February 7, 2023

Reformists changing strategies, Khamenei pardons select prisoners, Khoy earthquake relief and more

Week of February 7th, 2023 | Iran Unfiltered is a digest tracking Iranian politics & society by the National Iranian American Council 

Reformists are changing their strategies 

Iran’s reform community appears to be considering some changes to its strategy after the new wave of protests as shown in Mousavi and Khatami’s letters.

Mir Hossein Mousavi, a former prime minister under house arrest since 2010 following the Green Movement, announced a new political strategy by calling for a constitutional referendum in an open letter.  According to Mousavi, the slogan “execute the Constitution,” hoped for thirteen years ago, no longer works in light of the new situation in the country after more than 100 days of citizens’ protests. There must be a step beyond that, he says.

“As an Iranian, I propose the following proposal to all freedom-loving forces and personalities, defenders of independence, territorial integrity, nonviolent activists, and developmentalists to ‘SAVE IRAN’”,” wrote Mousavi:

“First – Holding a free and healthy referendum on the necessity of amending or drafting a new constitution.

“Second – If the people vote in favor, a Constituent Assembly composed of real representatives of the nation will be formed.

“Third – a referendum on the text approved by the parliament to establish a government based on human rights and the rule of law.”

Mousavi’s proposal was supported by seven political prisoners, who signed a statement endorsing a referendum and a new constitution to move Iran to democracy peacefully. According to these political prisoners, the government can end its impasse only by surrendering to the people’s right to determine their own destiny.

This letter was written by Mostafa Tajzadeh, Faezeh Hashemi, Saeed Madani, Amirsalar Davoudi, Mehdi Mahmoudian, Mustafa Nili, and Hossein Razagh: Tajzadeh is an influential reformist figure who has served more than seven years in prison, and recently outlined his own roadmap to securing democracy. Faezeh Hashemi, another political prisoner who was recently sentenced to five years imprisonment for encouraging participation in the protests,served in the 90th parliament and is the daughter of former Iranian president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. Saeed Madani is a well-known scholar who has been in jail several times and was obstructed last year from leaving the country to join a fellowship at Yale University before being arrested and sentenced to a long prison term. Mostafa Nili and Amirsalar Davoudi are both lawyers who have been imprisoned several times for their work defending human rights. Hossein Razagh and Mehdi Mahmoudian are political activists imprisoned for their support for democracy. 

According to these political prisoners, nations have the right to self-determination and no society can be deprived of this right. In many nations, collective wisdom and nonviolent resistance are being used to force governments to respect the people’s self determination. For more than one century, Iranians have attempted to utilize this right to determine their fate to restrain tyranny and force rulers to rule fairly.

Separately, former president Mohammad Khatami warned that reforms in the country’s political structure have reached a “dead end cliff.” Iran’s former president Mohammad Khatami believes that reforms in the country’s political structure “in the manner and routine experienced” in the Islamic Republic have reached a “dead end cliff.”

The fifth president of the Islamic Republic offered suggestions for “crisis containment” in his message. According to him, “the government does not appear to care about correcting and avoiding mistakes it has made in the past.” 

His proposals do not require changing or amending the Constitution, but instead argued “returning to the spirit and even the text” can resolve many issues. According to the former Iranian president, “we need to consider all tendencies, tastes, ethnicities, religions, classes, and social groups,” “remove the blockade” or house arrest on former Green Movement leaders, “free political prisoners and announce an amnesty”, and “improve the judicial system.” He also raised “reforming the Assembly of Experts”, “reforming the Guardian Council”, and “changing foreign policy.”

Khamenei announces pardon of select prisoners from the recent protests

On the occasion of the 44th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution, Khamenei announced a pardon of select prisoners who participated in the recent protests. Nearly 20,000 Iranians are believed to have been arrested in connection with the protests. As of now, it is unclear precisely how many will be freed in connection with the announcement of conditional amnesty. 

The announced amnesty appears aimed at reducing tension between the state and society and minimizing external pressure on the country over its egregious rights abuses. According to Nina Navid of Amnesty International, none of the protesters should be jailed and all should be released without conditions:

“Individuals who have been sentenced to death are not included in this amnesty. Amnesty International reported and documented that these people were tortured, raped, beaten, and confessed to crimes they did not commit while merely participating in a non-violent protest. These accusations should really be annulled and the sentences, including the death sentences of those who participated in peaceful demonstrations, should be canceled.”

Kambiz Norozi, a lawyer who lives inside Iran, said that he supports this amnesty: 

“Personally, I am very happy that the broad amnesty decree was issued and I consider it a worthy gesture… This amnesty has two parts; a section is related to the convicts, which was similar to that in the past years and on different occasions and has a history; but the very new part of this amnesty is related to the amnesty of those accused of the recent unrest in the country, which could include thousands of people. Many people were arrested or accused during the uprising, and many are still in custody, and some are free on bail or other orders, but they are still accused, and this amnesty includes a majority of these people.”

Government relief to earthquake victims inadequate

The government’s response to a 5.9-magnitude earthquake that struck Khoy on Saturday night, January 28, has been harshly criticized. Since the first hours after the earthquake in West Azerbaijan, the Red Crescent has been on alert. They provided help for the people, but many criticisms accompanied the crisis response. Many are at risk because of the extreme cold.

All statistics released by the government indicate that the situation is positive, but Khoy’s pictures show that people are struggling in the sub-zero cold in this western city of Iran. The Khoy people continue to demand increased and improved assistance for their desperate conditions.

Parliament plan to punish critics 

The parliament’s plan on “legal and judicial pursuit of fake news in cyberspace” has attracted media attention once again. Kazem Delkhosh, a spokesman for the Legal and Judicial Commission of the Islamic Parliament, said the Judicial Commission has developed a plan that requires anyone or any media who publishes “false news” or exaggerates it in cyberspace to be held responsible. 

Delkhosh stated: “In recent incidents, we have seen too much spread of fake news in cyberspace, which people published without investigating whether it is true or not, which caused the atmosphere of the society to be inflamed.” According to him, heavy punishments have been considered for people and media who spread supposed false news or create rumors and cause anxiety in the public mind, so that they do not commit this act again.

The spokesperson of the Judicial Commission of the Parliament emphasized: The plan to punish the publishers of fake news in the cyberspace has been approved by the Legal and Judicial Commission and will soon be on the agenda of the Islamic Council’s public forum, and there is a possibility that this plan will be brought to the floor of the Parliament immediately. This plan was met with strong pushback from journalists, lawyers, and jurists, and the criticisms increased so much that some other representatives expressed their opposition to this dangerous plan.

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