U.S. Places Sanctions On Hacking Group With Alleged Ties To Iranian Intelligence
The U.S. Treasury Department has announced sanctions against an Iranian hacking group, a front company, and more than 45 individuals accused of carrying out a years-long campaign targeting Iranian dissidents, journalists, and international travel companies on behalf of Iran's Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS).
The September 17 announcement said that the ministry used the hacking group, Advanced Persistent Threat 39 (APT39), and the front company, Rana, to monitor "dissidents, Iranian journalists, former government employees, environmentalists, refugees, university students and faculty, and employees at international nongovernmental organizations."
Some of the individuals targeted by the campaign had been "subjected to arrest and physical and psychological intimidation" by Iranian intelligence for targeting hundreds of individuals and entities in 30 countries across Africa, Asia, Europe, and North America.
"The United States is determined to counter offensive cybercampaigns designed to jeopardize security and inflict damage on the international travel sector," U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement.
The Treasury Department said that an FBI advisory, also being released on September 17, detailed eight separate and distinct sets of malware used by MOIS through Rana to conduct their computer intrusion activities.
Tensions between Tehran and Washington have risen since President Donald Trump withdrew from a landmark nuclear deal in 2018 between Iran and world powers under which the Islamic republic pledged to curb its atomic ambitions in exchange for sanctions relief.
In addition to reimposing sanctions that were dropped under the deal, Washington has accused Iran of financing extremism in the Middle East, which Iran denies.
U.S. Sends Ukraine 1.1 Million Rounds Of Ammunition Seized From Iran
The United States has transferred to Ukraine 1.1 million rounds of small-arms ammunition it seized from Iran, U.S. Central Command said on October 4. While Ukraine will use the 7.62-mm ammunition seized from Iran in its fight against Russia, Iran has been supplying Russia with the Shahed-136 drones that its forces have used in Ukraine against both civilian and military targets. The ammunition is standard for Soviet-era Kalashnikov assault rifles and many derivatives. Ukraine, as a former Soviet republic, still relies on the Kalashnikov for many of its units. To read the original story by AP, click here.
Attacks On Free Expression Online 'Grew More Common' Around The World
Rights watchdog Freedom House said global Internet freedom declined for the 13th consecutive year in 2023 as attacks on freedom of expression grew more common.
In its annual report on the level of the Internet freedom in the world, published on October 4, the watchdog said that the most serious cases occurred in Iran and Myanmar, where authorities carried out death sentences against people convicted of online expression-related crimes.
In Belarus and Nicaragua, people received "draconian prison terms" for online speech, the report said, adding that this was "a core tactic employed by longtime dictators Alyaksandr Lukashenka and Daniel Ortega in their violent campaigns to stay in power."
The report, titled Freedom On The Net 2023, covers 70 countries in six regions around the world, ranking the Internet in three groups -- free, partially free, and not free.
Iceland, Estonia, and Canada were ranked as most free, with Germany, the United States, Georgia, Armenia, and Serbia also among the top-ranking countries.
China, Myanmar, and Iran were among the countries where the Internet is least free while Russia, Uzbekistan, and Belarus were also among the lowest-ranking countries.
Iran was home to this year's sharpest decline, the report said, as authorities shut down Internet service, blocked the WhatsApp and Instagram social media apps, and increased surveillance during a crackdown on anti-government protests last year sparked by the death of a young woman -- 22-year-old Mahsa Amini -- while in police custody.
The report identified artificial intelligence (AI) as a threat for human rights online, saying that it has enabled governments to conduct more precise and subtle forms of online censorship, surveillance and disinformation campaigns.
"The world’s most technically advanced authoritarian governments have responded to innovations in AI chatbot technology, attempting to ensure that the applications comply with or strengthen their censorship systems," the report said.
But AI-powered moderation may struggle to keep up with a surge of unexpected content and expressions of dissent during times of crisis or protests, the report said, and authoritarian governments continue to use other forms of censorship online.
Russia has established a system to block global social-media platforms, Ukrainian news sites, and domestic sites that contradict the Kremlin's narratives over its invasion of Ukraine.
Belarus, which has aided Russia's military aggression, has blocked more than 9,000 websites, including independent news sites.
In its report, Freedom House noted that democratic governments in Europe and the United States also considered or in some cases actually imposed restrictions on access to websites, calling the approach "unproductive."
Iranian Girl's Hospitalization After Subway Incident Draws Parallels With Mahsa Amini's Case
When Armita Garavand and two of her friends tried to enter a Tehran subway station, they were confronted by police officers for not wearing the mandatory hijab.
The officers physically assaulted the 16-year-old Garavand, who later fell unconscious after entering a subway carriage.
Garavand was rushed to the Fajr Air Force Hospital outside Tehran, where she has been in a coma since October 1.
That is according to human rights groups and journalists who claim that Garavand is the latest victim of the brutal enforcement of Iran's controversial hijab law.
Garavand’s case, and suggestions of a cover-up by the authorities, has drawn parallels with the events leading up to the death in custody of Mahsa Amini last year. Amini’s death soon after she was arrested for allegedly violating the hijab law triggered months of antiestablishment protests.
A source at the Fajr Air Force Hospital, who spoke to RFE/RL’s Radio Farda on condition of anonymity due to security reasons, said Garavand had suffered internal bleeding in the brain and was in critical condition.
Garavand is under guard at the hospital, the source said, adding that plainclothes police officers were preventing visitors from entering the intensive-care unit where the teenager was being treated.
The authorities have not commented on Garavand’s condition or revealed where she is being treated.
'Severe Physical Assault'
Iran's official news agency, IRNA, has claimed that Garavand fainted after a drop in blood pressure and bumped her head on the side of the subway carriage.
CCTV footage released by IRNA, which appeared to be edited, shows a group of girls without the hijab, or head scarf, entering a carriage. Almost immediately, one of the girls backs off and reaches for the ground. She drags out another girl, who appears to be unconscious, from the carriage.
Masood Dorosti, the head of the Tehran Metro Operating Company, told IRNA that there had been no "verbal or physical conflict" between the young passengers and company employees.
The entrance to Tehran's subway stations are often guarded by police officers or company employees, who deny access to women not observing the Islamic dress code.
