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Iran's Khamenei OKs Tapping Special Fund For Flood Relief As Last Resort

Flood damage in the Iranian city of Pol-e Dokhtar, in Lorestan Province

Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has approved drawing up to $2 billion from the country's National Development Fund as a last resort for aid and reconstruction after catastrophic floods, state media reported on April 15.

The government said on April 14 that the floods had caused an estimated $2.5 billion in damage to roads, bridges, homes, and farmland. The floods, Iran's worst in 70 years, had killed at least 76 people and forced more than 220,000 into emergency shelters, the government told lawmakers.

"Using the National Development Fund is authorized if no other sources are available," Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said in a letter to President Hassan Rohani read out April 15 on state television.

However, Khamenei urged the government to look into other budgetary resources to fund aid and reconstruction efforts before drawing from the sovereign fund.

Khamenei's letter did not give an amount but Morteza Shahidzadeh, who is in charge of the fund, said earlier that Rohani had asked to withdraw $2 billion and Khamenei had in principle agreed.

In Geneva, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said April 15 that an estimated 2 million Iranians needed humanitarian assistance as a result of the floods.

Based on reporting by Reuters and AP

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Ukrainian Lawmakers Approve Sanctions On Iran For 50 Years

Kyiv has accused Tehran of providing Moscow with military drones for use in Russia's invasion of Ukraine, which Iran has vehemently denied.

Ukrainian lawmakers on May 29 approved a bill proposed by President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to impose sanctions on Iran for 50 years. The sanctions, among other restrictions, include a complete ban on trade with Iran, investments, and transferring technologies. The restrictions also forbid Iranian transit across Ukrainian territory as well as the use of its airspace and prevents the withdrawal of Iranian assets from Ukraine. The bill has already been approved by the National Security and Defense Council. Kyiv has accused Tehran of providing Moscow with military drones for use in Russia's invasion of Ukraine, which Iran has vehemently denied. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, click here.

Iran Wants To Upgrade Syria's Air Defense

Iran wants to boost Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's military by upgrading the country's air-defense system, the Fars news agency reported on May 29. In an interview with the news agency, Iranian General Said Hamzah Kalandari said that although Syria had its air-defense capabilities, the "Syrian brothers" will be supported with equipment and tactical upgrades. The general, who is active in the Defense Ministry, said the aim was to contain Israeli attacks. Along with Russia, Iran is Assad's most important ally. Iran has been expanding its political and military relations in the region since the 1990s.

Iranian Women Reveal Degrading Tactics Employed By Security Authorities

Activists say many female detainees are being mistreated in the country's prisons. file photo)

Several female Iranian activists are following the lead of women's rights leader Mojgan Keshavarz by speaking out about degrading and dehumanizing methods -- including sexual harassment -- being employed by staff at the country's prisons.

Keshavarz revealed on social media on May 28 that she had been forced to undress completely after being arrested in 2019 and forced to spread her legs and sit and stand at the direction of guards under the pretense of ensuring she had not concealed a mobile phone inside her body. During the ordeal, she said she was photographed.

Keshavarz's narrative was echoed soon afterward on social media by other women who said they had been subjected to similar acts.

Zeynab Zaman, a civil activist who was recently detained, disclosed that she was forced to completely undress twice -- once at the detention center and once at the court -- to supposedly ensure she wasn't smuggling anything.

"The most ridiculous, illogical, and stupid reason for normalizing the suffering of others, is to say that it is the same everywhere! Wherever suffering is imposed on a human being, it's wrong, it's inhumane, it's filthy, it's a crime," she wrote of her experience.

Several political and civil prisoners have repeatedly reported inhumane and illegal behavior toward prisoners in Iran and have called for institutions and international organizations to devote attention to the situation in Iranian prisons.

The number of females detained in Iran has grown since the death of Mahsa Amini in September while in police custody for an alleged head scarf offense.

Women have been at the forefront of the unrest that Amini's death unlocked in Iran, posing one of the biggest challenges to authorities since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Gender equality activist Nasibeh Shamsaei described similar experiences, saying security officials forced her to undress at a time when she was menstruating, describing the tactics as "humiliation" and "psychological torture."

Prominent Iranian actress Mahnaz Afshar said the tactics are not new.

Afshar said that several years ago, she was summoned to an intelligence office following the release of a video featuring a "naked" girl, falsely identified as her. A female agent at the office forced Afshar to strip completely for photographs to prove it wasn't her. Afshar described the ordeal as a "violation of my spirit and psyche."

She added that she fears others will be like her, hiding the experience while feeling "shame" and being gripped by the fear that the pictures of her would be misused.

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

Families Of Executed Iranian Protesters Say The Government Continues To Pressure Them

Saeed Yaqoubi (left), Saleh Mirehashemi (center), and Majid Kazemi were executed by Iranian authorities in Isfahan on May 19.

The family of executed protester Majid Kazemi says Iranian authorities have launched a campaign against it, suspending Kazemi's father's retirement benefits and firing his sister from her job just 10 days after his death sentence was carried out.

Mohammad Hashemi, Kazemi's cousin, also revealed on Twitter on May 29 that Kazemi's brothers, Mehdi and Hossein, remain in the custody of the Islamic republic's security institutions after speaking out and pleading for a stay of the death penalty prior to his May 19 execution.

According to a correspondent for RFE/RL’s Radio Farda, Amir Kazemi, another cousin of Majid, confirmed that the family remains in the dark about the whereabouts and condition of Majid's brothers. Amir Kazemi suggested that the arrest of these family members -- his sister was also detained but later released -- was an attempt to prevent a memorial service for Majid Kazemi.

Following the execution of Kazemi and two other young protesters, the government has ratcheted up pressure on their families. The executions sparked widespread public outrage, with rights groups and several governments criticizing the authorities for conducting hasty trials, forcing "confessions," and denying the accused due process.

Majid Kazemi, Saleh Mirehashemi, and Saeed Yaqoubi were arrested for the alleged killing of two Basij paramilitary force members and a law enforcement officer during protests in November 2022.

However, based on a picture of the court verdict made public by the defendants' families, the death sentences for the three were not issued for murder, but instead for "waging war against God," a crime often applied to political dissidents.

