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Man accused over Iran prison executions goes on trial in Sweden

Man accused

Reuters     |     8/10/2021

STOCKHOLM, Aug 10 (Reuters) – About 100 demonstrators gathered outside a court in Stockholm on Tuesday to protest against the Tehran government on the opening day of the trial of a 60-year-old Iranian suspected of war crimes and murder, Swedish news agency TT reported.

Hamid Noury has been in custody in Sweden for almost two years and is accused of having played a leading role in the killing of political prisoners executed on government orders at the Gohardasht prison in Karaj, Iran, in 1988.

He denies the accusations, prosecutors said when announcing charges last month.

It is the first time anyone has been brought before a court to stand trial over the purge.

Noury and others “organised and participated in executions by selecting which prisoners should appear before a court-like commission, which had the job of deciding which prisoners should be executed”, prosecutor Kristina Lindhoff Carleson told the court, according to TT.

She then read out the names of 110 people whose executions Noury is accused of helping to orchestrate.

Under Swedish law, courts can try Swedish citizens and other nationals for crimes against international law committed abroad.

The trial is likely to focus unwelcome attention on Iran’s hardline President Ebrahim Raisi, who was inaugurated last week and who is under U.S. sanctions over a past that includes what Washington and activists say was his involvement as one of four judges who oversaw the 1988 killings.

Raisi, when asked about the allegations, told reporters after his election in June that he had defended national security and human rights.

“If a judge, a prosecutor has defended the security of the people, he should be praised … I am proud to have defended human rights in every position I have held so far,” he said.

Noury was a prosecution official who worked in the prison, according to Swedish authorities.

He is suspected of involvement in the deaths of a large number of prisoners who belonged to or sympathized with the Iranian People’s Mujahideen opposition group, as well as the murder of other jailed dissidents.

In a 2018 report, Amnesty International put the number executed at 5,000, although “the real number could be higher”.

Iran has never acknowledged the killings.

The trial is expected to run until April 2022.

https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/trial-starts-sweden-man-accused-role-iran-prison-executions-2021-08-10/

 

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Human RightsNews

Feds charge 4 in Iran plot to kidnap activist in US

feds-charge

AP      |     By DEEPTI HAJELA and LARRY NEUMEISTER     |     7/14/2021

NEW YORK (AP) — An Iranian intelligence officer and three alleged members of an Iranian intelligence network have been charged in Manhattan with plotting to kidnap a prominent Iranian opposition activist and writer in exile and take her back to Tehran, authorities said Tuesday.

An indictment in Manhattan federal court alleges that the plot was part of a wider plan to lure three individuals in Canada and a fifth person in the United Kingdom to Iran. Victims were also targeted in the United Arab Emirates, authorities said.

The identities of the alleged victims were not released but Brooklyn-based Masih Alinejad confirmed that authorities had told her she was among the targeted victims.

“I knew that this is the nature of the Islamic Republic, you know, kidnapping people, arresting people, torturing people, killing people. But I couldn’t believe it that this is going to happen to me in United States of America,” Alinejad told The Associated Press.

Iran’s mission to the United Nations did not immediately respond to a request for comment. State media in Tehran did not immediately acknowledge the alleged plot, though Iran has become more aggressive in recent years about seizing opposition journalists and dissidents abroad amid tensions over its tattered nuclear deal.

The indictment acknowledges that, naming an exiled Paris-based journalist later seized by Iran and executed. Also named was a California-based member of an Iranian militant opposition group in exile whose family says he was abducted by Iran while staying in Dubai in 2020. Prosecutors alleged the Iranian intelligence officer had an electronic device containing a graphic of Alinejad alongside those two men, prosecutors said.

Alinejad, who worked for years as a journalist in Iran, long has been targeted by its theocracy after fleeing the country following its disputed 2009 presidential election and crackdown.

She is a prominent figure on Farsi-language satellite channels abroad that critically view Iran and has worked as a contractor for U.S.-funded Voice of America’s Farsi-language network since 2015. She became a U.S. citizen in October 2019.

Her “White Wednesday” and “My Stealthy Freedom” campaigns have seen women film themselves without head coverings, or hijabs, in public in Iran, which can bring arrests and fines. Details in the indictment also correspond to Alinejad’s biography.

Alinejad said authorities had come to her last year and told her she was being watched, including photos being taken of her home. She said she had been living under U.S. government protection since then, including time spent in various safe houses. She also said the FBI at one point asked her to conduct a live video online to see if Iranian intelligence could track her.

Although not charged in the kidnapping plot, Niloufar Bahadorifar, also known as Nellie, was arrested July 1 in California on charges that she has provided U.S. financial and other services to Iranian residents and entities and some financial services supported the plot and violated sanctions against Iran, according to prosecutors.

The indictment said Bahadorifar, 46, originally from Iran, works at a California department store. Bahadorifar’s lawyer, Assistant Federal Defender Martin Cohen, declined to comment.

Bahadorifar has pleaded not guilty to charges lodged at the time of her arrest and been released on bail, authorities said. She still faces arraignment on charges in Tuesday’s superseding indictment.

The rest of the defendants are fugitives believed to be based in Iran, authorities said.

