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'Deeply Alarmed' UN Calls On Tehran To Halt Imminent Execution Of Iranian-Swedish Doctor

Ahmadreza Djalali with his wife, Vida Mehrannia.

The United Nations says it is "deeply alarmed" by the imminent execution in Iran of Swedish-Iranian doctor and academic Ahmedreza Djalali, and called for an immediate halt to it.

Liz Throssell, spokeswoman for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said in a statement on May 17 that the authorities in Tehran should revoke Djallali's death sentence immediately.

Djalali, a medical doctor and lecturer at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, was arrested in Iran in 2016 during an academic visit. Jalali specializes in disaster relief and has taught at European universities. Rights groups have condemned his detention.

He was accused of providing information to Israel to help it assassinate several senior nuclear scientists.

Iran has threatened to execute him by May 21.

"Use of the death penalty for espionage offenses is incompatible with international human rights law. Countries that have not yet abolished the death penalty may only impose it for the 'most serious crimes,' which is interpreted as crimes of extreme gravity involving intentional killing," Throssell said in the statement.

Many Western groups say the threat to execute Djalali is tied to the current trial of an Iranian in Stockholm for his alleged role in the mass execution and torture of political prisoners at an Iranian prison in the 1980s.

Tehran has denied the cases, which have strained relations between Iran and Sweden, are linked.

Iranian Film Workers Arrested, Homes Raided

Iranian director Mohammad Rasoulof poses during a photocall at the 70th Cannes Film Festival in May 2017.

A renowned Iranian filmmaker has said that the offices and homes of several filmmakers and other industry professionals were raided and some of them arrested in recent days.

Mohammad Rasoulof made the comments on Instagram late on May 14, posting a statement signed by dozens of movie industry professionals.

The statement also claimed that security forces confiscated film production equipment during the raids. It condemned the actions and called them "illegal."

In a separate Instagram post, Rasoulof identified two of the detained filmmakers as Firouzeh Khosravani and Mina Keshavarz. Rasoulof himself was not targeted in the recent raids.

There were no immediate comments from the Iranian authorities on the raids, and no additional details were immediately available.

Rasoulof won the Berlin Film Festival's top prize in 2020 for his film There Is No Evil. The film tells four stories loosely connected to the themes of the death penalty in the Islamic republic and personal freedoms under oppression.

Rasoulof was sentenced to a year in prison shortly after receiving the award, but his lawyer appealed the sentence. He has been banned from making films and traveling abroad.

Iran occasionally arrest activists in cultural fields over alleged security violations.

Iran's conservative authorities have long viewed many cultural activities as part of a "soft war" by the West against Iran and an attempt to tarnish the country's Islamic beliefs.

Based on reporting by AP

Iranian Lawmaker Reports Death Of Protester In Rallies Against Price HIkes

Soaring Bread Prices Trigger Street Protests In Iran
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An Iranian lawmaker has confirmed the death of a street protester in recent rallies in Khuzestan Province in the southwest of the country.

Seyed Ahmad Avaei was quoted by the semiofficial ILNA news agency on May 14 as saying that the person was a resident of the city of Andimeshk, although he did not disclose the age or gender of the victim.

Iranian state media reported on May 13 that authorities had arrested at least 22 people who had been protesting against price hikes in subsidized food staples in two cities in the southwest of the country.

President Ebrahim Raisi this week announced a series of economic measures, including cutting subsidies and increasing the prices of several staples such as flour and cooking oil.

Iranians reacted to the expected price hikes by taking to the streets in several cities in the southwestern province of Khuzestan, the official government news agency IRNA reported on May 13, where the government has reportedly imposed a near-total shutdown of mobile Internet services for the past week.

Amateur videos posted on social media showed protests in Dezful and Mahshahr, where protesters chanted against Raisi and Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.

Some reports suggested that security forces had used tear gas to disperse the protesters.

Street protests were also reported in Andimeshk, the capital city of the western province of Chaharmahal and Bakhtiari.

With reporting with AFP and AP

Iranian Filmmaker Said Held In Evin Prison Amid Reports Of Other Recent Detentions

The Art Of Living In Danger was about her own grandmother's tragic life and suicide after being forced to marry at a young age.

Internationally recognized Iranian documentary filmmaker Mina Keshavarz is being held in Tehran’s Evin prison on unknown charges, a reliable source with knowledge of the case has told RFE/RL in response to questions about Keshavarz's whereabouts.

The information follows reports of security raids involving Keshavarz and another documentarist and the disappearance of another prominent Iranian, all in the past week.

Iranian authorities have not commented on the presumed arrests.

Previous reports said Keshavarz and fellow documentary filmmaker Firouzeh Khosravani were arrested on May 10 in Tehran after their homes were raided by security forces who confiscated personal belongings.

Those reports suggested Khosravani was also taken to Evin prison, where authorities routinely take political prisoners and a source of years of allegations of torture and other prisoner abuse.

On May 9, photographer Reihaneh Taravati was reportedly arrested in the Iranian capital, also on unclear charges.

Taravati had been arrested in the past, including in 2014 after appearing in an amateur video of her and other young Iranians dancing to Pharrell Williams' hit song Happy.

Iranian authorities frequently detain people without providing the public, or often families, information about their detention or specifics of their suspected wrongdoing.

Heidi Basch-Harod, executive director of the nonprofit organization Women’s Voices Now, has worked with Keshavarz.

She told RFE/RL she was worried about Keshavarz's well-being in Evin prison, where rights groups say prisoners are routinely subjected to coercion by their interrogators.

"I want no harm to come to Mina. She is an artist and filmmaker, a culture bearer who transports us to a place many of us will not have the chance to visit," Basch-Harod said.

Keshavarz has directed films like Profession: Documentarist, about seven women filmmakers; Braving The Waves, about an Iranian woman who helps other women find jobs but runs up against a corrupt local politician; and The Art Of Living In Danger, about her own grandmother's tragic life and suicide after being forced to marry at a young age.

"Mina has often expressed how frustrated she is by the inaccurate representation of women in Iran by mainstream media outlets and her work seeks to challenge those inaccurate representations," Basch-Harod said, adding that she hopes Keshavarz will be released soon to continue to create films.

Keshavarz's documentaries have been screened and awarded in several international film events, including the Women's Voices Now Film Festival and the Sarajevo Film Festival.

Visit To Iran By Controversial UN Rapporteur Provokes Concerns

The UN special rapporteur on the negative impact of unilateral coercive measures on human rights, Alena Douhan, has been accused of playing into the hands of authoritarian governments and promoting their propaganda.

For the first time since 2005, Iran has allowed a United Nations special rapporteur to visit the repressive country.

But the mandate of the UN rapporteur and the reasons for her visit have prompted controversy and concern among Iranian activists and foreign rights groups.

Alena Douhan, the UN special rapporteur on the negative impact of unilateral coercive measures on human rights, arrived in Iran on May 7. The aim of her trip, due to end on May 18, is to assess the impact of U.S. sanctions on the human rights situation in Iran.

The mandate of Douhan, a native of Belarus, is controversial. It was created following a 2014 resolution at the UN Human Rights Council introduced by Iran on behalf of the anti-Western Non-Aligned Movement. She is the second person to assume the role.

Douhan, who has visited repressive states like Venezuela, Zimbabwe, and Qatar, has been accused by human rights activists of playing into the hands of authoritarian governments and promoting their propaganda.

Iranian activists outside the country have expressed concern that Douhan will only be allowed to meet with state-approved organizations and individuals. They have also warned that Douhan's findings will likely allow Tehran to blame U.S. sanctions for the country's economic woes while deflecting attention away from government mismanagement and corruption.

