August 25, 2023

Iran Joins BRICS, Wave of Arrests Target Iranian Civil Activists, MBS and Abdollahian Meet in Jeddah, and More

Week of August 21, 2023 | Iran Unfiltered is a digest tracking Iranian politics & society by the National Iranian American Council 

Iran Becomes a Member of BRICS

The BRICS leaders, representing a set of emerging economic powers, have approved the inclusion of Iran, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Argentina, Egypt, and Ethiopia into the group. These nations will formally become BRICS members beginning in January 2024.This is the first BRICS expansion since 2010 when South Africa joined the group.

The discussion regarding the expansion of BRICS, which currently comprises Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa, was on the agenda for the 15th annual BRICS summit held in South Africa between August 22nd and August 24th. At the conclusion of the three-day summit, a statement was released announcing the integration of the new members. Ebrahim Raisi, the President of Iran, traveled to South Africa to attend the summit.

Narendra Modi, the Prime Minister of India, regarding the admittance of the new members stated, “I believe that with these countries joining, we infuse more energy into our organization.”

The BRICS member nations account for about 20% of the world’s total GDP and 40% of the global population, and these nation’s leaders aim to leverage their economic prowess to influence geopolitics.

Coordinated Wave of Arrests Targeting Iranian Civil Activists Across Multiple Cities

Several Iranian civil activists have reported that Iranian judicial and security agencies have been simultaneously arresting or summoning several individuals in Rasht, Mahabad, Oshnavieh, Tehran, Tabriz, and other cities on Thursday, 25th of Mordad, August 15.

A total of 12 individuals were arrested in Gilan province alone. The intelligence office of Gilan province, affiliated with the Ministry of Intelligence, accused the detainees of “preparing for disturbances and insecurity at the provincial level in Gilan and some towns in Kurdistan province.” Jaleh Javaheri and Forough Saminehnia, two prominent activists of the Iranian women’s movement, were among those detained during the coordinated raids on activists’ homes in Gilan province. Additionally, Negin Rezaei, Zahra Dadres, Shiva Shah-Siah, Matin Yazdani, Yasmin Hashdari, Vahideh Khosh-Sirat, Sara Jahani, and Hooman Taheri were all arrested in Rasht, Anzali, Lahijan, and Fuman.

According to a statement by the Gilan Intelligence Office, the detained activists have been accused of contacting the families of deceased and injured protesters from last autumn. These activists have also been accused of receiving funds intended for families affected by last year’s events. The Gilan Intelligence office claimed that only a small percentage of these funds have been distributed to the families, and the remainder remains subject to further investigation.

This new wave of arrests and summonses coincides with the upcoming anniversary of Mahsa Amini’s death at the hands of Iran’s Morality Police and the nationwide protests calling for Woman, Life, Freedom, that followed. 

As reported by Bidarzani, a media outlet affiliated with the Iranian women’s movement, the family members of those arrested received no explanation regarding the arresting authority and the location of the detainees after approaching the judicial authorities. According to Kurdistan Human Rights Network  and Hengaw, two human rights-oriented media outlets covering Iranian Kurdistan news, several individuals have been detained in villages surrounding Mahabad and Oshnavieh. Kurdistan Human Rights Network also reported that at least 6 individuals have been detained, while Hengaw has reported a total of 15 detainees.

In recent months, several Kurdish citizens have been detained as well, including Hiva Shabahang, Ayoub Mirazii, Shirvan Khodari, Hedayat Khaste, Sherko Naseri, and Ashkan Rasouli. It is unclear what the charges against them are and where they are being held.

Adding to the growing governmental pressure to comply and not engage in protest, some traders in Saqqez have reportedly been pressured to provide written commitments that they would not participate in any strike on the anniversary of the death of Mahsa Amini.

Furthermore, Mary Lawlor, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, wrote on Friday on Twitter: “I express my deep concern about the detention of women’s rights defenders in Iran and the families being kept secret about their whereabouts and charges.They should be released immediately by Iranian authorities and they should cease harassing women’s rights defenders.”

In an interview with BBC Persian, Parvin Ardalan, a prominent activist in the Iranian women’s movement, said that the simultaneous arrests in various cities demonstrate the government’s fear rather than creating fear among the people. She noted that the struggle of women has continued since the revolutionary movement of Jina, including within universities and student dormitories. “This daily struggle hasn’t stopped,” she said. She also stated that the government’s issue with women’s movement activists stems from the fact that the discourse of equality has gained significant traction in Iran. Ardalan noted, “gender awareness is no longer confined to the circle of feminist activists, but has become part of society as a whole. The women’s movement has grown slowly and from the grassroots, changing the public orientation that they find threatening.”

