By Hamid Yazdan Panah
Iran is making headlines, but for all the wrong reasons. This past month saw a series of important stories come out with respect both internal and international issues in Iran. The stories are consistent with two themes that many Iranians have maintained over the last year; that the nuclear deal with Iran has not changed the nature of the regime, nor has it benefitted the people of Iran with regard to human rights.
Many pundits claimed that the nuclear deal would empower reformists, and translate into domestic freedom for Iranians. Nearly a year later we see a different reality. This past month the regime arrested more than 30 young Iranians at a graduation party simply because members of the opposite sex were mingling with one another. Those arrested were sentenced to 99 lashes for their behavior. These draconian measures are nothing new in Iran, but appear to be shocking to the Western press that apparently expected something different. Instead Iran has moved to secure hardline dinosaurs like Ahmad Jannati to the Assembly of Experts, ensuring that the next Supreme Leader is cut from similar cloth.
The climate of repression in the country has only deepened as the regime announced its intention to require popular social media messaging apps to host data on Iranians within the borders of the country. The move would essentially give the regime clear jurisdiction and access over the data and activities of Iranians on popular social media applications like Telegram, prompting serious concerns over privacy and censorship. The move was reportedly based on "guidelines and concerns of the supreme leader". Apparently this memo never reached the pundits cheering reform in Iran.
To top off this theater of absurd the regime has even resorted to calling Kim Kardashian a secret agent and blaming her for moral corruption inside the country. Of course no mention is made of the serious drug problem among Iran’s youth which cannot be conveniently blamed on the West. I suppose anything is better than admitting that having an unelected Supreme Leader may foster social discontent.
Of course all of this is going on while Iran expands its presence in both Syria and Iraq, with hardly a reaction from the West or the international community. Indeed no one said anything when the regime sentenced prominent human rights activist Narges Mohammadi to ten years in prison for her work on civil rights and against the death penalty in Iran. Nor has there been significant outrage over Iran’s continued policy of executing juvenile offenders, a blatant violation of international law.
Despite this grim reality Iranians continue to organize against the regime. A large gathering of Iranian exiles is planned in Paris on July 9th, while workers, students and merchants continue to raise their voices in protest against the regime. Little attention is paid to these stories and one is often forced to dig deep to find them, but they are certainly there.
Instead we are left with a hollow discourse on Iran focused on orientalist tropes, illusory promises and intangible ideas of change. The lack of reform or progress one year after the nuclear deal does not appear to be worth critical analysis or scrutiny. The reality of Iran continues to be ignored when it is inconvenient to suit the particular narrative of the West or proponents of the nuclear deal.
Hamid Yazdan Panah is an Iranian-American human rights activist and attorney focused on immigration and asylum in the San Francisco Bay Area.