Bloomberg     |     By Kurt Wagner     |     May 26, 2021

Facebook Inc. issued a new report Wednesday showing that most networks of accounts that the company removes for “inauthentic behavior” originate in Russia or Iran, which accounted for 50 different network removals since 2017.

A total of 9 “inauthentic” networks originating from the U.S. were removed in that same time period. The U.S. was also the most consistent target of these operations, and U.S. users have been the target of 28 different foreign influence campaigns since 2017. Ukraine was the second most targeted country, and was targeted by 11 networks.

The data is part of a high-level Facebook report on influence operations, which include efforts by groups using fake accounts to mislead or sway the opinions of real users. Facebook reports network removals on a monthly basis, but Wednesday’s report summarized many of the company’s findings since it began hunting these networks following the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

As Facebook has improved in detecting these networks, company officials say that bad actors are changing strategy, including launching smaller campaigns with more specific target audiences. Facebook described this as a shift to “retail” operations from broader, “wholesale” efforts.

“One of the consequences is they’re not getting that much reach, they’re not drawing that much attention, and they’re not being able to have the impact that they would like to have,” said Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook’s head of cybersecurity policy.

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2021-05-26/facebook-says-most-inauthentic-networks-start-in-russia-iran

Fox News     |     Eric Shawn     |     March 19, 2021

New Mexico Republican Rep. Yvette Herrell, and eight of her colleagues, sent a letter to the Department of Justice asking that it ferret out and prosecute any Americans who are secretly paid to parrot Tehran’s line

The U.S. government should investigate what is alleged to be a covert Iranian propaganda operation being run on American soil, according to a congressional request.

New Mexico Republican Rep. Yvette Herrell, and eight of her colleagues, sent a letter to the Department of Justice asking that it ferret out and prosecute any Americans who are secretly paid to parrot Tehran’s line to influence Biden administration policy and U.S. public opinion about the theocratic regime.

“Iran remains one of the biggest threats to the United States in the region. It is important we ensure they are not improperly using their money to influence politicians and thought leaders in our own government. Any influence used to soften America’s stands towards Iran threatens our national security. This is why I and my colleagues wrote this letter — to protect our national security and hold Iran accountable,” Herrell told Fox News.

Herrell’s warning comes after a Massachusetts political scientist, Kaveh Lotfolah Afrasiabi, was arrested and charged by federal prosecutors in January with acting and conspiring to act as an unregistered Iranian agent. The feds say that Afrasiabi portrayed himself as an objective Iranian expert in his media interviews and writings, including penning two opinion pieces on Iran for The New York Times, while authorities say he was actually on Tehran’s payroll to spread the pro-regime party line. He allegedly was paid “approximately $265,000” by Iran’s Mission to the United Nations as “a secret employee … who was being paid to spread their propaganda,” say the feds. He is charged with violating the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA.)

Herrell and the letter’s co-signers are calling on the Biden administration to create a special task force to “identify, track and arrest other Iranian Nationals who are in violation of FARA,” create a list of potential violations similar to the “FBI Most Wanted” list, establish an FBI office to focus on Iranian influence operations as well as “investigate and monitor groups, charities and think tanks that get funding from the U.S. government to ensure American taxpayer money does not directly or indirectly go to those who are Islamic Republic agents and lobbyists.”

“Iran is a sophisticated regime. They are seeking to influence the political process and even politicians to benefit their interests and harm our own interests. The Trump administration held Iran accountable for their actions and took their threats seriously. Any softening of our stance on Iran threatens our national security,” Herrell said.

“We are thrilled to learn about this letter,” said activist Bryan E. Leib, the executive director of Iranian Americans for Liberty. “Her letter sends a strong message that American lawmakers will not stand by as Iranian nationals continue to operate illegally on U.S. soil as unregistered agents of the Islamic Republic of Iran.”

Among those who co-signed the letter are New York Rep. Lee Zeldin, a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and co-chair of the House Black-Jewish Caucus, Minnesota  Rep. Jim Hagedorn, a member of the Oversight, Investigations and Regulations Sub-Committee, and Arkansas Rep. Rick Crawford, a member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.

Leib said that the Iranian regime has ramped up its influence operation as part of its efforts to push the Biden administration to rejoin the Iranian nuclear deal, relax sanctions and soften U.S. policy toward Tehran.

“Their ultimate goal is to neutralize the threat posed by the U.S., through sowing division, doubt and resentment,” Leib told Fox News. “The Islamic Republic’s chief weapon is terror and its favorite tactic is assassinations. They have made implicit and explicit threats to Iranian Americans for opposing them. The regime’s lobby has a long history of character assassination of Iranian Americans who oppose the regime.”

The recent report on election interference by the U.S. Director of National Intelligence said that the Iran regime engaged in a covert influence campaign, besides Russia, to sway the 2020 presidential contest. The report says Tehran’s goal was to target former President Trump “and to further its longstanding objectives by exacerbating divisions in the U.S., creating confusion, and undermining the legitimacy of U.S. elections and institutions.”

“We assess that Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei probably authorized Iran’s influence campaign and that it was a whole of government effort,” said the agency. “Tehran designed its campaign to attempt to influence U.S. policy toward Iran, distract U.S. leaders with domestic issues, and to amplify messages sympathetic to the Iranian regime.”

Leib said Iran’s message is one that Iranian Americans do not want to hear and U.S. policymakers should ignore.

“Americans should understand Iranians inside and outside of Iran are overwhelmingly sick and tired of this terror-sponsoring regime in Iran,” he said. “Americans should know that, the vast majority of Iranian Americans are grateful immigrants who love and cherish the United States and the ideals of freedom and equality under law, because they had the unfortunate experience of living under the Islamic Republic.”