“Among this country’s most cherished freedoms is the right to speak one’s mind without fear of government reprisal,” U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss said. “A U.S. citizen living in the United States must be able to advocate for human rights without being targeted by foreign intelligence operatives.”

“Every person in the United States must be free from harassment, threats and physical harm by foreign powers,” Acting U.S. Assistant Attorney General Mark J. Lesko added. “Through this indictment, we bring to light one such pernicious plot to harm an American citizen who was exercising their First Amendment rights.”

William F. Sweeney Jr., the head of New York’s FBI office, noted that the indictment sounded a bit like “some far-fetched movie plot.”

“We allege a group, backed by the Iranian government, conspired to kidnap a U.S. based journalist here on our soil and forcibly return her to Iran. Not on our watch,” he said.

The Iranian intelligence officer, who remains a fugitive, was identified as Alireza Shahvaroghi Farahani.

According to the indictment, Farahani, 50, and three other defendants tried since at least June 2020 to kidnap Alinejad. If caught and convicted, the four could face life in prison.

Farahani and the network he led on multiple occasions in 2020 and 2021 lied about his intentions as he hired private investigators to surveil, photograph and video record Alinejad and her household members, the indictment alleged. It said the surveillance included a live high-definition video feed of the activist’s home.

The indictment alleged that the government of Iran in 2018 tried to lure her to a third country so a capture would be possible, even offering money to her relatives to try to make it possible. The relatives, the indictment said, refused the offer. Alinejad’s family has been targeted for harassment by the Iranian government, a separate lawsuit filed by the activist in the U.S. alleges.

The others charged in the kidnapping plot were identified as Mahmoud Khazein, 42, Kiya Sadeghi, 35, and Omid Noori, 45, all from Iran.

According to the indictment, Sadeghi researched a service offering military-style speedboats that could perform a maritime evacuation out of New York City that would ultimately reach Venezuela, whose government has friendly relations with Iran.

Khazein, it said, researched travel routes from Alinejad’s home to a waterfront neighborhood in Brooklyn and the location of her residence relative to Venezuela and Tehran.

Alinejad said the plot wouldn’t stop her from her activism.

“I have only one life and I’m not going to live in paranoia. I’m not going to live in fear,” she said. “I have two options — feel miserable, make my oppressors feel miserable, so I choose the second one.”

https://apnews.com/article/middle-east-government-and-politics-iran-arts-and-entertainment-journalists-e55022fd7301a004e389fc8107cc0deb

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Iran: Ebrahim Raisi must be investigated for crimes against humanity

Raisi Khamenei 3

Amnesty International | 19 June 2021

Responding to today’s announcement declaring Ebrahim Raisi as Iran’s next president, Amnesty International’s Secretary General Agnès Callamard said:

“That Ebrahim Raisi has risen to the presidency instead of being investigated for the crimes against humanity of murder, enforced disappearance and torture, is a grim reminder that impunity reigns supreme in Iran. In 2018, our organization documented how Ebrahim Raisi had been a member of the ‘death commission’ which forcibly disappeared and extrajudicially executed in secret thousands of political dissidents in Evin and Gohardasht prisons near Tehran in 1988. The circumstances surrounding the fate of the victims and the whereabouts of their bodies are, to this day, systematically concealed by the Iranian authorities, amounting to ongoing crimes against humanity.

‘As Head of the Iranian Judiciary, Ebrahim Raisi has presided over a spiralling crackdown on human rights which has seen hundreds of peaceful dissidents, human rights defenders and members of persecuted minority groups arbitrarily detained. Under his watch, the judiciary has also granted blanket impunity to government officials and security forces responsible for unlawfully killing hundreds of men, women and children and subjecting thousands of protesters to mass arrests and at least hundreds to enforced disappearance, and torture and other ill-treatment during and in the aftermath of the nationwide protests of November 2019.

“Ebrahim Raisi’s rise to the presidency follows an electoral process that was conducted in a highly repressive environment and barred women, members of religious minorities and candidates with opposing views from running for office.

“We continue to call for Ebrahim Raisi to be investigated for his involvement in past and ongoing crimes under international law, including by states that exercise universal jurisdiction.

“It is now more urgent than ever for member states of the UN Human Rights Council to take concrete steps to address the crisis of systematic impunity in Iran including by establishing an impartial mechanism to collect and analyse evidence of the most serious crimes under international law committed in Iran to facilitate fair and independent criminal proceedings.”

Iran: Ebrahim Raisi must be investigated for crimes against humanity

 

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Human Rights

Trafficking In Iran; A Major Concern

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Iran Focus   |   By SIA RAJABI   |   APRIL 22, 2021

The trafficking of women in Iran is a real problem, with most of the victims smuggled out of the country from the provinces of Hormozgan, Sistan and Baluchestan, and Khuzestan.

Lawyer Hossein Komeili said: “In Sistan and Baluchestan, where forced marriages are common, women are given to men in Afghanistan and Pakistan. [It’s a form of] organized trafficking [where] corruption in the bureaucracy [and cooperation between] “smugglers and the police” [make the issue worse].”

Of course, the government hides the relevant statistics, so it’s impossible to know for sure how many victims there are, but the state-run ROKNA News Agency says that the women are moved under the pretext of finding employment, smuggled into countries, and forced to become sex workers because their identification documents are stolen before they even leave Iran.

