Czech Republic: Missile Defense 'Based On Capability,' Not Threats
Tomas Klvana at RFE/RL headquarters on July 19 (RFE/RL) PRAGUE, August 13, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Public-relations guru Tomas Klvana, increasingly known as "Mr. Radar," is the Czech government's single-issue spokesman on his country's involvement in U.S. missile-defense plans for Central Europe.
spokesman for Czech President Vaclav Klaus, fielded questions on July
19 from Radio Farda's Maryam Manzoori about the antimissile shield.
RFE/RL: When did the U.S. government and Czech Republic decide that it was important to construct a missile-defense shield in Central Europe?
Tomas Klvana: It started in the early years of this century with very preliminary contacts between the Czech and U.S. governments. We're talking roughly 2002, under one of the Social Democratic governments here in the Czech Republic. But more intense contacts then continued throughout 2005 when American teams of experts visited the Czech Republic and were in touch with the experts at the Czech Ministry of Defense.
There were three military training areas in question at that time, and they were narrowing it down to one -- which is the final place right now, the military training area [at] Brdy. The U.S. government then analyzed the situation here and they sent a special diplomatic note asking the Czech government to seriously consider participating in the missile-defense shield -- and that happened in February 2007.
Since then, we have official talks on the expert level and the political talks, political negotiations. The substantive negotiations will start either in August or in September of this year.
It has to be negotiated between the two governments, and then whatever comes out of the negotiations -- which basically means two presidential-level treaties. That doesn't mean it will have to be signed by the two presidents, but that's the category of international law, understood by the Czech government. That will have to be ratified by both chambers of the Czech parliament and also signed by the president, and only then we can start with the preparatory work on the side, if that goes well. And that's not predetermined.
RFE/RL: Why it is that the Czech Republic should go ahead and host a U.S. radar base?
Klvana: I'm in charge of two areas. [The first is] communications strategy -- basically talking to the people and explaining to them why the government believes this is in the interest of the Czech Republic if you're able to conclude the negotiations with the Americans successfully. The government's initial position believes that all the arguments that the United States and other allies are using in favor of the missile defense are sound, and we believe that this is important for the protection for the Euro-Atlantic area [and] for Europe and the United States as well.
But of course the devil is in the details. We need to be able to negotiate fair and equitable agreements with the United States, and that will be our deciding factor. If we're able to do that and explain it to the Czech parliament, then we'll participate.
RFE/RL: Several officials, including U.S. President George W. Bush, have claimed this radar system to be a front against the missile threat posed by rogue regimes like Iran and North Korea. North Korea is in the middle of talks to dismantle its nuclear facilities. How big do you consider the threat from the Iranian side?
Klvana: We always argue that the missile-defense shield will be based on capability, not on threats from specific countries. It's capability-based defense, which means that it will and is supposed to protect the continent, the European continent, and the United States from anyone who would threaten it with single ballistic missiles or several ballistic missiles. It cannot protect the area, for example, from an attack by using hundreds or thousands of these missiles -- like for example [the] Russian or Chinese [possess], because that is in their capability.
We're talking theory; we're talking [about] something that will never happen. But this is not aimed against any specific country. It's aimed against unstable areas, possibly terrorist groups in the future, if they were able to acquire the ballistic-missile technology and nuclear weapons or any other weapons of mass destruction. We need to be protected against that.
At this time, none of those countries, of course, has the capability of reaching Central and Western Europe with those missiles, [or] the United States. But they're working on that capacity. We know that Iran is developing longer-range ballistic missiles. We have to ask why they need this [capability]. And we also know that there are at least 25 or 30 countries in the world that are working on improving their ballistic-missile capabilities. So we need to be protected.
Europe and the U.S. have to be protected against any kind of threat in the future -- in 10, 20, 25 years. I don't know what's going to happen in North Africa, what's going to happen in the Middle East, what sort of threats we'll be facing. But we want to be sure that we'll be protected against any kind of threat with these single ballistic missiles.
RFE/RL: Iran's nuclear activities were not started recently. Iran's nuclear activities have been around for years. Why you decided to have this missile shield at this point in time?
Klvana: Well, we believe that Iran possibly will be capable of reaching or having the capability of striking Western Europe and later even the U.S. with intercontinental ballistic missiles. Those threats are estimated at about 2015. If everything goes well, the missile-defense shield will be ready and operational about two [or] three years before that date.
So we don't believe that we're acting well ahead. We just want to be ahead of any kind of threat -- [or] possibly even to deter some of the terrorist groups or unstable or even rogue regimes from acquiring such capabilities and threatening us with such capabilities. This is only defense, nothing else. We don't want to threaten anyone else with that.
RFE/RL: About a year ago, Russia sold Tor-M1 missiles to Iran that were tested successfully by the Iranians. What is your opinion of Russia's behavior?
Klvana: We're not happy about that, of course, and the U.S. is not happy about that. But it's something that Russia does.
RFE/RL: What do you think of possible Russian participation in this matter of missile defense?
Klvana: We would love for them to participate. They have offers to participate in several ways. The Americans have been talking with them for several years on this. There were several specific offers to participate on this. Recently, President Bush sent a letter to Putin suggesting that a group of experts be created both from Russian and American experts, and they'll be studying some of these proposals. And they might become complementary to the European side.
We don't know how serious [the] Russians are because they have not responded, at least to my knowledge recently. They have not responded to these proposals in any specific way. But we hope that eventually Russia will understand that this is not aimed against Russia; and, if they participate, it would only enlarge the zone of stability and protection in Europe and the greater Euro-Asian region.
RFE/RL: According to polls in the Czech Republic, 65 percent of the population disagrees with the implementation of the missile shield on Czech soil. How do you justify the government's interest in this project [in light of] negative public opinion?
Klvana: I believe that the steadily negative public opinion about the radar is due to several factors. One is emotional. We're talking about maybe 100 foreign troops, foreign troops stationed on Czech territory; and this country, of course, doesn't have good memories of foreign troops being stationed in Czech lands.
This is an emotional argument, of course. From the rational point of view, it makes absolutely no sense because we're talking about allies and friends; and if they're invited, they'll be invited by the Czech parliament. This is very different from any other foreign troops being present in the Czech lands in the past. But there are still people who remember the Russian or German troops. They don't have good emotional attachments to that kind of -- you know, they envision foreign troops in that kind of way, they cannot imagine any other type of military cooperation. So this is mostly about emotion management on our part. Although we also have to use rational argumentation.
The other reason is that the government has overslept a bit, and should have started the active participation -- especially in the public-explanation process and public diplomacy -- much earlier than it has started. My office was started only about a month ago. I'm in charge of public communications, but also of developing and executing the legislative strategy -- which means that I'll be talking to the Czech [lawmakers] and senators, and I'll be explaining to them the government position and trying to get their support. Such an office should have been established a few months ago. We have serious catching-up to do now.
There are opposition groups, some of them funded from abroad, who are spreading all kinds of disinformation and myths about the radar -- for example, that the radar is harmful for health and the environment. None of this is true. We have serious scientific information available that we'll communicate to the public. But that's reaction; we have to react; we have to be in a position of being able to make a positive argument, and I hope we'll be able to do it during the fall.
