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Iranian Teen Protester Condemned To Double Death Sentence

Two public executions of protesters have taken place, according to the authorities, and rights groups say many other defendants have been condemned to death.
Two public executions of protesters have taken place, according to the authorities, and rights groups say many other defendants have been condemned to death.

An Islamic Revolutionary Court in Iran has sentenced an 18-year-old accused protester to two death sentences on charges of "corruption on Earth" and "waging war against God," the activist HRANA news agency reports.

The report said Mehdi Mohammadifard was arrested on September 30 in connection with protests in the northern Iranian city of Nowshahr.

He was accused of helping organize and lead a rally on September 21.

During his detention, Mohammadifard was reportedly denied access to a lawyer and the court forced him to use a public defender.

HRANA quoted a source close to Mohammadifard's family as saying his confessions were the result of coercion and torture and there was no documentary evidence of any crime.

Since the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini after she was arrested by the notorious morality police for wearing a hijab "improperly," Iranians have protested en masse, with women and even schoolgirls putting up unprecedented shows of defiance in what appears to be the biggest threat to the Islamic government in decades.

A brutal government crackdown on public demonstrators and dissent has seen several thousand arrested, including journalists, lawyers, activists, digital rights defenders, and others voicing opposition to the government.

Hard-liners have demanded an even sharper reaction, calling for heavy penalties, including death sentences, for protesters.

Two public executions have taken place, according to the authorities, and rights groups say many other defendants have been condemned to death.

Investigations by RFERL's Radio Farda show that in the last three months, at least 44 Iranian protesters have been accused of "waging war against God" and "corruption on Earth," which are punishable by death and often leveled in cases allegedly involving espionage or attempts to overthrow the government.

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

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Explosions, Sirens Over Jerusalem As Iran Attacks With Drones, Missiles

Explosions, Sirens Over Jerusalem As Iran Attacks With Drones, Missiles
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The sound of explosions and sirens echoed throughout Jerusalem in the early hours of April 14 after Iran launched a wave of drones and missiles at Israel. It was Iran's first-ever direct attack on Israeli territory. Israel and its allies said the "vast majority" were intercepted.

Iranians Celebrate After Iran Launches Drone Attack On Israel

Iranians celebrate in Tehran after the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) launched a missile attack on Israel overnight on April 13-14.

Iranian Student Still Missing Days After Being Detained

Fahimeh Soltani
Fahimeh Soltani

A university law student who has been a supporter of Iran's Women, Life, Freedom movement is still missing several days after her arrest by security forces, the second time she has been detained since unrest broke out over the death of a young woman in custody for an alleged violation of the head-scarf law.

Fahimeh Soltani, who studies at the University of Isfahan, was taken into custody after a raid on her home on April 6 and has not been heard from since, her family reported.

Security personnel, posing as postal workers, seized Soltani's mobile phone and laptop during the arrest, the family said.

Soltani's detention coincides with her previous arrest in November 2022 during the Women, Life, Freedom protests following Mahsa Amini's death in police custody.

After being held in detention for three months, Soltani was released as part of a broader pardon issued by the Islamic republic's leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Soltani's university activities have led to her being barred from studying for two terms due to cases she says were fabricated by the university's security department. Despite appealing the disciplinary rulings against her, the school's Central Committee delayed a final decision on her case.

On April 2, Soltani received a late-night call regarding the appeal and was told she had received an additional two-term study ban.

Amid efforts to expel her, the university in Isfahan, a city of some 2 million people about 400 kilometers south of Tehran, sent a direct expulsion request to the Central Committee. Along with her current arrest, her family said it remains in the dark about the outcome of the expulsion request.

Separately, a review committee at Tehran University has confirmed the suspension of Zahra Jafari, a graduate student in social welfare planning and editor of the student magazine Zhina.

Jafari was barred from studying for two semesters on charges including insulting Islamic and national symbols and acts against the Islamic republic. Her sentence, affecting her final thesis defense, began at the start of this academic year and will continue through the end of the second semester.

Universities and students have long been at the forefront of the struggle for greater social and political freedoms in Iran. In 1999, students protested the closure of a reformist daily newspaper, prompting a brutal raid on the dorms of Tehran University that left one student dead.

Over the years, the authorities have sent student activists and leaders to prison and banned them from studying.

The activist HRANA news agency says at least 700 university students have been arrested during the nationwide protests sparked by the September 2022 death of the 22-year-old Amini.

Many have faced sentences such as imprisonment and flogging, and dozens of students have been expelled from universities or suspended from their studies as security forces try to stifle widespread dissent.

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

Israel, Allies Intercept 'Vast Majority' Of Drones, Missiles Launched By Iran

An anti-missile system operates after Iran launched drones and missiles towards Israel, as seen from Ashkelon, Israel, early on April 14.
An anti-missile system operates after Iran launched drones and missiles towards Israel, as seen from Ashkelon, Israel, early on April 14.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised victory after a massive overnight air attack by Iran that marked a sharp escalation of the conflict in the Middle East.

"We intercepted, we repelled, together we shall win," Netanyahu wrote in an April 14 post on X, formerly Twitter.

Israel and its allies intercepted the "vast majority" of hundreds of drones and missiles launched by Iran overnight.

Loud explosions and flashes of light could be seen in the sky above many parts of Israel in the early morning hours of April 14 as the country's air defenses tried to shoot down incoming drones and missiles that Iran launched just hours after it seized an Israeli-linked ship in the Strait of Hormuz.

Israeli authorities reported only light damage to one Israeli military installation and said a 7-year-old girl was critically injured as more than 200 drones and missiles -- including more than 10 cruise missiles -- were intercepted before impact.

"The Iranian attack was foiled," Israeli military spokesman Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari said early on April 14, adding that "99 percent" of the attacking vehicles had been intercepted. Hagari said the result was "a very significant strategic success."

U.S. and British media reported their armed forces took part in shooting down the incoming projectiles, intercepting some over the Iraq-Syria border area as they made their way toward Israel.

Iran's military said its strikes had "achieved all its objectives" and been "completed successfully."

Iranian armed forces chief of staff Major General Mohammad Bagheri, speaking on state television, warned Israel not to retaliate, saying Tehran's "response will be much larger than tonight's military action." He also said U.S. assets would be targeted if Washington assisted Israeli in any retaliation.

"Our operations are over and we have no intention to continue them," Bagheri said.

Israel called on the United Nations Security Council to convene an emergency session in New York on April 14 to discuss the attack, which Israeli UN Ambassador Gilad Erdan described in a post on X as "a serious threat to global peace and security."

U.S. President Joe Biden pledged to convene allies to discuss the situation in the Middle East and coordinate a response. Biden spoke by telephone with Netanyahu, after which he said he had reaffirmed "America's ironclad commitment" to Israeli security.

Western countries condemned the attack, with France warning that Iran "is risking a potential military escalation." Britain described the attack as "reckless," while Germany called on Iran to "stop it immediately."

