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December 1, 2023

Iran’s 1403 Budget, Hijab Enforcement, Recent Executions in Iran, Renewed Expectations for Russian Aircraft Delivery, and More

Week of November 27, 2023 | Iran Unfiltered is a digest tracking Iranian politics & society by the National Iranian American Council 

Examining Iran’s 1403 Budget: Navigating Economic Hurdles in an Era of Extensive Sanctions

The Iranian Parliament has introduced a two-phase budget review process this year, a significant change from previous years that includes tax increases on certain goods. Despite its significance for the population’s financial situation, many details regarding government revenues and expenditures were not disclosed in the first phase. The first stage consists of a single article that includes the necessary provisions for implementing the country’s budget, covering the general government budget resources, operational, capital, and financial balances, as well as estimates of revenues and expenditures that must be approved by the parliament. Once this resolution becomes law, the second part of the bill, which contains more specific figures and tables, will be submitted to the parliament.

President Ebrahim Raisi was unable to present the 1403 budget to Parliament this week due to the ongoing review of Iran’s seventh development plan budget. The government, however, has published a 47-page document that contains a detailed description of the budgetary statutes and key tables. A summary of its most notable propositions are included below:

  • In the 1403 budget, it is predicted that overall government revenues and expenses will rise less than inflation. It is estimated that public revenues will reach 2,462 trillion Tomans, an increase of 18.2% over this year’s budget. The government plans to increase employee wages by only 18% and pensions by 20% – far below inflation – effectively reducing the purchasing power of employees.
  • According to the revised budget, oil revenue dependence has decreased from 29% in the 1402 budget to 24% in the revised budget. In contrast, the share of sustainable income sources, such as taxes, has increased from 50% to nearly 61%. However, governments often deviate from these plans when revenue shortfalls occur, resorting to oil revenues or borrowing.
  • Tax revenues are projected to increase by nearly 50%, including a rise in the value-added tax rate and higher taxes on luxury properties and vehicles. The tax-exempt income threshold remains unchanged despite inflation.
  • There is an allocation of 759 trillion Tomans for subsidies in the 1403 budget, a 15% increase, which is lower than the current inflation rate and the overall budget increase. Direct subsidies are likely to be reduced as a result of this.
  • The military, particularly the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, is now authorized to export oil independently. There is an allocation of 134 trillion Tomans for “defense strengthening,” and the Ministry of Oil is required to provide crude oil or petroleum condensates for export by military-affiliated companies if payment is not made.

With the unveiling of the budget, questions have been raised regarding the government’s decision-making consistency, particularly regarding the modest 18% increase in government employee salaries and the ambitious 50% increase in tax revenue. International sanctions, especially those affecting oil exports, have led to an increased reliance on internal revenue sources, such as taxes, in the budget.

According to economists, the substantial increase in taxation is indicative of the government’s inability to find alternatives to oil sales under sanctions. Morteza Afghah, an economist and faculty member at Chamran University in Ahvaz, believes that the unprecedented tax increase reflects the government’s struggle to cope with sanctions challenges and the impracticality of its oil export commitments.

Iranian Parliament Raises Retirement Age to Tackle Pension Fund Crisis

Recently, the Iranian Parliament passed a new law that raises the retirement age in order to address the issue of pension fund insolvency. The Eleventh Parliament, in its final months, chose to increase the retirement age as part of the Seventh Development Plan, originally proposed by President Raisi’s administration. By means of an official resolution, it has now been confirmed that the retirement age will be raised in order to reduce the imbalance in pension funds.

In its 1403 fiscal year budget proposal, the Thirteenth Government increased the retirement age for both men and women by two years. Therefore, the maximum number of years of service has been set at 35, and the retirement age has been set at 62 for men and 55 for women. According to Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, the Speaker of the Parliament, the law will be gradually implemented, with an increase of approximately two to two and a half months per year for those currently employed.

As a result of the resolution, Ehsan Arkani, a member of the Planning and Budget Commission, described the backlash to the proposal as a “heavy wave of destruction on social media.” Moreover, he stated that the objective of this resolution is to “resolve the problems and revive the pension funds,” and noted that both the program and the budget bills have sought to increase the retirement age.

