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Ahmadinejad Blames West, Opposition For Currency Plunge

A woman pays with a 20,000-rial banknote in a grocery store in Tehran.
Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad has blamed the West and the opposition for the steep plunge in the value of the country's currency.

The rial has lost some 80 percent of its value since the start of 2012 as Western sanctions imposed against Iran over its controversial nuclear program hit oil exports generating foreign currency.

At a news conference on October 2 in Tehran, Ahmadinejad said that Iran would not give in to international pressure and end its nuclear activities, despite economic problems created by Western sanctions.

He said the sanctions had managed to "diminish a little" oil exports but said the accelerated slide in the rial's value was the result of a "psychological war on the exchange market."

Ahmadinejad critics have also blamed the currency crisis on the policies of his government.


Based on reporting by AFP, AP, and dpa

All Of The Latest News

Iran Sentences Five Protesters To Death Over Alleged Involvement In Basij Officer's Death

One of those sentenced to death is Hamid Qarahasanlou, a radiologist that human rights groups say was tortured during interrogation and is now in a hospital. He is seen here with this wife, Farzaneh Qarahasanlou, who was sentenced to 25 years. (file photo)

Iran's judiciary has sentenced to death five people -- including one who is in the hospital recovering after reportedly being tortured -- over the killing of a member of the Basij paramilitary force during nationwide protests.

The judiciary said on December 6 that it had also sentenced 11 others to prison sentences for their alleged roles in the death of Ruhollah Ajamian, who was part of the Basij, a volunteer branch under the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC).

One of those sentenced to death is Hamid Qarahasanlou, a radiologist that human rights groups say was tortured during interrogation and is now in a hospital as a result.

The three others sentenced to death were not named. Of the 11 people sentenced, three were minors, judiciary spokesman Massoud Setayeshi told a news conference, adding the sentences can be appealed.

Farzaneh Qarahasanlou, Hamid Qarahasanlou's wife, was sentenced to 25 years and exiled to a prison in the southwestern Iranian city of Ahvaz.

Both of the Qarahasanlous denied any wrongdoing in court and said they were merely participants in protests over the death of a young woman, Mahsa Amini, who died while in custody over allegedly wearing a head scarf improperly.

Several of the defendants were charged with "corruption on Earth," which is punishable by death and often leveled in cases allegedly involving espionage or attempts to overthrow Iran's government.

The cases were decided within six days and after three court hearings.

Prosecutors said the 27-year-old Ajamian was stripped naked and killed by a group of mourners who had been paying tribute to a slain protester, Hadis Najafi, during ceremonies marking the 40th day since her death.

Human rights organizations have strongly objected to the death sentences being issued against protesters in Iran after "sham trials."


Amnesty International wrote in a statement that, according to informed sources, the Iranian authorities tortured Qarahasanlou and forced Farzaneh Qarahasanlou to accuse her husband of wrongdoing.

"On 1 December, [Hamid Qarahasanlou] was removed from hospital, where he had undergone surgery for internal bleeding, and taken to court for trial while he was heavily sedated and recovering from surgery and then returned to hospital afterwards," Amnesty said in the statement.

"The couple’s first two lawyers dropped their case after intelligence and security agents threatened them," it added.

The BBC quoted an informed source as saying that, during the interrogations, Farzaneh was hit on the head with a baton so many times that, to save herself, she said that her husband may have kicked the victim. She later recanted the statement.

Iran is currently in the throes of unrest as people take to the streets across the country to protest Amini's death on September 16.

Police have met the unrest with deadly force.

The activist HRANA news agency said that, as of November 29, at least 459 protesters have been killed during the unrest, including 64 minors, as security forces try to stifle widespread dissent.

The Oslo-based Iran Human Rights Organization says the number of executions in Iran exceeds 500 this year.

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

Iranians Strike For Third Day Amid Nationwide Protests Against Government

Iranians Strike For Third Day Amid Nationwide Protests Against Government
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General strikes to protest against the government have been held for a third day in Iran, with shops and factories closed across the country. Meanwhile, students at Tehran University said they were beaten by security forces ahead of a speech on campus by Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi. The protests erupted in September over the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who was detained over an alleged Islamic dress-code violation.

Iranian Students Say They Were Beaten Back Ahead Of Speech By Raisi At Tehran University

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi speaks during a ceremony marking Student Day at Tehran University on December 7.

Students at Tehran University say they were beaten back by security forces as they tried to hold a protest as President Ebrahim Raisi arrived to deliver a speech amid anti-government unrest that has rocked the country since the September death of a young woman while in police custody for allegedly wearing a head scarf improperly.

The Students' Union Council Telegram channel on December 7 said several students were injured and left bloodied by the attacking security forces.

Each year on December 7, which is Student Day in Iran, demonstrations are organized by many universities at which students put forward democratic demands.

WATCH: General strikes have been held for a third day in Iran, with shops and factories closed across the country. Meanwhile, students at Tehran University said they were beaten by security forces ahead of a speech on campus by Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi.

Iranians Strike For Third Day Amid Nationwide Protests Against Government
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Besides such issues as academic rights, freedom of speech, and academic independence from the government, the demands also often reflect broader democratic movements in Iran, including this year's protest movement that has built up across the country since Mahsa Amini died in Tehran on September 16.

Students have been one of the main forces behind the unrest, which has been met by security officials with a brutal, and often deadly, crackdown.

Raisi, an ultra-conservative leader, arrived at the school and in a speech held in front of a selected group of pro-government students said that "protest is different from rioting" and that it was rioters who were "unjustly killing our loved ones."

While Raisi spoke, many students gathered in different parts of the university and chanted slogans against the government, as well as the slogan "Women, Life, Freedom."

Reports from other universities, including AmirKabir University in Tehran, and other universities in Mashhad said students were severely beaten there as well.

