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Cairo Pays Homage To Iran's Last Shah

Queen Farah and Egypt's former First Lady Jehan Sadat at the ceremonies to pay homage to last shah of Iran in Cairo.

Annual ceremonies to pay homage to Iran’s last king, Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, were once again held in Cairo on July 27.

The former empress of Iran, Farah Pahlavi, and Egyptian former First Lady Jehan Sadat attended the ceremonies alongside the late shah’s supporters.

Hundreds of Iranians from all over the world, including the United States, Europe, and Australia, were in Cairo to pay tribute to the shah, who died on July 27, 1980.

Mohammad Reza Shah left Iran while the Islamic Revolution, led by elderly exiled Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, was gaining momentum and the country was practically in chaos.

A year and a half later, the shah, aged 60, died from complications of leukemia at a Cairo hospital.

The late shah was laid to rest at Cairo’s Al Rifa’i Mosque, where the last king of Egypt, Farouk, and other prominent figures of modern Egypt are buried.

Close friend and ally, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat held a full state funeral for him, attended by members of the shah’s family, as well as former U.S. President Richard Nixon.

As in previous years, Pahlavi and Jehan Sadat commenced the ceremonies by visiting Anwar Sadat’s place of burial and the tomb of Egypt’s Unknown Soldier.

Queen Farah (R), widow of the late Shah of Iran and Jihan Sadat (L), widow of Egypt's assassinated former president Anwar Sadat, attend a memorial service of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, August2017
Queen Farah (R), widow of the late Shah of Iran and Jihan Sadat (L), widow of Egypt's assassinated former president Anwar Sadat, attend a memorial service of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, August2017

At a time when many Western countries were reluctant to let the Iranian king enter their territories, Anwar Sadat warmly welcomed his frail and devastated “brother” as a guest of state.

However, 15 months after the shah’s death, Anwar Sadat was assassinated by an Egyptian fundamentalist army officer, Khalid Islambouli, during the annual victory parade held in Cairo to celebrate Egypt’s crossing of the Suez Canal. Islambouli was enraged that Sadat had signed a peace treaty with Israel.

As has become a tradition in the past few decades, Pahlavi and Jehan Sadat attended Al Rifa’i Mosque, where they were welcomed by Iranian expats and Egyptians who admire Sadat and the Iranian shah.

“Egyptian clergy, Egypt’s Islamic Endowment Organization officials, and sheiks of the Mosque were also there to attend the shah’s death anniversary ceremony, which had a religious theme,” an attendant of the ceremony told Radio Farda.

Pahlavi read a message and highlighted “the shah’s service” for his “beloved country,” adding he “always wished for welfare and progress for Iran and its people.”

Earlier, in a statement, she had also insisted, “The shah longed to create a system based on democratic values and a humane society combined with respect for individual freedom, decentralized government, people’s deliberate participation in national ventures, and a free market in Iran.”

The shah’s critics have always accused him of suppressing political dissidents and violating human rights.

However, pro-shah forces dismiss these accusations as mostly exaggerations.

Mohammad Reza Shah's tomb in Cairo. Photo from the Shah's memorial service anniversary, July 27, 2017
Mohammad Reza Shah's tomb in Cairo. Photo from the Shah's memorial service anniversary, July 27, 2017

Wrapping up the ceremony at Al Rifa’i Mosque, Pahlavi went to Cairo’s Four Seasons Hotel to pose for photos with supporters.

The shah’s memorial ceremonies this year coincided with the fourth anniversary of the downfall of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood rule and the rise of General Abdel Fattah As-Sissi.

“Undoubtedly, the current government in Egypt had done its utmost to hold the shah’s death anniversary ceremony as disciplined and majestically as possible,” said a former Iranian army officer who attended the ceremonies.

During the 30 years of Mohammad Hosni Mubarak’s presidency in Egypt, the shah’s death anniversary was held in similar splendor.

The ceremonies were downgraded during Morsi’s presidency from 2011 to 2013 and were only attended by several of the Pahlavis and their supporters.

However, Prince Reza Pahlavi was not present at this year’s ceremonies.

Tehran-Cairo diplomatic relations have always been either severed or based on distrust and hostility after February 1979 and the fall of the monarchy in Iran.

Their relations are currently at a low, limited to the operation of trade interest sections in each other’s capitals.

Recently Egypt, along with Saudi Arabia, engaged in a more obvious anti-Iran gesture when it joined other Arab states in boycotting Qatar. Along with Riyadh, Manama, and Abu Dhabi, Cairo called on Doha to sever its diplomatic relations with Tehran.

Reuters EXCLUSIVE - Russian Losses In Syria Jump In 2017 - Estimates

Russian casualties in the Syrian conflict

After the following Reuters exclusive report was published, the Russian government denied its veracity, claiming that the number of casualties has been much lower - Radio Farda

BELORECHENSK, Russia, Aug 2 (Reuters) - Ten Russian servicemen have been killed fighting in Syria so far this year, according to statements from the Defence Ministry.

But based on accounts from families and friends of the dead and local officials, Reuters estimates the actual death toll among Russian soldiers and private contractors was at least 40.

That tally over seven months exceeds the 36 Russian armed personnel and contractors estimated by Reuters to have been killed in Syria over the previous 15 months, indicating a significant rise in the rate of battlefield losses as the country's involvement deepens.

Most of the deaths reported by Reuters have been confirmed by more than one person, including those who knew the deceased or local officials. In nine cases, Reuters corroborated a death reported in local or social media with another source.

The data may be on the conservative side, as commanders encourage the families of those killed to keep quiet, relatives and friends of several fallen soldiers, both servicemen and contractors, said on condition of anonymity.

The true level of casualties in the Syrian conflict is a sensitive subject in a country where positive coverage of the conflict features prominently in the media and ahead of a presidential election next year that incumbent Vladimir Putin is expected to win.

The scale of Russian military casualties in peace time has been a state secret since Putin issued a decree three months before Russia launched its operation in Syria. While Russia does not give total casualties, it does disclose some deaths.

Discrepancies in data may be explained partly by the fact that Russia does not openly acknowledge that private contractors fight alongside the army; their presence in Syria would appear to flout a legal ban on civilians fighting abroad as mercenaries.

Asked about Reuters' latest findings, the Defence Ministry and Kremlin did not respond.

The government has previously denied understating casualty figures in Syria, where Moscow entered the conflict nearly two years ago in support of President Bashar al-Assad, one of its closest Middle East allies.

Months after soldiers die, Russia quietly acknowledges some losses, including private military contractors. Their families get state posthumous medals and local authorities sometimes name schools, which fallen soldiers attended as children, after them.

Of the 40 killed, Reuters has evidence that 21 were private contractors and 17 soldiers. The status of the remaining two people is unclear.

MISSION CREEP?

Little is known about the nature of operations in Syria involving Russian nationals. Russia initially focused on providing air support to Syrian forces, but the rate of casualties points to more ground intervention.

The last time Russia lost airmen in Syria was in August, 2016, and it suffered its first serious casualties on the ground this year in January, when six private military contractors died in one day.

Reuters has previously reported gaps between its casualty estimates and official figures, although the difference widened markedly this year.

Russian authorities disclosed that 23 servicemen were killed in Syria over 15 months in 2015-2016, whereas Reuters calculated the death toll at 36, a figure that included private contractors.

IN IT FOR THE MONEY?

One private contractor whose death in Syria was not officially acknowledged was 40-year-old Alexander Promogaibo, from the southern Russian town of Belorechensk. He died in Syria on April 25, his childhood friend Artur Marobyan told Reuters.

Promogaibo had earlier fought in the Chechen war with an elite Russian paratroops unit, according to Marobyan, who was his classmate at school.

He said his dead friend had struggled to get by while working as a guard in his hometown and needed money to build a house to live with his wife and small daughter.

Last year he decided to join private military contractors working closely with the Russian Defence ministry in Syria and was promised a monthly wage of 360,000 roubles ($6,000), about nine times higher than the average Russian salary.

A portrait of Russian private military contractor Yevgeni Chuprunov is seen at his grave in Novomoskovsk, in Tula region, Russia June 1, 2017. Picture taken June 1, 2017.
A portrait of Russian private military contractor Yevgeni Chuprunov is seen at his grave in Novomoskovsk, in Tula region, Russia June 1, 2017. Picture taken June 1, 2017.

According to multiple sources, Russian private military contractors are secretly deployed in Syria under command of a man nicknamed Wagner.

Private military companies officially don't exist in Russia. Reuters was unable to get in touch with commanders of Russian private contractors in Syria through people who know them.

"I told him it was dangerous and he wouldn't be paid the money for doing nothing, but couldn't convince him," Marobyan said, recalling one of his last conversations with Promogaibo.

According to Marobyan, he got the job offer at a military facility belonging to Russia's military intelligence agency (GRU) near the village of Molkino. The agency is a part of the defence ministry and does not have its own spokesperson.

The Kremlin did not reply to requests for comment.

Promogaibo went there for physical fitness tests and failed twice. He was accepted only after showing up for the third time having losing 55 kg after seven months of training.

"He left (Russia) in February," said Marobyan, who only learnt that his friend had been killed in Syria when his body was delivered to his hometown in early May.

One more person who knew Promogaibo said he died in Syria.

Reuters was unable to find out where in Syria Promogaibo was killed.

Igor Strelkov, former leader of pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine who stayed in touch with Russian volunteers who switched to battlefields in Syria, said in late May that military contractors from Russia recently fought near the Syrian town of Homs alongside Iranian-backed Hezbollah.

GRAVESTONES COVERED UP

Fifty-one-year-old Russian Gennady Perfilyev, a lieutenant colonel, was deployed in Syria as a military adviser. He was killed in shelling during a reconnaissance trip on April 8, his former classmates at Chelyabinsk Higher Tank Command School said.

"Several grammes of metal hit his heart," Pavel Bykov, one of his classmates, told Reuters.

