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IAEA Team In Iran To Supervise 'Research'

Iran's Bushehr nuclear plant (file photo) (AFP) 12 February 2006 -- A team of inspectors from the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has arrived in Iran to supervise the resumption of that country's controversial nuclear research activities.

Iran's parliamentary speaker, Gholam Ali Hadad-Adel, told the official news agency IRNA that research will start today or the next day.

Iran announced it would resume uranium-enrichment research in January, ending a two-year suspension. Enrichment can produce reactor fuel for civilian purposes, but can also be extended to make the fissile core of a nuclear weapon.

The announcement provoked renewed concerns Iran could master weapons technology, and prompted the IAEA board to report Iran to the UN Security Council on 4 February.

(AFP)

IAEA Final Resolution

IAEA Final Resolution



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On 4 February, the Board of Governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency approved in a 27-3 vote a resolution to report the matter of Iran's nuclear program to the United Nations Security Council. The key section of the resolution is Section 1, which states that the Board of Governors:

Underlines that outstanding questions can best be resolved and confidence built in the exclusively peaceful nature of Iran's program by Iran responding positively to the calls for confidence-building measures which the Board has made on Iran, and in this context deems it necessary for Iran to:

  • reestablish full and sustained suspension of all enrichment-related and processing activities, including research and development, to be verified by the Agency;
  • reconsider the construction of a research reactor moderated by heavy water;
  • ratify promptly and implement in full Additional Protocol;
  • pending ratification, continue to act in accordance with the provisions of the Additional Protocol with Iran signed on 18 December 2003;
  • implement the transparency measures, as requested by the Director General, which extend beyond the former requirements of the Safeguards Agreement and Additional Protocol, and include such access to individuals, documentation relating to procurement, dual use equipment, certain military-owned workshops and research and development as the Agency may request in support of its ongoing investigations.

COMPLETE TEXT: To read the final resolution, with late-hour changes highlighted, click here.


THE COMPLETE PICTURE: RFE/RL's complete coverage of controversy surrounding Iran's nuclear program.

An annotated timeline of Iran's nuclear program.

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Iran's Protest Anthem Played At White House Norouz Celebration

First lady Jill Biden accepts the award for best song for social change on behalf of Shervin Hajipour for Baraye at the 65th annual Grammy Awards on February 5.

A video of Iranian singer Shervin Hajipour performing the protest anthem Baraye played on March 20 at a White House celebration marking Norouz, the Persian New Year. The video was played just before President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden hosted the event. Biden told the audience that the traditional New Year inspired "hope for women of Iran who are fighting for their human rights and fundamental freedoms." The song instantly became associated with the political upheaval in Iran sparked by the death of Mahsa Amini while in custody for an alleged violation of Iran's hijab law.

EU Extends Iran Sanctions To Judges, Clerical Council

European ministers agreed to add eight Iranians and one of the Tehran government's most powerful bodies to EU sanctions lists, alleging human rights violations. The individuals -- including clerics, judges, and a broadcaster -- are accused of playing leading roles in Iran's crackdown on anti-government protests. The EU said it was in particular "sanctioning members of the judiciary responsible for handing down death sentences in unfair trials and for the torturing of convicts." The government institution, the Supreme Council of Cultural Revolution, was said to have "promoted several projects undermining the freedom of girls and women and discriminating against minorities."

Iranian Teachers' Union Warns Government Over Failing To Meet Its Demands

In recent years, Iranian teachers have taken to the streets across the country to demand better pay and working conditions.

A teachers' union in Iran has warned the government that if its demands are not met, its members will take to the streets in May, adding to the social and economic unrest that has plagued the country for almost a year.

The Coordinating Council of Teachers' Syndicates said in a statement on March 19 that imprisonment, dismissal, deportation, and court sentences have failed to deter teachers from their desire to accompany the people of Iran in the direction of fundamental changes in the Islamic republic.

"The tyranny can no longer stand against The Power of Powerless", the statement added, referring to a political essay written by the Czech communist-era dissident Vaclav Havel.

In recent years, Iranian teachers have taken to the streets across the country to demand better pay and working conditions. In response, the authorities have summoned, detained, and jailed a growing number of protesters and activists, actions that have failed to stop the rallies.

The statement, published just ahead of the beginning of the Persian New Year on March 21, referred to the last year as "a year full of glory and complaints" and added that "the stance of teachers and students together will promise days full of awareness."

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 while in police custody for allegedly wearing a head scarf improperly breathed new life into demonstrations, which officials across the country have since tried to quell with harsh measures.

The activist HRANA news agency said that more than 500 people have been killed during the unrest, including 71 minors, as security forces try to stifle widespread dissent.

Thousands have been arrested in the clampdown, with the judiciary handing down harsh sentences -- including the death penalty -- to protesters.

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

Iranian Rights Violations May Amount To Crimes Against Humanity, UN Expert Says

Javaid Rehman, special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran (file photo)

Iran's authorities have committed violations in recent months that may amount to crimes against humanity, a UN-appointed expert told the Human Rights Council on March 20, citing cases of murder, imprisonment, enforced disappearances, torture, rape, sexual violence, and persecution. Iran has been swept by protests since the death of a young Iranian Kurdish woman, Mahsa Amini, in custody last September. Addressing the Geneva-based council, Javaid Rehman, special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran, said he had evidence that Amini died "as a result of beatings by the state morality police." To read the original story by Reuters, click here.