It appears likely that the Guardian Council and the Expediency Council will approve the passage of this law as part of the Seventh Development Plan. In accordance with Clause 1 of Article 76 of the Social Security Act, the maximum retirement age has been 60 for men and 55 for women, with a minimum of 20 years of insurance coverage required for retirement. However, these numbers will rise in accordance with the government’s plans.

It is anticipated that the retirement age will increase at different ages in a staggered manner, with the greatest increase for those who are just entering the workforce, who will retire after 35 years of service. Those with a minimum of 28 years of service will not be affected by this law, which is expected to take effect in 1405 (2026).

For years, experts and the media have warned about the impending pension fund crisis. In 2014, the then Deputy Minister of Cooperatives, Labor, and Social Welfare, Syed Abolhassan Firouzabadi, warned: “Of the 18 insurance funds, most are bankrupt.” Currently, 15 of the 17 existing pension funds are insolvent. “Lawyers and Judiciary Officers Support Fund” and “Fund for Farmers, Villagers, and Nomads” are in a relatively good state, Social Security is not as bad as its counterparts, but the rest are struggling significantly. As a result, millions of retirees and their families, beneficiaries, and the disabled are at risk of losing their livelihood and future.

According to data, Social Security is in relatively better shape than Medicare, covering 53% of the population, or 46 million people, including 4.2 million retirees and beneficiaries. The National Retirement Fund, on the other hand, is already experiencing financial difficulties. As of the end of September this year, the plan had over 1.64 million beneficiaries, with 81% being primary retirees, 18% dependents, and 1% disabled.

A number of factors have contributed to the current situation in pension funds, including the appointment of incompetent managers, managerial errors and corruption, political interference, and poor macro-level decisions by the government and parliament. As a result of these decisions, the government is required to provide mandatory support to the funds, and its debt to them is increasing on an annual basis. The lack of formal employment, the low average retirement age, and the widespread early retirements have contributed to a reduction in fund inflows and an increase in fund outflows. 

Furthermore, various laws and directives adopted by governments and parliaments have imposed heavy financial burdens on the funds. However, the government has not met its commitments in a timely manner. Occasionally, the government has transferred some economic entities to these funds in order to repay its debts, some of which were bankrupt. Over the years, the funds have invested in a variety of economic sectors, some of which have been profitable and some of which have not. Consequently, some companies whose shares are held by the funds are either losing money or have minimal returns. The long and complex journey of pension funds has reached a point where even profitable pension funds are experiencing a decline in income and profits.

Exposure to Concealed Activities: Tehran’s Hijab Enforcement and Contradictory Official Statements

A recent article in Etemad newspaper has highlighted a significant issue regarding “hijab enforcers” in the Tehran metro system, revealing inconsistencies in the Iranian Ministry of Interior’s statements. At first, videos showing the presence of these hijab enforcers in Tehran’s metro stations caused fear among women. This situation unfolded while Ahmad Vahidi, the Minister of Interior, denied that any official agency was responsible for these hijab enforcers.

The issue escalated when Etemad exposed a secret directive from the Ministry of Interior regarding the treatment of women without hijab. Previously, Tehran’s Mayor, Alireza Zakani, claimed that the hijab reminders in some metro stations were spontaneous and community-driven, and denied any authorization from the municipality. Contrary to reports, Zakani asserted that the Tehran municipality did not recruit hijab enforcers.

Mohammad Hossein Taheri Akerdi, Secretary of the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice Committee, also stated that more than 2,850 individuals – referred to as “groups of revolutionary and concerned citizens” – have been operating in the name of virtue without official authorization. In response to criticisms, he stated that these groups started their activities in coordination with a variety of organizations, including the IRGC, the Basij, the FRW Police, the municipality, and the prosecutor’s office.

The classified directive from the Ministry of Interior published by Etemad, marked “Very Confidential,” contradicts the minister’s and the mayor’s recent denials. In the May 30 directive, instructions were provided regarding how to handle women without hijab, including the employment of appropriately qualified individuals to prevent non-compliant individuals from entering recreational centers, malls, and large commercial centers. In addition, it instructed the use of cameras for surveillance and identification of such individuals.