One more classmate confirmed to Reuters Perfilyev was killed in Syria on a reconnaissance trip.

His name has not appeared in the Defence Ministry's official notices of military deaths in Syria.

He was buried at a new heavily guarded military cemetery outside Moscow where visitors have to show their passports and are asked at the entrance whose grave they want to visit.

On Perfilyev's gravestone, his name and the date of his death are covered by his portrait.

Several other servicemen killed in Syria and buried nearby also have photos obscuring their names and the dates of their death, which if visible would make it easier to trace how and where they died.

Names on other graves, of non-Syrian casualties, were visible.

Asked if this was a special secrecy measure, a cemetery official, Andrei Sosnovsky, said the names were covered up temporarily until proper monuments could be built.

Has Iran Trained Venezuelan Security Forces?

Has Iran Trained Venezuelan Security Forces?
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As street unrest spreads in Venezuela, it is common to see special government units on motorcycles riding towards demonstrators and using force to disrupt and disperse gathering crowds.

The similarity of this tactic to Iran's special motorcycle units used against public protesters is just too obvious.

Radio Farda compared video footage of the 2009 mass protests in Iran with current images from Venezuala in this a video.

Also, we found news reports from a decade ago, which point to a possible Iranian role in training Venezuelans to use Iranian tactics against protesters.

Has Iran Trained Venezuelan Security Forces?
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Iranian Officials Tell Reuters IRGC Finds New Route To Arm Yemen Rebels

Yemeni children carrying weapons take part in a gathering organized by Shiite Huthi rebels to mobilize more fighters to battlefronts to fight pro-government forces, in the capital Sanaa, June 18, 2017

After this Reuters exclusive report was published, Kuwait denied that its territorial waters are being used to send illicit cargo to Yemen - Radio Farda.

(Reuters Exclusive) - Iran's Revolutionary Guards have started using a new route across the Gulf to funnel covert arms shipments to their Houthi allies in Yemen's civil war, sources familiar with the matter have told Reuters.

In March, regional and Western sources told Reuters that Iran was shipping weapons and military advisers to the Houthis either directly to Yemen or via Somalia. This route however risked contact with international naval vessels on patrol in the Gulf of Oman and the Arabian Sea.

For the last six months the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) has begun using waters further up the Gulf between Kuwait and Iran as it looks for new ways to beat an embargo on arms shipments to fellow Shi'ites in the Houthi movement, Western and Iranian sources say.

Using this new route, Iranian ships transfer equipment to smaller vessels at the top of the Gulf, where they face less scrutiny. The transhipments take place in Kuwaiti waters and in nearby international shipping lanes, the sources said.

"Parts of missiles, launchers and drugs are smuggled into Yemen via Kuwaiti waters," said a senior Iranian official. "The route sometimes is used for transferring cash as well."

The official added that "what is especially smuggled recently, or to be precise in the past six months, are parts of missiles that cannot be produced in Yemen".

Cash and drugs can be used to fund Houthi activities, the official said.

Yemen is more than two years into a civil war pitting the Houthis against the government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, which is backed by a Saudi-led coalition. More than 10,000 people have died in fighting and a cholera epidemic has infected more than 300,000 in a country on the brink of famine.

In backing the Houthis against a coalition led by its Sunni enemy Saudi Arabia, Iran is stepping up support for a Shi'ite ally in a war whose outcome could sway the balance of power in the Middle East.

MILITARY EQUIPMENT

Efforts to intercept military equipment by the coalition have had limited success, with no reported maritime seizures of weapons or ammunition during 2017 so far and only a few seizures on the main land route from the east of Yemen.

Independent U.N. investigators, who monitor Yemen sanctions, told the Security Council in their latest confidential report, which Reuters has seen, that they continue to investigate potential arms trafficking routes.

They said the United Arab Emirates - which is part of the coalition - had reported 11 attacks since September 2016 against its ground forces by Houthis using drones, or UAVs, armed with explosives.

"Although Houthi-aligned media announced that the Sanaa-based Ministry of Defence could manufacture the UAV, in reality they are assembled from components supplied by an outside source and shipped into Yemen," the report said.

The report added that the Houthis "will eventually deplete their limited stock of missiles." This would force the Houthis to end a campaign of missile attacks against Saudi territory unless they are resupplied from external sources.

An earlier UN report in January said the Houthis needed to replenish stocks of anti-tank guided weapons.

The arms smuggling operation may not turn the tide of the conflict, but it will allow the Houthis receive stable supplies of equipment that is otherwise hard to obtain.

SAFE ROUTE

"The volume of the activity, I don't call it a trade, is not very large. But it is a safe route," a second senior Iranian official said.

"Smaller Iranian ports are being used for the activity as major ports might attract attention."

Asked if the IRGC was involved, the second official said: "No activity goes ahead in the Gulf without the IRGC being involved. This activity involves a huge amount of money as well as transferring equipment to Iranian-backed groups in their fight against their enemies."

A third senior Iranian official also confirmed the shipment activity and pointed to IRGC involvement.

The IRGC is Iran's most powerful internal and external security force, with a sophisticated intelligence and surveillance network together with elite units which are playing a key role in the war in Syria in support of the government.

The IRGC declined to comment on the arms shipments and Iranian foreign ministry officials could not immediately be reached.

Houthi officials were also not immediately available for comment but in March a Houthi leader, who declined to be identified, said accusations that Iran was smuggling weapons into Yemen were an attempt to cover up Saudi Arabia's failure to prevail in the war there.

Kuwaiti officials did not respond to questions. A U.S. Navy spokesman said he had no information on the matter.

"(The territorial waters of) Iran, Kuwait and Iraq in the northern Persian Gulf butt up against each other," said Gerry Northwood, of maritime security firm MAST and a former British Royal Navy captain who has commanded warships in the region.

"There is still plenty of room for smugglers to operate. In fact the whole Persian Gulf is a hive of small boat activity. And this is in an area where one man's illegitimate trade is another's legitimate trade."

Hundreds of ships sail through the Bab el-Mandeb and Strait of Hormuz every day - waterways which pass along the coasts of Yemen and Iran. Many are small dhows, which are hard to track.

Western shipping and security sources said that since March there had been an increase in suspicious activity involving Iranian-flagged ships in waters near Kuwait.

"Waters around Kuwait are being used by Iranians to funnel ... equipment to Yemen," said an international arms dealer based in the Mediterranean area with knowledge of the matter.

"Consignments are either transferred to other craft, such as small boats, or they are dropped near buoys to be picked up by passing ships."

The arms dealer, who declined to be identified, said there were many coves and deserted bays in neighboring Iraq that also provided opportunities for this type of covert activity.

The Western sources said consignments were transported from smaller Iranian ports across the sea lanes near Kuwait, which is 100 nautical miles from Iran.

To avoid detection, the mainly Iranian-flagged vessels switch off their identification transponders, sometimes for days. They rendezvous with other ships or drop supplies close to buoys, so the consignments can be recovered for onward transport, the sources said.

Cold War Archive: U.S. Diplomats In Moscow Have Endured Without Support Staff Before

U.S. Ambassador to the Soviet Union Arthur A. Hartman (left) presents his credentials to Politburo member Vasily Kuznetsov in 1981.

On the morning of October 24, 1986, U.S. Ambassador to the Soviet Union Arthur Hartman drove himself to work.

Later that day, the ambassador's wife, Donna Hartman, personally served popcorn from a silver bowl to a group of Soviet generals at a Moscow reception, according to a Washington Post report. Behind the scenes, U.S. Marines washed the dishes.

The implementation of Russian President Vladimir Putin's July 30 order that the United States reduce the staff at its diplomatic missions by 755 employees will not be the first time U.S. diplomats in Russia have faced the prospect of enduring without the support of secretaries, drivers, cooks, and other staff.

Late on October 23, 1986, Soviet authorities barred the United States from employing Soviet nationals at its diplomatic missions, effective immediately. Some 260 local staff lost their jobs in the move, which was the culmination of a series of tit-for-tat measures through the year that marked a tense moment in superpower relations. Local hires did not return to U.S. diplomatic missions in the country until after the fall of the Soviet Union.

On October 31, The New York Times reported that Raymond Benson, counselor for press and cultural affairs at the Moscow embassy, spent the day washing cars. Assistant naval attache Gary Barnes was unloading supplies at the embassy commissary.

Mission employees all spent one day every two weeks doing support-staff work until the State Department was able to hire and bring in new workers from the United States.

Continue to read full story

Afghan Governor Accuses Iran Of Supporting Taliban

FILE: Afghan army soldiers inspect a vehicle which was used in a suicide attack in Farah province.

A senior Afghan official has accused Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) of providing sanctuaries and material support to the Afghan Taliban.

The accusations follow allegations by Afghan officials that Tehran’s support enabled the Taliban to briefly capture a district in western Afghanistan last week.

The claims underscore the budding alliance between Iran’s Shi’ite clerical regime and Afghanistan’s hard-line Sunni Taliban, who were once each other’s sworn enemies.

Mohammad Arif Shahjahan, the governor of Farah Province in western Afghanistan, told Radio Free Afghanistan on July 31 that Tehran had provided safe havens to some Taliban leaders.

“Some Taliban leaders travel frequently to Iran,” he said. “They have hideouts there and are being aided with a lot of material resources.”

Shahjahan also said that while supporting the insurgents, operatives from the IRGC’s elite Quds Force recently met and advised the Taliban in Farah’s Pusht-e Koh and Gulistan districts. The Quds Force is IGRC’s special operations unit often seen as responsible for conducting covert operations outside Iran.

He said visits from Quds Force operatives are frequent in Farah, which shares a nearly 300-kilometer porous border with Iran’s southeastern provinces of South Khorasan and Sistan-Baluchistan.

Lawmaker Jamila Amini heads Farah’s provincial council. She told Radio Free Afghanistan that IRGC operatives are even using promises of sought-after residency in Iran to encourage families from various Farah districts to let their younger members fight for the insurgents.

