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Blinken, Lavrov Discuss Iran Nuclear Deal As Tehran Signals Talks 'Days' Away

Antony Blinken (left) greets Sergei Lavrov at a meeting in Reykjavik in May.

The top U.S. and Russian diplomats have discussed their shared interest in the restoration of the nuclear deal between Iran and world powers.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced his conversation with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov during a visit to France on October 6.

"The United States and Russia, I think, [are] sharing an interest in seeing a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA," Blinken said in reference to the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action that Washington pulled out of in 2018 before reimposing sanctions on Iran.

"We had an opportunity to compare notes on where we stand, and where we hope to go," Blinken said of his conversation with Lavrov.

Blinken's remarks followed Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian's suggestion during a visit to Moscow the same day that included talks with Lavrov that Tehran expected the EU-mediated talks to revive the nuclear deal to restart "soon."

Lavrov was quoted as saying that the talks on the JCPOA "should be resumed as soon as possible" and he urged Washington to return to compliance with the deal.

Lavrov urged the United States to end what he described as "illegal restrictions on Iran and all of its trading partners."

Six rounds of tough, often indirect, negotiations in Vienna were interrupted by the election in June of hard-line Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, who was inaugurated in early August.

"We are now finalizing consultations on this matter and will soon restore our negotiations in Vienna," said Amir-Abdollahian, who has publicly noted that it took U.S. President Joe Biden's administration months to begin the talks after it took over in January on a pledge to revive the JCPOA.

The conservative Iranian parliament's National Security and Foreign Policy Committee spokesman, Mahmud Abbaszadeh Meshkini, was quoted by Tasmin news agency as saying the talks would resume "in the coming days."

"The messages and signals from Western countries point to the start of a new cycle of talks," Meshkini said.

The financial and other sanctions slapped on Iran by then-President Donald Trump in 2018 have badly hurt Iran's economy and its currency, with conditions for many Iranians worsening considerably during the coronavirus pandemic.

Blinken was in France seeking to calm waters over a recently announced military pact to counter Chinese influence in the Indo-Pacific.

With reporting by Reuters and AFP

All Of The Latest News

UN Nuclear Chief Says Iran Ties Need To Get Back On Track

The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency Rafael Grossi (file photo)

Iran appears to be at odds with the UN nuclear watchdog over information it should be providing regarding its atomic program, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency said on December 2. "We don't seem to be seeing eye-to-eye with Iran over their obligations to the IAEA," Rafael Grossi told a conference in Rome, adding that he was concerned over a recent announcement by Tehran that it was boosting its enrichment capacity. "We need to put our relationship back on track," he said. Grossi said he was "still hopeful" Tehran would give an explanation for the unexpected discovery a few years back of traces of uranium at three undeclared sites. To read the original story from Reuters, click here.

U.S. Designates China, Iran, Russia As Countries Of Concern Under Religious Freedom Act

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken (file photo)

The United States has designated China, Iran, and Russia among other nations as "countries of particular concern" under the Religious Freedom Act, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said on December 2. “Our announcement of these designations is in keeping with our values and interests to protect national security and to advance human rights around the globe,” Blinken said in a statement. The Taliban and the Vagner Group were added to the blacklist as entities of particular concern. To read the original story from Reuters, click here.

Iranian Students Accuse Authorities Of Poisoning After Spate Of Incidents

Universities in Iran have become one of the main centers of ongoing anti-government protests in the country. (file photo)

Several Iranian student associations have accused authorities of deliberate "serial poisoning" after reports that a large number of students from at least four Iranian universities across the country fell ill.

In a report on December 1, the Union Councils of Iranian students reported that several schools experienced outbreaks of poisoning after eating at cafeterias, including Kharazmi University in Karaj, near the Iranian capital, where the number of those poisoned was so high that the university's clinic could not handle all of the patients.

Similarly, the Telegram channel of the United Students group also reported that several students at Allameh University in Tehran were poisoned after consuming food in the university canteen.

Students across the country have been at the forefront of protests sparked by the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in September while in police custody for allegedly wearing a head scarf improperly. The authorities have cracked down violently on the university protests, beating and detaining dozens of students.

The channel, which covers university news, alleged the poisonings were "intentional" and an attempt by officials to intimidate the students.

"You cannot stop the student movement with these things," it said. It did not provide any evidence to back up its claim.

Universities and students have long been at the center 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 dormitories of Tehran University that left one student dead.

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

Anger over Amini's death has prompted thousands of Iranians to take to the streets nationwide to demand more freedoms and women's rights. The widespread unrest represents the biggest threat to the Islamic government since the 1979 revolution.

Some university professors and lecturers have expressed solidarity with the protesters.

The activist HRANA news agency said that, as of November 29, at least 459 protesters have been killed during the unrest, including 64 minors, as security forces try to stifle widespread dissent.

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

Iranian Climbing Champion Rekabi Says Police Demolished Her Family's Home

Elnaz Rekabi’s participation without the head scarf in the Asian climbing championships was seen by some observers as a move to show solidarity with ongoing anti-government protests.

The family of Elnaz Rekabi, the Iranian rock-climbing champion who sparked a controversy by competing in the Asian climbing championships in Seoul without a head scarf, announced that police officers have violently demolished their family villa.

Rekabi's supporters had expressed concerns about her safety after her return last month amid unrest over the death of a young woman while in police custody for allegedly wearing a hijab improperly.

The BBC quoted an informed source as saying that the authorities of the Islamic republic have also fined the Rekabi family 168,000,000,000 Rials ($4,700).

Officials have not yet provided an explanation for knocking down the dwelling.

Rekabi’s participation without the head scarf in Seoul was seen by some observers as a move to show solidarity with ongoing anti-government protests.

However, in a post that appeared on her Instagram page on October 18, she apologized and explained that "due to poor scheduling and an unexpected call for me to climb.... I inadvertently had a problem with my cover."

It could not be verified whether Rekabi made the post independent of pressure from Iranian officials, and some government critics said the apology appeared in line with previous similar confessions by offenders who were pressured by authorities to recant. There were also unconfirmed reports that Rekabi's brother had been detained by police.

The 33-year-old said in an Instagram post that she competed without the hijab, which is mandatory for Iranian women to wear in public, "due to poor scheduling and an unexpected call for me to climb."

She added that she returned to Iran with the team "according to a pre-arranged schedule."

The controversy comes after months of unrest across Iran -- one of the deepest challenges to the Islamic regime since the revolution in 1979 -- sparked by the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini after she was taken into police custody for allegedly breaking hijab rules.

Since the start of the protests, several Iranian sports champions and prominent public figures, including soccer star Ali Daei, have been summoned or arrested by the authorities and had their passports confiscated after showing support for anti-government protests.

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

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

Russia Is Using The Caspian Sea To Launch Strikes Against Ukraine. So Why Are The Caspian Countries Silent?

A Russian BTR-82A armored personnel carrier drives onto the shore during military exercises on the Caspian Sea coast in Daghestan in September 2019.

"[Russian President Vladimir Putin's] soldiers are firing Grads at civilians, hitting residential areas, orphanages, maternity hospitals with ballistic and cruise missiles. Ukraine is our home!"

This is the last social media post by 28-year-old Valeria Hlodan from Odesa.

