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Iranian Airliner Skids Off Runway Into Highway; No Casualties Reported

The plane made a hard landing and skidded onto a nearby highway.
The plane made a hard landing and skidded onto a nearby highway.

An Iranian passenger airliner ended up on a highway after reportedly skidding off the runway during a hard landing in southwestern Iran.

None of the 135 passengers on board the Caspian Airlines flight was hurt in the January 27 incident in the southwestern city of Mahshahr, officials say.

The McDonnell Douglas jet was flying from Tehran's Mehrabad Airport.

The semiofficial ISNA news agency quoted civil aviation spokesman Reza Jafarzadeh as saying the plane skidded off the runway at 7:50 a.m. local time.

He added that an investigation had been launched.

A state TV reporter traveling on the plane said the aircraft's "back wheel had broken off, as we saw it was left on the runway." He said that the plane had been skidding with no wheels before it ground to a halt on the highway.

Iranian Passenger Airliner Skids Off Runway, No Casualties Reported
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The state-run IRNA news agency, citing local aviation officials, said a technical issue delayed the plane's landing, which caused the accident.

Iran has a poor aviation safety record, with U.S. sanctions preventing the country from modernizing its aging fleet.

On January 25, an Iranian passenger plane headed from Tehran to Istanbul was forced to make an emergency landing in Tehran due to a technical problem.

There were no injuries reported.

With reporting by the BBC, Reuters, and AP

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Taliban's Quest For Self-Sufficiency Faces Challenges

Miners carry bags of ore to search for emeralds near a mine in Afghanistan's northern Panjshir Province.
Miners carry bags of ore to search for emeralds near a mine in Afghanistan's northern Panjshir Province.

Since returning to power in August 2021, Afghanistan's Islamist Taliban rulers have showcased ambitious infrastructure and natural-resource development projects as part of a quest for self-sufficiency.

The Taliban government is now digging one of the largest irrigation canals in Asia, a project that aims to revitalize long-parched plains in northern Afghanistan. It claims to have attracted billions of dollars in mining investments in an effort to finally capitalize on the country's untapped wealth of natural resources. And the Taliban propaganda machine is in overdrive to paint its economic initiatives as a rapid advance toward self-reliance.

But experts see the hard-line Islamist group facing numerous challenges in its attempts to transform one of the world's most aid-dependent countries into a self-reliant state.

Two years into its second stint in power, the Taliban government remains unrecognized globally and continues to be under crippling political and economic sanctions imposed over its dismal human rights record, terrorism connections, and failure to live up to promises to reverse course.

Experts also point to the Taliban's reluctance to share verifiable and transparent data as reason to question its claims that it is on the road to economic independence that would shield it somewhat from international sanctions.

Hameed Hakimi, an Afghanistan expert at the Washington-based Atlantic Council think tank, says that self-sufficiency will remain a distant dream even if all the Taliban's infrastructure projects come to fruition. "At best, their income will cover the security costs of maintaining the regime and pay for members who are now working for the Taliban interim government," he said.

Hakimi stressed the need to distinguish between the self-sufficiency the Taliban is seeking for its government and the type of connected economy the isolated country needs. It's impossible to imagine Afghanistan becoming self-reliant "before sanctions are fully removed, the economy is reconnected to the international system, and foreign development aid restarts flowing," he said.

When the Taliban seized power, Afghanistan lost almost all the international aid that accounted for 75 percent of the government's budget. Western and UN sanctions against the group cut Afghanistan off from the global financial system, which prompted fears that Afghan banks and even the state itself might collapse.

Despite the formidable obstacles, the country's economy has somewhat stabilized. The national currency, the afghani, has been boosted by exemptions to certain economic and banking sanctions by the United States that allowed the weekly influx of millions of dollars. This, in turn, has kept the prices of essential commodities stable or even lower than neighbors struggling with high inflation.

Export and government revenues have also recovered due to aggressive taxation, and the Taliban has taken steps to tackle the administrative corruption that plagued the pro-Western government it ousted.

Since the spring of 2022, the Taliban has been digging the 285-kilometer-long Qosh Tepa Irrigation Canal. It aims to boost agricultural output by irrigating 550,000 hectares of desiccated land in three northern Afghan provinces with water from the Amu Darya, which forms parts of Afghanistan's border with Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan.

In another step touted by the Taliban, a Chinese oil company has boosted production in Afghanistan to about 5,000 barrels a day, part of a broader effort to entice Beijing into helping the country extract its vast hydrocarbon and mineral reserves.

Graeme Smith, a senior Afghanistan analyst at the International Crisis Group, says that evaluating the success of such projects from afar is difficult. "We don't know exactly how the Taliban are funding these projects, and we have not seen any published evaluations of their progress," he said.

The Taliban has kept all national budgets a closely held secret. "We do not know exactly how much is incoming or outgoing from the treasury," Smith said.

Nevertheless, he says that the Taliban appears to be fully committed to establishing self-sufficiency. "They want freedom from the whims of foreign donors for greater independence and the pursuit of their heterodox vision for Afghan society," he said.

William Byrd, a development economist at the United States Institute of Peace in Washington, agrees. He says that the Taliban recognizes that foreign assistance will be much less than in the past. "The realism of this [self-sufficiency] quest can be questioned," he said, but notes that Afghanistan under the Taliban has some scope to be less aid-dependent than it was in the past.

The base of a Chinese consortium in Mes Aynak, in the eastern Afghan province of Logar, is situated at one of the world's largest copper deposits.
The base of a Chinese consortium in Mes Aynak, in the eastern Afghan province of Logar, is situated at one of the world's largest copper deposits.

He says that by focusing on the development of agriculture and hydrocarbon extraction and mining, the Taliban can see positive gains, "both for import substitution and for export growth, thereby reducing the trade deficit."

The landlocked country is still inhibited in its ability to establish export routes, however, according to Hakimi of the Atlantic Council, who says trade will depend heavily on good relations with neighboring Pakistan and Iran.

Kabul's trade with Islamabad has rapidly plummeted in recent months after tensions over the Taliban's support for the Pakistani Taliban boiled over. Both Tehran and Islamabad are now rapidly expelling hundreds of thousands of Afghans, which is placing additional stresses on the Taliban government.

"The humanitarian situation is worsening amid the risks from climate change and potentially millions of forced returnees arriving from Pakistan and Iran," Hakimi said.

The Taliban's pursuit of self-reliance is also clouded by governance failures and continuing Western sanctions, which don't appear to be going anywhere until the Taliban moves to alleviate concerns about its human rights practices.

Since returning to power, the Taliban has recreated an even harsher version of its Islamic emirate from the 1990s. It has imposed severe corporal punishment and banned women from work, education, and public life. Its government has imprisoned, tortured, killed, and exiled critics, journalists, former officials, and soldiers.

By decisively ending its fight against the previous government, the Taliban has also been able to impose security around most of the country that could work to its advantage. "With violent conflict having abated and the regime controlling the entirety of the geography, Afghanistan can well be on its path to self-sufficiency," Hakimi said.

Forming a functional and inclusive Afghan government, would help it get there, he adds.

In the meantime, Smith of the International Crisis Group says, Western pressures like sanctions and banking restrictions will continue to stand in the way. But he does not discount the possibility that the Taliban could meet the challenge.