European Union President Ursula von der Leyen wrote on X that the attack was "blatant and unjustifiable."

"I call on Iran and its proxies to immediately cease these attacks," she added. "All actors must now refrain from further escalation and work to restore stability in the region."

Israel said early on April 14 that it had reopened its airspace for commercial traffic and that airports had resumed operations.

Israel and Iran have been bitter enemies for decades, but this was the first direct attack by one on the other's soil instead of through proxy forces or by targeting each other's assets in third countries.

"So far, we've intercepted the vast majority of incoming missiles," Hagari said of the attack launched by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) in what it said was retaliation for a deadly April 1 drone strike thought to be carried out by Israel on Iran's consulate in Damascus, Syria.

The launch comes amid heightened tensions between Iran and the West over the continuing war in the Gaza Strip and the strike in Syria.

Iran called the attack, which Tehran named operation "Honest Response," on Israel a "response to the Zionist regime’s aggression against our diplomatic premises in Damascus."

However, Iran also appeared to be taking a cautious approach to keep the strikes from broadening conflict in the region, with its mission to the United Nations saying that "the matter can be deemed concluded."

The Iranian attack was immediately condemned by many governments around the world, while United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said he was "deeply alarmed about the very real danger of a devastating region-wide escalation."

"I have repeatedly stressed that neither the region nor the world can afford another war," he said while urging restraint from all parties involved.

Reuters quoted a diplomatic source as saying the UN Security Council will meet later on April 14 where, upon request by Israel, it will consider condemning the attack and declaring the IRGC a terrorist organization.

Leaders in Tehran had warned of a retaliatory strike, while U.S. leaders, including Biden, have warned Iran against any assault on Israel.

Regional power Egypt urged "utmost restraint."

Earlier on April 13, Iranian state media reported that IRGC forces seized a container ship near the Strait of Hormuz, claiming the vessel was "linked to Israel."

Following that event, Israel said it was putting its military on high alert and canceling school activities on concerns of a possible attack.

It accused Iran of piracy and said Tehran will "bear the consequences" of escalating tensions in the Middle East.

The MSC Aries, a Portuguese-flagged vessel that is reportedly operated by a shipping company partially owned by Israeli billionaire Eyal Ofer, was seized on April 13 and was being transferred to Iranian territorial waters, according to the IRNA state news agency.

The ship's operator, the Italian-Swiss group MSC, later confirmed that Iranian authorities had boarded the vessel.

MSC said the ship had 25 crew members on board and said it was working closely with "the relevant authorities to ensure their well-being and safe return of the vessel."

Following the seizure of the vessel on April 13, an Israeli military spokesperson said that "Iran will bear the consequences for choosing to escalate the situation any further."

Israel's retaliatory war in Gaza was sparked by a raid on Israeli territory carried out by Hamas, which rules Gaza and is designated as a terrorist group by the United States and European Union, on October 7. The raid left 1,200 people dead and hundreds of people were taken hostage.

The ensuing Israeli invasion of the Gaza Strip aimed at destroying Hamas has killed more than 33,000 Palestinians, according to the Palestinian territory's Hamas-run Health Ministry.

Since the war began, Tehran has openly supported militant groups and proxies targeting Israel that are part of Iran's "axis of resistance" against Israel and the West, leading to concerns of a broader Middle East conflict involving archenemies Iran and Israel.

The security firm Ambrey said late on April 13 that Yemen's Huthi rebels had also launched multiple drones at Israel in coordination with Iran.

In addition to strikes launched against Israel by Iranian proxy Lebanese Hizballah, the Iranian-backed Huthis have attacked Israeli territory as well as international and Israeli shipping in the Red Sea.

The Strait of Hormuz is a narrow passage to the Persian Gulf that borders Iran and through which a fifth of the world's oil traffic passes. Fujairah, which is on the eastern coast of the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.), is a major shipping port.

With reporting by RFE/RL's Radio Farda, AP, and Reuters

Biden Says He Expects Iran To Attack Israel Soon, Warns: 'Don't'

U.S. President Joe Biden (file photo)
U.S. President Joe Biden (file photo)

U.S. President Joe Biden on April 12 said he expected Iran to attack Israel "sooner, rather than later" and warned Tehran not to proceed. Asked by reporters about his message to Iran, Biden said simply, "Don't," and he underscored Washington's commitment to defend Israel. "We are devoted to the defense of Israel. We will support Israel. We will help defend Israel and Iran will not succeed," he said. Israel braced on April 12 for an attack by Iran or its proxies as warnings grew of retaliation for an attack on Iran's embassy compound last week in Damascus.

Key Iranian Commanders Are Being Assassinated Abroad. How Will That Affect Tehran's Proxy Network?

Iranians attend the funeral of seven Revolutionary Guards Corps members killed in a strike on the country's consular annex in Damascus, which Tehran blamed on Israel, on April 5, during their funeral procession in Tehran.
Iranians attend the funeral of seven Revolutionary Guards Corps members killed in a strike on the country's consular annex in Damascus, which Tehran blamed on Israel, on April 5, during their funeral procession in Tehran.

Israel appears to have ramped up an assassination campaign against key Iranian generals and commanders based abroad in recent months.

Suspected Israeli air strikes have killed at least 18 members of the powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), the elite branch of Iran’s armed forces, in Syria since December.

In the latest attack, seven IRGC members, including two generals, were killed in an air strike on the Iranian Embassy’s compound in Damascus on April 1.

The targeted killings, experts say, are aimed at blunting Iran’s so-called “axis of resistance,” its network of regional proxies and militant groups against Israel and the West.

Observers say the strategy is likely to disrupt the network’s activities in the short-term, although they warned that the tactic is risky and could backfire in the long-term.

“Iran's regional network is glued together through personal, not institutional, connections,” said Ali Vaez, the director of the Iran Project at the Brussels-based International Crisis Group.

“Eliminating commanders with decades of experience in the region and a wide network of personal contacts certainly weakens Iran's regional deterrence,” he added.

'Risky Strategy'

Israel’s suspected targeting of IRGC members has intensified since the outbreak of the war in the Gaza Strip in October.

In response to Israel’s deadly offensive, Iranian-backed militant groups have attacked Israeli and U.S. targets across the Middle East in a show of support for Palestinians.

The conflict was triggered by an unprecedented multi-pronged attack on Israel by Hamas, which has been designated as a terrorist group by the United States and the European Union.

At least three key figures of the IRGC’s overseas arm, the Quds Force, have been killed in suspected Israeli attacks in recent months.

Razi Mousavi, a top Quds Force commander, was killed in an air strike near Damascus on December 25. He was responsible for coordinating Iran’s military activities in Syria and Lebanon.

Among those killed in the April 1 strike was General Mohammad Reza Zahedi, the Quds Force’s top commander in Syria and Lebanon. Zahedi’s deputy, General Mohammad Hadi Haj Rahimi, was also slain in the attack.

