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)
The Iraqi judiciary issued an arrest warrant for US President Donald Trump on Jan. 7 for the killing of paramilitary commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis last January. Trump is charged under Article 406 of the Iraqi Penal Code, which carries the death sentence in all cases of premeditated murder. Al-Muhandis died in the drone strike Trump ordered to kill Iranian major general Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad. Al-Muhandis was a top leader of Iraq's Popular Mobilization Forces, a state-sanctioned umbrella organization that oversees an array of militias formed to fight the Islamic State.
An utterly maddening story in the Princeton Planet Dec. 8 informs us that exiled Chinese dissident Teng Biao has been facing protests at his home in New Jersey's Princeton Junction—by fellow opponents of China's dictatorship. They are, absurdly, accusing him of being a "spy" and collaborator with the dictatorship, and even peddling bizarre conspiracy theories that he helped spread the coronavirus in the United States on behalf of the Chinese Communist Party. Their signs and propaganda are promoting GTV Media, a conservative Chinese-language platform run by exiled Chinese billionaire Guo Wengui in a partnership with far-right operative Steve Bannon. Teng Biao has seemingly been targeted because he has been critical of both Guo Wengui and Donald Trump in articles and on social media.
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.
The highest court of Bahrain on July 14 upheld a lower court decision to execute two protesters, despite evidence that suggests their confessions were unlawfully extracted. Hussain Moosa and Mohammed Ramadan, members of Bahrain's traditionally excluded Shiite majority, were sentenced to death in 2014 for planting a bomb in the village of al-Deir that killed a police officer involved in repression of a riot in the village. After multiple appeals, the high court, known as the Court of Cassation, overturned the death sentences in 2018. The court accepted evidence of medical records showing injuries on Moosa, supporting witness statements that the two men were beaten and tortured into pleading guilty to crimes they did not commit. However, in January a lower court successfully reinstated the death penalty, which the Cassation Court has now reaffirmed.
Saudi Arabia's Supreme Court announced on April 25 that it has abolished flogging as a form of punishment, part of a series of reforms to advance human rights in the kingdom. These reforms follow "unprecedented international criticism" that Saudi Arabia received in 2019 for its human rights record, which included 184 executions, 84 of which were for non-violent drug crimes. Court-ordered floggings sometimes extended to hundreds of lashes, and the punishment could be imposed for offenses ranging from extramarital sex and breach of the peace to murder. In the future, the courts will have to choose between fines, imprisonment, or non-custodial alternatives, such as community service.
Saudi Arabia's public prosecutor announced Dec. 23 that five people have been sentenced to death and three sentenced to prison terms in connection with the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last year. The verdict revealed that charges had been dismissed for the remaining three of the 11 that had been on trial. The trial did not find that the killing was premeditated. Among those not indicted were two top Saudi officials, who were exonerated due to lack of evidence. Khashoggi, a Saudi journalist and columnist for the Washington Post, entered the consulate to obtain marriage documents in October 2018, only to be killed there, his body dismembered and later taken from the consulate. The remains have yet to be found.