Week of December 3, 2018 | Iran Unfiltered is a weekly digest tracking Iranian politics & society by the National Iranian American Council | Subscribe Here
- Car Bomb Outside Police Headquarters in Chabahar Kills Two, Injures Dozens
- University Students Demonstrate in Favor of Striking Workers
- Demographer from Australian University Arrested
- Condition of Political Prisoner under Hunger Strike Deteriorates
- Rouhani Repeats Warning on Shuttering Strait of Hormuz
- Zarif Defends Ballistic Missile Program after U.S. Rebuke
- Rouhani Administration Submits National Budget to Parliament
- Zarif Impeachment Bill Fizzles out in Parliament
A terrorist car bombing struck the Iranian port city of Chabahar Thursday morning, killing two and injuring at least 28 outside the city’s police headquarters. Ansar Al-Furqan, a Wahhabi-Salafist Baluch insurgent group with a history of engaging in terrorism claimed responsibility. At several Iranian universities this week, students demonstrated in support of striking workers at the Haft Tapeh and Ahvaz Steel companies. Meanwhile, Meimanat Hosseini-Chavoshi, a demography professor at the University of Melbourne, was arrested while trying to leave the country. The condition of imprisoned women’s rights activist Farhad Meysami, who has been under a hunger strike, has also deteriorated. Another political dissident, journalist Hengameh Shahidi, has been sentenced to 12 years and nine months in prison.
President Hassan Rouhani in a speech denounced U.S. efforts to isolate Iran as futile and repeated a warning that no Persian Gulf oil would be exported if the U.S. seeks to force Iranian oil exports to zero. Foreign Minister Javad Zarif also issued a defense of Iran’s ballistic missile program after U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo claimed a recent missile tested violated a UN Security Council resolution. On the domestic politics front, the Rouhani administration submitted its national budget for the upcoming Iranian year to parliament for approval, while an impeachment bill targeting Foreign Minister Javad Zarif has fizzled out in parliament.
Car Bombing in Chabahar
On the morning of December 6th, a car bomb exploded outside police headquarters in the Iranian port city of Chabahar. The explosion killed two security guards and injured at least 28 others. Ansar Al-Furqan, a Wahhabi-Salafist Baluch insurgent group operating in Iran’s southeastern Sistan and Baluchistan province, claimed responsibility. The two guards killed in the attack were Dariush Ranjbar and Naser Darzadeh, the latter of whom was a Sunni Iranian Baluch.
Rahmdel Bameri, the mayor of Chabahar, suggested the attack was orchestrated by foreign powers: “At 9:55am one of the agents of global arrogance and our bloodthirsty enemy carried out a suicide bombing.”
Bameri added regarding the attack itself: “This suicide bomber packed explosives in a Nissan truck and intended to enter Chabahar’s police headquarters. However, he was confronted by security forces who successfully repelled him which resulted in him setting off the explosive outside the entrance.”
Revolutionary Guards Spokesperson Ramezan Sharif linked the attack to Saudi Arabia and vowed retaliation. He stated that “terrorist groups, mostly connected to the security services of countries such as Saudi Arabia, are always seeking to create insecurity in our border regions.” He added: “This terrorist attack will have a severe response, and not only will they [the group responsible] incur losses but the groups supporting them will be punished.”
An analysis in the Iranian outlet Asr Iran asked, “What connection is there in today’s explosion and Chabahar receiving a waiver from U.S. sanctions?” The analysis reflected widely-held sentiment among Iranian analysts and pundits that Chabahar was targeted due to its strategic value for Iran.
The Asr Iran column read: “Exactly one month ago, America waived Chabahar from its sanctions. Chabahar is Iran’s only ocean port and a free trade zone. In recent years, Chabahar has turned into a port for Indian investment, and Indian financial and strategic interests have become tied to this Iranian port. Through Chabahar, India wants to circumvent their regional rival Pakistan and have a pathway to Afghanistan and Central Asia.”
The article went on to assert that Saudi Arabia has an interest in destabilizing Chabahar. It stated: “The Saudis are upset that there is even one unsanctioned asset for Iran. They are ready to even sell their own oil at a lower price to Iran’s customers to inflict pain on Iran in every way possible.”
The piece added: “From long ago, terrorist groups in Pakistan and their counterparts in southeastern Iran have been infiltrated, guided, and supported by the Saudis … so we have to take seriously the idea that the terrorist attack in Chabahar is part of Saudi Arabia’s project to prevent Chabahar from developing during the sanctions period.”
Arrests and Student Demonstrations
Meimanat Hosseini-Chavoshi, a demography professor at the University of Melbourne, has been arrested. According to IRNA: “One of the country’s security agencies in cooperation with the judiciary has arrested a number of ‘infiltrators’ related to the field of population control.”
