May 3, 2024

The Tragic Death of Nika Shakarami: New Details and Ongoing Controversy, “Plan Noor” Met with Women’s Stories of “Psychological Abuse” and Violence, Iranian Government Breaks 80-Year Inflation Record, Half the Population Struggles with Caloric Intake, and More

Week of April 29, 2024 | Iran Unfiltered is a digest tracking Iranian politics & society by the National Iranian American Council 

The Tragic Death of Nika Shakarami: New Details and Ongoing Controversy

BBC World Service has published a disturbing report detailing the alleged circumstances of 16-year-old Nika Shakarami’s detention and subsequent murder by Iranian security forces. The revelations come amid a fresh wave of arrests and violent confrontations by Iranian government entities against women activists opposing mandatory hijab laws.

According to a “highly confidential document” obtained by the BBC, the teenage protester was subjected to sexual harassment and abuse by Iranian security forces following her arrest amid participation in the 1401 protests. The document, a summary of Nika Shakarami’s case file by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), provides a glimpse into the atrocities she reportedly endured.

Shakarami, just 16 years old, disappeared during the Tehran protests on September 29, 1401. Her body was returned to her family by government forces after approximately 9 days, with official sources initially claiming she had taken her own life—a narrative vehemently rejected by her family and fellow protesters. 

The exclusive report by BBC World Service delves into the circumstances surrounding Shakarami’s death, naming her “killers” and senior officials who sought to obfuscate the truth and portray her death as something other than it was. The BBC’s findings are based on a portion of a 322-page dossier on the government’s response to the protests. The BBC indicated it confirmed the accuracy of the report through consultation with a former Iranian intelligence officer with access to the IRGC archive. According to the report, Shakarami was sexually assaulted and subsequently beaten to death by three officers of the Islamic Republic: Sadegh Manjazi, Arash Kalaher, and Behrouz Sadeghi.

The release of this damning report has sparked international outrage and condemnation, while Iranian state media has denied the accuracy of the report and claimed it is a fabrication. Kayhan newspaper (affiliated with the Supreme Leader), Javan newspaper (affiliated with IRIB), and Vatan-e Emrooz, a conservative newspaper, have dismissed the leaked documents as “forged” and “lies,” attributing Shakarami’s death to “suicide” based on official reports from the Iranian judiciary.

Kayhan newspaper has alleged several formal errors in the report and questioned its credibility. It has also emphasized the discrepancy between the content of these documents and interviews with Nika’s mother, stating: “One of the main indications of the forgery and absurdity of this forged document is the interviews with Nika Shakarami’s acquaintances, including her mother. Regardless of the lies of the deceased’s acquaintances, her mother has previously stated that she spoke to Nika in the last hours of September 29 around 23:30, and Nika told her that she had been at the gathering in the afternoon and had escaped from the officers. Therefore, it is logically and rationally impossible for Nika Shakarami to be detained at 4 or 5 in the afternoon, then be killed after several hours in a refrigerated car, and then have the same body gain access to a mobile phone hours later around 23:30 and contact her mother and tell her about escaping from the police.”

The Mizan website, the news organ of the Iranian judiciary, has also cast doubt on the credibility of this report, reasserting the claim that Shakarami committed suicide by jumping from a height. In response to the publication of the report on Shakarami’s murder, the Tehran Prosecutor’s Office announced on Thursday, 12 Ordibehesht, that it has charged media activists with a crime for their role in disseminating the report and has summoned them to court. The Minister of Interior of Iran, Ahmad Vahidi, who is himself wanted by Interpol for his alleged involvement in the 1994 bombing of a Jewish center in Buenos Aires, denounced the report on Shakarami’s murder as a “false report and psychological operation of the enemy”.

Some reformists have also questioned the accuracy of the BBC report, including Abbas Abdi, who, while indirectly criticizing the BBC report, wrote, “Some people are very upset as to why BBC has fallen to a level to publish such a report, while the main regret should be for the official Iranian media that has sidelined the media’s function and considers dissident media as credible. The great betrayal of Iran is discrediting its media system.”

