April 5, 2023

Conflicts and Legal Challenges over Mandatory Hijab, IRGC vows response after a second army officer dies in Syria, Tensions between Iran and Azerbaijan escalate, U.S. reportedly looking for a temporary nuclear agreement with Iran, and more

Week of April 3rd, 2023 | Iran Unfiltered is a digest tracking Iranian politics & society by the National Iranian American Council 

Hijab Controversy Resurfaces: Conflicts and Legal Challenges Arise in Iran

As the new year (1402) begins, mandatory hijab has continued to spark intense debates and clashes. Last year, enforced hijab was at the heart of protests and societal disputes, and recent events have once again drawn public and official focus to the subject. Discussions encompass adherence to hijab regulations, informal encounters with individuals not wearing hijabs, and the closure of businesses due to noncompliance.

In his most recent address, Ayatollah Khamenei, the leader of the Islamic Republic, discussed the topic of mandatory hijab. During a gathering with military leaders and government officials, he referred to the hijab as a “Sharia and legal requirement” and stated that “removing the hijab is both a Sharia and political transgression.”

Khamenei remarked, “Many individuals who remove the hijab might reconsider if they understood the political motivations behind it.” He characterized “Unveiling the Hijab” as a “hostile” agenda and urged the implementation of a strategy to confront it.

Officials, including Seyyed Ebrahim Raisi, have stressed the significance of the hijab as both a legal and religious duty. The Ministry of Interior emphasizes that it will maintain its commitment to traditional principles and values, with mandatory hijab remaining a crucial aspect of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, the Speaker of Iran’s Parliament, urged law enforcement and the judiciary to support individuals who adamantly enforce the compulsory hijab, promoting it as a means of deterrence.

A widely-circulated video showing a man attacking two women for not wearing hijabs with a yogurt bucket has sparked criticism. Legal action has been initiated against the man for the attack and also against the women for “engaging in a prohibited act” regarding hijab noncompliance. Authorities are investigating the incident further.

Several businesses, such as trade unions and entertainment centers, have been closed due to hijab noncompliance. This has prompted increased warnings about the intricate relationship between hijab and legal challenges from political, social, and legal experts. 

Deprivation of social services has also become a controversial aspect of the hijab issue. The Ministry of Science, Research, and Technology announced that universities and higher education centers will deny educational and welfare services to students who do not follow mandatory hijab. Similarly, the Ministry of Education will withhold educational services to noncompliant students.

In response to the issue, parliamentarians are working on drafting a new hijab law. Morteza Agha Tehrani, a representative of the Stability Front, stated that the speaker of the parliament, Mohammed Baqer Qalibaf, promised to finalize the hijab bill within 70 hours of receiving it.

In the midst of these debates, some are advocating for more extreme measures, including the use of force against non compliant individuals. Mohammad Hadi Rahimi Sadegh, the head of Tehran Province’s seminary, argued that people’s patience concerning hijab enforcement may reach its limit, prompting them to take matters into their own hands. He argued that the Islamic Republic has demonstrated restraint, but continuing to exercise restraint is not in the regime’s best interest.

In addition to these comments, a video depicting a gathering of individuals in Ramsar on Sunday (April 2) demanding forceful enforcement of hijab compliance received significant media attention. In the video, attendees address the governor, stating, “Mr. Governor, you are one of us. If you cannot take action, we will intervene ourselves.” They describe the situation in the city’s restaurants, where they say everyone seems to be without hijabs, and threaten to use force if necessary.

In contrast, many continue to argue that the government should eliminate the Islamic hijab requirement and allow society to manage it. Critics contend that the current law is unenforceable and violated millions of times each day.

Sociologist Mohammad Reza Javadi Yeganeh recently commented on the issue on Twitter, asserting that the government is repeating past mistakes regarding the hijab. He added that public dissatisfaction has grown due to inflation, and protesters have learned from previous movements. Yeganeh believes that managing the hijab issue should be left to society, as the political system cannot resolve it.

