Golnaz Esfandiari – Informed Comment https://www.juancole.com Thoughts on the Middle East, History and Religion Sat, 26 Nov 2022 04:53:17 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.7.8 ‘A Nightmare’: Iran Intensifies Deadly Crackdown In Kurdistan Region As Protests Rage https://www.juancole.com/2022/11/nightmare-intensifies-crackdown.html Sat, 26 Nov 2022 05:06:44 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=208384 ( RFE/RL ) – Iranian authorities have intensified their deadly crackdown in the country’s western Kurdistan region, which has been the epicenter of the anti-establishment protests that have raged for months.

Human rights groups say government forces have killed more than a dozen people in predominately Kurdish cities in the past 24 hours. The bloodshed comes amid reports of heavily armed troops being deployed in the region.

Activists say the violence is an attempt by the authorities to create fear among protesters and quell the nationwide protests that have rocked the country for the past two months.

The rallies erupted following the September 16 death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian Kurd who died shortly after she was arrested by Iran’s morality police for allegedly violating the country’s hijab law.

What began as protests against the brutal enforcement of the mandatory head scarf has snowballed into one of the biggest threats to Iran’s clerical establishment, which has ruled since the Islamic Revolution in 1979.

“The Islamic republic is using such intense violence in Kurdistan to silence the protests all over Iran,” Zhila Mostajar from Hengaw, a rights group registered in Norway that reports on Iran’s Kurdish region, told RFE/RL.

“The authorities think that by suppressing the protests in Kurdistan they will send a warning to people in other parts of the country,” added Mostajar, who is based in neighboring Iraq’s semiautonomous Kurdish region.

Web Screenshot; Protesters rally in Mahabad in Iran’s West Azerbaijan Province on November 19.

‘Intense Confrontations’

Hengaw said that at least 13 people have been killed in mainly Kurdish cities since November 20, including seven in Javanrud, four in Piranshahr, and one each in Dehgolan and Bukan.

At least 378 people, including 47 children, have been killed by government forces across the country, according to the Oslo-based Iran Human Rights (IHR). At least 83 people have been killed in Kurdistan, Kermanshah, and West Azerbaijan, three provinces with significant Kurdish populations, IHR said.

There were “intense confrontations” between protesters and security forces in Javanrud, a city in Kermanshah Province, according to Hengaw. Videos uploaded on social media on November 21 purportedly showed several wounded protesters lying on the streets amid the sound of heavy gunfire.

People also rallied in the streets of Kermanshah, the provincial capital, chanting “death to [Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali] Khamenei,” according to a video posted by IHR.

IHR also shared footage that it said showed security forces using live gunfire against protesters in Piranshahr, a city in West Azerbaijan Province. Among those killed in the city on November 20 was a 16-year-old boy.

Fatemeh Karimi, the president of the France-based Kurdistan Human Rights Network, told RFE/RL that the Kurdistan region has turned into “a nightmare” for the authorities.

“People are paying a heavy price — the death toll is high, and many have been injured — yet they keep protesting,” she said.

‘Militarized’ City

The violence comes amid mounting fears about the situation in Mahabad, a city in West Azerbaijan Province where videos on social media appeared to show military forces and vehicles being deployed. Activists have claimed that the authorities were imposing martial law in the city.

Mostajar from Hengaw said security forces had “militarized” Mahabad for the past few days and directly shot at protesters.

Jalal Mahmudzadeh, a lawmaker from West Azerbaijan Province, said 11 people have been killed in the city since October 27, according to Iran’s Etemad daily.

He said five people were killed at the funeral of Esmail Moludi, who was shot dead on October 26 during a ceremony marking 40 days — the official end of the mourning period — since Amini’s death. The authorities said they are investigating his death.

“Some of these protesters have livelihood and economic problems and others feel discriminated against. But instead of listening to the protestors, the authorities use harsh methods,” he said.

The Islamic republic has long been accused of suppressing and discriminating against the country’s ethnic minorities, including Kurds, which make up about 10 percent of Iran’s 84-million population. Most Kurds in Iran, a predominately Shi’a country, are Sunni Muslims.

Prominent Sunni cleric Molavi Abdolhamid called on government forces on November 20 to refrain from shooting at protesters. He warned that repression will only deepen the dissatisfaction among people in the region.

