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US Report on Iran's Religious Freedom Abuses

           Iran’s government reportedly continued to imprison, harass intimidate and discriminate against people based on religious beliefs in 2013, according to an annual report by the U.S. State Department.
Iran's foreign ministry, however, rejected the findings. "Such reports are instrumental, prepared and broadcast with the mere goal of piling up pressure on other countries," spokesperson Marziyeh Afkham said on July 30. “Growing Islamophobia in the U.S., systematic discrimination of Muslims and restriction on religious minoritiesˈ freedom in the American community has turned the country into one of the major violators of religious rights,” she claimed.
The following is the executive summary of the U.S. report with a link to the full text.

          The constitution states that all laws and regulations must be based on undefined “Islamic criteria” but protects certain aspects of religious freedom for members of some but not all religious minorities. In practice, the government severely restricted religious freedom, and there were reports of imprisonment, harassment, intimidation and discrimination based on religious beliefs. There were continued reports of the government charging religious and ethnic minorities with moharebeh (enmity against God), “anti-Islamic propaganda,” or vague national security crimes for their religious activities. Those reportedly arrested on religious grounds faced poor prison conditions and treatment, as with most prisoners of conscience. The frequent arrest and harassment of members of religious minorities continued during the year, following a significant increase in 2012. There continued to be reports of the government imprisoning, harassing, intimidating, and discriminating against people because of their religious beliefs. The constitution states that Ja’afari Shia Islam is the official state religion. It provides that “other Islamic denominations are to be accorded full respect” and officially recognizes only three non-Islamic religious groups, Zoroastrians, Christians, and Jews, as religious minorities. Although the constitution protects the rights of members of these three religions to practice freely, the government imposed legal restrictions on proselytizing and regularly arrests members of the Zoroastrian and Christian communities for practicing their religion. The government occasionally vilified Judaism. The government considers Bahais to be apostates and defines the Bahai faith as a “political sect.” The government prohibits Bahais from teaching and practicing their faith and subjects them to many forms of discrimination not faced by members of other religious groups.
           Government rhetoric and actions created a threatening atmosphere for nearly all non-Shia religious groups, most notably for Bahais, as well as for Sufi Muslims, evangelical Christians, Jews, and Shia groups not sharing the government’s official religious views. Bahai and Christian groups reported arbitrary arrests, prolonged detentions, and confiscation of property. Government-controlled broadcast and print media continued negative campaigns against religious minorities, particularly Bahais. All religious minorities suffered varying degrees of officially sanctioned discrimination, particularly in the areas of employment, education, and housing. Bahais continued to experience expulsions from, or denial of admission to, universities.
            There were reports of societal abuses and discrimination based on religious affiliation, belief, or practice. Members of non-Shia religious groups faced some societal discrimination, and elements of society created a threatening atmosphere for some religious minorities. The government’s campaign against non-Shia created an atmosphere of impunity allowing other elements of society to harass religious minorities.
            Since 1999, the United States has designated Iran as a “Country of Particular Concern” (CPC) under the International Religious Freedom Act. In 2011, the Secretary of State redesignated Iran as a CPC, and redesignated the existing restrictions on certain imports from and exports to Iran. The U.S. government made clear its strong objections to the government’s harsh and oppressive treatment of religious minorities and pushed for improvements through high-level public statements and reports, support for relevant UN and nongovernmental organization (NGO) efforts, coordinated diplomatic initiatives with the international community, and sanctions. The U.S. government also engaged with NGOs and civil society to gain a greater understanding of the status of religious freedom in the country. The United States has no diplomatic relations with Iran.
Religious Demography
           The U.S. government estimates the population at 79.9 million (July 2013 estimate). Muslims constitute 99 percent of the population; 90 percent are Shia and 9 percent Sunni (mostly Turkmen, Arabs, Baluchis, and Kurds living in the northeast, southwest, southeast, and northwest, respectively). There are no official statistics available on the size of the Sufi Muslim population; however, some reports estimate between two and five million people practice Sufism.
           Groups together constituting the remaining 1 percent of the population include Bahais, Christians, Jews, Sabean-Mandaeans, and Zoroastrians. The two largest non-Muslim minorities are Bahais and Christians. Bahais number approximately 300,000, and are heavily concentrated in Tehran and Semnan. According to UN figures, 300,000 Christians live in the country, although some NGOs estimate there may be as many as 370,000. The Statistical Center of Iran reports there are 117,700. The majority of Christians are ethnic Armenians concentrated in Tehran and Isfahan. Unofficial estimates of the Assyrian Christian population range between 10,000 and 20,000. There are also Protestant denominations, including evangelical groups. Christian groups outside the country estimate the size of the Protestant Christian community to be less than 10,000, although many Protestant Christians reportedly practice in secret. There are from 5,000 to 10,000 Sabean-Mandaeans. The Statistical Center of Iran estimated in 2011 that there were approximately 25,300 Zoroastrians, who are primarily ethnic Persians; however, Zoroastrian groups report 60,000 members.
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Click here for more information on Iran’s religious minorities.

