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Ayatollahs Back In The Spotlights On Social Regulations

An Iranian activist, Darya Safai holds a banner reading "Let Iranian women enter their stadiums" at the Iranian men's volleyball match against Egypt in the 2016 Olympics.

While President Hassan Rouhani and his government are watching from the sidelines, the conservative ayatollahs are creeping to the center stage by having the final say in matters of social freedoms.

A governmental entity, Social-Cultural Council of Women and Family, SCCWF has admitted that it has taken a debate on the question of women’s presence at sports arenas, off its agenda, after a “grand ayatollah” openly raised his opposition.

Grand ayatollahs are considered “sources of emulation” (marja’a) for Shiites on religious and behavioral matters. As Islam and especially Shiism tend to closely regulate individual and social life and relations, the role of senior clerics becomes a deciding factor.

“We respect the opinions of sources of emulation as the final verdict; therefore, the scheduled debate on the question of women attending sports events at the stadia is taken off our agenda since ayatollah Nasser Makarem Shirazi has declared it ‘irrelevant’”, SCCWF public relations department announced.

Echoing ayatollah’s remark, SCCWF said in a statement, “As there are many more priorities concerning problems facing the female society, ratifying a resolution on women attending sports arenas is declared irrelevant”.

SCCWF was established in 2010 and most of its members are officials from different entities of power in the Islamic Republic.

The heads of three powers of the ruling system, Qom seminary and Cultural Supreme Council have two representative each in SCCWF.

The head of SCCWF, Zahra Ayatollahi on Friday, October 20 had insisted that the council was set to review the case concerning women attending sports arenas.

Nevertheless, on Wednesday, November 29, Qom based ayatollah Makarem Shirazi blasted the debate as a “deviation from real problems”, insisting that the case should never be discussed again.

Ramin Mehmanparast, Iranian ambassador to Poland, reacts as women protest for Iranian women's rights to enter stadiums in Iran.
Ramin Mehmanparast, Iranian ambassador to Poland, reacts as women protest for Iranian women's rights to enter stadiums in Iran.

“Is our country’s problem women’s attendance at sports arena?”, Makarem Shirazi roared, adding “Our people’s problem is high price of bread, the unemployment of highly educated young people and [the crisis of] the banking system. These are the problems that have devastated our people”.

Another source of emulation, ayatollah Ja’far Sobhani also joined the chorus, labelling women attendance at sports stadiums “incompatible with their chastity”.

Instead of contemplating on whether to allow women enter sports arenas or not, let’s ponder on how facilitate marriage for them, ayatollah Sobhani maintained.

President Rouhani’s staff have repeatedly raised the issue of women being allowed to enter stadiums to watch sports competitions. Nevertheless, women are still barred from entering the arenas in Iran.

The question has turned into one of the most complicated matters facing governments in the Islamic Republic.

In 2006, a handful of women were allowed to enter the stadium and watch Iranian national soccer team’s World Cup qualifying match against Bahrain, while then president Mohammad Khatami was present.

In 2006, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad also wrote an official letter to the Physical Education Organization asking it to facilitate women’s attendance at sports arenas but, his request was shelved after a number of senior ayatollahs opposed the idea.

Banning women from entering stadiums has forced international and Asian sports federations to warn Tehran about the consequences of depriving women from attending sports events.

They have warned that the continuation of the ban could lead to depriving Iran from holding international sports events and even participation.

Therefore, to neutralize the threat, the Islamic Republic’s officials have allowed a number of handpicked women to attend some of the international sports events held in Tehran.

Recently, the male coach of Thailand’s Kabaddi national side made news when he put on a headscarf to pretend to be a woman and entered a women-only sports arena in Tehran. His photos in hijab were widely circulated in social media.

While the Iranian federation claims that the Thai coach sneaked into the stadium wearing the hijab, the coach told Radio Farda that he was told to wear a headscarf if he wanted to get entry.

Thai coach with headscarf in Iran women's Kabaddi games.
Thai coach with headscarf in Iran women's Kabaddi games.

Former Soccer Stars Accused Of ‘Nonchalance’, As Political Protest

Iran's national soccer team players in World Cup qualifier v. South Korea in Seoul on 17jun2009.Green waistband is seen on one player.

The documentary network affiliated with Iran’s official radio and television broadcaster, has lambasted the Iranian national soccer team for failing to qualify for the World Cup final round eight years ago.

The network accused the team of showing no desire for a win in their last World Cup qualification match against South Korea, in June 2009.

Five days after the controversial presidential election that kept incumbent Mahmud Ahmadinejad in office, the Iranian team played against South Korea in Seoul.

Amid clips of street protests against Ahmadinejad’s re-election, the documentary, titled Soccer Against The Enemy, harshly criticizes the team as it shows them wearing green wristbands, which were a sign of solidarity with the demonstrations at home in Iran.

Team captain Mehdi Mahdavi Kia, along with five teammates wore the symbols supporting Ahmadinejad’s main challenger, former Prime Minister Mir Hossein Mousavi.

Mousavi supporters insisted the election was rigged in favor of the Ahmadinejad. They poured into the streets and created unrest that left Iran shaken for more than five months.

Six players wearing green wristbands in Seoul shocked the state-run TV to the extent that it took minutes to force the authorities to censor any close-up and instead showing repeated clips of South Korean spectators.

Outside the arena in Seoul, scores of Iranians had staged a protest assembly to condemn Ahmadinejad’s re-election as a sham. They carried a banner that implicitly referred to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei that read “Go to Hell, Tyrant.”

However, when the team returned to the field for the second half of the match, the wristbands were gone, while Mahdavi Kia kept his green armband as captain.

At the end of the match, coach Mansour Pourheidari tried to downplay the incident, saying, “The footballers wore green wristbands to pay tribute to Abol Fazl,” a Shi’ite saint.

The narrator of Soccer Against the Enemy repeatedly states, “It looks as if [the Iranian] footballers are not set to play for a unified team. It looks as if none of them seeks a victory.”

The Iranian state broadcaster is not an independent outlet. It is controlled by the Supreme Leader’s office.

Moreover, the narrator also repeatedly describes the match as a defeat, whereas Iran’s home and away matches against South Korea ended in a 1-1 draw.

The soccer players have not yet reacted to the documentary.

Iranian University Shuts Down After Student Strike

Iranian students protesting in the Petroleum Industry University.

Student protests in Iran this week were propelled by different grievances and demands. Some were concrete issues related to financial issues and others were the result of constant pressures and interference by security organs in universities.

One hotspot has been the Petroleum Industry University (Sana’ate Naft), where student protests began even earlier.

The university in Abadan, a petroleum industry center in southern-western Iran, has announced it will close until further notice due to a student strike that has lasted for more than two weeks.

In a statement, the university accused students of disrupting university affairs and said that the decision is based on the fact that students have refused to attend class since November 18 under the pretext of employment demands.

Students at the university, which is funded by the Oil Ministry, have organized protests in Abadan and Tehran demanding the ministry hire them after graduation as they were promised upon admission. The guidelines were changed in 2015, and the ministry now says it will only hire those who pass written and oral employment tests.

“The court of the first instance has issued a verdict in our favor that obliges the Oil Ministry to fulfill its commitment toward students,” one of the protesters, who requested anonymity, told Radio Farda. “Unfortunately, because the ministry has the best lawyers, they have appealed all the points in our lawsuit and we have to wait until the appeals court issues its verdict next year.”

Protesting students in Allameh University carry a sign that says "Bring back our expelled classmates and professors.
Protesting students in Allameh University carry a sign that says "Bring back our expelled classmates and professors.

Simultaneously, students at other universities organized protests against political suppression, gender discrimination, and increasing tuitions.

Iran's constitution provides that citizens should receive free education; however, only 7 percent of the country’s universities are actually tuition-free, current student activist Mohammad Sharifi Moghaddam told Radio Farda.

Protesting students are also demanding security agencies should stop keeping universities under tight watch, Sharifi added.

There is rarely a politically active student who has not received an anonymous threatening phone call from security agents, he said.

On December 4 and 5, hundreds of students at major universities across Iran demanded an end to political suppression, gender segregation, and discrimination, and what they call a monetization of universities and capitalization of social life.

Since the 2009 protests against the re-election of former president Mahmud Ahmadinejad, hundreds of students have been harassed and arrested by security forces for political activity. Their publications have been systematically banned or censored, and some students have been suspended or discharged from universities.

During his election campaign, President Hassan Rouhani criticized the increasing pressure on students and promised to improve the situation. Students say the president has yet to fulfil his promise.

Outspoken MP Calls For Ahmadinejad's Trial

Ali Motahari, representative of Tehran and Deputy Speaker of the Iranian Parliament

Tehran's outspoken MP and deputy speaker of parliament Ali Motahari has called for former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to be held accountable in a public trial.

Ahmadinejad and his companions are “not worthy enough” to be considered the opposition, Motahari said, adding they should stand an open trial.

Meanwhile, in a letter, Ahmadinejad’s former chief of staff, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, accused Iran’s judiciary of becoming an instrument for empowering and establishing the authority of a number of specific persons and groups while crushing opponents and those who criticize the current situation.

In an interview with Iran Students News Agency (ISNA) on December 6, Motahari emphasized that Ahmadinejad’s trial must be open to the public and that he should be held responsible for his illegal actions.

