June 7, 2024

Iran’s Presidential Election Registration Spotlights Challenges and Controversies, IAEA Adopts New Resolution on Iran Amid Global Divisions, Social Media Post Leads to Arrest of Prominent Editor in Iran, and More

Week of June 3, 2024 | Iran Unfiltered is a digest tracking Iranian politics & society by the National Iranian American Council 

Iran’s Presidential Election Registration Spotlights Challenges and Controversies

As Iran gears up for its 14th presidential election, the Guardian Council has begun reviewing the qualifications of 80 candidates. According to the Guardian Council’s Spokesman for Khaneh News Hadi Nazif, this five-day process could be extended if necessary, highlighting the stringent measures in place to vet candidates.

The deadline for registration brought a slew of candidates from various sectors, including Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the former president; Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, Speaker of the Parliament; Eshaq Jahangiri, former Vice President; Ali Larijani, former Speaker of the Parliament; Mostafa Pourmohammadi, ex-Minister of Interior; along with former parliamentarians Mahmoud Sadeghi, Elias Naderan, and Hassan Kamran. 

Noteworthy among the entrants is the participation of four women, including former parliamentary representative Hamideh Zarabadi, who has voiced her commitment to pushing for gender equality in political participation, recognizing the efforts of activists like Azam Taleghani and Zahra Shojaei.

The persistent issue of gender discrimination in the electoral process continues, reflecting broader societal debates on the legal interpretations that historically limited candidacy to “Rajal Seyasi”, meaning political men, in the Islamic Republic’s Constitution. This term’s ambiguity has long been a barrier for female candidates, an issue that Zarabadi and other female registrants aim to challenge.

Furthermore, the election process has also cast a spotlight on sectarian discrepancies, exemplified by former Sunni legislator Jalal Jalali Zadeh’s claims that security forces obstructed his registration efforts. His interview with BBC Persian underscored the ongoing exclusion of Sunni candidates, despite the community’s historical contributions.

Adding to the controversies, the mass registration strategy has drawn sharp criticism from several key figures. Gholamhossein Karbaschi, former Mayor of Tehran, decried the process as reducing the country’s principal democratic event to a mere spectacle. Saeed Hajjarian, a reformist political activist, echoed this sentiment, criticizing the superficiality of the candidates’ presentations and the lack of substantial electoral platforms.

Amid these challenges, former President Mohammad Khatami hinted at a potential return to politics, conditional on the reformist front’s proposals. His comprehensive statement underscored the crucial role of free and competitive elections in achieving true democracy and outlined the essential attributes of a desirable candidate, including a commitment to reform, understanding societal changes, and addressing governance weaknesses.

As Iran navigates another election cycle, the debates and controversies that have emerged underscore the complex dynamics at play, reflecting deep-seated issues within the political and electoral system. Khatami’s call for an electoral environment where all groups can fairly see their candidates compete highlights the desire among many for a more inclusive and equitable political process.

In a significant move, 151 political and civil activists in Iran have issued a comprehensive statement urging politicians and political forces to adopt a moderate reformist approach in the imminent early 2024 elections. The document, endorsed by influential personalities like Javad Zarif, Masoud Farasatkhah, Mashaallah Shamsolvaezin, Mohammad Javad Azari Jahromi, and Bijan Abdolkarimi, calls for the creation of issue-based agreements designed to foster progress and reconciliation in Iran. It emphasizes the development of new kinds of accords that would equally benefit governance structures and society, aiming to bridge the current divides and boost national resilience and development amid regional instability.

The activists underscored the need for forming coalitions centered around concrete issues that open up new opportunities for constructive change, rather than deepening societal anger or stagnation. They stressed the importance of identifying and supporting moderate reformist candidates who are capable of crafting such beneficial agreements and earning broad-based trust. Furthermore, they highlighted the urgency of establishing conditions favorable for mutually beneficial compromises and tacit agreements between the populace and their rulers.

In light of recent tensions between Iran and Israel, the statement also pointed out that Iran’s strengthened defensive posture, referred to as “the true promise,” has fortified the nation’s power. Yet, the authors cautioned that failing to quickly leverage these strengths into diplomatic and economic successes could leave Iran vulnerable to internal and external pressures, especially with the forthcoming U.S. elections, which represent a strategic window to secure favorable outcomes in international and regional dialogues.

Concluding their appeal, the signatories called on Iranian citizens, leaders, and political groups to make the most of the early elections to promote moderate reformists and enable the creation of solution-driven, issue-oriented agreements. They indicated their goal is to unify societal fissures, enhance the living standards of Iran’s 88 million residents, and support the rights and well-being of marginalized communities and the environment.

