News Digest: Week of March 4

March 4

Domestic: Iran’s interior ministry announced the results of the March 1 election. Hardliners consolidated their grip on power in both Parliament and the Assembly of Experts. The 290 seats of Parliament are elected every four years. Elected every eight years, the 88-member assembly has been charged with selecting and overseeing the supreme leader. Only 25 million out of 61 million eligible voters cast ballots despite intense government appeals. The turnout was 41 percent, the lowest since the 1979 revolution. 

Domestic: In a rare interview, former Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (2013-2021) said that there was “disorder” in Iran’s foreign policymaking and that the ministry had weakened under his successor, Hossein Amir-Abdollahian. He urged the incoming Parliament to not hamper the government’s ability to negotiate with other countries. 

Nuclear: Rafael Grossi, the head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog, warned that gaps in knowledge of Iran’s activities were growing. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) “has lost continuity of knowledge about the production and inventory of centrifuges, rotors and bellows, heavy water and uranium ore concentrate,” he told the body’s Board of Governors. “It is three years since Iran stopped provisionally applying its additional protocol and therefore it is also three years since the agency was able to conduct complementary access in Iran.” 

International: Fariba Balouch, a London-based Iranian human rights activist, was presented with the 2024 International Women of Courage Awardwas by Secretary of State Antony Blinken and First Lady Jill Biden at the White House. Balouch has spoken out against the government’s systematic discrimination and violence against the Baluch ethnic group in southeastern Iran. “She has been subjected to persistent threats from Iranian security forces. But that has not deterred her,” Blinken said. Eleven other women from across the world also received the award


March 5

International: British Defense Secretary Grant Shapps appeared to confirm reports that Iran had shipped ballistic missiles to Russia for use in its war on Ukraine. “Whether it's ballistic missiles, or the Shahed drones that they supplied Russia with, we've seen that if there’s struggle in the world, often Iran are egging it on, or helping to supply the food chain in this case. They are a bad influence, not just on their region, but in this case in Europe as well,” he told The House magazine.  


March 6

International: Laura Holgate, the U.S. ambassador to the IAEA, raised concerns about Iran’s nuclear program at the Board of Governors meeting. She acknowledged a “very modest reduction” in Iran’s stockpile of 60 percent enriched uranium. But she warned that Tehran “continues to expand its nuclear program, to install additional advanced centrifuge cascades, and to produce highly enriched uranium for which it has no credible peaceful purpose.” The board “must be prepared to take further action” if Iran does not cooperate with the nuclear watchdog, she added. 

International: Iran announced the confiscation of $50 million worth of Kuwaiti crude oil from the Advantage Sweet, a ship that Iran had seized in April 2023. The judiciary’s new agency said that the move was in retaliation for U.S. sanctions that allegedly prevented the importation of Swedish drugs for treating Epidermolysis Bullosa. 

Domestic: At an academic conference, Former Foreign Minister Zarif warned against overreliance on Russia and argued that the “era of permanent alliances is over.” He said that interstate relations were increasingly fluid and that “viewing the world in polar terms often results in unfulfilled expectations.” He noted that Russia and China did not end up vetoing U.N. Security Council resolutions against Iran.

Domestic: Iranian authorities arrested playwright and theater director Ali Nourani and sentenced him to one year in Evin Prison in Tehran, according to the U.S.-based Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA). Nourani had initially been sentenced to six years in prison on charges of propaganda against the regime, conspiracy against the state, and acts against national security. He was first arrested on Sept. 16, 2023, a year after the death of Mahsa Amini in police custody. He spent 24 days in custody before being released on bail. Nourani faced additional charges in a new case opened against him.

International: London-based NGO Justice for Iran published a 250-page report that stated that authorities treated the Woman, Life, Freedom protests of 2022-2023 as an “armed conflict.” The group alleged that security forces treated the demonstrators as combatants and deployed military units with authorization to use lethal force, torture and terrorize civilians to suppress the demonstrations. 


March 7

Elections: Former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad criticized the government’s celebratory rhetoric about the March 1 elections and called them a failure. The turnout was only 41 percent, the lowest since the 1979 revolution. Yet Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei hailed the elections as “great and epic.”

Domestic: A court in the northern city of Rasht sentenced 10 teachers to two years in prison each, all members of the Iran’s Teachers’ Trade Association, for their participation in protests. The court also imposed fines and prohibited them from joining any political or civil groups for two years. The convicted teachers included Anoosh Adeli, Mahmoud Sedighipour, Aziz Ghasemzadeh, and seven others.

International: The State Department’s Office of Religious Freedom condemned the destruction of 30 graves of Bahai citizens in Tehran’s Kharavan Cemetery byauthorities. The office also noted other methods of intimidation, including property seizures and sham trials that resulted in extended prison sentences for Bahais. The government considers Bahais to be apostates and defines the Bahai faith as a “political sect.”

March 8

International: The Canadian government announced sanctions on Masoud Dorosti, the chief executive of Tehran’s metro system, and Zohreh Elahian, a conservative lawmaker, for their role in the repression of women. Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly made the announcement on International Women’s Day. The Canadian government had previously sanctioned 155 individuals and 87 entities connected to human rights abuses in Iran.


March 10

Energy: The National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC) signed a contract with five domestic companies to increase gas output from the South Pars field, which is shared with Qatar in the Persian Gulf. The contract, signed with Petropars, MAPNA Group, Khatam al Anbiya Construction Headquarters (an engineering firm controlled by the Revolutionary Guards), Oil Industries’ Engineering and Construction (OIEC), and Nargan Company, aimed to boost the field’s gas output by 90 trillion cubic feed and add two billion barrels of gas to its output.