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Rohani Returns To Mixed Welcome After Historic Chat With Obama

Hard-line supporters of Iran's Basij militia raise up anti-American placards as Iranian president Hassan Rouhani's motorcade leaves Tehran's Mehrabad Airport upon his arrival from New York on September 28.
Iran's President Hassan Rohani has returned to a mixed reception in Tehran after his historic phone call with U.S. President Barack Obama.

Iranian media said hundreds of Rohani supporters turned up at the airport. But about 100 hard-liners shouting "Death to America" reportedly pelted his car with eggs and stones in protest.

Speaking after returning to Tehran on September 28, Rohani said that his conversation with Obama centered on the subject of nuclear power.

"The conversation that we had on the phone was mostly over nuclear issues," Rohani said. "And I said during that phone call that not only is it the absolute right of the Iranian people [to nuclear power] and not only is its development an Iranian issue, but also an even bigger issue is the national pride of the Iranian people. He approved the right of the Iranian people to nuclear energy."

During his trip to participate in the UN General Assembly in New York, Rohani had indicated a change of position on Iran's nuclear program. On September 27 he talked with Obama over the phone for 15 minutes.

But the gestures were not liked by some in Iran.

The semiofficial Mehr news agency said at least one protester threw his shoes at the car, a deeply insulting gesture in the Muslim world.

Some protesters reportedly chanted, "Dialogue with Satan is not prudence and hope."

Iran's official media has long referred to the United States as the "Great Satan," while "prudence and hope" was Rohani's campaign slogan ahead of his election as president in June.

It was the first conversation between American and Iranian leaders since the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran.

After the call, Obama said he was hopeful a deal can be done with Rohani to ease international concerns over the scope of Iran's nuclear program.

"I do believe that there is a basis for a resolution [to the Iranian nuclear issue]," he said. "Iran's supreme leader has issued a fatwa against the development of nuclear weapons; President Rohani has indicated that Iran will never develop nuclear weapons; I’ve made clear that we respect the right of the Iranian people to access peaceful nuclear energy in the context of Iran meeting its obligations."

Obama said he and Rohani have directed their teams to work quickly to pursue an agreement.

On a Twitter feed believed to be genuine, Rohani said that in his phone conversation he told Obama "Have a Nice Day!" and Obama responded with the Persian parting phrase "Khodahafez" ("May God be your guardian" or "goodbye")

U.S. officials said the phone call -- which centered on ways to resolve the standoff over Iran's nuclear program -- was requested by the Iranian side.

While he was in New York, Rohani said that he hoped talks with the United States and five other major powers "will yield, in a short period of time, tangible results" on a nuclear deal.

Rohani, who took office last month, told reporters that Iran would bring a plan to resolve the dispute over Tehran's nuclear program to an October meeting with the 5+1 group of powers in Geneva.

The group comprises the five permanent members of the UN Security Council -- the United States, Russia, China, France and Great Britain -- plus Germany.

Rohani has pledged to reduce nuclear tensions, and UN officials said they have seen encouraging signs from Tehran.

Rohani's initiative appears to have the crucial support of Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Several religious figures -- including Friday prayer leaders, who are all loyal to Khamenei — have publicly endorsed Rohani's "heroic flexibility" a term coined by Khamenei to show that Iran was open to dialogue but remained conscious of the Islamic republic's strategic interests.

Iran has repeatedly denied Western charges that it is secretly pursuing a nuclear weapons program.


With reporting by Reuters, AP, BBC, and AFP

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Rights Watchdog Calls Iranian Government's Anniversary Celebrations 'Shameful,' Banners Burned

Months of unrest sparked have posed the greatest threat to Iran's leadership since the Islamic Revolution. (file photo)

Protesters in several Iranian cities, including the capital, Tehran, have set fire to government banners commemorating the anniversary of the 1979 Islamic Revolution as rights group Amnesty International chided the country's leaders for "decades of mass killings and cover-ups."

Months of unrest sparked by the death on September 16 of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old who died while in custody after being arrested by the notorious morality police for allegedly not wearing a mandatory Islamic head scarf properly, have posed the greatest threat to the Islamic leadership since the revolution.

Her death, which officials blamed on a heart attack, touched off a wave of anti-government protests in cities across the country. The authorities have responded to the unrest with a harsh crackdown that rights groups say has killed more than 500 people, including 71 children.

Amnesty called the anniversary celebrations "shameful" amid decades of mass killings and cover-ups by authorities, including the current brutal treatment of protesters since Amini's death, as well as the 1988 prison massacre that saw thousands of Iranian political prisoners and others killed in mass executions across the country.

“The authorities of the Islamic Republic of Iran have maintained an iron grip on power for decades through the commission of horror after horror with absolute impunity," Diana Eltahawy, Amnesty International’s deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa, said in a statement dated February 6.

"The anniversary arrives amid a horrific wave of bloodshed around the latest protests, as well as arbitrary executions and death sentences targeting protesters. This highlights the need for urgent global action from countries around the world to bring Iranian officials involved in crimes under international law to justice in fair trials,” she added.

Despite the crackdown, Iranians continue to push back as they call for increased freedoms and human rights.

In the evening on February 7, neighborhoods in the northeastern Iranian city of Mashhad witnessed the chanting of slogans -- a nightly occurrence -- by protestors along with the burning of propaganda banners of the government celebrations of the 1979 Islamic Revolution anniversary. Similar scenes were repeated in the cities of Arak, Kermanshah, and Kerman.

In the western Iranian city of Sanandaj, a group of protesters blocked the street leading to the central prison of Sanandaj by lighting a fire and chanting anti-government slogans, including "death to the dictator," a reference to Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Videos published on social media also show that, in different areas of the Iranian capital of Tehran, people chanted anti-government slogans from the windows and rooftops of residential buildings and played the song “Baraye,” which won a Grammy award for social change on February 5 and has become an anthem for the ongoing protests in Iran.

