Iran harassed, abused victims’ families of downed Ukraine passenger jet: HRW

Iran harassed, abused victims’ families of downed Ukraine passenger jet: HRW
The families of people killed in the IRGC’s downing of a Ukrainian plane have been harassed and abused by Iranian authorities, HRW has said. (File/AFP)
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Updated 27 May 2021

Iran harassed, abused victims’ families of downed Ukraine passenger jet: HRW

Iran harassed, abused victims’ families of downed Ukraine passenger jet: HRW
  • Iran’s security agencies had arbitrarily detained, summoned and tortured victims’ family members
  • Some family members were interrogated or detained for hours

LONDON: Iranian authorities waged a campaign of harassment and abuse against the families of people who died in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corp’s (IRGC) downing of a Ukrainian airliner in January last year, Human Rights Watch claimed on Thursday.

The organization spoke to 31 family members of victims and those with direct knowledge of the authorities’ treatment of the families between October, and January this year.

It said: “Iran’s security agencies had arbitrarily detained, summoned, abusively interrogated, tortured, and otherwise mistreated victims’ family members.”

The agencies were also accused of failing to return the possessions of victims to their families and interfering with burial and memorial gatherings.

Michael Page, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, said: “Iran’s revolutionary guard killed 176 people without a shred of accountability, and now Iran’s brutal security agencies are abusing victims’ family members to squash any hope for justice.

“Rather than attempting to regain people’s trust through a transparent investigation and redress for the families, the authorities are again silencing accountability efforts.”

Authorities in Iran had also intimidated victims’ family members, the organization added. Relatives reported that Iranian officials interfered with burial and memorial services and pressurized families to accept the government’s “martyrdom” status for their loved ones. Photos and videos were also published at services without the permission of families of the deceased.

At least 16 people said that Iranian security agencies threatened them not to speak to foreign media or had followed or summoned their relatives and friends who went to memorials and filmed those attending the events.

Some family members were interrogated or detained for hours and others were warned of “consequences” unless they removed social media posts critical of the Iranian government’s lack of accountability.

“Iranian authorities have continued to harass and pressure people speaking out publicly about the government’s mishandling of the investigation and demands for accountability.

“All governments involved in the investigation of downed flight 752 should ensure that the rights of victims’ families are protected to pursue genuine accountability, including holding those responsible criminally liable and providing families with adequate compensation,” Page added.

Iranian authorities announced on April 6 that they had indicted 10 people for their role in the downing of Ukraine International Airlines flight 752. However, no information about their identities, ranks, or the charges against them have been made available.

A US drone strike in Iraq on Jan. 3 last year which killed Qassem Soleimani, the commander of Iran’s Quds Force, was followed on Jan. 8 by Iranian missile attacks against a US base in Iraq and Iran’s downing of the Ukrainian passenger jet close to Tehran’s Imam Khomeini International Airport.

After several initial denials, the Armed Forces Central Command admitted that the IRGC had “mistakenly” shot down the plane, killing all 176 passengers and crew on board.

Iran’s Aircraft Accident Investigation Board published a final report on the incident in which it said that Iranian missiles were launched at the jet due to a 105-degree miscalibration of the launcher’s radar.


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At UN, Israeli PM Bennett says Iran has crossed nuclear ‘red lines’

At UN, Israeli PM Bennett says Iran has crossed nuclear ‘red lines’
Updated 38 min 45 sec ago

At UN, Israeli PM Bennett says Iran has crossed nuclear ‘red lines’

At UN, Israeli PM Bennett says Iran has crossed nuclear ‘red lines’

