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Coronavirus Conspiracy? Iranian Commander Suggests Virus Might Be U.S. Biological Weapon

IRGC commander Hossein Salami says Iran "is engaged in a biological battle." (file photo)
IRGC commander Hossein Salami says Iran "is engaged in a biological battle." (file photo)

A top Iranian military official is spreading a conspiracy theory regarding the coronavirus amid an outbreak in the Islamic republic that has killed more than 100 people, including an adviser to Iran's supreme leader, and infected more than 3,500, according to official figures.

Hossein Salami, the commander of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), suggested on March 5 that the coronavirus might be an American biological weapon -- contradicting experts who say there's no evidence it could be man-made.

"Today, the country is engaged in a biological battle," Salami was quoted as saying by the semiofficial ISNA news agency. "We will prevail in the fight against this virus, which might be the product of an American biological [attack], which first spread in China and then to the rest of the world," he said, adding that "America should know that if it has done so, it will return to itself."

He provided no evidence to back his unfounded claim.

Salami also said that Iran will contain the coronavirus outbreak "even if it's not America's work."

Last month, U.S. officials said Russian-linked social-media accounts were making unfounded claims that Washington was behind the outbreak.

The United States is among the more than 80 countries affected by the coronavirus outbreak, which has infected more than 95,000 people worldwide. Eleven have died in the United States so far and more than 200 have tested positive as of March 5.

The outbreak has led to the spread of conspiracy theories on social media and news sites, including claims that the virus originated in a lab linked to China's biowarfare program.

Experts have said repeatedly that there is no indication that the coronavirus could be man-made. "Based on the virus genome and properties there is no indication whatsoever that it was an engineered virus," Richard Ebright, a professor of chemical biology at Rutgers University, told The Washington Post on January 29.

Iran Hit Hard

Salami's remarks come amid warnings by Iranian officials against those spreading rumors and fake stories about the outbreak in Iran.

The head of Iran's cyberpolice, Commander Vahid Majid, said on March 5 that 121 people had been summoned for spreading rumors about the coronavirus. He said 190 others had been warned over the phone and told to remove content from social-media pages.

"Dealing with those spreading rumors and those publishing fake news is currently one of the most important missions of the cyberpolice," Majid said.

Iran and Italy have the highest death tolls from coronavirus outside of China, where the virus emerged in December.

Iranian Health-Care Workers Risk Their Lives, Lift Spirits
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The coronavirus currently has a fatality rate of about 3.4 percent, with the elderly and those with underlying health problems dying far more frequently after contracting the virus.

Massud Pezeshkian, a lawmaker and former Iranian health minister, suggested earlier this week that the outbreak in Iran was far more widespread than the government acknowledges, saying many infected citizens had not been identified.

Vice President Masumeh Ebtekar, Deputy Health Minister Iraj Harirchi, and more than 20 parliament deputies are among those who have tested positive in the country.

Mohammad Mirmohammadi, an adviser to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khameni, has died from the disease.

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Canada Adds Iran's Revolutionary Guards To Its List Of Terrorist Groups

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at a memorial service to remember the victims of a Ukrainian airliner shot down in Iran in 2020.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at a memorial service to remember the victims of a Ukrainian airliner shot down in Iran in 2020.

Canada has listed Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) as a terrorist entity and advised any Canadians in Iran to leave the country.

Public Safety Minister Dominic LeBlanc made the announcement on June 19 at a news conference in Ottawa, saying the decision to declare the IRGC as a terrorist organization is based on "very strong and convincing evidence."

LeBlanc told reporters that Canada "uses all possible means to fight the terrorist acts of the IRGC."

Foreign Minister Melanie Joly noted at the same news conference that Ottawa broke off diplomatic ties with Tehran several years ago. She urged Canadians against travel to Iran and said those in the country now should "come back home."

The designation of the IRGC as a terrorist group has long been sought by Iranian expats and relatives of those killed on a flight brought down in January 2020 by Iranian forces shortly after takeoff from Tehran, killing all 176 passengers and crew, about half of them Canadians.

The Association of Families of Ukrainian Flight PS752 said in a statement on June 19 that it was grateful to the government for making the designation and to "all political parties, activists, and individuals who contributed to this achievement."

The statement added that that the association is "also grateful to the brave people of Iran who have stood up against this oppressive organization and have continuously supported the families of the victims."

The association also said it continues to insist on its other demands, including pursuing the case of the downed flight in the International Court of Justice and before other international courts.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's government had been reluctant to designate the IRGC as a terrorist organization over concern that listing it as such would have unintended consequences that could inadvertently impact Iranians in Canada opposed to the regime.

Trudeau signaled the move earlier this year at a memorial service for the victims of the downed plane, saying that his government was looking for ways to add the IRGC to the list of terrorist organizations.

"We know there is more to do to hold the regime to account and we will continue our work, including continuing to look for ways to responsibly list the IRGC as a terrorist organization," Trudeau said on January 8.

Once a group is placed on Canada's terrorism list, police can charge anyone who financially or materially supports the group and banks can freeze assets.

Ottawa has previously listed the Quds Force, a branch of the IRGC, as a terrorist entity, and in 2022 permanently denied entry to more than 10,000 Iranian officials, including members of the IRGC.

Ottawa severed diplomatic relations with Tehran in 2012.

With reporting by AFP

Activists Condemn Iran-Sweden Prisoner Swap Of Convicted War Criminal Nouri

Hamid Nouri (file photo)
Hamid Nouri (file photo)

International human rights groups and activists have strongly condemned a prisoner exchange between Sweden and Iran that involved Hamid Nouri, a former Iranian prison official convicted in the Nordic country of crimes against humanity.

Nouri, who was exchanged on June 15 for Swedish nationals Johan Floderus and Saeid Azizi, returned to Iran using his alias "Hamid Abbasi," a name linked to the executions of political prisoners in 1988.

Upon his arrival in Tehran, Nouri was met with a mixed reception, a reflection on his controversial past and the contentious nature of the swap.

Floderus is a Swedish EU diplomat held in captivity for two years in Iran on espionage charges that he, the EU, and Stockholm said were fabricated. Azizi was arrested in Iran last November on what Sweden has called "wrongful grounds."

"The Swedish government has thrown dirt into the face of justice in the world by handing over a 'criminal' to the Islamic republic," said Iranian lawyer and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi, noting Nouri's conviction for gross violations of international humanitarian laws.

"This disgrace and scandal will never be forgotten," Ebadi added.

Swedish prosecutors originally detained Nouri in 2019, basing their case on the principle of universal jurisdiction, which allows for the prosecution of severe crimes irrespective of location.

After a detailed and lengthy trial, Nouri was sentenced in May 2022 to life imprisonment for his role in the massacre of political prisoners during the summer of 1988.

Iran has arrested dozens of foreign and dual nationals in recent years on espionage charges that they and their governments say are groundless. Critics say Tehran uses such arbitrary detentions as part of hostage diplomacy to extract concessions from Western countries, which Tehran denies.

