May 24, 2024

Ebrahim Raisi, Hossein Amir-Abdollahian and other Crash Victims Buried, Iran Schedules Presidential Election for June 28, Iran’s Harsh Drug Policy Enforcement, and more

Week of May 20, 2024 | Iran Unfiltered is a digest tracking Iranian politics & society by the National Iranian American Council 

Ebrahim Raisi, Hossein Amir-Abdollahian and Other Crash Victims Buried

Ebrahim Raisi, the President of Iran who lost his life in a helicopter crash, was interred at the shrine of the eighth Shia Imam, a site of profound religious significance. Mr. Raisi had previously served as the custodian of Astan Quds Razavi, which oversees the shrine.

The nation observed a series of funeral processions for President Raisi, Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, Mohammad Ali Al Hashem, and other victims of the crash. The events took place on Thursday, May 23 across various Iranian cities, drawing substantial crowds.

The procession for Mr. Raisi began in Tabriz and continued in Tehran and Birjand, his home town, and concluded in Mashhad where he was buried. Images depicted large crowds gathered to pay their final respects.

Simultaneously, Mohammad Ali Al Hashem, the Friday Prayer Leader and Ayatollah Khamenei’s representative in East Azerbaijan, was mourned in Tabriz and laid to rest in the Wadi Rahmat Cemetery. His father, Mohammad Taghi Al Hashem, a noted Shia cleric from Tabriz, was present at the ceremony.

In Tehran, Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian was also laid to rest in a ceremony that started at the Foreign Ministry and concluded in the city of Ray. The event was attended by numerous dignitaries, including Mohammad Mokhber, Iran’s acting President, and former Foreign Ministers Mohammad Javad Zarif and Ali Akbar Salehi. The ceremonies also honored Major General Pilots Mohsen Daryanoush and Taher Mostafavi, who were buried in Najafabad and Behesht Zahra respectively.

Internationally, the crash prompted many statements expressing condolences and visits by foreign leaders to Tehran. Over 90 dignitaries, including the Emir of Qatar Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani and Presidents from Tunisia, Turkmenistan, and Tajikistan participated in the ceremonies along with high-ranking officials from Syria, Iraq, Pakistan, Armenia, Georgia, and the Deputy Prime Minister of the Taliban, highlighting the extensive diplomatic presence. Notably, Sameh Shoukry, Egypt’s Foreign Minister, marked his historic visit to Iran—the first by an Egyptian Foreign Minister since the 1979 revolution—by attending the ceremonies.

Some human rights activists expressed regret over the death of Ebrahim Raisi, lamenting that he died before being tried for his violations of human rights. Many argued that instead of holding the position of president, he should have been held accountable for crimes against humanity for the execution and torture of political prisoners and the suppression of citizens over the past four decades. In a statement, Amnesty International declared that Raisi’s death should not deprive “the victims of his grim human rights legacy” and their families of the right to uncover the truth and witness the trial and punishment of all who were complicit in his crimes.

Amid the national mourning, the Iranian judiciary and police reported actions against individuals for allegedly posting “insulting” content about President Raisi’s death. This has led to a series of summonses and threats, particularly targeting journalists and activists, reflecting the tense atmosphere surrounding the incident.

Preliminary Report on Raisi’s Helicopter Crash Amid Conspiracy Theories

The General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Islamic Republic has released an initial report on the investigation of the helicopter crash that carried Ebrahim Raisi. The report, detailed by IRIB, is the result of an inquiry by a high-ranking committee within the General Staff.

The statement mentioned that the helicopter was on its designated flight path at the time of the incident and that there were no signs of bullet impacts or similar damage on the remaining parts of the helicopter. It was also noted that the helicopter caught fire after hitting “a high point.” The pilot had made contact with two other accompanying helicopters about one and a half minutes before the crash; however, the report does not specify the nature of this contact or if it was an emergency. No suspicious activities were observed in the communication between the flight group and the control tower, according to the report.

Due to the complexity of the region, foggy conditions, and low temperatures, the search operations extended into the night and continued until the early hours of the following morning. With the aid of Iranian drones, the exact location of the crash was determined at 5:00 AM, allowing ground forces to reach the site. The report added that further analysis of some parts and documents requires more time and will be reported later.

Ahmad Vahidi, the Interior Minister of Iran, stated after the incident that the helicopter was forced to make a “hard landing” due to bad weather and dense fog. Local newspapers, Ham-Mihan and Islamic Republic, raised questions about this fatal incident. Ham-Mihan called for clarifications while the Islamic Republic hinted at the possibility of a foreign conspiracy. Articles discussed ongoing weaknesses in the incident handling, particularly in information dissemination.

