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Iranian Rapper, Activist Jailed For Political Performance

Rapper Milad Jalili (right) and Salar Taherafshar, a civil activist (file photo)
Rapper Milad Jalili (right) and Salar Taherafshar, a civil activist (file photo)

Iranian authorities have imprisoned two prominent figures from Tabriz and opened a case against another, a well-known actor and presenter, for their activism.

Milad Jalili, a rapper and singer, and Salar Taherafshar, a civil activist, both from the northwestern city of Tabriz, have been transferred to prison to commence sentences handed down earlier. They were out on bail before being summoned by authorities and subsequently detained and sent to prison.

Jalili, known artistically as "Ilshan," was sentenced to eight months for a performance supporting Azerbaijani political prisoners. Taherafshar faces six months for his role related to the same event.

Both were initially arrested in December 2023 after Jalili's performance and charged with "propaganda against the regime" by the Tabriz Revolutionary Court.

An appellate court in April upheld the conviction of Jalili, who had appealed.

Separately, in Tehran the judiciary charged popular entertainer Hossein Pakdel with "insulting" the late Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani and former President Ebrahim Raisi over a social media post in which Pakdel criticized political leaders using food metaphors.

The post, which mocked the political elite as being transformed into "rubber steaks" and "special diet cutlets." The term "cutlet" has gained a subversive edge in Iranian political discourse since Soleimani’s killing by a U.S. drone strike. It is often used to signify obliteration.

Pakdel, who has enjoyed a long career as a presenter for Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting and has also managed the Tehran auction, has been outspoken in his criticism of a crackdown on human rights.

The charge is part of a broad campaign of suppression in response to the "Women, Life, Freedom" protests in 2022, where many artists and popular cultural activists were similarly targeted.

Following the helicopter crash on May 29 that killed President Raisi, there has been a wave of arrests of social media users for insulting him. Among those arrested was Reza Babarnejad, the brother of Mehdi Babarnejad, a victim of the "Women, Life, Freedom" protests, who was detained on June 1.

Additionally, on June 4, the Kerman provincial judiciary information center announced that 254 people had been given "telephonic warnings and guidance" by the Intelligence Organization of the Revolutionary Guards, and judicial summonses were issued for eight individuals over "insulting" content.

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

Iranian Blogger Detained After Posting Only A Period In Response To Ayatollah's Picture

Hossein Shanbehzadeh
Hossein Shanbehzadeh

Hossein Shanbehzadeh, an Iranian literary editor and online activist, has been detained for unknown reasons in the northwestern city of Ardabil.

Family sources said on June 4 that Shanbehzadeh confirmed his detention in a phone call.

The case highlights ongoing tensions in Iran regarding freedom of expression, particularly on social media, and adds to the growing concern over the treatment of intellectuals and activists in the country.

Shanbehzadeh, known for his biting criticism of the authorities, said he wasn't informed of the reason for his detention, but it comes after he posted a simple period in a social media response to a tweet by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei posing with the Iranian national volleyball team.

The response went viral, garnering more likes than the original tweet by Khamenei.

Soon after, Shanbehzadeh's account on X (previously known as Twitter) was inaccessible, with his last post on it authored by someone else, according to his brother Abbas.

It's not the first time Shanbehzadeh has faced legal issues over his online activities.

In 2019, he was sentenced to prison on charges of "insulting the sanctities and the leader of the Islamic republic" for critical comments about Iran's leadership.

His professional work includes editing prominent literary works such as Naguib Mahfouz's Heritage And Life With Him, in addition to being a well-known social media activist.

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

Prison Sentences Of Iranian Women's Rights Activists Upheld On Appeal

The 11 activists were detained in August 2023 in the northern province of Gilan.
The 11 activists were detained in August 2023 in the northern province of Gilan.

Eleven women's rights activists cumulatively sentenced to more than 60 years in prison have lost their appeal, a lawyer for one of the campaigners said on May 29.

Ramin Safarnia said an appeals court in the northern city of Rasht on May 28 had upheld the preliminary verdicts handed to each activist. He vowed to take the case to the Supreme Court.

In a post on Instagram, activist collective Bidarzani accused the judge, Mohammad Sadeq Iran-Aqideh, of issuing the ruling "without holding a court session."

Based in the northern province of Gilan, all 11 activists were detained in August 2023 on various security-related charges, including "assembly and collusion to disrupt national security," "propaganda against the establishment," and "membership in an illegal group."

Speaking to RFE/RL's Radio Farda, a source close to the activists said the Islamic republic had increased the pressure on independent women's rights groups in the wake of the Women, Life, Freedom movement.

The movement was born out of the nationwide antiestablishment protests in 2022 following the death in police custody of Mahsa Amini, a young woman who had been detained for allegedly flouting Iran's strict dress code for women. More than 500 protesters were killed and thousands arrested during the months of unrest.

"They try to suppress [the groups] as much as they can, and they have had some success, but the resistance continues," the source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Zohreh Dadras was sentenced to more than nine years in prison on two separate charges.

Forugh Sami'nia, Sara Jahani, Yasamin Hashdari, Shiva Shahsiah, Negin Rezai, Matin Yazdan, Azadeh Chavoshian, and Zahra Dadras were each handed a total of six years and three months in prison on two separate charges.

Jelveh Javaheri and Human Taheri each received a one-year sentence.

A source previously claimed to Radio Farda that the some of the activists had been "beaten and put under pressure during interrogation."

Javaid Rehman, the UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran, concluded in his report in March that the actions of the Iranian authorities since the 2022 protests pointed to "the possible commission of international crimes, notably the crimes against humanity of murder, imprisonment, enforced disappearances, torture, rape and sexual violence, and persecution."

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

Iranian Rights Activists Slam UN For Planning Memorial For 'Butcher' Raisi

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi addresses the 78th United Nations General Assembly at UN headquarters in New York City on September 19, 2023.
Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi addresses the 78th United Nations General Assembly at UN headquarters in New York City on September 19, 2023.

