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Iranian television broadcasts barrage of misinformation to present Ronaldo as pro-Palestine

With eight textbook examples of misinformation in just two minutes, the Iranian public television channel IRIB broadcast a report on the football superstar Cristiano Ronaldo on June 15. The report made it seem like Ronaldo is a champion of the Palestinian cause, while expressing his “hatred” for Israel. But in reality, the story was rife with disinformation and crudely edited.

Television programs in Iran are state-run, and most of them promote the ideology and policies of the country’s supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, who personally appoints the heads of each channel.

Many Iranians, aware of the propaganda broadcast on state TV, turn to Persian channels from abroad that are available via satellite.

On June 15, it was one of these state-run TV channels, IRIB, broadcast a report in Persian about Cristiano Ronaldo and his supposed support for the Palestinian cause.

In the report, Iceland’s Aron Gunnarsson is presented as the captain of the Israeli team. “When the Zionist regime’s footballer asked the superstar to exchange his shirt at the end of the match, he couldn’t believe that he [Ronaldo] refused”, says the journalist at the beginning of the video at 0:15

In the two-minute report, we counted no less than eight falsehoods… which we’ll take a closer look at in this article.

Playing against Iceland, not Israel

First off, the report claims that the captain of the Israeli national team approached Ronaldo at the end of a match between his team and Portugal. He wanted to exchange his shirt with the superstar, but the latter allegedly refused his request.

Thanks to a reverse image search via Google (see here how to do it), we can find articles about the scene in this video in different languages, including Portuguese. In reality, Aron Gunnarsson is not the captain of the Israeli football team, but an Icelandic football player.

In this video, we see the same image, but with the correct explanation. The Icelandic and Portuguese flags are clearly visible on the football jerseys.

The scene took place in 2016 when the two countries played to a 1-1 draw. According to the Icelandic footballer, when he asked for a jersey swap, Ronaldo told him they could swap jerseys inside the tunnel leading to the locker room.

The claim that Ronaldo refused to swap shirts with an Israeli player is therefore false, but that doesn’t stop it from being recycled several times a year on Iranian social networks.

Ronaldo was talking about Syria, not Israel

Around 30 seconds into the report, an interview with Ronaldo is dubbed in Persian. According to IRIB, the player says: “Among football fans, Israelis are the most disgusting, I can’t stand them. I won’t trade my jersey with a killer.”

Video from Iranian state television put a false translation over a video of Cristiano Ronaldo. In the real video, Ronaldo was offering his support to Syrian children.

This translation is completely false. If you do a reverse image search on Google Images, you can easily find the original interview.

The 20-second video was published by Ronaldo in 2016 to show his support for Syrian children. The striker actually says: “I know you are suffering too much […] you are the real heroes, do not lose hope, the world is with you”.

He published the video in the midst of increasing attacks on civilians by Bashar al-Assad’s regime. Both Iran and Russia were providing military assistance to Bashar al-Assad’s army in these attacks.

No Golden Boot sold at auction

The next claim in the report is one that has commonly resurfaced about Ronaldo.

The Iranian television channel claimed that the footballer sold one of his awards, the Golden Boot, which is offered to Europe’s top goalscorer each year by the European Sports Media Group. They said he sold the trophy at auction for €1.4 million and donated the money to build a school in the Gaza Strip.

Fake Iranian state TV report on Ronaldo’s financial aid to children in Gaza. © Observers

This rumour has been repeatedly denied by Gestifute, a company that manages Ronaldo’s public relations. And according to the official website of the Cristiano Ronaldo Museum in Funchal, his hometown, the footballer’s four Golden Boots are on display there.

To illustrate this claim further, the Iranian channel broadcasted images of a poster in the Gaza Strip showing Ronaldo and the words “thank you Ronaldo” in English and Arabic. But these date back to 2016, when a Palestinian child, a victim of a fire, had visited the Real Madrid training camp to take pictures with the Portuguese star. These thank-you posters had indeed been put up in Gaza, but the context has nothing to do with IRIB’s claims.

A photo with Palestinian football officials

IRIB then showed a picture of Ronaldo and a group of others all wearing a scarf with the Palestinian flag. The report says: “He has become a target of corrupt officials because of his open and massive support for Palestine.”

Extract from the report by the Iranian state television IRIB. © Observers

This photo shows delegates from the Palestinian Football Association at FIFA. The man on the right is Jibril Rajoub, the president of the Palestinian Football Association. The scarf displays the flag of the Palestinian Football Association with its logo.

This is not a sign of support for the Palestinian cause. Ronaldo has also met many Israeli politicians and has given his jersey to Israel Katz, Israel’s foreign minister in 2019, or met Shimon Presse, former Israeli president in 2011.

This is a photo of Ronaldo offering his jersey to the Israeli foreign minister.

A clipped interview with Sepp Blatter

The report then includes a video of former FIFA president Sepp Blatter “reacting with anger and wrath because of Ronaldo’s support for the Palestinians” according to the Iranian journalist. According to IRIB, Blatter says: “Ronaldo acts like a little boss and wastes his money on his hair like the models”.

IRIB also reported a false translation of Sepp Blatter’s comments on Ronaldo. © Oxford Union

To find the original video, just use two keywords in Google: Sepp Blatter and Ronaldo, it appears in the first results.

This video of Blatter turns out to be an excerpt from his interview at Oxford University in 2013, when a journalist asks him who his favourite football player is between Messi and Ronaldo. Blatter praises both and says they are different.

In particular, in the excerpt taken and truncated by Iranian TV, he says: “Ronaldo is the commander of the field and it is good to have players like that, it gives life to football. One of them spends more money on his hair, but it doesn’t matter, I can’t say which one is better.”

Not an Israeli politician, but Italian

Further on, the Iranian channel claims that Ronaldo refuses to shake hands with an Israeli official “while refusing the president’s offer to visit Israel”.

IRIB falsely claims that the man with the flag is the Israeli president. © btsportfootball Twitter

In the video, there are clues to find the original: Ronaldo is wearing a Juventus shirt, the name of the Saudi capital Riyadh is written in the background and a year, 2019.

Typing “Saudi Arabia”, “football match” and “Juventus” into Google brings up a video of the Italian Super Cup final between Lazio and Juventus, played in Riyadh in 2019.

This scene of Ronaldo refusing to shake hands with an official occurred at the medal ceremony and the man in the suit was Luca Ferrari, an Italian politician, Italy’s ambassador to Saudi Arabia at the time, and now Italy’s ambassador to China.

Ronaldo, visibly angered by the defeat, immediately removed his silver medal and ignored Luca Ferrari’s hand.

Since there has never been an Israeli official in Saudi Arabia, as the two countries have no diplomatic relations, we can be sure that this claim by Iranian TV is false.

Not a speech against Israel, but a speech about accepting the Medal of Honour
The Iranian state TV report continues with a speech by Ronaldo, over which a voice-over has been added, purporting to translate his words: “If I said even once that I love the Zionist occupation regime, FIFA would select me as the best football player, but I prefer to support the poor and hungry Palestinian children, rather than accept the Israeli invitation.”

A misleading voice-over has been added to this clip. © IRIB

This translation is once again completely wrong. We can find the original words via a reverse image search on Google.

This video was taken in January 2014, at an official ceremony in Lisbon where the player was receiving the distinction of “Grand Officer of the Order of the Infante Dom Henrique”, an honorary title in Portugal, awarded by Aníbal Cavaco Silva, Portuguese president at the time.

