‘Daughters of Anarchy’: Iranian women fight for the right to ride motorbikes

Each day in Iran, more Iranian women riding motorbikes on the streets and highways, especially after the “Woman, Life, Freedom” protest movement began in September 2022. While this might be an everyday occurence in other countries, in the Islamic Republic, where authorities have refused to issue women motorcycle licences for more than four decades, it is a courageous action that representents more than a means of transport. The movement is a “symbol of courage” and part of their “civil rights struggle”, our Observers in Iran report.

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Before the 1979 revolution that brought the Islamic authorities to power in Iran, women were allowed to ride motorbikes, but since then it has become a legal grey area.

According to the law, there is no outright ban on women holding motorcycle licences, but there is also no text guaranteeing this right for women. Therefore, authorities in Tehran have systematically refused to issue motorbike licences to women. 

However, many Iranian lawyers and activists insist that, since Iranian women are allowed to ride motorcycles as passengers, there’s no reason to ban them from sitting in front as drivers. Women are allowed to drive all other kinds of vehicles in Iran.

Although it was a rarity to see women riding motorcycles in the streets just one year ago, it has become much more common in big cities, particularly in the capital Tehran, as images on social media and our Observers in Iran confirm.

Since September 2022, the Islamic Republic has been facing the most significant anti-regime protest in its history, under the slogan “Woman, Life, Freedom”. In the crackdown on this social movement, Iranian authorities have killed 530 people, injured thousands and arrested tens of thousands.

‘I feel that I have become “normal” on the streets finally’

Nazanin (not her real name) is a young Iranian who uses a motorbike every day to go to work.

Fifteen years ago, when I was a teenager, I always wanted to ride a motorbike, but at the time it was not an option. However, five years ago, I read about an Iranian woman who travelled around the world on a motorbike, and coincidentally, at the same time, I saw a woman in our neighbourhood riding a cute yellow motorbike. It was the first time I saw a woman on a motorbike in Iran and I thought, why not me?

I borrowed a motorbike from a friend and practised in our street where I learned how to ride. After five months, I bought one for myself.

My family was not happy about it, but they knew that I would always do what I set my mind to and try to avoid confrontations with me. The main reason why, for example, my father or husband were not happy about it was simply the potential dangers for me. I don’t have a motorbike licence, so if something happened there would be trouble. They were afraid the police would arrest me. My husband was not happy, but he was very supportive.

At first they thought I only used it on weekends for fun, but then they saw that I used it every day to go back and forth to work. I resisted and they accepted that I am a grown woman and know the risks. It is my right to use a mode of transport that all women in the world are allowed to use, even if it is not legal in this country, and now they have accepted it that way.

Five years ago, I had many reactions on the street. I can say that the reactions were positive and encouraging 80% of the time and negative 20% of the time. But one thing I can say is that everyone reacted. 

But since the Mahsa Amini protests began last year, I feel that I have finally become a “normal existence” on the streets. I have received far fewer reactions, positive or negative. And as always, most of the rare reactions are positive, people have accepted me as something normal, and that is incredible. The proof is that at the beginning of the Mahsa Amini protests I heard many “Woman, Life, Freedom” slogans that people chanted when they saw me, and I hear them now too, but much less.

‘Since last year, I have seen many more women on motorbikes in the streets’

I use roads where police are less likely to be, because even now I am a bit afraid of being caught by the police. But since I have been riding my motorbike, I have been stopped twice by the police. Both times they asked for my motorbike licence, acting as if women were allowed to have a licence, and I did not go for it! The first time, the policeman asked for the vehicle documents and insurance I had and gave me a ticket because my friend riding behind me was not wearing a helmet. The second time, there was no obvious reason to pull me over. After a few minutes, I realised that the policeman was just flirting with me, and in the end he just let me go! In fact, the police tried to pull me over a few more times, but I didn’t stop and they did not follow me.

For a few years, I dressed up like a boy in winter so that the policemen would not suspect that I was a girl. On the one hand, it was better because I could feel free, because no police would stop me, but on the other hand, I found it more dangerous. When other drivers see that I am a girl riding a motorbike, they behave much better, but when they think I’m a man, they drive as crazy as ever.

The number of women on motorbikes has gradually increased in recent years, but since last year and the outbreak of the Mahsa Amini protests, I have suddenly seen many more women on motorbikes in the streets. It is a symbol of courage.

It’s like the mandatory hijab, I think. Many women didn’t want to wear it, but they did not dare to take it off. But after protests began last year, many women found the courage to take off the Islamic hijab. It is the same with motorcycling: many women wanted to ride one and found the courage to do so after the protests. Since we are no longer afraid to go out on the street without a hijab, we are no longer afraid to ride a motorbike. This is the same fight for our rights.

And as far as I can see, women do not ride motorbikes for fun. I see many women who really use it as a means of transport to go to work or shopping.

I see the difference even in myself since last year: it has become even more important in the fight for our civil rights. It is a right that was stolen from me and I will fight for it every day. Since last year, I have been trying to be seen on the street, I take photos of myself and post them on social media, and I insist on riding my motorbike to my office every day. This is my daily fight for my rights.

Under the laws of the Islamic Republic, riding a motorbike without a licence is punishable by up to two months in prison and up to 8 months for a second offence. However, there have so far been almost no reports of women being prosecuted for riding motorbikes in Iran.

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Turkish century: History looms large on election day

ISTANBUL — From the Aegean coast to the mountainous frontier with Iran, millions of Turks are voting at the country’s 191,884 ballot boxes on Sunday — with both President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his main rival Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu warning the country is at a historical turning point.

In the last sprints of the nail-bitingly close election race, the dueling candidates have both placed heavy emphasis on the historical resonance of the vote falling exactly 100 years after the foundation of the secular Turkish republic by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk in 1923.

In the Istanbul district of Ümraniye on the final day of campaigning, Erdoğan told voters the country was on “the threshold of a Turkish century” that will be the “century of our children, our youth, our women.”

Erdoğan’s talk of a Turkish century is partly a pledge to make the country stronger and more technologically independent, particularly in the defense sector. Over the past months, the president has been quick to associate himself with the domestically-manufactured Togg electric car, the “Kaan” fighter jet and Anadolu, the country’s first aircraft carrier.

