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U.S. Joins Search For Missing Iranian Crew From Oil Tanker

The Panamanian-registered tanker spilled some of its cargo of 136,000 tons of oil condensate and was floating while still on fire early on January 7.
The Panamanian-registered tanker spilled some of its cargo of 136,000 tons of oil condensate and was floating while still on fire early on January 7.

The U.S. Navy has joined the search for the crew of an oil tanker that was set ablaze after colliding with a cargo ship of the coast of China, leaving at least 32 people missing, most of them Iranians.

The U.S. Navy on January 8 sent a P-8A aircraft from Okinawa, Japan, to join ships and craft from China and South Korea in the search for the missing crew of the Panamanian-flagged oil tanker Sanchi off the Chinese coast.

The Chinese Transport Ministry said on January 7 that the crew of 30 Iranians and two Bangladeshis went missing after the collision set the 274-meter oil tanker on fire late the night before.

The tanker collided with the Hong Kong-registered CF Crystal about 300 kilometers off China's coast near Shanghai and the mouth of the Yangtze River Delta.

The ministry said all 21 Chinese crew members were rescued from the damaged CF Crystal, which was carrying 64,000 tons of grain from the United States to southern China.

The Sanchi was carrying 136,000 tons of Iranian oil condensate, which is equivalent to nearly 1 million barrels, worth about $60 million.

The Sanchi "is floating and burning as of now," the Chinese ministry said. "There is an oil slick and we are pushing forward with rescue efforts."

The Associated Press news agency quoted an unidentified official in Iran's Oil Ministry as confirming that 30 of the tanker's crew members were Iranians.

"We have no information on their fate," he said.

Mohammad Rastad, head of Iran's Ports and Maritime Organization, said that poor weather and huge plumes of smoke rising from the tanker were making rescue efforts difficult.

"There is a wide perimeter of flames around the vessel because of the spillage and search-and-rescue efforts are being carried out with difficulty," Rastad told Iranian television.

"This is a big spill," oceanographer Simon Boxall of the University of Southampton told the BBC.

"The only positive side is that, at the moment, the winds are keeping the oil offshore," Boxall added.

"The chances of it reaching the shore are fairly slim. But we are looking at a lot of oil here and the water depth in that area is only about 50 meters to 60 meters, so in the immediate area it will have a dramatic impact."

The Sanchi was heading to South Korea with its cargo when the collision took place.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry said the cause of the incident was under investigation.

China’s Xinhua news agency said eight Chinese ships were dispatched in a search-and-rescue operation and that South Korea also sent a search aircraft and coastguard ship.

The Sanchi was built in 2008 and its registered owner is Hong Kong-based Bright Shipping Ltd. on behalf of the National Iranian Tanker Co. (NITC), according to the UN-run International Maritime Organization.

According to Reuters' ship-tracking data, the oil tanker was sailing from Kharg Island in Iran to Daesan, South Korea.

The Shanghai Maritime Bureau said the accident did not affect traffic into and out of Shanghai, one of the world's busiest and biggest ports, or ports along the Yangtze River.

With reporting by Reuters, AP, AFP, and the BBC

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Iran Talks A Big Talk, But Could It Target Trump On U.S. Soil?

Donald Trump narrowly survived an assassination attempt on July 13, with a bullet grazing his right ear.
Donald Trump narrowly survived an assassination attempt on July 13, with a bullet grazing his right ear.

Former U.S. President Donald Trump has been in Tehran's crosshairs ever since he ordered the killing of top Iranian General Qassem Soleimani in neighboring Iraq in 2020.

Tehran has repeatedly vowed to avenge Soleimani, and many officials, including Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, have alluded to killing Trump and other senior members of his administration on U.S. soil.

“We will prepare the ground to exact vengeance on the Americans from within their homes, using their companions,” Esmail Qaani, who succeeded Soleimani as the commander of the Quds Force, the overseas arm of the powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), said in January 2022.

WATCH: An animated video posted on Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's website that envisions a drone strike on Donald Trump:

Animation On Khamenei’s Website Showcasing Trump Drone Strike
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Animation On Khamenei’s Website Showcasing Trump Drone Strike

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U.S. media reported on July 16 that the Secret Service had enhanced Trump’s security detail after receiving intelligence in recent weeks that Iran was plotting to assassinate him. Trump is the presumptive Republican nominee in the November 5 presidential election.

The alleged plot appeared to be unrelated to the failed attempt on Trump’s life on July 13, the reports said.

“Plotting to kill a foreign leader, particularly an American presidential candidate, marks a significant leap in the crassness and risk-tolerance of the clerical regime,” said Behnam Ben Taleblu, a senior fellow at the Washington-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies think tank.

Iran has long been accused of carrying out assassinations, including of Iranian dissidents, on foreign soil, although it has always denied responsibility.

One of the most high-profile incidents was the 1991 killing of Shapur Bakhtiar, the last prime minister of Iran before the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Bakhtiar was shot dead in his home in France, in a killing that was widely blamed on Tehran.

“Iran has not been successful in such endeavors in recent years, and its activities tend to aim at disruption rather than assassinating former or potential heads of state,” said Gregory Brew, an Iran analyst at the U.S.-based Eurasia Group.

He said while it was “unclear whether Iran's intelligence services are up to the task,” Trump’s close call on July 13 brings “into question any confidence that the Secret Service can keep him totally safe from harm.”

Taleblu said it would therefore be a mistake to dismiss Iran’s threats.

The Secret Service has been criticized since a 20-year-old gunman shot at Trump at a rally in the U.S. state of Pennsylvania, grazing the former president’s ear and killing a member of the crowd.

'Legal Route' To Avenge Soleimani

Despite public declarations by senior Iranian figures about the desire to avenge Soleimani by killing Trump, Iranian diplomats have dismissed reports linking Tehran to plots to assassinate the former president.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Nasser Kanani said on July 16 thatTehran was “determined to prosecute Trump” while the Iranian mission to the UN insisted that the Islamic republic had “chosen the legal route” to hold him accountable.

Separately, Acting Foreign Minister Ali Baqeri Kani said Iran “will resort to legal and judicial procedures…at the domestic and international level.”

Demonstrators in Tehran burn an effigy of Trump during an annual anti-US rally on November 11, 2017.
Demonstrators in Tehran burn an effigy of Trump during an annual anti-US rally on November 11, 2017.

Taleblu said the comments by Iranian officials were in line with the “standard division of labor” in Tehran’s security policy.

“The Foreign Ministry tries to nullify threats through changes in style, while the IRGC and others are able to press ahead with the same sort of terror and destabilization in substance,” he added.

In December, a Tehran court ordered the U.S. government to pay nearly $50 billion in damages for assassinating Soleimani. The court convicted Trump and 41 other U.S. officials over the assassination.

Said Mahmoudi, professor of international law at Stockholm University, told RFE/RL’s Radio Farda that Iranian court cases against Trump were only for show and lacked credibility.

“It is very, very unusual for a [foreign] country…to prosecute Trump. Only international courts are equipped to do this,” he said, adding that international law does not allow domestic courts to prosecute current and former heads of state based on local laws.

Potential Impact on Tehran-Washington Ties

Trump is currently leading President Joe Biden in most opinion polls ahead of the November election and some argue the assassination attempt could, at least temporarily, provide a boost to his chances.