In his brief speech after receiving the award, he said: “I am very happy. Everyone I love is here, except my family who unfortunately could not attend this ceremony for personal and professional reasons. This is a very special moment for me and for all the Portuguese people who are here. I am extremely satisfied. I hope to continue on the path I have taken since the beginning of my career, to win trophies and to be successful both personally and as a team, and to achieve all this in the name of Portugal.”

No mention was made of Israel or Palestine.

Lorca earthquake survivors, not Palestinians

At the end of the report, Ronaldo appears with a banner that says: “Together with the Palestinians” alongside the Palestinian flag. This image was doctored.

Again, a reverse Google search finds the original photos and many more photos of the same campaign by other Real Madrid players with the same banner.

That campaign dates back to 2011: it was in support of the survivors of an earthquake in Lorca, Spain, which killed nine people. And the real banner displays a red and white ribbon, not a Palestinian flag.

Shooting of former boxing champion highlights brutality of Iran’s ‘morality police’

It all started as a citation for an improperly worn headscarf, but the incident escalated when former Iranian boxing champion Reza Moradkhani was shot four times by Iran’s “morality police” on April 28, after they questioned his wife. The incident, which left him severely injured, adds to the long list of abuses by the morality police, known for their brutal enforcement of a strict Islamic dress code.

Following the altercation with the morality police, known in Iran as the Gasht-e Ershad, Reza Moradkhani, a former member of the Iranian national boxing team and boxing champion in Asia, underwent 12 hours of surgery for his injuries and is now partially paralysed.

Moradkhani and his wife, Maria Arefi, also a boxer, submitted a lawsuit against the morality police officer after the shooting, saying that they were advised: “not to go public with the story”. But in June, the court dismissed their case and the couple went to the media.

READ MORE: Inside Iran’s “morality police” – women use their smartphones to fight back

Suddenly the officer took out his pepper spray and gassed my husband’

Arefi recounted the incident to Shargh, a popular reformist daily newspaper in Iran, on June 11.

We were walking in Pardisan Park, and suddenly a morality police van stopped next to us and a female officer said to me: “What’s your ID number? We want to verify if you have any moral offence records.”

I was shocked and told her to Google my name and my husband’s name to find out who we are. We are not criminals, there’s no need for an ID number. My husband was offended and asked, “What do you mean if my wife has a moral offence record?”

Then a male police officer came out of the van and told my husband, “Get away, it’s none of your business.” My husband answered, “She’s my wife and your officer is talking about my wife, what do you mean it’s not my business?” […]

To avoid any problems – especially because our one-year-old daughter was with us – we apologised, but the male officer insulted me. My husband asked him to be polite and suddenly the officer took out his pepper spray and gassed my husband.

My husband could not see at all and then we heard a gunshot. Then, the officer kept shooting while the other was shouting, “Don’t shoot, don’t shoot!” But the officer didn’t listen at all.

A video taken minutes after the shootings, published on June 11. In the video, people are shouting “ They shot at this woman and her husband. Help, help!”

Toomaj, an Iranian rapper, wrote on Twitter, “A month ago, morality police officers shot at Reza, a boxing champion who was defending his wife. Now they are setting him up to end the process.”

‘The couple reported that, after the incident, the police officer confiscated cell phones from all nearby witnesses, deleting photos and videos of the shooting, even factory-resetting several phones to delete all their data. Only one photo and a short clip was taken after the incident have been recovered.

Reza Moradkhani sits on the ground, covered in blood and wearing handcuffs, after being shot by a morality police officer. Photo published June 11. © Observers

After the shooting, the victims say that Gasht-e Ershad officials, including the chief commander, personally apologised to them and said that their bills would be taken care of.

But the couple learned that the police filed charges against them for resisting arrest and not adhering to the proper Islamic dress code, thereby justifying their response. Arefi has denied the police’s claims that she was unveiled and wearing a short-sleeved shirt.

In Iran, it is a crime for women not to wear a headscarf in accordance with Islamic sharia. The Gasht-e Ershad morality police are tasked with strictly enforcing the observance of the dress code. Arefi could risk a two-month prison sentence and 74 lashes as punishment, according to the family’s lawyer.

However, she maintains that witnesses in the park, ambulance staff, as well as doctors and nurses at the hospital can attest that she was wearing proper attire on April 28.

Moradkhani was also accused of trying to take the officer’s pepper spray canister, a charge which could land him one to three years in prison.

The boxing champion told Shargh:

I earn my living through boxing. Now, I can’t fight or coach for at least a year due to my physical situation. All we want is justice, and for the police to recognise the truth and give the maximum legal punishment to this officer.

This is hardly the first time that Iran’s morality police have been accused of brutality and excessive force. Citizen journalists have captured incidents involving Gasht-e-Ershad and brought them into the public eye.

In 2018, a video that went viral around the world showed morality police assaulting a young woman who they say wasn’t wearing her hijab properly.

Read more: Women boldly protest hijab law in Iran’s streets

Since the hijab was deemed mandatory for women following the 1978-’79 Islamic revolution in Iran, some women have pushed back. Activists and everyday women have tried to defy the law through protests or by wearing outfits that push the boundaries of the Islamic republic’s dress codes.

In 2019 Iranian authorities condemned Saba Kord Afshari and Yasaman Aryani to five years in prison for their activism against compulsory hijab laws. Aryani’s mother, Monireh Arabshahi, is condemned to more than nine years of prison for the same charges.

‘Instead of rescue teams, they sent riot police’: Building collapse triggers outrage in Iran

The deadly collapse of a building under construction on May 23 in Abadan, a city in Iran’s Khuzestan province, has sparked a wave of outrage in the country. At least 41 people died in the tragedy and dozens are still missing. Two weeks after the collapse, hundreds of protestors blaming the authorities for negligence and corruption are still in the streets.

Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has called for those responsible for the tragedy to be prosecuted and punished. The regional judiciary also announced that it had arrested thirteen people, including the mayor of Abadan and two of its former mayors.

The protests, however, are not letting up. Protesters accuse the owner of the 10-storey building, Hossein Abdolbaghi, a businessman close to the government, of corruption. The unrest has spread to other towns across the southwestern region of Iran.

A member of the riot police beats protesters in Abadan, Iran. Video published on May 30.

Emergency workers are still pulling bodies from the rubble. On June 6, the death toll rose to 41, Iranian officials said, but they fear that more bodies have yet to be recovered. Residents worry that up to a hundred people may still be trapped under debris.

Video showing the moment the building collapsed.
Footage of the collapse filmed from a shop near the building.

‘You have to dig and crawl under tonnes of gravel and cement to find the bodies’

The Iranian Red Crescent Society and fire brigade have been dispatched to help the victims. However, the search and rescue operations are mainly carried out by residents, according to our Observer, Leili (not her real name), an Iranian activist who lives in Abadan. After the building collapsed, she rushed to the site.

The bulk of the relief effort falls on the shoulders of the residents. The fire brigade and the Red Crescent seem overwhelmed. No one knows what is going on at the site. There is no clear rescue plan.

The fire brigade and the Red Crescent have told me that they don’t have enough equipment. They also told me that there was no one to give directions.

Aerial images of the building showing the extent of the damage.

What is worse is that the crisis management agency had ordered a large number of riot police to be deployed in the city, all of whom were dispatched from other regions. They have been all over the city since the building collapsed and even before the protests started.

This volunteer says that members of his family are trapped inside, and that no one is helping them. “The rescue teams are only there for the TV cameras,” he says. “Instead of sending the rescue team, they sent the riot police,” he adds in tears. Video published on May 26.

Volunteers tried to dig out survivors and bodies with rudimentary tools.

They brought all sorts of tools they thought would be useful: hacksaws, shovels and even pots to remove the gravel. And I must say that the volunteers have done and are still doing most of the work.

