Workers Protest in Shush as Zarif Comes Under Fire
Week of November 12, 2018 | Iran Unfiltered is a weekly digest tracking Iranian politics & society by the National Iranian American Council | Subscribe Here
- Protests by Workers at Private Haft Tapeh Company Enter Third Week, Amidst Arrests of Leaders
- Some Women Allowed Inside Azadi Stadium Soccer Match for Second Time in Recent Months
- “Sultan of Coins” and Accomplice Executed for Alleged Financial Crimes
- Officials Deny Executions of Suspects Tied to September Ahvaz Terrorist Attack
- Foreign Minister Zarif Faces Conservative Backlash after Comments on Money Laundering
- Officials Caution Europe on Slow Pace of Implementing “Special Purpose Vehicle”
For the past three weeks, the southwestern Iranian city of Shush has been the site of protests by workers from the Haft Tapeh sugar cane factory over unpaid wages and job insecurity. In recent days, 18 of the protesting workers have been arrested, though officials have since stated that most have been released. In other news, a limited number of women were allowed inside Azadi stadium to watch the final match of the AFC Champions League in Tehran following pressure from FIFA and other international soccer bodies. However, this marked the second time in recent months that some women have been allowed inside the stadium for a soccer match.
Amidst an on-going corruption probe, the “Sultan of Coins,” a moniker for currency and gold dealer Vahid Mazloumin, was executed alongside an accomplice. Foreign Minister Javad Zarif has also come under intense criticism after comments linking some of the opposition to Iran reforming its anti-money laundering laws to powerful money launderers inside the country. The vociferous attacks have included a draft impeachment bill against him authored by conservative MPs. Meanwhile, Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi has issued a stern warning to Europe highlighting the consequences of it failing to implement a “Special Purpose Vehicle” to facilitate Iran trade in the wake of U.S. sanctions.
Zarif Under Fire for Comments on Money Laundering
Foreign Minister Javad Zarif has come under fire from principlist and hardline forces after linking some of the opposition to a bill on Iran acceding to the convention on terrorism financing—one of four bills introduced by the Rouhani administration to meet guidelines set out by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF)—to money launderers inside Iran who stand to lose with the new regulations.
On November 12th, Zarif has stated during an interview with Khabar Online: “I believe that many of the concerns [regarding the FATF bills] are sincere. But I believe that behind some of the [anti-FATF] atmosphere that has been created are economic interests. Money laundering is a reality in the country. I don’t want to pin this money laundering on a specific place. But those places that launder thousands of billions [of rials], definitely have the financial ability to spend tens or hundreds of billions on propaganda and creating an atmosphere in the country against anti-money laundering laws.”
Conservative newspaper Kayhan immediately rebuked Zarif, stating: “Zarif’s strange comments and his accusations against the critics and opponents of the FATF bills, which have been broadly embraced by spiteful and anti-revolutionary foreign media, come despite money laundering already being illegal under law. The insult of money laundering directed towards critics and opponents without any supporting documents or evidence will definitely be pursued through legal means and the foreign minister must be held accountable.”
On November 20th, the conservative Fars News Agency stated that based on a new law, Zarif would be solicited for evidence regarding his money laundering accusation. Fars stated that “based on a new procedure, the judiciary would in response to crimes committed in the country—such as the money laundering accusation made by Zarif—send an official letter from the prosecutor’s office to the accuser giving him/her ten days to two weeks to provide evidence to be followed up on by the judiciary.”
Judiciary Chief Amoli Larijani also criticized Zarif’s comments, stating: “If there is widespread money laundering in the country how come they haven’t notified the judiciary of this? This issue is similar to the debate over the illegal imports of cars, which after several months was brought to the attention of the judiciary. Our law against money laundering was passed in the 1380s [2001-2011] and based on it those who are aware of money laundering are obligated to notify a judiciary official.”
On November 20th, principlist MP Hossein-Ali Haji-Deligani, stated that a bill for Zarif’s impeachment had been introduced in parliament. Deligani stated: “This bill is being written and it is expected that in the next days signatures will start being gathered in support of it.”
One political analyst told the reformist Fararu of the impeachment bill: “The MPs know well that it is extremely doubtful that a bill for Zarif’s impeachment will get enough votes. But they are pursuing this to at least keep him busy for a while.”
Workers for the Haft Tapeh sugar cane factory, a private company located in the city of Shush in the southwestern Iranian province of Khuzestan, are continuing weeks-long protests over unpaid wages and job insecurity. According to BBC Persian, over the past two decades, Haft Tapeh workers have on multiple occasions engaged in protests, demonstrations, and strikes against the company.
