April 26, 2024

Hijab Enforcement Escalates Amid Growing Tensions and Public Dissent, Iran and Pakistan Sign Eight Cooperation Agreements, Football Authorities Criticized for Fining Esteghlal Captain, and More

Week of April 22, 2024 | Iran Unfiltered is a digest tracking Iranian politics & society by the National Iranian American Council 

Hijab Enforcement Escalates Amid Growing Tensions and Public Dissent

As Iran faces continued backlash over its stringent enforcement of mandatory hijab laws, the Revolutionary Guards have deployed a newly trained unit called “Ambassadors of Compassion” to strictly monitor compliance with hijab regulations across Tehran. In announcing the enforcement, Hassan Hassanzadeh, commander of Tehran’s Mohammad Rasulullah Corps, attributed some women’s resistance to the mandatory hijab to foreign influences, specifically accusing “enemies” and “Western intelligence services.”

The enforcement, known as the “Plan Noor” was initiated on April 13, coinciding with Iran’s unprecedented attack on Israel. Since then, there have been numerous reports of aggressive tactics from those enforcing the law, with women and girls forcibly taken into police custody. The Police Media Center (FATA) clarified today that social media links inviting public registration and participation in these enforcement activities are not issued by the police.

In response to these developments, Mehr News Agency has stated that official communications about police activities will only be made through the police’s website. The parliamentary reaction has also been vocal, with Jalal Mahmoudzadeh, a representative from Mahabad, criticizing the government’s approach. In a written admonition to Interior Minister Ahmad Vahidi, Mahmoudzadeh highlighted the frequent and often illegal clashes between morality police and women, particularly students, which have escalated tensions.

Adding to the controversy, Ahmad Alireza Beigi, a representative from Tabriz, expressed skepticism about the effectiveness of the “Plan Noor” noting that the Parliament was not informed about its implementation. However, despite these criticisms, Interior Minister Vahidi defended the ongoing enforcement of the plan.

Legal experts and citizens have voiced concerns over the seizures of vehicles for hijab non-compliance, which they claim are illegal. Ali Reza Azarbayejani, a professor at Tehran University and a member of the central bar association’s board, criticized these actions for fostering resentment and demonstrating a lack of foresight by authorities. He shared on Instagram the troubling story of a woman whose car was impounded, noting her lack of prior warning and the ambiguity over whether the hijab infraction was related to the driver or a passenger. After a futile eight-day ordeal involving multiple bureaucratic hurdles, the woman finally managed to reclaim her car from the Niayesh parking lot, after paying a substantial fine and enduring hours of waiting.

Mohammad Mohammadi Azad, Iran’s Attorney General, referred to the detained women as “deceived,” suggesting they would be released after a commitment to adjust their attire, with no legal actions to follow. He asserted that FATA forces need to pursue modesty and hijab enforcement within established limits.

Internal disputes among hardliner groups regarding mandatory hijab enforcement have also intensified. Mehdi Fazaeli, a member of the office for preserving and publishing the works of Ali Khamenei, reiterated Khamenei’s stance that unveiling is both religiously and politically forbidden and stressed the need for planned actions against what he described as enemy tactics. He further wrote: “Recently, some officials have been reprimanded for their unstructured actions in the hijab sector.” This tweet highlighted internal divisions among hardliner groups and suggested that Khamenei might oppose some cases of overly-harsh treatment of women.

Mr. Fazaeli’s message elicited a sharp response from Hossein Shariatmadari, the editor-in-chief of Kayhan newspaper, who questioned, “Doesn’t the Leader’s Office have a spokesperson? If a reminder is necessary, it should be communicated directly from there to the public.”

These incidents underscore the ongoing conflict within Iran over the enforcement of hijab, reflecting deep divisions within the society and the state over the issue of women’s rights and public morality.

Iran and Pakistan Sign Eight Cooperation Agreements During President Raisi’s Visit

In a significant diplomatic move, Iran and Pakistan inked eight cooperation documents, including agreements and memorandums of understanding, during Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi’s inaugural visit to Islamabad. This visit was the first at the Presidential level following a border skirmish between the two nations three months ago, which strained relations.

Raisi pursued an agenda to enhance bilateral relations during his visit to Islamabad. Among the signed agreements were key documents focusing on security cooperation and mutual legal assistance in civil and commercial matters. The Iranian news agency IRNA reported that the discussions and agreements aim to elevate economic ties to the level of the two countries’ political relations, with a set goal of reaching $10 billion in trade exchanges. 

