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Iran Slams Brakes On Bus Drivers' Strike To Keep Protests Off The Streets Of Tehran

Alireza Zakani, the mayor of Tehran, met with striking bus drivers on May 16.

Authorities in Tehran are attempting to break a strike by bus workers that has hampered transportation in the capital and threatens to merge with separate antigovernment protests around the country calling for the end of Iran's clerical regime amid a worsening economic situation.

Bus drivers and other employees of the Tehran Bus Company have held strikes since May 16, fueling a transportation crisis that has led the city to use police buses and drivers from the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, a powerful branch of the military, to keep routes open.

It was unclear if there were public rallies on May 18. But the bus employees, angered by the government's failure to deliver fully on a promised wage hike and undeterred by the arrest of their union leader as well as 12 strikers, have vowed to continue their protests until municipal authorities pay up.

Having received just 10 percent of a pledged 40 percent wage hike, they are now demanding a 57 percent raise, along with the release of Reza Shahibi, who was arrested at his home on May 10 by Intelligence Ministry officers shortly after publicly calling on the authorities to investigate death threats against him and his family.

Arrested union leader Reza Shahabi (file photo)
Arrested union leader Reza Shahabi (file photo)

On May 17, state television alleged that Shahibi and other labor activists had met with two French nationals -- 37-year-old Cecil Kohler and her 69-year-old partner, Jacques Paris -- who were arrested the day after Shahibi and accused of seeking to stir up unrest in Iran.

The allegations come as the country's security forces have resorted to force to suppress anti-government protests in cities outside Tehran against skyrocketing inflation and the government's recent decision to cut some subsidies, leading to the reported deaths of at least five demonstrators.

The union representing the striking bus workers on May 17 accused the authorities of "trying to break the strike by intimidating and in some cases persecuting and arresting workers."

In an apparent reference to the anti-government demonstrations, the Free Trade Union of Iran also said on Twitter that "the government is looking for a permanent solution; i.e., repression, prosecution, arrest, spreading lies" to quell the unrest.

The bus strike is widely seen as separate from the street protests over the country's worsening economic situation, some of whom have chanted for the end of the clerical regime.

But observers have suggested that Tehran is eager to prevent the two protests from merging, and have questioned the veracity of the city's announcement on May 17 that it was closing schools and government offices due to high air-pollution levels.

"The strike has faced the government with a real challenge," labor activist Payman Shajirati told RFE/RL's Radio Farda. "Although the government closed down schools and offices, claiming air pollution as the reason, traffic throughout the city was heavily affected."

The activist, who lives outside Iran, said there is a possibility that the strike could spread to include subway and other transportation workers in the city, and added that other laborers could join the protest.

Tehran Mayor Alireza Zakani, who appeared at protests in front of the Tehran Bus Company's central headquarters on May 17, was met with chants calling him incompetent and demanding that he and the director of the syndicate resign.

Discussions with protest leaders were later described by Zakani's office as "fruitless."

Gholamreza Gholamhosseini, a former employee of the Tehran Bus Company who now lives in Canada, told Radio Farda that bus workers appeared to be committed to going through with their strike until their demands are met.

"It is usual for the Iranian government not to fulfill its responsibilities. It always resorts to harsh methods to crack down on protests by beating them [demonstrators] up, torturing and detaining them," Gholamhosseini said. "But workers have gotten so poor that they are fighting for their livelihoods, and they do not simply care about crackdowns anymore."

The anti-government protests that began last week in the southwestern province of Khuzestan have spread, with participants chanting for the ouster of hard-line President Ebrahim Raisi and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who is expected to meet with parliament as it continues to hammer out next year's budget.

The protests were sparked by outrage over the recent removal of subsidies on basic food items that have sent prices skyrocketing. The price hikes have compounded the economic difficulties faced by Iranians already hit by a 40 percent inflation rate, rising unemployment, and shortages of necessities such as cooking oil and pharmaceuticals.

During his Norouz address on March 20, Khamenei singled out "poverty, high prices, and inflation" as the most pressing problems being faced by Iranians. But he said solving them soon was "unrealistic."

The government's unexpected decision to end subsidies for imported wheat, which in turn raised prices for industrial food producers and consumers, led even hard-line backers of the clerical regime to warn of the potential for unrest.

As those fears have come to fruition, the government has reportedly cut off the Internet in the Shahrekord, the capital of the western Chaharmahal and Bakhtiari Province, where the five protesters were reportedly killed. There have also been reports of raids and beatings of activists in the southwestern Kohgiluyeh and Boyer-Ahmad Province.

Security forces have also reportedly detained demonstrators in major populations centers such as the northwestern cities of Zanjan and Mashhad and in the southwestern city of Shiraz. On the evening of May 17, the protests expanded to Golpayegan, in the north of the country's central Isfahan Province.

The violence against protestors has been criticized by rights watchdogs and foreign countries, including the United States, which said on May 16 that it supported Iranians' rights to peaceful assembly "without fear of violence and reprisal."

On May 17, a group of more than 500 prominent Iranian civil and political activists issued a statement calling on top officials to "think before it is too late to contain problems, especially staggering inflation."

The "unsettled and complicated" situation the country finds itself in, the statement added, was the inevitable result of "the majority of the nation's elected officials not being approved by the people," an apparent reference to the Guardians Council's preeminent role in vetting political candidates and in interpreting Islamic law.

Written by Michael Scollon based on reporting by RFE/RL's Radio Farda

Visit To Iran By Controversial UN Rapporteur Provokes Concerns

The UN special rapporteur on the negative impact of unilateral coercive measures on human rights, Alena Douhan, has been accused of playing into the hands of authoritarian governments and promoting their propaganda.

For the first time since 2005, Iran has allowed a United Nations special rapporteur to visit the repressive country.

But the mandate of the UN rapporteur and the reasons for her visit have prompted controversy and concern among Iranian activists and foreign rights groups.

