August 2, 2023

Iranian Businesses Targeted by Wave of Hijab Enforcement; Khatami Advocates for Referendum; Narges Mohammadi Sounds Alarm Over Fellow Prisoner’s Health Amid Chemotherapy and More

Week of July 31st, 2023 | Iran Unfiltered is a digest tracking Iranian politics & society by the National Iranian American Council 

Iranian Businesses Targeted by Wave of Governmental Hijab Enforcement

Another startup – Ezaki Insurance – has been closed down as part of the latest wave of stringent measures enforced by the Iranian government against commercial establishments and public spaces to ensure compliance with the hijab. In recent weeks, hundreds of cafes, shops, malls, and automobiles have been seized and many individuals have been arrested or barred from operating their businesses for violating the mandatory hijab law. These efforts have been fueled by online vigilantes finding women without hijab on social media and then calling for their punishment, and the punishment of companies that employ them.

Deputy Director of Central Insurance Supervision Ali Ostad Hashemi announced the suspension of Ezaki’s brokerage license indefinitely. According to Hashemi, the suspension will remain in effect until the judicial authorities resolve the existing issues citing pending judicial proceedings.

Social media images of Ezaki’s female employees seemingly disregarding the mandatory hijab triggered controversy from conservative circles online. In a subsequent clarification, Ezaki clarified that the unauthorized photos did not represent the company’s official position, reaffirming its commitment to complying with the laws of the country.

Meanwhile, Taqcheh, a book publishing company, issued an explanation regarding the social media images of some of its employees without mandatory hijab, which likewise stoked controversy. The company stressed that the image of employees without mandatory hijab was taken outside its workspace and had not been officially published. Founded in 2000, Taqcheh has been publishing a wide variety of books to suit a wide range of tastes. As a result of the controversy, some publishers – including Islamic Revolution Publications, Farabi Cinema Foundation, and Beheshar – have requested termination of their contracts with Taghcheh, which the company has begun to comply with.

In a statement, Mohammed Mehdi Esmaili, the Minister of Culture and Islamic Guidance, described the actions of Taqcheh’s employees as “disrespectful” of the law, warning that similar transgressions may lead to the revocation of licenses for online stores. In response to the controversy, the judiciary has opened a case against Taqcheh, with government-affiliated media calling for strict action to be taken against the online retailer.

The head office of Digikala, another online store, was sealed after pictures of its employees without hijabs were posted online. As a result of the “woman’s public removal of her hijab,” the Damavand General and Revolution Prosecutor have also arrested a bank manager and employee. Additionally, an order prohibiting medical services for women who do not observe the hijab has drawn significant criticism on social media, with users claiming it violates the medical oath. Even with the escalation of measures against women and businesses, as well as a number of controversial judicial rulings, women in Iran remain committed to fighting against the compulsory hijab.

Mohammad Khatami Advocates for Referendum on Mandatory Hijab: A Call for Social Harmony and Renewed Governance in Iran

Former president Mohammad Khatami has led a coalition of legal experts, clerics, and sociologists to examine the issue of mandatory hijab from a variety of perspectives under his guidance. According to the group, a public referendum would be an effective method of resolving this controversy and others like it.

The group – which, apart from Khatami, issued its assessment anonymously – asserted that opposition to the compulsory Islamic hijab reflects a deeper problem related to the interaction between government and society within a variety of social, economic, and cultural contexts. Accordingly, he said, the hijab debate is an important step in starting a dialogue on the foundations of social order and political legitimacy. Khatami and his group stressed that if the government is not perceived as protecting the collective interests or facilitating the common welfare of its citizens, or if government policies appear to favor a minority while leaving a larger proportion of the less privileged and poor behind, then the entire social contract may be subject to scrutiny.

The group noted that the topic of the hijab for women is not just a contemporary matter in Iran, but a topic that arose during the protests last year, which has led to a public debate and reflects a broader crisis facing the country.  According to these experts, the root cause of the crisis lies in the growing divide between the government and society and the stagnation of governance methods in contrast to social advancements. Due to the widening gap between society and culture, these methods must be adjusted to reflect these changes. The controversy surrounding the hijab is one such example.

