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Iran: U.S. Pressures Tehran Over Reported New Nuclear Findings

Prague, 13 February 2004 (RFE/RL) -- A senior U.S. official says there is no doubt Iran is continuing to pursue nuclear weapons.

The comments by Under Secretary of State John Bolton come amid reports that the United Nations nuclear watchdog has found undeclared plans for nuclear technology in Iran.

Western media quoted diplomats as saying the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has found designs for an advanced centrifuge that should have been mentioned in Iran's October 2003 declaration of its atomic program.

Bolton said the finding shows Iran continues to pursue nuclear weapons.

"The information that the IAEA has learned is certainly consistent with the information that we had, and it's not surprising. It's another act of Iranian deception and not something that leads to any feeling of security, that they are carrying through on their commitment to suspend enrichment activity," Bolton said.

Iran has always denied it is seeking to build a bomb, a stance Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi repeated yesterday in Rome.

"We do not think that a nuclear weapon is going to bring us more security. It's not part of our doctrine. That is why we have signed the Additional Protocol, because we do not have anything to hide, and we are ready to be inspected more severely by the IAEA inspectors," Kharrazi said.

But the finding, reportedly made during IAEA inspections, throws into question Iran's promise in October to come clean on its nuclear program and suspend the enrichment of uranium.

Other questions, too, are raised by the discovery of the plans for the so-called G2 centrifuge, which is capable of producing material for nuclear weapons.

Pakistan is also known to have this centrifuge. Last week, the founder of Pakistan's nuclear program, Abdul Qadeer Khan, admitted trading nuclear secrets to Iran, Libya, and North Korea on the black market.

Shannon Kile is a nonproliferation expert at Stockholm's International Peace Research Institute.

"What [the finding] does indicate is that it's much more difficult for Iran to deny plausibly that it doesn't have a nuclear weapons program under way. What's especially worrying is that we know that Pakistan's middlemen had supplied Libya not only with the same type of plans for a gas centrifuge but also for an actual weapon design, and what we don't know is whether or not the Pakistanis have also supplied Iran with a nuclear weapon warhead design. And that, I think, is what will be at the forefront of the IAEA activities to find out," Kile said.

The finding may also lead to calls for the IAEA to report Iran to the UN Security Council, which could impose economic sanctions.

But outside the U.S., other nations are so far reserving judgment.

Russia said yesterday there's no evidence Iran is seeking a nuclear bomb. Atomic Energy Minister Alexander Rumyantsev said Moscow will sign a deal next month to ship nuclear fuel to Iran's Bushehr plant -- something Washington has repeatedly asked Moscow not to do.

"It's another act of Iranian deception and not something that leads to any feeling of security, that they are carrying through on their commitment to suspend enrichment activity."
And British Prime Minister Tony Blair said he'd rather wait until the IAEA comes out with its report on Iran next month.

"The good thing about the situation we helped to bring about is that the International Atomic Energy Agency are now committed in Iran and will produce a report, I think, in March, and that is a report that can go through all these issues. I think probably rather than me commenting at this stage, we should wait until they make their report then," Blair said.

The developments surrounding Iran's nuclear program cap a week in which weapons proliferation has repeatedly dominated the news.

On 11 February, U.S. President George W. Bush called for tighter international controls to stop the spread of nuclear technology.

Yesterday, the head of the IAEA, Muhammad el-Baradei, backed Bush's call for a crackdown on the nuclear black market. But he also called on the world's big nuclear powers -- like the U.S., Britain, and Russia -- to move toward disarmament.

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Iran Starts Retrial Of Journalist Who Covered Woman's Death In Morality Police Custody

Niloufar Hamedi (file photo)

A court in Iran on May 30 began the closed-door trial of a female journalist on charges linked to her coverage of a Kurdish-Iranian woman, Mahsa Amini, whose death in custody last year sparked months of unrest. Niloufar Hamedi, along with another female journalist, Elaheh Mohammadi, who went on trial on May 29, face several charges including "colluding with hostile powers" for their coverage of Amini's death. Hamedi's husband said the trial session "ended in less than two hours while her lawyers did not get a chance to defend her." To read the original story by Reuters, click here.

Iranian Retirees Join Workers In Fresh Wave Of Protests Over Pensions, Living Conditions

Retirees from the telecommunications sector staged rallies in multiple cities across Iran to protest over economic woes on May 30.

A new wave of protests is sweeping across Iran as retirees and workers demonstrate against harsh living conditions and skyrocketing inflation in the country, which has been hit hard by international sanctions over the government's nuclear program and its suppression of human rights.

Demonstrations took place on May 29 in numerous provinces, including Khuzestan, Lorestan, Hormozgan, Chaharmahal and Bakhtiari, Kermanshah, Kurdistan, Ilam, West Azerbaijan, Khorasan Razavi, Mazandaran, Fars, and Isfahan.

Telecommunications retirees were a large part of the protesters, while in the southern Iranian city of Bandar Abbas, workers from the Maad Koush factory, a critical supplier to the Hormozgan Steel Company production chain, joined in as they continued into the third day of their strike despite threats of dismissal and arrest.

Meanwhile, the Nepheline Syenite Complex workers' strike in the city of Kalibar, East Azerbaijan Province, extended into its second day.

Government officials have described the complex in Kalibar as the Middle East's sole nepheline syenite mineral-rock-processing unit, a critical material for aluminum, glass, plastic, and rubber ceramics production.

Worker representatives have warned officials that if their "indifference to workers' demands" continues, the government will be "responsible for any subsequent incident."

In recent weeks, social-security retirees and telecommunications retirees have held numerous gatherings to voice their anger over deteriorating living conditions, the issue of fixed pensions in a high-inflation environment, and the overall mounting costs of living.

The retirees also claim that part of their legitimate benefits, including the payment of welfare and supplies, have been cut off for some time without explanation. They are demanding they be fully compensated.

In the southwestern city of Ahvaz, protesters gathered outside Khuzestan Province's main Telecommunications Company building on May 29, voicing their grievances with slogans like "Injustice and oppression are enough, our tables have nothing on them."

Iran's economy has been ravaged by U.S. sanctions, leading to a surge of protests in several cities. A report from the Labor Ministry indicated a significant increase in Iran's poverty rate, growing 50 percent in 2021 compared to the previous year.

Unrest has rattled Iran since last summer in response to declining living standards, wage arrears, and a lack of welfare support. Labor law in Iran does not recognize the right of workers to form independent unions.

Adding to the dissent, the death in September of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in police custody for allegedly wearing a head scarf improperly breathed new life into the demonstrations, which officials across the country have tried to quell with harsh measures.

Written by Ardeshir Tayebi based on an original story in Persian by RFE/RL's Radio Farda

Official Warns Iranian Film Industry Over Dissent After Cannes Festival

Cinema Organization chief Mohammad Khazaie (file photo)

The head of the Cinema Organization of the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance has warned the country's film industry that dissent will be dealt with harshly after several people from the sector participated in the Cannes Film Festival without obtaining permission from Tehran.

Mohammad Khazaie said on May 29 that the individuals who traveled to the French seaside resort for the festival earlier this month will be barred from operating in Iran's film industry, saying they cannot both "wear the coat of opposition" and work in Iranian cinema.

While only one Iranian film, Terrestrial Verses, was officially entered in the competition, dissident director Mohammad Rasolof, who was recently released from Tehran's notorious Evin prison, was asked to be a jury member. However, he was not granted permission to attend the event.