"It's too early to say whether their campaign for economic self-sufficiency will be successful, but I would not bet against it," he said.

Iran Blocks Amini's Family From Traveling To Accept EU Award

Mahsa Amini's father, Amjad, prepares for her funeral ceremony in September 2022.
Mahsa Amini's father, Amjad, prepares for her funeral ceremony in September 2022.

Authorities in Iran have prevented relatives of Mahsa Amini, whose September 2022 death in custody sparked nationwide anti-government protests, from leaving the country to accept the European Parliament's Sakharov Prize.

Amini's mother, father, and brother were told on December 8 at Tehran's Iman Khomeini Airport that they had been barred from travelling abroad.

Their passports were confiscated, a source who asked not to be identified told Radio Farda.

The family's lawyer, Saleh Nikhbakht, who was accompanying them, was apparently allowed to travel.

The European Parliament on October 19 awarded the 2023 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought to Amini and the Women, Life, Freedom movement that was sparked by her death.

"The European Parliament proudly stands with the brave and defiant who continue to fight for equality, dignity, and freedom in Iran," European Parliament President Roberta Metsola said at the time, adding that they award "remembers their struggle and continues to honor all those who have paid the ultimate price for liberty."

The prize, which was set up in 1980 to honor individuals and organizations promoting human rights and basic freedoms, includes a 50,000-euro ($54,000) prize. It will be presented in Strasbourg on December 13.

Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian Kurdish woman, died in custody on September 16, 2022, shortly after being detained by the so-called morality police for allegedly violating the country's strict Islamic dress code. Supporters say she was subjected to physical abuse while in custody.

The Iranian authorities launched a brutal crackdown against mass demonstrations that were sparked by Amini's death and which became one of the most daunting challenges faced by the Islamist government since Iran's 1979 revolution.

In October 2022, Amini's family reported receiving death threats aimed at preventing them from participating in the peaceful protests.

U.S. Imposes Sanctions On Dozens Of People Over Rights Abuses In Nine Countries

The United States has imposed sanctions on dozens of people in several countries, including in Afghanistan, China, and Iran, cracking down on human rights abuses ahead of Human Rights Day on December 10. The U.S. Treasury Department in a statement on December 8 said it had imposed sanctions on 20 people over human rights abuses in nine countries. The actions include sanctions on members of the Taliban over their links to the repression of women and girls and on two Iranian intelligence officials who allegedly recruited people for operations in the United States.

Iranian Opposition Figure Says Student Crackdown 'Unprecedented,' But Will Fail

Zahra Rahnavard (file photo)
Zahra Rahnavard (file photo)

Prominent Iranian opposition figure Zahra Rahnavard says the government crackdown on students angry over a lack of freedoms and enforcement of rules such as a dress code is "unprecedented" but ultimately will fail to stifle the dissent.

Rahnavard, who has been under house arrest for over 13 years along with her husband, Mir Hossein Musavi, made the comments in a message timed to coincide with Student Day in Iran, marked on December 7. The text was published on the Kalameh news website, a platform known for its opposition to the Iranian regime.

"No government in Iran has been able to stop the student movement from influencing the fate of the nation," she wrote.

"On the contrary, it has been academics who, with knowledge, culture, and art, development and modernity, along with defending justice, freedom, and the independence of Iran, have had the most impact in the fear of repressive governments," she added.

She also criticized the government's recent actions against university students and faculty, detailing incidents of violence, harassment, and repression on university campuses. These actions, according to Rahnavard, have led to a tarnished international reputation for the Iranian government.

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 arrested student activists and leaders, sentencing them to prison and banning them from studying.

The death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini last year while being detained for an alleged head-scarf violation in September last year has once again made campuses a hotbed of dissent.

The activist HRANA news agency says at least 700 university students have been arrested during the nationwide protests sparked by Amini's death in September 2022.

Rahnavard was previously a professor at Alzahra University and says she "has been a victim and deprived of a university presence for over 14 years."

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

Putin Hails Ties With Iran In Meeting With Raisi

Russian President Vladimir Putin (left) greets his Iranian counterpart, Ebrahim Raisi, in Moscow on December 7.
Russian President Vladimir Putin (left) greets his Iranian counterpart, Ebrahim Raisi, in Moscow on December 7.

Russian President Vladimir Putin praised his country's relations with Iran at a meeting in Moscow on December 7 with Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi. Since launching its full-scale war in Ukraine, Moscow has sought to deepen its economic and political ties with Tehran. Putin told Raisi that relations between their two countries, both of which have been heavily sanctioned by the West, “are developing very well.” Putin also told Raisi to “convey his best wishes” to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's head of state. "Thanks to his support, we have gained good momentum over the past year," Putin said.

At Least One Arrest Made At Memorial For Iranian Teen Who Died After Alleged Incident With Morality Police

Family and friends convened at Armita Garavand's grave to honor the memory of the 17-year-old, who died on October 29.
Family and friends convened at Armita Garavand's grave to honor the memory of the 17-year-old, who died on October 29.

At least one person was arrested amid a heavy police presence at a traditional memorial marking the 40th day since the death of Iranian teen Armita Garavand, according to human rights activists.

Adhering to Iranian traditions, family and friends convened at the grave to honor the memory of the 17-year-old, who died on October 29 following an alleged incident involving the enforcement of mandatory hijab laws. She collapsed after boarding a Tehran subway train without a hijab, or mandatory Islamic head scarf, on October 1.

One of Garavand's friends said the officers physically assaulted the teen, who later fell unconscious after entering a subway car. She never recovered, succumbing to her injuries after a monthlong coma.

Officials say Garavand suffered a sudden drop in blood pressure, fainted, and fell to the floor, hitting her head.

The incident sparked waves of protest across various Iranian cities, including Tehran, Karaj, and Shiraz, where anti-government slogans resounded through the streets at night.

According to the Campaign for the Defense of Political and Civil Prisoners and the activist HRANA news agency, Ariana Akbari, who lives in Tehran, was reportedly arrested by plainclothes agents during the memorial.

Akbari's current whereabouts, along with the reasons for her detention, remain unknown. Akbari had previously been detained during the nationwide protests in 2022.

The ceremony was heavily overseen by security forces and plainclothes agents of the Islamic republic, a move seen as an effort to stifle any potential protest chants or demonstrations by those in attendance.

The latest event follows a series of crackdowns in Iran, including the arrest and alleged mistreatment of Nasrin Sotoudeh, a noted human rights activist, during Gavarand's funeral.

The government's actions have drawn international criticism, with five French unions condemning Iran's escalating use of arrest and execution, highlighting in particular the vulnerability of women under the current regime.

Garavand's case and suggestions of a cover-up by the authorities have drawn parallels with the events leading up to the September 2022 death of Mahsa Amini while in police custody for an alleged hijab violation.

In recent months, Tehran's municipality has deployed agents known as "hijab guards" in Iranian capital's subway to confront women and girls failing to wear the mandatory head scarf.

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

Iranian Rapper Tataloo Detained Upon Arrival After Being Deported From Turkey

Iranian rapper Amir Tataloo meets then-presidential election candidate Ebrahim Raisi in 2017.
Iranian rapper Amir Tataloo meets then-presidential election candidate Ebrahim Raisi in 2017.

