United States Institute of Peace

The Iran Primer

Latest on the Race: Rouhani Declares Candidacy, Rezaei Condemns Opposition

            On March 11, the Moderation and Development Party announced Hassan Rouhani’s candidacy for president. He is a senior member of the Expediency Council, a powerful government body that resolves disputes between parliament and the Guardian Council. Rouhani is also a former head of the Supreme National Security Council and the former lead nuclear negotiator. The conservative cleric is the fourth candidate to enter the race, after Ali Fallahian, Manoucher Mottaki and Mohsen Rezaei.

            Mohsen Rezaei, the secretary of the Expediency Council, condemned the reformist candidates from the disputed 2009 election. The candidate called Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi “U.S. agents” on March 13, according to Iranian news media. “Some may say that such a comment came late, but no one took [a] position against the intrigue leaders as I did,” he said. Rezaei is optimistic about the upcoming race, and said it will be different than the 2005 and 2009 elections, which he lost. The following are recent remarks by Rezaei and Rouhani.

Hassan Rouhani
            “[Those] making important decisions will encounter serious problems if parties are not empowered and do not find their [rightful] place… Parties can play a valuable role in the society.” March 10, according to Iranian news media
            “The new government will have many challenges and the new president’s job will be very tough… At least in the area of economy, the new government will face great problems.”
            “Anybody who wants to stand as a candidate in the upcoming presidential election should work out a solution and present practical plans for these problems… In many elections, especially presidential elections, the campaign climate have been bipolar but this time it will definitely be multi-polar.” January 22, in an interview with Mehr News Agency
Mohsen Rezaei
            “I see them [Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi] as U.S. agents and I said on February 15, 2011 that if these two do not apologize before the nation, people could arrest them…”
            “Some may say that such a comment came late, but no one took [a] position against the intrigue leaders as I did. I do believe that I must have expressed myself on this matter in the right time for more effectiveness, and the right time was when it lead to their detention.” March 13, according to the Young Journalists Club
See the articles below for recent coverage of the 2013 presidential election:
Tags: Iran, Rezaei

U.S. Intelligence: Iran’s Nuclear Policy Depends on Political Will

            Iran has the “scientific, technical, and industrial capacity to eventually produce nuclear weapons,” according to the U.S. intelligence community’s new worldwide threat assessment. But the decision to build or not build a weapon depends on Iranian “political will”  and a cost-benefit analysis. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper delivered the report to the Senate on March 12.

            The threat assessment warned that “Iran is growing more autocratic at home and more assertive abroad as it faces elite and popular grievances, a deteriorating economy, and an uncertain regional dynamic.” The worsening economic situation has prompted public frustration with the government. But widespread political unrest has not broken out, probably due to “pervasive fear of the security services and lack of effective opposition organization and leadership,” according to the report.

            The U.S. intelligence community also noted Iranian efforts to gain influence abroad. Tehran is also taking advantage of U.S. withdrawals from Iraq and Afghanistan. The following are excerpts from the report on Iran, followed by a link to the full text.

