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U.S.: Experts Don't See Military Action Against Iran As Imminent

Canisters containing uranium are displayed during a special ceremony in the northeastern holy city of Mashhad, Iran, April 11 (Fars) On April 28 the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will delivers its report on Iran's nuclear program to the Security Council. It is widely believed that the document will accuse Tehran of defying the UN's demand that it stop processing uranium. Iran's leaders have repeatedly insisted that they won't change course, and insist their program is aimed only at peaceful nuclear power. U.S. President George W. Bush says he suspects Iran is working on a nuclear weapon and has vowed to prevent Iran from gaining the technology to do so. Bush says he hopes to resolve the issue diplomatically, although all options -- including military intervention -- remain open.

WASHINGTON, April 27, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- The dispute over Iran's nuclear program has become an escalation of exaggeration, according to John Burroughs. He says Iran is exaggerating its progress, and everyone else is exaggerating its danger.

Burroughs, the executive director of the Lawyers' Committee on Nuclear Policy, a New York-based group that promotes disarmament, tells RFE/RL that Iran's exaggerations are based on pride. The exaggerations of everyone else, he says, are based on fear of Iran developing a nuclear weapon.

According to Burroughs, what these other countries -- particularly the United States -- need to do is find a solution that avoids sanctions and encourages Iran to keep its nuclear program under the supervision of the IAEA.

What concerns Burroughs is that Bush is even remotely considering a military option. Some reports suggest the military option might include the use of low-level nuclear bombs strong enough to destroy nuclear laboratories buried deep below ground.

"That probably is going to require some gesture toward Iran regarding small-scale uranium-enrichment activities," he says. "That had been ruled out by the Bush administration. Much of the rest of the world would be willing to take that approach. We're in a much better position to prevent Iran at some point deciding it wanted to develop nuclear weapons if the International Atomic Energy Agency is there in Iran closely supervising Iran's nuclear program."

Many observers are concerned that the United States may be ready to take military action soon, but Burroughs sees no need for that. He says there is still the possibility of the UN Security Council imposing sanctions or otherwise punishing Iran.

Burroughs concedes that sanctions might not be imposed because that option is opposed by China and Russia, which, along with Britain, France, and the United States, are permanent members of the Security Council and so have veto power over any of its resolutions.

What concerns Burroughs is that the Bush administration is even remotely considering a military option. According to some reports, the military option might even include the use of low-level nuclear bombs strong enough to destroy nuclear laboratories buried deep below ground.

"The Bush administration needs to put aside this planning. It [military action] has zero support anywhere else in the world, and this sort of saber-rattling by the United States just prevents progress toward a diplomatic solution," he says. "And it's totally unacceptable that an option on the use of nuclear weapons by the United States remains on the table."

Next Up: Convincing Russia And China

Like Burroughs, Ted Galen Carpenter doesn't think U.S. military action is imminent. Carpenter is the vice president for defense and foreign policy studies at the Cato Institute, a private policy-research center in Washington.

Carpenter says Washington would use the military option only to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon, and points out that U.S. intelligence estimates that Iran isn't close to producing one.

President Mahmud Ahmadinejad delivering a speech in Mashhad, Iran, on April 11 (epa)

"As long as the [Bush] administration believes the U.S. intelligence community's assessments that Iran is still five to 10 years away from having a nuclear weapons capability, there's some time before the administration would consider the military option," Carpenter says. "But of course some of the people pressing the administration argue that Iran is much closer to acquiring a nuclear weapons capability. If the administration buys the arguments of those people, then we could be looking at military action conceivably before the end of the year."

Carpenter says the United States' next step will be to try to persuade China and Russia to agree to sanctions. If that doesn't work, he says, then Bush probably would bring pressure on Iran by making it clear that it would do everything in its power -- hinting at military force -- to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.

After Iraq, Carpenter says, Iran would have to believe Bush is not bluffing.

U.S. Alone In The World

Iran's next step, according to Carpenter, would probably be to move ahead rapidly with its nuclear program and shift the onus of bad behavior to the United States.

After Iraq, he says, the United States would "stand alone in the international community." Its only support probably would come from Israel, and that would be further evidence in the Muslim world that Bush is on a crusade against Islam.

Carpenter proposes what he calls a "grand bargain," under which the United States would undertake direct bilateral negotiations with Iran, normalize diplomatic and economic relations with Tehran, and lift all economic sanctions. In exchange, Iran would permit unlimited international inspections of its nuclear program.

Under such a deal, Carpenter says, Iran would be able to have its nuclear power program, with adequate safeguards against the development of nuclear weapons. He believes Iran would accept such a bargain if it is truly interested only in peaceful nuclear power.

But Carpenter says he doubts the United States would even make such an offer. "The most difficult kind of diplomacy is with disagreeable regimes, and we [the United States] seem to have a policy that it is simply immoral to engage with disagreeable, repressive regimes," he says. "Unfortunately sometimes one has to, and I think this is one of those cases."

Carpenter says there's just too much bitter history between Iran and the United States, and that neither side is prepared to make enough of a compromise to avoid war.

What Would Sanctions Mean?

What Would Sanctions Mean?

Economic sanctions could further undermine Iran's already shaky economy (Fars)

MOVING TOWARD SANCTIONS: If the United Nations Security Council imposes sanctions on Iran, domestic support for Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad will wane, according to ALEX VATANKA, Eurasia editor for Jane's Information Group.
Vatanka told a February 24 RFE/RL briefing that "economic sanctions will hurt the average Iranian" and, consequently, many "will blame the ruling clerics" for making life difficult and "impairing the country's long term development."
Vatanka said sanctions would be a serious challenge to the Iranian government. If harsh economic sanctions were imposed, Iran's poorest population will be hurt the hardest -- and might react "as they did in the 1970s and protest in the streets." Sanctions on travel, Vatanka said, would hurt a many Iranians because "Iran is a nation of small traders" who depend on the ability to travel to earn an income. According to Vatanka, unemployment in Iran is estimated at 30 percent, "so small trading is essential to survival." Although current U.S. sanctions "haven't worked," he said, "Iranians fear an oil embargo." He stressed that "oil revenues are a major part of the economy, so it is critical to look at this sector."
Should negotiations with the European Union and the UN fail, Vatanka believes that Iran would follow a "North Korea model," since Ahmadinejad's base of support among the "Islamist militias" has been "urging withdrawal from the NPT [Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty]." The Iranian government's "tactic" so far, Vatanka said, is governed by the belief that "by shouting the loudest, you'll get concessions [from the West]."


Listen to the complete panel discussion (about 60 minutes):
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THE COMPLETE STORY: RFE/RL's coverage of the controversy surrounding Iran's nuclear program.


An annotated timeline of Iran's nuclear program.

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Dubai Unlocked: Convicts, Wealthy Iranians With State Ties Implicated In Leaked Property Data

An aerial view of the palm tree-shaped Palm Jumeirah real estate development in Dubai (file photo)
An aerial view of the palm tree-shaped Palm Jumeirah real estate development in Dubai (file photo)

Over 7,000 Iranians, including convicts and some with ties to the state, own what experts estimate to be billions of dollars of property in Dubai, according to a report by the Netherlands-based outlet Radio Zamaneh.

The information was obtained as part of a monthslong investigative project known as Dubai Unlocked. Journalists from 75 media outlets from across the world, including Radio Zamaneh, pored over the leaked data and have gradually released their findings over the past week.

Radio Zamaneh’s report cites academics and experts who say the total value of properties owned by Iranians in Dubai is around $7 billion.

It notes that while there is a slew of ordinary Iranians who have properties in the United Arab Emirates, there are also convicts, fugitives, and known figures with links to the Iranian establishment.

An office in Dubai’s Aspect Tower worth around $650,000 belongs to Abbas Iravani, a former head of the Ezam Automotive Parts Group who was sentenced to 65 years in prison earlier this year for his involvement in smuggling auto parts, disrupting the economy, and bribing officials. He has denied the charges.

