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China Telecom Backs Off After Iran Tech Sale Revealed

China's second-largest telecommunications equipment company has said it will "restrict...business development" in Iran following reports it had sold sophisticated monitoring technology to Tehran.

Reuters news agency reported on March 22 that China's ZTE had provided technology capable of monitoring land line, mobile phone, and Internet communications to Iran's Telecommunication Company of Iran (TCI), despite tightening international sanctions against Tehran.

The monitoring system was part of a $131 million contract with TCI.

Some of the equipment provided by ZTE under a July 2011 invoice was produced by leading U.S. firms such as Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard, Oracle, and Dell, indicating that Tehran uses foreign companies to obtain goods restricted by U.S. sanctions.

The U.S. firms announced they were investigating the deal following the Reuters report.

ZTE has denied wrongdoing.
Based on reporting by Reuters

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'They Deserve To Die': Iranian Doctors Who Treated Wounded Protesters 'Arrested, Tortured'

The authorities have killed hundreds of protesters and arrested thousands of people since the demonstrations erupted in September.

In late November, three Iranian doctors traveled to the country's western Kurdistan region, the epicenter of ongoing antiestablishment protests, to help treat wounded demonstrators.

But within days of their arrival, the medical professionals were arrested on security charges. Before they were released on bail last month, the three men were tortured in custody, informed sources told RFE/RL.

The men were charged with "disrupting national security" and "committing crimes against the country's internal and external security" due to their attempts to treat "rioters," a term the authorities have used to refer to antiestablishment protesters.

Yaser Bahramirad, a general practitioner from the western city of Khorramabad; Behnam Ohadi, a psychiatrist from Tehran; and Homayoun Eftekharnia, an anesthesiologist from the capital, could face lengthy prison terms if found guilty.

They are among the dozens of medical workers who have been arrested for taking part in the protests or treating demonstrators wounded in the state crackdown.

The authorities have killed hundreds of protesters and arrested thousands of people since the demonstrations erupted in September. The protests are the biggest threat to Iran's clerical establishment in years.

Kurdistan has been the scene of some of the deadliest crackdowns by the authorities, who have deployed heavily armed troops to the region and used live ammunition against protesters. Many demonstrators injured in the clampdown have refused to be taken to a hospital for fear of arrest.

Solitary Confinement

On November 30, Bahramirad, Ohadi, and Eftekharnia headed to the city of Saghez, the hometown of Mahsa Amini, the 22-year-old woman whose death after her arrest by Iran's morality police triggered the nationwide protests.

After treating several people and distributing medicine to those in need in Saghez, located in Kurdistan Province, the three doctors travelled to neighboring West Azerbaijan, another province with a significant Kurdish population.

Just hours after arriving in the city of Mahabad on December 3, the doctors were arrested by security forces, who seized their medicine and equipment. They were then taken to prison, where they were subjected to torture, informed sources said.

The three men were held in solitary confinement for more than a month and subjected to sleep deprivation, the sources said. The interrogators also falsely told them that their family members had been killed, in an attempt to break them, the sources added.

After hours of interrogations, the men were exposed to bright lights and loud sounds, including the Islamic call to prayer, to prevent them from sleeping, the sources said.

One of the interrogators told them that "those opposing the Islamic establishment deserve to die because if they receive treatment they will again engage in riots," one of the sources told RFE/RL.

Another interrogator said that by attempting to treat injured protesters themselves, the doctors had undermined trust in state health facilities and spread "propaganda against the establishment," the source said.

Interrogators also accused Bahramirad, a former student activist who had been arrested in the past, of having ties to exiled Kurdish opposition groups that the authorities have blamed for the unrest in Kurdistan, the sources said.

'Constantly Watched'

Bahramirad, Ohadi, and Eftekharnia are among the dozens of doctors, nurses, and other medical workers arrested during Iran's crackdown on the antiestablishment protests.

Homa Fathi, a Canada-based activist and member of the International Iranian Physicians and Healthcare Providers Association, told RFE/RL that she had documented the arrests of at least 53 medical workers as well as 54 medical students during the crackdown.

Fathi said the majority had been released on bail, but added that the real number of those arrested is likely to be much higher. "They don't have a good situation," she said. "Some have been [prevented] from working. They're being constantly watched."

Last month, the France-based Kurdistan Human Rights Network reported that Mohsen Sohrabi, a doctor at a hospital in the western city of Sanandaj, had gone missing a day after being summoned by security officials. Sources said Sohrabi had been repeatedly threatened by security officials.

Mohsen Sohrabi
Mohsen Sohrabi

In December, Aida Rostami, a doctor who allegedly treated injured protesters in Tehran's Ekbatan neighborhood, died under mysterious circumstances. The authorities said she had fallen off a pedestrian bridge following an argument with a man who was later arrested. Other sources said she was targeted by security forces.

Also in December, Iran sentenced to death Hamid Qarahasanlou, a radiologist who had been involved in charity work, over the killing of a member of the security forces during protests in the city of Karaj. Later in January, Qarahasanlou's death sentence was overturned due to flaws in the investigation and amid protests by the international medical community.

In November, reports emerged that Shoresh Heydari, a pharmacist in the city of Bukan in West Azerbaijan Province, had been arrested. The Kurdistan Human Rights Network said Heydari had offered medical tips to protesters on his Instagram page. Another source said the pharmacist had also treated protesters.

In October, security forces in Tehran used tear gas to prevent a protest by health workers, who were calling for an end to the state crackdown and the misuse of ambulances for holding and transferring detained protesters.

Rights Group Says At Least 185 Arrested In Iran's Zahedan In Past Month

Demonstrators rally in Zahedan, the capital of Sistan and Baluchistan Province, where people have been holding protest rallies every Friday since September 30.

A rights group says at least 185 citizens in the southeastern Iranian city of Zahedan have been arrested in the past month by security forces trying to stifle widespread dissent.

Haalvsh, a group that monitors rights violations of the Sunni minority in Iran, says that it has been able to verify the identity of 125 of the detainees, but added that, due Internet disruptioand repeated threats to families by the security authorities, the number of detainees is estimated at 185 or even higher.

People in Sistan and Baluchistan Province, which borders Afghanistan and Pakistan, have been holding protest rallies every Friday since September 30, when a demonstration turned deadly as security forces of the Islamic republic cracked down hard on demonstrators.