Terrorism and Transnational Organized Crime

            Terrorist threats are in a transition period as the global jihadist movement becomes increasingly decentralized. In addition, the Arab Spring has generated a spike in threats to US interests in the region that likely will endure until political upheaval stabilizes and security forces regain their capabilities. We also face uncertainty about potential threats from Iran and Lebanese Hizballah, which see the United States and Israel as their principal enemies…
            The failed 2011 plot against the Saudi Ambassador in Washington shows that Iran may be more willing to seize opportunities to attack in the United States in response to perceived offenses against the regime. Iran is also an emerging and increasingly aggressive cyber actor. However, we have not changed our assessment that Iran prefers to avoid direct confrontation with the United States because regime preservation is its top priority.
Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation
            We assess Iran is developing nuclear capabilities to enhance its security, prestige, and regional influence and give it the ability to develop nuclear weapons, should a decision be made to do so. We do not know if Iran will eventually decide to build nuclear weapons.
            Tehran has developed technical expertise in a number of areas—including uranium enrichment, nuclear reactors, and ballistic missiles—from which it could draw if it decided to build missile-deliverable nuclear weapons. These technical advancements strengthen our assessment that Iran has the scientific, technical, and industrial capacity to eventually produce nuclear weapons. This makes the central issue its political will to do so.
            Of particular note, Iran has made progress during the past year that better positions it to produce weapons-grade uranium (WGU) using its declared facilities and uranium stockpiles, should it choose to do so. Despite this progress, we assess Iran could not divert safeguarded material and produce a weapon-worth of WGU before this activity is discovered.
            We judge Iran’s nuclear decisionmaking is guided by a cost-benefit approach, which offers the international community opportunities to influence Tehran. Iranian leaders undoubtedly consider Iran’s security, prestige and influence, as well as the international political and security environment, when making decisions about its nuclear program. In this context, we judge that Iran is trying to balance conflicting objectives. It wants to advance its nuclear and missile capabilities and avoid severe repercussions—such as a military strike or regime threatening sanctions.
            We judge Iran would likely choose a ballistic missile as its preferred method of delivering a nuclear weapon, if one is ever fielded. Iran’s ballistic missiles are capable of delivering WMD. In addition, Iran has demonstrated an ability to launch small satellites, and we grow increasingly concerned that these technical steps—along with a regime hostile toward the United States and our allies—provide Tehran with the means and motivation to develop larger space-launch vehicles and longer-range missiles, including an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM).
            Iran already has the largest inventory of ballistic missiles in the Middle East, and it is expanding the scale, reach, and sophistication of its ballistic missile arsenal. Iran’s growing ballistic missile inventory and its domestic production of anti-ship cruise missiles (ASCM) and development of its first long-range land attack cruise missile provide capabilities to enhance its power projection. Tehran views its conventionally armed missiles as an integral part of its strategy to deter—and if necessary retaliate against—forces in the region, including US forces.
Iran Overview
            Iran is growing more autocratic at home and more assertive abroad as it faces elite and popular grievances, a deteriorating economy, and an uncertain regional dynamic. Supreme Leader Khamenei’s power and authority are now virtually unchecked, and security institutions, particularly the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), have greater influence at the expense of popularly elected and clerical institutions. Khamenei and his allies will have to weigh carefully their desire to control the 14 June Iranian presidential election, while boosting voter turnout to increase the appearance of regime legitimacy and avoid a repeat of the disputed 2009 election. Meanwhile, the regime is adopting more oppressive social policies to increase its control over the population, such as further limiting educational and career choices for women.
            Iran’s financial outlook has worsened since the 2012 implementation of sanctions on its oil exports and Central Bank. Iran’s economy contracted in 2012 for the first time in more than two decades. Iran’s access to foreign exchange reserves held overseas has diminished, and preliminary data suggest that it suffered its first trade deficit in 14 years. Meanwhile, the rial reached an all-time low in late January, with the exchange rate falling from about 15,000 rials per dollar at the beginning of 2012 to nearly 40,000 rials per dollar, and inflation and unemployment are growing.
            Growing public frustration with the government’s socioeconomic policies has not led to widespread political unrest because of Iranians’ pervasive fear of the security services and the lack of effective opposition organization and leadership. To buoy the regime’s popularity and forestall widespread civil unrest, Iranian leaders are trying to soften the economic hardships on the poorer segments of the population. Khamenei has publicly called on the population to pursue a “resistance economy,” reminiscent of the hardships that Iran suffered immediately after the Iranian Revolution and during the Iran-Iraq war. However, the willingness of contemporary Iranians to withstand additional economic austerity is unclear because most Iranians do not remember those times; 60 percent of the population was born after 1980 and 40 percent after 1988.
            In its efforts to spread influence abroad and undermine the United States and our allies, Iran is trying to exploit the fighting and unrest in the Arab world. It supports surrogates, including Palestinian militants engaged in the recent conflict with Israel. To take advantage of the US withdrawals from Iraq and Afghanistan, it will continue efforts to strengthen political and economic ties with central and local governments, while providing select militants with lethal assistance. Iran’s efforts to secure regional hegemony, however, have achieved limited results, and the fall of the Asad regime in Syria would be a major strategic loss for Tehran…
Click here for the full text.
Tags: Reports

