May 18, 2023

Iranian Lawyers Decry Legal Breaches in ‘Isfahan House’ Case Amid Rising Executions; Crackdown on Labor Unrest; Biden Administration Briefs Senate on Iran, and more

Week of May 15th, 2023 | Iran Unfiltered is a digest tracking Iranian politics & society by the National Iranian American Council 

Iranian Lawyers Decry Legal Breaches in ‘Isfahan House’ Case Amid Rising Executions

In the wake of a vigil outside Dastgerd prison in Isfahan aimed at preventing the execution of three men tied to the “Isfahan House” case, a consortium of lawyers and attorneys issued a stern condemnation of what they called “widespread legal breaches in the proceedings.” The legal professionals urgently called for a halt to all capital punishment, including the case at hand, which concerns three individuals who were detained and put on trial following the murder of two Basij members and a special unit colonel in the “Isfahan House” neighborhood’s security square on November 16 of last year. Despite their calls, Majid Kazemi, Saleh, Mirhashemi, and Saeed Yaqoubi were executed on the morning of May 19. Read our latest update on the execution in our Human Rights Tracker

The three defendants in the case have been in the spotlight since May 11 when forced confessions were aired by the Islamic Republic of Iran’s TV Platform. Kazemi, Yaqoubi, and Mirhashmi discussed the night of the incident in the televised confession, speaking of accessing “weapons,” “a lot of shooting,” and the presence of others who “shot,” but do not mention firing at security forces. Kazemi later claimed that these confessions were extracted under duress, including threats of rape and harm to his family. This broadcast has significantly escalated concerns surrounding their possible imminent execution.

Meanwhile, Gholamhossein Mohseni-Ejei, the Head of the Judiciary, without explicitly mentioning the contentious case, pledged “absolute decisiveness and swift action” during a Supreme Judicial Council meeting in dealing with instances of murder and martyrdom. He urged officials, including those from the prosecutor’s office, the court, the appeals court, and the Supreme Court, to act quickly and decisively, particularly in cases involving attacks on police and public officials.

However, as Mr. Mohseni-Ejgei made these remarks, the consortium of lawyers highlighted that the defendants were denied access to independent and elected counsel during the initial proceedings and have cited reports of torture and extended periods of solitary confinement. According to them, these legal shortcomings and abuses mandate a stay of execution.

The legal outcry comes amid continued protests against the defendants’ death sentences. Police cracked down on a demonstration outside the Isfahan prison, with officers resorting to tear gas to disperse the crowds. Footage from the protest has surfaced, capturing chants of defiance and scenes of protestors fleeing from security officers.

Outside of Iran, the human rights organization Amnesty International has already voiced deep concern over the impending execution of the three individuals. Iran has a history of broadcasting forced confessions, often followed by swift execution of the accused. 

The “Isfahan House” case initially had five defendants, including Amir Nasr Azadani, a football player sentenced to a 16-year prison term for “assisting in Moharebeh,” and Sohail Jahangiri, who received a two-year sentence. Four protestors tied to the nationwide women’s protests have already been executed, leading to heightened concerns amid a new wave of executions in Iran.

Harana, an agency linked to Iran’s human rights activist group, has also documented the execution of 57 individuals over the past 11 days in prisons located in Rajaee Shahr, Karaj, Urmia, Qazalhasar, Dastgerd, Isfahan, Vakilabad, Mashhad, Ardabil, Torbat Jam, Yazd, Rasht, Birjand, Qazvin, Neyshabur, Minab, Bandar Abbas, Zahedan, Khorramabad, Iranshahr, Selmas, and Shiraz. Additionally, in the preceding week, a minimum of 38 inmates were  relocated to the solitary cells in Selmas, Urmia, Khorin, Qazalhasar Karaj, Yazd, Bandar Abbas, Birjand, Shiraz, and Zahedan prisons in preparation for executions. Harana also suggested the likelihood of this figure rising.

