Archive – News & Analysis

Joint statement by EU High Representative Federica Mogherini and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif

Today, we have reached Implementation Day of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Ever since Adoption Day, we worked hard and showed mutual commitment and collective will to finally bring the JCPOA to implementation. Today, six months after finalisation of the historic deal, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has verified that Iran has implemented its nuclear related commitments under the JCPOA.

As Iran has fulfilled its commitments, today, multilateral and national economic and financial sanctions related to Iran’s nuclear programme are lifted in accordance with the JCPOA. The EU and E3+3 countries, consisting of the People’s Republic of China, the Republic of France, the Federal Republic of Germany, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and the United States of America, and Iran will also cooperate in the field of peaceful uses of nuclear energy, in the framework of the JCPOA.

UN sanctions related to Iran’s nuclear programme are lifted. United Nations Security Council resolution 2231 (2015), which endorsed the JCPOA, will from now onwards, together with the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), be the sole international legal framework related to Iran’s nuclear activities, terminating provisions of resolutions 1696 (2006), 1737 (2007), 1747 (2007), 1803 (2008), 1835 (2008), 1929 (2010) and 2224 (2015).

The EU has confirmed that the legal framework providing for the lifting of its nuclear-related economic and financial sanctions is effective. The United States today is ceasing the application of its nuclear-related statutory sanctions on Iran, including terminating relevant Executive Orders and licensing of certain activities, as specified in the JCPOA. The EU and the United States have issued relevant guidelines on the details of sanctions which have been lifted thus facilitating international engagement in Iran’s economic development. As foreseen, we will continue to thoroughly monitor and oversee the full and effective implementation of the JCPOA, exactly as agreed on 14 July 2015, through the Joint Commission, consisting of the E3+3 and Iran, and coordinated by the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. On its side, the IAEA is entrusted with the responsibility for the monitoring and verification of the JCPOA as well as of Iran’s obligations as a Party to Non-Proliferation Treaty and its safeguards agreement and the provisional application of its Additional Protocol.

We would like to use this opportunity to thank the Austrian Government for their hospitality and all those countries that supported the negotiation process and helped to implement some of the commitments under the JCPOA. We also wish to express our appreciation to all those who led these negotiations on behalf of Islamic Republic of Iran and E3/EU+3 since 2003. All sides remain firmly convinced that this historic deal is both strong and fair, and that it meets the requirements of all; its proper implementation will be a key contribution to improved regional and international peace, stability and security.

This achievement clearly demonstrates that with political will, perseverance, and through multilateral diplomacy, we can solve the most difficult issues and find practical solutions that are effectively implemented. This is an encouraging and strong message that the international community must keep in mind in our efforts to make the world a safer place.


Afghan refugees in Iran being sent to fight and die for Assad in Syria

Iran is recruiting Afghan refugees to fight in Syria, promising a monthly salary and residence permits in exchange for what it claims to be a sacred endeavour to save Shia shrines in Damascus.

The Fatemioun military division of Afghan refugees living in Iran and Syria is now the second largest foreign military contingent fighting in support of Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian president, after the Lebanese militia Hezbollah.

Iranian state-affiliated agencies reported in May that at least 200 Fatemioun members had been killed in Syria since the beginning of the war. How many more have died since is not clear.

Iran has always claimed it is participating in an advisory capacity in Syria, dispatching senior commanders to plan and oversee operations, but the Afghan involvement shows it is using other methods.

Recruitment is taking place on a daily basis in Mashhad and Qom, two Iranian cities with the largest population of Afghan refugees. Mashhad, the second most populous city in Iran, is only three hours’ drive from the country’s border with Afghanistan.

Iran is also accepting Afghans below the age of 18 provided they have written permission from their parents, the Guardian has learned. At least one 16-year-old Iran-based Afghan refugee was killed in Syria earlier this autumn. The rising number of funerals in Iran is a tangible sign revealing a greater involvement in the Syrian conflict in the wake of the Russian airstrikes.

Iranian terminology for those killed in Syria is “defenders of the holy shrine”. The Abolfazli mosque in eastern Mashhad’s Golshahr district – situated at the heart of an impoverished area accommodating most of the city’s Afghans – is the place where the refugees, usually young men, sign up on a daily basis to go and fight for Iran in Syria.

On an autumn morning this year, some 50 Afghans were queuing at the mosque, which is lacklustre and missing the dome and minaret that decorate some of the country’s most glittering, to put their name on the list. The requirements are simple: those interested have to prove they are Afghan, and singles or minors must have parental consent.

“This is mere exploitation of vulnerable people,” said Mujtaba Jalali, a 24-year-old Iranian-born Afghan refugee from Mashhad who has recently fled to Europe. Jalali, a professional photographer, has visited at least 10 funerals in his city held for Afghans who have lost their lives in Syria. The Guardian is publishing his photographs for the first time, some of which reveal the identities of the Fatemioun members killed.

Although Jalali was born in Iran, he has not been able to hold an Iranian nationality, in common with all Afghan children born there. People like Jalali face immense difficulties in continuing their education, having bank accounts, receiving paperwork to leave the country or have access to work in Iran.

“This is the war Iran is fighting at someone else’s expense,” Jalali said. “It’s Afghan refugees in Iran who are paying the price of Tehran’s support for Assad and they are being lied to about the real motives. It’s not religious, it’s political. Instead of protecting its refugees, Iran is using them.”

According to Jalali, most Iran-based Afghans, who are also Shia, are not going to Syria to risk their lives on religious grounds but because of the financial and stability benefits that their involvement will bring to them and their families. Nearly 1 million Afghans are registered as refugees in Iran but the country is believed to host at least 2 million more who are living illegally.

The crucial role of the Fatemioun division was highlighted earlier this week when an audio clip emerged of Qassem Suleimani, the Iranian commander of the Quds force, the external arm of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, recounting a personal memory in which he praises the Afghan involvement.

In the audio, Suleimani speaks of a recently killed Iranian soldier named Mostafa Sadrzadeh, who had disguised himself as an Afghan called Seyed Ebrahim in order to fight in the Syrian war. He was reported to have been killed in Syria last week.

“In Deir al-Adas [a village in southern Syria], I overheard someone who had a strong Tehrani accent over walkie-talkie,” Suleimani says, according to a transcript of the audio published on local agencies. “The next day they pointed him to me and said this is the guy. We didn’t let him in so he had gone to Mashhad and registered his name as an Afghan national in order to join the Fatemioun.”

Fatemioun was set up in Iran after the Syrian conflict started in 2011 with help from Afghan refugees who had previously cooperated with Iran, notably before the US invasion in 2001. Although it is not clear how many members it has, it was upgraded from a brigade to a military division, or lashkar, earlier this year, which is supposed to have between 10,000 to 12,000 members. Iranian agencies reported that its commander, Reza Khavari, was killed in Syria last month and it is not clear who has replaced him since.

An increasing number of senior Iranian Revolutionary Guards have also been killed in Syria in recent weeks, which shows how far Iran is prepared to go to keep its strategic influence in the country. In October, Hossein Hamedani, described as an elite and exceptional commander of the Iranian Guards, was killed in the vicinity of Aleppo.

Iran has deployed some of its most experienced commanders in Syria, according to Morad Veisi, a seasoned expert of the Iranian military prowess. The recent deaths show that Iranian commanders are operating in the middle of battlefields, although mostly in a commandeering capacity.

“The Afghan involvement has made a big difference for Iran and now they are providing more help to Iran than any other group except for Hezbollah,” Veisi told the Guardian. Afghans are deployed for combat purposes, although a few hold senior advisory roles.

Jalali was allowed to take photographs of the funerals in Mashhad because he was a member of the state-affiliated association of photographers. He was arrested during a photo shoot of one such funeral in Mashhad and his camera confiscated. He has since fled Iran and is seeking asylum in the Netherlands.

“I was hearing every day many Afghan refugees are going to fight for Iran and Bashar al-Assad in Syria and that was a big question in my mind. Why were they going?” he recalled. “Every week, I could see around 10 to 15 young men being brought back for burial in Mashhad. The Iranian authorities misuse the word ‘martyr’ whenever and wherever it suits them.

“Once, an Afghan refugee who has fought in Syria for Iran, who is a friend of mine, told me: ‘Tehran’s morgues are full of dead bodies killed in Syria.’”


Iran power struggle could derail nuclear deal

Diplomats issue warning amid concerns over health of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who would need to ratify any deal
By , Defence Editor

There are mounting fears that a deepening power struggle in Tehran over the succession for the powerful position of Supreme Leader could derail attempts to negotiate a deal over Iran’s nuclear programme.

Western diplomats involved in the negotiations believe the increasingly frail health of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the regime’s current Supreme Leader, has prompted a fierce power struggle between rival contenders as they jostle for the succession.

Concerns have grown over the health of Mr Khamenei, the country’s leading hardliner, after the 75-year-old underwent a series of operation for prostate cancer.

Recent reports in the Iranian media have suggested that his condition is terminal, and that the man who had dominated Iranian politics since the death of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the revolution’s founding father, in 1989 only has months to live.

In March Ayatollah Mohammed Yazdi, 84, a hardline ally of Mr Khamenei, was elected head of the Assembly of Experts, the religious body responsible for choosing the country’s new Supreme Leader when the position falls vacant.

Western diplomats say that one of Mr Khamenei’s protégés, Sadeq Larijani, the head of Iran’s judicial system and a noted hardliner, is positioning himself to be appointed the new Supreme Leader when the Assembly of Experts comes to make its decision.

Mr Larijani, 54, is the brother of Ali Larijani, Iran’s former chief nuclear negotiator who is now chairman of the Majlis, the Iranian parliament.

He is now reported to be conducting a purge against more moderate ayatollahs who might put their names forward to become the country’s new Supreme Leader.

For example, Mr Larijani has recently launched a judicial inquiry into allegations of corruption made against the moderate ayatollah, Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi, who is a leading ally of Iran’s former moderate president, Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani.

By launching the inquiry, diplomats believe Mr Larijani has effectively ended Mr Shahroudi’s chances of standing for election.

The renewed bout of political in-fighting in Tehran is causing particular concern for Western diplomats involved in negotiations to resolve the stand-off over Iran’s nuclear programme.

June 30 has been set as the date for a final agreement to be reached, whereby Iran agrees to scale down the elements of its programme that could be used to develop nuclear weapons in return for the easing of crippling economic sanctions.

After years of negotiations, U.S. officials believe a deal is within reach that for a decade would keep Iran at least a year from being able to build a nuclear weapon.

But any final agreement negotiated between Iran and representatives of the so-called P5+1 – the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and Iran – needs to be ratified by the Supreme Leader.

In the past attempts to achieve a breakthrough in the long-running dispute have failed because Mr Khamenei and other hardliners in Iran’s Revolutionary Guards have refused to accept any deal negotiated with the U.S..

Now Western negotiators fear the current round of negotiations could suffer a similar fate as a result of the political in-fighting taking place in Tehran.

“With so many people jockeying for position, the hardliners will be tempted to prove their revolutionary credentials by vetoing any deal with the U.S.,” explained a senior Western diplomat.

“The fear now is that this could jeopardise any progress we make in resolving the issue and lifting the sanctions.”

How a fatal car crash in Iran exposed growing anger towards super-rich

Ordinary Iranians feeling the pinch of sanctions lash out at occupants of luxury cars that have come to symbolise the opulence of Tehran’s ‘rich kids’

The death of a glamorous 20-year-old woman in a high-speed car accident in a canary yellow Porsche in Tehran has stirred up anger about the growing wealth gap in Iran.

An immediate media buzz led curious social media users to an Instagram page set up by friends of Parivash Akbarzadeh, and this soon became a clearing house for all manner of sentiments regarding Akbarzadeh’s death.

Followers of her personal Instagram page increased from 20,000 to 40,000 in just a few days, while users shared 18,000 comments. Stunning photos decorating the page contrasted with many comments expressing hatred and disgust.

“You should have known this day would come after you walked around outdoors looking like that,” wrote a user named Sara. “You got what was coming to you.”

“This is what happens to jumped-up rich kids,” a user named Elahe wrote repeatedly under the stream of Akbarzadeh’s photos.

Akbarzadeh had her supporters. Many regarded her as a celebrity. They mourned her and honoured her life through comments and poems, and attacked those who spoke ill of her. “You savages are the lowest of the low, circling her grave like a bunch of drooling hyenas,” wrote Nasser. “Get bent, you aren’t worth a fraction of what she was.”

The passenger in the Porsche, Mohammad Hossein Rabbani-Shirazi, died a few hours after the accident. He had purchased the car just a few days earlier and had allowed Akbarzadeh to take him for a spin.

But his identity added further drama because he was the grandson of Ayatollah Rabbani-Shirazi, once an aid to Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, leader of the 1979 Revolution.

Ayatollah Abdolrahim Rabbani-Shirazi took part in the revolution and then acted as the representative of Khomeini in three of Iran’s provinces and sat on the body tasked with writing a new constitution. He was also a member of the Guardian Council, the Islamic constitutional watchdog, until his death – ironically in a car crash – in 1982.

This regime connection to the fatal accident in a Porsche, the symbol par excellence of Tehran’s rich kids, further inflamed many social media users and may have prompted an intervention by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Khomeini’s successor as Iran’s supreme leader. On 26 April, Khamenei strongly criticised young Tehranis flaunting luxury cars as a sign of “emotional insecurity” and accused them of being “intoxicated by pride in wealth”. He called on the police to produce “a plan for confronting all of the different aspects of insecurity facing society”.

Nor was Khamenei the first to speak in such terms. Whether he knew it or not, he was echoing the words of someone he has kept under house arrest for four years for supporting street protests after the disputed 2009 presidential election.

“We’re opposed to this kind of unabashed affluence,” Mir Hossein Mousavi told voters in the poor southern Tehran neighbourhood of Naazy Abad in March 2009, in the first speech of his presidential campaign. “When the wealthy parade their luxury cars in front of the less fortunate, it constitutes an oppression of the working classes.”

The increasing sight of luxury vehicles has brought the issue of inequality onto Iran’s streets. Just past the prominent overpass on grand Mir Damad Avenue, I run into Yaqoub. He’s 40-ish and dressed in a tattered shirt that seems tailor made for his face. Yaqoub’s appearance illustrates the Tehrani colloquialism of “carton-sleeper” because with the most basic lodgings in the capital beyond his means, he has to sleep in a cardboard box.

“I swear to the eighth Imam [an 8th-century Shia leader whose shrine is in Mashhad, Iran], I haven’t eaten for a whole day. I have no work and no money. When I panhandle, no one gives me anything. I’m not old enough for them to feel pity for me yet. People slap me around and tell me to go get a job.”

If an empty belly weren’t enough, Yaqoub has nicotine craving to nurse. He fishes a packet of cheap Farvardeen cigarettes out of a pocket, strikes a match, and takes a drag.

“I swear to God, it’s debilitating,” he says. “Well, I was only a kid then, but I well recall that during the revolution they spoke of the oppressed, ‘the revolution of the barefooted’. Look at me, and there are thousands like me in this town, a million even. How is it that we don’t have something to eat or a place to lay down our heads?

“And then when you look up, all you see are magnificent towers along this street. May they live happy lives. I don’t begrudge them their wealth, but maybe a bit should flow down to us. I am illiterate, have no money, and no family. Where am I to turn? Wasn’t the revolution supposed to help us, the destitute?”

Contrasting Yaqoub’s life with the well-to-do today raises a question: How did the 1979 revolution affect the economic inequality that existed during rule of Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi?

The fatal Porsche crash in north Tehran triggered heated debate on social media, but not for the first time. Just last year, the unabashed display of wealth on an Instagram page called #richkidsoftehran rankled a lot of Iranians. Photos showed young people lounging around in opulent Tehran penthouses, or in deluxe villas in the wealthy neighbourhood of Lavassan or on the shores of the Caspian Sea. Other pictures showed them in the latest model Porches and Maseratis. Throughout they are dressed in well-known western brands, their eyes exuding carelessness and pleasure – everything the 1979 revolution was supposed to banish.

The pages met a vociferous reaction not just from young, left-leaning social activists, but from a vast swath of the online community who found the pictures abhorrent. Soheila, 23, is a graphic design student living in the affluent neighbourhood of Shahrak-e Gharb, in western Tehran. She has what look like authentic Gucci sunglasses poised on her highlighted hair as she sips coffee at a gently lit, fashionable cafe.

“There is nothing wrong with being wealthy, but these nouveau riche kids show off in a despicable way,” she says. “Well, I’m doing okay myself, if not as well as these bastards. But still, when I attend a party, I don’t rush to post pictures from it on Facebook or Instagram. I’m a student and all of my friends are on my friend lists. Most of them have ordinary lives.

“Showing off your wealth is in really bad taste because we don’t live in a wealthy country. It’s not like this is Kuwait or Switzerland, or, I don’t know, Monaco. How many poor people do we have? The walls of our city are plastered with ads of people selling kidneys, and these sons of bitches are posting photos of themselves in their father’s swimming pool?”

According to the latest statistics published by the chair of the Majles’s Social Commission, the index of economic disparity between the lowest and the highest earners has reached 15. In a speech on “the effects of social forces”, Taqi Azad-Barmaki, sociology professor at Tehran University, claimed: “Nowhere in the world does income inequality exist as it does here… In fact, Iran is about the most stratified society in the world.”

In its latest UN Millennium Development Goals report, Iran ranked 68 out of 136 nations in terms of income inequality in 2013. But a member of the editorial board at Ebrar-e Eghtesadi (Daily Economic News) told Tehran Bureau: “Don’t forget that the 2014 UN Human Development report’s index was for 2012 and 2013, before the escalation of economic sanctions and soon after the dismantling of the social economic subsidies [the programme to phase out subsidies of everyday items including bread and energy]. The socioeconomic divergence of the last three years due to these two powerful events has been traumatic. We will see that only in subsequent UN reports.”

A review of Iran’s central bank statistics finds that the divergence of annual income between the bottom and top 10% has surpassed 810m rials (£18,466, $28,493). Wealthy families have 14 times more income than poor ones, while in larger cities the subsistence line has reached 12m rials (£273.50, $422).

Professor Hossein Raqfar, economics professor at Tehran’s Al-Zahra university, recently said that the real subsistence line in large cities is 25m rials (£570, $879) per month.

High inflation has been cited as one of the main causes. According to Iran’s Khabar Online news agency, commodity inflation is 40%, unemployment 25%, housing inflation 125%, and the devaluation of the national currency 113%. Furthermore, it suggests that the 370% increase in residential rents over the past eight years is the main reason for the rise in Iran’s poverty index.

Saeed, a cab driver who has a black shirt and an untrimmed white beard in the manner depicting a regime devotee, says: “I fought in the (Iran-Iraq) war for seven years, and was left with a piece of shrapnel in my shoulder, gastrointestinal ills from chemical weapons, and a heart attack as a result.”

He pauses while reaching under his steering wheel to pull out a wrapped wad of pills.

“I have to take these pills all day, under my tongue. A miserable being like me has to work from dawn to midnight and then they just pass all the wealth to a bunch of thieving capitalists. No one has ever asked me, ‘How is your life with so much illness and pain?’ This is my life and that of so many more. They duped us. The filthy bastards agitated for us to go and fight for Islam, for Iran. So, we offered our youth, our lives, for this?”

Saeed drops a passenger off on Vozara Street and continues toward Vali Asr Square. “Forgive my foul mouth. I guess I have a full belly after all. I get passengers who go to Farmanieh, Zafaranieh, Upper Jordan, and Fereshteh [better-off areas in north Tehran] and man, you feel like you’re going into another world.

“It’s as if those places are totally apart from the rest of our town. I can’t believe we are a mere 10km away, only ten minutes in light traffic. That’s heart wrenching. One is my world, a world of constant pressures, hot and frigid, with quarrelsome passengers, all for 500,000 rials a day (£11, $17.50); and then there is their world.

“I have been sentenced to witness all of this, every day. I have been sentenced with the memory of rising up in revolution, the memory of fighting in the war. By God, this is a grave injustice.”



A journey through Iran: Eye-opening photographs reveal an enchanting, mysterious and rarely seen side of the country

  • Photographer Amos Chapple took this stunning collection of images over three trips to the Islamic state
  • Striking photos show the contrast between the country’s unspoilt rural villages and the ultra-modern capital Tehran 

PUBLISHED: 12:10 GMT, 29 May 2013


It is perceived as one of the most introverted countries in the world with a policy of eradicating any outside influence from foreign nations.

But a photographer’s stunning collection of images from his journey through the Republic of Iran offers a rare insight into what life in the Islamic state is really like.

With its tiny villages nestled into the side of mountains and picturesque farm land, which is rarely seen by outsiders, the country is as enchanting as it is mysterious.

But photographer Amos Chapple said the real surprise of Persia was not its untouched and beautiful countryside, but how different it is from ‘western perceptions of the country’.

Palangan Village, in the mountains near the Iraq border

Palangan Village, in the mountains near the Iraq border. Palangan, illustrative of many of the country’s rural settlements, has benefited handsomely from government support. Many villagers are employed in a nearby fish farm, or are paid members of the Basij, whose remit includes prevention of ‘westoxification’, and the preservation of everything the 1979 Islamic revolution and its leader the Ayatollah Khomeini stood for, including strict rules on female clothing and male/female interaction.

Two shepherds lead Palangan's flock of communally-owned sheep out to pasture

Two shepherds lead Palangan’s flock of communally-owned sheep out to pasture. The government’s spending in some rural regions has bought them a network of loyal followers who can be scrambled at any time to crush trouble in the urban centers. Rural Basij were used as a part of the crackdown in 2009 which resulted in the deaths of seven anti-government protestors.

A group of friends in the hills above Tehran

A group of friends in the hills above Tehran. Many (every single one I met) young Iranians feel deeply embarrassed by their government, and the way the nation is perceived abroad. Zac Clayton, a British cyclist who will finish a round-the-world cycle on March 23 described Iran as having the kindest people of any country he cycled through. ‘I found most Iranians — particularly the younger generation — to be very aware of the world around them… with a burning desire for the freedoms they feel they are being denied by an out of touch, ultra-conservative religious elite.’

Chapple, from New Zealand, has visited the Islamic Republic of Iran three times between December 2011 and January 2013 to accumulate his series of photographs.

And he claims while the government continues its anti-western campaign, he found a growing discontent among the country’s youth who were embarrassed by the actions of its leaders.

He said: ‘I was amazed by the difference in western perceptions of the country and what I saw on the ground.

‘I think because access for journalists is so difficult, people have a skewed image of what Iran is – the regime actually want to portray the country as a cauldron of anti-western sentiment so they syndicate news footage of chanting nutcases which is happily picked up by overseas networks.

The Mausoleum of Ayatollah Khomeini in Tehran. Work on the unfinished building has dragged over 23 years. With growing economic chaos in the country, its completion is still nowhere in sight.

The Mausoleum of Ayatollah Khomeini in Tehran. Work on the unfinished building has dragged over 23 years. With growing economic chaos in the country, its completion is still nowhere in sight.

At the Sa'adabad Palace complex in northern Tehran, Islamic revolutionaries sawed a statue of the deposed Shah in half

At the Sa’adabad Palace complex in northern Tehran, Islamic revolutionaries sawed a statue of the deposed Shah in half. Today schoolchildren are taken on group visits past the boots and into the palace to see the decadence of the former Shah’s living quarters.

A young worker walks through the light of a stained glass window in the Tehran Bazaar

A young worker walks through the light of a stained glass window in the Tehran Bazaar. Under Khomeini Iranians were actively encouraged to produce large families. By 2009 nearly 70 per cent of all Iranians were under 30, but according to some reports, the country is the least religious in the Middle East. Instead of the “armies for Islam” Khomeini had called for, the youthful population is now seen as the biggest threat to the deeply unpopular regime.

A commemorative plate of the former Shah of Iran in an antique store in Shiraz

A commemorative plate of the former Shah of Iran in an antique store in Shiraz. The Shah was given an Authoritarian hold on power thanks to an MI6 and CIA-backed coup in 1953 which deposed Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh and cost the lives of several hundreds of Iranian citizens. “Operation Ajax” was actioned after Mosaddegh nationalized the petroleum industry of Iran, thus shutting out British dominance of an industry they had controlled since 1913. That Mosaddeqh had been a democratically-elected leader, with wide popular support fueled resentment at the Shah, who many saw as a brutal puppet for the west. The anger at western intervention stoked strong initial support for the virulently anti-western Ayatollah Khomeini.

Azadi (Freedom) Tower, the gateway to Tehran designed in 1966 by a then 24 year old Hossein Amanat
Detail of Persepolis. After the Islamic Revolution, hardline clerics called for the destruction of the site, but official unease prevailed

Azadi (Freedom) Tower, the gateway to Tehran designed in 1966 by a then 24 year old Hossein Amanat, pictured left. As a practicing Bahai’i Hossein was forced to flee Iran after the Islamist government labeled followers of the religion ‘unprotected infidels’. He now lives in Canada. Pictured right is a detail of Persepolis. After the Islamic Revolution, hardline clerics called for the destruction of the site, but official unease prevailed.

Detail of Persepolis, the seat of the Ancient Persian empire

Detail of Persepolis, the seat of the Ancient Persian empire. The Arab conquest of Persia led to a an Islamification of Iran but Farsi, the Iranian language, has remained alive. The 11th century poet Ferdowsi, described as ‘Iran’s Homer’, wrote an epic in Farsi which was carefully crafted with minimal Arabic influence. The ‘Book of Kings’ has been credited with helping preserve the Farsi language – one of the world’s oldest. The Book of Kings ends with the Arab invasion, depicted as a disaster for Persia.

‘For ordinary Iranians though, the government is a constant embarrassment.

‘In the time I spent there I never received anything but goodwill and decency, which stands in clear contrast to my experience in other middle eastern countries.’

In one striking image, the tiny village of Palangan in the mountains near the Iraq border can be seen lit up among the hills.

Many rural settlements in the country are propped up by government funding with villagers often being paid members of the Basij – whose remit includes prevention of ‘westoxification’.

A man in southern Tehran, the working class region of the city

A man in southern Tehran, the working class region of the city. In the past 14 months, tightened sanctions have nearly halved the value of Iran’s currency and fueled soaring inflation (source). Life is becoming drastically difficult for ordinary Iranians but many feel powerless to change the situation. Said one Tehrani ‘we’re not naive like the Arabs to think a violent uprising will magically fix everything. We’ve had our revolution… and things only got worse.’

Women in the hills above Tehran at dusk

Women in the hills above Tehran at dusk. Concealing clothing in the Islamic Republic, including head coverings, is mandatory for women, but the exact definition of ‘modest’ is flexible, leading to a tug of war between young females and the authorities each spring. Outside metro stations female police can be seen regularly checking the passers by. If a woman’s dress is considered “immodest” she is arrested and taken into custody. In 2010 a senior cleric in Tehran blamed the frequency of earthquakes in Iran on women who ‘lead young men astray’ with their revealing clothing.

View of central Tehran from inside a minaret in Sepahsalar Mosque.

Bright lights, developing city: View of central Tehran from inside a minaret in Sepahsalar Mosque

A worker inside Vakil Mosque, Shiraz

A worker inside Vakil Mosque, Shiraz. The mosque now serves as a tourist attraction but sees only a trickle of visitors. Although tourism is on the increase, western tourists still make up only 10 per cent of the total. One tourist guide said westerners are scared away by the bloodcurdling rhetoric of a government which is completely out of touch with ordinary Iranians.

Two soldiers being attacked inside the Tehran metro after an argument

Two soldiers being attacked inside the Tehran metro after an argument. The soldier was punched in the head at least four times by an angry crowd of mostly well-dressed young men. Both soldiers were forced to leave the metro at the next station.

Their role is to help preserve the Islamic way of life, such as the strict rules on female clothing and the interaction of men and women, which became immersed in Iranian law in the 1979 Islamic revolution.

Wearing head coverings is mandatory for women and female police can be seen regularly checking commuters’ dress in the city. Chapple said woman are arrested if their dress is considered to be ‘immodest’.

Other images capture groups of young friends in the hills above the country’s capital Tehran who he said were frustrated with the dated regime in the country.

Chapple said: ‘I found most Iranians – particularly the younger generation – to be very aware of the world around them… with a burning desire for the freedoms they feel they are being denied by an out of touch, ultra-conservative religious elite.’

A mural painted on the wall of the former American embassy in Tehran

A mural painted on the wall of the former American embassy in Tehran. Murals such as this are at odds with statistics showing that, despite American sanctions, and the American-led coup against a elected and popular prime minister, more Iranians feel positively about America than do Turks or Indians.

Public transport: Two young twins wear matching shirts on the Tehran Metro

Public transport: Two young twins wear matching shirts on the Tehran Metro

In Tehran, a collection of modern art valued at $2.5 billion is held by the Museum of Contemporary Art

In Tehran, a collection of modern art valued at $2.5 billion is held by the Museum of Contemporary Art. In a little-publicized exhibition in 2011 the works, including pieces by Warhol (pictured), Pollock, Munch, Hockney and Rothko were put on display for the first time since 1979 when the owner of the art, Queen Farah Pahlavi was forced to flee Iran with her husband, the late Shah of Iran.

A Kurdish man settles in for a night of guarding some roadworking machinery in the mountains near the Iran/Iraq border

A Kurdish man settles in for a night of guarding some roadworking machinery in the mountains near the Iran/Iraq border. The border is rife with smugglers who carry alcohol from Iraq (where alcohol is legal) into the villages on the Iranian side. From there it is transported by vehicle to the cities. In Tehran a can of beer on the black market fetches around $10 USD.

A shepherd leads his flock out to pasture in the mountains on the Iran/Iraq border

Up in the hills: A shepherd leads his flock out to pasture in the mountains on the Iran/Iraq border



Iran prepares for high-stakes presidential election

Hashemi Rafsanjani’s last-minute entry makes race more unpredictable, but many voters have bitter memories of 2009
Ian Black, Middle East editor, and Tehran Bureau correspondents The Guardian, Monday 13 May 2013 16.02 BST


Iranian elections

Images of Ayatollahs Khomeini and Khamenei adorn the wall of the Iranian ministry where election candidates are registered. Photograph: Atta Kenare/AFP/Getty Images

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran‘s supreme leader, gazes down from a giant coloured backdrop that adorns the wall of the Tehran ministry that has been registering candidates for next month’s presidential election. Slightly above and behind him are the unmistakably baleful features of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini – a reminder that the political system of the Islamic Republic he founded back in 1979 remains as complex and opaque as ever.

Next month millions of Iranians will vote for a replacement for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the abrasive populist Khamenei anointed in 2005 and who won a second term four years later in a contest which that is widely believed to have been rigged. Mir-Hossein Mousavi, the Green movement leader who claimed victory in 2009, is still under house arrest, his supporters in disarray, in prison or in exile.

Barring the unexpected – albeit a regular feature of Iran’s idiosyncratic polls – no one openly in the opposition will be permitted to run on 14 June. But Saturday’s last-minute registration of Hashemi Rafsanjani, a powerful former president and the pragmatic éminence grise of Iranian politics for decades, has dramatically overturned the assumption that this will be a contest only between dyed-in-the-wool conservatives.

It is a complicated business – for Iranians as well as foreigners. “One constant of our elections is the big surprise,” laughs Farah, a middle-aged professional. “Another is the way Iranians appear uninterested but will rush and vote at the last minute.” Even experts are confused. “Many questions remain to be answered,” admitted Sadegh Zibakalam, an astute Tehran University political scientist.

The stakes are certainly high – for the Islamic Republic and perhaps the world. Iran’s nuclear confrontation with the west, international sanctions, a disastrous economic crisis and hopes for domestic change could all be affected by the result. “The battle for the presidency is not just about the executive branch but the future direction of Iran as a whole,” argues Mohammad Ali Shabani, editor of the Iranian Review of Foreign Affairs.

Iranian newspapers Iranian newspapers announce the candidacy of Hashemi Rafsanjani, a powerful former president. Photograph: Atta Kenare/AFP/Getty ImagesIran’s state media is already praising the exemplary organisation of the polls and predicting a huge turnout – to be trumpeted as proof of a fully functioning democratic system. Yet beneath the officially orchestrated enthusiasm there is a sense of apathy – not least because of the bitter memories of how the protests that erupted after the announcement of Ahmadinejad’s 2009 victory were ruthlessly crushed.

“These elections will be rigged just like the last ones,” predicts Morvarid, an insurance executive, who does not believe that any candidates who are out of ideological step with Khamenei will survive vetting by the jurists of the guardian council. Other sceptics say they will vote to avoid punishment but will spoil their ballots.

The counter-argument is that this suddenly exciting election might make a real difference. “If we do not participate then they [the regime] will have the majority and will get on with their agenda,” warns Mohammad, 25.

But Parisa, his student girlfriend, counters furiously: “What happened in the last elections proved only one thing and that is that we’re not important. Our friends were beaten, jailed, even raped – for what? Some left the country. Several died or are still unaccounted for. If we vote it means that we condone everything that happened to us and to our friends.” Loyalists say it is their duty to help defend the Islamic revolution.

“It’s deja vu,” says Ali Ansari of St Andrews University. “The last election is casting an enormous shadow over this one. It’s affecting the way everyone is behaving. Sure, the regime needs a bit of theatre to generate interest, but they will stop well short of allowing anything like last time to happen. There is an overwhelming cynicism about the system. People are not going to be duped again.”

Tehran bazaar Iranians walk in the old bazaar in Tehran. Many say economic concerns are key to this election. Photograph: Vahid Salemi/APAhmadinejad’s successor will be chosen from a field that includes the Khamenei hyper-loyalist Saeed Jalili, a high-profile nuclear negotiator. Hassan Rowhani, who also handled the nuclear issue, is more centrist. Mohammed Baqer Qalibaf, the Tehran mayor and a former senior revolutionary guard officer, combines a modernising agenda with a reputation for competent management. Ali Akbar Velayati, a one-time foreign minister, is another strong conservative candidate.

Rafsanjani’s last-minute decision – “the triumph of hope over experience”, quipped one pundit – is intriguing. Now 78, he has a record going back to before the 1979 revolution, and is credited with having persuaded Khomeini to end the ruinous eight-year war with Iraq.

Beaten by Ahmadinejad in 2005, he did not openly back the Greens in 2009 but he did urge the government to address people’s grievances afterwards. Unlike Mohammed Khatami, the reformist president whose 1997-2005 tenure is now bathed in a retrospective golden glow, Rafsanjani has kept channels to Khamenei open.

“Iran is always puzzling because it doesn’t lend itself to simplification,” muses Roberto Toscano, Italy’s ambassador to Iran when Ahmadinejad first won. “This time the complexities and contradictions are really wild. The supreme leader wants a subservient and disciplined sidekick but he also needs a president to solve some very delicate problems. The supreme leader had a very bad surprise with Ahmadinejad. He thought he would be his altar boy but it turned out that Ahmadinejad wanted to be the priest.”

Khamenei – whose theocratic authority is backed by the revolutionary guards, intelligence services, the judiciary and religious endowments – retains control of national security issues including Syria and nuclear policy. He has already warned Iranians not to vote for candidates who advocate a conciliatory approach towards the US. Still, a president with credibility can serve his purposes too.

“This election is necessary to boost the self-confidence of the regime in nuclear talks, in dealings with the outside world and to prove to Iranians that the regime is solid and in control,” says a veteran analyst. “With a big turnout the regime can say: ‘We got out 40 million voters in elections that were held peacefully and with massive support: you have to deal with us; we are here to stay.'”

Saeed Jalili Saeed Jalili, right, a Khamenei hyper-loyalist, registers his candidacy. Photograph: Behrouz Mehri/AFP/Getty ImagesRepression, intimidation and censorship of opposition journalists mean that there is less talk about issues and more about personalities. But the sorry state of the economy is clearly the main worry. The consensus among experts is that it is in the worst shape it has been since the end of the war with Iraq in 1988.

“It doesn’t matter to me who becomes the president, but by God’s grace, I hope it’s someone who can resolve the nation’s economic problems,” said Hamid Reza, a middle-aged government employee. “I am sick of the stress and worrying about daily price rises and inflation.”

But Morvarid, the insurance executive, insists that it is political change that really matters. “I’m struggling with the economic situation, but I’m not going to buy their rubbish about how much they’re going to fix everything,” she says. “If someone can come and improve the political situation – even without necessarily improving the economy – that person gets my vote over an undemocratic candidate who happens to know the economy.”

Only reformists dare to say openly that bread-and-butter problems are linked inextricably to foreign policy. “Iranians feel that if there can be better relations with the west things will improve economically at home,” argues Mohamed Karoubi, whose father Mehdi ran alongside Mousavi last time – and who also remains under house arrest. “The people are under heavy pressure. They are suffering from a shortage of medicines. Everyone has problems because of the sanctions.”

With a month to go before polling day there is plenty of scope for further drama. Observers say one crucial question is whether Ahmadinejad’s controversial former aide – Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, who is loathed by Khamenei and his supporters – will be allowed to run.

If he is disqualified, some believe that the outgoing president, who remains in office, may turn openly on Khamenei – perhaps by spilling the beans on what really happened in 2009 or by refusing to rig the results again. It is also tantalisingly unclear whether Rafsanjani will be a serious candidate or intends rather to play the role of kingmaker.

“I wonder,” ponders Ansari, “if this is a technocratic/reformist last-ditch attempt to seize back the Islamic Republic through the ballot box.”

In any event it would be wrong to dismiss this election as meaningless, as do radical opponents of the regime. Significant changes took place, after all, under both Rafsanjani and Khatami. “Iran is not a democracy but it is not a totally centralised Soviet-style system either,” says a respected Iranian observer who is now in exile.

“There is a degree of political debate about the distribution of resources, transparency and administration. This limited debate gives the system sufficient flexibility to correct some of its mistakes. It also sucks all the energy away from the idea of overthrowing the regime.”

Individual choices count, with many still influenced by, and fiercely loyal to, Khomeini’s vision. “Look, the main thing at stake is the protection of the regime from foreign influence,” said Mohammad, an engineer with the paramilitary Basij.

“When I vote, my main priority is to help contribute to a strong base of support for the revolution and the supreme leader, and then I vote for whoever I believe is the most fitting candidate.”




Reporters Without Borders learned today of the arrests of three more journalists, bringing to 16 the number detained in a renewed crackdown on media personnel in Tehran that began a week ago.

In all, a total of 42 journalists and 20 netizens are now detained in Iran, which makes it one of the world’s biggest prisons for news providers.

The two latest detainees are Rihaneh Tabtabai, a journalist with the daily Bahar, who was arrested yesterday, and Ali Dehghan, Bahar’s business editor, who was arrested the day before.

The third newly-reported arrest is that of Fatemeh Sagharchi of the news website Jamaran, who was detained on 26 January “in connection with the current crackdown on journalists,” her lawyer, Mahmoud Alizadeh, said. Like Tabtabai and Dehghan, she was arrested by plain-clothes intelligence officers.

In a statement on 29 January, the intelligence ministry accused the journalists of belonging to “a media network linked to the West, created by the BBC and managed in cooperation with several western governments.”

The statement added that more journalists “could be arrested or summoned in the coming days as the investigation proceeds, or that some detainees could be released.”

“Thirty-four years to the day after the Islamic Republic’s founder, Ayatollah Rooholah Khomeini, returned from France and contrary to his promises to respect fundamental freedoms, Iran is one of the world’s biggest prisons for news providers, with a total of 62 journalists and netizens detained,” Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Christophe Deloire said.

“Khomeini’s successor as Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, has stepped up the war against journalists and the demonization of the foreign press and new media. Iranian journalists and intellectuals have for 34 years been branded as spies in the pay of western governments, charges never proved in a fair trial as that does not exist in Iran. The justice system is just a tool controlled by the Supreme Leader, who appoints its chief and uses it to crush hopes for more freedom.

“This new wave of arrests is sending a very clear signal to those journalists who do not content themselves with repeating the regime’s propaganda. The authorities are making it clear that, in advance of next June’s elections, they are preparing to suppress any attempt by the media to cover any protests that might arise and the crackdown on protests.”

It is ironic now to listen to what Ayatolloh Khomeini said on his arrival in Iran on 1 February 1979 (12 Bahman, in the Iranian calendar). He said: “The people are sovereign and master of their fate, and their choice must be respected. But by what right do those who voted determine the fate and future of subsequent generations, 50 years later. The fate of each generation is in its hands.”

Go to the website to see Ayatollah Khomeini’s first public speech in Behesht-e Zahra cemetery

More information about “Black Sunday” and freedom of information in Iran:

List of journalists arrested since 26 January:

26 January

  • Milad Fadai Asl (news agency ILNA)
  • Soliman Mohammadi (newspaper Bahar)
  • Fatemeh Sagharchi (news website Jamaran)

27 January (“Black Sunday”)

  • Sasan Aghai (newspaper Etemad)
  • Nasrin Takhayori (newspaper Etemad)
  • Javad Daliri (newspaper Etemad)
  • Emily Amrai (newspaper Arman)
  • Nargus Jodaki (newspaper Arman)
  • Saba Azarpik (freelancer for various reformist newspapers)
  • Porya Alami (newspaper Shargh)
  • Pejman Mousavi (newspaper Bahar)
  • Akbar Montajabi (weekly Aseman)

28 January

  • Kivan Mehregan (freelancer for various reformist newspapers)
  • Hossein Yaghchi (weekly Aseman)

30 January

  • Ali Dehghan (newspaper Bahar)

31 January

  • Rihaneh Tabtabai (newspaper Bahar)

Iran gives hunger-striking trade unionist five-day bail

Tuesday 08 January 2013 by Foreign Desk

Jailed Iranian trade unionist Reza Shahabi was temporarily released on bail late on Monday night following more than three weeks on hunger strike.

The Tehran bus workers’ union Vahed treasurer was let out of prison for five days to address his health problems.

Mr Shahabi was released from Evin prison at around 10.30pm without any prior notification. He ended his 23-day hunger strike when he got home to his family an hour later.

He has been in jail since June 2010 when he was sentenced to six years in prison, a five-year ban on union activity and a £3,500 fine.

Mr Shahabi was severely beaten during his interrogation and his health has deteriorated massively.

He underwent major surgery on his neck and spine last August with doctors saying he needed at least two months rest at home and was “incable of withstanding any further punishment.”

Despite that he was hauled back to the notorious Ward 350 of Evin jail, used to house “political” prisoners following a 2010 post-election crackdown on labour and rights activists.

Inmates claim that dissident blogger Sattar Beheshti was severely beaten there by Iranian security services in November shortly before his death.

On December 15 Mr Shahabi was taken to hospital but guards refused to allow him proper examination and forced him back to the prison with threats of beatings and insults.

Five more political prisoners joined his hunger strike on January 5 in support of his demand for proper access to medical care.

Iran solidarity group Codir assistant general secretary Jamshid Ahmadi urged people to keep up the international campaign for Mr Shahabi and other political prisoners’ release.

The International Transport Workers Federation, French union confederation CGT, Canadian union Cupe, Britain’s TUC and many other international workers’ bodies have demanded his release.

“It is obvious that the international campaign for his release and improvement of his conditions has played a significant part,” said Mr Ahmadi.

“Reza Shabi should not be returned to prison. He is a trade unionist and has not committed any wrong except campaigning for the rights of workers.”


Ayatollah Khomeini’s pro-democracy granddaughter: I fear arrest

A granddaughter of Iran’s first Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, has attacked the current regime’s “deviation” from the goals of his revolution, criticised leaders for failing to allow democracy to flourish, and said she fears arrest and jail.
By Damien McElroy, and Ahmad Vahdat
14 Dec 2012

Naeimeh Eshraghi, a Tehran-based engineer, has told The Daily Telegraph that she wants to see an opening up of Iranian society with people free to express themselves.

But she also warned the West that the crippling sanctions being imposed on Iran were having the effect of increasing the suffering of the people while having little impact on the leaders.

Mrs Eshraghi is an enthusiastic user of Facebook and has on occasion shared her pro-democracy views and made critical comments about the country’s leadership. She has built up a following of about 5,000 friends on her account, which she can access only by using illegal “filtering busting” technology that circumvents the country’s firewall.

She said she felt it was a duty to resist the increasingly harsh system imposed by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, her grandfather’s successor as a Supreme Leader.

“My grandfather’s system of spiritual guidance of the government rested its legitimacy on people’s consent,” she said. “Today this theory of government has split many sections of our society from the regime and has led to a deviation from the earlier right path of the revolution.”

Mrs Eshraghi – a qualified petrochemical engineer who last year supported a campaign against laws requiring women to wear hijabs – objects to the government’s efforts to close off Iran’s internet users from the world.

“It is high time that the governments of Iran resorted to practicing democracy and refrained from confronting individuals and non-government groups. It should stop fearing the transfer of new communications technology,” she said.

“It is only when this happens and we have free and widespread communications and the opening up of our borders to the outside world, both geographically and socially, that we can secure the progress and prosperity of Iran.”

Mrs Eshraghi said that despite her place in Iran’s most prominent revolutionary family – pictures of her as a girl on her grandfather’s lap form the strapline on her Facebook page – she was vulnerable to a crackdown on free speech on the internet.

“Not only am I concerned that the security forces may one day knock on my door, but also in fact think that it is quite possible that this may happen and then I would not be different from many other prominent free thinkers of our country who have ended up being in jail,” she said.

But she added that the regime would face a backlash within the country’s establishment for such a high-profile arrest.

Iran has well advanced plans to cut the entire country off from the world wide web and place all internet activity within a nationwide intranet.

It has also established a force of “cyber-police” that has arrested dozens of internet users. Gen Saeed Shokrian, the force’s commander, was sacked at the start of this month after an investigation into the death of the blogger Sattar Beheshti in Tehran’s Evin prison, where he was being illegally detained. But the policing of online activity has continued.

In one sense, Mrs Eshraghi is continuing a role played by her grandfather in pre-revolutionary Iran.

He challenged the Shah’s rule by having sermons taped in exile in Iraq and smuggled into Iran for underground distribution. The founder of the Islamic republic had five children and the clan maintains a prominent role with control of charitable foundations and filling official advisory positions.

Mrs Eshraghi said that her outspoken views were accepted within the family culture. “We have always kept a balance between belonging to a certain family and having an independent identity of ourselves as well,” she said.


Iran: Still no explanation or justice for blogger who died in custody

Amnesty, Thu, 13/12/2012

The mother of an Iranian blogger who died in custody was among those attacked by security forces today at her son’s graveside, prompting Amnesty International to call once more for a thorough and impartial investigation into the 35-year-old’s death.

Sattar Beheshti, from Robat Karim south-west of Tehran, was buried on 7 November.  According to officials he died in the Cyber Police detention facility on 3 November.

Security forces and men in plainclothes reportedly attacked mourners on Thursday as they marked 40 days since his death – which in Iran closes the traditional mourning period for the deceased.

It appears that Beheshti’s mother was injured in the assault and there are reports that one person was arrested.

The attack came amid ongoing harassment of the blogger’s family members and concerns about the independence of investigations into his death.

“What is especially devastating for Sattar Beheshti’s family is that even though their traditional mourning period has come to a close, there are still many unanswered questions about how and why he died while in the custody of the Cyber Police,” said Ann Harrison, Deputy Director of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Programme.

“The Iranian authorities must ensure that the ongoing investigations into the incident – and all other deaths in custody – are thorough, impartial and in line with international human rights law and standards, leading to those responsible being brought to justice. Intimidation and attacks against Sattar Beheshti’s family must not be tolerated.”

Following his arrest on 30 October at his home in Robat Karim, Beheshti’s family had no further contact with him until 6 November when they received a telephone call telling them to collect his body from Kahrizak detention centre.

Before being transferred to the Cyber Police detention centre, Beheshti had been held for one night in Section 350 of Tehran’s Evin Prison. While there, he lodged a complaint with the Evin Prison authorities claiming that his interrogators had tortured him after his arrest.

Fellow prisoners at Evin Prison later wrote an open letter corroborating that allegation, saying they had seen torture marks on his body.

Investigations under way

The Iranian Parliament’s National Security and Foreign Policy Commission and the Judiciary’s High Commission for Human Rights have both launched investigations into the incident.

But various judicial officials and parliamentarians have given contradictory explanations for the blogger’s death even before the investigations have been completed, raising serious concerns about their impartiality, independence and transparency.

The role of the Cyber Police

On 27 November, Iran’s police chief, Brigadier General Esma’il Ahmadi-Moghaddam, accepted partial responsibility for Beheshti’s death in custody.

The head of Iran’s Cyber Police was subsequently removed from his position, but a member of the parliamentary National Security and Foreign Policy Commission later denied the removal had anything to do with the blogger’s death.

Family members silenced

Family members have also been threatened with arrest if they speak to the media about the case.

The family’s lawyer has expressed concern that the case – which is currently undergoing a criminal investigation by the Prosecutor’s Office – may not go to court.

“It is very troubling that Sattar Beheshti’s family members appear to be under pressure not to demand their right to justice over this fatal incident,” said Harrison.

“In addition to bringing charges against anyone responsible for torture or for causing his death, without imposing the death penalty, the authorities must not block this – or any other’s family’s – right to access justice.”

Amnesty International has over the years repeatedly raised concerns about torture and other ill-treatment of detainees in Iran, including cases where deaths in custody appear to have resulted from such treatment.


U.S. gives Iran until March to cooperate with IAEA

(Reuters) – The United States set a March deadline on Thursday for Iran to start cooperating in substance with a U.N. nuclear agency investigation, warning Tehran the issue may otherwise be referred to the U.N. Security Council.

Thu Nov 29, 2012
By Fredrik Dahl

The comments by U.S. diplomat Robert Wood to the board of the International Atomic Energy Agency signaled Washington’s growing frustration at a lack of progress in the IAEA’s inquiry into possible military dimensions to Tehran’s nuclear program.

Iran – which was first reported to the U.N. Security Council over its nuclear program by the IAEA’s 35-nation board in 2006 and then was hit by U.N. sanctions – rejects suspicions it is on a covert quest for atomic bomb capability.

But its refusal to curb nuclear work with both civilian and military applications, and its lack of openness with the IAEA, have drawn tough Western punitive measures and a threat of pre-emptive military strikes by Israel.

A year ago, the IAEA published a report with a trove of intelligence indicating past, and some possibly continuing, research in Iran that could be relevant for nuclear weapons.

The IAEA has since tried to gain access to Iranian sites, officials and documents it says it needs for the inquiry, but so far without any concrete results in a series of meetings with Iran since January. The two sides will meet again in December.

In his statement, Wood requested IAEA Director-General Yukiya Amano to say in his next quarterly report on Iran, likely due in late February, whether Tehran has taken “any substantive steps” to address the agency’s concerns.

“If by March Iran has not begun substantive cooperation with the IAEA, the United States will work with other board members to pursue appropriate board action, and would urge the board to consider reporting this lack of progress to the U.N. Security Council,” Wood said, according to a copy of his statement.

“Iran cannot be allowed to indefinitely ignore its obligations … Iran must act now, in substance,” Wood said.

Amano earlier told the board that there had been no progress in his agency’s year-long push to clarify concerns about suspected atom bomb research in Iran, but said he would continue his efforts.


A simple majority in the IAEA board would be required to refer an issue to the U.N. Security Council, which has imposed four sanctions resolutions on Iran since 2006.

It is unclear whether Russia and China – which have criticized unilateral Western sanctions on Iran – would back any U.S. initiative to report Iran again to the Security Council.

Wood later told reporters he hoped the December talks between the IAEA and Iran would be fruitful. But, he added, “I have my doubts about the sincerity of Iran.”

The 27-nation European Union told the board that Iran’s “procrastination” was unacceptable. “Iran must act now, in a substantive way, to address the serious and continuing international concerns on its nuclear program,” it said.

Iran’s ambassador to the IAEA, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, criticised what he called “political noise” and “pressure” from the United States and the EU.

Diplomacy between Iran and the powers – the United States, China, Russia, France, Germany, and Britain – has been deadlocked since a June meeting that ended without success.

Both sides now say they want to resume talks soon, after the re-election of U.S. President Barack Obama, and diplomats expect a new meeting in Istanbul in December or January.

Iran is ready for a “face-saving” negotiated solution to the nuclear dispute, but the West must accept the reality that Tehran would never suspend uranium enrichment, Soltanieh said.

Refined uranium can be used to fuel nuclear energy plants, Iran’s stated aim, and also provide bomb material if processed further, which the West suspects is Iran’s ultimate aim.

The West wants Iran to suspend enrichment, but Iran is showing no sign of backing down.

Iran “has provocatively snubbed the international community by expanding its enrichment capacity in defiance of multiple United Nations Security Council resolutions,” Wood said.

(Editing by Mark Heinrich)


Number of Unemployed Crosses 3 Million

Twice as Dire for Women

November 6, 2012
by Kaveh Ghoreishi

The latest official reports point to the presence of more than 2.5 million unemployed in urban areas and 500,000 unemployed in rural areas. Those in the 15 to 29 age group comprise the largest number of the unemployed, with over 2 million. In addition, the number of unemployed women is twice that of men.

According to official reports from various outlets, there are currently between 3 and 3.5 million unemployed people in Iran. Experts, however, believe the figure to be above 4 million.

Every year, close to 800,000 Iranians enter the labor force. The Islamic Republic has been unable to provide full employment for that population, a situation that has become more dire with the imposition of international sanctions and the implementation of the subsidy reform plan.

The Mehr news agency released numbers indicating that, last summer, 62.3 percent of the total male population was gainfully employed, amounting to 19 million and 882 thousand employed men, while the comparable figure for women was only 14.1 percent, amounting to 4 million and 502 thousand employed women.

According to the same report, the unemployment rate for women is twice as high as that for men. While the male unemployment rate last summer was 10.2 percent, the female unemployment rate was 22.1 percent.

The official agency in charge of tracking unemployment in Iran is the Statistical Center of Iran. However, the ministry of labor also publishes annual figures that often are not consistent with the Center’s figures. The confusion is compounded by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s practice of announcing jobs numbers during his provincial visits. In one such visit, Ahmadinejad announced a 4 percent decline in the unemployment rate; a claim later refuted by experts and academics.

One of Ahmadinejad’s main campaign promises was to “eradicate unemployment at its root.” Over the past 7 years, however, the Ahmadinejad government’s policies have only worsened employment conditions in Iran.

The latest wave of inflation and price hikes that has gripped Iran since the intensification of international sanctions has presented the population seeking jobs with unprecedented conditions. Many factories and small and large business enterprises have either become bankrupt or are facing bankruptcy. The Iranian auto industry, which is one of the largest industries in Iran in terms of the number of people it employs, is on the verge of collapse. According to many experts, the auto industry is directly or indirectly responsible for the employment of more than 4 million workers in Iran. The industry’s dire condition will jeopardize the employment of that population and poses a further threat to the unemployment landscape in Iran.


Iran must immediately investigate blogger’s death in custody

Amnesty International
8 November 2012

The Iranian authorities must investigate the circumstances that led to the death of a blogger in detention in the capital Tehran, Amnesty International urged amid reports he was tortured in custody.

Sattar Beheshti, 35, was arrested by men believed to be from Iran’s Cyber Police on 30 October at his home in Robat Karim, southwest of Tehran.

On Tuesday 6 November his family members were told to collect his body from Tehran’s Kahrizak detention facility, and he was buried the following day. The exact time and cause of his death are still unknown, but a complaint he apparently lodged with prison authorities before his death stated that he had been beaten, lending credence to reports that he died as a result of torture in detention last week.

“Fears that Sattar Beheshti died as a result of torture in an Iranian detention facility, after apparently lodging a complaint about torture are very plausible, given Iran’s track record when it comes to deaths in custody,” said Ann Harrison, Amnesty International’s Deputy Middle East and North Africa Programme Director.

“The Iranian authorities must immediately carry out an independent investigation into his death, including whether torture played a part in it.  Anyone found responsible for abuses must be brought to justice in proceedings meeting international fair trial standards, without resort to the death penalty.”

Beheshti, who was not particularly well-known among Iranian bloggers, maintained a site called My Life for My Iran, on which he criticized the Iranian government.

The day before his arrest, he had complained about receiving a threat because of his blog posts:

“They sent me a message saying, ‘Tell your mother she will soon be wearing black because you don’t shut your big mouth’.”

Once in custody, Beheshti was reportedly detained at Kahrizak detention centre before being moved to Tehran’s Evin prison, where he filed a complaint against his interrogators. In the complaint, which has been made public, the blogger stated that he had been arrested without an arrest warrant and that his interrogators had tortured him – including by tying him to a table and kicking him in the head, although it is not clear where the alleged torture happened.

Media reports have suggested that when in Evin Prison, he had injuries consistent with having been hung by his wrists from the ceiling and spent some time in the prison clinic before being transferred to an unknown location on the evening of 1 November.

According to Beheshti’s family, he had been in good health before his arrest and detention.

Ongoing torture concerns

The Iranian authorities acknowledged that at least three other detainees at Kahrizak detention centre died as a result of torture or other ill-treatment after arrest during a government crackdown that followed Iran’s 2009 presidential elections. At least one other man is also reported to have died at the same time.

Former prisoners held at Tehran’s Evin Prison confirm that torture and other ill-treatment are routinely carried out in some sections of the facility. Previous cases of death in custody have not been fully investigated in independent and impartial proceedings.

Among them was Zahra Kazemi, a photojournalist with dual Canadian-Iranian nationality who was held in Evin Prison and died in 2003 from beatings sustained after her arrest. A Ministry of Intelligence official was subsequently acquitted of her murder, the only one of five officials initially arrested to be charged and tried.

“The Iranian authorities must take immediate action to improve prison conditions and to ensure that all prisoners and detainees in their custody are protected against torture and other ill-treatment and are treated humanely at all times. There must be accountability for human rights violations committed behind the closed doors of prisons,” said Harrison.

Amnesty International has recently highlighted the case of nine women prisoners at Evin who have undertaken a hunger strike to protest against their ill-treatment – including sexual abuse – in detention.


Mahmoud Ahmadinejad: Iran’s currency crisis due to psychological war

Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, accused his rivals of exacerbating the currency crisis
The Guardian
Tuesday 2 October 2012
by Saeed Kamali Dehghan

Iran‘s beleaguered president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has blamed the plummeting value of the national currency on a “psychological war” perpetrated by enemies abroad and opponents at home.

Speaking as the rial hit an all-time low against the dollar, Ahmadinejad told reporters that the slump was the result of the “temporary problem” of the international embargo on importing Iranian oil. He said sanctions would only pressure the “people of Iran and not its government” and would not force Tehran to change its nuclear policy.

“It’s a battle,” he told reporters in Tehran. “Enemies have managed to reduce our oil sales but hopefully we will compensate for this.” He rejected suggestions that the crisis was the result of his government’s economic incompetence.

“Are these currency fluctuations because of economic problems? The answer is no,” Ah said. “Is this because of government policies? Never … It’s due to psychological pressure. It’s a psychological battle.” While he was speaking, the rial fell to a new record low.

Ahmadinejad said Iranians would not retreat from the nuclear issue. “If anyone thinks that they can put pressure on Iran [to force us to change our policy], they are certainly wrong and they must correct their behaviour,” he said.

The Iranian president accused his conservative rivals of complicity in exacerbating the crisis over the rial, saying they had contributed to the situation by launching a propaganda campaign against him. The president pointed the finger at Ali Larijani, the parliament speaker, and criticised him for giving an interview in which Larijani said mismanagement accounted for 80% of the problems and the sanctions 20%, comparing government policy to “Robin Hoodian economics”.

“The respected head of parliament should come forward and help instead of giving interviews,” Ahmedinejad said.

The deputy speaker, Mohammad Reza Bahonar, echoed Larijani, saying on Tuesday that the government’s only enemy was “illusion”. At least one Iranian MP accused the government of manipulating the country’s foreign currency reserves amid speculation that Ahmadinejad might be summoned for questioning.

“The president has deliberately kept the market agitated,” said Elias Naderan, of the parliamentary economics committee, according to the semi-official Mehr news agency. “I really don’t know what Mr Ahmadinejad is thinking. What plan does he have, what is his expectation of the system, and how does he plan to manage this disorder?” Despite several attempts to calm the markets, the government has failed to bring the rial under control. It has lost at least 57% of its value in the past three months after US and EU sanctions targeting the regime’s nuclear programme came into effect in July.

On Monday the rial experienced its biggest devaluation in a single day, dropping more than 15%.

On Tuesday, a senior official indicated that the government was relying on its security services to curb speculators, who are blamed for the rial’s drop. It was not clear how the move could be implemented as previous attempts to get the police to enforce the official exchange rate have failed.

“We have greater expectations that the security services will control the branches and sources of disruption in the exchange market,” he said, according to the Fars news agency. “Brokers in the market are also pursuing the increase in price because for them it will be profitable, and there is nobody to control them.”

Many Iranians have lost faith in the rial and are now rushing to convert their assets and properties to foreign currency and gold.

Meanwhile, an opposition website,, reported that Tehran’s bazaar was planning to go on strike on Wednesday in reaction to the currency crisis and government plans to send security services to restore calm in the market.

In his first domestic press conference since his visit to New York last week, the president also reacted to the speech made by Israel’s prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, at the UN general assembly, in which he used a bomb illustration to draw red lines for Tehran’s nuclear programme. Ahmadinejad said the diagram was “childish and primitive” and insulted the audience.

“That drawing was only good for children, he should learn to draw better,” he joked.

Despite questions on his UN speech, Israel and Syria, the press conference was mostly dominated by the currency crisis and the internal power struggle between Ahmadinejad and his opponents in parliament and the judiciary.

Ahmadinejad expressed regret over the arrest last week of his media adviser, Ali Akbar Javanfekr, and criticised his culture minister for speaking against a reformist newspaper, Shargh, which was closed down at the same time over a cartoon deemed insulting.

Meanwhile, the French embassy in Tehran was attacked by a small group of people protesting against an anti-Islam film that infuriated the Muslim world for mocking the prophet Muhammad. About 30 protesters were said to have smashed a police guard post and thrown stones, though no casualties were reported.


Marching to war

Morning Star
Thursday 02 August 2012
by Jamshid Ahmadi

“War or peace? Today there is no more important question in world politics.

“Having more or less confined the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan within the borders of those two states, the United States and its allies, Israel and the UK, have now turned their attention to Iran.”

That’s a quote from Iran Today, journal of the Committee for the Defence of the Iranian People’s Rights (Codir), four years ago. It’s just as relevant now.

Today the US and its allies are attempting to convince the world that their “missions” in Iraq and Afghanistan have been successful and are turning their attention to Iran and Syria.

Having manipulated genuine and popular democratic demands raised in Syria, Washington is now stoking and arming sectarian violence to deeply and bloodily divide the country. A Lebanon-style civil war – and a Lebanon-style “solution” – is the aim.

With this in place Syria would effectively be neutralised in any conflict with Iran. The so-called “Arab Spring” would be transformed into an Arab paralysis, with Israel given a clear run in its aggression against Iran.

As the US presidential circus gathers momentum it has been reported that Barack Obama’s national security adviser Tom Donilon has briefed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the type of military assistance the US could give in any strike on Iran.

The White House and US embassies around the world are refusing to comment, but with Republican candidate Mitt Romney rattling his would-be presidential sabre the incumbent is keen not to fall behind. Or perhaps it’s actually Romney who’s struggling to keep up in the race to war?

This is not new. The very first edition of Rupert Murdoch’s Sun on Sunday (SOS) held a screaming headline buried behind pages of celebrity gossip: “Britain’s Plan for Iran War.”

“It is a matter of when not if war breaks out,” the article declared.

The SOS, like its predecessor the News of the World, is desperate to prove itself the nation’s cheerleader for Nato warmongering.

With its millions of readers its pronouncements cannot lightly be dismissed. But Iran is not Iraq or Afghanistan.

It cannot be easily characterised as an underdeveloped distant land populated solely by Islamic- style terrorists where “our boys” could light up the skies with shock and awe.

Of course all this presents the US with a dilemma. It is one thing destabilising countries and governments it dislikes, but it has found to its cost that military intervention and exodus in the Middle East or Asia is another matter.

The US knows that while the Ahmadinejad government is unpopular – as recent mass demonstrations against food price rises in Nishapour and elsewhere illustrate – Iran is not a weak, backward country. And the Iranian people have experience of US and British intervention.

Iran is a complex society. It is militarily well organised and stronger than any force the US or Britain has faced directly since World War II.

And the majority of Iran’s 75 million population is of fighting age.

These factors, together with destructive campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan, have divided US ruling circles.

Following Israel into Iran or defending Israel against an Iranian counterattack may be easy in the early stages, but Iran and its undemocratic leadership is unlikely to roll over.

Mitt Romney may want to follow in the footsteps of his hero George Bush, but others are more cautious.

However it is not because war with Iran would be costly in lives and money, here or in Iran, that it is wrong. As foreign policy it is criminally insane. It is entirely unnecessary, posing a serious threat to all working people everywhere.

The Iranian government is a theocratic dictatorship facing widespread opposition and crisis with President Ahmadinejad increasingly desperate to protect his own position and interests.

Growing numbers of Iranians, including trade unionists and members of youth, women and student organisations are calling for democratic change, while Ahmadinejad pursues his wreckless anti-people social and economic policies.

Furthermore, having picked a president through a rigged and widely disputed ballot in 2009 which was followed by suppression of popular protest demonstrations, the regime itself is deeply divided.

Iran has massive military capability – but it does not have nuclear weapons or the means to deliver them.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has found no evidence of weapons of mass destruction and in spite of US attempts to interfere in the IAEA’s terms of reference inspections continue with Iranian consent. There are firm grounds to reach a negotiated settlement on key points.

There is therefore no WMD pretext for intervention. Unfortunately this has not been a barrier to Nato aggression in the past.

Creating the myth of a foreign threat and having it internationally exposed has become an essential first step in preparations for war and Nato propaganda.

Throughout the 20th century Britain and the US established shabby track records of military interference and economic exploitation in Iran. It is a history the Iranian people well understand.

The Islamic Republic’s leadership also has a history and practice of anti-democratic and fundamentalist attacks on Iranian working people and families.

So war for them, just like Nato and Western leaders, could be a useful short-term distraction from their own failings and the crises gripping their society.

This correlation of history and experience is likely to galvanise the Iranian people to oppose foreign military aggression.

It also risks letting Ahmadinejad and his criminal and corrupt claque off the hook.

The West will pull out all the stops to ensure the tragedies and destruction in Iraq and Afghanistan fade from popular memory, providing fertile ground for a new war, a 21st-century catastrophe of unprecedented inhumanity.

And there’s another significant factor in this unfolding and fragile situation.

The only country in the region which actually has nuclear weapons is Israel. With many Arab countries in disarray the Israelis are becoming more bellicose – at home, in Gaza and towards Iran. We should not allow our so-called Israeli allies to drag us into World War III.

With solidarity and respect the Iranian people will continue their struggle for democracy and end the theocratic dictatorship to forge a new secular society. With negotiation war is not inevitable.