An eyewitness from Ferdowsi University in Mashhad said that a gathering of students there was "attacked" by security forces.

Meanwhile, nationwide strikes at businesses and shops continued for a third day.

Videos received by RFERL’s Radio Farda showed shopkeepers in Isfahan, Bukan, and Tehran on strike in support of the protests.


The government has responded to almost three months of unrest with deadly force as it tries to suppress one of the deepest challenges to the Islamic regime since the revolution in 1979.

The activist HRANA news agency said that, as of November 29, at least 459 protesters had been killed during the unrest, including 64 minors.

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

The Farda Briefing: Iran's Apparent Disbandment Of Morality Police Prompts Skepticism And Confusion

Morality police take down the name of a detained woman during a crackdown on "social corruption" in north Tehran in 2008.

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 Hannah Kaviani, a senior broadcaster and editor at RFE/RL's Radio Farda. Here's what I've been following and what I'm watching out for in the days ahead.

The Big Issue

In a surprise move, Iran's chief prosecutor said on December 3 that the country's notorious morality police had been "closed," although he prompted confusion a day later by adding that the force "had nothing to do with the judiciary." Mohammad Jafar Montazeri also said parliament and the judiciary were "working" on reviewing the law requiring women to wear the hijab in public.

Ali Khan Mohammadi, the spokesman for the official Headquarters For Promoting Virtue and Preventing Vice, which oversees implementation of Islamic edicts, said on December 5 that the mission of the morality police was over, but that new methods would be used to enforce Iran's Islamic dress code. But the Interior Ministry, which oversees the force, has not commented.

The confusion and mixed signals have led to speculation that the authorities are considering concessions in an attempt to appease antiestablishment protesters and end the ongoing monthslong demonstrations that have raged across the country.

The rallies were triggered by the September 16 death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who died days after she was arrested by the morality police for allegedly violating the hijab law. The dreaded force, also known as the Guidance Patrols, enforces the strict dress code.

Why It Matters: The apparent decision by the authorities to disband the morality police has been met with widespread skepticism. Amnesty International on December 6 said the international community should not be "deceived" by the authorities' "vague and conflicting statements." Activists have also said that it is unlikely that the authorities will scrap or radically change the hijab law. The head scarf remains one of the key pillars of the Islamic republic.

It remains unclear if the apparent dismantling of the morality police and potential reforms to the hijab law will even be enough to appease anti-regime protesters.

The protests began as a rebuke against the brutal enforcement of the mandatory head scarf. But they have snowballed into one of the biggest threats to Iran's establishment in years, with demonstrators calling for an end to clerical rule and demanding their social and political freedoms.

What's Next: Some observers say that any concessions that the authorities make to the antiestablishment demonstrators now might be too little, too late, especially after a brutal government crackdown that has killed at least 448 protesters.

A popular slogan chanted by female protesters -- "With or without hijab, we are going toward a revolution" -- appears to capture the uncompromising mood among women, who have played a prominent role in the protests. Many women appear likely to continue protesting despite efforts by the authorities to appease them.

Stories You Might Have Missed

Two Iranian women who fled to neighboring Armenia with their families have told RFE/RL's Armenian Service that they fear for their lives should they be forced to return home. The faces and voices of the two women were disguised to protect them. "I was forced to come to Armenia because of social and political problems," one of the women said. "Women [in Iran] have faced problems with [the country's] laws for more than 40 years." The two women fled Iran amid the protests and subsequent government crackdown.

An Iranian theater group, comprised of men and women without their head scarves, recently released a silent video with a message of resistance and hope. Two senior members of the group, Hamid Pourazari and Soheila Golestaneh, were detained shortly after the video was released on November 27. Playwright Naghme Samini wrote in an Instagram post that despite the detentions, "theater itself cannot be detained." Various artistic groups in Iran and Europe have paid tribute to the detained artists by recreating their silent act.

What We're Watching

Anti-regime protesters staged a three-day nationwide strike on December 5-7. In posts on social media, demonstrators urged businesses to close and called on residents to stop using banks. Videos uploaded on social media appeared to show that some shops were closed in cities across the country. A heavy security presence was reported in many of those cities, including Tehran.

During the strike, university students staged sit-ins in various cities. Truck drivers and factory workers, meanwhile, refused to work.

Why It Matters: This was the second three-day strike announced since the protests erupted in September. The level of participation during the latest strike appears to be higher. The strikes have added pressure on the authorities in Iran, where the economy has been crippled by years of U.S. sanctions and government mismanagement.

Larger and more regular strikes could have significant ramifications, especially if workers in Iran's key energy sector participate. Major strikes by public employees preceded the Islamic Revolution in 1979, bringing large parts of the economy to a halt.

Avril Haines, the head of U.S. intelligence, said on December 3 that the Iranian authorities do not see the protests as "an imminent threat to their stability." But she added that the government's deadly response to the protests combined with other factors, including the bleak economic situation in Iran, "will lead to a greater risk of unrest and instability over time."

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

Until next time,

Hannah Kaviani

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 Rebroadcasts 'Confessions,' Raising Fears Four Kurds May Have Been Executed

Iranian state television has aired for the second time the "confessions" of four Kurdish political prisoners -- admissions their families and supporters say were coerced -- raising fears that they may have been executed.

Pejman Fatehi, Vafa Azarbar, Mohsen Mazloum, and Hajir Faramarzi have been detained for four months and are thought to be part of a group of people who were identified by security police in November as allegedly being "Mossad-related agents."

On December 5, Javana Teymasi, the wife of Mohsen Mazloum, wrote in a tweet that she has no information about her husband's condition and that the rebroadcast of what she called his forced confession has added to her worries.

"We don't even know if their trial was held and if a verdict was issued or not. What is clear is that the link in their case is with the accusations of 'espionage,'" she wrote.

