January 12, 2024

Iran Detains an American Oil Tanker Five months after the U.S. Seized Iranian Oil in Texas, 26 Parliament Members Disqualified; Hijab, Chastity, and Internet Filtering Bills Critics Among them, and More

Week of January 8, 2024 | Iran Unfiltered is a digest tracking Iranian politics & society by the National Iranian American Council 

Iran Detains an American Oil Tanker Five Months after the U.S. Seized Iranian Oil in Texas

According to Tasnim news agency, the Iranian Navy seized an American oil tanker in the Sea of Oman on Thursday, January 11. Iran’s Navy had boarded the Marshall Islands-flagged St. Nikolas, which was originally bound for Turkey, and forced its course into Iranian territorial waters after loading in the Iraqi port of Basra. Several military personnel were pictured boarding the tanker via helicopter, but Tasnim did not specify whether the photo was related to the tanker seized that day.

The British Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO) reported that the oil tanker near the Port of Sohar, approximately 50 nautical miles east of Oman’s coast, was attacked by four to five armed individuals. According to the report, the attackers wore black masks and light military-style uniforms. Soon after, UKMTO reported that they were unable to establish further contact with the tanker and were investigating the issue.

According to TankerTrackers, which monitors ship movements, Iranians had previously operated the same tanker which transported Iraqi oil and sailed under the name “Suez Rajan” in late spring of 2023. The tanker was seized, however, by the U.S. under a sanctions enforcement operation near Galveston, just 80 kilometers from Houston, Texas.

At the time, the Iranian government had warned of retaliatory action if the oil of this ship was offloaded at that time, which it was. Since May 30th, the “Suez Rajan” tanker remained stationed in Galveston, and as of January 11, 2024, this same tanker was reseized by the Iranian navy.

When the U.S. had initially seized the tanker in late spring, members of Congress had urged President Joe Biden and his administration to quickly transfer the seized Iranian oil cargo, which was estimated to be carrying 800,000 barrels, worth about 56 million dollars. On August 20th, the U.S. officially offloaded and seized the oil.

In response to the seizure of the tanker in spring 2023, Alireza Tangsiri, commander of the Iranian Navy, declared that the era of “hit-and-run” is over, warning that if attacked, they would respond. The reseizure of the tanker this past week is now being interpreted as the Iranian navy’s official response to the previous U.S. seizure of the tanker from months ago.

Renewed Terrorist Attack by Jaish al-Adl on a Military Base in Rask, Sistan and Baluchestan

On January 10, terrorists reportedly attacked the Rask military base in the Sistan and Baluchestan province, which resulted in the death of one police officer. It was reported that the armed conflict began at 1 a.m. and lasted for approximately three hours. “After three hours, the group failed to penetrate the station,” said Saleem Kadkhoda, the governor of Rask.

The Jaish al-Adl group, a designated terrorist organization by both the Iranian government and the United States, claimed responsibility for the attack within hours of the conflict. In the southeast of Sistan and Baluchestan province, Rask lies approximately 500 kilometers south of Zahedan and close to the Pakistani border. As stated in their statement, Jaish al-Adl claimed to have caused both human and material damage to the Biduld station in Rask.

According to Halvash, a Baluchi news outlet in Iran, the armed attackers had blocked the routes leading to the conflict site in advance to prevent the arrival of military reinforcements. Halvash and the Baloch Activists Campaign also reported that, “From around 12:30 a.m. to about 4 a.m., there was intense fighting and heavy exchange of fire accompanied by several powerful explosions at the base.”The Jaish al-Adl group has intensified its attacks in recent months.The news of this attack comes just less than a month after Jaish al-Adl assaulted a police command center in Rask, Sistan and Baluchestan province, resulting in 12 deaths. The Iranian Revolutionary Guards and border guards have repeatedly clashed with Jaish al-Adl in the Sistan and Baluchestan province, taking some hostage or killing others. On July 8 of the previous year, the group also attacked Zahedan Police Station 16.

Ministry of Intelligence Statement and Investigation on Kerman Explosions  

The Ministry of Intelligence of the Islamic Republic of Iran has released a statement naming the individual responsible for constructing the bombs used in the deadly explosions in Kerman last week, which claimed the lives of over 90 people during the fourth anniversary commemorations for General Qasem Soleimani. According to the state news agency IRNA, the statement identified the main planner and supporter of the criminal operation as a Tajikistani individual using the alias “Abdullah Tajiki.” 