RFE/RL: A large number of Czechs don't have a problem with the radar base if it is under the NATO umbrella.
Klvana: These are bilateral negotiations, but we also consult very closely with our allies in NATO. As you know, the Washington treaty, Article 3, enables us to develop any defense system between any two countries of NATO that then can be used for the entire alliance. So we are fully in compliance with the Washington treaty.
We want this system to be part of the entire NATO defense architecture as soon as possible. So we are basically in agreement with our friends in the [Czech] Green Party and also with some [opposition] Social Democrats that want this to be part of the NATO structure. Some of those people, however, don't understand how NATO works. NATO has no army, no NATO armaments; they have no NATO tanks, no NATO missiles. Everything is in the possession of individual nation-states that are part of NATO.
And so I believe [that] in the future this is going to work, and that is our goal, that this is complementary with other systems within NATO -- that, for example, the radar and whatever the radar is able to see and calculate at the same time in real time be part of the picture in the Czech Army headquarters and in the NATO headquarters, not just in Colorado Springs [home to Cheyenne Mountain Air Station and the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), a component of America's missile-defense system].
But as far as I understand, [the] radar, from the very beginning, has been constructed so that it is and it will be compatible fully with any operational structure of NATO. So there is absolutely no substantive operational or technical dissonance, there is only [the] political issue that has to be resolved by NATO states. In that regard, I think the last round of defense-minister talks about this has been encouraging. They decided to study this issue seriously, and there will be more important developments on this next year in Bucharest during the NATO summit.
Missile Defense: Not In My Backyard?
AN RFE/RL VIDEO PRESENTATION: The Czech Republic responds to the U.S. missile-defense proposal.
Hundreds Of Iranian Protesters Detained After Marking Anniversary Of Bloody Crackdown
Iranian security forces have detained hundreds of people as protesters in the country’s southeast marked the first anniversary of the killing of scores of demonstrators in the region, according to a human rights group.
Haalvsh, a group that monitors rights violations in Iran's Sistan-Baluchistan Province, said on October 2 that at least 216 people, including minors, had been arrested across the region since September 30.
At least 104 people were killed when security forces gunned down protesters in the provincial capital, Zahedan, on September 30 last year, according to the Norway-based Iran Human Rights organization.
It was single deadliest day of the monthslong antiestablishment protests that rocked Iran last year. The violence in Sistan-Baluchistan, which is home to Iran’s Baluch ethnic minority, has been referred to as "Bloody Friday."
Scattered protests have been held in cities and towns across the province in recent days, including in Zahedan, Chabahar, Khash, and Mirjaveh, according to Haalvsh.
The rights group said it has identified 121 of those detained, including 38 minors. Haalvsh said the condition and whereabouts of those detained were unclear.
Iranian officials have not commented on the reported detentions in Sistan-Baluchistan, a restive and impoverished province that borders Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Members of the Baluch minority, many of whom are Sunni Muslims in Shi’a-majority Iran, have long faced disproportionate discrimination and violence at the hands of the authorities.
Sources in Sistan-Baluchistan told RFE/RL’s Radio Farda that several of the wards in Zahedan Prison were emptied ahead of the anniversary of the bloody crackdown. One of those detained in Zahedan Prison told RFE/RL's Radio Farda that the detention facility was now overflowing with detainees.
Among those detained in recent days were employees of the Darul Uloom madrasah, or Islamic seminary, and the Makki Mosque in Zahedan.
The associates and relatives of Molavi Abdolhamid, Iran's top Sunni cleric, have also been arrested in recent months.
Abdolhamid, the outspoken Friday Prayer’s leader in Zahedan, has publicly criticized the authorities for alleged human rights abuses and repression of Iran's ethnic and religious minorities.
Abdolhamid said senior officials, including Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, were responsible for the bloodshed in Zahedan last year, saying security forces shot “indiscriminately” at people after raiding the central mosque in the city and the nearby Great Mosalla, a religious site.
Sources in Sistan-Baluchistan told Radio Farda that Abdolhamid, whose popularity has soared, has been the subject of "intimidation and threats" from the authorities.
As Armenia And Azerbaijan Seek Peace, Proposed Zangezur Corridor Could Be Major Sticking Point
Negotiations over a peace deal between Armenia and Azerbaijan are continuing, even as refugees continue to stream into Armenia following Azerbaijan's military assault on the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh last week.
Senior advisers to Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev met on September 26 in Brussels, in preparation for a potential meeting between the leaders themselves in Spain on October 5.
A peace deal could -- at least on paper -- put to rest the decades-old conflict between the two sides. But there are broad fears in Armenia that Azerbaijan is not truly interested in peace, and that it may have further designs on Armenian territory -- including carving out territory for a transport corridor -- which could make it politically risky for the Armenian government to sign a deal.
Azerbaijan's 24-hour offensive, which resulted in the surrender on September 20 of the separatist ethnic Armenian leadership that has ruled the territory since the 1990s, has partially resolved one of the thorniest issues that the two sides had been trying to work out: the fate of Karabakh's ethnic Armenian population. Azerbaijan has embarked on an effort to "reintegrate" the Karabakh Armenians into Azerbaijani structures, while the Armenians themselves are fleeing the territory by the tens of thousands.
Pashinian and his allies have said they remain committed to reaching an agreement. "We are very close and have a historic opportunity to sign a peace agreement," parliament speaker Alen Simonian told Armenian public television on September 25. "Endless war is not beneficial for anyone."
Baku and Yerevan have been locked in a conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh for decades. Armenian-backed separatists seized the mainly Armenian-populated region from Azerbaijan during a war in the early 1990s that killed some 30,000 people. Diplomatic efforts to settle the conflict brought little progress and the two sides fought another war in 2020 that lasted six weeks before a Russian-brokered cease-fire, resulting in Armenia losing control over parts of the region and seven adjacent districts.
In 2022, Armenia and Azerbaijan started talks on a peace agreement that would formally delimit their mutual border, renounce territorial claims against each other, reestablish diplomatic relations, and rebuild transport links that have been broken for more than three decades. Those talks failed to prevent a violent resolution of the Karabakh issue, but they are set to continue as the two leaders work out the other issues on their agendas.
'The Next Big Issue'
The last point -- rebuilding the transport links -- has been one of the most contentious and, in recent days, has prompted much mutual speculation. Azerbaijan and its key ally Turkey have signaled that, at least rhetorically, they are stepping back on one of their demands: that Armenia allow a road through its territory connecting Azerbaijan's mainland and its exclave of Naxcivan. Now that Nagorno-Karabakh has been fully reconquered, the transportation question represents "the next big issue" in Armenian-Azerbaijani talks, wrote Thomas de Waal, an analyst at Carnegie Europe.
At issue is a transportation route that has become known by Azerbaijan's term for it, the "Zangezur Corridor," which was borne out of the cease-fire agreement that ended the 2020 war between the two sides. That deal included a provision committing Armenia to "guarantee the security" of transportation connections between Azerbaijan's mainland and Naxcivan. It didn't specify any particular route, but the shortest way between Naxcivan and the rest of Azerbaijan is through Armenia's Syunik Province, known in Azerbaijan as Zangezur.