The rescue teams are working with big machines to clear the area, but that is a small part of the job. Because you have to dig and crawl under tons of gravel and cement to find the bodies. This has to be done by hand, not by machines, and this work is done by the volunteers, not the rescue groups. Brothers or fathers dig on their own to find their relatives’ bodies.

Volunteers use a cooking pot to clear gravel. Video published on May 24.

According to official documents published by local journalists, the body responsible for approving construction projects in Iran, the Construction Engineering Organization, has repeatedly indicated that the Metropol Building’s safety features were not up to standard.
The organisation pointed out certain risks, including the addition of three extra floors to the building, which was already considered unstable. They have reported these irregularities to three successive mayors of the city and the city council since January 2022.

A report by the Construction Engineering Organization, published by journalists, underlined the “unsafety of the building” and called for “suspension of construction”. The directive was never implemented. Photo published on May 23.

The building’s owner, Hossein Abdolbaghi, a wealthy businessman from the southwestern province of Khuzestan, is known to have links with high-ranking figures. In photos posted on his website, he is often seen with commanders of the Revolutionary Guard Corps or the governor of the province.
Authorities initially said that Abdolbaghi had been arrested before announcing that he was inside the building when it collapsed and that he had died. Police said they were able to identify his body through DNA tests and identification documents found on the body. But many did not believe the announcement, our Observers in Iran told us.

A member of the riot police shoots at a protester. Published on May 28.

‘They used so much tear gas that rescue teams and volunteers had to suspend rescue operations’

People believe that the owner of the building was arrested, but was later killed to cover up important information about corruption.

The protests have been brutally repressed and many protesters have been arrested, including well-known activists. There are more and more people outside Abadan prison looking for their arrested relatives.

They shot at people with tear gas and beat them. They used so much tear gas that rescue teams and volunteers had to suspend rescue operations.

Protests have rocked the country for several weeks, particularly since the government lifted subsidies on flour and increased the prices of basic food items such as oil and dairy products.

‘The resentment and desire for change is widespread throughout the country’

Mahdi Hajati is an Iranian political analyst and former member of the Shiraz city council. He was arrested after revealing a network of corruption among city officials and protesting against the arrest of some Baháʼí citizens in Shiraz in 2018 and 2019. The Baháʼí faith has long been persecuted in the Islamic Republic of Iran. Hajati had to leave the country to avoid serving another prison term.

People have lost hope in any meaningful reform of the system. And when you look at the slogans of the last four years, you see that they are aimed at the system itself.

The protests, regardless of the direct cause and regardless of the region, have a single demand: regime change. The resentment and desire for change is widespread throughout the country.

Protesters in Abadan chant: “We made a mistake in carrying out the revolution”. They are referring to the 1978 Islamic Revolution that overthrew the Pahlavi dynasty.

‘People have said “Death to Khameini”‘
Hajati continued:

The slogans can be divided into three categories:

There are slogans that target the highest level of power: people have said “Death to Khamenei”, Iran’s supreme leader.

Others are against every pillar of the Islamic Republic’s ideology that relies on him. For example, they use the slogan: “No to Gaza, no to Palestine, we will sacrifice [only] for Iran”, or “Our enemy is here, they are lying, it is not America”.

The third part consists of slogans in favour of the Pahlavi dynasty [Editor’s note: The former ruler of Iran who was overthrown in the 1978 revolution by Islamists and leftist political groups].

Protests in Shadegan, a small town in southwestern Iran. Published on June 1.

The deep corruption is something that I observed firsthand myself. This demand for overthrowing the system is based on the common experiences of people like me, who thought we could make a change from the inside, until experience proved otherwise.

Taliban enforces burqa for female journalists: ‘We are the last ones resisting’

On May 19, female television hosts and journalists working in Afghan broadcasting received a new order from the Taliban: “Cover your face”. Our Observer, an Afghan TV presenter, explains how she received the order and how Afghan journalists have been resisting the Taliban’s resolve to “remove women from society”.

The Taliban’s Ministry for Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice issued the order to female journalists around Afghanistan, to be observed from Saturday, May 21. The Taliban made it clear that “any female presenter who appeared on screen without covering her face must be given some other job or simply removed”, according to Sonia Niazi, a presenter with TOLOnews.

The day after the order came in, female journalists from three privately owned media companies in Afghanistan refused to comply, going on air with their faces visible. However, on May 22, they succumbed to the directive, citing “pressure and threats from the Taliban”, wearing a burqa or mask over the bottom half of their faces.

Many male journalists and TV presenters in Afghanistan began wearing black masks in solidarity with their female colleagues. The trend caught on around the world, with journalists from various countries posting photos of themselves wearing black masks using the hashtag #freeherface.

Male TV presenters on TOLOnews and 1TV wore black masks in support of their female colleagues on May 23, 2022. ©

When the Taliban captured Kabul and solidified their control over Afghanistan on August 15, 2021, many Afghan journalists left the country or went into hiding, fearing Taliban persecution. Up to 257 media outlets shut their doors in only three months and many others reduced their staff. The first victims of this massive crackdown were women, many of whom had to stay at home, afraid of the Taliban’s reaction.

A TV presenter on TOLOnews, broadcasting on May 23, 2022. © TOLOnews

Female journalists wore black masks to cover their faces during a Taliban press conference on May 24.

On May 19, a TOLOnews anchorwoman published a video where she showed how she gets dressed in order to conform to the Taliban’s dress code. She first covers her hair with a scarf, which goes over a hat. She puts on tight sleeves to hide her arms and a long, oversized coat to hide the shape of her body. Yalda Ali published this video on her Facebook page, with the title “How I have to dress for today’s show”.

‘It was soul-crushing, I felt like they stole my identity

Yalda Ali is a host on TOLOnews. She told the me about her life as a well-known female journalist and presenter under Taliban rule.

“When the Taliban took Kabul, I decided to stay in Afghanistan because I heard that they would prosecute the families of journalists who left the country. I could not leave my family behind to endure this just because I wanted to run. I decided to stay, so that if the Taliban came looking for me, they would only arrest me and not bother my family. So I stood my ground.

In the two weeks after the Taliban took Kabul, our TV channel was shut down. After that, I heard that one of my male colleagues was going to start presenting “Bamdad-e-Khosh” [translation: Delighted Morning], the show that I used to host.

It greatly saddened me, I was crying. I thought: ‘that’s it’. They removed women from the scene and there would only be men from now on. All day I was thinking that if this could break my heart and could crush my hope about the future as a woman in Afghanistan, then I’m sure that many other women would have the same feeling when they saw that a man had replaced me.

That night, I called the television directors and told them I wanted my job back, I wanted to present my show. Fortunately, they accepted and I resumed my work.

Yalda Ali tweeted this photo of herself and one of her colleagues crying on May 20, 2022. “My smile is banned, my lips are banned, women are going to be banned soon,” she wrote.

I was the first female journalist to go back to her work and it wasn’t easy. It was horrifying and I was expecting them to come and arrest me at any moment, I covered my face at the checkpoints to hide my identity.

But I think it was a glimmer of hope for Afghan women to see me on TV screens. Every day I got messages from men and women saying how happy they are to see me on the show.

But it was with some compromises too. The Taliban had made it clear that women’s outfits on TV must conform to Islamic rules, as they define them.

I had to wear an all-over, oversize black coat to hide my ‘body’s curves’ and cover all my hair very carefully. Before, I used to wear colourful dresses and show my hair. Anything I wanted to wear was my choice.

Yalda Ali and one her colleagues from TOLOnews in May 2021, before the Taliban took the country.

