Iranian Authorities Confirm Arrests of Three Australian Nationals

While the detention of dual nationals of Iranian heritage have been on the rise over the last year, Iranian authorities have also been hasty in their treatment and arrests of foreign nationals. The arrest of British-Australian academic, Dr. Kylie Moore-Gilbert, in September 2018, fits a pattern of arresting academics that work on the Middle East.

Moore-Gilbert taught Islamic Studies at the University of Melbourne’s Asia Institute and has done research on Bahrain. Though some reports say that Moore-Gilbert had been sentenced to 10 years on charges of espionage, other sources report that Iranian judiciary authorities have said the conviction and sentence is yet to be determined.

In a separate case also involving Australian citizens, Iranian authorities have also confirmed the arrest of two travel bloggers, Mark Firkin and Jolie King. The couple was detained after allegedly flying a drone with a camera near an Iranian military facility without permission or a permit. The couple has been documenting their travels for over two years online, but reportedly went quiet ten weeks ago.

Though Australian Minister of Foreign Affairs recently denied that the arrests by Iran are politically motivated, such arrests have increased especially since the U.S. abrogation of the Iran deal. As tensions rise under the Trump administration’s “maximum pressure” campaign, Iranian hardliners have taken more repressive measures and innocent people have continued to suffer the consequences. During the early stages of the deal, Iran announced easier visa programs to attract tourists from around the world. But such unjust arrests and brutal treatment deter visitors, reflected in the travel warnings page of the Australian government, which reads, “Iran overall, reconsider your need to travel.”  

Iranian Filmmakers and Artists Speak Out in Support of Nooshin Jafari

The Committee to Protect Journalists reported last month that an Iranian photojournalist, Nooshin Jafari, was arrested by authorities in Tehran and had her home searched. Jafari has yet to be released and the reported accusations against her allege she was behind an anti-state Twitter account. Sources close to Jafari deny the allegations and argue she is the last person who would run such an account.

Jafari’s work has focused primarily on culture, arts, and films, which has evoked an outpouring of support from the Iranian film and art community. On September 1st Rakhshan Banietemad, a renowned Iranian filmmaker, took to her Twitter account to post a letter signed by 200 prominent Iranian artists. The tweet stated, “We, the family of cinema, theater, and art, express our deep concern for the safety and health of our colleague,” and further called for due process and legal rights to be upheld.

The accusation against Jafari also raises the issue of what is considered “criminal” behavior and the nature of free expression. Artists and filmmakers in Iran are limited by the moral restrictions of the state not only in their private capacity as citizens, but also as artists working in various mediums.

Despite these restrictions, Iranian cinema and arts have flourished, yet the growing crackdown and atmosphere of repression in Iran—especially since the US withdrawal from the Iran Nuclear Deal–seems to have targeted artists in ways not long seen. These developments are particularly deplorable given the value and importance of arts and expression in any society.

Iran Reacts to Bolton’s Ouster & the Blue Girl’s Death

Week of September 9th, 2019 | Iran Unfiltered is a weekly digest tracking Iranian politics & society by the National Iranian American Council | Subscribe Here

Passing of “Blue Girl” Following Self-Immolation Spurs Outrage

The death by self-immolation of Sahar Khodayari, a young woman who tried to enter a soccer match in Tehran, has sparked an outcry in Iran. Her suicide was widely mourned on Persian social media and used as a rallying cry against Iran’s soccer stadium ban against women. Parliamentarians, Rouhani administration officials, and prominent Iranian soccer players and leagues also commented on her death.

Citing an interview with Sahar’s sister, BBC Persian explained the background to Sahar’s suicide. She was first arrested in March of this year while trying to enter Tehran’s Azadi stadium to watch a match between the Iranian club Team Esteghlal and the Emirati team al-Ain.

According to her sister, Sahar was disguised as a man in order to enter the stadium but after seeing guards doing body checks, she announced that she was a woman. She was then arrested and her bail was set at 50 million tomans (roughly five thousand dollars). She was held for two days until her family was able to come up with the money.