Iran's hard-line Fars news agency on October 3 published an interview with Garavand’s parents, who said she was not assaulted by police officers in the subway.
"We have checked all the videos, and it has been proven to us that this incident was an accident," her unnamed father was quoted as saying. "We ask people to pray for our child’s recovery."
The authorities have been previously accused of forcing family members into making statements that toe the official line.
Hengaw, a Norway-based group that monitors rights violations in Iran, has rejected the official version of events. The group said on October 3 that Garavand was the victim of a "severe physical assault" by members of the notorious morality police and she was targeted due to her "noncompliance with the compulsory hijab."
Hengaw posted what it said was a photo of Garavand lying unconscious in her hospital bed.
On October 4, the group said that "security entities have placed extreme control over her family to prevent any publication of information," and added that "government security agents have seized the mobile phones of all members of Armita's family."
Gavarand, who lives with her family in Tehran, is originally from the city of Kohdasht in the western province of Lorestan, according to information obtained by Radio Farda.
Dadban, an Iran-based rights group, said on October 4 that "Iranian security institutions have said her condition was caused by low pressure -- an oft-repeated scenario from such institutions."
Farzad Seifikaran, a journalist at Radio Zamaneh, a Persian-language broadcaster based in The Netherlands, was the first to report the incident.
Without identifying Garavand, Seifikaran said on X, formerly known as Twitter, on October 1 that a female high-school student was hospitalized following a confrontation with officers.
Iran's Shargh daily, meanwhile, said on October 2 that one of its journalists was briefly detained after she went to the military hospital where Garavand is being treated.
Iranian social media users have drawn parallels with the case of the 22-year-old Amini, whose family maintained that she had been beaten by the morality police while being driven to a Tehran detention facility. Officials claimed that she had fallen into a coma after a dispute with guards due to a preexisting health condition.
During her brief stay at the Kasra Hospital in northern Tehran, images of Amini bleeding from one of her ears cast further doubts on the official narrative.
Reporters Nilufar Hamedi and Elahe Mohammadi, who helped expose the case of Amini, were arrested. Both have been held in pretrial detention since September and face charges that include "collaborating with the hostile government of America, conspiracy and collusion to commit crimes against national security, and propaganda against the establishment."
Milad Alavi, a journalist at Shargh, said on X that the authorities' refusal to release footage of Garavand inside the subway carriage was creating "mistrust" among the public.
Mohsen Borhani, an Iranian lawyer, suggested that the authorities had prevented many media outlets from reporting on the incident. "Reporting about such an incident is not a crime," he said.
Iran’s former crown prince, Reza Pahlavi, an exiled opposition leader, accused the authorities of a “cover-up.” He said the authorities could not be trusted after "spreading lies and concealing Mahsa's murder."
Following Amini's death, the Iranian regime has intensified its enforcement of the hijab law, including passing new legislation that penalizes women who fail to observe the compulsory Islamic head scarf with prison terms that can run up to a decade.
Teenager In Coma After Morality Police Apprehend Her In Tehran, Rights Group Says
An Iranian teenager is in a coma at a hospital and under heavy security after an assault on the Tehran subway, a rights group said on October 3. The rights group Hengaw said the teenager, Armita Garawand, had been severely injured after being apprehended by agents of the so-called morality police. Iranian authorities denied security forces were involved and said the girl fainted due to low blood pressure. Iran remains on high alert just over a year after the death in custody of Mahsa Amini, who had been arrested for allegedly wearing a hijab, or head scarf, improperly.
Hundreds Of Iranian Protesters Detained After Marking Anniversary Of Bloody Crackdown
Iranian security forces have detained hundreds of people as protesters in the country’s southeast marked the first anniversary of the killing of scores of demonstrators in the region, according to a human rights group.
Haalvsh, a group that monitors rights violations in Iran's Sistan-Baluchistan Province, said on October 2 that at least 216 people, including minors, had been arrested across the region since September 30.
At least 104 people were killed when security forces gunned down protesters in the provincial capital, Zahedan, on September 30 last year, according to the Norway-based Iran Human Rights organization.
It was single deadliest day of the monthslong antiestablishment protests that rocked Iran last year. The violence in Sistan-Baluchistan, which is home to Iran’s Baluch ethnic minority, has been referred to as "Bloody Friday."
Scattered protests have been held in cities and towns across the province in recent days, including in Zahedan, Chabahar, Khash, and Mirjaveh, according to Haalvsh.
The rights group said it has identified 121 of those detained, including 38 minors. Haalvsh said the condition and whereabouts of those detained were unclear.
Iranian officials have not commented on the reported detentions in Sistan-Baluchistan, a restive and impoverished province that borders Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Members of the Baluch minority, many of whom are Sunni Muslims in Shi’a-majority Iran, have long faced disproportionate discrimination and violence at the hands of the authorities.
Sources in Sistan-Baluchistan told RFE/RL’s Radio Farda that several of the wards in Zahedan Prison were emptied ahead of the anniversary of the bloody crackdown. One of those detained in Zahedan Prison told RFE/RL's Radio Farda that the detention facility was now overflowing with detainees.
Among those detained in recent days were employees of the Darul Uloom madrasah, or Islamic seminary, and the Makki Mosque in Zahedan.
The associates and relatives of Molavi Abdolhamid, Iran's top Sunni cleric, have also been arrested in recent months.
Abdolhamid, the outspoken Friday Prayer’s leader in Zahedan, has publicly criticized the authorities for alleged human rights abuses and repression of Iran's ethnic and religious minorities.
Abdolhamid said senior officials, including Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, were responsible for the bloodshed in Zahedan last year, saying security forces shot “indiscriminately” at people after raiding the central mosque in the city and the nearby Great Mosalla, a religious site.
Sources in Sistan-Baluchistan told Radio Farda that Abdolhamid, whose popularity has soared, has been the subject of "intimidation and threats" from the authorities.
As Armenia And Azerbaijan Seek Peace, Proposed Zangezur Corridor Could Be Major Sticking Point
Negotiations over a peace deal between Armenia and Azerbaijan are continuing, even as refugees continue to stream into Armenia following Azerbaijan's military assault on the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh last week.
