Canada Court Awards Compensation For Families Over Jet Downed By Iran

A file photo of a court gavel.
A file photo of a court gavel.

 

A Canadian court has awarded more than $80 million in compensation to the families of six people who died when Iran shot down a Ukrainian airliner almost two years ago, according to a decision made public Monday.

Ukraine International Airlines flight PS752 was shot down shortly after take-off from Tehran on January 8, 2020, killing all 176 people aboard – including 85 Canadian citizens and permanent residents.

Three days later, the Iranian armed forces admitted to downing the Kyiv-bound plane “by mistake.”

Ontario Superior Court Judge Edward Belobaba had previously ruled that the strike on the civilian aircraft “constituted terrorist activity”, paving the way for bereaved families to seek compensation.

In the decision publicly shared Monday, he awarded the plaintiffs $107 million Canadian dollars ($83 million), plus interest.

It was unclear how the money would be collected from Iran, but Belobaba said he was “satisfied that some level of enforcement may well be possible and some level of deterrence may well be achieved.”

“(The plaintiffs’ counsel said) viable Iranian-owned assets and investments remain accessible not only in Canada but worldwide,” the judge wrote in his decision.

Contacted by AFP on Monday evening, the plaintiffs’ lawyer Mark Arnold did not immediately respond.

In a statement posted online Monday, the lawyers argued for Canada’s jurisdiction over the compensation.

“In 2012, the Justice for Victims of Terrorism Act and the State Immunity Act were amended to permit such claims to be brought against foreign states designated as state sponsors of terrorism,” lawyers Mark Arnold and Jonah Arnold said.

“Canada designated the Islamic Republic of Iran as such a state.”

In May, the same judge concluded that Iran had committed a “terrorist” act by shooting down the Ukrainian aircraft.

Tehran denounced that ruling, saying it had “no basis” and insisting that the Canadian court lacked the authority to render such a decision.

The plaintiffs had asked for $1.5 billion Canadian dollars in damages.

In a final report in March, the Iranian Civil Aviation Organization (CAO) said its air defense systems were on high alert for a US counter-attack after Tehran fired missiles at a military base in Iraq that was used by US forces.

The Islamic republic had just attacked a US base in Iraq in response to the killing of General Qassem Soleimani, and was expecting a response from Washington.

Ukraine denounced the report as a “cynical attempt to hide the real causes” of the tragedy, while Ottawa said the report was “incomplete” and lacked “hard evidence.”

A group of countries led by Canada said in June that they had filed an action against Iran to seek compensation for the families of the victims.

In December 2020, Iran offered to pay “$150,000 or the equivalent in euros” to each of the victims’ families.

That announcement was strongly criticized by Ukrainian and Canadian officials, who said that compensation should not be settled through unilateral declarations.

Iran Not At Point Of Recognizing Taliban’s Government

File photo: Taliban fighters stand guard at a checkpoint on a street in Kabul on December 17, 2021. Mohd RASFAN / AFP

 

Iran has not reached the point of recognising the Taliban government in neighbouring Afghanistan, the foreign ministry said Monday.

“Today, we are basically not at the point of recognising” the Taliban, foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh told a news conference.

“We hope that the governing body of Afghanistan will move, through its actions, in a direction that will enable it to achieve international recognition,” he said.

“Iran and the neighbouring countries of Afghanistan insist particularly on the formation of an inclusive government which reflects the ethnic and demographic diversity of this country.”

Shiite-majority Iran, which shares a 900-kilometre (550-mile) border with Afghanistan, did not recognise the Sunni movement’s rule during their 1996 to 2001 stint in power.

READ ALSO: Iran Announces New Space Launch Amid Nuclear Talks

Already host to millions of Afghans and fearing a new influx, Tehran has sought to sketch a rapprochement with the Taliban since their lightning seizure of Kabul amid the US withdrawal last August.

The Taliban has formed an all-male cabinet made up entirely of members of the group, and almost exclusively of ethnic Pashtuns.

It has further restricted women’s rights to work and study, triggering widespread international condemnation.

AFP

Iran Announces New Space Launch Amid Nuclear Talks

This handout photo provided by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) official website via SEPAH News on December 25, 2021, shows missiles being launched during a joint military drill dubbed the ‘Great Prophet 17’, in the southwest of Iran. PHOTO: AFP / SEPAH NEWS / IRAN’S REVOLUTIONARY GUARDS WEBSITE

 

Iran announced Thursday it had carried out a new space launch, in a move likely to irk Western powers amid tough talks on reviving a 2015 nuclear deal.

“The Simorgh satellite launcher carried three research cargos into space,” defence ministry spokesman Ahmad Hosseini said, quoted by state television.

“The research goals foreseen for this launch have been achieved,” Hosseini added, without elaborating on the nature of the research.

In February, Iran announced a successful test of its most powerful solid fuel satellite launcher to date, the Zoljanah, boasting that it can put a 220-kilogramme (1,100-pound) payload into orbit.