Reports of an alleged Iranian plot against Trump’s life could torpedo attempts by reformist President-elect Masud Pezeshkian to tone down Iran’s anti-West rhetoric, Damon Golriz, a lecturer at The Hague University of Applied Sciences, told Radio Farda.

Brew said Trump might be “even more hostile towards Iran” if elected but noted that the hostility is mutual.

“It should temper any expectations of forward progress, on the nuclear issue or any other policy area, in the event Trump wins November's election,” he added.

With reporting by Reza Jamali and Hooman Askary of RFE/RL’s Radio Farda.

Police Summon Women Who Appeared In Video Without Hijabs During Ashura Procession In Iranian City

Iranian Police Question Women Who Marched In Religious Festival Without Head Scarves
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The chief of police in Iran's Alborz Province said on July 17 that women who took part in an Ashura procession in the city of Karaj without hijabs have been "identified and summoned."

A video posted on Instagram shows a number of young women, most wearing dark clothing but no head scarves, walking in the street in observance of Ashura, a commemoration of the martyrdom of Hussein, a grandson of the Prophet Muhammad, which is marked mainly by Shi'ite Muslims.

To mourn his death, Shi’a wear black during Ashura processions in which many participants beat their backs with chains in a symbolic expression of regret for not being able to help Hussein before his death.

The video of the procession in Karaj on July 16 has been met with widespread reactions on social media.

Hamid Hadavand, the chief of police in Alborz Province, claimed that the publication of the video and others like it had led to "hurting the feelings of Hossein's mourners" throughout the country.

Hadavand accused the individuals seen in the videos of "desecration," adding that all of them "have been summoned to the Alborz Province police after being identified."

He did not say how many people were summoned or how they were identified.

In addition, the head of the Organization of Religious Boards and Organizations revoked the permission granted to the organization that held the Ashura procession in which the young women took part without hijabs.

Majid Babakhani also announced that the head of the organization had been "summoned" with the help of the police and said that he would be dealt with legally.

Ashura is marked on the 10th day of Muharram, the first month of the Muslim calendar. Last year Muharram was also marked by reports of the identification and detention of women without compulsory hijabs across Iran.

Authorities have stepped up confrontations with people who oppose the mandatory hijab law since protests that followed the death of Mahsa Amini in the custody of Iran's morality police in September 2022 for allegedly improperly wearing her hijab, and there have been frequent reports of violence against detainees.

In recent months, the police again started a security crackdown on women flaunting the compulsory hijab law by reimplementing the Plan Noor initiative under which the morality police strictly enforce dress codes. This has led to several incidents of violence against women challenging the mandatory head scarf.

Before the reimplementation of the Plan Noor initiative the city of Tehran and the Interior Ministry prior employed hijab guards in some subway stations. The interior minister and the mayor of Tehran denied playing any role in this.

Despite these measures, the presence of women and girls without compulsory hijabs in public in Iran has not stopped over the past two years.

Iran is set to swear in moderate reformist Masud Pezeshkian as president early next month. Pezeshkian has said that while the hijab law should be observed, "there should never be any intrusive or inhumane behavior toward women."

Iranian Police Question Women Who Marched In Religious Festival Without Head Scarves

Iranian Police Question Women Who Marched In Religious Festival Without Head Scarves
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A video widely shared on social media on July 16 shows women in the Iranian city of Karaj appearing without hijabs, or Islamic head scarves, at a procession marking Ashura, the holiest day on the Shi'ite religious calendar. Police officials said that they had identified some of the women and called them in for questioning. Their appearance at the religious festival is part of a broader movement of Iranian women rejecting the Islamic dress code and risking a sometimes brutal response from the authorities.

Iran Denies Involvement In Plot To Assassinate U.S. Ex-President Trump

Donald Trump pumps his fist after a failed attempt on his life during a rally in Pennsylvania on July 13.
Donald Trump pumps his fist after a failed attempt on his life during a rally in Pennsylvania on July 13.

Iran has denied plotting to assassinate Donald Trump after reports emerged that U.S. authorities had obtained intelligence suggesting that Tehran was planning to kill the Republican presidential nominee.

News outlets CNN and Politico on July 16, citing unnamed sources, reported that U.S. authorities had been informed of an Iranian plot to kill Trump weeks ahead of a July 13 attempt on the former president's life.

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They said, however, that the assassination attempt did not appear to be linked to the Iranian threat.

In a statement late on July 16, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Nasser Kanani insisted that Tehran was not involved in the July 13 attempt and charged that claims that Iran was plotting to kill Trump were "politically motivated."

"The Islamic Republic of Iran is determined to prosecute Trump for his direct role in the crime of assassinating General Qasem Soleimani," Kanani said.

Soleimani, a former commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps' (IRGC) elite Quds Force, was assassinated in January 2020 in an air strike by U.S. forces at Trump's command. Iran has repeatedly vowed revenge for the high-profile killing.

Prior to Kanani's statement, Iran's mission to the United Nations said the claims against Tehran were "baseless and biased" and maintained that the Islamic republic "has chosen the legal route to hold Trump accountable."

Iranian authorities have long warned that senior U.S. figures they believe were involved in the killing of Soleimani will pay a price. Among those threatened are Trump's former national security adviser, John Bolton, and ex-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

In August 2022, the Justice Department charged an Iranian operative it said was a member of the IRGC for allegedly plotting to kill Bolton.

Earlier this year, the U.S. government extended protection for Pompeo amid persistent threats from Iran.

U.S. Recently Informed About Iranian Plot To Kill Trump: CNN

Former U.S. President Donald Trump
Former U.S. President Donald Trump

An informant told U.S. authorities recently that Iran was plotting to assassinate Donald Trump, CNN reported, citing multiple people familiar with the matter. In response, the U.S. Secret Service boosted security around the former president, the network reported. Thomas Matthew Crooks, who tried to assassinate Trump on July 13, does not appear to be connected to the Iranian plot, CNN reported. Former Trump administration officials, including his national-security adviser, John Bolton, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had reportedly received threats from Iran. Qasem Soleimani, a former commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps' (IRGC) elite Quds Force, was assassinated in January 2020 in an air strike by U.S. forces at Trump’s command. Iran had vowed revenge for the high-profile killing.

'Overwhelming Sorrow': Imprisoned Iranian Nobel Laureate Marks 9 Years Since Seeing Her Children

Kiana (left) and Ali Rahmani accepted the Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of their imprisoned mother in December 2023.
Kiana (left) and Ali Rahmani accepted the Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of their imprisoned mother in December 2023.

Kiana and Ali Rahmani were only 8 years old when they left Iran to reunite with their father, Taqi Rahmani, who had fled the country as the Iranian authorities sought to arrest him.

Their mother, activist Narges Mohammadi, could only imagine the scene from her jail cell as her children would be taken from her for an "unknown" period of time and endure a "separation that would make me a stranger to my children and them unfamiliar to me."

“I haven’t seen my mom in nine years. I have become used to growing up without a mother,” Kiana, now 17, told Roya Maleki of RFE/RL’s Radio Farda as she marked another anniversary of separation from her mother on July 16.

“My father is a good dad; he has been both a father and a mother,” she added.

In a statement posted on her website on July 16, Mohammadi recalled staying awake through the night in her prison cell on July 16, 2015, knowing her children would be on a plane to France soon.

The separation, she said, “felt like vanishing into a misty void of lost connections, tearing a mother and her children apart, leaving us in an indescribable abyss of heartache and longing.”

