Iran Brief: Family of Imprisoned Dual Citizen Criticizes Efforts to Secure Release – July 1, 2016

Domestic Politics

Iranian-British Citizen Remains Imprisoned in IranOn April 3, 2016, Iranian authorities arrested Iranian-British dual national and Thomson Reuters Foundation employee Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe during “massive intelligence operations.” If convicted on charges of espionage, she could be imprisoned for up to 20 years or face the death penalty. Reports indicate Zaghari-Ratcliffe was separated from her daughter and initially jailed in Kerman prison. Officials have denied her access to a lawyer. This week, her husband, Richard Ratclifferailed against the UK’s foreign ministry, criticizing the office of negligence, saying, “I don’t think [Nazanin’s] case… is a top priority at the moment. The top priority of the Foreign Office is trade.” Zaghari-Ratcliffe is one of four other British passport holders currently detained in Iran.

Ratcliffe released a statement and began an online petition in support of his wife’s release. Three days after, authorities allowed Zaghari-Ratcliffe a visit with her parents and daughter and released her from solitary confinement following her return to prison. The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) released a statement [Pr] saying Zaghari-Ratcliffe was “involved in subversive efforts” and held membership in foreign organizations and social networks aiming to instigate a “soft overthrow” of the Islamic Republic. The IRGC underscored that Zaghari-Ratcliffe is able to visit her family and contact them via phone. In early June, she phoned her family to let them know she was being released, but the IRGC quickly followed-up, insisting the claim to be a mistake and that she would remain in prison.

Tensions with Kurdish Rebels Intensifies: There was an increase in armed clashes between the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) and members of the Kurdish Democratic Party of Iran (KDPI) this week. Fighting erupted mainly across the western regions of Iran, near the Kurdish city of Mahabad. The IRGC released a statement [Pr] saying the conflict resulted in the deaths of a number of  “terrorists linked to counterrevolutionary groups,” further emphasizing [Pr] that it would continue efforts to ensure “destruction of the remaining terrorists.”

The latest violence follows clashes with Kurdish rebels in West Azerbaijan earlier this month, which, the IRGC claims, resulted in the death of a dozen Kurdish rebels; the KDPI countered by saying it had killed over twenty IRGC guards, including a colonel. A member of the KDPI, Rostam Jahangiri, insisted that the Kurdish group was not aiming to “to launch a war,” but that the conflict was rooted in the Islamic Republic’s establishment nearly four decades ago. A lecturer at the University of Sussex, Kamran Matinsaid the increased tensions can be attributed to the Kurds’ desire “to be present inside Iranian Kurdistan.”

Foreign Policy

Iranian Officials React to “Brexit” Vote: Despite global unease over the UK’s vote to exit the European Union last week, Iranian officials expressed enthusiasm. Hamid Aboutalebi, President Hassan Rouhani’s deputy chief of staff for political affairs, tweeted [Pr], ”The UK’s exit from the European Union is a ‘historic opportunity’ for Iran” and that Iran must take advantage of the new opportunity. Aboutalebi also tweeted [Pr] that Brexit represented “a large earthquake” that shook the EU and that the “European Union has lost the trust of the people.”

Massoud Jazayeri, deputy chief of staff of Iran’s armed forces, said of Brexit that “the European Union is a pawn in the hands of America” and that “England should pay the price of years of imperialism and committing crimes against humanity.” He also expressed hope that Brexit would lead to the disintegration of the UK, saying that “the people of Ireland, Scotland and others have the right to bring themselves out of the tyrannical rule of the monarchy, the so-called Great Britain.”

A statement published [Pr] on Iran’s Foreign Ministry website reads: “As a democratic establishment, the Islamic Republic of Iran respects the British people’s vote on leaving the European Union, and considers that as being in line with the will of the majority of that country’s people to adopt their own foreign policy.” The UK has attempted to increase trade relations with Iran for the past two years, and Iranian officials believe that the UK’s withdrawal could greatly benefit both nations. Once exiting the EU, the UK may no longer have to adhere to EU-imposed sanctions on Iran, paving the way for closer economic ties.

American Studies Professor at the University of Tehran, Foad Izadi, a frequently used analyst in Persian media, tweeted [Pr] his support for Brexit, saying that in light of the “anti-Iran policies” the UK adopted as a part of the EU, Brexit is ultimately “good for Iran and the Muslim world.”

Economy

Iran Set to Issue Oil Deposit Exploration Tenders: Iran’s Oil Minister, Bijan Namdar Zanganeh, announced in an interview published with the Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA) that the country plans to issue tenders for the exploration of deposits in the south. Iran’s Oil Ministry announced that it would begin soliciting bids on June 21.

Prior to the tightening of international sanctions in 2012, Iran was the second-largest oil producer in OPEC. The easing of sanctions accompanying the nuclear deal helped Iran recover to its pre-sanction levels of production of 3.6 million barrels of oil per day. Multiple reports indicate that despite the jump in Iran’s oil production between January and May, the country may have maxed out its production capacity. In order to exceed its current production levels, Iran must secure a significant amount of foreign capital. Iran is seeking to entice over $100 billion in investments to boost its oil and gas industry.

The country’s lack of a contract model, combined with the previous sanctions, were the main obstacles to achieving its target. According to ISNA, Zanganeh emphasized that the real hurdles to increasing oil production is Iran’s need for “technology and management more than finances and this is why we have drafted new contracts.” However, conservative members of Iran’s parliament allege that the new contracts concede too much to foreign companies and are contrary to Iran’s constitution, which dictates that foreign entities cannot own Iranian land or reserves.

FATF Suspends Blacklist Restrictions on Iran: The Financial Action Task Force (FATF), a 37-nation international body responsible for monitoring money laundering globally, decided late last week to keep Iran on its blacklist of high-risk countries. Iran caught FATF’s attention after reports surfaced of suitcases filled with money moving through Tehran’s international airport and trucks of Iranian gold being seized in Turkey. Media accounts indicated that Iran had created a barter system with certain international partners and had implemented front companies used for transactions.

However, the FATF also welcomed “Iran’s adoption of, and high-level political commitment to, an Action Plan to address its strategic [anti-money laundering and anti-terror financing] deficiencies” and therefore suggested the counter-measures be suspended for 12 months “in order to monitor Iran’s progress in implementing the Action Plan.”

Iran’s Mehr News Agency expressed optimism, saying that removing Iran from the FATF blacklist would allow Iran to “normalize its banking industry and “attract the world’s major banks to facilitate transactions between Iranian and foreign companies.” FAFT, however, emphasized in a recent statement that should Iran fail to improve in regards to money laundering and terrorism financing, it would “call for counter-measures [to be] re-imposed.”

A video from the Human Rights Watch campaign, Watch for Women of Iran, highlights Iran’s laws segregating women and banning females from watching sports in stadiums.