Iran tries to sweep its domestic crackdown under the Persian rug

History appears to be repeating itself in the Islamic Republic...

Dr. Majid Rafizadeh

Published: Updated:

History appears to be repeating itself in the Islamic Republic. Whenever Iranians believe that there will be more socio-political, individual and socio-economic freedoms due to the rule of a moderate or reformist president, the domestic crackdown and human rights violations mount.

Three institutions play a crucial role in setting the boundaries of social justice, freedom of speech, press, assembly, the use of social media, and privacy rights. The first is the judiciary, the second is the intelligence, and the third is the security forces. To enforce the law, these three branches of the government also utilize voluntary and paid paramilitaries and militias, such as the Basij.

It is crucial to point out that these apparatuses operate quasi-independently or totally independently from the office of the president. The president is mostly a political figurehead, 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.

While Rowhani appears to be changing Iran’s relationships with the West, the domestic crackdown on internet users and the media continues

Majid Rafizadeh

Although when domestic repression increases the president can speak up in favor of the oppressed, reformist presidents (such as Muhammad Khatami) , pragmatist ones (such as Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani) and moderate and realist ones (such as Hassan Rowhani) have chosen to remain predominantly silent. The reason for this is to safeguard their own political and social position, power and interests.

Social media

The crackdown on social media increased after the emergence of the Green movement and the widespread protests in several cities in 2009. The authorities have increased their technological capabilities with regard to monitoring social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and blogs.

When it comes to cracking down on internet users, the Cyber Unit of the Revolutionary Guard, and 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. These restrictions have been legalized through the judiciary.

The reasons for the legality are justified by factors such as insulting government officials, endangering national security, spreading propaganda, insulting Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and offending the official state religion. In the last few weeks, the crackdown on social media has surged.

For example, according to the official Islamic Republic News Agency, eight Facebook users were recently sentenced to a total of 127 years in prison. Their crimes included insulting government officials and Islam, as well as endangering national security. In another case, the Persian website Kalame reported that eight Facebook users were sentenced to a combined 123 years in prison.

According to the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, the ruling in the second case, “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 an enemy of the internet by Reporters Without Borders. RBW and the Committee to Protect Journalists have also labeled it one of the worst enemies of press freedom. Four journalists, three of them American, were recently detained. Iranian journalists have also been arrested this year.

While Rowhani appears to be changing Iran’s relationships with the West, the domestic crackdown on internet users and the media continues.


Majid Rafizadeh is an Iranian-American political scientist and scholar at Harvard University. He is president of the International American Council, and serves on the board of the Harvard International Review at Harvard University. Rafizadeh served as a senior fellow at the Nonviolence International Organization, based in Washington DC. He has received several scholarships and fellowships, including from Oxford University, Annenberg University, the University of California Santa Barbara, and the Fulbright Teaching program. He served as ambassador for the National Iranian-American Council, conducted research at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, and taught at the University of California Santa Barbara through the Fulbright Teaching Scholarship. Rafizadeh is a political analyst and regular commentator for major American and international media outlets. He can be reached at [email protected]

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
Top Content Trending