August 16, 2023

Second Terrorist Attack Strikes Shah Cheragh Shrine, Details and Arguments on the Pending Release of Iran’s Assets, and More

Week of August 14, 2023 | Iran Unfiltered is a digest tracking Iranian politics & society by the National Iranian American Council 

Second Terrorist Attack in Less than a Year Strikes Shah Cheragh Shrine: A Comprehensive Overview of the Tragedy and Ongoing Investigation

A terrorist attack took place at the Shah Cheragh Shrine in Shiraz on Sunday, August 13, the second in a year. According to the governor of Fars Province, two lives were lost and seven people were injured in the attack, but officials from the shrine believe that as many as four may have been killed and the number may increase. Last year, a similar attack took place on Shah Cheragh on October 26, resulting in the death of 13 people and the injury of over 20 others. The perpetrators were executed one month later for their crimes.

The latest assault began around 19:00, with attackers targeting individuals at the entrance to the shrine. The assailants infiltrated the area through Bab al-Mahdi, killing as many as four people, including two shrine servants, and wounding seven others near the holy shrine of Ahmad bin Musa. Police recovered a gun and 8 magazines from an arrested assailant, and preliminary investigations are underway. The situation has been stabilized by the authorities.

Hazrat Shah Cheragh’s Tulit Astan revealed the details of a confrontation between assailants and shrine security at Bab al-Mahdi, which resulted in one individual’s capture and another escaping. Video appears to show a security guard chase down one of the attackers and wrest an assault rifle from his hands, preventing further bloodshed. Ebrahim Azizi, the vice-chairman of Parliament’s National Security and Foreign Policy Committee, has announced a pressing investigation by the Parliament Committee into the incident.

In connection with this atrocious act, Chief Justice Kazem Mousavi has confirmed the arrest of 10 suspects. Despite the fact that no group has officially claimed responsibility for this attack, Mohammad Hadi Imanieh, the governor of Fars, speculated a linkage to the execution of two individuals convicted of a previous attack last year.

The arrested assailant, identified as Rahmatullah Norozov from Tajikistan, was recognized by Tasnim, a news agency close to the IRGC, as being of Tajik origin and a native of Badakhshan Province. There are indications that another assailant may have escaped, in spite of the emphasis placed by local authorities on the arrest of one individual. 

Iran’s Released Assets: A Complex Tale of Non-Sanctioned Goods, Diplomatic Agreements, and Devaluation

Mohammad Reza Farzin, the head of the Iranian Central Bank, confirmed that Iran’s frozen assets, which are in the process of being released from South Korea, will be used to purchase “non-sanctioned goods.” Iranian and American voices had offered conflicting views about limitations on Tehran’s ability to deploy these monetary resources, with Farzin’s comments appearing to confirm remarks from U.S. officials that the use of funds would be restricted to humanitarian purchases like food and medicine.

Farzin welcomed the release of Iranian assets by South Korea, stating, “These Euro resources will soon be transferred into six Iranian banks in Qatar where they will be used for bank payments to purchase non-sanctioned goods.” Furthermore, unconfirmed reports suggest that this asset release is part of a broader de-escalatory arrangement that could include parallel steps to limit Iran’s nuclear program. In spite of the fact that no official source has authenticated a larger agreement, diplomatic channels have reported an “unwritten” understanding between the United States and Iran.

Reflecting the sensitive political environment that greets any diplomacy with Iran in Washington, critics of the Biden administration have condemned the swap. Tom Cotton, a Republican senator from Arkansas, called the unfreezing of funds a “ransom to the Ayatollahs” and argued that it would incentivize further hostage-taking by Iran.

However, both U.S. officials and the Central Bank Governor have confirmed this asset release would solely be for humanitarian purchases. White House National Security Committee Spokesperson John Kirby indicated that Iran faces limitations in utilizing the $6 billion liberated from South Korea. Kirby stressed that the procedure had not changed, and the funds could only be used for humanitarian purposes, subject to the same scrutiny as previous accounts. Last week, Secretary of State Antony Blinken also stated “In any event, in any respect, Iran will not be receiving any sanctions relief.” He continued,  “Iran’s own funds would be used and transferred to restricted accounts such that the monies can only be used for humanitarian purposes.”

