Arrests, torture and executions: Iran’s autumn of discontent

Arrests, torture and executions: Iran’s autumn of discontent
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A woman attending a candlelight vigil, in memory of the victims of Ukraine International Airlines Boeing 737, talks to a policeman following the gathering in front of the Amirkabir University in the Iranian capital Tehran on Jan. 11, 2020. (Photo by Mona Hoobrhfker/ ISNA / AFP)
Arrests, torture and executions: Iran’s autumn of discontent
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Protesters wave the Lion and Sun flag of the National Council of Resistance of Iran and the white flag of the People's Mujahedin of Iran, two Iranian opposition groups, as they demonstrate outside the Iranian embassy in London on Sept. 12, 2020 against the execution of Iranian wrestler Navid Afkari in Iran. (Photo by Justin Tallis / AFP)
Arrests, torture and executions: Iran’s autumn of discontent
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People gather outside Iran embassy in France on June 13, 2019 to support Iranian human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh and demand her release. (Photo by Francois Guillot / AFP)
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Updated 12 October 2020

Arrests, torture and executions: Iran’s autumn of discontent

Arrests, torture and executions: Iran’s autumn of discontent
  • Analysts believe the hanging of wrestling champion Navid Afkari last month was meant to deter future protests
  • Spiraling economic crisis could spur more repression and violence as regime confronts widespread discontent

LONDON: In the face of the Middle East’s worst COVID-19 outbreak and economic ruin, Iran’s violent crackdown and persecution of anti-government activists is an attempt to deter future protests, analysts say. Yet, in their view, the regime’s disregard for human rights may well be a sign of weakness rather than strength. 

The world was appalled in September at the cruel hanging of Navid Afkari, an Iranian wrestling champion. He sought a fair trial until the end, but was deprived of legal representation and detained alongside his two brothers. The brutal mistreatment meted out to Afkari and his sudden execution were intended to send a clear message to normal Iranians, said Mansoureh Mills, Iran researcher at Amnesty International.

“The Iranian authorities are flexing their muscles,” he told Arab News. “At a time when the general mood among Iranians is shifting away from the death penalty and the world is looking in horror at Iran’s increasing use of it against protesters, dissidents and members of minority groups, the Iranian authorities are using executions, like that of Navid Afkari, as a tool of political control and oppression to instill fear among the public.”




Protesters demonstrate outside the Iranian embassy in London on Sept. 12, 2020 against the execution of Iranian wrestler Navid Afkari in Iran. (Photo by Justin Tallis / AFP)

More than 7,000 people were arrested during the 2019 demonstrations alone and at least 30 other protesters have already received death sentences, wrote Iranian democracy activists Shirin Ebadi, Abbas Milani and Hamid Moghadam in a recent opinion piece, titled “Iran deserves a red card for its human rights abuses,” for US news website The Hill.

A report released by the rights group Amnesty International in September detailed the catalog of horrors that detained protesters face in Iranian prisons. Prisoners spared the death penalty were regularly subjected to torture, including “beatings, floggings, electric shocks, stress positions and sexual violence,” the report said.

Tehran’s treatment of women’s rights campaigners has been particularly harsh. For example, Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Court sentenced 57-year-old Nasrin Sotoudeh, a leading Iranian human rights lawyer, to 38 years in jail and 148 lashes on charges of “disrupting public order and colluding against the system” for her work defending the rights of women. Amnesty has called the sentence an “outrageous injustice.”




Supporters of Amnesty International campaign for the release of Iranian lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh by celebrating a birthday party in front of the Iranian embassy in The Hague on May 31, 2019. (AFP)
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Since 2009, the regime has imprisoned or attempted to prosecute at least 60 lawyers for defending political prisoners, according to Human Rights Watch. The regime is also accused of trumping up spy charges against foreign visitors to effectively hold them hostage, including Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, the British-Iranian dual national jailed in 2016, and British-Australian academic Kylie Moore-Gilbert, who has been detained since 2018.