"A separation that would turn me into an unfamiliar woman to my children, bearing the name ‘mother’ in a ‘misplaced’ manner," she added.

Mohammadi, 52, has been campaigning for human rights in Iran for decades and has been in and out of prison in the last 20 years. She has been convicted five times since March 2021 and is currently serving a 12-year prison sentence.

She is currently in jail for “spreading propaganda” against the Islamic republic.

Kiana recalls that it was “difficult” going through adolescence as a young girl without her mother, forcing her to turn to her friends and other women for advice.

“I had to learn things that a mother should teach her daughter. I had to ask my friends or their mothers whenever I had a question because I did not have a mother,” she said.

Despite remaining behind bars for so long, Mohammadi has remained at the forefront of Iran's women's rights movement.

Her efforts were honored last October when she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Her children accepted the award on her behalf in December.

Kiana said the award raised her mother’s spirits but worsened her conditions in prison because it led to further restrictions, such as limited visiting privileges and phone calls.

Despite not seeing their mother for half of their lives, Ali said they had learned from their mother to “defend our brothers and sisters” from the Middle East.

“We come from a place where there is little freedom and war is constant,” he added.

In her statement, Mohammadi bemoaned that not seeing her children for so long would make her a “stranger” to them.

“I hope my children understand that I, like all imprisoned mothers…was a loving mother whose heart still aches with overwhelming sorrow for her children,” she wrote.

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

Health Fears Over Leprosy Fuel Anti-Afghan Sentiment In Iran

Iranian authorities said last year that 5 million Afghans lived in the country illegally and vowed to deport them. (file photo)
Iranian authorities said last year that 5 million Afghans lived in the country illegally and vowed to deport them. (file photo)

An unsubstantiated claim on social media linking an alleged rise in leprosy cases in Iran to the country’s Afghan community has resulted in renewed calls for the expulsion of Afghan migrants.

Iranian media have cited the Health Ministry as reporting nine new cases of leprosy over the past year. The reports said three of those afflicted were Afghans.

The same day, a freelance Iranian journalist who advocates for the expulsion of Afghan refugees alleged without evidence that “Afghan migrants” were responsible for spreading leprosy in Iran.

He incorrectly charged that “no cases of leprosy had been seen in Iran in years” -- a claim that is easily debunked by data available on the World Health Organization’s (WHO) website.

On July 9, another journalist who often writes in support of expelling Afghan migrants went as far as calling the alleged rise in leprosy cases “bioterrorism” and demanded that the incoming government of President-elect Masud Pezeshkian “start deporting Afghans.”

“Afghans are bringing and spreading the leprosy virus,” he wrote without offering evidence, falsely claiming that leprosy, which is caused by bacteria, is a viral disease.

Both posts on the social media platform X have received nearly half a million views, been shared more than 1,000 times, and liked by over 7,000 accounts.

What Does The Data Say?

Leprosy in Iran has never been eliminated, but it has declined sharply since 2005, dropping from 79 to six in 2022, according to WHO data. No certified health authority has ever declared leprosy an epidemic in Iran or Afghanistan.

Leprosy is a chronic bacterial infectious disease that mainly affects the skin and peripheral nerves. It is curable but leaving it untreated may cause permanent disabilities.

The disease spreads via droplets from the nose and mouth through close and frequent contact with untreated individuals.

Rising Anti-Afghan Sentiment

Afghans fleeing the Soviet invasion in the 1980s were welcomed in Iran, thanks in large part to the anti-Soviet views of the recently established Islamic republic. But animosity toward the growing Afghan community has only worsened since.

In recent years -- especially after an influx of migrants following the Taliban’s return to power in August 2021 -- there have been more frequent displays of anti-Afghan sentiment.

Over the past several months, a Persian hashtag that calls the “expulsion of Afghans” a “national demand” has been trending, often boosted by anonymous accounts.

The UNHCR, the United Nations’ refugee agency, says Iran hosts 780,000 Afghan refugees, in addition to 2.6 million undocumented Afghan nationals.

But the authorities in Tehran claimed last year that 5 million Afghans were living in Iran illegally, and vowed to deport them. Afghan migrants were later banned from living or working in half of the country’s 31 provinces.

In recent months, Afghan migrants in Iran have complained to RFE/RL's Radio Azadi about rising harassment, even during deportation.

Iran has long said that it does not receive enough financial assistance from international bodies to deal with the number of refugees on its soil.

Cyberexperts Predict Pro-Russia Hackers Will 'Almost Certainly' Target Paris Olympics

Paris is hosting this year's Summer Olympics, which run from July 26 to August 11. (file photo)
Paris is hosting this year's Summer Olympics, which run from July 26 to August 11. (file photo)

Finland-based cybersecurity firm WithSecure has warned that the Paris 2024 Summer Olympics "faces a greater risk of malicious cyber activity than previous Olympics." In a report on July 15, the company's director of threat intelligence called the threat "moderate" and predicted that “Hacktivists aligned with states that are pro-Russia will almost certainly try to disrupt the Olympics in some way." The report lists "threat actors" in four categories: Russian, Chinese, Iranian, and North Korean, and speculates as to their intentions and capabilities.

Azerbaijan Reopens Embassy In Iranian Capital Following Deadly Attack

The former building of the Azerbaijani Embassy in Tehran (file photo)
The former building of the Azerbaijani Embassy in Tehran (file photo)

Azerbaijan's Foreign Ministry said on July 15 that its ambassador and embassy staff have returned to Tehran, a year and a half after a deadly attack on its diplomatic facility there. The diplomatic mission will work from new premises and Iran “will implement adequate steps to ensure diplomatic protection in front of the new building," it said. Baku closed its embassy and evacuated its staff at the end of January 2023, after an armed attack on the building. The attacker killed the mission security chief and wounded two other security officials. The suspect was detained, tried in court for a year, and, according to Iran’s Justice Ministry, sentenced to death. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service, click here.

Note: This article has been amended to clarify that it is Azerbaijan which is reopening its embassy in Iran.

Rights Watchdog Calls On Incoming Iranian President, Other Officials To Curb 'Excessive' Force At Border

HRW has urged Iran to end its use of "excessive and lethal force" at the country's border with Iraq. (file photo)
HRW has urged Iran to end its use of "excessive and lethal force" at the country's border with Iraq. (file photo)

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has urged President-elect Masud Pezeshkian and other Iranian authorities to end their use of "excessive and lethal force" against mostly Kurdish border couriers at the frontier with Iraq, saying such low-level smugglers frequently "come from marginalized communities." In a July 15 statement, the rights organization quoted Pezeshkian saying before his July 5 election that it was "shameful" that young people are forced into such roles "for a piece of bread." HRW has recently cited "serious violations against border couriers" and highlighted socioeconomic and other factors that contribute to the practice. Pezeshkian will be sworn in on July 30.

The Push To Recognize 'Gender Apartheid' As A Crime

Afghan women wait to receive food rations distributed by a humanitarian aid group in Kabul.
Afghan women wait to receive food rations distributed by a humanitarian aid group in Kabul.

The world has long been aware of the scourge of apartheid -- the systemic segregation or discrimination of people based on their race. But what about the institutionalized practice of singling people out for ill-treatment due to their gender?

