Former Political Prisoner In Iran Rejects US Sanctions-Busting Charges | Iran International

Former Political Prisoner In Iran Rejects US Sanctions-Busting Charges

A former student activist in Iran previously jailed on political charges has issued a statement lambasting the United States for charging him for illegal shipments of banned goods to the Islamic Republic.

Abdollah Momeni, 44, spent five years in Tehran’s Evin prison until 2013 as a leading member of the student movement, which was a driving force behind Iran’s reform movement.

In his statement published by Ensaf News on Friday [January 15], Momeni denied the charges announced January 12 by US authorities and said that while assisting a company in Iran he played a role in obtaining industrial products “through Amazon and Ebay” with no military use.

There are many US sanctions in place against Iran, some imposed in the 1980 and later, and many new sanctions since 2018. These sanctions, among other things, forbid the export of goods to Iran that could be used for military and intelligence purposes.

Momeni was charged alongside Arash Yousefi Jam and Amin Yousefi Jam – both of Ontario, Canada – who allegedly assisted him in acquiring nine electrical discharge boards, one CPU board, two servo motors, and two railroad crankshafts from the US to Iran in violation of economic sanctions. Momeni lives in Iran.

“The defendants deceived US companies, illegally obtained sensitive US items, and transshipped those items through the UAE [United Arab Emirates] to Iran in violation of US law,” said Assistant Attorney General for National Security John Demers. The charges also include money laundering.

Momeni said that the US has no right to apply its domestic laws to foreign nationals and bring charges without giving them a chance to defend themselves.  He did not refer to his right to have an attorney in the US.


Explosion Hits Ship In Gulf Of Oman, Raising Suspicions Of Iranian Attack

A ship has been struck by an explosion Friday near the strategic mouth of the Persian Gulf, American and British military officials said, at the same time when a US airstrike hit Iranian-backed militia in Syria.

The unexplained blast comes amid heightened tensions between Iran and the US over Tehran's nuclear program. The site of the blast, the Gulf of Oman, saw a series of mine attacks against oil tankers in 2019 that the US Navy blamed on Iran, something Tehran denied.

The Bahamas-flagged ship, the MV HELIOS RAY, was hit by an explosion in the Gulf of Oman on Thursday, the United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO) and a maritime security firm said on Friday.

Details of the blast remained unclear. UKMTO, which is run by the British navy, says the crew and the vessel is safe after the explosion. 

The US Navy's Bahrain-based 5th Fleet was "aware and monitoring" the situation, Cmdr. Rebecca Rebarich told The Associated Press. She declined to immediately comment further.

President Joe Biden ordered a retaliatory airstrike Friday on positions of Iran-backed Iraqi militia forces in Syria after recent rocket attacks on US bases in Iraq.

The British maritime organization gave the ship's last position off the coast of Muscat, the capital of Oman.

While the circumstances of the explosion remain unclear, Dryad Global, a maritime intelligence firm, said it was very possible the blast stemmed from "asymmetric activity by Iranian military," which it said would be "commensurate" with heightened regional tensions.

As Iran seeks to pressure the United States to lift sanctions and return to the 2015 atomic accord, the country may seek "to exercise forceful diplomacy through military means," the Dryad report said.

Iran did not immediately acknowledge the incident.

Reporting by AP and Reuters

Young Political Prisoner Attempts Suicide In Iran After Being Told 'You Have No Rights'

A political prisoner in Iran who was arrested during the 2019 nationwide protests has been taken to hospital after an attempted suicide on February 24, a human rights group has announced.

Siamak Moghimi, 25, cut his wrist and abdomen in the Greater Tehran Penitentiary after the prison chief addressing the detainees of the November 2019 protests said, “You don’t have any rights”, HRANA, Human Rights Activists News Agency, an Iranian rights monitor based abroad reported, quoting its sources inside Iran.

There is no news about Moghimi's health condition in the hospital.

Nationwide anti-government protests erupted in Iran on November 15, 2019, after a sudden hike in state-controlled fuel prices, which quickly turned into a political uprising against the Islamic Republic. In less than a week, security forces killed hundreds of protesters and arrested 8,000. The faith of many prisoners is shrouded in secrecy. Those convicted were tried behind closed doors without due process of law.

