2020 Marked by a Tumultuous Start for Human Rights in Iran

On January 14, Human Rights Watch released its annual summary of the state of human rights in Iran, reviewing Iran’s from brutal crackdowns on protests, arbitrary arrests, and execution; Iran’s continued discrimination based on religion, gender, and orientation; and the humanitarian impact of U.S. sanctions. Some issues raised in the report include:

  • The right to assemble, protest, and voice rightful grievances has long been repressed by Iranian authorities. However, under the weight of growing internal pressure from economic discontent and sanctions beginning in late 2019, Iranian authorities grew increasingly cruel in their crackdown on domestic dissent. 
  • This has resulted in an increase of arbitrary arrests of journalists, artists, activists, and foreign and dual nationals. Additionally, the judiciary has increasingly ignored due process and lacked transparency in dealing with such cases, and has doled out harsh sentences. 
  • The worst of these abuses came in November of 2019, after protests – sparked by a spike in gas prices – were met with brutal force. At least 300+ deaths have been reported, but may include many more as the government refuses to declare actual numbers. A staggering 7,000 people were reportedly arrested and the internet was shut down for nearly a week as Iranians were forcibly cut off from the outside world. 
  • Though the report notes some small victories for women, such as limited permission to attend soccer matches and an amendment to the nationality law that allows women to pass citizenship to their children, the legal status of women is still highly discriminatory. Such inequitable practices are also true for religious minorities, especially of the Bahai faith, and homosexuality continues to be criminalized.
  • The report also discusses the humanitarian impact of U.S. sanctions. Though legally exempt from sanctions, the report notes limited access to vital medicines and medical equipment due to banking restrictions.

As is evident in the report, 2019 was a bleak year for human rights and Iranians have suffered greatly under domestic and foreign pressures. Unfortunately for Iranians, the new year has been a devastating continuation of tragedy. The events of the past two weeks have rocked not only Iran, but also the globe, as people all across the world held their breath bracing for a war that seemed inevitable after the U.S. assassination of Iran’s General, Qassem Soleimani.

In their attempt at retaliation, Iranian authorities carried out an attack on U.S. airbases in Iraq. On the night of the attack, January 8th, Iranian defenses mistakenly shot down a Ukrainian passenger plane, which was leaving Iranian airspace and carrying 176 civilians. The weight of this tragedy was compounded by authorities hiding the details of the crash for three days. More protests broke out after the state declared its error, as Iranians took the streets to grieve and shout their anger at incompetent officials culpable for this and other calamities. Again, protestors were met with unjust force. 

Those responsible for this appalling loss of life must be held to account. Iranian authorities must end their authoritarian practice of silencing rightful dissent and do justice by their citizens by adhering to their obligations under international human rights law. 

The 176 lives needlessly lost were a consequence not only of inept Iranian officials, but also a result of increased escalation and conflict between the United States and Iran.

As Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau stated: “I think if there were no tensions, if there was no escalation recently in the region, those Canadians [57 of crash victims] would be right now home with their families. This is something that happens when you have conflict and war, innocents bear the brunt of it and it is a reminder why all of us have to work so hard on de-escalation.”

Such tragedy is a reminder that the greatest human rights violation is war itself, which is why it is incumbent upon both Iran and the United States to end this cycle of violence and bellicose language in order to prevent further loss of innocent life and the unpredictable costs of war.

With MLK Day upon us we are reminded of his sage words so many years ago during the war in Vietnam: “A true revolution of values will lay hand on the world order and say of war, ‘This way of settling differences is not just…’ America, the richest and most powerful nation in the world, can well lead the way in this revolution of values. There is nothing except a tragic death wish to prevent us from reordering our priorities so that the pursuit of peace will take precedence over the pursuit of war. There is nothing to keep us from molding a recalcitrant status quo with bruised hands until we have fashioned it into a brotherhood…War is not the answer.” 

A Birthday Wish of Freedom for Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe

Today is Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s 41st birthday. It will be her third birthday behind bars in Iran, away from her husband and daughter. Lacking due process or evidence, Nazanin was convicted of spying by Iranian courts in 2016. Iranian authorities have often used vague language to detain and convict Iranian dual nationals on trumped up charges.

Her husband has relentlessly pursued all avenues to help free his wife, including calling on British officials to secure Nazanin’s release. On her birthday, Mr. Ratcliffe also revealed that Nazanin had met another detainee while in prison, Dr. Kylie Moore-Gilbert, an Australian academic arrested by Iranian authorities in September, 2018.  

