Afghans Flock To Iranian Border, But Few Can Cross

File photo: Afghan people climb atop a plane as they wait at the airport in Kabul on August 16, 2021, after a stunningly swift end to Afghanistan’s 20-year war, as thousands of people mobbed the city’s airport trying to flee the group’s feared hardline brand of Islamist rule. Wakil Kohsar / AFP

 

The number of Afghans attempting to cross the border to Iran has soared since the Taliban swept to power almost two months ago, but few make it across, an official said.

Before the Taliban came to power on August 15, around 1,000 to 2,000 people crossed to Iran through the Zaranj border station in the southwestern province of Nimroz every month.

But the border commander for Nimroz province, Mohammad Hashem Hanzaleh, told AFP this week that the number of people attempting to cross has since soared to between 3,000 and 4,000 every day.

The hike comes as devastating economic and humanitarian crises lash Afghanistan, with the UN warning that a third of the population faces the threat of famine.

But Hanzaleh said that very few had the papers required to cross.

Traders and people holding residence visas, as well as those with visas to seek medical treatment, “are not prevented by Iranian forces,” he said, adding that about 5-600 people were allowed across each day.

For those without their papers attempting to cross, the experience can be harrowing.

Hayatullah, wearing a towel-like turban and a grey beard, showed off his injured hand, with dark blood seeping through the bandage.

“Iranian soldiers took our money. They hit our hands, they tore our hands,” he said.

Mohammad Nasim said he had been thwarted three times after trying to scale over the border wall.

Two nights earlier, he said Iranian border guards had opened fire and killed two people trying to get across, including one of his friends.

That did not stop him from returning the next night, only to find himself “captured” and “beaten”, as the guards asked why he was trying to cross without documents.

He said he had answered: “If you saw the poverty, hunger and misery of our nation, then you would go to the other side of the border too.”

“We don’t have any other solution.”

AFP

Biden To Visit Three 9/11 Attack Sites On 20th Anniversary

U.S. President Joe Biden gestures as delivers remarks on the U.S. military’s ongoing evacuation efforts in Afghanistan from the East Room of the White House on August 20, 2021 in Washington, DC. Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images/AFP
File photo:  U.S. President Joe Biden gestures as delivers remarks on the U.S. military’s evacuation efforts in Afghanistan from the East Room of the White House on August 20, 2021 in Washington, DC. Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images/AFP

 

US President Joe Biden will commemorate the 20th anniversary of 9/11 by traveling to all the three sites of the attacks, the White House said Saturday.

On September 11, the president and First Lady Jill Biden will “honor and memorialize the lives lost 20 years ago,” according to the White House statement.

They will take part in ceremonies in New York, where the twin towers of the World Trade Center fell; in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, the site of a crash of a plane hijacked by four jihadists; and in Arlington, Virginia, where the Pentagon was struck.

READ ALSO:Biden Announces ‘New Phase’ In Iraq Relations, End Of ‘Combat Operations’ 

Biden had been counting on marking the 20th anniversary of the tragedy with a symbolic withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan.

But America’s longest war ended in chaos, with the US military unprepared for Taliban’s swift takeover of the country and the death of 13 US troops in an attack in Kabul as the pullout was being completed.

AFP

Iran’s Rouhani Apologises For Power Cuts, Blames Heat

A handout picture provided by the Iranian presidency on May 8, 2019, shows President Hassan Rouhani speaking during a cabinet meeting in the capital Tehran. 
HO / Iranian Presidency / AFP

 

 

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani apologised Wednesday for sweeping blackouts, blaming a searing drought he said had sharply driven up demand and virtually halted hydroelectric power generation.

Since last week, Tehran and Iran’s other major cities have experienced frequent power outages that authorities say may continue until late July.

Unconfirmed videos circulating on social media appear to show frustrated Iranians protesting the outages in several cities including Shiraz and Kazeroun in the south, and Amol and Kordkuy in the north, as well as Tehran.

Tehran resident Azam, a hairdresser, said she holds the government responsible for failing to “provide the basics” like electricity.

“It’s not like we’re asking for much,” she told AFP, complaining that the authorities “just ask the people to be patient and endure”.

“All our business requires electricity, and this (outage) has disrupted our life,” said private company employee Hamid.

The energy ministry has published schedules for rolling blackouts but many citizens and businesses have lost power unexpectedly in recent days.

“We regret the problems the people have had in the past few days,” Rouhani said in televised remarks at a cabinet meeting mostly dedicated to the power cuts, which have sparked a chorus of complaints.

