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Poisonings Put Spotlight On Iran’s Alcohol Problem

Iranian police throw away confiscated beer cans in Tehran in 2009.

Mass alcohol poisoning and related deaths have exposed an alcohol problem in the Islamic republic, where a ban introduced following the 1979 revolution has failed to prevent Iranians from drinking.

Ninety-two people were poisoned, four fatally, after drinking in Sirjan in the southern province of Kerman, Iranian media reported on July 23.

Details relating to the poisonings, including whether they are related, were unclear, but Kerman Province judiciary official Yadollah Movahed told ISNA news agency that authorities are working to identify and arrest those behind the distribution of the alcohol.

He said that "48 people are hospitalized, three of them are in critical condition, and 30 of them are undergoing dialysis."

He added that, "due to the sensitivity of the case and the damage to society’s psychological peace," the case investigation will be expedited.

Drinking alcohol is forbidden in Iran and punishable by flogging and fines. Repeated offenders can face the death penalty.

Yet, many Iranians do drink. They either buy smuggled foreign alcoholic beverages that tend to be very expensive, or they drink cheap domestic hooch -- usually made from raisins -- called araq sagi. Christians are exempted from the ban, and are allowed to possess alcohol for personal use.

In recent years, official warnings about the spread of alcohol consumption and alcoholism have increased.

There’s been also increased media reports about deaths from homemade alcohol. In 2013, for example, seven people died in the southern city of Rafsanjan and dozens were hospitalized after drinking homemade alcohol.

'200,000 Alcoholics'

Last September, Mohsen Roshanpajooh, a deputy on drug use and prevention at the state Welfare Organization, was quoted by the Iranian news site Fararu.com that his organization had found that alcohol consumption in Iran was higher than expected.

"Due to Islamic and legal considerations, the rate of alcohol consumption was expected to be lower, but alcohol use is higher in the country than our expectations,” he said, without offering specific data.

In 2014, Iranian media reported that the country’s first center for the treatment of alcoholics had been opened in the capital, Tehran.

The head of Iran’s health ministry department focusing on drug use, Alireza Norouzi, later said that the ministry planned to set up 150 centers for outpatient alcohol rehabilitation. RFE/RL was unable to independently determine if the plans had been realized.

Iran’s police chief Esmail Ahmadi Moghadam said in 2013 that an estimated 200,000 Iranians were alcoholics, according to Mehr news.

Due to the official stigma, the real number of alcoholics could be higher.

Deputy Health Minister Ali Akbar Sayari was quoted by RFE/RL’s Radio Farda as saying in 2015 that every year 420 million liters of alcohol are consumed in Iran.

Prosecutor Abbas Ali Jafari said last year that over the course of 10 months, 300,000 bottles of foreign alcohol and about 200,000 liters of locally distilled alcohol had been seized in Tehran.

More News

The Farda Briefing: Experts Raise Questions Over Iran's First 'Hypersonic' Missile

Iran unveiled what it described as its first domestically made hypersonic ballistic missile on June 6, claiming it can travel up to 15 times the speed of sound.

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

Iran unveiled what it described as its first domestically made hypersonic ballistic missile on June 6, claiming it can travel up to 15 times the speed of sound.

Iran’s official news agency, IRNA, posted images of the new Fattah missile. The weapons system was unveiled at a ceremony attended by President Ebrahim Raisi and commanders of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC).

Amirali Hajizadeh, head of the IRGC's aerospace force, claimed the missile has a range of 1,400 kilometers and can reach a speed of 15,500 kilometers per hour. He boasted that the missile is capable of evading any anti-missile defense system.

Western military experts say Iran sometimes exaggerates figures for the capabilities of its weapons.

Why It Matters: Iran has been expanding its missile program in recent years, with Tehran believed to have the largest and most diverse ballistic missile arsenal in the Middle East.

The United States and Israel see Iran’s missile program as a threat to the region, warning the missiles could be used to carry nuclear weapons. Iran has said its arsenal is for defense and deterrence purposes only.

Experts say the speed and maneuvering capabilities of hypersonic ballistic missiles make them difficult to track and intercept.

But they have raised questions about the capabilities of the Fattah missile.

Fabian Hinz, a research fellow at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, told me it does not appear to be as sophisticated as the hypersonic missiles that the United States and China have developed.

Hinz said the Fattah missile "can do some basic maneuvers, but not for the same amount of time and not as dramatic" as systems developed by other countries.

Jeremie Binnie, a Middle East defense specialist at the global intelligence company Janes, told me there are "questions as to whether it is really capable of accurately hitting its target at the very high speed that has been claimed."

What's Next: The unveiling of the Fattah missile is likely to increase the West's concerns about Iran's missile program.

Only several countries, including the United States, China, and Russia, have developed hypersonic ballistic missiles. Russia is believed to be the only country to have deployed them in combat. North Korea has also claimed it has successfully tested a hypersonic missile.

Hinz said despite its limits the Fattah missile is "another technologically sophisticated element in Iran's strategy of overcoming the ballistic missile defenses" of its regional adversaries.

Stories You Might Have Missed

The former head of Tehran's notorious Evin prison has expressed "shame" over the mass execution of political prisoners at the facility in 1988, in unprecedented comments on Clubhouse. Hossein Mortazavi Zanjani claimed he was not involved in the executions. While some Iranians praised his comments, others questioned his motives.

