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Iran Confirms Appeals Denied Three Jailed Americans, Lebanese

Iranian-American consultant Siamak Namazi (right) is pictured with his father, Baquer Namazi, in an undated photo.

Iran's judiciary has confirmed that an appeals court has upheld 10-year prison sentences for a U.S. citizen, an Iranian-American businessman and his 81-year-old father, and a Lebanese citizen who holds a U.S. Green Card.

Tehran prosecutor Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi identified the four as Princeton University student Xiyue Wang, Iranian-American businessman Siamak Namazi and his elderly father, Baquer, and Lebanese technology expert Nizar Zakka, Iranian media reported.

The Washington-based lawyer of the Namazis, Jared Genser, said in late August that a Tehran appeals court had upheld the convictions days earlier.

The Namazis have been convicted of "collaborating with the hostile American government."

Earlier in August, Princeton University and the wife of Wang, a history doctoral student and U.S. citizen, said they had been informed that the Iranian authorities had upheld his jail term.

Wang was conducting research for his dissertation in Iran last year when he was detained by Iranian authorities and accused of "spying under the cover of research."

His family and the university have denied the charges.

Zakka was detained in September 2015 in Tehran after attending a government-organized conference on entrepreneurship in which he was a panelist.

He was later sentenced to 10 years in 2016 on espionage-related charges dismissed by his lawyer and family.

Wang and the Namazis are among a number of dual nationals held in Iran in what is believed to be a power struggle between the moderates and hard-liners who oppose any opening of the country following the 2015 nuclear deal with the international community on restricting Iran's nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief.

Iran does not recognize dual nationalities.

In July, U.S. President Donald Trump warned that Iran faced "new and serious consequences" unless all "unjustly detained" U.S. citizens were released and returned.

With reporting by AP, Reuters, and ISNA

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Speculation Rises Over Death Of Iranian Ex-Policewoman After Her Release From Custody

Mansureh Sagvand is said to have died of "cardiac and respiratory arrest," although her friends say they doubt the official report.

A former member of Iran's police force who resigned in protest against the suppression of demonstrators, is said to have died under what colleagues say were suspicious circumstances.

Medical officials in the southwestern Iranian province of Ilam confirmed the death of Mansureh Sagvand, a law student from Abadan who had previously resigned from her collaboration with the Law Enforcement Force.

The official news agency IRNA quoted Seydnour Alimoradi, the head of the pre-hospital emergency department of Ilam University, as saying the cause of Sagvand's death was "cardiac and respiratory arrest".

But friends of Sagvand said they doubted the official report.

Issa Baziar, a civil activist from Abadan living abroad, revealed on his Twitter page that Sagvand, died after being released from detention.

Meanwhile, Sagvand herself had reported a death threat on her Instagram account just hours before she perished, writing: "They scare us with death, as if we are alive. Forever and ever, my life is a sacrifice for the homeland. Long live Iran."

This incident follows numerous reports of "suspicious deaths" during recent nationwide protests sparked by the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini while in police custody for a dress-code offense last September.

The Twitter account "Voice of Shahrivar," which covers protest news, noted that Sagvand was formerly a member of the Law Enforcement Force and that she cut off cooperation with this entity during the recent nationwide protests. She had been in custody for a while, it said, without giving a specific time period.

An Instagram account under the name "Mansoreh Sagvand" featured a picture of her in the uniform of women working in the Law Enforcement Force.

"I am Mansureh Sagvand from Lorestan, I used to work in the honorary police of the Law Enforcement Force of Khorramabad. From now on, I will not have any cooperation with the armed forces and I will proudly stay with my compatriots," the caption read.

Following widespread reactions among Iranian social network users regarding the suspicious death of Sagvand, IRNA dismissed the speculation as "baseless" and attributed the rumors to "opposition media."

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

Iran Showcases What It Says Is First Hypersonic Missile

Aerospace forces' chief Amirali Hajizadeh was quoted as saying the missile had a range of 1,400 kilometers and could reach a speed of 15,500 kilometers per hour.

Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) on June 6 unveiled what it said was the first domestically produced hypersonic ballistic missile amid growing concerns in the West over the country's missile program.

The missile, named Fattah, or Conqueror in Persian, is capable of "penetrating through all missile defense systems," the IRGC's aerospace forces said on June 6, without offering evidence for the claim.

The missile was unveiled during a ceremony attended by IRGC commanders and Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, who also chose the name for the new weapon, state media reported.

"We feel today that a deterrent power has been established," Raisi said at the event. "This power is an anchor of lasting security and peace for the regional countries," he said in footage presented by state media.

Aerospace forces' chief Amirali Hajizadeh, was quoted as saying the missile had a rage of 1,400 kilometers and could reach a speed of 15,500 kilometers per hour.

Western military experts say that Iran sometimes give exaggerated figures for the capabilities of its weapons.

Iran has continued to develop ballistic missiles despite U.S. sanctions, arguing that they are for purely defensive and deterrence purposes.

Last month, Iran presented what it said was the fourth generation of its Khorramshahr ballistic missile, called Khaibar, with a range of 2,000 kilometers and a warhead weighing 1,500 kilograms.

Over the past several days, Iran's Ministry of Defense said it was building yet another ballistic missile named "Khyber," which belongs to the Khorramshahr class of ballistic missiles.

In March 2022, Washington imposed sanctions on an Iran-based procurement network of companies for providing assistance to Iran's ballistic-missile program.

Iran's missile program is perceived as a serious threat by Tehran's arch-enemy, Israel, and other U.S.-allied countries in the Persian Gulf region.

With reporting by Reuters and AP

IAEA Chief Calls On Iran To Follow All Nuclear Commitments

IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi attends a news conference during an IAEA board of governors meeting in Vienna on June 5.