"Rebroadcasting forced confessions and raising these accusations has worried the families."

Iran’s Intelligence Ministry has previously identified the group as operatives from the Komala Party of Iranian Kurdistan, but the party itself has denied the claim. It has said previously that several of its members have been arrested.

In early November, the judiciary of the Islamic republic announced the indictment of 10 people who were identified as "Mossad-related agents" and announced that four of them were accused of "corruption on earth" -- a charge that is punishable by death and often leveled in cases allegedly involving espionage or attempts to overthrow Iran's government.

Earlier this week, Iran executed four people it accused of working for Israel's Mossad intelligence agency.

The four were identified as Hossein Ordukhanzadeh, Shahin Imani Mahmudabadi, Milad Ashrafi, and Manuchehr Shahbandi. They were accused of receiving weapons and funds in the form of cryptocurrency from Mossad.

Israel, as is its policy, has not commented on the accusations.

Iran is currently in the throes of unrest as people take to the streets across the country to protest against the death on September 16 of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini while she was detained by the notorious morality police for wearing a head scarf improperly.

Amini, who was taken into custody in Tehran, was from the Kurdish region of western Iran and many of the largest protests have taken there.

Police have met the unrest with deadly force.

The activist HRANA news agency said that, as of November 29, at least 459 protesters have been killed during the unrest, including 64 minors, as security forces try to stifle widespread dissent.

The Oslo-based Iran Human Rights Organization says the number of executions in Iran this year exceeds 500.

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

Iranian Lawmaker Says Government Is Seeking Alternative Punishments For Hijab Violators

Iranian parliamentarian Hossein Jalali

A member of the Iranian parliament has unveiled the government's plan for alternative punishments -- including financial ones -- to try and force women to wear a hijab in public despite massive protests across the country over the issue.

Hossein Jalali, a member of the Cultural Commission of the Iranian parliament, said that under the new plan, the actions of morality police would be curbed, allowing for less intrusive methods to be used for ensuring compliance.

"It is possible to notify nonhijab wearers in the form of a text message that they did not observe the hijab rule and that they must respect the law," Jalali said in an interview with Iranian media.

He added that after two warnings, the government would move to block the bank account of the offender as a way of punishing them. He did not explain how the government intends to recognize the identities of those who are supposedly in violation of the hijab law.

The issue has sparked massive protests across the country after 22-year-old Mahsa Amini died while in police custody. She was detained by the morality police for allegedly wearing her hijab, or head scarf, improperly.

The government has responded to almost three months of unrest with deadly force as it tries to suppress one of the deepest challenges to the Islamic regime since the revolution in 1979.

Since the outbreak of the unrest, morality police have been less visible in cities. Still, their status is unclear since the country's chief prosecutor said over the weekend that the notorious force had been closed, only to then walk it back by saying it was a decision for the Interior Ministry, which has jurisdiction over the force.

On December 5, a spokesman for the morality police said that the mission of the police unit has ended and that new methods should be used to enforce the country's mandatory hijab law, but the ministry itself has not commented on the issue.

The hijab -- the head covering worn by Muslim women -- became compulsory in public for Iranian women and girls over the age of nine after the 1979 Islamic Revolution and Jalali said that there will be no backing away from the hijab and chastity plan laid out by the state.

"Moving away from the hijab means a retreat of the Islamic republic," Jalali added.

The activist HRANA news agency said that, as of November 29, at least 459 protesters had been killed during the unrest, including 64 minors, as security forces try to stifle widespread dissent.

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

Iranian Sunni Cleric Says He Has Received Reports Of Sexual Assaults On Female Prisoners

Iranian Sunni cleric Molavi Abdolhamid (file photo)

Iran’s top Sunni cleric, a vocal critic of the government, says he has received reports of sexual assaults on female prisoners in Iranian prisons.

Molavi Abdolhamid wrote on his Twitter account on December 6 that the assaults on female prisoners were being committed with the intention of humiliating, suppressing, and obtaining forced confessions from them.

"If proven, the real corrupters on earth are the perpetrators of these crimes," Abdolhamid added, and asked the judiciary to punish these people severely.

"Corruption on Earth," is a common charge often leveled by Iran’s judiciary in cases involving attempts to overthrow the government.

Molavi Abdolhamid is regarded nationwide as a spiritual leader for Iran’s Sunni Muslim population, who are a minority among the mainly Shi'ite population of Iran. He is the director of the main Sunni seminary in Iran and has been under pressure for his comments against the Islamic republic.

CNN first published an investigative report last month about the "sexual assault and rape" of some of the detainees from recent protests while they were being held in Iran's prisons. Citing the testimony of a number of released detainees or hospital sources, CNN said it has confirmed that young women and teenage boys and girls have been raped in prisons.

In response to the report, U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price condemned the Iranian authorities' use of sexual violence as a tool for protest suppression.

Price said on November 23 that the United States “is disgusted by the reports and eyewitness accounts of protesters, including minors, being sexually assaulted while in the custody of law enforcement.”

Previously, in an open letter to Javaid Rehman, the UN special rapporteur on human rights in Iran, Narges Mohammadi, a human rights activist imprisoned in the notorious Evin prison, called for a special investigation into the assault of detained women.

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

Iran Sentences Five To Death Over Killing Of Basij Paramilitary

Basij militia members (file photo)

Iran has sentenced to death five people over the killing of a member of the Basij paramilitary force during nationwide protests, the judiciary said on December 6. Another 11 people, including three children, were handed lengthy jail terms over the death of Ruhollah Ajamian, judiciary spokesman Massoud Setayeshi told a news conference, adding the sentences could be appealed. Prosecutors said Ajamian, 27, was stripped naked and killed by a group of mourners who had been paying tribute to a slain protester, Hadis Najafi, during ceremonies marking 40 days since her death.

