Targeting young people at home does not solve Tehran’s paranoia problem
Iran’s clergy, who have ruled since the overthrow of the monarchy in 1979, complain periodically of a US-led conspiracy to destabilise their theocratic regime. They claim to see a CIA spy hiding under every bed and a CIA plot around every corner. It’s a convenient way for a failing regime to pass the blame.
At the same time, the regime has cracked down on demonstrators armed with nothing but legitimate demands for a few more individual liberties. Like any other despotic regimes that fear they have no future if the people were given a voice, Tehran has clamped down on its own citizens while accusing the CIA and the US State Department of being the source of Iran’s ills.
Like any bully, the regime preys on those who have a harder time defending themselves. In this chauvinistic, male-driven society, the mullah-led authorities target young women in particular.
A recent victim of this mockery was Parisa Rafei, a 21-year-old art student at the University of Tehran. She was convicted of “assembly with the intention of acting against national security, propaganda against the system and disrupting public order” and sentenced to seven years in prison.
Let’s get real for a moment. “Assembly with the intention of acting against national security?” What in heaven’s name could this alleged assembly have been plotting? It turns out Rafei and other female students were discussing sleeping arrangements in the women’s dormitory.
This is a regime so unstable that it needs to turn on its youth. Many countries regard young people as the future of the nation but, in Iran, the clergy frown on any attempt at individuality.
“Propaganda against the system” likely translates as the young woman mouthing off to thugs passing themselves off as police. “Disrupting public order” serves as a convenient catch-all allowing authorities to add grievances to their verdict and to come down harder on the accused.
Tehran’s ruling mullahs are no different than other despotic regimes that do not trust their population. They try to block access to social media because they cannot control its content and therefore fear it.
Despots and authoritarians greatly fear the internet because it offers unfettered access to the world, and, with widely available proxies, no effective social media censorship is truly possible.
For fear that the internet will open the eyes of their people, the regime tries to block access to it. It makes up bogus charges against those who are not deterred, hoping it will daunt them from expressing their views and raising their voices.
They are whistling in the wind because, in the long run, all such regimes falter and fall. They reach a point where the people have had enough and speak no matter the consequences.
Rafei’s lawyer, Saeed Khalili, commenting on Twitter, described her sentencing as “unfair and unreasonable.” The lawyer was quoted by Shargh newspaper as saying: “In my view, none of these charges are logical or a legally sufficient reason to indicate that she has committed a crime.”
Khalili said the alleged crimes were focused on a student union demonstration last December over issues such as dormitory opening hours. (National security issues, eh?)
“All these actions are within the framework of law and rights stated in the constitution,” Khalili added.
A total of 45 of Rafei’s fellow students are also behind bars for their part in broader unrest that swept the country in late December, an article in the reformist Etemad newspaper reported.
It said at least two students had been given sentences of eight years in prison and that the cases were to be completed within the next month.
Such is the level of paranoia with the rulers in Iran that they try to monitor every single e-mail going in and out of the country. US intelligence officials said the government in Tehran uses up to 30,000 volunteers to read every e-mail sent to and from Iran.
In the absence of CIA spies plotting to overthrow their intolerant regime, the mullahs settled on a 21-year-old art student. Injustice has been served and Tehran’s paranoia lives on.