Tehran’s violent crackdown on people’s movement has limits

Iran’s latest protests can be described as people’s dissatisfaction having erupted over the country’s strict control based on Islamic law and the economic woes they are suffering. Tehran must recognize the limits of its iron-fisted approach of suppressing the public.

Iran is currently facing an extraordinary situation in which anti-government demonstrations have spread across the country and still continue even after a month.

The protests were sparked by the death of a woman in her 20s in mid-September, only three days after she was arrested and taken into custody for improperly wearing a hijab headscarf to cover her hair.

Security officials announced that the woman died of a heart attack. However, more and more members of the public voiced their suspicions that she could have died of torture or abuse while in custody, thus fueling the protests.

According to a human rights group, more than 200 protesters have been killed, including those fatally shot by security forces. The actual number of casualties could be higher. Iranian authorities must end the violent crackdown.

These protests can be characterized by the fact that many Iranians, mainly the younger generation, have seized upon the issue of how the woman wore her hijab to start publicly voicing their anger at the regime for repressing people and restricting their freedom.

In Iran, which is governed based on Islamic law, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei holds the authority to make final decisions. However, Iran’s president, who is elected to the post, also has some power over policy matters. The latest protests are primarily in response to the actions of President Ebrahim Raisi, a hard-line conservative.

Since Raisi took office last summer, Iran has enforced significantly stricter restrictions on wearing the hijab compared to the days under his predecessor, Hassan Rouhani, a moderate conservative. A monitoring agency known as the morality police reportedly keeps an eye on the streets and has repeatedly detained people.

In last year’s presidential election, reformist and moderate candidates were effectively eliminated in the initial screening process. Voter turnout was only 48.8%, a record low.

Apparently because Raisi has pursued hard-line policies without winning the public’s trust, he has lost support on an unprecedented scale.

Khamenei has accused the United States and Israel of plotting the protests. Iran’s regime won’t be able to solve its issues by trying to turn the public’s attention to countries it is in conflict with.

Iran has been hit by economic sanctions imposed by Europe and the United States over its nuclear development program. Kyiv has condemned Tehran, saying Iranian-made drones have been used in Russia’s attacks against Ukraine.

Iran only has itself to blame for its isolation from the international community and the economic hardships triggered by the sanctions. If Tehran wants stability at home, it must start by changing its hard-line foreign policy.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Oct. 20, 2022)