Despite its opacity, the government is still considered tier 3 by the US State Department for failing to make the minimum effort to combat human trafficking and the US said that the domestic Iran trafficking networks appear to enjoy anonymity.

One Iranian strategist, Hassan Abbasi, publically exposed the trafficking of women to other Middle Eastern countries as far back as 2008, condemning the President, the Information Minister, the Expediency Discernment Council, the Revolutionary Guards, the Bassij, the Judiciary Chief, the commander of the State Security Force, and Tehran’s mayor for failing to address the issue.

But, of course, one of the main reasons for the increased rate of trafficking is poverty because people are desperate to escape the hardships in Iran, tricked with thoughts of a better life. This is worse in more deprived areas.

Komeili said: “The University of Tehran has a law clinic in the Oudlajan area of Tehran. A woman came to the clinic and said, ‘My daughter has been missing for 2 weeks! Her friends said she went abroad.’ We asked, ‘What did you do in these 2 weeks?’ I did nothing. I thought she was going abroad to earn money and send it to us,” the mother replied. Therefore, the principal reason for human trafficking is poverty, and victims fall into traffickers’ traps thinking they are finding jobs. Laws must be changed, and the victim must not be seen as a criminal.”

While sex trafficking is a major part of this criminal industry, we shouldn’t forget about the nasty blood and organ trafficking business, whereby victims (including children) are held for some time abroad before they are killed for their blood and organs.

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Iran’s bomb to take out foes in Paris

DIGNITARIES PARIS 2018

A hellish Pizza Hut delivery: Iran’s bomb to take out foes in Paris
The Sunday Time | Peter Conradi, Paris | Nov 14, 2020

They looked like any couple out shopping as they walked across the Place d’Armes in Luxembourg’s old city and into a branch of Pizza Hut. But the police were watching closely. It was the pivotal moment in a terrorist plot blamed on Iran that is about to be laid bare in court — to the fury of the regime in Tehran, which has threatened retaliation.
Once inside Pizza Hut, Amir Saadouni, 40, and his wife, Nasimeh Naami, 36 — both Iranian — sat down with an Iranian diplomat, who handed them a small package. Naami put it into her handbag and they returned to their grey Mercedes parked nearby.
Prosecutors claim Iranian diplomat Assadollah Assadi handed over a bomb package. This was no casual encounter, as the plainclothes officers watching them knew. The diplomat, Assadollah Assadi, 48, is thought to be a member of Iran’s intelligence service, and the package allegedly contained a powerful bomb.
Prosecutors say Assadi wanted the couple to plant it at a mass rally near Paris two days later attended by tens of thousands of opponents of Iran’s theocratic regime and by prominent British and American politicians.
The suspected Pizza Hut plot, which would have caused a mass loss of life if it had succeeded, was thwarted in an operation also involving Belgian, French and German police.

Next week, after a two-year investigation, the three suspects, together with a fourth man, are due to go on trial in Antwerp, where the couple lived, accused of terrorism offences.
Belgian investigators are convinced their actions were approved at the highest level in Tehran, which would make their conviction a serious embarrassment for the Iranians.
“The plan for the attack was conceived in the name of Iran and under its leadership. It was not a matter of Assadi’s personal initiative,” wrote Jaak Raes, head of the VSSE, Belgium’s state security service, in a letter to the federal prosecutor, one of many documents that reveal in extraordinary detail the planning that went into the alleged plot.
Assadi, a third counsellor at Iran’s embassy in Vienna, is also an officer of its intelligence and security ministry — serving in the internal security directorate, considered a terrorist organisation by the European Union — and as such was the “operational commander” of the mission, asserts Raes.
The operation’s primary target appears to have been Maryam Rajavi, head of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), a coalition of opposition groups, which was due to hold its annual rally on June 30, 2018.

Opposition leader Maryam Rajavi appears to have been the operation’s main target.

Among the important foreign guests at the rally in Villepinte, in the northeast suburbs of Paris, were Rudy Giuliani, the New York mayor turned lawyer for Donald Trump, and Bill Richardson, a past US ambassador to the UN.

Several prominent British critics of the Iranian regime also attended the meeting, among them Theresa Villiers, the former environment secretary. “If the defendants are convicted in this case, this must be a wake-up call for the international community to put more pressure on the tyrannical Iranian regime to end its destabilising support for terrorist groups around the world,” she said. Javad Zarif, Iran’s foreign minister, has dismissed the alleged plot as a “false flag” operation by those trying to drive a wedge between Tehran and the West, at a time when Europe and America were at odds over Trump’s decision in 2018 to pull out of Iran’s nuclear accord with the West. Tehran has called Assadi’s arrest “fundamentally illegal” and reserved the right to a “proportionate response” against those countries involved.

The NCRI, which has powerful backers abroad, especially on the American right, has long been a thorn in the side of Iran’s rulers. In 2002 it revealed the existence of nuclear testing facilities that led to Tehran being declared in breach of a non-proliferation treaty. The NRCI was itself declared a terrorist organisation by America in 1997, but removed from the list in 2012.

The plot to target it appears to have been hatched after popular protests that erupted in December 2017 in more than 100 Iranian cities and were blamed by Ali Khamenei, the country’s supreme leader, on “enemies of the republic”. In a speech the following month he claimed the streets were under the control of the People’s Mojahedin Organisation of Iran (MEK), the main element in the NCRI, and threatened “retribution”.

