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U.S. Official To Press Iran Sanctions With Leaders In Malaysia, Singapore, India

U.S. official Sigal Mandelker is in Asia to discuss sanctions against Iran.

A top U.S. sanctions official is in Asia to push efforts to increase pressure on Iran, saying Washington was intent on making Tehran "radioactive to the international community."

Sigal Mandelker, the U.S. Treasury undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, said in Singapore on March 29 that she would stress in further meetings this week with officials in Malaysia, Singapore, and India the risks involved in dealing with Tehran.

"It's very important that these countries have important visibility into the different ways the Iranian regime uses to deceive the international community in connection with shipment of oil," she said.

The U.S. administration has a stated goal of reducing Iranian oil exports to zero by demanding importers reduce purchases or face U.S. sanctions. Washington has granted short-term waivers to several countries to continue buying energy products from Tehran to avoid disrupting their own economies.

"This trip follows on the heels of additional intense pressure we have placed on Iran. In just the last week, we took action against nuclear scientists and agencies and other key personnel involved with the Iranian regime's past nuclear weapons entities," Mandelker said.

"We are making them radioactive to the international community."

Washington on March 26 announced it had disrupted what it called a "large-scale front-company network" that has transferred more than $1 billion to Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps and Defense Ministry in violation of U.S. sanctions.

It also announced fresh sanctions against 25 individuals and entities it said were part of the network -- including "front companies" based in Iran, the United Arab Emirates, and Turkey.

Mandelker, who met with Singapore central bank officials on March 29, said she will meet with Singapore's Home, Finance, and Trade ministries on March 30.

Mandelker made similar remarks before the U.S. House Appropriations Subcommittee on Financial Services on March 12, warning European allies about the risks of doing business with Iran, including the use of a special-purpose vehicle that allows trade with Tehran but avoids violating U.S. sanctions.

The administration of President Donald Trump has pressed hard against what it calls the "malign" activities of Tehran in the Middle East, including alleged support for extremist violence, testing of ballistic and nuclear weapons, and support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Iran denies it funds terrorists and says its nuclear program is for civilian purposes only.

Trump last year pulled the United States out of the 2015 nuclear accord that provided Tehran with sanctions relief in exchange for curbs on its nuclear program and began reimposing sanctions.

With reporting by Reuters and RFE/RL's Radio Farda

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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

Hackers Release Iranian Documents Revealing New Details Of Azerbaijani Embassy Attack

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

A hacking group has released a batch of what it claims are classified Iranian government documents, some of which revealed new details of an attack early this year on the Azerbaijani Embassy in Tehran.

The hackers, known as Uprising Until Overthrow and affiliated with the exiled opposition Mujahedin Khalq Organization (MKO), posted some of the documents on the Telegram messaging app on May 30. The MKO is considered a terrorist group by Tehran.

RFE/RL could not immediately verify the authenticity of the materials, some of which were undated and marked "very confidential," indicating they could be drafts.

Iran’s Presidential Office has dismissed reports of a cyberattack on its website, but it said there was some temporary downtime on it due to ongoing maintenance and the unveiling of an upgraded version of the site.

Azerbaijan has not officially commented on the reports.

Relations between Tehran and Baku have become increasingly strained in recent months, particularly after an armed attack on Baku's embassy in Tehran in January.

Azerbaijan halted the operation of its embassy in Iran after a security guard was killed and two others were wounded when a gunman opened fire on its grounds. Baku blamed the January 27 attack on the Iranian secret service and called it an "act of terrorism."

Some of the documents released by the hacking group offer previously unknown details of the embassy attack, including specifics about the identity and history of the attacker, his "ideological relations" with "Chechens," his interrogation, and some of his family members.

The leaks also said a police patrol left the scene of the embassy shooting after it took place. According to the documents, there was a 20-minute delay in law enforcement arriving at the scene.

In the aftermath of the attack, Azerbaijani diplomats and their families were quickly evacuated from Iran, sparking a severe diplomatic dispute. The leaked document suggests that the attack not only closed "windows of hope for improving relations" but pushed the trajectory of the bilateral relationship toward further escalation.

Tensions were further heightened following a failed assassination attempt in Baku on an Azerbaijani parliamentarian who has been critical of Iran.