During the so-called Bloody Friday massacre in Zahedan, almost 100 people were killed and hundreds injured by security forces during unrest sparked by the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who was in police custody for allegedly wearing her head scarf improperly.

The protests grew even larger following the news of the alleged sexual assault of a 15-year-old girl by the Chabahar police commander.

On January 31, the Baloch Activists Campaign reported that plainclothes security officers arrested two Baluch youths in Zahedan and took them to an unknown location. The campaign has identified the pair as Dawood Rakhshani and Akbar Gorgij.

Anger over Amini's death on September 16 has prompted thousands of Iranians to take to the streets nationwide to demand more freedoms and women's rights. The widespread unrest represents the biggest threat to the Islamic government since the 1979 revolution.

The U.S.-based Human Rights Activists News Agency said that, as of January 29, at least 527 people had been killed during the unrest, including 71 minors, as security forces muzzle dissent.

Sunni Muslims make up the majority of the population in Sistan-Baluchistan Province in southeastern Iran, but only account for about 10 percent of the population in Shi'a-dominated Iran overall.

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

Iranian Filmmaker Panahi On Hunger Strike To Protest 'Inhumane' Judiciary

Award-winning Iranian director Jafar Panahi (file photo)

Imprisoned Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi has gone on hunger strike to protest “the illegal and inhumane behavior" of Iran's judiciary and security apparatus, which have led a brutal and sometimes deadly crackdown on unrest over the death of a young woman while in police custody for allegedly wearing a head scarf improperly.

"I will refuse to eat and drink any food and medicine until the time of my release. I will remain in this state until perhaps my lifeless body is freed from prison," the director said in a statement released by his wife, Tahereh Saeedi, and his son, Panah Panahi, on their Instagram accounts.

Panahi, 62, was arrested in July as the authorities cracked down on dissent in response to growing antiestablishment sentiment and near-daily protests over living conditions and graft across the Islamic republic.

Just days prior to his arrest, Panahi had joined a group of more than 300 Iranian filmmakers in publishing an open letter calling on the security forces to "lay down arms" in the face of public outrage over "corruption, theft, inefficiency, and repression" following the violent crackdown against those protesting a building collapse in May in the southwestern city of Abadan, which killed 41 people.

Those protests were overtaken by a wave of unrest following the September 16 death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini while in custody for allegedly violating the country's head-scarf law.

Since the start of daily protests that have rocked Iran since Amini's death, several Iranian filmmakers and prominent public figures have been summoned or arrested by the authorities, including the popular actress Taraneh Alidoosti.

Since Amini's death, more than 500 people have been killed in the police crackdown, according to rights groups. Several thousand more have been arrested, including many protesters, as well as journalists, lawyers, activists, digital rights defenders, and others.

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

France Seizes Iran Assault Rifles, Missiles Heading To Yemen

Assault rifles and missiles seized by the French Navy lie on the deck of a ship at an undisclosed location on February 1.

French naval forces in January seized thousands of assault rifles, machine guns and anti-tank missiles in the Gulf of Oman coming from Iran and heading to Yemen's Huthi rebels, officials said on February 2, the latest such seizure amid the Middle Eastern nation’s long-running civil war. While Iran denied being involved, images of the weapons released by the U.S. military's Central Command showed them to be similar to others captured by American forces in other shipments linked to Tehran. The seizure occurred on January 15. To read the original story by AP, click here.

Iran Blames Israel For Isfahan Drone Attack, Vows Revenge

Eyewitness footage purportedly showing the moment of the explosion at a military industry factory in Isfahan, Iran.

Iran blames Israel for a drone attack on a military factory near the central city of Isfahan, the semiofficial ISNA news agency said on February 2, vowing revenge. In a letter to the UN chief, Iran's UN envoy, Amir Saeid Iravani, said a primary investigation suggested Israel was responsible for the attack on January 28. The attack came amid tension between Iran and the West over Tehran's nuclear activity and its supply of arms -- including long-range "suicide drones"-- for Russia's war in Ukraine. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.

Adviser To Iranian Sunni Leader Detained Over Comments On Protests

In a recent interview with RFE/RL’s Radio Farda, Molavi Abdulmajid criticized the government for creating an atmosphere of insecurity in Zahedan. (file photo)

A senior adviser to Molavi Abdolhamid, a spiritual leader for Iran’s Sunni Muslim population, has been arrested amid months of unrest in Iran sparked by the death of a young woman while she was detained by the notorious morality police for an alleged dress code violation.

According to Haalvsh, a group that monitors rights violations of the Sunni minority in Iran, Molavi Abdulmajid was arrested on January 30 in the southeastern Iranian city of Zahedan and transferred a day later to a prison in the city of Mashhad. The relatives of the cleric have been told to follow up on his situation "with the Special Clerical Court," the report adds.

The state news agency IRNA confirmed Abdulmajid's arrest and quoted an informed source saying he was accused of "numerous communications with foreign people and media, and distorting public opinion."

Zahedan has been a hotbed for unrest since the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who was in police custody for allegedly wearing her head scarf improperly. The protests grew even larger following the news of the alleged sexual assault of a 15-year-old girl by the Chabahar police commander.

On September 30, people in the southeastern Iranian city took to the streets demanding accountability. They were met with a violent and bloody response from security forces that had become known as Bloody Friday. Almost 100 people were killed and hundreds more injured in the clash.

In a January 19 interview with RFE/RL’s Radio Farda, Abdulmajid criticized the government for creating an atmosphere of insecurity in Zahedan and said the protests in the city will continue "until the issue of Bloody Friday and the people of Zahedan who were killed and injured is resolved."

Abdolhamid had said previously that senior officials, including Khamenei, were "responsible" for the killing of protesters during the so-called Bloody Friday massacre. He also called for an immediate referendum with the presence of international observers to "change policies based on the wishes of the people."

The Iranian government has unleashed a brutal crackdown on weeks of unrest -- one of the deepest challenges to the Islamic regime since the revolution in 1979 -- that erupted following the September 16 death of Amini.

Sunni Muslims make up the majority of the population in Sistan-Baluchistan Province in southeastern Iran where Abdolhamid is based but account for only about 10 percent of the population in Shi'a-dominated Iran overall.

Since Amini's death, more than 500 people have been killed in the police crackdown, according to rights groups. Several thousand more have been arrested, including many protesters, as well as journalists, lawyers, activists, digital rights defenders, and others.