For his part, Afrasiabi has denied the allegations against him. In a statement to Fox News after his arrest, he said, “what I did under the U.N. norms was legal and transparent … and I had absolutely no clue that I was violating any U.S. law. I never engaged in any lobbying.”

He also explained that his “consulting role for Iran covered their international affairs and I never once deviated from my independent calling as a policy expert.”

But Leib and his group believe a wider federal effort will finally expose what Iran has really been up to.

“We are confident with an official investigation, more unregistered agents of the Islamic Regime will be identified. We expect appropriate measures will be taken, from prosecution all the way to expulsion, and rescinding of permanent residency status or citizenship to be pursued.”

https://www.foxnews.com/politics/congress-demands-to-see-if-iran-is-paying-americans-to-help-influence-biden-policy

Assadollah Assadi is the first Iranian diplomat convicted for terrorism in Europe in a case that has soured Iranian relations with a key partner

WSJ     |     By Sune Engel Rasmussen     |     2-4-2021

A Belgian court sentenced an Iranian diplomat to 20 years in prison for plotting a bomb attack against a gathering of Iranian dissidents outside Paris in 2018, in a case that has strained Tehran’s ties with Europe.

Assadollah Assadi, a counselor at Iran’s embassy in Vienna, was Thursday convicted of organizing the foiled attack that targeted a rally held by the National Council of Resistance of Iran, an umbrella opposition group dominated by the People’s Mujahedeen Organization of Iran, or MEK.

The court in Antwerp sentenced three other Iranians to 15, 17 and 18 years respectively in prison for collusion, concluding that Iranian state intelligence had ordered the plot.

“The attack plan was conceived in the name of Iran and under its leadership,” the Belgian state security service VSSE said to the public prosecutor last year.

Mr. Assadi, in prison in Antwerp since 2018, claimed protection by diplomatic immunity and refused to appear at the court hearings. The three others maintained their innocence.

Mr. Assadi’s lawyer said before the verdict that he would appeal a guilty sentence.

A spokesman for Iran’s Foreign Ministry condemned the verdict, saying that Iran didn’t recognize it and that all stages of the judicial process were illegal and violated international law.

The MEK heralded the verdict as a victory against the Islamic Republic, whose leadership it has worked for nearly 40 years to overthrow.

The group’s leader Maryam Rajavi said the trial had “confirmed the regime’s widespread planning for espionage and terrorism in Europe.” She called on the European Union to recall ambassadors from Tehran and close down Iranian embassies.

The case shows Iran’s willingness to conduct operations and exert political influence in Europe, which has helped keep alive the 2015 nuclear deal and provides a key link for Iran to the West. The verdict marks the first time an Iranian diplomat has been sentenced in Europe for terrorism activities.

Iran denies involvement in the plot, which Foreign Minister Javad Zarif has called a “false flag ploy” meant to tarnish Iranian-European relations.

The foiled plot strained Iran’s ties with Europe as both sides worked to salvage the nuclear deal, which former President Trump withdrew from in 2018. In retaliation to the terror plot, France and the EU froze assets of Iran’s intelligence agency, Mr. Assadi and another agent.

European officials are now concerned that Iran will retaliate by executing Ahmedreza Djalali, a Swedish-Iranian scientist working in Brussels, who has been sentenced to death for alleged espionage in Iran.

Ahead of the verdict, Iran worked behind the scenes to exchange Mr. Assadi for Mr. Djalali, the officials said.

Iran sees the MEK as a terrorist organization and accuses the group of fomenting public uprisings inside the country, including in late 2017, months before the Paris gathering. The U.S. considered the MEK a terrorist group until 2012, when the Obama administration delisted it after a lawsuit from the group that was backed by its American supporters.

According to the prosecutor, Mr. Assadi, an operative of Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence, on June 28, 2018, delivered a detonator and a pound of explosive, transferred from Iran in a diplomatic pouch, to an Iranian couple in Luxembourg.

The couple, Nasimeh Naami and Amir Saadouni, who lived in Antwerp, were arrested two days later en route to Villepinte outside Paris, where the MEK gathering took place. A fourth suspect, Mehrdad Arefani, an alleged Iranian mole in the MEK, was arrested at the site. Mr. Assadi was arrested on July 1 at a reststop in Germany, and extradited to Belgium.

European countries have in recent years blamed Iran for other suspected plots against dissidents, including two killings in the Netherlands in 2015 and 2017, and a foiled assassination in Denmark in 2018. Albania in 2019 said it had averted several planned attacks by Iranian agents against the MEK, which runs a large camp in the Balkan nation.

A spokesman for Iran’s mission to the United Nations didn’t reply this week to requests for comment on Mr. Assadi’s trial. Iran has denied involvement in the plots in Europe. Mr. Zarif has accused European nations of “harboring terrorists.”

Mr. Assadi’s case shows how Iran uses its presence in Europe and the continent’s open borders for intelligence work, particularly through cultural and religious institutions.

His notebook, submitted as evidence, suggested that the diplomat visited locations in 11 different European countries, including Shiite mosques and institutes in Germany, Austria, the Netherlands and France. His visits notably included the Islamic Center Hamburg, a hub for pro-Iranian activities in Europe, supervised by a foundation set up by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.

The German Ministry of Interior has called the Hamburg mosque “one of the most active centers of Iranian propaganda in Europe” whose actual task is “the subtle propagation of an Islamic theocratic state after Iranian example.”