Assadi, who had previously served in Iraq and was familiar with explosives, was ordered to carry out the Paris operation shortly afterwards, investigators believe. Travel records show he made several trips from Austria to Iran during the first months of 2018, apparently in connection with its planning. He then allegedly recruited Saadouni and Naami to plant the bomb. Saadouni had already been living in Belgium for almost a decade after being granted political asylum because of his membership of the MEK. He was later joined there by Naami, whom he met online while she was in Tehran, where she worked as a swimming pool attendant. The couple married but have reportedly since become estranged.

Assadi has refused to co-operate with investigators, citing his diplomatic status, but his alleged fellow conspirators have been more forthcoming. Saadouni revealed he was first approached in 2012 by Assadi, who said he was looking for information about the MEK. They met in Munich, where the diplomat — whom he knew under the code name of Daniel — made clear he was working for Iranian intelligence.
The two men held several more meetings, including in Salzburg, Vienna, Milan, Venice and Luxembourg, at which Assadi paid Saadouni varying amounts of money — sometimes €3,500 (£3,140), and at other times €4,000, “depending on the type of information” he supplied. At Assadi’s behest, Saadouni also travelled in 2013 to the Iranian city of Ahvaz.

Often Naami would come on the trips, too. The couple appeared to have lived comfortably off the money. A pop music fan, Saadouni reportedly spent €400 on a ticket to see Roger Waters of Pink Floyd perform in Antwerp.

In March 2018, while meeting Saadouni on a train between Vienna and Salzburg — apparently to avoid detection — Assadi spoke about the rally near Paris and “said he wanted to do something with the device” there, Saadouni told investigators. Assadi said he would first have to discuss it with Tehran, because the device had to be tested. Travel records show he made several visits to Iran, apparently in connection with the operation, returning from the last one on June 22. He is thought to have carried the bomb in his luggage, which, since he was a diplomat, would not have been searched.

Six days later in the Luxembourg Pizza Hut, Assadi allegedly handed over the bomb, containing more than 1lb of TATP, or triacetone triperoxide, a powerful explosive popular with terrorists because it is difficult to detect. He also gave the couple €11,710 apparently as payment — or part payment — for the operation.

Although Saadouni and Naami have admitted receiving the package, they deny they knew it was a bomb. “I had no idea that I had been given explosives,” Saadouni told police, saying he thought the device was merely something that “makes a lot of noise”.

Mobile phone records show Assadi texted the couple later that day to make sure they had followed instructions regarding the device, which they referred to as “the PlayStation”. They replied that everything was set. It was agreed they would meet again on July 1 — the day after the attack was due to have taken place.

Western intelligence services were already on their trail, however, apparently as a result of a tip-off from a “partner service” — thought to have been Israel’s Mossad — that Saadouni and Naami “might be involved in an act of violence or an attempt in France”. The VSSE passed on this information to the heads of Belgium’s federal police and prosecution service on June 25 — three days before the Luxembourg meeting.

The pair were arrested on the day of the planned attack in Woluwe-Saint-Pierre, in the east of Brussels. Their luggage was found to contain the explosive, which was “wrapped in plastic and concealed in the lining of a toiletry bag” and was primed to go off. A remote trigger was found concealed among feminine hygiene items in another small bag within a brown handbag belonging to Naami.

The bomb, according to Dovo, Belgium’s bomb disposal unit, was a homemade one that was “very sensitive to heat, friction and shock”. Although the materials in it were freely available, anyone putting it together would have needed “a good knowledge of electronics”. It did considerable damage when it was detonated in a controlled explosion, destroying a remote-control robot and slightly injuring a Dovo officer.
Assadi was arrested on July 1 in Germany, as he was driving towards Austria, where he would have enjoyed diplomatic immunity. Despite Iranian protests, he was later extradited to Belgium.

A red notebook containing instructions to the bombers was found in Assadi’s car. These included how to activate and detonate the bomb, and how the couple should behave after the attack. They were told not to travel by plane for several months, and to stop using old email addresses and set up new ones.

During questioning in March, Assadi told Belgian police that armed groups in Iraq, Lebanon, Yemen and Syria, as well as in Iran, were interested in the outcome of his case and would be “watching from the sidelines to see if Belgium would support them or not”, according to documents obtained by Reuters.

Asked about Assadi’s comments, a spokesman for the Belgian federal prosecutor said: “Such threats can occur, but we always take the necessary security measures.” The diplomat’s lawyer, Dimitri de Beco, denied his client was making threats. “It is absolutely not a threat of retaliation and if it’s understood that way it’s a misinterpretation,” he told Reuters. “He will explain the sense of his remarks to the court.”

https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/a-hellish-pizza-hut-delivery-irans-bomb-to-take-out-foes-in-paris-9067nb66k

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Iran: Secret execution of wrestler Navid Afkari a ‘travesty of justice’