The song Baraye, which roughly translates as "because of," is based on the outpouring of public anger following Amini's death. It is composed of tweets sent by Iranians in response to the tragedy. Many of the tweets blame the country's social, economic, and political ills on the clerical regime.

Officials, who have blamed the West for the demonstrations, have vowed to crack down even harder on protesters, with the judiciary leading the way after the unrest entered a fourth month.

Several thousand people 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

Iranian Clinic Shut After Doctor Defends Woman For Her Stance On Hijab

Since Amini's death, Iranians have flooded into the streets across the country to protest against a lack of rights, with women and schoolgirls making unprecedented shows of support in the biggest threat to the Islamic government since the 1979 revolution.

Authorities in the northeastern Iranian city of Kashmar have shut down a clinic after a confrontation between two women over wearing a head scarf, a topic that has been at the center of months of unrest since a young woman died while in police custody after being detained over how she was wearing hers.

A video that appeared on social media on February 4 shows a veiled woman warning another woman for allegedly not wearing her hijab properly. A doctor at the clinic then defends the woman's right not to wear a hijab and says that her move is a symbol of protest.

"This is a criticism of the mullahs and I defend her," the doctor added in the video. The date of the recording of the video could not be independently verified.


The hard-line Fars news agency, which is affiliated with the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), quoted the prosecutor of Razavi Khorasan Province as saying the doctor was summoned and charged for "insulting a hijabi woman and insulting clerics," while his clinic was also sealed.

In recent weeks, numerous reports have been published about the sealing of businesses, restaurants, cafes, and in some cases even pharmacies for owners and managers failing to observe Islamic laws and mandatory hijab rules.

The wave of closings comes amid the months-long public anger that erupted after 22-year-old Mahsa Amini died in September while in custody after being detained by morality police in Tehran for "improperly" wearing a head scarf.

Since Amini's death, Iranians have flooded into the streets across the country to protest against a lack of rights, with women and schoolgirls making unprecedented shows of support in the biggest threat to the Islamic government since the 1979 revolution.

In response, the authorities have launched a brutal crackdown on dissent, detaining thousands and handing down stiff sentences, including the death penalty, to protesters.

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

Salman Rushdie To Release New Novel, Six Months After Stabbing Attack

Salman Rushdie (file photo)

A new novel by Salman Rushdie will be published on February 7, nearly six months after a man repeatedly stabbed the writer onstage during a lecture in New York state in what was widely condemned as an attack on freedom of expression. Rushdie, 75, was blinded in his right eye and his left hand was badly injured in the stabbing, which happened more than three decades after Iran instructed Muslims to kill Rushdie because of what religious leaders alleged was blasphemy in his 1988 novel The Satanic Verses. To read the original story from Reuters, click here.

Frenchman Held In Iran Reportedly Starts New Hunger Strike

Benjamin Briere

Benjamin Briere, a French national held in Iran, has gone on hunger strike for the second time since his incarceration in May 2020, his sister and his lawyer said on February 6. Briere, who was sentenced to eight years in jail for espionage, is one of seven French and more than two dozen foreign nationals who campaigners say Iran has jailed in a strategy of hostage-taking to extract concessions from the West. A hunger strike is the "only weapon he has," his sister, Blandine Briere, said in a statement. He stopped eating on January 28, she said.

Iranian Activist Says Reforms Can't Save Islamic Government, Change Needed

Bahareh Hedayat

A leading jailed Iranian political activist says the time has come for the Islamic government to leave, even if it takes some reforms such as repealing the deeply divisive mandatory hijab law.

In a letter written from the women's ward of Evin prison imploring fellow rights activist Farhad Meysami to end his hunger strike, Bahareh Hedayat wrote that "our problem is with the logic of this regime, which is a form of Islamic fascism."

"The overthrow [of the Islamic republic] is now the will of the majority of the nation and the necessity of the existing situation," she added.

Last week, Meysami vowed to continue his hunger strike until Iranian authorities release six political prisoners, including Hedayat, and stop their harassment of women through the compulsory hijab rule. Photos on social media showed him in an emaciated condition amid growing fears over his health.

Farhad Meysami and the books he translated while in prison.
Farhad Meysami and the books he translated while in prison.

Meysami has been in prison since August 2018 after being sentenced to six years for supporting women protesting against the hijab law, which forces them to cover their hair in public.

He was charged with "spreading propaganda against the system" and "gathering and colluding to commit crimes against national security," as well as for "insulting Islamic sanctities," because the authorities said he denigrated the hijab.

In the letter, Hedayat wrote that even if the Islamic republic repeals the compulsory hijab law, "what should we do with its costly conflict with the world?"

"Even if they reached an agreement with the West, what should we do with its organized corruption? What to do with the guardian jurist (supreme leader)? What should we do with its madness, tyranny, inefficiency, and looting?" she added.

In the face of withering criticism from the West over its treatment of protesters and its human rights record in general, Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on February 5 issued an amnesty for "tens of thousands" of prisoners, including protesters arrested during recent anti-government rallies.

Meysami has held several hunger strikes during his incarceration; his demands have been mostly related to social conditions in Iran and the pligth of other activists and prisoners.

Hedayat is a student activist and women's rights campaigner in Iran who has been arrested and sentenced to long prison terms several times.

Most recently, she was arrested on October 3 during nationwide protests in Iran that broke out following the September 16 death of a young woman while in custody for allegedly violating the country's head-scarf law.

The U.S.-based Human Rights Activists News Agency said that, as of January 29, at least 527 people had been killed during the unrest, including 71 minors, as security forces muzzle dissent.

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

Iranian Activists Greet Prisoner Amnesty With Skepticism, Calling It An Attempt To Change The Narrative

Human rights groups estimate that around 20,000 people have been arrested in connection with the protests so far. The Norway-based Iran Human Rights Group estimates that around 100 prisoners may face the death penalty.

Several Iranian lawyers, human rights activists, imprisoned protesters, and former political prisoners have dismissed an amnesty decree issued by Iran's supreme leader for tens of thousands of protesters as propaganda and lies.