“On the one hand, our output has dropped due to the condition of hydroelectric power plants, and on the other consumption has gone up,” Rouhani said.

He attributed the surge in demand to “industrial growth and extreme heat” as well as energy-intensive cryptocurrency mining operations.

In May, the government temporarily banned crypto mining for four months, but Iranian news agencies still report frequent police raids on “illegal farms” that authorities say use large amounts of subsidised electricity.

– ‘Unprecedented drought’ –
On Tuesday, Rouhani said Iran was facing an “unprecedented drought” with average rainfall down 52 percent compared to the previous year, bringing hydroelectric power generation to “almost” zero.

He called on the energy ministry to prevent any cuts outside of the scheduled blackouts of at least two hours a day.

Rouhani also blamed Washington’s punishing sanctions on Iran for choking investment in energy infrastructure.

“The result is having no capital, and then big projects cannot be done,” he told the cabinet. “Who would want to invest when the country’s risk goes up?”

Sanctions have left Iran facing its “most serious macroeconomic crisis” since its 1979 revolution, Thierry Coville of the Institute for International and Strategic Relations in Paris told AFP last month.

The crisis has also sharply reduced infrastructure investment by the government, said Coville, who added “it is no coincidence that we are starting to see power cuts in Iran.”

After the cabinet meeting, Energy Minister Reza Ardakanian said he “sincerely” apologised to Iranians. Until late August all government departments would remain closed for an extra day a week, on Thursdays, to save energy, he added.

Ardakanian had offered a similar apology in May, when Iran introduced planned, rolling blackouts after Tehran and other cities were hit by unannounced power cuts.

Tehran’s police chief said the blackouts were placing a huge burden on his officers as traffic lights failed across the capital.

The cuts also raised concerns about the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic in Iran, as Tehran’s anti-coronavirus committee chief warned against health centres losing power while the capital struggles to contain a new wave of the virus.

Some 85,000 people have died after contracting the virus, with more than 3.3 million cases recorded in Iran, making it the Middle East’s hardest-hit country.

Power cuts are not uncommon during Iran’s hot summers, when the rising temperatures lead to a spike in the use of air-conditioning.

But Rouhani said this year’s power shortage was the worst in 11 years, brought about by the searing drought.

Iran’s meteorological office forecast the extreme heat would continue until Friday, with highs of 41 degrees Celsius (106 degrees Fahrenheit) in Tehran and 51 degrees (124 degrees) in Ahvaz in the southwest.

Iran Says Executing Child Offenders Is Not A Rights Violation

Iran’s flag.

 

Iran’s use of the death penalty for crimes committed as minors does not mean it violates human rights, a senior Iranian official has insisted to AFP in response to UN criticism.

The Islamic republic executes convicts for crimes they committed while under-age “three to four times” a year, argued Majid Tafreshi of the state-run High Council for Human Rights.

Such uses of capital punishment are “not a symbol of violations of human rights,” he said in an interview with AFP, charging that criticism of the practice was “not fair”.

“When we are talking about under-18s, we are not talking about six or five years old. We are talking about mainly our 17 years old big boys (where) the court recognised their maturity.”

The United Nations and human rights groups frequently criticise Iran for executing child offenders, which violates the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child that Tehran has ratified.

UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet last week pointed to Iran’s “widespread use of the death penalty” and said that “over 80 child offenders are on death row, with at least four at risk of imminent execution”.

Tafreshi, the council’s deputy head of international affairs, rejected international criticism.

He said the council’s broad goal “is minimising the number of executions… as much as possible”, calling it an effort for which “nobody applauds Iran”.

Iran last year executed at least four people found guilty of murders committed when they were minors, according to the UN.

READ ALSOIndia Approves Moderna’s Covid-19 Vaccine For Emergency Use

‘Barbaric sanctions’ 

Iranian ultraconservative cleric and president Ebrahim Raisi gives a news conference after voting in the presidential election, at a polling station in the capital Tehran, on June 18, 2021. (Photo by ATTA KENARE / AFP).

 

 

Murder is punishable by death in Iran, according to the Islamic law of retribution that demands an “eye for an eye”. Convicts’ lives can be spared however if the victim’s family agrees to pardon them.

Tafreshi pointed out that Islam’s holy book the Koran says that demanding the convict’s execution “is your right as a victim’s family” — but also that showing mercy and agreeing to a pardon is “good for you”.

Usually, he said, “we’re trying to convince the victim’s family to pardon” child offenders sentenced to death.

