Insider news & Analysis in Iran

By INU Staff

INU - On Tuesday, media reported upon recent remarks by Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli regarding the possibility of renewed protests, following the mass demonstrations that spanned dozens of Iranian cities at the end of 2017 and the beginning of 2018. The report characterized those remarks as a government official admitting to the severity of threat posed to the regime by its people, but without providing any assessment of “what happened or what steps the government should take next.”

In interviews with two Iranian newspapers, published on Sunday and Monday, Fazli acknowledged about 5,000 arrests that had been made in connection with those protests. Of these, he said, about 800 had turned into serious cases. But the National Council of Resistance of Iran has determined that the true number of arrests exceeded 8,000 and that more than 14 detainees have been tortured to death so far in an ongoing crackdown.

Fazli also asserted that the December-to-January uprising was not affiliated with any organized social movement. But this seems to contradict earlier statements by no less an authority than Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, who acknowledged that the NCRI’s main constituent organization, the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran, had played a leading role in planning and carrying out the demonstrations. This observation was later corroborated by the political affairs deputy for the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, who reported that several of the persons who were arrested for leading the protests were female leaders of the PMOI who had also contributed to student protests in the 1980s.

The PMOI and the NCRI have made their own projections regarding the resumption of protests following the crackdown. The same is true of various foreign observers who believe that Tehran’s repressive measures were effective in the short term but also provided fuel for further public resentment. The PMOI has also sought to specifically channel this resentment into a new uprising, to coincide with the Iranian New Year of Nowruz, which occurs next week.

Fox News reported upon the PMOI’s calls to action on Tuesday, featuring commentary from two activists inside the Islamic Republic. The report noted that protest organizers believe forthcoming protests will be even larger than those that emerged virtually without warning at the end of December. “We are like a wave -- we come back even stronger, and the Iranian people want regime change,” said one of the activists.

Another of the interviewees credited young Iranians in particular with “making history.” This is reminiscent of Fazli’s efforts to blame “generational change” for the recent social unrest. But while Fazli rejected the notion of deep-seated and demographically diverse economic and political grievances, the Iranian activist sought to emphasize that “more types of people [are] becoming involved,” including housewives, office workers, and the rural poor.

IranWire’s account of Fazli’s remarks suggests that by remaining unwilling to address the specific roots of the protest movement, the Interior Minister pointed to how ill-equipped his government is to prevent more such demonstrations in the future. This is not to say that the regime hasn’t put forth effort to do so, but reporting from sources like the NCRI indicates that this effort consists of little other than the repetition of the sorts of repressive measures that put demonstrations on pause in January.

The PMOI’s call to action was specifically focused on Tuesday’s celebration of the Iranian fire festival Chahrshanbeh Suri. This in turn coincided with massive deployments of repressive forces such as the Basij civilian militia to municipalities throughout Iran. With this in mind, the Iranian activists’ interviews with Fox News reiterated calls for the international community to pay attention to the human rights situation in the days ahead and to help Iranian retain access to the internet and other forms of communication.

Similar advocacy has been offered up this week by a number of Iranian and international human rights groups. which reported that 46 different non-governmental organizations had signed a document urging the United Nations Human Rights Council to renew the mandate for the special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran. A major portion of the document focused upon the deaths and arrests that resulted from the recent uprising, while others emphasized separate instances of political imprisonment, Iran’s track record for non-cooperation with international human rights bodies, and the reprisals that it has visited upon those who dare to communicate with the outside world about recognized abuses.

In addition, Human Rights Watch and three other NGOs issued another statement on Tuesday calling attention to the issue of Iran’s persecution of the families of people who died suspiciously while in police custody. CHRI highlighted this statement in the context of a report on the case of Mohammad Raji, a member of the religious group known as Gonabadi dervishes who was arrested during a mass protest on February 20 and died sometime thereafter.

The report indicated that even in spite of the interrogations and intimidation they have subsequently faced, the family now intends to sue the Iranian government for burying Raji’s body without their permission, as part of an apparent effort to prevent and independent autopsy and conceal the cause of his death. In the cases of several recent detainee deaths, prison authorities have attempted to claim that the individuals committed suicide.

The family’s prospective lawsuit stands alongside the calls to action by the PMOI and other activist groups in demonstrating that members of the Iranian public are committed to action even in the face of severe repression. And this in turn reinforces expectations, even among Iranian officials like Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli, that another nationwide uprising might occur in the near future.

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