September 21, 2023

Dual National Prisoners and Humanitarian Funds Released, Scattered Protests And Heavy Security Presence Mark One Year Since Mahsa Amini’s Death, and More

Week of September 18, 2023 | Iran Unfiltered is a digest tracking Iranian politics & society by the National Iranian American Council 

Dual National Prisoners Released after Humanitarian Funds Released to Qatar

According to an agreement between Iran and the United States, Siamak Namazi, Emad Shargi, Morad Tahbaz, and two other unnamed prisoners were released from Iran on Monday, September 18th. The Nour News website, close to the Supreme National Security Council, announced the identities of two more freed Prisoners whose names had not been revealed before: Reza Behrouzi and Fakhrolsadat Moeini. This was following the transfer of $6 billion of Iran’s restricted funds from South Korea to Qatar via Switzerland. 

A pardon was also issued by President Joe Biden for five Iranian prisoners held in the United States. Nasser Kanaani, the spokesperson for the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, confirmed on September 18th that two of these prisoners will return to Iran, two will remain in the United States, and one will settle in a third country. Four of the Iranians released from US custody – Mehrdad Ansari, Amin Hassanzadeh, Reza Sarhangpour, and Kambiz Atarokashani – had been sentenced to prison in the United States for crimes related to sanctions violations. Kaveh Afrasiabi, formerly a professor of international relations at Boston University, was charged with “propaganda” and “lobbying” for the Iranian government in the United States but had not yet been tried.

The prisoner exchange agreement was reached last month following a year of indirect negotiations. In response to the release of the five Iranian Americans, President Biden issued a statement expressing his gratitude for their freedom. The same day, he also announced new sanctions against Iran, including the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for their apparent role in unjust detentions. The US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, also expressed gratitude to Oman, Switzerland, Qatar, and the UK for their “vital role” in securing the release of 7 Iranian-Americans, including five from prison. As a result of their inability to leave Iran, Efi Namazi, the mother of Siamak Namazi, as well as Vida Tahbaz, the wife of Morad Tahbaz, were present during this exchange and flew from Tehran to Doha and from Doha to Washington.

The aircraft carrying the American prisoners landed at Davidson Military Airport in Ford Blueworth, Virginia, according to reports. CNN reported that the released Americans will be able to take advantage of the “Normal Life Resumption” program, which is part of the US Department of Defense’s “Post-Isolation Support Actions” (PISA).

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, present in New York for the UN General Assembly, described the prisoner exchange agreement as a “humane” measure. Raisi claimed, “The term hostage-taking does not apply to American prisoners. All individuals imprisoned in Iran have been charged and convicted of crimes. If there is an exchange and the sentences of the accused have not been carried out, it is due to the humanitarian approach of the Islamic Republic.”

The return of these individuals was welcomed by Senator Bob Menendez, Democratic Senator from New Jersey and Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. However, he emphasized that “all Americans should be aware of the dangers associated with traveling to Iran or other countries that detain American citizens as a political tool,” and said he was considering legislation to prevent Americans from traveling to Iran. Former President Donald Trump also called Joe Biden “foolish” on his social media for releasing Iranian funds, claiming that this action sets a “very bad precedent.”

The cases of the identified Iranian Americans released in the swap are well known. Tahbaz, a 67-year-old Iranian-born businessman and environmental activist who holds dual citizenship in the United States and the United Kingdom, was arrested in the winter of 2017 along with eight other members of the Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation. Tahbaz was sentenced to ten years in prison for “collaborating with the hostile government of America,” despite the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence explicitly denying charges of espionage against him and other environmental activists.

Namazi was blocked from leaving Iran in 2015 amid the Hassan Rouhani presidency, before being arrested and sentenced to ten years in prison. In 2016, his father, Baquer visited Iran hoping to secure the release of his son, but was arrested as well. Baquer was governor of Khuzestan province prior to the Iranian Revolution, and he later served as a UNICEF representative in countries such as Somalia, Kenya, and Egypt. After two years, Baquer was placed on medical leave, but was prohibited from leaving the country. With the assistance of Oman, he left Iran in 2022.

