Reports are emerging of a clash between Russian forces and an Iran-backed militia in Syria—pointing to mounting tensions between the two most significant foreign powers backing the Assad regime. At least 11 were killed in the fighting in the city of Aleppo April 16. The clash began near a vegetable market in Khaldiya district, and quickly escalated to the use of heavy weaponry, with ground-to-air missiles fired on nearby areas within the city. At least some of the casualties are believed to be civilians. The militia was unnamed, but Tehran is backing numerous Shi'ite militias in Syria, many made up of volunteers from Iran and Iraq. The clash followed recent Israeli air-strikes on Iranian targets near Aleppo, and Tehran-backed factions apparently accused Russia of green-lighting Israel's attacks, or even coordinating with Tel Aviv on the strikes. (Syria Call, Middle East Monitor, Arab Weekly)
In an amusingly grim development April 8, Donald Trump formally designated Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps a "foreign terrorist organization," and Tehran's Supreme National Security Council immediately retaliated by issuing a statement declaring the Pentagon's Central Command a "terrorist organization." Both moves mark a first, in applying the designation to actual government entities. Trump's signing statement charged that the IRGC "actively participates in, finances, and promotes terrorism as a tool of statecraft." Iran's state news agency IRNA said in a statement that the Islamic Republic "declares that it considers the regime of the US a 'state sponsor of terrorism' and 'the Central Command of America, known as CENTCOM' and all forces related to it 'terrorist groups.'"
The Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) announced March 5 that human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh had been convicted in absentia by Judge Mohammad Moghiseh of Iran's Revolutionary Court, described as a "hardline" jurist. She refused to appear in court because she was denied the right to choose her own lawyer. Sotoudeh had been charged with crimes including "collusion against national security," "propaganda against the state," "encouraging corruption and prostitution," "appearing before the judiciary without Islamic hijab," "disturbing public peace and order," and "publishing falsehoods with the intent to disturb public opinion." Prosecution cited her membership in the Defenders of Human Rights Center, the Legam group against capital punishment, and the anti-militarist National Peace Council.
The current revelations of Trump administration efforts to transfer sensitive nuclear material to Saudi Arabia bring into focus the grim implications of the pull-out from the Iran nuclear deal. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif takes the opportunity to tweet about "US hypocrisy," while the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, an Israeli security think-tank, gleefully quotes a recent comment by Ahmad Khatami, a senior member of Iran's Assembly of Experts, that Tehran possess the "formula" to build a nuclear bomb, although he added that there "no intention of using a weapon of mass destruction." (Emphasis ours) The outrage was revealed when the House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Reform issued a report yesterday, after receiving whistleblower complaints of "efforts inside the White House to rush the transfer of highly sensitive US nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia in potential violation of the Atomic Energy Act (AEA) and without review by Congress as required by law—efforts that may be ongoing to this day." The report reveals the key figure pushing for the transfers as Trump's hard-right ex-National Security Advisor Mike Flynn, who now awaits sentencing on charges of lying to the FBI.
As in the Venezuela crisis, Donald Trump, the great enthusiast for dictators, is making a cynical pretense of concern for democracy in Iran. Fortunately, his latest bit of exploitation of the Iranian protesters has blown up in his face. Noting the anniversary of the 1979 revolution, he issued a tweet yesterday featuring a meme with an image of a student protester from the 2017 anti-austerity uprising and the words: "40 years of corruption. 40 years of repression. 40 years of terror. The regime in Iran has produced only #40YearsofFailure. The long-suffering Iranian people deserve a much brighter future." He also tweeted the same message in the Persian language. Today, the courageous photographer who snapped the image at the University of Tehran in December 2017, Yalda Moayeri, comes forward to express her outrage at its co-optation by Trump, telling the New York Times: "I felt cheated and abused, it causes me great sorrow to see the man who is inflicting so much pain upon me and my compatriots to use my image for his own agenda. I did not take this risk to have someone using it to pressure us Iranians even further." She added: "His sanctions are devastating our lives. Our money became worthless. People are becoming poor. Because of his travel ban, many Iranians cannot visit their family members in the United States. My father lives there and I can't go either. I just don't want to be any part of his agenda against Iran."
Following the mass sweeps of Ahwazi Arabs in Iran's Khuzestan province in the wake of a September terror attack in capital city Ahwaz, reports are mounting of horrific torture used against activists detained in secret prisons or "black sites." Anonymous activists on the ground in Khuzestan spoke to a researcher writing for the Canada-based Dur Untash Studies Center, which closely monitors the Ahwazi struggle. Among the cases vividly described is that of Ali Hilichi, who was detained by intelligence agents at the carwash where he worked in Ahwaz in November 2018, accused of participating in recent public demonstrations. He was kept in solitary confinement and subject to torture for weeks before being released at the end of December. His wife said that when he was freed his body was covered in bruises and welts, adding that he could not take a shower or sleep on his back due to the pain from his injuries. He still suffers from nightmares, crying out in his sleep, "Don't beat me…give me water."
The Iranian regime reportedly hanged 22 Ahwazi Arabs in a 72-hour period last week, after arresting over 1,000 in mass sweeps across Khuzestan province. The executed are said to include a 58-year-old man, who was hanged along with his son aged 30. According to human rights activists in the region, the victims' families were summoned to local regime Intelligence Ministry headquarters to be informed of their loved ones' execution, and were warned against holding any funereal rites or ceremonies. The bodies had apparently been buried in unmarked graves. The victims were accused of "acting against national security," but the executions seemingly took place after summary trials with no legal representation, behind closed doors at Ahwaz Central Prison. At least 500 arrested in the sweeps remain detained, and there are fears that more summary executions could be imminent.
Iran's government has unleashed a wave of arrests in western Khuzestan province since the Sept. 22 deadly attack on a military parade in the city of Ahwaz, with sweeps targetting dissidents, journalists, intellectuals, human rights activists and members of the Ahwazi Arab minority generally. Some 1,000 Ahwazis have been arrested in the weeks since the attack, with at least 600 still being detained. Many of the detained have been taken to unknown destinations, with their families denied any contact or even information on their whereabouts. Local rights groups report that security forces have raided activists' homes, and the detained include women and the elderly. Karim Dahimi, an Ahwazi human rights worker based in London, said that the Iranian government has been systematically detaining Ahwazi activists in clandestine torture facilities known as "black sites." Ahwazi Arabs in the international diaspora have been holding demonstrations at Iranian consulates demanding an end to the regime's anti-Arab racism and repression. (The Herald Report, Oct. 24)