Iran Blocks Bypass of Internet Filter

Garrett Nada

            Iran has reportedly blocked virtual private networks (VPNs), used by millions of Iranians to access banned websites such as Facebook. “Only legal and registered VPNs can from now on be used,” Ramezanali Sobhani-Fard said on March 10, according to Iranian news media. He heads parliament’s information and communications technology committee, which will review the results of the block implemented on March 6. The VPN ban may be a precautionary measure ahead of presidential elections scheduled for June.
      After the disputed 2009 presidential election, Iranians used Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to organize demonstrations and document the government's crackdown. Those sites were subsequently filtered. But many continued to use them via VPNs. Now, banned sites may be more difficult to access.
      The announcement of the VPN block came just days before the European Union implemented new sanctions on March 12, targeting Iranian cyber police, judges and media officials. Abdolsamad Khoramabadi, the head of Iran’s commission on cyber crime, was sanctioned for alleged connections to the death of blogger Sattar Beheshti in November 2012. He was also responsible for “blocking of numerous opposition sites, electronic newspapers, blogs, sites of human rights NGOs and of Google and Gmail since September 2012,” according to the European Union.
Key to Social Media Access
Iranians use VPNs to mask the locations of their computers. This allows them to bypass the government filter and access many opposition websites and Western social media networks that are blocked. Up to 30 percent of Iranians use VPNs, Kamal Hadianfar, then chief of Iran’s cyber police, told Mehr News in June 2012. Some 17 million Iranians had Facebook accounts by October 2011, the technology director of the Student Basij militia told Fars News.
Increased Filtering in 2013
“Prominent Persian-language websites and other online services have been filtered one by one, and communications with external platforms is becoming progressively more difficult,” according to a new report by Small Media, a British organization researching access to information in Iran. The report notes that filtered sites range from music blogs to dating sites, and even a history site.
In February, Small Media received reports from Iran saying that Viber and WhatsApp stopped working. Both are popular chat applications for smartphones. The regime also reportedly disabled text messaging services during the controversial 2009 election, according to a 2012 U.N report on human rights.
Government Alternative and “Smart Filtering”
Iranians will soon be able to purchase legal VPN connections, Secretary of the Supreme Cyberspace Council Medhi Akhavan Behabadi told Mehr News in January 2013. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei announced the council’s creation in March 2012. Its mission is to “protect” Iranians from online dangers. Users may be reluctant to switch to the registered connections mentioned by the council secretary. Those VPNs could be more easily monitored by authorities.
The government recognizes that the current filtering system is inefficient. Entire websites are blocked even if “a single sentence” violates Iranian law, Behabadi told Khabar Online News in February 2013. He acknowledged that the current system “causes lots of problems for Internet users, as sometimes the filtered websites have lots of useful information.”
Even pro-government news sites have reportedly been blocked temporarily due to controversial user comments. Behabadi said that the government is working on a “smart filtering” system that will censor specific content rather than the entire website. The new system could be implemented within the next two months. He even said that lifting the ban on Facebook is “considerable in the long term.”
A Workaround?
One organization has already provided a potential solution to the new block on VPNs. Project Ainita, which claims to fight online censorship in Iran, advised users to install a website encryption plugin and an anti-firewall service to bypass the filter. On March 11, the organization posted a detailed guide in Farsi explaining the installation process.
Garrett Nada is a Program Assistant at USIP in the Center for Conflict Management.

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E.U. Sanctions Cyber Police, Judges and Media

            On March 11, the European Union announced new sanctions against Iranian cyber police, judges, and media officials linked to the death of blogger Sattar Beheshti. Beheshti is “believed to have been tortured to death by the Cyber Police authorities” in November 2012, the E.U. Official Journal said. He was arrested after allegedly criticizing the government. A travel ban was imposed on nine individuals, bringing the total of blacklisted names to 87. The assets of Iran’s Cyber Police unit were also frozen.
            The United States and the European Union have increasingly sanctioned individuals for human rights violations since 2010. Human rights sanctions are separate from those related to Iran’s controversial nuclear program. Nearly 500 companies and about 100 individuals are sanctioned by the European Union for connections to the program. The following are excerpts from the E.U. Official Journal on the sanctions, followed by a link to the full text.




Click here for the full text.

U.N. Report: Iran Repressing Dissent

            Iran’s crackdown on journalists and detainment of opposition leaders “does not bode well for the prospect of a free and fair” presidential election in June, said Ahmed Shaheed, the U.N. investigator on human rights in Iran. In his brief to U.N. Human Rights Council on March 12, Shaheed expressed concern over the nearly 500 executions allegedly carried out by Iran during the last year. He said journalists, rights activists and lawyers “continue to be subjected to harassment, arrest, interrogation, and torture…” Iran has denied Shaheed entry to conduct research. The new report is based on interviews with 169 people, many of whom still live in Iran.