Popular Iranian rapper Amir Tataloo was taken into custody immediately upon his arrival in Iran on December 6, following his deportation by Turkish police authorities -- which he had demanded.

Ahead of his arrest, the rapper, who has been detained in Iran several times posted a video on November 29 on his Telegram channel in which he was at Istanbul's Sabiha Gokçen Airport, holding a ticket and preparing to board a plane to Iran.

He later stated that he couldn't board the plane because his passport had expired. Following the incident, videos surfaced on social media showing him loudly insisting on being deported back to Iran.

Iranian media on December 3 showed Tataloo's arrest by Turkish police after they received a complaint from the Iranian consulate in Istanbul. The charges against the rapper centered around his alleged insults directed toward consulate staff and members.

Upon crossing the border, coming into Iran at Bazargan, Tataloo, whose real name is Amir Hossein Maghsoodloo, was taken into custody by Iranian officials. Afterward, the judiciary said he was handed to judicial officers for further investigation.

The Mizan News Agency, associated with Iran's judicial system, reported that multiple complaints have been filed against Tataloo, notably involving minors under 18 and their families. The complaints arose following the teenagers' visit to Tataloo's Istanbul residence.

The controversial rapper supported hard-line candidate Ebrahim Raisi during the country’s 2017 presidential vote.

In a video clip posted online, Raisi, who was defeated by President Hassan Rohani and was later appointed as the head of the judiciary, was seen talking to Tataloo and praising his work.

In 2015, Tataloo praised Iran’s nuclear activities in a music video where the singer was seen on the deck of an Iranian warship in the waters of the Persian Gulf.

Tataloo reportedly had been living in Turkey for several years.

The news of his extradition and arrest has sparked a flurry of reactions on social media.

Some observers speculate that this high-profile case might divert public attention from domestic issues, while others expressed concern that this might overshadow the commemoration of the 40th day since Armita Garavand's death.

The teen died after a confrontation with morality police, allegedly over the hijab, or mandatory Islamic head scarf, in Tehran's subway.

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

Afghan Freestyle Soccer Master Makes His Play In Iran

Afghan Freestyle Soccer Master Makes His Play In Iran
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Whether spinning a dozen soccer balls at once or balancing one on a pole while riding a motorcycle, Jamshid Naimi believes he's bound for stardom. For now, he's an Afghan refugee who shows off his freestyle skills on the streets of Iran. But one day he hopes to become famous.

Iranian Jewish Family Waits For Information On Son Thought Held Hostage In Gaza

Israeli soldiers await the arrival of hostages by helicopter near Tel Aviv on November 30. Seniors, women, and children have been the priority so far in negotiations for the release of hostages.
Israeli soldiers await the arrival of hostages by helicopter near Tel Aviv on November 30. Seniors, women, and children have been the priority so far in negotiations for the release of hostages.

Since October 7, Avi Shamriz, an Iranian Jew, has waited for his phone to ring for news on his son, Alon. He's still waiting.

Two months after Alon was taken hostage during an attack on Israel by extremists from Hamas, which has been designated a terrorist organization by the United States and the European Union, Avi Shamriz, whose Iranian first name is Kamran, hopes the phone will ring.

"We have no news. From October 7, when we received information that my son was kidnapped until now, we don't know if he's dead, alive, or injured," Shamriz told RFE/RL's Radio Farda in a brief phone interview on December 6.

Hamas killed more than 1,200 Israelis -- mainly civilians -- in the October 7 raid, and took some 240 hostages back to the Gaza Strip, where Israel has launched an intense war in the aftermath of the deadliest attack on Jews since the Holocaust.

Since the war began, swaps of dozens of hostages and Palestinians held in Israeli prisons have taken place.

Shamriz, who spoke from Tel Aviv where the family was evacuated after the Hamas attack, said they believe Alon is in Gaza, as he has yet to turn up on any list of those who died in the attack on October 7.

So he scours video and reports from those released for any tidbit of information on his son, a 26-year-old student of computer engineering from the Kfar Aza kibbutz near the border with Gaza.

Israeli officials says seniors, women, and children have been the priority so far in negotiations for the release of hostages. That would put Avi Shamriz down on the priority list.

"[The Israeli hostages] who have been freed haven't seen my son. They took 19 hostages from [Kfar] Aza and 10 of them have returned home. But none of them saw my son," he said.

The cease-fire to allow the trading of hostages for prisoners broke down over the weekend.

Israel has since resumed its withering attack on Gaza, where an estimated 138 hostages remain, as it hunts Hamas fighters.

On December 5, Israel's military entered Khan Younis, Gaza's second-largest city, as aid agencies warned of dire humanitarian conditions that are growing worse by the day.

The Shamriz family knows only that Alon has yet to turn up.

"The war has resumed [after a temporary truce], but my son is still there. I’m scared that something will happen to him," Shamriz said.

"We went and talked [to Israeli officials] and told them that this is not the time [for war]. First, they must save my son [and other hostages]. This is not the time for war. We went and talked and pleaded, but nothing. They are not a government."

Rape, Sexual Abuse Used Against Iranian Protesters, Says Amnesty International

Sexual violence was weaponized and used with impunity against women, men, and children in Iran, the 120-page report that documents the ordeal of 45 survivors has found. (illustrative image)
Sexual violence was weaponized and used with impunity against women, men, and children in Iran, the 120-page report that documents the ordeal of 45 survivors has found. (illustrative image)

Iranian security forces have used rape and other types of sexual abuse to intimidate protesters during the crackdown on nationwide protests that started in September last year under the banner of "Women, Life, Freedom," Amnesty International said in a report published on December 6.

Sexual violence was weaponized and used with impunity against women, men, and children, the 120-page report that documents the ordeal of 45 survivors has found.

Those interviewed included 26 men, 12 women, and seven children who suffered sexual violence perpetrated by Iranian security forces.

No Iranian official has so far been charged or prosecuted for sexual crimes against the detained protesters that included rape, gang rape, and/or other forms of sexual violence, the report said.

Iranian women have been at the forefront of nationwide protests triggered by the death in custody in September last year of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old woman who had been arrested in Tehran for allegedly improperly wearing a hijab.

The protest movement was joined by many men and boys outraged by the decades of religious restrictions and other forms of suppression imposed on women by Iran's theocracy.

Protests gradually lost their intensify by the end of 2022 as they were met with fierce repression by the security forces. Hundreds were killed and thousands were arrested, according to activists and the United Nations.

"Our research exposes how intelligence and security agents in Iran used rape and other sexual violence to torture, punish, and inflict lasting physical and psychological damage on protesters, including children as young as 12," Amnesty International Secretary-General Agnes Callamard said.

"The harrowing testimonies we collected point to a wider pattern in the use of sexual violence as a key weapon in the Iranian authorities' armory of repression of the protests and suppression of dissent to cling to power at all costs," Callamard said.

The report found that a wide array of Iranian security forces participated in the sexual violence against those detained during protests.

They included members of the Revolutionary Guards, the paramilitary Basij force, the Intelligence Ministry, and various law-enforcement departments such as the Public Security Police, the Investigation Unit of Iran's police, and the Special Forces of the police.

