News Digest: Week of January 9

January 7 

Human Rights: Iran executed two more men arrested in connection with anti-government protests. The two men, Mohammad Mehdi Karami and Seyed Mohammad Hosseini, were convicted for allegedly killing a paramilitary volunteer during a protest. In total, Iran has executed four men since demonstrations began over the death of Mahsa Amini in September 2022. 


January 8 

International: German police arrested an Iranian man who allegedly acquired cyanide and ricin to carry out an "Islamist-motivated" attack. The man was plotting a “serious act of violence,” said the North Rhine-Westphalia Police in a statement. The man’s brother was also arrested. German media reported that the police received a tip from the FBI, which had identified the man as an ISIS sympathizer. 


January 9

International: Pope Francis condemned the Iranian government’s execution of protesters in his annual speech to diplomats. The speech was the first time that the Pope spoke out against Tehran. “The death penalty cannot be employed for a purported state justice since it does not constitute a deterrent nor render justice to victims, but only fuels the thirst for vengeance,” he said. Two protestors were executed two days before his speech, prompting international condemnation.  


Human Rights: Demonstrators gathered outside of a Karaj prison following rumors that the government would execute two protesters. The two prisoners were found guilty of killing a police officer during protests in November. More than 100 protesters faced the “impending threat of death sentence,” according to the Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA). As of January 9, four protesters had been executed.  

International: Meta’s Oversight Board reversed the company’s previous decision to remove Facebook posts that included the message, “Death to Khamenei.” A post containing the slogan was removed in July 2022 after Meta determined that it violated the violence and incitement community standard. The board decided that the ​​slogan did not violate a rule prohibiting violent threats.

International: The JCPOA will be “a substantial topic of conversation” in an upcoming meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan told reporters while attending a summit in Mexico. When asked about Iranian drones sales to Russia, he responded that Iran had decided to “go down a road where their weapons are being used to kill civilians in Ukraine” and that Iranian drones were “contributing to widespread war crimes.” 


January 10

Domestic: Iran sentenced Faezeh Hashemi, the daughter of former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, to five years in prison over negative comments about the government. Tehran's public prosecutor indicted Hashemi last year on charges of "propaganda against the system,” according to state news.

International: German exports to Iran increased 12.7 percent to 1.5 billion euros between January and November 2022. The boost in German exports comes amid growing Western condemnation of Tehran’s human rights record and crackdown in response to protests across Iran. Germany has been highly critical of the Iranian regime’s crackdown and on January 9 summoned the Iranian ambassador after the recent executions.  

International: The Iranian Trade Promotion Organization (TPO) announced that Iran had opened eight business centers across Africa, including in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Cameroon, Senegal, Nigeria, Algeria, and South Africa. Iran planned to continue strengthening trade relations with the continent as well as establish a “direct airline between Iran and South Africa…by the end of the year,” said TPO Africa Office Director General Mohammad Sadeq Qanadzadeh.

Economy: The World Bank projected Iran’s GDP to grow by 2.2 percent in 2023, down from 2.9 percent in 2022. The organization expected even less growth, 1.9 percent, in 2024. 


January 11

International/Human Rights: Iran was set to execute Alireza Akbari, a dual British-Iranian citizen and former deputy defense minister, according to Akbari’s family. Akbari’s wife, Maryam, said that the family was told to travel to the prison for a “final meeting,” after which Akbari was moved to solitary confinement. While the British government has tried to intervene to halt the execution, Iran does not acknowledge dual citizenship. 

International: Russian President Vladimir Putin and Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi discussed energy and transportation cooperation in a call. "Expanding the capacities and cooperation of the two countries, including in the field of transit and energy, is beneficial to the economies of the entire Eurasian region," Putin said

International: The Iranian Navy intended to expand its scope of operations to include the Panama Canal, said Iranian Navy Commander Rear Admiral Shahram Irani. “We have formed three oceanic commands, including the Indian Ocean Command, the Pacific Ocean Command, and the Atlantic Ocean Command,” he said. “Today we are present in the Indian and Atlantic oceans and soon we will be present in the Pacific Ocean.” Irani characterized the decision as a defensive move.

International: In early January, the Biden administration renewed government protection for former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and former special envoy for Iran Brian Hook due to “serious and credible” threats emanating from Iran.


January 12

Domestic/Human Rights: State media released a video of Alireza Akbari confessing that he allegedly provided information for the assassination of top Iranian nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh in 2020. Akbari, a dual British-Iranian citizen, said that he was tortured and forced to make a false confession.


January 13

Domestic: President Ebrahim Raisi’s draft budget for the Iranian year starting in March 2023 included $85 million for conserving and protecting natural resources. “Among other important issues that are specifically mentioned in the budget bill is the issue of drought,” said an official.  

International: Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian expressed support for Hezbollah, a Shiite political party and militia in Lebanon. He met with the group’s secretary general, Hassan Nasrallah, while visiting Beirut. 

International: Foreign Minister Amir-Abdollahian said that Iran was “happy with the dialogue” with Turkey. Tensions had been building between the neighboring countries, which supported opposing forces in the Syrian civil war. Iran backed the Assad government while Turkey supported rebel forces. Ankara had threatened to send forces into northern Syria.  

International: Foreign Minister Amir-Abdollahian expressed hope that “diplomatic missions or embassies in Tehran and Riyadh will reopen within the framework of dialogue that should continue between the two countries.” After Saudi Arabia executed Shiite cleric Nimr al Nimr in January 2016, protesters attacked the Saudi embassy in Tehran. As a result, Saudi Arabia severed diplomatic ties with Iran. Iraq, however, hosted five rounds of talks between Iranian and Saudi officials in 2021 and 2022. 


January 14

Human Rights: Iran executed Alireza Akbari, a former deputy defense minister (2000-2004), after he was convicted of spying for Britain and “corruption on earth.” Akbari, who served in the reformist government of President Mohammad Khatami, also had British citizenship after a decade living in Britain after he left government. He was arrested in 2019 during a visit to Iran. His execution triggered a flurry of international condemnation. Akbari’s execution was a “barbaric act that deserves condemnation in the strongest possible terms,” British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said in a statement.

Security: Iran will receive 24 Russian SU-35 fighter jets in March, according to lawmaker Shahriar Heidari. Iran had not received new combat aircraft since purchasing Russian MiG-29 fighters in the 1990s. It was still flying aircraft procured under the monarchy that were difficult to maintain.  


January 15

Domestic: Iranian authorities attempted to steal data from users of virtual private networks (VPNs), which allow people to skirt web censorship. The Romanian cybersecurity company Bitdefender found spyware in numerous VPNs.  

Human Rights: Siamak Namazi, a dual U.S.-Iranian citizen, appealed to President Joe Biden to do more to free him and other Americans held in Iran. “In the past I implored you to reach for your moral compass and find the resolve to bring the US hostages in Iran home. To no avail,” he wrote in an open letter. “Not only do we remain Iran’s prisoners, but you have not so much as granted our families a meeting.” Namazi also started a seven-day hunger strike. 

International: Foreign Minister Amir-Abdollahian promised Syrian President Bashar al Assad that Iran will maintain “robust support” for his country, one of the Islamic Republic’s few allies. “Ties with Syria are at their best,” Amir-Abdollahian said. His counterpart, Faisal Mekdad, said that the two countries would “boost collaboration to thwart Western sanctions.”