A curious Tuesday. We were handling an escalation in reports of Iran's economic troubles, marked by a sharp drop in the value of its currency. We saw further signs such as a ban on wire transfers for business transactions and the Minister of Labor's call for a ban on unnecessary imports.
Yet despite or linked to or beyond this news, the reports also mounted of the Government's repression. More sentences were confirmed yesterday: ten years on a Kurdish citizen, Gharib Fatemi, three years for journalist Isa Saharkhiz, and 19 1/2 years for Iran's "Blogfather", the Iranian-Canadian national Hossein Derakhshan.
So the snowball of long-term imprisonment rolls on and arguably gathers pace: these sentences follow last week's punishments such as six or seven years' of additional jail time for journalist and activist Emad Baghi, primarily because he dared to film an interview with Grand Ayatollah Montazeri for the BBC.
As one activist noted, we are now in the situation where Derakhshan's 19 1/2-year sentence for his on-line activism is "lenient" because the prosecutor had demanded the death penalty.
And here's the paradox: the escalation in punishments is not the product of a unified regime; the sentences are handed down despite --- and possibly because of --- the divisions within the system. While key figures in the judiciary and the Parliament may be wanting to take down Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, no one wants to appear weak. So all factions, but especially the judiciary and the Revolutionary Guard, can strike a tough pose by locking away more dissidents and shutting down more publications.
And it appears that almost all of the conservatives/principlists, as they feud amongst themselves, can agree on one matter: let's keep the reformists out. So --- in apparent defiance of an appeal to the Supreme Leader by one prominent conservative, Secretary of the Expediency Council Mohsen Rezaei (possibly in league with the head of the Council, Hashemi Rafsanjani) for a "unity" which would include some opposition figures --- the judiciary declares that Iran's major reformist parties are now banned. The headquarters of one of those parties, the Mohajedin of Islamic Revolution, are blockaded just as the offices and homes of Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi were surrounded, with the arrests of those who attempt to enter.
The regime may be wounding itself day by day, but it is the wounded animal which is often the most ferocious.