While the Iranian standoff continues with European oil sanctions and American vessels crossing the Straits of Hormuz, time is left in Iran to deal with more significant threats.
Just last week, Iranian officials sentenced Aria Aramnejad, a singer, to 10 months in prison. His crime was a song, “Ali Barkhiz” (“Rise up Ali”), written following the Ashura uprising of 2009 — a series of civic protests that turned into one of the bloodiest crackdowns following the rigged elections that year. The song protests the exploitation of God and the Koran and asks the Imams to act so that the name of Ali, the Shi’a prophet, will not be carried in vain. “Imam Hussein was martyred for good to triumph against evil,” he said is his court hearing “so should we not expect the same from his followers? Is it not strange that in these days to ask the Imams for help in battling against evil is considered a crime in our country?” This interpretation, however, was apparently not accepted, at the least by the Islamic justice system. For them, asking the Imams to fight evil means “endangering the national security of the country.”
Luckily, his trip to prison was not a far one, considering he was arrested and had been kept in solitary confinement since November of last year. In his court hearing, Aramnejad testified to being tortured in prison, severely beaten, threatened with murder, and photographed naked. But like the Islamic regime, it seems, he continues to stand proud.
In the same week, Iran’s Supreme Court confirmed the death sentence for Saeed Malekpour, 35, on charges of “insulting and desecrating Islam.” Malekpour, a permanent resident of Canada, was arrested in October 2008 while making an emergency visit to see his dying father. He was detained on charges of designing a website used to post pornographic images. The charges were later ‘confirmed’ via a video-taped confession in where he ‘admitted’ to posting pornographic images. In a letter from prison, Malekpour later described how he was beaten with batons and cables and forced into making a televised confession. Due to his solitary confinement, Malekpour is unaware that he has lost the last appeal of his death sentence.
It seems that music and culture continue to be major threats to the Iranian regime and an arena in which, just like the Straits of Hormouz, their presence must be felt. Last month, Parastoo Dokouhaki, a women’s rights activist, journalist, and researcher and Marzieh Rasouli, a journalist
reporting on music and literature, were arrested, and it has now surfaced that they were transferred and held in solitary confinement in the 2-aleph section of the prison controlled by the Revolutionary Guard.
Parastoo Dokouhaki is a longtime women’s rights activist. She gained notoriety for writing for the now banned Zanan (Women) monthly and for starting one of the first blogs by women in Iran. Her blog “Zan Nevesht” (Women’s Writings) dealt with women in Iranian Society. Established in 2001, it filled a serious void on reporting on women’s issues at the time. Marzieh Rassouli was a music and literary critic for several years although never politically active. She previously wrote for reformist newspapers such as Sharq, Kargozaran, and Etemaad. According to a report by BBC Persia, security officials presented a warrant at the time of her arrest, showing her charge as “actions against national security.” On January 7, authorities arrested two other journalists, Fatemeh Kheradmand and Ehsan Houshmandzadeh, as well as civil activist Said Madani a day later.
Commenting on this last wave of arrests, Heydar Moslehi, Iranian Minister of Intelligence claimed that some people have been detained for “attempting to implement the American objectives.” According to Student News Agency ISNA, Moslehi said that they arrested “spies who had relations with people outside of the country both on-line and through social networks.”
Apparently, to some in Iran, an American warship or a pro-American blog entry both represent perilous threats that necessitate action. And, like their allies in Syria, they are determined to act. If one seeks to understand why some in the West are concerned about what the Islamic regime might do to others with a nuclear weapon, one only need to look at what they do to their own people without it.
Nir Boms is co-founder of CyberDissidents.org