Long-jailed Iran former deputy premier dies at 86

In this Feb. 5, 1979 file photo, Abbas Amir-Entezam is seen with newly appointed Iran Prime Minister Mehdi Bazargan, Dariush Forouha and Ayatollah Khamenei arriving at an airport in Iran after the fall of the Pahlavi regime. (Wikimedia Commons)
Updated 13 July 2018
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Long-jailed Iran former deputy premier dies at 86

  • Abbas Amir-Entezam, regarded as a liberal, had spent decades in jail after being found guilty of espionage and treason shortly after the 1979 revolution.
  • Amir-Entezam was widely considered by human rights groups to be Iran’s longest-serving political prisoner. He was awarded the Austrian Bruno Kreisky prize for human rights in 1997.

TEHRAN: A former Iranian deputy prime minister who spent years in jail on charges of spying for the US died on Thursday at the age of 86, state media reported.

Abbas Amir-Entezam, regarded as a liberal, had spent decades in jail after being found guilty of espionage and treason shortly after the 1979 revolution.

Amir-Entezam, who was in poor health following his years in prison, died following a “cardiac arrest,” according to state news agency IRNA.

The Fars news agency said he had been at home at the time and could not be resuscitated.

It was not clear how long he had been out of prison and under what conditions he had been allowed to return home.

Amir-Entezam was widely considered by human rights groups to be Iran’s longest-serving political prisoner.

He was a deputy prime minister and government spokesman in the provisional government headed by Mehdi Bazargan after the revolution that overthrew Iran’s Shah.

The government sent him to Sweden as an ambassador, but he was later recalled, arrested and sentenced to life in prison in 1981 for spying for the US —  a charge he always denied.

After serving a 17-year sentence, he was arrested again in 1998 after making critical statements about the former head of the Evin prison near Tehran. After a brief period of liberty he was detained again in the early 2000s and sent back to prison after calling for a referendum on the country’s political system.

In 2017, he gave an interview to the Tarikh Online (“History Online“) site.

He was unable to hold back his tears as he recalled being prevented from seeing his family for the first “six or seven years” of his detention.

He said his jailers had forbidden him from wearing shoes, even confiscating those he had made himself.

A number of human rights organizations expressed their support for Amir-Entezam, and in 1997 he was awarded the Austrian Bruno Kreisky prize for human rights.


Turkey, Russia discussing Idlib airspace control: Sources

Updated 58 min 20 sec ago
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Turkey, Russia discussing Idlib airspace control: Sources

  • Turkey has set up observation posts in Idlib in a bid to prevent clashes between rebels and government forces
  • After a meeting on Sept. 17 between Putin and Erdogan, agreed to create a de-militarized zone in Idlib by Oct. 15

ANKARA: The partial transfer of control of the airspace over the de-escalation zone in Syria’s northwestern province of Idlib from Moscow to Ankara is being discussed by the two sides, Russian sources said. 

The aim is to enable Turkey to conduct an aerial campaign against Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS), which Ankara recently designated a terrorist organization. 

A former Al-Qaeda affiliate, HTS is the strongest armed group in Idlib, the last stronghold of Syrian anti-government rebels. 

In February, HTS claimed responsibility for the downing of a Russian warplane in Idlib using a surface-to-air missile.

Russia, Turkey and Iran are monitoring the de-escalation zone in the province as part of a trilateral agreement. 

Turkey has set up observation posts in Idlib in a bid to prevent clashes between rebels and government forces.

“Discussions are ongoing about the details of this transfer (of airspace control). I guess it will be limited to the buffer zone in Idlib for now,” Yury Barmin, an analyst at the Russian International Affairs Council, told Arab News.

“If Russia is taking steps to allow Turkey to use Idlib’s airspace, it will give Turkey more room for maneuver in the region.”

But airstrikes by Ankara against HTS might create another refugee influx into Turkey, which already hosts more than 3 million Syrian refugees, Barmin said. 

Idlib is home to more than 1 million displaced Syrians, and its population exceeds 3 million. Turkey is concerned that the creation of a humanitarian crisis near its border would further swell its own refugee population. 

After a meeting on Sept. 17 between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the two countries agreed to create a de-militarized zone in Idlib by Oct. 15.

The deal requires that all radical groups, including HTS, withdraw from the area and that all heavy weapons be removed.

Russian and Turkish troops will conduct coordinated patrols to ensure that all armed groups respect the deal.

Emre Ersen, a Syria analyst at Marmara University in Istanbul, said a transfer of airspace control would mean that Ankara and Moscow are determined to implement their latest agreement regarding Idlib. 

“Until now, Idlib’s airspace has been fully controlled by Russia, which weakened Turkey’s hand in trying to convince rebel groups in the region to abandon their arms,” he told Arab News.

Transferring airspace control “would give Ankara additional diplomatic leverage in its dealings with HTS,” he said. 

“If Ankara fails to persuade HTS to comply with the Putin-Erdogan deal regarding Idlib, it’s almost certain that Russia and Syrian government forces will start a military operation in the region.”

So Turkey is sending a message to HTS that if carrots do not work, it has some sticks at its disposal, Ersen said.