As a result of the publication of this directive, a legal action was initiated against Etemad for “illegally” publishing a highly confidential document. Legal experts believe that classifying a directive as “very confidential” is a clear violation of the Freedom of Access to Information law. They emphasize that any regulation creating rights or duties for citizens must be publicly accessible, considering transparency as a fundamental right in a free and democratic society. This principle is violated when government institutions classify important documents as confidential.

This revelation coincides with ongoing discussions regarding the hijab law in Iran, including the Guardian Council returning a hijab bill to the Parliament with 109 objections. As a result of significant criticism from the Council, the bill, which contained provisions ranging from passport confiscation to dissolution of non-governmental organizations, was withdrawn. 

It is apparent from the continuous presence of women without mandatory hijab in public spaces and events that the government’s efforts to reestablish widespread compliance with mandatory hijab have not been successful.

Recent Executions in Iran: Religious Activists and a Child Offender Among the Victims

Hamidreza Azari, Milad Zahrehvand, and Ayoub Karimi have been executed in Iranian prisons in recent days. Human rights sources confirmed the execution of Azari, a child. Iran is one of the few countries that still executes minors, in contradiction of international human rights laws. Human rights website Hengaw reported on Friday, November 24, that his execution took place at the Central Prison of Sabzevar in the early hours of Friday morning. 

On April 28, Hamidreza Azari – born on July 27, 2006 – was accused of killing someone during a street fight. As confirmed by the Iran Human Rights organization, his age at the time of the alleged murder he was convicted of was 16 years and 8 months. He was just 17 years and 3 months old at the time of his execution. The domestic media has not officially announced that this child offender has been executed, but they have linked his case to alleged “complicacy in the murder of Hamidreza Aldaghi.” Although the Iranian media described Aldaghi as a “martyr of enjoining good,” his family stated that he was neither a Basij nor a Jihadist.

Azari was executed despite the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which prohibits the death penalty and life imprisonment without parole for children. Iran is one of the few countries that sentences child offenders to death and executes more juveniles than any other country. According to statistics provided by the Iran Human Rights organization, at least 68 child offenders have been executed in Iran since 2010.

Ayoub Karimi, a Sunni Kurd and political prisoner, was executed after 14 years in prison in Ghezel Hesar Prison, Karaj. According to the Iran Human Rights organization, based in Norway, Karimi and six other unidentified prisoners were hanged on Wednesday, November 29. 

According to the Hengaw website, Ghasem Absteh, a co-defendant of Ayoub Karimi, was executed last month. There are still five other defendants in the case who are in prison and at risk of execution. Ayoub Karimi and others, including Ghasem Absteh and five other Kurdish religious activists, were sentenced to death by Branch 28 of the Tehran Revolutionary Court, led by Judge Moghiseh, on charges of “acting against national security,” “propaganda against the system,” “membership in Salafi groups,” and “corruption on earth.”

They were arrested by security forces on December 7, 2009, and transferred to the Urmia Intelligence Detention Center. Their trial took place in March 2016, and the initial verdict was formally communicated to them on May 25, 2016. Branch 41 of the Supreme Court, led by Judge Razini, overturned the verdict in 2017 and referred it for review to Branch 15 of the Tehran Revolutionary Court. Branch 15, led by Judge Abolghasem Salavati, sentenced Ghasem Absteh and his six co-defendants to death for “corruption on earth” in spring 2018. According to the Hengaw site, this verdict was confirmed by Branch 41 of the Supreme Court under “repeated pressure from Urmia Intelligence Department” and announced officially to their lawyer, Mahmoud Alizadeh Tabatabai, in March 2020.

On August 1st, following the evacuation of Gohardasht Prison, all defendants were transferred to Ghezel Hesar Prison, Karaj. According to Amnesty International, the trial was “grossly unfair” and the verdicts were based on “confessions” obtained through torture. After being arrested by the Ministry of Intelligence, these seven Sunni Kurds were accused of belonging to Salafi groups. They denied these accusations. The Ministry of Intelligence agents tortured at least four of these seven Kurdish prisoners during interrogation, according to open letters written by four of them. 

Additionally, Milad Zahrehvand was executed on Thursday, November 23. As reported by human rights sources, Zahrehvand was executed secretly at the Central Prison of Hamedan without prior notification or a final meeting with his family. He was a resident of Malayer and an arrestee during the “Women, Life, Freedom” movement in this city. Following the execution, security forces were deployed throughout Malayer city. During the public protests in Malayer city on Thursday, October 27, 2022, he was arrested along with five other individuals, and was accused of murdering Ali Nazari, a member of the Revolutionary Guards. Zahrehvand was denied access to a lawyer and other basic rights during his detention.

