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Iranian Bill Before Parliament Increases Penalties For Defiance Of Hijab

Young women in Iran defying the mandatory head covering will face stiffer and stiffer penalties.
Young women in Iran defying the mandatory head covering will face stiffer and stiffer penalties.

A bill containing Iran's Chastity and Hijab law has been presented to parliament, legislation that many see as a continuation of the government's oppression of women and human rights.

State media reported on May 24 that provisions of the bill refer to failure to comply by the compulsory head scarf as "nudity," with progressively stiffer penalties that run up to fines and the deprivation of social rights.

Repeat offenders would face imprisonment from six months to three years.

The Chastity and Hijab bill also imposes stringent penalties on drivers or passengers of a vehicle who are with those who fail to comply with the compulsory hijab. After two fines, a vehicle can be confiscated, with a daily fine of 10 million rials ($20).

The proposed law would penalize owners and managers of public places, including stores, restaurants, cinemas, sports, recreational, and artistic venues. These penalties extend to fines, the sealing of their premises, and the deprivation of tax exemptions and government tariffs.

The hijab became compulsory for women and girls over the age of 9 in 1981, two years after the Islamic Revolution in Iran. The move triggered protests that were swiftly crushed by the new authorities. Many women have flouted the rule over the years and pushed the boundaries of what officials say is acceptable clothing.

Women have also launched campaigns against the discriminatory law, although many have been pressured by the state and forced to leave the country.

Most recently, the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in September in police custody for an alleged hijab violation released a new wave of anger that has presented the Islamic regime with its biggest challenge since the revolution.

The "Woman, life, freedom" protests and civil disobedience against the compulsory hijab have swept the country, involving tens of thousands of Iranians, many of whom were already upset over the country's deteriorating living standards.

The protests have also been buffeted by the participation of celebrities, sports stars, and well-known rights activists, prompting a special mention of such luminaries in the legislation.

The bill states that socially influential individuals, owing to their activities in social, political, cultural, artistic, or sports spheres, could see their professional and online activities banned from three months to a year for violations, with repeated offenders facing up to three years in prison.

In the face of the unrest, some religious and government figures have repeatedly advocated for a tougher stance by the government against offenders, even going as far as encouraging a "fire at will" approach against noncompliant women.

While the protests appear to be waning, resistance to the hijab is likely to increase, analysts say, as it is seen now as a symbol of the state's repression of women and the deadly crackdown on society.

In recent weeks, the authorities have also shut down businesses, restaurants, cafes, and in some cases pharmacies due to the failure of owners or managers to observe Islamic laws and hijab rules.

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

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Why Iran's Presidential Election Matters More Than Past Votes

Why Iran's Presidential Election Matters More Than Past Votes
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Iranians will choose a new president on June 28, more than a month after the death of Ebrahim Raisi in a helicopter crash. Six candidates, including one lone reformist, have been handpicked by the Islamic republic's political establishment. The winner could play a major role in choosing the successor to aging Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. But some Iranians told RFE/RL's Radio Farda that they will boycott an election they see as being engineered.

Iran's Supreme Court Overturns Rapper's Death Sentence

Iranian rapper Toomaj Salehi had been sentenced to death for "corruption on Earth." (file photo)
Iranian rapper Toomaj Salehi had been sentenced to death for "corruption on Earth." (file photo)

Iran's Supreme Court has overturned popular rapper Toomaj Salehi's death sentence, his lawyer said on June 22.

In April, Salehi was sentenced to death by a court in Isfahan on a new charge, "corruption on Earth," as he was serving a six-year prison sentence for his involvement in the 2022 protests that rocked Iran for months.

"As expected, the Supreme Court avoided an irreparable judicial error," Salehi's lawyer, Amir Raisian, wrote on X. "The death sentence was overturned and, based on the appeal decision of the Supreme Court, the case will be referred to a parallel branch for reconsideration."

Salehi, 33, was initially arrested in October 2022 after making public statements in support of the protests that had erupted the previous month following the death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old woman who died while in police custody for allegedly wearing her head scarf improperly.