The push to recognize "gender apartheid" under international law is gaining steam, with oppression against women and girls in Afghanistan and Iran fueling calls for immediate action, but tremendous obstacles remain.

What Do They Want?

Advocates want to clearly define gender apartheid as a crime under international law. Currently, only "persecution" on the basis of gender is recognized as a crime against humanity. But rights groups and activists say the concept of persecution does not fully capture the scope of the abuses committed under a system of institutionalized gender apartheid.

The goal is for the United Nations to make up for this gap by legally shielding women and girls from systemic abuse and violence.

Afghan women's rights defenders are credited with being the first to articulate the concept of gender apartheid in the 1990s, during the Taliban's first regime.

Since the Taliban returned to power in 2021, the hard-line Islamist group has reimposed its oppressive policies against women and girls, including severe restrictions on their appearances, freedom of movement, and right to work and study.

Hoda Khamosh, an Afghan women's rights activist, says the recognition of gender apartheid would greatly benefit women's rights in the country.

"We would be able to hold accountable the authorities and perpetrators of gender-based violence and discrimination against women," Khamosh told RFE/RL's Radio Azadi.

Meanwhile, Iranian women’s rights activists have said the institutionalized discrimination against women in the Islamic republic amounts to gender apartheid.

UN experts have said the violent enforcement of the hijab law and punishments on women and girls who fail to wear the head scarf could be described as a form of gender apartheid.

Security forces in Iran warn women to wear their hijabs properly.
Security forces in Iran warn women to wear their hijabs properly.

When Do They Want It?

Today. The United Nations has been considering the adoption of a major treaty that would unite signatories against crimes against humanity.

Dozens of rights groups and hundreds of individuals signed a statement in March calling for gender apartheid to be included on the draft list of such crimes.

The hope is that the UN General Assembly will adopt procedures to begin negotiations on the treaty when it next meets in September.

Tough Going

While the concept of gender apartheid has increasingly been used by the United Nations and international organizations, particularly in connection with abuses against women and girls in Afghanistan and Iran, there have also been missed opportunities.

During UN-hosted talks in Doha with the Taliban in early July, for example, women did not have a seat at the table.

Where Are The Women? All-Male UN Talks With Taliban Spark Controversy
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Rights activists calling for the recognition of gender apartheid and for sanctions to be imposed on those responsible accused the UN of giving legitimacy to the Taliban's rule and of betraying its commitment to women's rights.

"The international community has a moral obligation to ensure the protection of Afghan women’s rights and uphold the principles of justice and equality in any engagement with the Taliban," Sima Samar, former chairperson of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC), told CIVICUS, a global alliance of civil society organizations.

Imprisonment And Death In Iran

Like the Taliban in Afghanistan, Iran's clerical regime has been labeled a "gender apartheid regime" by rights watchdogs.

Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi, an Iranian human rights activist who lives in exile, is among the key signatories of a global effort to End Gender Apartheid Today.

The movement, highlighting the international community's successful effort to end apartheid in South Africa decades ago, noted that women in Iran are banned from many fields of study, sporting events, and from obtaining a passport or traveling outside the country without their husband's consent.

The Iranian authorities' goal is to maintain women's subjugation to men and the state through a system of laws, the movement said. Violations can lead to "violence, imprisonment, and death."

"The situations in the Islamic Republic of Iran and under the Taliban in Afghanistan are not simply cases of gender discrimination," the movement concluded in its call for support.

"Rather, these systems are perpetuating a more extreme, systematic, and structural war against women designed to dehumanize and repress them for purposes of entrenching power.”


Written by Michael Scollon with reporting by RFE/RL's Radio Azadi

Oil Tanker Seized By Iran Moving To International Waters, Tracking Data Shows

Iranian marines rappel onto the Advantage Sweet in April 2023.
Iranian marines rappel onto the Advantage Sweet in April 2023.

A Chevron-chartered oil tanker that was seized by Iran more than a year ago was heading for international waters on July 11, LSEG ship tracking data showed. The Marshall Islands-flagged Advantage Sweet was boarded by Iran's military in the Gulf of Oman in April 2023 after an alleged collision with an Iranian boat. There was no immediate comment from Chevron or Iranian officials on July 11 on whether the vessel had been released or what discussions may have been involved. The U.S. State Department called in March for the immediate release of the tanker.

Iranian Film Casts Real Refugees To Show Plight Of Displaced Afghans

Iranian Film Casts Real Refugees To Show Plight Of Displaced Afghans
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An Iranian writing-directing duo has filmed the story of millions of Afghans living for decades in Iran without fundamental rights. Alireza Ghasemi and Raha Amirfazli cast real Afghan refugees as their characters, secretly shooting in locations where their cast cannot legally go. In the Land Of Brothers screened at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival in July, shedding light on a population of permanent refugees that began streaming into Iran in the 1980s during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Many are still eking out a living, taking on unofficial manual labor jobs while facing constant discrimination.

Iran Cracks Down On Social Media Accounts For 'Discouraging' Voting

A man holds up a ballot during the first round of Iran's presidential election on June 28.
A man holds up a ballot during the first round of Iran's presidential election on June 28.

Iran has opened court cases against two Telegram accounts and summoned 100 people for allegedly calling for a boycott of the recent presidential election.

Some 500 Instagram accounts were also found to have committed “election violations,” Iranian judiciary spokesman Asghar Jahangiri told reporters on July 10.

Without naming the Telegram and Instagram accounts, Jahangiri said they had all “tried to discourage people from voting.”

Ahead of the first round of voting on June 28, the Iranian government issued strict guidelines criminalizing efforts to boycott the election or discourage high turnout.

Jahangiri said that throughout the election period, 3,980 people suspected of violating the guidelines had been “offered guidance.”

Some 113 people were detained on July 5 when the runoff vote was held, but “most were released on the same day” after posting bail and giving a written statement vowing not to repeat their offense.

Reformist lawmaker Masud Pezeshkian won the presidential election after beating his hard-line rival, Saeed Jalili, in the runoff.

The election was called following the death of hard-line President Ebrahim Raisi in a helicopter crash in May.

In the lead-up to first round of the election, Tehran’s prosecutor filed charges against media outlets Hashieh News and Bamdad-e No for allegedly publishing fake stories about the election.

Iranian dissidents have for years demanded a boycott of elections, arguing that voting has failed to result in reforms in the Islamic republic.

The first round of voting on June 28 saw a record-low turnout of 39.9 percent for a presidential election. Voter participation increased to 49.8 percent in the second round.

In its most recent report, Reporters Without Borders described Iran as “one of the most repressive countries in terms of press freedom” and said it was “one of the world’s biggest jailers of journalists.”

Updated

Iranian Female Prisoners Call Activist's 'Disgraceful' Death Sentence An Ominous Sign

Labor activist Sharifeh Mohammadi has been sentenced to death in Iran.
Labor activist Sharifeh Mohammadi has been sentenced to death in Iran.

A group of female Iranian prisoners has warned of a possible wave of executions, pointing to the recent "shameless and disgraceful" death sentence handed down to labor activist Sharifeh Mohammadi.

The group of 16 women said in a letter that prior to last week's presidential election, authorities had slowed down the pace of executions "to the maximum extent possible before the electoral show."

"However, it will now accelerate the issuance and execution of death sentences and will suppress the families of the victims more than before," the letter, which demands the canceling of Mohammadi's punishment, added.

