March 22, 2023

Khamenei claims Iran is not involved in the Ukraine war, the opposition’s message for Norooz, holiday furlough for political prisoners and more

Week of March 20th, 2023 | Iran Unfiltered is a digest tracking Iranian politics & society by the National Iranian American Council 

Khamenei claims Iran is not involved in the Ukraine war

According to tradition of the years before the COVID-19 pandemic, the leader of the Islamic Republic delivered a speech in Mashhad on March 21. This is Mr. Khamenei’s first Norooz trip to Mashhad in three years, having canceled his annual speech amid the health emergency. As part of this speech, Khamenei denied that Iran is involved in the Ukrainian conflict. He categorically denied any involvement in the Ukraine conflict. “This is not true at all,” he said.

Iran is accused by Ukraine and Western governments of supporting Russia in its war against Ukraine, who point to Russia’s use of Iranian drones in the war, which have been used to target Ukrainian cities. The U.S. and other governments have sanctioned Iran for this military involvement, calling the evidence Ukraine has accumulated against Iran “incontrovertible.” As US Special Envoy on Iran Robert Malley said last year, “Iran—in the face of all of this evidence—keeps lying and denying that that’s happening which shows that they are embarrassed, that they know that this is something that is isolating them internationally.”

Khamenei also praised recent deals with Saudi Arabia and other regional countries, “In foreign relations, the West’s efforts to isolate Iran have failed.” Khamenei continued, “Our relations with Asia have grown 100 percent stronger and we will continue to do so.” Khamenei pointed out Iran’s membership in important treaties and said, “strengthening ties with Africa and Latin America is among the definite plans.” He also didn’t close the door on improving relations with Europe, saying “We are open to working with any European country or government that does not blindly follow US policies.”

In this speech, he attempted to undermine the widespread protests of the Iranian people against him and other government officials. According to him, the U.S. president and some European countries have supported the nationwide protests. Khamenei said there were few protesters in comparison to Iran’s nation. He also claimed – without evidence – that arms, finances, and security were provided for protesters from Western countries.

The opposition’s message for Norooz

This year’s Norooz is an important occasion for opposition figures to deliver their messages as well. Movlavi Abdolhamid, one of the most respected leaders of the protesters, stated on Norooz: in his message on the occasion of Norooz said: “I congratulate the proud nation of Iran on the coming of the new year. I hope that in the new year, poverty, injustice and discrimination will disappear from the country, political prisoners will be released and the noble nation of Iran will regain its rightful place in the world and achieve its rightful demands.” 

Three known opponents of the Islamic Republic also publicly  expressed their determination to overthrow this regime in separate messages from prison. Human rights defender Narges Mohammadi wrote in a New Year’s message from Evin prison: “Victory is not easy, but it is certain. Now is not the time, but it is not too far away. Spring is the end of waiting, waiting for winter to pass. We’ll end the wait, waiting for the end of authoritarian theocracy.” 

Bahareh Hedayat, a women’s rights activist, also released a message for the new year. According to Hedayat: “Freedom will ultimately lead to the destruction of the Islamic Republic and the removal of political Islam from the sphere of governance no matter what shortcuts we take. Quarrels, disagreements, and arguments are inevitable; however, they serve the purpose of clearing the difficult path ahead. Our determination to liberate and reclaim our Iran is important and within our power.”

A video statement made on Norooz 1402 by Manouchehr Bakhtiari, the father of Poya Bakhtiari, who was killed during the November 2018 protests, condemned the “crimes” committed by Iranian government officials at Qazvin prison and said he would continue to stand until “strong and steadfast criminals fall.” Mr. Bakhtiari said in his audio message: “The Iranian people cannot tolerate or desire the Islamic Republic regime, which is an authoritarian religious system and the government of religious absolutism.” Iranians place the highest priority on the issue of freedom today.”