Four Journalists, Three Americans Detained

           Three American journalists, including The Washington Post correspondent Jason Rezaian, have reportedly been detained in Tehran. Gholam-Hossein Esmaili, director general of the Tehran Province Justice Department, confirmed July 25 that “The Washington Post journalist has been detained for some questions and after technical investigations, the judiciary will provide details on the issue.” Rezaian is a dual U.S.-Iranian citizen. Rezaian’s Iranian wife, Yaganeh Salehi, a correspondent for the Emirates-based paper The National, was also reportedly detained along with an American freelance photojournalist and his wife, who not have been named by officials.

           On July 29, the State Department called for the release of Rezaian. “We call on the Iranian government to immediately release Mr. Rezaian and the other three individuals. We continue to monitor the situation closely,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.

           Also on July 29, Iranian authorities released the photographer's wife. But no further information was released regarding the status of the three journalists. Rezaian's mother released the following video clip calling for the release of her son and daughter-in-law.

            Salehi's family was allowed to visit the couple on September 7, according to the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran. An informed source said that Salehi and Rezaian had lost a “shocking” amount of weight and that they were “very worried about their state of limbo in prison.”         
             Thirty-five other journalists of Iranian origin are also detained or imprisoned in Iran, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.
            The latest move follows an earlier wave of arrests of Iranian Americans under former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. In 2007, Iranian American scholar Haleh Esfandiari was accused of taking part in anti-government activities. During a family visit to Iran, authorities placed her under virtual house arrest for four months and then held her in solitary confinement for another four months. In 2009, Iranian American journalist Roxanna Saberi was detained for five months, allegedly due to expired press credentials. At least two Iranian-Americans remain in custody in Iran from the Ahmadinejad years. One American, who is not of Iranian origin, is also missing, according to the Congressional Research Service.  
• Former FBI agent Robert Levinson, remains missing after a visit in 2005 to Kish Island to meet an Iranian source. Iran denies knowing his status or location. In December 2011, Levinson’s family released a one-year old taped statement by him. In January 2013, his family released recent photos of him, and they acknowledged in late 2013 that his visit to Kish Island was partly related to his contract work for the CIA.
• A former U.S. Marine, Amir Hekmati, was arrested in 2011 and remains in jail in Iran allegedly for spying for the United States. His family has been permitted to visit him there.
• On Dec. 20, 2012, a U.S. Christian convert of Iranian origin, Rev. Saeed Abedini, was imprisoned for “undermining national security” for setting up orphanages in Iran in partnership with Iranian Christians. His closed trial was held Jan. 22, 2013, and he was convicted and sentenced to eight years in prison.
            The latest U.N. Human Rights Council report, released in March, noted that at least 895 prisoners of conscience and political prisoners were imprisoned in Iran. The number included 379 political activists, 292 religious practitioners, 92 human rights defenders (including 50 ethnic rights activists), 71 civic activists, 37 journalists and netizens, and 24 student activists.
            Since May, authorities have targeted several journalists for charges such as “propaganda against the state” and “disrupting public order through participation in gatherings.” The following are examples of recent arrests outlined by the Committee to Protect Journalists.
• On July 7, cultural reporter Marzieh Rasouli tweeted that she will report to Evin Prison today to begin serving a two-year prison sentence on charges of "propaganda against the regime" and "disrupting public order through participation in gatherings," according to news reports. She was originally arrested in January 2012.
• On June 28, 2014, Iranian journalist and CPJ International Press Freedom Awardee Mashallah Shamsolvaezin wrote on his Facebook page that he had been charged with "propaganda against the state" related to his interviews with media and speeches he gave at two regional and international journalism conferences. He said he was released on bail of 2 billion riyals (approximately US$80,000).
• On June 21, 2014, Reihaneh Tabatabei, a journalist who worked for Shargh and Bahar, was summoned to Evin Prison to begin serving a six-month prison sentence for prior charges related to "publishing news about the Green Movement," according to reports.
• On June 20, 2014, critical blogger Mehdi Khazali was arrested while on a trip to the north of Iran, according to news reports. Reports said the arrest could be in connection with a critical blog post Khazali wrote that accused Ayatollah Mahdavi Kani of corruption and embezzlement. Kani is the head of the Assembly of Experts, the clerical body charged with electing the Supreme Leader. It is not clear if Khazali has been charged.
• On June 19, 2014, the Kerman province prosecutor announced that 11 staff members of Pat Shargh Govashir, a company that owns the popular Iranian technology news website Narenji and its sister sites, Nardebaan and Negahbaan, had been sentenced to between one and 11 years in prison on charges of receiving training from and producing content for the BBC, according to news reports.
• On June 7, 2014, Iranian documentary filmmaker Mahnaz Mohammadi reported to Evin Prison to begin serving a five-year prison sentence, according to news reports. The government charged Mohammadi with propaganda and collusion against the state, claiming she was cooperating with the BBC, but she denied ever working with the channel, the reports said.
• On May 28, 2014, Saba Azarpeik, a reformist journalist with the weekly Tejarat-e Farda and daily Etemad, was arrested at the Tejarat-e Farda offices, according to news reports. Azarpeik, who was arrested previously in 2013, has often written critically of conservative officials and human rights abuses in the country, the reports said.
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Senators Seek Congressional Review of Any Nuclear Deal with Iran

