Category Archives: Iran

Ready for prisoner swaps, Iran says US holding 20 Iranians

Iran said on Tuesday that American authorities are holding about 20 Iranian nationals in jail, its official news agency reported, a day after Tehran said it was ready for more prisoner swaps with the U.S.

A prisoner exchange over the weekend saw Iran free a Chinese-American scholar from Princeton who had been held for three years on widely criticized espionage charges. It was seen as a rare diplomatic breakthrough between Tehran and Washington after months of tensions.

“We told the American side that our figure is more or less 20 but this is not final,” IRNA quoted as saying Mohsen Baharvand, an aid to Iran’s foreign minister. The report didn’t provide further details on the claim.

According to Baharvand, U.S. authorities say that Iran is holding one American national and five dual U.S.-Iranian nationals. He said Iranian officials didn’t have “any orders” so far to begin talks on their release, though he suggested this could be the next “phase” in indirect negotiations between Tehran and Washington.

U.S. citizens held in Iran include U.S. Navy veteran Michael White, who is serving a 10-year espionage sentence, as well as environmentalist Morad Tahbaz, an Iranian with U.S. and British citizenship also initially sentenced to 10 years in prison.

Also in Iran are 83-year-old Baquer Namazi and his son, Siamak Namazi, dual Iranian-American nationals facing 10-year sentences after they were convicted of collaborating with a hostile power. Baquer Namazi now is on a prison furlough. However, the Namazis say he remains unable to leave Iran.

Former FBI agent Robert Levinson, who vanished in Iran in 2007 while on an unauthorized CIA mission, remains missing as well. Iran says that Levinson is not in the country and that it has no further information about him, but his family holds Tehran responsible for his disappearance.

Baharvand said Iran didn’t undertake direct talks with the U.S. for the weekend’s prisoner swap in Switzerland. The two sides only communicated through Swiss officials, who represent U.S. interests in Iran. Washington and Tehran have had no diplomatic ties since the 1979 Islamic revolution.

Watchdog Says Iran Covering Up Protest Clampdown

Iran has been intentionally concealing the extent of the repressive measures taken against those who took part in days of unrest over fuel-price hikes, Human Rights Watch (HRW) says in a new report.

More than 140 people were killed and up to 7,000 were detained after unrest broke out on the evening of November 25 in more than 100 locations across Iran, according to reports by various human rights groups and an Iranian lawmaker.

In a November 27 report titled Iran: Deliberate Coverup of Brutal Crackdown, HRW says that almost two weeks after the protests were put down, authorities have yet to publish any definitive official death toll for the unrest triggered by the government’s decision to sharply raise government-set gasoline prices.

The New York-based watchdog calls on the Iranian government to “immediately announce the number of deaths, arrests, and detentions from the recent protests and permit an independent inquiry into alleged abuses.”

The report says that authorities have responded to the protests by calling demonstrators “rioters” and threatening them with the death penalty.

“Video footage on social media clearly shows security forces using firearms targeting protesters,” the report says, adding that many social-media reports indicate that relatives and family members have not been allowed “to get the bodies of their loved ones and have been restricted in their ability to perform burial services.”

“Twelve days after protests broke out in Iran, the authorities have refused to provide an accurate death toll and instead threatened detainees with death,” said Michael Page, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.

“Keeping families in the dark about the fate of their loved ones while ratcheting up an atmosphere of fear and retribution is a deliberate government strategy to stifle dissent,” said Page.

Iranian lawmaker Hossein Naghavi Hosseini, who sits on the parliament’s national security and foreign policy committee, was quoted as saying authorities arrested more than 7,000 people, in what HRW said was an indication of the widespread nature of the crackdown.

The report also notes that Iranian authorities in mid-November shut down the Internet in an attempt to prevent protesters’ communication with the outside world, and access has yet to be fully restored.

HRW cautions the Iranian government that international human rights legislation to which Tehran is a party provides for the right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly and reminds Tehran that “deliberate use of lethal force is permissible only when it is strictly necessary to protect life.”

