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Tuesday 7 February 2023

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

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

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

The Big Issue

A gunman stormed the Azerbaijani Embassy in Tehran on January 27, killing one guard and wounding two others. Iran said the attack was motivated by personal reasons, but Baku described it as a “terrorist attack.”

The incident led Azerbaijan to temporarily suspend its operations at its embassy in Tehran and evacuate its staff from the country. Iranian media said the attacker, who was arrested, was an Iranian man married to an Azerbaijani woman. The attacker was quoted as saying that his wife disappeared after entering the Azerbaijani Embassy.

Why It Matters: The incident has further strained relations between the neighbors, who have a history of tensions. Azerbaijan has long been suspicious of Iran’s ties with Armenia, Baku’s archenemy. Meanwhile, Tehran has increasingly expressed concern about Azerbaijan’s deepening relations with Israel, Tehran’s regional foe. Earlier this month, Baku appointed its first-ever ambassador to Israel, which is a major arms supplier to Azerbaijan.

Azerbaijan has also long complained of Iran’s alleged mistreatment of its sizable ethnic Azeri minority. Tehran has accused Baku of fomenting separatist sentiment in the Islamic republic.

Analyst Habib Hosseinifard told RFE/RL’s Radio Farda that the embassy attack has led to an “overflow” of tensions.

“Iran claims some of Israel’s actions against the country are organized from inside Azerbaijan. In addition, Iran also accuses Azerbaijan of inciting the country’s Azeri minority, while Baku accuses Tehran of strengthening extremist Shi’ite groups inside Azerbaijan. All of these have increased tensions, particularly in the past two years,” he said.

What's Next: Since the embassy attack, Iran has attempted to ease tensions with Azerbaijan. But Baku appears to have upped the ante by announcing on January 31 the arrests of what it said were seven members of an Iranian spy network in Azerbaijan.

Meanwhile, Azerbaijan’s Deputy Foreign Minister Khalaf Khalafov said in a January 31 statement that “suspension of a diplomatic mission’s operations in any country is a serious matter" and that Baku has let Tehran know that "we do not trust Iran with respect to ensuring the security of our embassy’s employees.”

The statement came days after Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi told Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev in a phone call that “the governments of Iran and Azerbaijan will not allow bilateral relations to be affected by the suggestions of those who wish ill on the two nations,” according to the Iranian government’s website.

Stories You Might Have Missed

Analysts say a suspected Israeli drone strike on a military site in Iran is part of a new effort to contain the Islamic republic. There has been a series of incidents inside Iran during the past year, including sabotage and cyberattacks, assassinations, and the mysterious killings of members of the powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, as well as scientists and engineers. Tehran has blamed some of the incidents on Israel.

Meghdad Jebelli, the brother of Iran's state TV chief Peyman Jebelli, spoke to Radio Farda about his decision to leave Iran and seek asylum in Canada. Meghdad Jebelli left his homeland soon after Iran's downing of a Ukrainian passenger jet that killed all 176 people onboard, including his 29-year-old nephew. Jebelli said "real justice will only be achieved when the perpetrators of the crimes of the past 44 years are punished,” in reference to the clerical regime that came to power following the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

What We're Watching

A group of Iranian lawmakers have submitted a draft bill to curb “unprofessional comments” posted on social media by influential figures, including celebrities. The proposed legislation prescribes prison terms of up to 15 years and fines for those found guilty. Supporters of the draft bill have said it will punish those who undermine national security. But critics have labeled it the “suffocation bill.”

What's Next: The proposed legislation is an attempt by the authorities to further crack down on dissent amid ongoing anti-regime protests that have rocked the country since September. The demonstrations are the biggest threat to the clerical regime in years.

The antiestablishment protests have attracted support from all corners of Iranian society, including celebrities. Several well-known figures have been summoned or arrested in recent months by police after showing support for the demonstrations.

Until next time,

Golnaz Esfandiari

If you enjoyed this briefing and don't want to miss the next edition, subscribe here. It will be sent to your inbox every Wednesday.

IRAN -- Members of a special IRGC force attend a rally marking the annual Quds Day on the last Friday of the holy month of Ramadan in Tehran on April 29, 2022.

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

I'm Hannah Kaviani, a senior broadcaster and editor at RFE/RL's Radio Farda. Here's what I've been following and what I'm watching out for in the days ahead.

