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The Concept of Freedom
The concept of freedom, an abstract social phenomenon itself, reaches the height of its definitive vagueness when discussed in relation to a complex society like Iran's.
Social freedom in the country took a major turn after the establishment of the Islamic Republic following the revolution of 1979: an Islamic dress code was firmly enforced; parties and gatherings were raided; people were interrogated; thousands of Iranians were executed, many of them only sympathizers of a political party or faction; and the Islamic police patrols and Basij militia haunted the streets, harshly confronting anyone or anything that seemed to be politically or socially "anti-Islamic" or "immoral." This harsh approach to social policy remained on course for the greater part of two decades.
After the election in 1997 and the ascension to power of the reformists, many policies involving the concept of freedom were changed, both socially and politically. The reforms shed light on many aspects of the country's social, cultural and political values, and a significantly more flexible stance was adopted. With the rise of public demands for more freedom, which could potentially endanger the supreme leadership of the country, divisions began to emerge between the then-reformist government and the powerful front of the traditional conservative leadership.
The struggle went on for almost eight years of Mohammad Khatami's presidency, claiming a number of victims — some of them critics of the clerical leadership — in its wake. By the end of the reformists' era, which was marked by the ascension of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's hard-line government, the concept of freedom in Iran entered a different phase.
The country's core of power, which during the first two decades of the post-revolution era had seen that oppressing ordinary people by taking away their basic social freedoms could result in the rise of a major opposition party, like the reformists, now began to practice a simple new method — leaving ordinary citizens alone and focusing on the elite.
The fact is that the majority of the 20 million ballots which bought Khatami to power nine years ago were cast in the hope of reviving basic individual social freedoms, rather than gilded rights such as free political expression, that were demanded by so-called intellectuals. With the ascension of Ahmadinejad, despite fears over the enforcement of issues like an Islamic dress code, many of those basic social rights inherited from the reformist period remained more or less intact for the majority. Women have not been arrested in greater numbers for confronting the strict dress code, pressure has not yet notably intensified on the youth to suppress relations between the sexes, and there are no signs of the feared plainclothes hard-line militia on the streets.
Moreover, close observation indicates that the contentious issue with the U.S. involving Iran's pursuit of nuclear technology has provoked a sense of patriotism in common Iranians, causing many to view Ahmadinejad's populist policies with favor. These factors may seal another victory for the conservatives in the up-coming elections.
The Minority Elite Under the Spotlight
Having taken root before the 1979 revolution, what one might call an 'anti-intellectual' stance has been intensified under Ahmadinejad. The evidence of this can be seen in the treatment of the following groups:
The targets of the accusations and arrests are not necessarily social or politically active figures. Observations have proved that numerous poets, film and music critics, and literary figures have been arrested on charges of "cultural invasion" and "promoting the decadent western influence."
The arrests and prosecutions generally follow a similar pattern:
The Islamic Republic of Iran has firmly and repeatedly rejected allegations and accusations against the country as methods to cause tumult. It insists that all of the arrests have been conducted according to judiciary law and that cases have proceeded legally and authentically.
Tehran denies the existence of any human rights abuse cases in the country and accuses the United States of non-compliance with human rights values regarding the prisoner abuse and torture in Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison and Cuba's Guantanamo Bay detention facilities.
The Islamic Republic has also stressed that prohibiting Muslim women from wearing Islamic dress in some countries across Europe, including France and most recently the Netherlands, is an obvious example of suppression of fundamental civil freedoms.
View the Worldpress Desk’s profile for Niusha Boghrati.