May 9, 2023

Increasing Executions, Raisi’s Visit to Syria, Retired Iranian Teachers Rally Against Injustice, and more

Week of May 8th, 2023 | Iran Unfiltered is a digest tracking Iranian politics & society by the National Iranian American Council 

Increasing Political Executions in Iran

On Saturday, May 6, the Judiciary Media Center reported the execution of Habib Farajollah Chaab, also known as Habib Asiod. He was charged with “corruption on earth” and “leadership of the Arab Struggle Movement for the Liberation of Ahwaz group (ASMLA).” 

Asiod was accused of planning an attack on an armed forces parade in Ahvaz on September 22, 2018, which led to 25 deaths, including Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) soldiers and civilian bystanders. After the attack, Asiod praised it in various media interviews. Iran’s Islamic Republic considers ASMLA a terrorist organization that is responsible for bombings at government and military sites. Asiod was kidnapped in Turkey by the government institutions of the Islamic Republic and transferred to Iran on Monday, October 5, 2020.

Reaction to Asiod’s Execution

Swedish Foreign Minister Tobias Billström condemned Asiod’s execution as “inhumane and irreversible,” stating that Sweden and the European Union would never endorse the death penalty under any circumstances. Billström mentioned that the Swedish government had discussed the matter with high-ranking Iranian officials and requested that the sentence not be enforced. On May 6, the Swedish Foreign Ministry summoned the deputy ambassador of the Islamic Republic in Stockholm following protests against Esiyod’s execution, who was a dual-Swedish citizen.

In a series of tweets, Billström reiterated Sweden and the European Union’s strong condemnation of Esiyod’s execution, emphasizing the death penalty’s “inhumane and irreparable” nature. Also, the European Union’s top diplomat, Josep Borrell, and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken have forcefully denounced the execution of Asiod. Borrell shared on Twitter that he had a conversation with Iran’s Foreign Minister, Hossein Amir Abdollahian, in which he vehemently criticized Asiod’s execution and requested that Iran abstain from executing Jamshid Shahrmahd, a German-Iranian dual national who also had residence in the United States.

Two people were executed for “blasphemy”

Separately, two other individuals in Iran were executed after being convicted of “blasphemy.” The Mizan news agency, affiliated with the Islamic Republic’s judiciary, announced the execution of two prisoners of conscience, Sadrullah Fazli Zarei and Yusuf Mehrdad, on the morning of Monday, May 8. According to Mizan, their charges included “public crimes such as Sab-ul-Nabi, insulting and accusing the Prophet of Islam’s mother, belittling the Quran by burning, and insulting holy things.”

BBC Farsi reported that neither the family nor the lawyer of Mr. Mehrdad, and Mr. Fazlizare were informed about the sentence’s execution beforehand. Previously, human rights organizations had stated that these two individuals were only criticizing religious superstitions. Earlier, Robert Malley, the US Special Representative for Iran Affairs, expressed concern about the execution risk for the two prisoners and called on Iran to stop persecuting and killing people for exercising their right to religious freedom.

A group of religious intellectuals in a statement strongly condemned the punishment of people for the crime of belief and emphasized that “dissent is not a crime”. In this statement, it is stated that the criminalization of “blasphemy” in Articles 262 and 513 of the Penal Code of the Islamic Republic, “in practice, has been a tool in the hands of the rulers to shut the mouths of critics” and the law “should be fundamentally dismantled.” This statement was written and signed by Hassan Yousefi Eshkevari, Mohammad Javad Akbarin, Abdol Ali Bazargan, Maisam Badamchi, Reza Beheshti Moez, Rahman Livani, Ahmad Alavi, Reza Alijani, Soroush Dabagh, Alireza Rajaei, Hassan Fereshtian, Abdollah Naseri Taheri, Yaser Mirdamadi, Mehdi Momken and Sedigheh Vasmaghi. 

