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Fired Iranian Professor Says High-Tech Surveillance, Dismissals Used To 'Impose Silence' At Universities

Behrouz Chamanara (file photo)
Behrouz Chamanara (file photo)

Behrouz Chamanara, a language professor at Kurdistan University in western Iran, was summarily dismissed in September shortly after the local intelligence office rejected his qualifications.

Chamanara, who was detained in November 2022 and interrogated about his alleged involvement in antiestablishment protests at the university in Kurdistan Province, moved to Germany shortly after he was fired.

Speaking to RFE/RL's Radio Farda, Chamanara says that Iran's clerical establishment has tried to control universities since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Whenever it faces public opposition, as it does today, the authorities heap pressure on universities, he says.

Through this strategy, Chamanara says, Tehran has managed to keep professors -- although not students -- in a state of relative silence.

Iran has clamped down on any sign of dissent through arrests, intrusive and high-tech surveillance, and the dismantling of student organizations and purge of professors. But while the strategy has had a palpable effect, Chamanara suggests, it will not kill the spirit of university education.

"The atmosphere at universities is extremely fragile and the government has been able to impose silence," Chamanara said. "But I believe that this situation cannot continue because universities are traditionally and historically a place to exercise freedom."

Chamanara describes a climate of fear after the authorities targeted universities amid nationwide antiestablishment protests that broke out after the September 2022 death in police custody of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Kurdish-Iranian woman.

Amini's arrest for allegedly improperly wearing the hijab, and death after eyewitnesses said she was beaten in detention, led to widespread outcry among Kurds and other minorities and gave rise to the "Women, life, freedom" movement that put women's rights and anger over the draconian hijab law at the forefront.

Universities, long a bastion for opposition-minded voices in Iran, became a center for the protests early on, with female students shedding the hijab and staging sit-ins with their male counterparts calling for change.

The authorities, who initiated a brutal crackdown that led to the deaths of more than 500 demonstrators nationwide over the ensuing months, quickly stepped in to gain control at universities. Student associations were shut down, thousands of students and faculty members were disciplined or dismissed, and strict security measures were introduced over the course of a year.

Kurdistan University and other education institutions located in Amini's home province were in the thick of the protest actions and the authorities' iron-fisted response.

Chamanara, who worked in the university's Kurdish Language and Literature Department, denies that his classes were anything but academic in nature. He says the authorities nevertheless acted on fears that professors at the university were inciting students to protest.

Chamanara says he and other professors who watched the protests unfold shortly after Amini was buried in the nearby town of Saghez witnessed students being fired upon and attacked, and the university surrounded by security forces.

"We tried to calm the atmosphere," Chamanara said, but the student body had been infiltrated by the authorities to heighten tensions and cause conflict. "We saw this, we resisted, and then we were the first to be arrested because we knew what the situation was."

Chamanara was detained after he met with the university president to discuss the student protests. He says he was invited to the meeting by a member of the provincial security department and was detained shortly afterward by plainclothes officers, who insisted they just wanted to take him in for questioning.

Once in custody, he was given prison garb, his mug shot was taken, and was subjected to "white torture" -- a common practice in Iran in which inmates are held in a cell under constant bright light.

Chamanara says that over the next few days he was interrogated while blindfolded for up to 10 hours straight and was denied access to a lawyer. Everything he said was documented, he says. "They were very worried that the rest of the professors at Kurdistan University and the top professors in the country were making statements [in favor of the protests]," Chamanara said.

He was also questioned about his university education and time spent in Germany, where he earned his doctorate and holds a passport as a dual national.

Chamanara says his interrogators suggested he had gained "experiences" in Germany that were intended to be used against Iran. "They said: 'You studied there so it means that you have commitments, you work for [Germany]. We know you met a certain spy and spread all kinds of slander that derive from their fantasies.'"

After eight days, he posted bail and was released.

Following the protests, he noticed major changes at Kurdistan University. Cameras were placed at the entrances to lecture halls and classrooms, at places where teachers met, and even at the entrance to the dormitory where he and other professors lived.

Male and female professors were also segregated in common spaces, similar to steps taken to separate students at universities around the country. "It means that the atmosphere of the university is extremely suffocating," Chamanara said.

In September, the Kurdistan Intelligence Office rejected his qualifications, and his contract extension was promptly denied by the university. Believing he had no options to pursue his occupation, Chamanara left for Germany.

Written by Michael Scollon based on reporting by Kianush Faried, a London-based correspondent for RFE/RL's Radio Farda

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Iran Blames Israel For Explosions At Gas Pipelines That Disrupted Supplies

The explosion of a gas pipeline in Iran earlier this month.
The explosion of a gas pipeline in Iran earlier this month.

Iranian Oil Minister Javad Owji has blamed Israel for a spate of recent explosions that disrupted gas transmission lines in two of Iran’s provinces, incidents that have heightened tensions further between the two rivals.

Speaking to reporters on February 21, Owji described the incidents as a deliberate act orchestrated by Israel, aimed at undermining Iran's domestic gas supply in major provinces. Owji provided no evidence to support his claims.

Israeli authorities have not made any public statements regarding the allegations.

The February 14 explosions targeted the country's national gas lines, leading to severe disruptions in the flow of gas to at least five Iranian provinces. The sound of the blasts was reported in Fars, Chaharmahal, and Bakhtiari provinces, with the national gas company characterizing the incidents as "sabotage and terrorist acts" targeting two main pipelines.

In a report on February 16, The New York Times cited two Western officials and a military expert linked to the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps as saying it was possible Israel was behind not only the pipeline explosions but also a separate incident at a chemical factory in west Tehran.

Israeli officials also have not commented on the factory incident.

Owji said the damaged gas lines have been repaired.

Iran and Israel have been engaged in a years-long shadow war. Tensions between Iran and Israel, its regional foe, have been exacerbated by the ongoing conflict in the Gaza Strip between Israel and Hamas, which has been designated a terrorist organization by the United States and the European Union.

The collapse of a 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers has also added to regional tensions as Tehran reduces its commitments and expands its nuclear activities.

Talks to revive the deal that curbs Iran's sensitive nuclear activities in exchange for the lifting of U.S. sanctions have been deadlocked.

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

Czechs Extradite Suspect In Iran-Backed Murder Plot To United States

Polad Omarov
Polad Omarov

The Czech Republic on February 21 extradited to the United States a Georgian wanted in connection with a plot to assassinate a dissident Iranian journalist in New York. The U.S. Department of Justice says Polad Omarov helped to organise the attempted assassination of Masih Alinejad at her New York home in 2022. He and suspected gang leader Rafat Amirov are accused of hiring U.S. citizen Khalid Mehdiyev and sending him $30,000 for her murder.
Czech police detained Omarov in January 2023 under an international arrest warrant and the Constitutional Court later rejected his appeal against extradition to the United States.

Rights Group Says Number Of Christians Arrested In Iran On The Rise

Christians are recognized as one of three religious minorities in the Islamic republic's constitution. (file photo)
Christians are recognized as one of three religious minorities in the Islamic republic's constitution. (file photo)

The number of Christians arrested in Iran jumped sharply in the last six months of 2023, according to a religious rights group, which called on the government to “immediately and unconditionally” release all Christians detained on charges relating to their faith and religious activities.

The report, released by Article 18, a rights organization focused on the protection of Christians, showed 166 Christians were detained last year, an increase from the 134 arrests recorded in 2022.

The group said that while the first half of the year saw only a "handful" of arrests, a worrying trend was that from June to August there were 100 arrests and then "a further rash" of detentions around the Christmas period.

"Very few of those arrested agreed to publicize their cases, leading to an increasing number of faceless victims,” Article 18 said.

Christians are recognized as one of three religious minorities in the Islamic republic's constitution. Despite this, the report notes, the Iranian government has harshly punished Muslims who convert to Christianity or those involved in promoting and teaching religions other than Islam.

The findings are part of a collaborative 40-page investigation by Article 18, in partnership with global Christian organizations Middle East Concern, Open Doors, and Christian Solidarity Worldwide.

The report showed that in 2023 at least 17 Christians arrested during the summer had been sentenced to prison terms of three to five years. Others faced penalties including fines, whipping, and community service, it added.

Authorities appeared to target distributors of the Bible, with more than one-third of those detained found in possession of multiple copies of the publication.

