July 5, 2024

Pezeshkian, Jalili, and Election Boycotters Contend in Presidential Election Run-off, Death Sentence for Iranian Labor Activist, and More

Week of July 1, 2024 | Iran Unfiltered is a digest tracking Iranian politics & society by the National Iranian American Council 

Pezeshkian, Jalili, and Election Boycotters Contend in Presidential Election Run-off

Millions of Iranians have cast their ballots in Friday’s second-round run-off election to determine the next President of Iran, choosing between the reformist candidate Masoud Pezeshkian and the hardline candidate Saeed Jalili. The spokesperson for Iran’s Election Headquarters has announced a two-hour extension for the second round of the 14th presidential election, now set to continue until 10 PM. While the law prohibits any extension beyond midnight, those in polling stations by midnight will be allowed to cast their votes regardless of the time required.

The second round of voting began at 8 AM local time, with earlier starts for Iranians abroad in some eastern countries. In the first round, no candidate secured more than half the votes, leading to a runoff between Pezeshkian and Jalili. All Iranian citizens born on or before June 5, 2006, are eligible to vote. The Election Headquarters reported a 40% turnout in the first round, marking the lowest participation rate in Iranian presidential election history.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s Supreme Leader, cast his vote at the beginning of the voting period. Addressing reporters, he expressed hope for higher public enthusiasm: “I have heard that the people’s enthusiasm and interest are higher than before. I hope this is the case.” On Wednesday, July 3, ahead of the second round, Khamenei described the first-round turnout as “below expectations” and called for greater participation in the second round. He added, “Anyone who thinks that those who did not vote were opposed to the system is greatly mistaken.”

Acting President Mohammad Mokhber emphasized the government’s efforts to ensure fair elections, noting that turnout so far has been significantly better than the same time last week, with more people casting their votes. Tehran’s governor reported that the participation rate by noon today (local time) was about 20% higher than the previous week. Iranian media have published images of voter queues at several polling stations and covered the participation of senior officials and political figures. Among the early voters were Mohammad Mokhber, acting president of Iran; Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, Speaker of Parliament and former presidential candidate; Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejei, head of the judiciary; and Sadeq Larijani, head of the Expediency Discernment Council.

Former President Mohammad Khatami was greeted by a crowd chanting support as he voted at the Hosseinieh Jamaran. Another former president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, traveled to Turkey ahead of the second round of elections. There were no reports of him voting in the first round.

Amir Ali Hajizadeh, commander of the IRGC Aerospace Force, urged citizens to participate, stating, “Every vote is equivalent to a missile,” during his appearance at the Abu Dhar Mosque in Tehran. Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejei, while voting, reminded reporters of the president’s role as head of the Supreme Council of Cyberspace, emphasizing the potential influence in both opportunities and threats.

Masoud Pezeshkian, accompanied by former Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, voted at a school in the Qal’eh Hassan Khan neighborhood of Tehran. Saeed Jalili, accompanied by his campaign manager Mohsen Mansouri, voted at a mosque in Qarchak.

Many opponents of the Islamic Republic and families of victims of government violence – including Nobel laureate Narges Mohammadi – have recently called on citizens to boycott the second round of elections. However, others who boycotted or did not vote in the first round – including human rights defender Keyvan Samimi – are now encouraging participation in the second round and support Masoud Pezeshkian.

Pezeshkian and Jalili had two live television debates ahead of the second round of elections, with arguments centered around the nuclear agreement (JCPOA), merits of lifting sanctions, internet management, and mandatory hijab enforcement. In the first round, Pezeshkian received 10,415,991 votes (42%), winning in Tehran, northwestern and western provinces, as well as Sistan and Baluchestan. Jalili received 9,473,298 votes (38%), with most support in eastern, central, and southern provinces. Another conservative candidate, Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, received over 3 million votes (13%) in the first round and has endorsed Jalili in the second round.

In addition to the two main candidates, the election boycott movement played a significant role, garnering significant support among intellectuals. Those encouraging a boycott consider the reduction of voter turnout to 40% as a significant achievement. Satellite channels, including BBC Persian and Iran International conveyed the boycott message to many of their Iranian viewers, with expert guests making the case against participation. Many political prisoners and leaders, including Mohammadi, Mir Hossein Mousavi, Mostafa Tajzadeh, and other political prisoners, as well as families of those killed in previous unrest, have also boycotted the election. Still, some analysts like Abbas Abdi believe that the polarized atmosphere in society may lead to higher participation compared to the previous round of elections.

