United States Institute of Peace

The Iran Primer

GCC Declares Hezbollah a Terrorist Group

HezbollahIn March, the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and the Arab League classified Hezbollah, a Lebanese Shiite political and military organization, as a terrorist group. Iran has provided billions of dollars of financial and operational support to Hezbollah since its creation in 1982, and Hezbollah has fought alongside Iran to support President Bashar al Assad in Syria. GCC countries, however, largely back Syrian rebel groups in the civil war.

The GCC – comprised of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Bahrain, and Kuwait – made the decision on March 2, accusing Hezbollah of "incitement in Syria, Yemen, and in Iraq.” The Arab League's council of foreign ministers announced its decision on March 11, which was not supported by Lebanon or Iraq.

In February, Saudi Arabia had cut $4 billion in aid to Lebanon, citing “hostile Lebanese positions resulting from the stranglehold of Hezbollah on the state." Days later, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates urged their citizens to avoid travel to Lebanon. By mid-March, Bahrain had deported Lebanese residents with ties to Hezbollah, and Saudi Arabia vowed to inflict “severe penalties” on any residents supporting the group. And a UAE court tried seven people for passing information to Hezbollah.
The move deepens the rift between Iran and Saudi Arabia, who severed diplomatic ties with the Islamic Republic in January. Iranian officials strongly condemned the GCC designation. Deputy foreign minister Amir Abdollahian praised Hezbollah as "the champion of the fight against terrorism in the region.” The following are reactions to the GCC and Arab League designation of Hezbollah as a terrorist group.
 Gulf Cooperation Council
Secretary General Abdullatif al-Zayani
The GCC made the decision due to "hostile actions of the militia who recruit the young people [of the Gulf] for terrorist acts” and "their terrorist acts and incitement in Syria, Yemen and in Iraq.”
– March 2, 2016, according to the press
 The Arab League

Council of Foreign Ministers
“The Arab League foreign minister’s committee has decided on Friday to consider Hezbollah a terrorist organization."
The Council condemned “provocative statements by Iranian officials against Arab countries” and called on Tehran to stop these “hostile and provocative remarks and anti-Arab media campaigns.” The Council considered these acts as “flagrant interferences into internal affairs of these states.”
– March 11, 2016, in a statement
 Saudi Arabia
Council of Ministers
The GCC took the decision against Hezbollah “after taking into account its continuing hostilities and its flagrant violation of the sovereignty of Gulf states and its destabilizing of regional security and stability, as well as its practices which are contrary to humanitarian values and international laws.”
– March 8, 2016, according to the press  
Ministry of the Interior
“Any citizens or expatriates who endorse, show loyalty to the so-called Hezbollah, sympathize with it, promote it, donate to it, communicate with it or house or cover those who belong to it will be subjected to the severe penalties stated in the regulations and orders, including the regulation on crimes of terrorism and its financing.” 
– March 13, 2016, in a statement
Deputy Foreign Minister for Arab and African Affairs Hossein Amir Abdollahian
"Those who call Hezbollah terrorists, have intentionally or unintentionally targeted the unity and security of Lebanon.”
“The terrorism tag for Hezbollah, the most potent resistance movement, and inattention to the Zionist regime's atrocities is a new mistake which doesn’t benefit the regional stability and security.”
“We are proud of Lebanon's Hezbollah as the vanguard of resistance against the Zionist regime and the champion of the fight against terrorism in the region.”
“National unity, security and stability of Lebanon as well as support for convergence among all Lebanese groups form the basis of Iran's policy." 
– March 3, 2016, according to the press
Armed Forces Chief of Staff Major General Hassan Firouzabadi
"Hezbollah is the son of the Lebanese nation…The movement has done a lot for the Arab country." 
– March 6, 2016, according to the press
“Unlike the willing of Saudis and its regional and trans-regional allies, there will be no change in the consolidated position of Hezbollah in the regional balance of power.” 
– March 6, 2016, according to the press
Head of the Revolutionary Guards’ Quds Force Gen. Qassem Soleimani
“Hezbollah, as an Arab and Islamic army, has never been adventurous against Saudi Arabia.”
“In which country have we tried to turn a Sunni brother into a Shiite? In fact, conversely, our lives were shields for Sunnis.”
– March 14, 2016, in a speech

Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah
Hassan Nasrallah"The kingdom is trying to put pressure on the Lebanese to try to silence us but we will not be silent on the crimes the Saudis are committing in Yemen and elsewhere."
"Does Saudi Arabia have the right to punish Lebanon, its state and its army because a certain party has decided to raise its voice?"
"If they have a problem with us, let them keep it with us, and let them spare Lebanon and the Lebanese." 
– March 3, 2016, according to the press
"Saudi Arabia is angry with Hezbollah since it is daring to say what only a few others dare to say against its royal family."
– March 10, 2016, according to the press
"Who gives Saudi Arabia the right to punish Lebanon and its army and Lebanese people living in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf just because Hezbollah is speaking out? We urge Riyadh to settle accounts with Hezbollah and not all the Lebanese." 
– March 10, 2016, according to the press
Lebanese Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil
“Hezbollah has a broad representation of Lebanese. It enjoys mass parliamentary and ministerial blocs. We have agreed to the terms of the rest of the [Arab League] resolution. It was normal not to accept describing the party as a terrorist.”
– March 13, 2016, according to the press

Foreign Minister Ibrahim al Jaafari
“Whoever accuses the Popular Mobilization forces and Hezbollah of terrorism is the one who supports and adopts terrorism."
– March 11, 2016, in an Arab League meeting
Click here for more information on Iran's relations with Lebanon.

Photo credits: Country flags via CIA World Factbook; GCC logo, Hezbollah logo, and Arab League logo via Wikimedia Commons


Photos: Iranians Prepare for Nowruz

On March 20, Iranians will welcome the first day of spring and the Persian New Year. Nowruz, literally “New Day,” is Iran’s most widely celebrated holiday and has its roots in ancient Persia. The holiday is celebrated for two weeks, during which government offices, banks, and schools are closed for several days. The following is a sampling of photographs that capture the festive mood in the run-up to Nowruz.   


Sabzeh, sprouted wheat grass, symbolizes rebirth and renewal and is part of the haft seen table set for Nowruz. 


Click here for more information on Nowruz traditions. 


Tags: Offbeat

US Issues New Travel Warning for Iran

On March 14, the U.S. State Department issued new guidance warning Americans to “carefully consider nonessential travel” to Iran. The warning reiterated the risk of arrest and detention of U.S. citizens, particularly dual national Iranian-Americans. The updated travel warning comes as businessman Siamak Namazi, a dual national, marks five months in Iran’s Evin prison. Iran does not recognize dual citizenship. The following is the full text of the State Department warning.  