Alena Douhan, the UN special rapporteur on the negative impact of unilateral coercive measures on human rights, arrived in Iran on May 7. The aim of her trip, due to end on May 18, is to assess the impact of U.S. sanctions on the human rights situation in Iran.

The mandate of Douhan, a native of Belarus, is controversial. It was created following a 2014 resolution at the UN Human Rights Council introduced by Iran on behalf of the anti-Western Non-Aligned Movement. She is the second person to assume the role.

Douhan, who has visited repressive states like Venezuela, Zimbabwe, and Qatar, has been accused by human rights activists of playing into the hands of authoritarian governments and promoting their propaganda.

Iranian activists outside the country have expressed concern that Douhan will only be allowed to meet with state-approved organizations and individuals. They have also warned that Douhan's findings will likely allow Tehran to blame U.S. sanctions for the country's economic woes while deflecting attention away from government mismanagement and corruption.

'Attempt To Blunt Scrutiny'

"The Islamic republic and its representatives who are talking to you are not representatives of the majority of the Iranian people because they have not attained their current positions in a democratic process," five Iranian activists said in an open letter addressed to Douhan on May 11.

Iranian journalist Kayvan Samimi, lawyer Guiti Purfazel, rights activists Ahmadreza Haeri, filmmaker Sadra Abdollahi, and union activist Jafar Azimzadeh said that the clerical establishment was mostly to blame for the economic hardships that Iranians face, including soaring inflation and rising poverty.

"More than 'unilateral coercive sanctions,' it is the Islamic republic and its institutions that are responsible for economic difficulties and blatant human rights violations," the letter said.

On May 6, a group of 11 human rights groups warned that the Iranian government will try to "instrumentalize" the visit "in a cynical attempt to deflect attention from its well-documented record of human rights violations."

The visit "comes after 17 years of denial of access to any of the 14 UN human rights monitors that have requested to visit the country," the statement said.

"By inviting the only expert whose mandate is to look at external actors' liability for rights violations in the country, Iranian authorities exploit this visit in an inconspicuous attempt to blunt scrutiny of its record of noncooperation with the UN human rights system," said the statement signed by groups including United for Iran, Article 19, and the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center.

Last month, Iranian Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi said Tehran's decision to allow Douhan to visit was a "ploy" to deflect attention away from the "systematic corruption, large-scale embezzlement, as well as the wrong policies of the establishment."

Shirin Ebadi (file photo)
Shirin Ebadi (file photo)

Ebadi had called on the UN to postpone Douhan's trip until Tehran allowed the UN special rapporteur on human rights, Javed Rahman, to travel to the country. In his reports, Rehman has highlighted "grave" human rights violations, including the use of lethal force by security forces, torture and executions, and the negative impact of U.S. sanctions on the human rights of Iranians, including their rights to food and health.

Douhan has not publicly responded to the criticism over her trip. Ahead of her visit, she expressed hope to "gather firsthand information on the impact of unilateral coercive measures on the full realization of all human rights" in Iran.

She also called on "all stakeholders" to submit their response to questions she posted online about the impact of sanctions on human rights in the country, promising that the information will be reviewed for a report she will submit to the UN Human Rights Council in September.

Earlier this week, judicial official Kazem Gharibabadi was quoted by Iranian media as saying that Douhan's visit had been approved at the highest levels of government. "Countries targeted by sanctions must use all available capacities to hold accountable the perpetrators behind unilateral sanctions," he was quoted as saying.

'Many Are Struggling'

Douhan's visit comes amid a standoff in indirect talks between Tehran and Washington aimed at reviving the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers. The agreement limited Iran's sensitive nuclear activities in exchange for sanctions relief.

But former U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the landmark accord in 2018 and reimposed tough economic sanctions on Iran. Tehran reacted by gradually reducing its commitments under the deal.

Iranian officials have repeatedly condemned the "unjust" U.S. sanctions and called for their removal. They have also said that the aim of the sanctions is to cause economic hardship and incite riots.

Some inside the country have blamed the sanctions for empowering the most repressive elements of the clerical establishment, including the powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), which has been behind the arrests of scores of activists and dual nationals in recent years.

Prominent Iranian human rights defender

Iranian activist Narges Mohammadi was briefly released from prison to receive medical care.
Iranian activist Narges Mohammadi was briefly released from prison to receive medical care.

told The Washington Post last month that U.S. sanctions had "weakened Iranians economically more than they weakened the Iranian regime."

"In fact, they strengthened the Iranian regime, and hard-line individuals and groups in the country, including the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps," said Mohammadi, before being sent back to prison to serve an eight-year sentence. "This did not benefit democracy in Iran."

"There's no doubt that sanctions have made our lives more difficult, and many are struggling," a former political prisoner who did not want to be named for fear of retribution told RFE/RL. "Nevertheless, we all know the establishment is repressive with or without sanctions."

At Least 22 Arrested In Iranian Protests Over Food Price Hikes

Iranians reacted to the expected price hikes by taking to the streets in several cities.

Iranian authorities have arrested at least 22 demonstrators protesting against price hikes in subsidized food staples in two cities in the southwest of the country.

President Ebrahim Raisi this week announced a series of economic measures, including cutting subsidies and increasing the prices of several staples, such as flour and cooking oil.

Iranians reacted to the expected price hikes by taking to the streets in several cities in the southwestern province of Khuzestan, the official government news agency IRNA reported on May 13, where the government has reportedly imposed a near-total shutdown of mobile Internet for the past week.

Amateur videos posted on social media showed protests in Dezful and Mahshahr, where protesters chanted against Raisi and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Soaring Bread Prices Trigger Street Protests In Iran
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Some reports suggested that security forces used tear gas to disperse the protesters.

Street protests were also reported in Andimeshk, the capital city of the western province of Chaharmahal and Bakhtiari.

IRNA said 15 people were arrested overnight in Dezful in Khuzestan, as well as seven others in the city of Yasuj in Kohgiluyeh-Boyerahmad Province in the south.