Earlier this month, the Revolutionary Court in the northern city of Rasht said Mohammadi had been convicted on charges of "armed rebellion against the state" and included as evidence her membership in an independent labor organization.

She was also accused of being a member of the banned Komala Kurdish separatist party, which her family denied.

"[The authorities] want to suppress the voice of protest and demands...of women who are louder now than before in the arena of justice," the letter says.

Mohammadi’s cousin, Vida Mohammadi, told RFE/RL's Radio Farda that her niece was tortured in prison following her arrest on December 5 and that she had spent several months in solitary confinement.*

Vida Mohammadi said Sharifeh Mohammadi was not affiliated with any political organization inside or outside the country.

The Hengaw rights watchdog has said Mohammadi "endured mental and physical torture at the hands of Iranian Intelligence interrogators...who sought to extract a forced confession from her."

The U.S.-based Abdorrahman Boroumand Center, which focuses on Iranian issues, said the death sentence was linked to "her involvement with an independent labor union."

"This extreme ruling highlights the harsh crackdown on dissent within Iran, particularly against labor activists amid economic turmoil," it said.

Major protests erupted in Gilan Province and throughout the country in 2022 following the death in police custody of Mahsa Amini, a young Kurdish-Iranian woman who had been detained for allegedly flouting Iran's strict dress code for women.

More than 500 protesters were killed nationwide and thousands arrested during months of unrest.

Domestic and international rights activists have accused Tehran of using the death penalty to intimidate protesters and others following the mass demonstrations.

*CORRECTION: A previous version of this story identified Vida Mohammadi as Sharifeh Mohammadi's aunt. She is a cousin.

White House Warns Iran Against Meddling In Gaza Protests In U.S.

The White House warned Iran against meddling in Gaza protests in the United States. (file photo)
The White House warned Iran against meddling in Gaza protests in the United States. (file photo)

The White House accused Tehran on July 9 of trying to take advantage of Gaza-related protests in the United States and described such behavior as unacceptable, following a warning by a top U.S. intelligence official that Iran was trying to stoke discord in American society. The warning, issued by Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines, said actors tied to Iran's government had posed as activists online, sought to encourage protests regarding Gaza, and even provided demonstrators with financial support. White House spokesperson Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters: "Americans across the political spectrum, acting in good faith, have sought to express their own independent views on the conflict in Gaza. The freedom to express diverse views when done peacefully is essential to our democracy."

Face Of Iran's Bloody 1999 Student Protests Says Repression Even Worse Today

The iconic image of Ahmad Batebi holding a bloody shirt during Iran's student protests in 1999 still shows up in demonstrations, such as this one in 2002.
The iconic image of Ahmad Batebi holding a bloody shirt during Iran's student protests in 1999 still shows up in demonstrations, such as this one in 2002.

In the early morning of July 9, 1999, students at Tehran University were sleeping off a long day of demonstrating for reforms in Iran when they were awakened to brutal reality.

Plainclothes police and paramilitary volunteers stormed into dormitories, kicking in doors and beating students in their rooms. Some were thrown from windows and at least one student was killed, while hundreds were injured.

What had begun as relatively low-level demonstrations against the closure days earlier of a reformist newspaper would quickly spread from the capital to other major cities.

Over the course of a few days, at least five protesters would be left dead, hundreds injured, and thousands more detained in what would stand for a decade as the largest antiestablishment protests in Iran since the Islamic Revolution in 1979.

Looking back at the events 25 years later, a former student who unwittingly became the face of the demonstrations against the clerical establishment says the protesters truly believed they could help usher in societal and structural reforms promoted by the reformist political camp.

"We thought reforms represented a new paradigm, driven by individuals genuinely different and committed to change," Ahmad Batebi told RFE/RL's Radio Farda.

That the violent crackdown came during the presidency of the country's last reformist president, Mohammad Khatami -- who was elected in 1997 on promises of strengthening the rule of law and greater social freedoms -- no longer comes as a surprise.

"Time has shown that the reformists were not fundamentally different from those entrenched in power, [they were] just simply another facet of the Islamic republic," he said.

Batebi was one of thousands of reform-minded Iranian students who took to the streets after the dormitory raid in open defiance of the establishment.

When the cover of the British magazine The Economist showed him holding up the blood-stained shirt of a fellow protester who had been shot by security forces in Tehran, it awakened the outside world to the demonstrations.

This photo made Batebi the face of the 1999 student protests.
This photo made Batebi the face of the 1999 student protests.

But the now-iconic photo also attracted the attention of the Iranian authorities. Batebi was arrested and sentenced to death for his alleged involvement in "street unrest."

Named a prisoner of conscience by rights groups, Batebi's sentence was eventually reduced to 15 years due to international pressure. He served nine years before fleeing to neighboring Iraq while on medical leave to treat the many ailments he suffered in prison and eventually moved to the United States.

Batebi said that the Islamic republic relied on violent repression from its beginning, pointing to the mass executions of political prisoners in the 1980s and deadly crackdowns against protests in the cities of Mashhad, Qazvin, and Eslamshahr in the 1990s.

"The Islamic republic habitually employed such methods of suppression, recognizing no other approach," Batebi said.

The harsh response to the student protests of 1999 was "not unusual," Batebi added, because "the government was accustomed to and prepared for such actions, and knew no other way to operate."

Those events simply foreshadowed the establishment's method of dealing with subsequent antiestablishment protests, including student demonstrations in 2003, mass demonstrations against the results of the disputed 2009 presidential election and the suppression of the Green Movement.

"This is the inherent nature of the Islamic republic and it will continue to operate in this manner," Batebi said.

He also addressed more recent protests, including the 2019-20 protests fueled by water shortages and economic woes, and the Women, Life, Freedom protests of 2022.

As many as 1,500 demonstrators were reportedly killed during the nationwide protests that broke out in 2019. More than 550 demonstrators were killed in the crackdown against the 2022 protests, which followed the death in police custody of Mahsa Amini and lasted for months.

Human rights watchdogs say the response was marked by a litany of atrocities carried out by the state, including extrajudicial killings, torture, and rape.

Batebi said the level of suppression to which the state will go has "surpassed what was experienced at the university dormitories" in 1999, which was by far eclipsed in scale and in violence by the 2009, 2019, and 2022 protests.

But so too has the involvement of the general population, he added.

"Initially, the student movement was at the forefront of social protests, making their suppression highly visible," Batebi said. "However, over the past decade, every segment of society, from teachers to workers and nurses, has been involved."

The former student protester said he saw a "significant maturity and sophistication among today's activists" in Iran. But he laments that the reforms the students of his era fought for, including greater political and social freedoms, are essentially dead.

"From the reform movement that once sought structural changes, only a name remains," he said. "The reforms we see today are vastly different from those initial aspirations and are, in fact, part of the government, deviating slightly from its authoritarian segment while attempting to realign with the long-standing governmental ideals."

The recent victory of Masud Pezeshkian -- who cast himself as a reformist during Iran's snap presidential election after ultraconservative Ebrahim Raisi died in a helicopter crash in May -- will make no real difference, according to Batebi.

Batebi expressed doubt over Pezeshkian's "reformist" credentials, but pondered for argument's sake what could happen if he deviated from his alignment with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei or from Raisi's policies.

Even if he Pezeshkian was a "true democrat, genuinely modern, and eager to implement changes in Iran, how would he achieve this?" Batebi asked. "The tools for change are lacking in Iran. There are no institutions outside the supreme leader's control."