Deriding Ahmadinejad and his allies as the members of the “Basketist Cult,” Motahari said, “They do not have the necessary caliber to even be considered the opposition.”

After Ahmadinejad’s former deputy for executive affairs, Hamid Baghaei, attended a court hearing session carrying a red basket full of documents, a state-run news agency close to the judiciary, Mizan, coined the term Basketists to describe the former president and his supporters.

There are pending cases against Ahmadinejad in the Judiciary, but so far no action has been taken. These cases deal mainly with financial improprieties.

A self-exiled Iranian journalist, Mehdi Mahdavi Azad, told Radio Farda that labeling Ahmadinejad and his followers is beside the point.

“Ahmadinejad is trying to represent himself and his school of thought as a new voice protesting the current situation in Iran,” he said. “He is trying to distance himself from the ruling system while attracting dissident parts of society who are enraged by [Supreme Leader] Ali Khamenei and the head of the judiciary’s actions.”

Watch:Ahmadinejad Complains About Iran's Judicial System
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Mahdavi Azad said there’s a consensus among political groups in Iran, including groups supporting subversion, that Ahmadinejad’s new attempts are opportunistic and doomed to fail.

The real reason behind the former president’s recent vitriolic attacks against the judiciary, according to Mahdavi Azad, is the fact that “Ahmadinejad has concluded that, after prosecuting his closest allies, they will soon directly come for him as well.”

However, going after the former two-term president -- who was repeatedly praised by Khamenei as an epitome of servitude for the people and the revolution -- requires the supreme leader’s approval. Khamenei, however, has distanced himself from the war of words between the two sides.

Ahmadinejad has learned over the years that so long as Khamenei remains neutral, it is next to impossible for anyone to hold Ahmadinejad accountable for a series of charges, including financial corruption and mismanagement.

In November 2010, several MPs attempted to call the then-president out for what they charged was sidestepping the constitutional powers of the Parliament and circumventing checks and balances.

The protesting MPs, in a letter to the Guardian Council, listed 14 infringements, including foot-dragging by the administration on the implementation of a variety of laws as well as financial irregularities.

Ahmadinejad was also accused of three years of unauthorized imports of gasoline and diesel worth around $10 billion and the failure to account for up to 40 percent of his spending on numerous visits to cities across the country, which he called “provincial travels.”

The MPs’ attempt was nipped in the bud when Khamenei refrained from giving his backing.

Ahmadinejad and his supporters recently described the judiciary as ruthless, unjust, tyrannical, and devious. Nevertheless, the justice department, notorious for prosecuting anyone who dares to criticize the ruling system, has preferred to carry on saber-rattling with the former president rather than legally charging him.

Explainer: Taliban 'Special Forces Unit' Bursts Into Spotlight With Deadly Attacks

Analysts say the "Red Unit" differs from most Taliban fighters (such as these pictured) in the level of training and sophisticated equipment available to them.

On the increasingly crowded battlefields of Afghanistan, a feared, commando-style Taliban unit is gaining attention for a series spectacular, deadly attacks on Afghan security forces.

Known as "Sara Kheta" -- Red Unit or Danger Unit in Pashto -- it is said to be the Taliban's elite special-forces group. Unlike regular Taliban fighters, analysts say the outfit is better trained and armed and is sent on special operations targeting bases and posts of the Afghan National Army and police force.

The so-called Red Unit's rise has raised concerns among government forces struggling to fend off the Taliban since the withdrawal of NATO troops in 2014 and suffering record casualty rates on the battlefield.

When did it emerge?

The first mention of a Taliban "special-forces unit" was in June 2015, when Taliban fighters published photos on social media purportedly showing a training camp where recruits were being trained on heavy machine guns and antiaircraft guns.

In December 2015, the Taliban said it was unleashing its special forces to eliminate fighters allied with the militant group Islamic State (IS) that had emerged in Afghanistan earlier that year.

In August 2016, Afghan military officials confirmed the existence of the Taliban's Red Unit in the southern province of Helmand.

But the unit has fought its way to greater prominence in the past month or so. On November 1, the Taliban uploaded photos of the unit on its official Telegram account. The photos show members of Red Unit in new uniforms and armed with the kind of tactical assault gear worn by soldiers and law enforcement teams around the world.

Weeks later, Afghan officials blamed it for a spate of attacks on November 13 and 14 during which dozens of Afghan security personnel were killed in the southern province of Kandahar and the western province of Farah.

On December 3, Afghanistan's intelligence agency said the commander of the new unit, Mullah Shah Wali, also known Mullah Naser, was killed in an air operation in Helmand Province the week before.

How is it different from other Taliban units?

"What distinguishes this force from other fighting units is its intensive and longer training, the degree of vetting, its tactics, weapons and equipment, and structure," says Borhan Osman, senior Afghanistan analyst at the International Crisis Group (ICG).

"The unit is mainly used for quick interventions, high-value targets, special operations, or offensives such as capturing a highly strategic area, breaking major sieges of regular Taliban forces, jailbreaks, and escorting important leaders," Osman adds.

Military analysts estimate the size of the unit at anywhere from several hundred to up to 1,000 fighters.

Those tactics and capabilities were on show in the November attacks when Afghan officials said the unit, equipped with lasers and night-vision gear, attacked police checkpoints and army bases and rapidly left the scene to avoid NATO air strikes. On November 14, the unit drove a pickup truck loaded with explosives into a police checkpoint point and then launched attacks on 14 nearby posts, killing over two dozen police officers.

In Farah Province the same day, Taliban units with night-vision scopes killed eight police officers in their beds early in the morning. Three police officers in the province were also killed in night attacks around the same time.

The U.S. military has equipped many Afghan soldiers with night-vision equipment, but police forces rarely possess them.

"The Red Unit and regular Taliban forces use the same types of weapons: small arms, RPGs, and machine guns," says Bill Roggio, senior fellow at the Washington-based think tank Foundation for Defense of Democracies and editor of the Long War Journal. "Typically, the Red Unit has newer weapons, and is occasionally seen with night-vision devices that have been seized from Afghan forces."

The unit is believed to equipped with the Taliban's most advanced weaponry, including 82-millimeter rockets, laser pointers, heavy machine guns, and U.S.-made M-4 assault rifles. They are also known to have used and possess dozens of armored Humvees and Ford Ranger pickup trucks stolen from Afghan forces.

Ahmad K. Majidyar, a South Asia and Middle East expert for the Washington-based Middle East Institute, says it is misleading to call the unit a special-forces outfit because it lacks elite commando capabilities of even the Afghan Special Forces, let alone advanced elite commando units such as the U.S. SEAL Team Six.

"The Red Team is more a heavily armed group used in surprise attacks against vulnerable Afghan security check posts," he says. "It also has well-trained snipers that aid ordinary Taliban militants in their attack against the Afghan forces."

The unit has also spread from southern Afghanistan, where it was established, and has expanded into eastern and western regions.

How much of a threat is it?

"The Red Unit poses a significant threat to Afghan forces," Roggio says. "It has had great success on the battlefield when going head to head with Afghan units."

Roggio says the unit operates like shock troops, often leading assaults on Afghan district centers, military bases, and outposts.

The NATO-led mission in Afghanistan has said it has not seen any evidence of the Taliban possessing advanced weaponry like night-vision equipment, which Afghan officials say the militants have purchased on the black market or have accumulated after overrunning Afghan army bases.

But Afghan military officials have confirmed the unit's capabilities.

Kandahar's powerful police chief, General Abdul Raziq, has said the Red Unit is part of the Taliban's "new approach and new tactics," adding that it was "well equipped and highly armed."

Majidyar says he expects the Red Unit to come under increasing pressure if President Donald Trump relaxes U.S. rules of engagement.

"The Taliban will suffer more significant losses on the battlefield in the coming months," he predicts.

Iran Aims To 'Customize' Internet Filtering

Iran -- People use internet at a cybercafe in the center of Tehran. File photo

Iran's telecommunications minister says that his ministry wants to customize Internet filtering based on user’s occupation, age, and other factors.

The attorney general's office has conditionally agreed with this plan, Minister Mohammad Javad Azari Jahromi announced on December 4.

Without providing any details, he said his ministry had reviewed suggestions made by the attorney general and prepared “appropriate technical responses.” He expressed hope that the office would give its final approval for the implementation of the plan.

It seems that “custom filtering” is an effort by President Hassan Rouhani’s government to ease Internet censorship.

Internet access is heavily restricted in Iran, since its use became widespread more than fifteen years ago. In addition to pornographic and “undesirable” news and political websites, social media such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube are also blocked for Iranian users.

Social media were widely used in the anti-government protests of 2009 against the re-election of President Mahmud Ahmadinejad.

Iran is one of the highest users of internet in the world. In 2015, 70% of Iranians regularly used the internet, ranking 16 globally.

For a state that engages in elaborate efforts, including vast bureaucracies, arrests and detentions in order to control information, this poses a constant danger. The advent of smart phones has made the situation even more problematic for the state.

By law, the working group for the determination of criminal content, which consists of several ministers and presided over by the attorney general, is responsible for Internet filtering. However, many websites and applications are blocked at the behest of the attorney general's office, which is under the control of the conservative judiciary.

