Iranian dissident journalist Moradi ‘abducted’ in Turkey

The killing of Masoud Molavi Vardanjani in 2019 ‘was clearly a hostile act that was met with a response.’ (Reuters)
The killing of Masoud Molavi Vardanjani in 2019 ‘was clearly a hostile act that was met with a response.’ (Reuters)
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Updated 06 June 2022

Iranian dissident journalist Moradi ‘abducted’ in Turkey

The killing of Masoud Molavi Vardanjani in 2019 ‘was clearly a hostile act that was met with a response.’ (Reuters)
  • News of his disappearance may complicate Iranian FM’s visit to Ankara

ANKARA: The disappearance of Mohammed Bagher Moradi, an Iranian dissident journalist who took shelter in Turkey nine years ago, has fueled concerns that he is another victim of Iranian intelligence and abduction operations that have been active in the region.

Moradi, who sought asylum in Turkey after fleeing Iran during a trial over his critical news coverage, disappeared on May 30. His father believes his son was abducted by Iranian operatives since he had been followed by Iranian intelligence for a while in capital Ankara. His family filed a criminal complaint with the local Turkish prosecutor’s office.
In 2013, Moradi, a member of Saraye Ahl-e Ghalam (Writer’s Association), was given a five-year prison sentence term on the charge of “illegal gathering and collusion against national security.”
For Iranian dissidents, Turkey has become a safe haven or a transit point to reach European countries if their legal status remains unclear.
The reciprocal visa-free travel regime between Iran and Turkey provides Iranians with the chance to stay and move freely for up to 90 days in Turkey.




Mohammed Bagher Moradi. (Supplied photo)


However, this has not gone unnoticed by Iranian intelligence operatives who established espionage networks in the country to kidnap or assassinate dissidents despite the bilateral commitments between the two countries to cooperate against human trafficking and terrorism.
Oubai Shahbandar, a defense and security analyst, thinks it’s clear that Iranian intelligence operatives are still carrying out terror and kidnap operations that target Turkey.
“The assassination of (the dissident) Masoud Molavi Vardanjani in the middle of a busy street in Istanbul in 2019 was clearly a hostile act that was met with a response. That the Iranians are still carrying out brazen attacks shows how little Tehran cares for international norms and respect for sovereignty,” he told Arab News.
Turkish authorities arrested several suspects over their links to Vardanjani, who was a former intelligence operative for Iran. This included a staff member of the Iranian Consulate in Istanbul named Mohammed Reza Naserzade, who was held in February 2021, but Tehran denied any involvement with the murder.
Before he was shot dead in Istanbul, the Iranian dissident began sharing bombshell social media posts on the corruption of Iranian officials.
Last year, a high-ranking pilot from the Iranian army who took shelter in Turkey in 2018 filed a complaint with Turkish authorities claiming that some people tried to abduct him and his spouse several times in a bid to deliver him to Iranian intelligence. Eight people were arrested in September 2021 in connection with the incident.
Earlier this year, Turkish intelligence thwarted another plot by Iranian operatives to kill an Israeli-Turkish businessperson on Iran’s orders.
Yair Geller, a 75-year-old Istanbul-based tycoon who invested in machine and defense industries in Turkey, was targeted by a nine-person network that was gathered by Iran’s intelligence agency in response to the assassination of Iranian nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh in what Tehran claimed was an Israeli operation.
The attempt was foiled following a month-long surveillance operation by the Turkish intelligence agency.
Jason Brodsky, policy director of the group United Against a Nuclear Iran, told Arab News that the case of Moradi is just one more example of Iran’s long history of using Turkey as a launch pad to target Iranian dissidents.
However, he doesn’t think the operation itself was primarily motivated by Turkey’s warming relations with Israel.
“It is more that Iran has found a permissive environment in Turkey to operate, not to mention the geographic advantages for its security forces in being able to quickly smuggle their targets into Iranian territory,” Brodsky said.
Last week, Israel’s National Security Council issued a travel warning for Turkey, claiming there was a concrete threat to Israelis by “Iranian terrorist operatives” there and in nearby countries.
According to Brodsky, Israel’s recent travel warning for Israelis in Turkey is one more example of how infiltrated Turkey is with Iranian intelligence.
“These revelations come ahead of the Iranian foreign minister’s visit to Turkey on Monday — his first since taking office. Despite Iran’s reach inside Turkey, there are still irritants in the bilateral relationship over water, Iran-backed militias’ targeting of Turkish forces in Iraq and other issues. The news about the Moradi case will add yet another complication during the Iranian foreign minister’s visit,” he added.
In February, 16 suspects belonging to a network were arrested over their ties to Iranian intelligence in bringing back Iranian dissidents back to their homeland. The network was discovered following a detailed investigation by Turkish intelligence. They were accused of political and military espionage, as well as of abduction.
In its previous operations in Turkey, the network smuggled another Iranian dissident, former Col. Mashali Firouze, back to Iran, while its attempts to abduct former naval officer Mohammed Rezaei and economist Shahnam Golshani were botched.
Regarding the timing of the Iranian operatives’ abduction attempts in Turkey, Shahbandar said it is definitely not random.
“It is a sign of Iran’s desperation as the economy collapses and protests spread further across the country,” he said.