Iran has not sufficiently implemented commitments to more transparency regarding its nuclear program, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Rafael Grossi, said in Vienna on June 5. In March, Grossi and the leadership in Tehran had agreed on increased surveillance of nuclear facilities and investigations into formerly secret nuclear sites. Since then only "a fraction of what we envisaged" has been implemented, Grossi said during an IAEA board meeting. The IAEA chief conceded that some surveillance cameras and devices had been installed. "Some progress has been made, but not as much as I had hoped," he said.

In Rare Display Of Defiance, Iranians Dance To Mark Death Of Ruhollah Khomeini

Iranians dance ahead of Nowruz, the Persian New Year, in Tehran on March 14. Dancing, a form of expression often suppressed by the government, has emerged as a symbolic act of civil disobedience.

A wave of public demonstrations has swept across Iran on the anniversary of the death of Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic republic, with Iranians dancing in the streets in a display of defiance of authority amid a crackdown on unrest that has swept the country.

Videos posted online showed many Iranians demonstrating on June 3, the day Khomeni died in 1989, with some showing footage of the burning of the flag, as well as images of Iran's current supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, amid chants of "Death to the dictator" and "Death to Khamenei, curse on Khomeini."

The public demonstrations follow a series of recent protests in Iran. Dancing, a form of expression often suppressed by the government, has emerged as a symbolic act of civil disobedience, challenging the values and rules put in place by the regime.

In recent months, the anger has focused on the mandatory hijab rule, which forces women to cover their heads while in public. Unrest erupted in September 2022 when a young woman in Tehran died while in police custody for an alleged hijab violation.

Since then, thousands of Iranians have taken to the streets to demand more freedoms and women's rights, with the judiciary, backed by lawmakers, responding to the biggest threat to the Islamic government since the 1979 revolution with a brutal crackdown.

Several thousand people have been arrested, including many protesters, as well as journalists, lawyers, activists, digital rights defenders, and others. At least seven protesters have been executed after what rights groups and several Western governments have called "sham" trials.

Several more remain on death row and senior judiciary officials have said they are determined to ensure those convicted and sentenced have their punishments meted out.

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

Iran Won't Be Allowed To Obtain Nukes, Blinken Tells Israeli Lobby Group

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken delivers a statement upon arriving in Tel Aviv on January 30.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on June 5 reiterated the U.S. administration's firm stance that Iran is Israel's top threat and will never be allowed to obtain a nuclear weapon. "If Iran rejects the path of diplomacy, then, as President [Joe] Biden has repeatedly made clear, all options are on the table to ensure that Iran does not obtain nuclear weapons," Blinken told the pro-Israel AIPAC lobby in Washington. Blinken also said Saudi-Israeli normalization is deeply important for Washington. "The United States has a real national-security interest in promoting normalization between Israel and Saudi Arabia," he said.

Iranian Labor Groups Call On ILO To Kick Iran Out Of Organization

The logo of the International Labor Organization

Eight independent labor organizations in Iran have called for the expulsion of the country from the International Labor Organization (ILO) and its session in Switzerland that starts on June 5.

The organizations, including the Organizing Council of Oil Contract Workers' Protests and the Iran Retirees Council, urged representative delegations from countries around the world to kick Iran out of the conference being held in the Swiss city of Geneva, as well as from the ILO, to protest against the suppression of dissent in Iran, especially with regard to workers, teachers, and protesters who have been jailed for speaking out.

The authors of the letter, which includes the names of 22 imprisoned labor activists and 19 imprisoned teachers, criticize the Iranian government's economic policies, saying they have led to widespread poverty and hardship, particularly for workers. They also highlighted "the government-sanctioned killing" of Mahsa Amini last September, which sparked public anger and spurred a movement against poverty, misery, and human rights suppression in Iran.

The letter says workers' and teachers' rights, particularly the right to form independent organizations and the right to hold gatherings and protests, are fundamental rights in any society.

The Iranian government delegation at the annual ILO conference "does not truly represent the workers, teachers, and people of Iran," it says, adding the ILO conference should make the "release of all imprisoned workers, teachers, and social activists and detainees of the movement of 'Women, Life, Freedom' and all political prisoners" and the immediate cancelation of executions in Iran as a "special agenda" for the meeting in Geneva.

The labor organizations have also demanded the "expulsion of the Islamic republic from the ILO and not allowing the delegation of this government to participate in the ILO conference in Geneva."

Iran's economy has been ravaged by U.S. sanctions, leading to a surge of protests in several cities. A report from the Labor Ministry indicated a significant increase in Iran's poverty rate, growing 50 percent in 2021 compared to the previous year.

Unrest has rattled Iran since last summer in response to declining living standards, wage arrears, and a lack of welfare support. Labor law in Iran does not recognize the right of workers to form independent unions.

Adding to the dissent, the death in September of the 22-year-old Amini while in police custody for allegedly wearing a head scarf improperly breathed new life into the demonstrations, which officials across the country have tried to quell with harsh measures, including the death penalty.

The Norway-based Iran Human Rights (IHR) group said on June 1 at least 307 people -- including at least 142 people in May alone -- have been executed in 2023, a 76 percent rise compared with the same period last year.

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

Iran To Reopen Its Embassy In Riyadh In Sign Of Further Thawing Of Relations

Women walk past the Iranian embassy in Riyadh, which will reopen on June 6. (file photo)

Iran will reopen its embassy in Saudi Arabia’s capital on June 6, Iranian sources told the semiofficial Fars news agency, months after Tehran and Riyadh agreed to end years of hostility. In March, Iran and Saudi Arabia agreed to reestablish relations after years of hostility between the regional rivals that had threatened stability and security in the Middle East and helped fuel regional conflicts from Yemen to Syria. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.