Still, several Iranian-born celebrities attended the festival and made statements calling for an end to oppression in the country and an end to state violence against dissent. One of the most notable statements came from Iranian model Mahlagha Jaberi, whose red-carpet dress featured a noose as the neckline.

Khazaie said he was also concerned over the underground production and distribution of films and noncompliance with religious issues.

"We will cut ties with anyone who, for any reason, works with smuggled and unlicensed films in Iran and abroad, and works against Iran," Khazaie warned.

This includes all elements of the film industry, from actors and producers to technical staff, he added.

Khazaie's comments were likely directed at the film Me, Maryam, The Children, And 26 Others, directed by Farshad Hashemi. The film was shown by the Independent Filmmakers Union of Iran at the Marche du Film (Cannes Film Market), despite being made in Iran without observing the Islamic republic's censorship laws, including the mandatory hijab for female actors.

Such acts of civil disobedience have increased in Iran -- where the law requires women and girls over the age of 9 to wear a head scarf in public -- since the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini while in the custody of the morality police on September 16 for an alleged hijab offense.

While the protests appear to be waning, resistance to the hijab is likely to increase, analysts say, as it is seen now as a symbol of the state's repression of women and the deadly crackdown on society.

Several Iranian cinematographers and prominent public figures have also been summoned by the police or arrested, including director Hamid Porazari.

Other celebrities, including prominent Iranian actresses Afsaneh Bayegan, Fatemeh Motamed-Arya, Katayoun Riahi, and Pantea Bahram, have been interrogated and faced legal action after they made public appearances without wearing the mandatory hijab to show support for the protesters.

Written by Ardeshir Tayebi based on an original story in Persian by RFE/RL's Radio Farda

Iran And Afghanistan's Taliban Clash As Water Dispute Boils Over

The Taliban has consistently denied the accusation that it was not complying with its 1973 treaty with Iran, by which it is bound to supply its neighbor with water from the Kajaki Dam. But Afghanistan's rulers say even it if were opened, there wouldn't be enough water to reach Iran.

Water has exposed cracks in the Taliban's fragile relationship with Tehran, with both sides exchanging pointed barbs over scarce supplies before coming to deadly blows along the Afghan-Iranian border.

Tensions remain high following the deaths of troops from both sides on May 27, with Taliban and Iranian officials digging in on their positions with increased military activity and fresh warnings.

But while disputes over water security are expected to intensify between the two drought-stricken countries, both sides appear to be keeping the door open for dialogue on the issue while boosting cooperation in other areas of mutual concern.

The deadly firefight took place across the shared border between southeastern Iran and southwestern Afghanistan, with each side accusing the other of firing first. Social media footage showed Taliban heavy weaponry streaming to the border in the Kang district of Nimroz Province, where officials said one Taliban border guard was killed and several people were wounded after an exchange of heavy gunfire.

Iranian media, meanwhile, said up to three Iranian border guards were killed and several people wounded in its southeastern Sistan-Baluchistan Province, where Iran has worked to fortify its border as tensions over water supplies rose over the past two weeks.

Women crouch in a former basin in Sistan and Baluchistan amid a severe water shortage on May 18.
Women crouch in a former basin in Sistan and Baluchistan amid a severe water shortage on May 18.

Following the incident, the Taliban has continued to push back on Iran's claim that it is not honoring a water treaty ironed out by the two sides in 1973.

"The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan considers dialogue to be a reasonable way for any problem," Taliban Defense Ministry spokesman Enayatullah Khawarazmi said in a statement on May 28, referring to the official name of the Taliban's unrecognized government. "Making excuses for war and negative actions is not in the interest of any of the parties."

Iran has continued its harder line, with national police commander Brigadier-General Ahmadreza Radan saying the same day that "the border forces of the Islamic republic of Iran will decisively respond to any border trespassing and aggression, and the current authorities of Afghanistan must be held accountable for their unmeasured and contrary actions to international principles."

But Iranian officials, too, have expressed the need for a diplomatic solution, with high-ranking security official Mohammad Ismail Kothari describing the dispute as "fighting between children of the same house" while rejecting that Tehran would resort to the "military option."

Big Dam Issues

Water is a precious commodity in both southwestern Afghanistan, one of the country's most productive agricultural areas, and in southeastern Iran, one of several arid areas of the country where water scarcity has fueled public protests.

But with Afghanistan in control of upriver water sources that feed low-lying wetlands and lakes in Iran's southeast, the Taliban finds itself with a rare tool for leverage in its relationship with Tehran.

The problem -- or the solution, depending on which side you consider -- stems from the construction of major dam projects in Afghanistan that in combination with increased drought and other factors have restricted the flow of water to the Sistan Basin.

The border-straddling basin depends on perennial flooding to fill what used to be a vast wildlife oasis and was home to the massive Hamun Lake, which now consists of three smaller seasonal lakes -- Hamun-e Helmand in Iran and Hamun-e Sabari and Hamun-e Puzak in both Afghanistan and Iran.

The longstanding issue of replenishing the basin with water came to the forefront earlier this month following comments by Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian and President Ebrahim Raisi.

Amir-Abdollahian, in a call with his Taliban counterpart, Amir Khan Muttaqi, demanded the Afghan authorities open the gates of the inland Kajaki Dam that pools water from the Helmand River "so both the people of Afghanistan and Iran can be hydrated."

A view of the hydroelectric Kajaki Dam is seen in Kajaki, northeast of Helmand Province
A view of the hydroelectric Kajaki Dam is seen in Kajaki, northeast of Helmand Province

Shortly afterward, Raisi upped the ante during a visit to Sistan-Baluchistan on May 18 by warning the "rulers of Afghanistan to immediately give the people of Sistan-Baluchistan their water rights." He added that the Taliban should take his words "seriously" and not say "they were not told."

The Taliban has consistently denied the accusation that it was not complying with the 1973 treaty and said that even if the Kajaki Dam were opened there would not be enough water to reach Iran.

But just two days after Raisi's threats, the Taliban appeared to twist the knife by inaugurating a new irrigation project that involved completing the construction of the Bakhshabad Dam on the Farah River, which feeds the Sistan Basin from the north.

Contentious Water Treaty

According to the 1973 treaty, Afghanistan is committed to sharing water from the Helmand River with Iran at the rate of 26 cubic meters of water per second, or 850 million cubic meters per year.

But the accord also allows for less water to be delivered in cases of low water levels, which have been affected by persistent drought and the construction of new dams in Afghanistan, including the Kamal Khan Dam on the Helmand River that was completed in 2021 shortly before the Taliban seized power in Kabul.

Vanished wetlands in the Sistan Basin on the Iranian-Afghan border
Vanished wetlands in the Sistan Basin on the Iranian-Afghan border

The Taliban's deputy prime minister for economic affairs, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, said on May 22 that Kabul was "committed to the water treaty of 1973 but the drought that exists in Afghanistan and region should not be ignored."

"The pain of the people of Sistan-Baluchistan is our pain," he added. "Our hearts melt for them as much as they melt for the people of Afghanistan, but we also suffer from a shortage of water."

Cooperation on the water issue was previously seen as a sign of deepening ties between Afghanistan's Sunni Taliban rulers and Shi'a-majority Iran. In January 2022, the Taliban released water from the Kamal Khan Dam on the Helmand River in Nimroz Province into the Hamun Lake.

While their sectarian differences once made them enemies, their common interests in opposing Afghanistan's Western-backed government and U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan over the past two decades brought them closer.

Since the Taliban returned to power, the militant group has sought to build economic and security ties with Tehran. While Iran has not recognized the Taliban-led government, it has sought to work with the group on the issues of Afghan refugees in Iran and cross-border drug trafficking. In February, Iran formally handed over the Afghan Embassy in Tehran to the Taliban.

