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Iran Says EU Rights Criticism 'Interference'

Mohammad Ali Hosseini (file photo) (Fars) May 28, 2007 -- Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini said today that his country considers a statement from the European Union's Presidency to be "interfering in its internal affairs."

On May 25, the EU Presidency released a statement expressing concerns that included the arrests of activists and intimidation of academics and journalists.

Hosseini said the EU should concentrate on "important cases" such as rights violations on its own territory.

Separately, a top Russian diplomat says Russia is "greatly disappointed" by Iran's failure to fulfill international demands to freeze its uranium enrichment. Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Kislyak was quoted as saying Russia expected Tehran to "revise its position."

He was commenting on a report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) last week that said Iran was making substantial advances in uranium enrichment, a project which has fueled Western suspicions that Tehran may be trying to create a nuclear bomb.

(Reuters, AP)

Iran's Nuclear Program

Iran's Nuclear Program


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


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An annotated timeline of Iran's nuclear program.

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Iran Mourns -- And Celebrates -- President's Death

Iran Mourns -- And Celebrates -- President's Death
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The death of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi has led to official mourning in the country, but other Iranians celebrated the passing of a man who oversaw a brutal crackdown on anti-government protests after a young woman, Mahsa Amini, died in police custody in 2022.

Iran At Crossroads After President Killed In Helicopter Crash

Iran At Crossroads After President Killed In Helicopter Crash
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A new presidential election must be held in Iran within 50 days following the death of President Ebrahim Raisi in a helicopter crash on May 19, according to the country's constitution. Chatham House's Sanam Vakil says the candidates permitted to run -- be they ultraconservatives or more conciliatory figures who are better able to connect with the public -- will reveal the regime's political priorities.

Iranian Nobel Laureate Ebadi Says Raisi's Death Means He Will Evade Justice

Iranian Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi (file photo)
Iranian Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi (file photo)

Iranian Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi has said that the death of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi was regrettable because he will evade justice for his alleged crimes.

Raisi, who died in a May 19 helicopter crash in northwestern Iran, has been accused of serving as a prosecutor on an "execution committee" that sent thousands of political prisoners and regime opponents to their deaths in the late 1980s.

His presidency, which began in 2021, is also infamous for its stricter enforcement of Iran's draconian hijab law and brutal crackdown on mass demonstrations for women's rights.

"If we haven't forgotten, which tragically is not easily forgotten, there was the painful incident of the mass execution of political prisoners by the execution committee," Ebadi said of Raisi in a May 20 interview with RFE/RL's Radio Farda. "The people of Iran had hoped to see him brought to justice, to witness how he would struggle and plead for his own exoneration. He did not deserve such an easy death."

The rights watchdog Amnesty International has said that at least 4,500 people were executed in the mass killing ordered by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in 1988 for "waging war against God."

The leftist Mujahedin-e Khalq Organization, which was accused of treachery for its role in carrying out an invasion deep into Iranian territory after a cease-fire ended the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War, says that up to 30,000 people were executed.

Many of the victims were buried in secret.

During a court trial in Stockholm in 2022 in which a former prison guard for the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps faced testimony from hundreds of survivors and their relatives, Raisi was named as belonging to the three-member execution committee that determined the fate of prisoners.

Ebadi, 76, was a prominent human rights lawyer for years in Iran before she was forced into exile in 2009. From her home in Britain, she has continued to criticize the Iranian authorities for their crackdown on virtually any form of dissent.

WATCH: A new presidential election must be held within 50 days following the death of President Ebrahim Raisi, and one analyst says the candidates permitted to run -- be they ultraconservatives or more conciliatory figures who are better able to connect with the public -- will reveal the regime's political priorities.

Iran At Crossroads After President Killed In Helicopter Crash
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Ebadi said that some in the foreign media expressed surprise that some Iranians were celebrating Raisi's death, including by lighting fireworks and dancing in videos shared on social media.

"Are people truly this happy about the death of one person?" Ebadi said she was asked. "Regrettably, I told them that [hard-liners'] actions had made their deaths a cause for celebration."

WATCH: Raisi's death led to official mourning in Iran -- but other Iranians celebrated the passing of a man who oversaw a brutal crackdown on anti-government protests.