The Basij members died at the height of widespread protests ignited by the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in September 2022 while she was in police custody for allegedly breaking rules concerning the Islamic head scarf, known as a hijab. All three said they were innocent of the charges and were being made scapegoats for the deaths.

Saleh Mirehashemi's mother released an audio file on social media three days after the executions saying her husband had been handcuffed by government forces and prevented from holding a ceremony honoring their son. Videos have also emerged showing security forces stationed around Saeed Yaqoubi's house in recent nights.

Authorities warned for months after unrest broke out following Amini's death that they would react harshly to any dissent. Lawmakers have pushed the judiciary to render the death penalty in trials for those arrested during the protests, which are seen as one of the biggest threats to the Islamic leadership since it took power in 1979.

So far, Iranian authorities have followed through with their threats by executing at least seven protesters, including the three on May 19.

Human rights activists say authorities in Iran are using the executions to try to instill fear in society rather than to combat crime.

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

Iranian Official Says Conflict With Afghanistan Detrimental To Both Sides

The Taliban maintains that low water levels on the Helmand River -- which feeds lakes and wetlands in Iran's southeastern Sistan-Baluchistan Province -- preclude releasing more water.

An Iranian Foreign Ministry official has said following the outbreak of border clashes between Iranian border guards and Taliban fighters that any conflict between the two countries is detrimental to both of them.

The May 28 comments on Twitter by Seyyed Rasool Musavi, director of the Iranian Foreign Ministry's South Asia Department, came a day after deadly gunfire was exchanged along the countries' mutual border.

Abdul Nafee Takour, spokesman for the Taliban-led government's Interior Ministry, told RFE/RL's Radio Azadi that one Taliban fighter and one Iranian border guard were killed in the incident.

Iran's official IRNA news agency has said two border guards were killed and two civilians injured.

Each side has accused the other of shooting first.

Tensions over water rights have risen between Iran and Afghanistan in recent weeks. Drought-stricken southeastern Iran is heavily dependent on upriver water flows from Afghanistan, leading to calls for Afghanistan to release more water and accusations that Kabul is not honoring a bilateral water treaty signed in 1973.

The Taliban has denied it is in violation of the agreement, and said low water levels on the Helmand River -- which feeds lakes and wetlands in Iran's southeastern Sistan-Baluchistan Province -- preclude releasing more water.

Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian earlier this month demanded in a call with his Taliban counterpart, Amir Khan Muttaqi, that Afghan authorities open the gates of the inland Kajaki Dam on the Helmand River "so both the people of Afghanistan and Iran can be hydrated."

During a visit to Sistan-Baluchistan on May 18, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi warned "the rulers of Afghanistan to immediately give the people of Sistan-Baluchistan their water rights," adding that the Taliban should take his words "seriously."

The region is one of the most arid areas of Iran, which has seen multiple public protests over water scarcity in recent years.

Shortly after Raisi's comment, Taliban officials announced the construction of a new dam on the Farah River, which feeds agricultural land in southwestern Afghanistan and also drains into southeastern Iran.

In 2021, prior to the Taliban's seizure of power, Afghanistan completed work on the Kamal Khan Dam, which also sits on the Helmand River.

Zelenskiy Seeks Sanctions On Iran As Ukraine War Rages On

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy films a video address near a downed Iranian-made Shahed-136 kamikaze drone used by Russia to attack Ukraine, in Kyiv on October 27, 2022.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy initiated sanctions against Iran for a period of 50 years, according to state news agency Unian, referring to a presidential legislative initiative received by the Ukrainian parliament. The bill would ban trade in military equipment and dual-use goods. In addition, Ukraine would also halt its economic and financial obligations to Tehran and prevent the export of capital to Iran. The bill also proposes a ban on technology transfers and investment in Iran. The Ukrainian parliament is expected to back the decision, which has already been approved by the National Security Council.

Iranian Student Suspended From University For Refusing To Wear Hijab Summoned In New Case

Sepideh Rashno, pictured with her brother and lawyer, wrote on her Instagram account earlier this month that she had been banned from studying at Al-Zahra University in Tehran for two semesters for "not observing the Islamic dress code."

Sepideh Rashno, a 28-year-old Iranian writer and student arrested last year for refusing to wear the mandatory hijab, has said she has been summoned to appear before the Tehran Prosecutor's Office in relation to a supposed new case against her.

Rashno announced the development by publishing a photograph of the official judicial notice on her Instagram page.

"A new case has been created and today I was notified that I have to go to the Evin courthouse to explain the charge or imputed charge,"
Rashno said, adding that she believed the summons was related to several Instagram posts that she has published in recent weeks.

Earlier this month, Rashno wrote on her Instagram account that she had been banned from studying at Al-Zahra University in Tehran for two semesters for "not observing the Islamic dress code."

She was arrested in June after a video of her arguing with another woman who was enforcing rules on wearing a head scarf on a bus in Tehran went viral.

Rashno was handed a five-year suspended prison sentence in December after being found guilty of "gathering and colluding against the country's security," "propaganda activity against the government," and "appearing without a hijab in public."

Just weeks after Rashno's arrest, mass protests erupted around the country after 22-year-old Mahsa Amini died in September while in police custody after being arrested by morality police in Tehran for "improperly" wearing a hijab.

Hundreds of Iranian students are reportedly facing disciplinary committees and possible suspensions at Al-Zahra University over issues related to the mandatory hijab on campus.

According to the Telegram channel Voice of Al-Zahra Students, since the beginning of the Persian New Year in late March, at least 35 students have been suspended from studying for one to two semesters due to issues related to the mandatory hijab and have been deprived of dormitory access until the end of their studies.

Winds Of Change: Iran's Traditional Wooden Boats Face Uncertain Future

In their golden age, Iran's lenj vessels were used to transport goods such as spices, dried fish, and textiles from the Persian Gulf to East Africa and the Indian subcontinent. But as modern ships take their place, these hand-built boats now face an uncertain future.

Tehran Police Issue Warning As Drivers Cover Up License Plates

To avoid fines now that compliance is being monitored through CCTV, many drivers in Iran are covering their license plates.