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Iran: Secret execution of wrestler Navid Afkari a ‘travesty of justice’
Amnesty International | September 12, 2020
The secret execution this morning of wrestling champion Navid Afkari, without prior notice to him, his family or lawyer, after a grossly unfair trial, is a horrifying travesty of justice that needs immediate international action.
“Navid Afkari was a young man with a promising future ahead of him. Carrying out his death sentence with such utter disregard for the basic principles of justice further demonstrates the cruelty of the death penalty. A series of judges in different courts used forced ‘confessions’ obtained under torture to convict him, and consistently failed to investigate his complaints of torture.”
Diana Eltahawy, Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa
Before his secret execution Navid Afkari, 27, was subjected to a shocking catalogue of human rights violations and crimes, including enforced disappearance; torture and other ill-treatment, leading to forced “confessions”; and denial of access to a lawyer and other fair trial guarantees.
“This young man desperately sought help in court to receive a fair trial and prove his innocence. Leaked voice recordings of him in court expose how his pleas for judges to investigate his torture complaints and bring another detainee who had witnessed his torture to testify were unlawfully and cruelly ignored,” said Diana Eltahawy.
Before his execution, another voice recording from inside prison was released, in which he said: “If I am executed, I want you to know that an innocent person, even though he tried and fought with all his strength to be heard, was executed.”
“Given the impunity which prevails in Iran, we urge the international community, including UN human rights bodies and EU member states, to take strong action through public and private interventions,” said Diana Eltahawy.
“We deplore the Iranian authorities’ repeated use of the death penalty, which has earned it the shameful status of consistently being among the world’s most prolific executioners. There is no justification for the death penalty, which is the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment, and we urge the Iranian authorities to abolish it.

Iran: Secret execution of wrestler Navid Afkari a ‘travesty of justice’

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Iran: Prisoners killed by security forces during COVID-19 pandemic protests

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Amnesty International    |     April 9, 2020

Around 36 prisoners in Iran are feared to have been killed by security forces after the use of lethal force to control protests over COVID-19 safety fears, Amnesty International has learned.

In recent days, thousands of prisoners in at least eight prisons around the country have staged protests over fears of contracting the coronavirus, sparking deadly responses from prison officers and security forces.

In several prisons, live ammunition and tear gas were used to suppress protests, killing around 35 prisoners and injuring hundreds of others, according to credible sources. In at least one prison, security forces beat those taking part in the protest action, possibly leading to the death of an inmate.

“It is abhorrent that instead of responding to prisoners’ legitimate demands to be protected from COVID-19, Iranian authorities have yet again resorted to killing people to silence their concerns,” said Diana Eltahawy, Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director of Middle East and North Africa.

“An independent investigation into the torture and deaths in custody is urgently needed with a view to bringing to justice those found responsible.

“Security forces must be instructed to immediately cease the use of unlawful lethal force, and to refrain from punishing prisoners calling for their right to health.”

It is abhorrent that instead of responding to prisoners’ legitimate demands to be protected from COVID-19, Iranian authorities have yet again resorted to killing people to silence their concerns

Diana Eltahawy

Amnesty International is also calling on Iranian authorities to immediately and unconditionally release all prisoners held solely for peacefully exercising their rights. Despite some initial releases, the Iranian authorities have failed to release the vast majority of prisoners of conscience, hundreds of whom remain in prison. The authorities should also consider releasing prisoners held in pre-trial detention or those who may be more at risk from the virus.

Prison protests during COVID-19 pandemic

In recent weeks, prisoners and their families have been raising the alarm that the Iranian authorities have failed to sufficiently protect the prison population during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Independent media and human rights organizations have reported that inmates from several prisons have tested positive for the virus. Consequently, many prisoners have staged hunger strikes in protest at the authorities’ failure to respond to their demands for releases, testing in prisons, provision of adequate sanitary products and facilities, and the quarantining of prisoners suspected of infection.

Killing of prisoners

On 30 March and 31 March, according to independent sources including prisoners’ families, security forces used excessive force to quell protests in Sepidar prison and Sheiban prison in the city of Ahvaz, Khuzestan province. The head of the police force in Khuzestan province admitted that members of the Revolutionary Guards and the paramilitary Basij force suppressed the protests after some inmates set rubbish bins on fire.

The protests in Sepidar prison appear to have started after authorities reneged on earlier promises to release prisoners who the authorities do not have specific security concerns about as a precautionary measure to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Numerous videos taken from outside both prisons and shared on social media show smoke rising from the buildings, while sounds of gunfire and screams can be heard.

Reports from families of prisoners, as well as journalists and Ahwazi Arab human rights activists and organizations, suggest that security forces used live ammunition and tear gas to end the protests in Sepidar prison, causing injuries and up to 15 deaths.

Relatives of a prisoner killed in Sepidar prison told Amnesty International, upon condition of anonymity, that several days after the protests, they were called by a member of the police force and instructed to collect the dead body of their loved one. The police claimed he had died from a drug overdose, even though the family insists he had never used drugs. The authorities have refused to provide the family with a death certificate or with any other written confirmation of the cause of death. As the deceased prisoner had no pre-existing medical conditions, his family suspect he died as a result of inhaling tear gas during the protest.

In Sheiban prison, journalists and activists reported that after the unrest was contained by security forces, prisoners who took part in the protests were stripped and beaten in the courtyard of the prison. Around 20 prisoners were killed by security forces, according to reports from prisoners’ families, journalists and Ahwazi Arab human rights activists and organizations.