'Attempt To Blunt Scrutiny'

"The Islamic republic and its representatives who are talking to you are not representatives of the majority of the Iranian people because they have not attained their current positions in a democratic process," five Iranian activists said in an open letter addressed to Douhan on May 11.

Iranian journalist Kayvan Samimi, lawyer Guiti Purfazel, rights activists Ahmadreza Haeri, filmmaker Sadra Abdollahi, and union activist Jafar Azimzadeh said that the clerical establishment was mostly to blame for the economic hardships that Iranians face, including soaring inflation and rising poverty.

"More than 'unilateral coercive sanctions,' it is the Islamic republic and its institutions that are responsible for economic difficulties and blatant human rights violations," the letter said.

On May 6, a group of 11 human rights groups warned that the Iranian government will try to "instrumentalize" the visit "in a cynical attempt to deflect attention from its well-documented record of human rights violations."

The visit "comes after 17 years of denial of access to any of the 14 UN human rights monitors that have requested to visit the country," the statement said.

"By inviting the only expert whose mandate is to look at external actors' liability for rights violations in the country, Iranian authorities exploit this visit in an inconspicuous attempt to blunt scrutiny of its record of noncooperation with the UN human rights system," said the statement signed by groups including United for Iran, Article 19, and the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center.

Last month, Iranian Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi said Tehran's decision to allow Douhan to visit was a "ploy" to deflect attention away from the "systematic corruption, large-scale embezzlement, as well as the wrong policies of the establishment."

Shirin Ebadi (file photo)
Shirin Ebadi (file photo)

Ebadi had called on the UN to postpone Douhan's trip until Tehran allowed the UN special rapporteur on human rights, Javed Rahman, to travel to the country. In his reports, Rehman has highlighted "grave" human rights violations, including the use of lethal force by security forces, torture and executions, and the negative impact of U.S. sanctions on the human rights of Iranians, including their rights to food and health.

Douhan has not publicly responded to the criticism over her trip. Ahead of her visit, she expressed hope to "gather firsthand information on the impact of unilateral coercive measures on the full realization of all human rights" in Iran.

She also called on "all stakeholders" to submit their response to questions she posted online about the impact of sanctions on human rights in the country, promising that the information will be reviewed for a report she will submit to the UN Human Rights Council in September.

Earlier this week, judicial official Kazem Gharibabadi was quoted by Iranian media as saying that Douhan's visit had been approved at the highest levels of government. "Countries targeted by sanctions must use all available capacities to hold accountable the perpetrators behind unilateral sanctions," he was quoted as saying.

'Many Are Struggling'

Douhan's visit comes amid a standoff in indirect talks between Tehran and Washington aimed at reviving the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers. The agreement limited Iran's sensitive nuclear activities in exchange for sanctions relief.

But former U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the landmark accord in 2018 and reimposed tough economic sanctions on Iran. Tehran reacted by gradually reducing its commitments under the deal.

Iranian officials have repeatedly condemned the "unjust" U.S. sanctions and called for their removal. They have also said that the aim of the sanctions is to cause economic hardship and incite riots.

Some inside the country have blamed the sanctions for empowering the most repressive elements of the clerical establishment, including the powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), which has been behind the arrests of scores of activists and dual nationals in recent years.

Prominent Iranian human rights defender

Iranian activist Narges Mohammadi was briefly released from prison to receive medical care.
Iranian activist Narges Mohammadi was briefly released from prison to receive medical care.

told The Washington Post last month that U.S. sanctions had "weakened Iranians economically more than they weakened the Iranian regime."

"In fact, they strengthened the Iranian regime, and hard-line individuals and groups in the country, including the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps," said Mohammadi, before being sent back to prison to serve an eight-year sentence. "This did not benefit democracy in Iran."

"There's no doubt that sanctions have made our lives more difficult, and many are struggling," a former political prisoner who did not want to be named for fear of retribution told RFE/RL. "Nevertheless, we all know the establishment is repressive with or without sanctions."

'A Dirty Game': Iran Accused Of Holding Swedish Citizens 'Hostage' Over War-Crimes Trial

Tehran has heightened tensions with Sweden by announcing the pending execution of Swedish-Iranian researcher Ahmadreza Jalali. (file photo)

As a court verdict looms in Sweden in a case that has implicated high-ranking members of Iran's clerical regime in war crimes, Tehran appears to be targeting Swedish citizens in Iran as payback.

Iran has expressed outrage over the ongoing trial of Hamid Nouri, an alleged former deputy prosecutor and member of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) who is seen as henchman during the bloody purge of political prisoners and regime opponents at the end of the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War.

Tehran has heightened tensions with Sweden by announcing the pending execution of Swedish-Iranian researcher Ahmadreza Jalali.

The same day that arguments concluded in Nouri's trial, Iran announced on May 4 that Jalali would be put to death within two weeks. Just days later, the Swedish Foreign Ministry announced the arrest of a Swedish tourist who was traveling in Iran.

The pending execution of the 50-year-old Jalali has been condemned by Sweden. It has also led to accusations that Iran is holding an innocent civilian hostage to influence the outcome of Nouri's trial and prompted a fellow inmate to launch a hunger strike in his defense.

"This is a dirty game through which they [the Iranian authorities] are torturing Ahmadreza and his family," Jalali's wife, Vida Mehran Nia, told RFE/RL's Radio Farda on May 6, describing her husband as a "hostage" of the situation.

"It is such a shame to see that the Iranian government has made a pawn out of its own citizen in this political game," she added.

While Iran has claimed that its actions against Jalali have nothing to do with Nouri's case, the timing and rhetoric from officials indicates an act of retribution.

Jalali, who was arrested in April 2016 while visiting Iran for an academic conference, has said he is innocent of the charges of espionage and "corruption on earth" that led to his death sentence in 2017. His verdict, according to Amnesty International, stated that Jalali worked with the Israeli government, which allegedly helped him obtain a Swedish residency permit. Iran does not recognize dual citizenships of Iranian nationals.

The decision to carry out Jalali's death sentence came as prosecutors argued in the Stockholm District Court that Nouri should be sentenced to life in prison for war crimes. The court is set to issue its verdict on July 14.

A courtroom sketch of Hamid Nouri (left), who is accused of involvement in the massacre of political prisoners in Iran in 1988, sitting with his attorney.
A courtroom sketch of Hamid Nouri (left), who is accused of involvement in the massacre of political prisoners in Iran in 1988, sitting with his attorney.

​On May 1, the Iranian Foreign Ministry summoned the Swedish ambassador to lodge an "extreme protest" over Nouri's trial, which Tehran has described as "completely illegal" and a "political show." The Foreign Ministry decried the prosecution's indictments of Nouri during the trial in the Swedish court and accused it of leveling false accusations against Iran.

Nouri has denied the charges that he is responsible for international war crimes due to the murder of more than 100 people while allegedly working as a deputy to a prison prosecutor carrying out orders by former Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini to eliminate prisoners found guilty of “mohareb,” or waging war against God.

Nouri, who was arrested in Sweden in 2019 after arriving for a vacation, has been on trial since August.

'Disturbing Reports'

In a May 4 tweet, Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde called reports that Iran would enforce Jalali's death sentence "extremely worrying" and demanded his release.

A follow-up tweet said that she had spoken to Iran's foreign minister about the "disturbing reports."

Just days after Sweden advised its citizens to avoid traveling to Iran, citing a deteriorating security situation, it announced that it had learned that an unidentified 30-year-old Swedish male had been arrested in Iran. Sweden’s Foreign Ministry said it had launched an investigation.

The Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet quoted an informed Swedish source as saying that the development was a "warning" about the possible abduction of Swedes in retaliation for Nouri's trial.

Mahmud Amiri Moghadam of the Norway-based Iran Human Rights Organization told Radio Farda on May 9 that Jalali's sentencing was clear evidence that "the Islamic republic is using Jalali as a hostage" to exert pressure on Sweden over the outcome of the Nouri trial.

"We demand the international community and specifically European countries to clarify the ramifications of such an execution," he said, describing the "hostage-taking" of Jalali as an international crime that could be punished by cutting off diplomatic and economic ties with Iran and bringing charges against those who ordered it.

Farhad Meisami, a civil rights activist who is serving a six-year prison sentence in Iran for protesting the murders of political activists there in the late 1990s,is putting his own life on the line to save Jalali's.​

Farhad Meisami (file photo)
Farhad Meisami (file photo)

Meisami announced on May 6 that he was launching a hunger strike to protest the injustice of Jalali's death sentence.

"I met Dr. Jalali for the first time more than three years ago in the library of ward No. 4 of Evin Prison,"Meisami wrote in a message posted by supporters on Telegram, adding that Jalali's own hunger strikes in protest at his death sentence had left him "very frail and thin."

Recalling his experiences of seeing another inmate suffer before his death sentence was carried out, Meisami asked: "Is there any torture worse than this?"

Meisami's lawyer, Mohammad Moghimi, told Radio Farda on May 10 that his client had concluded through his meetings with Jalali that the researcher was innocent and felt a responsibility to help save him.

"I hope the authorities, for once, let go of their foolishness," Moghimi said, "and halt this very unfair verdict against Ahmadreza Jalali."

RFE/RL Radio Farda correspondents Mohammad Zarghami and Hannah Kaviani report.

France Demands Iran Release Two French Citizens Detained In Tehran

France's Foreign Ministry has condemned the "baseless arrests" of two French citizens and called for their immediate release after being detained in Iran.

The ministry said in a statement on May 12 that French authorities are "fully mobilized" to address the situation after Iran's Intelligence Ministry announced a day earlier that two "Europeans" had been arrested on accusations of seeking to "destabilize the country."

Details of the charges have not been revealed.

"As soon as this information became known, our ambassador in Tehran took steps with the Iranian authorities to obtain consular access to our two compatriots and the charge d'affaires of the Iranian Embassy in Paris was summoned to the Ministry for Europe. and Foreign Affairs by the Director General of Political and Security Affairs," the statement said.

"The French government condemns this baseless arrest. It demands the immediate release of these two French nationals and will remain fully mobilized for this purpose," it added.

The arrests came as a European Union envoy visited Tehran for talks on stalled negotiations to renew a nuclear pact with world powers.

With reporting by AFP

Tehran Says Iranian-Swedish Djalali's Execution On Track, Not Related To Nouri Trial

Ahmadreza Djalali with his wife, Vida Mehrannia

Iran's judiciary says the death sentence of Swedish-Iranian national Ahmadreza Djalali will be carried out, as Tehran does not plan to seek a prisoner exchange for an Iranian being tried in Stockholm for his alleged role in the mass execution and torture of political prisoners at an Iranian prison in the 1980s.

Judiciary spokesman Zabihollah Khodaian on May 10 confirmed that Djalali, who was arrested during an academic visit in 2016 and accused of spying for Israel, will face his punishment that the case was not related in any way to that of Hamid Nouri, who is on trial in Sweden for war crimes.

The cases have strained relations between Sweden and Iran.

"Djalali has been sentenced to death on several charges and the verdict is final. The sentence will be carried out," Khodaian said.

Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde has condemned the case and called for Djalali's release, while a Norway-based campaign group, Iran Human Rights, has accused Iranian officials of threatening to execute Djalali "in retaliation" for the war crimes trial of Nouri, a former Iranian judiciary official, by a court in Sweden.

"These two issues are not related. Mr. Nouri is innocent and Mr. Djalali was arrested two years prior to Mr. Nouri's case. There is thus no possibility of an exchange of these two individuals," Khodaian added.

He did not give a date for the execution, but last week Iran's semiofficial ISNA news agency reported that the Iranian-Swedish researcher will be executed by May 21.

Djalali, a medical doctor and lecturer at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, was arrested in Iran in 2016 during an academic visit. He was accused of providing information to Israel to help it assassinate several senior nuclear scientists.

Iran's Supreme Court in 2017 upheld the death sentence. Amnesty International in November 2021 urged Tehran to drop all charges against Djalali and release him.

Nouri, arrested in Sweden in 2019, faces a life sentence for his involvement in mass killings ordered by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in 1988.

Nouri is charged with international war crimes and human rights abuses in connection with the murders of more than 100 people at the Gohardasht prison in Karaj.

With reporting by Reuters, BBC, and AP

Father Says Jailed Iranian Activist Halts Hunger Strike As Condition 'Critical'

Iranian civil activist Behnam Moosivand (file photo)

The father of jailed Iranian activist Behnam Mousivand says his son has ended a 16-day hunger strike to protest his brutal treatment by prison guards after his state of health seriously deteriorated.

"Behnam's health condition is very bad. Every way we turn for help, we face a dead end. He has severe problems with his liver, kidneys, stomach, prostate and unfortunately [judicial officials] are not paying attention to his condition," Mohammad Mousivand told RFE/RL's Radio Farda in an interview on May 6.

Instead of transferring Mousivand to a health center for treatment, sources have told human rights groups that he was instead moved to a quarantine ward at the notorious Evin prison on the northern edge of Tehran.

Behnam Mousivand launched his hunger strike in April after being beaten by prison guards for refusing to wear handcuffs and shackles while he was heading to receive medical treatment outside of the prison where he is serving a total of six years on convictions for "assembly and collusion against national security" and "propaganda against the system.”

Mousivand, 35, has been arrested several times for his political activism.

No Place For Converts: Iran's Persecuted Christians Struggle To Keep The Faith

Iranian Christians worship at a house church.

Ali Shahvari grew up in a traditional and religious Muslim family in Iran. He was devoted to his country to the extent that he twice volunteered to fight on the front lines in the devastating Iran-Iraq War. But after one of his brothers was killed and another wounded in the 1980-88 conflict, he turned to drugs.

Two decades later he found salvation on satellite television. After initially questioning the messages of Jesus Christ broadcast in Persian from abroad, Shahvari eventually converted to evangelical Christianity under a new name, Iman (Faith).

But his path resulted in multiple arrests, a year in detention, and charges of blasphemy, acting against national security, and engaging in evangelical activity with the aim of attracting others to "deviant thoughts."

That is because it is illegal for Muslims to convert in Iran, where unrecognized religious minorities are barred from assembling.

Article 18, a London-based nonprofit organization that promotes religious freedom in Iran and advocates on behalf of its religious minorities, has documented the experiences of many who, like Shahvari, were forced to flee abroad to pursue their religious beliefs or who remain and are persecuted in Iran.

The organization's latest annual report, produced jointly with other religious advocacy groups, reports more than 120 incidents of arrest, detention, or imprisonment of Christian converts, Iran's largest Christian community.

The joint report says that one of the most striking trends in 2021 was the increased involvement of Iran's powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) in the crackdown on Persian-speaking Christians. The IRCG was responsible for 12 of the 38 documented incidents of arrests of Christians or raids on their homes or house churches in 2021.

The report covering 2020-21 also notes the Iranian authorities' increased focus on cracking down on evangelism online, with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei advancing a so-called "cyberarmy" to "protect" the Islamic republic from perceived threats.

