Iran Brief: Exorbitant Government Salaries Spark Citizen Anger – June 17, 2016

Domestic News

Revolutionary Guard Corps Clashes with PJAK: A statement posted on the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ (IRGC) official website reported [Pr] that IRGC ground forces killed five members of the Party of Free Life of Kurdistan (PJAK) in the northwestern province of West Azerbaijan on Monday. The IRGC claimed that a number of those killed were responsible for the deaths of at least two Iranian Basij members a month ago.

Fars News, the semi-official media outlet of the Iranian government, reported [Pr] that one of the five killed was a commander of the PJAK forces, which was also confirmed [Pr] by IRGC General Mohammad Pakpour. PJAK, which Iran designates as a terrorist organization, is the Iranian branch of the outlawed Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK) based in Turkey. The IRGC also claimed that its forces had found and seized a significant amount of weapons and ammunition at the site of the clashes. Iran and PJAK regularly violate a ceasefire signed in 2011, but the number of clashes has seen a major increase in recent months. A ceasefire between the government and PJAK was signed in 2011, when Iran said it would suspend executions of Kurdish political prisoners if PJAK stopped its attacks.

Dual Canadian-Iranian Citizen Jailed in Evin: Canadian-Iranian professor at Montreal’s Concordia University, Homa Hoodfar, was arrested by the intelligence unit of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), the latest in a recent increase in the number of arrests of dual citizens. Iran does not recognize dual nationality, instead treating detainees only as Iranian, effectively denying them access to their consulate. Hoodfar, who traveled to Iran in February,  was said to be conducting research on the role of women in the Middle East, at the archive of Iran’s parliamentary library. She was initially detained on March 10 after the IRGC raided her apartment, confiscated her passports, and detained her for questioning. She was subsequently released, but prevented from leaving Iran. A series of interrogations last week led to her re-arrest and transfer to Iran’s notorious Evin prison.

Her family, which has not spoken about her arrest until now, released a public statement last week. Hoodfar’s niece said of the recent arrest: “We’re very confused and baffled by what’s going on because those who know Homa either personally or through her academic work know she’s … someone who’s incredibly even-handed and balanced.” Her niece added that “She’s not political. She’s not an activist. And if anything, she has worked to improve the lives of women in different contexts, including Iran.” Hoodfar’s sister noted that the family is “extremely worried for her health” as she “suffers from a rare neurological illness [and] often has very bad headaches.” Hoodfar has been unable to receive visits from her lawyer and or family in Iran.

A number of other Iranian dual citizens from the United States, the United Kingdom, and other countries are currently imprisoned in Iran. Analysts suggest that Hoodfar’s arrest is part of a larger crackdown on dual nationals, whom hardliners are reported to distrust. Hadi Ghaemi, Executive Director of the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, said that Hoodfar’s arrest is “another sign of intolerance and suspicion towards dual nationals who travel to Iran and just want to contribute to their homeland by academic work.”

Exorbitant Government Salaries Fans Discontent in Iran: Reports have emerged that senior Iranian government employees are being paid excessively high salaries, causing widespread anger across the country. Under Iranian law, the highest paid government workers can only make up to ten-times the salary of the lowest paid government employees; however, pay stubs that surfaced online two months ago suggest that a number of top executives are being paid up 50 times higher than the lowest government salary. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has ordered Vice President Eshaq Jahangiri to initiate an investigation into the issue.

In a recent letter to his Vice President, Rouhani wrote, “Reports show that some unconventional payments, bonuses or loans have been paid. Those payments may have been compatible with the regulations left from previous administrations but nevertheless are unacceptable based on the ethical and fair values of this government.” The outrage comes at a time when Rouhani is facing increased pressure to demonstrate progress in boosting the Iranian economy, which many expected to take hold following the nuclear deal. While Iran’s foreign currency exchange market has grown, the economy continues to stay largely stagnant and discord continues to spread throughout the country as protests have erupted to demand higher wages and pensions.

