Week of August 10th, 2020 | Iran Unfiltered is a weekly digest tracking Iranian politics & society by the National Iranian American Council
- Iran Denounces the UAE & Israel Normalizing Relations
- Rouhani Warns of “Consequences” if UN Sanctions Reimposed
- Political Prisoner Nasrin Sotoudeh Goes on Hunger Strike
- Head of Major Charity Accuses Officials of Seizing Property
- Iran Denies its Fuel Tankers Seized
Iran Denounces the UAE & Israel Normalizing Relations
Iran’s foreign ministry issued a statement responding to the announcement that the UAE and Israel were normalizing diplomatic relations. The foreign ministry said the move by the UAE and Israel was “strategic stupidity” that would “strengthen the resistance axis in the region.” The “axis of resistance” refers to Iran and its regional allies.
The statement added: “The oppressed people of Palestine and all free nations in the world will never forgive normalizing relations with the criminal and occupying Israeli regime or those complicit with this regime’s crimes.”
The statement also warned against interventions by Israel in the Persian Gulf region. It stated in this regard: “The Emirati government and other governments that go along with this will be responsible for the consequences of such an action.”
Rouhani Warns of “Consequences” if UN Sanctions Reimposed
President Rouhani discussed the U.S. effort to renew a UN conventional arms embargo against Iran during his weekly cabinet meeting. Rouhani stated: “The Americans have brought forth a resolution that violates [UN Security Council] Resolution 2231. We have high hopes that America will be defeated, and America will feel its defeat and isolation once more.”
Rouhani added: “However, at the same time, our position is clear in any circumstance. If such a resolution is adopted in the UN against part of 2231, a gross violation of the JCPOA has occurred. Those who pushed for this happen will be responsible for the consequences.”
The U.S. initially presented a 13-page long draft resolution to UN Security Council members calling for extending a UN arms embargo on Iran. As per the JCPOA and UNSC Res. 2231, the arms embargo expires on Oct. 27th. After the U.S. failed to win support from at least 9 of the 15 UNSC members to force Russia and China to use their veto, it cut down its resolution to four paragraphs, dropping some of the most controversial aspects.
During his weekly cabinet meeting, Rouhani also responded to repeated claims by President Trump that he would reach a deal with Iran within weeks if reelected. Rouhani said in response: “If you’re sincere that you want to resolve issues with Iran if reelected, why do you have such enmity against the Iranian people today? Just yesterday you expressed enmity and introduced this (UN Security Council) resolution. So it’s clear that you’re not telling the truth and do not stick to your commitments.”
Rouhani also addressed a letter from the secretary general of Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) supporting the U.S. effort to extend the UN arms embargo. The letter was originally framed by some outlets as representing support for resolution from all the GCC states. However, a senior Qatari official said the letter was only from the GCC’s secretary general and did not reflect the views of all the member states.
Rouhani stated: “There was no conference for us to say ‘in this conference some neighboring countries spoke against us.’ One individual whose title is secretary general issued a statement and made some comments that Iran must be under pressure and the arms sanctions must continue.”
Rouhani went on, referring to a letter Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein had written to then-Iranian President Hashemi Rafsanjani before his invasion of Kuwait in 1990: “If we had given the greenlight to Saddam, the next day after he occupied Kuwait, he would have occupied Qatar and the Emirates. If we didn’t stand for regional stability, Saddam would have eaten you.”
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Political Prisoner Nasrin Sotoudeh Goes on Hunger Strike
Prominent lawyer and human rights activist Nasrin Sotoudeh has gone on hunger strike in prison. Sotoudeh said in a letter that she would start a hunger strike on August 11th in protest at the “cruel conditions of imprisonment and the authorities’ nonresponse to demands from prisoners to benefit from medical services and health facilities.”
Sotoudeh called for the freedom of political prisoners in her letter. She noted than “many prisoners are eligible for conditional release and will be freed under the new law” because of the coronavirus outbreak in prisons but political prisoners are dealt with in such a way “as if there is no law.”
Sotoudeh was sentenced to 12 years in prison last year. Her sentence is related to her activism against Iran’s compulsory hijab law and defense of anti-compulsory hijab protesters in 2018. She has for years defended victims of government abuse in Iran and was first arrested in 2010 after representing Green Movement protestors.
On August 12th, five other political prisoners went on hunger strike in protest at the “inattention of authorities to the COVID crisis in prisons.” These were: Hadi Mehrani, Abtin Jafarian, Yasin Jamali, Behnam Mahboui, and Mahmoud Ali Naqi. They are also being held in Tehran’s Evin prison alongside Sotoudeh.
According to the Iran Prison Atlas website, in recent days there have been 12 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Tehran’s Evin prison.
