Fariba Davoodi Mohajer,
One policy of Iranian intelligence organizations is to create a parallel Iranian civil society. This parallel civil society is created by Iranian authorities who understand that while they strive to control and suppress independent civil society, other organizations and clubs need to be established to fill the gap. These organizations are controlled by the Iranian government and work to further the political goals of the government both domestically and internationally. They can act without being considered a security problem and their financial aid is rarely threatened. The parallel society which is created disrupts public engagement, community organizing, robs other organizations of opportunities and divides civil society.
These organizations receive funds and projects very easily from the ministry of interior, ministry of labor and the National Youth Organization. In return for obeying and complying with the ministry of intelligence and its parallel institutions, these organizations are allowed to operate and freely cooperate with ministries, governmental and non-governmental organizations. They can travel abroad without restraint and participate in conferences. Despite adopting international projects, they can move inside and outside the country without strict restrictions.
This parallel society is especially apparent in the non-governmental sphere. Today, the Islamic Republic increasingly controls Iranian based NGOs either through their funding or by directly establishing them.
The Islamic Republic obstructs the establishment of new organizations as it is fearful of any popular and social activity. Authorities pass tough and cumbersome laws and observe all the activities of the NGOs in separate files. They have outlawed many already registered organizations and put their directors under pressure through interrogations and imprisonment. Meanwhile, some of the remaining organizations are deactivated and effectively leave the spheres where they have been operating. The organizations can lose their independence by being forced to follow the orders of the government.
The immigration of civil society activists is another reason that should not be overlooked, why these organizations are deactivated or closed. Many believe that if these activists had stayed in Iran, they would have found it difficult to accomplish any activity or they would have been imprisoned.
On October 16th, 2010, when NGOs were under the toughest pressure, the ministry of interior held a seminar for the NGOs that were aligned with the government. This seminar was clearly indicative of the government’s intentions to organize these NGOs. In the absence of independent NGOs, the intent of the government is for these organizations to have a superficial role domestically and internationally and fill the void caused by the absence of independent NGOs.
It is notable that charities and service organizations which do not criticize the government in political and social issues have been able to stay away from the pressures imposed by the security organizations. They continue their activities within this framework and under the control of the government.
In recent years and following the policy of phasing out independent NGOs and civil activists, the police, the judiciary and the ministry of intelligence have come to mutual conclusions in joint meetings and are strategically countering civil society. One policy instrument is character attacks against activists and damaging their public image. The propaganda machine of the Islamic Republic accuses these individuals of espionage, being influenced by foreigners and other similar charges. Authorities try to create a narrative against them in social media under the cover of “Cyber Army.”
There have been several instances of this parallel policy. For instance, the National Journalists Guild Association Club was founded after the Iranian Journalists Guild Association was shut down following the prosecution of its directors.
The other association is the communication network of Iranian women’s rights NGOs. Despite the obvious human rights violations in Iran, members of this network such as Mohtaram Jamali and Susan Safaverdi defend the discriminatory laws of the Islamic Republic in the international arena. When Mohtaram Jamali was confronted by “starred” students (marked for political reasons) and students banned from continuing their education, she could no longer deny the fact that students are being barred from studying. She claimed that she had never heard of this issue before. When she was asked about female prisoners, she stated, “The judiciary does not imprison people without [legitimate] reasons. The country has laws after all!”
Some of the NGOs in line with the government have close ties to government officials. The Organization for Defending Victims of Violence, otherwise known as ODVV, is one organization which participates in international human rights conferences and tries to hide the increase in human rights violation in Iran. Iranian government officials try to present them as legitimate representatives of Iranian civil society, despite the fact that these organizations do not defend Iranian civil society but are tools of oppression.
What is obvious is that the policies of the Islamic Republic are not without results. They have managed to reduce independent NGOs to single civil society activists and have successfully suppressed them from any group action and voluntary activities.
Fariba Davoodi Mohajer,