During the first round, some government opponents abroad protested outside polling stations in various cities, sometimes leading to clashes. The Iranian judiciary has warned that if such gatherings “prevent Iranians who wish to participate in the presidential election,” those responsible will be prosecuted. According to IRNA, the Iranian ambassador in Canberra reported that Australian police have arrested five people in connection with protests at polling locations.

Iranian Labor Activist Sharifeh Mohammadi Sentenced to Death

In a move that has sparked international outrage, the Revolutionary Court in Rasht has sentenced labor activist Sharifeh Mohammadi to death. Sources revealed to the BBC that Mohammadi, currently held in Lakan Prison, Rasht, was sentenced on charges of “baghi,” which is defined under Iranian Islamic Penal Code as armed rebellion against the Islamic government.

Reports suggest that the extreme punishment resulted from Mohammadi’s involvement with the “Coordination Committee to Help Form Workers’ Organizations.” The committee’s Telegram channel stated that the judiciary’s indictment was based on her membership and its alleged connection to the overseas organization Komala. The Coordination Committee insists it is a transparent entity with a clear constitution, operating legally within Iran to advocate for workers’ rights.

Mahmoud Salehi, a founding member of the Coordination Committee, recently denied any links between the committee’s members and the Komala party. “If membership in the Coordination Committee is considered ‘baghi,’ then they should arrest us as well because we were also members,” Salehi asserted.

Yesterday, the Syndicate of Workers of Tehran and Suburbs Bus Company condemned the charges against Mohammadi, calling the “baghi” accusation “utterly baseless” and “pure fabrication,” demanding her immediate and unconditional release. About two weeks ago, Siros Fathi, Mohammadi’s husband, who had been actively following her case since her arrest, was detained and later released. 

Mohammadi was arrested on December 5, 2023, in Rasht. After her arrest, she was transferred to a security detention center in Sanandaj, where she spent 200 days in solitary confinement without access to a lawyer or contact with her family. She was later moved to Lakan Prison in Rasht. According to her relatives, she was denied family contact and subjected to severe pressure and torture to extract confessions. Former political prisoners and cellmates confirmed witnessing bruises and signs of torture on her body.

Civil activist Farhad Meysami, who spent years in prison for opposing mandatory hijab, described Mohammadi’s death sentence as “unjust” and “medieval.” Meysami expressed hope that the sentence would be overturned on appeal, threatening to stage a sit-in and hunger strike outside the Revolutionary Court in Rasht if the death sentence is upheld.

Labor activists accuse the Iranian government of using severe and false charges to instill fear and suppress union activities. The International Trade Union Confederation, based in Brussels, has classified the situation of labor activism in Iran as “red” in its annual report, indicating a lack of guaranteed rights for labor and union activities. The global labor organization warned that Iranian authorities aim to coerce activists into abandoning their union work through “false accusations, denial of fair trials, and forced confessions obtained under torture.”

Amnesty International has previously warned that Iranian authorities are violating international labor laws by banning independent labor unions and retaliating against labor activists. Sharifeh Mohammadi’s family views her death sentence as a “death sentence against all civil activists” in Iran.

Vida Mohammadi, Mohammadi’s cousin, told BBC Persian, “The family is in shock and anger but will not submit to this unjust sentence.” She added that Sharifeh’s mother is unaware of the sentence, and her husband, Siros Fathi, informed her of it over the phone. Sharifeh’s first reaction was concern for her teenage child and her mother.

Sharifeh Mohammadi’s life has been marked by her unwavering dedication to workers’ rights. Born in Miyaneh, East Azerbaijan, she graduated in surveying and worked in a construction company in recent years. Twenty years ago, after marrying, she moved from Tehran to Rasht and began her activism. Vida Mohammadi described her as “a woman, a mother, a justice-seeker who distinguished clearly between labor activism and political or party activities.”

The Coordination Committee for Helping to Form Workers’ Organizations was founded in April 2005 by prominent labor activists, including Mohsen Hakimi, Behrooz Khabbaz, Mahmoud Salehi, and Bahram Dezaki. Despite initial media attention, the committee has faced continuous government pressure. Since the mid-2010s, independent labor organizations have intensified their activities amid increasing worker protests in Iran.