U.S. Navy Says Iranian Fast-Attack Boats 'Harassed' Ship In Strait Of Hormuz

The U.S. Navy's guided-missile destroyer USS McFaul was one of two Western vessels that responded to the incident. (file photo)

The U.S. Navy said on June 5 that its sailors and the U.K. Royal Navy came to the aid of a ship in the crucial Strait of Hormuz after Iran's Revolutionary Guards “harassed” it. Three fast-attack vessels with armed troops aboard approached the merchant ship at a close distance in the afternoon on June 4, the U.S. Navy said in a statement. The U.S. Navy's guided-missile destroyer USS McFaul and the Royal Navy's frigate HMS Lancaster responded to the incident, with the Lancaster launching a helicopter. To read the original story by AP, click here.

German Jailed In Iran's Life 'In Danger,' Fellow Prisoner Says

Nahid Taghavi was sentenced to 10 years and eight months in jail in August 2021 after being arrested at her Tehran apartment in October 2020.

The life of a German-Iranian detained in Iran is in danger and she is in such pain she can barely move, a fellow prisoner who is a prominent rights activist said on June 4. Nahid Taghavi, 68, was sentenced to 10 years and eight months in jail in August 2021 after being arrested at her Tehran apartment in October 2020, and is being held in solitary confinement at Tehran's Evin prison. "The life of Nahid Taghavi, a political prisoner, is in danger," her fellow inmate, the prize-winning campaigner Narges Mohammadi, wrote on an Instagram account run by family in France.

Defying Taboos: Beloved Iranian Cleric Rescues Animals

It's rare for a cleric in Iran to attract a large following of adoring young fans on Instagram, but Sayed Mahdi Tabatabaei has done so by rescuing street dogs and cats in defiance of local taboos.

Three Europeans Return Home After Release By Iran In Prisoner Swap

Iranian opposition activists protest with a poster depicting Iranian official Asadollah Assadi in Brussels in October 2018.

Three Europeans returned home on June 3, a day after being released by Iran in a prisoner swap, and Tehran said there was no reason for Europeans to be arrested if they were not "exploited" by foreign security services. The three men -- two with dual Austrian-Iranian nationality and one Dane -- were released on June 2 by Iran in return for Iranian diplomat Asadollah Assadi as part of a swap in which Iran freed Belgian aid worker Olivier Vandecasteele last week, a Belgian government spokesperson said. Assadi was convicted in Belgium in 2021 in connection with a foiled bomb plot in France and sentenced to 20 years in prison. Iran said the charges against him were fabricated. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.

Iran Says To Form Naval Alliance With Persian Gulf States To Ensure Regional Stability

Shahram Irani, commander of the Iranian Navy (file photo)

Iran's navy commander said his country and Saudi Arabia, as well as three other Persian Gulf states, plan to form a naval alliance that will also include India and Pakistan, Iranian media reported on June 3. "The countries of the region have today realized that only cooperation with each other brings security to the area," Iranian naval commander Shahram Irani was quoted as saying. He did not elaborate on the shape of the alliance that he said would be formed soon. Iran has recently been trying to mend its strained ties with several Persian Gulf Arab states. In March, Saudi Arabia and Iran ended seven years of hostility under a China-mediated deal, stressing the need for regional stability and economic cooperation. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.

Iranian Student Beaten Amid Fears That Growing Wave Of Attacks Is Related To Protests

The incident took place at Chamran University in the city of Ahvaz. (file photo)

Security personnel at a university in southwestern Iran appear to have severely assaulted a student, the latest in a series of violent attacks on school campuses amid anti-government protests led by young Iranians angered at the regime's intrusions on their rights.

The incident took place on May 30 at Chamran University in the southwestern Iranian city of Ahvaz, where a video shows several security personnel cornering and severely assaulting a student near the university dormitory.

The Union Council of Iranian Students reported the incident, sharing a video of the attack on June 2.

"According to numerous reports, on May 30, security agents for Chamran University in Ahvaz attacked a male student after a football match, beat him, and then took him away in a car," the council said.

As of June 2, no information has been made available about the condition of the student who was assaulted.

The incident comes days after a a video was released showing a female student being injured when someone pulled a knife on her at Tehran’s Soore University and another on the campus of Kerman University in central Iran where a female student was stabbed.

The Union Council said that in the Kerman University attack, security forces failed to intervene to aid the student, who was rescued instead by other students. The woman who was attacked was seriously injured and is currently in the intensive care unit at a local hospital.

It added that security forces have since tried to "cover up" the incident and "have not accepted any responsibility for it."

Iranian universities have become a hotbed for unrest since the death of Mahsa Amini in Tehran. The 22-year-old died while in police custody for an alleged violation of the country's mandatory head-scarf law.

Police have tried to shift the blame onto Amini's health, but supporters say witnesses saw her being beaten when taken into custody. Her family says she had no history of any medical issues and was in good health.

There have been clashes at universities and schools between protesters and the authorities, prompting security forces to launch a series of raids on education facilities across the country, violently arresting students, especially female students, who have defiantly taken off their head scarves, or hijabs, in protest.

The Union Council blasted campus authorities for pushing security officers to focus on enforcing dress codes "lest a strand of hair disgrace the university," instead of ensuring safety.

Another group, the Student Guild Council, noted that since the student protests started, "increasing the budget, increasing power, and an extensive recruitment for the university’s security office" have become the main focus of school administrators.

Meanwhile, it says there has also been an influx of people, thought to be security agents, "in civilian clothes roaming universities, taking pictures of students, and engaging with them" as officials try to enforce the hijab law.

The situation has prompted some to say these attacks are intentional and a scare tactic being used to intimidate students so they will end their protests.