“There’s always doubt as to whether these targeted assassinations work,” said Michael Horowitz, the head of intelligence at the Bahrain-based Le Beck International consultancy.

“These decapitation strikes, when done ‘at scale,’ can have an impact in the short- to medium-term on Iran’s ability to coordinate with its proxies, smuggle weapons into Syria and Iraq, and threaten Israel.”

Demonstrators hang an effigy of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during the funeral for seven Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps members killed in a strike in Syria, which Iran blamed on Israel, in Tehran on April 5.
Demonstrators hang an effigy of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during the funeral for seven Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps members killed in a strike in Syria, which Iran blamed on Israel, in Tehran on April 5.

The attack on the Iranian Embassy’s compound in Damascus came just hours after a drone strike hit a naval base in the southern Israeli port of Eilat in the Red Sea. The strike damaged a building and nearly hit an Israeli warship.

The attack was claimed by the Islamic Resistance in Iraq, an umbrella group that includes Iran-backed militias.

“My take is that Israel wanted to show it has escalation dominance over Iran, and that Iran cannot escalate without paying a price,” said Horowitz.

“Generally, when an actor wants to up the ante, they raise the stake not by one notch but by two,” he added. “Of course, this is a risky strategy. The question is whether this will work, and Iran backs down in the longer term, or [if it] actually backfires.”

'Not Safe Anywhere'

The recent spate of assassinations are not the first time that key Iranian military commanders have been targeted and killed abroad.

In 2020, Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani was killed in a U.S. air strike in Iraq. He was seen as the architect of the "axis of resistance" and held great influence over its members, which includes Hamas, Lebanon’s Hizballah, Iraqi Shi’ite militias, Yemen’s Huthi rebels, and the Syria government.

Soleimani’s death led to the axis becoming more decentralized and some groups, particularly Shi’ite militias in Iraq, gaining some autonomy. But it did not significantly disrupt the Quds Force or break up the axis.

Hours after Soleimani’s death, his deputy, Esmail Qaani, was promoted.

Vaez said the death of Zahedi and his deputy, however, will likely be more disruptive.

“Unlike in the case of Soleimani's killing, there is no right-hand man to immediately step in and fill the void,” Vaez said. “If Iran fails to restore deterrence against Israel, no Iranian military official will be safe anywhere in Syria or even Lebanon anymore.”

Iranian Retaliation

Iran has described the strike on its embassy compound as an attack on Iranian territory. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei warned on April 10 that Israel "must be punished and will be punished."

Iran’s threat to retaliate against Israel has put the region, already tense from the Gaza war, on edge.

In the past, Iran has refrained from directly hitting Israel, instead opting to increase its support for the "axis of resistance" to take the fight to Israel. But the brazen attack in Damascus may compel Iran to take direct action, experts said.

Even so, Iran is likely to avoid a major escalation with Israel, a scenario that could trigger a full-blown war between the foes and likely drag in the United States, experts said.

Recent reports suggested Iran could strike the Golan Heights -- Syrian territory occupied by Israeli forces since 1967 -- because it believes it carries less risk of Israeli retaliation. But experts say there is no guarantee of that.

“Israel has responded to attacks from Syria, for instance, that landed in the Golan, so I wouldn't exclude an Israeli response regardless,” Horowitz said.

Argentinian Court Finds Iran, Proxies To Blame For 1994 Jewish Center Bombing

A police officer prevents people from approaching the site where a powerful explosion destroyed a seven-story building housing the Jewish Mutual Association of Argentina, in Buenos Aires, on July 18, 1994.
A police officer prevents people from approaching the site where a powerful explosion destroyed a seven-story building housing the Jewish Mutual Association of Argentina, in Buenos Aires, on July 18, 1994.

A high court in Argentina has ruled that Iran, and its Lebanese proxy Hizballah, are responsible for the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires that killed 85 people and injured some 300 others.

In a ruling made public on April 11, Argentina's Court of Cassation declared the attack a "crime against humanity," saying it was part of a series of attacks coordinated by Iran and carried out by its proxies.

The decision, close to the 30th anniversary of the attack, described the bombings as a retaliatory act by Iran following Argentina’s cancellation of nuclear cooperation agreements in the mid-1980s. The Argentinian judiciary found that Lebanon's Hizballah, acting under Iran's direction, executed the attack that devastated Latin America's largest Jewish community.

This ruling underscores accusations by Argentinian prosecutors who have long claimed Iranian officials orchestrated not only the community center attack but also the prior 1992 bombing of the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires that killed 29 people.

The court decision represents "a significant victory for the victims, their families, and everyone who has contributed to documenting this crime in pursuit of justice," said the D.C.-based Abdorrahman Boroumand Center for Human Rights in Iran (ABC), which actively documents extrajudicial killings orchestrated by the Islamic republic both inside Iran and globally.

The court’s judgment, coinciding with comments from Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei regarding an alleged Israeli attack on the Iranian Consulate in Damascus, reaffirms the fraught relations between Argentina and Iran.

The ruling also opens a path for the families of the victims of the attack to seek compensation from Tehran, which has refused to turn over Iranians convicted in Argentina for the attacks, despite arrest warrants being issued by Interpol.

Israel’s foreign minister, Israel Katz, applauded the decision and said that on the back of it, Argentina should designate Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) as a terrorist organization.

"Iran is the enemy of Israel as well as of Argentina and together with Hizballah leads terrorist activity in South America and throughout the world, and this decision against the Revolutionary Guards will be an important step in stopping Iranian aggression," he said in a post on X, formerly Twitter. "Now is the time to stop Iran."

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

Tehran Police To Launch New Phase Of Hijab Enforcement

Women walk without the mandatory hijab in Iran.
Women walk without the mandatory hijab in Iran.

Tehran police said they will launch a new phase of enforcement of the mandatory hijab law from April 13 even though the new "hijab and chastity" bill has yet to be approved by the country's Guardians Council.

Police Chief Abbasali Mohammadian announced the new phase of tightened enforcement ahead of a similar declaration made by the police chief of the southern city of Bushehr. Both said a more "vigorous enforcement" of the law will begin in all public spaces starting April 13.

Even though the Guardians Council has yet to approve the law, a necessary step to it becoming official, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei gave a directive during the Eid al-Fitr prayer sermon for enforcement of measures against what he called "religious norm-breaking" within Iranian society.

Khamenei also emphasized the mandatory hijab law as a "definite religious decree," underscoring the obligation of all to adhere to this and other legal decrees.

The "hijab and chastity" bill, which passed in parliament last year without public discussion, came in reaction to a wave of protests and defiance by women against being forced to wear the head covering. However, the approval process is still ongoing after some objections by the Guardians Council, including questions over how the law will be enforced.

Mehdi Bagheri, a lawmaker involved in the bill's review, said there are plans to resubmit an amended bill to the Guardians Council next week.

Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejei, head of Iran's judiciary, said that given Khamenei's comments, existing legal frameworks could be leveraged to enhance compliance without waiting the bill's formal approval.

The renewed focus on the mandatory hijab enforcement arrives as numerous reports suggest a decline in adherence to the head scarf among Iranian women in Tehran and other cities following widespread protests triggered by the death of Mahsa Amini while in custody of the morality police in 2022 for an alleged hijab violation.

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

The death of Amini released a wave of anger that has presented the Islamic regime with its biggest challenge since the revolution.

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

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

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

Israel Vows Defense If Iran Responds To Attack On Consulate

An ambulance is parked outside the Iranian consulate in Damascus after a suspected Israeli strike on April 2.
An ambulance is parked outside the Iranian consulate in Damascus after a suspected Israeli strike on April 2.

Israel’s military says it is prepared to defend the country and strike back if Iran retaliates for a deadly air strike on the Iranian Consulate in Syria. Tehran holds Israel responsible for the attack earlier this month, which the U.S. military believes Israel carried out. Israel has not commented on it. The increased tensions have sparked international concern that Israel's devastating war in Gaza against Hamas, which has been designated a terrorist organization by the United States and the European Union, could spill over into the rest of the Middle East.

Lufthansa Extends Suspension Of Flights To Tehran Amid Rising Tensions

Lufthansa and its subsidiary Austrian Airlines are the only two Western carriers flying into Tehran, which is mostly served by Turkish and Middle Eastern airlines.
Lufthansa and its subsidiary Austrian Airlines are the only two Western carriers flying into Tehran, which is mostly served by Turkish and Middle Eastern airlines.

Germany's Lufthansa extended a suspension of its flights to Tehran on April 11 with the Middle East on alert for Iranian retaliation for a suspected Israeli air strike on Iran's embassy in Syria. Lufthansa and its subsidiary Austrian Airlines are the only two Western carriers flying into Tehran, which is mostly served by Turkish and Middle Eastern airlines. The region and the United States have been on alert for an attack by Iran since April 1, when Israeli warplanes are suspected to have bombed the Iranian Embassy compound in Syria.

Father Of Slain Iranian Protester Detained, Whereabouts Unknown

Reza Lotfi's parents
Reza Lotfi's parents

The father of Reza Lotfi, who was among the hundreds of protesters killed by security forces during nationwide protests that swept across Iran in 2022, has been detained by police and taken to an undisclosed location, according to the HRANA news agency.

HRANA, which specializes in human rights coverage in Iran, quoted a family member as saying Kamal Lotfi was arrested on April 10 after he received a summons from the Islamic Revolutionary Court in the western Iranian city of Qorveh.

In April 2023, Kamal Lotfi was arrested and physically assaulted by security forces before being incarcerated at the Kamyaran prison. He was released from custody three months later.

Reza Lotfi was fatally shot by security personnel during protests in the city of Dehgolan in September 2022 after Mahsa Amini died under mysterious circumstances in police custody for an alleged head-scarf violation.

Tensions between the government and the families of those killed or arrested in the nationwide protests have been on the rise in recent months.

The government has been accused of stepping up the pressure on the victims' families through collective arrests and the summoning of grieving families by security agencies with the aim of keeping them from commemorating the deaths of their loved ones, which the government fears will trigger more unrest.

The Islamic republic has a long-standing history, extending over four decades, of employing tactics such as intimidation, threats, job termination, arrests, and imprisonment against the family members of individuals who have been killed or executed in protests.

This pattern of repression also extends to the dismissal of parents, siblings, and occasionally more distant relatives of deceased or executed protesters or political activists from their employment or educational institutions on multiple occasions.

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

German Foreign Minister Phones Iranian Counterpart As Mideast Tensions Rise

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock (file photo)
German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock (file photo)

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock phoned her Iranian counterpart on April 11 to urge de-escalation amid rising concerns of a direct Iranian attack on Israel. "No one can have any interest in a conflagration with completely unforeseeable consequences," Baerbock said in Berlin, urging all actors in the region "to act responsibly and to exercise restraint." This was the message she conveyed to Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, she said. Asked whether the call had been coordinated with Israel or the United States, she responded, "All diplomatic phone lines are running hot at this time to prevent a regional escalation."

What Is Jaish Al-Adl, The Separatist Group Targeting Iranian Forces?

Jaish al-Adl portrays itself as a defender of the Sunni Baluch community against "Shi'a oppression."
Jaish al-Adl portrays itself as a defender of the Sunni Baluch community against "Shi'a oppression."

Iran's southeastern province of Sistan-Baluchistan has been rocked by a spate of deadly attacks targeting security forces in recent months.

The attacks have been claimed by Jaish al-Adl, a Baluch separatist militant group that is believed to be operating out of neighboring Pakistan.

On April 3, over a dozen militants attacked military and police installations in two separate cities in the province, killing at least 16 Iranian security personnel. It was the deadliest coordinated attack that had Jaish al-Adl carried out in years.

Six days later, the group ambushed a police convoy in Sistan-Baluchistan and killed five security officers.

What Is Jaish al-Adl?

Jaish al-Adl, or "Army of Justice" in Arabic, emerged in 2012 as the successor to Jundullah, a Baluch militant group.

Jundullah, formed around 2003, carried out sporadic bomb and gun attacks against Iranian security forces. But the group was largely dismantled following a brutal government crackdown and the capture and execution of Jundullah leader Abdolmalek Rigi in 2010.

Rigi's brother, Abdulrauf, established Jaish al-Adl several years later. But he soon left the group and formed Jaish al-Nassr, a separate militant group. The militant leader was killed in Pakistan in 2014, with Baluch separatists accusing Iran of assassinating him. Two years later, Jaish al-Nassr merged with Jaish al-Adl.

Abdulrauf Rigi
Abdulrauf Rigi

Jaish al-Adl is led by Salahuddin Farooqi and is designated as a terrorist organization by Iran and the United States.

Iran alleges that Jaish al-Adl is based in Pakistan and has criticized Islamabad for not cracking down on the group. Pakistan denies that Jaish al-Adl has an organized presence on its territory.

What Does It Want?

Many Jaish al-Adl fighters are members of Iran's ethnic Baluch minority. The group claims that it is fighting for the rights of the Baluchis and seeking independence from the Islamic republic.

Members of the Baluch minority, many of whom are Sunni Muslims in Shi'a-majority Iran, have long faced disproportionate discrimination and violence at the hands of the authorities. Many live in Sistan-Baluchistan, one of Iran's poorest provinces.

Baluchis make up around 5 percent of Iran's population of some 88 million. But they account for around 20 percent of all executions in the country.

During the nationwide antiestablishment protests that rocked Iran in 2022, Sistan-Baluchistan was the scene of the deadliest government crackdown. On September 30 that year, referred to as "Bloody Friday," nearly 100 protesters were gunned down.

Even as the protests died down across most of Iran by early 2023, thousands of people across Sistan-Baluchistan continued to hold weekly protests for months against the clerical regime.