According to her sister, last week Sahar went to a court in Tehran regarding her case, but the court date was cancelled due to an emergency for the judge. Sahar then went to retrieve her cell phone from the court authorities. It was at this point that she heard that she could be sentenced to six months in prison if she was charged.

Sahar’s sister stated: “She went to the courthouse to get her cell phone. It seems that over there she heard from someone that she would be imprisoned for six months.”

According to Sahar’s sister, she then set herself on fire with gasoline outside of the court building. She received third degree burns on 90 percent of her body and was taken to a hospital. She passed away one week later. Sahar’s father has denied rumors that the family was not given her body for burial. It is unclear if the family has come under pressure from authorities. 

According to her sister, Sahar suffered from bipolar disorder and had attempted suicide once before, for which she was hospitalized. Sahar’s sister stated before her passing: “My sister has bipolar disorder. Since two years ago she has been under the supervision of a doctor and we have all the documents which we gave to the court. But after her altercation with the police, they treated her like a healthy individual in the judicial review and sent her to Varamin prison.”

Mizan News, an outlet connected to the judiciary, said she was arrested in March for “improper clothing and getting into an altercation with the police and insulting them.” The editor of Mizan also said that reports that Sahar had been sentenced to six months in prison were a “total lie.”

He stated: “With deep sorrow over the passing of the woman who recently self-immolated, reports of a verdict of six months against her are a total lie. Last week, she came to a court on charges of getting into altercations and insulting the police in March. The judge was not there due to the death of a relative. No judicial action was taken and no indictment was made.”

Reformist parliamentarian Parvaneh Salahshouri said about Sahar, who has been described as the “blue girl” due to her support for blue-jersey-wearing Esteghlal: “She was not just the blue girl. She was a daughter of Iran. In a place where men assign the tasks of women and strip them of their most basic rights. And where women join men in this outright oppression of women. We are all responsible for the imprisonment and burning of the Sahars of this country.”

Masoumeh Ebtekar, Rouhani’s vice-president for the affairs of women, also released a statement outlining her efforts on Sahar’s case. Ebtekar said she sent her assistant for citizens’ rights to visit Sahar and her family in the hospital. Ebtekar then prepared a report based off her assistant’s account and sent it to judiciary chief Ebrahim Raisi. Ebtekar says she also discussed the actions taken on Sahar’s case during President Rouhani’s cabinet meeting on Sunday.

Sahar’s death spurred renewed debate in Iran about the soccer stadium ban for women. Ali Rabiee, the Rouhani administration’s spokesperson, said the infrastructure has been prepared for women to enter stadiums to watch soccer matches, such as a separate seating area and separate bathrooms.

Rabiee also said that the administration has made plans for women to attend matches of the national soccer team, but not yet for club games.

Laya Joneydi, President Rouhani’s vice president for legal affairs, has also said there is no law against women attending soccer matches. She stated: “There is no legal obstacle to women entering stadiums (to watch soccer games). Depriving of rights has no meaning and the administration is of this position and believes we should support this.”

Sports Minister Masoud Soltanifar announced that the proper environment has been established for women to attend soccer matches by Iran’s national team. Women will reportedly be able to attend the next match of the national team against Cambodia at Azadi stadium on October 10th.

Many senior Ayatollahs in Iran support the stadium ban, but some support lifting it. For example, Ayatollahs Alavi Gorghani and Makarem Shirazi have spoken against permitting women to watch soccer matches at stadiums. On the other hand, Ayatollah Kazem Mousavi-Bojnourdi and conservative Ayatollah Mohsen Gharavian are in support of lifting the ban.

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Officials Say Bolton’s Ouster Not Enough for Negotiations

Iran’s UN Ambassador Majid Majid Takht-Ravanchi said John Bolton’s ouster was not sufficient for Iran to negotiate with the United States. He stated: “We have announced many times and the Iranian president has also explicitly said that as long as these oppressive sanctions and economic terrorism of the U.S. government against the Iranian people continues, there is no room for talk and negotiations.”

Takht-Ravanchi said that U.S. policies towards Iran must change: “Our policy towards the U.S. has no bearing on changes [of personnel] within the Trump administration. If the policy of economic terrorism of America is not ended, there is no room for dialogue.”

