Foreign seafarers tricked into servitude aboard dangerous Iranian ships

Foreign seafarers tricked into servitude aboard dangerous Iranian ships
Above, the Iranian-flagged oil tanker Fortune arrives at the El Palito refinery in Puerto Cabello, in Carabobo, Venezuela on May 25, 2020. (Venezuelan Ministry of Popular Power for Communication/AFP)
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Updated 14 January 2022

Foreign seafarers tricked into servitude aboard dangerous Iranian ships

Foreign seafarers tricked into servitude aboard dangerous Iranian ships
  • Young Indian workers risk being caught up in Tehran’s geopolitical games
  • Some sailors reported being kidnapped by IRGC agents and detained

LONDON: Iranian shipping companies have worked in league with international shipping recruitment firms to force large numbers of Indian seafarers to work in dangerous conditions with little or no pay, The Washington Post has reported.

Thousands of Indian men are reportedly lured to Iran each year by recruiters who guarantee them salaries and experience on reputable ships, sometimes promising assignments in other Middle Eastern countries.

The newspaper interviewed dozens of seafarers who said that they are instead sent to Iran, denied food, and at times forced to transport drugs and sanctioned cargo.

Ashkay Kumar, a 24-year-old cadet from Delhi, said: “They target seafarers for work without salary. It’s all a big trap. They forced us to work like slaves.”

Another, Ashwani Pandit, said that he had to take out loans to pay a recruiter $2,600 to secure a job onboard a ship that he believed was based in Dubai.

But he was then unexpectedly handed a plane ticket and visa for Iran.

When he found out at the last minute that he had been tricked, he was denied a refund and had little choice but to travel to Iran, where he worked on a small cargo boat for seven months transporting urea and iron to Iraq.

“My friends working on vessels in Iran warned me that companies there don’t pay salaries,” he added. “The same thing happened to me.”

Dozens of others reported paying thousands of dollars to recruiters for jobs and visas, only to find that they were tricked into working in Iran, rather than a more desirable Middle Eastern country.

Pandit left Iran empty-handed in August 2020 — his employer refusing to sign an exit visa until he had signed a contract stating that he did not require payment for his work.

Indians make up a significant portion of maritime workers worldwide. About 316,000 seafarers — or 20 percent of the total worldwide workforce — hail from India.

And Indian labor is especially appealing to Iranian companies, which struggle to recruit because of crippling sanctions that make the hiring process more difficult.

Andy Bowerman, regional director for the Middle East and South Asia at the Mission to Seafarers charity, told The Washington Post: “There is a close relationship between Iran and India, and therefore it is quite attractive in terms of securing visas.”

He added: “There are a lot of desperate people who will take a contract that they may or may not know has some risk to it.”

Many of those people working on Iranian ships also risk being caught up in geopolitical events far beyond their own control.

Jameel Akhtar, 29, from Mumbai, was among a group of seafarers who told of working on vessels smuggling fuel and other Iranian goods facing restrictions under US sanctions.

Akhtar said that after his tanker was caught transporting Iranian fuel in late 2020, it was detained by authorities from the UAE and remained anchored in port for months.

Then in July, four people wearing black masks and goggles, and brandishing guns, boarded the ship, tied the crew members’ hands behind their backs and threatened to shoot anybody who moved.

The crew was held hostage while the tanker was sailed to Bandar Abbas, Iran. Crew members were then released and assisted by the local Indian embassy to fly home.

Investigators concluded that Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps was likely responsible for the abduction.


Kuwait goes to polls, yet again, as opposition groups return

Kuwait goes to polls, yet again, as opposition groups return
Updated 8 sec ago

Kuwait goes to polls, yet again, as opposition groups return

Kuwait goes to polls, yet again, as opposition groups return
  • Kuwait has held 18 elections since the parliamentary system was adopted in 1962
  • Parliament has been all-male since the only woman MP lost her seat in December 2020
KUWAIT CITY: Kuwait will hold its most inclusive elections in a decade Thursday with some opposition groups ending a boycott after the oil-rich country’s royal rulers pledged not to interfere with parliament.
The polls are the sixth in 10 years, reflecting the repeated political crises that have gripped the only Gulf Arab state with a fully elected parliament.
The elections come after Crown Prince Sheikh Meshal Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah announced the dissolution of parliament in June following disputes between lawmakers and the government, the fourth to be named in two years.
Several opposition MPs had been on strike in protest at delays to parliamentary sessions and the failure to form a new government. A core source of friction is MPs’ demand for ministers from the royal family to be held accountable for corruption.
Kuwait, which borders Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Iran and is one of the world’s biggest oil exporters, has held 18 elections since the parliamentary system was adopted in 1962.
But when he dissolved parliament, Sheikh Meshal promised there would be no interference by authorities in the election or the new parliament.
“We will not interfere in the people’s choices for their representatives, nor will we interfere with the choices of the next National Assembly in choosing its speaker or its committees,” the crown prince said.
“Parliament will be the master of its decisions, and we will not be supporting one faction at the expense of another. We will stand at the same distance from everyone.”
Opposition figures have stayed out of elections over the past 10 years, accusing executive authorities of meddling in the workings of parliament.
One of them, People’s Action Movement candidate Mohammad Musaed Al-Dossari, said he had been persuaded to stand again by the crown prince’s promises.
Sheikh Meshal’s speech “reassured” Kuwaitis and “encouraged the political groups and MPs who had been boycotting to return to run in the elections,” Al-Dossari said.
Thursday’s vote also comes after the country’s emir issued an amnesty last year for political opponents who had been tried on various charges.
Some 305 candidates, including 22 women, are competing for 50 seats in five constituencies. Parliament has been all-male since the only woman MP lost her seat in December 2020.
Women represent 51.2 percent of the 795,920 voters. About 70 percent of the population of around 4.2 million is made up of expatriates.
While the last elections were affected by anti-coronavirus measures, this time candidates have been able to open electoral offices and hold live hustings. Security services have stepped up their monitoring of vote-buying.
The election results are expected to be announced on Friday. The opposition, mostly Islamist politicians, won 24 seats out of 50 in the last polls.

