Iran’s dissidents, released but not freed

Robin Wright writes: Rouhani’s victory, an upset, spawned great expectations of change. A pragmatic centrist, he campaigned on the promise of “hope and prudence.” After the election, in a series of speeches and tweets, he pledged new freedoms and challenged past practices, including censorship. His quasi-official account tweeted, “Web filtering unable to produce results. Which important piece of news has #filtering been able to black out in recent years.” Rouhani was particularly tough on the country’s state-controlled television, Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (I.R.I.B.):

Over the past year, though, Rouhani has conspicuously failed to uphold his promise. “We have freedom of expression in Iran,” Shamsolvaezin told me. “We just don’t have freedom after expression.” In accepting his press award, in April, Shamsolvaezin called for the release of forty-eight other jailed journalists.

Rouhani’s domestic agenda has generally suffered in his first year, while he concentrated on foreign policy—and, almost single-mindedly, on negotiating a nuclear deal with the world’s six major powers. (Talks will resume next week in Vienna.)

In the meantime, Iran maintains a bifurcated legal system that can charge people on vague grounds of un-Islamic behavior or unrevolutionary activities. Rouhani has been unwilling to take on either Iran’s deep state — a mix of security and intelligence agencies with their own political agendas — or the judiciary, over which he has no constitutional control. In addition to civil and criminal courts, Iran has Islamic revolutionary courts. Amnesty International warned last week that “despite President Rouhani’s popular mandate, Iran’s clerically-dominated politico-religious establishment, headed by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and hardliners within its security and judicial sectors, retain enormous power and influence and, to a large extent, continue to have the determining voice on the nature and pace of change in Iran.” As Shamsolvaezin put it, “The ruling system is the deep state.” [Continue reading…]

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