On April 23, a Russian missile fired from the Caspian Sea hit the 16-story building where Valeria and her family lived. The fourth and fifth floors of the building collapsed, and the house caught fire. Twenty people were injured and eight died. The rocket claimed the lives of three generations of the family living on the fourth floor: Valeria; her 3-month-old daughter, Kira; and Valeria's mother, Lyudmyla Yavkina.

Shortly before the attack, Valeria's husband, Yuriy Hlodan, had gone to the store to buy groceries. Yuriy rushed home and demanded that rescuers let him into the burning apartment. He found the bodies of his wife and her mother. Later, rescuers carried out the body of his daughter.

The fact that a missile launched from the Caspian Sea claimed the lives of three generations of one family was revealed to the world in a video message from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy. "Among those killed was a 3-month-old baby girl. How did she threaten Russia? It seems that killing children is just a new national idea of the Russian Federation," Zelenskiy said.

It was one of the first deaths reported outside of the Ukraine combat zone. At that time, the fighting was largely focused in the Kherson, Zaporizhzhya, and Mykolayiv regions, hundreds of kilometers east of Odesa. But Russia continued to shell civilian targets far from the combat zone.

(Left to right) Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, Turkmen President Serdar Berdymukhammedov, Russian President Vladimir Putin, and Kazakh President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev pose for a picture at the Caspian summit in Ashgabat on June 29.
(Left to right) Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, Turkmen President Serdar Berdymukhammedov, Russian President Vladimir Putin, and Kazakh President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev pose for a picture at the Caspian summit in Ashgabat on June 29.

On May 3, Tu-95 strategic bombers launched high-precision missiles from the Caspian Sea at infrastructure targets in the Lviv, Dnepropetrovsk, Kropyvnytskiy, Vinnytsya, Kyiv, and Zakarpattya regions. In the west and in the center of the country, there were explosions on the railways; the trains stopped running. In a number of regions, generating facilities failed and residents were left without electricity.

On June 26, Russia fired six X-101 high-precision missiles in the direction of Kyiv from the Caspian Sea. The Ukrainian air-defense system shot down several missiles, but one hit a residential building in Kyiv, killing one person and injuring five others.

Russia continued to launch missiles from the Caspian Sea in July, August, and September. In October and November, the Russian military even stepped up its missile strikes following retreats in the south and east after setbacks at the front.

Missiles fired by Moscow -- Russia launched missiles from missile-carrying aircraft in the Caspian Sea, ships in the Black Sea, and in the Rostov region -- disabled energy and water facilities across Ukraine, leaving millions of people without water and electricity. On October 10, the Russian Defense Ministry said that missile strikes on military installations and power systems had "hit the target."

The Silence Of The Caspian States

Four years ago, after 22 years of negotiations, the leaders of the five littoral states of the Caspian Sea -- Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Russia, and Turkmenistan -- signed a convention defining its legal status. The convention regulates the rights and obligations of the parties in relation to the use of the Caspian Sea, including its waters, bed, subsoil, natural resources, and airspace.

According to the document, the parties agreed to use the sea only for peaceful purposes.

"We succeeded in turning the Caspian Sea into a sea of friendship," said then-Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev, who praised the achievement of the Convention on the Legal Status of the Caspian Sea at a summit of leaders of the Caspian states held in Aqtau four years ago.

The "sea of friendship" that Nazarbaev spoke of was enshrined in Article 3 of the convention: The parties agreed to "use the sea for peaceful purposes, turn it into a zone of peace, good-neighborliness, friendship, and cooperation."

At the meeting, the leaders of the other countries also praised the convention.

Then-Iranian President Hassan Rohani said that it was important not only to adopt the convention but to implement it properly.

Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev called the convention a "historical document" and the sea a "zone of stability and security."

Assessing the document as an "epoch-making event," Putin said the convention "guarantees that the Caspian Sea will be used only for peaceful purposes."

Live Briefing: Russia's Invasion Of Ukraine

RFE/RL's Live Briefing gives you all of the latest developments on Russia's ongoing invasion, Kyiv's counteroffensive, Western military aid, global reaction, and the plight of civilians. For all of RFE/RL's coverage of the war, click here.

Four years after Putin's words, Russia launched missiles into Ukraine and turned the Caspian Sea into part of the war zone, but the states on the Caspian coast have yet to react.

After Moscow launched missiles from the Caspian on June 30, the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry issued an appeal in which it called on Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, and Turkmenistan "to make every effort to force Russia to adhere to its international legal obligations, in particular the Convention on the Legal Status of the Caspian Sea."

The sixth Caspian summit had been held in Ashgabat on the day before the Ukrainian appeal, with the participation of the leaders of Azerbaijan, Iran, Russia, Kazakhstan, and Turkmenistan. According to the communiqué adopted on June 29, the coastal states reaffirmed the principle of using the Caspian Sea for peaceful purposes.

None of the leaders attending the meeting raised the issue of Russia's use of the Caspian for military purposes.

Dependence On Russia, Or Naked Self-Interest?

RFE/RL's Kazakh Service asked the Kazakh Foreign Ministry why Astana did not respond to Russia's use of the Caspian to fire missiles at Ukraine. The ministry responded that "all the provisions of the convention, including Paragraph 2 of Article 3 (the use of the Caspian Sea for peaceful purposes, turning it into a zone of peace, good neighborliness, friendship and cooperation, resolving all issues related to the Caspian Sea by peaceful means), apply only to the Caspian states and are focused on relations between them and do not regulate the sphere of interaction with third countries."

Analysts say the convention is really only aimed at regulating relations between the participating parties. According to the convention, the Caspian states are obliged to respect each other's territorial integrity and independence, not to use force against each other, and not to interfere in each other's internal affairs. The convention contains only one provision concerning third countries: that armed forces not belonging to the parties should not be on the sea.

"I think the view of the Caspian littoral states is that Russian vessels are in international waters even in the Caspian -- or are in Russian waters. The only thing the other littoral states have committed to is keeping outside powers out," says Paul Goble, a longtime analyst of Russian and post-Soviet affairs.

Michal Pietkiewicz, a lawyer and professor at the Faculty of Law and Administration at the University of Warmia and Mazury in Poland, who has studied the Caspian convention, notes that it is only a regional document, a closed system for coastal countries. Therefore, according to Pietkiewicz, in practice, Russia did not violate the provisions of the convention in relation to the Caspian states.

"In the preamble of the convention, the parties to the treaty emphasized that all issues regarding the Caspian Sea are within the exclusive competence of the parties. Summing up: The Caspian convention is a closed system (only for coastal states), so the final question arises: Can military activities conducted from Russian territory against a state that is not a party to the convention be regarded as a violation of the 'peaceful purposes' clause?" Pietkiewicz asks.

"And in trying to give an answer, we should ask another question: Did Russia threaten or use force against the territorial integrity or political independence or in any other manner undertake any actions inconsistent with the principles of international law embodied in the charter of the United Nations against Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, and Turkmenistan? The answer is no."

The Kazakh Foreign Ministry also told RFE/RL that the convention had not entered into force, so "Kazakhstan has no legal grounds to require Russia to comply with the provisions of the convention."

In 2018, the convention was publicly signed by the five Caspian countries and then the document was ratified by all of them, except Iran. Iran refused to ratify the convention because it said the document did not meet its strategic interests and the issue of determining the baselines dividing the sovereign territory of each state had not been resolved.

Despite the fact that Iran has not ratified the convention, this has nothing to do with the fact that the Caspian countries have not expressed concern about missile launches, Pietkiewich believes, because each of the coastal states is independent and can act independently.

