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August 28, 2020

Iranian Social Media Has a #MeToo Outpouring


Week of August 24th, 2020 | Iran Unfiltered is a weekly digest tracking Iranian politics & society by the National Iranian American Council

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Iranian Social Media Has a #MeToo Outpouring

Many Iranian women have taken to social media to speak out about their experiences of sexual harassment and rape. There has been an outpouring of people sharing their stories, and some prominent figures have been among those accused. Commentators have compared what is happening in size and scope to the #MeToo movement, which swept the U.S. and many other countries.

Women have shared stories of being harassed or raped by people they had trusted, such as instructors. Many have shared that they have been afraid of sharing their stories for fear of societal backlash. Many men have also participated and shared their experience of sexual harassment and rape.

Participating in a #MeToo-like movement in Iran can be particularly costly. Cultural taboos, laws that discriminate against women, and the perception that women are at fault in cases of sexual assault stand in the way of women who wish to speak out about sexual harassment.

BBC Persian says of the online movement in Iran: “Proving rape and sexual assault, especially years after it occurred, is difficult in legal systems across the world, whether in America or Iran. However, in Iran another important issue is a lack of support from the family and society and sometimes the situation becomes even worse for the victim.”

BBC Persian further states of the Iranian judicial system’s response to sexual assault allegations: “There are many nonhopeful stories regarding the judicial system’s approach to rape allegations. Especially if rape is not proven, there can be accusations made against women and they can be punished. Especially if a woman went to a man’s house on her own.”

Among those accused in the outpouring on Iranian social media, one story gained greater prominence. Many women spoke about a man in Tehran who invited women to his home, served them wine spiked with drugs, then raped them. This person’s name also circulated to the point that Tehran University, where this man graduated, put out a statement commenting on the case.

However, Tehran’s police chief soon announced this alleged rapist was arrested. Police chief Hossein Rahimi said about the arrest of the suspect Keyvan Imamvardi: “After multiple complaints from women, especially female students, who said they were harassed by a “K.I.”, which has damaged the public’s feelings, especially of women, Tehran police discovered the man’s hiding place and arrested him.”

The police chief said women should give their “complaints” of rape and sexual harassment to the police with “trust” and “knowing their identity will be protected.” Read more about the outpouring of Iranian women sharing their experiences of rape and sexual assault on NIAC’s human rights tracker.

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MPs Introduce Bill to Limit Internet Access

A group of 40 MPs have introduced a bill in parliament to further restrict internet access. The bill would create a new oversight body to monitor internet activities and seeks to identify internet users.

The ill would also make using VPNs to bypass current government internet filters illegal. The bill says the punishment would either be prison time or a fine.

Most internet users in Iran use VPNs to circumvent government filters, including many government officials. Many officials, including Ayatollah Khamenei, have accounts on websites like Twitter and Facebook, which are blocked in Iran.

The bill has been spearheaded by hardline parliamentarians, such as Nasrollah Pejmanfar, Javad Karimi-Ghodousi, and Hossein-Ali Haji-Deligani. All of these MPs are part of the fundamentalist “Front of Islamic Revolution Stability” political faction, which holds 93 out of 290 seats in the current parliament.

The bill has entered the process of going to the full parliament for a vote. If it is approved by the full parliament, it will go to the Guardian Council, which can approve or reject it. Unlike the U.S., the presidency in Iran (Rouhani) cannot veto bills initiated by parliament.

The Iranian government has increased its control over internet connections in recent years. Last November, after widespread protests broke out after a gasoline price hike, the government cut internet connections to the outside world. At the same time, the domestic internet was active, allowing domestically hosted web pages and services for banks, hospitals, and other industries to operate.
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Agreement Reached with IAEA

The IAEA’s Director General Rafael Grossi travelled to Iran and reached an agreement for the agency to inspect two sites in the country. In June, the IAEA’s Board of Governors passed a resolution calling on Iran to “fully cooperate” with its request to visit the two sites. (Read more about the IAEA’s Board of Governors resolution in a previous issue of Iran Unfiltered).

The IAEA seeks to investigate claims that undeclared nuclear work was done at these sites in the past. The allegation stems from documents Israel claims to have stolen from Iran, which allegedly show nuclear work done in Iran in the early 2000s.