In January 2022, the Taliban released water from the Kamal Khan Dam on the Helmand River in Nimroz Province into the Hamun Lake.
In January 2022, the Taliban released water from the Kamal Khan Dam on the Helmand River in Nimroz Province into the Hamun Lake.

Afghanistan's and Iran's water crises require both countries to show a strong hand on the issue of water supplies, both for domestic consumption and to protect their national interests. But experts suggest the benefits of cooperation outweigh an escalation of the conflict.

"Neither country at this point in time needs a really hostile border," Marvin Weinbaum, director of Afghanistan and Pakistan studies at the Middle East Institute think tank in Washington, told RFE/RL.

"Economically it is an issue for both countries -- there would be no agricultural potential in Helmand Province without the water furnished by the dam. And very little of it gets into Iran. And southeast Iran is as dry as any place on the planet."

Weinbaum said neither the Taliban nor Tehran is going to exhibit weakness on the issue of short-term water shortages. "As the climate heats up, this is only going to grow more acute," he said.

But for both countries, Weinbaum said, "economic ties are really what matters the most," along with cooperating on other issues of mutual concern such as preventing the Islamic State extremist group from expanding its foothold in the region.

Ironically, just days after Raisi's threats and the inauguration of a new dam project in Afghanistan, the Taliban's Defense Ministry announced it had reached a new agreement on cooperating with Iran on defense and border issues. And on the day of the firefight that left border guards dead on both sides, officials had met earlier to discuss the water dispute.

After the deadly incident, Iranian and Taliban officials held another meeting to investigate the cause of the "tensions."

Path To Resolution

The construction of dams -- which both Iran and Afghanistan engage heavily in -- and their downstream impact stand out among the causes to discuss.

"What really triggers these disputes?" asked Weinbaum. "The intensification of them is obviously building dams, which represent simply a lower flow than they've been accustomed to and are not happy with."

Vanished wetlands in the Sistan Basin
Vanished wetlands in the Sistan Basin

Other observers suggest the decades-old water-sharing agreement that Iran and the Taliban accuse each other of failing to adhere to holds the answer to resolving the dispute.

The 1973 treaty does allow for the delivery of water from the Afghan side to be lower than the agreed-upon levels under certain circumstances, which would appear to include the drought and climate change that the Taliban has said have limited water supplies.

It also commits the two countries to follow a set course "in the event that a difference should develop in the interpretation" of the provisions set out in the treaty: diplomatic negotiations, turning to the "good offices" of a third party to help mediate a solution, and in the event neither step works, arbitration.

With additional reporting by RFE/RL's Radio Farda and Radio Azadi

Iranian Romance: Authorities Crack Down After Joyous Wedding Proposal

Iranian Romance: Authorities Crack Down After Joyous Wedding Proposal
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An Iranian cultural official has been sacked after a viral video showed a man proposing to a woman without a headscarf at the tomb of a celebrated Persian poet. The video shows violations of Iran's harsh morality laws, such as women with their heads uncovered and the man publicly embracing the woman, while a crowd applauds.

Ukrainian Lawmakers Approve Sanctions On Iran For 50 Years

Kyiv has accused Tehran of providing Moscow with military drones for use in Russia's invasion of Ukraine, which Iran has vehemently denied.

Ukrainian lawmakers on May 29 approved a bill proposed by President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to impose sanctions on Iran for 50 years. The sanctions, among other restrictions, include a complete ban on trade with Iran, investments, and transferring technologies. The restrictions also forbid Iranian transit across Ukrainian territory as well as the use of its airspace and prevents the withdrawal of Iranian assets from Ukraine. The bill has already been approved by the National Security and Defense Council. Kyiv has accused Tehran of providing Moscow with military drones for use in Russia's invasion of Ukraine, which Iran has vehemently denied. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, click here.

Iran Wants To Upgrade Syria's Air Defense

Iran wants to boost Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's military by upgrading the country's air-defense system, the Fars news agency reported on May 29. In an interview with the news agency, Iranian General Said Hamzah Kalandari said that although Syria had its air-defense capabilities, the "Syrian brothers" will be supported with equipment and tactical upgrades. The general, who is active in the Defense Ministry, said the aim was to contain Israeli attacks. Along with Russia, Iran is Assad's most important ally. Iran has been expanding its political and military relations in the region since the 1990s.

Iranian Women Reveal Degrading Tactics Employed By Security Authorities

Activists say many female detainees are being mistreated in the country's prisons. file photo)

Several female Iranian activists are following the lead of women's rights leader Mojgan Keshavarz by speaking out about degrading and dehumanizing methods -- including sexual harassment -- being employed by staff at the country's prisons.

Keshavarz revealed on social media on May 28 that she had been forced to undress completely after being arrested in 2019 and forced to spread her legs and sit and stand at the direction of guards under the pretense of ensuring she had not concealed a mobile phone inside her body. During the ordeal, she said she was photographed.

Keshavarz's narrative was echoed soon afterward on social media by other women who said they had been subjected to similar acts.

Zeynab Zaman, a civil activist who was recently detained, disclosed that she was forced to completely undress twice -- once at the detention center and once at the court -- to supposedly ensure she wasn't smuggling anything.

"The most ridiculous, illogical, and stupid reason for normalizing the suffering of others, is to say that it is the same everywhere! Wherever suffering is imposed on a human being, it's wrong, it's inhumane, it's filthy, it's a crime," she wrote of her experience.

Several political and civil prisoners have repeatedly reported inhumane and illegal behavior toward prisoners in Iran and have called for institutions and international organizations to devote attention to the situation in Iranian prisons.

The number of females detained in Iran has grown since the death of Mahsa Amini in September while in police custody for an alleged head scarf offense.

Women have been at the forefront of the unrest that Amini's death unlocked in Iran, posing one of the biggest challenges to authorities since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Gender equality activist Nasibeh Shamsaei described similar experiences, saying security officials forced her to undress at a time when she was menstruating, describing the tactics as "humiliation" and "psychological torture."

Prominent Iranian actress Mahnaz Afshar said the tactics are not new.

Afshar said that several years ago, she was summoned to an intelligence office following the release of a video featuring a "naked" girl, falsely identified as her. A female agent at the office forced Afshar to strip completely for photographs to prove it wasn't her. Afshar described the ordeal as a "violation of my spirit and psyche."

She added that she fears others will be like her, hiding the experience while feeling "shame" and being gripped by the fear that the pictures of her would be misused.

Written by Ardeshir Tayebi based on an original story in Persian by RFE/RL's Radio Farda

Families Of Executed Iranian Protesters Say The Government Continues To Pressure Them

Saeed Yaqoubi (left), Saleh Mirehashemi (center), and Majid Kazemi were executed by Iranian authorities in Isfahan on May 19.

The family of executed protester Majid Kazemi says Iranian authorities have launched a campaign against it, suspending Kazemi's father's retirement benefits and firing his sister from her job just 10 days after his death sentence was carried out.

Mohammad Hashemi, Kazemi's cousin, also revealed on Twitter on May 29 that Kazemi's brothers, Mehdi and Hossein, remain in the custody of the Islamic republic's security institutions after speaking out and pleading for a stay of the death penalty prior to his May 19 execution.

According to a correspondent for RFE/RL’s Radio Farda, Amir Kazemi, another cousin of Majid, confirmed that the family remains in the dark about the whereabouts and condition of Majid's brothers. Amir Kazemi suggested that the arrest of these family members -- his sister was also detained but later released -- was an attempt to prevent a memorial service for Majid Kazemi.