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

Azerbaijan Reportedly Detains Dozens Suspected Of Spying For Iran

Law enforcement bodies have neither confirmed nor rejected the reports. (file photo)

Azerbaijan's Interior Ministry has detained around 40 people it suspects of being part of an Iranian spy network that used religion to push pro-Iranian propaganda.

Local media reported on February 1 that the suspects were arrested in Baku and other regions of the country as a result of the operation conducted by the ministry. Some reports a day earlier put the number of people detained at seven.

Law enforcement bodies have neither confirmed nor rejected the reports.

Lawmaker Elman Mammadov, a member of the parliamentary Defense, Security, and Anti-Corruption Committee, accused Iran of being "quite active" in defending Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei for many years.

"I can't say whether it is a network or not, but there are such people. Even in certain media organizations and social networks, there are such people who from time to time speak in favor of Iran and against us express their opinions," he said.

Tehran has not commented on the reports.

Azer Qasimli, the director of the Baku-based Political Management Institute, said that while Iranian spies were most likely operating in the country, Russia has a bigger undercover network in the country.

Still, he said Azerbaijani authorities had to be careful, as "Iran is a state that has used terrorism in different countries and is characterized by very aggressive actions."

"It can be dangerous from this point of view," he added.

Relations between Iran and Azerbaijan appeared relatively calm until recent days.

Baku ordered the evacuation of staff and family members from its embassy in Iran on January 29, two days after a gunman shot dead a security guard and wounded two other people at the embassy in an attack Baku branded an "act of terrorism."

Police arrested a suspect and Iranian authorities have condemned the January 27 incident. They have said the suspect appeared to have had a personal, not a political, motive for the attack.

The Farda Briefing: Embassy Attack Further Strains Relations Between Iran And Azerbaijan

People gather around the coffin of Orkhan Askerov, a security guard at Azerbaijan's embassy in Iran who was shot dead by a gunman, during a procession in Baku on January 30.

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

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

The Big Issue

A gunman stormed the Azerbaijani Embassy in Tehran on January 27, killing one guard and wounding two others. Iran said the attack was motivated by personal reasons, but Baku described it as a “terrorist attack.”

The incident led Azerbaijan to temporarily suspend its operations at its embassy in Tehran and evacuate its staff from the country. Iranian media said the attacker, who was arrested, was an Iranian man married to an Azerbaijani woman. The attacker was quoted as saying that his wife disappeared after entering the Azerbaijani Embassy.

Why It Matters: The incident has further strained relations between the neighbors, who have a history of tensions. Azerbaijan has long been suspicious of Iran’s ties with Armenia, Baku’s archenemy. Meanwhile, Tehran has increasingly expressed concern about Azerbaijan’s deepening relations with Israel, Tehran’s regional foe. Earlier this month, Baku appointed its first-ever ambassador to Israel, which is a major arms supplier to Azerbaijan.

Azerbaijan has also long complained of Iran’s alleged mistreatment of its sizable ethnic Azeri minority. Tehran has accused Baku of fomenting separatist sentiment in the Islamic republic.

Analyst Habib Hosseinifard told RFE/RL’s Radio Farda that the embassy attack has led to an “overflow” of tensions.

“Iran claims some of Israel’s actions against the country are organized from inside Azerbaijan. In addition, Iran also accuses Azerbaijan of inciting the country’s Azeri minority, while Baku accuses Tehran of strengthening extremist Shi’ite groups inside Azerbaijan. All of these have increased tensions, particularly in the past two years,” he said.

What's Next: Since the embassy attack, Iran has attempted to ease tensions with Azerbaijan. But Baku appears to have upped the ante by announcing on January 31 the arrests of what it said were seven members of an Iranian spy network in Azerbaijan.

Meanwhile, Azerbaijan’s Deputy Foreign Minister Khalaf Khalafov said in a January 31 statement that “suspension of a diplomatic mission’s operations in any country is a serious matter" and that Baku has let Tehran know that "we do not trust Iran with respect to ensuring the security of our embassy’s employees.”

The statement came days after Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi told Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev in a phone call that “the governments of Iran and Azerbaijan will not allow bilateral relations to be affected by the suggestions of those who wish ill on the two nations,” according to the Iranian government’s website.

Stories You Might Have Missed

Analysts say a suspected Israeli drone strike on a military site in Iran is part of a new effort to contain the Islamic republic. There has been a series of incidents inside Iran during the past year, including sabotage and cyberattacks, assassinations, and the mysterious killings of members of the powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, as well as scientists and engineers. Tehran has blamed some of the incidents on Israel.

Meghdad Jebelli, the brother of Iran's state TV chief Peyman Jebelli, spoke to Radio Farda about his decision to leave Iran and seek asylum in Canada. Meghdad Jebelli left his homeland soon after Iran's downing of a Ukrainian passenger jet that killed all 176 people onboard, including his 29-year-old nephew. Jebelli said "real justice will only be achieved when the perpetrators of the crimes of the past 44 years are punished,” in reference to the clerical regime that came to power following the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

What We're Watching

A group of Iranian lawmakers have submitted a draft bill to curb “unprofessional comments” posted on social media by influential figures, including celebrities. The proposed legislation prescribes prison terms of up to 15 years and fines for those found guilty. Supporters of the draft bill have said it will punish those who undermine national security. But critics have labeled it the “suffocation bill.”

What's Next: The proposed legislation is an attempt by the authorities to further crack down on dissent amid ongoing anti-regime protests that have rocked the country since September. The demonstrations are the biggest threat to the clerical regime in years.

The antiestablishment protests have attracted support from all corners of Iranian society, including celebrities. Several well-known figures have been summoned or arrested in recent months by police after showing support for the demonstrations.

Until next time,

Golnaz Esfandiari

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

Iranian Student Council Says 11 Professors Fired For Protest Support

Universities and students have long been at the forefront of the struggle for greater social and political freedoms in Iran. (file photo)

Almost a dozen Iranian university professors have been fired from their jobs at Ferdowsi University in the northeastern city of Mashhad following their support for students in nationwide protests over the death of Mahsa Amini while in police custody.

The Union Council of Iranian Students said 11 professors were dismissed for "accompanying, supporting, and defending the rights of students."