Daniele Garofalo, a researcher and analyst on terrorism and armed groups, says Jaish al-Adl has portrayed itself as a defender of the Sunni Baluch community against "Shi'a oppression."

Who Funds Jaish al-Adl?

Iran over the years has accused its foes of arming Jaish al-Adl, including the United States, Israel, and Saudi Arabia.

"Attributing the Baluch resistance solely to American weapons or Saudi funding ignores Iran's decadeslong oppressive policies and its use of force to maintain control over the Baluch," said Kiyya Baloch, a Pakistani journalist and commentator who tracks militancy in the region.

Baloch said that "influential and wealthy Baluch" based in the Arab Persian Gulf states are Jaish al-Adl's primary financial backers. Another "substantial" source of revenue, he said, was the smuggling of drugs. Iran sits on a major opium-smuggling route linking Afghanistan to Europe.

Weapons left behind after the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2021 "fell into the hands of various militant groups," including Jaish al-Adl, according to Baloch, who adds that the separatist group has also procured weapons via the black market.

Garofalo agrees that Tehran's allegations that Jaish al-Adl is backed by foreign states are "highly unfounded." He also notes that the group recently launched an initiative to collect donations in the form of cryptocurrency on its website and Telegram channel.

Is The Group Becoming More Dangerous?

Jaish al-Adl has intensified its attacks against Iranian security forces in recent months. The group claimed an attack in December that killed 11 officers at a police station in Rask, a city in Sistan-Baluchistan. In January, one police officer was killed in an attack on another Rask police station.

Garofalo said Jaish al-Adl is "becoming more brazen in their attacks" and attributed it to the group's increasing recruitment and support from the local population.

He said Jaish al-Adl's attack on April 3 in Rask and the city of Chabahar suggested that its fighters were "on a suicide mission," a tactic passed down from Jundullah.

The authorities have been unable to curb the rising number of attacks in Sistan-Baluchistan, a vast and barren region. "Iran struggles to contain these groups because they operate in extremely remote areas where they have a fair amount of support and the IRGC [Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps] has little control," Garofalo said.

The group is active along Iran's porous 900-kilometer-long border with Pakistan.

Fatemeh Aman, a senior fellow at the Washington-based Middle East Institute, said that "rising social discontent, aggravated by the government's response to recent protests, might have contributed to an increase in terrorist incidents."

"Typically, poverty, despair, and harsh treatment by the central government create fertile conditions for sympathizing with or joining militia groups," Aman said.

Nevertheless, she adds that Molavi Abdolhamid, Iran's top Sunni cleric and an influential Baluch figure, has "broad sympathy" from members of the community. Abdolhamid, she said, "firmly rejects violence."

Will The Attacks Impact Iran-Pakistan Relations?

In January, Iran carried out drone and missile strikes against what it said were Jaish al-Adl targets over the border in Pakistan.

Tehran said the move was retaliation for the group's attacks in Sistan-Baluchistan in December and January.

In response, Pakistan carried out air strikes against what it said were Pakistani Baluch separatists inside Iran.

Militant activity along the border has long been a source of tension between Iran and Pakistan.

Baloch said the rising number of attacks by Baluch militant groups in Iran as well as in Pakistan "will only deepen the mistrust between the two neighbors."

Rights Groups Call On UN To Pressure Iran On Drug-Related Executions

A noose is prepared ahead of public hanging in Tehran.
A noose is prepared ahead of public hanging in Tehran.

More than 80 human rights organizations from Iran and around the world have called on the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime to condition its ongoing cooperation with the Islamic republic on a halt in drug-related executions.

The groups, which include the Iran Human Rights Organization, the International Committee Against the Death Penalty, and the Global Campaign Against the Death Penalty in Iran, said on April 10 they were launching a global campaign to draw international attention to the issue amid a sharp rise in executions in Iran, especially for drug offenses.

"The execution of drug suspects has not had an appropriate international reaction. Their daily execution is accompanied by media silence and this has spurred the Islamic republic to increase executions related to drug crimes by 18 times compared to three years ago at next to no cost," the groups said.

According to a report released by Amnesty International on April 4, 853 executions were carried out in Iran last year, with at least 481 coming for narcotics convictions. Iran's government has been accused of weaponizing executions to quell unrest and in its war on drugs, even for minor offenses.

The number of executions in Iran in 2023 was the highest since 2015 and 172 percent higher that in 2021, when Ebrahim Raisi became president and Gholamhossein Ejei was made head of the judiciary.

Since the Iranian government does not publish official statistics on the number of executions, rights groups have to document cases using open sources such as state media and human rights organizations. Thus, they say, the actual number may be even higher.

"If we do not increase the cost of these executions for the Islamic republic, we fear hundreds of people will be executed on drug-related charges in the coming months," the group said.

Mahmoud Amiri-Moghaddam, the director of the Iran Human Rights organization, said the concerted campaign's aim to raise awareness among the international community that many of those executed belong to the most marginalized sections of society, including ethnic minorities such as Kurds and Baluchis, who are disproportionately affected.

The statement also highlighted the unfair trial processes for those accused of drug offenses in Iran, noting that convictions are often based on confessions obtained under torture with suspects not given access to legal representation.

The United Nations Human Rights Council recently extended the mandate of its special rapporteur on Iran, reaffirming the international community's concern over the human rights situation in the country.

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

From Our Regions: Millions Celebrate Eid al-Fitr

Worshippers are marking the conclusion of the monthlong dawn-to-sunset fasting of Ramadan with a three-day celebration known as Eid al-Fitr.

At Least 5 Iranian Officers Dead In Clash With Militants In Restive Southeast

Members of the Baluch minority, many of whom are Sunni Muslims in Shi'ite-majority Iran, have long faced disproportionate discrimination and violence at the hands of the authorities. (file photo)
Members of the Baluch minority, many of whom are Sunni Muslims in Shi'ite-majority Iran, have long faced disproportionate discrimination and violence at the hands of the authorities. (file photo)

At least five Iranian law enforcement officers were killed in clashes with the Jaish al-Adl militant group in the southeastern province of Sistan-Baluchistan amid a surge of violence across the restive region.

The state-run IRNA news agency reported on April 9 that along with the death of the five officers, the confrontation left several wounded. The agency added that Jaish al-Adl claimed responsibility for the attack.

The Telegram channel of the Baluch Activists Campaign and Haalvsh said the armed confrontation followed an attack on three military vehicles in the cities of Sib and Suran.

The Tasnim news agency, which is close to the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, has put the death toll of law enforcement personnel at six.

Sib and Suran, the location of the clash, is situated in the southeast of Iran bordering Pakistan, a region that has been troubled by insurgency and cross-border violence. It has seen an uptick in recent weeks, with a surge of assaults on military and law enforcement sites leading to the deaths of dozens of individuals.