Senior advisers to Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev met on September 26 in Brussels, in preparation for a potential meeting between the leaders themselves in Spain on October 5.
A peace deal could -- at least on paper -- put to rest the decades-old conflict between the two sides. But there are broad fears in Armenia that Azerbaijan is not truly interested in peace, and that it may have further designs on Armenian territory -- including carving out territory for a transport corridor -- which could make it politically risky for the Armenian government to sign a deal.
Azerbaijan's 24-hour offensive, which resulted in the surrender on September 20 of the separatist ethnic Armenian leadership that has ruled the territory since the 1990s, has partially resolved one of the thorniest issues that the two sides had been trying to work out: the fate of Karabakh's ethnic Armenian population. Azerbaijan has embarked on an effort to "reintegrate" the Karabakh Armenians into Azerbaijani structures, while the Armenians themselves are fleeing the territory by the tens of thousands.
Pashinian and his allies have said they remain committed to reaching an agreement. "We are very close and have a historic opportunity to sign a peace agreement," parliament speaker Alen Simonian told Armenian public television on September 25. "Endless war is not beneficial for anyone."
Baku and Yerevan have been locked in a conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh for decades. Armenian-backed separatists seized the mainly Armenian-populated region from Azerbaijan during a war in the early 1990s that killed some 30,000 people. Diplomatic efforts to settle the conflict brought little progress and the two sides fought another war in 2020 that lasted six weeks before a Russian-brokered cease-fire, resulting in Armenia losing control over parts of the region and seven adjacent districts.
In 2022, Armenia and Azerbaijan started talks on a peace agreement that would formally delimit their mutual border, renounce territorial claims against each other, reestablish diplomatic relations, and rebuild transport links that have been broken for more than three decades. Those talks failed to prevent a violent resolution of the Karabakh issue, but they are set to continue as the two leaders work out the other issues on their agendas.
'The Next Big Issue'
The last point -- rebuilding the transport links -- has been one of the most contentious and, in recent days, has prompted much mutual speculation. Azerbaijan and its key ally Turkey have signaled that, at least rhetorically, they are stepping back on one of their demands: that Armenia allow a road through its territory connecting Azerbaijan's mainland and its exclave of Naxcivan. Now that Nagorno-Karabakh has been fully reconquered, the transportation question represents "the next big issue" in Armenian-Azerbaijani talks, wrote Thomas de Waal, an analyst at Carnegie Europe.
At issue is a transportation route that has become known by Azerbaijan's term for it, the "Zangezur Corridor," which was borne out of the cease-fire agreement that ended the 2020 war between the two sides. That deal included a provision committing Armenia to "guarantee the security" of transportation connections between Azerbaijan's mainland and Naxcivan. It didn't specify any particular route, but the shortest way between Naxcivan and the rest of Azerbaijan is through Armenia's Syunik Province, known in Azerbaijan as Zangezur.
The 2020 agreement further stipulated that movement on those routes should be "unobstructed," which led to disagreements about what, precisely, counted as an obstruction. Azerbaijanis initially signaled that they wanted the road to be a true corridor, with no Armenian border or customs officers checking vehicles or cargo as it passed through Armenian territory.
The route would connect Azerbaijan more tightly to Turkey, which shares a border with Naxcivan but not with mainland Azerbaijan. And Azerbaijani and Turkish officials have spoken of the would-be corridor in grandiose terms, as a means of linking the entire Turkic world, from Istanbul to Central Asia, with uninterrupted East-West road and rail connections.
The Armenian side has objected that that would amount to the country losing sovereignty over part of its territory, and a strategically vital part at that: The presumed route of the corridor would pass along the Iranian border, potentially hindering Armenia's access to Iran, one of its key regional allies and trade partners.
Iran, too, has objected, repeatedly hinting that it would not allow its border with Armenia to be obstructed. Armenia's fears were exacerbated by barely veiled threats from Aliyev to impose the corridor by force: "The Zangezur Corridor is a historical necessity," the president said in January. "It will happen whether Armenia wants it or not." Iran has not officially commented on the issue since the Karabakh surrender.
'Open Up, Or Else'
In the days ahead of this month's Azerbaijani offensive, Erdogan used his address at the United Nations Security Council to accuse Armenia of not fulfilling its commitment to open the Zangezur Corridor, a topic heavily covered in Turkish pro-government media. And on the day that the Karabakh authorities surrendered, Hikmet Haciyev, Aliyev's senior foreign policy adviser, made a similar accusation.
It all fed into fears that Azerbaijan, having reestablished control over Nagorno-Karabakh, would not stop there and would eventually extend its advance into Armenia itself.
But after Erdogan met with Aliyev in Naxcivan on September 26 to help celebrate the victory in Karabakh, Aliyev barely mentioned the transportation issue. "The construction of the railway connecting Azerbaijan with Naxcivan and Turkey is also progressing successfully," Aliyev said, not mentioning Armenia at all or using the term "Zangezur Corridor." "The work in the territory of Azerbaijan will most likely be completed by the end of next year."
And as Erdogan returned to Turkey, he spoke with the media accompanying him and said that Armenia wasn't necessary for the project at all. "If Armenia does not pave the way for [the corridor], where will it pass through? It will pass through Iran," he said. "Iran currently considers this positively. So, it would be possible to pass from Iran to Azerbaijan." At a cabinet meeting later in the day, Erdogan reiterated the statement.
Erdogan's argument has not been confirmed by Azerbaijani officials, but the idea was presaged in a September 17 article on Haqqin.az, a website associated with Azerbaijan's security services. It differentiated between a "Western Zangezur Corridor" through Armenia and an "Eastern Zangezur Corridor" through Iran. It concluded: "If Yerevan continues to delay the opening of the Western Zangezur Corridor, then Azerbaijan will open the Eastern Zangezur Corridor with Iran, which means that Armenia will remain outside of yet another strategic project and will once again be a loser."
A senior official in Azerbaijan's Foreign Ministry, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed to RFE/RL that the Iranian route would be acceptable for Baku. "The ball is in Armenia's court. If this country wants to establish overland communication with the outside world after 30 years of self-imposed isolation, they have to live up to their obligations on the Zangezur Corridor. If not, the communication will be established anyway, but in this case via Iran thus bypassing Armenia," the official said.