After spending much of his pretrial detention in solitary confinement, he was sentenced to six years in prison but released after the Supreme Court, on appeal, found "flaws in the original sentence." His case was sent back to a lower court for reexamination and possible retrial.

He was temporarily released on bail in November after spending over a year in prison, including 252 days in solitary confinement, but then was rearrested shortly after publicly talking about his alleged torture in prison in a video.

Raisian said on June 22 that the Supreme Court also annulled the previous six-year sentence because "it is in excess of legal punishment."

Salehi gained prominence for lyrics that rail against corruption, widespread poverty, executions, and the killing of protesters in Iran.

His songs also point to a widening gap between ordinary Iranians and the country's leadership, accusing the authorities of "suffocating" the people without regard for their well-being.

How Russia Exports Ukrainian Grain As Its Own: An Investigation

Russia uses Rostov grain carriers to export appropriated Ukrainian grain through the ports of occupied Crimea.
Russia uses Rostov grain carriers to export appropriated Ukrainian grain through the ports of occupied Crimea.

Russian firms shipped tens of thousands of tons of wheat and peas out of occupied parts of Ukraine in 2023 to EU member Spain, NATO member Turkey, and Azerbaijan, the investigative unit of RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service, Schemes, and its partners have found.

Similar amounts of barley and corn reached Moscow allies Iran and Syria, which have an established track record of buying Ukrainian grain appropriated by Russia, Schemes, the Ukrainian hacker group KibOrg, the Belarusian Investigative Center, and Vyortska, an independent Russian-language media outlet, determined in an investigation based on official Russian documents and other sources.

At least 6.4 million tons of wheat alone were harvested from Russian-occupied Crimea and Russian-held parts of the Donetsk, Kherson, Luhansk, and Zaporizhzhya regions in 2023, according to satellite estimates by NASA’s Harvest program, which tracks food-security threats. SeaKrime, a nongovernmental Ukrainian project that tracks Russia’s illegal grain shipments from Ukraine, has reported that 2 million tons of that harvest were shipped abroad from Crimea’s ports.


Such sales undermine Ukraine’s war-battered economy and provide Russia with revenue to finance the full-scale invasion of Ukraine, now in its third year.

For 2023, Schemes and its partners documented Russian sales of nearly 35,000 tons of wheat, barley, corn, and peas from the Kherson region and Crimea at discounted customs rates.

Hacked documents from Kherson’s occupation administrators, leaked Russian customs data, and information from the online trade database Import Genius confirmed the role of at least four Russian companies – Agro-Fregat, Pallada, Sim-Trans Group, and TD Fregat – in these transactions.

One of these companies, Pallada, has a remote connection to the general contractor for construction of a massive residential complex on Russia’s Black Sea coast known as “Putin’s palace.”

Though Russian customs and occupation-administration documents show that the products came from the Kherson region and Crimea, rather than from Russia, whether the buyers ever questioned the origins of the products they were purchasing is unclear. None agreed to discuss the matter.

How It Works

The Kherson region, part of Ukraine’s breadbasket, boasted a record harvest of 3.1 million tons of grain in 2021 – a bounty that attracted Russian firms once Russian forces occupied parts of the southern region in 2022.

Satellite data in 2022 showed trucks traveling from Kherson and the neighboring Zaporizhzhya region, also partially Russian-occupied, to Crimea for shipment abroad.

In 2023, Russian companies shipped an estimated 6.2 million euros ($6.7 million) worth of agricultural products from the Kherson region at discounted Russian customs rates or duty-free, according to Russian customs data and contracts from the occupation administration.

Volodymyr Saldo, an ex-mayor of the city of Kherson who is the top occupation official in the Russian-held part of the region, has the power to approve or reject the decisions of a commission that assigns these discounts.
In 2023, about a dozen Russian companies applied for the special rates.

The commission’s decisions enabled Schemes and its partners to trace Russian companies’ illegal sales of Kherson’s agricultural products abroad.