Following the execution of Kazemi and two other young protesters, the government has ratcheted up pressure on their families. The executions sparked widespread public outrage, with rights groups and several governments criticizing the authorities for conducting hasty trials, forcing "confessions," and denying the accused due process.

Majid Kazemi, Saleh Mirehashemi, and Saeed Yaqoubi were arrested for the alleged killing of two Basij paramilitary force members and a law enforcement officer during protests in November 2022.

However, based on a picture of the court verdict made public by the defendants' families, the death sentences for the three were not issued for murder, but instead for "waging war against God," a crime often applied to political dissidents.

The Basij members died at the height of widespread protests ignited by the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in September 2022 while she was in police custody for allegedly breaking rules concerning the Islamic head scarf, known as a hijab. All three said they were innocent of the charges and were being made scapegoats for the deaths.

Saleh Mirehashemi's mother released an audio file on social media three days after the executions saying her husband had been handcuffed by government forces and prevented from holding a ceremony honoring their son. Videos have also emerged showing security forces stationed around Saeed Yaqoubi's house in recent nights.

Authorities warned for months after unrest broke out following Amini's death that they would react harshly to any dissent. Lawmakers have pushed the judiciary to render the death penalty in trials for those arrested during the protests, which are seen as one of the biggest threats to the Islamic leadership since it took power in 1979.

So far, Iranian authorities have followed through with their threats by executing at least seven protesters, including the three on May 19.

Human rights activists say authorities in Iran are using the executions to try to instill fear in society rather than to combat crime.

Written by Ardeshir Tayebi based on an original story in Persian by RFE/RL's Radio Farda

Iranian Official Says Conflict With Afghanistan Detrimental To Both Sides

The Taliban maintains that low water levels on the Helmand River -- which feeds lakes and wetlands in Iran's southeastern Sistan-Baluchistan Province -- preclude releasing more water.

An Iranian Foreign Ministry official has said following the outbreak of border clashes between Iranian border guards and Taliban fighters that any conflict between the two countries is detrimental to both of them.

The May 28 comments on Twitter by Seyyed Rasool Musavi, director of the Iranian Foreign Ministry's South Asia Department, came a day after deadly gunfire was exchanged along the countries' mutual border.

Abdul Nafee Takour, spokesman for the Taliban-led government's Interior Ministry, told RFE/RL's Radio Azadi that one Taliban fighter and one Iranian border guard were killed in the incident.

Iran's official IRNA news agency has said two border guards were killed and two civilians injured.

Each side has accused the other of shooting first.

Tensions over water rights have risen between Iran and Afghanistan in recent weeks. Drought-stricken southeastern Iran is heavily dependent on upriver water flows from Afghanistan, leading to calls for Afghanistan to release more water and accusations that Kabul is not honoring a bilateral water treaty signed in 1973.

The Taliban has denied it is in violation of the agreement, and said low water levels on the Helmand River -- which feeds lakes and wetlands in Iran's southeastern Sistan-Baluchistan Province -- preclude releasing more water.

Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian earlier this month demanded in a call with his Taliban counterpart, Amir Khan Muttaqi, that Afghan authorities open the gates of the inland Kajaki Dam on the Helmand River "so both the people of Afghanistan and Iran can be hydrated."

During a visit to Sistan-Baluchistan on May 18, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi warned "the rulers of Afghanistan to immediately give the people of Sistan-Baluchistan their water rights," adding that the Taliban should take his words "seriously."

The region is one of the most arid areas of Iran, which has seen multiple public protests over water scarcity in recent years.

Shortly after Raisi's comment, Taliban officials announced the construction of a new dam on the Farah River, which feeds agricultural land in southwestern Afghanistan and also drains into southeastern Iran.

In 2021, prior to the Taliban's seizure of power, Afghanistan completed work on the Kamal Khan Dam, which also sits on the Helmand River.

Zelenskiy Seeks Sanctions On Iran As Ukraine War Rages On

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy films a video address near a downed Iranian-made Shahed-136 kamikaze drone used by Russia to attack Ukraine, in Kyiv on October 27, 2022.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy initiated sanctions against Iran for a period of 50 years, according to state news agency Unian, referring to a presidential legislative initiative received by the Ukrainian parliament. The bill would ban trade in military equipment and dual-use goods. In addition, Ukraine would also halt its economic and financial obligations to Tehran and prevent the export of capital to Iran. The bill also proposes a ban on technology transfers and investment in Iran. The Ukrainian parliament is expected to back the decision, which has already been approved by the National Security Council.

Iranian Student Suspended From University For Refusing To Wear Hijab Summoned In New Case

Sepideh Rashno, pictured with her brother and lawyer, wrote on her Instagram account earlier this month that she had been banned from studying at Al-Zahra University in Tehran for two semesters for "not observing the Islamic dress code."

Sepideh Rashno, a 28-year-old Iranian writer and student arrested last year for refusing to wear the mandatory hijab, has said she has been summoned to appear before the Tehran Prosecutor's Office in relation to a supposed new case against her.

Rashno announced the development by publishing a photograph of the official judicial notice on her Instagram page.

"A new case has been created and today I was notified that I have to go to the Evin courthouse to explain the charge or imputed charge,"
Rashno said, adding that she believed the summons was related to several Instagram posts that she has published in recent weeks.

Earlier this month, Rashno wrote on her Instagram account that she had been banned from studying at Al-Zahra University in Tehran for two semesters for "not observing the Islamic dress code."

She was arrested in June after a video of her arguing with another woman who was enforcing rules on wearing a head scarf on a bus in Tehran went viral.

Rashno was handed a five-year suspended prison sentence in December after being found guilty of "gathering and colluding against the country's security," "propaganda activity against the government," and "appearing without a hijab in public."

Just weeks after Rashno's arrest, mass protests erupted around the country after 22-year-old Mahsa Amini died in September while in police custody after being arrested by morality police in Tehran for "improperly" wearing a hijab.

Hundreds of Iranian students are reportedly facing disciplinary committees and possible suspensions at Al-Zahra University over issues related to the mandatory hijab on campus.

According to the Telegram channel Voice of Al-Zahra Students, since the beginning of the Persian New Year in late March, at least 35 students have been suspended from studying for one to two semesters due to issues related to the mandatory hijab and have been deprived of dormitory access until the end of their studies.

Winds Of Change: Iran's Traditional Wooden Boats Face Uncertain Future

In their golden age, Iran's lenj vessels were used to transport goods such as spices, dried fish, and textiles from the Persian Gulf to East Africa and the Indian subcontinent. But as modern ships take their place, these hand-built boats now face an uncertain future.

Tehran Police Issue Warning As Drivers Cover Up License Plates

To avoid fines now that compliance is being monitored through CCTV, many drivers in Iran are covering their license plates.

Police in Tehran issued a stern warning to road users amid an increase in the number of people covering up the license plates of mopeds with face masks, plastic covers, and badges. It is a criminal offense to cover a registration that can carry a penalty of six months to a year in prison, according to a senior police officer in Tehran on May 27, state news agency IRNA reported. Locals in Tehran say people are covering up their license plates for several reasons. As ever, road users are keen to avoid fines for infractions. In addition, many women who ride small mopeds are no longer wearing head scarves, as in the past, in a continued protest at the requirement. To avoid fines now that compliance is being monitored through CCTV, many cover their license plates.


Three Killed In Border Clashes Between Iranian Forces And The Taliban

A general view of the hydroelectric Kajaki Dam, northeast of Helmand Province, Afghanistan

Two Iranian border guards and one Taliban fighter were killed after the two sides exchange gunfire on the Islamic republic's border with Afghanistan.