An Iranian cultural official has been sacked after a viral video showed a man proposing to a woman without a head scarf at the tomb of a celebrated Persian poet. The video shows violations of Iran's harsh morality laws, such as women with their heads uncovered and the man publicly embracing the woman, while a crowd applauds.

What We're Watching

The authorities in Iran appear to be increasing pressure on female university students to adhere to the country’s Islamic dress code.

A local students group reported on June 5 that a significant number of students from Tehran's University of Science and Technology as well as at least 11 professors were summoned during the past week.

The reasons cited were an alleged refusal to comply with mandatory hijab rules and what university authorities termed "inappropriate dress."

Why It Matters: Iran's universities turned into a battleground between the authorities and protesters during the monthslong antiestablishment demonstrations that erupted in September.

The rallies were triggered by the death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old woman who died shortly after she was arrested for allegedly violating the hijab law.

Campuses were often the sites of demonstrations led by students and bloody government crackdowns.

The authorities' ongoing pressure on students could trigger new protests at universities, which have often been at the forefront of the struggle for greater rights and freedoms in the Islamic republic.

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.

Richard Branson Calls For Release From Prison Of Iranian Rapper Salehi

Imprisoned Iranian rapper Toomaj Salehi (file photo)

Billionaire entrepreneur and philanthropist Richard Branson has called for Iranian authorities to release popular rapper Toomaj Salehi, whose health has reportedly deteriorated since he was arrested during Tehran’s clampdown on nationwide anti-government protests in October. "As his life hangs in the balance after 8 months+ of imprisonment and torture, we all must give our voice to him and call for his release," Branson said in a tweet. In November, Iran’s judiciary charged Salehi with spreading “corruption on earth,” a charge that could see him sentenced to death. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Radio Farda, click here.

Iranian Students Say Authorities Ratcheting Up Pressure On Campus Over Dress Code

Iranian universities have become a hotbed for unrest since the death of Mahsa Amini in Tehran in September. (file photo)

Iranian student organizations have reported a significant wave of summonses at the University of Science and Technology in Tehran in a continued tightening of supervision of the dress code after months of unrest sparked by the death of a young woman for allegedly wearing a head scarf improperly.

The country's Student Guild Councils reported on June 5 that, during the past week, a significant number of students from the University of Science and Technology were summoned to the Disciplinary Committee, as well as at least 11 professors. The reasons cited for these summonses ranged from a refusal to comply with mandatory hijab rules to what university authorities have termed "inappropriate dress".

In addition to the summoning of students to the Disciplinary Committee, patrolling security forces have reportedly harassed students under the pretext of the dress code while they are walking on the university campus.

The Student Guild Councils said the intrusion into the lives of students has even extended to the dormitories, where curfew infractions have been cited.

In addition to students, at least 11 professors at the University of Science and Technology have also been summoned by the Faculty Disciplinary Board in recent days. They said they were summoned for signing a statement protesting against "the attacks carried out on schools and female students."

Iranian universities have become a hotbed for unrest since the death of Mahsa Amini in Tehran in September. The 22-year-old died while in police custody for an alleged violation of the country's mandatory head-scarf law.

Police have tried to shift the blame onto Amini's health, but supporters say witnesses saw her being beaten when taken into custody. Her family says she had no history of any medical issues and was in good health.

There have been clashes at universities and schools between protesters and the authorities, prompting security forces to launch a series of raids on education facilities across the country, violently arresting students, especially female students, who have defiantly taken off their head scarves, or hijabs, in protest.

According to a report by the "Committee for Following Up on the Situation of Detainees," since the beginning of the nationwide protests in September 2022, more than 720 students have been arrested, some of whom are still under arrest.

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

Iranian Embassy Reopens In Saudi Capital

A man stands outside the Iranian Embassy in Riyadh, which reopened on June 6. (file photo)

Iran reopened its embassy in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on June 6, Saudi media reported, months after the two regional rivals agreed to end a diplomatic rift under a China-mediated deal. Iran and Saudi Arabia agreed in March to reestablish relations following years of hostility that has endangered stability in the Middle East and fueled regional conflicts including in Yemen, Syria, and Lebanon. The deal was struck seven years after Sunni Saudi Arabia severed relations with Shi'ite Iran following the storming of its embassy in Tehran during a dispute over the execution of a Shi'ite Muslim cleric. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.

Updated

U.S. Levies Sanctions On Iranian, Chinese Companies Over Ballistic Missile Programs

The U.S. Treasury Department said the network of more than a dozen people and entitites conducted transactions and facilitated the procurement of sensitive and critical parts and technology for key actors in Iran’s ballistic missile development. (file photo)

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The United States has sanctioned seven individuals and six entities from Iran, China, and Hong Kong who the U.S. Treasury Department says have helped Tehran get key technology for ballistic missile development.

In a statement on June 6, the department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), accused the individuals and entities of conducting financial transactions facilitating the network to procure parts needed for missile development.

The statement said the six companies sold sensitive centrifuges, metals, and radar materials to key actors in the previously sanctioned Iranian Defense Ministry and Armed Forces Logistics (MODAFL) agency.

The sanctions come as Washington steadily increases pressure on Iran to stop expanding its missile program.

“The United States will continue to target illicit transnational procurement networks that covertly support Iran’s ballistic missile production and other military programs,” said Brian Nelson, undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence.

U.S. State Department spokesman Matthew Miller has called Iran’s development and proliferation of these missiles “a serious threat to regional and international security.”

