New Crackdowns Target Models, Religious Groups

By INU Staff 

INU - On Wednesday, news media published reports highlighting the continuation of a large-scale crackdown in the Islamic Republic of Iran. The reports specifically detailed a new assault on modeling networks in the country, which carries on the tradition of several previous actions, including the Operation Spider II sting operation which took place in March and targeted online social networks and led to the arrest of dozens of models, fashion designers, photographers, and bloggers.

Subsequent prosecutions accused the arrestees of “promoting a culture of promiscuity, weakening and rejecting the institution of family, ridiculing religious values and beliefs, promoting relationships outside moral rules, and publishing the private pictures of young women.” On November 14, similar accusations were levied against dozens of other arrestees after Iranian authorities shut down seven photography studios on the basis of supposed danger ot “moral security and public order.” 

The arrest and prosecution of these sorts of people is indicative of a growing obsession among regime’s authorities with the notion of Western cultural infiltration and the “soft overthrow” of the Islamic theocracy. Esmail Sadeghi Nyarki, the Revolutionary Prosecutor of the provincial capital of Qazvin, specifically made reference to this concept in his public comments on the shuttering of the modeling establishments. 

“Soft war does not target only lower [class] families,” he said. “Even higher echelons are targeted.” Iranian officials have described this “soft war” as being carried out through the direct influence of Western nationals traveling to or living in Iran, and also through exposure to Western news and entertainment through the internet and satellite television. The internet is heavily filtered in Iran and satellite television is categorically banned, by ordinary Iranians regularly evade these restrictions with proxy servers and black market receivers. 

Last summer, in a ceremony marking the destruction of 100,000 confiscated satellite dishes, General Mohammad Reza Naghdi, the head of the Basij civilian militia, accused Western media of being the source of high rates of divorce, drug addiction, and “insecurity in society.” Such commentary seems to primarily target lower class families, in contrast to Nyarki’s statements about relatively well-off models and photographers, who are less likely to suffer from such problems. 

But in many cases, the regime’s crackdown on perceived threats to Islamic society leads directly to the enforcement of economic hardship and associated problems. Some of the targets of that crackdown are barred from higher education and from various forms of commerce, in an apparent effort to either force conformity or self-exile. This is recognizably the case with the fiercely persecuted Baha’i religious minority, whose economic plight was highlighted on Tuesday in an article by the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran

The article reported that dozens of Baha’i-owned businesses had been forced to shut down just in the first two weeks of November. In some of these cases, authorities have acknowledged to the shop owners that their Baha’i faith was the sole reason for the closure. Although official explanations for such closures are generally not given, they often come in the wake of the business suspending operations during a Baha’i holy day. The latest wave of closures came immediately after the Baha’i community marked the birthdays of its two foundational figures, on November 1 and 2. 

Numerous reports by human rights organizations have also called attention to the ongoing practice of barring Baha’i students from Iranian institutions of higher learning. This trend has led to the formation of unofficial Baha’i universities, but teaching for such institutions has led to various individuals being imprisoned. 

The repeated crackdowns on the Baha’i are not directly connected to the response to supposed Western infiltration, although the crackdowns on both of these things may have intensified around the same time, as hardline authorities sought to reaffirm the country’s anti-Western, Islamic identity around the time that Iran concluded its nuclear negotiations with the US and five other world powers. Threats to that identity may be seen as coming both from foreign sources, as in exposure to Western-style modeling, and from domestic sources like the home-grown Baha’i faith. 

Meanwhile, some communities may be seen as occupying a grey area between these groups. For instance, Christianity has reportedly been growing inside Iran, despite a ban on conversion from Islam to another faith. Iran does have longstanding Christian communities who are not technically subject to this ban, but Christian proselytization is nonetheless generally viewed as a Western phenomenon. 

But whatever the source of the conversions, they have also spurred highly public crackdowns. Numerous incidents have been reported in recent months concerning the mass arrest of Christians during private gatherings, even gatherings unrelated to worship. Some of those who have been rounded up while at worship have been subject to charges of “blasphemy” for such things as the drinking of communion wine. This was the case with three individuals who were arrested in May and are presently awaiting punishments of 80 lashes each.  

According to the Daily Mail, the three men are also facing more serious charges of “acting against national security.” The report reiterates that the crackdown on Christians surged last year, and that at least 108 individuals have since been arrested, 90 of whom remain in jail today.

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