Minority rights activist Mohammad Ali Amouri and several others were transferred out of Sheiban prison following the unrest and are still being held incommunicado in an unknown location. Amnesty International fears they may be at risk of torture.

Teenager on death row killed

Danial Zeinolabedini, who was on death row for a crime committed when he was under the age of 18, also died under suspicious circumstances in the past week. He had been taking part in the protests in Mahabad prison, West Azerbaijan province, when he was transferred to Mianboad prison in the same province, on 30 March. Danial Zeinolabedini called his family in distress on 31 March to say he had been severely beaten by prison guards and to beg them for help.

On 3 April, his family received a call from the authorities claiming that he had committed suicide and ordering them to collect his body. However, his family has disputed this claim, stating that his lifeless body was covered in bruises and cuts. Amnesty International has reviewed a photograph of Danial Zeinolabedini’s body and believes it shows signs that are consistent with torture.

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Special Report: Iran’s leader ordered crackdown on unrest – ‘Do whatever it takes to end it’

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Reuters    |    Reuters Staff    |    December 23, 2019

(Reuters) – After days of protests across Iran last month, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei appeared impatient. Gathering his top security and government officials together, he issued an order: Do whatever it takes to stop them.

That order, confirmed by three sources close to the supreme leader’s inner circle and a fourth official, set in motion the bloodiest crackdown on protesters since the Islamic Revolution in 1979.

About 1,500 people were killed during less than two weeks of unrest that started on Nov. 15. The toll, provided to Reuters by three Iranian interior ministry officials, included at least 17 teenagers and about 400 women as well as some members of the security forces and police.

The toll of 1,500 is significantly higher than figures from international human rights groups and the United States. A Dec. 16 report by Amnesty International said the death toll was at least 304. The U.S. State Department, in a statement to Reuters, said it estimates that many hundreds of Iranians were killed, and has seen reports that number could be over 1,000.

The figures provided to Reuters, said two of the Iranian officials who provided them, are based on information gathered from security forces, morgues, hospitals and coroner’s offices.

The government spokesman’s office declined to comment on whether the orders came from Khamenei and on the Nov. 17 meeting. Iran’s mission to the United Nations did not respond to a request for comment for this story.

In a statement Monday following publication of this article, a spokesman for Iran’s Supreme National Security Council described the death toll figure as “fake news,” according to semi-official Tasnim news agency.

What began as scattered protests over a surprise increase in gasoline prices quickly spread into one of the biggest challenges to Iran’s clerical rulers since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

By Nov. 17, the second day, the unrest had reached the capital Tehran, with people calling for an end to the Islamic Republic and the downfall of its leaders. Protesters burned pictures of Khamenei and called for the return of Reza Pahlavi, the exiled son of the toppled Shah of Iran, according to videos posted on social media and eye witnesses.

That evening at his official residence in a fortified compound in central Tehran, Khamenei met with senior officials, including security aides, President Hassan Rouhani and members of his cabinet.

At the meeting, described to Reuters by the three sources close to his inner circle, the 80-year-old leader, who has final say over all state matters in the country, raised his voice and expressed criticism of the handling of the unrest. He was also angered by the burning of his image and the destruction of a statue of the republic’s late founder, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

“The Islamic Republic is in danger. Do whatever it takes to end it. You have my order,” the supreme leader told the group, one of the sources said.

Khamenei said he would hold the assembled officials responsible for the consequences of the protests if they didn’t immediately stop them. Those who attended the meeting agreed the protesters aimed to bring down the regime.

“The enemies wanted to topple the Islamic Republic and immediate reaction was needed,” one of the sources said.

The fourth official, who was briefed on the Nov. 17 meeting, added that Khamenei made clear the demonstrations required a forceful response.

“Our Imam,” said the official, referring to Khamenei, “only answers to God. He cares about people and the Revolution. He was very firm and said those rioters should be crushed.”

Tehran’s clerical rulers have blamed “thugs” linked to the regime’s opponents in exile and the country’s main foreign foes, namely the United States, Israel and Saudi Arabia, for stirring up unrest. Khamenei has described the unrest as the work of a “very dangerous conspiracy.”

A Dec. 3 report on Iran’s state television confirmed that security forces had fatally shot citizens, saying “some rioters were killed in clashes.” Iran has given no official death toll and has rejected figures as “speculative.”

“The aim of our enemies was to endanger the existence of the Islamic Republic by igniting riots in Iran,” said the commander-in-chief of the elite Revolutionary Guards Corps, Hossein Salami, last month, according to Iranian media.

The Revolutionary Guards declined to comment for this report.

Iran’s interior minister said on Nov. 27 more than 140 government sites had been set on fire along with hundreds of banks and dozens of petrol stations, while 50 bases used by security forces were also attacked, according to remarks reported by Iran’s state news agency IRNA. The minister said up to 200,000 people took part in the unrest nationwide.

“SMELL OF GUNFIRE AND SMOKE”

For decades, Islamic Iran has tried to expand its influence across the Middle East, from Syria to Iraq and Lebanon, by investing Tehran’s political and economic capital and backing militias. But now it faces pressure at home and abroad.

In recent months, from the streets of Baghdad to Beirut, protesters have been voicing anger at Tehran, burning its flag and chanting anti-Iranian regime slogans. At home, the daily struggle to make ends meet has worsened since the United States reimposed sanctions after withdrawing last year from the nuclear deal that Iran negotiated with world powers in 2015.