The report urges the government to "immediately and unconditionally" release the jailed Christians and to ensure the freedom of worship for the faith's followers without the threat of arrest or legal action.

In the face of such pressures, numerous Christians, particularly new converts, have been compelled to flee Iran, seeking asylum in other nations to escape the restrictions and persecution faced at home.

This situation underscores the ongoing challenges faced by religious minorities in Iran amid calls for greater religious freedom and international scrutiny of the country's human rights practices.

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

Iran's 'Axis Of Resistance': Different Groups, Same Goals

Shi'ite Iraqis from the Iranian-backed group Kata’ib Hizballah march in Baghdad in 2014. Iran's regional network is a key element of its strategy of deterrence against perceived threats from the United States, regional rivals, and primarily Israel.
Shi'ite Iraqis from the Iranian-backed group Kata’ib Hizballah march in Baghdad in 2014. Iran's regional network is a key element of its strategy of deterrence against perceived threats from the United States, regional rivals, and primarily Israel.

Iran's so-called axis of resistance is a loose network of proxies, Tehran-backed militant groups, and an allied state actor.

The network is a key element of Tehran's strategy of deterrence against perceived threats from the United States, regional rivals, and primarily Israel.

Active in the Palestinian Occupied Territories, Lebanon, Iraq, Syria, and Yemen, the axis gives Iran the ability to hit its enemies outside its own borders while allowing it to maintain a position of plausible deniability, experts say.

Since the Islamic Revolution in 1979, Iran has played a key role in establishing some of the groups in the axis. Other members have been co-opted by Tehran over the years.

Iran has maintained that around dozen separate groups that comprise the axis act independently.

Tehran's level of influence over each member varies. But the goals pursued by each group broadly align with Iran's own strategic aims, which makes direct control unnecessary, according to experts.

Lebanon's Hizballah

Hizballah was established in 1982 in response to Israel's invasion that year of Lebanon, which was embroiled in a devastating civil war.

The Shi'ite political and military organization was created by the Quds Force, the overseas arm of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), the elite branch of the country's armed forces.

Danny Citrinowicz, a research fellow at the Iran Program at the Israel-based Institute for National Security Studies, said Tehran's aim was to unite Lebanon's various Shi'ite political organizations and militias under one organization.

Since it was formed, Hizballah has received significant financial and political assistance from Iran, a Shi'a-majority country. That backing has made the group a major political and military force in Lebanon.

A Hizballah supporter holds up portraits of Hizballah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah and Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in Beirut in 2018.
A Hizballah supporter holds up portraits of Hizballah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah and Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in Beirut in 2018.

"Iran sees the organization as the main factor that will deter Israel or the U.S. from going to war against Iran and works tirelessly to build the organization's power," Citrinowicz said.

Hizballah has around 40,000 fighters, according to the office of the U.S. Director of National Intelligence. The State Department said Iran has armed and trained Hizballah fighters and injected hundreds of millions of dollars in the group.

The State Department in 2010 described Hizballah as "the most technically capable terrorist group in the world."

Citrinowicz said Iran may not dictate orders to the organization but Tehran "profoundly influences" its decision-making process.

He described Hizballah, which is considered a terrorist organization by the United States and the European Union, not as a proxy but "an Iranian partner managing Tehran's Middle East strategy."

Led by Hassan Nasrallah, Hizballah has developed close ties with other Iranian proxies and Tehran-backed militant groups, helping to train and arm their fighters.

Citrinowicz said Tehran "almost depends" on the Lebanese group to oversee its relations with other groups in the axis of resistance.

Hamas

Hamas, designated a terrorist organization by the United States and the European Union, has had a complex relationship with Iran.

Founded in 1987 during the first Palestinian Intifada, or uprising, Hamas is an offshoot of the Palestinian arm of the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist political organization established in Egypt in the 1920s.

Hamas's political chief is Ismail Haniyeh, who lives in Qatar. Its military wing, the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, is commanded by Yahya Sinwar, who is believed to be based in the Gaza Strip. Hamas is estimated to have around 20,000 fighters.

For years, Iran provided limited material support to Hamas, a Sunni militant group. Tehran ramped up its financial and military support to the Palestinian group after it gained power in the Gaza Strip in 2007.

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi (right) greets the leader of Hamas, Ismail Haniyeh, in Tehran on June 20, 2023.
Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi (right) greets the leader of Hamas, Ismail Haniyeh, in Tehran on June 20, 2023.

But Tehran reduced its support to Hamas after a major disagreement over the civil war in Syria. When the conflict broke out in 2011, Iran backed the government of President Bashar al-Assad. Hamas, however, supported the rebels seeking to oust Assad.

Nevertheless, experts said the sides overcame their differences because, ultimately, they seek the same goal: Israel's destruction.

"[But] this does not mean that Iran is deeply aware of all the actions of Hamas," Citrinowicz said.

After Hamas militants launched a multipronged attack on Israel in October that killed around 1,200 people, mostly civilians, Iran denied it was involved in planning the assault. U.S. intelligence has indicated that Iranian leaders were surprised by Hamas's attack.

Seyed Ali Alavi, a lecturer in Middle Eastern and Iranian Studies at SOAS University of London, said Iran's support to Hamas is largely "confined to rhetorical and moral support and limited financial aid." He said Qatar and Turkey, Hamas's "organic" allies, have provided significantly more financial help to the Palestinian group.

Palestinian Islamic Jihad

With around 1,000 members, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) is the smaller of the two main militant groups based in the Gaza Strip and the closest to Iran.

Founded in 1981, the Sunni militant group's creation was inspired by Iran's Islamic Revolution two years earlier. Given Tehran's ambition of establishing a foothold in the Palestinian Occupied Territories, Iran has provided the group with substantial financial backing and arms, experts say.

The PIJ, led by Ziyad al-Nakhalah, is designated as a terrorist organization by the United States and the European Union.

"Today, there is no Palestinian terrorist organization that is closer to Iran than this organization," Citrinowicz said. "In fact, it relies mainly on Iran."

Citrinowicz said there is no doubt that Tehran's "ability to influence [the PIJ] is very significant."

Iraqi Shi'ite Militias

Iran supports a host of Shi'ite militias in neighboring Iraq, some of which were founded by the IRGC and "defer to Iranian instructions," said Gregory Brew, a U.S.-based Iran analyst with the Eurasia Group.

But Tehran's influence over the militias has waned since the U.S. assassination in 2020 of Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani, who was seen as the architect of the axis of resistance and held great influence over its members.

"The dynamic within these militias, particularly regarding their relationship with Iran, underwent a notable shift following the assassination of Qassem Soleimani," said Hamidreza Azizi, a fellow at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs.

The U.S. drone strike that targeted Soleimani also killed Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the deputy head of the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), an umbrella organization of mostly Shi'ite Iran-backed armed groups that has been a part of the Iraqi Army since 2016.

Muhandis was also the leader of Kata'ib Hizballah, which was established in 2007 and is one of the most powerful members of the PMF. Other prominent groups in the umbrella include Asa'ib Ahl al-Haq, Harakat al-Nujaba, Kata'ib Seyyed al-Shuhada, and the Badr Organization. Kata'ib Hizballah has been designated as a terrorist entity by the United States.

Following the deaths of Soleimani and al-Muhandis, Kata'ib Hizballah and other militias "began to assert more autonomy, at times acting in ways that could potentially compromise Iran's interests," said Azizi.

Many of the Iran-backed groups that form the PMF are also part of the so-called Islamic Resistance in Iraq, which rose to prominence in November 2023. The group has been responsible for launching scores of attacks on U.S. troops in Iraq and Syria since Israel launched its war against Hamas in Gaza.

"It's important to note that while several militias within the PMF operate as Iran's proxies, this is not a universal trait across the board," Azizi said.

Azizi said the extent of Iran's control over the PMF can fluctuate based on the political conditions in Iraq and the individual dynamics within each militia.

The strength of each group within the PMF varies widely, with some containing as few as 100 members and others, such as Kata'ib Hizballah, boasting around 10,000 fighters.

Syrian State And Pro-Government Militias

Besides Iran, Syria is the only state that is a member of the axis of resistance.

"The relationship between Iran and the Assad regime in Syria is a strategic alliance where Iran's influence is substantial but not absolute, indicating a balance between dependency and partnership," said Azizi.

The decades-long alliance stems from Damascus's support for Tehran during the devastating 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War.