Britain Sanctions More Iranian Officials Involved In Rights Abuses, Financing IRGC

British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly

Britain on March 20 sanctioned more Iranian officials responsible for financing the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) and for committing human rights abuses. They include five members of the body that manages the IRGC's investments and two IRGC commanders from Tehran and Alborz provinces who committed "gross human rights violations," the Foreign Office statement said. "Today we are taking action on senior leaders within the IRGC who are responsible for funneling money into the regime’s brutal repression.... We will continue to stand with the Iranian people as they call for fundamental change in Iran," Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said.

Jailed Iranian Activist Says 'Overthrow' Of The Regime Is 'Logical' Step

Iranian political activist Bahareh Hedayat

In a message on the eve of the Persian New Year to honor the hundreds of victims killed in recent nationwide protests, leading jailed Iranian political activist Bahareh Hedayat said the "overthrow" of the Islamic regime as a "logical" step following months of unrest.

In a letter written from the women's ward of Tehran's notorious Evin prison, Hedayat said on March 19 that while toppling the Islamic government was not the initial intent of the movement sparked by the death of Mahsa Amini while in police custody for an alleged violation of the hijab law, "this demand has become the objective on a scale that cannot be ignored.”

Hedayat, who is currently in prison for participating in the anti-government protests that erupted after Amini's death last September, listed the names of several protesters who were killed during the unrest, as well as four protesters who were sentenced to death and then executed as part of the judiciary's crackdown aimed at intimidating the demonstrators, thousands of whom have been arrested.

She added that the Islamic authority "has become the most immoral element of Iranians' daily lives and its survival is a denial of our survival, our children's survival, and our land. Therefore, the logic of overthrow is still in place."

The letter emphasizes the protesters' determination to "take back Iran" after the death of Amini.

Along with the execution of four protesters, Iran's judiciary has handed several others death sentences after what rights groups and the U.S. government have called "sham trials."

The executions and death sentences are part of the government's brutal, and often violent, crackdown on demonstrators. Lawmakers have pushed for harsh punishments to try and quell what has become the biggest challenge to the country's leadership since the Islamic Revolution in 1979.

Hedayat is a student activist and women's rights campaigner in Iran who has been arrested and sentenced to long prison terms several times. Most recently, she was arrested on October 3 during the nationwide protests.

The activist HRANA news agency has said that more than 500 people have been killed during the unrest, including 71 minors, as security forces try to stifle widespread dissent.

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

Iran's Foreign Minister Says He Has Agreed To Meet Saudi Counterpart

Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian (right) greets his Qatari counterpart, Mohammed Bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani, in Tehran on January 29. In recent weeks, Iran has expressed interest in holding meetings with regional leaders.

Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian said on March 19 that he had agreed to meet his Saudi Arabian counterpart, Adel Al-Jubeir, proposing three locations during a news conference. Iran and Saudi Arabia agreed on March 10 to reestablish relations and reopen embassies within two months after years of hostility, following talks in China. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.

Zelenskiy Announces Sanctions On Hundreds Of Individuals, Including Syrian President, Iranian Drone Makers

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said Iranian and Syrian individuals -- "those who help terror" -- are also among the newly blacklisted.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has announced sanctions against hundreds of individuals and companies, including Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Iranians associated with the production of Shahed drones.

Zelenskiy said on March 18 that most of the more than 400 individuals and companies designated for sanctions are Russian and are involved in the defense industry, but Iranian and Syrian individuals -- "those who help terror" -- are also among the newly blacklisted.

Live Briefing: Russia's Invasion Of Ukraine

RFE/RL's Live Briefing gives you all of the latest developments on Russia's full-scale invasion, Kyiv's counteroffensives, Western military aid, global reaction, and the plight of civilians. For all of RFE/RL's coverage of the war, click here.

According to a decree issued by Zelenskiy, the sanctions against Assad are imposed for 10 years. The new sanctions also list Syrian Prime Minister Hussein Arnous and Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad.

In addition, the commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps' drone force was placed on the sanctions list. Sanctions were also introduced against other Iranian citizens.

Ukraine severed diplomatic relations with Syria last year. Assad recently visited Moscow and declared his full support for Russian President Vladimir Putin, calling Russia's war against Ukraine a struggle "with "old and new Nazis."

Russia has backed the Syrian Army in its fight against rebel forces in northern Syria, and Assad has said the presence of Russian troops in Syria is legitimate as his government has requested Moscow's support.

Zelenskiy's sanctions decrees list 141 legal entities, including companies from Russia, Iran, and the United Arab Emirates.

Zelenskiy said the Ukrainian sanctions are part of the global pressure on Russia.

"We study in depth each of our sanctioning steps," he said on Telegram. The sanctions are aimed at "all those who produce weapons for terror against Ukraine, who help Russia incite aggression, in particular by supplying Shahed drones, and who support Russia’s destruction of international law."

Russia has used Iranian-made Shahed kamikaze drones to attack critical Ukrainian infrastructure, including electrical substations and water facilities.