Some of the leaked documents indicated an urgent need for a re-evaluation of Iran's diplomatic ties with Azerbaijan. The confidential document was purportedly dispatched to several top officials, including the foreign minister and the secretary of the Supreme National Security Council.

The documents also give advice on strategic communication tactics, including attempts to distance Azerbaijani society from its government, sensitizing Russia to Azerbaijan's movements, and attributing Azerbaijan's policies from Iran to "Zionist" influences.

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

Iranian Judiciary Chief Defends Executions Of Protesters

In a speech delivered on May 30, Gholamhossein Mohseni-Ejei stated that the sentences for those who "should be executed" will be carried out without exception "while maintaining legal standards and fairness."

The head of Iran’s judiciary has staunchly defended issuing death sentences for several demonstrators involved in nationwide protests that erupted in September 2022 following the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini soon after she was detained by morality police for allegedly violating the mandatory hijab law.

In a speech delivered on May 30, Gholamhossein Mohseni-Ejei stated that the sentences for those who "should be executed" will be carried out without exception "while maintaining legal standards and fairness."

Iran has so far executed at least seven protesters, sparking 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.

Amnesty International in a recent report warned about the imminent execution risk of seven more detainees from the protests. The human rights group named the seven as Ebrahim Naroui, Kambiz Kharot, Manochehr Mehmannavaz, Mansoreh Dehmardeh, Mohammad Ghabadlo, Mujahed (Abbas) Korkor, and Shoaib Mirbaluchzehi Rigi.

Mohseni-Ejei characterized the civil resistance against mandatory hijab, which has been led by Iranian women, as a "challenge of chastity and hijab" while claiming that such resistance has been influenced by the "hand of the enemy."

He did not elaborate, but Iranian officials have consistently blamed the West for the demonstrations -- the biggest threat to the Islamic government since the 1979 revolution -- and have vowed to continue to crack down hard on protesters.

Last November, Mohseni-Ejei's defense of the execution of Mohsen Shekari, a young protester accused of waging war against God for "closing a street and injuring a Basij paramilitary member," has been met with fierce criticism.

Legal experts have decried the imposition of the death penalty for the charge of "waging war against God," a crime often applied to political dissidents.

Responding to the worrying trend, six prominent legal scholars and an Iranian human rights lawyer penned a letter to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to express their grave concern over the escalating number of executions in Iran.

The signatories cited the abuse of national sovereignty principles by the Islamic republic to justify widespread executions, resulting in limited global capacity to prevent these inhuman actions effectively.

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

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

The Farda Briefing: Journalists Who Broke Mahsa Amini Story Stand Trial Behind Closed Doors

Reporters Nilufar Hamedi (left) and Elahe Mohammadi helped break the story of Mahsa Amini, whose death in police custody sparked outrage in Iran. (file photo)

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

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

The Big Issue

A revolutionary court in Iran this week began the trials of two female journalists who helped break the story of Mahsa Amini’s death.

Amini’s death in September soon after she was arrested by Iran’s morality police for allegedly violating the country’s hijab law triggered months of nationwide protests against the clerical establishment.

Reporters Nilufar Hamedi and Elahe Mohammadi helped expose the case of Amini to the world by reporting, respectively, from the hospital where she died and her funeral.

The women, who have been held in pretrial detention since September, face a number of charges that include "collaborating with the hostile government of America, conspiracy and collusion to commit crimes against national security, and propaganda against the establishment."

The trials are being held behind closed doors, despite widespread calls inside and outside Iran for them to be open to the public. The women have complained that they were allowed to meet their lawyers only last week.

Hamedi denied all charges against her as her trial began on May 30, her husband said. The 30-year-old said she "had performed her work as a journalist within the framework of the law and did not take any action against Iran's security," her husband, Mohammad Hossein Ajorlu, wrote on Twitter.

Mohammadi’s trial began a day earlier. Her lawyer, Shahabeddin Mirlohi, said the Tehran Revolutionary Court was not qualified to rule on the cases. Revolutionary courts mainly deal with prominent political cases and are seen to be less regulated and more hard-line in their judgments than ordinary courts.

Why It Matters: Hamedi and Mohammadi are being tried for simply doing their job.

Hamedi of the Shargh daily had reported from the Tehran hospital where Amini died from the injuries she allegedly suffered in custody.