“Iran uses cultural networks for intelligence purposes,” said Mehdi Khalaji, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute who studied for 14 years at seminaries in Iran’s holy city of Qom. “They want to have a foothold in Europe.”

Norwegian intelligence in November asked the country’s Ministry of Justice to consider expelling a cleric at the Iran-backed Imam Ali Center in Oslo who threatened national security, according to state broadcaster NRK.

British authorities last year investigated the Islamic Centre of England, a charity run by a representative of Mr. Khamenei, after it hosted a vigil attended by 2,000 people for Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani who had been killed by the U.S.

https://www.wsj.com/articles/iranian-diplomat-sentenced-to-20-years-for-foiled-bomb-plot-in-france-11612439873

 

Reuters     |     By Parisa Hafezi     |     1/8/2021

DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran’s Supreme Leader on Friday banned the government from importing COVID-19 vaccines from the United States and Britain, labelling the Western powers “untrustworthy”, as the infection spreads in the Middle East’s hardest-hit country.

In a live televised speech, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei raised the prospect of the two Western countries, long-time adversaries of the Islamic Republic, possibly seeking to spread the infection to other countries.

He added however that Iran could obtain vaccines “from other reliable places”. He gave no details, but China and Russia are both allies of Iran.

“Imports of U.S. and British vaccines into the country are forbidden … They’re completely untrustworthy. It’s not unlikely they would want to contaminate other nations,” said Khamenei, the country’s highest authority.

“Given our experience with France’s HIV-tainted blood supplies, French vaccines aren’t trustworthy either,” Khamenei said, referring to the country’s contaminated blood scandal of the 1980s and 1990s.

Khamenei repeated the accusations in a tweet that was removed by Twitter along with a message saying it violated the platform’s rules against misinformation.

Iran launched human trials of its first domestic COVID-19 vaccine candidate late last month, saying it could help Iran defeat the pandemic despite U.S. sanctions that affect its ability to import vaccines.

Tensions between Washington and Tehran have risen since 2018, when President Donald Trump abandoned a 2015 nuclear deal and reimposed sanctions to pressure Iran into negotiating stricter curbs on its nuclear program, ballistic missile development and support for regional proxy forces.

In retaliation for U.S. sanctions, which were lifted under the nuclear deal, Tehran has gradually violated the accord. U.S. President-elect Joe Biden, who takes office on Jan. 20, has pledged to rejoin the agreement if Tehran also returns to full compliance. Khamenei said Tehran was in no rush for the United States to re-enter the deal, but that sanctions on the Islamic Republic must be lifted immediately.

Iran’s utmost authority, Khamenei ruled out any talks over Tehran’s missile programme and Iran’s involvement in the Middle East, as demanded by the United States and some other major powers.

“Contrary to the U.S., Iran’s involvement in the region creates stability and is aimed at preventing instability … Iran’s involvement in the region is definite and will continue.”

Shortly before Khamenei’s speech, Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards unveiled an underground missile base at an undisclosed Gulf location. The West sees Iran’s missiles both as a conventional military threat to regional stability and a possible delivery mechanism for nuclear weapons should Tehran develop them.

But Iran, which has one of the biggest missile programmes in the Middle East, regards the programme as an important deterrent and retaliatory force against the United States and other adversaries – primarily Gulf Arabs – in the region in the event of war.

https://www.reuters.com/article/health-coronavirus-iran/iranian-leader-khamenei-bans-imports-of-u-s-british-covid-19-vaccines-idINKBN29D0YR

 

His advisers cling to the 2015 deal, but the region has moved on

NY Times    |    By the Editorial Board     |    Jan. 4, 2021

President Trump’s maximum-pressure sanctions campaign against Iran will continue until his final day in office—and so will Tehran’s escalating violations of the 2015 nuclear deal. While the facts on the ground change, Joe Biden’s policy hasn’t.

Iran is now enriching uranium to 20% purity, the International Atomic Energy Agency confirmed Monday. This is below the 90% needed for a bomb but a big leap above the accord’s 3.67% limit. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani says he was “bound” by the Iranian parliament, which passed a law mandating the escalation. But this crosses a red line for the European countries that have tried to keep the deal alive since Mr. Trump’s 2018 withdrawal.

The regime also said Monday that it had detained a vessel from South Korea, which is in a dispute with Tehran over frozen bank accounts. Last month Mr. Trump blamed Iran-backed militias for the largest attack on Baghdad’s Green Zone since 2010. Iran was also likely behind a series of cyber attacks against dozens of Israeli firms at the end of 2020.

This shouldn’t surprise anyone: Tehran has been a regional menace for 40 years. Mr. Trump’s newly acquired sanctions leverage could eventually forge a better deal, but it was always unlikely in his first term. Watching Iran break out from the deal so easily is a reminder of how sweet the 2015 accord’s terms are for Tehran, which bet on waiting out Mr. Trump for a Democrat.

Mr. Biden has said the U.S. will comply with the agreement again as soon as Iran does. This ostensibly would be followed by negotiations over other malign Iranian behavior. “In that broader negotiation, we can ultimately secure limits on Iran’s ballistic missile technology,” Mr. Biden’s National Security Adviser, Jake Sullivan, said in an interview over the weekend.

“We did believe that if you had the Iranian nuclear program in a box, you could then begin to chip away at some of these other issues,” Mr. Sullivan recalled of the original deal, which he helped negotiate. “Obviously, that did not come to pass, but it was never fundamentally part of the Iran nuclear deal that we had the expectation that it would.” If that’s the case, why does Mr. Sullivan think the Biden Administration can get cooperation on missiles now?