Iranian state media reported on February 5 that Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei issued an amnesty for "tens of thousands" of prisoners, including protesters arrested during the anti-government rallies, as the country finds itself engulfed in a wave of protests following the September 16 death of a young woman while in custody for allegedly violating the country's head-scarf law.

Saeed Dehghan, the lawyer of several political activists, called the statements of the judiciary authorities an attempt by the regime to "impose a false narrative" and "impudently change the positions of the plaintiff and the accused."

Meanwhile, a group of Iranian users on Twitter reacted to the news of Khamenei's amnesty in a campaign with the hashtag #NeverForget (#یادمون_نمیره) that recalled the killing of protesters and regime opponents.

Khamenei's order to pardon some prisoners is a common procedure that usually occurs before the anniversary of the 1979 Islamic Revolution. However, this year the order has been issued as the government faces one of the biggest threats to the Islamic leadership since the revolution in 1979.

State media quoted Sadegh Rahimi, the deputy of the judiciary, as saying that in order to be pardoned, the accused must "express regret for their activities and give a written commitment not to repeat those activities."

Reports also indicate that Khamenei's amnesty order does not include dual-national prisoners and those accused of "corruption on Earth," a charge that many of those arrested in the recent nationwide protests are facing and which could carry the death penalty.

Human rights groups estimate that around 20,000 people have been arrested in connection with the protests so far.

The Norway-based Iran Human Rights Group estimates that around 100 prisoners may face the death penalty.

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

Freezing Cold Puts Iran's Natural-Gas Ambitions On Ice

Iranians waiting to fill their LPG containers in Razavi Khorasan Province in January.

As winter approached, Iran was relishing the prospect of falling temperatures that could put Europe in a deep freeze and allow Tehran to bask in the wealth of its formidable natural-gas reserves.

A difficult winter for Europeans would offer many advantages, including leverage in protracted negotiations in Vienna aimed at reviving Iran’s stalled nuclear deal with world powers, according to the ideas floated by Iranian officials and state media.

“Wait two months, until winter arrives in Europe, to get a better deal,” the Kayhan newspaper, which often echoes the hard-line views of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, wrote as negotiators met in the autumn of 2022.

The thinking was that European nations across the negotiating table would be compelled to lift harsh sanctions against Iranian energy exports. And as Europe struggled to keep warm, Iran would not only be able to capitalize on an agreement reached in the summer to import Russian natural gas, but also be in a position to fill the void left after Russian natural-gas deliveries to Europe were restricted as punishment for the Kremlin’s unprovoked war against Ukraine.

Let Them Burn Cat Dung

Even as the nuclear talks stalled, the sanctions remained in place, and promised Russian natural-gas deliveries never materialized, the mood in Iran was still optimistic as severe cold arrived in the Islamic republic in January.

Iran would have no trouble weathering the cold, the Javan newspaper, which is close to the powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, gloated, whereas “the French have received remittances of firewood, the Germans have gone to coal, the British are burning cat feces, and the Swedes go to work with blankets to survive this harsh winter.”

But as temperatures plunged and demand for natural gas rose at home, Iran was not in a position to deliver. Authorities instead scrambled to conserve gas, leading to the closure of some schools and public facilities. Citizens angered over higher gas prices and cutoffs held scattered protests, adding a new cause to ongoing anti-government demonstrations in Iran.

The sun sets on Iran's South Pars gas field.
The sun sets on Iran's South Pars gas field.

Meanwhile, the increased use of electricity overwhelmed power grids, while the burning of dirty fuels such as mazut and animal dung led to a spike in air pollution.

"Over the past few days, when the temperature reached -20 degrees Celsius...we could not provide kerosene or liquid petroleum gas to the people to use,” the semiofficial ILNA news agency quoted Mohammad Sargazi, a lawmaker from the southeastern province of Sistan-Baluchistan, as saying last month. "The conditions were so difficult that they burned firewood and animal excrement in the villages."

Failed Energy Management

Social media posts painted a picture of desperation as gas was cut off to many areas of Iran in the middle of the cold snap.

Videos showed long lines of consumers around the country waiting to get refills of bottled gas for cooking and other household needs. Young students were shown bundled up with blankets in freezing classrooms. Other images emerged of outraged Iranians taking to the streets to protest the lack of supplies and gathering outside aid offices to demand electric heaters.

But while Iranians and observers were incredulous as to how a country with such enormous natural-gas reserves could continue to find itself in such a situation, experts had a simple answer: decades of misguided strategies that have made Iran overly dependent on natural gas and put the country’s energy security at risk.

“Iran holds the second-largest natural-gas reserves in the world,” said Umud Shokri, a Washington-based energy strategist and faculty associate at George Mason University. “[But] due to high domestic consumption, mismanagement, sanctions, and a lack of financial resources and highly advanced technology, it has not been able to use this capital efficiently.”

Despite its vast reserves, Iran has been a net importer of natural gas since 2011, when it turned to supplies from Turkmenistan in an attempt to reverse its perennial energy crisis, Shokri told RFE/RL in written comments.

The administration of President Ebrahim Raisi “does not have a proper understanding of energy security, energy diplomacy, and energy transition,” which he said “requires an economy based on green and clean energies.”
-- Umud Shokri, George Mason University

But the additional gas has failed to match Iran’s status as one of the world’s top five consumers of natural gas. Shortages rose to up to 300 million cubic meters of gas a day this winter, and the deficit is only growing bigger as domestic production declines, aging infrastructure deteriorates, and Iran struggles to get the foreign investment and technology it needs to turn things around.

Domestic gas production did rise considerably over the past two decades, boosted by the exploitation of the world’s largest gas field: the South Pars field, 3,000 meters below the seabed of the Persian Gulf. But like most of Iran’s gas fields, production at South Pars is expected to drop steadily without the construction of massive new drilling platforms.