Hesamodin Ashna, a senior advisor to President Rouhani, rebuked the arrest and said mockingly of security forces responsible: “Please let the honor of securitizing demographics fall to other people. For you, [securitizing] the environmental field is enough for now.” Ashna was referring to the imprisonment of eight environmentalists last January by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ intelligence agency, which the Rouhani administration has opposed.
Mahmoud Behzadi, a judiciary lawyer, stated regarding Hosseini-Chavoshi’s access to a lawyer: “The issue now is that for people arrested on such charges, based on article 48 of the Criminal Procedure Code, they can only choose from among 20 lawyers which the head of the judiciary has designated. So as far as I know, Meimanat Hosseini-Chavoshi has yet to choose from among these lawyers.”
The hardline Kayhan newspaper said of the arrest, using her initials: “MH is a dual-national demographer and was arrested while trying to leave the country in a successful operation by intelligence forces, as part of continuous efforts to confront the enemy’s infiltrators.”
On December 3rd, Nasrin Sotoudeh, a prominent lawyer and human rights activist imprisoned since June, released a statement from prison on the condition of a fellow imprisoned activist, Farhad Meysami. Arrested in August for his activism against Iran’s compulsory hijab law, Meysami has been on a hunger strike since then, with Sotoudeh warning his condition is seriously deteriorating.
In her statement, titled, “Farhad’s life is in danger!” she called on all civil society activists and human rights defenders to draw attention to Meysami’s situation. She wrote: “What I know is that Farhad’s life is in serious danger. I ask all conscious people to do everything they can to save the life of this educated citizen.”
On December 1st, Hengameh Shahidi, a journalist and former advisor to 2009 presidential candidate and Green Movement opposition leader Mehdi Karroubi, was sentenced to 12 years and nine months in prison. She was previously imprisoned for three years after the 2009 election.
Shahidi was arrested again on June 26th, after which Tehran’s chief prosecutor Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi stated: “We saw that everyday she made blatant insults against the judiciary branch and officials by posting very criminal tweets.”
On December 4th, students at several Iranian universities demonstrated in support of striking workers from the Haft Tapeh and Ahvaz Steel companies. Over the past several weeks, the workers have been protesting the company’s botched privatization and not having received four months of wages (more on the Haft Tapeh protests in a previous Iran Unfiltered). The company employs roughly 5,000 workers.
According to videos shared on social media, students demonstrated at universities including Amir Kabir University in Tehran, Kermanshah University, and Babol Noshirvani University. The students called for the release of the workers and teachers who have been arrested in recent months (more on the teacher protests in a previous Iran Unfiltered).
At Amir Kabir University in Tehran, there were reports of clashes between the demonstrating students and students belonging to the Basij paramilitary force. According to reports, on Tuesday morning Asal Mohammadi, an activist and pharmaceutical student at Azad University student in Tehran, was arrested.
Haft Tapeh Striking Workers Reach a Deal
On December 2nd, over the three weeks into the strike by Haft Tapeh workers, a meeting was held at the company’s headquarters between the workers, government officials, and company representatives. The meeting included the chief prosecutor of Khuzestan province, the mayor of the city of Shush, the chief judge and prosecutor of Shush, Shush’s member of parliament, and representatives of the workers except for Ismail Bakhsi—who was arrested several weeks ago.
In the meeting, Shush’s mayor promised that the workers would receive their unpaid wages within three weeks. After the meeting, Fereydoon Nikoofar, the secretary of the Haft Tapeh worker’s union, stated in an interview: “During the meeting, the workers’ problems were discussed and based on the discussion, it’s been decided that the workers will return to work … and that the workers’ contracts would change from being daily contracts into six month contracts.”
The workers also stated that their return to work would be contingent on Ismail Bakhshi’s release from custody. In response, the prosecutor of Shush said that within the next days, the grounds would be created for release of Bakhshi.
On December 4th, the Haft Tapeh workers’ union released a statement saying that Ismail Bakhsi and Sepideh Ghelyan, an activist, had come “under severe psychological and physical pressure” while imprisoned. In response, judiciary chief Sadegh Amoli Larijani denied any workers had been tortured, stating: “If any claims [of torture] are true, the responsible official and security officer will be confronted severely, but based on reports this issue is false, and people who claim otherwise must provide evidence.”
Officials Rebuke U.S
On December 4th, President Rouhani delivered a speech during a provincial trip where he denounced U.S. efforts to isolate Iran as futile. He proclaimed: “America is seeking to separate Iran from Europe, China, India, and our neighboring countries. This is as we are not and will not become enemies with any of our neighboring nations.”
Rouhani stated that Iran wishes to maintain good relations with its neighbors and other countries. He declared: “Today Iran has relations, more than ever, with the world. We have and will continue to have deep relations with our neighbors. America is unable to break our relations with the people of the region, who we’ve been friendly neighbors with through the centuries.”