Iran Arrests 12 With Alleged European Links: Report

The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps logo

Iran's Revolutionary Guards have arrested 12 alleged members of a European-linked group accused of planning acts of sabotage in the country, Tasnim news agency said. Iran has been rocked by more than two months of what it calls deadly "riots" that it says have been fomented by the United States, its allies, and foreign-based opposition groups. In a statement quoted by Tasnim, the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps in Markazi Province, southwest of Tehran, said it had arrested "a network with 12 members with links abroad."

Iranian Women Who Fled To Armenia Fear Returning Could End In Death

Iranian Women Who Fled To Armenia Fear Returning Could End In Death
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Two Iranian women who fled to Armenia with their families have told RFE/RL they fear for their lives should they be forced to return home. The faces and voices of the two women have been disguised to protect them.

Iranian Official Appears To Admit To Killing Of Women, Children On Recording

The recording seems to have caught Iranian official Reza Davari admitting on tape that women and children have been killed during Tehran's crackdown on ongoing protests in the country. (file photo)

A leaked audio recording from the Iranian pro-regime Coalition Council of Islamic Revolution Forces, appears to show the secretary of the council admitting to the accidental killing of women and children during a bloody crackdown in the southeastern city of Zahedan on September 30.

The document was published on December 4 after the hacktivist group Black Reward announced that it had succeeded in hacking the hard-line Fars news agency, which is affiliated with the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC). The group released dozens of documents and videos it said were prepared by the news agency.

In the meeting involving the alleged admission of random killings, Reza Davari, the secretary of the Coalition Council of Islamic Revolution Forces, said that an agent who was on top of the police station "mistakenly" targeted an area where a number of people, including women and children, were killed.

"They were not even part of the protests," Davari added.

Almost 100 people were killed and hundreds injured by security forces in the incident, which came during protests sparked by the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini while in the custody of the morality police and the alleged rape of a 15-year-old girl by a local police commander.

Last month, Molavi Abdolhamid, a spiritual leader for Iran's Sunni Muslim population, said senior officials, including Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, were "responsible" for the killing of protesters during the so-called "Bloody Friday" massacre in Zahedan.

He also called for an immediate referendum with the presence of international observers to "change policies based on the wishes of the people."

Earlier, another leaked document from the Fars agency published by Black Reward shows Khamenei telling security and military officials to try and disgrace Molavi Abdolhamid, who is a vocal critic of the government, instead of arresting him.

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

The activist HRANA news agency said that, as of November 29, at least 459 protesters had been killed during the unrest, including 64 minors, as security forces try to stifle widespread dissent.

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

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

Angry Iranians Launch Three-Day Protest As More Death Sentences Issued

Shops at a Tehran bazaar were shuttered on December 5 as a sign of support for the protests that have swept the country.

Iranian protesters have begun three consecutive days of protests and nationwide strikes as the judiciary continues to follow through on a government crackdown by issuing three more death sentences in its response to unrest sparked by the death of a young woman while in police custody for allegedly wearing a head scarf improperly.

Reports from across the country on December 5 said shopkeepers and businesses had stopped working in dozens of Iranian cities in a concerted effort to bolster the daily demonstrations that have erupted after the September 16 death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in Tehran.

The opposition activist collective 1500tasvir reported that several protest rallies have taken place in the center of Iranian capital on December 5, with protesters chanting slogans against the ayatollah and the government forces that have carried out a brutal crackdown that has left hundreds dead.

Security forces reportedly raided a market in the south of Tehran early on December 5 in an apparent attempt to try to prevent businesses there from joining the nationwide strikes.

Iran's state media, meanwhile, has reported that the restaurant and jewelry store owned by former Iranian soccer star Ali Daei has been sealed for joining the three-day strikes in Iran.

Since the start of the protests, Daei, a former forward with German soccer giant Bayern Munich and a former Iranian national team captain, has been a vocal supporter of the protesters and has repeatedly criticized government officials for suppressing the protests.

At the same time, the head of Iran’s judiciary announced at his weekly news conference the imminent execution of some protesters.

This is the second time in recent weeks that Iranian authorities have threatened to carry out death sentences for protesters arrested during the unrest. Several death sentences have been handed out already for some of those arrested in protests, but it has not been announced if the penalty has been carried out.

In October, 227 lawmakers from the 290-seat, hard-line parliament urged the judiciary to approve death sentences for some of the protesters arrested.

Human rights organizations strongly object to the issuance of death sentences, which they say were issued without valid proceedings and in a short time.

The activist HRANA news agency said that as of November 29, at least 459 protesters had been killed during the unrest, including 64 minors.

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

Mission Of Iran's Morality Police Has Ended, But New Methods Sought To Enforce Hijab Law

An Iranian policewoman, part of the country's morality police, looks out from a police van in Tehran. (file photo)

The spokesman for Iran's morality police has said that the mission of the police unit has ended but new methods should be used to enforce the country's mandatory hijab law.

The spokesman, Ali Khan Mohammadi, said in an interview published on December 5 that various institutions in the country are looking into having appropriate mechanisms to be able to deal with the issue of veiling.

"For us, the basis is that it should be within the framework of Shari'a, and at the same time, our people must adhere to the law so that we can create a peaceful atmosphere," Mohammadi said in the interview, which was published on the website Entekhab though it was not clear that he spoke with that news outlet.

He noted that a discussion of chastity and the hijab is currently popular in the country and decisions are being made “in a more modern framework.” He didn’t elaborate but mentioned the use of technologies.

The status of Iran's morality police has been unclear since the country's chief prosecutor said the notorious force had been closed in the wake of continuing protests following the September death in police custody of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini.