Farzin affirmed this account, indicating the funds will be used for “non-sanctioned goods” and any remaining funds will earn interest. Other voices attempted to downplay or deny any restrictions on the use of the funds, reflecting sensitivity in Tehran to the reported concessions. Foreign Affairs Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian asserted that Tehran had complete control over the use of these funds. Furthermore, Mohammad Marandi, media advisor to the Ebrahim Raisi government, denied there would be any restrictions, claiming on Twitter that Iran has full access to its assets without Qatari companies being involved.

According to reports, Iran’s assets in South Korea were initially valued at $7 billion, but only $6 billion has been discussed. Farzin elaborated on the $1 billion loss, indicating that South Korea’s national currency has been devalued against the United States dollar. He claims that almost $7 billion was deposited in South Korean banks as won during the Rohani’s administration, without any interest, and the decreased value of the won to the dollar resulted in a value reduction of approximately $1 billion. This depreciation has been the subject of criticism inside Iran, as hardliners blame the Rouhani government for not repatriating the funds earlier, and former Central Bank Governor Abdolreza Hemmati chastising the Raisi government for not restoring the JCPOA and securing tens of billions of dollars more assets.

Behind Closed Doors: The Controversial ‘Hijab and Chastity’ Bill and Its Implications for Iranian Women

On Sunday, August 13, consideration of the controversial “Hijab and Chastity” bill was transferred to the judicial committee of the Parliament of Iran for consideration in accordance with Article 85 of the Constitution. This decision will sidestep a public debate in the parliament and enable the controversial legislation to be implemented with minimal transparency.

Inquiring about the best means to include the “concerns and opinions of different sections of the people” in the decision-making process, a reporter from Iran’s labor news agency, Ilna, spoke to Morteza Hosseini, a member of this commission. The issue was acknowledged by Hosseini, who argued that the commission’s diversity would enhance the maturity of its deliberations. However, the decision will ultimately affect half of Iran’s population and would be determined by a mere 11 individuals – the vast majority of whom are conservative men.

The “Hijab and Chastity” bill contained 15 articles when the government presented it to parliament. However, this number grew to 70 when the parliament’s judicial committee reviewed it.

In article 46, the fifth note specifically refers to students. It provides that after three warnings, the disciplinary committee will handle a student’s “non-veiling offense.” After a fourth occurrence, the student will be referred to the police by either the disciplinary or security committees. This has received significant opposition from many, including parliamentarians. The leader of the independent parliamentary faction, Gholamreza Nouri Qazaljeh, has criticized this clause. He noted, “If a 10-year-old pupil violates this rule, parents who send their child to school in the morning might find themselves rescuing them from a police station by evening, which could be destabilizing for the community.”

In a social media post, attorney Mohsen Borhani identified Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, Mousa Ghazanfarabadi, and Jalil Mohebi as the primary figures behind the “infamous hijab endorsement.” The Speaker of the Islamic Council, Ghalibaf, the head of the Judicial and Legal Commission of Parliament, and Mohibi, the Chief Secretary of Staff of Amr Be Ma’rouf and Nahi-e-Mankar, are all ardent supporters of the mandatory hijab. As Burhani explained, “They set aside the judiciary’s draft, and within three days, someone crafted a proposal, which was promptly approved.” He went on to criticize the hasty legislative approach, stating, “Such a method of formulating law is disgraceful.” He continued, “Both the committee and the parliament seem to be a joke.”

However, during a public session of the parliament, representatives agreed that the “Chastity and Hijab Bill” should be reviewed by an internal commission, removing it from public discussion. 238 members voted in favor, 49 against, and five abstained. The implication of this is that the public will not be informed about crucial issues affecting their lives, which has led to criticism.

In the bill, drafted by the Iranian judiciary and presented to parliament by the government, new penalties and hefty fines of several million tomans are imposed on those who violate the mandatory hijab. However, conservatives who are hard-line have expressed concern about voluntary veiling and dissatisfaction that the bill is too lenient.