Iranian authorities have released thousands of prisoners amid the COVID-19 outbreak, but this has not included political prisoners. There are reportedly 211,000 people imprisoned in Iran. According to authorities, between late February and late May, around 128,000 prisoners were released on furlough due to the coronavirus crisis. Another 10,000 were pardoned.
Amnesty International said in late July regarding the COVID-19 situation in Iranian prisons: “Overcrowding, poor ventilation, lack of basic sanitation and medical equipment, and deliberate neglect of prisoners’ health problems, are making Iranian prisons a perfect breeding ground for COVID-19. The Iranian authorities must stop denying the health crisis in Iran’s prisons and take urgent steps to protect prisoners’ health and lives.”
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Head of Major Charity Accuses Officials of Seizing Property
The head of a major charity and economic enterprise has accused many officials and institutions of illicitly seizing public property. Parviz Fattah, who heads the Foundation of the Oppressed, named individuals and organizations he says have taken property under the stewardship of his foundation and refuse to return it.
In an interview with state television, Fattah accused institutions and people from all parts of Iran’s political system. He mentioned the Revolutionary Guards, the regular army, current Rouhani administration officials, former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and officials associated with his administration, and others.
The Foundation of the Oppressed owns property seized after Iran’s 1979 revolution. Most of this property belongs to people who were executed, imprisoned, or fled the country after the revolution. In recent years, a small number of individuals have successfully sued to get back their property. According to a 2016 study, the Foundation has $14 billion in assets.
Fattah says he has the support of Ayatollah Khamenei to get the Foundation’s property back. He says this property must be sold and that the proceeds be used to help the impoverished quarters of Iranian society.
Fattah said that his foundation does not have the ability to confront military institutions regarding its seized property. He says if the foundation made “legal complaints” against military institutions this leads to a “closed door.” However, he thanked Judiciary chief Ebrahim Raisi for cooperating with the foundation but says its property cannot be taken back from military foundations through “legal complaints.”
Many of those Fattah accused have denied his claims. IRGC commander Ebrahim Jabbari says the plot of land that Fattah accused the IRGC of holding on to in the affluent Jamaran neighborhood of Tehran was already being returned to the foundation. He said an agreement was reached with the foundation just as Fattah became its head, and that he must not have been made aware of it.
Fattah has rejected accusations that he is engaging in “populist” rhetoric and actions ahead of running for president next year. He said: “They can say whatever they want as long as they leave our property. If I wanted to become president, why would I make everyone turn against me?”
Fattah has been heading the Foundation of the Oppressed for one year. Before that he was head of another major government charity, the Imam Khomeini Relief Foundation. He also served as former president Ahmadinejad’s minister of energy during his first term (2005-2009).
Fattah fell out with Ahmadinejad in his second term. Fattah opposed Ahmadinejad appointing his controversial advisor, Rahim Mashaei, as his first vice president. Khamenei objected to this appointment, which led to a seminal split between Ahmadinejad and many conservatives.
Ahmadinejad refused to reappoint Fattah as his energy minister in his second term despite over 220 parliamentarians asking him to do so in a letter. After leaving the Ahmadinejad administration, he held senior positions in the IRGC’s construction wing (Khatam-ol Anbia).
Fattah served in the IRGC during the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s. After the war he continued working with the IRGC and led dam-building projects. He has a civil engineering degree from Iran’s Sharif University.
As head of the Imam Khomeini Relief Foundation, Fattah gained a reputation as a competent manager and a populist. During this time, he sold this foundation’s main building in affluent north Tehran and relocated to working class southern Tehran. He would reportedly withhold salaries for managers of the foundation until payments were made to the recipients of the foundation’s charity.
BBC Persian has described Fattah thusly: “He is a well known and senior executive manager. Even some reformists testify to this. He has good relations with most of the conservative factions (from hardliners to moderates). He also does not have a record of financial exploitation [corruption].”
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Iran Denies its Fuel Tankers Seized
An official denied that Iranian fuel tankers had been seized by the United States. This is in response to a Wall Street Journal report that the U.S. had “taken over” four vessels taking Iranian gasoline to Venezuela. Iranian energy exports are under U.S. sanctions as is Venezuela’s energy industry, which has resulted in Venezuela running out of gasoline to meet its domestic needs.
Iran’s Ambassador to Venezuela said the reports were “psychological warfare.” Hojjat Soltani said that “neither the ships were Iranian nor did their owner or flag have any connection to Iran.”
A follow-up Reuters report said only the gasoline of the vessels was sized, not the ships themselves. The U.S. transported the alleged Iranian gas to other ships for transport to the United States. According to the WSJ, the alleged Iranian gasoline will be greeted by “senior administration officials” at an “event scheduled to mark the docking.”
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