The 2020 agreement further stipulated that movement on those routes should be "unobstructed," which led to disagreements about what, precisely, counted as an obstruction. Azerbaijanis initially signaled that they wanted the road to be a true corridor, with no Armenian border or customs officers checking vehicles or cargo as it passed through Armenian territory.
The route would connect Azerbaijan more tightly to Turkey, which shares a border with Naxcivan but not with mainland Azerbaijan. And Azerbaijani and Turkish officials have spoken of the would-be corridor in grandiose terms, as a means of linking the entire Turkic world, from Istanbul to Central Asia, with uninterrupted East-West road and rail connections.
The Armenian side has objected that that would amount to the country losing sovereignty over part of its territory, and a strategically vital part at that: The presumed route of the corridor would pass along the Iranian border, potentially hindering Armenia's access to Iran, one of its key regional allies and trade partners.
Iran, too, has objected, repeatedly hinting that it would not allow its border with Armenia to be obstructed. Armenia's fears were exacerbated by barely veiled threats from Aliyev to impose the corridor by force: "The Zangezur Corridor is a historical necessity," the president said in January. "It will happen whether Armenia wants it or not." Iran has not officially commented on the issue since the Karabakh surrender.
'Open Up, Or Else'
In the days ahead of this month's Azerbaijani offensive, Erdogan used his address at the United Nations Security Council to accuse Armenia of not fulfilling its commitment to open the Zangezur Corridor, a topic heavily covered in Turkish pro-government media. And on the day that the Karabakh authorities surrendered, Hikmet Haciyev, Aliyev's senior foreign policy adviser, made a similar accusation.
It all fed into fears that Azerbaijan, having reestablished control over Nagorno-Karabakh, would not stop there and would eventually extend its advance into Armenia itself.
But after Erdogan met with Aliyev in Naxcivan on September 26 to help celebrate the victory in Karabakh, Aliyev barely mentioned the transportation issue. "The construction of the railway connecting Azerbaijan with Naxcivan and Turkey is also progressing successfully," Aliyev said, not mentioning Armenia at all or using the term "Zangezur Corridor." "The work in the territory of Azerbaijan will most likely be completed by the end of next year."
And as Erdogan returned to Turkey, he spoke with the media accompanying him and said that Armenia wasn't necessary for the project at all. "If Armenia does not pave the way for [the corridor], where will it pass through? It will pass through Iran," he said. "Iran currently considers this positively. So, it would be possible to pass from Iran to Azerbaijan." At a cabinet meeting later in the day, Erdogan reiterated the statement.
Erdogan's argument has not been confirmed by Azerbaijani officials, but the idea was presaged in a September 17 article on Haqqin.az, a website associated with Azerbaijan's security services. It differentiated between a "Western Zangezur Corridor" through Armenia and an "Eastern Zangezur Corridor" through Iran. It concluded: "If Yerevan continues to delay the opening of the Western Zangezur Corridor, then Azerbaijan will open the Eastern Zangezur Corridor with Iran, which means that Armenia will remain outside of yet another strategic project and will once again be a loser."
A senior official in Azerbaijan's Foreign Ministry, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed to RFE/RL that the Iranian route would be acceptable for Baku. "The ball is in Armenia's court. If this country wants to establish overland communication with the outside world after 30 years of self-imposed isolation, they have to live up to their obligations on the Zangezur Corridor. If not, the communication will be established anyway, but in this case via Iran thus bypassing Armenia," the official said.
As to whether Armenian officials would be able to monitor traffic on the road, the official said that was of secondary concern and would be a matter of negotiations. "The most important [thing] is the opening of the traffic itself," the official said.
Not Pushing Pashinian
Azerbaijan does not want to put additional pressure on Pashinian at a time when he is vulnerable domestically because of public outrage over the fate of Karabakh Armenians, says Fuad Shahbaz, a Baku-based political analyst. Azerbaijani officials fear that domestic turbulence in Armenia could result in revanchist forces coming to power in Yerevan. "Aliyev will give Armenia a bit of time to handle domestic unrest," Shahbaz said.
He noted that Aliyev conspicuously praised Pashinian -- who during the offensive announced publicly that Armenian armed forces would not intervene -- in a victory address to the nation on September 20. "During this period, today and yesterday, Armenia has unexpectedly shown political competence, which we appreciate," Aliyev said.
Aliyev also warned that "We must ensure that the other side does not live with revanchist ideas, and they must also rest assured that we do not have sights on their land. We recognize their territorial integrity."
So, Baku may not push for the corridor to be included in a peace deal but would revisit the question later, Shahbaz suggested: "Azerbaijan may return to the topic but on favorable conditions for Armenia as well, not to trigger more unrest in Yerevan," he said.
Armenian officials have said they have not changed their position on the corridor: They are interested in rebuilding regional transportation connections but reject a road that they wouldn't control. "Armenia has never agreed and will never agree to any sort of extraterritorial or corridor logic," Armenian Territorial Administration and Infrastructure Minister Gnel Sanosian said on September 25. "But at the same time, we are committed to agreements that have been reached at high levels."
Some analysts have suggested that Azerbaijan and Turkey's championing of the Iran option may just be tactical, and that Baku still remains interested in a route through Armenia.
"I don't believe that Azerbaijan and Turkey will forget about connecting Azerbaijan with Turkey via Armenia," said Benyamin Poghosian, the founding director of the Yerevan-based Center for Political and Economic Strategic Studies. "The road via Iran can be an alternative but not the main one." He says he believes Baku is merely biding its time and will eventually demand a Zangezur Corridor as well as other territorial concessions.
"Armenia will not be able to say yes to these demands," Poghosian said, "and then Azerbaijan will use the Armenian rejection as a casus belli."
U.S. Imposes Sanctions Aimed At Iranian Drone-Procurement Network
The United States has imposed sanctions on entities in Iran, Hong Kong, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates that the U.S. Treasury Department says comprise a network for the procurement of parts for Iran's drone program.
The network has facilitated shipments and financial transactions in support of a critical component used in Iran's Shahed drones, which Iran has been supplying to Russia for use against Ukraine, the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) said on September 27.
The critical component is known as a servomotor and is used in Iran’s Shahed-series unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). The OFAC said the sanctions took aim at the procurement of servomotors by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps' (IRGC) aerospace organization.
The OFAC said one of the servomotors procured by the network was recovered in the remnants of a Russian-operated Shahed-136 that was recently shot down in Ukraine.
"Iranian-made UAVs continue to be a key tool for Russia in its attacks in Ukraine, including those that terrorize Ukrainian citizens and attack its critical infrastructure," Undersecretary of the Treasury Brian Nelson said in a news release.
Two of the five entities designated for sanctions are Iran-based Pishgam Electronic Safeh Company (PESC) and Hongkong Himark Electron Model Limited. The other three are based in Turkey and the U.A.E., the OFAC said.
PESC has procured thousands of servomotors with one-way attack UAV applications worth hundreds of thousands of dollars for the IRGC, the OFAC said. The company's CEO, Iran-based Hamid Reza Janghorbani, was also designated for sanctions along with Hongkong Himark official Fan Yang, who is based in China.
