The reaffirmation of this fatwa is in keeping with several trends that have been highlighted over the past few months, including the crackdown on Western nationals and Iranian citizens with ties to the West, and the intensification of the regime’s censorship of perceived anti-Islamic art and cultural expressions.
Earlier this month, two prominent Iranian poets fled the country while facing eleven and twelve year prison sentences for works that had previously been published with the blessing of Iran’s censorship authorities. Their trials came shortly after a fairly well-publicized series of arrests that took place in October and November, while international media was increasingly anticipating the implementation of the nuclear agreement.
Among those arrested during this period was Iranian-American businessman, who was also excluded from a January prisoner swap between the US and the Islamic Republic. His detention has been widely interpreted as a message regarding the regime’s commitment to pushing back against Western influence, whether cultural or economic. Meanwhile, the information that has gradually leaked out regarding that detention has stood alongside the Rushdie fatwa as an example of the abusive nature of hardline authorities.
The Guardian reported on Monday that after four months in jail, he has not been given access to a lawyer and has not been informed of the specific nature of the charges to be brought against him. In this way, his story mirrors that of another Iranian-American dual citizen, Jason Rezaian, whose charges were never made public even after he was convicted and held for a total 565 days before being released as part of the prisoner swap.
That prisoner swap has shone additional light upon the harsh conditions faced by Americans and other political prisoners in Iranian jails. The Christian Post ran a new story on Monday regarding Pastor Saeed Abedini, who had been arrested for supposedly proselytizing for Christianity while visiting his country of origin. Abedini’s latest statements to the media recalled situations in which he was beaten by prison authorities in front of his mother.
The pastor also expressed gratitude at having gained access to medical examinations and treatment since his return to the US. The deprivation of such treatment is a common tactic used against political prisoners, and Abedini himself was removed from hospitals on several occasions before completing treatment for injuries received from prison guards.