BlogIranian People Defy the Regime Daily but Need International...

Iranian People Defy the Regime Daily but Need International Support


Paulo Casaca is founder of the Brussels based international co-operation association  ARCHumankind, “Alliance to Renew Co-operation among Humankind”, and the “Euro Reform Initiative”

In April, Iranian censorship officials closed down a monthly magazine, Zanan-e Emrouz, accusing it of encouraging cohabitation among unmarried couples, an illegal practice known in Iran as “white marriage.” With a title translating to English as Today’s Women, the magazine was the only women’s interest publication in the country, and its closure reflects a worsening situation for gender politics in the Islamic Republic.

However, the purported reasons for the closure are indicative of the rising tide of domestic challenges to the repressive rule of the Iranian ayatollahs. While the regime characterized Zanan-e Emrouz’s special reports on “white marriage” as unlawful advocacy, many of its defenders claim that the articles merely reported upon and explained the existing popularity of the practice.

Viewed in this light, the Culture Ministry’s decision to shutter the publication may be seen not simply as an effort to silence dissent, but primarily as an effort to silence the mere acknowledgement of dissent that is already prevalent in Iranian society.

If anything, the crackdown on Zanan-e Emrouz has only increased the visibility of white marriage. While some consumers of domestic media may now be deprived of other such reports, much of the young, tech-savvy population of the country has at least some access to Western media, which has picked up on the censorship story, and also on the story of the social trends behind it.

The Los Angeles Times, for instance, published a report which featured direct interviews with Iranians who are dating and cohabiting out of wedlock, and thus violating several of the country’s repressive religious laws.

The fear of reprisal makes these people understandably unwilling to give their real names, but their interest in publicly discussing their lifestyles demonstrates eager defiance of the regime. So too does the simple fact that so many Iranians are likely to read what these people say. By merely accessing the sorts of social media sites on which these stories might be shared, the vast majority of Iranian citizens are defying an across-the-board ban on such sites.

Perhaps just as significant, they are also disrupting the regime’s efforts to push the people away from all forms of Western influence and back toward a militant fundamentalist brand of Islam. Those efforts run the gamut from the merely intrusive to the plainly brutal. On one hand, there is a series of initiatives spearheaded by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and aimed at enforcing conservative family structure by discouraging birth control and urging women to have children early and often, instead of pursuing education and careers.

The regime is so committed to this initiative that a young woman, Atena Farghadani, who criticized it in the form of a political cartoon and then used her subsequent arrest as an opportunity to expose Iran’s poor prison conditions, has recently been given a 14-year prison sentence for “spreading propaganda against the regime” and other such political charges.

In case the threat of receiving long prison terms for free speech and Facebook posts is not enough, the rate of executions has steadily gone up in the two years since the election of President Hassan Rouhani. Figures for the year already exceed 400, putting the country on track to execute more than 1,000 people by the end of 2015. In an exclusive Fox News interview with Iranian opposition leader Maryam Rajavi, Mrs. Rajavi discusses the unsettling state of Iran under Rouhani’s rule.

But in spite of all of this intimidation, the Iranian people show no sign of slowing down their efforts to defy the regime’s repressive rule through their lifestyles, their consumption of information, and even through political activities that run a risk of landing them in prison, or worse.

There are constant reminders of this fact. In early May, major protests were organized by Iranian labourers and Iranian teachers, in order to demand economic reforms as well as the release of imprisoned organizers and union leaders. Even among the segments of the population that are not politically active, there are growing trends toward underground drinking, dancing, dating, and all manner of activities that we in the West take for granted.

It is clear that dissent is steadily fomenting throughout the country, putting the government in a position to either reform or be overthrown. What is not clear is whether the world community is fully behind the Iranian people in their desire for democracy and freedom of choice.

Perhaps we will have a clearer answer to that question after June 13, when the National Council of Resistance of Iran holds its rally in Paris, bringing together some 100,000 people from across five continents, with the purpose of openly advocating for regime change in their home country. For more information on participating speakers, including Mrs. Maryam Rajavi, visit

We already know that these dissidents and activists give voice to the Iranian people’s frustration and disenfranchisement, from within the protection of free, democratic nations. We also know that they have the active support of some social and political figures in those countries, as evidenced by a guest list for this month’s rally that includes American military officers, former officials from both Republican and Democratic administrations, European parliamentarians, and more.

But more support is needed in order to send the restless, pro-Western population of Iran the message that they will have the protection of international diplomatic pressure if they choose to bring their demands for reform to the forefront of Iranian public discourse once again. Statements of political support and positive media attention for the NCRI rally would go a long way toward convincing these people that their modern, secular lifestyles do not have to remain underground for much longer.

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