Responding to the recent yogurt bucket attack incident, lawyer Mohsen Burhani tweeted that if such actions go beyond words and infringe on dignity, life, property, privacy, and individual rights, they are considered illegal violations and crimes. He highlighted that others have the right to self-defense under Article 156 of the Islamic Penal Code.

Political analyst Abbas Abdi wrote in Etemad newspaper that supporters of mandatory hijab fail to recognize the futility of their arguments, which have reached a dead end. He argued that continuing such policies would only further complicate the issue. Abdi maintained that it is impossible to enforce religious hijab through legal means. 

However, for Maryam Banirezi, a nurse residing in Qom, legal action has been taken against her for not adhering to the compulsory hijab. Last year, a video gathered attention showing Banirezi without a headscarf during a visit to the bank. The court handed down a sentence exceeding 8 months of imprisonment, 148 lashes, and additional consequences for Banirezi’s failure to comply with the required dress code. Banirezi was given a 10-day jail term for “exposing her hijab” and an 8-month sentence with 74 lashes for “disrupting public order.” Furthermore, she received another 74 lashes for “violating public decency.” The court also mandated a two-year suspension from government and public service roles to “fulfill the punishment.” 

Students in Naqadeh poisoned in the first incident of the new year

Sharq reported that an insider from the Ministry of Education confirmed the poisoning of five female students at the “22 Bahman” School in Naqadeh city. The “People of Urmia” Telegram channel disclosed the hospitalization of five students from the “22 Bahman” School in Mohammadyar, Naqadeh. A knowledgeable source from the Ministry of Education verified this information during an interview with “Shabake Sharq.” As per the report, the affected students were taken to the “Imam” Hospital in Naqadeh city.

Fars news agency shared that students described an unpleasant odor, similar to burning tires, within the girls’ school. Upon detecting the smell, the students experienced nausea, headaches, and stomach pains. Mokhtar Nemati, Naqadeh Education Chief, confirmed the poisoning of several female students at Mohammadyar Naqadeh High School and said, “Today, a number of female students have been poisoned due to the unpleasant smell created in the school.” In response to the incident, school officials contacted medical centers, who sent an ambulance to transport the affected students to the hospital.

The official said that the cause of the incident is being investigated by legal authorities and the police force. In recent months, hundreds of schoolgirls have been similarly targeted with unknown substances, triggering serious public alarm and belated condemnations and investigations from Iranian officials. 

A second army officer dies in Syria; IRGC: We’ll answer without hesitation

Syrian media reported on Sunday that Moqdad Mehghani Jafarabadi, a member of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), has succumbed to injuries sustained in a recent airstrike. Jafarabadi is the second IRGC officer killed in the missile attack on March 31, following the death of the IRGC’s public relations officer, Milad Heydari.

The IRGC has claimed Israel is responsible for the attack and warned that Tel Aviv will face a response for this “crime.” On Twitter, Ali Bahadri Jahrami claimed that Israel’s “terrorist acts outside its borders” were a distraction from its internal issues and vowed that such acts will not go unanswered.

Ali Malek Shahkoui, commander of the Golestan Corps, informed Jafarabadi’s family of his death and revealed that several other Iranian forces were injured in the March 31 attack. Nasser Kanani, Iran’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman, also pledged that the “blood” of Milad Heydari and Moqdad Mehghani would not be wasted, adding that Iran reserves the right to respond at an appropriate time and place.

Israel has targeted Iranian forces and their allies in Syria for years without much direct retaliation from Iran. However, recent months have seen a rise in tensions between the two countries within Syria. Israeli officials have not commented on the recent attacks, but Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu discussed a heavy price paid due to “governments that support terrorism” outside Israel’s borders, without specifying a location or attack.

Anonymous Western intelligence sources told Reuters that missiles hit the T4 airbase near Palmyra and the Dabaa airport near Qusayr, where Lebanese Hezbollah forces, backed by Iran, are stationed. The official Syrian news agency, “SANA,” reported that five Syrian soldiers were injured in a new round of airstrikes near Damascus and Homs.

