Archive for January 21, 2020

Iranian stars bolster downed jet protests amid spate of high-profile defections

January 21, 2020

Source: Iranian stars bolster downed jet protests amid spate of high-profile defections | The Times of Israel

Among those openly criticizing regime are actors vowing to boycott a film festival, a famed volleyball player and a former state TV presenter who apologized for ’13 years of lying’

Iranian police officers take position while protesters gather in front of Amir Kabir University in Tehran, Iran, January 11, 2020.(AP Photo)

NICOSIA, Cyprus — Iranian artists, athletes and media personalities have lent their voices to anti-government protests in the Islamic republic over the accidental downing of a passenger plane that killed 176 people.

Among them have been actors vowing to boycott a film festival, a star volleyball player who said he saw “no light in the future,” and a former state TV presenter who apologized “for 13 years of lying” to her viewers.

The latest demonstrations broke out after the armed forces admitted they had accidentally shot down a Ukrainian passenger jet on January 8 amid high tensions with arch foe the United States.

The acknowledgement, after days of denial by the government, was met with an outpouring of grief over the loss of life and anger at the breach of trust, with demonstrators calling their rulers “liars.”

They were soon joined by a string of high-profile figures from the worlds of arts, sports and media.

A slew of actors and others withdrew from April’s Fajr International Film festival, which is held each year to mark the anniversary of the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Navid Mohammadzadeh holds the Orizzonti Special Prize for best actor for ‘No Date, No Signature’ during the awards photo call at the 74th Venice Film Festival at the Venice Lido, Italy, September 9, 2017. (Domenico Stinellis/AP)

Over three million people within days watched a clip posted by one actor, Navid Mohammadzadeh, which also garnered plaudits from other Iranian stars.

The short take from his 2018 film “Sheeple” touches on a tough choice many dissidents face: stay and push for change despite the risks, or leave and join Iran’s chronic brain drain.

“Now you see that I haven’t left this wreck of a place,” Mohammadzadeh’s character tells his abusive father in the short video.

“I have stayed and will blacken your life. I stayed to get my rights.”

‘Desperate and sad’

One high-profile flight from the country drew headlines around the time of the protests.

On January 11, taekwondo athlete Kimia Alizadeh, Iran’s only female Olympic medalist, announced she had permanently left Iran, citing the “hypocrisy” of a system she claimed humiliates athletes while using them for political ends.

“I am one of the millions of oppressed women in Iran with whom they have been playing for years,” the 21-year-old wrote on Instagram.

Iranian parliamentarian Abdolkarim Hosseinzadeh demanded answers, accusing “incompetent officials” of allowing Iran’s “human capital to flee” the country.

Shohreh Bayat, chief arbiter for the match between Aleksandra Goryachkina of Russia and Ju Wenjun of China, lis seen before the match during the 2020 International Chess Federation (FIDE) Women’s World Chess Championship in Shanghai on January 11, 2020. (Stringer/AFP)

Another star athlete, national volleyball captain Said Marouf, posted a message on January 12 that was sombre in tone despite the fact the team had just earned a spot at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

“Today, in our desperate and sad mood, we can’t celebrate this victory and achievement of a dream that we have worked toward for years,” he said.

“Our despair and sadness are not only because our fellow citizens are mourning, but because we see no light in the future.”

And, just days ago, Iranian chess referee Shohreh Bayat, who drew fire over accusations she violated Iran’s Islamic dress code while at a world championship in Russia, also reportedly said she now plans to stay away from her homeland.

‘Solidarity and solace’

For days after the aircraft tragedy, state media toed the line that a mechanical failure had caused it to crash.

So the admission that a missile operator had fired at the Ukraine International Airlines plane mistaking it for an American cruise missile sent ripples through the media arena.

In a rare move, state-run TV acknowledged that “anti-regime” protests were being held, only months after November’s much larger nationwide protests were bloodily put down amid a near-total internet blackout.

People and rescue teams amid bodies and debris after a Ukrainian plane carrying 176 passengers that was accidentally shot down by Iranian forces near Imam Khomeini airport in the Iranian capital Tehran, January 8, 2020. (Rouhollah VAHDATI/ISNA/AFP)

Several state television employees announced on social media that they were quitting, and former state TV lifestyle show presenter Gelare Jabbari went a step further.

“Forgive me for 13 years of lying to you on Iran television,” she wrote on Instagram, only to delete the post later after it had spread widely and then asking that her comments not be “misused” by anyone.

Another state TV personality, Zahra Khatami Rad, also quit on Instagram, vowing to “never work in television again.”

She won praise and gained more than 50,000 likes, but also revealed in a later post some of the many insults she had received in response.