Additionally, Khatami’s group warns against imposing the mandatory hijab because it could lead to disdain for and alienation from Islam. They  assert that if virtue solely relies on force, it can lead to hypocrisy. In addition, he points out that, despite Shariah’s mandate that women cover their entire bodies except for their faces and hands, there is a discrepancy between law and practice that creates confusion and challenges. Given the breakdown in observance of the mandatory hijab, the group asserted that it is a matter of social order and that limits can be determined by citizens engaging in free dialogue.

Currently, Iran needs a social contract based on consent that guarantees legal equality for all citizens and gives the country a positive future vision. In order for this agreement to be effective, all forms of discrimination and preferential treatment should be eliminated.

Despite the evolution of societal values and the improved status of women in various fields, the former president observed that a gap has emerged between women’s legal and actual status, resulting in civil disobedience. In their view, the promotion of values and culture should primarily be the responsibility of civil institutions and societal figures rather than government. He advocates the use of valid referendums in order to collect public opinion. As a result, his solution involves understanding the dynamics of societal change, reviewing and revising failed strategies concerning the hijab, and advocating for a philosophy of rights that fosters social harmony and prevents confrontation between different groups.

Iranian Government’s Tightening Control over the Cultural Sphere

In a move reflecting the Raisi government’s bid to tighten its grip over the nation’s cultural and artistic sphere, Iran’s Minister of Guidance, Mohammad Mehdi Esmaili, announced the incorporation of 400 young Hezbollah – or hardline – members into the ministry. According to Esmaili, the two-year process is intended to create significant changes within the ministry’s structure. Critics have warned that these measures will exacerbate difficulties faced by filmmakers, poets, and writers already facing numerous political, social, and economic challenges.

A resolution of the Supreme Council of the Cultural Revolution has also delegated the responsibility of supervision of global audio and video and home broadcast networks to the Broadcasting Organization simultaneously. All home network programs, including documentaries, animations, movies, and series, will be licensed, produced, and published by the Broadcasting Organization exclusively, which was previously the domain of the Ministry of Guidance.

The Secretary of the Supreme Council of the Cultural Revolution of Iran, Abdolhossein Khosropanah, expressed his concerns about the content of home television series, which he criticized for promoting smoking, alcohol, and unhealthy relationships. A video recently released by Tasnim News Agency contained scenes from movies and series broadcast on home television channels, criticizing the programming’s perceived violation of social norms. The report specifically highlighted the recurring themes of drug use, tobacco use, alcohol, and inappropriate relationships in these productions over the past two to three years. Increasing censorship and stricter regulations on film and series production are due to the delegation of supervision over the processes of making and showing films and series on the home show network.

Kuwait and Saudi Arabia to Forge Ahead with Drilling in Contested Arash Field, Ignoring Unresolved Border Issue with Iran

In spite of pending border definitions with Iran, Kuwait will begin drilling in the contested Arash field. Saad Al-Barak, Kuwait’s Oil Minister, disclosed to Sky News on Thursday, July 27, that Kuwait, along with Saudi Arabia, plans to drill and produce in the contested Al-Dora gas field, also known as the “Arash” field.

Kuwait’s Foreign Minister, Salem Abdullah Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, previously asserted that Kuwait and Saudi Arabia hold sole rights over the Arash field. Iran, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia have been arguing over the Arash gas field, which is estimated to contain 570 billion cubic meters of gas and 310 million barrels of ultra-light oil. Several parts of the field are located in waters delineated between Kuwait and Iran.

Recently, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia have hardened their stance against Iran, claiming exclusive rights to oil and gas production from the expansive offshore oil field Arash. In his remarks on July 27th, Kuwait’s Oil Minister stated that neither nation will wait until Iran has finalized maritime boundaries before starting the development of the Al-Dora field.

Over sixty years ago, the tri-county dispute over ownership of the field began. While Iran initiated discussions with Kuwait regarding maritime boundaries three decades ago, it has subsequently withdrawn from these negotiations despite the insistence of Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. The exact reason for Iran’s withdrawal remains unclear.