Shargi, 58, is an Iranian-American businessman who traveled to Iran with his wife in 2018 and was arrested and had his passport confiscated. In 2020, he was arrested again. Shargi was born in Iran but grew up in the United States, and holds a bachelor’s degree in economics from the University of Maryland and a master’s degree from George Washington University. Before traveling to Iran, Mr. Shargi worked in a private jet sales company in the United Arab Emirates and Dubai for many years.

Namazi, one of the released prisoners from Iran, issued a detailed statement urging the United States to take advantage of the upcoming opportunity at the United Nations General Assembly to negotiate an international framework to address the consequences of hostage-taking by governments such as Iran. He wrote in his statement that “the indescribable happiness” he felt after being released from Evin Prison was accompanied by “a deep and painful sense of guilt” because “many brave individuals whom I admire and love are still behind the walls of Evin Prison,” and said “all political prisoners in Iran deserve to be freed.”

In his statement, Namazi continues to say that while there is a lot of attention on his and four other Iranian prisoners’ release from Iran today, all attention and commitment must be directed toward the fight for the freedom of all those unjustly imprisoned. He said that those who imprisoned him were “at the bottom of the pit,” while many prisoners in Iran are representative of “integrity and authenticity.”

Among those still imprisoned in Evin Prison are Niloufar Bayani, Sepideh Kashani, Houman Jowkar, Taher Ghadirian, Amir-Hossein Khaleghi, and Sam Rajabi, all of whom are environmental activists. Siamak Namazi wrote that their “visible goodness shines so brightly that it can illuminate even the darkest cells of Evin.” In addition to these six individuals, Morad Tahbaz (another Iranian-American prisoner released on Tuesday), and Abdul-Reza Kuhpayeh were also tried at Branch 15 of the Tehran Revolutionary Court.

Namazi also highlighted Sepehr Ziyaee, who, despite being imprisoned over allegations that he follows the Bahá’í Faith, “always manages to make other prisoners laugh with his humor.” Sepehr Ziyaee is a 62-year-old Iranian citizen who was arrested at his home in September 2022. He was sentenced to five years in prison and a two-year travel ban for practicing his Bahá’í Faith.

Moreover, Namazi emphasized that “by imprisoning individuals such as ourselves, Iranian leaders are displaying their boundless, ruthless, and unrestrained cruelty to the world.” 

Despite Heavy Security, Scattered Protests Mark One Year Since Mahsa Amini’s Killing 

Despite the extensive efforts of the Iranian government to prevent new protests on the anniversary of Mahsa Amini’s killing, several Iranian cities witnessed scattered demonstrations and anti-government slogans on Saturday, September 16th. Images posted on social media indicate that there was a significant presence of security forces in many Iranian cities, including Tehran.

On Saturday, September 16, in various parts of Tehran, according to the latest reports based on videos, people took to the streets and chanted anti-government slogans. In a video from Tehran’s Piroozi Street, the “Woman, Life, Freedom” slogan was chanted, as well as “Man, Homeland, Prosperity.” There are also images showing security forces attacking protesters in Tehran. 

A video posted on Saturday showed a heavy security presence in Azadi Square in Tehran. Observers have compared Tehran’s streets to a military garrison. Furthermore, citizens reported a significant presence of security forces in various parts of Tehran, particularly around Enqelab Street. As an example, military forces surrounded Daneshjoo Park in Tehran. Another video taken on Saturday in Tehran shows security forces and government agents attempting to prevent people from gathering and forcing shops to close. The sender of one video states, “They have arrested more than three people at the gathering, and security forces are attacking the protesters with their vehicles.”