When approved by the internal committee, the bill will be provisionally enforced following the approval of the Guardian Council. This is not a wholly novel practice, as Article 85 has previously been used for contentious issues. For example, the Islamic Penal Code was implemented on a trial basis for two decades before it became a permanent law, with only minor changes.

According to Article 85, the Islamic Council can delegate the authority to enact laws to its internal commissions, allowing trial implementations without public approval to proceed. Parliament has permitted the special hijab commission to submit its proposal directly to the Guardian Council, which implements it as a temporary yet valid law. This action, based on Article 85, enables the creation of “experimental” laws that, although not communicated as valid by parliament, must be implemented by all government components. They can be implemented for years to come without a defined time limit.

Reformists Reluctant to Participate in the Next Parliamentary Election

Media and political circles are reporting very low interest from reformist figures during the pre-registration phase for the 12th parliamentary election. Ali Motahari, Masoud Pezeshkian, Mohammad Bagher Nobakht, and Alireza Mahjoub, among others, have completed pre-registration. But in spite of earlier indications that certain parties, including Kargozaran Sazandegi, Edalat Va Tose, and Labor House, encouraged their members to participate, only Mahjoub and Nobakht were clearly visible attendees. 

Several prominent figures were absent from the pre-registration, including Seyed Hossein Marashi, Mohsen Hashemi, Mahmoud Vaezi, Ali Rabiei, and Soheila Jolodarzadeh. Their names appeared in the news several times regarding pre-registration, but they were quick to refute these claims.

Several reformists and moderates have denied their candidacy, including Majid Ansari, Elias Hazrati, Mohammad Reza Aref, and Mohammad Javad Azarijahrami. In a recent meeting between Seyyed Mohammad Khatami and the reformists, Khatami expressed his viewpoint regarding the elections. The necessity of self-correction, according to Khatami, is essential for the survival of a government, and he expressed the desire and right of many to participate in elections.

According to the former head of the reformist government, if the state wishes for people to participate in the elections, it cannot remove the opposition candidates. Mr. Khatami stated: “Reformists and many of the people have a right and wish to participate in the elections. However, there should be an opportunity or avenue available for them to do so. When you say participate in the elections, we respond that you have excluded those whom you do not favor, deprived them of their citizen rights, and closed off pathways for them. Ultimately, the government needs to open these pathways, even if they are minimal. It’s not feasible to close all avenues and still expect widespread participation.”

Besides expressing concern over the political climate of the country, Azar Mansouri of Ittehad Mellat Party also questioned the timing and wisdom of the implementation of new election laws and the hijab law. According to Mansouri, the upcoming elections are likely to follow the same pattern as previous ones, in which a minority dominates without truly representing the general public. In his view, “As far as we are able to determine, the establishment of entities similar to guidance patrols and interference with individual lifestyles have proven to be ineffective government strategies. We would like to know how you view the sovereignty of the people.” Considering the swift approval and enactment of the debated election law, the upcoming elections will not result in significant changes, according to the Secretary-General of Ittihad Mellat. 

Baha’i Arrests in Iran: Allegations, Discrimination, and Sentences

Nine Baha’is were arrested on Sunday, August 13, according to a statement released by the Islamic Republic’s Ministry of Information, citing allegations of corruption, money laundering, tax fraud, and manipulating medicine distribution. Because of perceived connections with Israel, where significant Baha’i shrines are located, Baha’is face discrimination from the Islamic Republic, which represents the largest non-Muslim minority in Iran.

A statement by the Ministry elaborated on the allegations, alleging that one Baha’i family owned multiple pharmacies, cosmetic companies, and unauthorized storage facilities in Tehran. The statement claimed the family engaged in a variety of illicit activities, including drug smuggling, hoarding medicines, fraud involving travel medicine, and tax evasion through complex money laundering schemes. Additionally, they were accused of conspiring with certain medical professionals to prescribe unnecessary drugs or direct patients to certain pharmacies.