Iran Court Sentences Two To Death Over Deadly Shrine Attack

Workers clean up the scene following an armed attack at the Shah Cheragh mausoleum in the Iranian city of Shiraz on October 26, 2022.

An Iranian court has handed death sentences to two men over an attack on a Shi'ite shrine in Iran that killed 15 people in October and was claimed by the militant group Islamic State (IS), the official news agency IRNA reported on March 18. Fars Province judiciary head Kazem Mousavi said the two men had been found guilty of charges including "spreading corruption on Earth" and acting against national security, IRNA reported, adding that the sentences can be appealed. The men are alleged to have collaborated with IS members in the attack. To read the original story from Reuters, click here.

Fresh Protests Break Out In Western Iran Amid Reports Of Man Dying In Custody

People took to the streets on March 15 chanting anti-government slogans after 41-year-old Shirzad Ahmadinejad, a resident of Bukan, died while being held at an IRGC Intelligence Detention Center in the nearby city of Urmia.

The death of a man while in the custody of security forces has sparked fresh anti-government protests in the northwestern Iranian city of Bukan.

According to local sources, including the website of the rights group Hengaw, people took to the streets on March 15 chanting anti-government slogans, as well as "The martyr will never die" in Kurdish after 41-year-old Shirzad Ahmadinejad, a resident of Bukan, died while being held at an IRGC Intelligence Detention Center in the nearby city of Urmia.

It is unclear why Ahmadinejad was detained, but Hengaw, citing "informed sources," said he was supposed to be temporarily released on bail but then his family was informed that he had died of a heart attack.

"However, we have learned from our sources that Ahmadinejad died under torture, and the security forces have not yet handed over his body to the family," Hengaw said, quoting sources close to Ahmadinejad's family.

Bukan, located in West Azerbaijan Province, was one of the cities that saw numerous protests following the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini during her detention by the Islamic republic's morality police in Tehran last September.

Amini's death, which officials blamed on a heart attack, touched off a wave of anti-government protests that authorities have met with a harsh crackdown that rights groups say has killed more than 500 people, including 71 children.

Officials, who have blamed -- without providing evidence -- the West for the demonstrations, have vowed to crack down even harder on protesters, with the judiciary leading the way after the unrest entered a fourth month.

The protests pose the biggest threat to the Islamic government since the 1979 revolution.

Several thousand people have been arrested, including many protesters, as well as journalists, lawyers, activists, digital rights defenders, and others.

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

Iranian Activist Gholian Rearrested Hours After Release From Evin Prison

Sepideh Gholian, 28, is one of the most prominent female activists held in Iran. She was released early on March 15 after being behind bars for four years and seven months. (file photo)

Iranian labor activist Sepideh Gholian has been rearrested by security forces just hours after her release from Tehran's notorious Evin Prison, where she served almost five years after being forced to confess to treason.

According to reports on social media, Gholian was detained by security forces late on March 15 while traveling back to her hometown in Khuzestan, between the cities of Qom and Arak.

There was no official comment on the reports, which came after video footage released on social media showed her supporting protests against the mandatory hijab law by shouting: "Khamenei, the tyrant, we will bury you in the ground."

Reports on social media also suggested that those who filmed Gholian's rearrest were detained by security forces.

Gholian, 28, is one of the most prominent female activists held in Iran. She was released early on March 15 after being behind bars for four years and seven months.

"I was released from the Seven Hills case. This time I came out hoping for the freedom of Iran!" she wrote in the post, which showed a video of her leaving the prison with a bouquet of flowers.

Gholian was arrested along with more than a dozen activists, protest organizers, and workers during the Haft Tappeh Sugar Factory strike in November 2018. While most were released on bond the next day, Gholian was imprisoned for a month.

Her release from prison in Ahvaz in December 2018 was short-lived as she was again arrested in January 2019 after Iranian state television aired footage in which it purported to show Gholian confessing to taking part in alleged Western-backed efforts to overthrow the government. She promptly countered those accusations on social media by saying she had been beaten and forced to make a false confession.

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

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

The activist HRANA news agency said that more than 500 people have been killed during the unrest, including 71 minors, as security forces try to stifle widespread dissent.

Thousands have been arrested in the clampdown, with the judiciary handing down harsh sentences -- including the death penalty -- to protesters.

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

Child Protesters Have Suffered 'Horrific Acts Of Torture' In Iran, Amnesty Says

The protests in Iran began on September 16, 2022, with the death of Mahsa Amini from injuries she allegedly sustained in the custody of Iran’s notorious morality police.

Child protesters in Iran have been subjected to "horrific acts of torture" by security forces amid a crackdown on anti-government demonstrators, Amnesty International said in a statement on March 16 marking six months since the start of nationwide protests triggered by the death of a young woman in police detention. "Iran’s intelligence and security forces have been committing horrific acts of torture, including beatings, flogging, electric shocks, rape, and other sexual violence against child protesters as young as 12," Amnesty said, adding, “The authorities must immediately release all children detained solely for peacefully protesting."

