Iranian police launch campaign to seize satellite dishes

An image made available on June 16 on the official English-language Twitter account of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani shows him watching the country's soccer team play Nigeria in the World Cup -- presumably not using an illegal satellite dish.
(AFP/Getty Images)

Iranian police have launched yet another campaign to confiscate privately owned satellite dishes, used by many Iranians to watch foreign television programs.

Local news reports said police had launched operations in areas of west and southwest Tehran aimed at hunting down the illicit dishes, which are smuggled into the country and sold for the equivalent of less than $200. The devices, especially popular in the capital, provide viewers with a wide array of TV programs from abroad, including political talk shows and dubbed Turkish soap operas popular throughout the Middle East.

Three residents of the Ekabatan neighborhood in southwest Tehran told The Times that police officers arrived Thursday in the reception areas of their apartment buildings, showing residents a warrant from the Iranian judiciary before heading to the roofs to seize dishes.

Privately owned satellite dishes are illegal in the Islamic Republic. Iranian clerics often issue stern warnings of the immoral effects that foreign programs can have on Iranians.

Some linked the renewed crackdown to the approach of the holy Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, when many Iranians park themselves in front of their TVs to watch racy Turkish Ramadan soap operas — series that feature subjects such as out-of-wedlock pregnancies and intricate love dramas. Such topics touch a nerve with Iran’s conservative clerical hierarchy.


“We are not against technology but against promiscuity and licentiousness, which are spread by these soap operas on satellite TV channels,” read one comment to a news report about the crackdown by a reader who supported the satellite ban.

Each year, Iranian authorities invest considerable energy in confiscating private satellite dishes. Authorities often resort to creative means to find the offensive devices, which are often hidden on apartment balconies.

In Iran’s second largest city, Mashad, police have parked large cranes outside apartment buildings, checking balconies one by one, according to the Iranian reformist website Saham News. The website has posted pictures [link in Farsi] showing two large yellow cranes in front of an apartment building during a purported satellite dish confiscation in Mashad.

Efforts in previous years have included the use of helicopters and cinematic operations involving Iranian special forces rappelling down the sides of tall buildings in search of dishes.

Despite the law, millions of Iranians own satellite dishes. When dishes are confiscated, many people promptly go out and buy a replacement. The dishes are cherished for providing a window to the outside world.

“God curse them!” exclaimed Momtaz, a woman in her 60s living in southwest Tehran, referring to authorities confiscating satellite dishes in her area. Like others interviewed, she did not want her family name used for security reasons.

“Soap operas are good series, and young people can learn many things from them,” she added. “Watching them is not against Islam.”

Nader, a Tehran resident in his 30s, thought the new crackdown was simply another opportunity for Iranian police to flex their muscles.

“The law enforcement and judiciary here want to show off who is the boss in the public sphere...and Ramadan is a reminder for them to be to be tough and strict,” he said.

Special correspondent Mostaghim reported from Tehran and Sandels from Beirut. Times staff writer Patrick J. McDonnell in Beirut contributed to this report.

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