Following the Islamic Revolution in 1979, the Twelver Jafari School of Shi'ite Islam was named as Iran's official religion under the constitution, which also states that all Iranian laws be derived and consistent with Islamic doctrine.

Three minority religions -- Zoroastrianism, Judaism, and Christianity -- are constitutionally recognized, but others are not and their followers are barred from holding services or possessing religious materials in Persian. That includes Christian coverts, who are not considered indigenous Christians.

"Indigenous Christians are mostly from Armenian, Assyrian, and Catholic churches, with some belonging to the Assemblies of God denomination," said Kiri Kankhwende of the U.K.-based religious advocacy organization Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), which also contributed to the report. "While several converts have joined the Assemblies of God denomination, others belong to various evangelical house-church networks."

An Iranian Christian women lights candles in the Armenian church in Tehran where Iranian Christians, mainly Armenians, are celebrating Christmas in 2003.
An Iranian Christian women lights candles in the Armenian church in Tehran where Iranian Christians, mainly Armenians, are celebrating Christmas in 2003.

In February 2021, Iranian lawmakers amended Articles 499 and 500 of the Penal Code, paving the way for converts to be handed sentences of five years in prison for "engaging in propaganda that educates in a deviant way contrary to the holy religion of Islam."

CSW's Kankhwende told RFE/RL that the "situation remains bad and alarming" for Christian converts in Iran, and that the trend of arrests "is ongoing."

Last month alone, there was a raft of cases involving Christian converts.

Among them were the sentencing of three Christian Iranian men by the Rasht Revolutionary Court to five-year prison terms for "propaganda activities" related to their alleged teachings of a "deviant sect."

Two of the three members of the non-Trinitarian Church of Iran -- Ayub Purrezazadeh and Ahmad Sarparast -- were arrested in September in an IRGC raid on their house church. The third, Morteza Mashoodkari, was arrested the same month at his home.

Article 18 said that efforts by prosecutors to cast the three as "Satan-worshippers" due to their interpretation of the Trinity appeared to be "an obvious attempt to vilify the group and lessen public sympathy for them."

Fariba Dalir
Fariba Dalir

Fariba Dalir, a 51-year-old Christian convert who was arrested in the summer of 2021 along with six others, began serving a two-year sentence on April 16 for "acting against national security by establishing and leading an evangelical Christian church."

Dalir was sent to Tehran's notorious Evin prison the day before Easter. Four of the others, including her husband, were sentenced to 10 months in prison for membership of the banned church.

Another woman, Sakineh (Mehri) Behjati, was sent the same day to serve a two-year prison sentence at Evin prison on charges of "acting against national security" through her involvement with a house church. She was reportedly later allowed to transfer to another facility in the northern city of Rasht so she could be closer to her young child.

Following the arrest of Christian convert Rahmat Rostamipur in Bandar Anzali, a city on the Caspian Sea, on April 20 by 12 Intelligence Ministry agents, his wife was also summoned and interrogated and materials including Bibles were taken from their home, according to RFE/RL's Radio Farda. Rostamipour has yet to be formally charged with a crime.

And in late April, an Iranian Christian pastor who was initially sentenced to death for "apostasy" but subsequently given a reduced sentence for promoting "Zionist Christianity," was returned to prison after a brief furlough following a coronavirus outbreak in his ward at Evin prison.

The UN's Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has criticized the imprisonment of Yusef Nadarkhani of the Protestant Evangelical Church of Iran. It said Nadarkhani was legitimately exercising his religious freedoms, was discriminated against, and that he was not granted a fair trial or due process.

Iranian Christians pray during New Year's Mass at the St. Sarkis Armenian Cathedral in Tehran on January 1, 2020.
Iranian Christians pray during New Year's Mass at the St. Sarkis Armenian Cathedral in Tehran on January 1, 2020.

CRW's Kankhwende says that Christian converts charged under the revised Penal Code have limited legal recourse. "Depending on many circumstances, including financial resources, some are allowed to employ lawyers," she said. "But it is not always possible for the lawyers to represent their clients properly."

There have been cases of apparent leniency. In what was seen as a positive development, the Supreme Court ruled last year that the prison sentences of nine converts should be reviewed because their practicing of Christianity in a house church did not fit the verdict that they had harmed national security.

And some converts were temporarily released from prison last year over Christmas, and others, such as Pastor Nadarkhani, were granted furloughs due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic that has harshly impacted Iran's overcrowded prisons.

But such incidents, according to Kankhwende, "depend largely at the discretion of the secret police and the supreme leader and are sometimes influenced by Iran's relationships with the international community and the impression it wishes to convey."

Iran has also been widely criticized abroad for the treatment of its recognized religious minorities, including obstructions that prevent members of faiths from attending services conducted in their native Persian.

Javaid Rehman, the UN special rapporteur on human rights in Iran, in his latest report expressed concern over the "continued repression of religious minorities, including through the forcible closing of houses of worship on national security grounds."

Rehman cited cases of pressure against Sunni Muslims, members of the Baha'i community, and the arrests of Christian converts despite the Iranian government's statements that religious minorities were respected and Christians, Jews, and Zoroastrians were constitutionally free to perform their religious rites.

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom in 2022 redesignated Iran as a "country of particular concern," in part because it continues to "arrest, charge, sentence, and jail scores of Christians on charges including 'propaganda against the regime.'"

Numerous efforts have been launched in support of religious minorities in Iran, including a statement released in May by 25 Iranian Christians condemning Tehran's deprivation of Persian-speaking Christians' right to work.

Others, such as the online campaign #Place2Worship, decry the hurdles placed in the way of Iranian believers who want to attend religious services in their own language, giving them no option but to worship in private homes.

Until Iranian converts can practice their religion freely in their home country, many are expected to seek sanctuary abroad.

Atena Fooladi Helabad, whose experiences were documented by Article 18 in March, told the organization that after she and fellow church members were sentenced to one year in prison, she had no choice but to flee.

After seven years abroad, she said, "I feel like a child separated from its mother, having been separated from Iran."

With reporting by RFE/RL's Radio Farda

Report: Execution Of Swedish-Iranian National Djalali Scheduled For May 21

Ahmadreza Djalali (left) and Hamid Nouri (combo photo)

A Swedish-Iranian citizen sentenced to death in Iran on charges of spying for Israel is to be executed on May 21, Iran's semiofficial ISNA news agency said on May 4.

Ahmadreza Djalali, a medical doctor and lecturer at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, was arrested in Iran in 2016 during an academic visit.

He was accused of providing information to Israel to help it assassinate several senior nuclear scientists.

Iran's Supreme Court in 2017 upheld the death sentence. Amnesty International in November urged Tehran to drop all charges against Djalali and release him.

Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde reacted to ISNA's report on Twitter.

"[Sweden] and [the EU] condemn the death penalty and [demand] that Djalali be released," Linde said. "We have repeatedly stated this to Iranian representatives. We are in contact with Iran."

The ISNA report, which cites unnamed sources, comes as Hamid Nouri, a former Iranian prosecution official arrested by Swedish authorities in 2019, faces a life sentence in Sweden at a trial relating to the mass killings ordered by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in 1988.

Nouri is charged with international war crimes and human rights abuses in connection with the murders of more than 100 people at the Gohardasht prison in Karaj, Iran.

Tehran on May 2 summoned Sweden's ambassador over "baseless and false allegations" made against Nouri.

Under Swedish law, courts can try Swedish citizens and other nationals for crimes against international law committed abroad.

