By Dan Wisniewski, RFE/RL
As Iran prepares for a presidential election in June, it seems that the clerical regime is sending out a strong signal to anyone who might want to express some sort of dissent -- You will regret it.
A convicted thief is shown having some of his fingers amputated. The regime's message seems clear: Punishment will be severe.
This is made graphically clear in the photos recently released by Iran's official news agencies showing a machine designed for the quick and easy amputation of the fingers of thieves. The photos are said to show the public punishment of a thief on January 23.
Afterward, Shiraz prosecutor Ali Alghasi announced that sentencing and punishment for convicted criminals would become increasingly severe but did not explain why. In addition to the amputation, the man was sentenced to three years in prison and 99 lashes.
Speaking to France 24, the Norway-based spokesman for the group Iran Human Rights, Mahmoud Amiry-Moghaddam, said:
What is surprising about this is that not only was this a public amputation, but that photos of it were distributed by official press agencies, and that they showed a machine that we had [as] yet never seen images of.
We have noticed that the authorities have recently been making more and more publicity surrounding cases of corporal punishment.
Every time we get closer to an election, the number of these incidents increases. And we're getting quite close to the presidential election. I believe this is a strategy to instill fear in the population so as to avoid any protests.
Even as this warning goes out, Tehran has taken action against local media that might be a forum for expressions of antigovernment opinions. Over the weekend, more than a dozen journalists from six media organizations were detained.
Prominent Tehran-based opposition activist Mohammad Nourizad told RFE/RL's Radio Farda that by arresting journalists the authorities are issuing a warning to the country's few reformist publications to be cautious in their election coverage.
"We're moving towards the election [and so the authorities] need to take measures against the reformist press," he said.
Most of the journalists were detained during January 27 raids at the offices of the reformist newspapers "Arman," "Bahar," "Etemaad," "Shargh," and the "Aseman" weekly. Security forces also reportedly raided some of the journalists' homes.
This follows warnings that Iranians working for foreign media say they've received from Iran's intelligence agencies, telling them to cease their activities or face the consequences.
Relatives of journalist Ali Asgar Ramezanpour, who works in London, say they've been detained a number of times, interrogated, threatened, and denied promotion and benefits at work because of his work as a journalist abroad.
With Iran's two top reformist candidates from the last presidential vote still under house arrest, it's clear that the conservative leadership will brook no repeat of the last cycle of protests.
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