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September 1, 2023

Professors Under Pressure in Iranian Universities, Mehdi Yarrahi Detained Over Song Protesting Mandatory Hijab, Multilateral Talks on Persian Gulf Security, and More

Week of August 28, 2023 | Iran Unfiltered is a digest tracking Iranian politics & society by the National Iranian American Council 

Mounting Pressure and Arrests Ahead of Anniversary of Mahsa Amini’s Death 

Pressure and arrests on the families of victims of government violence have increased as the anniversary of the “Woman, Life, Freedom” movement approaches. Many of those arrested have not yet been released, and their current whereabouts are unknown. 

One by one, the families of protest victims are being arrested, and there are daily reports of the government’s ruthless assault on these families. The father of Mohammad Mehdi Karami, who was executed for his alleged role in the “Karaj Highway” case which resulted in the killing of a basij member, was arrested by security forces at his home on Tuesday, 22nd of August. His current whereabouts were unknown at the time of publication. According to reports, security forces have also confiscated electronic devices from him, including a laptop and mobile phone. The family’s lawyer, Amir Hossein Kohkan, has also been arrested.

Mahsa Yazdani, the mother of Mohammad Javad Zahedi, who was killed by security forces on September 22, 2022, has been arrested by security forces. During the nationwide protests, Mohammad Javad, 20, was killed by a gunshot. According to witnesses, he was attacked on a street in which no protests were taking place. Faramarz Brahoui (Abil), the 15-year-old brother of Ismail Brahoui (Abil), who was killed in Zahedan’s bloody Friday, was arrested on August 22 in Torbat Heydariyeh. He was reportedly on his way back to Mashhad after visiting his brother’s grave in Zahedan. On the first day of Shahrivar, Nasrin Alizadeh, the sister of Shirin Alizadeh, one of the victims of the nationwide protests, was arrested and taken to an unknown location.

Following an attack on the home of Hananeh Kia, one of the victims of the Woman, Life, Freedom protests, her family members have been arrested. Just days after her engagement ceremony, Hananeh Kia, a 23-year-old from Nowshahr, was tragically killed by government forces during the protests in 2022. On Sunday, Aug 27, Kia’s father, mother, and sister were arrested and taken to an unknown location by two male and female agents, according to information posted by Kia’s family on Instagram. Amir Kia, Hananeh’s fiancé, is also believed to be among those detained, according to social media reports.

Hengaw Human Rights Organization has also reported the installation of surveillance cameras at the entrance to Aichi Saqqez Cemetery near Mahsa Amini’s grave site under the Urban Monitoring System. The organization received images on Sunday, August 27, that indicated government entities had installed cameras in the area.

According to the deputy head of Iran’s judiciary, Sadegh Rahimi, those arrested during upcoming protests will not be eligible for amnesty or sentence reduction. It is estimated that thousands of individuals who had been detained in connection with last year’s national uprising were eligible for the granted amnesty this past Norooz. Rahimi warned “This time, we are dealing with a greater degree of determination.” According to the Judiciary’s Media Center, Rahimi added that if those who were “granted Leader’s amnesty during last year’s protests are deceived again and repeat their actions, a more determined approach will be taken against them. There will be no discussion of amnesty at that point.”

Those who are arrested will not be treated with leniency or reduction, he stated, and advised these individuals and their families to be vigilant against “the enemy’s schemes.” Rahimi also said, “Intelligence and security apparatuses are closely monitoring all these movements, and if a small group attempts to cause chaos in the coming days under any pretext for the country and its people, they will be identified and handed over to the judicial system.”

Arrest of Iranian Musician: Mehdi Yarrahi Detained Over Song Protesting Mandatory Hijab

The composer and singer of “Your Veil,” Mehdi Yarrahi, has been arrested. The Mehr News Agency previously reported that a lawsuit had been filed against Mr. Yarrahi, alleging that the song was illegal and against Islamic morals and customs. These charges, according to government sources, encompass all musical works that provoke protests in Iran.

