An Iranian actress and political reformer has been jailed for 18 months on security charges in another sign of the tension between Iran’s hard-line judiciary and calls for greater openness by new president Hassan Rouhani.
The case of 24-year-old Pegah Ahangarani also points to the internal – and sometimes conflicting – centres of power in Iran. News of her jailing came a day after authorities ordered the closure of the pro-reform Bahar daily for publishing a commentary considered offensive to Islam by raising questions about the successors of the Prophet Mohammed.
Iranian officials have shown signs of easing some clampdowns since the moderate-leaning Mr Rouhani took office in August – such as freeing dozens of prisoners held on political charges and reopening a prominent artistic centre known as the House of Cinema.
The judiciary is controlled by the country’s ruling clerics, headed by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has given the green light so far to some of Mr Rouhani’s main international initiatives, such as improving relations with Washington despite opposition from some hard-line groups. But Mr Khamenei and his inner circle appear cautious on fast-paced domestic reforms that could further anger Mr Rouhani’s opponents.
Ms Ahangarani, who has appeared in about 20 films, has been detained twice since the protests in 2009 over the disputed re-election of then president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, but she was released without charges. Recently, she has been banned from travelling abroad.
The pro-reform Shargh daily newspaper quoted her mother Manijeh Hekmat saying it was unclear who filed the complaint against her, but noted the charges including “action against national security and links to foreign media.”
In reaction to the verdict, many movie-lovers quickly joined a cyber-campaign urging authorities to reconsider.
Shortly after Rouhani’s election victory, Ms Ahangarani asked him at a public meeting to appoint a culture minister who would be able to deliver promises on “freedom of thought and expression.” She also said “incompetent” officials were the country’s “biggest enemy.”