Kuwait, with the assistance of multinational giant Shell, conducted seismic operations to determine the size of the gas reservoir and claimed the entire field lies within Kuwait and Saudi Arabia’s territorial waters. Alternatively, Iran’s continental shelf oil company argues that seismic operations indicate 40% of the reservoir is located within Iranian waters. Despite opportunities to engage international companies for seismic operations post-JCPOA, Iran has refrained from doing so. Meanwhile, Iran’s oil authorities have consistently threatened to commence drilling operations in the disputed field.

Unprecedented Rental Inflation in Tehran Fuels Mass Migration to City Margins

Skyrocketing rental prices in Tehran, the capital of Iran, are forcing many residents to downsize or migrate to the city’s margins for shelter, according to a report by Faraz, an Iranian internet newspaper. The residents face many challenges, including increasing rents and a shortage of affordable storage facilities for their belongings. A major conclusion of the Faraz report is that rental inflation has exceeded 50% in the years 2022 and 2023, breaking all previous records over the past three decades, further contributing to the marginalization of the population.

As the report elaborates, soaring living costs in Tehran and other major cities are driving families to peripheral areas. There has been a significant increase in the number of marginal dwellers since 2016. In 2016, the number of these dwellers numbered 10 million, with the Ministry of Health indicating that 13% of the nation’s population lives in marginal areas and informal settlements. However, the report indicates that the number of individuals impacted across the country has now surged to 20 million, or 24% of the population, and continues to rise. 

Muharram Mourning Transforms into Political Protest: Critical Laments and Arrests Highlight Continued Dissent in Iran

An increase in protests during Muharram observances resulted in the arrest of prominent religious leaders in Iran. This year’s Muharram mournings have evolved into demonstrations against the government following nationwide protests brutally suppressed by Islamic Republic authorities. A notable change in tone has occurred in dirges, with words of protest and criticism directed at the regime becoming more prevalent.

During Muharram, a religious mourning period, Iran’s Islamic Republic typically consolidates support in the Iranian religious community. However, as Muharram commenced this year, dissenting voices have become increasingly apparent within religious groups. Eulogies and speeches, which have traditionally served as vehicles for expressing communal grief, have become platforms for criticizing government oppression, growing poverty, and widespread social injustice.

The Shiite government’s significant propaganda day Ashura has been transformed into a platform for political and social protests in Iran this year. Among Amol’s significant Takyeh is “Niaki,” which replaced black mourning attire with white clothing as a memorial to Ghazaleh Chalabi, a victim of the recent protests. Authorities responded by arresting the leader and several members of the musical group “Takiya Niaki,” sparking outrage.

The increased prevalence of critical laments and these changes signify the social and political impact of the recent popular uprising. Hashem Hosseini Bushehri, the head of the Qom Seminary Teachers’ Society, criticized mourners and chest-raisers for aiding the enemy by engaging in these protests. After performing the song “Blown from the blood of the youth of the homeland, tulips,” the Yazd group also encountered pressure from the IRGC intelligence forces. Elsewhere, Zanjan residents refused to step on banners depicting the American, Israeli, and Swedish flags during a mourning ceremony.

Aside from this, Mohammad Mehdi Esmaili, Minister of Education, stated that the critical piece “Raees” performed by Ghulam Koutipour has been released without authorization from the ministry. In his opinion, the publisher is responsible for any unauthorized work. The song, a collaboration with a young rapper named Daniyal Moghadam, has received significant attention from citizens and social media users. In “Raees,” Kouvaitipour severely criticizes the Islamic Republic’s policies and officials. He is known for his contributions during the Iran-Iraq war and the Muharram observances in the 1980s.

Iranian Human Rights Activist Narges Mohammadi Sounds Alarm Over Fellow Political Prisoner’s Health Amid Chemotherapy

Narges Mohammadi,  a highly respected human rights activist and political prisoner in Iran, has expressed serious concerns about the health of Zohreh Sayadi, another political prisoner who is currently undergoing chemotherapy. Sayadi is known for her work advocating for the rights of children, particularly those without birth certificates, and was arrested in the fall of 2019. She began a one-year prison sentence in June after she was convicted of “acting against national security” and “disturbing public order”.