The United States voiced concern about that launch, saying the test could boost Iran’s ballistic missile technology at a moment when the two nations are inching back to diplomacy.

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Iran successfully put its first military satellite into orbit in April 2020, drawing a sharp rebuke from Washington.

Western governments worry that satellite launch systems incorporate technologies interchangeable with those used in ballistic missiles capable of delivering a nuclear warhead.

Iran insists its space programme is for civilian and defence purposes only, and does not breach the nuclear deal or any other international agreement.

The 2015 agreement has been hanging by a thread since the US left it in 2018 and reimposed sanctions, prompting Iran to step up nuclear activities long curtailed by the deal.

A new round of negotiations began in Vienna on Monday in a fresh push to make headway on reviving the deal.

AFP

Iranian Forces, Taliban Exchange Fire At Border

File photo: Taliban fighters stand guard near the venue of an open-air rally in a field on the outskirts of Kabul on October 3, 2021. Hoshang Hashimi / AFP

 

An exchange of fire erupted Wednesday between Iranian forces and Afghanistan’s Taliban at Iran’s eastern border, local media reported.

“A clash erupted in the afternoon between Iranian border guards and the Taliban following a misunderstanding at the border near the (Afghan) province of Nimroz,” Iran’s Tasnim news agency said.

Iran, which shares a 900 kilometre (560 mile) border with Afghanistan, does not recognise the Taliban government formed after the insurgents seized the capital Kabul in August.

READ ALSO [‘Drowned In Our Problems’:] Taliban Vows Not To Interfere In Other Nations’ Affairs

Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said a “border dispute between residents” of the area had triggered the incident, without referring to the Taliban.

“The situation has been resolved. Shooting stopped after contact between border guards of the two countries,” he said in a statement.

Tasnim reported that “Iranian farmers passed beyond the protective walls erected within Iran, and the Taliban reacted by deeming that their border had been breached”.

The Taliban opened fire and Iranian forces responded, it said.

In late October, Tehran called on the Taliban to adopt a “friendly” approach towards their neighbours, in a meeting of six of countries that share borders with Afghanistan.

Iran has appeared to edge towards a pragmatic rapprochement with the hard-line Sunni Islamist group in recent months.

AFP

Biden Invites Taiwan, Nigeria And Others To Democracy Summit

File photo: US President Joe Biden announces Jerome Powell as his nominee for Chair and Lael Brainard as Vice-Chair of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve Systems during an event at the White House in Washington, DC, on November 22, 2021. (Photo by JIM WATSON / AFP)

 

Joe Biden has invited Taiwan to a virtual summit on democracy alongside more than 100 countries — a move bound to anger China, which is not on the list.

The conference was a campaign pledge by the US president, who has placed the struggle between democracies and “autocratic governments” at the heart of his foreign policy.

The “Summit for Democracy” will take place online on December 9 and 10 ahead of an in-person meeting at its second edition next year.

The meeting was long advertised, but the guest list — published Tuesday on the State Department’s website — will be closely scrutinized.

Unsurprisingly, America’s main rivals China and Russia are not on it.

READ ALSO: US To Resume Talks With Taliban Next Week

But the United States did invite Taiwan, which it does not recognize as an independent country but holds up as a model democracy.

China baulks at any use of the word “Taiwan” that lends a sense of international legitimacy to the democratic self-ruled island, which Beijing claims as part of its territory and has vowed to one day seize — by force if needed.

The US move is guaranteed to further inflame tensions between the two superpowers.

“I agree Taiwan more than qualifies- but it does seem to be (the) only democratic govt invited that the US govt does not officially recognize. So its inclusion is a big deal,” tweeted Julian Ku, a Hofstra University law professor whose specialities include China.

India, often called “the world’s biggest democracy,” will be present despite increasing criticism from human rights defenders over democratic backsliding under Hindu nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

So too will Pakistan, despite its checkered relationship with Washington.

Democracy in Decline 

Turkey, a NATO ally of the United States whose President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was dubbed an “autocrat” by Biden, did not make the list.

In the Middle East, only Israel and Iraq were invited. The traditional Arab allies of the US — Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates — are all absent.

Biden also invited Brazil, which is led by controversial far-right President Jair Bolsonaro.

In Europe, Poland is represented, despite recurring tensions with Brussels over respect for the rule of law, but Hungary’s far-right Prime Minister Viktor Orban is not.

On the African side, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya, South Africa, Nigeria and Niger are invited.

“For this kick-off Summit… there’s a case for getting a broad set of actors into the room: it provides for a better exchange of ideas than setting a perfect bar for qualification,” Laleh Ispahani of the Open Society Foundations told AFP.

Rather than using the summit as an anti-China meeting, Ispahani urged Biden to address “the serious decline of democracy around the world – including relatively robust models like the US.”

This summit is being organized as democracy has suffered setbacks in countries where the US had placed great hopes.

