Welcome back to The Farda Briefing, an RFE/RL newsletter that tracks the key issues in Iran and explains why they matter.
I'm Mehrdad Mirdamadi, a senior editor and journalist at RFE/RL's Radio Farda. Here's what I've been following and what I'm watching out for in the days ahead.
The Big Issue
Iranian authorities have abruptly canceled dozens of music concerts and cultural events in recent weeks, the latest sign of authorities exerting more pressure on the country's social and cultural spheres. Earlier this month, rights activist Maryam Karimbeigi was sentenced to more than three years in prison for attending a concert by a popular Iranian singer in Turkey. Days earlier, security agents halted a music concert in Tehran while the musicians were onstage.
Iranian authorities have imposed new restrictions on different segments of society in recent months. Authorities have increased the enforcement of rules that make it mandatory for women to wear a hijab in public. There has been a crackdown on dissent that has targeted prominent activists and filmmakers. Now, new constraints are being imposed on music groups and singers.
These moves can be seen as the continuation of attempts by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and his hard-line supporters to homogenize life in Iran. Over the past year, hard-liners have gained control of the presidency and the parliament. Hard-line clerics have also been appointed to top positions in the judiciary and the Guardians Council, a powerful constitutional watchdog. Now, it appears, hard-liners are attempting to use their power to police social life and cultural tastes.
Why It Matters: The hard-liners claim the new restrictions are aimed at paving the way for the establishment of a new “Islamic civilization” that Khamenei intends to create. They have demanded that citizens must act in accordance with the clerical establishment’s perception of Shi’a Islam and its standards of conduct. This is seen as an attempt to curb rising anti-establishment sentiment among the public. Interior Minister Ahmad Vahidi insisted that some concerts were recently canceled due to security issues, although he did not elaborate.
What’s Next: The main objective of Iran’s hard-liners has been to enforce standards for what they have called an “ideal Islamic social life,” including uniform Islamic clothing and harmonized cultural tastes. In the current political climate, with crippling sanctions raising the cost of living and sowing discontent among the public, greater social control under the disguise of enforcing Islamic law boosts hard-liners’ morale. At the same time, it becomes a tool to suppress any protest by discrediting any individualistic and liberal approach to taste and choice.
Stories You Might Have Missed
A video posted online by a group of Iranian female activists in support of a woman arrested for protesting mandatory head-scarf rules has gone viral just days after she appeared on television making a "confession" they allege was made under duress. In the video published on social media on August 16, the activists recite a piece of poetry titled "The Confession," written by an anonymous user who uses the moniker "Darya." The poem is addressed to Sepideh Rashno, a 28-year-old writer and artist who was arrested on June 15 after a video of her arguing with another woman who was enforcing rules on wearing a head scarf on a bus in Tehran was posted online.
Iranian authorities have intensified their persecution and harassment of members of the Baha’i faith, according to Amnesty International. Since the end of July, the watchdog group says the authorities have raided dozens of Baha’i homes, detained at least 30 people, and subjected many more to interrogations, electronic ankle bracelets, and threats of imprisonment. They have also ramped up the confiscation and demolition of Baha’i properties, Amnesty said. Baha’is face systematic persecution in Iran, where their faith is not recognized in the constitution.
What We're Watching
Iran and world powers appear to be on the cusp of agreeing to revive the 2015 nuclear deal that curbed Tehran’s sensitive nuclear activities in exchange for the lifting of international sanctions on the Islamic republic. Unnamed U.S. officials have said that Iran has dropped some of its main demands on restoring the agreement, bringing the possibility of a deal closer. But Iranian officials appeared to have contradicted those claims. Tehran has insisted that a core demand -- the UN nuclear watchdog closing probes into its nuclear program -- be addressed. Without Iran’s cooperation with the UN nuclear watchdog, the revival of the nuclear deal seems impossible.
Why It Matters: Iran and world powers are close to a deal, although hurdles still remain. Key sticking points could unravel efforts even at this advanced stage of negotiations. But there is growing optimism that an agreement is finally within reach after more than a year of acrimonious talks. The increased public messaging by Tehran and Washington indicates that both sides are readying for an agreement.
That's all from me for now. Don't forget to send me any questions, comments, or tips that you have.
Until next time,