As to whether Armenian officials would be able to monitor traffic on the road, the official said that was of secondary concern and would be a matter of negotiations. "The most important [thing] is the opening of the traffic itself," the official said.
Not Pushing Pashinian
Azerbaijan does not want to put additional pressure on Pashinian at a time when he is vulnerable domestically because of public outrage over the fate of Karabakh Armenians, says Fuad Shahbaz, a Baku-based political analyst. Azerbaijani officials fear that domestic turbulence in Armenia could result in revanchist forces coming to power in Yerevan. "Aliyev will give Armenia a bit of time to handle domestic unrest," Shahbaz said.
He noted that Aliyev conspicuously praised Pashinian -- who during the offensive announced publicly that Armenian armed forces would not intervene -- in a victory address to the nation on September 20. "During this period, today and yesterday, Armenia has unexpectedly shown political competence, which we appreciate," Aliyev said.
Aliyev also warned that "We must ensure that the other side does not live with revanchist ideas, and they must also rest assured that we do not have sights on their land. We recognize their territorial integrity."
So, Baku may not push for the corridor to be included in a peace deal but would revisit the question later, Shahbaz suggested: "Azerbaijan may return to the topic but on favorable conditions for Armenia as well, not to trigger more unrest in Yerevan," he said.
Armenian officials have said they have not changed their position on the corridor: They are interested in rebuilding regional transportation connections but reject a road that they wouldn't control. "Armenia has never agreed and will never agree to any sort of extraterritorial or corridor logic," Armenian Territorial Administration and Infrastructure Minister Gnel Sanosian said on September 25. "But at the same time, we are committed to agreements that have been reached at high levels."
Some analysts have suggested that Azerbaijan and Turkey's championing of the Iran option may just be tactical, and that Baku still remains interested in a route through Armenia.
"I don't believe that Azerbaijan and Turkey will forget about connecting Azerbaijan with Turkey via Armenia," said Benyamin Poghosian, the founding director of the Yerevan-based Center for Political and Economic Strategic Studies. "The road via Iran can be an alternative but not the main one." He says he believes Baku is merely biding its time and will eventually demand a Zangezur Corridor as well as other territorial concessions.
"Armenia will not be able to say yes to these demands," Poghosian said, "and then Azerbaijan will use the Armenian rejection as a casus belli."
U.S. Imposes Sanctions Aimed At Iranian Drone-Procurement Network
The United States has imposed sanctions on entities in Iran, Hong Kong, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates that the U.S. Treasury Department says comprise a network for the procurement of parts for Iran's drone program.
The network has facilitated shipments and financial transactions in support of a critical component used in Iran's Shahed drones, which Iran has been supplying to Russia for use against Ukraine, the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) said on September 27.
The critical component is known as a servomotor and is used in Iran’s Shahed-series unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). The OFAC said the sanctions took aim at the procurement of servomotors by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps' (IRGC) aerospace organization.
The OFAC said one of the servomotors procured by the network was recovered in the remnants of a Russian-operated Shahed-136 that was recently shot down in Ukraine.
"Iranian-made UAVs continue to be a key tool for Russia in its attacks in Ukraine, including those that terrorize Ukrainian citizens and attack its critical infrastructure," Undersecretary of the Treasury Brian Nelson said in a news release.
Two of the five entities designated for sanctions are Iran-based Pishgam Electronic Safeh Company (PESC) and Hongkong Himark Electron Model Limited. The other three are based in Turkey and the U.A.E., the OFAC said.
PESC has procured thousands of servomotors with one-way attack UAV applications worth hundreds of thousands of dollars for the IRGC, the OFAC said. The company's CEO, Iran-based Hamid Reza Janghorbani, was also designated for sanctions along with Hongkong Himark official Fan Yang, who is based in China.
The OFAC said Fan had represented Hong Kong-based Hongkong Himark in fulfilling servomotor orders worth more than $1 million for PESC. In addition to selling servomotors to PESC, Fan attempted to hide that an Iranian company was behind the shipments by falsifying invoices, the OFAC said.
Hongkong Himark is being designated for having provided or attempted to provide financial, technological, or other support for PESC. The firms based in Turkey and the U.A.E. have been designated for facilitating financial transactions, shipping, and material and technical support for PESC’s servomotor procurement from Hongkong Himark.
The sanctions build on designations announced in November 2022 by the OFAC aimed at Iran's Shahed Aviation Industries Research Center. The Iranian firm is subordinate to the IRGC's aerospace organization and designs and manufactures the Shahed-136, the Treasury Department said.
The sanctions freeze any assets the individuals hold in U.S. jurisdiction and block people in the United States from having any dealings with the entities and individuals named.
Iran Claims It Launched Noor 3 Satellite Into Orbit
Iran's Revolutionary Guards successfully launched a third military satellite into orbit on September 27, state media reported, citing Minister of Communications Issa Zarepour. The Noor 3 imaging satellite orbits at an altitude of 450 kilometers above the earth's surface and was launched by the three-stage Qased, or messenger carrier, state media said, which launched its predecessor Noor 2 in 2022. The U.S. military says the same long-range ballistic technology used to put satellites into orbit could also allow Tehran to launch longer-range weapons, possibly including nuclear warheads. Tehran denies U.S. assertions that such activity is a cover for ballistic missile development and says it has never pursued the development of nuclear weapons. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.
Iranian President Says Israeli Normalization Deals Will Fail
Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi said in a CNN interview on September 24 that U.S.-sponsored efforts to normalize Israeli relations with Gulf Arab states, including Saudi Arabia, "will see no success." Raisi also said Iran had not said it doesn’t want inspectors from the UN nuclear watchdog in the country. Israel has moved closer to the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan, and Morocco following a U.S.-driven diplomatic initiative in 2020 that pushed for normalization. Establishing ties with Saudi Arabia would be the grand prize for Israel and change the geopolitics of the Middle East. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.