Demonstrators in the southern city of Izeh attacked shops and tried to set fire to a mosque, the report claimed.

Rallies also took place in other cities and in the Fashapuyeh district of Tehran Province, it added.

Speaking on May 9 on state television, Raisi pledged that the price of traditional bread, gasoline, and medicine would remain unchanged.

In order to compensate for the rise in prices, Raisi said direct payments equivalent to approximately $10 or $13 would be disbursed for two months for each family member of low-income households. Later, he said Iranians will be offered electronic coupons that would allow them to access a limited amount of subsidized bread.

Reports suggested that the price of cooking oil had almost quadrupled since Raisi's announcement, while the price of eggs and chicken nearly doubled.

Many Iranians are struggling to make ends meet amid a poor economy crushed by U.S. sanctions and years of mismanagement.

With reporting with AFP and AP

As Bread Costs Skyrocket In Iran, So Does The Risk Of Social Unrest

Iranian bakers are more reliant than ever on foreign grain to make their bread. (file photo)

A dramatic rise in the price of flour in Iran is leading to concerns that the authorities' recent decision to end subsidies for imported wheat could come at the cost of social unrest.

Since the Iranian government ended subsidies for imported wheat on May 1, the cost of flour has soared by around 500 percent and is expected to increase further. With the rising cost of flour, so too has the cost of staple foods like bread and pasta as well as confectioneries and other flour-based products, leading to images of empty shelves at bakeries and groceries.

The suddenness of the situation has led to warnings from lawmakers and loyalists to Iran's clerical regime that mass protests could come next.

The Student Basij, a subgrouping of the Basij militia that is itself a branch of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, issued a stark warning to hard-line President Ebrahim Raisi.

"We strongly inform you that society is not prepared for such a sudden increase in prices at this level," the group said in a May 5 statement. "The turmoil in the markets in recent weeks, and especially the shocking decision by the Agriculture Ministry to increase the price of flour for industrial producers, could have social consequences and unrest."

The statement described the move to end subsidies as a "serious shock" to trades and industries that depended on subsidized wheat and flour, and advised the government to refrain from making such decisions without considering public opinion first.

'A Huge Mistake'

Reformist politician Jalil Rahimi Jahanabadi likewise slammed the decision, taking to Twitter to say that eliminating the subsidies and allowing flour prices to float to dollar-driven global rates "was a huge mistake by the government."

"People's threshold for tolerance," he added, has already "been low for years."

Many Iranians are struggling to make ends meet in an economy that has been crushed by crippling U.S. sanctions and years of mismanagement.

Iranians have been rocked by soaring inflation, which stands at about 40 percent, according to government statistics, and is believed to be even higher for food. Iranian media have reported that the price of rice, a staple whose rising costs in recent years had already driven many consumers to alternatives like bread, has risen by 130 percent. Bean prices, meanwhile, have reportedly soared by 120 percent, and the costs for cooking oil and sugar have also gone up.

To address a growing deficit, Raisi’s cash-strapped administration has looked to cut major government subsidies, including on pharmaceutical drugs.

But the government, which is currently working out Iran's budget for the upcoming year, is also facing stark realities.

Mohammad-Reza Mortazavi, the head of Iran's Flour Producers Association, said on May 2 that the country was more reliant than ever on foreign grain, and would have to import more than 20 million tons of grain in 2022.

Wheat imports account for about one-third of local demand, Mortazavi said, and with global wheat prices skyrocketing amid Russia's invasion of Ukraine, a major wheat exporter, the foreign commodity will not come cheap.

With Ukrainian grain exports hampered due to the war and the reported theft of Ukrainian grain stocks, Mortazavi said that Iran could not expect the rising price of agricultural commodities to fall, and would increasingly turn to "Russia or the Baltic states, and even [Western] Europe" for supplies.

According to the Ports and Maritime Organization, Iran imported around 16.5 million tons of grain last year, about half of which was wheat and the rest was barley, corn, and rice.

Economic Difficulties

Iran is one of the top importers of grain from Russia, one of the world's top wheat producers.

The two countries, each facing economic difficulties and trade barriers due to international sanctions, reportedly agreed in March on a deal that would see Iran import 20 million tons of foodstuffs and livestock fodder -- including vegetable oil, wheat, barley, and corn -- from Russia.

While a hike in subsidies for domestic grain producers is being considered for the next budget, set to the Iranian calendar, it would still mean that local suppliers would receive far less than Tehran is paying for imports.

Mortazavi of the Flour Producers Association said in late April that industrial bakeries and other food producers had been given advance warning about the impending loss of government subsidies, and the effect that the rising cost of flour would have on their products.

Iranians lining up to buy bread at a bakery in Sanandaj.
Iranians lining up to buy bread at a bakery in Sanandaj.

To alleviate concerns about rising prices, a senior Economy Ministry official announced on May 5 that a new program will be introduced under which consumers will be able to receive subsidized bread.

"When people buy bread, they pay the same price as before, and the government will pay for the difference," said Ebrahim Siami, the general director of the ministry's Department of Future Research, Planning, and Management.

Siami did not say when the new program would be launched, although it will reportedly start in the coming days.

The announcement followed Agriculture Minister Seyed Javad Sadatinejad's pledge on May 4 that subsidies would be provided to compensate for the rising costs of flour.

Sadatinejad also echoed comments from other officials that wheat and flour were being smuggled out of the country, alleging that the subsidies had been lining the pockets of foreign neighbors.

'Great Social Upheavals'

Warnings about the threat of public unrest are not unfounded.

Last summer, mass protests over water shortages in western Iran turned deadly. The authorities resorted to force to put down the demonstrations, which took place in multiple cities and lasted for days.

The water shortages, a perennial problem in Iran, are seen as a result of extended drought and government mismanagement of water supplies, which hinder Iran's agriculture industry.

In 2019, the government’s sudden decision to increase gasoline prices triggered protests in more than 100 Iranian cities and towns. The government responded with lethal force, with rights groups recording the deaths of more than 300 protesters and bystanders.