Sudan and Myanmar have experienced military coups, Ethiopia is in the midst of a conflict that could lead to its “implosion,” according to US diplomats, and the Taliban took power in Afghanistan following the withdrawal of US troops after two decades.

AFP

Iran Executes Man Arrested For Murder At Age 17

The Iranian flag

 

Iran executed a man Wednesday who was arrested for murder at the age of 17, the judiciary said, despite appeals to spare his life by rights groups including Amnesty International.

READ ALSO: Ronaldo Fires Manchester United Into Champions League Last 16

Arman Abdolali was executed at dawn in Rajai Shahr prison near Tehran, in line with the “qesas” eye-for-an-eye style justice demanded by the victim’s family, said the judiciary’s Mizan Online website.

Amnesty International had appealed on October 11 for Iran to halt the execution of the 25-year-old who was arrested in 2014 and later convicted of murdering his girlfriend.

The London-based rights group said he had been sentenced to death twice but that the execution was stopped both times following an international outcry.

It said Abdolali had first been sentenced to death in December 2015 after “a grossly unfair trial” by a court that “relied on torture-tainted ‘confessions'” following his girlfriend’s disappearance the year before.

It said Abdolali was sentenced to death again in 2020 in a retrial, as the court ruled that the teenager was responsible for the acts in the absence of evidence to the contrary, Amnesty reported.

UN human rights experts also appealed to Iran to halt the execution.

“International human rights law unequivocally forbids imposition of the death sentence on anyone under 18 years of age,” said the Geneva-based UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

In 2020, there were 246 executions in Iran, according to Amnesty International.

Iran has often faced international criticism for executing people convicted of crimes committed when they were minors, in violation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child that has been ratified by the Islamic republic.

AFP

 

 

Iran’s Foreign Minister Tests Positive For COVID-19

A file photo of a healthcare worker holding a COVID-19 test kit. TARSO SARRAF / AFP

 

 

Iran’s foreign minister has tested positive for Covid, local media reported, at a key moment in diplomatic efforts to revive a nuclear agreement with major powers.

Hossein Amir-Abdollahian “tested positive today for coronavirus,” the Tasnim news agency reported late Monday.

The 57-year-old career diplomat, who was named foreign minister in August by ultraconservative President Ebrahim Raisi, was a close confidant of military strategist General Qassem Soleimani who was assassinated in a US drone strike early last year.

“His general health is satisfactory and he is continuing his daily duties from quarantine,” ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh told the official IRNA news agency.

Khatibzadeh had said just Monday that talks with the remaining parties to the 2015 nuclear deal would resume “in the next two or three weeks”, although he added that ministers would not take part.

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The administration of President Joe Biden has warned repeatedly that time is running out to reverse the US withdrawal from the deal ordered by his predecessor Donald Trump.

Washington is not directly participating in the talks but is taking part through EU intermediaries.

Trump’s abandonment of the agreement and reimposition of sweeping economic sanctions prompted Iran to suspend many of the commitments it made in return for the lifting of the sanctions.

Western governments issued a joint statement Saturday expressing “grave” concern over Iran’s production of highly enriched uranium and enriched uranium metal, which they said met “no credible civilian need”.

Iran retorted that the output was “for medical supply and for use as fuel in the Tehran research reactor,” and reiterated its readiness to resume talks.

The talks have been hold since before Raisi’s election in June.

EU, Iran To Hold Nuclear Talks In Brussels ‘This Week’

EU Flag

 

 

The EU’s top negotiator will meet his counterpart from Tehran this week in Brussels for talks on restarting negotiations over Iran’s nuclear deal, a spokesman for the bloc said on Monday.

The EU and world powers are scrambling to try to get negotiations in Vienna aimed at reviving the 2015 accord back on track after the election of a hardliner in Tehran.

Iran’s chief negotiator on the deal, Deputy Foreign Minister Ali Bagheri, wrote on Twitter that he would be in Brussels on Wednesday “to continue our talks on result-oriented negotiations”.

EU spokesman Peter Stano said the meeting would involve the bloc’s lead negotiator Enrique Mora, who visited Tehran earlier this month to push Iran to restart full negotiations.

Stano said the EU’s diplomatic service was “sparing no efforts to resume talks of all parties in Vienna”.

The agreement between Iran and world powers to find a long-term solution to the now two-decade-old crisis over its controversial nuclear programme has been moribund since former US President Donald Trump walked out of the deal in May 2018.

His successor Joe Biden has said he is ready to re-enter the agreement, so long as Iran meets key preconditions including full compliance with the deal whose terms it has repeatedly violated by ramping up nuclear activities since the US left the pact.

But the Vienna-based talks through intermediaries made little headway, before being interrupted by the election of hardliner Ebrahim Raisi as Iran’s president and suspended for the last four months.

The EU acts as coordinator for the deal that also involves Britain, France, Germany, China and Russia.

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