Police in Tehran issued a stern warning to road users amid an increase in the number of people covering up the license plates of mopeds with face masks, plastic covers, and badges. It is a criminal offense to cover a registration that can carry a penalty of six months to a year in prison, according to a senior police officer in Tehran on May 27, state news agency IRNA reported. Locals in Tehran say people are covering up their license plates for several reasons. As ever, road users are keen to avoid fines for infractions. In addition, many women who ride small mopeds are no longer wearing head scarves, as in the past, in a continued protest at the requirement. To avoid fines now that compliance is being monitored through CCTV, many cover their license plates.


Three Killed In Border Clashes Between Iranian Forces And The Taliban

A general view of the hydroelectric Kajaki Dam, northeast of Helmand Province, Afghanistan

Two Iranian border guards and one Taliban fighter were killed after the two sides exchange gunfire on the Islamic republic's border with Afghanistan.

The incident on May 27 came amid tensions between the two countries over water rights.

Both sides accused each other of starting the shooting.

The official government news agency IRNA quoted Brigadier General Qasem Rezaei, deputy commander of the national police as saying that a border outpost in southeastern Iran had come under "heavy attack" by the Taliban, prompting a "a decisive and courageous counteraction" from Iranian border guards.

"The Taliban forces initiated the assault in contravention of international law and principles of good neighborliness," Rezai said.

IRNA said that following the border skirmishes, Brigadier General Ahmadreza Radan, chief commander of the national police, issued a directive to the border guards, asking them to "defend the borders bravely and decisively and not allow any trespassing or encroachment."

A Taliban spokesman said two people were killed in the clashes while accusing Iranian forces of shooting first.

"Today, in Nimroz Province, Iranian border forces fired toward Afghanistan, which was met with a counter-reaction," a spokesman for the Taliban-run Interior Ministry, Abdul Nafi Takor, said in a statement. "During the battle, one person was killed on each side and many were injured."

"The situation is under control now. The Islamic Emirate does not want to fight with its neighbors," Takor added.

Taliban Defense Ministry spokesman Enayatullah Khowarazmi confirmed the clashes in the Kang district of Nimroz Province while calling for "dialogue and negotiations."

"The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan considers dialogue and negotiation to be a reasonable way for any problem. Making excuses for war and negative actions is not in the interest of any of the parties," Khowarazmi said.

Iranian news agencies confirmed the death of two Iranian border guards. IRNA said two civilians had been injured in the incident. The semiofficial Mehr news agency reported that a main border crossing with Afghanistan had been closed following the exchange of fire.

Earlier, the hard-line Fars news agency, affiliated with the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), said the clashes ended after "a short time." Fars said the two sides had convened a meeting to investigate the cause of "the tensions."

It wasn't clear what provoked the incident.

HalVash, a Baluch rights group, posted a video and photos that it said were from the area where Iranian forces and the Taliban engaged in "heavy" clashes and exchange of fire.

RFE/RL could not independently verify the footage.

The clashes follow a warning by Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi who on May 18 called the de facto Taliban regime in Afghanistan not to violate Iran’s water rights to the Helmand River.

According to the 1973 agreement, Afghanistan is obligated to provide Iran with 850 million cubic meters of water annually from the Helmand River. Iran has accused Afghanistan of not complying with the accord, an allegation that Kabul rejects. Disputes over the distribution of cross-border water supplies have plagued relations between the two neighbors for decades.

Taliban officials have repeatedly claimed that due to low water levels, even if they opened the Kajaki Dam, nothing would reach Iran.

Water from the 1,150-kilometer (690-mile) Helmand River, Afghanistan’s longest, feeds the Hamun Lake in Iran’s Sistan-Baluchistan Province. The region relies heavily on the lake, and officials say it has suffered major issues because of a persistent lack of water.

With reporting by AP and Reuters

Iranian Students Coming Under Increased Pressure Over Hijab Rules

A group of female women students at Tehran University of Fine Arts faculty hold a protest on March 07.

Iranian students are coming under increased pressure and disciplinary measures as authorities try to stamp out dissent over the mandatory hijab law.

The Union Council of Iranian Students says students, who have been at the forefront of massive anti-government protests over the hijab law, are being threatened via text messages and through "motorcycle patrols for hijab warnings" to comply with the rule.

It pointed to the recent summoning of students at the University of Welfare and Rehabilitation Sciences, where they were repeatedly threatened with suspensions and academic bans by university officials, as an example of how authorities were trying to force the students to abandon their opposition to the hijab law.

The council added that university authorities have set up a motorcycle security patrol tasked with confronting students who don't comply with the compulsory hijab, while noting the security presence at the university has substantially increased and closed gates to control the flow of students on campus as they target students based on their clothing.

Anger over the hijab rule, which mandates women cover their heads while in public, erupted in September 2022 when a young woman in Tehran died while in police custody for an alleged hijab violation. Since then, thousands of Iranians have taken 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 classes. 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.

At Noshirvani University in the northern Iranian city of Babol, officials have reportedly formed committees to enforce the mandatory hijab requirement.

The United Students channel uncovered the formation of the Guidance Committee at the university, saying its job is to confront students based on their attire. If students refuse to observe the compulsory hijab, this committee has the authority to refer them to the university's disciplinary committee.

Security forces at the school are allegedly bursting into classes while professors are teaching to issue hijab warnings.

Several other universities, including Al-Zahra University, Beheshti University, and Azad University have reported similar occurances.

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.

According to the Committee for the Follow-Up of the Situation of Detainees, over 720 students from across 100 universities in the country have been arrested since the nationwide protests sparked by the death of Mahsa Amini during her arrest.

Many of these detained students have reportedly faced severe penalties, including imprisonment, suspension from education, exile, and monetary fines.

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

Iran's Hard-Liners Blast Tougher Proposed Hijab Legislation -- As Too Lenient

Several Iranian women are seen on a street in Tehran in April without the mandatory hijab.

The authorities in Iran have drafted a new bill that would impose stiffer penalties against women who violate the Islamic dress code, including fines, imprisonment, and even the deprivation of rights.