The Department of State warns U.S. citizens of the risks of travel to Iran. This replaces the Travel Warning for Iran of January 29, 2016, to reiterate and highlight the risk of arrest and detention of U.S. citizens, particularly dual national Iranian-Americans, in Iran, and to note that the Federal Aviation Administration(FAA) has advised U.S. civil aviation to exercise caution when flying into, out of, within, or over the airspace over Iran.  All U.S. citizens should stay current with media coverage of local events and carefully consider nonessential travel. 
Various elements in Iran remain hostile to the United States.  Since the United States and Iran reached a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action to address the international community's concerns over Iran's nuclear program on July 14, 2015, Iran has continued to harass, arrest, and detain U.S. citizens, in particular dual nationals.  
The U.S. government does not have diplomatic or consular relations with the Islamic Republic of Iran and therefore cannot provide protection or routine consular services to U.S. citizens in Iran.  The Swiss government, acting through its Embassy in Tehran, serves as protecting power for U.S. interests in Iran.  The range of consular services provided by the Foreign Interests Section at the Swiss Embassy is limited and may require significantly more processing time than at U.S. embassies or consulates.  
The Iranian government does not recognize dual citizenship and will not allow the Swiss to provide protective services for U.S. citizens who are also Iranian nationals. The Iranian authorities make the determination of a dual national’s Iranian citizenship without regard to the dual national’s personal wishes.  Consular access to U.S. citizens without dual nationality is often denied as well. 
Iranian authorities have unjustly detained or imprisoned U.S. citizens, particularly Iranian-Americans, including journalists, businessmen and academics, on charges including espionage and posing a threat to national security.  Iranian authorities have also prevented the departure, in some cases for months, of a number of Iranian-American citizens who traveled to Iran for personal or professional reasons. 
The Iranian government continues to repress some minority religious and ethnic groups, including Christians, Baha'i, Arabs, Kurds, Azeris, and others.  Consequently, some areas within the country where these minorities reside, including the Baluchistan border area near Pakistan and Afghanistan, the Kurdish northwest of the country, and areas near the Iraqi border, remain unsafe. Iranian authorities have detained and harassed U.S. citizens, particularly those of Iranian origin.  Former Muslims who have converted to other religions, religious activists, and persons who encourage Muslims to convert are subject to arrest and prosecution.

The U.S. government is concerned about the risks to civil aircraft operating into, out of, within, or over Iran due to hazards from military activity associated with the conflicts in Iraq and Syria. The FAA has advised U.S. civil aviation to exercise caution when flying into, out of, within, or over the airspace over Iran. For further background information regarding FAA flight prohibitions and advisories for U.S. civil aviation, U.S. citizens should consult the Federal Aviation Administration’s Prohibitions, Restrictions and Notices. 

The U.S. government’s ability to assist U.S. citizens in Iran in the event of an emergency is extremely limited.  U.S. citizens in Iran should ensure that they have updated documentation at all times and make their own plans in the event of an emergency. For more information, see "What the Department of State Can and Can't Do in a Crisis" at the Department's website." 