Widespread Attendance at 25th Anniversary Memorial of the Forouhars: A United Call for ‘Woman, Life, Freedom’

The 25th anniversary memorial for Dariush and Parvaneh Forouhar was widely attended by the public. The ceremony, 25 years after their assassinations as part of Iran’s “Chain Murders” of the 1990s that targeted critics of the Islamic Republic, was held on Wednesday, December 1st and hosted by their daughter, Parastou Forouhar. A number of civil and political figures, former political prisoners, families seeking justice, members of the National Front, and artists attended the event. According to eyewitnesses, the ceremony was conducted peacefully, and the security atmosphere was less prevalent than in previous years.

At this event, participants chanted the slogan “Woman, Life, Freedom,” the main slogan of the 2022 protests that followed the killing of Mahsa “Jina” Amini. Dariush and Parvaneh Forouhar, leaders of the Nation Party of Iran, were stabbed to death in their home on December 1st, 1998. Several months later, the Ministry of Intelligence announced that these murders, as well as those of other writers, had been committed by a “rogue group” within the Ministry of Intelligence.

Teenager Mohammad Boroghani Receives Final Sentence of 5 Years Imprisonment and 10 Years Exile Amid Iran Protests

Mohammad Boroghani has been sentenced to five years in prison and ten years in exile following his arrest during Iran’s nationwide protests last year. Boroghani’s family has refrained from appealing the decision for fear of a harsher sentence by the Supreme Court.

As per Article 442 of the Islamic Republic’s Criminal Procedure Law, a convicted person has the right to waive their right to appeal or request a review and reduction of the sentence before the appeal deadline. In an interview with Shargh, Mohammad’s father stated that, “Mohammad is currently in Ghezel Hesar prison. Although his condition is not poor, we have not objected to the verdict issued by Branch 26. We, along with Mohammad in prison, were advised not to appeal the verdict after consulting several individuals. Our prosecutor and others also advised us that appealing may result in a more severe sentence by the Supreme Court, so we complied with the verdict.”

Abolghasem Salavati, presided over by Branch 15 of the Tehran Revolutionary Court, sentenced Boroghani to death during the public protests in Pakdasht. He was charged with “waging war with cold weapons,” “clashing with officers,” and “setting fire to the Pakdasht governor’s office.” However, two months later, the Supreme Court remanded him to a parallel branch for retrial, and his sentence was reduced to five years in prison and ten years in exile in Naein. Mohammad’s father has confirmed that his son’s sentence of five years in prison and ten years in exile, which was issued three months ago, is now official.

Iranian Rapper Tomaj Salehi Re-Arrested Amid Torture Allegations and Public Outcry

An account managed by Tomaj Salehi’s associates reported his re-arrest on social media. Salehi, a dissenting rapper, was released on bail about ten days ago after serving over a year in prison in Iran. According to the message on social media, he was violently re-arrested on Thursday, November 30, by plainclothes officers in Babol and taken to an unknown location. The post declared that the Islamic Republic of Iran is responsible for Salehi’s life and health.

As a result of Salehi’s comments on social media, the Iranian judiciary confirmed Salehi’s re-arrest, citing alleged “spreading lies and disturbing public opinion” as the reason. Salehi was arrested last year during nationwide protests in Iran and was released earlier this month on bail. Three days ago, he shared a video on social media thanking people for their support and describing his detention as a time of torture and mistreatment.

In the course of his arrest last year, Salehi claimed to have been severely tortured, beaten for extended periods, and struck on the head and face. According to the news agency Mizan, Salehi has not filed any complaints against the officers or judges involved in his case. The Chief Justice of Isfahan Province, Asadollah Jafari, praised and supported the actions of Ministry of Intelligence officers, asserting that Salehi’s arrest, interrogation, and inquiry were conducted in accordance with the law.