The United Nations has announced plans to hold a memorial ceremony for the late Iranian president, Ebrahim Raisi, this week, sparking sharp criticism from rights activists, who decried a move to honor a man they refer to as the "Butcher of Tehran."

UN General Assembly President Dennis Francis said he will convene the tribute on May 30, with member states "encouraged" to deliver statements at the meeting "to pay tribute" to Raisi, who along with Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian and several other officials, died in a helicopter crash on May 19.

The tribute has sparked a wave of criticism from activists who refer to Raisi's alleged role in the mass execution of political prisoners in 1988, when he was Tehran's deputy prosecutor.

In addition, they said that as president he oversaw a brutal, and sometimes deadly, crackdown on dissent during protests in Iran after the death of Mahsa Amini, who was in police custody for an alleged head-scarf violation when she died.

"When the governments of the world elevate a blatant human rights violator and butcher from Iran's history to a position of honor, as if mourning a peace-loving and democratic figure, they set a dangerous precedent," Nobel Peace Prize laureate Narges Mohammadi wrote from her prison cell in Tehran.

The UN has already been sharply rebuked by rights groups for observing a moment of silence for Raisi on May 22, and for flying its flag at half-mast in honor of the Iranian president.

Monica Grayley, the spokeswoman for Francis, said paying tribute to the memory of a deceased head of state is a diplomatic practice.

But Iranian Nobel laureate Shirin Ebadi argued that the UN's decision flies in the face of its own protocols, as Raisi was not Iran's highest-ranking official, while pointing out that a UN fact-finding mission recently said that "crimes against humanity" were committed by the Iranian regime during the crackdown on protesters in 2022.

"[Supreme Leader Ayatollah] Ali Khamenei is the highest political and military official in the Islamic republic. Whenever they die, the United Nations can hold a quadruple memorial ceremony for them along with Saddam Hussein, Muammar Gaddafi and Hitler," Ebadi said in a post on Instagram.

“I want the respected Secretary General and President of the General Assembly to recognize Ebrahim Raisi as the people of Iran called him, the 'Executioner of Iran' and the 'Butcher of Tehran' after his death.”

The UN has also implicated Iranian officials in the "physical violence" that lead to Amini's death, raising further questions over honoring Raisi at the United Nations.

A group of 23 LGBTQ+ rights organizations also issued a statement condemning the UN's actions, describing them as a "disgrace to the body of the global community."

The group said Raisi played a role in the execution and killing of members of their community and that many Iranians "consider the likes of Ebrahim Raisi among the murderers, torturers, and violators of their loved ones.”

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

Execution Spike In Iran Boosts Global Total To Highest In Almost A Decade, Amnesty Says

Iranian refugees rally against executions in Iran in front of the building of the Commissariat for Refugees in Brussels in June 2023.
Iranian refugees rally against executions in Iran in front of the building of the Commissariat for Refugees in Brussels in June 2023.

Executions around the globe rose to their highest number in almost a decade, spurred by a spike in cases of the death penalty being carried out in Iran, according to a new report by watchdog Amnesty International.

In the report, released on May 29, Amnesty said a total of 1,153 executions took place in 2023 -- not including the thousands believed to have been carried out in China -- marking an increase of more than 30 percent from 2022.

In particular, Amnesty highlighted Iran, where the authorities intensified their use of the death penalty "to instill fear in the population and tighten their grip on power" by carrying out at least 853 executions, a 48 percent rise from the previous year.

"The huge spike in recorded executions was primarily down to Iran. The Iranian authorities showed complete disregard for human life and ramped up executions for drug-related offenses, further highlighting the discriminatory impact of the death penalty on Iran's most marginalized and impoverished communities," said Agnes Callamard, Amnesty International's secretary-general.

"Despite the setbacks that we have seen this year, particularly in the Middle East, countries that are still carrying out executions are increasingly isolated. Our campaigning against this abhorrent punishment works. We will continue until we have put an end to the death penalty."

Amnesty chided Iran for the high number of executions -- at least 545 -- that were carried out "unlawfully" for acts such as drug-related offenses that under international law are not punishable by the death penalty.

The rights group said executions "disproportionately impacted" Iran's Baluch ethnic minority, who accounted for 20 percent of recorded executions even though they make up only around 5 percent of Iran’s population.

At least 24 women and at least five people who were children at the time they are accused of committing a crime were executed, the Amnesty report said.

Despite the higher overall total of executions, Amnesty said progress on stopping the usage of the death penalty was made.

Executions were carried out in only 16 countries last year, it said, the lowest total ever recorded.

Belarus, Japan, Myanmar, and South Sudan, all of which carried out executions in 2022, did not register any last year, Amnesty said.

"The inherent discrimination and arbitrariness that marks the use of the death penalty have only compounded the human rights violations of our criminal justice systems. The small minority of countries that insist on using it must move with the times and abolish the punishment once and for all," Callamard said.

Film Director Flees Iran On Foot, Receives Standing Ovation At Cannes

Film Director Flees Iran On Foot, Receives Standing Ovation At Cannes
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The Iranian film director Mohammad Rasoulof has received a special jury award and a 12-minute standing ovation after his new film was screened at the Cannes Film Festival. Rasoulof spoke to RFE/RL at the festival about how he escaped Iran on foot through a secret mountainous route just weeks earlier to avoid an eight-year prison sentence.

Iran Mourns -- And Celebrates -- President's Death

Iran Mourns -- And Celebrates -- President's Death
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The death of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi has led to official mourning in the country, but other Iranians celebrated the passing of a man who oversaw a brutal crackdown on anti-government protests after a young woman, Mahsa Amini, died in police custody in 2022.

Award-Winning Filmmaker Flees Iran After Flogging, Prison Sentence

Rasoulof secretly left Iran amid pressure from the authorities to pull his latest film from the Cannes.
Rasoulof secretly left Iran amid pressure from the authorities to pull his latest film from the Cannes.

