October 13, 2023

Iran Denies Involvement in Hamas Attack on Israel, Deterioration in Armita Geravand’s Vital Signs Despite Medical Efforts, and More

Week of October 9, 2023 | Iran Unfiltered is a digest tracking Iranian politics & society by the National Iranian American Council 

Iran Denies Involvement in Hamas Attack on Israel

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran, denied any direct Iranian involvement in the recent unprecedented attack by Hamas forces on Israel, four days after the attack. During a visit to a military university in Tehran, he stated that Palestinians are responsible for this attack. Khamenei’s advisors commended the Hamas attack on the first day, calling it a sign of “Israel’s collapse.”

A highly-scrutinized article in the Wall Street Journal, quoting apparent Hamas sources, suggested that Iran may have had a direct role in the attacks. However, these allegations have since been discounted by numerous reports from U.S. and Iranian officials, including indications that Iranian officials were surprised and caught off guard by the Hamas assault.

Mr. Khamenei stated in his address at a joint graduation ceremony for students of military academies held at Imam Ali Military University that “some supporters and some individuals from the occupying regime have made false claims in recent days blaming Iran for these actions. They are mistaken. We defend Palestine; we support the designers and intelligent youth of Palestine, but these are the works of Palestinians themselves.” He continued, “many have talked about a defeat, but I emphasize the irreparable nature of it. I say this earthquake has destroyed some of the main structures of the occupying regime, and rebuilding them will be difficult…It is evident that those who claim that the recent victory belongs to non-Palestinians have miscalculated and have failed to recognize, or at least pretended not to recognize, the great Palestinian nation.”

The Chief of Staff of the Iranian Armed Forces, commanders of the Revolutionary Guards, the army, law enforcement officials, and the Minister of Defense were present during Mr. Khamenei’s speech. Various Iranian military and political officials have praised the Hamas attack on Israel since the first day of the attack. Iran’s President Ibrahim Raisi called Ismail Haniyeh, the head of Hamas’ political office, and Ziyad al-Nakhaleh, the Secretary-General of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, to congratulate them on the successes of these operations. In an open session of the Iranian parliament, Major General Mohammad Bagheri, the Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces, also congratulated the attack. Khamenei met with the leaders of Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Tehran in June.

As of Thursday, the death toll among Israelis was estimated to be 1,300 killed, including 222 soldiers, evidencing the high civilian toll. Nearly 1,800 Palestinians have been killed as Israel has engaged in a punishing bombardment of Gaza.

The day after the attack, the Iranian Mission to the United Nations in New York presented a formal letter denying any involvement in the attack, stating, “We did not participate in the Palestinian response.” Antony Blinken, the United States Secretary of State, stated, “We have not seen evidence of Iranian involvement in this attack, but there is no doubt that deep ties exist.” Naser Kanaani, the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman, stated that accusations of Iranian involvement have political motives, warning, “Any foolish action against Iran will result in a destructive response.”

Separately, in a joint press conference with the German Chancellor, the President of France Emmanuel Macron, denounced Iran’s “appreciation” of Hamas attacks against Israel and stated that France was investigating Iran’s “direct” involvement in these attacks. President Macron stated, “I have no opinion regarding Iran’s direct involvement since we do not have official evidence, but it is clear that the public statements of Iranian officials were unacceptable, and Hamas may have received assistance from Iran.” Furthermore, he stated, “But until we can confirm the information, I will remain cautious.” The French President and German Chancellor emphasized Israel’s right to defend itself against attacks.

Deterioration in Armita Geravand’s Vital Signs Despite Medical Efforts, Iranian Media Reports

It was reported in the Hamshahri newspaper that despite the continuous efforts of the medical staff at Fajr Hospital, Armita Geravand’s vital signs have “somewhat deteriorated.” This follows an incident where the 16-year old was seriously injured at Shahid metro station in Tehran on October 1st while on her way to school. The Islamic Republic claims that she fell unconscious due to “a sudden drop in blood pressure.” However, human rights groups claim she was struck and injured in an encounter with morality police officers. Video evidence has not been able to confirm either account.

A similar story had been published previously by the Borna news agency, which was also reproduced verbatim by other media outlets. According to these media outlets, “the medical team continues to work to improve Armita Geravand’s condition.” In recent days, only Iranian state television and news agencies had access to Armita Geravand’s family and friends. A reporter from the Shargh newspaper, Maryam Lotfi, who intended to report on her condition two days after the incident, was detained for several hours.

However, it appears that reporters from several media outlets, including Shargh newspaper and Mehr news agency, have been given permission to visit and document  the train that Armita allegedly entered. According to the Mehr news agency, quoting Mojtaba Bayat, the director of Tehran’s Metro Line 4, “Armita boarded a Series 100 train that was lacking cameras.” 

