April 12, 2023

Push to Renew Enforcement of Mandatory Hijab Faces Backlash, Chain Poisonings Continue, Iranian Director Kiumars Pourahmad’s Tragic Death, Iran and Saudi Arabia Revitalize Relations, and more

Week of April 10, 2023 | Iran Unfiltered is a digest tracking Iranian politics & society by the National Iranian American Council 

Push to Renew Enforcement of Mandatory Hijab Faces Backlash

Mandatory hijab in Iran is still arguably the most contested issue in the country, which is remarkable in light of the myriad economic and political crises facing the country. For more than 25 weeks in a row, challenges to mandatory hijab have become a main focus and, in turn, a challenge for government officials as well. Many women are no longer complying with the mandatory hijab laws across the country, and there is increasing counter-pressure on the government for a new crackdown and more rigid enforcement. 

Following Iran’s Police Chief, Ahmadreza Radan, addressing “operations” aimed at individuals who disregard mandatory hijab, the Judiciary spokesperson announced that as per the leader of the Islamic Republic’s directive the Judiciary will continue to confront women who fail to adhere to the compulsory hijab. This statement comes despite the head of Iran’s judicial branch, Gholamhossein Mohseni Ajeei, recently admitting the challenge and significant “expense” of forcefully imposing hijab on women and girls. He said, “In addition to security and legal concerns, cultural issues should be resolved culturally. Relying solely on disciplinary and criminal measures to address cultural issues will prove to be highly costly.”

On April 9th, Tasnim news agency quoted Mohammad Hossein Hamidi, head of the traffic police, as saying that Tehran cameras recording traffic crimes in the city have the possibility of recording cases of women’s disobedience to the government. In response to Tasnim, Hamidi said: “Municipal cameras have multi-purpose operations and store any information, and any institution and organization can choose from the databases of these cameras.”

On April 8th, Ahmadreza Radan, the country’s administration commander, announced that “the police use smart systems to prevent any tension and conflict with fellow citizens in maintaining the hijab. The Chief of police stated: ”Beginning next week, individuals found violating hijab rules will initially receive a warning. Following that, they will be referred to judicial courts.” As reported by Hamshahri Online, Radan explained: “Those who fail to observe hijab in public spaces will first be warned, and then face legal proceedings. Vehicles with passengers not adhering to hijab guidelines will receive a warning on the first occasion, while the vehicle will be seized upon a second offense.

Furthermore, he mentioned: Any establishments with staff members violating hijab regulations will initially be warned, and then face closure if the issue persists. The prospect of enhanced surveillance against those challenging mandatory hijab laws prompted criticism, with a group of women on social networks proposing the possibility of submitting reports for cars that carry mullahs and women in chador to disrupt enforcement. 

At the same time, Morteza Hosseini addressed the MP Radan and said: “Dear Sardar Radan! Summoning and introducing people to the judicial system because of the lack of hijab is neither wise nor practical, do not fall into the trap set by the enemy”. Miyaneh’s representative in the parliament has said that: “the discovery of the hijab is against Sharia and the law, but, summoning people and introducing them to the judicial system because of this issue is neither wise nor practical. Every action in this field should be based on the law approved by the Parliament.”

Conversely, Ismail Kosari, Tehran’s parliamentary representative, stated that beginning on Saturday, April 15th, individuals caught on camera violating hijab rules will initially receive a warning. If the offense is repeated, documentation will be provided, and they will be introduced to the judiciary. He added that this is a legal action, with the law being enforced previously, and that they are witnessing the commander of the police’s determination in implementing the law of chastity and hijab.

Ahmed Khatami – a member of the Assembly of Leadership Experts and representative of Kerman Province – also has been discussing various topics in his recent speeches. He has emphasized the importance of upholding the Supreme Leader and the Islamic system, while condemning those who reject it as committing a political sin. Additionally, Khatami has expressed concern over the increasing number of women who do not wear hijabs, stating that this undermines the system. He also argued that Andalus was removed from the Islamic realm due to moral decay, and that enemies of the Islamic system are targeting both the Velayat Faqih and the hijab.

In response, Chabahar’s representative argued that powerful cameras should be used to investigate student poisoning cases and emphasized the importance of acknowledging Iranian women’s right to choose with regards to the hijab philosophy. Representative Saidi suggested focusing on issues such as crime, theft, embezzlement, extortion, and female student poisoning through the use of software applications, rather than continuously raising other concerns.