Dependence On Russia

Even if the Caspian states cannot rely on the Caspian convention to apply to Russia, they can be guided by other international instruments, and because all of them are members of the United Nations, Pietkiewich says, the Caspian states could theoretically take action against Russia, based on international law that prohibits genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity.

But the main reason the Caspian states have remained silent about the missile launches is their dependence on Russia, analysts say. The Caspian states are members of alliances led by Russia.

Kazakhstan is a member of the Collective Security Treaty Organization and the Eurasian Economic Union. The country also depends on Russian trade: Russia's share of Kazakh imports is 38 percent. Kazakh oil exports to Europe pass through Russia.

Since the beginning of the year, Russia has partially or completely stopped the operation of the Caspian Pipeline Consortium, which carries Kazakh oil through its territory, four times. Analysts suggest that it's because Kazakhstan has not publicly supported Russia in its war with Ukraine, allowing tens of thousands of Russians fleeing a military mobilization in Russia into Kazakhstan and declining to recognize the Kremlin's declaration of four partially controlled Ukrainian regions as sovereign states.

Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan are members of the Commonwealth of Independent States and both have established trade and economic relations with Russia.

And following Russia's invasion of Ukraine, Tehran and Moscow have strengthened military cooperation, with reports that Iran is providing Russia with military drones. According to Kyiv, its military has shot down more than 300 Iranian-made drones. On October 16, The Washington Post reported that Iran had sold not only drones but even ballistic missiles to Russia.

In an interview with The Economist, Vadym Skibitskiy, Ukraine's deputy head of military intelligence, said that Iranian missiles would be delivered by air to Russian-occupied Crimea and by sea to Russian ports on the Caspian Sea. The Economist predicted that, after receiving these missiles, Russia will step up its air strikes.

"There is a lack of responsibility for other states (here for Ukraine), and a lack of solidarity with other states (Ukraine), and some states are too afraid of losing their gas and oil supplies. Therefore, the particular interests of an individual state sometimes take precedence over the global situation," Pietkiewich says. "Nevertheless, if we remain silent about the violation of the basic norms of international law, this gives the aggressor a free hand. Acts of aggression may spread to other territories, including 'silent' states."

Says Goble: "I think that the others should make it very clear that this use by Russia of the Caspian is inconsistent with the spirit, if not the letter, of their agreement. I fear none of them would be willing to do so individually, and I don't see much prospect for a collective démarche."

Leaked Document Says Iranian Leadership Is Seeking To Discredit Sunni Cleric

Iranian Sunni theologian and spiritual leader Molavi Abdolhamid Ismaeelzah (file photo)

A leaked document from the hard-line Fars news agency says Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has told security and military officials to try and disgrace a top Sunni cleric, who is a vocal critic of the government, instead of arresting him.

The document was published on November 30 after the hacktivist group Black Reward announced that it had succeeded in hacking the Fars news agency, which is affiliated with the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC). The group released dozens of documents and videos it said were prepared by the news agency.

The cleric, Molavi Abdolhamid Ismaeelzah, is regarded across the country as a spiritual leader for Iran’s Sunni Muslim population. He is the director of the main Sunni seminary in Iran and has been under pressure for his comments against the Islamic republic.

"He [Molavi Abdolhamid] should not be arrested. Rather, he should be dishonored," according to one of the documents, which are delivered as bulletins prepared by Fars and delivered to senior IRGC officials, which was handing down comments from the Ayatollah.

Early last month, Molavi Abdolhamid said senior officials, including Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, were "responsible" for the killing of protesters during the so-called "Bloody Friday" massacre in the southeastern city of Zahedan on September 30. He also called for an immediate referendum with the presence of international observers to "change policies based on the wishes of the people."

Almost 100 people were killed and hundreds injured by security forces in the incident, which came during protests sparked by the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini while in the custody of the morality police and the alleged rape of a 15-year-old girl by a local police commander.

Anger over Amini's death has prompted thousands of Iranians to take to the streets nationwide to demand more freedoms and women's rights. The widespread unrest represents the biggest threat to the Islamic government since the 1979 revolution.

The activist HRANA news agency said that, as of November 29, at least 459 protesters had been killed during the unrest, including 64 minors, as security forces try to stifle widespread dissent.

Sunni Muslims make up the majority of the population in Sistan-Baluchistan Province in southeastern Iran where Molavi Abdolhamid is based, but make up only about 10 percent of the population in Shi'a-dominated Iran overall.

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

Iran Hands Death Sentences To Four Accused Of Collaborating With Israel

A screengrab from a video released in which an Iranian appeared to admit that he wanted to assassinate an Israeli diplomat, as well as an American general and a journalist in France. (file photo)

Iran has sentenced to death four people accused of collaborating with Israel, the semiofficial Mehr News agency reported.

According to a report by Mehr News on November 30, the four were arrested in June and were accused of having interrogated people in Iran with intelligence cooperation from Mossad, the Israeli secret service.

Three other people on trial in the case were handed sentences by the Supreme Judicial Court of Iran of between five years and 10 years for "acting against the country's security," kidnapping, and the possession of weapons.

Iran and Israel have been engaged in a yearslong shadow war. Tensions between the two have soared in recent years.

The report on the sentencing comes after Tehran accused Israel of carrying out a recent spate of assassinations and sabotage attacks inside the Islamic republic.

Earlier this year, Israeli media reported that Mossad captured and interrogated a member of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps inside Iran.

Later, a video was released in which a person who identified himself as Mansur Rasuli, admitted that he wanted to assassinate an Israeli diplomat working in the country's consulate in Istanbul, as well as an American general stationed in Germany and a journalist in France.

Mehr News has not specified whether the people who were sentenced to death were related to that case or not.

Iran has been roiled in recent months by nationwide protests sparked by the death of a young woman while she was being held in police custody for allegedly wearing a head scarf improperly.

Tehran has blamed Israel, the United States, and other Western countries for the unrest, which has seen security forces kill more than 400 people, according to human rights groups, including dozens of minors.

Officials have not shown any evidence to back up their accusations that the West has been involved in the anti-government uprising.

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

FIFA Allows Banners Supporting Iranian Protesters At World Cup After Iran Eliminated

Players fight for a header during the World Cup group B soccer match between Iran and the United States in Doha on November 29.

FIFA has given permission for the display of banners supporting protests in Iran and rainbow items at the World Cup soccer tournament in Qatar -- but only after the Middle Eastern country was eliminated from the competition.

Since the start of the World Cup on November 20, stadium security staff organized by Qatari authorities had confiscated items with rainbow colors and slogans such as "Women, Life, Freedom" to stop them from being taken inside stadiums.

During matches involving the Iranian national team, Iranian spectators were not allowed to wear clothes with slogans in support of the months-long protest movement in Iran triggered by the death in police custody of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini after she was detained in September for allegedly improperly wearing a head scarf, or hijab.

At least 459 protesters have been killed so far by security forces during the unrest in Iran, including 64 minors, according to the activist HRANA news agency.

The U.S.-Iran game on November 29 was charged with emotion for Iranian fans, some of whom had come to Qatar to back the protest movement back home with banners and flags. Iran lost 1-0 and was eliminated from the tournament.

“FIFA is aware of some incidents where permitted items were not allowed to be displayed at stadiums,” soccer’s world body said in a statement on November 30, more than a week after some infractions were reported at World Cup stadiums.

