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Who Will Iranian-Americans Vote For?

Iranian women hold an anti-American poster bearing a cartoon of U.S. President Barack Obama outside the former U.S. Embassy in Tehran on November 2.
Iranian women hold an anti-American poster bearing a cartoon of U.S. President Barack Obama outside the former U.S. Embassy in Tehran on November 2.
On election day in the United States, Portland-based journalist Goudarz Eghtedari will abstain from voting; D.C.-based businessman Shahriar Etminani will cast his vote for Republican candidate Mitt Romney; and California-based attorney Mike Kazemi will vote for the Democratic incumbent, Barack Obama.

The three differ when it comes to who they think should be the next president of the United States, but they share one thing in common -- all are Iranian-Americans who moved to the United States shortly before or after the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

They are among the estimated 1.5 million Iranians who live in the United States, and their votes tell a lot about how one of the campaign's major foreign-policy issues has played out among the relatively small, but significant, voting bloc.

For many Iranian-Americans, how the next administration deals with Tehran is a key determinant of how they will cast their ballots on November 6.

Both Obama and Romney say that Iran's possession of a nuclear weapon is not an option. And both candidates have said that military strikes aimed at curbing Iran's controversial nuclear activities should be a last resort.

But the differences between the two candidates when it comes to Iranian nukes are in the details.

Obama has said that as long as he is president, Iran will not obtain a nuclear weapon, while Romney has emphasized that a "nuclear-capable Iran" is unacceptable, even if it doesn't actually possess the weapon.

Obama has touted his role in implementing "the strongest sanctions against Iran in history" in an effort to persuade Tehran to abandon its controversial nuclear program. The sanctions are widely believed to have crippled the Iranian economy and facilitated the collapse of the national currency.

U.S. President Barack Obama (right) and Republican candidate Mitt Romney largely agree on the broad issues of Iranian policy.
U.S. President Barack Obama (right) and Republican candidate Mitt Romney largely agree on the broad issues of Iranian policy.
Meanwhile, Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, has said that he would have put harsh sanctions in place earlier and has pledged that, if elected, he would further tighten the sanctions.

'We Haven't Engaged'

For journalist Eghtedari, neither candidate is pursuing an Iran policy that would win his vote. He says it is painful to watch from afar how the sanctions are harming average Iranian citizens while the country's leaders are left unscathed.

Eghtedari campaigned in 2008 for Obama but is now feeling disillusioned and frustrated with what he describes as a lack of real change in the United States' relationship with Iran.

"We need to really engage them and we haven't engaged them," Eghtedari says. "Engagement is something that Europe did in the 1990s with Iran, [to] be economically involved with them. We have to open up ourselves and get involved so we have a ground place to be able to influence the situation in the country."
Romney has the same policies that have led to the expensive, bloody, and unnecessary war in Iraq and failure in Afghanistan.
California attorney Mike Kazemi

But for businessman Etminani, engaging the Islamic republic is out of the question. He wants to see an uprising that would bring the regime down.

His vote for Romney is very much determined by the U.S. reaction to the mass street protests that followed the disputed reelection of Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad. Obama initially said the United States was troubled by the violence that accompanied the protests. Later, he condemned the beating and imprisonment of protesters.

Etminani believes Obama's actions were insufficient. He says Obama decided against offering direct support to the Iranian opposition movement because his administration hoped to negotiate with the Islamic republic and didn't want "to antagonize" the regime.

The next time Iranian people rise up, Etminani says, he wants to see "tangible help."

"But based on what President Obama has done, it’s pretty much guaranteed that he will not do that because he's made zero indications that he is willing to do that," Etminani says. "So you have a chance of zero or a small possibility. Based on the last three years, I think it is more likely that Governor Romney will take that route than President Obama would."

Step Backward

Attorney Kazemi disagrees. He believes that Obama's policies toward Iran have been relatively effective in raising the heat on the regime and backing it into a corner.

He would view a Romney presidency as a step backward.

"Governor Romney has the same policies that have led to the expensive, bloody, and unnecessary war in Iraq and failure in Afghanistan," Kazemi says.

Kazemi believes if Romney were elected the chances of war with Iran would likely increase.
We need to really engage them and we haven't engaged them.
Journalist Goudarz Eghtedari

"I believe that war would be a silly approach or outright stupid because it is, on the one hand, exactly what the regime in Iran desires," Kazemi says. "Because as soon as the bomb drops, that would lead to some kind of consolidation of their power and further suppression of the [opposition] movement in Iran under the banner of national security and national interests."

