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December 21, 2023

Hacker Group ‘Sparrowhawk’ Claims Responsibility After Cyber Attack Disrupts 70% of Iran’s Fuel Stations,” Iran Intensifies Hijab Enforcement, Hamid Nouri’s Life Sentence Upheld and more

Week of December 18, 2023 | Iran Unfiltered is a digest tracking Iranian politics & society by the National Iranian American Council 

Tehran Revolutionary Court charges Johan Flodros with ‘Corruption on Earth’ a Day after Hamid Nouri’s Life Sentence

In his latest trial in Iran, Johan Flodros – a Swedish diplomat – was charged with “corruption on earth.” As part of a court meeting on December 20, the presiding judge stated that Mr. Flodros has been accused of “corruption on earth through an extensive scope, organized manner, and intelligence collaboration against the security and territorial integrity of the Islamic Republic.” This grave charge can lead to the death penalty.

Afshari, head of Branch 26 of the Islamic Revolutionary Court, informed the defendant that he was monitored by Iranian security agencies. “Messages, emails, mobile phone monitoring, trips to various countries, your presence in border cities in Iran, connections and travels to occupied territories, and other evidence and indications” mentioned in the indictment are among the reasons for the charge of “corruption on earth.” During this meeting, the charge d’affaires of the Swedish embassy was also present. 

The timing of this charge appears tied to the decision yesterday to confirm Iranian judge Hamid Nouri’s sentence in Sweden. The Swedish Court of Appeals confirmed the life sentence of Nouri (also known as Abbasi) for his reported involvement in “war crimes” and “premeditated murder,” dismissing his appeal. In 1988, Nouri was implicated in the mass execution of political prisoners in Iran. The rejection of the appeal, which was overseen by the head of the appeal court Robert Green, brings the case to an important juncture. 

Nouri was initially arrested upon arrival in Sweden in November 2019 and prosecuted for his role in political executions in Iran decades earlier. Iran’s government has strongly objected to the trial, and is currently holding several Swedish nationals – including the diplomat Johan Flodros – and a dual national facing death penalty charges – Ahmadreza Djalali.

452 relatives of the executed former political prisoners and human rights activists welcomed the verdict, hailing it as a triumph for justice and a blow to the Islamic Republic. During the Iran-Iraq international armed conflict, the appellate court found Nouri complicit in the execution of political prisoners. For his actions in the summer of 1988, he was convicted of serious violations of international law by Sweden’s court, including war crimes and intentional homicide.

During his defense, Nouri rejected the allegations of mass executions as “fabricated” and “falsified”. Iranian authorities have consistently proclaimed Nouri’s innocence, denouncing the trial as politically-motivated. During the appeal process, which began on January 11, 2023, approximately 100 sessions were held over the course of nine months following the initial trial. The trial included the testimony of 34 plaintiffs and 26 witnesses.

Several international and Persian-language media outlets covered the trial in both Swedish and Persian. Live broadcasting was permitted by the court, which further heightened public interest and commentary. Despite being held in Sweden, the trial was conducted under the principle of universal jurisdiction, marking a historic first in which an Iranian was prosecuted and convicted abroad for crimes committed within Iran. Under the universal jurisdiction principle, which not all nations observe, criminal offenses such as war crimes and crimes against humanity can be tried in foreign courts regardless of the location of the crime or the nationality of the accused or victim.

A statement from the families of the executed and former political prisoners declared the verdict as a significant victory for the justice movement. Additionally, they asserted that Ebrahim Raisi, the current President of the Islamic Republic strongly backed by Supreme Leader Khamenei, was a member of the ‘Death Committee’ in 1988. Nouri and his legal team have the opportunity to appeal the case to the Supreme Court of Sweden. However, this will depend on whether or not the higher court accepts their appeal.

During the trial, speculations about possible pressure from the Iranian government for a prisoner swap arose due to the detention of several Swedish citizens in Iran. A few months earlier, Iranian diplomat Assadollah Assadi was exchanged for European prisoners. Assadi had received a 20-year sentence for his alleged role in plotting a bombing at a meeting of the Mujahedin-e Khalq organization in Paris, France.

Cyber Attack Disrupts 70% of Iran’s Fuel Stations: Hacker Group ‘Sparrowhawk’ Claims Responsibility Amid Concerns of Foreign Involvement

Javad Owji, the Minister of Oil, acknowledged a cyber attack on Monday morning that led to widespread disruptions at gasoline and diesel fuel stations throughout Iran. Approximately 70% of the nation’s fuel stations were affected by the attack, which has been attributed to the hacker group “Sparrowhawk.” Many have speculated that the group is linked to Israel.