“FIFA has received assurances by authorities that venue commanders have been contacted in relation to the agreed rules and regulations for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022.”

In the first week of the tournament, seven European teams including Wales were banned by FIFA from wearing multicolored “One Love” armbands during World Cup matches and some fans complained they weren’t allowed to bring items with rainbow colors, a symbol of LGBTQ rights, into the stadiums of the conservative Islamic emirate.

“FIFA continues to work closely with the Host Country to ensure the full implementation of related regulations and agreed protocols,” FIFA said.

Iranian Sunni Clerics Release Video Urging End To Deadly Crackdown On Protesters

Iranian youths protest against the government in the western city of Sanandaj on November 16.

Sunni clerics of the southern Iranian province of Sistan and Baluchistan have released a video calling on authorities of the Islamic republic to stop a deadly crackdown on protests that has "no justificiation."

The video, released on November 29, shows the signatories of the statement together in a mosque.

According to the statement, the Sunni clerics of the southeastern Iranian cities of Khash, Taftan, and Mirjaveh were united in their stance with regional elders and cultural figures in condemning the repression of "Bloody Friday" in Zahedan and Khash as a sign of "national solidarity."

During the Bloody Friday massacre in the southeastern city of Zahedan on September 30, almost 100 people were killed and hundreds injured by security forces during protests sparked by the death of a 22-year-old woman while in custody of the morality police and the alleged rape of a 15-year-old girl by a local police commander.

At least 96 protesters were reportedly killed in the violence, with more than 300 others injured.

The Sunni clerics announced in their statement that "the killing of people in Zahedan and Khash, and in our beloved Kurdistan, and in other parts of Iran, has no justification and is completely condemned."

Earlier this month, top Iranian Sunni cleric Molavi Abdulhamid, who is regarded as a spiritual leader for Iran’s Sunni Muslim population, said senior officials, including Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, were "responsible" for the killing of protesters in Zahedan and called for an immediate referendum with the presence of international observers to "change policies based on the wishes of the people."

Anger over Mahsa Amini's death has prompted thousands of Iranians to take to the streets to demand more freedoms and women's rights. The widespread demonstrations represent the biggest threat to the Islamic government since the 1979 revolution.

The activist HRANA news agency said that as of November 23 at least 445 protesters had been killed during the unrest, including 61 minors, as security forces try to stifle widespread dissent.

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

Arash Sadeghi's Family Calls On Other Countries To Pressure Iran Authorities To Release The Activist

Arash Sadeghi underwent surgery due to chondrosarcoma cancer, and the doctors who treated him reportedly say he should have been sent to the hospital every four months for follow-up treatment.

Hossein Sadeghi, the father of imprisoned Iranian activist Arash Sadeghi, has again warned about his son's deteriorating state of health and called on countries around the world to press Tehran to release him.

Arash Sadeghi, who has been imprisoned several times, is suffering from bone cancer and his father says the prison authorities have prevented him from accessing medicine and treatment.

Sadeghi was arrested on October 12 during protests that are rocking the country over the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini after she was taken into custody by morality police for allegedly improperly wearing her head scarf, or hijab.

Sadeghi's father has expressed concern several times about his son’s condition. In response, a campaign has been launched on social media in support of the activist. His name has been used more than 1.5 million times on Twitter since the beginning of November.

The activist has already undergone surgery due to chondrosarcoma cancer, and according to human rights groups, and the doctors who treated him say he should have been sent to the hospital every four months after surgery to undergo treatment courses.

Sadeghi was a student at Allameh Tabatabaei University in Tehran where he was expelled by the authorities due to his political activities.

In 2013 he was sentenced to 19 years in prison on charges of propaganda against the government, defamation of the supreme leader, and threatening national security.

He has gone on hunger strike several times, including in 2016 to protest the arrest of his wife, who was detained on a charge of writing fiction that has not yet been published.

Sadeghi, who was diagnosed with cancer during his previous imprisonment, was released from prison a year and a half ago after enduring more than five years behind bars.

Many high-profile activists, rights advocates, and intellectuals have also been arrested in recent days because of the protests, including Fatemeh Sepehri and Majid Tavakoli.

At least 116 journalists and columnists are among those arrested, according to RFE/RL's Radio Farda.

They include Yalda Moayeri, Arash Ganji, and Niloufar Hamedi, who reported from the Tehran hospital where Amini died on September 16.

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

The Farda Briefing: Iran Targets Opposition Kurdish Groups Abroad To Divert Attention From Protests At Home

Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammad Shia al-Sudani met met with Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in Tehran on November 29.

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

The Big Issue

Iran has carried out several missile and drone strikes on the bases of Iranian Kurdish opposition groups based in northern Iraq in recent months. Tehran has labeled the exiled groups as "terrorist" and "separatist" organizations. Iranian officials have accused the groups of launching cross-border attacks against government forces. Tehran has even gone as far as threatening to invade Iraq's Kurdish autonomous region, where the groups are based. At least 17 people have been killed in the Iranian strikes since September.

Why It Matters: Iran's recent attacks on the Kurdish groups have coincided with the antiestablishment demonstrations that have rocked the country since mid-September. Tehran has accused the groups of stoking unrest in Iran's western Kurdistan region, which has been the epicenter of the nationwide protests and the government's deadly crackdown. The rallies were triggered by the death of a 22-year-old Iranian Kurdish woman who died shortly after she was arrested for allegedly violating the country's hijab law.

Observers say Tehran's attacks on the Kurdish groups are mainly designed to divert attention away from the demonstrations at home. The Kurdish groups have denied allegations of inciting the protests and said they are being used by Tehran as a scapegoat.

Khaled Azizi, the spokesman for the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan, one of the exiled groups, told RFE/RL's Radio Farda that the "main reason for the attacks by the Islamic republic on our bases and the violent crackdown on people's peaceful protests is that Tehran faces a "dead end" in quelling the demonstrations. He said Tehran sees violence as the "only solution."

What's Next: Iran has heaped pressure on Iraq to clamp down on the Kurdish groups. In a move welcomed by Tehran, Baghdad announced last week that it would deploy federal forces to fortify the border with Iran. Iraqi Kurdish fighters had previously guarded the border.

Analyst Ali Sadrzadeh told Radio Farda that Baghdad wants to avoid giving Tehran any excuses to launch more attacks in Iraqi territory. During his November 29 trip to Tehran, the Iraqi president vowed that his government "is determined not to allow any group or party to use Iraqi territory to undermine and disrupt Iran's security."

It is unclear if Iraq's recent promises and actions will be enough to prevent further Iranian attacks.

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• An Iranian dissident journalist who disappeared in Turkey in May is now in the custody of Iran's powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), sources with knowledge of the case told RFE/RL. Mohammad Bagher Moradi was deported to Iran in early November after being kept in "illegal" detention in Turkey for five months, the Turkish lawyer representing his family said. On November 4, Moradi made a brief telephone call to his family and informed them that he was in Iran in the custody of the "intelligence bodies."

• Iran's judiciary on November 27 charged dissident rapper Toomaj Salehi with spreading "corruption on Earth," a serious offense that could result in a death sentence in the Islamic republic. Salehi, 32, gained notoriety for lyrics that rail against corruption, widespread poverty, state executions, and the killing of protesters in Iran. A U.S.-based rights group said on November 26 that Salehi's trial had begun "without a lawyer of his choice," and his family said his "life is at serious risk."

