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Iran: Government Steps Up Crackdown On Opposition

Union leader Mansur Osanlu was abducted and imprisoned in Tehran on July 10 (Public domain) July 17, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Iran has recently intensified its harassment of critics and people it deems threatening to the government.

The current crackdown in Iran is harsher than it has been for many years.

It seems to be a reaction to Iran's internal problems and also outside pressure -- including growing international pressure over Tehran's nuclear program, economic sanctions, and a budget allocated by the United States to promote democracy in Iran -- that has apparently led to fear among officials of a "velvet revolution" in the Islamic republic.

Afshari said Iran's repressive methods have actually led to the spreading of protests. He said women, students, and activists know they have to pay a price for their activism -- yet they continue their fight.

The crackdown is also seen as a result of the appointment of younger hard-liners and people with military backgrounds to key state positions.

Many Targeted

Targets of the crackdown range from intellectuals and women's-rights activists to teachers and workers.

Students have also been targeted through summonses to court, threats of expulsion, suspensions, detention by police, and even jailings.

Iranian officials have said publicly that they suspect the student movement and women's-rights activists of being part of an enemy conspiracy for a "soft subversion" of the government.

On July 9, six members of the central committee of Iran's largest reformist student group, the Office To Foster Unity, held a sit-in at the Polytechnical University in Tehran to mark the eighth anniversary of the large student demonstrations and also to protest the continued detention of a number of their colleagues from 1999.

All six were detained by security forces and are now in prison.

Students Imprisoned

A few hours later about 10 other members of the Office To Foster Unity were detained during a raid at the group's office in Tehran.

Iranian human-rights groups say all of the detained student activists are being held in the 209 section of Tehran's Evin prison where political- and security-related prisoners are often held.

On July 10, prominent union leader Mansur Osanlu was abducted in the capital. Iranian authorities at first did not comment on his whereabouts. But two days later officials from Evin prison told his wife that he was, in fact, being held there on unspecified charges.

On July 16, Iran's state television showed footage of two detained Iranian-American scholars.

Haleh Esfandiari, the director of the Middle East program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars; and Kian Tajbakhsh, a consultant with George Soros's Open Society Institute, were shown in an promotion for a program that state television said would be broadcast in full on July 18.

Confessing Under Duress

Journalists and critics of Iran's regime have in the past appeared on television and made "confessions." Many of them have subsequently exposed the nature of the "confession" and said they were forced to incriminate themselves under duress.

There is widespread belief that Esfandiari and Tajbakhsh have also faced pressure to appear on TV.

The two scholars are facing security charges including acting against Iran's national security. Another Iranian-American, peace activist Ali Shakeri, is also being detained on security-related charges.

Parnaz Azima, a broadcaster for Radio Farda based in Prague, was charged with disseminating propaganda and is free on bail awaiting trial. She traveled to Tehran to visit her mother when her passport was seized by Iranian officials. She holds dual American and Iranian citizenship.

Growing List Of Detainees

Human Rights groups believe the measures are an attempt by Iran's security authorities to sow fear into the wider community of journalists, writers, scholars, and critics.

Rights groups have long accused Iranian authorities of bringing politically motivated charges of "endangering national security" and "working with foreigners" against intellectuals and activists.

In recent weeks, a number of international rights organizations have called on Iran to free the four detained Iranian-American nationals, students, and all political prisoners and prisoners of conscience.

Yet the Iranian establishment remains defiant and the list of the victims of the state crackdown gets longer as time passes. It also includes cases against many individuals that do not get much media attention.

Domestic Problems

The intensified crackdown comes at a time when President Mahmud Ahmadinejad's government is under intense criticism over what is being described as "economic mismanagement."

It also comes at a time when Iran's Islamic establishment has toughened its stance on a number of issues, including women's dress code.

On July 15, a Tehran police chief was quoted in Iranian newspapers as saying that police this month will enforce -- with renewed vigor -- a drive against clothing deemed un-Islamic.

Observers believe that the current crackdown and persecution of critics will only serve to isolate Tehran further. Some believe the campaign will fail.

Ali Afshari, a former student leader who was jailed in Iran a number of times because of his activities, told RFE/RL recently that Iran's repressive methods have actually led to the spreading of protests. He said women, students, and activists know they have to pay a price for their activism -- yet they continue their fight.

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