Nazanin is said to have seen Moore-Gilbert at the health clinic, where she was being checked after beginning a hunger strike on Christmas Eve. A number of women have joined Moore-Gilbert in her hunger strike, including French-Iranian academic, Dr. Fariba Adelkhah, who was detained in similarly unfounded circumstances as the other women.

In a letter released by Center for Human Rights in Iran, Moore-Gilbert and Adelkhah stated: “We are striking not only to demand our immediate freedom, but to ask for justice for the countless, thousands, unnamed yet not forgotten men and women who have suffered the same fate as ours or worse, and have been imprisoned in Iran, having committed no crime.”

Iranian authorities must stop these unwarranted arrests, respect due process, and end its practice of detaining foreign nationals as bargaining chips. In spite of their unjust detentions and lamentable situation, the resilience and solidarity of these women is truly remarkable. Mr. Ratcliffe shared a moving gesture from Nazanin in her encounter with Moore-Gilbert, “Before the guards pulled them apart Nazanin was able to tell Kylie that the world is watching her story & it will be ok.” The world is indeed watching and hoping that justice will prevail over the political games of nations.

To sign Amnesty’s petition to free Nazanin, click here.

 

NIAC Condemns Iranian Government’s Harassment of Journalists Abroad

In response to reports that the Iranian government has continued to intimidate and harass Iranian journalists based abroad, particularly those in the United Kingdom, the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) issued the following statement:

“NIAC is deeply disturbed by reports that the Iranian government is threatening reporters of Persian-language news outlets and their families. We believe in the free flow of information and strongly condemn any intimidation tactics against journalists aimed at suppressing this basic principle. The Iranian government must abide by its international human rights obligations, cease its assault on the press at home and abroad, and free all those arrested for their beliefs and political activism.”

NIAC Statement on the Passage of Resolution on the Situation of Human Rights in Iran

In response to the passage of a resolution by the House Foreign Affairs Committee condemning the Iranian government for its human rights abuses, the National Iranian American (NIAC) released the following statement: 

“We are pleased that the resolution passed by the House Foreign Affairs Committee condemning the Iranian government’s human rights violations includes a key recommendation calling for the expansion of General License D-1 so that U.S. sanctions do not inhibit the Iranian people’s access to the internet. This is long overdue and we hope that given support from Congress and civil society, including our own outreach, the Treasury Department will move swiftly to implement the recommendation. To truly stand with the Iranian people, we must credibly spotlight and condemn abuses by the Iranian government while also challenging ‘maximum pressure’ policies that have only hurt ordinary Iranians and undermined their ability to seek their rights.”

Amnesty Report: Torture and Detention in Aftermath of Iran Protest Crackdown

In a new report, Amnesty International noted that the death toll for the recent protests in Iran has risen to 304. This number may include many more still not reported or confirmed. In addition to the outrageous death toll, thousands have been injured or detained by Iranian authorities. Many of their fates are still unknown. 

The initial suppression of protests was marked by the use of lethal force, violence, and mass arrest. Notably, the report notes that arrests have continued after protests have abated. These detentions have targeted Iranian activists from across the spectrum, journalists, and students. The mass arrests highlight the arbitrary nature of the incarcerations and show that Iranian authorities are more concerned about containing a populace that is suffering under economic sanctions and the authoritarianism of the state, than with addressing their rightful grievances. 

Amnesty’s report also cites cases of torture and abuse at the hands of the authorities while under arrest. In some cases, Iranian authorities have refused to give any information to the families of detainees, making their whereabouts and conditions unknown. The impact of these shameful measures is felt not only by those unfairly being held and tortured, but by their loved ones in search of answers and justice.

All those detained must be treated according to international law, which prohibits torture and promises due process, and Iran must stop its systematic use of arbitrary detention to tamp down dissent and protests. All people have the right to assemble, protest, and hold to account their government. Iran is no exception, and we continue to call on the government of Iran to fulfill its obligations under international human rights law. 

Amnesty International has also provided a copy of its report in Persian, which can be found here.

Recognizing Human Rights Day

On December 10, 1948, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). In commemoration of that day, which marked the first truly global avowal of human rights, we acknowledge the premise of that declaration and reaffirm our commitment to faithfully working towards that hopeful objective on Human Rights Day.

