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Iranian Ban On Luxury Imports To Drive Up Prices

Mobile phones and cosmetics are two of the types of goods covered by the ban on imports.
Mobile phones and cosmetics are two of the types of goods covered by the ban on imports.
Iran has frozen the import of some 75 goods it considers "luxury" or "nonessential," ranging from cars and motorcycles to various brands of cosmetics, toilet paper, and gourmet food items in an effort to stop the outflow of foreign currency and protect domestic industries hard hit by Western sanctions.

Crippling U.S. and European sanctions on Iran over its controversial nuclear program have led to a sharp drop in Iran's oil exports, the country's main source of revenue and hard currency.

To counter the sanctions' effects, Iranian officials have said the country needs to switch to a "resistive economy" to wean it off its dependency on oil revenues and increase domestic output.

Iran's national currency has lost some 40 percent of its value and many Iranians have rushed to convert their savings into hard currency and gold.

Industry and Business Ministry official Sasan Khodaei was quoted by the state "Iran" newspaper on November 8 as saying that the reason for the ban was to keep Iran's foreign-currency holdings within its borders.

"Last year the amount of import of luxury goods was about $4 billion. By stopping permits on them there will be a remarkable saving of hard currency," Khodaei said.

Rise In Black-Market Prices

The paper said Industry and Business Minister Mehdi Ghazanfari had estimated that Iranians spend around $12 billion annually on imported luxury goods.

Jamshid Assadi, a Paris-based professor of economy, says that the move comes as Iran is in a state of crisis. He predicts that the ban will increase the price of luxury goods and boost smuggling.

"There will be increased smuggling through the borders and [black-market routes]," Assadi tells RFE/RL's Radio Farda. "As a result, luxury goods will still be available for those who have a lot of money, but at an even higher price."

The list of banned goods includes items that are produced domestically, including hair and face cosmetics, and chocolate and sweets. But many Iranians prefer the better-quality Western versions.

The move is not likely to leave showrooms and store shelves empty, though, because foreign parts will still be allowed to be shipped to local assembly plants, which make things like Peugeot cars, European-brand home appliances, laptops, and mobile phones.

Iranian officials have suggested that the ban on some of the goods is temporary.

Deputy Industry and Business Minister Hamid Safdel, who heads the Iranian trade-promotion agency, said that the ban on goods such as computers and cell phones could be lifted if Iranian industry can't manufacture them.

"These goods are either not being produced inside the country or the amount of domestic production does not cover the demand," Safdel was quoted as saying by Iranian news agencies on November 8.

Last month, Iran banned the export of some 50 items, including wheat, sugar, and aluminum.

With reporting by RFE/RL's Radio Farda and AP

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hundreds were killed and thousands arrested as government forces crushed the demonstrations, one of the biggest challenges to the country's clerical rulers in decades. Raisi defended the bloody crackdown and accused foreign powers and opposition groups of instigating the unrest.

Ali Vaez, director of the Iran Project at the International Crisis Group, said Raisi's presidency has been marked by growing social and political ruptures and deteriorating relations with the West. "His tenure reflects the broader trend of increasingly insulated policymaking at the top of the Iranian system as it consolidates ultraconservative control," he said.

Raisi and Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian (left).
Raisi and Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian (left).

'Butcher Of Tehran'

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

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

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

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

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

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

'Impunity Reigns Supreme'

Raisi succeeded in his second bid for the presidency in 2021 in an election that was widely seen as a one-horse race. Scores of moderate and pro-reformist candidates were barred from running. The vote witnessed the lowest-ever turnout for a presidential election since the Islamic Revolution in 1979.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Iranian President, Foreign Minister Die In Helicopter Crash

The empty chair of President Ebrahim Raisi in the Iranian cabinet after confirmation of his death in a helicopter crash.
The empty chair of President Ebrahim Raisi in the Iranian cabinet after confirmation of his death in a helicopter crash.

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and his companions, including Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, have been found dead at the site of a helicopter crash in northwest Iran.

Iranian state television on May 20 said the helicopter had crashed due to poor weather conditions.

Raisi’s cabinet is holding an emergency meeting, state media said.

Iranian law stipulates that if the president dies, power is transferred to the first vice president. A council consisting of the speaker of parliament, the head of the judiciary, and the first vice president must arrange for a new president to be elected within 50 days.

Mohammad Mokhber
Mohammad Mokhber

The current first vice president of Iran is Mohammad Mokhber.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Updated

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

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

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

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

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

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

Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian (left) sits next to President Ebrahim Raisi.
Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian (left) sits next to President Ebrahim Raisi.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Frantic Search For Crashed Helicopter With Iranian President

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

Iran Releases Footage Of Rescuers Searching For President's Helicopter

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

Updated

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Deadly Floods Ravage Northeastern Iran

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Going Nuclear: Iran's New Rhetorical Deterrence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Real Or Rhetoric?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fatwa Not An Obstacle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Former Iranian President Hassan Rohani
Former Iranian President Hassan Rohani

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

'Dragged Me In'

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

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

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

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

'Tried To Scare Us'

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

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

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

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

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

'Probably Do It Again'

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

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

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

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

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

'Pressure Is Intensifying'

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

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

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

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

Award-Winning Filmmaker Flees Iran After Flogging, Prison Sentence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Iranian Professor, Author Jailed On Multiple Charges

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

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

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

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

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

Iranian Rappers Detained As Government Continues To Squelch Dissent

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Senior Iranian Official Threatens Change In Nuclear Doctrine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Iran Sentences Renowned Filmmaker To Flogging, Prison Sentence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jewish Groups Protest Former Iranian President's Hungary Visit

Former Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad
Former Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad

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

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