By Natasha Phillips
30 Nov – Tensions between the US and Iran seem to be reaching boiling point. The State Department announced Thursday that it had more evidence of a secret missile proliferation program in Iran. Iran meanwhile, has been testing out its military weapons and urging its navy to ready itself for war, though the government categorically denies wanting to start a conflict. Iranian officials looked to the EU for more reassurance and support over the nuclear deal, and received some this week. Yet Iran ’s people continue to protest over economic instability. Police in Iran are now rumored to be torturing demonstrators.
• A story has emerged over the last 24 hours of a retired teacher and prominent labor activist named Esmail Bakhshi, who human rights sources say has been detained and tortured for calling out ministers in Iran over salary-related double standards. A video of Bakhshi went viral on Twitter yesterday afternoon, in which he criticizes the government for paying its politicians and ministers on time while continuing to delay paying teachers and laborers. That sentiment, which Bakhshi voiced during a protest with the Haft Tapeh sugar cane workers in front of the Islamic Consultative Assembly, (Iran’s parliament), is what activists say led to his arrest. Reports say that Bakhshi was detained on 18th November and later tortured in prison, resulting in fractures to his face and skull. He is now allegedly in hospital receiving treatment for his injuries. Bakhshi’s arrest and detention have gone viral on Twitter, with the hashtags #Esmaeel_Bakhshi and #FreeEsmailBakhshi being added to tweets.
• Despite the Iranian government’s increasingly aggressive response to peaceful protest, demonstrators continue to take to the streets. Truckers, a group that has been targeted particularly hard by the government who have arrested 250 drivers so far, have promised to lend their support to other workers within the automotive industry. Truck drivers have already covered over 70 cities as they protest poor working conditions through a series of demonstrations, the latest being held on 23rd November in the Bandar Imam Khomeini port. Farmers in Isfahan have also been protesting for several months over the government’s water management. They are accusing the government of selling off the resource from under the farmers’ feet. And a new wave of protests this week came from an unlikely source: conservative students in Iran, who have traditionally been supportive of the government. An open letter, penned by members of a conservative student association based at the University of Tehran, invited Ali Khamenei to deliver a public performance report about various government bodies within his government. It is unlikely the Supreme Leader will oblige: Khamenei is known for shunning public gatherings, and when he does make an appearance, it is always to a very carefully selected audience.
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• European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini told Iran’s foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif Wednesday that the EU was still committed to preserving the nuclear deal, hinting that the key driver to its success and completion would be mutual economic benefits. Iran has spent the last week vocalizing its impatience and growing disappointment in the lack of progress on any deal, but the EU’s response suggests that the bloc still has an appetite for an agreement with Iran.
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• In a Special Briefing in Washington D.C. on Thursday, Senior Policy Advisor and Special Representative for Iran, Brian Hook, told attendees that the U.S. had gathered more evidence of Iran acquiring weapons. Hook unveiled a collection of missiles and rockets, including a Sayyad 2C surface-to-air missile at the briefing, which he said was designed and manufactured in Iran. The missile has Persian writing on the side of its body, which in English translates to “the hunter missile”. Hook told the delegation, “The conspicuous Farsi markings is Iran’s way of saying they don’t mind being caught violating UN resolutions”. The State Department says these weapons are being given to the Iran-aligned Houthis to fight in Yemen.
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