Iranian Plane Lands In Venezuela Amid US Warnings Against Missile Shipments | Iran International

Iranian Plane Lands In Venezuela Amid US Warnings Against Missile Shipments

An Iranian plane belonging to a company sanctioned by the United States in 2019 for allegedly shipping weapons to Syria landed in Venezuela on Tuesday.

The 747 aircraft, owned by Iran’s Qeshm Fars Air, landed at a time when trade ties have grown closer between the two OPEC members, whose oil industry and banking are under increasingly strict U.S. sanctions. It was not immediately clear what the plane brought to Venezuela.

Iran has shipped million of barrels of oil to Venezuela in recent months and received payments in gold. Since a UN arms embargo on Iran expired this month, there have also been reports of possible Iranian weapons transfers to Venezuela.

Elliot Abrams, the US Special Representative for the two countries warned October 26 that if Iranian missiles are shipped, they will either be destroyed on route or on the ground once they arrive in Venezuela.

Venezuela’s information ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment by Reuters.

Earlier this year, more than a dozen flights from Iran’s Mahan Air brought materials to help repair Venezuela’s refineries. Iran has also sent two flotillas of tankers carrying fuel to Venezuela, easing acute fuel shortages in the South American country.

The two countries’ growing ties have drawn criticism from Washington, which is seeking to pressure Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro to leave power, and to thwart Iran’s nuclear program.

With reporting by Reuters

Blinken Says US 'Confident' Iran Attacked Tanker, Vows 'Collective Response'

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has reiterated on Monday that Washington is “confident” Iran carried out the fatal attack on an Israeli-managed tanker off the coast of Oman.

In a briefing with reporters, Blinken said, “It follows a pattern of similar attacks by Iran, including past incidents with explosive drones. There is no justification for this attack on a peaceful vessel on a commercial mission in international waters. Iran’s action is a direct threat to freedom of navigation and commerce.”

The drone attack on Thursday killed two crew members, a Briton and a Romanian. The Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett called the act a big mistake by Iran and vowed not to allow it to go without a response. Both the US and UK in a coordinated manner called Iran responsible and vowed to come up with a response.

Iran on Monday denied any role in the incident and warned that it will respond to any threat to its security.

Blinekn, responding to a question during the briefing, also said that the attack on the tanker, the Mercer Street, follows a pattern of similar actions by Iran that “continues to act with tremendous irresponsibility when it comes to, in this instance, threats to navigation, to commerce, to innocent sailors who are simply engaged in commercial transit in international waters.”

The Secretary of State again pledged a “collective response” to Iran. 

EU To Send Diplomat To Iran To Attend Raisi’s Inauguration

Laurence Norman from The Wall Street Journal reported on Monday that the European Union (EU) has decided to send the Deputy Secretary General of the European External Action Service Enrique Mora to Iran this week as its representative at the inauguration of Iran’s new President Ebrahim Raisi. Mora has been playing the role of coordinator of the Iran nuclear talks in Vienna.

On Tuesday, Iran’s Supreme Leader will first preside over an endorsement ceremony for Raisi at the Imam Khomeini Hussainiyah. Then on Thursday, Raisi will be formally inaugurated in the Iranian parliament. Today, Iranian officials announced that 115 officials from 73 countries will attend the inauguration.

At the last presidential inauguration for Hassan Rouhani’s second term in office, the EU sent Federica Mogherini, who was then the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. Mora’s presence there will thus be at a lower level. But it comes at a very sensitive juncture, as the talks in Vienna to revive the Iran nuclear deal have stalled with no date scheduled for a next round. It also comes amid a diplomatic crisis with the United Kingdom, the United States, Israel, and Romania all implicating Iran in the attack on the Mercer Street vessel, which killed two Europeans.

The decision to send such a high-ranking EU diplomat has also been very controversial in the Iranian diaspora. This is because of Raisi’s reported role in human rights abuses, having served on a Death Commission in 1988 which sent thousands of political prisoners to their deaths. Amnesty International has called for Raisi to be investigated for crimes against humanity. Norman reported that the United Kingdom, France, and Germany raised objections over the EU decision to dispatch Mora to Tehran.

Israel's 'Must Act Without Delay' Against Iran, Defense Chief says

Israel’s Defense Minister Benny Gants Monday said that his country must act without delay against Iran, after a tanker was attacked by UAVs off the coast of Oman last Thursday.

The United States, the United Kingdom and Israel have accused Tehran of launching the attack that damaged the ship and killed two crewmen, one Briton and a Romanian.

Iran on Monday denied any responsibility and blamed Israel for destabilizing the region. It also warned that will immediately respond to any threat to its security.

“Iran’s aggression in the region generally and on the maritime front, in particular, is intensifying,” Gantz said during a Knesset session. “This is the exact reason that we must act right now against Iran, which not only strives for a nuclear military [program] but also is leading to a dangerous arms race and the crumbling of stability in the Middle East.”

Referring to talks this year between Iran and world powers, Gantz said, “And any agreement with Iran must also address the removal of its threat to the region, and its harm to innocent people and the world economy.”