Iran Demands Sweden Act Against Koran Burnings, Urges Release Of Prisoner
Iran has demanded that Sweden take action over Koran burnings before the two countries can exchange ambassadors again, and urged it to release a jailed Iranian citizen, the Foreign Ministry said on September 24. Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian discussed the Koran issue with his Swedish counterpart, Tobias Billstrom, on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, the ministry said. Sweden has seen a series of public burnings of the Islamic holy book. Stockholm has voiced condemnation but said it cannot stop acts protected under laws on free expression.
Iran Says 28 IS Extremists Arrested After Foiling Major Bombing Plot In Tehran
Authorities in the Iranian capital, Tehran, said on September 24 that they had prevented a major “terrorist network” plot to explode 30 bombs in the city and that they had arrested 28 people associated with the Islamic State (IS) extremist group. The Interior Ministry said those arrested had a history of activities in Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraqi Kurdistan. It said the arrests had taken place in “recent days” and that the plan was to conduct "30 simultaneous terrorist explosions in Tehran's populated centers." To read the original story by RFE/RL’s Radio Farda, click here.
Blinken Suggests Iran Is Not A Responsible Actor In Its Nuclear Program
Iran's decision to bar some UN nuclear inspectors suggests it is not interested in being a responsible actor when it comes to its atomic program, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on September 22. "We tried to work indirectly with Iran as well as with European partners and even Russia and China to see if we can get a return to compliance with the Iran nuclear deal ... But Iran couldn't or wouldn't do that," Blinken told reporters. On September 23, the head of the International Atomic Energy (IAEA) condemned Tehran's move to bar multiple inspectors assigned to the country. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.
Woman In Iran Arrested After Head Scarf Protest
An Iranian woman has been arrested after protesting against the compulsory wearing of head scarves, the Norway-based human rights group Hengaw reported on September 22. The engineer, Zeinab Kazemi, was reportedly taken from her home by security forces a few days ago. She had previously received a suspended sentence of 74 lashes on probation. In February Kazemi threw her head scarf on the floor at an event in order to protest against the decision of an engineering association not to admit her to the board because of an ill-fitting head scarf. Members of parliament introduced a new head scarf bill just this week.
Rights Group Says Iran's Security Forces 'Intentionally' Shot Protesters In The Eyes
The Iran Human Rights group (IHRNGO) said the Islamic nation's security forces “intentionally targeted” the eyes and faces of protesters during a violent crackdown on demonstrations last year sparkled by the death of a young woman in police custody for allegedly violating the country's hijab law.
In an analysis published on September 22, the Norway-based rights group said it was able to verify 138 cases of eye injuries sustained during the months-long, nationwide protests in Iran last year. Many of the victims lost vision in one eye, some in both.
“IHRNGO’s analysis shows that the brutal crimes committed during the protests by the Islamic republic were planned, coordinated and calculated,” said Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam, head of the rights group.
“The Islamic republic leader, Ali Khamenei, and all the perpetrators of such crimes must be held accountable.”
Reports of Iranian security forces shooting protesters in the eyes emerged in the first months of the demonstrations, which began immediately following the death of Mahsa Amini on September 16, 2022. The victims say they were purposely singled out before being wounded.
The Iranian government and senior security officials have rejected the accusations.
WATCH: Amateur video shows the moment Erfan Ramizipour was shot in the eyes by Iranian security forces as he took part in mass anti-regime protests in 2022. The 24-year-old is just one of many protesters who have been shot in the eyes, in what appears to have been a deliberate tactic. Now in Germany, he is receiving medical care -- and continuing to battle for justice in his homeland.
The victims include eight children, the youngest a 5-year-old girl, Iran Human Rights said.
Women accounted for 28 percent of those with eye injuries but only 9 percent of deaths, implying the "repressive forces have chosen to intentionally target women’s eyes instead of fatally shooting them,” the group said in its report.
In a smaller sample collected from the city of Mahabad, northwestern Iran, women constitute 56 percent of those with eye injuries, the group said.
Most eye injuries were caused by pellets made of metal and plastic. In nine of the cases, the injuries were caused by projectiles fired from paintball guns.
The rights group’s data shows that Iran’s security forces started shooting protesters in the eyes from the first days of protests in September 2022, while the last documented cases are from December 2022.
The actual number of protesters who have been blinded by security forces after being shot in the face is unknown.
The New York Times has estimated some 500 young Iranians were treated in Tehran hospitals for eye injuries during the first three months of the protests.
Iranwire, which documents human rights abuses in Iran, said it had confirmed some 580 cases of blinding in Tehran and the province of Kurdistan alone, “but the actual numbers across the country are much higher.”
RFE/RL is unable to verify such reports.
Rights activists have reported several cases of protesters with eye injuries who were arrested in an apparent attempt to be silenced.
In addition to eye and other serious injuries, more than 500 people, including 71 children were killed during the demonstrations trigged by the death of Amini, who was arrested for allegedly violating strict dress rules for women.
The widespread unrest represents the biggest threat to the Islamic government since the 1979 revolution.
Government Reportedly Ratcheting Up Pressure On Families Of Dead Iranian Protesters
Iranian security forces are reported to have escalated their actions against the families of protesters killed during widespread protests last year as the government continues to try and put a lid on unrest triggered by the death of Mahsa Amini, the biggest challenge to the Islamic regime since the 1979 revolution.
Social media posts from the affected families, corroborated by videos, appear to show that memorial ceremonies in at least 19 cities, including Tehran, have been thwarted by Iran's security apparatus, including the western city of Ilam, where the tomb of Mohsen Ghaisari became a focal point of tension when his brother and several others were apprehended.
Ghaisari, a 32-year-old Kurdish Iranian, was fatally shot in the chest and head by a special unit officer during the 2022 nationwide protests after the death of Amini.
Meanwhile, in Qazvin, the family home of slain protester Javad Heydari was raided, leading to the arrest of his elderly father and two siblings, according to Fateme Heydari, Javad's sister.
Despite video showing the incident, Abbas Kazemi, the deputy governor of Qazvin for political, security, and social affairs, denied any official presence at the Heydari residence, framing the incident as a move to "protect local residents."
"The judiciary, the police, the security apparatus, all have collaborated to intimidate us bereaved families," said Farzaneh Barzekar, whose 21-year-old son was killed by security forces a year ago.