The UDHR is a cornerstone of the United Nations, as its intent was to define and codify the meaning of fundamental freedoms and basic principles that all states should aspire to and carry out. Though the efficacy of the United Nations has been critiqued, because of power imbalances between states, the impact is still consequential. The letter and spirit of the declaration continues to hold great meaning, and now more than ever, the need to fight and struggle vigorously to attain that goal is paramount.

In the spirit of Human Rights Day, NIAC reaffirms its conviction that all people, regardless of race, gender, nation, religion, orientation, or creed, deserve the same freedoms and rights as described in the UDHR over 70 years ago. True justice comes when there is justice for all.

We will continue to advocate for justice at home in the United States and call on other nations, such as our country of heritage, Iran, to adhere to their human rights obligations and uphold the sanctity of humanity. Summed up best by 13th century Persian poet Saadi, whose words adorn the walls of the United Nations:

Human beings are members of a whole,
In creation of one essence and soul.
If one member is afflicted with pain,
Other members uneasy will remain.
If you’ve no sympathy for human pain,
The name of human you cannot retain

Mousavi Denounces Killing of Protestors

Week of December 2nd, 2019 | Iran Unfiltered is a weekly digest tracking Iranian politics & society by the National Iranian American Council | Subscribe Here

“Green Movement” Leader Mousavi Denounces Gas Price Hike & Killing of Protestors

Mir Hossein Mousavi, the “Green Movement” leader and 2009 presidential candidate, denounced the gas price hike and killing of protestors. He declared: “The violent and bloody confrontation with angry and destitute people who’ve reached their limits, who came to the streets in protest at an irrational and profit-aiming decision that goes against the interests of the poor … is similar to merciless killing of the people on the bloody September 8th of 1978.”

He added regarding the massacre committed that year by the Shah’s regime: “The killers of 1978 were representatives of an irreligious regime. The authorities and shooters of November 2019 are the representatives of a religious government. At that time, the Shah was the commander in chief. Today, it is the vali-faqi (Supreme Leader) with absolute authority.”

Mousavi then called for the prosecution of those who “ordered and carried out” the crackdown. He ended his statement by saying the Iranian political system should pay heed to the “consequences” of the “Jaleh Square massacre” (September 8, 1978).

Mousavi and his wife Zahra Rahnavard have been under house arrest since February 2011. Mousavi ran against Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in the 2009 presidential election and contested the results of the election, which is widely believed to have been rigged in favor of Ahmadinejad. The subsequent “Green Movement” protests were led by Mousavi and another 2009 presidential candidate, Mehdi Karoubi.

Back to Top

Former President Khatami Comments on Protests

Former reformist Iranian President Mohammad Khatami offered his condolences to those who “suffered” in recent protests. Khatami stated: “For the deprived segment of Iranian society, the issue is not reformists or principlists (conservatives), or even the form of government. This segment wants a life that is minimally secure and if this cannot be arranged it will obviously protest.”

Khatami warned that no amount of security forces could stop protests if the middle and lower classes protested together. He stated: “In the recent events, the middle class and above did not join. But they were observers who sympathized with the protesters.”

Khatami added about the consequences of Iran’s “deprived class” and “middle class” protesting together: “Military, security, and police power will not be able to do anything and the whole of society will be positioned against the government.”

Khatami expressed sympathy for all those affected by the protests: “A very bitter event took place. Many people lost their lives which, beyond the people, forces responsible for security and stability also lost their lives. And widespread damage was done to public property and facilities. You cannot not sympathize with the people who have been harmed or be indifferent to the destruction that has taken place.”

Khatami said outside forces sought to take advantage of the protests. He proclaimed: “Basically all of the political and propaganda forces outside of the country pretended that the people rose up against the Islamic Republic and are trying to overthrow it … those who don’t want the system or Iran, are trying to promote pessimism.”

He added: “If there are problems in the Islamic Republic, they have to be expressed and solutions found without damaging the core of the Islamic Republic, Iran, the country’s territorial integrity, security, and holding on to principles.”

Back to Top

Hardline Kayhan Attacks Mousavi, Khatami & Karoubi

The hardline outlet Kayhan vociferously attacked Mousavi, Khatami, and Karoubi for their statements on the protests. It stated: “Khatami, Mousavi, and Karoubi in their recent remarks sought to exonerate and justify the crimes and wickedness carried out by an organized network of anti-revolutionaries and armed thugs. Without criticizing the [Rouhani] administration for being the designer and implementer of the gas rationing and price hike, they tried to make the political system the target of accusations.”