Cleric’s supporters again storm Baghdad’s government zone

Cleric’s supporters again storm Baghdad’s government zone
Updated 25 min 20 sec ago

Cleric’s supporters again storm Baghdad’s government zone

Cleric’s supporters again storm Baghdad’s government zone
  • Al-Sadr’s bloc won the most votes in parliamentary elections last October but he has been unable to form a majority government

BAGHDAD: Supporters of Iraq’s influential Shiite cleric Muqtada Al-Sadr again stormed Baghdad’s Green Zone government area Wednesday as the Iraqi parliament holds session on the resignation of its speaker.
Associated Press journalists saw those supporting Sadr waving flags as security forces gathered around them.
Al-Sadr’s bloc won the most votes in parliamentary elections last October but he has been unable to form a majority government. His followers stormed the parliament in late July to prevent their rivals from Iran-backed Shiite groups from forming the government.
With ensuing rallies, clashes with security forces, counter-rallies and a sit-in outside parliament, the government formation process has stalled.
Al-Sadr has now been calling for the dissolution of parliament and early elections and has been in a power struggle with his Iran-backed rivals since the vote.


Kurdish officials: Iran launches new drone bombings in Iraq

Kurdish officials: Iran launches new drone bombings in Iraq
Updated 44 min 28 sec ago

Kurdish officials: Iran launches new drone bombings in Iraq

Kurdish officials: Iran launches new drone bombings in Iraq
  • The Iranian drone strikes targeted a military camp, homes, offices and other areas around Koya
  • Tehran did not immediately acknowledge the attack

KOYA, Iraq: Iran launched a new drone bombing campaign Wednesday targeting the bases of an Iranian-Kurdish opposition group in northern Iraq amid demonstrations engulfing the Islamic Republic, Kurdish officials said.
The strikes early Wednesday focused on Koya, some 60 kilometers (35 miles) east of Irbil, said Soran Nuri, a member of the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan. The group, known by the acronym KDPI, is a leftist armed opposition force banned in Iran.
The Iranian drone strikes targeted a military camp, homes, offices and other areas around Koya, Nuri said. Nuri described the attack as ongoing.
An Associated Press journalist saw ambulances racing through Koya after the strikes.
Tehran did not immediately acknowledge the attack. On Saturday and Monday, Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard unleashed a wave of drone and artillery strikes targeting Kurdish positions.
The attacks appear to be a response to the ongoing protests roiling Iran over the death of a 22-year-old Iranian Kurdish woman who was detained by the nation’s morality police.
The United Nations Secretary-General called on Iran early Wednesday to refrain from using “unnecessary or disproportionate force” against protesters as unrest over a young woman’s death in police custody spread across the country.
Antonio Guterres said through a spokesman that authorities should swiftly conduct an impartial investigation of the death of Mahsa Amini, which has sparked unrest across Iran’s provinces and the capital of Tehran.
“We are increasingly concerned about reports of rising fatalities, including women and children, related to the protests,” UN spokesman Stéphane Dujarric in a statement. “We underline the need for prompt, impartial and effective investigation into Ms. Mahsa Amini’s death by an independent competent authority.”
Protests have spread across at least 46 cities, towns and villages in Iran. State TV reported that at least 41 protesters and police have been killed since the protests began Sept. 17.
An Associated Press count of official statements by authorities tallied at least 14 dead, with more than 1,500 demonstrators arrested.
The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, meanwhile, said it documented the arrests of at least 23 journalists as the clashes between security forces and protesters heated up.
CPJ in a Wednesday statement called on Iranian authorities to “immediately” release arrested journalists who covered Amini’s death and protests.
Dujarric added that Guterres stressed the need to respect human rights, including freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, and association during the meeting with Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi on September 22nd.


