Iran's regime on Aug. 26 hanged Kurdish political prisoner Behrouz Alkhani at Orumieh prison, in the country's west. The death sentence was carried out two days after more than 80 members of his family and human rights activists gathered outside the prison gates to demand a halt to his execution. Prison guards and anti-riot forces broke up the protest. Alkhani's execution took place even as Iran's Supreme Court had yet to respond to an appeal of his sentence. "Carrying out a death sentence while a prisoner is awaiting the outcome of his appeal is a serious violation of both Iranian and international law, and is an affront to justice," said Said Boumedouha of Amnesty International's Middle East program.
An Aug. 12 Public Radio International interview with Peter Gleick, president of the Pacific Institute, notes that Iran in 2009 quietly appealed for help from the US in managing a severe water crisis—and suggests that the need for assistance from American hydrologists was the secret lubricants behind the US-Iran nuclear agreement. "The conversation between Iran and the United States over water has extended back more than a decade before 2009," Gleick said. "There have always been contacts at the university level, and at the level of the National Academy of Sciences, between the countries about water efficiency, water conservation, water technologies and how to manage droughts. As the water situation in the Middle East has gotten worse, the interest has gotten higher." Growing usage and an ongoing drought have meant a severe and worsening water crisis for Iran over the past 15 years. Two years ago, a study by the World Resources Institute ranked Iran as the world's 24th most water-stressed nation. (This timeline from The Guardian shows the trajectory of the nuclear talks, which began secretly in early 2013, and were formalized later that year.)
Negotiations between Iran and six world powers concluded in a nuclear agreement, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), on July 14. Under the JCPOA, Iran agrees not to create a nuclear bomb in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will have permanent access to Iran's nuclear facilities to monitor activity, and the US, UK, France, Russia, China and Germany will continue to meet with Iran's leaders at least every two years to review implementation of the agreement. The European Union sanctions will be lifted either eight years from the date of adoption or when the IAEA verifies Iran's nuclear materials are being used for non-aggressive purposes—whichever is sooner. However, all sanctions will be put back in place if Iran violates the terms of the agreement. Iran must remove two-thirds of its centrifuges, ship all spent fuel from the reactor out of the country, and limit uranium research and development to a single facility. President Barack Obama stated in an address that he plans to veto any legislation from Congress that blocks the implementation of this deal.
At least 500 people have been arrested and the majority sentenced to flogging in Shiraz, southern Iran, for failing to observe the daytime fast during the holy month of Ramadan, authorities announced July 1. At least two sites in the city serving food during daylight hours were shut down by the paramilitary Bassij force. Another 2,699 individuals received verbal warnings and 261 others were given written notices by the Bassij patrols. Anyone in Iran caught eating or drinking in public during daytime in Ramadan may receive 74 lashes in addition to a prison term of up to two months, judicial authorities have threatened. Special patrols are stationed on streets and in public parks to enforce the edict. Public floggings have soared in Iran in recent months, with the actual number of floggings said to be much higher than officially announced. (NCRI, July 1)
The interminable cartoon wars now move back to Iran, where 28-year-old artist Atena Farghadani has been sentenced to 12 years and nine months in prison. Her crime? A cartoon that depicts members of parliament as animals—seemingly a ruse to avoid specifically identifying them, so as to avoid trouble. According to Amnesty International, she was charged with "spreading propaganda against the system," "insulting members of parliament through paintings," and "gathering and colluding against national security." The offending cartoon depicted parliamentarians as monkeys, cows or goats as they cast votes for proposed laws that would ban some types of birth control and restrict women's access to contraception.
After two weeks of tense stand-off, clashes broke out between militants of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) and Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iran (KDPI) on the Iran-Iraq border May 24, with at least two KDPI fighters reported killed. Fighting was reported in the Iraqi border villages of Kelashin, Khenela and Saqar. The dispute started when a KDPI force deployed to the border on May 10 to establish a base in areas where the PKK was already entrenched. The PKK have now surrounded the KDPI forces in the area. With more than 5,000 militants spread across the area, the PKK is in virtual control of the borderlands between Iran, Iraq and Turkey. The KDPI is the Iranian wing of Iraq's Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), loyal to Masoud Barzani. (Rudaw, BasNews, Doğan News Agency, May 24)
UN human rights experts on May 8 condemned the growing number of executions in Iran in recent years. According to the Special Rapporteurs on the situation of human rights in Iran and on extrajudicial executions, Iran has executed about 350 people in 2015 and executed approximately six people per day between April 9 and April 26. This year, Iran has performed 15 public executions, which the experts say "have a dehumanizing effect on both the victim and those who witness the execution, reinforcing the already cruel, inhuman and degrading nature of the death penalty." Iran also executed at least 852 people between July 2013 and June 2014. Many of the crimes for which prisoners were executed were not "most serious crimes," with many executed for drug offenses. The new Islamic Penal Code enacted by Iran in 2013 still permits death sentences for juveniles and for crimes like adultery, and repeated alcohol use. The UN is urging Iran to institute a moratorium on the death penalty and consider abolishing the practice.
Bibi Netanyahu's polarizing speech before Congress today was basically a repeat of his 2012 performance at the UN, but with the level of doublethink considerably jacked up. It is pretty damn terrifying that his relentless barrage of lies and distortions won virtually incessant applause throughout—although it is a glimmer of hope that some dozen Democrats declined to attend. But most of the outrage has been over Bibi's perceived meddling in the US political process (thanks for playing right into the anti-Semitic stereotype, Bibi, very helpful)—not the outrageous dishonesty of his speech. Here's a few choice chuckles from the transcript...