October 26, 2023

Iranian Political Activists Condemn Calls for an attack on Iran while disagreeing on Gaza, Iran’s Guardian Council Does Not Approve the ‘Chastity and Hijab’ Bill, Antony Blinken: United States Does Not Seek Conflict with Iran, and More

Week of October 23, 2023 | Iran Unfiltered is a digest tracking Iranian politics & society by the National Iranian American Council 

Iranian Political Activists Condemn Calls for an Attack on Iran while Disagreeing on Gaza

Two public statements from prominent Iranian activists were published this week regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Three hundred well-known political activists, most of whom reside in Iran, released a statement on October 18th. Their statement strongly condemned violations of Palestinian rights and disregard for United Nations resolutions by Israel, including UN Security Council Resolution 242, which calls for the drawing of borders in 1967. According to them: “As a result of the humanitarian catastrophe and disgrace created in Gaza, the Israeli Minister of Energy proudly announces the shutdown of water and electricity. As per Article 7 of the International Criminal Court Statute, the mass destruction of non-combatant civilians by depriving them of access to food and medicine constitutes a war crime.”

The letter was signed by individuals such as Hashem Aghajari, Ghorbanali Behzadian-Nejad, Abdullah Momeni, Ehsan Shariati, Keyvan Samimi, Saeed Hajarian, among others. It is noteworthy that no reference was made to Hamas’ attacks on Israel in this statement.

A separate statement, signed by over 50 political activists from a variety of backgrounds, criticized Iran’s regional policy, as well as condemning outside calls for military strikes on Iran. According to this statement: “In addition to depriving the Iranian people of their freedom, the Islamic Republic of Iran’s provocative and proxy wars threaten peace, security, and peaceful coexistence in our region. Our nation has been plagued by war and destruction as a result of these policies.”

The statement also criticized Iran’s policies regarding the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. “By opposing the UN resolution on ‘Two States, Two Nations,’ the Islamic Republic has become a major opponent of peace in the region. Both militarily and financially, it supports extremist and fundamentalist groups such as Hamas, Hezbollah, and Islamic Jihad, which undermines peace in the region.”

A number of groups that seek military aggression against Iran were also criticized in this statement: “There are, however, some extremist groups, war-mongering tendencies, and political opportunists who advocate actions such as ‘beating the head of snake ‘ to pursue their personal and group interests by attacking Iran directly or indirectly. At the same time, all peace-seeking forces and international organizations, including the United Nations Secretary General, are striving to prevent further civilian casualties on both sides of the conflict.” 

“As signatories of this declaration, with diverse intellectual and political orientations, we express our concern regarding the destructive and perilous consequences of certain individuals, groups, and tendencies, both Iranian and non-Iranian, like those UANI (referring to the U.S.-based United Against Nuclear Iran) who directly or indirectly support military aggression against Iran in order to expand the current conflict.” 

In addition to these statements, Mustafa Tajzadeh, a well-known political prisoner, has criticized Israel’s behavior and Hamas for its attack on non-combatants as well as Iran’s involvement in the conflict.

The Iranian government continues to vocally support Palestinians and has praised the attack Hamas launched on Israelis. 1,400 Israelis have been killed, including a large number of civilians in the initial assault. Now, the Iranian government is preparing to send its first group of state journalists to cover the delivery of aid to Gaza.

As reported by Iran’s Minister of Culture and Islamic Guidance, Mohammad Mehdi Esmaeili, approximately “10 reporters will be dispatched to Gaza on the ship provided by the Iranian Red Crescent.” As he informed them, the Islamic Republic of Iran is determined to send relief aid to Gaza, and the dispatched journalists “will accompany the Red Crescent ship to provide a narrative of the events.”

For some time, the Iranian government has been engaging in promotional activities to stir public opinion and mobilize forces in support of the Gaza war. However, public support for the Palestinian cause appears to have diminished amid increasing public anger toward the Iranian government. Many Iranians have expressed concerns about the war’s implications for Iran, and during the funeral procession of Dariush Mehrjoui, some booed Marzieh Boroumand for her support of Gaza. In spite of this, the Minister of Guidance told IRNA (the official news agency of Iran) that there has been “high enthusiasm in this area.”

In the Iranian media, a heated debate has recently emerged between opponents and supporters regarding the Israel-Gaza war, and the Palestinian issue in general. Seyyed Mohammad Khatami and Mehdi Karroubi both issued statements criticizing both Israel and the Western leaders who support Israel while overlooking the suffering of Palestinians due to the bombings in Gaza.