The OFAC said Fan had represented Hong Kong-based Hongkong Himark in fulfilling servomotor orders worth more than $1 million for PESC. In addition to selling servomotors to PESC, Fan attempted to hide that an Iranian company was behind the shipments by falsifying invoices, the OFAC said.
Hongkong Himark is being designated for having provided or attempted to provide financial, technological, or other support for PESC. The firms based in Turkey and the U.A.E. have been designated for facilitating financial transactions, shipping, and material and technical support for PESC’s servomotor procurement from Hongkong Himark.
The sanctions build on designations announced in November 2022 by the OFAC aimed at Iran's Shahed Aviation Industries Research Center. The Iranian firm is subordinate to the IRGC's aerospace organization and designs and manufactures the Shahed-136, the Treasury Department said.
The sanctions freeze any assets the individuals hold in U.S. jurisdiction and block people in the United States from having any dealings with the entities and individuals named.
Iran Claims It Launched Noor 3 Satellite Into Orbit
Iran's Revolutionary Guards successfully launched a third military satellite into orbit on September 27, state media reported, citing Minister of Communications Issa Zarepour. The Noor 3 imaging satellite orbits at an altitude of 450 kilometers above the earth's surface and was launched by the three-stage Qased, or messenger carrier, state media said, which launched its predecessor Noor 2 in 2022. The U.S. military says the same long-range ballistic technology used to put satellites into orbit could also allow Tehran to launch longer-range weapons, possibly including nuclear warheads. Tehran denies U.S. assertions that such activity is a cover for ballistic missile development and says it has never pursued the development of nuclear weapons. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.
Iranian President Says Israeli Normalization Deals Will Fail
Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi said in a CNN interview on September 24 that U.S.-sponsored efforts to normalize Israeli relations with Gulf Arab states, including Saudi Arabia, "will see no success." Raisi also said Iran had not said it doesn’t want inspectors from the UN nuclear watchdog in the country. Israel has moved closer to the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan, and Morocco following a U.S.-driven diplomatic initiative in 2020 that pushed for normalization. Establishing ties with Saudi Arabia would be the grand prize for Israel and change the geopolitics of the Middle East. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.
Iran Demands Sweden Act Against Koran Burnings, Urges Release Of Prisoner
Iran has demanded that Sweden take action over Koran burnings before the two countries can exchange ambassadors again, and urged it to release a jailed Iranian citizen, the Foreign Ministry said on September 24. Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian discussed the Koran issue with his Swedish counterpart, Tobias Billstrom, on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, the ministry said. Sweden has seen a series of public burnings of the Islamic holy book. Stockholm has voiced condemnation but said it cannot stop acts protected under laws on free expression.
Iran Says 28 IS Extremists Arrested After Foiling Major Bombing Plot In Tehran
Authorities in the Iranian capital, Tehran, said on September 24 that they had prevented a major “terrorist network” plot to explode 30 bombs in the city and that they had arrested 28 people associated with the Islamic State (IS) extremist group. The Interior Ministry said those arrested had a history of activities in Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraqi Kurdistan. It said the arrests had taken place in “recent days” and that the plan was to conduct "30 simultaneous terrorist explosions in Tehran's populated centers." To read the original story by RFE/RL’s Radio Farda, click here.
Blinken Suggests Iran Is Not A Responsible Actor In Its Nuclear Program
Iran's decision to bar some UN nuclear inspectors suggests it is not interested in being a responsible actor when it comes to its atomic program, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on September 22. "We tried to work indirectly with Iran as well as with European partners and even Russia and China to see if we can get a return to compliance with the Iran nuclear deal ... But Iran couldn't or wouldn't do that," Blinken told reporters. On September 23, the head of the International Atomic Energy (IAEA) condemned Tehran's move to bar multiple inspectors assigned to the country. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.
Woman In Iran Arrested After Head Scarf Protest
An Iranian woman has been arrested after protesting against the compulsory wearing of head scarves, the Norway-based human rights group Hengaw reported on September 22. The engineer, Zeinab Kazemi, was reportedly taken from her home by security forces a few days ago. She had previously received a suspended sentence of 74 lashes on probation. In February Kazemi threw her head scarf on the floor at an event in order to protest against the decision of an engineering association not to admit her to the board because of an ill-fitting head scarf. Members of parliament introduced a new head scarf bill just this week.
Rights Group Says Iran's Security Forces 'Intentionally' Shot Protesters In The Eyes
The Iran Human Rights group (IHRNGO) said the Islamic nation's security forces “intentionally targeted” the eyes and faces of protesters during a violent crackdown on demonstrations last year sparkled by the death of a young woman in police custody for allegedly violating the country's hijab law.
In an analysis published on September 22, the Norway-based rights group said it was able to verify 138 cases of eye injuries sustained during the months-long, nationwide protests in Iran last year. Many of the victims lost vision in one eye, some in both.
“IHRNGO’s analysis shows that the brutal crimes committed during the protests by the Islamic republic were planned, coordinated and calculated,” said Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam, head of the rights group.
“The Islamic republic leader, Ali Khamenei, and all the perpetrators of such crimes must be held accountable.”
Reports of Iranian security forces shooting protesters in the eyes emerged in the first months of the demonstrations, which began immediately following the death of Mahsa Amini on September 16, 2022. The victims say they were purposely singled out before being wounded.
The Iranian government and senior security officials have rejected the accusations.
WATCH: Amateur video shows the moment Erfan Ramizipour was shot in the eyes by Iranian security forces as he took part in mass anti-regime protests in 2022. The 24-year-old is just one of many protesters who have been shot in the eyes, in what appears to have been a deliberate tactic. Now in Germany, he is receiving medical care -- and continuing to battle for justice in his homeland.
The victims include eight children, the youngest a 5-year-old girl, Iran Human Rights said.
Women accounted for 28 percent of those with eye injuries but only 9 percent of deaths, implying the "repressive forces have chosen to intentionally target women’s eyes instead of fatally shooting them,” the group said in its report.
In a smaller sample collected from the city of Mahabad, northwestern Iran, women constitute 56 percent of those with eye injuries, the group said.
Most eye injuries were caused by pellets made of metal and plastic. In nine of the cases, the injuries were caused by projectiles fired from paintball guns.
The rights group’s data shows that Iran’s security forces started shooting protesters in the eyes from the first days of protests in September 2022, while the last documented cases are from December 2022.
The actual number of protesters who have been blinded by security forces after being shot in the face is unknown.
The New York Times has estimated some 500 young Iranians were treated in Tehran hospitals for eye injuries during the first three months of the protests.
Iranwire, which documents human rights abuses in Iran, said it had confirmed some 580 cases of blinding in Tehran and the province of Kurdistan alone, “but the actual numbers across the country are much higher.”
RFE/RL is unable to verify such reports.
Rights activists have reported several cases of protesters with eye injuries who were arrested in an apparent attempt to be silenced.
In addition to eye and other serious injuries, more than 500 people, including 71 children were killed during the demonstrations trigged by the death of Amini, who was arrested for allegedly violating strict dress rules for women.
The widespread unrest represents the biggest threat to the Islamic government since the 1979 revolution.