Iranian authorities have accused “terrorist and separatist groups” and Iranian Kurdish opposition groups based in Iraq of stoking the unrest in the region. In response, Iranian forces have fired drones and missiles at the headquarters of Iranian groups based in northern Iraq.


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Iran’s Athletes, Including Soccer Players at World Cup, are Boycotting National Anthem to Support Protests https://www.juancole.com/2022/11/athletes-including-boycotting.html Wed, 23 Nov 2022 05:06:31 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=208332 I’m RFE/RL correspondent Golnaz Esfandiari. Here’s what I’ve been following during the past week and what I’m watching for in the days ahead.

( RFE/ RL ) – A growing number of Iranian athletes are refusing to sing the national anthem or to celebrate their victories in solidarity with the months-long anti-establishment protests that have rocked the country. Female athletes have also removed or refused to wear the mandatory head scarf in national and international competitions.

Videos uploaded on social media appear to show members of Iran’s national basketball, soccer, and water polo teams recently refusing to sing the national anthem during matches abroad. An Iranian archer, meanwhile, appeared to remove her head scarf following a tournament in Tehran. She later apologized and said it was unintended, although some suggested she was pressured to do so. Last month, Iranian climber Elnaz Rekabi competed without a head scarf in South Korea, although she also later apologized.

Iranian soccer legend Ali Daei said he refused an invitation from FIFA, soccer’s world governing body, to attend the World Cup in Qatar because he wanted to “stay alongside my compatriots and share my condolences to families who have recently lost their loved ones.” Another outspoken former player, Ali Karimi, also declined an invitation from FIFA, saying, “Iranians are going through a very difficult time.”

A cleric in the northwestern city of Urmia said during Friday Prayers that athletes who refused to sing the national anthem should be “punished,” state media reported. Meanwhile, Iran’s deputy sports minister, Maryam Kazemipur, conceded that some female athletes have acted against “Islamic norms,” although she said they had since apologized.

Why It Matters: The acts of solidarity show that support among Iranian athletes is growing for the anti-government protests, which have triggered a deadly government crackdown. The demonstrations, the biggest challenge to the clerical regime for years, have attracted support from all corners of society, including students, artists, lawyers, and activists.

The support of well-known athletes and sports figures has further publicized the protests and the brutal government response that has killed at least 330 people. Some 14,000 people have also been arrested in the crackdown, including athletes.

What’s Next: More athletes are likely to publicly show their support for the protesters in the coming weeks, including during the soccer World Cup that kicks off on November 20 in Qatar. The Iranian national team includes several players who have criticized the authorities over the death of Mahsa Amini, who died on September 16 shortly after she was arrested for allegedly violating the country’s hijab law. Her death was the catalyst for the protests.

Activists have called on soccer fans attending the World Cup to chant Amini’s name during Iran’s games. FIFA does not allow political slogans and gestures at soccer matches. Carlos Queiroz, the coach of Iran’s national soccer team, said his players are free to voice their support for the protests as long as they adhere to FIFA’s rules.


Copyright (c)2022 RFE/RL, Inc. Used with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036.

In New Tactic, Young Iranian Protesters Knock Off Clerics’ Turbans On The Street https://www.juancole.com/2022/11/iranian-protesters-clerics.html Thu, 17 Nov 2022 05:04:16 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=208206 By Golnaz Esfandiari and Hamid Fatemi | –

( RFE/RL ) – Nationwide antiestablishment protests have raged across the Islamic republic since the death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old woman who died on September 16 shortly after she was arrested for allegedly violating the hijab law on women’s dress.

As the authorities have waged a deadly crackdown on the rallies, some demonstrators have turned to new tactics to sustain the monthslong protests, including tipping off Islamic clerics’ turbans in the streets.

Many Iranians associate members of the clergy with Iran’s Islamist regime, which many blame for the repression and corruption in the country.

While some Iranians have praised the “turban throwing” as an act of resistance, others have expressed concern that low-level clerics who are not affiliated with the state could become the victims of harassment and violence.

Lawmaker Mohammad Taghi Naqd Ali on November 10 called the new trend “the devil’s conspiracy” and warned that young protesters tossing clerics’ turbans were “playing with the lion’s tail.”

State media reported the arrests of two people in recent days who were accused of knocking off clerics’ turbans.