European Union

Since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, the European Union has banned over 91.2 million euros ($97.6 million) worth of Russian imports but has avoided barring Russian-EU trade in food and health products “in order not to harm the Russian population,” an EU explainer states.

A freight car for grain in the Crimean port of Feodosia bears the name of the Russian company Agro-Fregat, in June 2023.
A freight car for grain in the Crimean port of Feodosia bears the name of the Russian company Agro-Fregat, in June 2023.

That spells opportunity for Russia’s Agro-Fregat, a wholesale agricultural exporter, whose train cars RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service has photographed in Crimea. In a 2022 article, Oleksiy Makeyev, a Ukrainian Foreign Ministry special envoy on sanctions, denounced Agro-Fregat, based in southwestern Russia’s Rostov region, and seven other Russian firms for exporting “stolen grain” from Ukraine.

Peas also make up that portfolio. Russian export data shows that, in September 2023, Agro-Fregat sent, as part of a 4,500-ton shipment to Spain, nearly 2,674 tons of peas from the Crimean port of Sevastopol. Agro-Fregat has been receiving Russian quality certifications for Crimean peas since 2022, according to Russia’s Federal Accreditation Service.

In 2022-23, Spain ranked as the second-largest importer of peas exported by Russia after Turkey, the Russian news agency Interfax reported.

A cargo manifest obtained by SeaKrime, a section of the Myrotvorets group, identified Agro-Fregat’s Spanish customer as Cereales Y Harinas Garsan S.L., a company in Spain’s southeastern city of Lorca that says it distributes foodstuffs to 12 countries.

Cereales Y Harinas Garsan did not respond to a request for comment. In a May 25 phone call with Schemes, Agro-Fregat CEO Dmitry Lapkin denied any knowledge of shipments from the Kherson region.

Turkey, Too

But Agro-Fregat routinely exports from the Kherson region: In June and July 2023, it requested permission from the commission to export 25,000 tons of wheat and meslin, a mixture of cereals and legumes, at discounted rates. The buyer, according to occupation administration documents, was the Turkish company Velar Tarim Sanayi ve Tic. A.S (Velar), headquartered in the city of Adana.

Turkey, which exports military goods to Ukraine, ranked in 2022-23 as the main importer of grain exported by Russia, according to agribusiness consultants APK-Inform.

At least 9,554 tons of the wheat and meslin for Velar, according to a Russian government itinerary confirmed by tracking by MarineTraffic, a shipping intelligence site, traveled on August 7, 2023, from Crimea’s Sevastopol Bay to Russia’s Port Kavkaz on the Kerch Strait on board the Alfa M, and thence, two days later, on to Turkey’s Mediterranean port of Mersin on board the St. Olga.

Velar did not respond to questions about this shipment.

Azerbaijan

Turkey’s South Caucasus ally Azerbaijan, which has close ties with Moscow, has described itself as “a loyal and dear friend to Ukraine.” It also is a regular customer for Russian-expropriated wheat from Ukraine.

Wheat imports classified as Russian, in fact, narrowly outranked petroleum products in 2022 as Azerbaijan’s main Russian import, valued at $294 million, according to the trade data site OEC.

The Moscow-based Sim-Trans Group describes itself as one of the top three wheat exporters to Azerbaijan. In 2023, it exported the ruble equivalent of just under $410,000 worth of grain, according to an official Russian foreign trade database, to the Baku-registered company Diba.

The origin of all these wheat shipments is unclear. But in 2023, Sim-Trans Group received permission from the commission to send Diba up to 2,200 tons of grain from Kherson, occupation-administration documents show.

Sim-Trans Group did not answer phone calls about this shipment. Diba did not respond to requests for comment.