But Erdoğan’s Turkish century is about more than home-grown planes and ships. Few people doubt the president sees 2023 as a key threshold to accelerate his push away from Atatürk’s secular legacy and toward a more religiously conservative nation. Indeed, his campaign has been characterized by a heavy emphasis on family values and bitter rhetoric against the LGBTQ+ community. Unsurprisingly, he wrapped up his campaign on Saturday night in Hagia Sophia — once Constantinople’s greatest church — which he contentiously reconverted from a museum back into a mosque, as it had been in Ottoman times.

The state that Atatürk forged from the ashes of the Ottoman empire in 1923 was secular and modernizing, often along Western models, with the introduction of Latin letters and even the banning of the fez in favor of Western-style hats. In this regard, the Islamist populist Erdoğan is a world away from the ballroom-dancing, rakı-quaffing field marshal Atatürk.

The 2023 election is widely being cast as a decisive referendum on which vision for Turkey will win through, and Erdoğan has been keen to portray the opposition as sell-outs to the West and global financial institutions such as the International Monetary Fund. “Are you ready to bury at the ballot box those who promised to give over the country’s values ​​to foreigners and loan sharks?” he called out to the crowd in Ümraniye.

This is not a man who is casting himself as the West’s ally. Resisting pressure that Ankara should not cozy up so much to the Kremlin, Erdoğan snapped on Friday that he would “not accept” the opposition’s attacks on Russian President Vladimir Putin — after Kılıçdaroğlu complained of Russian meddling in the election.

All about Atatürk

By contrast, Erdogan’s main rival Kılıçdaroğlu is trying to assume the full mantle of Atatürk, and is stressing the need to put the country back on the path toward European democratic norms after Erdoğan’s lurch toward authoritarianism. While Erdoğan ended his campaign in the great mosque of Hagia Sophia, Kılıçdaroğlu did so by laying flowers at Atatürk’s mausoleum.

Speaking from a rain-swept stage in Ankara on Friday night, the 74-year-old bureaucrat declared: “We will make all of Turkey Mustafa Kemal’s [Atatürk’s] Turkey!”

In his speech, he slammed Erdoğan for giving Turkey over to drug runners and crony networks of oligarch construction bosses, saying the country had no place for “robbers.” Symbolically, he chided the president for ruling from his 1,150-room presidential complex — dubbed the Saray or palace — and said that he would rule from the more modest Çankaya mansion that Atatürk used for his presidency.

Warming to his theme of Turkey’s “second century,” Kılıçdaroğlu posted a video in the early hours of Saturday morning, urging young people to fully embrace the founding father’s vision. After all, he hails from the CHP party that Atatürk founded.

“We are entering the second century, young ones. And now we have a new generation, we have you. We have to decide altogether: Will we be among those who only commemorate Atatürk — like in the first century — or those who understand him in this century? This generation will be of those who understand,” he said, speaking in his trademark grandfatherly tone from his book-lined study.

At least in the upscale neighborhood of Beşiktaş, on Saturday night, all the talk of Atatürk was no dry history lesson. Over their final beers — before an alcohol sale ban comes in force over election day — young Turks punched the air and chanted along with a stirring anthem: “Long Live Mustafa Kemal Pasha, long may he live.”

In diametric opposition to Erdoğan, who has detained opponents and exerts heavy influence over the judiciary and the media, Kılıçdaroğlu is insisting that he will push Turkey to adopt the kind of reforms needed to move toward EU membership.

When asked by POLITICO whether that could backfire because some hostile EU countries would always block Turkish membership, he said the reforms themselves were the most important element for Turkey’s future.

“It does not matter whether the EU takes us in or not. What matters is bringing all the democratic standards that the EU foresees to our country,” he said in an exclusive interview on the sidelines of a rally in the central city of Sivas. “We are part of Western civilization. So the EU may accept us or not, but we will bring those democratic standards. The EU needs Turkey.”

Off to the polls

Polling stations — which are set up in schools — open at 8 a.m. on election day and close at 5 p.m. At 9 p.m. media can start reporting, and unofficial results are expected to start trickling in around midnight.

The mood is cautious, with rumors swirling that internet use could be restricted or there could be trouble on the streets if there are disputes over the result.

The fears of some kind of trouble have only grown after reports of potential military or governmental involvement in the voting process.

Two days before the election, the CHP accused Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu of preparing election manipulation. The main opposition party said Soylu had called on governors to seek army support on election night. Soylu made no public response.

Turkey’s Supreme Election Council (YSK) has rejected the interior ministry’s request to collect and store election results on its own database. The YSK also banned the police and gendarmerie from collecting election results.

Erdoğan himself sought to downplay any fears of a stolen election. In front of a studio audience of young people on Friday, he dismissed as “ridiculous” the suggestion that he might not leave office if he lost. “We came to power in Turkey by democratic means and by the courtesy of people. If they make a different decision whatever the democracy requires we will do it,” said the president, looking unusually gaunt, perhaps still knocked back by what his party said was a bout of gastroenteritis during the campaign.

The opposition is vowing to keep close tabs on all of the polling stations to try to prevent any fraud.

In Esenyurt Cumhuriyet Square, in the European part of Istanbul, a group of high-school students gathered on Saturday morning to greet Ekrem İmamoğlu, the popular mayor of Istanbul, who would be one of Kılıçdaroğlu’s vice presidents if he were to win.

Ilayda, 18, said she would vote for the opposition because of its position on democracy, justice and women’s rights.

When asked what would happen if Erdoğan won, she replied: “We plan to start a deep mourning. Our country as we know it will not be there anymore.”

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Ron DeSantis Wants Very Own Chinese Exclusion Act

Fresh on the heels/heel turn of his stupid fight with Disney, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis seems to have found another strategy to be awful to Floridians and to damage Florida’s economy in the pursuit of the 2024 GOP nomination. The Florida state House yesterday passed a bill aimed at preventing the Chinese Communist Party from buying land in Florida, but goes well beyond that by forbidding anyone who’s “domiciled” in China from owning any real estate in Florida, unless they’re a US citizen or permanent resident. The bill also includes other restrictions on some foreign ownership of properties near military bases or “critical infrastructure,” but the blanket ban on owning any property in Florida applies only to Chinese nationals.

