April 19, 2023

Iranian Women Rally Against Mandatory Hijab Amid Crackdown, 400+ Activists Warn of Potential Crisis, Student Poisonings Prompt Protests and more

Week of April 17, 2023 | Iran Unfiltered is a digest tracking Iranian politics & society by the National Iranian American Council 

Iranian Women Rally Against Mandatory Hijab Amid Government Crackdown

On Saturday, April 15, women from Iran publicly defied the mandatory hijab law, protesting the government’s imposition of obligatory hijab and disregarding recent warnings from the Islamic Republic’s police chief, Radan. The occasion, referred to as “Radan Saturday” by the protesters, featured women expressing their dissent towards the mandatory hijab by refusing to don the required covering.

The protests coincided with the launch of the plan to enforce mandatory hijab by police, which targets public spaces, vehicles, and specific locations. On the first day of the plan’s implementation, local police officers inspected commercial centers and arcades, examining the hijab status of sellers and visitors. Despite the crackdown, Iranian women continued to take a stand, turning the day into a significant social gathering against the authorities’ threats.

Simultaneously, the plan to combat the “unveiled,” as proposed by Radan, continued to be executed across other sectors. Ali Khanmohammadi, spokesperson for the Headquarters for the Good and Prohibition of Evil, expressed dissatisfaction with the current hijab laws, stating that they were outdated and not properly enforced. In response, he proposed a “cash fine without court” system, which would issue monetary penalties for violations without involving the judicial system.

The proposal has been met with criticism on social media, with some users accusing the organization of acting like “bandits” and suggesting that the plan is more about generating income than adhering to the government’s ideology regarding compulsory hijab. As the government maintains its stance on mandatory hijab, Iranian women continue to push back, demanding the right to choose their own dress.

Legal Experts Challenge Mandatory Hijab Enforcement Measures in Pursuit of Optional Coverage Rights

Continuing their efforts to advocate for the right to choose whether to wear a hijab, a group of legal experts has issued a warning to the enforcers of the mandatory hijab policy, citing both international and domestic law violations. In a detailed statement, the legal experts argue that the mandatory hijab policy infringes on the Islamic Republic’s international obligations, as well as being “illegal” under the nation’s own laws. The statement highlights the potential illegality of several enforcement measures currently in place.

The jurists addressed the issue of penalizing women for not wearing a hijab inside their cars, stating that the interior of a car should be considered a private space, akin to one’s home. Consequently, women should be free to choose whether to wear a hijab in their vehicles, and the impounding of cars for this reason is deemed unlawful.

The legal experts also took issue with the police sending text messages or subpoenas to women without a mandatory hijab. They assert that such actions are illegal, as the penalty for not wearing a hijab is a fine, which falls under the jurisdiction of the courts rather than the police.

Furthermore, the statement’s authors emphasized that, according to the Islamic Republic’s internal laws, even the courts lack the authority to deny women who do not comply with the mandatory hijab access to social services such as using the subway, obtaining a national card, entering shopping centers, and the like. The police, therefore, should not have such authority either. The statement also addresses the closure of shops and shopping centers as a result of noncompliance with the mandatory hijab policy, arguing that there are no legal grounds for such actions, rendering them arbitrary and illegal.

Over 420 Political, Civil, and Cultural Activists Warn of Potential Nationwide Crisis in Iran

A diverse group of 420 political, civil, and cultural activists residing in Iran have issued a warning and proposed solutions concerning the nation’s political changes over the past year and its future direction. These activists represent various political and cultural perspectives, with many having been imprisoned for their political activities. University professor Hashem Aghajari, the Secretary-General of the Freedom Movement party Mohammad Tavasoli, former mayor of Tehran Morteza Alviri, poet Ali Babachahi, Islamic scholar Abdolali Bazargan, Tahereh Taleghani, Abolfazl Bazargan, Mohammad Hossein Baniasadi, Alireza Rajai, university professor Ehsan Shariati, Hashem Sabaghian, Keyvan Samimi, journalist Badrossadat Mofidi, Abolfazl Ghadyani, and Abdollah Momeni are among the individuals who have signed the document. They caution that the current situation has the potential to escalate into a nationwide crisis.

According to these activists, amidst the crucial circumstance of a ruler’s passing and governmental upheaval, a peaceful and democratic transition can occur through conducting a free referendum that seeks the public’s opinion. The objective is to ask whether there is a need to reassess, alter, or adjust the constitution. Following the affirmative feedback from the populace, the establishment of a legislative body consisting of elected representatives via transparent and impartial elections will be instrumental in drafting the foundational constitution. Ultimately, this constitution will be ratified through a nationwide referendum. Mir Hossein Mousavi, a former prime minister under house arrest since 2010 following the Green Movement, also announced a new political strategy a few months ago by calling for a constitutional referendum in an open letter. 