Takht-Ravanchi also said that new sanctions announced after Bolton’s ouster were an indication of the continuation of Trump’s so-called “maximum pressure” campaign. These new sanctions targeted several Iranian individuals connected to the Revolutionary Guards.

After Bolton’s ouster, President Rouhani stated that “the warmongers must leave and America’s maximum pressure must be removed.”

Separately, in a phone call with French President Macron after Bolton’s ouster, Rouhani also discussed the possibility for U.S.-Iran negotiations. He stated: “From the perspective of the government, parliament, and people of Iran, in the condition that sanctions remain, negotiations with America have no meaning.”

Rouhani stated that if an agreement was finalized with Europe, Iran would return to full compliance with its JCPOA commitments. He also raised the possibility of renewed multilateral talks with the U.S. within the framework of the P5+1 countries, stating: “For new dialogue among the P5+1, first America’s sanctions must be removed.”

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Deputy FM Welcomes French Proposal, Discusses Potential Negotiations

Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi reiterated that Iran would return to full JCPOA compliance if it can sell its oil. He stated: “The Islamic Republic of Iran as has been announced many times will only return to full compliance with the JCPOA if it can sell its oil and get access to the revenue in a way that is totally usable and without any restrictions.” 

Araghchi stated that the French proposal for a $15 billion credit line achieved this Iranian condition. He stated: “The amount from this credit line is for $15 billion for a period of four months, meaning until the end of this year [2019]. So if there is an agreement, in the next four months Iran will either sell its oil or get a credit line in the form of a pre-purchase for 100 percent of the equivalent amount of oil. 

Araghchi said that Iran would be willing to enter negotiations on how to better implement the JCPOA after receiving the $15 billion. He declared: “From the perspective of the Islamic Republic, there will be no renewed negotiations regarding the JCPOA. But the topic of negotiations can be on the desirable implementation of the JCPOA, given that the other side has had serious shortcoming in this regard.” 

Araghchi also said that securing regional waterways can be another topic for potential negotiations. He stated: “Also, security in all the international waterways can be a topic for talks. The Islamic Republic, on the condition of all of its ships being provided with security in all waterways, is ready to engage in dialogue on the security and freedom of passage for ships in the Persian Gulf and Strait of Hormuz.”

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New JCPOA Compliance Reductions Detailed

Behrouz Kamalvandi, the spokesperson for Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI), detailed Iran’s “third step” in reducing its JCPOA compliance. Iran has been reducing its JCPOA compliance gradually in 60-day increments and has said it would return to full compliance if Europe restarts Iranian oil imports and payment for them. In the first two steps, Iran exceeded the JCPOA’s limits on its stockpiles of low-enriched uranium and level of uranium enrichment.

President Rouhani said last week that Iran would cease compliance on all “research and development” limitations in the JCPOA with its third step. Kamalvandi explained that this would include installing and feeding uranium hexafluoride gas into more advanced centrifuges, which can enrich uranium faster.

Kamalvandi said that “chains” of 20 IR4 and 20 IR6 centrifuges have already been started. He said that in roughly two months, Iran would begin feeding gas into a “chain” of 10 IR-5s centrifuges. In the JCPOA, Iran agreed to limit itself to 5060 operating IR-1 centrifuges for 10 years.

Kamalvandi stressed that it will get more difficult to save the JCPOA as time passes. He stated: “The European side should know that time is running out. If they are going to take any action, they must take it sooner.”

Kamalvandi also identified eight limitations in the JCPOA which Iran will gradually lower compliance with. These include limitations related to Iran’s heavy water reactor, heavy water production facility, reprocessing spent fuel, the capacity and level of uranium enrichment, research and development, the Fordow facility, stockpiles of enriched uranium, and the IAEA’s level of access and oversight.  

The reformist outlet Fararu cited an Iranian analyst as saying Iran’s “third step” might facilitate a four-month interim deal with Europe. This deal would be over a French proposal for a $15 billion credit line to Iran for oil imports.

