Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi told Turkey's Anadolu Agency Feb. 5 that photographs showing torture in Syria mean that the country's president, Bashar Assad, must be tried before the International Criminal Court. Ebadi, an Iranian lawyer and rights advocate, noted that Syria (like the US, Israel and Sudan) has not ratified the Roma Statute that created the ICC, but she said that he could be indicted by an initiative of the UN Security Council, as in the case of Sudan's Omar al-Bashir. However, she also noted that Russia's veto at the Security Council is an obstacle to this. She also had harsh words for her own government: "I am ashamed of my country's intervention in Syria where civilians are killed, and as an Iranian I apologize to the Syrian people. The Iranian state intervenes in Syria despite the will of Iranian people." (Anadolu Agency, Feb. 6)
The past year has seen a spate of dangerous brinkmanship in the Persian Gulf, with Iran and US naval forces along with those of the Gulf's oil-rich Arab mini-states playing chicken over the strategic choke-point of the Strait of Hormuz. But in addition to this show-down over a global oil outlet, the Gulf has seen escalating militarization in the guise of narcotics enforcement. Bahrain's Gulf Daily News on Nov. 26 ran a story boasting of the exploits of a 29-nation Combined Maritime Forces group, based at the petro-kingdom's sprawling US Navy base and commanded by Capt. Robert Slaven of the Royal Australian Navy. While it claims to have "considerably reduced the number of terrorist attacks in the region" over the past decade, it's most concrete gains are hashish and heroin seizures.
The P5+1 world powers, which include the US, UK, Russia, China, France and Germany, reached an agreement (PDF) with Iran on Nov. 24 committing Iran to limiting its developing nuclear program in exchange for relief from international sanctions. The agreement outlines a six-month program, although the US holds that this agreement is only an initial step, and the full force of its sanctions against Iran will not be lifted until [it has been determined that] Iran has come into full compliance with its obligations under the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) and the UN International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). In a speech regarding the agreement, US President Barack Obama made the following remarks regarding the agreement:
Sixteen accused militants were hanged Oct. 26 at Zahedan prison in Iran's Sistan-Baluchistan province, on the Pakistani border—in apparent retaliation for the deaths of 14 border guards in an ambush just the night before. Officials blamed the attack outside Saravan on "anti-revolution guerrillas"—an apparent reference to the armed Baluch Sunni group Jundallah. But loca parialment member Hedayatollah Mirmoradzehi named a new Jaish al-Adl, or Army of Justice, as responsible for the attack. The BBC's Kasra Najisaid the mass execution "smacks of revenge killing by the judiciary."
Iranian lawyer and prominent human rights activist Nasrin Sotoudeh was permanently released on Sept. 18, after spending over two years in prison. Sotoudeh was serving six-year sentence for her September 2010 arrest and conviction for "propaganda against the system" and "harming national security." Other prisoners serving prison terms related to the 2009 mass protests were also released that day. Among the released prisoners was former Iranian deputy foreign minister Mohsen Aminzadeh who was sentenced to six years in prison for his participation in protesting the 2009 presidential election. It is estimated that the total number of prisoners released is around 10.
Human Rights Watch has called upon Iran's judiciary to abandon charges and quash the verdicts against 11 members of a Sufi order convicted in what the rights group called unfair trials and informed of their sentences this month. HRW found that evidence suggests all 11 were prosecuted and convicted solely because of their peaceful activities on behalf of the largest Sufi order in Iran or in connection with their contributions to a news website dedicated to documenting rights abuses against members of the order. "The Sufi trials bore all the hallmarks of a classic witch hunt," said Tamara Alrifai, HRW's Middle East advocacy director. "It seems that authorities targeted these members of one of Iran’s most vulnerable minorities because they tried to give voice to the defense of Sufi rights."
Some 5,000 US troops are in Jordan this week to participate in the multi-national exercise dubbed Eager Lion. The US forces include an Army unit with a Patriot missile battery, and the Navy's Expeditionary Strike Group 5. Other participating nations include the UK, France, Canada, Turkey, Bahrain, Iraq, Qatar, the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Yemen. Although the Pentagon insists the maneuvers have nothing to do with the conflict in neighboring Syria, it comes as Iran is reportedly sending 4,000 Revolutionary Guards to support President Bashar Assad in the fight against opposition forces. (Al-Arabiya, PKKH, June 16; Stars & Stripes, June 12; US Army press release, June 11)
Thousands of Iranians gathered to chant "down with the dictator!" at the funeral procession for dissident cleric Ayatollah Jalaluddin Taheri in Isfahan June 4, signaling a renewal of opposition activism ahead of the upcoming presidential elections. Mourners called for lifting the continued house arrest orders on opposition leaders Mehdi Karroubi and Mir Hussein Mousavi. Ayatollah Taheri was the Friday prayers speaker in Isfahan, Iran's second city, until his resignation in 2002 when he shocked the country’s governing religious establishment by condemning the regime and protesting the country’s political and economic situation.