NEW YORK: Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said on Monday that Iran had crossed “all red lines” in its nuclear program and vowed that Israel would not allow Tehran to acquire a nuclear weapon.
In his first speech before the United Nations General Assembly, Bennett said Iran sought to dominate the Middle East under a “nuclear umbrella” and urged a more concerted international effort to halt Iran’s nuclear activities.
But he also hinted at the potential for Israel to act on its own against Iran, something it has repeatedly threatened in the past.
“Iran’s nuclear program has hit a watershed moment, and so has our tolerance,” Bennett said. “Words do not stop centrifuges from spinning.”
Bennett, a far-right politician who ended Benjamin Netanyahu’s 12-year run as prime minister in June, wants US President Joe Biden to harden his stance against Iran, Israel’s regional arch-foe. He opposes the new US administration’s efforts to revive the 2015 Iran nuclear deal that Biden’s White House predecessor, Donald Trump, abandoned in 2018.
Indirect US-Iran talks in Vienna have stalled as Washington awaits the next move by Iran’s new hard-line president, Ebrahim Raisi.
Bennett struck a less combative tone before the United Nations than Netanyahu, who often relied on props and visual aids to dramatize his accusations against Iran, an approach that critics derided as political stunts.
But Bennett has been just as adamant as Netanyahu was in pledging to do whatever is necessary to prevent Iran, which Israel views as an existential threat, from building a nuclear weapon. Iran consistently denies it is seeking a bomb.
“Iran’s nuclear weapons program is at a critical point. All red lines have been crossed, inspections ignored,” Bennett said. “They’re getting away with it.”


Iran says UN nuclear watchdog’s claim ‘not accurate’

Iran says UN nuclear watchdog’s claim ‘not accurate’
Updated 27 September 2021

Iran says UN nuclear watchdog’s claim ‘not accurate’

Iran says UN nuclear watchdog’s claim ‘not accurate’
  • Iran’s ambassador to the IAEA Kazem Gharibabadi on Monday rejected the charge on Twitter

TEHRAN: Iran on Monday rejected a complaint by the UN nuclear watchdog that it was blocked from a nuclear site, arguing that the facility was exempt from a recent agreement.
The Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said on Sunday it had been denied “indispensable” access to the TESA Karaj centrifuge component manufacturing workshop near Tehran contrary to a September 12 agreement with Iran.
Iran’s ambassador to the IAEA Kazem Gharibabadi on Monday rejected the charge on Twitter.
“During the discussions in Tehran and Vienna, Iran indicated that... equipment related to this Complex are not included for servicing,” he wrote, referring to IAEA work on its surveillance equipment.
Sunday’s IAEA statement “isn’t accurate and goes beyond the agreed terms,” he added.
This month’s agreement between the IAEA and Iran came days after the nuclear watchdog had decried a lack of cooperation from Tehran.
Agency inspectors had been allowed to service monitoring and surveillance equipment and to replace storage media at “all necessary locations” except the TESA Karaj workshop, the IAEA said on Sunday.
IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi in his latest report on Iran informed member states that the Islamic republic had granted all other access from September 20-22.
The IAEA’s latest report comes amid stalled negotiations to revive a 2015 landmark agreement scaling back Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief.
That deal started to fall apart in 2018 when the US withdrew from it and reinstated sanctions. Iran in turn again started to ramp up its nuclear activities.
Talks began in April in Vienna between Tehran and the remaining five parties to the 2015 deal aimed at bringing Washington back into the agreement.
But that dialogue has been stalled since June, when ultraconservative Ebrahim Raisi won Iran’s presidential election.
Iran’s foreign minister said Friday that talks would restart “very soon,” but the US has called for a clear timetable.


US to Iran: Grant inspectors access to workshop or face action at UN nuclear watchdog

US to Iran: Grant inspectors access to workshop or face action at UN nuclear watchdog
Updated 27 September 2021

US to Iran: Grant inspectors access to workshop or face action at UN nuclear watchdog

US to Iran: Grant inspectors access to workshop or face action at UN nuclear watchdog
  • Workshop at the TESA Karaj complex makes components for centrifuges, machines that enrich uranium