But hard-liners have blasted the “hijab and chastity bill” as too lenient, saying the proposed legislation will not deter women from flouting the mandatory hijab, or Islamic head scarf.

The move comes as the authorities intensify efforts to enforce the hijab as more women fail to comply with the law. Women have been emboldened by the monthslong antiestablishment protests that erupted in September following the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini soon after she was arrested by Iran’s morality police for allegedly improperly wearing the head scarf.

In April, Iranian police began to use surveillance cameras to identify and punish women who failed to wear the hijab, which became compulsory for women and girls over the age of 9 in 1981, two years after the Islamic Revolution in Iran.

Authorities also warned that offenders would receive a warning via SMS. Repeat offenders, they warned, could face hefty fines and lose access to mobile phone and Internet services.

It is unclear if the new draft bill aims to codify into law the new measures outlined last month.

Tougher Penalties

According to the text of the bill published by Iranian media, the proposed legislation outlines progressively tougher penalties for violators -- from fines and deprivation of “social rights” to up to three years in prison.

Those who engage in social media campaigns against the hijab will also be punished, according to the text of the bill.

In recent months, an increasing number of women, including celebrities, have appeared in public without a head scarf in a direct challenge to the authorities, including Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei who said last month that the removal of the hijab in public is forbidden. Some women have also posted photos and videos of themselves defying the hijab law.

The draft bill also states that those who insult, threaten, or assault women who do not observe the hijab will be punished.

Women have complained that they face routine harassment and violence at the hands of the morality police and pro-government vigilantes seeking to enforce the hijab law.

During the antiestablishment protests, the authorities dismantled the notorious morality police, which was tasked with enforcing the hijab law. Since then, the authorities have said they are working on introducing “smart” methods to enforce the law.

The proposed legislation, drafted by the judiciary, was approved by the government over the weekend and later presented to lawmakers. It is unclear when it will be debated and voted on.

'The Bill To Support The Unveiled'

Hard-liners in Iran have been angered by the draft bill, saying it does not go far enough.

“It is as if the bill was prepared not to deal with unveiling, but with the aim (albeit unintentionally) of removing the existing legal obstacles and laying the groundwork for the expansion of this ugly and hideous phenomenon!” Hossein Shariatmadari, the editor of the hard-line daily Kayhan, wrote in an editorial on May 22.

Hard-line eulogist Mehdi Salahshur said on May 23 that the proposed legislation should be renamed “the bill to support the unveiled.”

The daily Hamshahri on May 24 called on the government of President Ebrahim Raisi to revoke the bill, claiming it would create “immunity” for violators by preventing the police as well as hijab enforcers from taking action.

Following the criticism, government spokesman Ali Bahadori Jahromi said on May 25 that the text of the bill published by the media was not the version approved by the government.

Lawmaker Mohammad Ali Naghali, meanwhile, said that in drafting the bill the judiciary had taken a “minimalistic” approach to the issue of noncompliance of the hijab.

“Under the current conditions, the parliament does not accept the hijab bill. We will amend the bill and [create deterrence] through punishments,” he said.

'Gender Apartheid'

Britain-based feminist activist Samaneh Savadi told RFE/RL’s Radio Farda that the draft bill is an attempt by the authorities to consolidate “gender apartheid” in Iran.

“The Islamic republic is helplessly trying to satisfy its supporters while at the same time [trying to convince] the international community that these actions are legal,” she said, adding that “so far it has failed at both.”

In recent weeks, the authorities have issued public threats and closed hundreds of businesses, including cafes and shopping malls, for allegedly failing to enforce the country's hijab law on their customers.

Shahindokht Molaverdi, a jurist and former vice president, told the Emtedad news site on May 25 that the hijab crackdown was likely to result in more protests.

“Predictions indicate that these encounters will lead to the spread of protests in the not-so-distant future. We see that in response to these strict [measures], unveiling has become widespread,” Molaverdi said.

Iranian Lawyers Say Courts Issuing Them Dozens Of Summonses With No Charges

Abuzar Nasrallah, one of the lawyers to receive a summons, said the proceedings are mostly conducted by the security court located in Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison with no specific charges stated.

A leading member of one of Iran's legal associations says more than 100 lawyers from across the country have been summoned to Tehran's security court, even though there is no mention of any charges against them.

Adel Moghaddas, a member of the board of directors of the Bushehr Bar Association, said on May 25 that the summons began arriving last month and they came "without mention of any charges," saying it appears the move is a pressure tactic to keep lawyers from supporting protests that have rocked the country for months.

Abuzar Nasrallah, one of the lawyers to receive a summons, said the proceedings are mostly conducted by the security court located in Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison with no specific charges stated.

Lawyers are being urged during the hearings to sign a prewritten "commitment letter" pledging adherence to the law as a condition for their release on bail, he said.

Nasrallah said the court confronted him with posts from his social media account, which he said in no way broke the law. He said that he was dedicated to his legal oath and therefore questioned why the court wanted a commitment, especially if no crime had been committed.

Nasrallah said the head of the security court issued him a warning “that while there was currently no intention to arrest lawyers, those who refused to sign the commitment may find their cases processed, and subsequent summons may follow."

The commitment letter contains an "expression of regret" for nationwide protests and a strategy to limit contact with "networks outside the country, anti-revolutionary elements," according to Mohammad Hadi Jaafarpour, a member of the Fars Lawyers Association and one of the lawyers who was summoned.

He stated that many lawyers refused to sign this part of the commitment but instead chose to acknowledge respect for the law and adherence to legal behavior.

The unprecedented summoning of lawyers has been attributed to Behrouz Hasani Etemad, a former lawyer now representing the prosecution in numerous protester cases.

His most notable case to date involved Mohsen Shakari, the first protester to be executed after Iran’s recent nationwide protests, sparked by the death of Mahsa Amini while in police custody last September.

Since Amini’s death, at least 129 lawyers have faced "judicial encounters," according to the group Human Rights Activists in Iran (HRA). This includes both arrests and summonses for a variety of reasons, ranging from practicing their profession to expressing views on social media.