What We're Watching

A U.S. effort to remove Iran from the UN Commission on the Status of Women will be voted on on December 14, Reuters quoted diplomats as saying on November 28. Iran has just started a four-year term on the 45-member commission, which meets annually every March and aims to promote gender equality and the empowerment of women. Washington said earlier this month that Iran has demonstrated through its "brutal crackdown on women and girls protesting peacefully for their rights" that it is unfit to serve on the commission.

Why It Matters: The move would mark a significant step in pressuring Iran over its brutal crackdown on the protests in which women have played a prominent role. It follows a decision by the UN Human Rights Council to form a fact-finding committee to investigate human rights violations in Iran. The decision was praised by rights activists as "a big step towards justice" for those killed in the government crackdown.

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

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U.S. OKs $1 Billion Arms Sale To Qatar During Key World Cup Match With Iran

The Biden administration approved a $1 billion arms sale to Qatar in a transaction unveiled on November 29 during halftime of the World Cup 2022 match between Iran and the United States. The State Department announced it had signed off on Qatar’s purchase of 10 defensive drone systems, 200 interceptors, and related equipment just as the second half of the U.S.-Iran game began. Qatar, along with other Gulf Arab states, faces threats from Iranian-backed proxies in the region. To read the original story from AP, click here.

Belgian Aid Worker's Family Concerned Over Son's Hunger Strike In Iranian Prison

Olivier Vandecasteele was detained by Iranian authorities in February, apparently without charge.

The family of a Belgian aid worker says their son, who is jailed in Iran, has gone on a hunger strike to protest the "inhumane" conditions of his incarceration, which they say "amount to the equivalent of torture."

Olivier Vandecasteele, 41, was detained by Iranian authorities in February, apparently without charge.

His family said in the statement on November 29 that their last contact with him was at the start of September and that they feared that his detention in solitary confinement, along with his hunger strike that started about two weeks ago, are causing his health to fail.

They added that he finally was in contact with representatives of the Belgian Consulate in Iran.

Vandecasteele has been at the center of a controversy in Belgium over a fiercely criticized treaty allowing prisoner exchanges with Iran.

Tehran is reportedly seeking a prisoner exchange with Brussels to take back Iranian diplomat Assadollah Assadi, who was last year sentenced to 20 years in prison in connection with a plot to bomb a rally of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), an exiled opposition group, outside Paris in June 2018.

The Belgian opposition has alleged that the agreement with Tehran was tailor-made to permit Assadi's release, while Iranian exiles have also mounted a fierce campaign against the deal, leading a group of 11 human rights organizations to appeal to Brussels to cancel the agreement.

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

During a current wave of unrest sparked by the death of a young woman while she was detained for allegedly wearing a head scarf improperly, Iranian security forces have taken some 40 foreign nationals into custody.

Iranian cities continue to be the scene of anti-government protests, with videos published on social media showing protesters taking to the streets in different areas of Tehran and chanting slogans against the country's leaders amid an outcry that erupted in mid-September after the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini.

Protesters in Tehran's Ekbatan neighborhood chanted the slogans for the release of rapper Toomaj Salehi from custody.

Salehi is one of 21 people who face the death penalty after being charged with what a UN official told Reuters on November 29 are "vague and broadly formulated criminal offenses."

Javaid Rehman, a UN-appointed independent expert on Iran, told Reuters in an interview that Salehi was indicted for "corruption on Earth for publication of lies on a large scale."

Meanwhile, Ali Karimi, a former player with Bayern Munich and once the captain of Iran’s national soccer team, said in an interview that due to frequent threats from Tehran authorities, he had to leave Dubai, the city where he lives.

In an interview published by Manoto TV, a London-based Persian-language television station, the Iranian soccer star said that after his support for the protests, he was sent a message through his close relatives that a death sentence had been issued against him and could be carried out at any moment.

Iran is known to have assassinated and abducted multiple exiled opposition figures in the past, including Iranian-German dual citizen Jamshid Sharmahd and journalist Ruhollah Zam.

Karimi is one of several high-profile Iranians to support the protests.

Several Iranian celebrities have been interrogated and had their passports confiscated after showing support for the anti-government protests that have occurred daily since Amini's death.

Voria Ghafouri, who has been an outspoken critic of the Iranian establishment and was surprisingly left out of this year's World Cup squad, was reportedly arrested on November 24, just days after expressing sympathy for Amini's family and calling for an end to the violent crackdown on protesters in his and Amini's native western Kurdistan region.

Iranian media reported that Ghafouri was released on bail on November 29.

Pressure has also been placed on an Iranian soccer legend, Ali Daei, who said he chose not to travel to Qatar for the World Cup due to the government's crackdown and said on social media on November 28 that he had received "numerous threats against myself and my family in recent months and days."

Several thousand people have also been arrested, including many protesters, journalists, lawyers, activists, digital-rights defenders, and others.

The activist HRANA news agency said that as of November 23, at least 445 protesters had been killed during the unrest, including 61 minors, as security forces try to stifle widespread dissent.

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

Exclusive: Iranian Dissident Journalist Who Disappeared In Turkey Ends Up In Custody Of Iran's Revolutionary Guards

Mohammad Bagher Moradi fled to Turkey in 2014 after he was sentenced to five years in prison in Iran for collusion against the state. (file photo)

An Iranian dissident journalist who disappeared in Turkey in May is now in the custody of Iran's powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), sources with knowledge of the case told RFE/RL.

Mohammad Bagher Moradi was deported to Iran in early November after being kept in "illegal" detention in Turkey for five months, the Turkish lawyer representing his family, Salih Efe, told RFE/RL.

Moradi's family said he left his home in the Turkish capital, Ankara, on May 30 to buy bread and never returned. The next day, his car was found abandoned near his residence, Turkish media reported.

Turkish media reported that Moradi's family, who were visiting from Tehran, had filed a criminal complaint over their son's disappearance and told the local prosecutor's office that they suspected he had been abducted. Despite the launch of a formal investigation, Moradi was not found.

In June, Turkish media quoted the journalist's father, Mohsen Moradi, as saying that his son had been "kidnapped" by "Iranian intelligence."

Following months of silence, Moradi on November 4 made a brief telephone call to his family and informed them that he was in Iran in the custody of the "intelligence bodies," sources with knowledge of the case told RFE/RL. Moradi told his family that he was moved to Iran just days prior to his call, the sources said, adding that the journalist has since made two other calls to his family.

The sources said that Moradi was being held by the feared intelligence branch of the IRGC, which has been behind the arrests of scores of journalists, activists, environmentalists, and dual nationals in recent years.

Last week, Moradi's father was questioned by the IRGC about his son's activities in Turkey, the sources said. They added that the IRGC told him to advise his son to make a live television confession.

Iran has a record of forcing political detainees to confess to crimes that are often dictated to them by their interrogators. Many former detainees have denounced the practice following their release and said they had confessed under duress.

'Secret Deportation'

The 34-year-old Moradi fled to Turkey in 2014 after he was sentenced to five years in prison in Iran for collusion against the state.

Efe, the Turkish lawyer representing his family, told RFE/RL that Moradi had been granted asylum in Turkey. He said Moradi's secret deportation to Iran was a blatant violation of Turkish and international law, including the 1951 UN Refugee Convention.