The council, which did not reveal the names of the professors, said six were from the faculty of literature, three from the faculty of law and political science, and one each from the mathematics and economics faculties.

Anger over the 22-year-old Amini's death on September 16 has prompted thousands of Iranians to take to the streets to demand more freedoms and women's rights.

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

In most of the protests, students have asked professors to support them, and some university professors and lecturers have expressed solidarity with the protesters.

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

Over the years, the authorities have arrested student activists and leaders, sentencing them to prison and banning them from studying.

The activist HRANA news agency said that as of January 26 at least 700 university students had been arrested during the recent unrest.

Many have faced sentences such as imprisonment, flogging, and dozens of students have been expelled from universities or suspended from their studies, as security forces try to stifle widespread dissent.

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

U.S. Curbs Exports To Iranian Firms For Producing Drones

An Iranian-made kamikaze drone approaches for an attack in Kyiv on October 17.

The United States has placed new trade restrictions on seven Iranian entities for producing drones used by Russia to attack Ukraine, the U.S. Department of Commerce said. The firms and other organizations were added to an export control list for those engaged in activities contrary to U.S. national security and foreign policy interests. The additions to the so-called entities list were posted in a preliminary filing on January 31. Since Moscow launched its unprovoked war against Ukraine, the United States and other countries have sought to degrade Russia’s military and defense industrial base by using export controls to restrict its access to technology. To read the original story from Reuters, click here.

Iranians Use Sadeh Festival To Protest Against Lack Of Freedoms

Sadeh festivities in the Iranian city of Kerman on January 30.

Iranian protesters have staged fresh anti-government demonstrations by taking to the streets during the Sadeh festival, a traditional ancient celebration in which fire is used to defeat the forces of darkness and cold.

Protesters in Tehran's Ekbatan neighborhood celebrated the Sadeh festival by lighting huge fires, saying they showed the depth of their anger toward the government's intrusion on their freedoms and chanted “death to the dictator,” a reference to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Similar scenes were repeated in the Iranian cities of Yazd, Kerman, Shiraz, Kermanshah, Kerman, and Mashhad.

Sadeh in Persian means "hundred" and refers to the 100 days and nights remaining until the beginning of spring.

The festival, which took on an extra meaning this year after several months of unrest that threatens to tear the country apart as protesters fight for women's and human rights.

The unrest was sparked by the death of Mahsa Amini on September 16. The 22-year-old died while in custody after being arrested by the notorious "morality police" for "improperly" wearing a mandatory Islamic head scarf, or hijab.

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

Officials, who have blamed the West for the demonstrations, have vowed to crack down even harder on protesters, with the judiciary leading the way after the unrest entered a fourth month.

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

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

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

Suspected Israeli Drone Strike In Iran Part Of New 'Containment Strategy'

Analysts say the suspected Israeli drone strike in Isfahan is part of a new effort to contain the Islamic republic.

A suspected Israeli drone strike hit an Iranian military facility in Isfahan on January 28, in an attack that is part of a new effort to contain Tehran, analysts said.

Protracted efforts to revive the 2015 nuclear accord between Iran and world powers have floundered. In the absence of a deal, Tehran has amassed enough highly enriched uranium to build several nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations' atomic agency.

Iran has also deepened its military ties with Russia, allegedly supplying Russian troops with combat drones for use in the war in Ukraine. U.S. intelligence assessments have said Iran could also send powerful cruise and ballistic missiles to Moscow.

There has been a series of incidents inside Iran during the past year, including sabotage and cyberattacks, assassinations, and the mysterious killings of members of the powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), as well as scientists and engineers. Tehran has blamed some of the incidents on Israel, its regional foe.

"Until last year, Israel’s containment strategy had two main aspects: preventing Iranian arms and equipment transfers to Syria and Lebanon by targeting land and air convoys, and trying to disrupt Iran’s nuclear program by targeting Iranian nuclear scientists and facilities,” said Hamidreza Azizi, a visiting fellow at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs.

Tehran is a key backer of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and the Lebanese militant group Hizballah.

Azizi said he believes Israel has attacked military, not nuclear, sites inside Iran over the past few months, which he said pointed to “the emergence of a third element” in Israel’s policy on Iran.


“Those attacks are apparently aimed at sabotaging the production of advanced missiles and drones by the Islamic republic,” Azizi told RFE/RL.

'Counter Iran's Destabilizing Activities'

U.S. media quoted unnamed American intelligence officials as saying that Israel was behind the attack on a military site in the city of Isfahan, which is home to a missile research and production center. The Pentagon said that the United States was not involved in the strike.

The extent of the damage at the military site is unclear. Iran's Defense Ministry said the explosion at the “workshop” caused only minor damage and no casualties. Videos shared on social media appeared to show an explosion at the scene.

The attack followed a trip to Israel by Central Intelligence Agency chief William Burns and an earlier visit by U.S. national-security adviser Jake Sullivan.

During a trip to Israel on January 30, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken told reporters that he held talks with Israel’s new right-wing government about “deepening cooperation to confront and counter Iran's destabilizing activities in the region and beyond."

Tehran did not immediately blame any country for the strike. Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian said the “cowardly drone attack” was aimed at creating “insecurity” inside the Islamic republic.

Iran summoned Ukraine's charge d'affaires in Tehran after a senior aide to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, Mykhaylo Podolyak, tweeted about an “explosive night in Iran,” adding that Ukraine “did warn you.”

Nournews, affiliated with Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, earlier said Podolyak’s tweet implied Kyiv's involvement in the attack and warned of “heavy consequences.”

The strike came amid Iran’s worsening ties with Western nations over its brutal crackdown on ongoing antiestablishment protests and its deepening military cooperation with Russia.

Iran has admitted to sending drones to Russia but said they were sent before Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. Moscow has denied that it has used Iranian drones in Ukraine, even as they have been shot down in that country.

'Possible Activation Of Plan B'

Alexander Grinberg, an Iran expert at the Jerusalem Institute for Security Strategy, said Israel’s suspected recent small-scale attacks against Tehran have “limited impact on Iran's military capabilities as the country is prepared and has a level of technical and strategic resilience.”