Jaish al-Adl said in a statement it was responsible for the incident, claiming it targeted "an operational intelligence unit along with special forces." The group has been declared a terrorist organization by Iran and several Western countries, including the United States, due to its militant opposition to the Iranian government.

According to the Baluch Activists Campaign, sources indicated that Jaish al-Adl militants used silencers during the attack to try and avoid alerting security officers in the area that a clash was taking place.

On April 4, Jaish al-Adl launched attacks in Chabahar and Rask resulting in the death of 16 military forces, one of the deadliest clashes in recent months. Local media reported the battle lasted over 14 hours and also resulted in at least 18 casualties among Jaish al-Adl members.

Members of the Baluch minority, many of whom are Sunni Muslims in Shi'ite-majority Iran, have long faced disproportionate discrimination and violence at the hands of the authorities.

The area has also long been a key transit route for narcotics smuggled from Afghanistan to the West and beyond.

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

Despite Being Jailed, Iranian Activist Sentenced For Failing To Report To Prison

Hossein Razzagh (file photo)
Hossein Razzagh (file photo)

An Iranian political activist who was granted medical leave from Tehran’s Evin prison last year has been sentenced to 74 lashes for what authorities termed "absence and failure to report to prison," even though he was actually in prison when the case was filed against him.

Hossein Razzagh was arrested in July 2022 in the northern Iranian city of Amol, and was transferred to Evin prison. He was granted several days of medical leave in April 2023 due to health issues but subsequently returned to prison despite medical advice that his health was poor.

Despite his return, the Tehran Public and Revolutionary Court initiated a case against him in absentia, saying there was a "lack of access to the accused." Razzagh was subsequently sentenced to 74 lashes. The court did not explain its decision.

In March, Razzagh's Telegram channel announced that he had lodged complaints against various security and judicial officials for beatings he allegedly received in Evin prison's ward 209, under the jurisdiction of the Intelligence Ministry.

Security personnel in ward 209 reportedly subjected Razzagh to hours of torture following the beatings.

Razzagh was one of the founders of a room on the Clubhouse social-media site called "Freedom Square," which he said was removed from the platform due to pressure and threats from the ministry.

An audio-based social-media application, Clubhouse has become a major platform for dialogue among Iranians, who join virtual chat rooms to hear from analysts, journalists, and dissidents.

Razzagh is one of several political prisoners in Evin prison who have publicly condemned the judiciary for its treatment of prisoners, including the reported "exile" of Saeed Madani, a social researcher and civil activist, to Damavand prison.

Since September 2022, when 22-year-old Mahsa Amini died in police custody for an alleged head-scarf violation, thousands of Iranians have taken to the streets to demand more freedoms and women's rights, with the judiciary, backed by lawmakers, responding to the biggest threat to the Islamic government since the 1979 revolution with a brutal crackdown.

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

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

Turkmen Pop Star's Fate Unknown After Reported Drug Arrest In Iran

Nazir Habibov
Nazir Habibov

Having been previously convicted of a felony, imprisoned, and enduring widespread allegations of drug use, Turkmen pop star Nazir Habibov is no stranger to controversy.

But recent reports surrounding Habibov's latest troubles have shocked his fans, as it's claimed the 35-year-old singer was detained in Iran for narcotics possession and attempted drug smuggling.

Habibov is "awaiting trial in Iran" after being arrested with one of his band members on the Turkmen-Iranian border in March "with 20 grams of heroin," the independent Turkmen.news reported.

The men were arrested while they were "under the influence of drugs and in possession of drugs," which they attempted to smuggle into Turkmenistan, the Europe-based news site reported, citing an unnamed source.

It also published photos that purportedly show the two men -- with their faces obscured -- as they were detained and the alleged drugs confiscated from them. Turkmen.news claimed the photos were provided by a source at a Turkmen ministry.

RFE/RL cannot independently verify the allegations.

The Turkmen.news source claimed that despite Iran's harsh punishment for drug-related crimes, it was unlikely that Habibov would face imprisonment or the "death penalty" in Iran.

"Turkmen authorities, most probably, will seek his extradition to try him at home," it reported.

Weeks later, the fate of the ethnic Azerbaijani singer and his alleged companion remains unknown.

Officials in secretive Turkmenistan have not publicly commented on the allegations, and the strictly controlled Turkmen media has made no mention of it. There have also been no reports in the Iranian media on the allegations surrounding the two Turkmen citizens.

Meanwhile, Habibov's wife, Margarita, has shared several posts on the pop star's Instagram site that hint at "trouble" and a "misunderstanding." She expressed hope that "everything will work out" and thanked Habibov's nearly 400,000 Instagram followers for their support.

Margarita didn't explicitly say her husband was in detention, but in response to online comments she indicated the family had been facing a "problem."

"There has been news all over social media that Nazir was released in Iran," a social-media user commented under Margarita's Instagram post.

"May God allow it to be so. There's been a misunderstanding here, we'll have to wait," Margarita replied.

"Trust me, they are sorting it out now, they say there has been a mistake," Margarita replied to another comment about Habibov's situation on social media.

Margarita also heaped praise on the country's authoritarian president, Serdar Berdymukhammedov, thanking him "enormously for his help to his people" and praying for "his health and many more years in power."

"Despite my current circumstances, I am very happy that we have such president," she wrote, with Habibov's overly flattering song about the president playing in the background.

Comments on social media indicate mixed feelings about Habibov's alleged detention. Most commenters expressed support for Habibov and his wife, telling them to "stay strong," while others criticized the singer, saying that "he should have known better."

One Instagram user offered help, writing, "I live in the Iranian city of Mashhad, I can help you with anything I can, if you need."

"I just want to hug you and support you," another fan wrote. "Everything will be fine."

"Your husband is very naive and it's difficult for such people to survive in this cruel world full of setups, even by friends," another wrote.

One Instagram user wrote that "justice must prevail" and that Habibov "must face the punishment he deserves before the law." Referring to Habibov's previous conviction, the Instagram user wrote that the state will not "forgive a drug user a second time."

In 2016, Habibov was convicted of the possession and distribution of narcotics. There were conflicting reports about the length of his sentence, with some sources saying it was for 12 years, while others reported it as 15 years. The singer was freed early in an amnesty in 2022.

Habibov has since released several songs praising the country's current and former presidents -- Serdar Berdymukhammedov and his father, Gurbanguly, who still holds great power in the country.

In October 2016, Turkmen state television paraded Habibov before the media handcuffed and remorseful over his "repeated drug use." It's unknown if his confession was genuine or made under duress.

Written by Farangis Najibullah in Prague based on reports by RFE/RL's Turkmen Service

Iran Blocks 'Blind Date' As Part Of Social-Media Crackdown

Blind Date has gained significant popularity within Iran, drawing millions of viewers to its YouTube-based episodes where participants, unfamiliar with each other, engage in conversations to determine potential compatibility.
Blind Date has gained significant popularity within Iran, drawing millions of viewers to its YouTube-based episodes where participants, unfamiliar with each other, engage in conversations to determine potential compatibility.