By golly, it’s a throwback to the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, when America decided it could admit loutish Irish, swarthy sex-crazed Italians, and anarchist Rooshians, but Chinese immigrants were some kinda threat.

Supporters of the measure, Senate Bill 264, claim it’s absolutely necessary for US national security, and for that matter some say that anyone opposing it is probably a Chinese agent too.

That’s exactly the kind or rhetoric that has led real estate interests and Asian Americans in Florida to say that the bill is rooted in xenophobia, and will lead to anti-Asian discrimination, particularly since, as the Miami Herald explains,

it would require home and land buyers to sign an affidavit that they’re not prohibited from buying land. Realtors would be subject to “civil or criminal liability” if they have “actual knowledge” that the transaction violates the law.

At hearings on the Senate version of the bill last month, the Herald notes, more than 100 people testified that they’ve been subjected to racist slurs already as paranoid rhetoric about China “gobbling up” huge tracts of US land has ramped up in rightwing media. On Saturday, Asian Americans across Florida rallied against the bill, arguing that it will lead to stereotyping and more acts of discrimination, and that it could imperil their own small businesses if they run afoul of the law, which requires Chinese “domiciled” owners to divest their Florida properties within two years.

We are not a real estate lawyer, but we can imagine how that could screw with a small business that’s operated by a Chinese American family but owned by a relative in China. If the American branch of the family can’t come up with the capital to buy out the relative, or the relative doesn’t want to sell — or give it as a gift and eat the tax losses — well, here come the fines, and the forfeiture of the property. The LA Times notes that such property grabs were a common feature of anti-Asian laws back in the 19th Century, too.

In an editorial yesterday, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel argued that DeSantis’s push for the property ban and other anti-immigrant legislation will “cast a spotlight on anyone who talks with an accent. Or wears clothes that reflect a different heritage. Or speaks a language other than English,” regardless of their actual citizenship or immigration status, which of course is the point for DeSantis.

The editorial argues that the impact of the bill will be pretty obvious:

Anyone who looks Asian will become much more likely to be questioned or turned away from financial transactions, and potentially have their homes or businesses seized. We can’t imagine anything in modern law that comes close to that.

Now, sure, realtors who simply refuse to sell to Asian Americas may then face discrimination lawsuits, but they may end up trying to balance which set of potential legal penalties they’d rather face. Discrimination suits have only civil penalties, while knowingly selling land in violation of the law would also have criminal penalties.

As we mention, the prospect of being in jeopardy for good faith business transactions has the Florida real estate bidniss worried too, and those folks have some serious economic interests in the state.

Bizarrely, some Florida pols are suggesting that the bill is actually super popular with Chinese Americans, but that you’re only seeing protests by opponents because that’s exactly what the CCP wants, and welcome back to McCarthyism. State Rep. David Borrero (R) insisted that “Chinese Americans and Chinese residents who are here in Florida have been silenced, likely by China, for merely speaking out in support of this bill,” and Democratic co-sponsor Katherine Waldron

told lawmakers that she heard the protesters were bused in from Texas. She and Borrero said they know of Chinese Americans who have been threatened from speaking in favor of the bill and silenced on WeChat, the dominant phone app in China.

“Do not be intimidated by the vocal and aggressive actors we’ve seen in the past few weeks, who do not have our country’s best interests in mind,” Waldron said. “The communist threat to our nation is real.”

Ergo, no “good” Asian Americans really oppose the bill; those people saying it’ll lead to discrimination are OUTSIDE AGITATORS AND COMMUNIST AGENTS TRYING TO WHIP UP FEAR BECAUSE THEY HATE AMERICA. Please remain calm and purge them, so we can institute government by conspiracy theory.

The Miami Heraldhelpfully fact checks that claim about non-Floridians testifying against the bill, noting that

Records from the meeting show that nearly all of the opponents of the bill listed Florida addresses, and several were quickly verified through home ownership records. Several of the speakers said they were professors at Florida universities.

DeSantis has not yet demanded an investigation into whether the Miami Herald is secretly run by the Chinese Communist Party, but for all we know he’s too busy drafting a ban on any cast members at Walt Disney World depicting characters from Mulan.

SB 264 doesn’t only direct its fear toward China, although Chinese nationals who “domicile” in China are the only people outright banned from owning property in Florida. The bill originally prohibited nationals of “countries of concern” — Russia, Cuba, Venezuela, Syria, Iran, and North Korea, just in case there are any property moguls from Pyongyang — from owning land within 20 miles of any “military installation or critical infrastructure,” like airports, refineries, or power plants, but the House amended that to just one mile, so the Senate will have to pass the revised version again before it goes to DeSantis for a signature. Current targeted owners of such properties would also have to divest them within two years of the bill becoming law.

Yr Wonkette would say more about what a terrible idea this law is, but we have to hurry up and meet with our CCP spymaster soon, comrades. Why don’t you play some solitaire to pass the time?

[National Archives / Miami Herald / Sun-Sentinel / LAT / Florida SB 264 / Photo: John Spade, Creative Commons License 2.0]

Yr Wonkette is funded entirely by reader donations, although we assume all our readers are Chinese agents just like us. If you can, please give $5 or $10 a month to help us keep fighting the weirdo Cold War throwbacks like Ron DeSantis and all his running dog lackeys of imperialism. Donations in Renminbi may require extra processing time.

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Iranian journalists remain imprisoned for reporting on Mahsa Amini’s death

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Iran is one of the most repressive countries in terms of press freedom, according to an annual report released Wednesday by Reporters Without Borders, which ranked it 177th of 180 nations. Since the September 2022 death of Mahsa Amini in police custody in Tehran, 72 journalists have been arrested and 25 remain imprisoned, most of them women. FRANCE 24 takes a look at the cases of two journalists who remain behind bars over their reporting on the young Kurdish woman’s death.

Two distraught parents embraced in the empty corridor of a hospital in Kasra, Tehran. They had just learned that their 22-year-old daughter Mahsa Amini had died, three days after being arrested by the morality police for “improperly” wearing her hijab.