When Assad's rule was challenged during the Syrian civil war, the IRGC entered the fray in 2013 to ensure he held on to power.

Khamenei greets Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Tehran in 2019.
Khamenei greets Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Tehran in 2019.

Hundreds of IRGC commander and officers, who Iran refers to as "military advisers," are believed to be present in Syria. Tehran has also built up a large network of militias, consisting mostly of Afghans and Pakistanis, in Syria.

Azizi said these militias have given Iran "a profound influence on the country's affairs," although not outright control over Syria.

"The Assad regime maintains its strategic independence, making decisions that serve its national interests and those of its allies," he said.

The Fatemiyun Brigade, comprised of Afghan fighters, and the Zainabiyun Brigade, which is made up of Pakistani fighters, make up the bulk of Iran's proxies in Syria.

"They are essentially units in the IRGC, under direct control," said Brew.

The Afghan and Pakistani militias played a key role in fighting rebel groups opposed to Assad during the civil war. There have been reports that Iran has not only granted citizenship to Afghan fighters and their families but also facilitated Syrian citizenship for them.

The Fatemiyun Brigade, the larger of the two, is believed to have several thousand fighters in Syria. The Zainabiyun Brigade is estimated to have less than 1,000 fighters.

Yemen's Huthi Rebels

The Huthis first emerged as a movement in the 1980s in response to the growing religious influence of neighboring Saudi Arabia, a Sunni kingdom.

In 2015, the Shi'ite militia toppled the internationally recognized, Saudi-backed government of Yemen. That triggered a brutal, yearslong Saudi-led war against the rebels.

With an estimated 200,000 fighters, the Huthis control most of the northwest of the country, including the capital, Sanaa, and are in charge of much of the Red Sea coast.

A Huthi militant stands by a poster of Iraqi militia commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis and Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani during a rally by Huthi supporters to denounce the U.S. killing of both commanders, in Sanaa, Yemen, in 2020.
A Huthi militant stands by a poster of Iraqi militia commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis and Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani during a rally by Huthi supporters to denounce the U.S. killing of both commanders, in Sanaa, Yemen, in 2020.

The Huthis' disdain for Saudi Arabia, Iran's regional foe, and Israel made it a natural ally of Tehran, experts say. But it was only around 2015 that Iran began providing the group with training through the Quds Force and Hizballah. Tehran has also supplied weapons to the group, though shipments are regularly intercepted by the United States.

"The Huthis…appear to have considerable autonomy and Tehran exercises only limited control, though there does appear to be [a] clear alignment of interests," said Brew.

Since Israel launched its war in Gaza, the Huthis have attacked international commercial vessels in the Red Sea and fired ballistic missiles at several U.S. warships.

In response, the United States and its allies have launched air strikes against the Huthis' military infrastructure. Washington has also re-designated the Huthis as a terrorist organization.

Rise In Suicides Among Medical Students In Iran Highlights Growing Crisis In Sector

Doctors at a hospital in Iran. The rise in suicide rates among medical residents coincides with a mass exodus of medical staff from Iran.
Doctors at a hospital in Iran. The rise in suicide rates among medical residents coincides with a mass exodus of medical staff from Iran.

A rise in suicides among medical residents at Iranian schools, revealed in an interview with the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) with Vahid Shariat, has highlighted a growing crisis within Iran's medical community.

Shariat, head of the Iranian Psychiatric Association, said in the interview dated February 18 that the Iranian Medical Council recorded 16 deaths over the past year among medical residents, a figure that is likely higher, he said, as the Health Ministry withholds "more accurate and extensive statistics."

"The ministry has more and more accurate statistics, which they consider confidential and do not make public," he said.

"Whenever there is a problem, before doing anything they make the statistics confidential or quickly deny them."

The rise in suicide rates among medical residents coincides with a mass exodus of medical staff from Iran.

Thousands of Iranian health professionals have left their homeland in recent years, mainly due to the country’s deepening economic crisis, difficult working conditions, and the lack of social and political freedoms.

Iranian media outlets estimate some 16,000 doctors, including specialists, have left the Islamic republic since 2020, leading to warnings of a public health-care crisis.

The exodus accelerated after the coronavirus pandemic, which took a heavy toll on health-care workers. Iran was one of the worst affected countries in the world, recording over 146,000 deaths.

The suicide issue has been described as "worrying" and a "significant problem for the medical community" by Mahmoud Fazel, head of the Supreme Council of the Medical System. In response, a committee has been established within the council to investigate the matter.

The occurrence of student suicides, particularly within those studying in the medical field, is not new in Iran, with media reports in recent years shedding light on the pressures faced by those pursuing such careers.

A recent study by the Psychiatric Association has found that the suicide rate within the medical community has seen a sharp increase in recent years. The research further highlights that, within a resident population of approximately 14,000, there is an average of 13 suicides annually.

Moreover, the study reveals a gender disparity in the suicide rates among doctors, with a 40 percent increase among males and a 130 percent increase among females compared with the general population.

Factors such as "work pressure" and "income level" have been identified by the Medical System Organization as significant stress factors for medical students.

The head of the Iranian Medical Council has termed the "emptying" of the country of its doctors a "serious" crisis, signaling a dire need for immediate and effective measures to safeguard the wellbeing of Iran's future medical professionals.

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

Jailed Iranian Reformist Tajzadeh Issues Scathing Criticism Of Supreme Leader

The letter by jailed reformist politician Mostafa Tajzadeh highlights Iran's deep-seated political divisions and the challenges facing the country's reformist movement. 
The letter by jailed reformist politician Mostafa Tajzadeh highlights Iran's deep-seated political divisions and the challenges facing the country's reformist movement. 

Prominent Iranian reformist politician Mostafa Tajzadeh, who is currently imprisoned at Tehran's notorious Evin Prison, has issued a scathing criticism of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, saying he is responsible for the current "flawed structure of the political system in Iran."

In a letter published from prison, where he is serving a five-year sentence after being found guilty in late 2022 of "collusion against national security" and "propaganda against the regime," he says he will abstain from voting in the forthcoming parliamentary and Assembly of Experts elections because of the "strategic failures" of the Islamic republic's leadership.

He also highlighted the devaluation of elections under Khamenei's leadership, saying holding such events was "pointless" given the current conditions of the country, which has seen months of unrest over living conditions, a lack of rights, and restricted freedoms, especially with regard to women.

Khamenei has "closed his eyes" to the "disastrous facts of Iran" and does not listen to the protests of millions of citizens, said Tajzadeh, who served as deputy interior minister under reformist President Mohammad Khatami, who held office from 1997 to 2005.

"On the other hand, most Iranians have also decided to ignore the leader and his radio and television addresses to protest the miserable state of the country. Don't vote," Tajzadeh added.

The publication of the letter came after another call from the Islamic republic's leader for voters to head to the polls en masse for March 1 elections he framed as "a solution for the country's ongoing issues."

Tajzadeh's letter highlights the deep-seated political divisions and the challenges facing Iran's reformist movement.

He criticized Khamenei for setting "red lines" that include maintaining hostile relations with Washington, enforcing the mandatory hijab law, supervision over the vetting of election candidates, and the continued illegal detention of political dissidents.

Such policies, Tajzadeh said, hinder any potential for international engagement or economic improvement for Iran in the foreseeable future.

Tajzadeh accused Khamenei of ignoring the "disastrous realities of Iran" and the voices of millions of dissenting citizens, highlighting a widespread resolve among Iranians to protest the dire state of the nation by boycotting the polls.

Tajzadeh was first arrested in 2009 during mass protests disputing the reelection of then President Mahmud Ahmadinejad, who ran against opposition reformist candidates Mehdi Karrubi and Mir Hossein Musavi.

In 2010, Tajzadeh was convicted of harming national security and propaganda against the state. He was released in 2016 after serving most of his seven-year sentence.

After his release, Tajzadeh often called on authorities to free Karrubi and Musavi, who have been under house arrest for more than a decade.

In October 2022, a branch of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Court sentenced Tajzadeh to the current five-year term he is serving. Tajzadeh declined to speak in court during the hearing after a request he made to talk one-on-one with his lawyer was rejected.

