Many women were excluded from standing for election, including all of those who sought election to the Assembly of Experts, which is tasked with selecting a new supreme leader in the event of retirement or death. A number of women were carried into office on the support for current President Hassan Rouhani and former President Hashemi Rafsanjani. At the same time, existing female parliamentarians were ousted as a result of their well-established affiliation with hardline factions and ideologies.
The IranWire feature consisted of an interview with one of these ousted representatives, Sakineh Omrani, whose responses to policy questions are indicative of the lack of representation for actual women’s rights positions that had come from the nine women serving in parliament. But obviously it is not enough to hold sway in the 290-member legislative body. Furthermore, Iran News Update previously pointed out that many female government officials have been effectively forced to remain either silent or supportive of positions that are adverse to women’s rights, in order to preserve their political careers.
Indeed, the aforementioned vetting process has been described by the Iranian opposition as a process whereby anyone who displays the least non-conformity with the positions of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei is disqualified. And in recent months and years, Khamenei has famously spearheaded an initiative to reassert traditional gender roles and to encourage women to focus on their roles as wives and mothers.
The vetting process has also contributed to suggestions that the supposed reformists and moderates who scored significant victories in the elections are not serious about reformist policies and are unlikely to contribute to the changes that were initially expected in the wake of President Rouhani’s election in 2013.
One of the key campaign promises that Rouhani made at that time was a loosening of the country’s strict controls over the media and free expression. But Rouhani’s harshest critics feel that the situation has only gotten worse in the intervening two and a half years. Many therefore expect that the election of his supporters to parliament will only lead to more of the same.
One example of the deteriorating situation for the press came in November when several Iranian journalists were rounded up and charged with being members of a vaguely-defined “infiltration network” as a result of their connections to the West. And the lack of progress in this area was reiterated on Wednesday when IranWire reported that three of these journalists were tried this week and largely denied due process. Although the judiciary was unable to find evidence of its original accusations of “infiltration,” it has instead built a case against them on familiar, vague charges of propaganda, acting against national security, and insulting government officials.
A fourth journalist is expected to be tried next week.
While Iranian dissidents and opposition figures are often highly skeptical of prospects for change in this situation of repression coming from within the regime, they are supportive of the actions of journalists and activists, who are often credited with continuing their work in spite of the repression.
This is certainly evidenced by the continuance of arrests of prominent journalists, but also by the growth of activist movements of various sorts. One such was highlighted on Wednesday by the Christian Times, which pointed out that the house church movement for Iranian Christians appeared to be growing internally, as well as receiving international support in the form of activist training.
The report indicates that estimates of the number of Christians in Iran ranges from 450,000 to over a million, despite conversion being illegal and a possible basis for the death penalty.