May 4, 2023

Assault on teachers union spokesperson, International Workers’ Day and Ongoing Strikes, Iran’s Report on Student Poisonings, Continued Crisis over Mandatory Hijab and Harassment of Protestors and more

Week of May 1st, 2023 | Iran Unfiltered is a digest tracking Iranian politics & society by the National Iranian American Council 

Assault on Mohammad Habibi’s Residence

On Friday, April 28, security forces arrested 9 union and labor activists who visited the home of incarcerated teachers union spokesperson Mohammad Habibi to see his wife, Khadijeh Pakzamir. Rehane Ansarinejad, Asal Mohammadi, Hirad Pirbadaghi, Anisha Asdalahi, Kamiar Fakour, Sarvanaz Ahmadi, Hassan Ebrahimi, Jaleh Rohzad, and Aldoz Hashemi were subsequently taken to Evin prison.

The Coordinating Council of Trade Unions of Iranian Cultural Organizations reported that a female teacher experienced a heart attack during the violent confrontation. Mohammad Habibi, currently imprisoned, has faced multiple arrests in recent years. On April 5, less than two months after serving a ten-month sentence, he was rearrested and has remained in custody.

The Fars news agency, linked to security institutions and the IRGC, alleged that those arrested at Habibi’s residence were part of an organizational meeting involving individuals with histories of association with Marxist anti-revolutionary groups, dissidents, and French spies. Fars claimed their intent was to incite tension in worker and teacher gatherings, ultimately leading to nationwide strikes. The news agency also accused them of planning to introduce a project involving “artificial poisoning” in schools, according to Islamic Republic officials. The poisoning of schoolgirls across the country has sent over 12,000 students to the hospital, while Islamic Republic authorities have failed to identify the culprits or even the substance or substances being used.

International Workers’ Day and Ongoing Strikes

As International Labor Day was observed on Monday, May 1, social security pensioners held protest rallies in various cities, continuing a trend from recent months. They assembled and marched with demands for better living conditions. Coinciding with International Labor Day, workers from diverse industries in Iran gathered and demonstrated in different cities. Among the protestors were workers from the Yazd tire factory, who, as reported by the Azad Workers’ Union, halted work and assembled in the factory area for the third day in a row to protest low wages.

Retired social security workers in Kermanshah, Kerman, Ahvaz, and Sari also assembled and protested. In Susa, retired workers demonstrated and chanted slogans like, “Only on the street, our rights will be earned.” A group of Haftapeh sugar cane workers assembled at the factory to protest the company’s “inappropriate treatment” of workers on hunger strike by the company’s security guards.

Social media users also reposted photos and videos of workers who were killed in the national uprising. Users honored the “courage” of Majidreza Rahnavard, Seyed Mohammad (Kian) Hosseini, Mohammad Mahdi Karmi, and Zaniar Abu Bakri on “The Way of Freedom” and congratulated all Iranian workers on Labor Day. Rahnavard, Hosseini, and Karmi, all executed during nationwide protests, were employees in a fruit shop, a poultry farm, and the construction industry, respectively. 

Abu Bakri had been previously killed by a war bullet during protests in Mahabad on October 27, 2022. According to Kurdish sources, he was a mechanical worker and also worked in building facades. Users also shared photos of Navid Afkari, an athlete who was executed on September 12, 2020 following his arrest amid the mass protests of 2018, and Sattar Beheshti, a blogger who perished in custody on November 3, 2012, to mark Labor Day.

As nationwide worker strikes continued in Iran, Ayatollah Khamenei, during a meeting with workers, acknowledged labor-related protests, including delays in salary payments or improper and corrupt handovers. He said, “These protests are actually helping the government and the system and informing them.” He added that wherever responsible institutions, such as the judiciary, intervened, they found the workers to be in the right. 

The leader of the Islamic Republic claimed, “In all protest cases, the labor community avoided the enemy, and the emphasis on companionship and friendship with the regime has not allowed ill-wishers to take advantage of protests and gatherings.” In recent years, the Islamic Republic’s security forces have repeatedly arrested labor activists. Moreover, the government does not permit demonstrations and marches customary in most countries on International Labor Day (May 1st). Nationwide strikes have reached a new stage following the revolutionary uprising of Women, Life, Freedom, with numerous reports of labor strikes in recent days.

Iran’s Ministry of Information Issues Report Claiming Student Poisonings Linked to Stink Bombs, Pranks, and Chaos-Fueling Videos

The Iranian Ministry of Information released a statement analyzing the chain poisoning incidents primarily affecting girls’ schools. The statement categorizes the incidents into several groups: “stink bombs” used for pranks, “malingering” to escape school, and intentional poisoning to film protests. 

