Iran Brief: UN Denounces Activist’s Sentencing; Hardliner Elected Head of Expert Assembly – May 27, 2016

Official News

UN Denounces Sentencing of Human Rights Defender:  The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has called for the immediate release of  Iranian human rights defender Nargis Mohammadi. Mohammadi, who is already serving a 6-year sentence, was sentenced to an additional ten years in prison last week after being found guilty of “establishing and running an illegal splinter group” known as Legam, which campaigns for the abolition of the death penalty. She was arrested in May 2015 to serve the remainder of a six-year sentence given to her in September 2011 for “acting against national security,” belonging to Iran’s Defenders Human Rights Center, and “propaganda against the state.” Reports indicate that Mohammadi suffers from a neurological condition and may not be receiving the medical treatment she needs. The UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in Iran, Ahmed Shaheedcalled for Mohammadi’s release, noting there is “absolutely no reason why Narges Mohammadi should spend one more hour in prison, let alone 16 years.”

Domestic Politics

Hardliner Elected to Head Assembly of Experts: Iran’s Assembly of Experts, responsible for overseeing the work of and choosing the next supreme leader, elected Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati to head the clerical body. The conservative 89-year-old cleric won 51 of 88 votes, beating out two more moderate candidates for the top position. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani reportedly favored former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, though Rafsanjani decided not to partake in the election — possibly in response to the “political scandal” resulting from his daughter’s recent visit with Fariba Kamalabadi, one of the imprisoned “Baha’i Seven.”Jannati, known for his anti-Western views, is critical of Rouhani and his administration’s efforts at rapprochement with the West. Jannati also heads the Guardian Council, which vets candidates ahead of Iran’s parliamentary and presidential elections. Under Jannati, the Guardian Council disqualified thousands of reformist and moderate candidates has from taking part in February’s parliamentary elections. Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei urged the new Assembly to uphold its responsibility of “carefully and comprehensively guarding the Islamic and revolutionary identity of the ruling establishment.” Mehdi Khalaji of the Washington Institute claimed that the election’s “outcome highlights the false hopes generated by Rouhani’s post-election narrative – far from meeting the reformists halfway.”

Guardian Council Passes Law to Define “Political Crimes:” Iran’s Guardian Council has approved legislation [Pr] first passed by the Majlis in January 2016, which aims to define a “political offense.” Iran’s law provides no legal definition of a “political crime,” enabling the Judiciary to justify the detention and trial of political activists for “security offenses.” Political dissidents frequently face the catch-all charge of moharebeh (“enmity against God”), which carries severe sentences, including execution. The new law – which delineates violent and political crimes and defines a political offense as intent to disrupt the state – may prove to be problematic given its focus on the “crime” of insulting government officials. The legislation brings Iranian law closer in line with Article 168 of its constitution, which outlines the legal protections guaranteed to those detained for political offenses, including the right to trial by jury. However, Majid Ansari, Vice President of Iran’s Parliamentary Affairs, has emphasized [Pr] that the law is not fully comprehensive due to the difficulty of defining a political crime

Iran Intensifies Crackdown on Women: Earlier this month, eight models in Iran were arrested in an industry-wide crackdown dubbed “Spider II.” The detained models were accused of “promoting Western promiscuity” after posting photos of themselves on Instagram and other digital platforms without wearing the mandatory hijab. Elham Arab, one of the models targeted in the operation, was prosecuted on live television, expressing regret for her “un-Islamic offense” and warning other women that “no man would want to marry a model whose fame has come by losing her honor.” Fars News, the semi-official news agency of the government, enumerated [Pr] the objectives of Spider II, which includes “defending Iran’s national and Islamic identity” and “protecting families and Muslim communities.” Many women across Iran have responded by cutting their hair short and dressing as men in an effort to circumvent the moral police. Only days before the models’ arrests, Iran’s judiciary announced that Minoo Khaleghi – who was elected to the Iranian parliament – was unable to be sworn in after pictures emerged depicting her without a headscarf while traveling abroad. Khaleghi has emphasized that the charges against her are politically motivated and meant to sideline her as both a woman and a reformist.