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

U.S. Conducts Five Strikes In Huthi-Controlled Areas Of Yemen, Military Says

A missile is launched from a warship during the U.S.-led coalition operation against military targets in Yemen aimed at the Iran-backed Huthi militia that has been targeting international shipping in the Red Sea. (file photo)
A missile is launched from a warship during the U.S.-led coalition operation against military targets in Yemen aimed at the Iran-backed Huthi militia that has been targeting international shipping in the Red Sea. (file photo)

The United States conducted five self-defense strikes in areas of Yemen controlled by the Iranian-backed Huthi militias, U.S. Central Command said on February 18. It said it struck three mobile, anti-ship cruise missiles, one unmanned underwater vessel, and one unmanned surface vessel on February 17. Huthi attacks in the Red Sea area have been one sign of spreading conflict in the Middle East since war erupted between Israel and Hamas -- deemed a terrorist organization by the United States and European Union -- after the extremist Palestinian group's deadly assault on Israel on October 7.

Several More Baha'is Jailed In Iran As Crackdown Continues

Mina Karami and Keyvan Rahimian (combo photo)
Mina Karami and Keyvan Rahimian (combo photo)

Iran's judiciary has handed down lengthy sentences to several members of the Baha'i community, the country's largest non-Muslim group, the latest in a series of acts by the government against the faith's followers.

Keyvan Rahimian, a psychologist and Baha'i follower, was sentenced to a total of nine years in prison by Branch 15 of the Islamic Revolutionary Court, according to an Instagram page associated with Rahimian.

It added that the sentence was split between five years for alleged "educational and/or promotional activities contrary to or undermining the sacred Shari'a of Islam," and an additional four years for "assembly and collusion."

Rahimian was arrested in July 2023 and he has been detained in Tehran's notorious Evin prison since then.

Meanwhile, Mina Karami, another Baha'i follower, was arrested on February 14 by security agencies on the streets of the southern Iranian city of Shiraz.

She was subsequently transferred to Adel-Abad prison in Shiraz to commence a five-year sentence previously handed down in September 2022 for similar charges of undermining Islamic Shari'a through educational activities.

Karami had been temporarily released on bail in early 2022 but now faces additional penalties, including a cash fine and a decade-long deprivation of social rights.

Another Baha'i follower, Noushin Misbah, voluntarily presented herself to the local prosecutor's office this week to begin serving a one-year prison term. She was then taken to Vakilabad prison in Mashhad.

Baha'i leaders have accused Iranian authorities of attempting to "systematically marginalize" its followers and deprive its members of their basic rights.

Since the Islamic Republic of Iran was established in 1979, hundreds of Baha'is have been arrested and jailed for their beliefs. At least 200 have been executed or were arrested and never heard from again. Thousands more have been banned from receiving higher education or had their property confiscated, while vandals often desecrate Baha'i cemeteries.

Baha'i officials also point to the arrests and reports of ongoing detentions and the unclear status of other Baha'i followers, such as Iman Rashidi and Yekta Fahandezh, whose situations remain unresolved after more than two months in custody.

The Islamic Republic of Iran does not recognize the Baha'i faith, and authorities have frequently targeted its followers, labeling them as "spies and enemies." This has led to a series of harsh penalties, including death sentences, arrests, and prohibitions on education and employment, highlighting a continuing trend of religious persecution in the country.

International human rights organizations have repeatedly condemned Iran's treatment of Baha'is, calling for an end to the discrimination and for the upholding of religious freedoms as per international standards.

There are some 300,000 Baha'i adherents in Iran and an estimated 5 million worldwide.

In a religious fatwa issued in 2018, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei forbade contact, including business dealings, with the followers of the faith.

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

Man Kills 12 Relatives In Southeastern Iran

The man reportedly opened fire with a Kalashnikov assault rifle on his father, brother, and other relatives. (illustrative photo)
The man reportedly opened fire with a Kalashnikov assault rifle on his father, brother, and other relatives. (illustrative photo)

A man shot dead 12 of his relatives on February 17 in a remote rural area in southeast Iran, in one of the deadliest such incidents in the country. Ebrahim Hamidi, the chief judiciary official in the south-central province of Kerman, told Iranian media the man, armed with a Kalashnikov assault rifle, opened fire on his father, brother, and other relatives. Hamidi said the shooting spree appeared to have been caused by family disputes. Reports say several children were among the victims. IRNA news agency said "attempts are under way" to arrest the 30-year-old suspect, who has not been named. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Radio Farda, click here.

Women's Activist Rashno Says She's Been Summoned To Serve Sentence At Tehran's Evin Prison

Iranian women's rights activist Sepideh Rashno (file photo)
Iranian women's rights activist Sepideh Rashno (file photo)

Iranian women's rights activist Sepideh Rashno, a vocal critic of the country's compulsory head scarf law, said she has been ordered to begin a prison sentence of three years and 11 months.

The activist, who was arrested in June 2022 after a video of her arguing with another woman who was enforcing rules on wearing a head scarf on a bus in Tehran went viral, shared the news with her social media followers on February 15, noting that she also faces a travel ban.

The other woman in the altercation with Rashno threatened to send the video -- which showed Rashno riding the bus without a hijab, or Islamic head scarf -- to the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps.

In July 2022, several days after she disappeared, Iranian state television aired a video "confession" by Rashno in which she appeared to be in a poor physical state. She was reportedly rushed to the hospital after the video was recorded.

Rashno's sentence encompasses three years and seven months in prison for the initial altercation on the bus and an additional four months related to charges of "announcing her suspension from university," and a financial penalty for "attending court in her choice of attire" as she refused to wear a hijab.

Just weeks after Rashno's arrest, mass protests erupted around the country after 22-year-old Mahsa Amini died in September 2022 while in police custody after being arrested by morality police in Tehran for allegedly "improperly" wearing a hijab.

Rashno, 28, said she has been instructed to report to Evin Prison in the coming days to commence her sentence.

In her social media posts, she commented on the travel ban being imposed on her, saying “it holds little weight for someone with no plans to leave the country.”

The hijab became compulsory in public for Iranian women and girls above the age of 9 after the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Many Iranian women have flouted the rule over the years in protest 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

Jailed Iranian Activist Bakhtiari Handed Additional Sentence

Iranian activist Manuchehr Bakhtiari (file photo)
Iranian activist Manuchehr Bakhtiari (file photo)

Jailed Iranian activist Manuchehr Bakhtiari, a vocal critic of the government whose son was killed in 2019 protests, has been handed an additional six months in prison for "insulting the leader of the Islamic Republic."

The human rights website HRANA said a verdict on the new charges was disclosed by Branch 6 of the Appeal Court in Qazvin on February 14. It did not say when the hearing was held.

The new charges against Bakhtiari follow another sentence handed down to him on January 9 by Branch 1 of the Islamic Revolutionary Court in Karaj, which condemned him to 18 years in prison and 74 lashes for "assembly and collusion with the intent to commit crimes against the security of the country," forming and managing a group in cyberspace with the purpose of "disrupting the country's security," spreading "lies," "propaganda against the system," and "disturbing public opinion."

Bakhtiari was violently arrested in April 2021 when security forces apprehended him at his Tehran home.

Following his arrest, he was convicted for his activism and sentenced to three years and six months in prison.

The November 2019 demonstrations in which Bakhtiari's son was killed brought thousands of citizens out on to the streets of more than 100 Iranian cities and towns to protest against the government's sudden decision to raise gas prices.

The protests quickly turned political, with many chanting slogans against the Iranian regime and its leaders.

The Iranian Human Rights Organization has confirmed the death of 324 citizens, including 14 children, in the 2019 protests, but Reuters estimated that the actual number of people killed was around 1,500.

The Islamic republic's leadership has a long history of harassing, arresting, and imprisoning the families of executed political prisoners and protesters who were killed. Officials fear that statements and actions by families of those killed will spark an outpouring of sympathy and further protests.

In recent months, pressure has intensified on the families seeking justice for those killed in the November 2019 protests and during the current wave of nationwide protests triggered by the death in September 2022 of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini while in police custody following her arrest for allegedly wearing her Islamic head scarf improperly.

The Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA) says more than 500 people have been killed during the recent unrest, including 71 minors, as security forces try to stifle widespread dissent.

Nine protesters have been executed.

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

U.S. Slaps Sanctions On Subsidiary Of Central Bank of Iran, Other Entities And Individuals

The U.S. Treasury Department said the Central Bank of Iran has played a critical role in providing financial support to o the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps-Quds Force and Hizballah. 
The U.S. Treasury Department said the Central Bank of Iran has played a critical role in providing financial support to o the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps-Quds Force and Hizballah. 