The Ministry of Information emphasized the seriousness of the “alleged poisoning” issue and the government’s commitment to addressing the “inciting factors” firmly. According to the Ministry, tests conducted on all poisoning cases found no toxic substance capable of causing poisoning. They have divided the incidents into five categories:

  1. Stink bombs: Abundant in the market and online sales platforms, these are typically used for jokes and unconventional entertainment, causing an unpleasant odor.
  2. Tear and pepper spray: Used with the intention of mischief, playfulness, harassment, and closing classes.
  3. Panic due to a smelly agent in the environment: Instances include manual and non-standard filling of cars, gas leaks, burning waste near schools, and using insecticides.
  4. Anti-security motives: The report alleged some incidents were aimed at creating insecurity, chaos, and protests to be filmed and shared on enemy Farsi-language networks or to create gatherings in front of schools. According to the statement, perpetrators are often arrested and handed over to judicial authorities, though reported arrests have been linked to individuals reporting or expressing opinions on the poisonings.
  5. Mass panic: Following recent events in Iranian schools, some experts suggested mass panic as a hypothesis, which the report alleges was proven valid for a significant number of schools through detailed examinations.

The Ministry of Information statement attributed chain poisonings and their media coverage to opponents of the Islamic Republic. It denied the existence of a “network spreading poisonous substances” in the country, but acknowledged “numerous networks in cyberspace” aiming to create rumors and objectives like fostering school phobia and accusing the Islamic Republic system. During the poisonings, security officers have interacted with concerned families and suppressed protesting teachers. Several individuals have been arrested in connection with reporting on the poisonings.

The Ministry’s statement comes over five months after the first poisoning cases were reported. Chain poisonings have continued, mainly in girls’ schools, since the end of Nowruz holidays. In some instances, significant citizen protests have occurred, leading to business strikes in cities like Saqqez in Kurdistan province. Teachers have organized rallies against the ongoing student poisonings and government inaction. In some cases, parents have formed guard groups outside schools.

The Ministry of Information’s statement was released while the poisoning incidents involving female students have persisted. Most recently on May 1, reports and videos circulating on social media indicated that several students in Tehran, Karaj, Kermanshah, Saqqez, and Harsin had been admitted to medical facilities for treatment following poisoning.

In the statement, all the factors presented to justify the poisonings, except for one, are attributed to mischievous behavior by students. The fourth case, which is not connected to student mischief, accuses opposition forces. With many already blaming the government for inaction or instigating the poisonings, it is unlikely that the statement will be convincing to the general public.

Continued Crisis over Mandatory Hijab and Harassment of Protestors

Despite threats from individuals and institutions within the Islamic Republic, numerous women persist in their civil resistance against the compulsory hijab, employing creativity and innovation in their efforts. Concurrently, as waves of closures occur in recreational and professional establishments due to women’s lack of hijab, jurists like Houshang Pourbabai have stressed the principle of personal punishment and argue that punishing someone for another’s actions is unlawful.

Pourbabaei argued that police cannot simply shutter businesses without any judicial process, and that businesses can seek compensation from those responsible for sealing due to civil liability. Mohsen Burhani, another attorney, also emphasized that, based on the principle of personal punishment, “one cannot be punished for another person’s crime.” Additionally, Ali Akbar Javidan, the Kermanshah province police commander, reports that in 2483 joint inspections concerning hijab compliance, 45 trade unions were shut down after ignoring “issued warnings and notices.”

Mohammad Mahdi Esmaili, the Minister of Guidance, declared that women not observing the compulsory hijab are forbidden from participating in art programs. He informed reporters that the law will be the focus of their programs in this area and that anyone operating outside the law will be dealt with according to regulations. The Tehran Police Information Center announced legal cases filed against actors Ketayoun Riahi and Panthea Bahram for not observing the imposed hijab in public and online, noting that their cases have been sent to the Ershad Prosecutor’s Office.

Following actress Afsaneh Bayegan’s appearance without a mandatory hijab at a commemoration ceremony for Atila Pesiani, another theater and cinema actor, reactions continue on social media. The 62-year-old Bayegan was seen without the mandatory hijab on May 10th. Users praised her actions in support of women’s right to choose clothing. Fatemeh Motamedarya also appeared without the mandatory hijab at the ceremony.