As reported by Shargh newspaper, “An opportunity arose for the presentation of all cameras on the metro by some reporters…The uncut and uncensored images indicate that no morality police officers were present at that hour of the day, neither outside the station, nor at the metro entrance gate, or during Armita’s CPR.” Shargh further notes that Armita boarded the train and “lost consciousness in four seconds, hitting her head on the edge of the train.” However, Shargh emphasizes that no cameras were present in the trains after visiting the train cart where the incident took place.

The Shargh report also highlighted that the ambulance arrived at the scene with a delay of approximately 20 minutes, which may have had a direct impact on Armita’s condition. Shargh also investigated the hiring of “morality police” officers in the metro system. Masoud Dorosti, CEO of Tehran Metro Operation Company, stated to the newspaper that, “Such a decision has never been raised and will not be raised; therefore, we do not have and will not have ‘morality police’ officers on any trains.” As part of its personnel recruitment request, the metro sought to meet security requirements, including warning men not to enter women’s carriages and observing the dress code.

Despite this statement, social media has been flooded with numerous images of individuals known as “morality police” in Tehran’s metro, warning women about their attire. However, the heightened scrutiny may have led to a change in enforcement posture. Didbane Iran website reported that “morality police officers are almost invisible at any metro station since Armita was injured in the Metro station.”

The Independent Truth-Seeking Committee of the United Nations, which investigated the suppression of protests in Iran last year, announced earlier that it was investigating the Geravand case. In a short statement on Twitter, the committee wrote: “We are investigating the attack on Armita Gharound, 16, for what is claimed to be a violation of compulsory hijab rules, one year after Gina Mahsa Amini’s death. Women’s rights must be respected.” Amnesty International has also called for an international independent delegation to investigate this incident in Iran.

There has been a tremendous amount of global and domestic reaction to this incident, and many social media users have used the hashtag #ArmitaGeravand.

Nobel Peace Prize Awarded to Narges Mohammadi for Tireless Advocacy of ‘Woman, Life, Freedom’

Narges Mohammadi, a world-renowned human rights activist currently imprisoned in Iran, has been awarded this year’s Nobel Peace Prize for her consistent advocacy and challenges to the authorities in Iran in tribute to the  “Woman, Life, Freedom” movement. She is officially the second Iranian to receive the Nobel Peace Prize, following Shirin Ebadi, who received the award 20 years ago. The Nobel Peace Prize selection committee made the official announcement on October 6th in Oslo, Norway. According to Berit Reis Andersen, the chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, Narges Mohammadi will receive the award for her role in pursuing freedom for all and her fight against the injustices faced by Iranian women.

In Oslo, Andersen noted that “As I speak, Ms. Mohammadi remains in prison.” Narges Mohammadi’s “brave struggle,” was highlighted by Andersen, noting her 13 arrests by the Islamic Republic, 5 convictions, and sentencing to 31 years in prison and 154 lashes. Andersen also made reference to last year’s protests in Iran following the murder of Mahsa (Jina) Amini by the Morality Police last year. She acknowledged that “more than 500 demonstrators have been killed, thousands have been injured, including many who have lost their sight as a result of police officers using plastic bullets. At least 20,000 people have been arrested.” 

Andersen further stated that the slogan of the protests, “Woman, Life, Freedom,” reflects Narges Mohammadi’s selflessness and activism. She stated:

“Woman: She advocates for women’s rights and against systematic discrimination against women.

Life: She supports the rights of women to dignity and respect. In this struggle, women have faced harassment, imprisonment, torture, and even death throughout Iran.

Freedom: She fights for freedom of expression and independence for women, opposing laws that mandate their covering. Protesters demanded freedom not just for women but for all people.”

At the end of her remarks, Andersen expressed hope that “Iranian authorities will make the right decision” and that Narges Mohammadi will be released in time to attend the award ceremony, which will take place in a few months. 

Precinct Chief Removed as Electroshock Torture Video at Zahedan Police Station Sparks Outrage

A video depicting the use of electroshock torture on a Baloch citizen at the Zahedan “Shirabad District” police station has horrified the region. As a result of neglect of duty, failure to perform legal responsibilities, and dereliction of duty, the precinct chief was dismissed under the orders of the Sistan and Baluchestan Provincial Police Commander, General Dostali Jalilian.

While the report refrains from naming the precinct chief involved in the incident, it is stated that “legal measures are being taken against other individuals involved, and they will be referred to the judiciary once the investigation is completed.” The video was released on the “Manoto” network on Friday, September 29th, showing a reportedly conscripted officer electrocuting a Baloch citizen detained at the Zahedan “Shirabad District” police station.