In a statement, the group highlighted the significance of last year’s “Mahsa” or “Women, Life, Freedom” protest movement, which began with the activism of women and young people in opposition to the government’s cultural policy of coercion and stoning. The movement has since expanded to challenge all forms of discrimination, privilege, and religious and political tyranny. The statement argues that the widespread and diverse nature of the protests exceeded expectations, involving workers, teachers, students, journalists, artists, athletes, and various ethnic, religious, and cultural minorities across the country.

The activists describe the demonstrations as a manifestation of civil and patriotic resistance and resilience against oppression, poverty, corruption, repression, and censorship, as well as a demand for freedom and justice. They warn that although the fire of the uprising may seem to have subsided, if the political, economic, and social crises persist, it has the potential to erupt quickly in various forms and even lead to a nationwide explosion.

The statement also addresses Iran’s historical and contemporary movements, from the Constitutional Revolution to the Bahman Revolution, and their central demands for freedom, independence, a republic, and the rule of law. It emphasizes the need for a non-violent democratic transition to resolve the current deadlock and nested crises, achieved through internal organization and the pursuit of fundamental and structural changes.

The activists argue that the path to justice, workers’ rights, the abolition of exploitative relations, and the elimination of discrimination and privilege can be defined by democracy and the separation of religion and state. They assert that acknowledging Iran’s cultural, national, and religious characteristics within a free and equal system will facilitate the localization and internalization of political and social democracy, rather than perpetuating traditional sovereignties such as historical monarchies and caliphates.

They have also underlined that ”Iranian civil society perceives a peaceful, democratic shift as the solution to the ongoing impasse and complex crises. This approach emerges internally through organization and the pursuit of deep, structural alterations and transformations, rather than reverting to an illusory past or seeking fanciful future prospects by depending on foreign entities and their regional surveillance strategies, which could potentially threaten the nation’s territorial integrity.”

Poisoning Symptoms Among Students in Iran Persist, Prompting Protests and Concerns

Despite the official media’s silence, reports of poisoning symptoms among students have once again surfaced in Iran after the recent Norooz holiday season. Recently published reports highlighted a protest rally in Shahinshahr, Isfahan, on April 15, where frustrated parents were met with police threats and tear gas. Additionally in Takestan, parents criticized the city governor for denying the poisonings and called on him to find the perpetrators instead. Five months have now passed since the initial poisoning symptoms began in Qom city, and authorities have yet to provide a clear response to the families’ growing concerns.

Most recently, on April 15, symptoms appeared among students at several Mahabad schools, who were subsequently taken to medical centers. Witnesses claim that school authorities at Setayesh High School refused to let students leave, and later an ambulance and a fire truck were seen in front of the school. Following the incidents in Mahabad, the Coordinating Council of Educators Trade Union Organizations reported that civil activists in Mahabad had protested the suspected chemical attacks and lack of safety for students, urging them not to attend school on April 16 given the reported symptoms the day before.

Additionally, poisoning symptoms were reported on April 15th in various schools in Tehran, Ardabil, Urmia, and Karaj. The following day, other reports of poisonings in several girls’ schools in Qazvin, Mahabad, Izeh, Sanandaj, and Sarpol Zahab were received as well.

Iran’s Minister of Health, Bahram Ainollahi, recently stated that they will use the term “illness” instead of “poisoning” and claimed that a small percentage of cases were related to mischief. He also said that more than 90% of students do not have any poisoning substance in their systems and are mostly experiencing “stress.”

School administrators have been accused of denying and downplaying the alarming situation, with some insisting on keeping students in classes despite their ongoing symptoms. A student from Shahinshahr reported that school staff asked students to stay in class even when the teacher was experiencing dizziness symptoms. Officials only allowed students to leave if their fathers assured them the school was not responsible for their health. The city of Shahinshir alone reported that students from at least 12 different schools had to be taken to medical centers after experiencing an unpleasant smell. A medical staff member criticized school administrators for their handling of the crisis and warned of irreparable consequences for students with lung problems.

Verdicts Issued for the Defendants in the Ukrainian Plane Crash Case: An Overview and Reactions from the PS752 Family Association

On April 16, the judiciary of the Islamic Republic of Iran  issued verdicts for the accused individuals in the Ukrainian plane crash case, which caused the death of 176 passengers by theRevolutionary Guards’ missile fire. While the court sentenced the primary defendant to 13 years in prison, other defendants received one to three-year sentences. In response to the verdicts, the PS752 Family Association has condemned the court’s decisions and emphasized its lack of jurisdiction over the case.