The Syrian government claimed that, unlike the rocket attacks on Friday, March 31, which were allegedly launched from the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, Israeli warplanes were used in Sunday’s attack. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that a research center was targeted, resulting in the death of several Iranian-backed forces.

These recent airstrikes mark the third time Israel has targeted locations in Syria within a few days. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that Israel conducted six operations against Iranian-linked targets within the last month. Overall, Israel has conducted hundreds of airstrikes in Syria since the civil war began in 2011, targeting Syrian army soldiers, Iranian-backed forces, and Lebanese Hezbollah forces. 

>Tensions between Iran and Azerbaijan escalate amid recent developments

The Islamic Republic of Iran and the Republic of Azerbaijan have experienced strained relations lately, as Azerbaijan has increasingly aligned with Israel against Iran. Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Jeyhun Bayramov inaugurated the Azerbaijani embassy in Tel Aviv on Wednesday, the 29th, during his maiden official visit to Israel, where he met with his Israeli counterpart, Foreign Minister Eli Cohen.

During their meeting, Cohen asserted that Israel and Azerbaijan “face the same threats” and share a “common understanding of those threats.” The Israeli government claims that the Islamic Republic “destabilizes the region for both countries.”Cohen further stated: “We must employ a blend of tactics to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear capabilities.” He suggested that this can be achieved “by utilizing all political and economic means while maintaining a decisive and credible crisis response.”

Nasser Kanani, from Iran’s Foreign Ministry, stated that Azerbaijan’s ongoing silence in response to Cohen’s remarks signifies their implicit approval for a united front against Iran. According to Kanani, the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry dodged the question and instead directed new accusations at Iran. In response to the Israeli foreign minister’s statements, Iran warned that it could not remain indifferent towards the “plot” against Iran that originates from the Republic of Azerbaijan’s land. Iranian officials have been closely monitoring the developing relationship between Azerbaijan and Israel. 

Ruhollah Motfekrazad, a representative of Tabriz in Iran’s Islamic Council, condemned the Azerbaijani embassy opening in Israel as a “betrayal of the Islamic world.” He emphasized the sensitivity towards the Karabakh issue as well.

Following a shooting at the Azerbaijani embassy in Tehran that resulted in a death in January, Azerbaijan withdrew its diplomatic staff from Iran, leaving only the consulate in Tabriz operational. Azerbaijani authorities later reported the arrest of a group of “spies linked to Iran.”

Relations between Iran and Azerbaijan significantly deteriorated following the Karabakh conflict between Baku and Yerevan in the summer of 2020, and further worsened after the attack on the Azerbaijani embassy in Tehran. Just last week, Azerbaijan’s intelligence-security agencies announced an investigation into a “terrorist attack” on Fazel Mustafa, a National Assembly member who had recently begun commenting on the Iranian government. At present, the Iranian embassy in Azerbaijan is still functioning at the ambassadorial level.

Axios: U.S. is looking for a temporary nuclear agreement with Iran

On Monday, April 3, Axios reported that the U.S. government has been consulting with European and Israeli partners in recent weeks to discuss the possibility of an interim agreement with Iran. According to the report, an interim deal could potentially freeze aspects of Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for a partial suspension of Washington’s sanctions.

Axios stated that the U.S.’s new approach stems from growing concerns over Iran’s advancing nuclear program. The International Atomic Energy Agency reported that Iran has produced uranium particles enriched to 84% purity, which is very close to weapons grade. Axios further reported that Israel had warned the U.S. and European governments that if Iran’s enrichment exceeds 60%, an Israeli military strike may occur.

An Israeli official and European diplomat revealed that Iran has thus far rejected the “freeze for freeze” approach. The plan resembles the 2013 interim proposal under the Obama Administration by then-National Security Advisor to the Vice President Jake Sullivan (now National Security Advisor to the President) and then-Deputy Secretary of State William Burns (now Director of the CIA). That interim agreement lasted six months and was extended multiple times until a full nuclear deal was reached in July 2015.