With reporting by Reuters and AP

U.S. Calls On Iran To Release American Held As 'Political Pawn'

Emad Sharghi

Secretary of State Antony Blinken has called on Iran to release a U.S. citizen he said had been held for years as a "political pawn."

Emad Sharghi was sentenced to 10 years in prison on spying charges, Iranian media have reported, saying he was detained while attempting to flee the country.

Blinken said the Iranian-American venture capitalist had been held for four years, and that the "family has waited anxiously for the Iranian government to release Emad.

"Like too many other families, their loved one has been treated as a political pawn," the top U.S. diplomat said on Twitter on April 23.

"We call on Iran to stop this inhumane practice and release Emad," Blinken added.

Earlier on April 23, U.S. special envoy for Iran Robert Malley also called for the release of Sharghi and other detained Americans, including businessman Siamak Namazi and U.S.-British environmentalist Morad Tahbaz.

"Emad Sharghi was arrested 4 years ago today. He was cleared of all charges, but then convicted in absentia, rearrested, and has now spent over 500 days in Evin Prison," Malley said on Twitter.

"Emad, the Namazis, and Morad Tahbaz must all be allowed to come home now," he added.

On April 22, U.S. Senator Mark Rubio called for Sharghi's release, saying he remained in Tehran’s Evin prison on "false charges."

The United States, Britain, and other countries have sought to secure the release of more than a dozen dual nationals detained by Iran.

Family members and human rights activists have accused Tehran of arresting the dual nationals on trumped up charges to squeeze concessions out of Western nations.

Last month, Tehran allowed two British citizens to return home after years of detention.

Their release was reached as world leaders try to revive the landmark 2015 Iran nuclear pact.

Negotiations on renewing the deal have reportedly stalled over the U.S. blacklisting of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps.

With reporting by AFP

Iranian Female Soccer Fans Still Banned From Games Despite Promise

Iranian Female Soccer Fans Still Banned From Games Despite Promise
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When Iranian women recently tried to enter a soccer match between Iran and Lebanon in Mashhad on March 29, they were violently beaten by guards at the stadium, despite holding tickets. The decision to again exclude female fans has caused widespread anger in Iran.

Kurdish Traders Brave A 'Killing Field' On Iran-Iraq Border

Kurdish Traders Brave A 'Killing Field' On Iran-Iraq Border
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Kurdish traders known as Kulbars make the hazardous journey from Iranian to Iraqi Kurdistan, earning just enough money to survive. Some have fallen to their deaths. More have been killed by Iranian border guards, with 52 killed in 2021, according to the Hengaw Organization for Human Rights.

'I Didn't Have A Childhood': The Emotional Scars Of Iran's Child Brides

'I Didn't Have A Childhood': The Emotional Scars Of Iran's Child Brides
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According to official Iranian statistics, there was a 32 percent increase in girls marrying between the ages of 10 and 14 in Iran in the first quarter of 2021 compared to the same quarter in 2020. Here, two women who married as children talk about the psychological and physical toll that marrying young has had upon them.

Iranian Rights Defender, Journalist Sent Back To Prison

Narges Mohammadi was released from prison for treatment on February 22.

Prominent Iranian human rights advocate Narges Mohammadi and photojournalist Alieh Motalebzadeh have been sent back to prison after briefly allowing them out for medical reasons, family members and activists said.

Mohammadi's husband, Taghi Rahmani, told Radio Farda that Ministry of Intelligence agents had raided the family's home to arrest Mohammadi and Motalebzadeh, who is vice president of the Association for the Defense of the Press Freedom of Iran, and return them to jail.

The arrests came after Mohammadi told Radio Farda that she would have to return to prison despite concern about her health. Mohammadi suffers from a heart condition.

Mohammadi previously called her refusal to return to prison "civil disobedience," but told Radio Farda that her bail had been threatened and that her house would be confiscated.

The two women were transferred to the Qarchak women's prison, according to the Human Rights Activists News Agency, a U.S.-based news outlet that covers news in Iran. Conditions at the prison are routinely condemned by activists.

Before being arrested, Mohammadi told The Washington Post that human rights should be a "priority" in the West's negotiations with the Islamic republic.

She also argued that economic sanctions against the country had backfired, saying they had "weakened Iranians economically more than they weakened the Iranian regime."

Mohammadi was arrested in November 2021 after she attended the memorial of a man killed by Iranian security forces during nationwide protests in November 2019.

In late January, a court sentenced her to another eight years and two months in prison, as well as 74 lashes.

Human Rights Watch condemned the new prison sentence and called on Tehran to release her.

The sentence also included a two-year ban on membership in political parties and "activities in social and digital platforms," as well as a two-year internal exile in Iran.

Rahmani said his wife's trial lasted no longer than five minutes and the judge specifically mentioned her recent nomination by two Norwegian parliament members for the Nobel Peace Prize and her efforts to shed light on Iran's use of prolonged solitary confinement against political prisoners.

'Disgusting And Heartbreaking': New Videos Put Spotlight On Mistreatment Of Afghan Refugees In Iran

Afghans who were forcibly sent back to their country from Iran walk near the Islam Qala border crossing in the western Afghan province of Herat in October 2021.

A grainy video shows several police officers standing idly as an angry mob beats a young man.

The 30-second video, shared widely this week on social media, purportedly shows a group of Iranian men assaulting a young Afghan migrant.

The video is among several that have been uploaded on social media in recent days. While the authenticity of the viral videos has not been independently verified, the footage has sparked anger among Afghans and prompted a reaction from the Taliban-led government in Afghanistan.

The videos have put the spotlight on the mistreatment of Iran’s sizeable Afghan community. An estimated 3 million Afghans, mostly of them undocumented refugees, live in Iran.

The forced deportation of Afghans from Iran has increased since the Taliban takeover in August.
The forced deportation of Afghans from Iran has increased since the Taliban takeover in August.

That figure is swelling further as the Taliban's repressive rule and the worsening economic and humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan drive thousands of people to flee the country every week. Iranian authorities have responded by tightening border controls and deporting scores of Afghans, often violently, every day.

“It is horrible, disgusting, and heartbreaking to see videos of how inhumanly Afghan migrants and refugees are being treated in Iran,” said Zaman Sultani, a South Asia researcher at Amnesty International. “All uses of violence against Afghans in Iran must be thoroughly investigated and perpetrators brought to justice.”

Humiliation And Violence

The videos include footage purportedly showing an unidentified Iranian man humiliating a distraught Afghan teenager.

"Say that you eat shit,” shouts the man in the grainy video. He then orders the Afghan teenager to repeatedly stand and sit.

Another viral video appears to show an Iranian driver grabbing an Afghan man by the arm and brandishing a box cutter. The driver forces the man to utter profanities against Afghans.

Afghan workers on a snowy day in the city of Meygun, north of Tehran, in January.
Afghan workers on a snowy day in the city of Meygun, north of Tehran, in January.

Meanwhile, another video appears to show the aftermath of an alleged mob attack on a car carrying Afghan migrants in the Iran’s central city of Yazd. The footage shows the smashed windows of the vehicle.

The emergence of the videos prompted a statement from the Taliban, the militant Islamist group that seized power in August.

“We urge the Islamic Republic of Iran not to harass Afghan refugees,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told BBC Persian on April 5.

Mujahid also called on Tehran to stop forcibly deporting Afghan refugees and criticized the heavy-handed tactics of Iranian border guards, who have been accused of beating and harassing Afghan nationals.

Faizanullah Nasiri, a senior Taliban Foreign Ministry official, met with Iranian diplomats in Kabul on April 6 to discuss “the treatment of Afghans by [Iran’s] border forces and administrative officials,” according to a ministry spokesman.

