Iranian dissidents, former hostages of regime launch lawsuit against Raisi

Iranian dissidents, former hostages of regime launch lawsuit against Raisi
Protesters attend a rally calling for the prosecution of the Iran’s president Ebrahim Raisi during the United Nations (UN) General Assembly in New York. (AFP)
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Updated 21 September 2022

Iranian dissidents, former hostages of regime launch lawsuit against Raisi

Iranian dissidents, former hostages of regime launch lawsuit against Raisi
  • Activists call for justice in a US federal civil case against President Ebrahim Raisi, who is in New York this week for the UN General Assembly
  • ‘I have lived in constant trauma,’ said one victim of unjust detention and torture who saw fellow prisoners taken to be hanged and feared he would be next

NEW YORK CITY: As Iran is rocked by furious nationwide protests following the death on Friday of Mahsa Amini — a 22-year-old Iranian woman who died after police beat her for “improperly” wearing the hijab — President Ebrahim Raisi might have hoped to escape the anger swelling in his country while he attends the UN General Assembly in New York this week.
But he faces the threat of being served with a lawsuit in the city by Iranian dissidents and Westerners who were held hostage by the regime in Tehran and accuse him of personal involvement in the torture and mistreatment they endured.
The lawsuit, which is supported by the National Union for Democracy in Iran, is being filed in the Southern District of New York by human rights attorney Shahin Milani on behalf of victims of Raisi’s alleged crimes.
The plaintiffs claim they endured acts of torture that were either directly ordered or substantially assisted by Raisi, which means the Iranian president is liable to face a civil lawsuit under the US Torture Victim Protection Act.
Cameron Khansarinia, NUFDI’s policy director, introduced the plaintiffs during a press conference at a private club in midtown Manhattan.
“We are here today to announce and outline in detail an historic, federal, civil lawsuit against Ebrahim Raisi,” he said.
“The plaintiffs in this case — Iranian dissidents, former Iranian hostages, former Western hostages — are coming together in unprecedented fashion to take a step forward for justice.”
On the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, Khansarinia told Arab News: “Raisi is in New York and it’s important that while the media is covering him, they’re also covering his victims.
“We want to have it recorded in the US judiciary that Ebrahim Raisi’s victims are standing up to him, that he is a criminal, that he is being accused, and in our view is guilty, of torture. This is important for setting a new legal precedent for such cases.
“Secondly, we are giving a voice to the Iranian people and to his victims, and allowing them for the first time to speak up because for so long they have been silenced by the regime and, unfortunately, often even by those in the West, so it’s an important opportunity for them to speak their truth today.”
During the press briefing, which was also supported by the NUFDI, four of those victims shared the details of their experiences at the hands of the Iranian regime: Mehdi Hajati, a city councilor and dissident; Kylie Moore-Gilbert, a British-Australian academic and former hostage of the regime; Hamid Babaei, a Belgian-Iranian academic and former hostage; and Ahmad Batebi, a former political prisoner.
They were joined by Navid Mohebbi, who was once the youngest journalist in the world in detention when he was imprisoned by the regime in Tehran. Milani, the lead attorney in the lawsuit, stressed that the civil case directly targets Raisi personally and not the Islamic Republic of Iran as a whole.
Moore-Gilbert described years of “gross mistreatment” and “psychological and physical torture” while in detention. Raisi was head of Iran’s judiciary when she was convicted, sentenced, denied an appeal, and transferred to prison. She said she holds him “ultimately responsible for the mistreatment and injustice” she endured.
She said that the judge at her trial was “clearly a puppet” of the government and not “capable of making independent decisions.” She was not even aware she had a lawyer until a couple of weeks before her hearings, she added.