VIENNA: Iran must stop denying the UN nuclear watchdog access to a workshop making centrifuge parts as agreed two weeks ago or face diplomatic retaliation at the agency’s Board of Governors within days, the United States said on Monday.
The workshop at the TESA Karaj complex makes components for centrifuges, machines that enrich uranium, and was hit by apparent sabotage in June in which one of four International Atomic Energy Agency cameras there was destroyed. Iran removed them and the destroyed camera’s footage is missing.
TESA Karaj was one of several sites to which Iran agreed to grant IAEA inspectors access to service IAEA monitoring equipment and replace memory cards just as they were due to fill up with data such as camera footage. The Sept. 12 accord helped avoid a diplomatic escalation between Iran and the West.
“We are deeply troubled by Iran’s refusal to provide the IAEA with the needed access to service its monitoring equipment, as was agreed in the September 12 Joint Statement between the IAEA and Iran,” a US statement to the IAEA’s 35-nation Board of Governors on Monday said.
It was responding to an IAEA report to member states on Sunday that said Iran had granted access to sites as agreed on Sept. 12 but not to the workshop, where IAEA inspectors were denied access on Sunday. They had planned to check if the workshop was ready to operate and re-install cameras if it was.
Iran’s envoy to the IAEA, Kazem Gharibabadi, said overnight on Twitter that before the deal with the IAEA, Iran indicated that monitoring equipment at Karaj was “not included for servicing” because of ongoing investigations and Sunday’s report “goes beyond the agreed terms of the JS (Joint Statement).”
The European Union told the IAEA board that Iran’s failure to grant the IAEA access to the workshop was “a worrying development, contrary to the Joint Statement reached on 12 September 2021.”
A resolution criticizing Iran at the Board of Governors could kill hopes of resuming indirect talks between Iran and the United States to bring both sides back into compliance with the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.
Iran usually bristles at such resolutions and its news hard-line President Ebrahim Raisi has said Iran is prepared to return to the negotiating table but not under Western “pressure.” Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian said on Friday Iran would return to the talks “very soon.”
“We call on Iran to provide the IAEA with needed access without further delay,” the US statement said. “If Iran fails to do so, we will be closely consulting with other board members in the coming days on an appropriate response.”
The European Union also called on Iran to grant access “without any further delay.”


Judge suspends probe into Lebanon port blast amid challenges

Judge suspends probe into Lebanon port blast amid challenges
Updated 27 September 2021

Judge suspends probe into Lebanon port blast amid challenges

Judge suspends probe into Lebanon port blast amid challenges
  • Judge Tarek Bitar is the second judge to lead the complicated and thorny investigation

BEIRUT: The lead judge investigating last year’s massive blast in Beirut’s port suspended his work in the case Monday after he was formally informed that a former Cabinet minister had submitted a request to recuse him.

Judge Tarek Bitar, the second judge to lead the complicated and thorny investigation, canceled the questioning of a former military intelligence general, scheduled for Monday. The Court of Appeals now has to decide whether to dismiss him from the case or not.

The development comes amid a growing campaign by Lebanon’s political class against Bitar, who took over the job in February after his predecessor, Fadi Sawwan, was removed following similar legal challenges by senior officials he had accused of negligence that led to the blast.

On Aug. 4, 2020, hundreds of tons of ammonium nitrate, a highly explosive material used in fertilizers that had been improperly stored in the port for years, exploded, killing at least 214 people, injuring more than 6,000 and devastating nearby neighborhoods.

Bitar’s removal, if it happens, would likely be the final blow to the probe, making it highly unlikely that a third judge would take up the job amid threats by members of the country’s political elite who have closed ranks in their effort to block the probe.

Families of the victims of the explosion have already demanded an international probe, not trusting the Lebanese probe. Lebanon is known for a culture of impunity that has prevailed for decades, including among the entrenched political elites.

Bitar’s demise began in July when he announced intentions to go after senior Lebanese officials, and summoned for questioning then-outgoing Prime Minister Hassan Diab, three former Cabinet ministers and top security officials.

None showed up for questioning; the parliament failed to lift immunity of those summoned — a necessary step before any prosecution — while Diab’s office and then-interior minister, Mohamed Fehmi, declined to let Bitar question the heads of two security agencies.

On Friday, former Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk, who was also implicated in the probe, filed a motion to dismiss the judge.