Kayhan further said about Mousavi’s statement: “Mousavi concealed the crimes of the thugs and terrorists who have killed people, burnt gas stations, banks, and public and private property, attacked mosques and burnt the Quran, and attacked the innocent. He compared the recent events to the Shah’s killings at Jaleh Square and this became the headline of outlets connected to MI6 and the CIA, which have been instruments of coups and repression in Iran.”   

Back to Top

Registration Period Starts for Upcoming Parliamentary Election

The registration period has begun for candidates seeking to run in Iran’s upcoming parliamentary election. The registration window lasts for one week, December 1st – 7th. The election is on February 21st, 2020.

On the fifth day of registration, an election official said that 8703 men and 1053 women had registered to run so far. The Guardian Council will vet the candidates that register and determine the final list of approved candidates.

Former Parliamentary Speaker and Green Movement leader Mehdi Karoubi sparked controversy over a statement he made on the upcoming election. At a time when some political forces are calling for a boycott of the election, Karoubi called on members of his “Etemad” party to participate in the election.

However, Karoubi’s son later said he was only urging known political figures to register to run and to not be afraid of being disqualified by the Guardian Council. He said he was not specifically calling for the public to participate.

Some conservative political forces have announced a coalition for the upcoming parliamentary election. In announcing its creation, the group (dubbed “The Council of Coalition of Islamic Revolution Forces”) discussed the recent protests and expressed sympathy for affected people.

This conservative coalition is reportedly led by Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf, a former mayor of Tehran and presidential candidate. According to a report by the reformist Fararu, Ghalibaf is leading an effort to reframe the image of conservatives and have younger people lead their movement. If Ghalibaf himself runs for parliament, he reportedly has a high chance to become the next parliamentary speaker.

Incumbent Speaker Ali Larijani has said he won’t seek another term in parliament. This has fueled speculation he will run for president in 2021.    

Back to Top

Rouhani Claims Some Protests Organized by Outside Powers

President Rouhani said that some protesters were “organized” in accordance with “plans” started over two years ago by foreign powers. He stated: “They planned for over two years for this. Last year at one point they wanted to do something and it wasn’t the right time for them. This year they were thinking of another time and were planning to do something at the end of January and February around the time of the [parliamentary] election. When this issue was announced [the gas price hike] they got orders from their masters from abroad that the time had arrived and for them to execute their plan.”

Rouhani said protestors connected to foreign powers should be prosecuted, but that there should be “mercy” for others. He stated: “If someone committed a crime and was dependent on an outside power or an infiltrator, they should be prosecuted. But for those who committed no crime in this way or committed minor violations, they should be treated with mercy and should be freed.”

Back to Top

Khamenei Says Some Killed in Protests are “Martyrs”

Ayatollah Khamenei has supported a report put out by the Supreme National Security Council evaluating the recent protests and the government’s reaction to them. The report was prepared by Ali Shamkhani, the secretary of the national security council.

Khamenei said that “ordinary citizens” killed in the protests who were not involved in “riots” will be designated as “martyrs.” Their families will then be eligible for support from the Martyrs Foundation. He also said that the families of anyone killed in the protests can seek “diyeh” (a form of legal restitution).

Back to Top


 

 

Death Toll Rises in Iran Protests

Protests erupted in Iran on November 15, 2019, following an abrupt hike in gas prices by the Iranian government. Though the price hike sparked the initial outpouring of protestors, the demonstrations illustrated deeper fissures and grievances of the Iranian populace, who have been long suffering under crippling sanctions and government corruption. Worse yet, protests quickly turned deadly as Iranian security forces met demonstrators with lethal force.

Within hours of the protests breaking out, Iranian authorities enforced a near total blackout of internet services, effectively cutting off Iranians from the outside world. As Human Rights Watch appropriately asserted, the internet shutdown, censorship of journalists and lack of transparency indicates an intentional coverup of the violent crackdown and the events that transpired.

The suppression of protests must be condemned for infringing upon the most basic rights of Iranians to assemble and express their dissent, but even more reprehensible is the loss of life we have seen. According to Amnesty International, reliable sources conclude that the death toll has reached at least 208, though the actual numbers are likely to be much higher. Amnesty International sources also note the difficulty of gathering information from families of victims for fear of government reprisals.

The attempt to coverup the events and subsequent internet shutdown by authorities have made it difficult for those even living there to know the extent of the crackdown or demonstrations. The psychological toll of these events on the larger Iranian public will be difficult to measure. The Iranian government must address the root causes of these protests and tackle the issues that are hurting ordinary Iranians, rather than adding to their plight with brutality and further repression.