The signatories of the statement wrote that “we strongly condemn the punishment of people for the crime of belief. Dissent is not a crime. Execution for the crime of thought is not only against reason but also against the spirit of Sharia (but also the appearance of some Sharia texts).” This statement then refers to jurisprudential details, “rational and religious reasons” and the opinion of various jurists who do not consider it permissible to execute people for the crime of “apostasy”. In another part of this statement, it is stated that “the rulers think that they can rule for a few more days with the method of “victory through intimidation (Al-Nasr Bel’rob)” but “by killing innocent people for the crime of dissension, the foundations of the government will not be strengthened, nor will the religion be preserved.” »

Twenty Baloch prisoners executed last week

Additionally, Baloch activists reported that at least twenty Baloch prisoners were executed in various prisons last week, convicted in cases related to drug trafficking and murder. Molavi Abdul Hamid, a spiritual leader for Iran’s Sunni Muslim population, criticized these executions during a Friday prayer, questioning the government’s credibility when it kills its own people. He said: ” Which government kills its own people? How can you trust someone who kills his own nation?”

Previously two human rights organizations revealed a 75% increase in execution rates in Iran during 2022, reaching the highest annual figure since 2015.

Six Women Incarcerated in Evin Denounce Recent Executions

Golrokh Iriaei, Zohreh Sarv, Nasrin Javadi, Sepideh Gholian, Bahareh Hedayat, and Narges Mohammadi issued a statement from prison condemning the mass executions in various Iranian cities. They claimed that the executions are “overt acts of violence” showing “false power” and demanded an immediate halt to the “execution, killing, and genocide by the dictatorial government.”

The women pledged their support for the “rising people” against the “oppressive religious government” and urged international forums and global media to back the Iranian people and press the Islamic Republic to prevent further violence.

Raisi’s Visit to Syria

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi embarked on a significant trip to Syria on Wednesday, May 3, representing the first visit by an Iranian President to the nation since the civil war began. The last Iranian president to travel to Syria was Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2010. Raisi’s visit coincides with a period of easing regional tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia following years of strained ties. Numerous Arab nations, including Saudi Arabia, had distanced themselves from President Bashar al-Assad, but are now seeking to reestablish relations with his administration.

Following this visit, foreign ministers from 22 countries agreed, without a vote, at the Arab League summit in Cairo on Sunday, May 7, that Syria should rejoin the league. Some analysts, according to the BBC, think that Ebrahim Raisi’s visit to Syria as Bashar al-Assad’s closest ally played a role in this outcome. These events indicate a possible change in regional dynamics, as countries aim to mend relations and explore new opportunities for collaboration in the Middle East.

President Raisi was greeted by Samer Al-Khalil, Syria’s Minister of Economy, upon his arrival at Damascus International Airport. Throughout his two-day journey, Raisi met with President Assad to sign agreements and memorandums intended to bolster cooperation between the two nations. Accompanied by a political and economic delegation, the Iranian president’s itinerary featured various sites, including the tombs of Zainab and Roghayeh, revered by Shiites, and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, a memorial honoring Syrian soldiers who perished in the civil war.

Hojatollah Abdulmaleki, the secretary of Iran’s Supreme Council of Industrial and Special Economic Free Trade Zones, stated that Ebrahim Raisi’s visit to Syria has advanced the establishment of a trilateral joint free zone with Iraq and Syria to the technical and implementation phase. Mr. Abdulaleki explained that the joint free zone encompasses the region of Ghaem in Iraq and Bokmal in Syria. He added that the Hessia Free Trade Zone in central Syria near Damascus and the port of Latakia, which provides access to the Mediterranean Sea, have also attracted the interest of Iranian investors.

Retired Iranian Teachers Rally Against Education System Injustice Amid Growing Unrest

Today, May 9, retired Iranian teachers have taken to the streets in several cities, including Arak, Harsin, Islamabad Gharb, Kermanshah, Hamadan, Ahvaz, Shush, Torbat Heydarieh, Isfahan, and Sanandaj, to protest a range of issues affecting their livelihoods and the education system.

Clashes between officers and protesters have been reported in Sanandaj, with images surfacing on social media. This marks the second such gathering in recent weeks, with demonstrators calling for the release of jailed teachers, improved living conditions, healthcare, and the addressing of their demands related to wages and ranking reform.

The Coordinating Council of Iranian Educators’ Trade Unions had previously urged teachers to rally, condemning the government’s antipathy towards modern thought and education. The council vowed to continue advocating for the rights of both employed and retired teachers, as well as students, in the face of these challenges. Among the issues raised by the council are the intensification of ideological indoctrination in textbooks, the improper implementation of the rating law, the long-standing inequality in pensioners’ rights, and the creation of mental insecurity and physical health threats, particularly for female students.