The attorney general's office ordered the filtering of the voice-messaging feature from the popular messaging app Telegram in April due to purported “risks for national security.” Telegram has more than 40 million users in Iran.

In 2014, Iran expanded the so-called smart filtering of the Internet in order to censor undesirable content on websites without blocking them completely. Its application on Instagram has had 83 percent success, according to a former minister of telecommunications.

Despite the regime’s efforts to censor the Internet, Iranian users routinely get around the restrictions by using anti-filtering programs or virtual private networks.

Political Prisoner Lights A Candle In Jail On Birthday Of Her Twins

Iranian human rights activist, Narges Mohammadi, undated.

A political prisoner and deputy of Defenders of Human Rights Center in Iran has celebrated the birthday of her children for the third time in prison, by lighting a candle.

In an open letter from prison, Narges Mohammadi, 45, has lamented, “I do not have a real and clear image of my twins, anymore”.

Ms. Mohammadi’s twins, Ali and Kiana have been living in exile in Paris along with their father, Taqi Rahmani, since 2014. Mohammadi has been allowed to talk to her children on the phone.

A prominent defender of human rights, and winner of the 2011 Per Anger Prize and Sakharov Prize (2017-2018) for defending human rights in Iran, Mohammadi was first arrested in 2009 and sentenced to 11 years in prison on charges of “assembly and collusion against national security,” “membership in the Defenders of Human Rights Center,” and “propaganda against the state.”

Upon appeal, her sentence was reduced to six years behind bars and she was released from Zanjan Prison in 2013 on medical grounds.

According to Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) Mohammadi was arrested again on May 5, 2015, two months after meeting with Catherine Ashton, the European Union’s foreign policy chief at the time, at the Austrian Embassy in Tehran to discuss the situation of human rights in Iran.

Iranian human rights activist, Narges Mohammadi with her children, Ali and Kiana.Undated.
Iranian human rights activist, Narges Mohammadi with her children, Ali and Kiana.Undated.

In September 2016, Branch 26 of the Tehran Appeals Court upheld a 16-year prison sentence for “membership in the [now banned] Defenders of Human Rights Center,” “assembly and collusion against national security,” and one year for “propaganda against the state.”

Defenders of Human Rights Center was established by first Iranian and first Muslim woman Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Shirin Ebadi who has been living in exile since June 2009 in UK, after her life was threatened.

Mohammadi will be eligible for release after serving 10 years in prison.

After Hassan Rouhani’s second-term victory in Iran’s May 2017 presidential election, Mohammadi urged him to build the foundations for civil society in Iran.

“As a citizen who voted for you, I should and will be insistent on seeking my demands,” she noted, adding “I am an imprisoned civil rights activist, but I am not asking you to free me. I want to see [the dream for] a civil society come true. That is my demand.”

Rouhani has yet to respond to the letter.

Meanwhile, several members of American Physical Society, APS are laying the groundwork to launch a campaign, calling on the Islamic Republic of Iran to free a prominent Iranian human rights activist, Narges Mohammadi to receive her prize in person.

Ms. Mohammadi who has a degree in Solid-state Physics, jointly won APS’ 2018 prestigious biannual Sakharov Prize, along with Indian researcher Ravi Kuchimanchi.

The ceremonies for awarding the Sakharov Prize is scheduled to be held in Los Angeles, California from March 5 to 9, 2018.

Politically Suspect Students Marked With A Star, Barred From Universities

A student protest in the Oil Industry University in Iran. File photo

At least 150 students eligible to start Masters and Doctoral programs have been barred from carrying on their studies at universities, daily Jame’eye Farda (Tomorrow’s Society) reported on Thursday, November 30.

Citing an “informed source” at the Ministry of Science, Research and Technology, the daily said, “In the new educational year, between 150 to 200 students, after passing the tests for Masters and PhDs degrees, have been listed as ‘starred students’ and barred from entering the universities”.

“Starred students” is a term coined immediately after Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s first presidential term (2005).

It refers to students who are deemed politically unreliable or undesirable by one or more of the Islamic Republic’s numerous intelligence apparatuses.

An asterisk or star is added next to their name to separate them from others. Probably Iran is the only place where having a star(s) next to a name does not mean a positive distinction.

However, during the controversial 2009 presidential election, the incumbent, Ahmadinejad denied the existence of such a categorization.

Immediately after the denial, scores of starred students gathered to prove that they were indeed banned from continuing their education because of their religion, political views or students’ rights activities.

At least three of the students at the gathering were later detained and placed behind bars.

The question of starred students repeatedly appeared during Hassan Rouhani’s presidential campaigns. At a rally in 2013, Rouhani emphatically promised to address the problem when the human rights commission of an influential students’ association declared that more than 1000 starred students had been barred from continuing their education in eight years of Ahmadinejad’s presidency.

Nevertheless, a year through Rouhani’s first term as president, Amnesty International (AI) described the students’ situation in Iran as “grave”.

Hundreds of students are deprived of further education while many of them are behind bars, AI said in a report.

The question of starred students was raised at several meetings with Rouhani. In one of the gatherings, a student lamented, “…the heads of our universities…are merely reactionaries who have reemerged in modern suits and kill you softly”.

Two days prior to the publication of Jame’eye Farda’s report, Rouhani had insisted on television, “We cannot confine the universities into a specific political view---Students must step in and participate in political and social debates. They should have more room to maneuver. In the current situation, we should not let students to be divided over political issues”.

However, according to a number of students’ rights activists, several starred students have recently been allowed to carry on their education after signing a written commitment.

The text of the commitment has not yet been revealed.

Throwing Match Against Israeli Angers Members Of Parliament

Iranian wrestler, Alireza karimi

Members of Iranian parliament will officially question the Minister of Sports, asking him to explain the case of a young wrestler who deliberately lost a match to avoid facing an Israeli opponent in the next round.

Alireza Karimi, in a match against Alikhan Zhabrilov of Russia last Saturday, was 3-2 ahead in the fourth minute when apparently his trainers instructed him from the sidelines to throw the match.

In a video clip depicting the 86-kilogram category of the Senior U23 World Championship match held in Poland, a voice can be heard clearly instructing Karimi to lose the match.

“Alireza, lose! You must lose, Alireza!” the voice urged Karimi.

Then, apparently as a precaution, Karimi’s caoch asked for time out and talked to the young wrestler in private.

Karimi returned to the mat, opened up his guard against Zhabrilov and let the Russian finish him off and win by using consecutive leg lace or ankle locks, a technique Iranian wrestlers are renowned for easily defending against.

Had Karimi won the match, he would have faced Uri Kalashnikov of Israel in the next round.

Instead, Zhabrilov beat Kalashnikov and reached the final. Karimi was then directly obliged to face his Israeli opponent for the bronze medal.

The Iranian side was left with no other option but to use its old trick, declaring Karimi injured and unable to compete. Iran gave the Israeli athlete a walkover match on a silver platter.

Karimi by forfeiting the match against the Russian and feigning injury against the Israeli generated a wave of reactions that has now reached the parliament.

Referring to Karimi in a tweet, Tehran’s MP, Gholamreza Haidari has lambasted what he has described as “wasting the spiritual and material rights of Iranian athletes”, adding “These athletes carry the burden of Iranian diplomacy and our sports system’s paradoxes on their shoulders”.

Haidari has promised to officially question the minister of Sports in an open session of parliament and demand an explanation.

Gholamreza Heidari, Iranian reformist MP
Gholamreza Heidari, Iranian reformist MP

Earlier, two members of reformist faction Omid (Hope), Bahram Parsayee and Abdol-Karim Hassanzadeh had declared that they were going to legally sue Iranian Wrestling Federation officials for urging Karimi to deliberately lose to his Russian opponent and present his Israeli peer a walk-over win.

However, the Islamic Republic’s ministry of sports has praised Karimi’s performance and presented him ten golden coins (worth roughly $4000).

Meanwhile, Karimi has bitterly complained that the Islamic Republic’s authorities have deceived him.

In an interview with Radio Tehran, Karimi said, “I have been politically abused and played with as a political instrument”.

According to Karimi, he was told that he was going to attend a private ceremony where the president, Hassan Rouhani and the minister of Youth Affairs and Sports would also be present to show their gratitude.

“I went there, but, soon, I found out that [the president and his minister were not there, the gathering was not private and] they just wanted to politically use me. They presented me with ten gold coins in front of cameramen and reporters. I repeat that I believe they wanted to use me as a political tool until the [controversy] is over”.

Karimi reiterated that he was embarrassed for being used as a political instrument.

On Twitter, users created a hashtag labeled as #YouMustLose that has triggered hundreds of comments.

Most of the users believe Iran’s policy barring its athletes competing against Israeli peers has been detrimental for Iranian teams and athletes.

The New York Times also cited him as saying, “I do accept that Israel is an oppressor and commits crimes, but would it not be oppression if our authorities undermine my hard work again?”

Meanwhile, the head of Iran’s Wrestling Federation, Rasoul Khadem noted, “The Islamic Republic’s policy for facing Israeli opponents need updating”.

Head of wrestling federation and freestyle wrestling coach Rasoul Khadem
Head of wrestling federation and freestyle wrestling coach Rasoul Khadem

​In an interview with reformist daily, Etemad on Tuesday, November 28, Khadem insisted that Palestinians do not know that Iranian athletes throw matches against their Israeli opponents to show their solidarity with them.

