Iranian dissidents, former hostages of regime launch lawsuit against Raisi

Protesters attend a rally calling for the prosecution of the Iran’s president Ebrahim Raisi during the United Nations (UN) General Assembly in New York. (AFP)
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Updated 21 September 2022

Iranian dissidents, former hostages of regime launch lawsuit against Raisi

  • Activists call for justice in a US federal civil case against President Ebrahim Raisi, who is in New York this week for the UN General Assembly
  • ‘I have lived in constant trauma,’ said one victim of unjust detention and torture who saw fellow prisoners taken to be hanged and feared he would be next

NEW YORK CITY: As Iran is rocked by furious nationwide protests following the death on Friday of Mahsa Amini — a 22-year-old Iranian woman who died after police beat her for “improperly” wearing the hijab — President Ebrahim Raisi might have hoped to escape the anger swelling in his country while he attends the UN General Assembly in New York this week.
But he faces the threat of being served with a lawsuit in the city by Iranian dissidents and Westerners who were held hostage by the regime in Tehran and accuse him of personal involvement in the torture and mistreatment they endured.
The lawsuit, which is supported by the National Union for Democracy in Iran, is being filed in the Southern District of New York by human rights attorney Shahin Milani on behalf of victims of Raisi’s alleged crimes.
The plaintiffs claim they endured acts of torture that were either directly ordered or substantially assisted by Raisi, which means the Iranian president is liable to face a civil lawsuit under the US Torture Victim Protection Act.
Cameron Khansarinia, NUFDI’s policy director, introduced the plaintiffs during a press conference at a private club in midtown Manhattan.
“We are here today to announce and outline in detail an historic, federal, civil lawsuit against Ebrahim Raisi,” he said.
“The plaintiffs in this case — Iranian dissidents, former Iranian hostages, former Western hostages — are coming together in unprecedented fashion to take a step forward for justice.”
On the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, Khansarinia told Arab News: “Raisi is in New York and it’s important that while the media is covering him, they’re also covering his victims.
“We want to have it recorded in the US judiciary that Ebrahim Raisi’s victims are standing up to him, that he is a criminal, that he is being accused, and in our view is guilty, of torture. This is important for setting a new legal precedent for such cases.
“Secondly, we are giving a voice to the Iranian people and to his victims, and allowing them for the first time to speak up because for so long they have been silenced by the regime and, unfortunately, often even by those in the West, so it’s an important opportunity for them to speak their truth today.”
During the press briefing, which was also supported by the NUFDI, four of those victims shared the details of their experiences at the hands of the Iranian regime: Mehdi Hajati, a city councilor and dissident; Kylie Moore-Gilbert, a British-Australian academic and former hostage of the regime; Hamid Babaei, a Belgian-Iranian academic and former hostage; and Ahmad Batebi, a former political prisoner.
They were joined by Navid Mohebbi, who was once the youngest journalist in the world in detention when he was imprisoned by the regime in Tehran. Milani, the lead attorney in the lawsuit, stressed that the civil case directly targets Raisi personally and not the Islamic Republic of Iran as a whole.
Moore-Gilbert described years of “gross mistreatment” and “psychological and physical torture” while in detention. Raisi was head of Iran’s judiciary when she was convicted, sentenced, denied an appeal, and transferred to prison. She said she holds him “ultimately responsible for the mistreatment and injustice” she endured.
She said that the judge at her trial was “clearly a puppet” of the government and not “capable of making independent decisions.” She was not even aware she had a lawyer until a couple of weeks before her hearings, she added.
Moore-Gilbert, speaking via video link, said she was “unable to present evidence during the trial” and could not understand the proceedings because they were conducted entirely in Farsi. She was sentenced to 10 years in prison on “ludicrous charges” of espionage. She was immediately placed in solitary confinement for seven months, one of the many examples of cruel and unjust punishment she said she endured, which also included exposure to infectious diseases and denial of medical care.
“He is ultimately responsible for my mistreatment,” Moore-Gilbert said of Raisi, adding: “I am taking part in this lawsuit under the TVPA in order to hold Raisi accountable for one injustice: My own.”
Babaei, another academic unjustly imprisoned in Iran, described the repulsive conditions he endured during his time in detention, revealing that inmates were not even provided with cups for drinking water.
“I lived in a constant trauma,” he said as he told how he saw fellow prisoners being taken away to be hanged, which he said kept him in a continuous state of fear that he would be next.
Mohebbi said that Iranians have been “exposed to continuous trauma over the last 43 years.”
Describing his experiences in prison, he said the entire judiciary system, in which “the punishment of a defender is already sealed,” had conspired against him.
He said: “With this lawsuit, the survivors and victims of the regime send a very clear message to the butchers of Tehran that you will never break our soul, our resilience, and our fight for our human dignity is not one that we will lose.”
The lawsuit brings three cases to the court, he added, but they “represent thousands of Iranians whose rights to express justice, their rights to express themselves, and their rights to express their suffering has been taken away.”
Marjam Keypour Greenblatt, a human rights activist and non-resident scholar at the Middle East Institute, told Arab News: “I am here to support the rights of Iranian people who are having their rights violated by the regime on a regular basis. I am here to echo their voices and to make sure there is justice where justice is rarely seen.”
Justice is the ultimate goal of the civil case against Raisi but success in achieving this justice, which thousands of others have been denied, could be a difficult prospect.
Gissou Nia, director of the Atlantic Council’s Strategic Litigation Project, told Arab News that the TVPA is “the right act to use here because you can seek remedies for crimes that were committed elsewhere.”
She added: “The legal team wants to serve process but provided that he is served then there would be determinations around immunity. With this particular matter, if the defendant was a head of government from France or Germany (for example), then the court would most likely take judicial notice and say that Raisi is protected by head-of-state immunity.
“But because it’s Iran, and under US law there are some different exceptions to state immunity as it applies to Iran, the court may opt to ask the State Department for their view. This could take a while but there is a chance that the suit moves forward.”
Raisi is not obliged to respond to a civil lawsuit, however, and if he chooses not to engage with the legal proceedings the court could issue a default ruling against him and in favor of the plaintiffs.
The president is not a member of Iran’s permanent mission to the UN and therefore does not qualify for diplomatic immunity. However he is afforded protection from being served with legal papers while he is in the UN headquarters and the surrounding district, and while traveling between there and his accommodation. However, the legal papers could be served against him if his accommodation in New York, or any non-official activities he takes part in, are outside the borders of the UN district.
Nizar Zakka, a former prisoner of the Iranian regime, told Arab News: “The most important part of this lawsuit is that the Iranian regime needs to know that they will be hunted wherever they go (and) they will be sued until they stop these activities, like hostage-taking, that they have been doing since 1979.”
For those dissident Iranians and Western hostages who continue to endure physical and psychological trauma after years of unjust confinement, that hunt continues this week in New York City.