As COVID-19 swept through Iran’s overcrowded jails earlier this year, Zaghari-Ratcliffe was temporarily released from the notorious Evin prison and placed under effective house arrest with her parents in Tehran, where she awaits fresh charges. Moore-Gilbert was recently moved from Evin to Qarchak, which is widely regarded as the worst women’s prison in Iran, known for its extrajudicial killings, torture and other rights violations.

Even the families of dissidents outside Iran are unsafe. Masih Alinejad, an outspoken US-based critic of the Islamic Republic, has said her family inside Iran has been regularly targeted by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). Her brother was imprisoned and tortured, while her mother has faced a pattern of harassment. At one point, her mother “threatened to pour gasoline on herself and set herself on fire” during a confrontation with IRGC officers, Alinejad said.

This mistreatment of protesters, Mills said, can be directly linked to the declining economic and political control that Tehran exerts over the population.

Since the beginning of 2020, the value of the Iranian rial has plummeted to new lows each passing month. In October, it dropped to its lowest-ever value. Worse yet for the regime, the US is moving forward with the re-imposition of “snapback” sanctions lifted as part of the nuclear deal. Meanwhile, with pressure mounting on European countries to take a harder line against Iran, one of the regime’s few remaining economic lifelines could soon vanish.

“Whenever the political and economic situation in the country declines, the Iranian authorities clamp down even further on the public and erode human rights even more — Tehran has shown it will do everything in its power to crush protests and silence dissent,” Mills said.

Iran’s spiraling economic crisis could herald yet more repression and violence by Tehran in an attempt to control the volatile domestic situation, Mills added. But far from dampening the appetite of ordinary Iranians for regime change, he believes widespread repression and the flippant use of execution have, and will continue to, enrage the population.




Journalist and author Masih Alinejad speaks onstage during the WICT Leadership Conference at New York Marriott Marquis Hotel on Oct. 16, 2018 in New York. (Getty Images/AFP)

“The anger at Navid Afkari’s execution among Iranians is palpable,” he told Arab News. “Since his death, graffiti has appeared in Iran’s streets criticizing Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and calling for revenge for his killing, and people are urging protests against his execution.”

Mills’s prediction of unrest and anti-regime anger is echoed by Ali Safavi, a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee for the National Council of Resistance of Iran, an Iranian dissident group that views itself as Iran’s government-in-waiting.

Safavi says much like the protests of 2018 and November 2019, which were both triggered by economic grievances among the Iranian populace and morphed into anti-regime movements, the deteriorating economic and social foundations in Iran will catalyze further uprising.

In trying to prevent this, Safavi said, the regime is “caught between a rock and a hard place. While it needs to repress and execute to survive, it is fully cognizant of its fragile and vulnerable state, and is very worried about the massive social backlash of executions.”




Iranian human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh. (Behrouz Mehri / AFP)

The case of dissident campaigner Shahla Jahanbin epitomizes the regime’s problem. She penned a letter to Khamenei earlier this year imploring him to resign.

In response, Jahanbin was sentenced to nearly four years in jail and forced to return to prison just months after receiving back surgery. But her cruel treatment at the hands of the Islamic Revolutionary Court has failed to suppress the anger of Iran’s youth against the regime — it only fuels it, Safavi said.

“The regime is terrified of the eruption of another uprising,” he added. But Tehran’s nightmare scenario may already be playing out. Footage obtained by Arab News shows unidentified individuals setting fire to the entrance of the Shiraz court where Afkari was handed his death sentence. A later video also shows an explosive device detonating in the heavily fortified entrance to Lorestan province’s central prison administration office.

Both attacks took place at night and caused only material damage, but were met with an immediate deployment of security forces. Safavi said this demonstrates the fear of the regime and its vulnerability in the face of the Iranian public.

The only way out of the cycle of repression, public backlash and more repression, according to Bob Blackman, a UK Conservative Party MP, is for the international community to send a clear message to Iran that “we are not going to put up with their human rights abuses.”