Rouhani censured U.S. efforts to isolate Iran and reduce its oil exports: “The great and brave Iranian nation has not and will not give up with respect to the United States. The Americans wanted to prevent Iran from exporting oil and end Iran’s trade with world. Trump wants to isolate Iran from region and world … but the Iranian people have declared they will be victorious in all these fronts.”
Rouhani went on to assert that the U.S. has faced a string of political defeats. He stated: “The people should know that in the past several months, the Americans were defeated at the UN General Assembly, the UN Security Council, and the Hague in legal proceedings. This is a victory for Iranian diplomacy, lawyers, and the great Iranian people.”
Rouhani then repeated a tacit warning to close the Strait of Hormuz if the U.S. sought to prevent all Iranian oil exports. He declared: “America should know that we will sell our oil and that it’s not able to prevent us from exporting our oil. It should know that if one day it wants to stop Iranian oil exports, no oil will be exported from the Persian Gulf.”
On December 2nd, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo accused Iran of testing a nuclear-capable ballistic missile, claiming that the test “violates UN Security Council resolution 2231.” In response, Iranian foreign minister said Iran’s missiles were designed only for conventional purposes and denounced the U.S. for violating UNSC Res. 2231, which endorsed the nuclear deal.
Zarif stated during a press conference: “We don’t have a nuclear weapons program and we don’t design missiles to be nuclear-weapons capable. Given the Islamic Republic’s missiles have pin-point accuracy, they are designed only for conventional arms.” He added: “The Americans, both the previous administration and the current one, have announced that neither the JCPOA nor UNSC Res. 2231 limits Iran’s missile activities.”
Zarif stated that Iran’s missile program was aimed at deterrence: “We have always emphasized our defensive capability and have announced that we have a deterrence and defensive policy, and our track record reflects this. The countries that give opinions on the Islamic Republic’s military capabilities have flooded our region with weapons and caused the region to become insecure. These countries cannot ask the Islamic Republic to have no defensive capabilities.”
Zarif then spoke about European efforts to create a “special purpose vehicle” (SPV) to facilitate trade with Iran: “The news I heard during our trip last week to Brussels and Geneva is that the final agreements have been reached [between the Europeans], and in the near future the SPV will be finalized.”
On December 6th, Iran’s Oil Minister Bijan Zangeneh stated on the sidelines of the OPEC summit in Austria that Iran would under no circumstances reduce its oil production: “Because of the sanctions imposed on Iran, Iran will not reduce oil production at all, but will support OPEC to manage members’ [oil cuts] … reducing our production in present times is our red line.”
Zangeneh stated that the countries that recently increased their production levels should now reduce them: “Iran in the past month has not increased production whatsoever. As such, countries that increased their production in the past month must reduce their production.”
Zangeneh also criticized the meeting of the Brian Hook, the State Department’s special representative for Iran, and the Saudi oil minister at the sidelines of the OPEC summit. Zangeneh stated that the meeting was “completely unprofessional,” adding: “Trump wants to teach OPEC how it should operate, meaning he wants to put OPEC under pressure and this is extremely bad. Trump is dictating orders to OPEC. Most OPEC members will never submit to America’s demands.”
Other Domestic Political Developments
On December 6th, the Rouhani administration’s budget for the upcoming Iranian year 1398 (March 2019-March 2020) was sent to parliament for approval. Behrouz Nemati, the spokesman for the parliament’s presiding board, stated on the budget approval process: “Based on the parliament’s internal rules, technical commissions will review the budget bill from the time it’s received and MPs have 10 days to give their suggestions to these commissions. The commissions will then submit their review to the consolidation commission, where the entire budget will be reviewed for one month.”
Nemati added regarding the oil price and export levels the budget is based on: “Based on what we’ve heard, the administration’s budget bill is based on a $54 dollar per barrel of oil and selling 1.5 million barrels of oil a day.”
The Iranian parliament’s bill on Iran acceding to the terrorism financing convention, one of four bills introduced by the Rouhani administration to meet guidelines set out by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), has been sent to the Expediency Discernment Council. After the bill returned to parliament from the Guardian Council, parliamentarians amended parts of the bill in line with the Guardian Council’s complaints but insisted on the original bill in other areas.
According to the Iranian constitution, when the Guardian Council finds faults with a bill approved by parliament, and the parliament insists on its version, the bill is sent to the Expediency Discernment Council to resolve the dispute. The parliament has approved all four FATF bills, but thus far only the bill on reforming Iran’s law on confronting terrorism financing has been approved by the Guardian Council.
Ali Reza Rahimi, a member of the parliament’s presiding board, has said the number of signatories for a bill on Foreign Minister Javad Zarif’s impeachment has fallen below the threshold necessary for the bill to proceed. The impeachment bill had been circulated by conservative MPs (as covered in a previous Iran Unfiltered).
Rahimi said to IRNA: “Impeaching Mr Zarif had 24 signatories, which has now fallen to nine. According to the parliament’s rules, if the number of signatures for impeachment drops below ten it’s no longer under consideration.”