By Pooya Stone
The Iranian Intelligence Minister has publically admitted for the first time that Christianity is spreading throughout Iran.
During a speech to several Shia Muslim clerics, Mahmoud Alavi said that “Christianity is spreading in parts of Iran”, but tried to dismiss the converts because they were ordinary Iranians “whose jobs are selling sandwiches or similar things”.
He then told the clerics to end their infighting if they wanted to stop Iranians from converting to Christianity, noting that several converts had listed that among their reasons for converting.
He said: “We had no choice but to summon them to ask them why they were converting. Some of them said they were looking for a religion that gives them peace. We told them that Islam is the religion of brotherhood and peace. They responded by saying that: ‘All the time we see Muslim clerics and those who preach from the pulpit talk against each other. If Islam is the religion of cordiality, then before anything else, there must be cordiality and peace among the clerics themselves.”
He added: “It is not the job of the intelligence community to find the roots of these conversions from Islam. But it’s happening right before our eyes.”
Iran is widely listed as one of the worst countries on earth to be a Christian, with religious freedom group Open Doors USA listing Iran as the 9th worst country for persecution of Christians.
In order to stop Christianity spreading in Iran, Christians are banned from sharing their faith with non-Christians and church services are not allowed to be conducted in Farsi (Iran’s national language).
Many Christians are arrested, specifically in the run-up to Christmas, and charged with vague national security crimes. International Christian Concern described this as a “Terror Factory” targeting Christians.
The ICC said: “In Iran, any practice that contradicts Islam is regarded as a national security threat, punished severely by the court system… Christians may be looking at large fines, detention, lengthy prison sentences, or even execution under Islamic Sharia law.”
Amnesty International, the Assyrian Policy Institute, and the United Nations have all urged the Iranian government to “respect the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion” and to “quash the convictions and sentences” of those arrested merely for practising their Christian faith.
The UN said: “This shows a disturbing pattern of individuals being targeted because of their religion or beliefs, in this case, a religious minority in the country. Members of the Christian minority in Iran, particularly those who have converted to the faith, are facing severe discrimination and religious persecution.”
April 25: Iran Human Rights (IHR) has published its 11th annual report on the death penalty in Iran. The death penalty is still be used as a means of punishment in Iran and the rate of execution per capita is very worrying.
Iran is one of the few countries in the world that carries out executions in public – a practice that is ordered by the authorities and a practice that human rights organisations have constantly criticised.
The Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Iran and the Secretary General of the United Nations have both urged Iran to stop this practice. They noted that the Iranian government has refused to end public executions.
The Iran’s so-called “High Council for Human Rights” responded to the criticism that it received in 2005 by explaining that executions are only carried out in public in “some limited and special circumstances”. Its statement also indicated that “incidents which distort public sentiment” are punishable by public execution. The council also said that public execution is used as a deterrent with regards to crimes related to drugs.
IHR points out that Iran has not been truthful regarding the public executions. Iranian officials have said that minors are not allowed to be present, yet there is photographic evidence showing that this is not the case. Furthermore, many executions are carried out in front of residential buildings and public places with no attempts to make sure children are not present.
The report draws attention to a number of individual cases in which Iranian people were executed in public. One such example is that of three prisoners who were charged for armed robbery. They were executed in Shiraz, in a residential area, in November last year.
The report also noted that there has been an increase in the number of juvenile offenders being executed. Faced with this information, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein called on Iranian authorities to “to abide by international law and immediately halt all executions of people sentenced to death for crimes committed when they were under eighteen”. Iran is the biggest executor of juvenile offenders in the world.
IHR said that international pressure is essential in urging Iran to restrict the scope of the death penalty. It also said that “creating awareness and mobilisation of civil society” is imperative. First and foremost, the IHR calls on the international community to support the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on human rights in Iran, and of course support the mandate’s renewal.
The people of Iran, for their part, are also participating in pressuring the Iranian authorities. They have been protesting and holding anti-government demonstrations since December 2017 and they want great change.
The people have been suppressed and oppressed for decades and they are calling for the clerical system to be held accountable for its past and current actions. This includes a call for justice for the tens of thousands of members of the opposition who were executed in the summer of 1988.
By Shahriar Kia
The recent flash floods in Iran have caused hundreds of millions of dollars of damage to Iranian agriculture, according to an official on Thursday.
The head of the agriculture ministry’s crisis management, Mohammad Mousavi, estimated that the losses to the agriculture sector are 47 trillion rials (about $350 million) so far.