Tehran newspapers have provided a variety of analysis on this subject in addition to news reports. According to Abbas Abdi, a political activist, talks about this war are “hot topics among the general public.” He addressed the current stance of the Iranian government and its conservative supporters in his article titled “Denial of Reality.” According to Mr. Abdi, the public’s attitudes towards the government’s core values, including foreign policy and specifically the Palestinian issue, have changed. 

In his opinion, the gap between official mindsets and reality is widening and will continue to do so, but the authorities appear unconcerned. The removal of society’s independent agency, according to Mr. Abdi, is the beginning of this “cognitive and informational deviation.” His conclusion is that with the growing rift between the government and its people, “this festering wound is now evident during the Gaza war, and the infection is clearly spreading.”

Another article by Mr. Abdi in the same newspaper about the Gaza developments was entitled “The Cycle of Vain Violence,” which evoked strong reactions from conservative government supporters. According to him, “the most important consensus is the two-state solution, which has been removed from the agenda by Israel, its Western supporters, and a significant portion of the regional nations.”

In response to Mr. Abdi, Malek Shariati, an Iranian parliament representative, wrote that after “a lot of back and forth, he has recommended recognizing Israel alongside Palestine.” According to this conservative representative, in a post on the X social network, “You are not ashamed of the blood of the martyred children of Gaza.” Abdi responded, “Those who should be ashamed are those whose country’s children live in deplorable conditions, yet receive monthly salaries of 100 million Toman, and profit from the blood of Gaza’s children.”

Iran’s Guardian Council Sends Back Controversial ‘Chastity and Veil’ Bill, Citing Ambiguities in Language

Iran’s Guardian Council has scrutinized and withheld approval of the controversial “Chastity and Veil” bill, citing several ambiguities within it. According to Hadi Tahannazif, spokesperson for the Guardian Council, the bill was found to contain numerous unclear provisions after 10 council sessions. In his view, the most significant ambiguity is found in Article 2 of the bill, which delegated responsibility for “taking necessary measures and mechanisms” to the Ministry of Interior. The exact scope and boundaries of this mandate remain unclear, raising official concerns about possible overlaps with other government agencies.

According to Tahannazif, despite the fact that the bill contains multiple provisions to address promoting, propagating, and committing acts of “indecency,” there is no clear definition of the term in the bill or any other relevant legislation. There is also an area of ambiguity highlighted by the spokesperson related to Article 6 of the bill, which categorizes items related to chastity and the veil as “cultural commodities” that may be used for various purposes. The implications and consequences of designating these items as “cultural commodities” remain unclear, however, due to the fact that there is no specific legal definition of this term in Iran’s existing laws.

In addition, the Guardian Council expressed concern regarding the lack of clarity in the bill regarding its alignment with the decisions of the Supreme Council of the Cultural Revolution. As an example, Articles 10, 11, and 12 of the bill define responsibilities for implementing the objectives of the legislation, but their relationship with corresponding decisions made by the Supreme Council of the Cultural Revolution is unclear.

The Guardian Council withheld its approval of the “Chastity and Veil” bill due to these uncertainties and ambiguities, returning it to the parliament for further revision. Once a bill has been approved by both the parliament and the Guardian Council, it becomes law. In the event that there is any ambiguity or disagreement between these bodies, the bill can be sent back to the parliament for clarification and revision.

Armita Geravand in a State of “Brain Death,” According to Iranian Media

Iranian media reports that Armita Geravand, 16, is in a state of “brain death” after allegedly collapsing and hitting her head on the edge of a subway train in Tehran’s Shahid Square Metro station. The Iranian domestic media reported this news, stating that “Armita Geravand’s brain death is conclusive” and that “the medical team’s efforts were in vain.”

According to the official account, which remains disputed, Armita Geravand lost consciousness after entering a subway train at the Shahid Square station on Sunday, October 1st, and hitting her head on the train’s edge. After she was transferred to Fajr Army Hospital, all communication between her family and the hospital, as well as with the media, was immediately terminated. The journalist who went to the hospital to report on the incident was detained for several hours. 

Many assert that Geravand did not collapse but was instead injured amid a confrontation with Iranian morality police. According to reports, Armita was not wearing the compulsory hijab (headscarf), and given the way the authorities dealt with her family and the temporary detention of the journalist, there is a strong suspicion that, like Gina Mahsa Amini, she may have had an altercation with the so-called “Hijab Guardians” in the metro, leading to her potentially fatal injury.

