Iran Feature: The Week in Civil Society --- A Health Care Crisis, Economic Rumblings, and Election Grumblings (Arseh Sevom)
The latest round-up of events inside Iran from Arseh Sevom, the NGO promoting human rights and civil society inside the country:
Despite efforts to keep life-saving medicine from falling victim to sanctions, there is a shortage in Iran. “Free” elections is a hot topic while the squeeze on purchasing power worries a Revolutionary Guard Commander. Musicians find themselves behind bars, and Yahoo! rolls out secure email.
Killing Us Softly: Sanctions and Iran’s Health Care Crisis
The Washington Post reports on a resurgence of black market pharmaceuticals near Tehran’s main bazaar.
The Guardian reports that despite the waivers for essential medicines, medication is still not getting through, with most banks unwilling to do any business at all with Iran. Al-Monitor reports that it has all become too complicated.
Shortages of chemotherapy drugs have put Iranians with serious illnesses at imminent risk. Some Iranians in the US have found friendly doctors to write prescriptions for patients they have never examined — a violation of US medical regulations. The US-based Iranians deliver the medicines to countries near the Islamic Republic, handing them to a family friend who carries them into Iran and to their relatives.
Free Elections: The New Buzzwords in Iran’s Political Arena
Almost two weeks ago, the Supreme Leader criticised those officials who imply that the last election was not free. As the Guardian reports, Ayatollah Khamenei warned the public against making “general recommendations” that would “serve the purpose of the enemy", adding:
We’ve held more than 30 elections since the  Islamic revolution, which one was not free? In which country you can see elections freer than those held in Iran?
Former President Hashemi Rafsanjani is among the officials who may be targeted by Khamenei’s warning. Last September, he called for “free elections” to bring the country out of its malaise and to deflect war.
In their support for the Leader’s declaration, supportive media pointed to creative methods for protect the election. Khamenei’s representative to the Revolutionary Guards, Ali Saeedi, said it was the “duty” of the Revolutionary Guards to “engineer” the ballot.
On Monday, Fars News Agency accused former President Mohammad Khatami of being among the leaders of sedition with his current talk of free elections. On the same day, Ayatollah Ja’far Sobhani said that the President should not be elected by the direct vote of the population, asking that the Parliament do so instead, Radio Farda reported.
Meanwhile, former Deputy Minister of Interior Mostafa Tajzadeh wrote another letter from Evin Prison, insisting on the necessity of holding free elections:
In the recent fanfare, we must not fear and we must stand firm with integrity for free elections, because in Iran we can either have free elections or, God forbid, an ignominious one… If I were on the outside, I would launch the biggest campaign for the defence of free elections, which is a legal and legitimate concern.
Reduced Purchasing Power: a New Wave of Unrest?
Revolutionary Guard commander Naser Shaabani predicted unrest due to the deteriorating economic situation in Iran, saying that this time “the unrest would start from remote cities in the country rather than Tehran", BBC Persian reported.
Shabani asserted that the Revolutionary Guards are ready to confront the situation. He also predicted that politicians will use the bad economic situation to advance their campaigns during the elections --- for more, see our separate feature.
Yahoo! Joins the Club
Human rights activists who struggle for Internet privacy are usually not accustomed to good news, but now there is cause for a small celebration. Yahoo! has responded to years of requests to secure its email service by adding Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure (HTTPS) option.
The International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran and 25 other organizations wrote a letter on 13 November to Yahoo! with the requet.
The secure communications protocol will give Iranians and other Yahoo! users the ability to send and receive email communications with stronger privacy protections.
Five musicians were arrested in a police raid in Tehran last week, ISNA reported. Tehran Bureau added that prominent Iranian songwriter, Roozbeh Bemani, was among those charged with the “illegal production and distribution of underground music for Los Angeles-based musicians and satellite channels".
The Iranian poet and composer Yaghma Golrouie wrote an open letter on Sunday condemning the arrests and urging Iran’s art community to take action against the Government crackdown. Golrouie said he would withdraw from his 15-year career in the music business as part of a “moral obligation”: “Defending Bemani is defending the country’s music industry.”
In recent weeks, the Iranian Government has stepped up pressure on those working with foreign-based satellite channels broadcasting in Persian. In December, 28 people were arrested for allegedly dubbing and translating programs for satellite networks operating abroad.