The Iranian regime has expanded its clandestine program of foreign assassinations, renditions and harassment of dissidents and political opponents, according to a new report, while decrying the alleged use of similar measures by its enemies in the U.S. and Israel.
The Freedom House non-profit released a report into what it called “transnational repression” on Wednesday, naming several authoritarian nations that have used a variety of tactics in recent years to intimidate and kill critics living beyond their borders.
The report is based on 608 cases of direct, physical transnational repression since 2014 by at least 31 origin states. The cases took place in 79 countries, including the U.S. and other liberal democracies. Freedom House said some 3.5 million people had been affected by direct attacks or secondary tactics since 2014.
Among the offending nations was Iran, which during the term of former President Donald Trump routinely magnified its status as a victim of foreign intrigue, particularly from the U.S. and Israel.
The most notable examples are the U.S. drone strike on Major General Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad in January 2020 and the killing of nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh by gunmen allegedly affiliated with Israel outside Tehran in November.
Iranian officials have also blamed the U.S. and Israel for the assassinations of nuclear scientists before the signing of the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, and have condemned acts of sabotage such as the Stuxnet cyber-attack on its nuclear infrastructure.
But while decrying foreign assassinations, sabotage and intimidation, the regime in Tehran has been drawing on a “full spectrum of transnational repression tactics,” Freedom House said.
“Iranian leaders frequently portray its attacks on exiles as part of the same struggle against the United States and Israel, which they accuse of supporting terrorists,” the non-profit said.
“The Iranian campaign is distinguished by the total commitment it receives from the state, the level of violence that it employs and its sophisticated application of diverse methods against a similarly diverse set of targets,” the report said.
Since 2014, Freedom House said Iran had been linked to at least five assassinations or assassination attempts in three countries, with additional plots interrupted in at least two other nations. This represents an increase in activity following a lull in the 2000s, the report added.
The killings included two assassinations of former militant figures in the Netherlands in 2015 and 2017 and one shooting of a self-exiled former intelligence officer in Istanbul, Turkey, in 2019. The Istanbul killing was credited to Iran by Turkish and U.S. officials.
Two other plots were foiled. One was a bomb attack in Belgium against a 2018 event organized by the National Council of Resistance of Iran, which is affiliated with the People’s Mujahedin Organization of Iran militant group, also known as the MEK.
Also in 2018, Danish officials said they had foiled the attempted assassination of the head of the Arab Struggle Movement for the Liberation of Ahvaz, an anti-government militant group.
Albanian officials claim to have foiled multiple attacks against the MEK, which is based at a mysterious compound in the country.
Freedom House said Tehran was also relying on renditions to silence its critics living abroad. Among them was Ruhollah Zam, an exile living in France who ran a news website and social media channels critical of the regime.
He travelled to Iraq in 2019 for unknown reasons, where he was kidnapped by Iranian agents and brought back to the country. Zam was executed in December 2020, convicted of a range of offenses against the state.
Freedom House also documented regime coercion and forced recruitment of Iranians abroad, use of Interpol to harass dissidents, use of spyware to surveil critics, and manipulating passports and criminal charges to undermine the international mobility of those considered enemies.
“The Iranian state’s transnational repression reaches far beyond those who have been kidnapped, killed, or detained, exerting other forms of pressure on anyone involved in opposition politics or independent journalism,” the report said.
Its tactics against dissidents, Freedom House said, “collectively amount to a constant barrage of harassment, intimidation and surveillance.”
Newsweek has contacted the Iranian government to request comment on the Freedom House report.
Source » newsweek