News Digest: Week of March 11

March 11

International: An Iranian court ordered the United States and Tondar, an opposition group based in California, to pay $2.47 billion to victims of the 2008 bombing in Shiraz. Iran accused Iranian-German national Jamshid Sharmahd, the creator of Tondar’s website, of orchestrating the attack. Iranian judicial authorities had convicted and sentenced Sharmahd to death in 2023 on charges of “corruption on earth” despite denials of involvement and concerns raised by Amnesty International about forced confessions and lack of due process.

International: Ensiyeh Khazali, Iran’s vice president for women and family affairs, arrived in New York to participate in the 68th session of the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women (CSW68). The event is the largest annual U.N. gathering on gender equality and female empowerment. The 2024 conference was slated for March 11-22.

Domestic: An Iranian court fined and sentenced Anisa Fanaiyan, a Baha’i, to 16 years in prison for establishing a group to undermine national security and engaging in propaganda activities. The court also ordered the confiscation of personal assets belonging to Fanaiyan’s family members. Several other Baha’i individuals have been summoned to court or have faced legal cases on similar charges. Since the 1979 revolution, the government has systematically discriminated against Baha'is. It has labeled them apostates and defines the Baha’i faith as a “political sect.” 

Military: Iran, China and Russia commenced a joint naval drill, known as “Marine Security Belt 2024,” in the Gulf of Oman, a strategic waterway near the Persian Gulf. The exercise involved more than 20 ships, support vessels, combat boats, and naval helicopters from the three countries. Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Oman, Pakistan and South Africa participated as observers. The goal of the drill, the fourth since 2019, was to counter “piracy and terrorism, support to humanitarian activities and the exchange of information in the field of rescue,” and bolster trade, according to Iranian Admiral Mostafa Tajadinni. 


March 12

Nuclear: Iran’s permanent mission to the U.N. nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), alleged that IAEA reports on its controversial nuclear program were based on dubious information from Israel. In a letter, Tehran also claimed that it had adequately cooperated with the IAEA despite disagreements over implementation of the 2015 nuclear deal. 

Economic: Hossein Garousi, the Head of the Maku Free Zone Organization, stated that Iranian and Turkish officials had signed a memorandum of understanding to establish a joint free trade zone. Garousi highlighted the potential to bolster trade via the construction of a new railway from Marand and Cheshmeh Soraya in Iran to Igdir and Kars in Turkey. 

International: European security authorities have foiled several plots by Iran and its allies, including Hamas and Hezbollah, according to a report by The Wall Street Journal. The suspects were planning attacks on civilian and military targets. For example, an Iranian couple posing as Afghan refugees, planned to murder three Jewish community leaders in Sweden in 2021.


March 13 

Domestic: Deputy judiciary chief Mohammad Mosaddegh resigned due to the corruption allegations against his two sons, who faced charges of interference in judicial cases. In his resignation letter, Mosaddegh stated that he had no connection with any of the judges related to the case and reaffirmed his loyalty to the ideals of the Islamic Revolution. Mosaddegh had in the position since June 2021.

Domestic: Since February 20, At least 15 people died and 4,720 were injured in incidents related to Chaharchanbe Suri, a fire festival festival held in the runup to Nowruz, the Persian new year. Iran’s Emergency Services Spokesman Babak Yektaparast warned about the dangers of storing incendiary material in residential and warehouse facilities. 

Domestic: Iran extended hijab enforcement to airport after implementing similar measures in metro stations, universities, and other public places. Although no law prohibited passengers without a headcovering from boarding airplanes, Deputy Minister of Roads and Urban Development Reza Nakhjavani stressed that order and discipline must prevail at airports.

International: The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) urged the U.S. government to support a U.N. Security Council referral of Iran to the International Criminal Court. The commission made the call in light of the findings of a U.N. fact-finding mission on Iran’s crackdown on protests sparked by the death of Mahsa Amini in police custody in Septembetr 2022. USCIRF Commissioner Eric Ueland called on the Biden administration to work with partners to support the mission’s investigation and hold Iranian regime officials accountable through sanctions and visa bans. Commissioner Stephen Schneck also urged Congress to reauthorize the Lautenberg Amendment, which provides a path to resettlement in the United States for persecuted Iranian religious minorities.