He told reporters at a briefing late last month that the United States will continue to use a variety of tools, including sanctions, “to counter the further advancement of Iran’s ballistic missile program and its ability to proliferate missiles and related technology to others."

Included in the sanctions are Chinese companies Zhejiang Qingji and Lingoe Process Engineering. Additionally, the director of Zhejiang Qingji and an employee of the company have been personally designated for financial dealings and acting as transport for MODAFL in Iran.

Two other companies, Hong Kong Ke.Do International Trade and the Chinese based Qingdao Zhongrongtong Trade Development, which the Treasury Department said collaborated to sell tens of millions of dollars’ worth of metals for Iranian missile system development.

The Chinese based Beijing Shiny Nights Technology Development Company was also hit with sanctions for acting as a front company for MODAFL to procure electronics for Iranian end-users. The same accusation is levied against Iran’s defense attache in Beijing, Davoud Damghani.

The sanctions freeze all U.S. assets held in any entity’s possession, including U.S. dollar bank accounts at foreign institutions, and bar people in the United States from dealing with the individuals and companies.

With reporting by Reuters and AP

Speculation Rises Over Death Of Iranian Ex-Policewoman After Her Release From Custody

Mansureh Sagvand is said to have died of "cardiac and respiratory arrest," although her friends say they doubt the official report.

A former member of Iran's police force who resigned in protest against the suppression of demonstrators, is said to have died under what colleagues say were suspicious circumstances.

Medical officials in the southwestern Iranian province of Ilam confirmed the death of Mansureh Sagvand, a law student from Abadan who had previously resigned from her collaboration with the Law Enforcement Force.

The official news agency IRNA quoted Seydnour Alimoradi, the head of the pre-hospital emergency department of Ilam University, as saying the cause of Sagvand's death was "cardiac and respiratory arrest".

But friends of Sagvand said they doubted the official report.

Issa Baziar, a civil activist from Abadan living abroad, revealed on his Twitter page that Sagvand, died after being released from detention.

Meanwhile, Sagvand herself had reported a death threat on her Instagram account just hours before she perished, writing: "They scare us with death, as if we are alive. Forever and ever, my life is a sacrifice for the homeland. Long live Iran."

This incident follows numerous reports of "suspicious deaths" during recent nationwide protests sparked by the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini while in police custody for a dress-code offense last September.

The Twitter account "Voice of Shahrivar," which covers protest news, noted that Sagvand was formerly a member of the Law Enforcement Force and that she cut off cooperation with this entity during the recent nationwide protests. She had been in custody for a while, it said, without giving a specific time period.

An Instagram account under the name "Mansoreh Sagvand" featured a picture of her in the uniform of women working in the Law Enforcement Force.

"I am Mansureh Sagvand from Lorestan, I used to work in the honorary police of the Law Enforcement Force of Khorramabad. From now on, I will not have any cooperation with the armed forces and I will proudly stay with my compatriots," the caption read.

Following widespread reactions among Iranian social network users regarding the suspicious death of Sagvand, IRNA dismissed the speculation as "baseless" and attributed the rumors to "opposition media."

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

Iran Showcases What It Says Is First Hypersonic Missile

Aerospace forces' chief Amirali Hajizadeh was quoted as saying the missile had a range of 1,400 kilometers and could reach a speed of 15,500 kilometers per hour.

Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) on June 6 unveiled what it said was the first domestically produced hypersonic ballistic missile amid growing concerns in the West over the country's missile program.

The missile, named Fattah, or Conqueror in Persian, is capable of "penetrating through all missile defense systems," the IRGC's aerospace forces said on June 6, without offering evidence for the claim.

The missile was unveiled during a ceremony attended by IRGC commanders and Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, who also chose the name for the new weapon, state media reported.

"We feel today that a deterrent power has been established," Raisi said at the event. "This power is an anchor of lasting security and peace for the regional countries," he said in footage presented by state media.

Aerospace forces' chief Amirali Hajizadeh, was quoted as saying the missile had a range of 1,400 kilometers and could reach a speed of 15,500 kilometers per hour.

Western military experts say that Iran sometimes give exaggerated figures for the capabilities of its weapons.

Iran has continued to develop ballistic missiles despite U.S. sanctions, arguing that they are for purely defensive and deterrence purposes.

Last month, Iran presented what it said was the fourth generation of its Khorramshahr ballistic missile, called Khaibar, with a range of 2,000 kilometers and a warhead weighing 1,500 kilograms.

Over the past several days, Iran's Ministry of Defense said it was building yet another ballistic missile named "Khyber," which belongs to the Khorramshahr class of ballistic missiles.

In March 2022, Washington imposed sanctions on an Iran-based procurement network of companies for providing assistance to Iran's ballistic-missile program.

Iran's missile program is perceived as a serious threat by Tehran's arch-enemy, Israel, and other U.S.-allied countries in the Persian Gulf region.

With reporting by Reuters and AP

IAEA Chief Calls On Iran To Follow All Nuclear Commitments

IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi attends a news conference during an IAEA board of governors meeting in Vienna on June 5.

Iran has not sufficiently implemented commitments to more transparency regarding its nuclear program, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Rafael Grossi, said in Vienna on June 5. In March, Grossi and the leadership in Tehran had agreed on increased surveillance of nuclear facilities and investigations into formerly secret nuclear sites. Since then only "a fraction of what we envisaged" has been implemented, Grossi said during an IAEA board meeting. The IAEA chief conceded that some surveillance cameras and devices had been installed. "Some progress has been made, but not as much as I had hoped," he said.