Government Reportedly Ratcheting Up Pressure On Families Of Dead Iranian Protesters
Iranian security forces are reported to have escalated their actions against the families of protesters killed during widespread protests last year as the government continues to try and put a lid on unrest triggered by the death of Mahsa Amini, the biggest challenge to the Islamic regime since the 1979 revolution.
Social media posts from the affected families, corroborated by videos, appear to show that memorial ceremonies in at least 19 cities, including Tehran, have been thwarted by Iran's security apparatus, including the western city of Ilam, where the tomb of Mohsen Ghaisari became a focal point of tension when his brother and several others were apprehended.
Ghaisari, a 32-year-old Kurdish Iranian, was fatally shot in the chest and head by a special unit officer during the 2022 nationwide protests after the death of Amini.
Meanwhile, in Qazvin, the family home of slain protester Javad Heydari was raided, leading to the arrest of his elderly father and two siblings, according to Fateme Heydari, Javad's sister.
Despite video showing the incident, Abbas Kazemi, the deputy governor of Qazvin for political, security, and social affairs, denied any official presence at the Heydari residence, framing the incident as a move to "protect local residents."
"The judiciary, the police, the security apparatus, all have collaborated to intimidate us bereaved families," said Farzaneh Barzekar, whose 21-year-old son was killed by security forces a year ago.
Barzekar herself was arrested earlier in September after attending a memorial ceremony for Javad Rouhi, a protester who recently died in prison.
Human rights groups highlighted similar incidents across the country, including the Human Rights Network of Kurdistan, which reported disruptions to memorial ceremonies in several cities, including Kermanshah and Quchan.
At least 500 people have been killed around the country since authorities began the current crackdown on her sympathizers, with thousands more detained or harassed.
Written by Ardeshir Tayebi based on an original story in Persian by RFE/RL's Radio Farda
Family Of Iranian Teen Calls Off Memorial Amid Heightened Security Presence
Plans to commemorate the first anniversary of the death of Nika Shakarami, a 16-year-old protester believed to have been killed by Iranian security forces during widespread protests last year, have been abruptly canceled amid an increased security presence around her grave site and the detention of several people who tried to come and pay their respects.
Nasrin Shakarami, Nika's mother, said in a post on Instagram that "problems" had forced the family to call off a memorial.
"I don't want to endanger the honorable citizens who intended to join us," she wrote, noting the severe consequences handed to those who have voiced dissent over the situation in Iran.
Aida Shakarami, Nika's sister, also took to Instagram, reporting an increased security presence around Nika's grave in recent days. She added that several individuals who tried to pay their respects were detained.
The 16-year-old Nika went missing during protests in September 2022 in Tehran over the death of Mahsa Amini, who died while in police custody for allegedly wearing her head scarf improperly.
In her last communication with her friends, she said she was being chased by security forces.
Eight days later, Nika's body was returned to her family. The official cause of death was cited as "multiple blunt force traumas" to the head, though authorities pushed the narrative that her death was a suicide.
The incident echoed what happened to Amini. Authorities have said she fell into a coma soon after her arrest because of health problems. But her family says she was in good health, while eyewitnesses said the 22-year-old was beaten during her arrest.
Amini's family was also denied access to her grave on the anniversary of her death on September 16.
Amjad Amini, Amini's father, was detained outside his home on September 16 and taken to the Intelligence Ministry in his hometown of Saghez for interrogation in what is widely seen as a thinly veiled attempt to keep him from going to his daughter's burial place.
The public anger at Amini's death has widely been seen as one of the biggest threats to Iran's clerical establishment since the foundation of the Islamic republic in 1979.
At least 500 people have been killed around the country since authorities began the current crackdown on her sympathizers, with thousands more detained or harassed.
Written by Ardeshir Tayebi based on an original story in Persian by RFE/RL's Radio Farda
Iranian Court Sentences Tajik National To Death Over Deadly Attack On Mausoleum
Iran's judiciary has sentenced Rahmatollah Nouruzof, a Tajik national, to death over an attack on the Shah Cheragh mausoleum in the city of Shiraz last month that killed two people.
The head of the judiciary in Fars Province, Kazem Mousavi, said Nouruzof was the main suspect in the attack and that he had admitted to ties with Islamic State (IS).
Nouruzof, also known as Mostafa Islam-Yar, was charged with "waging war against God," "corruption on Earth," and "conspiring against national security" following his armed assault on the Shah Cheragh shrine on August 13. The Mizan news agency reported that he was sentenced to death on two of the charges.
The August attack on the Shah Cheragh shrine in Shiraz was the second of its kind within a year. While initial reports from the ISNA news agency cited four deaths and at least seven injuries in the attack, Mizan recently updated the death toll to two confirmed deaths and seven injuries.
The judiciary said on September 21 that two other minor suspects were “cleared of direct involvement in the crimes as they were unaware of the primary attacker's intentions.” They were sentenced to five years of discretionary imprisonment and expulsion from Iran.
A previous attack in October 2022, for which IS claimed responsibility, resulted in 13 deaths and left dozens injured.
Iran's Intelligence Ministry said in a statement on November 7, 2022, that the "main element directing and coordinating the attacks inside the country" was a citizen of Azerbaijan. It also reported the detention of 26 foreign nationals, primarily from Azerbaijan, Tajikistan, and Afghanistan, in the case.
In December, indictments were issued for five other individuals linked to the Shah Cheragh attack.
In early 2023, Shiraz's Revolutionary Court sentenced two of them, Mohammad Ramez Rashidi and Seyed Naeim Hashemi Qatali, to public execution. All five were identified as foreign nationals and members of the IS terrorist group. The remaining three people detained received lengthy prison terms.
The execution of the two Afghan nationals in July was met with concerns from human rights activists who questioned the fairness of the judicial process and the lack of evidence proving their guilt.
The Iran Human Rights group said the sentences issued to Rashidi and Qatali were not legally valid and were based on forced confessions. The two were hanged in a public execution on July 8.
Iran has seen a surge in executions this year, a trend that has drawn widespread domestic and international condemnation with critics saying that many judgements are rushed through the judiciary while "sham" trials and forced confessions are routine.
Written by Ardeshir Tayebi based on an original story in Persian by RFE/RL's Radio Farda
Iran's President Says U.S. Should Ease Sanctions To Demonstrate It Wants To Return To Nuclear Deal
Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi said on September 20 that relations with the United States can move forward if the Biden administration demonstrates it wants to return to the 2015 nuclear deal, and a first step should be easing sanctions. He told a news conference that the Americans have reached out through several channels “saying they wish to have a dialogue, but we do believe that it must be accompanied by action.” “So talk alone is not going to do it,” Raisi said. But action on sanctions can be “a solid foundation for continuing” discussions. The Iranian leader added: “We have not left the table of negotiations.” To read the original story by AP, click here.
As 'Misery' Rises In Iran, So Does People's Determination To Move Abroad
Iranians are more miserable than ever, according to recently released figures, at a time when a large segment of the population is reportedly considering leaving their country for good.
Iran's "misery index" stands at more than 60 percent, according to the latest quarterly study compiled by the government-funded Iranian Statistics Center. The index, which factors in inflation and unemployment figures and is seen as a predictor of everything from crime levels to economic stagnation, rose by 1.2 percentage points over the previous quarterly survey.
