June 28, 2024

Eyes on Turnout in Iran’s Surprise Presidential Election, Iranian Supreme Court Overturns Death Sentence of Rapper Toomaj Salehi, and More

Week of June 24, 2024 | Iran Unfiltered is a digest tracking Iranian politics & society by the National Iranian American Council 

Eyes on Turnout in Iran’s Surprise Presidential Election

Iran is currently holding an unexpected presidential election, an event triggered by the helicopter crash of Ebrahim Raisi that could dramatically shift the nation’s political landscape in unforeseen ways. This election follows what was considered the least vigorous parliamentary election in the Islamic Republic’s history, dominated by conservative groups loyal to Ayatollah Khamenei. Then, Mohammad Khatami, the former president and a prominent reformist figure, abstained from participating, leading to a fierce contest among various hardline factions without significant ideological differences.

The approval of Masoud Pezeshkian’s candidacy has significantly transformed the electoral scene into an apparent three-way contest. Hardliners close to the Raisi administration, represented by rival candidates Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf and Saeed Jalili, face off against reformist groups supporting Pezeshkian. 

Additionally, many continue to advocate for an election boycott, citing past elections and statements by Islamic Republic officials, especially Ayatollah Khamenei, that the elections primarily reinforce the regime’s base and do not alter the status quo. Nobel Peace Prize laureate Narges Mohammadi, from Evin prison, has declared she will not participate in what she calls “illegitimate and oppressive” elections.

On social media, Mohammadi’s family has expressed a stark opposition to the government, questioning the legitimacy of inviting citizens to vote while simultaneously suppressing them with harsh measures. Calls for an election boycott have also been echoed by various groups, including mothers seeking justice, teachers, and student activists, as well as by Persian-language television stations broadcasting from abroad.

On the reformist front, supporters have rallied behind Pezeshkian, with different reformist parties mobilizing resources for his campaign. Mohammad Javad Zarif, former Foreign Minister, played a key role on the campaign trail, outlining the differences between Pezeshkian and other candidates in public speeches across the country. He emphasized the roles of Ghalibaf and Jalili in imposing sanctions against Iran, linking Pezeshkian’s campaign to lifting economic sanctions. However, Zarif’s criticism of hardliners on foreign policy also attracted criticism from Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in a public address. Khamenei urged candidates to ensure their teams are fully committed to revolutionary values and not inclined towards America or neglectful of religious and national principles.

In the conservative camp, although Ali Reza Zakani and Amir Hossein Ghazizadeh Hashemi withdrew, the competition between the two main conservative candidates, Ghalibaf and Jalili, continued. Surveys suggest Jalili holds an edge over Ghalibaf among conservatives, particularly due to Jalili’s uncompromising stance on the nuclear deal and social issues, while Ghalibaf has adopted a more moderate position.

Polls conducted during the campaign indicated about a 50% voter turnout, higher than the last three elections but still 20% lower than in 2017. This election is notable as the first since 2009 where reformists have their own candidate and the first since 2017 featuring serious competition between diverse groups, making the outcome unpredictable. Final surveys showed Pezeshkian leading, with Jalili or Ghalibaf in second place, suggesting a possible runoff unless last-minute changes occur.

The election commenced at 8 am Tehran time across Iran. The national election headquarters announced that voting has been extended until 10 PM and it will likely be extended several times until midnight, like previous elections.

Khamenei was among the early voters and urged participation via his social media account on platform X, stating, “People should not hesitate to participate in the elections. The presence of the people is necessary and essential to demonstrate the integrity and honesty of the Islamic Republic.” High-ranking officials, including Gholamhossein Mohseni-Ejei, the Chief Justice, Mohammad Mokhber, the Vice President, and Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, the Speaker of the Parliament and a candidate, voted early in the day.

Mr. Ghalibaf cast his vote at the Abdol Azim Mosque, while another candidate, Mostafa Pourmohammadi, voted at Hosseinieh Ershad, telling reporters, “I have spoken honestly with the people about solutions and problems.” Other candidates also cast their votes, including Masoud Pezeshkian at Firoozabadi Hospital and Saeed Jalili at Imam Hassan Mojtaba Mosque in the Moshirieh district of Tehran, also cast their votes.

After Ghalibaf, Pourmohammadi, and Pezeshkian showed their ballots to reporters, the election headquarters issued a statement emphasizing that “photographing ballots and publishing them is prohibited.” Many supporters of the candidates have also shared images of their voting slips online.