The incident on May 27 came amid tensions between the two countries over water rights.

Both sides accused each other of starting the shooting.

The official government news agency IRNA quoted Brigadier General Qasem Rezaei, deputy commander of the national police as saying that a border outpost in southeastern Iran had come under "heavy attack" by the Taliban, prompting a "a decisive and courageous counteraction" from Iranian border guards.

"The Taliban forces initiated the assault in contravention of international law and principles of good neighborliness," Rezai said.

IRNA said that following the border skirmishes, Brigadier General Ahmadreza Radan, chief commander of the national police, issued a directive to the border guards, asking them to "defend the borders bravely and decisively and not allow any trespassing or encroachment."

A Taliban spokesman said two people were killed in the clashes while accusing Iranian forces of shooting first.

"Today, in Nimroz Province, Iranian border forces fired toward Afghanistan, which was met with a counter-reaction," a spokesman for the Taliban-run Interior Ministry, Abdul Nafi Takor, said in a statement. "During the battle, one person was killed on each side and many were injured."

"The situation is under control now. The Islamic Emirate does not want to fight with its neighbors," Takor added.

Taliban Defense Ministry spokesman Enayatullah Khowarazmi confirmed the clashes in the Kang district of Nimroz Province while calling for "dialogue and negotiations."

"The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan considers dialogue and negotiation to be a reasonable way for any problem. Making excuses for war and negative actions is not in the interest of any of the parties," Khowarazmi said.

Iranian news agencies confirmed the death of two Iranian border guards. IRNA said two civilians had been injured in the incident. The semiofficial Mehr news agency reported that a main border crossing with Afghanistan had been closed following the exchange of fire.

Earlier, the hard-line Fars news agency, affiliated with the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), said the clashes ended after "a short time." Fars said the two sides had convened a meeting to investigate the cause of "the tensions."

It wasn't clear what provoked the incident.

HalVash, a Baluch rights group, posted a video and photos that it said were from the area where Iranian forces and the Taliban engaged in "heavy" clashes and exchange of fire.

RFE/RL could not independently verify the footage.

The clashes follow a warning by Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi who on May 18 called the de facto Taliban regime in Afghanistan not to violate Iran’s water rights to the Helmand River.

According to the 1973 agreement, Afghanistan is obligated to provide Iran with 850 million cubic meters of water annually from the Helmand River. Iran has accused Afghanistan of not complying with the accord, an allegation that Kabul rejects. Disputes over the distribution of cross-border water supplies have plagued relations between the two neighbors for decades.

Taliban officials have repeatedly claimed that due to low water levels, even if they opened the Kajaki Dam, nothing would reach Iran.

Water from the 1,150-kilometer (690-mile) Helmand River, Afghanistan’s longest, feeds the Hamun Lake in Iran’s Sistan-Baluchistan Province. The region relies heavily on the lake, and officials say it has suffered major issues because of a persistent lack of water.

With reporting by AP and Reuters

Iranian Students Coming Under Increased Pressure Over Hijab Rules

A group of female women students at Tehran University of Fine Arts faculty hold a protest on March 07.

Iranian students are coming under increased pressure and disciplinary measures as authorities try to stamp out dissent over the mandatory hijab law.

The Union Council of Iranian Students says students, who have been at the forefront of massive anti-government protests over the hijab law, are being threatened via text messages and through "motorcycle patrols for hijab warnings" to comply with the rule.

It pointed to the recent summoning of students at the University of Welfare and Rehabilitation Sciences, where they were repeatedly threatened with suspensions and academic bans by university officials, as an example of how authorities were trying to force the students to abandon their opposition to the hijab law.

The council added that university authorities have set up a motorcycle security patrol tasked with confronting students who don't comply with the compulsory hijab, while noting the security presence at the university has substantially increased and closed gates to control the flow of students on campus as they target students based on their clothing.

Anger over the hijab rule, which mandates women cover their heads while in public, erupted in September 2022 when a young woman in Tehran died while in police custody for an alleged hijab violation. Since then, thousands of Iranians have taken to the streets to demand more freedoms and women's rights.

Numerous protests have been held at universities, particularly in Tehran, where many students have refused to attend classes. Protesting students have chanted "Woman, life, freedom!" and "Death to the dictator!" at the rallies. Some female students have removed and burned their head scarves.

At Noshirvani University in the northern Iranian city of Babol, officials have reportedly formed committees to enforce the mandatory hijab requirement.

The United Students channel uncovered the formation of the Guidance Committee at the university, saying its job is to confront students based on their attire. If students refuse to observe the compulsory hijab, this committee has the authority to refer them to the university's disciplinary committee.

Security forces at the school are allegedly bursting into classes while professors are teaching to issue hijab warnings.

Several other universities, including Al-Zahra University, Beheshti University, and Azad University have reported similar occurances.

Universities and students have long been at the forefront of the struggle for greater social and political freedoms in Iran. In 1999, students protested the closure of a reformist daily, prompting a brutal raid on the dorms of Tehran University that left one student dead.

According to the Committee for the Follow-Up of the Situation of Detainees, over 720 students from across 100 universities in the country have been arrested since the nationwide protests sparked by the death of Mahsa Amini during her arrest.

Many of these detained students have reportedly faced severe penalties, including imprisonment, suspension from education, exile, and monetary fines.

Written by Ardeshir Tayebi based on an original story in Persian by RFE/RL's Radio Farda

Iran's Hard-Liners Blast Tougher Proposed Hijab Legislation -- As Too Lenient

Several Iranian women are seen on a street in Tehran in April without the mandatory hijab.

The authorities in Iran have drafted a new bill that would impose stiffer penalties against women who violate the Islamic dress code, including fines, imprisonment, and even the deprivation of rights.

But hard-liners have blasted the “hijab and chastity bill” as too lenient, saying the proposed legislation will not deter women from flouting the mandatory hijab, or Islamic head scarf.

The move comes as the authorities intensify efforts to enforce the hijab as more women fail to comply with the law. Women have been emboldened by the monthslong antiestablishment protests that erupted in September following the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini soon after she was arrested by Iran’s morality police for allegedly improperly wearing the head scarf.

In April, Iranian police began to use surveillance cameras to identify and punish women who failed to wear the hijab, which became compulsory for women and girls over the age of 9 in 1981, two years after the Islamic Revolution in Iran.

Authorities also warned that offenders would receive a warning via SMS. Repeat offenders, they warned, could face hefty fines and lose access to mobile phone and Internet services.

It is unclear if the new draft bill aims to codify into law the new measures outlined last month.

Tougher Penalties

According to the text of the bill published by Iranian media, the proposed legislation outlines progressively tougher penalties for violators -- from fines and deprivation of “social rights” to up to three years in prison.

Those who engage in social media campaigns against the hijab will also be punished, according to the text of the bill.

In recent months, an increasing number of women, including celebrities, have appeared in public without a head scarf in a direct challenge to the authorities, including Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei who said last month that the removal of the hijab in public is forbidden. Some women have also posted photos and videos of themselves defying the hijab law.

The draft bill also states that those who insult, threaten, or assault women who do not observe the hijab will be punished.

Women have complained that they face routine harassment and violence at the hands of the morality police and pro-government vigilantes seeking to enforce the hijab law.

During the antiestablishment protests, the authorities dismantled the notorious morality police, which was tasked with enforcing the hijab law. Since then, the authorities have said they are working on introducing “smart” methods to enforce the law.

