Iran Brief: Journalist Begins Hunger Strike to Protest Treatment, New Charges – June 10, 2016

Domestic News

Journalist Undertakes Hunger Strike to Protest Treatment, New Charges: Imprisoned Iranian journalist Mohammad Sedigh Kaboodvand has been on a hunger strike since May 8th to highlight the unmet demands of political prisoners and protest a series of new charges against him. In a recent interview, his wife, Parinaz Baghban Hassaninoted that “after nine years in prison, they have opened a new case against my husband. The indications are that they want to prolong his imprisonment.” Kaboodvand was hospitalized on the thirteenth day of his hunger strike after low potassium levels caused blood clots, putting him at risk of cardiac arrest.

In 2007, he was arrested and sentenced to ten years in prison for “acting against national security” for running the Kurdistan Human Rights Organization. He was subsequently sentenced to an additional year for “propaganda against the regime” and a five-year ban from engaging in media activities after publishing a booklet about human rights violations. A number of political, human, and civil rights activists published [Pr] an open letter urging him to end his hunger strike and demanding authorities guarantee his immediate release.

Musicians, Filmmaker Begin Three-Year Prison Sentence: Musicians Mehdi Rajabian and Hossein Rajabian and their friend, filmmaker Yousef Emadibegan a three-year prison sentence after receiving [Pr] a summons on June 6th. The trio was arrested in October 2013 in connection with Barg Music, a platform used to disseminate underground music. In 2015, they faced a trial that lasted fewer than five minutes and were charged with “insulting Islamic sanctity,” “spreading propaganda against the system,” and “illegal audio-visual activities.” Reports indicate that they did not have access to a lawyer during the trial.

Their arrests came after they were found to be distributing music that was not licensed by Iran’s Ministry of Culture. The three were originally sentenced to six years in prison, but an appeals court earlier this year reduced their sentence to three years prison, suspending the remaining three year sentence pending good behavior. Amnesty International reported that while in custody, the trio was held in solitary confinement and subject to beatings and electric shocks.

A source close to the case told [Pr] the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran that Mehdi Rajaban is in poor health, with doctors expressing concern that he is suffering from “a neurological disease” and “suspect that it is muscular dystrophy.” The source noted that ”he has to get an MRI every month and take regular shots. His family is very worried about his health and concerned about how he will continue to receive treatment while in prison.” The summons comes at a time when Iranian authorities have increased their crackdown on freedom of expression and access to information.

“White Marriages” Increase in Popularity: Iran is seeing an increase in the phenomenon known as “white marriages,” wherein couples cohabitate without getting married and often do not have children. Iranian officials are expressing concern about the morality of the practice, as well as its potential effects on the country’s population growth and birth rate. The practice flies in the face of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s decree that Iranian citizens have more children to stem the fall of the country’s birth rate. The number of births per woman has fallen from seven in 1980 to 1.8 in 2014. Authorities are hoping that Iran’s population will double to about 150 million by 2050.

Iran’s Deputy Health Minister Mohammad Eslami emphasized [Pr] last month that “white marriages do not help the country realize its expected fertility rate” and that “a high number of white marriages will actually negatively impact the fertility rate as a whole.” Eslami noted his concern that these couples are seeing “their reproductive years go to waste.” Authorities consider relationships and sexual relations outside of marriage to be “illegitimate criminal acts,” and can summon couples to court for punishment under Iran’s Criminal Code.

Foreign Affairs

Increased Iran-Saudi Tensions Spill Online: Tensions between rivals Iran and Saudi Arabia have continued to grow. Last month, the head of Iran’s Civil Defense Organisation, General Gholam Reza Jalaliexpressed his view that Saudi Arabia would be Iran’s chief threat in the coming year, warning of possible cyber attacks. Only days after, hackers from both countries initiated cyber attacks culminating in the defacing of the websites of Iran’s cyber police, the Ministry of Culture, and the postal service, among others. Iranian hackers retaliated by attacking a number of websites, including that of Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Commerce, General Authority for Statistics, and King Abdulaziz University.

Supreme Leader Declares Cooperation with United States a “Sin:” Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei marked the 27th anniversary of the death of former Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini by railing against cooperation with the United States on regional issues. He accused the United States of failing to fulfill the obligations agreed upon as part of the nuclear deal. While the nuclear deal has helped ease sanctions on Iran, a number of U.S.-imposed sanctions remain, including the prohibition of U.S. banks from doing business with Iran. According to Khamenei’s official website, he addressed [Pr] participants at Iran’s 33rd International Quran Competition last month with a similar sentiment, declaring that “those who implement American policies in the region and who act according to the wishes, opinions, and policies of America…have attached themselves to taghut [idolatry].” He also shared his view that a number of other Islamic governments were kowtowing to U.S. policy, effectively “betraying the Islamic Ummah [community]” and lambasting those states as committing a “great sin.”

Economy

Iran Oil Exports Surge: This month’s OPEC meeting brought members together to decide on whether to reintroduce [Pr] production ceilings. However, Iran’s Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh squelched support for the proposal at the most recent OPEC meeting, which concluded without a resolution. Zanganeh has now halted a number of efforts from both OPEC and non-OPEC states to decrease the flood of oil into the market, which has contributed new lows in oil prices. Iran is aiming to quickly reach pre-sanction levels of production, which involves an increase [Pr] from 2.7 million barrels of oil day to over 4 million barrels a day. As of last Thursday, Zanganeh estimated Iran’s output to be at about 3.8 million barrels a day, saying [Pr] that, “Iran has increased its production much faster than was expected.” However, Iran’s reintegration into the market may delay immediate gains, as there remain restrictions around dollar denominated transactions.

Media

Credit: Cartoonist Group / Bokbluster