The attorney of three Baha’i citizens reported that each of them has received a sentence of four years and three months in prison.
Attorney Mohammad Hadi Erfanian tweeted on Friday that Sepideh Keshavarz, Mahvash Edalati, and Farid Esmaeli have each been sentenced to three years and seven months in prison for the charge of “conspiracy and assembly to act against national security” and eight months in prison for “propaganda against the system”. The three have appealed the decision.
The three members of the persecuted Baha'i community were all summoned to court and released on bail in 2018.
Citizens of the Baha'i faith have been persecuted in Iran since the founding of the religion in 1844. During the Pahlavi dynasty, the state protected the minority but after the Islamic revolution in 1979, the persecution once again took off and immediately a large number of Baha’i citizens were executed and hundreds were imprisoned.
The Islamic Republic authorities refuse the Baha'i work and education. They are often arrested, executed, and their properties confiscated. The murder of Baha'i citizens usually goes unpunished.
In December 2020, the US House of Representatives passed a bipartisan resolution, condemning the Iranian government’s persecution of the Baha'i community. The resolution called on the Iranian government to release all Baha'i prisoners, end its campaign of state-sponsored persecution, and reverse discriminatory policies against the Baha’i community.
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.
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
Iran Says $1 Billion Frozen In Korea To Be Released As First Tranche
Abdolnaser Hemati, Governor of Iran’s Central Bank, on Wednesday [February 24] said South Korean banks would transfer to Iran a first tranche of $1 billion “in cash” of $7 billion frozen Iranian funds.
The release of the money follows consultations with the United States, South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency said Tuesday quoting foreign ministry officials. This followed Iranian government spokesman Ali Rabiei telling reporters Korea had begun releasing some of the $7 billion frozen by its banks in fear of US sanctions.
While Hemati’s reference to cash apparently ruled out payment in kind, he referred obliquely to suggestions that released funds might be for humanitarian or other designated use. “In our meeting with the South Korean ambassador we underlined how Iran wants to use its assets,” the governor said on the sidelines of a weekly cabinet meeting. “Now it remains for the Koreans to consult with whoever they wish.”
In a press briefing Tuesday quoted by Yonhap, Korean foreign ministry spokesman Choi Young-sam said that in a recent meeting between the Korean ambassador and Hemati the two sides had “inched closer on their opinions” as Iran “expressed consent to the proposals we have made.”
Iran had earlier demanded some of the frozen money go to pay its arrears at the United Nations. Iran lost voting rights in the UN General Assembly on January 13 and must pay at least $16.25 million to regain them.
Iran and Korea have been in talks for a year over Iranian assets, mainly from oil sales, frozen by banks wary of punitive secondary American sanctions since President Donald Trump withdrew in 2018 from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.
Fifteen Republican Lawmakers Urge Biden Not To Lift Iran Sanctions
Fifteen United States Republican Congresspersons have written to President Joe Biden on February 22 imploring him not to lift any sanctions imposed on the Islamic Republic of Iran, which they say poses serious security threats to the country.
The letter initiated by Rep. John Katko, NY, and signed by 14 members of the GOP Homeland Security Committee members draws the president’s attention to “Iran’s malign activities, including its nuclear program,” missiles, as well as to its “support for terrorism, hostage taking, cyberattacks, and gross human rights violations.”
The lawmakers further add that “Regime demands for sanctions relief as a prerequisite for the Administration’s proposed bilateral negotiations are not made in good faith.” They urge Biden to keep up the pressure on Tehran and say the US “cannot afford to be perceived a weak or wavering on these important national security threats, Appeasement will not effectuate change.”
While Biden’s administration has engaged with busy diplomacy to coordinate its moves with European allies and find a path to engage Iran in talks, Tehran insists the US must lift all sanctions before it is even allowed back to the nuclear agreement that former president Donald Trump abandoned in 2018. However, many sanctions are terrorism related and it would be politically hard for the administration to lift them.
This is at least the fourth such appeal by Republican Representatives and Senators since President Biden’s inauguration in January.
The Republican lawmakers argue that sanctions “are an important point of leverage” if the US intends to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons and urge Biden “to reconsider lifting these sanctions.”
IAEA: Iran’s Enriched Uranium Stockpile 14 Times The Nuclear Deal Limit
The UN nuclear watchdog (IAEA) announced in its most recent report that Iran’s stockpile of uranium enriched to 20 percent purity has reached 17.6 kg and its full stockpile of enriched uranium has passed 2,967 kg which is 14 times the limit set under the 2015 nuclear deal, also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
The IAEA report also states that the explanations offered by the Islamic Republic regarding the traces of uranium in a previously undecalred nuclear facility are not technically credible.
The report states that Iran has also installed two chains of IR-6 centrifuges in Fardo facility in violation of the JCPOA.
Under the terms of the nuclear deal, Iran is not allowed to enrich uranium over 3.67 percent purity, and a maintain a maximum stockpile of 202.8 kg of enriched uranium. Iran’s current stockpile is 14 times that amount.
Iran began reducing compliance with its commitments to the nuclear deal in 2019 by initially enriching uranium to 5 percent and later 20 percent. The leader of the Islamic Republic Ali Khamenei said on Monday that Iran might decide to enrich uranium up to 60 percent.
Iran insists that the United States illegally imposed sanctions when it withdrew from the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Actions, or JCPOA, in 2018 and in response it is reducing its own commitments ander the aagreement.
Reuters: Venezuela Ships Jet Fuel To Iran In Exchange For Gasoline
(Reuters) - Venezuela is shipping jet fuel to Iran in return for vital gasoline imports for the South American nation as part of a swap deal agreed by the two state-run oil firms, three people with knowledge of the matter told Reuters.