Sultani said Amnesty International has documented cases of Iranian security forces beating Afghans trying to enter Iran. “It has resulted in pushbacks and injuries and sometimes death of Afghan people, which violates international law," he said.

He said the deportations violate the international ban on returning people to countries where they are likely to be abused known as non-refoulement.

Sayed Abbas Badrifar, a media officer at the Iranian Embassy in Kabul, claimed the videos circulating on social media did not reflect reality and were aimed at undermining ties between the two neighboring countries.

"These videos cannot be used to judge the treatment of Afghan refugees in Iran," he was quoted as saying by Afghanistan’s independent Tolo News channel.

Afghans look out a a bus at the Dowqarun border crossing between Iran and Afghanistan in late August 2021.
Afghans look out a a bus at the Dowqarun border crossing between Iran and Afghanistan in late August 2021.

Since seizing power, the Taliban has attempted to curry favor with Iran, a major trade partner and regional power.

Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, speaking in China last week, said 5 million Afghans currently reside in Iran. He called on foreign donors and international organizations to “allocate new resources” for Afghan refugees in the country.

History Of Abuse

This is not the first time videos have emerged that appear to show the mistreatment of Afghan migrants in Iran.

In June 2020, Iranian police opened fire on a car carrying Afghan migrants, causing it to explode in flames. Three Afghans were killed and five wounded. Iranian authorities said police fired on the vehicle because they suspected it was carrying drugs and undocumented migrants.

An Afghan migrant family prepares to leave Iran and cross over into Zaranj, capital of the southwestern Afghan province of Nimroz.
An Afghan migrant family prepares to leave Iran and cross over into Zaranj, capital of the southwestern Afghan province of Nimroz.

A month earlier, dozens of Afghans illegally crossed into Iran and were detained by Iranian border guards who allegedly beat, tortured, and then forced them to jump into the Harirud, a 1,100-kilometer river shared by Afghanistan, Iran, and Turkmenistan. Many of them drowned.

The two events led Afghans to protest in the streets and on social media to denounce Iranian authorities.

International human rights groups have documented years of violations against Afghan refugees and migrants in Iran, including physical abuse, detention in unsanitary and inhumane conditions, forced payment for transportation and accommodation in camps, slave labor, and the separation of families.

In 2015, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei issued a decree allowing all Afghan children to go to school. But Afghans are still denied many other basic services, including access to medical care, jobs, and housing.

'We Object, We Object': Outrage After Iran Blocks Women From Attending Soccer Match

Female spectators gather outside the Mashhad stadium for a World Cup qualifying match between Iran and Lebanon on March 29.

Iranian authorities had made around 2,000 tickets available to women to attend the country’s soccer World Cup qualifying match against Lebanon.

But when the ticketed female supporters arrived outside the Imam Reza stadium in the northeastern city of Mashhad on March 29, police blocked them from entering. When they protested, the women were pepper sprayed.

The exclusion of women from the stadium and the use of force against the female supporters has triggered an uproar in Iran, where soccer is hugely popular.

'They Won't Let Us In'

Iranian media published videos and images that showed scores of women and girls, some draped in the Iranian flag, standing outside the Imam Reza stadium as the match was played with only male spectators. Iran won the game 2-0.

"Yesterday, we managed to purchase tickets online," an unnamed woman said in a video posted online. "All of the women here have tickets. We took a day off, we spent a lot of money, and now they won't let us in."

Other women said there was confusion among stadium staff about whether they should allow female spectators in.

The semiofficial ISNA news agency said 12,500 tickets were sold online, with 2,000 reserved for women.

After being locked out of the stadium, dozens of Iranian women staged a protest. In a video posted by the Khabaronline.ir news site, women can be heard chanting, "We object, we object."

Another video showed women coughing and choking. "They sprayed pepper on all of us," an unnamed woman says in the video, without elaborating. It was unclear who used the pepper spray against the protesters.

The flood of footage and images led to widespread outrage in Iran, where some compared the country's clerical regime to the Taliban, the militant Islamist group that seized power in neighboring Afghanistan last year. Since its takeover, the Taliban has imposed wide-ranging restrictions on girls and women, including a ban on girls attending high school.

"In Kabul, they don't allow girls to attend high school," journalist Pejman Mousavi wrote on Twitter. "In Mashhad, they don't allow them to [enter] stadiums."

"Instead of blaming the Taliban regarding their treatment of women, we imitate them," former conservative lawmaker Ali Motahari said on Twitter. He said those behind the decision should be punished.

Other Iranians called on FIFA, world soccer's governing body, to punish the country. Prominent photojournalist Arash Ashourinia said on Twitter that it was only "fair" that Iran would be banned from competing in this year's World Cup in the Persian Gulf state of Qatar.

Women have been barred from attending soccer matches since the Islamic Revolution in 1979. Iran's clerical establishment has long opposed the idea of women being allowed in stadiums with male fans.

But under pressure from FIFA, Iranian authorities have allowed some women to attend games in recent years.

In September 2019, FIFA ordered Iran to allow women access to stadiums without restriction and in numbers to be determined according to demand for tickets.

The FIFA directive, which threatened to ban Iran from international competitions, came after the death of Sahar Khodayari, a soccer fan. Khodayari died after setting herself on fire over fears that she would be jailed for trying to attend a soccer match in disguise.

In October 2019, Iranian authorities allowed about 4,000 women into Tehran's Azadi Stadium for a World Cup qualifying match against Cambodia, for the first time in decades.

Women were to be allowed in the stadium again in early October for a World Cup qualifier against South Korea, but a late decision was made to hold the event behind closed doors amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The Iranian Football Federation (FFI) fears the incident in Mashhad could lead to the country being banned from the World Cup, which will start on November 21.

"We're hearing worrying news from FIFA and the AFC [Asian Football Confederation]," FFI board member Mehrdad Seraji said on Twitter, without elaborating.

Should Iran be banned "then those involved in the bitter incident in Mashhad are responsible," he added.

Amir Abedini, the former head of the FFI, told RFE/RL's Radio Farda that FIFA will "definitely" penalize Iran. "I don't understand why our women are treated this way," he said in a telephone interview from Hungary. "On the one hand, [the establishment] says it values women. On the other hand, it deprives them of their social standing."

The FFI claimed on March 30 that that only nine women had purchased tickets for the match.

In a written statement to RFE/RL, FIFA said it “heard with concerns reports that women were not allowed at the match in Mashhad” and was asking the FFI for “more information on this matter.”

FIFA said that “historic progress has been achieved” and it “expects this to continue, as there can be no turning back.”

'Apology Is Not Enough'

In the face of the controversy, Iran's ultraconservative President Ebrahim Raisi on March 30 ordered the Interior Ministry to investigate the incident.

Interior Minister Ahmad Vahidi later said that those behind the "violations" in Mashhad will be "seriously" dealt with.

It was unclear who decided to ban the female spectators.

Ayatollah Ahmad Alamolhoda, an influential and hard-line cleric in Mashhad and Raisi's father-in-law, was critical of the 2019 decision to allow female spectators into stadiums. "The place of women in the stadiums should be such that their excitement cannot be [seen], unfortunately it was not the case," said Alamolhoda, who has previously banned musical concerts in the conservative city.

Chief prosecutor Mohammad Jafar Montazeri blamed carelessness for the decision. "The authorities should have used their brain. An apology is not enough, they should also return the [money]," Montazeri was quoted as saying by Iranian media.

Montazeri did not comment on the use of force against the female soccer fans, which sparked criticism from some lawmakers. "Women had bought tickets to watch soccer only to be pepper-sprayed. These measures have no result other than causing damage inside and outside the country," lawmaker Mojtaba Tavangar said on Twitter.