Saudi Arabia Could Invest In Iran 'Very Quickly' After Agreement, Says Minister

Saudi Finance Minister Muhammad Al-Jadaan (file photo)

Saudi Arabian Finance Minister Muhammad Al-Jadaan said on March 15 that Saudi investments in Iran could happen "very quickly" following an agreement to restore diplomatic ties. "There are a lot of opportunities for Saudi investments in Iran. We don't see impediments as long as the terms of any agreement would be respected," Al-Jadaan said during the Financial Sector Conference in Riyadh. Iran and Saudi Arabia agreed on March 10 to reestablish relations and reopen embassies within two months after years of hostility. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.

Iranian Activist Gholian Released As Protests During Fire Festival Continue

Iranian activist Sepideh Gholian (file photo)

Iranian protesters have staged fresh demonstrations by taking to the streets across the country to protest during a night that is traditionally an ancient festival of fire as one of the country's well-known activists, Sepideh Gholian, said she had been released from prison.

Gholian, 28, is one of the most prominent female activists held in Iran. She announced on her Instagram page on March 15 that she had been released after being behind bars for four years and seven months.

"I was released from the Seven Hills case. This time I came out hoping for the freedom of Iran!" she wrote in the post, which showed video of her leaving the prison with a bouquet of flowers.


Gholian was arrested along with about 20 activists, protest organizers, and workers during the Haft Tappeh Sugar Factory strike in November 2018. While most were released on bond the next day, Gholian was imprisoned for a month.

Her release from prison in Ahvaz in December 2018 was short-lived as she was again arrested in January 2019 after Iranian state television aired footage in which it purported to show Gholian confessing to taking part in alleged Western-backed efforts to overthrow the government. She promptly countered those accusations on social media by saying she had been beaten and forced to make a false confession.

The labor activist's release came hours after videos published on social media showed people taking to the streets overnight as they used celebrations of the traditional Festival of Fire to continue months of protests, chanting anti-government slogans, such as "Death to the dictator" and "Death to Khamenei," a reference to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Saghez is the hometown of Mahsa Amini, the 22-year-old woman whose death during her detention by Iran's morality police for an alleged head scarf violation triggered nationwide protests.

The festival, which took on extra meaning this year after several months of unrest that threatens to tear the country apart as protesters battle for the government to respect women's and human rights, is seen as an opportunity to make wishes for the upcoming Persian New Year, which begins on March 21.

Reports also indicated that in several neighborhoods of Tehran, including Ekbatan in the west of the capital, people burned pictures of the leader of the Islamic republic and chanted slogans against the government.

Similar scenes were repeated in the Iranian cities of Zanjan, Rasht, Sanandaj, Piranshahr and Tabriz.

Iranian Women Burn Head Scarves Amid Fire Festival
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Amini's death, which officials blamed on a heart attack, touched off a wave of anti-government protests that authorities have met with a harsh crackdown that rights groups say has killed more than 500 people, including 71 children.

Officials, who have blamed -- without providing evidence -- the West for the demonstrations, have vowed to crack down even harder on protesters, with the judiciary leading the way after the unrest entered a fourth month.

The protests pose the biggest threat to the Islamic government since the 1979 revolution.

Several thousand people have been arrested, including many protesters, as well as journalists, lawyers, activists, digital rights defenders, and others.

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

Iranian Women Burn Head Scarves Amid Fire Festival

Iranian Women Burn Head Scarves Amid Fire Festival
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Women in the Iranian capital, Tehran, burned their head scarves amid the annual fire festival known as Chaharshanbeh Suri. Videos posted on social media showed anti-government protests erupting in several Iranian cities as celebrations ahead of the Persian New Year, Norouz, turned to defiance.

Iranian Government Proposes New Measures To Enforce Hijab Law, Including Surveillance

Many Iranian women and schoolgirls have been flouting Iran's hijab rules in a show of defiance following the death of a young woman in police custody for allegedly wearing the head scarf improperly. (file photo)

Iranian authorities have proposed new measures to enforce the compulsory wearing of the hijab in the country, including the use of surveillance cameras to identify and punish women who fail to comply with the dress code amid months of nationwide unrest sparked by the death of a young woman while in police custody for allegedly not wearing her head scarf properly.

In a public session of the Iranian parliament on March 14, Bijan Nobaveh a member of the Cultural Commission revealed that the body has proposed seven new measures related to the hijab, which have been fully endorsed by the leadership and discussed at the National Security Council.

Under the new proposals, physical punishment will not be allowed. Violators instead will be punished according to a predetermined table. The surveillance cameras will be used to monitor public spaces for women not wearing the hijab, and offenders will be punished subsequently with measures that include cutting off their mobile phone and Internet connections. Police and judicial authorities will be tasked with collecting evidence and identifying violators.

The Cultural Commission said shop owners and operators of businesses such as shopping malls and accommodation centers will be responsible for implementing the rules.

Officials have recently moved to seal off the businesses of some "violators," including this week when a hotel in the city of Kashan and a shopping center in the capital, Tehran, were closed because employers were not observing the mandatory hijab rule.

The hijab -- the head covering worn by Muslim women -- became compulsory in public for Iranian women and girls over the age of nine after the Islamic Revolution of 1979.

Many Iranian women have flouted the rule over the years in protest and pushed the boundaries of what officials say is acceptable clothing.

Long-simmering tensions boiled over after 22-year-old Mahsa Amini died while being detained for an alleged hijab infraction.