Journalist Niloofar Hamedi has been held for more than seven months by the Iranian authorities for capturing this silent moment in a photograph and making it public. A correspondent for the reformist daily newspaper “Shargh”, Hamedi was the first to break the news of the young Kurdish woman’s death on September 16, 2022, by posting the photograph on Twitter.

The post provoked an unprecedented wave of unrest and several months of demonstrations against the Iranian authorities.

Arrested at her home by intelligence agents on September 20, the 31-year-old journalist was not given a trial before being put behind bars, according to Jonathan Dagher, head of the Middle East Office of Reporters Without Borders (Reporters Sans Frontières or RSF), which published its annual report on press freedom on Wednesday.

Journalist Elahe Mohammadi, 35, is also being held at Qarchak prison south of Tehran. A writer for the reformist daily newspaper “Hammihan”, she was arrested on September 29 for going to Amini’s home town of Saqez in Iranian Kurdistan to cover the young woman’s funeral, which gave rise to the first demonstrations following her death.

The Iranian judiciary confirmed in April that the two women were indicted on charges including collaborating with the United States, undermining national security and spreading anti-state propaganda. The two women were formally accused in October of being agents for the CIA.

Symbols of the ‘Women, Life, Freedom’ movement

Denouncing these “grotesque accusations”, RSF has demanded the release of the two journalists. In Iran, charges of espionage are punishable by death.

Hamedi and Mohammadi’s cases are of particular concern: “Both have become emblematic of the repression of press freedom in Iran, but also of the (Women, Life, Freedom) movement. They are journalists and women. So they are symbols on many levels. That’s why the Iranian government treats them much more severely,” says Dagher. “Iran tends to punish journalists who are the first to reveal information more severely, and make an example of them for other women and journalists,” adds Dagher.

Nine other female journalists are being held by the authorities, including eight arrested since the uprising that followed Amini’s death. “This is unprecedented in the country and one of the highest figures in the world,” says Dagher, noting that female journalists are being targeted “because they play an important role in covering this movement, especially in giving a voice to women who are at the forefront of the protest”.

RSF says a total of 72 Iranian journalists have been arrested since Amini’s death on September 16, with 25 still behind bars. The incarcerations earn Iran seventh place among the countries detaining the most journalists, with China in the top spot followed by Myanmar, Vietnam, Belarus, Turkey and Syria.

Released but under pressure

But even for released journalists, “deliverance can become a threat in itself, with sentences that act like swords of Damocles hanging over their heads”, says Dagher.

This is the case for Nazila Maroofian, another female journalist who investigated Amini’s death. She was sentenced without trial to a two-year suspended prison term for “spreading false news” and “anti-government propaganda” after spending 71 days in prison. Maroofian, who is from the same city as Amini, was targeted by the Iranian authorities for publishing an interview with her father on the news website “Mostaghel Online”.

Others were released in exchange for signed confessions – “statements of remorse”, or promises not to cover certain events or stories – reports RSF.

One of these journalists was Ali Pourtabatabaei, who worked for a local news website in Qom, located 140km south of Tehran, and was one of the first to reveal that young girls were being poisoned using an unidentified gas in schools across the city in November 2022.

Pourtabatabaei was arrested on March 5 amid controversy over the ongoing wave of poisonings. After several weeks in detention, “on the day of his release, the government asked journalists not to cover this story because it was upsetting the public, demanding that they rely only on official sources for all information”, says Dagher.

Under these conditions, many Iranian journalists have been forced to flee the country. To manage the influx and provide assistance, RSF set up a crisis unit. Several have since settled in France, others in Canada, the United States and Turkey. But even there they are not safe from intimidation.

“Their families continue to be pressured in Iran,” says Dagher, who has collected several personal accounts to this effect. Other journalists have been informed by foreign intelligence services that they are potential kidnapping targets and so have been strongly advised not to travel to countries bordering Iran, including Turkey.

This article has been translated from the original in French.

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These Iranian women share how they push back against Islamic rules at home

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Iranian women are turning to social media to share their “before and after” photos online with the caption, “I was born in a religious family, but then I tore the family’s virtue apart.” Many of them are young girls who were brought up religiously under the influence of their families. But they say they’ve now found their own way, although sometimes in spite of psychological or even physical violence.

In one photo, they are wearing modest clothing – a black chador covering most of their body – and a stoic expression. In the other, they have taken off the headscarf, are wearing a bit of makeup and have a slight smile. This is how Iranian women are sharing their stories online.

The photos – shared on Twitter, Instagram and TikTok since mid-April – show how they rebelled against their religious families and came out on the other side. Images like these have gone viral online and other young women and girls in the same situation have begun asking for advice on how to make the same changes.

Since the “Woman, Life, Freedom” movement began in Iran in September 2022, more and more women have begun defying Islamic dress codes and guidelines in public spaces. 

They have continued despite ongoing pressure from authorities and the morality police, who have begun cracking down on compulsory hijab laws in parks, public transportation, universities and even hospitals – and refusing services to women who fail to comply. 

>> Read more on The Observers: Iran’s hijab war continues with business shutdowns and surveillance cameras

Our Observers in Iran, however, tell us that a growing number of Iranians seem to be defending women who refuse to wear the hijab out in public.

But for many Iranian girls and young women, the fight for social freedoms began at home.

‘My parents’ reaction was insults, humiliation and physical violence’

Parnian (not her real name) is one of the young women who has shared her “before and after” photos on social media. 

It was another online challenge for me. I saw it like that but at the same time, it was a way to show that if we fight we can progress. We are stronger than they think. I found many others like me – seeing their photos was heartwarming.

I was born into a very conservative, religious family in a town in central Iran. Since I was four or five years old, I had to wear a black chador [Editor’s note: an Islamic headscarf that covers the hair and body]. I had to pray five times a day and fast from nine years old. I wasn’t allowed to use Instagram or any other social media. Anything in the real world or online where a man could be present was forbidden to me. I lived like this until I was 14 years old.

At that age, I started comparing myself to other girls, to the freedom they had, and to the relationships they had. I said to myself, “Something is wrong in your life”. I also started researching and reading books, and eventually, I found out that I had to make my own decisions and go my own way. That’s when my struggle with my parents began.