"The Islamic republic will take more innocent foreign and dual nationals hostage, repress people at home, and terrorize those abroad," actress and activist Nazanin Boniadi said.

"The international community needs a new approach. One that deters, not appeases the regime."

Esmat Vatanparast, who lost 11 members of her extended family during the 1988 mass executions -- including her two daughters and three brothers -- told RFE/RL's Radio Farda that "my heart broke today, tears came to my eyes, but I remain hopeful for the people of Iran" after hearing of the exchange.

The exchange was also criticized for failing to include Ahmadreza Djalali, an Iranian-Swedish researcher who has been imprisoned in Iran since 2016.

Vida Mehrannia, Djalali's wife, expressed her dismay, announcing plans to protest in front of the Swedish Foreign Ministry against the exchange, which she labeled "shameful."

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

Iran Rebukes G7 For Statement On Nuclear Program Escalation

An Iranian underground nuclear site (file photo)
An Iranian underground nuclear site (file photo)

Iran called upon the Group of Seven (G7) on June 16 to distance itself from "destructive policies of the past," Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Nasser Kanaani said, referring to a G7 statement condemning Iran's recent nuclear program escalation. On June 14, the G7 warned Iran against advancing its nuclear enrichment program and said it would be ready to enforce new measures if Tehran were to transfer ballistic missiles to Russia. "Any attempt to link the war in Ukraine to the bilateral cooperation between Iran and Russia is an act with only biased political goals," Kanaani said.

Updated

Former Iranian Prison Official, Swedish EU Diplomat Released In Prisoner Exchange

Hamid Nouri was convicted by a Swedish court of human rights violations in Iran against political prisoners. (file photo)
Hamid Nouri was convicted by a Swedish court of human rights violations in Iran against political prisoners. (file photo)

A former Iranian prison official who was sentenced to life in a Swedish prison for crimes committed during the mass execution of political prisoners in 1988 was released by Sweden, officials said, in a prisoner swap that also saw Tehran release an EU diplomat.

A third man, a dual Iranian-Swedish citizen, was also released as part of the June 15 deal, which was hailed as a breakthrough in long-strained relations between Tehran and Stockholm.

Hamid Nouri was arrested at a Stockholm airport in 2019 and was charged with the mass execution and torture of political prisoners at Iran's notorious Gohardasht prison. The killings targeted members of a political-militant organization known as the MKO that advocated the overthrow of Iran's clerical regime.

Sweden's prime minister, Ulf Kristersson, meanwhile, said in a video posted to social media that Johan Floderus and Saeed Azizi were en route to Sweden "and will soon be reunited with their families."

All three returned to their countries on June 15.

The exact conditions or circumstances of the swap were not immediately clear, although it appeared to have been negotiated with the help of the Gulf state of Oman, according to a statement published by the Oman state news agency.

Floderus, a Swedish national, had been visiting Iran in the spring of 2022 on a private trip. He was detained at Tehran airport on April 17, 2022, as he prepared to leave the country. He was later accused by Iranian prosecutors of espionage.

He had been employed as a diplomat with the EU's External Action Service, the bloc's foreign policy arm.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell hailed the release of Floderus and Azizi, adding that the bloc "will continue to work" to secure the release of other EU citizens "arbitrarily detained in Iran."

Azizi, a dual Swedish-Iranian national, was taken into custody on November 12, 2023, at his residence in Tehran shortly after arriving from Sweden. He was convicted of "colluding to act against national security" and sentenced to five years in prison.

Azizi’s lawyer, Reza Shefakhah, wrote on X that neither he nor his client's family had been made aware of the prisoner exchange.

At least three other Swedish citizens are currently held in Iran.

Amnesty International welcomed the release of Floderus and Azizi but questioned why Ahmadreza Djalali, an Iranian-Swedish doctor and academic who is sentenced to death in Iran, was not among the prisoners released.

"The circumstances confirm our earlier fears that Iran is holding Swedish citizens hostage to use in a prisoner swap," the rights group said in a statement posted to X.

Djalali was detained in 2016 and subsequently sentenced to death for allegedly spying for Israel -- a charge that his family denies.

Simon Kasper Brown and Stephen Kevin Gilbert, who were detained in 2021 and later convicted of drug trafficking, receiving eight and five years in prison, respectively.

Other Europeans held in Iran include French citizens Cecile Kohler and her partner, Jacques Paris, as well as a man identified only by his first name Olivier. Kohler and Paris are accused of spying, but no details have been released about Olivier's case.

The Islamic republic is also holding German-Iranian Nahid Taqavi, who was sentenced to more than 10 years in prison, and Jamshid Sharmahd, a German citizen of Iranian descent sentenced to death.

An unnamed Austrian national was sentenced to 7 1/2 years in jail in Iran last year for spying, according to Vienna.

With reporting by AFP

Iran Installing, Starting Cascades Of Advanced Centrifuges, Says UN Watchdog

A student looks at Iran's domestically built centrifuges in an exhibition of the country's nuclear achievements in Tehran in February 2023.
A student looks at Iran's domestically built centrifuges in an exhibition of the country's nuclear achievements in Tehran in February 2023.

The UN nuclear watchdog said Iran has started up new cascades of advanced centrifuges and planned to install others in the coming weeks. The June 14 report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) was met with strong criticism by the United States and other Western nations. "We remain committed to a diplomatic solution preventing Iran from developing a nuclear weapon," the French Foreign Ministry said in a statement cosigned by Germany and Britain. The IAEA said its inspectors verified that Iran had begun feeding uranium into three cascades of advanced centrifuges at its Natanz enrichment facility. Its report, however, did not include any suggestion Iran planned to go to higher enrichment levels.

The Azadi Briefing: Thousands Of Afghans Deported From Pakistan And Iran Each Week

Afghan refugees at a registration center after arriving from Pakistan in the Takhta Pul district of Kandahar Province on May 22
Afghan refugees at a registration center after arriving from Pakistan in the Takhta Pul district of Kandahar Province on May 22

Welcome to The Azadi Briefing, an RFE/RL newsletter that unpacks the key issues in Afghanistan. To subscribe, click here.

I'm Abubakar Siddique, senior correspondent at RFE/RL's Radio Azadi. Here's what I've been tracking and what I'm keeping an eye on in the days ahead.

The Key Issue

Pakistan and Iran are continuing to deport thousands of Afghan refugees and migrants each week, despite warnings from rights groups and aid organizations.

The Taliban government said over 400,000 Afghans have been expelled from the two neighboring countries since the start of the year.

Qari Yusuf Ahmadi, a Taliban official, said around 75 percent of the returnees were expelled from Pakistan.

Over 1 million Afghans have been deported from Pakistan and Iran during the past year.

Why It's Important: Rights groups and aid organizations have warned that the mass deportation drives will worsen the already devastating humanitarian situation in Afghanistan, the world’s largest.

The Taliban government, which remains unrecognized and sanctioned by the international community, appears unable to absorb the returning refugees or address the humanitarian needs of Afghans.