While the Islamic Republic authorities have rejected the BBC’s account of Shakarami’s death and tried to discredit it by pointing out inconsistencies, given the lack of press freedom and accountability for almost any abuses committed during the Woman, Life, Freedom protests, the public has ample reason to distrust the official narrative

Iranian Government Breaks 80-Year Inflation Record, Half the Population Struggles with Caloric Intake

In a dramatic turn of events, the Islamic Republic of Iran has shattered an 80-year-old inflation record, as reported by Ham-Mihan. Despite the implementation of the “Executive Orders to Control Inflation” by the current administration, inflation has soared to over 52 percent, surpassing all previous records dating back to 1943.

Ham-Mihan highlights that the staggering inflation rate not only reflects the failure of the thirteenth government to curb inflation but also underscores the economic challenges faced by the nation. The publication of the inflation list by the Central Bank reveals the stark reality of Iran’s economic situation, with the current government struggling to stabilize the economy amid rising inflation.

Moreover, a report by the Research Center of the Islamic Consultative Assembly sheds light on the alarming food insecurity in the country. It reveals that in the year 2022, half of the Iranian population received less than the standard calorie intake, amounting to 2100 calories per day. This marks a significant decline in the average per capita calorie intake of Iranians over the past decade.

The report attributes this decline to “high food inflation” and “increased other living costs,” including soaring housing rents, which have forced families to cut back on their food consumption. This reduction in caloric intake is further exacerbated by the unfavorable economic outlook, prompting families to prioritize the purchase of more durable goods over food.

Eqtesad 24 reports that the economic hardships pushed more than 25 million Iranians below the poverty line in 2022. The chronic inflation has led to a sharp increase in food prices, making it difficult for families to afford basic necessities. Despite claims of economic growth, the number of people living below the poverty line has not decreased, indicating a persistent and deepening poverty crisis in the country.

Rozbeh Kordoni, the former head of the Social Security Research Center, emphasizes that the poverty line per capita in the country has more than tripled in 2023 compared to 2022. He criticizes the government’s failure to address the growing poverty crisis, pointing out that poverty in the country has persisted despite economic growth claims.

The latest economic data paints a grim picture of Iran’s economic landscape, with soaring inflation rates and widespread food insecurity plaguing the nation. As the government grapples with these challenges, the plight of the Iranian people remains a pressing concern, highlighting the urgent need for effective economic reforms.

“Plan Noor” Met with Women’s Stories of Psychological Abuse and Violence

The implementation of Iran’s “Plan Noor” has led to significant changes in the daily lives of women, where even routine outings in attire deemed acceptable before the Mahsa Movement can now result in harassment by security forces regarding their clothing choices. The initial rollout of the plan witnessed a surge in videos depicting arrests and the distress of girls and women caught in these enforcement incidents. This sparked substantial criticism, including from within the government, with some anticipating modifications in the plan’s enforcement. However, statements from Ayatollah Khamenei and other senior officials suggest that no deviations are expected.

On April 24th, Ahmad Vahidi, Iran’s Minister of the Interior, informed reporters that the Law Enforcement Force (FRAJA) would confront those not complying with compulsory clothing regulations, potentially leading to resistance and judicial repercussions. He argued that FRAJA has been “empowered to differentiate between negligence and deliberate attempts to disrupt social norms.” The government’s efforts to categorize women’s resistance into “intentional” and “unintentional” acts seem aimed at justifying the behavior of security forces. Responding to queries about whether Plan Noor falls under the Ministry of Interior’s directive, Vahidi clarified that it is within Fravah’s inherent duties as enforcers of the judiciary.

Ali Bahaduri Jahromi, a government spokesperson, stated to Tasnim News Agency that currently no societal, cultural, law enforcement, judicial, or executive entity is hindering the approval of the Chastity and Hijab law, emphasizing that existing laws outline the responsibilities of these entities in cultural and social matters

Ahmad Reza Radan, the Commander-in-Chief of Iran’s Law Enforcement Force reiterated his support for Plan Noor, affirming that Fravah would continue its vigorous enforcement. He noted, “The enemy has endeavored to isolate the police, but the people have resisted by standing alongside them.” Radan condemned the non-compliance with compulsory hijab, attributing it to “society’s degradation” and warning of the normalization of indecency if left unchecked. He concluded with a cautionary note, suggesting that exposing individuals who violate hijab norms and offering free education could shape a society that he deemed devoid of shame and indecency.

Mustafa Tajzadeh, a political prisoner in Evin Prison, wrote about the reintroduction of the crackdown on women and girls in the streets of Iran, stating that this issue is being implemented “by order of Mr. Khamenei or with his approval and permission” because “the law enforcement forces, like the military, are under the orders of the Supreme Leader” of the Islamic Republic.