 

He told Arab News that European countries must abandon their attempts to appease Iran by rescuing the nuclear deal, and instead follow in the US administration’s footsteps with new sanctions against the regime. “We have to be strong and firm about this,” he said.

Blackman also noted the uncertainty and potential unrest caused by Iran’s sky-high coronavirus death toll — over 20,000 by official accounts, though many suspect the true figure may be far higher. He said concerns over personal safety amid the pandemic may be discouraging Iranians from taking to the streets against the government, but this reluctance to gather in protest will not last forever.

The issue in Iran, Blackman said, is increasingly a question of how much abuse normal Iranians are willing to put up with in their daily lives, and what they will resort to when it becomes too much to bear.




Iran Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei meets with President Hassan Rouhani. (AP)

“What we do know is that the Shah (Iran’s pre-revolutionary ruler) was deposed after a long campaign of civil disobedience — it took a long time,” Blackman added.

“The anti-regime protests in Iran that continue to take place reflect the genuine sentiments of the Iranian people. These protests are a continuation of those beginning in November and proceeding through December, reforming again and again in the face of harsh repression.”

The consensus among rights groups, politicians and Iranians abroad is that Tehran’s executions and violent repression create a vicious cycle of more unrest, more human rights abuses, and therefore, more unrest.

Blackman said this cycle will continue until the international community abandons its strategy of appeasement and accepts the reality of the situation: The Islamic Republic cannot be trusted and will not change.

The general consensus among Iran analysts is that human rights abuses, executions and instability will continue until Khamenei, President Hassan Rouhani and the IRGC’s grip on Iran is replaced by a representative and democratically elected government.

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Twitter: @CHamillStewart

 


Train collision in Alexandria kills two, Egyptian media reports say

Train collision in Alexandria kills two, Egyptian media reports say
Updated 7 min 3 sec ago

Train collision in Alexandria kills two, Egyptian media reports say

Train collision in Alexandria kills two, Egyptian media reports say

CAIRO: Two killed, others injured in train collision in Alexandria, Egyptian media reports say 


Palestinians, Jewish settlers clash in tense Jerusalem neighborhood

Palestinians, Jewish settlers clash in tense Jerusalem neighborhood
Updated 22 June 2021

Palestinians, Jewish settlers clash in tense Jerusalem neighborhood

Palestinians, Jewish settlers clash in tense Jerusalem neighborhood
  • Settler groups are trying to evict several Palestinian families
  • Threatened evictions fueled protests and clashes in the runup to last month’s 11-day Gaza war

JERUSALEM: Palestinians and Jewish settlers hurled stones, chairs and fireworks at each other overnight in a tense Jerusalem neighborhood where settler groups are trying to evict several Palestinian families, officials said Tuesday.
The threatened evictions fueled protests and clashes in the runup to last month’s 11-day Gaza war and pose a test for Israel’s new governing coalition, which includes three pro-settler parties but is hoping to sideline the Palestinian issue to avoid internal divisions.
Israeli police and border officials said they arrested four suspects in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood. It was unclear who started the brawl. One woman was reportedly injured when she was hit in the back by a stone, police said.
The Red Crescent emergency service said its crews treated 20 Palestinians, including 16 suffering from pepper spray and tear gas and others wounded by rubber-coated bullets. Two other people were wounded, including an elderly man who was hit in the head, it said.
The Red Crescent said settlers threw stones at one of its ambulances and Israeli forces sprayed skunk water on a second ambulance belonging to the service.
The eruption of violence is the latest friction in Sheikh Jarrah, where weeks of unrest captured international attention ahead of the 11-day Israel-Hamas war last month. The cease-fire took effect on May 21, but the long-running campaign by Jewish settlers to evict dozens of Palestinian families continues.
And so the cycle of tension endures, in a stark early test for Israel’s new coalition government, which is just over a week old.
At the helm under a rotation agreement is Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, head of the right-wing Yamina party. In two years, he’ll be replaced by Yair Lapid, leader of centrist Yesh Atid. And leading the opposition is Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu, ousted from the premiership after holding the post for 12 years.
An intervention by Israel’s attorney general at the height of the unrest has put the most imminent evictions on hold. But rights groups say evictions could still proceed in the coming months as international attention wanes, potentially igniting another round of bloodshed.
The settlers have been waging a decades-long campaign to evict the families from densely populated Palestinian neighborhoods in the so-called Holy Basin just outside the walls of the Old City, in one of the most sensitive parts of east Jerusalem.
Israel captured east Jerusalem, home to holy sites sacred to Jews, Christians and Muslims, in the 1967 war and annexed it in a move not recognized internationally. Israel views the entire city as its capital, while the Palestinians want east Jerusalem as the capital of their future state.
The settlers say the homes are built on land that was owned by Jews prior to the 1948 war surrounding Israel’s creation. Israeli law allows Jews to reclaim such property, a right denied to Palestinians who lost lands and homes in the same conflict.