“Iranian interference is direct. It is engaged in encouraging youth to join the insurgency in return for allowing their families to reside in Iran,” she said. “[In most cases,] one member of the family is required to fight in the insurgency in return for his family’s residency in Iran.”

While she and Shahjahan didn’t provide any evidence to back their accusations, Afghan officials in the western provinces bordering Iran are increasingly vocal about Tehran’s interference.

Last week, officials in neighboring Ghor Province accused Tehran of bankrolling a Taliban offensive to briefly overrun Taywara district.

Afghan forces claimed to have recaptured Taywara on July 29 after the Taliban held it for five days.

“Iran has supported the Taliban’s war against Afghan armed forces in Ghor to destroy Salma Dam in the neighboring province of Herat as well as demolishing the Poze Lich Hydropower plant that is currently under construction,” said Fazlul Haq Ihsan, head of Ghor’s provincial council.

Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid rejected accusations that his organization is being aided by Iran, which opposed the Taliban regime in the 1990s. The two came close to war in 1998 following a massacre of Iranian diplomats during the Taliban’s recapture of the northern Afghan city of Mazar-e Sharif.

The Iranian Embassy in Kabul did not respond to requests for comment. Iranian officials, however, have always maintained that they support the government in Kabul.

Incoming Iranian army chief Amir Ahmad Reza Pourdastan recently claimed his country now dominates intelligence over the activities of Islamic State (IS) militants in Afghan and Iraqi provinces along Iran’s border.

“We were able to gain good intelligence on the movements of IS affiliates in Iraq’s Diyala Province and in the three provinces of Afghanistan [bordering Iran],” Pourdastan was quoted as saying by Iran’s Tasnim News Agency.

Iran’s growing alliance with the Taliban is attributed to its quest to guard the ultra-radical IS militants from threatening its southeastern borders with Afghanistan. It is not a coincidence that Taliban militants have systematically eliminated IS cells in the Afghan provinces bordering Iran.

During the past two years, Iran’s alliance with the Taliban has apparently mushroomed to the extent that former Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansur was killed by a U.S. drone attack after returning from Iran in May 2016. Tehran, along with Moscow and Islamabad, is now seen as a major backer of the Afghan Taliban.

Iran’s alleged covert support for the Taliban is not the only issue plaguing relations between the neighboring countries. Earlier this month, Afghan officials reacted strongly to remarks by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani about water projects in Afghanistan.

“We cannot remain indifferent to the issue [water dams], which is apparently damaging our environment,” Rouhani noted. “Construction of several dams in Afghanistan, such as Kajaki, Kamal Khan, Salma, and others in the north and south of Afghanistan, affect our Khorasan and Sistan-Baluchistan provinces.”

Noorullah Shayan contributed reporting from Farah, Afghanistan while Shahpur Sabir contributed reporting from Herat, Afghanistan.

First published on RFE/RL's Gandahara website

Amnesty International Urges Iran To Abolish All Drug Related Executions

Amnesty International (AI) has called for the “total abolishment of death penalty for drug-related offenses”, while labeling Iranian parliament’s recent bill on the subject as “disappointing”.

On July 16, parliament approved generalities of a motion to scrap capital punishment for those who are convicted of petty drug offenses.

Out of 246 MPs present at the session, 182 voted for and 36 voted against the motion while 6 abstained.

Based on the current law, whoever is convicted for manufacturing, distributing, importing or selling more than five kilograms (176 OZ) of hemp, hashish, opium, or more than thirty grams (a little bit more than one ounce) of heroin, cocaine, morphine and their chemical derivatives will face death the penalty.

Nevertheless, according to the spokesman of parliament’s Judicial and Legal Commission, Hassan Norouzi, “Under the new law, if passed, only those who are convicted for manufacturing and distributing more than fifty kilograms of traditional addictive drugs and/or two kilograms of industrial addictive drugs will be executed”.

The revised and detailed version of the bill, if approved, will save thousands of prisoners already on the death row inside Iran’s prisons.

However, Amnesty International and its collaborator, Abdorrahman Boroumand Foundation, have urged the Iranian parliament to seize the historic opportunity to reject the death penalty for drug-related offenses:

“Iranian lawmakers must not miss a historic opportunity to reject the use of the death penalty for drug-related offenses and save the lives of thousands of people across the country.”

“Instead of abolishing the death penalty for drug-related offenses, the Iranian authorities are preparing to adopt a deeply disappointing piece of legislation, which will continue to fuel Iran’s execution machine and help maintain its position as one of the world’s top executioners,” said Magdalena Mughrabi, Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International.

According to Iranian MPs, there are currently an estimated 5,000 people on death row for drug-related offenses across the country. About 90% of them are first-time offenders aged between 20 and 30 years old.

Defending earlier versions of the bill, which were more lenient, Mughrabi accused members of Judicial and Legal Commission of relenting to security agencies and watering down the bill.

“Though this law, if implemented properly, may contribute to a drop in the number of executions, it will still condemn scores of people every year to the gallows for offenses that must never attract the death penalty under international law,” said Magdalena Mughrabi.

“The human toll of Iran’s heavy-handed approach to drug control has been devastating” the statement insists, adding, “The vast majority of the hundreds of executions carried out in Iran each year are for drug-related convictions”.

The statement also reiterates, “Most of those executed come from the poorest and most vulnerable members of society including Afghans and ethnic and religious minorities. A high-ranking official recently stated that since 1988 Iran has put to death a staggering 10,000 people for drug-related offenses”.

According to Iranian MPs, there are currently an estimated 5,000 people on death row for such offenses across the country. About 90% of them are first-time offenders aged between 20 and 30 years old.

AI and its partner are calling on Iran’s parliament to urgently amend the proposed legislation to bring it into line with Iran’s obligations under international human rights law, which absolutely prohibits use of the death penalty for non-lethal crimes.

However, many judicial authorities and conservative allies of the Supreme Leader, ayatollah Ali Khamenei, are against applying limits on the death penalty, maintaining that it would weaken Iran’s resolve in its campaign against the country’s growing drug crisis, Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) reported on July 7.

The latest opposition came from the head of the prosecutor’s office in Khorasan Razavi Province, Ali Mozaffari, who accused parliament of trying to appease Western governments that have criticized Iran’s high rate of executions, CHRI added.

The amended bill, if finally approved in parliament, needs the Guardian Council’s ratification to become a binding law.

Iran Condemns Sanctions, Says It Will Pursue Missile Program 'With Full Power'

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi

Iran has condemned new sanctions passed by the U.S. Congress over its missile program and vowed to continue it.

"We will continue with full power our missile program," Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi was quoted as telling state-controlled television on July 29.

"We condemn the hostile and unacceptable action," he said of the sanctions.

Ghasemi said Tehran considers consider the action by the United States as “hostile, reprehensible, and unacceptable,” adding that “it’s ultimately an effort to weaken the nuclear deal.”

Under the 2015 nuclear agreement with the United States and other world powers, Iran has significantly limited its nuclear activities in exchange for sanctions relief.

INFOGRAPHIC: Iran And Its Missiles (click to view)

Iran maintains that the missiles that it tests don't violate its nuclear agreement with world powers because they are for defensive purposes.

"The military and missile fields...are our domestic policies and others have no right to intervene or comment on them,” Ghasemi said.

"We reserve the right to reciprocate and make an adequate response to the U.S. actions," he added.

The sanctions bill, which also targets Russia and North Korea, was passed by the U.S. Senate late last week, after being approved by the House of Representatives.

The new legislation would impose mandatory penalties on people involved in Iran's ballistic-missile program and anyone who does business with them. The measure would designate the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) as a terrorist organization and enforce an arms embargo against Iran.

White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders has said that President Donald Trump will sign the bill into law.

Separately on July 28, the U.S. Treasury Department imposed sanctions on six subsidiaries of an Iranian company that it said was "central" to Tehran's ballistic-missile program.

Treasury said the new U.S. sanctions announced were in response to Iran’s “continued provocative actions,” such as the July 27 rocket launch.

“The U.S. government will continue to aggressively counter Iran’s ballistic-missile-related activity, whether it be a provocative space launch, its development of threatening ballistic-missile systems, or likely support to Yemeni Huthi missile attacks on Saudi Arabia," Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said on July 28.

Mnuchin said the sanctions “underscore the United States’ deep concerns with Iran’s continued development and testing of ballistic missiles and other provocative behavior.”

Also on July 28, Britain, France, and Germany joined the U.S. in condemning Iran's launch of a satellite-carrying rocket and warned that it runs counter to a UN resolution carrying out the 2015 nuclear deal.

In a joint statement, they urged Iran to stop developing missiles and rockets that are capable of carrying nuclear warheads and have "a destabilizing impact on the region."

With reporting by AFP and AP

Is Ahamdinejad Spearheading a New Opposition In Iran?

Iranian former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (C) and his close advisors Hamid Baghaei (R) and Esfandiar Rahim Mashei (3rd L).

The following analysis is based on an op-ed by Radio Farda analyst Majid Mohammadi and a number of interviews and discussions on Farda's radio programs.

In recent days Iran's former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his close allies have harshly attacked the establishment of the Islamic Republic, calling them “tyrants”, “corrupt” and predicted their “imminent fall”.

Observers now ask whether Ahmadinejad is about to form a new opposition that operates outside the norms of the Islamic Republic?

During its 38 year existence, the Iranian regime has been successful in eliminating all opposition groups and parties within the country that challenged its structure and leaders.

The “wagon of the system”, as the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei refers to the circle of the ruling elite, has been so cramped that even several high-ranking officials, including former presidents, have been kicked out of it.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who served two terms as Iran's president from 2005 to 2013, is one of them. He was barred by Khamenei for running as a candidate in the May’s presidential election.

But he did not obey the leader, signed up for the election and consequently was disqualified by the Guardian Council that is under the control of the leader.