State outlet ILNA has written that some of Haft Tapeh’s shareholders and members of its board of directors were on the Iranian Central Bank’s list of foreign currency manipulators. The Iranian judiciary’s spokesperson has also stated that Haft Tapeh’s manager has fled and his whereabouts are unknown.
On November 18th, authorities arrested 18 of the protesting Haft Tapeh workers. Among the arrested were Ismail Bakhshi and Moslem Armand, two of the protesting workers’ representatives.
Haft Tapeh workers have stated that there are two paths to resolving the crisis: for Haft Tapeh to be governed by workers, or for the company to come under state control and be managed by a worker’s council.
Many student groups and organizations across Iran have voiced support for the Haft Tapeh workers. One statement, from the Muslim Society of Students of Shahid Chamran University in Ahvaz, read: “The workers have in a completely peaceful way and to attain their basic rights engaged in protests in line with the constitution. However, unfortunately the way these workers have been treated is very improper.”
On November 20th, the public prosecutor of Shush, Mostafa Nazari, stated that 15 of the arrested workers had been freed. Nazari stated: “The demonstrations in recent days by workers, after the incitement of some is no longer only an economic issue and has resulted in the public’s order and comfort becoming disturbed and traffic across the city.” He added: “Haft Tapeh workers must be cautious of non-workers who—under the guise of caring about labor and economic issues—seek to take advantage of the stature and position that hardworking laborers have [in society].”
Reports of Executions Over Ahvaz Attack
On November 12th, reports surfaced that 22 individuals were executed in connection with the September 22nd terrorist attack on a military commemoration parade in the southwestern city of Ahvaz. Radio Farda said of these reports: “Some websites on Sunday reported that 22 individuals who were arrested based on charges of ‘connections’ with the attack on the military parade in Ahvaz, without prior notice being given to their families, were executed on November 8th in Ahvaz’s central prison.”
On September 24th, the Intelligence Ministry had in fact announced that 22 individuals “responsible” for the attack at the military parade, which led to the deaths of 25 civilians, were arrested in Ahvaz.
However, on November 12th Gholam-Reza Shariati, the governor of Khuzestan province denied any executions had taken place, describing the reports as “completely false.” Hossein Beigi, a member of the parliament’s national security and foreign policy committee, also rejected that executions had occurred and stated that the “execution sentence will only be carried out after approval from the Supreme Court.”
Women Allowed Inside Azadi Stadium
On November 10th, roughly 800 Iranian women were allowed inside Azadi stadium to watch the AFC Champions League final between Persepolis from Iran and Kashima Antlers from Japan. This marked the second time in recent months, the first being an Iran-Bolivia friendly soccer match on October 16th, that a limited number of women were allowed inside Azadi stadium—challenging a convention against women attending soccer matches that has existed since the 1979 Islamic revolution. Radio Farda said the female spectators were “handpicked and had their own seating area.”
The entrance of women into Azadi stadium was widely praised across Iranian society, especially by reformist news outlets. Reformist Shargh said the presence of women in the audience was the “most important and positive act in the [AFC Champions League] final.” Asr Iran wrote that “the men and women present in the stadium showed that they have the culture for this [women being present in stadiums alongside men] and the infrastructure for it is ready.”
MP Mohammad Reza Tabesh, the deputy head of the reformist Hope faction in parliament, expressed dismay that pressure from FIFA and other international soccer bodies was necessary for women to be allowed to watch the match. Tabesh stated that women being allowed to enter Azadi stadium was the “will of the [political system].” He added: “Unfortunately this action was delayed and procrastinated on. To such an extent that FIFA and international federations entered the arena [to pressure Iran to allow women inside the stadium]. We ourselves could have made decisions on women being present in stadiums before international pressure was imposed on us. In this case we would have had both the approval of the people and religious values would have been upheld.”
On November 14th, Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi—a prominent Shia marja, the highest rank in the Shia clerical hierarchy—delivered a speech where he dismissed the importance of women being allowed inside stadiums. He also discussed Iran’s international position in the wake reinstated U.S. sanctions and the prospects of U.S.-Iran negotiations.
In the speech, Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi denounced the U.S. for leaving the nuclear deal. He stated: “The world we live in is a world in which a savage dictatorship is its ruler and some countries seek to dominate others … Even in the time of the Arab jahiliyyah [before Islam] agreements were respected. But today some countries leave agreements whenever their heart desires.”
He added regarding U.S.-Iran negotiations: “The government and people must know that we are in such a world and we must know with who we are expected to negotiate with. They push forward a bunch of irrelevant, wrong, and meaningless issues to advance their aims, such as the Revolutionary Guards disbanding, not having missiles, and leaving Syria.”
