COVID Vaccines Smuggled From Iraq Are Sold For $2,600 In Iran | Iran International

COVID Vaccines Smuggled From Iraq Are Sold For $2,600 In Iran

A newspaper in Iran has reported that a black market for Covid-19 vaccines is in full swing in Iran, with vaccines brought illegally from the Iraqi Kurdistan and sold for up to $2,600 a dose to wealthy Iranians.

Hamshahri newspaper reported Tuesday that several unnamed centers in Tehran inject Pfizer vaccines for $1,100-2,600, depending on who introduces the customer and at which center. This is an incredibly high amount for Iranian wage earners who make $100-300 a month, due to the depreciation of the Iranian currency since 2018.

The vaccine merchants work in secret and only people recommended by trusted middlemen can pay and be inoculated at these establishments, which are said to be equipped with special freezers able to handle the temperature requirement of the Pfizer vaccine.

Iran failed to place orders for Western vaccines last year, and early this year Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei banned the importation of American and British vaccines. As a result, Iran has administered just four million doses and vaccinated around two percent of its 84-million population, with Russian and Chinese variants.

In recent days, local officials in several provinces announced a halt to vaccinations as supplies dried up and one health ministry official accused Chinese companies of reneging on their promises to deliver additional doses.

According to Hamshahri, each vaccine dose is designated for a specific citizen in Kurdistan, which means medical corruption also in Iraq, allowing vaccines for Iraqi citizens to be smuggled to in Iran.

White House Calls On Critical Companies To Improve Cyber Defenses

WASHINGTON, July 28 (Reuters) - The White House is signaling to U.S. critical infrastructure companies, such as energy providers that they must improve their cyber defenses because additional potential regulation is on the horizon.

U.S. President Joseph Biden signed a national security memorandum on Wednesday, launching a new public-private initiative that creates "performance controls" for cybersecurity at America's most critical companies, including water treatment and electrical power plants.

The recommendations are voluntary in nature, but the administration hopes it will cause companies to improve their cybersecurity ahead of other policy efforts, said a senior administration official.

The announcement comes after multiple high profile cyberattacks this year crippled American companies and government agencies, including a ransomware incident which disrupted gasoline supplies.

"These are the thresholds that we expect responsible owners and operators to go," said the official. "The absence of mandated cybersecurity requirements for critical infrastructure is what in many ways has brought us to the level of vulnerability that we have today."

"We are pursuing all options we have in order to make the rapid progress we need," they added.

Biden on Tuesday warned that if the United States ended up in a "real shooting war" with a "major power" it could be the result of a significant cyber attack on the United States, highlighting what Washington sees as a growing threat posed by hackers from Russia, China, Iran and North Korea.

"The federal government cannot do this alone," said the official. "Almost 90% of critical infrastructure is owned and operated by the private sector. Securing it requires a whole of nation effort."

The official described the current state of cybersecurity rules for critical infrastructure companies as "patchwork" and "piecemeal."

"We've kicked the can down the road for a long time," said the official.

Prisoners, Activists In Iran Issue Statement To End Current 'Regime'

More than 100 political prisoners, activists, and relatives of people killed in protests or who have died in detention in Iran published a statement Wednesday supporting protestors in Khuzestan province.

The statement, signed by 114 families and individuals says: “The demand of the Iranian people is to transition from the Islamic Republic to reach a human life under constitutional law based on human rights and safeguarding national interests, as the political path of a Supreme Leader has not been successful in the past 43 years and it has destroyed all bridges of rationality.”

The principle of velayat-e faqih (‘guardianship of the jurist’), under which a clerical head of state exercises wide powers, is a cornerstone of the constitution adopted after the 1979 revolution, 43 years ago by the Iranian calendar in which years begin in March.

The signatories said Iranians had protested because they felt their human and patriotic dignity endangered. They warned “the self-appointed rulers of the Islamic Republic that the wrath of the people is stronger” than guns. The victims’ families and activists also appealed to security forces to consider “their conscience” and “defend the people against suppressors.”

Protests beginning July 15 in Khuzestan over water shortages soon became anti-government unrest across the province and then spread to some other regions of the country. Around ten people have been reported killed in Khuzestan − with five deaths confirmed by HRANA (Human Rights Activists News Agency) − and hundreds arrested in several provinces.

The signatories also asked “freedom-loving political and civil activists” to inform the world about “crimes of the regime” and insisted that “this government is not the representative of the Iranian people and is a usurping regime.”

US Diplomats Push For Truce As Battles Spread In Yemen

Senior US diplomats are holding talks in the Middle East in a renewed push for a ceasefire in Yemen as fierce ground battles spread and the Iran-aligned Houthi group resumed cross-border attacks on Saudi Arabia after a brief lull over Muslim holidays.