Jailed Iranian Environmentalists Sentenced

In January 2018, nine Iranian environmentalists were detained by Iranian authorities and accused of “spying” after filming an endangered cheetah. One of the activists, Kavous Seyed Emami—an Iranian-Canadian professor and prominent environmentalist—died while in custody.

While Human Rights Watch and activists such as Jane Goodall have pleaded with Iranian authorities to release these environmental activists, they have remained in prison and have been denied due process or a fair trial. To add insult to injury, as Iranians protested across the country last week after a dramatic hike in gas prices, these activists were dealt harsh sentences by Iranian courts.

The egregious sentences of these environmentalists further illustrated the lengths the Iranian government will go to in order to suppress any activity it deems a ‘security threat.’

According to Human Rights Watch, despite no evidence of wrongdoing, these activists were sentenced to 6-10 years in prison for allegedly “collaborating with enemies of the state.” The fact that these sentences were handed down during large scale protests and an internet blackout indicates the government’s fear of added reactions from a rightly discontented Iranian populace.

Jane Goodall’s plea, before they received their sentences, aptly sums up the tragedy of these environmental activists: “they’ve worked so hard to ensure the future of endangered species, such as the Asiatic Cheetah found only in Iran. They’ve helped to shed a light on Iran as a country committed to conserving its wildlife, now they await their sentences.” Now they have sadly received their sentences and in the midst of injustices carried out in the streets against protestors, another injustice was carried out quietly in Iranian courts.

Iran Gripped by Protests and Internet Shutdown

Week of November 18th, 2019 | Iran Unfiltered is a weekly digest tracking Iranian politics & society by the National Iranian American Council | Subscribe Here

Protests Met with Crackdown, Internet Shutdown

On Thursday, November 14th, the Iranian government abruptly announced that the price of gasoline would be increased. As detailed in last week’s issue of Iran Unfiltered, the price of heavily subsidized gasoline was increased by 50 percent (to 1500 tomans per liter). This price holds for a consumption of 60 liters per month. Beyond that, a higher rate of 3,000 tomans per liter applies (an increase of three times from the previous rate).

Protests over the gas rate hike started on Friday and gained force on Saturday. These were reported to be in Tabriz, Ahvaz, Kermanshah, Shiraz, and Sanandaj initially and soon spread to tens of other cities.

While the trigger was broad opposition to the gas price hike, many of the protests quickly expressed broader political and anti-government grievances. On November 17th, BBC Persian reported that the protests had reached “100 cities,” while the semi official Fars News said that roughly 1,000 people had been arrested.

The protests were marked by violent confrontations between security forces and protestors. Footage posted on social media showed live ammunition being fired directly at protestors, riot police beating people, and many Iranians shot and/or killed. 

On Saturday, November 16th, the Iranian government shutdown the country’s access to the internet. The severity and length of the shutdown is unprecedented, having shuttered most internet connections and only beginning to be slowly lifted as of the time of this writing (November 21st).

Many human rights activists and groups say the shutdown is aimed at further repressing protestors and preventing them from communicating with each other and the outside world. As per BBC Persian, government officials claimed the shutdown was aimed at preventing “rioters” from “taking advantage until calm is restored.”

On November 19, Amnesty International stated “at least 106 protesters in 21 cities have been killed, according to credible reports.” On November 21st, BBC Persian reported that “tens of activists had been arrested in different cities.” Fars News had earlier reported that over 1,000 had been arrested in the first few days of the protests.

According to a student group’s Telegram channel, “40-50” student activists were arrested at Tehran University and its surrounding area. Reportedly, plainclothes security forces entered the campus using ambulances.

BBC Persian also reported on the widespread destruction of public and private property in the protests. Infrastructure that was destroyed or damaged included: 63 banks in Isfahan, 44 banks in Khoramabad, 300 banks in Tehran, 180 gas stations, 32 ambulances, 5 emergency centers, and 150 billion tomans in damages to shops.

Iranian officials also refrained from commenting specifically on when the internet shutdown would end. Most simply stated the internet would return gradually in areas where “calm” had returned. َAli Rabiee, the Rouhani administration’s spokesperson, stated in this regard: “When there is confidence that no one will take advantage, the internet of the provinces will be restored.” 

In parliament, conservative and moderate MPs had different takes on the internet shutdown. Conservative MP Hossein Norouzi, the spokesperson for parliament’s legal commission, said the opportunity had arisen to switch to the “domestic internet.” 