The HRA said that 55 lawyers have been arrested, 70 have been summoned, and numerous others have faced judicial and security confrontations since the protests began. However, the recent wave of summonings to sign a "commitment" and express regret for the protests suggests an escalation in the crackdown on the legal profession.

The Islamic republic's judiciary has been restricting access to protester cases, often only accepting representation from lawyers approved by the head of the judiciary. However, independent lawyers have sometimes managed to overturn heavy sentences, like execution, during the appeal stage.

The escalating number of lawyers being summoned to the Tehran Security Court has raised alarm bells, especially considering the increased risk of executing more protesters without access to independent and fair representation.

Officials have launched a brutal crackdown amid the wave of unrest sparked by Amini's death in September while in police custody for an alleged infraction of the country's mandatory hijab law.

Iran's judiciary, at the urging of senior leaders, has taken a hard-line stance against demonstrators, executing at least seven protesters, including three on May 19. Several others currently wait on death row for their sentences to be carried out.

Amnesty International said in a report earlier this month that Iran drove a global spike in executions last year with 576, almost double the previous year.

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

Brussels, Tehran Swap Prisoners In Move Criticized By Iranian Exile Group

Olivier Vandecasteele (file photo)

Belgium and Iran have swapped prisoners in an exchange mediated by Oman, a move criticized by an exiled Iranian opposition group as "shameful."

Oman's Foreign Ministry said the swap involving Olivier Vandecasteele, a Belgian aid worker jailed in Iran, and Asadollah Assadi, an Iranian diplomat imprisoned in Belgium, took place on May 26. Officials from Belgium and Iran both confirmed the news.

"The individuals who were released have been transported from Tehran and Brussels to Muscat today in preparation for their return to their respective countries," the ministry said in a statement.

Vandecasteele was sentenced in December to 28 years in prison by the Iranian judiciary for "espionage," a charge Brussels called "fabricated."

Belgian TV reported late on May 26 that Vandecasteele had returned to his home country after flying through Oman on a Belgian military plane.

Western countries have repeatedly charged that Iran tries to take advantage of foreign countries by taking dual and foreign nationals hostage and then using them in prisoner swaps.

During a current wave of unrest sparked by the death of a young woman after she was detained for allegedly wearing a head scarf improperly, Iranian security forces have taken some 40 foreign nationals into custody, often without revealing any charges.

Assadi was sentenced to 20 years in prison last year in connection with a plot to bomb a rally of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), an exiled opposition group, outside Paris in June 2018. Tehran considers the NCRI a terrorist group and has called the Paris attack plot a "false flag" move by the group.

The NCRI immediately decried the swap, saying Belgium had released a "terrorist."

"The release of the a shameful ransom to terrorism and hostage-taking. This will embolden the religious fascism ruling Iran to continue its crimes," the Paris-based NCRI said.

Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo, whose government pushed through a a fiercely criticized treaty allowing prisoner exchanges with Iran that paved the way for the swap, said Vandecasteele is expected back in Belgium late on May 26.

With reporting by Reuters and RTL

Iranian Bill Before Parliament Increases Penalties For Defiance Of Hijab

Young women in Iran defying the mandatory head covering will face stiffer and stiffer penalties.

A bill containing Iran's Chastity and Hijab law has been presented to parliament, legislation that many see as a continuation of the government's oppression of women and human rights.

State media reported on May 24 that provisions of the bill refer to failure to comply by the compulsory head scarf as "nudity," with progressively stiffer penalties that run up to fines and the deprivation of social rights.

Repeat offenders would face imprisonment from six months to three years.

The Chastity and Hijab bill also imposes stringent penalties on drivers or passengers of a vehicle who are with those who fail to comply with the compulsory hijab. After two fines, a vehicle can be confiscated, with a daily fine of 10 million rials ($20).

The proposed law would penalize owners and managers of public places, including stores, restaurants, cinemas, sports, recreational, and artistic venues. These penalties extend to fines, the sealing of their premises, and the deprivation of tax exemptions and government tariffs.

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

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

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

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

The protests have also been buffeted by the participation of celebrities, sports stars, and well-known rights activists, prompting a special mention of such luminaries in the legislation.

The bill states that socially influential individuals, owing to their activities in social, political, cultural, artistic, or sports spheres, could see their professional and online activities banned from three months to a year for violations, with repeated offenders facing up to three years in prison.

In the face of the unrest, some religious and government figures have repeatedly advocated for a tougher stance by the government against offenders, even going as far as encouraging a "fire at will" approach against noncompliant women.

While the protests appear to be waning, 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.

In recent weeks, the authorities have also shut down businesses, restaurants, cafes, and in some cases pharmacies due to the failure of owners or managers to observe Islamic laws and hijab rules.

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

Iran Unveils Ballistic Missile With Range Of 2,000 Kilometers, Says State Media

The impact of a ballistic missile launched by Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps in 2020.

Iran unveiled the fourth generation of its Khorramshahr ballistic missile under the name Khaibar, with a range of 2,000 kilometers and a 1,500-kilogram warhead, the official IRNA news agency reported on May 25. Iran has expanded its missile program, particularly its ballistic missiles, despite opposition from the United States and expressions of concern by European countries. Tehran says the program is purely defensive and is for deterrence purposes. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.

Rights Group Urges Global Governments To 'Radically' Increase Pressure On Iran Over Executions

Amnesty International said in a report earlier this month that Iran drove a global spike in executions last year with 576, almost double the previous year.

The Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) says it has sent a letter to 75 governments around the world asking them to "radically increase" pressure on Tehran to cease the "flagrantly unlawful executions" of protesters and others that are surging in the country.

“The Islamic republic is hanging young protesters -- after torturing them into making ‘confessions’ and convicting them in sham trials -- and targeting minorities for executions for lesser crimes, in order to cow its restive population into silence,” Hadi Ghaemi, CHRI's executive director, said in a statement on May 24.

Officials have launched a brutal crackdown in Iran amid a wave of unrest sparked by the death of Mahsa Amini in September while in police custody for an alleged infraction of the country's mandatory hijab law.

Iran's judiciary, at the urging of senior leaders, has taken a hard-line stance against demonstrators, executing at least seven protesters, including three on May 19. Several others currently wait on death row for their sentences to be carried out.