Even if Iran could work out a deal today with a foreign partner with the expertise to construct such platforms -- as Qatar did on its share of South Pars -- it would cost $25 billion and take five years to see results, according to Shokri.

Dalga Khatinoglu, an expert on Iranian energy issues, said that much of the country’s natural gas is wasted as a result of gas leaks, inefficient electricity production, the lack of proper storage facilities, and the flaring off of gas that the country does not have the technology to capture.

And whereas Iran invested up to $20 billion annually into its oil and gas sector in the early 2000s, that figure was halved by 2016 and has fallen to only about $3 billion per year since, according to Khatinoglu.

Sanctions, Russia In The Equation

Iran took a big step toward injecting new life into its energy sector after it agreed to the nuclear deal with world powers in 2015. Under the agreement, some international sanctions against Iran were lifted in exchange for curbs on Iran’s disputed nuclear program. Within a year, Iran had inked a $5 billion deal with the French energy major Total, one of the few Western companies with the required expertise and technology, to further develop and install one new platform at the South Pars field.

But when the United States withdrew from the nuclear accord in 2018 and reintroduced sanctions that could penalize companies working with Tehran, Total left the project. Iran next turned to the China National Petroleum Company (CNPC) for a partnership to develop South Pars, but in 2019 the CNPC also pulled out of the project.

Installation of a new platform at the South Pars gas field.
Installation of a new platform at the South Pars gas field.

Next in line was Russia, which shares Iran’s interest in circumventing Western sanctions, leading to a $40 billion agreement in July with the Russian energy giant Gazprom to develop a number of gas and oil fields. But experts say that Gazprom, like the CNPC, lacks the capabilities needed to further develop South Pars.

Iran has also not received any of the 55 million cubic meters of Russian gas it was to import under the deal with Moscow.

The Russian supplies, Shokri said, would have been used by Iran both for domestic consumption and to pull off a swap under which Iran would receive Russian gas and send its own gas to Russian customers in the region, taking a cut along the way.

In the end, the deal did not pan out, in large part due to Moscow’s existing gas transit routes through Turkey, which left no excess gas to be delivered to Iran. Russian reluctance to aid a potential gas exporting rival also played a part, according to Shokri.

“Considering that Russia can no longer play an important role in Europe's energy security, the country's oil and natural-gas export market will shift to Asia,” Shokri said. “Moscow does not want Iran to be a competitor in the energy market of Asia.”

A Green Solution?

Iranian Oil Minister Javid Oji, speaking to reporters on the sidelines of a government meeting last week, touted plans to develop its energy sector.

Acknowledging that the country was in the midst of an unprecedentedly cold winter, Oji defended price hikes for natural gas, noted that millions of consumers had been spared cutoffs, and said that relief would come by the end of the year as more domestically produced supplies are injected into the country’s pipeline network.

But experts counter that such fixes are not a long-term solution.

Shokri pointed to hitches in previous workarounds, such as the loss of imported natural gas from Turkmenistan in January, when Iran failed to pay off its debts to the Central Asian nation and the supplies were rerouted to Azerbaijan.

While the focus should be on sustainable development and improving the economic welfare of the Iranian people, the energy strategist said, in Iran the “priority is just deterrence.”

The administration of President Ebrahim Raisi, Shokri said, “does not have a proper understanding of energy security, energy diplomacy, and energy transition,” which he said “requires an economy based on green and clean energies.”

But making such a transition, he said, requires huge financial resources and advanced technology.

“The tense foreign policy of the Islamic republic, along with the continuation of nuclear, missile, and drone programs, as well as interference in the affairs of other countries, [also] makes Iran unable to easily attract the necessary financial and technological resources to solve the current problems of Iran's energy industry.”

Updated

Iranian Songwriter Facing Possible Prison Time Takes Home Grammy Award

U.S. first lady Jill Biden accepts a Grammy award on behalf of Shervin Hajipur for "Baraye" on February 5.

Iranian singer Shervin Hajipur, who has been accused of "propaganda against the system" and "inciting people to violent acts," has won a Grammy award for social change for his song Baraye, which has become an anthem for the ongoing protests in Iran over the death of a 22-year-old woman in police custody.

Hajipur attended the event late on February 5 via video link where U.S. First Lady Jill Biden, on stage at the awards ceremony in Los Angeles, presented the award. He could be seen wiping away tears after winning the prize.

Hajipur was detained by police on September 29 after his song gained prominence among protesters demonstrating against the death weeks earlier of Mahsa Amini. She died while in the custody of Tehran's notorious morality police after being detained for allegedly wearing a head scarf improperly.

The singer was released on bail a few days after his arrest and prohibited from leaving the country. He made the appearance at the Grammy awards from an unknown location.

The song Baraye, which roughly translates as "because of," is based on the outpouring of public anger following Amini's death. It is composed of tweets sent by Iranians following Amini's death. Many of the tweets blame the country's social, economic, and political ills on the clerical regime.

“This song became the anthem of the Mahsa Amini protests, a powerful and poetic call for freedom and women's rights,” Biden said. “Shervin was arrested, but this song continues to resonate around the world with its powerful theme: Women, life, freedom."

"We won!" Hajipur added in a tweet.

Iranian officials have not commented on the award.

The song garnered more than 40 million views in less than 48 hours before it was removed from Instagram by Iranian authorities. It also flooded the submission box for the Grammys' newest special award category, which honors a song dedicated to social change.

Hajipur is one of many Iranian celebrities to have been interrogated and had their passports confiscated by the authorities after showing support for anti-government protests enveloping the country.

The widespread unrest represents the biggest threat to the Islamic government since the 1979 revolution.

The U.S.-based Human Rights Activists News Agency said that, as of January 29, at least 527 people had been killed during the unrest, including 71 minors, as security forces muzzle dissent.

Moscow, Tehran Move Forward On Plans For Iran-Designed Drone Factory in Russia

This Iranian kamikaze Shahed drone was launched by Russian forces with a New Year's greeting in Russian and shot down on New Year's Eve over Kyiv.