It was like this until May 19. I was recording a promotional video for our show when the set manager came inside the studio and told me “I’m sorry but you have to wear a mask to cover your face”.

The directive came two weeks after the Taliban ordered all Afghan women to wear the full-coverage burqa in public places, prompting protests by some women’s rights activists.

‘It’s about our existence as women in society’

At first, I didn’t take it seriously – I thought it was a joke. But the TV director came in with a piece of paper in his hand and confirmed it was real and definitive. I was the first host that had to do this.

It was soul-crushing, I felt like they stole my identity. They are obliterating me as an independent human being and as a woman.

Journalists on TOLOnews and Shemshad TV wore black masks to present on May 24. 

There was a battle inside me over whether I should follow the order or not. But I think, in the end, our fight with them is more complex than what women wear or the freedom of our personal choices. It’s about our existence as women in society. It’s about me just being present on a TV set.

And if this depends on covering my face, then let it be. I won’t give up. I will hold on and resist, in order to stay on the scene until the end. I will keep going no matter what to keep this flame lit – to keep alive the hope, willpower, and determination to fight for our rights as Afghan women.

If I give up now, the Taliban would achieve their ultimate goal, which means removing women totally from society, and I won’t let them do that.

The presence of Afghan women in society has already been diminished and we are the last ones who are resisting. But I feel it will not end here. They will ban women’s presence in the media or any other public space sooner or later, I’m sure of that. And what I’ll do on that day, honestly I have no idea.

Since the Taliban took over, I’ve risked my life and my family’s lives too. The day that they ban my presence on the TV, I will have no more reason to stay here. The only thing that I think these days is that Afghan women will not give up. We fight for our rights and our freedom and I hope that the world does not forget us.

The Taliban has a long history of violence against journalists, particularly female journalists. Since their takeover in August 2021, at least 50 journalists and media employees have been detained or arrested, often violently, for several hours up to nearly a week, according to Reporters Without Borders.

In 2021, Afghanistan was the deadliest country for journalists, with nine journalists having lost their lives.

Afghanistan: Since the return of the burqa, women are slowly disappearing from the streets

On May 7, the Taliban ordered all Afghan women to wear the full-coverage burqa in public places. Since the decree was put in place, the difference in Afghanistan’s streets is visible. Or rather it’s invisible: women have all but deserted public streets to remain cloistered in their homes. Although our Observer dared to leave home to protest with other women’s rights activists on May 10, she has no illusions about the future that awaits her.

“Those women who are not too old or young must cover their face, except the eyes, as per sharia directives, in order to avoid provocation when meeting men who are not mahram (adult close male relatives),” says the decree, which came into force on May 7, announced by Taliban leader, Hibatullah Akhundzada.

The images of daily life in Kabul, Herat or Mazar-e Sharif on social media show that the order has been followed: women seem to be absent from the streets, markets and parks.

Video shot in Kabul, on May 19, 2022. No women are visible.

Akhundzada specified the consequences for breaking this decree on May 6: “First, the woman wearing immoral clothes will be punished; second, her husband will be summoned and detained for three days, and if he works in the public sector, he will be fired.”

The decree states that the best type of covering for women is the blue chadari, a type of full-length veil that was first imposed by the Taliban when they were in power between 1996 and 2001.

On May 10, however, women protested in the streets of Kabul. Wearing less conservative veils than required by the new law, they chanted, “The burqa is not our hijab.”

‘Public spaces are being emptied of women’

Lena (not her real name) is a young Afghan woman who has decided to wear the burqa so that she can continue to go out.

Since the announcement by the Taliban, I have been wearing the blue chadari. Before, I used to wear a veil on my head and a long coat, like many other young women. Now, if I don’t wear the chadari, I will have to stay at home, which is not an option. I want to walk in the streets and parks, I want to see my friends, this may be the last chance we have as women in Afghanistan to have fun.

But it is clear that since the decree, I see fewer and fewer women outside. Public spaces are being emptied of women. As long as you wear the chadari, the Taliban won’t give you any trouble.

But the smallest detail can cause headaches. A few days ago I was in a park. There were some teenage girls eating an ice cream, which obviously is not possible with a chadri. Some Taliban members came and asked them to wear their chadari properly. At first they tried to ignore them, but eventually they agreed.

However, I noticed that the Taliban were looking around, as if they were afraid of being recorded. As one of them was about to hit the girls, the other one told him, ‘No, no, someone might film it and I don’t want to get in trouble’. They want to continue to look good in appearance, so as not to interrupt their efforts to gain international recognition. But I think the future looks bleak.

Video shot at Kabul University, May 19, 2022. The Taliban banned students wearing coloured veils from entering.

Since their return to power in mid-August 2021, the Taliban have been trying to gain recognition from the international community, including Western countries, which have frozen millions of dollars placed in Afghan banks by the former Afghan government. Western countries were also the country’s biggest donors during the 20 years between the two Taliban regimes.

Photos of visitors to the citadel in Herat in western Afghanistan posted on Instagram. On the right, a series of photos taken between May 2020 and spring 2021, before the return of the Taliban; women are visible. On the left, photos of the same place since May 6, without any women. © Observers

‘I would accept wearing a burqa if they let women study and work, but they won’t’

Ziba (not her real name) is an activist for women’s rights in Afghanistan. She lives in the north of the country.

Since the Taliban took over the country, I have been wearing the burqa, even before they made it mandatory. I did it for my own safety, on the one hand, and on the other hand, not to be recognised as an activist. It keeps them away from me.

The bitter reality, as an activist, is that, yes, women dared to protest in Kabul on May 10. But from the first day after the return of the Taliban, women have protested, and in the end nothing changed. The women who could left the country, and we are stuck here, desperate, our sprits crushed.

Personally, I would accept wearing a burqa if they let women study and work, but they won’t. We are not human beings here anymore. [Editor’s note: School is forbidden for girls after the age of 13.]

I don’t go out that much, I basically stay at home, like most women, I guess. I can confirm that there are fewer and fewer women on the streets here. I think it’s the younger generation who are more unwilling to play by the rules, to wear the burqa and stay at home.

I am afraid that the situation will only get worse. I’m afraid that one day the Taliban will simply ban women from going out. And we will have no one to turn to.

Screenshot of a video posted on Snapchat on May 9, taken in a market in Kabul. No women are visible. © Observers

Our Observer’s fear is not unfounded: Akhundzada specified on May 6 that women “should stay at home, except in case of urgent need”.

According to the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security, Afghanistan is the worst country in the world for women, ahead of Syria and Yemen.

Iran’s failed Covid-19 vaccination campaign due to ‘political power struggle’

Iran’s Covid-19 vaccination campaign has been rife with complications: videos shared online show queues up to a hundred metres long as people wait for hours to be vaccinated, with doses sometimes running out long before everyone receives their jab. Others show thousands of people rushing to the border with Armenia in search of a dose. According to our Observer, an Iranian doctor, these predicaments are the result of political rivalries and the failure of Iran’s vaccine strategy.

In Iran, a country of 82 million people, only 4.7 million people have received their first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine, while just 2.2 million are fully vaccinated. So far, people 60 years of age and older are the only ones eligible for vaccination. Videos shared online show elderly men and women waiting in line for hours before they can get vaccinated.

A Video Published On May 21 On Twitter Shows Elderly Men And Women Waiting In A Long Queue In Front Of A Vaccination Provider.

Many others – mostly young, middle-class Iranians who are not yet eligible for vaccination and don’t expect to receive their vaccines in Iran anytime soon – have found their solution abroad, either in Dubai or Armenia, the northwestern neighbour of Iran which is easily reached by plane or car.