Mehdi Yarrahi’s lawyer confirmed the arrest of his client. According to Mustafa Nili, “Like you, we learned about Mr. Yarahi’s arrest through the media, but we do not have any information regarding the details and reasons for his arrest at this time.”

“Currently, we do not have information about Mr. Yarrahi’s charges or who is responsible for his arrest, and the institution responsible for his arrest has not been specified. Communication has not been established. We also do not know which branch of the Iranian judiciary is handling the case or which branch issued the arrest order.” 

According to the Iranian Judiciary, Mr. Yarrahi released another “controversial” song during the recent “turbulent disturbances.” The Iranian government labels its opponents as “instigators of turmoil” and has used harsh and deadly measures to suppress their protests over the past decades. According to Mr. Nili, Mehdi Yarrahi faced “three cases” in the judiciary in 98 (2019-2020) on charges such as “propagating against the system and society” and “collusion” due to his protest songs in support of workers and public demonstrations.

Yarrahi dedicated his new protest song “To the Free Women” of his homeland, in which he stated that “at the forefront of the movement for women’s liberation, they shine courageously.” Iranian musicians are subjected to a wide range of security pressures. Several artists have protested the “suspension” of Dr. Azin Movahed, a professor at the University of Tehran’s School of Fine Arts, and the termination of her benefits and rights.

Additionally, it has been reported that any artist who has supported protests in any way during the past year must obtain permission from the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) before releasing a new song, even if it is not a protest song. For example, “The Lost Poet” features the voice of Shahram Nazeri, Iran’s renowned vocalist, and is composed by Arshak Rafiee based on the poems of Mahmoud Moshref Azad Tehrani. In order to produce promotional videos for this album, a “license” must be obtained. The Islamic Republic authorities are attempting to suppress protestors’ voices in a situation in which protestors are preparing to commemorate the anniversary of the killing of Mahsa Amini, since this album and many other works have not yet been released.

Escalating Repression: Professors Under Pressure in Iranian Universities

As part of the ongoing pressures and actions taken against critical professors in Iranian universities, the news broke on Sunday (4th of Shahrivar / 26th of August) that four professors and faculty members had been expelled from Sharif University, University of Tehran, and Allameh Tabataba’i University. The Telegram channel “Councils of Student Associations Nationwide” reported that Hamideh Khademi and Ameneh Aali, faculty members of the Department of Education and Training Psychology at Allameh Tabataba’i University, were informed via telephone by the dean’s office that their employment contracts would be terminated beginning on the first of Shahrivar.

During the nationwide protests of the previous year, these two professors showed support for protesting students. Still, the termination of cooperation between Allameh Tabataba’i University and Khademi and Aali has not yet been officially communicated to them.

As she stated in an interview with the news site “Iran Watcher,” Aali was expelled from the university for signing statements, participating in student protests, and protesting their suspension. “We received a call from the office secretary of the dean. We asked them to send a formal letter, but they refused to do so.”

University professors have been expelled in recent days following the release of a confidential letter from the Minister of Interior to the President requesting the initiation of a “revolutionary infrastructure plan for structural transformation in universities and higher education institutions.” As a result, students and academics have protested extensively.

Parallel to the significant suspensions and expulsions of professors from universities, protests and criticisms have been expressed against these “purges.” Several scientific associations and student organizations have responded to the expulsion of well-known figures, including Ali Sharifi Zarchi from Sharif University, Khademi and Aali from Allameh Tabataba’i University, as well as the prohibition of Hussein Alaei from teaching at the University of Tehran. In a statement released by the Islamic Association of Sharif University, they stated that in addition to protesting Zarchi’s expulsion, they expressed concern about the “intensification of the security atmosphere” at the university and that the university is being “encircled by security apparatus.”

In protest against the expulsion of Aali and Khademi, the Psychological Scientific Association of Allameh Tabataba’i University released a statement. They stated that the expulsion of these professors who supported students “has severely damaged the university and inflicted a wound that is separating two of the most honorable professors from the university because of their support for students.”