Efe said Moradi had told his family that he had been kidnapped by Turkish intelligence officers and kept in an unknown location until his deportation. The lawyer said Moradi had been interrogated and tortured during his detention in Turkey.

"This may be the fourth or fifth such illegal and secret deportation of an Iranian political refugee from Turkey by our government," Efe said. "I think Turkey cannot be considered a secure country for Iranian refugees."

Turkey, which lies on Iran's western border, is one of the main destinations for Iranian dissidents and activists fleeing the country. But it has also become a prime hunting ground for dissidents by Iranian intelligence, or those who work for Tehran's security agencies, leading to concerns about the safety of Iranian nationals. Moradi's fate is likely to heighten those fears.

London-based Iranian activist Peyman Aref, a former refugee in Turkey, told RFE/RL that Moradi said a year before his kidnapping that he felt threatened by Turkish intelligence agents.

"He spoke on Clubhouse last year and revealed that an individual...who works for Turkish intelligence is trying to recruit Iranians," Aref said, referring to the audio-based, social-media application that has become a major platform for dialogue among Iranians. "He ended his remarks by saying that 'from now on Turkish intelligence will be directly responsible if anything happens to me.'"

Peyman Aref
Peyman Aref

In 2017, Aref was deported from Turkey to Lebanon after being detained by Turkish security forces, his lawyer told RFE/RL's Radio Farda. Aref claimed he was deported after refusing to cooperate with Turkish intelligence.

Iran is known to have assassinated or abducted multiple exiled opposition figures in recent years, including journalist Ruhollah Zam.

Zam, the manager of the popular opposition Telegram channel Amad news, was executed by Iran in 2020 after being convicted of "corruption on Earth," a charge often leveled in cases involving espionage or attempts to overthrow Iran's government.

Zam had been living and working in exile in France before being arrested in 2019 under still unclear circumstances. According to media reports, the dissident was allegedly lured to neighboring Iraq by Iranian agents.

Habib Chaab, a founder and former leader of the Arab Struggle Movement for the Liberation of Ahwaz (ASMLA) separatist group, went missing during a trip to Istanbul in 2020.

A month later, Chaab appeared in a video on Iranian state television in which he claimed responsibility for launching an attack and working with Saudi intelligence services. Chaab, who had lived in Sweden for 14 years, was later put on trial.

Iranian Teachers' Union Official Says He Was Chained To A Hospital Bed For 12 Days

Iranian teachers union activist Jafar Ebrahimi (file photo)

The jailed spokesman of the Iranian Teachers' Union's Coordination Council has published a letter saying that, after he was transferred from Tehran's infamous Evin prison to hospital due to illness, authorities chained him to the hospital bed for 12 days and denied him access to his lawyer and family.

The Iranian Teachers' Union's Coordination Council published the letter written by Jafar Ebrahimi on November 28, saying it shows the "disastrous behavior of prison officials toward a sick prisoner."

"They made the hospital a worse place for me than the prison," Ebrahimi said in the letter as he described being held incommunicado from his relatives and legal team.

The Evin prison has a long history of brutal behavior toward it inmates.

In March, the hacktivist group Edalat-e Ali, which claims to work inside Iran to expose the "true face of the regime," released video footage highlighting the inhumane conditions in the country's most-notorious prison.

Leaked Video Exposes Extreme Conditions In Notorious Iranian Prison
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Ebrahimi, along with Rasul Bodaghi, Ali Akbar Baghani, and Mohammad Habibi, all teachers' union activists, were arrested by security agents on April 30, just ahead of demonstrations held in several cities on May Day, which coincided with Teachers' Day in Iran.

They were also accused of coordinating the protests with French teachers' union official Cecile Kohler and her partner, Jacques Paris.

Iran has attempted to link the French nationals to the protesting Iranian teachers. The arrests were largely seen as an attempt to discredit the rallies and increase pressure on the Iranian teachers' union to stop the protests.

Iranian officials have accused the French couple of "entering the country to sow chaos and destabilize society."

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

Man Who Ran Onto Field During World Cup Game Defends 'Breaking The Rules'

Mario Ferri is detained by officials after encroaching onto the field of play during Portugal's World Cup game against Uruguay on November 29

An Italian who ran on to the field during a World Cup game wearing a T-shirt in support of Ukraine and Iranian women is a football player with a history of similar stunts. Mario Ferri, 35, who calls himself "The Falcon," interrupted the Portugal-Uruguay game on November 29 when he sprinted on to the field wearing a blue Superman T-shirt with "Save Ukraine" on the front and "Respect for Iranian Woman" on the back. He also carried a rainbow-colored flag adorned with the words PACE, meaning peace in Italian. To read the original story by AFP, click here.

Political Fever Pitch Looms Over U.S.-Iran World Cup Match

Iran fans hold a "Women, life, freedom" Iranian flag and a replica shirt in memory of Mahsa Amini inside the stadium in Qatar before the match with Wales on November 25.

The coaches of the U.S. and Iranian soccer teams have said that they do not want to get caught up in a game of political football when their sides clash for a chance to reach the knockout stage of the World Cup.

"I envision the game being hotly contested for the fact that both teams want to advance to the next round -- not because of politics or because of relations between our countries," U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter said ahead of the November 29 showdown at Al-Thumama Stadium in Qatar.

"Our preparation starts with a good rest, refresh the minds, and put all the complementary and garbage things outside of our minds," said Carlos Queiroz, the Portuguese head coach of Iran's national team.

But as the two coaches attempt to keep the focus on the playing field with either team assured of advancing to the next round with an outright victory, a political fever pitch looms over the game pitting two countries that severed relations more than 40 years ago and are open rivals on the world stage.

The World Cup has been a showcase of discord in Iran since the tournament kicked off on November 20, with Tehran's deadly crackdown on ongoing anti-government demonstrations leading to fresh U.S. sanctions against Iranian officials and dividing the country's fan base.

The Iranian team has faced immense pressure from the authorities and protesters alike to take sides amid the demonstrations, which are seen as one of the greatest threats to Iran's clerical establishment since the Islamic Revolution in 1979.

The nationwide demonstrations erupted following the September 16 death of Mahsa Amini, an Iranian-Kurdish woman who died shortly after she was arrested for allegedly violating the state-mandated requirement that women wear the hijab, or head scarf.

According to rights watchdogs, at least 450 people have been killed and more than 15,000 detained in the government crackdown.

Some fans have honored Amini's memory by wearing "Mahsa Amini-22" shirts in a nod to her age when she died.

In an apparent sign of solidarity with demonstrators, members of the Iranian team did not sing the country's national anthem ahead of their first game, a 6-2 loss to England that was blamed partly on outside distractions. But the players did join in singing what anti-government demonstrators have called the "blood anthem" ahead of the second game, a 2-0 win against Wales on November 25.

Iran's national soccer team chose not to sing their country's anthem before their opening World Cup match against England on November 21, in an apparent show of support for protesters back home.
Iran's national soccer team chose not to sing their country's anthem before their opening World Cup match against England on November 21, in an apparent show of support for protesters back home.

While that result was cause for mass celebration, RFE/RL's Radio Farda reported from Qatar that a group of pro-government fans who waved the flag of the Islamic republic harassed and intimidated a group of Iranian supporters who aired their grievances against the clerical regime.