Ardalan, who herself has been the target of legal and security actions in Iran, refuted the allegations against the recently detained activists. In her view, the repetitive and absurd charges against them indicate that, despite the vibrancy of society, nothing has changed in the government. They themselves know that such charges do not influence public opinion.”

Included below are several other recent arrests that had not previously been reported:

  • In Tehran, Narges Sardari, the spouse of Mehdi Etemad-Saeid, who was providing information about Mr. Etemad-Saeid’s detention, has also been arrested. A theater actor and child rights activist, Mr. Etemad-Saeid was involved in a social project called “PortAp” that brought joy to children in underprivileged and accident-prone areas through volunteer-driven activities. According to activists, the security forces detained their three-year-old child for several hours before releasing him to his grandmother.
  • The Ministry of Intelligence detained Elle Askari, an Instagram photographer and blogger, after she visited the passport office to retrieve confiscated documents on Thursday. Following her arrests, her residence was searched, and Ms. Askari communicated over the phone that she had been transferred to Ward 209 of Evin Prison.
  • A former political prisoner and civil activist, Aliye Matloubzadeh, announced on Instagram that Negar Khiav, Roghieh Kabiri, and Fatemeh Dadashzadeh have been summoned to the Tabriz Intelligence Office following the Tabriz women’s gathering protesting the drying of Lake Urmia.
  • In Isfahan, two citizens, Maryam Farhang and Pouya Talebian, have been detained since August 6th, according to IranWire. Ms. Farhang is a carpenter, while Mr. Talebian is a stonemason. Ms. Farhang informed her family in a brief phone call that she is being detained in the Saroush Intelligence Detention Center, but the place of Mr. Talebian’s detention is not known.
  • Hengaw reported that Arash Ghanbari and Shahnaz Ghanbari, who are siblings, have also been arrested in Isfahan since August 6th. Hengaw has identified them as detainees from the November 2022 protests.
  • Niousha Badiei Sabet and Susan Eid Mohammadzadeh were arrested in Babol on Tuesday, according to Iran’s Harana news agency.
  • During a raid by security forces on Mohammad Mehdi Karimi’s home on Tuesday Aug 22, his father, one of the executed protesters, was arrested. In addition to arresting and seizing family members, security forces also confiscated and seized all electronic devices, including laptops

    and mobile phones, from the Karimi residence on August 22. Security forces initially detained Mohammad Mehdi Karimi’s mother and brother. They were released after one hour, but his father, Mashallah Karami, remains in custody.

Renewed Diplomatic Ties: Saudi Crown Prince and Iranian Foreign Minister Discuss Bilateral Relations in Jeddah Meeting

During a meeting in Jeddah on August 18, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman met with Iran’s Foreign Minister, Hossein Amirabdollahian. The state news agency of Saudi Arabia reported on the meeting, stating that the Iranian Foreign Minister conveyed the “greetings and appreciation” of Ebrahim Raisi, the President of Iran, to the Saudi King through the Crown Prince. Mohammed bin Salman also communicated to the Iranian Foreign Minister the Saudi King’s “reciprocal greetings and appreciation” for the Iranian President.

Although the brief report provided little detail about the conversations between the two parties, it stated that they discussed “bilateral relations, future collaboration opportunities between the two countries, ways to develop these ties, as well as regional and international developments and efforts in this regard.” The meeting was also attended by the Saudi Foreign Minister, Faisal bin Farhan. Hossein Amirabdollahian indicated on his Twitter account that the meeting lasted 90 minutes.

The Saudi Foreign Minister met with Amirabdollahian upon his arrival in Riyadh on August 17. During his visit, he reopened the Iranian embassy in Saudi Arabia, which had been inactive since the severance of ties between the two nations following an attack on the Saudi embassy in Tehran seven years ago.

A joint press conference was held following the foreign ministers’ meeting, during which the expansion of bilateral relations was discussed. In this press conference, the Iranian Foreign Minister stated that since the resumption of relations between the two countries, both sides are eager to extend these ties and have already taken steps in that direction. The Saudi Foreign Minister also emphasized his country’s “sincere and serious” desire to enhance relations, saying it would benefit both nations and contribute to the stabilization of the region. Additionally, he stressed the importance of implementing the aspects agreed between the two countries and expressed hopes for continued cooperation and the beginning of a new phase in bilateral relations based on mutual interests and respect.