The Big Issue

The European Parliament on January 19 voted for Iran's powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) to be added to the European Union's list of terrorist organizations in "light of its terrorist activity, the repression of protesters, and its supplying of drones to Russia."

The vote was nonbinding, but it came amid calls by some European governments to blacklist the elite branch of Iran's armed forces. The EU's foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, said that would only happen if a court in an EU nation determined that the IRGC was guilty of terrorism.

Since the vote, the EU has imposed fresh sanctions against Tehran. Iran has expressed outrage at the possibility of the EU blacklisting the IRGC, which would lead to sanctions against the force. Tehran has warned of unspecified "consequences."

Why It Matters: The EU's potential blacklisting of the IRGC has exposed the bloc's hardening position on Iran.

European powers have long pursued engagement with Iran, even as tensions between Tehran and the United States soared in recent years. But Europe's approach has shifted due to the war in Ukraine and unrest in Iran.

Tehran has been accused of supplying combat drones to Russia, which has allegedly used them to target civilian infrastructure in Ukraine.

Iranian authorities have also waged a brutal crackdown on the monthslong anti-establishment protests inside the country, killing hundreds of civilians and detaining thousands more. As Iran's ties with Europe dip, hopes of reviving the 2015 nuclear deal between Tehran and world powers have sunk.

What's Next: Even as calls for the EU to blacklist the IRGC increase, the bloc is far from united on the issue. Two European diplomats who spoke to Radio Farda on the condition of anonymity said France was "not very keen" on the move.

While Germany's foreign minister has supported it, the mood in Berlin appears to be uncertain. According to one diplomat, some Southern European countries such as Portugal and Malta are also opposed to the IRGC being designated.

A senior EU diplomat told reporters in Brussels on January 20 that blacklisting the IRGC "is not a good idea because it prevents you from going ahead on other issues," including Iran's nuclear program. Another diplomat who spoke to Radio Farda said the EU's decision to blacklist the IRGC will "depend on how Iran will act over Russia."

Stories You Might Have Missed

  • A 39-year-old Iranian poultry worker and martial arts coach who was executed by Iran earlier this month in connection with the antiestablishment protests has become a symbol of state oppression, with many Iranians grieving his death in absence of his family. Mohammad Hosseini was convicted of killing a member of Iran's paramilitary forces as mourners demonstrated in a city outside the Iranian capital in November. Hosseini was hanged on January 7 along with 22-year-old Mohammad Mehdi Karimi.
  • Iranian officials held a controversial six-day conference that began on January 20 called the International Congress for Women of Influence. The conference was hosted by Jamileh Alamolhoda, the wife of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi. The event was attended by the first ladies and politicians from a number of friendly countries including Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, Armenia, Serbia, and Nigeria. Some Iranian media outlets criticized the extravagance of the event as well as its timing, coinciding with the nationwide protests that have largely been led by women.

What We're Watching

Iran's national currency has lost around 30 percent of its value since the protests erupted in September. On January 21, the rial fell to a new record low against the U.S. dollar. The dollar was selling for as much as 447,000 rials on Iran's unofficial market, according to the foreign exchange site Bonbast.com.

Why It Matters: Political instability triggered by the current wave of protests has worsened the economic situation in Iran, where the economy has been crippled for years by tough U.S. sanctions and government mismanagement.

Reports suggest that U.S. efforts to curb the flow of dollars to Iran have borne fruit and exacerbated the currency crisis. The Wall Street Journal reported that the U.S. Treasury and the Federal Reserve Bank of New York has enforced tighter controls on dollar transactions by banks in neighboring Iraq, one of Iran's main sources of hard currency. For years, front companies and smugglers have facilitated the flow of dollars from Iraq into Iran.

That's all from me for now. Don't forget to send me any questions, comments, or tips that you have.

Until next time,

Hannah Kaviani

If you enjoyed this briefing and don't want to miss the next edition, subscribe here. It will be sent to your inbox every Wednesday.

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About This Newsletter


The Farda Briefing is a new RFE/RL newsletter that tracks the key issues in Iran and explains why they matter. Written by senior correspondent Golnaz Esfandiari and other reporters from Radio Farda.

The newsletter is sent every Wednesday. To subscribe, click here.

We also invite you to check out the improved Farda website in English and its dedicated Twitter account, which showcase all of our compelling journalism from Iran.

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