London-based human rights lawyer Shadi Sadr said the tactic was a “brave and revolutionary act.” Sadr, the co-founder of the rights group Justice for Iran, told RFE/RL that protesters were “humiliating” clerics without resorting to violence. “They’re [targeting] the clergy’s turban as a symbol of the crimes and corruption of the past 43 years as well as the privileges clerics have enjoyed,” she said.

“There is no violence in it, and it also includes youthful mischief, which highlights the spirit of the revolution,” Sadr added, referring to the monthslong protests that have posed the biggest threat to the establishment in years.

But Ahmad Zeidabadi, a Tehran-based journalist and former political prisoner, said that some of the clerics targeted in the streets “may be critics or even victims of [state] policies.”

“This phenomenon…mainly targets clerics who do not hold any government positions,” he said on Twitter, adding that senior clerics in powerful positions rarely appear in public and are often protected by security guards if they do.

Reformist cleric Hojatoleslam Ahmad Heidari, who was jailed in the past for his support for the opposition Green Movement, warned that the new trend could taint the “beautiful face of [the] protest movement against oppression and injustice.”

“You’re right to be angry at those wearing turbans,” Heidari wrote on the news site Esafnews.com. But he added that “those who have a hand in power and are your target” are out of reach. He said many of the clerics targeted were “young and elderly” clerics who are not sitting in “ivory towers.”

Attacks on clerics, particularly those who attempt to enforce Islamic codes in public, had been on rise in Iran even before the protests erupted, forcing many clerics to appear in public without their robes and turbans.

Last week, a cleric was reportedly hospitalized after being wounded in Karaj, near Tehran, amid antiestablishment protests in the city. The hard-line Fars news agency claimed that protesters attacked the cleric with knives.

Hassan Fereshtian, a Paris-based Iranian cleric and researcher, said the turban-throwing trend was the result of the “suppressed anger of the past four decades.”

“If it aims at eliminating the clergy, we could be facing the start of violence,” he warned in comments to RFE/RL’s Radio Farda. “In fact, the clergy should be eliminated from the centers of power. But they shouldn’t be eliminated from society.”

Fereshtian, a student of the late dissident Grand Ayatollah Hossein-Ali Montazeri, expressed hope that Iran will reach a point “where secular people can live peacefully next to the clergy and unveiled women next to those who choose to wear the hijab.”

In the past year, regime supporters have knocked off the turbans of clerics who had criticized the establishment, including former Interior Minister Abdollah Nuri and former parliament speaker Mehdi Karrubi, who has been under house arrest since 2011 for disputing the 2009 reelection of former President Mahmud Ahmadinejad.


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As Crackdown Intensifies, Iranian Demonstrators Turn To Protest Art https://www.juancole.com/2022/10/crackdown-intensifies-demonstrators.html Sun, 30 Oct 2022 04:04:32 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=207866 ( RFE/RL ) – As the authorities intensify their deadly crackdown on antiestablishment protests in Iran, some demonstrators are resorting to protest art to express their dissent. The street art and graffiti has targeted Iran’s clerical regime, including Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and has appeared on public walls in major cities.

Most of the graffiti is done at night. Several Tehran residents told me that they often see public walls spray-painted with anti-regime slogans in the morning. By the evening, most of the graffiti is washed off or painted over, they said. The next morning, new graffiti appears, highlighting the tug-of-war between the protesters and the authorities. One prominent message on a wall in Tehran reads: “Blood cannot be cleansed by anything.”

Videos and photos posted on social media appear to show that anti-regime graffiti and public art is expanding.

Death to the Dictator! Screenshot from Twitter.

Some of the art depicts Mahsa Amini, the 22-year-old woman whose death soon after being detained by the morality police ignited the nationwide protests. Other murals show the victims of the state’s crackdown on the protests. Some of the graffiti includes slogans such as, “Death to Khamenei” and “Woman, life, freedom.”

Why It Matters: Protesters are finding new and creative ways to express their anger at the clerical establishment, which has responded to the protests with lethal force and mass arrests. Besides resorting to protest art and graffiti, some Iranians have been shouting antiestablishment slogans at night from their rooftops and windows.

What’s Next: Acts of civil disobedience are likely to continue and increase in the face of the government clampdown. Such acts allow protesters to sustain the demonstrations without marching on the streets, where they face a greater risk of arrest and harm. The overstretched security forces have found it difficult to stop street art and creative forms of dissent.