Barzekar herself was arrested earlier in September after attending a memorial ceremony for Javad Rouhi, a protester who recently died in prison.
Human rights groups highlighted similar incidents across the country, including the Human Rights Network of Kurdistan, which reported disruptions to memorial ceremonies in several cities, including Kermanshah and Quchan.
At least 500 people have been killed around the country since authorities began the current crackdown on her sympathizers, with thousands more detained or harassed.
Written by Ardeshir Tayebi based on an original story in Persian by RFE/RL's Radio Farda
Family Of Iranian Teen Calls Off Memorial Amid Heightened Security Presence
Plans to commemorate the first anniversary of the death of Nika Shakarami, a 16-year-old protester believed to have been killed by Iranian security forces during widespread protests last year, have been abruptly canceled amid an increased security presence around her grave site and the detention of several people who tried to come and pay their respects.
Nasrin Shakarami, Nika's mother, said in a post on Instagram that "problems" had forced the family to call off a memorial.
"I don't want to endanger the honorable citizens who intended to join us," she wrote, noting the severe consequences handed to those who have voiced dissent over the situation in Iran.
Aida Shakarami, Nika's sister, also took to Instagram, reporting an increased security presence around Nika's grave in recent days. She added that several individuals who tried to pay their respects were detained.
The 16-year-old Nika went missing during protests in September 2022 in Tehran over the death of Mahsa Amini, who died while in police custody for allegedly wearing her head scarf improperly.
In her last communication with her friends, she said she was being chased by security forces.
Eight days later, Nika's body was returned to her family. The official cause of death was cited as "multiple blunt force traumas" to the head, though authorities pushed the narrative that her death was a suicide.
The incident echoed what happened to Amini. Authorities have said she fell into a coma soon after her arrest because of health problems. But her family says she was in good health, while eyewitnesses said the 22-year-old was beaten during her arrest.
Amini's family was also denied access to her grave on the anniversary of her death on September 16.
Amjad Amini, Amini's father, was detained outside his home on September 16 and taken to the Intelligence Ministry in his hometown of Saghez for interrogation in what is widely seen as a thinly veiled attempt to keep him from going to his daughter's burial place.
The public anger at Amini's death has widely been seen as one of the biggest threats to Iran's clerical establishment since the foundation of the Islamic republic in 1979.
At least 500 people have been killed around the country since authorities began the current crackdown on her sympathizers, with thousands more detained or harassed.
Written by Ardeshir Tayebi based on an original story in Persian by RFE/RL's Radio Farda
Iranian Court Sentences Tajik National To Death Over Deadly Attack On Mausoleum
Iran's judiciary has sentenced Rahmatollah Nouruzof, a Tajik national, to death over an attack on the Shah Cheragh mausoleum in the city of Shiraz last month that killed two people.
The head of the judiciary in Fars Province, Kazem Mousavi, said Nouruzof was the main suspect in the attack and that he had admitted to ties with Islamic State (IS).
Nouruzof, also known as Mostafa Islam-Yar, was charged with "waging war against God," "corruption on Earth," and "conspiring against national security" following his armed assault on the Shah Cheragh shrine on August 13. The Mizan news agency reported that he was sentenced to death on two of the charges.
The August attack on the Shah Cheragh shrine in Shiraz was the second of its kind within a year. While initial reports from the ISNA news agency cited four deaths and at least seven injuries in the attack, Mizan recently updated the death toll to two confirmed deaths and seven injuries.
The judiciary said on September 21 that two other minor suspects were “cleared of direct involvement in the crimes as they were unaware of the primary attacker's intentions.” They were sentenced to five years of discretionary imprisonment and expulsion from Iran.
A previous attack in October 2022, for which IS claimed responsibility, resulted in 13 deaths and left dozens injured.
Iran's Intelligence Ministry said in a statement on November 7, 2022, that the "main element directing and coordinating the attacks inside the country" was a citizen of Azerbaijan. It also reported the detention of 26 foreign nationals, primarily from Azerbaijan, Tajikistan, and Afghanistan, in the case.
In December, indictments were issued for five other individuals linked to the Shah Cheragh attack.
In early 2023, Shiraz's Revolutionary Court sentenced two of them, Mohammad Ramez Rashidi and Seyed Naeim Hashemi Qatali, to public execution. All five were identified as foreign nationals and members of the IS terrorist group. The remaining three people detained received lengthy prison terms.
The execution of the two Afghan nationals in July was met with concerns from human rights activists who questioned the fairness of the judicial process and the lack of evidence proving their guilt.
The Iran Human Rights group said the sentences issued to Rashidi and Qatali were not legally valid and were based on forced confessions. The two were hanged in a public execution on July 8.
Iran has seen a surge in executions this year, a trend that has drawn widespread domestic and international condemnation with critics saying that many judgements are rushed through the judiciary while "sham" trials and forced confessions are routine.
Written by Ardeshir Tayebi based on an original story in Persian by RFE/RL's Radio Farda
Iran's President Says U.S. Should Ease Sanctions To Demonstrate It Wants To Return To Nuclear Deal
Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi said on September 20 that relations with the United States can move forward if the Biden administration demonstrates it wants to return to the 2015 nuclear deal, and a first step should be easing sanctions. He told a news conference that the Americans have reached out through several channels “saying they wish to have a dialogue, but we do believe that it must be accompanied by action.” “So talk alone is not going to do it,” Raisi said. But action on sanctions can be “a solid foundation for continuing” discussions. The Iranian leader added: “We have not left the table of negotiations.” To read the original story by AP, click here.
As 'Misery' Rises In Iran, So Does People's Determination To Move Abroad
Iranians are more miserable than ever, according to recently released figures, at a time when a large segment of the population is reportedly considering leaving their country for good.
Iran's "misery index" stands at more than 60 percent, according to the latest quarterly study compiled by the government-funded Iranian Statistics Center. The index, which factors in inflation and unemployment figures and is seen as a predictor of everything from crime levels to economic stagnation, rose by 1.2 percentage points over the previous quarterly survey.
The misery index was highest -- 69.5 percent -- in the western Lorestan Province, which has seen violent protests over water shortages in recent years and has among the highest unemployment and inflation rates in Iran.