Actor Shahab Hosseini, right and director director Asghar Farhadi pose for photographers after Hosseini won the Best Actor award and Farhadi, the Best Screenplay award for the film Forushande (The Salesman) at the 69th international film festival, Cannes, southern France, May 22, 2016. (Joel Ryan/AP)

Some celebrities have come out against the protests, also exposing them to criticism.

Movie star Shahab Hosseini, known for his collaborations with director Asghar Farhadi in internationally-acclaimed films such as “The Salesman,” sparked controversy by opposing the film festival boycott.

Last Thursday, Hosseini, wrote on Instagram that a boycott was divisive — earning him over 30,000 comments of support but also much vitriol, which prompted him to defend his political and religious views.

“This move provokes social divisions between us and them, and this at a time when, more than ever, people need solidarity and solace,” he wrote.

“This action, even among artists, fans and audiences, also creates a deep and perhaps irreparable rift that is in nobody’s interest.”


Israeli FM, US top diplomat urge more countries to blacklist Hezbollah entirely

January 21, 2020

Source: Israeli FM, US top diplomat urge more countries to blacklist Hezbollah entirely | The Times of Israel

Following UK’s move, Katz and Pompeo call on nations to add the political wing of Iran-backed Lebanese group to terror list

Supporters of the Hezbollah terror group drive in a convoy in support of its leader Hassan Nasrallah's speech, in the area of Fatima's Gate in Kfar Kila on the Lebanese border with Israel, October 25, 2019. (Ali Dia/AFP)

Supporters of the Hezbollah terror group drive in a convoy in support of its leader Hassan Nasrallah’s speech, in the area of Fatima’s Gate in Kfar Kila on the Lebanese border with Israel, October 25, 2019. (Ali Dia/AFP)

Foreign Minister Israel Katz and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo issued separate remarks on Saturday calling on more countries to add Lebanon’s entire Hezbollah movement to their terror blacklists after the UK announced that it did so this week.

Britain’s finance ministry said on Friday that it added Hezbollah’s political wing to its list of terrorist groups subject to asset freezing. The ministry previously only targeted the Shiite organization’s military wing but has now listed the whole group after the government designated it a terrorist organization last March.

The change requires any individual or institution in Britain with accounts or financial services connected to Hezbollah to suspend them or face prosecution.

Katz said in a statement Saturday that he applauded the British government for “its decision to include all Hezbollah organizations, including the political echelon, under the legislation enabling asset freezing for terror organizations.”

The foreign minister said the move was “an achievement for Israel in its struggle against Iran and its proxies in the region, chiefly Hezbollah.”

Hezbollah supporters watch a televised speech by their leader Hassan Nasrallah during a religious mourning procession on the tenth day of the lunar month of Muharram, which marks the day of Ashura, in Beirut, on September 10, 2019. (Anwar Amro/AFP)

Katz said he raised the issue in a recent discussion with British Foreign Secretary  Dominic Raab and added that he expected the governments of Germany, Brazil, Australia and additional countries with which he’s had discussions to take similar steps.

Pompeo on Saturday published a tweet calling on “all nations to designate #Hizballah as the terrorist organization it is.”

The US top diplomat also marked the five-year anniversary of the death of Argentine prosecutor Alberto Nisman who was assassinated in 2015 just before he was slated to speak to a congressional panel about allegations that then-president Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner had been engaged in efforts to cover up Iranian involvement in a 1994 terror attack against the country’s Jewish community.

Secretary Pompeo


Nisman investigated the terror attack on the AMIA Jewish center in Buenos Aires that left 85 people dead and hundreds wounded. He established that the Iranian-backed Hezbollah terror group was responsible for the carnage and later accused Kirchner and other officials of ignoring Iran’s involvement in exchange for commercial benefits for Argentina, in violation of the country’s penal code and the independence of the judiciary.

Alberto Nisman gives a news conference in Buenos Aires on May 20, 2009. (AFP Photo/Juan Mabromata)

Nisman’s body was found on January 18, 2015, hours before he was to present evidence to back up his claim. His death was initially ruled a likely suicide but an Argentine federal appeals court later found that he was murdered.

Kirchner, who was indicted in 2017 in connection with the alleged cover-up of Iran’s involvement in the bombing, denies any wrongdoing.

Firemen and policemen search for wounded people after a bomb exploded at the Argentinian Israelite Mutual Association (AMIA in Spanish) in Buenos Aires, 18 July 1994. (ALI BURAFI/AFP/Getty Images via JTA)

‘Pleased with the decision’

Earlier this week, Brian Hook, the US special representative for Iran, said the United States was “very pleased” with the UK’s decision on Hezbollah, adding that it had long been seeking such a move from European allies.

“We would like to congratulate the United Kingdom,” he told reporters in Washington. “There is no distinction between Hezbollah’s political arm and its military arm.”

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan welcomed the move, calling it an “important step” and urged the EU and others to follow London’s example.