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

New U.S. Sanctions Take Aim At Company Responsible For Internet Censorship In Iran

The U.S. Treasury Department announced the sanctions on June 2. (file photo)

The United States has issued fresh sanctions targeting Iranian technology company Arvan Cloud, two employees of the company, and an affiliated firm for their roles in helping Tehran censor the Internet in the country, the Treasury Department said.

Arvan Cloud, a web-hosting service and content delivery network, has played a prominent role in the Iranian government’s development of the National Information Network (NIN) infrastructure, a censored version of the Internet under the control of Iranian authorities, the department said in a statement on June 2.

"The Iranian government has regularly used Internet restrictions and the throttling of Internet speeds to suppress dissent, surveil and punish Iranians for exercising their freedom of expression and assembly both online and offline," the statement said.

The department said Iranian authorities have sought to move domestic Internet traffic to the NIN in an effort to mitigate lost economic activity incurred when it imposes Internet restrictions to suppress dissent.

These restrictions have increased amid widespread protests over deteriorating living conditions and other grievances that erupted after the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini last year in police custody for an alleged infraction of the country's mandatory head-scarf law.

Arvan Cloud helped lay the groundwork for the NIN’s integrated cloud network infrastructure and in contracts with the Ministry of Information and Communications Technology, it has “explicitly agreed to provide interception for the government, allowing Iranian authorities to control and censor incoming and outgoing traffic and surveil data on the servers,” the Treasury Department said.

It also said Arvan Cloud has a close relationship with Iran's intelligence services and its executives are either current or former affiliates of Iranian intelligence.

Brian Nelson, the undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, said free and unrestricted access to information is a fundamental right of all peoples, including in Iran.

“The United States is committed to holding accountable those who seek to undermine freedom of expression and suppress dissent, and to call out regimes who deny their citizens this right,” Nelson said in the Treasury's statement.

The individuals designated for sanctions are Pouya Pirhosseinloo and Farhad Fatemi, co-founders of Arvan Cloud. The sanctions also target ArvanCloud Global Technologies LLC, an affiliate based in the United Arab Emirates.

The sanctions freeze any property in U.S. jurisdiction owned by the individuals and entities designated. They also bar U.S. citizens from any dealings with the individuals and entities.

With reporting by Reuters

Security Forces Fire On Protesters In Abdanan Demonstrating Over Student's Death

One human rights website reported that security forces and special units had attacked protesters in Abdanan on June 1.

A group of citizens in the western Iranian city of Abdanan, took to the streets chanting anti-government slogans on June 1 to protest the suspicious death of 21-year-old student Bamshad Suleimankhani. Several protesters were injured when security forces opened fire on them, local sources reported.

Suleimankhani reportedly died earlier this week following his release from prison. Authorities said he had committed suicide.

According to videos shared on social media, protesters chanted slogans such as "Death to Khamenei," a reference to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. They also blocked some streets of Abdanan by setting fires and continued their protest with slogans like " We don't want a child-murdering government.”

The Twitter account "Voice of Shahrivar," which covers protests in Iran, reported hours before the night protests in Abdanan that the seventh-day memorial service for the “government murder" of Bamshad Suleimankhani, who died “after continuous threats by government institutions” was attended by many of the city’s residents.

The human rights website Hengaw reported that security forces and special units had attacked protesters in Abdanan, firing "live ammunition, pellet guns, and tear gas."

Images and videos from the protests appear to show that several demonstrators were injured by the pellet guns of security forces during the protests on June 1. Dozens of security forces and special unit vehicles were reportedly stationed in the main square of Abdanan and various streets of the city in the late hours of June 1. However, reports said protests continued in different neighborhoods of the city.

Issa Baziar, a civil activist from Abdanan who now resides outside the country, said on Twitter on May 28 that Suleimankhani returned home on May 26, “with signs of beating and cigarette burns on his hand, and due to severe injuries, he fell into a coma that night and his death was announced by doctors on May 28."

Baziar said Suleimankhani had received “serious warnings” from security forces. He also said that Suleimankhani’s family have been threatened by authorities and warned not to speak to the media.

Judicial and law enforcement officials in Abdanan in Ilam Province did not provide any explanation about the manner of Suleimankhani's death until the start of a strike by some merchants in the city, the widespread presence of people marking a week since his death, and the beginning of nighttime protests in Abdanan.

Speaking on June 1, Omran Ali Mohammad, the head of the Ilam Province judiciary, was quoted by the Tasnim news agency, affiliated with the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), as saying that Suleimankhani died as a result of “suicide.”

Mohammad said that the student “had not been accused or summoned by any law enforcement, military and security institutions, or the judiciary of Ilam Province."

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

According to the Human Rights Activists Organization, more than 750 students have been arrested by security forces, mostly by kidnapping accompanied by assault and battery in the streets around universities amid the nationwide antiestablishment protests sparked by the death in custody of Mahsa Amini in September.

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

Days After Belgium Released Iranian Diplomat, Iran Frees One Danish And Two Austrian-Iranian Citizens

The Austrian Foreign Ministry issued a statement expressing "satisfaction" with the release of Kamran Ghaderi (right) and Massud Mossaheb. (composite file photo)

European governments confirmed on June 2 that one Danish and two Austrian-Iranian citizens have been released by Iran after mediation efforts by Oman and Belgium.

The Austrian Foreign Ministry issued a statement expressing "satisfaction" with the release of Kamran Ghaderi and Massud Mossaheb, confirming that the two men were returning to their homeland.

Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg said on Twitter he was “very relieved” that Ghaderi and Mossaheb were released after years “of arduous imprisonment” in Iran.

“They are already on their way to Austria, where their families are eagerly waiting for them,” Schallenberg said.

Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said earlier that he had informed the governments of Denmark and Austria about the release of the prisoners, which came a week after Tehran freed a Belgian aid worker in exchange for an Iranian diplomat who was convicted on terrorism charges.

The Austrian Foreign Ministry also praised Belgium and Oman for their role in the release and called the years of detention in Iran "excruciating."

Ghaderi was jailed for more than seven years and Mossaheb more than four years. Both men had been tried and convicted on espionage charges.

The identity of the Danish national who was released was not disclosed.

Danish Foreign Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen said he was "pleased" at his return to his home country and to his family but said he could not name the man because it was "personal" and it was not possible to give further details.

A Belgian government statement said the Danish citizen was arrested in the autumn of 2022 in the midst of nationwide protests in Iran following the death of Mahsa Amini in police custody for an alleged infraction of the country's mandatory head-scarf law.

The Iranian Intelligence Ministry said on September 30 that it had identified and detained people it called "seditious" and "destructive agents," including nine foreign nationals at the scene of or behind the scenes of the recent protests.

Neither the Austrian Foreign Ministry nor the Danish Foreign Ministry elaborated on the manner of support of the Belgian government or on the role of Oman. However, the release of the three Europeans came five days after Oman’s Sultan Haitham bin Tariq al-Said arrived in Tehran for a two-day visit.

Oman also played a role in negotiations that resulted in Iran and Belgium exchanging two prisoners last week.

The swap involved Olivier Vandecasteele, a Belgian aid worker jailed in Iran, and Asadollah Assadi, an Iranian diplomat imprisoned in Belgium.

Assadi was sentenced to 20 years in prison last year in connection with a plot to bomb a rally of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), an exiled opposition group, outside Paris in June 2018. Tehran considers the NCRI a terrorist group and has called the Paris attack plot a "false flag" move by the group.

The NCRI called the release of Assadi a "shameful ransom to terrorism and hostage-taking."

Western countries have repeatedly charged that Iran is trying to take advantage of foreign countries by taking dual and foreign nationals hostage and then using them in prisoner swaps.

With reporting by Reuters and AFP

Amnesty Blasts Iran's 'Shameless' Use Of Executions For Drug-Related Cases

Amnesty International said Iranian authorities have executed at least 173 people convicted of drug-related offences this year after "systematically unfair trials,"  nearly three times more than this time last year. 

Amnesty International says Iran's prisons have turned into "killing fields" with the number of people executed on drug-related charges almost triple this year compared with 2022, calling it a "shameless rate" that exposes the regime's "lack of humanity."

The London-based rights organization said in a report released on June 2 that Iranian authorities have executed at least 173 people convicted of drug-related offences this year after "systematically unfair trials," nearly three times more than this time last year.

Amnesty said members of Iran's Baluch ethnic minority accounted for around 20 percent of the recorded executions, "despite making up only 5 percent of Iran's population."

"The shameless rate at which the authorities are carrying out drug-related executions, in violation of international law, exposes their lack of humanity and flagrant disregard for the right to life," said Diana Eltahawy, Amnesty International's deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa.

"The international community must ensure that cooperation in antidrug trafficking initiatives do not contribute, directly or indirectly, to the arbitrary deprivation of life and other human rights violations in Iran," Eltahawy added.

Amnesty said the number of executions for all crimes had also significantly increased in the Islamic republic, with at least 282 people executed in total so far in 2023.

"If the authorities continue to carry out overall executions at this alarming pace, they could kill nearly 1,000 prisoners by the end of this year," the rights group warned.

The report said the poor and vulnerable are mostly impacted by the death penalty while the families of those executed frequently struggle with the dire economic consequences of losing breadwinners and being heavily indebted from legal fees.

The wave of executions has sparked outrage among rights activists and many Western governments who have called the legal proceedings against the accused "sham" trials where proper representation is not always granted and decisions are rushed behind closed doors.

The Norway-based Iran Human Rights (IHR) group said on June 1 at least 307 people have been executed in 2023, a 76 percent rise compared with the same period last year.

IHR said at least 142 people were executed in Iran in May, the highest monthly total in eight years, amid a brutal crackdown on dissent that the Norway-based watchdog says is aimed at spreading "societal fear."

According to Amnesty International, Iran was the world's top executioner in 2022 after China.

U.S. Sanctions Iranians Over Alleged Plots To Kill John Bolton And Others

John Bolton (right), who was the U.S. National security adviser under the Trump administration, in 2019

The U.S. imposed sanctions on June 1o on an Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) official and others in Iran it says took part in wide-ranging plots to kill former national security adviser John Bolton and others around the world, including at least one additional U.S. government official. The alleged 2021 plot against Bolton, one of the best-documented of the alleged assassination efforts, is part of what U.S. prosecutors and former government officials describe as ongoing efforts by the IRGC to kill Trump-era officials behind a 2020 U.S. air strike that killed the head of the IRGC's elite Quds Force, Qassem Soleimani. To read the original story by AP, click here.

Ex-Iranian Prison Official Expresses 'Shame' Over Mass Execution Of Political Prisoners In 1980s

Hossein Mortazavai Zanjani campaigns ahead the presidential election in 2009.

In 1988, Hossein Mortazavi Zanjani was the head of Tehran's notorious Evin prison, where hundreds of political prisoners were secretly executed following an order by the founder of the Islamic republic, Ruhollah Khomeini.

Decades later, Mortazavi has taken to social media to publicly express "shame" over the killings, although he denied any direct involvement in them.

An estimated 5,000 prisoners were executed in prisons, including Evin, the country's largest detention facility, during the summer of 1988. Many of the victims were members of the Mujahedin-e Khalq Organization (MKO), an exiled armed opposition group, leftist parties and groups, and students.