Simply rejoining the deal means giving up significant leverage for nothing. Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said last month that the sanctions campaign had done $250 billion in damage. The U.S. would have to accept irreversible benefits to Iran, like the knowledge and data its scientists gained while violating the deal.

Iran is escalating its nuclear enrichment to put pressure on the new U.S. Administration to rush back into the 2015 deal. It sees the same Obama negotiators moving into Biden jobs, and figures it can outfox them again. But if the U.S. keeps Mr. Trump’s sanctions, and persuades Europe to join them, the pressure will be back on Tehran to make concessions.

https://www.wsj.com/articles/bidens-iran-policy-vs-reality-in-tehran-11609802756

 

Iranian Americans Outline a Comprehensive, Bi-partisan Iran Policy for 2021

OIAC      |     12/15/2020

WASHINGTON, DC- On December 15, 2020, the Organization of Iranian American Communities (OIAC) hosted a virtual event on US policy toward Iran. The event was titled “Iranian Americans Call for a Comprehensive US-Iran Policy” and featured several members of OIAC’s Advisory Board, members of OIAC’s Young Professionals and Students Chapter, and a panel of Iranian American community leaders. The focus was on countering the escalating human rights violations in Iran as well as the regional and terror threats posed by the Islamic Republic.

With the next U.S. administration set to take office in January 2021, the message of Iranian Americans is clear: The regime in Tehran lacks legitimacy, and the United States should stand with the people of Iran since they hold the real leverage for change from within. A key element in OIAC’s call for a comprehensive US-Iran policy was the need for bipartisanship. The speakers made it clear that the struggle for a free and democratic Iran is not a republican nor a democrat issue; it is an issue of human rights, global peace, security, and stability.

Professor Kazem Kazerounian, a senior member of OIAC’s Advisory Board, suggested that current socio-political dynamics can lead to the “final blow” to the regime. He noted that “this regime has failed the Iranian people,” with “80% of the population living below the poverty line and the economy in a freefall.” Meanwhile, the regime has escalated arrests, torture, and public executions to control the restless population that has nothing to lose. Referring to the waves of massacres, including the 1988 Massacre, and the recent high-profile executions of Navid Afkari and Ruhollah Zam, Professor Kazerounian added that the regime continues to expose its “true face to the international community” as the Iranian people’s “resistance and defiance grow day by day.”

Professor Ali Parsa of the OIAC Advisory Board explained how Iranians “refer to this regime as a religious fascism that uses terrorism at home and abroad to stay in power.” He added, “I think if anyone has any doubt about how deceptive this regime can be, all they need to do is to look at the protests and the slogans by the Iranian people.” Like: “reformers, conservatives the game is over” or, “leave Iraq, Syria, Yemen, tend our grievances” or, “the enemy is here (Mullahs), they lie saying it is the U.S.”

Dr. Majid Sadeghpour, Political Director of OIAC, outlined the bipartisan congressional support for a free Iran. He referred to Iranian terrorist activities over the last four decades and underscored that finally for the first time “an Iranian diplomat has been apprehended” to face criminal charges with “compelling evidence that demonstrates how far the regime is willing to go when it comes to eliminating opponents and conducting terrorism.” He added, “The Middle East that we have today is quite different than the Middle East of a decade ago, or even two years ago. The political shifts and alliances formed in the Middle East are no longer in favor of the regime…The situation is ripe for a major transformation not just in Iran but the entire region.”

Dr. Ramesh Sepehrrad, who moderated the Advisory Board panel, summed up the key drivers for a comprehensive 2021 policy:

  • Recognizing the voice of the Iranian people and their desire for freedom and democracy.
  • Disabling Tehran’s terror and hostage-taking diplomacy
  • Promoting and encouraging a path to justice and accountability for the ongoing crimes against humanity in Iran, as called for by Amnesty International and UN experts.
  • Leveraging the regional collaboration to counter the regime’s drive for regional terror and hegemony

The second panel, moderated by Amir Emadi, member of OIAC’s Young Professionals and Students, analyzed the status of the pandemic in Iran, the change in the political environment in the US and the need for a more concerted effort by the international community to support the call for change in Iran.

Dr. Azadeh Sami shared some of the eye-opening statistics across Iran, including its COVID-19 death toll of 185,000 representing 237 deaths per 100 thousand (the worst in the world). She highlighted how the Iranian regime had grossly exacerbated the public health situation by prioritizing   to spend on export of terrorism and regional meddling instead of supporting medical care-workers and investing in the nation’s healthcare system. In fact, while the regime publicly decries sanctions for its abysmal healthcare system, Iranian government officials have declined multiple offers of assistance on COVID-19 from the rest of the world, including the help from the United States. Dr. Sami emphasized that the “regime’s priorities are clear” and that any sanctions relief would be used for nefarious regional meddling instead of alleviating the suffering of Iranian people.

Seena Saiedian, a student at UC Berkeley, suggested, “On the issue of the Iranian threat, Congress has been noticeably clear that it is not a Republican or Democrat issue, or even just an American issue; it is an issue of global peace, security, and stability.” He added, “The new administration has an opportunity to rally the international community together in order to develop a truly cohesive and concerted policy of accountability, and one that is focused on the needs and desires of the Iranian population.”

More specifically, Behrang Borhani focused on two primary goals for the next administration:

(1) Ensuring that the Iran’s regime cannot continue to export and conduct terrorism regionally and globally, while

(2) Recognizing and promoting the desires and basic rights of the Iranian people to be paramount to the peace and stability in the region.