IAEA Adopts New Resolution on Iran Amid Global Divisions

The Board of Governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has passed a resolution on Iran’s nuclear program, concluding three days of deliberations with significant international discord evident in the voting outcome. Initiated by the United Kingdom, France, and Germany, the resolution saw 20 of the 35 member states voting in favor, 12 abstaining, and notable objections from China and Russia. Technical issues rendered Paraguay’s vote invalid.

This newly adopted resolution calls on Iran to urgently address and clarify ambiguities in its nuclear activities by cooperating with IAEA inspectors and resolving the agency’s concerns convincingly. Additionally, it demands the lifting of restrictions on the agency’s inspectors operating within Iran.

The resolution’s passage came after Iran’s foreign policy and nuclear authorities warned of a strong response should it be approved. Following the vote, Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization decried the influence of Western “political pressures” on the decision.

In support of the resolution, the United States emphasized the necessity of a broader strategic approach towards Iran’s nuclear program. U.S. Ambassador to the IAEA, Laura Holgate, pointed to October 2025 as a critical juncture, when UN Security Resolutions on Iran were envisioned to terminate under implementation of the JCPOA. Some have urged that, rather than expire next year, Western powers should attempt to trigger a snapback of the UN Security Council Resolutions on Iran while others war that this would provoke significant nuclear escalation from Iran.

On the other hand, Russia, China and Iran released a joint statement advocating for the revival of the JCPOA, urging Western countries to demonstrate the political will necessary to de-escalate tensions and resume compliance with the agreement. The joint statement also asserted that reviving the JCPOA remains feasible and would address most of the outstanding issues by reinstating comprehensive monitoring mechanisms for the IAEA.

Responding to the adoption of the censure resolution against Iran, Behrouz Kamalvandi, spokesperson for Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, called for Western countries to engage in dialogue and cooperation rather than continuing a strategy of pressure. He noted that Iran had begun taking actions within the framework of the IAEA’s Safeguards Agreement and emphasized that past experiences should teach Western powers that Iran does not yield under political pressure. The Iranian state news agency, IRNA, noted the decline in support for the resolution compared to previous votes, interpreting this as a sign of decreasing global backing for Western-led initiatives within international bodies.  The Iranian Foreign Ministry stated, “Iran remains committed to continuing its technical cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency within the framework of its international rights and obligations under the Non-Proliferation Treaty and the Safeguards Agreement.”

Tehran has also declared that “the issuance of this resolution will not affect the Islamic Republic of Iran’s determination to continue the peaceful use of nuclear energy and to implement its nuclear development plans in accordance with the country’s rights under relevant international treaties.” Tehran has also declared that “the issuance of this resolution will not affect the Islamic Republic of Iran’s determination to continue the peaceful use of nuclear energy and to implement its nuclear development plans in accordance with the country’s rights under relevant international treaties.”

China Reaffirms Support for UAE’s Claims on Persian Gulf Islands Amid Iran’s Disapproval

China has once again voiced its support for the United Arab Emirates’ territorial claims over a trio of disputed islands in the Persian Gulf, sparking anger in Tehran. This affirmation was made on June 3, following the most recent China-UAE joint meeting, endorsing the UAE’s pursuit of a peaceful resolution to disputes over the islands of Greater Tunb, Lesser Tunb, and Abu Musa.

The Chinese endorsement prompted the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs to summon China’s ambassador. Mohammad Ali Bek, Director-General for the Persian Gulf region at the ministry, emphasized that any territorial claims over these islands by any party other than Iran are deemed invalid and unacceptable. He expressed hope for a reconsideration of stance by China, considering the importance of their bilateral relations.

Responding to the developments, a spokesperson for the Chinese Foreign Ministry underscored Beijing’s consistent position on international and regional matters. The spokesperson reiterated China’s commitment to the joint statement with the UAE and encouraged Iran and the UAE to seek resolution through dialogue and consultations.

The longstanding dispute over the islands continues to stir tensions between Iran and the UAE. These islands hold considerable strategic importance as they help control access to the Strait of Hormuz, a crucial maritime route.

Historically, joint statements involving China and Russia, which have maintained special relations with Iran, have also addressed this territorial dispute. Notably, a statement issued two years ago by several Arab countries alongside the Chinese president supported peaceful efforts by the UAE to resolve the island dispute through bilateral negotiations adhering to international law. Iran’s diplomatic handling of its objections to China’s stance in the past was met with criticism. Iranian officials noted that they had “invited” the Chinese ambassador to the Foreign Ministry, avoiding the term “summoned,” which in turn sparked further protests.