The Iranian education system has faced numerous protests against the government’s educational and social policies in recent years. In response, authorities have arrested teachers and subjected others to heightened security measures. Suspicious poisonings in predominantly girls’ schools have also come under scrutiny, with officials largely pointing fingers at the students themselves.

As protests began in Iran in September 2022, students joined in, with images showing girls abandoning mandatory hijab and chanting slogans against the government. Reports indicate that authorities have attempted to quell the unrest by arresting administrators, teachers, and even interrogating students.

Persistent Struggle of Iranian Women Demonstrators Against Compulsory Hijab Enforcement

The ongoing protests by Iranian women against the mandatory hijab and repeated threats of sovereignty continue. Baran Kowsari, a movie and television actress, joined the group of female actors who have defied mandatory hijab laws by attending the funeral of Hossam Mahmoudi in Tehran without wearing a hijab on May 5. The photos of her without a hijab have been shared on social media and welcomed by users. The Islamic Republic has threatened legal prosecution against these actors for not wearing hijab, and Tehran’s prosecutor has previously warned that female actors participating in events without compulsory hijab would be arrested. Despite this, several female actors, including Ketayoun Riahi, Gulab Adina, Fatemeh Motamedarya, Pantea Bahram, and Afshaneh Bayegan, have participated in various ceremonies without hijab.

In April, Iran’s Police Force began implementing the “Chastity and Hijab Plan” to deal with the “discovery of hijab in cars, roads, and guilds.” On the first day, police officers visited over 1,800 trade unions, closing some and warning others. The warnings and closures included various places belonging to artists, actors, and athletes as well as ordinary people. The judicial system and police force of the Islamic Republic call their actions to close trade unions “dealing with violators in line with the security and legal demands of the people.” Recently, there have been legal cases filed against Baran Kowsari and Shaghaegh Dehghan for not wearing a hijab.

A forest park was also sealed due to tourists not adhering to the mandatory hijab. Colonel Abdullah Akbari, the police chief of Swadkoh city, announced the closure of Shurmast Lake Forest Park, stating that tourists did not observe hijab. Abdulhasan Khosrow Panah, the secretary of the Supreme Council of the Cultural Revolution, claimed that many people observe hijab, and that one of the reasons for the deterioration of the veiling situation is the distribution of clips that are broadcast even by the “revolutionary and valuable forces of society.”

Additionally, the organizers of the Shiraz marathon were summoned by the Fars Prosecutor Mustafa Bahraini for allowing female runners to participate without headscarves, which he called a “destructive” action. The publication of pictures of runners without hijab during the race held on the occasion of Shiraz Day shows that the pressure to observe the mandatory hijab has not had an effect on women, and the head of the Athletics Federation resigned from his position due to the controversy.

Persistent Pressure on “Dialogue to Save Iran” Speakers: Home Investigations and Court Summonses for Abdullah Naseri and Hashim Aghajari

On the morning of Saturday, May 6th, representatives from the Ministry of Information visited the residence of Dr. Hashem Aghajari. Despite his absence and objections from his wife and daughter, they proceeded to search the home and summoned Dr. Aghajiri from his workplace at Tarbiat Modares University. The agents confiscated his electronic communication devices and instructed him to attend a court hearing on Wednesday for his defense.

On Sunday, May 7th, security agents from the Islamic Republic of Iran arrived at the home of Abdullah Naseri Taheri, a history professor turned political activist. They searched through his belongings and subsequently called him to the prosecutor’s office in Evin prison.

As reported by “Kalme”, the agents also seized the electronic devices of this author and researcher, who is known for his critical stance towards the government. The prosecutor’s representative is said to have personally participated in the inspection. Abdullah Naseri, whose written statements were shared during the virtual conference “Talk to Save Iran”, has been unable to speak or move for six years due to a debilitating illness.