Foreign Policy

Iranians Apprehensive About U.S. Presidential Election: The New York Times reports that Iranians are closely watching the U.S. presidential elections, attempting to discern the impact the next U.S. leader may have on the country. Many Iranians are apprehensive about presumptive GOP nominee Donald Trump, who has criticized the nuclear deal and claimed he would modify it if elected. Iranian political analyst Fayyaz Zahed predicted that a Trump victory would be “disastrous,” emboldening nationalists in both countries. The population is similarly concerned about presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, who many Iranians believe maintained a hard line on Iran during her tenure as Secretary of State. Iranian officials have largely refrained from commenting on the U.S. elections, with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif emphasizing last month, “We are only watching and observing the process from far to see who will become the next president… Naturally it is up to the American people to decide.”

Tensions Simmer Between Iran and Saudi Arabia: On Tuesday night, Iranian and Saudi delegates met in another effort to resolve the issues surrounding sending Iranians on pilgrimage to Mecca. Tensions flared between the two countries after a stampede at last year’s Hajj resulted in the deaths of an estimated 2,400 people – including over 460 Iranians. Relations soured further after Saudi Arabia’s January 2016 execution of prominent Shi’a cleric Nimr al-Nimr. Iranian protesters responded by setting fire to the Saudi Embassy in Tehran, which led Saudi Arabia to cut diplomatic ties with Iran. The issues surrounding the hajj further illustrate the two rivals’ deteriorating relationship

The lack of diplomatic relations between the two countries has complicated whether or not Iranians could make the September pilgrimage, given Saudi Arabia’s halt of all flights to and from Iran, as well as the inability for Iranians to receive Saudi visas. After a series of failed talks last week, Iran’s Minister of Culture and Islamic Guidance asserted that Iran would not participate in the hajj this year, blaming the Saudis for refusing Iran’s proposals over visas, transport, and security. Iran’s Head of Hajj and Pilgrimage Saeed Ohad shared his optimism noting the the importance of resolving the issue as “it is the last opportunity” to do so.

Economy

Iran, India, Afghanistan Sign Agreement to Develop Iranian Port: Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi met Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in Tehran to sign an agreement to develop the Iranian port of Chabahar. India will invest $500 million into developing the port that will open up a transit route to Afghanistan and Central Asia, effectively allowing the country to bypass Pakistan. Rouhani stressed [Pr] the historical nature of the trilateral agreement during a joint press conference, underscoring that the agreement would be beneficial both politically and regionally. During a meeting with Modi, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei lauded [Pr] the cooperation between the countries and the Islamic Republic’s work to develop relations with one of the world’s key “emerging economies.”

Foreign Investment in Iran Slow to Take Hold: Despite many of the economic sanctions on Iran being lifted in January 2016 as a result of the nuclear deal, foreign firms – including European banks that have U.S. subsidiaries – remain reluctant to invest, fearing violating ongoing U.S.-imposed sanctions. The United States has suspended a number of measures that previously prevented foreign firms from doing business with Iran, but measures restricting U.S. firms from conducting business in Iran remain in place. The continued restrictions include a ban on dollar-denominated trade. Iran has accused the United States of failing to encourage foreign firms from investment. “Iran wants to connect with the global financial community,” said [Pr] Valiollah Seif, Iran’s Central Bank Chief at a recent press conference in London. Saif further emphasized the United States’ obligation to fulfill the commitments outlined in the nuclear deal: “The West must meet its commitments at any cost… relationships with foreign banks must be established immediately.”

Iran further underscored that remaining U.S. sanctions related to the country’s alleged support for terrorism, ballistic missile program, and human rights situation have prevented the country from fully realizing the benefits of sanctions relief. Iran continues to express the need for more of its $55 billion in frozen assets to be released so the country can help its struggling economy and replace its fleet of deteriorating airplanes.

The United States and the European Union released a joint statement last week clarifying its support for legal business dealings with Iran: “We will not stand in the way of permitted business activity with Iran, and we will not stand in the way of international firms’ or financial institutions’ engaging with Iran, as long as they follow all applicable laws.” Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif responded by calling on the United States to take “more serious and concrete actions” to encourage foreign investment in Iran.

Media

“Undercover Morality Policy” (Kaveh Adel)