Houthi’s escalation of violence, rejection of peace, will not go unpunished: Yemen leaders

Houthi’s escalation of violence, rejection of peace, will not go unpunished: Yemen leaders
Updated 22 June 2021

Houthi’s escalation of violence, rejection of peace, will not go unpunished: Yemen leaders

Houthi’s escalation of violence, rejection of peace, will not go unpunished: Yemen leaders
  • Group’s military escalation in Yemen as well as attacks against Saudi Arabia undermine peace efforts

DUBAI: The Houthi escalation in attacks in Yemen and Saudi Arabia will not go unpunished and government forces are ready to thwart the Iran-backed group’s violence after its rejection of peace efforts, senior Yemeni officials said.

The government and the Yemeni people stand with all their capabilities behind the national army, the popular resistance and the tribesmen until the restoration of the state and ending the Houthi group and its racist project supported by Iran, Prime Minister Maeen Abdulmalik said, state news agency Saba reported.

The escalation in the attacks carried out by the Houthi militia and its repeated targeting of those displaced and the civilians in Marib, Hodeidah and elsewhere, as well as against civilian targets in Saudi Arabia, will not go unpunished, Abdulmalik added.

Muamar Al-Eryani, the minister of information, culture and tourism, stressed that the group’s military escalation in Yemen as well as attacks against Saudi Arabia have undermined peace efforts or worse, a rejection of peaceful solutions.

“This hysteric and dangerous escalation confirms Houthi militia’s continuation of its coup and loyalty to Iranian agenda and destructive policies aiming at spreading chaos and terrorism in the region,” Al-Eryani said in a statement.

Al-Eryani added that the military escalation coincided with the recruitment of child soldiers and brainwashing them in summer camps, and again called on the international community to denounce the violence and pressure the militia to respond to peace efforts.


Egypt affirms support for Libya

Egypt affirms support for Libya
Libyan Government of National Accord fighters stand guard at the reopening of a road between Misrata and Sirte. (AFP)
Updated 22 June 2021

Egypt affirms support for Libya

Egypt affirms support for Libya
  • Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi stresses full support toward efforts to restore security and stability to Libya

CAIRO: Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi has affirmed that restoring Libya’s sovereignty begins with the withdrawal of foreign forces and mercenaries, stressing Egypt’s full support for these efforts during all its actions at the bilateral, regional and international levels.
During his meeting with the Libyan foreign minister, Najla El Mangoush, in Cairo, President El-Sisi affirmed Egypt’s full support for the Presidential Council and the Libyan Government of National Unity during the transitional period with the aim of restoring security and stability to Libya, leading to holding national elections in December. He said that this is an essential step on the path to a political settlement of the Libyan crisis by activating the free will of the Libyan people.
He affirmed Egypt’s firm support for preserving the territorial integrity of Libya, safeguarding the capabilities of the Libyan people, and not interfering in Libya’s internal affairs.
The Libyan foreign minister expressed the Libyan government’s appreciation of the Egyptian role in the region and Egypt’s tireless efforts to support its brothers in Libya, which stem from the principles of preserving the unity of the Libyan territories and restoring stability and preserving the national institutions of the Libyan state.
These include the unification of the military establishment, the end of foreign interference, the exit of all mercenaries and foreign fighters, and the establishment of the principles of dialogue between the Libyan parties.
These include the unification of the military establishment, the end of foreign interference, the exit of all mercenaries and foreign fighters from Libya, the establishment of the principles of dialogue between the Libyan parties, support for national reconciliation in preparation for fair and transparent elections.
She commended Egypt’s support of efforts to settle the Libyan crisis, in light of the historical ties between the two countries.