Everything changed when I was 18. I began dressing how I liked, stopped partaking in religious rituals and started dating boys. My parents’ reaction was everything you can imagine: insults, humiliation and physical violence. They didn’t let me go to one of the universities I was accepted into, because they wanted me to go to a girls-only university.

I have been beaten by my father, I do not know how many times. Once, he took me out to the desert and beat me with a stick. He told me to give him my boyfriend’s number, even though I didn’t even have a mobile phone and wasn’t allowed to go out alone.

I had to leave their house. I moved to Tehran to live with a relative of my mother who is understanding and very cool. I bought a mobile phone, I work, I buy clothes I like, I dress the way I like, I go out with friends and colleagues … I live the way I want to the extent that I can in this country.

But the threats and pressure from my family continue through phone calls and messages. In the last one, my father threatened that if the member of my mother’s family that I live with does not kick me out, he will divorce my mother! 

And since the “Woman, Life, Freedom” revolution started, their pressure has increased. They are afraid that the power of this revolution will make me even more rebellious.

But I am hopeful. If I have survived until now, I can make more progress. I am trying to apply again to a university inside or outside Iran. Sometimes the only way is to be strong. You do not have an option B.

‘They finally understand we must respect each other’s way of life’

Rima (not her real name) is another woman who has shared photos of herself both under her family’s religious pressures and now. 

My father is religious but more relaxed, while my mother was ultra-conservative and forced every single detail of Sharia law on me. When I was 12, I started questioning religion and our lifestyle. I wore the chador until I was 15, and then my mother died.

After that, reading books helped me find my own beliefs. I found disturbing contradictions in religion and I realised I did not want to live with these contradictions and have to convince myself with faith.

My father and the rest of the family are religious, but they did not want to force me. They talked to me and tried to convince me otherwise: “OK, you don’t have to wear a chador, but wear a hijab [which covers only the hair and not the entire body]”. Then they said, “Ok, you can take off your headscarf inside, but keep it on in the street”. I pushed them back little by little. And since the “Woman, Life, Freedom” revolution, even the little bit of pressure that remained has disappeared. They have finally understood that we must respect each other’s way of life and they have accepted me as I am.

Sometimes we argue about “things girls can or cannot do”. They can not force me and I do what I want.

Following the death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian who died while in the custody of the morality police in September 2022, Iran saw months of mass protests. Girls and young women have led the protests, chanting the slogan “Woman, Life, Freedom”.

Police crackdowns on the protests have resulted in more than 537 deaths, thousands of injuries and tens of thousands of arrests.

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China turbocharging crackdown on Iranian women, say experts

Iran’s government has added yet another weapon to its arsenal of oppression.

On Saturday, authorities announced they were installing cameras in public places that can identify and punish women who do not wear a headscarf, as mandated by Iranian law.

Those detected not covering their hair will receive a “warning text message”, as reports suggest Iranian officials effectively want to replace the unpopular morality police that enforces the rules with surveillance.

But Iran is not acting alone.

Though it has not publicly said so, Craig Singleton, Senior Fellow at the US-based Foundation for the Defense of Democracies “highly suspects” the high-tech cameras came from China.

Cemented by a secretive 25-year cooperation agreement struck in 2021, Beijing has helped Iran’s beleaguered regime build an intricate surveillance state, prompting some commentators to warn Iranians face a “dystopian future”.

Facial recognition technology and powerful tools for video and crowd surveillance, phone and text monitoring have all been supplied by Chinese companies, while Iranian government officials have reportedly received training on matters such as “manipulating public opinion”.

‘Gender segregation’

While the impact of the growing “surveillance state” is ubiquitous, touching all of Iran’s some 88 million people, women are particularly targeted.

“Technology continues to restrict the movement of women in Iran and prevent them from enjoying basic freedoms, like going to the spaces they want to or dressing how they like,” said Melody Kazemi of Filterwatch, a monitoring group of online censorship in Iran.

“It’s contributing to their treatment as second-class citizens, allowing women to continue to be arrested, intimated or harassed.”

Starting in September, mass anti-government protests swept through Iran after the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who was arrested for allegedly violating the country’s strict dress code.

The women-led protests eventually subsided amid a torrent of violence and repression by the state, including mass arrests and executions.

Still, technology from Beijing has helped “prop up” the deeply unpopular Islamic government, Singleton told Euronews.

While it could not “neutralise the root causes of unrest”, he said: “For now, such technologies appear necessary, albeit insufficient, for authoritarian regimes like Iran to completely eradicate all forms of dissent.”

Online tools played a central role in the regime’s crackdown on protests last year, with mobile and internet surveillance used to retrospectively identify and detain demonstrators.

China reportedly sold Tehran a powerful surveillance system capable of monitoring landline, mobile and internet communications, though a wide variety of equipment is likely to have been used in the crackdown.

‘It’s been happening for a long time now’

Using technology for suppression has a long history in Iran.

“It’s not a new thing,” said Kazemi. “We shouldn’t forget that Iran already has used older technologies and pre-existing methods to oppress women, dissidents and opposition.”

In 2019, Iranian police set up an automated system of cameras to warn women flouting the dress code in their cars.

Hundreds received text messages summoning them to the so-called morality police. However, Kazemi says there were “all sorts of false positives”, with long-haired men getting told off for not wearing hijabs.

“No matter where these technologies come from. Even in a democratic country with an independent judiciary, they go wrong and produce errors all the time,” she said. “They are designed in a way that automates human rights violations.”

Behind China-Iran cooperation is, of course, money.

Chinese surveillance firms, like Tiandy, Hikvision, and Dahua, are “keenly focused” on finding new markets outside of mainland China, which is already “saturated” with intrusive surveillance, claims Singleton.

Part of this is testing whether Chinese tech can be rolled out overseas.

“Iran has transformed itself into a Middle East incubator for Beijing’s techno-authoritarianism, in essence enabling Chinese firms to deploy their systems abroad to determine whether they are compatible with non-Chinese networks,” said Singleton.

He called such “interoperability” essential if these “Chinese firms want to market their surveillance products to other authoritarian regimes.”