Ebadi said that now that the 63-year-old Raisi is dead, it is unlikely he will posthumously face prosecution.

"Generally, and legally, once a person passes away, any criminal actions they committed are no longer prosecuted," Ebadi said. "However, they will remain in people's memories and be recorded in history, particularly in the annals of human rights."

Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, The Iranian Foreign Minister Close To Revolutionary Guards, Dead At 60

Hossein Amir-Abdollahian distrusted the West and was a vocal supporter of the so-called axis of resistance.
Hossein Amir-Abdollahian distrusted the West and was a vocal supporter of the so-called axis of resistance.

Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, a conservative figure who enjoyed the support of the powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), has died at the age of 60.

Amir-Abdollahian and ultraconservative President Ebrahim Raisi were returning from a visit to the border with Azerbaijan when their helicopter crashed in Iran's mountainous northwest on May 19, killing all on board.

Tehran's top diplomat was suspicious of the West and a vocal supporter of the "axis of resistance," Iran's loose network of militant groups and proxies, against Israel and the United States.

His appointment in 2021 was seen as part of the Raisi administration's disengagement with the West and its focus on the Middle East region. He was said to be fluent in Arabic, while his English appeared to be limited.

Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian (left) sits next to President Ebrahim Raisi (center) at a conference in Tehran in December 2023.
Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian (left) sits next to President Ebrahim Raisi (center) at a conference in Tehran in December 2023.

Born in the northern city of Damghan in 1960, Amir-Abdollahian did not enlist to fight in the devastating 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War and instead attended university and eventually obtained a PhD in international relations.

He climbed the ladder in the Foreign Ministry quickly and his first posting was in Iran's Embassy in Iraq in the late 1990s.

In an apparent sign of the Islamic republic's faith in Amir-Abdollahian, the young diplomat was named to a three-man delegation to represent Iran in rare talks with the United States over the war in Iraq.

Amir-Abdollahian served in various roles in the ministry, notably as ambassador to Bahrain, deputy minister for Arab and African affairs, and head of the Persian Gulf department.

His involvement in Tehran's relations with Iraq and the activities of the IRGC in Iran's western neighbor allowed him to forge a relationship with Qassem Soleimani, the commander of the Quds Force, the IRGC's overseas arm. Soleimani was killed in a U.S. air strike near Baghdad in 2020.

Ahead of his appointment as foreign minister, conservative lawmaker Ali Alizadeh praised Amir-Abdollahian as the "Soleimani of diplomacy."

In 2016, amid rumors that he had fallen out with then-Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, he turned down an offer to become Iran's envoy in Oman and left the ministry.

But Amir-Abdollahian quickly landed on his feet and was appointed as foreign affairs adviser to then-parliament speaker Ali Larijani, where he remained until he was named foreign minister.

Amir-Abdollahian is survived by his wife and their two children.

Ebrahim Raisi, The Hard-Line Iranian President Tipped As Next Supreme Leader, Dead At 63

On May 19, a helicopter carrying Raisi crashed in Iran's mountainous northwest on its way back from a visit to the border with Azerbaijan. His fate was not immediately clear.
On May 19, a helicopter carrying Raisi crashed in Iran's mountainous northwest on its way back from a visit to the border with Azerbaijan. His fate was not immediately clear.

Ebrahim Raisi, the ultraconservative Iranian president who was widely tipped to become the country's next supreme leader, has died at the age of 63.

A helicopter carrying Raisi and his foreign minister crashed in Iran's mountainous northwest on May 19 on its way back from a visit to the border with Azerbaijan, killing all on board.

Raisi, a longtime protege of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, was a former judicial chief who also allegedly played a role in one of the darkest chapters of the Islamic republic.

The hard-line cleric will be remembered for overseeing the brutal suppression of the unprecedented, monthslong antiestablishment protests that erupted in 2022 and the tightening of the country's morality laws.

Hundreds were killed and thousands arrested as government forces crushed the demonstrations, one of the biggest challenges to the country's clerical rulers in decades.

Raisi defended the bloody crackdown and accused foreign powers and opposition groups of instigating the unrest.

Ali Vaez, director of the Iran Project at the International Crisis Group, says Raisi's presidency has been marked by growing social and political ruptures and deteriorating relations with the West.

"His tenure reflects the broader trend of increasingly insulated policymaking at the top of the Iranian system as it consolidates ultraconservative control," he said.

President Ebrahim Raisi (center) and Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian (left) attend a conference in Tehran in December 2023.
President Ebrahim Raisi (center) and Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian (left) attend a conference in Tehran in December 2023.

'Butcher Of Tehran'

Raisi attended seminary schools in the holy Shi'ite cities of Qom and Mashhad, where he was born in 1960. He later studied theology and Islamic jurisprudence under the guidance of Khamenei and other powerful clerics.

Raisi was referred to by critics of the Islamic republic as the "Butcher of Tehran" for his alleged role in the mass execution of political prisoners in 1988 when he was Tehran's deputy prosecutor.

In 1989, the year Khamenei became supreme leader, Raisi was named the Iranian capital's top prosecutor. He remained in the role until 1994, when he was tasked with heading the State Inspectorate Organization, a judicial body, a post he held for 10 years.

Powerful judiciary chief Mahmud Hashemi Shahrudi appointed Raisi as his deputy in 2004. After a decade in the role, Raisi was named as Iran's chief prosecutor in 2014. Two years later, Khamenei appointed Raisi as custodian of a shrine in Mashhad and one of Iran's wealthiest foundations.

In the 2017 presidential election, Raisi launched an unsuccessful bid against incumbent moderate President Hassan Rohani. He secured 38 percent of the vote.

Two years later, Khamenei appointed Raisi as Iran's judiciary chief. That same year, the United States imposed sanctions on Raisi and eight others deemed to be in Khamenei's inner circle.

'Impunity Reigns Supreme'

Raisi succeeded in his second bid for the presidency in 2021 in an election that was widely seen as a one-horse race.

Scores of moderate and pro-reformist candidates were barred from running. The vote witnessed the lowest-ever turnout for a presidential election since the Islamic Revolution in 1979.

Ebrahim Raisi (right) was widely believed to be the main contender to succeed Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (left).
Ebrahim Raisi (right) was widely believed to be the main contender to succeed Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (left).

"That Ebrahim Raisi has risen to the presidency instead of being investigated for the crimes against humanity of murder, enforced disappearance and torture, is a grim reminder that impunity reigns supreme in Iran," Agnes Callamard, secretary-general of Amnesty International, said after Raisi's election victory.

Raisi's election consolidated the authority of the country's hard-liners, which dominate all three branches of power in Iran.

Under Raisi's administration, Iran has deepened relations with China and Russia and ramped up its confrontation with the West and archfoe Israel.

In elections held in March, Raisi defended his seat on the Assembly of Experts, a body that picks the country's supreme leader.

The death of Raisi, long tipped to be the next supreme leader, is likely to complicate Khamenei's succession plan. Mojtaba Khamenei, the influential son of the supreme leader, is now considered among the front-runners.

Raisi is survived by his wife, Jamileh Alamolhoda, and their two daughters.

World Reacts To Death Of Iranian President Raisi

Iranians and world leaders are reacting to the deaths of Iran's president, Ebrahim Raisi, and his foreign minister after state media reported they both died in a helicopter crash in northwestern Iran. 

Updated

Will Raisi's Death Bring Major Changes To Iran's Policies? The Short Answer Is 'No.'

Ebrahim Raisi's death will have limited impact on policy, but could set off a power struggle among hard-liners in Iran. (file photo)
Ebrahim Raisi's death will have limited impact on policy, but could set off a power struggle among hard-liners in Iran. (file photo)

The helicopter crash that killed Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi has sent shock waves around the Islamic republic and the region.

But Raisi's death is not expected to bring major changes to Tehran's domestic and foreign policies, analysts say.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the final say in all major state affairs, and the powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps are the key centers of power in Iran, where the president's authority is limited.

"The death of Raisi, in itself, will not cause a significant shift in Iran's policies," said Hamidreza Azizi, a fellow at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs. "After all, the president is the second in command in the power hierarchy of the Islamic republic, and strategic directions are set by the supreme leader."

As president, Raisi oversaw a brutal crackdown on antiestablishment protests in 2022 and the tightening of the country's morality laws.

The real significance of the ultraconservative Raisi's death, experts say, is that it could set off a power struggle among the country's hard-liners.

The demise of Raisi, who was widely tipped to become the next supreme leader, could also complicate Khamenei's succession plans.

Raisi, a former judiciary chief, was a longtime protege of Khamenei, who was believed to be grooming him as his successor.

Sanam Vakil, director of the Middle East and North Africa program at the London-based Chatham House, said Raisi "fit the bill" to take over from Khamenei and even modelled his life on the 85-year-old supreme leader.

"[Raisi] was a loyal functionary willing to do the bidding of the supreme leader through multiple institutions," she said. "There are no obvious candidates that can tick a lot of boxes."

Raisi's death has left a vacancy to fill. Elections must be held within 50 days, according to Iranian law, leaving the clerical establishment scrambling to find a suitable replacement.

The early front-runners are speaker of parliament Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf and judiciary chief Gholamhossein Mohseni-Ejei.

Azizi said the next president could have "significant influence over the overall trajectory" of Khamenei's succession.

"As a result, this is going to lead to heightened intra-conservative competition to [become president]," he added.

Ali Vaez, the director of the Iran Project at the Brussels-based International Crisis Group, said the upcoming election offers an opportunity for the clerical establishment to "pursue a different course" by allowing a relatively competitive vote.

In 2021, Raisi won the presidential election by a landslide, in a vote that was widely seen as rigged. His victory consolidated the power of hard-liners, who assumed control of all three branches of government.

"But I suspect that the regime is dedicating all its efforts to preparing for a succession after Khamenei, striving to create homogeneous conditions at the top of the power pyramid, and not allowing any rivals into this circle," Vaez told RFE/RL's Radio Farda.

International Relations

Raisi’s death is unlikely to have any impact on the deepening ties between Iran and Russia, a relationship that has increasingly worried the West, analysts say.

Iran has supplied thousands of drones to Russia following its February 2022 invasion of Ukraine. The Iranian unmanned aircraft, known as the Shahed, has played a key role in the 27-month war, allowing Russia to devastate Ukrainian cities at a distance, including destroying critical infrastructure.

"It is unlikely that anything will change in relations between Russia and Iran. At least if a conservative remains president,” Ilia Kusa, an analyst at the Kyiv-based Ukrainian Institute of the Future, said on Facebook.

"The situational partnership between Russia and Iran is tied not so much to one person as to the international situation, poor relations with the West, and close ties at different levels," he said.

As for U.S.-Iranian relations, which have been tense for decades, the Biden administration does not expect any transformation with Raisi's death.

White House national security spokesperson John Kirby told reporters on May 20 that when it comes to Iranian policy, it is Khamenei who “calls the shots,” not the president.

“So we don't anticipate any change in Iranian behavior. And therefore the Iranians should not expect any change in American behavior when it comes to holding them accountable,” Kirby said.

Iranian President Raisi's Death Sets Off Scramble To Find His Replacement

President Ebrahim Raisi's seat in the Iranian cabinet sits empty following his death in a helicopter crash on May 19.
President Ebrahim Raisi's seat in the Iranian cabinet sits empty following his death in a helicopter crash on May 19.

The death of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi sets in motion a scramble to replace him in short order, with long-term implications for the clerical establishment.

Mohammad Mokhber, who served as first vice president under Raisi, has already taken over the presidential duties in an acting capacity.

His time in office will likely be brief, with Iranian law stipulating that a new presidential election be held within 50 days.

Mokhber, along with speaker of parliament Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf and judiciary chief Gholamhossein Mohseni-Ejei, must now arrange a new vote, expected to take place early July.

Raisi died on impact along with nine others, including Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, when the helicopter they were traveling in crashed in northwestern Iran on May 19.

WATCH: A new presidential election must be held within 50 days following the death of President Ebrahim Raisi, and one analyst says the candidates permitted to run -- be they ultraconservatives or more conciliatory figures who are better able to connect with the public -- will reveal the regime's political priorities.

Iran At Crossroads After President Killed In Helicopter Crash
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Raisi, a former judiciary head who was elected by a landslide in a controversial election in 2021, was seen as a protege and possible successor to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Khamenei, addressing the nation on May 19 before Raisi's death was confirmed, said that "the Iranian people should not worry, there will be no disruption in the country's work."

But the death of the ultraconservative Raisi presents challenges to the Islamic republic's hard-liners, who solidified their hold on power following this spring's parliamentary elections.

Ali Afshari, a U.S.-based former student leader who was jailed in Iran for his activism, told RFE/RL's Radio Farda that "it may not be easy to find a leader like Raisi, who was completely obedient to Khamenei and the establishment.”

The normally lengthy process for determining suitable presidential candidates, all subject to vetting and approval by the powerful Guardians Council, will now be squeezed into a window of less than two months.

In winning the presidency in 2021, Raisi benefitted from the mass disqualification of reformist and moderate candidates. Seen as a hand-picked candidate who would not pose a threat to Khamenei, he took more than 72 percent of the vote in a presidential election that garnered the lowest turnout ever since the Islamic republic was founded in 1979.

There is some precedent for a quick presidential transition in Iran.

The Islamic republic's second president, Mohammad-Ali Rajai, served less than two weeks before his assassination in 1981. He was replaced just over a month later by Khamenei, who took more than 95 percent of the vote in an election in which he was backed by all three other candidates.

Sanam Vakil, director of the Middle East and North Africa program at Chatham House in London, said in a video interview that she expects an expedited process this time around.

"The leadership wants to show a commitment to the constitution, but also business as usual," Vakil said. "And facilitating a quick and accountable election will be important, at least for external constituencies and to show stability."

Vakil lists past presidential candidates who have already undergone vetting by the Guardians Council among Raisi's possible successors, including parliament speaker Qalibaf.

Vakil also said Khamenei could take the opportunity to "rehabilitate marginalized" former parliament speaker Ali Larijani, who was barred from running against Raisi in 2021, but "has been a loyal supporter of the system."

Some observers have also suggested that this might be a chance to repair ties with members of former moderate President Hassan Rohani's camp, Vakil says, although she does not see Rohani himself as a potential candidate.

In 2021, Raisi defeated Mohsen Rezaee, a senior officer of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps who is a member of the influential Expediency Council, as well as Abdolnaser Hemmati, a banker who was the only moderate in the race.

"Who the system picks, or permits, to run will really indicate the priorities or direction of this political establishment," Vakil said. "If they do allow a more contested election, then this could be about building bridges and trying to increase popular legitimacy."

On the other hand, if a hard-liner is selected from within the ranks of the clerical establishment, it would show that "the priorities are unity, conservative consolidation, and making sure that transition...continues to be prioritized."

The election of a president this year will also bring changes to election timelines, as the next elected president will serve a full four-year term. This will mean that future presidential elections will fall the same year as parliamentary elections.

Longer-term, Raisi's death leaves a major vacancy in the effort to groom the Islamic republic's next supreme leader, who makes all final decisions regarding Iranian foreign and domestic policies.

Iran's clerical leadership, Afshari said, now finds itself "in an uncomfortable situation" in finding a suitable successor to the 85-year-old Khamenei, who has reportedly suffered from health problems in recent years.

Reza Alijani, an Iranian journalist and analyst based in France, said that former competitors of Raisi would likely benefit. He named Khamenei's son, the prominent cleric Mojtaba Khamenei, as a strong contender to replace his father.

"Mojtaba Khamenei's chances are likely much higher now," Alijani told RFE/RL's Radio Farda.

With contributions by Kian Sharifi

Bodies Recovered As Iranian TV Announces President's Death

Bodies Recovered As Iranian TV Announces President's Death
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Iranian state media showed rescue workers and soldiers carrying away the bodies of the casualties after a helicopter with senior officials on board crashed in the country's northwest. State television announced on May 20 that President Ebrahim Raisi had died in the crash.

Updated

Iran Sets Mourning Period After President’s Death, Announces June 28 For New Election

Even as Iran declared a period of mourning following the deaths of President Ebrahim Raisi, Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, and others in a helicopter crash, the country moved forward and set June 28 as the date for an election to determine Raisi’s successor.

Iranian authorities also said the funeral procession for Raisi will be held in Tehran on May 22.

The announcements came as Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei declared five days of mourning after the bodies of Raisi and Amir-Abdollahian were found at the site of a helicopter crash in northwest Iran.

Meanwhile, Washington said for the first time that Tehran had asked for U.S. help in the helicopter incident but that it was unable to provide assistance, mainly due to logistical reasons.

State Department spokesman Matthew Miller did not specify how the request was made or the nature of it. The United States and Iran do not have diplomatic relations.

Iranian state television on May 20 said the helicopter had crashed due to poor weather conditions. It was unclear how many people were on board the helicopter when it went down.

Khamenei also named First Vice President Mohammad Mokhber as interim president. Iranian law stipulates that if the president dies, power is transferred to the first vice president.

WATCH: A new presidential election must be held within 50 days and one analyst says the candidates permitted to run -- be they ultraconservatives or more conciliatory figures who are better able to connect with the public -- will reveal the regime's political priorities.

Iran At Crossroads After President Killed In Helicopter Crash
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A council consisting of the speaker of parliament, the head of the judiciary, and the first vice president must arrange for a new president to be elected within 50 days.

Deputy Foreign Minister Ali Baqeri Kani was appointed acting foreign minister, Iranian state media reported.

Iran's state-run IRNA news agency said the governor of East Azerbaijan Province and other unspecified officials and bodyguards were aboard the ill-fated aircraft.

Mohammad Mokhber
Mohammad Mokhber

Foreign governments on May 20 issued expressions of condolence and solidarity. Lebanon announced three days of mourning to honor Raisi. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Raisi and Amir-Abdollahian were both "true, reliable friends of our country."

Hamas, which has been designated a terrorist organization by the United States and the European Union, issued a statement of condolence and thanked Raisi for his “tireless efforts in solidarity” with the Palestinian people.

The United States, a bitter rival of Iran – and which had imposed financial sanctions on Raisi when he was head of Iran's judiciary in 2019 – also offered its condolences.

“The United States expresses its official condolences for the death of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, Foreign Minister Amir-Abdollahian, and other members of their delegation in a helicopter crash in northwest Iran,” the State Department said in a statement.

“As Iran selects a new president, we reaffirm our support for the Iranian people and their struggle for human rights and fundamental freedoms.”

European Council President Charles Michel issued a statement of “sincere condolences,” adding “our thoughts go to the families.”

Search-and-rescue teams, aided by several foreign governments, had been frantically searching for the helicopter after it went down in bad weather conditions in a mountainous area of the country late on May 19.

WATCH: Raisi's death led to official mourning in Iran -- but other Iranians celebrated the passing of a man who oversaw a brutal crackdown on anti-government protests.

Some activists criticized the EU for assisting in the rescue operation of a leader who has been accused of overseeing major human rights abuses.

But EU Commissioner for Crisis Management Janez Lenarcic defended the move on May 20, saying that by providing satellite mapping services to Tehran, Brussels was acting "upon request for facilitating a search and rescue operation" and was not "an act of political support to any regime or establishment."

"It is simply an expression of the most basic humanity," he added in a post on X.

Raisi's helicopter was on its way to the city of Tabriz when it went down near the city of Jolfa in what state television said was a "hard landing," but several news reports quoted government sources as saying the helicopter crashed as it crossed a mountainous and forested area.

The bodies from the helicopter that crashed were severely burned, but not beyond recognition, according to the head of Iran's Crisis Management Organization, Mohammad Hassan Nami. He said DNA tests were not needed to confirm the identities of those killed in the crash.

He added that Ayatollah Mohammad Ali Al-e Hashem, who served as Khamenei's representative in East Azerbaijan Province, survived the crash initially and remained alive for about an hour before he died.

Nami said that, during that time, Al-e Hashem had made contact with Raisi's chief of staff by phone. He did not reveal any further details.

The Iranian government said the helicopter was one of three flying in a convoy, and the other two reportedly landed safely in Tabriz.

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi (center) with Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian late last year.
Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi (center) with Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian late last year.

The ultraconservative Raisi and Amir-Abdollahian had been in Azerbaijan earlier on May 19 to inaugurate a dam with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, who said on X that Azerbaijan was "profoundly troubled" by the news that Raisi's helicopter had gone down.

Raisi was elected president in 2021 and has since tightened many restrictions on Iranians through enforcement of morality laws and a bloody crackdown on anti-government protests spurred by the death of Mahsa Amini while in police custody for allegedly violating the code on head scarves.

He has also pushed hard in nuclear talks with world powers while also allowing the country to markedly increase its uranium enrichment program.

Iranian President, Foreign Minister Killed In Helicopter Crash

Rescuers work to recover bodies at the site where a helicopter carrying Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi crashed in a fog-shrouded mountainous area in the country's northwest on May 20. Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian was also among those killed, along with seven others. 

Frantic Search For Crashed Helicopter With Iranian President

Frantic Search For Crashed Helicopter With Iranian President
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Iranian rescue teams were frantically searching for a helicopter carrying President Ebrahim Raisi after it crashed in a remote area of the country on May 19.

Iran Releases Footage Of Rescuers Searching For President's Helicopter

Iran Releases Footage Of Rescuers Searching For President's Helicopter
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Thick fog dominates the official Iranian footage of search efforts for a helicopter reportedly carrying President Ebrahim Raisi and Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian. Iranian state media said the helicopter made a "hard landing" on May 19. Video from Iran's northwestern East Azerbaijan province shows offroad cars driving up a bumpy road and rescuers walking in the rugged mountainous terrain.

Updated

Official Says 'No Signs Of Life' Found At Crash Site Of Iranian President's Helicopter

Iran Releases Footage Of Rescuers Searching For President's Helicopter
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Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi is feared dead after rescue teams reached the remote site in northwestern Iran where a helicopter he and other government officials, including Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, were travelling in crashed.

The head of the Iranian Red Crescent Society, Pir Hossein Kolivand, told state television early on May 20 that rescuers had seen the downed helicopter and upon arrival, the situation was "not good."

“With the discovery of the crash site, no signs of life have been detected among the helicopter's passengers,” he said.

Search-and-rescue teams, aided by several foreign governments, had been frantically searching for the helicopter after it went down in bad weather conditions in a mountainous area of the country late on May 19.

Raisi's helicopter was on its way to the city of Tabriz when it went down near the city of Jolfa in what state television said was a "hard landing," but several news reports quoted government sources as saying the helicopter crashed as it crossed a mountainous and forested area.

The Iranian government said the helicopter was one of three flying in a convoy, and the other two reportedly landed safely in Tabriz. The massive search for more than 12 hours before a Turkish drone with night vision that was aiding the search identified a source of heat "suspected to be the wreckage of the helicopter carrying Raisi." According to the Turkish Anadolu news agency, Ankara immediately "shared its coordinates with Iranian authorities."

Frantic Search For Crashed Helicopter With Iranian President
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Reports of the crash sparked several countries, including Iraq, Turkey, Russia, Azerbaijan and Armenia, into action to help in the search effort, while the European Union activated its Copernicus satellite mapping service at Iran's request.

The ultraconservative Raisi and Amir-Abdollahian had been in Azerbaijan earlier on May 19 to inaugurate a dam with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, who said on X that Azerbaijan was "profoundly troubled" by the news that Raisi's helicopter had gone down.

Raisi was elected president in 2021 and has since tightened many restrictions on Iranians through enforcement of morality laws and a bloody crackdown on anti-government protests spurred by the death of Mahsa Amini while in police custody for allegedly violating the code on head scarves.

He has also pushed hard in nuclear talks with world powers while also allowing the country to markedly increase its uranium enrichment program.

With growing dissent among many Iranians over an array of political, social and economic crises, Iran's clerical rulers.

Hours after the search began, Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei issued a brief statement late calling for prayers and assuring Iranians "the country's affairs will not be disrupted." He has not commented publicly since reports of the burned wreckage were found.

State TV showed people praying at the Imam Reza Shrine in the city of Mashhad, one of Shi'ite Islam's holiest sites, as well as in Qom and other locations across the country.

Raisi, 63, is a hard-liner who won Iran's 2021 presidential election after leading the country's judiciary. He is viewed as a protege of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

He has been sanctioned by the United States in part over his involvement in the mass execution of thousands of political prisoners in 1988 at the end of the bloody Iran-Iraq War.

Some reports have noted that because of international sanctions it has been difficult for Iran to obtain parts for its aging helicopter fleet.

Iranian law stipulates that if the president dies, power is transferred to the first vice president. A council consisting of the speaker of the Islamic Consultative Assembly, the head of the judicial power, and the first vice president must arrange for a new president to be elected within 50 days. The current first vice president of Iran is Mohammad Mokhber.

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.

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