Battle for the Nile
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Arab League intervention in Ethiopia’s Renaissance Dam not new: Aboul Gheit

Arab League intervention in Ethiopia’s Renaissance Dam not new: Aboul Gheit
Secretary-General of Arab League, Ahmed Aboul Gheit speaks during a news conference after the 29th Arab Summit in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. (REUTERS file photo)
Updated 22 June 2021

Arab League intervention in Ethiopia’s Renaissance Dam not new: Aboul Gheit

Arab League intervention in Ethiopia’s Renaissance Dam not new: Aboul Gheit
  • Ahmed Aboul Gheit said that the Arab decision included a protest against any step that would illegally fill the dam, which represented a threat to the water security of Egypt and Sudan

CAIRO: Secretary-General of the League of Arab States Ahmed Aboul Gheit has said that the role of the league in the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam issue is not new and that Ethiopia claims there is an Arab-African clash over the matter.
The secretary-general explained in television statements to the local Sada Al-Balad TV channel that the Doha meeting raised important points, the first of which was that the water security of Egypt and Sudan was part of Arab national security and the second was the request of the Security Council to hold a meeting about the issue.
Aboul Gheit said that the intervention of the Arab League in the issue of the Renaissance Dam was not new. It had previously formed a committee consisting of several countries, in addition to the league’s envoy at the UN, to follow up on the issue. He said that there was an urgent need for a member state of the Security Council to adopt the demand for holding a session on the issue, similar to Tunisia, explaining that the matter would come at the request of Egypt or Sudan.
He said that the Arab decision included a protest against any step that would illegally fill the dam, which represented a threat to the water security of Egypt and Sudan.
Aboul Gheit said that there was an Ethiopian attempt to claim that there was an Arab-African clash, explaining that this was not the case, especially since Egypt and Sudan were part of Africa, and two-thirds of Arabs lived in Africa.
He said that the Ethiopian claim mainly aimed to win the support of Africa on the issue of the Renaissance Dam at the expense of the two downstream countries, explaining that African Arabs, led by Egypt, always provided support to their continent. The secretary-general indicated that the cooperation between the Arab League and the African Union was clear as the league participated in the meetings of the African Union and vice versa, explaining that Ethiopia had the right to reject what it saw, but the Arab League also had the right to support the rights of its countries.
Aboul Gheit said that far from the Ethiopian reaction, which was characterized by a strong attack on the role of the Arab League, respect for the rules of international law remained a necessity that should be adhered to during the next stage.
“We are not in the jungle . . . The Nile River is governed by the rules of international law, and there is an absolute right for Egypt and Sudan to reject any unilateral measure that causes harm,” he said.
Aboul Gheit said that there was a legal obligation for the Ethiopian government to respect the rights of all riparian countries and not to cause any harm to downstream countries.
He said that Ethiopia must take into account all concerns that might affect the downstream countries, explaining that issues should be addressed through dialogue and consultation between the three countries.
The secretary-general added that the matter required an active role by the African Union and the EU, and that he believed the international community would not accept threats to stability in the Horn of Africa.
He stressed the need to push for negotiations to reach a binding agreement on the filling of the Renaissance Dam.
Aboul Gheit warned that continued Ethiopian intransigence would lead to a dangerous situation, especially as such a policy could lead to deaths. He said that the ministerial decision taken by the meeting in Doha was unanimous and that all countries had announced their support for the downstream nations.

 

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