The last panel was moderated by Zahra Amanpour, representing the Iranian American Community of New Jersey and New York. She was joined by Homeira Hesami, Chairwoman of Iranian American Community of North Texas; Nasser Sharif, President of the California Society for Democracy in Iran; and Jila Andalib, Director of the Iranian American Community of Connecticut.  The community leaders highlighted several areas for a comprehensive U.S. policy toward Iran:

  • Focus on the voice of Iranian people and their struggle for democracy and freedom. More specifically, recognize the activism of students, women, the labor movement, union workers, retired workers, environmentalists, and social justice activists.
  • Place Iran’s human rights record at the bedrock of US policy on Iran in 2021.
  • Hold to account the regime’s political, judicial and security officials who are directly involved in the arrests, undue and prolong detentions, torture, and executions of nonviolent protesters. Use sanctions as a tool to name and shame those responsible for oppression and to prevent further violence and killings.
  • Adopt zero tolerance for attacks on Iran’s ethnic and religious minorities, who are suffering even more from state-sponsored discrimination on social, economic, and political basis.

Mr. Sharif was immensely proud of the U.S. House Resolution 374, cosponsored by a strong bipartisan support, including the main two sponsors who were from California. Ms. Hesami and Ms. Andalib both echoed these sentiments and supported a firm U.S. policy that amplifies the Iranian people’s quest for a democratic, secular, non-nuclear republic of Iran. Ms. Andalib addressed Maryam Rajavi’s 10-point plan which is widely recognized by the majority of the House and European parliamentarian members as a doctrine for a free Iran.

OIAC’s year-end 2020 virtual conference reconfirmed a clear message: the incoming U.S. administration has a unique opportunity to stand with the Iranian people, and in favor of a comprehensive U.S.-Iran policy that benefits the Iranian people, the United States, the region, and the world.

Iranian Americans Outline a Comprehensive, Bi-partisan Iran Policy for 2021

New York, NY; December 3, 2020 – Association of Iranian Americans in New York congratulates Congressman Gregory Meeks (D-NY) on his selection as the next Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

A a community of Iranian Americans whose members have loved ones live under medieval oppression in Iran, we applauded Mr. Meeks for focusing attention on what matters in diplomacy: “pushing further on the fight for human rights across the world,” and setting a path to exercise, “the weight of U.S. moral credibility.” Congressman Meeks is commended for his leadership and support for H.Res.752, “Supporting the rights of the people of Iran to free expression, condemning the Iranian regime for its crackdown on legitimate protests, and for other purposes.” The resolution unanimously passed the House Foreign Affairs Committee and was approved by the House Floor in January 2020.

In welcoming Mr. Meeks, we also see it necessary to thank the outgoing Committee Chairman, Representative Elliot Engle (D-NY) for his longstanding support for our community, human rights across the globe, and the Iranian people’s quest for a Free Iran.

We look forward to working with the House Foreign Affairs Committee during the 117th Congress and pledge to support incoming Chairman’s effort to advance human rights and to exercise America’s moral credibility – particularly as they pertain to human rights and democratic aspirations of the Iranian people.

Iran: Internet deliberately shut down during November 2019 killings

Amnesty International    |    November 16, 2020

The Iranian authorities deliberately shut down the internet during nationwide protests in November 2019, hiding the true scale of unlawful killings by security forces, Amnesty International said today.

On the anniversary of the deadliest day of the protests, Amnesty International is launching a new microsite, A web of impunity: The killings Iran’s internet shutdown hid, documenting how the lethal crackdown that left at least 304 people dead was hidden from the world.

“When news of the deadly crackdown began to emerge from Iran last November, the world was shocked by the brutal violence of the security forces. The authorities deliberately blocked internet access inside Iran, hiding the true extent of the horrendous human rights violations that they were carrying out across the country,” said Diana Eltahawy, Deputy Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International.

“The government thought they could silence the population by taking the country offline, but the Iranian people were determined to tell the world the truth. Our new website is a tribute to the courage of everyone who captured on camera the scenes of violence that the authorities wanted to keep hidden.”

The authorities deliberately blocked internet access inside Iran, hiding the true extent of the horrendous human rights violations that they were carrying out across the country

Diana Eltahawy

The microsite – a joint investigation between Amnesty International and The Hertie School, in partnership with the Internet Outage Detection and Analysis (IODA) project – features more than 100 verified videos from 31 cities, and reveals the repeated use of firearms, water cannons and tear gas by Iran’s security forces against unarmed protesters and bystanders.

To date, no one has been criminally investigated or held accountable for the killings. Amnesty International is again calling on member states of the United Nations Human Rights Council to mandate an inquiry into the unlawful killings to ensure those responsible for ordering, planning and carrying out the crimes are brought to justice in fair trials.

 

WATCH THE REPORT

 

 

 

Protest crackdown and internet blackout

On 15 November 2019, protests erupted across Iran following a government announcement of a significant increase in the price of fuel. During the five days of protests that followed, security forces killed at least 304 men, women and children. The victims were mostly killed with shots to the head or torso, indicating security forces were operating a shoot-to-kill policy. The real number of deaths is believed to be much higher, but the ongoing cover-up by Iranian authorities means the true death toll may never be known.

On 16 November, authorities started to shut down the country’s internet. Amnesty International’s research shows that day was also the deadliest of the protests, with at least 100 protesters and bystanders killed.

As protests intensified, the Iranian authorities implemented a near-total internet blackout by ordering different internet service providers (ISPs) to shut down. IODA observed steady drops in signals, which started when cellular operators were ordered to disconnect around 2pm local time on 16 November. By 7pm, Iran had descended into digital darkness.