“Nobody, save Israelis, are aware of the reason behind Iranian athletes’ decision to deliberately lose against their Israeli peers”.

The International Wrestling Federation has not yet reacted to Karimi’s case.

United World Wrestling has rules stating that the unexcused and purposeful withdrawal from a competition is a punishable offense (rule 7.2.d-e). Furthermore, rule 8.2 stipulates:

“Any official or coach who incites a wrestler to leave the victory to his/her opponent shall be disqualified for the event and shall be prohibited from representing his/her national federation during events held under the control of the Federation for a period of 1 month to 3 years”.

A Small Group In Iran Owes Banks Billion Of Dollars In Bad Debts

Iranian MP Mahmoud Sadeghi, who has threatened to release the names of well-connected people refusing to pay back loans to Iran banks.

A few hundred people in Iran have borrowed billions of dollars from the country’s financial institutions and refuse to meet their obligations toward the lending institutions.

Now, a current and a former member of the Iranian Parliament have taken the issue in their own hands and are trying to force the delinquent debtors to pay their bills.

The MP Mahmoud Sadeghi published some details of 20 bad loans on his Twitter account on Thursday, November 30, and threatened to reveal the identity of the debtors if they do not make arrangements with their lenders within 48 hours.

This means the deadline is on Saturday December 2.

Just 2 days before, Ahmad Tavakoli, a former Iranian MP had made a similar threat to another group of debtors.

Interestingly, Tavakoli us a well-known conservative politician and Sadeghi belongs to the reformist camp, which is the loyal opposition.

Delinquent loans are one of the major crises Iranian banks are facing in recent years. According to several officials most of these loans have been granted through private or political connections, ignoring due process.

Some of loans have been used for purposes other than those agreed with the lending institutions.

In 2012, then President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said, “60% of the “country’s financial resources are blocked by 300 people.”

Eshagh Jahangiri, the deputy of the current Iranian President Hassan Rouhani announced in 2014 that delinquent loans to Iranian banks exceed $20 billion. He also said that a list of ca. 600 of bad debtors was prepared by the government and handed over to the judiciary for prosecution.

However, the judiciary has so far failed to take any concrete steps, apparently because many borrowers have family ties to the ruling elite or some powerful clergymen.

The MP Mahmoud Sadeghi had implied this fact in a previous Tweet published on November 28, when he demanded that Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi, one of the most influential clergyman in Iran should explain about the overdue debts of his son-in-law who is one of the major borrowers in the country.

The former MP Ahmad Tavakoli who runs an NGO named “Transparency and Justice”, has also said that the delinquent debtors of one of the financial institutions were “mostly the children of religious scholars, veteran judges, and political figures” and he would reveal their names if they do not take actions regarding the settlement of their debts.

Iran’s central bank had assigned a team to investigate the issue, but according to Tavakoli the members resigned under pressure. The former MP demanded explanations from the central bank in this regard

China Pushing Billions Into Iranian Economy As Western Firms Stall

A container on the first train connecting China and Iran is seen upon its arrival at Tehran Railway Station, February 15, 2016

(Reuters) - China is financing billions of dollars worth of Chinese-led projects in Iran, making deep inroads into the economy while European competitors struggle to find banks willing to fund their ambitions, Iranian government and industry officials said.

Freed from crippling nuclear sanctions two years ago, Iran is drawing unprecedented Chinese funding for everything from railways to hospitals, they said. State-owned investment arm CITIC Group recently established a $10 billion credit line and China Development Bank is considering $15 billion more.

"They (Western firms) had better come quickly to Iran otherwise China will take over," said Ferial Mostofi, head of the Iran Chamber of Commerce's investment commission, speaking on the sidelines of an Iran-Italy investment meeting in Rome.

The Chinese funding, by far the largest statement of investment intent of any country in Iran, is in stark contrast with the drought facing Western investors since U.S. President Donald Trump disavowed the 2015 pact agreed by major powers, raising the threat sanctions could be reimposed.

Iranian officials say the deals are part of Beijing's $124 billion Belt and Road initiative, which aims to build new infrastructure - from highways and railways to ports and power plants - between China and Europe to pave the way for an expansion of trade.

A source in China familiar with the CITIC credit line, which was agreed in September, called it "an agreement of strategic intent". The source declined to give details on projects to be financed, but Iranian media reports have said they would include water management, energy, environment and transport projects.

An Iranian central bank source said loans under the credit line would be primarily extended in euros and yuan.

The China Development Bank signed a memorandum of understanding for $15 billion, Iranian state news agency IRNA said on Sept. 15.

The bank itself declined to comment, in line with many foreign investors and banks, including from China, who were reluctant to discuss their activities in Iran for this story. The web sites of banks and companies often carry little or no information on their Iran operations.


With a population of 80 million and a large, sophisticated middle class, Iran has the potential to be a regional economic powerhouse. But with the risk of sanctions hanging in the air, more and more foreign investors want Tehran to issue sovereign guarantees to protect them in case the projects are halted.

Economic ties between Iran and Italy, its biggest European trade partner, have been affected.

Italy's state-owned rail company, Ferrovie dello Stato, is a consultant in the building of a 415-km (260-mile) high-speed north-south rail line between Tehran to Isfahan via Qom by state-owned China Railway Engineering Corp.

The Italian firm is separately contracted to build a line from Qom west to Arak, but it needs 1.2 billion euros in financing. Though backed by the state's export insurance agency, it says it needs a sovereign guarantee.

"We are finalizing the negotiations and we are optimistic about moving forward," said Riccardo Monti, chairman of Italferr, the state firm's engineering unit, adding that the financing should be finalized by March next year.

Prime Minister Matteo Renzi's promise in Tehran last year to oil the wheels of trade with a 4 billion euro credit line from Italy's state investment vehicle is effectively dead, a source in Italy familiar with the matter said.

Cassa Depositi e Prestiti (CDP) risked losing the confidence of its many U.S. bond-holders who could sell down their holdings if the credit line went ahead, the source said.

A few European banks have deepened trade ties with Iran this year -- Austria's Oberbank inked a financing deal with Iran in September.

South Korea has also proved a willing investor, with Seoul's Eximbank signing an 8 billion euros credit line for projects in Iran in August, according to Chinese state news agency Xinhua.

But China is the standout.

Valerio de Molli, head of Italian think tank European House Ambrosetti, reckons China now accounts for more than double the EU's share of Iran's total trade.

"The time to act is now, otherwise opportunities nurtured so far will be lost," de Molli said.


Iranian officials attending this week's meeting in Rome sought to goad European firms and their bankers into action by talking up the Chinese financing and investments.

"The train is going forward," said Fereidun Haghbin, director general of economic affairs at Iran's foreign ministry. "The world is a lot greater than the United States."

Some Iranian officials remain concerned that investment could become lop-sided and are looking at creative ways to maintain investment links with the West, however.

The Iran chamber is encouraging Western firms to consider transferring technology as a way of earning equity in Iranian projects rather than focusing on capital.

It was also seeking approval to set up a 2.5-billion-euro offshore fund, perhaps in Luxembourg, as an indirect way for foreigners to invest in Iran, especially small and medium-sized Iranian enterprises, Mostofi said.

The fund would issue the financial guarantees that foreigners want in return for a fee, effectively stepping in where banks now fear to tread. Most of the fund's capital would come from Iran, Mostofi said.

For now, however, big Western firms remain stuck.

Italian power engineering firm Ansaldo Energia, controlled by state investor CDP and part-owned by Shanghai Electric Group , has been in Iran for 70 years.

Its chairman, Giuseppe Zampini, told Reuters at the Rome conference there were many opportunities for new contracts but his hands were tied for now, partly because Ansaldo bonds were also in the hands of U.S. investors.

"My heart says that we are losing something," Zampini said.

Thai Male Coach Wears Hijab In Iran Women's Match

Thai coach with headscarf in Iran women's kabaddi games.

The Asian Kabaddi Championship in Iran has made headlines for some amusing photos.

They show the male coach of the Thai female kabaddi team wearing hijab in order to be able to accompany his team into the women’s arena. In Iran, men are not allowed to enter sport arenas used by women.

In a statement, Iran’s Kabaddi Federation apologized for the “sad incident” and condemned the action of the Thai coach. The federation had informed the participants about the rules regarding hijab and ban for men in advance.

In its statement, the federation admitted some “negligence” during ID control, but it added that the Thai coach had allegedly “deceived” the controllers. The federation vowed to follow-up the “violation” by the Thai coach through the World Kabaddi Federation, even though it said that the coach was sent off “after few seconds”.

While the Iranian federation claims that the Thai coach sneaked into the stadium wearing the hijab, the coach says that actually he was told to wear it if he wanted to get entry.

Somprach Phonchoo, the Thai coach, in an interview with Radio Farda confirmed that he was requested to put on the headscarf but does not say by who.

Interview: Thai Coach Somprach Phonchoo
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However, Mohammad Reza Maghasoudlou, the head of Iran’s Kabaddi federation came up with a funny plot. He told ISNA News Agency, "A photographer has given the scarf to the Thai man so he could enter the arena and take pictures."

“It was a naughty act and the goal was to question the games,” Maghasoudlou added.