A 2011 survey by the Public Affairs Alliance of Iranian Americans (PAAIA), which polls the Iranian-American community, found that there had been a significant decline in the diaspora's opinion of Obama when it came to his handling of Iran. Despite this, however, 55 percent of Iranian-Americans indicated that they were inclined to vote for Obama in the 2012 election.

And while the United States' Iran policy is a key issue for Iranian-Americans, U.S. domestic issues such as the economy are also likely to play a determining factor in their vote.

Differences In Voting Patterns

Morad Ghorban, director of government affairs and policy at PAAIA, says the 2009 Iranian election and its aftermath led to a spike in the interest of the Iranian-American community in Iran and the U.S. policy toward Iran.

The situation appears to have changed since.

"When we asked the same question again in 2011, those numbers have basically evened out with each other so about half say domestic issues are the most important, the other half say Iran-U.S. related issues are the most important issue."

Maboud Ansari, a professor of sociology at William Paterson University in New Jersey, says there is a difference in the voting preferences of first- and second-generation Iranian-Americans.

"It seems that the second-generation Iranians, who make up about half of the Iranian-American community, will vote for Obama because of job security and also because he didn't pursue a war policy," Ansari says. "The second-generation Iranian-Americans are in favor of creative diplomacy."

Ansari, who has authored several books on Iranian-Americans, says the vote of first-generation Iranian-Americans is likely to be divided, with some voting Republican and others for Obama because of his health-care policies.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Iranian Rapper Rearrested Less Than Two Weeks After Release From Prison

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

With reporting by AP

Iranian Judge At Wushu Championships Takes Stand By Shunning Head Scarf

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

With reporting by AP

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Watchful Eye Of 'Morality'

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cause For Dismissal?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Iran Hangs Teenage Boy Convicted Of Murder, Rights Groups Say

Iran has seen a surge in executions this year, drawing widespread condemnation, with critics saying many judgments are rushed through the judiciary while "sham" trials and forced confessions are routine.
Iran has seen a surge in executions this year, drawing widespread condemnation, with critics saying many judgments are rushed through the judiciary while "sham" trials and forced confessions are routine.

Iran has executed a 17-year-old boy who had been tried and convicted of murder, the Norway-based Hengaw and Iran Human Rights (IHR) groups said. IHR said the execution of Hamidreza Azari took place on November 24. "It is important to note that in his previously aired forced confession and state media report, his age was given as 18," the IHR said. It quoted the Tasnim news agency as saying the youth was convicted in an alleged "honor" killing. Iran has seen a surge in executions this year, drawing widespread condemnation, with critics saying many judgments are rushed through the judiciary while "sham" trials and forced confessions are routine.

Five Dead, Four Injured In Avalanche In Western Iran

The group began their expedition on November 23 despite warnings by local authorities about a possible avalanche risk.
The group began their expedition on November 23 despite warnings by local authorities about a possible avalanche risk.

Five people were killed and four injured in an avalanche on western Iran's Oshtrankuh Mountain, state media reported. The bodies of five climbers were found by rescuers near the 4,150-meter San Boran peak, located some 300 kilometers southwest of Tehran. Four other climbers were rescued and taken to hospital. The nine-member team consisted of two climbers from Melair, a city in Hamadan Province, and seven from the cities of Borujerd and Durood in Lorestan Province. The group began their expedition on November 23 despite warnings by local authorities about a possible avalanche risk. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Radio Farda, click here.

Iran 'Secretly Executes' Man Convicted Of Killing Member Of Security Forces

Milad Zohrevand (undated photo)
Milad Zohrevand (undated photo)

Iran has secretly executed a man convicted of killing a member of the security forces during mass protests that swept the country last year, the Norway-based Hengaw organization said on November 23. Milad Zohrevand, 21, was executed at dawn in a prison in the western city of Hamadan, the rights group said. Zohrevand received no prior notification that his execution was imminent and was not granted a final meeting with his family, the group added. It was the eighth execution carried out in cases related to protests that erupted after the death of Mahsa Amini in morality-police custody.

Students At Tehran's Beheshti University Strike Over Tightened Measures Limiting Freedoms

Psychology students hold a strike in Tehran's Beheshti University on November 21.
Psychology students hold a strike in Tehran's Beheshti University on November 21.

Students from the Psychology Department of Tehran’s Beheshti University staged a strike on November 21, marking a significant escalation in ongoing student-led protests against increased security measures on campuses across the country and stricter enforcement of the mandatory hijab law.

Students said the strike was a response to incidents where masked individuals, alongside university security forces, reportedly entered classrooms on November 20 and confiscated the IDs of female students who were not wearing the hijab, or Islamic head scarf.

Eyewitness accounts indicate that the security personnel, whose identities and affiliations remain unclear, specifically targeted female students whose scarves had slipped from their heads, confiscating their student identification cards during lectures.