Iranian filmmaker Mohammad Rasoulof on May 13 said he had left Iran in secret after being informed that he had been sentenced to flogging and eight years in prison on security-related charges.

Rasoulof, who has been convicted of "collusion to act against national security," said in a statement that he had left for Europe days earlier.

His statement was released by Films Boutique and Parallel45, who are distributing his latest film, The Seed Of The Sacred Fig.

The director has been under pressure from the Iranian authorities to pull the film from the Cannes Film Festival, which will kick off this week.

News of his recent sentence was made public last week but he said he knew about it a month ago.

"I didn't have much time to make a decision. I had to choose between prison and leaving Iran. With a heavy heart, I chose exile," Rasoulof wrote.

Separately, he posted a short video to Instagram of an undisclosed mountainous location and wrote that he would talk about his journey out of Iran later.

The filmmaker's passport was confiscated in 2017 and he was barred from leaving the country. He was jailed in June 2022 and was released in February 2023 as part of a mass amnesty.

The cast and crew of The Seed Of The Sacred Fig have been under pressure, and Rasoulof said many had been "put through lengthy interrogations" and are potentially facing prosecution.

"During the interrogations of the film crew, the intelligence forces asked them to pressure me to withdraw the film from the Cannes Festival," he said.

The plot of The Seed Of The Sacred Fig had been kept under wraps until earlier this month it was reported that it tells the story of an Iranian judge struggling with paranoia.

His mistrust intensifies after his gun goes missing amid growing nationwide protests. He suspects his wife and daughters of stealing his weapon and imposes heavy restrictions at home.

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

"We are very happy and much relieved that Mohammad has safely arrived in Europe after a dangerous journey," wrote Jean-Christophe Simon, CEO of Films Boutique and Parallel45.

"We hope he will be able to attend the Cannes premiere of The Seed Of The Sacred Fig in spite of all attempts to prevent him from being there in person."

No Veil, No Sale: Iran Links Pharmacies' Drug Quotas To Hijab Compliance

Iran says if measures to enforce the hijab in pharmacies fail, those in violation will be prosecuted.
Iran says if measures to enforce the hijab in pharmacies fail, those in violation will be prosecuted.

Iran has fined and shut down scores of businesses for allegedly flouting the country’s controversial hijab law in recent years.

Among them were pharmacies accused of failing to impose the Islamic head scarf on their female staff and customers.

Now, in their latest attempt to encourage compliance, the authorities have said that pharmacies could receive reduced drug quotas if they do not adhere to the hijab requirement.

A new directive issued by the Health Ministry on May 5 directly links a pharmacy’s compliance with the hijab law to its allocation of medicine. A chronic drug shortage has forced the authorities to allocate medicine among thousands of pharmacies across the country.

The move has been widely mocked in Iran, where some have criticized the clerical establishment for politicizing people's access to medicine.

'Deterrent Measures'

Heydar Mohammadi, head of Iran’s Food and Drug Administration (FDA), said on May 5 that pharmacies are obliged to ensure “proper attire” is observed on their premises.

“Compliance with [dress] norms is among the issues that play a role in pharmacies’ quotas,” said Mohammadi, a deputy health minister, during a public forum in the capital, Tehran.

The exact details of the directive are unclear. But Mohammadi said reduced quotas are among the “deterrent measures” used to ensure pharmacies followed the hijab law.

“If those measures do not work, violators will be prosecuted,” he added.

In an apparent attempt at damage control, the FDA in a May 6 statement accused the media of misrepresenting the deputy health minister’s comments. It added that the issue of attire pertained to the “professional outfits” worn by the pharmacies’ staff.

An FDA official, who spoke to RFE/RL’s Radio Farda on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media, said there were “too many” pharmacies in the country and the Health Ministry was struggling to distribute enough medicine to them.

'Entirely Illegal'

The FDA’s statement has done little to stem the tide of criticism.

U.S.-based legal analyst Pegah Banihashemi said the decision to link pharmacies’ drug quotas to compliance with the hijab law “is entirely illegal” and a violation of people’s rights.

“Patients who need to procure medicine will become victims of an illegal action by the Health Ministry,” she wrote on X, formerly Twitter.

Sadra Mohaqeq, a pro-reformist journalist, accused the authorities of taking people’s health “hostage.”

Hamed Bidi, head of Karzar Net, an online petition website, said the measure amounts to a “crime against humanity.”

Tehran-based activist Reza Saliani posted on X an imaginary conversation between a customer and a pharmacist, who said that he does not have a particular drug because “we don’t have enough hijabs to afford it.”

Iran's 'Ambassadors Of Kindness' Enforce Hijab In New Head Scarf Crackdown
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Hijab Crackdown

The authorities have intensified their enforcement of the hijab since monthslong nationwide antiestablishment protests rocked the country in 2022.

The unprecedented demonstrations were triggered by the death in custody of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who was accused of improperly wearing her head scarf. During the protests, women and girls removed and burned their hijabs.

As an increasing number of women flout the hijab rules, officials have threatened violators with hefty fines and imprisonment.

The authorities have also shut down scores of businesses, including retail stores, restaurants, and pharmacies, for failure to comply with the hijab law.

Last month, Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) established a new unit in Tehran to enforce Islamic dress codes amid a fresh crackdown on women not wearing the head scarf.

Kianush Farid of RFE/RL’s Radio Farda contributed to this report.

Iranian Activist Sentenced To Death For Social Media Posts

Mahmoud Mehrabi has been convicted of "corruption on Earth," a sentence that carries the death penalty.
Mahmoud Mehrabi has been convicted of "corruption on Earth," a sentence that carries the death penalty.

A court in the central Iranian city of Isfahan has sentenced Mahmud Mehrabi to death for posting messages on social media critical of the Islamic republic.

There is scant reporting about the details of his critical posts, which led to him being convicted of “corruption on Earth” -- the most serious offense under Iran’s Islamic penal code.

Mehrabi’s lawyer, Babak Farsani, wrote on social media on May 5 that there were “serious problems” with the verdict that he hoped would help get it overturned by the Supreme Court.

