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Kerry Tells Iran Time Is Running Out For Nuclear Negotiations

"This choice really lies in the hands of the Iranians," Kerry said in Istanbul.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has warned Iran that time is running out for negotiations on its suspected nuclear weapons program.

Speaking in Turkey on the first leg of a 10-day regional tour, Kerry said negotiations were not an “endless process” and suggested that the United States was prepared to act militarily if Iran refuses to resolve the issue through diplomatic means.

"We would repeat to Iran it is our desire to have a diplomatic solution, but this choice really lies in the hands of the Iranians," Kerry said. "If you have a peaceful program for nuclear power, as a number of nations do, it is not hard to prove to the world that it is peaceful. Those other nations do that today. The reason that Iran is increasingly finding itself isolated and in a position of being sanctioned is because they have chosen -- they have chosen -- not to live up to the international requirements and standards with respect to verification about their program."

Kerry’s remarks come after two-day international talks in Kazakhstan aimed at limiting Iran’s nuclear program ended on April 6 with no notable progress.

The so-called P5+1 group – the United States, Russia, China, France, Britain, and Germany – want Iran to suspend higher-grade uranium enrichment in return for easing some international sanctions on the Islamic republic.

The global powers fear Iran is enriching uranium in order to manufacture atomic weapons. But Iran says its nuclear program is for energy and medical purposes and staunchly defends its right to produced highly enriched uranium.

The failed talks in Almaty were the second such meeting in less than two months. Speaking afterward, Iran’s chief negotiator Said Jalili said some “distances” remained between the two sides.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said on April 6 the sides are facing continued difficulty in finding common ground.

"A model for an ultimate solution could and should be recognition of all of Iran's rights under the nuclear nonproliferation treaty, including its right to enrichment, in return for putting Iran's nuclear program under the all-embracing control of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)," Rybakov said. "You can delve as deep as you can into any detail of this matter. If such a deal takes place, then, in our opinion, Iran ought to be fully relieved of sanctions."

Iran’s main regional rival, Israel, urged world powers to threaten Tehran with an ultimatum.

Yuval Steinitz, Israel's minister of intelligence and strategic affairs, said, “The time has come to present the Iranians with a military threat or some kind of red line or unequivocal ultimatum by the entire world...in order to get results.”

With reporting by AP, AFP, and Reuters

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

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

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

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

Former President Mohammad Khatami in 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

With reporting AFP and Reuters

Iran Detains Journalist After Detaining Her Sister

Elaheh Mohammadi (right, with fellow journalist Niloofar Hamedi)

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

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

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (file photo)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Updated

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

With reporting by Reuters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Since Amini's death, more than 500 people have been killed in the police crackdown, according to rights groups.

Several thousand more have been arrested, including many protesters, as well as journalists, lawyers, activists, digital rights defenders, and others.

Iranian Protesters Burn Government Propaganda Banners

A protester sets fire to a government banner in Isfahan.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Several thousand people have been arrested, including many protesters, as well as journalists, lawyers, activists, digital rights defenders, and others.

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

Emaciated Iranian Activist Meysami Vows To Continue Hunger Strike

Farhad Meysami has been in prison since August 2018.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

French President Emmanuel Macron (file photo)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Solitary Confinement

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

'Constantly Watched'

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

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

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

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

Mohsen Sohrabi
Mohsen Sohrabi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anger over Amini's death on September 16 has prompted thousands of Iranians to take to the streets nationwide to demand more freedoms and women's rights. The widespread unrest represents the biggest threat to the Islamic government since the 1979 revolution.

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

Sunni Muslims make up the majority of the population in Sistan-Baluchistan Province in southeastern Iran, but only account for about 10 percent of the population in Shi'a-dominated Iran overall.

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

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

Award-winning Iranian director Jafar Panahi (file photo)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

France Seizes Iran Assault Rifles, Missiles Heading To Yemen

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

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

Iran Blames Israel For Isfahan Drone Attack, Vows Revenge

Eyewitness footage purportedly showing the moment of the explosion at a military industry factory in Isfahan, Iran.