Aid agencies operating in Afghanistan have called for more international funding to address the needs of the returnees, who lack shelter, warm clothes, and food. Many of the returnees are homeless.

"There is no work and food is expensive," Kamran, an Afghan who was recently deported from Pakistan, told RFE/RL’s Radio Azadi. He said he is living in a tent because he cannot afford to rent a house.

"After returning from Iran, I have been living in Kabul for about two to three months,” said Fazaluddin, an Afghan who was recently expelled from Iran. “Life is very difficult here. There were many problems in Iran, but at least I could get a bite to eat."

What's Next: Pakistan and Iran, both of which are not signatories to UN conventions on refugees, appear likely to continue their deportation drives.

In March, Pakistan announced efforts to expand and expedite its plans to deport Afghans from April 15.

Iran, meanwhile, has repeatedly vowed to expel all undocumented Afghans from the country.

What To Keep An Eye On

Child labor is rising under Taliban rule in Afghanistan, where a humanitarian and economic crisis as well as the Taliban restrictions on female employment have led to more children working.

Around 19 percent of children in Afghanistan are working, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said on June 12.

Among them is 11-year-old Ahmad, whose mother lost her job as a state employee after the Taliban takeover.

"I’m the only breadwinner after my father died," Ahmad, who works for up to eight hours each day after attending school, told Radio Azadi.

"If parents have jobs, they will never push their children into child labor," said Najibullah Zadran Babrakzai, an Afghan child rights activist.

Why It's Important: The Taliban’s severe restrictions on women, as well as mass unemployment and rising poverty, have forced children as well as the elderly to work to feed their families.

The need to work is likely to deprive thousands of Afghan children from education as many families try to stave off starvation.

That's all from me for now.

Don't forget to send me any questions, comments, or tips that you have. You can always reach us at azadi.english@rferl.org

Until next time,

Abubakar Siddique

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

Iran Detains 1 For Allegedly Insulting Late President Raisi

President Ebrahim Raisi and other top officials were killed in a helicopter crash on May 19.
President Ebrahim Raisi and other top officials were killed in a helicopter crash on May 19.

An unnamed person was arrested on June 13 in Iran’s central city of Qom for allegedly insulting the late President Ebrahim Raisi following his death in a helicopter accident last month. The police accused the individual of “having ties” to the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad and of “collaborating” with foreign-based opposition media. No evidence was provided for the claims. Iranian authorities often accuse critics of working with foreign intelligence agencies and opposition outlets. To read the full story in Persian by RFE/RL’s Radio Farda, click here.

Iranian Dissident Sepehri Sentenced To Further 18 1/2 Years For Comments About Israel

Fatemeh Sepehri (file photo)
Fatemeh Sepehri (file photo)

Fatemeh Sepehri, a prominent critic of Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has been sentenced to an additional 18 1/2 years in prison for "supporting Israel," a thinly veiled reference to her condemnation of an October 7 attack by Hamas -- designated a terrorist organization by the U.S. and EU -- on Israel that killed some 1,200 people, mainly civilians.

Asghar Sepehri, the dissident's brother, told RFE/RL's Radio Farda the Islamic Revolutionary Court of Mashhad convicted Fatemeh Sepehri on multiple counts: seven years for supporting Israel, seven years for conspiring against internal security, three years for insulting the supreme leader, and one year and six months for propaganda activities against the regime.

He said that with the new sentences, Fatemeh Sepehri, who suffers from a heart ailment, now faces a cumulative punishment of 37 1/2 years.

Sepehri was originally arrested in September 2022 as protests erupted across the country over the death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old woman who was taken into custody by the morality police for allegedly violating the country's hijab law and died while in detention.

In an exclusive interview with Radio Farda, Asghar Sepehri denounced the new charges and sentences against his sister as baseless, arguing that her imprisonment invalidated the claims of conspiracy and assembly.

He further noted that the accusation of insulting Khamenei lacks substance, given that her communications are heavily monitored, restricting even basic contact with family.

The crackdown on the Sepehri family extends beyond Fatemeh, as her brothers Mohammad-Hossein and Hossein Sepehri also received prison sentences on similar charges.

Mohammad-Hossein was handed eight years for conspiracy, assembly, and insulting the supreme leader, while Hossein faces a total of two years and 11 months for related offenses.

The Sepehri siblings' previous attorney, Khosrow Alikordi, has also been imprisoned, leading to the appointment of Javad Alikordi as their new legal representative.

However, the court has refused to recognize him, insisting that only attorneys approved by the judiciary are eligible to defend such cases, a condition the Sepehri family has not accepted.

Concerns about Fatemeh Sepehri's health were highlighted by her brother, who told Radio Farda that she was not physically capable of enduring further imprisonment due to multiple health issues.

He called on the authorities to immediately release her.

Fatemeh Sepehri is one of 14 activists in Iran who have publicly called for Khamenei to step down. She has been arrested and interrogated several times in recent years.

Sepehri and the other activists have also called for a new political system within the framework of a new constitution that would secure dignity and equal rights for women.

Criticism of Khamenei, who has the final say on almost every decision in the country, is considered a red line in Iran, and his critics often land in prison, where political prisoners are routinely held in solitary confinement and subjected to various forms of torture.

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

Iranian Cartoonist Sentenced To 6 Years In Prison For Activism

Iranian cartoonist Atena Farghadani
Iranian cartoonist Atena Farghadani

Iranian cartoonist Atena Farghadani has been sentenced to six years in prison by the country's Islamic Revolutionary Court, her attorney said.

Mohammad Moqimi told RFE/RL's Radio Farda that Farghadani received five years for "insulting sacred beliefs" and an additional year for "propaganda" against the Islamic republic for her activism.

The sentences were officially communicated to the artist on June 10 following her conviction by Branch 26 of the Islamic Revolutionary Court, Moqimi said.

He highlighted that the court imposed the harshest penalties available under the charges, citing the number of infractions she was alleged to have committed.

It isn't Farghadani's first encounter with the Iranian justice system.

Last year, she was taken into custody after visiting the Evin prosecutor's office and was detained by security forces.

She has already served 18 months for charges including "assembly and collusion," "propaganda activities against the state," and "insulting the leadership and the president."

Farghadani's latest arrest occurred on April 14, after which Moqimi reported that she was severely beaten, leaving an interrogation with visible injuries on her face.

Refusing to accept the bail set for her detention, which she said was "arbitrary," Farghadani was transferred to Qarchak prison near Tehran, known for its harsh conditions.

An art graduate from Alzahra University, Farghadani was recognized internationally when the Cartoonists Rights Network International awarded her its Courage In Cartooning Award in August 2015.

The sentence is part of a broad campaign of suppression in response to the Women, Life, Freedom protests in 2022, during which many artists and popular cultural activists have been similarly targeted.

Javaid Rehman, the UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran, concluded in a report in March that the actions of the Iranian authorities since the 2022 protests pointed to "the possible commission of international crimes, notably the crimes against humanity of murder, imprisonment, enforced disappearances, torture, rape and sexual violence, and persecution."