Over the past two weeks, coinciding with the end of the New Year holidays, the hijab issue has been at the forefront of both public and official discussions. The topic has gained such prominence that the roots and 90-year history of the hijab are now being scrutinized more intensely than ever.

Furthermore, in a letter addressed to Ali Khamenei, religious scholar Siddiqeh Vasmaghi sought clarification on the strict regulations governing women’s head coverings in Iran. She questioned the specific and inflexible religious basis for these rules, considering that the Qur’an does not explicitly require women to wear head coverings. Vasmaghi stressed that Khamenei is accountable for any consequences resulting from the enforcement of these veiling regulations.

Chain Poisonings of Female Students Return

A week has elapsed since schools began the new year following the Norooz holiday, and chain poisonings of female students have begun again, with Islamic Republic authorities failing to provide a clear response to the concerns from the public. On the morning of Monday, April 10th, photos emerged of ambulances stationed outside Sadra School in Gohardasht Karaj, Farzangan Girls’ School in Pardis Sanandaj, and Bint Al-Hadi Girls’ School in Tehran. Several female students were taken to medical facilities due to poisoning symptoms. There have been additional reports from schools in Khoi and Urmia. 

Furthermore, on April 10th, news surfaced from Saqqez in Kurdistan province that the local bazaar and shops initiated a strike and shuttered their businesses in protest of the suspected “chemical attack” on girls’ schools.

Mohammad Hassan Asafari, a member of the Iranian Parliament’s fact-finding committee, has stated that security agencies have not yet managed to uncover the “primary leads in the poisoning cases.” He added that the committee’s report is “unlikely to be completed for another two weeks.” Asafari asked security organizations to increase their efforts in this regard and stated: it is crucial not to dismiss this issue based solely on the assumption that it resulted from the misbehavior of a few students.”

Regarding the arrests made, he said, “The cases of arrests are from last year, so we cannot say that they are the primary suspects.” In late March, authorities announced the arrest of several individuals and even televised the confessions of a man and a woman who had filmed the affected students being taken to the hospital. A local Qom News reporter, who initially covered the female students’ poisoning in Qom, was also arrested.

Asafari further stated that it was the responsibility of the Ministry of Health to identify the type of poisoning, adding, “Substances like naphthalene have been mentioned, but they are not the main source.” In the only official report released by the Ministry of Health, the Ministry’s scientific committee confirmed that “some students were exposed to an irritating substance primarily inhaled.” Another portion was related to the students who had been in contact with those exposed to the irritant, causing anxiety among them that they had perhaps inhaled the substance as well.

The Deputy Security Minister from the Ministry of Interior, Majid Mirahmadi, blamed students for recent school incidents, stating, “Students are causing trouble in order to shut down schools,” labeling the recent school poisoning incidents as “very limited.” Mirahmadi mentioned that “pepper gas was used in one or two instances,” identifying the students responsible and asserting they will be dealt with accordingly.

The Iranian security official emphasized that “serious disciplinary actions” will be taken against these students, and if necessary, they will be referred to the judicial system. It remains unclear on what grounds Mr. Mirahmadi’s statements are based, and whether healthcare professionals and Ministry of Health officials support his viewpoint. Despite images of ambulances and anxious parents gathered outside several schools, the official from Iran’s Ministry of Interior maintains that educational activities are currently proceeding smoothly and calmly, with no plans to shut down schools.

On Sunday, April 9th, numerous students from multiple educational institutions in Naqadeh, such as “Meraj” and “Esmet” girls’ schools, were transported to Khomeini Hospital in the city. Parents’ demonstrations in front of a school building, lowering the flag of the Islamic Republic and voicing slogans against the Islamic Republic, were met with resistance from anti-riot forces. Reports have also emerged of numerous arrests and the sound of gunfire being heard during those demonstrations.

Social media posts featuring images from outside Meraj Saqqez School displayed a crowd assembled in front of the school, chanting “Death to Khamenei.” Official Iranian media outlets did not release any information regarding poisonings at any of the schools. However, over the past two days the matter of the poisoning of students has been covered by Ettelaat newspaper. According to the newspaper, there are strong forces that are obstructing the revelation of the source of the poisonings. In an article published on April 8th, Jamileh Kadivar expressed concern over the unresolved cases of student poisonings that have occurred in various locations since the beginning of the year. Kadivar criticized the lack of information surrounding the investigations and emphasized the need for conclusive findings on the main culprits, including their ideological and political connections. She also highlighted the impatience of the public in waiting for these revelations and questioned why actions on issues such as the enforcement of women’s hijab are taken swiftly, while the poisoning cases remain ambiguous.

