News Digest: Week of April 24

April 24

International: Iran shipped more than 300,000 Iranian artillery shells and a million rounds of ammunition to Russia in the previous six months, officials told The Wall Street Journal. Tehran had emerged as Moscow’s top military backer amid the war against Ukraine. 

International: Iran-linked hackers had gained access to a municipal government website that was due to report November 2020 election results, U.S. Cyber Command revealed. But the attack, which was detected by the military, was foiled before the votes were counted with assistance from the Department of Homeland Security. “It could make it look like the votes had been tampered with,” Maj. Gen. William J. Hartman, commander of the Cyber Command’s Cyber National Mission Force, said at a conference.


April 25

Domestic/Human Rights: Authorities arrested Keyvan Samimi, a dissident journalist and activist, three months after he was released from Semnan prison. “We still have no further information on the (security) service responsible for his arrest or his whereabouts,” said his family. In December 2020, a court had sentenced Samimi to three years in prison on charges of “plotting against national security.” He reportedly met with other activists and journalists following his January release. 

Domestic/Human Rights: Human Rights Watch (HRW) published a report detailing torture, killings and sexual abuse against children in Iran’s prisons. “Iranian leaders have unleashed their brutal security forces to sexually assault and torture children, and have not spared children from ludicrously unfair trials,” said Tara Sepehri Far, a senior HRW researcher. Only specialized prosecutors can question children who have been detained, according to Iranian law. “The United Nations Fact-Finding Mission should prioritize investigating these abuses and recommend a path to accountability,” said Bill Van Esveld, HRW’s associate children’s rights director.


April 26

International: An Iranian court ruled that the United States must pay $312.9 million over what Tehran alleged was U.S. involvement in a 2017 ISIS attack that killed at least 18 people. “The reasons for attributing these crimes to the United States ... is based on the central and main role of the government and officials of this country in organizing and directing terrorist groups,” reported Iranian state media.

International: The Belgian government announced that it would not release an Iranian diplomat from prison. The announcement came after the Belgian Constitutional Court backed a prisoner swap in which the diplomat, Asadollah Assadi, would be swapped for Olivier Vandecasteele, a Belgian aid worker detained in the Islamic Republic. Iran’s judiciary claimed that a deal had been reached. But Belgian Justice Minister Vincent Van Quickenborne denied the claim. “They do this to manipulate and confuse an innocent compatriot and his family,” Quickenborne said

Domestic/International: The judiciary upheld the death sentence for Jamshid Sharmahd, a German-Iranian dual-national and permanent U.S. resident. German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock criticized the decision, describing it as “unacceptable” and calling on Iran “to reverse this arbitrary sentence immediately.” Sharmahd had been convicted for alleged links to a 2008 bombing at a mosque that killed more than a dozen people.


Domestic: A senior cleric and member of the Assembly of Experts was shot and killed by a guard at a bank in Babolsar. Ayatollah Abbas Ali Soleimani’s death came after months of anti-regime protests and backlash against Shiite clerics. Authorities did not report a motive for the attack. 

International: Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian called on Lebanon’s rival political factions to agree on a new president. Lebanese politics were divided between an Iran-backed coalition dominated by Hezbollah and a Western and Saudi-backed coalition. “We will back any election and any agreement that is reached between parties in Lebanon regarding the electing of a president,” said Amir-Abdollahian during a visit to Lebanon.


April 27

International: The Iranian navy seized an oil tanker in the Gulf of Oman. Advantage Sweet–a Marshall Islands-flagged, Turkish-managed, and Chinese-owned ship–was en route to Texas. The Islamic Republic claimed that it had collided with an Iranian ship. “Iran's continued harassment of vessels and interference with navigational rights in regional waters are a threat to maritime security and the global economy,” said the U.S. Navy in a statement. The Iranian move came after reports emerged that the United States had previously seized a tanker carrying Iranian crude oil in April. Iran’s seizure of the Advantage Sweet may have been in retaliation for the U.S. measure, Financial Times reported.

International/Human Rights: Iran was “among the most inhospitable places in the world for free expression,” rights group PEN America reported in its 2022 Freedom to Write Index. The number of detained writers increased from 22 in 2021 to 57 in 2022. “As soon as the protests started in September, we did see what I would describe as a preemptive crackdown on the creative and literary and artistic communities," said Karin Deutsch Karlekar, a PEN America Iran expert. Iran had become the country with the second-most detained writers, behind China.

International: The United States announced new sanctions on Iran for taking Americans and Iranian-Americans hostage. The Treasury Department specifically designated four senior officials in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Intelligence Organization.