Iran And Syria

One Russian company, Pallada, LLC, which sent at least 15,400 tons of Kherson barley under a discounted Russian customs rate in 2023 to Iran’s Persian Gulf port of Bandar Imam Khomeini, has a distant connection to sanctioned Croatian businessman Kresimir Filipovic, who Russian media have reported was involved in the construction of a luxury estate in Gelendzhik on Russia’s Black Sea coast that was allegedly built for Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Pallada was registered as a grain wholesaler in the southwestern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don a few weeks before the full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

Its minority owner is Megapolis-Invest, a Russian corporate management firm that previously controlled a company, Waveform Investments, formerly majority owned by Filipovic, according to the business database KonturFocus.

The independent media outlet Proyekt has identified a Filipovic-owned business, Velesstroi, as the general contractor for construction of “Putin’s palace.”

The extent of Filipovic’s involvement in Pallada, if any, is unclear.

The firm’s majority owner, according to the Russian business registry SBIS, is Sergei Kuznetsov, a 47-year-old Muscovite.

Kuznetsov did not respond to Vyorstka’s May 31 question via Telegram about whether he is Pallada’s nominal owner in favor of Megapolis-Invest and Filipovic.

Another Russian exporter, the Moscow-based TD Fregat LLC, also declined to comment. In May 2023, it received a customs-duty discount on 3,000 tons of Kherson corn as part of an 8,000-ton export from Crimea to the Syrian port of Latakia.

TD Fregat, which says it “specializes in complex operations in the grain industry,” did not respond to a request for elaboration.

Written by Elizabeth Owen

Adviser To Iranian Presidential Candidate Praised After Storming Off TV Set

A frustrated Mohammad Fazeli (front left) tore off his microphone and threw it after a heated exchange with a state TV panelist on June 19.
A frustrated Mohammad Fazeli (front left) tore off his microphone and threw it after a heated exchange with a state TV panelist on June 19.

Supporters of Iranian reformist presidential candidate Masud Pezeshkian have praised his adviser Mohammad Fazeli for storming off the set of a live televised discussion program after a fiery exchange with a hard-line pundit.

Iran's state-run broadcaster IRIB has been holding televised roundtables as part of its election programming where candidates appear on set accompanied by two advisers to face a three-person panel of experts picked by the IRIB.

Fazeli appeared in the studio on June 19 as one of Pezeshkian’s two advisers on cultural issues, where he found himself on the receiving end of stinging remarks by Shahab Esfandiari, a panelist and the head of IRIB University.

Iranian Adviser Causes Scene On State TV
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Iranian Adviser Causes Scene On State TV

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In 2021, Fazeli was among a slew of professors and lecturers who were forced out of universities during the early months of the late President Ebrahim Raisi's tenure in office.

Between 2013 and 2017, during the first term of moderate President Hassan Rouhani, Fazeli served as a deputy energy minister and later served as an adviser to the ministry.

Esfandiari, who is said to be close to hard-line candidate Saeed Jalili, accused Fazeli of "violating" his contract with the prestigious Shahid Beheshti University when he took positions in the government.

He also charged that Fazeli had "made a scene in the media" after being fired from the university and accused him of "damaging the image of higher education."

Fazeli insisted he had been cleared by the university to work in the government and maintained that Esfandiari was "lying."

The exchange quickly spiraled, with Esfandiari cutting in as Fazeli tried to speak. At one point, Pezeshkian jumped in, telling Esfandiari to "let him [Fazeli] speak."

Having lost control of the situation, the moderator, Jafar Khosravi, cut off Esfandiari and Fazeli's microphones. Fazeli proceeded to leave his seat, unhook his microphone, and throw it down before walking off the set.

A video later emerged showing a large group of Pezeshkian's supporters who had gathered in a conference hall at Tehran's Milad Tower to watch a livestream of the debate break into applause when Fazeli stormed off.

On social media, supporters of Pezeshkian criticized the state broadcaster for not allowing Fazeli to respond to Esfandiari's comments and accused the hard-line panelist of settling personal scores on live television.

Conservatives, however, argued that the incident provided a glimpse into what a Pezeshkian administration would look like.