This was in response to a question from the speaker of parliament Ali Larijani, who was questioning whether government funds would be able to compensate communities and farmers.
The Iranian government had previously sworn to citizens – especially farmers – that their losses would be compensated, but Larijani said that the New Year budget would not cover the damages and that the government should seek other resources. The county’s operating budget is already stretched thanks to dropping oil revenues as a result of US sanctions.
There are roughly 1,900 cities and villages, in at least 26 of Iran’s 31 provinces, that have been hit by floods since March 19, with locals reporting over 200 deaths, aid agencies struggling to cope, and hundreds of thousands evacuated without adequate shelter. Many roads are blocked by rising water, mudslides and rockslides, with flights and trains, also affected.
Meanwhile, President Hassan Rouhani has been accused of mismanaging the emergency response and several ministers were summoned to parliament on Sunday to explain why life-saving preventative measures were not in place.
The Revolutionary Guards said that they “were using all their power” to minimise the damages in oil-rich southwestern Khuzestan province, while Iranian drilling companies and other energy firms have also used their pumps to remove water. However, it should be noted that far from protecting the people of Iran, these institutions are more concerned with protecting oil wells.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo criticised Tehran’s handling of the crisis on Tuesday, saying the “floods once again show the level of Iranian regime mismanagement in urban planning and in emergency preparedness”.
The Regime tried to shift the blame to the US, citing their sanctions as the reason that Iran is struggling to cope. However, this ignores the fact that for years before the sanctions, Iran was cutting the budget allocated to disaster relief and allocating it to the suppressive forces instead.
The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies has released around 500,000 Swiss francs ($500,000) as cash grants for 3,000 Iranian families that have lost homes and livelihoods in the floods, but as you can imagine that’s not going far among the people.
While heavy floods have devastated several regions in Iran and the people cannot hold back their anger at the lack of relief and the role of the authorities in destroying the country’s infrastructure – which have greatly contributed to worsening the consequences of this natural disaster – Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) and other repressive bodies are mobilized to prevent popular protest movements instead of rescuing the affected population. At the same time, the regime is trying to hide the real number of victims.
The Deputy Commander of the State Security Forces, IRGC General Ayoub Soleimani, said today: “Ensuring security is our most important task in the devastated areas (…) The deployment of fixed and mobile patrols, with the collaboration of Bassij (militia) and IRGC, as well as the installation of checkpoints in many places, are measures that must be taken with all the necessary means to prevent crimes and possible damage.”
Today, heavy rain and strong winds have caused massive floods in most Iranian southern and western provinces. In Shiraz, part of the city was flooded, including the Ghoran Gate and the Vakil Bazaar, located in the city’s historic center, causing many casualties. As the regime advances the figure of 17 killed, it is estimated that the actual number of victims is much larger and increases every hour. The power of the torrents was so much that hundreds of vehicles were washed away.
The obvious negligence of officials has made mullahs’ Member of Parliament Kouroch Karampour say that those responsible for the mismanagement of the crisis must be brought to justice.
This is not the first time that Shiraz is facing heavy rainfalls. However, in recent years, the non-regulatory construction of roads and buildings by the IRGC and other bodies of the regime have resulted in obstructing the traditional network of rainwater that protects the city for hundreds of years, and allowed the overflow of water through the main gate of the city.
The residents of Shiraz insist that provincial authorities have not taken recent weather warnings seriously and have not evacuated residents or banned traffic through the Ghoran gate.
In addition to the province of Fars, dozens of people have also lost their lives or been injured in the provinces of Lorestan, Khushistan, Sistan-Baluchestan, Isfahan, Bushehr, Ilam, Kermanchah, Golestan and other parts of the country.
In Sarpol-Zohab, a city hit last year by an earthquake, the floods washed away the tents and prefabs of a population that had already been severely damaged, neglected by the regime.
The situation in the city of Ahvaz is critical, with a strong flood of the river Karoun. As in Lorestan, where the Poleh-Dokhtar River has overflowed.
The President-elect of the Iranian Resistance, Maryam Rajavi, expressed her condolences to the affected population and called the youth to protest against the calamitous management of the crisis by the authorities and to force the regime to make available to the population the resources and the equipment of the IRGC so that they can intervene themselves to prevent other disasters especially at the Karaj dam, in Tehran and in the city of Karaj.