Copyright (c)2022 RFE/RL, Inc. Used with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036.

Iran’s Universities Turn Into A Major Battleground Amid Anti-Government Protests https://www.juancole.com/2022/10/universities-battleground-government.html Mon, 24 Oct 2022 04:04:55 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=207758 By Golnaz Esfandiari and Mohammad Zarghami | –

( RFE/RL ) – Dozens of students protested outside the law faculty at Tehran’s Allameh Tabatabei University on October 19, chanting, “dishonorable, dishonorable,” as a government official addressed a conference inside.

When government spokesman Ali Bahadori-Jahromi later came outside, he was confronted by around 100 students. The official IRNA news agency said the official “appeared among the protesting students” and “talked with them.” IRNA accused the protesters of chanting “inappropriate and immoral slogans.”

It was the latest demonstration at a university in Iran since nationwide protests erupted following the death on September 16 of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old woman who died shortly after she was detained by Iran’s morality police for allegedly violating the country’s hijab law.

Security forces have waged a violent crackdown on protesters around the country, killing scores, injuring hundreds, and detaining several thousand people.

As the scattered anti-government protests rage across Iran for a fifth week, universities have turned into a major battleground between the protesters and the authorities.

“The driving force behind the protests is now universities, which are providing the fuel for the survival of the protest movement,” says Washington-based political analyst Ali Afshari, a former student leader who was jailed in Iran for his activism.

Numerous protests have been held at universities, particularly in Tehran, where many students have refused to attend class. Protesting students have chanted “woman, life, freedom” and “death to the dictator” during the rallies. Some female students have removed and burned their head scarves.

Male and female students have also broken social taboos by holding hands and singing together. Meanwhile, some art students have covered their hands in red paint to protest the deadly state crackdown on the demonstrations.

On October 8, students at Tehran’s all-female Al-Zahra University chanted “Raisi get lost” and “mullahs get lost” when hard-line President Ebrahim Raisi visited the campus.

The authorities have cracked down violently on the university protests, beating and detaining dozens of students.

The most violent incident occurred at Tehran’s prestigious Sharif University of Technology on October 2. More than 30 students were detained after security forces raided the university.

Monitoring groups outside Iran have documented the detention of more than 200 students in the past month, although they believe the real number is higher.

Tara Sepehrifar, senior Iran researcher at Human Rights Watch, says the protests at Iran’s universities are a “testament to the resilience” of the students who are mobilizing in the face of “very restrictive circumstances.”

“Despite great risks to their safety, each demonstration, sit-in, protest is echoing the broad progressive demands, while insisting on their immediate ones such as release of detained students and at the same time pushing the boundaries on campus by removing head scarves and mixing the gender-segregated dining halls,” Sepehrifar told RFE/RL.

Universities and students have been at the forefront of the struggle for greater social and political freedoms in Iran. In 1999, students protested the closure of a reformist daily, prompting a brutal raid on the dorms of Tehran University that left one student dead.

Over the years, the authorities have arrested student activists and leaders, sentencing them to prison and banning them from studying.

Some university professors and lecturers have expressed solidarity with the protesters.

In a joint statement on September 29, over 200 university staff called for the release of detained student protesters and criticized the government’s crackdown on the peaceful demonstrations.


Iran’s Baluchistan Under Lockdown, Blackout In Wake Of ‘Bloody Friday’

In a rare act of protest, Encieh Erfani resigned from her post at the Institute of Advanced Studies in Basic Sciences, which is located in the northwestern city of Zanjan. Erfani, an assistant professor in physics, stepped down while she was out of the country.

“Student protesters were chanting ‘the streets are soaked with blood, our professors are silent,’” she told RFE/RL’s Radio Farda. “So I submitted my resignation.”

She said the protests were the result of students’ “accumulated anger” towards Iran’s clerical establishment, which has stifled free speech and severely limited Internet freedoms.

A student at Sharif University, who did not want to be named for fear of retribution, told RFE/RL that authorities closed the university after students held protests.

“But the prevailing atmosphere is not calm, and as soon as the university reopens there is a high possibility of clashes and demonstrations,” the student said.

Student protesters have called for the release of Mohammad Nejad, who studies aerospace engineering at Sharif University. Nejad, who was arrested on September 21, is being held at a prison outside Tehran.