Many thought that Ahmadinejad’s political career is over and he will retreat from the scene and return to his private life.

But his controversial public appearances, including the one on Wednesday July 26th let observers speculate that he had not only an astonishing perseverance, but had a long-term plan for creating a new opposition force that challenges the traditional framework.

In such a role, Ahmadinejad will not only face a significant segment of conservatives camped around Khamenei, but also so called reformists and pragmatists, such as president Rouhani.

To gain supporters, Ahmadinejad constantly refers to two completely contradictory ideologies, namely the apocalyptic ideas of the Shiites and the Iran’s ancient glories, said Taghi Rahmani, an Iranian political activist residing in France, in an interview with Radio Farda.

Ahmadinejad will not only face a significant segment of conservatives camped around Khamenei, but also so called reformists and pragmatists, such as president Rouhani.

The former president who was reluctant to make any compromise on Iran's nuclear program during his presidency, could also benefit from the increasing pressure by the United States on his country that would make it impossible for President Rouhani’s government to benefit from the nuclear agreement and improve the economic situation, wrote the sociologist Majid Mohammadi in an op-ed for Radio Farda.

Ahmadinejad has criticized the nuclear deal on several occasions, suggesting that Rouhani's government made too many concessions for little reward. If the nuclear deal will not have tangible effects on Iran's economy in the coming years, it could be used by Rouhani’s opponents as a propaganda tool, added Mohammadi.

However, the path for Ahmadinejad’s comeback is very narrow and tightly controlled.

The former president is well aware that the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei and the Guardian Council are determined not to allow him to return to power due to his disobedience. Therefore he is looking for an opportunity such as the death of the leader in order to implement his plan, wrote the sociologist Majid Mohammadi.

It is difficult to predict what Ahmadinejad's plans exactly are, in a long shot scenario of success. Even more difficult is to imagine him and his allies as agents of meaningful change to Iran.

White House Says Trump Will Sign Russia-Iran Sanctions Bill

U.S. President Donald Trump (right) has said he wanted to improve relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin

The White House announced late on July 28 that U.S. President Donald Trump has decided to sign legislation strengthening sanctions against Russia over its alleged meddling in the U.S. presidential election.

The same legislation also brings new sanctions against Iran for its continued ballistic missile tests that U.S. and its allies believe violates a U.N. resolution passed in 2015, urging Iran to refrain from potential nuclear capable missile development.

The surprise announcement came hours after Russia announced retaliatory measures over the legislation, ordering potentially deep cuts in U.S. diplomatic staff in Russia and the seizing some U.S. diplomatic property in Moscow.

Enactment of the legislation, which cements into law an array of strong sanctions against Russia for its alleged election meddling and aggression in Ukraine, dashes hopes of any immediate improvement in relations between Moscow and Washington as espoused by Trump during his campaign.

Trump's decision acquiesced to the reality that Congress almost certainly could have overridden a veto of the legislation, fueled by bipartisan concern that media reports and investigations in Congress and the Justice Department recently have appeared to uncover some evidence of attempts by Russia to collude with Trump's election campaign.

But White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said that a deciding factor was Trump's satisfaction that he was able to secure changes in some "critical elements" of the bill which she did not identify.

The White House had objected to a key provision that requires Trump to get approval from Congress to waive any of the bill's sanctions against Russia, and that provision was not changed.

But other provisions barring U.S. energy companies from participating in oil and gas projects anywhere in the world if Russian energy firms are participating were modified after lobbying by the White House and American oil companies.

Also, House leaders added sanctions against North Korea to the bill, in a move that pleased the White House, officials said.

Another factor may have been Russia's offer to try to keep cooperating with the administration and improving relations despite what Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov described as the "hostile" measures in the bill.

In a phone call with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, "Lavrov confirmed that our country is still ready to normalize bilateral relations with the United States and to cooperate on the most important international issues," the Russian Foreign Ministry said on July 28.

"However this is possible only on the basis of equality, mutual respect, and a balancing of interests," it said.

The ministry said the two top diplomats "agreed to maintain contact on a range of bilateral issues." The State Department did not provide a reading on the conversation.

Russia's new envoy at the United Nations also extended an offer of cooperation on July 28 even as he said the sanctions legislation has plunged U.S.-Russian relations to "rock bottom" levels lower than those reached during the Cold War.

"We will continue to cooperate," Russian UN ambassador Vasily Nebenzya said in New York. "The Americans cannot do without us and we cannot do without them. such is reality. Certainly, we will be working to resolve those unprecedented problems that have emerged in the world before our very eyes," he said.

Russia earlier in the day directed the United States to reduce the size of its diplomatic staff in the country and said it will seize a U.S. Embassy dacha and storage warehouses in Moscow, hitting back at the sanctions bill passed overwhelmingly by the U.S. Senate and sent to the White House on July 27.

The bill cements into law existing sanctions on Russia over its alleged election meddling and aggression in Ukraine, and adds new measures penalizing Russia's military intervention in Syria while requiring Trump to secure Congress' approval to ease or waive those sanctions. It also contains tough sanctions against Iran and North Korea.

“The passage of the new law on sanctions shows with all obviousness that relations with Russia have become hostage to the domestic political battle within the United States,” Russia's Foreign Ministry said, adding that "the latest events show that in well-known circles in the United States, Russophobia and a course toward open confrontation with our country have taken hold.”

Russia directed the United States to reduce diplomatic staff in Russia to 455 people by September 1, saying that is the number of diplomats and other personnel at embassies and consulates in the United States after former President Barack Obama's administration expelled 35 Russian diplomats in December in his response to alleged Russian meddling in the U.S. election and ill-treatment of U.S. diplomats in Russia.

The current number of U.S. personnel in Russia was not immediately clear. Russian news agency Interfax cited a source it did not identify as saying the United States would have to cut "hundreds of diplomatic and technical staff," while state-run RIA cited a source it did not identify as saying the number was 200-300.

Russia also said that as of August 1, the United States would be barred from using warehouses that it has used in Moscow and from a modest property in the capital's leafy Serebryanny Bor district that is used by U.S. Embassy mainly for events such as parties and barbeques.

With reporting by AP, AFP, Reuters, TASS, Interfax, Bloomberg, and New York Times

Khamenei And The New Cabinet

Iran's supreme Leader Ali Khamenei (L), in a meeting with Rouhani's cabinet on August 2016.

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei had no interference in selecting cabinet ministers, according to one of his official websites.

When it comes to picking cabinet ministers, “the leader’s only concern is their efficiency,” the July 28 statement insisted.

Furthermore, the statement has asserted that “Khamenei’s approach toward cabinets” has always been to fully support every administration.

It denied recent “widespread rumors” that Khamenei had personally been involved in “selecting every single minister” of the future cabinet of President Hassan Rouhani.

While the countdown for Rouhani’s second-term swearing in has started, a number of MPs have recently claimed they’ve heard the president will pick all of his future ministers in coordination with the supreme leader.

According to Iranian law, presidents are not legally obliged to receive the leader’s approval before nominating ministers. However, over the past several decades, it has become a tradition for presidents to consult the leader before choosing their cabinet members.

“As a rule, presidents pick two to three of their ministers in coordination with the leader,” outspoken Tehran MP Mahmoud Sadeghi recently wrote on Twitter. “Yet Rouhani says he will select all of his ministers through coordination with the leader.”

Another vociferous Tehran MP, Ali Motahari, went further, explicitly opposing Rouhani’s rumored new approach.

“If that’s the case, all of the MPs will be reluctant to oppose any minister introduced to the Iranian Parliament,” he cautioned.

According to Iranian law, presidents are not legally obliged to receive the leader’s approval before nominating ministers.

However, over the past several decades, it has become a tradition for presidents to consult the leader before choosing their cabinet members.

In the statement, the supreme leader’s official website tried to dismiss the precedent as a “rumor” made up by an “internal news trend” backed by “foreign media’s full-volume coverage.”

By mentioning "foreign media" in such a context, Islamic Republic officials usually make an indirect reference to the Persian services of VOA, BBC and Radio Farda.

Nevertheless, the statement admits that the supreme leader has a direct involvement in choosing persons to supervise the three key ministries of defense, foreign affairs, and intelligence.

Moreover, the statement highlights what it calls “the leader’s concern” for other ministries. “Regarding some ministries, including the ministries of science, education and culture, although the leader is sensitive, he does not interfere in the process of selecting them,” it said.

Pointing to Khamenei’s repeated recommendations for the government’s responsibility in resolving people’s economic difficulties, the statement maintains, “The wicked, who bear nothing but ill-will toward Iran and its people, have attempted to interpret such emphasis into the leader’s opposition toward the [Rouhani’s] administration.”

“Khamenei has strongly supported Rouhani’s administration in recent years,” it added.

Nonetheless, the statement clearly presents a guideline for Rouhani on how to select his next cabinet members.

Rouhani has not yet commented on the procedure for filling the 22 cabinet posts.

US House Calls For Release Of American Prisoners In Iran

Family of Robert Levinson in a hearing in Congress on Tuesday July 25, 2017.

The US House of Representative passed a resolution on Wednesday, July 26, 2017 urging Islamic Republic of Iran to release American prisoners being held as hostages.

Lawmakers approved the resolution by a voice vote a day after passing a sanctions package that included measures targeting Iran for its ballistic missile development.

“I hope that this resolution sends a strong message to Iran that this practice will not be tolerated," said Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), the author of the resolution and chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Sub-Committee.

"I hope that it sends a strong message to our own administration that Congress is heavily invested in the fate of Americans being held by Iran,” she added.

The bipartisan resolution was cosponsored by Reps. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), Ted Poe (R-Texas) and Ted Deutch (D-Fla.).

Prior to this resolution, White House issued a statement condemning the Islamic Republic policy of hostage taking.

“The United States condemns hostage takers and nations that continue to take hostages and detain our citizens without just cause or due process,” the White House statement read. “President Trump is prepared to impose new and serious consequences on Iran unless all unjustly imprisoned American citizens are released and returned.”