Iranian Director Kiumars Pourahmad’s Tragic death

On April 5th 2023, the Iranian film industry was shaken by the tragic news of the death of renowned director Kiumars Pourahmad. The 74-year-old filmmaker’s demise was confirmed as a suicide by the central prosecutor of Gilan, further saddening the nation.

Born in Najafabad, Isfahan province in 1949, Pourahmad had a distinguished career in cinema, contributing to numerous films including “The Case is Open,” which participated in the Fajr Festival last year. Other notable works include “Blade and Cashmere,” “Where are my shoes?”, “Fifty Steps,” “Night Bus,” “Tip of the Tower,” “Ice Flower,” “Strange Sisters,” “Yalda Night,” “Because of Haniyeh,” and “Bibi Chalcheleh.” He also produced the popular TV series “Qasehaye Majid” and “Clues”.

Hoshang Golmakani, editor of Today’s Film Magazine, reported the news of Pourahmad’s suicide. It is said that Pourahmad left behind an eight-page note, which is now in police custody. 

The Gilan prosecutor’s office stated that a special homicide investigator was dispatched to the scene following the initial report. Based on preliminary findings, the investigator determined that a thorough judicial investigation would be necessary to uncover the details of Pourahmad’s passing. The late director’s body was found in a unit at the coastal village of Anzali and has since been transferred to the medical examiner for further investigation. More information will be released as it becomes available.

Ongoing Teacher Demonstrations: Addressing Rating Concerns and Sustenance Protests

The head of the evaluation and monitoring center at the Ministry of Education has announced that they will begin addressing educators’ objections concerning ranking issues on April 9th. The education administration in Iran has recently adopted a ranking system to determine teachers’ salaries, but many teachers are dissatisfied with the results and have filed complaints against it.

In response to the call by the “Tehran Provincial Cultural Workers’ Demands Follow-Up Group,” teachers have organized protest rallies in various Iranian cities. Meanwhile, Fariba Zandkarimi, a contract teacher at the Sanandaj Department of Education, was detained on April 5th after being summoned to the Intelligence Department of the city.

The “Coordinating Council of Teachers’ Union Organizations” reported on April 6th that teachers in Kermanshah, Malayer, Hamadan, Ahvaz, Mazandaran, and Neyshabur staged protests in front of their respective General Departments of Education. The demonstrators chanted slogans such as “Shout teacher, shout for your rights.” According to the report, officials in Karaj prevented teachers from rallying and dispersed them through a significant show of force. The rating and receipt of six months’ overtime pay were to be resolved by the end of the Norooz holiday at the latest.

In light of unpaid teacher salaries and benefits in March, Education Minister Yousef Nouri resigned. However, Tasnim news agency reports that other ministry officials involved in the situation have not been replaced. The recent actions of Islamic Republic officials, including the government, MPs, and the Minister of Education, have faced protests due to their perceived humiliation and insult towards Iran’s teaching community. The group in question regards these actions as disrespectful to the country’s educators.

Mohammad Habibi’s Re-arrest

Mohammad Habibi’s wife, Khadija Pakzamir, revealed via Twitter on April 5th that her husband, the spokesperson for the Iran Teachers’ Union, has been re-arrested. Habibi had previously been pardoned and released from prison on February 8th, after serving ten months behind bars.

Pakzamir shared on Twitter that four agents from the Ministry of Information in West Tehran province arrived at the school on April 5th with an arrest warrant for her husband. The agents then escorted Habibi to their home to conduct a search, during which they allegedly mistreated him. Following the search, Habibi was transferred to Evin prison’s Ward 209.

Habibi’s arrest on April 5th occurred concurrently with a pre-planned gathering of teachers protesting their living conditions. Social media posts showed teachers rallying in front of the Kermanshah General Directorate of Education, chanting “Mohammad Habibi should be freed.” In the cities of Malayer and Hamadan, teachers assembled outside the education departments to voice their demands for improvements to their living situations and the release of imprisoned teachers, including Habibi.

Iran and Saudi Arabia Revitalize Relations Amid Renewed Diplomatic Efforts

Iran and Saudi Arabia have signed a joint statement to restore bilateral relations, marking the beginning of a new chapter in regional diplomacy. On April 6th, Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian and his Saudi counterpart, Faisal bin Farhan, met in Beijing with Chinese mediation, where they agreed to reopen embassies, resume flights, exchange diplomatic delegations and private sector representatives, and grant visas for citizens, including Umrah visas.

