August 23, 2007


Islamic Republic of Fear (The Economist, 8/23/07)

As much as the scale of the crackdown, its severity is raising eyebrows. Much of the police action has been accompanied by complaints of brutality, and in many cases by documentary evidence such as graphic footage of beatings, posted on dissident websites. Despite prison crowding, punitive use of solitary confinement appears to have grown more common. The number of executions nearly doubled last year, to 177, bringing Iran the unsavoury distinction of being the world's heaviest user of capital punishment per head of population. This year has seen not only a further jump in the number of judicial killings but a return of mass public hangings, which are sometimes broadcast on state television.

Such harsher treatment, say rights activists, is partly a product of the paranoid atmosphere generated by a government that has deliberately associated any form of civil disobedience with alleged foreign plots. Recent remarks by the country's chief of police made this link explicit. Once they had dealt with “propagators of moral decay”, he said, his forces would turn their attention to those who “theorise on corruption”, such as critics whom he tied to foreign conspiracies aimed at a “soft overthrow” of the Islamic Republic.

But foreign spies and decadent liberals are not the regime's only critics. Mr Shahrudi, the chief judge, has himself voiced dismay over the government's policies. In July he condemned the stoning to death of a man accused of adultery, and sponsored this month's mass amnesty in what was seen as a sign of discomfort with police excess. He has also joined a broad range of former officials, economists, oil executives and businessmen in attacking Mr Ahmadinejad's erratically autocratic economic policies, which have included forcing banks to slash interest rates, splurging on costly infrastructure projects and replacing respected technocrats with cronies.

The regime is right to be terrified of its people.

Posted by Orrin Judd at August 23, 2007 3:16 PM
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