Further, public concern remains high as people speculate about various theories that could have played a role in the crash. Some view the fact that the other two helicopters reached their destinations, as well as the lack of clarity on the crash circumstances, as supporting the conclusion that foul play may have been involved. However, as of this time, there is no evidence to support any such conclusion.

Ham-Mihan raised further questions, stating: “This situation occurred while the President’s office had clearly stated that they observed the helicopter carrying the President enter a cloud and then lose radio contact. The second helicopter naturally had the coordinates and circled the area twice.”

The editorial continued: “Most importantly, it claims that there were several phone conversations with the pilot’s mobile phone, which was answered by the late Al-Hashem, indicating the presence of a signal and connection with telecommunications towers, which should have easily located the crash site. Yet, no explanation has been provided as to why they could not find the wreckage until six hours later, after it became dark.”

On the other hand Mehrdad Bazrpash, Iran’s Minister of Roads who was in one of the three helicopters in Raisi’s convoy on the day of the dam’s inauguration, described his account of the moments after the President’s helicopter disappeared in an interview with Iran’s state television. Mr. Bazrpash said in the interview that, immediately after the helicopter crash, the phones of the Friday Imam of Tabriz, the Foreign Minister, and the governor of East Azerbaijan were reachable, but because there was only one telecommunications tower (BTS) nearby, rescuers were unable to precisely locate the crash site.

According to Mr. Bazrpash, “At least three BTS are needed to accurately determine the position of a mobile phone, but there was only one BTS near there.” The Islamic Republic newspaper, in a note titled “No Room for Negligence,” wrote: “The fact that only the helicopter carrying the President was involved in this accident on its return from a border area to Tabriz, while it could dismiss the involvement of weather conditions, strengthens the possibility of a conspiracy.”

The Islamic Republic wrote: “Although initial reports on the day of the accident suggested weather factors, speculations gradually shifted towards a conspiracy theory.” The writer also added: “Public opinion is keenly following the incident and wants to uncover the truth.”

In conclusion, The Islamic Republic newspaper summarized: “Firstly, the incident showed that the organizers of the President’s travel were fundamentally flawed and did not pay enough attention to safety measures. Secondly, our navigation is weak, and if the helicopter accident involving the President was due to a conspiracy, this weakness contributed to the occurrence. Thirdly, we have a severe deficiency in securing against foreign conspiracies.”

Iran’s Assembly of Experts Inaugurates Sixth Term Amidst Leadership Changes

The sixth term of Iran’s Assembly of Experts, the body empowered to appoint or dismiss the country’s Supreme Leader, has commenced. Mohammad Ali Movahedi Kermani, a seasoned conservative politician, secured the leadership with 55 of the 83 votes cast. Before the official voting, Movahedi Kermani had already been selected as the provisional head. 

The term began with a ceremonial message from Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic, delivered by his chief of staff. Khamenei asserted that the  assembly was a pillar of “Islamic democracy.” The inauguration was attended by a host of senior Iranian figures, including judiciary and parliamentary leaders, Vice President Mohammad Mokhber, several Revolutionary Guards commanders, and former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Diplomats based in Tehran were also present, as seen in published images.

At 93, Movahedi Kermani has been a member of the Assembly since its first session. His prior roles include acting as Khamenei’s representative in the Revolutionary Guards and temporarily leading the Expediency Discernment Council.

During the assembly’s leadership elections, Hashem Hosseini Bushehri and Alireza A’rafi were chosen as first and second vice-presidents, respectively. Both are known for their conservative stances; Hosseini Bushehri leads the conservative Society of Seminary Teachers of Qom, and A’rafi is a member of the Guardian Council. The leadership team is elected for a two-year term, although the assembly itself operates on an eight-year cycle. Movahedi Kermani follows 97-year-old Ahmad Jannati, who did not seek re-election this term.

The assembly’s new term is shadowed by the recent helicopter crash that claimed the lives of Ebrahim Raisi and Mohammad Ali Al-Hashem, two of its members. Raisi, Iran’s eighth president, had been considered a likely candidate for the assembly’s presidency and to potentially serve as Khamenei’s successor.

In the latest elections, former President Hassan Rouhani’s candidacy was vetoed by the Guardian Council. Sadegh Larijani, head of the Expediency Discernment Council, also failed to be re-elected, coming in fifth in a contest for four Mazandaran province seats. Neither Rouhani nor Larijani appeared in the images from the sixth term’s inauguration ceremony.

The only time the Assembly of Experts has selected Iran’s next Supreme Leader was in June 1989 following Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s death, when Ali Khamenei was named Supreme Leader. Now 85, Khamenei would be 93 at the close of the current assembly term. The Iranian constitution mandates that the assembly can also dismiss the leader if he is unable to perform his duties or lacks the qualifications. Some critics argue that, over the 35 years of Khamenei’s leadership, the Assembly of Experts has not adequately performed its oversight role.

