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.

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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.”

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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.”   

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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.    

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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.”

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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).

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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

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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.” 

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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.”

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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.”

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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. 

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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.”

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