Iran blames Israel for a drone attack on a military factory near the central city of Isfahan, the semiofficial ISNA news agency said on February 2, vowing revenge. In a letter to the UN chief, Iran's UN envoy, Amir Saeid Iravani, said a primary investigation suggested Israel was responsible for the attack on January 28. The attack came amid tension between Iran and the West over Tehran's nuclear activity and its supply of arms -- including long-range "suicide drones"-- for Russia's war in Ukraine. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.

Adviser To Iranian Sunni Leader Detained Over Comments On Protests

In a recent interview with RFE/RL’s Radio Farda, Molavi Abdulmajid criticized the government for creating an atmosphere of insecurity in Zahedan. (file photo)

A senior adviser to Molavi Abdolhamid, a spiritual leader for Iran’s Sunni Muslim population, has been arrested amid months of unrest in Iran sparked by the death of a young woman while she was detained by the notorious morality police for an alleged dress code violation.

According to Haalvsh, a group that monitors rights violations of the Sunni minority in Iran, Molavi Abdulmajid was arrested on January 30 in the southeastern Iranian city of Zahedan and transferred a day later to a prison in the city of Mashhad. The relatives of the cleric have been told to follow up on his situation "with the Special Clerical Court," the report adds.

The state news agency IRNA confirmed Abdulmajid's arrest and quoted an informed source saying he was accused of "numerous communications with foreign people and media, and distorting public opinion."

Zahedan has been a hotbed for unrest since the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who was in police custody for allegedly wearing her head scarf improperly. The protests grew even larger following the news of the alleged sexual assault of a 15-year-old girl by the Chabahar police commander.

On September 30, people in the southeastern Iranian city took to the streets demanding accountability. They were met with a violent and bloody response from security forces that had become known as Bloody Friday. Almost 100 people were killed and hundreds more injured in the clash.

In a January 19 interview with RFE/RL’s Radio Farda, Abdulmajid criticized the government for creating an atmosphere of insecurity in Zahedan and said the protests in the city will continue "until the issue of Bloody Friday and the people of Zahedan who were killed and injured is resolved."

Abdolhamid had said previously that senior officials, including Khamenei, were "responsible" for the killing of protesters during the so-called Bloody Friday massacre. He also called for an immediate referendum with the presence of international observers to "change policies based on the wishes of the people."

The Iranian government has unleashed a brutal crackdown on weeks of unrest -- one of the deepest challenges to the Islamic regime since the revolution in 1979 -- that erupted following the September 16 death of Amini.

Sunni Muslims make up the majority of the population in Sistan-Baluchistan Province in southeastern Iran where Abdolhamid is based but account for only about 10 percent of the population in Shi'a-dominated Iran overall.

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

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

Azerbaijan Reportedly Detains Dozens Suspected Of Spying For Iran

Law enforcement bodies have neither confirmed nor rejected the reports. (file photo)

Azerbaijan's Interior Ministry has detained around 40 people it suspects of being part of an Iranian spy network that used religion to push pro-Iranian propaganda.

Local media reported on February 1 that the suspects were arrested in Baku and other regions of the country as a result of the operation conducted by the ministry. Some reports a day earlier put the number of people detained at seven.

Law enforcement bodies have neither confirmed nor rejected the reports.

Lawmaker Elman Mammadov, a member of the parliamentary Defense, Security, and Anti-Corruption Committee, accused Iran of being "quite active" in defending Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei for many years.

"I can't say whether it is a network or not, but there are such people. Even in certain media organizations and social networks, there are such people who from time to time speak in favor of Iran and against us express their opinions," he said.

Tehran has not commented on the reports.

Azer Qasimli, the director of the Baku-based Political Management Institute, said that while Iranian spies were most likely operating in the country, Russia has a bigger undercover network in the country.

Still, he said Azerbaijani authorities had to be careful, as "Iran is a state that has used terrorism in different countries and is characterized by very aggressive actions."

"It can be dangerous from this point of view," he added.

Relations between Iran and Azerbaijan appeared relatively calm until recent days.

Baku ordered the evacuation of staff and family members from its embassy in Iran on January 29, two days after a gunman shot dead a security guard and wounded two other people at the embassy in an attack Baku branded an "act of terrorism."