On January 17th, Iran targeted the militant group Jaish al-Adl within Pakistan’s Baluchistan province with missiles and drones. This provocative move flared tensions, leading to Pakistan responding with its own set of targeted strikes in Iran’s Sistan and Baluchistan province. Despite this exchange, a cooperative tone has quickly replaced the limited military exchange between Iran and its nuclear-armed neighbor.

During his visit, President Raisi met several top Pakistani officials, including Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif, President Asif Ali Zardari, and General Asim Munir, the Army Chief. These meetings are deemed crucial amid the ongoing Iran-Israel tensions and a previous year marred by mutual accusations of harboring terrorists, which led to military engagements between Iran and Pakistan.

In the context of these geopolitical tensions, the visit is seen as an opportunity to not only mend bilateral ties but also to discuss regional security issues, including the recent escalations between Iran and Israel. April has already seen an Israeli missile attack on the Iranian consulate in Damascus, a major retaliatory response from Iran on Israeli soil and an additional retaliatory strike from Israel on Iranian soil. On this front, on April 24 Iran and Pakistan jointly called on the United Nations Security Council to take action against what they described as “illegal and adventurous” attacks on neighboring countries and foreign diplomatic facilities.

The visit also shed light on the long-stalled Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline project. Initiated in 2009, during the first tenure of Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, the project saw minimal progress in subsequent years. However, now that Zardari has once assumed control of the Pakistani administration, there seems to be a renewed push to actualize this energy collaboration, despite American concerns about potential sanctions due to trading with Iran.

The United States has expressed significant concerns about the pipeline, warning of potential sanctions risks. Matthew Miller, a spokesperson for the U.S. Department of State, recently emphasized the dangers of trading with Iran, stating, “We always advise caution in dealings with Iran because of the constant risk of falling under U.S. sanctions against Iran.” He also confirmed that the U.S. does not support the pipeline project.

Conversely, Pakistan faces the possibility of international legal challenges and a substantial fine of $18 billion for any breach of the pipeline agreement. To circumvent potential U.S. sanctions, Pakistan is planning to construct an 80-kilometer section of the pipeline from the Iranian border to Gwadar in Balochistan, needing to secure Washington’s approval to proceed.

Musadik Malik, Pakistan’s Minister of Petroleum, stated last week that the government would present “political and technical” justifications to the U.S. to seek an exemption from the sanctions. “The project cannot bear the weight of the sanctions,” Malik remarked.

Controversy Brews: Iranian Football Authorities Under Fire for Fining Esteghlal FC Captain Over Fan Interaction

Hossein Hosseini, the goalkeeper and captain of Esteghlal FC, has been fined 300 million Iranian Tomans and suspended for one game for giving a hug to a woman who ran on to the pitch. This act was deemed by the Iranian Football Federation as a “violation of general behavioral principles and misconduct towards an official of the match.” Responding to the penalties, Hosseini expressed his indifference to the fine, stating, “It’s a small price to pay for the fan.”

The incident occurred after a match between Aluminium Arak and Esteghlal, where two female fans entered the pitch, with one approaching the Esteghlal captain. The embrace between the two led to immediate intervention by security forces against Hosseini. Amir Hossein Sadeghi, a veteran player of Esteghlal, described the embrace as “the most expensive hug in football history.” However, the goalkeeper’s professional and friendly response has garnered support from social media users and football fans.

Following the incident, the Disciplinary Committee issued a ruling imposing a one-match suspension, now in effect, and reaffirmed the fine. The committee’s decision called for an official apology from Hosseini for his actions, citing regulation articles related to disciplinary actions. Furthermore, Esteghlal FC was also fined due to a lack of oversight regarding the incident.

In the midst of these developments, Ahmadreza Radan, a commander of the national police force, filed a complaint against Hosseini, which has led to further legal proceedings. Hosseini appeared in court on Tuesday, April 23rd, to defend his actions, explaining that his intentions were merely to protect and calm the female fan involved. A lawyer representing Esteghlal FC also attended the hearing.

The ongoing controversies surrounding the incident highlight the strict regulations and societal norms regarding public behavior in Iran, particularly involving interactions between men and women. The case continues to unfold, with significant public and media attention.

Iranian MP Clarifies Nuclear and Missile Capabilities Amid Tensions

Iranian lawmaker Javad Karimi-Ghodousi recently made headlines with his remarks on Iran’s nuclear and missile capabilities, shared on the social media platform X. In a new video, he has defended these statements, asserting that they align with the positions held by official Iranian authorities.