Mohammadi of the Hammihan daily reported from Amini's funeral in her hometown of Saghez, where the first protests erupted.

Their cases have highlighted the Iranian authorities’ renewed crackdown on dissent in the wake of the antiestablishment protests.

What's Next: Rights groups and media watchdogs are closely watching the trial of Hamedi and Mohammadi, who have both been hailed for their reporting and honored by the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

Shargh editor-in-chief Mehdi Rahmanian expressed hope that the two will be acquitted and able to return to their jobs.

But the fact that the trials are being presided over by hard-line judge Abolqasem Salavati, who is known for handing out harsh sentences, is potentially bad news for the reporters.

Stories You Might Have Missed

Tensions remain high following the deadly clashes between Iranian and Taliban border troops as tensions over water supplies boiled over. But while both Tehran and the Taliban are doubling down on their water rights, they are leaving the door open for a diplomatic resolution.

The Iranian government has submitted a draft bill to the parliament that calls for tougher measures against women who do not observe the Islamic dress code in public. But the proposed legislation has angered hard-liners who say the bill does not go far enough.

What We're Watching

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said he would welcome full diplomatic relations with Egypt, during a May 29 meeting with Oman’s Sultan Haitham bin Tarik in Tehran.

Ties between Tehran and Cairo deteriorated sharply following the Islamic Revolution in 1979 and the ousting of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, who was granted asylum in Egypt where he later died. The two countries have maintained diplomatic contacts.

"We welcome the Omani Sultan's statement about Egypt's willingness to resume relations with the Islamic Republic of Iran and we have no problem in this regard," Khamenei said, according to his official website.

Why It Matters: Khamenei’s comments come as Tehran seeks to improve its ties with regional powers.

In March, Iran and Saudi Arabia, longtime rivals, agreed to reestablish diplomatic ties. The surprise agreement was brokered by China.

According to reports, Iranian and Egyptian officials have held behind-closed-door meetings over improving relations since March.

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.

Iran Starts Retrial Of Journalist Who Covered Woman's Death In Morality Police Custody

Niloufar Hamedi (file photo)

A court in Iran on May 30 began the closed-door trial of a female journalist on charges linked to her coverage of a Kurdish-Iranian woman, Mahsa Amini, whose death in custody last year sparked months of unrest. Niloufar Hamedi, along with another female journalist, Elaheh Mohammadi, who went on trial on May 29, face several charges including "colluding with hostile powers" for their coverage of Amini's death. Hamedi's husband said the trial session "ended in less than two hours while her lawyers did not get a chance to defend her." To read the original story by Reuters, click here.

Iranian Retirees Join Workers In Fresh Wave Of Protests Over Pensions, Living Conditions

Retirees from the telecommunications sector staged rallies in multiple cities across Iran to protest over economic woes on May 30.

A new wave of protests is sweeping across Iran as retirees and workers demonstrate against harsh living conditions and skyrocketing inflation in the country, which has been hit hard by international sanctions over the government's nuclear program and its suppression of human rights.

Demonstrations took place on May 29 in numerous provinces, including Khuzestan, Lorestan, Hormozgan, Chaharmahal and Bakhtiari, Kermanshah, Kurdistan, Ilam, West Azerbaijan, Khorasan Razavi, Mazandaran, Fars, and Isfahan.

Telecommunications retirees were a large part of the protesters, while in the southern Iranian city of Bandar Abbas, workers from the Maad Koush factory, a critical supplier to the Hormozgan Steel Company production chain, joined in as they continued into the third day of their strike despite threats of dismissal and arrest.

Meanwhile, the Nepheline Syenite Complex workers' strike in the city of Kalibar, East Azerbaijan Province, extended into its second day.

Government officials have described the complex in Kalibar as the Middle East's sole nepheline syenite mineral-rock-processing unit, a critical material for aluminum, glass, plastic, and rubber ceramics production.

Worker representatives have warned officials that if their "indifference to workers' demands" continues, the government will be "responsible for any subsequent incident."

In recent weeks, social-security retirees and telecommunications retirees have held numerous gatherings to voice their anger over deteriorating living conditions, the issue of fixed pensions in a high-inflation environment, and the overall mounting costs of living.

The retirees also claim that part of their legitimate benefits, including the payment of welfare and supplies, have been cut off for some time without explanation. They are demanding they be fully compensated.