But “the timing of the strikes is significant, as the hopes for the [nuclear deal] are dying and tensions are rising between Europe and Iran,” Grinberg, a former Israeli military intelligence officer, told RFE/RL. “The U.S. and Israel are also conducting their largest military drill at the moment, indicating possible activation of Plan B.”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy poses next to a downed Iranian-made Shahed-136 kamikaze drone in Kyiv on October 27.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy poses next to a downed Iranian-made Shahed-136 kamikaze drone in Kyiv on October 27.

Grinberg said it was up to Iran to “either respond and escalate tensions or negotiate with the U.S. and Europe.”

Azizi of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs said Iran does not have the capability to retaliate to the same extent.

“Israel probably knows this, and that’s why it continues such provocations,” he said.

But Azizi added that due to the immense pressure the Islamic republic is facing domestically from anti-regime protests, as well as from the outside, “it may calculate that not responding is more damaging to its survival than doing something.”

“We’re not there yet, but the risk is there, and it’s getting more real,” Azizi warned.

In the past, Iran has retaliated by targeting Israeli-owned ships with drones and conducting cyberattacks against Israeli infrastructure. Last year, Iran claimed responsibly for a missile strike in the northern Iraqi city of Irbil, which Tehran claimed targeted an Israeli “strategic center.”

Iranian Restaurant Shut Down After Woman Sings At Opening

An official seals the door of a restaurant in the southern city of Mahshahr after a woman sang at its opening.

Iranian authorities have shut down a restaurant in the city of Mahshahr after a female singer performed there, signaling a crackdown on events the authorities deem contrary to Islamic values continues.

The latest incident was sparked by a video published on social media showing a female singer performing at the opening ceremony of a new restaurant in Mahshahr, in the southwestern province of Khuzestan.

After the video went viral and was praised by Iranian social-media users, Farshad Kazemi, the police chief in Mahshahr, announced the restaurant had been sealed shut because of the performance.

Kazemi also added that a legal case had been filed against the owner.

Female singers are not allowed to perform in Iran, and musical concerts face many obstacles since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

In recent weeks, numerous reports have been published about the sealing of businesses, restaurants, cafes, and in some cases even pharmacies, for not observing Islamic laws and mandatory hijab rules.

The wave of business closings comes amid the monthslong public anger that erupted after 22-year-old Mahsa Amini died in September while in custody after being detained by morality police in Tehran for "improperly" wearing a head scarf.

Since Amini's death, Iranians have flooded into the streets across the country to protest against a lack of rights, with women and schoolgirls making unprecedented shows of support in the biggest threat to the Islamic government since the 1979 revolution.

In response, the authorities have launched a brutal crackdown on dissent, detaining thousands and handing down stiff sentences, including the death penalty, to protesters.

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

Iranian Pharmacist, Cleric Square Off Over Hijab, Authorities Close Her Shop

Following the argument, the pharmacy staff refused to provide services to the cleric. (illustrative photo)

Authorities in the northern Iranian city of Amol have shut down a pharmacy after the female owner and a local cleric got into a confrontation over wearing a head scarf, an issue that has sparked nationwide unrest in recent months.

A video that has gone viral on social media shows the owner of the pharmacy, identified as Dr. Forough Haghpanah, being confronted by a cleric who warned her to cover her hair in line with the law of the Islamic republic.

Following the argument, the pharmacy staff refused to provide services to the cleric, who started recording the scene with his mobile phone and describing the incident.

Mohammad Sadegh Akbari, the chief justice of Mazandaran Province, announced that the pharmacy had been shut down "for failing to comply with the hijab law and for not providing services to a customer."

Akbari also added that a legal case had been filed against the owner.

The news comes amid monthslong public anger that erupted after the September 16 death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in custody after being detained by morality police in Tehran for "improperly" wearing a head scarf.

Since Amini's death, Iranians have flooded the streets across the country to protest against a lack of rights, with women and schoolgirls making unprecedented shows of support in the biggest threat to the Islamic government since the 1979 revolution.

In response, the authorities have launched a brutal crackdown on dissent, detaining thousands and handing down stiff sentences, including the death penalty, to protesters.

The hijab first became compulsory in public for Iranian women and girls over the age of 9 after the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

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

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

Iran Clamps Down On Khoy Residents Angry Over Earthquake Relief

People gather around a fire after an earthquake in Khoy, Iran, on January 29.

Iranian security forces have clamped down on protests over the government's mismanagement of its response to a strong earthquake over the weekend that killed at least three people and injured hundreds in the northwestern city of Khoy.

Videos published on social media show security forces used a water cannon to disperse people who had gathered in front of the regional administration building in Khoy city, which was rocked by the 5.9 magnitude earthquake on January 28.


Panicked residents fled their homes during the tremor as buildings collapsed and cars were overturned. Hundreds have been forced to seek shelter from freezing winter conditions in evacuation centers as more than 20 aftershocks rocked the region.

The shallow quake hit the city of Khoy, with a population of around 200,000, in West Azerbaijan Province, according to the Seismological Center of the University of Tehran.

People were seen wrapped in blankets and huddling around fires in the snow-dusted region in images published by Iranian media, as state TV broadcast footage of major damage to residential buildings, including half-destroyed houses.

Local sources report that two days after the earthquake, people are still in need of basic relief equipment, including tents, heating devices, and food.

Many on social media, including Reza Pahlavi, the exiled former crown prince of Iran and an opposition leader, condemned the government for being quick to send riot police to the region instead of relief equipment.

On Twitter on January 29, while sympathizing with the bereaved families, Pahlavi said that the Islamic republic, "instead of providing quick and appropriate relief to the earthquake victims, has sent forces and tools of repression."

The earthquake comes as Iran finds itself engulfed in a wave of protests following the September 16 death of a young woman while in custody for allegedly violating the country's head-scarf law.

The U.S.-based Human Rights Activists News Agency said that as of January 29, at least 527 people had been killed during the unrest, including 71 minors, as security forces muzzle dissent.

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

Iran Summons Senior Ukraine Diplomat Over Comments On Drone Strike

Eyewitness footage purportedly showing the moment of the explosion at a military industry factory in Isfahan, Iran.

Iran summoned Ukraine's charge d'affaires in Tehran on January 30 over his country's comments about a drone strike on a military factory in the central Iranian province of Isfahan, according to the semiofficial Tasnim news agency. In Ukraine, which accuses Iran of supplying hundreds of drones to Russia to attack civilian targets in Ukrainian cities far from the front, a senior aide to President Volodymyr Zelenskiy linked the incident directly to the war there. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.