Ms. Rajavi affirmed that the mullahs’ regime and its corrupt leaders as well as its Pasdaran Army (IRGC) have intensified to the utmost the effects of this destructive flood through the destruction of the environment, and have rendered the Iranian cities and villages to ruins by plundering the people’s belongings and wasting them in projects of repression, terrorism and war mongering as well as anti-Iranian nuclear and missile programs, depriving them of the least infrastructure to defend against natural disasters like earthquakes and floods.
London, 20 Mar – U.S. President Trump said that Iran is defying a U.N. Security Council resolution by carrying out ballistic missile testing, as well as two satellite launches since December. Iran’s missile program and its regional meddling are reasons he cited when he pulled the U.S. out of the Iran nuclear deal and reimposed sanctions last May.
According to a Reuters report, a senior U.S. arms control official said at the Conference on Disarmament on Tuesday claimed that Iran’s missile program is destabilizing the Middle East and raising the risk of a “regional arms race” through the provision of such weapons to armed groups in Lebanon and Yemen.
The U.N. sponsored Conference on Disarmament is a multilateral disarmament forum established by the international community to negotiate arms control and disarmament agreements based in Geneva. The Conference meets annually in three separate sessions in Geneva. It was established in 1979. While it is not formally a UN organization, the Conference submits a report of its activities to the General Assembly yearly, or more frequently, as appropriate.
In a speech to the Conference, Yleem Poblete, the Assistant Secretary of State for Arms Control, Verification, and Compliance for the State Department said, “Iran’s missile program is a key contributor to increased tensions and destabilization in the region, increasing the risk of a regional arms race.” She added, “Iran must immediately cease activities related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons, and halt the proliferation of missiles and missile technology to terror groups and other non-state actors.” she also denounced Iran’s support to the Houthi movement in Yemen and to Hezbollah in Lebanon.
“We are committed to aggressively countering Iran’s regional proliferation of ballistic missiles and its unlawful arms transfers,” Poblete said, and urged “all responsible countries” to enforce United Nations Security Council resolutions restricting the transfer of missile-related technologies to Iran.
She also accused Iran of “pursuing pharmaceutical-based agents for offensive purposes”, but did not elaborate.
Her remarks were rejected by an Iranian diplomat who called them, “cheap, unprofessional, false, irrelevant and pathetic” and accused the United States of “sabotaging” the Geneva forum. “We should all be truly worried about the U.S. representative’s misbehavior as we all warn that they may turn violent since they lack any human logic to talk and listen in a normal manner as we are used to,” he said.
It has been over 400 days since a group of nine environmental activists were arrested and charged with espionage in Iran. Now, one has died under suspicious circumstances in prison and eight are facing trumped-up national security charges, some of which result in the death penalty.
Back in February 2018, Iranian-Canadian professor Kavous Seyed-Emami, the founder of the Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation (PWHF), was declared to have committed suicide by the authorities, who refused to allow an independent investigation and barred his wife Maryam Mombini, also a Canadian citizen, from leaving the country. Mombini has never been given a reason for this ban.
Seyed-Emami’s eight colleagues remain behind bars, without access to lawyers of their own choosing, and suffering from very poor health, including Morad Tahbaz, who has cancer and is not receiving medication and treatment despite promises from officials.
This is despite the fact that the brother of defendant Amir Hossein Khaleghi determined, following extensive studying of the case and the indictment, that their lawyers have concluded that all eight are innocent and must be released.
Four are charged with “corruption on earth”, which can carry the death penalty, three were charged with espionage, and one was accused of “cooperating and collusion with a hostile country.
Katayoun Rajabi, the sister of defendant Sam Rajabi, said that the families remained hopeful that their loved ones would be released, but advised that the so called judiciary does not care about justice. She said that none of those arrested had done anything wrong, reminding us that while two of them had confessed under torture, they retracted their statements in front of the judge.
Rajabi said: “As we know, forced confessions are not legally valid and since [Niloofar] Bayani declared in court that she had been forced to confess, then there is nothing in the case to support charges against these detainees.”
Yet still, the eight remain in prison and Rajabi does not think that the recent appointment of Ebrahim Raeesi, known for his role in sentencing thousands of dissidents to death in the 1988 massacre, as head of the Judiciary will help matters.
Rajabi, who lives in Germany, said that the families of the defendants are actively trying to raise awareness and lobby officials, but the government is often ignoring them. She noted that her letters to President Hassan Rouhani and member of Iranian parliament Mahmoud Sadeghi “received no answer”, so she has contacted United Nations Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in Iran Javaid Rehman and Germany’s Green Party representative on foreign affairs Omid Nouripour who have both promised to act in this case.