"I'm ashamed, and...I want to express shame.... They killed kids, they made families mournful," Mortazavi said during a series of recent discussions on the popular app Clubhouse, where he also took questions from the audience, including relatives of some of those executed.

The reason for Mortazavi's unprecedented comments is not clear. He said he decided to speak up to warn people about the rising number of executions in Iran, where more than 200 people have been hanged so far this year.

But several former political prisoners accused him of trying to wash his hands of responsibility. Many Iranians on social media said Mortazavi should be put on trial, while others praised his apparent remorse over the executions committed in the 1980s, one of the darkest chapters in Iran's recent history.

During his discussions on Clubhouse, which were attended by thousands of users, Mortazavi repeatedly denied that he was trying to clear his name.

"We had the responsibility for [taking care of] the prisoners, even though we were not involved in the execution of their sentence. I should have left, but I was there until [the last minute]," said Mortazavi, who also served as the head of the Gohardasht prison in Karaj, a city outside Tehran, for several years.

Mortazavi maintained that he did not have a say in the executions and was left in the dark about which prisoners would be hanged. "The decisions about the executions were made elsewhere," he said.

Mortazavi recalled having a conversation with jailed politician Fathollah Omid Najabadi the night before he was executed. "I saw Najafabadi at night. In the morning I was told he was hanged. The situation was like that then," he said.

Mortazavi poses with Yasser Arafat. (undated)
Mortazavi poses with Yasser Arafat. (undated)

The executions are believed to have been carried out within days of a fatwa issued by Khomeini, who declared that prisoners found guilty of "mohareb," or waging war against God, should be eliminated.

The secret fatwa was issued shortly after members of the MKO, which had aligned with Baghdad during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War, made a final attack on the Islamic republic.

Prisoners were sent to their deaths following interrogations that lasted just a few minutes, according to rights groups.

"Their thinking was that those opposed to the Islamic republic should be executed," said Mortazavi, noting that the authorities were aiming to purge the prisons of opponents of the clerics who came to power following the Islamic Revolution in 1979.

Mortazavi directly implicated Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi in the killings. He claimed that Raisi, who was then deputy Tehran prosecutor, told him that he had received an order from Khomeini to execute prisoners.

Activists and rights groups have said that Raisi was a member of the so-called "death committee," which interrogated prisoners about their religious beliefs and political affiliations and decided who would live or die.

Mortazavi, who said he used to be a committed supporter of Khomeini, also denounced the clerical establishment, saying it had plunged the country into misery.

Mehdi Aslani, a political prisoner who survived the executions, accused Mortazavi of withholding key details about the mass killings. He also claimed that the former prison official was trying to downplay his own role in the executions.

"In 1986, he played the main role in the severe repression of prisoners during which one MKO prisoner lost his eye. That's his background in the Islamic prison system," Aslani told RFE/RL's Radio Farda.

"Without any doubt, Mortazavi and others like him should be given an opportunity to speak so that we can complete this puzzle. But he covered up so many issues that he could have unveiled," said Aslani, who recalled seeing Mortazavi in Gohardasht prison.

Faraj Sarkouhi, another former political prisoner, said Mortazavi should be put on trial. "An individual who has been involved in human rights abuses is not a normal person with whom you can gather signatures against executions," the Germany-based activist and journalist said during a Clubhouse discussion attended by Mortazavi.

Roya Boroumand, executive director of the Abdorrahman Boroumand Center, a Washington-based human rights organization that has documented the prison executions, told RFE/RL that Mortazavi was "an important eyewitness" to the mass killings.

But she added that his message was "that of a politician with an agenda rather than a repenting former official interested in truth telling or in alleviating the pain of families and survivors."

"Some of his statements were useful as they undermine the official narrative on, for example, the fact that prisoners had rioted and were dangerous. He clearly denied the existence of such riots," Boroumand noted.

"All in all, I believe we should require more than generalities and misplaced morality lessons from former officials to take them seriously," she said.

Watchdog Says Iran Executed At Least 142 People In May, Calls For International Pressure

Iran Human Rights (IHR) says at least 142 people were executed in Iran in May, the highest monthly total in eight years, amid a brutal crackdown on dissent that the Norway-based watchdog says is aimed at spreading "societal fear."

The group added in a statement released on June 1 that so far this year, the death penalty has been administered at least 307 times, a 76 percent rise compared with the same period last year.

"The purpose of the Islamic republic’s intensification of arbitrary executions is to spread societal fear to prevent protests and prolong its rule," IHR DIrector Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam said in the statement.

Amid a wave of unrest -- which has posed the biggest threat to the country's leadership since the Islamic revolution in 1979 -- sparked by the death of Mahsa Amini in September while in police custody for an alleged infraction of the country's mandatory-head-scarf law, officials have launched a brutal crackdown.

Iran's judiciary, at the urging of senior leaders, has taken a hard-line stance against demonstrators, executing at least seven protesters, including three on May 19. Several others are currently waiting on death row for their sentences to be carried out.

But IHR said the judiciary is using the death penalty in many areas, especially with regard to people convicted of drugs charges, 180 of whom were executed in the first five months of the year.

The wave of executions has sparked outrage among rights activists and many Western governments who have called the legal proceedings against the accused "sham" trials where proper representation is not always granted and decisions are rushed behind closed doors.

Officials have staunchly defended the use of the death penalty, with Gholamhossein Mohseni-Ejei, the head of the judiciary of the Islamic republic, saying on May 30 that those who, in his view, "should be executed" will have their sentences "executed."

"If the international community doesn’t show a stronger reaction to the current wave of executions, hundreds more will fall victims to their killing machine in the coming months," IHR's Amiry-Moghaddam said.

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

Hackers Release Iranian Documents Revealing New Details Of Azerbaijani Embassy Attack

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

A hacking group has released a batch of what it claims are classified Iranian government documents, some of which revealed new details of an attack early this year on the Azerbaijani Embassy in Tehran.