UN: Iran Executions Hit Two-Decade High

Iran executed nearly 1,000 prisoners in 2015, according to a new report by the U.N. Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in Iran, Ahmed Shaheed. Some 65 percent of the executions were for drug-related offenses. The New York Times reported that Iran has reportedly not executed so many people in one year since 1989, when more than 1,500 were executed, according to Amnesty International reports. “A large percentage of those executions are for drug offences and under Iran's current drug laws, possession of 30 grams of heroine or cocaine would qualify for the death penalty. So there's a number of draconian laws,” Shaheed told reporters on March 10.
At least four of the people executed last year were under 18 years of age, and at least 160 other juveniles are on currently on death row. Hundreds of journalists, activists and bloggers were also imprisoned.
Shaheed noted that Iran has recently amended problematic elements of the Islamic Penal Code and Criminal Procedure Code. But he also emphasized that aspects of other laws and practices “continue to undermine or violate Iran’s national and international human rights obligations.” But Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman, Hossein Jaberi Ansari, said that the report’s contents were biased and politically motivated. The following are excerpts from the report. 
The Islamic Penal Code
A revised version of the penal code was implemented in early 2013 for an experimental period of 5 years. If properly implemented, the amended provisions will remedy some of the problems raised with the Iranian government by the human rights mechanisms including concerns raised by member states during the Government’s 2010 and 2014 UPRs. The Special Rapporteur notes, however, that many other provisions violate the Islamic Republic of Iran’s international obligations and the code continues to facilitate serious abuses perpetrated by Iranian officials. …
The Special Rapporteur also notes that vague and broadly defined hudud provisions in the penal code, loosely defined as “crimes against God,” often criminalise acts that are either not recognised as crimes under international laws and standards or not considered serious enough to warrant capital punishment. These include crimes such as insulting or cursing the Prophet (sabb al-nabi), consensual heterosexual or same-sex relations between adults, corruption on earth (efsad-e-fel-arz) and apostasy.” Individuals convicted of some of these crimes are not generally allowed to seek a pardon or have their sentences commuted, in contravention of international law.
Hudud punishments include amputations, as well as flogging and stoning.16 Rights groups have documented at least three amputations in 2015. …
The Criminal Procedure Code
Parliament adopted a number of amendments to the new Criminal Procedure Code (CPC), which came into effect on 22 June 2015.30 The amended code was much celebrated and praised by government officials for the level of protection it affords to those suspected of crimes. …
Despite these improvements, concern remains over CPC provisions that exempt individuals accused of national security crimes from these protections. This includes COC revisions by the Guardian Council, which now require individuals accused of national security, capital, political or press crimes, and those accused of offences that incur life sentences, to select their counsel from an official pool of lawyers chosen by the Head of the Judiciary during the investigative phase of the trial. …
The Anti-Narcotics Law
Iran's anti-narcotics law, adopted by the Expedience Council in 1997 and amended in 2010, mandates the death penalty for a range of drug crimes including nonviolent drug related offences that do not amount to “most serious” crimes under international law. The law lists drug crimes punishable by death. The minimum threshold for capital punishment sentencing is the possession, in any form, of 30 grams or more of heroin, morphine, cocaine or their chemically derived substances. The death penalty can also be applied for a range of other crimes such as, armed drug smuggling, smuggling in prisons or government run facilities, or hiring individuals with the intent of violating the anti-narcotics laws. These policies have resulted in over 500 executions in 2015 alone, accounting for 65 percent of the total amount of individuals executed in the country. The Government alleges that it has not received any communications from international bodies “concerning nonobservance of norms of law in relation to drug-related offences” that resulted in the death penalty. The Government also asserts that “severe punishments meted out to large[-scale] drug traffickers have brought about considerable reduction in the harm resulting from the flow of drugs to Iran and beyond.” …
In December 2015, 70 members of Parliament presented a bill that, if approved by the legislature and the Guardian Council, would reduce the punishment for non-violent drug related crimes from death to life imprisonment. On 11 January 2016, the bill was introduced on the main floor of the parliament for review.46 While reserving judgement on the particulars of the bill, the Special Rapporteur welcomes attempts to reduce the staggering number of executions in the country and appreciates the government’s willingness to reevaluate existing law with consideration for human rights obligations.
Civil and Political Rights
The right to life
Human rights organisations tracking executions in the Islamic Republic of Iran estimate that between 966-1,054 executions have taken place in 2015, the highest rate in over 10 years. Execution rates reached especially alarming rates from April 2015-June 2015, resulting in an average of 4 executions per day during that time period.
As in previous years, the majority of the executions in 2015 - approximately 65 percent - were for drug-related offences. Twenty-two percent of the remaining executions carried out in 2015 were for qesas related crimes (homicide), 6% were for rape, 3% were for murder, and 4% were for other crimes including financial corruption. In its response, the Government asserts that an “excessive concentration on the claims concerning [an] increase in executions… reduces the credibility of the report, and noted that drug-related executions account for 80 percent of all executions in the country.
Freedom of expression, opinion, and access to information
The Islamic Republic of Iran received 11 UPR recommendations related to freedom of expression in 2014 of which Iran accepted two and partially accepted 4 recommendations, including to “take the necessary steps to ensure and that it citizens fully enjoy the rights and freedoms awarded to by the Iranian constitution with special emphasis on the right to freedom of expression, the right to political activity and their right to assemble” and to “strengthen and promote freedom of expression, particularly that of the press.” …
On 19 January 2016, the Special Rapporteur welcomed the release of Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian who had been unlawfully detained by security and intelligence forces since July 2014, and encourages authorities to “pave the way for the release of all remaining detainees unlawfully held in the country’s prisons.” As of January 2016 at least 47 journalists and Internet users were reportedly imprisoned in the country. At least six prominent artists, writers and musicians have been arbitrarily detained or prosecuted since October 2015. Iran ranks among the seventh most censored country in the world. Iran also ranked 173rd out of 180 countries on the World Press freedom index. …
The Special Rapporteur regrets what appears to be a widening crackdown on freedom of expression and opinion during the reporting period, punctuated by a series of arrests carried out by the intelligence unit of the Revolutionary Guards and harsh sentences against journalists, cyberactivists and artists. President Rouhani has reportedly criticised the string of arrests against individuals likened to an “infiltration network,” and noted the apparent connection between allegations made in ultra-conservative news outlets, and arrests that follow. …
Freedom of Association and the right to free and fair elections
On 15 February 2016, the Guardian Council approved 52 percent of the 12,123 candidates that registered to run for the parliamentary election. Previous to that, on 20 January 2016, the Supervisory Board of the Guardian Council qualified 49 percent of the 12,123 candidates that registered to run for the parliamentary election. According to reports only 30, or 1 percent, of some 3000 “reformists” candidates that registered for the election were approved by the body during the 20 January decision. Some of those rejected appealed to the Guardian Council and were approved on 15 February 2016. In its response, the Government notes that the Guardian Council’s supervision of the elections “is not beyond the law,” and that its activities are “in full compliance” of international law.
The Guardian Council invited 540 of the candidates, including the 6 female hopefuls, to sit for an examination to determine whether they were qualified to run for the Assembly of Experts. On 26 January 2016, the Guardian Council disqualified 640 of the 801 candidates registered for the Assembly of Experts, including 6 women that registered for the election. To date no woman has ever been approved by the Guardian Council to serve on the Assembly of Experts. …
The Special Rapporteur expresses serious concern that former presidential candidates and reformists, Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, and Zahra Rahnavard, will have spent five full years under house arrest in the absence of charges or a trail as of 14 February 2016. …
Women’s Rights
According to Article 18 of Iran’s passport law, married women require their husband’s, or in an emergency situation, the local prosecutor’s, permission to apply for a passport. On 22 September 2015, local media reported that Ms. Niloufar Ardalan, captain of the Iranian national women’s soccer team, was prohibited from traveling abroad to compete in the Asian Football Federation Women’s Futsal Championship held in Malaysia, allegedly as a result of her husband’s refusal to provide her with his consent to leave the country. …
Ethnic and Religious Minority Rights
The Special Rapporteur expresses serious concern at the continuing systematic discrimination, harassment, and targeting that adherents of the Baha'i faith continue to face in the country. In January 2016, a revolutionary court in Golestan province reportedly sentenced 24 Baha'is to a total of 193 years in prison in connection with the peaceful exercise of their faith. …
The Special Rapporteur also expresses his concern at the treatment of Iranian Christians from Muslim backgrounds, who continue to face arbitrary arrest, harassment and detention despite the fact that article 12 of the Iranian constitution recognises and protects adherents of the Christian faith. …