In Rare Display Of Defiance, Iranians Dance To Mark Death Of Ruhollah Khomeini

Iranians dance ahead of Nowruz, the Persian New Year, in Tehran on March 14. Dancing, a form of expression often suppressed by the government, has emerged as a symbolic act of civil disobedience.

A wave of public demonstrations has swept across Iran on the anniversary of the death of Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic republic, with Iranians dancing in the streets in a display of defiance of authority amid a crackdown on unrest that has swept the country.

Videos posted online showed many Iranians demonstrating on June 3, the day Khomeni died in 1989, with some showing footage of the burning of the flag, as well as images of Iran's current supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, amid chants of "Death to the dictator" and "Death to Khamenei, curse on Khomeini."

The public demonstrations follow a series of recent protests in Iran. Dancing, a form of expression often suppressed by the government, has emerged as a symbolic act of civil disobedience, challenging the values and rules put in place by the regime.

In recent months, the anger has focused on the mandatory hijab rule, which forces women to cover their heads while in public. Unrest 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, with the judiciary, backed by lawmakers, responding to the biggest threat to the Islamic government since the 1979 revolution with a brutal crackdown.

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

Several more remain on death row and senior judiciary officials have said they are determined to ensure those convicted and sentenced have their punishments meted out.

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

Iran Won't Be Allowed To Obtain Nukes, Blinken Tells Israeli Lobby Group

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken delivers a statement upon arriving in Tel Aviv on January 30.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on June 5 reiterated the U.S. administration's firm stance that Iran is Israel's top threat and will never be allowed to obtain a nuclear weapon. "If Iran rejects the path of diplomacy, then, as President [Joe] Biden has repeatedly made clear, all options are on the table to ensure that Iran does not obtain nuclear weapons," Blinken told the pro-Israel AIPAC lobby in Washington. Blinken also said Saudi-Israeli normalization is deeply important for Washington. "The United States has a real national-security interest in promoting normalization between Israel and Saudi Arabia," he said.

Iranian Labor Groups Call On ILO To Kick Iran Out Of Organization

The logo of the International Labor Organization

Eight independent labor organizations in Iran have called for the expulsion of the country from the International Labor Organization (ILO) and its session in Switzerland that starts on June 5.

The organizations, including the Organizing Council of Oil Contract Workers' Protests and the Iran Retirees Council, urged representative delegations from countries around the world to kick Iran out of the conference being held in the Swiss city of Geneva, as well as from the ILO, to protest against the suppression of dissent in Iran, especially with regard to workers, teachers, and protesters who have been jailed for speaking out.

The authors of the letter, which includes the names of 22 imprisoned labor activists and 19 imprisoned teachers, criticize the Iranian government's economic policies, saying they have led to widespread poverty and hardship, particularly for workers. They also highlighted "the government-sanctioned killing" of Mahsa Amini last September, which sparked public anger and spurred a movement against poverty, misery, and human rights suppression in Iran.

The letter says workers' and teachers' rights, particularly the right to form independent organizations and the right to hold gatherings and protests, are fundamental rights in any society.

The Iranian government delegation at the annual ILO conference "does not truly represent the workers, teachers, and people of Iran," it says, adding the ILO conference should make the "release of all imprisoned workers, teachers, and social activists and detainees of the movement of 'Women, Life, Freedom' and all political prisoners" and the immediate cancelation of executions in Iran as a "special agenda" for the meeting in Geneva.

The labor organizations have also demanded the "expulsion of the Islamic republic from the ILO and not allowing the delegation of this government to participate in the ILO conference in Geneva."

Iran's economy has been ravaged by U.S. sanctions, leading to a surge of protests in several cities. A report from the Labor Ministry indicated a significant increase in Iran's poverty rate, growing 50 percent in 2021 compared to the previous year.

Unrest has rattled Iran since last summer 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.

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

The Norway-based Iran Human Rights (IHR) group said on June 1 at least 307 people -- including at least 142 people in May alone -- have been executed in 2023, a 76 percent rise compared with the same period last year.

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

Iran To Reopen Its Embassy In Riyadh In Sign Of Further Thawing Of Relations

Women walk past the Iranian embassy in Riyadh, which will reopen on June 6. (file photo)

Iran will reopen its embassy in Saudi Arabia’s capital on June 6, Iranian sources told the semiofficial Fars news agency, months after Tehran and Riyadh agreed to end years of hostility. In March, Iran and Saudi Arabia agreed to reestablish relations after years of hostility between the regional rivals that had threatened stability and security in the Middle East and helped fuel regional conflicts from Yemen to Syria. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.

U.S. Navy Says Iranian Fast-Attack Boats 'Harassed' Ship In Strait Of Hormuz

The U.S. Navy's guided-missile destroyer USS McFaul was one of two Western vessels that responded to the incident. (file photo)

The U.S. Navy said on June 5 that its sailors and the U.K. Royal Navy came to the aid of a ship in the crucial Strait of Hormuz after Iran's Revolutionary Guards “harassed” it. Three fast-attack vessels with armed troops aboard approached the merchant ship at a close distance in the afternoon on June 4, the U.S. Navy said in a statement. The U.S. Navy's guided-missile destroyer USS McFaul and the Royal Navy's frigate HMS Lancaster responded to the incident, with the Lancaster launching a helicopter. To read the original story by AP, click here.