The Asian Kabaddi Championship was held in Iranian northern city of Gorgan between Nov. 22-27. Iran women’s team missed the final after a defeat at the hands of South Korea in semi-final. In the final game, India defeated Pakistan and became champion.

Politician Threatens To Unmask Influential Borrowers Of Defunct Bank

Conservative politician Ahmad Tavakkoli who was a member of 9th parliament, undated.

A prominent Iranian conservative has threatened to disclose the names of those who borrowed huge sums of money from the bankrupt and now-defunct financial institution Samen al-Hojaj.

“Most of the people who borrowed from Samen al-Hojaj are veteran judges and children of prominent clergy and political figures,” former MP Ahmad Tavakkoli announced at a press conference on November 28.

Tavakkoli said if the debts were not repaid he would publicly disclose the names of the borrowers.

“The managing director of Samen al-Hojaj has a lot of influence. He’s so powerful that he managed to get an arrest warrant for central bank former Governor Mahmoud Bahmani (2008-2013),” Tavakkoli told reporters.

“Corrupt individuals attract and multiply people of their caliber,” the former MP remarked.

Samen al-Hojaj was launched in 2001 under the name of Samen al-Hojaj Cooperative for the Educated and soon expanded into a financial empire.

It began operations as a credit institution in 2007. The private institution had 450 branches across the country. There was no information on the company’s stakeholders on its website.

However, according to the Iran Students News Agency (ISNA), Samen al-Hojaj went bankrupt after investing in a stagnant housing market.

The managing director of the institution, Abol-Fazl Mir Ali, held membership on the boards of directors at the Iran National Oil Company and a gas and petrochemical company where former Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki and Mohammad Hassan, one of the brothers of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei have seats.

Earlier, several conservatives close to Khamenei had accused Hassan Rouhani’s presidential campaign of borrowing money from Samen al-Hojaj.

After its bankruptcy and insolvency, Samen al-Hojaj was taken over by Bank Parsian, which declared it will repay depositors’ losses in installments.

Protesters demanding their money back from the Caspian Bank, another bankrupted institution.
Protesters demanding their money back from the Caspian Bank, another bankrupted institution.

​Most of the legal violations by Samen al-Hojaj were committed in 2007 and onward, Tavakkoli affirmed, adding, “Yet, it was officially praised by Iran Central Bank governor in Mahmud Ahmadinejad’s administration.

Tavakkoli also disclosed that Mir Ali was placed under house arrest but should have been imprisoned.

Meanwhile, the former MP accused the Iran Central Bank of delay in declaring Samen al-Hojaj bankrupt and of not compensating depositors.

A significant number of financial and credit institutions have recently gone bankrupt in Iran, forcing depositors to hold protest rallies demanding their money.

Most of these gatherings are staged by people who claim they are victims of systematic deception and fraud by these credit institutions. They say their assets have been either plundered or they have received no interest for their deposits as promised by these institutions.

Most of these pseudo-credit institutions operate as unofficial banks that manage to evade regulations and proper registration.

In 2013, approximately 25 percent of the cash flow in the country’s financial market was handled by such institutions, which were not under the supervision of the central bank, according to Valiollah Seif, the current president of the central bank. Since then, he added, the number has dropped to 8 percent.

In August, Seif promised that all “illegal” financial cooperatives would be shut down by the end of the current Persian year (March 21, 2018). At the same time, he asked citizens not to be deceived by higher interest rates offered by unknown and illegal financial institutions.

Another top Iranian banker warned in October that half of Iran's banks were suffering from "toxic loans" and they should be shut down or merged.

The warning came too late for many investors who had already lost their savings.

Judicial officials now blame depositors for their losses and say the government is not responsible.

But credit institutions were practically allowed by the government to freely operate outside banking rules for more than two decades.

State media ran their commercials at prime time, and neither the executive nor judicial branches cautioned people to be wary.

Parliament Is Weighing New Law To Deal With Child Abuse Crisis

Street children in Iran. File photo

Legislators in the Iranian Parliament are weighing a new bill that empowers police forces to detain parents whose children are sexually abused.

“The number of children who are sexually abused in Iran has increased to the extent that the parents whose children are molested will be fined or sentenced to suspended prison terms,” the state-run Iran Labor News Agency (ILNA) cited an MP as saying on November 27.

The deputy head of the Legal and Judicial Commission, Mohammad Kazemi, told ILNA that “the significant increase of social disorder in recent years, numerous cases of child molesting, a child-labor crisis and child beggars, as well as sexually abused children” is alarming.

The new bill, according to Kazemi, stipulates punishment for parents deemed irresponsible and who ignore their children’s welfare.

The member of Omid (Hope), the reformists’ faction in the parliament, has also announced, “The new bill empowers security and police forces as well as social workers to separate children from parents who do not responsibly look after their children.”

The separated children will be handed over to “lawful centers,” Kazemi said, without elaboration.

The new bill is under study by the parliament at a time that the echoes of recent comments made by the director-general of Tehran’s Social Services Organization have not yet died down.

In a shocking comment, Reza Ghadimi disclosed that “90 percent of children forced to work in the capital, Tehran, are molested.”

Furthermore, in his interview with Iran Students News Agency (ISNA), Ghadimi lamented, “Sadly, after surveying 400 child workers, social workers found out that 90 percent of them had been molested. It was revealed that relatives of these children round up and send them begging around from dawn to late evening and then molest them.”

Ghadimi insisted, “These facts are well documented.”

The comments were so shocking that they triggered widespread anger and scandal all over town, forcing Ghadimi to rephrase his remarks.

“I’ve been misunderstood,” Ghadimi explained, adding, “By molesting, I did not mean sexual abuse of the working children. I meant child workers are kept in the cold outside in streets, they are not fed properly, and their faces are painted black to attract pity.”

However, the daily Shahrvand reported that it has a copy of Ghadimi’s initial remarks which clearly states that 90 people of child workers are sexually abused.

Nevertheless, government officials insisted Ghadimi’s remarks were unfounded.

Yet, according to the head of Iranian Social Emergency, in 60 percent of child molesting cases, fathers and in 86 percent of total cases both parents are responsible.

“In only 1.5 percent of child molesting cases were strangers involved,” Hossain Assadbeigi noted.

Meanwhile, he reiterated that many families whose children are molested prefer to keep it a secret and refrain from reporting it to the authorities.

A lack of reliable sources has practically made it impossible to determine the numbers of street children in Iran. However, based on a 2005 report by the U.S. State Department, and admitted by the Iranian government, 60,000 street children were accounted for in Iran.

Many children’s rights’ organizations believe the number is much higher, citing figures up to 200,000.

Iranian FM Discusses Closer Business Ties In Armenia

Armenia - President Serzh Sarkisian (L) meets with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in Yerevan, 28Nov2017.

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif met with President Serzh Sarkisian and other Armenian leaders on Tuesday during a visit to Yerevan that appeared to focus on ongoing efforts to expand Armenian-Iranian economic ties.

He arrived in the Armenian capital with a large group of Iranian businessmen who held a one-day conference with fellow entrepreneurs from Armenia. Zarif and his Armenian counterpart Edward Nalbandian opened the forum before holding talks.

“There are quite good opportunities for expanding economic relations between the two countries,” Zarif told an ensuing joint news conference with Nalbandian.

“Energy and cargo transit are very important areas of our cooperation with Armenia,” he said. “We also attach importance to our cooperation on science and technology.”

Armenia - Foreign Ministers Edward Nalbandian and Mohammad Javad Zarif at a news conference in Yerevan, 28Nov2017
Armenia - Foreign Ministers Edward Nalbandian and Mohammad Javad Zarif at a news conference in Yerevan, 28Nov2017

Nalbandian said, for his part, that they discussed ways of increasing bilateral commerce and preparations for next month’s meeting in Yerevan of an Armenian-Iranian intergovernmental commission on economic cooperation. In that context, he stressed the importance of a planned free-trade deal between Iran and the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union which is strongly backed by Armenia.

According to official Armenian statistics, Armenian-Iranian trade stood at a relatively modest $197.4 million in the first nine months of this year. It was up by 10 percent from the same period in 2016.

Zarif was reported to tell Sarkisian later in the day that the current scale of Armenian-Iranian business dealings “does not befit the high level of political relations between the two friendly nations.” The two men agreed on the need to “bolster economic ties and develop mutually beneficial cooperation in various areas,” reported the Armenian presidential press office. It said Zarif called Armenia a “very good neighbor” of Iran.

Armenia - The Armenian and Iranian foreign ministers open an Armenian-Iranian business forum in Yerevan, 28Nov2017.
Armenia - The Armenian and Iranian foreign ministers open an Armenian-Iranian business forum in Yerevan, 28Nov2017.

Economic issues dominated Zarif’s separate meeting with Prime Minister Karen Karapetian. They discussed, among other things, the upcoming launch of a free economic zone in Armenia’s southeastern Meghri district bordering Iran. According to an Armenian government statement, they agreed that the tax haven for manufacturing firms could give a major boost to Armenian-Iranian business ties.

The statement added that Armenian-Iranian energy projects were also on the agenda of Karapetian’s talks with the chief Iranian diplomat. But it did not elaborate.