In January, conservative lawmaker Ahmad Naderi warned that the government was taking the wrong path by proposing to cut food subsidies in its efforts to tighten next year's budget.

“I warn that if these approaches continue, we will reach a point where we will see great social upheavals,” he said.

Teachers Protests In Several Iranian Cities; At Least Six Arrested

Rallies were held on May 1 in more than a dozen cities.

Teachers have held protests in several Iranian cities on May Day, which coincided with Teachers’ Day in Iran.

Ahead of the protests, the Iranian Teachers Trade Unions Coordination Council said authorities arrested at least four union activists in Tehran on April 30. Three other activists were reportedly arrested in the western city of Marivan, while a number were reportedly summoned in other cities.

Rallies were held on May 1 in more than a dozen cities, including Shiraz, Arak, Kermanshah, and Sanandaj, where teachers demanded better labor conditions and the release of their jailed colleagues.

In the southern port of Bushehr, reports said police reportedly used force against protesters and arrested at least six teachers who had joined the protests.

Teachers have in recent months taken to the streets on several occasions to protest their conditions and demand higher wages. They have also called on the government to speed up the implementation of reforms that would see their salaries better reflect their experience and performance.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on April 29 that Iranian workers are facing mounting economic and political challenges to realizing their labor rights.

The rights group said that, since March, Iranian authorities have increased their harassment of active members of the Iranian Teachers Trade Association, which has been leading nationwide protests for fair wages for the past three years.

“Iranian labor activists have been at the forefront of the struggle for the rights to free association and assembly in Iran, and they have paid a heavy price from government repression,” Tara Sepehri Far, senior Iran researcher at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement on April 29.

“Iranian authorities should recognize the rights of labor unions and engage in meaningful efforts to address the country’s mounting economic problems,” she added.

Teachers Protest Again In Several Iranian Cities, With 30 Reportedly Detained

Hundreds of teachers protested across Iran on April 21 to demand fair pay, adjustment of pensions, and the release of detained colleagues.

Teachers have taken to the streets of several cities in Iran, including the capital, Tehran, to demand fair wages, better working conditions, and the release of their jailed colleagues.

Reports suggest that the protests on April 21 were held under tight security.

Amateur video posted online showed protesters in Shiraz chanting: “Imprisoned teachers must be released.”

The Iranian Teachers Trade Unions Coordination Council reported on Telegram that at least 30 protesters were detained in the protests on April 21.

Teachers have in recent months taken to the streets on several occasions to protest their conditions and demand higher wages. They have also called on the government to speed up the implementation of reforms that would see their salaries better reflect their experience and performance.

On April 19, a court in Iran sentenced Rasoul Bodaghi, a member of the teachers' union and a civic activist, to five years in prison after convicting him of illegal assembly and propaganda. Bodaghi was also banned for two years from living in Tehran or leaving the country, his lawyer said.

The New York-based Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) said Bodaghi had been sentenced solely for "peaceful activism.”

CHRI has called on Iran to allow teachers to exercise their right to public protest without the threat of violence or arbitrary arrest.

With reporting by AFP

As Iran's Effort To Resume Car Imports Stalls, Consumers Forced To Buy Domestic 'Death Wagons' 

Five people were killed in a massive pileup in Behbahan in January in which it is said that the airbags in nearly 60 Iranian vehicles failed to deploy.

With demand surging for new automobiles in Iran, the government took steps last year to reverse a long-standing ban on the import of foreign cars. But while the move was seen as a road to meeting customer needs, the initiative has mysteriously stalled.

The situation leaves consumers with little choice but to keep waiting in line for the opportunity to buy domestically produced vehicles in support of an industry accused of rampant corruption and putting "death wagons" on the road.

Iran banned the import of Western passenger cars in 2017 to counter the impending reimposition of U.S. sanctions over its nuclear program. The idea was part of Tehran's efforts to develop a "resistance economy" that could both serve Iranians' demands for cars, lessen dependence on foreign technology, and potentially boost export revenue.

But the idea has not worked as planned.

Auto production has fallen significantly in the country. And despite growing complaints about abnormally high prices and concerns about the quality and safety of domestically produced cars and Chinese imports, there are far more potential customers than available vehicles.

Aging fleets are hampering Iran's transport and busing sectors.
Aging fleets are hampering Iran's transport and busing sectors.

To alleviate the problem, parliament in the new budget allocated funds for the import of 70,000 Western passenger cars, including 20,000 hybrid or electric vehicles. But after revisions were demanded by the Guardians Council, which must approve all proposed legislation, the clause regarding the import of Western passenger vehicles was omitted, with little explanation.

With vehicle production flagging, and aging fleets hampering the transport and busing sectors, getting the automotive industry back on track was seen as one of ultraconservative President Ebrahim Raisi's major challenges.

Since taking office in August, Raisi has tried to rally auto workers, including during a visit to the Pars Khodro auto factory, which has suffered production halts after the pullout of its French partner Renault due to U.S. sanctions that were reimposed by Washington in 2018.

During his speech at the factory in the city of Shiraz on March 2, Raisi criticized extraordinarily high car prices and outlined a raft of planned fixes for the domestic industry, including a 50 percent increase in car production over the next year, the transfer of government management of auto companies to the private sector, and the incorporation of technology and know-how from the defense and space industries into automobile production, including electric and self-driving vehicles.

He also blasted the poor quality of domestic cars, many of which are derived from old foreign models and have been criticized for shoddy engineering that has led to drivers' deaths.

The aftermath of the Behbahan pileup. "What kinds of cars do we have? Why do we produce death wagons?" asked traffic police chief Kamal Hadianfar.
The aftermath of the Behbahan pileup. "What kinds of cars do we have? Why do we produce death wagons?" asked traffic police chief Kamal Hadianfar.

In a high-profile case in the city of Behbahan, in the country's southwestern province of Khuzestan, investigators determined, following a massive pileup in January, that the airbags in nearly 60 Iranian vehicles had failed to deploy, resulting in five deaths.

