Iran Brief: UN Calls for Release of Women’s Rights Activist, Newspaper Shut Down Following IRGC Complaints – June 24, 2016

Official Statements

UN Calls for Immediate Release of Women’s Rights Activist: The United Nations’ Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) called for the immediate release of Iranian women’s rights activist, Bahareh Hedayat, following a submission from the International Campaign on Human Rights in Iran (ICHRI). Hedayat was arrested in December of 2009 and sentenced to 7.5 years in prison for “insulting the President,” “insulting the Supreme Leader,” and “acting against national security and publishing falsehoods.”

The UN working group’s report expressed concern for the activist’s deteriorating health and underscored that the legal proceedings against Hedayat continue to violate international law and are contrary to a number of articles in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The WGAD report also urged Hedayat to be compensated for her time spent imprisoned.

Hadi Ghaemi, executive director of the ICHRI, stated, “It is high time for this injustice to end. After almost seven years of unlawful imprisonment, the Iranian authorities should release her immediately.” U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power also tweeted her support for the report and for Hedayat: “‘The deprivation of liberty of Bahareh Hedayat was arbitrary.’ @UN experts call for her release in #Iran.”

Domestic Politics

Iran Claims to Foil Terrorist Plot: Iran’s intelligence ministry reported thwarting a plot by alleged Sunni militants, who had planned to attack a number of targets in Tehran and other cities. The ministry stated that authorities arrested a number of individuals belonging to what the Intelligence Ministry termed [Pr] an “anti-Islamic terrorist takfiri group.” Iran’s Intelligence Minister Mahmoud Alavi claimed the foiled attacks included plans to detonate car bombs and launch suicide attacks. He further noted that authorities “intercepted two tons of more explosives.” IRNA, Iran’s official news agency, labeled [Pr] those arrested as “Wahhabi takfiris,” in what analysts suggest is directed at Saudi Arabia.

Independent Newspaper Shut Down, Sued Following IRGC Complaints: Independent newspaper Ghanoon reported that Iranian authorities shut down the publication on June 11th after complaints filed by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). Reports indicate that Tehran’s chief prosecutor, Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi, is suing [Pr] Ghanoon’s Editor-in-Chief,Mahnaz Mazaheri, for featuring a critical article [Pr] about the Great Tehran Penitentiary that highlighted unjust detainee treatment and poor prison conditions. The article also explored an alleged money-making operation, wherein prisoners are forced to relinquish any pocket cash to be held at the bank. The bank reportedly returns the money in debit card form, but the newspaper claimed that funds are subsequently “cancelled.”

The publication also came under fire in January after Ghanoon published an article criticizing how the IRGC dealt with the ten U.S. Navy members detained earlier this year. Tehran’s prosecutor responded by ordering the newspaper to stop its operations, alleging that the newspaper was  “spreading lies to create public anxiety.” In February, IRGC commander Mohammad Ali Jafari was quoted as saying that the newspaper made a “a big mistake” and “must repent for what it has said.”

Foreign Policy

Iran Indicates Shift on Syria Policy: Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif met with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on the sidelines of the Oslo Forum earlier last week to discuss shifts in both countries’ Syria strategies. According to Press TV, Iran created a four-point peace plan calling for a unity government, a ceasefire, a concerted effort to fight terrorism, and constitutional reforms. Kerry expressed optimism about the possibilities of coming to an agreement on a ceasefire in Syria and bringing “people to the table and start talking about a transition.” He further noted that his conversation with Zarif indicates the immense potential of achieving these aims.

During a joint press conference with Norwegian Foreign Minister Boerge Brende, Zarif also notedthat the “Syrian crisis can be only resolved politically, and a solution to the Syrian crisis will not be achieved through military means.” In an e-mail to Al-Monitor on June 16, Zarif underscored that the solution in Syria rested in focusing on “institutional dispersion of power and the future form of governance,” which could effectively “reduce or even eliminate the centrality of the role of any individual or ethnicity.” Analysts suggest that Zarif’s statements may indicate a shift in control of Iran’s Syria policy away from the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

Iran Condemns Bahrain For Stripping Shi’a Cleric of Citizenship: General Qasem Soleimani, commander of Iran’s Quds Force, issued [Pr] a warning to Bahrain after it stripped a top Shi’a cleric, Ayatollah Sheikh Isa Qassim, of his citizenship. In a statement published by Fars News Agency, Soleimani said [Pr] the decision would “set the region ablaze” and that Bahrain’s rulers would “pay the price for that and their bloodthirsty regime will be toppled.” The Bahraini people, Soleimani also said, would “have no choice but armed resistance.” Iran’s Grand AyatollahLotfollah Safi Golpayegani released a statement condemning Bahrain, underscoring [Pr] the “desperate need” for Islamic countries to demonstrate integrity, rather than ignore the voices of its own citizens. Qassim, who served as a member of the Bahraini parliament in the 1970s, could be deported, have his passport revoked, and forbidden from accessing benefits of citizenship, including free healthcare and pensions.

Economy

Boeing Negotiating Deal with Iran: Commercial jetliner manufacturing company Boeing is negotiating the sale of 100 airplanes to Iran, in a deal that may be worth billions. The sale would mark the first major U.S. company entry into Iran since the nuclear agreement last year. However, a number of obstacles remain as Boeing navigates the U.S. sanctions still in place. The nuclear deal dictates that the U.S. Treasury Department must review the licensing of entities seeking to sell passenger planes or associated parts and services to Iran.

Iran has about 60 Boeing planes in service as part of the country’s aged fleet. Most of the planes were purchased prior to the country’s 1979 revolution. The Head of Iran’s Civil Aviation Organization (CAO), Ali Abedzadehhighlighted [Pr] the importance of the deal, saying that Iran needs to replace 90 percent of its planes and that of the “250 planes in the country, 230 need to be replaced.” In January, Iran also struck a deal with Airbus to purchase 118 jets worth $27 billion, contingent on the company clearing U.S. export license hurdles. On the Airbus deal, Abedzadeh said that the “final obstacle in this area [is] only [obtaining] permits [from] the U.S. Treasury Department.”

Iran to Join Shanghai Cooperation Organization: Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev announced ahead of this week’s Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit that Iran would be the next nation to join the organization. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif will travel to the summit in Uzbekistan this week to represent the country. The SCO, established in 2001 to encourage political, economic, and military cooperation between its members, is made up of China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan – with India and Pakistan joining at this week’s summit. A number of countries, including Iran, maintain observer status.

The SCO withheld full membership status from Iran until it reached an agreement with the international community on its nuclear activities. Iran’s membership in the group would give the organization control over about 20 percent the world’s oil and represent 50 percent of the world’s population. Russian government-owned TASS media quoted Russian presidential aide Yuri Ushakov as saying, ”after the UN sanctions on Iran were lifted, we, the Russian side, believe that there are no reasons whatsoever not to admit the country to the organization.”

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The cartoon depicts a discussion between a journalist (right) and the Minister of the Islamic Guidance (left) about the independent newspaper Asman, which was temporarily banned in 2014. Asman is also the Persian word for “sky.”

Journalist: What have you done in the last 200 or so days?
Minister: We have brought Asman to the ground!

Credit: Nikahang Kowsar, Cartoonist & Editor-in-Chief of Khodnevis