The report calls on Iran to establish an “independent administrative or prosecutorial process” to promptly investigate all incidents of security forces using firearms to kill or injure people, as required under the UN Basic Principles.

HRW also urges Iranian authorities to provide families with information on the location of their detained relatives, and “ensure that detainees are informed promptly of any charges against them and have prompt access to legal counsel and family members.”

Iran official says over 7,000 people arrested in protests

Iran is beginning to acknowledge the scale of recent protests that swept across the Islamic Republic, with one lawmaker quoted as saying authorities arrested more than 7,000 people.

The comment by Hossein Naghavi Hosseini, who sits on parliament’s national security and foreign policy committee, came as Iran’s interior minister also alleged demonstrators wanted to take over state television.

Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli offered no evidence for his claim during an interview aired late Tuesday night on Iranian state television. Protests weren’t reported around state TV’s headquarters in northern Tehran.

Iran has yet to offer any definitive statistics for the unrest, which began Nov. 15 when officials sharply raised government-set gasoline prices.

Amnesty International says it believes violence in the protests and a security force crackdown killed at least 143 people.

Russia explains protests in Iran by US sanctions

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said on Thursday the protests in Iran have been caused by U.S. sanctions against the country.

Speaking at a news conference in Moscow, Zakharova said the decisions, taken by the Iranian leadership about raising petrol prices, were provoked by Washington’s pressure on Tehran.

“All this was provoked by the absolutely illegal and massive sanctions pressure that the U.S. is exerting on this country.

“And, in general, because of Washington’s actions, the fundamental human rights and legitimate interests of the Iranian population to freely receive food, medicines and all kinds of necessary products are violated,” she said.

Demonstrations broke out across Iran last week after the government imposed petrol rationing and raised fuel prices at least 50%.

At least 100 banks and dozens of shops have been set ablaze during the protests, the semi-official Mehr news agency said, quoting security officials.

Although there are no official figures on the arrests, the Fars news agency said more than 1,000 protesters have been detained.

Also speaking about a recent military purchase spat between Egypt and the U.S., Maria Zakharova denounced the American threats of sanction on this country.

She said the U.S. threats to sanction over purchase of Russian weapons is an example of “aggressive behavior” and “unfair trade”.

The spokeswoman insisted that the best way to compete on the arms sales market is to prove the competitive advantages of goods and not blackmailing.

“The method of threats discredited itself completely. Trying to put pressure on other countries, the U.S. only undermines their confidence and make the world once again think about the need to abandon trade payments in U.S. dollars,” she said.

After years of fruitless efforts to buy U.S. F-35 fighter jets, Cairo turned to Moscow and in March sealed a contract with Russia on delivery of the Russian analogue of F-35, Su-35 fighter jets.

The move was protested by Washington, and on Nov. 13, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary Mark Esper warned Egypt that by buying Russian Su-35 aircrafts, the country risks to fall under Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act suggesting slapping sanctions on buyers of Russian arms.

Iran protests: ‘At least 106 dead’ in rallies over rising gas prices

At least 106 people have been killed during protests in Iran over government-set gasoline prices, according to Amnesty International.

The human rights group made the allegation in a report released on Tuesday, citing “credible reports”.

Iranian officials have not made the death toll available since the unrest over a rise in prices began over the weekend.

Amnesty added that it believes “the real death toll may be much higher, with some reports suggesting as many as 200 have been killed”.

Iran’s Revolutionary Guards have warned of “decisive” action if protests in the country continue after a least 100 banks, buildings and cars were torched, according to state media.

Internet has since been shut down across the country in a bid to stop protesters from sharing information and videos online, while police and anti-riot forces were deployed to quell the unrest.

Meanwhile, hard-liners in Iran suggested that those who lead violent protests will be executed by hanging as the unrest continues.

Without elaborating, Keyhan newspaper wrote: “Some reports say that judiciary considers execution by hanging for the riot leaders a definite punishment.”

The protests appeared to be ongoing in some areas of the country on Tuesday, though the streets of Tehran appeared mostly calm.

