Iran Brief: Spate of Executions Raises Concerns of UN, Rights Groups – Week of August 5, 2016

Domestic Politics

Iran Executes Up to Twenty Prisoners on “Terrorism” Charges: Iran executed as many as 20 prisoners this week, including Kurdish prisoner Shahram Ahmadiaccording to the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran. Reports suggest that Ahmadi, a Sunni Kurdish activist, was executed despite claims that the case built against him was based on a forced and false confession. He was sentenced to death for the charge of “moharebeh” (enmity with God) after being accused of being a member and providing support for a terrorist group. Ahmadi endured 34 months of solitary confinement and despite attempts to appeal his death sentence, Iran’s Supreme Court upheld the sentence at the end of June.

The others reportedly executed were Sunni prisoners who, according to sources inside Iran, were hanged. IRNA, the official news agency of Iran, published a statement confirming a number of executions and alleging that those executed were members of a Salafist terrorist group responsible for assassinations, bombing, robberies, armed attacks, and more. On Friday, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein condemned the executions, saying that there were “serious doubts about the fairness of the trials, respect for due process, and other rights of the accused” before their executions.

Reports also emerged on Friday that Iran executed teenager Hassan Afshar, which Amnesty International claims is the first child offender executed in the country this year. Amnesty reported that Afshar was executed after being accused of the rape.

Millions of Iranian Users’ Telegram Accounts Hacked: Reports this week suggested that over the past year Iranian hackers compromised the accounts of more than 15 million Telegram users in Iran, in what may be the largest breach of the instant messaging program to date. Cyber researchers traced the hack back to a group known as “Rocket Kitten,” which allegedly conducted the cyber attacks in “campaigns reflecting the interests and activities of the Iranian security apparatus.”

Telegram downplayed the attacks, noting that “certain people” had used the instant messaging service’s public APIs to see whether Iranian phone numbers were among those using the platform. Telegram also noted that accounts can be hacked by intercepting SMS confirmation codes, and has for the past year encouraged its users to use its two-factor verification system. Cyber researchers are calling for Telegram to release security advice in Persian to raise awareness among Iranian users and encourage them to use two-factor verification.

Divides Emerge Over Nuclear Deal: On Monday, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei accused the United States of failing to honor its commitments under the nuclear agreement, noting his belief in “the futility of negotiations with the Americans, their lack of commitment to their promises, and the necessity of distrust of U.S. pledges.” Khamenei also warned of engaging with the United States on other regional conflicts, saying that given the United States’ shortcomings on the nuclear deal, “the Americans’ remarks cannot be trusted on any issue.” Khamenei’s comments starkly contrast against those of President Hassan Rouhani, who in the same week reaffirmed[Pr] his support for the deal, saying that “The most important effect of the [nuclear deal] is that the threat of war was lifted.” “Before the nuclear deal, superpowers [prevented Iran] from selling more than a million barrels of oil per day, but now [Iran] can sell as much as [it wants] and this is a point of honor” Rouhani added

Foreign Policy

United States Denies “Ransom” Payout to Iran: The Obama administration denied reports that it had secretly sent $400 million worth of cash to Iran in January. Republicans accused the Obama administration of paying “ransom” to Iran, as the payout coincided with the release of five Americans detained by Iran. The five released, including Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian, were released in a prisoner swap that saw the United States release seven Iranians who had been detained for violating sanctions. In January, the United States said that the $400 million transferred was part of a fund frozen since 1981. Officials further emphasized that due to international sanctions, the payment had to be made in cash. Josh Earnest, a spokesperson for the White House, emphasized that the United States did not pay a ransom “to secure the release of Americans unjustly detained in Iran” and underscored that the claims were made by Republicans wanting to undermine the deal, saying, “They’re struggling to justify their opposition to our engagement with Iran.”

Economy

Minister Confident in Economic Progress: Ali Tayebnia, Iran’s economy minister, reaffirmed his confidence in the country’s economic progress this week. His comments follow slow growth six months after the implementation of the nuclear deal. Tayebnia underscored the importance of investment in propelling growth, saying [Pr]: “In the last few years, volatility in the stock market had created some concerns, but now these worries have been addressed and the performance of this segment has a positive evaluation.” He continued, noting, “After decades of sanctions and slow economic growth, now there is room for serious economic transformations.” With Iran’s 2017 presidential election less than a year away, the economy is expected to feature prominently in candidates’ platforms. Potential 2017 presidential candidate, former nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili, criticized the slow economic growth last month, saying that six months after the deal “the wheel of production and export should have accelerated.

Media