Iran Reacts to Bolton’s Ouster & the Blue Girl’s Death

Week of September 9th, 2019 | Iran Unfiltered is a weekly digest tracking Iranian politics & society by the National Iranian American Council | Subscribe Here

Passing of “Blue Girl” Following Self-Immolation Spurs Outrage

The death by self-immolation of Sahar Khodayari, a young woman who tried to enter a soccer match in Tehran, has sparked an outcry in Iran. Her suicide was widely mourned on Persian social media and used as a rallying cry against Iran’s soccer stadium ban against women. Parliamentarians, Rouhani administration officials, and prominent Iranian soccer players and leagues also commented on her death.

Citing an interview with Sahar’s sister, BBC Persian explained the background to Sahar’s suicide. She was first arrested in March of this year while trying to enter Tehran’s Azadi stadium to watch a match between the Iranian club Team Esteghlal and the Emirati team al-Ain.

According to her sister, Sahar was disguised as a man in order to enter the stadium but after seeing guards doing body checks, she announced that she was a woman. She was then arrested and her bail was set at 50 million tomans (roughly five thousand dollars). She was held for two days until her family was able to come up with the money.

According to her sister, last week Sahar went to a court in Tehran regarding her case, but the court date was cancelled due to an emergency for the judge. Sahar then went to retrieve her cell phone from the court authorities. It was at this point that she heard that she could be sentenced to six months in prison if she was charged.

Sahar’s sister stated: “She went to the courthouse to get her cell phone. It seems that over there she heard from someone that she would be imprisoned for six months.”

According to Sahar’s sister, she then set herself on fire with gasoline outside of the court building. She received third degree burns on 90 percent of her body and was taken to a hospital. She passed away one week later. Sahar’s father has denied rumors that the family was not given her body for burial. It is unclear if the family has come under pressure from authorities. 

According to her sister, Sahar suffered from bipolar disorder and had attempted suicide once before, for which she was hospitalized. Sahar’s sister stated before her passing: “My sister has bipolar disorder. Since two years ago she has been under the supervision of a doctor and we have all the documents which we gave to the court. But after her altercation with the police, they treated her like a healthy individual in the judicial review and sent her to Varamin prison.”

Mizan News, an outlet connected to the judiciary, said she was arrested in March for “improper clothing and getting into an altercation with the police and insulting them.” The editor of Mizan also said that reports that Sahar had been sentenced to six months in prison were a “total lie.”

He stated: “With deep sorrow over the passing of the woman who recently self-immolated, reports of a verdict of six months against her are a total lie. Last week, she came to a court on charges of getting into altercations and insulting the police in March. The judge was not there due to the death of a relative. No judicial action was taken and no indictment was made.”

Reformist parliamentarian Parvaneh Salahshouri said about Sahar, who has been described as the “blue girl” due to her support for blue-jersey-wearing Esteghlal: “She was not just the blue girl. She was a daughter of Iran. In a place where men assign the tasks of women and strip them of their most basic rights. And where women join men in this outright oppression of women. We are all responsible for the imprisonment and burning of the Sahars of this country.”

Masoumeh Ebtekar, Rouhani’s vice-president for the affairs of women, also released a statement outlining her efforts on Sahar’s case. Ebtekar said she sent her assistant for citizens’ rights to visit Sahar and her family in the hospital. Ebtekar then prepared a report based off her assistant’s account and sent it to judiciary chief Ebrahim Raisi. Ebtekar says she also discussed the actions taken on Sahar’s case during President Rouhani’s cabinet meeting on Sunday.

Sahar’s death spurred renewed debate in Iran about the soccer stadium ban for women. Ali Rabiee, the Rouhani administration’s spokesperson, said the infrastructure has been prepared for women to enter stadiums to watch soccer matches, such as a separate seating area and separate bathrooms.

Rabiee also said that the administration has made plans for women to attend matches of the national soccer team, but not yet for club games.

Laya Joneydi, President Rouhani’s vice president for legal affairs, has also said there is no law against women attending soccer matches. She stated: “There is no legal obstacle to women entering stadiums (to watch soccer games). Depriving of rights has no meaning and the administration is of this position and believes we should support this.”

Sports Minister Masoud Soltanifar announced that the proper environment has been established for women to attend soccer matches by Iran’s national team. Women will reportedly be able to attend the next match of the national team against Cambodia at Azadi stadium on October 10th.

