ARMAN-E EMROOZ
Arman-e Emrooz is a Tehran-based daily. It is considered close to the former Iranian President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani.
Dark alley in Tehran, Iran
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Death Penalty, Iran Questions Its Habit Of Drug-Related Executions

TEHRAN — Some Iranian legislators want to end the Islamic Republic's systematic execution of drug dealers, saying it does little to reduce the country's massive drug abuse problem.

More than 150 members of Parliament are preparing a motion to amend the country's drug enforcement laws and restrict death sentences to particular cases such as recidivism in trafficking, use of weapons or membership of an organized trafficking gang, the daily Arman-e Emrooz reports, citing the ISNA news agency.

Iran borders key drug producing regions in Pakistan and Afghanistan, also acting as a shipping route and consumer market in its own right. Still, as Jalil Rahimi-Jahanabadi, a member of the parliamentary judicial affairs committee, noted most of those executed or on death row are the "little people" who may have had just one run in with the law. "Their execution harms families," he added.

Accurate statistics on the death penalty in Iran are unavailable, though human rights organizations estimate that an average of at least one person per day is put to death in the country, often related to drug offenses.

Rahimi-Jahanabadi said the stated objective of having such a high number of drug-related executions was to cut the supply of drugs. "Has that happened?," he quipped. "We have to think of alternative punishments."

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Iranian Anti-Narcotics police logo — Source: Wikimedia Commons

Days before, the Minister of Justice Mostafa Purmohammadi stressed executions were the right response. He said Islamic laws require the elimination of "corruptors."

Drug trafficking is one of the offenses Iran's judicial system terms "spreading corruption on Earth," alongside sexual offenses like rape, which all are capital crimes. Drug dealers are habitually termed "merchants of death" in state media.

Arman-e Emrooz cited an unnamed deputy-head of the country's drug enforcement body as putting annual profits from drug dealing at around $3 billion. The daily separately cited a spokesman for the country's drug enforcement agency Parviz Afshar, as saying that the price of a kilogram of crystal-meth had dropped by two-thirds from around $38,000 (120 million rials). Authorities interpreted that as a sign that hard drug users were moving to another new narcotic of choice, a type of heroin called "mud" or tar.

Street beggar wearing a hijab in Tehran
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Are Beggars In Iran Dressing Like Girls To Earn A Quick Buck?

TEHRAN — A councilwoman in Tehran, Fatemeh Daneshvar, said that a growing number of male beggars are dressing like females in the Iranian capital, the state-run Islamic Republic News Agency reported last week.

"Some of these beggars are Pakistani and some are dressed as girls, and of course the feminine beggars have increased," Daneshvar said, according to the agency.

It was unclear from the statement if the beggars wore veils in a bid to look like girls or if they acted effeminately, an effort that would probably help them win the sympathy of passersby.

Panhandling is a growing issue in Iran. Officials said they recently detained hundreds of people begging on the streets of Tehran. While many were from Pakistan as Daneshvar mentioned, the Arman-e Emrooz newspaper reported that some are from India and Myanmar.

IRNA cited a judicial official in Tehran saying that beggars earned up to 5,000 euros a month, a sum that other officials say is incorrect. "Right now, we've cleared away more than a thousand of these people," the source said, adding that Iranians should stop giving money to beggars.

Looking at a bridal shop in Tehran
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Iran's Divorce Rate, A State Secret?

TEHRAN — Iranian officials may restrict publication of the country's latest divorce statistics so as not to distress the public, which has long been taught that early and lasting matrimony is a key to social harmony.

"There have already been enough divorce statistics. Citing more won't solve the problems," Ali Akbar Mahzun, of the demographics department at the national registration office, was quoted as saying in the Tehran-based reformist daily Arman-e Emrooz.

Kurosh Mohammadi, an expert in social problems, told Arman that restricting figures would only undermine trust in the authorities and hamper the country's response to what public bodies are effectively considering a social ill, not unlike crime and vices.

Another newspaper, Shargh, reported that the move would be technically illegal given existing access-to-information laws. Hiding the numbers would also contradict President Hassan Rohani's promise to boost civic rights and transparency.

Mahzun, the registration official, later tried to clarify his statement, telling Shargh that he doesn't want to keep the divorce figures a secret, per se, but thinks they should be available only on a need-to-know basis. Access, in other words, should be restricted to government offices and government-approved researchers — not the press.

A bridal shop in Tehran
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Iranians Turn Away From So-Called 'Temporary Marriages'

Registration officials in Iran supect there has been an increase of late in the number of informal and "unregistered" relationships. People are experimenting more with Western-style affairs of the heart, in other words — "shacking up" rather than rushing into marriage.

And they're not even going through the bother of entering a "temporary marriage," a legal loophole that exists in Iran for lovers who don't necessarily plan to make it a long-term thing. Last year, there were just 168 such arrangements nationwide, Ahmad Tuiserkani, head of the state registration body, told the daily Arman-e Emrooz.

Temporary marriages, to put it bluntly, allow couples to have sex without violating religious or cultural norms. They often serve the needs of bachelors or widows with money problems, divorcees, or anyone unable or unwilling to marry for good. Some critics call it "legitimate" prostitution as it usually involves payment of money to the wife.

Now, it seems, Iranian couples are dispensing with even that formality, instead dating and sleeping together like people elsewhere. Tuiserkani claims that the average lifespan of a couple in Iran is now "less than three years" and that 60% of the people who do marry lack a university education.