Sokhna port welcomes first cruise ships amid ongoing development

Updated 6 sec ago

Sokhna port welcomes first cruise ships amid ongoing development

  • Movement of vessels ‘working perfectly’ alongside construction, official says
  • More than 3,000 tourists arrived by ship on Saturday

CAIRO: Development work at the Suez Canal Economic Zone is progressing well, a senior official said, with the new berth at Sokhna port recently welcoming its first cruise ships.

Walid Youssef, deputy chairman of the southern part of the zone, said that the circulation and reception of vessels was “working perfectly” alongside the construction work, which was nearing completion.

The development included four new basins and 18 km of marine berths, as well as commercial and logistical areas covering 5.3 sq. km, he said.

The area is served by a rail network stretching 33 km, which also connects to the Sokhna-El Alamein electric train service.

Youssef said there was constant coordination with the relevant authorities to ensure the smooth operation of the port as the work progressed.

On Saturday, the port welcomed the cruise ship Splendida MSC with 2,826 passengers aboard. It was en route from Yanbu to Safaga.

It also received the Emerald Azzurra, carrying 75 tourists from Sharm El-Sheikh, and the Clio, which had traveled from Hurghada with 85 passengers.

Iran ex-president, former PM call for political change

Updated 05 February 2023

Iran ex-president, former PM call for political change

  • Khatami hopes the use of ‘non-violent civil methods’ can ‘force the governing system to change its approach and accept reforms’