Other videos show protesters chanting late-night slogans in western Tehran, including “Death to the murderous Sepahi” (Revolutionary Guard). Another video showed protesters on Shariati Street in Tehran, where a man and woman, like Vida Mohaved, stood on a platform holding hands. A white scarf was in the hand of one of them. As the first female protester who began the “Girls of Enqelab Street”  protests, Vida Mohaved stood on a platform on Enqelab Street with a white scarf as a symbol of protest against compulsory hijab.

Despite all of these accounts, news agencies close to the security forces emphasized that nothing extraordinary has occurred, and the situation was “calm.Tasnim News Agency claimed that, despite the efforts of “anti-revolutionary” elements and their affiliated media to restart disturbances on the anniversary of Amini’s death for several months, Tehran is peaceful today, as are other Iranian cities.

On the Telegram channel Vahid Online, protesters chanted slogans such as “Death to the Revolutionary Guards,” “Death to Khamenei,” and “Death to Khomeini.” Additionally, images have been released of protesters gathering in other cities such as Gohardasht Karaj, where they chanted, “We are a great nation; we will reclaim Iran.” In a video from the city of Lahijan, a large number of security forces can be seen patrolling the city. The video shows security forces on motorcycles moving towards a group of protesters on the street and attacking them.

Several individuals were detained after protesters were attacked by security forces in the city of Amol, according to reports and videos received. According to images from Mashhad, security forces attacked demonstrators in an attempt to disperse them. A group of protesters in Zahedan also displayed protest signs, chanted anti-government slogans, and lit fires, according to images. Among the slogans seen on these signs were “Everyone for the overthrow of the dictator,” “Woman, Life, Freedom,” and “Towards nationwide protests and strikes.” Protesters also chanted the slogans “Death to Khamenei,” “Free political prisoners,” and “Death to oppressors.”

According to the Kurdistan Human Rights Network, protests took place in cities such as Mahabad, Sanandaj, Marivan, and Kermanshah despite the current situation. KHRN has released a video from Bukan in which citizens are reported to have been shot at by Revolutionary Guard forces during a demonstration in the neighborhoods of Mirabad and Mojabbad. Located in the southern part of the Iranian province of West Azerbaijan, Bukan is a Kurdish-majority city.

A 27-year-old man was reportedly shot in the head on Zendan Square in Saqqez by security forces. Kurdpa, the Kurdistan News Agency, reported that Faridin Jafari is currently in “critical condition in the intensive care unit.” Mehdi Ramazan, the Deputy of Kurdistan Province’s Governorate for Political and Security matters, confirmed this information. According to him, Jafari was shot after approaching a military compound and ignoring repeated warnings from security personnel.

Additionally, Kurdish cities are experiencing widespread strikes. Kurdish parties in Iran had previously called for strikes on this day and on the other hand government institutions and security forces warned traders and shopkeepers not to participate in the strikes. A Kurdish news organization, Hengaw, reported that so far, a “complete strike” has been observed in Sanandaj, Kamyaran, Baneh, Saqqez, and Divandareh. Additionally, there have been reports of strikes in Bukan and Paveh.

On Saturday, the Revolutionary Guards announced that they had arrested a dual-national citizen on suspicion of “attempting to organize riots and sabotage.” The individual’s name and nationality was not disclosed. According to Tasnim News Agency, close to the Revolutionary Guards, “he possessed several smartphones, SIM cards, and a significant sum of money.”

In contrast, the police commander in Isfahan announced that 97 people had been arrested on charges of “disrupting public minds in virtual space,” an indication of the city’s high level of security. IRNA reports that the Isfahan Law Enforcement Information Organization has confronted “48 of these individuals who planned to cause unrest by disseminating various materials, images, and videos.”

It has also been reported that the internet speed has decreased in some Iranian cities. According to reports, internet speeds decreased in Mazandaran province cities and in Sanandaj, Bukan, Paveh, and Kamyaran, provoking concern. In recent years, the Iranian government has restricted internet access and, in some cases, completely shut it down during protests.