Russia and Iran are moving forward on plans to establish a factory in Russia aimed at producing some 6,000 Iran-designed drones of the type Moscow has used in the Ukraine war, according to The Wall Street Journal, which cited officials in a U.S.-aligned country. Moscow and Tehran seek to produce a faster drone to better challenge Ukrainian air defenses, the officials said. Washington last month warned that Moscow and Tehran were considering construction of a drone-making plant in Russia.

Former Iranian President Khatami Joins In Calls For Political Change Amid Growing Unrest

Former President Mohammad Khatami in 2013

Former Iranian President Mohammad Khatami has joined opposition figure and ex-Prime Minister Mir Hossein Musavi in calls for political change as the country continues to be stricken with widespread anti-government protests.

"What is evident today is widespread discontent," the 79-year-old Khatami said on February 5 in remarks carried on local media.

He added that "there is no sign of the ruling system's desire for reform and avoiding the mistakes of the past and present."

Khatami, the reformist who served as president from 1997 until 2005, said he hoped "nonviolent civil methods [will] "force the governing system to change its approach and accept reforms."

"Iran and Iranians need and are ready for a fundamental transformation whose outline is drawn by the pure 'Woman, life, freedom' movement," he added.

Iran has been beset with widening unrest since the death of Mahsa Amini on September 16. The 22-year-old died while in custody after being arrested by the notorious morality police for improperly wearing a mandatory Islamic head scarf, or hijab.

Her death, which officials blamed on a heart attack, touched off a wave of protests in cities across the country. The authorities have met the unrest with a harsh crackdown that rights groups say has killed more than 500 people, including 71 children.

The protests pose the biggest threat to the Islamic government since the 1979 revolution.

Khatami's remarks come as Iran is set to mark the 44th anniversary of the revolution and follow comments on February 4 by Iranian opposition figure Musavi, who called for a "free" referendum in Iran and the drafting of a new constitution.

Musavi, 80, who has been under house arrest since 2011, made the call in a statement in which he said Iranians want fundamental change based on the slogan "Woman, life, freedom" -- which many have been chanting during recent antiestablishment protests.

Meanwhile, on February 5, Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei pardoned "tens of thousands" of prisoners, including many arrested in the recent anti-government protests, state media reported.

"Prisoners not facing charges of spying for foreign agencies, having direct contact with foreign agents, committing intentional murder and injury, committing destruction and arson of state property, or not having a private plaintiff in their case will be pardoned," said state media, which added that the pardons were part of activities related to the anniversary of the revolution.

With reporting AFP and Reuters

Iran Detains Journalist After Detaining Her Sister

Elaheh Mohammadi (right, with fellow journalist Niloofar Hamedi)

Iranian authorities have detained a journalist at a reformist publication, local media reported on February 5, as her sister, also a journalist, remains in custody after reporting on Mahsa Amini's death. Elnaz Mohammadi, a reporter for reformist newspaper Hammihan, was detained at the Evin prosecutor's office in Tehran after she had gone there "for an explanation," reported Shargh, another reformist daily. It was not immediately clear why Mohammadi had been summoned there. Her sister, Elaheh Mohammadi, was arrested on September 29 after reporting for Hammihan from Amini's funeral.

Iran's Leader Pardons 'Large Number' Of Protest-Related Prisoners

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (file photo)

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has pardoned "tens of thousands" of prisoners, including many arrested in recent anti-government protests over security-related charges, state media reported on February 5. "Prisoners not facing charges of spying for foreign agencies, having direct contact with foreign agents, committing intentional murder and injury, committing destruction and arson of state property, or not having a private plaintiff in their case will be pardoned," state media said. The pardons were announced in honor of the anniversary of the 1979 Islamic Revolution. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.

Opposition Figure Musavi Calls For 'Free' Referendum In Iran, Drafting Of New Constitution

A photo of Mir Hossein Musavi and Zahra Rahnavard emerged on social media in 2019.

Iranian opposition figure Mir Hossein Musavi has called for a "free" referendum in Iran and the drafting of a new constitution. Musavi who has been under house arrest since 2011, made the call in a statement released on February 4 in which he said Iranians want fundamental change based on the slogan "Woman, life, freedom," which many have been chanting during recent antiestablishment protests. Musavi said the the three words are "the seeds of a bright future free of oppression, poverty, humiliation, and discrimination." Musavi, his wife, university professor Zahra Rahnavard, and reformist cleric Mehdi Karrubi were put under house arrest in February 2011 for challenging Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei over the disputed 2009 presidential vote and criticizing human rights abuses. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Radio Farda, click here.

Venezuela's Maduro, Iranian Diplomat Discuss Defense Against 'External Pressures'

Both Venezuela and Iran have been subjected to U.S. sanctions.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and the visiting Iranian foreign minister have discussed the need for "vigilance in defending their national interests against external pressures," according to a statement released on February 4. The Caracas visit by Foreign Minister Ossein Amir-Abdollahian underlined the strength of an alliance between two countries seen as outcasts by much of the international community, both of them subject to U.S. sanctions. Maduro received Abdollahian on the evening of February 3 in the Miraflores presidential palace after the Iranian minister arrived from Managua, Nicaragua. "I am sure that our relations will continue to strengthen for technological, industrial, scientific, and cultural exchanges that benefit both peoples," Maduro wrote on Twitter, calling the meeting "productive."

U.S. Weighs Sanctions For Chinese Companies Over Iran Surveillance Buildup

The United States is considering new sanctions on Chinese surveillance companies over sales to Iran's security forces, The Wall Street Journal reported on February 4, citing people familiar with the matter. U.S. authorities are in advanced discussions on the sanctions and have zeroed in on Tiandy Technologies Co, an electrical equipment manufacturer based in the Chinese city of Tianjin whose products have been sold to units of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, the report added. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.