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

Outspoken Iranian Filmmaker Explains Why She's Boycotting Presidential Election

Mojgan Ilanlou says boycotting Iran's upcoming presidential election is a form of peaceful civil protest. (file photo)
Mojgan Ilanlou says boycotting Iran's upcoming presidential election is a form of peaceful civil protest. (file photo)

Millions of ordinary Iranians, fed up with a flailing economy and the lack of social and political freedoms, are expected to stay at home when the country holds a presidential election on June 28.

A low turnout, which experts say is likely, would underscore the challenge to the legitimacy of Iran’s ruling clerical establishment amid rising anti-government sentiment.

Among those who will boycott the upcoming election is Mojgan Ilanlou, a documentary filmmaker and women’s rights activist based in Tehran.

The outspoken Ilanlou was arrested and jailed for her involvement in the monthslong nationwide antiestablishment protests that rocked the Islamic republic in 2022. She was later released under an amnesty.

Now, she says she will stay away from the polls as a form of peaceful civil protest against the authorities, who have cracked down on protesters with lethal force.

“I have no representative in this election to vote for…so maybe when they realize they need my vote and that I don’t easily sell my vote, something might change,” Ilanlou told RFE/RL’s Radio Farda.

Elections in the Islamic republic are tightly controlled with candidates being preselected by an unelected body dominated by hard-liners.

The six candidates cleared to run in the upcoming election are all men, most are hard-liners, and some have ties to the powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), the elite branch of Iran’s armed forces.

“Not only me but, I believe, a large group of people have reached the understanding that no change comes from the ballot box in Iran,” Ilanlou said.

She laughed off assertions that people boycotting the election were seeking to topple the clerical regime, arguing that the authorities “are ruling in such a way that they are taking care of it themselves.”

Women's Rights Not A Priority

Unprecedented antiestablishment protests erupted in Iran following the death of a young woman, Mahsa Amini, in police custody after she was arrested for allegedly wearing her mandatory hijab, or head scarf, improperly.

Ilanlou was among the first women to publicly ditch her hijab during the protests. Women, some of whom cut their hair and burned their head scarves in public, were at the forefront of the demonstrations.

The 53-year-old was detained by security forces and jailed for four months for posting pictures of herself on social media without the hijab.

During previous elections, Ilanlou said candidates would often talk about women’s rights and make pledges on the campaign trail that they could not keep. But that is not the case this year.

“This time around, the candidates don’t even talk about women at all…it is as though there is no such thing as women, women’s demands, or equality,” Ilanlou said. “They act like they don’t need women’s votes. They’ll see the consequence at the ballot box.”

She said that the lone reformist, Masud Pezeshkian, is the only candidate so far to broach the subject of the notorious morality police, which enforces the strict Islamic dress code. But, she added, Pezeshkian had not actually said anything to excite voters.

“He says he’s opposed to the morality police. So what? We’re opposed to it, too.” Ilanlou said. “Fix the crisis, if you can.”

Written by Kian Sharifi based on an interview by Kianush Farid of RFE/RL’s Radio Farda.

Interactive: This Is How Iran Is Ruled

Fire At Iranian Hospital Leaves At Least 9 Dead

The private Qaem hospital in Rasht
The private Qaem hospital in Rasht

A devastating fire at the private Qaem hospital in Rasht, northern Iran, has resulted in the deaths of nine people, Iranian news agencies reported, including some patients in intensive care.

Mohammad Taghi Ashoubi, head of Gilan University of Medical Sciences, confirmed that the death toll had risen to nine following the death of another victim from the fire, which started in the early morning hours at the 250-bed facility on June 18.

At the time of the blaze, approximately 140 patients were in the facility, with 120 sustaining injuries, officials said.

Rasht fire department officials said it took three hours to bring the fire under control.

"By the time we arrived, the basement and the intensive-care rooms were on fire. The fire originated in the hospital's utility room," said Shahram Momeni, head of the fire brigade.

Qaem hospital, established in 2013 and affiliated with the Gilan University of Medical Sciences, houses over 200 beds and includes facilities catering to both local and medical tourists. These include specialized and super-specialized departments such as dialysis, chemotherapy, emergency services, angiography, and maternity and pediatric care.