The US and UK have also said that they are weighing a response to Iran’s action in consultations with allies, but a direct Western military action is less probable than some sort of Israeli reaction.

Rights Lawyer Sentenced To 30 Years In Iran Says It Was Judge's Revenge

Amir Salar Davoudi, a human rights lawyer in Iran whose 30-year jail term was upheld by a revolutionary court recently has said that the main reason for his conviction is his activism and defending dissidents in acourt free of charge.

Davoudi was convicted in June 2019 for setting up a channel on the social media pp Telegram reporting on the Islamic Republic’s human rights violations. But he says the real reason was his persistent defense of those charged for opposing the regime for 12 years and his human rights activities.

In a note written by Davoudi and received by Iran International he added that the notorious revolutionary court judge Abolghasem Salavati had a “grudge against him”. He went to on to say that Salavati not only held a grudge against him but those attorneys who defend human rights cases in Iran.

Davoudi also wrote in his note that “This obliges me to endure and fight to the end, to defend the rights of the people, although I can't invest any hopes in the Islamic Republic.”

The human rights attorney put up an $80,000 bail, an astronomical amount in Iran, to be temporarily out of jail. With the decision to uphold his conviction he can be arrested anytime to serve the sentence.

Former Political Prisoners Say Detainees In Iran's Khuzestan Face Danger

More than 60 former Iranian political prisoners issued a statement on Monday expressing deep concern over conditions faced by detainees of protests in Khuzestan province in July.

The 62 signatories referring to high summer temperatures, lack of appropriate facilities and the high number of prisoners in detention centers said they are concerned that past mistreatment of political prisoners can happen again in Khuzestan.

Many political detainees in the past have been mistreated in Iranian prisons and some have died either as a result of torture or being deprived of health care.

Protests that began on July 15 for lack of water in Khuzestan turned into anti-government unrest in the following days and an undetermined number of people were arrested by security forces. The government has not disclosed the number of detainees, while in the first days of the crackdown one human rights monitoring organization, HRANA said it had determined the identity of 100 people.

More arrests have taken place since then, as security forces went door-to-door after identifying activists and protesters.

In the statement, the former prisoners say that suppression of protests by force and detention of a large group of people will create and intensify anger in the population and will not resolve any issues.

Signatories demanded the immediate release of all detainees. Government officials have promised to release those “who did not commit a crime”, but in the past they have charged people for simply voicing demands or criticizing the government.

Iranians Buy 30% Less Bread As Prices Increased In July

Iranians are buying less bread since the government raised prices in mid-July for subsidized flour and allowed bakeries to charge more for all varieties of bread, Hamshahri newspaper reported on Monday.

Two weeks after prices increased from 12 to as high as 30 percent in some regions, industry insiders say people are buying 20-30 percent less bread, while for wage earners it is an important food item.

There are two kinds of bread producers in Iran, those who receive subsidized flour and have to abide by government prices and those who produce for the high-end market and are free to set their own prices.

Most people from working classes and wage earners buy the cheaper bread from subsidized bakeries, and those are the ones who now have to pay much more for one of the main staples in the Iranian diet.

Hamshahri reports that for a family of five the monthly bill for bread can be $20. This seems very low compared with Western countries, but many wage earners in Iran barely make $100 a month. The family must also pay rent, buy other basic foodstuff, and pay other expenses.

Annual inflation for food items is more than 60 percent in Iran and millions of families cannot afford meat and even chicken that has almost tripled in price.

Two More Female Political Prisoners Contract Covid In Iran Jail

Two more female political prisoners in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison have contracted Covid-19, with one prisoner transferred to hospital and one housed in the prison’s quarantine ward.

Niloofar Bayani, an ecologist serving a 10-year sentence has been put in a ward where Covid patients are transferred without any medical follow-up. If a prisoner’s health worses, the patient is taken to the prison infirmary, where she receives an IV and left alone to improve. In cases when a prisoner’s health condition worsens further, she is transferred to a hospital.

Bayani in the past had written several letters to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei complaining of, “Intense psychological torture, threat of physical and sexual torture” during at least “1,200 hours” of interrogations by intelligence officers of the Islamic Revolution Guard Corps, IRGC.

The IRGC arrested several ecologists in 2018 and sentenced them to long prison terms on charges of spying, while the intelligence ministry said there was no evidence to justify their punishment.

In mid-July a female political prisoner informed her husband that many women have contracted Covid in Evin prison.

Another female political prisoner Monireh Arabshahi’s attorney tweeted that she has been transferred to hospital after developing severe symptoms of Covid-19. The attorney, Babk Paknia has asked the authorities to allow give her a temporary leave from prison to that her family could take charge of her care.

Arabshahi is an anti-compulsory hijab activist who was sentenced in early 2019 to almost ten years in prison. Her daughter was also arrested at the same time and is in prison.