Tens of thousands of Iranians have flooded streets across the country in protest.

Women and even schoolgirls have put up unprecedented shows of defiance in the unrest, considered one of the biggest threats to the Islamic government since the 1979 revolution.

In response, authorities have launched a brutal crackdown on dissent, detaining thousands and handing down stiff sentences, including the death penalty, to protesters. Rights groups say more than 500 people have died in the protests.

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

The Farda Briefing: Under Pressure At Home And Abroad, Tehran Gets 'Breathing Space' From Iran-Saudi Deal 

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi (center) poses with Ali Shamkhani, secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council (right) and Saudi Arabia's national security adviser, Musaad bin Muhammad al-Aiban (left), in Beijing on March 10.

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

Iran and Saudi Arabia have agreed to reestablish diplomatic relations, seven years after the regional foes cut formal ties.

In a statement issued on March 10, Tehran and Riyadh pledged to reopen their embassies within two months and reactivate a security cooperation pact. The sides also confirmed their "respect for the sovereignty of states and noninterference in their internal affairs."

The deal was brokered by China, a major buyer of Iranian and Saudi oil. Beijing is also one of the few allies of Iran's clerical regime, which has come under mounting pressure from the West.

Saudi Arabia severed ties with Iran in 2016, when protesters attacked the Saudi Embassy in Tehran after Riyadh executed a revered Saudi Shi'ite cleric.

Since then, tensions between Shi'a-majority Iran and Saudi Arabia, a predominately Sunni Muslim kingdom, have soared. The two rivals have fought proxy wars across the Middle East, including in Yemen and Syria. Pro-Iranian armed groups have been blamed for drone and missile attacks on Saudi soil.

Why It Matters: If the agreement holds, it could help deescalate tensions in the Middle East, where the two longtime foes have competed for influence for decades.

For Iran, repairing relations with a regional foe would alleviate the growing pressure it has faced at home and abroad recently. The clerical regime has been rocked by months of anti-regime protests, the biggest challenge the authorities have faced in decades. Tehran has also been under mounting Western pressure over its supply of combat drones to Russia for use in the war in Ukraine.

"The Islamic republic is under significant pressure, both domestically and regionally," Thomas Juneau, an associate professor at the University of Ottawa, told RFE/RL. "By stabilizing its relations with its Saudi rival, even if only partially, it provides it with some breathing space."

What's Next: It's unclear if the Iran-Saudi deal will lead to a lasting rapprochement between the countries.

Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan struck a cautious note, saying on March 13 that "agreeing to restore diplomatic ties does not mean we have reached a solution to all disputes between us."

Juneau of the University of Ottawa expressed doubts that there would be a "significant improvement" in Iran-Saudi ties, although he added that tensions might be "better managed." "The pattern in Saudi-Iranian relations in recent decades has been fairly consistent: Tension ebbs and flows, but never goes below a high floor," he said.

Stories You Might Have Missed

Women have played a major role in the antiestablishment protests in Iran. Even as the demonstrations have mostly subsided in recent weeks, a growing number of women are appearing in public without the mandatory hijab, in a direct challenge to the authorities. The brutal enforcement of the hijab law triggered the anti-regime protests that erupted in September.

Five Tehran girls were warned by the authorities after posting a dance video that went viral among Iranian social media users. It is illegal for women to dance in public in Iran, but the video has inspired others across the country to post similar videos with the same song, in a potentially dangerous act of open defiance toward the regime.

What We're Watching

Six members of Iran's exiled opposition, including the former crown prince, Reza Pahlavi, and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi, issued a charter for a transition to a new, secular democratic system that would be followed by free elections.

The Charter of Solidarity and Alliance for Freedom also called for international efforts to isolate Iran's theocratic regime.

Why It Matters: The charter is among several proposals made by opposition figures and civil society groups inside and outside Iran that would transform or even replace the current theocratic system with a democracy.

The proposals for a post-Islamic republic system come amid growing calls for political change in Iran.

Last month, some 20 labor unions, student organizations, and civil society groups inside Iran published a joint charter. On March 8, a group of women's rights activists released a Women's Bill of Rights they said should form the basis of a new constitution once the regime is removed.

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.

The Protests That Shook Iran's Clerical System

Iran's Top Security Official Shamkhani To Visit The U.A.E. On March 16

The visit to Abu Dhabi by Iranian Supreme National Security Council Secretary Ali Shamkhani (right) comes on the heels of a March 10 meeting in Beijing with Saudi Arabia's state minister, Musaad bin Muhammad al-Aiban (left).

Iranian Supreme National Security Council Secretary Ali Shamkhani will visit the United Arab Emirates on March 16, Nour News, which is affiliated with the Iranian top security body, reported on March 15. His visit to Abu Dhabi comes at a time of growing rapprochement between Iran and Gulf countries. Last week, Shamkhani took part in talks brokered by China that resulted in Saudi Arabia and Iran resuming diplomatic ties after they were suspended in 2016. The United Arab Emirates sent an ambassador back to Iran in September, more than six years after the Gulf Arab state downgraded ties with the Islamic republic. To read the full story by Reuters, click here.