Numerous Publishers Boycott 34th Tehran International Book Fair Amid Unrest

The 34th Tehran International Book Fair, a flagship literary event, is currently experiencing a significant downturn in publisher participation. The evolving list of absentees grows longer by the minute, with many more publishers abstaining from the fair compared to prior years. The roster of non-participant publishers includes prominent names like Amir Kabir, Scientific and Cultural, Hermes, and Tarheno. While many are opting out, Cheshme Publishing, however, has confirmed its presence, albeit virtually.

A multitude of local publishers have chosen to not partake in the fair. Several publishing houses, including Markaz, Ghoqnos, Negah, Marwarid, Tahli, Cheshme, Ketab Parse, and Nilofar, have cited various reasons for their withdrawal. Economic and trade union issues, as well as the turbulent political and social climate of Iran, were among the main concerns noted.

Amid the boycott, Rozeneh Publishing House faced a sudden closure of their booth at the book fair, ordered by the event officials. The abrupt termination came as a shock, with the book fair for Rozeneh starting and ending in just a day. As of now, the fair’s authorities haven’t provided a specific reason for the closure. “The reason for this action is not clear to us yet,” a Rozeneh representative shared in a tweet. Rozeneh belongs to Alireza Beheshti Shirazi, a political activist who was arrested recently. 

Crackdown on Labor Unrest: Eight Activists Arrested Amid Mass Dismissals in South Pars and Asaluyeh

Iranian News Agency (IRNA) reported that eight labor activists, cited as key leaders in organizing strikes across South Pars and Asaluyeh, were apprehended by authorities. The announcement was made by the deputy for political security of the Bushehr governorate, who described these individuals as pivotal figures, coordinating strikes both virtually and in person.

This development comes in the wake of the dismissal of 4,000 workers from the Pars Special Economic Zone, a move announced by the Zone’s CEO, Sakhavat Asadi, on the eve of International Labor Day. Asadi explained that numerous seasonal workers had laid down their tools in protest at eight petrochemical projects within the region, primarily due to economic hardship.

Asadi confirmed that the legal deadline to fire the striking workers had been reached, resulting in the substitution of the 4,000 workers with fresh labor. He acknowledged the validity of some of the workers’ demands, while also noting the lack of legal mechanisms to address some of their concerns. The CEO labeled the strike as an act of “abandonment” and attributed its inception to the “incitement and threat of some hostile individuals.”

In a related matter, Akbar Porat, the political security deputy of the Bushehr governor, pointed a finger at certain contractors as the agitators behind the labor strikes. He stated that these individuals, who were also active in the city of Asalouyeh, have since been identified and placed on a blacklist.

Iranian Foreign Minister Discusses Diplomatic Maneuvers

In an interview with government media, Iran’s Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian, asserted that communication continues between Iran and the United States as part of ongoing diplomatic efforts aimed at lifting sanctions imposed on Iran. On the matter of Iran’s interactions with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the re-installation of monitoring cameras, Amir Abdollahian praised IAEA Director-General, Rafael Grossi, for adopting a technical rather than a political approach in dealing with Iran. This shift in approach was a point of emphasis during their recent meeting.

The Foreign Minister, citing President Ebrahim Raisi, asserted Iran’s seriousness in cooperating with the IAEA, expecting the agency to abandon what he called a “political” approach in favor of a more technical one. This, he suggested, would pave the way for future agreements. Amir Abdollahian further expressed Iran’s commitment to complying with laws set forth by the Islamic Council while working within the boundaries of constructive and reciprocal collaboration with the IAEA. The ultimate aim is to dispel any uncertainties and unfounded accusations by the agency against Iran and set the stage for renewed cooperation.