The strike mirrors a growing trend of student activism across Iran, most notably at the Tarbiat Modares University, where students boycotted classes to protest against what they say are the repressive tactics of the university's security forces.

Student activists have highlighted the increasingly oppressive atmosphere within Iranian universities since the start of the new academic year. This includes widespread summonses issued by intelligence and security agencies, disciplinary actions, temporary suspensions, and even expulsions of students and faculty members.

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

Over the years, the authorities have arrested student activists and leaders, sentencing them to prison and banning them from studying.

The activist HRANA news agency says at least 700 university students have been arrested during the nationwide protests sparked by the September 2022 death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini while in police custody for allegedly breaking the country's hijab rule.

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

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

Iranian Activist Says Judiciary Switches Suspended Sentence To Prison Time For Refusing Amnesty

Atefeh Chaharmahalian, Iranian poet and dissident, is going to prison-- 21 Nov 2023
Atefeh Chaharmahalian, Iranian poet and dissident, is going to prison-- 21 Nov 2023

Iranian poet and civil rights activist Atefeh Chaharmahalian says Iran's judiciary has ordered her previously suspended prison sentence to be executed, meaning she now faces spending the rest of her two-year, eight-month penalty behind bars.

Chaharmahalian, once a member of the Iranian Writers' Association's Board of Secretaries, was initially detained in October 2022 during the "Women, Life, Freedom" protests in Tehran and held in the notorious Evin prison's Ward 209.

Chaharmahalian announced via Instagram that her lawyer, Saeedeh Hosseinzadeh, has been informed of the decision to enforce the full term of her imprisonment, which she attributes to her refusal to accept an amnesty from Iran’s leader and her commitment to writing and defending people's rights.

"I neither accepted an amnesty -- I'd never consider writing and defending people's rights as a crime that requires an amnesty -- nor put down the pen," she wrote.

In February 2023, state media reported that Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei issued an amnesty for "tens of thousands" of prisoners, including protesters arrested during the anti-government rallies sparked by the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini while in police custody after allegedly breaking the law on the mandatory Islamic head scarf, or hijab.

Many lawyers, human rights activists, imprisoned protesters, and former political prisoners have dismissed the amnesty decree as an empty gesture aimed at quelling a wave of dissent that has rocked the country for more than a year.

Since the widely publicized issuance of the decree, which resulted in the release of several political and civil prisoners, a number have been rearrested and are now facing fresh charges.

PEN America’s 2022 Freedom To Write Index put Iran second only to China in the number of the detained writers and artists at 57. The result was worse than the previous year, when Iran ranked fourth globally.

In a related incident, the activist HRANA news agency reported that film editor Fatima Zahraei has been given a two-year suspended prison sentence by Tehran's Islamic Revolutionary Court.

Zahraei was arrested on October 29 during the funeral of 17-year-old Armita Garavand, who had succumbed a day earlier to injuries suffered in an alleged confrontation with Iran's morality police in the Tehran subway over a head-scarf violation.

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

Garavand's case, and suggestions of a cover-up by the authorities over what transpired in the teen's last living moments, have drawn parallels with the events leading up to the death of Amini, which was also shrouded in mystery.

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

U.S. Concerned Iran May Provide Ballistic Missiles To Russia For Use In Ukraine

An Iranian Khorramshahr ballistic missile called Khaibar with a range of 2,000 kilometers is launched at an undisclosed location.
An Iranian Khorramshahr ballistic missile called Khaibar with a range of 2,000 kilometers is launched at an undisclosed location.

White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby has voiced concern that Iran may provide Russia with ballistic missiles for use in its war against Ukraine. Iran already has been providing drones, guided aerial bombs, and artillery ammunition and may be preparing “to go a step further in its support for Russia,” Kirby said on November 21, noting a meeting in September in which Iran hosted Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu to show off a range of ballistic-missile systems. Kirby told reporters that in return for ballistic missile support, Russia has offered Tehran “unprecedented defense cooperation.”

Inmate Backs Up Claim Iranian Rapper Yasin Has Been Tortured, Faced Mock Execution In Prison

Iranian rapper Saman Yasin has detailed harrowing accounts of physical and psychological torture he says he has endured since being taken into custody.
Iranian rapper Saman Yasin has detailed harrowing accounts of physical and psychological torture he says he has endured since being taken into custody.

Ahmadreza Haeri, a political prisoner in Iran's Qezelhesar Prison, has backed up claims that fellow inmate dissident rapper Saman Yasin had been tortured, saying the artist was put through a mock execution by prison guards even though his death sentence was quashed and a new trial ordered in his case.