Iran has ramped up assistance to Venezuela since last year as the United States tightened sanctions on both countries, hitting oil exports by state-run firms Petroleos de Venezuela and National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC).
Iran has sent flotillas of state-operated tankers carrying gasoline and feedstock for motor fuel to Venezuela, as well as equipment and spare parts to help the once-prosperous OPEC nation restart its dilapidated refineries.
Iran’s embassy in Caracas said in August that Venezuela had shipped a cargo of mangos and pineapples to Iran as part of “win-win commercial relations.”
Both Caracas and Tehran - which the United States has sanctioned with the aim of halting its nuclear program - have celebrated the Iranian fuel shipments as a method of resisting pressure from their common adversary.
However, one of the sources said NIOC and PDVSA last year agreed to a full swap of Venezuela jet fuel to pay for the Iranian gasoline.
Jet fuel is now abundant in Venezuela due to a shutdown in most domestic air travel due to coronavirus-related restrictions.
The jet fuel is shipped in the Iranian tankers that deliver gasoline to Venezuela in order to secure an uninterrupted flow of refined products and take advantage of available tankers, the source said. Such deals are known as “perfect trips” in the maritime industry as vessels travel fully laden in both directions.
“Each cargo is priced and compensated later. If there are differences in value (between swap shipments), they are paid through future cargoes,” the source added.
Iran's Parliament Increases Internet Taxes, Allocates Revenue To State-TV
Iran’s parliament on Tuesday approved an increase of taxes on cellphone providers by 30 trillion rials (around $125 million) and allocated the revenue to some organizations including the state-controlled Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB).
The Minister of Telecommunications Mohammad Javad Azari Jahromi has warned that the decision will cause a significant internet price hike by April. Some members of parliament have rejected Jahromi’s claim and said the internet tariff will not increase.
Member of parliament Mojtaba Rezakhah reported on Tuesday that the government’s revenue from the providers will increase by 10 percent, and the parliament wants the additional revenue to be spent on building infrastructure and develop cellphone networks. But lawmakers also hinted that the money should be spent to counter content that Iran's hardliners find incompatible with the Islamic Republic's ideology. More budget for the state broadcaster aims to achieve this goal.
Deputy-minister of Telecommunications also tweeted in response that the bill will increase the cost of internet and it would stop the internet from reaching deprived areas. He emphasized that the revenue of the providers is directly linked to the tariffs, and with the increase of the additional tariffs providers have to pay the government, the cost of the internet is sure to rise.
The Internet is heavily controlled and censored by Iran for the last two decades, with thousands of websites blocked and major social media platforms such as Facebook and You Tube out of reach for users. Almost every Iranian resorts to VPNs and other toold to circumvent the censorship and get access to blocked platforms.
Iran Spokesman Says US Could Be Guest In Nuclear Talks
Tehran is considering a proposal to accept the United States as a guest in talks between the remaining signatories of Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, Ali Rabiei, the government spokesman said Tuesday [February 23].
Rabiei said Iran was considering an idea from Josep Borrell, the European Union foreign policy chief, for “setting up a sit-down unofficially, for the purpose of discussions, not negotiations, between Iran and the P4+1, with the US as a guest.”
Rabiei said that Iran’s participation in informal discussions would depend on it being “convinced” that the process would lead to the “complete execution of Washington’s commitments.”
Iran signed the deal – known as the JCPOA, Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action – with the P5+1, the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany, but President Donald Trump withdrew the US in 2018 and imposed draconian sanctions on Iran, which responded after 2019 by expanding its nuclear program beyond JCPOA limits.
While President Joe Biden and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani have expressed a desire to revive the JCPOA, there has been no agreement on synchronizing moves. Iran has insisted the US should first remove sanctions, as required by the deal, while the Biden administration has stressed its need to consul allies and for Iran to reverse nuclear steps beyond JCPOA limits.
Rabiei also said South Korea has agreed to release Iranian funds frozen in its banks due to US sanctions, freeing $1 billion as a first step. Seoul announced earlier on Tuesday that this would require consultations with Washington.
Vice-President Es’hagh Jahangiri expressed optimism to ISNA news agency over “hopeful days and months in front of us.” Jahangiri welcomed progress in discussions with South Korea and Japan, among countries that have frozen Iranian funds derived largely from oil sales.
Seoul Says Iran's Funds To Be Unblocked Through Consultations With US
Iran’s funds blocked in South Korea will be released after consultations with the United States, Seoul has announced Tuesday according to Korea Times. South Korean banks have blocked an estimated $7 billion of Iranian funds from oil exports that were not possible to be transferred du to US sanctions against Tehran.
"Our government has been in talks with Iran about ways to use the frozen assets, and the Iran side has expressed its consent to the proposals we have made," the foreign ministry was quoted as saying without providing further details of the proposals.
The chairman of Iran’s central bank Abdolnaser Hemmati announced on Monday that he had reached an agreement with Korea’s ambassador in Tehran Ryu Jeong-hyun on “methods of transferring and using” the funds for “intended purposes.” He did not say how much of the $7 billion of Iran’s frozen funds were affected but his reference to “intended purposes” suggests the funds would be used for specific categories.
South Korea once supplied Iran with a limited quantity of medical needs and further humanitarian supplies night be the purpose of any deal made between Tehran and Seoul.
Tehran, desperate for cash, has been putting a lot of pressure on Seoul to have the money released but during former President Donald Trump’s administration no agreement was reached.
Two weeks before President Joe Biden’s inauguration, Iran seized a South Korean vessel in the Persian Gulf “on environmental grounds,” although many detected an attempt to force Seoul to negotiate over the blocked funds. South Korea’s official news agency has reported that Iran is demanding the immediate unfreezing of $1 billion.