Iran’s domestic internet remained online, allowing activities such as government services and banking to continue, which minimized financial losses in the country’s economy. It was only around five days later, at approximately 10am on 21 November, that internet access began to be restored. It did not completely return until 27 November.

Internet shutdowns and human rights

A shutdown happens when a state or another actor intentionally disrupts the internet for a specific population, or within a specific region. Shutdowns take a variety of forms. Authorities may slow down the internet to make access difficult, or they may order ISPs to shut down services completely.

The UN Human Rights Committee has declared that “states…must not block or hinder internet connectivity in relation to peaceful assemblies”. However, many states have increasingly used internet shutdowns as a tool to stifle or silence dissent in recent years, particularly when faced with protests or uprisings.

Access to the internet is essential to protect human rights, especially in times of protest 

Sam Dubberley

Since the November 2019 protests, internet access in Iran has been disrupted on several occasions during further protests. Organizing peaceful protests, speaking openly against state policies, and documenting human rights violations all heavily rely on the ability to access the internet, and are protected under international human rights law.

Today, Amnesty International is also joining the #KeepItOn coalition, a partnership of more than 220 organizations campaigning against internet shutdowns.

“Access to the internet is essential to protect human rights, especially in times of protest. The Iranian authorities must commit to never again taking the country offline, and must respect the right to peaceful protest,” said Sam Dubberley, Head of Amnesty International’s Crisis Evidence Lab.

Uncovering the hidden killings

Amnesty International first documented the use of lethal force against protesters in the days after the crackdown began, and recorded the details of at least 304 people killed in an investigation published in May 2020.

The organization verified the deaths by collating evidence from videos and photographs, death and burial certificates, accounts from eyewitnesses, victims’ relatives, and friends and acquaintances on the ground, as well as information collected by human rights activists and journalists.

Further research by Amnesty International’s Digital Verification Corps found that in the vast majority of cases across the country, there was no evidence that protesters posed an imminent threat to life or threat of serious injury. As such, the intentional lethal use of firearms by the authorities was completely unwarranted and unlawful.

Key data that Amnesty International has gathered is published on the microsite, including pictures of victims and details related to their cause and place of death, and can be downloaded in both English and Farsi.

Amnesty International is again calling on the Iranian authorities to ensure that independent and impartial criminal investigations are conducted into every death during the November 2019 protests, as the first step towards ending impunity.

https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2020/11/iran-internet-deliberately-shut-down-during-november-2019-killings-new-investigation/#:~:text=Iran%3A%20Internet%20deliberately%20shut%20down%20during%20November%202019%20killings%20%E2%80%93%20new%20investigation,-16%20November%202020&text=The%20Iranian%20authorities%20deliberately%20shut,forces%2C%20Amnesty%20International%20said%20today.

 

 

 

 

Amnesty International    |    September 2, 2020

  • Widespread torture including beatings, floggings, electric shocks, stress positions, mock executions, waterboarding, sexual violence, forced administration of chemical substances, and deprivation of medical care
  • Hundreds subjected to grossly unfair trials on baseless national security charges
  • Death sentences issued based on torture-tainted “confessions”

Iran’s police, intelligence and security forces, and prison officials have committed, with the complicity of judges and prosecutors,  a catalogue of shocking human rights violations, including arbitrary detention, enforced disappearance, torture and other ill-treatment, against those detained in connection with the nationwide protests of November 2019, said Amnesty International in a damning new report published today.

In the days following the mass protests, videos showing Iran’s security forces deliberately killing and injuring unarmed protesters and bystanders sent shockwaves around the world. Much less visible has been the catalogue of cruelty meted out to detainees and their families by Iranian officials away from the public eye. 

Diana Eltahawy 

The report, Trampling humanity: Mass arrests, disappearances and torture since Iran’s 2019 November protests, documents the harrowing accounts of dozens of protesters, bystanders and others who were violently arrested, forcibly disappeared or held incommunicado, systemically denied access to their lawyers during interrogations, and repeatedly tortured to “confess”. They are among the 7,000 men, women and children arrested by the Iranian authorities within a matter of days during their brutal repression of the protests.

Victims include children as young as 10 and injured protesters and bystanders arrested from hospitals while seeking medical care for gunshot wounds, as well as human rights defenders including minority rights activists, journalists, and individuals who attended ceremonies to commemorate those killed during the protests. Hundreds have since been sentenced to prison terms and flogging and several to the death penalty following grossly unfair trials which were presided over by biased judges behind closed doors, frequently lasted less than an hour, and systematically relied on torture-tainted “confessions”.

“In the days following the mass protests, videos showing Iran’s security forces deliberately killing and injuring unarmed protesters and bystanders sent shockwaves around the world. Much less visible has been the catalogue of cruelty meted out to detainees and their families by Iranian officials away from the public eye,” said Diana Eltahawy, Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa.

“Instead of investigating allegations of enforced disappearance, torture and other ill-treatment and other crimes against detainees, Iranian prosecutors became complicit in the campaign of repression by bringing national security charges against hundreds of people solely for exercising their rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly, while judges doled out guilty verdicts on the basis of torture-tainted ‘confessions’. This litany of crimes and violations, committed with total impunity, has been accompanied by a wave of forced televised ‘confessions’ in state propaganda videos and grotesque statements from top officials who have praised intelligence and security forces as heroes for their role in the brutal crackdown.”

Amnesty International has recorded the names and details of more than 500 protesters and others, including journalists and human rights defenders, who have been subjected to unfair criminal proceedings in connection with the protests.

Prison terms meted out to those convicted have ranged from between one month and 10 years for vague or spurious national security charges such as “gathering and colluding to commit crimes against national security”, “spreading propaganda against the system”, “disrupting public order” and “insulting the Supreme Leader”.