The Ministry of Intelligence stated that Tajiki had entered Iran illegally with a woman and a child for cover, using local smugglers at the Jalq Kalleghan border of Saravan, after passing through Khash, Iranshahr, and Jiroft. After entering, he settled in a rented house in the Kerman suburb, Shahrak-e-Pedar, where he and his group of collaborators in the attack manufactured their explosive vests. The statement added that in addition to directing the operation, Tajiki specialized in making homemade bombs. He reportedly left the country two days before the tragic incident occurred after assembling various explosives and electrical components.

A few days after these attacks, the Islamic State (ISIS) group claimed responsibility for the two explosions, declaring it as a continuation of their campaign “against Shiites.” Their statement, however, did not specify that ISIS Afghanistan conducted the operation. Reuters also reported last week that two “informed sources” in the U.S. government confirmed that the ISIS branch based in Afghanistan carried out two attacks in Iran. The Iranian Ministry of Intelligence also confirmed the full identity of one of the individuals who carried out the attacks as Bazirov “Bozrov” Israeli, son of Amanullah, a 24-year-old Tajik national. Per their statement, the suicide bomber had reportedly traveled from Van, Turkey, to Afghanistan, joining ISIS in the Badakhshan province, and returned to Iran after a few months.

According to the statement, the attackers had left their group home separately at 1:03 pm, and 1:14 pm on the day of the attack, and headed towards the Kerman Martyrs’ Cemetery. As a result of the strict multilayer security measures and the presence of security and law enforcement forces, they decided to conduct their operation in areas relatively far from the cemetery, outside the security perimeters, and before reaching the inspection gates. 

Several conflicting reports have been released by Iranian authorities following the attack and subsequent investigations. The chief of the Military Judiciary Organization of Kerman Province, Ali Tavakoli, provided details about the planned attacks on the anniversary of Qasem Soleimani’s death and the discovery of several other bombs. According to Tavakoli, more than 64 bombs were supposed to explode throughout Iran that same day but ultimately did not because the agents were reportedly discovered and arrested; the IRGC has denied this claim. Furthermore, 16 ready-to-explode bombs were previously discovered in Kerman, specifically in the Martyrs’ Cemetery and the mausoleum of Martyr Soleimani. Mehdi Bakhshi, the Kerman Prosecutor, had also announced the discovery of the 16 ready-to-explode bombs in the province, which he claimed were more powerful than suicide vests.The Kerman Revolutionary Guard Corps, however, denies this claim, asserting that foreknowledge of these other bombs should have prompted cancellation of the Soleimani commemoration ceremony altogether. In response, Mr. Tavakoli noted, both explosions in Kerman occurred “before the inspection gates,” and that the suicide bombers had detonated themselves before approaching any detection mechanisms in the cemetery. 

Over 500 security forces from other provinces have been deployed to Kerman to ensure the security of the region, according to the head of the Military Judiciary Organization of Kerman Province.

Criticism Over Children Involved in Qasem Soleimani Anniversary Ceremony Without Parental Consent

Apart from investigation into the attacks in Kerman, many citizens and human rights activists have expressed concern about the participation of students in these ceremonies – where the Kerman attack took place – without their families’ knowledge. A third of the victims of these attacks were children, according to Kerman Forensic Medicine. “The number of student martyrs in the Kerman terrorist bombing has reached 24,” said Kerman Province’s director-general of education during a memorial ceremony for three high school girls who were killed.

The Coordinating Council of Teachers’ Trade Association stated that, according to documents they obtained, “the presence of most of the student victims was planned by the schools and the Department of Education, without the presence of their guardians.” Ahead of the anniversary commemorations, the council of teachers also reported that, two days before the attacks, the provincial Department of Education had announced the closure of all schools on the day of the anniversary.

Social media users have pointed out that since the early years of the Islamic Republic, many students, teachers, school employees, and office workers have been required to attend events such as Friday prayers, funerals, and commemorations, and this practice has been criticized. According to critics, many of these students are too young to participate in a political, propaganda, or government event that could result in their death or injury.