U.S. Calls for Release of Oil Tanker Niovi and Crew

The United States has called for Iran to immediately release the “Niovi” oil tanker and its crew, which was seized on May 3. In response to the capture of the Panamanian-flagged tanker by the IRGC Navy in the Strait of Hormuz, Vedant Patel, the deputy spokesperson for the U.S. Department of State stated on May 3 that Iran’s attacks on ships and interventions in regional and international waters violate international laws and threaten the stability and security of the region. 

The seized ship is Greek-owned and sailed under the Panamanian flag. The U.S. Navy reported that the “Niovi” tanker was empty and en route from Dubai to Fujairah, another port in the UAE. A statement issued by the U.S. Fifth Fleet, based in Bahrain, cited the IRGC Navy’s involvement, stating that around ten speedboats from the IRGC guided the ship to the center of the Strait of Hormuz and seized it. The vessel was then forced to change course and head towards Iranian waters near the shores of Bandar Abbas, where the Advantage Sweet – another oil tanker seized in recent weeks – is also located.

Director in the Ministry of Welfare Dismissed Following Controversial Remarks on Iranian Island Sales

Sajjad Padam, the director general of social insurances within Iran’s Ministry of Cooperation, Labor, and Social Welfare, was let go in the wake of contentious comments regarding the nation’s pension funds. Padam’s statements, which sparked significant backlash, addressed Iran’s insufficient resources for pensioners, suggesting the potential sale of Kish, Qeshm, and Khuzestan islands. He compared Iran’s situation to that of Greece, which sold islands to pay off debts caused by pension fund shortfalls.

Despite offering clarifications and emphasizing the global nature of the aging crisis, Padam’s dismissal was announced by the Ministry of Cooperation, Labor, and Social Welfare. Iranian media reported that Padam tweeted about honesty, openness, transparency, and reforms following his dismissal, but the tweet is not visible on his account.

Pro-government media criticized Padam’s remarks as ill-considered and untruthfu. The Secretary of Iran’s Information Council called Padam’s comments “careless” and contrary to government policies.

The issue received widespread coverage in Iranian newspapers and social media, with some analysts calling it a dire warning regarding pension fund problems. In an interview with “Economic 90″ Padam cited Greece’s sale of 100 islands to meet pensioners’ needs and warned that Iran might face a similar situation. According to Padam, even if Iran could sell 3 million barrels of oil without sanctions, it would not be enough to solve the pension crisis. He further highlighted the lack of construction and development priority in the Social Security Organization’s budget and the absence of a reform plan for the Social Security Fund’s policies. In response to the intense reactions to Padam’s statements, ” Economic 90″ clarified that the controversial video was only a small portion of a longer, expert-led discussion involving several economic and budget specialists.

SUV Scandal Rocks Government, Exposing Corruption at the Highest Levels

Over the past two weeks, the issue of Sport Utility Vehicles (SUVs) provided to members of parliament (MPs) has dominated headlines and caused a stir among politicians. As the parliament began its term four years ago pledging to fight corruption and promote transparency, it now finds itself embroiled in one of the most peculiar cases of collective corruption in the years following the revolution.

After initial denials, the executive branch approved the controversial distribution of SUVs to MPs, leading to a game of blame between the government and the MPs. The story has gained such notoriety that even artificial intelligence has been deployed, generating images of Fidelity cars in the middle of Baharestan square. Ahmed Alirezabigi, a member of the Councils Commission and a representative of the people of Tabriz in the Majlis, claimed on April 26 to have delivered 70 to 75 SUVs to MPs last year during the cancellation of the first impeachment of the Minister of SAMT. This sparked the “SUV Gate” or “Fidelity Gate” scandal.

On May 3, a conversation between the President’s special representative on the fight against corruption and the state news agency IRNA escalated the issue. Hassan Darvishian spoke about the case of Ranti Khodro’s transfer by presidential order, revealing that a confidential report identified offending individuals and devices, leading to the dismissal of Iran Khodro’s CEO. Darvishian stated that 100 SUVs were provided to MPs without a lottery system, contradicting official procedure.

In response, Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, Speaker of the parliament, dismissed claims that the car handovers were intended to quash the impeachment of Minister of Sammat. Ghalibaf called for a thorough investigation, implying that the practice of handing over cars is common in many government agencies. Despite pushback from parliamentarians, the government has maintained its stance against corruption, with Iran’s state-run newspaper highlighting the issue on May 6.

