Iran Project

Iran Update, March 14, 2023

The Iranian government is prioritizing mandatory veiling amidst poor economic conditions, recent student poisonings, and heightened protest activity. President Ebrahim Raisi discussed protecting “the culture of chastity and hijab in society” during a speech commemorating Martyrs’ Day on March 14. Raisi reiterated that Iran’s external enemies are responsible for the recent student poisonings and claimed that Iran can overcome its problems by “relying on God.” The Parliamentary Cultural Committee separately published a report on chastity and hijab on March 14 emphasizing using an “indirect and intelligent approach” to enforce veiling as opposed to “physical confrontation.” The Cultural Committee added that it held meetings with the Law Enforcement Command (LEC) to “review and follow up" on this organization’s “problems.” The government’s “intelligent” approach involves--among other measures--placing responsibility for hijab enforcement on individuals such as shopkeepers as well as using facial recognition technology to identify unveiled women. This approach—despite government claims—is, in fact, confrontational. While security forces may not physically confront unveiled women, using facial recognition technology violates their privacy, and the penalties the regime has discussed levying can prompt confrontations of various sorts. Iranian authorities have additionally shut down many stores, pharmacies, and restaurants where the owners of these spaces neglected to enforce veiling among female customers in recent months. Recent reports by Bloomberg and NPR also suggest that a growing number of Iranian women in urban centers are defying the mandatory hijab law on a daily basis. If this trend continues, the regime may have to decide in the near future whether to confront this outwardly defiant segment of the population.

Iran Update, March 13, 2023

The Iranian regime is preparing to deploy its security services to deter and likely crack down on the planned demonstrations during the upcoming Iranian holidays. Several judicial and security authorities have in recent days discussed announced deployments and threatened citizens who protest during the upcoming Chahar Shanbeh Souri holiday on March 15, during which Iranians commonly gather in public and use fireworks. Iranian leaders likely fear that the holiday celebrations could catalyze anti-regime demonstrations. Tehran Provincial Law Enforcement Commander Brigadier General Abbas Ali Mohammadian reiterated the regime’s plans to securitize on March 13, stating that security forces will be deployed throughout Tehran starting on March 14 to confront “those who disturb the peace.” An Esfahan provincial prosecutor threatened draconian measures against potential protesters during the upcoming holiday, including a prison sentence of up to one year as well as 74 lashes. South Khorasan Law Enforcement Commander Colonel Alireza Abbasi stated that “police surveillance cameras [and] patrols will closely monitor” and confront reckless drivers during Chahar Shanbeh Souri, threatening to seize vehicles in the event of traffic violations. That the Law Enforcement Command (LEC) can so readily deploy the surveillance equipment to confront traffic violations which was apparently failing during the recent countrywide campaign to poison schoolchildren, indicates that the regime tolerated the campaign, as CTP previously reported. IRGC-affiliated Tasnim News Agency furthermore published two articles on March 13 outlining the potential dangers and growing cultural insignificance of Chahar Shanbeh Souri, likely as part of the regime effort to dissuade citizens from celebrating the holiday.

Iran Update, March 10, 2023

The Iranian regime is continuing efforts to dissuade Iranian citizens from celebrating Chahar Shanbeh Souri to forestall potential protests on that holiday. Iranians traditionally celebrate Chahar Shanbeh Souri—the last Wednesday of the Persian calendar year—by gathering in streets and jumping over fires. The regime fears that the combination of celebratory gatherings, fires, and a generally lively atmosphere on this holiday will create an environment conducive to unrest. Friday prayer leaders throughout Iran used their sermons on March 10 to discourage celebrations for Chahar Shanbeh Souri. Tehran Interim Friday Prayer Leader Ahmad Khatami warned Iranians during his sermon that many people have “lost their lives, eyes, and limbs” while celebrating Chahar Shanbeh Souri. Khatami added that this holiday is an “unwise custom” and called on Iranian youth to listen to his “heartfelt speech.” Sanandaj Friday Prayer Leader Mamosta Faegh Rostami separately warned that Iranians should not allow the “fleeting pleasures” of Chahar Shanbeh Souri to cause a “lifetime of regret” during his sermon. Abadan Friday Prayer Leader Abdol Hossein Ghobishavi additionally called on parents to “manage” their children on Chahar Shanbeh Souri, echoing Law Enforcement Commander Brigadier General Ahmad Reza Radan’s warning to parents on March 7 that they must control their children’s “enthusiasm” during this holiday. This coordinated rhetoric from Friday prayer leaders suggests that Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and his inner circle are directing this messaging campaign. Friday prayer leaders receive guidance for the content of their Friday sermons from the Office of the Supreme Leader. The regime’s continuing efforts to prevent Chahar Shanbeh Souri festivities validate CTP’s previous assessment that the regime is using the recent chemical attacks to set conditions to securitize the country ahead of major national holidays.