Zarchi announced the attempt to expel him on the social media platform “X” (formerly Twitter) on Sunday, but rejected it and withheld a document requested of him. During the “Woman, Life, Freedom” movement last year, he actively supported protesting students and posted critical remarks about university conditions.

The termination letter he received was posted as an image on his Facebook page. During an interview with Tasnim News Agency affiliated with the Revolutionary Guards, Saeed Behzadi confirmed the authenticity of this letter, stating that Sharifi Zarchi had not responded to the university’s repeated verbal requests and follow-ups. In response to this claim, Sharifi Zarchi published an image that showed he had submitted requests for promotion and change of employment status to the university three times in 2021, and these requests had been approved for two periods.

Further, the Telegram channel of independent academic and student activists at the University of Tehran reported the removal of several professors from the Faculty of Literature and Humanities, coinciding with the beginning of the new academic year. It was stated on the channel, “This semester, many specialized courses that were previously taught by experienced and distinguished professors have been assigned to unknown individuals.”

In a statement issued on Sunday 27th of August, the Association of University Professors of Iran issued a warning about “destructive interference” by Iranian security agencies. Additionally, Mohammad Reza Aref, the former First Vice President of Iran and current head of the Association of University Professors, resigned from his position on the University of Sharif’s admission committee today, protesting the “current trend governing the hiring committees in universities.”

According to the Association, universities should be free to determine and pursue their goals and priorities in accordance with their independence principle. According to the statement, scholars agree that university autonomy is characterized by four dimensions: organizational, financial, academic, and employment independence. There are a number of barriers to university autonomy, including political processes in different countries, specific political ideologies, centralized government decision-making systems, financial and employment constraints, as well as factional or partisan biases.

The academic union stated that certain currents have attempted to weaken university independence since the beginning of the Islamic Revolution. According to the report, “one of the most significant actions taken by these currents has been to delegate important matters concerning higher education and universities to the Supreme Council of the Cultural Revolution, including policy-making and particularly recruiting faculty members and appointing university presidents.”

Referring to the fact that “a significant portion of the authority of higher education and universities has been taken away from the Ministry of Science,” the statement admitted that “in some periods, strengthening university boards of trustees with the presence of prominent academic and executive figures, the approval of progressive laws such as university financial and transactional laws, and other regulations and laws, have been effective measures in strengthening the independence of universities.”

Iran’s Ministry of Science in Disarray: Uncertainty Surrounds Fate of Art Majors Including Music and Sculpture

Divergent statements from Iran’s Ministry of Science regarding the “removal” or “modification” of certain arts majors in universities, such as music and sculpture, have further complicated the state of these academic disciplines. Some believe that on the eve of the anniversary of Mahsa Amini’s death and the nationwide protests of 2022, the government, through such actions, is imposing greater restrictions on individuals in cultural and artistic fields, particularly protesting art students who demonstrated against the Islamic Republic government last autumn.

Reports suggest that in the registration booklet for the current year’s national university entrance exam, majors such as music, sculpture, and cinema have been removed from the University of Art in Tehran and Shiraz. The Jahan-e Sanat newspaper, in its lead article titled “Art in the Abyss of Oblivion,” examines the repercussions of removing these academic majors from universities.

According to the report, since the release of the registration booklet for the 1402 entrance exam, which included the major changes, a considerable reaction has been elicited. This is due to the fact that the major of cinema has been removed from the University of Tehran, and the majors of cinema, music, and sculpture have been removed from the University of Art in Shiraz and Tehran. 

At the same time, Ali Shamsipour, the spokesperson for the Ministry of Science, refuted the removal of these majors and stated to the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) that “the Assessment and Evaluation Organization is in the process of modifying the booklets.” According to him, “Majors that have been omitted from the list for any reason and are not currently included in the list of majors at the University of Art in Tehran will be added to the list after review.” This comes as the second round of the 1402 university entrance exams for universities and higher education institutions in Iran, in the fields of mathematics, humanities, arts, experimental sciences, and languages, is set to take place in two weeks across 662 examination centers nationwide.