The Trump administration called on Iran to return Robert Levinson, who has been missing for more than a decade, along with father and son Baquer and Siamak Namazi, who were detained in 2015 and 2016.

In an exclusive interview with Nader Sadighi, Radio Farda senior Correspondent in Washington, Mrs. Levinson and her two sons urged the Iranian government to return Robert Levinson after ten years of captivity.

Radio Farda interview with Levinson family
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Nizar Zakka a US permanent resident who is also detained for a year in Iran over spying allegations has been sentenced to 10 years in prison and a $4.2 million fine, according to Jason Poblete Garcia his American attorney.

In an interview with Radio Farda he said the Iranian authorities have not been cooperative with Mr. Zakka's case.

Radio Farda interview with Nizar Zakka's attorney
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Shah Anniversary Reflects Iranians’ Current Dissatisfaction

Mohammad Reza Pahlavi - Last Shah of Iran

July 26 marked the 37th anniversary of the death of Iran’s last king, Mohammad Reza Shah. To mark the occasion, Farah Pahlavi, the country’s last queen, issued a statement saying the Shah loved Iran and had nothing on his mind except serving his country.

It was his dream to deliver a progressive country with a sustainable economic foundation and a humane and democratic social system along with individual freedoms, social justice, and economic democracy for future generations, Queen Farah added in her message.

While he has still many critics who see the Shah as a dictator and traitor, the number of Iranians who agree with the queen’s statement has been on the rise.

Today, many Iranians refer to him as the “blessed” king and believe that everything -- from economy and politics to culture and society -- was better in his time. In 1979, the Shah was ousted following a revolution led by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and supported by millions of Iranians.

Photo dated October 1971 of Shah Mohammed Reza Palhavi and his wife, Queen Farah Diba, arriving at a commemoration of the 2500th anniversary of the Persian monarchy in Persepolis. / AFP PHOTO / STF
Photo dated October 1971 of Shah Mohammed Reza Palhavi and his wife, Queen Farah Diba, arriving at a commemoration of the 2500th anniversary of the Persian monarchy in Persepolis. / AFP PHOTO / STF

Khomeini accused the Shah of being a corrupt dictator and a puppet of the United States and Israel and promised to create a free and prosperous country independent of the West and the East. However, the next four decades looked completely different: a lack of political and social freedoms, military and political conflicts with other countries, and international isolation and sanctions were the results of policies by the new rulers of Iran. Many Iranians thought that, for these reasons, the revolution had been a mistake.

Iranians no longer saw the world as black and white and no longer believed the Shah was a traitor, said Majid Tafreshi, a historian based in London, in an interview with Radio Farda.

The change in the perception of many Iranians was also visible during last year’s celebration of King Cyrus the Great, the founder of the Achaemenid Empire at his tomb in southern Iran. During the ceremony, dozens of participants -- mostly young people who had not experienced the Shah’s era personally -- cherished the Pahlavi dynasty and unleashed pro-monarchy slogans.

Pasargadae gathering in 2016, Cyrus Day, which turned into a loud protest against the Islamic regime and pro-monarchy slogans were heard.
Pasargadae gathering in 2016, Cyrus Day, which turned into a loud protest against the Islamic regime and pro-monarchy slogans were heard.

“People say God bless Mohammad Reza Shah. That means they appreciate him,” said Queen Farah. Once, she had even met an Iranian ambassador on a flight who approached her and showed her great respect, she told Radio Farda.

Mohammad Reza Shah owes his new popularity to the comparison between today’s Iran and the Iran of the past, said Houshang Nahavandi, who served as science minister under the Shah. He could never reach that level of popularity even if he had spent billions of dollars, Nahavndi added.

But not everybody agrees with this assessment.

“In the past 15 years of his reign, the Shah treated his own people wrongly and made obvious mistakes in this regard,” Farrokh Negahdar, a former leader of a communist party operating before the 1979 revolution, told Radio Farda.

Despite his achievements, the revolution against the Shah happened for genuine reasons, said Mehdi Fatapour, one of Negahdar’s former colleagues. Suppression, dictatorship, and heterogeneity between the ruling elite and the Iranian society were real factors that contributed to the fall of Mohammad Reza Shah.

Tafreshi warns against misinterpreting the sentiments among Iranians.

"People say that during the Shah’s time bread was cheaper, foreign currency was cheaper, food items were cheaper. Therefore they say, ‘God bless him.’ This is a type of protest against the existing situation. It doesn’t mean they have become Shah admirers," he said.

But there is a popular perception that the Shah and his heir, Prince Reza Pahlavi have gained a significant measure of popularity in Iran, forty years after a sweeping revolution.

U.S. Says Iran's Latest Satellite Rocket Test Violates UN Resolutions

Iran's Simorgh rocket (file photo)

The United States has accused Iran of flouting a United Nations Security Council resolution by launching its most advanced satellite-carrying rocket to date.

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert on July 27 said the "provocative act" also violates the "spirit" of Tehran's 2015 nuclear agreement with world powers.

"We consider that to be continued ballistic-missile development," Nauert said.

Iranian state television showed footage of the Simorgh (Phoenix) rocket being launched carrying pictures of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and said the rocket can put a 250-kilogram satellite into an orbit 500 kilometers high.

The State Department said that type of technology is inherently designed to carry a nuclear payload, and Pentagon officials have said the technology can be used to develop long-range intercontinental ballistic missiles.

The UN Security Council resolution passed in 2015 to carry out the nuclear deal discourages but doesn't explicitly prohibit Iran from launching ballistic missiles that could carry a nuclear warhead.

Iran has said its missiles are needed for self-defense and has argued that its missiles and rockets are not intended to carry nuclear warheads because it is no longer developing such weapons in keeping with its obligations under the nuclear deal in exchange for relief from international sanctions.

Iran also denies Western accusations that its space program is a cover for developing weapons and last year sought to increase cooperation with other nations on joint international space projects.

China's ambassador to the UN, Liu Jieyi, who has veto powers on the UN Security Council, appeared to back Iran in its dispute with the United States on July 27, telling AP that the latest rocket launch was not "within the scope" of the nuclear agreement.

The United States has insisted, however, that such missile and satellite tests violate the "spirit" of the nuclear deal and has announced a series of sanctions targeting missile tests since the deal was signed.

A sanctions bill passed by the U.S. Congress this week would seal into law sanctions on Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps over its ballistic missile program.

The July 27 Simorgh rocket launch was the first from the new Imam Khomeini National Space Center, named after the Islamic republic's founder and located in Semnan, some 220 kilometers east of Tehran.

The Simorgh is a two-stage rocket first revealed in 2010. It is larger than an earlier model known as the Safir (Ambassador), which Iran used for previous satellite launches.

Iran has sent several short-lived satellites into orbit over the past decade, and in 2013 launched a monkey into space. But it recently abandoned plans to send humans into orbit, saying the cost was too high.

While Iran says its space program is peaceful, its satellite-launch program is operated by the Defense Ministry, feeding suspicions among Western intelligence agencies that Tehran is covertly developing weapons capabilities through the program.

With reporting by AP, AFP, and Reuters

Iranian Hackers Used Female 'Honey Pot' To Lure Targets - Researchers

(Reuters) - Hackers believed to be working for the Iranian government have impersonated a young female photographer on social media for more than a year, luring men working in industries strategically important to Tehran's regional adversaries, according to research published Thursday.

The so-called Mia Ash persona has been active on sites including LinkedIn, Facebook Inc, WhatsApp and Blogger since at least April of last year, researchers at Dell SecureWorks said.

The campaign showed Iran engaged in a social engineering plot to ensnare its targets with a "honey pot", a classic espionage trap often involving seduction, more commonly used by criminal hackers.

Dell SecureWorks observed Mia Ash sending specific malware, concealed as a "photography survey" with an attachment, to a victim that matched malware sent by Iranian hacking group Cobalt Gypsy during an unsuccessful "spearphishing" email attempt to the same victim's employer in January.

The malware, known as PupyRAT, would give an attacker complete control of a compromised computer and access to network credentials, suggesting government espionage. The researchers did not have visibility into how many targets were compromised or what Mia Ash sought to gain with the access.

The fake profile used publicly available social media images of a real photographer based in eastern Europe to create an identity of an attractive woman in her mid-twenties who lived in London and enjoyed travel, soccer, and popular musicians including Ed Sheeran and Ellie Goulding, Dell SecureWorks said. Her social media biographies appeared to lift details from a New York photographer's LinkedIn profile.

Dell SecureWorks said it had high confidence Mia Ash was created and operated by the Iranian hacking group known as Cobalt Gypsy.

Iranian officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Mia Ash primarily lured middle-aged men who worked as technicians and engineers at oil and gas, aerospace and telecommunications firms in the Middle East that had been previously targeted by the same group. Those include Saudi Arabia and Israel in addition to India and the United States.

Mia Ash's victims failed to notice that none of her profiles included a way to contact her for photography services, according to Allison Wikoff, a senior security researcher at Dell SecureWorks who tracked Mia Ash's activity.

"These guys aren't hiring her for photography," Wikoff said. "Their main thing is, 'Wow, she's young, she's cute, she likes to travel, she's whimsical'."

LinkedIn removed the fake Mia Ash profile before Dell SecureWorks finished its research, Wikoff said.

Facebook, where Mia Ash listed her relationship status as "it's complicated," took down the profile last week after being contacted by Dell SecureWorks.

Cobalt Gypsy, also known as OilRig, has been previously accused of operating a network of fake LinkedIn profiles to pose as recruiters at major companies, including Northrop Grumman Corp and General Motors Co, but the Mia Ash persona showed an elevated level of persistence, Wikoff said.

Western security officials for years have considered Iran to be among the most sophisticated nation-state cyber adversaries, along with Russia, China and North Korea.

