November 3, 2023

Civil Society and Human Rights Activists in Iran Call for Ceasefire in Gaza, Kayhan Asserts Iran Does Not Engage in War On Behalf of Any Nation, Ban on Ten Cinema Actresses, and More

Week of October 30, 2023 | Iran Unfiltered is a digest tracking Iranian politics & society by the National Iranian American Council 

Civil Society and Human Rights Activists in Iran Call for an Immediate Ceasefire in Gaza

A letter signed by more than a thousand professors from Iranian universities and other prominent figures, including Mir Hossein Mousavi and Zahra Rahnavard, urges an immediate end to the conflict in Gaza. They write as follows in their letter:

“Scholars from all over the world are expected to champion truth, justice, and wisdom. We, a group of Iranian academics, as part of the global scientific community, join other scholars from around the world, particularly those from countries that have played an influential role in advancing the cause of knowledge in the current era. The request is made for assistance to stop the ruthless killing of civilians, particularly children and women, and to prevent inhuman crimes in Gaza by condemning any violence against non-combatants by parties involved in the bloody conflict.

It has been demonstrated through decades of bloody conflicts that the region cannot achieve security and stability through continued occupation and denial of the undeniable right of the Palestinian people to establish their desired independent and secure state in Palestine. Specifically, we expect that all scholars, especially those from countries whose support is vital to such actions, will work to stop this massacre of innocent people and prevent humanitarian atrocities in Gaza.

It is our first demand that all scholars strive for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza as well as the cessation of human slaughter and ongoing horrors. Subsequently, to fundamentally resolve this conflict, through justification, encouragement, and pressure on the governments ruling their countries, we urge them to recognize the natural right of the Palestinian people to establish an independent Palestinian state through effective international guarantees, such as the activation of the United Nations Security Council and the General Assembly.”

In addition, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Narges Mohammadi, who is currently imprisoned in Evin Prison, has called for an immediate ceasefire. She emphasized her demand for an immediate end to the war in a letter written from her prison cell. Throughout her imprisonment, this Iranian human rights activist described both “war” and “oppression” as being “destructive” for humanity. Mohammadi said, “several attacks on defenseless people, massacres of children, women, and non-combatants, hostage-takings, bombing of hospitals and schools, and missile attacks on residential areas have left the world in astonishment, fear, and despair. My heart’s aching from religious tyranny has been intensified by this war.”

“Even though I am imprisoned in Evin, I continue to call for an immediate ceasefire, an end to the war, a curtailment of the hands of warmongers over innocent people, respect for human rights, and a possibility of peaceful coexistence between people,” said Mohammadi. These statements add to the growing number of calls from Iranian civil society for a ceasefire and peace, including from academics and human rights activists.

Kayhan Newspaper: “We Do Not Engage in War on Behalf of Any Nation”

While expressing their reluctance to engage directly in the Gaza conflict, Iranian officials have continued to express support for Hamas in various ways. In a speech on November 1st, Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic, called for the use of political and economic tools. “By cutting economic cooperation with the Zionist regime (Israel), the Islamic world must also mobilize against it. In this confrontation between the side of justice and the side of falsehood, they should insist in a loud and resonant voice that the bombardment and crimes in Gaza cease immediately, and fulfill their vital responsibilities.”

The Kayhan newspaper, closely associated with the hardline faction of the Iranian government with an editor appointed by the Supreme Leader, laid out reasoning for why Iran does not engage more proactively in the conflict on Tuesday, October 31. “The revolution’s discourse emphasizes awakening and strengthening nations. We support and strengthen every nation that desires freedom and opposes oppression, but we do not engage in war on behalf of any nation.” 

As a result of the ongoing conflict in Gaza and an increase in the number of casualties in the war, tensions between Iran and the United States have escalated. On October 26, President Biden sent a rare public message to Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, warning him against targeting American personnel and forces.