Iran Schedules Presidential Election for June 28 Amid Political Transition

Iran has announced that its fourteenth presidential election will take place on June 28, as determined during a meeting of the nation’s legislative, judicial leaders, and the acting president. The registration period for candidates is set from May 30 to June 3, with the campaign season scheduled from June 12 to June 27.

This decision was confirmed in a meeting on May 20, attended by First Vice President Mohammad Mokhber, Chief Justice Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejei, Speaker of the Parliament Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, and other senior officials including the vice president’s legal advisor, the deputy of the Guardian Council, and the deputy minister of interior for political affairs. According to Article 131 of the Islamic Republic’s Constitution, if the presidency is vacated due to death or removal, the first vice president assumes the role with approval from the Supreme Leader. A council comprising the first vice president, the parliament speaker, and the chief justice is then required to ensure a new president is elected within 50 days.

The arrangement followed the death of President Ebrahim Raisi in a helicopter crash, after which Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei delegated presidential duties to Vice President Mokhber. The law stipulates that in cases of the president’s resignation, dismissal, or death, the first vice president will take over with the leader’s consent.

Potential candidates for the upcoming election include current Parliament Speaker Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, Minister of Roads and Urban Development Mehrdad Bazrpash, former Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani, former Minister of Energy Parviz Fattah, and reformist figure Majid Ansari. Former President Mohammad Khatami was reported to have commented on the need to establish “minimum standards” to justify electoral participation. These remarks were published during his meeting with members of the Mardomsalari Party, as reported by Mardomsalari Online. Khatami Media clarified that these comments were made prior to Raisi’s death.

Khatami emphasized that the criteria for a credible election far exceed current practices and encouraged a collective effort towards improvement. He pointed out the absence of suitable candidates as a reason for potential non-participation and stressed that the government’s primary goal should be to satisfy public demand. He raised concerns about the dramatic drop in past participation rates, which once reached up to 80 percent.

Furthermore, Khatami discussed the fundamental importance of elections, stating, “Elections are crucial, but if they lose their meaning, the priority must be to restore their significance. The essence of the ballot box is to represent the people’s voice, not just a select group. If it strays from this purpose, efforts must be made to realign it.

Rise in Executions Raises Alarm: Human Rights Organizations Report on Iran’s Harsh Drug Policy Enforcement

Human rights organizations have reported that in the early hours of a Saturday, May 18 in Iran, at least five individuals were executed at Urmia Central Prison for drug-related offenses. Among those executed was Parvin Moosavi, whose transfer to solitary confinement for execution led to an uprising in the women’s ward.

According to the Hengaw Organization for Human Rights, five individuals were executed, while the Human Rights Organization of Iran reported the execution of six prisoners at the same facility. Additional reports from other locations including Salmas, Nishapur, Qazvin, and Qom indicate at least four more executions, totaling a significant number in a single day.

Executed in Urmia were Parvin Moosavi, Yusef Saeedi Chehreh, Ramin Lundi, Parviz Ghasemi, and Mansour Naseri, all previously convicted on drug-related charges. A sixth prisoner, identified only with the surname Jebeli from Tabriz, was also executed at Urmia, according to the Human Rights Organization of Iran. The Kurdistan Human Rights Network confirmed the executions in Urmia and reported an additional execution in Salmas.

These organizations have expressed increasing concern over the surge in executions in Iran, particularly noting a deadly shift in drug policy enforcement when  Ebrahim Raisi became President and Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejei took over as the Chief Justice in 2021. Moosavi, 50, from Maragheh, was executed after four years in prison. Naseri, 45, from Boukan, had been arrested five years ago, while the other three, Ghasemi, 35, Saeedi Chehreh, 32, and Lundi, 27, all from Urmia, had been in prison for four years. Notably, Parviz Ghasemi’s father, Saleh Ghasemi, and Ramin Lundi’s brother were also executed last year for similar charges.

Concerns had been mounting over the likelihood of Moosavi’s execution. A day before her execution, the Human Rights Organization of Iran cited an informed source detailing Moosavi’s case, stating she was the third accused in a case where the primary suspect had been executed and the second had been released. Moosavi had indicated that she was unaware of the true nature of the 5 kilograms of morphine she was transporting under the guise of medication. Moosavi was a mother of two who lived in poverty, and her husband and eldest son are also imprisoned. 

Amnesty International in a report titled “Do Not Let Us Be Killed” on April 4, detailed that in the previous year, 853 people were executed in Iran, with 481 related to drug offenses, marking the prisons as “sites of mass slaughter.” This crisis of relentless executions in Iran has escalated since the uprising of 1401 (2021), with authorities using capital punishment to instill fear among the populace and consolidate power during the “Woman, Life, Freedom” protests from September to December 2022.