Tafreshi said the council routinely seeks to find money to compensate victims’ families and to convince them to grant a reprieve, sometimes in a process that takes many years.

These efforts result in pardons agreed by victims’ families in 96 percent of cases, according to Tafreshi.

He argued that Iran’s penal code shows “leniency” toward child offenders and that judges make special efforts to determine if a homicide was intentional and the offender mature enough to understand the nature of the crime.

Tafreshi dismissed as “propaganda” charges by the UN, foreign governments and rights groups that many Iranian detainees are tortured and denied fair trials, adding that any suspected such cases are investigated.

He also pointed to what he labelled Western countries’ own human rights violations, including the United States’ “barbaric sanctions” on Iran, and British and French arms sales to Arab monarchies of the Gulf region.

AFP

Ultraconservative Cleric Ebrahim Raisi Wins Iran Presidential Vote

Iranian ultraconservative cleric and presidential candidate Ebrahim Raisi casts his ballot for the presidential election, in the capital Tehran, on June 18, 2021. (Photo by ATTA KENARE / AFP)

 

Ultraconservative cleric Ebrahim Raisi was declared the winner Saturday of Iran’s presidential election, a widely anticipated result after many political heavyweights were barred from running.

Raisi won just shy of 62 percent of the vote in Friday’s election, according to official figures, on a voter turnout of 48.8 percent, a record low for a presidential election in the Islamic republic.

“I congratulate the people on their choice,” said outgoing moderate President Hassan Rouhani, who has served the maximum of two consecutive four-year terms and leaves office in August.

Raisi, 60, is set to take over at a critical time, as Iran seeks to salvage its tattered nuclear deal with major powers and free itself from punishing US sanctions that have driven a sharp economic downturn.

“God willing, we will do our best so that the hope for the future now alive in people’s hearts grows further,” said Raisi, adding that he wants to strengthen public trust in the government for a “bright and pleasant life together”.

The head of the Iranian judiciary, whose black turban signifies direct descent from Islam’s Prophet Mohammed, Raisi is seen as close to the 81-year-old supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has ultimate political power in Iran.

Friday’s voting was extended by two hours past the original midnight deadline amid fears of a low turnout.

Many voters chose to stay away after the field of some 600 hopefuls including 40 women had been winnowed down to seven candidates, all men, excluding an ex-president and a former parliament speaker.

Three of the vetted candidates dropped out two days before Friday’s vote.

Populist former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, one of those barred from running by the Guardian Council of clerics and jurists, said he would not vote, declaring in a video message: “I do not want to have a part in this sin.”

Raisi’s victory was confirmed Saturday when he received the congratulations of the incumbent and the three other candidates — ultraconservatives Mohsen Rezai and Amirhossein Qazizadeh Hashemi, and reformist Abdolnasser Hemmati.

Khamenei hailed the election saying that “the great winner… is the Iranian nation because it has risen up once again in the face of the propaganda of the enemy’s mercenary media”.

– ‘Save the people’ –
On election day, pictures of often flag-waving voters dominated state TV coverage, but away from the polling stations some voiced anger at what they saw as a stage-managed election.

“Whether I vote or not, someone has already been elected,” said Tehran shopkeeper Saeed Zareie. “They organise the elections for the media.”

Enthusiasm was dampened further by spiralling inflation and job losses, and the Covid pandemic that proved more deadly in Iran than anywhere else in the region, killing more than 80,000 people by the official count.

Among those who queued to vote at schools, mosques and community centres, many said they supported Raisi, who has promised to fight corruption, help the poor and build millions of flats for low-income families.

A nurse named Sahebiyan said she backed him for his anti-graft credentials and on hopes he would “move the country forward… and save the people from economic, cultural and social deprivation”.

Raisi, who holds deeply conservative views on many social issues including the role of women in public life, has been named in Iranian media as a possible successor to Khamenei.

To opposition and human rights groups, his name is linked to mass executions of political prisoners in 1988. The US government has sanctioned him over the purge, in which Raisi has denied involvement.

Asked in 2018 and again last year about the executions, Raisi denied playing a role, even as he lauded an order he said was handed down by the Islamic republic’s founder Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini to proceed with the purge.

– ‘Maximum pressure’ –
Ultimate power in Iran, since its 1979 revolution toppled the US-backed monarchy, rests with the supreme leader, but the president wields major influence in areas from industrial policy to foreign affairs.

Rouhani’s landmark achievement was the 2015 deal with world powers under which Iran agreed to limit its nuclear programme in return for sanctions relief.

