Monday, July 16, 2007

Human rights crackown in Iran

Christian Science Monitor tells us about an Iranian crackdown on dissent.  
The government has restricted media, targeted academics, and, in one month this spring, stopped or detained 150,000 people – including four Iranian-Americans.... 
While running for president of Iran in 2005, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad went out of his way to counter charges from opponents that his victory would bring to power "Islamic fascism" and the "Iranian Taliban."
The archconservative said Iran had bigger issues to deal with – economic, nuclear, and growing threats from the US and the West – than the status of women's head scarves, and the extent of personal freedoms that had grown under his predecessor, Mohammad Khatami.
But today Iran is in the grip of the most widespread crackdown since the 1979 Islamic revolution, with targets that range from women and student activists, to the media, to four Iranian-Americans accused of using US funds to undermine the regime. Analysts say the message of the repressive steps is clearly that hard-liners remain in charge, despite US efforts against the Islamic Republic and severe economic woes that led to the torching of 19 gas stations last month, when rationing was abruptly imposed.
"Their argument is that no matter what happens in Iran, no matter how many social disturbances exist, we are in control, and our position will not change," says Farideh Farhi, an Iran expert at the University of Hawaii in Honolulu.
This tougher "security outlook," as it is called in Iran, has been enabled by a top-down transformation of the ministries of intelligence, interior, and culture and Islamic guidance since Mr. Ahmadinejad and his hard-line allies took over, says Ms. Farhi. But it's also been facilitated by US actions, including $75 million for "pro-democracy" activities the regime sees as intended to foment a revolution.
In a one-month period this spring, security forces stopped or detained 150,000 people – women for insufficiently covered hair and tight-fitting clothes, and men for Western haircuts and attitudes. Most were released quickly, but many "hoodlums and thugs" were arrested, police said.
"This is a comprehensive security plan of the whole [Islamic] system, not just Mr. Ahmadinejad," says Saeed Laylaz, an economic and security analyst in Tehran. The crackdown is being pursued on three levels, says Mr. Laylaz: First, by "attacking ordinary people" to increase the police's street presence. Second, going after student activists – including eight who were arrested after chanting to Ahmadinejad "Death to the dictator" last winter – and intellectuals like the Iranian-Americans, and purging universities of liberal professors. And third, arresting a top insider on spying charges – former nuclear negotiator Hossein Mousavian – "as a warning notice to people who are thinking that they could do something against the system," says Laylaz.
Economic woes on the rise
Ahmadinejad was elected on the promise of bringing Iran's vast oil wealth to the "dinner table" of poor Iranians. But instead unemployment has risen, along with inflation, and Iran's small refining capacity – Iran imports 40 percent of its gasoline, at $4 billion each year – has forced an easing of long-standing subsidies at the pump. Now cars are limited to just less than a gallon a day, and motorists are fuming.
The violent reaction, when authorities gave only three hours notice that rationing would start at midnight, "could have been worse," but for the pre-emptive crackdown, says Mr. Sadjadpour.
"People sensed that the regime and the basiji [volunteer ideological forces] were really on a head-cracking spree the previous few weeks," says the analyst. "It made people think twice before going out onto the streets to vent their criticism."
Still, images of burning gas stations did little to calm nervous Iranians. "Unfortunately, Mr. Ahmadinejad did not [fulfill] his promises to poor people," says Laylaz. "This social unrest is an immediate and direct consequence of those policies.... And at the moment, the social structure of this country is absolutely fragile and sensitive about economic issues."
That is the result of a new Machiavellian calculation, says Sadjadpour: "Whereas Khatami and the reformists said our best security is people's happiness, [this hard-line] worldview is that it is much better to be feared than to be loved.
"Their behavior is much more out of desperation than of strength," he adds. "It doesn't show that you are very confident about your place as a regime, when 67-year-old women are being suspected of undermining Iran's national security."
Why aren't we surprised by all this? And why aren't we impressed by the claim that the behavior is undertaken out of desperation? Tyrants LOVE being tyrants. They don't tyrannize out of desparation. People who love power in that way, love to exercise it. Repression is what Islamism is all about after all. That is the purpose of the whole thing.
Ami Isseroff

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