“Hezbollah and its Iranian backers are behind numerous attacks which have murdered innocent civilians all over the world. Europe is waking up to Iran’s terrorist activities and their murderous proxies,” Erdan said.

The Treasury in London said the change followed its annual review of the asset freezing register, and brought it into line with the 2019 decision by the interior minister to blacklist all of Hezbollah.

“The UK remains committed to the stability of Lebanon and the region, and we continue to work closely with our Lebanese partners,” a spokesman said.

Hezbollah is a Shiite movement established in 1982 during the Lebanese civil war by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps.

A cross-border raid into Israel in the summer of 2006 in which the terror group captured the bodies of Israeli soldiers sparked a 34-day war where over 1,200 people died.

The group is seen as a key component of Shiite-majority Iran’s strategy for regional influence.

Britain’s move comes amid heightened tensions in the Middle East, after the US killed top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani in a drone strike earlier this month.

Tehran retaliated by firing a volley of missiles at US troops stationed in Iraqi military bases.

Britain currently proscribes 75 international terrorist organizations under terrorism legislation passed in 2000.


Iran threatens to quit global nuclear pact if Europeans turn to Security Council

January 21, 2020

Source: Iran threatens to quit global nuclear pact if Europeans turn to Security Council | The Times of Israel

FM Zarif says his country may abandon the Non-Proliferation Treaty if 3 EU member states pursue further measures over its alleged violations of 2015 nuclear deal

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif during a press conference in Tehran, Iran, June 10, 2019. (Ebrahim Noroozi/AP)

Iran threatened Monday to withdraw from the 1970 Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) if a dispute over its atomic program goes before the UN Security Council.

Britain, France and Germany launched a process last week charging Iran with failing to observe the terms of a 2015 nuclear deal, a move that could eventually see the Security Council reimpose international sanctions on the country.

Iran has accused the three EU member states of inaction over sanctions the United States reimposed on it after unilaterally withdrawing from the accord in 2018.

The European move “has no legal basis” and if they take further measures “Iran’s withdrawal from the NPT will be considered,” Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif was quoted as saying by the Iranian parliament’s website.

The 2015 deal reached with Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States gave Iran relief from sanctions in return for curbs on its nuclear program. But the deal faced criticism from Israel, US Republicans and others over its 15-year phaseout period, and for leaving Tehran’s ballistic missile program and much of its nuclear infrastructures intact.

The exterior of the Arak heavy water production facility in Arak, Iran, 360 kilometers southwest of Tehran, October 27, 2004. (AP Photo)

Since the US pullout, Iran has progressively rolled back its commitments to the accord — called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action — in retaliation.

It has hit out at the three European nations that remain party to the JCPOA for failing to live up to their promises to ease the impact of US sanctions on its oil-based economy.

“If the Europeans return to the commitments, Iran will also stop reducing its commitments, but if the Europeans continue as they have been… we have different options,” Zarif said Monday.

The foreign minister said Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani had warned former EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini about some of those consequences in three letters sent in 2018. Rouhani explicitly raised the possibility of withdrawing from the global nonproliferation treaty in a letter sent in May of that year, around the time of the US withdrawal from the 2015 accord.

In this photo released by the official website of the office of the Iranian Presidency, President Hassan Rouhani speaks before the heads of banks, in Tehran, Iran, Thursday, Jan. 16, 2020. (Office of the Iranian Presidency via AP)

“It was stated in the president’s letter that if this issue is referred to the Security Council, Iran’s withdrawal from the NPT will be discussed, but before that we can consider other (options),” Zarif said.

European officials have made it clear that the decision to trigger the 2015 deal’s dispute resolution mechanism was made in a bid to bring Iran back into compliance and save the accord.

But Iran’s foreign ministry on Monday warned more measures could be taken in retaliation for the European move.

“If these talks continue, Iran is formulating a final and even more effective” measure regarding the nuclear deal, spokesman Abbas Mousavi told a news conference in Tehran.

Asked by reporters to elaborate, Mousavi said it would be a “serious” measure, but he gave no further details.

“Different options are on the table for Iran that will be announced if a consensus is reached” by its leaders, he said.

This photo taken on October 26, 2010, shows the inside of reactor at the Russian-built Bushehr nuclear power plant in southern Iran. (HAMED MALEKPOUR/FARS NEWS AGENCY/AFP)

Iran has said the steps it has taken to roll back the nuclear deal can be reversed if its interests are realized.

The NPT, which went into effect in 1970, has been signed by 190 states that committed not to pursue nuclear weapons. Iran was first found to be in violation of the treaty in a 2003 report by the UN’s atomic watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Israel is among five states to never have signed the treaty, maintaining what it has called a policy of nuclear “ambiguity.” Foreign reports have claimed over the years that the Jewish state possesses deliverable nuclear weapons.