EU ‘considering sanctions on Iran’

An Iranian diplomat was arrested in July along with two people accused of plotting to blow up a rally of opposition activists. (File/AFP)
Updated 20 November 2018
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EU ‘considering sanctions on Iran’

  • The ministers said technical work could now start on an EU-wide asset freeze on two Iranians and the Iranian intelligence service
  • In March, Britain, France and Germany proposed to sanction Iran over its development of ballistic missiles and its role in Syria’s war

BRUSSELS: EU foreign ministers have endorsed a French government decision to sanction Iranian nationals accused of a bomb plot in France, potentially allowing the measures to take effect across the bloc, three diplomats said.

The ministers said technical work could now start on an EU-wide asset freeze on two Iranians and the Iranian intelligence service over a failed plot to carry out a bomb attack at a rally near Paris organized by an exiled Iranian opposition group.

Denmark, which in October said it suspected an Iranian government intelligence service had tried to carry out an assassination plot on its soil, also pushed for support for similar EU-wide sanctions once its investigation is complete, the diplomats told Reuters.

Though largely symbolic, the EU’s readiness to target Iranians marks a shift after months of division within the bloc over how to punish Iranians accused of destabilizing activities in Europe and the Middle East.

In an effort to balance their Iran policy, ministers also discussed setting up a special mechanism to trade with Iran that would be under EU, not national, law. They believe this formula could shield individual member states from being hit by US sanctions that have been reimposed on trade with Iran after Washington’s pullout from the nuclear deal.

In March, Britain, France and Germany proposed to sanction Iran over its development of ballistic missiles and its role in Syria’s war, but the initiative failed to gather sufficient support across the EU to take effect.

The EU move came as British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt visited Iran on Monday for talks about the conflict in Yemen and freeing UK nationals held in Iranian jails.

Hunt met his counterpart, Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif, and they discussed plans to keep trade flowing in spite of renewed US sanctions, according to Iranian media.

But Hunt was particularly focused on the conflict in Yemen, where Iran is accused of supplying weapons to Houthi militias.


Iran govt faces angry online backlash over activists’ abuse claims

Since protests began in December, Iranians have had their internet access disrupted and have lost access to the messaging app Telegram. (Reuters)
Updated 18 February 2019
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Iran govt faces angry online backlash over activists’ abuse claims

  • The Arab minority in southwest Iran has long claimed that it faces discrimination from the central government

GENEVA, LONDON: In early January, labor activist Esmail Bakhshi posted a letter on Instagram saying he had been tortured in jail, attracting support from tens of thousands of Iranians online.
Bakhshi, who said he was still in pain, also challenged the intelligence minister to a public debate about the religious justification for torture. Late last month, Bakhshi was rearrested.
Sepideh Qoliyan, a journalist covering labor issues in the Ahvaz region, was also rearrested on the same day after saying on social media that she had been abused in jail.
Bakhshi’s allegations of torture and the social media furor that followed led Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to call for an investigation, and the intelligence minister subsequently met with a parliamentary committee to discuss the case, a rare example of top officials being prompted to act by a public backlash online.
“Each sentence and description of torture from the mouths of #Sepideh_Qoliyan and #Esmail_Bakhshi should be remembered and not forgotten because they are now alone with the torturers and under pressure and defenseless. Let us not forget,” a user named Atish posted on Twitter in Farsi on Feb. 11.
“When thousands of people share it on social media, the pressure for accountability goes up,” said Hadi Ghaemi, executive director at the New York-based Center for Human Rights in Iran. “Sham investigations won’t put it to rest. Social media is definitely becoming a major, major public square in Iran.”
Tehran prosecutor Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi said last month, without naming Bakhshi, that allegations of torture online constitute a crime.
His comments follow growing pressure from officials to close Instagram, which has about 24 million users in Iran. Iran last year shut down the Telegram messaging app, which had about 40 million users in the country, citing security concerns.
“Today you see in cyberspace that with the posting of a film or lie or rumor the situation in the country can fall apart,” Dolatabadi said, according to the Iranian Students’ News Agency. “You saw in recent days that they spread a rumor and announced the rape of an individual or claimed suicide and recently you even saw claims of torture and all the powers in the country get drawn in. Today cyberspace has been transformed into a very broad platform for committing crimes.”
The arrests of Bakhshi and Qoliyan are part of a crackdown in Ahvaz, center of Iran’s Arab population. Hundreds of activists there pushing for workers’ and minority rights, two of the most contentious issues in Iran, have been detained in recent weeks.
The Arab minority in southwest Iran has long claimed that it faces discrimination from the central government.