US special envoy for Yemen Tim Lenderking arrived in Saudi Arabia on Tuesday following a visit by Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman to Oman, amid stalled efforts for a breakthrough in ending more than six years of war.

The Saudi-led coalition that backs Yemen's recognized government and the Houthis have been at odds over a United Nations-led proposal for a nationwide truce and the lifting of a coalition blockade to ease a dire humanitarian crisis.

Lenderking will discuss "growing consequences" of the Marib offensive that is triggering instability elsewhere and the "urgent need" for Riyadh and the Saudi-backed government to facilitate fuel imports to northern Yemen, the State Department said.

The Houthis have insisted sea and air restrictions on areas they control be removed before any ceasefire talks, while the coalition wants a simultaneous deal.

The Houthi movement holds most big urban centers after ousting the government from the capital, Sanaa, in late 2014, which prompted the coalition to intervene months later in a conflict widely seen as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

The war has killed tens of thousands of people and pushed Yemen to the brink of famine. The Houthis say they are fighting a corrupt system and foreign aggression. 

Reporting by Reuters

Rights Organization Says Iran Killed Or Abducted 540 People Abroad

An Iranian human rights organization has said that it has established the identity of 540 victims who have been killed or abducted abroad by Iran’s security forces in the past four decades.

The Abdorrahman Boroumand Center for Human Rights in Iran (ABC), based in Washington DC, released a statement on July 27, highlighting the recent kidnapping plot against US-based Iranian activist Masih Alinejad and said the episode “fits a decades-long pattern of intimidation, extrajudicial killings and abductions of dissidents meant to undermine political and religious groups, silence activists and journalists, and prevent the mobilization of effective opposition movements inside and outside the country.”

The Boroumand center said that although it has identified 540 people who were killed or abducted by Iranian intelligence mainly in the Middle East and Europe, this figure is by no means conclusive.

Most of the victims were targeted in Iran’s neighboring countries, especially in Iraqi Kurdistan in the 1990s, where 329 people were successfully targeted. Thirteen people were killed or abducted in France and six in Germany, but the operation even reached the Philippines, Poland and the United States.

The targets of Iran’s “terror plots reflect Iran’s population in its diversity, including believers and non-believers, Shias and Sunnis, communists, socialists, nationalists and royalists, ABC said.

The high number of victims could be unprecedented in the world in the past 50 years and could surpass operations by the Soviet Union in the first half of the 20th century, when there were a few dozen suspected cases of attacks on dissidents abroad.

Official Says Cryptocurrency Mining Machines Enter Iran Legally

An official of the Islamic Republic of Iran Customs Administration has said that computers for mining cryptocurrencies enter the country with the knowledge of the government and with foreign currency provided by the Central Bank of Iran (CBI).

The government has often blamed high power-usage by cryptocurrency miners for shortages of electricity that have plagued Iran this year, especially during peak winter and summer months.

Mehrdad Jamal Arvanagi, technical deputy of customs told local media that mining machines are imported through official channels and in the past one year the central bank has provided $11 million dollars to importers of these computers.

The imports are conducted “by the private sector” with permits from the ministry of industry and mining and there is no restriction for bringing them through customs.

On Tuesday, Iran’s electricity management company sent a letter to judicial officials warning that with recent restrictions by the Chinese government on cryptocurrency mining, a large number of machines might be transferred to Iran, where electricity is subsidized.

Already, there have been reports and complaints in Iranian media and social media about Chinese mining farms set up in Iran allegedly in cooperation with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard to generate revenue for operators and hard currency for the military-intelligence force listed as a terrorist organization by the United States.

 

Iran Claims Seizing Israeli Weapons Amid Anti-Regime Protests

Iranian state-controlled media reported on Tuesday that security forces had arrested members of a group linked to Israel's Mossad intelligence agency amid ongoing protests in the country's southwest.

The report said "a network of spy agents, with a large amount of weapons and ammunition" was seized after being smuggled into Iran across the country's western border.

It claimed the alleged Mossad agents intended to use the weapons during riots in Iran and also for assassinations.

The report did not elaborate or say how many alleged agents were arrested or when they purportedly infiltrated into Iran.

The state TV report comes as at least ten people have been killed amid days of protests that began over water shortage but soon turned into anti-government unrest in Iran's oil-rich Khuzestan province.

Iran occasionally announces the detention of people it says are spying for foreign countries, including the United States and Israel or plotting terror operations. But it rarely reveals the identity of detainees or holds any trials.

Many Iranian on social media say that the government wants to portray the protests as a potential danger to the country’s territorial integrity by hinting at possible separatist plots. But Iranians in several other parts of the country have held protests in support of Khuzestan residents.

Tehran Airports To Close During Presidential Inauguration For 'Security'

All civilian airports in and around Iran’s capital Tehran will close during the inauguration of President-elect Ebrahim Raisi (Raeesi) on August 5, Tasnim news agency, which is close to the Revolutionary Guards, reported Tuesday. The move is unprecedented for presidential inaugurations, although on a few occasions airports have been shut down during armed forces day, when military planes have had air shows.

