On the streets of Iran’s major cities, this year’s Ramadan is unlike any in memory. While fewer people are actually fasting, repressive enforcement of the religious code has reached levels not seen since before the Khatami years. From the start of Ramadan, August 12, hundreds of thousands of people have been stopped, searched, and questioned. Many have received court summons or wound up in detention. The offenses cited have been eating, drinking, listening to music deemed too loud, or “lewd behavior.” The definition of the latter is intentionally broad enough to enable militiamen and police officers to exercise their personal discretion, or whims, in stopping people.
Even the normal religious exemptions have been suspended this year. In a tersely worded statement issued on August 11, NAJA (the national police force) warned that illness and travel are no longer regarded as exceptional cases permitting daytime consumption of food and water. NAJA urged residents to inform the police of infractions by calling special hotlines.
These draconian measures have surprised and baffled city dwellers. In terms of the exercise of most personal freedoms, the past 12 months have proven to be the least oppressive since the first year of the Revolution. Hejab enforcement in Tehran, for instance, has been all but nonexistent. This easing of moral code enforcement has been regarded as an achievement of the democratic movement that bloomed in the aftermath of last year’s controv… >>>