Reza Nawaz, the spokesperson for the Iranian Fuel Station Association, described the disruption as a nationwide technical issue, while the National Iranian Oil Products Distribution Company described it as a plot to undermine public welfare. Iranian authorities have responded by advising against unnecessary visits to the stations. According to the Jerusalem Post, “Sparrowhawk” was responsible for the cyber attack. The group has acknowledged the claim on their social media account. The Iranian Passive Defense Organization is investigating all possibilities, including infiltration and hacking, but has not confirmed any specific allegations. Israel has not commented on the incident, though the Jerusalem Post did cite Israel’s cyber unit as alleging Iranian and Hezbollah involvement in a recent failed cyber attack on a northern Israeli hospital, which resulted in partial data retrieval.

This is not the first time that “Sparrowhawk” has targeted Iran. The group attacked an Iranian steel factory in summer 2022, causing a major fire, and previously disrupted Iran’s gas station payment systems in fall 2021. Provocative messages were displayed on digital billboards in Tehran and other cities during the latter period. The Iranian government acknowledged a cyber attack following the shutdown of gas stations and the ensuing long queues in 2021, implicating the United States and Israel. The incident coincided with the second anniversary of a bloody crackdown on protests sparked by a sudden gasoline price hike.

Fuel supply officials are currently selling fuel at free-market prices manually, resulting in lengthy queues. As a result of the disruption, government-subsidized fuel cards are no longer working, but the Deputy Minister of Oil has assured citizens that their gasoline quotas will remain unchanged, and efforts are being made to gradually restore services. Fuel station owners’ guild spokesperson confirmed that there is no fuel shortage or price increase planned, attributing the disruption to technical difficulties.

Iran intensifies Hijab Law Enforcement with Mobile Courts and Strict Protocols

Iran’s Minister of Interior, Ahmad Vahidi, has issued confidential directives revealing new measures aimed at enforcing hijab regulations, according to BBC Persian. In order to address non-compliance with hijab laws, the judiciary has now been authorized to set up mobile courts in public areas, including streets, shopping centers, and other key locations. While many women across Iran continue to defy mandatory hijab, this new directive shows a continuing drive to seek to restore some degree of compliance.

In both the directives, dated April 1, 2023 and May 30, 2023, detailed protocols are authorized for various ministries and agencies to combat improper hijab and non-compliance practices. The IRGC Intelligence Protection, the Ministry of Intelligence, and the Cyber Police (FATA) are empowered by these documents to enforce these rules strictly. According to the May 2023 document, previously reported in the Iranian newspapers Etemad and Tosee Irani, FATA and security agencies are instructed to collect evidence against schoolgirls violating hijab norms and to prosecute prominent individuals and public figures who remove their hijab or promote its removal online. 

Several cafes have been identified as being influential in the Woman, Life, Freedom movement and are being targeted for closure, particularly those situated near educational institutions. Clause 12 of the documents contains ambiguities that allow officers to pursue additional charges, such as ‘organization and promotion of corruption’ against those who refuse to comply with the hijab warnings.

After a meeting of the Morality and Hijab Headquarters in April 2023, the directive, marked as ‘highly confidential and urgent,’ was distributed to provincial governors. Hijab laws are enforced by a variety of state bodies. It represents a significant expansion of the government’s security measures concerning hijab, imposing broad restrictions on women and imposing punitive measures against those who do not comply.

These stringent policies appear to have been implemented. In order to quell protests, the government passed harsher laws that target non-compliance with the hijab regulations. In accordance with these decrees, actions such as removing the hijab or encouraging its removal on social media could result in prosecution under Article 639 of the Islamic Penal Code. This article focuses on establishing or managing a center for corruption or facilitating corruption or prostitution. Additionally, the directive requires the Ministry of Intelligence, the IRGC Intelligence, and FATA to take action against organized groups and individuals who violate public chastity norms. This category includes celebrities, bloggers, influencers, and other individuals involved in the virtual world.

The IRGC and Basij are responsible for enforcing hijab compliance, in addition to training individuals for enforcement in the field. The Ministry of Interior and the Mayor of Tehran have described these enforcers as spontaneous forces, despite recent disclosures suggesting they are part of a government-led initiative.

Also, security institutions are instructed to film ‘norm violators’ and to document chastity and hijab violations in detail. Thus, plain-clothed individuals have been spotted with professional cameras in public places, a move that has been strongly criticized. Several cafes, particularly those near universities and schools, have been referred to as ‘destructive’ and influential in anti-hijab movements. As a result of a collaboration with the police, the Ministry of Industry, Mining, and Development has instructed the Chamber of Guilds to seal and cancel the licenses of violating cafes.