Karimi-Ghodousi asserted that, according to Iranian nuclear experts, the nation could escalate its uranium enrichment from 60% to 90%, the threshold for weapons-grade material, within half a day. He added that this capability is within the knowledge of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Furthermore, the lawmaker noted Iran’s technological potential to extend its missile range up to 12,000 kilometers, although he acknowledged this initiative has not been pursued, following the guidance of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Citing a video released by Khamenei’s office from a 2018 informal discussion, Karimi-Ghodousi confirmed the Supreme Leader’s earlier intervention to cap Iran’s ballistic missile range at 2,000 kilometers, blocking proposals to extend it further.

In his remarks, Karimi-Ghodousi suggested that the advancement of nuclear and missile capabilities would be contingent upon external threats, specifically stating that these capabilities are not aimed at Israel, but rather at “Europe and America who support their chained dog, the Zionist regime.” He also argued that strengthening Iran’s nuclear and missile programs would strategically compel European nations to reconsider their sanctions against Iran, potentially leading to their termination.

Former Foreign Minister and head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, Ali Akbar Salehi, had previously stated that revising nuclear policy is within Khamenei’s authority. Similarly, Kamal Kharrazi, head of Iran’s Strategic Council on Foreign Relations, noted Iran’s capability to produce nuclear weapons but affirmed no intention to do so.

These statements come amid a period of heightened tension between Iran, Israel and the United States. Ahmad Haq-Talab, commander of the IRGC’s nuclear security and protection, recently warned that threats from Israel could prompt a reevaluation of Iran’s nuclear stance, traditionally maintained as purely peaceful. Echoing this sentiment, Rafael Grossi, Director General of the IAEA, highlighted the significant progression of Iran’s nuclear program since the breakdown of nuclear negotiations, asserting that no country other than those seeking to develop nuclear arms would enrich uranium up to 60%.

The backdrop of these developments includes an upcoming visit by Grossi to Iran, following the temporary closure of Iranian nuclear facilities due to security concerns after a recent attack on Israeli soil. As international eyes watch closely, the implications of Iran’s nuclear and missile development ambitions continue to stir global concern, highlighting the delicate balance of power and diplomacy in the region.

Controversial Sale: Tehran’s Football Giants Persepolis and Esteghlal Privatized Amid Regulatory Concerns

After 20 years of state ownership, Tehran’s iconic football clubs Persepolis and Esteghlal have been privatized in a landmark auction held on Monday, April 24. According to Farabourse, the Iranian over-the-counter exchange, 85% of the clubs’ shares were sold to new owners, marking a significant transition from government control.

Persepolis’ shares were purchased by a consortium of six banks: Shahr, Mellat, Tejarat, Saderat, Refah, and Eghtesad Novin. Shahr Bank acquired the largest share at 30%, followed by Mellat and Tejarat Banks each securing 20%, and Saderat, Refah, and Eghtesad Novin each obtaining 5%. For Esteghlal, the Persian Gulf Petrochemical Industries Holding and its four subsidiaries, including Shahid Tondguyan, Bou Ali, Pars, and Bandar Imam petrochemical companies, bought an equivalent 85% stake.

The value of the stakes was substantial, with Persepolis shares selling for approximately 3.2 trillion Iranian rials and Esteghlal’s shares for around 2.793 trillion rials. Ehsan Khandouzi, Iran’s Minister of Economic Affairs and Finance, announced that the transaction was conducted in installments, with an immediate cash payment of 10% and the remainder to be paid over six months.

This privatization comes after a series of unsuccessful attempts and aligns with a broader push within the Asian Football Confederation to professionalize clubs by eliminating conflicts of interest in ownership that could affect competition integrity. Previously, joint ownership by the Ministry of Sports and Youth had even led to both clubs being disqualified from the AFC Champions League due to government ownership.

Critics have been vocal about the auction, especially concerning the involvement of banks, which some see as contrary to the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s directives against banks engaging in non-financial business activities. In 2018, Khamenei criticized the banks’ practices of using public funds for non-banking enterprises, an issue that has resurfaced with their participation in this high-profile privatization.

Despite the official move towards privatization, the change in ownership raises questions about the future profitability and management of the clubs, given their historical financial challenges and the structural issues within Iranian football. Critics argue that the clubs, which remain financially challenged with significant debts and opaque financial statements, may not achieve profitability due to the structural and financial issues plaguing Iranian football.

On Monday, following the news of the privatization of the two clubs, shares of both the purchasing petrochemical consortium and the banks involved fell on the Iranian stock exchange. This latest move also raises questions about the true independence of the privatization, as major stakeholders in the purchasing consortia include government and semi-government entities. As the new owners take over, the football community and financial analysts alike will be watching closely to see if this historic transfer can lead to a more successful and financially viable future for both Persepolis and Esteghlal.

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