In addition, last July, Russia expressed its support for the UAE’s position in a joint statement with the Gulf Cooperation Council countries aimed at resolving the island ownership conflict. After initially dismissing the joint statement as unacceptable, the Iranian Foreign Ministry summoned the Russian ambassador in Tehran two days later as a sign of protest, further underscoring the sensitive nature of the geopolitical issue at hand.

Israeli Airstrike in Aleppo Kills IRGC Advisor, Escalates Tensions

An Israeli airstrike in the town of Hayan, northwest Aleppo, resulted in the death of an advisor from Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), Saeed Abiyar, intensifying regional tensions. According to Iranian media, the strike claimed at least 16 lives. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights noted the airstrike also injured several and hit a strategically important copper smelting factory controlled by Iran-aligned groups.

Reports from Agence France-Presse (AFP) and Russian news outlet Sputnik confirmed the factory in Hayan as the airstrike’s main target, with AFP reporting that the strike triggered additional explosions that added to the attack’s severity. The Syrian Ministry of Defense detailed that the strike occurred around 2:00 AM local time on Monday, June 3, marking it as the second significant strike in a week, disrupting Aleppo’s brief period of calm.

Historically, Israel has neither confirmed nor denied these operations, although its media often implies military involvement. Since the onset of the Syrian civil war in 2011, Israel has executed numerous strikes mainly targeting Iranian figures or Iran-backed groups. Amid these developments, Iran’s acting Foreign Minister, Ali Bagheri Kani, engaged in diplomatic discussions in Lebanon with key Lebanese officials, signaling potential shifts amid escalating tensions.

Concurrently, tensions between Hezbollah and Israel have heated up with each party exchanging fire over Lebanon’s southern border. Hezbollah missiles have triggered widespread fires in northern Israel, particularly in Kiryat Shmona. Many civilians from Israel’s north and Lebanon’s south have been evacuated as the Gaza war has unfolded and tensions with Hezbollah have threatened to open into a second front of the war. After this latest strike, several homes were set ablaze, prompting extensive firefighting efforts that managed to control a significant portion of the fire after nine hours of relentless efforts. 

Security footage shared on social media showed emergency teams battling fires in the residential area of Kibbutz Kfar Giladi. Israeli police have been actively evacuating homes, managing traffic, and clearing areas to mitigate damage and ensure public safety as the situation continues to develop, with both sides showing readiness for further confrontation.

As tensions escalated, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared, “We are prepared for a very intense operation in the north. One way or another, we will restore security to the north.” The U.S. has reportedly cautioned Israel against even a limited incursion into Lebanon, which has been rumored to be in the cards in the months to come, arguing that it could prompt Iran and other “axis of resistance” forces to join the fray.

Social Media Post Leads to Arrest of Prominent Editor in Iran

Hossein Shanbezadeh, a noted editor and social media activist, was detained on Tuesday, June 4, in Ardabil, Iran, following a provocative social media post that garnered significant attention. Shanbezadeh’s post, a single period – “.” comment on a statement by the leader of the Islamic Republic on the social network X, quickly went viral and received more engagement than the post from Khamenei. 

Abbas Shanbezadeh, his brother, confirmed the arrest during a phone call with the family. Previously, Abbas had been unable to establish contact with Hossein and was unaware of his whereabouts. He later reported that his brother’s X account had become inaccessible and that Hossein had not authored the most recent post himself.

Suspicious activity on Hossein Shanbezadeh’s account had triggered increasing concern for the editor. It appears as if Iranian authorities may have gained access to his account and attempted to suggest that he was paid off by a foreign spy.

Social network X has previously temporarily suspended accounts of detained individuals in Iran, likely to prevent misuse by Iranian security agencies. The specifics behind Shanbezadeh’s arrest remain undisclosed, though his recent critical posts and his pointed response to a post by Ali Khamenei are believed by some to be potential causes. 

This is not Shanbezadeh’s first encounter with Iranian authorities. In 2018, he was arrested in Tehran for his activities on social networks and was subsequently tried in Branch 28 of the Tehran Revolutionary Court. He faced charges of insulting the sacred, insulting the leader of the Islamic Republic, and propaganda against the system, resulting in a three-and-a-half-year prison sentence, of which he served approximately one year. During his time on Twitter, Shanbezadeh had reported on harsh prison conditions and the execution of severe penalties, which heightened the authorities’ sensitivity to his actions.