This directive has led to the closure of a number of cafes and cultural centers, particularly following the protests following the death of Mahsa Amini. One of the victims of the Woman, Life, Freedom protests, Nika Shakarami, worked at the Cafe “Goddar,” which was previously targeted for closure. The Islamic Republic’s recent measures, as outlined in these confidential directives, constitute a significant increase in the enforcement of hijab laws, which has significant implications for public life, personal freedoms, and the role of security agencies.

Civil Activists Amplify Demand for Repeal of Iran’s Mandatory Hijab Law, Citing Societal Costs and Injustice

Nine civil activists have intensified their call for the repeal of Iran’s mandatory hijab law. The signatories of this letter include political and civil figures Hashem Aghajari, Zahra Rahnavard, Nasser Zarafshan, Nasrin Sotoudeh, Alieh Matlubzadeh, Mostafa Malekian, Farhad Meysami, Lotfollah Meysami, and Sedigheh Vasmaghi. The open letter they signed calls for an end to “all oppressive policies against women in various spheres of life,” supporting the call for an optional hijab. The deaths of Mahsa Amini and Armita Garavand are cited as a consequence  of the “extremist ideology and approach” of the authorities enforcing compulsory hijab.

The authors of the letter, pointing to the societal costs imposed by the mandatory hijab law, write: “The failure of the long and costly experience of enforcing the hijab has made the reasonable expectation of repealing the related law more prominent than ever. However, it is astonishing to see that the government, ignoring the majority’s demand, has intensified its violent actions against women. Worse, it tries to escape responsibility for such actions through deception and lying.”

They argue that the enforcement of the hijab is both illogical and lacking any basis or legitimacy within traditional Sharia law, which the Islamic government claims to adhere to. The letter states that the inhumane and violent measures implemented in the compulsory hijab policy have been distressing not only for women but also for their fathers, husbands, and brothers, causing deep wounds and trauma in the conscience of the majority of people, which will not easily heal. They emphasize that the adverse consequences of this compulsion further highlight the repugnance of such a policy.

Clampdown on Iran’s Political Prisoners: Long-term Detention and Uncertainty

Numerous political prisoners continue to face indefinite detention and uncertainty across various cities in Iran, in a concerning trend of human rights violations. Reports from human rights organizations show a lack of transparency and information about the status of these detainees.

According to Human Rights News Agency Hrana, Mohammad Hossein and Hossein Sepahri, siblings of Fatemeh Sepahri, have been incarcerated in Vakilabad Prison, Mashhad, for over two months. Having been arrested in early November 2022, they are facing serious charges that include “assembly and collusion against national security” and “propaganda activities against the regime.” The case has been referred to Branch 903 of the Mashhad Inquiry. Ali Mohammad Parisaei, a Dehdasht resident arrested during the December 2022 national protests, has been in limbo in Yasuj Prison for approximately three months. After being released on bail earlier this year, Parisaei was re-arrested on September 11 and remains in custody to this day.

During the ongoing national uprising, civil activists and other detainees have been continuously sentenced to prison. Branch 27 of the Tehran Revolutionary Court has sentenced Sajjad Iman Nejad, a detainee of the 2022 nationwide protests, to 11 years in prison and a fine of over 2.7 billion tomans. He has been charged with ‘moharebeh’ (enmity against God), a charge that may result in the death penalty and has been carried out against other detainees arrested during the uprising.

It is also a grim situation for student activists. Four students from Tehran University of Medical Sciences – Motahareh Gonei, Mehdi Hadizadeh, Seyed Kian Bani Hashemi, and Fatemeh Gharibi – have been subjected to severe disciplinary actions, including educational suspension and exile. These penalties, confirmed by the Islamic Association of Students at Tehran University and Medical Sciences, reflect an increasingly repressive environment in academic institutions.

According to a recent report in the newspaper Ham Mihan, university courts continue to issue harsh punishments. In the past year, 176 disciplinary orders, 8 expulsions, and 301 semester suspensions have been issued. Additionally, the report notes a concerning trend of decreasing legal procedures and increasing punishment severity, including increased dress code regulations and the requirement to inform family members of cases even before verdicts are rendered.

