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Source: Middle East Eye

Apr 13, 2023

Meanwhile, Iranian protester Mojahed Koorkoor is sentenced to death, and prisoners pardoned in February face new charges

Iran trades gas for food and medicine

President Ebrahim Raisi's administration is facing mounting local criticism over accepting Iraq's offer of what the opposition has dubbed the "gas-for-food" programme, in reference to a UN programme established for Iraq before the 2003 invasion. 

On 7 April, local media quoted Iran's petroleum minister Jawad Owji as saying that in return for exporting gas to Iraq, Tehran would receive only food, medicines and humanitarian goods.

Following the news, critics of Raisi's economic plans reminded him that one of his presidential campaign slogans was to improve bilateral economic relations with neighbouring countries and to unlock Iran's assets in Iraq that have been frozen due to US sanctions.

"The reality of trading under sanctions shows that we exchange gas with essential goods and medicines. This happens even in a country like Iraq, which is under Iran's influence and very close to us," the Mardom Salari daily wrote on Saturday.

An Iranian economist, Mehdi Pazouki, under the headline "An achievement called oil-for-food", ridiculed Raisi's administration and his strategies for freeing Iran's frozen money in other countries.

"After about two years, Raisi's administration finally had an achievement; an achievement that is not good at all. Oil-for-food is the only accomplishment this government can announce," he wrote.

Despite the US sanctions on Iran's oil, gas and petrochemical export, Iraq is Iran's primary client for gas. However, due to sanctions on Iran's banking system, Baghdad cannot pay Iran for the gas it imports.

Iranian officials have announced conflicting numbers about Iraq's debt to Iran. On 10 March, the Shargh daily reported that the debt was over $18bn.

Another protester sentenced to death

A branch of the Islamic Revolutionary Court in the city of Izeh has sentenced an Iranian protester to death on charges related to the killing of Kian Pirfalak, a nine-year-old boy who died during last year's protests.

The court ruling was announced despite the Pirfalak family's insistence that Mojahed Koorkoor was not their son's killer.

The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) arrested Koorkoor in Parsourakh village, near Izeh, in the country's southwest, in the aftermath of the protests that engulfed the country following the death of Mahsa Amini while in the custody of the morality police on 16 September.

Koorkoor was detained during a 20 December raid, during which the IRGC killed two men and two other people were arrested. Iran's judiciary has not revealed the identities of the other detainees and those killed in the raid.

On 19 March, the judiciary's Mizan news agency reported that, during a four-hour court hearing, Koorkoor had pleaded guilty and accepted the charges. However, rights groups have warned that he was severely tortured to pressure him into giving false confessions.

Last week, a video of Koorkoor's mother circulated on Farsi social media in which she urged Iranians to help her save the life of her only son.

The Pirfalak family and their lawyer have rejected the judiciary's accusations against Koorkoor, saying their son was killed when the security forces opened fire on their car on 16 November during anti-government protests in Izeh.

In another video published on 11 April, Pirfalak's father said that his family had not filed any complaints against Koorkoor and the other two individuals arrested along with him.

"My wife and I, with our own eyes, saw that the security forces under the command of the [second] brigadier general Eidi Abdi open fire at our car with a barrage of bullets," he said.

Since last September, authorities have executed four men accused of participating in the 2022 anti-establishment demonstrations.

Cases against activists ongoing after amnesty

Ali Mojtahedzadeh, a lawyer who defended political and student activists as well as protesters arrested last year, said many activists face new trials despite being pardoned by a general amnesty ordered by Iran's supreme leader.

On 5 February, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei ordered an amnesty or reduction in prison sentences for tens of thousands of people, including people arrested during the 2022 anti-establishment protests. The judiciary officials later announced that more than 22,000 protesters were freed based on the decree.

However, on Saturday, Mojtahedzadeh warned in an article published in the Etemad daily that the prosecution of the pardoned activists had resumed in various cases.

"Not only are the lawsuits against several pardoned individuals not closed, but we see that the judicial proceedings related to their cases have continued, and they might face convictions," he wrote.

The lawyer said that a group of officials in the country's judicial system and intelligence services were the main forces against the release of the dissidents pardoned in February.

"It seems that some middle-ranking judicial officials and prosecutors have turned a blind eye to the general amnesty, insisting on the trial of those the supreme leader had pardoned," he said.

Mojtahedzadeh also warned that ignoring the general amnesty would lead to a more profound social distrust and weaken the status of Iran's judicial system.

"The destructive and dangerous impact of resuming the trial of these pardoned convicts is so enormous that we can wish the general amnesty was not ordered in the first place," he concluded.

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