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Week of January 19th

“[Donald] Trump's policy and today’s announcement amount to desperate attempts to undermine a solid multilateral agreement, maliciously violating its paragraphs 26, 28 and 29. JCPOA is not renegotiable: rather than repeating tired rhetoric, [the] U.S. must bring itself into full compliance—just like Iran.”

- Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, on Twitter


Fictionville Studio’s Hamid Rahmanian talks to The Iranist about his Shahnameh audiobook, ancient Persian history, and why Game of Thrones resonates with the Persian epic.

 Domestic Affairs

Hardliner clerics railed against President Hassan Rouhani over his remarks regarding the recent protests (Al-Monitor). On January 13, hardliner Tehran Friday prayer leader Kazem Sedighi said, “The nation’s gathering [against the unrest] turned into a sea and cleaned the rubbish.” Following the 2009 post-election protests known as the Green Movement, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad dismissed protesters alleging voter fraud as “dirt and dust.” The following day, President Rouhani shot back: “A number of people protested in the streets; whoever protests is ‘dirt and dust’ or cows or calves or rubbish? Why do you speak like this? Why do you insult and treat society rudely? You should speak accurately. Our nation is a big nation. There was a protest and it ended.” Rouhani also has come under attack for his remarks that no one is above criticism, not even the 12th Shiite imam, the Mahdi. Twelver Shiite Islam holds that the Mahdi is in a state referred to as the “greater occultation” and is waiting to reappear to rule the world.

Former President Mohammad Khatami urged authorities to listen to the Iranian people’s demands and not humiliate them (Radio Farda). In a condolence message on social media for the Sanchi oil tanker, Khatami mentioned the recent protests in passing (read about the tanker under FOREIGN POLICY). Khatami said that “the enemy grabs any opportunity” to damage the country, but “all state institutions must accept their share of blame” for the shortcomings highlighted by the recent protests. Khatami added that “without endangering the country’s stability,” people should be free to hold official institutions responsible, force them to correct and reform their attitudes, and address people’s problems by designing wise and measured plans. There has been a media blackout of the reformist president since 2015 over his support of the Green Movement.

A good read: How the other half lives in Iran (New York Times).

New data has shed light on the dramatic protests in Iran (Washington Post).

A long-simmering factor in the Iran protests: climate change (Los Angeles Times). 

Warming, water crisis, then unrest: How Iran fits an alarming pattern (New York Times).

Why were Iranians demanding the return of the Pahlavi dynasty during the protests? It can be traced back to media-savvy exiles in Europe (Foreign Policy).

Coverage of Iran protests illustrated with protests not in Iran, but demonstrations––organized by fringe cultists (FAIR).

Also, a senior commander of the IRGC said Iran’s military budget is $7 billion and is the “fourth cyber power” in the world (Radio Farda). General Mohammad Hossein Sepehr’s numbers are much less than what the Rouhani administration submitted in his new budget to parliament, which says it is more than $10 billion.

Iranians typically ignore the opaque budget process, but this time they paid attention thanks to social media and it lit a fuse (Financial Times).

How Rouhani can combat corruption in Iran’s budget (Al-Monitor).

 Foreign Policy
The 30 Iranians and 2 Bangladeshis that died onboard the Sanchi (Twitter)

A burning Iranian oil tanker exploded and sank after more than a week listing off the coast of China (AP). The Sanchi, run by Tehran’s top oil shipping operator, collided with the CF Crystal about 160 nautical miles (260 km) off the coast near Shanghai and the mouth of the Yangtze River Delta. The Sanchi carried 30 Iranians and two Bangladeshis. President Rouhani expressed his condolences and called on relevant government agencies to investigate the tragedy and take any necessary legal measures. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei expressed his condolences and sympathy with the victims’ families.

Questions and doubts arise after the Sanchi goes down (Financial Tribune).

In a speech, the supreme leader denounced U.S. President Donald Trump’s “shithole” comment (Radio Farda). Khamenei said, “The person who is today in office in America announces the stance of this country very clearly and blatantly.” He also speculated that previous U.S. presidents probably had the same opinion “but would not announce it this clearly and a clear example of this stance is his recent remarks on Africa, Latin America and other races which is an instance of acting against human rights.” U.S. media outlets reported that Trump described immigrants from Africa and Haiti as coming from “shithole” countries during a January 10 meeting with six senators at the White House.

