"Iranian regime increases pressure on dissenters"
    Michael Borodkin on Caliber.Az

    INTERVIEWS  24 April 2023 - 16:30

    Vadim Mansurov

    From April 26, Iran will begin identifying women who refuse to wear the mandatory hijab. Severe punishments will be imposed on them. In this way, the mullah regime has decided to put pressure on signs of dissent in the country, which is only intensifying in Iran. It is clear that the contradictions between Iranian society and the regime in Tehran are only increasing.

    Meanwhile, Iran's provinces have seen an increase in mass gas poisoning cases among students. Thus, since November 2022, more than a thousand girls in 26 schools in five Iranian cities have been affected. The majority are in the city of Qom. On April 17, human rights activists reported that more than 30 female students were hospitalised after a chemical attack on a girls' high school in the Kurdish-dominated western Iranian city of Kermanshah. The condition of some of them is assessed as serious. However, the most frequent cases of gas poisoning have been seen in schools with ethnic Azerbaijani pupils. For example, chemical attacks on schools and universities in East Azerbaijan Province recently poisoned 789 students. This was reported by the head of Tabriz University of Medical Sciences, Naqipur. Official Tehran commented vaguely on such reports, or denied them altogether, and there is a sluggish investigation into the poisonings, which has not identified the culprits for many months.

    Speaking to Caliber.Az, Israeli journalist and Iranian researcher Michael Borodkin noted that there is no firm basis yet for claiming that the Iranian regime considers gender to be key in the recent protests.

    “On the one hand, the unrest was triggered by the murder of Mahsa Amini, whom the morality police accused of wearing the hijab improperly. On the other hand, the protests spread very quickly through many provinces of the country and expressed general dissatisfaction with the regime rather than specific outrage at violations of women's rights. We have seen protests in Balochistan, where the local Sunni population, quite conservative and religious, express their discontent not with hijabs, but with not being allowed to build mosques, for example. We have seen the consolidation of different movements in South Azerbaijan, where activists are fighting for national freedom. There are Kurdish activists advocating autonomy for Iranian Kurds. Of course, there were also those who were pushing for the relaxation of the laws regulating people's behaviour in the public space. That is, in my opinion, the protest was very multi-layered and represented the desire of many different groups to get rid of the pressure of the Iranian authorities, and each group had its own reasons for discontent," said the Israeli expert.

    Another thing is that the Iranian regime may want to reduce everything to gender, including avoiding public admission of the existence of other, more serious problems. That is, to accuse all the protesters of "debauchery", that is, to present them as "immoral elements" rather than ideological opponents of the current government who have an alternative view of the development of Iranian society.

    "The idea is to steer the conversation away from the rights of national minorities towards a contrived morality issue: today they take off the hijab, and tomorrow they will wear miniskirts? Or as it was in the USSR - 'today he plays jazz, tomorrow he will sell his motherland'," the Israeli expert noted.

    He said the Iranian regime's behaviour with regard to the hijab issue, in general, can be considered very revealing and reflective of the nature of this government. Many assumed that the government would do the same thing as with satellite dishes - they are banned in Iran, but are in every home, and the regime limits itself to fines, without many prosecutions of violators.

    "But as Iranian President Raisi said, the hijab is too fundamental an issue for them to make any concessions, and instead of easing, the authorities have chosen to tighten controls and take advantage of new technology to impose their views, against the apparent discontent of the population. There will be no easing," the Iranian expert stressed.

    According to Borodkin, the poisonings in the country "are generally a strange story". The Iranian leadership seems to condemn them and demand severe punishment for the perpetrators, but the poisonings go on and on.

    "So, it turns out that the all-powerful IRGC [Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps] is unable to find the culprits? That shouldn't be such a difficult task. Forensic experts can surely establish exactly what substance the girls were poisoned with, and then it remains to find out its origin and trace who had access to it, etc. But so far, all efforts by the authorities have yielded nothing.

    According to one of the versions, extremist circles who want parents to stop sending their daughters to school themselves are behind the poisoning. These extremists are most afraid of women's education. I have yet to hear of any followers of such an ideology in Iran, and I will not claim that this is what is happening. But such a phenomenon is quite possible.

    In any case, we can see that the conservatives, who are now in power, have decided to increase pressure on dissenters. Perhaps this is partly because they guess how tired people are of the regime's revolutionary ideology," Borodkin concluded.


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