In related news, Harana, a human rights news outlet in Iran, reported on Thursday, August 19, the confirmation of a 10-year prison sentence for two Baha’i citizens, Mahosh Thabit (Shahriari) and Fariba Kamalabadi. These individuals are currently being held in Evin prison and are former members of “Yaran Iran”, a leadership group for the Baha’i community in Iran, formed after the Islamic Republic ordered the dissolution of the National Spiritual Assembly of Baha’is. Mahvash Sabet, a renowned poet who received the International Pen Association’s “Courageous Writer” award earlier this year, previously served a 10-year sentence without parole from 2007 to 2017.

Escalating Suppression: Iran’s Crackdown on Protest Victims’ Families as Anniversaries Approach

In advance of the one year anniversary of the killing of Mahsa Amini, Iranian authorities have intensified their suppression of protest victims’ families and are pushing them to abstain from memorializing their loved ones on social media and at public ceremonies. 

Amini’s death ignited widespread protests in Iran and worldwide rallies. Her funeral in Saqqez, which was attended by a significant number of people, was overshadowed by tight security measures.

Besides targeting the families of victims, the families of arrested protesters have also been summoned and intimidated. Such actions include preventing memorial ceremonies, damaging grave markers, impeding business, and even forcibly evicting families.

On August 14, Amirkabir University reported that the Ministry of Information summoned ten students with an apparent aim of discouraging activism on Amini’s death anniversary. Many relatives of protest victims have also shared their concerns and experiences on social media. It is noteworthy that the siblings of Hadith Najafi and Hamidreza Rohi, both of whom were killed during the demonstrations, expressed their gratitude for the support they received from Iranians.

A number of media outlets outside Iran have also reported on the systematic targeting of victims’ families. Iran Wire reported on Mehrshad Shahidi’s father, who was threatened following the death of his son. Several instances have been reported where families were coerced into not honoring their deceased loved ones. For instance, Ha Ngao, a human rights organization, highlighted the violent arrest of Mehdi Bebranjad’s brother. Atena Daemi, a civil activist, reported that her family had been threatened as the anniversary of the death of Amini approached. Last Saturday, Hasan Darfatadeh, the father of a teen shot in the Piranshahr protests, was arrested and warned not to commemorate his son. Two student sisters, Zarian and Zelan Melai, have recently been arrested in Sanandaj. The exact charges against them are unknown.

In the past, memorial services have resulted in further protests, sometimes triggering a crackdown that results in more casualties. Families who demand justice are often met with threats and preventative measures from security agencies. The anniversaries of past protests have often resulted in summonings and arrests of family members.

Human rights organizations indicate that more than 500 protesters were killed in the fall 2022 protests. While authorities have not acknowledged an official death toll, Gholamhossein Mohsen Ejei, the head of Iran’s judiciary, acknowledged that at least 22,000 protesters were detained during that time period.

Iran’s Shift in Nuclear Strategy: Dilution of Uranium Reserves and the Path to U.S. Dialogue

In an effort to lower tensions, Iran has taken steps to decrease its 60 percent enriched uranium reserves, according to The Wall Street Journal. According to the publication, Iran has “significantly slowed the pace at which it is accumulating near-weapons-grade enriched uranium and has diluted some of its stockpile,” citing individuals familiar with the situation.

The report followed closely on the heels of news that five Iranian-American dual nationals were transferred from Evin prison to house arrest at a hotel, and that a portion of Iran’s frozen assets were in the process of being released. The U.S. has encouraged Iran to take de-escalatory steps on its nuclear program, and the possible news could be evidence of further measures to cool escalating tensions and prevent them from spiraling out of control.

The U.S. National Security Council spokesperson, John Kirby, did not confirm the newspaper’s claims, but welcomed any such efforts on the part of Iran. Iran’s Fars news agency, aligned with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, has stated that Iran’s nuclear activities remain consistent and comply with the plans of the Atomic Energy Organization. The Wall Street Journal suggests that while there might be technical reasons for Iran’s actions like maintenance, the dilution appears to be intentional.

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