TEHRAN: Iran’s former president Mohammad Khatami and former premier Mir Hossein Mousavi have both called for political changes amid the protests triggered by the death in custody of Mahsa Amini.
As the 44th anniversary of the 1979 Islamic Revolution approaches, one of the country’s main opposition figures, Mousavi, called on Saturday for the “fundamental transformation” of a political system he said was facing a crisis of legitimacy.
And on Sunday Khatami, the leader of the reformist movement, in a statement said: “What is evident today is widespread discontent.”
Khatami said he hoped that the use of “non-violent civil methods” can “force the governing system to change its approach and accept reforms.”
In a statement carried by local media, Mousavi said: “Iran and Iranians need and are ready for a fundamental transformation whose outline is drawn by the pure ‘Woman, Life, Freedom’ movement.”
He was referring to the main slogan chanted in demonstrations sparked by the death on September 16 of Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian Kurd.
She had been arrested three days earlier by the morality police in Tehran for an alleged breach of the Islamic republic’s dress code for women.
Mousavi, 80, said the protest movement began in the context of “interdependent crises” and proposed holding a “free and healthy referendum on the need to change or draft a new constitution.”
He called the current system’s structure “unsustainable.”
An unsuccessful presidential candidate in 2009, Mousavi alleged large-scale fraud in favor of populist incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, leading to mass protests.
He has been under house arrest without charge in Tehran for 12 years, along with his wife Zahra Rahnavard.
A close confidant of the Islamic republic’s founder Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, Mousavi was prime minister from 1981 to 1989.
“People have the right to make fundamental revisions in order to overcome crises and pave the way for freedom, justice, democracy and development,” Mousavi said in his statement.
“The refusal to take the smallest step toward realizing the rights of citizens as defined in the constitution... has discouraged the community from carrying out reforms.”
Khatami, 79, made similar remarks, warning that “there is no sign of the ruling system’s desire for reform and avoiding the mistakes of the past and present.”
President from 1997 to 2005 before being forced into silence, Khatami said he regretted that Iran’s population was “disappointed with Reformism as well as with the ruling system.”

Turkiye increases counterterrorism operations against Daesh

Updated 44 min 54 sec ago

Turkiye increases counterterrorism operations against Daesh

  • Authorities announce arrests of 15 suspects with links to terror group
  • But police find “no concrete proof” of plan to attack foreign consulates

ANKARA: Turkish authorities on Saturday announced the arrests of 15 suspects with connections to Daesh and conflict zones in Syria, as counterterrorism teams from the Istanbul police department continue to flush out cells.

Following the Qur’an-burning protest in front of the Turkish Embassy in Stockholm last month, intelligence reports claimed that the leaders of the Khorasan branch of Daesh had instructed members to conduct terror acts against Swedish and Dutch consulates in Istanbul, as well as places of Christian and Jewish worship.

Despite the arrests, the police department said it had found “no concrete proof” of plans to attack foreign missions or places of worship.

Several Western countries, including the US, Sweden, Switzerland, Belgium, Canada, Netherlands, Germany, the UK and France, closed their consulates in Istanbul last week as a precaution against possible terror attacks.

All of the missions are located in Beyoglu district, which is a popular tourist area in Istanbul. A French high school in the district also closed its doors.

The UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office also warned its citizens of the possible risk of traveling to Turkiye.

“There is a potential that citizens from Western countries may be targets or caught up in attacks, particularly in the major cities,” it said.

The German Consulate advised expats and visitors to avoid Istanbul’s tourism hot spots and “international crowds” in general.

Nihat Ali Ozcan, a retired major and security analyst at Ankara-based think tank TEPAV, said the rapprochement between Syrian President Bashar Assad and the Turkish government should be taken into consideration when evaluating the terror threat.

“The beginning of negotiations between Turkiye and Syria, with the support of Russia, has triggered anger among radical groups in some Turkish-controlled regions in Syria, which makes Turkiye open to the terror provocations,” he told Arab News.

In November, six people were killed and dozens injured in a bombing close to the consulates in Beyoglu that is thought to have been carried out by a woman with links to the Syrian Kurdish YPG.

However, Turkish Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu on Thursday rejected the international terror-threat notices, saying they were part of a psychological war against his country.

“We all know very well that they are trying to outshine Turkiye’s stability and peace,” he said, adding that the closure of the embassies coincided with the day Turkiye announced its target to attract 60 million tourists annually.

He accused the US ambassador in Turkiye of trying to undermine national stability.

“I know which journalists you made write articles. Keep your dirty hands off Turkiye,” he said.

The US was the first country to issue a terror-threat notice, warning its citizens in a note on Jan. 30 of possible “retaliatory attacks by terrorists against churches, synagogues and diplomatic missions in Istanbul or other places Westerners frequent.”

Since the start of the year, Turkiye has carried out about 60 operations against Daesh and detained 95 suspects. Last year, it conducted more than 1,000 such operations and arrested about 2,000 suspects.

The Turkish Interior Ministry said last week that authorities had “detained a number of suspects following a warning from a friendly country, but did not find any weapons, ammunition, or signs of a planned act of violence.”