Amnesty International shared its findings with the Iranian authorities on November 24 but has thus far received no response, the rights watchdog said.

Out of the 45 survivors interviewed by Amnesty, 16 were raped, including six women, seven men, a 14-year-old girl, and two boys aged 16 and 17.

Four women and two men were subjected to gang rape by members of the security forces. ‎

The report documented instances of vaginal, anal, and oral rape perpetrated on women and girls by security agents, while men and boys were subjected to anal rape.

Wooden and metal batons, glass bottles, and hosepipes were used to rape detainees in detention facilities and police vans, as well as schools and residential buildings.

Most of the abused victims did not file complaints against the perpetrators out of fear of reprisals, Amnesty said, adding that in the rare cases when the victims told prosecutors about their ordeal, they were ignored.

"Without political will and fundamental constitutional and legal reforms, structural barriers will continue to plague Iran's justice system," said Callamard.

"With no prospects for justice domestically, the international community has a duty to stand with the survivors and pursue justice.... We urge states to initiate criminal investigations in their own countries against suspected perpetrators under the principle of universal jurisdiction, with a view to issuing international arrest warrants."

With reporting by AFP

Concerns For Health Of Iranian Political Prisoner Rise Amid Hunger Strike

Tehran's notorious Evin prison (file photo)
Tehran's notorious Evin prison (file photo)

Iranian political prisoners Sepideh Gholian and Mahboubeh Rezaei, incarcerated in Tehran's notorious Evin prison, have warned about the deteriorating health of fellow inmate Zahra Sarv, who has been on a hunger strike since early December to protest against the harsh treatment and injustices she has faced since her arrest in October 2021.

The plight of Sarv, detailed in a letter obtained by RFE/RL's Radio Farda, outlines a pattern of disregard for prisoner rights within the Iranian judicial system.

Despite having served one-third of her sentence, Sarv's conditional release has been repeatedly denied, reportedly due to the objections of her case interrogator.

The situation has reached a critical point, with Sarv being compelled to endure a 6 1/2-year sentence handed to her by Branch 26 of the Tehran Revolutionary Court on charges of "conspiracy and collusion to act against national security" and "propaganda against the system."

Throughout the legal proceedings, she and her lawyer were denied access to her case file.

Gholian and Rezaei, who have themselves been subject to harsh treatment in prison, have voiced their despair at witnessing Sarv's state of health and well-being decline rapidly in recent days.

Sarv, who says she has been denied proper medical attention even though she suffers from gastrointestinal problems, has gone on hunger strikes several times in the past to protest against her lack of rights and mistreatment.

Unrest has rattled Iran since last summer in response to declining living standards, wage arrears, and a lack of insurance support. Labor law in Iran does not recognize the right of workers to form independent unions.

Adding to the dissent, the September 2022 death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini while in police custody for allegedly wearing a head scarf improperly breathed new life into demonstrations, which officials across the country have since tried to quell with harsh measures.

The activist HRANA news agency said that more than 500 people have been killed during the unrest, including 71 minors, as security forces try to stifle widespread dissent.

Thousands have been arrested in the clampdown, with the judiciary handing out harsh sentences -- including the death penalty -- to protesters.

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

Regional Iranian Officials Order Strict Dress Code For Female Public Workers

Mannequins dressed in chadors are displayed in a shop in front of a shrine at the city of Qom.
Mannequins dressed in chadors are displayed in a shop in front of a shrine at the city of Qom.

Iranian media say the governorate of the central city of Qom has issued a directive mandating female employees in government offices adhere to strict Islamic dress codes, specifically wearing a black chador, a large piece of cloth that is wrapped around the head and upper body leaving only the face exposed, and refraining from using makeup.

The directive, initially disclosed by the Iran Watch rights group's website, marks a further tightening of the Islamic republic's stance on how women can dress in the workplace.

The deputy governor of Qom, Abolghasem Moghimi Araghi, emphasized in the directive the need for female employees to comply with the "laws of modesty and hijab." The requirement underscores the regime's renewed emphasis on conservative dress standards, particularly in Qom, a city known for its religious significance and as a hub for Shi'ite religious education.

The directive's publication coincides with a period of heightened sensitivity and opposition to Iran's mandatory hijab laws.

Nationwide protests under the banner of "Women, life, freedom" have called for the abolition of compulsory dress codes, with Iranian women risking much in their quest for freedom and equality by standing at the forefront of the demonstrations.

This latest regulation in Qom, compelling the wearing of a chador in public offices, is unprecedented in its scope and signals an intensification of the government's approach toward enforcing strict Islamic dress codes.

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

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

Tensions have run high in Iran over the hijab law since 22-year-old Mahsa Amini's death in police custody in September 2022.

Amini's death, which came just days after her detention in Tehran by the morality police for allegedly wearing her hijab improperly, led to nationwide protests and hundreds of demonstrators' deaths across the country.

Despite lasting public anger, parliament around the anniversary of Amini's death approved an updated version of the law that included harsher penalties for violations, including prison sentences of up to 10 years.

In late October, outrage boiled over again after another young woman died following an alleged encounter with "morality" enforcers earlier that month in a Tehran subway car.

Armita Garavand, 17, died after falling into a coma after the alleged confrontation on October 1. Some reports have suggested she was assaulted by the morality police, while others have said hijab guards were responsible.

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

Afghans Banned From 16 Provinces In Iran As Forced Exodus Continues

During the past few months, the rate of Afghans deported from Iran has steadily increased despite efforts by Afghanistan's Taliban-run government to persuade Tehran to give the Afghans more time. (file photo)
During the past few months, the rate of Afghans deported from Iran has steadily increased despite efforts by Afghanistan's Taliban-run government to persuade Tehran to give the Afghans more time. (file photo)

Iran has banned millions of Afghan refugees and migrants in the country from living in, traveling to, or seeking employment in just over half of the country's 31 provinces.

On December 3, Hamzeh Soleimani, the director-general of citizenship and foreign nationals affairs of the western Kermanshah Province, confirmed the ban was in place in 16 provinces nationwide.

"Numerous construction projects, greenhouses and livestock farms underwent inspection under the plan. [This led] to the arrest and expulsion of Afghan workers from the province," he said.

Iranian media have identified 15 of the 16 provinces, including Kermanshah, East Azarbaijan, West Azerbaijan, Ardabil, Zanjan, Kurdistan, Hamedan, Gilan, Mazandaran, Sistan-Baluchistan, Ilam, Lorestan, Chaharmahal and Bakhtiari, Kahgiluyeh and Boyer Ahmad, and Hormozgan.

In October, Iranian Interior Minister Ahmad Vahidi reiterated that Tehran would deport all "illegal" migrants, most of whom are Afghan nationals who fled war, persecution, and poverty.

Tehran estimates that more than 5 million Afghans currently live in the country. Iranian officials now want to deport at least half of them because they do not have the documents to remain in the country.

During the past few months, the rate of Afghans deported from Iran has steadily increased despite efforts by Afghanistan's Taliban-run government to persuade Tehran to give the Afghans more time before embarking on a mass expulsion campaign like Pakistan.

Islamabad is currently deporting thousands of impoverished Afghans daily as part of its campaign to expel more than 1.7 million "undocumented foreigners."