Moghimi was sentenced to ten years in prison in early 2020 by a Revolutionary Court and must serve five years of his sentence. Revolutionary courts are a remnant of the post-revolution years in the 1980s when Islamists were purging the country of opponents.

Moghimi suffered from nervous breakdowns before his arrest and spent time in hospital. According to Iranian law, people with mental disorders are not held criminally responsible for their actions.


President Biden & King Salman Discuss Iran & Yemen In Their First Phone Call

In their first phone conversation on Thursday, King Salman of Saudi Arabia and President Biden discussed human rights, bilateral relations between the two countries, Middle East security, ending the war in Yemen, and Iran’s activities in the region.

President Biden welcomed the release of women’s rights activist Loujain Alhathloul from prison and emphasized the importance of human rights and rule of law, and said he will make efforts to strengthen the relations between Washington and Riyadh. He also reiterated the US’ commitment to protecting Saudi Arabia’s borders against attacks by Iran-backed groups.

The US State Department also released a statement about the phone conversation between the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and his Saudi counterpart Faisal bin Farhan in which the two discussed ending the war in Yemen, stronger regional security, fight against terrorism, and economic development.

Last week, Pentagon also announced that US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has had a phone conversation with Crown Prince and Minister of Defense Prince Mohammad bin Salman about their shared commitment to fighting against Iran’s “destabilizing activities” in and defeating fanaticism in the region.

Saudi Arabia is an opponent of the return of the US to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

France recently declared that the 2015 nuclear deal will not be enough and a more strict deal must be made that would involve Iran’s ballistic missile program and support of terrorism and that the deal must also involve Saudi Arabia and Israel.


Biden Orders Airstrike On Iran-Backed Militia In Syria

The US military launched an airstrike on facilities used by Iran-backed groups in Syria by the order of President Joe Biden, making it the first military action of his presidency. The attack was in retaliation to the February 15 rocket attack against the US military base at Erbil International Airport that killed a contractor and injured five.

“We’re confident that that target was being used by the same Shia militants that conducted the [February 15] strikes,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told reporters after the airstrike.

Austin also mentioned that he recommended the strike to President Biden.

“We said a number of times that we will respond on our timeline,” Austin said. “We wanted to be sure of the connectivity and we wanted to be sure that we had the right targets.”

The spokesperson for the Pentagon John Kirby said the attack destroyed multiple facilities at a border control point used by a number of Iran-backed militia groups.

“The operation sends an unambiguous message: President Biden will act to protect American and coalition personnel,” Kirby said. “At the same time, we have acted in a deliberate manner that aims to deescalate the overall situation in eastern Syria and Iraq.”

Kirby reported that the facilities belonged to two known Iran-backed militia groups Kataib Hezbollah and Kataib Sayyid al-Shuhada.


Protests Continue In Zahedan Despite Heavy Police Presence

Local sources in Zahedan, the capital of Sistan and Baluchistan province in Iran have reported continued protests despite the heavy presence of security forces in the city. It was also reported that the killed fuel carriers in Saravan were buried on Thursday.

According to the reports, the funeral of at least 10 fuel carriers who were shot and killed by the Islamic Republic armed forces on Monday, February 22, was held in Saravan on Thursday.

On Thursday night, protesters in Karim Abad area in Zahedan continued their protest and blocked some streets.

Protests in Zahedan and other areas in Sistan and Baluchistan have continued while the cellphone internet is either shut down or disrupted in most areas of the province.

Local sources claim that Tharallah Brigade in Kerman has sent some troops to crack down on the protesters in Sistan and Baluchistan.

Videos and images from Zahedan and Iranshahr show that on the third day of protests, security forces have started shooting at the protesters from building roofs.

Baluch Activists’ Campaign reported that after the protests spread to other areas of the province, on Wednesday a number of protesters were arrested and at least two protesters, Hassan Mohammad Zehi and Mohammad Saleh Moqaddami, a teenager and a middle-aged man respectively, were killed by the security forces.

The Persian Twitter account of the US State Department has expressed deep concerns about the shutdown of the internet and the government’s violence against protesters.