Shahla Kazemipur, a lecturer at Tehran University, sees the trend as logical given other changes taking place in Iranian society. "As society moves toward modernization, the marriage age goes up," she told the news agency ISNA.

Whereas men and women married at around 25 and 20 respectively in 1979, Kazemipur observed that they now tended to marry — in the proper, non "temporary" sense — at the ages of 27.5 and 23.4.

In a Tehran cafe.
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Iran Clampdown On Water Pipes Leads To Delivery Services

TEHRAN — The humble water pipe — that traditional contraption often found in the Middle East, designed to ensure a cool and smooth smoke — has been having a tough time in Iran.

Whether that's due to its association with traditional tea shops, which Iran's Islamic authorities frown upon for encouraging idle socializing, or to the health risks associated with it, the water pipe is in trouble, according to newspaper Arman-e Emrooz, which reports an increase in "raids" on tea shops or eateries providing customers with pipes.

In response, the popularity of home-delivery pipes has risen, a phenomenon the newspaper describes as a "new plague for youngsters." The use of water pipes, and their delivery, seems to fall in a legal grey area, as both are widely advertised, Arman reports, detailing the sudden proliferation of fliers for pipe deliveries, including one touting "Fast dood," with a pun on fast food and the Persian word for smoke, "dood."

One coffee shop employee in northern Tehran told the daily that pipe deliveries had increased of late, and "ladies are our main customers, because they cannot freely sit and enjoy affordable pipes in" tea shops.

Another shop owner said he delivers sweets, pistachios and tea with his pipe for an extra fee. He said he typically charges 15,000 tumans (a little over four euros) for a pipe delivery.

It remains unclear at present whether Uber and Deliveroo are around the corner.

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Hardliners Target Iran's Female Environment Chief

TEHRAN — While the moderate government headed by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani enjoys the Supreme Leader's qualified backing — which is crucial to its survival inside Iran — it contends daily with criticisms, often from its conservative opponents. The conservatives fear that his policy of bringing détente with the West and opening the economy will dilute the country's Islamic and revolutionary fervor, though their hostility is often personal, and usually focuses on easier prey than the president, namely his colleagues.

It is a familiar pattern established in the 1990s, when a conservative parliament impeached several ministers of reformist President Mohammad Khatami. And those who prompt this hostility usually do so for similar reasons — "too liberal" leanings, a high profile, suspected popularity.

The latest target is the female vice president and head of Iran's state environmental agency, Masoumeh Ebtekar. She has been a prominent reformist for years, and headed the same body under Khatami. Certain reformist papers are characterizing her as the new "target" of hardline media.

The newspaper Arman-e Emrooz observed this week that hardliners have a problem "in two words, Ma'sumeh Ebtekar," and seem indifferent to her environmental work and indeed the state of the environment itself. On Oct. 26, several lawmakers reportedly urged her not to meddle in politics and called on Rouhani to deal with her organization's "problems." In recent days conservative media have been giving exaggerated coverage to a smallish protest by her organization"s employees outside its offices, apparently over work conditions. As Arman observed, these problems were nothing new and the hostile media omitted showing protesters' placards stating that "this is not a political gathering."

The environmental agency's Twitter account noted on Oct. 27 that right-wing media like Fars news agency were "suddenly" concerned by the environment. The Fars report on the protest carried said that it was "shaking" Ebtekar's "empire" at the agency. Sharq, another reformist daily, carried an extensive report about what the environment department has accomplished in recent years, including a rapid campaign to introduce hyper-efficient irrigation methods in northwestern Iran, where water is scarce, and moves to mitigate Tehran's appalling air pollution.

The issue is no doubt political. Hardliners likely perceive Ebtekar as the kind of semi-liberal figure — and a woman — they hate to see wielding power. Perhaps her loyalties are in doubt? Her recent comments to Spain's El Mundo are ambivalent in places. Asked if Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whom Iran firmly defends, would one day have to answer for the deaths of civilians, she says "all politicians, each and every one," will have to answer for their deeds. Should he be taken to a war crimes tribunal, the daily asks? "We shall all be judged one day," she says, stating a posture that has religious connotations but is also somehow awkward.

That must be her irksome political meddling.

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Even As Iran Opens Up, Authorities Clamp Down On Music And Drugs

TEHRAN — Iran's Islamic Republic has sought to control morals and public conduct for some 40 years now, and the apparent détente with Western powers won't be changing anything on this front.

Take its ongoing antipathy toward Western — or some would say, virtually all — music. For Iran's clerics, music and related festivities are often considered a moral distraction and a prelude to lewdness.

A senior policemen warned this week that authorities would act against any school buses or taxis playing music while transporting children to school, the reformist daily Arman-e Emruz reported. Jabbar Esfandiari, the deputy traffic police chief for the western province of Ilam, said parents had complained that "moral norms were being flouted" on some school buses. The ban extends nationwide, though it is not clear how effectively it can be enforced.

Meanwhile, Arman-e Emruz has also reported this week that Hossein Hashemi, the governor of the Tehran province, has voiced concerns over drugs. The governor declared that the capital and its surroundings had some 15,000 drug addicts on the streets, who were increasingly taking drugs in public and enjoying "nighttime parties" in Tehran's parks.

Hashemi told a seminar in Tehran that "many dangerous addicts are loose on the streets and there are reports of their gathering around midnight in parks and by roadsides and sidewalks to take drugs."

Parties, drugs and alcohol use are forbidden in Iran. The daily cited police in Tehran as saying that it was of no use arresting these addicts, as rehabilitation facilities were insufficient and they would be back on the street within days. Western problems indeed.