Ahead of a meeting of the IAEA Board of Governors, Amir Abdollahian suggested that collaboration with the agency could proceed provided there is no interference from external parties. Discussing recent talks with the IAEA, the Foreign Minister mentioned a conversation with the EU’s High Representative, Josep Borrell, who, for the first time in a long while, expressed satisfaction with the ongoing process, based on reports received from the agency. The Foreign Minister stressed that a positive report and behavior from the agency could influence the ongoing talks to lift sanctions, a key objective of Iran’s diplomatic mission. Amir Abdollahian also touched on the promotion of relations between Tehran and Cairo, noting that the official channels of communication are active and are headed by ambassador-level individuals from both sides. While acknowledging efforts by some countries to improve relations between Egypt and the Islamic Republic, he expressed Iran’s openness to developing ties with Cairo. He also revealed his hopes for mutual steps to advance relations with regional countries under the vision of President Raisi’s government.

Finally, on the topic of resuming relations with Saudi Arabia, the Foreign Minister announced that the Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs had appointed a new ambassador to Tehran on Tuesday, May 19. Iran, in turn, is preparing to introduce its new ambassador to Riyadh, and efforts are underway to prepare for the reopening of the Iranian embassy and consulate in Saudi Arabia in the coming weeks.

Hijab and Chastity Bill Advancing in Parliament

Despite the government’s threats, Iranian women continue to resist the mandatory hijab. While the Islamic Republic has been trying to reinstate the mandatory hijab on Iranian women for about 8 months, the unique resistance of women and men has continued.

According to Mohammad Hosseini, the deputy of the presidency in parliament, the “hijab and chastity” bill devised by the judiciary in recent weeks is being scrutinized by the government’s judicial legal commission. Hosseini mentioned that the bill’s crucial aspect is transitioning some actions that were previously seen as crimes to being considered as violations. This would eliminate the need for all cases to go through the judiciary system. Instead, authorities would be able to utilize their conferred powers, such as imposing fines.

The spokesperson for the Judiciary announced last week that a draft of the Chastity and Hijab bill, consisting of 9 articles, has been prepared and sent to the government following the Judiciary head’s approval. The legal deputy of the president stated that this bill is being meticulously analyzed due to its significance and potential impact, and will be addressed promptly once received in parliament. He also noted that the parliament’s cultural committee members are pushing for swift approval of this bill.

Mohammad Dehghan, the Legal Vice-President of the Presidency, expressed in a speech that the hijab is an integral symbol of the Islamic Republic and the government can’t afford to be indifferent to this matter. He highlighted the need for enforcing the hijab law and said that without it, the Islamic Republic would lose its meaning. Ali Al-ghasi Mehr, the Chief Justice of Tehran province, stressed that those intentionally promoting “nudity” on the streets will be dealt with. He underlined the necessity of “spreading the hijab culture” and acting based on legal requirements while dealing with veiling.

Popular actors of Iranian cinema and television, Ketayun Riahi and Panthea Bahram, have been fined for appearing without a hijab at public events. They have been charged with “removing  the hijab in public and publishing pictures in cyberspace”. Meanwhile, there have been reported attacks by Tehran University’s security officers on the campus of fine arts, where students, professors, and a campus guard have been beaten, and students’ instruments destroyed. These attacks appear to be part of an ongoing effort to enforce the mandatory hijab rule.

Al-Zahra University has suspended Sepideh Reshnou, a painting student, for two semesters for not adhering to the “Islamic cover”. Reshnou has expressed her stance on her right to choose her attire as a citizen, stating that she will return after her suspension with the same attire.

Broad-Based Telecommunications Retiree Protests

In a major show of solidarity, telecommunications retirees from 15 different Iranian cities, including Ahvaz, Dezful, Bandar Abbas, Ardabil, Kermanshah, Arak, Ilam, Khorramabad, Isfahan, Rasht, Sanandaj, Shahrekord, Zahedan, Tabriz, and Mashhad, staged a vocal protest rally. The details were unveiled by Harana, the official publication of the Human Rights Activists Group in Iran, on Monday, May 18.


The protesters assembled in front of their respective telecommunications buildings to voice their grievances and demand justice. With slogans such as “Promise is not enough, our table is empty”, “Unworthy manager, shame on you”, and “Neither the government, nor the parliament, they don’t care about the nation”, they expressed their dissatisfaction over the indifference towards their demands. They further pledged to continue their protests until their rights are recognized.