Many senior Ayatollahs in Iran support the stadium ban, but some support lifting it. For example, Ayatollahs Alavi Gorghani and Makarem Shirazi have spoken against permitting women to watch soccer matches at stadiums. On the other hand, Ayatollah Kazem Mousavi-Bojnourdi and conservative Ayatollah Mohsen Gharavian are in support of lifting the ban.

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Officials Say Bolton’s Ouster Not Enough for Negotiations

Iran’s UN Ambassador Majid Majid Takht-Ravanchi said John Bolton’s ouster was not sufficient for Iran to negotiate with the United States. He stated: “We have announced many times and the Iranian president has also explicitly said that as long as these oppressive sanctions and economic terrorism of the U.S. government against the Iranian people continues, there is no room for talk and negotiations.”

Takht-Ravanchi said that U.S. policies towards Iran must change: “Our policy towards the U.S. has no bearing on changes [of personnel] within the Trump administration. If the policy of economic terrorism of America is not ended, there is no room for dialogue.”

Takht-Ravanchi also said that new sanctions announced after Bolton’s ouster were an indication of the continuation of Trump’s so-called “maximum pressure” campaign. These new sanctions targeted several Iranian individuals connected to the Revolutionary Guards.

After Bolton’s ouster, President Rouhani stated that “the warmongers must leave and America’s maximum pressure must be removed.”

Separately, in a phone call with French President Macron after Bolton’s ouster, Rouhani also discussed the possibility for U.S.-Iran negotiations. He stated: “From the perspective of the government, parliament, and people of Iran, in the condition that sanctions remain, negotiations with America have no meaning.”

Rouhani stated that if an agreement was finalized with Europe, Iran would return to full compliance with its JCPOA commitments. He also raised the possibility of renewed multilateral talks with the U.S. within the framework of the P5+1 countries, stating: “For new dialogue among the P5+1, first America’s sanctions must be removed.”

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Deputy FM Welcomes French Proposal, Discusses Potential Negotiations

Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi reiterated that Iran would return to full JCPOA compliance if it can sell its oil. He stated: “The Islamic Republic of Iran as has been announced many times will only return to full compliance with the JCPOA if it can sell its oil and get access to the revenue in a way that is totally usable and without any restrictions.” 

Araghchi stated that the French proposal for a $15 billion credit line achieved this Iranian condition. He stated: “The amount from this credit line is for $15 billion for a period of four months, meaning until the end of this year [2019]. So if there is an agreement, in the next four months Iran will either sell its oil or get a credit line in the form of a pre-purchase for 100 percent of the equivalent amount of oil. 

Araghchi said that Iran would be willing to enter negotiations on how to better implement the JCPOA after receiving the $15 billion. He declared: “From the perspective of the Islamic Republic, there will be no renewed negotiations regarding the JCPOA. But the topic of negotiations can be on the desirable implementation of the JCPOA, given that the other side has had serious shortcoming in this regard.” 

Araghchi also said that securing regional waterways can be another topic for potential negotiations. He stated: “Also, security in all the international waterways can be a topic for talks. The Islamic Republic, on the condition of all of its ships being provided with security in all waterways, is ready to engage in dialogue on the security and freedom of passage for ships in the Persian Gulf and Strait of Hormuz.”

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New JCPOA Compliance Reductions Detailed

Behrouz Kamalvandi, the spokesperson for Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI), detailed Iran’s “third step” in reducing its JCPOA compliance. Iran has been reducing its JCPOA compliance gradually in 60-day increments and has said it would return to full compliance if Europe restarts Iranian oil imports and payment for them. In the first two steps, Iran exceeded the JCPOA’s limits on its stockpiles of low-enriched uranium and level of uranium enrichment.

President Rouhani said last week that Iran would cease compliance on all “research and development” limitations in the JCPOA with its third step. Kamalvandi explained that this would include installing and feeding uranium hexafluoride gas into more advanced centrifuges, which can enrich uranium faster.

Kamalvandi said that “chains” of 20 IR4 and 20 IR6 centrifuges have already been started. He said that in roughly two months, Iran would begin feeding gas into a “chain” of 10 IR-5s centrifuges. In the JCPOA, Iran agreed to limit itself to 5060 operating IR-1 centrifuges for 10 years.