Updated

Iran Slams IAEA Chief After Centrifuge Report; U.S., Allies Criticize Tehran's Response

Iran claimed that an IAEA inspector had accidentally flagged the changes at Fordow as being undeclared, and that the matter was later resolved. (file photo)

Iran slammed UN nuclear watchdog chief Rafael Grossi after the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) raised concerns over covert changes to equipment at its Fordow uranium-enrichment plant, state media said on February 4. The IAEA said in a confidential report seen by AFP on February 1 that Iran had substantially modified an interconnection between two centrifuge clusters enriching uranium to up to 60 percent at thhe Fordow Fuel Enrichment Plant (FFEP), without giving prior notice. "We gave a letter to the agency that an inspector...made a mistake and gave an incorrect report," Iranian nuclear chief Mohamad Eslami was quoted as saying by IRNA. The United States issued a joint statement with France, the United Kingdom, and Germany on February 3 criticizing Iran's "inadequate" response to the report on its nuclear program.

U.S. Targets Executives Of Iranian Drone Maker In Latest Sanctions Designation

Ali Reza Tangsiri, the IRGC's naval commander is among those sanctioned. (file photo)

The United States has imposed new sanctions on a previously designated Iranian drone maker, Paravar Pars, this time targeting the board of directors.

The U.S. Treasury Department said on February 3 that its Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) had designated eight senior executives of Paravar Pars.

The drone maker was previously blacklisted by OFAC for making Shahed-series unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) for Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), the Treasury Department said in a news release.

"Iranian entities continue to produce UAVs for Iran's IRGC and military. More broadly, Iran is supplying UAVs for Russia's combat operations to target critical infrastructure in Ukraine," said Brian Nelson, undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence.

“The United States will continue to aggressively target all elements of Iran’s UAV program,” added Nelson, who is the U.S. Treasury's top sanctions official, in the statement.

Among the eight individuals blacklisted are Paravar Pars’ managing director and CEO, Hossein Shamsabadi, and the company’s chairman, Ali Reza Tangsiri, who is also the commander of the IRGC Navy. Tangsiri, who the Treasury Department said has overseen the testing of UAVs and cruise missiles, was previously designated for U.S. sanctions in 2019.

The sanctions freeze any property held in U.S. jurisdictions by the eight individuals. People in the United States who engage in transactions with the individuals designated may themselves be exposed to sanctions, the Treasury Department said.

The department earlier his week put new trade restrictions on seven Iranian entities for producing drones that the Treasury Department said Russia has used to attack Ukraine.

In response, Iran's mission to the United Nations in New York said sanctions have no effect on Iran's drone production capacity because its drones are all produced domestically.

“This is a strong indication that the drones shot down in Ukraine and using parts made by Western countries don't belong to Iran," it said, according to Reuters.

Since Russia launched its war against Ukraine in February 2022, the United States and more than 30 other countries have sought to degrade Russia’s military and defense industrial base by restricting its access to defense needs.

With reporting by Reuters

Iranian Film Director Panahi 'Temporarily ' Released From Prison, Wife Says

Award-winning Iranian film director Jafar Panahi (file photo)

Iranian director Jafar Panahi has been temporarily released from prison days after going on a hunger strike to protest “the illegal and inhumane behavior" of Iran's judiciary and security apparatus, which have led a brutal and sometimes deadly crackdown on unrest over the death of a young woman while in police custody for allegedly wearing a head scarf improperly.

"Today, on the third day of Jafar Panahi's hunger strike; Mr. Panahi was temporarily released from Evin prison with the efforts of his family, respected lawyers, and representatives of the cinema," a statement on Panahi's wife's Instagram page said on February 3.

The post added that further details would follow from Panahi's legal team.

She gave no further details, but a photo of the couple in a car was attached to the post.

The U.S.-based US-based Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) also said on Twitter that Panahi had been released.

Panahi, 62, was arrested in July as the authorities cracked down on dissent in response to growing antiestablishment sentiment and near-daily protests over living conditions and graft across the Islamic republic.

Just days prior to his arrest, Panahi had joined a group of more than 300 Iranian filmmakers in publishing an open letter calling on the security forces to "lay down arms" in the face of public outrage over "corruption, theft, inefficiency, and repression" following the violent crackdown against those protesting a building collapse in May in the southwestern city of Abadan, which killed 41 people.

Those protests were overtaken by a wave of unrest following the September 16 death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini while in custody for allegedly violating the country's head-scarf law.

Since the start of daily protests that have rocked Iran since Amini's death, several Iranian filmmakers and prominent public figures have been summoned or arrested by the authorities, including the popular actress Taraneh Alidoosti.

Several high-profile actresses have taken pictures without a head scarf in defiant support of the protesters, whose demonstrations pose one of the biggest threats to the Islamic leadership since the revolution in 1979.

Panahi was awarded the Special Jury prize at the Venice International Film Festival in September for his latest film, released while he was in prison, No Bears.

The filmmaker has won a number of international awards for films critiquing modern Iran, including the top prize at the Berlin International Film Festival for Taxi in 2015 and best screenplay at Cannes for his film Three Faces in 2018.

Since Amini's death, 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.

Iranian Protesters Burn Government Propaganda Banners

A protester sets fire to a government banner in Isfahan.

Protesters in several Iranian cities, including the capital, Tehran, have set fire to government banners commemorating the anniversary of the 1979 Islamic Revolution in a continued show of defiance amid unrest over the death of a young woman while in police custody for allegedly wearing a head scarf improperly.

Protesters in Tehran's Ekbatan neighborhood showed the depth of their anger toward the government's intrusion on their freedoms with chants from windows and rooftops of "Death to the dictator," a reference to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Similar scenes were repeated in other neighborhoods of Tehran, as well as in other areas of the country.

Several videos published on social networks showed people setting fire to the government's propaganda banners for the 44th anniversary of the revolution that brought Iran's clerical rulers to power. The anniversary falls on February 11.