Three killed in Israel Jenin raid: Palestinian ministry

Three killed in Israel Jenin raid: Palestinian ministry
Updated 40 min 45 sec ago

Three killed in Israel Jenin raid: Palestinian ministry

Three killed in Israel Jenin raid: Palestinian ministry
  • The Israeli army confirmed in a tweet that troops were “operating in Jenin”
  • The raids have sparked clashes that have killed dozens of Palestinians, including fighters

RAMALLAH: Three Palestinians were killed Wednesday during an Israeli West Bank raid targeting alleged militants, including the brother of a man blamed for a deadly attack in Tel Aviv, the Palestinian health ministry said.
The Palestinian health ministry recorded three deaths during the raid in Jenin, including Abed Hazem, brother of Raad Hazem, named as the killer of three Israelis in a Tel Aviv shooting spree on April 7.
The Israeli army confirmed troops had shot dead “two suspects involved in a number of recent shooting attacks.”
The Israeli army confirmed in a tweet that troops were “operating in Jenin,” a militant stronghold that has suffered near daily violence. It did not immediately provide further details of the raid.
Since March, Israel has launched hundreds of operations in the northern West Bank, including Jenin and nearby Nablus, in pursuit of individuals it accuses of involvement in deadly attacks targeting Israelis.
The raids have sparked clashes that have killed dozens of Palestinians, including fighters.

 


 


Iranian woman died of ‘blow to the head’: family in Iraq

Iranian woman died of ‘blow to the head’: family in Iraq
Updated 11 min 23 sec ago

Iranian woman died of ‘blow to the head’: family in Iraq

Iranian woman died of ‘blow to the head’: family in Iraq
  • ‘By the time she reached hospital she was already dead from a medical point of view’

SULAIMANIYAH: Iranian Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini was visiting Tehran with her family when she encountered the notorious morality police and died after a “violent blow to the head,” her cousin living in Iraq said.
“Jhina’s death has opened the doors of popular anger,” said Erfan Salih Mortezaee, 34, using Amini’s Kurdish first name and referring to the ongoing wave of protests that her death has sparked.
In a phone call after the young woman’s death was announced, Amini’s mother told him what happened when her 22-year-old daughter was detained, Mortezaee said.
AFP spoke with Mortezaee in Iraq’s autonomous Kurdistan region — bordering Amini’s native Kurdistan province in Iran — where he has been living for a year.
There he joined Iranian Kurdish nationalist group Komala, which has conducted a long-running cross-border insurgency against the Tehran authorities, seeking autonomy for Kurdish-populated areas of northwestern Iran.
Mortezaee said that, before starting university, Amini had gone to Tehran with her parents and 17-year-old brother to visit relatives.
On September 13, Amini, her brother and female relatives went out in the capital.
On leaving the Haghani underground station, “the morality police stopped them, arresting Jhina and her relatives,” Mortezaee said.
Wearing military fatigues and speaking at a Komala base in the Sulaimaniyah area of northern Iraq, Mortezaee said Amini’s brother tried to tell the police that they were “in Tehran for the first time” and “did not know the (local) traditions.”
But his appeals fell on deaf ears.
“The police officer told him, ‘We are going to take her in, instil the rules in her and teach her how to wear the hijab and how to dress’,” Mortezaee said.
Amini was “dressed normally. Like all women in Iran, she was wearing the hijab,” her cousin added.
In Iran, women — regardless of their faith — are required to cover their hair, and the morality police bans them from wearing coats above the knee, tight trousers, bright colors or torn jeans.
The code has been widely skirted for decades, particularly in major cities, but there have been periodic crackdowns.
“The police officers hit Jhina, they hit her in front of her brother,” Mortezaee said.
“They slapped her, they hit her hands and legs with a baton,” said Mortezaee, adding that they also sprayed her brother in the face with pepper spray.
Jhina and her relatives were forced into the morality police van and taken to a station on Vezarat Street.
The beatings continued during the ride, Mortezaee said.
“When they hit her in the head with the baton, she lost consciousness,” he said. “One of the officers said: ‘She’s putting on an act’.”
After they arrived, it was at least another hour and a half before she was taken to a Tehran hospital, despite pleas from her relatives, Mortezaee said.
After three days in a coma, she was pronounced dead.
Amini’s mother said doctors at the hospital told the family that her daughter “had received a violent blow to the head,” Mortezaee said.
Iranian authorities have denied all involvement in Amini’s death, which has sparked 12 consecutive nights of protests and a security crackdown.
“What is happening in Kurdistan and everywhere else in Iran is popular anger against the Islamic republic’s regime, against the dictatorship,” Mortezaee said.
At least 76 people have been killed in the demonstrations, according to the Oslo-based group Iran Human Rights (IHR), while Iran’s semi-official Fars news agency has put the toll at “around 60.”
Authorities said Monday they had made more than 1,200 arrests.
The protests come at a particularly sensitive time for Iran’s leadership, when the country’s economy remains mired in a crisis largely caused by US sanctions over its nuclear program.
The country has seen protests in recent years, including deadly demonstrations in November 2019 over fuel price rises.
But this time “women are taking the lead and are actively taking part in the protests,” Mortezaee said.
“Women are participating in the demonstrations courageously and are taking to the streets, day and night,” he said.
“We the youth know that if this regime falls, a better life awaits us.”