Following this news, Lloyd Austin, the Secretary of Defense for the U.S. Department of Defense, announced that the U.S. military had conducted airstrikes on October 26 against facilities used by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and its affiliated groups in eastern Syria. The Defense Department described this as a wholly defensive measure ordered by President Biden to respond to recent attacks on U.S. forces in the Middle East. U.S. positions have been attacked via drones and rockets at least 12 times in Iraq and four times in Syria. Several U.S. military personnel suffered brain injuries (likely concussions) in these recent attacks, but they all reportedly returned to duty. Another civilian contractor from the U.S. suffered a fatal heart attack while sheltering from bombardment in Iraq.

Approximately 900 additional U.S. troops have been deployed or recently entered the Middle East to enhance U.S. air defense against attacks on American forces and, reportedly, to deter further escalation. Additionally, several missiles and drones fired by the Houthis in Yemen, supported by Iran, were intercepted and destroyed last Friday by a U.S. warship in the northern Red Sea. On Tuesday, Israel reportedly intercepted one ballistic missile and two cruise missiles fired by Houthi forces.

At a meeting in New York on Friday, Iran’s Foreign Minister accused Israel of “genocide” in Gaza and strongly warned the United States that it would not be safe. Iran’s Foreign Minister, Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, stated in a speech at the United Nations General Assembly on Friday, “if the genocide in Gaza continues,” supporters of Israel “will not be safe from this fire.”

During his visit to Doha, Amir-Abdollahian also said that “resistance groups and movements” naturally became involved in the conflict due to Israel’s “crimes” against Hamas. He warned that these groups, which Iran has historically supported, “do not wait for anyone’s advice.” Taking advantage of “the last political opportunity to stop the war,” he urged Islamic countries to unite in support of the Palestinian people. In addition to meeting with Qatar’s Emir and Foreign Minister, Amir-Abdollahian met for the second time within two weeks with Ismail Haniyeh, the head of Hamas’ political office.

According to Abdullah Bouhabib, the Foreign Minister of Lebanon, Amir-Abdollahian, informed him that the Iranians were unaware of the October 7 Hamas attack in advance. This corresponds with recent reporting indicating U.S. intelligence does not believe Iran was aware of the attack in advance. According to the Iranian Foreign Minister, Tehran is in “contact” with Hamas, and, based on his statement, Hamas can maintain its resistance to Israeli attack for an extended period of time, perhaps for several months. The implication is that Iran is hoping to avert an expansion of the war into southern Lebanon.

Increased Detentions and Harsher Sentences for Baha’i Citizens

Recent reports indicate that the Islamic Revolutionary Courts of Iran have not only detained a larger number of Baha’is, but have also sentenced them to longer prison terms. In the most recent judicial rulings, Golnoush Nasiri and Farideh Mardai, two Baha’i citizens residing in Mashhad, have been sentenced to imprisonment. As reported by the Hrana news agency, these two individuals were sentenced to three years of punitive imprisonment for “disrupting national security” and eight months of punitive imprisonment for “propaganda against the establishment.” According to Islamic Penal Code, if this sentence is confirmed at the review stage, Nasiri and Mardai will be imprisoned for three years.

Nasiri and Mardai did not attend their previous hearing in protest of authorities denying them their chosen legal representation. The Mashhad Revolutionary Court has refused to accept their chosen attorney, Mohammad Hadi Erfanian Kasib, as their legal representative. According to Mr. Erfanian Kasib, this refusal goes against legal obligations, and his efforts to date have not yielded any results.

On October 25, reports indicate that Saeide Khazaei, the secretary of the Iranian cinema scene, and five other Baha’i citizens had been sentenced to imprisonment for “membership in anti-regime groups,” “propaganda against the regime,” and “promoting Baha’i organizations.” Arsalan Yazdani Farzaneh, Iraj Shakoor, and Pedram Abhar each received six years in prison, and Samira Ebrahimi and Saba Safidi each received four years and five months. As the niece of Bahram Bayzai, a prominent Iranian film director, Saeide Khazaei collaborated with him on films such as “Travelers” and “Killing Rabids.”

