Political Prisoners Released

Week of October 28, 2019 | Iran Unfiltered is a weekly digest tracking Iranian politics & society by the National Iranian American Council | Subscribe Here

Political Prisoners Released

A number of Iranian labor activists and journalists have been released from prison. This includes: Sepideh Gholian, Atefeh Rangriz, Marzieh Amiri, Sanaz Allahyari, Amir Amir-Goli, and Amir Hossein Mohammadi-Far.

These activists were a mix of labor protestors, journalists, and women’s rights activists. They were previously given heavy sentences and have now been released on large bails.

Earlier, a number of parliamentarians wrote a letter to Judiciary Chief Ebrahim Raisi appealing for the release of some of these prisoners and others. They mentioned Rangriz, who had been sentenced to 11 years in prison and 74 lashes, and Amiri, who had been sentenced to ten-and-a-half years in prison and 148 lashes, among other political prisoners.

Rangriz and Amiri were arrested after being present during May Day labor protests in front of parliament this year. Amiri is a journalist for the reformist Shargh newspaper and Rangriz is a women’s rights activist. (Read more about the May Day protests in previous issues of Iran Unfiltered.)

The MPs stated Rangriz and Amiri had a constitutional “right” to join the demonstration and a duty to “report” on it. The signatories included MPs Ali Motahari, Elias Hazrati, Mahmoud Sadeghi, Mostafa Kavakebian, Parvaneh Salahshouri, Tayebeh Siavoshi, Fatemeh Saeedi, and Hamid Zarabadi. 

Days after these activists were released, labor activist Esmail Bakshi was also released on a heavy bail. Read more about the cases of Bakhshi and Gholian in previous issues of Iran Unfiltered.

Many of these now-released labor activists were handed heavy sentences in September. At the time, Judiciary Chief Ebrahim Raisi said the sentences would be revised after widespread outcry.

Raisi has attempted to portray himself as a supporter of worker rights, stating recently: “The grievances of laborers in the country are not small and we are in the process of addressing them. Hearing the grievances of those who have problems is our duty. The concerns of workers are understandable, and the responsible institutions must resolve the problems.”

He added: “However, sometimes some people under the cover of labor issues, have other aims they are seeking. We must not blame their actions on workers.”

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Iranian Outlet Predicts Next JCPOA Reductions

The Iranian outlet Mehr News has written a report on its predictions for Iran’s “fourth step” in reducing its JCPOA compliance, which is expected on November 7th. Starting in May, Iranian officials announced that the country would gradually reduce its JCPOA compliance in 60-day increments, until Europe returns to its commitments under the deal in terms of sanctions relief.

Mehr surmised that the next JCPOA-reduction step would include: unveiling a chain of 30 IR-1 centrifuges, increasing uranium enrichment capacity, activating the “secondary part of the Arak reactor and its refueling machine,” and unveiling a new generation of IR-7, IR-8, and IR-9 centrifuges.

Mehr based part of this on remarks made two months ago by Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI). In these remarks, Salehi said a chain of 30 IR-6 centrifuges would be unveiled. He also stated that within one month, 3,500 separative work units (SWUs, a unit measuring uranium enrichment capacity) would be added to Iran’s current 5,600 SWU capacity.

Salehi had also said at the time: “Iran before the JCPOA had 2,300 kg of enriched uranium. Now this is 1,700 or 1,800 kg. We are close to reaching the pre-JCPOA amount.”

Mehr said that “some specialists” believe that because Iran has yet to take these actions, these actions will be apart of its fourth JCPOA-reduction step. Mehr also pointed to other previous comments by officials on the Arak reactor for its claim that advancements on the Arak reactor will be part of the next step.

Mehr also relied on comments made by President Rouhani on October 14th for its claim that Iran would unveil new centrifuge models. Rouhani had said then: “Very soon we will unveil and activate IR-7, IR-8, and IR-9 centrifuges.”

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Khamenei Comments on Protests in Iraq & Lebanon

Ayatollah Khamenei has stated that the U.S. and its allies seek to create instability in Iraq and Lebanon, which are in the midst of anti-government protests. He declared in a speech: “America and Western intelligence agencies, with financial support from the reactionary regional countries, are creating turmoil. This is the worst form of enmity and hatred towards a nation.”

Khamenei accused these countries of seeking to create insecurity, stating: “The worst damage that the enemies can do to a country is to take away its security. This is what they have started in some regional countries today. They are taking security away from the people.”

Khamenei then addressed the situation in Iraq and Lebanon directly, stating: “To those who care about Iraq and Lebanon, I suggest that you make remedying insecurity your priority.”