Seized Oil Tanker ‘Suez Rezaan’ Begins Unloading Cargo Amid Growing Controversy

According to an exclusive article published by the Associated Press on August 20th, the oil tanker ‘Suez Rezaan’, which was seized by the United States about three months ago, has finally begun unloading its cargo. Iranian authorities have warned that retaliatory action will be taken if oil is unloaded from this vessel.

According to the Associated Press, ship tracking data indicates that the transfer and unloading of the cargo from the seized ‘Suez Rezaan’ oil tanker began on August 19th. It has been reported that approximately 800,000 barrels of Iranian oil was estimated to be in the cargo, valued at 56 million dollars. The cargo is being transferred to another ship near the Gulf of Mexico coast near Texas. Four days ago, U.S. congressional representatives from both the Republican and Democratic parties sent President Joe Biden a letter urging the expedited transfer of the seized ‘Suez Rezaan’ oil cargo to another tanker as soon as possible. Given these ongoing tensions, western-backed naval coalitions in the Middle East have advised ships intending to pass through the Strait of Hormuz to stay as far away from Iranian territorial waters as possible.

Rear Admiral Ali Reza Tangsiri, the commander of the IRGC Navy, stated in late July that, “The era of slaps in the face is over. If they slap, they will be slapped back.” He also stated that “any American oil company willing to unload our oil from this oil tanker will be considered responsible, just as we consider America to be responsible.” Iranian media outlets have recently released a video claiming to show Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) vessels and helicopters warning U.S. Navy ships and helicopters to steer clear. The United States and independent news sources have not commented on the video or verified its claims.

The U.S. Navy has increased its presence in the Persian Gulf in recent weeks following months of growing tensions between Iran and the U.S., which began with the U.S. seizure of Iran’s “Suez Rezaan” oil tanker in April. These forces have been added to the U.S. Central Command’s area of responsibility in the Middle East, known as CENTCOM, as a response to Iran’s actions of seizing foreign tankers. According to the United States, the purpose of reinforcing its military presence in the Persian Gulf region is to ensure maritime security for oil trade as well as to counter Iran’s seizure of oil tankers. A report by ABC News indicates that the United States is considering a plan in which armed forces would be stationed on commercial ships as a deterrent measure to prevent these vessels from being seized.

The news comes at a time when Washington and Tehran have recently made arrangements to release five American citizens from Iran’s Evin prison on furlough and unfreeze some of Iran’s blocked financial assets currently held in South Korea. 

170 Spinal Cord Patients Succumb to Bedsores and Infections in the Last Two Years Due to Insufficient Hygiene Supplies

In an interview with the Etemad newspaper, the director of the Spinal Cord Injury Support Center discussed the challenges faced by spinal cord patients. As a spinal cord injury patient herself and one of the founders of this center, Mahnaz Kazemi believes that the situation for people with spinal cord injuries is not satisfactory, particularly since Iran has encountered repeated economic difficulties.

According to Ms. Kazemi, approximately 170 people covered by the Spinal Cord Injury Support Center have died as a result of bedsores and infections caused by a lack of hygiene supplies in the past two years. Among these individuals, divorce and suicide rates have also increased, however, definitive data is not yet available on those facts. The majority of these patients were young adults between the ages of 22 and 35. These trying conditions have stemmed from and have been exacerbated by the consistent economic difficulty plaguing Iran’s most vulnerable populations – especially those who require extensive healthcare. 

There has been a sharp increase in the cost of hygiene supplies and medical supplies due to sanctions. “The monthly stipend has been increased and the amount allocated for hygiene supplies will increase from 300,000 tomans to 600,000 tomans,” Ms. Kazemi stated.

In the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, many people believed that these deaths were caused by the coronavirus, according to Ms. Kazemi. However, as it turned out, most of the deaths were caused by bed sores and infections that affected their entire bodies rather than by COVID-19. Ms. Kazemi further stated that “over the past two years, we have lost individuals that we never anticipated, as they were just like our friends. Families call us with tears and tell us that bedsores have finally taken their loved ones off their feet. It is shocking to both us and other disabled individuals, causing them to lose hope in their own situations.

Ebrahim Golestan, Iranian Writer and Filmmaker, passes away at 101

Ebrahim Golestan passed away at his home in Britain on Tuesday, August 22nd, 2023, surrounded by his family members. He was a director, writer, translator, and photographer.

Among his notable films are “Brick and Mirror” (1965) and “Mysteries of the Treasure Valley of the Jinn” (1971). Among his notable books are “Azar, the Last Month of Autumn”, “Rooster”, and “Mysteries of the Treasure Valley of the Jinn”. His film “A Fire” was also the first Iranian film to win an international prize at the Venice Short Film Festival in 1961. Golestan is also known for the documentaries “Marlik Hills” and “Jewel Treasures”, both produced in the 1960s, as well as producing “The House is Black”, directed by Forough Farrokhzad. Notably, Golestan was also the first person to translate the works of Ernest Hemingway and William Faulkner into Persian.