The proposed legislation, drafted by the judiciary, was approved by the government over the weekend and later presented to lawmakers. It is unclear when it will be debated and voted on.

'The Bill To Support The Unveiled'

Hard-liners in Iran have been angered by the draft bill, saying it does not go far enough.

“It is as if the bill was prepared not to deal with unveiling, but with the aim (albeit unintentionally) of removing the existing legal obstacles and laying the groundwork for the expansion of this ugly and hideous phenomenon!” Hossein Shariatmadari, the editor of the hard-line daily Kayhan, wrote in an editorial on May 22.

Hard-line eulogist Mehdi Salahshur said on May 23 that the proposed legislation should be renamed “the bill to support the unveiled.”

The daily Hamshahri on May 24 called on the government of President Ebrahim Raisi to revoke the bill, claiming it would create “immunity” for violators by preventing the police as well as hijab enforcers from taking action.

Following the criticism, government spokesman Ali Bahadori Jahromi said on May 25 that the text of the bill published by the media was not the version approved by the government.

Lawmaker Mohammad Ali Naghali, meanwhile, said that in drafting the bill the judiciary had taken a “minimalistic” approach to the issue of noncompliance of the hijab.

“Under the current conditions, the parliament does not accept the hijab bill. We will amend the bill and [create deterrence] through punishments,” he said.

'Gender Apartheid'

Britain-based feminist activist Samaneh Savadi told RFE/RL’s Radio Farda that the draft bill is an attempt by the authorities to consolidate “gender apartheid” in Iran.

“The Islamic republic is helplessly trying to satisfy its supporters while at the same time [trying to convince] the international community that these actions are legal,” she said, adding that “so far it has failed at both.”

In recent weeks, the authorities have issued public threats and closed hundreds of businesses, including cafes and shopping malls, for allegedly failing to enforce the country's hijab law on their customers.

Shahindokht Molaverdi, a jurist and former vice president, told the Emtedad news site on May 25 that the hijab crackdown was likely to result in more protests.

“Predictions indicate that these encounters will lead to the spread of protests in the not-so-distant future. We see that in response to these strict [measures], unveiling has become widespread,” Molaverdi said.

Iranian Lawyers Say Courts Issuing Them Dozens Of Summonses With No Charges

Abuzar Nasrallah, one of the lawyers to receive a summons, said the proceedings are mostly conducted by the security court located in Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison with no specific charges stated.

A leading member of one of Iran's legal associations says more than 100 lawyers from across the country have been summoned to Tehran's security court, even though there is no mention of any charges against them.

Adel Moghaddas, a member of the board of directors of the Bushehr Bar Association, said on May 25 that the summons began arriving last month and they came "without mention of any charges," saying it appears the move is a pressure tactic to keep lawyers from supporting protests that have rocked the country for months.

Abuzar Nasrallah, one of the lawyers to receive a summons, said the proceedings are mostly conducted by the security court located in Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison with no specific charges stated.

Lawyers are being urged during the hearings to sign a prewritten "commitment letter" pledging adherence to the law as a condition for their release on bail, he said.

Nasrallah said the court confronted him with posts from his social media account, which he said in no way broke the law. He said that he was dedicated to his legal oath and therefore questioned why the court wanted a commitment, especially if no crime had been committed.

Nasrallah said the head of the security court issued him a warning “that while there was currently no intention to arrest lawyers, those who refused to sign the commitment may find their cases processed, and subsequent summons may follow."

The commitment letter contains an "expression of regret" for nationwide protests and a strategy to limit contact with "networks outside the country, anti-revolutionary elements," according to Mohammad Hadi Jaafarpour, a member of the Fars Lawyers Association and one of the lawyers who was summoned.

He stated that many lawyers refused to sign this part of the commitment but instead chose to acknowledge respect for the law and adherence to legal behavior.

The unprecedented summoning of lawyers has been attributed to Behrouz Hasani Etemad, a former lawyer now representing the prosecution in numerous protester cases.

His most notable case to date involved Mohsen Shakari, the first protester to be executed after Iran’s recent nationwide protests, sparked by the death of Mahsa Amini while in police custody last September.

Since Amini’s death, at least 129 lawyers have faced "judicial encounters," according to the group Human Rights Activists in Iran (HRA). This includes both arrests and summonses for a variety of reasons, ranging from practicing their profession to expressing views on social media.

The HRA said that 55 lawyers have been arrested, 70 have been summoned, and numerous others have faced judicial and security confrontations since the protests began. However, the recent wave of summonings to sign a "commitment" and express regret for the protests suggests an escalation in the crackdown on the legal profession.

The Islamic republic's judiciary has been restricting access to protester cases, often only accepting representation from lawyers approved by the head of the judiciary. However, independent lawyers have sometimes managed to overturn heavy sentences, like execution, during the appeal stage.

The escalating number of lawyers being summoned to the Tehran Security Court has raised alarm bells, especially considering the increased risk of executing more protesters without access to independent and fair representation.

Officials have launched a brutal crackdown amid the wave of unrest sparked by Amini's death in September while in police custody for an alleged infraction of the country's mandatory hijab law.

Iran's judiciary, at the urging of senior leaders, has taken a hard-line stance against demonstrators, executing at least seven protesters, including three on May 19. Several others currently wait on death row for their sentences to be carried out.

Amnesty International said in a report earlier this month that Iran drove a global spike in executions last year with 576, almost double the previous year.

Written by Ardeshir Tayebi based on an original story in Persian by RFE/RL's Radio Farda

Brussels, Tehran Swap Prisoners In Move Criticized By Iranian Exile Group

Olivier Vandecasteele (file photo)

Belgium and Iran have swapped prisoners in an exchange mediated by Oman, a move criticized by an exiled Iranian opposition group as "shameful."

Oman's Foreign Ministry said the swap involving Olivier Vandecasteele, a Belgian aid worker jailed in Iran, and Asadollah Assadi, an Iranian diplomat imprisoned in Belgium, took place on May 26. Officials from Belgium and Iran both confirmed the news.

"The individuals who were released have been transported from Tehran and Brussels to Muscat today in preparation for their return to their respective countries," the ministry said in a statement.

Vandecasteele was sentenced in December to 28 years in prison by the Iranian judiciary for "espionage," a charge Brussels called "fabricated."

Belgian TV reported late on May 26 that Vandecasteele had returned to his home country after flying through Oman on a Belgian military plane.

Western countries have repeatedly charged that Iran tries to take advantage of foreign countries by taking dual and foreign nationals hostage and then using them in prisoner swaps.

During a current wave of unrest sparked by the death of a young woman after she was detained for allegedly wearing a head scarf improperly, Iranian security forces have taken some 40 foreign nationals into custody, often without revealing any charges.

Assadi was sentenced to 20 years in prison last year in connection with a plot to bomb a rally of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), an exiled opposition group, outside Paris in June 2018. Tehran considers the NCRI a terrorist group and has called the Paris attack plot a "false flag" move by the group.

The NCRI immediately decried the swap, saying Belgium had released a "terrorist."

"The release of the a shameful ransom to terrorism and hostage-taking. This will embolden the religious fascism ruling Iran to continue its crimes," the Paris-based NCRI said.

Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo, whose government pushed through a a fiercely criticized treaty allowing prisoner exchanges with Iran that paved the way for the swap, said Vandecasteele is expected back in Belgium late on May 26.

With reporting by Reuters and RTL

Iranian Bill Before Parliament Increases Penalties For Defiance Of Hijab

Young women in Iran defying the mandatory head covering will face stiffer and stiffer penalties.