It remains unclear how many people have been arrested, injured or killed in the protests, which quickly spread across at least 100 cities and towns in Iran.

State media showed video footage of burned Kurans at one mosque in the suburbs of Tehran, as well as pro-government rallies.

The office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights issued a statement saying it was “deeply concerned” about reports of live ammunition being used against demonstrators and urged protesters to demonstrate peacefully.

The protests were prompted by a plunging economy and rising gasoline prices.

The issues represent yet another strain on the people of Iran – which has a population of around 80 million – who have endured a painful currency collapse following President Donald Trump’s unilateral withdrawal of America from Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, as well as the re-imposition of US sanctions.

Now, the Iranian rial trades at over 123,000 to $1, compared with 32,000 to $1 at the time the deal took effect.

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani has promised that fuel prices will be used to fund subsidies for low-income families; however, the decision has sparked widespread anger among Iranians.

Saudi-led coalition says Yemeni rebels hijacked vessel

The Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen says Iran-aligned rebels have hijacked a vessel south of the Red Sea.

Saudi Arabia’s state-run news agency quoted coalition spokesman Col. Turki al-Malki as saying Monday that Houthi rebels seized the vessel while it was towing a South Korean drilling rig the previous day.

Al-Malki said the “attack” threatens vital shipping routes in the Bab al-Mandeb strait, used for oil shipments from the Gulf to Europe, as well as goods from Asia to Europe.

A Houthi leader, Mohammed Ali al-Houthi tweeted that their forces seized a South Korean vessel in Yemen’s waters and would release it.

The Houthis have in the past targeted oil tankers and military ships belonging to Saudi Arabia and its partners in the coalition fighting in Yemen’s war since 2015.

Leak of Secret Iranian Documents Reveals Iranian Influence in Iraq

An unprecedented leak of secret intelligence documents from inside the Iranian government has shed new light on how Iran has taken control of much of the Iraqi government in the wake of the 2003 U.S. invasion. The 700 pages of documents from Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security were leaked to The Intercept, which then partnered with The New York Times to report the story. Meanwhile, protests over a gasoline hike rocked Iran over the weekend. At least 12 people have been killed. On Sunday, Iran imposed an almost complete internet blackout. The Iranian economy has been hard hit by U.S. sanctions, which President Trump imposed after deciding to withdraw from the landmark 2015 nuclear deal. After headlines, we’ll speak with one of the lead reporters on the major exposé of leaked Iranian intelligence documents: The Intercept’s Murtaza Hussain.

Iraqi officials say Iran runs ‘shadow government’ in Baghdad

Iran runs a shadow government in Iraq, which is “no secret” to the public, officials in Baghdad told The National, as leaked intelligence reports detailing how Tehran holds sway over Baghdad were published on Monday.

The New York Times and The Intercept say they have reviewed over 700 pages of reports written mainly in 2014 and 2015 by Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security that show “how aggressively Tehran has worked to embed itself into Iraqi affairs.” It includes paying Iraqi agents working for the United States to switch sides.

“Of course, it is no secret that Iran controls different sectors of the government and parliament,” a senior Iraqi official, who chose to remain anonymous, told The National.

“Everyone knows that there is a shadow government run by Qassem Soleimani that has infiltrated the political, economic and security sectors of the Iraqi state,” he said.

General Soleimani, the head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds Force, is Tehran’s point man on Iraq and travels there frequently during times of political turmoil.

Demonstrators took the streets of Baghdad and southern cities last month in anger over corruption and the government’s close ties to Iran.

The documents showed that Mr Soleimani was seen in Iraq after the protests kicked off.

He chaired various meetings to persuade allies in the Iraqi parliament to help Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi to hold on to his role.

What the leaked documents show is a confirmation of the details and names that the public already knew about, the official said.

In the 16 years since the fall of Saddam, Iran has emerged as a key power broker in Iraqi politics, with arguably greater influence than the US in the Shiite majority country.

The documents “offer a detailed portrait of just how aggressively Tehran has worked to embed itself into Iraqi affairs, and of the unique role of General Soleimani,” the two outlets said.