Golestan also discussed challenging ideas about well-known cultural figures and the intellectual environment in Iran in the book “Writing with a Camera”.

Ebrahim Golestan’s vast portfolio of accomplishments always attracted the attention and appreciation of the public. His legacy remains as an integral source of culture and community for Iranians everywhere.

The 1953 Coup: a Perpetual Ache

Several speeches were delivered on Saturday, August 18, in Tehran commemorating the 70th anniversary of the Iranian coup d’etat of 1953, including those delivered by Lotfollah Meisami, Hashem Aghajari, Naser Zarafshan, and Azadeh Shaabani. Generally, commentators who discuss the coup focus on the events that led up to it, but less attention has been paid to the consequences of the coup.

Before the coup, commentators said, a generation of leaders had established a system that enabled Iran to achieve its highest levels of freedom and independence without being dependent on oil revenues for the first time in history. Following the coup, commentators describe how Mossadegh was removed and two governments emerged in his place: the coup-supported monarchy and the Islamic Republic. Mossadegh was not well-liked by the Pahlavi monarchy nor the Islamic Republic. Notably, neither of them succeeded in prosecuting Mossadegh’s ministers or director-generals.

Azadeh Shaabani also spoke at the August 18th event commemorating the coup, discussing the role of women. She noted that until the Constitutional Revolution in Iran and under monarchical systems, women had virtually no public space. But women fought to gain access to public spaces following the Constitutional Revolution, setting the standard for being at the forefront of historical change.

The coup was also discussed by Naser Zarafshan, a judicial attorney. He stated that the coup of 1332 (1953) in Iran was a response by the United States and the United Kingdom to the nationalization of oil. Consequently, the brutal suppression of the nationalization movement is an inseparable part of its history. Although the actual facts of history are becoming increasingly clearer as time passes, some domestic and foreign political circles and institutions have distorted history as the years have passed.

Zarafshan further stated that “If we had succeeded in defeating Mossadegh in the fields of political, intellectual, cultural, religious, and legal struggle, they would have surely succeeded. Despite Mossadegh’s legacy of resisting suppression of the people’s movement, they were forced to use the coup and military forces. As a result, the coup remains an ongoing issue in Iranian history.”

Zahra Rahnavard: Rulers’ fall will be painful since they failed to learn from the coup

Among the leaders of the Green Movement, Zahra Rahnavard has compared the current Iranian government policies to the 1953 coup. She has argued that the current trajectory of the Islamic Republic will ultimately result in its painful downfall just as it did for Iran’s previous leaders – both Mossadegh in the 1953 coup and Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi in the 1979 revolution. 

Zahra Rahnavard expressed in a message published on Telegram’s “Kaleme” channel, “If seventy years ago, foreign powers orchestrated a catastrophic coup against the Iranian nation on 1953, today’s rulers of Iran have commenced another coup against the happiness and legitimate demands of the Iranian people.” Rahnavard is essentially stating that Parliament’s new hijab bill is a coup of its own against Iranians and women especially. The government, she further stated, avoided responsibility by looking for criminals behind closed doors in order to place the burden of the nation’s backwardness and disorder on a people eager for development, progress, and dignity around the world.

It has been over twelve years since Zahra Rahnavard and her husband Mir-Hossein Mousavi were placed under house arrest. In 2009, Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi ran for the presidential election and refused to accept Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s widely disputed victory, resulting in widespread protests. Mousavi has since called for a public referendum to determine changes to Iran’s constitution in response to the Woman, Life, Freedom movement.

In comparison with the period of the 1953 coup, Zahra Rahnavard has criticized various aspects of Iran’s current suppression. She has condemned the restrictions against and imprisonment of journalists and artists, as well as the threats made against students at universities. Rahnavard has also criticized the parliamentary process for passing the new hijab law without public discussion, saying, “Do the rulers not learn from the consequences of the1953 coup?” According to her, the current bill is intended to empty pockets and fill prisons.

Additionally, Zahra Rahnavard denounced security threats against women’s activism. She remarked, “They draw lines and make threats so brazenly that even a cooked chicken would laugh and cry at the same time. In the streets, they beat and batter women and girls to the point where they turn black and blue. There are a large number of freedom-seeking women in prisons, a level that has never been seen before.

Rahnavard’s message highlights her concerns about the current state of affairs in Iran, drawing parallels to historical events and criticizing a variety of aspects of the government’s actions.

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