"Combating organized plots that push Iranian youth toward carnal desires, drugs, or sexuality is a prime duty of the Iranian people and especially the young," said Khamenei, who has the final say on all matters in the Islamic republic.
He made his remarks on the 19th anniversary of the death of Ayatollah Ali Khomeini, his predecessor as Iran's supreme leader.
More than 60 percent of Iran's population is under 25 years old, and there are almost 8 million young people eligible to vote. Iran's youth played a vital role in the Islamic Revolution and have demontrated their power to bring change to the political system. Disillusioned with the restrictions the ayatollahs imposed on their lives, young people were instrumental in bringing reformist President Mohammad Khatami to the presidency in 1997.
The potential power of Iran's youth has led Iran's political and religious leaders -- such as Khomeini and Khamenei -- to try to gain the support of the country's younger generation. Khamenei wrote on his official website last month that in a mosque where he used to be the prayer leader, "the youth constituted about 80 percent of the people there, and this was because I always kept in contact with the youth."
The supreme leader even praised Iranian young people as "fashionable" and said they should not be judged by their clothes or physical appearance.
Many Iranian youth -- especially in Tehran and other big cities -- have become increasingly frustrated by the social restrictions that hard-liners have brought into their everyday lives. The restrictions are everywhere -- women have to obey an Islamic dress code, music is prohibited, and people are jailed for drinking alcohol.
Mohammad, a young Tehran resident, told RFE/RL that even websites which have nothing to do with politics and Islamic values have been blocked by authorities.
"It's really ridiculous how websites are filtered here," Mohammad said. "Don't think that the authorities have only filtered sex-related sites. No, rules and laws do not apply here. News, music, and photos are all filtered. Until last week, I used to download music from some sites, but now they are blocked, too. They were Iranian music sites."
So-called morality police are stationed in every crowded place in Tehran, and they stop young women who violate a dress code by wearing tight overcoats or skimpy headscarves. Young men are not allowed to wear ties or to get a "funky" hairstyle.
Twenty-four-year-old Sitareh, one of the "dress-code offenders," says she has been detained and fined by the morality police.
"I was stopped in the street because my trousers were slightly short and my ankles were showing," Sitareh said. "Several other women were also detained. We were transported to the police station and police officers called my family. I spent a few hours in the detention center, and they would bring more girls from the streets. The police treated us in a somehow insulting and rude manner."
Sitareh said she has become more careful after the arrest but still pushes "the dress-code boundaries."
Want To Enjoy Their Youth
Mohammad and Sitareh say that, like young people elsewhere in the world, they want to enjoy their youth by dressing the way they like, listening to music, going to parties, dating, or surfing the Internet without having to deal with blocked websites.
In many countries, that's not too much to ask. But in Iran, a young woman who holds hands with a man who is not related to her can get arrested by the morality police, who seem to be increasingly present.
There are many young Iranians -- especially in the provinces -- who genuinely support the country's hard-line leaders. In cities like Qom and Mashhad, even local residents stop and reprimand women whose hijabs do not "sufficiently cover their bodies." Most of them regard Khomeini and Khamenei as iconic figures who are above the law, and everything else.
But many others find the social restrictions frustrating and suffocating. Younger women especially have been expressing their exasperation with the Islamic regime.
Raha, a Tehran-based young professional, told RFE/RL that "indeed, Iranian women have the right to education and work, but still there are many rules and laws that have turned the women into a half person."
"On the surface, it looks like we have the right to education. In reality, however, husbands have the right not to allow their wives to continue their education, and the government and the law take the sides of the husbands," Raha said. "It is written that women have the right to work but, in reality, the husband can take that right away from his wife."
Iranian student Kiyan told RFE/RL's Radio Farda that, for him, Khomeini's name is related to war and poverty.
"It's very easy to judge what we see here today. It's unemployment, devastation, a failed economy, war with the whole world," Kiyan said. "The foundation of all of these things was formed at the beginning of the Islamic Revolution. I think Mr. Khomeini's responsibility for problems that we face today should not be underestimated."
Mohammad said he "couldn't care less about the supreme leader's speeches or warnings." Mohammad insists he is not interested in politics; however, he is "losing" his patience with the political and religious leaders "who are interfering in people's lives and taking away their most basic freedom, such as the freedom to listen to music."
It was social restrictions that caused students to spill into the streets throughout Iran in 1999 in the most serious unrest in the country since the Islamic Revolution.
There has been an upsurge in student activities and protests in Iranian cities in recent years. In recent months, officials have arrested dozens of leftist student groups whose main slogan is "Freedom and Equality."
Radio Farda contributed to this report
RFE/RL Iran Report
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