Pakistanis returning from Iran’s Zahedan say fighting spills to neighboring areas

Pakistanis returning from Iran’s Zahedan say fighting spills to neighboring areas
Updated 18 sec ago

Pakistanis returning from Iran’s Zahedan say fighting spills to neighboring areas

Pakistanis returning from Iran’s Zahedan say fighting spills to neighboring areas
  • At least 41 people were killed by Iranian security forces in city, according to Norway-based NGO Iran Human Rights
  • Over the weekend, Iran shut down communication services in Zahedan and sealed its border with Pakistan

QUETTA: Fighting after deadly clashes in Iran’s Zahedan has subsided and moved to the city’s outskirts amid a heavy deployment of troops, Pakistanis who have returned from the southeastern Iranian town said on Tuesday, as cross-border movement resumed.

Violence broke out in the capital of Sistan and Balochistan province during Friday prayers, after worshipers in the city’s Makki Mosque called for a protest over the rape of a 15-year-old girl, allegedly by a local military commander.

At least 41 people were killed by Iranian security forces, according to data from the Norway-based NGO Iran Human Rights released on Sunday. The administration of Sistan and Balochistan has cited a death toll of 19. The number is feared to be higher, as local activists and news outlets report new casualties every day.

Over the weekend, Iran shut down communication services in Zahedan and surrounding areas and sealed its border with Pakistan at Taftan, a city about 90 kilometers from Zahedan. A Pakistani Federal Investigation Agency official has confirmed to Arab News that the crossing reopened on Monday.

Khalil Ahmed, 27, a businessman from Nokundi, a Pakistani city on the border, returned from Rutuk, a small town adjacent to Zahedan, on Monday night.

Ahmed was stranded after Iran closed the border. He said that the situation in areas surrounding Zahedan was “grim” and most of their residents feared leaving their houses.

“In the day there is silence but at night we heard heavy gunshots,” he told Arab News. “I have seen a heavy presence of Iranian forces in Zahedan and its adjacent towns.”

Iran says five members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and its volunteer force Basiji were killed in Zahedan in what state media described as a “terrorist incident.”

An IRGC provincial intelligence chief was among the personnel killed, and his death was claimed by Jaish Al-Adl, a militant group that says it is fighting for the independence of Sistan and Balochistan and greater rights for Baloch people – the main ethnic group in the province.

Naveed Ahmed, 32, a Pakistani who owns a shop in Taftan, said that he returned from Zahedan on Monday after spending six days in the city.

“Business activities are still closed in the entire Zahedan city after Friday’s clashes, but the fighting between the forces and the protesters has been halted,” he told Arab News.

“There were no more clashes in Zahedan city after Friday, but yes some fighting continued between the Iranian forces and separatist groups at the outskirts of Zahedan, because we heard gunshots in the night.”

The deaths of security personnel and the provincial IRGC intelligence chief have been a major escalation in the anti-government demonstrations that began in mid-September, triggered by the death of a 22-year-old woman, Mahsa Amini, in the custody of Iranian morality police.

Official news agency IRNA quoted IRGC chief Gen. Hossein Salami pledging revenge for the killing of its forces.

“We consider revenge for the blood of the IRGC and Basiji martyrs and the people who were victims of the Black Friday crime in Zahedan to be on our agenda,” he said.

Ongoing countrywide demonstrations have been the largest manifestation of dissent against the Iranian government in more than a decade.

Rallies have spread to all of Iran’s 31 provinces, with ethnic and religious minorities joining in, despite the violent response from authorities.

Iran Human Rights estimates that at least 133 people have been killed by security forces since the beginning of the protests — over three times higher than the number reported by Iranian state media.