"What kinds of cars do we have? Why do we produce death wagons?" asked traffic police chief Kamal Hadianfar, referring to a commonly used description of Iranian cars. "Why are standards not met?"

Other domestically produced vehicles have performed poorly in crash and stability tests, and some are reportedly prone to catching fire.

The industry also faces persistent allegations of corruption owing to a complex "car mafia" that critics say was formed under the pretext of circumventing U.S. sanctions and has thrived under Iran's domestic monopoly and lack of government oversight.

Smuggled BMWs and other brands in Iran, where the import of Western passenger cars was banned in 2017.
Smuggled BMWs and other brands in Iran, where the import of Western passenger cars was banned in 2017.

In one ongoing case, top executives of two major parts manufacturers are accused of paying out bribes to trade and safety authorities to keep foreign vehicles from being imported, and to maintain the production of antiquated car models. The circumvention of proper inspections, according to Iranian media, allowed substandard parts to be imported from China and sold as Iranian-made at engineered prices.

Carmakers have also been accused of stockpiling new cars and favoring specific dealerships within their networks to sell them at higher prices.

The reintroduction of foreign car imports was seen as way of both improving the pool of quality automobiles and meeting consumer demand, while also boosting revenue for Iran's struggling economy. The measure would have allowed the importation of vehicles costing less than 25,000 euros (about $27,000), which would have been heavily taxed.

But while the importation of much-needed trucks and buses was entered into the next budget proposal, the clause regarding passenger cars did not make it through.

In offering an explanation, parliament speaker Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf said that while the objections of the Guardians Council had been addressed, new concerns were raised by the Expediency Council, which mediates between the Guardians Council and parliament and serves as an advisory body to the supreme leader.

If the objections cannot be worked out, the importation of passenger cars will reportedly be nixed.

"Some interests are tied to the interests of the carmakers and they do not allow this monopoly to be broken," alleged Jalal Rashidi Kochi, a member of the parliamentary Internal Affairs and Councils Commission.

Iranians Express Alarm As Drug Prices Skyrocket Amid Plan To Cut Major Subsidy

"Medication is not something you can live without," a Tehran resident said. "Many people may not be able to afford medicine anymore." (file photo)

Prices of pharmaceutical drugs have skyrocketed in Iran amid plans by the cash-strapped government to cut a major subsidy.

Since the government of ultraconservative President Ebrahim Raisi first announced its plans in September, the cost of some essential drugs has more than quadrupled.

Prices are likely to surge further when the government officially cuts the subsidy, a prospect that has triggered alarm and anger in Iran. Many Iranians are already struggling to make ends meet in a decimated economy that has been crushed by crippling U.S. sanctions and years of mismanagement.

In 2018, then-President Hassan Rohani approved a subsidy that allocated billions in subsidized dollars for Iranian manufacturers to import essential food and medicine. The aim was to control prices even as the value of Iran's national currency tanked after the United States reimposed sanctions against Tehran. Critics said the subsidy led to corruption and failed to curb inflation.

But there are fears that the lifting of the subsidy will lead to Iranian drug companies hiking prices. While domestic manufacturers supply most of the country's drugs, much of the raw material used is imported. Iran also imports most drugs needed for the treatment of life-threatening conditions like cancer and heart disease.

"Medication is not something you can live without," a Tehran resident who did not want to be named told RFE/RL's Radio Farda. "Many people may not be able to afford medicine anymore. But they will be forced to buy them at any price just to save their lives."

'Quietly Removed'

Last month, Iran's parliament voted in favor of cutting the subsidy. State media reported that it would save Raisi's government, which came to power in August, around $9 billion annually.

But there has been confusion over whether the government has already cut the subsidy.

Health Minister Bahram Eynollahi said on March 26 that Iranian manufacturers were no longer receiving subsidized dollars to import raw materials.

But just hours later, the head of the public relations office at the Health Ministry contradicted Eynollahi, saying a final decision to cut the subsidy had not been made.

Since the government of ultraconservative President Ebrahim Raisi first announced its plans to cut a major medical subsidy, the cost of some essential drugs has more than quadrupled. (file photo)
Since the government of ultraconservative President Ebrahim Raisi first announced its plans to cut a major medical subsidy, the cost of some essential drugs has more than quadrupled. (file photo)

On April 3, Bahram Daraei, the head of Iran's Food and Drug Administration, also said that the subsidy had not been eliminated.

Amid the confusion and uncertainty, the prices of essential drugs have continued to surge. That has led to speculation that the government has lifted the subsidy without informing the public.

A pharmacist told the Ensafnews news site that the price of some drugs had increased by 250 percent.

"The changes in prices are quite obvious," the unnamed pharmacist said in February. "It means that the subsidized currency for medicine has been quietly removed."

He suggested that profiteering was also behind the price hike.

"Recently, some individuals such as old men and women come to the pharmacy with fake prescriptions. They buy medicine and deliver them to those who collect them and sell them to pharmacies at several times the price," the pharmacist added.

While domestic manufacturers supply most of the country's drugs, much of the raw materials used is imported. (file photo)
While domestic manufacturers supply most of the country's drugs, much of the raw materials used is imported. (file photo)

In an interview with Radio Farda, another pharmacist in Tehran confirmed that prices for some drugs and medical supplies had soared in recent months. The price of an inhaler, he said, had increased fivefold.

Daraei admitted that the cost of drugs had increased by around 30 percent over the past year. He blamed the price hikes on budget cuts made by the Rohani administration and the trafficking of drugs to neighboring countries.

'Act of Mass Murder'

Iranians have expressed fear that the lifting of the subsidy could mean a death sentence for millions of people, making it virtually impossible for them to access potentially life-saving medications.

“This is [a deliberate] act of mass murder,” student activist Leila Hoseinzade said on Twitter in late March. “Patients in this country are the weakest [segment of] the population and they’re now being officially sent to the gas chamber.”