A video published on Twitter on July 12 shows a group of people who have become angry after waiting for hours for their vaccine.

According to official numbers, which many experts suggest are largely underestimated, 86,000 Iranians have lost their lives to Covid-19. The country was severely impacted by a fifth wave of the pandemic, exacerbated by the spread of the Delta variant.

Read More: Authorities in Iran ‘hiding’ COVID-19 deaths by listing other causes on death reports

Since December 2020, Iranian political leaders have been promising to unroll a mass vaccination campaign using domestically produced vaccines. Iran’s health ministry said they would be providing Iranian vaccines starting this spring. But so far, the vaccines available to Iranians have been Sputnik V from Russia, Sinovac and Sinopharm from China and AstraZeneca vaccines produced in India.

But supplies have not been sufficient to meet the demand for vaccines in Iran. On July 10, Iran’s Health Minister Saeed Namaki announced, “From tomorrow, we will inject 400,000 vaccines each day.” However, according to Iranian media, only around 51,000 doses have been administered daily since then.

Iranian police pushed and hit an elderly man who was waiting in the queue for a vaccine. Video published on YouTube on June 27.

Vaccination has become a political and economic power struggle and rivalry’

Dr. Hadi Yazdani is a physician based in Shiraz, in central Iran. He told the FRANCE 24 Observers why Iran has been seeing a vaccine shortage:

There are a few different factors involved in the vaccination crisis in Iran. On one hand, there is a general problem in the world: there are a limited number of vaccines globally, and countries like India, China and Russia that have promised to provide vaccines to Iran, refused to sell them in the end [Editor’s note: either due to insufficient supply or higher bidding countries].

The Islamic Republic has never tried to establish a normal relationship with the world and, in crisis periods like this, they are not able to ask for any favours

Iranians at the border checkpoint between Iran and Armenia, trying to enter Armenia for a vaccine. Video published on Twitter on July 10.

But the main problem lies somewhere else: some powerful and well-connected parties have managed to convince political leaders that we don’t need foreign vaccines and have blocked foreign vaccine purchases in large quantities.

These groups are powerful and well-connected. They even have pull with the most powerful official in Iran, the Supreme Leader. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, during a short speech in January 2021, banned “western-made vaccines” from the United States, United Kingdom and even France [Editor’s note: France is developing a Sanofi-GSK vaccine which is not yet in distribution].

Eighteen different Iranian companies have submitted their vaccine licenses in Iran. If we look closely, only two or three companies are scientific ones, the others belong to different political and power factions in Iran. The most important group among them is the Executive Headquarters of Imam’s Directive, also known as Setad, which is making the COVIran Barekat vaccine.

Setad is one of the most powerful and richest semi-governmental bodies in Iran, created in 1989 by Rohollah Khomeini, founder of the Islamic Republic, and now directly controlled by current Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. Setad, which is valued at around $95 billion, was sanctioned by former US President Donald Trump in June 2019. Setad has promised to provide more than 50 million Barekat vaccines by September 2021, but so far, none have been delivered

‘So far, all they have given to people are just words’

Dr Hadi Yazdani continued:

Vaccination has become a political and economic power struggle and rivalry in Iran. These factions have realised that the Covid-19 vaccination is something that might need to be readministered every year or so. In this case, they look at it as a huge and endless source of money. So they tried to encourage nationalism for “made-in-Iran” products in the vaccination campaign to just fill their pockets.

And so far, all they have given to people are just words. We have not seen any vaccines and there is no available data to verify the efficiency of these so-called made-in-Iran vaccines. Even if these vaccines really work and are effective, there are serious questions about Iran’s ability to produce them in industrial quantities.

Thanks to this vaccination policy or, rather, lack of policy, there has already been a fifth wave of Covid-19 in Iran and, if the situation continues like this, we will have many other waves one after the other.

‘The queues to cross the border to get vaccines are humiliating’

There is, as of yet, no data concerning the number of Iranians who have fled to Dubai or Armenia to get vaccinated, however, Iran’s customs office announced on July 10 that “in the past 48 hours, 1,800 Iranians have crossed the border checkpoint between the two countries”.

Dr. Hadi Yazdani continued:

It’s just normal people who feel that they have been left alone in face of the multiple deadly waves of Covid-19 and have no hope to get the vaccine in their country any time soon, who go to try and find a vaccine anywhere they can. Armenia is one possibility: it’s a neighboring country, it’s not expensive and they have enough doses.

The queues to cross the border to get vaccines there are, in one word, humiliating. As an Iranian, when I see that our government is not capable of exercising its basic duties, providing mental and physical health services and security to its citizens, I feel nothing but humiliation.

On July 7, the Armenian Ambassador to Iran Artashes Tumanyan announced that vaccination in Armenia will be free. However, only tourists who stay in the country for more than 10 days can receive the vaccine.

First published here on France24.

Video of street drug use illustrates Iran’s growing addiction problem

A video posted on Telegram in Iran on May 16 shows dozens of men and women openly consuming drugs on a Tehran street. Some inhale amphetamines while others inject heroin, in a scene that shocked many Iranians. According to our Observers, this video illustrates a growing addiction problem that has become more and more visible in the streets of southern Tehran.

The video was taken in Neshati Alley, a street in an impoverished neighbourhood of southern Tehran. Although the exact date the video was taken is unknown, this phenomenon is becoming increasingly more common. According to our Observers, more and more open drug use has taken place in these neighbourhoods over the past two years.

Places like Neshati Alley, in the Shush neighbourhood, are known as regular gathering points for drug users, many of them homeless.

A 2-minute video recorded on an unknown date in southern Tehran shows men and women openly consuming heroin and amphetamine in the street.

This 2-minute video shows a typical scene in one of southern Tehran’s neighbourhoods. People gathered on the street relax, eat, or even play, but others are openly consuming drugs. At 0:29, the author of the video explains that he is in the Shush neighbourhood, which has become a new hotbed of visible drug use. Despite the protestations of several people on the street, he continues filming the scene, adding, “It’s my neighbourhood. I can do what I want and if you’re not happy you can leave.”

Neshati Alley is located near Shush Square, one of the main crossroads in southern Tehran. © Maxar

Iran has an estimated 5 million drug users, with one in 16 people in the country having consumed drugs. More than half of these are thought to be daily users. According to official sources, overdose deaths in Iran reach 4,000 annually.

‘The population of homeless addicts outnumbers NGO capabilities’

Sima (not her real name) is an Iranian journalist who has worked for decades covering the growing addiction crisis in Iran. She told the FRANCE 24 Observers team about the reasons behind the increased visibility of Tehran’s drug problems:

According to optimistic estimates, we have about 64,000 homeless addicts in Iran. Some neighbourhoods and parks in southern Tehran have been gathering places for homeless drug users for decades, for example, the poor area of Darvazeh Ghar or Harandi park.

About two years ago, police evicted them and installed fences around the park to prevent them from returning. Since then, they moved to Shush Square (Editor’s note: One of the busiest central crossroads of southern Tehran) where the video was recorded.

Spotting drug users in the Shush neighborhood is not surprising, but may be more likely after these evictions. All of the people who used to stay in parks or in the maze-like streets of Darvazeh Ghar, were brought to the surface in main squares and neighbourhoods. They are poor, resorting to petty theft in order to secure money to buy drugs. It makes the neighbourhoods more unsafe.

In addition to becoming more visible, some say that the number of drug users and addicts in the city is increasing. Iran’s State Welfare Organisation officials estimate that the number of homeless people in addiction has even doubled over the past two years.

These homeless drug users generally group together, either for safety or for economic reasons, they become like a family to each other after a while. But unfortunately, they use the same needles and also find it easier to obtain drugs because the dealers can come to just one place.