In Iran, Afghans say their life is becoming more complicated with each passing day.

"The situation of Afghan refugees across Iran is very worrying," Sharif Mateen, an Afghan refugee, told RFE/RL's Azadi Radio.

"Police are arresting everyone irrespective of whether they have documents or not. They are then taken to repatriation camps," he added.

WATCH: Despite risks to their safety, thousands of Afghans -- often undocumented -- flock into Iran to find work.

Thousands Of Desperate Afghans Make Risky Journeys Into Iran To Find Work
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Iran has hosted millions of Afghans for more than four decades, but Tehran has often complained of the lack of international aid for hosting them.

More than 70 percent of the 3.6 million Afghans who left their country after the Taliban seized back power in August 2021 fled to Iran.

Data show most are educated, middle-class Afghans who served in the fallen pro-Western Afghan republic's security forces or civil bureaucracy.

Iran Says It Will Respond To Deaths Of Guards In Syria

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Nasser Kanaani (file photo)
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Nasser Kanaani (file photo)

Iran will respond to attacks on its interests in Syria, Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Nasser Kanaani said on December 4 when asked about the killing by Israel of two Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) members in Syria last week. "No action against Iran's interests and our advisory forces in Syria will go unanswered," Kanaani said. Two IRGC members who served as military advisers in Syria were killed in an Israeli attack, Iranian state media reported on December 2, in the first reported Iranian casualties during the ongoing war in Gaza.

Iran Says Two Revolutionary Guards Killed In Israeli Attack In Syria

Two Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps members who served as military advisers in Syria have been killed in an Israeli attack, Iranian state media reported on December 2, in the first reported Iranian casualties during the ongoing war in Gaza. A Revolutionary Guards statement did not give details of the attack. Syria earlier said its air defenses repelled an Israeli rocket attack against targets in the vicinity of Damascus early on December 2.

Iranian Rapper's Violent Rearrest For Comments In Video Sparks Outrage

Iranian rapper Toomaj Salehi appeared in a video on November 26 in which he talked about the torture and beatings he suffered while in prison.
Iranian rapper Toomaj Salehi appeared in a video on November 26 in which he talked about the torture and beatings he suffered while in prison.

The rearrest of Iranian rapper Toomaj Salehi has triggered a wave of outrage after reports that armed security agents beat the dissident while taking him into custody even though he is still recovering from being tortured during his previous prison time.

Police detained Salehi, a prominent voice in Iran's recent social and political movements, on November 30 on a street in Babol, northern Iran.

The Mizan News Agency, which is affiliated with Iran's judiciary, confirmed Salehi's rearrest, alleging it was for "spreading lies and unverified statements on social media," a charge of disturbing public opinion.

Salehi had only been out for 12 days after enduring 252 days in solitary confinement and a total of one year and 21 days in prison on charges that his supporters said were based on his music and participation in protests during the past year over the death of Mahsa Amini in September 2022.

Ye-One Rhie, a German parliamentarian and Salehi's political sponsor, criticized the "violent abduction," linking it to Salehi speaking out about his prison experience. Salehi has said he needs surgery because of injuries sustained from beatings and torture while he was incarcerated.


"When I say he was arrested, I mean he was kidnapped. He was kidnapped without any without any warning, without any identification, without any reasons given why he was beaten and why he was taken so violently," she said.

"To say that he used his time as a free man after he was released on bail to spread false rumors and to spread lies just because he was talking about his time in prison and his time in solitary confinement, that doesn't hold against any rule of law," the German lawmaker added.

Salehi was initially arrested in November 2022 after a period in hiding. His detention then immediately sparked significant attention and demands for his release, both domestically and internationally.

He was sentenced to more than six years in prison but released on November 18 after the Supreme Court, responding to an appeal, found “flaws in the original sentence.” It sent the case back to a lower court for a reexamination and possible retrial.

Once out, Salehi produced a video where he described being injected with a substance, likely adrenaline, to prevent unconsciousness during torture. He recounted the severe beatings he endured, leading to broken hands and feet.

He also said in the video that he filed a complaint against the General Directorate of Intelligence in Isfahan, a claim disputed by the Mizan News Agency. However, Salehi's lawyer, Amir Raesian, contradicted Mizan's statement, affirming that a complaint had been filed over his treatment and was under consideration.

Nazanin Boniadi, an actress and prominent opponent of the Islamic republic, condemned Salehi's violent rearrest, calling it "devastating."

Salehi has gained prominence for his lyrics that rail against corruption, widespread poverty, state executions, and the killing of protesters in Iran. His songs also point to a widening gap between ordinary Iranians and the country's leadership, accusing authorities of "suffocating" the people without regard for their well-being.

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

Rights Group Says Iranian Political Prisoner From 1980s Has Been Executed

Iranian security officers prepare a rope for hanging. members preparing hanging rope. The Islamic republic has executed more people than any other country in the world other than China so far this year, according to Amnesty International. (file photo)
Iranian security officers prepare a rope for hanging. members preparing hanging rope. The Islamic republic has executed more people than any other country in the world other than China so far this year, according to Amnesty International. (file photo)

An Iranian human rights group has reported the execution of Geda Ali (Hormoz) Saber Motlaq, a political prisoner from the 1980s, and Kamran Rezaei, who was detained during nationwide protests in 2019, amid a jump in capital punishment by authorities in Tehran following unrest triggered by the September 2022 death of Mahsa Amini.

The Norway-based group Iran Human Rights said Motlaq, 62, was initially arrested in the 1980s for affiliating with the People's Mujahedin Organization of Iran and the alleged murder of an official of the Islamic republic. He was subsequently released due to insufficient evidence but was rearrested and sentenced to death after returning to Iran in 2020, despite a lack of concrete evidence against him.

The nature of the charges leading to Motlaq's execution, analysts say possibly Qesas (retributive justice) or for other accusations such as "Moharebeh" (enmity against God), remains unclear. He consistently denied any involvement in the alleged murder.

Rezaei, Iran Human Rights said, was hanged on November 30 in Shiraz Central Prison, and warned it expects more protesters to be executed.

“Political prisoners including protesters are at serious risk of execution," Iran Human Rights Director Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam said.

"Further silence from the international community is not acceptable. The current leaders of the Islamic republic have a history of massacring political prisoners and committing crimes against humanity. It is only the high political cost from the international community that has prevented them from repeating these atrocities.”

Rezaei, a political prisoner, was accused of the "premeditated murder" of a Basij paramilitary member and coerced under torture to confess.

Executions have jumped in Iran this year, according to rights groups and the United Nations.

Earlier in November, a UN report said executions jumped 30 percent in the first seven months of 2023 compared with the same period a year earlier, with United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres saying information received by the UN human rights office “consistently indicated that the judicial proceedings did not fulfil the requirements for due process and a fair trial under international human rights law.”

Iran Human Rights said that, so far this year, more than 700 people have been executed in Iran, with a marked increase in recent months.

Two days before Rezaei's execution, Hani Shahbazi was executed in Sepidar Prison, Ahvaz. He also was accused of "enmity against God" following the alleged premeditated murder of law enforcement and Basij paramilitary members in 2019.