The Trump administration’s Middle East strategy revolves around an Iran threat that doesn’t exist (Foreign Policy).

How Defense Secretary James Mattis softened on Iran—for now (Politico).

The Trump administration is ill equipped to pose as a friend of the Iranian people (LobeLog).

Why the protests won’t change Iran’s foreign policy (Al-Monitor).

 Iran Deal

U.S. President Trump delivered an ultimatum to European allies to fix the “terrible flaws” in the nuclear deal, or he will pull out in few months time (AP). Trump made the threat last Friday as he extended waivers of key economic sanctions on Iran, keeping the agreement alive for now. But his explicit warning to Europe that the deal must be fixed by the time the next sanctions waivers are due in the spring creates a high-stakes diplomatic deadline that will be difficult to meet. Trump also announced new sanctions, including against the chief of Iran’s judiciary, hardliner Ayatollah Sadegh Larijani, for his involvement in punishing protesters who participated in anti-government rallies earlier this month. 

Iranian officials said they would reject any changes to the deal, saying it was “not renegotiable” (New York Times).

Russia’s foreign minister said Moscow will not support attempts by Washington to modify the nuclear agreement (Reuters). Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said, “We will not support what the United States is trying to do, changing the wording of the agreement, incorporating things that will be absolutely unacceptable for Iran.” He also warned that the agreement’s collapse could be detrimental to dialogue with North Korea.

Germany stressed that it stands by the nuclear deal (AP) The German Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, Maria Adebahr, said officials would sit down with the Americans and “see what goal and request exactly Trump’s comments contain.” She said that the U.S. president’s statement appeared to have been directed “first and foremost to his own Congress.”

Trump’s demand to rewrite the Iran deal tests a weakened diplomatic corps (New York Times).

Trump’s statement reveals a shocking attitude towards the European allies of the United States (LobeLog).

Can Europe save the Iran Deal? (Foreign Affairs)

Also, January 17 marked the second anniversary of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action’s (JCPOA) implementation day (United Nations). United Nations Spokeswoman Stéphane Dujarric said, “The Secretary-General remains convinced that the JCPOA is the best way to ensure the exclusively peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear program, and to realize the promised tangible economic benefits for the Iranian people. The Secretary-General calls for concerns regarding its implementation to be addressed through the mechanisms established by the agreement, and believes that issues not directly related to the JCPOA should be addressed without prejudice to preserving the agreement and its accomplishments.”

Check out this status report on the Iran Deal, which also includes business sector attitudes towards Iran (Crisis Group).

The Iran Deal survives but perhaps not for much longer (Atlantic Council).

Trump’s uncertainty on the nuclear deal has the same effect as re-imposing sanctions, or walking away from it (LobeLog).

A closer look at the “four critical components” that Trump says must be in any bill underscores the sham-like quality of what he lays out (LobeLog).

"Killed in custody, after ten days in Sanandaj prison," referring to Saru Qahremani.
Alidoosti is the star of both Academy award-winning films by director Asghar Farhadi (Twitter)

Iranian officials said that hundreds of people detained in recent weeks during the protests have been released (AP). Officials also acknowledged that at least 25 people were killed during the unrest.

A judiciary spokesman also said 55 people are still being detained in Tehran (AP). Fars News Agency quoted judiciary spokesman Gholamhosein Mohseni Ejehi as saying there were around 400 protesters held across the country but that “some were released” on Saturday and Sunday. Last week, reformist MP Mahmoud Sadeghi said some 3,700 people were arrested across the country. Apparently the judiciary freed 440 people arrested in Tehran (AP).

A Kurdish activist arrested during the protests has been killed in prison, according to his family (IHR). The relatives of 24-year-old Saru Qahremani say his body was delivered to his parents by agents of the Intelligence Ministry on January 13, eleven days after he was arrested at an anti-government demonstration in Sanandaj, the capital of Iran’s Kurdistan Province. A relative told BBC Persian that his mother said there were no bullet wounds and his body was bruised with signs of torture, leading them to believe he was killed while in custody. Iranian officials called him a terrorist. The Intelligence Ministry then forced Qahremani’s father to repeat their version of events on state television (CHRI). Authorities reportedly forced the father to say his son was a terrorist killed during an armed confrontation with security forces on state television.