Over 500 Dead Since Start Of Unrest In Iran, Activists Say

Among the dead were 71 minors and 70 members of the police and other security forces, according to the group's tally.

At least 527 people have been killed in Iran since the beginning of the anti-government demonstrations more than four months ago, said a report by the U.S.-based Human Rights Activists News Agency on January 29. Among them were 71 minors and 70 members of the police and other security forces, according to the group's tally. In total, nearly 20,000 people have been arrested. More than 100 of them are facing death sentences. Several demonstrators have already been executed. The Iranian authorities have not yet provided information on the total number of deaths and arrests.

Azerbaijan Evacuating Embassy In Iran After Fatal Shooting

The Azerbaijani Embassy in Tehran was the scene of a fatal shooting on January 27.

Azerbaijan will evacuate embassy staff and family members from Iran on January 29, the Foreign Ministry said, two days after a gunman shot dead a security guard and wounded two other people in an attack Baku branded an "act of terrorism." Police in Tehran have said they have arrested a suspect. Iranian authorities condemned the January 27 incident but said the gunman appeared to have had a personal, not a political, motive. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.

Earthquake Strikes Northwestern Iran, Killing At Least Three

The shallow quake hit the city of Khoy in West Azerbaijan Province.

A 5.9-magnitude earthquake struck northwestern Iran near the border with Turkey late on January 28, killing at least three people and injuring 816, state media said. The shallow quake hit the city of Khoy in West Azerbaijan Province at 9:44 p.m., the Seismological Center of the University of Tehran said. Iran sits astride the boundaries of several major tectonic plates and experiences frequent seismic activity. To read the original story by AFP, click here.

Updated

Armed Drones Attack Iranian Defense Factory; Tehran Says Only Limited Damage

The Iranian Defense Ministry offered no information on who it suspected carried out the attack.

Drones equipped with explosives targeted an Iranian defense factory in the central city of Isfahan overnight, the Iranian Defense Ministry announced on January 29, causing some damage at the facility.

The Iranian Defense Ministry released few details on the attack and did not say who it suspected was behind it.

Iran has been targeted in the past by suspected Israeli drone strikes. Israeli officials declined to comment on the attack in Isfahan.

The Wall Street Journal later quoted unidentified U.S. officials as saying Israel had carried out the strike.

"This cowardly act was carried out today as part of the efforts made by enemies of the Iranian nation in recent months to make the Islamic republic insecure," Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian said.

In a statement, the Iranian Defense Ministry said three drones had reportedly targeted the facility, with two of them shot down.

A third apparently made it through to strike the building, causing “minor damage” to its roof and wounding no one, the ministry said.

Video footage downloaded on social media showed what appeared to be the moment the drone struck along the Imam Khomeini Expressway that heads northwest out of Isfahan.

The Iranian Defense Ministry described the site as a “workshop” but did not elaborate on what type of work it was engaged in.

Isfahan is located some 350 kilometers south of Tehran. It is home to both a large air base built for its fleet of American-made F-14 fighter jets and its Nuclear Fuel Research and Production Center.

Separately, Iran’s state TV said a fire broke out at an oil refinery in an industrial zone near the northwestern city of Tabriz. It said the cause was not yet known, as it showed footage of firefighters trying to extinguish the blaze.

The attack comes after Iran's Intelligence Ministry in July claimed to have broken up a plot that it said was aiming to target sensitive sites around Isfahan.

Iranian state TV in October broadcast what it claimed to be confessions by alleged members of Komala --a Kurdish opposition party that is exiled from Iran and now operates out of Iraq -- that they planned to target a military aerospace facility in Isfahan after being trained by Israel's Mossad intelligence service.

The incident at Isfahan is the latest attack on Iranian military or nuclear facilities.

Last year, Iran said an engineer was killed and another employee was wounded in an unexplained incident at the Parchin military and weapons development base east of the capital, Tehran. The ministry called it an accident, without providing further details.

Parchin is home to a military base where the International Atomic Energy Agency has said it suspected Iran conducted tests of explosive triggers that could be used in nuclear weapons.

The attack comes with Tehran facing challenges at home and abroad.

The country has witnessed nationwide protests since the September death of Mahsa Amini, a Kurdish-Iranian woman detained by the country's morality police. Its rial currency has plummeted to new lows against the U.S. dollar.

International talks on reviving an accord with world powers have broken down, and now Tehran is reported to have enriched uranium closer than ever to weapons-grade levels.

Meanwhile, Iran continues to arm Russia with the bomb-carrying drones that Moscow uses in attacks in Ukraine on power plants and civilian targets.

With reporting by AP and Reuters

Iranian Wrestler Seeks Asylum In Germany After Enduring 'Constant Threats' For Backing Protests

Iranian wrestler Mohammad Namjoomotlagh is the latest athlete to seek refuge in the West after failing afoul of the clerical establishment.

Wrestler Mohammad Namjoo-Motlagh has represented Iran on the local and international stage, where he won medals for his homeland.

But the 26-year-old is now seeking asylum in Germany after being threatened by the Iranian authorities over his support for the ongoing anti-regime protests that have rocked the Islamic republic.

The authorities have waged a brutal crackdown on the nationwide demonstrations that erupted in September, the biggest threat to the Islamic regime in years, killing hundreds of people and arresting thousands of others.

Namjoo-Motlagh, who did not reveal how he left Iran and traveled to Europe, is the latest athlete to seek refuge in the West after failing afoul of the clerical establishment.

In an interview with RFE/RL's Radio Farda, Namjoo-Motlagh said he faced "constant threats and psychological pressure" from the Iran Wrestling Federation and other state bodies.

"It was clear where this was going," said Namjoo-Motlagh, who is believed to have posted social-media posts that were critical of the authorities and supportive of the protests. "I would either lose my life or they would blind me, or in the best-case scenario, I would be sent to prison."

The antiestablishment protests have attracted support from all corners of Iranian society, including athletes. Several well-known athletes and sports figures, including soccer legend Ali Daei, have been summoned or arrested in recent months by the police after showing support for the demonstrations.

Some Iranian athletes who have participated in international events have failed to return to their homeland and sought asylum in the West.

That includes Sara Khadem, a top female Iranian chess player who competed without a head scarf at an international tournament in Kazakhstan in December, in an apparent gesture of solidarity with the anti-regime protests. Khadem refused to return to Iran for fear of retribution and moved to Spain with her husband.