Of these, at least three, Amirhossein Moradi, Mohammad Rajabi and Saeed Tamjidi, were sentenced to death for “enmity against God” (moharebeh) through acts of vandalism, and another, Hossein Reyhani, is awaiting trial on a charge carrying the death penalty.

Instead of investigating allegations of enforced disappearance, torture and other ill-treatment and other crimes against detainees, Iranian prosecutors became complicit in the campaign of repression by bringing national security charges against hundreds of people solely for exercising their rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly, while judges doled out guilty verdicts on the basis of torture-tainted ‘confessions’. 

Diana Eltahawy

More than a dozen known to Amnesty International have received flogging sentences, in addition to prison terms, and at least two have had their flogging sentences implemented.

The organization believes that the real number of individuals prosecuted and sentenced in connection with the November 2019 protests is far higher, given the large number of arrests carried out and the patterns of prosecution and sentencing in the country in cases of arbitrary arrests and detention involving intelligence and security bodies.

Amnesty International is urging member states of the UN Human Rights Council and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to address the prolonged, systematic impunity for gross violations of human rights in Iran, including by supporting the establishment of a UN-led inquiry with a view to ensuring accountability and guarantees of non-repetition.

The organization is also urging all UN member states to forcefully call on the Iranian authorities to immediately and unconditionally release anyone who continues to be imprisoned solely for exercising their rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly in connection with the November 2019 protests; quash all convictions resulting from unfair trials, including those that relied on statements obtained through torture or other ill-treatment; and hold those responsible to account.

Torture epidemic

Amnesty International’s research found that there was widespread use of torture and other ill-treatment by police, intelligence and security agents and prison officials against men, women and children, both during arrest and later in detention.

Prosecution and judicial authorities failed in their legal obligations to conduct independent and impartial inspections of detention facilities, including those run by security and intelligence bodies, and to ensure that legal provisions banning the use of secret detention and torture and other ill-treatment against detainees are respected.

Torture was used to punish, intimidate and humiliate detainees. It was also routinely used to elicit “confessions” and incriminating statements, not just about their involvement in the protests, but also about their alleged associations with opposition groups, human rights defenders, media outside Iran, as well as with foreign governments.

The organization’s research found that victims were frequently hooded or blindfolded; punched, kicked and flogged; beaten with sticks, rubber hosepipes, knives, batons and cables; suspended or forced into holding painful stress positions for prolonged periods; deprived of sufficient food and potable water; placed in prolonged solitary confinement, sometimes for weeks or even months; and denied medical care for injuries sustained during the protests or as a result of torture.

Other documented methods of torture included stripping detainees and spraying them with cold water, and subjecting detainees to extreme temperatures and/or bombardment of light or sound; forcible extraction of the nails from fingers or toes; pepper spraying; forced administration of chemical substances; using electric shocks; waterboarding; and mock executions.

This litany of crimes and violations, committed with total impunity, has been accompanied by a wave of forced televised ‘confessions’ in state propaganda videos and grotesque statements from top officials who have praised intelligence and security forces as heroes for their role in the brutal crackdown. 

Diana Eltahawy

Information received by Amnesty International from primary sources also reveals that interrogators and prison officials perpetrated sexual violence against male detainees, including through stripping and forced nakedness, sexual verbal abuse, pepper spraying the genital area, and administering electric shocks to the testicles.

One victim from Khorasan Razavi province who was subjected to waterboarding told Amnesty International:

“They [my interrogators] would drench a towel in water and place it over my face. Then they would pour water slowly over the towel, which made me feel like I was suffocating… They would stop… until I started to feel better and then they would start torturing me this way again. They also punched, kicked and flogged me on the soles of my feet with a cable.”

One man who was subjected to electric shocks recounted:

“The electric shocks were the worst form of torture… It felt like my entire body was being pierced with millions of needles. If I refused to answer their questions, they would raise the voltage levels and give me stronger electric shocks. I would shake violently and there would be a strong burning sensation coursing through my whole body…. The torture has had lasting effects on my mental and physical health. To this day, I still can’t sleep at night.”

A victim from Tehran province who was suspended from his hands and feet from a pole in a painful method his interrogators referred to as “chicken kebab” told the organization:

“The pain was excruciating. There was so much pressure and pain in my body that I would urinate on myself… My family know that I was tortured, but they don’t know how I was tortured. I feel choked with tears because there is no one here I can speak to.”

In all cases documented by Amnesty International, victims reported various forms of psychological torture to give forced “confessions”, including the use of degrading verbal insults and profanities; the intimidation and harassment of their family members; threats to arrest, torture, kill or otherwise harm their family members, including elderly parents or spouses; and threats to rape detainees or their female family members.

Enforced disappearances

Amnesty International’s research shows that many detainees were subjected to enforced disappearance for weeks or even months while held in undisclosed locations run by the security and intelligence bodies including the ministry of intelligence or the Revolutionary Guards. Other detainees were held in overcrowded prisons or police stations, military barracks, sports venues and schools.

Distressed relatives told the organization that they visited hospitals, morgues, police stations, prosecution offices, courts, prisons and other known detention centres to enquire about the fate or whereabouts of their loved ones, but the authorities refused to provide them with information and threatened them with arrest if they kept seeking information or publicly spoke out about them.

In one case documented by Amnesty International, the authorities arrested a family member of two people who were forcibly disappeared for enquiring about their fate and whereabouts.

Amnesty International is aware of three ongoing cases of enforced disappearance, where the authorities continue to conceal their fate and whereabouts from their families. They include brothers Mehdi Roodbarian and Mostafa Roodbarian from Mahshahr, Khuzestan province.