But there are geopolitical motives, too.

“Beijing’s great-power ambitions hinge, in part, on… [its] technological supremacy,” said Singleton – something “the US and its allies have fallen short in countering.”

Much high-tech equipment has been developed amid China’s repression of Uyghur Muslims and other ethnic minorities, which the US has called a “genocide”. It has involved monitoring smartphone activity and gathering biometric data, including DNA, blood type, fingerprints, voice recordings and face scans, alongside mass detentions and sterilization.

‘There’s a lot we still don’t know’

But Beijing is not the only country driving Iran’s technological control, with some technologies being homegrown.

An investigation by The Intercept found that authorities had baked SIAM spyware into the country’s mobile networks to track, decrypt messages and block internet access on smartphones.

Other stuff comes from the West.

In December, the US blacklisted a Chinese video surveillance company Tiandy Technologies provided facial recognition technology to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, widely considered the true power-makers in Iran.

The processors for its video recording systems were reportedly made by the US semiconductor giant Intel Corp, though it “ceased doing business with Tiandy following an internal review.”

Still, researcher Kazemi said big questions hung over what technologies were being used and where they came from.

She warned that Iran’s regime could also be overinflating claims around the tech it had in a bid to intimidate people and deter future dissent.

“Just because the Iran government says they are using this type of technology, I wouldn’t rely on it one way or another,” she said. “It could just be rhetoric.”

“There is an appetite from the government to suggest that they are getting better and more efficient as more and more people are trying to resist.”

In any case, Melody said more research was needed into technology and its uses around the world, with much currently shrouded in mystery.

“We need to get more accurate information to give people better advice on how to resist them.”

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‘I never wear a headscarf anymore’: Iranian women continue to defy Islamic regime

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In Iran, women are daring to go out without their headscarves in public places, streets, cafes, banks and even airports. For five months, thousands of Iranians have been pouring into the streets to protest against the Islamic regime. While the protests have waned in recent weeks, Iranians – especially women – have told the FRANCE 24 Observers team that the movement has caused irreversible changes in Iranian society. Our Observers say these changes are not due to any reduced pressure from the regime, but rather a newfound courage in Iranian women and support from society.

Protesters began seeing fewer morality police vehicles in the streets in December 2022, fueling rumours that the regime had disbanded the controversial unit. However, our Observers have underlined that no rules have changed.

>> Read more on The Observers: ‘We continue our revolution’: Iran protesters dismiss claims that morality police were ‘disbanded’

Even if the morality police are patrolling less, there is still pressure on Iranian women to observe mandatory veiling laws. However, the Iranians we have spoken to say that the progress made in five months of protest is something they never could have thought possible.

A shopping Centre in north of tehran showing Iranian women without headscarves.

‘You get the feeling that society has put an invisible safety net around women without headscarves to keep them in the fight’

Mahi (not her real name) lives in Tehran, where she works in a startup.

It’s true that we want much more than not wearing headscarves. We want the end of the Islamic Republic, but in a way I feel that with the “Woman Life Freedom” revolution we have already won something over the Islamic Republic.

I literally burnt my headscarves a few months ago. I never wear a headscarf anymore. I go out on the street, I go to cafés, even in banks, and I took a flight without wearing a headscarf. When I wanted to go through the security gate, which is controlled by the Revolutionary Guards, they asked me to cover my head and I said I do not have anything on me, I had a hoodie that I put on for a few seconds in front of the IRGC guards, then I took it off as well.

Until a month or two ago, men and other women would smile at me when I went for a walk in public and say encouraging words like “Well done” or “I am proud of you”. Now I’ve been seeing for weeks that not wearing a headscarf has become the norm – people don’t even see it as something special.

No one looks or stares at women without the hijab. Even men who seem to be religious look away but say nothing. That this has changed so quickly it’s inconceivable to me.

While it’s true that there are more women without headscarves in the more affluent neighbourhoods, the reality is that even in the southern parts of Tehran, which are poor and more conservative, women without headscarves aren’t uncommon. Many women –  especially the younger generation – refuse to wear the Islamic hijab even in this part of Tehran, and by many I mean 20 or 30 percent. It’s amazing that I even felt safe there when I went for a walk. No one stared at the women, no men showed even the slightest signs of misbehaviour. You get the feeling that society has put an invisible safety net around women without headscarves to keep them in the fight.

But the real battle with the Islamic Republic is still ahead of us. It’s winter now, and we have to cover up anyway because it’s freezing outside. But in the one or two months when it usually gets hot in Tehran, I don’t see any reason to cover up like I used to. And I think many other women feel the same way, especially the younger generations. Even now, I sometimes see teenage girls walking down the street wearing crop tops, and when I imagine how these brave girls will dress in the summer, I already get excited. I think that our real fight to push these Islamists back even further starts there.

However, Iranian women still face pressure from the regime to continue wearing the veil, in the form of threats, restrictions and acts of violence.

Hossein Jalali, an Iranian MP, told Iranian media on December 20,2022 that “the restrictions regarding the hijab are very much in place, it’s just the way they are enforced that has changed.”

Several local governors in Iran have banned all organisations from offering services to women without hijabs. On December 25, 2022 the governor of South Khorasan province in eastern Iran informed all banks, government agencies and businesses that providing services to women without a hijab are breaking the law.

On February 18, engineer Zainab Kazempour threw her headscarf on the ground after being disqualified in an official ceremony for participating in the Tehran Construction Engineering Organisation’s board elections. According to Iranian media, she was charged with disrespecting the Islamic hijab.

Zainab Kazempour threw her headscarf on the ground after being disqualified in an official ceremony for participating in the Tehran Construction Engineering Organisation’s board elections.

On January 29, February 15 and 21, three pharmacies were closed in Amol, in northern Iran,Tehran and Shar-e-Rey a poor suburb of Tehran after the “extremist Islamists released videos showing women working without hijabs and refusing to wear headscarves. The three women are being prosecuted.

A Basij member harasses a woman working in this pharmacy in Amol, northern Iran. After this video was published, the pharmacy was closed and the woman is being prosecuted.

On November 26, 2022 a bank manager in Qom lost his job after serving a woman without a hijab and was prosecuted by the governor of Qom. A video of this was posted on social media two days earlier.

A bank director in Qom was fired after this video was published on social media.

Ali Khanmohammadi, spokesperson for the organisation “Enjoining Good and Forbidding Bad”, which is responsible for enforcing Islamic Sharia law in public spaces in parallel with the morality police, said in an interview with local media on January 1, 2023: “The police are responsible for closing down shops that do not comply with the law […] We receive videos where someone has asked the shopkeeper to comply with the law [wearing the hijab or asking customers to do so] and they refuse to do so, we can not tolerate that, people have to comply with the law.”

And on January 4, 2023 Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic, stressed in a speech that the hijab law in Iran must be upheld: “The hijab is an inalienable commandment of the Sharia.”

However, it seems to be becoming more and more difficult for the theocrats in Tehran to confront the growing demand for freedom. Women are defying the veiling laws not only in the big cities like Tehran, Tabriz or Mashhad, but also in rural towns, which are known for more conservative values.

‘Not wearing the hijab has turned into a political act, a sign of courage’

Faranak (not her real name) lives in Tehran, but originally comes from a small town in southwestern Iran. She visits her family there regularly.

When I visited my hometown a few days ago after several months, I could see that the people there have also changed. I saw many women walking the streets without headscarves, teenage girls chatting and laughing in the streets without hijabs. Not wearing the hijab as a sign of boldness or, at best, weirdness has turned into a political act, a sign of courage to stand up for one’s rights.

Many women wear their headscarves on their shoulders, many teenage girls wear it as a scarf, and some others just do not have it on at all. And I am surprised that I was there only four months ago. This is not reversible. If you close the shops or lay people off, it does not work anymore. Personally, I have decided not to wear a headscarf, no matter what. Even if I lose my job, even if they arrest me a hundred times, if they beat me, arrest me… it does not matter, I will not cover my body the way they think I should. And I am sure a lot of women feel the same way I do.

The death of Mahsa Amini in the custody of the morality police in September 2022 sparked the largest wave of protests in the history of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Since September 2022, more than 480 Iranians have been killed and thousands injured in Iran’s continuing protests.

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Iran: ‘Sham’ courts hand out severe sentences for passive protest

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After months of strikes and protests in Iran, thousands of people have been arrested and now face harsh sentences by the courts, including death. Activists, journalists and lawyers have received long prison terms for supporting the demonstrations or expressing their opposition to the regime, even passively. Activists and NGOs say that the Iranian judiciary is increasing the pressure on those arrested, handing out absurd charges, forcing confessions through extortion and torturing detainees.

Since the start of the “Woman, Life, Freedom” protests in Iran in mid-September 2022, at least 19,000 people have been arrested by the Islamic regime, according to human rights organisations. Thousands of them, indicted by the Attorney General’s Office, are now facing trials, which Amnesty International qualifies as “unfair” and “shams”. Some sentences have already been handed out by the courts.

More than five years of prison for dancing

Protesters have been sentenced to severe punishments for even the most absurd of crimes. One couple was even sentenced to five years in prison for posting a video of themselves dancing.

Astiyazh Haghighi and Amir Ahmadi, a couple in their early 20s, were arrested on November 1, 2022 and sentenced to five years in prison for “promoting immorality and prostitution”, “assembly and collusion against national security” and “propaganda against the state” after they shared a video of themselves dancing together near Azadi Square in Tehran.

The couple was also accused of “inviting people to protest” on their social media accounts where they have more than one million followers.

While many media outlets reported that the young couple had been sentenced to more than ten years in prison, Mizan, a website belonging to the Islamic Republic’s judiciary, denied the initial reports and claimed that Astiyazh and Amir had been sentenced to five years in prison.

The couple’s family members say they have since been detained without access to a lawyer.

Journalists arrested and sentenced

Since the death of Mahsa Amini in police custody on September 16, 2022, which sparked this wave of protests, numerous journalists have been arrested in Iran. One of them is Vida Rabbani. She was arrested on September 23, 2022 and sentenced to 11 years in prison for “assembly and collusion against national security”, “propaganda against the state”.

The judge that sentenced her also referred to a poem she posted on social media which equated Islamic prayer to kissing. According to the judge, this was a “desecration”.

Rabbani is not the only journalist arrested and sentenced harshly after being accused of acting against the regime. Since the outbreak of the protests in Iran, at least 67 journalists have been arrested, according to Iranian human rights organisations.

Ehsan Pirbernash is a journalist and humourist. He was arrested on October 28, 2022 and sentenced to 18 years in prison, on January 10, 2023. He was charged with “insulting Islam in a manner deemed blasphemous”, “inciting aggression against the Islamic Republic’s government” and “propaganda against the Islamic Republic’s system” for making a satirical criticisms of the government. His sentence is the harshest sentence given to a journalist since these protests began.

Nazila Maroufian is another journalist, arrested on October 30, 2022 after interviewing Mahsa Amini’s father. Maroufian was sentenced to two years suspended imprisonment for “propaganda against the state” and “inciting public opinion”. She was released on bail January 12, 2023.

Photo of Nazila Maroufian right after her release from prison, she shows a victory sign and has refused to wear a headscarf

Marzieh Amiri, another Iranian journalist, is now also on trial. She was arrested on October 31, 2022 and charged in her first trial with “assembly and collusion against national security” and “promoting immorality and prostitution”, allegedly because she wore her hair short, according to an account her sister posted on social media.

Niloufar Hamedi and Elaheh Mohammadi, two journalists who publicised Mahsa Amini’s death, have been in detention since October 26, 2022. They are charged with “assembly and collusion against national security”, “propaganda against the state”, Iranian intelligence also accused them of spying for the United States and of having been trained by the CIA.

Among the arrested protesters, the names of 720 university students, 46 lawyers and 97 artists are also listed. Farahnaz Nazeri is one of the arrested artists who has already been sentenced. She was sentenced to ten years in prison for “incitement to war and murder”, “propaganda against the state” and “promoting immorality and prostitution”.

Tthere are also dozens of prisoners in Iran who face execution after being charged with crimes that carry the death penalty. So far, Iran has executed four protesters and 13 others are sentenced to death.