Alireza Sharifi-Yazdi, a sociologist, told Jahan-e Sanat newspaper that “contrary to initial assumptions, the consequences of removing music, cinema, and sculpture majors do not only affect young individuals but rather embrace society at large.” According to the report, Iran’s Ministry of Science has removed majors or reduced their capacity, focusing more on those in which women have a larger presence. It appears that “decision-makers in the education system have strategically initiated the removal or reduction of certain majors.” The swift nature of these cutbacks is evidently directed at artistic disciplines, as officials within the Ministry of Science appear to be pursuing a diminishing of the artistic realm within the educational spaces of universities.

Bagheri-Kani Previews Multilateral Talks on Persian Gulf Security

The Iranian government has announced that eight countries bordering the Persian Gulf will engage in joint negotiations in New York in September. Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister for Political Affairs, Ali Bagheri-Kani, has stated that these negotiations will take place on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly. The remarks followed meetings between the foreign ministers of Iran and Saudi Arabia, as well as separate meetings between Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi and the Saudi Foreign Minister and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Iranian Foreign Minister Amir Abdollahian.

Bagheri-Kani expressed hope that this session would facilitate the “soft exit of foreigners” from the region. The eight-party session was arranged at the initiative of China and Antonio Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations. In an interview with the country’s news television network, Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister stated, “The Americans wanted to shape this session according to their agenda.” It is now taking place within the framework of the Islamic Republic’s neighborhood policy, providing the infrastructure necessary for the soft exit of foreigners from the region.

Such regional negotiations have previously been pursued by the United States, including during the JCPOA talks, but Tehran refused to participate. Mr. Bagheri-Kani stated that Ayatollah Ali Khamenei emphasized the importance of “foreigners not being present in the region, and the region’s economy should be inward-oriented.”

Another part of Mr. Bagheri-Kani’s remarks praised “serious, effective, and purposeful interaction between Iran and its neighbors” and stated that this interaction had resulted in the release of Iran’s blocked assets. According to him, Iran no longer has any assets that have been blocked. A Deputy Foreign Minister stated, “We have funds in other countries that remain in those countries because of the transactions we conducted. We use the profits from these funds, engage in transactions with countries using them, and even transfer them to other places for our purchases.”

Nevertheless, he continued, “Apart from South Korea, Iraq is the only country in which our funds are experiencing difficulties. As part of the agreement with the Americans, the issue of Iraqi funds was also raised, and the process of freeing them has been initiated.”

According to this senior Iranian diplomat, widespread protests last year delayed the liberation of Iran’s assets. “Negotiations took place, but the American side got off track due to their miscalculations over the last year. However, they quickly returned to the negotiations and the process continued. Although the Americans were dragging their feet in implementation, they were eventually forced to backtrack from their demands and take action to free Iran’s funds before an agreement on sanctions relief was reached.”

Lawyers’ Association Stands Firm Against Parliamentary Resolution

An Iranian law passed last week by the Islamic Consultative Assembly (Iran’s parliament) stipulates that attorney licenses will be issued electronically, remotely, and through a “Regulatory Committee. Lawyers’ Association members gathered in front of the Guardian Council’s office on August 26th to urge the council not to approve this resolution, demonstrating their objections. According to lawyers, the resolution compromises the independence of the Lawyers’ Association in accepting, issuing licenses, and supervising its members.

The Regulatory Committee, which will oversee the issuance of attorney licenses in accordance with the parliamentary resolution, is actually under the supervision of the Ministry of Economy. According to the government, however, this entity is under the supervision of the three branches of government. By means of an announcement, the National Center for Business Improvement labeled claims of the issuance, revocation, and supervision of attorney licenses by the Ministry of Economy as “baseless rumors,” accusing the Lawyers’ Association of “deviating from legal requirements.”