Norouzi stated: “Disconnecting the internet is partial and temporary, but if it is not resolved, this is the best opportunity to switch to the domestic internet … the communications minister must strive to activate the domestic internet and the [Rouhani] administration must more quickly connect the domestic internet and its servers.” 

However, another conservative MP Ali Motahari threatened impeaching the interior minister if the internet shutdown didn’t end. He added: “The responsibility for this is with the Interior Minister given his role as the head of the Council for the country’s security. If the Interior Minister insists that the internet shutdown should continue, the parliament will react … and we might impeach the interior minister.” 

Telecommunications Minister Azari Jahromi also pushed back on the idea that a domestic internet would replace access to the global internet. He stated: “For some to believe that activating national information networks is the same [and aimed at replacing] as ending connection to global networks, this is wrong. It goes against the decisions of the Supreme Cyber Council and rational principles.”

Jahromi added: “No one thinks that we should deny ourselves the available information on global internet networks.” 

Jahromi also said regarding when internet access would be restored: I don’t have a timeline, but the hope exists that as quickly as possible problems are resolved and in my opinion one hundred percent the internet will be connected soon.”

On November 22nd, the U.S. Treasury Department sanctioned Azari Jahromi for “an alleged role in internet censorship in the wake of antiregime protests in the country,” as per the Wall Street Journal

Back to Top

Domestic Political Feuding Over Gas Price Hike

The decision to increase the price of gas was made by the “Supreme Economic Coordination Council.” This body includes the heads of the three branches of the Iranian government (President Hassan Rouhani, Parliamentary Speaker Hassan Rouhani, and Judiciary Chief Ebrahim Raisi) as well as other senior officials from each branch and the head of the central bank.

Initially, the gas price hike was ardently opposed by many politicians, especially Rouhani’s conservative rivals. Many reformist and moderate figures and politicians also criticized the price hike.

After the price hike was announced, both reformist and conservative members of parliament said they would introduce bills to rescind the decision. Many parliamentarians strongly denounced the fact that they weren’t consulted on the price hike decision. This included reformist MP Parvaneh Salahshouri, who lamented that parliament was powerless and no longer emblematic of a democracy.

However, on November 17th, Ayatollah Khamenei publicly supported the gas price hike decision. Khamenei said that he supported decisions made by the Supreme Economic Coordination Council, derided the “vandalism” of the protests, and said the protestors weren’t ordinary people but “thugs.” 

After Khamenei’s support, parliamentarians withdrew their bills to rescind the gas price hike. Two parliamentarians, including prominent Tehran MP Mahmoud Sadeghi, subsequently submitted resignation letters to the parliament’s governing board. 

However, many hardline MPs and political figures continued to scapegoat Rouhani for the gas price hike decision. In parliament, hardline MP Mojtaba Zonnour, who holds the influential position of chair of the parliament’s foreign policy and national security commission, introduced impeachment bills against Rouhani and centrist parliamentary speaker Ali Larijani.

The impeachment bill reportedly received over 60 signatures in parliament, mostly from members of the far-right Jebhe Paydari faction. The reasons they cited for impeaching Rouhani included his alleged, “divisive rhetoric,” and “not implementing the policy of a resistance economy.”

Zonnour himself has compared Rouhani to Abolhassan Banisadr, the first president after the 1979 revolution who was later ousted as a “traitor.” Zonnour has added: “My duty is to bring down the president who has hurt the people so much economically.”

Despite Khamenei’s support of the gas price hike, conservative Judiciary Chief Ebrahim Raisi also said the decision was a “suggestion” of Rouhani administration. He added that it was approved “based on legal assignments and to create coordination among the economic coordination council.”

Former MP Ahmad Tavakoli also said Khamenei did not support how the price hike decision was executed by President Rouhani. Khamenei reportedly believed that the cash transfers should have simultaneously been deposited into the accounts of Iranians with the announcement of the price hike, not weeks later.

The influential cleric Ayatollah Jannati, who is the chair of the Assembly of Experts and secretary of the Guardian Council, also criticized the Rouhani administration. He proclaimed: “For such an important surgery, officials should have prepared the public opinion from long ago. They should have talked about depositing support package (cash transfers) to the people which is to their benefit. And of the harms of cheap gas like widespread smuggling.”

Jannati added: “All those who protested and came to the streets were not rioters and the concerns of the people must be understood. Right now, there is a high cost of living and if this plan is going to impose new pressure on the lower income cases, it is not wise.”