Methodology

The organization’s research involved in-depth interviews with 60 victims of arbitrary arrest, enforced disappearance, torture and other ill-treatment or their relatives or close acquaintances; two protesters who were in hiding; and 14 other informed individuals; information received through written messages from several hundred others inside the country and analysis of video footage, official statements and court documents.

https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2020/09/iran-detainees-flogged-sexually-abused-and-given-electric-shocks-in-gruesome-post-protest-crackdown-new-report/

 

 

NCRI    |    Written by Shamsi Saadati    |    July 22, 2020

Morgan Ortagus, the spokesperson of the United States State Department, in a video message on Twitter, while condemning the Iranian regime’s ongoing human rights violations, particularly the 1988 massacre of thousands of political prisoners, called on the “international community to conduct independent investigations and do provide accountability and justice for the victims of these horrendous violations of human rights, organized by the Iranian regime.”

“July 19th marks the anniversary of the start of Iran. So-called death commissions on the orders of Ayatollah Khomeini. These commissions reportedly forcibly disappeared and extra judicially executed thousands of political dissident prisoners. The current head of the Iranian judiciary and current minister of justice have both been identified as former members of these death commissions.

The Iranian judiciary is widely perceived to lack independence and fair trial guarantees. And the revolutionary courts are particularly egregious in ordering violations of human rights. All Iranian officials who commit human rights violations or abuses should be held accountable. The United States calls on the international community to conduct independent investigations and do provide accountability and justice for the victims of these horrendous violations of human rights, organized by the Iranian regime,” she said in a video message on Twitter.

Iranian Massacre

In response, while welcoming this position, Mrs. Maryam Rajavi, the president-elect of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), said on Twitter: “I welcome the call by the State Department spokeswoman for an independent investigation into the actions of the death commissions during the #1988Massacre and demand justice for the martyrs. Perpetrators must be brought to justice. Dispatching international  fact-finding missions to Iran, joined by the MEK & Iranian Resistance representatives to prevent regime’s cover-up of the 1988 Massacre (crime against humanity), especially of the graves and precise figures of the martyrs in prisons and  cities across Iran is an imperative.”

Iran Massacre

In the summer of 1988, the Iranian regime executed over 30,000 political prisoners in a matter of a few months. Most of the victims were supporters and members of the Iranian opposition People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK).

The call by the State Department was simultaneous with the NCRI’s 3-day “Free Iran Global Summit” which started on July 17. During this event, the NCRI connected thousands of people from over 30,000 locations to Ashraf 3, Albania, home to thousands of members of the MEK. These conferences were attended by over 1,000 political dignitaries from all four corners of the world.

Iran Rising

The 1988 massacre was the theme of the second day of this conference. The participants called on the international community to initiate an independent investigation, hold the regime’s officials to account for this “crime against humanity” and end the regime’s impunity. During this event, Mrs. Maryam Rajavi, who was the keynote speaker, reiterated: “The sacred blood of those martyrs in 1988 massacre are today roaring in Iran, giving rise to generation after generation of rebellious youths. I would only recall this popular slogan about the massacre of handcuffed prisoners in 1988: We will neither forgive, nor forget.”

Iran global summit

Tahar Boumedra, the former head of the UN’s Human Rights Office in Iraq, said: “The crime committed against political prisoners in the 1988 Massacre has been well established and documented. The UN and relevant institutions have been informed and received documents on this issue.”

Renowned human rights lawyer and ex-UN judge Geoffrey Robertson previously investigated the 1988 massacre. He told the conference he was “staggered” by what he uncovered, describing it “as the worst crime against humanity since World War II.” He said that the perpetrators must be held to account.

Iranian judiciary

Mrs. Rajavi started the Call-for-Justice movement in 2016. This movement has had an important impact on the Iranian society and the regime. In this regard, Mrs. Rajavi said: “As you are aware, the Call-for-Justice movement played a significant role in foiling Khamenei’s scheme in the regime’s presidential elections in 2017 where he intended to engineer the election of Ebrahim Raisi, who was a member of the death committees which issued sentences for victims of the 1988 massacre. The campaign was so effective that (the regime’s president, Hassan) Rouhani used it to attract more votes for himself.

Opportunistically, he said Raisi did not have anything on his record except 38 years of executions and imprisonments. Two days later, an infuriated Khamenei flanked by Qassem Soleimani and IRGC commanders, slammed Rouhani, warning him against crossing the regime’s red lines.”

“Then, he openly “recommended” that his functionaries in the Intelligence Ministry write articles and make movies and do something to prevent Raisi from being exposed. In the next steps, when the international Call-for-Justice movement climaxed, the regime undertook its own special schemes which it called “a complex multi-faceted operation.” It recruited a mercenary to distort the objectives of the Call-for-Justice movement, and marginalize the PMOI/MEK organization and their leadership, despite the fact that the PMOI/MEK’s destruction was the main goal of the 1988 massacre and Khomeini’s fatwa,” she added.

The 1988 massacre was a crime against humanity, and the international community must hold the regime’s officials to account for this crime.  As Mrs. Rajavi said: “Perpetrators must be brought to justice. Dispatching international fact-finding missions to Iran, joined by the MEK & Iranian Resistance representatives to prevent regime’s cover-up of the 1988 Massacre (crime against humanity), especially of the graves and precise figures of the martyrs in prisons and  cities across Iran is an imperative.”

https://www.ncr-iran.org/en/news/irans-1988-massacre-u-s-calls-for-independent-investigations/