The report cited “security and safety requirements” for closing four airports between 16:30-19:00 local time, but the announcement also mentioned the airport in Qazvin, almost 200 kilometers north-west of the capital. It asked all airlines to modify flight schedules.

Since mid-2020, sensitive nuclear, military and industrial targets in Iran have sustained a series of attacks attributed to Israel, including the April 11 attack on the Natanz enrichment site. Some of these attacks may have involved the use of drones.

Iranian authorities have been criticized for not closing airspace on January 8, 2020 after firing ballistic missiles at United States bases in Iraq in response to the US killing Iranian general Qasem Soleimani and nine others with a drone strike in Baghdad. This resulted within hours in the downing of a Ukrainian passenger plane taking off from Tehran, due, Iran said, to the misalignment of a mobile missile battery.

Trial Of Former Iranian Official For Killing Prisoners To Start In Sweden

Swedish prosecutors have handed an indictment against a former Iranian security and prison official, arrested for killing prisoners, to a court in Stockholm on Tuesday prior to his trial which is set to begin on August 10. 

Hamid Noury (Nouri), 60, was arrested in Sweden last year after Iranian human rights activists and plaintiffs alleged that he was involved in executions at Gohardasht Prison in Karaj, played a key role in the torture and secret burial of thousands of prisoners, including members of the Mujahedin-e Khalq Organization (MEK), an opposition group allied to Saddam Hussein at the time that in July 1988 launched an offensive against Iran from Iraq. Noury has denied any connection with the executions.

Iraj Mesdaghi, one of the plaintiffs tweeted Tuesday that the indictment against Noury reached the court and Swedish media widely reported on the impending trial.

According to human rights organizations 4-5 thousand political prisoners serving time in prisons were executed in August 1988, in one of the worst extrajudicial massacres in recent decades.

Iran’s President-elect Ebrahim Raisi is said to have been a member in the “death commission” that carried out the killings. Noury was one of those who carried out the execution in Karaj prison, west of Tehran. He will be tried for violating international laws on crimes against humanity.

Israeli Defense Minister Will Discuss Iran During Visit To France

Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz will travel to France this week to discuss spyware sold by Israeli cyber firm NSO that was allegedly used to target French President Emmanuel Macron, and the Iran nuclear talks.

Macron's phone was on a list of targets that were possibly under surveillance by Morocco, which used NSO Group's Pegasus software, according to France's Le Monde newspaper. The French leader has called for an investigation. Israel has since set up a senior inter-ministerial team to assess any possible misuse of the spyware.

Gantz will meet French Defense Minister Florence Parly on Wednesday, an official Israeli statement said.

"Gantz will discuss the crisis in Lebanon and the developing agreement with Iran. He will also update the minister on the topic of NSO," it said.

NSO rejected the reports, saying it was "full of wrong assumptions and uncorroborated theories". Pegasus is intended for use only by government intelligence and law enforcement agencies to fight terrorism and crime, the company said.

Gantz's trip was planned before the NSO affair and was meant to focus on the growing economic crisis in Lebanon, which shares a border with Israel, and on world powers' efforts to resume a nuclear deal with Iran, Israeli media said.

Israel is concerned a revival of the deal may eventually allow its arch-foe Tehran to acquire atomic weapons. Iran denies seeking the bomb. Attempts to revive the 2015 accord, after then-President Donald Trump abandoned it in 2018, have been slow to make progress.

France's foreign ministry said on Monday that Iran was endangering the chance of concluding an accord with world powers over reviving the deal if it did not return to the negotiating table soon. 

Reporting by Reuters

Tehran Hospitals Swamped By Ten Thousand Covid Patients

A senior health official in Iran warned on Tuesday that the number of hospitalized Covid patients in the capital Tehran has surpassed 10,000 and there are no more beds available to accept new cases.

Nader Tavakoli told ISNA news website that authorities are thinking of asking the armed forces to provide an additional 500-600 beds at their hospitals and “if these also prove insufficient, to set up field hospitals.

The government has failed to reduce the pace of the pandemic after 18 months, when first cases emerged in February 2020. Iran was the second country after China where the coronavirus spread. The country is now experiencing its fifth pandemic surge.

The chief of Sina hospital in Tehran, Mohammad Talebpour, called on the armed forces and municipal authorities to help the hospitals, saying that if more patients show up, they cannot accommodate them. He added that the load of patients who seek help is 4-5 times higher than in previous peaks.

The Delta variant of the coronavirus invaded Iran in late June and spread throughout the country by mid-July. The national vaccination effort has failed, with lack of imported vaccines and a failure to produce local variants. The country’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei banned the purchase of American and British vaccines in January and Iran was able to buy a few million doses from Russia and China.