it was announced that approximately 35 recent Iranian graduates had been arrested at a graduation party and immediately tried and sentenced to 99 lashes. In each case, the punishment was carried out within a day of the arrest. The identification of these offenses may be a testament to the success of the regime’s recent deployment of thousands of plainclothes morality police officers, who are tasked with identifying instances of “mal-veiling” and other such violations, and reporting them to arresting authorities.
AFP also links these incidents to a sting operation that led to criminal charges against 29 individuals with ties to an online modeling network. “Operation Spider II” has helped to demonstrate how online monitoring and enforcement has increase right alongside the rise in incidences of public monitoring and politically-motivated mass arrests.
Ever since nuclear negotiations led to some expectations of expanded relations between Iran and Western powers, the Iranian authorities have taken aggressive steps to dispel the notion of internal change and to encourage persistent animosity toward the West. Toward this end, many of the recent arrests have been closely linked to rhetoric regarding supposed foreign “infiltration.” In the case of the graduate party arrests, a spokesperson for the judiciary even went so far as to say that “not all of the participants were aware of the real driving force” behind such parties, which he claimed were “being led from other places.”
Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has issued numerous statements over the past several months claiming that the West had not been adequately upholding the July 14 nuclear agreement and warning against offering cooperation or trust to the US and its allies. He repeated these sorts of statements once again in a televised address on Friday, referring to the United States by the familiar moniker of the “Great Satan” and describing the United Kingdom as “evil.”
Reuters reports that the supreme leader emphasized that Tehran would not cooperate with the United States on regional crisis such as the Syrian Civil War or the persistent presence of Islamic State militants there and in Iraq. Furthermore, he declared Iranian and Western interests in such matters to be “180 degrees opposed” to each other.
The Hindustan Times adds that Khamenei also used the speech to issue much broader statements in opposition to any cooperation between Iran and its traditional enemies. Specifically, he said that if Iran were to rejoin the global economy, it would constitute “loss and defeat.” Such statements stand in apparent contrast to Khamenei’s repeated accusations that the US is standing in the way of Iran’s economic recovery in the aftermath of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.
In other words, Khamenei’s statement indicates a desire for Iran to claim the economic benefits of that nuclear deal without having to adjust its behavior in any other ways, especially those ways that would facilitate its reentry into the international banking system. In a Senate Banking Committee hearing last week, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren and former Treasury Department official Elizabeth Rosenberg agreed that “instead of blaming the US” for its lack of recovery, Iran could take such measures as ending its support for terrorism.
But this is something that Khamenei explicitly rejected in his remarks on Friday. The BBC noted that the supreme leader had claimed that the US and its allies were using terrorism and human rights as “pretexts” for maintaining pressure on the Islamic Republic and avoiding commitment to Iran’s success under the deal. But the language of the JCPOA is clear in its lifting only of nuclear-related sanctions. Sanctions on Iran’s human rights record and support for terrorism remain in place as long as those issues are still considered to be current.
Khamenei expressed his refusal to reconsider his country’s record on human rights and terrorism in the context of a speech marking the 27th anniversary of the death of founder of the Islamic Republic Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. Meanwhile, other figures in the regime used that opportunity not only to avoid responsibility for that record but to actively justify it. IranWire reported, for instances, that Khomeini’s grandson Ali had made a speech on May 31 contradicting the growing criticism of mass executions that took place in 1988, mainly directed against members of the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran.
The PMOI reports that as many as 30,000 people were executed in a single summer, many of them after having already completed their prison sentences. IranWire notes that reformist politician Mostafa Tajzadeh issued a statement earlier in May saying that such arbitrary additional sentencing was illegal and that the Islamic Republic should “ask for the forgiveness of the families of the prisoners who were executed in 1988.”
Nonetheless, Ali Khomeini insists that the killings were justified, and IranWire argues that such statements are in keeping with efforts that recur every year around the time of Ayatollah Khomeini’s death, seeking to sanitize his image and portray him as a “moral and conscientious leader.” Such efforts do not allow for the acknowledgement of past wrongdoing, and may not even allow for the acknowledgement of more recent wrongdoing under the system of absolute clerical rule that Khomeini established.
But the legacy of those mass executions and other human rights abuses remains alive to this day, especially in light of the fact that the rate of executions in Iran doubled between 2014 and 2015, with approximately 1,000 hangings having occurred last year alone. A separate IranWire report indicates that those executions, along with systematic torture and mistreatment make up a situation that led one prison-duty conscript to tell reporters that “he will have nightmares about the horrible scenes he has witnessed at [Rajai Shahr Prison] for the rest of his life.”