The Norway-based Iran Human Rights group says that so far this year at least 277 people are confirmed to have been executed in Iran, including at least 90 in the last three weeks, making May the "bloodiest month" in the country in the last five years.

Amnesty International said in a report earlier this month that Iran drove a global spike in executions last year with 576, almost double the previous year.

“Unless world leaders join forces to raise the cost to the authorities in Iran of these state-sanctioned killings, which severely violate international laws governing the death penalty, the Islamic republic’s killing machine will gather steam and more people will unjustly die on the gallows in Iran,” Ghaemi said.

The Farda Briefing: Appointment For Powerful Policy-Shaping Post Is 'Sign Of Growing Influence' Of The IRGC

Ali Akbar Ahmadian, a commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), has been appointed as the new secretary of the Supreme National Security Council (SNSC).

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

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi has appointed Ali Akbar Ahmadian, a commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), as the new secretary of the Supreme National Security Council (SNSC). Ahmadian replaces Rear Admiral Ali Shamkhani, an ethnic Arab who had served as secretary of the key policy-shaping body since 2013 and recently signed a China-brokered agreement aimed at mending ties with Saudi Arabia.

Shamkhani had come under scrutiny over his ties to British-Iranian citizen Alireza Akbari, who was hanged in January after being convicted of spying for the United Kingdom. Shamkhani, a former defense minister under reformist President Mohammad Khatami, has also faced allegations of corruption, which he denies.

He was appointed to the SNSC by former relative moderate President Hassan Rohani. According to conservative political activist Mansoor Haghighatour, the hard-line Raisi had sought to replace Shamkhani since taking over as president in 2021, but had not been able to find a suitable replacement.

Raisi settled on the 62-year-old Ahmadian, a dentist and a veteran of the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War who rose through the ranks of the IRGC and headed the IRGC's Strategic Center. Ahmadian also previously served as chief of the IRGC's Joint Staff and as commander of the IRGC's naval forces.

Unlike Shamkhani, who served under various governments, Ahmadian does not have any political experience, and he's virtually unknown to the public.

Why It Matters: Ahmadian's appointment comes at a critical time for the Islamic republic, which faces an ailing economy crushed by U.S. sanctions as well as widespread anti-regime sentiment following the recent wave of nationwide antiestablishment protests. It also comes amid speculation about who might succeed Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who is 84 and who underwent prostate surgery in 2014.

What's Next: Analysts believe the reshuffling in the SNSC is unlikely to have an immediate impact on state policies in the Islamic republic, where the supreme leader has the last say in all state matters.

"I don't think there will be a change in domestic policies, state repression, and foreign and regional policies," Paris-based analyst Reza Alijani told RFE/Rl's Radio Farda.

Alijani noted that Shamkhani was replaced with "a military figure who had been until now active behind the scenes" and who does not carry any political baggage, unlike his predecessor.

Sina Azodi, a lecturer of international affairs at George Washington University, told me that Ahmadian's appointment highlights the increasing control of the IRGC over the country's affairs.

"I think that Shamkhani's departure -- who was close to the reformists, he was Khatami's defense minister, and to pragmatic forces, he was appointed to the SNSC by Rohani -- is yet another sign of the growing influence of IRGC forces in Iran's security establishment and decision-making," Azodi said. "Shamkhani remains the highest-ranking Iranian naval officer and is being replaced by an IRGC commander of lower rank, which in itself is interesting."

Azodi also suggested that Ahmadian's nomination to the SNSC could have an impact on the succession process by giving the IRGC more influence.

Stories You Might Have Missed

Prominent photojournalist Yalda Moayeri has protested the sharp rise in executions in Iran, where over 200 people have been hanged so far this year.

The family of Mahsa Amini has accused Iran's security forces of vandalizing the grave of the young woman, whose death while in police custody in September 2022 ignited nationwide protests that turned into one of the biggest threats to the Islamic republic's leadership since it took power in 1979.

What We're Watching

Iran's judiciary has announced that two imprisoned journalists who helped break Amini's story -- Elhahe Mohammadi and Niloufar Hamedi -- will go on trial next week. A judiciary spokesman said on May 23 that Mohammadi's preliminary hearing will be held on May 29, while the hearing for Hamedi will be held on May 30.

The two journalists face a number of charges, including "collaborating with the hostile government of America, conspiracy and collusion to commit crimes against national security, and propaganda against the establishment."

Hamedi's husband, Mohammad Hossein Ajorlu, was quoted by domestic media as saying on May 23 that the lawyers of the two imprisoned journalists have not yet been able to meet with them.

Why It Matters: Mohammadi from the Sharq daily and Hamedi from Hammihan have been in prison since September for doing their jobs: covering Amini's September 16 death while in the custody of the morality police and the ensuing several months of nationwide antiestablishment protests in Iran.

Hamedi reported from the Tehran hospital where Amini was taken following her arrest for allegedly violating Iran's hijab rule, while Hamedi reported from Amini's funeral in her hometown of Saghez. Their plight highlights the dire situation of press freedom in Iran, which is listed 177th out of 180 nations ranked in Reporters Without Borders' 2023 press freedom index.

That's all from me for now. Don't forget to send me any questions, comments, or tips that you have.

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 Women Protest Inside Evin Prison Against Wave Of Executions

A group of female political prisoners took part in a rare protest inside the notorious Evin Prison on May 23.

A group of Iranian female political prisoners incarcerated in Tehran's notorious Evin Prison have held a protest against the recent execution of three protesters and the state's increasing usage of the death penalty, which has been widely criticized by rights groups and governments around the world.

According to reports on social media accounts published on May 23, some of the most well-known female political prisoners, including Sepideh Gholian, Bahareh Hedayat, Faezeh Hashemi, and Narges Mohammadi, participated in a rare political protest inside the prison, with each issuing statements condemning the wave of executions.

Golrokh Ebrahimi Iraee, another prisoner, said: "The female political prisoners of Evin Prison held a ceremony on Saturday [May 20] in the women's ward courtyard to protest the recent executions, including the execution of two people in Arak Prison on charges of blasphemy, and the three recent executions in Isfahan."

