Iran Brief: Prominent Journalist Sentenced to Three Years in Prison – August 12, 2016

Domestic Politics

Iran Nuclear Scientist Executed for “Treason:” Shahram Amiri – an Iranian scientist who allegedly provided the United States with information about Iran’s nuclear program – was executed for treason last week. A spokesman for Iran’s judiciary told reporters [Pr] that “through his connection with the United States, Amiri gave vital information about the country to the enemy.” The spokesman elaborated on Amiri’s death sentence, saying [Pr], ”Amiri had access to the system’s top secrets and had gotten connected with our number one enemy the Great Satan” and that “the Iranian High Court reviewed this decision with extreme care given the allegations of espionage.”

Amiri disappeared during a pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia in 2009, and reemerged in the United States in 2010. He claimed that the CIA had abducted him and that he suffered “intense psychological pressure to reveal sensitive information.” Reports about Amiri are inconsistent, with some alleging that he was a spy for the United States or a double agent for Iran. Upon his return to Iran, Amiri was greeted as a hero, but he was tried for treason and sentenced to prison only a year later.

Prominent Journalist Sentenced to Three Years Prison: An Iranian court sentenced Iranian journalist Issa Saharkhiz to three years prison on Tuesday for “insulting the Supreme Leader” and “propagating against the state.” His son, Mehdi Saharkhiz, reported to the Committee to Protect Journalists earlier this year that his father suffered from a number of critical health issues, and was taking medication for his kidney and blood pressure. His son further emphasized that even Iran’s Medical Examiner’s Office had urged the journalist’s release based on medical grounds. Saharkhiz, a contributor to opposition news site Rooz Online, has been in custody since November, according to CPJ, and faces additional charges for “insulting the head of the judiciary” and “insulting the former Iranian president.”

Foreign Policy

Ahmadinejad Writes Obama Urging Return of Assets: Former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad sent a letter to U.S. President Barack Obama early this week urging him to “quickly fix” an April 2016 Supreme Court ruling enabling families of those killed in Iran-linked attacks to collect damages from $2 billion in frozen assets seized earlier this year. The Obama administration has not commented on the letter.

In the letter [Pr], delivered to the Swiss Embassy in Tehran, Ahmadinejad wrote, “It is the clear expectation of the Iranian nation that the particular case of property seizure… be quickly fixed by your excellency and that not only the Iranian nation’s rights be restored and the seized property released and returned, but also the damage caused be fully compensated for. I passionately advise you not to let the historical defamation and bitter incident be recorded under your name.” The letter coincides with increased speculation that Ahmadinejad is considering another run in Iran’s upcoming 2017 presidential election.

Economy

Iran Looks to Russia, Azerbaijan, and Beyond for Closer Economic Ties: On Monday, the presidents of Iran, Azerbaijan, and Russia met [Pr] to discuss closer ties, trade expansion, and increased regional security cooperation [Pr] between the nations. Iran and Azerbaijan inked a “protocol of invention” that would result in the construction of a new transport corridor in the Caspian Sea region to provide a railway link between Iran and Azerbaijan.

The three leaders also signed a joint declaration reaffirming their commitment to stronger action and regional cooperation against terrorism and organized crime. In a separate bilateral meeting between Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Russian President Vladimir Putin, the two leaders agreed to work more quickly towards boosting cooperation in both the economic and political realms.

Meanwhile, Iran is looking to build its relationship with several other key nations. It has focused on boosting ties with Turkey, which reported that its trade with Iran has increased 30 percent since sanctions on Iran were lifted in January. Last week, Indonesia’s state-owned Pertamina and the National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC) also agreed to develop two oil and gas blocks in Iran. President Rouhani also spoke via phone [Pr] with British Prime Minister Theresa May earlier this week to congratulate her on taking office and expressing his optimism of closer ties with the United Kingdom, adding that strengthening banking relations between the two nations would help boost cooperation.

Media