Under the pseudonym “The Horned Editing Unicorn,” Shanbezadeh was active on X and has worked as an editor on literary projects such as “Heritage and Death and Life with Him” by Naguib Mahfouz. Following his arrest, the Ardabil prosecutor’s office referred to the detention of a “fugitive spy” allegedly masquerading under editorial pursuits, without specifically naming Shanbezadeh. His family has contested these allegations, arguing that Hossein had been transparent about his travel plans to Ardabil and had been actively engaging on X until just hours before his detention.

In a statement released on Wednesday night, the family expressed serious concerns about the rapid imposition of severe charges against him, the lack of access to legal counsel or family contact, and uncertainties about his current detention conditions. Shanbezadeh’s arrest has triggered a substantial outcry on social media, with many users calling for his immediate release.

Iran Faces Declining Birth Rates Despite Government Initiatives

According to the latest data from the Iranian Civil Registration Organization, Iran recorded 1,057,959 births in the fiscal year 1402 (March 2023 to March 2024). This figure marks a 23% decrease compared to the number of births in 1390 (March 2011 to March 2012), as detailed by the Iran Open Data Portal.

The birth rate in Iran has plummeted to its lowest point in fifty years, despite substantial investments and repeated calls from Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader, to boost the population. Khamenei’s push for population growth began in earnest in 2011 when he set an ambitious goal to expand Iran’s population to 150 million.

The Iran Open Data Portal highlights that the recent budget for 1403 saw significant increases in funding aimed at reversing this trend. The Secretariat of the Population Youth and Family Support Headquarters was allotted an increased budget of 9,789 billion tomans, up from 7,500 billion in the previous year. This increment is part of a broader effort encompassing various government, banking, and state-owned company resources dedicated to population growth initiatives.

Despite these efforts, experts point to governance issues, economic challenges, and social conditions as underlying factors deterring young couples from having children. Unemployment, poverty, lack of healthcare facilities, the high rate of women attaining advanced degrees and shortages in essential supplies like baby formula have all been cited as factors discouraging young couples from family expansion.

The legislative response includes the 2021 enactment of the “Law to Support Family and Youth of the Population,” which aligns with the Supreme Leader’s directive. President Ebrahim Raisi’s administration had responded by channeling billions of tomans to encourage reproduction, reflecting a long-term commitment to Khamenei’s vision for a larger, younger Iranian population.

Commander Reports: 121 Environmental Rangers Killed in Line of Duty 

Colonel Jamshid Mohabbatkhani, the commander of Iran’s Environmental Protection Unit, has highlighted the severe understaffing issue facing the country’s environmental rangers. According to him, the scarcity of personnel has led to single-person patrols and night watches, which are neither legally nor practically adequate for effective conservation efforts.

Iran’s environmental rangers, numbering close to 4,000, operate around the clock across 630 bases, safeguarding national parks, wildlife sanctuaries, and protected areas. Unfortunately, these rangers, who are at the forefront of combating environmental crimes, have paid a heavy price in their line of duty. To date, the environmental protection agency has lost 121 rangers, with 39 recognized as martyrs by the Martyrs Foundation and the rest honored as service martyrs. Many of these deaths were caused by confrontations with individuals violating environmental laws.

Colonel Mohabbatkhani further stressed the vast scope of their mission, covering nearly 19 million hectares, approximately 12% of the nation’s total area. Despite the organizational chart calling for about 8,000 personnel, the current staffing levels are only at 50%. In addition to personnel shortages, Mohabbatkhani indicated there is an urgent need for better resources, particularly in transportation. The environmental unit is in dire need of at least a thousand professional vehicles to adequately cover their extensive patrol areas, but the current budget falls short of meeting these essential needs. Mohabbatkhani has appealed to the Organization of Budget and Planning to allocate sufficient funds for at least 500 new vehicles within the year to address this critical gap.

The infrastructure of environmental protection in Iran also faces challenges, with over 80% of the ranger stations across the country being in a state of disrepair. The commander pointed out that these facilities desperately need comprehensive renovation and modernization to support the rangers’ efforts effectively.

Mohabbatkhani also highlighted the disparities in compensation and working conditions for environmental rangers compared to other public servants. Despite some improvements in recent years, rangers still face longer hours and more hazardous conditions, suggesting that their compensation should be adjusted to reflect the military-like nature of their service.

The environmental protection unit commander concluded by emphasizing the need for better employment incentives in the sector. Without competitive compensation and working conditions, attracting new talent to the field of environmental conservation will continue to be a challenge.

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