Russia Urges 'Synchronized Approach' Between Iran & US On Nuclear Talks

Russia has proposed a synchronized approach including “concrete” steps by the Biden administration to break the deadlock between the Islamic Republic of Iran and the United States.

Top Russian negotiator Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said in an interview on Wednesday that “there’s a chance now that hasn’t existed for a long time. We have to try and use it.”

US President Joe Biden had promised to return to JCPOA if Iran returns to full compliance, but since he entered the White House, the two country have been in a deadlock about who is to take the first step toward compliance. Biden has offered to participate in talks between Iran and other parties of the nuclear deal, also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) to revive the accord abandoned by Donald Trump in 2018.

However, President Biden’s European allies have changed their tunes on the deal since he came to power. France and Germany, two parties of the JCPOA both have stated that the 2015 accord will not be enough anymore, and a new stricter deal must be made in which other countries of the Middle East Including Saudi Arabia and Israel are also involved.

As a prerequisite to negotiations, Iran wants the US to lift sanctions that Trump reimposed, which heavily impacted Iran’s oil exports and the economy. Biden wants the Islamic Republic to first resume its compliance with the multilateral agreement that seeks to curb its nuclear program.

Ryabkov said the US could prove its commitment by starting to unfreeze Iranian assets and oil exports, and Iran should gradually return to compliance with the JCPOA. Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif had previously offered a similar solution, calling for coordination.

January Drone Attack On Saudi Royal Palace Launched From Iraq

A senior Iran-backed militia official in Baghdad and an unnamed American official say that a January drone attack on a Saudi royal palace was launched from inside Iraq.

Speaking to the Associated press this were, the militia official who was speaking on condition of anonymity said three drones were launched form the Saudi border area that crashed into the royal palace in Riyadh on January 23 causing significant damage.

The attack was earlier claimed by a little-known group called Awliya Wa’ad al-Haq, or “The True Promise Brigades,” that circulated on social media, calling it retaliation for a suicide bombing claimed by the Islamic State group in a Baghdad shopping district on Jan. 21.

The militia official said the drones came “in parts from Iran and were assembled in Iraq and were launched from Iraq.”

A US official told AP that Washington believes the January 23 attack on the Yamama Palace was launched from inside Iraq. The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, did not elaborate or say how the U.S. came to this conclusion.

Iran-backed militias in Iraq increasingly launch attacks claimed under different names, appearing to have splintered. Some Washington-based analysts argue the militias have become splintered only to allow them to claim attacks under different names to mask their involvement.

President Joe Biden’s administration, which is keen to restore the 2015 nuclear agreement with Iran has voiced concern about Iran’s “destabilizing” regional activities, but has also indicated it does not share Riyadh’s policies in the war in Yemen and has lifted terrorism designation for the Houthis fighting the Saudi coalition.

Reporting by AP

Motahari, Outspoken Iran Politician, Announces Presidential Candidacy

Ali Motahari, an outspoken socially conservative politician, has announced his candidacy for Iran’s presidential election in June, although his bid to run again for parliament last year was rejected by the Guardian Council, which vets candidates.

Motahari, son of Ayatollah Morteza Motahari, a revolutionary leader assassinated in May 1979, has in recent years attacked some policies restricting political freedoms, while he was deputy parliamentary speaker. He has often attacked security agencies as well as decisions by aging clerics close to the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei dominating key state bodies.

Motahari’s tilt towards such positions cost him his chance of running again for parliament last year when hundreds of reformist politicians and candidates were banned from running in February’s elections. Turn-out was declared to have been relatively low at 43 percent, with principlists winning a majority of seats.

Many pundits and media outlets in Iran expect hardliners to win the presidency in the upcoming elections with key reformists barred from running. This could reduce voter participation − 73 percent in the 2017 presidential election − which is seen by Iran’s leadership as a barometer of the health of the political system.

Iran’s former defense minister Hossein Dehghan, a long-time officer of the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC), is one of a handful of people who have so far declared their candidacy. There has been discussion and controversy over candidates with strong military backgrounds and connections.

Other strong potential candidates are Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf (Qalibaf), the parliament speaker and former top IRGC officer, and Ebrahim Raeesi, the chief justice.