The United States on February 14 said it had imposed sanctions on an Iranian subsidiary of the Central Bank of Iran (CBI), two entities based in the United Arab Emirates, one based in Turkey, and three individuals for smuggling U.S. technology. The Treasury Department named the entities as CBI subsidiary Informatics Services Corporation, the U.A.E.-based Advance Banking Solution Trading DMCC, the U.A.E.-based Freedom Star General Trading, and the Turkish-based Ted Teknoloji Gelistirme Hizmetleri Sanayi Ticaret Anonim Sirketi. The Treasury Department said the CBI has played a critical role in providing financial support to the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps-Quds Force and Hizballah.

Two Explosions Rock Iranian Gas Pipelines, Disrupt Supplies

A photo of one of the explosions was published on social media.
A photo of one of the explosions was published on social media.

Two explosions at gas pipelines that officials are calling "sabotage and terrorist acts" have disrupted gas supplies to offices and industries across three provinces in Iran.

The blasts, in the provinces of Fars and Chaharmahal and Bakhtiari, were immediately labelled by authorities as acts of sabotage.

In an interview with state television, Saeed Aghli, the director of Iran's Gas Network Dispatching Center, said the explosions occurred around 1 a.m. local time on February 14. He added that they targeted the country's national gas lines but resulted in no casualties.

In response, authorities in Lorestan, Zanjan, and North Khorasan provinces announced cuts to gas supplies for offices and industries in order to prevent residential shortages. North Khorasan's Crisis Management Office also closed all compressed natural gas fuel stations for 24 hours as a precaution.

Fattah Karami, the governor of Borujen, and the head of the fire department in Borujen, said an explosion occurred in the national gas pipeline in the "Halvaei Pass" area near Borujen.

Ismail Ghazalsafli, the political-security deputy governor for Fars Province announced the second explosion, saying it hit a gas pipeline in Khorrambid. There were no casualties.

Authorities said they are treating the explosions as sabotage, with initial investigations pointing toward deliberate attacks on the gas pipeline infrastructure.

No group has claimed responsibility for the incidents.

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

4 Baluchis Sentenced To Death In Iran For Alleged Insurrection

Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Court has handed death sentences to four ethnic Baluchis on charges of "baghy," meaning insurrection against a legitimate imam and the Islamic ruler of the country.

The individuals, identified as Eido Shahbakhsh, Abdul-Ghani Shahbakhsh, Abdul-Rahim Qanbarzehi Gorgij, and Suleiman Shahbakhsh, were implicated in what the court describes as "forming anti-revolutionary groups and being members of said groups."

The verdicts were issued by Branch 28 of the court, under the presidency of Mohammad Reza Amouzad Khalili, according to reports from Hengaw, a group that closely tracks human rights violations in Iran. The four men are currently being held at the Qezelhesar prison in Karaj.

The case has drawn widespread attention due to the complex history of the accused; notably, the first two defendants were previously acquitted and released in 2016 by Branch 1 of the Zahedan Islamic Revolutionary Court on identical charges, only to be rearrested shortly thereafter. Zahedan is the capital of of Iran's Sistan-Baluchistan Province.

Further controversy surrounds the case of Suleiman Shahbakhsh, who, according to the legal analysis website Dadban, is being held responsible for an incident dating back to when he was 12 years old. Shahbakhsh, along with Abdul-Rahim Kanbarzehi Gorgij, was apprehended in 2016 and accused of the murder of a Basij militia base head in Chah-Zard city.

The charge of "baghy" in the Islamic republic's legal system is defined as an "armed uprising against the regime," a crime that typically carries the death penalty.

In a related development, human rights organizations also highlighted the case of Pakshan Azizi, a Kurdish journalist and former political prisoner, who now faces the same charge of "baghy." Additionally, the Free Union of Iranian Workers reported that Shahab Naderi, a political prisoner, has been sentenced to death on similar grounds.

The cases have reignited debate over the application of the death penalty for political crimes in Iran and highlight concerns regarding the country's human rights record and its widespread use of the death penalty.

The rate of executions in Iran has been rising sharply, particularly in the wake of the widespread protests triggered by the death of Mahsa Amini in police custody in September 2022 after she was arrested for allegedly wearing a head scarf improperly.

Iran Human Rights said in 2023 that more than 700 people were executed in Iran.

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

Lawyer For Executed Iranian Protester Summoned To Court After Critical Remarks

One of the lawyers for Mohammad Qobadlou (pictured) said that "law and Shari'a were slaughtered" in the Iranian's execution.
One of the lawyers for Mohammad Qobadlou (pictured) said that "law and Shari'a were slaughtered" in the Iranian's execution.

Iranian lawyer Mahdokht Damghanpor, who had been critical of the judiciary and pointed out flaws in the case presented against executed protester Mohammad Qobadlou, has been summoned before a court for questioning.

Amir Raesian, another lawyer for Mohammad Qobadlou, said Damghanpor was summoned to the Media Court, where on February 12 he presented relevant documents it had requested.

"We invited the judiciary to a 'debate in the media,' but the judiciary preferred a 'trial in the Media Court,'" Raeisian said in a social media post.

The Islamic republic's judiciary has not commented on the matter.

Damghanpor has highlighted numerous issues in her client's case, saying in one media interview that "law and Shari'a were slaughtered in Qobadlou's execution."

Raeisian has repeatedly called the execution illegal, stating that it was carried out while a retrial petition was still in front of the Supreme Court.

Qobadlou, 23, was arrested during the protests that broke out after the death of Mahsa Amini while in the custody of Tehran's morality police for an alleged head-scarf violation. He was charged with murder after being accused of running over police officers, killing one and injuring five.

Mohammad Qobadlou's mother and his lawyers stated that he suffered from bipolar disorder and that confessions were obtained from him at a time when he had no access to his medication.

Qobadlou was at least the ninth person to be executed in connection with the 2022 protests.

His execution sparked outrage and condemnation both within Iran and internationally. Several human rights groups, including the Norway-based Iran Human Rights, have noted multiple flaws in the case.

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

Head Of UN Nuclear Watchdog Says Iran Is 'Not Entirely Transparent' About Its Atomic Program

Rafael Grossi is the director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency. (file photo)
Rafael Grossi is the director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency. (file photo)

The head of the United Nations' nuclear watchdog warned on February 13 that Iran is “not entirely transparent” regarding its atomic program, particularly after an official who once led Tehran's program announced that the Islamic Republic has all the pieces for a weapon “in our hands.” Speaking at the World Governments Summit in Dubai, just across the Persian Gulf, Rafael Grossi, the director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, alluded to remarks made this weekend by Ali Akbar Salehi. Since the collapse of a 2015 nuclear deal it struck with world powers, Iran has pursued nuclear enrichment just below weapons-grade levels.

Majority Of Iranians Shunning Workforce Amid Rise In Discontent

People buy slippers from a street vendor at the Grand Bazaar in Tehran. (file photo)
People buy slippers from a street vendor at the Grand Bazaar in Tehran. (file photo)

Almost six out of every 10 Iranians are neither employed or seeking work, while more than half of those who are employed also hold down a side job.

Ghasem Rostampor, the director-general of entrepreneurship and employment planning at the Labor Ministry, told the Tasnim News Agency that 58.5 percent of the country's population is considered inactive, which refers to individuals over the age of 15 who neither have a job nor are looking for one, a sign some analysts say shows the disaffection among younger Iranians with the current regime amid a crackdown on protests over the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in September 2022.

The data contradicts claims by President Ebrahim Raisi's government that it has reduced the unemployment rate to 7.6 percent.

Details from data from the Statistical Center of Iran appear to show that the decrease in the unemployment rate is due to an increase in the country's inactive population instead of a surge in employment opportunities through government job-creation programs.

According to the Statistical Center, the number of active individuals -- those who either have jobs or are looking for work -- has decreased by 520,000 over the past four years, even though the population of those over 15 years of age grew by 2.9 million.

That means that since 2018 about 3.4 million people have given up looking for work and have joined the inactive population segment, the data shows.

The government's unemployment rate is a ratio of unemployed individuals to the country's active population, thus leaving out a large segment of Iranians who are of working age.