Following the Wales match, a former coach of the U.S. team, Jurgen Klinsmann, came under fire for his postgame comments. Speaking as a pundit on the BBC, Klinsmann said the Iranian team "worked the referee." "They work the linesman and fourth official, they are constantly in their ear," he said. "There were a lot of incidents we didn't see. This is their culture, they take you off your game."

Queiroz -- who coached Iran during two stints from 2011 to 2019 and was once hired by U.S. Soccer to develop a road map for the United States to win a World Cup by 2010 -- responded with a torrent of tweets defending Iranian culture and his team. He said Klinsmann's comments were a "disgrace to football."

Just days before the decisive group match, the U.S. Soccer Federation triggered a row when it temporarily displayed Iran's green, white, and red flag without the emblem of the Islamic republic in a social-media post.

The Iranian government responded angrily, with Iran's hard-line Tasnim news agency calling for the U.S. team to be kicked out of the World Cup and suspended for 10 games.

The post was eventually removed, with U.S. Soccer explaining that the intention had been to show "support for the women in Iran fighting for basic human rights" by displaying the Iranian tricolor without the emblem for 24 hours.

A fan wears a black ribbon and a T-shirt reading "Woman, life, freedom" in memory of Mahsa Amini prior to the match with Wales on November 25.
A fan wears a black ribbon and a T-shirt reading "Woman, life, freedom" in memory of Mahsa Amini prior to the match with Wales on November 25.

Back in Iran, former members of the Iranian national soccer team have apparently been punished for supporting the ongoing demonstrations.

Voria Ghafouri, who has been an outspoken critic of the Iranian establishment and was surprisingly left out of this year's World Cup squad, was reportedly arrested on November 24, just days after expressing sympathy for Amini's family and calling for an end to the violent crackdown on protesters in his and Amini's native western Kurdistan region.

Iranian state media reported that the 35-year-old Ghafouri had been arrested for "insulting the national soccer team and propagandizing against the government."

Ghafouri earlier this month tweeted that "it is better to die standing than to live kneeling." In June, he was accused by an Iranian official of being a Kurdish separatist after the player tweeted the word "Kurdistan" twice.

Iranian media reported that Ghafouri has been released on bail. But rights groups said he had been transferred from western Iran to a prison in the capital, Tehran.

Pressure has also been placed on an Iranian soccer legend, Ali Daei, who said he chose not to travel to Qatar due to the government's crackdown and said on social media on November 28 he had received "numerous threats against myself and my family in recent months and days."

The Black Reward hacktivist group, which has targeted Iranian government institutions and infrastructure, added to fears that Tehran was targeting fans by leaking recordings this week purporting to reveal an Iranian pro-government militia commander saying that Qatar had provided a list of Iranians who had purchased tickets to the World Cup, allowing the Iranian authorities to identify 500 individuals known for anti-government activities.

While Iran could progress with a draw on November 29, it cannot afford to lose if it wants to advance to the last 16. The United States has no option but to win.

The U.S. players have said they were unaware that U.S. Soccer had planned to publish its controversial flag post, while also publicly declaring their support for women's rights.

The day before the big match, U.S. coach Berhalter was apologetic for the flag post but also insistent that he was not focusing on the controversies leading up to it.

"Of course, our thoughts are with the Iranian people, the whole country, the whole team, everyone, but our focus is on this match," he said on November 28.

Iranian Truckers Strike For Third Day In Support Of Protesters

Truck drivers go on strike in Ravand in Kashan on November 28.

Iranian truck drivers have continued to strike for a third day, with more joining their ranks across the country despite threats from security agents over undelivered cargo.

Trucks in the central Iranian city of Isfahan remained parked while reports published on social media indicated that drivers in the cities of Qazvin, Kermanshah, Marand, and Bandar Abbas joined the protest, sparked by the death of a young woman in Tehran after being detained in mid-September for a violation of the country's strict head-scarf law.

Unrest among workers in many sectors of Iran's economy is causing pressure to mount on the government after a summer of unrest over poor living conditions and a flagging economy wracked by U.S. sanctions imposed because of Tehran's nuclear program.

The death on September 16 of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in police custody sparked a new wave of unrest that authorities have met with lethal force across the country.

Strikes have also been reported in several cities in recent days, with reports that workers at the Safe Khodro, an auto manufacturer in the city of Karaj, just northwest of the capital, went on strike on November 27.

Images published on social media also showed that workers at the Pars home-appliance factory in Qazvin were also on strike, chanting, "Workers, shout, shout for your rights."

Meanwhile, three labor organizations, the Haft Tapeh Workers' Union, the Coordinating Committee to Help Establish Labor Organizations, and the Retirees' Union Group issued a joint statement condemning the bloody repression of people in the Kurdish cities of western Iran.

They also demanded the immediate withdrawal of all armed forces from Kurdistan, the unconditional release of all prisoners and those detained, and the cessation of rocket fire into Iraq's Kurdish region.

The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) has accused Kurdish groups of "attacking and infiltrating Iran to sow insecurity and riots and spread unrest" amid the protests that erupted over Amini's death.

Her death has prompted thousands of Iranians to take to the streets to demand more freedoms and women's rights. The widespread demonstrations represent the biggest threat to the Islamic government since the 1979 revolution.

The activist HRANA news agency said that as of November 23, at least 445 protesters had been killed during the uprising, including 61 minors, as security forces try to stifle widespread dissent.

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

Iranian Hard-Liners Propose Punishment For Cooperation With 'Hostile' Countries

The death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in mid-September while in police custody for allegedly wearing a head scarf improperly has prompted thousands of Iranians to take to the streets in the biggest threat to the Islamic government since the 1979 revolution.

Hard-line Iranian lawmakers have proposed a plan to enact harsher punishments against protesters who they say are cooperating with "hostile" foreign countries.

According to the plan, any interaction with any Western institutions and media, including social media, will be considered cooperation and criminalized under the title of "corruption on earth" -- a charge that is punishable by death and often leveled in cases allegedly involving espionage or attempts to overthrow Iran's government.

The death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini on September 16 while in police custody for allegedly wearing a head scarf improperly has prompted thousands of Iranians to take to the streets to demand more freedoms and women's rights in the biggest threat to the Islamic government since the 1979 revolution.

In recent months and especially amid the latest weeks of protests, Iranian legislators have repeatedly tried to facilitate the suppression of protesters by passing harsher and harsher laws while accusing Western countries of being directly involved in fomenting the unrest, despite giving no evidence to back up their claims.

Last month, 227 lawmakers from the 290-seat, hard-liner-led parliament urged the judiciary to approve the death sentence for some protesters arrested amid the recent wave of demonstrations.

They also proposed banning student protesters -- who along with women have formed the backbone of the demonstrations demanding more freedoms -- from traveling abroad for 10 years as the Islamic republic struggles to suppress the biggest show of dissent in years.

Several thousand people have been arrested, including many protesters, journalists, lawyers, activists, digital-rights defenders, and others.

The activist HRANA news agency said that as of November 23, at least 445 protesters had been killed during the unrest, including 61 minors, as security forces try to stifle widespread dissent.

An Iranian general was quoted on November 28 by a website close to the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) as saying that more than 300 people had been killed.

General Amir Ali Hajizadeh, the commander of the aerospace division of the IRGC, did not provide an exact figure or say where his estimate came from, but he said the 300 killed included what he said were "martyrs," in an apparent reference to security forces. He also suggested that many of those killed were ordinary Iranians not involved in the protests.