Police don’t have a regular presence in the neighbourhood – they just intervene during targeted raids or evictions, conducting mass arrests. On many occasions, they even arrest non-users or bystanders.

There are several organisations dedicated to helping people experiencing addiction in Iran, but according to Sima, they lack the proper resources to alleviate the addiction crisis.

NGOs and associations are active, but the population of homeless addicts simply outnumbers NGOs’ logistics and hosting capabilities. The organisations mostly feed them or provide some limited medical or psychological services.

Besides the NGOs, there are many compulsory rehab centers too. When police arrest homeless people experiencing addiction, they send them to the centers. The situation there is horrible: humiliation and violence are common practice, and cases of death are not uncommon. Most addicts have been to these rehabs once or twice, but their success rate is mediocre.

Based on estimations from Iranian experts, 80% of addicts relapse after going to rehab.

Read more: Torture and humiliation reported norm at Iran’s rehab facilities

According to Sima, these rehab centers do little to solve the root causes of addiction that have reached the streets of Tehran.

The only thing we do in Iran to combat addiction, particularly to treat homeless people experiencing addiction, is police methods, such as arrests and forced rehabilitation. However, addiction is a wider issue that needs a comprehensive solution on social and economic scales.

According to official statistics, 70% of prisoners in Iran are charged with drug-related crimes.

Cheap and easy to buy

Neighbouring Afghanistan is known to be the world’s leading producer of illicit drugs, namely opium, which makes drugs more accessible and affordable to people in Iran, compared to other countries.

Mona (not her real name) is another Iranian journalist who has worked on addiction issues for years. She explained what it takes for an average Iranian to obtain illegal drugs.

According to many studies, the average time it takes for someone to buy drugs in Iran is about 30 minutes.

The price of opium is about 7,000 to 12,000 toman per gram (Editor’s note: about 0.26 to 0.46€) and if we estimate an average use of five grams per day, that costs about 35,000 to 60,000 toman per day (Editor’s note: Less than 3 euros per day).

However, these homeless addicts mostly use drugs that are much cheaper and much more powerful than opium.

Other drugs such as heroin and amphetamines can be found at similar prices on the streets of Tehran, making most drug users able to maintain their addiction for the equivalent of less than 3 euros per day.

While these prices are low compared to many other countries, they still represent a significant cost to people in Iran, where a minimum wage salary is around 2.6 million toman, or about 100 euros. This forces many drug users on the street to resort to petty crimes to finance.

Mona explains:

To gain that money men either pilfer or stage fake car accidents. Women may turn to prostitution.

Videos have captured individuals even resorting to stepping in front of cars and faking injuries in order to collect money from drivers.

According to official numbers, Iran has confiscated more than 1,200 tonnes of drugs in the last year, setting a global record.

From hospitals to amusement parks, Iranians grapple with surprise power outages

Lifts and amusement park rides grinding to a halt, businesses, and employees left in the dark, hospital equipment stopping suddenly … People around Iran have been experiencing regular power outages since the beginning of May. While the state energy distributor has tried to schedule these outages to align with energy demands, our Observers tell us that power cuts have been more frequent, and lengthier, than planned.

Iranians have been reporting daily, prolonged power cuts since early May, leading to widespread inconveniences and dangerous consequences. People have been left without air conditioning, internet connections, water, and even life-saving medical devices.

The Iran Grid Management Company (IGMC), responsible for electricity provision in Iran, released a timetable for scheduled power outages around the country, which they say have resulted from insufficient energy production.

As Iranian citizens adapt to these inconveniences, the source of the power outages remains unclear. While an IGMC announcement on May 23 cited insufficient energy production levels, energy officials have pointed to several potential causes.

Some referenced energy-intensive Bitcoin farms in Iran, while others blamed global warming for higher temperatures and therefore an increase in energy consumption from air conditioners. Still, others blame a lack of rain, saying that hydroelectric dams are producing less electricity because there is less water.

Read more on the Observers: In Iran, power outages reveal the secret business of Chinese bitcoin farms

However, some experts claim that Iran’s outdated electrical infrastructure is unable to keep up with the increasing demands of Iran’s population.

The company created a mobile application and website to inform residents when their areas would be cut off, but according to our Observers around Iran, the outages rarely follow these schedules.

Unplanned and prolonged outages have caused plenty of disruption for most Iranians, who are dealing with high temperatures and the continuing spread of Covid-19. But these power outages have also had serious impacts on peoples’ health and safety

In this video, filmed May 23 in Bushehr, Iran, an ambulance technician at Persian Gulf Hospital explains that power outages have interrupted refrigeration systems in the morgue: “The temperature of the refrigerator is about 45 degrees. The body has rotted after three days and swelled, it no longer fits in our vehicle.”

‘Patients who depend on ventilators or other medical tools can simply die’

Nahid (not her real name) is a doctor in northeastern Iran. She explained the impact of these power outages on medical staff and patients:

The main problem in our hospital is that it becomes a huge oven during these power outages. Our ventilation system also stops, which means that it is easier for coronavirus to spread in the air.

The power outages block our workflow. We can no longer use medical scans or X-ray machines to diagnose problems. We can’t use our computers to connect to our patients’ social security cards or issue prescriptions. When the power comes back on, hundreds of people have to queue in the pharmacies to get their medication

In a Tweet posted on May 23, Vahid Rajabloo, a disability rights activist, said: “I was using a physiotherapy machine when suddenly we lost power for two hours. I had severe muscle spasms in my arm and neck.”

All the main hospitals have backup generators for essential equipment, but if they don’t kick in during one of these numerous power outages, or even if they turn on just a few minutes late, it can end in a catastrophe. Patients in intensive care units who depend on ventilators or other medical tools can simply die. Last week, we had two elderly patients in the ICU who were on the verge of death, due to the lack of air conditioning and malfunctioning equipment.

This could have been the case in the operating room of a hospital in Isfahan several days ago. When their hospital lost power, the local generator didn’t work in their unit. The surgeons had to continue using only cell phone flashlights to finish the surgery. And the problem doesn’t stop here.

n a hospital in Isfahan, surgeons continued operating, under the light of cell phone flashlights, even after power went out in their hospital. Photo published May 23 on Telegram and then relayed to Iranian media

Many Covid-19 patients recuperating at home use small ventilators and don’t have backup generators. They need constant electricity in their homes to survive.

This Tweet posted May 25 shares the story of a young girl who depends on a medical device to breathe. The power outages have caused difficulties for her.

Trapped in lifts, theme park attractions

The unexpected power outages have caused equipment like lifts and amusement park rides to grind to a halt, causing injuries and putting an extra strain on emergency personnel.

Ten children were injured in an amusement park in Semnan, in eastern Iran, on May 22 after a power outage caused them to become trapped in playground equipment.

During a power outage, people were stuck in an attraction at the Chitgar amusement park in Tehran, as seen in this video published on May 24 and shared on Iranian social networks.

Construction workers have also become trapped in precarious situations during power outages.

This Tweet posted May 23 reads: “We lost power here in Mashhad, The air pump stopped working while our worker was in the well 50 meters down. He was left without oxygen. At the last minute, firefighters saved his life.”

While Iranian officials have not commented, or provided statistics, on accidents caused by the power outages, local firefighters have provided insight into the situation.

In Mashhad, fire department officials said they performed 180 missions to rescue people trapped in elevators during power outages, in the five-day period between May 19 and 24.

Meanwhile, firefighters in Kermanshah have been carrying out at least 15 elevator rescue missions per day due to the outages. Isfahan firefighters reported saving 100 people stuck in elevators between May 23 and 25.