26 Parliament Members Disqualified; Hijab, Chastity, and Internet Filtering Bills Critics Among them

According to the spokesperson for the Guardian Council, among the 275 members of the eleventh parliament who registered for the twelfth parliamentary elections, 26 have been disqualified. Among those disqualified are Jalal Mahmoudzadeh, the representative of Mahabad, Ahmad Alirezabeigi from Tabriz, Jalal Rashidi Koochi from Marvdasht, and Jalil Rahimi Jahanabadi from Taybad. According to Khabar Online, these four members are known as “government critics” and opponents of “bills and plans related to filtering, hijab, and chastity.”

The eligibility of other notable parliament members – Masoud Pezeshkian, Ali Motahari, and Mohammad Bagher Nobakht – has been confirmed.

Notably, Khuzestan province has the highest number of disqualifications with seven members. Other disqualified members come from the  Golestan, Fars, Razavi Khorasan, Kurdistan, and East Azerbaijan provinces.

Shahla Lahiji, the First Female Publisher in Iran, has Passed Away

Shahla Lahiji, the director of Roshangaran and Women’s Studies Publishing, passed away on January 8, 2024, at the age of 81. Lahiji, born in May 1942 to a freethinking family in Tehran, moved to Shiraz during her teenage years, and became one of the first female publishers in Iran. As a teenager, she began writing articles for publications and producing programs for Radio Shiraz. At age 16, she became a member of the International Association of Women Writers and Journalists. She was also a member of the Organization of Iranian Women, where she worked in the public relations department and completed an intensive sociology course through correspondence with the Open University of London. Later in her career, she founded the Research Institute for Women’s Studies. 

Lahiji received the Freedom to Write Award from the PEN (Poets, Essayists, Novelists) Association in 2001, which considers her to be the first female publisher in Iran with the establishment of Roshangaran and Women’s Studies Publishing in 1983. The institute was granted a license to establish a women’s studies center in 1996 and attracted researchers in the field. Since 1997, the publishing house has expanded its activities internationally, translating works of contemporary Iranian authors into English for global cultural exchange.

A number of Lahiji’s significant works include studies on Bahram Beyzaie’s depiction of women, studies on Iranian women’s historical identity (co-authored with Mehrangiz Kar), as well as comprehensive studies of Iranian women from prehistory to history through the Achaemenids, Seleucids, Parthians, and Sassans. Besides focusing on women’s issues, Lahiji’s life’s work also included the presentation of a more comprehensive, clear, and humane perspective on social, economic, philosophical, psychological, and historical aspects of life.

Lahiji was respected and admired by the Iranian elite and literary communities as a prominent female publisher, but she also faced numerous challenges from the Islamic Republic government and society at large. After the revolution, her rights had been significantly compromised, making it all the more necessary to educate women about women’s issues and prepare them for advocacy. This is what led to her founding of Roshangaran and Women’s Studies Publishing in 1983.

Lahiji faced a number of challenges as a female publisher in Iran’s male-dominated publishing industry. During her early days in publishing, she described the alienation she felt in an environment that was not accustomed to women’s presence. No matter how patronizing the suggestions were to pursue more “feminine” occupations or how subtle the attempts were to push her out, Lahiji persisted.

She was subjected to various restrictions, not only by societal patriarchy, but also by the Islamic Republic government. After returning from the Berlin Conference in the early 2000s, Lahiji was arrested and charged by the Islamic Republic’s judiciary. According to the Islamic Revolution Document Center, the conference aimed at replacing Iran’s religious regime with a secular government obedient to the West. In particular, Lahiji’s arrest drew criticism from writers and intellectuals. Several prominent figures, such as Bahram Beyzaie and poet Simin Behbahani, praised Lahiji’s contributions, asserting that she only intended to serve the nation and society.

Later in the mid-2000s, Lahiji’s publishing house was scrutinized, resulting in bans on some of her books and the arson of her office. Lahiji spoke to a German newspaper in 2006 about the challenges faced by publishers not favored by the government, noting that books previously printed multiple times were now prohibited. In spite of these obstacles, Lahiji continued to publish books. She has protested government policies in the publishing sector repeatedly in recent years, particularly by boycotting the Tehran Book Fair. 

NIAC extends its condolences to Lahiji’s family and all Iranians and Iranian-Americans who admired Shahla Lahiji for her work and legacy.

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