Another prominent figure is Mohammad Emami, an investor and TV producer who is serving a 20-year prison sentence for his involvement in financial corruption. His friend and alleged co-conspirator in the case, Amir Reza Farzanrad, is a fugitive and also implicated in the Dubai Unlocked leaks.

Radio Zamaneh says Emami and Farzanrad each own a villa in the affluent Al-Merkadh neighborhood of Dubai worth $5.5 million and $12 million, respectively.

Convicted steel magnate Rasul Danialzadeh, sentenced to 16 years in prison for bribery, owns $12.6 million worth of property in Dubai, including five apartments in the upscale Al-Thanyah Fifth community and a villa in Palm Jumeirah.

The family of the late former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani feature prominently in the leaks.

His oldest son, former Tehran City Council chairman Mohsen Hashemi Rafsanjani, owns an apartment worth an estimated $380,000. Mohsen’s son, Ehsan, has a small apartment in Dubai valued at $100,000.

Yasser Hashemi Rafsanjani -- the ex-president’s youngest son -- and his wife, Maryam, own two apartments in the Burj Khalifa worth a combined $1.45 million.

The reports also notes that several dual national Iranians own properties in Dubai, including Mehdi Shams, a former executive at the state-run Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Line Group.

The report said Shams, who is sentenced to 20 years in prison over his involvement in a multibillion-dollar embezzlement case, purchased a villa valued at $20 million on his British passport.

To put the figures into perspective, the average annual household income in Tehran in the Iranian year 1401 (March 2022-23) was around 2.3 billion rials. That is roughly $3,900 per year, or around $325 a month.

“With a reputation for financial secrecy, low taxes, and an ever-expanding spread of valuable real estate, [Dubai] is an appealing option for those looking to launder or hide cash,” says the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, which along with Norwegian financial outlet E24 coordinated the investigation project.

EU Urges Iran To 'Reverse Nuclear Trajectory' As Tehran Threatens To Cross Threshold

 The European Union's foreign policy chief Josep Borrell (left) meets Iranian Foreign Minister Amir-Abdollahian in Tehran in June 2022.
The European Union's foreign policy chief Josep Borrell (left) meets Iranian Foreign Minister Amir-Abdollahian in Tehran in June 2022.

The European Union has joined the United States and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in urging Iran to abandon suggestions that it might develop nuclear weapons.

"We continue to call Iran to reverse its nuclear trajectory and show concrete steps, such as urgently improve cooperation with the IAEA," EU spokesman Peter Stano told RFE/RL in written comments on May 16.

The Islamic republic has long claimed that its nuclear program is strictly for civilian purposes, but a growing number of officials in recent weeks have openly suggested that Iran might review its nuclear doctrine if it deems it necessary.

A landmark deal known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) between Iran and world powers in 2015 restricted Tehran's nuclear program in exchange for relief from sanctions.

However, Iran expanded its program and restricted IAEA inspections of its nuclear sites after then-President Donald Trump withdrew the United Staes from the deal and reimposed sanctions in 2018.

The EU, which is the coordinator of the JCPOA's Joint Commission, mediated several rounds of indirect talks between Tehran and Washington from 2021 to 2022.

The 27-member bloc presented a final draft of an agreement to revive the deal in August 2022, but talks broke down soon after as Tehran and Washington accused each other of making excessive demands.

"Our goal has always been to stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, through a diplomatic solution," Stano said, adding that the EU's foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, and his team continue efforts to revive the Iran deal.

Iran has particularly upped the rhetoric since last month, when it launched an unprecedented missile and drone attack against its archfoe Israel in response to a deadly air strike on its embassy compound in Syria that killed several members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC).

An IRGC general at the time warned that an attack on Iran's nuclear sites could lead to a rethinking of its policy on nuclear weapons.

Kamal Kharazi, a senior adviser to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and a former foreign minister, repeated the threat earlier this week.

"We do not want nuclear weapons and the supreme leader's fatwa is to that effect. But if the enemy threatens you, what do you do?" he said.

The fatwa refers to a religious decree by Khamenei in which he said the Islamic republic considers the use of nuclear weapons to be "haram" and Iran would not pursue one.

The fatwa has long been cited by the Iranian authorities as evidence that Iran would never weaponize its nuclear program. Experts, however, question how effective of a barrier the fatwa really is.

Farzan Sabet, a senior research associate at the Geneva Graduate Institute, said, "The nuclear fatwa does not pose an insurmountable religious or legal obstacle inside Iran for the system there to pursue nuclear weapons or potentially build them."

Despite the public comments by Iranian officials, the Foreign Ministry has insisted that there has been no change in the country's nuclear doctrine.

Stano said that it "is imperative to show utmost restraint" given the heightened tensions in the Middle East.

"Further escalation in the region -- also in the form of statements about the nuclear posture, even if not reflecting the official position of the country -- is in no one's interest," he added.

In response to in Iran's new rhetoric, the United States has said it "will not allow" Tehran to obtain nuclear weapons.

Separately, IAEA Director-General Rafael Grossi has called on Iran to "stop" suggestions that it might review its nuclear posture.

Deadly Floods Ravage Northeastern Iran

The floods were triggered by an intense rainfall that started earlier this week, inundating streets and sweeping away cars. (file photo)
The floods were triggered by an intense rainfall that started earlier this week, inundating streets and sweeping away cars. (file photo)

At least seven people have died in northeastern Iran amid severe flooding and heavy rainfall in the city of Mashhad, with local authorities warning the death toll may rise as rescue operations continue to hunt for individuals yet to be accounted for.

The floods were triggered by an intense rainfall that started earlier this week, inundating streets and sweeping away cars. Videos on social media show multiple vehicles being carried off by rushing waters.

According to local media reports, at least 12 people have been reported missing. The head of the Crisis Management Department of Khorasan Razavi Province, Reza Abbasi, confirmed that searches are ongoing in Torghabeh, Shandiz, Mashhad, and Fariman county.

Abbasi said authorities are working to ensure proper verification from forensic specialists before attributing deaths to the floods.

Of the confirmed casualties, five were from Mashhad and two from the surrounding rural areas of Fariman.

Abbasi urged residents of Mashhad to avoid unnecessary travel as poor weather conditions are expected to persist in the region through to the end of the week, posing risks of further flooding.

The Iranian Meteorological Organization issued a warning on May 16 for potential severe thunderstorms and heavy winds over the coming 24 hours, affecting several provinces including West and East Azerbaijan, Ardabil, and parts of the Alborz mountain range, among others.

This flooding has acted as a grim reminder of deadly floods in April 2019, when heavy rains in Shiraz triggered a major disaster that claimed 22 lives and caused extensive damage.

Experts say climate change has amplified droughts and floods that are plaguing Iran, and that their intensity and frequency threaten food security.

The Iranian Meteorological Organization has estimated that 97 percent of the country is experiencing drought to some degree.

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

Going Nuclear: Iran's New Rhetorical Deterrence

Western states worry that Iranian satellite carriers can be designed to deliver nuclear warheads. (file photo)
Western states worry that Iranian satellite carriers can be designed to deliver nuclear warheads. (file photo)

Acquiring nuclear weapons has long been a taboo topic in Iran, where the country's supreme leader has declared them un-Islamic.

But a growing number of Iranian officials in recent weeks have openly suggested that the Islamic republic could weaponize its nuclear program, which Tehran has long claimed is strictly for civilian purposes.

The change in rhetoric has coincided with Tehran's growing hostilities with Israel. Last month, Israel launched an attack on Iran in response to Tehran's unprecedented missile and drone assault on its archfoe.

Experts say Iran's growing threats to build nuclear weapons is worrying, although they maintain that the statements are likely geared toward deterring another attack on Iranian soil.

Eric Brewer, deputy vice president of the Washington-based Nuclear Threat Initiative, said the Iranian threats appeared to be "conditional."

"I do think that if Israel or the United States carried out an attack on Iran's nuclear program, there is a very good chance that Tehran would in fact decide to build nuclear weapons," he said.

