News Digest: Week of January 13

January 13

Protests: Students at universities in Isfahan and Tehran shouted, “Clerics get lost!” Police in riot gear reportedly patrolled the capital. A steep drop in internet connectivity registered at Sharif University, where students protested the deaths of colleagues and alumni killed on the Ukrainian flight. The government had previously shut down the internet for five days to prevent images of the protests and crackdown from spreading over social media during the November 2019 protests sparked by a gas price hike. 

Society: The Tehran-based Association of Iranian Journalists condemned the government’s shifting story on the Ukrainian Airliner flight shootdown as a “funeral for public trust.” They added that “this incident showed that people cannot trust official data and journalists should try to fill this gap as much as possible.”

Culture: More than 30 filmmakers, artists and cartoonists said they would not participate in the Fajr festival, Iran’s equivalent of the Oscars, in April. "The only way out of the current situation is a crucial decision and straight talking by authorities with the people," they wrote in a statement


January 14

Nuclear/Diplomacy: Britain, France and Germany triggered the dispute resolution mechanism under the 2015 nuclear deal. It was the strongest action taken by European powers to enforce the agreement. If Iran does not return to compliance, the process could result in the reimposition of U.N. sanctions and ensure that an arms embargo does not expire in October 2020. The parties will have some 60 days to negotiate. 

Protests: Protests continued for a fourth day at several university campuses in Tehran. Netblocks, which monitors internet connectivity, observed a 10-minute nationwide disruption at 5:52pm local time. The cause was not clear.

Protests/Human Rights: Iranian officials said that they had arrested 30 people for their involvement in the “illegal” demonstrations. Authorities denied that they had used violence to crack down on the demonstrations and said that they tolerate “legal protests.”  

Politics: The Guardian Council, a body of senior clerics in charge of upholding the constitution, disqualified 9,000 candidates, including 90 incumbent lawmakers, from running in parliamentary elections slated for February. Abbas Ali Kadkhodaei, a spokesman for the Guardian Council, said that the majority of candidates were banned for “financial problems,” such as fraud and embezzlement. Most of the rejected individuals were reformist and moderate candidates, according to Etemad newspaper.


January 15

Diplomacy/Espionage: Albania expelled two Iranian diplomats for activities for “violating their diplomatic status,” a phrase often used to describe espionage under diplomatic cover. Mohammad Ali Arz Peimanemati and Seyed Ahmad Hosseini Alast were told to leave the country “immediately.” Albania hosted 2,500 members of the Iranian exile opposition group, Mujahedeen-e-Khalq, which wasconsidered a foreign terrorist organization by the regime.

Nuclear/Diplomacy: President Hassan Rouhani responded defiantly to Britain, France and Germany’s decision to trigger the nuclear deal’s dispute resolution mechanism. "In recent days I... made it clear to two European leaders that what we have done is reversible for one, and that everything we do regarding the nuclear issue is under the supervision of the IAEA,” Rouhani said. “If you take the wrong step, it will be to your detriment. Pick the right path. The right path is to return to the nuclear deal.”


Politics: President Rouhani denounced the Guardian Council’s decision to disqualify thousands of candidates from February parliamentary elections. “Do not tell the people that for every seat in parliament, there are 17, 170 or 1,700 candidates running in the election,” he said in a televised speech. “Seventeen-hundred candidates from how many factions? Seventeen candidates from how many parties? From one party? This is not an election.”


January 16

Nuclear: President Hassan Rouhani announced that Iran had begun enriching more uranium than before the 2015 nuclear deal. But he did not detail how much more uranium was being enriched. Rouhani added that the nuclear program was better off than before the agreement.

Protests: Dozens of students at Isfahan University staged a silent-sit in on campus. The demonstrators wore surgical masks marked with a black “X” to symbolize the government’s crackdown on protests in November. Several students held signs which read “1,500 + 176,” an apparent reference to number of people reportedly killed in the November crackdown, plus the number killed in Iran’s accidental downing of the Ukrainian airliner.

January 17

Politics: For the first time in eight years, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, personally delivered the Friday prayer sermon in Tehran. He called for national unity and struck a defiant tone towards the United States and the West. “Resistance must continue until the region is completely freed from the enemy’s tyranny,” Khamenei said. The regime planned pro-government rallies in dozens of cities across Iran following the Friday prayer.

Sanctions/Diplomacy: The U.S. State Department blacklisted a Revolutionary Guards commander for his involvement in the crackdown on demonstrators in November 2019. Brigadier General Hassan Shahvarpour “oversaw the massacre of 148 helpless Iranians in the Mahshahr region,” U.S. Special Representative for Iran Brian Hook told reporters. Hook said information about Shahvarpour and other regime officials came from some 88,000 tips received by the State Department from Iranians.


January 18

Aviation: Iran announced that it would send Ukraine the black box recorders from a Ukrainian airliner that the military accidently shot down on January 8. Hassan Rezaeifer, Iran’s chief investigator in the case, said that French, American and Canadian experts would help analyze the data. Iranian officials had initially refused to send the black boxes to experts abroad.


January 19

Nuclear: A group of Iranian lawmakers signed a statement that warned European countries to “stop their hostile approach.” Parliament speaker Ali Larijani said that Tehran may not cooperate with the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog if it treats Iran unfairly. “We state openly that if the European powers, for any reason, adopt an unfair approach in using the dispute mechanism, we will seriously reconsider our cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency,” Larijani said. The statement came in response to the triggering of the nuclear deal’s dispute resolution mechanism by Britain, France and Germany.