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

Iran Frees Imprisoned French Citizen, Macron Says

Louis Arnaud (file photo)
Louis Arnaud (file photo)

Iranian authorities have released a French citizen held since September 2022, French President Emmanuel Macron announced on June 12, urging Tehran to free three other French nationals "without delay." "Louis Arnaud is free. Tomorrow he will be in France after a long incarceration in Iran," Macron said on X, thanking Oman for helping to secure "this happy outcome." Arnaud, a banking consultant, was sentenced last year to five years in jail on national security charges. His arrest in 2022 came as protests roiled Iran over the death in custody of Mahsa Amini in police custody for allegedly violating Iran's strict dress rules. Arnaud's family said he had "kept a distance from the social movements that were starting" at the time and never acted "with political intentions or carelessness."

Iran Commutes Death Sentence Of Sunni Cleric Detained During 2022 Protests

Mohammad Khezrnejad, a Kurdish cleric in Iran, had his death sentence commuted to prison time.
Mohammad Khezrnejad, a Kurdish cleric in Iran, had his death sentence commuted to prison time.

Iran's judiciary has commuted the death sentence of Sunni cleric Mohammad Khezrnejad to imprisonment after widespread criticism of the punishment both at home and abroad.

Khezrnejad, originally detained during the widespread Women, Life, Freedom protests, was facing execution for charges including "corruption on Earth," "acting against national security," and "propaganda against the system."

It gave no details of the length of time Khezrnejad would spend in prison, but his initial sentence on one of the charges was 15 years.

He was arrested in Bukan, West Azerbaijan Province, two months after the death of Mahsa Amini, whose death in police custody sparked widespread unrest in late 2022.

Khezrnejad's arrest and subsequent sentencing -- the trial was held via video conference with the defendant deprived of legal representation -- drew widespread condemnation, highlighting the Iranian judiciary's harsh stance against dissent.

Nonetheless, the sentence was confirmed by the Supreme Court.

However, on June 11, the Mizan news agency, which is affiliated with Iran's judiciary, announced that following appeals for clemency from several Sunni scholars and expressions of remorse by Khezrnejad, his sentence was reduced.

The report highlighted his pledge of good behavior as a contributing factor to the mitigation of his punishment.

Mizan also said authorities blamed foreign Persian-language media for escalating the situation by falsely linking the case to ethnic and religious issues.

Khezrnejad's case is another example of Iranian authorities blaming "external forces" for internal dissent without giving evidence to back up the claim.

The case had attracted international attention, with human rights groups, including Amnesty International, warning against the execution.

Hundreds of Sunni clerics within Iran had also called on the judiciary for Khezrnejad's release, criticizing the lack of fairness in the judicial proceedings.

Khazrnejad remains incarcerated at Urmia prison, with the judicial process drawing ongoing scrutiny for its handling of cases related to the Women, Life, Freedom protests.

Sunni Muslims make up a majority of the population in Iran’s Kurdistan region and Sistan-Baluchistan Province but account for only about 10 percent of the population in Shi'a-dominated Iran overall.

Since Amini's death in September 2022, 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

Iran's Top Presidential Candidate Called Out After Talking Up Free-Speech Credentials

Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf addresses the media after registering to run in the presidential election in Tehran on June 4.
Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf addresses the media after registering to run in the presidential election in Tehran on June 4.

Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, widely considered the front-runner in Iran's June 28 presidential election, has come under fire after boasting about his free-speech credentials.

During a live television appearance on June 10, Qalibaf claimed that he had protected whistleblowers and journalists in his role as the speaker of parliament.

But reporters quickly called out the 62-year-old conservative politician, who has been embroiled in a series of corruption scandals.

Qalibaf has filed lawsuits against several journalists and media outlets who published critical articles about him in the past. Some of the reporters have landed in jail.

The authorities have waged a brutal crackdown on dissent amid rising anti-government sentiment in recent years, arresting and jailing scores of journalists, activists, filmmakers, and academics.

'You Sued Me'

During his television interview, Qalibaf was asked if he would tolerate criticism if he became president.

Qalibaf responded by pointing out that the parliament, under his speakership, had a law protecting whistleblowers who expose corruption. If elected president, he said, he would enact the legislation.

His comments triggered a torrent of criticism on social media.

Qalibaf in 2021 sued Hadi Heidari, whose cartoon appeared in an article in the reformist Sazandegi newspaper criticizing the parliament speaker.

"It hasn't even been four years since you sued me," Heidari said in a June 11 post on Instagram. "Thankfully, we're still alive and our historical memory hasn't been wiped out."

Reformist political commentator Ali Qolizadeh on X listed Qalibaf's corruption scandals and said his record "can be summarized in two words: crackdown and corruption."

A former police chief and air-force commander in the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), Qalibaf has publicly boasted of his active role in suppressing student protests in 1999 and 2003, and after the contested presidential election in 2009.

'Went To Prison'

Reporters also highlighted that Yashar Soltani, a prominent whistleblower and investigative journalist, was arrested and jailed after he was sued by Qalibaf.

Soltani was handed a five-year prison sentence in 2019 for writing a series of exposés alleging massive corruption in land deals linked to Qalibaf when he was Tehran mayor.

At the time, the U.S.-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) slammed the "unacceptable" ruling and demanded Soltani's release. He was later released on bail.

In March, Soltani linked Tehran mayor and presidential hopeful Alireza Zakani to a controversial project to build a mosque in a popular park in the Iranian capital.

The authorities arrested Soltani on June 9 to serve a one-year prison sentence in a different case. He was jailed just hours before Qalibaf and Zakani were announced as two of the six candidates approved to run in the presidential election.

Some Iranian journalists linked Soltani's imprisonment to Qalibaf and Zakani's candidacies.

"Yashar Soltani went to prison instead of Qalibaf and Zakani so that their path to [the presidency] is hassle-free," Yaghma Fashkhami, an independent journalist, wrote on X.

Qalibaf and Zakani have not commented on the allegation.

Iran has consistently ranked as one of worst countries in the world for transparency and freedom of expression.

Reporters Without Borders rated Iran 176th out of 180 states in its 2024 free-speech index, describing it as "one of the world's most repressive countries in terms of press freedom."

Unseen Persia: Thousands Of Photographs Leaked From Iranian Archive

An "alchemist at work" in Iran in the late 1800s
An "alchemist at work" in Iran in the late 1800s

A collection of more than 3,000 images showing Iran under the Qajar dynasty (1789-1925) has been leaked online.

The construction of a dam at an unspecified location.
The construction of a dam at an unspecified location.

The photos were recently confirmed to have come from the archive of Tehran’s Golestan Palace.

A “royal stablemaster” demonstrating a game of chess with other men.
A “royal stablemaster” demonstrating a game of chess with other men.

The photographs were taken mostly in the late 1800s and are some of the first photos ever taken of today’s Iran, which was formally known at the time as the Sublime State of Persia.