Mehrabi was arrested in February 2023 and has spent the last six months in a prison ward where dangerous criminals are held, according to his sister Hajar Mehrabi, who lives in Austria.

She told RFE/RL’s Radio Farda on May 5 that her brother was among the tens of thousands of people who protested during the Women, Life, Freedom unrest in 2022. The protests were sparked by the death in police custody of Mahsa Amini, who had been detained for allegedly not properly observing Iran’s strict dress code for women.

Mehrabi put out calls for protests on his social media account and was accused of “spreading false news,” his sister said.

“The judge told him, ‘I don’t see regret in your eyes, so I have sentenced you to death’,” she added.

Toomaj Salehi, The Iranian Rapper Sentenced To Death Amid Global Outcry
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The “corruption on Earth” charge is usually brought against serious crimes, such as murder, drug dealing, and high-profile financial corruption cases. It remains unclear exactly what Mehrabi posted online to be hit with a charge that carries the death penalty.

Maryam Mehrabi, another sister who resides in Iran, has urged the public to gather outside the home of Ayatollah Mohammad Ali Nasseri on May 6 to protest the verdict. Nasseri is a prominent cleric in Isfahan who teaches in the city’s seminary.

She vowed to set herself on fire outside Nasseri’s residence.

This comes just over a week after another court in Isfahan sentenced popular rapper Toomaj Salehi to death for his antiestablishment songs.

Rights groups have sharply criticized Iranian authorities for their extensive use of the death penalty.

"The Iranian authorities are ruthlessly carrying out an execution spree. Prisons across the country have become sites of mass state-sanctioned killings under the guise of judicial executions," Amnesty International said recently.

Written by Kian Sharifi based on an original story in Persian by RFE/RL’s Radio Farda

Former Prisoners In Iran Slam Swedish Government For Inaction In Djalali Case

Ahmadreza Djalali with his wife, Vida Mehrannia
Ahmadreza Djalali with his wife, Vida Mehrannia

A group of former prisoners who were once detained in Iran have slammed the Swedish government, saying it had failed to take enough action to secure the release of Ahmadreza Djalali, a Swedish-Iranian physician facing the death penalty in Iran.

The 15 signatories of the letter, including prominent figures such as Barry Rosen and Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, said the Swedish government’s efforts had been "insufficient" as Djalali approaches his eighth year behind bars.

"The inaction and lack of a clear strategy on Sweden's part is alarming," Siamak Namazi, one of the signatories, told RFE/RL's Radio Farda.

"It is imperative that the Swedish government upholds its responsibility towards its citizens."

Djalali, a medical professional and university professor, was detained in May 2016 by Iran's intelligence services during a visit for a scientific conference. He was subsequently sentenced to death in 2017 on charges of "espionage and selling information to Israel" and "corruption on Earth," charges he denies.

Vida Mehrannia, Djalali's wife, voiced her frustrations with the lack of progress in the case in an interview with Swedish Radio.

"The silence from the government is deafening," she said in the interview.

"We are desperate for action and engagement that can bring Ahmadreza home," she added.

The letter by the group of former prisoners underlines Iran's practice of detaining foreigners to use as bargaining chips in international negotiations.

They called on the Swedish government to collaborate internationally to combat the practice of hostage taking by establishing severe penalties as a deterrence.

Djalali’s case has also drawn attention to other Swedes detained in Iran, including Johan Floderus, and long-running tensions between Stockhokm and Tehran, particularly after the conviction of Hamid Nouri in Sweden for his role in the 1988 mass executions in Iran.

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

Writers, Artists Demand Iran Release Cartoonist Arrested For Trying To Hang Picture

Iranian cartoonist Atena Farghadani (file photo)
Iranian cartoonist Atena Farghadani (file photo)

PEN America, along with a group of organizations that support cartoonists and artists, has condemned the violent arrest of Atena Farghadani, an Iranian cartoonist currently being held in Tehran's notorious Evin prison for attempting to hang one of her drawings on a wall near the presidential palace.

Farghadani's lawyer, Mohammad Moghimi, said she was violently arrested on April 12 by intelligence officers of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps and sustained facial injuries that were visible during her arrest.

Moghimi said in a post on social media that Farghadani refused bail in protest against her violent arrest and was initially transferred to Qarchak prison, only to be moved to Evin prison due to the refusal of Qarchak to accept her because of her injuries.

A statement issued jointly on April 22 by PEN America, Cartooning for Peace, Cartoonists Rights, and the Freedom Cartoonists Foundation expressed outrage over the treatment of Farghadani by Iranian authorities, noting her work in support of human rights and democratic values.

"We call on the Iranian authorities to immediately and permanently cease their deliberate and brutal campaign against artistic freedom, and artists like Farghadani, and for the charges against her to be dropped immediately," Julie Trebault, managing director of Artists at Risk Connection, said in the statement.

The Iranian Cartoonist Arrested For Her Art
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The groups highlighted Farghadani's courage in upholding democratic values under "severe repression" and called for her "unconditional and immediate release."

At a recent United Nations Human Rights Council meeting, PEN America joined an international coalition that urged the extension of a mandate of a commission that is investigating human rights abuses in Iran, underscoring ongoing concerns about the suppression of free expression in the country.

In 2022, the association reported that Iran was responsible for imprisoning over one-third of all female writers jailed worldwide, emphasizing the systemic suppression of women's voices amid their struggle for full human rights.

Farghadani was previously detained in 2015 and served 18 months on various charges including "propaganda against the regime."

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

Sister Of Iranian Teen Killed In Anti-Government Protests Released From Prison

Aida Shakarami (file photo)
Aida Shakarami (file photo)

The sister of a 16-year-old killed in 2022 in anti-government protests has been freed from an Iranian jail. Aida Shakarami, sister of Nika Shakarami, was released on April 23 after about a week of detention for violating Iran’s hijab law. Shakarami was arrested by the morality police during the government's attempt to reimpose the compulsory head scarf. Nasrin Shakarami, the mother of Nika and Aida, said the judge in the case had insulted and threatened her daughter, including accusations of promoting corruption and prostitution. Pictures of Aida Shakarami on social media after her release showed her without a hijab. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Radio Farda, click here.

