By Parisa Hafezi
DUBAI, July 18 (Reuters) – Iran‘s clerical rulers are clamping down on dissent ahead of the anniversary of the death of a young woman in morality police custody, fearing a revival of nationwide protests that rocked the Islamic Republic for months.
Journalists, lawyers, activists, human rights advocates and students have been arrested, summoned or faced other measures in a campaign that one activist described as “instilling fear and intimidation”.
“From today [Sunday, July 16], police patrols will be established throughout the country. In addition to their other duties, these police officers will deal with those who, unfortunately, ignore the consequences of not wearing the proper hijab and insist on disobeying the norms.”… pic.twitter.com/AZVfsBwclE
— Kayhan Life (@KayhanLife) July 17, 2023
In February, Iran‘s judiciary announced a broad amnesty, which included releases, pardons, or reduced sentences for those arrested, charged, or detained during the previous unrest.
Iranian Judiciary officials were not immediately available to comment on the current situation.
However, senior officials have defended the new crackdown as necessary to maintain stability. But some politicians and insiders have said that mounting repression could deepen a crisis between the clerical leadership and society at large at a time of growing popular discontent over economic woes.
Police on Sunday announced that the morality police force has intensified its crackdown on women flouting the compulsory dress code. In a show of civil disobedience, unveiled women have frequently appeared in public since the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini on Sept. 16 last year.
Amini fell into a coma and died three days later following her arrest by the morality police for allegedly violating the Islamic dress code.
The incident unleashed years of pent up anger over issues from tightening social and political controls to economic hardships, triggering the clerical establishment’s worst legitimacy crisis in decades.
Security forces crushed months of unrest during which protesters from all walks of life called for the downfall of the Islamic Republic and women took off and burned the compulsory headscarves in fury.
A senior former Iranian official said the authorities should not ignore realities on the ground this time round.
“People are still angry over Amini’s death and they are frustrated because of their daily struggle to bring food to their tables,” the former official said, asking not to be identified.
“These wrong decisions may have painful consequences for the establishment. People cannot take more pressure. If it continues, we will witness street protests again.”
Social media was flooded with angry comments from Iranians criticising the return of the morality police, who had largely vanished from streets since Amini died in their custody.
Rights advocates said the state had stepped up its repression to “keep people off the streets” ahead of Amini’s death anniversary.
“The Islamic Republic feels threatened. By redeploying the morality police, the regime is fuelling the people’s revolution,” said Atena Daemi, a prominent human rights activist in Iran.
“People are very angry due to repression, rights violations and worsening economic problems. All these will result in revival of street protests.”
Iran‘s former president, pro-reform cleric Mohammad Khatami, denounced such measures as “self-destructive” that “would make the society even more inflamed than before”, Iranian media reported.
Iran has been hit by the double hammer blows of continuing U.S. sanctions over its nuclear programme and mismanagement that offers scant comfort to the middle and lower-income Iranians who are shouldering much of the burden of the economic woes, from over 50% inflation to rising utility, food and housing prices.
The mood bodes ill for a parliamentary election scheduled for next February, when Iran’s rulers hope for a high turnout to show their legitimacy even if the outcome will not change any major policy.
(Writing by Parisa Hafezi. Editing by Michael Georgy and Angus MacSwan)