            On July 23, five Republican Senators announced the following plan to require President Obama to seek Congressional approval of any nuclear deal with Iran. The following is a press release posted by the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations.

           With a four-month extension of Iran nuclear talks announced by the Obama administration last week, U.S. Senators Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), John McCain (R-Ariz.) and James Risch (R-Idaho) introduced legislation today requiring congressional review of any final agreement with Iran. The bill also would prevent further extensions of the negotiations, strictly enforce Iran’s compliance, and prevent implementation of a final agreement if a veto-proof majority of Congress disapproves of the deal.
             “I strongly support vigorous diplomatic efforts to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran, but it must be clear that there will be no more extensions,” said Corker, ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “Congress must weigh in on any final deal, ensure Iranian compliance is strictly enforced, and provide a backstop to prevent a bad deal from occurring. While this bill does not include new sanctions on Iran, it allows Congress to seek further sanctions if an acceptable final deal can’t be reached.”
             “Stopping Iran’s nuclear ambitions through the P5+1 is the most important foreign policy decision in generations,” said Graham. “The Iranians are pursuing a nuclear weapon, not peaceful nuclear power. The last thing the world needs is an agreement with Iran that allows them to maintain their nuclear breakout capability. This agreement should be sent to the Congress for review and Congress should have the ability to vote it down. Congress played a fundamental role in enacting sanctions against Iran and should have a say whether this agreement is strong enough to lift sanctions. President Obama felt he needed congressional approval to move forward in Syria and Congress should insist on being involved in any nuclear deal with Iran.”
             “I am more convinced than ever that these negotiations are unlikely to result in an agreement with Iran that prevents it from developing a nuclear weapon,” said Rubio. “By unilaterally making major concessions to the Iranians, the administration is laying the groundwork for a very bad deal. It is essential that Congress have the opportunity to fully examine, debate and vote on any deal concluded with Iran. This issue is too important for U.S. national security for Congress’ views to continue to be ignored.”
             “We should seek every opportunity to try to stop Iran's nuclear weapons programs through diplomacy, but diplomacy cannot be an open-ended process that allows Iran to
play for time while advancing its program and weakening sanctions,” said McCain. “It must be clear that there will be consequences if Iran fails to reach an agreement or violates its obligations.”
             “This important piece of legislation ensures Congress the opportunity to disapprove any nuclear agreement with Iran that does not contain airtight inspection and verification mechanisms,” said Risch. “Additionally, if Iran at any time violates the terms of its nuclear agreements, this legislation rightly obligates the Obama administration to re-impose all previous sanctions and start over. Given Iran’s history and bad faith on this issue, this legislation is absolutely necessary.”
The Iran Nuclear Negotiations Act of 2014 contains the following key provisions:
Congressional Review: The president must submit any comprehensive nuclear agreement with Iran to Congress within three days of concluding such an agreement. After a 15-day review period, Congress has another 15 days to introduce a joint resolution of disapproval, which would have expedited consideration in both the House and Senate. If the president fails to submit any final agreement to Congress or a joint resolution of disapproval is enacted into law, any sanctions that had been temporarily lifted would be re-imposed.
Making Sure Iran Doesn’t Cheat: Within 10 days of the intelligence community receiving evidence that Iran has failed to comply with the terms of an agreement or cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the Director of National Intelligence must determine whether the information is credible and accurate and notify Congress. A determination that Iran has cheated would re-impose all sanctions that had been temporarily lifted.
No More Extensions: If the president does not submit a comprehensive final agreement to Congress, all sanctions relieved under the interim agreement would be immediately restored on November 28, 2014, four days after the end of the extension period. This allows the president to negotiate while ensuring the Iranians do not use the negotiations as a delaying tactic or a cover for advancing their program.