Hajizadeh also reiterated the official claim that the protests have been fomented by Iran's enemies, including Western countries and Saudi Arabia, without providing evidence.

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

Somalia Questions Iranian, Pakistani 'Hostages' Found Near Al-Shabaab Territory

Al-Shabaab militants (file photo)

Somali police on November 27 launched an investigation after 20 foreigners, who were claiming to be fishermen who had been held hostage for years, were discovered near territory controlled by the Al-Shabaab militant group. Police spokesman Sadik Dudishe said the men -- 14 Iranians and six Pakistanis -- were apprehended for questioning after they wandered from a part of Galmudug state under militant control. "Some of these people were kidnapped by Al-Shabaab in 2014, while others were abducted on the Harardhere coast, near Qosol-tire, in southern Somalia in mid-2019," Dudishe said.

Prominent Iranian Actress Reportedly Released After Arrest For Supporting Protests

Hengameh Ghaziani was arrested by security forces on November 20. (file photo)

Iranian actress Hengameh Ghaziani, who was detained last week after expressing support for anti-government protesters, has been released from custody, state news agency ISNA reported on November 27.

Ghaziani, a film and theater actress, was arrested by security forces on November 20 along with fellow actress Katayoun Riahi after they removed their head scarves in public in an apparent act of defiance against the regime.

ISNA did not give details of Ghaziani's release or mention Riahi’s status in its report.

Reports by human rights organizations indicate that more than 15,000 people have been detained during protests that have swept the country since 22-year-old Mahsa Amini died in September after being detained for allegedly improperly wearing a head scarf.

Authorities have said Amini died from a sudden heart attack while denying claims by activists that she was beaten.

Riahi was one of the first Iranian celebrities to remove her hijab in protest of Amini's death, while Ghaziani published pictures of herself standing on a Tehran street without a hijab and tying her hair in a ponytail. Tying one's hair in a ponytail in public has become an act of defiance in Iran in recent weeks.

Ghaziani and Riahi were detained after being summoned by prosecutors in a probe into their "provocative" social media posts and media activity, the state-run IRNA news agency said at the time.

The moves came amid a brutal crackdown by the government after weeks of unrest -- one of the deepest challenges to the Islamic regime since the revolution in 1979 -- that erupted following the September 16 death of Amini.

Prior to her arrest, Ghaziani posted along with her photos a statement saying that "maybe this is my last post. From this moment on, whatever happens to me, know that I am with the People of Iran until the last breath."

Earlier in an Instagram posting, Ghaziani called Iran a "child-killing state."

Many members of the Iranian cinematic and artistic community have been summoned and interrogated by security agencies for supporting protesters.

Prior to the recent wave of nationwide protests, three prominent Iranian cinematographers -- Mostafa al-Ahmad, Mohammad Rasulof, and Jafar Panahi -- were arrested after they joined a group of more than 300 Iranian filmmakers in calling on the security forces to "lay down arms" in the face of public outrage over "corruption, theft, inefficiency, and repression" following a building collapse in May in the city of Abadan, which killed 41 people.

The Islamic Revolutionary Court of Tehran on October 3 announced a sentence of six years against Ahmad.

Panahi and Rasoulov reportedly have been in Tehran's notorious Evin prison for several months.

Iran Arrests Khamenei's Niece After She Condemns 'Murderous Regime'

Farideh Moradkhani (file photo)

Iranian authorities have arrested a niece of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei after she recorded a video describing the authorities led by her uncle as a "murderous and child-killing regime.” Farideh Moradkhani comes from a branch of the family that has a record of opposition to Iran's clerical leadership and has herself been jailed previously in the country. Her brother, Mahmoud Moradkhani, wrote on Twitter that she was arrested on November 23 after going to the office of the prosecutor following a summons. Then, on November 27, her brother posted a video on YouTube in which she condemned the "clear and obvious oppression" Iranians have been subjected to.

Iran Charges Dissident Rapper Toomaj Salehi With Spreading 'Corruption On Earth'

A U.S.-based rights group said Toomaj Salehi's trial had begun "without a lawyer of his choice," and his family said his "life is at serious risk.” (file photo)

Iran’s judiciary has charged dissident rapper Toomaj Salehi with spreading “corruption on Earth,” a serious offense that could result in a death sentence in the Islamic republic.

Isfahan’s judicial chief, Asadollah Jafari, was quoted on November 27 as saying that Salehi faces other charges, including “propaganda activity against the establishment, forming an illegal group with the intention of disrupting the security of the country, cooperating with hostile governments, and spreading lies and inciting others to commit violence.”

A U.S.-based rights group said on November 26 that Toomaj Salehi's trial had begun "without a lawyer of his choice," and his family said his "life is at serious risk.”


But Jafari said no court session has been held so far for Salehi, who was arrested in late October after denouncing the clerical establishment and expressing support for the protests triggered by the death in custody of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini.

His detention came shortly after he told the Canadian Broadcasting Cooperation: "You are dealing with a mafia that is ready to kill the entire nation...in order to keep its power, money and weapons."

State media then published a video purporting to show the rapper blindfolded and apologizing for his words. Family members and supporters accused the authorities of torturing Salehi in prison to force him to make a false confession.

Family members have expressed concern about Salehi’s health and the charges against him. Earlier this month, over 100 musicians, poets, artists, and activists called for his release.

Salehi, 32, gained notoriety for lyrics that rail against corruption, widespread poverty, state executions, and the killing of protesters in Iran. His songs also point to a widening gap between ordinary Iranians and the country’s leadership, accusing authorities of “suffocating” the people without regard for their well-being.

Last year, Salehi was arrested at his home after releasing several protest songs. A few days later, the rapper was released on bail amid widespread condemnation of his arrest by his supporters and by rights groups.

Salehi is among thousands, including protesters as well as journalists, lawyers, artists, athletes, activists and others arrested in Iran’s ongoing state crackdown on the antiestablishment protests that have rocked the country for the past two months. Iran's judiciary says more than 2,000 people have been charged since the start of the protests.

With reporting by AFP

At World Cup, U.S. Soccer Scrubs Islamic Emblem From Iranian Flag

An Iranian fans hold a "Woman. Life. Freedom" flag and a shirt in memory of Mahsa Amini before the Iran-Wales match on November 25.

The U.S. soccer federation briefly displayed Iran's national flag on social media without the emblem of the Islamic republic, saying the move supports protesters in Iran ahead of the two nations' World Cup match on November 29. Iran's government reacted by accusing America of removing the name of God from their national flag. The decision by the U.S. Soccer Federation adds yet another political firestorm to the Middle East's first World Cup, one which organizers had hoped would be spared off-the-field controversies. To read the original story from AP, click here.

Iran Bank Manager Reportedly Fired For Serving Unveiled Woman

Women in the country of more than 80 million people are required to cover their heads, necks, and hair, a law enforced by the country's morality police. (file photo)

An Iranian bank manager who served an unveiled woman has been fired, local media reported on November 27, as demonstrations triggered by the mandatory head-covering rule shake the Islamic republic. Women in the country of more than 80 million people are required to cover their heads, necks, and hair, a law enforced by the country's morality police. The September 16 death in morality police custody of Mahsa Amini, 22, for allegedly breaching the dress code rules sparked nationwide demonstrations, which authorities call "riots.” Mehr news agency reported that the bank manager in Qom Province, near the capital, Tehran, "had provided bank services on November 24 to an unveiled woman.” To read the story from AFP, click here.

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