Parliament members have since made counter-accusations against the government, questioning whether related government bodies and organizations have also received cars from domestic manufacturers or dealerships. Fereydoun Abbasi, a member of the Islamic Council, responded to news of SUV donations by calling the lives of MPs important and arguing that representatives should use safe, high-quality vehicles.

Former President Rouhani Seeks to Establish Political Axis for Parliamentary Elections

Less than two years after his presidential term ended, Hassan Rouhani has reportedly made plans to influence the upcoming elections of the Parliament in Iran. Rouhani, who was Iran’s president for eight years, now seeks to establish himself as a political axis or “godfather” in the elections. Iranian media reports suggest that Rouhani’s meetings with managers and ministers of the 11th and 12th government have increased in frequency during the past 18 months.

Rouhani’s information base, launched last week, aims to provide “constructive and sympathetic criticism towards the rulers” and offer “useful suggestions for achieving high national goals.” The former president has been accused by various Iranian officials, including Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, of being the cause of the country’s problems in recent months. Through this information base, Rouhani hopes to counter “false claims and misleading propositions.”

Despite having been sidelined by the government since the end of his presidency, Rouhani aims to engage in a “critical dialogue” within the government’s framework to restore the “Iranian dream.” However, the political atmosphere in Iran has changed in recent months, with no signs of opening up for groups like reformists and moderates. This raises questions about the extent of Rouhani’s political and public support and which groups would be willing to work under his umbrella.

Rouhani’s return to the political scene follows a period of near silence. During this time, the opposition and conservatives criticized him for his perceived negligence and “failure” in importing COVID-19 vaccines and retrieving blocked funds abroad. Furthermore, a complaint against Rouhani was filed with the judiciary, and a petition with 500,000 signatures circulated, calling for his trial.

Despite his long history in key roles within the Islamic Republic, Rouhani distanced himself from reformers after taking office, which led to the loss of his credibility among this group. Critics argue that his management of various crises during his presidency was inadequate, and he was unable to create a space for “protest” or fulfill the “citizen’s rights charter” he announced in 2016.

Though once closely associated with Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, Rouhani seemingly distanced himself due to his closeness with Ali Khamenei and concerns about his political future. As a result, Rouhani did not receive support from either reformers or fundamentalists during his presidency.

After his term ended, Rouhani became isolated and remained silent for months. However, his recent re-emergence in the political scene raises questions about his intentions and potential role in upcoming elections. With the experience of past years showing that figures like Mohammad Khatami and Hashemi Rafsanjani could succeed electorally despite opposition at the highest levels, it remains to be seen whether Rouhani can truly make a difference in the current political landscape.

In the meantime, Ali Larijani, the ex-Speaker of Parliament, has refuted his participation in the upcoming election. He responded to a Tasnim news report claiming that he was gearing up for the election through a tweet, stating: “There has been no talk of an election campaign, presenting a national list, or consulting with others. As such, concerns over the purification process are eliminated, and it is improbable that fabricated competition will arise from this approach taken by the ‘brothers.’ A different solution is required for the country.”

Bridging the Divide: Sedigheh Vasmaghi Calls for Clergy Reform and Closer Connection to the People

Prominent Iranian religious scholar Sedigheh Vasmaghi has urged the clergy to address the widening gap between themselves and the people, echoing recent remarks made by Ayatollah Mohammad Javad Alavi Boroujerdi. In a voice message directed to Boroujerdi, Vasmaghi emphasized that the actions of clerics have led to resentment and called for them to evaluate their role in the current situation.

Vasmaghi, a former university professor, argued that the clergy should distance themselves from the government and move closer to the people, even issuing apologies to those who have been negatively affected by their actions. She highlighted the clergy’s failure to address the lack of security for women in Iran, which she attributes to their discriminatory thoughts and practices.

In order to establish peace, Vasmaghi stressed the importance of security and equal rights, urging the clergy to reconsider their approach and adapt to the expectations of the new generation. Last month, she challenged Ayatollah Khamenei, the leader of the Islamic Republic, over his statements on the hijab, asking for clarification on the necessity of head coverings for women in the Quran. Vasmaghi is known for her advocacy of women’s rights and her critiques of traditional religious thinking.

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