Khamenei added that the people of these countries had justified grievances. He proclaimed: “The people [of these countries] have demands, which are justified, but they must know that these demands are attainable within the framework of the laws in their countries. When the legal framework of a country is disrupted, no action can be taken. When a vacuum is created in a country, no positive actions can be carried out.”

Mahmoud Vaezi, President Rouhani’s chief of staff, also said that other countries seek to take advantage of the protests in Iraq and Lebanon. Vaezi stated: “A situation has been created, and America, Saudi Arabia, some other countries, and the Zionist regime [Israel] seek to coopt the people’s demands and they control social media. They give the lines [instructions] and financial support, and it seems this will be to the detriment of the people of Lebanon and Iraq.” 

Vaezi said that the demands of the people in these countries must be addressed by their governments. However, he added that the “demands shouldn’t be expressed in such a way that it results in chaos.” He also said that “foreign forces” seek to “weaken the incumbent governments.”

Vaezi further stated that “great efforts” were being made to create “distance” between the Islamic Republic and Iraq. He said both Iraq and Iran had to be “vigilant to not allow foreigners to reach this aim.”

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Debate Over Financial Transparency Bills Comes to a Head

The domestic fight over Iran passing laws to align its banking sector with global standards set by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) has come to a head after a review period has expired. Since 2016, FATF has suspended countermeasures against Iran, conditioned on Iran implementing an action plan to bring the country into compliance with the standards. Recently, FATF extended the deadline for Iran to meet the standards to next February, but has said it will reimpose countermeasures if Iran fails to do so by then.

Of the four bills introduced by the Rouhani administration to meet the FATF standards, two have been approved by the parliament and the Guardian Council, while the other two are still in limbo. The bill on reforming Iran’s laws on anti-money laundering (AML) and confronting terrorism financing have been passed. However, while parliament accepted the other two bills on Iran acceding to the terrorist financing (TF) convention and Palermo conventions, both bills were not approved by the Guardian Council.

The TF and Palermo convention bills have been under debate in the Expediency Discernment Council—a body constitutionally mandated with resolving disputes between the Guardian Council and parliament.

The one-year period for the Expediency Council to review the bills has now expired. The Rouhani administration now states that because the council did not reach a decision, the bills are de facto approved. However, opponents of the bill say the opposite and contend the bills have been defeated.

Rouhani first Vice-President Eshaq Jahangiri has also spurred controversy by saying that Ayatollah Khamenei had approved the bills. The opponents of the bills have pushed back on his characterization of Khamenei’s position.

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Iran Joins Syria Constitution Talks in Geneva

In Geneva, representatives of the Syrian government, opposition, and civil society, along with the foreign ministers of Russia, Iran, and Turkey met and released a joint statement. The meeting occurred on the eve of Syrian “constitutional committee” talks.

In the joint statement, the parties emphasized “preserving the territorial integrity, government, independence and unity of Syria.” They also said that the Syrian crisis has no military solutions.

The Syrian constitutional committee held its first meeting in Geneva. The UN Secretary General’s special representative for Syria is also participating.

Two years ago, the Syrian government and part of the opposition agreed to form the 150-member constitutional committee. One-third of its members are representatives of the government, another third representatives of the opposition, and the last third representatives of “Syrian civil society.”

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Foreign Ministry Calls on Iranians to Postpone Iraq Trips

The Iranian foreign ministry has called on Iranian citizens to postpone trips to Iraq given unrest in the country. A foreign ministry statement said: “Given reports of an outbreak of disorder in Iraq we asked our dear compatriots and pilgrims to postpone visits to Iraq until further notice.”

The announcement comes as the Arbaeen Shia pilgrimage just ended. According to Alireza Rashidian, the president of Iran’s Hajj and Pilgrimage Organization, 3,057,957 Iranians traveled to Iraq this year for Arbaeen.

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Iran Condemns U.S. Troop Presence in Syria Oilfields

The Iranian and Russian foreign ministers condemned the U.S. announcement that it would keep troops in Syria to control oil fields. Speaking from Geneva, Foreign Minister Zarif stated: “Apparently the Americans are staying to take care of oil … at least President Trump is sincere about American aims.” Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov stated: “Any form of illegal exploitation of the natural resources of an independent country without the permission of that country’s government, is illegal.”

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About Author

Sina ToossiSina ToossiSina Toossi joined the National Iranian American Council as a Research Associate in July 2018. In this role, Sina conducts research and writing on U.S.-Iran relations, Iranian politics, and Middle East policy issues. Sina has been published in Newsweek, The National Interest, The Huffington Post, The Atlantic Council’s IranSource, ThinkProgress, and The Washington Quarterly.
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