The “Hemayat” newspaper reported on the protest gathering in front of the Guardian Council. This gathering was concluded when the Guardian Council’s security personnel intervened and confiscated mobile phones of some participants, according to eyewitnesses. Other participants were escorted into the building, likely for questioning. Meanwhile, Ali Saderi Khanlou, an inspector of the Central Lawyers’ Association, denied reports of aggressive confrontations with the protesters, stating in an interview with Vokalapress: “Directors of Lawyers’ Associations from across the country and professional activists attended this gathering, and no hostile behavior was observed.”

Verdicts confirmed in the Karaj Case of the 40th Day of Hadis Najafi, known as the Ajamian Case

Hossein Fazeli Herikandi, the Chief Justice of Alborz Province, announced on August 23 that the Supreme Court of Iran confirmed the verdict in the case of Rouhollah Ajamian, a Basij member killed during the protests in Kamal Shahr, Karaj on the 40th day after the killing of 23-year-old Hadis Najafi. The death sentences for Mohammad Mehdi Karami and Mohammad Hosseini in this case had already been carried out, and the verdicts for other defendants had been referred to the first branch of the Islamic Revolutionary Court in Alborz Province for review.

According to the Chief Justice of Alborz Province, Hamid Gharrehassanloo was sentenced to 15 years imprisonment in exile (Yazd Prison), Reza Aria, Hossein Mohammadi, and Mehdi Mohammadi were each sentenced to 10 years in exile to Kerman. In this case, Farzaneh Ghorrehassanloo, the wife of Hamid Ghorre hassanloo, Mohammad Amin Akhlaghi Savojbolagh, and Amin Mahdi Shokrollahi, were sentenced to five years of imprisonment in exile (Mashhad Prison), and Ali Mazloomi Godarzi was sentenced to three years of imprisonment in exile (Qom Prison).

The Chief Justice of Alborz Province stated that the charges against the defendants in this case, which were investigated and resulted in a definitive conviction, were not “intentional murder,” but rather “corruption on earth” and “fighting against God.” Hamid Ghorrehassanloo had been sentenced to death, and his wife had been sentenced to 25 years in prison; these verdicts had prompted widespread protests.

Iran has 9 million illiterate individuals and 800,000 school dropouts

The former Minister of Education, Yousef Nouri, revealed during his appearance on the program “Education” on the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) that 8.795 million individuals in the country are illiterate. It has been stated by a former cabinet member under President Ebrahim Raisi that 98.6 percent of the country’s eligible population is enrolled in primary education. However 160,373 individuals are not.

Based on the latest statistics, Nouri stated that there are currently 820,000 school dropouts in the country. In the past, the head of Iran’s Literacy Movement Organization reported that 11 million Iranians were semi-literate and around 9 million were completely illiterate. It is generally accepted that absolute illiteracy refers to those who are unable to read or write, and these individuals are encouraged to participate in literacy programs through the Literacy Movement Organization. Since its establishment around four decades ago, the Literacy Movement has been working to eradicate illiteracy in Iran, but it has never achieved its goal.

If you compare the literacy rate in Iran with that of other countries, especially its regional rivals, you will find that it lags behind them. According to the World Bank report, Saudi Arabia has a literacy rate of 98%, Turkey has a literacy rate of 97%, and Iran has a literacy rate of 89%.

Landmark Head Reattachment Surgery Successfully Performed by Iranian Doctors: A First in Iran and Fourth Worldwide

Iranian doctors have performed a successful head reattachment surgery for the first time in Iran and for the fourth time worldwide. Dr. Mitra Houshmand Moghaddam, a specialist in general surgery and a subspecialist in cardiovascular surgery, stated that the rare procedure was successfully conducted in Iran, on August 25th. Under the supervision of Dr. Sam Zareaatian-Nejad Dwani, the head of the cardiac surgery department at the University of Medical Sciences of Iran and the Organ Transplantation and Technology Unit, a 28-year-old patient with complete severance of neck and spinal arteries underwent the surgery.