Iraq has been rocked by anti-government protests against corruption, unemployment and poor public services that began on October 1.

The documents show that Mr Soleimani chaired various meetings to persuade allies in the Iraqi parliament to help Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi to hold on to his role.

The information in the documents can be “classified as new black points to Iraq’s dark history”, Hashim Al Hashimi, an Iraqi security expert, told The National.

“Details of the report are not new to those interested in Iraq’s political affairs, they will also not renew concerns about the people mentioned in them,” he said.

The Iraqi foreign ministry did not respond to a request for comment on the matter.

“The documents prove how weak the Iraqi institution is and sadly the Iraqi officials are really not patriotic and they are ready to do everything for other countries including Iran,” Sarkwat Al Shamsi, an Iraqi member of parliament told The National.

“We have a deep crisis within the Iraqi state and system, it is at stake, there are individuals who keep switching sides from America to Iran, and maybe tomorrow another country, this is so dangerous,” he said.

Iraqi officials have done “everything to destroy the country and to enrich themselves,” he said.

In one of the documents Mr Abdul Mahdi is described as having had a “special relationship” with Tehran when he was Iraq’s oil minister in 2014.

It also named former prime ministers Haider Al Abadi and Ibrahim Al Jafari as well as former speaker of parliament Salim Al Jabouri as politicians with close ties to Iran.

One of Mr Al Jabouri’s top advisers- identified as Source 134832- was an Iranian intelligence asset.

“[I] am present in his office on a daily basis and carefully follow his contacts with the Americans,” the source told his Iranian handler, according to the documents.

Following the withdrawal of US troops in 2011, Iran was able to gain much more access inside Baghdad, which it said left Iraqi assets of the Central Intelligence Agency “jobless and destitute”.

They then turned to Iran, offering information on the CIA’s operations in Iraq in exchange for money, the report said.

According to the documents an Iraqi military intelligence officer had travelled from Baghdad to meet with an Iranian intelligence official in Iraq’s holy city of Karbala.

The Iraqi official delivered a message from Lieutenant General Hatem Al Maksusi saying that “all of the Iraqi Army’s intelligence- consider it yours”.

Mr Al Maksusi had also offered to give Iran information about a covert system established by the US to eavesdrop on Iraqi phones, run by Mr Al Abadi office and military intelligence, the reports said.

Iranian FM criticizes India for “giving in” to U.S. anti-Iran sanction pressures

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said Saturday that India has succumbed to the U.S. pressures over sanctions against Iran.

India has put itself “on the receiving end” of the U.S. “bullying,” giving in to U.S. illegal sanctions and ending oil imports from Iran, Zarif was quoted as saying by Press TV.

The bilateral ties would not be affected by U.S. bans, he said, adding that however, “we expected our friends to be more resilient vis-a-vis U.S. pressures.”

India was Iran’s second largest oil customer, importing 457,000 barrels of oil a day before the U.S. unilateral withdrawal from the 2015 Iranian nuclear deal in May 2018.

India stopped importing oil from Iran in May 2019 after the White House terminated sanctions waivers for major buyers of crude from Iran.

Zarif stressed that despite U.S. pressures, Iran “will continue to sell its oil and countries will continue to buy it.”

FIFA fines Bahrain for disrespecting Iranian anthem

According to the latest announcement of FIFA’s Disciplinary Committee, published on Friday, Bahrain has been fined with 20,000 Swiss francs for “Order and security at matches (overcrowded stadium; booing the national anthem)” and also for “Misconduct of players and officials (delayed kick-off)”.

National football teams of Iran and Bahrain held a match on Oct. 15 in the Matchday three of Group C of qualifiers for World Cup 2022 and AFC Asian Cup 2023. The match started with a controversial move by Bahraini fans and even a weirder reaction by Bahraini players on the pitch. As soon as Iran’s national anthem was played, fans started booing and making a lot of noise while Bahraini players laughed at the fan’s action as a sign of approval.

FIFA has also warned Iran for “Offensive behavior and violations of the principles of fair play, misconduct of players and officials (no post-match handshake)” in the same match against Bahrain.