The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC)-affiliated Tasnim News Agency reported on Monday, October 21st, that Armita Geravand’s health “does not show any hope and death appears imminent.” Students from the Faculty of Management and Economics at the University of Tehran responded to the news of Armita Geravand’s fatal prognosis by posting pictures of her. As reported by Iranian media on Monday, October 21st, Armita Geravand’s death is “definite.” However, her family has yet to respond.

Tehran Hosts the Second 3+3 Meeting on the South Caucasus

In Tehran, the second 3+3 meeting addressing South Caucasus issues and exploring avenues of cooperation in the areas of politics, economics, security, transit, and energy has begun. The meeting entails a significant gathering of foreign ministers from Russia, Turkey, Iran, Armenia, and Azerbaijan. Sergey Lavrov and Hakan Fidan, the foreign ministers of Russia and Turkey, arrived in Tehran on October 23rd. Jeyhun Bayramov, the foreign minister of Azerbaijan, had also arrived in Tehran earlier. Ararat Mirzoyan, the foreign minister of Armenia, had already arrived in Tehran on October 22nd.

A primary objective of this meeting is to establish a regional group capable of resolving member states’ issues without the involvement of extra-regional or Western countries. Iran’s Foreign Minister, Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, stated during the opening ceremony of this regional conference that the war in the South Caucasus between Armenia and Azerbaijan has ended and that now is the time for peace, cooperation, and progress.

During the meeting, Amir-Abdollahian emphasized the importance of the meeting, stating that it is an excellent opportunity for foreign ministers to engage in discussions and consultations regarding bilateral relations and regional affairs. In addition, Amir-Abdollahian expressed the hope that “our friendly country, Georgia,” would participate in future meetings. The first 3+3 meeting at the deputy foreign minister level was held last year in Moscow, without the participation of Georgia.

Ibrahim Raisi also met with Jeyhun Bayramov, who traveled to Tehran to participate in the Caucasus Cooperation Group meeting. In an interview with IRNA, Raisi stated that he had previously told Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev that “Israel will not become your friend, nor will any Muslim country; the situation in Gaza today is a matter for all the nations of the region.” Azerbaijan and Israel maintain strong relations, with Israel providing significant support for the modernization of Azerbaijan’s military, including the use of Israeli-made equipment, that was used during the Karabakh conflict. In return, Azerbaijan has supplied Israel with oil.

Bayramov also described the Caucasus Cooperation Group meeting in Tehran as “useful, positive, and constructive,” according to the IRNA report. According to Bayramov, Iran and Azerbaijan have made “significant progress” in improving relations and advancing bilateral cooperation in recent months. “While the 3+3 talks have begun in Tehran, attended by foreign ministers from Russia, Turkey, Azerbaijan, and Armenia, to address South Caucasus issues, the Azerbaijan Ministry of Defense announced the beginning of a joint military exercise with Turkey in the region of Iran-Armenia border.

As reported by the Ministry of Defense on October 23rd, Azerbaijan has begun a two-day exercise in celebration of the centenary of the founding of the Republic of Turkey in three regions: Baku, Nakhchivan, and Karabakh. Nakhchivan is located in the South Caucasus, north of the Aras River, sharing borders with Armenia to the north and east, Iran to the south, and Turkey to the west. According to the Azerbaijani Ministry of Defense, approximately 3,000 military personnel, 130 tanks and armored vehicles, approximately 100 artillery and missile systems, and approximately 20 aircraft and helicopters are participating in this exercise.

As a result of a short and intense military operation conducted by Azerbaijan about a month ago, nearly 120,000 Armenians, nearly the entire population of the mountainous Karabakh region, were forced to evacuate from the disputed territory and relocate to Armenia as a result. Azerbaijan initiated a rapid military operation on September 19th in order to seize control of the Karabakh mountainous region. Despite the fact that many governments recognized the area as part of Azerbaijan’s territory, it had been largely controlled by Armenian separatists for years, who had established the self-proclaimed Republic of Artsakh there.

In 2020, Azerbaijan’s military action violated the ceasefire that was established through Russian mediation, which ended the Second Karabakh War between Armenia and Azerbaijan. According to some analysts, Azerbaijan may attempt to annex territories within Armenia following this military victory. Azerbaijan and Turkey maintain a close alliance, and the two nations have conducted joint military exercises on several occasions.

