July 24, 2020

Judiciary Suspends Execution Sentences for Three Youths

Week of July 20th, 2020 | Iran Unfiltered is a weekly digest tracking Iranian politics & society by the National Iranian American Council


    Judiciary Agrees to a Retrial for Three Youths Sentenced to Execution

    After a massive online uproar, the judiciary has said three youths sentenced to execution will have a retrial. As covered in the previous issue of Iran Unfiltered, millions of Iranians and people from around the world last week called for not executing three young men arrested in connection with last November’s protests.

    However, Judiciary spokesperson Gholam-Hossein Esmaili denies that the decision for a retrial was influenced by the online campaign. Esmaili said that before the online movement began, he had announced that it was still possible that the three would get a retrial despite the Supreme Court upholding the death sentences.

    Judiciary Chief Ebrahim Raisi also said “rioting” was the judiciary’s “redline.” He stated: “Protests must be heard but our redline is rioting and insecurity and destroying the country.” Raisi also said that social campaigns do not have an impact on the decisions of the judiciary, which he said were based on “Sharia and the law.”
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    Zarif Travels to Russia and Talks of a New Deal

    Foreign Minister Zarif made his third trip to Russia in the past six months. Zarif travelled to Moscow from Iraq, where he was visiting ahead of a trip to Iran by Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi.

    Zarif met his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov to discuss “bilateral issues, the JCPOA, and regional issues.” Zarif said that he delivered a written letter from President Rouhani to Russian President Putin.

    Zarif also spoke with Putin on the phone for one hour. They reportedly did not meet in person because of COVID-19 precautions.

    Zarif stated regarding his call with Putin: “I delivered the President’s [Rouhani] special message on the JCPOA’s situation and some bilateral issues to Putin and had a discussion with him. It was a very beneficial discussion and God willing will have good results.”

    Zarif said he and Putin also agreed on revising a nearly 20-year-old accord between Iran and Russia. The agreement was reached in March 2001 between Putin and then-Iranian President Mohammad Khatami. It was for 10 years and has been renewed twice for five years.

    The 2001 agreement governed arms and oil trade and other forms of commerce and cooperation. Zarif said on updating the agreement: “The agreement renews for five years if neither side objects. However, we believe it is better to reach a comprehensive, strategic, and long-term agreement that is up to date. We will sign it and send it to the parliament for approval.”

    In his press conference with Zarif, Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov said that “all efforts have to be taken to preserve the JCPOA.” He added: “We believe that reciprocal and constructive participation by all the JCPOA participants, within the framework of the IAEA, will help with the implementation of the agreements in UN Security Council Resolution 2231.”

    Lavrov also expressed support for Iran becoming a full member of the Shanghai Cooperation Council (SCO). Iran is currently an observer member of the SCO and has requested to become a full member since 2008.

    Simultaneous with Zarif’s trip to Moscow, Iran’s Ambassador to Russia said in an interview that Iran is interested in buying weapons from Russia. Iranian Ambassador to Russia Kazam Jalali stated in an interview with the Kommersant newspaper: “We are actively enhancing our relations with Russia in different fields, including the military and technical fields. This is a field in which our countries have mutual interests. Russia has great capabilities in this area and we hope our relations in this field deepen over time.”

    Jalali added that Iran will “consult” with Russia on what it needs to strengthen its military capabilities. The UN arms embargo on Iran is set to expire in October, as per UN Security Council resolution 2231. The Trump administration is trying to extend this embargo indefinitely, and has threatened it will try to unilaterally force the reimposition of all UN sanctions against Iran.
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    Khamenei Threatens More Retaliation for Soleimani Assassination

    Iraq’s Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi has travelled to Iran as his first trip abroad as prime minister. Al-Kadhimi was originally scheduled to go on a regional tour and go to Saudi Arabia first and then Iran. However, his trip to Saudi Arabia got postponed after Saudi King Salman became ill and hospitalized.

    Al-Kadhimi went to Iran at the head of a large Iraqi delegation consisting of several cabinet ministers. He was greeted at the airport by Iran’s energy minister. He then met with President Rouhani, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, Parliamentary Speaker Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, and other senior officials.

    Talks centered on boosting trade and deepening ties. Iran’s official IRNA outlet says that both sides aim to increase their yearly trade from $10 billion to $17 billion.

    Iraq is currently in the midst of a severe economic crisis. Over 90 percent of Iraqi government revenues are dependent on oil exports. The country’s economic situation has sharply deteriorated because of the COVID-19 pandemic and the crash in oil market prices.

    Some analysts speculated that al-Kadhimi’s trip to Iran was part of an effort to mediate tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia. One Iranian analyst, Qasem Mohebali, who was the director of Middle East Affairs at the Iranian foreign ministry, said that al-Kadhimi seeks a “ceasefire” between Iran, the U.S., and Saudi Arabia.

    The conservative Vatan-e Emrooz newspaper said al-Kadhimi’s trip to Iran was a sign that the U.S.’s “maximum pressure” campaign had failed. The paper stated: “Al-Kadhimi’s trip happens as Iraq has been under severe pressure from the Americans to abide by its sanctions against Iran. In response to these pressures, al-Kadhimi has travelled to Iran with an economic delegation. This means the failure of America’s policy to drag Iraq to its confrontational policy against Iran.”