Simultaneously, the Fars news agency has reported on actions taken against several trade unions associated with well-known individuals, in accordance with the chastity and hijab enforcement plan and in response to hijab violations. The IRGC-affiliated Fars news agency has disclosed information about the issuance of notices and warnings to close down various restaurants and cafes owned by prominent figures in sports and entertainment who have spoken out against mandatory hijab, such as Ali Daei, Karim Bagheri, Alireza Mansoorian, Mohammadreza Golzar, and Bahareh Rahnama, following hijab violations. The news agency states that exerting pressure on these establishments is in line with the “plan to address veiling,” which has been in effect since April 15th in three domains: vehicles, roads, and locations. Previously, a restaurant associated with Amir Ghaaleh Noi, the national soccer team’s coach, was shuttered. The Fars report also reveals that pharmacies on Shariati, Motahari, and Shahada Naja streets were closed due to hijab violations among their employees.

Two Clerics in Qom Hit by a Car and Hospitalized

In Qom, on the morning of Saturday, April 29, a car struck two clerics at the Shohada Street bus station. Media and social network reports indicate that after hitting one of the clerics and injuring them, the driver exited the vehicle and brutally stabbed the other cleric in the neck and side. The driver, reportedly from Qom, was also hospitalized due to injuries sustained in the incident.

Qom Police Commander Saati stated that the stabbed cleric, who was taken to surgery following the event, has since been moved out of the operating room and is receiving specialized care. Contrary to some reports, the cleric did not die. Attacks on clerics have increased, particularly after the recent popular uprising which involved the act of knocking off  turbans. Last Wednesday, a 35-year-old cleric was hit by a driver on Marzdaran Blvd in Tehran, after parking his car, and was dragged on the car’s hood for a considerable distance.

Alavi Boroujerdi, Shia Marja’, noted that some clerics haven’t left their homes in two months. Addressing officials of the Islamic Republic, he urged, “Gentlemen in charge, don’t mislead the people, don’t exacerbate mistrust.” He expressed disbelief that such an incident could occur in Qom, the seminary’s center, on a street where religious leaders and elders have their offices. He questioned if this was how people perceived them, as the driver not only ran over a cleric but also ensured their harm by exiting the car and using a knife.

Iranian Oil Tanker Seizure and Iran’s Response

On Friday, April 28, three knowledgeable sources informed Reuters that the US had recently seized an Iranian oil tanker called “Suez Rajan” en route to China, in accordance with U.S. sanctions against Iran. This action – reportedly authorized by the U.S. Department of Justice, which often operates with a degree of autonomy from other governmental agencies – occurred just days before Iran’s “retaliatory capture” of a Marshall Islands-flagged oil tanker – the “Adventure Sweet” in the Oman Sea, which was reportedly carrying Kuwaiti oil to Houston on behalf of Chevron. 

The U.S. seizure of the oil tankers coincided with news that Republican Senator Joni Ernst (R-IL) and Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), in a letter addressed to the President Biden, noted that the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Investigation (HSI) had been unable to seize any Iranian oil shipments for over a year. The letter, a copy of which was shared with Reuters, stated that the HSI’s powers were limited by political constraints established within the Treasury Department’s Executive Office for seizing such assets. The Senators asserted that since the activation of the HSI’s executive program in 2019, nearly $228 million worth of Iranian crude oil and fuel oil linked to Iran’s Revolutionary Guards’ Quds Force have been seized.

These are the most recent in a series of seizures or attacks on merchant vessels since the Trump administration snapped back sanctions on Iran’s oil industry in 2018. Iran’s military claims to have seized the U.S.-bound tanker following a collision with an Iranian boat. 

The Foreign Ministry spokesperson referred to the Adventure Sweet capture as a “reciprocal action.” Nasser Kanani stated: “We have consistently emphasized that Iran has proven in practice that it will not remain passive when its national interests are targeted, and the minimum response is a countermeasure.” According to ISNA’s report, Kanani added: “We will defend our national interests and rights. We have never and will never fail our citizens wherever they are attacked.”

Reports indicated that Iran seized a second oil tanker transiting the Strait of Hormuz on May 3. The tanker Niovi, operating under a Panamanian flag, had been traveling between Dubai and Fujairah in the United Arab Emirates when it was seized by the IRGC-Navy. Echoing the reported U.S. court claims against the Suez Rajan, the Iranian judiciary’s Mizan news agency indicated that the oil tanker was seized on a judicial order following a complaint by a plaintiff.

