At least 32 Azeri activists were arrested in the lead-up to an annual July protest at the historic Babak Fort in Iran's East Azerbaijan province against discrimination targeting the ethnic minority. The arrests took place in several citiese, including Tabriz and Ahar in East Azerbaijan and Meshgin Shahr in neighboring Ardabil province, usually following home raids. Security officials contacted a large number of local activists and warned them to not attend the annual ceremony. Dozens more were summoned and threatened with arrest if they attended the ceremony. Babak Fort, also known as the Immortal Castle or Republic Castle, is a mountaintop citadel said to have been the stronghold of Babak Khorramdin, the leader of the Khurramite rebellion who fought the Abbassid caliphate in the ninth century CE. Babak is revered as a national hero by ethnic Azeris and Iranians alike. Azeris, also known as Azarbaijani Turks, have for several years gathered at the citadel on the first weekend in July for the annual ceremony. (Iran Human Rights Monitor via UNPO)
Amnesty International issued a statement protesting the execution of Mohammad Salas, a 51-year-old man from Iran’s largest Sufi order, the Gonabadi Dervish religious minority, on June 18, saying it "was carried out despite serious unfair trial concerns." Salas was arrested on Feb. 19 outside a police station where thousands of Gonabadi followers had gathered to protest the persecution of the dervish community. Salas, a bus driver by trade, reported that he was repeatedly beaten in the police station where he was held for several hours. He said he heard one officer order the others to "beat him until he dies." He was eventually taken unconscious to a hospital to be treated for his injuries, which included cuts to the head requiring stitches, broken teeth, broken ribs, a broken nose, and a partial loss of vision.
In a perfectly predictable response, Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei accused the US of fomenting the latest irruption in the wave of popular protests that has swept the country since the start of the year. While failing to explicitly name Saudi Arabia, he accused other regional powers of joining with the US to fuel dissension in Iran to "separate the nation from the system." He said: "If the US was able to overpower the Islamic system, it would not have needed to form a coalition with notorious countries of the region to create chaos, unrest and insecurity in Iran." Last week, online videos showed police firing tear-gas at protesters angered over economic austerity. Vendors in Tehran's Grand Bazaar, a traditional area of support for Iran's leadership, went on strike over the collapse of the rial on foreign exchange markets. (The New Arab) Despite not having a union, Iran's truck drivers also staged a nationwide strike for almost two weeks in late May and early June. (Al-Monitor)
The US Department of the Treasury issued new sanctions against Iran on May 17. The new sanctions target two individuals, Mohammad Ibrahim Bazzi and Abdallah Safi al-Din. Both of them have been identified as Specially Designated Global Terrorists (SDGTs). Bazzi has been identified as a financier for Hezbollah, and Safi al-Din has been identified as Hezbollah's representative to Iran. The Treasury Department stated that the sanctions "show the convergence of Iran's support for terrorism with many facets of illicit criminal activity, including narcotics trafficking." The sanctions come after President Trump's decision to leave the Iranian nuclear deal last week and to begin reimposing sanctions against Iran.
After all the talk we've heard in recent years about how depressed oil prices are now permanent, in the wake of Trump's announced withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal Bank of America is predicting that the price of Brent crude could go as high as the once-dreaded $100 per barrel in 2019. The report also cited collapsing production in Venezuela due to the crisis there. Brent prices have risen above $77 per barrel since Trump's announcement. Prices have jumped more than 8% over the past month and 15% since the beginning of the year. According to the analysis, investors fear that renewed sanctions on Iran could lead to supply disruptions. (CNNMoney, May 10) Although the report failed to mention it, the Israeli air-strikes on Iranian targets in Syria have doubtless contributed to the jitters.
President Donald Trump announced April 8 that the US will withdraw from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the 2015 pact under which the US was to lift economic sanctions on Iran in exchange for Tehran agreeing not to develop nuclear weapons. The White House statement says the US will re-imposes all sanctions lifted or waived in connection with the JCPOA, including those instated by the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012, the Iran Sanctions Act of 1996, the Iran Threat Reduction and Syria Human Rights Act of 2012, and the Iran Freedom and Counter-proliferation Act of 2012. The sanctions are expected to go into effect in no later than 180 days.
Abdul-Al Duraqi, a poet and activist from the Ahwazi Arab minority in Iran, arrested during the most recent protests in the city of Ahwaz (Khuzestan province), has been hospitalized after torture sessions at the hands of his interrogators. Family members told the Ahwaz Human Rights Organization (AHRO) that Duraqi was transferred to Ahwaz's Sepidar hospital on April 7 due to deterioration in his physical condition after severe torture in the Ahwaz intelligence center. Duraqi is revered in his community for keeping alive an Ahwazi literary tradition in the Arabic language. Protests in Ahwaz were sparked in mid-March following the controversial exclusion of the Ahwazi Arab ethnicity in a children's program aired by the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting Corporation. The program included a boy placing dolls dressed in the traditional garb of different ethnicities in their designated regions on a map of Iran—but there was no doll representing the 8 million Ahwazi Arabs. Nearly 400 have been arrested in protests over the past month. AHRO charges that the detained are being denied their due process rights. (UNPO, April 12; UNPO, March 29; AHRO, April 9)
Some rare good news is reported from Iran, where a reform of the country's drug laws may save the lives of thousands now on death row. Some 5,000 people are currently awaiting execution for drug offenses in the Islamic Republic, and all of them could now have their sentences reviewed, according to the New York Times. The move, part of a legal reform in the works since 2016, is aimed at reducing the number of executions in the country. Iran has seen ghastly mass executions of drug convicts in recent years, driving a spike in hangings that has appalled human rights groups. Iran saw 1,000 executions last year—making it second only to China, which keeps its stats on use of the death penalty secret.