The report highlighted that the number of executions in 2023 was the highest recorded since 2015, indicating a 48% increase from 2022 and a 172% increase from 2021. According to Amnesty International, the trend of executions continued into 2024, with at least 95 recorded by March 20 of the current year.

Iran Confirms Indirect Negotiations with U.S. in Oman

The Iranian mission to the United Nations in New York has confirmed that Iran and the United States engaged in indirect negotiations in Oman. According to the ISNA news agency, the mission stated in response to the Wall Street Journal that “these talks are neither the first nor will they be the last of their kind.”

Axios earlier reported, citing unnamed sources, that Iranian and American representatives discussed how to avoid escalating regional conflicts and addressed nuclear dialogue last week in Oman. These talks marked the first round of dialogue between the United States and Iran since similar discussions were held in January. They took place just one month after Iran’s unprecedented retaliatory drone and missile attack on Israeli territory on April 13.

The report claims that the discussions were attended by Brett McGurk, President Biden’s senior Middle East advisor, and Abram Paley, the acting U.S. envoy on Iranian affairs. It remains unclear who represented Iran in these negotiations.

Axios noted that a primary goal of the Biden administration since October 7 has been to prevent the Gaza conflict from escalating into a regional war. The United States believes Iran holds significant influence over regional resistance groups, though Iran consistently asserts that they operate independently.

Nasser Kanaani, the spokesperson for Iran’s Foreign Ministry, previously asserted, “Iran has no proxy forces in the region, and it is the American regime that uses the Zionist regime as a proxy to achieve its illegitimate goals.” Axios indicated that McGurk and Paley met with Omani mediators and were aimed at clarifying the implications of Iran’s actions and its proxy forces in the region, and addressing U.S. concerns about the status of Iran’s nuclear program.

Vedant Patel, Deputy Spokesperson for the U.S. Department of State, said that the Biden administration has means to communicate with Iran if necessary. He stated that the administration continues to assess that Iran is not currently undertaking the key activities necessary to produce a testable nuclear device.

Patel added that the United States continues to assess that Iran’s leader has decided to resume a weaponization program which, in their view, was suspended or halted at the end of 2003. Both the White House and the State Department have refrained from commenting further on the talks in Oman.

Several Iranian figures, including Kamal Kharrazi and Ahmad Haq-Talab, have recently suggested that revisiting the Islamic Republic’s nuclear policy is possible under certain circumstances. Recent statements from Rafael Grossi, director-general of the IAEA, criticized these vague remarks by Iranian officials about their nuclear capabilities as ‘erroneous.’

Iranian Commanders Host Strategic Meeting with Regional Allies in Tehran

As Ebrahim Raisi’s funeral took place in Mashhad, high-ranking Iranian commanders from the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and the Quds Force convened in Tehran on Thursday with representatives from Iran’s key regional allies. According to Tasnim News Agency, closely affiliated with the IRGC, the meeting saw the participation of leaders from Hamas, Hezbollah, Yemen’s Houthi movement, and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

Prominent attendees included Ismail Haniyeh, head of Hamas’s political office; Naim Qassem, deputy secretary-general of Hezbollah; Mohammad Abdul Salam, spokesperson for the Houthi movement; and Mohammad al-Hindi, deputy secretary-general of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad. This assembly comes on the heels of reported meetings between these groups’ representatives and Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei.

Additional sources noted the presence of representatives from other allied militant groups such as the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and various Iraqi militias. The agenda reportedly focused on the current political, social, and military landscape in the region, particularly the operations of “Al-Aqsa Storm” on October 7th and the role of the “resistance front”, as reported by IRNA. However, specifics about the meeting’s content remain undisclosed.

It remains unclear whether the meeting was planned in advance or organized spontaneously alongside Raisi’s memorial services, which were attended by many of Iran’s regional allies. The meeting coincided with international legal actions, as the International Criminal Court was reportedly seeking arrest warrants for various leaders, including Ismail Haniyeh and Benjamin Netanyahu, for alleged war crimes.

In their tributes to Raisi, both Hezbollah and Hamas hailed him as a fervent supporter of the resistance groups. Analysts believe that the recent changes in Iran’s presidential and foreign ministry leadership are unlikely to significantly shift the nation’s foreign policy.

The meeting underscored the continued strategic military cooperation among Iran’s network of allied groups across the region, collectively known as the axis of resistance. Ayatollah Khamenei reaffirmed Iran’s commitment to these groups in his recent Nowruz speech, emphasizing support for the resistance front against U.S. and Israeli influences in the Middle East.

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