Moore-Gilbert, speaking via video link, said she was “unable to present evidence during the trial” and could not understand the proceedings because they were conducted entirely in Farsi. She was sentenced to 10 years in prison on “ludicrous charges” of espionage. She was immediately placed in solitary confinement for seven months, one of the many examples of cruel and unjust punishment she said she endured, which also included exposure to infectious diseases and denial of medical care.
“He is ultimately responsible for my mistreatment,” Moore-Gilbert said of Raisi, adding: “I am taking part in this lawsuit under the TVPA in order to hold Raisi accountable for one injustice: My own.”
Babaei, another academic unjustly imprisoned in Iran, described the repulsive conditions he endured during his time in detention, revealing that inmates were not even provided with cups for drinking water.
“I lived in a constant trauma,” he said as he told how he saw fellow prisoners being taken away to be hanged, which he said kept him in a continuous state of fear that he would be next.
Mohebbi said that Iranians have been “exposed to continuous trauma over the last 43 years.”
Describing his experiences in prison, he said the entire judiciary system, in which “the punishment of a defender is already sealed,” had conspired against him.
He said: “With this lawsuit, the survivors and victims of the regime send a very clear message to the butchers of Tehran that you will never break our soul, our resilience, and our fight for our human dignity is not one that we will lose.”
The lawsuit brings three cases to the court, he added, but they “represent thousands of Iranians whose rights to express justice, their rights to express themselves, and their rights to express their suffering has been taken away.”
Marjam Keypour Greenblatt, a human rights activist and non-resident scholar at the Middle East Institute, told Arab News: “I am here to support the rights of Iranian people who are having their rights violated by the regime on a regular basis. I am here to echo their voices and to make sure there is justice where justice is rarely seen.”
Justice is the ultimate goal of the civil case against Raisi but success in achieving this justice, which thousands of others have been denied, could be a difficult prospect.
Gissou Nia, director of the Atlantic Council’s Strategic Litigation Project, told Arab News that the TVPA is “the right act to use here because you can seek remedies for crimes that were committed elsewhere.”
She added: “The legal team wants to serve process but provided that he is served then there would be determinations around immunity. With this particular matter, if the defendant was a head of government from France or Germany (for example), then the court would most likely take judicial notice and say that Raisi is protected by head-of-state immunity.
“But because it’s Iran, and under US law there are some different exceptions to state immunity as it applies to Iran, the court may opt to ask the State Department for their view. This could take a while but there is a chance that the suit moves forward.”
Raisi is not obliged to respond to a civil lawsuit, however, and if he chooses not to engage with the legal proceedings the court could issue a default ruling against him and in favor of the plaintiffs.
The president is not a member of Iran’s permanent mission to the UN and therefore does not qualify for diplomatic immunity. However he is afforded protection from being served with legal papers while he is in the UN headquarters and the surrounding district, and while traveling between there and his accommodation. However, the legal papers could be served against him if his accommodation in New York, or any non-official activities he takes part in, are outside the borders of the UN district.
Nizar Zakka, a former prisoner of the Iranian regime, told Arab News: “The most important part of this lawsuit is that the Iranian regime needs to know that they will be hunted wherever they go (and) they will be sued until they stop these activities, like hostage-taking, that they have been doing since 1979.”
For those dissident Iranians and Western hostages who continue to endure physical and psychological trauma after years of unjust confinement, that hunt continues this week in New York City.