The Islamic head scarf, or hijab, is mandatory in Iran. Women who travel outside the country are also expected to observe it.

In October, Elnaz Rekabi, Iran's female rock-climbing champion, competed in the Asian Championships in South Korea without a head scarf, in apparent support for the protests.

Rekabi's supporters had expressed concerns about her safety after she returned to Iran in November. Weeks later, her family said police officers had destroyed their home. Her family was also reportedly fined.

Namjoo-Motlagh told Radio Farda that while some Iranian athletes had spoken up, many have remained silent in fear over their safety.

"It was extremely sad to see that members of the national wrestling team, soccer team, and others were condemned to silence for fear for their lives and the lives of their families," said the lightweight wrestler.

Namjoo-Motlagh said Iranian athletes who "stand on the side of the truth" will end up like 27-year-old wrestler Navid Afkari, who was hanged in 2020 after being controversially convicted of killing a government employee during mass anti-government protests in 2018.

Afkari maintained that his confession was obtained through torture and his death sparked an international outcry.

Namjoo-Motlagh said he hopes to stand up to Iran's clerical regime and fight for his compatriots from self-imposed exile.

"I will remain their voice until Iran is freed from oppression," he said.

Iranians Use End Of 40-Day Mourning Period To Protest Against Government

The end of the traditional 40-day mourning period following a protester's death has been turned into a stage for anti-government demonstrations.

Iranians continue to gather at the graves of those who have been killed by security forces in ongoing nationwide protests that have rocked the country since the death of a woman in police custody, calling for regime change despite a brutal crackdown on dissent by the authorities.

Since Mahsa Amini's death, Iranians have flooded into the streets across the country to protest against a lack of rights, with women and schoolgirls making unprecedented shows of support in the biggest threat to the Islamic government since the 1979 revolution.

In response, the authorities have launched a brutal crackdown on dissent, detaining thousands and handing down stiff sentences, including the death penalty, to protesters.

In recent weeks, protesters have turned the end of the traditional 40-day mourning period following a protester's death into a stage for anti-government demonstrations.

Videos published on social media on January 26 showed crowds at the grave of Hamidreza Rouhi, a university student who had a modeling career since childhood and was shot dead during a demonstration in the Iranian capital, Tehran, on November 18.

They chanted "Death to the dictator!," a reference to Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, as they gathered to honor Rouhi.

In the western city of Khorramabad, people flocked to the cemetery where Nika Shakrami -- a 16-year-old killed after participating in anti-government protests in Tehran on September 20 -- was buried.

Similar scenes were repeated in the central city of Arak, where Mehrshad Shahidinejad was buried. Shahidinejad was a 19-year-old aspiring chef who was reportedly killed after being arrested during a protest.

Reports also indicate that a group of people and family members of Mohammad Mehdi Karami visited a cemetery in the city of Eshtehard to lay flowers at the graves of Karami and another protester, Mohammad Hosseini.

The were hanged in prison on January 7 following threats by Iranian authorities of harsher penalties to those who participate in the unrest.

The activist HRANA news agency said that as of January 15, at least 522 people had been killed during the unrest, including 70 minors, as security forces muzzle dissent.

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

Two Iranian Professors Dismissed After Supporting Student Protests

Anger over Amini's death on September 16 has prompted thousands of Iranians to take to the streets to demand more freedoms and women's rights.

Two Iranian university professors have been fired from their jobs following their support of students in nationwide protests over the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini while in police custody.

The Hakim Sabzevari University Students Union Council announced on January 26 that Hassan Bagherinia, a member of the psychology faculty, had been suspended.

In a letter to the president of the university, the council described Bagherinia's suspension as unfair and said that "in these days when the truth is clouded, he has not remained silent and has always supported the people."

Meanwhile, the Union Council of Iranian Students announced that Amir Nikpey, a professor of sociology and anthropology at Beheshti University, had also been dismissed.

According to the council, Nikpey is the fourth professor to be fired from Beheshti University after Negar Zilabi from the faculty of theology, Mohammad Ragheb from the faculty of literature, and Eslam Nazemi from the faculty of computer engineering.

Anger over Amini's death on September 16 has prompted thousands of Iranians to take to the streets to demand more freedoms and women's rights.

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

In most of the protests, students have asked the professors to support them, and some university professors and lecturers have expressed solidarity with the protesters.

In a rare act of protest, Encieh Erfani resigned from her post at the Institute of Advanced Studies in Basic Sciences, which is located in the northwestern city of Zanjan.

"Student protesters were chanting, 'the streets are soaked with blood, our professors are silent,'" she told RFE/RL's Radio Farda. "So I submitted my resignation."

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

Over the years, the authorities have arrested student activists and leaders, sentencing them to prison and banning them from studying.

The activist HRANA news agency said that as of January 26 at least 700 university students had been arrested during the recent unrest.

Many have faced sentences such as imprisonment, flogging, and dozens of students have been expelled from universities or suspended from their studies, as security forces try to stifle widespread dissent.

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

One Person Shot Dead At Azerbaijan's Embassy In Iran; Baku Evacuates Staff

One person was killed and two others were wounded when an attacker opened fire on a guard post outside Azerbaijan's embassy in Tehran on January 27.

One security official has been shot dead and two guards wounded when an attacker armed with a Kalashnikov-style automatic rifle stormed Azerbaijan's embassy in Iran's capital, Tehran.

Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev called the January 27 assault "an act of terrorism" and Baku quickly announced it was evacuating the embassy while blaming Iran for the incident.

"The attacker broke through the guard post, killing the head of security with a Kalashnikov assault rifle," Azerbaijan's Foreign Ministry said.

Iranian state TV quoted Tehran Police Chief Hossein Rahimi as saying the attacker was arrested and that he had "personal and family problems."

Rahimi said the attacker entered the embassy with two children. However, surveillance footage from inside the embassy released in Azerbaijan appeared to show the shooter entering the building alone. The footage bore a timestamp matching the Azerbaijan Foreign Ministry's statement.

Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesman, Nasser Kanaani, said Tehran strongly condemned the attack, which was under investigation with "high priority and sensitivity."

Iran and Azerbaijan have a common border. Relations between the two countries have been tense amid the conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia over the Nagorno-Karabakh region.

