Poets in Iran to Receive 99 Whip-Lashes

Two poets, both medical doctors, have been sentenced to more than a decade each in prison plus 99 lashes for shaking hands with a member of the opposite sex.  Fatemeh Ekhtesari and Mehdi Mousav were sentenced this week by an Iranian court.  The harshness of their sentences is thought to be a reaction to the nuclear deal designed to dampen any hopes among the Iranian people that their society might open up.

“I think people thought with the nuclear deal, there would be sort of a bit of a thaw as well or a bit of an opening up,” said Karin Deutsch Karlekar, the director of Free Expression Programs at PEN America, an organization promoting literature and freedom of speech. “I think the judiciary is sort of pushing back and trying to make clear that there isn’t going to be that opening people were hoping for.”

The sentences have drawn no official comment from top state officials in Iran.  This is to be expected if the point is to send a message that oppression like this will continue to be the order of the day.  To comment on the cases would be to suggest that they were special in some sense.  Instead, the message sent is that this kind of violence deployed against peaceful people on an absurdly trivial basis is to be expected as ordinary.  It merits no special attention, and no explanation from on high.

Also this week it was reported that Iran sentenced four juveniles to death, and has carried out the executions of two more during the past month.  Cristof Heyns, who monitors Iran’s use of judicial force against juveniles, states that the executions are “unlawful killings committed by the State, the equivalent of murders performed by individuals.”

This month also marks the anniversary of the execution of Reyhaneh Jabbari, who was put to death for fighting off an Iranian intelligence officer who tried to rape her.  A rally to commemorate her life and death was attended by human rights campaigners, as well as the victim’s mother, but was photographed by plain-clothes policemen assigned to monitor objectors.

The use of whiplashes as a form of humiliating corporal punishment is currently in wide use by the Iranian regime against those who engage in artistic expression.  Voice of America reports:

In May 2014, authorities arrested a group of young Iranian men and women for a video of them dancing to Pharrell Williams’ song “Happy.” While the arrests drew widespread criticism, including from the musician himself, those involved each received suspended sentences of six months in jail and 91 lashes.

In June, a court handed cartoonist Atena Farghadani a 12-year, nine-month sentence, in part for depicting Iranian parliament members as monkeys, cows and other animals….

This month, a court sentenced award-winning Iranian filmmaker Keywan Karimi to six years in prison and to 223 lashes over his films, which authorities also said were “insulting sanctities.”…

Mousavi and Ekhtesari… are self-described “postmodern Ghazal” poets who seek to revive the traditional Persian love sonnet by applying it to contemporary political and social issues. One Mousavi poem, entitled “Scared of…,” touches on the paranoia felt by many today in Iran.

“What if there’s a microphone in my clothes?

What if this text message is being registered?

What if my cry over the phone is being recorded?”

Iranian nationals are not the only targets of the post-deal crackdown intended to show that the government will not loosen its grip.  American citizen Jason Rezaian, a Washington Post reporter, was sentenced to 12 years in prison as part of a situation that the US State Department describes as hostage-taking. American Secretary of State John F. Kerry described his refusal to ask for Rezaian’s release during the negotiation of the Iran deal as a decision “not to hold a nuclear agreement hostage to hostages.”