“My dear student Mohammad Nejad is among the best students in the aerospace faculty,” lecturer Mahdi Salehi wrote on Twitter on October 19. “Mohammad doesn’t belong in jail.”

Golnaz Esfandiari is a senior correspondent for RFE/RL focusing on Iran. She has reported from Afghanistan and Haiti and is one of the authors of The Farda Briefing newsletter. Her work has been cited by The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and other major publications. Born and raised in Tehran, she is fluent in Persian, French, English, and Czech.

Mohammad Zarghami is a senior journalist and anchor at RFE/RL’s Radio Farda who reported from Tehran before moving to Prague. He focuses on Iran’s politics and social issues. Zarghami has conducted dozens of interviews with prominent Iranian and international public figures.

Copyright (c)2022 RFE/RL, Inc. Used with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036.


Iran Accused Of Using armed Minors To Suppress Anti-Government Protests https://www.juancole.com/2022/10/suppress-government-protests.html Fri, 14 Oct 2022 04:02:02 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=207576 ( RFE/RL) — As Iranian authorities crack down on nationwide anti-government protests, photos have appeared on social media that purportedly show children and adolescent boys wearing unforms and holding batons.

They appear to be wearing the uniforms of the Basij paramilitary forces, a branch of Iran’s powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC).

The photos have led to accusations that the authorities are using minors to help crush the demonstrations.

Protest rallies erupted soon after the September 16 death of Mahsa Amini, who died days after she was detained by Iran’s morality police. Iran’s Society for the Protection of Children’s Rights expressed concern over the photos, noting that the use of child soldiers was against international law.

Last week, over 500 members and supporters of the Imam Ali Society, a local charity, said the authorities had recruited children from impoverished families to help “suppress” the ongoing street protests. In exchange, the minors received a “few bags of food,” the charity said.

Hadi Ghaemi, the executive director of the New York-based Center for Human Rights In Iran, told me that the “desperate and morally bankrupt government” in Iran “has no regard for its own people” and “its only concern is brutal self-preservation.”

Why It Matters: Iran has a record of using children as combatants, including during the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war. More recently, Tehran has been accused of recruiting Afghan refugee children living in Iran to fight in the conflict in Syria. There were also reports that the authorities had recruited minors to suppress protests in 2011.

Journalist Roza Mohtasab from the fact-checking site Factnameh.com said the recent photos, believed to have been taken in Tehran, appear to be genuine. She said the children in the photos appear to be wearing the uniforms of the Student Basij, a subgrouping of the Basij.

“These images have not been manipulated, they’re new,” Mohtasab said. “From the evidence that emerged online, we can say that children have been employed in the current round of protests.”

Mohtasab said it was not clear what role the minors were playing in the government crackdown. “It could be that this was part of a maneuver for them to become familiar with the situation,” she said.

What’s Next: Tehran could employ a greater number of minors to help control the angry protests. There have been mounting reports of security forces becoming exhausted from quelling rallies across the country for nearly four weeks.

“Distributing all your special police forces becomes challenging when the protests are spread out throughout [the country],” analyst Saeid Golkar, who has authored a book on the Basij, told me.


Copyright (c)2022 RFE/RL, Inc. Used with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036.

‘They Have Found The Courage’: Iranian Women Go Hijab-Less In Public Amid Protests https://www.juancole.com/2022/10/courage-iranian-protests.html Tue, 04 Oct 2022 04:02:43 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=207368 ( RFE/ RL ) – Two young Iranian women posted a photo of themselves having breakfast at a restaurant in Tehran without hijabs.

The same day, actress Fatemeh Motamed-Arya spoke at the public funeral in the Iranian capital without a headscarf.

On September 27, a video emerged of a woman without a hijab marching on a road in Tehran holding a placard that read, “Women, life, freedom.”

Such acts of civil disobedience have increased in Iran, where the country’s “hijab and chastity” law requires women and girls over the age of 9 to wear a headscarf in public, since the death of a young woman in the custody of the morality police on September 16.

The death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini has triggered over two weeks of angry protests in dozens of Iranian cities. During the ongoing rallies, some women protesters have removed and burned their headscarves, in a direct challenge to the clerical regime.

The protests have provoked a deadly state crackdown, with law enforcement and security forces killing scores of demonstrators, according to human rights groups.