Some hardline MPs, such as Amir Hossein Ghazizadeh from Mashhad, accused the Rouhani administration of acting outside the law with the gas price hike. He stated: “The legal formalities of increasing the price of gasoline were not within the framework of the Supreme Economic Coordination Council, and the administration took this action based on its only legal authorities.” 

An outspoken former hardline MP Hamid Rasai also directly accused Rouhani of causing “the riots.” Another hardliner who often appears in Iranian media, Mohammad Sadegh Koshki, who teaches at the University of Tehran, said in a tweet that “Rouhani’s aim in making gasoline more expensive is to invite people to riot!”

Notably, when the price hike was first announced, social media channels affiliated with the Revolutionary Guards promoted people abandoning their cars in traffic, which later happened in some cities. This led some to speculate that hardline forces sought to trigger and use protests to weaken their moderate and reformist rivals.

Former IRGC chief Mohammad Ali Jafari, an avowed critic of Rouhani, also accused him of “playing into the enemy’s hands” with his actions. He added: “The administration with its imprudent and wrong approach made people protest and gives rioters an opportunity to take advantage.” 

Back to Top

Rouhani Addresses Protests

On November 20th, President Rouhani declared Iran “passed another historic test.” He said: “Despite economic problems and grievances about the management of the country, the people didn’t let water go into the enemy’s mills (an Iranian expression, i.e. “not playing into the enemy’s hands”).”

Rouhani said the “rioters” were “organized and coordinated.” He stated: “It was clear what people came to the streets and rioters were only a small number of them. However, they were organized, coordinated, and armed, which was totally pre-planned by the reactionary regional countries, Israel, and the Americans.”

Rouhani went on to say that “we must always listen to the people’s criticisms and opinions.” He added: “Today the Iranian people put a test of them successfully in the past … now is the turn of officials from the government and ministries to serve and make greater efforts to support the people and reduce the problems in their lives.”

Back to Top

Khamenei Says U.S. Sanctions Will Remain for Years

Ayatollah Khamenei declared to a group of businesspeople and economic actors that it was wrong to think U.S. sanctions would end in “one or two years.” He stated: “Given what we know of the frontline against arrogance, the sanctions will be around for now. So, to save the country’s economy we shouldn’t wait for sanctions to end or the presence or lack of presence of some person or the action of some country.” 

In the speech, Khamenei called for dependency on oil exports to be eliminated from Iran’s budget and for domestic industrial production to increase. He also criticized Iranian officials who “are waiting for the path to open to take the direction of the country’s economy to the outside world.” 

He said this view was “mistaken” and added: “The policies of depending on domestic capabilities must be so strong and durable so that even if sanctions are removed, these policies aren’t hurt.”

Khamenei also said regarding the gas price hike protests: “The Iranian people have pushed the enemy back in the military, political, and security war. By God’s will, in the economic war the enemy will also be decisively pushed back.”

Back to Top

Environmentalists Handed Prison Sentences

Six environmentalist activists arrested in January 2018 and accused of espionage have been sentenced to prison. Niloufar Bayani and Morad Tahbaz were sentenced to 10 years imprisonment, Taher Ghadirian and Houman Jokar to eight years imprisonment, and Amirhossein Khalegi and Sepideh Kashani to six years imprisonment.

The sentences of Sam Rajabi and Abdolreza Kouhpayeh as still unknown as of the time of this writing. As detailed in past issues of Iran Unfiltered, the eight environmentalists were working for the Persian Heritage Wildlife Foundation (PHWF) and arrested together with PHWF’s chairman, Kavous Seyed-Emami, in January 2018.

Two weeks after their arrest, authorities announced Seyed-Emami committed suicide while in custody. However, the family of Seyed-Emami rejected that suspicious narrative, with Seyed-Emami’s son stating: “There are so many inaccuracies in the official story, from the day that he died to how he died, that these contradictions just added more to our suspicions about what actually went down.” 

Judiciary Spokesperson Gholamhossein Esmaili said the verdicts were issued by Revolutionary Court Branch 15 and could be appealed. Previously, Niloufar Bayani, Taher Ghadirian, and Houman Jokar were accused of “sowing corruption on earth,” a capital offense in Iran. This charge was later dropped.

The case of the imprisoned environmentalists has been controversial even among different government agencies. Rouhani administration officials and the Intelligence Ministry have dismissed the espionage charges, while the IRGC’s Intelligence Agency has maintained them. 