The construction of Tehran’s Sepahsalar Mosque in the late 1800s
The construction of Tehran’s Sepahsalar Mosque in the late 1800s

The leak of high-resolution images caused a sensation in Iran when they were released in early June in a series of Google Drive folders.

A man probably undergoing a form of natural therapy for joint problems called psammotherapy that was first practiced by ancient Greeks. The traditional treatment of burying patients up to their necks in hot sand is enjoying a revival in some Arab countries today.
A man probably undergoing a form of natural therapy for joint problems called psammotherapy that was first practiced by ancient Greeks. The traditional treatment of burying patients up to their necks in hot sand is enjoying a revival in some Arab countries today.

Some images from the Golestan Palace archives had been released before, such as the above image, which has previously been wrongly described as a thief being "buried alive.

Other images in the leak have never been published before and come without caption information of any kind.

Historian Hamidreza Hosseini told RFE/RL’s Radio Farda that access to the Golestan Palace photos for the general public has previously been so difficult it was "as if they were trying to keep them as far from the public eye as possible.”

The release of the photographs drew a sharp response from Iran’s state media.

One government-linked online news portal criticized the release of the images, saying that “in all countries, publishing a museum’s treasure without permission is criminal in nature.”

A royal encampment near Dastjerd, northern Iran, in August 1894
A royal encampment near Dastjerd, northern Iran, in August 1894

The photographs are sufficiently old that today they are in the public domain, meaning copyright laws no longer apply. Iran is also still not a signatory to the international Berne Convention for the protection of literary and artistic works.

It is unclear what motivated the leaker to release the images online, but the Golestan Palace has been criticized in the past for limiting access to images to its vast photo archives.

Some images among the thousands that were leaked online appear to have been sexually suggestive, or overtly erotic.

All apparently nude photos have been censored with the same multiple layers of physical covering seen in the image above.

A dentist tends to Naser al-Din Shah.
A dentist tends to Naser al-Din Shah.

Several of the photographs feature Naser al-Din Shah, a Qajar king who ruled Iran from 1848 until his assassination in 1896.

"Dwarves" of Naser al-Din Shah's court
"Dwarves" of Naser al-Din Shah's court

Naser al-Din was instrumental in kickstarting what has been called the “golden age” of Iranian photography.

A portrait of Anisodoleh, the wife of Naser al-Din. Given the racy nature of the photo, it was almost certainly taken by the shah himself.
A portrait of Anisodoleh, the wife of Naser al-Din. Given the racy nature of the photo, it was almost certainly taken by the shah himself.

The shah traveled widely in Europe and became an enthusiastic proponent of photography, a technology that was becoming widespread in the West by the mid-1800s.

The captured chief of the Mangurs, a Kurdish tribe of northwest Iran
The captured chief of the Mangurs, a Kurdish tribe of northwest Iran

The shah was a skilled photographer in his own right and is believed to have shot several images included in the leak.

Naser al-Din Shah
Naser al-Din Shah

Many of the photos have the clarity and dreamlike depth of field typical of large-format glass plate cameras, which were the gold standard of the day for image quality.

Some images appear to be intentionally goofy, but the long exposure times of early photographic techniques required statue-like poses.

Several photos were taken outside Iran, possibly by the shah or his photographers on some of his many foreign trips.

Tbilisi in the late 1800s
Tbilisi in the late 1800s

The above image shows central Tbilisi photographed from across the Kura River, looking toward Mtatsminda.

Istanbul in the late 1800s
Istanbul in the late 1800s

After the leak of the images, the Golestan Palace management announced that they would be publishing the photographs themselves imminently.

U.S. Treasury Targets Companies And Vessels Behind Illicit Huthi Shipments

An official with the U.S. Treasury Department said Washington was “committed to disrupting and degrading the Huthis’ ability to engage in attacks.”
An official with the U.S. Treasury Department said Washington was “committed to disrupting and degrading the Huthis’ ability to engage in attacks.”

The United States on June 10 announced sanctions on 10 individuals and vessels that the Treasury Department suspects of aiding Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps-Quds Force (IRGC-QF) and Yemen’s Huthi rebels through illicit oil transport. Among the sanctioned vessels are the Panama-flagged Bella 1 and Janet, which a Treasury Department press release said have supported the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps. Sanctions also again targeted Sa’id al-Jamal, who is suspected of running a shipping network and financing the IRGC-QF, the Huthis, and Syria. Undersecretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Brian Nelson said the U.S. government was “committed to disrupting and degrading the Huthis’ ability to engage in attacks.”

Iran Sets Series Of Debates For Election Campaign, Warns Media On Coverage

The six approved candidates in Iran's upcoming presidential election (clockwise from top right): Saeed Jalili, Amirhossein Ghazizadeh Hashemi, Mostafa Pourmohammadi, Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, Alireza Zakani, Masud Pezeshkian (composite file photo)
The six approved candidates in Iran's upcoming presidential election (clockwise from top right): Saeed Jalili, Amirhossein Ghazizadeh Hashemi, Mostafa Pourmohammadi, Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, Alireza Zakani, Masud Pezeshkian (composite file photo)

Iranian authorities have announced the commencement of the campaign season for upcoming early presidential elections amid a judicial crackdown on media outlets accused of misrepresenting election coverage.

State broadcaster IRIB said electoral debates are scheduled to begin on June 17, with five planned through June 25, three days before voters head to the polls in a snap election, which was called following the death of President Ebrahim Raisi in a helicopter crash last month.

This announcement of the campaign comes amid reports that the Tehran prosecutor's office has taken legal action against two local media outlets, Hashieh News and Bamdadno, on charges of distributing what the judiciary calls "false news" about the elections.

Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejei, the head of Iran's judiciary, warned media and all candidates -- both the group of six who qualified to contest the election, and more than two dozen others whose candidacies were rejected -- of avoiding “actions” that could be “exploited” by foreign entities.

Furthermore, Ejei cautioned various media platforms against engaging in “defamatory speech, spreading lies, or disturbing public opinion,” as they could end up suffering legal consequences.

Last week, the Iranian government issued strict guidelines in which any content deemed to be aimed at discouraging voter turnout or promoting election boycotts, as well as organizing any form of unlicensed protest gatherings, strikes, or sit-ins, is now classified as "criminal."

The rules mimic previous election mandates and carry severe punishments, including the potential for as many as 74 lashes for those found in violation.

In a significant show of political dissent, Ali Larijani, a prominent figure and former speaker of parliament, publicly criticized the Guardians Council's opaque disqualification practices.

Larijani, who was disqualified from the 2021 presidential race allegedly due to his daughter's residence in the United States, penned an open letter expressing his grievances.

The Guardians Council's list of approved candidates notably excludes several key figures from the current and former administrations, paving the way for a predominantly conservative slate of candidates for the upcoming election.

Five of the candidates are considered hard-liners and conservatives. Only one is a reformist candidate.

Observers said the vote is likely to be a straight fight between two hard-liners: parliament speaker Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf and Saeed Jalili, an ultraconservative former chief nuclear negotiator and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's representative on the Supreme National Security Council.