Both ministers described the meeting as positive and expressed hope that this would mark a turning point for Tehran and Riyadh’s regional ties. The final statement highlighted the importance of dialogue to expand bilateral relations and activate the security cooperation agreement signed on April 17th, 2001, and the general cooperation agreement in areas such as economy, trade, investment, technology, science, culture, sports, and youth signed on May 27th, 1998.

Following the restoration of diplomatic relations, Saudi Arabia’s official news agency announced the arrival of the first Saudi delegation to Iran. The delegation aims to review the reopening mechanisms of the Saudi embassy in Tehran and its consulate in Mashhad. Nasser Kanani, Spokesman of the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, stated that both countries had agreed to take necessary steps to reopen their embassies and consulates, with the appointment of ambassadors underway.

In a notable development, the street name of Sheikh Nimr in Mashhad, which houses the Saudi consulate, is set to change. The street was renamed during a period of heightened tensions following Saudi Arabia’s execution of Shia cleric Sheikh Nimr Baqir al-Nimr in 2016. This marked a significant turning point in Iran-Saudi relations, which have now begun to improve after years of diplomatic strain.

Protests Surge Across Iran as Workers and Pensioners Demand Fair Wages and Improved Living Conditions

Two weeks into the new year, Iran has witnessed a record number of protests compared to the same period last year. Various groups, including pensioners, city transport drivers, industrial workers, nurses, and teachers, have staged demonstrations to demand better wages and living conditions.

The protests began with social security retirees in Shush and Ahvaz, who objected to the Supreme Labor Council’s salary approval. Since then, numerous protests have erupted against the insufficient annual wage increase for workers. Labor activists argue that the 27% increase in the minimum wage does not meet the needs of millions of working families, especially as inflation has reached 50%. While virtual campaigns have gained momentum, field actions have so far been limited to Khuzestan province.

Haft Tapeh sugarcane workers held consecutive rallies during the first two weeks of the new year, inviting other workers to join the wage protest campaign. The workers also demanded the implementation of the assimilation law, the conversion of seasonal worker contracts, and the reinstatement of their dismissed representative, Ismail Bakhshi.

Teachers in several cities staged rallies to protest delayed March salaries and the unfair implementation of ratings. As a result, the government acknowledged the education department’s failure to pay teachers on time, prompting the minister of education to resign. Teachers’ union activists warn that if authorities do not address key demands, such as amending the rating law, paying six months of overtime, and approving special measures for teachers, trade union protests will spread.

Nurses at Rouhani Hospital in Babol and Arak also protested, objecting to low nursing fees and unpaid special extra fees. Nursing union activists caution that the regulations for implementing the nursing services tariff law will violate nurses’ rights and lead to widespread protests.

On April 9th and 10th, workers and pensioners in Shush city, Khuzestan province, demonstrated in front of the governorate, demanding a review of the annual wage increase rate and the cancellation of its current approval. Pensioners’ protests have continued in several provinces, with demonstrators demanding exact salary regulations, payment of legal claims and arrears, proper insurance and prompt payment of medical expenses, and the preservation of human dignity for retirees.

Security Forces Crack Down on Allameh Tabatabai University Students, Art University Students Protest Hijab Enforcement

Allameh Tabatabai University in Tehran witnessed a violent confrontation on Sunday, April 9th, as security forces reportedly attacked members of the Azadandish Association. The United Students Telegram channel reported that the forces stormed the association’s office and assaulted Mohammad Hossein Mousavi, one of its members. The security chief was quoted saying, “The law is what we say,” while another officer added, “I cannot let anyone in.” Following the incident, security personnel barred entry to another association member.

Notably, none of the affected students received any communication informing them of their denied entry. Observers believe this aggressive behavior has intensified since the March 16th Black Tuesday rally, when students protested the poisoning incident at the university. Security forces appear to be acting with impunity, attacking students and preventing them from entering the premises.

Meanwhile, the University of Arts saw a gathering of students at its entrance on Sunday, April 9th, protesting against repression and hijab-related threats from security forces. Social media posts indicated that the security personnel barred the entry of female students not wearing a hijab, forcing them to don headscarves and make other changes to their attire. Male students with torn pants were also reportedly targeted, with authorities confiscating their student cards in the process.

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