This includes the judiciary, media, security forces and military, the Intelligence Ministry, and all influential government bodies "that could obstruct presidential initiatives" in domestic and foreign policy.

"The situation is clear," Batebi concluded. "Regardless of an individual's democratic intentions or transformative aspirations, without the necessary instruments for change, substantial reform is unattainable. Therefore, in my view, the potential for change is virtually nonexistent."

Written by Michael Scollon based on an interview by Nasrin Afshar of RFE/RL's Radio Farda

No Change From Iran's New President?

No Change From Iran's New President?
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Masud Pezeshkian is Iran’s new president and will take office in August. He did not make lofty promises on the campaign trail, conceding that presidential powers in Iran are limited. With the supreme leader calling the shots, analysts say there will not be major policy shifts.

Iranian Warship Capsizes During Repairs In Bandar Abbas

The Iranian frigate Sahand capsized during repairs in Bandar Abbas, state media said on July 7. (file photo).
The Iranian frigate Sahand capsized during repairs in Bandar Abbas, state media said on July 7. (file photo).

The Iranian Navy frigate Sahand capsized during repairs in the southern port of Bandar Abbas, Iranian state media reported on July 7. "As Sahand was being repaired at the wharf, it lost its balance due to water ingress. Fortunately...the vessel is being returned to balance quickly," the official news agency IRNA reported, citing a Iranian Navy statement. It did not specify when the accident occurred. State media carried a picture of a capsized ship and said several people were taken to the hospital with minor injuries.

Pezeshkian To Be Sworn In As Iran's President Early Next Month

President-elect Masud Pezeshkian speaks to supporters at the shrine of Iran's late leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, on July 6.
President-elect Masud Pezeshkian speaks to supporters at the shrine of Iran's late leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, on July 6.

Moderate reformist Masud Pezeshkian, the winner of Iran's runoff presidential vote, will be sworn in before lawmakers early next month, Mojtaba Yosefi, a member of the Iranian parliament's presiding board, told state media.

Pezeshkian defeated ultraconservative hard-liner Saeed Jalili in the July 5 runoff, garnering 53.7 percent of the vote, or 16,384,403 votes, while Jalili received 44.3 percent, or 13,538,179 votes, according to final results announced by the Interior Ministry.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who wields ultimate power in Iran, first has to give his approval to Pezeshkian's win in a ceremony known as "tanfiz."

Following that ceremonial step, "the swearing-in ceremony of the president will be held on August 4 or 5," Yosefi was quoted as saying by state news agency IRNA on July 7.

"The president will then have 15 days to present his proposed ministers to the parliament for a vote of confidence," he said, adding that, according to parliamentary rules, Pezeshkian will officially renounce his lawmaker mandate on July 31.

Pezeshkian has been a member of parliament since 2008 and served as deputy speaker between 2016 and 2020, when moderates and reformists had a majority in the legislature.

Pezeshkian's victory came amid a turnout of 49.8 percent, considerably higher than the record-low 40 percent in the first round of the election, which was triggered by the death of President Ebrahim Raisi in a helicopter crash in May.

Pezeshkian, who finished the first round with 10.5 million votes -- 1 million more than Jalili -- appears to have been the one who benefited from the larger turnout in the second round, finishing the runoff with nearly 3 million votes more than his opponent after voting was extended three times until midnight.

His campaign had sought to increase turnout by convincing young and disappointed people who boycotted the first round to vote in the runoff.

Following his surprise victory, Pezeshkian thanked young Iranians for helping him win.

"I am especially grateful to the dedicated and capable young people who came to work lovingly and sincerely on my team and together with the rest of the people shone a ray of hope and confidence in the future," the 69-year-old former heart surgeon wrote on X, formerly Twitter.

However, he warned that a "difficult path" lies ahead for the Islamic republic and appealed to Iranians not to leave him "alone" as he begins his presidency in a country beset by economic hardships compounded by international sanctions and dominated by a repressive theocracy.

Khamenei called the runoff vote "very important" and urged everyone "to work together.

Iran's theocracy, installed after the Islamic Revolution of 1979, has long maintained that it derives its legitimacy from strong popular support that translates into high voter turnout, but poor participation in recent elections and deadly antiestablishment protests have challenged the legitimacy of the current leadership.

Iran's New Reformist President Unlikely To Bring Major Policy Shifts
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Pezeshkian questioned Iran's methods of enforcing the Islamic head scarf for women following the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in 2022 while in the custody of Iran's dreaded morality police for allegedly wearing her hijab improperly.

He has also said that while the hijab law should be observed, "there should never be any intrusive or inhumane behavior toward women."

Pezeshkian has called for "constructive relations" with Western countries and favors reviving the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers, but he also supports the principles of the Islamic republic and said he would follow Khamenei's policies if elected.

Iran's acute economic doldrums worsened after U.S. President Donald Trump's administration withdrew from a landmark 2015 nuclear agreement between Tehran and world powers in 2018, reimposing harsh sanctions.

Following Pezeshkian's victory, the European Union said it was prepared to talk.

"We take note of the results of the presidential elections in Iran and congratulate President-elect Masud Pezeshkian," Nabila Massrali, EU spokeswoman for foreign affairs and security policy, said on X. "We are ready to engage with the new government in line with EU policy of critical engagement."

Washington, however, dismissed the impact of Pezeshkian's election.

"The election will not have a significant impact on [Washington's] approach to Iran," a U.S. State Department spokesman told RFE/RL's Radio Farda. "Our concerns about Iran’s behavior are unchanged. At the same time, we remain committed to diplomacy when it advances American interests."

In a separate development, Iranian authorities on July 7 said they had arrested eight people in connection with the killing of two security force members who were carrying election boxes in the eastern Sistan-Baluchistan Province after the first round of voting on June 28.

The identities of those arrested were not revealed.

EU Says It's 'Ready To Engage' With Iran's Incoming President

Masud Pezeshkian (file photo)
Masud Pezeshkian (file photo)

The European Union has said it is ready to get involved in talks with the winner of Iran's presidential election, Masud Pezeshkian, following his July 6 victory. "We take note of the results of the presidential elections in Iran and congratulate President-elect Masud Pezeshkian," Nabila Massrali, the EU's spokesperson for foreign affairs and security policy, said on X. "We are ready to engage with the new government in line with EU policy of critical engagement," Massrali wrote. Pezeshkian has called for "constructive relations" with Western countries and favors reviving the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and global powers.

Iran's New Reformist President Unlikely To Bring Major Policy Shifts

Iran's New Reformist President Unlikely To Bring Major Policy Shifts
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Moderate reformist Masud Pezeshkian, the winner of Iran's runoff presidential vote on July 5, defeated ultraconservative hard-liner Saeed Jalili. Pezeshkian's victory came amid a turnout of 49.8 percent, following the record-low 40 percent in the first round of the election. Experts say Pezeshkian is coming into a system dominated by conservatives and that the president-elect has been careful not to overpromise on reforms.

'Reformist Loyalist' Masud Pezeshkian Is Iran's New President. Here's What To Expect.

Masud Pezeshkian has said he wants to reach out to the West, though he has his his work cut out for him.
Masud Pezeshkian has said he wants to reach out to the West, though he has his his work cut out for him.