Meanwhile, workers from Kerman Technical Building contractor voiced their discontent for the third consecutive day, protesting the neglect of their demands and choosing to strike.

However, in Tehran, a similar gathering of telecom retirees was thwarted by the security and law enforcement forces. The Free Workers’ Union reported that these forces, who had surrounded the Ministry of Communications of Tehran and Andisheh Park since dawn, precluded the formation of a protest rally. Those retirees who had arrived to participate in the gathering were attacked, with some of them arrested, including seven retirees present at Andisheh Park who are war veterans. This series of protests comes on the heels of last year’s popular uprising in Iran, indicating a resurgence in demonstrations by workers, teachers, and pensioners across the nation’s cities, amplifying their calls for change and justice.

Renowned Iranian Singer Hossein Zaman Dies, Leaving Legacy of Musical Protest and Censorship

Hossein Zaman, the renowned and often-controversial singer, has passed away. His son, Abuzar Zaman, confirmed his father’s death via a poignant Twitter post. He recently announced that Hossein Zaman had been suffering from a late-stage liver cancer diagnosis. “My father is gone, my father is gone forever,” he wrote.

A report from the news website “Navandish” revealed that Hossein Zaman had faced a work ban spanning nearly two decades. In a 2015 interview, Zaman disclosed that he was unofficially prohibited from participating in any cultural or musical activities, and was even prevented from releasing an album. However, in 2019, he managed to perform a concert with a 30-member orchestra at the Milad Tower’s conference hall.

Zaman, a consistent voice of protest, passed away before his 64th birthday. He maintained close ties with the Islamic Iran Participation Front, often participating in their ceremonies and performing songs. Despite this, his activities were banned in 2002 during Mohammad Khatami’s reformist government. Under Hassan Rouhani’s administration, Zaman attempted to overturn the ban. In a 2016 interview with the Ilna news agency, he expressed disappointment with the continued restrictions on his work, mirroring those from Ahmadinejad’s tenure. He finally managed to perform with the 30-piece Orchestra at Milad Tower in 2019, following 17 years of prohibition.

In response to his passing, political and civil prisoners from Evin prison collectively expressed their condolences. “We too mourn the loss of Hossein Zaman Nazanin. Hossein Zaman was more than just a popular and insightful singer, and a progressive, innovative, and tasteful artist. He made his art a vehicle for the voiceless, a call for freedom and justice. Despite years of pressure, censorship, work bans, and other hardships, he never wavered in his support for the people. We extend our heartfelt condolences to his many fans on the loss of this wise and respectable artist, and we pray for solace and tranquility for his family and relatives. May his soul find joy, and his memory and ideals persist.” Signatories included Seyed Mostafa Tajzadeh, Amir Salar Davoudi, Vida Rabbani, Hossein Razagh, Reza Shahabi, Said Madani and Faezeh Hashemi.

Foreign National Prisoner Release in Iran

News about the release of a dual-national Irish-French prisoner in Iran has emerged, yet conflicting reports cloud the situation. Iranian news agencies, including the IRNA, declared on Friday that Bernard Phelan, sentenced to a six and a half year term, has been released on “humanitarian grounds”. The Iranian embassy in Ireland attributed this development to “constructive diplomatic efforts”. However, Bernard’s sister, Carolyn Phelan, refuted this news, telling a German news agency that her brother’s release has not yet been confirmed and he remains in Iran. The 64-year-old was arrested in Mashhad last October for photographing a burning mosque, later being charged with “propaganda against the regime” and disseminating the photos to British media.

In a separate incident, two French nationals, arrested during their visit to Iran and sentenced to lengthy prison terms, were released Friday, May 12. The news was announced by French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna, who also stated that the freed individuals had received medical attention post-release and were en route back to France. Colonna reiterated France’s stance demanding the release of all its citizens from Iranian custody. In a similar vein, French President Emmanuel Macron celebrated the release of Bernard Fillon and Benjamin Brier in a tweet, thanking all involved in securing their freedom and affirming France’s ongoing efforts to secure the return of any compatriots still imprisoned in Iran.

