Iran’s artists face harsh crackdown

Friday 30/10/2015
Iranian poets Fatemeh Ekhtesari (L), and Mehdi Mousavi pose in an unknown place in Iran.

London - The recent sentencing of Iranian filmmaker Key­wan Karimi to six years in prison and 223 lashes reflects a determination by the Islamic Republic’s judiciary not to allow liberalisation in the wake of its nuclear agreement with world powers.

Waiting for his appeal to be heard, Karimi told the Times of India that his movie Writing on the City, which is based on graffiti and wall paintings going back 100 years, had included archive photos “the government hates… [includ­ing] the green revolution six years ago”, a reference to protests after Iran’s disputed 2009 presidential election.

Narges Mohammadi, a leading human rights campaigner, has been “chained to a bed and denied proper medical care” after a nerv­ous seizure, said Hadi Ghaemi, ex­ecutive director of the Internation­al Campaign for Human Rights in Iran. Mohammadi, vice-president of the Defenders of Human Rights Centre, headed by Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi, was most recently arrested in May.

Earlier in October, poets Fate­meh Ekhtesari and Mehdi Mousavi, were sentenced to 11-1/2 and nine years in prison, respectively, as well as 99 lashes each for “insult­ing sanctities”, the same charge made against Karimi.

In June, a court sentenced car­toonist Atena Farghadani a 12-year, 9-month prison sentence partly for portraying parliamentary deputies as monkeys, cows and other ani­mals in a cartoon satirising a draft law restricting contraception and criminalising sterilisation.

Iran also in 2015 has detained about 40 journalists, including Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian, who has been imprisoned for more than 14 months and was apparently recently convicted on charges that include spying.

On October 16th, addressing his ninth report on Iranian human rights ahead of its publication, Ahmed Shaheed, the UN special rapporteur on human rights in Iran, highlighted “very worrying signs that things aren’t improving and are actually getting worse in some aspects”.

He cited executions at the high­est rate for nearly 30 years — 800 so far in 2015 after 700 in 2014 — and increased “discrimination against women”, including draft legislation that would give priority to men in employment.

Shaheed, who met Iranian offi­cials for the first time in Septem­ber, floated the idea that the land­mark July 14th nuclear agreement could set a precedent for talks over human rights. He has argued that lifting sanctions as a consequence of the nuclear deal would have a positive effect on human rights by alleviating shortages of medicines and other essential items.

Iranian President Hassan Rohani has taken a low-key stance over civil liberties since his election in 2013, with his government concen­trating on the nuclear talks with the United States and five other global powers and attempts to im­prove Iran’s poor economic man­agement.

In 2014, Rohani tweeted support for six young Iranians arrested af­ter they featured in a video clip posted to YouTube dancing to the Pharrell Williams’s song Happy. On that occasion the president’s intervention may have helped the youngsters receive suspended sen­tences — six months in jail and 91 lashes — but on the whole, Rohani has avoided clashing with the judi­ciary, which is headed by Sadegh Larijani, a well-connected opera­tor in Iranian politics.

While fundamentalists’ suspi­cions of the United States have eased since a wave of arrests of dual nationals in 2007, many sen­ior clerics regard Western cultural influence a danger and potential source of moral decay.

The continuing “martyrdom” of Revolutionary Guards fighting in Syria and Iraq is also reinforcing the fundamentalists’ narrative that the United States is orchestrating hostile forces surrounding Iran.

Shortly after the nuclear agree­ment was signed in Vienna, Ira­nian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei explicitly warned against “exploitation” of the deal in a clear message to reformists not to take from it encouragement to demand political or social changes.

The leaders of the green move­ment, Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karrubi, remain under house arrest while their supporters and many others from the wider reformist movement are likely to be barred by the watchdog Guard­ian Council from the February 2016 parliamentary election.

Khamenei has also ruled out talks on resuming formal diplo­matic relations with Washington, broken off following the 1979 Is­lamic revolution. He has reiter­ated Iran’s continuing resistance to the United States and his coun­try’s commitment to support its “friends in the region, including the oppressed nations of Palestine, Yemen, Syria, Iraq, Bahrain and Lebanon”.