The protests erupted after a Nov. 15 announcement on state media that gas prices would rise by as much as 200% and the revenue would be used to help needy families.

Within hours, hundreds of people poured into the streets in places including the northeastern city of Mashhad, the southeastern province of Kerman and the southwestern province of Khuzestan bordering Iraq, according to state media. That night, a resident of the city Ahvaz in Khuzestan described the scene by telephone to Reuters.

“Riot police are out in force and blocking main streets,” the source said. “I heard shooting.” Videos later emerged on social media and state television showing footage of clashes in Ahvaz and elsewhere between citizens and security forces.

The protests reached more than 100 cities and towns and turned political. Young and working-class demonstrators demanded clerical leaders step down. In many cities, a similar chant rang out: “They live like kings, people get poorer,” according to videos on social media and witnesses.

By Nov. 18 in Tehran, riot police appeared to be randomly shooting at protesters in the street “with the smell of gunfire and smoke everywhere,” said a female Tehran resident reached by telephone. People were falling down and shouting, she added, while others sought refuge in houses and shops.

The mother of a 16-year-old boy described holding his body, drenched in blood, after he was shot during protests in a western Iranian town on Nov. 19. Speaking on condition of anonymity, she described the scene in a telephone interview.

“I heard people saying: ‘He is shot, he is shot,’” said the mother. “I ran toward the crowd and saw my son, but half of his head was shot off.” She said she urged her son, whose first name was Amirhossein, not to join the protests, but he didn’t listen.

Iranian authorities deployed lethal force at a far quicker pace from the start than in other protests in recent years, according to activists and details revealed by authorities. In 2009, when millions protested against the disputed re-election of hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, an estimated 72 people were killed. And when Iran faced waves of protests over economic hardships in 2017 and 2018, the death toll was about 20 people, officials said.

Khamenei, who has ruled Iran for three decades, turned to his elite forces to put down the recent unrest — the Revolutionary Guards and its affiliated Basij religious militia.

A senior member of the Revolutionary Guards in western Kermanshah province said the provincial governor handed down instructions at a late-night emergency meeting at his office on Nov. 18.

“We had orders from top officials in Tehran to end the protests, the Guards member said, recounting the governor’s talk. “No more mercy. They are aiming to topple the Islamic Republic. But we will eradicate them.” The governor’s office declined to comment.

As security forces fanned out across the country, security advisors briefed Khamenei on the scale of the unrest, according to the three sources familiar with the talks at his compound.

The interior minister presented the number of casualties and arrests. The intelligence minister and head of the Revolutionary Guards focused on the role of opposition groups. When asked about the interior and intelligence minister’s role in the meeting, the government spokesman’s office declined to comment.

Khamenei, the three sources said, was especially concerned with anger in small working-class towns, whose lower-income voters have been a pillar of support for the Islamic Republic. Their votes will count in February parliamentary elections, a litmus test of the clerical rulers’ popularity since U.S. President Donald Trump exited Iran’s nuclear deal — a step that has led to an 80% collapse in Iran’s oil exports since last year.

Squeezed by sanctions, Khamenei has few resources to tackle high inflation and unemployment. According to official figures, the unemployment rate is around 12.5% overall. But it is about double that for Iran’s millions of young people, who accuse the establishment of economic mismanagement and corruption. Khamenei and other officials have called on the judiciary to step up its fight against corruption.

“BLOOD ON THE STREETS”

Officials in four provinces said the message was clear — failure to stamp out the unrest would encourage people to protest in the future.

A local official in Karaj, a working-class city near the capital, said there were orders to use whatever force was necessary to end the protests immediately. “Orders came from Tehran,” he said, speaking on condition of anonymity. “Push them back to their homes, even by shooting them.” Local government officials declined to comment.

Residents of Karaj said they came under fire from rooftops as Revolutionary Guards and police on motorcycles brandished machine guns. “There was blood everywhere. Blood on the streets,” said one resident by telephone. Reuters could not independently verify that account.

In Mahshahr county, in the strategically important Khuzestan province in southwest Iran, Revolutionary Guards in armored vehicles and tanks sought to contain the demonstrations. State TV said security forces opened fire on “rioters” hiding in the marshes. Rights groups said they believe Mahshahr had one of the highest protest death tolls in Iran, based on what they heard from locals.

“The next day when we went there, the area was full of bodies of protesters, mainly young people. The Guards did not let us take the bodies,” the local official said, estimating that “dozens” were killed.

The U.S. State Department has said it has received videos of the Revolutionary Guards opening fire without warning on protesters in Mahshahr. And that when protesters fled to nearby marshlands, the Guards pursued them and surrounded them with machine guns mounted on trucks, spraying the protesters with bullets and killing at least 100 Iranians.

Iran’s authorities dispute the U.S. account. Iranian officials have said security forces in Mahshahr confronted “rioters” who they described as a security threat to petrochemical complexes and to a key energy route that, if blocked, would have created a crisis in the country.

A security official told Reuters that the reports about Mahshahr are “exaggerated and not true” and that security forces were defending “people and the country’s energy facilities in the city from sabotage by enemies and rioters.”