Without any warning as to when the power may shut off, everyday Iranians are living in a constant state of inconvenience, unsure of when their elevators, lights, air conditioning, water, or internet may turn off.

‘No power and no water’

Sadaf (not her real name) is a mother of two living in the north of Tehran:

Less than 10 minutes after the power goes out, my daughter, who is only two years old, cries in desperation. It’s as hot as hell, around 40 degrees or more. I have to take the kids outside to somewhere cool or to a park, and that’s impossible for me, going up and down seven floors with two children.

We wanted to go somewhere else to escape this situation, but everywhere is the same. Everywhere in Iran is stiflingly warm without air conditioning at this time of year.

And we live in a high-rise building: that means no power and no water [Editor’s note: when the power goes out in these buildings, electric water pumps also switch off]. Can you imagine this during a pandemic, with two children?

Remote work put on hold

Working and studying from home during Covid-19 have also been impacted by the power cuts. Paniz (not her real name), a marketing professional for a start-up in Tehran, explains:

Working together has become literally impossible. Due to Covid-19, we mostly work at home, but as soon as some of us on the team have power, the others lose it. And when we lose power, we lose our WiFi connection. The connection on our phones, if it works at all, is uselessly slow.

Last Sunday, we were supposed to release a huge PR campaign, after months of work, but everything went south: we lost power in our computers at work. Our time and money went up in smoke.

‘As a teacher, I have no idea what will happen when a student loses power during the exam’

Farnoush (not her real name) is a teacher in Shiraz:

It’s a catastrophic situation. Neither I nor any of my students have access to online classes during the outages. National education is nonexistent. However, what scares me, even more, is that students all over the country will have their final exams soon. As a teacher, I have no idea what will happen when a student loses power during the exam and can’t finish it in time. I’m in total panic as a teacher, may God help the children.

Iran’s power grid has a capacity of around 85,000 megawatts. However, recent energy demand in Iran has exceeded this demand by close to 9,000 megawatts. When demand surpasses capacity, electricity distributors cut off the power supply.

In the meantime, Iranian officials have asked citizens to limit their electricity consumption as much as possible to prevent extended blackouts

The real scam behind Iran’s underground female MMA fights

On May 27, a video of what appears to be a professional mixed martial arts (MMA) fight between two women began to make the rounds on Iranian social media. The match, which took place in the suburbs of Tehran, caught the attention of many. It was the first time that an underground MMA fight – forbidden for women in the Islamic Republic – was caught on tape. But according to our Observer, this video actually shows a widespread scam taking advantage of female MMA hopefuls.

Just like underground female bodybuilding competitions or ballet dancing, these female MMA tournaments are kept under wraps but well known among sportsmen and journalists in Iran. Now, for the first time, a video of this phenomenon was released.

The video, which according to our Observer was filmed in Shahriar, a suburb of Iran’s capital Tehran, shows two women fighting MMA-style in a boxing ring located in what seems to be a private villa. We hear two other women coaching the fighters as well as a man who advises the referee on what to do.

In the less than two-minute video published on May 27 on Telegram in Iran, two Iranian women can be seen in a MMA fight. Neither of the women is wearing the headscarf. Some men and women watch the fight as two women coach the fighters.

This MMA fight appears to be the latest example of women pushing the boundaries of the Islamic Republic’s bans on certain activities for women, whether in public or as a part of Iran’s underground scene

Yet, according to our Observers and experts inside and outside of Iran, this video actually depicts a deep scam targeting fearless Iranian women who are hoping to become professional MMA fighters.

‘It’s a scam. These women are victims’

Behzad Majidi is an Iranian sports blogger based in Switzerland who covers MMA fighting, notably Iranian fighters.

Maybe at first glance this video might make us happy, even proud, to see Iranian women who are trying to push the boundaries in the Islamic Republic. But at second look, it actually shows a sad, complex scam to which these women have fallen victim.

You can see the scam in the video. There are two levels for MMA fights: amateur and professional. What we’re seeing in this video is supposed to be a professional-level fight, because the women aren’t wearing protection on their heads and legs [Editor’s note: professional MMA fighters do not wear protective gear during matches]. But these women are fighting at an amateur level.

According to Behzad Majidi, the actions of the two fighters make it clear that they are amateurs: 

At the amateur level, fighters are not allowed to perform certain techniques, or to hit their adversary when they are down. But in this video, the women hit each other even when they have fallen.
It’s clear they have no idea what they are doing and that they are beginners. Their coaches are also beginners and have no idea how to train them. As we can hear in the video, even the referee is a beginner: a man is coaching the referee on how to move, where to look, and what to check for during the fight.
The fight took place in a villa in Shahriar, a suburb in the southwest of Tehran a few weeks ago [Editor’s note: local media in Iran also confirms the location of this event].

Our Observer, well acquainted with the field of MMA in Iran, believes the women in this video are, like others, the victims of a fraudulent con:

The organisers of these underground fights are three men who have special connections with Iran’s Martial Arts Association Federation, making them untouchable.

What they are doing in reality has nothing to do with the sport; they’re not trying to develop Iranian female MMA fighters. They are just running a lucrative business by scamming these young women.

They ask for money to “prepare” these fighters for a real MMA fight. They lure in these young women by telling them, if they win their fights, they can earn lots of money in fights organised abroad by signing contracts with famous organisations, like the Russian “ACA” [Editor’s note: Absolute Championship Akhmat, a leading martial arts organisation].

They rig the fights in Iran between beginner girls, choosing some of them. The selected girls are sent to neighbouring countries like Armenia or Georgia, to compete with real MMA fighters.

The real scam is here: anyone who wants to fight in a professional championship needs to have done around six fights at the amateur level. The managers of female MMA fighters in those countries look for six easy matches for their fighters. The Iranian organisers can then ask for money in exchange for providing easy adversaries to those managers.

While their opponents are real MMA fighters trained by proper MMA clubs in their countries, these poor Iranian girls are poorly trained and have never seen a real MMA fight. We saw in the video how they are scammed in appalling underground training fights. Once they’re dropped in the ring, they won’t stand a chance.

A video of a professional MMA fight in Armenia in 2016 shows untrained Iranian fighters, wearing karate uniforms, going up against professional fighters, and losing easily.

There are several famous male Iranian MMA fighters, such as Reza Mad Dog, who competed under the Swedish flag, or Amir Ali Akbari, representing Iran. However, the sport was still illegal, even for men, until April 3, 2021. MMA remains authorised only for men in Iran.

Behzad Majidi continues:

The Iranian Martial Arts Association Federation is directly responsible for this situation, by banning Iranian women from having proper MMA clubs and federations. If there was an organised, transparent, surveilled club – like exists for many other sports for women in Iran – we could avoid this kind of fraud.

We don’t have any professional female MMA fighters in Iran. Unfortunately, there are many women on social media who claim they are professional MMA fighters, but they all lie to earn money, selling exercise programs, diet plans, or private training sessions on Instagram.

Right now, there are only a handful of Iranian female fighters. Usually they have another citizenship and fight for another country, such as Pannie Kianzad, one of the best MMA female fighters in the world fighting for Sweden, or Samin Kamal Beik who lives in Italy.

Young Iranian women – if they really want to be an MMA fighter – need to leave Iran, subscribe to a real MMA club, train well, learn and fight in a responsible and respectful environment.

First published here on France24.

Hiding a symbolic mass grave of political prisoners by forcing a persecuted minority to bury top of it

Members of Iran’s persecuted Baha’i community were shocked when, in April, the government announced that the only place they would be able to bury their loved ones was on top of mass graves containing political prisoners executed in the 1980s. Activists say this policy is an attempt by the government to erase any trace of the mass executions carried out by the Islamic Republic.