Iran's judicial authorities have seized the Instagram page of the popular online program Blind Date, hosted by an Iranian influencer known as Viny, as part of a sweeping crackdown on social-media content.

The official announcement, made on Viny's Instagram page, which has more than 1.2 million followers, said the action was taken by judicial order and the page would remain inaccessible until further notice.

"This page is by order of the honorable judicial authority by Faraja and until further notice is unavailable," the only post now available on the page says.

Blind Date has gained significant popularity within Iran, drawing millions of viewers to its YouTube-based episodes where participants, unfamiliar with each other, engage in conversations to determine potential compatibility.

The show's success highlights how Iranian vloggers have been showcasing the lifestyle of the country's new generation even though it clashes with the conservative Islamic leadership.

Iran has long faced criticism for its extensive Internet restrictions, with many citizens relying on virtual private networks (VPNs) to access blocked content, including social media such as YouTube, Twitter, Instagram.

The government's action against Viny marks a significant escalation in its efforts to control online content.

Historically, such interventions were limited to individuals whose activities garnered widespread recognition on social media.

The clampdown also reflects the authorities' concern over the rising influence of "Generation Z" and their unfiltered portrayal of life in Iran, challenging the government's narrative and censorship efforts.

This generation's documentation of their lives and then sharing their experiences often pushes the boundaries of what is traditionally acceptable, posing a new challenge for a government grappling with the pervasive reach of the Internet and social media, analysts say.

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

EU Drops Sanctions On Iranian Tech Firm Accused Of Internet Censorship

The U.S. State Department says it will maintain its sanctions, as ArvanCloud "maintains a close relationship" with Iran's Intelligence Ministry.
The U.S. State Department says it will maintain its sanctions, as ArvanCloud "maintains a close relationship" with Iran's Intelligence Ministry.

A European Union official says the bloc has removed sanctions on the Iranian tech startup ArvanCloud because it "no longer" saw the need to keep them on a company it once accused of being involved in Tehran's crackdown on Internet access.

The Council of the European Union on April 4 decided to drop its sanctions on ArvanCloud -- less than two years after imposing them -- without explanation. The EU official confirmed the decision to RFE/RL late on April 8.

The company remains under U.S. and British sanctions.

The EU placed sanctions on ArvanCloud in November 2022, at the height of nationwide protests, for its alleged involvement in Internet censorship and "efforts of the Iranian government to shut down the Internet" during the unrest.

It also accused the company of having ties to people "responsible for serious human rights violations in Iran," including the EU-sanctioned Information and Communications Technology Minister Isa Zarepour.

At the time, ArvanCloud said that it had "failed to counter rumors and defend "our innocence."

The company said it "welcomes" the EU’s decision to delist it, which it said came after it presented "technical and legal documentations" to the European Court of Justice challenging the sanctions.

An EU official speaking on condition of anonymity told RFE/RL on April 8 the bloc's member states "agreed that the reasons to keep [ArvanCloud] on the list are no longer there" during the council's regular review of its sanctions regime.

"This is based on the deliberations and assessment in the relevant council bodies, which are confidential," the official said, without mentioning the court case.

The EU's apparent lack of transparency has drawn the ire of advocates.

"To say that the delisting of a company listed for its human rights violations occurred like this is very concerning," said Mahsa Alimardani, senior program officer for the Middle East and North Africa at Article19, a U.K.-based rights organization.

"There was very little public transparency over the process or the opportunity for civil society to get involved."

A leaked document, which Alimardani said had been independently verified by Article19, suggests that the government of Iran's conservative President Ebrahim Raisi supported ArvanCloud's court case.

The United States and Britain imposed sanctions on ArvanCloud in 2023, and Washington says it has no intention of delisting the company.

"ArvanCloud will remain sanctioned by the United States for its clear role in facilitating censorship to the detriment of the people of Iran," U.S. State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said in a press conference on April 8.

He added that the company "maintains a close relationship" with Iran's Intelligence Ministry.

"This is a very dangerous precedent for human rights advocacy and accountability," Alimardani said of the EU's decision, but added, "The very strong and enduring U.S. sanctions might still deter the EU from doing business with Arvan[Cloud]."

U.S. Sent Seized Iranian Munitions To Ukraine

A photo released by CENTCOM on February 15 shows a shipment it said was of Iranian weapons destined for Yemen's Huthi rebels that the navy seized from a vessel in the Arabian Sea on January 28.
A photo released by CENTCOM on February 15 shows a shipment it said was of Iranian weapons destined for Yemen's Huthi rebels that the navy seized from a vessel in the Arabian Sea on January 28.

The United States has given Ukraine small arms and ammunition that were seized while being transferred from Iran to Tehran-backed Huthi rebels in Yemen, the U.S. military said on April 9. The transfer last week came as Ukraine suffers from significant shortages of ammunition and Republican lawmakers block new aid. "The U.S. government transferred over 5,000 AK-47s, machine guns, sniper rifles, RPG-7s and over 500,000 rounds of 7.62mm ammunition to the Ukrainian armed forces" on April 4, the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) said on X, formerly Twitter.

Iranian University Threatens Female Students Over Graduation Celebration

A group of Al-Zahra University students in Bushehr celebrate their graduation.
A group of Al-Zahra University students in Bushehr celebrate their graduation.

The president of Iran's Al-Zahra University has threatened legal action against a group of female students after video of them celebrating their graduation by dancing to music surfaced on social media.

The video, which garnerned widespread attention over the weekend, depicts architecture and engineering students marking the their matriculation by dancing with each other, even riding motorcycles, while still dressed in their graduation gowns and caps. In total, around eight to 10 students -- all female -- appear in the video.

Zahra Hajiani, the president of Al-Zahra University in the western port city of Bushehr, responded to the video by stating that the university's security department was investigating the event organized by students "spontaneously without coordination and obtaining permission from the university."

"This matter is being investigated by university security. The student who made this film has been identified and will be held accountable for this work," Hajiani said.

Hajiani said that no official graduation ceremonies had been held at the college since the COVID-19 pandemic due to financial constraints. She added that the clip circulating on social media was organized independently by a group of university graduates without the institution's approval or knowledge.

"The university had no involvement in the event's organization," Hajiani said.

The incident highlights ongoing tensions between students and authorities over a lack of social freedoms and regulatory compliance in Iran, particularly concerning women's rights and the mandatory hijab policy.

The Islamic republic has faced significant challenges in enforcing its interpretation of religious dress codes in the face of civil opposition and protests advocating the Woman, Life, Freedom movement and greater autonomy over personal lifestyle choices.

The hijab became compulsory for women and girls above the age of 9 in 1981, two years after the Islamic Revolution. The move triggered protests that were swiftly crushed by the new authorities.

Many women have flouted the rule over the years and pushed the boundaries of what officials say is acceptable clothing.