Iranian singer arrested during Amini protests released

Iranian singer arrested during Amini protests released
Updated 1 min 2 sec ago

Iranian singer arrested during Amini protests released

Iranian singer arrested during Amini protests released
  • Hajjipour rose to fame for the song “Baraye,” “For,” in which he put together messages posted on Twitter about the reasons for protests

TEHRAN: Iranian singer Shervin Hajjipour, arrested after his song in support of protests over the death of Mahsa Amini went viral, has been released on bail, an official said Tuesday.
A wave of unrest has rocked Iran since the 22-year-old Iranian Kurdish woman died on September 16 after her arrest by the morality police in Tehran for allegedly failing to observe the Islamic republic’s strict dress code for women.
The street violence has led to the deaths of dozens of people — mostly protesters but also members of the security forces — and hundreds of arrests.
“Shervin Hajji Aghapour has been released on bail so that his case can go through the legal process,” Mohammad Karimi, prosecutor of the northern province of Mazandaran told Iran’s state news agency IRNA.
Rights groups outside of Iran reported his arrest last week.
Hajjipour, a 25-year-old pop singer and songwriter, rose to fame for the song “Baraye,” “For,” in which he put together messages posted on Twitter about the reasons for protests.
The emotional performance became a viral hit on different social media platforms, with millions of views within days.
It is no longer available on his Instagram account, which currently has more than 1.7 million followers.
The song featured in many videos of protests on social media, and also made its way to local media.
The ultra-conservative Tasnim news agency published its own version of the video clip, keeping Hajjipour’s voice, while changing the accompanying images into ones showing the Islamic republic’s achievements.
The agency said that its video, posted Sunday on Telegram, is meant to show “more realistic concepts of what is happening in the media battlefield,” by using “more meaningful pictures.”
Tasnim on Tuesday said Hajjipour was arrested “for showing support for the rioters and solidarity with the enemies by posting the song in social media without getting permission for it.”


Festive brides add to Mawlid celebrations in Egypt

Festive brides add to Mawlid celebrations in Egypt
Updated 34 min 2 sec ago

Festive brides add to Mawlid celebrations in Egypt

Festive brides add to Mawlid celebrations in Egypt
  • Tradition has been handed down for generations, with dolls manufacturers moving from scattered sweet shops to home

CAIRO: Egyptians are preparing to celebrate Prophet Muhammad’s birthday — also known as El-Mawlid El-Nabawi.

Although the celebration will take place on Oct. 7, streets around the country are already filled with all kinds of festive sweets and candies. The price of a candy box ranges from 100 Egyptian pounds ($5) to 1900 Egyptian pounds, depending on the brand and quality.

Among the famous pieces of candy that takes over the streets of Egypt is the famous Mawlid doll or bride, which was made in the past with sugar and water.

The tradition has been handed down for generations, with dolls manufacturers moving from scattered sweet shops to homes.

“I started the project of manufacturing Mawlid brides with only 400 Egyptian pounds,” Rasha Abdel Hamid, 20, said.

“I graduated from the faculty of social work, but I love designing brides, especially Mawlid brides, and this is what made me start my project about four years ago. After I designed a bride it impressed all my acquaintances, and they asked me to make the same for them. So I bought raw materials and designed six brides, and from there the project began,” she added.

This tradition has traveled through generations, and the Mawlid doll's manufacturers have moved from scattered sweet shops to homes. (Supplied)

“I only work during the season of the Prophet Muhammad’s birthday, and the brides that I make vary between those veiled and those that do not suit all tastes. This year I designed 60 Mawlid brides … I hope to have a factory next year during the Prophet Muhammad’s birthday,” she said.

Bride prices vary depending on the region that they are sold in. In high-end areas of Cairo, they sell for about 150 Egyptian pounds, while in villages, they range from 5-25 Egyptian pounds.

Zainab Abdel-Dayem, 44, a housewife, carries out the same hobby as Hamid.

“Since my young age, I have had a love for drawing, making and decorating brides, and in the seasons of the Prophet’s birthday there is an increasing demand for such brides, increasing my profits,” she told Arab News.

“I buy plastic brides, fabric, sewing tools and wax pistols to create Mawlid brides.

“This year, I developed my craft by adding lights to the brides. Also, I made the brides spin and sing using small electronic systems,” Abdel-Dayem said.

In one of the workshops in the Al-Azhar area in the center of Cairo, Atta Shalaby sat playing his part in the manufacturing of the dolls.

“The doll creation goes through several stages, the first being the base of the bride, which is made in carton factories. Then we cut the fabric and define the shape of the dress. Then comes the installation of the bride’s body on the base,” he told Arab News.

Then the bride gets transported to skilled craftsmen who give final touches to the product and finally the bride gets wrapped,” Shalaby added.

“I have been working for a long time in the manufacturing of Mawlid dolls from sugar and water, but no one does that anymore. Mawlid dolls are now made of plastic. They are more profitable, but certainly less creative,” he said.