In the southwestern city of Ahvaz, protesters gathered outside Khuzestan Province's main Telecommunications Company building on May 29, voicing their grievances with slogans like "Injustice and oppression are enough, our tables have nothing on them."

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 22-year-old Mahsa Amini 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.

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

Official Warns Iranian Film Industry Over Dissent After Cannes Festival

Cinema Organization chief Mohammad Khazaie (file photo)

The head of the Cinema Organization of the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance has warned the country's film industry that dissent will be dealt with harshly after several people from the sector participated in the Cannes Film Festival without obtaining permission from Tehran.

Mohammad Khazaie said on May 29 that the individuals who traveled to the French seaside resort for the festival earlier this month will be barred from operating in Iran's film industry, saying they cannot both "wear the coat of opposition" and work in Iranian cinema.

While only one Iranian film, Terrestrial Verses, was officially entered in the competition, dissident director Mohammad Rasolof, who was recently released from Tehran's notorious Evin prison, was asked to be a jury member. However, he was not granted permission to attend the event.

Still, several Iranian-born celebrities attended the festival and made statements calling for an end to oppression in the country and an end to state violence against dissent. One of the most notable statements came from Iranian model Mahlagha Jaberi, whose red-carpet dress featured a noose as the neckline.

Khazaie said he was also concerned over the underground production and distribution of films and noncompliance with religious issues.

"We will cut ties with anyone who, for any reason, works with smuggled and unlicensed films in Iran and abroad, and works against Iran," Khazaie warned.

This includes all elements of the film industry, from actors and producers to technical staff, he added.

Khazaie's comments were likely directed at the film Me, Maryam, The Children, And 26 Others, directed by Farshad Hashemi. The film was shown by the Independent Filmmakers Union of Iran at the Marche du Film (Cannes Film Market), despite being made in Iran without observing the Islamic republic's censorship laws, including the mandatory hijab for female actors.

Such acts of civil disobedience have increased in Iran -- where the law requires women and girls over the age of 9 to wear a head scarf in public -- since the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini while in the custody of the morality police on September 16 for an alleged hijab offense.

While the protests appear to be waning, resistance to the hijab is likely to increase, analysts say, as it is seen now as a symbol of the state's repression of women and the deadly crackdown on society.

Several Iranian cinematographers and prominent public figures have also been summoned by the police or arrested, including director Hamid Porazari.

Other celebrities, including prominent Iranian actresses Afsaneh Bayegan, Fatemeh Motamed-Arya, Katayoun Riahi, and Pantea Bahram, have been interrogated and faced legal action after they made public appearances without wearing the mandatory hijab to show support for the protesters.

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

Iran And Afghanistan's Taliban Clash As Water Dispute Boils Over

The Taliban has consistently denied the accusation that it was not complying with its 1973 treaty with Iran, by which it is bound to supply its neighbor with water from the Kajaki Dam. But Afghanistan's rulers say even it if were opened, there wouldn't be enough water to reach Iran.

Water has exposed cracks in the Taliban's fragile relationship with Tehran, with both sides exchanging pointed barbs over scarce supplies before coming to deadly blows along the Afghan-Iranian border.

Tensions remain high following the deaths of troops from both sides on May 27, with Taliban and Iranian officials digging in on their positions with increased military activity and fresh warnings.

But while disputes over water security are expected to intensify between the two drought-stricken countries, both sides appear to be keeping the door open for dialogue on the issue while boosting cooperation in other areas of mutual concern.

The deadly firefight took place across the shared border between southeastern Iran and southwestern Afghanistan, with each side accusing the other of firing first. Social media footage showed Taliban heavy weaponry streaming to the border in the Kang district of Nimroz Province, where officials said one Taliban border guard was killed and several people were wounded after an exchange of heavy gunfire.

Iranian media, meanwhile, said up to three Iranian border guards were killed and several people wounded in its southeastern Sistan-Baluchistan Province, where Iran has worked to fortify its border as tensions over water supplies rose over the past two weeks.

Women crouch in a former basin in Sistan and Baluchistan amid a severe water shortage on May 18.
Women crouch in a former basin in Sistan and Baluchistan amid a severe water shortage on May 18.

Following the incident, the Taliban has continued to push back on Iran's claim that it is not honoring a water treaty ironed out by the two sides in 1973.