Sister Of Iranian Protest Victim Detained By Tehran's Morality Police

School students wearing the compulsory hijab
School students wearing the compulsory hijab

The sister of Nika Shakarmi, a victim of the Women, Life, Freedom movement protests, has been detained by Tehran's morality police for failing to adhere to the Iran's mandatory hijab law.

Aida Shakarmi, a university student, was arrested in the Iranian capital on April 17 and remains in custody, her father said on Instagram.

Nika Shakarmi, a 16-year-old from Khorramabad residing in Tehran, was killed by security forces during nationwide protests that broke out following the September 2022 death of Mahsa Amini while in the custody of the morality police for an alleged hijab offense.

Nika Shakarmi was missing for eight days after being chased by security officers during a protest before her body was discovered. Authorities attributed her death to a fall from a height, a claim her family disputes.

The Shakarmi family has faced continuous threats and harassment from security forces since as they actively pursued justice for their daughter.

The report of Aida Shakarmi's detention comes amid a new crackdown on women for not adhering to the hijab law. Enforcement intensified after Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei gave a directive during the recent Eid al-Fitr prayer sermon to step up measures against what he called "religious norm-breaking" within Iranian society.

Khamenei also emphasized the mandatory hijab law as a "definite religious decree," underscoring the obligation of all to adhere to this law the same as other legal decrees.

The resurgence of the morality police has sparked increased tensions and confrontations across various cities.

The hijab became compulsory for women and girls over the age of 9 in 1981, two years after the Islamic Revolution in Iran. The move triggered protests that were swiftly crushed by the new authorities. Many women have flouted the rule over the years and pushed the boundaries of what officials say is acceptable clothing.

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

Iranian Student Still Missing Days After Being Detained

Fahimeh Soltani
Fahimeh Soltani

A university law student who has been a supporter of Iran's Women, Life, Freedom movement is still missing several days after her arrest by security forces, the second time she has been detained since unrest broke out over the death of a young woman in custody for an alleged violation of the head-scarf law.

Fahimeh Soltani, who studies at the University of Isfahan, was taken into custody after a raid on her home on April 6 and has not been heard from since, her family reported.

Security personnel, posing as postal workers, seized Soltani's mobile phone and laptop during the arrest, the family said.

Soltani's detention coincides with her previous arrest in November 2022 during the Women, Life, Freedom protests following Mahsa Amini's death in police custody.

After being held in detention for three months, Soltani was released as part of a broader pardon issued by the Islamic republic's leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Soltani's university activities have led to her being barred from studying for two terms due to cases she says were fabricated by the university's security department. Despite appealing the disciplinary rulings against her, the school's Central Committee delayed a final decision on her case.

On April 2, Soltani received a late-night call regarding the appeal and was told she had received an additional two-term study ban.

Amid efforts to expel her, the university in Isfahan, a city of some 2 million people about 400 kilometers south of Tehran, sent a direct expulsion request to the Central Committee. Along with her current arrest, her family said it remains in the dark about the outcome of the expulsion request.

Separately, a review committee at Tehran University has confirmed the suspension of Zahra Jafari, a graduate student in social welfare planning and editor of the student magazine Zhina.

Jafari was barred from studying for two semesters on charges including insulting Islamic and national symbols and acts against the Islamic republic. Her sentence, affecting her final thesis defense, began at the start of this academic year and will continue through the end of the second semester.

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

Over the years, the authorities have sent student activists and leaders to prison and banned them from studying.

The activist HRANA news agency says at least 700 university students have been arrested during the nationwide protests sparked by the September 2022 death of the 22-year-old Amini.

Many have faced sentences such as imprisonment and flogging, and dozens of students have been expelled from universities or suspended from their studies 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

Tehran Police To Launch New Phase Of Hijab Enforcement

Women walk without the mandatory hijab in Iran.
Women walk without the mandatory hijab in Iran.

Tehran police said they will launch a new phase of enforcement of the mandatory hijab law from April 13 even though the new "hijab and chastity" bill has yet to be approved by the country's Guardians Council.

Police Chief Abbasali Mohammadian announced the new phase of tightened enforcement ahead of a similar declaration made by the police chief of the southern city of Bushehr. Both said a more "vigorous enforcement" of the law will begin in all public spaces starting April 13.

Even though the Guardians Council has yet to approve the law, a necessary step to it becoming official, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei gave a directive during the Eid al-Fitr prayer sermon for enforcement of measures against what he called "religious norm-breaking" within Iranian society.

Khamenei also emphasized the mandatory hijab law as a "definite religious decree," underscoring the obligation of all to adhere to this and other legal decrees.

The "hijab and chastity" bill, which passed in parliament last year without public discussion, came in reaction to a wave of protests and defiance by women against being forced to wear the head covering. However, the approval process is still ongoing after some objections by the Guardians Council, including questions over how the law will be enforced.

Mehdi Bagheri, a lawmaker involved in the bill's review, said there are plans to resubmit an amended bill to the Guardians Council next week.

Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejei, head of Iran's judiciary, said that given Khamenei's comments, existing legal frameworks could be leveraged to enhance compliance without waiting the bill's formal approval.

The renewed focus on the mandatory hijab enforcement arrives as numerous reports suggest a decline in adherence to the head scarf among Iranian women in Tehran and other cities following widespread protests triggered by the death of Mahsa Amini while in custody of the morality police in 2022 for an alleged hijab violation.

The hijab became compulsory for women and girls over the age of 9 in 1981, two years after the Islamic Revolution in Iran. The move triggered protests that were swiftly crushed by the new authorities. Many women have flouted the rule over the years and pushed the boundaries of what officials say is acceptable clothing.

The death of Amini released a wave of anger that has presented the Islamic regime with its biggest challenge since the revolution.