Mohammad Jafar Montazeri was quoted by the semiofficial ISNA news agency on December 3 as saying the morality police "had been closed," but a day later the state IRNA news agency quoted him as saying that "the morality police has nothing to do with the judiciary" after he was asked why the morality police were being shut down.

Prior to the interview with Mohammadi, there had been no word from officials -- including the Interior Ministry -- on the status of the controversial morality police, which began patrols in 2006 under hard-line President Mahmud Ahmadinejad to enforce the country's Islamic dress codes, particularly the requirement to wear the hijab, or female head covering.

The squads of men in green uniforms and women in black chadors initially issued warnings but soon began arresting women for alleged violations.

Montazeri also was quoted on December 3 as saying parliament and the judiciary were "working" on whether the law requiring women to wear the hijab in public should be changed. He added that "the results will be seen in a week or two."

The Iranian government has said more than 200 people had been killed in the protests sparked by Amini’s death in September. Iranian rights groups put the figure at more than double that, while the United Nations has said more than 300 have been killed as the national protests have evolved into one of the most serious challenges to the country’s theocracy since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

While the government had taken a hard line in its stance toward the protests over the past several months, some officials have started to strike a more conciliatory tone as they talk about problems being experienced in Iran, which is struggling under the weight of crippling U.S. sanctions over Tehran's nuclear program.

In a December 4 interview with Iran’s state broadcaster, Deputy Security Minister Majid Mirahmadi said the "main cause" of the protests was not economic.

"This is an issue but not the main cause," Mirahmadi said. "It is a protest against injustice."

President Ebrahim Raisi said on December 3 that Iran's Islamic foundations were enshrined in the constitution.

"But there are methods of implementing the constitution that can be flexible," he said.

U.S. Focus On Iran Is Thwarting Weapons Aid To Russia, Not Nuclear Talks

Robert Malley, the U.S. special envoy for Iran (file photo)

Washington will focus on preventing the supply of Iranian weapons to Russia and supporting Iranian protests instead of continuing deadlocked negotiations with Iran on restoring the nuclear deal, said Robert Malley, the U.S. special envoy for Iran, in an interview with Bloomberg. "Iran is not interested in a deal and we're focused on other things," Malley said on December 3. To read the original story by Bloomberg, click here.

Iran Reportedly Shuts Down 'Morality Police' Amid Protests

A female officer of Iran's morality police looks out of the back of a police vehicle during a crackdown to enforce the Islamic dress code in Tehran in 2007.

Iran has cancelled its dreaded "morality police" in the wake of continuing protests following the September death in police custody of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, the country's chief prosecutor has said.

Iran’s state IRNA news agency on December 4 quoted Mohammad Jafar Montazeri as saying, "the morality police have nothing to do with the judiciary."

Montazeri was responding to the question of "why the morality police were being shut down."

The controversial morality police patrols were established in 2006 under hard-line President Mahmud Ahmadinejad to enforce the country's Islamic dress codes, particularly the requirement to wear the hijab, or female head covering.

The squads of men in green uniforms and women in black chadors initially issued warnings, but soon began arresting women for alleged violations.

Montazeri was quoted the previous day as saying parliament and the judiciary were "working" on whether the law requiring women to wear the hijab in public should be changed. He added that "the results will be seen in a week or two."

On December 3, the Iranian government said more than 200 people had been killed in the protests sparked by Amini's death in September.

The United Nations and Iranian rights groups put the figure at more than 300, as the national protests have evolved into one of the most serious challenges to the theocracy since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

In a December 4 interview with Iran's state broadcaster, Deputy Security Minister Majid Mirahmadi said the "main cause" of the protests was not economic.

"This is an issue, but not the main cause," Mirahmadi said. "It is a protest against injustice."

President Ebrahim Raisi said on December 3 that Iran's Islamic foundations were enshrined in the constitution.

"But there are methods of implementing the constitution that can be flexible," he said.

Iran Executes Four Accused Of Working For Israel

Nooses prepared for a public hanging. (illustrative photo)

Iran executed four people accused of working for Israel's Mossad intelligence agency on December 4, Iran's state IRNA news agency reported. The executed prisoners were identified as Hossein Ordukhanzadeh, Shahin Imani Mahmudabadi, Milad Ashrafi, and Manuchehr Shahbandi. They were accused of receiving weapons and funds in the form of cryptocurrency from Mossad. The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps claimed to have arrested several people supposedly linked to Mossad, accusing them of destroying property and kidnapping Iranian citizens. To read the original story by AP, click here.

Popular Iranian Actress Mitra Hajjar Arrested

Mitra Hajjar (file photo)

Popular Iranian film and television actress Mitra Hajjar has been arrested, the IRNA news agency reported on December 3. Mehdi Kohian, a member of a group that monitors artists' arrests, has confirmed Hajjar's detention. The reason for the arrest of Hajjar, who is also an environmental activist, was not immediately clear. Last month, Hajjar was one of the artists summoned by prosecutors and questioned about "provocative" content posted online amid a wave of popular protests caused by the death in September of a young woman in the custody of Iran's notorious morality police. To read the original story from RFE/RL's Radio Farda, click here.

Iranian Reportedly Begins Construction On Nuclear Plant

An Iranian flag flies at the Bushehr nuclear power plant, its first, during an official ceremony to kick-start work on a second reactor at the facility in 2019.

Iran has begun construction on a new nuclear power plant in the country's southwest, Iranian state TV announced, amid tensions with the United States over sweeping sanctions imposed after Washington pulled out of the Islamic republic's nuclear deal with world powers. The new 300-megawatt plant, known as Karoon, will take eight years to build and cost around $2 billion, the country’s state television and radio agency reported on December 3. The plant will be located in the oil-rich Khuzestan Province, near its western border with Iraq, it said. To read the original story from AP, click here.