The election comes against a backdrop of widespread public disillusionment, with decreasing voter turnout blamed on allegations of noncompetitive electoral processes.

In recent elections, the authorities severely limited the playing field by disqualifying most moderate and reformist candidates, which may have contributed to the low voter participation seen in recent balloting.

Rights groups have complained of an intensified clampdown on public expressions of discontent since Raisi, Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian and several others died in the helicopter crash in a mountainous region of northwestern Iran on May 19 while returning from an official visit to Azerbaijan.

Iran's 'Highly Engineered' Race For Presidency Dominated By Hard-Liners

Lawmaker Masud Pezeshkian is the only reformist candidate allowed to run in the presidential election. (file photo)
Lawmaker Masud Pezeshkian is the only reformist candidate allowed to run in the presidential election. (file photo)

Iran's hard-liners controlled all levers of powers in the Islamic republic during Ebrahim Raisi's presidency.

Despite Raisi's death in a helicopter crash last month, hard-liners are expected to maintain their dominance as Iranians head to the polls to elect the ultraconservative president's successor.

The powerful Guardians Council on June 9 approved six candidates to run in the June 28 vote. Five of them are hard-liners and conservatives. Only one is a reformist candidate.

"As expected, the Iranian regime is not willing to take any risks in the upcoming election and allow for a scenario that would potentially challenge the unified dominance of the hard-line and conservative camp over the government," said Hamidreza Azizi, a fellow at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs.

Hard-liners have long dominated key bodies whose members are appointed directly by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. In 2020, hard-liners took control of parliament after the mass disqualification of moderate and reformist candidates. Their takeover was completed in 2021, when Raisi ran in what was seen as a one-horse race to become president.

Observers said the upcoming presidential election is likely to be a straight fight between two hard-liners: Parliament speaker Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf and Saeed Jalili, an ultraconservative former chief nuclear negotiator and Khamenei's representative on the Supreme National Security Council.

"This is, once again, a highly engineered election," Azizi said. "What the orchestrators of the election want to have is a managed competition among loyalists."

The other hard-liners vying for the presidency are Tehran Mayor Alireza Zakani; Amir Hossein Qazizadeh Hashemi, a conservative deputy to Raisi; and Mostafa Purmohammadi, a hard-line former interior and justice minister.

The only reformist approved to run in the election was Masud Pezeshkian. The lawmaker and former health minister poses the least danger to the hard-liners, observers said.

Prominent moderates and reformists who had registered to run in the election, including ex-parliament speaker Ali Larijani and former First Vice President Eshaq Jahangiri, were disqualified.

Larijani and Jahangiri had "the potential, at least to some extent, to mobilize the population" and "become a headache for the regime," said Azizi.

The absence of a relatively competitive field of candidates will hurt voter turnout, observers said.

The last three major elections in Iran witnessed record-low turnouts. The official turnout in the March parliamentary elections was around 41 percent, although critics claim the real number was even lower.

Experts have said the declining turnout signifies the growing chasm between the ruling clerics and Iran's young population, many of whom are demanding greater social and political freedoms in the Middle Eastern nation of some 88 million.

"I doubt society is going to return to the ballot box, and I believe the trend of shunning the ballot box will continue," Mohammad Mohebi, a political commentator and former academic based in Iran, told RFE/RL's Radio Farda.

Iranian Rapper, Activist Jailed For Political Performance

Rapper Milad Jalili (right) and Salar Taherafshar, a civil activist (file photo)
Rapper Milad Jalili (right) and Salar Taherafshar, a civil activist (file photo)

Iranian authorities have imprisoned two prominent figures from Tabriz and opened a case against another, a well-known actor and presenter, for their activism.

Milad Jalili, a rapper and singer, and Salar Taherafshar, a civil activist, both from the northwestern city of Tabriz, have been transferred to prison to commence sentences handed down earlier. They were out on bail before being summoned by authorities and subsequently detained and sent to prison.

Jalili, known artistically as "Ilshan," was sentenced to eight months for a performance supporting Azerbaijani political prisoners. Taherafshar faces six months for his role related to the same event.

Both were initially arrested in December 2023 after Jalili's performance and charged with "propaganda against the regime" by the Tabriz Revolutionary Court.

An appellate court in April upheld the conviction of Jalili, who had appealed.

Separately, in Tehran the judiciary charged popular entertainer Hossein Pakdel with "insulting" the late Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani and former President Ebrahim Raisi over a social media post in which Pakdel criticized political leaders using food metaphors.

The post, which mocked the political elite as being transformed into "rubber steaks" and "special diet cutlets." The term "cutlet" has gained a subversive edge in Iranian political discourse since Soleimani’s killing by a U.S. drone strike. It is often used to signify obliteration.

Pakdel, who has enjoyed a long career as a presenter for Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting and has also managed the Tehran auction, has been outspoken in his criticism of a crackdown on human rights.

The charge is part of a broad campaign of suppression in response to the "Women, Life, Freedom" protests in 2022, where many artists and popular cultural activists were similarly targeted.

Following the helicopter crash on May 29 that killed President Raisi, there has been a wave of arrests of social media users for insulting him. Among those arrested was Reza Babarnejad, the brother of Mehdi Babarnejad, a victim of the "Women, Life, Freedom" protests, who was detained on June 1.

Additionally, on June 4, the Kerman provincial judiciary information center announced that 254 people had been given "telephonic warnings and guidance" by the Intelligence Organization of the Revolutionary Guards, and judicial summonses were issued for eight individuals over "insulting" content.

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

Iran Approves Parliament Head, Five Others As Presidential Candidates

Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf (center) is surrounded by a group of lawmakers after being elected as speaker of the parliament in Tehran in May 2020.
Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf (center) is surrounded by a group of lawmakers after being elected as speaker of the parliament in Tehran in May 2020.

Iran's powerful Guardians Council approved the country's conservative parliament speaker and five other candidates to run in a June 28 election called after President Ebrahim Raisi was killed in a helicopter crash last month.

The council on June 9 approved the candidacy of parliament head Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, 62, a former military commander who has been seen as a potential front-runner. In a speech last week, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei seemed to signal his support for Qalibaf, analysts said.

The council also approved the candidacies of reformist lawmaker Masud Pezeshkian; Saeed Jalili, a former nuclear negotiator and Khamenei’s representative on the Supreme National Security Council; Tehran Mayor Alireza Zakani; Amir Hossein Qazizadeh Hashemi, a conservative deputy to Raisi; and Mostafa Purmohammadi, a hard-line former interior and justice minister.

It rejected an application of former President Mahmud Ahmadinejad, a populist who carried out a harsh crackdown on dissent following his disputed reelection in 2009.

The council also rejected the proposed candidacy of Ali Larijani, a former parliament speaker and nuclear negotiator.

On June 7, the government announced strict guidelines for the media during the abbreviated election campaign, barring any content deemed to discourage voter participation or to urge election boycotts. The regulations also criminalize the organizing of unsanctioned protests, strikes, or sit-ins.

