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Iranian MPs pass anti-terror funding bill despite death threats

Iran has taken an important step in gaining access to the international banking system.
A view shows the swearing-in ceremony for Iranian president Hassan Rouhani for a further term, at the parliament in Tehran, Iran, August 5, 2017. Nazanin Tabatabaee Yazdi/TIMA via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. - RC18FF0579A0

Iran's parliament addressed one of the country's most contested issues Oct. 7, approving a bill against the funding of terrorism. Such a measure is a precondition to be removed from the blacklist of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF). The bill's supporters believe the measure will help ease the impact of US sanctions, giving Iran more access to international banks and helping it achieve greater financial transparency. Critics, however, argue that Iran has given up its independence and is once again looking to Western countries to resolve its economic problems at home.

The FATF measures as a whole have been a hot topic in Iran over past years. Parliament debated this counterterrorism financing bill for four months, before 143 parliamentarians voted in favor, with 120 against and five abstaining. There are a total of 290 seats in parliament. The conservative-dominated Guardian Council must still approve the bill before it becomes law. 

Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif spoke on the parliament floor, responding to the bill's critics, who claim it imposes demands on Iran on behalf of Western powers. “Three days ago the president of Russia’s central bank told us that without [approval of] FATF [measures] we cannot work with you,” he said Oct. 7. “FATF is one of the most important problems and even our friends say this. The Chinese have no problems with us, from an international perspective, China has many positions similar to the Islamic Republic. China and Russia are Iran’s strategic partners.”

The opponents of the bill are a mixed group, though all are opposed to President Hassan Rouhani's administration and, in general, to greater financial transparency. 

Iranian parliamentarian Mohammad Dehghan, who opposed to the bill, said, “Under conditions of war we must not give our economic information to the enemy. Some speak of the issue of Hezbollah and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, which are important, but those are secondary issues.” Some critics believe the bill will harm Iran’s support for Hezbollah and other regional groups. Dehghan said that, under FATF, if an individual is sanctioned by the United States they would not be allowed to open “a regular bank account” in certain domestic banks.

Parliamentarian Hossein Naghavi Hosseini accused the Rouhani administration of using fear to pass the bill. “Why do you scare the people?” he asked. “Why do you say that if we don’t become a member of this convention the projects in the villages will not be completed?” Hosseini said that the promises being made about the bill are the same promises made regarding the nuclear deal, in that they were supposed to resolve numerous economic problems but failed to do so.

The heated debate over the bill extended beyond parliament, with parliamentarians who supported the bill receiving death threats online. Iranian parliamentarian Parvaneh Salahshouri, who supported the bill, said she received numerous death threats before and after the vote. She accused conservative newspaper Kayhan and other conservatives, many of whom opposed the nuclear deal, of provoking a hostile environment. “Life is in the hands of God, and not them,” she tweeted in response to those making death threats. She said that she was “proud” of her opposition to money laundering and terrorism.

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