Jamshid Ahmadi is assistant general secretary of Codir. For more information visit


Reports of street protests in Iran due to soaring price of chicken

Long queues for discounted chicken have reportedly prompted street protests in the north-eastern city of Nishapur
The Guardian

Source: YouTube. Link to this video

A video has emerged of what purports to be a group of people in the city of Nishapur, in Iran‘s north-eastern province of Khorasan Razavi, protesting at the soaring price of poultry.

In response to the controversy, dubbed “chicken crisis” by Iranian media, the government has started the scheme of distributing discounted chicken, prompting long queues in many cities across the country.

Pictures published on Iranian blogs and videos posted on YouTube which appear to have been taken from the protest in Nishapur, show hundreds of people in the city taking to streets for the first time due to frustrations caused by the chicken crisis. See some of the pictures, here.

“Shame on the rise [inflation],” chanted people as they gathered in the city’s main square, according to opposition websites and blogs.

Iran’s semi-official Isna news agency confirmed that people in Nishapur have staged a street demonstration due to the rising price of chicken, the Associated Press reported. According to Isna, no one was arrested and there have been no reports of violence.

As western economic sanctions on Iran have started to take their toll, prices of fruit and sugar, among other staples, have soared – in some cases showing threefold and fourfold increases. The price of meat has gone up to such an extent that many now eat it only on special occasions.

The price of chicken, an essential ingredient of Iranian food, has doubled since last year, triggering anger among Iranians at this time of the year when they are supposed to celebrate the Islamic fasting month of Ramadan.


Ex-Revolutionary Guards general reveals dissent within elite Iranian force

The Guardian
Thursday 12 July 2012 14.47 BST
by Saeed Kamali Dehghan



Several dozen Revolutionary Guards generals were replaced for refusing to use violence against unarmed protesters in the wake of the disputed 2009 elections. Photograph: Vahid Salemi/AP

A former general of Iran‘s powerful Revolutionary Guards has accused the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, of having blood on his hands over the brutal crackdown on the opposition, and described government claims that its nuclear programme is entirely peaceful as a “sheer lie”.

In a letter to prominent opposition activist Mohammad Nourizad (website in Farsi), the former officer gives a rare glimpse of political dissent within the ranks of the elite force in charge of the nuclear programme and Khamenei’s personal security.

Identified only by his initials, the general says that he and a number of his colleagues were threatened with execution for disloyalty and then – after a series of secret courts-martial – dismissed “because we refused to participate in the betrayals and the crimes committed by our seniors”.

“I’m writing this letter to you to tell our people that there are still many generals and members of staff within the Revolutionary Guards who are opposed to these crimes and are waiting to join the people,” the letter reads.p>

Speaking to the Guardian by telephone from Tehran, Nourizad – who published the general’s letter on his website – said he was convinced of its authenticity because it was handed to him in person by the former general.

“This is one of the many such letters written by senior figures within the Sepah [Revolutionary Guards] that I have received. I have refrained from publishing many of them because I was worried they might pose security problems,” said Nourizad.

Iran’s Revolutionary Guards are an elite force separate from the Iranian army and under the direct command of the country’s supreme leader. The corps was founded to protect Iran’s revolutionary values, but has become increasingly involved in politics and business.

In the aftermath of the fiercely disputed 2009 elections, several dozen Revolutionary Guards generals, as well as senior figures in the informal voluntary Basij militia, were replaced for refusing to use violence against unarmed protesters.

According to the general, the order to open fire on the protesters came from the top. “[In 2009,] the leader [Khamenei] asked Rahim Safavi [a former chief commander of the guards] whether he would be prepared to run over people with tanks if they took to streets to revolt. He said yes and the leader gave him the order,” he writes.

“They shut our mouth for years by saying that the leader wanted this or that … But we could no more keep it shut after the post-election bloodshed. This was the point many spoke out or simply refused to comply.”

According to the general, Khamenei was also personally involved in the restrictions imposed on the opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi, who is still under house arrest with little access to the outside world. “How can a supreme leader with blood on his hands be close to God?,” he asks.

The general also accuses Khamenei of lying about Iran’s nuclear programme, which is now subject to an international dispute, the general casts doubt on what the regime officials claim to be “peaceful” activities, describing them as the country’s “nuclear gamble”.

“The inspectors of the International Atomic Energy Agency are fooling themselves if they believe that the nuclear facilities on and under the ground are only for peaceful purposes,” he writes. “The leader said [in a fatwa] that Iran has only peaceful intentions with its nuclear activities. This is a sheer lie.”

“We undertook this nuclear gamble with the leader’s knowledge – that’s why we are paying billions of dollars into Chinese and Russian bank accounts so that they support us in international negotiations and we could find a way out of this stalemate.” Opposition activists often accuse the Iranian government of securing political support from China and Russia with preferential oil contracts and business opportunities.

Amid strict economic sanctions and growing tensions in the Gulf, Iran has periodically threatened to block the strait of Hormuz, a passageway through which 20% of the world’s oil supply passes. But the general said that in the event of any hostilities, Iran’s forces in the Gulf would not be able to resist for more than a day.

The general accuses the Revolutionary Guards of corruption and involvement in smuggling and the illegal transfer of foreign currency. “Is it not ridiculous? The presidential office established a unit to combat smuggling but at the same time, senior guards generals were doing exactly the same thing in the southern islands of Qeshm, Hormuz and Abu Musa,” he writes. “We tolerated the guards’ economic activities and involvement in smuggling with the excuse of raising funds for its revolutionary ideas.”


Six-nation group tries to defuse tensions over Iran nuclear programme

The Guardian
Wednesday 23 May 2012 18.00 BST
by Julian Borger Diplomatic Editor


Nuclear talks between Iran and six world powers

Representatives of the five permanent members of the security council (US, Russia, China, Britain, and France) plus Germany were in Baghdad seeking concessions from Iran over its disputed nuclear enrichment activities. Photograph: Iraqi government/handout/EPA

World powers presented Iran with a package of proposals at talks in Baghdad on Wednesday, aimed at defusing tensions over its nuclear programme and fending off the threat of a new Middle East war.

The package was presented by a six-nation group of negotiators, from the US, UK, France, Germany, Russia and China, and called on Iran to stop the production of 20%-enriched uranium and halt enrichment at an underground site at Fordow. In return, Iran would receive reactor fuel for making medical isotopes at a research reactor in Tehran, safety guidance and equipment for the Tehran reactor and a nuclear power station at Bushehr, and access to spare parts for its civil airliners, the safety of which has been put in jeopardy as a result of sanctions.

Iranian media reported that the chief Iranian negotiator, Saeed Jalili, had put forward a counter-proposal but gave no details. Sources at the talks said that Jalili had talked generally about Iran’s rights and responsibilities under the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), but did not go into specifics in an initial three-hour session of talks before a late lunch break. The discussions resumed on Wednesday evening, and Iranian media were predicting they would continue on Thursday, although there was no confirmation of that from western diplomats in Baghdad.

A western diplomat said: “We had a detailed exchange this morning. The E3+3 [a collective name used by the six-nation negotiating group] presented our package. The atmosphere was businesslike and meetings will continue this afternoon.”

The talks are taking place at Iraqi government offices in the highly fortified “green zone” in Baghdad, amid high security across the city. The aim of the six-nation group, chaired by the EU high representative for foreign policy, Catherine Ashton, is to begin detailed negotiations on Iran’s nuclear programme that will yield sufficient results to dissuade Israel from launching military strikes against Iranian nuclear sites.

Stopping the production of 20% uranium and stopping enrichment at Fordow are seen as priorities by the six-nation group for forestalling military action. The 20%-enriched uranium is significantly purer that the fuel used in Iran’s power station at Bushehr and would be relatively easy to turn into weapons-grade (90% plus) uranium, should Iran decide to build a warhead. If such a decision was made and Iran opted to withdraw from the NPT, the underground site at Fordow, excavated from the base of mountain near the city of Qom, would provide Iran a base to pursue a weapons programme that was impervious to aerial attack.

The two steps would reassure the international community that Iran had no intention of developing a warhead. Iran says its 20%-enriched uranium is essential to make isotopes for medical purposes. The six-nation group argues that Tehran already has a stockpile that would last its medical reactor 10 years and that its proposals would offer the Iranian a guaranteed supply of 20%-enriched fuel rods for that reactor.

The current of the US intelligence community is that the Iranian leadership has not made that decision.

Jalili has made it clear that his priority from the talks is to obtain relief from sanctions, particularly from a European Union oil embargo due to take effect on 1 July. European negotiators have made it clear that that embargo is not on the table in Wednesday’s talks aimed at agreeing a framework of a confidence-building deal on 20%-enrichment. It was not clear last night whether Jalili would agree to a package that did not include any lessening of the growing sanctions pressure on the Tehran regime.


Last-ditch agreement reached in Baghdad to make another attempt at a compromise deal in Moscow next month

The Guardian
Friday 25 May 2012
by Julian Borger Diplomatic Editor


Baghdad talks on Iranian nuclear programme

Envoys from Iran and six world powers have agreed to attempt to reach a compromise deal in Moscow over Tehran’s nuclear programme. Photograph: Ali Abbas/EPA

International talks over Iran‘s nuclear programme were salvaged from collapse in Baghdad with a last-ditch agreement to make another attempt at a compromise deal in Moscow next month.

After two days of intense talks in the Iraqi capital, Lady Ashton, the EU foreign policy chief, said: “It is clear that we both want to make progress, and that there is some common ground. However, significant differences remain. Nonetheless, we do agree on the need for further discussion to expand that common ground.”

The common ground seems limited, beyond the desire to keep talks going to forestall the threat of Israeli military action. Ashton pointed to Iran’s “readiness to address the issue of 20% enrichment” – a particular concern for the international community as 20%-enriched uranium is easier to convert into weapons-grade material. But diplomats at the talks said Iran’s lead negotiator, Saeed Jalili, did not explicitly offer to curb 20% enrichment.

“It wasn’t easy,” one diplomat said. “Jalili said he was prepared to talk about 20% enrichment but then he came up with a bunch of peripheral issues like relations with Bahrain, and events in Syria.”

After the talks, Jalili told CNN that progress at Moscow would require that “measures that damage the confidence of Iranians should be avoided”, an apparent reference to punitive measures such as sanctions.

Responding to the mixed outcome of the talks, the foreign secretary, William Hague, said Iran needed to take “urgent, concrete steps”. He added: “If Iran fails to respond in a serious manner, they should be in no doubt that we will intensify the pressure from sanctions, including the embargo on oil imports already agreed, and will urge other nations to do the same.”

The UK remained fully committed to a diplomatic solution to the nuclear impasse, he said, but added “we must see significant progress from Iran” in Moscow.

At the outset of the talks, a six-nation group of senior diplomats presented what they termed a confidence-building package, calling on Iran to stop 20% enrichment, ship all its 20% uranium out of the country and stop operations at its underground enrichment plant at Fordow.

In return, the group – the US, UK, Russia, France, Germany and China – offered nuclear fuel plates for a research reactor, help with nuclear safety at Iranian reactors and spare parts for Iran’s commercial airliners.

Jalili verbally presented counter-proposals, but they were considerably more vague. First was what he termed “the operationalisation of the fatwa”, a reference to supreme leader Ali Khamenei’s reported religious edict outlawing the development of nuclear weapons, although it was not clear how this would be put into effect.

His second point was international recognition of Iran’s right to enrich uranium, and the third point dealt with regional issues like Bahrain and Syria.

Western diplomats argued that Iran’s right to enrich uranium as part of a complete nuclear fuel cycle had been suspended until Tehran could convince the international community it had entirely peaceful intentions for its programme. The six-nation group argued that such issues would ultimately be addressed in a comprehensive settlement of the Iranian nuclear stand-off, but that the two sides should first carry out smaller, confidence-building steps.

Iranian state media reports criticised the package offered to Tehran on the grounds it did not include immediate relief from sanctions, but European diplomats claimed Jalili hardly mentioned sanctions inside the meeting “because he knew he would get no traction”.

As evening fell on the second night of talks, Jalili’s delegation was threatening to end the negotiations without agreement on a time and venue for a further round, which would have signalled a breach in the tenuous diplomatic process begun in Istanbul last month, and a ratcheting up in tensions in the Gulf once more.

Ashton, and the Russian and Chinese delegations held separate meetings with the Iranian negotiator in the late afternoon to persuade him to agree to a further round in Moscow on June 18. His agreement was only evident in the dying minutes of the last plenary meeting.

Western diplomats conceded that less had been achieved than had been hoped, but claimed that the Baghdad meeting had met the minimum goal set by the six-nation group, of marking the start of the first serious and detailed negotiations about Iran’s nuclear programme since January 2011.

A US negotiator said: “We are getting to the things that matter … this is at least the beginning of a negotiation.”

European diplomats said that the threshold for the Moscow talks would be substantially higher and that failure to reach a compromise there would have to be counted as a failure. “This cannot continue like this,” one diplomat said. “The pace will get faster and the benchmark will get higher.”


A time for full solidarity

Morning Star
Friday 06 April 2012

It might be “realpolitik,” but “my enemy’s enemy is my friend” is often a poor guiding principle for the labour movement and the left when seeking allies.

This is certainly the case when it comes to the Iranian government of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, which is in direct line of descent from those who arrested, tortured and murdered thousands of Iranian communists, radicals and democrats.
Because US and British imperialism, together with the odious Netanyahu government in Tel Aviv, are planning military action to install a more compliant regime, that is no reason to prettify the reactionary regime in Tehran.
This is especially so when today’s Islamist authorities continue to carry out the grisly work begun under the late Ayatollah Khomeini from 1982.
Their latest intended victim is Professor Abdolreza Ghanbari, a 44-year-old lecturer at Payam e Nour university, who was arrested at work after anti-government demonstrations in December 2009.
Jailed, tortured and denied access to a lawyer, he was eventually sentenced to death by the Tehran Revolutionary Court on January 30 2010.
The charge was that of “moharebeh” — enmity against God — because of his alleged links with a banned opposition group, the People’s Mojahedin Organisation of Iran.
All appeals for clemency have since been rejected and his judicial murder is believed to be imminent, but it may still be possible to save his life.
Since the Committee for the Defence of the Iranian People’s Rights (Codir) launched its campaign last month against his execution, support has spread across the world.
In Britain, public services union Unison and lecturers’ union UCU have already written directly to Ayatollah Khameinei demanding the release of Mr Ghanbari and others jailed for trade union activities.
Major teachers’ unions the NUT, NASUWT and ATL have also taken up the case, as have their counterparts in Canada, Australia and Cyprus.
The world’s largest confederation of teaching unions, Education International, is urging all its affiliates to appeal to the Islamic Republic of Iran leadership.
The result is that some 13,000 letters of appeal and protest have poured into Tehran so far.
Past successes indicate that such a worldwide demonstration of international solidarity is not hopeless.
Mansour Osanlou, the leader of the Syndicate of Tehran Public Bus Workers, was released from prison in June last year after a massive campaign and immediately following a deputation to Iran from the International Labour Organisation.
In that campaign, too, Codir played an important role, showing why all trade unions in Britain should follow the lead of transport workers’ union RMT and affiliate to it.
The prospects for another victory for human, democratic and trade union rights are brighter still now that International Trade Union Confederation general secretary Sharan Burrow has indicated her support for Abdolreza Ghanbari.
The Tehran regime must know that it is in the interests of the Iranian people that the growing clamour in the West for foreign military intervention in their oil-rich country is resisted.
Indeed, it will be resisted by all right-thinking people in Britain, the US and Israel, as well by left and progressive forces inside Iran.
Freedom for Professor Ghanbari and other imprisoned trade unionists and democrats in Iran will remove a useful propaganda weapon from the Western warmongers, and strengthen the voices of peace everywhere.
Support the international campaign to save the life of Abdolreza Ghanbari.


World rallies to save life of jailed lecturer

Morning Star
Friday 06 April 2012 by John Haylett

British-based campaigning organisation Codir urged greater efforts today to save the life of lecturer trade unionist Abdolreza Ghanbari.

Codir (the Committee for the Defence of the Iranian People’s Rights) assistant general secretary Jamshid Ahmadi paid tribute to the scale of the international struggle to stay the hangman’s hand.

The International Trade Union Confederation has undertaken to mobilise its efforts to petition the Iranian government, as has Education International, the global umbrella for teachers’ and lecturers’ unions.

The two bodies have asked International Labour Organisation director general Juan Somavia to approach Tehran requesting that it quash death sentences imposed on workers for union activities.

In Britain, education unions UCU, NUT, NASUWT, ATL and Unison have all taken up Professor Ghanbari’s case, urging his release.

“The international campaign to save Abdolreza Ghanbari from the gallows is a clear demonstration of what can be done globally to assist the struggle of the people of Iran for democracy and social justice,” said Mr Ahmadi today.

“It sends a message to the brave men and women campaigning for progressive and democratic change in Iran and who are suppressed by the theocratic regime that people across the world stand with them.”

Professor Ghanbari was arrested at his workplace, the Payam e Nour University in Pakdasht, on January 4 2010 after receiving emails from an armed opposition group, of which he is not a member.

After being beaten and tortured as a prelude to confessing to trumped-up charges, he was sentenced to death for “waging war against God.”

The death penalty was confirmed three months later and an appeal for clemency rejected six weeks ago, meaning that his execution could be imminent.

Mr Ahmadi called for every effort to made to spare to spare the life of a man whose only “crime” is to be an active trade unionist.

The Codir official was at pains to stress that neither his organisation nor the trade unions back demands for outside military action against Iran.

“Trade unions internationally have shown that there is a legitimate, peaceful and effective way to assist the people of Iran to achieve peace and justice,” he said.


Iranian winner of Oscar opposes the US war!

Feb 26, 2012

“A Separation” won the 2012 Oscar for best foreign language film, becoming the first Iranian movie to win the honor.

Iranian director Asghar Fardahi wining the Oscars is a huge success for him and the Iranian cinema community. He is the first Iranian director ever wining an Oscar.

Farhadi gave this great speech after receiving the Oscar for the best foreign language movie:
“At this time, many Iranians all over the world are watching us and I imagine them to be very happy. They are happy not just because of an important award or a film or filmmaker, but because at the time when talk of war, intimidation and aggression is exchanged between politicians, the name of their country Iran is spoken here through her glorious culture. A rich and ancient culture that has been hidden under the heavy dust of politics. I proudly offer this award to the people of my country. A people who respect all cultures and civilizations and despise hostility and resentment.”

Jodai Nader az Simin, A Separation, is a 2011 Iranian drama film written and directed by Asghar Farhadi, starring Leila Hatami, Peyman Moaadi, Shahab Hosseini, Sareh Bayat and Sarina Farhadi. The film is the story of an Iranian middle-class couple who separate, and the intrigues which follow when the husband hires a lower-class caretaker for his elderly father.

A Separation received the Golden Bear for Best Film and the Silver Bears for Best Actress and Best Actor at the 61st Berlin International Film Festival, becoming the first Iranian film to win the Golden Bear. It won 69th Golden Globe Awards Best Foreign Language Film. The film is also the official Iranian submission for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 2012 Academy Awards where it was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film and Best Original Screenplay.

Farhadi was born in Khomeynishahr, Province of Isfahan. He is a graduate of Theater, with a BA in Dramatic Arts and MA in Stage Direction from Tehran University and Tarbiat Modarres University.


EU sabre-rattling on Iran to hit population, not regime

News From GUE/NGL
Brussels 02/02/2012

EU sanctions against Iran are politically naïve, negligent sabre-rattling according to GUE/NGL MEP Cornelia Ernst speaking ahead of today’s European Parliament vote on a resolution on Iran ‘s nuclear programme. “We condemn the Iranian regime for its catastrophic human rights violations, repression of religious minorities and persecution of human rights activists but embargoing Iranian oil through the de-facto ban on trade with Iran ‘s central bank ultimately just impacts the population.” “This is also a boost for the Iranian regime in advance of the elections in March when there is still no proof of a nuclear weapons programme, just secret service suspicions and allegations. We need the escalation of human rights dialogue and serious negotiations for a nuclear-free Middle East . This is the task of the EU, not the aggravation of the current situation” she said. Also speaking before the vote, Sabine Losing called for a phase out of nuclear power and for worldwide disarmament of “gruesome” atomic weaponry. “This aggressive economic war will destabilize Iran and limits the possibilities for progressive opposition in the country. It seems very likely that, as usual, global peace and human rights will fall victim to the interests of the United States and Europe .”


Iran’s Feeling the Effects of Isolation

Translated Sunday 29 January 2012, by Isabelle Métral and reviewed by Derek Hanson

The effects of sanctions and embargos are mostly felt by the common people. Ahmadinejad’s government pursues the same policies despite the West’s injunctions.

From our special correspondent in Tehran.

In Tehran’s great bazaar, crawling and majestic as ever, just as in the one in Tajrich on the mountainside, a foreigner will meet with friendly smiles and fraternal signs. But the shock comes right after, on finding that there is not one Western traveller, just a very few Africans, or Chinese. In two years everything has changed. Also troubling in the side-streets are beggars holding out their hands, and fugitive vendors in the oh-so- stylish underground. Iran, where it is now impossible to fly non-stop owing to the embargo on kerosene against Iran Air Company, is on the list of unsafe destinations. The French Foreign Affairs ministry has issued a communiqué warning that it was dangerous to visit Persia. So the war has already started, a “psychological war”, and an ill-advised one, against a state whose leaders supported a demonstration against the United Kingdom outside the UK embassy where British flags were burnt.

The tension, which has been building for eight years, suddenly grew worse last November 8. An IAAE (International Agency for Atomic Energy) report evoked the “possible military dimension” of Iran’s nuclear program. Iran denied it and invited the IAAE to come back. US President Obama and French President Sarkozy – there was a time when Paris did not automatically follow Washington; these days Paris pre-empts Washington’s demands – now demand an embargo, not just on the banks but also on Iran’s oil. Now Iran is OPEC’s second biggest oil exporter. Iran draws 80% (90 billion euro) of its foreign currencies from its oil sales. The European Union, where Iran exports 18% of its oil, to some countries’ great displeasure, feels constrained to agree to that measure despite its extraordinary consequences, of which none of the top officials seem to be aware.

Japan, one of those US allies that have kept close ties with Iran, seems to be resigned, but South Korea – both these countries import 10% of their oil consumption from Iran – is bent on resisting the injunction. Never before in the course of history have US pressures been so strong. Tehran has planned a retaliation. If the worst comes to the worst it will close the Ormuz Strait, the transit route for 40% of the world’s oil exports by sea, which Iran co-manages with Oman. “It’s ever so easy,” explained Mohammad Rea Rahimi, the vice-president. And to prove his point mentioned the Velayat 90 manoeuvres in the Gulf in late December. “We ask the other countries in the Persian Gulf to join us,” he said, pointing to the “intolerable” presence of the US army all over the region or nearly, and obviously ignoring that its “partners”, the monarchic dictatorships that enjoy the West’s unquestioning support, are in debt to the US. The closing of the Strait would immediately trigger a US military retaliation. We would be placed in the “logic of war”.

But no doubt Iran is not isolated. Chinese, Russians and Indians have replaced Westerners in the oil and gas sectors. Mahmud Ahmadinejad, who is rumoured to have lost the favour of the Guide, Ayatollah Khamenei, keeps vaunting the “excellence” of Iran’s relations with Russia, China, Turkey, and Caucasian countries and many African and Latin-American countries. If Syria is going through a storm, Iran now has allies in Bagdad and Beirut. For Ahmadinedjad, setting relations with the West above any other is a “cliche”.

And then there is the “Islamic awakening” (Tehran will not call it the Arab Spring). In Tehran’s eyes the Islamic successes in Tunisia and Egypt are good omens. “Of course they will not model themselves on Iran,” Ahmadinedjad concedes. Gaddafi’s fall is a blessing in his opinion. Unlike the Western press, the Iranian press also mentions daily uprisings in Saud Arabia and in Bahrein. But it is more timid on Syria.

Already Iran, the Iranian people, are suffering from the sanctions. Wages do not rise proportionately to the galloping rate of inflation (+20%), the rial gets devalued by the week, while the minimum wage (250 euro) stagnates. There are few prospects for the Iranian youth who hunger after democracy, social justice and peace, and are remarkably well educated. “We are caught in a vice. The embargo, the prospect of a war frighten us. This regime is all in the service of the privileged people, who can make the best of it,” says Maliheh, a twenty-two-year-old female Art student .

Another defensive ploy used by the religious rulers is to prove that the embargo has a limited impact. Thus foreign investments in Iran have gone up by 124% in a year according to (unlikely) official figures. On December 21, it was Yalda night, the longest night, according to a millennial tradition from the ancient zoroastrian religion. Never had the State TV broadcast so many culinary recipes – with fruit if possible – and advice in order that Iranian families enjoy that precious time of reconciliation when everyone makes wishes…

Banned by the West, this country of 75 million inhabitants, exalts its culture, its roots, in order to conjure away a dull future. The general elections in March, in which the former “modernist” president Muhamad Khatami might stand as candidate, will also be a crucial day for the region.


Take the Warnings for Serious

November 4, 2011

One. In 2005, when the Iranian Reformist president Mohammad Khatami handed over the executive body to the new government, Iran’s foreign relations were at the peak; and attempts by the Zionist regime and radical strands inside the US ruling board to pressurize Iran had fallen in vein due to Iran’s cordial relations with its regional and international partners. Unfortunately, in the Ninth Administration, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced and enforced a new diplomatic agenda; the outcomes of which were seen in the Ninth and Tenth administrations. During these years, complicated challenges against Iran have emerged. Despite being dubbed as “crumbled papers” by the president, international sanction resolutions have hit hard the people and regarded by the experts as deleterious to the national interests.


Along the pressures (largely manifested in UN-approved sanction resolutions), human rights’ allegations caused by certain domestic measures served as pretexts that provided an opportunity for the enemies of the country to portray Iran and the Islamic Republic as an unreasonable entity. Today, in this critical, complicated situation, controversies over the alleged assassination plot of the Saudi ambassador to Washington by the IRGC Qods Corps, is a new challenge thrown at Iran that is already running the gauntlet. If left open, the new chapter can serve as a prelude to increase international pressures and pave the way for intervention in Iranian affairs.


Two. More time and intelligence is required to talk about the latest US’ allegation, which have been met with enthusiasm by Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf Cooperation Council member; but even by building our analysis upon the Iranian officials’ reaction, which was categorical rejection of he accusations, the magnitude of Washington’s dangerous game would not become less, since it was voiced at the highest judicial and political levels of the US’ ruling system. The US president and security officials keep on insisting that there are adequate credible documents which call for international and regional action against Iran. Now the foreign policy experts face these questions: what are the objectives of the US, the West, Saudi Arabia and other parties supporting the plan? Will the new US’ measure have follow-ups? Or is this merely the propaganda dimension of a larger plan?


Three. The Arab World is undergoing popular movements: three Arab dictators have been deposed and three other are on the brink of transformative changes. Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries have faced waves of opposition after Syria, Yemen and Bahrain. The Arab government must carry out some reforms in their modus operandi or otherwise be prepared to face the same problems.


There are few Middle East countries, such as Turkey, that have survived –and even taken advantage of- the situation due to their relatively democratic rule and impressive economic record. Turkey used much of its democratic capacity to take the helm of the Arab movements, while Saudi Arabia failed to do so and Iran’s efforts to influence the movements have fallen flat due to the post-2009 election unfolding events. Washington’s anti-Iranian plan could have been prepared as a response to Iran’s domestic and foreign situation and the Arab World’s developments. The US does not want the pro-democracy wave of the Arab World to turn into an anti-US and anti-Israeli wave, hence efforts to aggravate the already plagued-with-misunderstanding relations between Iran and Arabs.


Four. Cognizant of these threats and the recent regional developments, the former Iranian president called for vigilance against foreign threats. Khatami’s message served a dual purpose: for inside, to preclude any measures which are conducive to foreign intervention, and for the outside, to know that Iran would not yield to pressure, despite the domestic differences.

Five. The high-ranking Iranian officials should heed the concerns expressed by the Islamic Revolution’s sympathizers and to understand that the key to regulating current threats away is to cut off certain political groups from the diplomatic decision-making process.


IAIJ Open Letter to US Media

September 21, 2011

International Association of Iranian Journalists in an open letter to American journalists demanded them to ask Ahmadinejad(Why are Iranian journalists in prison and banned from writing?)

Here is this letter:

Editors, reporters, journalists and writers in the United States,

The International Association of Iranian Journalists (IAIJ) calls for help in freeing your Iranian colleagues.

Dear Fellow Journalists,

As you are aware, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad , after the controversial and disputed presidential elections is again on his way to the United States.

Like previous years and visits, this illegal president of the Islamic Republic will meet members of the American media and like in the past will claim that Iran is the freest country in the world. He will again deny that there are human rights violations, censorship of the media, and suppression of freedoms in Iran.

As journalists, we would like to inform you once again that Iran is the largest prison for journalists in the world. Today, there are some 18 Iranian journalists behind prison bars. In the most recent attack on journalists, a woman web-blogger received 50 flogging lashes as punishment for criticizing Ahmadinejad’s policies. This journalist and blogger was flogged simply because she was doing what all her journalistic colleagues are supposed to do around the world: reporting news and life around her.

The judiciary-security apparatus of the Islamic Republic of Iran has arrested these journalists, reporters, bloggers and writers and, after repeated tortures and confinements to solitary cells, has sentenced them to long prison terms and/or banned them from using their pens altogether.

Banning professionals from media activities is a new policy of the judiciary officials of the Islamic Republic of Iran, which has expanded over the last 2 years. The ban imposed on Ahmad Zeidabadi to engage in media activities for life, on Jhila Bani-Yaghoob for 30 years, on Badrol Sadat Mofidi for 5 years and on Massoud Lavasani for 10 years are only a few examples of such sentences passed against Iranian journalists.

Iranian journalists currently face the most dreadful conditions in Iranian prisons. They are even denied the rights that other prisoners enjoy for which they have resorted to hunger strikes on

numerous times. Hoda Saber, a journalist and human rights activist, was the latest victim of such persecution who resorted to a hunger strike in. Unfortunately he lost that battle and her life because of disregard for his calls by prison officials.

Dear Fellow Journalists,

Please ask Mahmoud Ahmadinejad this question:

-Why are these journalists in prison?

We earnestly call on you to unanimously ask him to free your fellow journalists in Iran from prison.


Prisoners urge UN investigator to visit Iranian prisons

Payvand Iran News

Six Iranian political prisoners held at Rejaishahr Prison in Karaj have urged Ahmad Shaheed, the United Nations special rapporteur for Iran, to inspect Iranian prisons. Saham News reports that the prisoners have also called on Shaheed to visit their families.

The signatories, who include detained teachers, journalists and political activists, write in their letter that they were arrested for their “civil action though participation in the presidential election of June 12, 2009” and efforts to create “change and democratic developments in Iran’s political situation and Iran’s human rights activities.”

They maintain that their activities “are based on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other United Nations conventions and resolutions” that the Iranian government is required to follow.

They write that their “peaceful activities” are being labelled as “soft sedition” and “anti-Revolutionary” by the government and used as an excuse to arrest them and interrogate them “under inappropriate conditions and severe mental and physical pressure.”

Their letter draws the UN rapporteur’s attention to “unfair trials, beyond what the law allows, held in secret without the presence of a defence attorney.” They add that they have been subjected to “long prison sentences and exile, held in sub-standard prisons and forced to live under inhumane and un-Islamic restrictions for prisoners and their families.”

Some of the signatories to the letter are also part of a group of six prisoners at Rejaishahr Prison who are currently on a hunger strike to protest the deaths of two other political prisoners, Haleh Sahabi and Reza Hoda Saber. Their strike was inspired by a similar campaign by 12 prisoners at Evin Prison. They started their strike following reports that prison authorities beat Hoda Saber, who was also on a hunger strike, and delayed in taking him to hospital, which the prisoners claim resulted in his death.

Iranian authorities have said that Shaheed, the UN rights investigator, will not be allowed to travel to Iran. They have accused the West of using human rights issues as a political tool against its enemies.


Iran must work toward improving press freedom

CPJ Committee to Protect Journalists
August 17, 2011

Dr. Ahmed Shaheed
U.N. Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran
Asia, Pacific Unit, Iran Desk
Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
Palais des Nations
CH-1211 Geneva 10, Switzerland

Dear Dr. Shaheed,

Ahead of your report on human rights in Iran to the U.N. General Assembly in September, I would like to take this opportunity to provide you with an assessment of the country’s state of press freedom as documented by the Committee to Protect Journalists. Authorities were detaining 34 journalists when CPJ conducted its annual worldwide census of imprisoned journalists on December 1, 2010, making Iran, along with China, the world’s worst jailer of the press. In reviewing these cases and their developments, we have identified three distinct and worrying developments to which we would like to draw your attention.

Uncertain prison terms

Authorities are maintaining a revolving prison door, freeing some prisoners on furloughs even as they make new arrests. The furloughed journalists often post six-figure bonds and endure enormous political pressure to keep silent or turn on their colleagues. In March 2010, the government crackdown put 52 journalists behind bars, according to a survey conducted by CPJ, at the time the highest number of detainees we recorded in a single country since December 1996.

A recent example of this policy is journalist Ahmad Zaid-Abadi, who was imprisoned in June 2009 and granted a 48-hour furlough on August 4 after posting US$500,000 bail, according to the news website Rooz Online. Two days later, Zaid-Abadi turned himself in to authorities as required but was told that his furlough had been extended. One day later, on August 7, Rooz Online said, authorities summoned him back to prison, where he remains. Zaid-Abadi was sentenced in 2010 to six years in prison, five years’ exile to Gonabad, a city in Khorasan province, and “lifetime deprivation of any political activity” including “interviews, speech[es], and analyses of events, whether in written or oral form.” He was awarded the UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize in 2011 and the World Association of Newspapers’ Golden Pen of Freedom Award in 2010.

Prison sentences in Iran may also be increased without any due process, a retaliatory policy recently used against Mohammad Davari, who is currently serving a five-year sentence. One year was added to his jail term after he signed open letters and statements for political prisoners this past year.

Davari, the editor-in-chief of the reformist news website Saham News as well as a trade unionist and teacher, has been tortured and pressured to make televised confessions implicating leaders within the reformist movement, news reports said. In 2010, CPJ honored Davari with its International Press Freedom Award.

CPJ has found that furloughs and arbitrarily increased sentences make a mockery of formal sentencing and are simply a manipulative tactic used by the Iranian government to coerce prisoners into providing information, restrain them from engaging in protest actions inside prison, silence their grievances, or motivate them to cooperate with prison officials and interrogators.

Inhumane treatment

Imprisoned journalists suffer from the crowded and unsanitary conditions endemic to Iranian prisons, but they also face additional punitive measures such as the denial of family visits and placement in solitary confinement, CPJ research shows. Some have been denied medical care. Hoda Saber, editor of the long-defunct magazine Iran-e Farda, died in Evin Prison after suffering a heart attack on June 10, news and human rights reports said. Six hours passed before he was taken to a hospital, news reports said. Saber’s wife, Fariden Jamshidi, said that hospital personnel told her that her husband’s life “could have been saved had prison officials brought him earlier.”

Saber had been imprisoned in Evin Prison since July 2010 in relation to his political activism, CPJ research shows. The journalist had been on hunger strike since June 2 to protest the killing of another journalist and activist, Haleh Sahabi, who died from a violent blow by security personnel at her father’s funeral the previous day.

According to one account, the reformist news website Kaleme reported, 64 prisoners in Evin Prison’s Ward 350, which is reserved for political prisoners, issued a statement saying that Saber was severely beaten at the prison infirmary where he was initially taken.

A lack of due process

Iran targets lawyers who provide legal counsel for journalists. Writer, lawyer, and human rights activist Nasrin Sotoudeh is one example. Sotoudeh, who has served as legal counsel for several journalists imprisoned in Iran, was sentenced in January to 11 years in prison. The state claims that in advocating for the rights of her fellow Iranians, Sotoudeh engaged in “propaganda against the regime” for which she was given a one-year sentence. It also found her guilty of “acting against national security” and “violating the Islamic dress code (hijab) in a filmed speech,” which brought her an additional 10 years in prison. The court also banned her from practicing law and from traveling outside Iran for 20 years. This additional punishment begins after Sotoudeh’s release from prison. Her appeal is pending.

One way of measuring the deteriorating climate for Iranian journalists is to consider the number of journalists forced into exile. According to Journalists in Exile, CPJ’s 2011 special report, at least 18 Iranian journalists have fled their homes in the past year. Iran topped the list (tied with Cuba) for the second consecutive year as the government continued a crackdown that began with the disputed 2009 election. CPJ’s 2010 survey found that at least 29 Iranian editors, reporters, and photographers had fled into exile; the country’s total exodus over the past decade is 66, behind only Ethiopia and Somalia.

I am certain that you share our concerns regarding these developments, which are part of a pattern of human rights violations in Iran. Therefore we would be grateful if the deplorable state of journalists would find its due attention in your report and we would be pleased to provide you with any additional information you may require.

Thank you for your attention to this urgent matter.


Joel Simon
Executive Director


Iran’s supreme leader attacks ‘harmful’ books

Saeed Kamali Dehghan
Thursday 21 July 2011 19.49 BST

Iran’s former culture minister, Ataollah Mohajerani, has criticised the country’s supreme leader for restricting access to literature after Ayatollah Ali Khamenei publicly attacked “harmful books” and likened them to “poisonous” drugs.

In a meeting with librarians and officials from Iran’s book industry on Wednesday, Khamenei spoke out against books “with a cultural appe arance but with specific political hidden motives.

“Not all books are necessarily good and not all of them are unharmful, some books are harmful,” he said, according to his official website,

Mohajerani who was culture minister until 2000 under the reformist president Mohammad Khatami, said the ayatollah was worried about “literary, philosophical and social” books that might raise questions about his legitimacy as the supreme leader. “I think that he is very much concerned about books that can either implicitly or explicitly target his position as the supreme leader and also his legitimacy.”

He had fallen foul of the ayatollah when he was at the ministry as he favoured greater cultural openness and removed thousands of titles from the lists of banned books. Some analysts believe his lack of deference to the hardline ayatollah was another reason he came under attack from conservative clerics which finally forced him to resign. Numerous publications were closed down after he went. He currently lives in exile in London.

In his speech, the 72-year-old Khamenei, whose pronouncements are often interpreted as official guidelines, refused to give more details on which books he deemed “harmful”. However, titles ranging from uncensored version of Plato’s Symposium to Louis-Ferdinand Céline’s Journey to the End of the Night and works by James Joyce, Gabriel García Márquez, Kurt Vonnegut and Paulo Coelho have been banned in recent years by Iran’s ministry of culture and Islamic guidance which vets all books before publication.

According to Mohajerani, Khamenei is a fan of fiction and closely follows publication of novels and other literary books.

“Those responsible in the book industry should not let harmful books enter our book market on the basis that we let them [readers] choose [what they want to read],” Khamenei told cheering crowds.

“Like poisonous, dangerous and addictive drugs which are not available for everyone without restrictions … as a publisher, librarian or an official in the book industry, we don’t have the right to make [such books] available to those without knowledge,” he said. “We should provide them with healthy and good books.”

Mohajerani said: “His comments stem from a traditional clerical mentality that clerics guide people as shepherds guide their sheep, this is a viewpoint that doesn’t have any place in today’s life.”

Although Iran’s constitution prohibits censorship, publishers are required to submit all books to the cultural ministry where they are usually checked by three separate people charged with censoring words and phrases or labelling them as “inappropriate” for publication.

The supreme leader’s comments come weeks after several writers complained about the time-consuming procedure of book publishing; some said they have waited several months and even years for permission.

Mohammad Mohammad-Ali, a celebrated fiction writer told the semi-official Isna news agency in a recent interview that he had waited for over two and a half years for permission to publish 10 of his books, but only one had so far been approved for publication.

Hassan Homayoun, a journalist and poet who has monitored censorship in Iran has published on his blog a series of comments made by censors.

According to Homayoun, in review of a poetry book, a censor commented that it lacked appropriate rhythm. With regard to a book by Gholam-Hossein Saedi, the censor said it contained sexually-provocative material and was too ambiguous and allegorical. In review of a book written by celebrated writer Mahmoud Dolatabadi, a censor said that it was too depressing.

Censors go as far as advising writers to substitute certain words with other “appropriate” phrases, should they wish their book to be approved.

In an interview with the semi-official Ilna news agency, another writer, Mohammad Baghaei Makan, said he was asked to change “wine” to “coffee” in a text he wrote in which he, ironically, expressed contempt for wine.

According to Ilna, words such as “kiss”, “beloved”, “wine” ,”drunk”, “pork”, “dance”, “rape”, “dog” and “meditation” are among others frequently asked to be substituted.

Shahriar Mandanipour, an Iranian novelist and a victim of censorship in Iran, has written a novel based on his experiences. Censoring an Iranian Love Story, published in 2009, follows the journey of a fictional writer who meets the man responsible for censoring his book.

In the face of book censorship in Iran, many celebrated writers such as Mahmoud Dolatabadi and Reza Barahani whose books are banned in Iran have chosen to publish their books in other languages outside the country.


New Iran public execution video highlights ‘brutal’ death penalty

21 July 2011

Graphic new video footage of a public hanging in Iran this week highlights the brutalisation of both the condemned and those who watch executions, Amnesty International said today.

The video provided to Amnesty International was shot on 19 July, and shows the execution by hanging of three men in Azadi Square in the city of Kermanshah. The men had been convicted of rape.

The three men are shown standing on top of buses as guards drape ropes fixed to a bridge overhead around their necks, before a crowd of onlookers including children.

The crimes for which the men were condemned and the execution is announced over a loudspeaker, then the buses are driven away.

“These latest public executions underline the continuing horror of the death penalty in Iran,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa.

In the video, numerous people are seen photographing or filming the execution.

“Not only those executed, but all those who watch public executions, including, children, are brutalised and degraded by the experience. These public displays of killing perpetuate a culture of acceptance of violence and bloodlust, rather than a belief in justice,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui.

“We have also been informed that the arrest, trial and execution of these men took barely two months, which raises serious questions about the fairness of the trial.”

Tuesday’s hangings are part of a continuing rise in the number of public executions in Iran since late 2010, and a rise in executions overall.

The authorities have acknowledged at least 28 public executions so far this year. Amnesty International has received reports of at least another six which the authorities have not acknowledged.

“It is deeply disturbing that despite a moratorium on public executions ordered in 2008, the Iranian authorities are once again resorting to this inhuman practice.” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui.

According to UN human rights experts, executions in public serve no legitimate purpose and only increase the cruel, inhuman and degrading nature of this punishment.

“All executions violate the right to life. Those carried out publicly are a gross affront to human dignity which cannot be tolerated,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui.

The executions follow several widely publicized gang rapes of women this year in Iran. In some cases, officials blamed the victims for failing to adhere to the official code on dress or gender segregation.

“Executions after speedy unfair trials are no solution to the extremely serious problem of rape in Iran, which feeds on the acceptance of violence against women at all levels of society,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui.

“The Iranian authorities should be aiming to combat this culture of violence rather than perpetuate it through these public displays of brutality.”

Iran comes second only to China in the number of executions carried out annually. The Iranian authorities do not publish official statistics on their use of the death penalty, despite repeated calls for transparency by UN human rights bodies.

UN guidelines on the use of the death penalty, in those countries that retain this punishment, state that it should only be used for the most serious crimes. This is understood as meaning intentional crimes with lethal or other extremely grave consequences. Most executions in Iran relate to drug-trafficking offences and rape.


Officials Are Lying: Twice as Many Executed

ROOZ-July 10, 2011 – Shirin Ebadi

Judiciary officials of the Islamic Republic of Iran have reported that 140 individuals have been executed in the province of Khorasan on charges of “smuggling addictive drugs.” Human rights defenders on the other hand contend that on average two people per day have been executed during this period, thus raising the number of secret executions to higher than what the judiciary authorities proclaim.

In an exclusive interview with Rooz, Iran’s 2003 Nobel Peace laureate Shirin Ebadi said, “According to confirmed information that we and other rights defenders have received from inside prisons in Iran, which includes names of individuals who have been executed, the number of executions is almost two times as many as have officially been announced.”

Second Official Acknowledgement

The deputy director for social affairs and crime prevention at South Khorasan province’s judiciary recently announced that 140 “smugglers of addictive drugs” had been executed in 2010, and added, “The Revolutionary Court acts with full force against those who engage in the trade of addictive drugs.”

Mehr news agency reported that during an achievement recognition ceremony for outstanding staff of the South Khorasan province’s judiciary, deputy director Mohammad Bagher Bagheri made the announcement about the execution of 140 individuals and said that some 38,000 files had been processed in this regard, which he asserted indicated “comprehensive planning, action and management by judiciary managers of the province.”

In recent weeks, officials of Iran’s judiciary have made several announcements of unannounced executions in 2010. Prior to this, Mashhad city public prosecutor Mahmoud Zoghi had announced that a number of executions related to crimes for illegal drugs had been carried out in the Vakilabad prison of Mashhad since the beginning of the current year, of which only three months had passed (the Iranian calendar year begins on March 21).

The revelations of secret executions a year after they had taken place come as human rights activists assert that secret executions are carried out at this very moment in prisons across Iran.

In the most recent case, the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran announced that 25 prisoners had been secretly and en-masse executed on July 3 (Tir 12) at Ghezelhesar prison in the city of Karaj on drug related crimes, and called for the end of this “deadly trend” while also demanding the announcement of the details of the executions that have taken place over the last two years in prisons across Iran. The ICHRI has also lodged its protest regarding the absence of reports by judiciary officials over the high number of executions.

They Are Lying

Speaking to Rooz about the delayed announcement of these executions by Iranian authorities, Shirin Ebadi, the head of a group of human rights attorneys said, “The regime denies these executions because it pursues a policy of not being transparent and or publicly announcing its actions. But since defenders of human rights pass the names of executed individuals to different organizations, particularly the United Nations, the Islamic republic is now forced to reveal some of these to prevent further disgrace.”

Ebadi continues, “If these executions took place legally, if the judiciary was fair, the relevant court would have made (the appropriate) announcement and informed public opinion of its work. But when people are secretly executed you can be sure that the judicial process was not fair and the defense rights of an accused person were disregarded. When the executions were leaked outside and passed on to other countries and international organizations, the regime was forced to accept some of its responsibilities. But I will stress that even at this level of disclosure they are lying. In other words the number of executions is greater than what they claim.”

Human rights groups have repeatedly expressed their concerns about secret executions in Iranian prisons, particularly Vakilabad prison in Mashhad.

Prior to the announcement of the secret executions by judiciary officials of the Islamic republic, Amnesty International’s annual report published in April/May confirmed the execution of 252 individuals in Iran on drug related charges in 2010. The report adds that another group of 300 individuals were also executed in the same period based on its “reliable received sources.” AI also reports that the Iran has confirmed execution of 190 individuals in the country in the January – June period, but it adds that another 130 individuals had been executed in addition to that without being announced.

The Visit of the Special UN Rapporteur

The rapid increase in the official number of executions in Iran and the news of secret executions has raised the concerns of other governments and human rights organizations.

The Un Human Rights Council recently issued a resolution calling for a report on the condition of human rights in Iran for which it appointed a special rapporteur. Ahmad Shahid, the former foreign minister of Maldivia was subsequently appointed to this position, which prompted different responses from officials in the parliament and others in Iran.

Two principlist Majlis deputies Zohre Elhian and Mohammad Karim Abedi, judiciary chief Sadegh Larijani, and foreign ministry spokesperson Ramin Mehmanparast are among those who opposed the visit of the special UN envoy on human rights.

Ebadi pointed out that even if the Islamic republic does not allow Shahid to come to Iran, he will have other sources such as individuals outside Iran or even those inside Iran – with due regard for their safety – to fully learn of what is going on inside Iran. “He will also benefit from the reports that I and other human rights defenders have prepared in this regard,” she said.

In recent days some human rights activists have suggested that should the UN rapporteur not be allowed to travel to Iran, he should visit neighboring countries such as Iraq where a large number of victims of human rights violations in Iran reside and interview the victims. This way they can also assist in connecting the rapporteur to victims inside Iran who may be interested in presenting their experience in such violations. She also requested all individuals who had knowledge of human rights violations in Iran to present their reports and documents to Mr. Shahid without any exaggeration.


PRESS RELEASE – Iran: The PCF demands the release of all imprisoned trade union activists

French Communist Party
Paris, June 7, 2011

The French Communist Party (PCF) strongly condemns the new arrests, following the 1st of May celebrations, of trade union activists in Iran, notably in Kurdistan.

At a time when the people of the Arab world and beyond are rising up for democracy, freedom and social justice, the Iranian government response to popular aspirations is simply systematic repression. The Tehran regime and its representatives have no legitimate place within the International Labour Organisation when they continually stifle the freedoms and trample on the rights of workers in their country.

The French Communist Party reaffirms its solidarity with the Iranian democrats. It demands the release of all imprisoned trade unionists. It gives its support to the rally organised, in response to the call of the trade unions, in Geneva on the 9th June 2011

French Communist Party

Paris, June 7, 2011.


Haleh Sahabi: Our Antigone in Tehran

Haleh Sahabi defied human law to defend moral, divine law; her life writing a heroic legend of the future.
June 2, 2011

Haleh Sahabi, 54, was a distinguished Quranic hermeneutician, a religious comparatist, a women’s rights scholar, and a committed activist to the cause of her people’s civil liberties. Haleh Sahabi was sentenced to a two-year prison term after she had joined a rally in front of the Iranian parliament in the aftermath of the contested presidential election of 2009.

While serving her term in jail, Haleh Sahabi was informed of her father’s impending death. He was the prominent Iranian dissident Ezzatollah Sahabi (1930-2011), a revered democracy activist, known and admired for his mild manner, open-minded generosity of spirit, a liberal demeanor, and a commitment to non-violent activism on a religious-nationalist platform for over half a century.

Haleh Sahabi was briefly allowed out of prison to be present for the final days of her father’s life. Ezzatollah died, at the age of 81 on May 31, 2011. Millions of Iranians in and out of their homeland were saddened by his death, deeply grateful for his moderate and caring positions, even those who did not agree with him.

His funeral began on the following day, June 1, under tight security control, and – according to a number of reliable eyewitness accounts-  including those of Ahmad Montazeri, the son of the late Grand Ayatollah Montazeri, and Ahmad Sadr Haj Seyyed Javadi, an aging opposition politician – a band of organised plainclothes security forces began to disrupt the funeral, ridiculing and humiliating the attendants, and moved to snatch the body of the deceased from those who were carrying it for a proper burial.

Haleh Sahabi, leading the funeral, tried to prevent the disruption, while holding on to a picture of her father. The picture was violently taken away from her by a security agent and she was hit on her side. She fell to the ground in the scuffle and soon after died of a cardiac arrest.

The International campaign for Human Rights in Iran holds the plainclothes security forces responsible for Haleh Sahabi’s death, and has called for an official investigation. “The shameful actions of government thugs in this incident reveal a deep contempt for traditions that belong to all Iranians, and they have resulted in a tragedy,” said Hadi Ghaemi, spokesperson for the campaign. Shirin Ebadi, the Iranian Nobel Peace laureate, has declared Haleh Sahabi’s death,“intentional murder”. 

In Sophocles’ Antigone (circa 442BC), we learn of two brothers who died fighting each other opposing sides of Thebes’ civil war. The new king, Creon, decrees that one of the two brothers, Eteocles, will be honoured, while the other, Polyneices, will suffer the public shame of not being given a proper burial.

Antigone, one of the two sisters of the dead brothers defies the royal decree and decides to give her damned brother Polyneices a dignified burial. She considers it her duty, even at the cost of defying the law of the land.

Over the centuries, Antigone’s courageous and principled stance, made against the royal decree, has been the source of the most cherished reflections in the entire tradition of Greek inspired humanities. For more than 2500 years, Sophocles’ tragedy has been the source and inspiration of the most enduring and insightful reflections on the nature of citizenship, political dissent, civil disobedience, moral obligation to one’s family, duty to one’s God, and the rule of law. So much so that is it impossible to imagine the Greek foundation of any claim to humanity and civilisation without Antigone and other tragedies of Sophocles.

We – Arabs, Iranians, Afghans, Africans, Asians, etc – are in an inaugural moment of our renewed claims to our history, humanity and dignity.

Today in the streets of Tehran, Kabul, Baghdad, Damascus, Cairo, Tunis, Tripoli, Sanaa, Manama, and scores of other major and minor cities from the Atlantic to the Indian Ocean, our people are busy writing the allegorical parables of our future claims on who and how and what we are. Our people are writing new legends, crafting new metaphors, coining neologism for our emerging poetries.

Modern day heroes

Remember today the names of Hamza al-Khateeb, the 13-year-old Syrian boy who was brutally tortured and mutilated by Bashar Assad’s agents in Syria; or Mohammed Bouazizi, the young peddler who set himself on fire out of economic desperation in Ben Ali’s Tunisia; and Neda Agha Soltan, the young Iranian pro-democracy protester who was cold-bloodedly murdered by the security agents of Ayatollah Khamenei. They join the names of Abeer Qassim Hamza al Janabi, the 14-year-old Iraqi girl gang-raped and murdered by US troops and Muhammad al-Durra, the 12-year-old Palestinian boy murdered by Israeli sharpshooters as the iconic parables of a dramatic unfolding of a renewed accord of a people with their destiny.

They are the dramatis personae of the living legends that our posterity will read in their history books, literary genres, moving poetries. The brutish regimes that rule over our lands will in one way or another come to an end and will leave behind nothing for their leaders than ignominy and infamy.

In Antigone, we are faced with the law of the land contravening the rule of traditions. But here and now, facing a vicious and wicked regime that is over-anxious about its own lack of legitimacy, Haleh Sahabi wrote in her living memory a different drama.

The Islamic Republic is so terrified of any public gathering, especially over dead bodies of its dissidents, precisely because this is the manner in which it took over from the previous regime and that it abused to outmanoeuvre its ideological rivals in order to stay in power.

The Islamic Republic is a republic of death and dying, a republic of fear of the living and thriving. Haleh Sahabi did not break any law to honour her father’s right to a dignified burial. She exposed the banality of the evil that rules over some seventy-odd million human beings, a banality that has not even the decency of allowing a dignified burial of an 81-year-old father, without causing the death of her mourning daughter too.

Ezzatollah Sahabi lived a long and fulfilling life. Haleh Sahabi was cut down halfway through her dignified extension of her father’s causes into unchartered territories. Antigone defied a human law to observe a divine mandate, a moral commandment. Haleh Sahabi defied the ghoulish last shrieks of a dying theocracy to lay the foundation of a new ennobling legend for her people: The legend of Haleh Sahabi – the daughter who did not allow the body of her noble father stolen by ignoble fiends.

How many brute and cruel tyrants have come and gone? But we only remember the glorious, the defiant, the courageous Antigone.

The Ben Alis, the Mubaraks, the Gaddafis, and the Khameneis of our history too in one way or another will eventually become a boring footnote in some future history book – the titles, themes, and empowering dramas of which will blossom around the names of Antigone and Haleh Sahabi.

Tonight Haleh Sahabi, a daughter who came out of prison to bury her father and honour his passing to eternity, sleeps prematurely but peacefully in the vicinity of that father.

Among her other courageous endeavours, Haleh Sahabi was a member of the “Mothers of Peace”, a group mostly consisting of mothers whose children had perished at the hands of thugs employed by the garrison state to preserve it a little longer, each woman committed to reduce the intensity of violence in their homeland.

Somewhere between defiant daughters and mothers of peace, the future of Haleh Sahabi’s homeland is in very caring and capable hands – the hands of the living and the life-givers. Like Antigone, Haleh Sahabi is now the budding seed of an ennobling tragedy that will sustain her people’s renewed struggle to demand and exact their inalienable rights to freedom and liberty, for the dignity of daughters and sons being allowed to bury their fathers and mothers in peace.

Rest in peace, gallant sister, our own mighty Antigone: Haleh Khanom Sahabi.

Hamid Dabashi is Hagop Kevorkian Professor of Iranian Studies and Comparative Literature at Columbia University in New York.  He is the author, most recently, of Iran, the Green Movement, and the US: The Fox and the Paradox (Zed, 2010). 

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.


Sahabi’s family memembers: Regime Even Feared Sahabi’s Corpse

Sahabi Father and Daughter Die a Day Apart
By Fereshteh Ghazi
June 2, 2011

While Ezzatollah Sahabi, the leading figure among Iranian national-religious activists, and a quiet critic of the Islamic regime, passed away on Tuesday after a month-long comma, his daughter Haleh Sahabi died due to a scuttle with security forces during her father’s funeral ceremony on Wednesday. Close family members spoke with Rooz about the father’s death, and said that the Islamic regime feared the corpse of Sahabi as much as it feared him when he was alive.

While the father is said to have died after being in a comma for one month, the daughter Haleh died while she was at her father’s funeral and as she was confronted by security agents who are reported to have tried to snatch a photograph of her father from her. Haleh was a recognized civil and human rights activist in her own right with wide respect in Iranian society.

Perhaps the best examples of the regime’s fear are the pressures that emerged on the family members of Ezzatollah’s death immediately after his death by the country’s security forces. Intelligence and security agents dictated to family members in no uncertain terms that a quick and quiet burial of Sahabi the father was the way to go with the death, despite the family’s resistance and protests to this. Haleh Sahabi and Yahya Mashayekhi, the child and a grand-child of Sahabi told Rooz before Haleh herself was killed that because of this pressure they had to change the mourning ceremony from 8:30am to 7am, when fewer people could gather and join the procession from the deceased’s house to the cemetery, which was a short distance away.

Mr. Mashayekhi said in this regard, “We accepted the change of an hour and a half simply to prevent any more larger requests that could have prevented the ceremony altogether. ”

Ezzatollah Sahabi had been hospitalized on April 29 this year because of a stroke he had that completely paralyzed him and putting him in a comma at Modarres hospital in Tehran. His daughter Haleh Sahabi told Rooz late on Tuesday that even though her father had passed away at 2:10pm, she and others were told of this only at around 6pm.


Security Agents Had Been Prepared to Bury Him

Prior to informing his family members of Ezzatollah Sahabi’s death, security and intelligence agents positioned themselves around Sahabi’s house in the town of Lavasan. According to a Rooz reporter, there were agents from Babai autobahn to the door of Sahabi’s house covering a distance of about 15 kilometers.

Security agents also had stationed themselves in front of Sahabi’s house, where a number of members of Nehzate Azadi (Iran Freedom Party) and national-religious council members were arrested and subsequently released after a few hours of interrogations.

Reza Tajik and Yasser Maasoomi were among those who were interrogated at the ministry of intelligence after being detained in front of Sahabi’s house on Tuesday.

But security agents did not simply stay outside. They entered Sahabi’s house repeatedly where they stressed that the deceased had to be buried rapidly, issuing threats to use available regulations of the provincial security bureau.


Sahabi’s grandson Yahya Mashayekhi told Rooz, “Intelligence agents pressed for a short mourning ceremony and a quick burial, something that his family did not accept. Then they threatened that we would have more problems if we did not comply.”

Mashayekhi said that such pressures had existed since the day Sahabi went into a comma, a month earlier. They dictated the terms for the mourning ceremony, the burial etc, indicating that they had already thought about the events that would be taking place after the death of Sahabi.

His daughter Haleh, who at the time of her father’s death was on leave from prison told Rooz, “We held a quick memorial ceremony and want to walk the short distance from his house to the cemetery, but are not sure they will accept that.”


Fear of the Corpse

Dr Mohammad Maleki was a close friend of Sahabi and is a member of the religious-national council who told Rooz that the insistence of security and intelligence agents that the burial take place quickly and without fanfare indicated how scared the regime was of Sahabi’s corpse because of his national popularity and appeal. He added that these agents had even threatened to take the corpse and bury it themselves before the public arrived if their demands were not, something that Haleh also alluded to.

The last time Haleh Sahabi saw her father was during the Nowruz (New Year) holidays in late March when he went to visit her while she was held in Evin prison. She said he looked and felt good then. “Before asking about how I was, he asked about how other student prisoners such as Haleh Bahareh were doing in prison, and expressed his concern over their fate because they were at the time barred from any visitations and in a hunger strike.”

Haleh told Rooz on Tuesday that she did not realize why prison officials had given her leave, a few days prior to her father’s death. “It was when I came home that I realized that my father was in hospital and under what condition. When I saw him at the hospital, he was unconscious but I read out some poetry for him and talked with him while he could not respond. His eyes occasionally turned wet with teardrops,” she said.

Her son Yahya said he was not sure how long prison officials would allow his mother to remain on her out-of-prison visit.

Haleh told the Rooz reporter that in the last two years, Sahabi had been concerned about the Green Movement, while fully supporting it. “He had faith and believed in the young generation,” she said. “This generation understands the course of dialogue and fairness and rejects lies,” she quoted her father saying. She said that in her last visits from prison, her father who was still on his feet prior to his comma, talked about his own experience in prison as a way to ease her pain and predicament.

Sahabi was one of the most influential activists belonging to what is in Iran known as the national-religious groups. He was among the most popular and respected politicians and activists known for his honesty, sincerity and love for Iran. In a public letter in 2010 he prayed that God save Iran or end his life. “Where can I take the pain of the young women and men of this country,” reflecting on the many imprisoned activists who have been jailed since the disputed 2009 presidential elections.


Reactions to Sahabi’s Death

While government media in Iran refrained from publishing the news of Ezzatollah Sahabi’s death, political and religious groups and individuals published condolences and memorial statements on the occasion.

A number of right-wing newspaper while not publishing the actual news of the death, published the condolence message of Hashemi Rafsanjani. Some reformist and independent newspapers in contrast published not only the news of the death of this reformist but also stories on his life and his role in Iran’s political landscape, including photographs.

Iran Farda had many articles on Sahabi and mourned the passing of what he called was Iran’s dignity.

The council that includes the religious and national political groups, which was headed by Sahabi, published a statement on the occasion, saying that “everybody was a Sahabi from now on.” The statement said that Sahabi was an inclusive activist who wanted Iran for everybody, for which he spent many years of prison and torture. It said that he was concerned about the fate of Iran, during his final days, lamenting that he had not done anything for his homeland.

Shirin Ebadi, Iran’s only Nobel Peace laureate also commented on the event saying his only concern was Iran, which may end up in ruins.

Hashemi Rafsanjani, the head of the powerful State Expediency Council also sent a condolence message, as did Ahmad Montazeri (the son of the late reformist grand ayatollah). The message of the latter said that those who subjected Sahabi and others to torture and suffering would be questioned in the other world.

The Teachers Association of the Qom Theological Seminary also issued a statement calling Sahabi a role model for the youth and someone who strived to advance the cause of his country.

Among senior clerics, ayatollah Sanei and Bayat Zanjani both sent wrongly worded condolence messages, praising Sahabi for his political ethics and freedom loving dreams for his country, who had played an important role in the establishment of the Islamic republic of Iran.

Iran’s largest student alumni organization, Sazemane Danesh-Amookhtegane Iran Eslami (aka Advare Tahkim Vahdat) also sent a condolence message expressing pride and sympathy for a man who saw the prisons of the Shah’s regime as well as those of the Islamic republic, because neither had any toleration for any dissent. The student group called on all students to participate in the memorial and mourning ceremonies related to Sahabi.

The Coordinating Council of the Green movement also issued a statement, calling Iranians to participate in the passing of Sahabi.

Iran Participation Front, which still has many of its supporters behind bars, also issued a statement lauding Sahabi’s lifelong efforts for his country and Iranians.

Published on


MPs demand death for opposition leaders

Morning Star Online
Tuesday 15 February 2011by Our Foreign Desk

Hard-line Iranian MPs urged the judiciary today to hand out death penalties to opposition leaders for fomenting unrest amid ongoing anti-government rallies which have so far claimed one life and left dozens wounded.

Clashes broke out between security forces and protesters on Monday when thousands of opposition supporters rallied in solidarity with the popular uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia.

The pro-government Fars News Agency reported that a bystander was shot dead at the hands of protesters.

Today the official IRNA news agency quoted MPs as saying that “Mehdi Karroubi and Mirhossein Mousavi are spreading corruption on earth and should be tried.”

The charge of mofsed fel-arz, or spreading corruption that threatens social and political well-being, carries the death penalty in Iran.

Iranian police reportedly continued to use electric prods and tear gas against protesters in Tehran today in an attempt to prevent scattered demonstrations from coalescing.

Jailed Iranian trade union leader Mansour Osanloo has been taken to hospital after suffering chest pains this weekend that may have been caused by a heart attack.

International Transport Federation general secretary David Cockroft said that if Mr Osanloo, who has been locked up for four years, “hadn’t had his life threatened, been beaten, arrested, re-arrested and held for years he would today be a well man.

“His maltreatment is part of a campaign to crush his voice and that of his trade union, the Vahed Syndicate.”


Hypocritical opportunism

Morning Star Online
Tuesday 15 February 2011

If US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has the interests of the Iranian people at heart, she should stop claiming the brave campaigners on the streets of Tehran, Isfahan and other cities as her allies.

Her opportunism is used by Iran’s Supreme Leader regime to falsely paint the demonstrators as US stooges.

Clinton claims that the Obama administration took a consistent line as revolutionary events unfolded in Egypt.

It was against violence, it supported universal human rights for the Egyptian people and it backed political change that would guarantee positive outcomes.

And she insists that Washington is committed to those three principles for Iran.

For some reason, the secretary of state sees no need to include the peoples of Yemen, Bahrain, Algeria, Jordan, Libya and Saudi Arabia in this festival of peace, human rights and positive outcomes.

If she had not already rewritten history, she would recall that Washington was paralysed in the face of Egyptian mass resistance to the brutal Mubarak dictatorship that the US had succoured for three decades.

Against violence?

Mubarak’s Egypt was Washington’s partner in crime in torturing extraordinary rendition victims.

It routinely brutalised its own citizens while its thugs murdered hundreds of people during the Liberation Square protests.

When Clinton observed today: “History has shown us that repression often sows the seeds for revolution down the road,” she could have been speaking of Egypt, but she wasn’t.

As usual, she was referring to Iran, with which the US is obsessed.

While Mubarak’s brutality was rewarded with a £1.5bn US annual arms handout, Tehran has faced decades of sanctions, leading many to imagine mistakenly that the Iranian regime is an anti-imperialist stronghold.

Consider Khamenei’s response to the popular upsurges in Tunisia and Egypt, which he saw as drawing their inspiration from Iran’s regime and opening the way to an Islamic state.

Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood rejected this interpretation, speaking of “the Egyptian people’s revolution not an Islamic revolution.”

It stressed that all strands of religious belief, Muslim and Christian, together with secular political groups were involved.

The insincerity of Khamenei’s welcome for revolutionary change in north Africa was exemplified by his government’s ban on a demonstration proposed by opposition figures Mir-Hussein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi.