The Women, Life, Freedom protests and civil disobedience against the compulsory hijab have swept the country, involving tens of thousands of Iranians, many of whom were already upset over the country's deteriorating living standards.

Campaigns were also launched against the discriminatory law, although many have been pressured by the state and forced to leave the country.

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

Father Of Slain Iranian Protester Detained, Whereabouts Unknown

Reza Lotfi's parents
Reza Lotfi's parents

The father of Reza Lotfi, who was among the hundreds of protesters killed by security forces during nationwide protests that swept across Iran in 2022, has been detained by police and taken to an undisclosed location, according to the HRANA news agency.

HRANA, which specializes in human rights coverage in Iran, quoted a family member as saying Kamal Lotfi was arrested on April 10 after he received a summons from the Islamic Revolutionary Court in the western Iranian city of Qorveh.

In April 2023, Kamal Lotfi was arrested and physically assaulted by security forces before being incarcerated at the Kamyaran prison. He was released from custody three months later.

Reza Lotfi was fatally shot by security personnel during protests in the city of Dehgolan in September 2022 after Mahsa Amini died under mysterious circumstances in police custody for an alleged head-scarf violation.

Tensions between the government and the families of those killed or arrested in the nationwide protests have been on the rise in recent months.

The government has been accused of stepping up the pressure on the victims' families through collective arrests and the summoning of grieving families by security agencies with the aim of keeping them from commemorating the deaths of their loved ones, which the government fears will trigger more unrest.

The Islamic republic has a long-standing history, extending over four decades, of employing tactics such as intimidation, threats, job termination, arrests, and imprisonment against the family members of individuals who have been killed or executed in protests.

This pattern of repression also extends to the dismissal of parents, siblings, and occasionally more distant relatives of deceased or executed protesters or political activists from their employment or educational institutions on multiple occasions.

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

Rights Groups Call On UN To Pressure Iran On Drug-Related Executions

A noose is prepared ahead of public hanging in Tehran.
A noose is prepared ahead of public hanging in Tehran.

More than 80 human rights organizations from Iran and around the world have called on the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime to condition its ongoing cooperation with the Islamic republic on a halt in drug-related executions.

The groups, which include the Iran Human Rights Organization, the International Committee Against the Death Penalty, and the Global Campaign Against the Death Penalty in Iran, said on April 10 they were launching a global campaign to draw international attention to the issue amid a sharp rise in executions in Iran, especially for drug offenses.

"The execution of drug suspects has not had an appropriate international reaction. Their daily execution is accompanied by media silence and this has spurred the Islamic republic to increase executions related to drug crimes by 18 times compared to three years ago at next to no cost," the groups said.

According to a report released by Amnesty International on April 4, 853 executions were carried out in Iran last year, with at least 481 coming for narcotics convictions. Iran's government has been accused of weaponizing executions to quell unrest and in its war on drugs, even for minor offenses.

The number of executions in Iran in 2023 was the highest since 2015 and 172 percent higher that in 2021, when Ebrahim Raisi became president and Gholamhossein Ejei was made head of the judiciary.

Since the Iranian government does not publish official statistics on the number of executions, rights groups have to document cases using open sources such as state media and human rights organizations. Thus, they say, the actual number may be even higher.

"If we do not increase the cost of these executions for the Islamic republic, we fear hundreds of people will be executed on drug-related charges in the coming months," the group said.

Mahmoud Amiri-Moghaddam, the director of the Iran Human Rights organization, said the concerted campaign's aim to raise awareness among the international community that many of those executed belong to the most marginalized sections of society, including ethnic minorities such as Kurds and Baluchis, who are disproportionately affected.

The statement also highlighted the unfair trial processes for those accused of drug offenses in Iran, noting that convictions are often based on confessions obtained under torture with suspects not given access to legal representation.

The United Nations Human Rights Council recently extended the mandate of its special rapporteur on Iran, reaffirming the international community's concern over the human rights situation in the country.

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

Despite Being Jailed, Iranian Activist Sentenced For Failing To Report To Prison

Hossein Razzagh (file photo)
Hossein Razzagh (file photo)

An Iranian political activist who was granted medical leave from Tehran’s Evin prison last year has been sentenced to 74 lashes for what authorities termed "absence and failure to report to prison," even though he was actually in prison when the case was filed against him.

Hossein Razzagh was arrested in July 2022 in the northern Iranian city of Amol, and was transferred to Evin prison. He was granted several days of medical leave in April 2023 due to health issues but subsequently returned to prison despite medical advice that his health was poor.

Despite his return, the Tehran Public and Revolutionary Court initiated a case against him in absentia, saying there was a "lack of access to the accused." Razzagh was subsequently sentenced to 74 lashes. The court did not explain its decision.

In March, Razzagh's Telegram channel announced that he had lodged complaints against various security and judicial officials for beatings he allegedly received in Evin prison's ward 209, under the jurisdiction of the Intelligence Ministry.

Security personnel in ward 209 reportedly subjected Razzagh to hours of torture following the beatings.

Razzagh was one of the founders of a room on the Clubhouse social-media site called "Freedom Square," which he said was removed from the platform due to pressure and threats from the ministry.

An audio-based social-media application, Clubhouse has become a major platform for dialogue among Iranians, who join virtual chat rooms to hear from analysts, journalists, and dissidents.

Razzagh is one of several political prisoners in Evin prison who have publicly condemned the judiciary for its treatment of prisoners, including the reported "exile" of Saeed Madani, a social researcher and civil activist, to Damavand prison.

Since September 2022, when 22-year-old Mahsa Amini died in police custody for an alleged head-scarf violation, thousands of Iranians have taken to the streets to demand more freedoms and women's rights, with the judiciary, backed by lawmakers, responding to the biggest threat to the Islamic government since the 1979 revolution with a brutal crackdown.

