TIME Iran

Young Iranians Stay Home in Fear of Acid Attacks

Police promise to capture men who recently burnt eight women

Nazar Street is one of the most liberal streets in Isfahan, a historic city 340 kilometers south of Tehran. Young men and women mix more freely than elsewhere and women wear their hijabs more loosely, revealing more hair than the law allows.

But this week, the street was quiet and its restaurants empty as people avoided public places in the wake of a series of acid attacks on young women. Eight women have been badly injured after having acid thrown in their faces by unidentified men in recent weeks causing fear and anger in the city.

Thousands protested Wednesday in Isfahan to demand security for women, according to the semiofficial Fars News Agency. Demonstrators, including many mothers, worried for the safety of their daughters. “Security and freedom are our indisputable rights!” they shouted. “Down with Iran’s Daesh,” refererring to the Arabic acronym for the militant group Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria.

Soheila Joerkesh, 26, was driving back from an afternoon out swimming with her friends on Oct. 13 when she pulled over to speak with her mother on the phone. Just as she had started to speak, a motorcycle stopped beside her car and a passenger got off with a glass canister in his hand. “Suddenly Soheila started screaming, I could hear her scream for more than 5 minutes before the call got cut,” her mother told local media. “By the time we found her at a hospital she was blind. Her cellphone had been melted by the acid that the motorcyclist had thrown onto her face.”

All of the victims have been young women who were attacked on busy main streets by male motorcyclists or passengers throwing acid on their faces. The women have suffered third-degree burns on their faces, necks, chests and hands, and will require cosmetic surgery.

Many women in Isfahan now fear going out. “One of my colleagues has her husband drive her to and back from work. Another says she nearly dies from fear whenever a motorcycle passes her car. I myself take the bus now as it seems safer,” Fatemeh, a female resident of Isfahan said on Wednesday, asking for her surname not to be published. “We are all worried, we only leave home when it is absolutely necessary.”

Women in Iran have been required by law, since the Islamic Revolution in 1979, to dress modestly and not wear cosmetics. The enforcement of morals is one of the duties of the Basij militia. Many women, however, have resisted and flaunt the rules by leaving parts of their hair exposed. Members of hardline religious groups have staged demonstrations protesting what they call the decadent clothing of women. This has led to rumors that some members of these groups are behind these attacks.

“People are saying it’s a group called Ansar trying to force women to have proper hijab. I don’t know if that’s true, but many are now using masks to cover their faces to escape possible attacks, which is ironic, as the attacker didn’t even feel the need to cover his face,” Fatemeh said, pointing to reports that the culprits had not gone to any trouble to hide their identities.

Most of Iranian society has reacted angrily to the attacks.

“Throwing acid is an ugly, heinous and disgusting act, maybe murder is more acceptable, this crime is despicable,” General Esmaeel Ahmadi-Moghadam, head of the Iranian police, told the Fars News Agency on Wednesday. And the deputy head of the Judiciary, Gholam-Hossein Mohseni Ejei, told state television two days earlier that those responsible would receive “such a punishment for the culprits when they are arrested that no one would ever dare commit such crimes again.”

Others said the attacks were carried out by people linked to Western intelligence agencies in a bid to damage Iran. “Today we are seeing the foreign media network trying to link this crime to promotion of virtue and prevention of vice,” said General Mohammad Reza Naghdi, head of the Basij paramilitary force, according to news website Mashreghnews.ir.

With none of the assailants arrested yet, many Iranians are posting comments on websites and social media that criticize the police force. Some compared the swift arrests of the makers of the Pharrell Williams’ Happy video in Tehran, “within hours” in May, to the fact that weeks have passed since the first acid attack.

Soheila’s mother struck a similar chord. “We asked them can we look at footage from surveillance cameras in Soheila’s route, but they refused,” she said. “Why are they not showing us the footage?”