Rights group: Israel holding 800 Palestinians without trial

Rights group: Israel holding 800 Palestinians without trial
Updated 7 sec ago

Rights group: Israel holding 800 Palestinians without trial

Rights group: Israel holding 800 Palestinians without trial
JERUSALEM: Israel is holding nearly 800 Palestinians without trial or charge, the highest number since 2008, an Israeli rights group said Sunday.
The group, HaMoked, which regularly gathers figures from Israeli prison authorities, said that 798 Palestinians are currently being held in so-called administrative detention, a practice where the prisoners can be held for months, do not know the charges against them and are not granted access to the evidence against them.
The group said the number of those held in administrative detention has risen steadily this year, as Israel conducts nightly arrest raids in the occupied West Bank in response to a spate of attacks against Israelis earlier this year.
Israel says it uses administrative detention to impede attacks and restrain dangerous militants without revealing sensitive intelligence. Rights groups and Palestinians say it is an abusive system that denies freedom without due process, leaving some Palestinians for months or even years behind bars with no evidence against them made accessible. Some resort to life-threatening hunger strikes to draw attention to their detention, which often drives up tensions between Israel and Palestinians.
“Administrative detention should be an exceptional measure but Israel makes wholesale use of this detention without trial,” said Jessica Montell, HaMoked’s executive director. “This has to stop. If Israel cannot bring them to trial, it must release all administrative detainees.”
HaMoked said the figure was a new peak in a growing wave of administrative detentions which began last spring following a series of attacks by Palestinians against Israelis that killed 19 people. Those attacks sparked the Israeli raids that have killed some 100 Palestinians, many of them said to be militants or local youths out to protest the incursion into their cities or towns, but civilians have also died in the violence.
The Israeli military says some 1,500 Palestinians have been arrested during that time including those held in administrative detention. It says the raids are necessary to dismantle militant networks and thwart attacks against Israelis. Palestinians say the raids are aimed at maintaining Israel’s 55-year military rule over territories they want for a future state.
The raids have been met by an uptick in shooting attacks in the West Bank. On Sunday, the military said an Israeli soldier and a motorist were lightly wounded in two separate incidents.
The last time Israel held as many administrative detainees, in May 2008, also coincided with an increase in Israeli-Palestinian violence.
Israel’s Shin Bet domestic security service did not respond to a request for comment.
Israel captured the West Bank in the 1967 Mideast war and has since established some 130 settlements there, home to 500,000 settlers. The Palestinians want the territory, along with east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip for their hoped-for independent state.

Iran’s Khamenei says protests were ‘planned’, blames US

Iran’s Khamenei says protests were ‘planned’, blames US
Updated 41 min 59 sec ago

Iran’s Khamenei says protests were ‘planned’, blames US

Iran’s Khamenei says protests were ‘planned’, blames US
  • Concern grew over violence at Sharif University of Technology overnight where riot police confronted hundreds of students
  • Footage shows shooting and screaming being heard as large numbers of people run down a street at night

DUBAI/PARIS: Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Monday protests over the death of a woman in police custody were planned and not staged by “ordinary Iranians,” in his first comments on unrest that has swept the country since Sept. 17.
In comments reported by state media, Khamenei said the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini “deeply broke my heart,” calling it a “bitter incident.”
But he said “some people had caused insecurity in the streets,” saying there had been planned “riots.” 

“This rioting was planned,” he told a cadre of police students in Tehran. “I say clearly that these riots and insecurities were designed by America and the Zionist regime, and their employees.”
He added of the protests: “Such actions are not normal, are unnatural.” 
He expressed strong backing for the security forces, saying they had faced injustice during the protests. 

Earlier, Iranian students have clashed with security forces at a top Tehran university amid the wave of unrest sparked by the death of Mahsa Amini, state media and rights groups said Monday.
Kurdish Iranian Amini, 22, was pronounced dead on Sept. 16, days after she was detained for allegedly breaching rules forcing women to wear hijab headscarves and modest clothes, sparking Iran’s biggest wave of protests in almost three years.
Concern grew over violence at Sharif University of Technology overnight where, local media reported, riot police confronted hundreds of students, using tear gas and paintball and carrying weapons that shoot non-lethal steel pellets.
“Woman, life, liberty,” students shouted, as well as “students prefer death to humiliation,” the Iranian Mehr news agency reported, adding that the country’s science minister later came to speak to the students in an effort to calm the situation.
The Oslo-based group Iran Human Rights posted video apparently showing Iranian police on motorcycles pursuing running students in an underground car park and, in a separate clip, taking away detainees whose heads were covered in black cloth bags.
In other footage, shooting and screaming can be heard as large numbers of people run down a street at night, in footage AFP has not independently verified.
“Security forces have attacked Sharif University in Tehran tonight. Shooting can be heard,” IHR said in a Twitter message Sunday.
In another video clip, a crowd of people can be heard chanting: “Don’t be afraid! Don’t be afraid! We are all together!” IHR said the footage was taken at Shariati metro station in the capital Tehran on Sunday.
The New York-based group Center for Human Rights in Iran said it was “extremely concerned by videos coming out of Sharif University and Tehran today showing violent repression of protests + detainees being hauled away with their heads completely covered in fabric.”
Mehr news agency said that “Sharif University of Technology announced that due to recent events and the need to protect students ... all classes will be held virtually from Monday.”
Since the unrest started on September 16, dozens of protesters have been killed and more than a thousand arrested. Members of the security forces have been among those killed.