By Jubin Katiraie
Iran has finally published the sentenced of human rights lawyer and activist Nasrin Sotoudeh, which states that she will serve 26 years in prison and been given 148 lashes, in addition to the five years she’s already serving for espionage.
This is the second of two verdicts against her. It was published almost a month after judicial authorities sentenced Sotoudeh.
Reza Khandan, Sotoudeh’s husband, said that she doesn’t want to appeal as it would do no good because of the “unfair” nature of the judicial process.
He said: “She does not want to undertake any judicial action since she does not agree with the judicial process. Nothing will be done along these lines.”
Khandan had previously informed the world that Sotoudeh was being denied access to a lawyer, which is why she decided not to attend the trial.
Sotoudeh was charged with “gathering and collusion against national security”, “propaganda activities against the mullahs,” “active membership in an illegal group acting against the regime’s security”, “encouraging people to corruption and prostitution”, “disturbing public order and peace”, “spreading falsehoods to mislead the public mind”, and “appearing without hijab” all for her work defending human rights activists in court. This includes defending the Girls of Revolution Street who took part in anti-forced hijab protests during the uprising that began in December 2017.
The verdict stated: “To support removal of the hijab in public and to encourage people to taking off their hijab, with the complicity of her spouse Reza Khandan and certain elements and individuals supporting the overthrow [of the mullahs], they went to the location where the Street Girls had removed their hijabs and placed a bouquet of flowers on the electricity box [on which the women had protested, using the box as a makeshift platform] and distributed badges with the slogan: “I protest against forced hijab”.”
Iranian law only allows the defendant in cases of a political nature to take a hand-written copy of the verdict against them, rather than giving them a copy. This is an example of the secretive nature of the Iranian ruling system, giving them deniability in the eyes of the world by claiming that the prisoner transcribed it incorrectly.
It was previously reported that Sotoudeh would serve 38 years and, again due to the secretive nature of the Iranian clerical ruling system, that might end up being the case as the judge presiding over her trial said that Sotoudeh was already serving seven years in prison.
Sotoudeh was arrested for the latter charges on June 13, 2018, when she began serving the previous sentence for espionage.
6 Feb – Iranian environmental activist, Niloufar Bayani, who has been held for more than a year by IRGC intelligence, alleged in a court session headed by Judge Salavati that she was repeatedly threatened and attacked by authorities, and was forced to make confessions. She said the ‘confessions’ were made under physical torture and intense psychological pressure, and that she had retracted all of them after the first round of investigations.
Local media reported that on January 30th, Bayani and seven other Iranian environmental activists accused of spying, appeared in a Tehran court for a closed-door trial. During that court session they learned that the first half of their indictment is based on retracted forced ‘confessions’.
According to the state news agency IRNA, Mohammad-Hossein Aghasi, who represents one of the accused, said that he was not present in court as the state designated its own handpicked lawyers to represent the defendants. IRNA reported that three lawyers were present at the trial, referring to them as “Reza Jafari, Beigi and Hosseini.” The lawyers were approved by Judiciary Chief Sadegh Larijani.
Present at the closed-door trial at Branch 15 of the Revolutionary Court, presided by Judge Abolqasem Salavati, were defendants Houman Jowkar, Taher Ghadirian, Morad Tahbaz, Sepideh Kashani, Niloufar Bayani, Amir Hossein Khaleghi, Sam Rajabi and Abdolreza Kouhpayeh.
Niloufar Bayani interrupted the court session several times, and objected that her ‘confessions’ had become the basis for the trial. Her allegations are especially important because four of the Iranian environmental activists were charged with “sowing corruption on Earth,” which can carry the death sentence in Iran.
The activists were “seeking proximity to military sites with the cover of the environmental projects and obtaining military information from them”, according to Tehran prosecutor Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi.
IRNA reported that three of the activists have been accused of espionage, and one has been charged with “conspiracy against national security”. They were arrested by the Revolutionary Guards on January 24th and 25th. Mizan, the judiciary’s official news agency, and state-run Fars News Agency called to the defendants “individuals accused of spying on the country’s military installations” in their reports.
The environmentalists are all members of the Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation. On February 13th, Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi, the Tehran prosecutor, told reporters that the detained activists are accused of using environmental projects as a cover for collecting classified strategic information. The Foundation claims to only work to conserve and protect the flora and fauna in Iran.
