Oppression Continues in Iran

Opposition leader Mehdi Karroubi on June 9, 2009. Vahid Salemi / AP

The world's attention may have wandered from Iran, but recent reports from the country reveal a government that is as willing as ever to suppress dissent and a judiciary that still plans to execute a woman saved from a stoning sentence last month.

As The New Yorker reported in August, government oppression of opposition reformers, who are known as the Green Movement, has taken a more tacit and sinister turn. Instead of allowing rallies in the streets and cracking down on them with armed Revolutionary Guards, as happened last year, writes Jon Lee Anderson, potential troublemakers are watched by plainclothes paramilitaries called Basijis. "They sniff out everything," one alleged reformer told Anderson, "not only in public but in private life, too."

Reports this week claim that the house of Mehdi Karroubi, an opposition leader who ran in last year's election against Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, has been surrounded by Basijis and members of the uniformed Revolutionary Guards in recent days in an effort to try to prevent him from attending rallies tomorrow. Karoubi's wife, Fatemeh, a former member of Parliament, wrote a letter to Supreme Leader Khamenei to ask for her husband's freedom. Unconfirmed reports today say that the house was attacked and vandalized instead.

The Financial Times reports that Zahra Rahnavard, the wife of another prominent opposition leader, Mir Hossein Mousavi, was stopped outside her house and questioned on Tuesday by a group of men who did not identify themselves. "They insulted her and questioned the sincerity of her religious faith," reported the FT. Rahnavard reportedly replied, "If seeking freedom, supporting people's and women's rights is a crime, I am a criminal."

Others who have supported women's rights in Iran have been called worse. A story in a state-run Iranian newspaper, Kayhan, suggested that Carla Bruni, wife of French leader Nicholas Sarkozy, was a prostitute, after she lent her support to Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, a 43-year-old Iranian woman who had been sentenced to death by stoning for adultery. "Why shed your blood and deprive your children of their mother?" Bruni wrote in an open letter, amid protests in Paris and calls for EU sanctions against Iran. "Because you have lived, because you have loved, because you're a woman, and because you're an Iranian? Everything within me refuses to accept it." The headline in Kayhan was merely "French prostitutes join the human rights protest."

Ashtiani's sentence was commuted, under international pressure. But in a bizarre twist, she may have been tortured into appearing on TV to confess to murder. The Daily Mail reports that she has been subjected to mock hangings and may be put to death any day.

Her lawyer, Mohammad Mostafaei, a prominent defender of human rights in Iran, is in exile in Norway after he was detained and questioned for hours in the wake of his successful campaign to prevent Ashtiani from being stoned.

In her open letter to Khamenei, the wife of opposition leader Karroubi reportedly wrote, according to the Financial Times: "Do you know [any country], even among the backward nations, where the basic rights of individuals are not observed [and where] political opponents and their neighbours are treated like this? Do you think such destruction and immoral behaviour are allowed for the sake of protecting the system?" There are no signs she has received an answer yet.