Observers told Arab News that the unnamed “friendly country” was most probably Israel, which had provided significant amounts of intelligence to Turkiye in recent years that had helped to foil several major terror attacks against prominent figures and tourists.

Turkiye responded to the consulate closures by warning its citizens to avoid traveling to European countries over “possible Islamophobic, xenophobic and racist attacks.”

With Turkiye’s presidential election less than four months away there are fears of an escalation in terror attacks as was seen ahead of the 2015 poll.

Colin P. Clarke, a senior research fellow at the Soufan Center in New York, told Arab News that the security threat in Turkiye was high and likely to remain so for several reasons.

“First, geographic proximity to Syria. Daesh has been attenuated significantly, but still remains a potent threat. Daesh maintains logistical networks that stretch into Turkiye and also maintains the ability to conduct attacks there,” he said.

“These networks are long-standing and some likely date back many years. Some of these networks could be operating in plain sight.”

Also, as Turkish authorities were mostly focused on combating Kurdish groups, some Daesh activity was happening under the radar, Clarke said.

“Lastly, countering Daesh will be a generational challenge for the security forces in Turkiye. Dismantling these networks will require sustained, well-resourced and persistent intelligence operations,” he said.

Clarke also said that Daesh’s Khorasan branch was of greatest concern to counterterrorism authorities due to its potential to launch external operations and high-profile attacks elsewhere in the world.

“The security situation in Afghanistan is so unstable that there is a major concern that the group will recruit new members and grow in strength over the coming year,” he said.

Russia’s Lavrov visits Baghdad to discuss bilateral relations, energy cooperation: Iraqi statement

Updated 05 February 2023

Russia’s Lavrov visits Baghdad to discuss bilateral relations, energy cooperation: Iraqi statement

  • Visit will focus on encouraging investment opportunities between two countries, particularly energy sector

BAGHDAD: Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will arrive in Baghdad on Sunday to discuss boosting bilateral relations and energy cooperation, Iraqi Foreign Ministry spokesman said in a statement.
Lavrov, who is leading a delegation that includes oil and gas companies’ representatives, is scheduled to meet his Iraqi counterpart Fuad Hussein on Monday, Ahmed Al-Sahhaf said in a statement.
Sahhaf said the visit will focus on “strategic relations with Russia and to encourage investment opportunities, especially in relating to energy sectors.”
The Russian foreign minister will also meet on Monday Iraqi top officials, including Prime Minister Mohammed Al-Sudani, President Abdul Latif Rashid and parliament speaker, Sahhaf said.

Iraqis protest after father kills YouTuber daughter

Updated 05 February 2023

Iraqis protest after father kills YouTuber daughter

  • Protestors held placards saying “Stop killing women” and “Tiba’s killer must be held to account”
  • Tiba Al-Ali had lived in Turkiye since 2017 and was visiting Iraq when she was killed

BAGHDAD: Iraqi activists protested Sunday to demand a law against domestic violence, days after a YouTuber was strangled by her father in a killing that has outraged the conservative country.
Tiba Al-Ali, 22, was killed by her father on January 31 in the southern province of Diwaniyah, interior ministry spokesman Saad Maan said on Twitter on Friday.
Maan said there had been an attempt to mediate between the young woman and her relatives to resolve a “family dispute.” The father later surrendered to the police and confessed to murdering his daughter.
On Sunday, security forces prevented some 20 activists from demonstrating outside the country’s Supreme Judicial Council, and they gathered instead at a road leading to the building, an AFP journalist said.
Some held placards saying “Stop killing women” and “Tiba’s killer must be held to account.”
“We demand laws to protect women, especially laws against domestic violence,” 22-year-old protester Rose Hamid told AFP.
“We came here to protest against Tiba’s murder and against all others. Who will be the next victim?“
Another demonstrator, Lina Ali, said: “We will keep mobilizing because of rising domestic violence and killings of women.”
On the sidelines of Sunday’s demonstration, human rights activist Hanaa Edwar was received by a magistrate from the Supreme Judicial Council to whom she presented the protesters’ grievances.
Tiba Al-Ali had lived in Turkiye since 2017 and was visiting Iraq when she was killed, a security official in Diwaniyah told AFP.
In Turkiye she had gained a following on YouTube, posting videos of her daily life in which her fiance often appeared.
Recordings have been shared on social media by a friend of Ali, and picked up by activists, reportedly of conversations with the father, angry because she was living in Turkiye.
In the recordings, she also accuses her brother of sexual harassment.
AFP could not independently verify the authenticity of the voice recordings.

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