The analyst Rahman Ghahramanpour stated: “The success of this agreement would depend on whether Europe, the US, and Iran have successful negotiations at the UN General Assembly.”

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Official Denies Hidden Nuclear Activities

Iranian officials have denied recent accusations of concealing nuclear activities from the IAEA. This comes after reports that the IAEA has found traces of uranium at a compound near Tehran.

Kazem Gharibabadi, Iran’s representative to the IAEA, dismissed “any allegations about hidden nuclear activities by Iran.” Gharibabadi stated: “Any efforts to create disturbance or diversions with respect to the constructive and active cooperation between Iran and the IAEA, and imposing improper pressure on the agency, is destructive and will be met with appropriate actions from Iran.”

Cornel Feruta, the acting head of the IAEA, travelled to Iran and met with AEOI chief Ali Akbar Salehi, Foreign Minister Zarif, and other Iranian officials. Feruta emphasized the IAEA’s desire to continue cooperation with Iran and stressed the importance of the IAEA’s “independence” and “impartiality.”

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Labor Protestors Handed Heavy Sentences

Revolutionary Court Branch 28 handed out heavy sentences to workers of the Haft Tapeh Sugarcane Factory and Ahvaz Steel Company, who were engaged in protests last year. Read more on the labor protests by workers of the Ahvaz Steel Company and Haft Tapeh Sugercane Factory in previous issues of Iran Unfiltered.

Labor activists Sepideh Gholian and Esmail Bakhshi were sentenced to seven years in prison each. Both were rearrested earlier this after they said they were tortured during their original time in custody last year. Read more about their cases in previous issues of Iran Unfiltered.

Nine other labor activists as well as several editors of the pro-labor Gam magazine were also given lengthy prison sentences. As detailed in a previous issue of Iran Unfiltered, the editors were arrested in January.

After the sentences were announced to widespread outcry, Judiciary Chief Ebrahim Raisi said in a letter they would be revised. Raisi said he had given a “special” order for the “revision” of the sentences and “fair treatment” in relation to the “sentences of some recent cases” at a branch of the Revolutionary Court.

Mohammad Shariatmadari, the minister of Labor in the Rouhani administration, thanked Raisi and announced his willingness to create a joint committee with the judiciary on labor issues. In his letter to Raisi, Shariatmadari said the sentences against the labor protesters was “shocking.”

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Impounded British Tanker May Be Released Soon

Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Abbas Mousavi said that the Stena Impero, the British tanker Iran seized in July, could be released soon. He stated: “This ship is currently in the last stages of judicial and legal proceedings and we hope that in the near future it will be released.” 

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Hardline Cleric Says Negotiations with U.S. Not Forbidden

Ahmad Khatami, a prominent hardline cleric and member of the Assembly of Experts, has said that negotiations with the U.S. are not forbidden. He stated: “They [the U.S.] are seeking to dictate their demands to Iran and to get the Iranian nation to surrender to these demands.” He added: “Anyone who has religious honor will be pessimistic about the enemy and will never be optimistic about America.”

However, he added regarding negotiations with the U.S.: “We don’t forbid negotiations with America or Europe. But such a negotiation is poison. They are after this negotiation for their own survival.”

He further added: “The nation will not forget anyone who negotiates with the enemy at this point.”

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The Tragedy of a Female Iranian Soccer Fan

For many Iranians, sports, especially soccer, are a source of great pride and joy. While Iranian fans gleefully cheer on their Men’s soccer team in Iran’s stadiums, Iranian women are painfully absent from the scene. Banned from watching soccer matches in stadiums, Iranian women have challenged the exclusion by calling for this basic right.

Some Iranian women have defied this restriction by dressing as men and sneaking into stadiums, an act for which they have been arrested. In fact, a 2006 film by Jafar Panahi, Offside, depicts the story of young female fans dressing up as men to enter the stadium. Unlike the film, the story in real life is much more tragic.

According to Human Rights Watch, Sahar Khodayari, also known as “Blue Girl”, was arrested in March for attempting to enter a stadium to watch a match. Suffering from bipolar disorder, Sahar’s health declined while in custody. After reportedly hearing that she would have to serve six months in prison, Sahar set herself on fire in an attempted suicide. Tara Sepehri Far, of Human Rights Watch, tweeted today that Sahar passed away from her injuries, rightly stating, “No woman, no girl, no human being should ever be arrested or put in jail for trying to watch the sport they love.”

