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New Media | Against a Shattered Justice System, the Power of YouTube


18 Dec 2012 19:44Comments

How viral video can make a difference for Iranians.

[ opinion ] Despite the Iranian government's well-documented lack of respect for its citizens' civil and political rights, it readily bemoans and condemns any perceived violation of such rights by states beyond the shrinking orbit of its allies and business partners. From prison abuses to crackdowns on political and economic protestors -- the sorts of events that are often completely invisible when they take place here within Iran -- are sensationalized when they take place abroad, receiving extensive coverage in the state and state-aligned press and on Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting's array of domestic and international channels.

The protests that followed President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's June 2009 reelection, widely believed to have been rigged, were labeled "sedition," facilitating authorities' claims that they were justified in using brutal means to stop "foreign-sponsored saboteurs" and "rioters." By contrast, American and British police crackdowns on Occupy protesters and London rioters were reported as unjustified, criminal state aggression.

In fact, the Islamic Republic professes such deep care about the human rights of other states' citizens that, a few months back, it adopted the cause of Canada's First Nations people. At a time when the Iranian economic system has been devastated by sanctions and ordinary Iranians are suffering, the regime flew two former First Nations chiefs to Tehran and offered financial and other assistance. Iranians took to social media websites like Facebook, where some level of anonymity is still possible, to voice their often dark-humored objections. One netizen, for example, congratulated Canada's aboriginal peoples tribe becoming the Islamic Republic's new wards.

Through such applications of double standards, the Islamic Republic attempts to obscure the perniciousness of its own actions, for audiences both at home and abroad, by widening the circle of perpetrators. It also seeks to excuse its behavior internally by convincing Iranians that what happens here happens as well in so-called democratic states, and that they thus have little choice but to resign themselves to their fate with little fuss.

In cases of police brutality in the West, the people are free to take their attackers to court and seek justice. While it is theoretically possible to file suit against government authorities in the Islamic Republic, it is almost impossible in actual practice. An example is the 2009 killings in the Kahrizak detention center in which three young protesters lost their lives in custody. Despite officially expressed state outrage at the "gross negligence that led to this tragedy" and even an investigation by a specially appointed Majles commission, nearly four years later, the evidently culpable parties -- judges, intelligence operatives, police officers, prison guards -- have yet to be held accountable. Not a single person involved in the murders has been put behind bars.

Recently lawmaker Souroush Farhadian brazenly made light of the crimes. "How many people died in Kahrizak?" he asked. "Three people. Is the blood of three people more important or all of Iran and Islam and the world? It happens! No one hands out sweets in a fight."

Relatives of dissident blogger Sattar Beheshti, who was killed in custody last month, have been threatened simply for demanding answers about the circumstances surrounding his death.

Indeed, even when the average Iranian goes to the police station to report a theft or mugging, the customary response is "What do you want us to do about it?" What much of the rest of the world considers normal police duty, the Islamic Republic's functionaries treat as an exceptional favor.

So what do we do about it?

Some have adopted a deeply warped (and resigned) outlook. "They have every right to mug others," said one person I spoke to recently about the rising rate of street crime. "When they see they are being robbed blind by this regime, and they can't make ends meet, of course they turn to mugging."

Perhaps it's because our officials have such a full docket. Since they rarely feel the need to establish probable cause to arrest or beat a "confession" out of someone, since the way you dress or walk down the street is sufficient provocation for an officer to haul you in, it's easy to comprehend that their resources are stretched thin.

Neither publishing open letters nor lodging formal complaints about acts of terror and negligence by state functionaries yields much in the way of results. However, a notorious gang of muggers was recently arrested, apparently only because a citizen filmed one of their assaults and the video went viral online.

And so we are left to a few brave souls like the one who captured this video to make a difference in how the Islamic Republic respects its own nominal system of justice.

Copyright © 2012 Tehran Bureau

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