Human rights organization Hrana had previously published reports that ten Baha’i women residing in Isfahan were detained by security forces three days ago, for unknown reasons. Iranian authorities maintain that Iranian citizens are not tried solely for being Baha’is, but the United Nations and human rights organizations have repeatedly accused the Islamic Republic of violations of the civil rights of Baha’is over the past four decades. Iran’s constitution does not recognize Baha’i followers as a religious minority, they do not enjoy the rights accorded to religious minorities, and they are subject to numerous restrictions, including being prohibited from government employment and higher education.

Continued Confrontations over Enforcement of Mandatory Hijab

On Tuesday, October 30, the head of the judiciary Gholamhossein Mohseni-Ejei addressed enforcement of mandatory hijab laws, or as he described them, “confronting social anomalies.” Ejei asserted that prosecutors and judicial authorities can demand the implementation of the law in the fight against these social anomalies, and that the Law Enforcement Commander of the Islamic Republic and Ministry of Interior should also get involved in this matter. Ejei continued, “We should not wait for the approval of the bill related to chastity and hijab, but rather utilize the existing legal capacity.”

The public and revolutionary prosecutor of Robat Karim County, Mohammad Yousefvand, announced the sealing of two shops in the Pardis Mall complex due to noncompliance with Islamic norms. Yousefvand told Fars News Agency that serious warnings have been issued to some tradesmen. He warned professionals and tradesmen who do not observe ‘Islamic norms,’ especially hijab, stating: “the judiciary had taken serious measures to combat social anomalies, including hijab enforcement. Consequently, we ask all professions and tradesmen to observe social norms, particularly the hijab.”

According to Iranian media, a citizen allegedly engaged in a confrontation with a shop owner in Shahroud County in Semnan Province in an attempt to ‘promote virtue and prevent vice’ and was beaten by the shop owner. During the confrontation, law enforcement forces arrested the shop owner and handed him over to the authorities. This individual’s shop has also been sealed. “Promoting virtue and preventing vice is an obligation, and maintaining the image of chastity in society is in keeping with this divine duty,” stated the police commander of Shahroud County. Ayatollah Khamenei, the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic, stated in April of this year regarding dealing ‘arbitrarily’ with opponents of mandatory hijab, explaining that ‘arbitrarily’ does not mean unplanned.

Ten Cinema Actresses Banned in Hijab-related Punishment

The Director of the Cinematic Organization’s monitoring department, Habib Ilbegi, has announced that actresses who have been unveiled will not be permitted to act in future films. The list of actresses prohibited from working includes Baran Kosari, Vishka Asayesh, Taraneh Alidoosti, Katayoun Riahi, Panteha Bahram, Hengameh Ghaziani, Pegah Ahangarani, Maryam Bobani, Golab Adineh, Fatemeh Motamed-Arya, Shaqayeq Dehghan, and others. Afsaneh Bayegan and Hengameh Ghaziani have already retired from acting, while Pegah Ahangarani and Vishka Asayesh reside outside Iran. 

There are several veteran Iranian cinema actresses who have reacted to the official announcement of this matter by stating that they are not ‘willing’ to work in Iranian cinema, and that this ban has no meaning for them. One of the first actresses to remove her mandatory hijab, Katayoun Riahi, responded by saying, “My dignity does not permit me to work in today’s cinema.” A second actress on this list, Panteha Bahram, wrote on her Instagram, “Being banned is not even my last concern.”

Taraneh Alidoosti, who was detained and imprisoned during the protests last year for opposing mandatory hijab, wrote on her Instagram story that because she has expressed her opposition to mandatory hijab, she does not wish to appear in a film. She writes, “Despite my silence, unfortunately, you will not be the last person to speak. It is because of the violent scarf you place on us that I am no longer acting in your films. For your films, I will not wear clothing that kills my sisters.”

The Tehran Prosecutor has responded to this defiance by filing new formal charges against seven celebrities and one media activist. As a result, an investigation has been initiated against Taraneh Alidoosti, Mozhgan Eilanolou, Hengameh Ghaziani, Tahmineh Razaei Milani, Omid Toushi, Sahar Valad Beigian, Maryam Bobani, and Hanieh Tavassoli.