Iran's Security Council Says 200 People Died In Recent Protests

Iranian demonstrate in the western city of Sanandaj.

Two hundred people have lost their lives in Iran during nationwide protests that started in mid-September, an Iranian state security body said on December 3, a considerably smaller toll than that advanced by rights groups. "Two hundred people lost their lives in the recent riots," the Interior Ministry's Security Council said. An Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps commander recently put the number of dead at 300. The activist HRANA news agency said that, as of November 29, at least 459 protesters had been killed during the unrest, including 64 minors. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Radio Farda, click here.

UN Nuclear Chief Says Iran Ties Need To Get Back On Track

The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency Rafael Grossi (file photo)

Iran appears to be at odds with the UN nuclear watchdog over information it should be providing regarding its atomic program, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency said on December 2. "We don't seem to be seeing eye-to-eye with Iran over their obligations to the IAEA," Rafael Grossi told a conference in Rome, adding that he was concerned over a recent announcement by Tehran that it was boosting its enrichment capacity. "We need to put our relationship back on track," he said. Grossi said he was "still hopeful" Tehran would give an explanation for the unexpected discovery a few years back of traces of uranium at three undeclared sites. To read the original story from Reuters, click here.

U.S. Designates China, Iran, Russia As Countries Of Concern Under Religious Freedom Act

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken (file photo)

The United States has designated China, Iran, and Russia among other nations as "countries of particular concern" under the Religious Freedom Act, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said on December 2. “Our announcement of these designations is in keeping with our values and interests to protect national security and to advance human rights around the globe,” Blinken said in a statement. The Taliban and the Vagner Group were added to the blacklist as entities of particular concern. To read the original story from Reuters, click here.

Iranian Students Accuse Authorities Of Poisoning After Spate Of Incidents

Universities in Iran have become one of the main centers of ongoing anti-government protests in the country. (file photo)

Several Iranian student associations have accused authorities of deliberate "serial poisoning" after reports that a large number of students from at least four Iranian universities across the country fell ill.

In a report on December 1, the Union Councils of Iranian students reported that several schools experienced outbreaks of poisoning after eating at cafeterias, including Kharazmi University in Karaj, near the Iranian capital, where the number of those poisoned was so high that the university's clinic could not handle all of the patients.

Similarly, the Telegram channel of the United Students group also reported that several students at Allameh University in Tehran were poisoned after consuming food in the university canteen.

Students across the country have been at the forefront of protests sparked by the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in September while in police custody for allegedly wearing a head scarf improperly. The authorities have cracked down violently on the university protests, beating and detaining dozens of students.

The channel, which covers university news, alleged the poisonings were "intentional" and an attempt by officials to intimidate the students.

"You cannot stop the student movement with these things," it said. It did not provide any evidence to back up its claim.

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

In 1999, students protested the closure of a reformist daily, prompting a brutal raid on the dormitories of Tehran University that left one student dead.

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

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

Some university professors and lecturers have expressed solidarity with the protesters.

The activist HRANA news agency said that, as of November 29, at least 459 protesters have been killed during the unrest, including 64 minors, as security forces try to stifle widespread dissent.

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

Iranian Climbing Champion Rekabi Says Police Demolished Her Family's Home

Elnaz Rekabi’s participation without the head scarf in the Asian climbing championships was seen by some observers as a move to show solidarity with ongoing anti-government protests.

The family of Elnaz Rekabi, the Iranian rock-climbing champion who sparked a controversy by competing in the Asian climbing championships in Seoul without a head scarf, announced that police officers have violently demolished their family villa.

Rekabi's supporters had expressed concerns about her safety after her return last month amid unrest over the death of a young woman while in police custody for allegedly wearing a hijab improperly.

The BBC quoted an informed source as saying that the authorities of the Islamic republic have also fined the Rekabi family 168,000,000,000 Rials ($4,700).

Officials have not yet provided an explanation for knocking down the dwelling.

Rekabi’s participation without the head scarf in Seoul was seen by some observers as a move to show solidarity with ongoing anti-government protests.

However, in a post that appeared on her Instagram page on October 18, she apologized and explained that "due to poor scheduling and an unexpected call for me to climb.... I inadvertently had a problem with my cover."

It could not be verified whether Rekabi made the post independent of pressure from Iranian officials, and some government critics said the apology appeared in line with previous similar confessions by offenders who were pressured by authorities to recant. There were also unconfirmed reports that Rekabi's brother had been detained by police.

The 33-year-old said in an Instagram post that she competed without the hijab, which is mandatory for Iranian women to wear in public, "due to poor scheduling and an unexpected call for me to climb."

She added that she returned to Iran with the team "according to a pre-arranged schedule."

The controversy comes after months of unrest across Iran -- one of the deepest challenges to the Islamic regime since the revolution in 1979 -- sparked by the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini after she was taken into police custody for allegedly breaking hijab rules.

Since the start of the protests, several Iranian sports champions and prominent public figures, including soccer star Ali Daei, have been summoned or arrested by the authorities and had their passports confiscated after showing support for anti-government protests.

The hijab -- the head covering worn by Muslim women -- became compulsory in public for Iranian women and girls over the age of nine after the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

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

Russia Is Using The Caspian Sea To Launch Strikes Against Ukraine. So Why Are The Caspian Countries Silent?

A Russian BTR-82A armored personnel carrier drives onto the shore during military exercises on the Caspian Sea coast in Daghestan in September 2019.

"[Russian President Vladimir Putin's] soldiers are firing Grads at civilians, hitting residential areas, orphanages, maternity hospitals with ballistic and cruise missiles. Ukraine is our home!"

This is the last social media post by 28-year-old Valeria Hlodan from Odesa.