While the protests appear to be waning, women’s resistance to the hijab is likely to increase, analysts say. The mandatory hijab, a symbol of the state’s repression of women, has been one of the key pillars of the Islamic republic.

“More and more women are likely to remove their headscarves in public and resist the compulsory hijab law,” Paris-based, Iranian-French sociologist Azadeh Kian told RFE/RL. “Until now, they didn’t dare to walk bareheaded in public. Today, they have found the courage.”

WATCH: Fewer protest videos have appeared on social media after authorities restricted Internet access and launched the crackdown.

Kian adds that the authorities could be forced to loosen their strict enforcement of the hijab law. “Without changing the hijab law, they could become more lax towards women violating it, but they will pay a price because more women will be encouraged to follow suit,” she said.

A woman in Tehran who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retribution told RFE/RL that “things won’t go back to the way they were.”

“I used to remove my headscarf in some restaurants where I knew the owners,” she said. “I’m now determined to do it more often in public, it’s the least I can do after the death of Amini and the [state] violence,” she said.

The Financial Times reported on September 28 that in recent days the white and green vans of the morality police have disappeared from the streets of Tehran, although there is still a strong security presence in the city.

Flouting The Hijab Law

The hijab became compulsory in 1981, two years after the Islamic Revolution in Iran. The move triggered protests that were swiftly crushed by the new authorities.

Many women have flouted the rule over the years and pushed the boundaries of what officials say is acceptable clothing.

Women have also launched campaigns against the discriminatory law, although many have been pressured by the state and forced to leave the country.

In 2014, exiled activist Masih Alinejad launched a Facebook page where scores of women posted their photos without hijabs. She also later encouraged women to document the harassment they suffered by the morality police and vigilantes.

Three years later, a young woman identified as Vida Movahed stood on a utility box in Tehran and waved her headscarf on a stick in an unprecedented act of defiance against the hijab law. Photos of her protest went viral and inspired other women to stage similar protests.

More than 30 women were arrested, and several were prosecuted in the following months. Human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh, who defended them, was herself sentenced to prison.

The acts of civil disobedience prompted a debate about the hijab law, which had been a taboo topic for years.

Under former President Hassan Rohani, who served from 2013 to 2021, the enforcement of the hijab law was loosened. But since hard-line President Ebrahim Raisi came to power in August 2021, the authorities have launched a crackdown on women who violate the law.

A July 5 order by Raisi to enforce the hijab law resulted in a new list of restrictions on how women can dress.

In recent months, women judged not to have respected the “complete hijab” have been banned from government offices, banks, and public transportation. The notorious Guidance Patrols, or morality police, have become increasingly active and violent. Videos have emerged on social media appearing to show officers detaining women, forcing them into vans, and whisking them away.

On September 13, the morality police in Tehran detained Amini for allegedly wearing a hijab improperly. Three days later, she was declared dead in a hospital. Activists and relatives say she was killed as a result of blows to the head sustained in detention. The authorities claim that she died of a heart attack.

Since her death, Amini’s name has become a rallying cry against the decades of state violence against women, prompting protesters to call for an end to the Islamic republic. Amateur videos and footage posted online in the aftermath of her death showed unveiled women standing up to security forces while others were seen walking defiantly unveiled in the streets of Tehran and other cities.

Several actresses also posted images of themselves on social media without a hijab. One of them, Katayoun Riahi, appeared in an interview with a Saudi-funded TV channel without her headscarf.

Security forces reportedly raided Riahi’s house on the evening of September 28. She was reported to have fled before they managed to arrest her. Her whereabouts are currently unknown. A post by the administrator of her Instagram page warned on September 29 that her life was “in danger.”

Days earlier, Culture Minister Mohammad Mehdi Esmaili said that actresses who removed their veils in public would no longer be allowed to work inside the country.


Rumors Swirl Around Iranian Supreme Leader’s Successor: Will it be another Khomeini? https://www.juancole.com/2022/09/iranian-successor-khomeini.html Fri, 09 Sep 2022 04:04:00 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=206858 ( RFE/ RL ) – Iran’s Rasa news agency has rekindled rumors that Mojtaba Khamenei, the influential son of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, is being groomed as the successor to his elderly father, despite his lack of credentials.