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

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

Iran Blocks 'Blind Date' As Part Of Social-Media Crackdown

Blind Date has gained significant popularity within Iran, drawing millions of viewers to its YouTube-based episodes where participants, unfamiliar with each other, engage in conversations to determine potential compatibility.
Blind Date has gained significant popularity within Iran, drawing millions of viewers to its YouTube-based episodes where participants, unfamiliar with each other, engage in conversations to determine potential compatibility.

Iran's judicial authorities have seized the Instagram page of the popular online program Blind Date, hosted by an Iranian influencer known as Viny, as part of a sweeping crackdown on social-media content.

The official announcement, made on Viny's Instagram page, which has more than 1.2 million followers, said the action was taken by judicial order and the page would remain inaccessible until further notice.

"This page is by order of the honorable judicial authority by Faraja and until further notice is unavailable," the only post now available on the page says.

Blind Date has gained significant popularity within Iran, drawing millions of viewers to its YouTube-based episodes where participants, unfamiliar with each other, engage in conversations to determine potential compatibility.

The show's success highlights how Iranian vloggers have been showcasing the lifestyle of the country's new generation even though it clashes with the conservative Islamic leadership.

Iran has long faced criticism for its extensive Internet restrictions, with many citizens relying on virtual private networks (VPNs) to access blocked content, including social media such as YouTube, Twitter, Instagram.

The government's action against Viny marks a significant escalation in its efforts to control online content.

Historically, such interventions were limited to individuals whose activities garnered widespread recognition on social media.

The clampdown also reflects the authorities' concern over the rising influence of "Generation Z" and their unfiltered portrayal of life in Iran, challenging the government's narrative and censorship efforts.

This generation's documentation of their lives and then sharing their experiences often pushes the boundaries of what is traditionally acceptable, posing a new challenge for a government grappling with the pervasive reach of the Internet and social media, analysts say.

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

Iranian University Threatens Female Students Over Graduation Celebration

A group of Al-Zahra University students in Bushehr celebrate their graduation.
A group of Al-Zahra University students in Bushehr celebrate their graduation.

The president of Iran's Al-Zahra University has threatened legal action against a group of female students after video of them celebrating their graduation by dancing to music surfaced on social media.

The video, which garnerned widespread attention over the weekend, depicts architecture and engineering students marking the their matriculation by dancing with each other, even riding motorcycles, while still dressed in their graduation gowns and caps. In total, around eight to 10 students -- all female -- appear in the video.

Zahra Hajiani, the president of Al-Zahra University in the western port city of Bushehr, responded to the video by stating that the university's security department was investigating the event organized by students "spontaneously without coordination and obtaining permission from the university."

"This matter is being investigated by university security. The student who made this film has been identified and will be held accountable for this work," Hajiani said.

Hajiani said that no official graduation ceremonies had been held at the college since the COVID-19 pandemic due to financial constraints. She added that the clip circulating on social media was organized independently by a group of university graduates without the institution's approval or knowledge.

"The university had no involvement in the event's organization," Hajiani said.

The incident highlights ongoing tensions between students and authorities over a lack of social freedoms and regulatory compliance in Iran, particularly concerning women's rights and the mandatory hijab policy.

The Islamic republic has faced significant challenges in enforcing its interpretation of religious dress codes in the face of civil opposition and protests advocating the Woman, Life, Freedom movement and greater autonomy over personal lifestyle choices.

The hijab became compulsory for women and girls above the age of 9 in 1981, two years after the Islamic Revolution. The move triggered protests that were swiftly crushed by the new authorities.

Many women have flouted the rule over the years and pushed the boundaries of what officials say is acceptable clothing.

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

Iran Pardons 4 Environmental Activists As Part Of Eid Amnesty

(Left to right) Houman Jokar, Niloufar Bayani, Sepideh Kashani, and Taher Ghadirian (combo photo)
(Left to right) Houman Jokar, Niloufar Bayani, Sepideh Kashani, and Taher Ghadirian (combo photo)

Four Iranian environmental activists, who have been detained since 2017, have been pardoned as part of a mass amnesty approved by Iran's leadership to commemorate the observance of the Islamic holiday of Eid al-Fitr.

The activists -- Niloufar Bayani, Sepideh Kashani, Houman Jokar, and Taher Ghadirian -- were arrested in 2016 as part of a group involved with the Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation.

According to their lawyer, Hojjat Kermani, the four were told on April 7 that they were being pardoned as part of an anmesty involving more than 2,100 convicts and are expected to be released shortly.

Environmental activists in Iran have been under pressure for several years as their advocacy often highlights issues that have been exacerbated by official corruption, incompetence, and mismanagement.

The pardon also comes as a surprise in the development of a case that has drawn international attention over the years.

The activists, according to the judiciary, were involved in espionage and "collaboration with hostile governments."

The charges were widely criticized and challenged to the point where even Mahmoud Sadeghi, a former member of the Iranian parliament, noted in 2019 that the Ministry of Intelligence had found no evidence of espionage among the activists.

The activists were tried and sentenced in Tehran's Islamic Revolutionary Court, with sentences ranging from four to 10 years in prison on various charges. Reports have emerged of severe mistreatment and psychological torture faced by the detainees, including threats and the use of coercive tactics.

During their imprisonment, Kashani and Bayani said in letters that they had been subjected to mental and emotional torture and threatened with death.

The case also involves Morad Tahbaz, a London-born activist with Iranian, British, and American citizenship, who was released last year in a prisoner exchange, and Kavous Seyed-Emami, a Canadian-Iranian environmentalist who died under suspicious circumstances in prison shortly after his arrest.

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

Iranian Prison Officials Reportedly Relent, Send Prominent Activist To Hospital

Sedigheh Vasmaghi
Sedigheh Vasmaghi

Imprisoned Islamic scholar and civil rights activist Sedigheh Vasmaghi has been transferred from Tehran's notorious Evin prison to a hospital after reports surfaced that authorities were preventing the move, despite doctors' advice.

Sources told Radio Farda that Vasmaghi was taken to the Taleghani hospital late on April 3 with symptoms of chest pain, heart palpitations, and high blood pressure.

