Upsurge in Dissident Arrests
In September, for instance, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told students at Columbia University in the United States that Iran was one of the most free countries in the world. Other officials have expanded on the theme, arguing the merits of "religious democracy" as an ideal political model and decrying external criticism as a form of psychological warfare.
When the European Union produced a tough report about the state of human rights in Iran, a foreign ministry spokesman responded, "These political statements are aimed at pressurising Tehran over the nuclear issue."
A member of the judiciary official, who did not want to be identified, told Mianeh that "everyone in the world knows that concerns about the state of human rights are a political instrument for exerting pressure on governments opposed to the west".
Domestically, the authorities have dealt with the troublesome question of human rights by the stifling news sources that report on it. The ILNA news agency, which carried critical reporting on political detentions despite having official status, has been closed down. The Iranian Students News Agency, ISNA, which focused on the detention of students, has undergone management changes which have radically changed its editorial policy.
For the last few years, both news agencies have been under fire from the conservatives, who viewed them as the voice of counter-revolution and hostile human rights groups. With their elimination as critical voices, the official media carry little news about the treatment of government critics.
Even so, news sources – radio and internet sites based abroad – continue to report on the issue, and the picture they paint is an alarming one, indicative of a wave of arrests and harassment of critics of the Ahmadinejad administration in the last few months.
The groups targeted in this offensive can be divided into six main groups - students, political activists, trade unionists, journalists, women's rights defenders and ethnic minority activists.
Most of the detentions appear to involve student activists, judging from the reports that have been published. The high-profile arrest in May of Ehsan Mansouri, Ahmad Ghassaban and Majid Tavakkoli from Tehran's Amir Kabir University, and especially the open letters they wrote alleging physical mistreatment in detention, led to protests from students at other institutions, who in turn were subject to arrest.
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