Another report released this week by researchers at Tokyo-based Trend Micro and ClearSky of Israel described efforts to impersonate major technology brands including Twitter Inc and Microsoft Corp by another hacking group widely suspected of having links to Iran.

Why It’s Risky For The U.S. To Label Iran’s IRGC A Terror Group

An IRGC navy boat heads towards the USS Thunderbolt in the Gulf, July 25, 2017

By Maysam Behravesh

July 26 (Reuters) - Once again, the U.S. Navy has opened fire on an Iranian vessel in the Gulf. U.S. sailors fired warning shots Tuesday after the Iranian patrol boat – apparently operated by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) – came within 150 yards of the USS Thunderbolt.

U.S. and Iranian ships have had tense encounters before, but these confrontations could become even more common - and potentially dangerous - if Washington intensifies its efforts to put more pressure on Tehran in general and the Revolutionary Guards in particular.

Donald Trump has made no secret of his desire to dismantle the Obama administration’s multilateral nuclear agreement with Tehran, describing it as “the worst deal ever.” On July 17, the U.S. president reluctantly certified, for the second time since his election, that Iran is complying with the terms of the nuclear pact known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

A day later, his administration imposed new sanctions against Tehran over its ballistic missile program, targeting 18 new entities and individuals for involvement in what it described as Iranian “malign activities” in the Middle East. Those sanctioned included backers of the IRGC, Iran’s powerful military and security organization. Founded in the wake of the 1979 Iranian Revolution and acting independently of the regular army, the IRGC is also one of Iran’s most powerful economic institutions, controlling several of its strategic industries as well as some of its armed forces.

Washington’s ongoing efforts to put more pressure on the IRGC and proposals to designate it as a terrorist entity have raised tensions between the two old nemeses to a new level in the post-JCPOA era.

On the day that Trump confirmed Tehran’s nuclear observance, Iranian armed forces chief of staff Major General Mohammad Baqeri warned that incorporating IRGC in the blacklist of terrorist organizations could pose “a big risk for American and its bases and forces” in the region. In a similar reaction and shortly after the new U.S. penalties were announced, IRGC commander Major General Mohammad Ali Jafari warned that should Washington want to press ahead with the terrorist designation scheme, “it should dismantle its bases within up to 1,000 kilometers of Iran.”

Details of Tuesday’s maritime confrontation are still murky, and threatening bluster by officials on both sides is not new. However, the incident does underscore that Tehran can employ a number of options to jeopardize U.S. interests in the Middle East.

Though all American forces based in the wider region - from the Fifth Fleet in Bahrain to the Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar to the Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan - are within the reach of Iranian missiles, the IRGC is unlikely to deploy them in response to U.S. sanctions. Tehran’s military doctrine centers mainly on defense and a direct missile attack is not usually the IRGC’s modus operandi.

However, Tuesday’s incident underscores that the Revolutionary Guards can resort to aggressive behavior against U.S. vessels in the Persian Gulf. In the starkest instance, Guard members embarrassed Washington by seizing 10 American crew members from two Navy boats that blundered into Iranian territorial waters in January 2016.

The IRGC could also target U.S. forces without directly confronting them by deploying the proxy networks it has cultivated across the Middle East since the early 1980s. In the absence of reliable conventional allies, these networks typically form a key component of Iran’s “deterrence” strategy.

The IRGC has particularly close ties with Lebanon’s powerful Hezbollah group. Tehran has traditionally relied on Hezbollah to confront Israel, but has also used its fighters for high-profile missions. On 18 July 2012, a suicide bomb attack on a tourist bus in the Bulgarian resort of Burgas killed five Israelis. U.S. intelligence officials believe that the allegedly Hezbollah-led attack was retaliation for the assassination of Iranian nuclear scientists, which Tehran suspected was orchestrated by Israel.

The IRGC could also use its surrogates to exploit U.S. vulnerabilities in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Iraq’s predominantly Shia al-Hashd al-Shaabi or Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), with an estimated force of over 60,000 fighters, includes groups that are heavily backed and influenced by Iran, including the Badr Organization, Kata’ib Hezbollah and Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq that many in Washington believe were behind deadly rocket attacks and roadside bombings that killed hundreds of American forces during the U.S. occupation of Iraq.

Tehran could also increase the pressure on American forces in Afghanistan by doubling down on military backing of the Taliban. As tensions have flared between the United States on the one hand and Iran and Russia on the other, the latter have already boosted support for the Taliban insurgents.

With the growing engagement of the United States in the Syrian civil war under the Trump administration, Tehran could pursue a similar course in Syria too. U.S.-backed forces fighting Islamic State militants in the northeastern and eastern regions of the country would be particularly vulnerable.

A Washington designation of the IRGC as a terrorist entity is unlikely to restrain the group. On the contrary, the label could even embolden the Corps to behave more aggressively by removing its reason for restraint. And that, in turn, could further destabilize the region.

(Maysam Behravesh is an affiliated researcher at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies, Lund University, Sweden. The opinions expressed here are his own.)

New U.S. Sanctions A ‘Black Hole’ Swallowing Iran

Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Republican Ed Royce speaks during a news conference following a Republican caucus meeting, on Capitol Hill in Washington, July 25, 2017

The U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a bill on July 25 imposing new sanctions against Iran, Russia, and North Korea. If approved by Congress and signed into law by President Donald Trump, the bill will have serious repercussions for Iran, writes Radio Farda's economic analyst, Fereydoun Khavand.

It is like a black hole that swallows everything around it, commented the ultra-conservative Iranian newspaper Keyhan on the day of the bill’s passing. “If the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) is designated as a terrorist organization, it will drag major parts of the state, including the government and other branches, into the list of sanctioned entities,” added the newspaper, which is directly controlled by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

In fact, the new bill connects IRGC directly to terrorist activities. “The Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps–Quds Force (in this section referred to as the ‘IRGC–QF’) is the primary arm of the government of Iran for executing its policy of supporting terrorist and insurgent groups. The IRGC–QF provides material, logistical assistance, training, and financial support to militants and terrorist operatives throughout the Middle East and South Asia and was designated for the imposition of sanctions by the Secretary of the Treasury pursuant to Executive Order 13224,” wrote the U.S. representatives in their resolution.

“The IRGC, not just the IRGC–QF, is responsible for implementing Iran’s international program of destabilizing activities, support for acts of international terrorism, and ballistic missile program,” the resolution continued.

Considering that verbiage of the bill, one can conclude that Keyhan is not wrong about its consequences. Even if the IRGC isn’t officially designated as a terrorist organization, it will more or less have the same effect if the new sanctions bill becomes law.

The IRGC is like an octopus with its arms all over the country’s economy, from oil and gas, the automotive industry, the construction of roads, dams, and buildings, to tourism and the film industry.

Foreign companies that intend to invest in Iran can hardly avoid entities connected to the IRGC.

Iran was already facing difficulties convincing major international companies to invest in the country because they were afraid of possible punishment by the U.S. government. If the IRGC is designated a terrorist organization, Europeans will be much more careful in their business with Iran.

It would be extremely difficult for foreign companies interested in investing in Iran to navigate the domestic banking and business arena, given the IRGC’s entanglement with hundreds of Iranian banks and companies. If a foreign company deals with any domestic Iranian firm with links to the IRGC, a case of sanctions violation might emerge.

Europeans seem already aware of the possible complications. The French media have said big companies such as Citroen, Peugeot, Renault, Airbus, and Total will face problems if the new sanctions are imposed on Iran.

France's Foreign Ministry said on July 26 that the new U.S. sanctions against Iran, Russia, and North Korea appeared at odds with international law due to their extra-territorial reach. The Foreign Ministry said in a statement that French and European laws would need to be adjusted in response and added that discussions would be necessary at the European Union level because of the potential impact on European citizens and firms.

“One of the goals of the United States is to enforce the self-sanction phenomenon inside Iran,” wrote the Keyhan newspaper. Based on its definition, “self-sanction” means that Iranian banks and entities would be forced to stop cooperating with the IRGC and its subsidiaries.

Iranian TV Personality Who Promoted Compulsory Islamic Dress Under Fire Over Photos

For years, Iranian TV star Azadeh Namdari has promoted the wearing of Islamic dress.  (file photo)

A well-known Iranian television personality has been accused of hypocrisy after images of her in which she is not adhering to the country's Islamic dress code surfaced online.

Presenter turned actress Azadeh Namdari has for years promoted compliance with the hijab, which in Iran refers to Islamic dress that covers the hair and body.

In particular she has touted the wearing of the black chador, a garment that covers women from head to toe, leaving the face exposed.

In a 2014 interview, she said she was proud to be a chadori, an expression used in Iran to refer to women who choose to wear the chador, which has been praised by conservatives as offering women the best protection.

Women's dress has been heavily scrutinized in the Islamic republic since the 1979 revolution, when adherence to an Islamic dress code became compulsory.

The dress code dictates that women's hair and body must be covered in public. According to the Islamic rules, women are not required to wear the hijab when at home and among close relatives.

Morality police launch regular crackdowns on those who are not fully respecting rules relating to the hijab.

"You have to believe to be a chadori. [Otherwise] you'll be exposed," she said in the interview with the hard-line Vatan-e Emruz daily.

"Thank God that I went on air, I was a chadori. I felt safe and I felt respected. All of these are blessings that the chador has brought me," Namdari said in the interview.

"I apologize for saying that, but I'm more beautiful with this chador," she added in the front-page interview.

On Instagram she often posted pictures of herself wearing a black chador. During a recent trip to Geneva she posted a photo of herself wearing her black chador outside the United Nations Office.

Continue to read full story

Iran's Chief Justice Goes After Whistleblowing MP

Iranian MP Mahmood Sadeghi

Once it was just a rumor published by an Iranian source that professional journalists had a problem believing: Every year, millions of dollars of the Judiciary's income poured into the private accounts of judiciary chief Ayatollah Sadegh Larijani.

However, it became top news last November when an MP, Mahmoud Sadeghi, spoke of it in a public session of the Iranian Parliament and requested the judiciary come clean on the allegations.