Iranians have witnessed rising prices and faced shortages of life-saving medicine -- including drugs for cancer treatment and insulin -- in recent years due to corruption and U.S. sanctions.

U.S. sanctions imposed on Iran exclude food and medicine. But in practice, the restrictions have made it difficult for Tehran to purchase some drugs, according to Human Rights Watch.

U.S. Imposes Sanctions Aimed At Iran's Ballistic-Missile Program

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks to the press in Algiers on March 30.

The United States has imposed sanctions on an Iran-based procurement agent and his network of companies for providing assistance to Iran's ballistic-missile program, the Treasury Department has said.

The Treasury said Mohammad Ali Hosseini and the companies procured ballistic-missile-propellant-related materials for a unit of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) that is responsible for the research and development of ballistic missiles.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement said the United States took the action following the Iranian missile attack on Irbil, Iraq, and attacks by Iranian proxies against Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

The IRGC claimed responsibility for the March 13 attack on Irbil, which targeted the U.S. Consulate's new building and the neighboring residential area but caused only material damage. One civilian was injured, Kurdish officials said at the time.

The attacks were "a reminder that Iran's development and proliferation of ballistic missiles pose a serious threat to regional and international security," Blinken said.

The sanctions freeze any U.S. assets of those targeted and generally bar Americans from dealing with them. Those that engage in certain transactions with them also risk being hit with sanctions, the Treasury said.

The Iranian mission to the United Nations did not immediately respond to a request for comment, Reuters reported.

Blinken, who is on a tour of the Middle East, said the United States will "continue to use every tool at our disposal to disrupt them."

Speaking in Algeria, he told reporters that he assured Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Muhammad bin Zayed al-Nahyan in Morocco the day before of Washington's support against attacks from the Iran-aligned Huthis in Yemen and welcomed the U.A.E.'s support for a truce in Yemen that could lead to a cease-fire.

Blinken said energy was not a focus of the talks even though Washington wants Persian Gulf states to increase oil production to tame rising crude prices, partly caused by Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

With reporting by AP and Reuters

Iran's Revolutionary Guards Called For Travel Ban On Ex-Oil Officials To Prevent Disclosure Of Sanctions-Evading Tactics

The Iranian flag flies in front of the International Atomic Energy Agency's headquarters in Vienna, where several rounds of talks have been held aimed at reviving the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers.

Iran's powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) last year urged the judiciary to issue travel bans against several oil officials for fear they could expose the "secret" tactics Tehran has used to evade U.S. sanctions and sell its oil, according to a leaked confidential document.

The “highly confidential” IRGC document was leaked to the London-based Iran International television station by Edalat-e Ali (Ali's Justice), a hacktivist group that has previously disclosed secret documents and videos to Persian-language media outside the country, including RFE/RL's Radio Farda.

RFE/RL could not independently verify the authenticity of the document, which was written by the feared intelligence branch of the IRGC.

The eight-page text contains the names and national identification numbers of 37 mid-ranking officials and managers, including from the Oil Ministry as well as two state-owned companies, the National Iranian Oil Company and the National Iranian Tanker Company.

The document, dated September 6, 2021, addresses Tehran prosecutor Ali Alghasi-Mehr and cites the reasons the officials and managers should be banned from traveling abroad. They include preventing the individuals from revealing "secret information" about how Iran circumvents U.S. sanctions to sell its oil as well as alleged corruption and bribery.

The officials that are named were employed by the administration of former President Hassan Rohani, a relative moderate. Iran’s presidential election last June brought to power an ultraconservative government led by President Ebrahim Raisi.

Former Iranian President Hassan Rohani (left) stands as he hands over the powers of his office to ultraconservative Ebrahim Raisi (right) in Tehran in August 2021.
Former Iranian President Hassan Rohani (left) stands as he hands over the powers of his office to ultraconservative Ebrahim Raisi (right) in Tehran in August 2021.

It was unclear if the dozens of officials named in the leaked IRGC document retained their posts or were dismissed by the new government.

The leaked document appears to highlight the IRGC’s mistrust of Rohani’s administration, which reached the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers and attempted to improve ties with the West.

An official from the National Iranian Oil Company named in the leaked document is accused of hiring dual nationals, who are viewed with suspicion by the IRGC. Several dual nationals have been arrested and convicted on espionage charges in recent years.

The IRGC accuses another oil official of “multilayered contacts with infiltration networks” and the Washington-based National Iranian American Council (NIAC), which says it aims to give a voice to the Iranian-American community.

An official with the Nikoo Oil Company, a subsidiary of the National Iranian Oil Company, is accused of being a potential troublemaker due to his access to “secret information” as well as his brother’s alleged ties to circles affiliated with the Mujahedin Khalq Organization (MKO), an exiled opposition group. The IRGC also cites the official’s “numerous nonbusiness trips outside the country” as well as his family’s residence in Spain.

Evading Sanctions

Iran’s hard-liners accused Rohani’s government of being under the influence of Western ideas.

Rohani, who came to power in 2013, pledged to improve Iran’s relations with the West. In 2015, his government signed an agreement with world powers that curbed Tehran’s nuclear activities in exchange for the lifting of international sanctions.

In 2018, then-U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew Washington from the deal and reimposed crippling sanctions against Iran, including its key energy sector.

Despite the punitive measures, Tehran continues to sell a limited supply of its oil, mostly to China. Iran has also used covert and illicit methods, including disguising the origins of its exports, hiding its shipping activities, and changing the names of vessels.

Washington has tried to prevent Tehran exporting oil by seizing Iranian oil tankers and sanctioning shipping companies. Washington has also reportedly reached out to China about cutting its oil purchases from Iran.

For nearly a year, Iran and world powers have been locked in negotiations aimed at reviving the nuclear deal and lifting sanctions that have crippled Iran’s economy.

A meeting of the various delegations at the nuclear talks in Vienna. (file photo)
A meeting of the various delegations at the nuclear talks in Vienna. (file photo)

Iran’s Oil Minister Javad Owji said on March 12 that the United States’ seizure of Iranian oil tankers in recent months has failed to stop Tehran’s oil exports.