Norooz furlough for political prisoners

Amirhossein Khaleghi, Taher Qadirian, Niloufar Bayani, Sepideh Kashani, Homan Jokar, and Sam Rajabi have all been released on furlough marking the Persian New Year.  In the winter of 2018, Branch 15 of Tehran Revolutionary Court, headed by Judge Salvati, tried and convicted them along with Morad Tahbaz and Abdolreza Kohpayeh in the so-called environmental activists case and transferred them to Evin Prison. A fellow environmentalist prisoner, Kavous Seyed-Emami, was killed under mysterious circumstances in Evin Prison in 2018. 

Additionally, Mehdi Mahmoudian, Mohammadreza Jalaipour, Mohammad Najafi, Soheil Arabi and Hossein Razagh are on furlough.

Ali Shamkhani visits the UAE and Iraq

In Abu Dhabi on Thursday morning, March 13, the Secretary of the Supreme National Security Council of the Islamic Republic met and spoke with his Emirati counterpart. Shamkhani’s visit to the UAE resolved a number of important security and economic issues, according to Nour News.

A few days later, Shamkhani left for Baghdad on Sunday, March 19.  A frequent topic of contention with Iraq has been the  presence of Iranian Kurdish opposition groups in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, with Iran even acting to bomb these groups on Iraqi soil. Iran’s National Security Council secretary has also stated that Iranian groups based in Iraqi Kurdistan opposing the Islamic Republic will be limited in their activities.

Mohammad Shia Sudani, Iraq’s prime minister, said, “We oppose any use of Iraqi territory to invade a neighboring country.” According to Mr. Sudani, “The agreement we signed with Iran today is about maintaining the common border and handing over wanted persons.” It is expected that soon all groups will be disarmed, and no weapons will be outside the control of the government, according to the Iraqi Prime Minister.

Shamkhani was accompanied on these trips by the Governor General of the Central Bank, the Economic Deputy of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the Assistant Minister of Foreign Affairs for the Persian Gulf. Iran is experiencing an economic crisis because of the extensive sanctions imposed by the United States. Iranians are showing their desire to reduce these pressures by having the head of the central bank present with neighbors and trading partners. Because of their role in the Iranian economy, Iraq and the UAE are both very important to Iran. 

Mohammad Al-Jadaan, Saudi Arabia’s Finance Minister, announced his country’s readiness to invest rapidly in Iran in parallel with Shamkhani’s trip to Iraq and the UAE. According to Jadaan, there are many investment opportunities in Iran as long as the joint Saudi-Iran-Chinese agreement is respected.

Iran, China, and Russia conducted naval exercises in the Oman Sea

Iran, China, and Russia participated in a “Maritime Security Belt 2023” exercise in the Sea of Oman from March 15 to 19. White House officials say they were not concerned about this joint exercise, but they were closely watching it. 

Iran, China, and Russia have developed closer relations especially since Ebrahim Raisi came to power, with Iran and Russia both deepening their military ties. By providing drones to the Russian army, Iran has played an important role in the Russia-Ukraine war. Russia, on the other hand, launched one of Iran’s satellites into space, and is expected to deliver Sukhoi 35 fighters to Iran, which would be the first fighter jet acquisition for Iran in decades.

The trial of Abbas Korkuri for the “murder of Kian Pirfalak”

On Sunday, March 19, Mizan news reported that Abbas (Mojahed) Korkuri, a citizen of Izeh, appeared in court on charges of killing Kian Pirfalak and six others. In contrast, Kian Pirfalak’s mother explained on Instagram that Abbas Korkuri was not the murderer and that the repressive agent who killed him wasn’t from Izeh. 

Kian Pirfalak was a 9 year-old boy who was tragically shot dead in November amid the height of nationwide protests, reportedly at the hands of Iranian security forces. His killing triggered mourning in Iran and outside the country, with many sharing videos of Kian playing creatively before his life was taken.

Davoud Shahveli, the lawyer for the Pirfalak family, revealed on March 3 that the Iranian authorities are trying to remove the name of the “Judicial Branch Officer” from the murder case and present another person (Mojahed Korkur). “There is a strong will that wants to introduce Kian’s killer as a blind Mujahid,” said Shahveli. “When my client was killed, there was no trace of Mojahed Korkuri.”

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