On April 23, a Russian missile fired from the Caspian Sea hit the 16-story building where Valeria and her family lived. The fourth and fifth floors of the building collapsed, and the house caught fire. Twenty people were injured and eight died. The rocket claimed the lives of three generations of the family living on the fourth floor: Valeria; her 3-month-old daughter, Kira; and Valeria's mother, Lyudmyla Yavkina.

Shortly before the attack, Valeria's husband, Yuriy Hlodan, had gone to the store to buy groceries. Yuriy rushed home and demanded that rescuers let him into the burning apartment. He found the bodies of his wife and her mother. Later, rescuers carried out the body of his daughter.

The fact that a missile launched from the Caspian Sea claimed the lives of three generations of one family was revealed to the world in a video message from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy. "Among those killed was a 3-month-old baby girl. How did she threaten Russia? It seems that killing children is just a new national idea of the Russian Federation," Zelenskiy said.

It was one of the first deaths reported outside of the Ukraine combat zone. At that time, the fighting was largely focused in the Kherson, Zaporizhzhya, and Mykolayiv regions, hundreds of kilometers east of Odesa. But Russia continued to shell civilian targets far from the combat zone.

(Left to right) Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, Turkmen President Serdar Berdymukhammedov, Russian President Vladimir Putin, and Kazakh President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev pose for a picture at the Caspian summit in Ashgabat on June 29.
(Left to right) Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, Turkmen President Serdar Berdymukhammedov, Russian President Vladimir Putin, and Kazakh President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev pose for a picture at the Caspian summit in Ashgabat on June 29.

On May 3, Tu-95 strategic bombers launched high-precision missiles from the Caspian Sea at infrastructure targets in the Lviv, Dnepropetrovsk, Kropyvnytskiy, Vinnytsya, Kyiv, and Zakarpattya regions. In the west and in the center of the country, there were explosions on the railways; the trains stopped running. In a number of regions, generating facilities failed and residents were left without electricity.

On June 26, Russia fired six X-101 high-precision missiles in the direction of Kyiv from the Caspian Sea. The Ukrainian air-defense system shot down several missiles, but one hit a residential building in Kyiv, killing one person and injuring five others.

Russia continued to launch missiles from the Caspian Sea in July, August, and September. In October and November, the Russian military even stepped up its missile strikes following retreats in the south and east after setbacks at the front.

Missiles fired by Moscow -- Russia launched missiles from missile-carrying aircraft in the Caspian Sea, ships in the Black Sea, and in the Rostov region -- disabled energy and water facilities across Ukraine, leaving millions of people without water and electricity. On October 10, the Russian Defense Ministry said that missile strikes on military installations and power systems had "hit the target."

The Silence Of The Caspian States

Four years ago, after 22 years of negotiations, the leaders of the five littoral states of the Caspian Sea -- Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Russia, and Turkmenistan -- signed a convention defining its legal status. The convention regulates the rights and obligations of the parties in relation to the use of the Caspian Sea, including its waters, bed, subsoil, natural resources, and airspace.

According to the document, the parties agreed to use the sea only for peaceful purposes.

"We succeeded in turning the Caspian Sea into a sea of friendship," said then-Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev, who praised the achievement of the Convention on the Legal Status of the Caspian Sea at a summit of leaders of the Caspian states held in Aqtau four years ago.

The "sea of friendship" that Nazarbaev spoke of was enshrined in Article 3 of the convention: The parties agreed to "use the sea for peaceful purposes, turn it into a zone of peace, good-neighborliness, friendship, and cooperation."

At the meeting, the leaders of the other countries also praised the convention.

Then-Iranian President Hassan Rohani said that it was important not only to adopt the convention but to implement it properly.

Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev called the convention a "historical document" and the sea a "zone of stability and security."

Assessing the document as an "epoch-making event," Putin said the convention "guarantees that the Caspian Sea will be used only for peaceful purposes."

Live Briefing: Russia's Invasion Of Ukraine

RFE/RL's Live Briefing gives you all of the latest developments on Russia's ongoing invasion, Kyiv's counteroffensive, Western military aid, global reaction, and the plight of civilians. For all of RFE/RL's coverage of the war, click here.

Four years after Putin's words, Russia launched missiles into Ukraine and turned the Caspian Sea into part of the war zone, but the states on the Caspian coast have yet to react.

After Moscow launched missiles from the Caspian on June 30, the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry issued an appeal in which it called on Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, and Turkmenistan "to make every effort to force Russia to adhere to its international legal obligations, in particular the Convention on the Legal Status of the Caspian Sea."

The sixth Caspian summit had been held in Ashgabat on the day before the Ukrainian appeal, with the participation of the leaders of Azerbaijan, Iran, Russia, Kazakhstan, and Turkmenistan. According to the communiqué adopted on June 29, the coastal states reaffirmed the principle of using the Caspian Sea for peaceful purposes.

None of the leaders attending the meeting raised the issue of Russia's use of the Caspian for military purposes.

Dependence On Russia, Or Naked Self-Interest?

RFE/RL's Kazakh Service asked the Kazakh Foreign Ministry why Astana did not respond to Russia's use of the Caspian to fire missiles at Ukraine. The ministry responded that "all the provisions of the convention, including Paragraph 2 of Article 3 (the use of the Caspian Sea for peaceful purposes, turning it into a zone of peace, good neighborliness, friendship and cooperation, resolving all issues related to the Caspian Sea by peaceful means), apply only to the Caspian states and are focused on relations between them and do not regulate the sphere of interaction with third countries."

Analysts say the convention is really only aimed at regulating relations between the participating parties. According to the convention, the Caspian states are obliged to respect each other's territorial integrity and independence, not to use force against each other, and not to interfere in each other's internal affairs. The convention contains only one provision concerning third countries: that armed forces not belonging to the parties should not be on the sea.