The IAEA has wanted to inspect the facilities to verify Iran’s reports to the agency about its nuclear program. The two facilities in question are now defunct and have no role in Iran’s current nuclear program.

Iranian officials have said the claims about the facilities have “no credibility.” When the IAEA’s board of governors passed its resolution against Iran in June, the agency Director General Grossi said Iran had not provided access to the two sites despite the agency asking for over four months.

Behrooz Kamalvandi, the spokesperson for the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, has said about providing access to the two sites: “These inspections begin with questions. These questions must have a basis. Not every question can be asked. There must be evidence. And this can’t be from espionage documents.”

However, Grossi reached an agreement for the IAEA to inspect the two facilities while in Iran. During his visit, he met with Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, and Foreign Minister Zarif and President Rouhani. Salehi described his meeting with Grossi as “very constructive” and said it marked the beginning of a “new chapter” between Iran and the agency.

A joint statement from the IAEA and Iran emphasizes the inspections will be done in accordance to Iran’s safeguards agreements with the agency. The statement reads: “The IAEA verification activities will proceed in accordance with the CSA [comprehensive safeguards agreement] and the AP [additional protocol], and the IAEA’s standard verification practice as implemented for all States with CSAs and APs on equal basis and without discrimination.”

The joint statement also says the IAEA has no more questions or requests about Iran’s nuclear program based on current information. The inspections could effectively close the book on the “nuclear archive” documents that Israel revealed and has claimed show past nuclear work done in Iran, though the IAEA left itself wiggle room. The joint statement read: “In this present context, based on analysis of available information to the IAEA, the IAEA does not have further questions to Iran and further requests for access to locations other than those declared by Iran under its CSA and AP.”

Grossi will be providing a new report on the JCPOA’s implementation to the IAEA’s Board of Governors. On September 1st, the JCPOA’s Joint Commission, composed of Iran and the original signatories to the deal minus the U.S., will be meeting in Vienna. The Joint Commission is informed by reports from the IAEA.

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Nasrin Sotoudeh’s Condition Worsening

Reza Khandan, husband of imprisoned lawyer and human rights activist Nasrin Sotoudeh, says his wife’s condition is worsening in prison. Sotoudeh has been on a hunger strike since August 11th in protest at prison conditions amid the COVID-19 pandemic and the continued imprisonment of political prisoners. (Read more about Sotoudeh and her decision to go on a hunger strike in a previous issue of Iran Unfiltered).

Khandan says his wife now has high blood pressure and low blood sugar levels.

Nasrin Sotoudeh’s daughter was arrested on August 17th and briefly detained. Authorities arrested 20-year-old Mehraveh Khandan at home and took her to the Evin prison courthouse. After several hours of interrogation, she was released.

Many have said Mehraveh’s arrest was aimed at pressuring Sotoudeh to stop her hunger strike. Sotoudeh’s husband has said about his daughter’s arrest: “This has become so shocking and inhumane that she [Nasrin Sotoudeh] cannot think about ending her hunger strike. The judiciary must answer for this inhumane and heinous act, for detaining the daughter of a political prisoner and creating fear.”
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Rouhani Says Next U.S. President Will Look for a “New Path”

President Rouhani has said that the Trump administration’s “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran has been “100 percent defeated.” Rouhani stated: “America wanted to create a crisis in Iran and for the people to take to the streets to stand against the system. This has been definitively defeated, though they have put our people under strain and destroyed their own reputations.”

Rouhani also responded to claims by U.S. President Trump that he would reach a deal with Iran in weeks if re-elected. He stated: “If a deal means that they will apologize and return to the JCPOA and the P5+1, it can be done today. But if they want to take some other action, it will never be possible. If they want to impose something on the nation, it is not possible.”

However, Rouhani said he was confident the next U.S. presidential administration, whether led by Trump or Joe Biden, will pursue a new path toward Iran. He said the next president will “definitely look for a new solution, since the maximum pressure solution has not worked.”

Rouhani comments came during an address to the heads of media outlets. Elsewhere in his speech, Rouhani said he “accepts that the livelihood of people is not good.” He added that in the 42 years since the establishment of the Islamic Republic, “8 years were in war and close to 10 under sanctions.”

Rouhani added that managing the country amid sanctions and the COVID-19 pandemic is “difficult.”

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