Kamalvandi stressed that it will get more difficult to save the JCPOA as time passes. He stated: “The European side should know that time is running out. If they are going to take any action, they must take it sooner.”

Kamalvandi also identified eight limitations in the JCPOA which Iran will gradually lower compliance with. These include limitations related to Iran’s heavy water reactor, heavy water production facility, reprocessing spent fuel, the capacity and level of uranium enrichment, research and development, the Fordow facility, stockpiles of enriched uranium, and the IAEA’s level of access and oversight.  

The reformist outlet Fararu cited an Iranian analyst as saying Iran’s “third step” might facilitate a four-month interim deal with Europe. This deal would be over a French proposal for a $15 billion credit line to Iran for oil imports.

The analyst Rahman Ghahramanpour stated: “The success of this agreement would depend on whether Europe, the US, and Iran have successful negotiations at the UN General Assembly.”

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Official Denies Hidden Nuclear Activities

Iranian officials have denied recent accusations of concealing nuclear activities from the IAEA. This comes after reports that the IAEA has found traces of uranium at a compound near Tehran.

Kazem Gharibabadi, Iran’s representative to the IAEA, dismissed “any allegations about hidden nuclear activities by Iran.” Gharibabadi stated: “Any efforts to create disturbance or diversions with respect to the constructive and active cooperation between Iran and the IAEA, and imposing improper pressure on the agency, is destructive and will be met with appropriate actions from Iran.”

Cornel Feruta, the acting head of the IAEA, travelled to Iran and met with AEOI chief Ali Akbar Salehi, Foreign Minister Zarif, and other Iranian officials. Feruta emphasized the IAEA’s desire to continue cooperation with Iran and stressed the importance of the IAEA’s “independence” and “impartiality.”

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Labor Protestors Handed Heavy Sentences

Revolutionary Court Branch 28 handed out heavy sentences to workers of the Haft Tapeh Sugarcane Factory and Ahvaz Steel Company, who were engaged in protests last year. Read more on the labor protests by workers of the Ahvaz Steel Company and Haft Tapeh Sugercane Factory in previous issues of Iran Unfiltered.

Labor activists Sepideh Gholian and Esmail Bakhshi were sentenced to seven years in prison each. Both were rearrested earlier this after they said they were tortured during their original time in custody last year. Read more about their cases in previous issues of Iran Unfiltered.

Nine other labor activists as well as several editors of the pro-labor Gam magazine were also given lengthy prison sentences. As detailed in a previous issue of Iran Unfiltered, the editors were arrested in January.

After the sentences were announced to widespread outcry, Judiciary Chief Ebrahim Raisi said in a letter they would be revised. Raisi said he had given a “special” order for the “revision” of the sentences and “fair treatment” in relation to the “sentences of some recent cases” at a branch of the Revolutionary Court.

Mohammad Shariatmadari, the minister of Labor in the Rouhani administration, thanked Raisi and announced his willingness to create a joint committee with the judiciary on labor issues. In his letter to Raisi, Shariatmadari said the sentences against the labor protesters was “shocking.”

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Impounded British Tanker May Be Released Soon

Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Abbas Mousavi said that the Stena Impero, the British tanker Iran seized in July, could be released soon. He stated: “This ship is currently in the last stages of judicial and legal proceedings and we hope that in the near future it will be released.” 

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Hardline Cleric Says Negotiations with U.S. Not Forbidden

Ahmad Khatami, a prominent hardline cleric and member of the Assembly of Experts, has said that negotiations with the U.S. are not forbidden. He stated: “They [the U.S.] are seeking to dictate their demands to Iran and to get the Iranian nation to surrender to these demands.” He added: “Anyone who has religious honor will be pessimistic about the enemy and will never be optimistic about America.”

However, he added regarding negotiations with the U.S.: “We don’t forbid negotiations with America or Europe. But such a negotiation is poison. They are after this negotiation for their own survival.”

He further added: “The nation will not forget anyone who negotiates with the enemy at this point.”

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About Author

Sina ToossiSina ToossiSina Toossi joined the National Iranian American Council as a Research Associate in July 2018. In this role, Sina conducts research and writing on U.S.-Iran relations, Iranian politics, and Middle East policy issues. Sina has been published in Newsweek, The National Interest, The Huffington Post, The Atlantic Council’s IranSource, ThinkProgress, and The Washington Quarterly.
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