A bill containing Iran's Chastity and Hijab law has been presented to parliament, legislation that many see as a continuation of the government's oppression of women and human rights.

State media reported on May 24 that provisions of the bill refer to failure to comply by the compulsory head scarf as "nudity," with progressively stiffer penalties that run up to fines and the deprivation of social rights.

Repeat offenders would face imprisonment from six months to three years.

The Chastity and Hijab bill also imposes stringent penalties on drivers or passengers of a vehicle who are with those who fail to comply with the compulsory hijab. After two fines, a vehicle can be confiscated, with a daily fine of 10 million rials ($20).

The proposed law would penalize owners and managers of public places, including stores, restaurants, cinemas, sports, recreational, and artistic venues. These penalties extend to fines, the sealing of their premises, and the deprivation of tax exemptions and government tariffs.

The hijab became compulsory for women and girls over the age of 9 in 1981, two years after the Islamic Revolution in Iran. The move triggered protests that were swiftly crushed by the new authorities. Many women have flouted the rule over the years and pushed the boundaries of what officials say is acceptable clothing.

Women have also launched campaigns against the discriminatory law, although many have been pressured by the state and forced to leave the country.

Most recently, the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in September in police custody for an alleged hijab violation released a new wave of anger that has presented the Islamic regime with its biggest challenge since the revolution.

The "Woman, life, freedom" protests and civil disobedience against the compulsory hijab have swept the country, involving tens of thousands of Iranians, many of whom were already upset over the country's deteriorating living standards.

The protests have also been buffeted by the participation of celebrities, sports stars, and well-known rights activists, prompting a special mention of such luminaries in the legislation.

The bill states that socially influential individuals, owing to their activities in social, political, cultural, artistic, or sports spheres, could see their professional and online activities banned from three months to a year for violations, with repeated offenders facing up to three years in prison.

In the face of the unrest, some religious and government figures have repeatedly advocated for a tougher stance by the government against offenders, even going as far as encouraging a "fire at will" approach against noncompliant women.

While the protests appear to be waning, resistance to the hijab is likely to increase, analysts say, as it is seen now as a symbol of the state's repression of women and the deadly crackdown on society.

In recent weeks, the authorities have also shut down businesses, restaurants, cafes, and in some cases pharmacies due to the failure of owners or managers to observe Islamic laws and hijab rules.

Written by Ardeshir Tayebi based on an original story in Persian by RFE/RL's Radio Farda

Iran Unveils Ballistic Missile With Range Of 2,000 Kilometers, Says State Media

The impact of a ballistic missile launched by Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps in 2020.

Iran unveiled the fourth generation of its Khorramshahr ballistic missile under the name Khaibar, with a range of 2,000 kilometers and a 1,500-kilogram warhead, the official IRNA news agency reported on May 25. Iran has expanded its missile program, particularly its ballistic missiles, despite opposition from the United States and expressions of concern by European countries. Tehran says the program is purely defensive and is for deterrence purposes. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.

Rights Group Urges Global Governments To 'Radically' Increase Pressure On Iran Over Executions

Amnesty International said in a report earlier this month that Iran drove a global spike in executions last year with 576, almost double the previous year.

The Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) says it has sent a letter to 75 governments around the world asking them to "radically increase" pressure on Tehran to cease the "flagrantly unlawful executions" of protesters and others that are surging in the country.

“The Islamic republic is hanging young protesters -- after torturing them into making ‘confessions’ and convicting them in sham trials -- and targeting minorities for executions for lesser crimes, in order to cow its restive population into silence,” Hadi Ghaemi, CHRI's executive director, said in a statement on May 24.

Officials have launched a brutal crackdown in Iran amid a wave of unrest sparked by the death of Mahsa Amini in September while in police custody for an alleged infraction of the country's mandatory hijab law.

Iran's judiciary, at the urging of senior leaders, has taken a hard-line stance against demonstrators, executing at least seven protesters, including three on May 19. Several others currently wait on death row for their sentences to be carried out.

The Norway-based Iran Human Rights group says that so far this year at least 277 people are confirmed to have been executed in Iran, including at least 90 in the last three weeks, making May the "bloodiest month" in the country in the last five years.

Amnesty International said in a report earlier this month that Iran drove a global spike in executions last year with 576, almost double the previous year.

“Unless world leaders join forces to raise the cost to the authorities in Iran of these state-sanctioned killings, which severely violate international laws governing the death penalty, the Islamic republic’s killing machine will gather steam and more people will unjustly die on the gallows in Iran,” Ghaemi said.

The Farda Briefing: Appointment For Powerful Policy-Shaping Post Is 'Sign Of Growing Influence' Of The IRGC

Ali Akbar Ahmadian, a commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), has been appointed as the new secretary of the Supreme National Security Council (SNSC).

Welcome back to The Farda Briefing, an RFE/RL newsletter that tracks the key issues in Iran and explains why they matter. To subscribe, click here.

I'm RFE/RL correspondent Golnaz Esfandiari. Here's what I've been following during the past week and what I'm watching for in the days ahead.

The Big Issue

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi has appointed Ali Akbar Ahmadian, a commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), as the new secretary of the Supreme National Security Council (SNSC). Ahmadian replaces Rear Admiral Ali Shamkhani, an ethnic Arab who had served as secretary of the key policy-shaping body since 2013 and recently signed a China-brokered agreement aimed at mending ties with Saudi Arabia.

Shamkhani had come under scrutiny over his ties to British-Iranian citizen Alireza Akbari, who was hanged in January after being convicted of spying for the United Kingdom. Shamkhani, a former defense minister under reformist President Mohammad Khatami, has also faced allegations of corruption, which he denies.

He was appointed to the SNSC by former relative moderate President Hassan Rohani. According to conservative political activist Mansoor Haghighatour, the hard-line Raisi had sought to replace Shamkhani since taking over as president in 2021, but had not been able to find a suitable replacement.

Raisi settled on the 62-year-old Ahmadian, a dentist and a veteran of the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War who rose through the ranks of the IRGC and headed the IRGC's Strategic Center. Ahmadian also previously served as chief of the IRGC's Joint Staff and as commander of the IRGC's naval forces.

Unlike Shamkhani, who served under various governments, Ahmadian does not have any political experience, and he's virtually unknown to the public.

Why It Matters: Ahmadian's appointment comes at a critical time for the Islamic republic, which faces an ailing economy crushed by U.S. sanctions as well as widespread anti-regime sentiment following the recent wave of nationwide antiestablishment protests. It also comes amid speculation about who might succeed Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who is 84 and who underwent prostate surgery in 2014.

What's Next: Analysts believe the reshuffling in the SNSC is unlikely to have an immediate impact on state policies in the Islamic republic, where the supreme leader has the last say in all state matters.

"I don't think there will be a change in domestic policies, state repression, and foreign and regional policies," Paris-based analyst Reza Alijani told RFE/Rl's Radio Farda.

Alijani noted that Shamkhani was replaced with "a military figure who had been until now active behind the scenes" and who does not carry any political baggage, unlike his predecessor.

Sina Azodi, a lecturer of international affairs at George Washington University, told me that Ahmadian's appointment highlights the increasing control of the IRGC over the country's affairs.

"I think that Shamkhani's departure -- who was close to the reformists, he was Khatami's defense minister, and to pragmatic forces, he was appointed to the SNSC by Rohani -- is yet another sign of the growing influence of IRGC forces in Iran's security establishment and decision-making," Azodi said. "Shamkhani remains the highest-ranking Iranian naval officer and is being replaced by an IRGC commander of lower rank, which in itself is interesting."