Both were subject to house arrest and were refused permission to leave their homes by police.

Despite the ban and a paramilitary show of strength along the main road linking Tehran’s Revolution Square and Liberation Square, thousands of people took to the streets, where security forces used tear gas, batons and firearms to reassert control.

The protest, supported by all banned progressive organisations, chanted slogans proclaiming death to the dictator, comparing Khamenei to Mubarak and Tunisia’s Ben Ali and urging the police to back the people as Egypt’s soldiers had done.

As in north Africa, the growing gulf between rich and poor in Iran proved a mobilising factor, with the government worsening the situation recently by withdrawing price subsidies for electricity, bread and petrol.

The theocratic regime has attempted to frighten the opposition by a wave of executions – 86 so far this year – and dozens of government MPs demonstrated in parliament, demanding that Mousavi and Karroubi be hanged as “corrupt.”

Regime change from theocratic dictatorship to popular democracy is as vital for Iran as the other countries demanding change, but there must be no interference by the US in this process.


Iranian Dissident Says Planned March Will Test Regime

February 8, 2011

Mehdi Karroubi, an Iranian opposition leader, said Tuesday that a demonstration planned in Tehran next week, nominally in solidarity with the protest movements in Egypt and Tunisia, was a test both for the Iranian government and its opponents.

Since Tehran is painting events in Cairo and elsewhere as the long-awaited regional blossoming of its own Islamic Revolution, to deny a permit for such a march would show that its position in support of the Arab movements is fake, Mr. Karroubi said in a rare interview from Tehran, conducted via an Internet video link.

For the Iranian opposition, events in Cairo mirror the post-election protest movement in Iran in 2009, not the 1979 Islamic Revolution, and could give new life to the Green movement for political reform, which Mr. Karroubi said had largely been battered into submission by government oppression.

“Any kind of event that involves the rise of the people and the fight against dictatorship in the Muslim world and in the Arab world is in our benefit,” said Mr. Karroubi, 72, speaking in Persian from his home, where he is largely isolated. “Next Monday will be a test for the Green movement – if the government issues a permit, there will be a huge demonstration and it will show how alive the Green movement is.”

Both sides in Iran are invested in the outcome in Egypt because of possible repercussions at home. There is an imperfect connection between the two worlds: the ancient enmity between Persians and Arabs has extended into the modern era, amplified by the fact that most Iranians are Shiite Muslims while Arab countries are overwhelmingly Sunni.

But events in one can echo in the other. For instance, Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has gained widespread popularity among Arabs in recent years for his tough posture toward the United States and Israel.

Tehran has tried to leverage its stance on the Arab-Israeli dispute into a means to influence Arab countries. Now it seeks to portray the political unrest in Egypt, Tunisia and elsewhere as the long-delayed rippling of the Islamic Revolution through the neighborhood. Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, gave a prayer sermon last Friday lauding the demonstrators.

Mr. Karroubi, a former presidential candidate and Parliament speaker, said that all the news in the official Iranian media tends to highlight statements from Islamic organizations and focus on Western concerns that the Muslim Brotherhood is about to triumph in Egypt. Hence the pressure on the Iranian government to allow the protest march through downtown Tehran to go forward on Monday despite the risk that it could be transformed into an antigovernment rally of a kind not seen in a year.

“If they are not going to allow their own people to protest, it goes against everything they are saying, and all they are doing to welcome the protests in Egypt is fake,” Mr. Karroubi said.

Some analysts and opposition members criticized the planned march and suggested that the government was unlikely to issue a permit, further demoralizing the movement. It is also unclear how many people might turn out, and there is some sense that the Green movement lacks the kind of clear aims that inspired protesters in Egypt.

“There is no consensus in the Iranian opposition of what they are trying to achieve – is it the reform of the Islamic republic, the end of the Islamic republic?” said Karim Sadjadpour, an Iran analyst at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “It is tough to recruit people to the street for ambiguous ends.”

Mr. Karroubi, while conceding that public activism had faded in the face of a harsh crackdown, said the Greens were still working for the kinds of basic rights they have always sought: free elections, freedom of assembly and freedom of speech.

The movement has tried to highlight the incongruity between the Iranian government’s oppression at home and the fact that it welcomes political protests elsewhere.

The Web site of Mir Hussein Moussavi, the other main opposition leader, recently displayed two pictures side by side. One showed the Egyptian police beating a protester, while the other was a similar photo of Tehran security forces. The Egyptian protester was labeled “heroic” while the one in Iran was an “agent of imperialism.”

Mr. Karroubi said he was living under near house arrest, with two or three cars full of guards outside his house for most of the day, turning many visitors away. He had not talked with a foreign journalist in about six months, he said, although he has occasionally answered questions via e-mail. For the video interview, he wrapped a headset around the back of his neck because it would not fit over his white turban.

Mr. Karroubi said he was able to plan the call for a protest with Mr. Moussavi because the two had met recently at a wake, but otherwise they have had limited contact. They have not decided yet whether a march through downtown Tehran should be silent, he said.

Should the young Egyptian protesters succeed in fomenting change, that would bring added pressure on the Iranian government, Mr. Karroubi said. It would mean that both Turkey and Egypt, the most populous states in the region, are more democratic than Iran.

“It will show that Iran has been left behind, that it has not gone forward with the principles of the revolution that everything should be based on the vote of the people,” he said.

Still, he noted that while a failure of Arab protests would be a setback for the Greens, the reform movement would still continue.

“It could have a bad effect in Iran, but not that strong,” he said. “We have our own demands and our own desire for freedom in our own society – we were promised freedom with the revolution and never got it.”

Artin Afkhami contributed reporting from Washington.


130 academics appeal to Khamenei for release Mr. Ebrahim Yazdi

January 25, 2011

The Supreme Leader, Ayatullah Sayyed Ali Khamenei

We are writing to appeal to you for the immediate and unconditional release of Dr. Ebrahim Yazdi and all prisoners of conscience in the Islamic Republic of Iran whose sole offence is to speak out peacefully against the policies of your government. Their detention and abuse is an unjustifiable violation of internationally accepted norms of human rights and international law and is surely an affront to all religions that are based on the principles of justice, legality, and compassion. Furthermore, the detention of these prisoners of conscience is in violation of Iran’s own constitution and laws as well as Iran’s international obligations under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights, both of which the Islamic Republic of Iran has formally endorsed.

Ebrahim Yazdi is a man of honor who has for over 60 years devoted his life to democratic reforms in Iran and the promotion of respect for human rights throughout the Muslim world. Before the revolution, for two decades, he lived in exile where he worked tirelessly to expose the abusive rule of the Pahlavi monarchy. After the 1979 Revolution, he served with dignity and loyalty as Iran’s Foreign Minister under Prime Minister Mehdi Bazargan. While in office, these two exceptional political leaders, opposed on principle the summary and arbitrary executions of enemies of the Iranian regime being carried out at that time. They later resigned in protest against the seizure of the US embassy in November 1979.

Ebrahim Yazdi is today the Secretary-General of the Freedom Movement of Iran (Nehzat-e Azadi Iran). He and the Freedom Movement have unequivocally insisted that their activities rely only on legal and non-violent methods of political opposition. He opposed the continuation of the war with Iraq after the expulsion of Iraqi forces from Iranian territory in 1982. As a believer in national reconciliation he has devoted himself to dialogue and mutual respect between Iran’s various political and social groups and has championed social and political reform and minority rights. For over thirty years, Ebrahim Yazdi has been a voice for moderation inside Iran, rejecting all initiatives by Iran’s governing elites that lead to violence, cause enmity within the society, and involve denials of human dignity. He has bravely criticized illegal government actions and the concentration of power in the hands of a few.

Dr. Yazdi has been arrested three times since the 2009 presidential election in Iran. At the time of his most recent arrest on October 1, 2010, he was attending a prayer service in a private house in the city of Isfahan. Police violently attacked the home and took him and several others into custody under the pretext that this was “an unauthorized prayer service”. Ebrahim Yazdi is now 80 years of age and in poor health. Indeed, at the age of 80, Dr. Yazdi is the oldest political prisoner in Iran and one of the oldest captives held anywhere in the world. Your government has subjected him to repeated and lengthy imprisonment as well as debilitating interrogations, definitely contributing to his need for emergency open heart surgery. Continued imprisonment may result in further severe deteriorations in his health.

We respectfully appeal to you to instruct your government to release Ebrahim Yazdi and all other non-violent prisoners of conscience in Iran, including Nasrin Sotoodeh, Mohammad Nourizad, Mostafa Tajzadeh, Abdullah Momeni, Majid Tavakkoli, Farid Taheri, Emad Bahavar, Bahareh Hedayat, Jafar Panahi, Leila Tavassoli, Mahdiyeh Golroo, Mohsen Mirdamadi, Feizullah Arab Sorkhi, Emaddedin Baghi, Mansour Osanloo, Issa Saharkhiz, Masoud Bastani, Ahmad Zeidabadi, Hoda Saber, Nazanin Khosravani, Mohsen Safaii Farahani, Reihaneh Tabatabai, Sajedeh Kinoush Rad, Mohsen Aminzadeh, Abdollah Ramazanzadeh, Farzaneh Roustaii, Mehdi Mahmoodian, Zhila Bani Yaghoob, Bahman Ahmadi Amoui, and Fariborz Raiis Dana.

We appeal to you to end this disregard for human rights that will eventually destroy all trust between your government and Iran’s citizens and block national dialogue and reform through reliance on the democratic institutions and practices of civil society. Wherever normal political activities of citizens is prevented and punished, other less peaceful means of change become inevitable. The regime of the late Shah of Iran is a telling example of the political consequences of such a degeneration of the Iranian governing process. Against all odds, with admirable courage, and at great human sacrifice, the people of Iran were ultimately successful in removing Shah’s powerful, yet abusive regime. The goal of the Iranian Revolution was to realize its inspiring vision of independence, freedom, constitutional governance, and popular sovereignty. Again, we appeal to you to release all prisoners of conscience in your prisons and to start a forthright dialogue with the Iranian people to bring that noble vision back to

life and turn it finally into a reality. The people of Iran deserve nothing less.

Richard Falk

Albert G. Milbank Professor of International Law Emeritus, Princeton University

Research Professor, Global Studies, University of California-Santa Barbara

A copy was sent to:

1. Ayatullah Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, Head of the Assembly of Experts and Expediency Council, Islamic Republic of Iran
2. Ayatullah Sadeqh Larijani, Head of Judiciary, Islamic Republic of Iran
3. Dr. Mahmood Ahmadinejad, President, Islamic Republic of Iran
4. Dr. Ali Larijani, Speaker of the Majlis, Islamic Republic of Iran
5. Mr. Mohammad Khazaee, Permanent Representative of the Islamic Republic of Iran in the United Nations
This statement has been sponsored by 130 eminent academics from across the world.


World Festival of Youth support the struggle for democracy in Iran!

The struggle of Iranian youth and university students attracted a lot of attention during 17th World Festival of Youth and Students held in December 13- 21, in South Africa. Representaives of 50 democratic and progressive youth organisations from Portugal, Britain, Ireland, Norway, Germany, Russia, South Africa, India, Nepal, Sudan, Iraq, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Zimbabwe, USA, Venezuela, Western Sahara, and many others supported a comprehensive statement in solidarity with their counterparts in Iran.

We, the undersigned representatives of the Youth and Students organizations participating in the 17th World Festival of Youth and Students in South Africa, 13- 21 December 2010, express our solidarity with the youth and students of Iran in their struggle for peace, democracy and socialism.

We are horrified to learn that hundreds of Iranian youth and university students have been arrested in Iran in recent weeks and are subjected to tortures and maltreatment for just demanding justice and respect for freedom of expression and organization.

We are concerned to learn that in Iran trade unions, women, and youth and student organizations are attacked for daring to support the demands of their members for peace and progress. University campuses are occupied by the police and military forces.

We have learned that the hundreds of leaders and well known activists of the Iranian university student movement have been arrested and are subjected to degrading tortures to force them to renounce their views. Miss Bahareh Hedayat, Milad Asadi, Majid Tavakkoli, and other leaders of Iran’s university students movement, have been sentenced to long term imprisonment. They are imprisoned just because they demand basic democratic rights.

There are also confirmed reports that trade unions are dissolved and are not allowed to operate freely in the country. Trade union leaders, such as Mansour Osanlou, the leader of the Public Transport Drivers Union in Tehran are also imprisoned.

We declared our support for the popular struggle for human rights, justice, democracy, peace in line with the policies of the festival movements and WFDY.

We call for the immediate release of all political prisoners in Iran and for the anti-communist dictatorial regime in Iran to fully respect the UN Charter and the UN Convention on Human Rights, and all ILO conventions on workers’ rights, of which it is a signatory.

We declare our total and unequivocal opposition to any foreign intervention in Iran under any pretext. We believe that such adventures are against the interests of the Iranian people. We declare our opposition to the economic sanctions imposed by the UN Security Council and the European Union and all threats of military actions against Iran.

We emphasize that the future direction of political developments in Iran can and should be decided only by the Iranian people themselves. Neither theocratic dictatorship nor intervention by any foreign power should feature in the future of the country.


Iran’s Security Forces Arrest Death Row Victim’s Family


Habibollah Latifi, a Kurdish law student, was convicted on 3 July 2008 of Moharebeh (enmity to God) by the Sanandaj Revolutionary Court for alleged association with banned groups and sentenced to death. His execution was scheduled for 26 December 2010.

On the morning of Sunday 26 December, in addition to members of Latifi’s family, hundreds of people from across Kurdistan gathered in front the Sanandaj Prison and demanded that the authorities halt Latifi’s execution. The prison governor then appeared in front of the crowd and promised that his execution would not take place. However, at 10:00 pm. that night, over 30 security personnel raided Latifi’s father’s home and arrested members of his family and others present at the house. After searching the house, the security personnel also confiscated the family’s computer.

Reports from Sanandaj indicate that, suspiciously, Internet connections have since slowed to snail’s pace and telephone connections have also been interrupted. There are also unconfirmed reports of multiple arrests of activists in the city.

Habibollah Latifi, who was studying at Azad University in the south western province of Ilam, was arrested on 23 October 2007 in Sanandaj, the capital of Kurdistan province. His trial was held behind closed doors and his attorney and his family were prevented from attending.

On December 24, 2010, Amnesty International called on the Iranian authorities to halt Latifi’s execution. Malcolm Smart, Amnesty International’s Director for the Middle East and North Africa said, “We are urgently appealing to the Iranian authorities to show clemency, halt the immanent execution of Habibollah Latifi, and commute his death sentence.” Malcolm Smart added, “It is clear that Habibollah Latifi did not receive a fair trial by international standards, which makes the news of his impending execution all the more abhorrent.”

According to news from Iran, the regime has temporarily postponed the execution. This is at least in part the result of international protest against the sentence and the fact that Jalal Talibani, the Iraqi President, himself a Kurd, has asked for a stay of execution.


Squeezing Iran: The European Connection

Marc Botenga
Spectrezine November 29, 2010

Negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program are due to start again shortly, and once again the European Union is called upon as a “mediator.”  This is no minor challenge.  With Iran insisting on discussing Israel’s nuclear capacity and the United States preparing a tougher uranium swap agreement, a deal seems as far away as ever.  Nevertheless, the EU, a lead negotiator since 2002, is a trusted US ally as well as Iran’s most important trade partner, so no actor appears better placed to broker a mutually beneficial agreement.  But is the EU still willing to play the part?
From Mediation to Confrontation
Up to 2004, EU mediation appeared rather successful.  Iran had acknowledged Western concerns over its nuclear intentions, temporarily and voluntarily suspended uranium enrichment, and opened up to more stringent inspections.  In turn, the EU recognized that suspension was not a legal obligation under the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) while welcoming it as a voluntary confidence-building measure in the process of verifying Iran’s commitment to peaceful nuclear technology.  Neither the United Nations nor the International Atomic Energy Agency found proof of a nuclear weapons program, and the way seemed paved for a comprehensive agreement.  In a surprise move, however, the EU suddenly abandoned its mediating stance and agreed on a common Iran strategy with then US president George W. Bush.  The EU’s 2005 proposed Framework for a Long-Term Agreement bluntly asked Iran to go beyond its NPT obligations and renounce pursuit of any nuclear fuel-cycle activities.  Changing the legal basis of the negotiations, away from the NPT, guaranteed, ex ante, Iranian refusal of any “generous” proposal.  Over time, incentives offered to Iran in exchange for abandoning its nuclear activities were gradually decreased as well.  The 2005 Framework still promised Iran support for its World Trade Organization candidacy and facilitated access to advanced technologies and spare parts for civil aviation.  It also guaranteed enhanced trade relations, recognized Tehran’s role in Iraq and Afghanistan, and spoke of a possible regional security agreement.  In the 2006 5+1 Package, in contrast, security guarantees virtually disappeared.  In exchange for accepting rigorous inspections and suspending uranium enrichment, the 5+1 Package offered little more than a “conference to promote dialogue and co-operation.”(1) Promises of economic cooperation were now worded far more vaguely as “improving Iran’s access to the international economy,” “the possible removal of restrictions,” and “possible access to US and European agricultural products, technology and farm equipment.”(2)  The June 2008 Package was no better.  It even explicitly suspended Iran’s rights under the NPT until international confidence in its nuclear program would be restored while disregarding Iranian concerns about the Israeli nuclear arsenal.  Rather than trying to work out a mutually beneficial solution, it seems Brussels used its position in the negotiations to manoeuvre Tehran into a corner and make sanctions “unavoidable.”
In this carefully orchestrated scenario of increasing demands and decreasing incentives, Iran’s 2009 acceptance of the West’s uranium-swap proposal caught the EU, and indeed the whole West, by surprise.  In order to avoid an agreement, European leaders virulently denounced Iran’s request for guarantees on when and how its uranium would be returned and joined the US in a rush to sanctions.  Even when a nuclear swap deal was officially brokered by Brazil and Turkey, the EU still refused to take “yes” for an answer.  Jason Ditz quite accurately observed that “in the long run it seems the only objection to Turkey’s deal was that it stood in the way of the sanctions, which seem to have been an end unto themselves.”(3)  Indeed, not satisfied with UN Security Council Resolution 1929, the Union approved “by some way the most far-reaching sanctions adopted by the EU against any country.”(4 ) These decisions indicate a major shift in EU foreign policy.  Long reluctant to adopt coercive measures, the EU has today become one of the most ardent advocates of crippling sanctions.  What underlying policy objective led to this policy shift?
Making Sense of Sacrifice
Whatever the objective may be, it must be important enough for Europe to sacrifice its economic interests.  In 2007, the German Finance Ministry calculated that tough sanctions on the Iranian economy could cost Germany over €2 billion.(5)  Even more striking than the strictly financial cost is the loss in market share.  Laurent Maillard, writing for AFP, describes how Western sanctions have opened the way for Chinese companies.  Between 2006 and 2007 EU-Iran trade decreased by around 7 percent.(6)  Italian-Iranian trade, still on the rise in 2007, equally dropped from €6 billion to less than €4 billion in 2009.  Over the same year, German-Iranian trade dropped another 5.8%.  Although EU trade with Iran increased again by around 10% during the first half of the current year, this was mainly a consequence of changes in oil prices and exchange rates on the one hand and a lack of compliance with political directives on the other.  The Italian government for example vouched that Italy’s bigger companies had suspended their transactions and that the rise concerned primarily small and medium business owners not tied to the government.  In turn, Chinese competitors, such as ZhenHua Oil, are steadily replacing EU companies.  Significantly, and in sharp contrast with EU sanctions, a Russian-Chinese partnership between Lukoil and Zhuhai Zhenrong resumed fuel supplies to Iran just a few weeks after the EU adopted its latest unilateral sanctions.
Iran’s nuclear stance is unlikely to warrant the new policy.  Even while nuclear talks were still ongoing, EU member states were already pushing their national companies for divestment.(7)  Concern over Iran’s nuclear program simply fails to justify these economic sacrifices.  For all the hysteria surrounding it, there still is no proof of a military nuclear program.  And even if such a program existed, knowledgeable experts such as Martin van Creveld and General John Abizaid, as well as Israeli policy-makers Ehud Barak and Tzipi Livni, have all admitted that an Iranian nuclear weapon poses no real threat to Western security interests.(8)  Western nuclear superiority is such that an Iranian bomb would have a deterrent effect at most.  In fact, rather than destabilize the region, an Iranian nuclear weapon might actually re-stabilize it by neutralizing Israel’s comparative advantage.  Like the 2003 Iraqi WMD crisis, the Iranian nuclear crisis is hence very much an artificially created crisis.
If not Tehran’s nuclear stance, what then explains Europe’s change of heart?  The answer dates back to 2003.  The Iraq war accentuated the fragmentation of EU foreign policy formulation.  The Union simply split down the middle: France and Germany led the anti-war bloc, while the UK, Spain, and Central and Eastern European countries aligned with the US.  In order to defend its interests in the world, the EU desperately needed a unified and autonomous foreign policy, yet the first serious Franco-German attempt at such a policy had failed utterly.  Not only did Europe appear more fractured than ever, with EU-US relations at an all-time low, Washington made clear that it would not tolerate an independent EU military planning centre separate from NATO’s SHAPE (Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe).  General Henri Bentégeat, then President of the EU Military Committee, suggested a way out: “if France normalizes its relations with NATO, European defence projects will become easier to progress.”  And indeed as France reintegrated itself into NATO’s military command, the EU Lisbon Treaty set up stronger military cooperation between EU member states, incorporated a European mutual defence clause, and created a single representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy to whom EU military chiefs report.  In international affairs as well, the Union decided to take one step back: from a more independent stance on Iraq, Brussels returned to bandwagoning with the US on Iran.  Sarkozy sought to square the circle thus: “The more we are friends with the Americans, the more we can be independent.”(9)
Reaffirming transatlantic relations is hardly the only motive behind Europe’s change of course.  The recent Franco-British agreement on the creation of a Combined Joint Expeditionary Force preparing troops to deploy on operations together illustrates an increasing acceptance of the idea, even in Eurosceptic Britain, that EU member states need to stick together to defend their interests overseas.  And just as Afghanistan is considered a test for the political will of NATO member states to sustain complex commitments together, the Iranian nuclear issue is thought to offer a similar chance to unite EU member states.  The artificial sense of urgency surrounding it helps build a remarkable consensus among them.  That consensus-building is facilitated by the central role that Iran plays in many of the (soft) security challenges facing EU member states.  Energy is an obvious example.  Since the Islamic Revolution, access to Iran’s energy resources has had to be negotiated with a more nationalist government.  In recent years, moreover, Tehran has gradually strengthened its negotiating position by diversifying its trade partners.  The country went to great lengths to develop trade relations with non-Western powers such as India, Japan, and Turkey, as well as various African and Latin American nations.  Not without success, as Sino-Iranian economic ties illustrate: while commercial ties between Beijing and Tehran amounted to only 400 million US dollars in the mid-nineties, bilateral trade between them surged to 14.4 billion US dollars in 2006 and 21.2 billion in 2009.(10)
Consequences for Europe were far-reaching.  Tehran had never been keen on adapting its foreign policy to European security interests, but especially since 2004 increasing South-South cooperation has offered it the possibility to compete for political and economic influence.  Politically, Iranian policy clashed head-on with the objectives of the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP), designed to enlarge Europe’s sphere of influence, in both Lebanon and Palestine.  In a similar vein, Tehran helped Hezbollah defeat quasi-member state Israel, forced the West to the negotiating table over Iraq, and has the International Security Assistance Force, including most EU member states, asking for its support in Afghanistan.  Iran’s international relations complicate matters for the EU economically as well.  Earlier this year, for example, Turkmenistan opened new export routes to Iran and China for its gas resources.  By diversifying its markets, Ashgabat can now charge higher (market) prices for its gas.  The European Union as well as Russia is an obvious loser.(11)
Choice and Consequence
A challenge to Western predominance in the Middle East and Central Asia, Iran came to be perceived as a useful vehicle through which to solder relations with the US and strengthen foreign policy unity within Europe.  Sanctions then became the logical policy choice.  Used against about two dozen countries since 1980, they are not only the most widely accepted negative policy instrument among EU member states, but also perfectly in line with US policy.  Insofar as they are designed to contain and weaken Iran, however, their effectiveness can be doubted.  With the possible exception of Libya, sanctions alone have never been terribly effective in achieving policy or regime change.  More often than not, they impoverish the population and strengthen the regime.  Iran is unlikely to be an exception.  Suspicious “that the West’s focus on the nuclear issue is merely an excuse — an opening wedge — to achieve regime change,” the Iranian government will not cede any ground without a fight.(12)  Internally, it is extending the hold of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps over the country and its economy, a move paradoxically facilitated by the withdrawal of European companies.  Internationally, it is using regional and international ties to circumvent sanctions.  Sanctions alone are therefore unlikely to achieve the purpose intended by their architects.  It is worth recalling, moreover, that, in Haiti, Yugoslavia, and, more recently, Iraq, sanctions merely constituted a first step towards military intervention.(13)  In the last case, sanctions were especially instrumental in weakening Iraq’s national defence and making military regime change less costly.  Meanwhile, so as to increase European pressure on Iran, the German frigate Hessen jointed the US Sixth Fleet and France opened a permanent military base in the Persian Gulf.  By choosing confrontation, the EU has entered a dangerous game.  Far from serving as a mediator to avoid war, it may be engaged in preparing it.
Marc Botenga (Ph.D., IMT Institute for Advanced Studies-Lucca, Italy) is a Belgian political analyst.  He spent over a year studying in Iran. This article first appeared in MR.<> The photograph is by Sebastien Niedlich.
1  Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett, “The United States, Iran and the Middle East’s New ‘Cold War’,” The International Spectator, Vol.45, No.1, March 2010, pp.75-87 (83).
Elements of a proposal to Iran as approved on 1 June 2006 at the meeting in Vienna of China, France, Germany, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom, the Unites States of America and the European Union Statement, Letter by P5+1 Partners on New Incentives Package for Iran, 17 June 2008.
3  Jason Ditz, “Iran Would Halt 20 Percent Uranium Enrichment for Fuel Swap,”, 28 July 2010.
4  BBC, “EU Tightens Sanctions over Iran Nuclear Programme,” 26 July 2010.
5  Reuters, “Tough Iran Sanctions to Hit Germany Hard: Report,” 24 November 2007.
6  Michel Makinsky, “French Trade and Sanctions against Iran,” Meria Journal, Vol. 13, No. 1, March 2009.
7  Clément Therme, “L’Iran: exportateur de gaz?” Note de l’Ifri, Paris, March 2008, p.24.
8  See for example Martin van Creveld, “The World Can Live With a Nuclear Iran,” Forward, 28 September 2007; and Gidi Weitz and Na’ama Lanski, “Livni behind Closed Doors: Iran Nukes Pose Little Threat to Israel,” Haaretz, 25 October 2007.
9  Michael Moran, “French Military Strategy and NATO Reintegration,” Council on Foreign Relations, 12 March 2009.
10  Laurent Maillard, “China Takes over from West as Iran’s Main Economic Partner,” AFP, 15 March 2010.
11  Aleksandra Jarosiewicz, “China and Iran, Rather Than Russia, Will Be the Main Buyers of Turkmen Gas,” Eastweek, Centre for Eastern Studies, 13 January 2010.
12  Shahram Chubin, “The Iranian Nuclear Riddle after June 12,” The Washington Quarterly, Vol.33, No.1, January 2010, pp.163-172 (164).
13  Simon Chesterman and Beatrice Pouligny, The Politics of Sanctions, Policy Brief, International Peace Institute, May 2002.


A confidential report predicts the collapse of the Iranian economy

Written by Yves BOURDILLON
« Les Echos » 12 October 2010
According to a confidential report to the Supreme Leader that Les Echos were given access to, the Iranian economy could well be “at the brink of collapse in a year’s time” because of Western sanctions, if stringent [counter] measures are not taken.

A confidential report that was sent in late September to the Supreme Leader of the Iranian regime Ayatollah Ali Khamenei underlines the substantial risks of “economic collapse in less than a year from now” because of international sanctions forcing the country to abandon its nuclear programme. The report, which “Les Echos” had gained access to, comes from a usually well informed source in Tehran. It was written by economists from the Central Bank and from the Ministries of Economy and Oil Industry and indicates that the UN sanctions and those added last July by the United States and the European Union weigh heavily on the trade, finance and oil-producing sectors. The latter sector, responsible for two-thirds of the state revenue, suffers from the withdrawal of Western companies, forced to choose between their interests in the United States and Iran. While the French Total, Anglo-Dutch Shell, the Norwegian Statoil and the Italian ENI have suspended all investment, soon to be followed by the Japanese Inpex,

lack of foreign maintenance and spare parts production weighs on the oil production, which fell from 4.2 million barrels per day in mid-2009 to 3.5 million this summer.

Western banks refuse all contact

The fuel supply (due to a lack of investment in refining, Tehran, although the holder of one third of the world reserves in black gold, has to import a third of its consumption) is becoming problematic. Previously providing half of these imports, the Turkey-based company Tupras, despite being in an allied country, suspended its operations in late August, after the same had been done by the Swiss Glencore and Vitol, India’s Reliance and the Russian Lukoil. The fuel now comes from Turkmenistan, China, Venezuela, or is being smuggled in from Iraq.

In late September the Korean Kia and the German Thyssen followed the example of Caterpillar, Toyota, Daimler-Chrysler and Hewlett-Packard by suspending their commercial activities. Allianz, Munich Ré or Lloyds are now refusing to provide cargo and aircraft supplying Iran, and while financing external trade has become very complicated, all Western banks are refusing contact with Iran. The banks of the United Arab Emirates, through which half of Iran’s imports flow, have cut ties with the country two weeks ago, which has resulted in a shortage of green bank notes (and the sharp rise of the dollar to 10,900 rials).

Towards shortages and countless bankruptcies

The regime also warned on Saturday that it would suppress demonstrations and strikes by traders who are expected to follow the removal of expensive (10% of GDP) consumer subsidies for food and fuel from 23 October.

Quantifying the potential impact of sanctions as tens of billions of dollars over the whole year, the confidential report recommends that the Ayatollah Khamenei, number one in the country even before President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, takes “drastic action to avoid a serious crisis”, which, even without paralyzing the country, would be marked by countless bankruptcies and shortages in the coming twelve, or even eight months, according to some experts. It would have to be a case of urgently “converting the foreign trade focus” to China, Russia and India, “to increase the stocks of food and fuel” and, despite the technical obstacles,” to convert to other currencies”, such as the yen, the central bank reserves currently held in dollars and euros.


Iran: Lawyers’ defence work repaid with loss of freedom

October 1, 2010

Joint Statement by Shirin Ebadi, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), the Iranian League for the Defence of Human Rights (LDDHI), the Union Internationale des Avocats and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT).

Nobel Peace Laureate and Iranian lawyer, Dr Shirin Ebadi, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, the International Commission of Jurists, the International Federation for Human Rights, the Iranian League for the Defence of Human Rights (LDDHI), the Union Internationale des Avocats, and the World Organisation Against Torture, today condemned the continued detention without charge or trial of human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh in Iran and called for her immediate and unconditional release as she is held solely in connection with her work defending others.

They warned that her arrest is the latest step in a series of measures intended to prevent Iranians – particularly those critical of the authorities – from being able to access appropriate, competent legal representation, a basic right and important fair trial guarantee.

Nasrin Sotoudeh, the mother of two young children, has defended many high profile human rights campaigners and political activists, including journalist Isa Saharkhiz and Heshmatollah Tabarzadi, leader of the banned Democratic Front of Iran. The former was sentenced and the latter tried after Nasrin Sotoudeh’s arrest. She has also represented juvenile offenders facing the death penalty and is acting as the lawyer for Shirin Ebadi in several cases.

She has been held in Tehran’s Evin Prison since 4 September 2010 after she presented herself in compliance with a court summons. Since then she has only been allowed to make three telephone calls – two to her home and one to her lawyer, but so far has not been allowed visits by her family or her lawyer.

The precise reasons for her arrest are still unclear, but the summons listed “propaganda against the system” and “gathering and colluding with the aim of harming state security”. These vaguely worded charges are among several articles in the Islamic Penal Code in Iran relating to “national security” which criminalize activities that are nothing more than the peaceful exercise of the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly. Such provisions have previously been used to prosecute lawyers for statements and activities in defence of their clients.

Nasrin Sotoudeh had previously been warned to stop representing Shirin Ebadi, or face reprisals. In turn, since her arrest, her husband Reza Khandan and her lawyer Nasim Ghanavi have been warned against speaking up publicly about her ordeal. Reza Khandan has even been summoned for interrogation in Branch 1 of the Revolutionary Court, which he has described as a “series of threats”.

Recent months have seen increased persecution of defence lawyers. Mohammad Oliyaeifard, a lawyer and board member of the Committee for the Defence of Political Prisoners in Iran, a human rights organization,is serving a one-year prison sentence imposed for speaking out against the execution of one of his clients during interviews with international media. His client, juvenile offender Behnoud Shojaee, had been hanged for a murder he committed when he was 17 years old. Mohammad Olyaeifard has defended many prisoners of conscience, including independent trade unionists, as well as juvenile offenders. His lawyer is Nasrin Sotoudeh.

Two other lawyers, both colleagues of Shirin Ebadi in the NGO Centre for Human Rights Defenders (CHRD), which they all helped to found, are also at risk of prosecution for their human rights work. Abdolfattah Soltaniand Mohammad Ali Dadkhah were both arrested after the disputed presidential election of June 2009. Though both were later released on bail, they have court cases pending against them on similarly vaguely worded charges which could lead to their imprisonment and eventual disbarment. Prominent lawyer, Mohammad Seyfzadeh, who is also a founder member of the CHRD, is facing trial for “forming an association … whose aim is to harm national security” and “being a member of an association whose aim is to harm national security” in relation to the CHRD. He was banned from leaving the country in 2009, as has Dr Hadi Esmailzadeh, another member of the CHRD.

The authorities are also resorting to other methods to prevent lawyers from practising their profession freely. Such measures include unwarranted tax investigations under which the authorities freeze the lawyers’ bank accounts and other financial assets and which could lead to the disbarring of a lawyer. Shirin Ebadi has herself been placed under such a financial stranglehold, when the authorities froze a bank account containing her Nobel Prize winnings, in violation of the law. Before her arrest, another victim of this tactic, Nasrin Sotoudeh discovered that not only were her financial affairs being investigated but that 30 other lawyers had cases of tax irregularities being prepared against them.

In concert with this, the authorities have for years been attempting to limit the independence of the Iranian Bar Association by barring candidates from standing for election to senior

positions on discriminatory grounds, including their imputed political opinions and their peaceful human rights activities. For example, in 2008, Mohammad Dadkhah, Dr Hadi Esmailzadeh, Fatemeh Gheyrat and Abdolfattah Soltani – all members of the CHRD – were disqualified from standing for the Central Board of the Bar Association because of their activities as human rights defenders.

In June 2009, less than a week after the disputed presidential election, new by-laws to the 1955 law establishing the independence of the Iranian Bar Association were adopted which would give the Judiciary the power to approve membership of the Bar and lawyers’ licensing applications, thereby undermining the independence of the Bar. Following opposition by the Bar and individual lawyers, in July 2009, it was reported that implementation of the by-laws had been suspended for six months. They are believed to remain suspended, but could be implemented at any time.

Shirin Ebadi has not returned to Iran since the presidential election, as she would be unable to continue her human rights work.

Other lawyers have been forced into exile for their own safety. Shadi Sadr left the country after she was detained for 11 days in July 2009. Mohammad Mostafaei was also forced to flee in July 2010, after his involvement in the case of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, an Iranian woman sentenced to stoning, led the authorities to seek his arrest, arresting of his wife and her brother in his place.

Article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Iran is a state party, provides for the right of an accused person to have adequate time and facilities for the preparation of his defence and to communicate with counsel of his own choosing;

The UN Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers provide that lawyers must be allowed to carry out their work “without intimidation, hindrance, harassment or improper interference.” In addition, it affirms the right of lawyers to freedom of expression, also provided for in Article 19 of the ICCPR, which includes “the right to take part in public discussion of matters concerning the law, the administration of justice and the promotion and protection of human rights”.

The UN Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Lawyers and Judges has not been permitted to visit the country despite the Standing Invitation issued by Iran to all UN human rights mechanisms in 2002. Since August 2005, no UN human rights expert has been allowed to undertake a visit to Iran. Currently eight procedures have pending requests to visit, which have not yet been acceded to by the Iranian authorities.

“I, who have defended many prisoners of conscience such as the seven imprisoned Baha’i leaders and others, would face unacceptable restrictions on my human rights work if I returned to Iran, if I were not arrested,” said Shirin Ebadi. “Now my own lawyer – who also represents many other activists – is detained, and her lawyer has been threatened with arrest for defending her. Where is the justice if your lawyer is arrested for defending you?”

The organizations said that by making lawyers pay the price of their own freedom for doing their job, the authorities are further undermining an already deeply flawed justice system. With some lawyers behind bars and others threatened, their clients – who are themselves mostly victims of human rights violations – are left defenceless at the mercy of the authorities.


What Iran lacks in diplomacy!

Iran Diplomacy
Sunday 3 Oct 2010
An interview with Sadegh Kharrazi, former Iranian Ambassador to the United Nations (1997- 2002)

IRD: Mr. Kharrazi, you have had years of diplomatic experience a foreign ministry veteran. From your point of view, how important is consistency in diplomacy? And has our diplomatic apparatus shown consistency?

SK: Naturally, concentration in foreign policy and realization of objectives is senseless without existence of a consistent bureaucratic structure which precludes parallel moves and assigns responsibility to diplomacy-savvy officials.

Apparently, we face three types of countries in the international community: friends, enemies and rivals; but even our friends have different priorities and engage in occasional rivalries with us to advance their national interests. Fragmented decision-making loci can severely hurt our national interests. Of course Iran is not the only country facing this problem. Take US for example: Secretary of State, CIA, Pentagon and the National Security Council are moving in parallel diplomatic tracks. This holds true even for countries such as Britain and France.

As a general rule, I think this is the case in countries where foreign policy is ideological to some extent, where diplomacy is supposed to convey a message and when a country aspires to have strong cultural, political and ideological presence in the global community.

Iran’s story is the same. The Iranian National Security Council is now an executive power. This is not of course something ushered in by Ahmadinejad. Since the ceasefire negotiations between Iran and Iraq [in the late 1980s] and later, in the nuclear talks with West, the Council has obtained an independent identity. I’m not of course denying its invaluable service, but dual approaches and redundant measures have always existed. Iranian presidents in particular have always demanded prompt action, but diplomacy is a place to practice patience and test the waters before taking the next step. The accumulation of experience in the diplomatic apparatus has always functioned as a barrier against realization of hasty decisions. In the diplomatic body, political phenomena are defined as projects which cannot transgress a certain procedure. The occasional tensions between head of the government (either Mir Hossein Musavi, Hashemi Rafsanjani or Khatami) have always existed. Such arguments have been more conspicuous in Ahmadinejad’s administration for specific reasons though.

IRD: Is that why Ahmadinejad appointed his so-called ‘special representatives’?

SK: Appointing special representatives is not something new. We have had special envoys for Afghanistan and Caspian affairs before. The problem is that Ahmadinejad appointed too many representatives and assigned them with executive power which constitutes parallel diplomacy. Unlike their predecessors, these representatives are independent from the foreign ministry. Of course with the Leadership’s [Ayatollah Khamenei] intervention the controversy over the appointments came to an end. But as it seems, the disagreement between Ahmadinejad and foreign minister [Manouchehr Mottaki] is serious.

The president feels that foreign ministry is either against his convictions or shows lethargy in following the orders. Ahmadinejad has always shown haste in his decisions. He likes to cut through the structures, but I’m not sure if that serves our national interests well. The point is, foreign ministry is pregnant with experience. Unfortunately their valuable diplomatic capital is not appreciated as it ought to. All the country’s achievements to date are the result of collective efforts of the ministry’s diplomatic experts. And experience is not something you can achieve with a directive.

IRD: Mr. Kharrazi. It seems that diplomacy, as other fields of management during the post-Revolution years, has found the correct direction only through trial and error and that’s the cause of its structural defects.

SK: I beg to disagree. Up until the present administration, foreign diplomacy used to be a disciplined field. Late Emam Khomeini’s strategic visions in diplomacy will never age. Same is for the conceptual discipline of the Supreme Leadership [Ayatollah Khamenei] who has designated dignity, wisdom and expediency as our diplomatic principles and sharply traces diplomatic developments. Add to this Hashemi Rafsanjani’s and Khatami’s experience. So I think trial and error rarely was the favorite approach in our diplomatic profile. Compared with domains such as economy and culture, trial and error has been much less.

Since the very first day [of the Revolution], we had clear diplomatic goals, despite the fact that there were perhaps different approaches or foreign interventions that troubled us. But the fact is, no more is there an unreal idealism or global aspirations. We are not walking on the clouds and our feet are now on the ground. We are living in a world where there aren’t many friends and neither are there decent rivals or wise enemies. So we should adapt our ideal point of view to the realities of the world we are living in. It’s an interminable task.

IRD: Haven’t we also made enemies?

SK: That is true. Unrefined remarks have made some other countries hostile towards Iran. Let me tell you a story: when Mohammad Ali Raja’ei was elected as Iran’s president [in 1981], the then president of France, Mr. [Francois] Mitterrand sent him a letter of congratulation. Mr. Raja’ei responded with a harsh letter in which he had slammed superpowers and France. Emam Khomeini summoned the Iranian president and censured him for responding the French president’s diplomatic etiquette in that fashion. Mr. Raja’ei’s excuse was that he had acted based on the revolutionary doctrines he had learnt from Emam [Khomeini]. Emam Khomeini response was that he was only a cleric and the president’s behavior should be diplomatic and measured. Interestingly, I heard this story from the Supreme Leader [Ayatollah Khamenei] in a private meeting during the time I was Iran’s ambassador to France.

Diplomacy needs politesse; otherwise the Iranian citizens have to pay for the harsh words uttered. The truth is that the proactive or ‘offensive’ strategy adopted by the ninth and tenth administrations [of Ahmadinejad] is full of paradoxes and it’s hard to be optimistic about its achievements. The Holocaust controversy was truly objectionable. A part of history which was never a real concern of Iran and the Muslim World, something about the Europeans’ crimes against the Jews, provoked tension and led to crisis. Six million or six, Jews’ murder was a crime in nature. We just gave Israel and international Zionist pressure groups the best excuses to pressurize Iran.

IRD: How is it that in many international encounters we resist a demand, pay the price and later on decide to give in. A recent case was the nuclear fuel swap. Is this because of the parallel moves?

SK: Unfortunately our diplomatic strategy suffers from chaos, the fruit of abstract diplomatic understanding.. Diplomacy is no place for haste, we need measured steps. Otherwise, tension will impose itself on our foreign relations and subsequently leads to interruption of the development process in Iran.

IRD: Three Iranian diplomats have defected to Norway within the recent months. Did you know them in person? Why do such incidents happen for Iran?

SK: I had no acquaintance with them, but I have to say that is no new story and it’s not important either. It happens to many other countries, not only Iran; like the Saudi Arabian diplomat who is seeking asylum in the United States. I think they are taking unfair advantage of the situation for personal interests. These diplomats were no high-ranking officials. However, the foreign ministry should be more watchful to stop further similar incidents.

IRD: Why don’t we see a same thing happen in other countries?

SK: The chain of defections was rooted in the opportunistic behavior and financial interests of these diplomats. They will regret their decision one day. West is not appealing to patriots. Of course, neglecting the role of insider experts and dismissive attitudes can also bear such fruits.

IRD: The official day of Dialogue Among Civilizations was discarded from Iranian calendars [by the decision of Council of Public Culture]. Is Dialogue Among Civilizations a forgotten cause?

SK: No. It’s still relevant to reality of today’s world. Dialogue Among Civilizations was embraced by the international community and the United Nations and it was a feather in Iran’s cap. Following the revolutionary doctrines of Emam [Khomeini] and the Islamic Republic, the Iranian nation proposed an idea which can be a solution to the rampant violence of the world today. [Samuel] Huntington’s ‘Clash of Civilizations’ promoted violence and return to colonial era conflicts. But Dialogue Among Civilizations, coming from the heart of an Islamic society and supported by the Iranian Leadership and Nezam, was welcomed by the world. Unfortunately, inside Iran it was not taken seriously, revealing a bitter truth that we sacrifice national icons for our partisan interests.

The Supreme Leader supported Dialogue Among Civilizations and of course wanted it to be a platform to regain the rights of the underprivileged and Third World nations. A few years ago, some top international dignitaries [including former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan] visited Iran for a conference on Dialogue Among Civilizations. Some were even received by the Supreme Leader and had a chance to discuss the idea of dialogue among civilizations with him. But unfortunately, the current government has no interest in the idea, so it decides to abolish it in its entirety. I’m afraid of a day when the National Day of the Islamic Republic and Sacred Defense Week will be cut from the calendar. Could Mosaddegh and nationalization of the oil industry be obliterated from the Iranian history? National icons should not be sacrificed for personal matters.

There was a time when both opponents and proponents of Iran’s ancient history suffered an abstract attitude. The same abstract views have surfaced after thirty years. Closing eyes on the Islamic period of the Iranian history and dogmatic glorification of Iran’s ancient history is an abstract approach. With such black and white attitudes, we should worry for our historical and civilizational heritage. The world has moved from Dialogue Among Civilizations towards Alliance of Civilizations but we still don’t take it serious.

They [Ahmadinejad] talk of global management while they lack any clear model or theory to materialize it. Of course, these are personal defects and we should not assign them to the whole political system. I believe Iranian wisdom can weather the crisis through moderation and maintain our national interests.

IRD: What is the motive that leads to propagation of concepts such as Cyrus the Great’s Human Rights’ Charter?

SK: Well I can’t judge their motives. But some observers believe that behind such ideas and actions (such as bringing to Iran the Cyrus Cylinder of human rights), Ahmadinejad and his team want to regain credit among certain social strata. But people easily notice the existing paradoxes. I believe that Cyrus, his cylinder and Iran’s ancient history are the pride of our nation. I hope the only motive behind such flamboyance is revival of Iran’s history and civilization.

IRD: Moving back to Dialogue Among Civilizations, this is the question always occupying my mind: A couple of years after Mr. Khatami proposed Dialogue Among Civilizations, we had 9/11, US attacked Afghanistan and Iraq and radical powers rose to power in many parts of the world. The Tea Party Movement is perhaps a relic of those days. Neo-cons were in power in Washington, Tony Blair had allied with George W. Bush and Al-Qaeda was roaming in Somalia, Saudi Arabia and Yemen. In Israel, Ariel Sharon held the power. Looking with a hint of fairness, Huntington’s hypothesis has actually materialized and Dialogue Among Civilizations seems to be pushed aside. Wasn’t the idea too much idealistic? Huntington’s theory looks more down-to-earth.

SK: Huntington’s theory of Clash of Civilizations was based on the realities of the post-colonial era. It was influenced by Bernard Lewis’ studies, and propagated by Michael Ledeen and his fellow radical partners in the US. Their efforts can be only thwarted through dialogue. The challenges between identities, between the developed and developing worlds can be negotiated only through a theory like Dialogue Among Civilizations. Huntington’s theory is descriptive, while Khatami’s is prescriptive, searching for a solution to tackle global crises. Dialogue Among Civilizations rejects clash between cultures and religions and radicalism. It advocates interaction and talk.

If we had learnt a lesson from history, and if we had a clear plan, we should try to reform the international legal structure through a dialogue-based procedure. If Iran aspires to be an actor at the global level, it should have its own initiatives. Typical diplomatic interactions are too inadequate to transform global relations. We have our own mission, our own paradigm, in the global arena and we believe in the rationale embedded in the theory of Dialogue Among Civilizations. The rationale of dialogue is more difficult to adopt compared with the rationale of war and conflict. Dialogue is complicated, war is much easier.


Ahmadinejad’s regime is not anti-imperialist

Morning Star
Friday 13 August 2010
John Haylett

Cuban revolutionary leader Fidel Castro’s address to his country’s national assembly last weekend centred on the need for a world peace front to persuade Washington not to launch a military attack on Iran.

Castro spoke supportively of US President Barack Obama, pointing out that he was being put under intense pressure, “in tune with the standards of the gigantic empire.”

But he warned that, “in the instant that he gives the order, he would be ordering the instant death of hundreds of millions of people.”

It is not simply the US Republican right that is demanding a pre-emptive strike against Iran. Israel too is eyeing a reprise of its lawless bombing of Iraq’s Osiraq 40 megawatt light-water nuclear reactor in June 1981.

Disregarding its own undeclared nuclear arsenal of 200 bombs, Tel Aviv claims that Iran’s civil nuclear power programme poses an existential threat to Israel.

The theocratic regime in Tehran has capitalised in a number of ways on the threats and rhetoric emanating from the US-Israeli partnership and its close allies in Europe.

It put the White House on the back foot by striking a deal with Brazil and Turkey, whereby Iran would send 1,200kg of low-enriched uranium to Turkey in return for 120kg of fuel rods for a Tehran research reactor designed for exclusive production of radioactive isotopes to treat cancer.

Not only would this plan divert low-enriched uranium from any military nuclear programme – which, in any case, Iran denies having – but it actually mirrors a scheme suggested by Obama himself last January.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad milked the limelight as he posed hand in hand with his Brazilian counterpart Lula da Silva and Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan.

Lula called the agreement a “victory for diplomacy,” while US representatives hummed and hawed before Secretary of State Hillary Clinton insulted Lula by suggesting that he was a dupe of the Iranians.

And she told the Brazilian president that “we think buying time for Iran, enabling Iran to avoid international unity with respect to their nuclear programme, makes the world more dangerous not less.”

Washington has also been outsmarted by Tehran in regional diplomacy, with Iran’s profile being high in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

Ahmadinejad visited Baghdad two years ago, the first ever by an Iranian head of state, offered an aid package and developed a close relationship with prime minister Nouri al-Maliki under the noses of the US occupiers.

The Iranian president’s role in convening last week’s tripartite summit in Tehran with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Tajik Prime Minister Emomali Rahmon was another irritant for Washington.

Its efforts to isolate Iran, to condemn its nuclear programme and to impose sanctions on it have backfired.

Iran has built close relations with progressive Latin American states, including Cuba, Bolivia, Nicaragua and, most especially, Venezuela.

It is understandable that this would be so. In a sense, they have been thrown together by Washington’s hostility.

Cuba’s Foreign Ministry complained bitterly this week about having been placed once more, alongside Bolivia, Nicaragua and Venezuela, on the discredited US list of states identified as sponsoring terrorism.

This designation precludes trade agreements, preferential terms and economic aid from Washington and it can complicate relations with third countries, no matter how spurious the charges.

In such circumstances, self-interest dictates that the socialist-inclined Latin American countries should cultivate closer ties with Iran, but these links have generated another bonus for Tehran – the widespread but erroneous belief that the Supreme Leader regime is somehow anti-imperialist in nature.

This situation recalls a similar error made by ultra-left groups in Britain and elsewhere with regard to the latter years of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.

The US hates Saddam, the US is imperialist, so Saddam is anti-imperialist. A perfect symmetry and yet hopelessly wrong.

While Cuba, Venezuela and their regional allies prioritise improving not only their people’s living standards but also their democratic, human and cultural rights, Iran does not.

It hangs teenage boys on suspicion of being gay, stones women and men to death for adultery and locks up and tortures trade unionists and democracy campaigners. These barbaric realities are certainly used by US and European politicians as pretexts to impose sanctions on Iran, but they cannot be dismissed as unimportant or secondary to the regime’s supposed anti-imperialism.

Last year’s mass demonstrations against electoral fraud have given way, as a result of internal repression, to hunger strikes in jail by democratic opponents of the regime and appeals for international solidarity.

Solidarity cannot be withheld by trade unionists and other progressives in Britain simply because US imperialism opportunistically criticises Iran for practices it excuses or ignores in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere.

Nor should revulsion against the vile punishments and repression visited on Iranians be misused to justify imperialist intervention, as the B52 liberals did with regard to Iraq.

As Tudeh Party of Iran general secretary Ali Khavari, the leader of the country’s banned communists, makes clear, “Regime change from outside, such as occurred in Iraq, is neither possible nor acceptable by any means in Iran.

“Any foreign force that attempts such a dangerous provocation will burn its fingers, set the whole region on fire and seriously endanger world peace.”


Iran sanctions strengthen Ahmadinejad regime – Karroubi
Saeed Kamali Dehghan
Wednesday 11 August 2010 17.44 BST
Mehdi Karroubi
Mehdi Karroubi, the leading reformist politician in Iran, says sanctions ‘have given an excuse to the government to suppress the opposition by blaming them for the unstable situation of the country’. Photograph: Vahid Salemi/AP

Punitive international sanctions imposed on Iran have strengthened Mahmoud Ahmadinejad‘s government and assisted its post-election crackdown on the opposition Green movement, the leading reformist politician and former presidential candidate Mehdi Karroubi has told the Guardian.

In his first interview with a British newspaper since widespread unrest erupted after Ahmadinejad’s disputed re-election as president last June, Karroubi blamed the US and Britain for adopting counterproductive policies to combat Iran’s suspect nuclear programme, describing sanctions as a gift to the Iranian regime.

“These sanctions have given an excuse to the Iranian government to suppress the opposition by blaming them for the unstable situation of the country,” Karroubi said in email responses to the Guardian.

Karroubi, 73, a former speaker of the Majlis, the Iranian parliament, under the reformist president Mohammad Khatami, and a candidate in last year’s election, said that isolating Iran would not bring democracy. “Look at Cuba and North Korea,” he said. “Have sanctions brought democracy to their people? They have just made them more isolated and given them the opportunity to crack down on their opposition without bothering themselves about the international attention.”

The UN security council agreed a new round of sanctions on Iran in June after the US and Britain, which believe Iran is secretly developing nuclear weapons, obtained backing from Russia and China. The EU, and individual countries such as the US and Britain, subsequently imposed additional punitive measures.

The move followed Washington’s rejection of a proposed deal, brokered by Brazil and Turkey, under which Iran would have handed over nearly half of its stock of low-enriched uranium in return for “safe” nuclear fuel supplies that could not be used in bomb-making. Turkey and Brazil voted against the new UN sanctions, but today Brazil announced that it was reluctantly prepared to enforce them.

Mir Hossein Mousavi, who helped lead the protests following last summer’s election, co-authored a public letter with Karroubi last week in which they condemned the sanctions while blaming Ahmadinejad’s government for mishandling negotiations over Iran’s nuclear programme.

“Sanctions have targeted the most vulnerable social classes of Iran including workers and farmers,” the letter said.

Karroubi told the Guardian: “On the one hand, the government’s mishandling of the economy has resulted in deep recession and rising inflation inside the country, which has crippled the people of Iran and resulted in the closure of numerous factories. On the other hand, we have sanctions which are strengthening the illegitimate government.”

Karroubi, who was imprisoned before the Islamic revolution in 1979,said that despite widespread corruption, the shah’s regime treated its opponents less harshly than the current government, partly because the shah was sensitive to international criticism.

“But because Iran is getting more isolated, more and more they [Ahmadinejad’s government] are becoming indifferent to what the world is thinking about them,” he said.

Last summer’s unrest resulted in the killing, beating or arrest of hundreds of protesters who took to the streets convinced that Ahmadinejad, who is backed by Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, had stolen the election.

Hopes the regime would call a fresh vote or collapse under public anger dissipated in clouds of teargas, counter-demonstrations organised by the government, and often brutal repression. Since then, Iranians have suffered a crackdown on dissent and an increase in human rights abuses.

Yesterday the US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, issued an appeal to Iran to honour its international treaty obligations to respect the rights of its citizens.

She also expressed concern about the case of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, who was sentenced to death by stoning after being found guilty of adultery. In his interview with the Guardian, Karroubi condemned Ashtiani’s sentence and said he was opposed to stoning in principle.

Karroubi said that since the election his office has been sealed off and his newspaper, Etemad-e-Melli (the National Trust), closed down while he was under informal house arrest. Wherever he went, he said, groups of government supporters, sometimes accompanied by plainclothes basiji militiamen, followed him.

“In the last year, they [officials] have tried to suppress me in many ways,” he said. “Once I was physically attacked, on the anniversary of the Islamic revolution, and my son Ali was arrested and severely tortured. During a recent visit I had to Qazvin province, they went further in attacking me and opened fire on my car and later raided my house.”

Ayatollah Khamenei has never attacked him or Mousavi by name, but always referred to them as “leaders of sedition”, a term now now routinely used to describe opposition leaders. Last month, during a visit to Qom, Karroubi was met by government supporters shouting “western stooge”.

Despite having to call off protests in the face of the government crackdown, Karroubi said he believed the Green movement had not been defeated. “It’s no longer possible for the opposition movement to pour out en masse into the streets … But we also do not think it’s necessary any more to do this,” he said.

The movement’s message had already reached the world, he said. “People were out in the streets to inform the world of what is really happening inside Iran, and they succeeded in doing so. Now the world knows what is the problem in Iran.”

Karroubi said he still believed in the Islamic republic, but not the current ruling system. “I should make it clear that we are a reformist movement, not a revolutionary one … We are seeking nothing more than a free election.”

Asked about criticism that the opposition has no clear leader and sometimes appeared divided, Karroubi said: “In my opinion, it’s an advantage that no specific person is the leader. I think that the only reason the Green movement has not been stopped yet is because it doesn’t have one leader or unified leadership. If it had, then by arresting that leader they could have controlled the whole movement.”

Reaching out to Iran’s ordinary people remained the opposition’s biggest problem: any newspaper that mentioned the Green movement would be immediately closed down, he said. “We are not even allowed to publish a funeral announcement at the moment.”


IFJ Calls on Iran to Free Jailed Journalist after Claims of Mistreatment

Media Release
29 July 2010

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) today called on Iranian authorities to release journalist Abdolreza Tajik who has been in detention for 50 days without being charged. His family claims he has been ill treated in jail.

“The failure to produce evidence that he has broken the law and the fears that he is being abused in jail should be enough to indicate that there is a terrible injustice here,” said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary. “If there is no case to answer he should be freed immediately and all the allegations of ill treatment must be investigated.”

According to media sources Tajik was arrested more than a month ago. No reason for his arrest has been announced. He has since complained to the head of the judiciary about his degrading treatment during interrogation. The family also claims that Tajik, who has been arrested three times since the June 2009 controversial elections in Iran, is being denied contact with them, his lawyer and with doctors.

The IFJ is backing a petition which has been signed by a group of about 100 Iranian journalists calling on the prosecutor in Tehran to investigate the allegations and to release Tajik.

“The authorities must get to the bottom of this case,” added White. “This man is being held in appalling circumstances and is being denied all of his rights.”

For more information contact the IFJ at +32 235 2207

The IFJ represents over 600,000 journalists in 125 countries worldwide


Iranians dig in for the battle they know could take years

By Abigail Fielding-Smith
Saturday, 12 June 2010

Back in June 2009, few could have predicted the scenes. Hundreds of thousands of Iranians of all ages and from all walks of life spontaneously filling the streets to protest about an election result that returned to power the hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

But after a remarkably free-spirited election campaign, marked by lively rallies in which women, unusually, played a vocal part, democracy activists felt they had historic momentum behind them.

The so-called “Green Movement” briefly enjoyed support from both the streets and the establishment. It seemed to offer a real challenge to the authority of the tightly knit ruling cabal, and even to that of the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei.

Now, on the first anniversary of the disputed election, and after a year of harsh crackdowns, prospects for change look rather different and depend largely on whether the disparate membership of the Green Movement has the capacity and the will to reorganise itself and sustain a longer campaign.

As Iran’s nuclear and foreign policies continue to dominate the headlines, The Independent interviewed a selection of grass-roots activists, some of whom have had to flee abroad.

Although some show signs of despair, they are determined to find new ways of keeping up their opposition. It is difficult to say how representative their voices are. With heavy reporting restrictions inside Iran, and many people afraid to communicate with foreign journalists, it is hard to gauge public opinion accurately.

Many who took part in the protests have lost interest in demonstrating, either because they fear the repercussions or because they lack faith in the movement’s ability to change anything. The forces ranged against it are formidable: the might of the security establishment; the continuing, albeit weakened, power of conservative ideology in Iran; and the populist economic policies of Mr Ahmadinejad. Nonetheless, political change is often, as the activists interviewed here are starting to realise, a long game.

‘This struggle will continue’

Jalvah, researcher, 33

In June 2009 I was in prison. Just two or three days before the election, I was released and I voted. What has happened, or is happening, to the Green movement is sad but, in some ways, I can feel optimistic.

Sad because the price paid is so hefty, and the regime cannot tolerate the smallest objection. Hopeful because, slowly but surely, it was proven that change does not happen overnight. The situation is so complicated and interrelated, it requires more active participation and struggle.

I think this struggle will continue and expand. My hope is that the movement can develop a stronger social base and that they can follow up on their demands. I believe that struggle from below can achieve positive changes, and even become a tool for change towards democratisation.

‘The movement is maturing’

Vartan, office worker, 45

I took part in the demonstrations against the dictatorship. Looking back the mood was very positive. The balance of forces was moving towards a change; in other words people wanted to have their say.

I’m not despondent about the Green movement. It is maturing, it’s taking its time in understanding what the way forward is.The movement is on the right track and it’s looking at a long-term struggle for the changes that different groups within it – women, students and others – want. My hope is that, using non-violence, we can bring about changes that will make a difference to people’s lives, in particular to the 40 to 50 million (according to government figures) who live beneath or on the poverty line.

‘Dictators raise the tension’

Zahra, 26, student

I am hopeful because I know Iranian people. The [anniversary] rallies have been cancelled but every night in different parts of Tehran people shout “God is great” and warn the regime.

When I get on the bus I see many slogans against Khamenei and Ahmadinejad. In many seats you can observe that people have written 22 khordad (12 June). The blood of those who died for the holy concept of freedom will never be wiped from the killers’ hands.

I’m sure the struggle will work – maybe not this time, but in the near future. The government endeavours to admonish those who oppose them, but dictators are stupid; they just raise the tension.

‘We shared the same pain’

Sahar, student, 29

I was in the streets with my friends and family. The day after the election I was full of anger but, when I saw the crowds, I really felt we were not alone – we shared the same pain and felt united. It made me proud to be one of the millions in the streets against the regime. I remember being astonished when I looked around me. I didn’t expect the sorrow and anger to turn into such a force. But when they killed people I was scared. Yet the fear couldn’t stop me. The Green movement has matured. It has its martyrs, prisoners, leaders and symbols. It embraces students, women and workers. The violence just helped to foster this movement. As a people we are not happy. The way to democracy is a hard one, but I’m still optimistic .

‘We were cheated’

Muhammed, office worker, 28

I attended the nightly electoral gatherings last June and I felt we were cheated, which made me erupt in anger. I believe that people here in Iran need to be shocked into action by something like last year’s election result. I mean that if people are shocked again by something bad, then next time no one will be able to control them any more . I am very hopeful, and I think fundamental changes will happen in Iran.

‘Victory could take years’

Amir, former web developer, 27

I was employed in [defeated presidential challenger Mehdi] Karoubi’s election headquarters. What do I think has happened to the Green movement? I think it is growing. Gradually it will find more supporters, because at first it was people in Tehran, and then other cities joined. I think people have reached a good level of political understanding. The movement’s leadership is maturing. Mousavi’s speeches are interesting, because he uses words that a year ago we never thought possible. So, overall, I see the movement growing positively, sometimes fast and sometimes slow. A movement may need years to achieve victory.



Liberation May 2010

Liberation is appalled at the continued violation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran, and in particular the execution of 5 political prisoners on 9th May 2010.

According to the human rights organisations and opposition forces in Iran, the regime retaliate to any kind of criticism and opposition in a theocrat manner and by arresting, detaining, torturing and executing their opponents; including journalists, students, writers, workers, teachers, women and human rights activists on a vast scale. They are accused on fabricated charges, such as ‘threat against national security’ or ‘link with anti-revolution groups’ or ‘moharebeh’ (enmity towards God).

The oppositions in Iran are of the belief that, the harsh and unjustifiable treatment of the recent victims in Iran demonstrates the regime’s fear of resistance by the Iranian people, especially near the time of the first anniversary of the presidential election on 12 June 2009. Despite the concern of the Iranian people about the increased violation of human rights in Iran since this election and regardless of their struggle for democratic rights within the Iranian Constitution, the regime in Iran has not only ignored the people’s demands, but maintained a climate of fear and terror in the country.

The victims of the recent executions were Farzad Kamangar, a Kurdish teacher and journalist who was arrested along with two other members of the Kurdish minority, Ali Heydariyan and Farhad Vakili, in Tehran around July 2006. The three men were originally sentenced to death on 25 February 2008 because of alleged involvement in a militant group. Also executed for the same reason was Shirin Alam Hooli, a twenty eight year old Kurdish woman activist who had routinely and repeatedly been subjected to degrading treatment and torture to confess and had no access to legal representations during her interrogation period. The fifth victim was Mehdi Eslamian, a political activist from who was also accused of activities against the regime. It is noteworthy that all five victims had repeatedly rejected the allegations of being involved in terrorist activities.

Considering the political situation in Iran and the theocratic manner of the Islamic regime, Liberation believes that the Iranian authorities disregard not only their own Constitution but the International Declaration of Human Rights. Whilst the government in Iran states it is for peace, freedom, democratic rights and friendship with the world, the absence and violation of human rights and especially the wave of executions prove the contrary. It is a matter of concern for the international human rights organisations that the authorities in Iran are likely to increase their atrocities in the future. In such a circumstance, Liberation calls on the UN, the European Parliament, and the International Community to take serious and urgent steps to make the Iranian regime to stop executions immediately; to release all political prisoners; to stop human rights violations and abide by International Laws.


Iran executions prompt mass condemnation

Friday 14 May 2010Jane Green
Morning Star

Last Sunday the Iranian authorities executed five political prisoners, prompting international condemnation by trade unionists and human rights activists.

The international condemnation was followed by a general strike in Kurdistan province in western Iran on Thursday in protest at the executions.

Shops, factories, schools and many offices were closed in the region as the regime deployed the military in key towns in the area.

In a letter to the Iranian government, the ITUC has urged the Iranian president to halt any further escalation of trade union repression and human rights abuses against union members.

The ITUC is to complain to the International Labour Organisation committee on freedom of association about the Iranian regime’s gross violation of ILO principles.

It has called upon its affiliates across the entire world to denounce the executions.

“The ITUC is shocked with what happened to Farzad Kamangar. Imprisoned trade unionists must be freed and all other threats of imprisonment against independent trade unionists for their legitimate activities must be lifted,” said ITUC general secretary Guy Ryder.

On Tuesday, TUC general secretary Brendan Barber lent his support for the ITUC position and pledged the solidarity of British trade unionists with those in Iran, confirming this in writing to the Iranian ambassador to Britain.