Iran’s Elite Exodus: A Crisis of Human Capital Productivity

In the last two decades, Iran has seen a steep rise in the departure of its academic elite, a trend that has seen a staggering 75% increase, according to the Iranian Migration Observatory. The number of students leaving the nation has surged from 17,000 in 2000 to 66,000 in 2020, depleting the country of its social capital and leading to a crisis in human capital productivity.

The Iranian Migration Observatory, a research center affiliated with Sharif University, has been tracking and analyzing this concerning trend since 2020, as the outflow of Iran’s best and brightest minds continues to gain momentum. This exodus has triggered a flurry of discussions among sociologists, economists, and academics, with media often referring to the phenomenon as a “tsunami of emigration.”

Iran has long held an unenviable position atop the list of countries whose students and graduates are drawn to first-world academic and research institutions, or are finding better job opportunities aligned with their skills and expertise abroad. This alarming brain drain, due to factors like inadequate employment opportunities or lack of productive platforms at home, continues to challenge Iran’s socio-economic fabric.

Swedish Parliament Designates IRGC as Terrorist Organization

The Swedish Parliament, which currently presides over the rotating presidency of the European Union, unanimously voted to designate the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a terrorist organization on Wednesday, May 10. Markus Wischel, a member of the Swedish Parliament, took to Twitter to express his satisfaction at the decision: “Today we made history… Thank you for all your support. We will continue to fight to end the oppression in Iran and secure the fundamental rights of freedom for the Iranian people.”

The decision comes hot on the heels of the execution of Habib Asiod, a dual Iranian-Swedish citizen. On Saturday, May 6, Iran’s Judiciary Media Center announced the execution of Habib Farajullah Chaab, also known as Habib Esiyod, on charges of “corruption in the world” and “leadership of the Harak al-Nidal group”. Sweden currently holds the rotating European Union Council presidency, and there has been intense debate on whether the EU as a whole will designate the IRGC as a terrorist organization. The U.S. first designated the IRGC as a terrorist organization in 2019.

High-level Biden Administration Officials Confer with Senate on Iran Policy Amidst Escalating Concerns

In a private briefing on Tuesday, May 16, top officials in the Biden administration briefed Senators on pressing Iran-related issues, according to an exclusive report by Politico. US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman and Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Colin Kahl, were among the briefers. Robert Malley, the US special envoy for Iran affairs, was absent due to being on unspecified leave. Other high-profile attendees include US Deputy Director of National Intelligence Morgan Muir, Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence,  Vice Adm. Stephen Koehler of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Planning, and others.

Democratic Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA) described the briefing as a “status update with no major new developments,” while expressing that negotiations at this time would be a “nonstarter.” Kaine, a long-time member of the Armed Services and Foreign Affairs Committee in the Senate, has been a strong defender of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) over the years. Meanwhile, Sen. Menendez, the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and an opponent of the JCPOA, was described as positive and said he heard a strategy for moving forward on Iran “beyond talks.” 

Meanwhile, new developments add fuel to the global tension. White House spokesperson, John Kirby, disclosed on Monday that Russia has allegedly received over 400 suicide drones from Iran since last August. Kirby added that Russia is reportedly seeking more lethal and efficient drones from Iran. However, there are no signs of Iran supplying Russia with ballistic missiles or similar military hardware. He also shed light on Iran’s escalating demand for Russian military equipment, which includes attack helicopters, radar systems, and aircraft, all worth billions of dollars.

“We are employing every tool in our arsenal to unveil these transactions and are prepared to continue doing so,” Kirby underscored. The US has charged Russia with using Iranian-made drones to strike civilian locations and infrastructure in Ukraine, citing evidence from on the ground in the war zone. Iran has attempted to deny the allegations.

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