Iranian Officials Stress They Won’t Negotiate with Trump

Week of August 26th, 2019 | Iran Unfiltered is a weekly digest tracking Iranian politics & society by the National Iranian American Council | Subscribe Here

Rouhani Walks Back Comments Suggesting He Would Meet Trump

After Foreign Minister Zarif and French President Macron met at the sidelines of the G7 Summit in Biarritz, President Rouhani signalled a willingness to meet President Trump.  Rouhani said after the Zarif-Macron meeting: “I believe that every tool should be used to achieve the country’s interests. If I know that I go a meeting and see someone and in the end the country can get prosperous and the people’s problems solved, I won’t hesitate. This is our main national interest.”

Macron said after meeting Zarif that he was optimistic that Trump and Rouhani would meet. He said “a roadmap has sort of been set” for diplomacy. He disclosed that “in the next few weeks,” he hopes a meeting will take place between the two leaders that he predicts “is going to lead to bringing an end to escalation and reaching a suitable solution to this [standoff].” Macron also said that Rouhani had told him he would be willing to meeting Trump.

However, a day later Rouhani walked back his seeming remarks that he would be open to meeting Trump. Rouhani emphasized he was not seeking a photo-op with Trump: “We are not after taking pictures for someone to take a picture with Hassan Rouhani. This is not acceptable. Even it being photoshopped is not acceptable.”

Rouhani then reiterated a longstanding position that U.S. sanctions must first be removed before any meeting: “To record a real picture is not possible unless the Americans give up on all their oppressive sanctions and respect the rights of the Iranian people. At that time, there will be a new situation and it would be possible to think and take an action that is based on our national interests.”

Zarif’s trip to France and meeting with Macron spurred negative reactions from conservative factions in Iran. Hossein Shariatmadari, the editor-in-chief of the conservative Kayhan newspaper, said to Rouhani: “The clearest result of your negotiations with America was the JCPOA. No one, and I emphasize no one, can have any doubt about how disastrous that was.”

 Kayhan also said Zarif’s trip to France was “improper.” It said the French proposal was aimed at “extending the nuclear deal to the areas of missiles and the region” and was in practice, “a repeat of America’s 12 crude conditions [for negotiations].”

Tasnim, an outlet close to the Revolutionary Guards, said that Zarif’s trip to France was “not necessary.” Tasnim called for Iran to take a “third step” to reduce compliance with the JCPOA in order to make the other side’s “proposals more realistic and appealing.”

The reformist outlet Fararu highlighted that after the G7 developments, the U.S. imposed new sanctions, Trump officials revealed the U.S. had launched a cyberattack, and John Bolton ruled out removing any sanctions before reaching a deal.

Fararu analyzed thusly: “The possibility exists that elements in the Trump administration are trying to exacerbate distrust and doubt between the U.S. and Iran. These elements are worried about a potential meeting between Rouhani and Trump.”

Fararu also said that no Rouhani-Trump meeting would take place until Iran had increased its bargaining position. It stated: “A meeting with Trump or negotiations with America in general have requirements. Experience shows that Iran enters negotiations with America when it has enough leverage to pressure the other side.”

Fararu mentioned that this pressure may include Iran returning to enriching uranium at the 20-percent level.

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Deputy FM says Iran Only Seeks Negotiations with Europe

Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi stressed that Iran was only pursuing negotiation with Europe, not America. He stated in an interview after the G7 developments: “Our negotiations are with Europe for our demands to be met. We don’t have any negotiations with America. No country will accept negotiations while under maximum pressure because if it does, it is negotiations for surrender.”

Araghchi said that Europe must either buy Iranian oil directly or give Iran credit for future purchases. He stated: “We have told the Europeans either to buy our oil or if they cannot to give credit for the equivalent purchases of Iranian oil and in this way, pre-purchase Iranian oil.”