A joint Turkish-Azerbaijani exercise in the Nakhchivan region, near the Iran-Azerbaijan border, named ‘Indestructible Brotherhood’ stirred Iranian resentment two years ago. Few days following that provocative exercise, Iran conducted military exercises near the Iranian-Azerbaijani border in the Aras River region.

Biden Warns Iran as Blinken Asserts U.S. Does Not Seek Conflict

President Joe Biden warned Iran that it would respond to further attacks on U.S. troops in the region, referencing Supreme Leader Khamenei directly. While noting that U.S. forces are in the region to counter a shared threat in ISIS, Biden stated “My warning to the ayatollah was that if they continue to move against those troops we will respond. And he should be prepared. It has nothing to do with Israel.”

The U.S. Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, stated at the United Nations on Wednesday that the United States does not seek conflict with Iran. The United States will, however, respond if Iran or groups under its command attack American military personnel. He made these remarks during a United Nations Security Council session discussing the Israel-Hamas conflict. During this time, there were reports of escalating attacks against American forces or those under American leadership in Syria and Iraq.

According to Blinken, “The United States does not seek a confrontation with Iran. We do not wish for this conflict to escalate. Please do not make a mistake if Tehran or its proxy groups attack American personnel anywhere: we will defend our people and our security swiftly and decisively.” Blinken sought to address all government and non-government actors who may intend to open another front against Israel, stating, “Don’t add fuel to the fire.”

The ambassador of Iran to the United Nations, Amir Saeed Iravani, later told the Security Council that Mr. Blinken had attempted to blame Iran for the Israel-Hamas conflict. According to him, Iran strongly rejects these ‘baseless allegations.’ Iravani claimed, “As a result of its open bias toward the aggressor, the United States has exacerbated this conflict against innocent Palestinian populations.”

Over the past week, U.S. and coalition forces have been targeted ten times in Iraq and three times in Syria, according to National Security Council spokesman John Kirby. General Patrick Ryder of the Pentagon also said “We are witnessing a significant increase in tensions against U.S. forces throughout the region.” 

For days, the Biden administration acknowledged that U.S. troops in the Middle East were at high risk as Israel prepared to conduct a ground operation against Hamas militants in Gaza. On October 18th, a serious incident occurred at the Tanf garrison in southeastern Syria. According to U.S. military officials – who requested anonymity – at least 20 troops were injured in an attack by several drones, called ‘minor injuries.’

Kirby told reporters earlier that the U.S. assessment of Iran’s role in the Hamas attacks had not changed. According to him, “We know there’s complicity here by Iran. As I just said, they’ve been supporting Hamas for years, a couple of decades, and Hamas wouldn’t be able to function or exist without Iran. But I can’t stand here before you and say that we’ve seen a particular piece of intelligence that that shows that they were participating in, witting of directing what happened on October 7th..”

Lily Afshar, a Renowned Classical Guitarist, Passes Away at 63

On Wednesday, October 24th, Lily Afshar, a celebrated classical guitarist and musician, passed away at the age of 63. According to Iranian media reports, her funeral is scheduled for October 25th in Tonekabon, Iran. For many years, Lily Afshar lived in Memphis, Tennessee, one of the world’s contemporary music capitals. In the same city, she taught guitar at the university.

In 1977, at the age of 17, Lily Afshar came to the United States alone to study at the Boston School of Music. In her dreams, she saw herself becoming a great guitarist and traveling to all cities in Iran giving guitar concerts and workshops. “My goal was to learn from maestros like Andres Segovia and then return to Iran to teach guitar.” “I was so focused on my goal that during my first year in America, I didn’t even have time to call my father because I thought I would only be in America for a short time.”

“I practiced for ten hours each day. The conservatory closed at 11 p.m., but I was allowed to stay until midnight to continue practicing,” she said. The Islamic Revolution took place in Iran two years after Lily Afshar went to Boston, followed by the Iran-Iraq War shortly thereafter. She hadn’t planned on staying in the U.S. for an extended period. However, due to the Iran-Iraq war, her father recommended she remain in the U.S. She utilized this time to pursue her doctoral degree.

According to the University of Memphis website, Lily Afshar is the first woman to earn a doctorate in guitar performance. She is also recognized as one of the most prominent classical guitarists in the American media. In 1986, she participated in masterclasses with Maestro Andres Segovia and performed in front of him.