Police arrested a suspect and Iranian authorities have condemned the January 27 incident. They have said the suspect appeared to have had a personal, not a political, motive for the attack.

The Farda Briefing: Embassy Attack Further Strains Relations Between Iran And Azerbaijan

People gather around the coffin of Orkhan Askerov, a security guard at Azerbaijan's embassy in Iran who was shot dead by a gunman, during a procession in Baku on January 30.

Welcome back to The Farda Briefing, an RFE/RL newsletter that tracks the key issues in Iran and explains why they matter. To subscribe, click here.

I'm RFE/RL correspondent Golnaz Esfandiari. Here's what I've been following during the past week and what I'm watching for in the days ahead.

The Big Issue

A gunman stormed the Azerbaijani Embassy in Tehran on January 27, killing one guard and wounding two others. Iran said the attack was motivated by personal reasons, but Baku described it as a “terrorist attack.”

The incident led Azerbaijan to temporarily suspend its operations at its embassy in Tehran and evacuate its staff from the country. Iranian media said the attacker, who was arrested, was an Iranian man married to an Azerbaijani woman. The attacker was quoted as saying that his wife disappeared after entering the Azerbaijani Embassy.

Why It Matters: The incident has further strained relations between the neighbors, who have a history of tensions. Azerbaijan has long been suspicious of Iran’s ties with Armenia, Baku’s archenemy. Meanwhile, Tehran has increasingly expressed concern about Azerbaijan’s deepening relations with Israel, Tehran’s regional foe. Earlier this month, Baku appointed its first-ever ambassador to Israel, which is a major arms supplier to Azerbaijan.

Azerbaijan has also long complained of Iran’s alleged mistreatment of its sizable ethnic Azeri minority. Tehran has accused Baku of fomenting separatist sentiment in the Islamic republic.

Analyst Habib Hosseinifard told RFE/RL’s Radio Farda that the embassy attack has led to an “overflow” of tensions.

“Iran claims some of Israel’s actions against the country are organized from inside Azerbaijan. In addition, Iran also accuses Azerbaijan of inciting the country’s Azeri minority, while Baku accuses Tehran of strengthening extremist Shi’ite groups inside Azerbaijan. All of these have increased tensions, particularly in the past two years,” he said.

What's Next: Since the embassy attack, Iran has attempted to ease tensions with Azerbaijan. But Baku appears to have upped the ante by announcing on January 31 the arrests of what it said were seven members of an Iranian spy network in Azerbaijan.

Meanwhile, Azerbaijan’s Deputy Foreign Minister Khalaf Khalafov said in a January 31 statement that “suspension of a diplomatic mission’s operations in any country is a serious matter" and that Baku has let Tehran know that "we do not trust Iran with respect to ensuring the security of our embassy’s employees.”

The statement came days after Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi told Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev in a phone call that “the governments of Iran and Azerbaijan will not allow bilateral relations to be affected by the suggestions of those who wish ill on the two nations,” according to the Iranian government’s website.

Stories You Might Have Missed

Analysts say a suspected Israeli drone strike on a military site in Iran is part of a new effort to contain the Islamic republic. There has been a series of incidents inside Iran during the past year, including sabotage and cyberattacks, assassinations, and the mysterious killings of members of the powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, as well as scientists and engineers. Tehran has blamed some of the incidents on Israel.

Meghdad Jebelli, the brother of Iran's state TV chief Peyman Jebelli, spoke to Radio Farda about his decision to leave Iran and seek asylum in Canada. Meghdad Jebelli left his homeland soon after Iran's downing of a Ukrainian passenger jet that killed all 176 people onboard, including his 29-year-old nephew. Jebelli said "real justice will only be achieved when the perpetrators of the crimes of the past 44 years are punished,” in reference to the clerical regime that came to power following the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

What We're Watching

A group of Iranian lawmakers have submitted a draft bill to curb “unprofessional comments” posted on social media by influential figures, including celebrities. The proposed legislation prescribes prison terms of up to 15 years and fines for those found guilty. Supporters of the draft bill have said it will punish those who undermine national security. But critics have labeled it the “suffocation bill.”

