Crackdown on Tehran’s Thugs

Photos and news published in Iranian media describe continuous crackdowns in Iran. To “increase public security”, the regime’s Security Forces have now started clamping down on “thugs” in Tehran. The drive is a follow-up to the commonplace plan that traditionally starts in the springtime with nationwide morality crackdowns on women labelled “bad hijab” (badly veiled).

Authorities in Iran speak of a steadily increasing number of arrests and claim that “Our decisive confrontation will continue in Tehran down to the very last thug,” said the head of the capital’s metropolitan police force, Ahmad Reza Radan, according to the semi-official Fars news agency.

According to different sources, pictures taken by the Fars news agency and reproduced by several moderate dailies showed a man barefoot and stripped to the waist, with two plastic watering cans round his neck, being grabbed by a police officer, while other images showed black balaclava-clad police officers beating their captives. A number of captives were forced to ride a donkey as a “warning to others”.

Some scenes of humiliation were so repulsive that IRI’s police chief had to admit that some officers had overstepped the mark, but he emphasised that the parading of suspects around neighbourhoods had been carried out with prior approval.

Since the beginning of the morality crackdowns, it is believed that thousands of people have been arbitrarily arrested mostly on a range of “phoney charges” from non-conformity to the Islamic standard dress to alleged drug trafficking. Many thousands of women and young men have been warned or forced to make a written pledge to respect Islamic standard dress. Furthermore, a number of the “culprits” have been turned over to the judicial authorities for the alleged offence of improper dressing.

The worldwide published atrocities of crackdowns against women show women harassed and surrounded by screaming female morality police draped in shroud-like black chadors. A woman with stains of blood in the face is dragged in a police car. Crackdowns on women and newly on “thugs” triggered reactions in the international community by accusing the IRI of harassing thousands of men and women in recent weeks for their allegedly immoral behaviour.

In its statement, Human Rights Watch reports that IRI’s police detained more than 80 people in a raid on a birthday party in the city of Isfahan in May. Police accused some attendees of the private gathering of wearing the clothes of the opposite sex.

Human Rights Watch said the arbitrary arrests threaten basic rights to privacy and urged the IRI to halt what it calls a nationwide crackdown on what Iranian authorities view as deviant dress and behaviour.

Following the sporadic reactions of victims in Iran and international pressure, a number of Islamic factions of the regime, in order to play down the IRI’s constitutional violence, especially against women, simply accused the government of undermining the IRI’s laws by beating and parading the suspects. The parade in the neighbourhood is however permitted with prosecutors’ approval. These suspects, not yet accused, are punished because the punishment indeed serves as a warning and intimidation to other people.

Most people in Iran believe that such accusations are mainly being used as justification for the arrest and repression of political activists and those perceived to be potential threats to the security of the IRI.

Who are these “thugs”?

It is important to mention that the word “thug” in Iran is not completely synonymous to what in the West refers to people with a schizoid relationship with violence. Thugs in Iran are not soccer hooligans, rednecks, skinheads or any similar western group of violent, furiously nationalistic, xenophobic and racist young men who enjoy destroying property and hurting people, finding “absolute completeness” in the havoc they wreak. Thugs in the West may even be employed in high-paying blue-collar jobs.

By contrast, the word “thug” in Iran refers to a group of people who are socially and economically marginalised. They are derived from poor milieus and confront all unfair aspects of their society. Because of the high rate of unemployment, poverty, widespread illiteracy, and a lack of welfare and a social protect system, they are direct victims of such a society and spontaneously revolt against the socio-economic pressures.

Bully thugs with a religious identity can be recruited in IRI’s Security Forces or are systematically used in the organised pro-regime militias called plainclothes (lebas shakhsi) to intimidate IRI’s opponents or beat anti-regime’s demonstrators up. Therefore, a number of IRI’s Security Forces, who now arrest thugs, are in fact the recruited ex-thugs. They now accuse the non-recruited thugs of violence, robbery, drugs, whereas these could be indeed applied to them too, if they were not recruited by the regime.

As seen on some published photos and footages of the crackdowns, a number of these “thugs” do not look like thugs. Some of them wear T-shirts with Latin words written on them; they are shaved and seem to be frustrated young men. Since it is easier for a man to wear the part of the rebellious teenager dress than for a woman in Iran, these urban male youth, labelled “Thugs”, are now new victims of the regime.

Some Iranian young men have been flogged for taking drugs, drinking alcohol or simply for listening to a personal walkman while walking down the street. They react in their manner to the lack of personal freedoms. The regime calls these people “thugs”.

Urban youth in particular calls for social and political freedom. Youth is always the sector of the population which reacts most fiercely and most violently to their aspirations not being fulfilled.

Young Iranians make up an estimated 70 percent of their country’s population. More than half of the country’s population is under the age of 20. The generation born under the IRI’s reign is increasingly showing frustration with Iran’s lack of social freedoms and ongoing troubled economy. Iran’s unemployment rate is now 15 percent (11.20 percent in 2006). Youth makes up a large proportion of the unemployed.

Official figures say youth aged 15 to 19 account for 39 percent of the country’s active work force and the unemployment rate stands at about 34 percent among the age groups of 15 to 19 years old and at about 16 percent among the 25 to 29 years age group.

According to some statistics of 2003, about 20,000 teenagers live on the streets of Iran’s larger cities, but most of them reside in Tehran. The problem has been fuelled by poverty and aggravated by the economic crisis.

A report by the United Nations has found that Iran has the highest drug addiction rate in the world. “According to the U.N. World Drug Report for 2005, Iran has the highest proportion of opiate addicts in the world — 2.8 percent of the population over age 15”, the report said. “With a population of about 70 million and some government agencies putting the number of regular users close to 4 million, Iran has no real competition as world leader in per capita addiction to opiates, including heroin.”

The report added that a government poll had shown that almost 80 percent of Iranians believed that there was a direct link between unemployment and drug addiction. According to Iranian National Centre for Addiction Studies, 20 percent of Iran’s adult population was “somehow involved in drug abuse”.

Many Iranians describe high drug availability as evidence of a plot by the regime. “If they could create enough jobs, enough entertainment, why would people turn to drugs?” It is not only the lack of policy and management, but the interests of corrupt state mafia whose sales in Iran made up a 10 billion dollar market last year, nearly three quarters of the total revenue from Iran’s oil market during the same period.

This new repression proves that hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadi Nezhad’s promises of economic reform in Iran have failed to materialise into raising the standard of living for most ordinary Iranians in the 21 months since he came to power in August 2005.

The Iranian population, far behind Sri Lanka, remains below the poverty line. A member of Iran’s Majlis (parliament) confessed in Jan. 2005 that “90 percent of the population are living under the poverty line and only ten percent of the people have access to social services provided by the government”, Mohammad Abbaspour said in an interview with a hardline state-run news agency. The situation has since worsened and continues pushing an increasing number of young people below the poverty line.

In the past 27 years, we have witnessed immense pressures on different segments of Iranian society. The IRI dreams of rendering it into a total Islamic society, but people (especially youth) do not bow to an Islamic way of life in any standard. Furthermore, social poverty, homeless tramps, higher unemployment rates, and the lack of social and private freedom, lead to the rise of unsolvable ills for Iranian youth. The incompetent regime treats a majority of this frustrated youth as “thugs”.

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