TIME Iran

Iran’s Moderate President Loses a Minister—and Some Momentum for Reform

Iran's Science, Research and Technology Minister Reza Faraji Dana speaks during his impeachment in an open session of the parliament in Tehran, Aug. 20, 2014.
Iran's Science, Research and Technology Minister Reza Faraji Dana speaks during his impeachment in an open session of the parliament in Tehran, Aug. 20, 2014. Vahid Salemi—AP

Iranian Science Minister Reza Faraji-Dana, a close ally of President Hassan Rouhani, is impeached by hardliners who oppose reforms

In what amounts to a major blow against the moderate president Hassan Rouhani by hardliners in Iran, the Science and Research Minister Reza Faraji-Dana was impeached on Aug. 20 by the Iranian parliament. The impeachment, which followed months of intense lobbying to prevent it by conservatives and reformists alike, has dealt a major setback to the implementation of Rouhani’s campaign promises of a more tolerant policy in Iran’s universities.

Faraji-Dana, who had been accused by impeachers of appointing professors they deemed anti-revolutionary as ministry officials and university heads, was close to Rouhani. “Faraji-Dana was one of the president’s main ministers,” says Saeed Laylaz, a political analyst in Tehran “He had been tasked with one of the most important assignments in internal politics, but the president’s success in economics and the nuclear talks caused his political opponents to react by impeaching one of his most competent ministers.”

Iran’s universities have traditionally been a center for political activism, one many in Iranian society look at for guidance during elections and other major political events. The previous government of the conservative Mahmoud Ahamdinejad tried to depoliticize universities, especially after the 2009 post-election protests in Iran, by sacking professors and expelling students who were involved in the protests. Faraji-Dana allowed some of these expelled students and professors, labeled as seditionists by conservatives here, back into the universities—something he was heavily criticized for by conservative parliament members.

Rouhani, reacted swiftly to the impeachment by appointing Faraji-Dana as his advisor in science and education affairs. While he urged academicians to respect the parliament’s decision, Rouhani also expressed regret over losing a minister whom he called as a “hardworking and esteemed colleague,” according to the semiofficial Mehr News Agency.

But the impeachment is being considered by some as motivated by more than just university politics. Many of the MPs who initiated the impeachment were from hardline political groups who had supported Rouhani’s election rival, the former nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili, and who also oppose Rouhani’s more open foreign policy. “The success of the impeachment, which had been opposed by the main conservative faction of parliament headed by the speaker Ali Larijani, has now given the initiators the political clout to go ahead with other impeachments,” a source close to influential conservative MPs said, citing the Industry and petroleum ministers as main future targets. “Some parliamentarians also believe that the low level of interaction and communication by government officials with MPs is why some lawmakers chose to vote for the removal of the minister.”

Leylaz, who considers Rouhani’s presidency as an unprecedented historical chance for the Islamic Republic of Iran to mend deep internal rifts, expressed concern over the consequences of this impeachment. “This will create frustration among academics and students, and it will radicalize internal politics and the society.”

Others, however, believe that the debates in parliament on Aug. 20 showed a strong democratic process. “The vigorous debates between rival factions that were aired on national radio show that Iran has an open and free political process. This was democracy in action,” said Mohammad Marandi, an analyst and associate professor at Tehran University. “There won’t be a great change in the ministry policies even though the minister has been changed. What’s important is that such debates can and do happen in Iran’s politics. In the end this was just an impeachment, and I don’t think that it will cause a radicalization of the political process, nor do I think there will be a string of impeachments following it.”

Rouhani, who has three months to nominate a successor to parliament, has already appointed a caretaker for the ministry, and has explicitly told him to continue Faraji-Dana’s policies. But the president’s choice for caretaker—Mohammad Ali Najafi—will likely prove controversial, as he had been previously rejected by MPs for another cabinet post due to being considered politically too close to the same `seditionists’ that caused Faraji-Dana’s downfall. While Rouhani’s economic reforms are slowly starting to stabilize the economy, and his foreign policy still has the firm backing of Iran’s supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the events in Parliament on Aug. 20 show that the when it comes to trying to open up politics and the society, the hardliners intend to fight back every inch of the way.

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