Moreover, Hengameh Ghaziani has been summoned to the Culture and Media Prosecutor’s Office as part of the continued pressure exerted by the judicial and security apparatuses of the Islamic Republic against female actors in Iranian cinema. On Tuesday, October 30, 2023, Hengameh Ghaziani posted an image of her summons on her Instagram account, in which she was accused of spreading lies and propagandizing against the system. Upon receiving this summons, Ms. Ghaziani must appear before the Culture and Media Prosecutor’s Office within five days.

The Iranian Directors Guild and the Supreme Council of Cinema Producers, on the other hand, touched on this development in a joint statement on Tuesday, October 30 expressing their sorrow and grief over the tragedy of the murder of Dariush Mehrjui and Vahideh Mohammadi Far. They stated, “We are still in mourning for the tragedy of the murder of Dariush Mehrjui and Vahideh Mohammadi Far when we hear the news that a number of female cinematic actresses have been banned by the Ministry of Culture and Guidance.”

The Gaza War Sparks Economic Concerns in Iran

The recent Gaza conflict has led to serious repercussions for Iran’s capital market and economy, ranging from a plummeting stock market index to a surge in the value of the dollar. Traders have temporarily halted orders for imported goods due to fears about the spread of the war and its potential impact on Iran. The situation does not appear to be stabilizing anytime soon.

In the wake of Hamas and Israel’s military clashes, the Tehran Stock Exchange has experienced two significant negative days. Both times, the overall index declined by approximately 50,000 units, accompanied by substantial capital outflows. After the initial drop of 50,000 units on October 7, the overall stock index recovered approximately 30,000 units within ten days. In spite of this, the rate at which this recovery occurred indicated that the market has been gripped by fear. 

The second market collapse on October 28 took place shortly after rumors of a ground battle between Israel and Hamas had spread. According to speculation, if a ground operation were to be conducted, and Hezbollah in Lebanon joined the conflict, Iran would also likely become involved. As a consequence of these rumors and developments, the stock exchange dropped by 50,000 units on the first trading day of the week, and the dollar price rose to 53,000 Tomans.

Valid Helalat, a capital market expert, compared the effects of the 33-day war between Hezbollah and Israel in 2006 with those of recent clashes between Hamas and Israel. During the 33-day war between Hezbollah and Israel, the stock market index lost approximately 6% over a few days and recovered approximately 2% of that over the next few days, he reported on Telegram. The stock market returned around 10% after the war ended. However, since October 1, 2023, the stock market has yielded negative returns of more than 6%.

On his Telegram channel, Hassan Kazemzadeh, another capital market analyst in Iran, commented on this situation: “It is still too early to make judgments, but it is possible that the expected negative outcome will not even reach the floor price on Sunday, and the market may rebound beyond expectations.” It is important to note, however, that any other political-military event may produce another decline in the market.

In the aftermath of the first and second stock market drops, nearly 6,900 billion tomans of liquidity left Iran’s capital market due to investors’ concerns about the looming shadow of war, resulting in a significant outflow of funds. The withdrawal of funds from the stock market is not limited to that market; almost all markets see many investors seeking to convert liquidity into foreign currencies. Between October 16 and now, the exchange rate has reached 54,000 twice. Iran’s currency prices fluctuate due to interference by the Central Bank, according to unofficial sources. The Central Bank injects more money into the market as prices rise. Market analysts, however, believe that these conditions cannot be sustained.

Another capital market expert, Navid Khandozi, commented that, initially, the Gaza conflict did not constitute an internal threat. However, ‘strong political risk’ caused the dollar rate to jump significantly in just a few days. “Any substantial political risk can be expected to result in a similar reaction from the dollar,” asserted Khandozi. An example of this occurred in 2018 when the United States withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal (JCPOA), resulting in a substantial increase in the dollar rate, capital outflows, and an imbalance of trade.

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