The Guardians Council announcement came one day after the main coalition of reformists said it would only participate in the election if one of its proposed candidates were approved to run.

"We must have our own candidate," Azar Mansuri, leader of the Reform Front, told the Fars news agency.

Raisi, Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, and several other officials were killed on May 19 when the helicopter they were travelling in crashed in bad weather in a mountainous area near the country's border with Azerbaijan.

Iran's Reformists Condition Participation In Presidential Vote

Azar Mansuri, a leading reformist politician in Iran
Azar Mansuri, a leading reformist politician in Iran

The main coalition of reformists in Iran on June 8 said it would only participate in this month's presidential election if at least one of its candidates is approved to run, according to the reformist newspaper Etemad. "The Guardians Council cannot nominate a candidate for the reformist movement," the Fars news agency quoted Azar Mansuri, leader of the Reform Front, as saying. "We must have our own candidates." The June 28 presidential election seeks to replace ultraconservative Ebrahim Raisi, who died in a May 19 helicopter crash. The 80 hopefuls who submitted their candidacies will learn on June 13 whether they are approved by the Guardians Council, an unelected body dominated by conservatives that vets candidates for public office.

Iranian Protester's Death Sentence Struck Down By Supreme Court

Mohammad Javad Vafaei Sani was convicted of "corruption on Earth," which carries the death penalty in Iran. (file photo)
Mohammad Javad Vafaei Sani was convicted of "corruption on Earth," which carries the death penalty in Iran. (file photo)

Iran’s Supreme Court has overturned a death sentence handed to Mohammad Javad Vafaei Sani, arrested over his alleged involvement in the 2019 antiestablishment protests.

Babak Paknia, Vafaei Sani’s lawyer, said on June 8 that the Supreme Court had struck down his client’s death sentence “for a second time.” He did not say when the first death sentence had been overturned.

Paknia said the case would now go to a lower court.

Vafaei Sani was arrested in 2020 and convicted of “corruption on Earth” for allegedly “intentionally damaging” government buildings during the protests. “Corruption on Earth” is the most serious charge under Iran’s Islamic penal code and is punishable by death.

Last July, dozens of human rights activists appealed to Volker Turk, the United Nations' high commissioner for human rights, to intervene and help stop Vafaei Sani’s execution.

The unrest in November 2019 was sparked by a sudden rise in fuel prices but quickly turned into nationwide protests against the Islamic republic.

The authorities clamped down on the protests and imposed a weeklong total shutdown of the Internet. According to Amnesty International, at least 321 people were killed by Iranian security forces during the protests.

Last month, Amnesty said Iran had carried out at least 853 executions in 2023 -- a 48 percent rise from the previous year.

Agnes Callamard, the rights group’s chief, said the spike in recorded executions worldwide was “primarily down to Iran,” where she said the ruling establishment sought "to instill fear in the population and tighten their grip on power."

“The Iranian authorities showed complete disregard for human life and ramped up executions for drug-related offenses, further highlighting the discriminatory impact of the death penalty on Iran's most marginalized and impoverished communities," she said.

Iran Sets Restrictive Media Conditions In Run-Up To Presidential Election

Mahmud Ahmadinejad, a hard-line former president of Iran, is running again for the post in an election this month.
Mahmud Ahmadinejad, a hard-line former president of Iran, is running again for the post in an election this month.

The Iranian government has issued strict guidelines for media conduct in the run-up to Iran's presidential election, which was called after the recent death of former President Ebrahim Raisi in a helicopter crash.

According to the newly published regulations, any content deemed to be aimed at discouraging voter turnout or promoting election boycotts, as well as organizing any form of unlicensed protest gatherings, strikes, or sit-ins, is now classified as "criminal."

The rules mimic previous mandates and carry severe punishments, including the potential for as many as 74 lashes, for those found in violation.

The initiative is part of the intense effort by the Iranian government to control the political narrative and suppress dissent amid historically low election enthusiasm due to the widespread disqualifications of candidates and aggressive suppression by authorities of any opposition.

Under Clause 74 of Iran’s presidential election law, all media outlets --including print, broadcast, and online platforms -- are prohibited from publishing anything deemed to be negative content about election candidates or suggesting that any group or individual withdraw from the race.

Violations can lead to severe repercussions, including the temporary shutdown of the offender's media operations and physical punishment for its managers and possibly the authors of such articles.

The guidelines also extend to social media, where the publication of any content deemed as insulting or slanderous against the regime, or that which stirs public discord or spreads false information, is forbidden.

The law specifies that no private complainant is required for the prosecution of these offenses, suggesting a proactive approach by the state in monitoring and regulating election-related discourse.

These developments occur amid a backdrop of increasing control over media and public opinion by the Iranian authorities, who have long used broad and vaguely defined charges to crack down on political activists and civil society.

The recent guidelines also underscore the government's intent to tighten its grip on all forms of expression and ensure a controlled electoral environment, sparking concerns among international observers about the state of freedom of speech and fair electoral practices in Iran.

In recent elections, the authorities severely limited the playing field by disqualifying most moderate and reformist candidates, which may have contributed to the low voter participation seen in recent balloting.

Rights groups have complained of an intensified clampdown on public expressions of discontent since Raisi and Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian and several others died in the helicopter crash in a mountainous region of northwestern Iran in mid-May while returning from an official visit to Azerbaijan.

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

Concerns Grow For Detained Iranian Activist As His Whereabouts Remain Unknown

 Iranian literary editor and activist Hossein Shanbehzadeh (file photo)
Iranian literary editor and activist Hossein Shanbehzadeh (file photo)

The family of Hossein Shanbehzadeh said they do not know where the Iranian literary editor and activist is after security officers arrested him for unknown reasons in the northwestern city of Ardabil.

The case highlights the tightening grip on freedom of expression in Iran by hard-line Islamists.

Shanbehzadeh’s detention on June 4 followed a viral response to a tweet by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in which the activist simply posted a period. The reply garnered more attention than Khamenei’s original tweet, which featured a photo with the Iranian national volleyball team.

In a statement released on June 6, Shanbehzadeh’s family said they were concerned for his well-being amid the severe accusations being leveled against him.

“Our primary concern is for Hossein's health, as we are unaware of the arresting authority and his place of detention," the family said while criticizing Iranian authorities for denying him basic legal rights, such as access to a lawyer and family contact.

The family’s statement came after the prosecutor of Ardabil reported the arrest of a "fugitive and a suspect sought by the Intelligence Ministry" whom it labeled as an "Israeli spy."

While the prosecutor did not directly name Shanbehzadeh, the Tasnim News Agency, which is linked to the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), identified him as the detainee.

Shanbehzadeh, known for his sharp criticism of the Iranian regime, has been a well-known activist in the digital realm. Operating under a pseudonym on social media platform X, he has been a vocal advocate for free expression. He has also edited influential literary works, including Naguib Mahfouz's Heritage And Life With Him.