In Isfahan, an ancient city of two million people in central Iran, the government’s vow to help low-income families with money raised from higher gas prices failed to reassure people like Behzad Ebrahimi. He said his 21-year-old nephew, Arshad Ebrahimi, was fatally shot during the crackdown.

“Initially they refused to give us the body and wanted us to bury him with others killed in the protests,” Ebrahimi said. “Eventually we buried him ourselves, but under the heavy presence of security forces.” Rights activists confirmed the events. Reuters was unable to get comment from the government or the local governor on the specifics of the account.

Editing by Michael Georgy, Cassell Bryan-Low and Jason Szep.

 

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Human RightsNews

Iran is the world’s biggest jailer of women journalists

jailer

Reporters Without Borders    |    Aug 26, 2019

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is alarmed by a new wave of arrests and interrogations of women journalists since the start of August in Iran. The Islamic Republic is now the world’s biggest jailer of women journalists, with a total of ten currently held.

“Already one of the world’s five biggest jailers of journalists, Iran is now holding more women in connection with their journalistic activities than any other country in the world,” said Reza Moini, the head of RSF’s Iran/Afghanistan Desk.

“We call on Javaid Rehman, the UN special rapporteur on the human rights situation in Iran, to intervene with the utmost urgency to obtain their release and to address the disastrous press freedom situation in this country.”

Here are portraits of the ten women journalists currently detained in Iran:

  • Noushin Jafari: This photojournalist’s detention was confirmed by the judicial system’s spokesman, Gholam Hossein Esmaili, on 14 August. A specialist in covering theatre and cinema, she was arrested at her Tehran home on 3 August by Revolutionary Guard intelligence agents in civilian dress, who seized data storage devices and CDs. Pro-Revolutionary Guard trolls were the first to report her arrest and the charge brought against her: “insulting Islam’s sacred values” on Twitter. Her family has not heard from her since her arrest and still does not know where she is being held. She used to work for the “arts and literature” section of the daily newspaper Etemad and was previously arrested in February 2010, when she was held for 28 days. According to relatives, she is being pressured by Revolutionary Guard intelligence agents to make a confession.
  • Marzieh Amiri: The revolutionary court’s 28th chamber refused to release her on bail on 13 August. A journalist with the daily newspaper Shargh, Amiri was arrested while reporting outside an intelligence police station in Tehran on 1 May. Her lawyer told the media that she is charged with “conspiracy and assembly against national security,” “anti-government propaganda” and “disturbing public order.”

According to her family, she has been sentenced to 10 years in prison and also 148 lashes.

  • Assal Mohammadi: A student at the Islamic Azad University and member of the editorial board of the student newspaper Game, she was returned to prison by a Tehran court on 4 August. Initially arrested on 4 December 2018, she had been released on bail of 400 million tomans (10,000 euros) but the bail amount was later raised to 1 billion tomans (212,000 euros). She appeared in court with Haft-Tappeh Sugarcane company workers, whose strike and protests for more pay she had covered.
  • Sanaz Allahyari: and her fellow-journalist husband Amir Hossein Mohammadi Far – Mohammadi’s colleagues at Game – are also being held for covering this strike and the mistreatment of the jailed workers.
  • Farangis Mazloom: The mother of Soheil Arabi, the recipient of RSF’s 2017 Press Freedom Prize in the citizen-journalist category, she was arrested by intelligence ministry agents on 22 July. Her only crime was informing the public about the conditions in which her imprisoned son is being held and the inhuman and degrading treatment to which he is being subjected.
  • Hengameh Shahidi: A reporter and editor of the Paineveste blog who has been held since 25 June 2018, she has been sentenced to 12 years and nine months in prison for her revelations about the lack of justice within the Iranian judicial system and her criticism of its chief, Sadegh Amoli Larijani.
  • Sepideh Moradi, Avisha Jalaledin and Shima Entesari: These three women, who worked for the Sufi community news website Majzooban Noor, have been held since February 2018 and are serving five-year jail sentences in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison.
  • Narges Mohammadi: A journalist and human rights activist held since May 2015, she was sentenced to a total of 16 years in prison by a Tehran court. Under a 2015 law, which says a person convicted on several charges only serves the sentence applied to the most serious one, she will have to serve a 10-year term.

Iran is ranked 170th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2019 World Press Freedom Index.

https://rsf.org/en/news/iran-worlds-biggest-jailer-women-journalists

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Human RightsNews

IRAN: Blood-Soaked Secrets

massacre

WHY IRAN’S 1988 PRISON MASSACRES ARE ONGOING CRIMES AGAINST HUMANITY

4 December 2018, Index number: MDE 13/9421/2018

Amnesty International – Between July and September 1988, the Iranian authorities forcibly disappeared and extrajudicially executed thousands of imprisoned political dissidents in secret and dumped their bodies, mostly in unmarked mass graves. Since then, the authorities have treated the killings as state secrets, tormenting the relatives by refusing to tell them how and why their loved ones were killed and where they are buried. No official has been brought to justice and, in some cases, those involved hold or have held positions of power in Iran. This report calls on the UN to set up an independent investigation to help bring those responsible for these abhorrent crimes to justice.

View report in English:

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Amnesty International Youtube clip:

Blood-Soaked Secrets: Why Iran’s 1988 prison massacres are ongoing crimes against humanity

 

 

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