Additional public figures who cast votes include Former President Hassan Rouhani, former Minister of Intelligence Ali Younesi, Tehran’s Mayor Alireza Zakani who withdrew his candidacy, former candidate Amir Hossein Ghazizadeh Hashemi, the head of the Central Bank Mohammad Reza Farzin, former Vice President Masoumeh Ebtekar, Mohsen Rezai of the Expediency Discernment Council, and former Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani who had been barred from running.

Mohammad Khatami, the fifth President of Iran, voted in Jamaran after skipping the parliamentary elections earlier this year. There has been no report of former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who had also been barred from running again, voting yet.

Mir Hossein Mousavi and Zahra Rahnavard’s daughters, Narges and Zahra Mousavi, stated on Instagram that their parents, under house arrest for over 13 years, declined to participate, saying “We will not take part. We will not vote. Mehdi Karroubi, another leader of the “Green Movement” which emerged in protest against the 2009 election results, expressed his support for Masoud Pezeshkian a few days ago. According to Jamaran, Mr. Karroubi, who is under house arrest, has voted. His son, Mohammad Taghi Karroubi, earlier posted on platform X that his father is waiting for a mobile ballot box. Voting began earlier and has concluded in some stations abroad, particularly in countries east of Iran.

Critical 16-Month Decision Window on Iran’s Nuclear Program: Compromise or Confrontation Ahead?

On Thursday June 27, the United States imposed new sanctions on Iran, noting the recent expansion of its nuclear program. Secretary of State Antony Blinken alleged that Iran has been actively enhancing its nuclear capabilities in ways deemed inconsistent with civilian use.

The sanctions are aimed at three UAE-based companies, accused by the U.S. of aiding the transport of Iranian oil and petrochemicals, with 11 associated vessels also penalized. This action signifies a continuation of the U.S. enforcement of sanctions on Iran’s oil industry, which were reimposed in contravention of UN Security Council 2231 and the Iran nuclear deal when U.S. President Donald Trump reneged on the accord in 2018.

Earlier in the week, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, during discussions in Washington with his Israeli counterpart, reiterated a unified commitment to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, citing its role in regional unrest. The International Atomic Energy Agency’s Board of Governors has also pressed Iran to urgently clarify its nuclear intentions following a resolution on June 5. Iran’s response was to vehemently reject the resolution, criticizing it as a continuation of what it views as the West’s failed and politically motivated policies.

Reports, including one from Reuters citing diplomatic sources, indicate that Iran is currently expanding its enrichment operations at underground facilities. Concurrently, the G7 has issued warnings against Iran’s uranium enrichment advancements, questioning the absence of any legitimate civilian rationale for such activities. As per the IAEA’s latest findings on June 13, Iran is accelerating the installation of new centrifuges at its Fordo site and is enriching uranium to 60% purity, which is not far from weapons grade. Iran first began enriching at the 60% threshold in 2021 after an Israeli sabotage attack on the Natanz enrichment site occurred shortly after the U.S. and Iran resumed multilateral negotiations aimed at restarting the 2015 nuclear accord.

Recent months have seen heightened tensions, particularly with the ongoing Gaza conflict, during which Iranian officials have suggested potential shifts in their nuclear policy, while maintaining that their program is intended for peaceful purposes. The United Nations Security Council, through assessments led by IAEA Director-General Rafael Grossi, has noted Iran’s inadequate compliance with its ongoing investigations into its past nuclear activities, which complicates the verification of the program’s peaceful nature. As Iran retaliated for the U.S. reneging on its commitments by ceasing compliance with its own, Grossi has alarmingly noted that almost nothing of the JCPOA remains effectively intact.

A recent Security Council briefing, though not resulting in any immediate decisions, underscored profound concerns about Iran’s nuclear activities, setting a pivotal 16-month period for critical decisions. In October 2025, U.N. Security Council Resolution 2231 is set to expire. In theory, before this time, the original European parties to the accord could still attempt to trigger snapback of old UN Security Council Resolutions on Iran that were in effect prior to the onset of the 2015 accord.

The so-called snapback provision effectively reverses the traditional order of the UN Security Council, where any single member of the Permanent Five can veto a resolution. Under snapback, any single member is supposed to be able to restore the original UN Security Council Resolutions if Iran is out of compliance with its commitments. However, U.S. efforts to initiate snapback after it had exited the deal in 2020 were thwarted by other parties.  Regardless, the window for this action closes in October 2025, after which any sanctions reinstatement would certainly require unanimous Permanent Five approval.