Lawyer For Amini Family Summoned To Tehran Prosecutor's Office For 'Propaganda'

Mohammad Saleh Nikbakht has called on investigators to study the two-hour period of Amini's arrest and transfer instead of pushing him and her family to accept the "late arrival and failure" of the medical staff as the cause of her death. (file photo)

The lawyer for the family of Mahsa Amini, the 22-year-old Iranian woman whose death in mid-September while in police custody has led to months of nationwide unrest, has been summoned to the Islamic Revolutionary Prosecutor's Office at Tehran's Evin prison and accused of "propaganda against the Islamic republic."

The France-based Kurdistan Human Rights Network quoted an informed source as saying the charge against Mohammad Saleh Nikbakht is a result of interviews he has given with foreign media.

In an interview with the Faraz website in January, Nikbakht said that four months after Amini's death, "incomplete investigations have been carried out without [the family's] presence or participation as the complainant."

Amini was detained by the morality police while visiting Tehran in September because she was allegedly wearing a head scarf, or hijab, improperly. Iranian authorities say she died of natural causes, but eyewitnesses and her family say the young woman was beaten by security agents.

Nikbakht called on investigators to study the two-hour period of Amini's arrest and transfer to the Morality Police Center instead of pushing him and her family to accept the "late arrival and failure" of the medical staff as the cause of her death.

Amini died on September 16, prompting thousands of Iranians to take to the streets nationwide to demand more freedoms and women's rights. The widespread unrest, which continues, represents the biggest threat to the Islamic government since the 1979 revolution.

Protests over Amini's death have been met with a violent government crackdown.

The activist organization HRANA said that more than 500 people have been killed during the unrest, including 71 minors, as security forces try to stifle widespread dissent by detaining thousands, including several foreigners.

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

Iranians Commemorate Festival Of Fire With More Anti-Government Protests

An anti-government protest in Sanandaj, the capital of Kurdistan Province, earlier this year.

Iranian protesters have staged fresh anti-government demonstrations by taking to the streets a night before Chaharshanbeh Suri, the traditional Festival of Fire at which people light small fires and jump over them while making wishes for the upcoming year.

In Tehran's Ekbatan neighborhood, protesters on March 14 showed the depth of their anger toward the government's intrusion on their freedoms by chanting, “The struggle continues,” and, “Death to the dictator,” a reference to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Ekbatan has been one of the epicenters of protests in the Iranian capital for the last six months, demonstrating defiance amid unrest over the death of a young woman while in police custody for allegedly wearing a head scarf improperly.

WATCH: Five Tehran girls were reported to have voiced contrition after posting a dance video that went viral among Iranian social media users. It's illegal for women to dance in public in Iran, but the video has inspired others across the country to post similar videos with the same song, in a potentially dangerous act of open defiance toward the regime.

Viral Iran Dance Video Inspires Imitators To Defy Regime
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Similar scenes were repeated in other neighborhoods of the Iranian capital, including Sattar Khan and Tehran Pars as people marked the festival following months of protests.

Videos published on social media showed protesters demonstrating in the streets in the northeastern city of Mashhad, the birthplace of Khamenei and President Ebrahim Raisi, and chanting slogans against the Islamic government.

A group of protesting young people in Sanandaj in Kurdistan Province also gathered in the city by lighting a fire on the Sanandaj-Kermanshah highway and chanting, "Death to the dictator."

In the western Iranian city of Kamyaran in Kurdistan Province, protesters set fire to tires and closed part of the city's central streets.

Iranian Women Burn Head Scarves Amid Fire Festival
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The unrest was sparked by the death of Mahsa Amini on September 16. The 22-year-old died while in custody after being arrested by Tehran's notorious "morality police" for "improperly" wearing a mandatory Islamic head scarf, or hijab.

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 met the dissent with a harsh crackdown that rights groups say has killed more than 500 people, including 71 children.

Officials, who have blamed the West for the demonstrations, have vowed to crack down even harder on protesters, with the judiciary leading the way by issuing harsh sentences for even minor offenses related to the protests, which analysts say pose the biggest threat to the Islamic government since the 1979 revolution.

Several thousand people have been arrested, including many protesters, as well as journalists, lawyers, activists, digital rights defenders, and others.

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

Viral Iran Dance Video Inspires Imitators To Defy Regime

Viral Iran Dance Video Inspires Imitators To Defy Regime
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Five Tehran girls were reported to have voiced contrition after posting a dance video that went viral among Iranian social media users. It's illegal for women to dance in public in Iran, but the video has inspired others across the country to post similar videos with the same song, in a potentially dangerous act of open defiance toward the regime.

Rights Group Calls For Sanctions On Iran For Sentencing Swedish-Iranian Dissident To Death

Iranian-Swedish citizen Habib Chaab (file photo)

The U.S.-based Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) has urged the international community to sanction Iran for sentencing Iranian-Swedish dissident Habib Chaab to death after "luring" him to Turkey and taking him to Iran. Chaab was tried and condemned for leading a "terrorist group" and organizing and carrying out "numerous bombings and terrorist operations" in southwestern Iran. Chaab is a founder and former leader of the Arab Struggle Movement for the Liberation of Ahwaz separatist group. CHRI said in a statement that governments should impose "political and economic consequences" on Tehran for its "hostage-taking.”

Iranian Reformer Tajzadeh Says Attacked By Prison Guards For Third Time In Month

Iranian reformist politician Mostafa Tajzadeh addresses the media in May 2021.

Prominent reformist politician Mostafa Tajzadeh, who is currently being held at Tehran’s notorious Evin prison, says he and his cell mates were attacked by guards for their support of recent comments made by opposition figure Mir Hossein Musavi on regime change.

Tajzadeh, 65, said in a letter that he and fellow prisoners Saeed Madani and Hossein Razzaq were attacked after they were subjected to an "unusual and long search" of their cell over the weekend.

Tajzadeh said guards seized some personal notes in an attack, which comes amid government claims that more than 80,000 people have been released in a mass amnesty, that was a direct response to their support for Musavi.

In the letter, which he addressed to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Tajzadeh, a former deputy interior minister and staunch critic of Khamenei, claimed it was the third attack by prison inspectors on his cell in Evin in the past month.

"How do these measures (attacks) fit with the announcement of an amnesty for prisoners?" he asked in the letter.

"And why even after unjustly imprisoning your critics do you trample on their inalienable and basic rights in prisons?"

For months, antiestablishment protesters have called for the overthrow of Iran's clerical regime and demanded greater social and political freedoms. Opposition figures -- including Musavi -- and civil society groups inside Iran took that issue a step further last month, sharing proposals that would transform or even replace the current theocratic system with a democracy.

Tajzadeh -- who last year made an unsuccessful bid for the presidency as a reformist -- was found guilty on three charges related to his repeated calls for structural changes in the country and sentenced to five years in prison.

Referring to Khamenei’s repeated claim that the opposition is free to criticize him, Tajzadeh asked in the letter how that is possible "if I have been sentenced to a total of 15 years in prison just for criticizing your performance in two cases, while a distinguished researcher like Saeed Madani has been sentenced to a total of 14 years in prison in two cases."

Tajzadeh served as deputy interior minister under reformist former`president Mohammad Khatami, who held office from 1997 to 2005.

He was arrested in 2009 during mass protests disputing the reelection of then President Mahmud Ahmadinejad that was contested by an opposition supporting reformist candidates Mehdi Karrubi and Mir Hossein Musavi.

In 2010, Tajzadeh was convicted of harming national security and propaganda against the state. He was released in 2016 after serving most of his seven-year sentence.

After his release, Tajzadeh has often called on authorities to free Karrubi and Musavi who have been under house arrest for more than a decade.

Last October, a branch of Iran's Revolutionary Court sentenced Tajzadeh to the current five-year term he is serving. Tajzadeh declined to speak in court during the hearing after a request he made to talk one-on-one with his lawyer was rejected.

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

China Eyes Larger Middle East Role After Sealing Iran-Saudi Deal

Top Chinese diplomat Wang Yi holds up a March 10 deal in Beijing with Secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council Ali Shamkhani and Saudi State Minister Musaad bin Muhammad al-Aiban.

A surprise deal brokered by China to reestablish diplomatic ties between Iran and Saudi Arabia has paved the way for Beijing to expand its influence in the Middle East and shore up its broader ambitions on the global stage.

Following the announcement of the March 10 agreement, which came after four days of previously unannounced talks in Beijing, the Wall Street Journal reported that Chinese leader Xi Jinping plans to continue to press ahead with his country's regional leadership and host a high-level meeting of Gulf Arab leaders and Iranian officials in Beijing later this year.

The gathering has reportedly been in discussion since December, when Xi met with Arab leaders at a regional summit in Riyadh and proposed the idea.

The deal between Iran and Saudi Arabia highlights Beijing's growing focus on the Middle East, where Xi's long-term foreign policy goal of presenting Chinese leadership as an alternative to the United States is finding fertile ground amid waning American influence and China's expanding economic and political ties with the region.

Wang Yi, China's top diplomat, said that the success of the talks between Riyadh and Tehran -- whose rivalry has long shaped politics and trade in the region -- was attributed to Xi's leadership and that it was "a victory for peace."

Wang Yi, Ali Shamkhani, and Musaad bin Muhammad al-Aiban pose for cameras in Beijing on March 10 after reaching a deal to resume diplomatic ties between Riyadh and Tehran.
Wang Yi, Ali Shamkhani, and Musaad bin Muhammad al-Aiban pose for cameras in Beijing on March 10 after reaching a deal to resume diplomatic ties between Riyadh and Tehran.

"China will continue to play a constructive role in handling hot-spot issues in the world and demonstrate its responsibility as a major nation," said Wang, who represented China in the talks. "The world is not just limited to the Ukraine issue."

Saudi Arabia cut ties with Iran in 2016, and the diplomatic rapprochement comes as the countries have squared off against each other in regional proxy conflicts over the years. Analysts have cautioned that the China-brokered deal faces obstacles ahead and that it will take more than renewed diplomatic relations to mend ties. But the agreement also reflects growing pragmatism from each side with Tehran looking to salvage its tattered economy and Riyadh eager to calm tensions that have inflamed wars and fueled attacks on Saudi Arabia and its interests across the region.

"Iran is deeply isolated, humiliated by months of protests, and heavily reliant on China strategically [and] economically. This deal lessens its isolation, gains legitimacy for the regime, and strengthens China's regional influence at the expense of the [United States]," Karim Sadjadpour, senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, wrote on Twitter following the peace deal.

"Given China's enormous leverage over Iran and its interest in regional stability, Riyadh likely hopes this deal provides them a Chinese shield against Iranian aggression," he added.

Cautious Optimism

According to the Wall Street Journal report, the new deal provides two months for Iran and Saudi Arabia to agree on details before reopening their embassies. Once an agreement is reached on those specifics, the countries' foreign ministers will then meet to finalize it and the purported Middle East summit in China will take place after that announcement.

"The countries of the region share one fate," Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud, tweeted about the deal. "That makes it necessary for us to work together to build models for prosperity and stability."

Iranian officials also welcomed the agreement, with Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian saying it was a sign that Tehran's regional policy was "strongly moving in the right direction" and that the country's "diplomatic apparatus is actively behind the preparation of more regional steps."

While many analysts believe that the deal and China's role in it are being met with caution in Washington, U.S. National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said the United States supports "any effort to deescalate tensions" and that "we think it's in our own interests," noting that it could lead to an end of the civil war in Yemen, which has seen the country's Iran-backed Huthi militants face off against a Saudi-led coalition in a conflict that has led to hundreds of thousands of people killed and created a dire humanitarian situation.

A Yemeni fighter backed by the Saudi-led coalition fires his weapon during clashes with Iran-backed Huthi rebels in Yemen in 2021.
A Yemeni fighter backed by the Saudi-led coalition fires his weapon during clashes with Iran-backed Huthi rebels in Yemen in 2021.

Tehran was motivated to strike a deal as a currency crisis grips Iran, compounding an already devastated economy from U.S. sanctions over its nuclear program and fallout from monthslong public protests against the clerical regime's rule.

Iranian officials are said to be hoping to extract economic benefits from Riyadh for their easing of tensions as well as from China, which maintains significant economic leverage over Tehran.

Iran's semiofficial Mehr news agency reported that prior to the March 10 announcement, Beijing allowed Iran to access a portion of some $20 billion in Chinese banks that was frozen when the United States left a landmark nuclear deal and reimposed sanctions against Tehran in 2018.

China promised Iran in 2021 to invest a reported $400 billion in the country in exchange for oil and fuel supplies, though Western sanctions against Tehran have prevented Beijing from realizing the terms of the sprawling agreement.

Beijing also has deep economic links to Riyadh as China is Saudi Arabia's largest trading partner and the kingdom is one of China's largest oil suppliers.

Those economic ties have been the bedrock of China's engagement in the Middle East, where Beijing receives more than 40 percent of its crude oil imports and has a growing interest in regional stability.

But the peace deal also reflects China's shifting approach to the region, which is moving from being centered on trade and investment toward wading into the Middle East's tense conflicts.

"So far, China has been very cautious…focusing primarily on business without getting too involved militarily in the Middle East. But things could change," Zhou Bo, a former senior colonel in the People's Liberation Army, said this month at an international affairs conference in Israel before the deal was announced.

Beijing's Evolving Role

In addition to its economic ties, China's growing influence in the Middle East has been its growing appeal as a partner that touts multilateralism and refrains from criticizing human rights records in the region.

Beijing has also capitalized on fallout from events that have hurt Washington's standing in the region, such as its 2003 invasion of Iraq and wide-ranging war on terror, with China following a strategy to shun Western ideals and U.S. interests when engaging with the Middle East.

Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman welcomes Chinese leader Xi Jinping in Riyadh in December 2022.
Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman welcomes Chinese leader Xi Jinping in Riyadh in December 2022.

"[Beijing's] real power is steadily catching up to the willpower to undercut U.S. hegemony," Tuvia Gering, a China expert at the Institute for National Security Studies, wrote in February for the Atlantic Council think tank.

The United States has long-standing ties with Riyadh and is its main security partner, though relations have been strained for many years and soured significantly after the gruesome 2018 killing of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi agents, allegedly at the behest of Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman.

While the new peace deal is an early diplomatic coup for China, analysts are also quick to caution about the difficulties ahead for Beijing in navigating one of the most volatile rivalries in the world, which is exacerbated by the Sunni-Shi'a schism.

Reopening embassies and renewing diplomatic relations as outlined in the deal are unlikely to forestall Iran and Saudi Arabia's struggle for regional dominance.

A man looks at plunging currency exchange rates at a shop in Tehran on February 21.
A man looks at plunging currency exchange rates at a shop in Tehran on February 21.

The war in Yemen will be a critical test for the nascent rapprochement.

Saudi officials are reportedly seeking a way to end the conflict but hammering out a peace agreement will be an even larger task and could reinvigorate tensions between Tehran and Riyadh.

Others have noted that Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps -- the hard-line faction that has made armed influence in the Middle East a key policy pillar -- has yet to weigh in on the March 10 deal and that it won't survive without some form of blessing from it.

"It's one thing for China to host the talks, but it is another for China to help implement the signed agreement on time," Fan Hongda, a professor at the Middle East Studies Institute of Shanghai International Studies University, wrote after the deal was announced. "What kind of guarantees will China provide if one of the parties does not respect the agreement?

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