Iran 'intensifying clampdown' ahead of vote

Amnesty says government has increased "wave of arrests" in attempt to curb free speech before assembly elections.

    With their leaders under de-facto house arrest, the reformists remain virtually absent from the March 2 vote [Reuters]
    With their leaders under de-facto house arrest, the reformists remain virtually absent from the March 2 vote [Reuters]

    Iran has “dramatically” escalated its crackdown on freedom of expression ahead of this week's parliamentary election, Amnesty International said in a report published on Tuesday.

    The report entitled "We are ordered to crush you: Expanding Repression of Dissent in Iran" details repressive acts by the Iranian authorities since February 2011, including a recent wave of arrests.

    The arrests, Amnesty said, have targeted lawyers, students, journalists, political activists and their relatives, as  well as religious and ethnic minorities, film-makers and people with international connections, particularly to media.

    "In Iran today you put yourself at risk if you do anything that might fall outside the increasingly narrow confines of what the authorities deem socially or politically acceptable," said Ann Harrison, interim deputy director of Amnesty's Middle East and North Africa programme.

    "Anything from setting up a social group on the Internet, forming or joining an NGO, or expressing your opposition to the status quo can land you in prison," she said.

    Opposition leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, who were defeated in the controversial presidential elections in 2009, have been under de facto house arrest since February 2011.

    "This dreadful record really highlights the hypocrisy of the Iranian government's attempts to show solidarity with protesters in Egypt, Bahrain and other countries in the region," Amnesty said.

    'Enemy propaganda'

    The crackdown has particularly worsened in the run-up to parliamentary elections due to take place on March 2, Amnesty said.

    Iran’s authorities, including Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, have repeatedly called on security forces to be vigilant against “enemy threats” in the period leading up to the vote.

    “The enemy's propaganda machines and the media of arrogant circles have begun an extensive effort so that the assembly election is without splendour," the 72-year-old leader said recently.

    "But all should know that the people's participation in the elections will take the country forward … an election full of excitement will be a major blow to the enemy."

    The clampdown has targeted electronic media, seen by the authorities as a major threat, Amnesty said, adding that attacks on dissenting views come against a backdrop of a worsening overall human rights situation in Iran, including public executions used to strike fear into society.

    Amnesty called on the global community "not to allow tensions over Iran's nuclear programme or events in the wider region to distract it from pressing Iran to live up to its human rights obligations."

    "For Iranians facing this level of repression, it can be dispiriting that discussions about their country in diplomatic circles can seem to focus mainly on the nuclear programme at the expense of human rights," said Harrison.

    Iranians vote in parliamentary elections on Friday in the first national poll since the controversial 2009 re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

    A total of 3,444 vetted candidates are vying for the 290 seats in the parliament, the Islamic Consultative Assembly, to be decided by an electorate of 48 million voters.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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