Back to Top

Khamenei Discusses Israel and Antisemitism

Ayatollah Khamenei declared that “we are not anti-Semitic.” He stated: “We support Palestine and the independence and liberation of it. Eliminating Israel doesn’t mean eliminating Jewish people. We have nothing against Jewish people, and in our country, there is a community of Jews that live in total security.”

Khamenei added: “The elimination of Israel means the destruction of the Imposed Zionist regime.”

Khamenei was speaking at an “Islamic Unity” conference in Tehran to an audience of delegates from other countries. He further said that the reason for the “regretful” condition of Palestine was the “weakness of unity” among Islamic countries. He added that the situation of Palestine was the “biggest disaster facing the Islamic world.”

Back to Top


 

 

NIAC Petitions U.S. Treasury for General License Update to Support Iranians’ Access to Internet

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Wednesday, November 20, 2019
CONTACT: Mana Mostatabi | 202.386.6325 x103 | mmostatabi@niacouncil.org 

Washington DC – As the Iranian government implements a near total shutdown of the internet in the midst of a crackdown against widespread protests, the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) called on the U.S. Treasury Department to take necessary steps to ensure U.S. sanctions are not contributing to the Iranian government’s ability to disconnect Iranians. Iranian Americans have been unable to communicate with family members during the shutdown and the isolation of Iran due to certain sanctions has unfortunately contributed to the Iranian government’s ability to separate its population from the rest of the world. 

NIAC President Jamal Abdi issued the following statement further explaining the rule range request: 

“NIAC is petitioning the Treasury Department for a formal rule change request to expand General License D-1, which has not been updated in more than five years. Over the past several months, Apple, Amazon, Google and many other tech companies have begun blocking Iranians from accessing key software and services as a result of limitations and ambiguities in General License D-1 and escalating U.S. sanctions on Iran. 

“This has forced Iranian developers to rely on Iran’s state-operated internal Internet, which has aided the Iranian government in building this infrastructure and reduced the costs of cutting off outside connections. This also undermines Iranian developers’ ability to work with the global developer community and makes it far more difficult for ordinary Iranians to access and operate virtual private networks and other important communication tools that allow them to communicate freely in spite of government censorship.

“Unfortunately, while General License D-1 was a welcome step to reduce the consequences of sanctions on Internet communications when it was first implemented in 2014, it is in need of clarification and expansion. As indicated by tech companies blocking Iranians from accessing their services, the exemptions contained in General License D-1 have not kept up with the pace of technology or the increasingly complex sanctions regime.

“NIAC strongly supported General License D-1 and has advocated in support of measures to prevent censorship technology from being acquired by Iran’s government and to ensure Iranians have access to communication technology. The formal rule change request is included below, and we look forward to working for its timely adoption.”

Iranians Killed and Arrested in Protests Across the Country

On Friday November 15, Iran’s government sharply raised gas prices, further hurting Iranians who have already been struggling economically due to government mismanagement, corruption, and the effects of harsh U.S. sanctions. The price hike sparked protests in cities across the country, as Iranians took to the streets to air their rightful grievances and express their frustrations. However, as seen in the past, Iranian authorities have confronted protestors with inexcusable violence and have worked to stifle the demonstrations.

 

Four days in, the protests have continued to rock different parts of the country, with banks and other buildings set on fire as Iranians resist the security forces who have killed at least 12 people, while other estimates, according to sources on Twitter, range as high as 200. Over 1,000 people have been reportedly arrested, one of which includes Sepideh Gholian, a 22 year old labor activist who had been released from prison only a few weeks ago. Gholian was first arrested in January of 2019 for her participation in workers protests at Haft-Tappeh Sugar Cane Company. After a video of her was posted online protesting the increase in gas prices, she was arrested again.

 

To add to their draconian assault on the rights of Iranians to assemble and protest, Iranian authorities have shut down internet services in an unprecedented online blackout, effectively cutting off Iranians from the outside world. Additionally, Iranian authorities have silenced domestic journalists to prevent Iranian media from criticizing the gas prices or covering the protests.

 

It is without question that the right to assemble, protest and express dissent is an inalienable right and recognized as such under international law. We condemn all use of lethal force and repression of the demonstrations. Iranian authorities cannot silence their people’s grievances through the use of force, or by controlling communications platforms such as news media and the internet. They will have to confront the calls of their citizens and address the economic burdens that ignited these protests.