“The TUC will call on its affiliates to denounce this inhumane act and show solidarity with our Iranian brothers and sisters,” states Barber.

“In that respect, we continue to express concern about the other teachers and trade unionists languishing in Iran’s jails, such as bus workers leaders Mansour Osanloo and Ebrahim Madadi. ”

Kamangar, an active member of his local teachers’ union, was arrested by Ministry of Intelligence officials along with two other members of the Kurdish minority, Ali Heydariyan and Farhad Vakili, in Tehran in 2006.

The three men were sentenced to death on February 25 2008 after being accused of taking up arms against the state, in connection with their alleged membership of the armed group, the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).

The trial took place in secret, lasted only minutes and failed to meet Iranian and international standards of fairness.

Heydariyan and Vakili also received additional sentences of 10 years’ imprisonment for forging documents.

Under Iranian law, they must serve their prison sentences before being executed. The death sentences of all three men were upheld by the Supreme Court.

Heydariyan and Vakili were executed on May 9 along with Kamangar, Mehdi Eslami and Shirin Alam Hooli.

All five victims had repeatedly rejected the allegations of being involved in terrorist activities.

In the case of Kamangar, his main “crime” was that during a short visit to Tehran he had stayed in the house of Heydaryan and Vakili, whom he knew.

The authorities alleged that they had discovered explosive materials from a car belonging to Heydaryan and Vakili. Kamangar’s crime in effect was that he had been in the wrong place at wrong time.

Hooli was a 28-year-old Kurdish woman who had been sentenced to death in Iran for her alleged support for PJAK, a militant opposition group.

She was convicted of “enmity against God.” After her arrest she was routinely and repeatedly subjected to torture and degrading treatment to confess to supporting PJAK.

She had no access to legal representation during her long and gruelling interrogation period. Her rights as an accused were never observed.

The left and progressive movement in Iran has categorically condemned these executions.

The Tudeh Party of Iran, in a statement this week, condemned the regime’s action. While expressing concern about the continuation of executions and the dangers that are threatening the lives of all political prisoners, especially those followers of ideologies other than Islam, the Tudeh Party called for the establishment of a united campaign to resist and stop the crimes and executions in the prisons of the Islamic Republic.

Throughout the week there have been a number of protest demonstrations across Europe to condemn the regime’s action. In Paris on Monday the demonstrators attacked the regime’s embassy and 200 people were arrested.

Committee for the Defence of the Iranian People’s Rights (Codir) assistant general secretary Jamshid Ahmadi strongly condemned the action of the Iranian regime in executing the five political detainees.

“Fearing the eruption of a new wave of popular protests on the first anniversary of the fraudulent presidential election of June 12 2009, the regime has attempted to spread a climate of fear and terror in Iran,” he said.

“The regime’s rush to execute these prisoners, in the face of international concerns about the worsening of the human rights situation over the past year, is a disgrace.

“Instead of engaging in dialogue with international human rights agencies such as Amnesty International and the UN commission on human rights, the regime is intensifying its murderous activities against the opposition. ”

Jane Green is the national campaign officer of Codir. For further information on Iran please visit


An open letter by the families of the Iranian prisoners to the United Nations

Subject: urgent consideration of the medical condition in the Iranian prisons

Dear Dr. Ban ki-Moon, the Secretary-General of the United Nations

Dear Dr. Navi Pillay, the high commissar for UN Human Rights

It has come to our attention that you are due to attend a meeting with the Iranian authorities regarding the violations of human rights. We are a group of families that have become victims of the fact that our beloved ones have got incarcerated for being politically active, they are prisoners of conscience, we wish to stress the urgency of the matters discussed below and expect that you will take any measures necessary to protect these prisoners’ human rights.

We desperately yearn to draw your attention to the grave situation existing inside the Iranian prisons; Prisoners are deprived of medical care and refused access to the care facilities inside the prison. This has put the lives of the imprisoned in great danger and exposed them to immense peril and made their families anxious and worried.

The physicians in the prisons are being pressured by the government not to act according to their oath and obligations. These doctors will risk their jobs and lives if they would to follow their professional obligations and treat the prisoners. It is these matters amongst others which have led to the prisoners’ mistrust of the health care inside the prison.

It has been reported numerous times that prisoners who are working as informants for the opposition has been transferred to cells where chemical and poisonous gases are kept. According to the reports, these gases have had severe consequences for the prisoners’ health. Moreover the overfilling of the prisons by the vast increase of intake of detainees, unhealthy and inadequate food standards, inhumane conduct and torture by both physical and psychological means and a more radical attitude towards the incarcerated prisoners has further intensified the crisis that existed. The psychological torture or the “silent and invisible” torture as it sometimes is called in prison, has become more vile since the torture more and more lead to paralysis, damages to the nervous system and gradually to death, all this without leaving any visible marks.

The actions of the governments and the human rights communities around the world whom claim to defend human rights have been very limited and the aid provided has been only at a minimal level. At the best, communities and nations have been condemning the anti- human rights actions of the Islamic republic of Iran, all of this without any international effort to release the political prisoners. We should not forget that these issues are dated 30 years back; violations of human rights have been a re-occurring method of the oppressing regime in Iran but gone by unnoticed by the world community and human rights organisations, due to the immense focus on the words of Iran’s autocratic regime and its representatives and the current nuclear issue.

We ask you to take the necessary actions against the tragic treatment of the political prisoners taking place in the prisons of Iran. We suggest that you send physicians under the observation of the UN to visit the Iranian prisons immediately.

Below, you can find a list of the names of the renowned political and ideological prisoners from various opposition movements with different political affiliations that are currently incarcerated. These are the opponents of the Islamic republic of Iran and its pro-reform movement, these prisoners come from different religious and ethnic groups, amongst them are campaigners for women’s Rights, students, journalists, workers, teachers, Human Rights activists and artists;

Ayatollah Kazemini Boroujerdi, Mansour Osanloo, Farzad Kamangar, Behrouz Javid-Tehrani, Heshmatollah Tabarzadi, Shiva Nazar-Ahari, Shirin Alam-Holi, Ahmad Zeydabadi, Bahare Hedayat, Esa Saharkhiz, Abdollah Momeni, Masoud Bastani, Kave Kermanshahi, Mehdi Khodai, Mohammad Oliai-Fard, Badrossadat Mofidi, Milad Ebrahimian, Abdoreza Ahmadi, Dr. Hesam Firouzi, Nasour Naghipour, Lale Hasan pour, Shabnam Madadzade, Mehdi Mahmoudian, Mojtaba Lotfi, Reza Khandan, Ahmad Ghabel Rouhani Noandish, Mehdi Torabi, Amir-Ehsan Tehrani Sekhavat, Nima Golzari, Raziye Alemi, Mohammad Nourizad, Masoud lavasani, Sahand Ali Mohammadi, Bakhshali Mohammadi, Ebadollah Ghasemzade( the followers of Ahl-e-Hagh group in Yazd prison), Mitra Ali, Arsalan Abadi, Iman Zarei, Meysam Beig-Mohammadi, Kiarash Kamrani, Jafar Panahi, Arash Sadeghi, Salamat Mahdavigolrou, Ali Malihi, Majid Tavakoli, Mahboube Karami, Dorsa Sobhani( Baha’i), Marjan Safari, Nafise Mojtahedi, Morad Hasanlou, Zahra Asadpour Gorgi, Abdollah Momeni, Tahmine Momeni, Fateme Khorramlou, Maryam Zia, Azar Mansouri, Hengame Shagidi, Leili Farhadpour, Zeinab Jalalian, Sousan Mohammadkhani, Mohammad-Amin abdollahi an, Dr.Arash Alai & Kamyar Alai ( scientist),…

With sincere regards,

Families of the ideological and political prisoners and human rights activists in Iran!

Coordinator & Contact person
Victoria Azad Member of Amnesty International
Women’s rights & political Activist
Tel. 00 46 739383902


EI Outrage at Iranian Teacher’s Execution

Education International is deeply troubled to hear reports that Iranian teacher trade unionist Farzad Kamangar was among five people who were summarily executed in secret on 9 May.

Farzad Kamangar, a 35-year-old member of the Teachers’ Union of Kurdistan, was accused of “endangering national security” and “enmity against God”. He had lived with the threat of the death penalty since February 2008, when it was imposed upon him after a sham trial that lasted less than five minutes.

Although the Iranian authorities had accepted Farzad’s appeal, the case stalled when it should have been sent to the Supreme Court for review. After further delays, Farzad’s lawyer was told that his file had been lost. Despite the evident lack of independent inquiry into the allegations and the absence of a fair judicial process, Farzad has still been reportedly executed.

EI General Secretary, Fred van Leeuwen, said: “We are all deeply shocked and saddened to hear that Farzad has been executed. His case was particularly troubling to our 30 million members because of the opaque and secretive manner in which his trial was conducted, the lack of basic rights he had access to whilst in prison, and the fact that neither his family or legal representatives were informed of his execution. This is a terrible day for teachers, union activists and human rights. EI expresses our solidarity with Farzad’s family, colleagues and students.”

He added: “EI recognises the rights and responsibilities of all governments to bring to justice those suspected of criminal offences but this must be in line with international and national standards of fair trial. EI is also unequivocal that the Iranian government must ensure respect for all trade union and human rights.”

The trade union and human rights community had campaigned against the death penalty and prosecution of Farzad. EI and its affiliates have been particularly vocal and lobbied the ILO Committee on Freedom of Association, which subsequently ‘urge[d] the Government [of Iran] to immediately stay the execution of Farzad Kamangar’s death sentence, annul his conviction and secure his release from detention.’

Call for action:

  • EI is joining international networks and campaigns to remember Farzad and support other Iranian teachers and union activists, including Rasoul Bodaghi, Hashem Khastar and Bahman Goudarzzade, who remain in prison within Iran.
  • EI is writing to the Supreme Leader and Iranian authorities to request a transparent investigation into the execution of Farzad and to halt any further executions.
  • EI is informing and calling on all EI affiliates to write to their respective country’s foreign office to express their shock at the execution of Farzad, to call for open and fair trials, and an end to the death penalty.
  • EI is encouraging its affiliates to hold vigils to mark the sad news of the death of Farzad.

Women to blame for earthquakes, says Iran cleric
Women behaving promiscuously are causing the earth to shake, according to cleric, as Ahmadinejad predicts Tehran quake

An Iranian woman waits for the bus under a poster of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad Photograph: Behrouz Mehri/AFP/Getty ImagesIran is one of the world’s most earthquake-prone countries, and the cleric’s unusual explanation for why the earth shakes follows a prediction by the president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, that a quake is certain to hit Tehran and that many of its 12 million inhabitants should relocate.

“Many women who do not dress modestly … lead young men astray, corrupt their chastity and spread adultery in society, which increases earthquakes,” Hojatoleslam Kazem Sedighi was quoted as saying by Iranian media. Women in the Islamic Republic are required by law to cover from head to toe, but many, especially the young, ignore some of the more strict codes and wear tight coats and scarves pulled back that show much of the hair. “What can we do to avoid being buried under the rubble?” Sedighi asked during a prayer sermon last week. “There is no other solution but to take refuge in religion and to adapt our lives to Islam’s moral codes.” Seismologists have warned for at least two decades that it is likely the sprawling capital will be struck by a catastrophic quake in the near future. Some experts have even suggested Iran should move its capital to a less seismically active location. Tehran straddles scores of fault lines, including one more than 50 miles long, though it has not suffered a major quake since 1830.

In 2003, a powerful earthquake hit the southern city of Bam, killing 31,000 people – about a quarter of that city’s population – and destroying its ancient mud-built citadel.

“A divine authority told me to tell the people to make a general repentance. Why? Because calamities threaten us,” said Sedighi, Tehran’s acting Friday prayer leader. Referring to the violence that followed last June’s disputed presidential election, he said: “The political earthquake that occurred was a reaction to some of the actions [that took place]. And now, if a natural earthquake hits Tehran, no one will be able to confront such a calamity but God’s power, only God’s power … So let’s not disappoint God.”

The Iranian government and its security forces have been locked in a bloody battle with a large opposition movement that accuses Ahmadinejad of winning last year’s vote by fraud.

Ahmadinejad made his quake prediction two weeks ago but said he could not give an exact date. He acknowledged that he could not order all of Tehran’s 12m people to evacuate. “But provisions have to be made … at least 5 million should leave Tehran so it is less crowded,” the president said.

The welfare minister, Sadeq Mahsooli, said prayers and pleas for forgiveness were the best “formulae to repel earthquakes. We cannot invent a system that prevents earthquakes, but God has created this system and that is to avoid sins, to pray, to seek forgiveness, pay alms and self-sacrifice,” Mahsooli said.


‘Not by Street Demonstrations Alone’

Saeed Rahnema was active in the labor and left movement during the 1979 revolution in Iran. He was a founder and a member of the Executive Committee of the Union of Workers/Employees Councils of IDRO, the largest industrial conglomerate of Iran. He was a member of the Industrial Management Institute and served as an officer of UNDP. He is now a Professor of Political Science at York University in Toronto, Canada.

This is an extract from a Tehran Bureau interview with Saeed Rahnema, a labour activist in the 1979 Islamic Revolution who is now a Professor of Political Science at York University in Toronto, Canada. The full interview includes Rahnema’s analysis of labour’s role in 1979 and the aftermath of the Revolution and could be found at the following address:

TEHRAN BUREAU: When I read articles about Iran today, there is a great deal of social unrest around economic issues, particularly workers not getting paid. There are many labor actions but not a labor movement per se. I wonder what kind of possibilities there are for economic issues becoming more of a question for the Green Movement?

RAHNEMA: There is now a major economic crisis in Iran. Massive unemployment, terrible inflation (close to 30%), and at the same time, as you rightly said, there are many factories that cannot pay their employees. In terms of leadership there is political anarchy.

You have got government-owned industries and then you have partially state-owned industries under the control of bonyads or Islamic foundations. The most significant bonyad is the Foundation of the Oppressed and Disabled (Bonyad-e Mostazafan va Janfazan). These are industries which had belonged to the Shahs’ family and the pre-revolution bourgeoisie. After the time of the Shah they were all transferred to this particular foundation, which is now run by people close to the Bazaar of Iran and the clerical establishment. The bonyads are so large and so important that they are responsible for 20% of the Iranian GDP [Gross Domestic Product], which is only a bit lower than the Oil sector. Bonyads are not under the control of the state and pay no taxes.

It is an anarchic system with no serious protection for workers. Workers do not have a right to strike. They do not have unions and this is the main problem.

Many of these industries are heavily subsidized. But the government has decided to end some subsidies, along with the elimination of many gas, flour, and transportation subsides too. By ending subsidies, or having targeted subsidies, there will be more problems and more industrial actions. But these industrial actions – and you rightly separate labor actions from a labor movement – need labor unions. Labor unions are the most significant aspect of the rights of workers. Unions need democracy and political freedoms, a freedom of assembly and a free press. That is why the present movement within civil society is so significant for the labour movement.

This is something that tragically some so-called Leftists in the West do not understand. We read here and there, for example, James Petras among others, who support the brutal suppressive Islamic regime, and take a position against women, youth and the workers/employees of Iran who confront this regime. It is quite ironic that the formal site of the regime’s news agency posted a translation of Petras’ article accusing civil society activists of being agents of foreign imperialism.

What we need is continued weakening of the regime by street protests along with labor organizing. And, I think it is very important that we recognize that the Green Movement is part of a larger movement in Iranian civil society. The Green Movement is a very important part, but, it is not the whole picture. The Green Movement is now closely identified with Mr. Mousavi. So far he has been on the side of the people and civil society. Everyone supports him. But what will happen? Will he make major concessions? That remains to be seen.

TEHRAN BUREAU: There is a lot of confusion about the character of the regime because of its populist rhetoric. I am wondering what effect this confusion has on the possibility of organizing a trade union movement in Iran?

RAHNEMA: From the beginning, there were many illusions about the regime. One section of the Left, seeking immediate socialist revolution, immaturely confronted the regime and was brutally eliminated during the revolution. Another section of the Iranian left supported the regime, under the illusion of its anti-imperialism, and undermined democracy by supporting or even in some cases collaborating with the regime. This section paid a heavy price as well. Now, ironically, some leftist in the west are making the same mistakes under the same illusions.

There are four major illusions about Iran. The first is that the regime is democratic because it has elections. Leaving aside election fraud, in Iran not everyone can run for Parliament or the Presidency because an unelected twelve-member religious body, the Guardian Council, decides who can be nominated. Also, the Supreme Leader, who has absolute power, is not accountable to anybody.

The second illusion is the Regimes’ anti-imperialism. Other than strong rhetoric against Israel and the U.S., the regime has done nothing that shows that they are anti-imperialist. Actually on several occasions they whole-heartedly supported the Americans in Afghanistan and at times in Iraq. Anti-imperialism has a much deeper meaning and does not apply to a reactionary force which dreams of expanding influence beyond its borders. If that is anti-imperialism, then the better example is Osama Bin Laden.

The third illusion is that this is a government of the dispossessed. A lot can be said about this, but I will limit myself to two income inequality measurements. Currently the Gini coefficient is around 44. (The range is from zero to a hundred, with zero as the most equal and one hundred as the most unequal.) This is worse than Egypt, Algeria, Jordan, and many other countries, despite the enormous riches of Iran. Interestingly, this figure is not so different from the time of the Shah. The other measurement, the deciles distribution of the top 10% and lowest 10 % income groups, shows that the top deciles’ per capita per day expenditure is about 17 times that of the lowest deciles. This figure is also quite similar to the pre-revolutionary period.

The fourth illusion is that the regime is based on a ‘moral’ Islamic economy and not a capitalist economy. This moral economy, as Petras calls it, is nothing but the most corrupt capitalist system that we could possibly imagine.

TEHRAN BUREAU: There are some nascent unions, such as the bus drivers, sugar cane workers at Haft Tapeh, as well as teachers. These groups have been asking for international solidarity for a long time now. I wonder why those groups have had such a difficult time developing support. Have the conversations among “left” groups about anti-Imperialism blinded them to these small but very real organizing efforts?

RAHNEMA: No doubt. Some among the left in the West make the same mistakes that the Iranian left made during the revolution – focusing on anti-imperialism and undermining and minimizing democracy and political freedoms. If the left really cares about the working class, how can this class improve its status without trade unions? How can trade unions exist and function without democracy and social and political freedoms?

Another aspect that some leftists don’t take into consideration is the significance of secularism and the dangers of a religious state, particularly, the manner in which such regimes impinge on the most basic private rights of the individual, particularly women. Even if the Islamic regime were anti-imperialist, no progressive individual could possibly condone the brutal suppression of workers, women, and youth, who want to get rid of an obscurantist authoritarian and corrupt regime. The underground workers groups and other activists within civil society need all the support they can get from progressive people outside Iran, and they despise those so-called leftists in the West who support Ahmadinejad and the Islamic regime.

Saeed Rahnama’s Biography

Dr. Saeed Rahnema is Professor of Political Science at York University. He has served as the Director of the School of Public Policy and Administration, and Coordinator of the Political Science program at Atkinson Faculty, School of Social Sciences, York Univerity. Before joining York University, he was an Associate Professor in the School of Policy Studies at Queen’s University. In his homeland Iran, he taught and worked as a member of the executive of the Industrial Management Institute in Tehran.

He has served as a senior officer of the UNDP, as a Director of the Middle East Economic Association (MEEA), Editor of the MEEA Newsletter and as a member of Editorial Boards several journals. Professor Rahnema is a frequent commentator on Canadian and international media on the issues of the Middle East and Islam, Human Rights, and Left and Labour Movement, and has published several books and numerous articles in English and Farsi (Persian).

His books include Selected Communities of Islamic Cultures in Canada: A Statistical Profile, Diaspora, Islam and Gender Project, York University, Toronto, 2005; Rebirth of Social Democracy in the Iranian Left Movement, Stockholm: Baran Book Ferlag, , 1996; (with S. Behdad); Iran After the Revolution: Crisis of an Islamic State. I.B. Tauris, British Academic Press, London: St.Martin’s Press, New York:1995, 1996; Organization Structure: A Systemic Approach: Cases of the Canadian Public Sector, Toronto: McGraw-Hill/Ryerson,1992.

He has been a leading member of several major international research and educational projects including SSHRC/MCRI research on Muslim diasporas, Ford Foundation on Muslim Diasporas in the West, and CIDA/AUCC Canada Corps University Partnership Program in Public administration for Palestinians, and is now a co-Director of the international research project on Muslims in the West.

Rahnema is cited in the Maclean’s Magazine Guide to Canadian Universities as a most popular professor in 2002, 2003, 2004 and 2005, and won the York University-wide teaching excellence award in 2004. In 2007, Dr. Rahnema won the prestigious Government of Ontario’s Leadership in Faculty Teaching Award.


How Iran Silences Unwanted News

Iran Jams Satellite Signals Carrying Foreign Media
April 1, 2010

Iran Jams Satellite Signals Carrying Foreign Media
Hot Bird 8 may be Europe’s largest and most powerful television satellite, but it still has little chance when the Iranian regime decides to block its signals. When that happens, the Farsi services of the BBC and Voice of America instantly disappear from television screens — and not just in Iran, but also throughout the satellite’s entire coverage area.

Tehran has targeted the satellite in an effort to prevent critical foreign media coverage from reaching domestic viewers. Even though the United Nations has condemned it as an act of sabotage, the international community can do little to stop it.

The Arabic service of the German public broadcaster Deutsche Welle was also affected by the attacks on Hot Bird 8. “We experienced disruptions in December and February,” Deutsche Welle spokesman Johannes Hoffmann told SPIEGEL ONLINE. “A total of over 30 hours of programming

Hoffmann believes the attacks were a “targeted act to block news coverage” on Iran. For example, he noted , there were problems in February during celebrations marking the anniversary of the Iranian revolution.

No Accident

France-based satellite provider Eutelsat, which operates Hot Bird 8, also believes the jamming attempts are deliberate. “This is not happening by accident,” says Eutelsat spokeswoman Vanessa O’Connor. The latest attempt to block the satellite occurred on March 20, according to the BBC and Voice of America.

Indeed, it would seem that it is often surprisingly easy for the regime in Tehran to suppress information from abroad. Although Hot Bird 8 is in geostationary orbit about 36,000 kilometers (22,400 miles) above the Earth, it can be easy to sabotage, something which is also true for many other satellites. The Iranians only need to transmit a strong signal in the satellite’s direction using the same frequency with which programs are transmitted from the original ground transmission station.

In the case of Deutsche Welle, the so-called uplink is sent from a ground station in Usingen, in the German state of Hesse. “The satellite cannot, however, determine whether the signal is coming from Usingen or from Tehran,” says Deutsche Welle chief engineer Horst Scholz. If in doubt, he explains, the satellite chooses the stronger signal, which allows it to be deceived by the interference coming from Iran.

Signals from Tehran

That is apparently exactly what happened to Hot Bird 8. Eutelsat’s employees were easily able to detect the jamming signals — with their constant amplitude, constant frequency and high power — on their monitors, but they could not do anything about them. Using a special software package called SatID, they were also able to identify the source of the signals: Tehran.

The satellite operator then informed the French telecommunication regulator Agence Nationale des Fréquences (ANFR) about the signals. The ANFR sent a four-page fax, which has been obtained by SPIEGEL ONLINE, to the Iranians regarding the issue. A copy of the complaint was also sent to the Radio Regulations Board of the UN’s International Telecommunication Union (ITU).

The 12-member board meets regularly in Geneva. Its meetings typically focus on highly technical issues, with the experts discussing problems related to frequency interference. In fact, given the paucity of free frequences these days, incidents of interference are not uncommon. Still, targeted disruptions are rare, though there had already been complaints about Iran in the summer of 2009.

This time around, the UN experts were unusually outspoken, at least by their standards. In a statement issued last Friday, the board “urged” Tehran to “continue its effort in locating the source of interference (of the Eutelsat satellite) and to eliminate it as a matter of the highest priority.” The Iranians had previously protested their innocence, saying they knew nothing about any jamming attempts, and they assured the board that they would look into the matter as quickly as possible.

Appeal to Goodwill

The issue is also likely to play a role at the next meetings of the International Telecommunication Union. But, in practice, the UN can do little against the jammers. “In such cases, the ITU Radio Regulations Board appeals to the goodwill and mutual assistance of its member states to find a solution and prevent the occurrence of harmful interference of radio signals,” ITU spokesman Sanjay Acharya told SPIEGEL ONLINE. But it is doubtful whether Tehran is interested in cooperating.

Likewise, since the European Union lacks the political will to block Iranian TV broadcasts as a countermeasure, there is no speedy solution to the problem in sight. “These things take time,” says Eutelsat’s Vanessa O’Connor. “We have the patience to accept that.”

In the meantime, the satellite operator has changed how some of its services are distributed. The channels affected thusfar are now transmitted via other satellites that can broadcast to the entire Gulf region, but without being reachable by uplinks from Iran. Not all the channels on Hot Bird 8 have been affected by the electronic sabotage, however. The state broadcaster Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting also transmits its Press TV foreign service from Hot Bird 8. So far, it has not experienced any problems.


Iran bus unionist released from solitary confinement

International Transport Workers’ Federation
19 February 2010

A protest letter from the ITF and action by affiliates has been linked to the release of bus workers’ leader Mansour Osanloo from solitary confinement.

Earlier this week, the ITF learnt that Osanloo, president of the ITF-affiliated Tehran Bus Workers’ Union, had been moved into solitary confinement at Rajai Shar prison. Osanloo has spent almost three years in detention for his trade union activities.

His transfer prompted a strongly-worded protest letter from the ITF’s general secretary David Cockroft to Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, as well as protests from affiliated unions, including the seafarers’ union, Kesatuan Pelaut Indonesia. Following these protests, Osanloo was transferred to the general section of the prison within a couple of days.

The Iranian government’s recent attempt to clampdown on Osanloo coincided with the universal periodic review of the United Nations (UN), which, every four years, looks into human rights in each of the 192 member states. Its working group met in Geneva, Switzerland from 8-19 February. On 15 February, it considered the situation in Iran.

During the course of the review, Iranian trade unionists – including representatives from the Tehran Bus Workers’ Union – submitted a statement urging the UN to take on board a list of claims to improve labour rights across the country.

In September 2009, the International Trade Union Confederation and global unions, including the ITF, submitted details of Iran’s violations of workers’ fundamental rights to the review. These included information on the repression of the Tehran Bus Workers’ Union and of the continued imprisonment of Mansour Osanloo and union vice-president Ebrahim Madadi.

ITF inland transport section secretary, Mac Urata who attended the UN session said: “We are relieved that Osanloo is out of solitary confinement thanks to our swift protest. However, he was never supposed to have been there in the first place. Whatever the promises of the Iranian authorities at the UN, they ring hollow as long as genuine trade unionists remain in prison on trumped up charges.”

More information:


Student Facing Execution for Throwing Rocks

Top Lawyer Says Charges Inconsistent with Sharia Law
19 February 2010

(8 February 2010) The International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran today strongly condemned the prosecution of a young student activist, Mohammad Amin Valian, under the charge of Moharebeh, or “enmity against God,” which is punishable by death and called the charges “grossly disproportionate.”

At least nine other protestors have been sentenced to death in similar unfair trials and are at risk of imminent execution. Five other protestors, including Valian, were prosecuted last week and face the death penalty if convicted. The main pieces of evidence used to convict the twenty-year old student are photographs showing him throwing rocks during Ashura protests.

The prosecution of Valian, a student from Damaghan Science University, followed his denunciation in a student newspaper run by pro-government Basiji militias and subsequent arrest. Valian was also convicted of “corruption on earth,” “congregation and mutiny to commit crimes against national security,” “propagation activities against the Islamic regime,” and “insulting top regime officials.”

“The Judiciary, by this grossly disproportionate charge, devalues the life of a promising young student,” stated Aaron Rhodes, a spokesperson for the Campaign.

“What is more, the charge lowers the standards of the system, which, like any system of law, should protect life, not cheapen it,” he said.

Valian is one of sixteen protesters who have been subjected to a “show trial” for their peaceful political protests, and one of the five convicted of a crime carrying the death penalty.

During his trial, Valian confessed openly to throwing stones on three occasions during the protests, noting that they hit nothing, and asked the court to consider the reasons why he had thus expressed his feelings and frustrations. He also freely admitted to chanting “Death to the Dictator.”

A prominent human rights lawyer in Tehran, Abdolfattah Soltani, told the Campaign that according to Sharia law, the essential condition for applying the charge of Moharebeh to someone is the certainty that the defendant has engaged in armed activity.

“This has been clearly stated in all texts of Fiqh (religious jurisprudence). In articles 86 and 89 of the Islamic Penal Code, several conditions have been elaborated upon and in particular these articles clearly state, that if a group has been formed that engages in armed struggle, and if a person who is a member of such a group or associates with it promotes its goals through armed activity, then that is considered Moharebeh. Therefore, the condition of armed activity is essential in charging someone under Moharebeh and the person must have carried out effective actions. If these conditions are not present then the charge of Moharebeh cannot be applied,” he said.

Asked about the act of throwing stones in the street and if such activity can legitimately result in a charge of Moharebeh, Soltani said: “Absolutely not. If a person is arrested because of association with an armed group then Moharebeh may apply. But if an ordinary person, for whatever reason, such as anger or losing his temper, throws a stone, aimed at the destruction of some property or hurting someone, then there are other legal charges applicable and such actions do not rise to the charge of Moharebeh.”

Peers of Valian told the Campaign that he was one of the most active members of the Central Council of the Islamic Student Association. He had organized a number of political debates, which were also cited as evidence of the crimes for which he was convicted. Valian has been an active supporter of presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi.

The Campaign called on the Head of the Iranian Judiciary to intervene in the case, and urged that Valian be released immediately pending an examination of his case by an independent committee of legal experts, which should look into all cases of those charged on the basis of their political protests.


Iranian Workers struggle for a living minimum wage

As inflation rises, the chances of workers wages rising look slim

The minimum wage for the average Iranian worker in 2009 was 264 thousand Tomans (Iranian currency) per month ($264). According to semi-official statistics, the poverty-line for living in the capital, Tehran, is 800 thousand Tomans per month ($800). The minimum wage figures and the poverty-line in Iran are far apart, illustrating the difficult economic and living conditions for workers in Iran.

The Deputy Minister of Labour and Social Affairs, Ebrahim Nazary Jalaly, indicated recently that in the coming year inflation will be the main criterion for determining the workers’ minimum wage. He went on to state that and he “saw the possibility of the inflation rate by the end of this year to be in single digits.”

From Jalaly’s remarks one can presume that the government is not planning to increase the workers’ minimum wage in the coming year, because it is waiting for the inflation rate to decrease.

Valiullah Salehi, a member of the Supreme Labour Council also indicated that the announcement of the inflation rate by the Central Bank and calculating the costs of living for a family, will enable representatives of the government, workers and employers to determine the minimum wage for the coming year quickly.

In determining the inflation rate for the coming year, Parliament, the government and the Central Bank hold opposing views. However experts are predicting that the inflation rate for the 2010 financial year could increase to one-and-half times that of the current rate. According to the government, the current inflation rate is 12% to 15%, while economic experts calculate that the inflation rate is around 20% to 25%.

Taking into account the impact of the government’s directive, Targeting the Subsidies, experts are predicting that in the most optimistic case the inflation rate for the coming year to be around 25% to 30% percent, and in the worst case scenario to be 40% to 50%.

Some analysts are confirming that the inflation rate announced by government agencies has always been lower than the actual inflation rate in the country. This means that year on year workers’ pay has decreased significantly.

Representatives of workers in the Labour Grand Council believe that in the current conditions the possibility for increasing workers’ wages do exist. However, based on the inflation rate, to increase the workers’ purchasing power and to provide for their minimum livelihood, the social partners (representatives of the government, workers and employers) will be required to plan accordingly.

In the past year, the announced minimum wage for workers resulted in opposition from trades union organisations. In the final days of 2008, organisations such as the Tehran Public Bus Drivers’ Union and the Iranian Workers’ Free Union prepared a letter which was signed by thousands of workers, but the Iranian government did not respond to this.

Now, at the start of the 2010 the issue of determining workers’ wages in Iran has once again received special attention in the economic news.

Alongside workers’ pay issues there are ongoing factory closures due to the economic and financial crisis. Internal production is stagnant and the subsequent rise in unemployment has added to the difficulties of the poorer sections of society.

Recently, due to the closure of production units, one thousand five hundred (1500) employees of factories who are members of the Iranian Electric Industry Union have lost their jobs.

Mohammad Parsa, President of the Board of Directors of the Electric Equipment Producing Union, has announced that in recent years the electricity industry’s other factories have chosen a contraction policy and have laid-off part of their employees as well.

It is clear that the combination of inflation and the downturn in production are combining to make life difficult once again for Iranian workers in the coming year. While employers will no doubt plead that they have tough choices to make this is also the case for their employees. Government commitment to support the economy as well as the poor and disadvantaged is going to be vital in the coming period. With Ahmadinejad’s government wedded to privatization and genuine workers’ organizations repressed, there is no prospect of any support for working people.

The call for democracy and human rights also includes the demand for the right of Iranian workers to organize in independent trade unions and for collective bargaining to be respected. That is the only effective way that workers’ condemnation to poverty could be challenged.


Crisis in Iran’s Power Grid


The employment crisis in Iran has reached the country’s power generation industry. Iran’s labour news agency ILNA confirmed that the government owes a disconcerting $5 billion to the industry. This unprecedented debt to the electricity industry is primarily to pay the workers who are directly or indirectly involved in electricity production, a situation that also threatens manufacturing units producing electricity generation and distribution equipment.

In a recent interview for INLA, Mohammad Parsa, the head of the electricity producers’ organisation announced that the government owes it $5 billion, stating,

“Our debt to the banks is also 5,000 billion Toman (equivalent to $5 billion) and under these conditions there are some 900,000 workers in our industry facing unemployment. The continuation of this situation will soon lead to the crisis of blackouts.”

The head of the electricity industry warned officials about the possibility of many production units shutting down stating,

“Numerous problems threaten the electricity equipment production plants. Currently, many units are either closed or are working under capacity.”

Parsa also talked about the Ahmadinejad administration’s failure to honour its financial commitments, stating,

“Because the government has not paid its debt in time, we have not been able to clear our own debts. As a result, our debt to the banks has become very high. Some banks have taken legal measures against us. In any case, we are no longer able to fight this battle and say afloat. We are losing money and some managers have fled. Some of our managers are not going home because their cheques have bounced and they make arrangements to see me in a car to talk about their problems, like a fugitive.”

Parsa believes that the crisis began when Parliament last year decided to freeze prices and that the current crisis is also threatening the export capability of the electricity equipment production units.

“We had export plans to Pakistan but because of the daily strikes at the company, production is completely suspended. Workers who have not been paid are preventing the use of the primary material at the plant and do not allow it to leave the plant, causing us all kinds of problems.”

Parsa said that currently the industry operated at only 30 percent of its capacity and that the Chinese and the Indians were taking over the markets that Iran once had. He concluded his interview by criticising the situation in which the government’s non-payment of its dues is not penalised with late payment interests while the banks charge late fees for non-repayment of industies debts to them.


Regime ups the attack on Student Movement

Pressure Mounts to Dissolve Iran’s Nationwide University Students’ Organisation
February 18, 2010

Pressures continue on Iran’s largest student organization, Daftar Tahkim Vahdat (Office to Strengthen Unity). Earlier in the week, news came that Amin Nazari, a member of the central council of the student group and the head of its human rights division was arrested, despite his poor health. Till today, no details about his situation have been put forth by authorities.

In a related development, published reports indicate that Morteza Simiari, another member of the group’s governing body continues to be held in solitary confinement in ward 240 of Evin prison in Tehran. Simiari is the social secretary of the student group who continues to be isolated in prison even though the court has already held his trial session and his last defense was submitted as well.

Simiari was arrested after an EU parliamentary team that was visiting Iran invited this student activist to meet it. He was arrested before such a meeting but is facing charges for a meeting that never materialized. The arrest resulted in a protest by EU parliamentary team, which decided to cancel the trip to Iran scheduled to begin on Thursday. In a formal letter to Iranian officials the leader of the EU delegation Barbara Lochbihler, which had officially requested to meet with some opposition figures, asked for the release of Simiari because he was being detained for a meeting that never took place as he had not even responded to an email request for a meeting with the delegation. In her letter to the Iranian ambassador in Brussels, Lochbihler asked for Simiari’s immediate and unconditional release from prison. In his trial, Simiari told the judge that in his response to the EU invitation he had told the delegation leader that he would meet with them if arrangements were made with the Iranian foreign ministry for its representative to be present at the meeting.

Simiari is being held in ward 240 of Evin which is under the control of the IRGC revolutionary guards and informed sources have said that members of Daftar Tahkim Vahdat in the prison are under growing pressure to dissolve the student group.

In a related news story, Mehdi Arabshahi, student activist and secretary of the student group was transferred to the general ward in Evin. Arabshahi was arrested about 2 months ago and according to Kalameh website belonging to reformers his interrogations seem to have been completed after which he was moved to the general prison ward, which means he should soon be allowed to have contacts with the outside world.

It should be noted that till today, there is no news about two other members of the group, Milad Asadi and Bahareh Hedayat who were also arrested earlier.

Student Arrest from Elm va Sanaat University

Yaser Khosravizadeh, a fourth-year student in electrical engineering and a student activist from the Elm va Sanaat Science and Technology University was arrested on February 9th after going to the “Follow Up” committee of the ministry of intelligence. No news has been put forth about him till today.

During the week ending on February 11, 2010, many cultural, trade and publishing activists from this university had been summoned to this committee, some repeatedly, where they were interrogated regarding emails and text messaging. Among them, Ruhollah Sahrai, Alireza Abufazeli and Yaser Khosravizadeh were arrested and imprisoned in Evin prison while the charges against them have not been made public.

More Pressure on Student Activists in Gilan University

News reports indicate that during the last two weeks, there is growing pressure on students from Gilan University in northern Iran. One student from the university told Rooz in a short interview, “Many students have been summoned to the disciplinary committee during this period. At the time registration for the new academic term, students were forced to make pledges that they would not participate in gatherings and demonstrations of Iran’s Green Movement, which if broken would result in their expulsion from the university.”

This student went on to explain the situation by saying, “In addition to these problems, we have observed that during this period even students who are involved in social activities are put under pressure and many are regularly called to appear before the school’s disciplinary committee. At the same time, the trial of many arrested students who took part at various rallies has begun. According to those who were present at the trials, the judge in the trials has been mistreating the detainees who have been threatened with heavy prison sentences.”

Beating of a Student at Alamaeh University

An MS student at Alameh Tabatabai University was arrested on February 11, 2010 in Tehran’s Sadeghie district. According to Human Rights Reporters Committee, seyed Mansur Mousavi, was arrested on that day. Witnesses said they saw him being beaten up on the street and his personal belongings taken away from him as he was pushed into a bus at Sadeghie square in Tehran, as he was arrested. Mousavi’s family members said they did not where Mansur was being detained. Mousavi is a former student activist who according to friends and family members was not associated with any group at the time of his arrest.

Freedom and Absence Knowledge

Latest news reports indicate the prison release  of Maziyar Samii, a student arrested on February 3, 2010  while no news has been provided about the situation of Tara Sepehrifar, the secretary of the Islamic Association of Sharif Industrial University, causing stress and concern to her family members.

This chemical engineering student had been arrested earlier this summer as well around Ghoba mosque in Tehran. Till today, no news about the whereabouts or charges of the arrest has been made public. An informed source close to the family had earlier told Rooz , “We have absolutely no news about the reason for the arrest, the charges or the place where Sepehri was being held. We are pursuing the matter to see what information we can get about his situation.” Till the time of this posting, no news about this student has come forth.

In a related news report, the trial of Peyman Aref, an MS political science student at Tehran University who had been marked by authorities to be a student activist was postponed to February 22, 2010. Peyman Aref was servicing his military conscription term when he was arrested on June 17, 2009, soon after the presidential elections on charges of web blogging and giving interviews to Persian media outside Iran by Gilan’s military prosecutor on behalf of Tehran’s military prosecutor and was transferred to Evin’s general ward to complete his previous prison term of 18 months after spending some 70 days in solitary confinement. It is reported that he was brutally tortured during his interrogation and beaten up to the point where he lost a tooth and his chin has been seriously injured.

In another arrest event, Mahmoud Alizadeh Tabatabai, defense attorney for student Sajad Sadeh reported that the trial of his client which was to be held last Tuesday at the 28th branch of the revolutionary court had been postponed on the request of the prisoner. Tabatabai said the charges brought against his client were engaging in acts against national security and participation in demonstrations inside the university.


The financial power of the Revolutionary Guards

It is impossible to gauge its share of Iran’s GDP, but western estimates range from a third to nearly two-thirds
By Julian Borger and Robert Tait
Monday 15 February 2010

The extent of the Revolutionary Guards’ control over the Iranian economy is ­apparent as soon as you enter the country. They run the main international airport, and the manner in which they acquired it was a bruising demonstration of the way big business is now done in Iran.

The contract for managing Imam Khomeini airport, south of Tehran, was given to a Turkish-Austrian consortium in 2004, but on 8 May, the day it was supposed to open, guardsmen took it over, blocking the runways with their vehicles, and closing it down. Inbound flights had to be hastily diverted.

The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) declared that the involvement of foreigners posed a security risk because of an alleged link to Israel, but it was clear that the foreign consortium’s biggest mistake was to try to cut the IRGC out of its business model.

Ever since, excluding the guards has been exceedingly difficult, if not impossible, from Iran’s economy.

The corps, which was born as a ­volunteer militia in the heat of the 1979 revolution, is now unrecognisable from those early beginnings. It has grown into a behemoth which dominates both Iran’s official and black economies. It is impossible to gauge its market share, but western estimates range from a third to nearly two-thirds of Iran’s GDP – amounting to tens of billions of dollars.

But the Iranian economy has changed the Revolutionary Guards as much, if not more than, they have changed it.

“The IRGC is really a corporation. It is a business conglomerate with guns,” said Ali Ansari, an Iran expert at St Andrews University. It was misleading to call Iran a military dictatorship, he said. “This is not a military junta. I see it as a collection of business and religious interests. I don’t think they have the cohesion to move as one unit.”

Through holding companies, front companies, and “charitable foundations” the IRGC is a big player in the construction business, oil and gas, import-export, and telecommunications. Its company subcontracts work to foreign firms, and its subsidiaries bid for contracts abroad. The IRGC’s control over a string of jetties along the Gulf coast, as well as terminals in Iranian airports, allows it to move commodities in and out without paying any duty.

“If you want to get things to and from Iran without paying excise duty, they are the people to go to,” said Meir Javedanfar, an Iranian-Israeli analyst. “No big businessman in Iran is truly independent of them or the government.”

Mohsen Sazegara, an exiled Iranian dissident who helped found the IRGC, calls it now “a very strange and unique organisation”, comparing it to the Soviet-era KGB for its extensive intelligence wing. “It’s also like a huge investment company with a complex of business empires and trading companies, while also being a de facto foreign ministry through the Qods force, which controls relations with countries in the region. They are involved in smuggling drugs and alcohol. I know of no other institution like the Revolutionary Guards.”

The spread of the IRGC’s domain into the economy began in earnest in the early 1990s, under the country’s president, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. He is still a political player, a business mogul and the corps’ greatest rival, but in the aftermath of the Iran-Iraq war, encouraging the IRGC to get involved in construction was a way of rebuilding the country and funding the corps.

Ansari said: “This all started with Rafsanjani saying: go and make money, and they went and did this and thought, this is easy. They started off taking commissions and ended up taking over whole factories. The economic buyout has been going on for years.”

The IRGC operate in part through Iran’s bonyads, ostensibly charitable foundations that operate as huge holding companies. Under the shah they were a way of channelling wealth to favoured courtiers. After the revolution they were vehicles for self-enrichment by the ayatollahs. Now, in a reflection of the regime’s continuing evolution, the IGRC is the dominant force, particularly through Bonyad e-Mostazafan, the Foundation of the Oppressed.

However, arguably the most powerful IRGC body today is Khatam al-Anbiya, which started life as the HQ of the corps’ construction arm but is now a giant holding firm with control of more than 812 registered companies inside or outside Iran, and the recipient of 1,700 government contracts. Last week, the US treasury froze the assets of its head, General Rostam Qasemi, and four subsidiary companies.

With the active support of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the country’s president, who has handed Khatam al-Anbiya a succession of huge no-bid contracts, its economic influence has ballooned exponentially over the past few years into just about every aspect of economic life.

Its security credentials have allowed it to corner the market for tunnelling contracts, underground rail systems, and the nuclear and missile programme. But it was also awarded a $1.3bn contract to build a natural gas pipeline running nearly 560 miles from Bushehr province to Sistan-Baluchestan. That foothold in the energy sector has been consolidated by a $2.5bn contract to build infrastructure in the South Pars oil field.

It is impossible to judge the full extent of the IGRC’s control because the process of privatisation, officially required under article 44 of Iran’s constitution, has been used to obfuscate the question of ownership. Many of the beneficiaries are not formally owned by the IGRC but are believed to be controlled by the corps through personal links with their owners and managers.

Last September, Etemad-e Mobin, a consortium reported to have extensive links to the IGRC, bought a 51% share in Iran’s telecommunications business, minutes after it was privatised. At $5bn it was hailed as Iran’s biggest ever business deal, and, in an echo of the airport takeover, the main competitor was disqualified at the last moment for “security” reasons.

In December, the head of the consortium and the driving force behind the deal, Majid Soleimanipour, and his wife, were found dead in their Tehran home. Reportedly they died after inhaling toxic gas, leaked from a pipe. But where all business is political, and all big business is seen through the prism of national security, the official account was treated with scepticism by the public.

The telecoms deal has deepened the IRGC’s near-monopolistic hold on the economy while at the same time giving it potential access to every phone ­conversation in the country.

“Using their whole economic base, they are expanding control over areas of what they see as the ‘soft war’, like the telecommunications field, to confront the threat they see,” said Mark Fowler, a former CIA Iran specialist now working for the US consultancy Booz Allen Hamilton.

The main motive for the sanctions of the US and its allies is to drive a wedge between the IRGC and the Iranian people. Hillary Clinton’s claim that Iran is heading to military dictatorship was probably intended to throw a spotlight on the gulf. But analysts say the reach of the guards (known to Iranians by the Farsi word Pasdaran) and the murky nature of corporate ownership will make it very hard to know where to aim that wedge. “It’s the country of the Pasdaran,” said Jamshid Assadi, an Iranian economist in Dijon, France. “Everybody knows it and nobody even tries to hide it.”


Mehdi Karroubi’s question and answer session

One of Iran’s opposition Green Movement leaders Mehdi Karroubi discusses the chances of changing Iran’s politics
By Angus McDowall
13 Feb 2010

Mehdi Karroubi has always been outspoken. As a novice cleric in Iran’s holy city of Qom he quickly became a disciple of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the charismatic preacher who became the father of the Islamic revolution.

By the late 1970s, he was spending long spells in the Shah’s prisons for calling his compatriots to revolution. Old jail mates have described how he would stick up for other inmates against cell bullies and the brutal wardens.

Even when he became the speaker of parliament under the reformist president Mohammed Khatami, he refused to fall quiet, publicly accusing the powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps of running a huge smuggling empire.

Now aged 73, he says Khomeini’s Islamic revolution has been wrenched off track by the regime’s contempt for democracy. And he accuses the country’s authorities of using torture and rape against their political prisoners.

Through his son, Mohammed Taghi Karroubi, he responded to a list of questions sent by The Sunday Telegraph.

The Sunday Telegraph: Last month somebody fired a gun at you and last week you were assaulted. Are you still in danger?

Mehdi Karroubi: Yes. I’m 73 years old. As a cleric and a close friend of the late Ayatollah Khomeini, I have a legal, national and religious duty to do something for our people.

When I was 25 years old I participated in the revolution alongside Ayatollah Khomeini. Since that time until now I have done what was needed no matter the danger or the price I had to pay.

ST: After the security forces stifled your protests last week, what will be the opposition’s new strategy?

MK: At the moment there is no official rally we are asking the people to attend. We will ask, in accordance with article 27 of constitution, to have a peaceful demonstration, in order to show the people’s support for our movement.

If they don’t let us have that, we will have to try different methods to talk and educate the people about the peace movement and extend it to the whole country.

We want to maintain our peaceful demands in accordance with the constitution. But we don’t want the people to pay the high price.

Presently the state shows less tolerance and tries to use violence against the people. Many young people are in prison and have received unacceptable sentences. There is no way to back away from the people’s rights. But we have to find a proper way to ask the people’s rights and put the revolution back on track, without letting them divert the Islamic republic from its main goals with great cost to the people.

And we will talk to the people about our programme in the near future. Mr Mousavi and I will have a meeting in the near future and will let the people know about our strategy and work. The meeting might be sometime this week.

Our priorities are the release of the many prisoners without any condition and free elections without monitoring by the Guardian Council [an unelected body that can veto candidates]. The last thing is the creation of a good atmosphere for a free press recognition of the right to criticise. The current atmosphere, dominated by fear and police control must be removed and we must create a situation where all the people come together and present their ideas about the future of the state. It is the people’s right to choose. In the view of Khomeini, the most important thing was the vote of the people.

ST: When did you last meet the supreme leader and what did you discuss with him?

MK: The last meeting with the leader was before the June election. We discussed the government’s internal problems and foreign policy. Also I criticised president Ahmadinejad’s foreign policy and its effect on our national security and our national interests. I also asked about his ideas about the elections and he said: “there is no difference for me between the candidates.”

ST: Do you believe that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is the legitimate president of Iran?

MK: There’s a difference between legitimacy and reality. In reality he’s head of executive power. But in my opinion, legitimate governments must be appointed by the people in fair and widely supported elections. Our constitution also emphasises this point. We recognise him as the head of the government, which controls everything from the budget to municipal and foreign policy. He must provide the proper response in regard to duty.

But our problem with his legitimacy remains. If we want to have a peaceful demonstration, we have to ask permission of the government. We recognise them only as the dominant power, not as the legitimate government.

ST: Have you and the other opposition leader, Mir Hossein Mousavi, discussed the possibility of a negotiated settlement with Mr Ahmadinejad?

MK: At the moment we are working on the issue. But the lack of respect and recognition of the people’s rights has created many problems inside Iran. We haven’t appointed anybody for negotiation with Mr Ahmadinejad, but the most important thing is respect and understanding of the people’s needs and rights.

ST: Why have elements of the security forces attacked peaceful protesters?

MK: The political life of some people, including some military men, depends on crisis. They deny the people’s rights and try to dominate all Iranian spheres – economic as well as political. They even try to deny our rights under our constitution. In this situation, they try to create crisis and leave the country in crisis. For this reason they don’t want the people to follow their rights in a peaceful manner and a peaceful atmosphere.

ST: Do you have any news of the senior reformist politicians who are still in prison?

MK: Many reformist politicians and former members of parliament are still in prison. We hope they will soon be free. Many reformist politicians prefer to be silent because if they’re talking they have to go to jail.

ST: You have said that senior clerics are worried about the situation. What will they do about it?

MK: It’s true the senior clergy worry about the situation. They worry about the state and future of the Islamic republic of Iran. Iran is now an Islamic state, based on both republican and Islamic ideals. They don’t want any damage to the people’s belief in Islam. For us, and the senior clergy in Qom, if there is damage to the Islamic state, it is direct damage to Islam. The late Ayatollah Khomeini said that if we receive damage to the state, it’s a direct damage to people’s view of Islam.

The people in Qom are worried about the future of the state, its stability and also about the spiritual health of Islam among the young generation. There is no contradiction between Islam and human rights in view of many scholars. But in view of the state’s behaviour, many people have now started to think there is, and that it is not possible to have both under Islamic laws.

Iran denies western reporters visas to cover revolution anniversary

Handful of foreign correspondents still in Iran ordered not to report opposition protests
Iran denies western reporters visas to cover revolution anniversaryHandful of foreign correspondents still in Iran ordered not to report opposition protests
Ian Black, Middle East editor, Thursday 11 February 2010

Iran has done all it can to limit coverage of celebrations of this year’s anniversary of the Islamic revolution, using lessons learned over the past eight months of sporadic protests since the disputed ­presidential election. Western journalists, including from the Guardian, have largely been denied visas to enter the country. The internet and phones have been interfered with.

The few foreign correspondents resident in Tehran operate under severe restrictions. Iranian officials claim that more than 200 foreign media were “cleared” to cover the anniversary, but minders from the ministry of Islamic guidance escorted selected journalists to today’s main official rally at Tehran’s Azadi square and warned them not to report opposition protests.

Exiled Iranian journalists had urged their foreign colleagues not to go, to avoid presenting “a caricature of the Iranian nation for your television cameras”.

Sixty-five Iranian journalists are in detention, according to the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders. Iran has become the leading jailer of journalists in the world, the International Press Institute (IPI) said today in its annual review of global press freedoms.

Iran’s official media does not offer a wide angle on the story. Gisoo Ahmadi, correspondent for English-language Press TV, made no mention of opposition protests but described her excitement at covering the revolution’s anniversary for the third time. “Every year I tell you that it’s very glamorous, it’s very exciting, it’s very impressive, the turnout of the people, and every year I think that, oh, it can’t be any better, and you know surprisingly, the next year I see that there’s even more happening,” she said.

Opposition websites are probably the best source of news about Iran and there is regular praise for the BBC Persian TV satellite channel, which depends largely on information sent in by viewers.

“The international media has done well with live blogs and so on considering the difficulties,” said Massoumeh Torfeh, an Iranian academic at the School of Oriental and African Studies, London University. “The general picture is pretty accurate.”

Not surprisingly, Iran disagrees. Last November, during ceremonies marking the takeover of the US embassy in 1979, the official Islamic Republic News Agency accused TV stations such as al-Jazeera, CNN and France 24 of “seeking to create widespread unrest … by broadcasting phony stories and images” instead of reporting on the “epic public turnout” for pro-government rallies.

“The government cracked down on all forms of transmission of information, on bloggers, on journalists, on anybody that was transmitting any kind of information about the election,” said Anthony Mills of the IPI. “It’s an example of a government seeking to stifle dissent, by stifling independent reporting, by trying to make sure that no news, written or visual, comes out about events that are having an enormous impact on the country.”


Saeed Montazeri on Protests in Iran

‘It Can’t Go On Like This’
Saeed Montazeri, son of the leading Iranian dissident cleric Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, talks to SPIEGEL about who is responsible for his father’s recent death, reformists’ chances of success and why Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is not suited to be president.

Saeed Montazeri, son of the leading Iranian dissident cleric Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, talks to SPIEGEL about who is responsible for his father’s recent death, reformists’ chances of success and why Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is not suited to be president.

SPIEGEL: Hojatoleslam Montazeri, we have reached you on your mobile phone. Where are you at the moment? Are you under house arrest?

Saeed Montazeri: I am in my house in Qom, which is next to my father’s house. Officially, my movements are not restricted. But the windowpanes occasionally rattle. It is apparently regime thugs who want to provoke me. My father’s office is being tightly controlled by security agents. His hosseiniyeh (religious institute) was closed 12 years ago and occupied by the thugs.

SPIEGEL: Were you at least able to give your father, who was seen as one of the most respected clerics in Iran and a mentor of the opposition movement, a dignified burial?

Montazeri: The security forces only showed restraint for the first 24 hours after his death. Immediately after the funeral, they began rioting in front of my father’s house and insulting him with chants.

SPIEGEL: Who were these people? Were they soldiers in uniform or police officers?

Montazeri: No, the men in uniform just stood by and watched. It was the Basij militias, who had clearly been sent by the regime, who became violent. For the first time in Qom, however, we also heard counter-demonstrators chanting their determined slogans. “Down with the dictator!” they shouted. It can’t go on like this for much longer.

SPIEGEL: The seventh day after the death of your father, a traditional day of mourning, coincided with the Ashura festival. In Tehran and other big cities, there was an escalation of violence and at least eight deaths …

Montazeri: … for which government bodies are responsible. They are to blame.

SPIEGEL: But there was also a new willingness among the protestors to use violence. They set police cars on fire and attacked Basij militias.

Montazeri: Ordinary people have no interest in setting property on fire. They wanted to demonstrate for their legitimate interests. They were provoked by the state.

SPIEGEL: Would your father, who advocated nonviolent resistance in his Islamic legal opinions, have seen it this way?

Montazeri: Without a doubt. My father consistently condemned state brutality and stressed that there is a religious right, even a religious obligation, to rise up against rulers who abuse their power. His commitment to this cause took years off his life. Even though the cause of his death was heart failure, the regime is partly responsible for his death, and not only because of their harassment of him. My father was very distressed about what this regime did to people in recent months.

SPIEGEL: Did your father, in his last days, feel that the Islamic Republic still stood a chance of surviving? Do you believe in the future of the theocracy?

Montazeri: Until the very end, my father hoped that those in power would come to their senses, so that our people could be spared serious harm. I believe that the form our future society takes is not that important. It can be an Islamic republic, a secular republic or, as far as I’m concerned, even a monarchy. The important thing is that people are able to live in freedom and prosperity, that they have freedom of movement and that their voices are heard.

SPIEGEL: Is such liberalization even possible under Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei?

Montazeri: It’s difficult to say. Those responsible must first apologize for the misdeeds and repressive measures they have imposed on the people in the past few months. That would be the precondition for the Islamic Republic continuing to exist. And the presidency, after the resignation of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, would have to be given to the candidate who captured the most votes in the last elections: Mir Hossein Mousavi.

SPIEGEL: Do you think Mousavi is the right man for the position? Isn’t the former prime minister also a politician of the past?

Montazeri: Mousavi never claimed to be the leader of the movement. As far as the future of our country is concerned, a council would have to be convened that would include both Mousavi and the opposition politician and cleric Mahdi Karroubi, as well as the highly respected reformist former president, Mohammad Khatami. Former President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani should also be included. They are my friends, and I share their positions. Mousavi and Karroubi attended my father’s funeral and paid a — nonpolitical — visit to my house to offer their condolences. I do not see myself playing an advisory role. I see my role as a human rights activist, not as someone who is active in politics.

SPIEGEL: Can those things even be separated in the current situation?

Montazeri: You’re right, that’s difficult in Iran today. These days, every ordinary police officer, every bazaar merchant and every teacher is politically active. Those on the frontlines, when things start to escalate, are usually young people, students and workers. But the peaceful demonstrations now include people from all levels of society and from all age groups — men, women, deeply religious women in full veils and those with more secular views, hardly veiled at all. Mousavi and Karroubi speak the language of one part of the opposition …

SPIEGEL: … and yet one sometimes has the impression that they are running after the movement. Haven’t they in fact become merely the figureheads of the opposition, while those who are willing to do anything are the ones calling the shots?

Montazeri: Mousavi and Karroubi have consistently stressed that they do not represent all of the disappointed. And they don’t want violence, either. My friends and I have repeatedly recommended that the people in the streets remain calm, and that they should practice patience. A problem like ours cannot be solved in a day. But if young people are forced to look on as their friends are beaten, arrested or even shot dead on the streets, any attempts to convince them to exercise moderation will soon fail. And, to be honest, I find it understandable, even if I don’t approve of it.

SPIEGEL: Mousavi’s nephew was shot and killed during the Ashura protests. Do you know any further details about the incident?

Montazeri: It wasn’t as if he were simply shot by accident. It was undoubtedly a targeted effort. We have heard from several sources that it was planned well in advance by the authorities, who also carried it out. It may have been intended as a sort of final warning to Mousavi. I don’t possess prophetic gifts, which is why I don’t known whether he’ll be shot and killed one day, or whether the regime will arrest him. The consequences would be catastrophic.

SPIEGEL: What would they be?

Montazeri: It has been shown, again and again, that suffering and casualties accompany historic processes, with many people arrested, tortured and executed. Many lose their families. The outcome can only be evaluated at the end of such bloody processes. Revolutionary leader Ayatollah Khomeini once said: “Our fathers are not our guardians, and what right did they have to determine this form of government for us?”

SPIEGEL: You expect to see revolutionary excesses, with a bloodbath?

Montazeri: I hope that it doesn’t happen that way. I still hope that those in power will come to their senses, that they will accept compromises and choose the path to national reconciliation. If they don’t, my country will be in far worse shape in a year’s time than it is today.

SPIEGEL: Will Ahmadinejad still be president in 12 months, and will Khamenei still be the supreme religious leader?

Montazeri: Ahmadinejad is not suited for the office of president.

SPIEGEL: For which office is he suited?

Montazeri: Perhaps for the office of mayor of a small town. I prefer not to comment on Khamenei. However, my late father was firmly convinced that he lacks the qualifications for his office.

SPIEGEL: By making such statements, you are running the risk of being arrested yourself. Aren’t you afraid for yourself and for the safety of your family?

Montazeri: I have been in prison several times already. Most recently, I spent 325 days in solitary confinement. I’m not afraid. Let them arrest me. Let them come, if they want to.


IFJ Condemns New Wave of Journalists’ Arrests in Iran

Media Release
05 January 2010

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) today condemned recent arrests of journalists and media union leaders following the civil unrest which gripped Tehran and the country last week with demonstrations and clashes between protesters and security forces. The IFJ says that at least 12 journalists were arrested, including Badralsadat Mofidi and Mashaalah Shamsolvaezin, respectively General Secretary and Vice President of the Association of Iranian Journalists (AoIJ), an IFJ affiliate.

“We condemn the Iranian Government’s kneejerk reaction of blaming the media over legitimate public protest,” said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary. “There is systematic repression and brutal intimidation of media and journalists under the cloak of restoring public order.”

According to media reports, authorities in Iran carried out a number of arrests of prominent independent journalists in the wake of last week’s demonstrations which pitted protesters against security forces in Tehran and other cities in the country. Violence erupted when the authorities tried to ban a procession to mark the Muslim festival of Ashura which coincided with the death of Ayatollah Hossein Montazeri, a senior Iranian cleric who had criticized the government for its handling of the post June presidential election protests.

Reports say Shamsolvaezin, AoIJ Vice President was arrested at his home on 28 December by plain clothes officers while its General Secretary Bradralasad Mofidi was detained on 28 December along with her husband Kayvan Mehregan, editor of the political section of the reformist daily Etemad. Syrian reporter Reza al-Basha who works for state-owned Dubai TV was reportedly also arrested on Sunday 27 December and detained in Tehran.

The AoIJ says that at least eight more journalists were arrested last week, including Nasrin Vazere (Ilna news agency), Morteza Kazemeyan (freelance), Mostsfa Ezade (freelance), Emadoddin Baghe (freelance), Mohammad Nazere( freelance), Mohammadjavad Mozaffar(freelance), Ali Hegmat (freelance) and Mohammadreza Zohde (freelance).

The IFJ has also described as “absurd” the sentence of a seven year and four month jail term handed down to Iranian journalist Bahman Ahmadi Amoui. The journalist, a critic of President Ahmedinajad’s rule, also faces 34 lashes, according to media reports.

“The international community of journalists will stand by their colleagues in Iran” added White. “The government will not restore order or end this crisis without respect for the rights of people to protest and of journalists to tell the story. There must be an end to the reign of terror that is being unleashed against free speech and journalism in Iran.”

For more information contact the IFJ at +32 2 235 2207

The IFJ represents over 600,000 journalists in 123 countries worldwide


Mood in Iran ominous after latest violence

The Irish Times – Thursday, December 31, 2009

ANALYSIS: The fightback by the Iranian government and its supporters creates a deep sense of foreboding as to what might happen in the country

BLOODIED FACES on burning streets. Crowds fleeing tear gas and baton charges. Hands raised in defiant fists and V signs. Mass arrests, followed by thunderous denunciations of opposition leaders as mohareb, or enemies of God.

The reports from Tehran and other Iranian cities over the past week cannot but stir memories of the violent upheaval that followed Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s bitterly disputed re-election in June. They also raise questions about where this, the most serious bout of unrest since the summer, may ultimately lead.

The most recent clashes come after many observers had all but completed the obituary for what had become known as the Green Movement in reference to the campaign colours of Ahmadinejad’s main challenger, the greying former prime minister Mir Hussein Mousavi. The brutal response of the Iranian authorities to what were initially peaceful mass demonstrations against an election which Mousavi’s supporters believe was stolen appeared to snatch the wind from the opposition’s sails, and protests largely sputtered out as the summer drew to a close.

Those who sought to write off the movement argued that it was too disparate and confused in its goals to keep momentum. Some, like Mousavi, once a protege of Ayatollah Khomeini, clamoured for reform within the parameters of the Islamic Republic, while others would stop at nothing but its collapse. Many wondered whether this largely grassroots campaign, with Mousavi and fellow reformist candidate Mehdi Karroubi only nominal leaders, had the will and vision to sustain itself. The fact that a large number of the demonstrations had taken place in affluent north Tehran was enough for some to dismiss the June disturbances as merely the pangs of a small westernised elite.

Nevertheless, the opposition found ways of circumventing the ban on protests to continue its challenge to a regime that has killed dozens, arrested hundreds, and jailed scores of dissidents in the six months since Ahmadinejad declared victory.

Because the authorities cannot prevent people gathering for official political and religious events, activists have hijacked such occasions with anti-regime slogans and displays. As a result, some of the most potently symbolic dates in Iran, including Qods Day – a government-backed day of protest supporting the Palestinians – and the November anniversary of the US embassy siege in 1979, have served as further evidence of how far Iran’s fissures widened this year.

Other Iranians have chosen more subtle means of defiance. Thousands of banknotes have been defaced with opposition insignia, walls have been daubed with anti-government graffiti, and the nightly rooftop chanting of Allahu Akbar [God is most great], a ritual that harkens back to the days leading up to the Shah’s ousting three decades ago, continues.

But the street protests and pockets of civil disobedience are not the only signs of Iran’s current turmoil. Talk of divided loyalties and deep unease abounds behind the scenes within the country’s opaque political, security, and clerical spheres.

One of the most chilling video clips to emerge from Iran in the last week shows masked vigilantes storming Jamaran, the Tehran mosque complex from which Ayatollah Khomeini ruled revolutionary Iran before his death in 1989, on Saturday, as Mohammad Khatami, the mild-mannered reformist former president, attempted to address a gathering. On June 12th I had stood inside this hall, watching Khatami and other Iranian luminaries cast votes in the ill-fated election. The fact that Jamaran, revered due to its place in the annals of the Islamic Republic and usually well guarded, could be breached by thugs is an ominous sign indeed.

The day after Khatami was forced to abandon his speech amid the sound of breaking glass and frenzied yelling, Iran witnessed the deadliest street violence since the summer. More than eight people were killed, including Mousavi’s nephew, and many others arrested. Serious disturbances had been expected that day. The death a week beforehand of Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, the dissident cleric who had become something of a spiritual guide for the opposition, meant the religiously significant seventh day of mourning for him took place on Ashura, the most emotionally charged occasion in the Shia calendar. Ashura commemorates the martyrdom of Imam Hussein, the prophet Muhammad’s grandson, who was killed by the caliph Yazid.