In an interview after the match with Lebanon, Iranian team captain Alireza Jahanbakhsh said he would like to see women in stadiums in the future "so that we can make them happy."

But state TV censored Jahanbakhsh's comments, removing his reference to women.

Daughter Says Jailed Iranian Environmental Activist Ends Hunger Strike

Morad Tahbaz was arrested in January 2018 during a crackdown on environmental activists.

An Iranian-U.S.-British environmentalist who was convicted in Iran on what rights groups say were bogus national security charges has ended a weeklong hunger strike to protest his reincarceration.

Morad Tahbaz was released on March 16, the same day as two high-profile British citizens, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Anoosheh Ashoori, who had been detained for more than five years, were freed and flown home to Britain.

But on March 20, Tahbaz's lawyer said that Iranian security officers had forced his client to return to the notorious Evin prison, prompting the 66-year-old activist to go on hunger strike in protest.

His daughter, Roxanne Tahbaz, told BBC radio on March 29 that he had ended the hunger strike but his state of health was a constant worry.

"He's had loads of health complications due to cancer that he suffered before and he needed quite regular monitoring and treatment," she added.

"Obviously, we're quite keen to have him home to make sure that he does have that, so that his long-term health isn't further impaired."

Britain says the situation has been complicated by the fact that Tahbaz is also a U.S. citizen, though his daughter remains critical of how the British government has handled the situation.

"Ultimately he's stuck in this political chess game, but as a pawn, and we feel that no one's really protecting him now because this country's left him behind," she added.

Human Rights Watch said on March 29 that Iranian authorities should "immediately and unconditionally release" Tahbaz and other environmentalists wrongfully jailed with him.

"It is abhorrent that Iranian officials continue to use dual and foreign nationals detained in Iran as bargaining chips," HRW's Tara Sepehri Far said.

"It is also particularly disappointing that British authorities did not do enough to ensure Iran would uphold the conditions they agreed to for Tahbaz's furlough."

Tahbaz, a board member of the Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation, was arrested in January 2018 during a crackdown on environmental activists. He and seven others were accused of compiling classified information while pretending to carry out environmental work.

He was sentenced to 10 years in prison with the others on vague allegations of spying for the United States and undermining Iranian security.

It was not immediately clear if Tahbaz's return to prison was a temporary move or if he would be required to serve the final years of his 10-year sentence.

British and U.S. officials said they had been told he was returning to prison only to have an ankle tag attached, but his lawyer and family said they had no information on that.

The United States, Britain, and other countries have sought to secure the release of dozens of dual nationals detained by Iran.

Family members and human rights activists have accused Tehran of arresting the dual nationals on trumped-up charges to squeeze concessions out of Western governments.

The March 16 release of Tahbaz, Zaghari-Ratcliffe, and Ashoori was reached as world leaders try to revive the landmark 2015 Iran nuclear pact.

Negotiations on renewing the deal have stalled over Russia's demand that its trade with Iran be guaranteed amid massive sanctions on Moscow over its invasion of Ukraine.

'We Sell Forbidden Happiness': The Women Behind Tehran's Thriving Illegal Wine Business

'We Sell Forbidden Happiness': The Women Behind Tehran's Thriving Illegal Wine Business
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Four decades after the consumption and sale of alcohol was banned in Iran following the 1979 Islamic Revolution, the market for illegal wine and other alcoholic drinks is thriving. Many of the wine producers in the capital, Tehran, are women who say they live in fear of being caught.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe Celebrates Reunion With Family But Still Seeks Freedom For Others Held In Iran

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and her husband, Richard Ratcliffe, speak to reporters in London on March 21.

A British-Iranian woman released from a prison in Tehran last week has appealed for the release of another prisoner, Morad Tahbaz, whose family says is now on a hunger strike after being left out of the deal that brought her and another dual national home.

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe told journalists on March 21 that her relief at being released following six years of detention in Iran was tempered by reports that Morad Tahbaz, an environmentalist who holds British, U.S., and Iranian passports, was again being held by authorities after temporarily being furloughed.

“I believe that the meaning of freedom is never going to be complete as to such time that all of us who are unjustly detained in Iran are reunited with our families,’’ she said at a news conference where Tahbaz’s daughter was present.

Morad Tahbaz
Morad Tahbaz

Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Anoosheh Ashoori, a British-Iranian retiree, arrived back in Britain on March 17 after being released a day earlier.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe was taking her daughter to see her family in 2016 when she was arrested and convicted of plotting to overthrow the clerical establishment. She was sentenced to five years in jail and spent four of those years in Tehran's notorious Evin prison and one under house arrest.

Ashoori was sentenced in 2019 to 10 years in prison after being convicted of spying for Israel's Mossad intelligence agency and another two years for "acquiring illegitimate wealth."

Both have denied any wrongdoing.

Anoosheh Ashoori on a plane en route to London after taking off from Tehran on March 16.
Anoosheh Ashoori on a plane en route to London after taking off from Tehran on March 16.

The release of Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Ashoori was reached as world leaders try to revive the landmark 2015 Iran nuclear pact. Negotiations on renewing the deal have stalled over Russia’s demand that its trade with Iran be guaranteed amid massive sanctions on Moscow over its invasion of Ukraine.

After the release of the two prisoners, British officials said they had resolved what they called a parallel issue -- repaying a 400 million pound ($526 million) debt to Iran dating back to 1979 due to an unfulfilled purchase of tanks.

On the same day Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Ashoori were released, Tahbaz, who was arrested in January 2018 during a crackdown on environmental activists, gained his freedom as well.

However, the British Foreign Ministry said Tahbaz was taken back to prison on March 18 to be fitted with a tracking bracelet.

Tahbaz's daughter, Roxanne, told the March 21 news conference that since then her father's whereabouts have been unclear and that "we've only just found out...that he's been returned to the prison."

Tahrane Tahbaz, Morad's sister, said in an interview with the BBC that she hasn't heard from her brother since he was taken back into custody.

"We have heard through a relative just a few hours ago that he's been taken from the prison...to an undisclosed location and that he's gone on hunger strike," she added.

"Frankly, for four years we were led to believe that he would be part of the deal when it was made," she said. "And that's what we were told. And the deal was made, the money was paid...And he wasn't part of the deal -- and he's still there -- and we're very worried."

Iran Forces Furloughed U.S-British National Back To Prison, Lawyer Says

Morad Tahbaz

A dual U.S.-British citizen who was temporarily furloughed from an Iranian prison just days ago has been returned to jail, his family and lawyer said on March 20.

Morad Tahbaz, a 66-year-old environmentalist, was released on March 16, the same day as two high-profile British citizens who had been detained for more than five years were freed and flown home to Britain.

But his lawyer said that Iranian security officers had forced Tahbaz -- who also has Iranian citizenship -- to return to Iran’s notorious Evin Prison.

“Unfortunately, we have no idea if or when he is going to be released,” Hojjat Kermani told the AP. “He is back in Evin for the time being.”

It was not immediately clear if Tahbaz’s return to prison was a temporary move or if he would be required to serve the final years of his 10-year sentence.

British and U.S. officials said they had been told he was returning to prison only to have an ankle tag attached, but his lawyer and family said they had no information on that.

Tahbaz's family said they had received "devastating news" that he had been returned to prison.

"We the family are distraught at this moment," they said in a statement.

British-Iranians Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Anoosheh Ashoori arrived in Britain on March 17 after being released from Iranian prisons following more than five years of detention.