The questionable deaths of three protesters is stirring anger and bringing calls for accountability (New York Times). The men’s personal stories that have since emerged have struck a nerve among many Iranians, who see glaring contradictions in the official accounts of the facts. The willingness by members of mainstream Iranian society—a number of lawmakers and a top entertainment star—to publicly repudiate the narrative of the top judicial authorities is unusual, where such behavior can be risky and invite retribution. Their push for further investigation, including a parliamentary demand for an inquiry into the prison deaths, suggests that while the protests have largely subsided, the fallout in Iran may be just beginning.

The family of a bystander killed during the protests was intimidated by intelligence agents (CHRI).

A statement by 35 student councils across Iran denounced arrests of students in recent weeks (Radio Farda). The University Trade Unions Council of Iran (UTUCI) said the Iranian government is taking a “fearful” stance and that, in the events of the past few weeks, “students and trade union activists, along with other people, have passed difficult times.” Many of the students detained were not involved in the protests and their detention was based on the unacceptable excuse of “preventive action,” the statement said, adding that many of the families of the detainees have been unable to locate their loved ones.

A member of parliament said that imprisoned protesters were forced to take unknown pills (The Guardian). Tehran MP Mahmoud Sadeghi said in a Tweet that “relatives of a prisoner, who later died behind bars, have announced that he had told them on several telephone conversations that the officials of the prison forced him and other prisoners to take pills that made them sick.”

Detained protesters have been told to tell officials that they are drug addicts to speed up their release (CHRI). 

Plenty of force was on display as authorities stamped out protests, but it has also prompted a political debate (Bloomberg).

Meanwhile, Iran has lifted the ban on Telegram (AP). The popular messaging app, which has some 40 million users in Iran, is now accessible once again through both Wi-Fi and mobile networks. Iran shut down Telegram and the picture-sharing app Instagram during the protests in early January, saying protesters were using them to spread unrest. Soon afterward, authorities restored access to Instagram but Telegram has remained banned. The decision to unblock Telegram was met with harsh criticism by the judiciary and IRGC (Al-Monitor).

A group of 170 MPs want other branches of the government to join them in supporting the creation of domestic versions of popular foreign messaging apps (Radio Farda).

Amid protests, Iran’s government censors its critics with Chinese-style internet control (The Intercept).

Internet censorship a double-edged sword for Tehran (Al-Monitor).

Microsoft and Amazon enable censorship circumvention tools in Iran, so why doesn’t Google? (VICE)

+ Prisoner charged with murdering seven people hanged in public (Graphic).
+ Iranian authorities cut off a man’s hand for stealing.
+ Execution of juvenile offender postponed.
+ Iranian pastor’s wife joins husband in prison.
+ Police arrest three Gonabadi Dervishes and injure 10 at rally for detained devotees.
+ Tehran prosecutor: “No discussion” about Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s release date.
+ Judiciary must provide legal aid to all death row drug offenders
+ The right way to support human rights in Iran.

+ Iranian MP said 100 officials carry U.S. green cards or another citizenship.
+ Reformists rack up political points while smog smothers Tehran.  
+ Five billion dollars missing in Tehran municipality.  
+ Iran’s only female conductor finally permitted to conduct on stage in Tehran.
+ Women’s campaigns flourish beyond Iran protests.  
+ Iranians pray for rain amid water crisis.  
+ Jewish participation in Iranian political life.

+ UN report accuses Iran and Saudis over Yemen.
+ Supreme leader accuses Saudis of 'treason' against Muslims.
+ Israel's greatest enemy: Iran, or overconfidence?  
+ Jewish group: Spy case shows Germany must act against Iran.  
+ Iran adds to criticism of U.S.-trained Kurdish force in Syria.
The Iran protests, regime change, and the MEK.

Netanyahu tells France to take Trump seriously, fix Iran deal.
+ Iran rejects worries over impact of new U.S. sanctions on Chabahar project.
+ Iranian official says Airbus deal might be in limbo.
+ Keeping Iran’s ballistic missiles in perspective.

+ Zanganeh bemoans financial constraints on oil and gas projects.
+ Brent oil blasts through $70 as Iran showdown looms.

+ Two leading figures of the arts with two very different reactions to the protests.
+ Qajar exhibition to open at Louvre Museum branch in northern France.
+ American-Iranian artist Sheida Soleimani’s art activism.
+ Kaveh Akbar is poetry's biggest cheerleader.

+ Iran plans to take on Azerbaijan in futsal friendly, says coach.
+ Qatar may ask Iran for help in hosting the World Cup.

...تا هفته بعد
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