The rate of executions in Iran has been rising sharply, particularly in the wake of widespread protests that swept across the country last year following the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in police custody for an alleged head-scarf violation.

Amnesty International says the regime in Tehran has executed more people than any other country in the world other than China so far this year.

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

Iran Still Top Terror Sponsor; IS Still A Threat In Taliban-Ruled Afghanistan, U.S. Says

Iran continued to back Hizballah (above), designated a terrorist group by Washington in 1997, and also provided weapons systems to Hamas and other U.S.-designated Palestinian terrorist groups.
Iran continued to back Hizballah (above), designated a terrorist group by Washington in 1997, and also provided weapons systems to Hamas and other U.S.-designated Palestinian terrorist groups.

Iran remained the leading state sponsor of global terrorism last year, involved in backing terrorist recruitment, financing, and plotting across Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Americas, the U.S. State Department said in its 2022 Country Reports On Terrorism released on December 1.

In the Middle East, Iran continued to back Hizballah, designated a terrorist group by Washington in 1997, the report said, adding that it also provided weapons systems to Hamas and other U.S.-designated Palestinian terrorist groups, including Palestine Islamic Jihad and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command.

"These groups were behind numerous deadly attacks originating in Gaza and the West Bank," the report said.

Tehran also provided support to extremist groups in Bahrain, Iraq, and Syria, through its Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps' Qods Force (IRGC-QF) to provide support to terrorist organizations with the aim to create instability in the region, the report said.

Iran increasingly encouraged and plotted attacks against the United States, including against former U.S. officials, in retaliation for the death of Qods Force commander Qasem Soleimani in January 2020.

The U.S. Department of Justice announced in 2022 that it had disrupted an IRGC-QF-led plot to assassinate former national-security adviser John Bolton and arrested an Iranian accused of planning the killing.

In Taliban-ruled Afghanistan, the report says that members of Al-Qaeda, the Islamic State group, and regional terrorist groups remained active in 2022, despite the Taliban committing to prevent extremists from using the country to conduct attacks against the United States and its allies after the withdrawal of U.S.-led forces in August 2021.

The Taliban's capacity to stop elements from Al-Qaeda, Islamic State-Khorasan -- an IS splinter -- or Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) from mounting external operations from the Afghan territory "remained unclear," the report said.

Islamic State-Khorasan in 2022 continued to conduct terrorist attacks against the Taliban and Afghan civilians, in particular against members of the Shi'ite community as well as cross-border attacks in Pakistan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan.

The report mentions that "the United States has not yet decided whether to recognize the Taliban or any other entity as the government of Afghanistan," and says the Taliban hosted and sheltered Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahri in Kabul before his death in a U.S. air strike in July last year.

Iranian Rapper Rearrested Less Than Two Weeks After Release From Prison

"They broke my arms and legs during my detention and hit me in the face and head a lot," rapper Toomaj Salehi said in a video posted on November 27. (file photo)
"They broke my arms and legs during my detention and hit me in the face and head a lot," rapper Toomaj Salehi said in a video posted on November 27. (file photo)

Iranian authorities on November 30 rearrested a dissident rapper and returned him to jail less than two weeks after his release on bail, according to his own social media account.

Toomaj Salehi was violently detained by armed plainclothes agents in the city of Babylon and then taken to an unknown location, according to social media accounts affiliated with him. The account attributable to Salehi said he was arrested with "beatings."

According to Mizanonline.ir, an online news outlet affiliated with Iran’s judiciary, Salehi was arrested on a new charge of spreading lies and “the violation of public opinion.”

Salehi was released from prison on November 18 after spending more than a year in custody on charges that his supporters said were based on his music and participation in protests in the past year over the death of Mahsa Amini in police custody after being detained for allegedly breaking the country’s strict Islamic dress code.

Salehi was accused of “spreading lies” on the Internet and publishing “anti-state propaganda.”

Salehi said in a video message earlier this week that he was tortured and put in solitary confinement for 252 days after his arrest in October 2022. Amini died the previous month.

He also said he was given an injection in his neck during his detention, which he said most likely was adrenaline so that he would not pass out during torture and thus endure the maximum amount of pain.

"They broke my arms and legs during my detention and hit me in the face and head a lot," Salehi said in the video, posted on November 27 on his YouTube channel.

“I tried to stop the blows with my hands when my fingers broke," he said, adding that the injuries required surgery.

Salehi had been sentenced to more than six years in prison. His release on bail on November 18 came after the Supreme Court, responding to an appeal, found “flaws in the original sentence” and sent the case back to a lower court.

Thousands were arrested in Tehran's crackdown on the protests, which largely died down earlier this year. Eight of those arrested were executed for allegedly attacking security forces after being convicted in secretive courts where rights groups say they were denied the right to defend themselves.

Salehi has gained prominence for his lyrics that rail against corruption, widespread poverty, state executions, and the killing of protesters in Iran. His songs also point to a widening gap between ordinary Iranians and the country’s leadership, accusing authorities of “suffocating” the people without regard for their well-being.

He said that he had sued prison officials and media close to the government for torture, saying that security agencies "ordered the prison warden" to pressure him.

The singer's detention had been met with widespread domestic and international backlash, with numerous global calls for his release.

With reporting by AP

Iranian Judge At Wushu Championships Takes Stand By Shunning Head Scarf

Arghavan Jalali Farahani funded her own travel to the competition and fulfilled her role as a judge because she wanted to take a stand and wouldn't compromise her beliefs.
Arghavan Jalali Farahani funded her own travel to the competition and fulfilled her role as a judge because she wanted to take a stand and wouldn't compromise her beliefs.

In a bold act of defiance, an Iranian judge at the 2023 World Wushu Championships in the United States appeared without the mandatory hijab, igniting a controversy back home where the head scarf has become a flashpoint in a battle for women's rights.

In an exclusive interview with RFE/RL's Radio Farda, Arghavan Jalali Farahani explained that her decision was "a gesture of solidarity with the ongoing struggles in Iran" and a tribute to Mahsa Amini and Armita Garavand, two Iranian women who died after a confrontation with morality police over the hijab and have become symbols of resistance against the mandatory Islamic dress code.

The incident gained international attention after a photo of Farahani, with nothing covering her head, surfaced online from the competition being held in Fort Worth, Texas. Despite her name being announced as Iran's representative, the Islamic republic's Wushu Federation swiftly denied she was there officially.

Farahani called the federation's denial a fabrication, adding she was appointed as Iran's representative by the same federation. She further revealed that initially, she was informed by Iranian officials of her removal from the competition list.

After making inquiries, however, she discovered that they had lied to her and that her name was still valid as a judge representing Iran, most likely because officials needed to keep her name on the list to ensure they could collect money for her being there.

"They didn't want me to judge. On the one hand, they did not remove my name from the list so that I would remain on their unrealistic invoices, which is a significant amount. They didn't think I would follow up and realize their lie," Farahani added.

Farahani said that in the end, she funded her own travel to the competition and fulfilled her role as a judge, because she wanted to take a stand and wouldn't compromise her beliefs, as that would have been a disservice to those who have lost their lives in Iran's struggle for freedom and justice.

"I wanted to stand with the people who are fighting inside Iran with this small act. Perhaps I have been able to pay respect to Mahsa Amini and Armita Garavand with my actions," she said.