The environmentalists have not been given access to lawyers of their choice or have had a trial date set. On social media, family members said that they were told by judicial authorities that the detained environmentalists can only be represented by lawyers from a pre-approved list of 20 that the judiciary had published in June 2018.
It has also been reported that the detainees were subjected to prolonged periods of solitary confinement and denied phone calls with family members.
Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch said, “Iran’s judiciary is again highlighting its role as key functionaries in a repressive state machinery rather than defenders of justice.” She added, “Iran’s leaders need to search no further for a source of simmering societal anger against them than the judiciary’s despicable treatment of peaceful activists who are only trying to mitigate the country’s many serious problems, including environmental crises.”
Niloufar Bayani was a Biology student at McGill university. Bayani graduated in 2009 and later worked for the United Nations Environment Programme. She went to Iran to do environmental work nearly a year ago, where was arrested and accused of espionage. She has been in the notorious Evin prison ever since. McGill University has not commented, but University spokesperson Chris Chapello told the Montreal Gazette that McGill is “aware of the situation and has been in contact with the Canadian authorities.”
Hayley Lapalme is working toward her friend Bayani’s release. She said in an interview, “To learn this person, who had a wonderful presence in our community here [in Toronto], is now in a prison cell — it’s stunning, really.”
Lapalme added, “Niloufar is this person who has this lightness, goodness, intelligence and generosity about her that is really contagious. She really brings out the best in people.”
Bayani’s environmental field work included the study of zebra mussels in Montreal and researching marine life in Belize. She went to Iran to do field work on Asiatic cheetahs, an endangered species in the country with the Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation.
Iranian authorities have accused Bayani of spying and could face the death penalty. Lapalme said, “The kind of work that we can practice freely and that is appreciated here, it’s work that’s being criminalized now in Iran.”
More than 300 conservationists, including primatologist Jane Goodall, signed an open letter that demands the release of Bayani and eight other environmentalists in Iran. The letter states, “We are convinced that their work and research had no second means or objectives. We are horrified about the thought that the neutral field of conservation could ever be used to pursue political objectives.”
21 Jan – Human Rights Watch (HRW) criticized Iran for “widespread arrests” of protesters and activists in its 2019 annual report into human rights violations around the world, citing specifically the thousands of arrests made during the nationwide anti-government protests in the winter of 2018, as well as the arrests of environmentalists and women who protested against compulsory hijab.
In the report, which draws on events from late 2017 to November 2018, HRW also condemned Iran’s shadowy “security apparatus” and “suppressive and non-accountable Judiciary” for their work to suppress human rights.
The report said: “Iranians participated in numerous protests across the country amid deteriorating economic conditions, perceptions of systematic government corruption, and popular frustration over lack of political and social freedoms. Security forces and the judiciary responded to these protests with arbitrary mass arrests and serious due process violations.”
Following these mass arrests of people trying to exercise their freedom of speech, Iran’s judiciary handed down harsh sentences at “unfair trials”. They still fared better than the at least 50 protesters who were arbitrarily killed in the street or the 14 who were tortured to death before their trials; something the Government has refused to investigate.
HRW also condemned Iran for creating a list of Government -approved lawyers to deal with “national security” cases, which is how the mullahs often charge political activism. How can a person get a fair trial when the prosecution chooses their lawyer?
Another troubling issue is the arrest of dozens of environmentalists, whom the Government accused of spying despite the fact that they were monitoring an endangered species with the express permission of the Iranian Government. This included Canadian-Iranian Professor Kavous Seyed Emami, who died under suspicious circumstances in custody.
The HRW report read: “Since 2014, the [Iranian Revolutionary Guards] Intelligence Organization has arrested at least 14 dual and foreign nationals who authorities allegedly perceived to have links with western academic, economic, and cultural institutions. They remain behind bars on vague charges such as ‘cooperating with a hostile state,’ deprived of due process, and routinely subjected to pro-government media smear campaigns.”
The group then condemned Iran for its violent abuse of women peacefully protesting compulsory hijab, the jailing of prominent human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotudeh and human rights activist Farhad Meysami, discrimination against religious and ethnic minorities, and discrimination against handicapped Iranians,
Sarah Leah Whitson, executive director of HRW’s Middle East and North Africa Division, said Iranian officials “blame the world for their own problems” and “refuse to look into the mirror” to discover how their suppression increases dissent among Iranians.
The report also condemned Iran for executing at least five juvenile offenders. This report was published just days before Attorney General Mohammad Jafar Montazeri mourned that the Government had been forced to stop brutal punishments like amputations because of international pressure.