The unrest was sparked by the death of Mahsa Amini on September 16. The 22-year-old died while in custody after being arrested by the notorious morality police for improperly wearing a mandatory Islamic head scarf, or hijab.

Her death, which officials blamed on a heart attack, touched off a wave of anti-government protests in cities across the country. The authorities have met the unrest with a harsh crackdown that rights groups say has killed more than 500 people, including 71 children.

Officials, who have blamed the West for the demonstrations, have vowed to crack down even harder on protesters, with the judiciary leading the way after the unrest entered a fourth month.

The protests pose the biggest threat to the Islamic government since the 1979 revolution.

Several thousand people 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

Emaciated Iranian Activist Meysami Vows To Continue Hunger Strike

Farhad Meysami has been in prison since August 2018.

Farhad Meysami has vowed to continue his hunger strike until Iranian authorities stop executing protesters, release six political prisoners, and stop their harassment of women over the compulsory hijab rule despite photos on social media showing him in an emaciated condition amid growing fears over his state of health.

"I still stand by my three demands," Meysami, a doctor, said in a letter published on February 2 along with the photos that show him looking frail and sickly.

Meysami has been in prison since August 2018 after being sentenced to six years for supporting women protesting against the hijab law that forces them to cover their hair in public.

He was charged with "spreading propaganda against the system" and "gathering and colluding to commit crimes against national security," as well as for "insulting Islamic sanctities," because the authorities said he denigrated the hijab.

Lawyer Mohammad Moghimi has warned that Meysami’s condition is worsening and that his life is in danger.

Last month, Moghimi said Meysami's weight had dropped to 52 kilograms and that he had been beaten by guards due to his resistance to being transferred to the criminal-prisoners ward.

Many on social media, including Reza Pahlavi, the exiled former crown prince of Iran and an opposition leader, have supported Meysami and demanded his release.

On Twitter on February 3, Pahlavi said that the thin body of Meysami, "is another symbol of the boundless cruelty of the Islamic regime."

Prominent Iranian oppositionist Hamed Esmaeilion said he holds the government responsible for Meysami's condition.

Meysami has held several hunger strikes during his incarceration and in most, his demands are related to social conditions in Iran and other activists and prisoners.

In May, Meysami went on a hunger strike to protest the possible execution of Ahmadreza Djalali, a Brussels university professor with dual Iranian-Swedish citizenship. He ended the hunger strike after 145 days.

He reportedly went on a hunger strike in August 2018 to protest the charges he faced and also the lack of access to a lawyer of his choosing. He reportedly was being held at the time in a medical clinic at Evin prison, where he was force-fed intravenously.

The news comes as Iran finds itself engulfed in a wave of protests following the September 16 death of a young woman while in custody for allegedly violating the country's head-scarf law.

The U.S.-based Human Rights Activists News Agency said that as of January 29, at least 527 people had been killed during the unrest, including 71 minors, as security forces muzzle dissent.

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

After Netanyahu Talks, Macron Warns Of Iran Nuclear 'Consequences'

French President Emmanuel Macron (file photo)

French President Emmanuel Macron denounced late on February 2 the "headlong rush" of Iran's nuclear program after talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was in Paris to seek a stronger European stance against Tehran. In a statement released after a dinner meeting in the Elysee Palace, Macron warned that Tehran continuing with the atomic project "would inevitably have consequences." Israel has long accused Iran of seeking a nuclear weapon, while Tehran insists its nuclear program is aimed solely at generating energy.

'They Deserve To Die': Iranian Doctors Who Treated Wounded Protesters 'Arrested, Tortured'

The authorities have killed hundreds of protesters and arrested thousands of people since the demonstrations erupted in September.

In late November, three Iranian doctors traveled to the country's western Kurdistan region, the epicenter of ongoing antiestablishment protests, to help treat wounded demonstrators.

But within days of their arrival, the medical professionals were arrested on security charges. Before they were released on bail last month, the three men were tortured in custody, informed sources told RFE/RL.

The men were charged with "disrupting national security" and "committing crimes against the country's internal and external security" due to their attempts to treat "rioters," a term the authorities have used to refer to antiestablishment protesters.

Yaser Rahmanirad, a general practitioner from the western city of Khorramabad; Behnam Ohadi, a psychiatrist from Tehran; and Homayoun Eftekharnia, an anesthesiologist from the capital, could face lengthy prison terms if found guilty.

They are among the dozens of medical workers who have been arrested for taking part in the protests or treating demonstrators wounded in the state crackdown.

The authorities have killed hundreds of protesters and arrested thousands of people since the demonstrations erupted in September. The protests are the biggest threat to Iran's clerical establishment in years.

Kurdistan has been the scene of some of the deadliest crackdowns by the authorities, who have deployed heavily armed troops to the region and used live ammunition against protesters. Many demonstrators injured in the clampdown have refused to be taken to a hospital for fear of arrest.

Solitary Confinement

On November 30, Rahmanirad, Ohadi, and Eftekharnia headed to the city of Saghez, the hometown of Mahsa Amini, the 22-year-old woman whose death after her arrest by Iran's morality police triggered the nationwide protests.

After treating several people and distributing medicine to those in need in Saghez, located in Kurdistan Province, the three doctors travelled to neighboring West Azerbaijan, another province with a significant Kurdish population.

Just hours after arriving in the city of Mahabad on December 3, the doctors were arrested by security forces, who seized their medicine and equipment. They were then taken to prison, where they were subjected to torture, informed sources said.

The three men were held in solitary confinement for more than a month and subjected to sleep deprivation, the sources said. The interrogators also falsely told them that their family members had been killed, in an attempt to break them, the sources added.

After hours of interrogations, the men were exposed to bright lights and loud sounds, including the Islamic call to prayer, to prevent them from sleeping, the sources said.

One of the interrogators told them that "those opposing the Islamic establishment deserve to die because if they receive treatment they will again engage in riots," one of the sources told RFE/RL.

