News : Iranian opposition

Iranian Regime Official Acknowledges that Repression May Not be Working

By Iran News Update Staff  

On July 13, Iran’s Fars News Agency, a conservative outlet associated with the Revolutionary Guards Corps, quoted MortezaMoghtadaei as saying the Islamic Republic’s policy of flogging and imprisonment has been ineffective at enforcing the mandatory veiling of women throughout the country. Moghtadaei is a high ranking cleric and a member of the Assembly of Experts, the Iranian government organization that appoints and advises the supreme leader.

It is possible that Moghtadaei’s remarks on the topic of veiling also belie the effectiveness of Iran’s notoriously harsh punishments when it comes to enforcing other theocratic demands, or repressing dissent. There are frequent examples of these policies, with many of them coming to the fore during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, during which several persons have been publicly flogged by law enforcement officials as punishment for the crime or not observing the required daylight fast.

During the same period, the criminalization of political dissent and Western influence has been reaffirmed with new lengthy prison sentences being handed down by Iranian courts on persons who joined in assemblies of religious or political minorities, or who voiced non-state-endorsed views on the banned social networking sites.

For instance, at least sixteen Facebook users were sentenced in April and May to prison terms ranging from seven to 21 years, on charges such as propaganda and blasphemy. The International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran points out that these cases have been marked by the participation of the Revolutionary Guards in the judicial process, with the paramilitary group acting as a domestic police force by carrying out surveillance online and making arrests.

This has also been a broader trend in recent years, as the Revolutionary Guards as a whole, as well as its volunteer-based Basij militia have increasingly been tasked with law enforcement alongside the regular law enforcement bodies. This situation helps to further solidify Iran’s status as an authoritarian state, wherein several different kinds of law enforcement agents may occupy the same streets, some of them in plain clothes, their roles hidden from the public.

In many cases, the roles of these government agents include enforcing Shiite Islamic codes of morality, including the Ramadan fast and the veiling of women. But the effectiveness of that latter goal has been brought into question by MortezaMoghtadaei, presumably because defiance of forced veiling has not seriously diminished in the wake of imprisonment or flogging of unveiled women.

The effectiveness of political or religious repression is, of course, a matter of whether the targets of such policies are still willing to defy them after they have been enacted. The persistence of conflicts between Iranian citizens and law enforcement agencies suggests that this willingness may remain quite high in Iran. Indeed, the National Council of Resistance of Iran has assembled a list of a dozen instances of confrontations that took place between Iranian citizens and the state security forces or Basij militia over the course of about two weeks in July.

These include instances of women and youth being harassed under the auspices of the enforcement of Islamic virtues. One clash, on July 17, was prompted by a protest against police harassment and resulted in the protesters being attacked, leaving two of them injured. Other protests this month were much bolder, even in the presence of the law enforcement or militia members. The NCRI reports that on July 18, a group of youths tore down a portrait of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.

On the evening of the same day, a group of citizens deliberately confronted police forces in Tehran in response to recent harassment. One officer was beaten before the participants in the confrontation were dispersed and arrested.

These various examples indicate both that police and paramilitary repression are commonplace facts of life in Iran, and that those policies are not necessarily effective at curtailing either protest or political and religious dissent. 

 

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