Araghchi said that if Europe makes this commitment on Iranian oil purchases, Iran will remain in the JCPOA. If not, Araghchi said, Iran will in 10 days (on September 7th) takes it third step to reduce compliance with the deal.

Araghchi also said of Iran’s conditions for negotiations with the U.S.: “America must remove the sanctions and return to the JCPOA. In this way, within the framework of the P5+1, negotiations can occur. No negotiations or meeting will occur if sanctions are not removed.”

Separately, President Rouhani’s Chief of Staff Mahmoud Vaezi said an Iranian delegation was traveling to France next week. According to Vaezi, the team will be comprised of Iranian economic experts. 

Vaezi stated that progress has been made in negotiations with Europe: “Since last week the progress in negotiations [with Europe] has not been bad. It has been good. A delegation will travel to France next week and engage in detailed discussions on the issues. When that delegation returns to Iran, then we can better comment on implementing the third step [of Iran reducing its compliance with the JCPOA].”

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Senior Cleric Calls for Major Reforms

Hashem Hashemzadeh Herisi, a member of the Assembly of Experts, has criticized conditions in Iran and called for a change in government policies. The Assembly of Experts is an elected body constitutionally mandated with choosing and supervising the Supreme Leader.

Herisi said Iran’s leaders had to change “everything.” He said that with the continuation of the status quo “the livelihood and fate of the people is in danger.” He added: “We have to change not only our words but everything about us.”

Herisi called for top-down change in Iran: “Solving these problems through bottom-up change is very costly. It would destroy Islam, the revolution, the clergy, and Iran. But if we engage in top-down reform and start with changing our words, actions, and political management style, the people will support us.”

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Two Senior Clerics Meet after Public Feud

Two senior clerics, Sadegh Larijani and Mohammad Yazdi, have met publicly after recently getting in a vitriolic public feud. Both are conservative figures and former heads of Iran’s judiciary. Larijani is the current head of Iran’s Expediency Discernment Council and Yazdi is a member of the Guardian Council.

In pictures released by Abbas Kadkhodaei, the Guardian Council’s spokesman, Larijani and Yazdi are seen talking to each other and smiling. Earlier, Yazdi had publicly criticized Larijani. Larijani responded with a letter to Yazdi that was also released publicly 

Larijani had said in his letter to Yazdi: “In the Guardian Council, the imprecise, unjustified, and even irrelevant remarks by you is something that is clear to the members.”

In his initial remarks, Yazdi suggested Larijani had illicit sources of wealth: “This person says that if you take this action, I’ll go to Najaf [in Iraq]. So go! You think that with you leaving Qom will fall apart? You being in Qom has barely had a consequence. Much less you leaving to Najaf … You created a mansion under the guise of a seminary school [in Qom]. Is this from your father’s inheritance? Where did you get this [money]?”

In recent weeks, there have been numerous reports in the Iranian press against Larijani amid a self-proclaimed crackdown against corruption by current judiciary head Ebrahim Raisi. Raisi succeeded Larijani as judiciary head in March.

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Rouhani Says Economic Conditions Have Stabilized

President Rouhani said that Iran’s economic conditions are better than last year when the U.S. left the nuclear deal. He stated that “all domestic indicators” indicate that the country’s economic situation had improved and is “more stable.”

President Rouhani also said that last year a European leader told him that Trump believed that if Europe joined U.S. sanctions, Iran’s government would collapse in months. Rouhani said in this regard: “This person who claimed this will himself leave and his political party will leave power. But the Islamic Republic of Iran will remain for hundreds of years more fortified than today.”

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IRGC Official Sheds New Light on U.S. Drone Downing

Amir Ali Hajizadeh, the commander of the IRGC’s aerospace force, has shed new light on Iran’s downing of a U.S. drone in June. Hajizadeh said Iran didn’t believe a war would break out: “They launched a major psychological operation to indicate that they would start a war against us. Even the intelligence agencies of our friends said that we would be attacked. But we knew that nothing would occur.

Hajizadeh contended the downing of the drone has removed the risk of war: “This [psychological operation] was a hoax to bring us to negotiating table. The shadow of war was removed with the downing of the U.S. drone.”