No Official Explanation For Fire At Iran Oil And Gas Installation

The spokesman of Arvandan Oil and Gas Company (AOGC), a major subsidiary of the National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC) operating in the oil-rich province of Khuzestan, confirmed a fire at one its storage tanks in Karun area Saturday.

Naser Farahani commented on the incident Sunday after a video was posted on social media showing a fuel tank and heavy smoke rising from behind it. Farahani, however, said the tank had been completely empty and the smoke seen in the video footage was rising from tires and a crane burning behind the tank but did not specify the cause of the fire.

The spokesman of AOGC also said the fire has caused no disruption in production. The company which has its headquarters at the strategic port of Khorramshahr, Khuzestan, is the main operator in oil and gas production from Azadegan, Yadavaran, Darquain, Jufeyr, Moshtagh, Khorramshahr, Arvand, Susangerd, and other fields, which are located in west of Karun River.

A similar incident but more extensive blaze at Tehran's Tondgooyan Refinery in June led to the explosion of one of the two LPG (liquefied petroleum gas) tanks affected by the fire. The fire took two days to put out. Authorities said eleven were injured in the incident.

Since last summer, there have been multiple suspicious incidents at Iran’s nuclear, military and industrial sites. While Israel is suspected of launching sabotage attacks on some of these sites, it has not taken responsibility for any incident.

Iran Lawmaker Confirms New Bill Restricts Access To Instagram

One of the lawmakers behind a controversial bill setting new highly restrictive internet regulations in Iran confirmed that access to Instagram will be limited if parliament passes the legislation.

Speaking in a state-run television program Saturday evening, Abbas Moradi said the bill aims to make Iranian users of Instagram, the only major social network not blocked in Iran, to "emigrate" to a domestic platform. Moradi admitted that there is no domestic platform like Instagram at the moment but promised the launch of what he dubbed as "Instagram Plus" which he said would be "safe".

Moradi explained that to encourage developers, they would be offered tax exemptions. Bandwidth currently used by Instagram users will gradually be reduced in proportion to extent of its substitution by the domestic version.

In the same program, Mohammad Keshvari, an internet expert who opposes the planned legislation said reducing the bandwidth for Instagram means the speed of access to the platform will become so slow that people give up using it.

Keshvari pointed out that foreign companies operating social media platforms will not accept the fourteen conditions set for them in the bill to prevent them from being blocked in Iran, including compulsory registration of their subscribers, and providing their information to Iranian authorities on demand. This condition will completely prevent any anonymous posting on social media.

Another lawmaker participating in the program said lawmakers behind the bill were responding to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei's concerns about the harms of unregulated internet access.

With Rising Inflation, Residential Rents Climb By 39% In Iran

Residential rents in Iran’s cities have risen almost by 39 percent in the last reporting month compared with the same period last year, the Central Bank of Iran (CBI) reported on Sunday.

In the capital Tehran, rents increased by 35 percent as general inflation has reached nearly 50 percent amid depleted government coffers that leads to printing more money and creating excess liquidity. Rising inflation usually manifests itself in real estate prices and rents with a delay of a few months.

At the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic the government set a limit of 25 percent annual rent increase for Tehran and 20 percent in other cities. The CBI report shows authorities were not able to enforce the regulation.

Iran’s currency has lost its value by more than eightfold since the end of 2017, when it became apparent the United States would withdraw from the 2015 nuclear agreement. The currency rial steeply declined in 2018 as former US president Donald Trump abandoned the agreement and imposed heavy sanctions on Iran. Since then, rising inflation has pushed nearly 60 percent of the population into poverty, Iranian officials and media have said.

Real estate prices have kept their value in US dollars, while they have kept rising in the local currency as it has continued to decline. One square meter (11 sq feet) of a residential unit in Tehran costs an average of $1,200, with little change from three years ago, while in rials the price has more than tripled from 84 million rials to 300 million.

Another IRGC General Demands Parliament Pass Internet Censorship Bill

As Iranians collect 800,000 online signatures against a proposed law to further restrict access to the internet, an IRGC general has said that it is in the interest of those who complain “to engage in debauchery on cyberspace”.

Golamreza Jalali urged the parliament on Saturday to pass a proposed bill called Legislation to Protect Cyberspace Users’ Rights, saying the parliament’s step to consider the legislation was “a welcome” development. He added that criticism of the bill emanates from “misunderstandings” and is promoted by people whose interest is “debauchery”.

Another military figure, Brigadier-General Mohammad-Reza Naghdi, a senior official in the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC), wrote Friday to members of parliament urging them to end the "shameful situation" of "the hegemony of foreigners on Iranian cyberspace."

The legislation would require foreign-owned social networking and messaging corporations to appoint an Iranian representative, agree to comply with Iranian laws and regulations, and to officially register subscribers and provide this information to the authorities if requested.

This could result in further steps to completely ban major social media platforms such as Twitter and Instagram unavailable in Iran. Except Instagram all other major Western platforms are already blocked.

Protests against the Islamic Republic have been going on since mid-July and social media is a major factor both in mobilizing the people and also informing the world about the events and government crackdown.