Yasin was arrested by security forces during nationwide protests in October 2022.

The judiciary's news agency said the rapper had been accused of "waging war against God," a charge that came with a death sentence from the Tehran Revolutionary Court when it found him guilty. However, Yashin appealed to the Supreme Court, which in December 2022 accepted his argument and referred his case back to the Revolutionary Court, where a retrial was to be held in May.

However, the retrial has yet to occur and he has been awaiting his court session without access to a lawyer.

In a letter obtained by RFE/RL’s Radio Farda, Haeri describes how Yasin was taken from his cell in Tehran's notorious Evin Prison last year, told to write his last wishes, and then blindfolded and handcuffed to the gallows. A guard said that since he is "young," they would "throw the rope crookedly so that his neck breaks instantly and he does not suffer."

However, after receiving a phone call, the guards informed Yasin that he was given another chance for "cooperation" and would not be executed at that time.

In an audio file released by the Kurdistan Human Rights Network on August 23, Yasin detailed harrowing accounts of physical and psychological torture he says he has endured since being taken into custody. He also says prison officials threatened to harm his family if he didn't admit to being involved in the shooting of a paramilitary officer during the protests.

In the audio clip Yasin said he was transferred to the Amin Abad Psychiatric Hospital, tied to a bed, and drugged.

"I was forcibly tied to the hospital bed by some prison guards and prison personnel. My hands were handcuffed and my feet were bound. I was given an injection in the arm and I was unconscious for 24 hours," he said.

Haeri's letter also reveals the tragic consequences of these events on Yasin's family. Following the communication of the real execution order, Yasin's pregnant wife lost their nearly full-term baby due to stress.

In his concluding remarks, Haeri wrote about the lack of fair legal process, stating that Yasin has not been brought to any court since a “mock trial” last year, and that his lawyer has been denied access to case files, leaving Yasin in a state of uncertainty for over 14 months.

Yasin has consistently maintained his innocence, releasing multiple audio files to publicize his claims. He has also reportedly launched at least one hunger strike in protest.

Since the September 2022 death of Mahsa Amini while in custody after she was detained for allegedly wearing a head scarf improperly, Iranians have protested a lack of rights, with women and schoolgirls making unprecedented shows of support in the biggest threat to the Islamic government since the 1979 revolution.

The judiciary, at the urging of lawmakers, has instituted harsh penalties, including the death sentence, for anyone found guilty of dissent.

Meanwhile, judges have also recently begun sending offenders to psychiatric centers as part of their punishment, a move prominent psychiatry boards in Iran have said is an abuse of judicial authority.

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

Three Iranian Teachers Begin Serving Prison Sentences For Union Activities

Teachers protesing in Iran's Fars Province (file photo)
Teachers protesing in Iran's Fars Province (file photo)

Three Iranian teachers sentenced to imprisonment by the Revolutionary Islamic Court in the southern city of Shiraz for participating in union activities were unexpectedly arrested on November 20 and taken to prison to begin serving their sentences, a move some said was aimed at intimidating educators amid a crackdown over their support for protests for civil rights.

The arrests of Mohammadali Zahmatkesh, Afshin Razmjoui, and Mojgan Bagheri are part of a broader crackdown following the participation of teachers in union gatherings. In June, eight teachers were put on trial at the Shiraz Revolutionary Court for their involvement in such activities. All of them were convicted.

The Iranian Teachers' Union's Coordination Council said in a report that the arrests were made without prior notification. Abdolrazagh Amiri and Zahra Esfandiari, two other educators, were subjected to "two years of house arrest with electronic tagging," as ordered by the Fars Province Judiciary, the union added.

The spate of convictions and the carrying out of sentences are part of a larger pattern of suppression against educators in Iran.

Several protests have been held by teachers over the past year in response to declining living standards, wage arrears, and a lack of welfare support. Labor law in Iran does not recognize the right of workers to form independent unions.

That campaign has been coupled with a wave of repression against educators for their involvement in protests over the past year in support of the Women, Life, Freedom movement, which was triggered by the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini while in custody for an alleged hijab infraction.

According to a report published by the Council in June, "over 250 teachers and cultural union activists have been arrested, imprisoned, dismissed, or exiled" in the past year alone, and "cases have been fabricated against many teachers."

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

Iranian Activist Gets Back Passport, Phone Upon Arrival From Germany

Parastoo Forouhar (file photo)
Parastoo Forouhar (file photo)

Iranian activist Parastoo Forouhar has confirmed to RFE/RL the return of her passport and electronic devices, which were confiscated when she arrived at Tehran airport from Germany last week for a trip to commemorate the anniversary of the death of her parents, who were both vocal critics of Iran's religious leadership.