Report: Guiding Principles for Nuclear Talks

          Senior officials from the world’s six major powers have outlined five key principles that must underpin a deal, according to a new Institute for Science and International Security report. They include: 1) sufficient response time in case of violations; 2) a nuclear program meeting Iran’s practical needs; 3) adequate irreversibility of constraints; 4) stable provisions; and 5) adequate verification, according to David Albright, Olli Heinonen and Andrea Stricker. “Without following these principles, the negotiations cannot deliver an agreement which can ensure that Iran’s nuclear program is indeed peaceful and that a deal will be long lasting,” wrote the experts. The following are excerpts from the report with a link to the full text.

Adequate Response Time
           One of the Six’s key principles is that an agreement must provide sufficient time to mount an effective response to major violations by Iran. There are two parts to this principle—one involves intrusive IAEA inspections able to promptly detect non-compliance (and address it by effective verification) and the other recognizes that even the most intrusive inspections are alone inadequate to provide enough response time in the case of Iran. The latter, adequate response time, requires significant limitations on Iran’s nuclear programs and translates into a need to limit Iran’s pathways to making nuclear weapons.
           An effective metric of adequate limits on Iran’s main overt pathway to nuclear weapons, its centrifuge program, is breakout time, which measures the length of time Iran would need to produce enough weapon-grade uranium for a single nuclear weapon. The United States and its allies seek restrictions such that a breakout by Iran using its known centrifuge plants would take at least one year, although they may settle for at least six months if additional assurances can be obtained.
Practical Needs
           Limiting Iran’s centrifuge program to less than 4,000 IR-1 centrifuges is consistent with Iran’s actual needs for enriched uranium for many years. This number of centrifuges would provide Iran with sufficient enriched uranium for its existing research reactor programs and account for modest growth in them. Thus, Iran would not suffer any serious consequences in its nuclear program by limiting the numbers of centrifuges to these levels.
           Another critical principle for the Six is irreversibility. Here the concept of irreversibility is understood as accepting that perfect irreversibility is not possible but in practice recognizes that the restoration of the previous, unconstrained situation should take a long time—on order of years and not months. In the case of Iran, a long term agreement would have little lasting value if Iran can reverse the constraints in a matter of days or months. The case of North Korea contains many examples where nuclear constraints were quickly undone and Pyongyang resumed its march to nuclear weapons. This case also contains important examples of North Korea being unable to establish previous levels of plutonium production when an agreement ended. North Korea shut down its large gas-graphite reactors, ending their ability to make large amounts of weapon-grade plutonium, as a result of the 1994 US/DPRK Agreed Framework. When this agreement ended suddenly in 2002, North Korea was able to reestablish a relatively small plutonium production capability.
           Although not articulated explicitly by the Six’s officials, stability as a guiding principle requires provisions that do not lead to persistent accusations of violations or require huge numbers of actions to achieve compliance. Such provisions can undermine the credibility of an agreement and call into question its enforceability.
           An example involves lowering the amount of enriched uranium Iran has access to while increasing the number of allowed centrifuges to 10,000 or more IR-1 centrifuges, in an effort to increase breakout times. These two steps taken together are not a zero-sum provision; they would create an unstable, highly reversible situation.
Effective Verification
           Effective verification is another core principle, and Iran has refused to make concessions in this area as well. The IAEA must provide prompt warning of violations, determine the correctness and completeness of Iran’s declarations, establish the total number of centrifuges produced by Iran and the size of its uranium stocks, and establish confidence in the absence of undeclared nuclear activities or facilities, including providing assurances on the absence of nuclear weapons related activities in Iran. Iran argues that ratifying the Additional Protocol is enough but while such a step is welcome, it is not sufficient. The long term agreement must also establish a range of other verification provisions, which collectively are often known as Additional Protocol Plus. According to one senior official, Iran has resisted the conditions necessary to create the “Plus.”
Click here for the full report.

The World According to Khamenei

     Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei now claims that the escalating crises in Gaza and Iraq are the fault of the West and Israel. The United States and its allies are trying to undermine Iran and the progress of Muslim nations, according to his revolutionary narrative. The following are graphics and remarks recently posted on Khamenei’s quasi-official Twitter and Facebook accounts.



On Iraq



On Gaza


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