Karapetian met with Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani, First Vice-President Eshaq Jahangiri, Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh and Energy Minister Sattar Mahmoudi when he paid an official visit to Tehran in October. He reportedly discussed the possibility of a trilateral deal that would enable Armenia to import cheap natural gas from Turkmenistan via Iran. No concrete agreements to that effect have been announced so far.

The Armenian premier on Tuesday described his trip to Iran as “quite promising.” “Armenia’s government is extremely interested in qualitatively changing and raising our trade to a higher level,” he told Zarif.

Iran's Judiciary Once Again Issues An Astonishing Verdict

Iran's deputy commander of the Iranian police Ahmad Reza Radan (L) and head of Social Security Organization and former Tehran Prosecutor General Saeed Mortazavi(R). They were both accused of Kahrizak prison deaths after 2009 unrest.

Iran's judiciary has once more drawn attention to itself for issuing astonishing verdicts.

In one instance, it convicted Saeed Mortazavi, Tehran’s prosecutor-general at the time of the 2009 upheavals, to two years in prison for being “accessory to murder” in the death of a detained protester in prison.

In another second instance, Mostafa Hamedani a lawyer representing a group of workers in different case against Mortazavi, has received 10 months in prison and 40 lashes simply being accused of “defaming” the same Mortazavi.

He has received this harsh verdict simply for talking about Moratazavi's conviction, nothing else.

In December 2013, the Iranian parliament published an investigative report accusing Mortazavi of financial corruption during his time (2012-2013) as the head of the country’s Social Security Organization.

The parliament’s investigation had concluded that Mortazavi had bribed some members of parliament, cabinet ministers of President Ahmadinejad, and the president’s deputy with hefty gifts.

He had also illegally transferred 138 companies, including Iran Air and two major steel factories owned by the Social Security Organization to Iran’s tycoon Babak Zanjani, who was later sentenced to death for stealing $2.7 billion from oil sales on behalf of the Ahmadinejad government.

Following these revelations, Hamedani, on behalf of his clients who were beneficiaries of the Social Security Organization, sued Mortazavi for illegal use of financial assets and embezzlement of hundreds of million dollars.

After almost two years, the court of first instance convicted Mortazavi in November 2016, but gave him a mild sentence.

Hamedani gave an interview to Iranian journalists announcing that he will appeal the verdict.

According to the lawyer, the same interview has been the basis for his conviction.

He has told the News Agency ILNA that he has been convicted just for revealing the conviction of Mortazavi by the court of first instance, something that should have been public information to start with.

Official Under Fire After Thanking Iran-Trained Afghan ‘Warriors’ for Syrian ‘Victory’

FILE: Mohammad Mohaqiq during an interview with Radio Free Afghanistan in July 2014.

A top official in Afghanistan has come under fire for seeming to confirm for the first time that neighboring Iran has recruited thousands of Shi’ite Afghans and "warriors” from other regional countries to fight in Syria.

Deputy Afghan Chief Executive Mohammad Mohaqiq made the controversial statement during a trip last week to Tehran. His remarks were recorded on video and aired and reported by Afghan media, prompting critics to take to social media to denounce him and call for his removal from office.

While addressing an international summit of scholars from Iran and other Muslim nations, the Afghan deputy chief executive is shown praising Major General Qasem Soleimani, who commands foreign operations of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps. The gathering was convened to discuss ways to fight “the dark ideology” of Islamic State (IS) terrorists from a unified Islamic front, according to Iranian media.

The Iranian general is said to be one of the founders of the Fatemiyoun Division, made up of mostly Afghan Hazara fighters and deployed to the Syrian conflict zone.

“I thank all the warriors who cooperated in these wars from Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan and other parts of the world who attended the wars. In fact, it was the war of Islam against infidelity and against the conspiracies of the world arrogance,” Mohaqiq said.

The Afghan official did not elaborate and went on to commend “the prominent role” of General Soleimani in the victory in Syria.

IS In Afghanistan

Mohaqiq claimed that more than 10,000 Islamic State members who escaped the conflict, including those from Central Asian states, have now moved to Afghanistan and are threatening stability of northern and western border provinces.

“The northern part of Afghanistan, once a secure area, has now been destabilized after the incursion of Daesh,” Mohaqiq said using local acronym for IS. The instability, he warned, will threaten neighboring Central Asian nations.

The Afghan government has not yet commented on Mohaqiq’s remarks, but the foreign ministry has maintained that reports of Afghans being sent to conflict zones in the Middle East are under investigation and that the issue has also been raised with Iranian authorities.

Rights Abuses

Rights defenders have repeatedly drawn international attention to what they say is Tehran’s training and deployment of Afghan refugees in Iran.

Human Rights Watch in a detailed report published last month also accused Iran of committing war crimes by recruiting and sending Afghan immigrant children “as young as 14” to fight in Syria alongside government forces.

The report charged the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps with recruiting and providing combat training to mainly Shi’ite Hazara Afghans who have settled in Iran after fleeing decades of hostilities in their native country.

Recruits for Fatemiyoun Division are said to come mostly from about 2.5 million Afghan refugees, many of them without residency papers. Pro-government Iranian media describes the division as a volunteer Afghan force fighting in support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Rights groups have documented cases of Afghans, mostly Shi’ite Hazaras, in Iran who “volunteered” to take part in the Syrian conflict in the hopes of gaining legal status and a monthly income of around $600 for their impoverished refugee families.

Iranian authorities reportedly tell Afghan recruits they are being trained to fight to protect major Shi’ite shrines in Damascus, Aleppo and Raqqa.

Iran is reported to have poured billions into Syria in addition to raising Shi’ite militias from countries with significant Shi’ite population, including Afghanistan and Pakistan, which also hosts millions of Afghan refugees.

-- Voice of America

Syria, Iraq Reportedly Impose Restrictions On Iranian Imports

Trucks are seen at Haj Omran border between Iran and Iraqi Kurdistan, October 14, 2017

While the Supreme Leader of Islamic Republic has triumphantly declared victory over the Islamic State group in Syria, Damascus has put restrictions on imports from Iran, the deputy head of Iran Chamber of Commerce, Industries, Mines and Agriculture, ICCIMA., announced.

Furthermore, Iraq has also quintupled tariffs for Iranian dairy products, from 5% to 25% overnight.

State run Iran Labor News Agency, ILNA cited Hassan Selah Varzi Friday, November 24, as saying, “The restrictions Syria has imposed on Iranian imports has practically has put a halt to exports from Iran to Syria”.

Selah Varzi explained, “The Syrian market is full of contraband goods smuggled from Turkey and Syrians long to buy them”.

However, Selah Varzi stopped short of providing details on the restrictions.

According to the Iranian Chamber of Commerce, the volume of Tehran’s [non-oil and petrochemical] exports to Syria, prior to the civil war, was $350 million per year which has currently dropped to $250 million.

Lacking a common land border with Syria is one of the main problems for Iranians for exporting their goods to the country, while Turkey can easily reach the Syrian market through its common border with the country.

Other problems facing Iranian exporters to Syria, according to ICCIMA officials are complicated customs regulations and extreme bureaucracy.

In recent years, the Islamic Republic has significantly backed Syria with financial assistance, including a one billion-dollar credit line and $3.6 billion for importing goods.

Moreover, Reuters and other international news agencies have reported that since 2013 the Central Bank of Iran has granted Syria several credit lines including $5.6 billion mainly for importing oil from Iran.

In 2015, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad signed a law ratifying a $1 billion credit line from its top regional ally Iran, Syria’s state news agency SANA said, funds which will could help ease economic strains from the costly war.

The agreement was between two state-owned banks, the Syrian Commercial Bank and the Export Development Bank of Iran. Syria signed a previous $3.6 billion credit line with Iran in July 2013 which was used up mostly for oil imports, Reuters reported at the time.

However, many analysts believe that Iran’s financial assistance for Bashar al-Assad is much higher than what is publicly admitted.

Meanwhile, Iran and Syria have several agreements on joint plans for developing oil and energy industries.

In 2015, in a report based on research and professional estimations, Bloomberg reported that the Islamic Republic spends at least one billion-dollar per year to help Bashar al-Assad.

In the meantime, ICCIMA deputy has complained about significant increase of Iraqi tariffs for Iranian products.

“Overnight, Iraq has increased from 5% to 25% its tariff for Iranian dairy”.

According to Selah Varzi, 75% of Iranian exports to Iraq are dairy products and the higher tariff is catastrophic for the Iranian dairy industry, possibly leading to the bankruptcy of many dairy producers.

Last year, Iran with $6.2 billion exports was the third largest exporter to Iraq after China an United Arab Emirates, respectively.

The Pressure On Ahmadinejad And His Allies Continues

Former Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (C) alongside his aides speaking at a gathering in a shrine near Tehran on Saturday November 18, 2017.

Mahmud Ahmadinejad and his close allies are still looking for a hattrick to stay in the game. They have even tried the age-old tactic of taking refuge in a holy shrine, but it failed to achieve the desired result.

Their ephemeral sit-in protest at the Shi’ite holy shrine of Shah Abdol-Azim in Shahr-e Rey, southern Tehran, ended when an alleged bunch of plainclothesmen stormed the shrine and battered the supporters of the former two-time president.

The clash garnered the outcome the attackers wanted: end your show or expect more to come.