Student killed, 15 injured in Egypt’s school fence collapse as authorities vow action

Student killed, 15 injured in Egypt’s school fence collapse as authorities vow action
Updated 03 October 2022

Student killed, 15 injured in Egypt’s school fence collapse as authorities vow action

Student killed, 15 injured in Egypt’s school fence collapse as authorities vow action
  • Section of a concrete stair fence collapsed as students rushed upstairs to their classrooms.

CAIRO: Egypt’s Minister of Education Reda Hegazy ordered an investigation into the collapse of a stair fence in a girls’ preparatory school in Giza, killing one student and injuring 15 more.

According to reports, the police was notified that a section of a concrete stair fence collapsed as students rushed upstairs to their classrooms.

In an official statement published on Sunday, Hegazy paid condolences to the family of the deceased student and ordered a probe into the incident.

The head of the educational directorate, school principal, and supervisors of the school building were referred to the relevant authorities for further investigation as the minister vowed “firm and urgent action against those responsible,” read the ministry’s statement.

Hegazy also ordered a review into all the school buildings nationwide to ensure safety of the students. A report will be submitted to the ministry with the results of the review.


Israel military kills 2 Palestinians during West Bank raid: Ministry

Israel military kills 2 Palestinians during West Bank raid: Ministry
Updated 03 October 2022

Israel military kills 2 Palestinians during West Bank raid: Ministry

Israel military kills 2 Palestinians during West Bank raid: Ministry
  • The identities of the two men were not immediately known

TEL AVIV: The Israeli military shot and killed two Palestinians during a raid in the occupied West Bank early Monday, Palestinian officials said.
The military alleged that the men tried to ram their car into soldiers, a claim that could not be independently verified. Palestinians and rights group often accuse Israeli troops of using excessive force against Palestinians, who live under a 55-year military occupation with no end in sight. Israel says it follows strict rules of engagement and opens fire in life-threatening situations.
The military said soldiers were attempting to arrest a suspect in the Jalazone refugee camp near the city of Ramallah when the two Palestinians allegedly attempted to run over soldiers with their car. The soldiers opened fire on the car, the military said.
The Palestinian Civil Affairs Authority, which coordinates on civilian issues with Israel, said the military shot and killed the two men. Their identities were not immediately known.
Israel has been carrying out nightly arrest raids in the West Bank since the spring, when a spate of Palestinian attacks against Israelis killed 19 people. Israel says its operations are aimed at dismantling militant infrastructure and preventing future attacks. The Palestinians see the nightly incursions into their cities, villages and towns as Israel’s way of deepening its occupation of lands they want for their hoped-for state.
The Israeli raids have killed some 100 Palestinians, making this year the deadliest since 2016. Israel says most of those killed have been militants but local youths protesting the incursions as well as some civilians have also been killed in the violence. Hundreds have been rounded up, with many placed in so-called administrative detention, which allows Israel to hold them without trial or charge.
The raids have driven up tensions in the West Bank, with an uptick in Palestinian shooting attacks against Israelis. They have also drawn into focus the growing disillusionment among young Palestinians over the tight security coordination between Israeli and the internationally-backed Palestinian Authority, who work together to apprehend militants.
Israel captured the West Bank in the 1967 Mideast war and 500,000 Jewish settlers now live in some 130 settlements and other outposts among nearly 3 Palestinians. The Palestinians want that territory, along with east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, for their future state.