Elections in Iran are neither free nor fair, but they can still surprise. The election of reformist veteran lawmaker Masud Pezeshkian as Iran’s new president is one of those surprises.

Pezeshkian beat his ultraconservative rival Saeed Jalili in a runoff vote on July 5, winning more than 16.3 million votes in an election that saw a 49.8 percent turnout.

“Pezeshkian’s victory was a total surprise; he was really the unexpected candidate to come through this election,” said Sanam Vakil, director of the Middle East and North Africa program at the London-based Chatham House.

She said the political establishment, and even many in society, anticipated conservative parliament speaker Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf’s victory, but he did not even make it to the second round of voting.

The sentiment is shared among some in Pezeshkian’s camp. Mohammad Mohammad-Rezaei, a former lawmaker who campaigned for Pezeshkian in Kurdistan Province, said the former health minister did not even expect to be allowed to run in the election.

“I think [the authorities] wanted to engineer the election, and so they put a reformist on the ballot, as they did with [Abdolnasser] Hemmati [in 2021] to make it seem competitive,” he told RFE/RL’s Radio Farda. “But they lost control and someone like Pezeshkian won.”

The first round of voting on June 28 saw a record-low turnout of 39.9 percent, in which Pezeshkian benefited from a split conservative vote to finish first, since Jalili and Qalibaf could not reach an agreement for one of them to drop out of the race.

Going into the second round, Pezeshkian sought to rally voters to his cause by playing on people’s fears of a hard-line candidate like Jalili winning the election. While that may have helped him win votes, analysts say it is not the only reason why people voted for him.

Farzan Sabet, a senior research associate at the Geneva Graduate Institute, described Pezeshkian as a “conservative reformist” who “did not make bold promises of changes and reforms” and so managed to draw on votes from traditional conservatives who do not back Jalili’s hard-line views.

No Major Policy Shifts

Pezeshkian is inheriting an economy hammered by mismanagement and sanctions and a society that has shown it will take to the streets to demand basic freedoms.

But consequential policies in Iran are set by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the final say on all state matters.

The president serves as the head of the Supreme National Security Council, but he ultimately only has one vote. So, while the president has a say, he does not have a lot of sway.

“Pezeshkian has given the impression that he will be a weak or pliable president, or at the very least he will adhere very strictly to the policy framework set by the supreme leader,” Sabet said.

Pezeshkian himself acknowledged the limits of presidential power throughout his campaign, noted Vakil, who described the president-elect as a “reformist loyalist who is, above all else, subservient to the supreme leader.”

She argued that being “compliant and pliant” could work in Pezeshkian’s favor, potentially affording him “some latitude to pursue openness with the West or engage on incremental issues” -- assuming Iran’s top brass wants to lift sanctions and boost the faltering economy.

Ultimate power in Iran lies with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the final say on all state matters.
Ultimate power in Iran lies with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the final say on all state matters.

Pezeshkian is unlikely to bring major reforms, but he might be able to exert some influence on policies thanks to his more conservative leanings compared to other reformists, said Sabet.

He speculated that Pezeshkian’s government might include reformists and moderates but also traditional conservatives, giving him some leverage to work with conservatives in parliament to “outmaneuver” hard-liners, who saw their numbers increase in the legislature following the election in March.

So, while there will not be major policy shifts, how existing policies are carried out could have a “meaningful impact” on domestic politics, foreign relations, and the economy.

Succession To Khamenei

One reason why Qalibaf was initially seen as the establishment’s preferred choice was because his executive experience, ties to the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, and conservative views made him an ideal candidate to maintain order and ensure a smooth transition of power in the event of Khamenei’s death.

Pezeshkian is a former health minister with years of experience in parliament, but the jury is out on whether he will be able to steady the boat if the 85-year-old supreme leader dies during his tenure.

“Pezeshkian was truly a second-tier reformist candidate,” Sabet said, but added, “That being said, he could grow into the role, despite not having held particularly senior positions in the past.”

With reporting by Hannah Kaviani of RFE/RL’s Radio Farda
Updated

Who Is Masud Pezeshkian, Iran's President-Elect?

Masud Pezeshkian has criticized Iran's hijab-enforcement methods but also spoken in support of Khamenei's policies.
Masud Pezeshkian has criticized Iran's hijab-enforcement methods but also spoken in support of Khamenei's policies.

Reformist lawmaker Masud Pezeshkian has won Iran's July 5 runoff presidential election against ultraconservative candidate Saeed Jalili and will become the ninth president of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

A former health minister, Pezeshkian has been representing the ethnic Azeri majority province of East Azerbaijan in the Iranian parliament for the past 16 years.*

Pezeshkian led the field of four candidates in the first round of Iran's presidential election on June 28, taking 42.5 percent of the vote. On July 5, he secured 53.6 percent of the ballots.

Despite more than 20 years in politics, Pezeshkian has not faced any corruption allegations and has not been implicated in any political scandals.

Pezeshkian was born in the Kurdish-majority city of Mahabad in West Azerbaijan Province and speaks fluent Kurdish and Azeri.

A physician by training, Pezeshkian went to the front lines during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War to fight and serve as a medic. He specialized in cardiac surgery after the war.

The 70-year-old also worked in academia, serving as the head of Tabriz University of Medical Sciences from 1994 to 1999.

Pezeshkian entered politics shortly after leaving the university, moving to Tehran in 2000 to serve as deputy health minister in the government of then-President Mohammad Khatami.

In 2001, Khatami named Pezeshkian as his health minister. Two years later, the parliament unsuccessfully tried to impeach Pezeshkian over what his critics said were bad appointments and poor use of a World Bank loan, among other alleged failures.

In 2008, three years after leaving government, Pezeshkian ran for parliament and finished first in the Tabriz constituency. He has been elected to parliament for five consecutive four-year terms.

From 2016 to 2020 -- when moderates and reformists controlled the legislature -- Pezeshkian served as one of two deputy speakers of parliament.

Pezeshkian ran for president in 2013 but dropped out without endorsing anyone. He tried his luck again in 2021 but he was disqualified from running by the Guardians Council, a constitutional watchdog that also vets candidates running in major elections.

Pezeshkian often recites the Koran and is an expert on Nahjul Balagha, a compilation of sermons and sayings attributed to the first Shi’ite imam, Ali. The book holds a special place among Shi'a in Iran.

The former health minister has been critical of the Islamic republic’s hijab-enforcement policies, warning in 2023 that it was only encouraging people to hate religion.

He has expressed an openness to negotiations with the West and has in the past criticized chanting against other countries, including the United States.

But Pezeshkian has also spoken in support of the Islamic republic’s principles and insisted that policies set out by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei should be followed.

Earlier this year, Pezeshkian said Khamenei’s intervention had ensured that he was not disqualified from running in parliamentary elections in March.

He has spoken in defense of minority rights, but his critics have accused him of pandering to nationalist sentiments among Iran’s ethnic Azeris. He has denied the allegations.

*CORRECTION: A previous version of this story misidentified the province that Pezeshkian has been representing in parliament. It is East Azerbaijan, not West Azerbaijan.
Updated

Pezeshkian 'Grateful' To Iran's Youth For Helping Him Win Presidency; U.S. Dismisses Impact Of Vote

"The difficult path ahead will only become smoother with your companionship, empathy, and trust," Masud Pezeshkian, Iran's president-elect, told the country on July 6. (file photo)
"The difficult path ahead will only become smoother with your companionship, empathy, and trust," Masud Pezeshkian, Iran's president-elect, told the country on July 6. (file photo)

Moderate reformist Masud Pezeshkian, the winner of Iran's runoff presidential vote, has thanked young Iranians for helping him win as foreign leaders and members of the Iranian establishment congratulated him on his victory, while Washington dismissed the impact of the results.