Under the directive of the presidency of the University of Medical Sciences of Iran, Dr. Zareaatian-Nejad, Dr. Houshmand Moghaddam, Dr. Tayebi, Dr. Tezmaghz, and Dr. Yazdi participated in the operation. This unprecedented surgery was conducted without the use of heart and vascular pumps and relied solely on sustaining shunts. Dr. Houshmand Moghaddam emphasized that this type of surgery has been successfully performed outside of Iran only three times, in which patients were unable to speak upon regaining consciousness. In Iran, where this surgery was carried out for the first time, they said the patient regained consciousness and speech in excellent health.

Spokesperson for the Iranian Foreign Ministry Addresses American Detentions and Prisoner Exchange

In a press conference on Tuesday, Naser Kanaani, the spokesperson for Iran’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, stated that the United States should clarify its position regarding Jamshid Sharmahd, an imprisoned individual sentenced to death in Iran. A prisoner exchange agreement with the United States is also progressing, according to Mr. Kanaani.

Mr. Kanaani made these remarks after Abram Paley, the U.S. Envoy for Iran, met with Sharmahd’s family on Saturday. Sharmahd is the second member of the organization Tondar, also known as “Kingdom Assembly ” to be abducted by Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and transferred into the country. The first, Frood Fouladvand, disappeared on 17 January 2007 along with two other members, Alexander Valizadeh and Nazem Schmidtt. According to the Kingdom Assembly they were attempting to return to Iran in order to overthrow the Iranian regime. In a similar case, Ruhollah Zam, was executed in 2020 after being abducted by the IRGC in Iraq in 2019. Iran considers Tondar a terrorist organization, and the group has claimed credit for attacks inside Iran but says Sharmahd had no involvement in them.

Ghazaleh Sharmahd, Sharmahd’s daughter, has urged the U.S. government to include her father in the Tehran-Washington agreement. In accordance with indirect negotiations between Tehran and Washington, Iran will release five prisoners after the transfer of approximately six billion dollars of its blocked assets located in South Korea for humanitarian purchases. The indirect agreement is also expected to result in the release of several Iranian prisoners in the United States.

In the latest statement regarding the prisoner exchange agreement, the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson announced, “We have finalized the prisoner exchange agreement and have been working on the release of Iran’s blocked assets as well. A timeframe of four to seven weeks has been established, and progress is being observed.”

There has been confirmation that Siamak Namazi, Emad Sharghi, and Morad Tahbaz are among the dual American-Iranian citizens listed for the prisoner exchange. As of yet, the identities of the other two prisoners have not been publicly disclosed.

An exclusive report on an Iranian-American female prisoner was published in the Khorasan newspaper on August 16th, this year, leading to speculation about her identity. On Washington’s list of exchange participants, she is listed as the fifth individual according to Khorasan. The newspaper claimed, “The Americans have halted the implementation of the exchange until her release has been confirmed.” This female prisoner is described as “an Iranian-American woman with a history of involvement in non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in Afghanistan.”

On August 19th, media outlets affiliated with security and military entities, including Fars News Agency, reported that Monireh Torabi Basir, a dual citizen, had been expelled from Iran. Basir was reportedly the head of UNICEF’s Health and Nutrition Department in Iran, as well as a senior official at the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). However, it is worth emphasizing that Basir may not be the same person referred to in the Khorasan newspaper report.

According to the Fars report, Basir was arrested by the Intelligence Organization of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in November last year during nationwide protests. The Fars report cited a source as indicating that Basir was allegedly involved in “bribery” and “lobbying” to influence Iran’s population policies, which the Supreme Leader has emphasized. According to this “anonymous source” from the Iranian government, Monireh Torabi Basir was accused of providing “sensitive and confidential information about the country in areas such as health and safety, missile technology, infrastructure maps, and important mines” to foreign countries. Despite the fact that it remains unclear what the content of Monireh Basir’s case was, coerced confessions to crimes not committed by the accused have been a recurring practice within Iran’s judicial and security apparatus. 

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