Furthermore, reports indicate that families of those killed during the protests in Iran last year have continued to be detained or harassed. Recently, some of them reported that they were requested to deactivate their social media accounts until after the anniversary of their loved ones’ deaths or refrain from any online activity until then.

In an Instagram story, Fosoon Najafi, the sister of Hadis Najafi, wrote that the Najafi family has been in detention. According to her, family members have been released, but their father has been detained once again. Last year, Hadis Najafi was killed by the gunfire of the security forces in Karaj on the 30th of Shahrivar. During protests on her 40th-day memorial nearly a year ago, several people were killed and injured. 

Nevertheless, some mothers of the victims have also posted messages on Mahsa Amini’s death anniversary. On her Instagram account, Kamalya Sajadian, the mother of Mohammad Hasan Turkman, wrote: “Why are you so terrified of these lives?” Why are you closing cemeteries? Is that to say that you are so afraid of the dead? Are you so afraid that even gravestones terrify you? According to her, “Cowards have no place in history, success always favors the brave…Let us remain together until the dawn of enlightenment and truth.”

“My son, I will never forget the injustice done to you… My son, rest in peace… The mother who has unjustly shed your blood will never pass by,” said Leila Mahdavi, the mother of Siavash Mahmoudi, another protester killed during the Iranian protests. “As long as I breathe, I am the plaintiff of your blood. May the roots of oppressors’ injustice be destroyed.”

The Iranian Parliament Approves the “Chastity and Hijab Bill” for Three Years

The Iranian Parliament approved a bill titled “Support for the Culture of Chastity and Hijab” on Wednesday, September 20th, following a review of a report by the Judiciary and Legal Commission. With 152 votes in favor, 34 against, and 7 abstentions, the “Chastity and Hijab Bill” was approved and sent on to the Guardian Council. Upon approval by the Guardian Council, the bill will become law. 

In accordance with Article 85 of the Constitution, members of parliament previously delegated the review of this bill to a special commission. Earlier, critics had argued that this move would preclude the public from participating in discussions regarding important aspects of the bill’s impact on their lives. As a result, mass media, including radio, did not broadcast discussions regarding the approval of this bill. A draft of the “Chastity and Hijab Bill” was drafted by Iran’s judiciary and submitted to the parliament for approval. It consists of 72 articles and five chapters.

The legislation provides that once it becomes effective, there will be a “three-year experimental implementation period. As a result of this law, anyone who promotes or disseminates immodesty, unchastity, unveiled-ness, inappropriate dress, or the exposure of the hijab in public or virtual spaces, including foreign media, will face imprisonment for five to ten years, a fine of up to one billion rials, a ban on leaving the country, and a ban on employment with government agencies.

If someone insults or mocks the hijab, they will be fined up to 360 million rials and banned from leaving the country for two years. Individuals with “public prominence or social influence” are subject to harsher penalties. Along with over ten government ministries and several national organizations, citizens are also urged to adhere to the law, including inside their vehicles and by business owners, such as online taxi services.

There has been an increase in the number of women appearing in public without the mandatory hijab in recent months, despite a number of restrictions. In recent years, multiple videos have been published depicting the beating and mistreatment of women by members of the Guidance Patrol (Gasht-e Ershad). Even so, the number of women appearing in public without hijab has increased in recent months despite all the strict measures.

Iran Revokes Licenses for Several IAEA Inspectors 

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has reported that Iran has removed several experienced inspectors from its designated inspection list. Iran had previously removed another experienced inspector from this list, according to the agency. As part of the safeguards agreement of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), these inspectors were assigned to conduct verification activities in Iran.

Three European countries and the United States signed a joint statement last week condemning Iran’s nuclear expansion and expressing support for the IAEA. In response to this statement, Iran had threatened to retaliate.