Hajizadeh said Iran was ready to target U.S. bases across the region: “We were confident that if the first U.S. missile or bomb hit our land, we would have hit their bases in the region and ships in the Gulf of Oman that were already in our targets.”

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Russia & China Offer to Sell Iran Military Aircraft, Official Says

Abdolkarim Banitarafi, the head of the Iranian Armed Forces’ Aviation Industries, attended the MAKS weapons exhibition in Moscow.  Also attending the show were Chinese representatives and Turkish President Reccip Tayeb Erdogan, who expressed interest in buying Russian fighter jets.

Banitarafi said that Russia and China had made proposals to sell fighter aircraft to Iran. If the JCPOA survives, UN sanctions on Iran purchasing armaments will expire next year. Banitarafi said that until these sanctions are removed, Iran will only be engaged in “negotiations and talk” about buying the military aircraft.

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Women’s Rights and Anti-Hijab Iranian Activists Continue to Get Harsh Sentences

According to the Center for Human Rights in Iran, Saba Kord-Afshari was recently sentenced to 24 years for peaceful protest against Iran’s mandatory hijab. Like many similar cases, Kord Afshari was charged with “propaganda against the regime” and “illegal assembly”. Authorities have also used cruel measures such as solitary confinement, to force “confessions” out of these activists.

Iranian women have long challenged their compulsory headscarf by pushing the boundaries and limits of the law. While Muslim women who choose to don the hijab often do so without exposing their hair, the mandatory nature of Iran’s hijab law has made Iranian women more creative about their fashion choices. The sight of Iranian women relaxing the way their scarves cover their hair has become commonplace.

However, in recent years Iranian women, with the support of many Iranian men, have protested more vigilantly against the compulsory dress code. Activists have come under more pressure and received harsh prison sentences, as Iranian authorities continue to enforce the repressive law. In fact, well-known human rights attorney, Nasrin Sotoudeh, who has represented these activists, was given a sentence of over 30 years earlier this year.

Iranian Court Sentences Journalist to 10 Years in Prison and Lashes

As authorities in Iran continue a crackdown on all signs of dissent, journalists, dual nationals and activists have been further punished with harsh judgments. The case of Marzieh Amiri, a reporter for Iran’s reformist Shargh newspaper, illustrates the lack of due process and cruel penalties many Iranians have suffered for taking part in ordinary life.

As a journalist, Amiri is tasked with investigating and bringing news to people, however, Amiri was detained simply for doing her job. On May 1st, Amiri was taken by authorities while covering a strike by Iranian workers on Labor Day. As the Committee to Protect Journalists rightly stated, “With this heavy sentence, Iranian authorities are escalating their threats against journalists who report on economic issues amid the country’s ongoing crisis.”

Worse yet, Amiri is epileptic and is not receiving proper treatment for her condition, despite appeals by her lawyer. The charges against Amiri include “propaganda against the state” and “collusion against national security”. Such broadly described charges have often been used against Iranians for practicing freedom of speech, press and assembly.

Iranian Activists Calling for Khamenei’s Resignation Arrested

The General Intelligence Department of Mashhad and Khorasan province has announced the arrest of 12 people who wrote a letter calling for Ayatollah Khamenei’s resignation. The department claimed their arrests had nothing to do with their call for Khamenei’s resignation. It alleged they had connections with foreign forces and sought to topple the Iranian government. 

The letter was released in early June and was signed by civil society activists. The relatives of the arrested signatories of the letter say they were pressured by authorities because of the letter. 

Some of the signatories of the letter were arrested after they staged a protest in Mashhad on August 11th. They were protesting in support of Kamal Jafari, an Iran-Iraq War veteran who was one of the signatories of the letter and was sentenced to 13 years in prison. His charges included “insulting the Supreme Leader.” The protests were forcefully dispersed as authorities and protestors clashed.  

Similar calls for Khamenei’s resignation have come from other Iranian activists, intellectuals and artists. In August, 14 women issued a different letter calling for the Supreme Leader to step down, grabbing the attention of many Iranians on social media. These women demanded not only a change in leadership, but also a fundamental shift in gender equality and women’s rights.