Iranian President’s Legal Deputy Proposes Legal Negotiation with the U.S. Government

Mohammad Dehghan, the Legal Deputy to the President of Iran, suggested that the optimal method for determining the damages resulting from the U.S. withdrawal from the JCPOA nuclear agreement would be legal negotiations between Iran and the U.S. via the Iran-U.S. Arbitration Court in The Hague, Netherlands. Dehghan communicated this proposal to the ISNA news agency, stating, “We have presented our verbal offer to the government and are also submitting a written one. I don’t believe anyone has any objections.”

The International Court of Justice has ruled that it lacks jurisdiction over Iran’s Central Bank’s frozen assets but has simultaneously deemed the U.S. in breach of its trust agreement with Iran. The court has requested the two nations to establish the extent of damages within the next two years. The ruling specifies that if Iran and the U.S. fail to reach an agreement on the amount of damages by March 2025, the Hague Tribunal may determine the damages if requested by both countries.

Following the 1979 U.S. embassy takeover in Tehran, Iran and the United States severed political ties but have since cooperated in the Iran-U.S. Arbitration Tribunal in The Hague. Established 40 years ago, the tribunal aims to resolve legal disputes between the two countries, including those involving citizens and companies. Although the Iranian Revolution and the embassy takeover negatively impacted trade relations, the tribunal has heard thousands of cases and issued verdicts with its nine judges, comprising three arbitrators each from Iran and the U.S., and three appointed through mutual agreement.

Stark Poverty Figures Among Elderly Women in Iran

Numerous recent publications have highlighted the issue of poverty among elderly women in Iran. Despite the attention, it appears that government officials have not placed significant importance on this matter. Four years ago, Iran’s National Elderly Council revealed that approximately one-third of the country’s elderly population belongs to the poorest social strata. Moreover, over half of elderly women are economically dependent on their neighbors.

The Ministry of Health of the Islamic Republic disclosed that 17% of elderly individuals have no income, with elderly women being disproportionately affected. Etemad newspaper recently interviewed sociologist Taher Mousavi, a member of the Iranian Sociological Association, who painted a grim picture of the situation: “Over 90% of solitary elderly Iranian women fall within the lowest three income deciles.” Mousavi noted that these women face severe challenges in affording treatment and rehabilitation due to their dire financial circumstances.

According to Mousavi’s data, more than 71% of elderly women have no income. Of the remaining 29%, 3.5% have a monthly income of less than one million tomans, and 13.5% earn between one and three million tomans. Mousavi predicts that the number of solitary elderly women in Iran will triple in the next 30 years. However, he also anticipates a somewhat brighter future for this group, as they are likely to be more literate, technologically adept, and possess a stronger social foundation than their current counterparts. This could lead to improved income and economic status, but their informal support networks may be limited due to smaller family sizes or a lack of children.

Parliament Removes Minister of Industry, Mine and Trade

On Sunday, April 30, the parliament voted to remove the Minister of Industry, Mine and Trade, with 162 votes in favor, 102 against, 2 abstentions, and 6 invalid votes from the total of 272 members present. As reported by Iranian news agencies, the impeachment vote was conducted secretly and by paper ballot. Criticisms of Fatemi Amin primarily focused on issues within the automotive industry, manipulation of statistics, rent-seeking, and corruption.

Ahmad Rasolinejad, a representative supporting the impeachment, mentioned that the Iran Khodro Company produced around 550,000 vehicles in 1401, while sales figures showed 613,000 vehicles. He, a member of the Parliament’s Industries and Mines Commission, emphasized that the Ministry of Security’s statistics also include faulty cars. Rasoulin Nejad stated, “Fatemi Amin previously declared having 100 plans for the ministry, and on the day before the impeachment, he announced 300 plans. However, it is immature for the ministry to unveil 200 new plans within 48 hours.”

According to this member of the Parliament’s Industries and Mines Commission, the combined losses of Iran Khodro and Saipa amount to 120 thousand billion tomans, which he attributes to “poor and inefficient management.” Another commission member added, “We possess an extensive list of rents and corruption involving individuals and groups as a consequence of the decisions made by gentlemen in the Ministry of Security.”

Saravan Police Chief Assassinated

Major Alireza Shahraki, who led the Saravan Intelligence Police in the southern region of Sistan and Baluchistan, was murdered by unidentified individuals. As reported by IRNA news agency and cited by Saeed Tajalili, Saravan’s governor, the city’s police chief was shot and killed on the morning of Sunday, April 30, at the intersection of Nahok and Beheshti. The report also stated that Shahraki’s wife sustained injuries and was transported to a hospital. Sardar Dost Ali Jalilian, the police commander for Sistan and Baluchistan, announced that her overall condition was critical.

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