The increase comes amid a flurry of reports highlighting the government's concerns over the number of Iranians who want to emigrate in search of a better life abroad, resulting in loss of capital, professionals, and skilled workers.
"Confidential" internal correspondence purportedly from the Information Ministry suggested this week that a government survey had indicated that "young men of higher education and financial capabilities, particularly in big cities," were the most willing to leave Iran.
RFE/RL is unable to verify the accuracy of that and other documents leaked by the Qiyam Ta Sarnguni, a group affiliated with the banned Mujahedin-e Khalq Organization.
Another "confidential" document recently leaked by the group online, this time from the presidential office's Center for Strategic Studies and reportedly sent to Interior Minister Ahmad Vahidi, noted "a wide wave of [people] who desire to emigrate." The assessment, which traditionally does not account for medical workers who are known to seek careers abroad, was described as "an alarm" that signals the ineffectiveness of efforts toward "controlling the motives of immigration and indifference toward the country."
The brain drain of tech specialists, health-care professionals, and educators from Iran has been well documented in the past year, following a brief respite when many international sanctions were lifted on Iran under an historic nuclear deal signed with world powers.
But with the withdrawal of the United States from the deal in 2018, the agreement faltered and the return of crippling U.S. sanctions targeting key export industries has posed significant obstacles to Iran's already dire economic situation. Iranians have additionally struggled in recent years with soaring inflation and record unemployment.
Tehran's harsh response to protests across the country -- both by struggling industrial workers and farmers suffering severe water shortages in recent years, as well as supporters of the country's Women, Life, Freedom! movement who have voiced their anger at the clerical establishment -- appears to have pushed many Iranians to consider leaving for good.
An ongoing purge of academics at Iranian universities, government pressure on medical workers treating protesters injured in the brutal clampdown on dissent, and restrictions and Internet slowdowns on tech-savvy companies have all been cited as contributing factors to the latest round of brain drain.
Another document leaked by Qiyam Ta Sarnguni in August, this time allegedly from the Information Ministry, suggests that officials are seeking to prevent the "emigration of scientific and elite groups." The document also claims that the emigration of elite talent is "limited to the field of health treatment" and is due to the "intensification of economic and livelihood problems in the country."
The Farhikhtegan newspaper, the official mouthpiece for Tehran's Islamic Azad University, has said that 6,500 doctors and medical specialists left the country in 2022. And Mohammad Mirzabigi, the head of Iran's nursing system, told the semiofficial ILNA news agency recently that "between 100 and 150 nurses emigrate every month," according to RFE/RL's Radio Farda.
Injured protesters who spoke to Radio Farda have indicated that harassment against health-care workers has also led some to go abroad for treatment. "The main reason [for emigrating] was the treatment of my eye, because in Iran, doctors were under pressure [from the government], and I couldn't ask any more of them," Maysam Dehghani, a protester who sustained a severe injury at the hands of Iran's security forces, said this week.
There are also indications that the desire to leave the country is not unique to the elite.
In an interview with ILNA this summer, Daud Beginejad, the vice president of Iran's Real Estate Consultants Association, said that the flight of housing developers posed a "very dangerous" threat to Iran's future.
Half of Iran's university students and graduates have decided to emigrate -- accounting for more than 66,000 people, according to Bahram Salvati, the director of the Iranian Migration Observatory, a research institute based at Tehran's Sharif University that itself came under pressure in August after it was given an eviction notice.
Salvati has also cited Iran's unstable Internet, which the authorities have slowed or shut down amid protests, as a cause for start-up companies to leave for Turkey and other countries in the region.
The list of skilled workers seeking to emigrate goes on, including midwives, pilots, truck drivers, and construction workers.
Outside organizations have noted the impact, with the European Union's Agency for Asylum reporting this year that Iranian asylum applications to the EU had "more or less doubled" this year compared to the same period in 2022, with more than 13,000 applications.
Saeed Moaidfar, head of the Iranian Sociological Association, explained in a recent interview with the Jamaran news website the deep-seated "reasons behind people's" desire to emigrate.
"A migration wave occurs when a deep economic crisis in the field of production, employment, inflation, and other issues coincides with other crises," Moaidfar said. "It means, for example, that this person or persons have reached the point where their political system is not sufficient to overcome an economic crisis, or they feel that nepotism is used instead of meritocracy."
According to the Iranian Migration Observatory, about 2.2 million Iranians, accounting for some 3.3 percent of the population, left the country for work or other reasons last year. The vast majority -- 62 percent -- do not want to come back after leaving, with more than 90 percent saying they distrust the government's pledges of opportunities at home.
With neighboring countries experiencing rapid growth, Iranian officials are expressing fear that the country could become "an island devoid of opportunities."
Mehdi Ghazanfari, the head of the National Development Fund, said in a recent interview with an economic publication that the lure of life abroad could leave Iran without "manpower and opportunities" and that "the day will come" when the country will become a training center for other countries' workers.
Written by Michael Scollon based on reporting by RFE/RL's Radio Farda
Mahsa Amini, Activists From Afghanistan, Georgia Nominated For EU's Sakharov Prize
Mahsa Amini and the women of Iran were nominated for this year's Sakharov Prize, the European Union’s top rights prize, the EU Parliament said on September 20. Amini, the 22-year-old Kurdish-Iranian woman who died in Iran last year while in custody for an alleged hijab infraction, was nominated by the parliament’s three largest blocs, making her the favorite to be chosen for the award in December. Afghan education activists Marzia Amiri, Parasto Hakim, and Matiullah Wesa were nominated, as were the "pro-European people of Georgia" and Nino Lomjaria, former public defender of Georgia. The award will be presented in December.
Iran's Persian Caravanserai Recognized As UNESCO World Heritage
Caravanserais were roadside inns built along ancient Iranian routes, providing shelter, food, and water to caravans, pilgrims, and travelers. These establishments were pivotal to the Silk Road trade network, contributing significantly to the development of Persian and Islamic culture.