Iran’s Government Revenues Fell Short by 30% in the First Seven Months of the Year

During the first seven months of this year, the government’s revenues were 30% lower than those projected in the budget law, according to the head of Iran’s Planning and Budget Organization. Specifically, Davood Manzoor attributed the shortfall to the failure to realize income from oil exports, property sales, and the transfer of government assets. In the budget law for 1402, it was anticipated that the government would have an income of 2,263 trillion rials. According to Mr. Manzoor’s remarks, the government’s income fell short of the target by approximately 400 trillion rials in the first seven months of the year.

As a result of this situation, the head of the Planning and Budget Organization indirectly blamed the parliament, stating that such incomes in the budget were “overestimated.” In accordance with Mr. Manzoor, the budget predicted that Iran would export 1.5 million barrels of crude oil per day and sell each barrel at $80, but “most months of the year, the selling price was lower than $80, and in light of the domestic market’s needs, especially during the summer when the consumption of petroleum products increased, exports were less than 1.5 million barrels.” At the end of August, he stated that during the first four months of the year, the government had earned 105 trillion rials from oil exports, which was less than half the 248 trillion rials projected in the budget law.

In Davood Manzoor’s view, the part of the budget that has fallen short is the revenue generated by “government asset generation,” which probably refers to the sale of shares. In the first seven months of the year, only about 10 trillion rials of the predicted 103 trillion rials of income had been realized from this source. Government plans to generate government assets have been widely criticized, partly due to the legal immunity of the responsible body and also due to the controversial sale of approximately 200 schools.

In Iran, excessive optimism regarding government revenues has resulted in revenue shortfalls in the past. The government has compensated for unrealized incomes by reducing expenditures, particularly in infrastructure projects. However, reducing infrastructure expenses alone is not sufficient because the entire government budget for this year is 375 trillion rials, which is less than the revenue shortfall during the first seven months of the year. As a result, borrowing more money from the central bank and the banking system can result in liquidity growth, likely exacerbating inflation. Authorities, including President Ebrahim Raisi, have repeatedly stated that the central bank should not be used for financing and have not even used the approved overdraft.

Instead, the government appears to have covered its budget deficit by borrowing from commercial banks and using excess deposits of state-owned enterprises. By the end of Farvardin (the first Iranian month), the government owned banks and credit institutions nearly 700 trillion rials, and given the shortfalls in revenue, it is unlikely that this debt has decreased.

Sunni Friday Prayer Leader Denounces Closure of Sunni Prayer House in Tehran, Calls It ‘Painful and Regrettable

Molavi Abdulhamid Ismailzahi, the Sunni Friday prayer leader of Zahedan, has condemned the confiscation and sealing of a Sunni prayer house located in the Ponak area of Tehran. The action was described as “painful” and “regrettable” by him. Reports indicate that military and security forces in Tehran besieged and then entered the “Nabi Rahmat” Sunni prayer house complex in the Ponak area on October 16, 2023. As a result, they walled off the prayer house and vandalized its sanitary facilities.

In his sermon on October 20, 2023, Abdulhamid described this incident as tragic and distressing. The minister addressed the government, asking, “What harm has this prayer house done to you? You have control over the entire country, yet cannot tolerate a 100-meter-long Sunni prayer house.” While simultaneously imposing restrictions on Sunnis’ ability to pray, Abdulhamid hinted at the Islamic Republic’s support for Gaza’s people. He expressed his dismay, stating, “Unfortunately, these events have occurred for Sunnis at a time when everyone is focused on Palestinian and Gaza-related issues and should be shedding tears for those matters.”

To avoid misunderstandings with the authorities, the “Nabi Rahmat” prayer house was closed under circumstances where it was a quiet place for Sunnis to worship without any political discussion or activities. According to Abdulhamid, the construction of Sunni mosques in Tehran is in the government’s interest and he criticizes the government’s sensitivity and religious bias regarding Sunni prayers. As he stated, “What harm does it do to the government and Shia Muslims if Sunnis pray? The Islamic Republic should have helped Sunnis pray in congregation.”

In his remarks, Abdulhamid further stated, “I would not visit this prayer house even when I used to visit Tehran for participation in unity conferences or similar events.” According to me, the government is sensitive to me, and I would like to avoid causing them any trouble.” On the other hand, Fars News Agency has refuted the statements made by Molavi Abdulhamid, asserting that in 2020, a company won a contract for aerial photography of certain areas of Iran. This company put the mosque building as the guarantee to get advanced payment. Instead of fulfilling the contract, they purchased a property and made substantial profits without returning the advance payment of 60 billion Tomans or compensating for the damages incurred. As a result of the court’s order, they indicate the property was sold off to reimburse the government. 

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