According to the PMOI and its attorneys, the unsuccessful appeal that was rejected on Thursday had been brought at the behest of the Iranian regime. The appeal concerned the alleged theft of the identity of one Ziauddin Abdolrazaghi by the PMOI. But investigation into the circumstances of the appeal uncovered the fact that Abdolrazaghi had been declared dead nine years earlier, and that his attorney initiated the appeal after being visited by visitors from Tehran, apparent representatives of the clerical regime there.
PMOI press statements about the incident describe this as an attempt to manipulate the French judiciary into expanding upon former crackdowns on the group that had been similarly initiated by Iranian meddling. Often, as in the case of the initial arrests of several PMOI members in 2001, this meddling has been alleged to involve trading suppression of the dissident group for favorable economic and trade agreements with the Islamic Republic.
The apparent Iranian hand in such Western legal affairs goes to show that Tehran is still vigorously working to repress dissent beyond its borders, even under the presidency of Hassan Rouhani, whose election was embraced by some in the West as a triumph of moderation. This characterization has been called into question not only by foreign opponents of the regime like the PMOI but also, of course, by domestic dissenters who are subject to much more direct and constant repression by Tehran.
The sentiment was expressed, for instance, by Fatemeh Karroubi, the wife of Green Movement leader Mehdi Karroubi, in an interview with Al Monitor – her first in the four years since her husband was placed under house arrest by the regime without charges or due process. Mrs. Karroubi emphasized that no one from the current administration has shown interest in her husband’s case, questioned his unlawful imprisonment, or even spoken to him in an official capacity.
Speaking more generally about the conduct of the regime especially at the time of the Green Movement protests against the 2009 presidential election, Mrs. Karroubi said that the regime’s inhumanity and repression of dissent was even worse than that which she and others had experienced at the hands of the Shah’s repressive intelligence forces prior to the Iranian Revolution. The arrest of her and her husband was preceded by days of monitoring and harassment by dozens of plainclothes security officials, and subsequently resulted in such human rights violations as Mr. Karroubi’s confinement for 1,000 days in a small building without any exposure to sunlight or fresh air.
In comments that highlight the different resources for repression available to the Iranian regime when working within and beyond its borders, Mrs. Karroubi pointed out that the house arrests of Green Movement leaders have followed no legal or procedural framework. Despite the fact that the Iranian constitution and legal system technically include protections of the rights of the accused, such legal principles are routinely ignored with the blessing or explicit instruction of the highest ranking Iranian officials. Karroubi’s arrest, for instance, was reportedly ordered by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei himself.
Double standards also apply to the regime’s restrictions of free speech and access to media. Social networks including Twitter and Facebook are banned throughout the country, but regime officials routinely use Twitter themselves, while the security forces maintain a presence on Facebook in order to monitor people’s activities there and use them as the basis for prosecutions. In a particularly egregious example, Soheil Arabi is currently facing execution over Facebook posts described as insulting to the Prophet Mohammad.
The International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran reported on Thursday that the crackdown on Facebook communications is apparently on the rise in the already highly restrictive environment of the Islamic Republic. An official in the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps declared on February 1 that 12 Facebook users had been arrested for “spreading corruption” and promoting so-called Western lifestyles, and that 24 additional persons have been served with summons over the same.
The official, cyberspace specialist Mostafa Alizadeh warned, “those who think this [social media] space is safe for them, must cease their activities” because of IRGC monitoring. Furthermore, in January the Iranian Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance claimed that it was beginning monitoring of SMS text messages as well. This has been viewed as part of a broader crackdown on free speech, characterized in other instances by the shuttering of Iranian newspapers for activities as innocuous as printing a picture of American actor George Clooney wearing a button expressing solidarity with the victims of the Charlie Hebdo terrorist attack in Paris.
But although Iran is exhibiting particularly tight controls on media deemed offensive or controversial by the ruling clerics, it is quick to embrace and promote media that is seen as offensive of controversial on the global stage. NBC News reports that two Iranian organizations launched a cartoon contest in response to Charlie Hebdo’s depictions of the Prophet Mohammad, deemed unacceptable by Tehran. The contest calls for artists around the world to send in cartoons expressing Holocaust denial – long a hallmark of the Iranian government’s public statements about Jews and Israel.
According to one of the contest’s organizers, entries must be received by April Fools’ Day because “April 1 is the day of big lies, and the Holocaust is a big lie that the Zionists invented to suppress the Palestinians.”
Holocaust denial is so prevalent in the Iranian government that last year Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif was summoned before parliament for questioning after he acknowledged that the historical event did happen and was a terrible crime.