Iran branded ‘brutal police state’ by leading arts festival

Iran branded ‘brutal police state’ by leading arts festival
Updated 59 min 57 sec ago

Iran branded ‘brutal police state’ by leading arts festival

Iran branded ‘brutal police state’ by leading arts festival

ROME: Iran has been branded a “brutal police state” by one of the world’s biggest cultural festivals for its crackdown on protests and freedom of expression.

Organizers of the Venice Biennale said that the Iranian regime was crushing “the most elementary human and civil rights” in its reaction to demonstrations over the death of Mahsa Amini, 22, at the hands of the country’s “morality police.”

In a statement, festival organizers said: “The Iranian people have taken to the streets to march in legitimate protest against a brutal police state.”

It condemned the “violent reaction to the spontaneous and growing protests in the streets of Iran, with the concurrent shutdown of the internet and the social networks.”

The Biennale, which has run for 127 years, also denounced the regime’s suppression of artists as “unacceptable,” adding that it deprived “the artists and citizens of Iran, to whom we extend our greatest solidarity, of every possibility of communication and expression.”

“La Biennale di Venezia and the Venice International Film Festival, together with other festivals and cultural institutions, must become the voice of those who are violently and brutally oppressed to the point of murder.”

A flash mob protest was organized on the red carpet at last month’s 79th Venice film festival in support of imprisoned filmmakers.

“Our engagement is reinforced today by our full support to the women and men who are bravely protesting at the risk of their own lives to achieve recognition of their right to freedom and the civil rights that are being denied to them by force,” the organizers said.

Amini died last month, days after being arrested in Tehran for allegedly breaking the country’s strict dress code. Photographs released of her in hospital showed injuries and swelling on her body. Her family have said she was tortured. Authorities say she suffered a heart attack.

Protests have been held against the Iranian government in several Italian cities. The largest took place in Rome on Monday, when around 1,000 people marched in a show of solidarity.


Depositors storm Lebanon banks to demand their frozen money

Depositors storm Lebanon banks to demand their frozen money
Updated 04 October 2022

Depositors storm Lebanon banks to demand their frozen money

Depositors storm Lebanon banks to demand their frozen money
  • Banks shuttered their branches last week after a spate of holdups by angry depositors

BEIRUT: Outraged bank clients, at least two of them armed, stormed four commercial banks across Lebanon on Tuesday over withdrawal limits that have been imposed throughout the country amid a financial meltdown.

Cases of bank hold-ups have snowballed across Lebanon as residents have grown exasperated over the informal capital controls that banks have imposed since an economic downturn began in 2019.

On Tuesday morning, a Lebanese man armed with a pistol and a grenade entered the Chtaura branch of BLC Bank, demanding access to his $24,000 in savings, according to Depositors’ Outcry, a group campaigning for angry depositors.

The group said in a statement that the man, identified as Ali Al-Sahli, was in deep debt and also needed to wire money to his son, who was studying in Ukraine.

Al-Sahli, a retired officer who served in Lebanon’s Internal Security Forces, demanded $24,000 in trapped savings to transfer to his son, who owes rent and tuition fees in Ukraine.

“Count the money, before one of you dies,” Al-Sahli said in a video he recorded with one hand while waving a gun in the other.

“He had been trying to sell his kidney,” the group’s statement said.

Security forces later entered the bank and arrested Saheli before he could access any money, the group said.

BLC had no immediate comment.

 

 

Also on Tuesday, a group of people employed at a state power station in Lebanon’s north stormed the First National Bank Branch in the port city of Tripoli, according to witnesses.

They were angry over delays in having access to their salaries and fees they were being charged for the process, said their union representative Talal Hajjer from outside the bank.

In a third incident, an armed depositor briefly took hostages at Byblos Bank in the southern city of Tyre, according to the Depositors’ Association, another advocacy group.

It said he was carrying a pistol and demanding access to his savings amounting to $44,000.

After negotiations with the bank, he agreed to take 350 million Lebanese pounds in cash — worth nearly $9,000 at Tuesday’s market rate — which he handed to a relative before being taken into custody, the Depositors’ Association said. There was no immediate comment from Byblos Bank.

A fourth depositor staged a sit-in at IBL Bank in the Beirut suburb of Hazmieh, saying he would not leave until he was granted unfettered access to his account, Depositors’ Outcry said. It was not immediately clear if he was armed.

Last month, a spree of seven hold-ups in a single week saw the banking association announce a closure for about a week.

Five incidents have already rocked banks this week. On Monday, Lebanese depositor Zaher Khawaja and some associates managed to withdraw $11,750 from an account with more than $700,000 at the Haret Hreik branch of BLOM Bank.

BLOM said he was not armed and that it would investigate the incident.

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