The bloodshed on this year’s Ashura will only serve to reinforce the parallels which opposition supporters had already drawn between their narrative and Shia traditions which tell of how Imam Hussein, denied his rightful position as caliph, challenged the tyrannical rule of Yazid. Acclaimed Iranian filmmaker Mohsen Makhmalbaf, now based in Paris, argues that, with the Ashura deaths, the Iranian regime has crossed a perilous line. “No religious person would accept the killing of Muslims on this day,” he said this week. “Now with the killing of [Mousavi’s] nephew, [Mousavi] is Imam Hussein and [Iran’s Supreme Leader] Khamenei is Yazid in the minds of many people.”

It all adds up to a deep sense of foreboding as Khamenei plots his next move to further shore up the legitimacy of his own rule as Supreme Leader, and the regime itself. Contacts in Tehran and other Iranian cities – whether opposition supporters or critics of the movement’s aims and methods – tell me of their fear over what might unfold next.

One friend described her family’s desperation after a relative was swept up in last weekend’s arrests, despite having no connection with the protests. Nothing has been heard of him since. Another contact, related to a high-profile reformist figure detained earlier this week, told me his family has urged him to abandon plans to return to Iran for the time being.

Earlier this month, before the violence of Ashura, Mousavi issued a statement saying the regime was fighting “shadows in the streets” while “its strongholds are constantly falling” in people’s minds.

The events of the past week have poisoned the atmosphere to a far more dangerous degree. It may herald a more violent and unpredictable phase of the existential crisis that has convulsed the Islamic Republic during this, the 30th anniversary of the revolution that brought it into being.

Many expect the traditional cyclical mourning periods for those killed this week to result in fresh waves of protests and unrest far into 2010. The coming year may well prove to be the Islamic Republic’s greatest test yet.

Mary Fitzgerald is Foreign Affairs Correspondent


Interviewing a former Iranian Basij militia member

Rory Carroll, Latin American correspondent
World News Blog
December 16, 2009

For months now, we’ve heard horrific stories of rape and abuse from Iran’s gaols.

Since the election last June, hundreds, maybe thousands, of opposition protestors have been beaten and gaoled. Human rights groups have documented persistent reports of rape within the police stations and gaols.

Now, for the first time, we’ve spoken to a member of the Basij militia – the group said to be responsible for many of the abuses.

He was a broken man, seeking refuge in Britain, and from his own conscience.“I feel pain and the shame in front of people and before God. I’ve lost my world and my religion,” he wept, as he recounted his story.

Aged 27, he had been a member of the Basij for as long as he could remember, born into a deeply religious family, utterly loyal to the Islamic Revolution and above all to the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamanei.

For “Sayyed”, as we’ll call him, Ayatollah Khamanei was the incarnation of the 12th Imam, the equivalent of the Messiah in Shi’a Islam. Not far short of God, in other words.

So he didn’t question it when commanders told his Basij unit, months before the election, that the Supreme Leader had decreed that Ahmadinejad should win. Nor even when they were told to ignore the desires of illiterate voters and vote for Ahmadinejad on their behalf.

He had a twinge when he realised they were simply “disappearing” the ballot boxes with the votes of young people, who mainly voted for the opposition.As he described how they were armed with batons, cables and other weapons and told to attack protestors, he started to cry.

He says he stood by, but his colleagues killed people on the streets of his city. But the local Basij, it seems, were not performing well enough. So when about a hundred young people were arrested and put in shipping containers, Basij from the provinces were brought in.

At this point in the interview, Sayyed sobbed, tears dripping down his anguished face. He walked around, but he said he wanted to come back and finish telling his story.

From the containers, he said, they heard the desperate cries of men and women, boys and girls, being raped by the Basij from outside the town.

It was 20 June. He gave us the name of the police station where he says the assaults took place, and identified the mullah in charge of the basij in his city. We’re not revealing any of the details which could identify him, but which we needed to know to authenticate his story.

He spoke in the elaborate, religious Persian used by many Basij volunteers, and while he was willing to talk to us, he refused to shake the hand of a woman, another sign of his religious background.

Maybe the most convincing authentification we have is that his story confirms the reports we’ve had from victims and human rights groups, who say rape has been used all over Iran in the brutal months since the June election. That and his desperation. Rarely have I interviewed someone so distressed.

“I am ashamed in front of people, even to say that I was mistaken, and I am ashamed in front of my religion,” he said. “I committed crimes, knowingly and unknowingly. Now I’m left with my conscience punishing me for what I did.”


Iran’s Supreme Leader ordered intensification of Suppressions

By: Sepeher Saadat
Translated to English by Reza Eshteraki for Persian2English
December 15, 2009

Jaras (Green Way Movement network): Right at six months after the presidential elections, Ayatollah Khamenei, with a nervous and worried tone, promised destruction to those who oppose the regime and he threatened them with more severe punishments.

His speech was accompanied with slogans from dozens of his supporters but concurrently many supporters of the green movement have deemed the threats of the Islamic Republic Supreme Leader ineffective in their media outlets. They have also stressed the continuation of protest actions and being smart in the face of government measures.

Ayatollah Khamenei, in one of his fiercest attacks on the leaders of the green movement, accused them of acting against the law and said: “These people talk about supporting Imam Khomeini but what they do results in a big sin like this to the Imam, and enemies happily analyze based on these acts and then make decisions against the national interests of Iran.”

By uttering these statements, Khamenei effectively supported IRIB (National TV & Radio) for broadcasting images of a photo of the founder of the Islamic Republic (Khomeini) being torn down in protest gatherings on December 7th. He holds the leaders of the green movement responsible for the action. In one of the most provocative parts of his speech, the Supreme Leader implicitly claimed that some of Ayatollah Khomeini’s companions have been separated from his causes. He then defended his political principle, saying: “I believe in attracting the majority and letting go of the minority, but it seems that some people are intent on going away from the regime.”

He then criticized the leaders of the green movement for having the backing of France, England, US, corrupt individuals, Tudeh (Communist) Party supporters and Monarchists. He told them to open their eyes and issue disclaimers. Analysts say that this speech is preparing the ground for more severe oppressions of the green movement. Before Ayatollah Khamenei’s speech, some had guessed irregular measures of the government against the green movement. Kalameh news agency, close to Mir-Hossein Mousavi, issued a warning, asking people to be smart if an irregular measure is taken. Kalameh warned people about the possibility of attacks on the Green movement news outlets and asked them to spread the news with alternative outlets. The prediction from Mousavi’s website proved correct because the day after, the site was hacked by a group called Prophet Green Movement.

Green Leaders to be arrested

Some sources close to Mir-Hossein Mousavi told Sunday of the increase in the possibility of his arrest and told Jaras correspondent that security bodies are examining the situation for his arrest. A knowledgeable source told Jaras that based on the news received, security institutions are 100 percent intent on arresting Mousavi and the increase in oppressions in the last few days is for controlling the conditions after his arrest.

It is said that Mir-Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karoubi will also publish separate publications soon, reacting to events in recent days. They had previously rejected IRIB’s claim that a photo of the founder of the Islamic Republic (Khomeini) has been torn down by supporters of green movement. They called this a suspicious act and a tactic of the government for an increase in oppressions.

It seems that statements by Green movement leaders after Ayatollah Khamenei speech will lead to intensification of political polarization in Iran. This is while the Supreme Leader has openly called for new oppressions and has introduced the opponents of status quo as enemies of the regime saying: “Those who want to create insecurity and turmoil face the people” and “legal bodies have duties that they should act upon.”

The Supreme Leader has also compared the opponents of the government to “froth on water,” promising their destruction.

Fear from expansion of protests in Muharam

Analysts believe that the government’s intention of intensifying oppressions is due to their failure to suppress the wave of protests after the election. Many security officials had promised, before Student Day, that there would be no gathering by the supporters of the Green movement, but protests including tens of thousands of students on December 7th put an end to all the analysis of security bodies.

Right now, executing the project of intensifying oppressions can be an attempt by the security bodies to counter the increasing wave of public protests. Published reports show that since Muharam (a month of Mourning in Islamic Shi’a culture-Translator’s note) is near and the Green movement supporters have widespread plans to use this opportunity for protesting the government. Security intuitions want to dominate an atmosphere of public intimidation and terror. But supporters and leaders of the Green movement say that intensifying the oppressions will bear no fruit and will only lead to more reasons for the opponents of the status quo to stress their demands.


Brazilian protests greet Ahmadinejad at start of South American tour

Rory Carroll, Latin American correspondent
Monday 23 November 2009

Protests greeted Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Brazil at the start of a South American tour intended to bolster the Iranian president’s legitimacy and ease his country’s international isolation.

Thousands of demonstrators took to the streets in Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro on the eve of Ahmadinejad’s arrival to denounce his record on human rights, homosexuality and Israel.

The Brazilian president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, was expected to welcome the visitor with red carpet pomp in the capital, Brasilia, before holding talks on economic and political co-operation. “It doesn’t help isolating Iran,” Lula said in his weekly radio address today.

Around 200 Iranian businessmen accompanied Ahmadinejad’s delegation, in a sign of their eagerness to tap opportunities in a continent that does not consider Tehran a pariah. Iran’s leader faces simmering discontent at home and hostility in the west, but in Latin America he has friends and allies among a leftist bloc led by Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez and including Bolivia, Ecuador and Nicaragua.

“This is the first time in Latin American history that an Islamic government has been so present in the US backyard,” Hamid Molana, an Ahmadinejad adviser, told the Irna state news agency.

Luis Inácio Lula da Silva and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Brasilia Luis Inácio Lula da Silva and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Brasilia. Photograph: Fernando Bizerra Jr/EPA

Achieving a first head of state invitation to Brazil was a diplomatic coup for Tehran because the region’s heavyweight had previously kept its distance. Hobnobbing with Lula, one of the world’s most popular leaders, shows that Ahmadinejad has diplomatic cards to play even if Europe, the US and much of the Middle East are against him.

“New orders should be established in the world,” Ahmadinejad said before leaving Tehran. “Iran, Brazil and Venezuela in particular can have determining roles in designing and establishing these new orders.”

Israel made a pre-emptive diplomatic strike last week when the president, Shimon Peres, visited Argentina and Brazil to lobby for a tough line on Iran’s suspected quest for a nuclear bomb.

On Rio’s Ipanema beach, groups representing gay people, artists, Christians, Jews, and Holocaust survivors carried protest banners and a giant cage containing white balloons as a symbol of Iran’s “repressed values”.

Opposition politicians criticised the visit. “One thing is a diplomatic relationship with dictatorships, another is to welcome their leaders in your home,” Jose Serra, the Sao Paulo state governor, wrote in a newspaper article.

Ahmadinejad and Lula are expected to sign accords on biotechnology, energy and farming which, Tehran hopes, could boost bilateral trade from $2bn to $15bn. They may discuss co-operation on building nuclear plants. The Iranian president is due to address Brazil’s congress and speak to university students before heading on to Bolivia and Venezuela.

The visit will test Brazil’s ambition to be a serious diplomatic player by courting friendship with everyone. It has urged dialogue with Iran instead of cornering the regime with sanctions.

“If Brazil is somehow able to moderate Iran’s policies on the nuclear question, or its practice in support of terrorist groups, it would give the Lula government a tremendous boost and enhanced global stature,” said Michael Shifter, an analyst with the Inter-American Dialogue thinktank.

“But if Brazil doesn’t succeed in influencing Iran’s conduct, or is seen as indulging and legitimising such a questionable regime, then it risks alienating some in the US and Europe who expect Brazil to take a firm stand, and might even hurt its chances to get a seat on the UN security council.”

Brazil has reportedly asked Ahmadinejad to steer clear of homophobic comments, Holocaust denial and threats against Israel. Another delicate point will be Tehran’s crackdown on dissent after June’s presidential election.

The US has welcomed Brazil’s burgeoning diplomatic role but some members of Congress accused it of erring in “lending legitimacy” to Iran’s leader.


The popular movement and various factions of the ruling regime

By Alireza Saghafi
Alireza Saghafi Khorassani, labour activist and a member of the Writers Association of Iran
November 26, 2009

In contrast to some analysis that one section is representing the workers and lower casts and the other section represents the middle class or neo-liberals, it must be said that none of the above sections have such a followers or representations.

The Iranian People’s social movement which is at one of its critical junctures has faced many ups and downs in the past thirty years. This recent uprising cannot be considered separate from the struggles of the past thirty years, as it follows the same path and makes similar demands. These are the same demands that were never fulfilled, they have been brought up time after time by various sections of the society and they were met with severe repression by the authorities. In some articles and essays of leftists in the west – people who the Iranian left expected their support – refer to what occurred after the recent election as a “coloured revolution”. Such analysts sometimes even wished for its failure and congratulated the winning side, perhaps because the anti-American rhetoric of the Iranian government were the only thing that got published in Western media. In some media outlets there were much noise made over the coverage of what happened after the election, and people who knew nothing of the demands of our people portrayed themselves as such staunch supporters that one begins to think they were the orchestrators of the movement. In this age of media manipulation, confusion and lack of reporting on events and positions, many opinions are changed and made appear as if the movement was pre-planned. It is interesting to note that there are two different groups that called this movement a velvet revolution. Both groups saw the appearances and both groups, from the left and the right, called this popular movement a velvet revolution, and neither have an understanding of the Iranian society and its recent movements. There are plenty of reasons and evidence that in the last thirty years, the ruling governments of Iran were supported by the USA, its allies, and generally the western world. There has been no open conflict between them and what we’ve witnessed in the past (slogans like “Down with the USA”, “Death to Israel” and the like) was all a cat and mouse game to distract the popular views. The only true determinant in policies was the vast economic profits…

There is a lot of evidence to support that argument. There is a saying in Persian; “should we take the fox’s word or the chicken feathers sticking out from under him?” In the past thirty years there has been so much evidence that it has become undeniable, except by regimes similar to the Iranian one and their western trading partners. This game has brought in immeasurable profits for the investing companies. Governments of the USA, Russia, and other European countries have been using issues such as Salman Rushdie, human rights, or the nuclear file to apply pressure on Iran and sign contracts, reap astronomical amount of profits, and receive concessions similar to those offered to Russia by the Qajar dynasty at *Turkmenchay- and they have done just that in the past years.

*- The Treaty of Turkmenchay was a treaty negotiated in Turkmenchay by which the Persian empire, more commonly known today as Iran, recognized Russian sovereignty over the northern provinces such as Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan establishing the Aras River as the common boundary between both empires, after its defeat in 1828 at the end of the Russo-Persian War, 1826-1828.

. In such an environment – especially with the imposition of sanctions – a large number of trade deals were done in black-markets, and continues to be made that way. These profits cannot be compared to that of the official deals. This is very lucrative for both sides of the deal – which happen to be the children of Mullahs and others in power. For example, Iran is the third largest importer of cigarettes from America – although not officially, or, on purchasing of weapons and armaments and many other items. To shed further light on the subject, we will start with current situation.

From the start, creation of the Islamic Republic was approved by four industrial powers – the USA, the UK, France, and Germany – in the Guadeloupe conference. From then on, the revolution of the people of Iran was directed in a specific way in accordance with the agreement between the fundamentalists and the west. The aim of the letters that went back and forth between the mullahs and the western leaders, the obvious support of the western circles of those religious leaders in Iran was clear for all to see. The policies of that period like the creation of a green belt around the former USSR, formation of religious poles in order to defeat the eastern bloc and … were openly discussed in the literature of the politicians in those days. That is an undeniable fact, and anyone who can perform basic media research is able to find a vast amount of evidence to that effect.

• Following the revolution the American hostage crisis occurred. It has been discussed widely, and based on evidence its main goal was to derail the fight for independence from USA and the international capitalist system as a whole. As such, after suppressing internal independent groups, the hostages were returned the conservative government of Ronald Reagan. Reagan announced to the media that he received the best gift during his presidential period from Iranian leadership. As a result of that demeaning accord (the Algiers accord which was signed by Iran, involving the then Prime Minister and his deputy) they agreed to return the hostages, an act that was even denounced by the President of that period – Bani Sadr – as being the ** Vosough od-Dowleh -type accord”.

** Vosough od-Dowleh was a Prime Minister in Iran during Qajarid era. During his reign, he signed a number of accords with foreign powers jeopardizing Iranian sovereignty.

After that, the Iran-Contra affair happened along with the travel of the U.S. Vice President McFarlane to Iran, the full report of which is available in Tower Report whose finding was the revelation of the secret deal to sell arms to Iran via non-governmental channels for 5 years. The income from those arms deal was spent on paramilitary forces in Latin America. Gradually it was revealed that at least 2008 TOW rockets and 235 Hawk missiles were sold to Iran. It was also revealed that the majority of the cargo was provided by Israel.

Next came the events of 1988, the massacre of political prisoners while the west and U.S. kept their mum. At the time no formal complaint was made for this crime genocide while at the same time the Libyan government was taken to court for the bombing of an airplane with 200 passengers on board. Are human lives valued differently from person to another? The only reason can be that those murdered in Iran in 1988 were politically against the west and U.S. and therefore not worthy of the efforts. After the mass murder of political prisoners in 1988, the regime collected its reward when number of loans flooded Iran. They came in from various western sources. Iran received close to $50 billion in span of 3 years. These loans allowed the Iranian government to assassinate its critics in various places in the world where glimpses of such examples were seen at Mykonos Trials and other examples. According to some sources there were about 200 assassination cases.

The murders of Dr. Ghassemloo, Bakhtiar, Kazem Rajavi and Fereidoon Farrokhzad abroad and hundreds of other murders inside the country like the Forouhars, Mokhtari, and Pouyandeh, were committed under the sleepy eyes of the west. It is interesting to note that in all of those times at least one of the forces involved in today’s events in Iran was in power.

After such incidents were exposed, the west turned to support the political reforms and reformists in Iran and began to deal with the reform government. Large contracts by corporations like Total and Royal Dutch Shell were signed on the oil and gas fields, and large exclusive contracts such as Crescent, Iran Cell and others were given to big International corporations. Corporations like Halliburton (owned by Dick Cheney and Condoleezza Rice) became active in Iran. In this period of apparent reformism, repressive organs were rebuilt and which can be seen in action today. Silence of the West in the 09 June 1999 student uprising, their silence on the issue of prisoner tortures – at that time the US was busy behaving similarly in Guantanamo and other locations – and the dealings of the reform government with Iraq, Afghanistan, the middle east and even in the Balkans, all point to the compatibility of the methods of government in Iran and the west.

About this cooperation we can point to the following items: 1. Cooperation between the USA and Iran in the Balkans in dividing the former Yugoslavia is a shining example of the Islamic fundamentalists in Iran and the western expansionist policies working together. In that period, the cooperation between the two sides in breaking up Yugoslavia and signing bilateral contracts coincided with the assassination of Iran’s political enemies abroad.

With the start of war in Yugoslavia, Mohammad Reza Naghdi was sent to Bosnia-Herzegovina as the head of a battalion of Revolutionary Guards Corp. and was one of the three Revolutionary Guards commanders until the end of the conflict in that region. At that time, the U.S. and the NATO had created an air cover to neutralize the Yugoslav air force so that the Mujahidin forces and Iran’s help would reinforce Bosnian defences.

In the Balkan war, Rasim Delic, a Muslim, also the commanded the volunteer Revolutionary Guards Corp. sent to Bosnia. While the military base was under the command of Revolutionary Guards Corp. officers, the entire volunteer force was operating as part of the Al-Mujahed brigades. That brigade contained over 2000 foreign fighters as of 1993 and according to Ali Ahmad, an Afghan Mujahedin who is currently imprisoned at the Zenitsa Prison, was responsible for the murder of 24 civilians in Delic’s village. In 1993, the same brigade murdered tens of Serbian prisoners in Orasac and put the victims’ severed heads on display in the village streets.

Rasim Delic, the 56 year old general of the Bosnia-Herzegovina army is currently accused of war crimes, ethnic cleansing and genocide. He was the commanding officer of this army in the early half of the 1990’s – between 1992 and 1995. As part of the charges that General Delic must answer in Hague is the rape of tens of Croat and Serb women and children by the volunteer foreign forces that were operating under his command. In the past few years Rasim Delic was working with a few import and export companies that were founded by Kharis Zilasic, Head of Bosnian Security Forces, and mostly have business ties with the Islamic Republic.

2. Cooperation between Iran and the USA in bringing the Karzai government to power in Afghanistan. The German Conference for Afghanistan after Taliban was a start for coordination of efforts between Iran and the west in post-Taliban Afghanistan. That cooperation existed during the time of the USSR occupation of Afghanistan and Iran was in lock-step with the west in providing the Afghan Mujahedeen with the logistical and weapons to help they needed. Iran’s assistance and the training of the Mujahedeen forces during their fight were so extensive that there is no need to be reiterated.

The cooperation between the both sides in Afghanistan continued with Iran’s representative at the Afghanistan Conference in Hague. Reports of the possibility of cooperation between Iran and NATO, or recent published news that the Islamic regime has been negotiating with German corporations about using Iranian soil to send non-military equipment to the German forces stationed in Afghanistan, as well as recent message by Obama, all show signs of a of the USA’s policy in dealing with Iran.

In March there was a rumour circulating that the USA and NATO signed a secret deal according to which all their military cargo was to be shipped to Afghanistan via Iran. That deal was signed without the knowledge of the members of parliament in Iran, and the only person aware of it was the Supreme’s Leader’s private secretary. From the parliamentarians, the only person aware of that deal with the head of the security and foreign policy committee of the parliament. London’s Sunday Times Newspaper dated 29 March 1999 reported that Iran and the USA had begun their first round of talks regarding the end of war in Afghanistan.

The same paper wrote that Iranian and American diplomats – initiated by the Russians, participated by a British diplomat acting as liaison – met on 27 March. Patrick Moon, the head of the Central and South Asian division of the U.S. State Department and the Iranian deputy Foreign Minister were part of the talks. After objections by some members of parliament in Iran about the lack of information about that important meeting, the committee of foreign relations said that since Pakistan was in unstable political times the U.S. gave given Iran many concessions in order to send its military cargo to Afghanistan through Iran. However, no one mentioned what these concessions were and to whom and in what meeting they were granted.

3. Cooperation between the USA and Iran in bringing about an Islamic government in Iraq. According to polls after the occupation, the people of Iraq wanted a secular government. Those polls were verified by reputable centres such as Oxford University. However the negotiations and agreements between Iran and the USA resulted in Nouri Al-Malki’s rise to power and secular forces were moved to the sidelines. Iran and the USA had three rounds of meetings about Iraq, and at each round, high ranking members of military and security officials participated from both sides. One of those negotiations happened on 29 May 2007 which was reported by Associated Press on 19 May, quoting the Iranian Foreign Minister in Pakistan.

Meanwhile in the media, both sides were accusing each other of not cooperating on the security issues in Iraq. However, the cooperation of both sides resulted in the current Iraqi government’s rise to power as well as its stability. Everyone knows that the current Iraqi government is a close friend of the Iranian regime and the majority of its members are people who lived in Iran for many years and no country in the region has as much influence in Iraq as the Iranian government. 4. In the past three decades Iran and the USA have worked very closely along with the western capitalist world in bringing about religious governments like the aforesaid examples. In all three examples above, if the cooperation between the USA and Iran didn’t exist, it would have been impossible for the said religious governments to come to power. And thus such countries could not have been kept and maintained for the benefit of expansion of international capitals and for the capitalist markets. However, at the same time, Iran itself was not immune in such dealings.

In addition to arms purchased from first and second hand sources, we can point to the examples below regarding the large economic deals in the past few years: • Fars News Agency quoting from Magic City: “The American Halliburton Oil Company has sold 40 million dollars worth of refinery equipments to Iran despite the U.S. economic sanctions against Iran. After the economic sanctions were passed against Iran, Halliburton started to create foreign subsidiaries in order to be able to circumvent the embargo rules. This was because the sanction rules only applied to American companies and did not bar foreign companies from dealing with the sanctioned countries. William Thompson, the New York inspector questioned Halliburton on its dealings with Iran. However, the heads of Halliburton believe their activities in Iran did not break any US laws.” The vice-chair and the CEO of Oriental Kish Corporation and Dick Cheney, the former Vice President of United States were two key players in facilitating the Halliburton-Oriental deal in Iran. Dick Cheney’s trip to Iran in 2000, which was made to pave way for the Gas and Petroleum contracts in Iran, was kept secret for many years. But the main story began when Halliburton won the bid to drill for the South Fars Oil Field back in 2002 – a lucrative deal according to which the company was contracted to dig 12 wells in phases 9 and 10 of the South Fars Fields, and it was expected to find Oil by 2007 in two land and sea sections and to extract 50 million cubic meters of natural gas and more than 400 tons of sulphur from those locations.

Of course Halliburton was not alone in this deal. The Halliburton and Oriental consortium was the joint winners of that contract. The story got even more interesting; Halliburton had suggested $23 million for the wells and was asking for $282 million in total, however, the government of Iran at the time – which as the client should have suggested less- gave the consortium $360 million dollars in the final version of the contract.

• The contract to assemble 55000 Chrysler automobiles while that company was on the verge of bankruptcy. It was reported that a number of high ranking deputies from the Revolutionary Guards Corp. had gone to Dubai to meet with the American company – with the help of a number of International brokers. For this reason, the Dubai Airport and the city were in a security lock-down. According to some report the Iranian military delegation came to a preliminary agreement with Chrysler which was the biggest help possible to Chrysler at the time of its bankruptcy.

In those negotiations the Revolutionary Guards Corp. commanders announced their approval – in the name of the SAIPA Company – for the purchase of 55000 Chrysler automobiles to be assembled in Iran. The foreign middlemen in that deal were a number of Kuwaiti and the U.A.E. citizens. The delegation travelled to Dubai under the guise of accompanying the Iranian National Football team. It was reported that the CEO of SAIPA who was appointed by the president was also accompanying the group to negotiate with Chrysler representatives.

The Iranian minister of industry was previously reported on mentioning the signing a contract about Mercedes-Benz automobiles production in Iran during the Sixth International Auto Industry Expo in Tehran. He said: “Mercedes 240 and 320 models will be available in the market starting next year, however the production will be limited.” Of course as soon as reports started to come out, it was denied!

The talk about such deals were made at a time when on 12 December Mr. Bush accepted a loan in the amount of $13.4 billion to Chrysler and GM from the amount set aside to rescue the banking system. That loan allowed those companies to continue to operate. The negotiations and deals which essentially were a help to Chrysler to get out of the financial crisis, were in complete contrast with the slogans that commanders of the Revolutionary Guards Corp. and the Iranian president were chanting to the people; that the American empire was about to fall, and the joyous behaviour on the news of financial crises in the USA.

• According to a report by the Wall Street Journal, “since the beginning of June this year, Iran has purchased more than 1 million tons of wheat from the USA which is a large number in its kind. This is equivalent to 3 to 4 percent of USA’s yearly wheat exports. In addition, numbers by the US department of Agriculture shows that the last wheat purchased by Iran from the USA goes back to 1981-1982, which was 728 thousand tons.”

• The sale of electronic filtering and noise generation devices to Iran by countries who seem to talk of democracy and are very vocal about the plights of Iranians these days. The issue of website filtering and the equipment purchased from the UK and the USA with apparent involvement of Israel, was brought up in a media roundtable in Iran. At that roundtable, the CEO of the Data Communications, a branch of Iran’s Telecommunication Company said “in the past years our company has spent over 7 billion tomans (7 million dollars) on filtering.” The head of the union of internet service providers in Iran said “the US made filtering software and hardware, were selected in an internal bidding competition. In this competition, the Asr-e-Danesh Company was announced as the winner, which in turn went on to make its purchase from a UK based company.

• At the start of June of this year, a Wall Street funding company that worked for a retirement fund in the USA sent a letter to the Ministry of Economy asking the boundaries of private ownership and other foreign investment rules in the Tehran Exchange be declared.

• Two American banking giants, Citibank and Goldman-Sachs, have also requested to be present in Iran. Citibank is owned by Citigroup, the second largest bank in the USA who’s 5 percent stake is owned by a Saudi prince. Apparently the same Saudi prince is also the facilitator in the negotiations between that bank and Iran’s Central Bank. Goldman-Sachs is another one of the Wall Street giants whose former head, Robert Zulic, is currently the head of the World Bank.

• A while ago, Iran made contact with North Atlantic Treaty Organization – NATO – after thirty years and both sides’ representatives met on the subject of Afghan refugees and the illegal drug smuggling issue. In his policy of bringing stability back to Afghanistan, Barak Obama suggested the creation of a regional contact group which would include Iran. According to Sunday Times, Obama’s final aim is to use the same talks to convince Iran in having talks to stop its nuclear research program.

During the Iran-Contra affair we pointed to the purchase of arms from Israel. The economic ties between Iran and Israel do not end at such hidden deals. To shed further light on that issue we will have a look at some more examples:

• The Nestle Company is one that its ties to Zionist groups and the Israeli regime have been revealed by some parts of the ruling regime in Iran. Nestle has over 350 branches in 100 countries across the world, one of which is Iran. Because of the wide ranging economic ties between that company and Israel, it has been boycotted by various groups across the globe. The products of that company in Iran include: Cerelak baby food products, Anahita mineral water under license by the Anahita-Blour company. Other imported Nestle products in Iran include: Nescafe instant coffee, Coffee Mate dried milk product, Maggie meat powder, Naan dried milk, various types of chocolate include Kit Kat and Smartees, Frisky pet food products (imported by Pars-Pooran Company.

• Coca-Cola company:

• That company also has well known ties with the Israeli regime, and its distributor in Iran is Khoshgovar Company of Mashhad and Astan-e Qods-e Razavi Company.

Based on reports from Mehr News Agency (quoting the London Times), “Dana Bolden” – one of Coca-Cola top managers-said the “company has acquired the license to sell concentrated coke syrup to Iran from the US foreign exchanges commission.” Bolden also commented on wide-spread protests in Mashhad regarding the yearly transfer of $150 million through an Irish subsidiary to Coca-Cola in the USA and said “for certain reasons I cannot discuss our business transactions with countries to whom we export and with whom we have financial deals.” Coca-Cola, which left the Iranian market after the revolution in 1979, returned to Iran in 1994 after signing a franchising contract with companies such as Khoshgovar. The Iranian companies were receiving the Coke syrup through an Irish company named Atlantic Coca-Cola and later Drogheda Concentrate Company. The products of the Khoshgovar Company in Iran included: Coca-Cola, Fanta, and Sprite. The products of the Sasan Company licensed from American Pepsi Co include: Pepsi-Cola, Miranda which has gained a massive market in Iran and the region.

Many examples of such deals can be found with other capitalist countries in the west including France, UK and Germany. This is simply because the Iranian regime did not have the same sensitivities against those countries that it has against the USA and Israel. Here are a few examples:

1. A large portion of gasoline imported by Iran is provided by Reliance, the French company Total, the Swiss companies Vitol, Clangour and the British company British Petroleum. The insurance company Lloyds of London is the insurer of most of the gasoline shipments. It is said in the past years, “the U.S. import and export bank” have provided Reliance with loans of up to $900 million. Similar loans will be given to Reliance for the 2010 fiscal year which will start in October of this. During a visit to India, the U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave assurances to that company that a fuel embargo on Iran was not in the works. (14) That was perhaps because at the height of protests in Iran, vehicles of the security forces had a constant demand for fuel! Of course, the people who go to those protests on foot did not need it!!

2. Iran Khodro along with SAIPA, have created a duopoly on the automobile market. SAIPA has 35% of the market share and Iran Khodro has 55% of it. After the import rules in the automotive sector were relaxed, Iran Khodro started to collaborate with foreign companies: 750 thousand cars were sold in 2004, 1.1 million were sold in 2006, and 1.2 million in 2008.

Iran Khodro started that collaboration with the aim of keeping its position in the market, and to achieve new technologies which are essential in improving the quality of its products and preparing it for the international market. The Peugeot-Citroen group which had been working with Iran Khodro since 1992 in producing the Peugeot 405 line (60 percent of which was produced inside the country), took a large step forward by signing a contract in 2001. That was an agreement to assemble Peugeot 206 and 307 with a very small local involvement in their production.

Renault Company has created a large company with the two automotive giants in Iran in order to assemble the Logan (locally named Tondar). 51 percent of the shares of this company – named Renault-Pars – belong to Renault, and Iran Khodro and SAIPA jointly own 49 percent of the shares. It is interesting that the Petroleum, gas, and auto industry – which contain the most amount of American and European investments, and produce large profits – are in short supply of labour and those same western proponents of human rights have not made slightest protest against the repressive and savage work conditions in the said industries, including the fact that any workers associations – even Islamic syndicates – are legally forbidden in these industries. Meanwhile, in other sectors Islamic syndicates are encouraged, but in the aforementioned industries the most pressure is applied to workers and the slightest protest brings the security forces out. In those units, national security forces have vast apparatuses under the guise of company security. We have to consider that the petroleum, gas, and auto industries that are under complete control of western capital makes up over 90 percent of Iran’s economy. It is not clear if a pro-western government in Iran could do any more to prove its loyalty to the west. On that subject, both sides of the government have always been in agreement.

3. In January 2008, a member of Labour Party in the British Parliament during question period proposed that Lloyd’s TSP Bank to be heavily fined for allegations of money laundering for the Iranian regime and questioned Gordon Brown on the subject. By announcing their acceptance to launder funds for the Iranian regime, Lloyd’s TSP Bank broke the U.S. laws and overlooked international banking embargoes and voluntarily paid $350 million fine to the U.S. government. Based on that, documents and records of the said bank will be opened to inspections and if it was proven that a portion of the laundered funds were used to help terrorist organizations, directors of the bank would be put on trial! That meant to the Member of Parliament that the notion of money laundering for the Iranian government was not a problem and that Iranian politicians were allowed to move those plundered funds to a foreign country; just that they should not spend them on terrorist activities. Of course, that had its own interpretation, and then the murders of opposition members can be ignored. Lloyd TSP Bank which recently received a large financial support from the British government in order to avoid bankruptcy acknowledged its role in transferring $300 million in Iranian funds to the USA. Based on the available information, after conversion to US dollars, those funds were transferred to a front organization in New York and from there; they were sent to other destinations across the world. Reports also show that more than 10 reputable banks in the world were involved in laundering money for Iran and have been able to transfer billions of dollars of Iranian money to the U.S. funds and deposit them in various accounts.

4. The sale of stocks of Iranian factories and mines to foreign and multi-national companies. The sale of 61 percent of shares of Iran’s copper mines to Swedish companies, and Gold mines to British companies…

5. And the recently cat and mouse game of Iran’s nuclear portfolio and the murder of people who demanded their basic rights and social freedoms in peaceful protests. Despite posturing to condemn the actions of Iranian government, no real action has been taken against Iran. For example, only the time to issue visas to Iranian officials has been prolonged. Meanwhile in Honduras – where people were not gunned down – all European countries recalled their ambassadors. In Iran where more than 150 people were killed, not even one western country recalled their ambassador, and did not even make any restrictions on diplomatic trips. Furthermore, the various bank accounts of the heads of Iranian government in those countries were left untouched. Thus, it is obvious that to those countries the actions of the rulers against their people and respect for human rights was not an important issue and other factors guided their policies on countries like Iran. The main question is how much the Iranian government had cost the western capitalist countries?

Real cooperation with people is to refrain from selling products that are used in repressing and censoring the Iranian people, not products that put the lives of ordinary people under such pressure that along with unhinged inflation their lives are made miserable. As well, cutting off all economic ties with the Iranian government or the visits of the so called diplomatic officials, blocking the rulers million dollar bank accounts, etc. are the things that will actually help the people of Iran. But will astronomical profits allow capitalist governments to make such actions? In recent years the rulers of Iran – be it reformist or fundamentalist – have always implemented the policies of WTO, World Bank, and the IMF and thousands of Iranian have been hurt because of it. Many production units have been closed down or privatized and then shutdown to turn Iran into a suitable market for products of big capitalist countries. Hundreds of thousands have lost their jobs and millions of people are forced to leave their homes to offer their work at cheaper rates to international capitalists.

All those issues have been made possible in the last three decades with the help of both factions of the Islamic Republic, with the burden on the shoulders of our nation in such a way that is felt by all people.

The opposing actions of both factions in Iran who are fighting to get a bigger share of power are not too different from what had repeatedly happened in the history of our people. The main problem is breaking the apparatus of repression that has been created with the cooperation of western capitalism and regional fundamentalism in the last 30 years. Fundamentalism in the region has turned into a tool to repress popular movements, and could be dealt with easily – an issue that is not well understood by our people. People best use the opportunity created by the opposing forces within the government because that is the only hope to unhinge and concentrated power of the right wing, which is vast, ruthless and repressive machinery. They are using this crack to voice their demands. Despite some analyse that show one faction as representing workers and lower classes in society and another as the representative of middle classes or neoliberals, it must be said that neither of these factions represent those groups of people. We can only speak of such representations and popular support when an independent organization could freely research that topic or when a minimum of political freedoms existed in that society. People who suggest such analyses must demonstrate how they arrived at such conclusions or where those minimums existed? What is taking place is a fundamentalist current helped by global repression pitched against the people of Iran.

Many who have a hand in the recent events from far are not aware that our people were faced with a strong repression in the past thirty years. A strong and brutal repression came into being by mutual cooperation of the capitalist system and a medieval system. It is a medieval regime because the mass murders and methods of torture in Iran are not comparable with any other country in the world.

And now the people of Iran have found their only ray of hope in the rift created between the factions of the ruling party, and this is an issue which is unfortunately missed by some people. The ruling party in Iran is unique and cannot be compared to Latin American regimes, or those of the eastern bloc countries. A simple May Day rally was dealt with in the most brutal way; peaceful gatherings were met with bullets. At least 2 detainees from July 9th lost their lives due to the severity of their injuries from maltreatment at the hands of security forces. The violence used by the police is not comparable to any action in any country in the past thirty years. These were all lessons learned by our people in the past thirty years, and they are now wisely using that knowledge to voice their demands through the rift in the power structure. Slogans such as “Hashemi, if you don’t speak up you’re a traitor” is in fact a way of antagonizing a part of the regime against another part of the regime, and shows that our people know both factions well. That also shows the collective intelligence of our people. Anyone who thinks the people are following one specific faction within the regime in that fight should go to the streets and speak with people. Our people will get their rights using their own power. That is why many members of intelligentsia who have been victims of such mistreatment believe that one must join in these protests and participate. The main demand of the people is to remove the organs of repression. That machinery includes at least 9 different police forces: Basij militia, Revolutionary Guards, NOPO, Special Forces, Regular Police, Security Police, Ministry of Information, Revolutionary Guards Information, Judiciary Police…

The inconsistent way that media in the western world has treated the recent popular movement in our country show that they have no interest in the movement to be radicalized and to expand its list of demands, but instead wish to direct it in predetermined ways. The commonality amongst the reactionary forces, the reformists, and the world capitalist forces is that all three are afraid of the popular movement becoming radicalized. They are doing all within their powers to stop it from happening, through cooperation with each other. This is because all sides know that our people will reject them and none of them can possibly grant people’s wishes. Each of the three aforesaid groups, the capitalist world and the two factions of the Iranian regime, are trying to curb radicalization of the people through different tactics. Since the capitalist forces are not homogeneous themselves, each part of it is trying to do achieve the same goal differently. The fundamentalist regime that mainly uses force and intimidation is getting its rewards from the pale protests of the west, and the secret deals. The reformists consider the free markets, and the loud western media with their promises of capitalist heavens as their support. That faction may in the end consent to the removal of mandatory Hijab rules, and legalizing a few singers and Hollywood actors, but will not do anything to change the nature of the regime. The capitalist world will not loose much if power was transferred from one faction to the other; neither will they be any happier if either case provided them with their needs. The powerful western media is at the service of that system and was there to show the popular movement in different lights and shades, and to confuse the issues and blur the lines between radical and reformist actions. They can paint the movement as a radical one and thus prevent any real damage to the profits of western powers from occurring and keep all the profitable deals previously penned with the Iranian regime.

Today, the true demands of the people are independence and freedom from those unholy alliances – which has turned into a monster that silences any voice of freedom in Iran and the region. The capitalist forces have discovered that their interests lie in forging alliances with fundamentalist regimes which provides them with what they want. The support for regimes such as Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Afghanistan, UAE, Pakistan, and even Turkey are keys to the continued existence of international capitalism in the region.


The Green Movement and the Myth of Shame of the Middle Class

The Feminist School
Noushin Ahmadi Khorasani
Tuesday 10 November 2009

A new movement called the “Green Movement” has recently been born in our country. This newborn movement has its own specific demands, its known representatives and ideological leadership, and a vast and specific network of executive forces and activists. It also has certain technological and digital capabilities and its specific mechanisms to connect its members and mobilize them. Considering the creativity and potential of this civil movement in creating “composite characters”, and since its demands are “more general” than other movements such as the women’s, students’, labour and teachers movement, and ethnic minorities, it certainly has the capacity to mobilize a more general public.

Because the civil demands of this movement revolve around the direct relationship between the citizens and the government, in the long run it has this weakness (or potential) to turn violent as a result of injecting or changing its body with revolutionary “objectives”. Although the reality of its structure and nature of its demands, and in particular its anti violence stance taken by its activists, show that this movement, like women’s movement, is a reform movement because it pursues the “civil demands” of broad sections of the population (different layers of the middle class) to have the right to participate in deciding on the ruling administration within the frame work of lawful and civil struggles. This movement took shape by publicizing these demands through the use of peaceful methods and imposing its demands on the government. Therefore, the foundation of this movement and its components make it one of the reform movements, just like the women’s movement.

However, this movement is under threat from two sides; first, it is threatened by radical and extremist groups (right wing extremists) within the ruling circle that are trying to instigate more violence and shut down all breathing windows – by claiming the theory of velvet revolution – and push the Green Movement towards a “revolutionary/overthrowing attitude” which would provide the perfect ammunition for a “total and historical elimination” of the reform movement in the country. The second threat or danger is from another group who would like to impose revolutionary manners on the Green Movement. This group lies outside the ruling circle and incidentally is part of the opposition. The conscious part of this opposition group is a force that, despite the failure of radical revolutions and the costly and violent consequences of the governments that came to power through revolution, still believes that “radical revolution” holds the key to solving the problems in Iran and the entire world. Certainly my remarks are not aimed at this group who is conscious of its objectives.

But another section of this second group, who unknowingly wants to impose their revolutionary ways on the Green Movement and other civil and democratic movements, is the group who does not have a deep and clear understanding of the grave differences between “reformism” and “revolutionarism”. They swing between extremist and revolutionary values (which they think they have parted themselves from) and reformism. Therefore, although they admit logically and in theory that non-violent social movements (such as women’s movement, Green Movement, etc…) could help establish democracy and grow themselves and the society through grassroots movement and within the society with peaceful means, nevertheless they are still under the spell of the inherited revolutionary values. They are suspending in the air. On one hand they want the Green Movement to remain civil and “all-encompassing” and pluralistic and follow the modern methods of struggle, but on the other hand they wish for “a major and up-root change in the entire political system”. If we are really aiming for a “major change in the political structure”, then in practice we cannot strive to keep the modern social movements (such as the Green Movement, women’s and students’ movement, etc…) “all-encompassing” and pluralistic. This is because for a big change like this to happen, we need a unified slogan, one single unified party, one body, and a single and revolutionary ideology, and lastly we would need an obedient nation (along with a leader or leaders who will have to have charismatic authority or iconic character) so that the “political system” could be up-rooted through bloodshed. Meanwhile, to stay as a pluralistic movement and to publicize and fortify its democratic and pluralistic values, imposes certain limitations too, because the goal of these movements is to change constitutional and civic laws and to promote the rights of the citizens in order to achieve civil equality, and all these changes are pursued by way of non-violent actions, and in a gradual and peaceful process. As a result, there would be no need for an obedient nation and a charismatic father, and just like the Green Movement, its activists and supporters are independent individuals, with a variety of aspirations and political and ideological orientations. The presence of horizontal links amongst the activists and flexible networking structures (and countless voluntary and self-founded cells and groups) characterize these movements and keeps them moving forward. The meaning of “structural reforms” in a patriarchal and totalitarian system is nothing but this.

Green Movement and the myth of shame of the middle class

It has been more than a century that the middle class in most of the underdeveloped countries (such as Iran) has been belittled by the insulting propaganda of the “revolutionary left” as being “petit-bourgeois”, “inconsistent” and “equivocal”. Unfortunately such humiliation and propaganda has been stamped so profoundly in the collective memory and soul of this class that in their mind any move has to be blessed by the “callous hands of workers”. We felt this sense of shame in the women’s movement too; if a few female workers were participating in the campaign we felt better and relieved that now the demands of the One Million Signatures Campaign belonged to “all women”, and we therefore could claim the Campaign belonged to “all” and that “we represent all the layers of the people”!?!

This extremely monopolistic and “altogether” view of “a demand has to belong to all” -which believes it must prove that it is legitimate – seems to be another stubborn myth deep down the past political culture of us Iranians, which inevitably has found its way in some layers of the young generation of the Green Movement. This is while the Green Movement (just like the women’s movement), whether proud or shameful, is a movement that belongs to diverse layers of the middle class of the country.

In fact, the step-by-step struggle for the individual and social rights and freedoms and civil equality, has been carried out in most countries by the modern middle class. The demands of the Green Movement, too, are mainly the very immediate demands of the middle class. The active force of this movement – its driving force – is also the modern urban middle class. And finally we see that the heavy price of this civil struggle is being paid by the various layers of the middle class.

Of course this doesn’t mean that other social layers or classes do not play any role in this civil struggle and do not benefit from the demands of this movement. All it means is that the demand for social and individual freedoms is not necessarily the urgent demand of other (oppressed) classes. And even this does not mean that other classes oppose the demands of the middle class, or for instance detest the demand for free elections and elimination of “approbation supervision”; undoubtedly, they benefit from free elections too. Similarly, changing the discriminatory laws which we pursued in the One Million Signature Campaign and in the Coalition of women movement might not be deemed as urgent by the female workers, but we all know that working women will also highly benefit from equality in rights and social status. The issue, in fact, is that not all the classes and groups of people have to gather necessarily, exclusively and definitely under the umbrella of “one demand” that has such a high “priority” for them that they would take part in the social defense front for it, participate in demonstrations and rallies along with millions of various layers of the middle class, and pay dearly for it.

This exclusive and necessitating view stems from the traditional political culture of previous generations, and is influenced by our religious myths (the Unified “Ummah” or nation), as if only those demands are “legitimate” that all classes and particularly “the working and oppressed classes” pursue, and view them as a unifying string, and by hanging on this string, avoid diversity and pluralism. Although this “mass participation” – if it does take place – is a good thing, but if all the people did not participate in it, then this should not discourage the activists in the social movement, and particularly the activists and leadership of the Green Movement and women’s movement. They should not be ashamed of this reality, because the nature and the limits of the modern social movements does not cover the entire country, and does not need to do so.

The modern middle class can courageously distance itself from that historical shame imposed on it, and struggle for its demands, which generally the whole society benefits from, with pride and a real sense of fulfillment (and moral confidence). The modern middle class not only is vigilant and devoted, has weight, and enjoys modern knowledge and morale, but also has unique and advance means and mechanisms to its avail, which enables it to push forward its humanitarian demands peacefully and impose them on the rulers without the participation of other classes, as it has done so far.

In spite of the presence and stubbornness of monopolistic views in our political culture, which tries to bring all social classes under its own hegemony and demands, times have now changed and we Iranians have entered the digital era. In the era of tele-communications and when the world has become a village with billions of different motives, demands and tastes, the “specific demands” of one class or layer of society do not necessarily have to be the demands of “all the people” anymore. The workers or peasants do not necessarily have to repeat the exact same slogans of the urban middle class without thinking. The concept of justice does not have to be defined necessarily like hundred years ago, i.e. “comprehensive and all-embracing”, and then based on such a definition, deem a modern and civil movement incompetent.

To conclude, any modern, demand-driven social movement that is determined to have its demands represent “all people”, after some time and paying the cost of its activity will find out that its decision is practically impossible and not logical, because such a great expectation in such a large scale will force the movement to expand and add to its demands too much in order to attract everybody to the movement. That is, the movement will be forced to swiftly extend its attitude towards an “alternative political regime”. It is clear in advance that this will cause the course of the social movement shift from “demand-driven” to another (previously tried and failed) path. The experience of the contemporary history of our country has time and again proved that in such circumstances “heavy and intolerable responsibilities” are inevitably imposed on the movement and on its leadership. So there will be only two avenues left to take: it is either forced to “destroy” the competition forcibly and remove it from the way, or it will gradually weaken under the heavy large-scale responsibility on its shoulder, will suffer crisis and internal divisions, and eventually will be “destroyed” easily by the on-guard and suppressive competition…So sad!


‘I Cannot Go Back to Iran’

Spiegel Online
Daughter Of Ahmadinejad Adviser Seeks Asylum In Germany
By Cathrin Schaer

Young Iranian filmmaker Narges Kalhor is seeking political asylum in Germany after showing a film critical of the Tehran regime at a film festival. Kalhor, whose father is one of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s top advisers, says she will be seized by the secret police if she returns home.

The daughter of one of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s top advisers is seeking political asylum in Germany.

After attending the German film festival Perspective, which showcases documentaries and features with a human rights focus, 25-year-old Iranian filmmaker Narges Kalhor has applied for political asylum in Germany. Her father is Mahdi Kalhor, who is Ahmadinejad’s adviser on cultural affairs and a media spokesperson for the Iranian regime.

Narges Kalhor studied film and graphics in Tehran and had been working for an advertising firm in the city. She has made seven short films, one of which was shown as part of a special section on Iran during the Perspective film festival which took place in Nuremberg last week. Her film “Darkhish,” or “The Rake,” is an adaptation of Franz Kafka’s short story about torture in prison, “In The Penal Colony.”

Narges Kalhor was supposed to fly back to Iran on Tuesday. However on Monday afternoon she applied for political asylum in Germany instead.

She told SPIEGEL ONLINE in a telephone interview Wednesday that she had received several phone calls from Iran two days after the festival. “I was told that people in Iran knew about the film and that reports about it had appeared on the Internet in Farsi,” says Kalhor, who admitted she had not expected news of her appearance at the film festival to travel so far and so quickly.

“I was told that it would be better not to come home and that if I went back now I would be met at the airport by the secret police,” she said. “There were a lot of people at the festival who are against the Iranian regime. I did not have permission to make my film in Iran either.”

Daughter Made Anti-Torture Film In Turkish Bathhouse

The film, which is critical of torture and was partially inspired by the protesters who were arrested after Iranian national elections in June, was filmed in a Turkish bathhouse that was made to look like a torture chamber. Kalhor, who also took to the streets in June to protest with friends, some of whom were arrested, has said she hopes that viewers see parallels between the film and the situation in Iran.

“If I went back it would be very dangerous for me. At least here I have security,” says Kalhor, who is currently sharing a room with a Kurdish woman in a refugee center near Nuremberg.

Kalhor told SPIEGEL ONLINE that she had left Iran without declaring her intention to attend the film festival. Even her mother, with whom she lived, had not known. As for her father, Kalhor says she has not been in touch with him for years. Mahdi Kalhor divorced Narges’ mother a year ago due to differences of opinion, some of which were political.

Father Did Not Know Of Daughter’s Plans

During her time in Germany, Kalhor was also interviewed by fellow Iranian film maker, Hana Makhmalbaf. The interview was conducted in Farsi and then posted on the Web site YouTube on Monday (see video above). According to a translation by writers at the Associated Press, Kalhor, wearing a green scarf — green being the color of the Iranian protest movement — says in the interview that she supports the opposition. She also says that she was certain her father had not seen her film nor knew where she was. “I came from my own desire, for cinema, and I have to continue,” she added.

Kalhor senior, who has been a close ally of Ahmadinejad for almost a decade, told the official Iranian news agency IRNA that he had been completely unaware of his daughter’s plans.

“This issue is one of the symbols of a media and soft war that the opposition has launched,” Mahdi Kalhor told IRNA. His daughter was being used by enemies of the regime for propaganda purposes, he said. Mahdi Kalhor, himself a former filmmaker, has in the past criticized films such as the Oscar-nominated animated feature “Persepolis,” which won the Grand Jury Prize at Cannes in 2007, for being anti-Iranian.

A Political Cause Celebre?

Asked whether she is worried about becoming a political cause celebre because of her father’s influential position in Iran, Narges Kalhor said: “I can’t do anything about that. Maybe I will have particular problems because of my father and his work for the regime. But I myself work privately.”

For the next three weeks, Kalhor will be staying in the refugee center. During that time, she will have three interviews with the German authorities to ascertain her status as an asylum seeker, the first of which is next week.

Should everything go well and she get permission to stay in Germany, Kalhor, who speaks German better than English, told SPIEGEL ONLINE that she would like to be able to tell her own story somehow, whether in film or words. “I would love to make more films and to be able to work in my chosen career. If I go back to Iran, I know I will never get to make any more films.”

“Anyway,” she concludes, “I have no options. I cannot go back to Iran.”


On the Eve of the Second Coup


Mir-Hossein Mousavi’s 12th statement presents the most accurate picture of last week’s events through in the briefest words: “Iranian people! It is completely clear that your efforts to return the country to normality will not be met with a reasonable response. Dangerous days are ahead. The arrest of some individuals such as Dr Beheshti herald even more grave events to come.”

The people’s choice for the presidency probably has more accurate information on the sate of the country, but the events of last week certainly portray dangerous days to come. Everything seems to point to the possibility that the coup perpetrators have prepared themselves to take full control through another coup that would alter the balance of power. They will take action before the million man march on Ghods day (commemorating Palestine) and the first day of school and remove the source of the problems, as they see them.

The Shiite Taliban who have been advancing their creeping coup through Russian methods, believed that their planned coup would take them to their goal and thus remove the obstacles on the way to imposing their Islamic republic. Some of the goals of this state, i.e. another cultural revolution and the altering of all school textbooks to be based on the views of Mesbah Yazdi – which are now clearly closely tied to those of ayatollah Khamenei – were revealed last week.

The blatant declaration that “regime means just one person” (a reminiscent of the French emperor Louis XIV’s l’Etat, ce Moi), and in the words of ayatollah Montazeri “they openly say that only one person matters,” the remarks of Passdaran’s chief commander general Ali Fazli, and those of Tehran province’s Passdaran commander, all translate into a “battle” for the leader of the Islamic regime. This battle has not been won or complete yet and Fazli describes it in these words, “We have just put a unique crisis behind us. We hear rumors in our educational centers for which we must unite in a manner that our Lord expects us to . We must be vigilant and take appropriate action in this regard.”

Lord is a new title bestowed on ayatollah Khamenei who is now elevated to the level of Imam Ali, a leading Shiite saint. These words clearly indicate that the direction and outlook that the regime is taking, i.e. looking back to the days of the glory of Islam rather than the future as expressed by the Shiite Taliban.

Ayatollah Mahdavi Kani, who spoke after a long silence, calls on the leaders of the regime to reconcile their differences, in the same manner suggested by Mir-Hossein Mousavi, reminding the reader of the peace that Imam Hassan and the Moavieh clan made in the early days of Islam. But Khamenei, regardless of whether he is the Imam Hassan or the Moavieh seems bent on destroying Mousavi and Karoubi.

As expressed by Nowruz website, those who expressed their belief in the ‘hard days ahead’, under the command of the leader of the state, are in fact responding to the harsh complaints of ayatollah Golpaygani, and in fact barring him from interfering in the affairs of the state.

One can now see that the changes that took place recently at the judiciary branch of the state were in fact done to solidify all the forces in preparation for the upcoming coup.

Sadegh Larijani’s use of the word “illusionary” to describe the electoral fraud that took place since June 12, and the continuation of other coup activities on orders of Mortezavi’s successor are only the initial measures in this direction.

Coup perpetrators, who have nothing other than arms and torture as their tools, but who use ‘the legal net’ to justify their crimes, shut more outlets and voices during last week. Ghadr prayers were cancelled and no commemorations were possible on the anniversary of ayatollah Taleghani’s death.

Furthermore, ayatollah Beheshti’s son too was arrested last week. Both events signaled the end of Khomeini’s era and the Islamic republic that he founded which now was neither Islamic nor a republic.

Prior to this, totalitarian fascists – a term coined by Khatami – had arrested Karoubi’s son and shut his website and party offices. These coup perpetrators are looking for documents to show that the CIA had issued, but to which Mousavi responded in his 11th statement. Such documents will be produced through fabrication, and the rumors that are circulating these days will materialize: the arrest of Mousavi and Karoubi. This reality was something that some political personalities outside Iran heard was “imminent”.

Confirmed reports too indicate that Mousavi is aware of this. Karoubi and Khatami had said prior to this that they were willing to pay any price but would not retreat from their positions and demands.

Mousavi’s latest statement repeats what Karoubi and Khatami have said but even goes further to say that the efforts of the coup organizers will fail.

In this statement, Mousavi says that by arresting Beheshti, the public is asking how the regime is treated the dignity of the flag bearers of the Islamic republic, i.e. Dr Beheshti senior who was a key advisor to Khomeini and activist for the Islamic republic but was killed. He says that those planning the coup will fail, but hard days lie ahead.

He concludes his statement by saying that the arrest of Mousavi and Karoubi will only be the beginning and not the end of affairs. The beginning of a new round of the civil movement in Iran. The statement concludes: “The nation of Iran cannot be arrested; and nobody can chain freedom. We shall maintain our cool and unity in the difficult days ahead. The attack by coup perpetrators is because of fear. We shall win.”


IFJ Condemns Media Witch Hunt as Journalists Flee Iran

Media Release
16 October 2009

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) today accused the Iranian authorities of a media witch hunt as journalists flee the country or are in hiding after the closure of several newspapers and the continued shutdown of the Association of Iranian Journalists (AoIJ).

“There is no let-up on the harassment of media in Iran,” said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary. “Independent journalists are in flight for their own safety and the independent media sector is under siege.”

According to reliable reports, up to six newspapers have been closed since controversial presidential elections in June and at least 18 journalists remain in prison. Many more continue to flee the country and others, including the President of the AoIJ, Rajabali Mazrooei, are in hiding and fearing arrest.

The Association of Iranian Journalists (AoIJ), an IFJ affiliate, says it has applied to the authorities in Tehran to reopen their office, but their appeal has so far made no progress.

An IFJ regional meeting which brought together 15 union members in the Middle East and the Arab World held in Amman from 5-7 October adopted a strong resolution calling for end of media clampdown in Iran.

The statement from union leaders in the region said:

‘We note with dismay the deterioration of conditions in Iran, where the journalists’ association was closed and dozens of journalists detained while others were forced to flee the country.

“The meeting expresses full solidarity with Iranian colleagues and calls on the Iranian authorities to lift the siege on the offices of the Iranian Association of Journalists and to release all journalists and to end harassment.”

For more information contact the IFJ at +32 2 235 2207

The IFJ represents over 600,000 journalists in 123 countries worldwide


On Reports of Secret Burials

By Hanif Mazruie – editor-in-chief of Norooz

The news of the secret burial of martyrs of recent popular protests (in Tehran) has gained widespread coverage in the media in recent days. Norooz website, the media arm for the Islamic Iran Participation Front [Jebheye Mosharekat Iran Eslami] has been under attack by government supporters for exposing the issue.

As a journalist and editor-in-chief of Norooz, I will attempt to explain how this news was uncovered, how it began and how it arrived at this point.

1 – On July 12, the mother of one of the victims of the post-election turmoil informed a Norooz reporter that a number of corpses had been stored at the Aminzadeh cold storage facility, one of the country’s largest industrial cold storage centers located in Islamshahr, south of Tehran. She said that while looking for his son’s corpse in this cold storage facility, she saw a large number of bodies that were piled on top of each other. The observations of this mother dated to two days earlier, ie July 9.

2 – On July 12 Norooz published the statements of this mother. However, since sufficient confirmation was not available to confirm the news, the report started with “It has been heard.”

3 – After the publication of the report, Norooz website colleagues began searching for evidence and took steps to gather information pertaining to the issue. We learned from the testimony of Aminzadeh cold storage facility personnel that on the night of the publication of the news, a significant amount of unusual traffic took place at the facility, as vehicles moved certain things out of the compound.

4 – In the days following the publication of the report, we received news that several of the corpses delivered to the families were completely frozen. Photographs of the martyrs that were published on Norooz website as well, belonging to martyr Behzad Mohajer, clearly indicated that the corpse of this person was totally frozen. Bodies that are kept at the coroner’s office, however, are never frozen to such degree, even after 40 days. This issue confirmed Norooz’s report about the storage of corpses at an industrial cold storage facility.

5 – After continued investigation, we concluded that on July 11, a significant number of vehicles that did not belong to the Behesht Zahra cemetery transported corpses to the cemetery. At that time too, there were reports that some corpses had been transported to Isfahan and outskirts of Tehran. So far, we have not been able to confirm those reports. With respect to Behesht Zahra, however, reports that were confirmed by the cemetery’s personnel indicate that on July 11 and July 14, a number of non-standard vehicles, which are not used to transport corpses, came to and left Behesht Zahra.

6 – Further investigation revealed that several corpses were taken to and buried anonymously at the newly-formed section 302 in Behesth Zahra, located outside of the cemetery’s general area.

7 – Based on this information, a week before our final report we were able to gather all the necessary evidence and were even in the possession of the burial certificate numbers of the martyrs. Due to the sensitivity of the news, we first contacted the Behesht Zahra cemetery officials. They neither confirmed nor denied the news, and did not give us any convincing answers.

8 – In the end, the editorial board of the Norooz website reached the conclusion that the best way to commemorate the rights of the martyrs was to publish the details of this event, especially because a large number of families are still waiting since the early post-election days for the return of their loved ones and are unaware of their fates. We published the report on July 21 while accepting the costs of doing so.

9 – On that same day, July 2, Majid Nasirpour, member of the Majlis Social Committee reacted to Norooz’s report by claiming that the Majlis will investigate the group burial of the martyrs. The fact that a lawmaker promised to investigate the matter caused us much hope. 10 – To out utter surprise, however, on that same day Farhad Tajari, member of the Majlis National Security Committee and the committee to investigate prison and detainee treatment announced that the news is one hundred percent false. Mr. Tajari’s denial took place within hours of the publication of Norooz’s original report. He could have at least visited the Behesht Zahra cemetery and the specific location revealed by Norooz to investigate. However, he said that the report was false without any serious inquiry.

11 – As a first step at Norooz we tried to report this issue in brief terms. After our reports were rejected, we decided to provide the burial certificate numbers as proof that what we published was supported with evidence.

12 – As is normal procedure at Behesht Zahra, when someone passes away and a burial certificate is issued, a little plaque is set aside for that person that contains the person’s name, burial site and other related information. The video clip that our Norooz colleagues prepared of the martyrs’ graves clearly show that, while other graves that belong to the public include such plaques, some graves do not have them.

13 – Mr. Hamid Reza Katouzian, who serves on the Majlis committee to investigate prison and detainee conditions, announced that he was willing to investigate this matter. We highly welcome this determination and are prepared to provide our published and unpublished evidence to that committee or any neutral committees.

14 – Finally, I would like to mention that our only mission in this matter is to serve our duties as journalists. A journalist has the duty to investigate important news that he receives, and to publish them after confirming their validity and truth. The next step falls on the shoulders of judicial officials to follow up on the matter and punish the violators.


Federal Minister Steinmeier calls for the release of political prisoners in Iran

02.08.2009 – Press releases

In connection with the start yesterday of the trials of dissidents in Iran, Federal Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier issued today (2 August) in Berlin the following statement:

“We are greatly concerned by the news that dissidents in Iran have now been put on trial. According to present reports, these trials do not conform to minimum rule of law standards of transparency and fairness. voluntarily given to protect the civil and political rights of its citizens.The Iranian Government must release the political prisoners and honour the international commitments it has”

Iran has signed and ratified the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.Entrepreneur Bijan Khajehpour Khoi, human rights lawyer Abdolfattah Soltani and former Iranian Vice-President and Hojatoleslam Seyed Mohammad Ali Abtahi are among the most prominent detainees.As yet the Iranian authorities have given no official indication as to which political prisoners are to be put on trial.

Some 140 political prisoners were released mid-week, including women’s rights activist Shadi Sadr, for whose release Minister Steinmeier had made a personal appeal. The exact number of political prisoners detained following the disputed presidential elections on 12 June 2009 and still in custody remains unknown but is estimated at several hundred,not including the already large number of political prisoners detained in recent years.


Why Iran’s conservatives are airing their dirty laundry

In a striking move Tuesday, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei personally called for a detention center to be closed, citing mistreatment, while President Ahmadinejad sanctions repressive tactics.
By Iason Athanasiadis | Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor from the July 28, 2009 edition

Istanbul – In the final days before President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s inauguration next week, splits among the country’s conservative elite have become increasingly conspicuous. Sometimes portrayed as a lackey for Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, he appears to be jockeying for power and authority – publicly defying Ayatollah Khamenei, sacking his intelligence minister less than a week before his Cabinet would have been dissolved anyway, and angering fellow conservatives by pressing for the broadcast of confessions forced from political prisoners.

On Tuesday, amid growing public anger about reports of torture of political prisoners following the deaths of two young protestors in regime custody last week, Iran released 140 political prisoners. Khamenei made the striking decision to personally announce the closure of a detention center, criticizing the treatment of prisoners held there.

“At this stage, there’s cleavage in every part of the government,” says Haleh Esfandiari, director of the Middle East program at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington. “It can be seen in the Intelligence Ministry between those who say that [presidential challenger Mir Hossein Mousavi’s] green movement was part of a velvet revolution and a plot to overthrow the regime, and those who argue that this is ridiculous.”

Mr. Ahmadinejad has sought to deflect attention from accusations that his June 12 reelection was rigged by reviving an old theme: that Western agents, rather than loyal Iranians, have been working to prompt a bloodless coup. But the president’s latest tactic for proving that thesis has caused even some of his allies to distance themselves from him.

Power struggle over forced confessions

In recent days, Ahmadinejad has been pressing for videotaped confessions from detainees saying the protests were secretly organized by the British or the Americans to be broadcast, despite the fact that many conservatives find this distasteful. The opposition say such confessions have been obtained through torture and other coercive methods. Showtrials are feared for Hossein Rassam, a political consultant for the British Embassy who was released on bail July 19, and Bijan Khajehpour, the director of the Atieh Bahar consultancy.

“There’s an internal power struggle going on,” says a Tehran-based political analyst with ties to Iran’s intelligence ministry who requested his name not be used. “Ahmadinejad went to the intelligence ministry and pressed them to focus more on the angle of how this was a foreign-backed velvet revolution and to release some of the confessions they had secured in prison among the arrested.”