    Vatan-e Emrooz added: “The fact that al-Kadhimi was the first foreign leader who has met with the Leader [Khamenei] since the beginning of the coronavirus crisis shows the seriousness of both sides to expand strategic cooperation.”

    Vatan-e Emrooz also said that Saudi Arabia does not wish to normalize its relations with Iraq. The paper stated: “Saudi Arabia under no circumstances will accept an Iraq that is prosperous, developed, and democratic. An Iraq that has reached security and development through democracy will be a serious challenge to Saudi rulers.”

    The reformist Arman Melli newspaper said talks with al-Kadhimi would also focus on the departure of U.S. troops in Iraq.  After the assassination of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani and Iraqi military commander Abu-Mahdi al-Muhandis by the U.S. in January, the Iraqi parliament voted to expel U.S. forces from Iraq.

    Another Iranian newspaper, Defa Press, highlighted that every post-2003 Iraqi Prime Minister has prioritized relations with Iran and travelled to Iran. This includes the prime ministerships of Ebrahim al-Jafari (2005-2006), Nouri al-Maliki (2006-2014), Haidar al-Abadi (2014-2018), and Adel Abdel-Mahdi (2018-November 2019).

    During his meeting with al-Kadhimi, Ayatollah Khamenei threatened more retaliation for the assassination of Qassem Soleimani. Khamenei stated: “Iran will never forget the issue of the assassination of commander Soleimani by America and will definitely strike a reciprocal blow to the Americans.”
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    Rouhani Claims 25 Million Infected with COVID-19 in Iran

    President Rouhani gave a shockingly high number for the number of Iranians infected with COVID-19. Speaking during a meeting of Iran’s COVID-19 task force, he stated: “Based on estimates, 25 million Iranians have been infected with COVID-19 up until now out of a population of roughly 83 million.” He added that another “35 million were at risk of being infected.”

    However, Deputy Health Minister Alireza Raisi dismissed Rouhani’s number. He said Rouhani’s number was from a study that was not testing for the “molecule used to identify corona.”

    Raisi added: “The total number of COVID-19 infections across the world is about 14.5 million today. So when it is said that there are 25 million infections in Iran, definitely the basis of the calculation is different.”

    The COVID-19 situation in Iran continues to deteriorate as the government struggles to uphold and enforce precautionary measures. Masks were recently made mandatory. The number of daily deaths broke a new record of 229 on July 22nd. The total number of registered COVID-19 deaths is 14,634 and the total number infected is roughly 278,000.

    The government has also created a COVID-19 hotline. Anyone who dials the number “4030” will be connected to a specialist who can answer their questions about COVID-19 and if they have symptoms, be directed to the nearest medical center for treatment.
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    Fissures Emerge in the New Conservative Parliament

    The head of a conservative faction in parliament has accused parliamentary speaker Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf of financial corruption. Mostafa Mir Salim, who is the head of the “Islamic Coalition Party,” has said he has given documents to the judiciary about alleged bribes Ghalibaf made while mayor of Tehran. (Read about Ghalibaf’s background in a previous issue of Iran Unfiltered).

    Mir Salim’s bribery accusation goes back to an attempted parliamentary investigation into Ghalibaf in February 2017. The parliament was to review Ghalibaf’s dealings as mayor and his role in selling property at cheap prices to members of the Tehran city council.

    MPs in 2017 ultimately voted to not investigate the case. Now, Mir Salim is suggesting they were bribed. He has said: “The documents I have show there were behind-the-scenes efforts so that this investigation would not happen.”

    At the time, anti-corruption bodies did find that the mayor’s office had illegally given away property. This was confirmed in reports by the “National Inspections Organization and Tehran’s attorney general. However, Ghalibaf denied knowledge of these dealings and his deputy, Issa Sharifi, was arrested. Sharifi remains in custody.

    The reformist Fararu outlet analyzed Mir Salim’s accusation against Ghalibaf. Fararu highlights how Mir Salim competed with Ghalibaf to become parliamentary speaker and tried and failed to head various parliamentary commissions.

    Fararu also notes that Mir Salim broke with other conservatives on who should be on the parliament’s “governing board.” Fararu stated: “His political behavior is personal and differs from the broader conservative movement.”

    Fararu also highlights other MPs who have strongly denied Mir Salim’s bribery accusation against Ghalibaf. It quotes Mohammad-Reza Malekshahirad, who was an MP that voted against investigating Ghalibaf in 2017.

    Malekshahirad stated: “Mir Salim has said something that puts the entire parliament and all the commissions under question. What I know about the civil engineering commission is that those who sought an investigation [into Ghalibaf] did not have convincing evidence. They wanted to do something political [against Ghalibaf] before the 2017 presidential election. But most of the members reached the result that the evidence was not sufficient or strong.”

    Mir Salim’s documents alleging Ghalibaf engaged in bribery are now with the judiciary, which will decide the next steps.

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