Mr. Grossi indicated that Iran’s recent decision effectively rejects about one-third of the agency’s inspection team, severely limiting the agency’s ability to inspect and verify that Iran’s nuclear program is peaceful. “This unilateral, disproportionate, and unprecedented action affects the agency’s regular planning and implementation of verification activities in Iran and is clearly at odds with the cooperation that should exist between the agency and Iran,” he said. In addition, the Director-General of the agency urged the highest authorities in Iran to engage with him at the earliest opportunity to correct the course and collaborate fully with the agency in resolving outstanding safeguards issues in a transparent manner.

Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman, Naser Kanaani, responded to the statement made by the Director-General of the International Atomic Energy Agency, stating, “Iran’s recent action is based on its sovereign rights, which are stipulated in Article 9 of the Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement between Iran and the agency.” According to Kanaani, despite Iran’s positive, constructive, and continuous interaction with the agency, the United States and three European countries have misused the Board of Governors’ space to politicize Iran’s cooperation with the agency. Additionally, he noted that Iran had previously warned against such political misuse of the agency’s space.

According to the agency’s latest report on Iran’s nuclear program, Tehran has reduced its rate of production of 60% enriched uranium in the past three months. But the Director-General of the agency stated at the start of the regular session of the agency’s Board of Governors that Iran’s bilateral agreements with the agency are not being implemented by Tehran, and the agency cannot confirm the peaceful nature of all aspects of Iran’s nuclear program at the present time.

Grossi has requested a meeting with Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, who will be attending the UN General Assembly in New York. According to a joint statement issued by the United States, the United Kingdom, France, and Germany, Iran should immediately reverse its decision and cooperate “fully” with the agency. These four countries stated that “we join the Director-General in strongly condemning Iran’s recent ‘unprecedented and unilateral’ action, which, according to him, will significantly impact the Agency’s ability to conduct its verification activities.” 

Iranian Writer Mohammad Mohammadali Passes Away at 75

Mohammad Mohammadali, a contemporary Iranian writer, passed away in Canada at the age of 75. According to his sister, Zhaleh Mohammadali, he passed away at 2 AM on Saturday, September 15, Iranian time. His cause of death has not been disclosed. He had been living in Canada with his family for the past few years.

As a member of the Iranian Writers’ Association, he participated in the “Armenian Bus” expedition. The Writers’ Union of Armenia invited a group of Iranian poets and writers to Yerevan, the capital of Armenia, in August 1996. However, when it was revealed that 21 writers on board the bus were to be assassinated by Iran’s intelligence ministry, their overland journey was abruptly halted in the early hours of August 6. This incident became known as the “Armenian Bus Incident.” In 2000, Mohammadali published an account of this journey in the Fath newspaper.

Mohammad Mohammadali was born in Tehran, Iran, on April 27, 1948. Over the course of several decades, he wrote numerous collections of short stories, novels, and articles. A few of his most notable works include “Berahne Dar Baad” (“Naked in the Wind”), “Retirement and Other Stories,” “Chashme Dovom” (“The Second Eye”), “Bavaraat-e Khis-e Yek Mard” ( “The Wet Beliefs of a Man”), “Moshi va Moshiane” (“Ethics and Ethics”), and “Jahan-e Zendegani” (“The World of the Living”).

In 1975, Mohammad Mohammadali published his first collection of stories, entitled “Dare-ye Hendabad Gorg Dare” (“The Wolf Has a Lair in Hendabad”). It provides a realistic portrayal of the impoverished life of a village’s inhabitants through the use of abundant local expressions and idioms. He became even more prolific in the 1980s and wrote extensively about the middle class and workers, addressing issues such as poverty, job insecurity, retirement, homelessness, war, migration, love, and confusion, all themes that were central to his books.