Nobel Prize-winning human rights activist Narges Mohammadi, who is also currently imprisoned in Iran, said earlier on April 3 that Vasmaghi's health had worsened since a violent raid on her home last month.

Medical experts had urgently recommended hospital care for Vasmaghi due to severe visual impairment and her struggle with the conditions of imprisonment.

The sources did not say why officials had relented and finally allowed Vasmaghi to be transferred.

Last week, authorities refused to allow Vasmaghi family visitation rights, citing her refusal to adhere to Iran's mandatory hijab regulation.

Vasmaghi, arrested at her home on March 16, faces charges of "propaganda against the system in cyberspace" and "public appearances without Shari'a-compliant hijab."

Mohammadi herself has been convicted five times since March 2021 -- three times for activism carried out while she was in prison -- and has been sentenced to over 12 years in prison during that period.

Though she wore a head scarf for years, Vasmaghi has openly opposed the Islamic republic's hijab law, posting pictures and messages on social media condemning the government's crackdown on offenses related to the hijab and its repression of women, as well as appearing in public without the head scarf.

Vasmaghi also has been highly critical of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, calling him a dictator and slamming the country's "oppressive" leadership.

The death of Mahsa Amini in police custody in September 2022 after her arrest for allegedly improperly wearing her head scarf led to months of nationwide protests that thrust women's rights and public disapproval of the hijab law to the forefront.

Iranian authorities responded by carrying out a violent crackdown that resulted in the deaths of over 500 protesters. They also implemented a stricter hijab law with harsher penalties and longer prison sentences for those who disobey it.

The fact-finding committee of the UN Human Rights Council labeled these government actions against women as a crime against humanity.

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

Amnesty Deplores 'Horrifying Surge' In Iranian Executions

Amnesty International said that 853 executions were carried out in Iran last year, with at least 481 executions for narcotics convictions. (file photo)
Amnesty International said that 853 executions were carried out in Iran last year, with at least 481 executions for narcotics convictions. (file photo)

Executions in Iran hit an eight-year high in 2023, according to Amnesty International, more than half of which came for drug-related convictions, which the rights group said highlights the “disproportionate impact of the authorities’ lethal anti-narcotics policies on poor and marginalized communities.”

Amnesty said in a report released on April 4 that 853 executions were carried out in Iran last year, with at least 481 executions for narcotics convictions.

“The death penalty is abhorrent in all circumstances, but deploying it on a mass scale for drug-related offenses after grossly unfair trials before Revolutionary Courts is a grotesque abuse of power,” Diana Eltahawy, Amnesty’s deputy regional director for the Middle East and North Africa, said.

“The Islamic republic’s deadly anti-narcotics policies are contributing to a cycle of poverty and systemic injustice, and further entrenching discrimination against marginalized communities, in particular Iran’s oppressed [Baluch] minority,” Eltahawy added.

The Amnesty report also accuses the government of “weaponizing the death penalty” to target “protesters, dissidents, and members of oppressed ethnic minorities” and called for “a robust global response” to pressure Tehran to implement a moratorium on the death penalty.

After a national wave of protests swept the country in the second half of 2022, Amnesty wrote, “the Iranian authorities also intensified the use of the death penalty as a weapon to quash dissent.”

The number of executions in Iran in 2023 was the highest since 2015 and 172 percent higher that in 2021, when Ebrahim Raisi became president and Gholamhossein Ejei was made head of the judiciary, Amnesty said in the report.

The Iranian government does not publish official statistics on the number of executions, and Amnesty worked with Iranian rights groups to document cases using open sources such as state media and human rights organizations.

At least 95 executions were reported in 2024 by March 20, the rights group said, adding it believes the real number of executions in Iran is higher.

Iranian Women's Rights Activists Sentenced To Long Prison Terms

The activists were charged in connection with their involvement in women’s rights campaigns.
The activists were charged in connection with their involvement in women’s rights campaigns.

Lawyers for 11 women's rights activists who were detained in August in Iran's northwestern Gilan province say their clients have been sentenced to long prison terms amounting to more than 60 years.

The activists were detained separately by security and intelligence forces as officials attempted to silence critics ahead of the first anniversary of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini's death in police custody in September 2022 after being arrested for allegedly violating the country's strict Islamic dress code.

Mostafa Nili, representing two of the activists, told the Tehran-based Shargh network on March 27 that the sentences were handed down by an Islamic Revolutionary Court in Gilan's capital, Rasht.

The activists were charged in connection with their involvement in women’s rights campaigns.

Forough Samiminia received a sentence of three years, six months, and one day for "assembly and collusion to disrupt national security," and an additional two years, seven months, and 16 days for "membership in an illegal group."

Jelve Javaheri was sentenced to one year for "propaganda against the system."

Other activists, including Zahra Dadras, Sara Jahani, Matin Yazdani, Yasmin Hashdari, Shiva Shahsiah, Negin Rezai, and Azadeh Chavoshian, faced similar charges, receiving sentences ranging from one to six years for charges including "assembly and collusion" and "forming an illegal group."

Following their arrest, sources close to the activists told RFE/RL's Radio Farda that after being arrested, the activists were subjected to pressure to confess to "fabricated deeds."

One source said some of the women have faced "intense interrogation and physical abuse."

At least 500 people have been killed since protests broke out following the death of Amini, an Iranian Kurdish woman who was arrested while visiting Tehran by Iran's notorious morality police for allegedly wearing a hijab scarf improperly.

The Women, Life, Freedom protests and civil disobedience against the compulsory hijab that swept the country following Amini's death involved tens of thousands of Iranians, many of whom were already upset over the country's deteriorating living standards. Campaigns were also launched against the discriminatory hijab regulation.

In the face of the unrest, some religious and government figures have repeatedly advocated for a tougher stance by the government against offenders, even going as far as encouraging a "fire-at-will" approach against noncompliant women.

The UN Human Rights Council's fact-finding committee has categorized such actions against women as a crime against humanity.

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

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