Foreign Affairs

Canadian Superior Court Rules on Iranian Assets for Terror Victims: On June 10, Canada’s Superior Court ordered [Pr] about $13 million in non-diplomatic assets to the families of the hundreds of Americans killed in bombings and hostage situations in Buenos Aires, Israel, Lebanon, and Saudi Arabia between 1983 and 2002. Canada’s Superior Court determined that Iran had both trained and backed financially Hamas and Hezbollah operatives responsible for the attacks. The ruling mirrors a similar one made by the United States earlier in 2016, when the U.S. Supreme Court ordered about $2 billion in Iranian assets be given to the families of victims. The assets remain largely unpaid as Iran appeals the ruling in international courts.

Canada’s new ruling resulted from a law passed in 2012 allowing victims and their families to collect damages from countries, like Iran, deemed to be “state sponsors of terror.” Many note the ill-timing of the lawsuits as Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is working to re-establish diplomatic relations with Iran, after Canada broke ties in September 2012.

Iran’s foreign ministry has condemned [Pr] the rulings, with spokesman Hussain Jabir Ansari quoted [Pr] in Iranian media as saying that “from a political perspective, the ruling is contrary to the new Canadian administration’s claims that it wants to normalize bilateral relations between the two nations and move past the hardline policies of Canada’s previous administration.” Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ejei, a spokesman for Iran’s judiciary, echoed the sentiment at a press conference: “Such moves are violating the international laws and are adopted by certain western states… This issue is groundless and if these countries don’t pay attention to the international laws, it will backfire on them.”

Iran, Russia, Syria Discuss Military Cooperation: Iranian Defense Minister Hossein Dehghan met with his Russian and Syrian counterparts – Sergei Shoigu and Fahd Jassem al-Freij – on June 9 to discuss [Pr] Syria’s ongoing conflict and the “war on terrorism.” The trio discussed ways to strengthen regional cooperation in the fight against the Islamic State and the Nusra Front. Russia also pledged to increase airstrikes around Aleppo in light of the ceasefires in Syria that have seemingly failed to take hold. Iranian media reported [Pr] ahead of the meeting that the Syrian army, with help from Iran and Russia, had made great strides in fighting terrorists, including in the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra.

Dehghan lambasted the United States, Saudi Arabia, and other neighboring countries for “justifying the support of terrorists under the cover of supporting moderate rebels,” further adding that “claimants of human rights are closing their eyes to the most immoral acts and crimes of terrorists” in Yemen, Syria, and Iraq. He noted, however, that Iran would support a “complete ceasefire, providing disaster relief and humanitarian action while simultaneously preventing the arming and supporting of terrorist movements while at the same time taking decisive military action against terrorists.”

Economy

Leadership Changes at National Iranian Oil Company:  Iran has replaced [Pr] Rokneddin Javadi, the Managing Director of the National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC), with the company’s previous Head of Investment Ali Kardor. In his previous role, Kardor worked to attract foreign companies following the lifting of international sanctions in January. His efforts yielded a number of contracts to explore and produce crude oil. Since the sanctions were lifted, Iran has nearly doubled its oil exports and is seeking new foreign investors and other major oil companies. Iran recently made a shipment of crude oil to Royal Dutch Shell, making it among the first to buy crude oil from Iran. Shell previously owed the NIOC about $1.7 billion for crude oil deliveries, which it cleared in April. The debt had accumulated as a result of the sanctions, which did not allow Shell to make payments to Iran.

Mohsen Qamsari, the Director of International Affairs for NOIC, was quoted by a semi-official media agency on the sale: “Shell purchased Iran’s first oil consignment and negotiations are still underway with other major oil companies to sell Iran’s crude.” The shipment, consisting of about 130,000 tons of crude oil, is expected to ship in early July and unload in Rotterdam. Iran is aiming to boost its oil output to pre-sanction levels, totaling about 2.5 million barrels per day. Its current targets include the sale of about 300,000 barrels of oil per day to Europe, with a plan to increase its exports by 300,000 barrels per day, much of which will head to the Asian market.

Media

“The Critic Should Not Be Arrested and Taken to Prison!”
Credit: Touka Neyestani / International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran