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IranWire's 2015 Round-up

December 31, 2015
7 min read
Masih Alinejad
Masih Alinejad
Foreign Minister Zarif
Foreign Minister Zarif
#NotACrime campaign
#NotACrime campaign

Welcome to IranWire's round-up of the some of the best stories of 2015. We look forward to bringing you more on Iran in 2016 — from firsthand accounts and unique commentary to exclusive reporting and sharp analysis. Thanks for your support

The nuclear deal and some big personalities

Whoever you talked to, the nuclear deal between Iran and the P5+1 countries was one of the year's most important stories. After decades of animosity, two of the world's most notorious historic enemies came together to talk about making the world a safer place. But from the start, the process was disrupted by political divisions in Iran — and in the US, for that matter — with tempers flaring in parliament and Iranian media spreading fear, as our political expert Reza HaghighatNejad revealed. 

In the end, of course, a deal was struck — and signed. But this didn't mean hardliners were prepared to give up: Not only did they urge the Iranian people not to celebrate and tried to rustle up new panic later in the year, they returned to their favorite pastime: attacking President Rouhani and stifling free expression. 

As Iran and the nuclear deal hit the headlines around the world, some influential Iranians attracted media attention. Chief among them was Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who some speculated was a top co-contender with Secretary of State John Kerry for this year’s Nobel Peace Prize. 

Throughout the talks, international media marveled at Zarif’s savvy PR skills and smooth talking, even if they remained wary of his intentions, and Iran’s reformist media portrayed Zarif as a capable, shrewd negotiator. Some saw him as a national hero, a man fighting Iran’s corner in a style reminiscent of Mohammad Mossadegh, the country’s popular former prime minister who grabbed Iran’s oil industry out of the hands of the Brits in 1951. But hardliners were quick to see Zarif’s failures, accusing him of betraying the country and colluding with the enemy. 

When Zarif’s wife Maryam Imanieh suddenly appeared on the scene at a key stage of negotiations, she added an unexpected twist to the tale, with some wondering if her interests in mysticism might have a role to play in future discussions. 

But Zarif couldn’t entirely avoid those pesky questions about jailed journalists and human rights. In an interview with prominent US television journalist Charlie Rose, he said Iran did not jail journalists. Journalists in exile — some of whom had spent time in prison — reminded our audience of just how extensive Zarif’s lies were. "Everybody should react against them,” Masih Alinejad wrote on IranWire. 


Rouhani's balancing act

Never long out of the headlines was President Rouhani himself, whom the hardliner press routinely vilified. The president shot back every time, and even managed to score political points while working hard to prepare the country for post-sanctions business. "We will not forget the past, but we will not live in the past,” he told the UN in September. It was part of a clever tactic that we're bound to see again, a balancing act giving the impression that Iran will not back down on its accusations against the West, while expressing an intention to move into global politics and the economic arena with confidence. 



This year, we launched our #NotACrime global street art campaign. Teaming up with curators and street artists in New York City, as well as in Brazil, South Africa and Australia, we worked to raise awareness of Iran’s human rights crisis. #NotACrime tackles two issues in particular: The plight of Iran’s journalists, who face arbitrary arrest and intimidation, and the government’s refusal to allow the Baha’i religious minority pursue further education. Artists involved include David “Rabi” Torres, part of the Cyrcle art duo, Andrew Whispa and Wesley Pepper in Johannesburg, Krimsone and Scott Nagy in Sydney and Ron English, who, along with Banksy, is often credited with changing the face of street art.

IranWire's new series featuring the artists and their murals will continue into 2016 as the #NotACrime project spreads to more cities around the world.


Iranian refugees and the triangle of death

The refugee crisis was on everyone's minds this year. Images of Syrians fleeing violence, repression and extreme poverty were never long off television screens or the front pages of newspapers. Iranian asylum seekers have also been risking their lives, many hoping for a better life in Australia. We reported on the death of Kurdish Iranian refugee Fazel Chegini, who died in a wooded area near a refugee detention center on Christmas Island, one of three islands in the Pacific where Australia sends its refugees while they wait for a decision to be reached on their cases. 


A bad year for journalists, political prisoners and activists 

This year, the Rouhani administration demonstrated its reluctance to bring about any real change for human rights in the country, especially when it came to independent journalism. Or perhaps the government was just powerless to confront Iran's Revolutionary Guards and hardliners in any long-lasting or effective way. Despite hopes that the nuclear deal might bring about the release of some of Iran's most high-profile prisoners, Washington Post journalist Jason Rezaian and former marine Amir Hekmati remain in prison. Also behind bars is Atena Farghadani, whose caricatures depicting politicians as animals led to a prison sentence of almost 13 years. There are others, too, less well reported in the media, including child rights activist Atena Daemi, journalist Isa Saharkhiz and physicist Omid Kokabee.


But a good year for Stealthy Freedoms

The My Stealthy Freedom documentary series looks at one of the most powerful citizen journalism projects around, and the people who drive it. What was once a Facebook page is now a global platform for protest, debate and sharing vital information. Our documentary is not just about journalist Masih Alinejad's fight for greater freedoms for women in Iran, and the road that led her there, it's about bringing together personal experience and eyewitness accounts to build an international community of activists. We want our readers to be involved: Please do send in your stories, photographs and videos. (You can find out how at the end of each video). 


Sport and politics

The link between sport and politics in Iran was certainly a recurring theme in 2015. The story of Ghoncheh Ghavami, the Iranian-British female student jailed for attending a volleyball match in 2014, was a clear example of the gender equality battles so rife in Iran today. Charges against Ghavami were cleared in April and she was told she would not have to return to an Iranian prison. 

In September, news emerged that Nilufar Ardalan — also known as "Lady Goal" — would not be joining her fellow female futsal team members in an international game. The reason? Her husband banned her from traveling, prompting to heated commentary on and offline. 

Then, in November, President Rouhani stepped in to ensure that Iran’s national women’s futsal team could travel to Guatemala to take part in the World Cup, cheered on by (some) sports fans and international campaigners. Although the president is an avid sports fan, his decision to speak up might be linked to his hopes for political success in Iran's forthcoming parliamentary elections


....and the woman who ignored all the stop signs


Behnaz Shafie recently gave up her job as an accountant to fulfil her dream to become a professional motorbike rider. Although strictly speaking women can’t legally drive motorcycles in Iran, this 26-year-old is making it work for her — now she has support from sponsors, and makes a living out of what she loves doing most. 


50 Iranian Women you Should Know

We're extremely proud of this powerful series, which profiles the lives of some of the country's most influential women. While IranWire might not necessarily endorse the views and actions of all of these women, it's important to acknowledge the role women have played in the Islamic Republic, from challenging gender discrimination to leading on educational initiatives and taking a stand on artistic freedom. The series featured pioneering scientists, accomplished filmmakers, a pilot, journalists, singers....and former royalty.  Look out for more in 2016.


Iran: A Winter Wonderland

If you're thinking of taking a trip to Iran, now might be a good time to do it. It's not well known, but Iran has at least six ski resorts that meet international standards. "Powder skiing to die for!" one tourist said — plus that famous Iranian hospitality and excellent food