Azodi also suggested that Ahmadian's nomination to the SNSC could have an impact on the succession process by giving the IRGC more influence.

Stories You Might Have Missed

Prominent photojournalist Yalda Moayeri has protested the sharp rise in executions in Iran, where over 200 people have been hanged so far this year.

The family of Mahsa Amini has accused Iran's security forces of vandalizing the grave of the young woman, whose death while in police custody in September 2022 ignited nationwide protests that turned into one of the biggest threats to the Islamic republic's leadership since it took power in 1979.

What We're Watching

Iran's judiciary has announced that two imprisoned journalists who helped break Amini's story -- Elhahe Mohammadi and Niloufar Hamedi -- will go on trial next week. A judiciary spokesman said on May 23 that Mohammadi's preliminary hearing will be held on May 29, while the hearing for Hamedi will be held on May 30.

The two journalists face a number of charges, including "collaborating with the hostile government of America, conspiracy and collusion to commit crimes against national security, and propaganda against the establishment."

Hamedi's husband, Mohammad Hossein Ajorlu, was quoted by domestic media as saying on May 23 that the lawyers of the two imprisoned journalists have not yet been able to meet with them.

Why It Matters: Mohammadi from the Sharq daily and Hamedi from Hammihan have been in prison since September for doing their jobs: covering Amini's September 16 death while in the custody of the morality police and the ensuing several months of nationwide antiestablishment protests in Iran.

Hamedi reported from the Tehran hospital where Amini was taken following her arrest for allegedly violating Iran's hijab rule, while Hamedi reported from Amini's funeral in her hometown of Saghez. Their plight highlights the dire situation of press freedom in Iran, which is listed 177th out of 180 nations ranked in Reporters Without Borders' 2023 press freedom index.

That's all from me for now. Don't forget to send me any questions, comments, or tips that you have.

Until next time,

Golnaz Esfandiari

If you enjoyed this briefing and don't want to miss the next edition, subscribe here. It will be sent to your inbox every Wednesday.

Iranian Women Protest Inside Evin Prison Against Wave Of Executions

A group of female political prisoners took part in a rare protest inside the notorious Evin Prison on May 23.

A group of Iranian female political prisoners incarcerated in Tehran's notorious Evin Prison have held a protest against the recent execution of three protesters and the state's increasing usage of the death penalty, which has been widely criticized by rights groups and governments around the world.

According to reports on social media accounts published on May 23, some of the most well-known female political prisoners, including Sepideh Gholian, Bahareh Hedayat, Faezeh Hashemi, and Narges Mohammadi, participated in a rare political protest inside the prison, with each issuing statements condemning the wave of executions.

Golrokh Ebrahimi Iraee, another prisoner, said: "The female political prisoners of Evin Prison held a ceremony on Saturday [May 20] in the women's ward courtyard to protest the recent executions, including the execution of two people in Arak Prison on charges of blasphemy, and the three recent executions in Isfahan."

Iraee, who in April was sentenced to seven years in prison for crimes "against the regime," said that "the nature of this regime is to physically eliminate its opponents, critics, and those who protest against its policies. Our silence is an endorsement of the shamelessness of the perpetrators and complicit in sharpening the blades of the gallows."

It was not clear whether the women were punished for the protest.

Iran's judiciary, at the urging of senior leaders, has taken a hard-line stance against protesters demonstrating against the September death of Mahsa Amini. The 22-year-old died while in police custody in Tehran after being detained for allegedly wearing a head scarf improperly.

The incident ignited anger across the country, prompting tens of thousands -- led by women and students -- to take to the streets demanding more freedoms. The harsh response by security agents has intensified the protests, with many calling for Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khameni to step down.

So far, Iranian authorities have executed at least seven protesters, including the three on May 19.

Human rights activist Mohammadi said the government "is exacting revenge on the revolutionary movement in a brutal way by executing and killing people."

"Iran of 2023 is not Iran of the 1980s. If the purpose of executions in the 80s was to create fear, horror, and suppress different currents and trends, the recent executions will have the opposite effect," she said.

The Norway-based Iran Human Rights group says that so far this year at least 275 people have been executed in Iran, including at least 90 in the last three weeks, making May the "bloodiest month" in the country in the last five years.

Labor activist Gholian, arrested earlier this month for publicly criticizing Ali Khamenei shortly after she had been released from prison after serving , said during the gathering of political activists: "Our mission is now clearer. They will leave before all the oil wells run out. We will passionately dance in our homeland."

Vida Rabbani, Nasrin Khazri Javadi, Shakila Manfred, Zohreh Sarv, and Mahvash Shahriari were other prominent political prisoners who participated in the gathering inside the prison.

Written by Ardeshir Tayebi based on an original story in Persian by RFE/RL's Radio Farda

Activists Say Iran's 'Eye Victims' Under Government Pressure With Arrests

Heresh Naqshbandi (left) and Amir Valayat (right) both lost an eye after being shot in the face by security agents during nationwide protests. Now they are both under arrest.

Two Iranian protesters known as "eye victims" have been arrested in what rights activists say is a campaign by authorities to silence those who have been shot in the face by security agents during months of unrest over the death of a young woman while in police custody for an alleged violation of the country's hijab law.

Human rights activists announced on May 23 that Amir Valayati and Heresh Naqshbandi, two protesters who each lost an eye to government forces' pellet guns during the recent nationwide protests, had been arrested.

Among the thousands arrested since the death in September of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, an unknown number of protesters have been blinded by security forces after being shot in the face. The New York TImes has estimated some 500 young Iranians were were treated in Tehran hospitals after suffering such injuries in the first three months of the protests alone.

Iranwire, which documents human rights abuses in Iran, says it has confirmed some 580 cases of blinding in Tehran and the province of Kurdistan alone, "but the actual numbers across the country are much higher."

The victims say they were purposely singled out before being wounded, with some claiming security forces smiled before shooting them in the face.

The government and senior security officials have rejected the accusations.

Reports indicate that Valayati was taken into custody on May 18 following a raid on his home by government forces.

Valayati, a hairdresser, lost an eye when he was shot with a pellet gun by security forces during the second week of the nationwide protests. Valayati was demonstrating in the Narmak district of Tehran with friends at the time of the incident.

Despite the injury, Valayati has continued to post protest-related content on his Instagram account in recent months. He was arrested again while undergoing treatment for his injury, having already had two operations with another scheduled in the following months.

The opposition activist collective 1500tasvir reported the arrest of theater actor and director Naqshbandi, who lost an eye in a similar way during the protests. He was taken into custody last week, and 1500tasvir said his family has yet to be given any information regarding his condition and whereabouts.

The pressure campaign, activists said, is being extended to the families of the "eye victims" as well.

The Instagram account Eyes for Freedom, which follows stories of eye injury victims, reported last week that the brother of Parsa Ghobadi, a protester who lost both his eyes during the unrest, had been arrested.

Vahid Abbasi Peyani, who lost an eye during protests in the city of Izeh last November, has also been incarcerated for months at Sheiban prison in the southwestern Iranian city of Ahvaz.

Several similar cases are being reported in other cities as well.

Anger over Amini's death in police custody in September 2022 prompted thousands of Iranians to take to the streets nationwide to demand more freedoms and women's rights. The widespread unrest represents the biggest threat to the Islamic government since the 1979 revolution.

Her death, which officials blamed on a heart attack, touched off a wave of anti-government protests in cities across the country. The authorities have responded to the unrest with a harsh crackdown that rights groups say has killed more than 500 people, including 71 children.

Written by Ardeshir Tayebi based on an original story in Persian by RFE/RL's Radio Farda

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