Recently, Samaneh Asghari – a student and child rights activist at Kharazmi University of Karaj – was sentenced to one year in prison, as announced by her husband, Esmaeil Nazari. Asghari has been a vocal advocate for children’s rights since she was initially arrested in October 2022 and temporarily released earlier this year. In the past, she had been sentenced to over 18 years in prison, with six years of that sentence enforceable, a decision representative of the harsh penalties activists face in Iran. The cases underline the ongoing human rights challenges in Iran, particularly for political prisoners, activists, and students who have continued to face severe restrictions and punitive measures as a result of their advocacy and protests.

Sara Massoumi Sentenced Over Social Media Post, Sparking Press Freedom Concerns

Branch 26 of the Revolutionary Court sentenced Sara Massoumi, a journalist, to six months imprisonment and two years prohibition from practicing journalism on the charge of spreading false information. As a result of this verdict, human rights advocates have expressed significant concerns about the implications for freedom of the press in Iran. Massoumi has built up a large following both inside and outside the country, including through her reporting on geopolitical negotiations between Iran and world powers.

According to Massoumi’s attorney, the conviction stems solely from a social media post regarding Armita Geravand that was posted on X (Twitter). Massoumi accompanied an image of Geravand with the hashtag Mahsa Amini in a now-deleted November post on her Twitter Account. The journalist added a poignant comment: “They wrote you had ‘passed away’, but we have known the trail of blood for years, and the city still reeks of oppression. Were all the films shown to your mother?”

Seventeen year-old Armita Geravand entered a metro car in Shahid Square station on October 1, accompanied by two of her friends. Shortly after entering the Metro cabin, she sustained a head injury and had to be dragged out by her friends. The injury proved fatal, as she entered into a coma and died after a four week battle, on October 28. While the government claimed she injured herself in a fall due to low blood pressure, and restricted journalist access to the family, many in the public believe that she was pushed in a confrontation with morality police. The case echoes the morality police’s killing of 22-year-old Jina Mahsa Amini.

Massoumi’s lawyer, Ali Mojtehedzadeh, emphasized that the initial charge of disseminating false information was based on a single tweet. Despite Mojtehedzadeh’s assertion that the tweet contained no proven false news, the court’s verdict inexplicably referred to unspecified reports from officers.

Mojtehedzadeh, an advocate for journalists’ rights and freedom of speech, has requested intervention from the head of the judiciary. According to him, the severity of the punishment for a single tweet constitutes a blatant intrusion on journalistic freedom. In order to protect journalists and their rights, he urged the judiciary to reevaluate the case.

Massoumi posted a response to the allegations on her social media platform last month. She lamented the indictment after “18 years of continuous journalism in my homeland.” She noted that she was charged with spreading lies and anti-system propaganda, and that she was granted a conditional release.

A number of other journalists and civil activists have been summoned by Iran’s judicial and security establishments as a result of the Geravand injury and death,, further reinforcing concerns about freedom of the press and human rights in the country.

Israel’s Destruction of Ancient Achaemenid Ruins in Gaza

An Israeli attack has resulted in the destruction of one of Gaza’s most significant archaeological sites, believed to contain significant remnants of the Achaemenid period, according to a new report by the Forensic Architecture Institute at Goldsmiths University in London. This historical loss compounds the staggering human toll of the Gaza conflict, where more than 20,000 Palestinians – many of whom are women and children – have been killed following the October 7th attack on Israel.

According to the report, the Israeli military demolished the site in three distinct phases: aerial bombardments, surface-level destruction, and the installation of water pumps. According to reports, these pumps are intended to flood Hamas’ underground tunnels.

Discoveries made during excavations between 1995 and 2005 have highlighted the archaeological significance of this site, particularly in relation to the Achaemenid period. A defensive wall was discovered beneath several houses dating to the Achaemenid era, an era renowned for its architectural and cultural achievements. Lasting from the 6th to the 4th century BCE, the Achaemenid era of the Persian Empire marked a significant period in the history of the world. Cyrus the Great and his descendants ruled over much of the greater Middle East and South Asia, including modern day Palestine and Israel. 

The site also yielded remnants from other historical periods, including the Roman, Hellenistic, and Byzantine periods, further attesting its archaeological significance. The institute’s analysis of aerial imagery from October 8 to November 6 revealed extensive damage characterized by ‘dozens of large holes,’ likely resulting from bombing or military-grade tools. Immediately following the invasion, the site was further altered, with heavy machinery such as bulldozers and tanks reshaping the landscape, effectively transforming it into a military base.

As identified in the image analysis, the latest development involves the construction of water pump infrastructures around the archaeological site, increasing the risk to the preservation of these valuable historical artifacts and structures.

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