On Sunday, Ahmadinejad fired his intelligence minister – the conservative Gholam Hossein Mohsen Ezheie – after a reportedly heated exchange during a Cabinet meeting. Analysts say that Ahmadinejad is seeking to put his own loyalists into such posts – as evidenced by his failed attempt to install his close friend Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei as vice president, resisting Khamenei’s public opposition to the appointment before capitulating this weekend.

“It is important that the intelligence minister, the second most important person in the cabinet after the president, was sacked,” says Ms. Esfandiari, an Iranian-American who herself was forced to make a confession after being imprisoned in 2007. “This means that the Revolutionary Guard is taking over many of the duties of the intelligence ministry.”

The Revolutionary Guard showed where its loyalties lie with a Sunday statement supporting the broadcast of confessions by state-run Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting.

“We’re in favor of broadcasting the confessions in order to illuminate the public mind and clarify public opinion,” said Mohammad Hejazi, the second-in-command of the ideological Revolutionary Guards – a parallel army that was established to safeguard the 1979 Islamic revolution. The Guards public asserted responsibility for controlling the unrest following last month’s election, and its basij militia – an ideological force placed under the Guard’s supervision in early 2009 – took a lead in suppressing dissent.

Thousands of protesters were arrested and at least 20 more killed, including Nega Agha-Soltan, whose death roused widespread sympathy and is likely to be publicly commemorated in protests Thursday – the end of a traditional 40-day mourning period.

Khamenei personally orders detention center to be closed

In a sharp statement that highlighted splits between both reformists and conservatives as well as clerics and the military elite, reformist Grand Ayatollah Yousef Sanei stated that “those forcing confessions out of them [prisoners] are sinners.”

Khamenei appeared to buckle under growing popular, clerical, and reformist pressure Tuesday to address the issue of detainee abuses as he announced the closure of Kahrizak detention center. The notorious prison is the first to be closed and came a few days after the son of a conservative politician after allegedly being exposed to torture.

Khamenei’s statement said that Kahrizak failed to “preserve the rights of detainees.”

The highly unusual closure comes after the arrests of thousands of protesters from the rolling waves of often violent demonstrations still afflicting the streets of Tehran and other large Iranian cities. Head of the Judiciary Ayatollah Mortazavi announced that officials are working to release innocent detainees from what he claimed were only 300 remaining prisoners. Clusters of relatives who gather every day outside the gates of Evin Prison, police stations, and revolutionary courts dispute this number, claiming that thousands still remain locked behind bars. Another 140 were released today, according to an Iranian lawmaker who participated in an inspection of the prison facilities Tuesday.

“In some of these prisons, the citizens’ rights are not respected and the interrogators subject prisoners to blows and insults,” Dariush Ghanbari, a representative in Iran’s parliament from Elam Province, told the Farsi-language Parleman News. “Kahrizak is essentially a storeroom lacking in first aid or sanitary facilities.”

In a sign of widening divisions within the clerical elites, Parleman News also reported that a group of senior Grand Ayatollahs critical of the regime’s handling of the political crisis were planning to journey to the holy Shiite city of Najaf in Iraq – a move that would be taken as an insulting vote of no confidence in Khamenei’s handling of the postelection situation. Just two of the nine Grand Ayatollahs resident in Iran have welcomed Ahmadinejad’s election while the rest maintained a brooding silence.

Question & Answer on the Iran Crisis

By Stephen R. Shalom, Thomas Harrison, Joanne Landy and Jesse Lemisch
Campaign for Peace and Democracy
July 7, 2009

Campaign for Peace and Democracy

Right after the June 12 elections in Iran, the Campaign for Peace and Democracy issued a statement expressing our strong support for the masses of Iranians protesting electoral fraud and our horror at the ferocious response of the government. Our statement concluded: “We express our deep concern for their well-being in the face of brutal repression and our fervent wishes for the strengthening and deepening of the movement for justice and democracy in Iran.” Since the elections, some on the left, and others as well, have questioned the legitimacy of and the need for solidarity with the anti-Ahmadinejad movement. The Campaign’s position of solidarity with the Iranian protesters has not changed, but we think those questions need to be squarely addressed.

Below are the questions we take up. Questions three, four and five deal with the issue of electoral fraud; readers who are not interested in this rather technical discussion are invited to go on to question six. And we should say at the outset that our support for the protest movement is not determined by the technicalities of electoral manipulation, as important as they are. What is decisive is that huge masses of Iranians are convinced that the election was rigged and that they went into the streets, at great personal risk, to demand democracy and an end to theocratic repression.

  1. Was the June 12, 2009 election fair?
  2. Isn’t it true that the Guardian Council is indirectly elected by the Iranian people?
  3. Was there fraud, and was it on a scale to alter the outcome?
  4. Didn’t a poll conducted by U.S.-based organizations conclude that Ahmadinejad won the election?
  5. Didn’t Ahmadinejad get lots of votes from conservative religious Iranians among the rural population and the urban poor? Might not these votes have been enough to overwhelm his opponents?
  6. Hasn’t the U.S. (and Israel) been interfering in Iran and promoting regime change, including by means of supporting all sorts of “pro-democracy” groups?
  7. Has the Western media been biased against the Iranian government?
  8. Is Mousavi a leftist? A neoliberal? What is the relation between Mousavi and the demonstrators in the streets?
  9. Is Ahmadinejad good for world anti-imperialism?
  10. Is Ahmadinejad more progressive than his opponents in terms of social and economic policy? Is he a champion of the Iranian poor?
  11. What do we want the U.S. government to do about the current situation in Iran?
  12. What should we do about the current situation in Iran?
  13. Is it right to advocate a different form of government in Iran?
  1. Was the June 12, 2009 election fair?

    Even if every vote was counted fairly, this was not a fair election. 475 people wished to run for president, but the un-elected Guardian Council, which vets all candidates for supposed conformity to Islamic principles, rejected all but 4.

    Free elections also require free press, free expression, and freedom to organize, all of which have been severely curtailed.” [1]

  2. You call the Guardian Council un-elected, but isn’t it true that it is indirectly elected by the Iranian people?

    Every eight years the Assembly of Experts is popularly elected. Candidates must be clerics and must be approved by the Guardian Council. The Assembly of Experts then chooses a supreme leader, who rules for life (though he can be removed by the Assembly of Experts for un-Islamic behavior). The supreme leader appoints the head of the judiciary. The supreme leader chooses half of the 12 members of the Guardian Council and the judiciary nominates the other six, to be ratified by the Parliament. The Guardian Council then vets all future candidates for president, parliament, and the Assembly of Experts. [2]

    Thus, once this system was in place the possibilities of fundamentally changing it have been essentially nil. If 98 percent of the Iranian people decided tomorrow that they opposed an Islamic state, the rules would still enable the theocracy to continue in power forever — because the only people who could change things have themselves to be vetted by the theocratic rulers. Even amending the constitution requires the approval of the supreme leader.

    Iran is not a dictatorship of the Saudi Arabian sort, where there are no elections and where people have zero input. But the basic prerequisite of a democratic system — that the people can change their government — is missing.

  3. OK, but was there fraud? And was it on a scale to alter the outcome?

    There was certainly fraud: The Iranian government acknowledges that in 50 cities there were more votes cast than registered voters. (In Iran, voters can cast their ballots in districts other than those in which they reside, but “many districts where the excess votes were recorded are small, remote places rarely visited by business travelers or tourists.” [3] ) Moreover, the vote total also exceeded the number of registered voters in two provinces. [4] (Province-wide excess is more significant than city-wide, because people would be less likely to vote in another province than another city.) Perhaps the most damning indication of fraud was the fact that Mousavi’s observers, as well as those of the other opposition candidates, were frequently not allowed to be present when ballots were counted and the ballot boxes sealed — a flagrant violation of Iranian law. [5] Moreover, supporters of opposition candidates had planned to independently monitor the results by text messaging local vote tallies to a central location, but the government suddenly shut down text messaging, making this impossible.

    The question, though, is whether the extent of fraud was sufficient to change the results of the election. We can’t be fully sure. But there is very powerful evidence that either no one emerged with a majority, which would have required a run-off election, or that Mousavi won outright.

    According to an analysis by researchers at Chatham House, a British think tank, and the Institute of Iranian Studies at the University of St Andrews:

    “In a third of all provinces, the official results would require that Ahmadinejad took not only all former conservative voters, and all former centrist voters, and all new voters, but also up to 44% of former Reformist voters, despite a decade of conflict between these two groups.”[6]

    Since Ahmadinejad’s victory in 2005, when many reformists boycotted the elections and questions of fraud were raised, the hardliners lost their control of local councils in 2007. So an Ahmadinejad sweep in 2009 — when reformist leaders, responding to a growing wave of discontent with the regime, were newly energized to challenge the President — is hard to credit.

    Ahmadinejad allegedly won in areas where other candidates had strong ties and support, including their home provinces. Some have suggested that this was a result of people not wanting to “waste” their votes on candidates unlikely to win.[7] But in Iran, elections are in two stages: if no candidate gets a majority in round one, then there is a run-off. So there was no reason for anyone to refrain from voting for her preferred candidate in the first round.

  4. Didn’t a poll conducted by U.S.-based organizations conclude that Ahmadinejad won the election?

    The poll, conducted by Terror Free Tomorrow and the New America Foundation, found that Ahmadinejad was favored over Mousavi by two to one. But the poll was conducted between May 11 and May 20, 2009, before the official beginning of the three-week election campaign, and before the (first-ever) televised presidential debates. These debates were a turning point: millions of Iranians saw displayed the deep divisions in the leadership of the Islamic Republic. They sensed that there was now an opportunity for real change.

    More importantly, however, Ahmadinejad received the support of only a third of the poll respondents, with almost half either refusing to answer or saying they hadn’t yet made up their minds:

    “At the stage of the campaign for President when our poll was taken, 34 percent of Iranians surveyed said they will vote for incumbent President Ahmadinejad. Mr. Ahmadinejad’s closest rival, Mir Hussein Moussavi, was the choice of 14 percent, with 27 percent stating that they still do not know who they will vote for. President Ahmadinejad’s other rivals, Mehdi Karroubi and Mohsen Rezai, were the choice of 2 percent and 1 percent, respectively.

    “A close examination of our survey results reveals that the race may actually be closer than a first look at the numbers would indicate. More than 60 percent of those who state they don’t know who they will vote for in the Presidential elections reflect individuals who favor political reform and change in the current system.”[8]

    When a government acts in secret, conducts an election lacking in transparency, and bars and restricts foreign journalists and the free flow of information, it makes sense not to accept its claims.

  5. But didn’t Ahmadinejad get lots of votes from conservative religious Iranians among the rural population and the urban poor? Might not these votes have been enough to overwhelm his opponents?

    Ahmadinejad’s support from ultraconservative voters was certainly not insignificant. In addition, his social welfare programs, funded from oil revenues, have undoubtedly induced many among the poor to give him their allegiance (see below). And then there are the members of the security apparatus — the Revolutionary Guards and the Basij, the pro-government religious paramilitary force — who, together with their families, number in the millions. But there is no evidence that these were enough to give him the huge majorities he claims. As for peasants and villagers, only 35 percent of Iranian voters live in rural areas. And in any event, there is good reason to believe that rural voters are not strongly pro-Ahmadinejad. [9] As Chatham House noted, “In 2005, as in 2001 and 1997, conservative candidates, and Ahmadinejad in particular, were markedly unpopular in rural areas. That the countryside always votes conservative is a myth. The claim that this year Ahmadinejad swept the board in more rural provinces flies in the face of these trends.”[10]

  6. Hasn’t the U.S. (and Israel) been interfering in Iran and promoting regime change, including by means of supporting all sorts of “pro-democracy” groups?

    In the 1950s and 60s, rightwingers charged that the U.S. civil rights movement was actually controlled by the Soviet Union, through the U.S. Communist Party. Of course Communists were involved in the civil rights movement and no doubt Moscow approved. But that’s a far cry from indicating that the Soviet Union was a decisive force in the civil rights movement, let alone that it controlled the movement.

    There is no doubt that U.S. agents, as well as those of other countries, are hard at work in Iran, as elsewhere. It is well known that Washington has meddled in the politics of Venezuela and Bolivia, as well as Georgia, Ukraine and Lebanon, to take only the most recent examples. Congress has even set up a special fund for “democracy promotion” in Iran. But foreign meddling does not prove foreign control. And foreign meddling does not automatically discredit mass movements or their goals; it depends on who is calling the shots. In any event, there is no evidence that the CIA or any other arm of U.S. intelligence — or Mossad — had anything to do with initiating or leading the protests in Iran. And it is absurd to see a parallel between the rightwing elements in Venezuela and Bolivia — who are not fighting for greater popular control over their governments — and the millions of protesters who have demanded democracy in Iran.

    In 1953 U.S. and British intelligence engineered a coup to oust the democratically-elected Mossadeq government in Iran. But that coup involved bribing street gangs and a treasonous military. There was nothing like the mass upsurge that we’ve recently seen in Iran, and there has been not a scrap of credible evidence that the millions of people in the streets these past few weeks were brought out by CIA money.

    On the contrary, for years now leading Iranian human rights activists, feminists, trade unionists — people like Shirin Ebadi and Akbar Ganji — have taken the position that Iranian dissidents should not accept U.S. financial support. [11] They have a consistent record of opposing U.S. bullying, sanctions and threats of war, [12] and they know that any hint of links to Washington would be the kiss of death in Iran.

    Recently, Iranian state television has broadcast footage of alleged rioters stating “We were under the influence of Voice of America Persia and the BBC” and some detainees — politicians, journalists, and others — are said to have confessed to all sorts of Western plots. [13] Surely, though, no one should take such claims, elicited under torture or duress, seriously. [14]

  7. Has the Western media been biased against the Iranian government?

    Mainstream Western media have clearly been more interested in pointing out electoral fraud and repression in Iran than in states that are closely allied with Washington. But this doesn’t mean that there has been no fraud or repression in Iran.

    For example, a video of the killing of Neda Agha Soltan spread widely on the internet and the media was quick to turn her death into a icon of the brutality of the Iranian government. We never saw a similar response to the many victims of government atrocities in Haiti or Egypt or Colombia. Nevertheless, the claim by some Iranian officials that she was killed by the CIA or by other demonstrators just to make the regime look bad [15] is totally lacking in credibility.

    Western media have always selectively publicized and often exaggerated the crimes of official enemies. But we shouldn’t conclude from this that crimes have not been committed. And in the case of Iran, there is no good evidence so far that Western news reports on the government’s electoral fraud and violent repression of dissent have been fundamentally inaccurate.

  8. Is Mousavi a leftist? A neoliberal? What is the relation between Mousavi and the demonstrators in the streets?

    Mousavi’s politics and economic program are not very clear. He is in many ways a pillar of the Establishment — approved as a candidate by the Guardian Council and a former prime minister who served under Ayatollah Khomeini in the 1980s. He had a reputation for being one of the leaders more sympathetic to welfare state programs. Under his prime ministership many such programs were enacted, but also leftists were brutally repressed. With Washington’s assistance, using U.S. intelligence information, the Iranian government rounded up members of the pro-Soviet Tudeh Party and conducted mass executions, virtually eliminating the Tudeh in Iran and killing many other leftists as well. [16] It has been argued that the repression was carried out by the ministry of intelligence and the judiciary, and that these institutions were not in fact under his control even though he was prime minister. Whether or not this is the case, at a minimum Mousavi neither resigned nor publicly protested the violent repression that took place when he was prime minister, and thus he cannot be absolved of responsibility.

    More recently, he has been an ally of the powerful billionaire cleric and former president Hashemi Rafsanjani, who is close to major private business interests. Mousavi supports turning over many of the publicly-owned sectors of the Iranian economy to private hands, but so does Ahmadinejad, who boasts that he has privatized more public assets than his predecessors, [17] and in fact privatization has been going on for several years and is mandated by recently passed legislation. [18] In his campaign for the presidency, Mousavi called for loosening some of the Islamic Republic’s restrictions on personal liberties, especially as concern women’s rights. But Mousavi came to embody the aspirations of millions of Iranians for more than this — for an end to the terrorism of the Basijis and the Revolutionary Guards and for an even broader democratization of the Islamic Republic. Undoubtedly, some of them hoped — as do we — that the protests would be a first step towards dismantling the fundamentally anti-democratic system of clerical rule itself.

    During the weeks that followed the election, demonstrators protested voting fraud, but also called increasingly for equality and freedom — “down with dictatorship!” The marches may have been started mainly by students and liberal-minded middle class people, but they were quickly joined by growing numbers of workers, elderly people and women in conservative chadors.

    It seems that Mousavi’s electoral organization did not anticipate the massive outpouring of protest after the election and was unable (and perhaps unwilling, given Mousavi’s Establishment ties) to provide any organization or real leadership. The ferocious violence of the security forces has left the protesters, and the general public in Iran, stunned and understandably intimidated. However, their outrage is deep, and it will not go away. Protest may soon return to the streets and rooftops. And many are looking for other forms of protest. Mousavi, Khatami and Rafsanjani have not made their peace with Ahmadinejad, and the split in Iran’s clerical establishment deepens.

    The millions who have gone into the streets have already shown themselves capable of acting independently of Mousavi, and, as has often been the case in democratic struggles historically around the world, there is good reason to believe that the masses of protesters who have entered into the fight for limited demands can transcend the political, social and economic program of the movement’s initial leaders. In Iran, this is especially the case if trade unions are able to use the opening created by today’s challenges to Ahmadinejad to assert the interests of the poor and lend their organized strength to the movement.

  9. Is Ahmadinejad good for world anti-imperialism?

    There is a foolish argument in some sectors of the left that holds that any state that is opposed by the U.S. government is therefore automatically playing a progressive, anti-imperialist role and should be supported. On these grounds, many such “leftists” have acted as apologists for murderous dictators like Milosevic and Saddam Hussein. The Campaign for Peace and Democracy has always argued that we can oppose U.S. imperial policy without thereby having necessarily to back the states against which it is directed.

    Ironically, despite their current rhetoric, some U.S. neoconservatives favored an Ahmadinejad victory. [19] They knew that on the main issues dividing the U.S. and Iran — Tehran’s pursuit of nuclear energy, its support for Hamas and Hezbollah, and its insistence on forcing Israel to withdraw completely from the Occupied Territories — Ahmadinejad’s position was no different from that of Mousavi or that of Iranian public opinion. [20] But Ahmadinejad, with his confrontational style and his outrageous “questioning” of the Holocaust, is a much easier leader to hate and fear; his continuing grip on power therefore serves the goals of neoconservative hawks and Israeli hardliners. [21] And they know that Iranian public opinion solidly supports the cause of Palestinian rights; and that Ahmadinejad’s anti-Jewish rhetoric has harmed, not helped, the Palestinians.

    Some of these “leftists” say that whatever Ahmadinejad’s faults, the mass upsurge in Iran plays into the hands of U.S. imperialism. On the contrary, a people’s pro-democracy movement is the worst fear of the many authoritarian regimes on which Washington relies to maintain its hegemony; such as the rulers of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Pakistan and elsewhere. And not just among U.S. clients. It is significant that news of the demonstrations was heavily censored in China and Myanmar, and that the Russian government was one of the first to congratulate Ahmadinejad on his “victory.”

    Hugo Chavez too congratulated Ahmadinejad. As Reese Erlich, author of The Iran Agenda who frequently appears on Democracy Now!, has commented,

    “On a diplomatic level, Venezuela and Iran share some things in common. Both are under attack from the U.S., including past efforts at ‘regime change.’ Venezuela and other governments around the world will have to deal with Ahmadinejad as the de facto president, so questioning the election could cause diplomatic problems.

    But that’s no excuse.” [22]

  10. Is Ahmadinejad more progressive than his opponents in terms of social and economic policy? Is he a champion of the Iranian poor?

    As leftists we are very familiar with rightwing politicians disingenuously claiming to care about the poor and the working class. The Islamic Republic has long included a social welfare component to help it maintain support. Ahmadinejad has undertaken some populist programs, utilizing some of the revenues generated by the sharply higher price of oil. But, even ignoring the fact that basic democratic rights and women’s rights are hardly the exclusive concern of the well-to-do, the Islamic Republic, and especially Ahmadinejad’s presidency, have not been good for the workers and the poor of Iran.

    Anyone purporting to support the working class has to back independent unions so that workers can defend their own interests both in the work place and in the society at large. However, Iran has still not ratified international labor conventions guaranteeing freedom of association and collective bargaining and abolishing child labor, [23] and unions in Iran have been subjected to horrendous repression. As the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran has reported [24]:

    “Iranian workers are still unable to form independent trade unions, a right denied both within Iran’s labor code and de facto repressed by the government in action. The government routinely arrests and prosecutes workers demanding their most basic rights, such as demands for wages unpaid, sometimes for periods as long as 36 months. Security forces often attack peaceful gatherings by workers, harass their families, and even kill them, as happened during a gathering by copper miners in Shahr Babak, near the city of Kerman, in 2004.”

    Under Ahmadinejad’s presidency, the situation has been especially grim:

    “Two leading trade unionists, Mansour Osanloo and Mahmoud Salehi, are currently in prison. Another one, Majid Hamidi, recently the target of an assassination attempt, is hospitalized. In addition to being imprisoned and fined, eleven other workers were flogged in February 2008 for the crime of participating in a peaceful gathering to commemorate International Labor Day, May 1st.”

    “In January 2006, security forces arrested nearly a thousand members of the Syndicate of Workers of Tehran and Suburbs Bus Company, attacked some of their homes, beat their families, and even detained the wives and children of the leading members, to prevent a planned strike. Since then, most members of the Syndicate’s central council have been targets of prosecution and imprisonment. The Syndicate’s leader, Mansour Osanloo, is currently serving a five- year sentence, while he suffers from eye injuries due to earlier beatings, and is in danger of going blind. Fifty-four members of the Syndicate have been fired from their jobs and are prosecuted in courts for their peaceful activities.”

    Teachers’ attempts to organize and collectively bargain have also met violent repression.

    Just this past May Day, the government beat participants in a peaceful labor event and arrested the leaders. [25] And in June, a committee of the International Labour Organization cited Iran for the “grave situation relating to freedom of association in the country. [26]

    What makes the need for unions in Iran so important is that large numbers of workers are forced to work under temporary contracts that permit even more exploitation of labor than usual. One common practice is for workers to be fired and then rehired every three months as a way to deny them pensions and other benefits.

  11. What do we want the U.S. government to do about the current situation in Iran?

    There is a great deal that the Administration can do. Obama should promise that the U.S. will never launch a military attack on Iran or support an Israeli attack. He should commit the United States not to support terrorism or sabotage operations in Iran, and immediately order the cessation of any such activities that may still be occurring. He should lift sanctions against Iran — certainly not as a reward to Ahmadinejad for stealing the election, but because the sanctions have a negative impact on the Iranian people and provide one of the main justifications for Ahmadinejad’s iron rule. He should take major initiatives toward disarmament of U.S. nuclear and conventional weapons, and he should withdraw all U.S. troops from Iraq, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Pakistan. And he should work to promote a nuclear-free Middle East, which includes Israel. By reducing these threats, Obama would thereby be removing one of the main rationalizations for Iranian repression (as well as for its nuclear program).

  12. What should we do about the current situation in Iran?

    We need to make it clear to the Iranian people that there is “another America,” one that is independent of the government and opposed to its oppressive and anti-democratic foreign policy. Our support comes with no strings attached and no hidden agenda. Iranians should be made aware that it is American progressives — not the U.S. government or the hypocrites of the right — who offer genuine solidarity.

  13. Is it right to advocate a different form of government in Iran?

    As leftists, the Campaign for Peace and Democracy supports radical change everywhere that people do not have full control over their political and economic lives. We advocate such change in the United States, in France, in Russia, in China. And we support it in Iran too. But we do not support the United States government — or Britain or Israel or any other country — imposing “regime change” outside its borders by force. What was wrong with Bush’s invasion of Iraq in 2003 was not that the regime of Saddam Hussein was overthrown — his was a hideous regime and anyone concerned with human decency wanted it ended — but that Bush asserted that the United States had the right to invade. Political change imposed by a foreign army, or brought about by the covert operations of foreign intelligence agencies, is unacceptable, and it is especially unacceptable when the foreign power concerned has a long history of interventions for its own sordid motives: to impose its domination, to control oil resources, to establish military bases.

    But do we support the Iranian people if they act to end autocratic rule in Iran? Of course! This is a government that, in addition to its just-completed election fraud and vicious attacks on its own citizens, imprisons, tortures, publicly flogs and hangs political opponents, labor activists, gays, and “apostates,” and still prescribes execution by stoning as the penalty for adultery. The Head of the Judiciary declared a moratorium on executions by stoning in 2002, but at least five people are known to have been stoned to death since then, two of them on December 26, 2008. [27] Workers have no right to strike. A woman’s testimony is worth half that of a man’s and women have limited rights to divorce and child custody. The regime imposes gender apartheid, segregating women in many public places. Veiling is compulsory and enforced by threats, fines and imprisonment. We should support Iranians’ efforts to end these barbaric practices.


  1. See, for example, Amnesty International, “Iran: Worsening repression of dissent as election approaches,” 1 February 2009, MDE 13/012/2009; Amnesty International, “Iran’s presidential election amid unrest and ongoing human rights violations,” 5 June 2009; Amnesty International, “Iran: Election amid repression of dissent and unrest,” 9 June 2009, MDE 13/053/2009.
  2. See BBC, “Iran: Who Holds the Power”.
  3. Michael Slackman, “Amid Crackdown, Iran Admits Voting Errors,” New York Times, June 23, 2009.
  4. Ali Ansari, ed., Preliminary Analysis of the Voting Figures in Iran’s 2009 Presidential Election, Chatham House and the Institute of Iranian Studies, University of St Andrews, 21 June 2009.
  5. Kaveh Ehsani, Arang Keshavarzian and Norma Claire Moruzzi, “Tehran, June 2009,” Middle East Report Online, June 28, 2009.
  6. Ansari , op. cit.
  7. George Friedman, “The Iranian Election and the Revolution Test,” Stratfor, June 22, 2009; Esam Al-Amin, “A Hard Look at the Numbers: What Actually Happened in the Iranian Presidential Election?” CounterPunch, June 22, 2009.
  8. Terror-Free Tomorrow & New America Foundation, “Ahmadinejad Front Runner in Upcoming Presidential Elections; Iranians Continue to Back Compromise and Better Relations with US and West; Results of a New Nationwide Public Opinion Survey of Iran before the June 12, 2009 Presidential Elections ,” June 2009.
  9. Eric Hoogland, “Iran’s Rural Vote and Election Fraud,” June 17, 2009, Agence Global.
  10. Ansari, op. cit.
  11. Karl Vick and David Finkel, ” U.S. Push for Democracy Could Backfire Inside Iran ,” Washington Post, March 14, 2006; Akbar Ganji, ” Why Iran’s Democrats Shun Aid ,” Washington Post, Oct. 26, 2007; Patrick Disney, ” Iranian Civil Society Urges US to End ‘Democracy Fund,’ Ease Sanctions ,” 16 July 2008.
  12. See, for example, ” Iran’s Civil Society Movement Sets Up ‘National Peace Council’ ,” CASMII Press Release, 10 July 2008.
  13. AFP, ” Iran shows footage of ‘rioters influenced by Western media’ ,” 23 June 2009; Michael Slackman, ” Top Reformers Admitted Plot, Iran Declares ,”New York Times, July 4, 2009; CNN, ” Newsweek reporter in Iran reportedly ‘confesses’ ,” July 1, 2009.
  14. Of course, when similar torture was carried out by the U.S. government, U.S. media only referred to “harsh interrogation techniques.” See Glenn Greenwald, “The NYT calls Iranian interrogation tactics ‘torture’,” Salon, July 4, 2009.
  15. Thomas Erdbrink and William Branigin, “Iranian cleric says protesters wage war against God,” Boston Globe, June 27, 2009.
  16. The Tower Commission Report, President’s Special Review Board, New York: Bantam Books/Times Books, 1987, pp. 103-04.
  17. Ehsani, et al., op. cit.
  18. Billy Wharton, “Selling Iran: Ahmadinejad, Privatization and a Bus Driver Who Said No,” Dissident Voice, June 28th, 2009.
  19. Stephen Zunes, “Why U.S. Neocons Want Ahmadinejad to Win,” AlterNet, June 17, 2009.
  20. See Obama’s assessment of the lack of difference between Mousavi and Ahmadinejad; on public opinion, see Terror Free Tomorrow poll cited above.
  21. Joshua Mitnick, “Why Iran’s Ahmadinejad is preferred in Israel; The incumbent president will be easier to isolate than reformist leader Mr. Mousavi, say some leading Israeli policymakers,” Christian Science Monitor, June 21, 2009.
  22. Reese Erlich, “Iran and Leftist Confusion,” ZNet, June 29, 2009.
  23. See ILO, “Ratifications of the Fundamental human rights Conventions by country” (7/1/09).
  24. International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, “Workers’ Rights.”
  25. Amnesty International, “Iran: Prisoners of conscience / fear of torture or ill-treatment,” 10 June 2009, MDE 13/054/2009.
  26. International Labour Organization, ” ILO Governing Body elects new Chairperson — Committee on Freedom of Association cites Myanmar, Cambodia and Islamic Republic of Iran ,” Press release, 19 June 2009, ILO/09/41.
  27. Amnesty International, “Iran: New executions demonstrate need for unequivocal legal ban of stoning,” 15 January 2009, MDE 13/004/2009.

I am not a speck of dirt, I am a retired teacher’

by Ervand Abrahamian (source: London Review of Books)
Thursday, July 23, 2009
London Review of Books – Vol. 31, No. 14 (23 July 2009)

Ervand Abrahamian writes about the protests in Iran

Iran has a healthy respect for crowds and for good reason. Crowds brought about the 1906 constitutional revolution. Crowds prevented the Iranian parliament from submitting to a tsarist ultimatum in 1911. Crowds scuttled the 1919 Anglo-Iranian Agreement, which would have in effect incorporated the country into the British Empire. Crowds prevented General Reza Khan from imitating Ataturk and establishing a republic in 1924 – as a compromise he kept the monarchy but named himself shah. Crowds gave the communist Tudeh Party political clout in the brief period of political pluralism between 1941 and 1953. Crowds in 1951-53 gave Mohammad Mossadegh, the country’s national hero, the power both to take over the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company and to challenge the shah’s unconstitutional control of the armed forces. Crowds – aided by clerics – provided a backdrop to the 1953 military coup organised by the CIA and MI5. Crowds in 1963 began what soon became known as Khomeini’s Islamic Movement. And, of course, crowds played the central role in the drama of the 1979 Islamic Revolution – with the result that the new constitution enshrined the right of citizens to hold peaceful street demonstrations.

It was an awareness of the importance of crowds that prompted the regime to rig the presidential elections last month and thus inadvertently trigger the present crisis. In the months before the elections, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had seemed to be a shoe-in for a second four-year term. He enjoyed easy access to the mass media; his competitors were limited to websites and newspapers that were closed down at any provocation. He had won his first term after running a populist campaign against Ayatollah Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the former president who for many epitomised the regime’s worst features – nepotism, cronyism and financial corruption. He enjoyed the support of Ayatollah Khamenei, the Supreme Leader, who shared his deep distrust of the West and probably his ambition to pursue a nuclear programme at all costs.

Ahmadinejad also had the backing of much of the military-clerical- commercial complex running the country: the Revolutionary Guards and the affiliated Basij militia with more than three million members; the clerical ‘foundations’, quasi-state organisations that employ hundreds of thousands; and the bazaar merchants with their lucrative contracts with central government. He had placed so many former colleagues from the Guards in key positions that some claimed he had carried out a quiet coup d’état. He had consolidated his support among the evangelicals, known in Iran as the ‘principalists’, by courting Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi, an influential right wing cleric in Qom who sits on Iran’s Assembly of Experts; by often referring to the imminent return of the Mahdi (the Messiah); by generously patronising the Jam karan shrine where the Mahdi was supposedly last seen; and by claiming he had felt his divine presence when denouncing the US before the UN General Assembly. He had channelled the money from the recent oil bonanza into mosque construction, rural projects, government salaries and even cash handouts. He boasted that he was putting the oil money on people’s dining tables. Some American presidents win elections by cutting taxes. Ahmadinejad tried to win by handing out potatoes.

What is more, the reform movement seemed divided and disillusioned. In the 2005 elections, faced with a choice between Ahmadinejad and Rafsanjani, many reformers had stayed at home. This time, Mohammad Khatami, the reform president between1997 and 2005, was poised to run, but then withdrew, leaving the reform field to Mir Hussein Mousavi and Ayatollah Mehdi Karroubi. The former, an architect turned academic, had not been seen in the political arena since 1989: between 1981 and 1989 he had served as Khomeini’s prime minister. In 1997, reformers had privately asked him to run for the presidency but he had deferred to Khatami. Like many members of the intelligentsia in his generation, Mousavi had entered politics fired by a mix of Islamic fervour and Fanonist anti-imperialism. But once the revolution had achieved its main goals – the overthrow of the shah and the declaration of independence from the US – many of these militants gradually came round to the view that the Islamic Republic would wither unless it allowed greater democracy, pluralism and individual rights. The reactionary clergy, they realised, now posed the main obstacle to Iranian modernity. Karroubi, a close associate of Khomeini who had served as the speaker of Parliament, head of the Association of Militant Clergy, and director of the Martyrs Foundation, shared many of these sentiments and in one respect was even more liberal, advocating greater privatisation of the economy. He had run in the 2005 elections, gaining much support in his home region, and after the elect ions had lodged an official complaint that Revolutionary Guards had manipulated the vote in favour of Ahmadinejad. It was generally suspected that the Guardian Council, which has the authority to vet presidential candidates, permitted Karroubi and Mousavi, as well as Mohsen Rezai, the moderate-conservati ve former commander of the Revolutionary Guards, to run this time because it was confident that they had little chance.

This confidence was reinforced by a pre-election poll taken by a Washington-based organisation called Terror Free Tomorrow: The Center for Public Opinion. The poll found that of 1001 Iranians interviewed by phone from outside Iran, 34 per cent favoured Ahmadinejad; 14 per cent Mousavi; 50 per cent had not yet made up their minds; 80 per cent wanted the constitution to be altered so that the Supreme Leader would be elected directly by the public; 70 per cent wanted to give the UN greater access to the country’s nuclear facilities; and 77 per cent wanted better relations with the US. Apologists for the regime who continue to cite this survey ignore these findings, as well as the significance of the name and location of the polling organisation.

Once the actual electoral campaign – by law restricted to just ten days – got started, the race became much tighter. A similarly dramatic shift in public opinion also occurred in 1997. Then the general expectation had been that the well-known conservative candidate would win an easy victory over Khatami, the little known reformer. Yet the latter’s campaign had suddenly caught fire: 80 per cent of the electorate came out to vote, and more than 70 per cent supported him. Such volatility is understandable in a country which doesn’t have any deep-rooted political parties.

This time three major factors converged to produce a shift in public opinion. The first was the series of six prime-time televised debates, which were watched by almost every household in the country. These debates galvanised the whole electorate. Instead of attacking each other, the challengers focused their fire on Ahmadinejad, concentrating on his economic record. They took turns in showing that reliable statistics – in sharp contrast to those produced by the president – put inflation at 25 per cent, unemployment at 30 per cent, and the number of those living in poverty at a record high. Ahmadinejad tried to change the subject, harping on Rafsanjani’s wealth and falsely accusing Mousavi’s wife of pulling strings to obtain her doctorate. This angered women and reminded viewers that four of Ahmadinejad’s own ministers had claimed phony foreign degrees.

Ahmadinejad was also sharply criticised for damaging national ‘honour’ – through, for example, his denial of the Holocaust – and for pursuing adventurist foreign policies that isolated Iran and jeopardised its security. His opponents all favoured better relations with the outside world. Ahmadinejad had won the 2005 election by running not only against Rafsanjani but against Bush. This time he had neither. Instead he had to contend with Obama, who had removed the main stumbling-block to negotiations – the prerequisite that Iran should stop all uranium enrichment. He had accepted the right of Iran to have a nuclear programme. He had stopped all talk of ‘regime change’. He had apologised for the 1953 coup. He had ended the irritating practice of differentiating between the Iranian government and the Iranian people, and addressed himself to the ‘Islamic Republic of Iran’. And he had offered to end economic sanctions if Iran would give verifiable guarantees that it would not build nuclear weapons. For many Iranians, foreign relations were tied to domestic bread-and-butter quest ions. It was clear that there would not be jobs for the ever increasing number of high school and college graduates unless the country’s vast untapped gas and oil reserves were developed. It was equally clear that these reserves would not be developed unless relations with the West – and especially the US – improved. Karroubi made fun of Ahmadinejad for boasting that the Iranian educational system was so good that a high school pupil had achieved nuclear fusion in her basement. At one point Ahmadinejad lost his cool and called Karroubi a ‘Hitler’.

The second factor was Mousavi’s ability to challenge Ahmadinejad on his own turf. Once Mousavi had returned to the limelight, he was quick to remind the public that he had been Khomeini’s prime minister in the ‘heroic days’ of war and revolution. Besides his reputation as a competent administrator, he had nationalised a host of industries, launched a rural construction programme, drafted a progressive labour law, advocated land reform, and introduced war – time price controls and rationing, thereby, for the first and probably only time in Iranian history, narrowing the income gap between rich and poor. He wasn’t just a populist talking ecstatically about the good old days: he had been a key figure in those days. His Mir title also helped – ‘Mir’ is the Azeri version of ‘Sayyed’ and signifies descent from the Prophet and the 12 Imams. An impressive number of organisations and personalities prominent in the early days of the revolution threw their weight behind him. They included the labour unions; the Association of Qom Seminary Teachers; the Association of Mil it ant Clerics; the Mujahedin Organisation of the Islamic Revolution; Grand Ayatollah Montazeri, at one time the designated Supreme Leader; Ayatollah Taheri, the senior cleric in Isfahan; Hojjat al-Islam Khoeni, the mentor of the students who took over the US Embassy; Hojjat al-Islam Mohtashemi, Khomeini’s main troubleshooter in Lebanon when the Revolutionary Guard presided over the creation of Lebanese Hizbullah; and relatives of Revolutionary Guards martyred in the Iraqi war. Meanwhile, Ahmadinejad’s own populist credentials were tarnished when a member of his inner circle told the press that he had placed many family members and associates in high positions. To woo secular nationalists and the old left, Mousavi brandished on his campaign trail a large portrait of Mossadegh – anathema to the right wing clerics.

The third factor was the women’s movement. Mousavi’s wife, Zahra Rahnavard, a scholar and artist who is a prominent champion of womens’ rights, entered the fray and campaigned alongside her husband – the first time this had happened in Iranian history. This galvanised the women’s movement – especially the One Million Women Campaign, which takes in a wide spectrum from Islamic feminists to liberal nationalists to leftist and even Marxist activists. The women’s movement had been crucial to Khatami’s victories. It was poised to be just as important to Mousavi.

By the last days of the campaign, good-natured crowds were pouring into the cities, threatening to turn the world upside down, and most serious of all, mocking those on high – Ahmadinejad was pictured with Pinocchio’s nose. The government appeared to be losing control of the streets. The Washington polling agency that had expected an easy Ahmadinejad victory admitted that its predictions were probably out of date. Eyewitnesses re ported that the election had turned into a ‘real race’, that the demonstrations were ‘rattling’ the government and that the Revolutionary Guards were fearful of a ‘velvet revolution’. Some polls taken by the opposition predicted a victory for Mousavi. Even if these polls were too optimistic, they did indicate that Ahmadinejad’s lead had been drastically cut – perhaps to the point where he would not win the required 50 per cent in the first round and would therefore have to compete against his main opponent in a second round, as required by the constitution.

A second round would have posed a serious threat: it would have led to more campaigning and more unruly street demonstrations. It would have accentuated the shift in public opinion. And it would have strengthened Mousavi – Karroubi had made it clear that he would endorse him in a second round. It was generally thought that Ahmadinejad wouldn’t be able to improve on the number of votes he gained in the first round and so would enter any second round at a clear disadvantage. To preempt this, the Interior Ministry, which was running the election and was headed by a millionaire friend of Ahmadinejad, acted decisively, giving Ahmadinejad not just a majority but such a resounding one that dwarved the votes gained by his opponents. The minister purged unreliable civil servants from the electoral commission – some even claimed that Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi had issued a fatwa allowing the faithful to miscount votes. He restricted the number of permits issued to poll observers; prevented some of them entering the 45,000 polling stations; set up more than 14,000 mobile electoral trucks (making the vote easy to fiddle); printed far more ballot papers than there were eligible voters; cut off communications to Mousavi and Karroubi’s headquarters on the day of the elections (Mousavi’s offices in Qom were torched in a mysterious attack); and, as a clincher, at the end of election day, broke precedent by not having the ballots tabulated on the spot but instead rushed to the ministry where they were ‘counted’ by his aides. Within hours of the polls closing, the interior minister declared Ahmadinejad to be the winner with 66 per cent of the vote. Mousavi, he said, had won only 33 per cent. The minister also declared that a record number – 85 per cent of the electorate – had voted.

Congratulating the nation on the victory, Khamenei described the result as ‘divinely inspired’. Three days later, the ministry issued more detailed statistics with provincial breakdowns: Ahmadinejad had won 24.5 million votes, Mousavi 13.2 million, Rezai 678,240 and Karroubi 333,635. According to Chatham House, there are serious problems with these statistics. In two provinces, more than 100 per cent of eligible voters voted. Karroubi, who received more than five million votes in 2005, got fewer than 340,000 this time, and lost even in his home province. For Ahmadinejad to have won more than 24 million votes, Chatham House found, he would have had to keep all the votes he got in 2005, win over those who had voted for Rafsanjani on that occasion, all of those who had stayed at home, and, on top of that, up to 44 per cent of the voters who backed reform candidates. This decisive ‘victory’ was intended to put an end to street demonstrations, but it had the opposite effect, outraging many who felt not only cheated but insulted – especially when Ahmadinejad described those who questioned the results as ‘specks of dirt’. There were vociferous protests in many parts of the country and Mousavi and Karroubi called for a silent rally to be held at Azadi (Freedom) Square in Tehran on Monday, 15 June. The call was heeded by around a million people – the conservative mayor of the capital put the number at three million. The scene was reminiscent of the rallies held in the same square during the 1979 revolution. As in 1979, the security forces were kept away to prevent clashes. The rally drew all kinds of protester: old and young, professionals and workers, bazaaris and students, men and women with sunglasses and headscarves as well those with the full length chador. Lines of protesters nine kilometres long converged on the square from the northern, better-off districts as well as from the southern, working-class ones. Volunteers, many of them election workers, gave the procession a semblance of organisation. Students marched from Revolution Square, near the university campus, to Freedom Square under a banner reading ‘From Revolution to Freedom’. Others – many wearing green, the colour of Shia Islam, dis played banners saying ‘What Happened to My Vote?’ or ‘Ahmadinejad, you could not see our votes but you could see the divine light’ – an allusion to the president’s supposed experience at the UN. An old man carried a sign saying: ‘I am not a speck of dirt, I am a retired teacher.’ Eyewitness accounts agree that feeling was not so much against the Islamic Republic as against the stifling of the reform movement. It was a mass protest against vote- rigging. Exiled groups, not surprisingly, hail ed these scenes as amounting to a revolutionary challenge to the Islamic Republican interpretation peddled, for different reasons, by the regime. However one interprets it, it was the largest rally held in Tehran since the height of the Islamic Revolution. Similar rallies were also held in many provincial capitals, notably Isfahan and Shiraz.

Government spokesmen tried to control the damage by arguing that the opposition might have some support in the cities but that Ahmadinejad had carried the countryside. This argument was soon picked up by Western policymakers – especially State Department diplomats – who had argued in favour of striking a ‘grand bargain’ with Iran in the fashion of Nixon in China, and were worried that a potential rapprochement would be sabotaged by the unrest. But the few reliable accounts we have from the countryside dismiss the not ion that Ahmadinejad has a strong rural base. Although the Islamic Republic is strongly sup ported in the countryside, many people there – rural inhabitants constitute only 35 per cent of the country’s population – dislike Ahmedinejad because of his broken promises, and because he funnelled benefits to Revolutionary Guards and Basijis, and those with connections to the clerical foundations. Eric Hoogland, who has studied rural Iran for many years and cannot be described as an opponent of the Islamic Republic, has claimed that in the region he knows well outside Shiraz – a region that should be Ahmadinejad’s heartland since it is Shia and Persian-speaking – only between 20 and 25 per cent supported him. Out rage when the interior ministry took away the ballot boxes before the votes could be counted turned into open anger and protests when the election results were announced.

Shaken by the 15 June rallies, the regime launched a massive crackdown, the full extent of which remains unknown. It banned all demonstrations, threatened to execute anyone participating in or calling for such protests, and sent out tens of thousands of Revolutionary Guards and Basijis armed with assault weapons as well as motorbikes, knives and truncheons. It sent vigilantes into university dormitories. At least 20 people were killed in the clashes and more than 4000 associates of Mousavi and Karroubi were arrested – their main strategists and campaigners, as well as journalists sympathetic to the opposition. It jammed foreign broadcasts, shut down newspapers and websites, disrupted telecommunications and expelled many foreign journalists – others were confined to their offices, and some were jailed. It broke into private homes and arrested those suspected of shouting ‘God is great’ from their rooftops. It launched a media campaign claiming that the opposition was inspired, financed and organised by a sinister ‘foreign hand’: Britain, and the BBC, tended to be singled out here. (The regime put less blame on the US probably in order to dangle the possibility of future negotiations. ) It also tortured prisoners, including prominent figures, who were made to confess before TV cameras that they had participated in a Western plot to launch a velvet revolution. As a sop to public opinion, Khamenei asked the Guardian Council – 12 conservative judges – to investigate complaints of electoral irregularities. The Guardian Council found a discrepancy of three million votes, but concluded that this would not have made much of a dent in Ahmadinejad’s 11 million lead. States that orchestrate 99.5 per cent support for their candidate in elections can always claim that 10 or 20 per cent here or there will not make much of a difference, but Iran has a tradition of relatively competitive, if controlled elections. Mousavi and Karroubi, endorsed by many prominent clerics, rejected this verdict, called for new elections, and even declared the presidency of Ahmadinejad to be illegitimate.

The regime appears to have weathered the storm, at least for the time being. The revolt has not turned into a revolution, even though these events have much in common with those of 1979 – similar rallies, similar slogans (‘God is great’), similar tactics and similar griping about ‘foreign interference’. But there are major differences: the monarchy had almost no support, but the republic has a solid base – the 25 per cent of the population who consider themselves true believers. The shah had lost the allegiance of the armed forces. The republic is fully equipped with three million Revolutionary Guards and Basijis, trained to deal with civil disturbances. The monarchy had been challenged by a mass revolutionary movement. The Islamic Republic faces a mass reform movement that wants to strengthen its democratic features at the expense of its theocratic ones.

The crisis has created two long-term dangers for the regime. First, the presidency continues to be held by a demagogic politician who does not shy away from confronting the US, and who seems to have little grasp of his limits. He claims Iran is a major power – maybe even a superpower – and dismisses the US as a spent force that ‘can’t do a damn thing’. It’s not for nothing that the other candidates consider him a dangerous adventurist. Nuclear negotiations are unlikely to go anywhere. On the contrary, they are likely to degenerate into acrimony, leaving the US in a much stronger and Iran in a much weaker position than ever be fore. Not surprisingly, the Israeli government cheered Ahmadinejad’s victory – a Mousavi victory would have been an obstacle to a possible Israeli strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities. Second, the crushing of the reform movement has closed off avenues for change, and dampened hopes for peaceful evolution. By denouncing children of the revolution as foreign-paid ‘counter-revolutiona ries’, Khamenei, Ahmedinejad and their allies have alienated a considerable proportion of the population – maybe even the majority – and could end up transforming reformists into revolutionaries. By moving away from democracy towards theocracy, the regime has removed an important component of its original legitimacy. Some would argue the country has ceased to be a republic and has become a military-backed theocracy a Shia imamate equivalent to the medieval Sunni caliphates. Ervand Abrahamian’s History of Modern Iran came out in July.


Ahmadinejad on the Wrong Side of History

By Navid Shomali
Any analysis of recent developments in Iran following the self-styled re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad must take the bigger picture into consideration.

To reach a correct judgement concerning recent developments in Iran and the self-styled re-election of President Ahmadinejad, it is vital to view the whole picture: national and international.

For some, otherwise objective/ anti-imperialist forces outside Iran, the national and historical context of the election campaign have become blurred by the internal and external response to it. The principal source of the distortion has been the response of the US government to the Ahmadinejad’s “victory”.

However, using the US response, as a starting point for an objective assessment of recent events is dubious practise, worse it risks falling into the intelligence communities ‘wilderness of mirrors’. For neither the US nor the Tehran dictatorship speak with one voice or one intention.

One example illustrates this duplicity. Only a few months ago while the US government and mass media dissembled the possibility opening a third military front in Iran, the Iranian regime itself huffed and puffed anti-Zionist anti- USA rhetoric whilst simultaneously seeking economic and military co-operation with the US. For its part the US government was discretely offering non-interference in return for Iranian co-operation and non-intervention in the US campaign in Afghanistan.

In this context few suggested all out solidarity with the fundamentalist fascists in Afghanistan, who in turn are opposed by the fundamentalist nationalists in Iran on a religious not political basis.

This green light from Tehran for the US Afghan military and economic campaign also enabled the US to silence its sabre rattling, while maintaining its anti-Iranian rhetoric.

Thus the re-instatement of Ahmadinejad greeted by the US with muted expressions of concern for the democratic process and crocodile tears for the deaths of post election demonstrators, gunned down by Ahmadinejad’s thugs for expressing their own democratic concerns in major cites throughout Iran.

Virtually from the outset the Iranian election was likely to be rigged. Such an outcome is always possible when a dictatorship faces widespread opposition. However, mass participation in the election also places the dictatorial regime on the back foot.

Since his last “election” Ahmadinejad has postured around the world as a great leader, boasted of his conversations with God, denied the Nazi holocaust, trampled on human rights in Iran, jailed his opponents. However above all, Ahmadinejad is a willing and enthusiastic representative of the Iranian theocratic and mercantile class. The same class which has squandered for almost thirty years the anti-imperialist ambition of the ’79 revolution, repressed working class and student organisations, indulged in brutal and primitive torture and executions, imposed sever restrictions on the rights of women as well as those with other religious convictions, and now dresses in pseudo anti- imperialist clothes. The reality is the President has no clothes.

This must be the basis for any progressive assessment of political reality in Iran. Wide sections of the Iranian population have taken this as their starting point and have expressed their opposition on the streets. It is their experience, which informs and motivates the protest and like all dictatorships faced with democratic peoples opposition it has responded with violence and tragedy.

Now it is the Iranian masses and their autonomous organisations, which need support. The clerical regime is continuing with its posturing, hiding behind its trade links with other nations, claiming conspiracies, seeking scapegoats and responding with its customary iron fist.

There are many comparisons in the history of world politics, but whatever subtleties of difference there are, the theocratic regime in Iran has clearly demonstrated it is on the wrong side of history. Supporters of the movement for peace, independence, freedom and liberty in Iran should not be dragged alongside.

Navid Shomali


Elections in Iran – Open letter of support to the demonstrators in Iran

This open letter (dated 24/06/09), signed by a number of international academics amongst whom Noam Chomsky and Juan Cole, is a letter in support of the demonstrations that are taking place in Iran following the controversial presidential elections.

This morning Ayatollah Ali Khamenei demanded an end to the massive and forceful demonstrations protesting the controversial result of last week’s election. He argued that to make concessions to popular demands and ‘illegal’ pressure would amount to a form of ‘dictatorship’, and he warned the protestors that they, rather than the police, would be held responsible for any further violence.

Khamenei’s argument sounds familiar to anyone interested in the politics of collective action, since it appears to draw on the logic used by state authorities to oppose most of the great popular mobilisations of modern times, from 1789 in France to 1979 in Iran itself. These mobilisations took shape through a struggle to assert the principle that sovereignty rests with the people themselves, rather than with the state or its representatives. ‘No government can justly claim authority’, as South Africa’s ANC militants put it in their Freedom Charter of 1955, ‘unless it is based on the will of all the people.’

Needless to say it is up to the people of Iran to determine their own political course. Foreign observers inspired by the courage of those demonstrating in Iran this past week are nevertheless entitled to point out that a government which claims to represent the will of its people can only do so if it respects the most basic preconditions for the determination of such a will: the freedom of the people to assemble, unhindered, as an inclusive collective force; the capacity of the people, without restrictions on debate or access to information, to deliberate, decide and implement a shared course of action.

Years of foreign-sponsored ‘democracy promotion’ in various parts of the world have helped to spread a well-founded scepticism about civic movements which claim some sort of direct democratic legitimacy. But the principle itself remains as clear as ever: only the people themselves can determine the value of such claims. We the undersigned call on the government of Iran to take no action that might discourage such determination.

Signed by:

AGAMBEN, Giorgio, Università IUAV di Venezia, Venice
ALAMDARI, Kazem, California State University, Los Angeles
ALLIEZ, Eric, Middlesex Universtiy, UK
AMSLER, Sarah S, Language and Social Sciences, Aston University, Birmingham
ANDERSON, Kevin B, Professor of Sociology and Political Science, University of California, Santa Barbara
ASAD, Talal, Graduate Center, City University of New York
BADIOU, Alain, École Normale Supérieure, Paris
BALKAN, Nesecan, Hamilton College
BANUAZIZI, Ali, Professor of Political Science and Director, Program in Islamic Civilization and Societies, Boston College
BAYAT, Asef, Professor of Sociology and Middle East Studies, Leiden University
BEHROOZ, Maziar, Associate Professor of Middle East History, San Francisco State University
BENHABIB, Seyla, Eugene Meyer Professor of Political Science and Philosophy, Yale University, New Haven
BEYER, Vera, Kunsthistorisches Institut der Freien Universität Berlin
BIENIEK, Adam, Jagiellonian University, Chair of Arab Studies, Institute of Oriental Philology , Cracow, Poland
BLIBAR, Etienne, Paris X, Nanterre, and University of California, Irvine
BOCHENSKA, Joanna, Dept. of Kurdish Studies, Jagiellonian University, Cracow, Poland
BOGDAN, Jolan, Dept. of Visual Cultures, Goldsmiths College, UK
BOSTEELS, Bruno Bosteels, Cornell University
BRAULT, Pascale-Anne, Professor of French, Dept. of Modern Languages, DePaul University
BRUNO, Michael, Dept. of Philosophy, Lewis and Clark College, Portland, OR
BRUSTAD, Kristen, Associate Chair, Dept.
Of Middle Eastern Studies, University of Texas at Austin
BURGE, Tyler, University of California, Los Angeles
BURGERS, Jan-Willem, Australian National University
BUTLER, Judith, University of California, Berkeley
BUTT, Gavin, Senior Lecturer & Programme Leader in MPhil / PhD,
CARDIN, Maryam, IUT of the University of Marne-la-vallée
CHOMSKY, Noam, MIT, Cambridge MA USA
COHEN, Joshua, Stanford University
COLE, Juan R. I., Mitchell Collegiate Professor of History, University of Michigan
DABASHI, Hamid, Professor of Iranian Studies and Comparative Literature, Columbia University, New York
DE CARO, Mario, Dept. of Philosophy, University of Rome
DI LUCIA COLLETI, Laura, Conseillor Province of Venice
DOGRAMACI, Sinan, University of Texas at Austin
DOLEZALEK, Isabelle, Freie Universität Berlin
DOMINIAK, Piotr, Chairman of ASK Association in Raciborz, Poland
DORFMAN, Vladimiro Ariel, Duke Universtiy, Durham, North Carolina
DÜTTMANN, Alexander Garcia, Goldsmiths College
EHSANI, Kaveh, Assistant Professor of International Studies, DePaul University
EISENSTEIN, Zillah, Professor of Politics, Ithaca College
ENGELMANN, Stephen, University of Illinois at Chicago
EPSTEIN, Barbara, History of Consciousness Dept., University of California, Santa Cruz
FALK, Richard, Professor of International Law Emeritus, Princeton University
FARHI, Farideh, Dept. of Political Science, University of Hawai’i at Manoa
FASY, Thomas M., Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York City
FATIMA KHAN, Mahruq, Assistant Professor of Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies, University of Wisconsin-La Crosse
FIELD, Hartry, Professor of Philosophy, New York University
FORAN, John, Professor of Sociology, University of California, Santa Barbara
FRIEDLAND, Roger, Professor of Religiou Studies and Sociology, UCSB
GAJEWSKA, Katarzyna, University of Poland
GANDJBAKHSH, Amirhosseing, Research Director, National Health Institute, Washington DC
GANZ, David, Universität Konstanz, Germany
GARRETT, Don, Dept. of Philosophy, New York University
GASIOROWSKI, Mark, Political Science and International Studies, Louisiana State University
GLOGOWSKI, Aleksander, Jagiellonian University, Cracow, Poland
GODMILOW, Jill, University of Notre Dame
GOLE, Nilufer, Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, Paris
HÁJEK, Alan, Research School of Social Sciences, Australian National University
HALLWARD, Peter, Middlesex University, UK
HASHEMI, Nader, Assistant Professor of Middle East and Islamic Politics
HEGASY, Sonja, Zentrum Moderner Orient, Berlin
HERRERA, Linda, Institute of Social Studies (The Hague)
HIBBARD, Scott, DePaul University, Chicago
HOEFERT, Almut, University of Basel
IVEKOVIC, Rada, Collège international de philosophie, Paris, Université Jean-Monnet, Saint-Etienne
JIMENEZ, Maria, Université Paris Sorbonne, Paris IV
KAPLINSKY, Raphael, Professor of International Development, The Open University, UK
KESHAVARZIAN, Arang, Associate Professor of Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies, New York University
KHOSROVANI, Sahar, University of Maastricht
KORBEL, Josef, School of International Studies, University of Denver
KOWALIK, Tadeusz, professor of economics and humanities, Polish Academy of Sciences, Warsaw , University of Illinois, Chicago
MCINTYRE, Michael, International Studies, DePaul University, Chicago
MEHDIZADEH, Hamidreza, Illinois Institute of Technology
MEMMI, Paul, Paris Ouest Nanterre la Défense
MORUZZI, Norma Claire, University of Illinois at Chicago, Political Science, History, Gender and Women’s Studies
MOSES, Claire G., Dept. of Women’s Studies, University of Maryland
MOSHTAGHI, Nazgol, University of South Florida
NAST, Heidi, DePaul University, Chicago
NATCHKEBIA, Irina, Tbilisi University
NOYAU, Colette, Dépt des Sciences du langage, CNRS, Université Paris-Ouest
OBDRZALEK, Suzanne, Dept of Philosophy, Claremont McKenna College
PATTERSON, Ian, Director of Studies in English, Queens’ College Cambridge
PETTIT, Philip, University Center for Human Values, Princeton University
PHELPS, Christopher, Dept. of History, The Ohio State University
PIRVELI, Marika, Szczecin University, Poland
POTTER, Robert, Professor Emeritus, University of California, Santa Barbara, USA
PRÉVOST, Sophie, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, Ecole Normale Supérieure, Paris
PRINZ, Jesse, Professor of Philosophy, City University of New York
PROUST, Joëlle, Director of Research, Institut Jean-Nicod, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, Ecole Normale Supérieure
PSTRUSIŃSKA, Jadwiga, Head of Dept. of Interdisciplinary Eurasiatic Research, Institute of Oriental Philology, Jagiellonian University, Cracow
RAKOWIECKI, Jacek, Collegium Civitas, Poland
RANCIÈRE, Jacques, Emeritus Professor of Philosophy at the University of Paris (St. Denis)
REZAEI ,Ali, Dept. of Sociology, University of Calgary, Canada
RIGGLE, Nicholas Alden, Philosophy, New York University
ROMAN, Richard, University of Toronto
ROSENTHAL, David M., Professor of Philosophy, Cognitive Science Concentration Graduate Center, City University of New York
ROSS, Eric B., Visiting Professor of Anthropology and International Development Studies, George Washington University, Washington, D.C.
SAHNI, Varun, Inter University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics (IUCAA), Ganeshkhind, Pune
SANBONMATSU, John, Associate Professor of Philosophy, Dept. Of Humanities and Arts, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, MA
SCHAEFER, Karin, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München, Germany
SCHELLENBERG, Susanna, Professor of Philosophy, Research School of the Social Sciences, The Australian National University, Canberra
SCHIBECI, Lynn, (retired) Dept. of History, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, New Mexico
SCHIELKE, Samuli, Centre of Modern Oriental Studies, Berlin
SCHRECKER, Ellen, Professor of American History at Yeshiva University, New York
SCHWABSKY, Barry, Senior Critic in Sculpture (retired), Yale University
SEDGWICK, Sally, University of Illinois, Chicago
SHAHSAVARI, Anousha, Persian Lecturer, University of Texas at Austin
SHEIKHZADEGAN, Amir, University of Freiburg
SIEGEL, Susanna C., Professor of Philosophy, Harvard University, Cambridge
SIMPSON, Dick, Head of the Political Science Dept.
KOWALSKA, Beata, Jagiellonian University, Poland
KOZLOWSKI, Pawel, Professor of economics, Polish Academy of Sciences
KUMAR, Victor, University of Arizona
LARRIVÉE, Pierre, Aston University, Birmingham
LEMISCH, Jesse, Professor Emeritus, History, John Jay College of Criminal Justice, City University of New York, USA
MARTINON, Jean-Paul, Dept. of Visual Cultures, Goldsmiths College, UK
MASROUR, Farid, Dept. Of Philosophy, New York University
MCFARLAND, Andrew, Political Science Dept. , University of Illinois, Chicago
SINGPURWALLA, Rachel, University of Maryland, College Park
SOSA, Ernest, Rutgers University Philosophy Department
SPERBER, Dan, Institut Jean Nicod, CRNS, Paris
STEINSEIFER, Martin, Universität Giessen
STUART, Jack, Minneapolis, MN
Tabb, William K., City University of New York
TAVAKOLI-BORAZJANI, Farifteh, Freie Universität Berlin, Institut für Iranistik
TAVAKOLI-TARGHI, Mohamad, Professor of History and Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations, University of Toronto
TISSBERGER, Martina, Freie Universität Berlin, Dept. of Educational Sciences and Psychology
TOHIDI, Nayereh, Professor and Chair, Gender and Women’s Studies Dept., California State University, Northridge
TOSCANO, Alberto, Goldsmiths College, UK
UNGER, Peter, Professor of Philosophy, New York University
VAHDAT, Farzin, Vassar College, New York
VAN BLUEMEL, Emeritus Professor of Physics at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, in Worcester, MA
VAN BRUINESSEN, Martin, Chair of Comparative Study of Contemporary Muslim Societies, Dept. of Theology and Religious Studies, Utrecht University
VICTORRI, Bernard, Directeur de recherché CNRS, Ecole Normale Supérieure, Paris
WATZL, Sebastian, Dept. of Philosophy, Columbia University
WHITE, Stephen, Dept. of Philosophy, Tufts University
WINANT, Howard, Professor of Sociology, University of California, Santa Barbara
ZIAI, Hossein, Director of Iranian Studies, UCLA Dept. of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures, Los Angeles, CA
ŽIŽEK, Slavoj, University of Ljubljana, Slovenia and the European Graduate School
ZUK, Agnieszka, University of Nancy
ZUPANCIC, Alenka, Institute of Philosophy of the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts.


IFJ Leaders Call on Ahmadinejad to Free Journalists Held in Iran

Media Release
25 June 2009

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), the world’s largest organisation of journalists, has called on Iranian leaders to end the intimidation of local and international media which has seen leaders of Iran’s journalists’ union forced into hiding for their safety.

In a letter to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Iranian President re-elected in controversial elections which led to widespread protests over the past week, IFJ leaders have expressed particular concern over the fate of Karim Arghandepour, a well-known Iranian journalist and an elected member of the IFJ’s global Executive Committee. He has not been heard of since his arrest in the official crackdown that has followed public protest over the presidential election.

Also in hiding is Ali Masrooie, the Chair of the Association of Iranian journalists. “Like other journalists’ leaders he is fearful of being targeted by the authorities for his staunch defence of journalists and their right to work independently,” said IFJ President Jim Boumelha and General Secretary Aidan White in their letter to the Iranian President.

On Monday, the Iranian authorities entered the offices of Kalemeh Sabz, pro-Mir Hossein Mousavi newspaper and arrested all the media staff present. According to the report, the Iranian security agents are now operating inside independent newsrooms, controlling and imposing censorship on what goes to printing. Iranian journalists are threatened of being arrested if they speak to foreign media. It has been also confirmed that Iason Athanasiadis, a Greek journalist who was reporting for the Washington Times had been arrested over the weekend.

The IFJ says targeting of media, arbitrary arrest of Iranian journalists, and unprecedented restrictions imposed on foreign media, including blocking of internet sites amount to a comprehensive violation of Iran?s commitments to respect human rights and free expression under the Iranian constitution. The IFJ warns that restrictions on foreign media threaten to obscure the reality of what is happening on the ground.

The IFJ says these violations must end immediately and all detained journalists set free. “We ask you to guarantee the safety of all Iranian journalists so that they can all return to work free of the threat of arrest and intimidation,” said the IFJ.

The Federation has also called upon its member organisations in 123 countries to petition the Iranian authorities “to lift the cloud currently hanging over Iranian journalism.”

For more information, contact + 32 2 235 22 07

The IFJ represents over 600,000 journalists in 123 countries worldwide


POST-ELECTION UNREST – Shades of grey in Iranian Politics

Progressives in Iran ought to be able to count on active and principled solidarity from the world trade unionists and the left rather than being demeaned as dancing to imperialism’s tune.
Morning Star
By: John Haylett
Wednesday 24 June 2009

Iran’s Guardian Council accepts that in 50 cities the number of votes cast in last week’s electoral polls was in excess of those on the electoral register. However, for council spokesman Abbas Ali Kadkhodaei, this did not mean that there had been “major fraud or breach in the election.”

Kadkhodaei explained that 100 per cent-plus voter turnouts are not unusual since voters are not restricted to voting in the areas where they are registered. He suggested that the discrepancies amounted to no more than about 3 million votes out of 40 million, which would not have altered the result announced within two hours of the polls closing – namely that regime candidate Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had romped home with 63 per cent. However, the three opposition candidates in the election believe that the level of what they do not hesitate to call fraud is bigger than that admitted by Kadkhodaei. Former revolutionary guards commander Mohsen Rezaei, who is noted for his brutal repression of democratic forces in the 1980s, previous prime minister Mir-Hossein Mousavi and ex-speaker Mehdi Karoubi detailed no fewer than 646 election “irregularities.” They demanded a rerun of the presidential election and, in Mousavi’s case, continued to do so even after supreme leader Ali Khamenei imposed a ban on protests and urged obedient acceptance of the result.