The United States, Britain, and other countries have sought to secure the release of dozens of dual nationals detained by Iran. Family members and human rights activists have accused Tehran of arresting the dual nationals on trumped-up charges to squeeze concessions out of Western nations.

The release of Tahbaz, Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Ashoori was reached as world leaders try to revive the landmark 2015 Iran nuclear pact. Negotiations on renewing the deal have stalled over Russia’s demand that its trade with Iran be guaranteed amid massive sanctions on Moscow over its invasion of Ukraine.

Tahbaz, a board member of the Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation, was arrested in January 2018 during a crackdown on environmental activists. He and seven others were accused of compiling classified information while pretending to carry out environmental work.

Tahbaz was sentenced to 10 years in prison with the others on vague allegations of spying for the United States and undermining Iranian security.

British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss on March 16 said Tahbaz had been released to his home in Tehran on furlough.

Iranian officials did not respond to requests for comment and did not acknowledge his return to prison.

The British Foreign Office said: "We hope to see him returned to his home in the coming hours. Morad Tahbaz is a tri-national, and we are working closely with the United States to secure Morad's permanent release."

With reporting by RFE/RL's Radio Farda, the BBC, and AP

New Video Leak Keeps Spotlight On Inhumane Prison Conditions In Iran

Video footage from the Iranian hacktivist group Edalat-e Ali shows overcrowding at Evin prison in Tehran.

A hacktivist group that claims to work inside Iran to expose the "true face of the regime" has released new footage highlighting inhumane conditions in the country's most notorious prison.

The new video, provided exclusively to RFE/RL's Radio Farda this week by Edalat-e Ali (Ali's Justice), adds to the evidence of extreme overcrowding at Tehran's Evin prison.

The footage shows prisoners lying wall to wall on floors and stacked three-high on metal bunk beds. As the camera moves from open cell to open cell, each equipped with beds for about 30 inmates, it reveals rooms filled with up to 50 inmates.

Leaked Video Exposes Extreme Conditions In Notorious Iranian Prison
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RFE/RL could not independently verify the authenticity of the video.

It is unclear when the footage was recorded, but Iran has consistently come under criticism from rights watchdogs for overcrowding and unsanitary conditions at its prisons, a problem that has contributed to COVID infections and deaths.

Edalat-e Ali has released a string of hacked videos and confidential documents that have exposed the systematic mistreatment of inmates at Evin prison. The leaks have even led to rare official acknowledgment that prison abuses were taking place at the facility that primarily houses political detainees.

Previous videos, which were hacked from CCTV cameras and published by Radio Farda among other media outlets, have shown prison guards assaulting detainees and inhumane conditions at the facility. The documents leaked by the hacktivist group have detailed how Evin prison authorities took harsh steps to break hunger strikes by prominent prisoners, including the denial of visitation rights and the blockage of phone access.

Mohammad Mehdi Hajmohammadi, the head of Iran's Prisons Organization, in August issued an apology and accepted responsibility for the "unacceptable behavior" at the prison, while judiciary chief Gholamhossein Mohseni-Ejei ordered an investigation.

It was later announced that members of the prison staff had been suspended and that some cases had been forwarded to a military court. A member of parliament, meanwhile, demanded that those responsible for the publication of the video leaks be punished.

The emergence of the clips also led to harsh criticism from international rights watchdogs.

"This disturbing footage offers a rare glimpse of the cruelty regularly meted out to prisoners in Iran," Heba Morayef, the Middle East and North Africa regional director at Amnesty International, said in August. "It is shocking to see what goes on inside the walls of Evin prison, but sadly the abuse depicted in these leaked video clips is just the tip of the iceberg of Iran's torture epidemic."

The previous month, Amnesty had said that leaked documents that revealed the Iranian government had ignored prison officials' pleas for additional resources to control the spread of the coronavirus were in "stark contrast" to the judiciary's claims that it had introduced initiatives to protect prisoners from the pandemic.

"Overcrowding, poor ventilation, lack of basic sanitation and medical equipment, and deliberate neglect of prisoners' health problems are making Iranian prisons a perfect breeding ground for COVID-19," Amnesty said.

A guard beats a prisoner at Evin prison in Tehran in video leaked by the hacktivist group.
A guard beats a prisoner at Evin prison in Tehran in video leaked by the hacktivist group.

Edalat-e Ali, in an interview with Radio Farda in November, said that it was made up of Iranians working and living in Iran who sought to expose human rights abuses in the country.

In February, the group announced in a call to Radio Farda that the Ghezel Hesar prison in the city of Karaj had been hacked.

The group provided Radio Farda with a list of hundreds of Iranians who were detained during student protests in 1998 and held in Ghezel Hesar prison.

Leaked Video Exposes Extreme Conditions In Notorious Iranian Prison

Leaked Video Exposes Extreme Conditions In Notorious Iranian Prison
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Video provided exclusively to RFE/RL's Radio Farda by the Edalat-e Ali (Ali's Justice) hacktivist group is said to show extreme overcrowding at Tehran's notorious Evin prison. The video contains images of open cells equipped with beds for about 30 inmates filled with up to 50 prisoners. It is unclear when the video was taken, but Iran has consistently come under criticism from rights watchdogs for overcrowding and unsanitary conditions at its prisons.

British-Iranians Welcomed In Emotional Return After Years In Iranian Prison

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe (right) and Anoosheh Ashoori disembark from a plane at RAF Brize Norton after being freed from Iran on March 17 in Brize Norton, England.

Two British-Iranians who were held in Iran for years have returned home to their families after Britain settled a long-standing debt owed to Iran.

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Anoosheh Ashoori were greeted by family members after they arrived early on March 17 at an air base on a government-chartered aircraft.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe hugged her 7-year-old daughter and her husband, and members of Ashoori's family tearfully embraced one another.

"Looking forward to a new life," said Richard Ratcliffe, who had worked tirelessly for his wife's release. "You can't get back the time that's gone. That's a fact. But we live in the future."

Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced on March 16 on Twitter that the "unfair detention' of Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Ashoori had ended and they would return to Britain.

The United States, Britain, and other countries have been seeking to secure the release of dozens of dual nationals detained by Iran. Family members and human rights activists have accused Tehran of arresting the dual nationals on trumped-up charges to squeeze concessions out of Western countries.

The release of Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Ashoori was reached as world leaders try to revive the landmark 2015 Iran nuclear pact. Negotiations on renewing the deal have stalled over Russia's demand that its trade with Iran be guaranteed amid massive sanctions on Moscow over its invasion of Ukraine.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe was taking her daughter to see her family in 2016 when she was arrested and convicted of plotting to overthrow the clerical establishment. She was sentenced to five years in jail and spent four of those years in Tehran's notorious Evin prison and one under house arrest.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe's family had said she was told by the Iranian authorities that she was being detained because of Britain's failure to pay an outstanding debt of around $500 million to Iran for failing to deliver tanks that had been ordered decades earlier.

Ashoori was sentenced in 2019 to 10 years in prison after being convicted of spying for Israel's Mossad intelligence agency and another two years for "acquiring illegitimate wealth."

Amnesty International says Ashoori was "arbitrarily detained" and subjected to torture, repeatedly interrogated without a lawyer present, and forced to sign "confessions" while sleep deprived.

The British government said a third detainee, Morad Tahbaz, who holds U.S., British, and Iranian citizenship, was released from prison on furlough as part of the same deal.

Tahbaz was arrested in January 2018 during a crackdown on environmental activists. He and seven others were accused of gathering classified information under the guise of carrying out environmental projects. Officials in Tehran confirmed his release.

With reporting by AP and AFP

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