Mr. Tajzadeh referred to the “Plan Noor,” which targets women and girls who do not adhere to compulsory hijab, as “illegal” and wrote, “The responsibility for the destructive consequences of this failed plan, if it continues, first and foremost falls on Mr. Khamenei, who has revived the ‘Guidance Patrol.'”

Tajzadeh, a former deputy minister of the Interior of the Islamic Republic, further criticized the government’s issuance of the death sentence for Toomaj Salehi as government stubbornness against the people, stating, “Stubbornness against public opinion, from building a mosque in Gheytarieh Park and continuing the land-grabbing Friday prayer leadership, to the return of the Guidance Patrol and silence about the immense corruption of the Dabesh tea, and recently the unjust death sentence for Toomaj Salehi, is becoming the strategic policy of the Supreme Leader’s faction.”

He continued, stating, “It seems that the government has given up on gaining the majority’s consent” and “therefore, under the pretext of ‘combating unveiled ness,’ it seeks to militarize and securitize the space so that citizens cannot speak out and protest, and the continuation of minority rule over the people becomes possible. Apparently, they have reached this conclusion that since the majority of Iranians do not like them, they must be afraid of them and remain silent.”

Mr. Tajzadeh further warned that “the accumulation of oppression, corruption, and coercion will turn Iran and its cities into a ticking time bomb.” In a collective statement, a group of reformist women in Iran voiced their opposition to compulsory hijab, condemning the public display of degrading behavior by authorities tasked with maintaining order. They expressed that such actions have not only incited women but also wider Iranian society to protest. These reformist women emphasized that such scenes are particularly distressing for those valuing religious freedom, feeling a heightened responsibility to protest against unjust actions targeting women in society.

Iranian Thalassemia Patients Struggle with Medication Shortages Despite Domestic Production Capacity

Younes Arab, the CEO of the Iranian Thalassemia Patients Association, has criticized recent statements by the Food and Drug Organization regarding the shortages of medication for thalassemia patients in Iran in which the organization asserted that Iran can produce the necessary medications locally. Thalassemia is an inherited blood disorder caused when the body doesn’t make enough hemoglobin.

The Public Relations Department of the Food and Drug Organization claimed that the reasons behind some patients’ preference for using foreign medicines, despite the availability of a domestic equivalent at a more affordable price, are cultural. They stated, “This issue is partly related to physicians emphasizing the quality of foreign samples during discussions with patients and partly due to misconceptions that exist in society regarding domestic products.” 

Arab countered, indicating that the drug has been unavailable due to shortages. He stated, “Currently, patients in Tehran cannot access their medication, not even in centers where drugs are available through smuggling or freely distributed. Therefore, merely proclaiming that there is no shortage of medication is adding insult to injury for patients.” According to ILNA, Arab also criticized the Food and Drug Organization, saying, “Even when we had no medicine and practically faced a severe shortage in 2021, the Food and Drug Organization claimed that there was an abundance of medication, dismissing the requests of patients and the Iranian Thalassemia Patients Association as illogical.”

Arab condemned some of the Food and Drug Organization’s remarks, accusing them of condemning thalassemia patients and the association for their lack of numerical literacy. He said, “Last year, around 4.9 million ampoules were added to the basket of medications for Iranian thalassemia patients, according to the Food and Drug Organization’s statistics. Despite the fact that the Treatment Deputy estimated a need for 10 million ampoules. In the end, the Food and Drug Organization claimed that we had performed well in this area.” He continued, “According to treating physicians and the presence of adverse drug reactions in patients, 35% of thalassemia patients are unable to use any domestically produced drugs, and therefore foreign drugs must be made available to these patients.”

Every year, a significant number of thalassemia patients lose their lives due to drug shortages. Iranian authorities consider sanctions a major barrier to the import of drugs from abroad into Iran, though Washington has pointed to long-standing humanitarian exemptions built into sanctions laws. Still, the extensive nature of the overlapping sanctions on Iran deter a significant amount of trade that is technically exempt on paper. Moreover, corrupt smuggling networks in Iran have long exploited shadow economies for urgently-needed commodities including life-saving medicine.

From Death Row to Prison: Babak Zanjani’s Sentence Commuted to 20 Years

Iran’s judiciary has announced a significant development in the case of Babak Zanjani, an Iranian businessman who was sentenced to death. The judiciary revealed that Zanjani’s death sentence has been commuted to 20 years in prison, following the approval of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. This decision comes after years of legal proceedings and discussions surrounding Zanjani’s case.