Education Minister Resigns Amid Salary Payment Delays; Raisi Appoints Acting Minister

In the wake of Youssef Nouri’s resignation as the Minister of Education, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi has accepted the resignation and appointed Reza Murad Sahrai as Acting Minister of Education. Sahrai, who was elected as the president of Farhangian University last year, will now take on the role of acting minister. Nouri’s resignation came after delays in teachers’ salary payments in March, sparking widespread protests and criticism.

The Ministry of Education’s apology statement cited a disagreement with the Program and Budget Organization over a plan to improve the salaries of teachers based on a ranking system and its financial burden as the reason for the delayed salary payments. The deputy planning minister announced that payments began on March 29th, but disputes over responsibility for the delays continued in the following days. The Ministry of Education’s statement did not specifically mention Nouri’s role in the situation but held the Deputy of Planning and Development of Resources, the Program and Budget Office, and the General Financial Department accountable for the delays.

Contract teachers, who have reportedly gone unpaid for six months, voiced strong complaints about the lack of salary payments since last October. They stated that they had not received any salary payments and were not given any news about their Eid deposits in March. The teachers explained that the situation had caused significant financial strain, forcing them to borrow money from relatives and family members to cover transportation costs. While official teachers’ unpaid demands were discussed, the non-payment of contract teachers’ salaries was not addressed, and officials seemed to overlook the issue.

Iran Seeks to Strengthen Ties with Arab Nations, Develop Joint Commerce with Saudi Arabia

Iran is actively pursuing improved relations with Arab countries, with a focus on Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian recently expressed satisfaction with the current trajectory of Iran-Saudi Arabia relations in a phone call with his Saudi counterpart, Faisal bin Farhan. Both officials emphasized the importance of continuous communication and meetings between the two nations’ representatives.

In the coming days, the two foreign ministers are scheduled to meet, following Saudi Arabia’s invitation to President Raisi to visit Riyadh. Iran is expected to extend a similar invitation to the King of Saudi Arabia.

Egypt’s Minister of Tourism announced that Iranian tourists can now obtain visas to visit the country, specifically Sharm el-Sheikh. The head of Iran’s interests office in Cairo confirmed the development.

Abdollahian also spoke with Najla Al-Monghosh, Libya’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, extending an invitation to visit Tehran. The reopening of the Iranian embassy in Libya and the appointment of an ambassador to the African country were discussed. Furthermore, Russia’s Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs announced the potential for a quadrilateral meeting between Tehran, Moscow, Damascus, and Ankara at the Deputy Foreign Ministers level in the near future.

Efforts to bolster economic interaction between Iran and Saudi Arabia are also underway. A member of the board of directors of the Iran Chamber of Commerce, Keyvan Kashfi, revealed that the private sector has initiated planning for economic cooperation with Saudi Arabia. A joint chamber of commerce between the two nations is expected to launch soon, followed by trade delegation exchanges.

The loss of ten cheetahs in one year

The lack of effective wildlife protection management in Iran has led to the tragic loss of ten Asiatic cheetahs within a single year, a figure that experts find extremely concerning. This issue has been highlighted by the recent death of a pregnant cheetah on the busy Miami-Sabzevar road. Despite ongoing discussions in specialized meetings, efforts to implement demonstration projects and protect vital habitats have been insufficient.

The nation’s wildlife protection management has come under scrutiny following the alarming loss of the cheetahs. Samieh Rafiei, the head of the parliament’s environment faction, has expressed grave concern over the situation, pointing to the recent death of the pregnant cheetah as a poignant example of the ongoing issue.

Rafiei emphasized that the topic of wildlife protection has been a recurring theme in the specialized meetings of the Agriculture Commission and the Environment faction. However, despite these discussions, the situation has not improved. Instead, the focus on implementing demonstration projects has overshadowed the urgent need to protect the primary habitats of these vulnerable species.

The loss of such a significant number of cheetahs in a single year is a clear indication that the current wildlife protection strategies are inadequate. As a result, the nation must reassess its approach to wildlife conservation in order to prevent further loss and ensure the survival of these majestic and endangered creatures.

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