As for the identity of the detained individual, Harf-o-Hash (a news outlet covering Sistan and Baluchestan) has stated that it lacks information about the prisoner’s identity, but it is suggested that the detainee could have been one of the detainees from the protests that took place on Friday in Zahedan. This incident also fell on the anniversary of the tragic Zahedan Friday last year, when security forces opened fire on protestors in Shirabad, Zahedan, resulting in several casualties. Further, Harf-o-Hash reports that the police officer in question used the electroshock device while the citizen remained fully compliant, following the officer’s orders without resistance. The main police station personnel appeared indifferent to the torture that was being perpetrated within their facility throughout this horrific ordeal.

Iranian Retirees’ Persistent Struggle for Improved Livelihoods

Over the course of the past year, the streets of Iran have borne witness to an unwavering surge of protests led by retirees, whose voices resonate with urgent concerns. However, the administration of President Ebrahim Raisi has remained notably silent in response to their appeals. The livelihoods of retirees have reached a critical juncture, as highlighted by the ILNA news agency. Each Monday, retirees converge in front of the Social Security Organization, driven by their dissatisfaction with pensions that barely ascend to one-third of the poverty threshold.

Their demands encompass a wide spectrum of life’s essentials, intricately linked with national governance, the sixth development plan, and labor laws. Among the retirees’ demands are equitable rights, enhanced healthcare coverage, pension adjustments in line with inflation, and the eradication of salary disparities. Despite these impassioned pleas for action, it seems that the government remains impervious to their plight this year.

During a meeting in September, the head of the Retirees Association of the Social Security Organization in Mazandaran province painted a bleak picture. He revealed that a staggering 70% of Social Security retirees subsist on a meager monthly income of 7 million Tomansy. In November 2022, when the government extended a lifeline to retirees by increasing pensions by 900,000 Tomans, the overall inflation rate stood at approximately 44%, which has continued to surge to nearly 47% this year. Tragically, pensions for retirees have seen only a 20% increase, leaving them trailing behind inflation by a staggering 27%.

Retirees assert that pensions should rise in tandem with inflation, grounded in the stark reality that, from 1398 to the present, the salaries and domestic earnings of active employees have ballooned by nearly 150%, while retiree pensions have lagged, growing by less than 100%. Consequently, retirees find themselves entrenched in the lower echelons of society. The inflationary impact in 2021 and 2022 disproportionately affected lower-income individuals and the impoverished, exacerbating the plight of retirees. In addition to coping with meager pensions, they face the relentless assault of inflation.

A stark warning in Shahrivar of this year from the Ettela’at newspaper underscored the precarious conditions facing retirees: “The living conditions of retirees in recent years have been exposed to danger from two sides. Firstly, due to the continuous increase in the inflation rate and the gaping chasm between the cost of a household’s livelihood basket and the amount of pensions received, which places retirees in the lowest 30% income bracket in society. Secondly, severe shortages of financial resources and the imbalance of retirement funds have cast a shadow over 10 of the 18 retirement funds in the country, putting the future of individuals under their coverage at risk.”

Thus, the most pressing demand from retirees is unequivocal: an equitable increase in pensions that mirrors inflation and aligns with the salary increments of active workers. According to Mohammad Reza Mirtajaldini, a member of the Iranian Parliament’s Planning and Budget Commission, retirees should receive 90% of the salaries earned by their active counterparts. Yet, this principle of parity remains unimplemented, fueling retirees’ persistent call for pension equality with active employees.

KhabarOnline reported in Tir of this year, “For 11 years, the parliament has approved the law on retirees’ salary parity, aligning retirees’ income with that of active employees within a specified income range. However, annual negligence or, in a more optimistic view, constraints in government resources have significantly hampered progress.” This annual postponement only exacerbates the government’s predicament. Ahmad Moradi, a representative of the people in Bandar Abbas in the Parliament, lamented to ILNA in August 2023, “Salary parity for retirees was one of the promises made by the president during the election campaign, but it has yet to be implemented.”

Regrettably, ILNA reported in September 2023, “Despite promises made, the government withdrew the bill for pension parity between retirees and employees from parliament. It has not yet been enacted.” In response to the government’s inaction and persistent delays, retirees have turned to parliamentarians to amplify their demands and exert additional pressure on the government. Parliamentarians have issued verbal warnings to the government on multiple occasions, yet concrete action remains elusive.

On the 20th of September, retirees from Shush and Haft-Tappeh, both in Khuzestan province, converged in front of their city’s parliament representatives’ offices, rallying for pensions that reflect the cost of living, comprehensive healthcare, and improved welfare services. It is regrettable that the government has responded tepidly to retirees’ protests this year. This apparent indifference can be attributed to the government’s precarious financial situation and the tumultuous state of pension funds.