The news was confirmed by Asghar Jahangir, the judiciary’s spokesperson, who highlighted Zanjani’s cooperation during his imprisonment. Jahangir stated that after the return of Zanjani’s assets to Iran, along with the repayment of debts, a request for clemency was submitted to the Tehran judiciary. This request was approved by the head of the judiciary, leading to the conversion of the death sentence to a 20-year prison term.

In response to these developments, Zanjani’s lawyer Rasoul Kouhpayehzadeh emphasized that his client has served over 10 years of his sentence. According to Iranian laws and regulations, Kouhpayehzadeh stated, Zanjani is now eligible for conditional freedom, as his time in prison has effectively come to an end.

The case of Babak Zanjani has been one of the most high-profile financial cases in Iran in recent years. Zanjani was initially sentenced to death in 2015 on charges of embezzlement and financial corruption. However, Iranian judicial authorities have indicated that if Zanjani fulfills certain conditions, such as paying his debts, he may be pardoned.

Zanjani’s case has been marked by various twists and turns. In December 2016, Iran’s Supreme Court upheld the lower court’s ruling of a death sentence. Then, in February 2023, Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejei, the head of the judiciary, referred to statements made by Zanjani in 2016 regarding his assets. Mohseni Ejei stated that at that time, Zanjani had claimed to have significant assets in several countries. However, the authenticity of these claims was called into question, as some of the information provided by Zanjani was later found to be false.

Zanjani’s case has drawn widespread attention due to its complexity and the significant amounts of money involved. He was arrested in January 2014 and has since been embroiled in legal proceedings, with accusations ranging from assisting in circumventing sanctions to financial misconduct. Despite the commutation of his death sentence, Zanjani’s legal troubles are far from over. The details of his case continue to be closely monitored, both within Iran and internationally, as it remains a focal point in discussions about corruption and justice in the country.

After 14 Years of Imprisonment, Anwar Khezri was Executed on Charges of Belonging to Salafi Groups

According to reports, Anwar Khezri, a Sunni prisoner whose charges included “membership in Salafi groups,” was executed on the morning of May 2 after enduring over 14 years of imprisonment in Ghezel Hessar prison in Karaj. Khezri is the fifth person to be executed in connection with a case involving seven individuals. 

Human rights organizations have raised concerns regarding the imminent execution of other individuals in the same case, including Khusrow Besharat following his transfer to solitary confinement on Thursday, May 2nd, as well as Kamran Sheikheh. Branch 15 of the Tehran Revolutionary Court, presided over by Judge Abolqasem Salavati, had sentenced Anwar Khezri, Ayoub Karimi, Davoud Abdollahi, Farhad Salimi, Qasem Absteh, Kamran Sheikheh, and Khusrow Besharat to “corruption on earth” and the death penalty in June 2018 for charges related to national security. Farhad Salimi was executed on 23 January this year (3 Bahman 1402). Prior to that, Qasem Absteh was executed on 14 Aban (5 November), Ayoub Karimi on 8 Azar (29 November), and Davoud Abdollahi on 12 Dey (2 January) in this case.

In a report in January, Amnesty International wrote: “These seven individuals were sentenced to death in a highly unfair trial, accompanied by allegations of torture and mistreatment of the defendants, for ‘corruption on earth,’ and they were sentenced to death.” The organization noted that during the trial, the presiding judge did not allow the defendants’ lawyer to speak. The organization wrote: “Despite serious violations of fair judicial process, Branch 41 of the Supreme Court confirmed these sentences and punishments on 3 February 2020, and in early September 2020, Branch 38 of the Supreme Court rejected their request for a retrial.”

These seven individuals were arrested and transferred to the Ministry of Intelligence detention center in Urmia, West Azerbaijan, between December 2009 and January 2010, where they were accused of membership in a “Salafi group,” an accusation they all denied. Anwar Khezri, Kamran Sheikhi, and Khusrow Besharat were later accused of kidnapping and killing a man, an accusation they also denied. These three said in open letters that Ministry of Intelligence agents had repeatedly tortured them during interrogation and obtained “coerced confessions” from them. Hanging from the ceiling, beating, mock executions, sleep deprivation, and psychological torture are among the abuses they alleged.

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