More than 30 students who were found celebrating at a graduation party in northern Iran were interrogated and punished with 99 lashes each for violating the Islamic Republic's morality code.
The punishments, symptomatic of a wider crackdown by the state judiciary controlled by religious zealots, happened in Qazvin, a city 90 miles northwest of Tehran. The questioning and lashings were carried out in record time, with everything occurring within 24-hours of the students being caught partying.
"Following a report about a large number of young boys and girls mingling together in a villa around Qazvin, all those taking part in the party were arrested immediately," Mizan, an Iranian news agency, reported the town's prosecutor general as saying.
Thomas Erdbrink of The New York Times reports that the students, males and females, were described as being "half naked," not wearing appropriate Islamic coverings, and were arrested "dancing and jubilating" after authorities responded to a report of both men and women attending a party at a villa.
This raid preceded crackdowns on similar parties in other Iranian cities. In one city, Kerman, 23 people were arrested, and, in Semnan, several "polluted singles houses were cleaned," and 97 people were detained. All of these raids were carried out over a 48-hour period after authorities had been monitoring single people and party-locations for weeks.
The Daily Mail reports that the Iranian prosecutor, Ismaeil Sadeqi Niarakisaid, hopes the arrested students will serve as a model to other young people not to indulge in deviant behavior. He said the judiciary will not tolerate libertine behavior exhibited by "law-breakers who use excuses such as freedom and having fun in birthday parties and graduation ceremonies."
Mix-gendered parties, dancing, and alcohol consumption are illegal in Iran. These activities, however, have become much more common over the past decade, especially among Iranian youths studying and working in large cities. The Indian Express also reports that any restaurants that allow such mixed events or serve alcohol will be shut down.
Punishment by lashing has been used since the Iranian Revolution in 1979, which swept the country's Islamic radicals to power and precipitated an American hostage crisis, a grizzly war with neighboring Iraq, and Iran's outsourcing of terrorism worldwide. In more contemporary times, the use of such violent punishments has become less frequent.
Living alone is not a crime in Iran, but places housing single Iranians are more likely to be the sites of criminal conduct such as drug use, alcohol consumption, and mixed-gender parties. President Hassan Rouhani, a moderate reformist who led a sweeping victory in Iran's paramilitary elections last February, hopes to promote more moderate social attitudes and will push for legislation to guarantee greater personal freedom for Iranians.
His efforts may be impeded, however, because judges in Iran reserve the power of interpreting Islamic law as it relates to the constitution. The government and other civic institutions do not have the power to interfere with its decisions. As long as hardliners retain the judiciary, drastic social change in Iran remains unlikely.