Iran Update, March 8, 2023

The Iranian regime has validated CTP’s previous assessment that it is using the recent chemical attacks to set conditions to securitize the country ahead of major national holidays. Law Enforcement Commander Brigadier General Ahmad Reza Radan announced the establishment of a headquarters to manage the upcoming Iranian New Years’ celebration with the slogan “a different [new year] with a powerful and professional police” on March 7. Although the Law Enforcement Command (LEC) organizes headquarters such as this one annually, the rhetoric Radan used in discussing this years’ celebrations placed heavy emphasis on security and confronting protesters. Radan stated on March 7 that the LEC will not permit citizens to celebrate Chahar Shanbeh Souri—a festival that precedes Nowrouz—the Iranian New Years’ holiday—on the last Wednesday of the Persian calendar—in “city squares.” He added that celebrations must remain confined to “neighborhoods and alleys.” This indicates the regime seeks to keep the holiday celebrations out of city centers where antiregime protesters typically gather for large demonstrations. Iranian officials also have repeatedly described the youth who comprised a core demographic in the recent Mahsa Amini protests as easily excitable. Radan also implicitly warned parents to control their children, stating that “families must remain near their children” during the holidays and “keep an eye on [their children's] enthusiasm.” This suggests the regime seeks to convince parents to restrain their children from protesting.

Iran Update, March 7, 2023

CTP assesses with moderate confidence that the Iranian regime is using the recent chemical attacks throughout Iran to set conditions to securitize the country ahead of major national holidays. A coordinated, countrywide campaign to poison primarily schoolgirls has been ongoing since November 2022, as CTP previously reported. Regardless of whether the regime had any involvement in or knowledge of the attacks, it appears to be using these attacks to justify an increased security presence throughout Iran. There are signs that the Law Enforcement Command (LEC) has already deployed to areas around schools across Iran. LEC spokesperson Brigadier General Saeed Montazer al Mahdi announced on March 6 that the LEC has increased its patrols near schools and universities. Social media users circulated footage on March 7 showing LEC patrol vehicles near one girls’ school in Kowsar County, Ardabil Province. Both Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and President Ebrahim Raisi called on intelligence and law enforcement organizations to identify and apprehend the perpetrators of the recent attacks on March 7. Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Commander Major General Hossein Salami noted on March 7 that the IRGC is prepared to “guarantee the security of the country” and “deal seriously with the agents causing psychological insecurity among Iranian families.” Several LEC officials indicated that the LEC will mobilize to address the ”threats” posed by the upcoming holiday celebrations to ”public peace” and the ”environment” and that they will be prepared to make arrests. Iranians will be participating in the Chahar Shanbeh Souri holiday on March 15, which involves the symbolic act of jumping over fires in celebration of the upcoming new year. Iranians will also celebrate Nowrouz (the Persian new year celebration) on March 20, which commonly involves gathering their families around a Haft Sin table and sharing gifts with one another.

Iran Update, March 5, 2023

ISW and CTP are publishing a special edition today in response to the dramatic escalation in poisonings of Iranian schoolgirls on March 4 and 5. We will resume regular updates on March 6. The Iranian regime has permitted the country-wide, coordinated attacks on Iranian schoolgirls to escalate. Between March 4 and March 5 alone, there were at least 300 attacks across 16 provinces, a significant increase from the 46 reported poisoning attacks on March 2 and the other sporadic attacks from November 30, 2022, onward. The nature of these attacks, targeting primarily schoolgirls in urban areas who report similar symptoms, escalating over a period of four months, indicates that this is an organized and deliberate campaign, as CTP has previously assessed.

Iran Update, March 3, 2023

Prominent Sunni cleric Moulana Abdol Hamid suggested that the Iranian regime may be responsible for or complicit in the recent chemical attacks on schoolgirls across the country. Abdol Hamid characterized the attacks as “a form of protest suppression” meant to target children who protested against the regime. Abdol Hamid also suggested that the regime has been unwilling to protect these schoolgirls due to their protest participation. He furthermore suggested that the regime knows who is responsible for the attacks and has lied to the public about them. Abdol Hamid thus criticized regime leadership for engaging in the great “sin” of lying, stating that “the worst ruler is the one who lies to their nation.” CTP previously reported that the regime has failed to take appropriate measures necessary to protect these schools and assessed with moderate confidence that a network of individuals whom the regime tolerates has coordinated the attacks.

Iran Update, March 3, 2023

The Iranian regime has apparently failed to take measures to protect schools following 46 separate reports of chemical poisonings targeting schoolgirls throughout the country on March 1. Social media users documented additional attacks on a girls’ schools and a dormitory in Ardabil and Alborz Provinces respectively on March 2. Iranian officials, media outlets, and the clerical establishment expressed alarm at ongoing attacks targeting Iranian schoolchildren on March 2. Vice President for Women and Family Affairs Ensieh Khazali announced that President Ebrahim Raisi ordered the formation of a special committee to investigate student poisonings. Two senior Iranian clerics separately urged the security and intelligence apparatus to address the issue on March 2. The Iranian Law Enforcement Command (LEC) denied that a plainclothes officer who was captured forcibly arresting a parent in front of a targeted school was affiliated with the LEC, and claimed that it had arrested four individuals connected to incident. It remains unclear, however, what meaningful action the regime has taken to identify and prosecute the perpetrators of ongoing attacks or secure Iranian educational facilities. There is currently no indication of who is responsible for this months-long campaign against Iranian school girls, and Iranian officials have blamed both foreign and domestic actors. CTP nevertheless assessed with moderate confidence on March 1 that a network of individuals whom the regime tolerates has coordinated this campaign and that the regime has allowed them—at least for now—to do so.

Iran Update, February 28, 2023

Regime incompetence and mismanagement is driving further protest activity and popular frustration toward the regime and may unite citizens with disparate grievances. The regime is facing several concurrent crises over its mishandling of economic, ecological, and security issues. The regime is continuing to victimize its people with a range of different problems, stoking anti-regime frustration across many different demographics.