Real Or Rhetoric?

Kamal Kharazi, a former foreign minister and current adviser to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, warned on May 13 that if Israel threatens Iran, "we might review our nuclear doctrine."

"We do not want nuclear weapons and the supreme leader's fatwa is to that effect. But if the enemy threatens you, what do you do?" he said.

Days earlier, in an interview with Al-Jazeera, Kharazi said Iran "has the capacity to produce a bomb," though the country had not taken the actual step of making one.

Just before Israel's April 19 strike on Iran, a commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps warned that an attack that targeted Iranian nuclear facilities would prompt a reciprocal attack on Israel and could lead to a rethinking of Iran's stance on nuclear weapons.

Brewer said what lent the threats "a degree of credibility" is that Iran's nuclear program is far more advanced today than it was in the past.

A landmark deal with world powers in 2015 restricted Iran's nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief. But then-President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the agreement and reimposed sanctions in 2018, leading Tehran to accelerate its uranium enrichment and limit international inspections of its nuclear sites.

Farzan Sabet, a senior research associate at the Geneva Graduate Institute, says failed international efforts to revive the nuclear accord could be behind Tehran's recent threats to build nuclear weapons.

Another reason, he said, could be to “deter the current or a future U.S. administration from undertaking another ‘maximum pressure’-style economic and military campaign against Iran.”

Fatwa Not An Obstacle

In 2010, Khamenei issued a fatwa, or religious decree, saying that Iran considers the use of nuclear weapons to be "haram" and that the country would not pursue one.

The fatwa has been cited as evidence by Iranian officials that the Islamic republic does not seek nuclear weapons.

But Brewer said Khamenei's fatwa was "not a meaningful barrier to Iran building the bomb."

"Iran could in theory do most of the work on a weapon with the fatwa in place and then Khamenei could rescind it at the last minute," he added.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (right) visits an exhibition of Iran's nuclear achievements at his office compound in Tehran in June 2023.
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (right) visits an exhibition of Iran's nuclear achievements at his office compound in Tehran in June 2023.

Despite the public comments by Iranian officials, the Foreign Ministry has insisted that there has been no change in the country's nuclear doctrine.

Sabet said this dual messaging could "reflect a debate inside the system in Iran, in which the balance of power or consensus until recently did not favor building and deploying nuclear weapons, but which may be shifting."

Some Iranian media reports have said that the country has enough enriched uranium to produce 10 nuclear bombs.

Brewer says U.S. estimates suggest that it would take Iran about two weeks to produce enough weapons-grade uranium to make a bomb. But he says manufacturing a deliverable nuclear device could take months, or even more than a year.

Iran's Five-Day Workweek Campaign Pits Religious Identity Against Global Business

Under proposed legislation passed by parliament, Iranian government employees like these oil workers would get a new day off on Saturday.
Under proposed legislation passed by parliament, Iranian government employees like these oil workers would get a new day off on Saturday.

Iran has taken a big step toward reducing its number of working days and hours for government employees, a move that has long been sought as a way to improve labor production and economic efficiency.

But the effort was not without controversy, with parliament weighing strong opinions on which proposed new day off would be best -- Thursday, or Saturday.

Much of the debate in transitioning from a six-day workweek to five days has pitted business interests against religious values.

Proponents of adding a day off on Saturday say it would provide economic benefits and be more in keeping with the rest of the working world. Opponents argue that adding a day off on Saturday would be damaging to Iran's unique cultural and religious identity.

When the dust settled, Saturday emerged victorious in parliament on May 15 by a vote of 136 for to 66 against, with three abstentions. From parliament the proposal will now head to the Guardians Council, which holds veto powers and determines whether proposed legislation fits with the Islamic republic's interpretation of Shari'a law.

The effort to overhaul and standardize Iran's workweek goes back decades, but has picked up steam in recent years. The official workweek consists of 44 working hours, with a half-day off on Thursday and a full day off on the Friday day of prayer and rest.

The government of former President Mohammad Khatami began lobbying for a change in the early 2000s, and the current push marks the seventh campaign since 2016. In 2018, a proposal reached parliament but failed to result in a vote.

Mahdi Ghodsi, an economist with the Vienna Institute for International Economic Studies, explains that the initiative has historically faced hurdles because the Islamic republic has sought to "be a role model" in the Muslim world, and has "never wanted to follow international norms."

The workweek debate, he told RFE/RL's Radio Farda, is "a case in point" of the clerical establishment's contrarian nature, and has significant repercussions on international business.

In most foreign countries, "banks are closed on Saturday and Sunday," Ghodsi said. "So naturally a country that has a Thursday through Friday weekend means it has no financial relations with the rest of the world for four straight days."

Industry and commerce representatives argued that point in the run-up to the vote, but faced stiff resistance from lawmakers and influential clerics who claimed that a Friday-Saturday weekend would be a concession to Judeo-Christian values followed in many foreign countries.

Ruhollah Harizavi, deputy head of the Islamic Propagation Organization, warned against "the consequences of following the 'infidel' lifestyle."

The Khorasan newspaper, a conservative outlet based in the holy Shi'ite city of Mashhad, noted that a day off on Saturday would coincide with the Jewish Sabbath.

The newspaper stressed the importance of protecting Islamic identity and values, and argued against cultural mixing that could take away from societal individuality.

"The issue is not just a day off, it is an issue of altering social order," the daily wrote.

Parliament was informed ahead of the vote that Ayatollah Javadi Amoli, a leading cleric, had not raised any objections to Saturday being a day off. But the proposed legislation still faces a stiff test before the Guardians Council, the powerful constitutional watchdog dominated by hard-liners.

"The Guardians Council is more conservative, so they may reject the bill because they might think having Saturday off is a Jewish thing, which is baseless," Ghodsi said. "Other Muslim nations have Saturday off."

Turkey, for example, has both Saturday and Sunday off, while the United Arab Emirates has a half day off on Friday as well as Saturday and Sunday off. Saudi Arabia has Friday and Saturday off, in line with the position of the Organization Of Islamic Cooperation.

If the measure gets final approval, it will also cut the number of weekly working hours from 44 to 40.

Fewer working hours would also address another area where Iran has traditionally gone against the grain, with some arguing that achieving higher productivity requires more working hours, not fewer.

Ghodsi says that low production and efficiency has been a problem for years in Iran, but that it has "little to do with working hours" and is "rooted in a lack of financial resources and technology."

"Nevertheless, reducing working hours is a positive thing," Ghodsi said, noting that some countries were even adopting 35-hour workweeks.

"Fewer working hours means workers have more time to themselves, making them happier," Ghodsi said. "Working fewer hours could result in workers focusing more on finishing their tasks, which could increase efficiency."

While many Iranian listeners of Radio Farda appeared to be in favor of the proposed changes, not all were convinced it would have much of an effect considering the high levels of poverty, unemployment, and inflation in the country.

"Whether it is Thursday or Saturday it is not going to affect people's lives, because every day our lives are difficult," one listener called in to say.

Written by Michael Scollon based on reporting by RFE/RL's Radio Farda

Ex-President Issues Sharp Rebuke Of Iran's Leadership After Election Disqualification

Former Iranian President Hassan Rohani
Former Iranian President Hassan Rohani

Former Iranian President Hassan Rohani has issued a stern rebuke of the country’s Guardians Council following his disqualification from elections to the Assembly of Experts earlier this year, accusing the body of undermining the role and freedom of future presidents.

Rohani said in a statement that the disqualification notice was as "an indictment against the institution of the presidency" that signals a "crisis" for political independence in Iran.

"What is mentioned in the letter from the secretary of the Guardians Council as the reasons for my disqualification is not only not a crime, but in some cases, I consider it an honor," Rohani said, criticizing the council for charging him with "insulting the judiciary and the Guardians Council," "a lack of political insight," "nonadherence to the constitution," and "an assault on genuine religious beliefs."

The 88-member Assembly of Experts, founded in 1982, appoints and can dismiss the supreme leader, but rarely intervenes directly in policymaking.

The March elections Rohani was barred from were considered more significant than usual given Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is 84 and could be succeeded during the new eight-year term that council members started this year.

In his statement, Rohani gave a sharp critique of the qualifications of the Guardians Council's jurists, challenging their legitimacy and expertise by asking "which elections and with the vote of which nation have these jurists earned the right to deprive the elected representatives of the people of their right to choose?"

He further accused them of lacking political, security, and diplomatic experience, and questioned their capability to evaluate candidates based on political knowledge.

The Guardians Council, consisting of six jurists appointed by the Supreme Leader and six legal scholars selected by the judiciary, has substantial influence over election candidates. Ahmad Jannati, 97, currently serves as the secretary of the council.

Rohani said his disqualification letter was a refusal by the Guardians Council to tolerate "the presence of an independent and critical movement in the sixth term of the Assembly of Experts."

The former president also said his disqualification came because of the 2015 nuclear agreement, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), that he negotiated with world powers.

He defended the agreement saying it "was approved by the leader after tens of hours of discussion in the Supreme National Security Council."

The accord collapsed in 2018 when then-U.S. President Donald Trump pulled out of the deal and reimposed crippling sanctions that have battered Iran's economy and its currency.

Rohani warned that future presidents "must know that with this decision, they no longer even have political freedom, are unable to perform their legal duties, and, instead of the constitution, must follow the Guardians Council."

Analysts and activists have said the March 1 the elections were “engineered” because only candidates vetted and approved by the Guardians Council were allowed to run.

Official statistics released by the Interior Ministry revealed that voter turnout exceeded 50 percent in only eight of the country's 31 provinces.

Mostafa Tajzadeh, a prominent political activist currently incarcerated in Tehran's Evin prison, described the vote as a "historic failure" for the country's leaders that was directly attributable to Khamenei, whose policies have sparked widespread public discontent with the Islamic republic.

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

Iran's Ex-Agriculture Minister Gets 3 Years In Prison On Corruption Charges

Javad Sadatinejad was dismissed in April 2023 amid growing criticism over unfulfilled promises and corruption allegations. (file photo)
Javad Sadatinejad was dismissed in April 2023 amid growing criticism over unfulfilled promises and corruption allegations. (file photo)

Iran's judiciary chief said on May 14 that former Agriculture Minister Javad Sadatinejad was sentenced to three years in prison in connection with a corruption case involving the import of animal feed. Gholamhossein Mohseni-Ejei did not say when the verdict was issued or whether Sadatinejad was serving his sentence. Sadatinejad was appointed agriculture minister by President Ebrahim Raisi in September 2021 but was dismissed in April 2023 amid growing criticism over unfulfilled promises and corruption allegations. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Radio Farda, click here.

Comrades In Arms: The Mutual Benefits Of Increased North Korean-Iranian Military Cooperation

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un watches a test launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile in December.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un watches a test launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile in December.

Iran and North Korea have a long history of working together to advance their respective military arsenals.

Now, increased trade efforts between the two heavily sanctioned countries have raised concerns that they could share advanced missile and nuclear technology.

Coming at a time when Tehran and Pyongyang are playing a central role in heightened global tensions, the prospect of one pariah state in possession of nuclear weapons and intercontinental missiles, North Korea, aiding another accused of seeking those capabilities, Iran, has heightened fears in Western capitals.

The visit of a North Korean delegation to Tehran last month only served to increase suspicions.

Washington and Brussels both expressed concerns about any sanctions-violating cooperation, prompting Tehran to insist that the visit by North Korea’s external economic relations minister was aimed only at improving economic ties and assertions that it is seeking to expand cooperation on missile technology were "untrue."

But allegations that North Korean military technology has shown up in the hands of Iranian proxies in the Middle East and aided Iran's missile and drone attack against Israel last month have fueled concerns.

Experts say that the two sides are aligned in an anti-Western stance and most recently in supporting the Palestinian cause. And each has plenty to offer the other in terms of military expertise and experience.

"North Korea's nuclear program is obviously something that the Iranians seek to emulate," said Benjamin Young, a North Korea expert at Virginia Commonwealth University. "North Korea's ability to develop nuclear weapons at a rapid scale is admirable to the Islamic republic."

Suspected North Korean-made rocket-propelled grenades are displayed at an Israeli military base following the deadly Hamas assault in October.
Suspected North Korean-made rocket-propelled grenades are displayed at an Israeli military base following the deadly Hamas assault in October.

Pyongyang also has a long-range delivery vehicle in its Hwason-15 intercontinental ballistic missile, which is capable of carrying a heavy payload and of reaching the mainland United States.

"North Korea has made strides with very long-range-capable missiles, and that's something that Iran could be interested in," said Kenneth Katzman, a senior adviser for the New York-based Soufan Group intelligence consultancy and an expert on geopolitics in the Middle East.

Tehran has long insisted that its controversial nuclear program is only for peaceful purposes. But amid increased tensions with Israel, Iran has stressed, as recently as May 12, that it may have no choice but to change its nuclear doctrine.

As for what Tehran could offer North Korea, missile and drone attacks launched by Iran and its regional proxies have provided valuable experience.

Katzman noted that "Iranian missiles didn't do too well against Israel" in the April 19 strike, with most of the some 150 cruise and ballistic missiles having failed or been shot down. But he says the attack and others by Iran and its proxies in the region have given Tehran firsthand knowledge of how Western air-defense systems work.

This could be valuable to North Korea, he said, because its missiles "would be facing similar technology if launched against Japan, South Korea, the United States," the East Asian country's main adversaries.

Young says Iran's ability to mass produce Shahed-136 suicide drones, which were launched unsuccessfully by Iran against Israel but have been used extensively by Russia in its war against Ukraine, is also "likely attractive to Pyongyang."

Iran has experience going up against Western air defenses such as Israel's "Iron Dome."
Iran has experience going up against Western air defenses such as Israel's "Iron Dome."

North Korea has cultivated a military partnership with Tehran for decades, including the provision of conventional weapons to the Islamic republic during the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s and help in the 1990s in developing Iranian ballistic missiles.

Successors to those missiles were used in Iran's attack against Israel, and South Korean intelligence is reportedly investigating whether North Korean components were used in the attack. South Korean intelligence has also said that North Korean weapons have been used against Israel by Hamas -- the U.S.- and EU-designated terrorist organization that sparked the war in Gaza with its deadly assault on Israel on October 7.

It is unclear when such weapons transfers may have been made, but Katzman said that since Israel launched its retaliatory and controversial invasion of Gaza with the aim of eliminating the Iran-backed Hamas, North Korea has "reiterated Iranian positions on Gaza as a means of standing with Iran."

Young says that Pyongyang's relationships with Iranian proxies are nothing new, noting that North Korea boasts some of the best tunnel-building experts in the world and "most likely" helped Lebanese Hizballah build its own tunnel network in the Middle East.

He says there is no indication of strengthened ties between North Korea and Hamas or Hizballah since the deadly assault on Israel, but that whenever a major military crisis occurs, "North Korean-made arms regularly pop up." This, he says, is in part because "North Korea seeks to exploit these conflicts for their own financial gains and actively tries to find purchasers of their weapons."

The North Korean delegation's visit to Tehran, coming just a month after a similar visit to Moscow, raised concerns that Pyongyang could be entering a broader partnership involving Iran and Russia. That prospect has gained attention with North Korea's reported provision of munitions to aid Russia's war effort in Ukraine.

As to why Iran might seek cooperation with Pyongyang instead of other allies such as Russia or China -- fellow members of the burgeoning bloc of the sanctioned -- Katzman said that "North Korea would be probably the most willing."

"There is that history of relationships on missiles, and North Korea certainly doesn't really care about being subjected to any more sanctions," Katzman said. "So, North Korea would not be hesitant to share that technology."

This Is What It's Like To Be Detained By Iran's Dreaded Morality Police

Scores of women have been detained in Iran in recent weeks for not wearing the mandatory Islamic head scarf, as authorities intensify their enforcement of the country’s controversial hijab law and crack down on alleged violators.

It's an issue that was at the heart of unprecedented protests that rocked Iran in 2022.

Homa (not her real name), a 42-year-old mother of two, spoke to RFE/RL's Radio Farda about what it's like to be swept up in the crackdown. This is her account.

'Dragged Me In'

I was returning from my mother’s home and had done some shopping. I was holding the shopping bags in one hand and the keys in the other to open my door. My head scarf had slipped down.

[A man] on a motorcycle drove by and said, "Lady, put your head scarf back up." I said, "no.’" He asked again but I ignored him. He then pulled out his phone and took a photo of me. Immediately, a morality police van pulled up.

The motorcyclist, the van driver, and two women came toward me. I asked them to at least let me put my shopping inside, but they told me to take everything with me. I told them it’s not like you’ve caught a thief. If I didn’t enter the van, they would have most likely dragged me in.

I think there were eight people inside the van, including me. There was no space so I sat on an armrest. Besides me and another woman who was also above 40, everyone else was young. There was a mother and daughter who said they had been eating in a restaurant when they were detained. They weren’t even allowed to finish their food.

'Tried To Scare Us'

They took us to the police station. We got off the van and were escorted to a hall where they lined us all up against a wall. They took a group photo and told us to sit and wait outside a room.

In the meantime, a couple of female university students were crying. [An officer] told them not to worry because their detention would not appear on their criminal record.

In the room, three men and a woman were sitting behind a desk. They gave me a document to sign. I told them that I wanted to read it first. The form said I had removed my head scarf and acted against public modesty. I read it with contempt, laughed, signed it, and stamped it with my fingerprint.

Then they said I needed a guarantor. I said I’m old enough and can vouch for myself. They refused and insisted that my husband, father, mother, or family member had to come down to the station. They also said I had to hand over my identification documents and appear in court the next day.

All the officers were sarcastic and tried to scare us. There was a girl who asked to see the photo they had taken of her [when she was detained]. An officer turned around and mockingly said, "We’re going to make it your profile picture [in our system.]" All of the officers were under 30.

'Probably Do It Again'

We went to the court. There were a lot of people there who had been detained the day before. There were about 15 women. Many were there because their cars had been impounded [as punishment] for not wearing the hijab. My car has been impounded two times.

We waited a long time in the corridor [before entering the courtroom]. The staff were laughing. The young university students were all scared.

Once a person’s casefile was entered in the system, they were given a code and sent to see the judge. It was packed outside the judge’s chambers. Some of the women were complaining that the process was taking too long. The judge’s secretary was processing some of the cases himself.

In some cases, the judge’s secretary filled people’s forms himself. He wrote phrases like "I’m regretful and won’t do it again," and told the [women] to just sign it. I told the judge’s secretary not to write that I was regretful because I wasn’t and would probably do it again.

I was not fined. But the university students were given another document to sign. I caught a glimpse and saw the figure 5,000,000 rials [$8].

'Pressure Is Intensifying'

The pressure is intensifying. They are forcing fathers, brothers, the whole family, even mothers, to make women wear the hijab.

A friend told me that she had asked a friend of hers in law enforcement to explain how she kept getting fines despite living and working in a place with no security cameras.

The police friend said they have people on the streets who, when they spot a woman without a head scarf, follow her to her car and jot down the plate number.

*This account has been edited for length and clarity.
Written by Kian Sharifi based on an interview by Roya Maleki of RFE/RL's Radio Farda. Illustrated by Juan Carlos Herrera.

Award-Winning Filmmaker Flees Iran After Flogging, Prison Sentence

Rasoulof secretly left Iran amid pressure from the authorities to pull his latest film from the Cannes.
Rasoulof secretly left Iran amid pressure from the authorities to pull his latest film from the Cannes.

Iranian filmmaker Mohammad Rasoulof on May 13 said he had left Iran in secret after being informed that he had been sentenced to flogging and eight years in prison on security-related charges.

Rasoulof, who has been convicted of "collusion to act against national security," said in a statement that he had left for Europe days earlier.

His statement was released by Films Boutique and Parallel45, who are distributing his latest film, The Seed Of The Sacred Fig.

The director has been under pressure from the Iranian authorities to pull the film from the Cannes Film Festival, which will kick off this week.

News of his recent sentence was made public last week but he said he knew about it a month ago.

"I didn't have much time to make a decision. I had to choose between prison and leaving Iran. With a heavy heart, I chose exile," Rasoulof wrote.

Separately, he posted a short video to Instagram of an undisclosed mountainous location and wrote that he would talk about his journey out of Iran later.

The filmmaker's passport was confiscated in 2017 and he was barred from leaving the country. He was jailed in June 2022 and was released in February 2023 as part of a mass amnesty.

The cast and crew of The Seed Of The Sacred Fig have been under pressure, and Rasoulof said many had been "put through lengthy interrogations" and are potentially facing prosecution.

"During the interrogations of the film crew, the intelligence forces asked them to pressure me to withdraw the film from the Cannes Festival," he said.

The plot of The Seed Of The Sacred Fig had been kept under wraps until earlier this month it was reported that it tells the story of an Iranian judge struggling with paranoia.

His mistrust intensifies after his gun goes missing amid growing nationwide protests. He suspects his wife and daughters of stealing his weapon and imposes heavy restrictions at home.

Rasoulof won the Berlin Film Festival’s top prize in 2020 for his film There Is No Evil, which tells four stories loosely connected to the themes of the death penalty in Iran and personal freedoms under oppression.

"We are very happy and much relieved that Mohammad has safely arrived in Europe after a dangerous journey," wrote Jean-Christophe Simon, CEO of Films Boutique and Parallel45.

"We hope he will be able to attend the Cannes premiere of The Seed Of The Sacred Fig in spite of all attempts to prevent him from being there in person."

Iranian Professor, Author Jailed On Multiple Charges

Iranian author and government critic Sadegh Zibakalam was arrested on the way to a book fair. (file photo)
Iranian author and government critic Sadegh Zibakalam was arrested on the way to a book fair. (file photo)

Iran's judiciary has said that Sadegh Zibakalam -- a university professor and critic of the government -- has been jailed and faces sentencing on multiple charges. The judiciary didn't specify the charges. Media reports said he was to serve a three-year prison term. The Telegram channel Pasdaran Cyber Corps said Zibakalam, 75, was arrested as he headed to a Tehran book fair to present his new book, Why Don't They Take You? Zibakalam has previously served time in prison for alleged propaganda against the state and for publishing false content online. He was also previously barred from engaging in political activities online. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Radio Farda, click here.

Iran Election Runoff Puts Hard-Liners Firmly In Charge Of Parliament

An Iranian police colonel votes in Iranian parliamentary elections that were reportedly marred by low turnout.
An Iranian police colonel votes in Iranian parliamentary elections that were reportedly marred by low turnout.

Iran's hard-liners won most of the remaining seats in an election runoff to give them full control over the country's parliament, authorities said on May 11, while not sharing any details on turnout and as some media reported extremely low turnout. The result, and that of the previous vote in March, gives hard-liners 233 of the 290 seats in Iran's parliament, according to an AP count. The Farhikhtegan news site reported that turnout in Tehran's major constituency was "only 8 percent.” Since protests in recent years -- especially after the mass demonstrations that began after the death of Mahsa Amini while in custody -- participation in Iranian elections has declined dramatically. To read the original story by RFE/RL’s Radio Farda, click here.

Iranian Rappers Detained As Government Continues To Squelch Dissent

Vafa Ahmadpor and Danial Moaghadam were detained by police. Their whereabouts are unknown.
Vafa Ahmadpor and Danial Moaghadam were detained by police. Their whereabouts are unknown.

Iranian rappers Vafa Ahmadpor and Danial Maghaddam were arrested after the release of a music video titled "Standby," which is critical of the authoritarian measures in place in Iran.

Rights groups said the two men were arrested in the city of Shiraz on May 9 and that their current whereabouts are unknown. Iranian officials have not commented.

The pair’s video highlights issues such as repression by security forces, economic hardships, and the activities of the morality police while proclaiming that "we, the people of Iran, remain united and will take over this country."

On May 5 they also posted a video of them paying respects at the grave of slain street protester Arman Emadi.

In the video, Maghaddam says, “We’re one nation. Do you want to kill us all?” Maghaddam said in a post on his Instagram account on May 8 that security agents had appeared outside his residence.

He mentioned that Ahmadpor was with him at the time of the incident.

It’s not the first run-in with law enforcement for Ahmadpor, who had been previously detained in February at his home.

Maghaddam has collaborated with figures like Gholam Koveitipor, Sahar Zakaria, and Saba Kamali to address social issues such as violence against women.

In December, he disclosed that a legal case had been initiated against him, Zakaria, and Kamali in the Culture and Media Court for supposedly "inviting corruption and indecency."

Many Iranian artists and public figures have faced Iran’s judiciary for expressing their support of nationwide protests following the 2022 death of Mahsa Amini while in custody for an alleged hijab violation.

Iran's Minister of Culture and Islamic Guidance has taken a hard-line stance against protesting artists, repeatedly threatening them with a work ban.

Thousands of people, including protesters, journalists, lawyers, athletes, and artists have been arrested and at least 500 people have been killed in Iran's brutal crackdown on the protests.

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

U.S. Seeks Shift In Iranian 'Decision-Making Calculus' Through Saudi-Israeli Normalization

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken (left) is welcomed by Saudi officials on a visit to Riyadh during a Gaza diplomacy push late last month.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken (left) is welcomed by Saudi officials on a visit to Riyadh during a Gaza diplomacy push late last month.

The United States wants to force a gradual shift in Iran’s “decision-making calculus” by signing a defense deal with Saudi Arabia and securing the normalization of relations between Riyadh and Israel.

“We continue to work with allies and partners to enhance their capabilities to deter and counter the threats Iran poses, impose costs on Iran for its actions, and seek to shift Iran’s decision-making calculus over time,” a U.S. State Department spokesperson told RFE/RL.

The security package has several components, including a bilateral U.S.-Saudi defense pact aimed at enhancing the Sunni kingdom’s deterrence capabilities. But Washington is adamant that regardless of how close the Americans and the Saudis are to a bilateral agreement, the security package cannot materialize without Saudi-Israeli normalization.

Saudi Arabia has conditioned the normalization of ties with Israel on the establishment of a cease-fire in Gaza and a credible pathway to Palestinian statehood.

The administration of U.S. President Joe Biden sees a three-way deal key to ensuring a sustainable peace in the Middle East, which includes isolating Iran and making it costly for the Islamic republic to maintain its current regional policies.

“Iran’s isolation in the region and in the international community is a result of its own policies,” the spokesperson said in an e-mailed statement to RFE/RL.

A calculus shift will “definitely” happen, but not in the way that the United States wants, according to Hamidreza Azizi, a fellow at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs.

“Any sort of coalition-building would result in Iran going for counter-coalitions,” he added.

But analysts maintain that for Saudi Arabia, isolating Iran is not the core objective of a security pact with the United States.

The Saudis see normalizing relations with Israel as a strategic leverage to help them extract substantial security commitments from Washington, “thereby balancing against Iranian influence without overtly antagonizing Tehran," Azizi said.

Meanwhile, securing a path toward Palestinian statehood could help Saudi Arabia assert its leadership within the Muslim world and effectively end the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Iran has long opposed Arab normalization with Israel and is a staunch critic of the Abraham Accords, which saw Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.) establish diplomatic ties with Israel in 2020.

On May 1, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei implicitly criticized Saudi Arabia for looking to normalize relations with Israel in the hopes of resolving the Palestinian question.

Anna Jacobs, a senior Gulf analyst at the Brussels-based International Crisis Group, argued that the U.A.E. model of balancing relations with Iran and Israel suggests that Saudi Arabia can do the same.

“Riyadh seems confident that normalization with Israel wouldn’t have a major impact on its relationship with Tehran,” she said. “The Saudi strategy with Iran right now is both containment and engagement.”

Senior Iranian Official Threatens Change In Nuclear Doctrine

Iran's Isfahan nuclear facility (file photo)
Iran's Isfahan nuclear facility (file photo)

A senior Iranian official has issued a stark warning that Tehran might change its nuclear doctrine and begin to build nuclear bombs if the nation's existence is threatened.

Kamal Kharrazi, head of Iran’s Strategic Council on Foreign Relations and senior adviser to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said in an interview aired on Al-Jazeera Arabic that Iran "has the capacity to produce a bomb," though the country has not taken the actual step of making one.

"Two years ago in an interview with Al-Jazeera, I announced that Iran has the capacity to produce a nuclear bomb. That capacity still exists today, but we have no intention of producing a nuclear bomb. However, if the existence of Iran is threatened, we will have to change our nuclear doctrine," he said.

The comments come at a time of escalating tensions between Iran and Israel, further complicated by the international community's concern over Iran's nuclear ambitions. The Islamic republic has repeatedly claimed that its nuclear program is for civilian purposes, despite possessing the technical capabilities for weaponization.

A nuclear deal in 2015 lifted U.S. sanctions against Tehran, but in 2018, then-U.S. President Donald Trump left the agreement and Washington has since ratcheted up measures against Iran that have choked the country's economy.

Efforts to revive the deal have failed, and Tehran has violated terms of the pact by producing uranium with a higher enrichment threshold.

In March, Bloomberg News quoted a senior U.S. Defense Department official as saying Iran was less than 12 days away from obtaining the fissile material necessary to produce an atomic bomb.

The threat of a shift in doctrine follows an incident last month when Israel is said to have targeted a radar system at a base near the city of Isfahan.

The attack followed an incident on April 13, when Iran retaliated against an Israeli attack on its consulate in Damascus that claimed the lives of seven senior officers from the Quds Force of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps. Iran launched hundreds of drones, ballistic missiles, and cruise missiles at Israel, though almost all failed to hit targets inside Israel.

After Khamenei issued a fatwa, or religious ruling, against nuclear weapons in 2005, officials were adamant that Tehran’s nuclear program was strictly for civilian purposes. But the rhetoric has shifted in recent years.

In the interview, Kharrazi also made reference to potential reactions to any attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities.

"If they want to strike at Iran's nuclear capabilities, it could naturally lead to a change in Iran's nuclear doctrine," he said.

Rafael Grossi, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, warned earlier this month that Iran is only weeks away from having enough enriched uranium to produce a nuclear bomb. Grossi has criticized Tehran’s cooperation with the agency as "unacceptable" and called for a significant shift in Iran's nuclear policy.

Kharrazi also hinted at the possibility of Iran withdrawing from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and potentially moving toward developing nuclear weapons. Iran had previously warned it would leave the NPT if its regime felt threatened.

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

Putin, Pashinian Agree On Withdrawal Of Russian Troops From Some Armenian Regions

Russian President Vladimir Putin (right) meets Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian at the Kremlin on May 8.
Russian President Vladimir Putin (right) meets Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian at the Kremlin on May 8.

Russian border guards will withdraw from a number of regions of Armenia but will continue to be deployed on the Armenian-Turkish and Armenian-Iranian border following an agreement between Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The announcement by the Kremlin on May 9 marks a new step in Yerevan distancing itself from traditional ally Russia following accusations by Armenia that the Russian peacekeepers deployed in and around the region of Nagorno-Karabakh after a bloody war with Azerbaijan in 2020 did not do enough to stop a lightning offensive launched by Baku in September.

Spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the move was discussed and agreed upon at Pashinian's request during talks between the two leaders in Moscow on May 8.

"In the autumn 2020, at the request of the Armenian side, our troops were deployed to a number of Armenian regions. Pashinian said that currently, due to changed conditions, they are no longer needed, so President Putin agreed and the withdrawal of our military and border guards was agreed," Peskov said.

According to the agreement, the Russian border guards and military points located in Tavush, Syunik, Vayots Dzor, Gegharkunik, and Ararat will end their deployment and withdraw from those points.

Some 2,000 Russian peacekeepers have already withdrawn from the Nagorno-Karabakh area that had been for three decades under ethnic Armenian control.

Armenian authorities have accused Russian peacekeepers deployed to Nagorno-Karabakh after the 2020 war of failing to stop Azerbaijan’s new offensive in September.

Russia has rejected the accusations, arguing that its troops didn’t have a mandate to intervene and charging that Pashinian had effectively paved the way for the collapse of separatist rule in Nagorno-Karabakh by previously acknowledging Azerbaijan's sovereignty over it.

Armenia has also asked Moscow to withdraw the Russian border guards that had been deployed at Yerevan's main airport starting from August 1.

In March, Pashinian said in an interview with the France 24 television channel that his country had also frozen its membership in the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO).

The CSTO has been at the heart of Armenia's turn away from Moscow, with Pashinian's government having long criticized the Russia-led security grouping for its “failure to respond to the security challenges” facing Armenia.

Pashinian declined to attend a CSTO summit in Minsk in November and said in a televised Q&A session then that any decision about Yerevan’s continued membership in the grouping -- which includes Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan -- would be based on Armenia's "own state interests."

Iran Sentences Renowned Filmmaker To Flogging, Prison Sentence

Iranian filmmaker Mohammad Rasoulof (file photo)
Iranian filmmaker Mohammad Rasoulof (file photo)

Iran’s judiciary has sentenced filmmaker Mohammad Rasoulof to flogging and eight years in prison. His lawyer, Babak Paknia, said in a social media post on May 8 that his client will only be required to serve five years in prison but was also fined and had his property confiscated. He was convicted of "collusion against national security," Paknia said. Western rights advocates and film-industry groups have condemned Iran’s actions against Rasoulof and demanded his release. Rasoulof's film titled The Seed Of The Sacred Fig is scheduled to be shown at the Cannes Film Festival this month. Rasoulof won the Berlin Film Festival’s top prize in 2020 for his film There Is No Evil, which tells four stories loosely connected to the themes of the death penalty in Iran and personal freedoms under oppression.

Nobel Laureate Slams Iranian Government For Number Of Elderly Female 'Political Prisoners'

 Iranian Nobel Peace Prize winner Narges Mohammadi (file photo)
Iranian Nobel Peace Prize winner Narges Mohammadi (file photo)

Imprisoned Iranian Nobel Peace Prize winner and human rights activist Narges Mohammadi has slammed the country’s Islamist government for holding almost two dozen women over the age of 60 incarcerated for “political” offenses.

Mohammadi, who is currently among 69 women held in Tehran's notorious Evin Prison, published a statement on Instagram highlighting the determination of older women trapped in Iran’s prison system, saying it shows their "will for liberation, as well as the cruelty and wickedness of the Islamic republic."

"The presence of these women in the ranks of those who are prepared to pay the heaviest prices indicates a widespread uprising among women for democracy, freedom, and equality, as well as the intensity of societal rebellion against discrimination, oppression, and domination," Mohammadi said, noting that "among the 69 female political prisoners in Evin, 21 are over 60 years old."

Mohammadi was sentenced in May 2016 to 16 years in prison after she established a human rights movement that campaigned for the abolition of the death penalty.

She was released in 2020 but sent back to prison in 2021. In January 2024, an Iranian court extended the 51-year-old Mohammadi's prison sentence by 15 months for “spreading propaganda” against the Islamic republic while in jail.

It was her fifth conviction since March 2021 and the third for activities from prison.

While underscoring the harsh realities faced by activists who continue to stand against authoritarian rule, Mohammadi expressed hope in her Instagram post that their resilience will eventually win out over the “tyranny” of the regime.

"It is evident that the presence of mothers and women spending their sixth and seventh decades in prison reflects the regime's brutality, misanthropy, and ferocity, which is increasingly despised as it turns a blind eye to morals, societal values, and humanity in order to maintain its fragile power," she said.

Mohammadi was awarded the 2023 Nobel Peace Prize for what the Norwegian Nobel Committee called “her fight against the oppression of women in Iran and her fight to promote human rights and freedom for all.”

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

Jewish Groups Protest Former Iranian President's Hungary Visit

Former Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad
Former Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad

Hungarian Jewish organizations and the Israeli Embassy have condemned a public university for having invited Iran's populist former President Mahmud Ahmadinejad to an event this week. The Budapest-based Ludovika University of Public Service invited the controversial politician -- who has said Israel is doomed to be "wiped off the map" and that the Holocaust was a "myth" -- to an academic meeting. Two Hungarian Jewish congregations, together with a Jewish advocacy group, were the latest to protest the visit of "openly anti-Semitic" Ahmadinejad in a joint statement on May 8. Ludovika University of Public Service did not respond to the AFP news agency's request for comment. The government has also not yet responded. To read the original story by AFP, click here.

Iran Seeks To Tighten Crackdown On Afghan Refugees

Afghan refugees who have been deported or returned from Iran in Herat (file photo)
Afghan refugees who have been deported or returned from Iran in Herat (file photo)

Iran says it has expelled some 1.3 million foreigners over the past year, highlighting a significant crackdown by the government on unauthorized migrants, primarily Afghan refugees.

Interior Minister Ahmad Vahidi told a press briefing that the efforts to regulate foreign nationals needs to be bolstered with legislative reforms to tighten border controls and prevent any future influx of unauthorized migrants.

"To stop unauthorized nationals from entering Iran, it is necessary to amend the relevant laws in parliament," Vahidi said in an indication the government doesn’t plan to heed calls from human rights groups to ensure a fair immigration policy.

Vahidi added that "effective” laws must be enacted to deal with expelled individuals who have managed to re-enter Iran after being deported. He did not elaborate.

Iranian officials typically use the term "unauthorized nationals" to refer to Afghan refugees and Vahidi’s statement is seen as an indication that the government plans to continue with its efforts to deport those who have fled the Taliban regime.

According to the United Nations Refugee Agency, Iran currently hosts around 3.4 million foreign refugees, with Afghans comprising the largest single group. The agency requested $114 million in aid for Iran last year to support refugee management, of which Tehran had received over $26 million by mid-2023.

This year, the refugee agency has sought $110 million in aid for Iran, with commitments from several countries, including Italy, Japan, Bulgaria, and Germany, to cover part of the sum.

Iran ranks alongside Turkey as one of the top host countries for refugees globally. The issue of Afghan migration has regained prominence following the Taliban's return to power in August 2021, leading to an increase in the number of refugees seeking safety outside their home country.

Recent government estimates suggest significant discrepancies in the number of unauthorized Afghan nationals in Iran, with figures ranging from 500,000 to 1.2 million, according to last year's assessment by the head of the National Immigration Organization.

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

IAEA Chief Says Cooperation From Iran 'Completely Unsatisfactory'

 "We are almost at an impasse," IAEA chief Rafael Grossi said following his trip to Iran.
"We are almost at an impasse," IAEA chief Rafael Grossi said following his trip to Iran.

UN atomic watchdog chief Rafael Grossi said on May 7 that cooperation from Iran at present was "completely unsatisfactory" after returning from Tehran, where he urged the country to adopt "concrete" measures to address concerns on its nuclear program. "We have to be moving on.... The present state is completely unsatisfactory for me. We are almost at an impasse...and this needs to be changed," the chief of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) told reporters at the Vienna airport.

No Veil, No Sale: Iran Links Pharmacies' Drug Quotas To Hijab Compliance

Iran says if measures to enforce the hijab in pharmacies fail, those in violation will be prosecuted.
Iran says if measures to enforce the hijab in pharmacies fail, those in violation will be prosecuted.

Iran has fined and shut down scores of businesses for allegedly flouting the country’s controversial hijab law in recent years.

Among them were pharmacies accused of failing to impose the Islamic head scarf on their female staff and customers.

Now, in their latest attempt to encourage compliance, the authorities have said that pharmacies could receive reduced drug quotas if they do not adhere to the hijab requirement.

A new directive issued by the Health Ministry on May 5 directly links a pharmacy’s compliance with the hijab law to its allocation of medicine. A chronic drug shortage has forced the authorities to allocate medicine among thousands of pharmacies across the country.

The move has been widely mocked in Iran, where some have criticized the clerical establishment for politicizing people's access to medicine.

'Deterrent Measures'

Heydar Mohammadi, head of Iran’s Food and Drug Administration (FDA), said on May 5 that pharmacies are obliged to ensure “proper attire” is observed on their premises.

“Compliance with [dress] norms is among the issues that play a role in pharmacies’ quotas,” said Mohammadi, a deputy health minister, during a public forum in the capital, Tehran.

The exact details of the directive are unclear. But Mohammadi said reduced quotas are among the “deterrent measures” used to ensure pharmacies followed the hijab law.

“If those measures do not work, violators will be prosecuted,” he added.

In an apparent attempt at damage control, the FDA in a May 6 statement accused the media of misrepresenting the deputy health minister’s comments. It added that the issue of attire pertained to the “professional outfits” worn by the pharmacies’ staff.

An FDA official, who spoke to RFE/RL’s Radio Farda on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media, said there were “too many” pharmacies in the country and the Health Ministry was struggling to distribute enough medicine to them.

'Entirely Illegal'

The FDA’s statement has done little to stem the tide of criticism.

U.S.-based legal analyst Pegah Banihashemi said the decision to link pharmacies’ drug quotas to compliance with the hijab law “is entirely illegal” and a violation of people’s rights.

“Patients who need to procure medicine will become victims of an illegal action by the Health Ministry,” she wrote on X, formerly Twitter.

Sadra Mohaqeq, a pro-reformist journalist, accused the authorities of taking people’s health “hostage.”

Hamed Bidi, head of Karzar Net, an online petition website, said the measure amounts to a “crime against humanity.”

Tehran-based activist Reza Saliani posted on X an imaginary conversation between a customer and a pharmacist, who said that he does not have a particular drug because “we don’t have enough hijabs to afford it.”

Iran's 'Ambassadors Of Kindness' Enforce Hijab In New Head Scarf Crackdown
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Hijab Crackdown

The authorities have intensified their enforcement of the hijab since monthslong nationwide antiestablishment protests rocked the country in 2022.

The unprecedented demonstrations were triggered by the death in custody of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who was accused of improperly wearing her head scarf. During the protests, women and girls removed and burned their hijabs.

As an increasing number of women flout the hijab rules, officials have threatened violators with hefty fines and imprisonment.

The authorities have also shut down scores of businesses, including retail stores, restaurants, and pharmacies, for failure to comply with the hijab law.

Last month, Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) established a new unit in Tehran to enforce Islamic dress codes amid a fresh crackdown on women not wearing the head scarf.

Kianush Farid of RFE/RL’s Radio Farda contributed to this report.

Iranian Cyberpolice To Ratchet Up Crackdown On Social Media Critics

Iran has blocked several popular social media pages -- including Instagram, as well as Facebook, X (formerly Twitter), YouTube, Telegram, and WhatsApp.
Iran has blocked several popular social media pages -- including Instagram, as well as Facebook, X (formerly Twitter), YouTube, Telegram, and WhatsApp.

Iran's cyberpolice are launching a plan to combat "moral and social crimes that violate Islamic, social, and cultural norms in cyberspace," in another sign of the curbing of freedoms by authorities following a renewed crackdown on the wearing of head scarves and the blocking of several social media sites.

According to the semiofficial ISNA news agency, cyberpolice chief Vahid Majid outlined the new measures targeting online activities, including "obscene live streaming, vulgar content production, and modeling."

"In a proactive strategy, we have identified and taken legal and operational actions against the operators, managers, and members of 10 active cybersites," Majid added.

The cyberpolice recently blocked several popular social media pages -- including Instagram, as well as Facebook, X (formerly Twitter), YouTube, Telegram, and WhatsApp -- while the judiciary has pursued cases involving social media commentary, summoning individuals and pressing charges for various offenses.

At the same time, the Islamic republic's authorities have resumed the deployment of the morality police on Iran's streets, aggressively targeting citizens, particularly women, in an effort to enforce strict dress codes.

This has led to the documentation by activists and victims of what they say are several incidents of violence against women challenging the compulsory hijab.

It has also led to widespread usage of the Internet by social network users and civil activists to complain about the situation.

A recent survey by ISPA, the Student Opinion Polling Center of Iran, revealed that a significant portion of the population continues to access the blocked platforms, with 46.5 percent using Instagram, 35.3 percent on WhatsApp, and 34.6 percent on Telegram as of February 2024.

The hijab became compulsory for women and girls over the age of 9 in 1981, two years after the Islamic Revolution in Iran, triggering 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.

IAEA Chief In Iran As Concern Grows Over Nuclear Activity

IAEA chief Rafael Grossi (file photo)
IAEA chief Rafael Grossi (file photo)

UN atomic watchdog chief Rafael Grossi arrived in Iran on May 6, where he is expected to speak at a conference and meet officials for talks on Tehran's nuclear program. The visit comes at a time of heightened regional tensions and with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) criticizing Iran for lack of cooperation on inspections and other outstanding issues. Grossi is scheduled to meet Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, as well as the Islamic republic's nuclear chief, Mohammad Eslami.

Iranian Activist Sentenced To Death For Social Media Posts

Mahmoud Mehrabi has been convicted of "corruption on Earth," a sentence that carries the death penalty.
Mahmoud Mehrabi has been convicted of "corruption on Earth," a sentence that carries the death penalty.

A court in the central Iranian city of Isfahan has sentenced Mahmud Mehrabi to death for posting messages on social media critical of the Islamic republic.

There is scant reporting about the details of his critical posts, which led to him being convicted of “corruption on Earth” -- the most serious offense under Iran’s Islamic penal code.

Mehrabi’s lawyer, Babak Farsani, wrote on social media on May 5 that there were “serious problems” with the verdict that he hoped would help get it overturned by the Supreme Court.

Mehrabi was arrested in February 2023 and has spent the last six months in a prison ward where dangerous criminals are held, according to his sister Hajar Mehrabi, who lives in Austria.

She told RFE/RL’s Radio Farda on May 5 that her brother was among the tens of thousands of people who protested during the Women, Life, Freedom unrest in 2022. The protests were sparked by the death in police custody of Mahsa Amini, who had been detained for allegedly not properly observing Iran’s strict dress code for women.

Mehrabi put out calls for protests on his social media account and was accused of “spreading false news,” his sister said.

“The judge told him, ‘I don’t see regret in your eyes, so I have sentenced you to death’,” she added.

Toomaj Salehi, The Iranian Rapper Sentenced To Death Amid Global Outcry
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The “corruption on Earth” charge is usually brought against serious crimes, such as murder, drug dealing, and high-profile financial corruption cases. It remains unclear exactly what Mehrabi posted online to be hit with a charge that carries the death penalty.

Maryam Mehrabi, another sister who resides in Iran, has urged the public to gather outside the home of Ayatollah Mohammad Ali Nasseri on May 6 to protest the verdict. Nasseri is a prominent cleric in Isfahan who teaches in the city’s seminary.

She vowed to set herself on fire outside Nasseri’s residence.

This comes just over a week after another court in Isfahan sentenced popular rapper Toomaj Salehi to death for his antiestablishment songs.

Rights groups have sharply criticized Iranian authorities for their extensive use of the death penalty.

"The Iranian authorities are ruthlessly carrying out an execution spree. Prisons across the country have become sites of mass state-sanctioned killings under the guise of judicial executions," Amnesty International said recently.

Written by Kian Sharifi based on an original story in Persian by RFE/RL’s Radio Farda

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