Two were killed July 16 as Iranian security forces opened fire on Ahwazi Arab protesters in Ahvaz, capital of southwestern Khuzestan province. The deaths came after days of demonstrations in the Arab-majority region, which is now stricken by withering drought. Hundreds of sheep, cattle, buffalo and other livestock have died in the region over the past weeks. The protests began a week ago, with a peaceful vigil outside the governor's office, demanding that authorities open the sluice gates on the network of massive hydroelectric dams built upstream on the region's main rivers, which divert some 90% of the waters to other regions of Iran. Protesters held up placards in Arabic, Persian and English, with messages including: "Water is a human right", "We are thirsty–give us water!", "Stop killing our environment!", and "Stop drying out the Ahwazi rivers and marshlands!" The protesters also chanted slogans condemning Iran's central government, such as "The regime stole our rights and our wealth!" and "The regime keeps us in poverty in the name of religion!" Small protests were also held at government offices in several rural villages across the region. (Dur Untash Studies Center, DUSC, Ahwazna, Ahwazna)
Iranians voted June 18 in a controlled election, virtually guaranteed to deliver an ultra-conservative president after all other serious contenders were barred from the race. The pre-ordained winner is Ebrahim Raisi, the chief justice, who has been under US sanctions since he oversaw repression in putting down the 2019 protest wave. The Guardian Council, its 12 members named by the Supreme Leader and the judiciary, disqualified all but seven of 592 candidates. All but one of the seven were fellow conservatives—Abdolnaser Hemmati, a former central bank chief running as a moderate. All potential frontline challengers were banned, including incumbent Vice President Eshaq Jahangiri, former Parliament speaker Ali Larijani, and even ex-president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Turn-out was historically low, seeming to signal popular disillusionment with the system. (CNN, AP, MEE, EA Worldview)
President Joe Biden's pledge to rebuild the Iran nuclear deal is already deteriorating into a deadlock—a testament to the effectiveness of the Trump-era intrigues that sabotaged the agreement, officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). On Feb. 7, Biden and Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei each traded "You Go First" statements. Biden was asked on Face the Nation, "Will the US lift sanctions first in order to get Iran back to the negotiating table?" He replied, "No." He was then asked, "They have to stop enriching uranium first?" Biden nodded. On that same day, Khamenei told military commanders and staff: "If they want Iran to return to its JCPOA commitments, the US should remove all sanctions in action. After they have done this, we will check if the sanctions have truly been removed. Once this is done, we will resume our JCPOA commitments." (EA Worldview)
Rights advocates in Iran's Khuzestan province, homeland of the marginalized Ahwazi Arab people, report another wave of sweeps and incommunicado detention of local activists. Agents of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) on Dec. 11 detained Zeinab Sawari, a teacher and prominent Ahwazi advocate for women's and children's rights. Sawari's younger siblings were also detained when they came to her defense during the raid on the family's home in Neysan district of Howeyzeh shahrestan (county). Agents simultaneously raided the nearby home of their aunt, Fatema Sawari. Zeinab Sawari had recently been involved in fundraising to help victims of the severe flooding that devastated the region both this year and in 2019. Both Zeinab and Fatema Sawari remain in detention at an undisclosed location.
Iranian diplomat Assadollah Assadi and three Iranian-Belgians went on trial in Antwerp, Belgium, on Nov. 27, marking the first time an EU country has put an Iranian official on trial for terrorism. The four have been charged with planning an attack on a rally of the Paris-based National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) in 2018. The NCRI is the political wing of the exiled Iranian opposition group, Mujahedin-e Khalq Organization (MEK), which is seeking to overthrow the Islamic Republic. Assadi served at Tehran's embassy in Vienna and is believed to have been working for Iran's Intelligence Ministry.
The world is breathing a collective sigh of relief after General Services Administration chief Emily Murphy officially contacted the team of president-elect Joe Biden, marking the Trump administration's belated initiation of the transition process. However, the widespread portrayal that Trump has blinked and is accepting Biden's victory is highly questionable at best. Both Murphy's Nov. 23 letter and Trump's tweet about it state that the decision was Murphy's, taken unilaterally, and that Trump is continuing to contest the election results. Murphy was likely facing what she thought to be the inevitable—Michigan lawmakers had that same day resisted Trump pressure and certified Biden's win in the state, while Trump's legal team got laughed out of court in Pennsylvania. However, the team continues to appeal and is conceding nothing. So no, Trump may not have blinked. And if his Plan A of a judicial coup fails, he and his cabinet may now be preparing the hypothesized Plan B....
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet called for Iran to release imprisoned human rights defenders, lawyers and political prisoners, citing COVID-19 concerns. Iran is the country worst-affected by the pandemic in the region, and the overcrowded and unsanitary conditions in its prisons create a breeding ground for the virus. There are reports of "shortages of water, hygiene products and disinfectant, insufficient protective equipment and testing kits as well as a lack of isolation spaces and inadequate medical care, which have led to an increase in cases.
Iran's Supreme Court on July 19 suspended the execution of three men who faced charges following the November 2019 anti-government protests. The Revolutionary Court in Tehran had in February convicted the three men of moharebeh (waging war against God), and "destroying and setting fire to public property with the aim of confronting the political system of the Islamic republic," in addition to other charges. The high court confirmed their death sentences last week, citing supposed evidence on the phones of the accused that they set fire to banks, buses and public buildings during the protests. Following a request from the lawyers representing the accused, the Supreme Court has decided to review their case.