According to data from the Statistical Center of Iran, the number of pension recipients within the Social Security Organization ballooned to over 9 million by the end of the fall of 2022, marking a 25% increase in six months. However, it’s not just the Social Security Organization grappling with these challenges. According to the head of the Parliament’s Social Commission, “While most countries in the world have only three pension funds, our country has 18 pension funds covering approximately 26 million pensioners, many of which are in financial difficulty.”

In line with the 1402(2023) Budget Law, the six funds receiving direct government assistance this year amount to approximately 331,046 billion Tomans, comprising 15% of Iran’s total public budget. In 2017, only 11% of the total budget was allocated to pensions. Clearly, the financial condition of pension funds is far from favorable. The Parliament’s Research Center has reported that the Social Security Organization can sustain pension payouts for 23 more months, while the National Retirement Fund is limited to 18 months of coverage, and the Rural and Nomadic Pension Fund just 10 months.

Adding to the complexity, the government owes a substantial sum to these funds. The government’s information website disclosed on the 10th of September “The claims of pension funds increased by 380 trillion Tomans during President Rouhani’s government to reach 448 trillion Tomans. In President Raisi’s government, 210 trillion Tomans of these claims have been settled.”

At present, the government is indebted to pension funds to the tune of approximately 238 trillion Tomans, with no feasible financial means to settle these obligations by March, as mandated by the Sixth Development Plan law. Ghani Nazeri Khankah, a member of the Parliament’s Economic Commission, has painted a stark picture, stating in Ordibehesht of this year, “The bankruptcy risk of some of the pension funds in Iran is serious, and their financial resources are weak. The government, due to these problems, is not allowing an increase in retirees’ salaries.” In the face of these formidable challenges, the government remains unwilling to address retirees’ concerns, even as their protests escalate. Retirees have taken to chanting slogans such as “Down with Raisi” and “Promises Unfulfilled,” their fervor undeterred.

In Memoriam: Celebrating the Life and Legacy of Attila Pessiani, Iconic Iranian Actor and Theater Luminary

The Iranian cinema, theater, and television world has bid farewell to one of its most cherished and iconic figures, in a somber turn of events. As a luminary with contributions spanning over four decades, Attila Pessiani passed away after a prolonged battle with illness, leaving behind a void that will be felt for a long time to come. As a child of the illustrious Jamileh Sheikhi, a figure of renown in the world of acting, Attila Pessiani was born on April 30th, 1957. As a child, he was inspired by his parents to embark on a journey into the realms of artistry.

During his high school years, he was actively involved in literary societies and honed his craft on stage. A significant milestone in his artistic journey was reached in 1977 when he embarked on his theater odyssey. In 1981, Pessiani made his silver screen debut with “The Genie,” directed by Farshid Fakhaarian. From that point onward, his name has become synonymous with Iranian cinema.

As a performer, Pessiani graced the stages of numerous festivals and independent productions, leaving an indelible mark on the industry. His works include “Shadow of the Moon,” directed by Anoushirvan Arjmand, “Death of Yazdgerd,” created by Bahram Beyzaie, and “Del Dar,” written and directed by Hossein Nouri.

Pessiani’s creative talent extended beyond acting; he became a director and established the “Bazi Theater Group,” contributing greatly to the development of Iranian theater. The way he approached roles was characterized by versatility and shunning rigidity in order to infuse them with a sense of sincerity and ease that was unique to his characters. His approach resonated deeply with audiences and contributed to his lasting popularity.

Although he rarely granted interviews to the media, his enigmatic aura and undeniable talent consistently attracted directors from diverse intellectual backgrounds. As a result, he remained steadfast in his influence throughout his career, capturing the hearts of countless admirers. His fate led him to actress Fatemeh Naghavi in 1977, and they were married the following year. As a couple, they cultivated a legacy that extended to their two children, Setareh and Khosrow, who have faithfully carried the torch of their parents’ theatrical abilities.

During an interview with Faridoun Jirani in August 2021, Pessiani made headlines with a candid disclosure. It was revealed that he had abstained from watching television for 17 years, including his own television series. From media coverage to criticisms from television producers and social media users, this revelation sparked a maelstrom of reactions. Nevertheless, two days later, Pessiani apologized to his colleagues and television viewers via an Instagram post, demonstrating his commitment to the art form and his respect for its practitioners.

As he approached the twilight of his life, Pessiani valiantly battled cancer, overcoming adversity with the same grace and resilience that defined his career. In April 2023, a commemorative ceremony was held to honor his enduring legacy. Tragically, on September 19th, 2023, it was announced that he had been hospitalized in France as a result of complications related to his illness. As he peacefully passed away in France on September 26th, , the world bid a poignant farewell to this luminous talent. A legendary artist whose memory will forever resonate in the hearts of all who had the privilege of witnessing his artistry was repatriated to Iran on October 10th, 2023.

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