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

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

The death of 22-year-old Amini in September 2022 in police custody for an alleged hijab violation released a wave of anger that has presented the Islamic regime with its biggest challenge since the revolution.

The case of the 17-year-old Garavand, who succumbed in October 2023 to injuries suffered in an alleged confrontation with morality police in the Tehran subway over a head-scarf violation, and suggestions of a cover-up by the authorities over what transpired in the teen's last living moments, have drawn parallels with the events leading up to the death of Amini, which was also shrouded in mystery.

Wushu, often referred to as kung fu, is a competitive martial arts sport that integrates concepts and forms from various traditional and modern Chinese martial arts.

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

New U.S. Sanctions Target Illicit Financial Networks Set Up To Benefit Iranian Military

The United States has imposed a new round of sanctions on more than 20 people and firms that the U.S. Treasury Department says have been involved in a "financial facilitation network" for the benefit of the Iranian military.

The sanctions target people and companies inside Iran as well as in Hong Kong and the United Arab Emirates, the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) said in a news release on November 29.

The sanctions single out the Iranian firm Sepehr Energy and its employees, brokers, and purchasers, saying the business acts as a front company for the Iranian government's oil sales, which "fund its destabilizing regional activities and support of multiple regional proxy groups."

These groups include Hamas, which has been designated a terrorist organization by the United States and European Union, and Hizballah.

OFAC said the people and entities designated for sanctions are involved in the networks, which ultimately benefit Iran's Ministry of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics (MODAFL), the Armed Forces General Staff (AFGS), and the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps' Qods Force (IRGC-QF).

MODAFL and the AFGS sell commodities through networks that include "shadow banking" and front companies both inside Iran and abroad, OFAC said.

"The IRGC-QF and MODAFL continue to engage in illicit finance schemes to generate funds to fan conflict and spread terror throughout the region," Undersecretary of the Treasury Brian Nelson said.

Sepehr Energy oversees this activity for the AFGS, OFAC said, adding that its deputy chairman, principal board member, and managing director, Majid A'Zami, who is also an Iranian Oil Ministry official, was also blacklisted.

Another company designated for sanctions is the Iran-based Pishro Tejarat Sana Company, which OFAC said works with Sepehr Energy to facilitate the sale and shipment of commodities to overseas buyers, generating revenue for MODAFL and the Iranian military.

Pishro Tejarat works on behalf of Sepehr Energy, in return for a portion of the profits, it said, adding that its chairman of the board of directors, Seyyed Abdoljavad Alavi, was designated for sanctions in the action announced on November 29.

Neslon said the United States "remains committed to exposing elements of the Iranian military and its complicit partners abroad to disrupt this critical source of funds."

The sanctions block access to U.S. property and bank accounts and prevent the targeted people and companies from doing business with Americans.

With reporting by AP

Rights Group Says Iranian Political Prisoner Karimi Executed Along With Six Others

Ayoub Karimi was arrested in 2010.
Ayoub Karimi was arrested in 2010.

Ayoub Karimi, an Iranian-Kurdish prisoner of conscience who has been held in Qezelhesar prison in Karaj for the past 14 years, was executed on November 29, according to human rights watchdogs.

The Norway-based group Iran Human Rights said Karimi's execution came along with the carrying out of the death sentences of six other prisoners, a sign of Tehran's continued increase in the meting out of capital punishment against political and religious dissenters.

"The execution of Ayoub Karimi, based on coerced confessions and without a fair trial, like the execution of other political prisoners, is a crime," said Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam, director of Iran Human Rights.

"The authorities of the Islamic republic must be held accountable for this crime."

The identities of the six other prisoners executed along with Karimi were not disclosed, but the Hengaw rights group noted that Ghasem Abasteh, a co-defendant in Karimi's case, faced a similar fate last month. The remaining five defendants are still incarcerated and face the imminent threat of execution.

Karimi, Davoud Abdollahi, Farhad Salimi, Anwar Khezri, Khosrow Besharat, and Kamran Sheikheh were arrested in January 2010. They were subsequently sentenced by Tehran's Islamic Revolutionary Court on charges including "acting against national security" and "corruption on Earth."

Their death sentences were confirmed in 2020 amid allegations of coerced confessions and torture -- a claim supported by at least four prisoners in open letters.

Amnesty International said in a statement at the time that the trial was "grossly unfair," pointing to forced confessions under torture.

The rate of executions in Iran has been rising sharply, particularly in the wake of widespread protests that swept across the country last year following the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in police custody for an alleged head-scarf violation.

Amnesty International says the regime in Tehran has executed more people than any other country in the world other than China so far this year.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said on November 2 that Iran was carrying out executions "at an alarming rate," while Iran Human Rights said more than 600 people had been executed in the country during the first seven months of the year.

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

Classified Document On Iran's 'Hijab Guards' Unveils Government Cover-Up

Hijab guards patrol public areas of Tehran to confront women not wearing the mandatory head scarf.
Hijab guards patrol public areas of Tehran to confront women not wearing the mandatory head scarf.

For many commuters in the Iranian capital, navigating the subway system means passing through "tunnels of horror."

Entrances and corridors in Tehran's subway stations are lined with so-called hijab guards, women wearing black chadors and green sashes. And while the role of these squads is clear -- to spot and confront women not wearing the mandatory head scarf -- determining responsibility for their deployment has been shrouded in mystery.

But the publication of a classified Interior Ministry document showing the state's clear ties to the hijab guards, as well as legal action against the reformist newspaper that published the document, has revealed an apparent government cover-up that has rekindled public anger over the Islamic republic's heavy-handed approach to enforcing the hijab law.

It has also left officials exposed to harsh criticism and calls for their resignation following the government's insistence that the guards were voluntary and had no connection to the state.

Etemad newspaper's front-page coverage of the Interior Ministry's document
Etemad newspaper's front-page coverage of the Interior Ministry's document

As recently as November 22, Interior Minister Ahmad Vahidi said at a cabinet meeting that the hijab guards were not part of his ministry or the morality police, an official law enforcement body infamous for its harsh treatment of hijab violators.

Vahidi pushed back on suggestions that the hijab guards should require special permits and insisted the squads of women were carrying out their duties out of religious faith and independently of the authorities.

Vahidi described them as "popular groups" who were carrying out their Islamic duty to promote virtue and prevent vice. "Everyone has a duty for this, but it should be done with good manners and solely through verbal advice,” he said.

Watchful Eye Of 'Morality'

Prior to the interior minister's claims, concerns had been raised about the presence of the squads in subways in Tehran and other major cities.

Tensions remain high in Iran over the hijab law, which the authorities took steps to strengthen amid lingering tensions over 22-year-old Mahsa Amini's death in police custody in September 2022. Amini's death, which came just days after her detention in Tehran by the morality police for allegedly wearing her hijab improperly, led to nationwide protests and hundreds of demonstrators' deaths across the country.

Despite lasting public anger, parliament around the anniversary of Amini's death approved an updated version of the law that included harsher penalties for violations, including prison sentences of up to 10 years.

It also empowered three intelligence agencies -- the Intelligence Ministry, the Revolutionary Guards Intelligence Organization, and the Intelligence Organization of the Judiciary -- along with police, the Basij paramilitary forces, and the Headquarters for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice to take action against women in violation of the mandatory hijab regulations.