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

Iranian Official Warns That Israeli Embassies Are No Longer Safe

Yahya Safavi (file photo)
Yahya Safavi (file photo)

A senior Iranian official said on April 7 that none of Israel's embassies was safe anymore, the semiofficial Tasnim news agency reported. Yahya Rahim Safavi, an adviser to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, was speaking following a suspected Israeli strike on a building that Iran says housed the consular section of its embassy in Damascus on April 1 for which Tehran has vowed retaliation. Khamenei pledged retaliation after the attack, vowing that Israel would be "punished by the hands of our courageous men."

Updated

Iran Pardons 4 Environmental Activists As Part Of Eid Amnesty

(Left to right) Houman Jokar, Niloufar Bayani, Sepideh Kashani, and Taher Ghadirian (combo photo)
(Left to right) Houman Jokar, Niloufar Bayani, Sepideh Kashani, and Taher Ghadirian (combo photo)

Four Iranian environmental activists, who have been detained since 2017, have been pardoned as part of a mass amnesty approved by Iran's leadership to commemorate the observance of the Islamic holiday of Eid al-Fitr.

The activists -- Niloufar Bayani, Sepideh Kashani, Houman Jokar, and Taher Ghadirian -- were arrested in 2016 as part of a group involved with the Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation.

According to their lawyer, Hojjat Kermani, the four were told on April 7 that they were being pardoned as part of an anmesty involving more than 2,100 convicts and are expected to be released shortly.

Environmental activists in Iran have been under pressure for several years as their advocacy often highlights issues that have been exacerbated by official corruption, incompetence, and mismanagement.

The pardon also comes as a surprise in the development of a case that has drawn international attention over the years.

The activists, according to the judiciary, were involved in espionage and "collaboration with hostile governments."

The charges were widely criticized and challenged to the point where even Mahmoud Sadeghi, a former member of the Iranian parliament, noted in 2019 that the Ministry of Intelligence had found no evidence of espionage among the activists.

The activists were tried and sentenced in Tehran's Islamic Revolutionary Court, with sentences ranging from four to 10 years in prison on various charges. Reports have emerged of severe mistreatment and psychological torture faced by the detainees, including threats and the use of coercive tactics.

During their imprisonment, Kashani and Bayani said in letters that they had been subjected to mental and emotional torture and threatened with death.

The case also involves Morad Tahbaz, a London-born activist with Iranian, British, and American citizenship, who was released last year in a prisoner exchange, and Kavous Seyed-Emami, a Canadian-Iranian environmentalist who died under suspicious circumstances in prison shortly after his arrest.

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

Overworked And Underpaid, Many Iranian Doctors Migrate -- And Some Even Take Their Lives

Overworked, underpaid, and "humiliated" by their seniors, many young doctors in Iran consider moving abroad -- or even suicide.
Overworked, underpaid, and "humiliated" by their seniors, many young doctors in Iran consider moving abroad -- or even suicide.

The alarming number of young Iranian doctors taking their own lives has put the future of the country's health-care system in doubt.

Overworked, underpaid, and "humiliated" by their seniors, many resident doctors -- medical school graduates in training -- are harboring suicidal thoughts or considering moving abroad.

"Suicide among residents today is more of a crisis," Nima Shahriarpur, an emergency medicine doctor, told the Iranian news website Khabar Online.

And he may have a point: 16 resident doctors committed suicide in the Iranian year ending on March 19. A year earlier, 13 young physicians took their own lives.

The most recent incident happened last week, when Parastu Bakhshi was found dead by her colleagues at her hospital residence. The 34-year-old resident doctor was reportedly under increasing pressure at work.

Parastu Bakhshi is just one recent case of a young doctor unable to go on.
Parastu Bakhshi is just one recent case of a young doctor unable to go on.

Difficult Years

The residency period starts after medical school and lasts between three and five years. For some it starts tough. For others it is even more difficult.

Resident doctors, most of whom are in their 30s, are expected to work 30-hour shifts and are paid between 80 million and 110 million rials ($125 to $172) per month. The payments are often delayed.

The doctors are not allowed to practice medicine outside of the hospital during their residency and often have to work a second job in a different field to make ends meet.

A resident doctor who spoke to RFE/RL's Radio Farda on condition of anonymity said young physicians are subjected to poor working conditions, such as putting up with their supervisors' "humiliating behavior" and "bad language," while also being forced to work extra shifts.

Two young doctors sleep between shifts at an Iranian hospital.
Two young doctors sleep between shifts at an Iranian hospital.

According to Vahdat Shariat, the head of the Iranian Psychiatric Association, 30 percent of resident doctors in Iran consider committing suicide.

In September, Shariat and Hamid Yaqubi, the head of the Iranian Scientific Society for Suicide Prevention, urged the health minister to take action.

In a letter, they cited a study that found that 25 percent of resident doctors in Tehran suffered from severe depression.

They also suggested several measures to address the problem, including reducing excessive shifts, providing insurance for resident doctors, reviewing their salaries, and offering mental health support.

In recent years, resident doctors have sought to raise awareness of their plight on social media by posting images of their colleagues who committed suicide. While this has grabbed the media's attention, there has been no official response.

Not Easy To Quit

It was even very difficult to quit, until recently.

To be allowed into a residency program, medical school graduates needed two people to guarantee they would not leave the country or quit the program in any way -- including death by natural causes. Otherwise, the guarantors would have to pay damages.

That rule was deemed illegal and struck down in 2021, but residents say they are still asked to provide guarantees. A pharmacy resident, for instance, was asked to provide a guarantee worth 9.9 billion rials (over $15,500) just to travel abroad for holidays last month.

The financial guarantees make it difficult for doctors, particularly residents, to leave the country. But reports in Iranian media suggest doctors are leaving in droves.

The economic daily Donya-e Eqtesad reported last year that 5,000 doctors had emigrated from Iran in the Iranian year ending in March 2022, around 2,000 more than in 2020.

Citing a survey published in January 2023 by the state-funded Iranian Migration Observatory (IMO), local media say 50 percent of doctors surveyed sought to leave Iran. One-third of those said they were willing to take less-specialized jobs abroad unrelated to medicine.

The most popular destinations for Iranian doctors and nurses are Western nations, particularly the United States, and Persian Gulf countries.

A December 2022 IMO report showed that as of 2018, some 29,000 Iranians worked in the U.S. health-care system, including 8,000 physicians and surgeons. The overall number of Iranian health-care workers in the United States increased to 36,000 by 2021.

A survey published in Iran's state-run IRNA news agency last year found that many doctors start planning to leave the country in their 20s while in medical school.

"Interns see the residents' situation up close and know why they are unhappy," the report said. Among other reasons cited for their desire to leave were Iran's poor economic conditions and a poor work-life balance.

Nevertheless, little has been done to help resident doctors.

In a letter to Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi in January, Psychiatric Association chief Shariat warned that if officials continue to ignore the plight of young physicians, the country will have to contend with the "collapse of the health-care system."

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