For Ahmadinejad’s trio of supporters -- his former deputy president in executive matters, Hamid Baghaei, close aide Ali Akbar Javanfekr, and his chief accountant, Habibollah Khorasani -- the message was crystal clear. The sit-in was a nonstarter.

Even Ahmadinejad’s presence and his vitriolic speech against the influential Larijani brothers did not attract the needed public attention.

Ahmadinejad and his supporters submitted to the police for the sake of appearances, declaring they were ending their sit-in lest the “rogues” disturb the peace of pilgrims and insult the Shi’ite sacred mausoleum.

However, the bitter experiment of the trio deepened when they heard that the managing editor of a website supporting Ahmadinejad, Dolat-e Bahar (The Government of the Spring) had been detained.

The website reported on November 21 that Mohammad Hossein Heidari had been arrested and would be kept behind bars until raising 1 billion rials (roughly $30,000) in bail.

The website had already maintained it had been blocked by the authorities for publishing Ahmadinejad’s acerbic attacks against the head of the judiciary, Ayatollah Sadeq Amoli Larijani, and his brothers.

It was also reported that Ahmadinejad’s official website has been shut down by security officials.

Meanwhile, the court in charge of trying Baghaei held a session in his absence, declaring the end of legal procedure.

“The judge has asked some questions, and as soon as the answers are received he will issue his verdict,” Iran Students News Agency (ISNA) reported on November 22.

Baghaei sarcastically responded on Twitter, writing, “End of what legal procedure? Sham indictment! Formal phony trial! Assigned Judge! The verdict, ready to be typed! May you never get tired Messrs. Sadeq Larijani [the head of judiciary], Sheikh Hossein Ta’ib [a cleric in charge of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps intelligence department] and Hassan Rouhani.”

Baghaei was first arrested for embezzlement in 2015 but, according to Ahmadinejad’s close allies, he was later freed by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s special order.

Once again, last July, Baghaei was detained but later released on a large bail.

Currently, another close ally of Ahmadinejad, Esfandyar Rahim Mashshayee, has also been summoned to court for allegedly insulting the supreme leader, offending the ruling system’s officials, and spreading false information.

Ahmadinejad has also been accused of corruption.

On July 30, the head of the Audit Court announced seven verdicts against Ahmadinejad, but the full report was not made public.

At the time, the former president dismissed the charges and threatened to disclose a “cowardly scenario” by “bands of power and wealth.” He alleged that a “cabal” was waging war against the former leading officials of his administration.

The Iranian Parliament’s Audit Court announced on October 18 that Ahmadinejad, in the last 18 months of his presidency, spent approximately $1.3 billion of Iran’s oil income illegally.

On November 22, parliament’s news website published the report of the court about “oil related infractions” of the Ahmadinejad government.

The court ordered the former president to repay $1.3 billion to the treasury. The ruling maintains that that during Ahmadinejad’s tenure oil revenues were spent without proper transfer from the Oil Ministry to the treasury.

Although the court has found Ahmadinejad directly responsible, it has not issued any other measures against him.

The Audit Court has limited powers of punishment. It can reduce an official’s pay or at most fire officials from government jobs, but it is not empowered to issue harsher verdicts.

Ahmadinejad has always maintained that his administration has been the most transparent and cleanest government Iran has ever had.

Report: Iran’s Social Security Organization At The Brink Of Bankruptcy

Retired people demonstrating in Tehran. They demand higher retirement checks as the Iranian currency has steadily lost its value. File photo

A report published by the Iranian Parliament’s Research Center says that the country's Social Security Organization is facing a serious risk of bankruptcy.

“The likelihood of a financial insolvency of the Social Security Organization in the next decade is very high”, the report warns and adds that the dimension of the crisis will be so huge that the government would not be able to control it.

Considering the nationwide coverage provided by the Social Security Organization and the diversity of the beneficiaries, its possible bankruptcy could result in widespread economic and social unrest in the country, the report reads.

Iran’s Social Security Organization is a public institution that operates independently and provides health insurance, pension and unemployment benefits to its members. They range from workers and government employees to self-employed individuals. More than 42 million Iranians (ca. 52% of the population) receive some type of benefit from the organization.

According to Iranian Parliament’s Research Center, a rapid increase in the number of beneficiaries, due to an aging population, low birth rates, increasing costs of health-care services, budget deficit, mismanagement, government’s interference, and government’s failure to meet its financial obligations are the major factors responsible for the crisis that the Social Security Organization is facing.

The Organization also owns dozens of companies that are not profitable and its former head was convicted of corruption charges in 2016.

On Monday, Members of the Iranian parliament warned about the possible bankruptcy of the Social Security Organization and urged the government to start paying its massive debt to the fund. A high-ranking official of the Social Security Organization announced recently that its uncollected receivables is more than $36 billion. Most of this is due to delayed government contributions to the fund and accumulated interest. However, the Parliament’s Research Center estimated the this amount to be $29 billion.

In order to solve its financial problems temporarily, the Social Security Organization has been borrowing money from banks.

According to the report, the organization’s debt to banks subsequently has jumped from less than $1 million in 2011 to more than $2 billion last year, making the Social Security Organization a “super borrower”.

The organization’s spending during last year has also exceeded $2 billion, 15% more than its income.

If the current trend continues, within 8 years its budget deficit will reach $27 billion, the report says.

Release Labor Activist - Center For Coordinating Islamic Councils

Reza Shahabi, the Treasurer of Tehran public bus company union.

The secretary of Center for Coordinating Islamic Work Councils in Tehran has announced that the legal case against imprisoned labor activist, Reza Shahabi must be reviewed, noting, “Defending trade union rights is not a crime and article 26 of the Islamic Republic’s Constitution on workers and labor associations must be upheld.

According to state-run Iran Labor News Agency, ILNA, Hossein Habibi insisted that Reza Shahabi’s legal case should be reviewed and, as an elected member of Tehran workers, he is going to follow his appeal.

Mr. Habibi represents the officially sanctioned trade unions of the Islamic Republic and his defense of an imprisoned labor activist is important.

The detained treasurer of the Syndicate of Workers of Tehran and Suburbs Bus Company, Reza Shahabi, under pressure from the Prosecutor-General’s office, introduced himself to Rajaei Shahr prison last summer.

Shahabi who was on medical furlough, found out that the Prosecutor-General had not endorsed his furlough and decided to put him back in prison.

You have gone on an unauthorized medical furlough, Shahabi was told; “Therefore, you are condemned to stay behind bars for another 968 days”.

With no success, Shahabi tried to clarify the case by explaining that his medical furlough was approved by the Forensic Medicine Organization, which must certify if a prisoner is seriously ill.

As his protests fell on deaf ears, Shahabi went on hunger strike and soon his health deteriorated to the extent that international human rights organizations and the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), issued statements, calling for his unconditional release.

Shahabi’s health condition deteriorated so much that according to ILNA, “The members of the High Center for Islamic Labor Councils intervened and called upon the Labor Minister to use all his influence to release Shahabi”.

A protest was held in front of Iranian parliament in September demanding his release. The police forcibly dispersed the protestors.

Dozens demonstrated in front of Parliament demanding the release of Reza Shahabi.
Dozens demonstrated in front of Parliament demanding the release of Reza Shahabi.

The imprisoned labor activist ended his hunger strike after fifty days while he was promised that his case would be reviewed.

Shahabi who is a board member and the treasurer of the Tehran public bus company union, insists that his 986 day sentence should be repealed. He has vowed to go on another hunger strike if his demands are not met.

Many international Labor organizations, including International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) and International Union of Industrial Workers have called upon the Islamic Republic officials to help release Shahabi.

ITUC’s Secretary-General, Sharon Burrow, while referring to what she described as years of torture and inappropriate treatment of Shahabi behind bars, reiterated, “[Reza] the labor rights activist was on medical furlough but Tehran’s prosecutor-general refused to extend his parole.”

Protesting the inhumane situation and injustice against Shahabi, Burrow wrote in a letter to President Hassan Rouhani, “Leaving Reza Shahabi behind bars is against Iran’s international commitments, which prohibit detaining labor activists who are peacefully campaigning for workers’ rights”.

The Secretary-General of the International Industrial Workers’ Union, Walter Sanchez has also written a letter to Rouhani warning him, “Years of imprisonment, torture and mistreatment during interrogations have alarmingly deteriorated Reza Shahabi’s health”.

Citing Hossein Habibi, ILNA reported, “Shahabi’s initial charge was attempting to launch an illegal entity, whereas, what he did was in accordance with Article 26 of the Islamic Republic’s Constitution, stipulating that defending labor rights is quite lawful”.

Article 26 of the Islamic Republic’s Constitution explicitly stipulates, “The formation of parties, societies, political or professional associations, as well as religious societies, whether Islamic or pertaining to one of the recognized religious minorities, is permitted provided they do not violate the principles of independence, freedom, national unity, the criteria of Islam, or the basis of the Islamic republic”.

It also insists, “No one may be prevented from participating in the aforementioned groups, or be compelled to participate in them”.

Meanwhile, Hossein Habibi has bitterly demanded’ “Why the judiciary does not take any action toward maintaining labor rights?”

Furthermore, he has asserted that, regarding Reza Shahabi’s poor health, the Center for Coordinating Islamic Councils expects his legal case reviewed as soon as possible.

