As Iranians head off to the polls Friday, human rights groups lament that government repression has grown more intense in the Islamist nation in the run-up to the parliamentary elections, with waves of arrests of lawyers, journalists, activists and others.
In a new report, Amnesty International listed dozens of worrisome arrests, detentions and punishments. Repression has escalated in the last several months, it said.
One blogger, Mehdi Khazali, was sentenced last month to more than four years in prison on charges believed to include “spreading propaganda against the system” and “insulting officials.”
Clampdowns on the media have stifled debate and dissent, human rights groups say. Internet access has been spotty in recent weeks, raising suspicion that the state was stepping up censorship. And Iranian cyber cafes are under new instructions to track who surfs where.
All in all, the opposition that mobilized after President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was reelected three years ago is limping, after a sweeping crackdown that left its leaders confined to their homes or languishing in jail on charges of harming national security or spreading propaganda.
Human Rights Watch said Iran had “stacked the deck” in the parliamentary elections by arbitrarily jailing reformists and turning down dozens of candidates for “lack of adherence to Islam and the constitution.” It said that Friday's elections would be grossly unfair as a result.
The government is pushing for a massive turnout in the parliamentary elections, which its supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, told state media would be "a slap in the face" to the "bullying powers," The Times' Patrick J. McDonnell and Ramin Mostaghim reported.
-- Emily Alpert in Los Angeles
Photo: People pass in front of a large poster of Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei above a major street in Tehran on Thursday. Credit: Abedin Taherkenareh / European Pressphoto Agency