China and Russia have already expressed opposition to reactivating sanctions, potentially vetoing any unilateral moves by other permanent members. This opposition is a critical factor in the narrowing window for diplomatic and enforcement actions, underlining the intricate geopolitical challenges facing the Security Council as it navigates concerns over Iran’s nuclear ambitions over the next 16 months.

Iranian Supreme Court Overturns Death Sentence of Rapper Toomaj Salehi

Iranian rapper Toomaj Salehi, known for his protest songs, has had his death sentence overturned by the country’s Supreme Court, according to his legal team. Salehi’s lawyer, Mustafa Nili, confirmed to ILNA news agency that the Supreme Court has annulled the execution order. Another of Salehi’s attorneys, Amir Raeesian, announced on social media that the case would return to a court of the same level for further review as per the directive of Branch 39 of the Supreme Court.

In addition to overturning the death sentence, the Supreme Court’s decision pointed out that the previous imprisonment term of six years and three months was imposed without proper adherence to the rules regarding multiple charges and exceeded legal punishments as stated in Article 131. Earlier this year, Salehi was condemned to death by a Revolutionary Court for “corruption on earth,” a charge often levied in cases deemed to threaten state security. Raeesian noted that the Revolutionary Court in Isfahan had previously ignored a Supreme Court ruling that nullified the execution sentence, treating it as merely advisory.

The court had also imposed a two-year travel ban on Salehi and a two-year prohibition from engaging in any artistic activities. Salehi faced charges including “assisting in rebellion, assembly and conspiracy, propaganda against the system, and inciting chaos,” under Article 512 of the Penal Code, which the court interpreted as “corruption on earth.” Last year, new charges of “assistance in rebellion” and “assembly and conspiracy to commit crimes against security” were added, escalating the severity of the accusations against him. These charges pertain to security offenses that typically carry the death penalty for armed group rebellion against the regime.

Salehi’s arrest and subsequent legal challenges have drawn international attention. He was initially detained in 2020, and was arrested again in 2021 amid nationwide protests, shortly after emerging from nearly two months in hiding. The case continues to resonate widely, spotlighting the intersection of art, activism, and state control in Iran.

Iran and Bahrain Agree to Resume Diplomatic Relations

In a significant diplomatic move, Iran and Bahrain have agreed to initiate discussions aimed at restoring political and diplomatic relations. This decision was announced in a joint statement following a meeting between Bahraini Foreign Minister Abdullatif bin Rashid Al Zayani and the acting Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Bagheri Kani in Tehran.

The meeting occurred on the sidelines of the 19th meeting of the Asian Cooperation Dialogue Ministerial Meeting, which commenced in Tehran on Monday. The joint statement highlighted that both parties have agreed to “discuss the establishment of mechanisms necessary for resuming political relations.”

Relations between Iran and Bahrain have been strained over the past decades, with Iran often perceived as a supporter of Shiite opposition groups in Bahrain. The diplomatic ties deteriorated further after the attack on Saudi diplomatic missions in Tehran and Mashhad in January 2016, leading Bahrain and several of Saudi Arabia’s allies to sever diplomatic relations with Iran completely. The Iranian Foreign Ministry had also strongly condemned Bahrain’s normalization of relations with Israel in 2020, labeling it a “disgraceful and humiliating act” by Bahrain.

However, recent improvements in relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia, facilitated by China, have led Saudi allies, including Bahrain, to gradually begin normalizing relations with Iran. Earlier this year, the late Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian had stated that Iran and Bahrain were exploring the revival of their diplomatic ties.

Mohammad Jamshidi, Deputy for Political Affairs at the Iranian President’s office, mentioned in June that Bahrain had expressed, through Russia, a desire to restore its relations with the Islamic Republic of Iran. This was further affirmed by Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa during a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, where he stated that the Bahraini people were in favor of normalizing relations with Iran.

Now, the nations have officially confirmed the commencement of normalization processes at the Asian Cooperation Dialogue. Delegations from 30 Asian countries and various international organizations have traveled to Tehran to participate in this year’s meeting, hosted and chaired by Iran. The Asian Cooperation Dialogue was established in 2002, with Iran joining as a member two years later.

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