"I think the view of the Caspian littoral states is that Russian vessels are in international waters even in the Caspian -- or are in Russian waters. The only thing the other littoral states have committed to is keeping outside powers out," says Paul Goble, a longtime analyst of Russian and post-Soviet affairs.

Michal Pietkiewicz, a lawyer and professor at the Faculty of Law and Administration at the University of Warmia and Mazury in Poland, who has studied the Caspian convention, notes that it is only a regional document, a closed system for coastal countries. Therefore, according to Pietkiewicz, in practice, Russia did not violate the provisions of the convention in relation to the Caspian states.

"In the preamble of the convention, the parties to the treaty emphasized that all issues regarding the Caspian Sea are within the exclusive competence of the parties. Summing up: The Caspian convention is a closed system (only for coastal states), so the final question arises: Can military activities conducted from Russian territory against a state that is not a party to the convention be regarded as a violation of the 'peaceful purposes' clause?" Pietkiewicz asks.

"And in trying to give an answer, we should ask another question: Did Russia threaten or use force against the territorial integrity or political independence or in any other manner undertake any actions inconsistent with the principles of international law embodied in the charter of the United Nations against Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, and Turkmenistan? The answer is no."

The Kazakh Foreign Ministry also told RFE/RL that the convention had not entered into force, so "Kazakhstan has no legal grounds to require Russia to comply with the provisions of the convention."

In 2018, the convention was publicly signed by the five Caspian countries and then the document was ratified by all of them, except Iran. Iran refused to ratify the convention because it said the document did not meet its strategic interests and the issue of determining the baselines dividing the sovereign territory of each state had not been resolved.

Despite the fact that Iran has not ratified the convention, this has nothing to do with the fact that the Caspian countries have not expressed concern about missile launches, Pietkiewich believes, because each of the coastal states is independent and can act independently.

Dependence On Russia

Even if the Caspian states cannot rely on the Caspian convention to apply to Russia, they can be guided by other international instruments, and because all of them are members of the United Nations, Pietkiewich says, the Caspian states could theoretically take action against Russia, based on international law that prohibits genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity.

But the main reason the Caspian states have remained silent about the missile launches is their dependence on Russia, analysts say. The Caspian states are members of alliances led by Russia.

Kazakhstan is a member of the Collective Security Treaty Organization and the Eurasian Economic Union. The country also depends on Russian trade: Russia's share of Kazakh imports is 38 percent. Kazakh oil exports to Europe pass through Russia.

Since the beginning of the year, Russia has partially or completely stopped the operation of the Caspian Pipeline Consortium, which carries Kazakh oil through its territory, four times. Analysts suggest that it's because Kazakhstan has not publicly supported Russia in its war with Ukraine, allowing tens of thousands of Russians fleeing a military mobilization in Russia into Kazakhstan and declining to recognize the Kremlin's declaration of four partially controlled Ukrainian regions as sovereign states.

Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan are members of the Commonwealth of Independent States and both have established trade and economic relations with Russia.

And following Russia's invasion of Ukraine, Tehran and Moscow have strengthened military cooperation, with reports that Iran is providing Russia with military drones. According to Kyiv, its military has shot down more than 300 Iranian-made drones. On October 16, The Washington Post reported that Iran had sold not only drones but even ballistic missiles to Russia.

In an interview with The Economist, Vadym Skibitskiy, Ukraine's deputy head of military intelligence, said that Iranian missiles would be delivered by air to Russian-occupied Crimea and by sea to Russian ports on the Caspian Sea. The Economist predicted that, after receiving these missiles, Russia will step up its air strikes.

"There is a lack of responsibility for other states (here for Ukraine), and a lack of solidarity with other states (Ukraine), and some states are too afraid of losing their gas and oil supplies. Therefore, the particular interests of an individual state sometimes take precedence over the global situation," Pietkiewich says. "Nevertheless, if we remain silent about the violation of the basic norms of international law, this gives the aggressor a free hand. Acts of aggression may spread to other territories, including 'silent' states."

Says Goble: "I think that the others should make it very clear that this use by Russia of the Caspian is inconsistent with the spirit, if not the letter, of their agreement. I fear none of them would be willing to do so individually, and I don't see much prospect for a collective démarche."

Leaked Document Says Iranian Leadership Is Seeking To Discredit Sunni Cleric

Iranian Sunni theologian and spiritual leader Molavi Abdolhamid Ismaeelzah (file photo)

A leaked document from the hard-line Fars news agency says Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has told security and military officials to try and disgrace a top Sunni cleric, who is a vocal critic of the government, instead of arresting him.

The document was published on November 30 after the hacktivist group Black Reward announced that it had succeeded in hacking the Fars news agency, which is affiliated with the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC). The group released dozens of documents and videos it said were prepared by the news agency.

The cleric, Molavi Abdolhamid Ismaeelzah, is regarded across the country as a spiritual leader for Iran’s Sunni Muslim population. He is the director of the main Sunni seminary in Iran and has been under pressure for his comments against the Islamic republic.

"He [Molavi Abdolhamid] should not be arrested. Rather, he should be dishonored," according to one of the documents, which are delivered as bulletins prepared by Fars and delivered to senior IRGC officials, which was handing down comments from the Ayatollah.

Early last month, Molavi Abdolhamid said senior officials, including Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, were "responsible" for the killing of protesters during the so-called "Bloody Friday" massacre in the southeastern city of Zahedan on September 30. He also called for an immediate referendum with the presence of international observers to "change policies based on the wishes of the people."

Almost 100 people were killed and hundreds injured by security forces in the incident, which came during protests sparked by the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini while in the custody of the morality police and the alleged rape of a 15-year-old girl by a local police commander.

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

The activist HRANA news agency said that, as of November 29, at least 459 protesters had been killed during the unrest, including 64 minors, as security forces try to stifle widespread dissent.

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

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

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