“The United States has on several occasions in the past months violated Iranian oil tankers to prevent the export of shipments," Javad Owji said in an interview carried by Iranian media.

"When the enemy realized it could not stop our exports and contracts, they went after our ships," Owji said.

Iranian oil exports increased to more than 1 million barrels per day for the first time in almost three years, Reuters reported in February, citing estimates from companies that track the flows.

A number of confidential documents and audio recordings have been leaked in recent months that have served to highlight the intensifying power struggle in Iran amid the country’s nuclear negotiations with the West.

Last year, leaked audio comments from former Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif about the IRGC’s interference in foreign policy caused a political storm in the country.

Khamenei Says 'Wrong Decisions' Also Behind Iran's Economic Woes

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (file photo)

Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei said on January 30 that government mismanagement has contributed to Iran's economic woes, an acknowledgement of problems more frequently blamed on U.S. and other international sanctions.

But the remarks by the hard-line Khamenei, who holds ultimate religious and political authority in Iran, appeared aimed at criticizing a previous government of relative moderates rather than signaling official contrition.

In a meeting with economic officials, he cited "GDP growth, capital formation, inflation, housing and liquidity growth" as "not satisfactory" in the decade between 2011 and 2021.

"The main cause of these problems is not only sanctions, but also wrong decisions and shortcomings," Khamenei said.

Iran was targeted by increasingly tough sanctions by the United Nations, as well as the United States and other countries, before a deal with major world powers to curb Tehran's sensitive nuclear activities in exchange for sanctions relief in 2015.

The United States withdrew from that deal in 2018 and reimposed stringent sanctions that battered Iran's economy and its currency.

No Money For A Sack Of Rice: Iranians Describe Crushing Impact Of Inflation
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Officials within Iran's conservative-dominated power structure routinely chalk up tough policies and widespread hardship on international enemies.

"If the authorities had cooperated more with the producers in these 10 years, the damage would have been less, and the successes would have been greater," Khamenei said.

It was an allusion to actions under ex-President Hassan Rohani, who helped push for the nuclear deal and served the maximum two terms before he was succeeded by hard-line former prosecutor Ebrahim Raisi.

U.S. President Joe Biden came to office a year ago seeking a return to the 2015 nuclear deal, but international talks aimed at reviving the so-called Joint Comprehensive Plan Of Action (JCPOA) foundered after Raisi's election before restarting briefly.

They are now mostly stagnant.

French President Emmanuel Macron reportedly told Raisi via telephone on January 29 that that the JCPOA can be revived but the talks must be accelerated and Iran must return to compliance.

In his criticism, Khamenei cited the poor quality of vehicles and other domestically manufactured products, as well as ineffective subsidies in the face of rising prices.

Civil servants have been among protesters to take to Iranian streets in recent weeks to express frustration at economic conditions.

Based on reporting by AFP

Iran, China Launch Cooperation Pact, As Beijing Slams U.S. Sanctions On Tehran

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi (file photo)

China has repeated its opposition to U.S. sanctions against Iran while announcing that Beijing and Tehran have launched a 25-year cooperation deal aimed at bolstering economic and political ties.

In a meeting on January 14 in the city of Wuxi, in Jiangsu Province, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi also backed efforts to revive a 2015 nuclear deal between major powers and Iran.

A summary of the meeting between Wang and Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian was posted on China's Foreign Ministry website on January 15.

Wang said the United States was primarily to blame for the ongoing difficulties with Tehran, having unilaterally withdrawn from a 2015 nuclear deal between the major powers and Iran.

Under the terms of that deal, Iran agreed to curb its nuclear program in return for the lifting of international sanctions.

The United States reimposed sanctions that badly damaged Iran's economy after withdrawing from the nuclear pact in 2018, saying the terms did not do enough to curb Iran's nuclear activities, ballistic-missile program, and regional influence.

A year later, Iran began to gradually breach the accord, rebuilding stockpiles of enriched uranium, refining it to higher fissile purity, and installing advanced centrifuges to speed up output.

China and Iran, both subject to U.S. sanctions, signed the 25-year cooperation agreement in March 2021, bringing Iran into China's Belt and Road Initiative, a multi-trillion-dollar infrastructure scheme intended to stretch from East Asia to Europe.

The project aims to significantly expand China's economic and political influence and has raised concerns in the United States and elsewhere.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry summary said the agreement would deepen Sino-Iranian cooperation in areas including energy, infrastructure, agriculture, health care, and culture, as well as cybersecurity and cooperation with other countries.

The announcement of the implementation of the pact comes as talks continue in Vienna on reviving the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.

A source close to the negotiations said on January 14 that many issues in several areas remain unresolved in indirect talks between Iran and the United States.

"In every single part of the [unfinished] paper [outlining a deal], there are issues that are still under consideration," the source told reporters, adding that while negotiations are moving in the right direction, they "do not have all the time in the world.”

With reporting by Reuters and AFP

Iran's Parliament Approves Pay Rise For Teachers After Widespread Protests

Iranian teachers protest their low incomes in Qom last month.

Iran's parliament passed legislation on December 15 to raise teachers' salaries following several days of countrywide protests and a strike that impacted the Islamic republic's education system.

The legislation had initially obtained emergency approval on December 14 following a three-day strike by thousands of teachers and educators that culminated with hundreds of demonstrators gathering in front of the parliament building in Tehran on December 13 to protest unfair labor conditions. Police used violence against the strikers and arrested several people.

Measures passed by legislators on December 15 guarantee that teachers will earn about 80 percent of the salaries of university faculty members, one of the protesters' demands.

Lawmaker Alireza Monadi, who heads parliament's education committee, told the semiofficial Iranian Labour News Agency (ILNA) that a teacher would earn a minimum of about 80 million rials ($267) per month if the legislation is enacted, compared with an average of around 60 million rials now.