Iraee, who in April was sentenced to seven years in prison for crimes "against the regime," said that "the nature of this regime is to physically eliminate its opponents, critics, and those who protest against its policies. Our silence is an endorsement of the shamelessness of the perpetrators and complicit in sharpening the blades of the gallows."

It was not clear whether the women were punished for the protest.

Iran's judiciary, at the urging of senior leaders, has taken a hard-line stance against protesters demonstrating against the September death of Mahsa Amini. The 22-year-old died while in police custody in Tehran after being detained for allegedly wearing a head scarf improperly.

The incident ignited anger across the country, prompting tens of thousands -- led by women and students -- to take to the streets demanding more freedoms. The harsh response by security agents has intensified the protests, with many calling for Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khameni to step down.

So far, Iranian authorities have executed at least seven protesters, including the three on May 19.

Human rights activist Mohammadi said the government "is exacting revenge on the revolutionary movement in a brutal way by executing and killing people."

"Iran of 2023 is not Iran of the 1980s. If the purpose of executions in the 80s was to create fear, horror, and suppress different currents and trends, the recent executions will have the opposite effect," she said.

The Norway-based Iran Human Rights group says that so far this year at least 275 people have been executed in Iran, including at least 90 in the last three weeks, making May the "bloodiest month" in the country in the last five years.

Labor activist Gholian, arrested earlier this month for publicly criticizing Ali Khamenei shortly after she had been released from prison after serving , said during the gathering of political activists: "Our mission is now clearer. They will leave before all the oil wells run out. We will passionately dance in our homeland."

Vida Rabbani, Nasrin Khazri Javadi, Shakila Manfred, Zohreh Sarv, and Mahvash Shahriari were other prominent political prisoners who participated in the gathering inside the prison.

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

Activists Say Iran's 'Eye Victims' Under Government Pressure With Arrests

Heresh Naqshbandi (left) and Amir Valayat (right) both lost an eye after being shot in the face by security agents during nationwide protests. Now they are both under arrest.

Two Iranian protesters known as "eye victims" have been arrested in what rights activists say is a campaign by authorities to silence those who have been shot in the face by security agents during months of unrest over the death of a young woman while in police custody for an alleged violation of the country's hijab law.

Human rights activists announced on May 23 that Amir Valayati and Heresh Naqshbandi, two protesters who each lost an eye to government forces' pellet guns during the recent nationwide protests, had been arrested.

Among the thousands arrested since the death in September of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, an unknown number of protesters have been blinded by security forces after being shot in the face. The New York TImes has estimated some 500 young Iranians were were treated in Tehran hospitals after suffering such injuries in the first three months of the protests alone.

Iranwire, which documents human rights abuses in Iran, says it has confirmed some 580 cases of blinding in Tehran and the province of Kurdistan alone, "but the actual numbers across the country are much higher."

The victims say they were purposely singled out before being wounded, with some claiming security forces smiled before shooting them in the face.

The government and senior security officials have rejected the accusations.

Reports indicate that Valayati was taken into custody on May 18 following a raid on his home by government forces.

Valayati, a hairdresser, lost an eye when he was shot with a pellet gun by security forces during the second week of the nationwide protests. Valayati was demonstrating in the Narmak district of Tehran with friends at the time of the incident.

Despite the injury, Valayati has continued to post protest-related content on his Instagram account in recent months. He was arrested again while undergoing treatment for his injury, having already had two operations with another scheduled in the following months.

The opposition activist collective 1500tasvir reported the arrest of theater actor and director Naqshbandi, who lost an eye in a similar way during the protests. He was taken into custody last week, and 1500tasvir said his family has yet to be given any information regarding his condition and whereabouts.

The pressure campaign, activists said, is being extended to the families of the "eye victims" as well.

The Instagram account Eyes for Freedom, which follows stories of eye injury victims, reported last week that the brother of Parsa Ghobadi, a protester who lost both his eyes during the unrest, had been arrested.

Vahid Abbasi Peyani, who lost an eye during protests in the city of Izeh last November, has also been incarcerated for months at Sheiban prison in the southwestern Iranian city of Ahvaz.

Several similar cases are being reported in other cities as well.

Anger over Amini's death in police custody in September 2022 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.

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

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

Mahsa Amini's Family Accuses Iran's Security Forces Of Vandalizing Her Grave

A photo showing damage to the gravestone of Mahsa Amini, who died in police custody in September.

The family of Mahsa Amini have blamed Iran's security forces for vandalizing the grave of the young woman whose death while in police custody in September 2022 ignited nationwide protests that have turned into one of the biggest threats to the Islamic republic's leadership since it took power in 1979.

The Amini family's attorney, Saleh Nikbakht, told journalists that early on May 21, "individuals, known for such distasteful actions in the past, attacked and destroyed the tomb of Mahsa Amini."

He then showed pictures of the damaged gravesite that he received from Amini's parents. He said Amini's father revealed that authorities had obstructed the installation of a protective canopy over the grave by threatening a welder that, if he carried out the work, his business would be closed. He did not show any evidence, however, that specifically linked any security officials to the damage.

Mojgan Eftekhari, Amini's mother, had alerted the public to the desecration of her daughter's grave and said she also was upset about the closure of the entrance and exit to the cemetery by officials.

"Please refrain from disturbing the people; their loved ones are here," she wrote in a statement addressing government officials who she said were hindering access to the site.

Ashkan Amini, Mahsa Amini's brother, shared a picture of his sister's grave on Instagram, writing that "even the glass of your tombstone bothers them," referring to Iranian officials whom the family and supporters blame for Amini's death on September 16 in Tehran.

Amini's brother said this was the second time his sister's burial site was destroyed, defiantly stating: "No matter how many times they break it, we will fix it. Let's see who gets tired first."

Mahsa Amini, 22, from the western Iranian city of Saqez, died during her arrest by morality police on a family trip to the Iranian capital. The incident triggered a wave of protests that rapidly swept the nation.

In October 2022, Nikbakht, along with his colleague, Ali Rezaei, took charge of the Amini family's security and filed a lawsuit on behalf of Mahsa's parents against those implicated in her death. To date, the Islamic republic's officials and the judiciary have yet to address the complaint.