The hackers, known as Uprising Until Overthrow and affiliated with the exiled opposition Mujahedin Khalq Organization (MKO), posted some of the documents on the Telegram messaging app on May 30. The MKO is considered a terrorist group by Tehran.

RFE/RL could not immediately verify the authenticity of the materials, some of which were undated and marked "very confidential," indicating they could be drafts.

Iran’s Presidential Office has dismissed reports of a cyberattack on its website, but it said there was some temporary downtime on it due to ongoing maintenance and the unveiling of an upgraded version of the site.

Azerbaijan has not officially commented on the reports.

Relations between Tehran and Baku have become increasingly strained in recent months, particularly after an armed attack on Baku's embassy in Tehran in January.

Azerbaijan halted the operation of its embassy in Iran after a security guard was killed and two others were wounded when a gunman opened fire on its grounds. Baku blamed the January 27 attack on the Iranian secret service and called it an "act of terrorism."

Some of the documents released by the hacking group offer previously unknown details of the embassy attack, including specifics about the identity and history of the attacker, his "ideological relations" with "Chechens," his interrogation, and some of his family members.

The leaks also said a police patrol left the scene of the embassy shooting after it took place. According to the documents, there was a 20-minute delay in law enforcement arriving at the scene.

In the aftermath of the attack, Azerbaijani diplomats and their families were quickly evacuated from Iran, sparking a severe diplomatic dispute. The leaked document suggests that the attack not only closed "windows of hope for improving relations" but pushed the trajectory of the bilateral relationship toward further escalation.

Tensions were further heightened following a failed assassination attempt in Baku on an Azerbaijani parliamentarian who has been critical of Iran.

Some of the leaked documents indicated an urgent need for a re-evaluation of Iran's diplomatic ties with Azerbaijan. The confidential document was purportedly dispatched to several top officials, including the foreign minister and the secretary of the Supreme National Security Council.

The documents also give advice on strategic communication tactics, including attempts to distance Azerbaijani society from its government, sensitizing Russia to Azerbaijan's movements, and attributing Azerbaijan's policies from Iran to "Zionist" influences.

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

Iranian Judiciary Chief Defends Executions Of Protesters

In a speech delivered on May 30, Gholamhossein Mohseni-Ejei stated that the sentences for those who "should be executed" will be carried out without exception "while maintaining legal standards and fairness."

The head of Iran’s judiciary has staunchly defended issuing death sentences for several demonstrators involved in nationwide protests that erupted in September 2022 following the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini soon after she was detained by morality police for allegedly violating the mandatory hijab law.

In a speech delivered on May 30, Gholamhossein Mohseni-Ejei stated that the sentences for those who "should be executed" will be carried out without exception "while maintaining legal standards and fairness."

Iran has so far executed at least seven protesters, sparking outrage among rights activists and many Western governments who have called the legal proceedings against the accused "sham" trials where proper representation is not always granted and decisions are rushed behind closed doors.

Amnesty International in a recent report warned about the imminent execution risk of seven more detainees from the protests. The human rights group named the seven as Ebrahim Naroui, Kambiz Kharot, Manochehr Mehmannavaz, Mansoreh Dehmardeh, Mohammad Ghabadlo, Mujahed (Abbas) Korkor, and Shoaib Mirbaluchzehi Rigi.

Mohseni-Ejei characterized the civil resistance against mandatory hijab, which has been led by Iranian women, as a "challenge of chastity and hijab" while claiming that such resistance has been influenced by the "hand of the enemy."

He did not elaborate, but Iranian officials have consistently blamed the West for the demonstrations -- the biggest threat to the Islamic government since the 1979 revolution -- and have vowed to continue to crack down hard on protesters.

Last November, Mohseni-Ejei's defense of the execution of Mohsen Shekari, a young protester accused of waging war against God for "closing a street and injuring a Basij paramilitary member," has been met with fierce criticism.

Legal experts have decried the imposition of the death penalty for the charge of "waging war against God," a crime often applied to political dissidents.

Responding to the worrying trend, six prominent legal scholars and an Iranian human rights lawyer penned a letter to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to express their grave concern over the escalating number of executions in Iran.

The signatories cited the abuse of national sovereignty principles by the Islamic republic to justify widespread executions, resulting in limited global capacity to prevent these inhuman actions effectively.

Human rights activists say authorities in Iran are using the executions to try to instill fear in society rather than to combat crime.

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

The Farda Briefing: Journalists Who Broke Mahsa Amini Story Stand Trial Behind Closed Doors

Reporters Nilufar Hamedi (left) and Elahe Mohammadi helped break the story of Mahsa Amini, whose death in police custody sparked outrage in Iran. (file photo)

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

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

The Big Issue

A revolutionary court in Iran this week began the trials of two female journalists who helped break the story of Mahsa Amini’s death.

Amini’s death in September soon after she was arrested by Iran’s morality police for allegedly violating the country’s hijab law triggered months of nationwide protests against the clerical establishment.

Reporters Nilufar Hamedi and Elahe Mohammadi helped expose the case of Amini to the world by reporting, respectively, from the hospital where she died and her funeral.

The women, who have been held in pretrial detention since September, face a number of charges that include "collaborating with the hostile government of America, conspiracy and collusion to commit crimes against national security, and propaganda against the establishment."

The trials are being held behind closed doors, despite widespread calls inside and outside Iran for them to be open to the public. The women have complained that they were allowed to meet their lawyers only last week.

Hamedi denied all charges against her as her trial began on May 30, her husband said. The 30-year-old said she "had performed her work as a journalist within the framework of the law and did not take any action against Iran's security," her husband, Mohammad Hossein Ajorlu, wrote on Twitter.