These photos, which were published on Telegram in April, show about a dozen freshly dug graves, two of which contain bodies, in an overgrown patch in Khavaran cemetery, located to the east of Tehran.

But the unassuming field is actually the site of mass graves containing the bodies of political prisoners who were executed in the years following the 1979 Islamic Revolution, the majority of them in 1988.

These photos show graves recently dug by members of the Baha’i community in Khavaran, a site that already contains mass graves from the 1980s. These photos were taken on April 23 and published on Telegram.

According to Article 13 of the Iranian Constitution, the only religions recognised by the Islamic Republic of Iran are Islam, Zoroastrianism, Christianity and Judaism. Baha’ism, which is a monotheistic religion, is considered illegal in Iran. Followers are persecuted and denied fundamental rights, including access to education and the ability to work legally.

“We refuse to do it. It’s an insult to both us and the prisoners from the 1980s”

Simin Fahandej is a spokeswoman for the Baha’i community and represents the international Baha’i community at the United Nations. She told our team about the difficult situation the community has been facing in Tehran:

We’ve struggled since the Islamic Revolution to bury our dead in a respectful manner. Our cemeteries have been systematically destroyed. Our tombs have been attacked and looted. Other bodies were moved from our cemeteries to faraway locations without our knowledge. The authorities even banned us from putting flowers on our graves because that was seen as promoting Baha’ism.

Since the Islamic Revolution, Khavaran has been one of the only locations where we are allowed to bury our dead. Back then, the cemetery was far from everything.

In the 1980s, the Islamic Republic started burying political prisoners in one of the fields in Khavaran. As a result, we don’t bury people in that part – firstly, out of respect for these executed political prisoners and their families and also because of our religious rules that say we shouldn’t bury people in a place that already contains bodies.

However, starting in April, local authorities announced new rules and restrictions that we just can’t follow. They said that we would have to bury our dead either in between existing graves or on top of the mass graves from the 1980s.

They’ve said this, even though there is enough room in other parts of Khavaran for us to bury our dead for the next 50 years. There’s not enough space in between existing graves and we don’t want to bury our friends and family on top of the mass graves. It’s an insult both to our community and the political prisoners from the 1980s.

We don’t know the identities of the two families who were forced to bury their loved ones in this location [Editor’s note: two bodies are visible in the photos posted on April 23], but we absolutely refuse the two options they’ve given us. Right now, there are a large number of bodies from our community that end up sitting in morgues, sometimes for weeks, while we try to find a respectful place to bury them.

We are in a very difficult situation that we’ve already reported to both the United Nations and the European Union. Over the past few years, many of our cemeteries have been destroyed. In 2013, our cemetery in Sanandaj was destroyed. Then, in 2014, the same thing happened to the one in Shiraz. In 2018, the one in Semnan met a similar end. The authorities are trying to do the same thing with Khavaran, I think.

This photo shows a Baha’i cemetery that was destroyed by the Islamic State organisation in Shiraz in 2014. © News Bahai

Over the past two weeks, at least 12 Baha’is were arrested in Iran, which our Observer says is part of the growing pressure on this community.

I contacted the municipal council in charge of cemeteries in Tehran, but its members did not respond to our questions about the new regulations introduced in regards to Khavaran cemetery.

“These practices destroy the proof that could be used to establish the truth”

Raha Bahreini is a human rights lawyer who works as an Iran researcher with Amnesty International. She told the me about the history of Khavaran and what happened there in the 1980s:

After the religious leader Ayatollah Khomeini released a fatwa [Editor’s note: a ruling by a religious leader] in 1988, Iranian authorities started carrying out coordinated summary executions aimed at eliminating political opposition.

On an almost daily basis, they would round up prisoners and bring them before “death commissions” which were made up of officials from the courts, the public prosecutor’s office, the intelligence services and the prison system. These “death commissions” were nothing like real courts and their decisions were made in a crude and extremely arbitrary manner.

They operated outside of the law. They weren’t concerned with actually establishing if the accused were innocent or guilty of any real crimes.

This photo shows one of the mass grave sites in Khavaran. It was taken by a family member of one of the deceased. The exact date of this photo is unknown. © © .

The Islamic Republic tries to keep it a secret how large these massacres actually were. But we believe that at least 5,000 political prisoners were executed only between late July and September 1988 in Iran, based on data from human rights organisations and political parties. We think that the real number must be much higher.

In a 2018 report, we concluded that these murders were a crime against humanity. The Islamic Republic has systematically hidden proof of these killing. By not officially recognizing that these people are dead, they continue to perpetuate the crimes they committed in 1988.

Our research has shown that Iranian authorities have deliberately destroyed suspected or confirmed mass grave sites associated with the 1988 massacre, like Khavaran, in an attempt to hide their crimes.

Over the past decade, Iranian authorities have bulldozed these sites. They’ve built buildings and roads over them. They’ve dumped garbage on them or allocated new burial plots on top of them. This has already happened to mass grave sites in Rasht, Ahvaz, Tabriz and Sanandaj.

These tactics are meant to destroy proof that could be used to establish the extent of these crimes and to obtain justice and reparations for victims and their families. Instead, they destroy these crime scenes so they can deny they happened.

“It’s a symbol of the evil perpetrated by the Islamic Republic”

Reza Moini is a Paris-based journalist with Reporters sans frontières (Reporters Without Borders). Four members of his family, who were members of the political opposition, are buried in the mass graves in Khavaran: his brother, his two brothers-in-law and his cousin.

In the 1980s, they started burying political prisoners who had been executed in Khavaran. First, one by one. So even though the graves were unmarked, families could find the place where their loved one had been buried. Sometimes, families would dig up the bodies in the middle of the night, just to make sure it was actually the body of their loved one.

In November 1988, the authorities told my mother that they had executed my brother and buried him in Khavaran.

Slowly, the families who went to visit the graves began to get to know one another and they formed an organisation called the “Mothers of Khavaran”. During one of these visits, on July 29, 1988, family members noticed shallow trenches where you could see bodies and bits of clothing because the bodies hadn’t been properly buried.

Because mass graves were used, no one actually knows the exact location where their loved one is buried here and, indeed, it is not even certain who is buried here at all. The only thing we know is that there are about 800 bodies or more buried in these graves, according to estimates of the number of political prisoners who were executed in prisons in Tehran, Evin and Gohardasht. At one point, Iranian authorities actually poured cement over the graves.

Even though they risked arrest or other forms of brutality, the “Mothers of Khavaran” would visit the graves every Friday. And on the first Friday in September, a large number of families would gather. But in 2008, the intelligence services banned access to part of the cemetery and the families aren’t allowed to go there anymore.

The wounds of these families are far from closed. We don’t know exactly what happened to our lost loved ones. We just know that they are buried somewhere in Khavaran. The authorities have even banned us from leaving flowers on the graves. We’ve been stripped of a fundamental right to cry for our lost family members. Now, Iranian authorities are trying to remove the last traces of these massacres.

Khavaran is the largest mass grave site in Iran. It’s not just a cemetery: it is a symbol of the evil perpetrated by the Islamic Republic. The authorities are trying to erase the remaining proof of these crimes. They are also trying to pit the Baha’i community against the family members of executed political prisoners, even though both are victims of the cruelty of the regime. The Baha’i community is standing up to this and I salute their resistance.

In a statement published on April 29, Amnesty International called on the Iranian government to halt the destruction of the mass grave sites and allow the persecuted Baha’i to bury their loved ones with dignity.