Iran has seen its freedom of expression further constrained in recent days as its Islamist rulers try to portray their nation as united in grief and bent on revenge for the U.S. killing of a top general last week.
There have been several cases of Iranians who expressed views deemed insulting or insensitive toward Qassem Soleimani coming under pressure to conform to the Iranian government's message.
In one case, several internet users in Iran have told VOA Persian they received text messages demanding they remove social media posts critical of Soleimani, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Quds Force commander killed in a U.S. airstrike at Baghdad airport last Friday.
The users shared a screen grab of the text message with VOA Persian. It says, "Dear citizen, you are publishing provocative content about the martyrdom of General Soleimani. Please remove your posts."
It was not clear who has been sending the messages.
In another case, an Iranian lawmaker representing the northwestern city of Tabriz angered some residents of his hometown by telling a state-approved news site that Iran should respond to Soleimani's killing by exercising "restraint" and seeking "negotiations" with the U.S.
An article published Saturday by the Shams News Agency said Shahabaddin Bimeghdar made the comments to one of its reporters. It also cited him as saying, "I hope that there will be no war between the two countries, because victory over the United States and its allies, Britain and France, is a tough thing to achieve."
بی مقدار، نماینده مجلس خواستار «خویشتنداری ایران و آمریکا» برای جلوگیری از «#جنگ» میشود ولی جماعتی به دفترش حمله میکنند تا خفه شود!— Milad Alavi (@miladalavii) January 5, 2020
اصل 86 #قانون_اساسی تاکید کرده که «نمایندگان در اظهارنظر آزادند» اما جمعی ازهمه چیز سواستفاده میکند تا به هدف برسد حتی خون #قاسم_سليماني pic.twitter.com/rZOZzU9aWf
A day later, footage circulated on social media of an angry crowd outside Bimeghdar's constituency office in Tabriz, presumably incensed by his reported comments. Several men could be seen defacing the office's sign that shows whom he represents and ripping out the words "people of Tabriz."
Milad Alavi, a parliamentary journalist for Iran's state-approved Etemad Daily newspaper, shared the footage of the protest at Bimeghdar's office on Twitter. He added a note saying: "Incredibly, the MP calls for Iran-US restraint to prevent #war, but some people attack his office to shut it down! Article #86 of the constitution emphasizes that lawmakers are free to express their opinion, but some people use the blood of Qassem Soleimani to justify anything."
Bimeghdar tried to calm the public backlash Sunday, telling Iran's official news agency IRNA in an interview that "if my statements have made people angry, I apologize." He also sought to clarify his views, saying "of course Iran should take revenge" for Soleimani's killing, but it should be done in a "calculated way."
A third case of Iran's free expression coming under strain involved overt action by the government.
In a Friday article, the semi-official ISNA news agency said government prosecutors have launched an investigation into the chief executive of another state-approved news outlet, Khabar Online, in response to the outlet posting a report with "insulting" language about the U.S. strike on Soleimani.
Earlier in the day, Khabar Online had posted a report on its Telegram channel citing Euronews as saying Soleimani had been "killed" in the U.S. attack. Other Iranian news outlets and Iranian leaders referred to Soleimani as having been "martyred," a word bestowing a sense of Islamic honor on the slain general.
ISNA said the language used in the Khabar Online post drew heavy criticism from Iranian internet users.
Later Friday, Khabar Online published an apology, saying it had removed the Telegram post that used the word "killed" and recognized that the word could be misunderstood "in the present circumstances." It also referred to Soleimani as a "great martyr."
The chief executive of Khabar Online, Alireza Moezi, also serves as a communications and information director for the office of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.
This article originated in VOA's Persian Service.