Despite parliamentary immunity, dozens of security forces gathered in front of Sadeghi’s house a few days later to arrest him. But the house Speaker Ali Larijani and his deputy, Ali Motahari, intervened, and the whistleblower Sadeghi was spared.

For his part, Sadegh Larijani, who has been appointed by the supreme leader and loyal to him, never provided a convincing explanation. Without providing any evidence, he just called the allegations lies spread by his opponents with the goal to harm his institution.

It is worth noting, that the Iranian Judiciary, much like the military, is controlled by the Supreme Leader, ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Larijani is not just fully loyal to Khamenei but he condones and assists almost all anti-media and anti-opposition measures.

Head of Judiciary Sadegh Larijani (R), with Major General Mohammad Ali Jafari, during a meeting with revolutionary guards commanders, on Saturday September 17, 2016.
Head of Judiciary Sadegh Larijani (R), with Major General Mohammad Ali Jafari, during a meeting with revolutionary guards commanders, on Saturday September 17, 2016.

But MP Sadeghi did not bow to intimidation. This March, he again attacked Larijani’s empire. Quoting a report by the National Organization of Investigations, which oversees the work of public entities, Sadeghi announced that in violation of the law, the judiciary had paid more than $75 million in extra salaries and bonuses to its employees.

At the time of this revelation, the country was on the verge of the presidential election, and one of the major criticism of conservative rivals of incumbent President Hassan Rouhani was the so-called astronomic salaries some of the managers of public companies, such as banks, had collected.

The issue was poised to become a symbol of corruption for Rouhani’s government, but Sadeghi’s revelations gave Rouhani and his supporters a strong case against his main rival, Ebrahim Raeisi, a former high-ranking official of the judiciary who tried to capitalize on anti-Rouhani allegations.

More than three months after Sadeghi’s speech in parliament, the Iran Newspaper reported on July 24 that a court had found it guilty of “spreading lies with the purpose of incitement” because it had published the speech. The newspaper argued in court that it had taken the speech from parliament’s official news website, but the court would not accept this defense.

Shortly after, MP Sadeghi tweeted that he had also been indicted by Tehran’s prosecutor for the speech.

Iran's Ayatollah Khamenei meeting Sadeq Larijani, head of judiciary, and his deputy, Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejei, in Tehran, 29 Jun 2016
Iran's Ayatollah Khamenei meeting Sadeq Larijani, head of judiciary, and his deputy, Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejei, in Tehran, 29 Jun 2016

This was not the first time MPs have been prosecuted for doing their job, Ehsan Mehrabi, an Iranian journalist residing in Germany, told Radio Farda.

“The Iranian judiciary does not respect the law regarding the immunity of members of the parliament and is summoning them all the time. Newspapers have been punished or banned for publishing their speeches,” he said.

Sometimes judicial officials even contact newspapers in advance and warn them not to publish certain speeches by MPs, he added.

This time, Sadeghi was summoned to the “delegation for overseeing MPs performance” and not just a regular court.

“The fact that they did not try to arrest me at night was a step forward,” Sadeghi wrote on Twitter.

Russia, EU Criticize U.S. Sanctions Legislation

Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov (file photo)

Russian officials and lawmakers are sharply criticizing U.S. legislation that would impose new sanctions on Moscow and make it harder for President Donald Trump to ease or lift punitive measures.

The European Union also voiced concern on July 26, saying it is ready to take swift action if the legislation passed by the U.S. House of Representatives a day earlier ends up undermining EU energy security.

In Moscow, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said the House vote was a "step toward the destruction of prospects for the normalization of relations" between Washington and Moscow.

"We have said dozens of times that these actions will not be left without a response," state-run Russian news agency TASS quoted Ryabkov, the Foreign Ministry's point man for relations with the United States, as saying.

Ryabkov told the Interfax news agency the new sanctions are pushing Russia and the U.S. "into uncharted territory both in political and diplomatic sense."

The bill, which would also impose new sanctions on Iran and North Korea, passed in a near-unanimous vote of 419-3 on July 25.

Russian President Vladimir Putin's spokesman said news of its passage was "very sad from the point of view of Russian-American relations and the prospects of their development."

The spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said it was "no less discouraging from the point of view of international law and international trade relations."

It is not clear when the U.S. Senate will address the bill.

After initially indicating Trump would sign the bill, White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said on July 25 that while "the president supports tough sanctions on North Korea, Iran and Russia, the White House is reviewing the House legislation and awaits a final legislative package for the president’s desk."

If Trump rejects the bill, Congress could override his veto if there is enough support for the legislation.

Meanwhile, Konstantin Kosachyov, chairman of the international affairs committee in Russia's upper parliament house, said the U.S. legislation would do further harm to relations and called for a response that would be "painful" for the United States.

Strong bipartisan support for the sanctions legislation adds to pressure on Trump, whose presidency has been clouded by allegations that Russia meddled in the election on his behalf.

The Justice Department and Congress are conducting separate investigations into Moscow's alleged interference and whether there was any collusion between Trump's campaign and Russia.

Trump repeatedly indicated during the campaign would seek to improve ties with Moscow, which have been badly damaged by Russia's seizure of the Crimean Peninsula and aggression in eastern Ukraine, where it supports separatists in a war that has killed more than 10,000 people since April 2014.

But relations have remained severely strained amid the multiple investigations into what the U.S. intelligence community says was an "influence campaign" of cyberattacks and propaganda ordered by Russian President Vladimir Putin in an attempt to help Trump and denigrate his Democratic rival on the November 8 ballot, Hillary Clinton.

The new sanctions would add to punitive measures, mostly targeting the Russian economy and associates of Putin, imposed by the administration of former President Barack Obama in response to Russia's interference in Ukraine.

Passage by such a large margin in the House indicates many lawmakers from both parties want to punish Russia for its alleged attempts to interfere in the U.S. election as well as its actions in Ukraine and in Syria, where it has given President Bashar al-Assad's forces crucial support in a war that has killed hundreds of thousands of people.

"It is well past time that we forcibly respond," said House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Ed Royce, a Republican from California. "Left unchecked, Russia is sure to continue its aggression."

Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan said the sanctions package "tightens the screws on our most dangerous adversaries in order to keep Americans safe."

Some members of Trump's Republican Party saw the bill as a mild rebuff of what one suggested was his excessive eagerness to improve relations with Russia.

Trump's "rhetoric toward the Russians has been far too accommodating and conciliatory up to this point," said Representative Charlie Dent, a Republican from Pennsylvania.

"Russian behavior has been atrocious," he said. "They deserve these enhanced sanctions. Relations with Russia will improve when Russian behavior changes and they start to fall back into the family of nations."

Under the bill, Trump would be required to send Congress a report explaining why he wants to suspend or terminate sanctions imposed on Russia. Lawmakers would then have 30 days to decide whether to allow him to act.

The bill has drawn criticism from European Union allies, who have warned it could end up penalizing European firms that work with Russia on joint energy projects like the Nord Stream 2 pipeline to carry natural gas from Russia to Europe under the Baltic Sea.

House leaders said that they altered language in the bill to try to address those concerns, but the EU indicated on July 26 that it still had concerns.

In a statement, the European Commission said that the wording of the bill endorsed by the House "demonstrates that a number of these concerns are being taken into account.

"It nevertheless foresees the imposition of sanctions on any company (including European) which contributes to the development, maintenance, modernization or repair of energy export pipelines by the Russian Federation. Depending on its implementation, this could affect infrastructure transporting energy resources to Europe, for instance the maintenance and upgrade of pipelines in Russia that feed the Ukraine gas transit system. It could also have an impact on projects crucial to the EU's diversification objectives such as the Baltic Liquefied Natural Gas project," the statement said.

The bill "could have unintended unilateral effects that impact the EU's energy security interests. This is why the Commission concluded today that if our concerns are not taken into account sufficiently, we stand ready to act appropriately within a matter of days," kit quoted European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker as saying. "America first cannot mean that Europe's interests come last."

The bill's sanctions on North Korea would bar ships owned by Pyongyang or by countries that refuse to comply with UN sanctions against North Korea from operating in American waters or docking at U.S. ports. Goods produced by North Korea's forced labor would be prohibited from entering the United States.

Iranian President Hassan Rohani said his country will respond if the United States enacts the bill.

The sanctions against Iran would impose mandatory penalties on people involved in Iran's ballistic missile program and anyone who does business with them. The measure would designate the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist organization and enforce an arms embargo against Iran.

Iranian officials say the bill violates the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers under which Tehran curbed its nuclear activities in exchange for international sanctions relief.

"If the enemy steps over part of the agreement, we will do the same, and if they step over the entire deal, we will do the same too," Rohani said at a cabinet meeting aired by state broadcaster IRIB on July 26.

With reporting by RFE/RL Correspondent Rikard Jozwiak in Brussels, TASS, Interfax, RIA, Reuters, AFP, and AP

Iran-Linked Cyber Spies Use Simple Yet Effective Hacks -Report

(Reuters) - A cyber spying group with links to Iran and active for the past four years is targeting countries including Israel, Saudi Arabia, Germany and the United States, security researchers said on Tuesday.

A new report by Tokyo-based Trend Micro and ClearSky of Israel detailed incidents as recently as April of this year involving a group known as "CopyKittens".

The group targets its victims using relatively simple techniques like creating fake Facebook pages, corrupting websites or Microsoft Word attachments with a malicious code, according to the report.

It was seen impersonating popular media brands like Twitter, Youtube, the BBC and security firms such as Microsoft, Intel and even Trend Micro.

"CopyKittens is very persistent, despite lacking technological sophistication and operational discipline," the researchers said in a statement.

"These characteristics, however, cause it to be relatively noisy, making it easy to find, monitor and apply counter measures relatively quickly," they said.

Iranian officials were not available for comment.

