News Digest: Week of December 23

December 23, 2019

December 23

Protests/Human Rights: Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei ordered a violent crackdown on demonstrations over fuel that began on November 15, according to a Reuters report. On November 17, Khamenei allegedly told his top security aides to “do whatever it takes to stop them.” Unnamed Iranian officials from the interior ministry said that the government death toll was about 1,500 people. 

 

December 24

Human Rights: Two British academics, detained in Iran on espionage charges, announced in a letter that they had begun a hunger strike to protest their incarceration in Iran’s notorious Evin Prison. Fariba Adelkhah, a French-Iranian researcher, had been detained since July 2019, and Kylie Moore-Gilbert was arrested in September 2018. The women said that they had been “subjected to psychological torture and numerous violations of our basic human rights.”

 

December 25

Cyber/Protests: Iranian authorities restricted mobile access to Internet after new calls for protests on social media. The Internet disruption would allegedly affect Alborz, Kurdistan and Zanjan provinces in central and western Iran and Fars in the south. But the communications ministry denied the report. “No such order has been issued by the judiciary or other relevant authorities. The Fake News are at work,” said spokesman Jamal Hadian.

 

December 27

Military: Kataib Hezbollah, an Iraqi militia backed by Iran, launched rockets at the K1 military base near Kirkuk, Iraq, which housed U.S. military service members and Iraqi personnel. The attack killed a U.S. civilian contractor and wounded four U.S. service members and two Iraqis. On December 29, the United States responded with airstrikes on Kataib Hezbollah positions in western Iraq and eastern Syria.

Military: China, Russia and Iran held joint naval exercises in the Indian Ocean and Gulf of Oman. The four-day drills would cover 17,000 square kilometers and consist of "various tactical exercises," including target practice and rescue operations. "َAmong the objectives of this exercise are improving the security of international maritime trade, countering maritime piracy and terrorism, exchanging information regarding rescue operations and operational and tactical experience," said Iran’s Second Rear Admiral Gholamreza Tahani.

Military: U.S. Navy Secretary Thomas Modly warned that Iran could be plotting “provocative actions” in the Strait of Hormuz and elsewhere in the Middle East. “I think they’re going to continue to perform provocative actions over there... and I think they’ll look at every opportunity they can to do that,” Modly said. He did not elaborate on the exact nature of the threat.