Affiliated with seminaries in the holy Shi’ite city of Qom, the agency used the title of ayatollah to refer to Mojtaba Khamenei. The move has fueled speculation that the younger Khamenei is being promoted ahead of possibly succeeding his 83-year-old father, who underwent prostrate surgery in 2014 amid rumors about his health.

Ayatollah is an honorific title reserved only for high-ranking clerics. Mojtaba Khamenei had previously been referred to as a hojatoleslam, a title that refers to mid-ranking clerics.

Why It Matters: Rasa’s reference to the young Khamenei as an ayatollah comes after a statement last month by opposition figure Mir Hossein Musavi, who warned that the leadership in Iran could become “hereditary.”

“The news of this conspiracy has been heard for 13 years. If they’re not looking into it, why have they not once denied such an intention?” asked Musavi, who has been under house arrest since 2011.

Rumors about Mojtaba Khamenei as a possible successor to his father first emerged during mass anti-government protests following the disputed presidential election in 2009. He became a target of chants by opposition activists during the rallies, with some chanting: “Mojtaba, may you die and not become the supreme leader!” He was rumored to have been involved in the brutal crackdown on protesters that year.

What’s Next: With officials refusing to comment, speculation is likely to grow around the younger Khamenei. Iran’s hard-line President Ebrahim Raisi, a Khamenei protege, has also been rumored as a potential successor.

Speculation over Khamenei’s successor is likely to mount due to his age and rumors about his health. The Assembly of Experts, an 88-member chamber of theologians, all male, picks and nominally oversees the work of the country’s supreme leader. But it is unclear exactly what actual role the assembly is likely to play in choosing Iran’s third supreme leader.


Copyright (c)2022 RFE/RL, Inc. Used with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036.

Space Cooperation Between Russia, Iran Raises Western Concerns https://www.juancole.com/2022/08/cooperation-between-concerns.html Thu, 11 Aug 2022 04:06:25 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=206288 Welcome back to The Farda Briefing, an RFE/RL newsletter that tracks the key issues in Iran and explains why they matter.

I’m senior correspondent Golnaz Esfandiari. Here’s what I’ve been following and what I’m watching out for in the days ahead.

The Big Issue

( RFE/RL ) – Russia successfully launched an Iranian satellite into space on August 9, in a move that has raised concerns in the West. U.S. officials fear that the satellite could be used by Moscow to boost its intelligence capabilities in Ukraine, which it invaded in February. There are also worries that the satellite will provide Iran “unprecedented capabilities” to monitor potential military targets in Israel, its archenemy, and other countries in the wider Middle East region.

Article continues after bonus IC video
CGTN: Russia launches Iranian Satellite

Tehran has rejected those claims, saying Iran will have full control and operation over the satellite “from day one.” Iran has said the remote-sensing satellite will only be used for civilian purposes, including monitoring border areas, surveying water resources, and managing natural disasters.

Why It Matters: The satellite launch is the latest sign of the deepening ties between Iran and Russia. It came just weeks after Russian President Vladimir Putin visited Tehran, where he and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei pledged to work together against the West.

Both countries have been hit by Western sanctions and international isolation. Yuri Borisov, head of Russia’s state space corporation Roskosmos, hailed the launch as an “important landmark” in cooperation between Moscow and Tehran. Iran’s Telecommunications Minister Issa Zarepour, who attended the launch in Kazakhstan, praised it as “historic” and “a turning point” in space cooperation between the countries.

The satellite launch has also put a spotlight on Iran’s space program. In recent years, Tehran has launched several satellites into low Earth orbit and announced plans to send astronauts into space. But Iran has also seen a succession of accidents and failed satellite launches in recent years.

John Krzyzaniak, a research analyst at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, said in June that Iranian satellites do not have advanced capabilities, but they represent “stepping stones to more sophisticated satellites that will be more useful and remain in orbit for longer periods.”

What’s Next: Russia’s successful launch of the Khayyam satellite, named after the 11th-century Persian poet and philosopher Omar Khayyam, could worsen tensions with the United States. Just last month, Washington claimed that Tehran was preparing to deliver hundreds of combat drones to Russia for use in the war in Ukraine.

“Russia deepening an alliance with Iran is something that the whole world should look at and see as a profound threat,” a State Department spokesperson was quoted as saying on August 9.

The United States has long expressed concerns over Iran’s space program, which has both a civilian and military component. The United States fears that Tehran could use the program to enhance its ballistic-missile capabilities.


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