But high hopes for greater prosperity were crushed in 2018 when then-president Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the accord and launched a “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran.

While Iran has always denied seeking a nuclear weapon, Trump charged it was still planning to build the bomb and destabilising the Middle East through proxy groups in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and Yemen.

As old and new US sanctions hit Iran, trade dried up and foreign companies bolted. The economy nosedived and spiralling prices fuelled repeated bouts of social unrest which were put down by security forces.

Iran’s ultraconservative camp — which deeply distrusts the United States, labelled the “Great Satan” or the “Global Arrogance” in the Islamic republic — attacked Rouhani over the failing deal.

Despite this, Iran’s senior political figures, including Raisi, have voiced broad agreement that the country must seek an end to the US sanctions in ongoing talks in Vienna aimed at rescuing the nuclear accord.

 

Three Of Seven Candidates Pull Out Of Iran Presidential Race

The field of candidates in Iran’s presidential election thinned today, two days before the vote in which a victory by Raisi is widely seen as a foregone conclusion.
Three of the seven men who had been approved to enter the lacklustre race pulled out, further solidifying the position of Raisi, 60, in a vote where turnout is predicted to hit a record low. (Photo by ATTA KENARE / AFP)

 

 

Two days before Iran’s presidential election, which is expected to be won by ultraconservative cleric Ebrahim Raisi, three of the six other men in the race withdrew their candidacies Wednesday.

Ultraconservative lawmaker Alireza Zakani withdrew in the morning, hours after reformist Mohsen Mehralizadeh had also thrown in the towel ahead of Friday’s vote, Iranian media reported.

In the afternoon another ultraconservative, Saeed Jalili, also pulled out. “A significant part of society has favoured my dear brother” Raisi, Jalili said, and urged his backers to vote for the cleric.

That leaves four hopefuls in the race, out of whom the ultraconservative judiciary chief Raisi, 60, is seen as the clear favourite after other prominent politicians were barred from running.

Last-minute withdrawals by candidates, often in return for government postings from the eventual winner, are not uncommon in Iran.

Zakani, 55, was quoted as saying of Raisi to a state television reporter: “I believe him to be qualified and will vote for him, and I hope that fundamental reforms take place in the country with him being elected.”

Hours earlier, the former vice president Mehralizadeh, 64, had also pulled out, the IRNA and ISNA news agencies reported without giving a reason.

Mehralizadeh had been one of only two reformists permitted to run to replace President Hassan Rouhani, who has served the maximum two consecutive terms.

Mehralizadeh had been the only candidate to score less than one percent in pre-election voting intentions, according to the ISPA polling institute.

His departure leaves just one candidate who is considered a reformist in the race, former central bank chief Abdolnasser Hemmati, 66.

 

Supporters of Iranian ultraconservative presidential candidate Ebrahim Raisi carry his portrait during a rally in the capital Tehran, on June 16, 2021, ahead of the Islamic republic’s June 18 presidential election. – The field of candidates in Iran’s presidential election thinned today, two days before the vote in which a victory by Raisi is widely seen as a foregone conclusion.
Three of the seven men who had been approved to enter the lacklustre race pulled out, further solidifying the position of Raisi, 60, in a vote where turnout is predicted to hit a record low. (Photo by ATTA KENARE / AFP)

 

The front-runner Raisi, who wears a black turban and religious coat, is seen as close to the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

The election comes as Tehran is in talks with world powers aimed at saving a landmark 2015 nuclear deal, and against a backdrop of popular discontent about a severe economic and social crisis in the sanctions-hit country.

According to the few polls available, voter abstention could exceed the 57 percent recorded in parliamentary elections last year.

Iran Accuses Israel Of Attacking Natanz Nuclear Site, Vows Revenge

FILES) This file handout satellite image provided by Maxar Technologies on January 28, 2020, shows an overview of Iran’s Natanz nuclear facility, south of the capital Tehran
Satellite image ©2021 Maxar Technologies / AFP

 

Iran charged on Monday that its arch-enemy Israel was “of course” behind an attack on its main nuclear site, the Natanz uranium enrichment plant, and vowed “revenge… in due time”.

The Natanz site near Tehran was hit by a power outage on Sunday that Iran labelled “terrorism”. No one was injured and there was no radiation release, Iran said.

The latest of a string of incidents hitting Iran’s nuclear programme came days after talks resumed in Vienna to salvage the battered 2015 Iranian nuclear deal that former US President Donald Trump abandoned.

