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September 14, 2022 10:31 am

Iranian Oppression Causes a Backlash

avatar by Ioannis E. Kotoulas


Iranian opposition activists demonstrate in Vienna outside negotiations to revive the 2015 Iranian nuclear deal. Photo: Reuters/Lisa Leutner

The oppressive, internal anti-human rights policies of Iran’s Islamist regime continue affecting all levels of society and often reach levels of a true Orwellian dystopia. Citizens in Iran, especially women and free society activists, face an ever-increasing set of harsh, discriminatory rules.

Despite the theocratic regime’s firm grip over Iranian society, there are indications of growing disillusionment. Iran’s dire economic condition, dominant state corruption, nepotism, problematic rule of law, and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ state-privileged financial activities, have increased feelings of unrest and disappointment.

On Sept. 6, Amnesty International condemned Iran for sentencing two LGBT activists, Zahra Sedighi Hamedani and Elham Chubdar, to death with trumped-up charges of “corruption on earth.” This intentionally vague term is used by the Islamist regime for those who violate strict Islamic laws, in this case for allegedly promoting homosexuality and supposed trafficking. The two women were also found guilty of “promoting Christianity” and “communicating with media opposed to the Islamic republic.” The death sentences are a clear message to Iranian society to conform to the official ideology and morality.

Social control in the public sphere is mounting in Iran, in an attempt to preserve the state-imposed Islamist set of values. In late August, authorities announced their intention to start using camera surveillance in the subway to identify women who do not wear the compulsory headdress, the hijab. The hijab has been mandatory since the Islamic Revolution of 1979.

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The announcement followed a new executive order issued by hardline Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi to ensure enforcement of the national hijab and chastity law.

In a related incident, after an ice cream TV commercial was deemed immoral and an insult to “women’s values” in July, the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance ordered all art and cinema schools to keep women out of advertisements. In the commercial, a woman is shown driving on an open road, then getting out to enjoy an ice cream bar. Some of the shots are up close, and her eyes are closed as she takes a bite. According to the existing legislation, the “misuse” of women, men, and children is prohibited in commercials. Apparently, women are essentially related to sin according to the Islamist regime. In general, censorship in Iranian media has reached levels that border on the absurd.

Women, who face increased discrimination by the Islamist regime, are now leading some of this resistance through original forms of protest.

Many Iranian women chose to leave their homes without the obligatory hijab on July 12, which is the country’s National Day of Hijab and Chastity. They posted videos of themselves publicly removing their veils, while activists posted stickers and leaflets with the message “No2Hijab.”

In late August, women were allowed to attend a national soccer match for the first time in decades. They used the occasion to pay tribute to a fan who had set herself on fire in 2019 to protest the authorities’ ban on female spectators. Chanting “Blue girl, blue girl” — a reference to the colors of her favorite soccer team — dozens of women at Tehran’s Azadi Stadium honored the memory of 29-year-old Sahar Khodayari. She set herself on fire in front of the courthouse where her case was to be heard after she was arrested for trying to enter Azadi Stadium dressed as a man. As a result, there are increased calls by both international organizations, such as the international soccer organization FIFA, and Iranian politicians to officially end the ban on women spectators in stadiums.

Some protests have turned violent, and have included physical assaults. There are multiple reports of attacks on clerics in various parts of Iran, coming as public discontent increases over worsening living conditions and the state-imposed social restrictions. In June, a young man was arrested after assaulting a top provincial cleric in the central city of Isfahan. In late August, two clerics were beaten up by two unknown assailants in Qom, a city serving as a religious center. It seems that the attacks are a reaction to the regime’s attempt to enforce the strict religious codes in public such as the hijab rule. In general, Iran under the Islamist regime remains one of the most oppressive societies worldwide according to a Human Rights Watch report.

It is true that the wave of protests and disarray with the Islamist regime’s strict social and moral policies has not yet translated into mass protests on the streets. Still, large segments of Iranian society yearn for change and the right to decide their future without the oppressive policies of the hard-line Islamists who have isolated Iran from the world community for decades.

Ioannis E. Kotoulas (Ph.D. in History, Ph.D. in Geopolitics) is Adjunct Lecturer in Geopolitics at the University of Athens, Greece.

A version of this article was published by The Investigative Project on Terrorism.

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