The fire highlights ongoing safety concerns in Iranian health-care facilities as it follows a tragic fire in November 2023 that killed 36 people at the First Step to Freedom addiction treatment center in Langarud, Gilan Province.

Other notable fires at Tehran medical facilities include a large blaze at the Gandhi Hospital and the deadly explosion at Sina At'har medical diagnostic clinic in July 2020, which claimed 19 lives and injured 14 others.

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

Lawyer Of Executed Iranian Protester Sentenced To 6 Years For 'Propaganda Against The Regime'

Mohammad Mehdi Karami, a client of lawyer Amirhossein Kouhkan, speaks in court in December 2022 before being executed.
Mohammad Mehdi Karami, a client of lawyer Amirhossein Kouhkan, speaks in court in December 2022 before being executed.

The Islamic Revolutionary Court of Karaj has sentenced Amirhossein Kouhkan, a defense lawyer for the family of Mohammad Mehdi Karami, who was executed during protests over the death of Mahsa Amini that rocked Iran in 2022, to six years in prison.

Kouhkan faced several charges, according to the Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA), including "assembly and collusion" and "propaganda against the regime."

Kouhkan's arrest comes after he was summoned by the Karaj intelligence department last year. He was detained at the time and held until he was granted a conditional release in December.

The charges also follow the arrest of Mashallah Karami, Mohammad Mehdi Karami's father, highlighting a pressure campaign rights groups say the government is using against those connected to protest movements in Iran.

Mohammad Mehdi Karami was one of nine individuals executed by the Islamic republic in relation to the protests of 2022, which saw widespread unrest over government policies that protesters said curbed basic human rights and intruded too deeply into the lives of most Iranians.

His execution in January 2023, which was tied to the alleged murder of a Basij militia member during the nationwide upheaval, drew international condemnation.

The cases of Kouhkan and Karami underscore the concern among Iranian authorities of the possibility of a new wave of unrest.

Following the death of Amini in September 2022, hundreds of thousands of Iranians took to the streets nationwide to protest. The 22-year-old died under mysterious circumstances while she was in police custody for an alleged head-scarf violation.

A clampdown by security forces against protesters has resulted in the deaths of approximately 600 demonstrators, as reported by human rights groups, and thousands of arrests.

The Iranian judiciary has also executed several protesters, further inflaming public outcry against the regime's harsh tactics.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ottawa severed diplomatic relations with Tehran in 2012.

With reporting by AFP

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Iran Rebukes G7 For Statement On Nuclear Program Escalation

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

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

Updated

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

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

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

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

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

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

All three returned to their countries on June 15.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

With reporting by AFP

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Key Issue

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What To Keep An Eye On

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That's all from me for now.

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

Until next time,

Abubakar Siddique

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

Iran Detains 1 For Allegedly Insulting Late President Raisi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He called on the authorities to immediately release her.

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

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

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

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

Iranian Cartoonist Sentenced To 6 Years In Prison For Activism

Iranian cartoonist Atena Farghadani
Iranian cartoonist Atena Farghadani

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Iran Frees Imprisoned French Citizen, Macron Says

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

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

Iran Commutes Death Sentence Of Sunni Cleric Detained During 2022 Protests

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nonetheless, the sentence was confirmed by the Supreme Court.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Since Amini's death in September 2022, more than 500 people have been killed in the police crackdown, according to rights groups. Several thousand more have been arrested, including many protesters, as well as journalists, lawyers, activists, digital rights defenders, and others.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

'You Sued Me'

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

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

His comments triggered a torrent of criticism on social media.

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

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

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

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

'Went To Prison'

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Qalibaf and Zakani have not commented on the allegation.

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

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

Unseen Persia: Thousands Of Photographs Leaked From Iranian Archive

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Naser al-Din Shah
Naser al-Din Shah

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Iranian Rapper, Activist Jailed For Political Performance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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