German Jailed In Iran's Life 'In Danger,' Fellow Prisoner Says

Nahid Taghavi was sentenced to 10 years and eight months in jail in August 2021 after being arrested at her Tehran apartment in October 2020.

The life of a German-Iranian detained in Iran is in danger and she is in such pain she can barely move, a fellow prisoner who is a prominent rights activist said on June 4. Nahid Taghavi, 68, was sentenced to 10 years and eight months in jail in August 2021 after being arrested at her Tehran apartment in October 2020, and is being held in solitary confinement at Tehran's Evin prison. "The life of Nahid Taghavi, a political prisoner, is in danger," her fellow inmate, the prize-winning campaigner Narges Mohammadi, wrote on an Instagram account run by family in France.

Defying Taboos: Beloved Iranian Cleric Rescues Animals

It's rare for a cleric in Iran to attract a large following of adoring young fans on Instagram, but Sayed Mahdi Tabatabaei has done so by rescuing street dogs and cats in defiance of local taboos.

Three Europeans Return Home After Release By Iran In Prisoner Swap

Iranian opposition activists protest with a poster depicting Iranian official Asadollah Assadi in Brussels in October 2018.

Three Europeans returned home on June 3, a day after being released by Iran in a prisoner swap, and Tehran said there was no reason for Europeans to be arrested if they were not "exploited" by foreign security services. The three men -- two with dual Austrian-Iranian nationality and one Dane -- were released on June 2 by Iran in return for Iranian diplomat Asadollah Assadi as part of a swap in which Iran freed Belgian aid worker Olivier Vandecasteele last week, a Belgian government spokesperson said. Assadi was convicted in Belgium in 2021 in connection with a foiled bomb plot in France and sentenced to 20 years in prison. Iran said the charges against him were fabricated. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.

Iran Says To Form Naval Alliance With Persian Gulf States To Ensure Regional Stability

Shahram Irani, commander of the Iranian Navy (file photo)

Iran's navy commander said his country and Saudi Arabia, as well as three other Persian Gulf states, plan to form a naval alliance that will also include India and Pakistan, Iranian media reported on June 3. "The countries of the region have today realized that only cooperation with each other brings security to the area," Iranian naval commander Shahram Irani was quoted as saying. He did not elaborate on the shape of the alliance that he said would be formed soon. Iran has recently been trying to mend its strained ties with several Persian Gulf Arab states. In March, Saudi Arabia and Iran ended seven years of hostility under a China-mediated deal, stressing the need for regional stability and economic cooperation. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.

Iranian Student Beaten Amid Fears That Growing Wave Of Attacks Is Related To Protests

The incident took place at Chamran University in the city of Ahvaz. (file photo)

Security personnel at a university in southwestern Iran appear to have severely assaulted a student, the latest in a series of violent attacks on school campuses amid anti-government protests led by young Iranians angered at the regime's intrusions on their rights.

The incident took place on May 30 at Chamran University in the southwestern Iranian city of Ahvaz, where a video shows several security personnel cornering and severely assaulting a student near the university dormitory.

The Union Council of Iranian Students reported the incident, sharing a video of the attack on June 2.

"According to numerous reports, on May 30, security agents for Chamran University in Ahvaz attacked a male student after a football match, beat him, and then took him away in a car," the council said.

As of June 2, no information has been made available about the condition of the student who was assaulted.

The incident comes days after a a video was released showing a female student being injured when someone pulled a knife on her at Tehran’s Soore University and another on the campus of Kerman University in central Iran where a female student was stabbed.

The Union Council said that in the Kerman University attack, security forces failed to intervene to aid the student, who was rescued instead by other students. The woman who was attacked was seriously injured and is currently in the intensive care unit at a local hospital.

It added that security forces have since tried to "cover up" the incident and "have not accepted any responsibility for it."

Iranian universities have become a hotbed for unrest since the death of Mahsa Amini in Tehran. The 22-year-old died while in police custody for an alleged violation of the country's mandatory head-scarf law.

Police have tried to shift the blame onto Amini's health, but supporters say witnesses saw her being beaten when taken into custody. Her family says she had no history of any medical issues and was in good health.

There have been clashes at universities and schools between protesters and the authorities, prompting security forces to launch a series of raids on education facilities across the country, violently arresting students, especially female students, who have defiantly taken off their head scarves, or hijabs, in protest.

The Union Council blasted campus authorities for pushing security officers to focus on enforcing dress codes "lest a strand of hair disgrace the university," instead of ensuring safety.

Another group, the Student Guild Council, noted that since the student protests started, "increasing the budget, increasing power, and an extensive recruitment for the university’s security office" have become the main focus of school administrators.

Meanwhile, it says there has also been an influx of people, thought to be security agents, "in civilian clothes roaming universities, taking pictures of students, and engaging with them" as officials try to enforce the hijab law.

The situation has prompted some to say these attacks are intentional and a scare tactic being used to intimidate students so they will end their protests.

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

New U.S. Sanctions Take Aim At Company Responsible For Internet Censorship In Iran

The U.S. Treasury Department announced the sanctions on June 2. (file photo)

The United States has issued fresh sanctions targeting Iranian technology company Arvan Cloud, two employees of the company, and an affiliated firm for their roles in helping Tehran censor the Internet in the country, the Treasury Department said.