Education Minister Yousef Nouri promised on December 14 that the law, which had been repeatedly introduced in parliament in recent years but failed to pass, would be swiftly implemented after its approval, the state news agency IRNA reported.

During rallies held in several cities outside Tehran, teachers also demanded the release of colleagues detained by police, according to Iranian news outlets and rights groups.

"I have no information how many were arrested but I will definitely follow up the cases of arrested teachers," Monadi was quoted as saying by ILNA.

In recent months, teachers and other educators have reportedly taken to the streets of Tehran, Yazd, Shiraz, Qom, Kerman, and dozens of other cities across Iran to protest against the failure by the government and lawmakers to fulfill their promises to improve their livelihoods.

Security forces have sometimes responded using heavy-handed tactics and arresting some participants.

The wave of protests come amid high unemployment and soaring inflation exceeding 40 percent over the past year as the impact of government mismanagement and financial sanctions imposed by the United States over Iran’s nuclear program cripple the economy.

​With reporting by Reuters

Violence Reported As Iranian Teachers Protest For Higher Pay

Iranian teachers protest for better pay in Tehran on December 13.

Teachers and educators in Iran are on strike for a third day in a row demanding salary rises, with police violence reported against protesters in Tehran.

Hundreds of protesters gathered in front of the parliament building on December 13 to protest against what they consider unfair labor conditions, and to demand the release of one of their colleagues who was detained during a similar demonstration two days earlier.

Video posted on social media showed scuffles during the rally as security forces apparently tried to detain one of the protesters.

Rasoul Bodaghi, a civil activist and member of the teachers union, was said to have been beaten by officers during his arrest on December 11.

In recent months, teachers and other educators have reportedly taken to the streets of Tehran, Yazd, Shiraz, Qom, Kerman, and dozens of other cities across Iran to protest against the failure of the government and lawmakers to fulfill their promises to improve their situations.

Security forces sometimes responded using heavy-handed tactics and arresting protesters.

The wave of protests come amid soaring inflation as the impact of government mismanagement and financial sanctions imposed by the United States over Iran's nuclear program decimate the economy.

Iran's Power Company Warns Of Cuts Due To Illegal Cryptocurrency Mining

Cryptocurrency operations are an enormous energy drain because they use banks of high-powered computers to try to unlock complex numerical puzzles related to international financial transactions. (file photo)

Iran's state electricity company has warned that illicit cryptocurrency miners in the country could cause new power cuts this winter.

Illegal cryptocurrency mining will account for at least "10 percent of electricity outages this winter", the power company said in an October 10 statement published by the official government news agency IRNA.

Such illegal mining was responsible for 20 percent of blackouts over the summer, the statement added.

Iranian officials have repeatedly blamed unlicensed cryptocurrency miners for using vast amounts of electricity -- draining the power grid and raising air pollution levels in many cities.

The operations are an enormous energy drain because they use banks of high-powered computers to try to unlock complex numerical puzzles related to international financial transactions.

Iranian news agencies have reported frequent police raids on "illegal farms" for cryptocurrency.

Blockchain analytics firm Elliptic estimates that around 4.5 percent of global bitcoin mining takes place in Iran, allowing the country to earn hundreds of millions of dollars in cryptocurrencies that can be used to bypass U.S. sanctions, which have crippled the country’s economy.

Based on reporting by AFP, Reuters, and IRNA

Raisi Tells First Cabinet Meeting That Iran Is 'Seriously Lagging Behind' As Virus Woes Mount

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi made his remarks during the first meeting of his cabinet in Tehran on August 26.

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi says the country is "seriously lagging behind" in certain social and economic areas and the government must act to "improve people's livelihoods" as the country grapples with a surge in coronavirus cases.

Speaking on August 26 at the start of his first cabinet meeting since the government was approved by parliament a day earlier, Raisi acknowledged that the situation in the country "must certainly change."

Iran has struggled to control the COVID-19 pandemic with officials blaming the more contagious Delta variant for the country's "fifth wave" of coronavirus infections.

Critics, however, point to a decision earlier this year to ban the import of vaccines made by the United States, Britain, and France, because they could cause "unknown and irreversible complications."

The move has helped cause the country's vaccination drive to lag far behind expectations and Raisi, an ultraconservative, vowed to increase vaccine imports and boost local production, saying efforts so far have been "necessary but not enough." He did not give any details of his plans.

Iranian authorities have approved the emergency use of two domestically developed vaccines, but the only mass-produced one, COVIran Barekat, is in short supply.

More than 16.3 million people out of the country's 83 million inhabitants have been given a first vaccine dose, but only 5.4 million have received the second, the Health Ministry said on August 20.

In addition to the coronavirus outbreak, which has hit Iran harder than any other country in the Middle East and continues to wrack up daily records for deaths and new cases, Raisi said the government must rein in inflation as the impact of financial sanctions imposed by Washington decimates the economy.

Iran President Says His Proposed Cabinet Will Focus On Coronavirus, Economy

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi

Recently elected Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi has said his government will place a priority on fighting COVID-19.

"The government's first priority is controlling the coronavirus, improving the health situation, and widespread vaccination," Raisi said on August 21 as parliament began debating the conservative leader's male-only cabinet choices.

"The economy and the livelihood situation is the second" priority, he said.

Infection and death rates owing to the coronavirus pandemic have hit record highs in Iran this month, with more than 4.5 million cases and more than 100,000 fatalities.

Officials have blamed the more contagious Delta variant for the country's "fifth wave" of coronavirus infections.

Raisi has tapped Bahram Eynollahi to be his health minister, describing the 63-year-old optometrist as "a figure who can rally forces in the fight against coronavirus."

Eynollahi has been identified as a signatory to a January open letter that warned against importing vaccines made by the United States, Britain, and France, alleging they could cause "unknown and irreversible complications."

More than 16.3 million people out of the country's 83 million inhabitants have been given a first vaccine dose, but only 5.4 million have received the second, the Health Ministry said on August 20.

Based on reporting by AFP