Forouhar arrived in Tehran on November 15 for the 25th anniversary of the deaths of her parents, Dariush and Parvaneh Forouhar, two political activists who were stabbed to death in their Tehran home on November 21, 1998.

The death of Forouhar's parents was part of a series of extrajudicial killings of dissidents and intellectuals that later came to be known as the "Chain Murders of Iran."

The individuals who confessed to the murders were affiliated with the Intelligence Ministry and admitted that the murders were termed a "physical elimination" of the dissidents as directed by the ministry.

The authorities said the agents responsible for the killings had acted "arbitrarily" but an investigative journalist and activists have suggested that senior officials authorized the killings.

In an interview with Radio Farda, Forouhar said she had never received any official instruction prohibiting her from holding an annual memorial for her parents. No reason was given for the seizure of her passport and phone.

However, she noted that there have been insinuations of "misuse" concerning the memorial ceremonies, rhetoric she said she had faced for the past 25 years. In recent years, she added, the authorities had hindered commemorations by blocking streets leading to their home and trying to intimidate those participating in the ceremony.

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

Iran's Proxies, Partners Flex Weapons-Manufacturing Capabilities In Middle East

 A Lebanese Hizballah fighter holds an Iranian-made antiaircraft missile on the border with Israel.
A Lebanese Hizballah fighter holds an Iranian-made antiaircraft missile on the border with Israel.

Iran's strategy in the Middle East is essentially a take on an old proverb: Give your proxies and partners weapons and you can sustain their battles for a day. Teach them to make weapons and they can fight your enemies for a lifetime.

With Iranian-backed militant groups taking the charge in the Islamic republic's fight against Israel and the United States, Tehran is seeing its effort to help them acquire their own weapons-manufacturing capabilities pay off.

"Iran has established a network of allies and partners throughout the Middle East, from the Huthis in Yemen, to pro-Iranian groups in Iraq, to pro-Iranian groups in Syria, to Hizballah in Lebanon, to Hamas in Gaza," said Samuel Bendett of the Virginia-based Center for Naval Analyses. "And [Tehran] basically feeds some of its technology there directly, or provides kits and parts and other assistance to the local developers from those units, from those groups, and either gives them training in Iran or trains them on their location."

Increasingly, those Tehran-backed militant groups are turning to weapons they have produced themselves, often based on Iranian blueprints or manufactured or assembled with Iran's assistance. "Those groups now have a lot of know-how which was provided to them by Iran," Bendett said. "And they're now using them against the U.S. and its allies in the region."

The Iranian-backed Islamic Resistance Movement -- better known as Hamas and considered a terrorist organization by the United States and the European Union -- utilized a vast array of indigenously produced weapons and employed advanced battlefield tactics during its surprise multipronged attack on Israel on October 7 that left around 1,200 people dead.

The Israeli Defense Forces said they recovered Iranian-manufactured mortars and explosives used by the Palestinian extremist group after the assault, and Israeli military officials have reportedly estimated that up to 10 percent of the weapons used in the attack were made in Iran.

But most were produced or refined by Hamas indigenously in the Gaza Strip, including assault rifles, missiles, rockets, mortars, shells, and ammunition, according to Israeli defense officials.

Some of the at least 19 Iranian proxies and partners in the region that help make up Iran's so-called axis of resistance have also used Iranian-derived or indigenously manufactured weapons built with Tehran's help against Israel as well as U.S. troops based in the region since the Hamas assault.

These militant groups boast varying levels of firepower in their respective arsenals made up of Soviet-era, Russian, Iranian, and indigenously manufactured weapons based on Iranian designs. While Iran denies delivering arms to the groups directly, many of the missiles, rockets, and other weapons are similar to those produced by Iran.

Lebanese Hizballah boasts the most formidable arsenal of projectiles among Tehran's proxies -- including its own manufactured or refitted missiles and rockets. Since October 7, Hizballah has launched hundreds of rockets and missiles at Israel.

The Iranian-backed Huthi rebels in Yemen claim to have launched ballistic and cruise missiles, as well as drones, at Israel. On November 8, the Pentagon announced that a U.S. military surveillance drone was shot down off the coast of Yemen by Huthi forces.

In an apparent response to U.S. support for Israel's retaliatory land invasion and aerial bombardment of the Hamas-run Gaza Strip, Iranian proxies in Iraq and Syria have launched 58 attacks against U.S. forces in the past month, according to the Pentagon.