Arvan Cloud, a web-hosting service and content delivery network, has played a prominent role in the Iranian government’s development of the National Information Network (NIN) infrastructure, a censored version of the Internet under the control of Iranian authorities, the department said in a statement on June 2.

"The Iranian government has regularly used Internet restrictions and the throttling of Internet speeds to suppress dissent, surveil and punish Iranians for exercising their freedom of expression and assembly both online and offline," the statement said.

The department said Iranian authorities have sought to move domestic Internet traffic to the NIN in an effort to mitigate lost economic activity incurred when it imposes Internet restrictions to suppress dissent.

These restrictions have increased amid widespread protests over deteriorating living conditions and other grievances that erupted after the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini last year in police custody for an alleged infraction of the country's mandatory head-scarf law.

Arvan Cloud helped lay the groundwork for the NIN’s integrated cloud network infrastructure and in contracts with the Ministry of Information and Communications Technology, it has “explicitly agreed to provide interception for the government, allowing Iranian authorities to control and censor incoming and outgoing traffic and surveil data on the servers,” the Treasury Department said.

It also said Arvan Cloud has a close relationship with Iran's intelligence services and its executives are either current or former affiliates of Iranian intelligence.

Brian Nelson, the undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, said free and unrestricted access to information is a fundamental right of all peoples, including in Iran.

“The United States is committed to holding accountable those who seek to undermine freedom of expression and suppress dissent, and to call out regimes who deny their citizens this right,” Nelson said in the Treasury's statement.

The individuals designated for sanctions are Pouya Pirhosseinloo and Farhad Fatemi, co-founders of Arvan Cloud. The sanctions also target ArvanCloud Global Technologies LLC, an affiliate based in the United Arab Emirates.

The sanctions freeze any property in U.S. jurisdiction owned by the individuals and entities designated. They also bar U.S. citizens from any dealings with the individuals and entities.

With reporting by Reuters

Security Forces Fire On Protesters In Abdanan Demonstrating Over Student's Death

One human rights website reported that security forces and special units had attacked protesters in Abdanan on June 1.

A group of citizens in the western Iranian city of Abdanan, took to the streets chanting anti-government slogans on June 1 to protest the suspicious death of 21-year-old student Bamshad Suleimankhani. Several protesters were injured when security forces opened fire on them, local sources reported.

Suleimankhani reportedly died earlier this week following his release from prison. Authorities said he had committed suicide.

According to videos shared on social media, protesters chanted slogans such as "Death to Khamenei," a reference to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. They also blocked some streets of Abdanan by setting fires and continued their protest with slogans like " We don't want a child-murdering government.”

The Twitter account "Voice of Shahrivar," which covers protests in Iran, reported hours before the night protests in Abdanan that the seventh-day memorial service for the “government murder" of Bamshad Suleimankhani, who died “after continuous threats by government institutions” was attended by many of the city’s residents.

The human rights website Hengaw reported that security forces and special units had attacked protesters in Abdanan, firing "live ammunition, pellet guns, and tear gas."

Images and videos from the protests appear to show that several demonstrators were injured by the pellet guns of security forces during the protests on June 1. Dozens of security forces and special unit vehicles were reportedly stationed in the main square of Abdanan and various streets of the city in the late hours of June 1. However, reports said protests continued in different neighborhoods of the city.

Issa Baziar, a civil activist from Abdanan who now resides outside the country, said on Twitter on May 28 that Suleimankhani returned home on May 26, “with signs of beating and cigarette burns on his hand, and due to severe injuries, he fell into a coma that night and his death was announced by doctors on May 28."

Baziar said Suleimankhani had received “serious warnings” from security forces. He also said that Suleimankhani’s family have been threatened by authorities and warned not to speak to the media.

Judicial and law enforcement officials in Abdanan in Ilam Province did not provide any explanation about the manner of Suleimankhani's death until the start of a strike by some merchants in the city, the widespread presence of people marking a week since his death, and the beginning of nighttime protests in Abdanan.

Speaking on June 1, Omran Ali Mohammad, the head of the Ilam Province judiciary, was quoted by the Tasnim news agency, affiliated with the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), as saying that Suleimankhani died as a result of “suicide.”

Mohammad said that the student “had not been accused or summoned by any law enforcement, military and security institutions, or the judiciary of Ilam Province."

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

According to the Human Rights Activists Organization, more than 750 students have been arrested by security forces, mostly by kidnapping accompanied by assault and battery in the streets around universities amid the nationwide antiestablishment protests sparked by the death in custody of Mahsa Amini in September.

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

Days After Belgium Released Iranian Diplomat, Iran Frees One Danish And Two Austrian-Iranian Citizens

The Austrian Foreign Ministry issued a statement expressing "satisfaction" with the release of Kamran Ghaderi (right) and Massud Mossaheb. (composite file photo)

European governments confirmed on June 2 that one Danish and two Austrian-Iranian citizens have been released by Iran after mediation efforts by Oman and Belgium.

The Austrian Foreign Ministry issued a statement expressing "satisfaction" with the release of Kamran Ghaderi and Massud Mossaheb, confirming that the two men were returning to their homeland.

Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg said on Twitter he was “very relieved” that Ghaderi and Mossaheb were released after years “of arduous imprisonment” in Iran.

“They are already on their way to Austria, where their families are eagerly waiting for them,” Schallenberg said.

Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said earlier that he had informed the governments of Denmark and Austria about the release of the prisoners, which came a week after Tehran freed a Belgian aid worker in exchange for an Iranian diplomat who was convicted on terrorism charges.

The Austrian Foreign Ministry also praised Belgium and Oman for their role in the release and called the years of detention in Iran "excruciating."

Ghaderi was jailed for more than seven years and Mossaheb more than four years. Both men had been tried and convicted on espionage charges.

The identity of the Danish national who was released was not disclosed.

Danish Foreign Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen said he was "pleased" at his return to his home country and to his family but said he could not name the man because it was "personal" and it was not possible to give further details.

A Belgian government statement said the Danish citizen was arrested in the autumn of 2022 in the midst of nationwide protests in Iran following the death of Mahsa Amini in police custody for an alleged infraction of the country's mandatory head-scarf law.

The Iranian Intelligence Ministry said on September 30 that it had identified and detained people it called "seditious" and "destructive agents," including nine foreign nationals at the scene of or behind the scenes of the recent protests.

Neither the Austrian Foreign Ministry nor the Danish Foreign Ministry elaborated on the manner of support of the Belgian government or on the role of Oman. However, the release of the three Europeans came five days after Oman’s Sultan Haitham bin Tariq al-Said arrived in Tehran for a two-day visit.

Oman also played a role in negotiations that resulted in Iran and Belgium exchanging two prisoners last week.

The swap involved Olivier Vandecasteele, a Belgian aid worker jailed in Iran, and Asadollah Assadi, an Iranian diplomat imprisoned in Belgium.

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 called the release of Assadi a "shameful ransom to terrorism and hostage-taking."

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

With reporting by Reuters and AFP

Amnesty Blasts Iran's 'Shameless' Use Of Executions For Drug-Related Cases

Amnesty International said Iranian authorities have executed at least 173 people convicted of drug-related offences this year after "systematically unfair trials,"  nearly three times more than this time last year. 

Amnesty International says Iran's prisons have turned into "killing fields" with the number of people executed on drug-related charges almost triple this year compared with 2022, calling it a "shameless rate" that exposes the regime's "lack of humanity."

The London-based rights organization said in a report released on June 2 that Iranian authorities have executed at least 173 people convicted of drug-related offences this year after "systematically unfair trials," nearly three times more than this time last year.

Amnesty said members of Iran's Baluch ethnic minority accounted for around 20 percent of the recorded executions, "despite making up only 5 percent of Iran's population."

"The shameless rate at which the authorities are carrying out drug-related executions, in violation of international law, exposes their lack of humanity and flagrant disregard for the right to life," said Diana Eltahawy, Amnesty International's deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa.

"The international community must ensure that cooperation in antidrug trafficking initiatives do not contribute, directly or indirectly, to the arbitrary deprivation of life and other human rights violations in Iran," Eltahawy added.

Amnesty said the number of executions for all crimes had also significantly increased in the Islamic republic, with at least 282 people executed in total so far in 2023.

"If the authorities continue to carry out overall executions at this alarming pace, they could kill nearly 1,000 prisoners by the end of this year," the rights group warned.

The report said the poor and vulnerable are mostly impacted by the death penalty while the families of those executed frequently struggle with the dire economic consequences of losing breadwinners and being heavily indebted from legal fees.

The wave of executions has sparked outrage among rights activists and many Western governments who have called the legal proceedings against the accused "sham" trials where proper representation is not always granted and decisions are rushed behind closed doors.

The Norway-based Iran Human Rights (IHR) group said on June 1 at least 307 people have been executed in 2023, a 76 percent rise compared with the same period last year.

IHR said at least 142 people were executed in Iran in May, the highest monthly total in eight years, amid a brutal crackdown on dissent that the Norway-based watchdog says is aimed at spreading "societal fear."

According to Amnesty International, Iran was the world's top executioner in 2022 after China.

U.S. Sanctions Iranians Over Alleged Plots To Kill John Bolton And Others

John Bolton (right), who was the U.S. National security adviser under the Trump administration, in 2019

The U.S. imposed sanctions on June 1o on an Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) official and others in Iran it says took part in wide-ranging plots to kill former national security adviser John Bolton and others around the world, including at least one additional U.S. government official. The alleged 2021 plot against Bolton, one of the best-documented of the alleged assassination efforts, is part of what U.S. prosecutors and former government officials describe as ongoing efforts by the IRGC to kill Trump-era officials behind a 2020 U.S. air strike that killed the head of the IRGC's elite Quds Force, Qassem Soleimani. To read the original story by AP, click here.

Ex-Iranian Prison Official Expresses 'Shame' Over Mass Execution Of Political Prisoners In 1980s

Hossein Mortazavai Zanjani campaigns ahead the presidential election in 2009.

In 1988, Hossein Mortazavi Zanjani was the head of Tehran's notorious Evin prison, where hundreds of political prisoners were secretly executed following an order by the founder of the Islamic republic, Ruhollah Khomeini.

Decades later, Mortazavi has taken to social media to publicly express "shame" over the killings, although he denied any direct involvement in them.

An estimated 5,000 prisoners were executed in prisons, including Evin, the country's largest detention facility, during the summer of 1988. Many of the victims were members of the Mujahedin-e Khalq Organization (MKO), an exiled armed opposition group, leftist parties and groups, and students.

"I'm ashamed, and...I want to express shame.... They killed kids, they made families mournful," Mortazavi said during a series of recent discussions on the popular app Clubhouse, where he also took questions from the audience, including relatives of some of those executed.