"I fiercely condemn the terrorist attack perpetrated against our embassy in Tehran today," Aliyev said on Twitter.

"We demand that this terrorist act be swiftly investigated and the terrorist be punished.... Terror against diplomatic missions is unacceptable!"

Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry spokesman Ayxan Hacizada told local media that "all responsibility for the attack lies with Iran" as a recent anti-Azerbaijani campaign in Iranian media had "emboldened the attack."

"Unfortunately, the latest bloody terrorist act demonstrates the serious consequences of the failure to give the necessary attention to our constant appeals in this regard," Azerbaijan's Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

With reporting by Reuters, AFP, and AP

Self-Exiled Brother Of Senior Iranian Official Says Only 'Regime's Overthrow' Will Bring Justice

Meghdad Jebeli is a younger brother of the head of Iranian state TV, Peyman Jebeli.

In early 2020, lawyer Meghdad Jebelli took the drastic decision to leave Iran and seek asylum in the West.

Jebelli, whose elder brother is a key figure in the clerical regime, left his homeland just weeks after Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) shot down a Ukrainian passenger plane over the capital, Tehran.

All 176 people on board, mostly Iranians and Canadians, were killed after the Kyiv-bound plane was hit by surface-to-air missiles on January 8, 2020. Among them was Jebelli’s nephew, a 29-year-old medical student.

After three days of denials and amid growing international pressure, the IRGC admitted to shooting down the plane “unintentionally” after misidentifying it as a threat amid heightened tensions with the United States. Tehran's delayed claim of responsibility for the shootdown sparked angry protests in Iran and increased distrust in the clerical regime.

The incident did not affect the loyalty of Jebelli’s eldest brother, Peyman Jebelli, the head of the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB), the state-run entity that runs all radio and TV broadcasting in the Islamic republic.

But for 39-year-old Meghdad Jebelli and his 43-year-old brother, Meisam, the tragedy was a turning point. The two siblings soon went into self-imposed exile in Canada.

The brothers have become critics of Iran’s clerical establishment and members of the Canada-based Association of Victims’ Families of Flight PS752 that is seeking justice for the victims of the tragedy.

In an interview with RFE/RL’s Radio Farda, Jebelli said cracks within his family emerged soon after he expressed his suspicions over the authorities’ initial denial.

“Within the first couple of days, due to the videos that emerged, it was evident to us that the plane had been hit. We said it. I remember we had fights and arguments [with my family members] during those days,” he said.

“They reacted harshly and said that we were being fooled by the [foreign] media,” he said, adding that his relatives took “the position of the establishment.”

'Tense Atmosphere'

In response, Jebelli accused his family members of “ignoring” what he described as the “murder” of his nephew.

“They [said] it’s a war after all and it is possible that someone gets [killed]. With such justifications, they were ignoring the murder of their own child,” he said.

Days before the tragedy, a U.S. drone strike had killed IRGC commander General Qasem Soleimani in neighboring Iraq. Hours before the Ukrainian plane was shot down, Iran had launched missile strikes on U.S. bases in Iraq to avenge Soleimani’s killing, and Tehran's air defenses were on high-alert in case of a U.S. retaliation, which never came.

Iranian officials later said several people had been detained and charged over the "disastrous mistake." No senior officials were dismissed and none resigned over the incident.

Jebelli said he "couldn't take it any longer" and decided to leave his homeland.

“I was married, and my life was separate [from my family]. Meisam used to sleep [at my parent’s home] at night but he changed his place of residence,” he said, adding that they left the country weeks later.

Even before the downing of the Ukrainian passenger plane, Jebelli said he had clashed with members of his family over their political differences. He said he participated in the mass street protests following the 2009 disputed presidential election despite opposition from his family.

“My mother found out about it, and it led to a tense atmosphere at home,” he recalled.

'Do Not Think You Are Safe'

Jebelli said he has returned twice to Iran since moving to Canada. During his second trip, he said, he was threatened over the phone by an individual who introduced himself as a friend of his brother, Peyman Jebelli.

He said the individual questioned him about his life in Canada and his visits to Iran.

“At the end, he said very seriously, ‘I am now telling you in a friendly way, watch your behavior, watch what you are doing. Do not think that you are safe [because] you are not in Iran,’” he said.

Jebelli said the individual reminded him of the fate of Iranian journalist Ruhollah Zam, the manager of the popular opposition Telegram channel Amad news who was executed by Iran in 2020 after being convicted of "corruption on Earth," a charge often leveled in cases involving espionage or attempts to overthrow the regime.

Zam had been living and working in exile in France before being arrested in 2019 under still unclear circumstances. According to media reports, the dissident was allegedly lured to Iraq by Iranian agents.

Jebelli said the phone call removed any doubts he had about his decision to move to Canada. “I became assured that I didn’t belong in Iran anymore,” he said.

Jebelli said he and his younger brother, Meisam, are not just seeking justice for those killed in the 2020 downing of the Ukrainian plane.

“I have always said that real justice will only be achieved when the perpetrators of the crimes of the past 44 years are punished," he said, referring to the clerics who came to power following the 1979 Islamic Revolution. “This can only happen with the overthrow of the Islamic regime.”

Peyman Jebelli has downplayed his brothers’ decision to leave Iran.

“Similar incidents have happened in the past,” he was quoted as saying by Iranian media. His comments came soon after TIME magazine interviewed Meisam Jebelli, who accused his elder sibling of being “in charge of the regime’s biggest propaganda machine” and lying “to my face.”

Peyman Jebelli (file photo)
Peyman Jebelli (file photo)

“I saw his comments,” Peyman Jebelli said. “I’m not sure to what extent it was of his own free will, but these incidents are not new.”

Peyman Jebelli was directly appointed by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and is accountable to nobody but him. IRIB has come under criticism from rights activists and dissidents and has been accused of airing forced confessions and carrying political and religious propaganda.

Meghdad Jebelli said many Iranian families have become divided as more people turn against the regime.

Iran has been rocked by nationwide antiestablishment protests since the death of a woman soon after she was arrested by Iran’s morality police. The ongoing demonstrations are the biggest threat to the regime in years.

“In many families, children and young people participate in protests while telling their parents that they’re going to a party,” Jebelli said.

Written by Golnaz Esfandiari based on an interview conducted by Babak Ghafooriazar.

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