Though criticism of Khamenei in such an open fashion risks arrest and imprisonment, these activists have shown courage and a steadfast attitude toward the state of affairs in Iran. Rightfully believing that dissent is a right and duty of a citizen, these protestors are boldly challenging the status quo and the fixed position of the Supreme Leader. 

United Nations Special Rapporteur Report on Human Rights in Iran

The United Nations Special Rapporteur’s (SR) report on the situation of human rights in Iran was released on August 16th. The following is a brief summary and analysis of Javaid Rehman’s report. The full text of the report can be found here

  • The flash floods in March-April 2019 devastated millions of Iranians, resulting in everything from displacement to infrastructure damage and harm to the agricultural sector.
  • U.S. sanctions have devastated ordinary Iranians, triggered currency devaluation, and suffocated Iranian traders and businesses. This has resulted in increased inflation and austerity, which in turn exacerbated rising unemployment levels, poverty, and further limited the Iranian people’s access to health, education and other basic services.
  • Freedom of expression in Iran remains a major issue, as do violations to the right to life, liberty, due process, and fair trials. The judiciary continues to implement the death penalty, including with regard to child offenders.
  • Human rights activists and defenders, journalists, and women continue to be targeted, intimidated, harassed, and face unjust charges of acting against national security, among other tenuous charges.
  • Iran’s religious and ethnic minorities, including members of the Baha’i, Christian, Azeri, and Kurdish communities, are continually targeted and prevented from fully celebrating their culture, religion, and language.
  • While the number of executions has dropped, Iran still has one of the world’s highest execution rates. Though amending the anti-narcotics law helped to mitigate this, vague, politically driven charges like ‘moharebeh’ that carry the risk of the death penalty continue to exacerbate the issue.
  • Iran’s government must adhere to its obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). Iran’s government must take seriously the Special Rapporteur’s current and previous recommendations–including his request to enter Iran on monitoring visits.

Dual British-Iranian Academic Arrested

Kameel Ahmady, a British-Iranian academic, was arrested on August 11th in Tehran, according to his family. The charges against him have not been announced and it is unclear which institution arrested him. Last year, Ahmady won the World Peace Foundation’s Literature and Humanities Award at George Washington University.

Ahmady’s wife, Shafagh Ahmady, has said that security forces raided their house: “Security forces came with Mr. Ahmady to our house. They totally messed up the place and took documents like birth certificates.”

Members of the Baha’i Faith Arrested

At least ten members of the Baha’i faith have been arrested throughout Iran in recent days. On August 10th, three Baha’i Iranians were arrested in Tehran and sent to Evin prison. Another was arrested in Shiraz and has been imprisoned. Other Baha’i Iranians have been arrested in Birjand and Tehran recently.

According to reports, security forces searched the homes of all these individuals and confiscated their personal belongings, including cell phones, identification documents, and computers. Security forces also interrogated and searched the home of Jamaloldin Khanjani, the leader of the Baha’i Society of Iran. Khanjani was imprisoned from 2008 to 2017.

Iranian Environmentalists Begin Hunger Strike in Jail

In January 2018, nine Iranian environmentalists were detained by Iranian authorities and accused of “spying” after filming an endangered cheetah. One of the activists, Kavous Seyed Emami—an Iranian-Canadian professor and prominent environmentalist—died while in custody. 

Last year, over 300 conservationists pleaded with Iranian authorities to free the eight environmentalists still in jail. Other activists and human rights organizations have also called for the release of these experts. Unfortunately, these appeals have gone unheeded and, according to Human Rights Watch, these activists have spent over 550 days in legal limbo.  

Last week, a number of the detainees embarked on a hunger strike in protest of their conditions and to demand due process before the law. The eight detainees—Taher Ghadirian, Niloufar Bayani, Amirhossein Khaleghi, Houman Jokar, Sam Rajabi, Sepideh Kashani, Morad Tahbaz, and Abdolreza Kouhpayeh—are to be applauded, not criminalized, for their efforts to tackle the issue of climate change and environmental degradation in Iran and globally.