Palestinian activists turn to TikTok amid Israeli anger over ‘propaganda videos’

Palestinian activists turn to TikTok amid Israeli anger over ‘propaganda videos’
Updated 02 October 2022

Palestinian activists turn to TikTok amid Israeli anger over ‘propaganda videos’

Palestinian activists turn to TikTok amid Israeli anger over ‘propaganda videos’
  • After Facebook, Instagram clamp down on content, Chinese-owned platform sees user surge

RAMALLAH: Palestinian activists are turning to TikTok to rally against activities by Israel, which accused the social media platform of igniting the security situation in the Middle East in recent weeks.

Israel had successfully pushed Meta to block thousands of Palestinian accounts and content from its social media platforms, such as Facebook and Instagram, in addition to limiting Palestinian content through Twitter and Snapchat. However, TikTok, owned by Chinese company ByteDance, has rejected the Israeli allegations and refused to change its policies.

Thousands of Palestinian social media activists switched to TikTok during the past few weeks to enjoy online freedom and bypass Facebook’s restrictions.

Amer Hamdan, a Palestinian political activist, told Arab News that he recently switched from Facebook to Tiktok after suffering from restrictions imposed by the former, which he said flags the use of words including martyr, resistance and occupation.

Hamdan, who had 200,000 followers on his Facebook page, added that his account was closed because he published a picture of Khalil Al-Wazir, the Palestinian leader who Israel assassinated in Tunisia in 1988.

“Because Facebook is no longer the ideal platform for the Palestinians to spread their cause, the alternative is TikTok, which provides an adequate and sufficient space for the dissemination of media covering armed parades of Palestinian military groups and pictures of Palestinian resistance fighters with their weapons,” said Hamdan.

TikTok previously ranked third in Palestine — after Facebook and Instagram — in social media app usage. However, it jumped to second place during recent weeks, with Palestinian social media experts telling Arab News that though 3 million Palestinian accounts are on Facebook, more than 1 million Palestinians are on TikTok, with the number rapidly increasing.

Palestinian activists also see more technical flexibility while publishing on Tiktok compared to Facebook, with the platform allowing three-minute clips for all users, and 15-minute videos for users who have 1,000 followers or more.

“Within a year, TikTok will be the number one social media platform used by Palestinians,” Hamdan said.

Sam Bahour, an expert in business development affairs, said that social media is gaining “exceptional importance” for Palestinians by enabling them to communicate and bypass Israeli restrictions across the West Bank, Gaza Strip, as well worldwide through the diaspora.

Ahmed Al-Qadi, from a center that specializes in researching social media activities, told Arab News that after the violent events in the Palestinian territories last May and after Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp and YouTube removed Palestinian content, people switched to TikTok.

On the other hand, Israeli political analyst Yoni Ben-Menachem told Arab News that TikTok is a “tool of dangerous influence” and incites violence through videos glorifying attacks against Israelis.

Ben-Menachem added that TikTok content targets young people, who are particularly vulnerable to misinformation and propaganda.

Last May, Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz met with senior officials from ByteDance, demanding that the company block Palestinian content. But Gantz’s appeal was denied, with the company only promising to pay more attention to published content.

Young Palestinians have filmed Israeli incursions into Palestinian cities and towns, house demolitions, arrests, killings, settler attacks and racist treatment, with the content going viral on TikTok.

Despite the Israeli government’s anger, officials do not expect TikTok to take any action against Palestinian accounts, whether based in the West Bank and Gaza Strip or abroad.

“Maybe TikTok will close a few Palestinian accounts, but thousands of accounts that incite against Israel will remain active, and whoever loses his account can open a new account under a pseudonym,” said Ben-Menachem, adding: “TikTok has become the most dangerous means of incitement against Israel.”