The court’s verdicts are as follows:

  • The primary defendant, the commander of the Tor M-1 defense system, was sentenced to 13 years in prison, with ten years enforceable. 
  • The second and third-tier defendants, personnel of the Tor M-1 defense system, each received a one-year prison sentence.
  • The fourth defendant, responsible for the defense systems desk of the Tor M-1, was sentenced to three years in prison.
  • The fifth-tier defendant, in charge of the command post of the M-1 defense system, was also sentenced to three years in prison.
  • The sixth-ranked defendant, the then-commander of the 5th Tehran Air Defense Base, received a two-year prison sentence.
  • The seventh-tier defendant, the shift officer of the Tehran Regional Operations Control Center, was sentenced to two years in prison.
  • The eighth-ranked defendant, the then-commander of the Tehran Regional Operations Control Center, was sentenced to one and a half years in prison.
  • The ninth-ranking defendant, the then-commander of the Tehran Air Defense Zone, received a one-year prison sentence.
  • The tenth-ranked defendant, the then-commander of the air defense of the IRGC Air and Space Force, was also sentenced to one year in prison.
  • In addition to these primary sentences, the court imposed supplementary punishments for the second through tenth-tier defendants. The decision is preliminary and can be appealed within 20 days from the date of notification. The court also designated $150,000, or its equivalent in Euros, as ex-gratia payments for each victim, to be awarded to the families irrespective of judicial proceedings.

The PS752 Family Association released a statement condemning the verdicts, referring to the judiciary’s proceedings as a “show court.” The association has not accepted the court’s jurisdiction over the case and refuses to abide by its sentence. The statement highlighted the court’s failure to prosecute the commanders and primary accused individuals, as well as the lack of transparency throughout the trial process. The association emphasized that the families are seeking justice rather than monetary compensation for their loved ones.

The association also criticized the court for holding secret meetings, insulting participating family members, and failing to conduct an impartial investigation. Over 70 family members who filed complaints ultimately withdrew their claims in an attempt to  not legitimize the court’s jurisdiction.The verdicts as they stand currently are preliminary, and defendants have the opportunity to appeal within the specified timeframe.

Prominent Analyst and Critic Emad Afrough Passes Away

Emad Afrough, a distinguished analyst and former member of the Parliament, died on April 25 due to cancer. Afrough, who was once a political activist, gradually moved away from political factions and focused his energy on research in social sciences. He became an outspoken critic of those in power, asserting that protesting is a fundamental right of the people.

In recent years, Afrough was known for his rigorous critiques of the government, particularly in response to various protests throughout the country. He lamented the exclusion of the public from decision-making processes and urged those in power to prioritize justice over rhetoric. Afrough argued that the 1979 Islamic revolution was centered on social justice, and that officials’ performances should be evaluated against this standard.

Afrough attributed the unrest following the 2019 gasoline price hike to the public’s exclusion from decision-making. As a representative of the seventh round of the Parliament, he contended that the right to protest was justified in this case. He explained that political power should represent social power, but instead, it was manipulating the civil institution and social sphere for its own ends.

Regarding the protests that followed the death of Mahsa Amini, Afrough cited the rejection of the protesters as a catalyst for the demonstrations. He described the events as “urban anger and the rebellion of the rejected,” rather than a social movement. Afrough believed that the regime should have apologized for Amini’s death and that relevant officials should have resigned.

In his analysis of the economic factors behind the protests, Afrough highlighted issues of inequality, monopolization, and rent-seeking in the distribution of economic benefits. He observed that certain individuals were granted privileges while the majority remained excluded from these advantages. The passing of Emad Afrough passing leaves a void in the world of critical analysis and social science research.

Iranian President Extends Official Invitation to Saudi King, Signaling Thaw in Relations

The Iranian President, Ebrahim Raisi, has officially invited the King of Saudi Arabia to visit Tehran, according to a statement from Nasser Kanani, the spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Islamic Republic. This move comes as the two nations work towards reopening their respective embassies by May 9 after a seven-year diplomatic hiatus.

The announcement of the invitation followed an earlier statement by Iran’s Foreign Minister, Hossein Amir Abdollahian, expressing the country’s readiness to host the Saudi King. The statement was made in an interview with Al Jazeera, shortly after news broke of Saudi Arabia’s invitation to President Raisi to visit Riyadh.

Iran and Saudi Arabia agreed, with mediation from China, to restore diplomatic ties on March 10, ending a seven-year suspension after an attack on the Saudi embassy in Iran by supporters of the Iranian government. The incident had occurred in response to the execution of Sheikh Nimr, a Shia cleric and vocal critic of the Saudi government. In addition to the reciprocal invitations extended by President Raisi and the Saudi King, the foreign ministers of both countries have also invited each other for official visits, as confirmed by the spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Islamic Republic.

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