The reason for Mortazavi's unprecedented comments is not clear. He said he decided to speak up to warn people about the rising number of executions in Iran, where more than 200 people have been hanged so far this year.

But several former political prisoners accused him of trying to wash his hands of responsibility. Many Iranians on social media said Mortazavi should be put on trial, while others praised his apparent remorse over the executions committed in the 1980s, one of the darkest chapters in Iran's recent history.

During his discussions on Clubhouse, which were attended by thousands of users, Mortazavi repeatedly denied that he was trying to clear his name.

"We had the responsibility for [taking care of] the prisoners, even though we were not involved in the execution of their sentence. I should have left, but I was there until [the last minute]," said Mortazavi, who also served as the head of the Gohardasht prison in Karaj, a city outside Tehran, for several years.

Mortazavi maintained that he did not have a say in the executions and was left in the dark about which prisoners would be hanged. "The decisions about the executions were made elsewhere," he said.

Mortazavi recalled having a conversation with jailed politician Fathollah Omid Najabadi the night before he was executed. "I saw Najafabadi at night. In the morning I was told he was hanged. The situation was like that then," he said.

Mortazavi poses with Yasser Arafat. (undated)
Mortazavi poses with Yasser Arafat. (undated)

The executions are believed to have been carried out within days of a fatwa issued by Khomeini, who declared that prisoners found guilty of "mohareb," or waging war against God, should be eliminated.

The secret fatwa was issued shortly after members of the MKO, which had aligned with Baghdad during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War, made a final attack on the Islamic republic.

Prisoners were sent to their deaths following interrogations that lasted just a few minutes, according to rights groups.

"Their thinking was that those opposed to the Islamic republic should be executed," said Mortazavi, noting that the authorities were aiming to purge the prisons of opponents of the clerics who came to power following the Islamic Revolution in 1979.

Mortazavi directly implicated Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi in the killings. He claimed that Raisi, who was then deputy Tehran prosecutor, told him that he had received an order from Khomeini to execute prisoners.

Activists and rights groups have said that Raisi was a member of the so-called "death committee," which interrogated prisoners about their religious beliefs and political affiliations and decided who would live or die.

Mortazavi, who said he used to be a committed supporter of Khomeini, also denounced the clerical establishment, saying it had plunged the country into misery.

Mehdi Aslani, a political prisoner who survived the executions, accused Mortazavi of withholding key details about the mass killings. He also claimed that the former prison official was trying to downplay his own role in the executions.

"In 1986, he played the main role in the severe repression of prisoners during which one MKO prisoner lost his eye. That's his background in the Islamic prison system," Aslani told RFE/RL's Radio Farda.

"Without any doubt, Mortazavi and others like him should be given an opportunity to speak so that we can complete this puzzle. But he covered up so many issues that he could have unveiled," said Aslani, who recalled seeing Mortazavi in Gohardasht prison.

Faraj Sarkouhi, another former political prisoner, said Mortazavi should be put on trial. "An individual who has been involved in human rights abuses is not a normal person with whom you can gather signatures against executions," the Germany-based activist and journalist said during a Clubhouse discussion attended by Mortazavi.

Roya Boroumand, executive director of the Abdorrahman Boroumand Center, a Washington-based human rights organization that has documented the prison executions, told RFE/RL that Mortazavi was "an important eyewitness" to the mass killings.

But she added that his message was "that of a politician with an agenda rather than a repenting former official interested in truth telling or in alleviating the pain of families and survivors."

"Some of his statements were useful as they undermine the official narrative on, for example, the fact that prisoners had rioted and were dangerous. He clearly denied the existence of such riots," Boroumand noted.

"All in all, I believe we should require more than generalities and misplaced morality lessons from former officials to take them seriously," she said.

Watchdog Says Iran Executed At Least 142 People In May, Calls For International Pressure

Iran Human Rights (IHR) says at least 142 people were executed in Iran in May, the highest monthly total in eight years, amid a brutal crackdown on dissent that the Norway-based watchdog says is aimed at spreading "societal fear."

The group added in a statement released on June 1 that so far this year, the death penalty has been administered at least 307 times, a 76 percent rise compared with the same period last year.

"The purpose of the Islamic republic’s intensification of arbitrary executions is to spread societal fear to prevent protests and prolong its rule," IHR DIrector Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam said in the statement.

Amid a wave of unrest -- which has posed the biggest threat to the country's leadership since the Islamic revolution in 1979 -- sparked by the death of Mahsa Amini in September while in police custody for an alleged infraction of the country's mandatory-head-scarf law, officials have launched a brutal crackdown.

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 are currently waiting on death row for their sentences to be carried out.

But IHR said the judiciary is using the death penalty in many areas, especially with regard to people convicted of drugs charges, 180 of whom were executed in the first five months of the year.

The wave of executions has sparked outrage among rights activists and many Western governments who have called the legal proceedings against the accused "sham" trials where proper representation is not always granted and decisions are rushed behind closed doors.

Officials have staunchly defended the use of the death penalty, with Gholamhossein Mohseni-Ejei, the head of the judiciary of the Islamic republic, saying on May 30 that those who, in his view, "should be executed" will have their sentences "executed."

"If the international community doesn’t show a stronger reaction to the current wave of executions, hundreds more will fall victims to their killing machine in the coming months," IHR's Amiry-Moghaddam said.

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

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