In 2019, Shanbehzadeh faced imprisonment for "insulting the sanctities and the leader of the Islamic republic" due to his critical comments about Iran’s leadership on social media.

Iran Slams 'Unconstructive' Resolution By Nuclear Watchdog, Vows 'No Retreat'

The 35-nation board of governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency has voted to censure Iran. (file photo)
The 35-nation board of governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency has voted to censure Iran. (file photo)

Iran has criticized a resolution by the board of governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) calling on Tehran to step up its cooperation with the UN nuclear watchdog.

The IAEA’s 35-nation board on June 5 voted 20-2, with 12 abstentions, to adopt the censure resolution tabled by Britain, France, and Germany -- the three Western European nations that are party to the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran and are known as the E3.

In a statement, the Iranian Foreign Ministry said it “strongly condemns” the resolution, which it described as a “political and unconstructive” move.

It added that Tehran is “committed to continue its technical cooperation” with the watchdog under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and the Safeguards Agreement with the IAEA.

Ahead of the vote, Iran had warned that it would respond to the censure resolution.

Behruz Kamalvandi, a spokesman for the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI), said after the adoption of the resolution that Tehran had “started taking steps” in response to the vote. He did not elaborate.

“Past experience should have proved to them [the West] that Iran does not retreat from its inalienable rights in the face of political pressure,” he said.

Nour News, an Iranian outlet affiliated with Ali Shamkhani, senior political adviser to Iran’s supreme leader, warned on June 6 that applying pressure on Tehran would only encourage it to expand its nuclear program.

Meanwhile, the Kayhan newspaper, whose chief editor is appointed by the supreme leader, on June 6 demanded the expulsion of all IAEA inspectors from Iran. It also alleged that the resolution was meant to influence Iran’s upcoming presidential election by forcing voters to elect a government willing to negotiate with the West.

Despite its adoption, the resolution did not receive as many votes in favor as the last two resolutions. A June 2022 resolution was adopted 30-2, while a November 2022 resolution was passed 26-2.

Iran responded to the June 2022 resolution by removing IAEA cameras and monitoring equipment from several nuclear sites. In reaction to the November 2022 censure, Tehran started to enrich uranium to 60 percent purity at a second site, the Fordo plant.

In September 2023, despite there being no resolution against Iran, the Islamic republic moved to bar several experienced UN inspectors from monitoring its equipment.

The new resolution calls on Iran to reinstate the veteran inspectors.

Iran insists that it has been cooperative with the IAEA, but the agency’s director-general, Rafael Grossi, maintains that Tehran has failed to provide “technically credible” explanations for traces of uranium found in two old but undeclared sites.

Damon Golriz, a lecturer at The Hague University of Applied Sciences, told RFE/RL’s Radio Farda that the resolution may be a step by European powers toward “taking a political decision” to trigger a “snapback” of UN Security Council (UNSC) sanctions against Iran.

The “snapback” mechanism is outlined in UNSC Resolution 2231, which enshrined the nuclear deal between Iran and world powers. However, the option to reimpose the sanctions expires in October 2025.

“With the activation of the ‘snapback’ mechanism, we go back to how things were 15 years ago, when six UN resolutions obliged the world to put Iran under pressure,” Golriz said.

Written by Kian Sharifi based on reporting by RFE/RL’s Radio Farda and AP

Iranian Blogger Detained After Posting Only A Period In Response To Ayatollah's Picture

Hossein Shanbehzadeh
Hossein Shanbehzadeh

Hossein Shanbehzadeh, an Iranian literary editor and online activist, has been detained for unknown reasons in the northwestern city of Ardabil.

Family sources said on June 4 that Shanbehzadeh confirmed his detention in a phone call.

The case highlights ongoing tensions in Iran regarding freedom of expression, particularly on social media, and adds to the growing concern over the treatment of intellectuals and activists in the country.

Shanbehzadeh, known for his biting criticism of the authorities, said he wasn't informed of the reason for his detention, but it comes after he posted a simple period in a social media response to a tweet by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei posing with the Iranian national volleyball team.

The response went viral, garnering more likes than the original tweet by Khamenei.

Soon after, Shanbehzadeh's account on X (previously known as Twitter) was inaccessible, with his last post on it authored by someone else, according to his brother Abbas.

It's not the first time Shanbehzadeh has faced legal issues over his online activities.

In 2019, he was sentenced to prison on charges of "insulting the sanctities and the leader of the Islamic republic" for critical comments about Iran's leadership.

His professional work includes editing prominent literary works such as Naguib Mahfouz's Heritage And Life With Him, in addition to being a well-known social media activist.

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

IAEA Calls For Iran To Increase Cooperation, End Ban On Inspectors

IAEA chief Rafael Grossi (center) attends the board of governors meeting at the agency's headquarters in Vienna on June 3.
IAEA chief Rafael Grossi (center) attends the board of governors meeting at the agency's headquarters in Vienna on June 3.

The board of governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on June 5 approved a resolution calling on Iran to step up cooperation with the IAEA and to reconsider its decision to bar the agency's inspectors.

The resolution, proposed by Britain, France, and Germany, passed 20-2 with 12 abstentions, diplomats said. The two no votes were cast by Russia and China.

Iranian state TV said passage of the resolution "was hasty and unwise, and it will undoubtedly have a detrimental impact on the process of diplomatic engagement and constructive cooperation" between Iran and the opposite parties.

The resolution follows another passed 18 months ago that ordered Iran to immediately respond to questions from IAEA inspectors about the origin of uranium particles found at its undeclared sites.

Although the number of sites under inspection has decreased from three to two, the IAEA says that Iran has not yet given the agency a convincing explanation about the origin of these uranium particles.

Britain, France, and Germany said in a statement to the Board of Governors it should have held Iran accountable for its legal obligations long ago.

The statement emphasizes that "Iran must urgently, fully, and unambiguously cooperate with the agency."

Since the approval of the previous resolution, the list of issues faced by the IAEA in Iran has grown, and the new resolution requires Iran to resolve these numerous problems.

At the end of last summer, Tehran barred the participation of many senior IAEA experts in the inspection group, which IAEA Director-General Rafael Grossi said was "disproportionate and unprecedented" and a "serious blow" to the UN nuclear watchdog in carrying out its mission.

The board "calls on Iran to reverse its withdrawal of the designations of several experienced agency inspectors which is essential to fully allow the agency to conduct its verification activities in Iran effectively," the resolution said.

The resolution called the presence of these uranium-enrichment experts in inspections of Iran's nuclear activities "vital."

Grossi traveled to Iran last month hoping to break a deadlock on the probe into the uranium particles, address the issue of the barred inspectors, and expand IAEA monitoring to parts of Iran's nuclear program that were covered under a 2015 deal with major powers.

The deal fell apart after Iran responded to the U.S. withdrawal from the deal in 2018 by abandoning its provisions, including IAEA monitoring of activities such as the production of parts for centrifuges, the machines that enrich uranium.

The agency currently does not know how many Iran has or where they are.

With reporting by Reuters

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