The Parliamentary Research Center recently warned about the rise in the inactivity rate of Iran's workforce, especially among younger Iranians. It says the real unemployment rate in the country is about 2.5 times higher than the government's statistics show.

Further distorting the government's data is the fact that official statistics include as employed those who work only one hour a week. Among the 24.8 million employed individuals in the country, 2 million are considered underemployed as they work less than 44 hours a week.

Another growing issue, Rostampor said, is that many those individuals listed as employed do not have formal contracts, thus depriving them of many benefits.

In September 2023, Iran's Misery Index, calculated by the Iranian Statistics Center, rose to 60.4 -- its highest point ever and more than double what it was six years ago. The higher the rating, the worse off people feel.

The index is also seen as a barometer for societal issues, with a direct link to crime rates and even instances of suicide. The most recent index also showed that in the past year, 22 of Iran's 31 provinces reported a reading surpassing the national average, highlighting countrywide discontent.

Several protests have been held by Iranians over the past year in response to declining living standards, wage arrears, and a lack of welfare support.

The death of Amini while in police custody for allegedly wearing a head scarf improperly has added fuel to the unrest, as Iranians have also demonstrated gainst a lack of freedoms and women's rights.

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

Uncle Of Amini Jailed For Supporting Iranian Protesters

Protesters hold up photos of Mahsa Amini at a protest following her death in police custody.
Protesters hold up photos of Mahsa Amini at a protest following her death in police custody.

An uncle of Mahsa Amini, an Iranian woman who died while in police custody for an alleged hijab infraction, has been handed a stiff prison sentence for comments he made about the protests sparked by his niece's death that were critical of the Islamic regime.

Safa Aeli, according to Hengaw, a group that closely tracks human rights violations in Iran, was sentenced by Branch 1 of the Islamic Revolutionary Court in the western city of Saqqezto to a total of five years, four months, and 17 days in prison on charges of "participation in a gathering and conspiracy against internal security," "propaganda against the system," and "insulting the leader of the Islamic Republic."

Aeli was arrested by security forces in a raid on his home on September 21, the eve of the first anniversary of Amini's death, which triggered massive unrest around the country. Hengaw said he was "brutally assaulted" during his 42 days in detention before being released on bail.

According to Hengaw, the most severe sentence is for the conspiracy charge, for which he was handed three years, six months, and one day. According to Iranian law, that sentence will be the only one carried out.

Hengaw added that one-third of the conspiracy sentence is suspended for three years, conditional upon Aeli refraining from associating with anyone arrested during September commemorations of the anniversary of Amini's death. He must also report to the Intelligence Office and complete three educational, ethical, and religious courses.

Tensions between the government and the families of those killed or arrested in the nationwide protests rose in the months before and just after the first anniversary of Amini's death.

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 lives of their loved ones, which the government fears will trigger further unrest.

Reports indicate that on the anniversary of Amini's death, security forces prevented her family from visiting her grave.

The public anger at Amini's death has been widely seen as one of the biggest threats to Iran's clerical establishment since the foundation of the Islamic republic in 1979.

At least 500 people have been killed around the country since the authorities began the current crackdown on her sympathizers, with thousands more detained or harassed.

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

Iran Marks 45th Anniversary Of Islamic Revolution As Tensions Grip Wider Middle East

Iranians watch fireworks around the Azadi (Freedom) Tower during a ceremony marking the 45th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution in Tehran on February 10.
Iranians watch fireworks around the Azadi (Freedom) Tower during a ceremony marking the 45th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution in Tehran on February 10.

Iran marked the 45th anniversary of the 1979 Islamic Revolution on February 11 amid tensions gripping the wider Middle East over Israel’s continued war on Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Thousands of Iranians marched through major streets and squares decorated with flags, balloons, and banners with revolutionary and religious slogans. In Tehran, crowds waved Iranian flags, chanted slogans, and carried placards with the traditional “Death to America” and “Death to Israel” written on them. There was a heavy security presence in major cities across the country. The anniversary came a month after a deadly attack by the extremist Islamic State group in Kerman that left at least 95 people dead.

Iranian Prisoner Has 4 Fingers Amputated For Theft Charge He Denies

An accused thief has his fingers amputated in Iran. (file photo)
An accused thief has his fingers amputated in Iran. (file photo)

An Iranian prisoner has had four of his fingers amputated after being accused of stealing five sheep from a farm owned by a member of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, a charge the man denies.

The Iran Human Rights organization said the sentence to cut off four fingers from the hand of a 34-year-old prisoner, identified only as Yousef T., was carried out last summer in the central prison of Qom, central Iran. It was not previously reported.

According to an informed source cited by the organization, Yousef T. insisted on his innocence throughout the 13 months he was detained in prison before the sentence was carried out. The man was a builder working at the farm when he was accused.

"Amputating a man's fingers for the alleged theft of a few sheep by a corrupt regime whose officials compete in billion-dollar thefts and embezzlement, demonstrates the utmost cruelty and immorality of this system,"
said Mahmud Amiri Moghadam, the director of the Iran Human Rights organization.

Mahmud Amiri Moghadam, the organization's director, added: "[Supreme Ruler Ayatollah Ali] Khamenei, the officials, and the judges of the judiciary, as well as the executors of these medieval sentences, must be held accountable for such crimes."

Under Islamic law enforced in Iran, repeat offenders face amputation of their fingers for theft. Despite widespread criticism, the sentence of amputation for theft continues to be carried out regularly in Iranian prisons.

Diana Eltahawy, deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International, has described the punishment as "a horrifying display of the Iranian authorities' assault on human rights and human dignity."

The D.C.-based Abdorrahman Boroumand Center for Human Rights in Iran (ABC) says it has collected reports on at least 356 sentences of amputation issued since the 1979 revolution, adding that the real number is believed to be many times higher.

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

Iranian Authorities Block Bar Association From Electing New Leadership

Power was cut at the hotel where the National Union of Bar Associations of Iran was trying to meet.
Power was cut at the hotel where the National Union of Bar Associations of Iran was trying to meet.

Iranian authorities, in a move that has raised concerns about the independence of legal professionals in the country, have effectively blocked the National Union of Bar Associations of Iran from holding elections for its executive board.

According to Vakil Press, a website focusing on news about Iranian lawyers, the disruption began when the Tehran Public Places Administration issued a letter to the Parsian Evin Hotel, slated to host the Bar Association's national convention, telling hotel management to ensure the convention does not take place.

Ali Shayanmanesh, vice president of the Fars Province Bar Association, wrote on the X social media platform that power to the hotel was cut off when the meeting was not canceled.

In a bid to salvage the meeting, the elections were be moved to the Central Bar Association's premises, but not enough members attended the new venue and the meeting failed to reach a quorum.

The report comes amid heightened pressure from the Islamic republic's judiciary on independent lawyers, especially those handling the cases of civil and union activists, particularly since the start of the Women, Life, Freedom protests in Iran in September 2022.

A report by a coalition of Iranian human rights activists last June stated that, since the nationwide protests began, at least 129 lawyers in Iran have faced judicial harassment.

The buildup to the convention was fraught with controversy, highlighted by a decree from the 5th branch of the Supreme Disciplinary Court for Judges that challenged the legal status of the Bar Association and its elections.

Additionally, a letter from the judiciary's legal deputy was circulated, advocating for the cancellation of the elections, a stance was echoed by the judiciary's legal and parliamentary affairs deputy, who had earlier called for the elections to be scrapped.

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

Little Room For Negotiation Between Iran And U.S. Amid Middle East Tensions

Iranian President Raisi (second left) inspects the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps' rising military capabilities in early February.
Iranian President Raisi (second left) inspects the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps' rising military capabilities in early February.

Like two heavyweight boxers, the United States and Iran circle the ring -- flexing their muscles without stepping close enough to actually trade blows. It is clear that neither wants to fight, but they also have no interest in settling their stark differences.

That is how experts say Washington and Tehran have dealt with each other for more than four decades, only changing their stance when it is mutually beneficial.

Tensions have soared between the two foes, who have no formal diplomatic ties, amid the fallout from Israel’s devastating war in the Gaza Strip. But despite calls for de-escalation, observers say there is little room for détente.

"I've rarely seen a situation in which the tensions have been so high and the exit ramps are nearly nonexistent and there were no real channels of communication between the two sides," said Ali Vaez, director of the Iran project at the International Crisis Group.