            Iran's Human Rights Council Secretary Mohammad Javad Larijani said the report was “baseless” and used a “totally unacceptable methodology,” according to Iranian media. Larijani called the report “the product of an unhealthy, nonobjective and counterproductive exercise initiated by the United States of America and its European allies.” The Islamic Republic submitted a detailed reply to the report. The following are excerpts from the U.N. report and the Iranian response, with links to the full documents at the end.
Report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran
Free and Fair Elections
           … On 11 February 2013, the Special Rapporteur joined the Chair-Rapporteur of the Working Group on arbitrary detention and the Special Rapporteur on freedom of assembly and association in a statement urging the Iranian government to immediately and unconditionally release former 2009 Presidential candidates Mr. Mehdi Karoubi and Mr. Mir Hossein Mousavi, his wife Zahra Rahnavard, and hundreds of other prisoners of conscience who remain in prison for peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of opinion and expression, or freedom of association and assembly during protests following the 2009 Presidential election. The Special Rapporteurs underscored the fact that the two opposition leaders have not been charged with a crime since their arrest, and that in its August 2012 Opinion, the Working Group on arbitrary detention confirmed that Mr Mousavi and Mr Karoubi, are subject to arbitrary detention by the Iranian Government
contrary to article 9 of the ICCPR…
Freedom of expression, association, assembly
            The Special Rapporteur remains concerned over the continued arrest, detention, and
prosecution of dozens of journalists and netizens under provisions in Iran’s 1986 Press Law, which contains 17 categories of “impermissible” content. The Special Rapporteur joined the independent expert on freedom of opinion and expression, human rights defenders, and the Chair-Rapporteur of the Working Group on arbitrary detention on 4 February 2013 in calling on Iran to immediately halt the recent spate of arrests of journalists and to release those already detained following the arrest of at least 17 journalists, the majority of whom work for independent news outlets. The group of human rights experts underscored their fear that the 17 arrests carried-out were part of a broader
campaign to crack-down on independent journalists and media outlets, under the accusation that they have collaborated with ‘anti-revolutionary’ foreign media outlets and human rights organisations…
            The Special Rapporteur expressed concern about reports of widespread use of torture in his report to the 67th session of the General Assembly. He further reported that 78% of individuals who reported violations of their due process rights also reported that they were beaten during interrogations for the purpose of soliciting confessions, that their reports of torture and ill-treatment were ignored by judicial authorities, and that their coerced confessions were used against them despite these complaints…
            The Special Rapporteur continues to be alarmed by the escalating rate of executions,
especially in the absence of fair trial standards, and the application of capital punishment
for offences that do not meet “most serious crimes” standards, in accordance with
international law. This includes alcohol consumption, adultery, and drug-trafficking. It has
been reported that some 297 executions were officially announced by the Government, and
that approximately 200 “secret executions” have been acknowledged by family members,
prison officials, and/or members of the Judiciary, making a likely total of between 489 and
497 executions during 2012…
Click here for the full U.N. report.
Detailed Reply of the Islamic Republic
            ...The Islamic Republic of Iran has constantly taken steps toward promotion of human rights at national and international levels. Our efforts to promote human rights have been based on our religious obligations and adherence to the constitutional and ordinary laws of the country and our commitments under international treaties. We are committed to promotion of human rights both in our deeds and words. Submission of national report under the UPR mechanism, cooperation with the Office of the High Commissioner, invitation of the High commissioner for Human Rights to visit the Country and visit by the OHCHR to Iran in December 2011 to facilitate the visit of the High Commissioner to Iran are examples of our cooperation [sic]…
III. Capital punishment
            Use of phrase "execution of individuals in lack of fair standards" in this paragraph indicates draft writer's lack of knowledge towards Islamic Republic of Iran judicial system. Having said that in most of countries including Iran capital punishment is anticipated and there is no global consensus on it's elimination. Capital punishment in Islamic Republic of Iran for the most serious crimes is legally executable which is also ratified by international documents. [sic]
            In accordance with Islamic Republic of Iran law, capital punishment is only applied for the most serious crimes and even for premeditated murder there is no capital punishment in the law unless the owners of the blood request for retribution in kind and the highest pertinent judicial authority (or his representative) agrees with the demand (Article 219 of the Islamic penal code). [sic]
            There are many countries who have capital punishment for serious drug offenders. For Islamic Republic of Iran that lies next to the largest producer of opium and heroin in the world, it is very natural to have capital punishment for drug traffickers. Moreover, the Islamic Republic of Iran seizes narcotics shipments of tens of times more than other countries altogether, and thousands of our border guards have been martyred or injured in this fight. This matter has become particularly serious for Islamic Republic of Iran since the number of abusers of new types of synthetic drugs has been on the rise, leading to serious consequences for the families and the economy of the nation. Recently many of these drug abusers have lost their lives and many others have suffered from psychosis and incurable illnesses that ends in their death raised from destruction of body tissues…
V. Torture and other inhumane, cruel and humiliating punishments  
            Islamic Republic of Iran strongly rejects biased allegations on widespread use of torture for confessions. Because according to Islamic Republic of Iran constitution, ordinary laws specially citizenship rights and regulations pertinent to respect to legitimate rights, perpetrator of torture shall be held accountable and shall stand trial. Therefore there is no room for impunity of torture perpetrator in Islamic Republic of Iran current laws [sic].
            In accordance with Articles 20 and 22 of Islamic Republic of Iran constitution, all individuals of the nation are under protection of law and their soul, dignity, wealth, rights, house and occupation are all immune from any kind of offensive.
            In a glance, status and value of people and their dignity are of the greatest importance. Parallel to this, Article 32 of constitution has reiterated that "no one shall be arrested unless by law and through a certain legal procedure. In case of arrest, he/she should be notified about his/her charges in writing (Articles 112 and 113 of code of criminal procedure)…
Click here for the full Iranian response.

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