Tehran has denied involvement in the Hamas attack, and in early November Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei reportedly pressed Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh to silence those calling for Iran and Lebanese Hizballah to join the Israel-Hamas war.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei greets Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh (left) during a meeting in Tehran in 2012.
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei greets Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh (left) during a meeting in Tehran in 2012.

According to sources cited by Reuters, Khamenei said during the meeting with Haniyeh in Tehran that Iran would continue to offer political and moral support but would not directly enter the conflict.

But Iran has publicly boasted about the military aid it has provided to Hamas in recent years. And despite international sanctions and a sea and land blockade on the Gaza Strip that was imposed by Israel and Egypt in 2005, experts say it is clear that Tehran has provided assistance to boost Hamas's fighting capabilities.

Middle East political analyst Ahmed Fouad Alkhatib told RFE/RL that Hamas built up its arsenal by looting weapons from former stockpiles of the Palestinian Authority or illegally purchasing them decades ago from Israeli sources through straw-man sales, smuggling arms and materials across the border with Egypt, and domestically producing drones, rockets, and various munitions.

But there is little evidence that any seaborne smuggling of arms has taken place since Hamas took power in the Gaza Strip in 2007, he said. And the smuggling from Egypt that reached its height after the Egyptian revolution in 2011 declined sharply after the Muslim Brotherhood government there was overthrown in 2013 and has since "been reduced to a trickle."

Nevertheless, Alkhatib said, "the weaponry and the arsenal that Hamas has right now has been building up for over a decade" and benefited from thousands of tons of smuggled arms and materials that could be used to manufacture its own weapons.

"Even if the smuggling stopped, those are still significant and vast enough to offer Hamas and other groups the ability to inflict damage as we saw on October 7 and as we're seeing in their defensive battle with advancing Israeli ground troops," said Alkhatib, a U.S. citizen from Gaza.

Whereas Hamas historically focused on building up a stockpile of rifles and machine guns, he says, it turned its attention to developing kinetic capabilities -- including mines, targeted explosive warheads, improvised explosive devices, anti-tank missiles, and rocket propelled grenades.

Hamas has also invested heavily in developing longer-range rockets and guidance and targeting capabilities as well as a range of unmanned aerial vehicles, including fixed-wing and weaponized commercial-grade drones.

Hamas had a falling out with Tehran, including over the extremist group's support of the Syrian uprising in 2011, Alkhatib says. But Yahya Sinwar, Hamas's leader in Gaza, realigned the organization with Tehran "because they have realized that without Iran, their military capability won't stand a chance in continuing to evolve."

The realignment "with Iran, with the Syrian regime, and certainly with [Lebanese] Hizballah," he added, "are directly related to Hamas's needs and reliance on Iran to procure materials and, more importantly in the era of limited to no smuggling, technologies and know-how to domestically produce [weapons] systems."

Aided by Iranian weapons blueprints and the use of modern digital platforms for remote training, Hamas has learned how to upgrade old rockets and missiles to expand their range and lethality, he said.

Smuggling through tunnels beneath the Egyptian-Gaza border is now a "trickle."
Smuggling through tunnels beneath the Egyptian-Gaza border is now a "trickle."

Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) and Lebanese Hizballah have also been able to remotely teach Hamas fighting tactics and how to develop its massive tunnel network. "And, more importantly, Iran is also teaching Hamas how to use strategic capabilities," Alkhatib said, such as how to integrate drones on the battlefield.

"What was particularly spectacular about the October 7 attack," Alkhatib said, "is that Hamas for the first time demonstrated a combined-arms approach to guerrilla warfare, whereby intelligence was linked with the artillery barrage, was linked with the aerial capabilities of using the paragliders, was linked with the ground troops with the elite forces, with the logistical networks to transport the hostages back to Gaza and to send the attacks in waves with internal operational security.

"This was a qualitative leap forward in Hamas's fighting doctrine. And it could have only been learned and developed through assistance from Iran, broadly, and more specifically, its proxies and its arms in the region such as Hizballah and the IRGC," he added.

Elsewhere in the Middle East, Iran's support for proxies and its involvement in the Syrian civil war now leaves it with a significant number of experienced fighters at the ready for future conflicts.

Alkhatib notes that Iran supported hundreds of thousands of Shi'ite militias and fighters in Iraq and Syria, both to support the government of President Bashar al-Assad in Syria and to combat the Islamic State (IS) extremist group alongside Syrian and Iraqi government forces.

"Now that both have been largely defeated, IS and the Syrian rebels, Iran was left with these powerful, battle-hardened, well-trained, well-organized militias that had nothing to do," Alkhatib said. "And so, they have been recycled and repurposed by the IRGC to further bolster the so-called axis of resistance, and to be used in a potential fight with Israel and the United States."