Iranian Deputies Vote To Toughen Penalties For Women Flouting Dress Code
Iran's parliament has unveiled the text of a contentious hijab and chastity bill aimed at confronting, detaining, and penalizing women who fail to observe the compulsory dress code amid a fierce debate over the rules, which have drawn criticism both inside the country and abroad.
The bill was approved by 152 deputies -- 34 voted against and seven abstained -- on September 20, just four days after the first anniversary of the death of Mahsa Amini while the 22-year-old was in custody for an alleged hijab infraction.
The legislation empowers three intelligence agencies -- the Ministry of Intelligence, the Revolutionary Guards Intelligence Organization, and the Intelligence Organization of the Judiciary -- along with police, the Basij paramilitary forces, and the Command of Enjoining Good and Forbidding Wrong to take action against women who break the rules.
The legislation, which is being implemented on a three-year trial basis, also touches on the need for broader gender segregation in universities, administrative centers, educational institutions, parks, and tourist locations, and even in hospital treatment sections. It proposes severe penalties, including imprisonment up to 10 years and fines for women who defy the mandatory hijab law.
A United Nations fact-finding mission said in a statement last week that the law will "expose women and girls to increased risks of violence, harassment, and arbitrary detention."
According to Article 50 of the bill, anyone who appears in public places or streets in a state of nudity or seminudity, or with a dress that is considered as too revealing, will be immediately apprehended by officers and handed over to the judiciary. Those arrested will face imprisonment or a fine, and if the offense is repeated, the imprisonment or fine will be increased.
The bill also stipulates that anyone who is judged to have insulted the hijab, promoted nudity, immodesty, or an improper hijab, or performs any behavior that promotes them will be sentenced to a fine and, at the discretion of the judicial authority, a ban on leaving the country and a ban on public activity on the Internet for six months to two years.
The bill also prohibits commissioning work or advertising from individuals or legal entities that promote non-hijab values in their activities inside or outside the country, or in any media, including social media.
The hijab became compulsory for women and girls over the age of 9 in 1981, two years after the Islamic Revolution in Iran. The move triggered protests that were swiftly crushed by the new authorities. Many women have flouted the rule over the years and pushed the boundaries of what officials say is acceptable clothing.
The death of Amini released a wave of anger that has presented the Islamic regime with its biggest challenge since the revolution.
The Women, Life, Freedom protests and civil disobedience against the compulsory hijab have swept the country, involving tens of thousands of Iranians, many of whom were already upset over the country's deteriorating living standards. Campaigns were also launched against the discriminatory law, although many have been pressured by the state and forced to leave the country.
The protests have also been buffeted by the participation of celebrities, sports stars, and well-known rights activists, prompting a special mention of such luminaries in the legislation.
In the face of the unrest, some religious and government figures have repeatedly advocated for a tougher stance by the government against offenders, even going as far as encouraging a "fire-at-will" approach against noncompliant women.
While the protests have shown some signs of waning, resistance to the hijab is likely to increase, analysts say, as it is seen now as a symbol of the state's repression of women and the deadly crackdown on society.
Russia-Iran Ties Have Reached New Level, Says Russian Defense Minister
Relations between Russia and Iran have reached a new level despite opposition from much of the Western world, Russia's Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said on September 20 during a visit to Tehran. "We are aiming at an entire range of planned activities, despite opposition from the United States and its Western allies," the Interfax news agency cited Shoigu as saying. "Sanctions pressure on Russia and Iran shows its futility, while Russian-Iranian interaction is reaching a new level."
Iranian President Urges U.S. To Demonstrate It Wants To Return To The 2015 Nuclear Deal
Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi said on September 19 that his country will never give up its right “to have peaceful nuclear energy” and urged the United States “to demonstrate in a verifiable fashion” that it wants to return to the 2015 nuclear deal. Addressing the annual high-level meeting of the UN General Assembly, Raisi said the American withdrawal from the deal trampled on U.S. commitments and was “an inappropriate response” to Iran’s fulfillment of its obligations. Iran has long denied ever seeking nuclear weapons and continues to insist that its program is entirely for peaceful purposes. But UN nuclear chief Rafael Grossi said in an interview with the Associated Press that the Iranian government’s removal of many cameras and electronic monitoring systems installed by the International Atomic Energy Agency make it impossible to give assurances about the country’s nuclear program. To read the original story by AP, click here.
Iranian Misery Index Hits New High As Unemployment, Inflation Rise
Iran's Misery Index, a calculation that combines unemployment and inflation rates, has risen to 60.4 percent, its highest point ever and more than double what it was six years ago.
The index, calculated by the Iranian Statistics Center and released on September 18, shows how the average citizen is faring economically.
The latest data, the center said, showed a 1.2 percentage point rise at the end of the first quarter, and in some provinces, such as Lorestan, the index reached almost 70 percent.
The index shows the depths to which Iran's economy has been ravaged by U.S. sanctions over Tehran's nuclear program.
In 2018, when then U.S. President Donald Trump pulled out of a global deal on Iran's nuclear program and reintroduced sanctions on Tehran, the Misery Index stood at 38.9 percent.
In response to declining living standards, wage arrears, and a lack of welfare support, Iranians have taken to the streets to protest living conditions and demand government action.
In Lorestan, the province's annual inflation rate was reported at 57.1 percent for the month of June, making it one of the highest among Iran's 31 provinces. Meanwhile, Lorestan's unemployment rate was 12.4 percent, the second-highest nationally.
The Misery Index showed provinces such as Chaharmahal and Bakhtiari -- both of which had readings in the high 60s -- aren't lagging far behind. Sistan-Baluchistan, which has the highest unemployment rate in the country at 12.8 percent, was also hard hit, the index shows.
The Tehran-based Donya-e-Eqtesad newspaper cited experts who underscored the importance of the Misery Index in gauging stagflation within an economy.
The index is also seen as a barometer for societal issues, with a direct link to crime rates and even instances of suicide. The publication highlighted that in the past year, 22 of Iran's 31 provinces have reported a Misery Index surpassing the national average.
The death in September 2022 of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini while in police custody for allegedly wearing a head scarf improperly has added fuel to the unrest, as Iranians demonstrate against a lack of freedoms and women's rights.
Written by Ardeshir Tayebi based on an original story in Persian by RFE/RL's Radio Farda
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