News Digest: Week of February 13

February 13

Human Rights: Reza Khandan, husband of influential rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh, was ordered to Evin Prison within 30 days to serve at least five years of a six-year sentence from 2019. He was reportedly charged with “gathering and collusion against national security”; “propaganda against the regime”; and “spreading and promoting not wearing hijab. In 2018, Sotoudeh was sentenced to 38 years in prison–with 12 years mandatory–for representing women who protested against the hijab law. She has been on medical furlough from prison since July 2021. On February 1, the State Department announced that Sotoudeh was one of 10 winners of the Global Human Rights Defender Awards. On February 8, Sotoudeh condemned the mandatory hijab and said that Iranians “constantly want and still want a regime change” in an interview with CNN.


International: Venezuela and Iran reportedly finalized an agreement to build two oil tankers at an Iranian shipyard for PDVSA, Venezuela’s state-run energy company. The two countries had an existing deal that was delayed due to logistical and payment issues. The two tankers, India Urquia and India Mara, will each cost some $33 million. The Iran Marine Industrial Company will build the ships in Bushehr, Iran. The firm had previously built two ships for PDVSA that were able to hold 500,000-800,000 barrels of oil each. Venezuela reportedly settled a debt owed to Iran in 2021 to facilitate the agreement. Iran and Venezuela are both sanctioned by the United States. 

International: The British Government announced the first evidence that Iran is sending advanced weaponry to the Houthis in Yemen. The evidence was found on the hard drive of an Iranian drone that the British Navy captured in February 2022. The drive contained images of Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) tests. The UN banned weapons transfers to Yemen in 2014. 


February 14

Nuclear: Chinese President Xi Jinping said that China would “participate constructively” in efforts to restart the nuclear negotiations. He supported Iran’s efforts to protect its interests and called for a resolution to the stalemate in negotiations.

International: President Ebrahim Raisi began a three-day trip to China to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping, business leaders in China, and Iranian expatriates. The visit would reportedly include new cooperation agreements in an effort to strengthen political and economic relations. The trip was the first state visit to China by an Iranian president in two decades. Raisi brought Iran’s central bank governor as well as the ministers of economy, petroleum, foreign affairs, trade, transport and urban development, and agriculture.

International: In 2022, the Australian Security Intelligence Organization exposed Iranian efforts to surveil a dual citizen who had protested in Australia over the death of Mahsa Amini in Iran in September 2022, Australian Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil revealed in a speech. She also warned against foreign surveillance and interference. “We don’t just need to disrupt these operations, but deter future ones by imposing costs on their sponsor through outing them, where possible,” O’Neil asserted. “It is perfectly legal for anyone in Australia to criticize a foreign regime, as tens of thousands of people across the country have been doing in response to events in Iran.” But she added that Australia “absolutely will not tolerate, under any circumstances… attempts by foreign regimes to disrupt peaceful protests, encourage violence or suppress views.” 


International: The United States was reportedly considering a decision to send Ukraine weapons that were recently seized en route to Yemen. Iran was suspected of sending the arms to the Houthis. The weapons seized include 5,000 rifles, 1.6 million rounds of ammunition, anti-tank missiles, and over 7,000 proximity fuses used in detonators. “The war in Ukraine is consuming an enormous amount of munitions and depleting allied stockpiles,” said NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg on February 13. “The current rate of Ukraine's ammunition expenditure is many times higher than our current rate of production. This puts our defense industries under strain.”

International: U.S. forces shot down an Iranian-manufactured drone conducting reconnaissance on Conoco, a U.S. patrol base in northeast Syria. The move came after reports that Iran had increased activities in Syria. 

Domestic: Iran reportedly released dozens of prisoners as the size and intensity of the demonstrations hat began in September subsided. Some prominent protesters, activists, and journalists remain behind bars, however.


February 15

International: The United States and Iran were reportedly participating in indirect prisoner exchange negotiations. At least three U.S. citizens and a number of permanent U.S. residents are in detention in Iran. The potential agreement would include the release of billions of dollars of Iranian funds frozen by sanctions in South Korea.