Iranian Mother's 13-Year Sentence For Protesting Son's Death During Unrest Confirmed

Mahsa Yazdani and her son, Mohammad Javad Zahedi
Mahsa Yazdani and her son, Mohammad Javad Zahedi

An Iranian appeals court has upheld a 13-year prison sentence handed to Mahsa Yazdani, the mother of a young man killed during the last year's nationwide unrest, after being convicted on charges including "propaganda against the system" and "insulting the leader" for comments she made on social media over the killing of her son by government forces.

Meisam Mousavi, Yazdani’s lawyer, confirmed that the sentence was communicated to his client on November 19.

The sentence underscores the Iranian regime's unrelenting stance against criticism related to the protests, which erupted following the death of Mahsa Amini in September 2022. Amini's death, under disputed circumstances while in police custody, sparked widespread outrage and demonstrations against the government's policies, particularly those concerning women's rights and overall freedoms.

Yazdani's son, Mohammad Javad Zahedi, was 20 years old when he was fatally shot by government forces in the northern city of Sari. Following his death, Yazdani expressed her grief on social media, writing, "I am broken, this loss has driven me insane, a curse on the entire regime."

Zahedi was one of hundreds of casualties during protests that erupted following the death of Amini, a 22-year-old woman who had been detained for an alleged head-scarf violation. The Human Rights Activists News Agency says more than 500 people have been killed during the unrest, including 71 minors, as security forces try to stifle widespread dissent.

Tensions between the government and the families of those killed or arrested in the nationwide protests have been on the rise in recent weeks after the first anniversary of the deaths of many protesters, as well as Amini.

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

The treatment of the victims' graves has added to the families' anguish. Gravesites, including that of Amini, have been repeatedly vandalized, an act that further highlights the government's attempts to suppress dissent and control the narrative surrounding the protests.

International human rights organizations, including Amnesty International, have condemned Iran's actions.

Diana Eltahawy, Amnesty International's deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa, criticized the Iranian authorities' efforts to obstruct justice and exacerbate the suffering of the families of the deceased, describing their actions as having "no bounds."

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

Iranian Rapper Toomaj Salehi, Jailed For Supporting Amini Protests, Released On Bail

Iranian rapper Toomaj Salehi had been charged with spreading propaganda against the Iranian state. His lyrics have criticized the Islamic regime for its domestic and foreign policies.
Iranian rapper Toomaj Salehi had been charged with spreading propaganda against the Iranian state. His lyrics have criticized the Islamic regime for its domestic and foreign policies.

A popular Iranian rapper has been released on bail after spending more than a year in jail for supporting a wave of antigovernment protests sparked by the death in custody of Masha Amini.

Toomaj Salehi, 32, posted on X, formerly known as Twitter, on November 18 that he had been freed the same day that the country’s Supreme Court, responding to an appeal, found “flaws in the original sentence” and ordered his release.

The court returned the case to the lower court.

Salehi was sentenced to six years and three months in prison in July on a charge of “corruption on Earth,” which is one of the most serious offenses in Iran’s Islamist system and carries a possible death sentence.

He was acquitted of the charge of “insulting the founder of the Islamic revolution and leadership and communicating with hostile governments.”

After a closed-door trial, the court also ordered Salehi be barred from producing any music or performing for two years after his release.

He had been arrested in October 2022 after making public statements in support of the protests that had erupted the previous month. The protests were triggered by the death in custody of 22-year-old Amini, who had been detained by the so-called morality police for alleged violations of the country’s strict Islamic dress code. He spent much of his pretrial detention in solitary confinement.

Iranian authorities dismissed the widespread protests as riots instigated by foreign governments. Hundreds of people were killed and thousands arrested by security agents in a brutal crackdown.

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

Salehi, 33, has gained prominence for his lyrics that rail against corruption, widespread poverty, state executions, and the killing of protesters in Iran. His songs also point to a widening gap between ordinary Iranians and the country’s leadership, accusing authorities of "suffocating" the people without regard for their well-being.

Iranian Politician Close To Khamenei Warns Against Gaza Involvement

Smoke billows during an Israeli bombardment of the Gaza Strip on November 18.
Smoke billows during an Israeli bombardment of the Gaza Strip on November 18.

Iran shouldn't become involved in the war in the Gaza Strip, a prominent Iranian politician cautioned in Tehran on November 18 in remarks to the Etemad newspaper. "Those in Iran who want to enter the Gaza war should know that this is precisely what the Zionist regime wants," Gholam Ali Hadad Adel said, using Iranian terms for Israel. Iranian participation in the conflict would lead to war with the United States, Hadad Adel said. In a war of this kind, Israel would be on "the safe side," he said. Hadad Adel is seen as part of the ultraconservative grouping in Iran and sits on a council that advises Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.