Another interrogator said that by attempting to treat injured protesters themselves, the doctors had undermined trust in state health facilities and spread "propaganda against the establishment," the source said.

Interrogators also accused Rahmanirad, a former student activist who had been arrested in the past, of having ties to exiled Kurdish opposition groups that the authorities have blamed for the unrest in Kurdistan, the sources said.

'Constantly Watched'

Rahmanirad, Ohadi, and Eftekharnia are among the dozens of doctors, nurses, and other medical workers arrested during Iran's crackdown on the antiestablishment protests.

Homa Fathi, a Canada-based activist and member of the International Iranian Physicians and Healthcare Providers Association, told RFE/RL that she had documented the arrests of at least 53 medical workers as well as 54 medical students during the crackdown.

Fathi said the majority had been released on bail, but added that the real number of those arrested is likely to be much higher. "They don't have a good situation," she said. "Some have been [prevented] from working. They're being constantly watched."

Last month, the France-based Kurdistan Human Rights Network reported that Mohsen Sohrabi, a doctor at a hospital in the western city of Sanandaj, had gone missing a day after being summoned by security officials. Sources said Sohrabi had been repeatedly threatened by security officials.

Mohsen Sohrabi
Mohsen Sohrabi

In December, Aida Rostami, a doctor who allegedly treated injured protesters in Tehran's Ekbatan neighborhood, died under mysterious circumstances. The authorities said she had fallen off a pedestrian bridge following an argument with a man who was later arrested. Other sources said she was targeted by security forces.

Also in December, Iran sentenced to death Hamid Qarahasanlou, a radiologist who had been involved in charity work, over the killing of a member of the security forces during protests in the city of Karaj. Later in January, Qarahasanlou's death sentence was overturned due to flaws in the investigation and amid protests by the international medical community.

In November, reports emerged that Shoresh Heydari, a pharmacist in the city of Bukan in West Azerbaijan Province, had been arrested. The Kurdistan Human Rights Network said Heydari had offered medical tips to protesters on his Instagram page. Another source said the pharmacist had also treated protesters.

In October, security forces in Tehran used tear gas to prevent a protest by health workers, who were calling for an end to the state crackdown and the misuse of ambulances for holding and transferring detained protesters.

Rights Group Says At Least 185 Arrested In Iran's Zahedan In Past Month

Demonstrators rally in Zahedan, the capital of Sistan and Baluchistan Province, where people have been holding protest rallies every Friday since September 30.

A rights group says at least 185 citizens in the southeastern Iranian city of Zahedan have been arrested in the past month by security forces trying to stifle widespread dissent.

Haalvsh, a group that monitors rights violations of the Sunni minority in Iran, says that it has been able to verify the identity of 125 of the detainees, but added that, due Internet disruptioand repeated threats to families by the security authorities, the number of detainees is estimated at 185 or even higher.

People in Sistan and Baluchistan Province, which borders Afghanistan and Pakistan, have been holding protest rallies every Friday since September 30, when a demonstration turned deadly as security forces of the Islamic republic cracked down hard on demonstrators.

During the so-called Bloody Friday massacre in Zahedan, almost 100 people were killed and hundreds injured by security forces during unrest sparked by the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who was in police custody for allegedly wearing her head scarf improperly.

The protests grew even larger following the news of the alleged sexual assault of a 15-year-old girl by the Chabahar police commander.

On January 31, the Baloch Activists Campaign reported that plainclothes security officers arrested two Baluch youths in Zahedan and took them to an unknown location. The campaign has identified the pair as Dawood Rakhshani and Akbar Gorgij.

Anger over Amini's death on September 16 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 U.S.-based Human Rights Activists News Agency said that, as of January 29, at least 527 people had been killed during the unrest, including 71 minors, as security forces muzzle dissent.

Sunni Muslims make up the majority of the population in Sistan-Baluchistan Province in southeastern Iran, but only account for 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

Iranian Filmmaker Panahi On Hunger Strike To Protest 'Inhumane' Judiciary

Award-winning Iranian director Jafar Panahi (file photo)

Imprisoned Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi has gone on hunger strike to protest “the illegal and inhumane behavior" of Iran's judiciary and security apparatus, which have led a brutal and sometimes deadly crackdown on unrest over the death of a young woman while in police custody for allegedly wearing a head scarf improperly.

"I will refuse to eat and drink any food and medicine until the time of my release. I will remain in this state until perhaps my lifeless body is freed from prison," the director said in a statement released by his wife, Tahereh Saeedi, and his son, Panah Panahi, on their Instagram accounts.

Panahi, 62, was arrested in July as the authorities cracked down on dissent in response to growing antiestablishment sentiment and near-daily protests over living conditions and graft across the Islamic republic.

Just days prior to his arrest, Panahi had joined a group of more than 300 Iranian filmmakers in publishing an open letter calling on the security forces to "lay down arms" in the face of public outrage over "corruption, theft, inefficiency, and repression" following the violent crackdown against those protesting a building collapse in May in the southwestern city of Abadan, which killed 41 people.

Those protests were overtaken by a wave of unrest following the September 16 death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini while in custody for allegedly violating the country's head-scarf law.

Since the start of daily protests that have rocked Iran since Amini's death, several Iranian filmmakers and prominent public figures have been summoned or arrested by the authorities, including the popular actress Taraneh Alidoosti.

Since Amini's death, 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

France Seizes Iran Assault Rifles, Missiles Heading To Yemen

Assault rifles and missiles seized by the French Navy lie on the deck of a ship at an undisclosed location on February 1.

French naval forces in January seized thousands of assault rifles, machine guns and anti-tank missiles in the Gulf of Oman coming from Iran and heading to Yemen's Huthi rebels, officials said on February 2, the latest such seizure amid the Middle Eastern nation’s long-running civil war. While Iran denied being involved, images of the weapons released by the U.S. military's Central Command showed them to be similar to others captured by American forces in other shipments linked to Tehran. The seizure occurred on January 15. To read the original story by AP, click here.

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