Because of her dire health condition, Mohammadi has publicly criticized the medical examiner’s office for failing to issue a certificate exempting Sayadi from punishment. Many cases of irreversible harm and even death have resulted from the negligence of judicial and security officials towards prisoner health, including Mahsa Amini, Zahra Bani Yaqoub, Zahra Kazemi, Ebrahim Lotfollahi, Sattar Beheshti, Kavos Seyed Emami, and Hoda Saber.

“We are not merely discussing the court, its proceedings, or the elusive notion of ‘justice’ within Iran’s judicial system,” Mohammadi pointed out when discussing Iran’s judicial system. “A flicker of ‘mercy’, ‘compassion’, and ‘human responsibility’ is at stake. In addition to the non-independent judicial system and the repressive security system, this is unfortunately not seen in forensic medicine under the supervision of the judiciary.”

Mohammedi expressed her dismay with the negligence of the forensic doctor, stating “I understand the judge and the interrogator, but I cannot comprehend how a doctor would consciously refuse to acknowledge the life-threatening, excruciating pain caused by cancer. Zahra’s inability to withstand imprisonment should be documented on paper.”

During her interview with Mohammadi, she described Sayadi as a “suffering” woman from the “City of God.” She also referred to Khodanur Lejahi, one of the Baluch protestors who was killed in Zahedan. According to Mohammadi, Sayadi is a “patient, resilient, and strong-willed individual.” Yet, many of the prison doctors, contrary to the forensic doctor, believe that her condition is unbearable.

“I will never be able to describe how frail her body feels and how painful her veins are post-chemotherapy,” Mohammedi wrote on Instagram. “It suffices to say that our beloved Zohra undergoes chemotherapy each time under a cap, which is intensely painful, to prevent us from witnessing her hair loss and the subsequent transformation of her face.”

“In my opinion, these women are the true, although agonizing, freedom and justice seekers who carry unattributed burdens, and to whom we owe our gratitude,” stated Mohammedi. According to her, the women’s struggle and resistance have weakened the “religious authoritarian government”.

Originally from Sistan-Baluchistan, Sayadi resided in Tehran, where she was a literature scholar and actively participated in civil activities, including supporting working and orphaned children, and those without identification. As well as teaching literacy to underprivileged women and children in her home province, she also supported other children’s rights activists, including Sarvanaz Ahmadi and Mehdi Etemad Saeed.

Iran’s FATF Blacklist Status and its National and International Repercussions: Insights from Seyyed Mohammad Sadr

Seyyed Mohammad Sadr, a member of Iran’s Expediency Assessment Council, has emphasized the detrimental effects of Iran’s position on the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) blacklist, arguing that this alignment with countries such as North Korea and Myanmar harms Iran’s global reputation. Even China, known as Iran’s ally, is aware of the importance of the FATF issue and has asked Iran to address the issue.

Sadr asserted in his interview with Tejarat News that Iranian officials fail to recognize the interconnectedness of domestic affairs and international relations, especially regarding FATF. As a result of continued international isolation, he warned that Iran will experience economic isolation and be hindered from establishing commercial relationships.

Sadr emphasized that Iran’s present situation illustrates the severe difficulties it faces in foreign trade as a result of being a FATF non-member and therefore blacklisted. According to him, it is impractical to prefer non-transparent transactions over open financial exchanges, questioning the rationale for complicating transactions that could be executed more easily.

According to Sadr, solving Iran’s economic problems is not simply a matter of economic remedies, but is also an issue related to both domestic and foreign policy. He emphasized that the country’s economic troubles are intertwined with political matters, including international isolation, disregard for FATF, and revival of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

Sadr discussed the problems with its foreign currency management, referring to the restrictive control over the use of the Iranian currency held in South Korea. The existing conditions, he explained, do not provide Iran with substantial economic relief. The onset of this situation pre-dated the Russia-Ukraine conflict. Although Sadr recognized the suspicions regarding Iran’s possible assistance to Russia during the Ukraine conflict, he insisted these had little to do with FATF or the West’s stance towards Iran.

The Expediency Assessment Council member pointed that In the context of the JCPOA, Sadr disclosed that Ebrahim Raisi, Iran’s President, has revised his stance over time, now acknowledging the importance of foreign relations and trade, currency supply, oil sales, and technology transfer. Raisi conveyed to Sadr that the JCPOA negotiations were aimed at achieving a resolution, not just negotiation for its own sake.

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