Mohammadi’s trial began a day earlier. Her lawyer, Shahabeddin Mirlohi, said the Tehran Revolutionary Court was not qualified to rule on the cases. Revolutionary courts mainly deal with prominent political cases and are seen to be less regulated and more hard-line in their judgments than ordinary courts.

Why It Matters: Hamedi and Mohammadi are being tried for simply doing their job.

Hamedi of the Shargh daily had reported from the Tehran hospital where Amini died from the injuries she allegedly suffered in custody.

Mohammadi of the Hammihan daily reported from Amini's funeral in her hometown of Saghez, where the first protests erupted.

Their cases have highlighted the Iranian authorities’ renewed crackdown on dissent in the wake of the antiestablishment protests.

What's Next: Rights groups and media watchdogs are closely watching the trial of Hamedi and Mohammadi, who have both been hailed for their reporting and honored by the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

Shargh editor-in-chief Mehdi Rahmanian expressed hope that the two will be acquitted and able to return to their jobs.

But the fact that the trials are being presided over by hard-line judge Abolqasem Salavati, who is known for handing out harsh sentences, is potentially bad news for the reporters.

Stories You Might Have Missed

Tensions remain high following the deadly clashes between Iranian and Taliban border troops as tensions over water supplies boiled over. But while both Tehran and the Taliban are doubling down on their water rights, they are leaving the door open for a diplomatic resolution.

The Iranian government has submitted a draft bill to the parliament that calls for tougher measures against women who do not observe the Islamic dress code in public. But the proposed legislation has angered hard-liners who say the bill does not go far enough.

What We're Watching

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said he would welcome full diplomatic relations with Egypt, during a May 29 meeting with Oman’s Sultan Haitham bin Tarik in Tehran.

Ties between Tehran and Cairo deteriorated sharply following the Islamic Revolution in 1979 and the ousting of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, who was granted asylum in Egypt where he later died. The two countries have maintained diplomatic contacts.

"We welcome the Omani Sultan's statement about Egypt's willingness to resume relations with the Islamic Republic of Iran and we have no problem in this regard," Khamenei said, according to his official website.

Why It Matters: Khamenei’s comments come as Tehran seeks to improve its ties with regional powers.

In March, Iran and Saudi Arabia, longtime rivals, agreed to reestablish diplomatic ties. The surprise agreement was brokered by China.

According to reports, Iranian and Egyptian officials have held behind-closed-door meetings over improving relations since March.

That's all from me for now. Don't forget to send me any questions, comments, or tips that you have.

Until next time,

Golnaz Esfandiari

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

Iran Starts Retrial Of Journalist Who Covered Woman's Death In Morality Police Custody

Niloufar Hamedi (file photo)

A court in Iran on May 30 began the closed-door trial of a female journalist on charges linked to her coverage of a Kurdish-Iranian woman, Mahsa Amini, whose death in custody last year sparked months of unrest. Niloufar Hamedi, along with another female journalist, Elaheh Mohammadi, who went on trial on May 29, face several charges including "colluding with hostile powers" for their coverage of Amini's death. Hamedi's husband said the trial session "ended in less than two hours while her lawyers did not get a chance to defend her." To read the original story by Reuters, click here.

Iranian Retirees Join Workers In Fresh Wave Of Protests Over Pensions, Living Conditions

Retirees from the telecommunications sector staged rallies in multiple cities across Iran to protest over economic woes on May 30.

A new wave of protests is sweeping across Iran as retirees and workers demonstrate against harsh living conditions and skyrocketing inflation in the country, which has been hit hard by international sanctions over the government's nuclear program and its suppression of human rights.

Demonstrations took place on May 29 in numerous provinces, including Khuzestan, Lorestan, Hormozgan, Chaharmahal and Bakhtiari, Kermanshah, Kurdistan, Ilam, West Azerbaijan, Khorasan Razavi, Mazandaran, Fars, and Isfahan.

Telecommunications retirees were a large part of the protesters, while in the southern Iranian city of Bandar Abbas, workers from the Maad Koush factory, a critical supplier to the Hormozgan Steel Company production chain, joined in as they continued into the third day of their strike despite threats of dismissal and arrest.

Meanwhile, the Nepheline Syenite Complex workers' strike in the city of Kalibar, East Azerbaijan Province, extended into its second day.

Government officials have described the complex in Kalibar as the Middle East's sole nepheline syenite mineral-rock-processing unit, a critical material for aluminum, glass, plastic, and rubber ceramics production.

Worker representatives have warned officials that if their "indifference to workers' demands" continues, the government will be "responsible for any subsequent incident."

In recent weeks, social-security retirees and telecommunications retirees have held numerous gatherings to voice their anger over deteriorating living conditions, the issue of fixed pensions in a high-inflation environment, and the overall mounting costs of living.

The retirees also claim that part of their legitimate benefits, including the payment of welfare and supplies, have been cut off for some time without explanation. They are demanding they be fully compensated.

In the southwestern city of Ahvaz, protesters gathered outside Khuzestan Province's main Telecommunications Company building on May 29, voicing their grievances with slogans like "Injustice and oppression are enough, our tables have nothing on them."

Iran's economy has been ravaged by U.S. sanctions, leading to a surge of protests in several cities. A report from the Labor Ministry indicated a significant increase in Iran's poverty rate, growing 50 percent in 2021 compared to the previous year.

Unrest has rattled Iran since last summer in response to declining living standards, wage arrears, and a lack of welfare support. Labor law in Iran does not recognize the right of workers to form independent unions.

Adding to the dissent, the death in September of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in police custody for allegedly wearing a head scarf improperly breathed new life into the demonstrations, which officials across the country have tried to quell with harsh measures.

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

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