“The country belongs to you. Protesting against lies and fraud is your right,” Mousavi told demonstrators who risked arrest and assault by uniformed and plain-clothes agents of the state.

The theocratic regime slammed interference in the process by imperialist states, especially Britain, and expelled two British diplomats, occasioning the usual tit-for-tat response by London.

US President Barack Obama was “appalled and outraged by the threats, beatings and imprisonments of the last few days.” He joined “the American people in mourning each and every innocent life that is lost” in a way that was beyond him during Israel’s orgy of destruction and slaughter against Gaza six months ago.

Iranian Foreign Minister Hassan Ghashghavi also criticised United Nations secretary-general Ban Ki Moon for “meddling” when he voiced dismay over Tehran’s use of threats and violence against demonstrators.

Ban was told that his stance had “damaged his credibility” in the eyes of “independent” countries by “ignorantly following some domineering powers which have a long record of uncalled-for interference in other countries’ internal affairs and colonisation.” Certainly, Britain and the US have vile records of occupying Iran, misappropriating its oil wealth and imposing a brutal autocracy on its people, twice. Iranians have little positive to learn of democracy from the land of hanging chads, where George W Bush’s camp stole the 2000 presidential election, or from Britain, where democratic accountability is so stunted that, when John Bercow was elected speaker of the House of Commons, Gordon Brown announced that he would take the decision to the hereditary head of state and seek her acceptance of it.

“Iranians have little positive to learn of democracy from the land of hanging chads, where George W Bush’s camp stole the 2000 presidential election” The alacrity with which the international community – the real international community not the one fraudulently substituted by Washington and its hangers-on – accepted Ahmadinejad’s re-election has convinced many people that to support the protesters in Iran’s cities is to do imperialism’s work for it.

Cuban President Raul Castro congratulated the proclaimed victor and looked forward to deepening Iran-Cuba friendly ties and co-operation. His Venezuelan comrade Hugo Chavez called on the world “to respect Iran because there are attempts to undermine the strength of the Iranian revolution. “Ahmadinejad’s triumph was a triumph all the way. They are trying to stain Ahmadinejad’s triumph and through that weaken the government and the Islamic revolution. I know they will not succeed,” he said.

What is clear is that Iran is a close ally of both Cuba and, especially, Venezuela, lining up together in the international oil cartel OPEC and decisively rejecting US domination.

It makes sense from a state point of view to maintain and build these relations and, diplomacy being what it is, satisfaction with interstate relations will often translate into overblown expressions of affection.

Be that as it may, trade unions and the left in Britain, while expressing solidarity for progressive developments in countries where workers’ representatives are in government and for other states that refuse to bow the knee to imperialist threats, should not commit philosophical suicide by knee-jerk responses of defence for the indefensible in the name of anti-imperialism.

Similar mistakes have been made by the left in the past and brought little benefit to those committing them or to the states accorded such excessive loyalty. We have to make our own analysis of states such as Iran, taking into account the views of comrades who struggle there for national independence, democracy, equality and workers’ rights.

Some defenders of the Khamenei-Ahmedinejad regime insist that those protesting against election fraud emanate solely or mainly from Tehran’s gilded northern suburbs, but this is clearly untrue.

Not only did protests break out in many other urban areas but also in the poorer south of the capital. And although students were prominent in the demonstrations, all sections of society, including working people and banned left-wing organisations, took part to demand their democratic rights.

The country’s communists, the Tudeh Party of Iran, have been fully involved in the protests. Tudeh issued its most recent statement, communique No 6, on June 21 (

The TPI has the distinction of having suffered the murderous onslaught of both the Pahlavi monarchy after the Western-masterminded overthrow of nationalist prime minister Mohammed Moussadegh in 1952 and, subsequent to active participation in the 1979 popular revolution, facing a similar fate at the hands of the theocracy. The party accuses the current regime of presiding over an economic approach that favours the rich over the poor.

It recalls that article 44 of Iran’s constitution, which was passed in the early stages of the revolution, provides, in an economy consisting of three sectors – state, co-operative and private – for “all large-scale and mother industries, foreign trade, major minerals, banking, insurance, power generation, dams, and large-scale irrigation networks, radio and television, post, telegraph and telephone services, aviation, shipping, roads, railroads and the like” to be state-owned.

This was amended by the supreme leader’s executive order in 2007 and warmly welcomed by the International Monetary Fund.

The IMF commented: “Recently the government has been pursuing privatisation more seriously. According to the executive order issued by Ayatollah Khamenei regarding article 44 of the constitution, more than 80 per cent of state-owned enterprises must be privatised in the next 10 years. The executive order on article 44 revitalised privatisation plans. Privatisation of state-owned enterprises will be completed by the end of the five-year plan.”

In line with IMF guidelines and in stark contrast to Venezuela’s pro-people policies, internal markets have been opened up, with huge increases in consumer goods imports for the wealthy and consequent damage to domestic production, increased national debt and growing impoverishment.

Pressure on working-class living standards has sparked strikes and public protests, including action by Tehran bus workers, which have been met with repression. Tehran bus workers’ union leader Mansour Osanloo still languishes in jail for the crime of being a trade unionist.

It is a false dichotomy to suggest a choice between supporting Iran’s working people in their struggle for peace, democracy, human rights and social justice and the country’s right to resist imperialist domination.

National independence is best served by a society united for progress rather than groaning under repression. The recent election has exposed fissures within the elite of the Velayat-e Faqih (Supreme Leader) regime, which may open possibilities for progressive forces. Those forces ought to be able to count on active and principled solidarity from trade unionists and the left in Britain rather than being demeaned as dancing to imperialism’s tune.


Iran between Militarism and Democracy

By: Faramarz Farbod
June 15, 2009

In the past, to better understand politics in Iran one needed to pay critical attention to its chosen name since the 1979 revolution: The Islamic Republic of Iran.

For decades since the 1979 revolution the primary tension defining politics in Iran had stemmed from the irreconcilable contradiction at the heart of its constitution between its “Islamist” (particularly the concept of velayat-e faqih or rule by the supreme jurisprudence) and its republican ideals; or, if you will, between the will of the ruling clerics and the will of the people. As many commentators have observed, the tension had existed from the outset of the revolution and has expressed itself in the establishment of a parallel or dual form of government that continues to privilege the appointed over the elected institutions and offices of the state.

Over the years, since the end of the Iran-Iraq war in the late 1980s, and especially since the mid-1990s, “reformist” movements and politicians have pressured the regime to strengthen its republican aspects and weaken the tight grip over power by the unrepresentative clerical institutions such as the Guardian Council. Of course, as we all know, the conservative establishment fought back and managed to limit the gains of the reformists, especially during the Khatami years (1997-2005).

This much is broadly acknowledged and is widely known by most Iran observers. But what are less discussed are the emergence and the evolution of a third element in Iranian politics since the end of the Iran-Iraq war. And that is, the increasing militarization of politics and economics in the Islamic Republic.

It was indeed the two-times ex-president Mr. Rafsanjani, the now powerful head of the Expediency Council, reportedly Iran’s richest individual, and supporter of Mousavi candidacy against Ahmadinejad, who as president introduced the regime’s paramilitary forces to the economy in order to reconstruct the latter in the aftermath of the Iran-Iraq war. This move gave them an ever-increasing stake in the economy. Exact figures are hard to come by, however, it is clear that by now the Revolutionary Guard controls several hundred factories and industrial complexes and were in the recent past awarded lucrative gas and oil pipeline construction and the contract for the expansion or completion of Tehran’s underground metro project.

But it was not until the hyper-militarization of the post-9/11 US policies in the Middle East, the ultimate defeat of the first phase of official reformism under Khatami, and the election of Ahmadinejad to presidency in 2005 that the regime’s para-military organizations made serious inroads into the realm of politics itself. Of note, the macabre George W. Bush-Ahmadinejad dialectic permitted Tehran to embed this particular form of virulent militarism inside the halls of power and justify this momentous shift in familiar terms of the managerial discourses and practices often associated with times of heightened national security concerns. Today there is even a widespread talk of a new game-changing alliance between the Supreme Leader Khamenei and the paramilitary elite whose defining characteristics were forged during the Iran-Iraq war years in the 1980s. An ominous sign of this development was the incorporation of the quintessential paramilitary force known as baseej into the Revolutionary Guard structure last year. The Guards are reportedly represented by upwards of 80 representatives in the parliament, have many of their members appointed to ministerial and provincial governorate positions, and are said to be accountable only to the Supreme Leader himself.

The question of whether the supreme leader needs the Guard more or the reverse is true has been raised in some quarters but was made less poignant so long as Washington and Tel Aviv had persisted in their open belligerency toward Iran, and there were genuine concerns about the possibility of military strikes against Iran. Under these circumstances one could view the ascendancy of a hyper national security state in Iran as a temporary phenomenon, a necessary though undesirable development, and as the preferred regime response to existential military threats to its and indeed the nation’s soverignty.

With the advent of the Obama factor however the macabre dialectic of Washington-Tehran Axis of Military Neoconism was suspended and required further clarification of positions by key players.

Aside from “Islamism,” republicanism, and militarism, there is a fourth element that has been under-discussed as well by most commentators on developments in Iran and one without which the unfolding of events do not make much sense. This is the presence and growth of a heterogeneous social movement for democratic change in Iran. It consists of movements by students, teachers, workers, urban youth, women, and, significantly, increasingly important segments of the elite. They are overwhelmingly in favor of non-violent means of bringing about democratic changes in both politics and culture indicating a degree of maturity largely missing in the movements for change in the 1970s against the late Pahlavi state. Examples include the One Million Signature Campaign by women seeking gender equality, the syndicalists associated with the Tehran bus transport workers, and the recently announced Solidarity Committee for Democracy and Human Rights in Iran.

Tehran fears this movement and found the Axis of Military Neoconism between Ahmadinejad and George W Bush rather convenient for employing its favored managerial discourses and practices to keep this movement at bay. However, the Obama factor, and the partial suspension of this symbiotic relationship combined with the unexpected enthusiasm of people of Iran to use the June 12 presidential election as a means to advance their interests led to a potentially explosive mix pending state decision as to how to proceed in this uncharted terrain.

Indeed June 13 (the day after the election) may turn out to be the most pivotal moment in the entire postrevolutionary period. This is a moment in which the clerical rulers could have chosen to embrace the path to peaceful democratization of politics and culture and away from the exclusionary politics of the past, including the prerevolutionary past of the Pahlavi era. Iran is socio-politically equipped to be a model for democratic development in the entire region of the Middle East. Something that (1) the Arab rulers in most of the region’s countries, who are allied with the US, fear the most, as it empowers prodemocracy forces in their troubled domains, and (2) the hawks in Washington and Tel Aviv also fear as it deprives them of the imperial alibi for their Iran plan unless they are to ignore public opinion at home, an unlikely proposition short of another 9/11-like terrorist event.

The stakes are enormously high for the nature of politics to come in Iran and far beyond. Tehran’s initial response to the election indicates that the regime favors the hyper national security state as status quo rather than as a short-term geopolitical imperative, and confrontation with the movement for democratic change instead of reconciliation. More important than whether there was election fraud is that Tehran seems to see it’s own narrowly defined needs as more important than the needs and the forcefully-expressed interests of the majority of Iranians and that it is not ready as yet to treat the people as citizens with dignity and rights in the public arena of politics and culture.

It is important to note that the regime does not fear the Guardian Council-approved “reformist” or “moderate” Mousavi per se. Instead what it fears is (1) the non-violent heterogeneous movement working to bring about democratic changes in the realms of politics and culture, and (2) a “reformist” president unexpectedly turned into the candidate of this movement and backed enthusiastically by the will of the majority.

The latter fear seems to have a more specific context as well which involves inter-factional rivalries among the key ruling sectors of the regime. Inter-factional rivalries are nothing new in the Islamic Republic. However, their intensity today is remarkable indeed. The entire world was afforded a glimpse of this internal feud during a televised presidentail debate when president Ahmadinejad accused Mr. Rafsanjani, the powerful clerical head of the Expediency Council, of massive corruption. It is unlikely that such a frontal assault in such a public moment could have been undertaken without a green light from the Supreme Leader himself. The relevant facts here are that Rafsanjani openly and actively supported the candidacy of Mr. Mousavi while it was understood that Khamenei backed Ahmadinejad. However, a victory for Mousavi in the absence of the massive public support he in fact received would not have constituted an intolerable outcome for the Supreme Leader. The determining factor here was the presence of such a public backing. Under these circumstances a Mousavi victory assumed special significance and would have (1) exacerbated the system’s Islamist/republican contradiction (between its arbitrary center of (real) power located in the office of the Supreme leader and the (unintended) power of an elected president with a broad public mandate for change), and (2) strengthened Rafsanjani. It seems Mr. Khamenei wished to avoid both outcomes.

At any rate, If the clerical leadership does not move away from its ruinous position it is likely that segments of the movement for change may radicalize and re-introduce some of the destructive and rigid mindset of those seeking revolutionary changes during the Pahlavi period in the late 1970s. The regime may be forcing the movements to choose between passivity before a hyper militarized state or open revolt.

Radicalization need not involve ruinous rigidities of discourse and practice. It could mean the expansion and further politicization of demands. It could involve greater contemplation and clarity about the nature and logic of the forces arrayed against democratic changes internally, in the region, and globally. It could include greater openness to engaging the state and the public through forms of civil disobedience. All of these would be welcome developments indeed.

What is certain however is that if the clerical regime does not reverse course there would be a lot of pain and suffering. The times call for boldness and wisdom. The state of in-between “Islamism,” republicanism, hyper militarism, and intensified reformism, with imperialism in the background, is neither desirable nor stable. Too the path to further militarism at home is ruinous for the people and empowers imperialists to carry out their designs. The regime must choose reconciliation not with the “reformist” rivals of Ahmadinejad per se but with the movements for democratic change before it is too late.

Faramarz Farbod is an Iranian lecturer living in USA.


Statement of the Central Committee of The Tudeh Party of Iran on Upcoming Presidential Elections!

Joint struggle and cooperation of forces fighting for reform, freedom and social justice is needed to defeat the candidates of the Supreme Leader (Vali-e-Faqih) and the ruling reaction
4 Jun 2009

Dear compatriots,
The 10th presidential elections will be held in a few days, under very critical circumstances. Four years after coming to power of the anti-people and deeply reactionary administration of Ahmadi-Nejad – a president hand-picked and installed by the Supreme Leader and the sole and direct representative of military-security forces of the country – the people will be going to the polls at a time when an overwhelming majority of them are living under conditions much worse than before and faced with back-breaking economical pressures, deep suppression and severe poverty. Among the factors that have triggered the people’s deep and extensive discontent against the regime of Velayat-e-Faqih (the rule of the Supreme Religious Leader) and its appointed administration are detrimental economical policies causing bankruptcy of the manufacturing sector; increasingly high unemployment rate and runaway inflation rate; unprecedented waste and misuse of astronomical oil incomes in the last 4 years by the parasitic organizations, by the regime leaders and their dependents, and by military-security system of the regime; heightened atmosphere of suppression and terror and ongoing attacks on the working class, women’s, youth and students’ movements; and intensified pressure on religious and national minorities. It wouldn’t be such a baseless claim if we said that Ahmadi-Nejad’s government has been one of the most reactionary governments in the thirty-year history of Islamic Republican regime.

The Differences between the 10th Presidential Elections (this summer) and the Elections of 2005

The 9th presidential election in 2005 was held under very different circumstances from today. The serious inadequacies during the eight years of Khatami administration, the inability of that administration to deliver the promises they made and to advance the reforms, and inaction regarding improving the conditions of deprived people, the working class and low-paid in particular, made a large portion of social forces, who were disheartened and disappointed with the reform process, refrain from participating in the elections. Harmful divisions among the reformists in government and the decision by a large portion of opposition forces to boycott the elections, allowed the reaction to extensively organize all of its resources and engage the military and security forces in order to pull from the ballot boxes the name of the most fitting agent to press forward its agenda.

Four years into Ahmadi-Nejad’s government, now substantial sections of the population, social forces, and opposition and freedom-loving forces of the society – having experienced the devastating policies of this government and its direct and indirect impact on their daily lives – are now approaching the elections with a different point of view from June 2005. Existing signs indicate the general will of the people to participate in the elections and to free themselves from Ahmadi-Nejad’s government. In the coming days, the will of the people must be converted to a broad social force going to polls.

Possibilities, Hurdles and Complexities

With Mir-Hossein Mousavi’s entry into the presidential race and with the sudden departure of Khatami, which undoubtedly was influenced by the direct or indirect assertions of the Supreme Leader, the process of the 10th presidential election has been facing with serious hurdles and complexities. In the past few weeks, we criticized the vagueness of policies of the reformist candidates and asked for the clarification of the candidates’ positions.

Standing against the reformist candidates, are Mahmood Ahmadi-Nejad as the representative of military-security sectors and factions close to Khamenei (the Supreme Leader), and Mohsen Reza’i representing sections of fundamentalist forces opposing Ahmadi-Nejad, who believe that four years of Ahmadi-Nejad government and its deeply monopolist approaches has undermined their interests. These two are participating in the elections against a background of serious disagreements among the supporters of the Supreme Leader regime over the incompetence of Ahmadi-Nejad administration.

What is certain is the fact that if the election is held without extensive interference and fraud on the part of forces affiliated with the Revolutionary Corps, the Basij militia, and the thugs attached to the office of the Supreme Leader, then individuals like Ahmadi-Nejad and Reza’i will face a heavy defeat. Received reports and evidence indicate that the ruling reaction, aware of this fact, is planning to organize extensive vote rigging in order to ensure that the name of one of its candidates is pulled out of the ballot boxes. This plot can be defeated only and only through the powerful presence of millions of people at the polls, and imposing their supervision on the process, that this plot can be defeated.

Today, having experienced the last four years, and considering the objective and subjective reality of our society, knowing the level of organization of social forces, and the role and power of political forces, it is not right to stay neutral in the course of the developments based on unrealistic perceptions, and decide not to participate in the elections. In the current conditions, staying neutral and adopting the role of a mere observer of the events will only serve the crisis-ridden policies of Ahmadi-Nejad’s government. The election campaign is an important arena for struggle against the regime of Velayat-e-Faquih, and an avenue to expose the anti-people track record of the regime and its appointed government in various arenas. Furthermore, the election is an opportunity for mobilizing the social forces across the country, for joint effort and cooperation of progressive and freedom-loving forces, and also for mobilizing and organizing various forces of the movement, and to extend its capacity and resources of the movement to counteract the plots of the reaction. Encouraging the people to stay at home and boycotting the elections under the pretext of “not legitimizing the regime”, not only will not solve any problem, but also serves the policies of the reaction to control the outcome of the elections. Refraining from participating in the elections could only be justified if it could become an incisive tool in discarding the regime of Velayat-e-Faquih. Taking advantage of the limited possibilities available, in order to organize the social forces, and making an effort to impose the demands of people on the reformist candidates, is a step towards revitalizing the spirit of struggle and overcoming the setbacks due to the outcome of the previous presidential elections and the coming to power of Ahmadi-Nejad.

Election Candidates and our Party

Immediately after the candidacy of the two state reformists was announced, we stressed on the need for the clarification of their policies and viewpoints. In recent weeks, both representatives of the reformist groups have stated their positions and declared their viewpoints about political, social and economic issues. Our party examined the plans announced by the reformist candidates, and also reviewed the past track record of Mir-Hossein Mousavi and Karrubi, and hence believes that the capacity and capability of these candidates, even if they keep their promises and deliver the programmes they have proclaimed, could help the revitalization of the reform process only to a limited extent. Eight years of Khatami’s government proved that preserving the existing power structure in Iran, compromise and submission to the regime of Velayat-e-Faqih, and lack of reliance on the masses is a serious hurdle against affecting positive developments in the society. The issue of observing the rights and freedom of people and moving on the path to fundamental and democratic developments is not possible in a country in which the law and executive power and military and security forces are exclusively in the hands of one person, i.e. the Supreme Leader. It is only with discarding this principle that the aforementioned changes could be made. The reform process is only about creating opportunities for organization and growth of the popular movement and mobilizing and equipping such a social force that could eventually impose the will of people on the ruling reaction. On this basis, our party views the process of election not within the sole framework of voting for Mousavi or Karrubi, but to mobilise forces to defeat Ahmadi-Nejad and Reza’i as the candidates of the Supreme Leader’s (Velayat-e-Faqih) regime. Voting for reformist candidates under the current circumstances means voting No to the Supreme Leader regime and its candidates in the election. We believe that people will succeed in vigilantly doing so.

The central committee of the Tudeh Party of Iran calls upon the politically-conscious people of Iran and all the forces that support reform, freedom and justice to join forces in the struggle to defeat the candidates of reaction – Mahmood Ahmadi-Nejad and Mohsen Reza’i. Succeeding in this task is one step, even though small, towards alleviating the current pressures and moving toward revitalising the reform process and rebuilding the social forces for the future crucial struggle to discard the regime of Velayat-e-Faquih. In these circumstances, the ruling reaction will do all in its power to prevent the realization of the people’s will. Having had the experience of the 9th presidential elections, the ruling reactionaries are well aware that if they succeed in mounting a calculated propaganda campaign together with extensive interference in the elections, by their security forces such as Basij militia, and preventing the participation of a vast portion of the electorate alongside political and social forces, through exerting pressure on them, once again they will be able to pull Ahmadi-Nejad or his equivalent from the ballot boxes. The only way to confront these manoeuvres of the regime is the strong presence of millions of people at the polls, and organizing protest campaigns against fraud and interference of the forces of the Supreme Leader in the election process. The united will and action of millions of voters in this most crucial election could play an instrumental role in favour of the national interests and in resolving the country’s serious socio-economic and political problems. This is not the time to stay at home and leave the ballot boxes entirely to the supporters of the Supreme Leader. The void left by millions votes of the people will be filled with manufactured and rigged votes of the reactionaries monopolizing power. This must not be allowed to happen!

Central Committee of Tudeh Party of Iran
4 June 2009


Hardliners in a panic

Tehran Bureau
This is the author’s fifth article in a series on Iran’s presidential election. Part I described the political and economical landscape in Iran. Part II provided a brief history of the important political groups in Iran after the revolution, their place on the political spectrum and their present position on the issues. Part III profiled the four candidates and Part IV described the latest developments.The present article continues describing the important developments of the past week, including several unexpected ones.
15 May 2009

Only two weeks remain to Iran’s 10th presidential election and the campaigns of the four candidates are in high gear. To kick things off, we’ll turn to who’s supporting who.

Mir Hossein Mousavi

As described in Parts III and IV, with few exceptions, Mr. Mousavi has secured the support of just about all the major reformist/democratic groups in Iran. But, as a further sign of the strength of his candidacy, the Society of Teachers and Researchers of Qom’s Seminaries (STRQS), known in Iran as the Majma’ Modarresin va Mohagheghin-e Hozeh Elmiyeh Qom, which consists of left-leaning clerics who teach in Qom’s seminaries, declared its support for Mr. Mousavi. Note that STRQS did not support any candidate in the 2004 election.

In addition, 2500 university professors have also endorsed Mr. Mousavi. At the same time, some major figures in the conservative/principlist camp, led by Mr. Emad Afrough, the Tehran deputy to the 7th Majles (the parliament), announced the formation of a committee in support of Mr. Mousavi. The reformist minority caucus in the Majles, which refers to itself as the Imam’s Line Faction, also threw its support behind Mr. Mousavi.

Sedaa-ye Edaalat (Voice of Justice), a reformist newspaper, also announced its support for Mr. Mousavi, as did Jomhouri-ye Eslami (Islamic Republic), a principlist daily (originally founded by Ayatollah Khamenei).

In a subtle but unmistakable sign that, if elected, he would work with Mr. Mousavi, the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei paid a visit to Mr. Mousavi’s ailing father on May 16.

Another sign of Mr. Mousavi’s increasing strength were two huge rallies, one held in Tehran and another in Tabriz in the Azerbaijan province. May 23 was the 12th anniversary of the election of Mr. Mohammad Khatami to the presidency in 1997, which the reformists celebrate as the birthday of the reform movement in Iran. A huge rally marked this event in Tehran. Thousands of youth flocked to this event donning a piece of green cloth, which is the color of Mr. Mousavi’s campaign logo. While Mr. Mousavi was not present at the rally, campaigning in another city, his wife Dr. Zahra Rahnavard, Mr. Khatami, and many other notable figures participated in the rally and harshly criticized Mr. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Mr. Khatami declared that, “A magnificent country like Iran cannot be run only by the judiciary and security and military officials,” a reference to the quasi-military government of Mr. Ahmadinejad, whose brutal crackdown of critics is supported by the judiciary. Another speaker, the movie director Kambouzia Partovi, declared, “Over the past four years a [political] dwarf [Mr. Ahmadinejad] has humiliated us.”

The Ahmadinejad camp retaliated by accusing Mr. Mousavi’s supporters of acting like supporters of Adolf Hitler (who used to wear brown outfits), propagating lies, and creating divisions among the people. Mr. Ahmadinejad himself went so far as saying that it was illegal for his competitors to criticize his government!

About 50,000 people gathered for Mr. Mousavi’s rally in Tabriz, which is the provincial capital of East Azerbaijan, home to Iran’s Turkish population. Mr. Mousavi, a Turk himself, spoke in part in Azeri, the language of the Turkish population there, which provoked huge roars of approval.

A major strength in Mr. Mousavi’s campaign has been his wife, an artist and university professor, who has tirelessly campaigned for him. She has been present at all the major rallies, delivering tough speeches criticizing the government, and promising a much more open government if her husband is elected. This has generated considerable support for Mr. Mousavi among the women.

Mahdi Karroubi

The Office for Consolidation of Unity (OCU), an umbrella group representing the vast majority of university student organizations, announced its support for Mr. Karroubi. It issued a long statement in which it analyzed Iran’s present political situation, and referred to Mr. Karroubi as belonging to the “moderate wing of the political establishment,” not as “a leader for fundamental changes.” It stated that its representatives met with those of Mr. Karroubi and presented them with a list of questions and demands. After it received satisfactory responses to its demands, the OCU declared, it decided to support Mr. Karroubi, since Mr. Mousavi’s campaign was unresponsive to their request for a meeting. The OCU also criticized those who have called for the boycott of the election on the ground that they are not democratic.

In addition, Mr. Karroubi has attracted the attention of many Iranians in the Diaspora, because he has spoken courageously and with much clarity about the problems that Iran is facing. He has attacked the military/security establishment, accusing them of interfering in the electoral process. He has also spoken clearly about the need for respecting human rights, particularly women’s rights, and the rights of ethnic and religious minorities.

In a bid for attracting more support, Mr. Karroubi announced that, if elected, he will appoint Mr. Gholamhossein Karbaschi, his campaign manager and former popular mayor of Tehran, and who is a member of the Executives of Reconstruction Party (a reformist group; see Part II), as his First Vice President. (There are eight vice presidents in Iran.) The ERP is, however, supporting Mr. Mousavi.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

Ayatollah Mohammad Reza Mahdavi Kani, one of the most influential conservative clerics, and Secretary General of the Association of Militant Clergy (of Tehran Province), the most important conservative clerical group, announced his support for Mr. Ahmadinejad. This was much less than what Mr. Ahmadinejad’s supporters had hoped for (they wanted the support of the AMC itself). As described in Part IV, the central committee of the AMC could not agree on supporting Mr. Ahmadinejad. There were widespread rumors that heated discussions took place among the members of the central committee of the AMC. According to these rumors, most senior members of the AMC were opposed to supporting Mr. Ahmadinejad.

The principlist faction in the Majles could not agree on supporting Mr. Ahmadinejad either. Only about 57 of the deputies supported Mr. Ahmadinejad. Most tellingly, the Speaker, Dr. Ali Larijani, and at least 50 other principlist deputies refused to support Mr. Ahmadinejad. Supporters of Mr. Ahmadinejad tried to retaliate by preventing Dr. Larijani from getting elected as the Speaker for the 3rd year, but did not succeed.

Mohsen Rezaee

As discussed in Parts III and IV, Mr. Rezaee does not have an independent social base of support. Thus, no major group has supported him. However, a surprise announcement was made by Dr. Larijani, the Majles Speaker, in which he declared his support for Mr. Rezaee. More than anything else, the announcement (which some websites close to Mr. Ahmadinejad denied) indicates the deep fissures within the ranks of the conservatives.

Scandal and Rift in the Military

A major scandal broke out regarding the support of the high command of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corp (IRGC) for Mr. Ahmadinejad. Brigadier General Mohammad Pakpour, commander of IRGC ground forces, wrote a letter to Mr. Ali Saeedi (a mid-ranking cleric), the political representative of the Supreme Leader to the IRGC high command (whose job is to convey the Leader’s views to the armed forces), saying,

As I told you in our [recent] meeting, the issue of the presidential election has created fissures among the commanders of the ground forces of the Sepaah [the IRG]. Please advice us on how to address the problem,

hence indirectly soliciting the Supreme Leader’s view on the election. In response, Mr. Saeedi wrote,

Dear brother General Pakpour, commander of the ground forces of the Sepaah, the explicit view of the Supreme Leader is the re-election of Dr. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. It is mandatory for the commanders of the Sepaah to follow the Leader’s view and also convey it to their personnel.

The exchange was published in Yaa Lesaaraat-e Hossein, the mouthpiece of Iran’s Hezbollah (which has not supported Mr. Ahmadinejad), and was apparently distributed widely within the IRGC and the Basij militia. The exchange created a huge uproar. It forced the public relations department of the IRGC to issue a denial, which no one believed since Yaa Lesaaraat had printed copies of the original letters. The exchange also took place right on the heels of an interview in which Mr. Saeedi, who is also a member of the AMC, said:

I am asked whether we should obey the explicit orders of the Supreme Leader [that he has only one vote to cast, and the rest is up to the people], or consider and interpret what he has said implicitly [that people should vote for someone who would stand up to the West, i.e., Mr. Ahmadinejad]. I say that we should follow the direction that the Leader has identified for us, which is as clear as the sun, although some people do not see it,

hence implying that Ayatollah Khamenei supports Mr. Ahmadinejad. The uproar over Mr. Saeedi’s position was so strong that the websites and newspapers close to Mr. Ahmadinejad accused the reformists of being behind such a plot to discredit him.

Nationally-Broadcast Speeches

Under huge public pressure and after scathing criticism from the reformist camp, the National Iranian Radio and Television (NIRTV) network allocated airtime to all the candidates on its major channels. The candidates used this platform to speak directly to the nation in a live broadcast.

Mr. Mousavi’s speech was particularly impressive. In addition to harshly criticizing Mr. Ahmadinejad for his domestic and international misdeeds and the woeful state of the economy, Mr. Mousavi spoke like a true nationalist, bolstering his patriotic credentials and reinforcing what the late Mahdi Bazargan, the first Prime Minister after the 1979 Revolution and himself a major nationalist figure who had also served in the government of Dr. Mohammad Mosaddegh, had once said about Mr. Mousavi, “He [Mr. Mousavi] is a devout Mosaddeghist,” an ultimate compliment to a former revolutionary. The main criticism about Mr. Mousavi’s nationally-broadcast speech was that he put too much emphasis on the significance of the first few years of the 1979 Revolution. But, then again, those were Mr. Mousavi’s formative years as a national politician.

Likewise, Mr. Karroubi strongly criticized Mr. Ahmadinejad, declaring that, “no one – professors, students, workers, teachers, anybody – has been secure over the last four years.” He criticized the claim by some of Mr. Ahmadinejad’s supporters that they are in contact with Mahdi, the Shiites’ 12th Imam who is supposedly hidden and will come back one day. Mr. Karroubi spoke in defense of the rights of citizens and minorities, and other aspects of civil society. He declared his willingness for improving relations with the United States.

Mr. Rezaee played up his military experience and declared that, “If the government falls into our [able] hands, Israel and the U.S. will not dare to attack Iran, because Israel knows that I can destroy it with a single counterattack.” He also declared that Mr. Ahmadinejad had taken Iran to the edge of a terrifying abyss.

Mr. Ahmadinejad tried to counter the attacks and criticism by presenting a softer image of himself, talking about all the progress that Iran has made during his presidency (which is disputed by most experts), particularly in the area of uranium enrichment and the confrontation with the West over the issue.

Several Iranian websites reported that support for Mr. Mousavi has sharply increased after his nationally-broadcast speech. It remains to be seen whether this translates into a larger turn-out on voting day, the key to the outcome of the election.

NIRTV has scheduled six one-on-debates between the candidates, starting June 3.

The Revolutionary Guards are Worried

Despite the obvious fissures, even among the IRGC commanders (see the above), the ideological propaganda division of the IRGC has tried to present a united front against the reformists, and has harshly criticized their two candidates. This has led to rumors and speculation about what the IRGC might do if a reformist is elected president.

In its May 25 issue, News and Analyses, an internal daily bulletin published by the ideological department of the IRGC and distributed among its commanders, strongly criticized Mr. Karroubi and accused him of presenting a bleak picture of Iran, and threatened to take him to court over his criticism of the Government during his nationally-broadcast TV speech.

In its latest issue, published on May 25, the weekly Sobh-e Saadegh (True Dawn), published by the political department of the IRGC and distributed among the armed forces and the Basij Militia, accused Mr. Mousavi and his supporters of “violating the Supreme Leader’s order not to harshly criticize the Government,” and, “presenting a bleak image of Iran, similar to that in the last years of the imperial rules [in the 1970s].” It then described some of Iran’s progress under Mr. Ahmadinejad and concluded that, “These claims [the reformists’] are baseless.”

In particular, in a strongly-worded article, Mr. Yadollah Javani, a hard-liner who writes regularly for Sobh-e Saadegh, criticized Mr. Mousavi, and claimed that Mr. Khatami has major differences with him, only two days after the huge rally in Tehran in which Mr. Khatami declared his full support for Mr. Mousavi. The website Basirat, which is run by the political department of the IRGC, called Mr. Mousavi “A man from the past that has been thrown into the present times.”

Uranium Enrichment as a Campaign Issue

Mr. Ahmadinejad and his supporters consider Iran’s uranium enrichment program their own major achievement. Never mind that the program had actually started much earlier, in the late 1980s. But, boasting about the program is not the only thing that Mr. Ahmadinejad and his supporters do. They also attack the administrations of Messrs Khatami and Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani for incompetence on the issue and making too many concessions to the West, hence attempting to discredit the reformists.

Last week, in the latest round of accusations and counter-accusations and in a campaign speech in Semnan, Mr. Ahmadinejad declared that the Sa’dabad Agreement was “one-sided and was imposed on Iran by the Western powers.” He came very close to declaring its signing by the Khatami administration treason. Recall that the Sa’dabad Agreement (named after Iran’s presidential palace in Tehran) was signed by Iran, Britain, France, and Germany in October 2003, according to which Iran suspended voluntarily its uranium enrichment program, and began carrying out the provision of the Additional Protocol of its Safeguards Agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency, even though the signing of the Additional Protocol had not yet been ratified by the Majles (it still has not been ratified). Mr. Hassan Abbasi, a leading supporter of Mr. Ahmadinejad and who is considered an ideologue of the conservatives, also accused the Khatami administration of “promising a ten-year suspension of the enrichment program.”

In response, the Center for Strategic Studies (CSS) of the Expediency Council (a constitutional body headed by Mr. Rafsanjani that arbitrates the differences between the Majles and the Guardian Council), headed by Dr. Hassan Rouhani, Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator during the administration of Mr. Khatami, declared that, ” We warn the government for the last time that if it does not stop such propaganda, and use this important issue that the nation is facing as a tool for its goals, we will have to publish a lot of documents that would demonstrate the heavy price that the nation has paid for the incompetence of the government.”

The CSS also declared that, “Everyone knows that the European countries wanted to pressure Iran into a long-term suspension of its uranium enrichment program, but Dr. Hassan Rouhani, the then Secretary General of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, did not accept it. Indeed, the statement issued after the signing stated explicitly that the suspension was for a limited time and on a voluntary basis.” It then called the claims by Messrs Ahmadinejad and Abbasi “a sheer big lie.”

Given that Dr. Rouhani is a conservative who does not belong to the reformist camp, such accusations and counter-accusation only show the deep fissures in the ranks of the conservatives.

Cold Hard Cash

Mr. Ahmadinejad and his supporters have been trying to literally buy votes. The government has been distributing cash and gold coins among various social groups, including teachers, nurses, university students, retirees, social workers, and peasants. But, last week, the government took the buying spree a notch higher. Etemaad (Trust), a leading reformist daily, reported that the government has sent letters to the Majles deputies, giving them checks for 20 million toumans (about $2000) and telling them that they can spend it any way they deem necessary in their districts. The government has also promised to compensate businesses that have suffered as a result of the worldwide recession. It is rumored that the government has spent up to $5 billion so far in this vain.

This has provoked widespread condemnation and protest, even among the conservatives. Dr. Rouhani demanded that the judiciary investigate “such unlawful payments.” The Hezbollah issued a strong statement accusing the government of breeding a “culture of money worshiping.” The National Inspection Organization, an arm of the judiciary that investigates corruption, has threatened to investigate the issue.

Will such tactics and generosity be effective? No one knows. But, as Mr. Akbar Ne’mat Zadeh, a former deputy oil minister and an aid to Mr. Mousavi said, “The people are shrewd. They take the money, but will not vote for him [Mr. Ahmadinejad].” After all, it is clear that the Government has suddenly become so generous – so close to the election!

With only two weeks left, election fever has spread throughout the country. All indications, ranging from the scathing criticism of the reformists by the Revolutionary Guards, to fissures among the conservatives, and distribution of cash among people, are indicators that the conservatives are terrified by prospects of a reformist victory.

The key remains the turn-out.
Copyright © 2009 Tehran Bureau


Iran: Ensure free presidential election

Public Statement
AI Index: MDE 13/046/2009
15 May 2009

Amnesty International has today called on the Iranian authorities to ensure that the forthcoming presidential election to be held on 12 June 2009 are free of discrimination – particularly against women – and that candidates and voters are guaranteed effective exercise of their rights to freedom of expression and assembly during the election campaign. The organization’s appeal was made in a letter addressed to Ayatollah Jannati, the Chair of the Council of Guardians , following the recent closure of registration of candidates for the presidential election.

The Council of Guardians screens all candidates for election to “ensure their suitability for the Presidency”. Article 115 of the Constitution stipulates that candidates must be from amongst “religious and political personalities” [Persian: rejal] and possess: “Iranian origin; Iranian nationality; administrative capacity and resourcefulness; a good past record; trustworthiness and piety; convinced belief in the fundamental principles of the Islamic Republic of Iran and the official religion of the country.” In previous elections, the majority of candidates registered were disqualified under these criteria, including all women. The exclusion of women appears to have been on an interpretation of the word rejal as meaning “men”.

Amnesty International expressed concern that such requirements appear to contradict other articles of the Constitution which provide for equality of all citizens before the law; require respect for the rights of women and prohibit the investigation of a person’s beliefs. In addition, they contradict Articles 2, 3, 18, 19 and 26 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) to which Iran is a state party and which prohibit discrimination on any grounds, and require the state to respect and protect freedoms of belief and opinion. The screening requirements also contravene Article 25 of the ICCPR, which states that all citizens have the right to vote and to be elected to public office, without discrimination.

Amnesty International urged the Council of Guardians to ensure that no one is excluded from standing as a candidate solely on the grounds of their race, colour, sex, language, religion, social origin or political or other opinion, and in particular to ensure that none of the 42 women who registered to stand are barred from standing solely on account of their gender. The organization said it was encouraged in this regard by a statement made on 11 April 2009 by Dr Abbas Ali Kadkhodaei, the Spokesman of the Council of Guardians, that there is “no legal restraint” to the candidacy of women.

Amnesty International is also concerned at ongoing repression of dissent in Iran, which has worsened in recent months, and fears that Iranians who wish to express their opinions or exercise their right to assembly during the election campaign may face restrictions including harassment, arbitrary arrest and unfair trial. Amnesty International has received reports suggesting increased waves of arbitrary arrests and harassment targeting in particular members of Iran’s religious and ethnic minority communities, students, trade unionists and women’s rights activists. Many, of those arrested are at risk of torture or other ill treatment. Other individuals arrested before this period have been sentenced to death. In addition, several newspapers have been closed down, and access to internet sites has been restricted, including some relating to human rights or which are operated by international broadcasters. In December 2008, the Office of the Tehran Public Prosecutor announced the formation of a “special office to review Internet- and SMS-related crimes and violations”, stating that the office would review election campaign violations and “offensive remarks” made by SMS. These measures may in part be intended to stifle debate, prevent the organization of peaceful demonstrations, and to silence critics of the authorities in advance of the election.

All individuals and groups should be allowed to peacefully exercise their rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly, including in ways which dissent from state policies and practices, in the run-up to the presidential election. Any one currently detained for the peaceful exercise of their rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly should be released immediately and unconditionally. Other detainees should be released unless promptly brought to trial on recognizably criminal charges. All detainees should be protected from torture or other ill-treatment.

Recent cases of concern to Amnesty International include:

• The arrest on 19 April 2009 by officers of the Revolutionary Court in Tehran of Mehdi Mo’tamedi Mehr, a member of the Committee to Defend Free, Healthy and Fair Elections and a member of the Freedom Movement, a banned political party. Prior to his arrest he had been telephoned by a Ministry of Intelligence official and told that publication of a statement entitled “Civil Society Institution as Election Observers: An Assurance toward Free, Healthy and Fair Elections” by the Committee would be an act against national security. The statement was published anyway, and he was arrested. He has been accused of “acting against state security”. On 29 April, security forces prevented other members of the committee from holding a meeting in the “Raad” Legal Institute which belongs to Mohammad Ali Dadkhah, a prominent lawyer and member of the High Oversight Council of the Centre for Human Rights Defenders (CHRD). The CHRD was forcibly closed in December 2008 and has not been allowed to reopen.

• At least three Amir Kabir University students who remain detained without trial in Section 209 of Evin Prison in Tehran following their arrests in February 2009. Other students arrested with them who have since been released have said that they were tortured in detention. On 28 April 2009, a Revolutionary Court judge said that eight students, including the three still detained, had been accused of cooperating with the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran, an opposition group based in exile. He said that they had intended to “carry out some activities in the university” during the forthcoming election..

• Ayatollah Sayed Hossein Kazemeyni Boroujerdi, who advocates the removal of religion from the political basis of the state, is serving an 11-year prison sentence imposed on 13 August 2007 after his initial death sentence for “enmity against God” was commuted. On 5 May 2009 he was allegedly beaten while held in solitary confinement in Yazd prison, where he is held in internal exile, after he sent an open letter to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, requesting that international observers be sent to Iran in order to assist the Iranian people in an open referendum on the system of government in Iran. Since then he has not been allowed to contact family members, who have said that prison officials told them he was being punished for his statement concerning the referendum.

• Over 100 people arrested in Tehran and Sanandaj in the run-up to, during, and after peaceful gatherings planned to celebrate May Day 2009. Although some have been released, dozens are believed to remain in detention, including Ja’far Azimzadeh, Shahpour Ehsani, and Bahram (Issa) Abedini, and six members of the One Million Signatures campaign Nikzad Zanganeh, Amir Yaghoubali, Kaveh Mozafari, his wife Jelveh Javaheri, Pouria Poushtareh and Taha Valizadeh.

• Sajad Khaksari, a reporter for the weekly Qalam-e Moalem (Teacher’s Pen) and the son of Mohamad Khaksari and Soraya Darabi, both leaders of the Iran Teachers Trade Association (ITTA), was arrested on 26 April 2009 in front of the Ministry of Education. He was covering protests by teachers demanding that the government implement a pay-parity bill, passed in 2007, which would bring teachers’ wages in line with other government workers.

• Two women’s right defenders, who are both members of the One Million Signatures Campaign (also known as the Campaign for Equality) which is collecting signatures to a petition demanding equal rights for women, have been detained since 7 May 2009. The two, who have been active in defending women’s rights in Qom for many years, had recently investigated an “honour killing” in Qom, which had attracted the attention of the authorities. Fatemeh Masjedi was arrested in Karaj, along with Gholam Reza Salami, a researcher into the women’s movement, after her house in Qom was searched by Ministry of Intelligence officials, who confiscated some of her personal possessions. Maryam Bidgoli was arrested in Qom later the same day. Their lawyer, Shadi Sadr, believes their arrests were illegal as they were not shown any arrest warrant or told why they were arrested.

• Narges Mohammadi, Deputy Chair of the CHRD and Head of the Implementation Task Force of the National Peace Council (NPC), and Soraya Azizpanah, also a member of the NPC, the Executive Director of the Centre to Clean Mine Fields and the editor of Rasan magazine, were banned on 10 May 2009 from travelling to a conference in Guatemala organized by the Nobel Women’s Initiative, entitled “Women Redefining Democracy for Peace, Justice and Equality”.


The United Nations Human Rights Committee, responsible for overseeing the implementation of the ICCPR, specified in its General Comment No 25 of 12 July 1996 that ensuring respect of rights to vote and to stand for public office, as recognised in Article 25 of the ICCPR, requires that such rights should be guaranteed to all citizens without discrimination on the grounds of race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. States are required to adopt legislative and other measures necessary to ensure that citizens have an effective opportunity to enjoy these rights, without discrimination, and to remove any impediments or restrictions that limit the enjoyment of such rights. Any conditions which apply to the exercise of the rights protected by article 25 should be based on objective and reasonable criteria. Therefore, persons who are eligible to stand for election should not be excluded by unreasonable or discriminatory requirements. Requiring that citizens must belong to prescribed religious denominations officially recognized by the State, or political opinion or affiliation does not comply with the requirements of article 25 of the ICCPR

Amnesty International has been campaigning for many years for an end to a variety of human rights violations in Iran. Impunity, arbitrary arrest, torture and other ill-treatment, as well as the use of the death penalty remain prevalent. Some sectors of society – including ethnic minorities – continue to face widespread discrimination, while the situation for other groups – notably some religious minorities – has significantly worsened since the Islamic Revolution in 1979. Those seen as dissenting from stated or unstated official policies face severe restrictions on their rights to freedom of belief, expression, association and assembly. Women continue to face discrimination – both in law and practice. Impunity for human rights abuses is widespread.

For further information please see:

Iran: Human Rights in the spotlight on the 30th Anniversary of the Islamic Revolution (Index: MDE 13/010/2009)

Iran: Worsening Repression of Dissent as Election Approaches (Index: MDE 13/012/2009)

Public Document

For more information please call Amnesty International’s press office in London, UK, on +44 20 7413 5566 or email:

International Secretariat, Amnesty International, 1 Easton St., London WC1X 0DW, UK


FT Interview: Mir-Hossein Moussavi

Mir-Hossein Moussavi, Iran’s prime minister between 1981 and 1989, is a leading candidate to unseat president Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad in the presidential election on June 12. The FT’s Tehran correspondent Najmeh Bozorgmehr interviewed him on April 12 in his office at the Art Centre in central Tehran. The 18-minute interview was in Farsi. The edited transcript, translated by Monavar Khalaj, follows:

Financial Times: You recently said you would pursue detente with the west if you were elected. How are you going to have that approach with the US while not compromising on the nuclear programme?

Mir-Hossein Moussavi: I consider detente the principle to build confidence between Iran and other countries. I think the recent discourse, which differentiates between nuclear technology and nuclear weapons is a good one. The more this differentiation is emphasised, the greater the possibility of détente.

FT: Would Iran agree to suspend uranium enrichment if you were president?

Moussavi: No one in Iran would accept suspension.

FT: And you would not accept it, either?

Moussavi: No. The problem is that we had a bad experience with suspension. It was first done [2003-2005] to discuss issues and remove suspicion but it turned into a tool to deprive Iran of having access to nuclear technology. There is a bad memory in this regard.

FT: How would you remove tensions then?

Moussavi: Progress in nuclear technology and its peaceful use is the right of all countries and nations. This is what we have painfully achieved with our own efforts. No one will retreat. But we have to see what solutions or in other words what guarantees can be found to verify the non-diversion of the programme into nuclear weapons.

FT: What kind of solutions?

Moussavi: They can be reached in technical negotiations.

FT: How influential can the president be in nuclear decisions while the supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has the last say in this issue?

Moussavi: Decisions on nuclear technology definitely need to be based on a thorough consensus at the national level. Obviously, the role of the supreme leader is very determining.

FT: So far, however, no solution has been found. How would your presidency help?

Moussavi: The issue doesn’t only depend on us. It will also depend on the discourse the Americans use and the issues they pursue. The more realistic they become and recognise Iran in this issue, naturally the better the ground will be prepared to find solutions.

FT: Your relations with Ayatollah Khamenei [Iran’s supreme leader] were tense in the past. Do you think this will continue if you get elected? And could you also tell us about your meeting with him last week?

Moussavi: The tensions when I was in office as prime minister [1981-1989] were because of [power] structure problems which were removed in the revision of the constitution in 1989. Now, the management of the supreme leader as the valy-e-faqih [supreme jurisprudent] in our country and his relations with other organisations and institutions, including government-owned bodies, are totally clear. Naturally, the prospect for cooperation for the country’s progress is very good.

FT: How was your meeting with him last week?

Moussavi: It was very positive.

FT: Did he have any problems with your candidacy?

Moussavi: He had no problems. He has an impartial position in the upcoming election. He mentioned this in his speech in Mashhad [late March] and repeated it to me. As we have had relatively extensive contacts discussing issues, the recent meeting was also very good and positive.

FT: Did Ayatollah Khamenei have any specific recommendation?

Moussavi: No. We only discussed the country’s problems.

FT: Do you have fundamental differences with him in any specific field?

Moussavi: No.

FT: Were your differences with him in the past the reason why you largely abandoned the political scene in the last 20 years?

Moussavi: No. I believed the Islamic republic was in a stable position and that different politicians can come and go. I had no concerns about who might take office. And I was interested in culture, which is why I shifted to cultural activities. Of course, during this period I was advisor to the top authorities. I have also been a member of the High Council for Cultural Revolution and the Expediency Council. The positions necessitated that I follow political and executive issues. But it had nothing to do with the problems [I faced] during the [Iran-Iraq] war [1980-1988]. [Former president Akbar Hashemi] Rafsanjani was a very strong and powerful candidate. Then came Mr [Mohammad] Khatami. But I thought I had better run this time.

FT: Do you consider Mr Ahmadi-Nejad a risk for Iran and the Islamic republic’s political system?

Moussavi: Mr Ahmadi-Nejad is the president and for this reason I respect him. There are criticisms about his opinions and behaviour. This is natural in countries like ours in which there is freedom. I don’t see Mr Ahmadi-Nejad himself as a danger.

FT: Where do you see the risk then?

Moussavi: I think the country can be run better and that more effective financial, economic, cultural and foreign policies can be adopted. In foreign policy, we can have better relations with the world which is surely very significant to help our country’s development.

FT: Many critics of Mr Ahmadi-Nejad believe the country will face a crisis if the president is re-elected. Do you agree?

Moussavi: I don’t want to say this and don’t like to use harsh terms.

FT: Do you think you’ll be also supported by Ayatollah Khamenei if you are elected?

Moussavi: It’s absolutely natural for the supreme leader to support any government that sweeps to power with the backing of people’s votes. This support can increase if the government policies are close to those of the supreme leader.

FT: Will you try to make your policies close to the views of the supreme leader?

Moussavi: Yes. The more the country moves toward consensus in fundamental policies, the better it will be run. But you should also note that one of the most important responsibilities of the leader is to approve and announce macro policies which are first discussed at the Expediency Council and then are sealed by him, then notified to other organisations. The government’s commitment to these general policies can create the best relations between the government and the leader.

FT: Given that you have been out of the political scene for a while and that young people in Iran many not know you, why would they vote for you?

Moussavi: The youth are obviously free to vote for anyone they like. I will elaborate on my policies until election day [on June 12] on issues like culture and address their concerns including housing, employment and marriage. If young people think policies correspond to their needs, they will naturally vote and if not, they won’t.

FT: But do you have any specific approach to convince Iran’s youth that you are their candidate?

Moussavi: I think young people should be trusted. I don’t have the pessimism of some [politicians] toward them. Some minor changes in the appearance of young people should not make us think they have taken anti-national identity. I don’t believe that they have changed their appearance so much that we cannot recognise them any more. I think our young people are very good, creative and really decent human beings who are proud of their past and their rich culture.

FT: How are you going to attract their votes?

Moussavi: I will try to discuss these issues in the remaining one month and think they will receive the signals I am sending them positively.

FT: The business community still remembers that you decided to bulldoze the chamber of commerce building to accommodate war refugees back in the 1980s. And this leaves people concerned about your economic policies.

Moussavi: I don’t remember the building you are referring to. Of course, we didn’t have good relations with the chamber of commerce which was related to the election process in the chamber and war-related policies, but we didn’t destroy their building. Naturally, with the end of the [Iran-Iraq] war, the grounds for such confrontations were removed. I do believe in the strong presence of the private sector, in particular in the production field, and also making the best use of Iran’s relative advantages in trade. I think all those who care about the country and the economy including the chamber of commerce will welcome this approach and establish good relations with the government.

FT: So you don’t expect tensions with the business community?

Moussavi: No. We need the private sector to help resolve unemployment. There is no bright prospect to deal with such problems through government investments.

FT: What is your economic programme?

Moussavi: I believe there are various opportunities in the country. The government’s role can be that of guidance to have a robust national economy. We have gone too far in opening up to imports. This has to be revised. We have to take bigger steps to support our national economy.

FT: Are going to restrict imports?

Moussavi: I don’t think there can be a unified prescription. I have to see which sections should be restricted and over what period of time. We have to gradually make those sections in which we have relative advantages active.

FT: Could you give us one example?

There are many factories which are 50 to 60 years old which are very capable and have done well. But they are unable to compete with foreign goods because these goods get into the country in different ways. They are becoming importers themselves. We have to stop this. You can see this in different sectors.

FT: What are you going to do with subsidies?

Moussavi: Subsidies should be targeted. The principle of giving subsidies is acceptable to a certain extent. But they should be targeted and it should become clear why we are giving these subsidies. They should serve a strong national economy, help safeguard resources and support the lower classes. Targeting subsidies should be done gradually. Any abrupt halt can exert a shock because of the economic structure and the huge subsidies we give for various commodities.

FT: Over what period of time do you are you thinking of targeting subsidies when you say “gradually”? Ten years for instance?

Moussavi: Probably we can achieve this in two [five-year] plans to completely implement it. The most important one is the energy subsidy and we have to gradually work on it.

FT: How are you going to prioritise your economic policies? Give us your top three ones?

Moussavi: We have to constantly work on inflation, unemployment and the improvement of business.

FT: How are you going to improve the business environment?

Moussavi: By facilitating the issuing of permits for new businesses. Such procedures are currently very slow in our country. We have lots of problems in this sense compared to other countries.

FT: And how are you going to curb inflation?

Moussavi: Through monetary policies, imports, making the private sector active and increasing production. And more important than anything else is having stability in economic decisions.

Published: April 13 2009
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2009


A Reformist Presidential Candidate?!

Former PM reveals his plans for challenging Ahmadinejad in June’s Presidential elections
Mousavi’s Press Conference ‎ – 2009.04.09

Mir Hossein Mousavi, Iran’s last prime minister who is now running as a presidential ‎candidate, held his first official press conference after nearly two decades of ‎self imposed silence. Mousavi used the opportunity to harshly criticize the government’s ‎economic, social and cultural policies. ‎ Mousavi’s press conference, held in the presence of more than 90 reporters, was attended ‎by representatives from about ninety domestic and international news agencies. In ‎addition to Mahmoud Doayee, the editor-in-chief of E’telaat daily and a close figure to ‎the revolutionary leader Ayatollah Khomeini, some of Mousavi’s close advisors were ‎present as well. ‎

Implicitly referring to Ahmadinejad’s prior remarks in which he had accused “financial ‎mafias,” including the “oil mafia,” for the country’s economic problems, Mir Hossein ‎Mousavi presented a different picture at his press conference and said, “We cannot ‎prevent financial corruption by taking on an imaginary oil mafia. Financial corruption ‎can be prevented only through the free flow of information.” This tenth presidential ‎election candidate also criticized the repeated dismissals of governors of the Central ‎Bank: “When, over the course of one year, the governor of the Central Bank is changed ‎three times, foreign and domestic investors will not come forward to invest.” ‎ One highlight of Mousavi’s press conference on 6th April was his opposition to the plan ‎to boost “moral security” – which includes monitoring the behavior and dress code of the ‎youth – which was launched since Ahmadinejad’s presidency at their current levels and ‎intensity. Responding to a reporter who asked Mousavi about his thoughts on the plan to ‎boost moral security, the former prime minister said, “In my opinion, the plan to boost ‎moral security does not achieve the goals set by the state. I believe that social issues ‎must be resolved through respect for human dignity and not by force or violence.” ‎Mousavi added, “If I am elected president, I will put an end to inspections by the morality ‎police.” ‎

In another part of his press conference, Mousavi announced that he had not sought ‎anyone’s permission to run in the upcoming election. When asked if he had consulted ‎with Iran’s supreme leader about his candidacy, Mousavi said, “As I have said before, I ‎had no desire to run for presidency. I saw the problems and saw the ability in myself to ‎solve them. With respect to my candidacy, I did not consult with the Supreme Leader. ‎God willing, I will get to meet with him, as I believe he would welcome my or anyone ‎else’s participation within the framework of the law.”

Extremism and Anti-Western Stances
Mousavi criticized extremism in foreign policy, particularly toward the West: ‎‎”Sometimes our anti-Western stance is so extreme that, in order to mitigate the damage, ‎we then have to send unanswered messages to those countries. This has cost our nation ‎unnecessary damage.” Mousavi also emphasized, “Our foreign policy must not be ‎extremist. Extremism in foreign policy has hurt us.” ‎

Commenting on U.S.-Iran relations and the recent remarks by Barack Obama, Mousavi ‎said, “The tone of the new president is different from the tone of the old president. ‎Everyone, including myself, has felt that difference.” However, noted Mousavi, “We ‎await to see what actual policy changes will follow the different tone,” adding, ‎‎”Resolving certain ambiguities with respect to the U.S.-Iran relations could serve as an ‎appropriate backdrop for relations. I support relations with all countries in the world ‎within the bounds of mutual respect for one another’s rights.” ‎

Mousavi also commented on the Holocaust: “Islam is against the killing of one person, ‎let alone the killing of many. With respect to the Holocaust, which is something that has ‎taken place, the issue that must be addressed is why is it that the Palestinians must pay ‎the price. We must act in accordance with values that we believe in.”‎ Mousavi’s position on the nuclear issue was as follows: “We must have this technology ‎and cannot retreat on this issue, because the repercussions of retreating would be heavy ‎for us. However, we must build trust in this area.” He added, “My ‎position on this issue is to lower the cost for our country of achieving nuclear ‎technology.” ‎ Responding to a question dealing with the freedom of private television networks, Mousavil said, “In 1989, I was present in discussions related to amending the ‎Constitution. One of the issues that were discussed was the issue of private television ‎networks. I still believe in the existence of private television networks. But any change ‎in this area must be carried out according to the Constitution, and whenever the ‎Constitution is amended [the present Constitution gives the government monopoly over ‎television], I will continue to defend my position on this issue.”

From Rooz Online

Khatami to mount reformist challenge

By Roula Khalaf and Najmeh Bozorgmehr in Tehran /FT
Published: February 2 2009 22:12 | Last updated: February 2 2009 22:12

Mohammad Khatami, Iran’s former reformist president, is expected to announce that he will contest the presidential elections in June, as pressure intensifies on him to unseat the incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad.

Leading reformist politicians told the Financial Times that Mr Khatami was likely to confirm his candidacy in the coming days, after apparently failing to persuade Mir-Hossein Moussavi, a former prime minister he holds in high regard, to represent the reformists.

“All evidence suggests that he is running,” said Mostafa Tajzadeh, the policy strategist of the largest reformist party.

“He’s closer to running than ever before,” said Mohammad-Ali Abtahi, a senior aide to Mr Khatami during his two terms as president, from 1997 to 2005.

Mr Khatami, however, could still reconsider if Mr Moussavi, a politician who is seen as honest and a capable manager, has a last minute change of heart.

At a Saturday meeting with visitors from the holy city of Qom, Mr Khatami said he would prefer Mr Moussavi to be the main reformist candidate but that the former premier needed to make up his mind quickly.

A second reformist leader – cleric Mehdi Karroubi – has announced his candidacy but Khatami aides are hoping that he would withdraw should their man enter the contest.

Although the president has limited powers in Iran’s Islamic republic – authority lies in the hands of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader – reformist politicians say a new, more moderate face could have a huge impact on domestic policy and would improve the chances of a dialogue with the US, now that the new administration of Barack Obama is looking for engagement.

“If it is Khatami versus Ahmadi-Nejad, this will be the most interesting election in the world and in the region, after the US election,” said Mr Tajzadeh. Mr Khatami, a mid-ranking cleric who prefers dialogue to confrontation, has been reluctant to seek a return to the presidency.

His experience as president when hardliners in the regime systematically blocked his reforms, left him frustrated. Many of his followers were also left disillusioned.

But people close to Mr Khatami say he is the only candidate capable of defeating the populist Mr Ahmadi-Nejad, who although he has yet to declare his candidacy officially is expected to seek re-election and restart efforts to restore Iran’s image in the world. Reformists believe Mr Ahmadi-Nejad has wrecked Iran’s economy and destroyed its international image.

While they are equally attached to the country’s nuclear programme, which Tehran says is for peaceful purposes, they insist they could address western concerns over it more successfully.

Ayatollah Khamenei has strongly backed the sitting president, and largely supported his confrontational foreign policy, leading many analysts and diplomats to assume that Mr Ahmadi-Nejad is assured of re-election. But people close to Mr Khatami say the supreme leader has told him that he would not interfere in the election.

There are no public polls in Iran to gauge the mood. But analysts say that despite mounting economic problems, Mr Ahmadi-Nejad can still count on public support, particularly in rural areas that have benefited from generous financial hand-outs. They warn that it is far from clear the election will be free and fair.

Reformists, however, insist that confidential polls taken by bodies within the regime suggest Mr Khatami is far ahead of Mr Ahmadi-Nejad.


Iran’s 30-year-old republic Defiant, and doubtful

Feb 5th 2009 | CAIRO
From The Economist
Iran gives America the finger

FEBRUARY 1st marked the 30th anniversary of the return to Iran of the exiled Ayatollah Khomeini (see article), and his heirs have been celebrating the ensuing Islamic revolution. On February 2nd, to much fanfare, they launched an “indigenous” satellite, borne into space on a rocket of Iranian making, however much it may have owed to North Korean and other technology. Despite protestations that the achievement was entirely benign, with no menacing implications, it was greeted by the new administration in Washington with “great concern”. No wonder: reversing his predecessors’ stand-offishness, Barack Obama has indicated that he is ready for a direct dialogue with Iran. Launching a Safir-2 rocket looks very much like putting up a finger.

Iranians are no doubt proud of their scientific triumphs, despite the international sanctions that are unfairly, in their eyes, imposed on them, for their country’s obdurate pursuit of nuclear technology. They largely agree about such things as the wickedness of American support for Israel and the justice of the Palestinian cause. But, if visitors to Iran are struck by anything, it is the dominant mood of weariness. Unlike the Soviet Union or China in the 1950s, Iran is not sealed off from the world. Via the internet, satellite dishes, travel and interaction with a 2m-strong diaspora, its people are painfully aware of the prosperous cosmopolitanism enjoyed elsewhere.

They cannot help wondering why, with its educated population and bountiful resources, including the world’s second-largest reserves of both oil and natural gas, Iran struggles with high unemployment, low wages and surging inflation. Even if sanctions are partly to blame, rather than the all-too-evident managerial failings of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s government, they cannot help asking why the world should be so hostile. Yes, they believe that Iran is a great country, and should be treated as such. But does this require constant friction with other countries, or postponing all fun to the afterlife?

The urgency of these questions will grow as the next presidential election, in June, approaches. Despite the official bluster, the idea of a thaw with the West has lately been provoked by such melting events as visits by American sports teams and academics, and a directive from NATO letting its members seek supply routes through Iran for their forces in Afghanistan. This warmth has been accompanied by a crash in oil prices that is likely to slash government revenues in half, brutally shrinking Iran’s margin for manoeuvre.

But Mr Ahmadinejad is not rolling over. Iran has pointedly failed to issue visas to an American women’s badminton team this month. The president still enjoys strong backing from the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. And his hardline allies, who have kept the reformist opposition in check since ousting it in 2005, may well now fix the June poll. In any event, they are hardly likely to allow the election of either a liberalising Gorbachev or a pragmatic Deng Xiaoping. But faced with the temptation of a more welcoming outside world, and the danger of economic paralysis at home, whoever it is that runs the Islamic republic may be obliged to opt for one of those models. After all, even the revolutionary imam himself, Ayatollah Khomeini, after eight years of war with Iraq, chose to “drink the cup of poison” and make peace with Iran’s most loathed neighbour, Saddam Hussein.


An old has-been to the rescue?

Might a reform-minded former president displace the current one?
From The Economist print edition, Dec 4th 2008

SEVEN months short of a presidential election, an immaculately robed Shia cleric living in comfortable semi-retirement is making Iranians hold their political breath. When Muhammad Khatami stepped down as Iran’s president three years ago, his plans to reform Iran in tatters, he gave every impression that he had left politics for good. Now, his friends attest, he is pondering a comeback.

A rumble of entreaty among a few supporters has become a boisterous campaign to persuade him to run against the incumbent, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, in next June’s poll. According to one ally, Mr Khatami is besieged by supplicants from the provinces. Last month Leyla Hatami, an admired film actress, reduced an audience to tears when she begged him to stand “for the sake of our children and of people who do not want to leave the country.”

Why would Mr Khatami think of giving up his charitable foundations and leisurely hobnobs with the world’s great for a job that earlier caused him nothing but grief? Elected in 1997 on a pledge to reconcile democracy and Islam, he instead became a byword for thwarted hopes, as the country’s unelected conservative establishment, bitterly opposed to any dilution of the Islamic Republic’s theocratic character, jailed his supporters and blocked reformist legislation. Many of those Iranians now buttering up Mr Khatami boycotted the presidential election of 2005, when Mr Ahmadinejad beat several reformists.

Mr Khatami’s change of heart stems from his anger at what followed. Elected on a platform of social justice, Mr Ahmadinejad has squandered Iran’s huge oil revenues on inflationary handouts, cares little for human rights and embarrassed many of his compatriots with his undiplomatic pronouncements, among them his suggestion that Israel should not exist. Many Iranians now remember Mr Khatami’s tenure, when the authorities relaxed their grip, just a little, on the ordinary Iranian and the president won plaudits for his charm and moderation, as a golden age.