Pezeshkian, a 69-year-old former heart surgeon, defeated ultraconservative hard-liner Saeed Jalili in the July 5 runoff, garnering 53.7 percent of the vote, or 16,384,403 votes, while Jalili received 44.3 percent, or 13,538,179 votes, according to results announced by Mohsen Eslami, the spokesman of Iran's election headquarters.

"I am especially grateful to the dedicated and capable young people who came to work lovingly and sincerely on my team and together with the rest of the people shone a ray of hope and confidence in the future," the 69-year-old former heart surgeon wrote on X.

Pezeshkian's victory came amid a turnout of 49.8 percent, considerably higher than the record-low 40 percent in the first round of the election, which was triggered by the death of President Ebrahim Raisi in a helicopter crash in May.

Social media videos purported to show Pezeshkian's supporters, mostly young people, taking to the streets of Tehran and other Iranian cities to celebrate, even before the final results were announced.

Pezeshkian, however, warned that a "difficult path" lies ahead for the Islamic republic and appealed to Iranians not to leave him "alone" as he begins his presidency in a country beset by economic hardships compounded by international sanctions and dominated by a repressive theocracy.

"The difficult path ahead will only become smoother with your companionship, empathy, and trust. I extend my hand to you, and I swear on my honor that I, in turn, will not leave you alone on this path," Pezeshkian wrote in a separate message.

Voting on July 5 had been scheduled to end at 6 p.m., but it was extended three times until midnight as authorities sought to encourage as many people as possible to go to the polls.

The first round failed to generate widespread participation, despite calls by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who wields ultimate power in Iran, for a high turnout to project an image of a strong Iran where its people back the political establishment.

Khamenei, who has final say in Iran's politics, congratulated Pezeshkian, calling for unity.

"I call on everyone to work together," said Khamenei, who had called the runoff vote "very important."

Hossein Salami, the chief of Iran's powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), also welcomed Pezeshkian's victory, offering his "cooperation" to the incoming president.

"We are fully prepared to continue and strengthen the cooperation and interaction between the IRGC and the government," Salami said in a statement.

Iran's theocracy, installed after the Islamic revolution of 1979, has long maintained that it derives its legitimacy from strong popular support that translates into high voter turnout, but poor participation in recent elections and deadly antiestablishment protests have challenged the legitimacy of the current leadership.

Pezeshkian has been a member of parliament since 2008 and served as deputy speaker between 2016 and 2020, when moderates and reformists had a majority in the legislature.

Pezeshkian questioned Iran's methods of enforcing the Islamic head scarf for women following the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in 2022 while in the custody of Iran's dreaded morality police for allegedly wearing her hijab improperly.

After Amini's death, which sparked months of unrest across the country, Pezeshkian demanded clarification from authorities about her case.

After casting his vote during the first round last week, Pezeshkian said, "We will respect the hijab law, but there should never be any intrusive or inhumane behavior toward women."

Pezeshkian has also spoken in favor of negotiating with the West, but he also supports the principles of the Islamic republic and said he would follow Khamenei's policies if elected.

While Pezeshkian's victory is unlikely to result in major policy shifts, it could have an impact on the succession to the 85-year-old Khamenei, who has been Iran's supreme leader since 1989.

Khamenei now has to give his approval to Pezeshkian's win in a ceremony known as "tanfiz."

Following that ceremonial step, the new president's inauguration is expected to take place sometime between July 22 and August 5.

An electoral staff member empties a ballot box at a polling station on July 6 after voting ended in Iran's runoff presidential election. Pezeshkian's victory came amid a turnout of 49.8 percent, considerably higher than the record-low 40 percent in the first round of the election.
An electoral staff member empties a ballot box at a polling station on July 6 after voting ended in Iran's runoff presidential election. Pezeshkian's victory came amid a turnout of 49.8 percent, considerably higher than the record-low 40 percent in the first round of the election.

Pezeshkian, who finished the first round with 10.5 million votes -- 1 million more than Jalili -- appears to have been the one who benefited from the larger turnout in the second round, finishing the runoff with nearly 3 million votes more than his opponent.

His campaign had sought to increase turnout by convincing people who boycotted the first round to vote in the runoff.

Mohammad Mohammad-Rezaei, a former lawmaker from Iran's Kurdistan Province who worked for Pezeshkian's campaign, told RFE/RL's Radio Farda that Pezeshkian's main advantage has been his galvanizing power among all walks of life.

"One of the merits of Pezeshkian is that he is a patriot and his character transcends party politics. He is above political parties, fronts, and groups," Mohammad-Rezaei said.

His supporters attempted to highlight what they saw as the dangers of a hard-line figure like Jalili coming to power, arguing that his administration would enact repressive policies and further isolate Iran.

Iran's New Reformist President Unlikely To Bring Major Policy Shifts
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Jalili's supporters portrayed Pezeshkian as a man who is soft on the West and who would make Iranian progress dependent on good relations with Western nations.

The U.S. State Department, in comments to RFE/RL's Radio Farda, noted the results but said that elections in Iran are neither free or fair.

"As a result, a significant number of Iranians chose not to participate at all," a spokesman said. "We have no expectation these elections will lead to fundamental change in Iran’s direction or more respect for the human rights of its citizens. As the candidates themselves have said, Iranian policy is set by the supreme leader.

"The election will not have a significant impact on [Washington's] approach to Iran either. Our concerns about Iran’s behavior are unchanged. At the same time, we remain committed to diplomacy when it advances American interests."

Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei votes during the presidential election in Tehran on July 5.
Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei votes during the presidential election in Tehran on July 5.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping both congratulated Pezeshkian on his victory.

"I hope that your tenure as president will contribute to a reinforcement of constructive bilateral cooperation between our friendly peoples," Putin said.

Russia and Iran, both under harsh Western sanctions, can "coordinate efforts to resolve international issues in a constructive manner," Putin added.

Iran has been supplying Russia with drones that Moscow has been using to attack mainly civilian targets in Ukraine since the Kremlin started the invasion of its neighbor in February 2022.

"I attach great importance to the development of China-Iran relations and am willing to work with the president to lead the China-Iran comprehensive strategic partnership towards deeper advancement," state news agency Xinhua quoted Xi as saying.

China is Iran's largest trade partner and a main destination for Tehran's sanctioned oil.

King Salman of Saudi Arabia, Iran's regional rival, in a message to Pezeshkian, expressed hope for the "continued development of relations which link our two countries and our two brotherly peoples," according to the official Saudi Press Agency (SPA).

The powerful Saudi crown prince also congratulated Pezeshkian on his election.

"I affirm my keenness on developing and deepening the relations between our countries and people and serve our mutual interests," SPA quoted Muhammad Bin Salman as saying.

Last year, Saudi Arabia and Iran agreed in a China-brokered deal to restore diplomatic ties after years on interruption.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi also congratulated Pezeshkian.

"Looking forward to working closely with you to further strengthen our warm and long-standing bilateral relationship for the benefit of our peoples and the region," Modi wrote on X.

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