Occasionally, reports of prisoner torture in Iran emerge, which have not been officially confirmed by the Iranian judicial authorities. Iran’s constitution prohibits torture under Article 38. NIAC strongly condemns the documented torture against prisoners, including those arrested for their political views, and urges once again that Salehi and all prisoners of conscience be released unconditionally and allowed to engage in internationally-protected free speech.

Iranian Officials Once Again Confirm the Purchase of Fighter Jets and Military Helicopters from Russia

Iran’s Deputy Minister of Defense announced that the purchase of Su-35 fighters and Mi-28 helicopters from Russia has been finalized. The statement contradicts previous remarks by Amir Mohammad Reza Ashtiani, the Minister of Defense, who did not appear to indicate that Su-35 aircraft would arrive in Iran soon.

The Deputy Minister of Defense, Seyed Mehdi Farahi, announced the finalization of the acquisition of Mi-28 attack helicopters, Su-35 fighter aircraft, and Yak-130 training aircraft for the armed forces, according to Tasnim News. In his remarks, he stated that the process of bringing Yak-130 training aircraft, Su-35 fighter aircraft, and Mi-28 helicopters into the country is in progress. Previously, Igor Levitin, a special assistant to Russian President Putin, had announced during a meeting with Mohammad Mokhber, the First Vice President of Iran, that Russian companies are ready for a joint production of helicopters. As mentioned by Amir Mojtaba Rohani, CEO of PANHA (Iran Helicopter Support and Renewal Company), Iran could become a regional hub for helicopter repairs.

There have been many statements made by officials regarding the sale of Su-35s to Iran. Shahriar Heydari, a member of the Iranian Parliament’s National Security and Foreign Policy Commission, stated last year that the Su-35s ordered by Iran from Russia would be arriving early in 2023. It is important to note that despite these assertions, there was no official information about the Su-35s until IRNA, the English-language website of Iran’s state news agency, reported that the first batch of Su-35 fighters would be delivered to the Air Force shortly.

President Ebrahim Raisi’s two-day visit to Moscow in January 2022 received widespread media attention, but there did not appear to be any significant progress regarding these arms purchases. Iranian and Russian strategic cooperation documents, which were lauded as major achievements prior to the trip, and the potential approval of a $10 billion arms deal for 24 Su-35 jets and two S-400 missile systems, have not yet been operationalized.

Now, Farahi’s remarks raise significant questions as to when the military goods will be delivered and why Moscow would now accept the risk of selling these jets and helicopters to Iran. In the context of the Ukraine war and the recent Hamas-Israel conflict, the lifting of the United Nations arms embargo on Iran on October 18th – a process set in motion by the negotiation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, which is now moribund following the U.S. withdrawal in 2018 – could have been a key factor in Russia’s willingness to sell significant weaponry to Iran. 

Both nations are subject to significant unilateral U.S. sanctions, including the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), which escalates sanctions against entities that sell combat aircraft to Iran and against entities that engage in significant transactions with Russia’s defense or intelligence sectors. The law, which passed in 2017, along with other unilateral U.S. authorities likely have limited deterrence value for either state. Given that it is hard for either state to be isolated further, U.S. sanctions may be driving the two sanctioned parties into closer military collaboration with one another.

Bita Farahi, Eminent Iranian Actress of Iconic Films, Passes Away at 65

The renowned Iranian actress Bita Farahi passed away on November 25th, at the age of 65, after a period of illness. Her family has confirmed the news, according to the ISNA news agency. Farahi was born in 1958. Her films include “Hamoon,” “The Lady,” and “Laminor,” which were all directed by the late Dariush Mehrjui, who was recently murdered along with his wife, Vahideh Mohammadifar.

Other notable film appearances include “My Brother, Khosrow,” “A Time for Love,” “Waiting for a Miracle,” “Familiar Soil,” “Blood Game,” “A House on Water,” “Protest,” “Kimia,” and “The Lady.” Farahi was recognized for her impactful performances, particularly in “Hamoon,” which introduced her to Iranian cinema. At a time when most female actors were confined to the stereotypical mother and housewife roles, Farahi portrayed an intellectual and artistic woman. 

Seven years after being banned, her second film, “The Lady,” was released. Her contributions to cinema were further cemented by the films “Kimia” and “Protest”. Farahi was known for her low profile in public and artistic circles. Social media users have noted that most of those who contributed to the creation of “Hamoon” have now passed away.

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