Ali Motahari, an outspoken Iranian politician. FILE

Forty Republicans Present Resolution Against Lifting Iran's Sanctions

Over 40 Republican senators and members of the House of Representatives led by Senator Tom Cotton issued a resolution expressing their strong opposition to lifting any sanctions on the Islamic Republic of Iran.

According to a copy obtained by Bloomberg News, the resolution “rejects and opposes the reapplication of sanctions relief for Iran” and expresses disapproval of any move to reverse a ban that keeps Iran from accessing the US financial system.

“The US must maintain sanctions on the Iranian regime until it abandons its nuclear ambitions and ends its support for violence and terror around the region,” the resolution’s House and Senate sponsors said in a statement. “Iran took advantage of weak policies during the Obama administration, and President Biden must not repeat those same mistakes.”

President Biden had promised to return to JCPOA if Iran returns to full compliance, but since then his European allies have changed their tunes on the deal. France and Germany, two parties of the JCPOA both have stated that the 2015 accord is not enough anymore, and a new deal must be made where other countries of the Middle East Including Saudi Arabia and Israel are also involved.

The State Department also announced today that the US is deliberating with Seoul about releasing the Islamic Republic’s $7 billion funds frozen by South Korean banks.

Families Of Flight 752: UN Report Raises Possibility Of Intentional Downing Of Plane

The Association of the Families of Flight PS752 released a statement welcoming yesterday’s report by the UN Special Rapporteur Agnes Callamard and said the report adds credit to the theory that the plane was shot down intentionally.

The families say the report is a result of their cooperation with Callamard and wrote: “Once again, a credible international organization adds validity to the theory that the missile attack on the plane was intentional.”

They went on to say that it is now Canada’s turn to change its “current passive strategy” toward Iran. More than a third of passengers who died in the crash were Canadian citizens or residents.

“It is significant that the UN has categorized this incident under arbitrary massacres, which contradicts the Islamic Republic’s excuse of human error,” the statement continues.

The families also demanded the international courts try the Islamic Republic officials responsible for the incident.

In her report on Tuesday, Callamard strongly rejected the Islamic Republic’s explanation for shooting down Ukrainian Flight 752, killing 176 people on board said their explanations about the case intended “to create maximum confusion and minimum clarity” and seems “contrived to mislead and bewilder.”

Callamard also indicated that the Iranian authorities seem to have tried to cover up the evidence afterward, pointing out that instead of opening a proper investigation, the authorities allowed the crash site “to be looted and then bulldozed."

In response to yesterday’s report, the Ukrainian Deputy Foreign Minister said Ukrain has repeatedly emphasized that the downing of the airliner over Tehran was in violation of international laws to which the UN special rapporteur has drawn attention.

Ukraine also emphasized the importance of an independent and unbiased investigation and putting the culprits on trial.

Iran Detained French Tourist Nine Months Ago, Says His Lawyer

Iran has detained a French tourist for nine months and his lawyers have been denied access to him, one of the lawyers, Saeid Dehghan, told Reuters on Wednesday.

The arrest, if confirmed, would come at a sensitive time, when the United States and European parties to Iran's 2015 nuclear deal are trying to restore the pact that was abandoned by former US President Donald Trump in 2018.

"His name is Benjamin and he is being held at the Vakilabad prison in the city of Mashahd. He was detained nine months ago and he faces contradictory and baseless charges," Dehghan said.

Iran's judiciary was not available to comment, Reuters says. There was also no immediate official reaction from French authorities to the news.

Iran’s Revolutionary Guards have arrested dozens of dual nationals and foreigners in recent years, mostly on espionage charges, including Franco-Iranian academic Fariba Adelkhah, whom Tehran sentenced to six years in prison in May 2020 for security-related charges. 

United Nations' experts and human rights organizations say Iran detains foreigners as bargaining chips with Western countries, especially to gain the release of its agents or collaboraters in Western jails.

Adelkhah was released on furlough last October. Dehghan said she had been under house arrest since then.

Tehran, which does not recognise dual nationality, has rejected France's calls to release Adelkhah.

French daily newspaper Le Figaro reported on Friday that a person with dual French and Iranian citizenship and a German national had been arrested in Iran more than two weeks ago.

Reporting by Reuters