The plight of the Green Movement in 2009 is a clear testament of how the regime views any opposition: hundreds of protesters were killed, thousands were sent to jail where some were tortured and raped and the opposition leaders are still under house arrest to this day. Meanwhile, the regime placed all forms of media under censorship and arrested any journalists, local or foreign, for doing their jobs while internet access was shut down sporadically. Since then, protests have been localized out of fear of repercussions and no single protest ever reached such a magnitude.
As of last week, the plight of Iranians seeking change has just become more dangerous and more futile: Khamenei’s chief of staff, Mohammadi Golpayegani, has declared that “To oppose the state is the greatest sin”.
This may sound naïve to Western ears who may scoff at the validity of such a statement and of the weight it carries for potential critics of the regime. Unfortunately for Iranians, equating criticism of the regime with sinning practically means that anyone foolish or brave enough to openly criticize the regime is under severe threat of imprisonment and can face a death sentence as befits the sentence of “Moharabeh” (crime against Islam) under article 190-191 of the judicial system.
Unlike countries in which religion is separate from government and the judicial system, deeming a crime a sin holds tremendous weight in Iran since the judicial system is based on religious and Shariah law.
This reminds us of Rouhani’s calls for wide social changes and his criticism of oppression of Iranians based on religious laws, as he did in the case of forcing women to wear hijabs. Unfortunately for Rouhani and for all Iranians who expected any form of change in Iran, the regime is only growing more intolerant to criticism, protest and change leaving only one path to change open: changing the regime itself.