He then said about the presence of women in stadiums: “We must know that in such a world we have to be strong in the face of aggressors. We must strengthen to confront them. God willing the Rouhani administration thinks more of the people and with the issue of women in stadiums doesn’t distract people and thinks of realities.”
“Sultan of Coins” Execution Plays into Domestic Politics
On November 14th, Vahid Mazloumin, known as the “Sultan of coins,” and Mohammad Ismaeil Qasemi, were executed for financial crimes. Mazloumin was arrested in July while allegedly hoarding gold coins, and Qasemi was arrested last January. The official charges against Mazloumin and Qasemi were “sowing corruption on earth through creating a corrupt network disturbing the economic, foreign currency, and money system by engaging in illegal dealings and massive smuggling of currency and gold coins.”
Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi, Tehran’s prosecutor, said after the execution: “The charges against Vahid Mazloumin were disturbing the country’s economic system through manipulating the money and banking market. There is no basis to say he was executed for buying and selling gold coins.”
Also on November 14th, Masoud Nili, a senior economic advisor to President Rouhani and staunch advocate of free-market economics, resigned from his post. His resignation came several weeks after Abbas Akhoundi, another strong proponent of the free market, resigned as Minister of Roads and Urban Development, citing Rouhani’s shifting economic policy (as covered in a previous Iran Unfiltered). In recent months, President Rouhani has moved towards greater state intervention in the economy to combat U.S. sanctions and stabilize the country’s currency.
After the execution of Maloumin and Qasemi and Nili’s resignation, conservative newspaper Kayhan ran the provocative headline: “Two liberals leave the administration and two corrupt economic actors are executed, and the cost of the dollar decreases!” Mohammad Tabibian, an economist who served in the Hashemi Rafsanjani administration during the 1990s, said in response to the headline: “These efforts are aimed at nothing but damaging the public’s collective rationality and breaking down humanitarian values. Clearly, this won’t take the place of rational economic policymaking and pursuing humanitarian methods.”
Deputy Foreign Minister Cautions Europe
On November 19th, Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi delivered a speech in which he discussed the return of U.S. sanctions and on-going European efforts to salvage the nuclear deal. Araghchi stated regarding U.S. sanctions: “No one in Iran will be raising their hands [in surrender] because of sanctions. We will find our own path, just like we have in the past.”
Araghchi also censured European powers for moving slowly on efforts to salvage the JPCOA and creating channels to continue commercial ties with Iran: “If the Europeans retreat, their sovereignty, reliability, and security will come under question. If Europe thinks that the West Asian region will be more secure without the JCPOA, it can test this. Our region has a collection of issues and problems, can Europe bear a new wave of terrorism and immigration and the start of a nuclear crisis? Without a doubt, the cost for the JCPOA’s destruction is higher for Europe than America. If Europe believes that the JCPOA is important for its sovereignty, security, and reliability, it must be ready to pay a cost for it.”
Araghchi said of European efforts to create a “special purpose vehicle” (SPV) to facilitate trade with Iran, which has yet to materialize: “Whether the Europeans don’t want to work with us and are playing with us or whether they want to but aren’t able to, at the end it doesn’t make a difference. The result is that the Europeans either didn’t want to or couldn’t do anything. However, we will stay in the JCPOA as long as it’s to the benefit of the country. If this ceases to be the case, staying in the JCPOA will be useless.”
Other Domestic Developments
In a November 20th interview, a prominent principlist (conservative) figure, Mohammad Reza Mir Taj Al-Dini, discussed Iran’s shifting political climate and the possibility of principlists returning to power in the 2020 parliamentary and 2021 presidential elections. Al-Dini stated that reformist and moderate forces inside Iran were losing popularity: “Some internal polling shows that reformist and moderate figures are losing popularity and people are turning away from them.”
He added that reformists/moderates have failed to deliver on their promises: “The people see that reformists in practice have not had any successes. They promised that they would maintain the value of the national currency, that they would solve economic problems and unemployment, but they did not abide by these slogans and election promises and have had these problems turn against them as people have seen the currency’s value drop.”
He then predicted that principlists would win in Iran’s upcoming elections, stating: “As such, it is predictable that in the next parliamentary and presidential elections, the people’s choices will be different.”
Meanwhile, on November 13th, the Tehran city council elected Pirouz Hanachi as mayor of Tehran. Hanachi, a reformist political figure who has held senior posts in the Tehran municipality and worked in the Rouhani administration’s Ministry of Roads and Urban Development, is the third mayor since reformists took control of Tehran’s city council after elections in May 2017. The first mayor elected by the reformist city council council, Mohammad-Ali Najafi, resigned on April 10th, 2018, citing health problems. His successor, Mohammad-Ali Afshani, came out of retirement to assume the position, but was removed after a new law passed in September forbid retirees from assuming government posts.