His successor Joe Biden wants to revive the agreement between Iran and a group of world powers, which places limits on the Islamic republic’s nuclear programme in return for relief from biting economic sanctions.

Israel strongly opposes the deal and has vowed to disrupt any efforts by the Islamic republic to build an atomic bomb — a goal Tehran has always strongly denied pursuing.

Tehran has blamed Israel’s Mossad spy service for previous attacks on its nuclear facilities and experts — including the killing last November of its top nuclear scientist, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh.

Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said Monday it was clear the latest incident too was an Israeli act of sabotage.

“Of course the Zionist regime, with this action, tried to take revenge on the people of Iran for their patience and wise attitude regarding the lifting of sanctions,” he told a press conference.

Khatibzadeh vowed that Iran’s response would be to take “revenge on the Zionist regime” when and where it chooses.

“If the purpose was to interrupt the path of lifting the oppressive sanctions against Iran, they will certainly not reach their goal.”

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif was quoted as saying Tehran would not allow the attack to affect the Vienna talks, to avoid “falling in the trap” set by Israel, state news agency IRNA reported.

‘Cyber operation’

Israel has not claimed responsibility for the Natanz incident but unsourced media reports in the country attributed it to the Israeli security services.

Israeli public broadcast journalist Amichai Stein tweeted Sunday that “the assessment is” that the Natanz incident is the “result of an Israeli cyber operation”, without providing evidence.

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has always been a fierce critic of the Iran nuclear deal.

On Wednesday, the eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day, he said the Jewish state would not be bound to any agreement that would enable Iran to develop “weapons that threaten our extinction”.

Netanyahu was due to meet visiting US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Monday.

While Trump from 2018 ramped up crippling sanctions against Iran in a “maximum pressure” campaign, Iran later responded by progressively rolling back its own commitments under the agreement.

The Natanz blackout came a day after Tehran announced on Saturday, Iran’s National Nuclear Technology Day, that it had started up advanced uranium enrichment centrifuges banned under the deal.

In a televised ceremony, President Hassan Rouhani inaugurated a cascade of 164 IR-6 centrifuges for producing enriched uranium, as well as two test cascades of 30 IR-5 and 30 IR-6S devices respectively.

The equipment enables quicker enrichment of uranium and in higher quantities, to levels that violate Iran’s commitments under its deal with the five permanent UN Security Council powers plus Germany.

-AFP

Iran Renews Call To US To Lift All Sanctions Imposed By Trump

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani

 

Iran on Friday renewed its call for the US to lift all sanctions imposed by former President Donald Trump, after an offer for talks from new President Joe Biden’s administration.

Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted that Iran would “immediately reverse” its retaliatory measures if the US “unconditionally & effectively” lifts “all sanctions imposed, re-imposed or re-labeled by Trump”.

The Biden administration on Thursday offered talks with Iran led by European allies and reversed two largely symbolic steps against Tehran imposed by Trump, as it sought to salvage a nuclear deal on the brink of collapse.

READ ALSO: Blasphemy: Italian Football Federation Fines Juventus Goalkeeper Buffon $6,000

Ahead of a Sunday deadline set by Iran for it to restrict some access to UN nuclear inspectors unless Trump’s sanctions are ended, new US Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned jointly with European powers that the move would be “dangerous”.

Hours after Blinken’s videoconference with his French, British and German counterparts, the European Union political director, Enrique Mora, proposed via Twitter an “informal meeting” involving Iran — and the US accepted.

“The United States would accept an invitation from the European Union High Representative to attend a meeting of the P5+1 and Iran to discuss a diplomatic way forward on Iran’s nuclear programme,” said State Department spokesman Ned Price.

The P5 — UN Security Council powers Britain, China, France, Russia and the US — plus Germany sealed the 2015 deal brokered by then-president Barack Obama under which Iran drastically scaled back its nuclear programme in exchange for promises of economic relief.

Trump withdrew from the deal in 2018 and re-imposed sweeping sanctions, aiming to bring Iran to its knees.

Zarif’s tweet did not explicitly address the Biden administration’s offer of talks. Iran has demanded an end to Trump’s sanctions before reversing protest measures it took away from full compliance.

A senior US official said the Biden administration was showing good faith and saw a meeting as the start of a “prolonged path” to restoring and building on the nuclear accord.

If Iran declines to meet, “I think it would be both unfortunate and at odds with their stated view that they want to come back if you come back.

“That’s not going to happen simply by one side telling the other one what to do,” the official said on condition of anonymity.