Iranian Nobel Laureate Mohammadi Again In Hospital

Nobel Peace Prize winner Narges Mohammadi (file photo)
Nobel Peace Prize winner Narges Mohammadi (file photo)

Prominent Iranian human rights activist and Nobel Prize laureate Narges Mohammadi, who is incarcerated in Tehran’s Evin prison, has been taken for a second time in 10 days to a hospital amid a protracted legal and health battle.

The decision, announced on Mohammadi's Instagram account, came a day after officials blocked the move to a hospital because of her refusal to wear a compulsory hijab, or Islamic head scarf. The authorities' stance has sparked wide-scale protests from her fellow inmates and supporters.

Medical tests conducted on November 8 revealed critical health concerns, including the blockage of two heart arteries and severe complications, such as fluid accumulation around the heart and esophageal inflammation. She was subsequently taken back to prison.

In the post on Instagram, Mohammadi's relatives, who run the account, said the 2023 Nobel Peace Prize winner was to have further treatment for her heart.

For several weeks, Mohammadi required medical attention outside the prison but was denied a transfer due to her persistent refusal to conform to compulsory hijab rules. In response, Mohammadi embarked on a hunger strike, escalating her protest against the prison authorities' decision.

Under increasing international pressure, the Iranian judiciary relented, allowing Mohammadi's transfer to a medical facility. In a defiant statement on her Instagram on November 9, Mohammadi announced that her transfer to the hospital occurred "without a scarf and in a coat and skirt," signaling an end to her hunger strike.

A similar scenario played out this week when she was again -- at least initially -- kept from transferring to a hospital over the hijab.

Renowned globally as a staunch advocate for the "Women, Life, Freedom" movement, Mohammadi was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize on October 6.

For years, Mohammadi has voiced dissent against the obligatory hijab rule imposed on Iranian women, as well as restrictions on women's freedoms and rights in the country by its Islamic regime.

Mohammadi’s husband, Taghi Rahmani, said last week that the Nobel award had ratcheted up pressure on Mohammadi from officials, with some citing her statements as grounds for indictment.

He also noted Mohammadi's steadfast refusal to revert to wearing the mandatory hijab, a stance reinforced since the "Woman, Life, Freedom" protests began after the September 2022 death of Mahsa Amini.

The 22-year-old died while in the custody of Tehran's notorious morality police. They had detained her for an alleged head scarf violation.

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

Iran Releases Rights Lawyer Sotoudeh From Prison

Iranian lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh (file photo)
Iranian lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh (file photo)

After spending more than two weeks in detention, prominent Iranian human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh has been temporarily released, her husband said in a post on social media.

In the November 15 announcement on X, formerly Twitter, Reza Khandan posted a photograph capturing the moment of Sotoudeh's release. She was not wearing a head scarf in the photo.


Sotoudeh was detained on October 29 during the funeral of 17-year-old Armita Garavand, who succumbed a day earlier to injuries suffered in an alleged confrontation with Iran's morality police in the Tehran subway over a head-scarf violation.

Along with Sotoudeh, several others, including Manzar Zarabi, a mother advocating for justice over the January 2020 downing of a Ukrainian plane by Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, was arrested. Reports indicate that Zarabi was released on October 30.

Sotoudeh has been a vocal advocate for numerous activists detained by the Islamic republic. Her career, marked by several arrests since 2010, has seen her endure periods of solitary confinement, highlighting the challenges faced by human rights defenders in Iran.

Radio Farda reported on November 6 that, following Sotoudeh's arrest, she faces a new legal battle with the opening of a case against her, comprising four charges in total, including allegations of "assembly and collusion with the intent to disrupt national security, propaganda against the government, disturbing public order, and disobeying police orders."

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

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

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

Garavand's case, and suggestions of a cover-up by the authorities over what transpired in the teen's last living moments, have drawn parallels with the events leading up to the death of Amini, which was also shrouded in mystery.

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

Iranian Rights Lawyer Sotoudeh Released From Prison After Posting Bail, Husband Says

Nasrin Sotoudeh
Nasrin Sotoudeh

Prominent Iranian human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh has been released from prison, her husband said on X, formerly known as Twitter. Sotoudeh was released on November 15 after posting bail, said Reza Khandan. Sotoudeh began a hunger and medication strike late last month after being severely beaten during her arrest. Khandan told RFE/RL then that his wife embarked on the strike after she was detained during the funeral of Armita Garavand, who succumbed to injuries suffered in an alleged confrontation with Iran's morality police in the Tehran subway over an alleged head-scarf violation.

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