Despite the intensified crackdown on labor activists, including arrests and heavy sentences, the issuance of a death sentence against a labor activist like Sharifeh Mohammadi is unprecedented since the late 1980s. Over the past decade, labor movements and independent unions in Iran have repeatedly organized successful strikes and protests. However, following the nationwide protests in December 2017, the government has increased its crackdown on continuous labor protests across various provinces. Independent labor organizations, which do not fall under the government-sanctioned Islamic Labor Councils, face significant pressure. In 2019, despite continuous warnings against gatherings and strikes, independent unions managed to hold a significant demonstration on International Workers’ Day. This protest highlighted the growing inability of government-affiliated labor bodies to solely represent workers.

Despite severe repression, including numerous arrests and long prison sentences, labor, teacher, and retiree movements have become more vocal in their demands for fair wages and freedom of association. Conversely, the government’s response has become increasingly severe amid economic hardship and a broader security crackdown. The recent arrest of French trade unionist Cecile Kohler and her husband on charges of espionage and incitement, along with the subsequent re-arrest of labor leader Reza Shahabi, underscores the intensified repression. The death sentence for Sharifeh Mohammadi represents the most severe escalation in this ongoing crackdown on labor activism.

Details Emerge in Shooting Death of Young Woman by Police in Lorestan

Tehran’s Etemad newspaper has detailed the fatal shooting of a young woman by police in Lorestan province, initially reported by human rights networks over a week ago. On June 22, human rights organizations, including Hengaw and the Kurdistan Human Rights Network, reported that “an 18-year-old girl from the village of Guyjeh in the Kakavand area of Nurabad County, Lorestan province, identified as Razieh Rahmani, was shot and killed in her family home by police forces.”

Etemad has now confirmed the incident through interviews with several informed sources and relatives of Razieh Rahmani, who, according to the newspaper, was 24 years old. The newspaper stated, “At the request of the interviewees, their names have not been published and are kept confidential.”

According to Etemad, on Thursday, June 20, police officers entered Rahmani’s family home in Guyjeh, Kakavand, Nurabad, without a judicial warrant, suspecting the presence of drugs. During the raid, officers shot the young woman. The shooting occurred when Razieh approached the officers to inquire about her father’s arrest. Local sources and Rahmani’s relatives told Etemad, “Officials claimed that the officer who shot Razieh has been arrested and that compensation will be paid to the family. They also stated that the shooting was accidental.”

Etemad reported that one of Rahmani’s relatives said an officer warned the family not to approach during her father’s arrest, threatening to shoot. The relative said Razieh’s mother, sisters, 10-year-old brother, and a neighbor were present during the incident. The report also mentioned that Razieh’s 10-year-old brother filmed the police officers, but the officers confiscated his phone.

Internet Freedom and VPN Usage in Iran: A Growing Financial Market

One of the key issues in the recent Iranian presidential elections has been the topic of internet freedom, including unrestricted access and high-speed internet for citizens. The Tehran Electronic Commerce Association has estimated that the annual financial turnover of the Iranian market for purchasing and selling Virtual Private Networks (VPN), which are used to conceal the identity and location of an internet user, exceeds 50 trillion rials (approximately $1.2 billion).

According to a section of the association’s report on the quality of Iran’s internet in Spring 2024, based on data from Sharif University’s Governance Think Tank and a survey by ISPA, 83.6% of Iranian internet users utilize VPNs. The use of VPNs has tripled since the blocking of Instagram and WhatsApp in the fall of 2022, during the outset of the Woman, Life, Freedom movement. On average, each Iranian user spends four hours a day using VPNs.

The report further highlights that, according to the Data and Governance Lab, at least 30% of internet users in the country spend up to 150,000 rials (approximately $3.50) monthly on VPN subscriptions.

The Tehran Electronic Commerce Association noted that the over 50 trillion rials ($1.2 billion) in the annual financial turnover for the VPN market could have been allocated towards developing the country’s communication infrastructure with appropriate planning and policy-making. Unfortunately, in the current situation, this represents an additional burden on the household budget of Iranian families. It simultaneously generates widespread social dissatisfaction and further damages the user experience of internet services.

The financial turnover estimate for the VPN market was based on the following assumptions:

  • VPN users constitute 80% of all internet users.
  • Paid VPN users make up 35% of all VPN users.
  • The average monthly payment for VPN services is 55,000 rials (approximately $1.30).
  • The total number of unique internet users in Iran is 40 million.

The report emphasizes that if these calculations were adjusted by altering assumptions such as the average payment amount and the total number of unique internet users, and if rounding figures upward, the final estimates would significantly increase.

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