The Norway-based Iran Human Rights group says the unrest has led to the deaths of at least 587 individuals, including dozens of children and teenagers.

Additionally, many have lost their sight due to the use of pellet guns by security forces, and at least seven arrested protesters have been executed by the Islamic republic's judiciary.

Iranian government forces have been accused of attacking and destroying the resting places of killed and executed protesters, cultural figures, poets, writers, artists, critical political forces, and even Baha'i citizens, and in some instances, Christians.

In 2020, Amnesty International reported that officials, by concealing burial sites, inhibiting mourning ceremonies, and preventing families from installing tombstones or decorating their relatives' graves with flowers, pictures, badges, or memorial messages, are violating these families' rights and Article 15 of the International Covenant On Economic, Social And Cultural Rights.

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

Dissident Ghadyani Says Iran May Be Ripe For Revolution Amid Executions

Iranian dissident Abolfazl Ghadyani (file photo)

Abolfazl Ghadyani, a prominent Islamic revolutionary-turned-dissident, says that Iran may be ripe for a revolution to overthrow the Islamic leadership as anger turns to rage over the execution of protesters, oppressive policies, and poor living standards.

The 78-year-old Ghadyani, a senior member of the reformist party the Mojahedin of the Islamic Revolution of Iran Organization, said in a published statement on May 22 that the most peaceful path for political change in Iran would require Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to "willingly resign, ask for national forgiveness, and make way for a democratic system of governance."

He added, however, that the likelihood of this was nearly impossible given the nature of totalitarian leadership and previous historical trends.

"Let [Khamenei] out of the way of the nation so that the people can hold a free referendum to restore the system," said Ghadyani, who is known for his close ties to prominent opposition figure Mir Hossein Mosavi.

"Let them implement their wish, which I believe is a secular democratic republic system based on human rights, and start rebuilding the country."

Ghadyani said the recent executions of three young protesters -- Saleh Mirhashemi, Saeed Yaqoubi, and Majid Kazemi -- were further evidence of Khamenei's 'tyrannical rule' and that such crimes serve only to harden public resolve to bring about change.

In the face of steady protests around the country since 22-year-old Mahsa Amini's death in custody for a dress-code offense last September, Iranian authorities have warned of harsh penalties for participants in the unrest.

Several protesters have been condemned to death and at least seven of those convicted after what rights groups have called "sham trials," have been executed, including the three young men last week.

A harsh critic of Khamenei, Ghadyani has been summoned repeatedly and imprisoned by Iranian authorities. He has published multiple letters and notes critical of Khamenei in recent years.

Ghadyani also made headlines recently when he announced he was refusing to honor a summons to the Tehran Revolutionary Court because it lacked legal legitimacy.

He has also accused Khamenei of being behind a wave of suspicious illnesses striking mainly girls at schools. Some have accused the government of releasing poisonous gas in schools as retribution for the role young women and students have played in the "Woman, Life, Freedom" protest movement.

Tens of thousands of Iranians -- led by women and students -- have joined protests since Amini's death in September 2022 calling for authorities to respect their human rights and women's rights.

Many have blamed Khamenei for Amini's death and the deaths of protesters at the hands of security forces, who have cracked down brutally on public expressions of frustration.

More than 500 people have been killed in the 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

Iranian President Replaces Chief Of Powerful Security Council

Ali Akbar Ahmadian is now the secretary of the Supreme National Security Council in Iran.

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi has removed Ali Shamkhani as the head of the powerful Supreme National Security Council and replaced him with Ali Akbar Ahmadian, a former chief of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) who has been under sanctions from the United Nations, the European Union, and the United States for more than a decade.

"Ali Akbar Ahmadian was appointed as the secretary of the Supreme National Security Council by the decree of the president," the official presidential website reported on May 22.

The leadership overhaul comes amid reports that the 67-year-old Shamkhani, a reformist who held the post as head of the Supreme National Security Council for almost a decade, was linked to dual-national ex-official Alireza Akbari, who was executed in January for allegedly spying for the United Kingdom.

Shamkhani, who had also previously served as an IRGC commander, was a leading figure in helping Iran rebuild ties with some Persian Gulf states, including the negotiation of an agreement in March to reestablish relations with Saudi Arabia after years of hostility that threatened to boil over and disrupt stability in the region.

Ali Shamkhani
Ali Shamkhani

Ahmadian, whom the Middle East Institute once referred to as Iran's "most palatable" official, was the head of the strategic center of the IRGC before his appointment as head of the Supreme National Security Council.

No reason for the change was given, but a day earlier, Raisi gave a major speech to a government meeting emphasizing the need "to improve the level of relations and expand interactions with Muslim, neighboring, and aligned countries."

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei also stressed last week that flexibility in foreign policy was needed "when necessary" to overcome any obstacles.

EU Foreign Ministers Debate New Russia Sanctions

The Russian invasion of Ukraine is set to preoccupy European Union foreign ministers on May 22 at a meeting in Brussels with new sanctions under discussion. EU capitals are yet to agree on new punitive measures on Russia that aim to crack down on sanctions evasion via countries outside of the bloc like Kazakhstan, Armenia, and the United Arab Emirates. Hungary has also threatened to block the latest round of sanctions over the inclusion of the country's largest bank, OTP, in the list of potential targets. New sanctions are to be adopted on Iran over the regime's crackdown on anti-government demonstrations.

Iran Executes Man Convicted Of Being Leader Of Sex-Trafficking Gang

Amnesty International said in its annual report on the death penalty released on May 16 that the number of recorded executions in Iran soared from 314 in 2021 to 576 in 2022.

Iran’s judicial authority announced it has executed the purported head of a gang that trafficked Iranian girls and women to neighboring countries. The man, identified as Shahruz Sakhnuri, was executed on May 20 for “the crime of human trafficking for the purpose of prostitution.” He had been detained in Malaysia in 2020 and extradited to Iran. He was convicted in September 2021. In 2017, the U.S. State Department added Iran to its list of countries that fails to combat human trafficking. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.

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