What's Next: The proposed legislation is an attempt by the authorities to further crack down on dissent amid ongoing anti-regime protests that have rocked the country since September. The demonstrations are the biggest threat to the clerical regime in years.

The antiestablishment protests have attracted support from all corners of Iranian society, including celebrities. Several well-known figures have been summoned or arrested in recent months by police after showing support for the demonstrations.

Until next time,

Golnaz Esfandiari

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

Iranian Student Council Says 11 Professors Fired For Protest Support

Universities and students have long been at the forefront of the struggle for greater social and political freedoms in Iran. (file photo)

Almost a dozen Iranian university professors have been fired from their jobs at Ferdowsi University in the northeastern city of Mashhad following their support for students in nationwide protests over the death of Mahsa Amini while in police custody.

The Union Council of Iranian Students said 11 professors were dismissed for "accompanying, supporting, and defending the rights of students."

The council, which did not reveal the names of the professors, said six were from the faculty of literature, three from the faculty of law and political science, and one each from the mathematics and economics faculties.

Anger over the 22-year-old Amini's death on September 16 has prompted thousands of Iranians to take to the streets to demand more freedoms and women's rights.

Numerous protests have been held at universities, particularly in Tehran, where many students have refused to attend class. Protesting students have chanted "Woman, life, freedom" and "Death to the dictator" at the rallies. Some female students have removed and burned their head scarves.

In most of the protests, students have asked professors to support them, and some university professors and lecturers have expressed solidarity with the protesters.

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, 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 activist HRANA news agency said that as of January 26 at least 700 university students had been arrested during the recent unrest.

Many have faced sentences such as imprisonment, 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

U.S. Curbs Exports To Iranian Firms For Producing Drones

An Iranian-made kamikaze drone approaches for an attack in Kyiv on October 17.

The United States has placed new trade restrictions on seven Iranian entities for producing drones used by Russia to attack Ukraine, the U.S. Department of Commerce said. The firms and other organizations were added to an export control list for those engaged in activities contrary to U.S. national security and foreign policy interests. The additions to the so-called entities list were posted in a preliminary filing on January 31. Since Moscow launched its unprovoked war against Ukraine, the United States and other countries have sought to degrade Russia’s military and defense industrial base by using export controls to restrict its access to technology. To read the original story from Reuters, click here.

Iranians Use Sadeh Festival To Protest Against Lack Of Freedoms

Sadeh festivities in the Iranian city of Kerman on January 30.

Iranian protesters have staged fresh anti-government demonstrations by taking to the streets during the Sadeh festival, a traditional ancient celebration in which fire is used to defeat the forces of darkness and cold.

Protesters in Tehran's Ekbatan neighborhood celebrated the Sadeh festival by lighting huge fires, saying they showed the depth of their anger toward the government's intrusion on their freedoms and chanted “death to the dictator,” a reference to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Similar scenes were repeated in the Iranian cities of Yazd, Kerman, Shiraz, Kermanshah, Kerman, and Mashhad.

Sadeh in Persian means "hundred" and refers to the 100 days and nights remaining until the beginning of spring.

The festival, which took on an extra meaning this year after several months of unrest that threatens to tear the country apart as protesters fight for women's and human rights.

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

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

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

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

Several thousand people have been arrested, including many protesters, as well as journalists, lawyers, activists, digital rights defenders, and others.

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

Suspected Israeli Drone Strike In Iran Part Of New 'Containment Strategy'

Analysts say the suspected Israeli drone strike in Isfahan is part of a new effort to contain the Islamic republic.

A suspected Israeli drone strike hit an Iranian military facility in Isfahan on January 28, in an attack that is part of a new effort to contain Tehran, analysts said.

Protracted efforts to revive the 2015 nuclear accord between Iran and world powers have floundered. In the absence of a deal, Tehran has amassed enough highly enriched uranium to build several nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations' atomic agency.

Iran has also deepened its military ties with Russia, allegedly supplying Russian troops with combat drones for use in the war in Ukraine. U.S. intelligence assessments have said Iran could also send powerful cruise and ballistic missiles to Moscow.