"The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan considers dialogue to be a reasonable way for any problem," Taliban Defense Ministry spokesman Enayatullah Khawarazmi said in a statement on May 28, referring to the official name of the Taliban's unrecognized government. "Making excuses for war and negative actions is not in the interest of any of the parties."

Iran has continued its harder line, with national police commander Brigadier-General Ahmadreza Radan saying the same day that "the border forces of the Islamic republic of Iran will decisively respond to any border trespassing and aggression, and the current authorities of Afghanistan must be held accountable for their unmeasured and contrary actions to international principles."

But Iranian officials, too, have expressed the need for a diplomatic solution, with high-ranking security official Mohammad Ismail Kothari describing the dispute as "fighting between children of the same house" while rejecting that Tehran would resort to the "military option."

Big Dam Issues

Water is a precious commodity in both southwestern Afghanistan, one of the country's most productive agricultural areas, and in southeastern Iran, one of several arid areas of the country where water scarcity has fueled public protests.

But with Afghanistan in control of upriver water sources that feed low-lying wetlands and lakes in Iran's southeast, the Taliban finds itself with a rare tool for leverage in its relationship with Tehran.

The problem -- or the solution, depending on which side you consider -- stems from the construction of major dam projects in Afghanistan that in combination with increased drought and other factors have restricted the flow of water to the Sistan Basin.

The border-straddling basin depends on perennial flooding to fill what used to be a vast wildlife oasis and was home to the massive Hamun Lake, which now consists of three smaller seasonal lakes -- Hamun-e Helmand in Iran and Hamun-e Sabari and Hamun-e Puzak in both Afghanistan and Iran.

The longstanding issue of replenishing the basin with water came to the forefront earlier this month following comments by Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian and President Ebrahim Raisi.

Amir-Abdollahian, in a call with his Taliban counterpart, Amir Khan Muttaqi, demanded the Afghan authorities open the gates of the inland Kajaki Dam that pools water from the Helmand River "so both the people of Afghanistan and Iran can be hydrated."

A view of the hydroelectric Kajaki Dam is seen in Kajaki, northeast of Helmand Province
A view of the hydroelectric Kajaki Dam is seen in Kajaki, northeast of Helmand Province

Shortly afterward, Raisi upped the ante during a visit to Sistan-Baluchistan on May 18 by warning the "rulers of Afghanistan to immediately give the people of Sistan-Baluchistan their water rights." He added that the Taliban should take his words "seriously" and not say "they were not told."

The Taliban has consistently denied the accusation that it was not complying with the 1973 treaty and said that even if the Kajaki Dam were opened there would not be enough water to reach Iran.

But just two days after Raisi's threats, the Taliban appeared to twist the knife by inaugurating a new irrigation project that involved completing the construction of the Bakhshabad Dam on the Farah River, which feeds the Sistan Basin from the north.

Contentious Water Treaty

According to the 1973 treaty, Afghanistan is committed to sharing water from the Helmand River with Iran at the rate of 26 cubic meters of water per second, or 850 million cubic meters per year.

But the accord also allows for less water to be delivered in cases of low water levels, which have been affected by persistent drought and the construction of new dams in Afghanistan, including the Kamal Khan Dam on the Helmand River that was completed in 2021 shortly before the Taliban seized power in Kabul.

Vanished wetlands in the Sistan Basin on the Iranian-Afghan border
Vanished wetlands in the Sistan Basin on the Iranian-Afghan border

The Taliban's deputy prime minister for economic affairs, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, said on May 22 that Kabul was "committed to the water treaty of 1973 but the drought that exists in Afghanistan and region should not be ignored."

"The pain of the people of Sistan-Baluchistan is our pain," he added. "Our hearts melt for them as much as they melt for the people of Afghanistan, but we also suffer from a shortage of water."

Cooperation on the water issue was previously seen as a sign of deepening ties between Afghanistan's Sunni Taliban rulers and Shi'a-majority Iran. In January 2022, the Taliban released water from the Kamal Khan Dam on the Helmand River in Nimroz Province into the Hamun Lake.

While their sectarian differences once made them enemies, their common interests in opposing Afghanistan's Western-backed government and U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan over the past two decades brought them closer.