The misery index was highest -- 69.5 percent -- in the western Lorestan Province, which has seen violent protests over water shortages in recent years and has among the highest unemployment and inflation rates in Iran.
The increase comes amid a flurry of reports highlighting the government's concerns over the number of Iranians who want to emigrate in search of a better life abroad, resulting in loss of capital, professionals, and skilled workers.
"Confidential" internal correspondence purportedly from the Information Ministry suggested this week that a government survey had indicated that "young men of higher education and financial capabilities, particularly in big cities," were the most willing to leave Iran.
RFE/RL is unable to verify the accuracy of that and other documents leaked by the Qiyam Ta Sarnguni, a group affiliated with the banned Mujahedin-e Khalq Organization.
Another "confidential" document recently leaked by the group online, this time from the presidential office's Center for Strategic Studies and reportedly sent to Interior Minister Ahmad Vahidi, noted "a wide wave of [people] who desire to emigrate." The assessment, which traditionally does not account for medical workers who are known to seek careers abroad, was described as "an alarm" that signals the ineffectiveness of efforts toward "controlling the motives of immigration and indifference toward the country."
The brain drain of tech specialists, health-care professionals, and educators from Iran has been well documented in the past year, following a brief respite when many international sanctions were lifted on Iran under an historic nuclear deal signed with world powers.
But with the withdrawal of the United States from the deal in 2018, the agreement faltered and the return of crippling U.S. sanctions targeting key export industries has posed significant obstacles to Iran's already dire economic situation. Iranians have additionally struggled in recent years with soaring inflation and record unemployment.
Tehran's harsh response to protests across the country -- both by struggling industrial workers and farmers suffering severe water shortages in recent years, as well as supporters of the country's Women, Life, Freedom! movement who have voiced their anger at the clerical establishment -- appears to have pushed many Iranians to consider leaving for good.
An ongoing purge of academics at Iranian universities, government pressure on medical workers treating protesters injured in the brutal clampdown on dissent, and restrictions and Internet slowdowns on tech-savvy companies have all been cited as contributing factors to the latest round of brain drain.
Another document leaked by Qiyam Ta Sarnguni in August, this time allegedly from the Information Ministry, suggests that officials are seeking to prevent the "emigration of scientific and elite groups." The document also claims that the emigration of elite talent is "limited to the field of health treatment" and is due to the "intensification of economic and livelihood problems in the country."
The Farhikhtegan newspaper, the official mouthpiece for Tehran's Islamic Azad University, has said that 6,500 doctors and medical specialists left the country in 2022. And Mohammad Mirzabigi, the head of Iran's nursing system, told the semiofficial ILNA news agency recently that "between 100 and 150 nurses emigrate every month," according to RFE/RL's Radio Farda.
Injured protesters who spoke to Radio Farda have indicated that harassment against health-care workers has also led some to go abroad for treatment. "The main reason [for emigrating] was the treatment of my eye, because in Iran, doctors were under pressure [from the government], and I couldn't ask any more of them," Maysam Dehghani, a protester who sustained a severe injury at the hands of Iran's security forces, said this week.
There are also indications that the desire to leave the country is not unique to the elite.
In an interview with ILNA this summer, Daud Beginejad, the vice president of Iran's Real Estate Consultants Association, said that the flight of housing developers posed a "very dangerous" threat to Iran's future.
Half of Iran's university students and graduates have decided to emigrate -- accounting for more than 66,000 people, according to Bahram Salvati, the director of the Iranian Migration Observatory, a research institute based at Tehran's Sharif University that itself came under pressure in August after it was given an eviction notice.
Salvati has also cited Iran's unstable Internet, which the authorities have slowed or shut down amid protests, as a cause for start-up companies to leave for Turkey and other countries in the region.
The list of skilled workers seeking to emigrate goes on, including midwives, pilots, truck drivers, and construction workers.
Outside organizations have noted the impact, with the European Union's Agency for Asylum reporting this year that Iranian asylum applications to the EU had "more or less doubled" this year compared to the same period in 2022, with more than 13,000 applications.
Saeed Moaidfar, head of the Iranian Sociological Association, explained in a recent interview with the Jamaran news website the deep-seated "reasons behind people's" desire to emigrate.
"A migration wave occurs when a deep economic crisis in the field of production, employment, inflation, and other issues coincides with other crises," Moaidfar said. "It means, for example, that this person or persons have reached the point where their political system is not sufficient to overcome an economic crisis, or they feel that nepotism is used instead of meritocracy."
According to the Iranian Migration Observatory, about 2.2 million Iranians, accounting for some 3.3 percent of the population, left the country for work or other reasons last year. The vast majority -- 62 percent -- do not want to come back after leaving, with more than 90 percent saying they distrust the government's pledges of opportunities at home.
With neighboring countries experiencing rapid growth, Iranian officials are expressing fear that the country could become "an island devoid of opportunities."
Mehdi Ghazanfari, the head of the National Development Fund, said in a recent interview with an economic publication that the lure of life abroad could leave Iran without "manpower and opportunities" and that "the day will come" when the country will become a training center for other countries' workers.
Written by Michael Scollon based on reporting by RFE/RL's Radio Farda
Mahsa Amini, Activists From Afghanistan, Georgia Nominated For EU's Sakharov Prize
Mahsa Amini and the women of Iran were nominated for this year's Sakharov Prize, the European Union’s top rights prize, the EU Parliament said on September 20. Amini, the 22-year-old Kurdish-Iranian woman who died in Iran last year while in custody for an alleged hijab infraction, was nominated by the parliament’s three largest blocs, making her the favorite to be chosen for the award in December. Afghan education activists Marzia Amiri, Parasto Hakim, and Matiullah Wesa were nominated, as were the "pro-European people of Georgia" and Nino Lomjaria, former public defender of Georgia. The award will be presented in December.
Iran's Persian Caravanserai Recognized As UNESCO World Heritage
Caravanserais were roadside inns built along ancient Iranian routes, providing shelter, food, and water to caravans, pilgrims, and travelers. These establishments were pivotal to the Silk Road trade network, contributing significantly to the development of Persian and Islamic culture.
Iranian Deputies Vote To Toughen Penalties For Women Flouting Dress Code
Iran's parliament has unveiled the text of a contentious hijab and chastity bill aimed at confronting, detaining, and penalizing women who fail to observe the compulsory dress code amid a fierce debate over the rules, which have drawn criticism both inside the country and abroad.
The bill was approved by 152 deputies -- 34 voted against and seven abstained -- on September 20, just four days after the first anniversary of the death of Mahsa Amini while the 22-year-old was in custody for an alleged hijab infraction.
The legislation empowers three intelligence agencies -- the Ministry of Intelligence, the Revolutionary Guards Intelligence Organization, and the Intelligence Organization of the Judiciary -- along with police, the Basij paramilitary forces, and the Command of Enjoining Good and Forbidding Wrong to take action against women who break the rules.
The legislation, which is being implemented on a three-year trial basis, also touches on the need for broader gender segregation in universities, administrative centers, educational institutions, parks, and tourist locations, and even in hospital treatment sections. It proposes severe penalties, including imprisonment up to 10 years and fines for women who defy the mandatory hijab law.
A United Nations fact-finding mission said in a statement last week that the law will "expose women and girls to increased risks of violence, harassment, and arbitrary detention."
According to Article 50 of the bill, anyone who appears in public places or streets in a state of nudity or seminudity, or with a dress that is considered as too revealing, will be immediately apprehended by officers and handed over to the judiciary. Those arrested will face imprisonment or a fine, and if the offense is repeated, the imprisonment or fine will be increased.
The bill also stipulates that anyone who is judged to have insulted the hijab, promoted nudity, immodesty, or an improper hijab, or performs any behavior that promotes them will be sentenced to a fine and, at the discretion of the judicial authority, a ban on leaving the country and a ban on public activity on the Internet for six months to two years.
The bill also prohibits commissioning work or advertising from individuals or legal entities that promote non-hijab values in their activities inside or outside the country, or in any media, including social media.
The hijab became compulsory for women and girls over the age of 9 in 1981, two years after the Islamic Revolution in Iran. The move triggered protests that were swiftly crushed by the new authorities. Many women have flouted the rule over the years and pushed the boundaries of what officials say is acceptable clothing.
The death of Amini released a wave of anger that has presented the Islamic regime with its biggest challenge since the revolution.
The Women, Life, Freedom protests and civil disobedience against the compulsory hijab have swept the country, involving tens of thousands of Iranians, many of whom were already upset over the country's deteriorating living standards. Campaigns were also launched against the discriminatory law, although many have been pressured by the state and forced to leave the country.
The protests have also been buffeted by the participation of celebrities, sports stars, and well-known rights activists, prompting a special mention of such luminaries in the legislation.
In the face of the unrest, some religious and government figures have repeatedly advocated for a tougher stance by the government against offenders, even going as far as encouraging a "fire-at-will" approach against noncompliant women.
While the protests have shown some signs of waning, resistance to the hijab is likely to increase, analysts say, as it is seen now as a symbol of the state's repression of women and the deadly crackdown on society.
Russia-Iran Ties Have Reached New Level, Says Russian Defense Minister
Relations between Russia and Iran have reached a new level despite opposition from much of the Western world, Russia's Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said on September 20 during a visit to Tehran. "We are aiming at an entire range of planned activities, despite opposition from the United States and its Western allies," the Interfax news agency cited Shoigu as saying. "Sanctions pressure on Russia and Iran shows its futility, while Russian-Iranian interaction is reaching a new level."
Iranian President Urges U.S. To Demonstrate It Wants To Return To The 2015 Nuclear Deal
Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi said on September 19 that his country will never give up its right “to have peaceful nuclear energy” and urged the United States “to demonstrate in a verifiable fashion” that it wants to return to the 2015 nuclear deal. Addressing the annual high-level meeting of the UN General Assembly, Raisi said the American withdrawal from the deal trampled on U.S. commitments and was “an inappropriate response” to Iran’s fulfillment of its obligations. Iran has long denied ever seeking nuclear weapons and continues to insist that its program is entirely for peaceful purposes. But UN nuclear chief Rafael Grossi said in an interview with the Associated Press that the Iranian government’s removal of many cameras and electronic monitoring systems installed by the International Atomic Energy Agency make it impossible to give assurances about the country’s nuclear program. To read the original story by AP, click here.
Iranian Misery Index Hits New High As Unemployment, Inflation Rise
Iran's Misery Index, a calculation that combines unemployment and inflation rates, has risen to 60.4 percent, its highest point ever and more than double what it was six years ago.
The index, calculated by the Iranian Statistics Center and released on September 18, shows how the average citizen is faring economically.
The latest data, the center said, showed a 1.2 percentage point rise at the end of the first quarter, and in some provinces, such as Lorestan, the index reached almost 70 percent.
The index shows the depths to which Iran's economy has been ravaged by U.S. sanctions over Tehran's nuclear program.
In 2018, when then U.S. President Donald Trump pulled out of a global deal on Iran's nuclear program and reintroduced sanctions on Tehran, the Misery Index stood at 38.9 percent.
In response to declining living standards, wage arrears, and a lack of welfare support, Iranians have taken to the streets to protest living conditions and demand government action.
In Lorestan, the province's annual inflation rate was reported at 57.1 percent for the month of June, making it one of the highest among Iran's 31 provinces. Meanwhile, Lorestan's unemployment rate was 12.4 percent, the second-highest nationally.
The Misery Index showed provinces such as Chaharmahal and Bakhtiari -- both of which had readings in the high 60s -- aren't lagging far behind. Sistan-Baluchistan, which has the highest unemployment rate in the country at 12.8 percent, was also hard hit, the index shows.
The Tehran-based Donya-e-Eqtesad newspaper cited experts who underscored the importance of the Misery Index in gauging stagflation within an economy.
The index is also seen as a barometer for societal issues, with a direct link to crime rates and even instances of suicide. The publication highlighted that in the past year, 22 of Iran's 31 provinces have reported a Misery Index surpassing the national average.
The death in September 2022 of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini while in police custody for allegedly wearing a head scarf improperly has added fuel to the unrest, as Iranians demonstrate against a lack of freedoms and women's rights.
Written by Ardeshir Tayebi based on an original story in Persian by RFE/RL's Radio Farda
Russia's Defense Minister To Visit Tehran On September 19
Russia's Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu will visit Tehran on September 19, Iran's semiofficial Tasnim news agency reported, adding that he would meet top Iranian officials. Since the imposition of Western sanctions on Russia following its invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, Tehran and Moscow have deepened their bilateral ties, notably in the military sphere. Last month, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said Russia's military cooperation with Iran would not succumb to geopolitical pressure, following a report that Washington had asked Tehran to stop selling drones to Moscow.
Swapped Americans Delight In 'Freedom' On Arrival In U.S. After Deal With Tehran
Five Americans who were swapped for $6 billion in unfrozen assets and five detained Iranians have arrived home in the United States, hailing "freedom" and the end of a "nightmare" after their plane landed outside Washington early on September 19.
They hugged relatives to cheers as they left the Gulfstream 5 jet following their predawn arrival at Fort Belvoir, Virginia.
The five U.S. nationals had first been flown to Doha, where some embraced the U.S. ambassador to Qatar and walked seemingly in high spirits to a building at the airport in anticipation of the flight to the United States.
"Today, five innocent Americans who were imprisoned in Iran are finally coming home," U.S. President Joe Biden said in a statement as they made their way to the United States.
In New York, hard-line Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi called the deal to swap a total of 10 individuals along with the assets "a step in the direction of a humanitarian action between us and America" that could "definitely help in building trust."
The agreement took months to clinch and has sparked criticism from some hawkish elements in the United States who think it extends a lifeline to an Iranian regime laboring under tough U.S. sanctions.
The five were expected to land in the United States as soon as late on September 18.
"I would not be free today, if it wasn't for all of you who didn't allow the world to forget me," one of three of the U.S. citizens who have been identified, Siamak Namazi, said in a statement on his behalf.