“And that makes the current situation even more dangerous, because there's plenty of space for miscommunication and misunderstanding," Vaez added.

Current tensions in the Middle East have had deadly consequences even as each side tries to avoid getting drawn into a direct military confrontation.

The United States has hit Iran-backed militants in response to attacks against U.S. forces and interests in the region, including the deaths of three U.S. soldiers in Jordan last month, while underscoring that its aim is de-escalation.

Iran, which like the United States has said that it does not want war, has continued to back militant groups that make up its so-called “axis of resistance” against Israel and the West, while calling for diplomacy to resolve the crisis.

Tehran and Washington have carefully avoided direct conflict, but are in no position to work out their differences even if they wanted to, experts say.

Washington and Tehran have not had formal diplomatic ties since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, leaving them to negotiate through back-channels or third states when needed.

But political and ideological pressures at home -- amplified ahead of a parliamentary vote in Iran in March and a presidential election in the United States in November -- has meant that neither side is looking to back away any time soon from the stark red lines the two have drawn.

Avenues For Diplomacy

"There are ways that communication can be had between the two countries, and they do so,” said Alex Vatanka, director of the Iran Program at the U.S.-based Middle East Institute. “But they tend to do it on select files, or moments of crisis."

Vatanka said those lines of communication include Iran’s envoy to the United Nations who resides in New York and the Swiss Embassy in Tehran which handles American interests in the Islamic republic. There are also third-party mediators, including Qatar, Oman, and Iraq, he said.

The U.S.-Iran prisoner swap worked out in September, which followed years of secret negotiations involving Gulf states and Switzerland, is the most recent example.

Under that deal, four Americans held hostage in Iran were released in exchange for Washington unfreezing $6 billion in Iranian oil revenue held up in South Korea.

As part of the agreement, according to Vaez, "Iran committed to rein in groups that were targeting U.S. interests in Iraq and Syria" and Washington received a commitment that Tehran would not supply ballistic missiles to Russia for use in Moscow's war against Ukraine.

Shortly after Iran-backed Hamas, which is considered a terrorist organization by the United States and the European Union, carried out its deadly assault on Israel on October 7, the unfrozen Iranian funds came under intense scrutiny. Republicans in the United States who are gearing up for the presidential election in November have been particularly vocal in criticizing the deal worked out by the administration of Democratic President Joe Biden.

In response, Washington worked out an agreement with Qatar, where the unfrozen Iranian funds were moved and to be released only for humanitarian purposes, to prevent Tehran from accessing them at all. But the deal has remained a hot-button issue.

The Gaza war and the ensuing resumption of attacks on U.S. forces and interests by Iran-backed groups have attracted even more political discord.

After Israel's large-scale offensive against Hamas in the Gaza Strip that has killed more than 27,000 Palestinians, Iran-backed militant groups have carried out attacks in solidarity with Hamas. The Iran-backed Huthi rebels in Yemen have targeted maritime shipping and U.S. naval forces in the Red Sea. Meanwhile, Iran-backed militias in Iraq killed three U.S. soldiers in Jordan in a drone attack.

That, in turn, has led to U.S. and U.K. attacks on Huthi targets in Yemen, and by the United States against Iran-backed militias and Iranian-linked sites in Syria and Iraq.

U.S. forces launch strikes against Huthi targets in Yemen earlier this month.
U.S. forces launch strikes against Huthi targets in Yemen earlier this month.

Iran, for its part, has said that the axis of resistance, which it denies directing, would continue to carry out strikes until a permanent cease-fire is worked out to stop what it calls a genocide in Gaza. And in what was widely seen as a show of its capability to strike back in the event Iran itself is attacked, it has launched ballistic missile strikes against "enemy" targets in Iraq, Pakistan, and Syria, the latter of which showcased that Israel was within striking distance.

The recent spike in violence came after the United States had experienced "the longest period of quiet in the Middle East" from March until the Hamas assault on October 7, Vaez said.

That relative peace came about not because of displays of power, but because Iran and the United States were negotiating, Vaez said.

"It wasn't because the U.S. had flexed its military muscle and deterred Iran, it was because it was engaged in diplomatic understandings with Iran that came to fruition and culminated in a detainee deal," Vaez said.

Tehran and the United States, currently trading threats of ever-stronger responses, "are seeking to pressure each other into greater flexibility," said Trita Parsi, co-founder of the Washington-based Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft.

"Both would like to get back to the truce they enjoyed prior to the October 7 attacks" by Hamas against Israel, Parsi said in written comments. "But whether the political will is available for real de-escalation remains unclear."

"President Biden has been unmovable in his opposition to a cease-fire in Gaza thus far," Parsi said, referring to mounting calls for a cessation of hostilities between Israel and Hamas. "And without such a cease-fire, real de-escalation remains very unlikely."

Military Message

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on February 6, halfway through his latest trip to the Middle East to reduce regional tensions, that a proposal for a temporary cease-fire put together with the help of Qatar and Egypt and presented to Hamas and Israel, was "possible and, indeed, essential."

While details of the proposal have not been made public, Blinken said that the goal is to use any pause in fighting to address humanitarian and reconstruction needs in Gaza and "to continue to pave a diplomatic path forward to a just and lasting peace and security for the region."

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken waves as he boards his plane at an airport near Tel Aviv on February 8, during his trip to the Middle East
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken waves as he boards his plane at an airport near Tel Aviv on February 8, during his trip to the Middle East

Asked by RFE/RL whether Washington is employing any diplomatic means, either directly or indirectly, to decrease tensions with Iran, a U.S. State Department spokesperson pointed to recent strikes carried out against Iranian-backed groups in Yemen, Syria, and Iraq.

"Our military response to the killing of three U.S. service members by Iran-aligned militia groups and our continued action to degrade the Huthis’ ability to threaten international shipping sends the clearest message of all: the United States will defend our personnel and our interests," a U.S. State Department spokesman said in written comments on February 7.

"When we are attacked, we will respond strongly, and we will respond at a time and place of our choosing," the spokesman said.

Prior to the deadly attack on the U.S. base in Jordan, there had been reports of Washington using third states to send a nonmilitary notice to Iran.

Shortly after the Hamas assault on Israel in October, the U.S. Senate majority leader, Chuck Schumer, said that a congressional delegation to China had asked Beijing to exert its influence with Tehran to prevent the Israel-Hamas conflict from spreading.

In early January, the Lebanese news publication Al-Ahed News quoted Iran's ambassador to Syria as saying that a delegation from an unidentified Gulf state had carried a message from the United States seeking to reduce the risk of an expanded regional conflict.

The U.S. State Department spokesperson said that beyond the recent U.S. strikes, "our message to Iran, in public and in private, has been a singular one: cease your support for terrorist groups and militant proxies and partners."

Washington welcomes "any efforts by other countries to play a constructive role in trying to prevent these Iran-enabled attacks from taking place," the spokesperson added, but referred to White House national-security spokesman John Kirby's February 6 comment that "I know of no private messaging to Iran since the death of our soldiers in Jordan over a week ago.”

Lack Of Vision

The limits of diplomacy between the United States and Iran, according to Vatanka, "is not a lack of the ability to communicate, the problem is a lack of vision" to repair relations.

For political reasons and for a long time, Vantanka added, neither side has been interested in mending the bad blood that has existed between the two countries going back to 1979.

"Right now, the White House cannot afford to talk to Iran at a time when so many of Biden's critics are saying he's too soft on the Iranian regime," Vatanka said. "On the other hand, you've got an Iranian supreme leader who is 84 years old. He's really keen on two things: not to have a war with the Americans, because he doesn't think that's going to go well for Iran or his regime. But at the same time, he doesn't want to see the Americans return to Tehran anytime soon. Certainly not when he's alive."

This, Vatanka explained, is because Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khameini "does not think the Americans want anything other than the fundamental objective of bringing about the end of the Islamic republic."

The other major voice in Iranian foreign policy -- the leaders of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps -- also see anti-Americanism as a worthwhile instrument to further their ideological and political aims at home and abroad, according to Vatanka.

"They think anti-Americanism is the ticket to mobilize the Islamic world around their flag and around their leadership," Vatanka said.

More moderate voices when it comes to Iran's foreign policy, Vatanka said, are labeled as traitors and weak and “are today essentially marginalized."