Click here for the full report.  


UPDATE: On March 17, 34 human rights and other organizations called on member countries of the U.N. Human Rights Council (UNHRC) to renew the mandate of its special rapporteur on Iran. The vote on the resolution for the extension is scheduled for March 23, 2016. 


Tags: Reports

Khamenei: Iran Yet to See Benefits from Foreign Delegations

On March 10, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei told the recently elected Assembly of Experts that Iran has not yet benefited from receiving Western delegations. Dozens of trade delegations from European countries have visited Tehran since the nuclear deal was announced in July 2015. “Unless results are in in action, agreement on paper is of no use,” Khamenei said. He, however, clarified that he does not favor cutting ties with the West. Iran “must have relations with the whole world” except for the United States and Israel.  

The Assembly of Experts is a body of 88 clerics and scholars charged with overseeing and appointing the supreme leader. In the February 26 elections for the assembly, hardliners lost ground to candidates aligned with former President Hashemi Rafsanjani and current President Hassan Rouhani, who have urged reforms in the past. During the March 10 meeting, Khamenei told the new assembly to remain “revolutionary” assembly to “only consider God and the country’s needs” in choosing his successor. Khamenei is 76 years old, and the current assembly will sit for eight years before the next election. The following are excerpted remarks by Khamenei.

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