After their U.S. arrival with Namazi the first off the plane, his brother Babak said, with his arms around Siamak and their father, Baquer, who was released separately from Iranian custody last October, "The nightmare is finally over."
The freshly released prisoners posed for a group photo with family members saying, "Freedom!"
A Qatari plane had taken off from Tehran carrying the five with two of their relatives, news agencies reported, hours after a Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman said the prisoner exchange would occur shortly.
Some $6 billion of Iranian assets once frozen in South Korea is now in Qatar, a key element for the prisoner exchange, added Nasser Kanaani in comments during a news conference aired on state television.
The exchange comes amid a major U.S. military buildup in the Persian Gulf.
According to the deal, the funds will be kept in accounts in Qatar, a U.S. ally on the Arabian Peninsula and home to a major U.S. military installation. Those funds would be allowed for so-called humanitarian spending, like on food and medicine, already allowed under the sanctions, Washington has said.
Iranian officials had identified five individuals in U.S. custody whom Tehran would like handed over as part the deal.
They include three Iranians -- Mehrdad Ansari, Reza Sarhangpour Kafrani, and Kambiz Attar Kashani -- charged with illegally obtaining advanced or potentially dual-use technology thought to be bound for Iran that has been under tightly reimposed U.S. sanctions since 2018.
Two others -- Kaveh Lotfolah Afrasiabi and Amin Hasanzadeh -- were jailed for failing to register as a foreign agent and stealing engineering plans on behalf of Iran, respectively.
"Out of the five Iranian citizens in America, two will return to Iran, two will stay in America at their own request, and one person will go to a third country at their request," Kanaani said. He did not identify which prisoners would return to Iran and which would not.
The freed Americans include Namazi, who was detained in 2015 and was later sentenced to 10 years in prison on internationally criticized spying charges; Emad Sharghi, a venture capitalist sentenced to 10 years; and Morad Tahbaz, a British-American conservationist of Iranian descent who was arrested in 2018 and also received a 10-year sentence. The fourth and fifth prisoners were not identified.
Iran has been accused of taking foreign nationals hostage under the guise of breaking the law to use as bargaining chips. Iranian security forces have taken some 40 foreign nationals into custody during a current wave of unrest, often without revealing any charges.
Iran has been isolated and hit with tightened economic and diplomatic sanctions since then-President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew in 2018 from a three-year-old deal between world powers and Iran to curb Tehran's nuclear program in exchange for relief from previous measures aimed at stopping the country from developing its atomic capabilities.
Aside from the diplomatic and economic fallout, observers since then have attributed a series of ship seizures and attacks in the crucial Strait of Hormuz region to Tehran.
Tehran has also cooperated with Russia in the Middle East in addition to supplying Moscow with crucial attack drones to further the Kremlin's war plans in Ukraine.
With reporting by AP
Iran Again Threatens Persian-Language Media Abroad
Iranian Intelligence Minister Esmaeil Khatib has issued a stark warning to Persian-language media outlets operating outside of Iran, saying that support from other countries will not deter Tehran from "aggressive" actions against them.
Repeating similar threats made earlier by the Information Ministry, Khatib said during a television appearance that media outlets such as the London-based Iran International news channel are "enemy media" and "will not be safe."
Khabib did not elaborate but Persian-language media outlets have long been wary of Tehran's threats.
The Intelligence Ministry had previously labeled employees of Iran International as "enemies of the state," saying that those who "serve foreigners" and "betray the country" will be punished.
Last year, Iran International announced that due to a serious and immediate threat flagged by the British police against its journalists and its offices, the channel had temporarily shifted its broadcast operations to Washington.
The threats come against the backdrop of the widespread arrests of journalists in Iran during the "Women, Life, Freedom" protests that have rocked the country. As part of a brutal and sometimes deadly crackdown on dissent, Iran's security institutions have escalated their aggressive campaign to curb the local media from reporting.
International human rights organizations have consistently ranked Iran as one of the world's top oppressors of journalists and free speech.
In December, Iran's Foreign Ministry sanctioned several individuals and entities located within the European Union's jurisdiction, including RFE/RL's Persian-language Radio Farda. The sanctions include visa bans, prohibiting the listed individuals from entering Iran, and the seizure of their assets within territories under the jurisdiction of the Islamic Republic.
Tehran has tried to blame Western governments for the recent nationwide unrest, which was sparked by the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini while she was in police custody for an alleged dress-code violation over how she was wearing a head scarf.
Rights groups say that more than 500 deaths and thousands of arrests have occurred as part of the campaign to quell the unrest sparked by Amini's death on September 16, 2022.
Written by Ardeshir Tayebi based on an original story in Persian by RFE/RL's Radio Farda
Iranian Cinematographer Among Those Detained Trying To Mark Amini's Death
Cinematographer Leila Naghdipari was one of hundreds of Iranians arrested over the weekend for attempting to mark the first anniversary of the death of Mahsa Amini while in police custody for allegedly breaking the country's mandatory head-scarf rule.
Naghdipari's husband, director Majid Barzegar, said in a post on Instagram on September 18 that his wife left the house at noon a day earlier and subsequently went missing for more than 24 hours before he received a late night phone call from Nakhdipari that she was alive.
She said: "I'm good. Very good. I have received a temporary detention order and now I'm in Qarchak Varamin prison," he wrote. He had no further details.
The arrest was one of hundreds made over the weekend amid sporadic protests by Iranians and a tight clampdown on any gatherings across the country as one year passed since Amini's death on September 16, 2022.
Video on social media on September 17 showed protesters in the western city of Hamadan clapping and shouting "Death to the Islamic republic." Some video showed protesters scattering after what appears to be shooting by security forces.
The Tehran-based Shargh newspaper, citing official sources, said that at least 270 individuals had been detained in various Iranian cities, outside of Tehran. “However, unofficial figures indicate even higher numbers,” Shargh added.
The Islamic Republic's official news agency, IRNA, confirmed the arrests, accusing the detainees of "disruption" and "rioting." It gave no further information.
Amini's death sparked a wave of protests nationwide that rocked the country, posing the greatest threat to the Islamic leadership since it took power following the revolution in 1979.
Iranians, especially women and students, defiantly took to the streets calling for the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to step down because of the government's trampling of human rights and freedoms.
Authorities responded with a clampdown that has left hundreds dead and saw thousands detained.
They had warned ahead the weekend that all dissent would be dealt with severely, and even briefly arrested Amini's father on September 16 as a warning to avoid commemorating his 22-year-old daughter's death.
In the western Iranian city of Sanandaj, reports emerged of the arrest of a 15-year-old whose whereabouts remain unknown, while the Norway-based Hengaw group, which monitors rights violations in Iran's Kurdish regions, reported on September 17 that government forces arrested people in the cities of Gorgan, Fasa, Bojnurd, Zahedan, Zanjan, and Qeshm.
Meanwhile, images taken outside the "Relief Command Headquarters of the Police Force" in Tehran over the weekend show dozens of families waiting, seeking information about their detained relatives.
Rahim Jahanbakhsh, the police commander of West Azerbaijan Province, announced the arrest of 137 individuals on charges of "disturbing public opinion in social media."
Written by Ardeshir Tayebi based on an original story in Persian by RFE/RL's Radio Farda
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