The IranianÂ judiciary has issued a ruling that effectively outlaws Imam Aliâ€™s Popular Students Relief Society (IAPSRS), a charity organization dedicated to uprooting poverty and improving education among children in Iranâ€™s most destitute areas.
The news about the ban was broken by the foundationâ€™s lawyer, Saeid Dehghan, on March 3 as he lamented â€œthe show trialâ€Â in which the verdict â€œhad apparently been drafted alreadyâ€ before any defenses were presented. The ruling came only 10 days after a lawsuit filed by Iranâ€™s Interior Ministry over the organizationâ€™s â€œfailure to carry out administrative reformsâ€ and claims about charter violations.
The ministryâ€™s request had been challenged by the group in a public letter to Iranâ€™s Chief Justice Ibrahim Raisi. The IAPSRS attempted to make its own argument by raising the alarm that mistakes in handling the case â€œwill deal irreparable harm to the civil society in Iran.â€
The foundation has been rapidly expanding over the past two decades, growing its original group of a handful of university students into a network of over 10,000 volunteers, covering some 6,000 children and 700 single mothers with branches in Iranâ€™s most underdeveloped areas, including Khuzestan and Kermanshah provinces.
The charity has also been more than open in its criticism of prevalent corruption in the Islamic Republic and the Iranian authoritiesâ€™ inaction in tackling the issue of poverty. But the approach has come with a cost. For years, hard-liners have gone the extra mile to put a spike in the foundationâ€™s wheels. They have repeatedly linked the IAPSRS to â€œhostile states,â€ accusing it of exploiting the charity mission as a cover to â€œinfiltrate the public opinion.â€ And in such a campaign, ultraconservative paper Kayhan, affiliated with the office of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ai Khamenei, has been taking the lead.
Last June, the charityâ€™s founder and well-known philanthropistÂ Sharmin Meymandi-Nejad had to languish for over 100 days in solitary confinement over charges of threatening national security and insulting the supreme leader.
However, the latest verdict seems to have spoken to the very existential threat faced by independent organizations in the Islamic Republic. And the shock to many Iranian activists has come from the fact that the official ban on the charity organization was pushed by the Interior Ministry of President Hassan Rouhaniâ€™s government, which they had been hoping would fight off hard-liners and advance an open civil society.
Criticism has now been expressed even from within Rouhaniâ€™s own circle, including former Transport Minister Abbas Akhoundi, who advised the president to address the issue and follow a policy that does not counter his â€œoath as president in defending public rightsâ€ and is â€œcompatibleâ€ to his campaign slogans about civil freedoms.
The outpouring of rage about the â€œhope-killing banâ€ also included personal experiences shared by volunteers. They retold stories of how the IAPSRS empowered single mothers with small jobs and pulled children â€” once garbage scavengers â€” into the social pipeline with proper education. â€œIt was the lives of thousands of kids that was outlawed [by the verdict],â€ tweeted Khalilollah Balochi, who campaigns for the Baluch minority in Iranâ€™s underdeveloped southeast.
â€œThe foundation has been banned and I canâ€™t stop thinking about the childrenÂ who have toÂ work;Â all thoseÂ who thanks to the foundation â€¦ were released from prison, started education, played, laughed. But nowÂ they have all lost one such supporter,â€ wrote Iranian activist and former political prisonerÂ Reyhaneh Tabatabaei.Â