Well, the big secret is out: Whatever it takes, Iran is determined to stamp out another season of mass demonstrations railing against the parliamentary elections set for next week.
In fact, for months Iranian authorities have been targeting everyone from students, lawyers, religious leaders and bloggers to political activists and their relatives as they unleash a wave of repression, including a new "cyber army" to block Internet and social media networks, thus cutting off access to the outside world, Amnesty International charged yesterday.
"The Iranian authorities have unleashed their "cyber army' in an effort to cut off their citizens' access to information," said Suzanne Nossel, executive director of Amnesty International USA.
"Meanwhile those who dare express any unapproved thoughts on the Internet can expect to be slapped with a prison sentence of more than a decade," she said, adding, "The Iranian government is going to extraordinary lengths to impose a total information blackout on the Iranian population."
These charges are contained in the report, "We Are Ordered To Crush You: Expanding Repression of Dissent in Iran." The report says "anything from setting up a social group on the Internet, forming or joining an NGO, or expressing opposition to the status quo can land individuals in prison."
The report documents a wave of arrests in recent months that it said "lays bare the hollowness of Iran's claim to support protests in the Middle East and North Africa."
Amnesty also called on the global community "not to allow tensions over Iran's nuclear program or events in the wider region to distract it from pressing Iran to live up to its human rights obligations."
Amnesty says Iran's security forces -- including the new cyber police force -- can now scrutinize activists as they use personal computers in their own homes. A new and shadowy "cyber army" reportedly linked to the Revolutionary Guards, has carried out attacks on websites at home and abroad, including Twitter and the Voice of America.
"In Iran today you put yourself at risk if you do anything that might fall outside the increasingly narrow confines of what the authorities deem socially or politically acceptable," said Ann Harrison, Amnesty International's interim deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa.
"This dreadful record really highlights the hypocrisy of the Iranian government's attempts to show solidarity with protesters in Egypt, Bahrain and other countries in the region."
Iran's current actions also confirmed that there will be no change, no "softening," in the brutal tactics the government employed in the brutal crackdown following parliamentary 2009 elections. In the 2009 demonstrations, Western media were regularly provided with photographs of the violence. Most were taken with cell phone cameras.
In the wake of protests called by opposition leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi in February 2011, the Iranian authorities steadily cranked up repression of dissent and the situation has worsened over the last few months in the lead up to the parliamentary elections this Friday (March 2).
The report finds that in recent months a wave of arrests has targeted lawyers, students, journalists, political activists and their relatives, religious and ethnic minorities, filmmakers, and people with international connections, particularly to media.
Embarrassed and humiliated by the fierce and prolonged protests following the highly controversial 2009 Iranian presidential elections, the Iranian Government has apparently decided to adopt the same strategy should massive protests erupt across Iran next week.
The Iranian government suppressed the protests and stopped the mass demonstrations in 2009, with only very minor flare-ups in 2010. However, not many of the protesters' demands were met. Hundreds of citizens were thrown into jail. Iran's basij -- its motorcycle-borne militia -- roamed Tehran and other cities, beating citizens with batons. The government also employed security forces with tear gas, water cannon, rubber bullets and, finally live rounds.
For a time, the protest movement went relatively quiet. Then, the 2010--2011 Arab world protests spread across the Middle East and North Africa. After the ousting of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in Tunisia on 14 January 2011, millions of people began demonstrating across the region in a broad movement aimed at various issues such as their standards of living or influencing significant reforms, with varying degrees of success. With the successful ousting of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on 11 February 2011 following that of President Ben Ali of Tunisia, renewed protests began in Iran.