Britain swiftly welcomed the proposed talks. “The UK will participate,” a spokesperson said.

– Reversing Trump steps –

Biden has insisted he will not remove Trump’s sanctions until Iran returns to compliance — but the administration Thursday undid two symbolic steps by the last administration.

In a letter to the United Nations, the United States said it no longer believed that the world body had “snapped back” sanctions on Iran.

Blinken’s predecessor Mike Pompeo last year argued the United States was still a “participant” in the Security Council resolution that blessed the nuclear deal — despite withdrawing later — and therefore could reimpose sanctions.

The argument had been dismissed by the United Nations and close US allies at the time.

In his tweet, Zarif said Iran agreed with the Biden administration’s decision.

“US acknowledged Pompeo’s claims” regarding UN Security Council Resolution 2231 “had no legal validity. We agree,” Iran’s top diplomat wrote.

The Biden administration also reversed draconian curbs on Iranian diplomats in New York who were barred from all but a few blocks around the United Nations and their mission.

– Warning over inspections –

Under the terms of a bill adopted by its conservative-dominated parliament in December, Iran will restrict some inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency if the United States does not lift its sanctions imposed since 2018 by Sunday.

IAEA chief Rafael Grossi is to travel to Tehran on Saturday for talks with the Iranian authorities to find a solution.

A joint statement by the four foreign ministers after the virtual meeting convened by France urged “Iran to consider the consequences of such grave action, particularly at this time of renewed diplomatic opportunity.”

The United States and Iran have had no diplomatic relations for four decades but they began frequent contact to negotiate the 2015 nuclear deal.

The nuclear accord was adamantly opposed by Iran’s regional rivals Israel and Saudi Arabia, which both enjoyed tight partnerships with Trump.

While Iran’s policy is ultimately determined by supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iranian presidential elections in June add another time pressure factor.

Rouhani — a key advocate of nuclear diplomacy with global powers — is set to step down after serving the maximum two consecutive terms, and a more hardline figure is likely to replace him.

AFP

Iran Hangs Man For ‘Terror’, Despite UN Appeal

 

Iran hanged a man for murder, abduction, and “terrorist” links on Saturday, the judiciary’s website said, despite international calls for the execution of the ethnic Baluch to be halted.

Javid Dehghan Khalad was put to death early in the morning in the restive southeastern province of Sistan-Baluchistan, Mizan Online reported.

It comes a day after the United Nations had appealed to Iran not to go ahead with the execution of the 31-year-old.

Mizan said Dehghan was arrested in June 2015 and later convicted of being “one of the leaders” of a “terrorist” group linked to the jihadist Jaish al-Adl (Army of Justice).

READ ALSO: Police Tighten Security As Thousands Join Indian Farmer Protests

Also known as Mohammad Omar, he had been found guilty of carrying out “armed action against the state”, the website said.

Dehghan was found to have been involved in the killing of two Revolutionary Guards’ members in 2015, as well as leading a raid aiming to abduct five border guards, one of whom was killed, it added.

The UN had on Friday urged Iran to halt the execution as it rebuked the Islamic republic for a spate of recent hangings, including of members of minority groups.

“We urge the authorities to halt the imminent execution of Javid Dehghan, to review his and other death penalty cases in line with human rights law,” the Geneva-based Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights wrote on Twitter.

“We strongly condemn the series of executions –- at least 28 –- since mid-December, including of people from minority groups,” it added.

London-based rights group Amnesty International has alleged Dehghan’s trial was “grossly unfair” with the court relying on “torture-tainted confessions” and ignoring abuses committed during the investigation.

Jaish al-Adl has carried out several high-profile bombings and abductions in Iran in recent years.

In February 2019, 27 members of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps were killed in a suicide attack claimed by the group.

Jaish al-Adl was formed in 2012 as a successor to Sunni extremist group Jundallah (Soldiers of God), which waged a deadly insurgency for a decade before it was severely weakened by the capture and execution of its leader Abdolmalek Rigi in 2010.

The Islamic republic has come under fire over a series of executions since late last year of high profile figures, including the formerly France-based dissident Ruhollah Zam on December 12 and wrestler Navid Afkari on September 12.

AFP

Nuclear Deal: Iran Steps Up Uranium Enrichment

(FILES) A file photo taken on October 26, 2010 shows the inside of reactor at the Russian-built Bushehr nuclear power plant in southern Iran, 1200 Kms south of Tehran HAMED MALEKPOUR / FARS NEWS AGENCY / AFP

 

Iran confirmed Tuesday it is now enriching uranium to 20 percent purity, well beyond the threshold set by its 2015 nuclear deal with major powers, sparking international concern. 