Since the Taliban returned to power, the militant group has sought to build economic and security ties with Tehran. While Iran has not recognized the Taliban-led government, it has sought to work with the group on the issues of Afghan refugees in Iran and cross-border drug trafficking. In February, Iran formally handed over the Afghan Embassy in Tehran to the Taliban.

In January 2022, the Taliban released water from the Kamal Khan Dam on the Helmand River in Nimroz Province into the Hamun Lake.
In January 2022, the Taliban released water from the Kamal Khan Dam on the Helmand River in Nimroz Province into the Hamun Lake.

Afghanistan's and Iran's water crises require both countries to show a strong hand on the issue of water supplies, both for domestic consumption and to protect their national interests. But experts suggest the benefits of cooperation outweigh an escalation of the conflict.

"Neither country at this point in time needs a really hostile border," Marvin Weinbaum, director of Afghanistan and Pakistan studies at the Middle East Institute think tank in Washington, told RFE/RL.

"Economically it is an issue for both countries -- there would be no agricultural potential in Helmand Province without the water furnished by the dam. And very little of it gets into Iran. And southeast Iran is as dry as any place on the planet."

Weinbaum said neither the Taliban nor Tehran is going to exhibit weakness on the issue of short-term water shortages. "As the climate heats up, this is only going to grow more acute," he said.

But for both countries, Weinbaum said, "economic ties are really what matters the most," along with cooperating on other issues of mutual concern such as preventing the Islamic State extremist group from expanding its foothold in the region.

Ironically, just days after Raisi's threats and the inauguration of a new dam project in Afghanistan, the Taliban's Defense Ministry announced it had reached a new agreement on cooperating with Iran on defense and border issues. And on the day of the firefight that left border guards dead on both sides, officials had met earlier to discuss the water dispute.

After the deadly incident, Iranian and Taliban officials held another meeting to investigate the cause of the "tensions."

Path To Resolution

The construction of dams -- which both Iran and Afghanistan engage heavily in -- and their downstream impact stand out among the causes to discuss.

"What really triggers these disputes?" asked Weinbaum. "The intensification of them is obviously building dams, which represent simply a lower flow than they've been accustomed to and are not happy with."

Vanished wetlands in the Sistan Basin
Vanished wetlands in the Sistan Basin

Other observers suggest the decades-old water-sharing agreement that Iran and the Taliban accuse each other of failing to adhere to holds the answer to resolving the dispute.

The 1973 treaty does allow for the delivery of water from the Afghan side to be lower than the agreed-upon levels under certain circumstances, which would appear to include the drought and climate change that the Taliban has said have limited water supplies.

It also commits the two countries to follow a set course "in the event that a difference should develop in the interpretation" of the provisions set out in the treaty: diplomatic negotiations, turning to the "good offices" of a third party to help mediate a solution, and in the event neither step works, arbitration.

With additional reporting by RFE/RL's Radio Farda and Radio Azadi

Iranian Romance: Authorities Crack Down After Joyous Wedding Proposal

Iranian Romance: Authorities Crack Down After Joyous Wedding Proposal
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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.

Ukrainian Lawmakers Approve Sanctions On Iran For 50 Years

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

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

Iran Wants To Upgrade Syria's Air Defense

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

Iranian Women Reveal Degrading Tactics Employed By Security Authorities

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Iranian Official Says Conflict With Afghanistan Detrimental To Both Sides

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

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

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

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

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

Each side has accused the other of shooting first.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Zelenskiy Seeks Sanctions On Iran As Ukraine War Rages On

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tehran Police Issue Warning As Drivers Cover Up License Plates

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

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


Three Killed In Border Clashes Between Iranian Forces And The Taliban

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

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

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

Both sides accused each other of starting the shooting.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It wasn't clear what provoked the incident.

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

RFE/RL could not independently verify the footage.

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

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

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

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

With reporting by AP and Reuters

Iranian Students Coming Under Increased Pressure Over Hijab Rules

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

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

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

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

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

Anger over the hijab rule, which mandates women cover their heads while in public, erupted in September 2022 when a young woman in Tehran died while in police custody for an alleged hijab violation. Since then, thousands of Iranians have taken to the streets to demand more freedoms and women's rights.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tougher Penalties

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

'The Bill To Support The Unveiled'

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

'Gender Apartheid'

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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