The existential threat to that domestic power may be making Iran anxious about any signs of instability, including signs of an imminent change of leadership. This may factor into the regime’s efforts to publicize a two and a half minute video showing Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei walking after recovering from prostate surgery that was likely associated with cancer.
The possibility of revolt in the midst of a transition of power may contribute to Iranian conservative’s apparent interest in tightening its means of repressive power.
On Wednesday the Iranian parliament voted overwhelmingly to increase the power of the Basij – groups of Iranian citizen vigilantes controlled by the Revolutionary Guard, who are tasked with upbraiding and often physically assaulting persons who are spotted violating Iranian dress codes or otherwise acting against the regime’s fundamentalist interpretation of Islam.
Meanwhile, the professional police forces have reportedly obtained a recent influx of new “anti-riot” equipment, according to Asharq al-Awsat. Reporters were invited to view new armored vehicles and non-lethal weapons on Thursday. The new equipment was described as having “urban combat capabilities,” and General Hassan Karami, commander of Iran’s Special Force for Anti-Terror, said that it was capable of responding to “any unpredictable situation.”
Such language seems to be at once militaristic and aimed at more than just large-scale citizen violence. Indeed, Iran is known for disproportionate responses to protests and other demonstrations, and Asharq al-Awsat indicates that Karami’s comments seem to contradict comments made two years ago by General Ahmadi-Moghaddam, saying that Special Forces units were tasked with responding to genuine crises, not suppressing protests.
Although non-lethal weapons like water cannons were unveiled at this demonstration, Karami pointed out that the anti-riot unit would now carry firearms for the first time.
This armament is not the first recent expansion of the Iranian regime’s means of suppression and intimidation. Friday marked World Day Against the Death Penalty, and thus an opportunity for opponents of the Iranian regime to point out the significant increase in an already-high rate of executions in the Islamic Republic. Iran has the second highest such rate in the world, after China, and it has put approximately 1000 people to death already this year.
Statements on Friday by the European Parliament group, Friends of a Free Iran Iran and by National Council of Resistance of Iran both pointed to these figures, adding that 20 of these victims were known to be political prisoners, and that untold numbers of others had died under torture. This helps to make the death penalty and the Iranian criminal justice system as a whole a source of intimidation for the Iranian populous.
Furthermore, death under conditions of torture is a fate that occasionally befalls persons with other-than-Iranian citizenship. Such was the case with Zahra Kazemi, an Iranian-born Canadian journalist who was arrested in 2003 for taking pictures of Iran’s notorious Evin Prison, and was tortured to death during interrogations.
Afterwards, Kazemi’s son undertook an eight year long legal battle aiming to sue the Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Khamenei, a prosecutor, and a prison official involved in his mother’s death. That battle concluded on Friday in Canada’s Supreme Court when it ruled that under current law, foreign states such as Iran are immune to prosecution in Canadian courts, according to Canada.com.
In the past, Canadian law has made case-by-case exceptions to this immunity, and the Supreme Court ruling pointed out that it is still possible for the Canadian parliament to change the law to allow for prosecution in these cases. But until Canada and other Western governments take such action, there appears to be little recourse for even foreign nationals to confront the Iranian regime for harm done to them or their loved ones.