There has been a series of incidents inside Iran during the past year, including sabotage and cyberattacks, assassinations, and the mysterious killings of members of the powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), as well as scientists and engineers. Tehran has blamed some of the incidents on Israel, its regional foe.

"Until last year, Israel’s containment strategy had two main aspects: preventing Iranian arms and equipment transfers to Syria and Lebanon by targeting land and air convoys, and trying to disrupt Iran’s nuclear program by targeting Iranian nuclear scientists and facilities,” said Hamidreza Azizi, a visiting fellow at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs.

Tehran is a key backer of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and the Lebanese militant group Hizballah.

Azizi said he believes Israel has attacked military, not nuclear, sites inside Iran over the past few months, which he said pointed to “the emergence of a third element” in Israel’s policy on Iran.


“Those attacks are apparently aimed at sabotaging the production of advanced missiles and drones by the Islamic republic,” Azizi told RFE/RL.

'Counter Iran's Destabilizing Activities'

U.S. media quoted unnamed American intelligence officials as saying that Israel was behind the attack on a military site in the city of Isfahan, which is home to a missile research and production center. The Pentagon said that the United States was not involved in the strike.

The extent of the damage at the military site is unclear. Iran's Defense Ministry said the explosion at the “workshop” caused only minor damage and no casualties. Videos shared on social media appeared to show an explosion at the scene.

The attack followed a trip to Israel by Central Intelligence Agency chief William Burns and an earlier visit by U.S. national-security adviser Jake Sullivan.

During a trip to Israel on January 30, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken told reporters that he held talks with Israel’s new right-wing government about “deepening cooperation to confront and counter Iran's destabilizing activities in the region and beyond."

Tehran did not immediately blame any country for the strike. Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian said the “cowardly drone attack” was aimed at creating “insecurity” inside the Islamic republic.

Iran summoned Ukraine's charge d'affaires in Tehran after a senior aide to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, Mykhaylo Podolyak, tweeted about an “explosive night in Iran,” adding that Ukraine “did warn you.”

Nournews, affiliated with Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, earlier said Podolyak’s tweet implied Kyiv's involvement in the attack and warned of “heavy consequences.”

The strike came amid Iran’s worsening ties with Western nations over its brutal crackdown on ongoing antiestablishment protests and its deepening military cooperation with Russia.

Iran has admitted to sending drones to Russia but said they were sent before Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. Moscow has denied that it has used Iranian drones in Ukraine, even as they have been shot down in that country.

'Possible Activation Of Plan B'

Alexander Grinberg, an Iran expert at the Jerusalem Institute for Security Strategy, said Israel’s suspected recent small-scale attacks against Tehran have “limited impact on Iran's military capabilities as the country is prepared and has a level of technical and strategic resilience.”

But “the timing of the strikes is significant, as the hopes for the [nuclear deal] are dying and tensions are rising between Europe and Iran,” Grinberg, a former Israeli military intelligence officer, told RFE/RL. “The U.S. and Israel are also conducting their largest military drill at the moment, indicating possible activation of Plan B.”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy poses next to a downed Iranian-made Shahed-136 kamikaze drone in Kyiv on October 27.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy poses next to a downed Iranian-made Shahed-136 kamikaze drone in Kyiv on October 27.

Grinberg said it was up to Iran to “either respond and escalate tensions or negotiate with the U.S. and Europe.”

Azizi of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs said Iran does not have the capability to retaliate to the same extent.

“Israel probably knows this, and that’s why it continues such provocations,” he said.

But Azizi added that due to the immense pressure the Islamic republic is facing domestically from anti-regime protests, as well as from the outside, “it may calculate that not responding is more damaging to its survival than doing something.”

“We’re not there yet, but the risk is there, and it’s getting more real,” Azizi warned.

In the past, Iran has retaliated by targeting Israeli-owned ships with drones and conducting cyberattacks against Israeli infrastructure. Last year, Iran claimed responsibly for a missile strike in the northern Iraqi city of Irbil, which Tehran claimed targeted an Israeli “strategic center.”

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