THE BLOG

The Heightened Domestic Crack Down and Human Rights Violations

08/09/2014 03:35 pm ET | Updated Oct 09, 2014

History appears to be repeating itself in the Islamic Republic. Whenever many Iranians believe that there will be more socio-political, individual as well as socio-economic freedoms in the country, due to the rule of a moderate or reformist president, the domestic crack down and human rights violation in the Islamic Republic mount up.

Three institutional apparatuses play a crucial function in setting up the boundaries of social justice, freedom of speech, press, assembly, the use of social media, and privacy rights. The first one is the Judiciary system of Iran, the second is the Islamic Republic's intelligence (Ettela't), and the security forces (Nyrohaye Amniyat).

To enforce the law of the government, these three branches of the government utilize other voluntary or paid paramilitary or militia institutions as well such as Basij.

It is crucial to point out that these governmental apparatuses operate quasi-independently or totally independently from the office of the president. The president is mostly a political figurehead in the Islamic Republic, wielding some power domestically -- such as partially managing the economy -- and more fundamentally setting the tone for Iran's foreign policy for international and regional meetings and conferences.

Although when domestic repression, crackdown and human rights violations are increased, the president can speak up in favor of the oppressed and defend them, nevertheless, reformist presidents (such as former president Muhammad Khatami) , pragmatist ones (former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani) and moderate and realist presidents (such as Hassan Rouhani), have chosen to remain predominantly silent. The reason behind not speaking up for people is safeguarding their own political and social position and not jeopardizing their power and interests.

Social Media

The crackdown on social media by security forces and the Islamic Republic's Judiciary branch has been prevalent in Iran, and it increased after the emergence of the Green movement and the widespread protests in several cities in 2009. The significant and power of social media has led the authorities in the Islamic Republic to increase their technological capabilities with regard to monitoring social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, blogs, and set up a complex surveillance and monitoring techniques. [1]

When it comes to cracking down on internet users, the Cyber Unit of the Revolutionary Guard as well as the Islamic Republic Revolutionary Court have ratcheted up their censorship. In March 2012, the Supreme Council for Cyberspace was set up in order to centralize and more efficiently monitor Internet users.[2] Without doubt, these restrictions on internet have been legalized through the Judiciary system of the Islamic Republic. The reasons for the legality are justified by factors such as insulting the government officials, endangering the national security of the Islamic Republic, spreading propaganda, insulting the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, as well as offending the official religion of the Islamic Republic. In the last few weeks, the crack down on social media has seen a surge.

For example, according to the official the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) eight Facebook users were recently sentenced by the Islamic Republic's judiciary system to a total of 127 years in prison. Their crimes ranged from insulting governmental officials, the religion of Islam, risking the national security of the Islamic Republic.

In another report by the Persian Website, Kalame, eight Facebook users were sentenced to a combination of 123 years in prison. According to the Website Kalame, the sentences and names are as follow:

Roya Saberi Nejad Nobakht, 20 years sentence in prison.
Amir Goulestani: a sentence of 20 years and one day.
Masoud Ghasem Khani, 19 years and 91 days in prison.
Faribourz Kardar Far, 18 years and 91 days in prison.
Seyed Masood Seyyed Talebi, 15 years and one day in prison.
Amin (Fareed) Akrami Pour, 13 years in prison.
Mehdi Rei Shahri, 11 years in prison
Naghmeh Shah Savandy Shirazi, 7 years and 91 days in prison.


According to the International Campaign for Human Rights
in Iran, "The ruling by Judge Mohammad Moghiseh, which is harsher than what the law allows, is clearly intended to spread fear among Internet users in Iran, and dissuade Iranians from stepping outside strict state controls on cyberspace. "

Iran has been labeled as one of the enemies of the Internet by Reporters Without Borders. [3]

In addition, when it comes to the media press, the crackdown by Iran's security forces and the Islamic Republic's Judiciary system has also ratcheted up. More recently, four journalists were detained. One from the Washington Post, an Iranian-American dual citizen with his wife, as well as two freelance photojournalists, American citizens.[4] In 2014, several other domestic journalists in the Islamic Republic were arrested, including Saba Azarpeik, a reformist journalist working for the weekly Tejarat-e Farda as well as daily Etemad, Mahnaz Mohammadi, Iranian documentary filmmaker, sentenced to five year in prison, 11 staff members of Pat Shargh Govashir and the news website Narenji, Nardebaan and Negahbaan, were sentenced to eleven years in prison, Mehdi Khazali, a blogger, Reihaneh Tabatabei, a journalist with Shargh and Bahar, Mashallah Shamsolvaezin, Iranian journalist who recived award from the CPJ International Press Freedom, and Marzieh Rasouli, a reporter for cultural issues, to name a few. [5]

In addition to Reporters Without Borders, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has also labeled the Islamic Republic of Iran as one of the worst enemies of the freedom of press.

While President Hassan Rouhani appears to be changing Iran's relationships with the United States and the West, the domestic crackdown of internet users and press appears to be continuing under the command of Iran's security forces and its Judiciary system.

[1] https://opennet.net/blog/2013/02/after-green-movement-internet-controls-iran-2009-2012
[2] http://surveillance.rsf.org/en/iran/
[3] http://surveillance.rsf.org/en/iran/
[4] http://www.cnn.com/2014/07/25/world/meast/iran-detained-journalists/
[5] http://www.cpj.org/blog/2014/07/the-2009-iran-crackdown-continues-today.php

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Majid Rafizadeh, an American scholar and political scientist, is president of the International American Council on the Middle East. He is originally from Islamic Republic of Iran and Syria.

A version of this post appeared on Al Arabiya.