Most of these harsh sentences, especially the death penalties, have been issued based on no evidence other than confessions that are extorted under severe duress, according to Amnesty International.

On January 27, Amnesty International called on the Iranian authorities to halt the imminent execution of three young Iranians Arshia Takdastan, 18, Mehdi Mohammadifard, 19, and Javad Rouhi, 31. Amnesty International said: “The Iranian authorities must immediately quash the unjust convictions and death sentences of three young protesters, who were subjected to gruesome torture including floggings, electric shocks, being hung upside down and death threats at gunpoint.”

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Amid gas shortages and blackouts, a harsh winter is fueling discontent in Iran

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For weeks, Iran has been hit by cold weather. In a country where most households rely on natural gas for heating and hot water, gas shortages in many regions have paralysed the population, leaving people in sub-zero temperatures. In some regions, schools and public facilities have even been closed. The gas shortage itself has led to widespread power outages in several cities, an increase in air pollution and even more protests, on top of the anti-regime protests that have been wracking Iran since September 2022.

Iran has the largest known reserves of natural gas in the world after Russia, but Tehran is unable to supply enough energy for domestic consumption. The Iranian regime rejoiced at the idea of a “harsh winter in Europe” that emerged after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

For months, Iranian authorities hoped that European governments would have no choice but to negotiate with Tehran to exchange Russian gas for Iranian gas to avoid their citizens freezing in their homes. But when winter arrived, it was in fact Iranians who were left out in the cold.

When Iran was hit by a cold snap in January 2023, the authorities initially had to close schools and many public facilities because there was no gas to heat them. Javad Owji, Iran’s petroleum minister, said on January 15, “The closure of schools, universities and government offices in Tehran has helped us a lot, we could save up to 2.5 million cubic metres of gas per day.”

But it wasn’t enough. Neighbourhoods and entire towns went without gas – and thus, without heating – while temperatures reached up to 20 or even 30 degrees below zero. Cities like Amol, Sabzevar, Neyshabur, Gorgan and many others had no more gas.

These gas outages not only led to outrage on social media, but also to a new wave of protests in some cities in Iran. Torbat-e-Jam was one of the cities where the gas outages led to public outrage and widespread protests.

‘Iran’s old and underdeveloped gas industry is not even able to use the country’s natural resources to meet its own needs’

Reza Gheibi is an Iranian economic journalist based in Turkey:

Iran is a country that still burns its natural gas produced from oil wells and is unable to collect it due to its outdated technology and machinery. According to a World Bank ranking, Iran ranks third in the world in this area [Editor’s note: known as oil flaring, or routine flaring], wasting more than $5 billion worth of gas every year in the exploitation of oil wells.

For decades, the Islamic Republic has not invested enough in its oil and gas industry, failing to develop it but also to sustain it. To improve the situation, Tehran needs a lot of money and advanced technologies, and there is none of that in Iran. It needs foreign companies to invest in this sector in Iran, but foreign companies do not risk their money in a country like Iran, where investments are risky and there are many international sanctions. Iran’s old and underdeveloped gas industry is not even able to use the country’s natural resources to meet its own needs.

But the gas shortage has had other effects: people are resorting to electricity to heat their homes and offices, putting even more pressure on the country’s power grid, which itself is mainly fed by power plants that burn natural gas.

Iranian households consume more than 700 million cubic metres of natural gas per day, while production is 850 million cubic metres. This means that power plants and many other industries that consume gas are without power. Production in many factories is at a standstill because they have no gas.

When factories stop working, there are fewer products on the market, and that means prices will continue to rise. The horizon is also gloomier. Since, on the one hand, there is no money to maintain and modernise the systems and, on the other hand, consumption is increasing, the gas and energy shortages will not only continue, but will worsen over time. To change this situation, Iran needs more than 80 billion euros, according to estimates by Iranian officials.

As a result, most cities are experiencing several widespread power cuts each week. To avoid general blackouts, the Iranian authorities took more drastic measures: in many cities, including the capital Tehran, city lights were switched off at night, including lights on many streets and highways.

Power outage in the Ashtehard industrial area. The whole area was plunged into darkness and many businesses had to stop working.

In Tehran, the lights on the highways were switched off. Some accidents occurred in the darkness on January 11.

 ‘The city has become strange and dark, and I feel unsafe’

Simin (not her real name) is an Iranian who lives in Tehran:

In the last three days we have had our electricity cut off twice for several hours. And each time, they told us by text message that the power was off because of a technical problem. But my main problem is that in many neighbourhoods the street and highway lights are switched off at night. In this way, the burden of lighting the public spaces has also fallen on citizens. The only source of light in these dark streets are the lights of the houses or shops. I do not go outside often, but every time I do, I am shocked to see the city in darkness. The city has become strange and dark, and I feel unsafe.

Darkened streets, alleys and highways are not only visible from the inside. Satellite images over Iran taken on cloudless nights show the difference.

Satellite images of Tehran, Isfahan and other regions in central Iran taken on summer nights in 2022 are brighter than the same regions in January 2023.

The photo on the right was taken on January 19, 2023 and the photo on the left was taken on October 18, 2022. The photo in January shows fewer lights in Tehran and Isfahan and in many other regions of Iran in winter. © Observers / NASA

‘Fewer women dare to go out in the streets’

Simin continued:

There are fewer and fewer people on the streets, in cafés or restaurants. After months of protests, the streets seem deserted, especially by the women who have been the engine of the protests for the last four months. We used to go without headscarves on the main streets to have people around us so that if the morality police gave us trouble, we would be defended by other people. Now that the main streets are in darkness, fewer women dare to go out in the streets.

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After the Failure Of Their Stablecoin Experiment, Iran And Russia Will Inevitably Adopt Bitcoin

This is an opinion editorial by Q Ghaemi, a stocks and bitcoin analyst and author of the Qweekly Update newsletter.

Earlier this month, reports surfaced that the Central Bank of Iran is working with the Russian Association Of The Crypto Industry And Blockchain to create a stablecoin that will be backed by gold to settle trade. This is not the first foray into the crypto universe for either country, nor will it be the last. But this venture will come to nothing, ultimately bringing both countries one step closer to adopting Bitcoin.

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