The move at its underground Fordow facility was confirmed by UN watchdog the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

It was the most striking suspension yet of Iranian commitments under the landmark deal, a process it started in 2019 in response to US President Donald Trump’s dramatic withdrawal from the accord the previous year.

“At around 7 pm (1530 GMT Monday), we reached 20 percent” enrichment, spokesman Behrouz Kamalavandi told state television in an interview aired on Tuesday.

READ ALSO: Iran Warns Trump Against ‘Adventurism’

Announcing the move on Monday, government spokesman Ali Rabiei said President Hassan Rouhani had ordered the enrichment “in recent days” in line with a law passed last month by the conservative-dominated parliament.

The law “for the lifting of sanctions and protection of the Iranian people’s interests” mandates Rouhani’s government to “produce and store 120 kilogrammes (265 pounds) per year of uranium enriched to 20 percent.”

Foreign Minister Javad Zarif tweeted that “we resumed 20% enrichment as legislated by our parliament,” adding that the IAEA had been “duly notified”.

He stressed that Tehran took the step “after years of non-compliance” by other parties and that “our measures are fully reversible upon FULL compliance by ALL”.

The step comes less than three weeks before the end of the presidency of Trump, who has sought to economically punish and diplomatically isolate Iran with a “maximum pressure” campaign, including tough sanctions.

The outgoing administration deplored Iran’s plan to step up uranium enrichment.

“Iran enriching uranium to 20 percent at Fordow is a clear attempt to increase its campaign of nuclear extortion, an attempt that will continue to fail,” a State Department spokesperson said.

The Iranian government has signalled a readiness to engage with President-elect Joe Biden, who has expressed willingness to return to diplomacy with Tehran and takes office on January 20.

Iran’s return to enrichment of uranium to 20 percent purity has triggered international concern because it is seen as a significant step towards the 90 percent level required for a nuclear weapon.

Israel warning

The IAEA confirmed that “Iran today began feeding uranium already enriched up to 4.1 percent U-235 into six centrifuge cascades at the Fordow Fuel Enrichment Plant for further enrichment up to 20 percent”.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reacted angrily and charged it proved Iran is seeking to build an atomic bomb — a claim the Islamic republic has always denied.

“Iran’s decision to continue violating its commitments, to raise the enrichment level and advance the industrial ability to enrich uranium underground, cannot be explained in any way except as the continued realisation of its intention to develop a military nuclear programme,” Netanyahu said in a statement.

“Israel will not allow Iran to manufacture nuclear weapons.”

The European Union said Iran’s enrichment programme would be a “considerable departure” from the deal.

Russia’s envoy to the IAEA said that Moscow is “not enthusiastic” about Tehran’s move but emphasised that “there is nothing to overdramatise”.

“The nuclear programme remains fully transparent and verifiable,” Mikhail Ulyanov wrote on Twitter. “We should focus on means to restore comprehensive implementation of the nuclear deal.”

Bound by law

Iran had on December 31 informed the IAEA that it would begin producing uranium enriched to up to 20 percent, the level it had before the nuclear deal was reached.

According to the latest IAEA report available, published in November, Tehran was previously enriching uranium to levels greater than the limit provided for in the 2015 Vienna agreement (3.67 percent) but not exceeding the 4.5 percent threshold, and still complied with the agency’s strict inspection regime.

But there has been turmoil since the assassination in late November of Iranian nuclear physicist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh.

In the aftermath of the attack, blamed on Israel, hardliners in Tehran pledged a response and the conservative-dominated parliament passed the new law.

Rouhani had opposed the legislation, describing it as “detrimental to the course of diplomatic activities.”

Quoted by the government’s website, Rabiei said that the administration’s stance towards the law is clear, “but the government considers itself bound to carry out the law”.

 

AFP

Iran Warns Trump Against ‘Adventurism’

In this file photo taken on January 3, 2020, US President Donald Trump makes a statement on Iran at the Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach Florida. President Donald Trump warned on January 4, 2020 that the US is targeting 52 sites in Iran and will hit them “very fast and very hard” if the Islamic republic attacks American personnel or assets. JIM WATSON / AFP

 

Iran on Thursday warned the US president against any “adventurism” before leaving the White House after Donald Trump said he would hold “Iran responsible” for any fatal attack on Americans in Iraq.

Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif’s comments came after Trump accused Iran of being behind a rocket attack Sunday on the US embassy in the Iraqi capital, that caused material damage but no deaths.

The exchange also comes as tensions mount ahead of the first anniversary of the killing of top Iranian general Qasem Soleimani in a US drone strike in Baghdad.

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Trump “uses a worthless photo to recklessly accuse Iran”, Zarif said on Twitter Thursday, referring to an image Trump had posted after the embassy attack of three rockets he said had come from Iran.

“Trump will bear full responsibility for any adventurism on his way out,” Zarif added.

Trump ordered a drone strike on January 3 this year to kill powerful Iranian general Soleimani while he was in Baghdad.

Days later, Iran launched a volley of missiles at Iraqi bases housing US and other coalition troops. Trump refrained from any further military response.

But the US leader, now in his final weeks in office, is sticking to his “maximum pressure” approach toward the Iranian regime.

“Now we hear chatter of additional attacks against Americans in Iraq,” Trump tweeted Wednesday, before warning, “if one American is killed, I will hold Iran responsible. Think it over”.

Zarif had responded earlier Thursday, tweeting, “Putting your own citizens at risk abroad won’t divert attention from catastrophic failures at home.”

The US embassy in Iraq and other foreign military and diplomatic sites have been targeted by dozens of rockets and roadside bomb attacks since late 2019.

The US diplomatic mission has already partially withdrawn its staff due to security concerns, two senior Iraqi officials told AFP earlier this month.

AFP

Iran Executes Opposition Figure Ruhollah Zam

 

(FILES) In this file photo taken on June 30, 2020, Ruhollah Zam, a former opposition figure who had lived in exile in France and had been implicated in anti-government protests, speaks during his trial at Iran’s Revolutionary Court in Tehran.
ALI SHIRBAND / MIZAN NEWS AGENCY / AFP

 

Iran on Saturday executed Ruhollah Zam, a former opposition figure who had lived in exile in France and was implicated in anti-government protests, days after his sentence was upheld.

State television said the “counter-revolutionary” Zam was hanged in the morning after the supreme court upheld his sentence due to “the severity of the crimes” committed against the Islamic republic.

Judiciary spokesman Gholamhossein Esmaili had on Tuesday said Zam’s sentence was upheld by the supreme court “more than a month ago”.

London-based rights group Amnesty International, in a statement after his verdict was confirmed, described Zam as a “journalist and dissident”.

It said the confirmation marked “a shocking escalation in the use of the death penalty as a weapon of repression.”

Iran’s Revolutionary Guards announced the arrest of Zam in October 2019, claiming he had been “directed by France’s intelligence service”.

State television said he was “under the protection of several countries’ intelligence services.”

The official IRNA news agency said he was also convicted of espionage for France and an unnamed country in the region, cooperating with the “hostile government of America”, acting against “the country’s security”, insulting the “sanctity of Islam” and instigating violence during the 2017 protests.

At least 25 people were killed during the unrest in December 2017 and January 2018 that was sparked by economic hardship.

Zam, who was granted political asylum in France and reportedly lived in Paris, ran a channel on the Telegram messaging app called Amadnews.

Telegram shut down the channel after Iran demanded it removes the account for inciting an “armed uprising”.

– ‘Corruption on earth’ –

Zam was charged with “corruption on earth” — one of the most serious offences under Iranian law — and sentenced to death in June.

State television aired an “interview” with him in July, in which he appears as saying he believed in reformism until he was detained in 2009 during protests against the disputed re-election of ultra-conservative president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

He also denied having instigated violence through his Telegram channel.

Amnesty has repeatedly called on Iran to stop broadcasting videos of “confessions” by suspects, saying they “violate the defendants’ rights”.

Zam is one of several people to have been put on death row over participation or links to protests that rocked Iran between 2017 and 2019.

Navid Afkari, a 27-year-old wrestler, was executed at a prison in the southern city of Shiraz in September.

The judiciary said he had been found guilty of “voluntary homicide” for stabbing to death a government employee in August 2018.

Shiraz and several other urban centres across Iran had been the scene of anti-government protests and demonstrations at the time over economic and social hardship.

Three young men were also sentenced to death over links to deadly 2019 protests, but Iran’s supreme court said last week that it would retry them over a request by their defence team.

Their sentences were initially upheld by a tribunal over evidence the judiciary said was found on their phones of them setting alight banks, buses and public buildings during the wave of anti-government protests.

Amnesty International said Iran executed at least 251 people last year, the world’s second-highest toll after China.

-AFP