This all took place as reports of the appearance of the hijab guards emerged amid efforts to suppress the Women, Life, Freedom movement forged after Amini's death.

And in late October, outrage came to the fore again after another young woman died following an alleged encounter with "morality" enforcers earlier that month.

Armita Garavand, 17, died after falling into a coma after an alleged confrontation at a Tehran subway station on October 1. Some reports have suggested she was assaulted by the morality police, while others have said the hijab guards were responsible.

On November 21, prominent commentator Abbas Abdi warned in the reformist Etemad newspaper that the deployment of the guards risked further increasing public anger at the authorities and widening societal divisions.

Vahidi's subsequent characterization of the guards as well-intentioned vigilantes did not go over well with many, including rights activists and reformist-minded media and politicians.

Mostafa Faghihi, managing director of the Entekhab news website, skewered Vahidi's comments on X, formerly known as Twitter, on November 22.

Hijab guards patrol in a Tehran subway station in November.
Hijab guards patrol in a Tehran subway station in November.

"Interesting! So, this tunnel of horrors at the metro is a citizens' [initiative]!" the post said. "Do people also pay their monthly salary? Are they also hired and organized under citizens' supervision?"

On November 26, Etemad's publication of part of a document labeled "highly confidential" and bearing the seal of the Interior Ministry, shot holes in Vahidi's denials of a connection between the state and the hijab guards.

Presented to various government entities and dated June 9, the document laid out the responsibilities of the guards and gave instructions on the deployment of thousands of them in public places. It also outlined a broader strategy of dealing with hijab violators, who it said should be photographed in all areas of the subway, inside subway cars, and handed over to police for arrest.

The apparent link between the government and the hijab guards was further clarified when the Headquarters for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice announced that there were more than 2,800 members of the group deployed, and that its activities were coordinated with the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, the Basij forces, the Tehran municipality, the Prosecutor's Office, and other state bodies.

The Headquarters for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice is a government institution that shapes and enforces Iran's morality laws and was instrumental in developing the stricter hijab legislation.

Its secretary, Mohammad Saleh Hashemi Golpayegani, in August 2022 announced the installation of surveillance cameras in public spaces such as subways to identify women in violation of the hijab law.

The European Union considers Golpayegani "responsible for serious human rights violations in Iran" and in January introduced restrictive measures against him.

Cause For Dismissal?

The authorities in Iran took steps immediately to punish Etemad for publishing the damning document that sparked the scandal, with the Public Prosecutor's Office filing criminal charges against the newspaper for illegally disseminating confidential information.

The legal action attempting to muzzle the press in combination with Vahidi's claims about the hijab guard's autonomy prompted harsh reactions, including from within political circles and media.

In a letter to the judiciary this week, the reformist Voice of Iranians party, also known as the Neda party, flatly accused Vahidi of being a "liar" and argued that his comments were "a bigger and more unforgivable sin than not wearing a hijab."

The Rouydad24 news website, meanwhile, called for Vahidi's dismissal, arguing that he had "lied" to the people and that his position on the hijab guards was "hypocritical."

Iranian Sports Federation Chief Removed After Athlete's Hijab Violation At Competition

Mehran Tishegaran (file photo)
Mehran Tishegaran (file photo)

The head of Iran's Deaf Sports Federation has been dismissed after at least one female athlete from Kazakhstan did not wear attire that adhered to the Islamic republic's strict dress code during an event while male officials and referees were in attendance.

The dismissal of Mehran Tishegaran from his role at the federation follows an exclusive report by RFERL's Radio Farda on November 27 that showed video of the Asian Deaf Athletics Championships in Tehran.

Radio Farda's exclusive footage of the championships showed the Kazakh female athlete jumping over a hurdle in sport shorts and a shirt with no sleeves while her Iranian counterparts ran in the mandatory Islamic hijab. The video also captured male referees and officials at the Aftab Enghelab Stadium.

The controversy was further fueled by comments Tishegaran regarding the mixing of genders at the event, where he stated that he should be hanged if any men were present during women's competitions.

In response to the furor created by the scene, Iranian Sports Minister Kiumars Hashemi removed Mehran Tishegaran from his role at the federation and appointed Alireza Khosravi as the interim head.

The semi-official ISNA News Agency characterized the dismissal as a direct consequence of the fallout from the Asian Deaf Athletics Championships in Tehran. The incident has sparked a broader discussion about the enforcement of dress codes in international sports events held in Iran and the gender dynamics within such settings if the country is to host similar competitions.

In October 2022, climbing champion Elnaz Rekabi sparked a controversy by competing in the Asian Championships in Seoul without a head scarf.

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

The lack of women's rights in Iran has come under intense scrutiny since the September 2022 death of Mahsa Amini while in police custody for a head-scarf violation.

Since then, thousands have poured onto the streets across the country to protest the treatment of women and a general lack of rights, with women and schoolgirls making unprecedented shows of support in the biggest threat to the Islamic government since the 1979 revolution.

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

Resistance to the hijab is likely to increase, analysts say, as it is seen now as a symbol of the state's repression of women and the deadly crackdown on society.

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

Several Families Fear For Detained Relatives, Accuse Iranian Officials Of Rights Abuses

Ali Babaei, Dawood Shiri, and Yorush Mehrali Biglo are among the civil activists arrested in Iran.
Ali Babaei, Dawood Shiri, and Yorush Mehrali Biglo are among the civil activists arrested in Iran.

The families of 13 Iranian political and civil activists detained in East Azerbaijan Province have accused Iranian authorities of failing to grant access to lawyers for their relatives while charges remain unclear.

In an interview with RFE/RL's Radio Farda, Ayoub Shiri, brother of detained activist Davoud Shiri, said that since his brother's arrest outside his Tabriz home on September 22, the family has only received three brief phone calls.

Shiri expressed frustration over the lack of clarity regarding his brother's charges.

"We have no news. They did not tell us the subject of the accusation, and every time we go to follow up, they say the same thing. Then the authorities provide a different explanation each time they are in contact," he said.

Yilmaz Mehr Ali Biglu, whose brother Ayat (Yurosh) was arrested in Jolfa on November 7, said his family is experiencing a similar situation.

He said his brother managed only a brief call with his wife after being arrested and the family suspects he is being held at the Tabriz Intelligence Detention Center.

"The judiciary is not independent enough for us to follow up. When we approached the Tabriz judiciary, they didn't respond and said,'Your brother is our guest for four months,'" Yilmaz Mehr Ali Biglu told Radio Farda.

Some of the families say their concerns extend beyond the lack of information on the legal aspects of the situation and on to the health and well-being of the detainees.

Reports have emerged about the deteriorating physical condition of Hamed Yeganepor, who was arrested in Maragheh. Despite a heart condition requiring medical attention, Yeganepor is reportedly receiving insufficient care and was returned to the detention center after a brief hospital visit.

The situation highlights growing anxiety among the families of detainees, who fear for their loved ones, especially those feared being held in solitary confinement.

The government has yet to provide any official explanation or comment on the arrests of these activists, further deepening the concerns of their families and human rights observers.

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

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