Iranian Retailer Digikala Charged Over Mugs Prosecutor Says 'Insult' Islam

In July, Digikala's administrative building was sealed by Tehran's Morality Police after images showing Digikala's female employees without their mandatory Islamic hijabs circulated on social media.
In July, Digikala's administrative building was sealed by Tehran's Morality Police after images showing Digikala's female employees without their mandatory Islamic hijabs circulated on social media.

Prominent Iranian online retailer Digikala has been charged with publishing "insulting images of the sacred" over some of the products it offers to its customers.

The judiciary's official news agency, Mizan, on February 8 said the Tehran Prosecutor's Office filed the charges against Digikala's website. It did not provide details about the images in question, but some social media users circulated pictures of mugs sold by the retailer that are inscribed with the name "Fatima Zahra."

Fatima Zahra was the daughter of the Islamic Prophet Muhammad, although it is not clear if the name on these mugs refers to her specifically as it is a widely used name for girls in religious Iranian families.

The news comes one day after the Tasnim News Agency, which is affiliated with the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, published a report highlighting criticism of products advertised on the online store.

Tasnim said it was "unclear which responsible and supervisory entity considers itself obligated to address this norm-breaking behavior" and called on "judicial and supervisory bodies" to "use other tools that increase the deterrent against committing these acts, in addition to the usual and customary leniencies."

In July, Digikala's administrative building was sealed by Tehran's Morality Police after images showing Digikala's female employees without their mandatory Islamic hijabs circulated on social media.

In a statement published by Digikala on February 9, the company apologized for any "allegations of insulting the sacred" and said it will implement oversight measures to prevent such incidents from happening again in the future.

Some people on social media defended Digikala noting that many individuals in Iran bear religious names and that writing the name "Fatima Zahra" on a mug does not necessarily have to be connected to the daughter of the Islamic prophet.

Insulting Islam in Iran can result in the death penalty.

In 2023, Iran executed two men, Yousef Mehrdad and Sadrollah Fazeli Zare, who had been sentenced to death for using social media to promote "atheism and insulting religious and Islamic sanctities."

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

Iranian Man Wielding Weapons Killed By Police After Seizing Hostages On Swiss Train

A train passes through the station close to where an Iranian man armed with an axe and a knife held 15 hostages on a train for almost four hours until police stormed the train and fatally wounded him late on February 8, in Essert-sous-Champvent, Switzerland.
A train passes through the station close to where an Iranian man armed with an axe and a knife held 15 hostages on a train for almost four hours until police stormed the train and fatally wounded him late on February 8, in Essert-sous-Champvent, Switzerland.

Swiss police say a 32-year-old Iranian asylum seeker was killed by police after he used an axe and a knife to seize more than a dozen hostages for several hours on a train in western Switzerland. No passengers were injured. The man took the hostages in the evening on February 8 and police, alerted by passengers, sealed off the area while the train was stopped in the town of Essert-sous-Champvert, police in the French-speaking Vaud region said. The man, speaking Farsi and English, demanded the train engineer join the 15 hostages. Nearly four hours after the incident began, police stormed the train.

Iran Has 'So Much To Lose' In Direct War With Israel And The United States

President Ebrahim Raisi (center) stands in front of Iranian missiles with other top officials last August.
President Ebrahim Raisi (center) stands in front of Iranian missiles with other top officials last August.

Since Israel launched its war in the Gaza Strip, Iranian-backed militant groups have attacked Israeli and U.S. targets across the Middle East in a show of support for Palestinians.

While Iran has flexed its muscles in the region since the war erupted in October, Tehran has avoided taking direct military action against Israel and its key ally, the United States.

Experts say the Islamic republic sees a direct war against its archfoes as a threat to its fragile domestic stability and its own survival.

Iran has “so much to lose in a short-term war,” said Alex Vatanka, director of the Iran Program at the Middle East Institute in Washington. “[It] brings in all sorts of questions about the future of the Islamic republic.”

A Matter of Survival

The possibility of a direct U.S.-Iranian military confrontation increased after a Tehran-backed militia in Iraq killed three American soldiers in a drone strike in Jordan on January 29.

But Tehran has struck a conciliatory tone since the attack, wary of U.S. strikes on Iranian territory.

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi said on February 2 that the country “will not start any war” but will respond strongly if “anyone wants to bully us.”

Raz Zimmt, a senior researcher at the Israel-based Institute for National Security Studies (INSS), said that regime survival is the clerical establishment’s “top objective” and any war with Israel and the United States would be an existential threat to the Islamic republic.

The Iranian establishment has had to contend with multiple domestic crises in recent years, including rising civil unrest and a faltering economy.

The September 2022 death in police custody of Mahsa Amini -- detained for allegedly not properly observing Iran’s strict dress code for women -- sparked months of deadly nationwide protests that posed one of the biggest challenges to the Islamic republic in decades.

Iranian Basij paramilitary force members, dressed in the style of Palestinian and Lebanese militants, portray the detention of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a pro-Palestinian rally in Tehran on October 13.
Iranian Basij paramilitary force members, dressed in the style of Palestinian and Lebanese militants, portray the detention of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a pro-Palestinian rally in Tehran on October 13.

The authorities cracked down on the demonstrations, killing hundreds and arresting thousands of protesters.

The clerical establishment has long maintained that it derives its legitimacy from the will of the people. But that claim has been increasingly questioned in recent years.

The parliamentary elections in 2020 and the presidential vote in 2021 saw record-low turnouts, with less than half of eligible voters casting their ballots in both elections.

There are similar concerns about a poor turnout in the upcoming parliamentary and Assembly of Experts elections scheduled for next month.

The authorities have also grappled with a worsening economy that has been crippled by international sanctions and government mismanagement, leading to soaring inflation, rising unemployment, and growing poverty.

“Foreign policy decisions are not directly impacted by public opinion,” Zimmt said. “Nonetheless, the regime's need to prevent needless domestic disturbances in Iran undoubtedly shapes its choices.”

Military Prowess

For years, Iranian military officials have bragged about the country’s arsenal of drones and missiles. But experts say Iran lacks the military prowess to challenge Israel and the United States.

“Iran is well aware that Israel has a clear operational and intelligence advantage over it in a direct military conflict, both defensively and offensively,” Zimmt said.


Aside from having a conventionally superior military, Israel also has a nuclear deterrent, said John Krzyzaniak, a research associate at the Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control.

Israel is widely believed to possess nuclear weapons, with the Washington-based Nuclear Threat Initiative estimating that Israel has around 90 nuclear warheads.

Under decades of sanctions, Iran has invested heavily in developing domestic weapons programs, resulting in cheap and effective drones and missiles.

Iranian officials have boasted that some of its weapons have been developed specifically to hit Israel. For example, officials have claimed that a Fattah ballistic missile can reach Tel Aviv in 400 seconds.

For the time being, Iranian concerns about engaging in direct confrontation with Israel seem to outweigh its desire to exact revenge."
-- Raz Zimmt, Israel-based Institute for National Security Studies

But Vatanka said this is only “psychological warfare against the Israelis” and meant to “enhance the Islamic republic’s image” as the “sole guardian or promoter of the Palestinian cause.”

Krzyzaniak stated that Iran’s missiles can “pose a serious threat” to Israel while its attack drones like the Shahed-136 can “wreak havoc on a civilian population” if fired in large numbers. But he said Israel still maintains military superiority.

That is why, Krzyzaniak said, Iran will continue to rely on unconventional warfare and its asymmetric capabilities.

“A guerrilla warrior never attacks the enemy head on,” he added.

By using the so-called “axis of resistance,” Iran’s loose-knit network of proxies and militant groups who aid it in opposing Israel and the United States, Tehran “reduces the possibility of Iranian casualties and significant assets being damaged” inside the country, according to Zimmt.

This allows Iran to “fight Israel through its regional partners on multiple fronts, albeit with a restricted scope,” he said.

Experts say that Iran’s reluctance to avenge the deaths of at least 10 members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) in suspected Israeli strikes in Syria and Lebanon since early December further strengthens the argument that Tehran wants to avoid a war.

Last month, Iran carried out missile strikes on targets in Syria, Iraq, and Pakistan that were widely seen as a warning to Israel and the United States.

But Zimmt said Iran has avoided an escalation that would lead to a war with Israel and the United States.

“For the time being, Iranian concerns about engaging in direct confrontation with Israel seem to outweigh its desire to exact revenge,” he added.

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