Outspoken Daughter Of Slain Iranian Dissidents Going On Trial For 'Spreading Propaganda'

"It's a fact that the security establishment murdered my parents," says Iranian artist Parastou Forouhar. "They said themselves that they did it."

The murders of Parastou Forouhar's parents were pinned on Iran's Intelligence Ministry. Now, the same ministry is going after the artist for speaking out about their deaths and her alleged ties by extension to a scandal over an activist who was photographed drinking wine.

Forouhar will go on trial on November 25, three days after the 19th anniversary of the deaths of her parents, Dariush and Parvaneh Forouhar. The two political activists and dissidents were stabbed to death in their Tehran home in November 1998 in a killing that officials later blamed on rogue intelligence agents, despite suggestions otherwise.

Their deaths were part of a series of extrajudicial killings of Iranian dissidents and intellectuals that later came to be known as the "Chain Murders of Iran."

Authorities said the agents responsible for the killings had acted "arbitrarily." An investigative journalist and activists suggested that senior officials had authorized the killings, however.

Forouhar, an artist based in Germany who travels to Tehran every fall to hold a memorial service for her parents, has suggested that she's being pressured over her efforts to keep her parents' memories alive, as well as her calls for justice.

Parvaneh Forouhar was murdered in her home in Tehran in 1998, along with her husband, Dariush (not pictured).
Parvaneh Forouhar was murdered in her home in Tehran in 1998, along with her husband, Dariush (not pictured).

The charges against Forouhar include "spreading propaganda against the [Iranian] establishment," which she says stems from her interviews and attempts at raising awareness about the killings.

"The [Intelligence Ministry] charged me with 'propaganda against the state' because they said I gave interviews [to foreign media] and condemned the security establishment for murdering my parents," Forouhar told the New York-based Center For Human Rights In Iran last week.

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Iran's Social Security In Trouble As Government Owes $36 Billion To The Fund

Iran's Social Security Organization

Members of the Iranian parliament have urged the government to start paying its massive debt to the country’s Social Security Organization.

In a letter to President Hassan Rouhani on November 20, 157 MPs referred to a law requiring the government to pay its debts to the organization within 10 years and demanded that the government allocate sufficient funds for this purpose in its next year’s budget.

The government's debt to the Social Security Organization, a public institution that operates independently, is estimated to be more than $36 billion. Most of the accumulated debt is due to delayed government contributions to the fund and its interest.

Iran’s Social Security Organization provides health insurance and pension to its members that include workers, government employees, and even self-employed individuals. More than 42 million Iranians (ca. 52% of the population) receive some type of benefit from the organization.

The Social Security Organization provides services to the most vulnerable groups in the society, namely workers and therefore it is important for the government to meet its financial obligations, the Iranian MPs say.

According to the letter, not paying the organization’s debts would weaken it which could have “undesirable” social, economic, and political consequences and finally lead to its bankruptcy as several other retirement funds have experienced.

Ahmad Alavi, an Iranian economist residing in Sweden is not optimistic that the demand of the Iranian MPs can be fulfilled. The government is already facing a massive budget deficit and has many other financial commitments that prevent it from being able to pay its debts to the Social Security Organization, Alavi told Radio Farda.

According to experts such as Mr. Alavi, most of the damage to the organization was inflicted during the Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s administration, which wasted money on subsidies and “buying off” various individuals or groups by engaging in favoritism.

Alavi also says that the government owes substantial amounts of money to private contractors too, who over the years have worked on government construction and other projects. One reason why some companies do not pay their workers on time, is the fact that the government does not pay what it owes to these companies for work already completed.

Not paying workers’ wages for months leads to labor protests, which has become a frequent phenomenon in the past year.

According to the officials of Iran's Social Security Organization, the financial constraints have affected the quality of the services provided by their institution. The results of a recent poll conducted by the organizations shows that 52% of the pensioners are financially struggling.

Political Groups Launch Council of Iranian Democrats

The first conference of the Iranian Democrats Council which was held in Cologne on Saturday November 18, 2017.

Ten political groups from various Iranian national communities came together on November 18 in Cologne, Germany, with the ambition to create an alternative choice for the Iranian people.

Under the banner of justice, freedom, security, and human rights, the parties promised as a united coalition to guarantee national minority rights while maintaining territorial integrity.

The new coalition, branded as the Iranian Democrats Council(IDC), is an offshoot of a larger group, the Congress of Nationalities for a Federal Iran.

In an interview with Radio Farda’s Shahram Mirian, a member of the IDC representing the Kurdistan Democratic Party and one of the speakers at the conference, Khalid Azizi, described the gathering as positive and crucial.

“The Islamic Republic’s strong point is the fact that its opposition has always failed to unify. They have always been dispersed, therefore, this conference is the first step toward creating a unified coalition that could be presented to the people as an alternative to the current ruling system in Iran,” Azizi said.

Another speaker at the conference, London-based women’s rights activist Nahid Hosseini, maintained, “The spontaneous reaction of Iranians to the recent earthquake in western parts of the country, sidestepping the regime and helping the survivors proved their readiness for creating a united front.”

Hosseini said that Iranian political parties “have always come together but never succeeded to create a solid bloc. As soon as they get together, they are accused of plotting separation and secessionist attempts. Yet today we saw that everybody was talking about Iran’s territorial integrity.”

Washington-based Karim Attarian also lamented, “For almost 40 years, we have been an opposition to the Islamic Republic, and the Islamic Republic would love to keep us as its opposition for another 40 years.”

“The Islamic Republic proved that ruling systems based on ideology are doomed to fail. We, as an opposition, are not against the religion; we believe in separation of politics and faith,” he added.

More than 20 dissidents delivered speeches at a series of panels. Most tried to present proposals for a “peaceful, non-violent political transition” in Iran.

The conference, which vowed to meet again, ended with a unanimously approved resolution in Persian and English. The resolution accuses Iran of “mismanagement, plundering of national wealth, suppression and violations of the fundamental rights of the Iranian peoples,” asserting that “the government of the Islamic Republic is a state-terrorist government that has misused the resources and wealth of the country for its evil intentions over the past decades by relying on political Islam and the reactionary system of Velayat-e Faqhih as its ideology.”

While respecting the UN Human Rights Charter, the resolution insists, “We believe that the regime of the Islamic Republic of Iran is by no means susceptible to reform.”

Therefore, the resolution concludes, “The change of regime is a national Iranian agenda, using peaceful means to transition to the rule of law, based on a decentralized federal democratic republic…based on separation of religion from the state, pluralism, social liberty, and social justice, utilizing all methods of peaceful struggles including civil disobedience, civil uprising, and other appropriate means of addressing and defending the rights of people of Iran.”

The resolution also promises, “In future democratic Iran, the legal and gender equality between men and women, the freedom of all religious and beliefs, the individual and collective rights of citizens, the freedom of the various cultures, the freedom of the press and the media, the freedom of political and social activities must be guaranteed.”

Besides the Democratic Party of Kurdistan, Komoleh Party of Kurdistan is also part of the new council.

People’s Party of Baluchistan and the Democratic Party of Baluchistan joined the council with the Solidarity Democratic Party of Ahwaz, Political and Cultural Organization of Azerbaijan, Political, Democratic Party of Lorestan and Political and Cultural Organization of Turkmen Sahara.

Solidarity for Freedom and Human Rights Organization is the tenth signatory of IDC.

Low Income Iranians Forced To Live In Shipping Container Homes

Low income people around large cities in Iran, increasingly live in shipping containers.

Iranians increasingly use shipping container homes instead of regular houses or apartments, an Iranian MP said and warned about the consequences.

People in outskirts of large cities such as Tehran are deprived of basic housing and therefore an increasing number of them choose to live in shipping container homes, Masoud Rezaei was quoted as saying by Iranian media on Monday.

Iranian officials say that in the last 11 years, home prices have skyrocketed which has resulted in higher rents.

Currently in the capital Tehran, home buyers, on average, have to pay more than $1180 for one square meter, and renters must pay $7 for each square meter.

The minimum monthly wage for a worker in the current Iranian calendar year is just above $227, which means that a worker in Tehran with his entire monthly salary can only afford a residential unit that does not exceed 32 square meters (roughly 300 sq. feet).

According to a report by Shahrvand newspaper, renting price for shipping container homes is 1/8 of the rent for regular homes. “Depending on the area where the container is located and its type, the [monthly] rent varies from $12 to $73,” a real estate agent told Shahrvand.

Iranian MP Rezaei criticized the government for not paying enough attention to poor people living in outskirts of the cities and said the emergence of slums will lead to security problems for the cities, an increase of diseases, “moral corruption”, and other social problems.

“It is time that government officials stop with their empty promises and take actions in order to distribute opportunities equally, fight unemployment, and improve the economy and people's life situation.”

It is not clear how many people are living in shipping container homes in Iran. However, last year, the head of Iran’s welfare organization described the emergence of slums, in addition to unemployment, as major “threats” to Iran and announced that between 12 and 13 million Iranians (between 15-16.25% of the entire population) live in slums.

Abbas Akhoundi, Minister for Roads and Urban Development has even spoken of 19 million living in slums (23.75% of the entire population).

In the months leading up to the 1979 Iranian revolution, growing slums around Tehran was one of the major talking points of anti-Shah activists.

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