The report itself does not link the group to Iran. As a matter of company policy, Trend Micro research into state-backed attacks focuses on technical evidence and forgoes political analysis.

However Clearsky researchers told Reuters that CopyKittens was "Iranian government infrastructure," adding that the use of "kitten" in the industry indicates Iranian hackers, just as "panda" or "bear" refer to Chinese and Russians, respectively.

CopyKittens is distinct from another Iran-based cyber spy group dubbed Rocket Kitten, which since 2014 has mounted cyberattacks on high-profile political and military figures in countries near Iran as well as the United States and Venezuela. (http://reut.rs/2tGfOzK)

CopyKittens has been operating since at least 2013, according to the report, though its activities were first exposed publicly in November 2015 by ClearSky and Minerva Labs. Earlier this year, ClearSky wrote another paper detailing more hacking incidents that affected some members of Germany's parliament.

Eyal Sela, head of threat intelligence at ClearSky, said that once an initial hack against a government or commerical target is successful, CopyKittens uses that access to then attack other groups, though it tries to remain very focused.

As recently as late April, the group breached the email account of an employee in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Turkish Cypriot-controlled northern Cyprus and then tried to infect multiple targets in other governments, the report said.

Another time it used a document, likely stolen from Turkey's Foreign Ministry, as a decoy.

Poisonings Put Spotlight On Iran’s Alcohol Problem

Iranian police throw away confiscated beer cans in Tehran in 2009.

Mass alcohol poisoning and related deaths have exposed an alcohol problem in the Islamic republic, where a ban introduced following the 1979 revolution has failed to prevent Iranians from drinking.

Ninety-two people were poisoned, four fatally, after drinking in Sirjan in the southern province of Kerman, Iranian media reported on July 23.

Details relating to the poisonings, including whether they are related, were unclear, but Kerman Province judiciary official Yadollah Movahed told ISNA news agency that authorities are working to identify and arrest those behind the distribution of the alcohol.

He said that "48 people are hospitalized, three of them are in critical condition, and 30 of them are undergoing dialysis."

He added that, "due to the sensitivity of the case and the damage to society’s psychological peace," the case investigation will be expedited.

Continue reading full article

Half Of School Dropouts In Iran Due To Financial Difficulties

Students in an Iranian school are taking the final exam at third grade of high school. Undated.

In a country that calls itself a pioneer against illiteracy in the region, a huge proportion of children in Iran leave school before receiving their high-school diploma.

Fifty-three percent of dropouts are due to financial difficulties that families are facing, announced Ali Bagherzadeh, head of Iran's Literacy Movement Organization, on July 24.

Bagherzadeh did not specify what this percentage means in actual numbers, but Radio Farda recently quoted child activists saying more than 3 million of Iranian children, meaning a quarter of the total number of students in primary and secondary education, never finished school.

Iranian newspaper Donya-e Eqtesad even concluded a few years ago that one-third of Iranians between the ages of 6 and 18 were deprived of education.

According to experts, many of these children end up in child labor. Based on unofficial estimates, there are between 2 million and 7 million child workers in Iran who are not only deprived of a normal childhood experience but also exposed to violence and other types of abuse.

An Iranian boy who ploishes shoes waits for a customer in a street, Feb 2015
An Iranian boy who ploishes shoes waits for a customer in a street, Feb 2015

The figures become even more significant in light of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s recent harsh attacks against the government of President Hassan Rouhani for adopting the UNESCO 2030 educational document that, among other things, encourages signatories to ensure free quality primary and secondary education for all girls and boys. Khamenei bashed the UN document for being “anti-Islamic” and “immoral,” and forced Rouhani’s government to denounce it.

Considering the fact that modern education in Iran has a 180-year history, and the law for compulsory education for children is a century old, such a high number of children deprived of education in the country means a “big national and social defeat for the government and society,” wrote Said Peyvandi, an Iranian sociologist living in France, in an analysis for Radio Farda.

“After more than a century, the Iranian government had not been able to reach one of its primary goals in education,” Peyvandi added. Besides family poverty, a lack of sufficient educational facilities in remote and rural areas and a lack of awareness among traditional families were the main factors responsible for the crisis, he said.

The latter factor affects mostly girls.

Even though nowadays the majority of Iranian college students are female, there are still parents in Iran who do not value female education. They are likely to force their daughters to marry as minors.

Without further elaborating, Bagherzadeh said about 35 percent of school dropouts in the country happened because of “cultural issues.”

Conservatives Resent The Popularity Of Telegram App

Statue of Liberty with telegram in hand

Whether for news, entertainment, communication with family and friends, or even shopping, millions of Iranians opt for one source on a daily basis: the messaging application Telegram. People are even using the app to solicit money, suggests a report by Iran Newspaper.

According to a recent announcement by an Iranian government official, around 40 million Iranians -- meaning half of the country's population -- are users of the application, created in 2013 by two Russian brothers, Nikolai and Pavel Durov.

In a country where the regime used to have a monopoly on the flow of information, the relative freedom of the app represents a significant change. Ordinary citizens, activists, businessmen, entertainers, and others suddenly have a way to communicate freely with their fellow countrymen, a trend that could, in the eyes of the regime, have undesirable cultural, social, and political consequences.

A cartoon by Shahrokh Heidari about Iran blocking voice calling feature on Telegram, April 2017
A cartoon by Shahrokh Heidari about Iran blocking voice calling feature on Telegram, April 2017

In particular, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s conservatives, who control the major media in Iran including state radio and television, have been worried and are pressuring President Hassan Rouhani’s government to filter the application.

In a new round of criticism against the government's policies regarding social media last week, General Prosecutor Mohammad Javad Montazeri talked about the “destructive effect” of social media on Iranian society.

“Social media are like highways. We have opened them and have no control over them,” Motazeri said in an interview with conservative news website Tasnim. According to a Radio Farda report, his deputy had previously accused Rouhani’s government of not filtering 8,000 Telegram channels with “criminal content” in a recent interview with Iranian state TV.

Conservatives’ hatred of Telegram is tied to their defeat in the recent presidential election. One of the major reasons Ebrahim Raeisi, the candidate supported by Khamenei, lost to incumbent Rouhani was the effective usage of social media by the president’s supporters, writes Majid Mohammadi, an Iranian sociologist residing in the United States, in an op-ed for Radio Farda.

While state media were deeply involved in criticizing Rouhani’s performance over the past four years as a way to facilitate Raeisi’s victory, the president and his supporters used social media to spread their message, answer criticisms, and attack the opponents.

The judiciary, loyal to the supreme leader, even arrested about a group of administrators for pro-reformist Telegram channels supporting Rouhani in an effort to weaken his election campaign. But ultimately they were not successful, and Rouhani won the election with more than 24 million votes.

To address the challenge posed by Telegram, conservatives are working on another strategy. They are demanding that Telegram transfer its servers to Iran and that otherwise it would face filtering.

A Telegram message to voters, sent by conservatives during the presidential election, says Rouhani is scared and hopeless
A Telegram message to voters, sent by conservatives during the presidential election, says Rouhani is scared and hopeless

On July 22, Fars News Agency quoted a government official as saying that Telegram had agreed.

The news raised concern among many Iranian users about their account privacy and security.

Shortly after, however, it turned out to be nothing but a false alarm. “No Telegram servers (or any other servers with private data of our users) will be moved to Iran or installed there,” Telegram founder Pavel Durov wrote in Twitter in response to questions by Iranian users.

Iran Mulls State Drug Distribution

An Iranian policeman walks past a cloud of smoke rising from a pile of drugs during an incineration ceremony of some 50 tons of illicit drugs in an annual ritual in Tehran, June 26, 2014

After thousands of executions and countless other deaths related to addictive drugs, Iran appears to be on the verge of overhauling its drug-related policies.

While a new bill is being amended in parliament to stop the execution of petty drug smugglers, another plan is also under study for allowing state organs to distribute drugs -- primarily opium -- among addicts.

“The main purpose of the plan is to cut off the connection between drug smugglers and their addicted victims,” said Hassan Norouzi, spokesman for the Iranian Parliament’s Judicial and Legal Commission.

All of the Iran’s decision makers support the new bill, he said.

“The bill’s main target is backing efforts to reduce the number of drug addiction victims as much as possible,” said Saeed Sefatian, head of the working group on drug demand reduction in the Expediency Council, on July 23, according to Iran Students News Agency.

Seventeen percent of Iranians are “willing” to use addictive drugs while 5 percent of that number are “ultimately hooked,” Sefatian said. The remaining 12 percent would also fall victim “if their connection to dealers and smugglers is not cut off,” he, adding that Iran needs a solid action plan for managing drug consumption.

Referring to many European countries but without naming which ones, Sefatian maintained, “There, the addicts have access to facilities exclusively for checking the volume of purity of the drugs they have bought. The facilities check the drug thoroughly and, if found it harmful, supply the addict with a pure replacement.”

Although most statistics published in Iran are not completely reliable, Sefatian said, there are “220,000 to 250,000 drug smugglers in Iran, and that is a serious source of social harm.”

Furthermore, Sefatian declared, “Iran currently has 2.8 million addicts whose cost for the country’s economy is 500 trillion rials (roughly $15 billion). Out of that, 200 trillion rials go to smugglers and dealers.”

However, unofficial figures put the number of addicts in Iran as high as 5 million to 6 million.

The plan, Sefatian insisted, “is not a new one,” and “since former administrations [under Mahmud Ahmadinejad’s presidency] failed to implement it, we are presenting a new version.”

Based on the new plan, government organs will distribute opium among addicts older than 50.

“The plan will significantly reduce the volume of dirty money as well as money laundering,” Sefatian said.

Norouzi noted that giving the government the greenlight to distribute opium among addicts is reminiscent of what was done before the Iranian Revolution, during the reign of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.

Sefatian implicitly also referred to the necessity of going back to pre-revolution drug policies. “The state needs to manage all areas of drug policy: cultivation, production, supply, and consumption,” he said.

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