In the 1970s, he published his first novel, “Ra’d va Barq-e Bi Baran” (“Thunder and Lightning without Rain”), followed by “Naghsh-e Penhan” (“The Hidden Mark”) and ” Moshi va Moshiane” (“Ethics and Ethics”). By incorporating historical, mythological, and imaginative elements into his narratives, Mohammadali created magnificent and unique works. He often presents his narratives with a female narrator and emphasizes the transformation of women, portraying them as significant and central characters without any evidence of gender bias.

As well as his literary accomplishments, Mohammad Mohammadali was an active advocate for freedom of expression and fought against censorship. Together with Mohammad Mokhtari, Mansour Kushan, Faraj Sarkuhi, and others, he helped revive the Iranian Writers’ Association from the early 1970s. The article, titled “Farrakhan-e Farzandan” (“The Children’s Call”), which was published in 1994, had a profound impact on Iran’s cultural and intellectual landscape.

The work of Mohammad Mohammadali and his contributions to Iranian literature and culture will be remembered and celebrated for many years to come.

Raisi Blames West for Widespread Anti-government Protests at UN General Assembly

Iranian President Ibrahim Raisi claimed last year’s protests were a “grand project” orchestrated by other countries against the Islamic Republic following the killing of Mahsa Amini. He asserted that his country’s people had once again succeeded in countering what he referred to as the “Western project.” This claim of victory comes in the wake of widespread military and security forces’ presence in various Iranian cities over the past week, along with extensive detentions, which indicate government apprehension of public protests one year after the events occurred.

In his remarks, the President of the Islamic Republic cited verses from the Quran. The speaker then lifted a Quran in front of the audience and stated, “The Quran never burns.” He then referred to “Islamophobia and the ban on the hijab in schools (in some Western countries),” calling it a violation of human rights.

Raisi criticized what he called “Islamophobia” and supposed attacks on the concept of the “natural family,” which he referred to as consisting of “a man and a woman.” The remarks echoed many attacks on sexual diversity and gender equality that take place in countries around the world. In Iran, sexual and gender minorities face official violence and deprivation of social rights, and during last year’s protests, they reported numerous incidents of violence, harassment, and abuse by authorities.

According to Raisi, the power of the West and the global order is eroding, leading to a new world order. Amid efforts to “Americanize” the world, he stated that the Islamic Republic pursued a policy of friendship with its neighbors, which resulted in the “prosperity” of West Asia.

Raisi, whose government is accused of sending missiles and drones to Russia, also stated that Iran’s position on the Ukraine conflict is to end the conflict and engage in negotiations. The Iranian President also commented on the withdrawal of the United States from the Iranian nuclear deal and nuclear sanctions, calling them “violations of international law” and stating that these sanctions had been “ineffective” in fulfilling the “desires of the people” of his country for progress.

In the past two years, Iran has experienced unprecedented inflation and economic recession, resulting in escalating livelihood difficulties.

As Raisi was speaking, one of the members of the Israeli delegation held up a photo of Mahsa Amini and carried it through the hallway to the podium. The poster also included the words: “Iranian women deserve freedom, right now.” In response, some human rights experts noted that Israel is far from an ideal champion for human rights in the Islamic Republic given its mass violations of Palestinian rights. 

This is Ibrahim Raisi’s second trip to New York to address the United Nations General Assembly. He is designated for sanctions by the United States and traveled to America on the Meraj Airline, which is also designated under U.S. sanctions. Ghulam Hossein Esmaeili, his chief of staff, was also present on this trip. As the former head of Iran’s Prison Organization, Esmaeili was included on the European Union’s sanctions list 13 years ago.

In the past, Mr. Raisi had denied that the death of Mahsa Amini was caused by the morality police. He stated at a press conference held in New York that the matter has been”investigated and legally examined” and it was determined that “the police did not assault the young lady.” According to reports, Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old woman, was severely beaten by Iranian police officers before slipping into a coma and passing away in September of last year. The claims made by the Islamic Republic authorities were previously rejected by her father, Amjad Amini.

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