Mr Khatami may announce his intentions in the coming week or so. But his hesitation is understandable. Should he run and win, he will inherit an economic basket case. Inflation recently cleared 31% a year, 20 points higher than when he left office. Unemployment, informally estimated at 4m in a country of 70m-plus people, is set to rise as government revenues fall with diving oil prices. The conservatives are disenchanted with Mr Ahmadinejad but retain their vivid loathing for his predecessor. Mr Khatami’s second presidency, if it comes, will be no easier than his first.

If he stands, the conservatives may unite reluctantly around Mr Ahmadinejad. Privileged with incumbency and a populism that still strikes a chord with poorer Iranians, he remains their best chance. But Mr Khatami’s enduring popularity rattles his foes. The results of an internal government poll in big and medium-sized cities suggest that he could win twice as many votes in these places as Mr Ahmadinejad.

Perhaps the saddest aspect of Mr Khatami’s dilemma is that he is being solicited not because he has new ideas or new methods of advancing old ones, but because he is an elder statesman whom the Council of Guardians, a vetting body, would not dare bar from running. As Iran edges towards achieving the nuclear fuel cycle that would let it become, after Israel, the Middle East’s second atomic power, so the consequences of that ambition, in the form of UN sanctions and the growing isolation of Iranian banks and businesses, are being felt across the economy. Gone are the old slogans about a bright future for Iranians. If Mr Khatami joins the fray, it will not be to elevate Iran but to save it.


Election doubts over Ahmadinejad’s health

Robert Tait , The Guardian, Friday October 24 2008

He is renowned for his long hours and hectic schedule, but the stress of high office may be taking its toll on the health of Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and jeopardising his political future.

Speculation about the hyperactive leader’s physical condition was prompted this week after a speech to the state statistics and planning body on Wednesday was cancelled at the last minute and a cabinet meeting took place without him. A speech to a martyr’s commemoration event was also called off. A senior aide, Amir Mansour Borghei, told journalists that the president was “indisposed”.

That explanation has triggered rumours that Ahmadinejad, 52, is suffering from a long-term illness that may force him to abandon plans to stand for re-election next year.

Shahab, an Iranian news website, reported that the cancellations were the latest in a series and said the president had previously cancelled engagements because of listlessness caused by low blood pressure. Last May Ahmadinejad pulled out of events in three consecutive weeks – including a rally in Golestan province where he was due to meet voters face to face – because of what aides described as an overcrowded schedule.

Citing “sources close to the government”, Shahab said doctors had advised him to cut his workload to reduce the possibility of illness. There is little sign that he has heeded such advice; Wednesday’s cancellation came after Ahmadinejad had returned to Tehran from a visit to the Asalouyeh oil and gas project in southern Iran.

The reports of cancellations come at a time when Ahmadinejad is wrestling with acute political problems, including near 30% inflation, rising unemployment, plummeting oil prices, a market traders’ strike over a plan to impose VAT, and demands for the resignation of his interior minister, Ali Kordan, for falsely telling MPs that he had an Oxford University degree.

But more worrying is that the rumours appear to have given his critics a new stick to beat him with. Fellow hardliners inside Iran’s so-called principalist – or fundamentalist – camp are calling for the president to withdraw from the presidential election unless doubts about his health are cleared up.

Issa Saharkhiz, an Iranian political analyst, said the reports could have been fanned by Ahmadinejad’s opponents, including the Tehran mayor, Muhammad Baqer Qalibaf, who are preparing to run against him. “I’m not sure if these health problems are permanent or just a result of tiredness,” he said. “But some groups, mainly moderate conservatives, may be thinking that they have found a political solution for eliminating him from the nomination for the elections.”


Nobel laureates call for release of Iranian Baha’i prisoners

30 June 2008


NEW YORK – Six Nobel Peace Prize laureates have issued a statement calling on the Iranian government to free immediately seven prominent Iranian Baha’is imprisoned in Tehran.

The six Nobel winners, under the banner of the Nobel Women’s Initiative, called on the Iranian government to guarantee the safety of the Baha’is — being held in Evin Prison with no formal charges and no access to lawyers — and to grant them an unconditional release.

“We are thankful to these internationally prominent activists for calling publicly for the release of our fellow Baha’is, who are detained for no reason other than their religion,” said Bani Dugal, principal representative of the Baha’i International Community to the United Nations.

The Nobel laureates supporting the statement are:
— Betty Williams and Mairead Corrigan Maguire, founders of the Peace People in Northern Ireland and winners of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1976;
— Rigoberta Menchu Tum, a leading advocate of ethno-cultural reconciliation in her native Guatemala and Nobel winner in 1992;
— Professor Jody Williams, international campaigner for the banning of land mines, winner in 1997;
— Iranian human rights lawyer Dr. Shirin Ebadi, winner in 2003;
— Kenyan environmental activist Professor Wangari Muta Maathai, Nobel winner in 2004.

Their statement, issued on the letterhead of the Nobel Women’s Initiative, reads:

“We note with concern the news of the arrest of six prominent Baha’is in Iran on 14 May 2008. We note that Mrs. Fariba Kamalabadi, Mr. Jamaloddin Khanjani, Mr. Afif Naeimi, Mr. Saeid Rezaie, Mr. Behrouz Tavakkoli, and Mr. Vahid Tizfahm are members of the informal group known as the Friends in Iran that coordinates the activities of the Baha’i community in Iran; we further note that another member of the Friends in Iran, Mrs Mahvash Sabet, has been held in custody since 5 March 2008; we register our deepest concern at the mounting threats and persecution of the Iranian Baha’i community.

“We call on the Iranian Government to guarantee the safety of these individuals (and) grant their immediate unconditional release.”

The Nobel Women’s Initiative was established in 2006 by the six women laureates – representing North America, Latin America, Europe, the Middle East, and Africa – to contribute to building peace by working together with women around the world. Only 12 women have ever won the Nobel Peace Prize.

The Nobel Women’s Initiative maintains an office in Ottawa, Canada.


The systematic violations of human rights in Iran

Monday Morning

The Center for the Defenders of Human Rights, formed by five prominent lawyers and headed by the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize winner, said in its annual report on May 18 that it “deplores and denounces the systematic violation of human rights in Iran”.
“The lack of a real and effective observance of human rights deepens the gap between the people and the government and breaks the pillars of peace, stability and development in the country”, it warned.
“In the year 1386 alternative thinkers and those who are not in line with the ruling policies, regardless of their leanings, faced great intimidation and sentences”, the group said, referring to the Iranian year to March 2008.
“Freedom of expression and freedom to circulated information have further declined” since President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad came to office in August 2005, the report said.
“Censorship and indirect pressure has reached the highest level”, it said, adding that 32 media workers were sentenced to jail, lashes and fines, and that 17 publications as well as eight news websites were shut down.
“Despite vast criticism against issuing and carrying out executions, they increased in the past year”, it said, adding that at least nine minors were executed.
The human rights group Amnesty International reported that in 2007 Iran made more use of the death penalty than any other country apart from China, executing 317 people during the year.
Teheran insists the death penalty is an effective deterrent that is carried out only after an exhaustive judicial process.
The report came amid a regional tour of the US President George W. Bush, who criticized Middle East states over human rights, saying Washington was concerned about the repression of democratic activists and the plight of political prisoners.
Ebadi’s group also criticized Iran’s treatment of student activists, women’s rights campaigners, religious minorities, labor unionists and teachers demanding better wages.
“Many among the believers of the Bahai faith were deprived of the right to study in universities, work and social activities only because of their religious inclination”, it said.
Ebadi’s group said that over the past year 108 students had been arrested, 45 interrogated, five put on trial and 15 were handed sentences including jail, lashes and fines.
“It seems that the government and the system do not recognize any rights to protest, strikes and pursuing union rights for workers — oppressing any move in the name of acting against national security”, the report said.
It added that 31 workers had been jailed, another 31 arrested, eight put on trial and at least 36 summoned to judicial or security bodies “only for pursuing their union rights”.
Ebadi’s group criticized mounting pressure on women’s rights advocates and slammed a nationwide crackdown on “bad veiling”, branding it as “one of the outstanding and evident examples of violating women’s rights”.
Several women have been arrested in recent months over their involvement in a signature campaign backed by Ebadi, which seeks to change Iran’s “discriminatory” laws for women in marriage, divorce, inheritance and child custody.
Canada has expressed concern over the apparent arrest of six Iranian Bahais and called for their release, while deploring an “ongoing decline” in the country’s human rights situation.
“Canada is deeply concerned by the arbitrary arrest of six Iranian Bahais” on May 14, Foreign Minister Maxime Bernier said.
“These individuals were detained solely on the basis of their faith. This is unacceptable [and] we call on the Iranian authorities to ensure the immediate and safe release of these prisoners”.
The Bahai faith is banned in Islamic Iran, which Bernier said “has a history of abuse against religious minorities” and continues to show disregard for the rights of its people.
“Canada and the international community remain alarmed by the ongoing decline in the state of human rights in Iran”, he said, and urged Teheran to live up to its commitments to protect freedom of conscience and religion.
Bernier indicated that those arrested were members of the Friends of Iran, a group which coordinates activities of the Bahai community and which has been targeted by the authorities for years “despite its peaceful nature”.
The arrests follow the Iranian judiciary’s sentencing in January of 54 Bahai members for anti-regime propaganda.
The Bahai faith was originally developed in Iran in the nineteenth century and now has members worldwide, but it is not recognized by the Iranian government. Its followers are regarded as infidels and have been persecuted since the 1979 revolution.
Bahais consider Bahaullah, born in 1817, the last prophet sent to mankind by God, while Muslims believe the last messenger of God is the Prophet Mohammad.

Fresh crackdown on websites
An Iranian press report said last Tuesday that the authorities had blocked access to several websites and blogs of women’s rights advocates and journalists critical of the government,
The move followed a new directive sent out by a committee tasked with identifying illegal websites to Internet service providers, the reformist Etemad Melli newspaper said without giving a source.
“There seems to be a tougher approach this time as some sites and weblogs belonging to women’s rights and human rights campaigners, writers critical of the government and well-known journalists” have been singled out, it said.
Internet providers in Iran have in recent years been told to block access to hundreds of political, human rights and women’s sites and weblogs for expressing dissent or deemed to be pornographic and anti-Islamic.
The report said several feminist websites including Meydaan-e Zanan (Women’s Field), Kanoun Zanan Irani (Iranian Women’s Center), Shir Zanan, which covers women’s sporting events, and “Change for Equality” have been blocked.
The ban has targeted the “One Million Signatures” campaign websites launched in different Iranian cities as well as in Germany, Kuwait, Cyprus and California in the United States, the report said.
The campaign seeks to change the Islamic republic’s laws for women in marriage, divorce, inheritance and child custody by collecting signatures online and in person.
The ban has also targeted popular social networking sites and news sites, while several cyber journalists and bloggers have been detained.
With more than half the 70-million-strong population aged under 30, Iran has one of the highest number of bloggers in the world. Persian-language blogs have multiplied since a crackdown on the reformist press by the judiciary.


2003 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Slams Clinton’s “Obliteration” Remark: She is Exception to the Norm

By Omid Memarian for Huffingtonpost (May 13, 2008)

“Occasionally we run across women who are worse warmongers than men,” Ms. Shirin Ebadi, the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize laureate, told me in an interview. I had asked her opinion about Sen. Clinton’s latest remark on the “obliteration” of Iran if it were to launch a nuke attack against Israel. Ms. Ebadi, who is one of the most outspoken human rights activists in the world today, continued:

Women usually stand at the forefront of peace activism, because they suffer the most during a war. They lose husbands and sons and are sometimes raped during a war. That’s why most women seek peace. Of course there are always exceptions to the norm. I hope Mrs. Clinton made those statements in search of the votes of extremists in her country, not as her personal belief. She has said that if Israel is threatened in any way, she will obliterate Iran. It saddens me to see a woman abandon her position of peace and construction and think about war and destruction. I would say it is not possible to obliterate a country with a 3,000-year old history. Perhaps, as Mrs. Clinton suggests, military bombers can “obliterate” a few places in Iran, but you cannot obliterate 3,000 years of history.

My reply to people such as Mrs. Clinton, who use their fear of Israel’s destruction as an excuse to attack Iran, is to remind them that Iran has been a refuge for Jewish people since the era of Cyrus The Great. Jews have lived peacefully in Iran for centuries. One of their oldest and most famous settlements is in Iran. Iran must be judged by its 3,000-year history, not by its performance over the past 30 years after the Islamic Revolution, or the past two years, since Ahmadinejad [came into office in 2005].

The Iranian government has never declared any plans to attack Israel. Certain current rhetoric has created excuses for an attack on Iran, the likes of which Mrs. Clinton suggests.


Ebadi says intervention cannot solve Iran’s problems

By Edgar Zuniga Jr. for The Daily Utah Chronicle (Wednesday, April 23, 2008)

Despite blasting Iran’s human rights record on several accounts, Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi said she believes the solutions to those human rights violations will come from the Iranian people and not foreign military intervention.

About 700 students, professors and community members filled the Union Ballroom Friday morning to welcome and listen to Shirin Ebadi, an Iranian crusader of women and children’s rights who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2003. The talk, titled “Human Rights: The Struggle for Iran,” comprised the second-annual World Leaders Lecture Forum, which last year welcomed former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak.

“Democracy and human rights can only grow and flourish in a sound and peaceful environment,” Ebadi said through an interpreter.

Ebadi said a military attack or even a threat of a military attack would worsen the human rights situation in Iran tremendously.

She said there should be no militaries, but until that day, governments around the world should dedicate 10 percent of their current military spending to education. Ebadi said violence is propagated in children’s lives through things such as toy guns and violent video games. To promote peace, Ebadi urged governments around the world to restrict such toys and replace them with books and pens.

“I especially liked what she said about how foreign interventions or military endeavors are not necessarily the best option,” said Sawaiba Khan, a senior in history and English. “People within their own countries have the right to make changes and influence their own countries without needing a foreign military.”

Human rights is an international standard on how to live, and it has nothing to do with the West or East, Muslims or Christians, Ebadi said. She said many Middle Eastern governments, including Iran, use Islam as a pretext to enforce their own interpretation of Islam on their people and limit their human rights. For example, Ebadi said in a country like Saudi Arabia, women cannot drive or enjoy other rights, but other Islamic countries such as Indonesia or Pakistan have women becoming political leaders decades ago.

“I admired what she said about the interpretation of Islam, because the problem (in Muslim countries) is not Islam,” said Khadija Guet, a senior in French. “It’s a stereoytype, but the real problem is how certain leaders interpret Islam.”

Ebadi was especially critical of the Iranian government. She said Iran has joined the International Convention on the Rights of the Child, but said regretfully that laws within the country are incompatible with the International Convention.

Ebadi said children in Iran are equally liable as adults for crimes, so a 10-year-old girl would be tried the same way as a 40-year-old man before an Iranian court. Ebadi also mentioned significant problems related to the legal marriage of under-age girls. She said “legislations in Iran are basically 200 years behind in terms of what has been learned about children.”

Iranian leaders have misinterpreted Islamic law to argue that the value of a woman’s life is worth half that of a man, therefore two women need to testify before a judge to equate one male witness’ testimony, Ebadi said. Ebadi said a country cannot be democratically minded and deny half of its citizens basic rights.

As Ebadi left the ballroom to standing ovations and roaring applause, Nayereh Fallahi, a Persian instructor, said, “I admire Shirin Ebadi highly because she has been fighting for the rights children and women (in Iran) not just today, not just yesterday, but for as long as I’ve known of her.”


Iran: Tied to its program

By Kamal Nazer Yasin for ISN Security Watch (06/03/08)

The latest UN sanctions against Iran are a setback for Tehran but their overall impact should be gauged in political rather than economic terms, Kamal Nazer Yasin writes for ISN Security Watch.

With 14 members in support and only Indonesia abstaining, the UN Security Council has approved a new round of sanctions against Iran for its refusal to halt uranium enrichment.

This was the third time the Security Council had imposed sanctions on Iran in less than two years.

The new measures, approved 3 March, include the freezing of assets and travel restrictions on a number of civilian and military individuals involved with Iran’s nuclear program. Previous sanctions had targeted five individuals and 12 companies. The new resolution adds 13 more names to that list.

The resolution also bans trade in dual-use material and technologies. To that end, the Security Council has authorized the inspection of shipments suspected of containing banned items carried by two Iranian state-owned transportation companies. Finally, the Security Council has called for increased vigilance in monitoring the activities of certain Iranian financial institutions.

It is highly doubtful, however, that this new round of sanctions will cause Tehran to cease and desist any time soon. Iran will only accede to demands to halt its nuclear program, experts say, only when faced with the overwhelming threat of force or sanctions that are crippling and political incentives that are too enticing to ignore.

Jon Wolfsthal, senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, DC, believes that as far as incentives are concerned, the publication of the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran in December 2007 has for all practical purposes removed the threat of force from the equation.

As for the sanctions, he told ISN Security Watch that their “cumulative force […] at this point [is] rather negligible.”

Sharon Squassoni, an analyst at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, likewise believes that the new sanctions are not drastic enough to deter Iran’s nuclear program. In her view, the sanctions’ true impact should be understood for their political rather than economic significance.

“The latest sanctions show Iran that it is the entire international community that wants Iran’s program stopped and not just the US and western Europe,” she told ISN Security Watch.

The same goes for the incentives. It is true, for example, that leading western European countries, with tacit US backing, have of late offered a series of economic and political incentives to Tehran – in fact they insist the offer is still on the table. But these offers invariably fall short of what Iranian leaders consider “the bare minimum” for a bargain. For instance, an incentives package that does not include a non-aggression pact of some sort with Washington has very little chance of endorsement by Iran.

Political divisions
Yet another factor that seems to be working in Iran’s favor is the state of political divisions in today’s world. A glance at the behind-the-scenes maneuverings before and at the time of the Security Council vote is highly indicative of the diplomatic situation.

The first draft of the current sanction – which was incidentally much more sweeping and punitive than in its present form – was first proposed by the UK nearly eight months ago. In late August 2007, Iran came to an agreement with Mohammad Elbaradei, the head of the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), over the angry objections of the US, to answer most of the Agency’s questions on its nuclear program in return for a delay in the IAEA report on Iran.

In December, the US’ NIE report on Iran was published, asserting that Iran had stopped the military side of its program in 2003 – a development attributed to the fall-out from the Iraq war.

Even in its present form, according to diplomats, the latest sanctions resolution has been watered down several times to satisfy the wishes of Libya, South Africa and Vietnam, the three non-permanent members of the Security Council. (For example, these countries asked that the inspection of ships and planes carrying Iranian goods be carried out according to local and international laws.)

French President Nikolas Sarkozy had to lobby personally for the resolution during his travel in Africa last week.

Finally, according to diplomats, Russia had made its vote on the resolution contingent on the absence of another resolution against Iran at the IAEA Board of Governors in Geneva on 4 March.

As another instance of recent global developments, in its hunger for new markets, China has vastly increased its economic cooperation with Iran at the very moment when most western European countries are pulling out of the Iranian market. Chinese ambassador to Iran, Liu Zhentang, told a press conference last July that trade between the two countries was set to increase by 27 percent in 2008 to US$20 billion.

Resolution still a setback for Iran Notwithstanding the economic issues, the resolution is still a setback for Tehran. Iranian leaders were hoping that once they could come up with convincing answers to the IAEA’s technical questions under an agreement called the “Work Plan,” they could get a positive bill of health from the Agency, which in turn would pave the way for the withdrawal of Iran’s file from the Security Council.

For a while it seemed that things were going reasonably well. Iran began to cooperate very closely with the Agency, answering most of its questions and allowing its inspectors unprecedented access to scientists and restricted sites.

However, immediately before or at the conclusion of the Work Plan in early February, the Bush administration turned over to the IAEA a huge file on Iran’s alleged weaponization program, which a “walk-in” defector purportedly had made available to American intelligence back in 2004.

Some of the new information was then given to the Iranian side by the IAEA sometime in the first week of February. The documents, which allegedly originated from an Iranian scientist’s stolen laptop computer, included diagrams and data on a variety of activities prohibited under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Among these were war-head designs for nuclear bombs, missile re-entry vehicles and above-ground explosive devices.

Iran immediately called the documents forgeries and flatly denied their authenticity. Tehran demanded that they not be included in the IAEA report to the board of governors.

When ElBaradei’s report on Iran was finally published on 22 February, he took a middle position in the debate. While praising Iran’s extraordinary cooperation with the agency, he expressed concern about the new information, asking Iran to clarify the “alleged weaponization studies.”

According to the New York Times, the Agency’s chief inspector made the new information available to IAEA diplomats three days after the report’s publication. A week later, the Security Council passed a resolution against Iran for its refusal to stop uranium enrichment.

ElBaradei’s report has completely changed the way the international community will look at Iran’s nuclear program from now on, according to Squassoni. “Even if only one of the allegations made in the report is true,” she told ISN Security Watch, “it means Iran has been lying all along.”

In Iran, once ElBaradei’s report was published and it became clear that a sanctions’ resolution was imminent, the government made a hasty propaganda offensive to offset any adverse publicity that could result from the news.

Government officials from the president down to provincial authorities called the publication of the report “a historic victory” and a “vindication,” while some mosques started handing out pastries to their worshipers in celebration.

Later, after the Security Council resolution was announced, Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, the country’s highest decision-making body, sent a secret directive to all newspaper editors, directing them in very explicit language as to what they should publish about the resolution – a phenomenon not seen in Iran for quite some time.

Snubbed in Iraq
This was not the only bad news for the government of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad this week. While paying a historic visit to Iraq as the first head of state of a Muslim country, he failed to meet with the country’s top four Grand Ayatollahs.

According to Stratfor, a Texas-based strategic forecasting company, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani declined to meet Ahmadinejad though he had met with his chief presidential rival, Tehran Mayor Mohmmad Ali Ghalibaf, only days before.

There are no indications that Iran will stop its nuclear program. The Ahmadinejad government has tied its very reputation to the success of this program to a point where any retreat now would be considered tantamount to treason by its supporters.

The pro-government newspaper Kayhan wrote in a 5 March editorial that should the Security Council “insist on its illegal and politically motivated interferences” in Iran’s internal affairs by inspecting Iranian-bound cargoes, Iran should retaliate by inspecting other country’s cargoes in the Strait of Hormuz.

Kamal Nazer Yasin is the pseudonym of an Iranian journalist reporting for ISN Security Watch from Tehran.


IRAN: Candidate Purge Smacks of a “Vendetta”, Critics Say

By Omid Memarian

23 January, 2008

BERKELEY, California, Feb 12 (IPS) – The mass disqualification of reformist parliamentary candidates by Iran’s Guardian Council, which oversees the electoral rolls, has diminished the possibility of fair elections on Mar. 14, observers say.

The Guardian Council is comprised of influential clerics and lawmakers. Half of its members are appointed by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and the other half by the Parliament, both of which are conservative.

Last week, authorities confirmed that more than 2,400 candidates would not be allowed to run for the Parliament’s 290 seats. Three former ministers, a dozen provincial governors, prominent reformists, and MPs who worked under the reformist president Mohammad Khatami (1997-2005) are among the disqualified candidates. Surprisingly, 20 sitting MPs have been barred from running in the parliamentary elections.

Also, for the first time since the 1979 Revolution, a member of Ayatollah Khomeini’s family is among the disqualified nominees. Ali Eshraghi, a grandson of Khomeini, founder of the Islamic Republic, was rejected because of “lack of loyalty to Islam and the constitution”.

“Among political activists and candidates, there are several types of opinions and approaches to [the upcoming] elections,” said Zahra Eshraghi, Ali Eshraghi’s sister and also a sister-in-law to Khatami. “Some of them say that they will not run any candidates — though they are not condoning a boycott, because boycotting the elections may facilitate the election of individuals who might make things even worse.”

“Another group states that they will participate, offering a list of candidates, however, advising people to choose whomever they wish,” Eshraghi told IPS, “Yet another group says that they would settle for the bare minimum, meaning that even if one, two, or three of their candidates are elected to Parliament, it is better than sitting on the sidelines and doing nothing.”

The unprecedented disqualifications, whose scale is greater than it was in elections four years ago, will almost certainly retain the conservatives’ absolute majority in the next parliament.

Last week, Khatami called the mass disqualifications of reformist candidates a “disaster” and warned against “pre-determining people’s votes”.

“I believe that the government never intended to let us participate in the Parliamentary ‎elections,” Seyyed Mohammad Ali Abtahi, who served as Khatami’s vice president from 2001 to 2004, told IPS in a phone interview. “By laying off managers from all levels in the government during the past two years, it seemed like ‎the administration was attempting to institute a system in which no one would be left to criticise ‎it. It was natural for them to look at elections with the same mindset.”

He said that while the sheer number of ‎disqualifications surprised even many in the conservative camp, ‎the general strategy of disqualifications had been “talked about openly and ‎repeatedly by officials in the administration ever since the new group took office.”

On Sunday, Ahmad Tavakkoli, a conservative who represents the capital Tehran in Parliament, wrote a letter to the Guardian Council urging it to reexamine the petitions of the rejected candidates. He criticised some Council members for their lack of experience and cited difficulties related to registration of candidates on the Internet.

“Pre-determining people’s votes” has apparently been orchestrated by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s hardliner government, which has been among the least tolerant toward its critics since the Islamic Revolution. “Military commanders and those ‎affiliated with the radical, hardliner movement now serve as our governors and supervisors,” Abtahi said.

While many believe that the disqualifications could taint the legitimacy of the elections, Abtahi believes that Ahmadinejad and his advisors are not afraid to bear the cost. “There was a time when ‎the government shied away from doing things like that, but the current administration actually prefers to take responsibility for disqualifying reformist candidates,” he said.

The reformist candidates who have been qualified by the Guardian Council are mostly relatively unknown, although they could form a considerable minority in Parliament.

While many experts, including a faction of conservative camp, believe that the disqualifications will damage the government’s credibility, Eshraghi said that the government appears ready to accept the consequences. “In fact, this is a massive political elimination, a vendetta, done by the government,” she added.

Ali Mazrooie, a former member of parliament who has been disqualified by the Ministry of Interior, told IPS that it was unprecedented for the Ministry of Interior’s oversight committee to disqualify ‎candidates for “lack of belief and conviction in Islam and the Islamic Republic of Iran” ‎and “lack of belief in Constitution and absolute supreme leadership,” some of the reasons that have been given to exclude candidates.

“That was a job formerly reserved for ‎the Guardian Council,” Mazrooie said.

“The government’s view is that it is doing a very good job, and that this is precisely what it was elected to do,” Zahra Eshraghi, the granddaughter of Ayatollah Khomeini, told IPS. “They didn’t risk leaving the disqualifications [only] to the Guardian Council, where some candidates might dodge the disqualifications, making it to the parliament.”

Guardian Council has until Feb. 22 to study the rejected candidates’ petitions.

*Omid Memarian is a peace fellow at the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California, Berkeley. He has won several awards, including Human Rights Watch’s highest honour in 2005, the Human Rights Defender Award. igning, which starts on March 6 and lasts a week.


Iran reformists fear mass exclusion from key vote

Gulf in Media

Agence France-Presse – 23 January, 2008

Iranian reformists said on Tuesday they fear many of their candidates will be disqualified ahead of parliamentary elections in March, as a vetting body was set to reveal the results.

“We have received worrying information in the past week indicating that a surprising number of reformist candidates will be rejected,” Reformists’ Coalition spokesman Abdollah Nasseri said on the group’s website.

Seven incumbent reformist MPs were expected to be disqualified by the interior ministry’s Executive Committees, tasked with screening 7,168 hopefuls ahead of the March 14 polls, the group said.

“We have received some information about rejected candidates. It is still too early for conclusions but we fear there will be a number of major disqualifications,” a reformist politician told AFP, asking not to be named.

The coalition groups 21 pro-reform groups, inspired by former president Mohammad Khatami.

Major reformist party National Confidence, which is headed by former parliament speaker Mehdi Karroubi, has had most of its candidates rejected, according to student news agency ISNA.

“According to the information received, 70 percent of our candidates have been disqualified, which is worrying,” party spokesman Esmail Gerami Moqaddam told the agency.

The vetting body, which gathers information from the police, intelligence ministry, the judiciary and through local inquiries, was due to begin informing the potential candidates of the results on Tuesday.

The committees will also pass the results on to the Surveillance Commissions of the Guardians Council, a powerful electoral watchdog controlled by conservatives which has the final say on the fate of candidates.

Reformists fear a repeat of 2004 polls when the Guardians Council barred more than 2,000, mostly reformist, candidates out of 8,172. The conservatives won a landslide victory in the elections which were hit by a low turnout.

Nasseri said the reformists “will use all legal means to have candidates stand,” but warned that “obviously we will only participate in a competitive election.”

Rejected candidates have until January 26 to appeal to the Surveillance Commissions. If that fails, they can appeal directly to the Guardians Council, which has 20 days to give its opinion.

Nasseri said the conservatives who control the screening bodies could approve certain reformist candidates just days before the polls and so deny them enough time for campaigning, which starts on March 6 and lasts a week.


Iran: Rights situation deteriorating, says European MP after Tehran mission


December 16, 2007

Brussels, 14 Dec. (AKI) – The human rights situation in Iran is worsening on all fronts, whether its the rights of women, labour unions or the right to freedom of expression in the country.

This is according to Vittorio Agnoletto, a member of the European parliament (MEP), who is also a member of the parliament’s committee on foreign affairs. Agnoletto was recently part of a European parliamentary mission to Tehran.

The mission met a number of high level officials in Iran including foreign minister Manouchehr Mottaki and the president of the parliament, Gholam Ali Haddad-Adel, as well as the leaders of various human rights organisations, student groups, unions and the family members of activists detained by the authorities.

In an interview with Adnkronos International (AKI), Agnoletto said that the Iranian authorities, did cooperate with the mission. When the authorities asked for the names of all the student leaders, union representatives and leaders of women’s groups that they had met, the EU mission representatives refused to give the names and this was eventually accepted.

Despite this, the left-wing MEP said that the general trend was worrrying.

“We ascertained that there has been a decisive worsening of the human rights situation in Iran,” Agnoletto told AKI.

He said that the Iranian authorities that they spoke to asked them not to consider the Canadian-sponsored proposal at the United Nations to condemn Iran’s human rights record.

However he said that they turned down the request.

Agnoletto gave a variety of examples as to why the mission decided to take the strong stand on Iran’s human rights record.

“A proposal for reform on the rights of the family was presented to parliament, encouraging polygamy and putting the jurisdiction and care of children to fathers. It’s a return to archaic rights, pre-1968, when it required a dictatorial regime, that of the Shah, to modernise the system,” he said.

Agnoletto also pointed out to another worrying issue that while 60 percent of the students at university are women and even a higher number are graduates, the authorities want to pass a law to fix this “imbalance”.

The trade unions are also in a dire situation.

“They continue to imprison many union leaders, even if the constitution does not recognise the right to go on strike. In fact when people are arrested in such cases, it’s because it’s a “breach of the peace.”

On top of all of this, there is the issue of capital punishment in Iran. Agnoletto said that among those who have been sentenced to death there are also minors.

“According to the Iranians, there has been a moratorium on the death penalty for four years, but even recently youths have been condemned for crimes they committed when they were 13 years old,” he said.

The MEP also highlighted the activities of Iranian student leaders.

“On 7 december, Iran commemorates the three students who were killed in 1943 for having protested against the excessive foreign penetration of the country. However between 2 and 4 December, 42 students were arrested for promoting events that were not authorised, and 28 of them are still in jail, without even knowing what they have been accused of,” he said.

“Another four people were arrested in the days following the earlier arrests,” he said.

Agnoletto also highlighted the suspension of various university professors.

All these criticisms of Iran’s human rights records have been denied by the Iranian authorities who instead cite the rights abuses at the US detention centre at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, abuses are Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison and the excessive police violence at the 2001 G8 protests in Genoa in Italy.

The only criticism that the Iranian authorities agreed to was that with regards to press freedom.

“It’s a shame however that there was no trace of this observation in the Iranian newspapers,” he said.


Mothers of Peace

New York Times

December 4, 2007

More than 500 Iranian women calling themselves “mothers of peace” have signed a letter to senior officials expressing their fear that there will be a war over Iran’s nuclear program.

The letter refers to the economic sanctions already imposed by the United Nations Security Council and the increasing United States military presence in the Persian Gulf as evidence that Iran could be moving toward a military confrontation with the United States. The letter warns the Iranian authorities that the signatories are not willing to support the government in its insistence on continuing its nuclear program.

“We, mothers of peace, want to express our deepest concerns over the country’s critical situation,” said the letter signed by 521 women, which was posted on and other major political news Web sites.

“We are worried about the prices that we and our children will have to pay during a period of such insecurity,” the letter added.

It is highly unusual for an Iranian citizens’ group to question publicly the country’s nuclear policy and acknowledge the effects of the economic sanctions imposed by the United Nations on people’s lives. The group announced its formation in November as a movement seeking peace and freedom.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has repeatedly brushed off the sanctions as insignificant and has said that the Iranian people are willing to resist any type of international pressure related to the country’s nuclear program. He has even called senior officials who have criticized his nuclear policies “traitors.”

The government says its program is for peaceful energy purposes, while the United States has contended that its purpose is to develop nuclear weapons.

Among the signatories were political activists as well as homemakers and artists. According to the Web site, 300 more women have signed the letter, in addition to the original group, and even more are adding their names online.

“We have not forgotten the bitter days of war,” the letter said, referring to the war with Iraq from 1980 to 1988. “We are still mourning the loss of our loved ones, and we watch the suffering of the disabled and see the names of our martyrs on the streets.”


Iran leader’s blog attracts critics

Robert Tait in Tehran
The Guardian

Article published Monday November 26, 2007

When Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Iranian president, wanted to create a forum to trumpet his populist political message without the interference of media and opposition catcalls he launched his own blog.

But he may have failed to reckon with the merciless mud-slinging and sarcasm that characterises communication in much of cyberspace. Far from being a repository of fawning admiration, Ahmadinejad’s blog has attracted criticism as scathing as that voiced by his known adversaries.

Somewhat gleefully, the reformist newspaper Etemad reported yesterday that some respondents were venting their spleen with little regard for pleasantries.

One writer – calling himself Sadegh Al Ebrahim – sarcastically congratulated Ahmadinejad on his success in creating new jobs through last summer’s decision to ration petrol. “In our city before rationing there were two petrol stations, of which one was always shut. But now, due to you, we have 3,000 petrol sellers,” the message reads, hinting at the rampant black market.

Another, claiming to be “on behalf of the more than 50 million people who didn’t vote for you”, berates Ahmadinejad for high unemployment and high inflation. The writer says: “Instead of useless provincial trips, fake propaganda on state TV and unrealistic news fed to you by your aides, you should come to the heart of the society.”

The critical messages are counter-balanced by many others that are positive, including several that praise Ahmadinejad for his performance in September at Columbia University in New York.


The Secret Dealings of Israel, Iran, and the United States


Article published 25/09/2007

  • Ervand Abrahamian, Iran expert and CUNY Distinguished Professor of History at Baruch College, City University of New York. He is the author of several books on Iran and the co-author of a new book from City Lights called “Targeting Iran.”
  • Trita Parsi, President of the National Iranian American Council (NIAC), the largest Iranian-American organization in the US. He is the author of “Treacherous Alliance: The Secret Dealings of Israel, Iran, and the United States.”

AMY GOODMAN: For more on Ahmadinejad’s visit, we’re joined by two guests. Ervand Abrahamian is an Iran expert and CUNY Distinguished Professor of History at Baruch College here at the City University of New York. He’s the author of several books on Iran, co-author of a new book from City Lights called Targeting Iran. And joining me from Washington, D.C. is Trita Parsi. He’s the president of the National Iranian American Council, the largest Iranian American organization in the United States, author of Treacherous Alliance: The Secret Dealings of Israel, Iran and the United States.

First, Ervand Abrahamian, can you talk about the president’s visit? Did anything he said — this is Mahmoud Ahmadinejad — surprise you?

ERVAND ABRAHAMIAN: Well, I was surprised because he didn’t really use the opportunity to try to lower the tempo, the serious problem we have now, which is we’re at the abyss of war, basically. And there are people pushing for war in the next few months. And this would have been a very good opportunity to try to smooth things over, try to calm the tempo down.

And it’s not just he who missed the opportunity. I think Bollinger missed the opportunity. In fact, Bollinger’s speech was like a drumbeat for war. And most of the questions from the audience missed the opportunity. They dealt basically with important identity questions, but they didn’t really deal with the issue that we are really on the abyss of war. And this is a far more serious issue than, you know, either ethnic or gender issues.

And he, actually, I think — although he made some statements about Iran is not interested in nuclear weapons, he could have been more forthright and more categorical about the policies of Iran in terms of the nuclear project.

AMY GOODMAN: Does this remind you of Saddam Hussein before the war?

ERVAND ABRAHAMIAN: It does. In fact, Ahmadinejad didn’t say it last night — yesterday, but his policy is that there is no likelihood of war, because no one in their right senses would think of invading or attacking Iran. And that’s the premise he works on, which is, I think, a completely wrong premise, because he doesn’t seem to understand American politics, the same people who gave us the war on Iraq, the same people who are running foreign policy now. But he begins from the premise that no one in their right senses would think of attacking Iran.

AMY GOODMAN: Trita Parsi, you have written a very interesting book, Treacherous Alliance: The Secret Dealings of Israel, Iran and the United States. Can you take us back in time and talk about the relationship, the secret dealings, between these three countries?

TRITA PARSI: Israel has for a very long time been a critical factor in America’s formulation of a policy vis-a-vis Iran. But what’s really interesting is that the influence of Israel has gone in completely different directions, if we just go back fifteen years. During the 1980s, in spite of the Iranian Revolution, in spite of Ayatollah Khomeini’s many, many harsh remarks about Israel, far, far worse than what anything Ahmadinejad has said so far, Israel at the time was the country that was lobbying the United States to open up talks with Iran to try to rebuild the US-Iran relations, because of strategic imperatives that Israel had. Israel needed Iran, because it was fearing the Arab world and a potential war with the Arabs.

After 1991, ’92, that’s when you see the real shift in Israeli-Iranian relations, because that’s when the entire geopolitical map of the Middle East is redrawn. The Soviet Union collapses. The last standing army of the Arabs, that of Saddam Hussein, is defeated in the Persian Gulf War. And you have an entirely new security environment in the Middle East, in which the two factors, the Soviets and the Arabs, that had pushed Iran and Israel closer together suddenly evaporate. But as their security environment improves, they also start to realize that they may be ending up in a situation in which they can become potential threats to each other. And that’s when you see how the Israelis shift 180 degrees. Now the Israeli argument was that the United States should not talk to Iran, because there is no such thing as Iranian moderates.

And ever since, the Israelis and the pro-Israel interest in the United States have lobbied to make sure that there is no dialogue or there’s no rapprochement between the United States and Iran. And the Iranians have done similar things. They have undermined every US foreign policy initiative in the Middle East that they feared would be beneficial to Israel. So the real shift in Israeli-Iranian relations come after the Cold War, not with the revolution in 1979.

AMY GOODMAN: But I also do want you to go right back to 1948 and talk about that period up to 1991. What were the secret relationships?

TRITA PARSI: Well, immediately after Israel was founded, Iran was actually one of the states on the committee at the UN who was preparing a plan, and they were against the partition. They were against the idea of creating two states. And Iran, at the time, said that this would lead to several decades of crisis. But once Israel was a fact, the Iranian government felt that because it was facing a hostile Arab world, as well as a very hostile Arab ideology, Pan-Arabism, Israel was a potential ally for the Iranians, particularly as Israel started to shift closer and closer to the Western camp and the United States. So throughout the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s, the Iranians and the Israelis were working very, very closely together, had a very robust alliance.

They tried to keep it secret. It wasn’t necessarily very secret, but Iran never recognized Israel de jure. They recognized it de facto. They had an Israeli mission in Tehran, but they never permitted it to be called an embassy. They had an Israeli envoy to Tehran, but they never called him an ambassador. When the Israeli planes were landing at the Tehran airport, they created — they built a specific tarmac off the airport for Israeli planes to land, so that no one would really see that there are so many El Al planes flying to Tehran. And the reason why the Iranians were doing this is because, on the one hand, they needed Israel as an ally because they were fearful of the Arab world, and, on the other hand, they felt that if they got too close to Israel, they would only fuel Arab anger towards Iran.

AMY GOODMAN: Trita Parsi, you have a number of revelations in your book. One of them is that the Iranian prime minister asked Israel permission to assassinate Khomeini. Describe the circumstance.

TRITA PARSI: Circumstances was right before the revolution, in which the Israelis were very, very concerned. They were fearful that the new regime would be very hostile to Israel, and they weren’t certain that they would be able to build the same type of secret relations with Iran as they had during the time of the Shah. It later on turned out that they actually did have that ability, not to the same extent, but they still could do it.

But the Iranian prime minister was eager to be able to get rid of Khomeini, fearing — thinking that by Khomeini being eliminated, the revolution would be able to move in a different direction. And he asked the Israelis if they could do it, because Khomeini at the time was in Paris; the Iranians did not have the ability to do anything, but they thought that perhaps the Israelis would. The Israeli answer was apparently that this is not Israel’s job and that Israel is not the policemen of the world.

AMY GOODMAN: What about Israel reaching out to Saddam Hussein after the Gulf War?

TRITA PARSI: After the first Persian Gulf War, there was a thinking in Israel at the time that Saddam had now been weakened, he was no longer a real threat, and at the end of the day the real potential threat in the future, the rising power, was Iran. So the Israelis were trying to find different ways of being able to find some sort of a modus vivendi with Saddam Hussein.

This significantly angered the Clinton administration, that was pursuing a policy of isolating both Iran and Iraq at the same time, and they were very annoyed that the Israelis were trying to find some sort of a relationship with Saddam in the midst of all of that.

Now, the Israeli initiative didn’t go anywhere, but it was guided by the thinking that Iran was going to be the major threat. And even though Iran at the time really was not a threat to Israel, Israel already at that time treated it as an actual threat.

AMY GOODMAN: The United States foiling Iran’s plan to withdraw support from Hamas and Hezbollah.

TRITA PARSI: We talked about that before, that there was a 2003 proposal that the Iranians sent over to the United States trying to find a larger accommodation between the United States and Iran, in which they basically put all the different issues on the table, including an offer, within the framework of the negotiations, to disarm Hezbollah and turn it into a mere political organization — had that happened, there would probably not have been a war last year between Israel and Lebanon — secondly, to end all support for Islamic jihad and Hamas and encourage the Palestinians to go a political route, rather than military route, in their dealings with Israel.

But what’s revealed in the book, as well, that has not been out in the media a lot is that prior to giving this proposal to the United States, the Iranians were fishing it around in Europe, trying to create some support for it. And, most importantly, they went to places that they knew Israelis were going to be. And they were presenting the framework, the concept of this grand bargain, and they wanted to make sure that the Israelis felt that this would not be something that would come at their expense, because they were concerned that the Israelis would try to undermine it. So they were basically sending a signal: Look, if we can have this accommodation with the United States, we will disentangle and basically not be so involved in the Israeli-Palestinian issue anymore.

AMY GOODMAN: Trita Parsi is author of Treacherous Alliance: The Secret Dealings of Israel, Iran and the United States. Our guest also, Ervand Abrahamian, Iran expert, Distinguished Professor at Baruch College. I wanted, Professor Abrahamian, to read from Juan Cole’s piece, who says, talking about Ahmadinejad, “He has been depicted as a Hitler figure intent on killing Israeli Jews, even though he is not commander in chief of the Iranian armed forces, has never invaded any other country, denies he is an anti-Semite, has never called for any Israeli civilians to be killed, and allows Iran’s 20,000 Jews to have representation in Parliament,” that Khamenei is the one with the real power.

ERVAND ABRAHAMIAN: He is right on target, yes. I think Juan Cole sums it up. And the question is, then, why is basically in American politics so much focused on Ahmadinejad? I think he serves the function that Saddam Hussein played. He’s an easy person to demonize. And yesterday’s Bollinger’s introduction, when he described him as a dictator, I think, shows how little people like Bollinger really know about the Iranian political system. One can call Ahmadinejad many things, but a dictator he is by no means. He can’t even — he doesn’t even have the power to appoint his own cabinet ministers. It’s a presidency with very limited power. And to claim that he is in a position to threaten the United States or Israel is just bizarre, frankly. I think someone like Bollinger should know more about Iran before they sling around smears like terms such as “dictator.”

AMY GOODMAN: Well, talk about Khamenei, then, if he is the one with real power.

ERVAND ABRAHAMIAN: Here, again, he is, you can say, the Supreme Leader, but the Iranian system is actually very sort of a collective leadership. The foreign policy is made in a council, where the Supreme Leader appoints those members, but there are very different views there. And Ahmadinejad does not run that committee. Someone like Rafsanjani has a great deal of influence. The former President Khatami has a great deal of influence. And they are much more willing to negotiate.

In fact, they were, I think, the people who offered this grand bargain in 2003 to settle all the issues with the United States. And for reasons that are not clear, the White House just basically brushed it aside. They were not interested in pursuing this. And this is why it leads me to think that this administration is adamant in resolving the nuclear problem by military force, because if it was interested in resolving it through diplomacy, there were offers made to them to follow that route, and they have very consciously decided not follow the diplomatic routes. So if you don’t follow the diplomatic route, the only other route there is is the military route. And, of course, it’s only a question of time when they decide on air strikes.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to ask you, Trita Parsi, about this Newsweek magazine report that says that Vice President Cheney considered provoking an exchange of military strikes between Iran and Israel in order to give the US a pretext to attack Iran. A few months before he quit, the Middle East Adviser to Cheney, David Wurmser, told a small group of people that Cheney had been mulling the idea of pushing for limited Israeli missile strikes against the Iranian nuclear site at Natanz and perhaps other sites, in order to provoke Tehran into lashing out. Citing two knowledgeable sources, Newsweek put out this report. Your response?

TRITA PARSI: I think it’s definitely a plausible scenario, because one thing that we know for certain, with great certainty, is that the Israelis lack the military capability to take out Iran’s nuclear program. They can attack it, but they cannot destroy it. And the only thing that it would result to is some sort of Iranian retaliation, which would then suck the United States right into the conflict, because the United States would not be able to stand without it — outside of it, and obviously many elements in the White House would probably prefer to immediately get into it.

One of the things that I describe in the book that I think is extremely important is that when you take a look at how Iran has made its decisions vis-à-vis Israel, it’s actually been geopolitical and strategic factors that have been driving their decisions. It’s not been ideology. And I think this is a critical point, because right now you have a metaphor being presented by Bibi Netanyahu, the leader of the Likud Party, in which he’s saying that it’s 1938 and Iran is Germany. And then he goes on to imply that Ahmadinejad is Hitler. If we accept that premise, that it is 1938, that Iran is Germany and Ahmadinejad is Hitler, then who, which leader, in his or her right mind, would want to play the role of Neville Chamberlain? It’s a metaphor whose premise basically puts us in a situation in which conflict is completely inevitable. And there’s no other way, because negotiations and diplomacy simply cannot be pursued.

Fortunately, this is a false premise. Iran and Israel and the United States and Israel are not engaged in an ideological zero-sum game battle. This is a strategic rivalry. It is solvable, but it requires a tremendous amount of diplomacy to be able to find a way out of it. And unfortunately, right now, diplomacy is the last thing that one can describe the foreign policies of these countries, particularly the Bush administration.

AMY GOODMAN: I interviewed exiled Iranian activist Azar Derakhshan earlier this summer. She’s the editor of the Women of March 8 magazine and helped organize the 2006 European march against anti-women laws in Iran. I just want to play an excerpt from my conversation with her. This is Azar Derakhshan.

AZAR DERAKHSHAN: I have seen a portrait in the media, Western media. In the media, there is two sides. There is the United States and government of Iran. There are clashes. And the people, the voice of people is absent completely. And the opinion of — foreigner opinion, they think that this thing, the future of Iran is going to be decided by these two powers.

I try to tell to the people in foreigner countries, in European countries, it’s not true, this portrait. There is another fact, very important. The people of Iran, the movement, they are going to take the future. They are not forced to choose between neither the United States, neither the government of Iran. There is another force in Iran. If really somebody wants to prevent the war, the clashes, should be support this movement, this movement for equality, for freedom.

We don’t need United States to liberate us. First of all, we are here, and this is our legitimate to liberate ourselves. We want to decide about our future ourselves. We want to fight our native enemy by ourselves. We don’t need — that’s first. Second one, we already have seen, because Afghanistan and Iraq, they are neighbor of Iran. And the women of Iran, they can see it. Maybe before, not, but right now it’s really — it’s enough to know what kind of program they have for the people of Iran.

AMY GOODMAN: Iranian dissident, Azar Derakhshan. Professor Abrahamian, your response?

ERVAND ABRAHAMIAN: Well, I think she’s right in that there are — Iran is a very complicated society. There are very different political movements. And the idea that somehow it’s a frozen system, that it’s not going to change, already precludes any type of possibility of negotiations and changes. In fact, the Iranian system has an electoral system — is and electoral system. We are going to come up with elections very soon. There is no guarantee that Ahmadinejad would be re-elected again. It’s very possible that reformers, liberals, would get in into power again.

AMY GOODMAN: When is the election?

ERVAND ABRAHAMIAN: In less than two years’ time. And the base, in fact, of Ahmadinejad’s — I would say the core base — is very similar to Bush’s core base. It’s about 25%. For him to get re-elected, he has to stretch out and find independents and others, and this is going to be very hard. If the reformers can actually rally around one candidate, as they did in the 1990s, they could have landslide victories, in which over 70% of the electorate was voting for liberals and reformers.

AMY GOODMAN: And what direction would a US attack on Iran push the election?

ERVAND ABRAHAMIAN: Oh, it would play right into the hands of Ahmadinejad, because you would have a national emergency. He would declare, basically, the country’s in danger. Everyone would have to rally around the flag. People who disliked him would keep their mouth shut. At a time of when the existence of the state is in question, you don’t mess around with the leaders. He would basically be able to act as a much more of a strongman national leader.

AMY GOODMAN: Trita Parsi, you’ve had unusual access to US decision makers, Israeli decision makers, Iranian leaders. What is your sense of a strike, the US or Israel, on Iran? Is it imminent?

TRITA PARSI: Well, I don’t think an Israeli strike is imminent, unless there is some sort of coordination with the United States with the aim of being able to draw the US into the conflict. I do believe that some sort of a conflict between the United States and Iran is quite probable right now, mindful of the lack of diplomacy that is taking place.

And I also do believe that this is not necessarily something that will go away automatically just because there’s going to be a change of government in the United States within the next two years. Many of the decisions that are made right now have the impact of limiting the maneuverability of future administrations. We’re making it more and more difficult, not only for this administration, but also for future administrations, to pursue diplomacy.

And what we’re seeing in the Middle East right now is not necessarily just a conflict over what’s going on in Iraq or about Iran’s nuclear program. This is a conflict that, at the end of the day, is about two powerhouses in the region, and it’s a conflict about hegemony, for lack of a better word.

And these type of shifts, with the United States currently declining and finding itself in a more and more difficult situation in Iraq and with Iran finding itself in a stronger position and acting very, very confidently, these type of shifts historically do not take place peacefully, unless there is a tremendous amount of diplomacy. And again, we’re not seeing that right now.

And I’m very concerned that even if we manage to avoid war for the next two years, the next US administration may find itself in a position in which its maneuverability is so limited that the military option once again becomes a very viable one for them.

AMY GOODMAN: Could Ahmadinejad be playing a game like Saddam Hussein, where if it is clear he doesn’t have nuclear weapons, he’s weaker, the US would be more likely to attack? He looks at the example of North Korea, where they do have nuclear weapons, and now the US is just pursuing a diplomatic option?

TRITA PARSI: I think there’s a combination of two. On the one hand, I think a lot of his statements and his behavior is aimed to be a deterrent against the United States. He’s acting confident, and he’s talking about the United States not being able to attack. This is a way of saying that the US can’t do it, and if you do it, you will face a tremendously difficult situation. So he’s doing this partly, too, as a deterrence. It has the negative impact of scaring the daylights out of a lot of people, including a lot of Iran’s neighbors that are now gravitating towards the United States’s position, because they are very fearful of what Ahmadinejad may be capable of doing.

At the same time, I do believe that, to a certain extent, but not fully, he has actually convinced himself that Iran is in such a strong position, the United States is in such a weak position, that it can’t do it. But I think it’s a combination of these two. And I think it’s important to keep in mind that most of the belligerence that he’s doing is probably for the purpose of deterrence, not necessarily as an offensive strategy.

AMY GOODMAN: Iran’s role in Iraq?


AMY GOODMAN: Iran’s role in Iraq?

TRITA PARSI: I think the Iranians have played a game in Iraq in which they basically have invested in every potential faction in Iraq, making sure that whoever comes up on top is going to be a player who has strong relations with Iran, because it’s in Iran’s hardcore national interest to make sure that Iraq never again becomes a hostile state, so they never have to experience the eight-year war that they had with Iraq in the 1980s. So, again, I think we’re seeing a policy by the Iranian government there that is quite independent of whether Ahmadinejad is in power or not. It’s probably something that another Iranian government would be pursuing, as well, at least under this regime that we’re having in Iran right now.

And I think the only way for the United States to be able to find a way out of Iraq is not only to talk to the Iranians, but really include all of the other neighbors of Iraq into the process, giving these neighbors not only a stake in the outcome, but also a stake in the process itself. We have a tremendous amount of problems with what the Saudis are doing in Iraq and also what the Jordanians are doing. We’re not talking about that at all. On the contrary, we’re just focusing on Iran’s role.

AMY GOODMAN: Saudi’s role, very briefly?

TRITA PARSI: Saudi’s role — well, a military report just came out about two months ago — it was leaked in the LA Times — that showed that about 45% of all the suicide bombers in Iraq are Saudi nationals. We’ve known for quite some time that there’s a lot of money flowing into Iraq from Saudi Arabia that is going to the Sunni insurgents, because their belief is that they’re fighting a war against Sunnis and Shiites in Iraq. We’re not talking about that.

On the contrary, Saudi Arabia got praised by Ambassador Crocker during his testimony. And I think it’s a very one-sided way of looking at the problems we’re facing in Iraq. And as long as we pursue a very political perspective on the Iraqi situation, then I fear that we will continue to be in a rather difficult mess over there.

AMY GOODMAN: Trita Parsi, I want to thank you very much for being with us.

TRITA PARSI: Thank you so much for having me.

AMY GOODMAN: Your book, Treacherous Alliance: The Secret Dealings of Israel, Iran and the United States. And a final question for Professor Abrahamian: Are you afraid for your people? Are you afraid for the people of Iran?

ERVAND ABRAHAMIAN: Yes. I’m very much concerned that in the next few months there will be air strikes. I think what we saw before with Iraq, we are having a rerun of that, very much the same rhetoric. Tthe same type of people are pushing for war and using even the same sort of arguments that often — unsubstantiated arguments blown out of proportion. For instance, the constant drumbeat that Iran is actually supplying weaponry to the insurgents that are killing Americans, this is basically saying that Iran has already declared war on the United States. When you try to actually pin down what is the evidence for that, it boils down to the yellowcake stories and the stuff about Saddam Hussein being behind al-Qaeda. Until the United States actually gets real evidence that Iran is providing lethal weapons to the insurgents, I would not accept any of those arguments at face value.

AMY GOODMAN: Professor Abrahamian, thank you, as well, for being with us. Ervand Abrahamian is author of the book Targeting Iran.


US trains Gulf air forces for war with Iran

Tim Shipman in Washington

Article published 30/09/2007

The American air force is working with military leaders from the Gulf to train and prepare Arab air forces for a possible war with Iran, The Sunday Telegraph can reveal.

An air warfare conference in Washington last week was told how American air chiefs have helped to co-ordinate intelligence-sharing with Gulf Arab nations and organise combined exercises designed to make it easier to fight together.

Gen Michael Mosley, the US Air Force chief of staff, used the conference to seek closer links with allies whose support America might need if President George W Bush chooses to bomb Iran.

Pentagon air chiefs have helped set up an air warfare centre in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) where Gulf nations are training their fighter pilots and America has big bases. It is modelled on the US Air Force warfare centre at Nellis air force base in Nevada.

Jordan and the UAE have both taken part in combined exercises designed to make sure their air forces can fly, and fight, together and with American jets.

The conference was long-planned to discuss developments in air warfare technology, but the question of possible hostilities involving Iran was discussed.

Bruce Lemkin, the American air force deputy under-secretary for international affairs, said: “We need friends and partners with the capabilities to take care of their own security and stability in their regions and, through the relationship, the inter-operability and the will to join us in coalitions when appropriate…

“On its most basic level, it’s about flying together, operating together and training together so, if we have to, we can fight together.”

While it is unlikely that America’s Gulf allies would join any US air strike against suspected nuclear targets in Iran, their co-operation might be required to allow passage of warplanes though their airspace. American defence officials are also keen that Iran’s Arab neighbours prepare to deal with any Iranian attempt to target them in return.

Lt Gen Prince Faisal bin Al Hussein, who is special assistant to the chief of staff of the Jordanian armed forces, said “concern at Iran’s attempt to establish itself as a regional superpower” had led to greater co-operation, “not just at the inter-service level but also at the political level”.

He said the new air warfare centre had allowed them to “exchange information and exercise together”.

But Air Chief Marshal Sir Glen Torpy, the head of the RAF, voiced the fear of many British officials that America is too devoted to military solutions. He said: “In an environment like this, we always focus on the part that the military can play in solving security and foreign policy problems, but the military will rarely, if ever, be the solution.”


Neocons seek to justify action against Teheran

Tim Shipman

Article published 30/09/2007

American diplomats have been ordered to compile a dossier detailing Iran’s violations of international law that some fear could be used to justify military strikes against the Islamic republic’s nuclear programme.

Members of the US secretariat in the United Nations were asked earlier this month to begin “searching for things that Iran has done wrong”, The Sunday Telegraph has learnt.

Some US diplomats believe the exercise – reminiscent of attempts by vice-president Dick Cheney and the former defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld to build the case against Saddam Hussein before the Iraq war – will boost calls for military action by neo-conservatives inside and outside the administration.

One diplomat revealed the plans for an Iran dossier to Steven Clemons, a fellow with the New America Foundation, a Washington think-tank, who has previously revealed attempts by Mr Cheney’s allies to pressurise President George W Bush into war.

He said: “There are people more beholden to the Cheney side who have people searching for things that Iran has done wrong – making the case. They’ve been given instructions to build a dossier. They’ve been scouring around for stuff over the last couple of weeks.” He recently exposed how a member of Mr Cheney’s office used private meetings with neo-conservatives at the American Enterprise think- tank to reveal the vice-president’s frustration that Mr Bush had authorised a diplomatic strategy against Iran by his secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice.

Last week, Newsweek magazine went further, claiming that David Wurmser, until last month Mr Cheney’s Middle East adviser, had told fellow neo-conservatives that Mr Cheney had considered asking Israel to launch limited missile strikes against the Iranian nuclear site at Natanz. The intention, it was said, would be to provoke a reaction from Teheran that would help justify wider US air strikes.

Mr Wurmser, an analyst in the Pentagon unit that tried to link Saddam Hussein to the September 11 attacks, denied the claims, saying, “That conspiracy is unrecognisable to anything I have ever seen or heard or done.” But he refused to discuss Mr Cheney’s views.

Opponents of military action were further alarmed last week when it emerged that Norman Podhoretz, one of the godfathers of neo-conservatism, used a 45-minute meeting with Mr Bush at the White House to lobby for the bombing of Iran’s nuclear plants.

Mr Podhoretz disclosed that, when he said Mr Bush was just “giving futility its chance” by pursuing diplomacy, the president and his former aide Karl Rove had burst out laughing. “It struck me,” Mr Podhoretz added, “that if they really believed that there was a chance for these negotiations and sanctions to work, they would not have laughed. They would have got their backs up and said, ‘No, no, it’s not futile, there’s a very good chance’.” He said he believed “Bush is going to hit” Iran before his presidency ends.

Mr Podhoretz is highly influential. His son-in-law is Elliott Abrams, Mr Bush’s deputy national security adviser, who is regarded by US officials as a key advocate of bombing Iran. He was found guilty of withholding evidence from Congress over the Iran-Contra scandal in the 1980s.

Concern is also growing in the CIA and the Pentagon that the White House exaggerated intelligence used to justify an Israeli air raid on a suspected nuclear facility in Syria earlier this month, which some neo-conservatives hope is a precursor to war with Iran.

Bruce Reidel, a former CIA Middle East desk officer, said the neo-conservatives realised their influence would wane rapidly when Mr Bush left office in just over 15 months. “Whatever crazy idea they have to try to transform the Middle East, they have to push now. The real hardline neo-conservatives are getting desperate that the door of history is about to close on them with an epitaph of total failure.”


Kurds flee Iranian shelling of border

Washington Times

Article published Sep 2, 2007

By Yahya Barzanji – MARDOW, Iraq (AP) – As explosions boomed in the distance, a Kurdish woman stood outside her house and pointed to where shells scorched parts of her father’s grape and plum orchards.

“It was a bad day when some 20 shells hit our village in a single day last week. We were crying as we prayed to God to protect us from the bombs of the Islamic Republic of Iran,” said Serwa Ibrahim, 33, one of the few remaining villagers in Mardow, about 25 miles from the Iranian border.

Iranian troops are accused of bombing border areas for weeks against suspected positions of the Free Life Party, or PJAK, a breakaway faction of the separatist Kurdistan Workers’ Party. Iran says PJAK – which seeks autonomy for Kurds in Iran – launches attacks inside Iran from bases in Iraq.

Shelling of border areas resumed yesterday after a brief lull, with Iranian shells hitting the Iraqi side of the border and causing fires. AP Television News showed white smoke billowing from mountainous areas, and Kurdish shepherds carrying carcasses of sheep killed by the shelling.

The Iranian shelling was criticized by Iraqi officials and Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, a Kurd, warned it could have negative effects on the crucial relations between Iran and Iraq’s Shi’ite-led government.

Ari Yashir, a PJAK member, took a reporter on a tour around several deserted villages and said the Iranian attacks only serve to harm civilians.

“The bombing is only targeting villages where we have no bases,” he said. “After three weeks of Iranian shelling none of our positions was hit and not a single member of our party was wounded.”

Most of the people who fled their homes have gathered in an area known as Shewe Hasow, a valley with water springs in the Qandil Mountain area that borders Iran and Turkey. Many of them stay in tents or under covers mostly supplied by the International Committee of the Red Cross.

The Kurdish region’s interior minister, Othman Haji Mahmoud, told the Kurdish regional parliament Tuesday that the Iranian shelling led to the displacement of about 450 families in 20 villages. He said the latest wave of shelling began Aug. 14.

In Baghdad, Mr. Zebari said Tuesday that the main areas struck are in the northern provinces of Irbil and Sulaimaniyah. He said the Iranian ambassador was recently summoned to the Foreign Ministry and handed a note of protest.

“PJAK sometimes moves in border areas, but this does not permit all this continuous, daily and intensive shelling,” Mr. Zebari said.

To some Kurds in the region, they have been living the war for decades, including widespread atrocities blamed on Saddam Hussein’s regime in the 1980s.

“We are the victims of a continuous struggle. My house was destroyed five times and I rebuilt it. Let this be the sixth time,” said Abdullah Wasou Ibrahim, who fled to the refugee camp with 10 family members.


Reformist paper closed by Iran for second time

By Robert Tait in Tehran
The Guardian


Authorities in Iran closed down the country’s leading reformist newspaper yesterday in the latest stage of an offensive against President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s opponents in the media.

Shargh, which has been critical of Mr Ahmadinejad, was ordered to shut after running an interview with an anti-regime poet last Saturday. The poet, Saghi Qahraman, has been accused by the country’s Islamic rulers of promoting homosexuality.

The newspaper unsuccessfully attempted to placate official anger by publishing a front-page apology today after withdrawing the article from its website.

It was the second time Shargh had been shut in less than a year. It only re-opened in May after being closed last autumn, ostensibly because of official disapproval over the make-up of its editorial team. However, insiders believed the real reason was a cartoon depicting a haloed donkey – assumed to symbolise Mr Ahmadinejad – addressing the UN general assembly.

Shargh’s editor, Ahmad Gholami, suggested that Saturday’s interview was merely an excuse for the latest closure. “Publication of an interview is not a plausible justification for banning a newspaper,” he said.

Ham Mihan, a moderate newspaper, and ILNA, a trade union-linked news agency, were closed last month. Twenty-seven MPs recently wrote to Mr Ahmadinejad complaining about official filtering of news-based websites. They also urged him to ease the confrontational approach towards critical media.


Mahmoud Ahmadinejad silences his critics

By Colin Freeman in Teheran
Sunday Telegraph


Silenced: Abdullah Momeni, a prominent critic of the regime

Ali Nikoo Nesbati glances carefully at the couple who have just sat down at the table next to him. Aged in their 20s and dressed in fashionable Western clothes, they seem like the kind of people who’d be natural supporters of the pro-democracy movement that he leads. Yet their decision to sit right next to him, when the rest of the café in the secluded Teheran alley is empty, is enough to make him suspicious.

“They were probably just ordinary customers,” he whispered, as he ushered The Sunday Telegraph back on to the streets to continue the interview elsewhere. “But you never know. We were sat in that café for 45 minutes, which is long enough for the intelligence services to find out where we are.”

A paranoia about who might be listening is an occupational hazard for activists like Mr Nesbati, whose campaigns for reform of Iran’s theocratic government have led to constant run-ins with the secret police since the late Nineties.

But that sense of paranoia is now greater than ever, as a long-feared crackdown by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the country’s puritanical leader, finally appears to be coming into force.

In what activists claim is a “cultural revolution” reminiscent of the Islamic Republic’s turbulent birth in 1979, the regime has turned on its critics in all walks of life, harassing pro-democracy activists, shutting down dissident publications and dismissing independent-minded government officials and academics.

The onslaught has confounded early impressions that Mr Ahmadinejad, despite his religious zealotry, threats against Israel and defiance over Iran’s nuclear programme, was not proving as aggressive as feared when it came to dealing with his internal opposition.

When members of Mr Nesbati’s pro-democracy group staged a demonstration at Teheran’s Amir Kabir University last December, in which they held photos of the president upside-down and denounced him as a “fascist”, Mr Ahmadinejad surprised the world by requesting that they should not be arrested. He later cited his move as proof of the “absolute, total freedom” Iranians enjoyed.

The presidential pardon appears to have been short-lived. Eight of those protesters have since been jailed, the victims of what Mr Nesbati claims was a state-sponsored plot.

“Ahmadinejad said nobody would touch them, but the intelligence agencies smeared them by printing a blasphemous publication which they blamed on the students,” he said. “We believe that was Ahmadinejad’s revenge. We don’t know if he ordered it himself, but we are convinced it was his supporters.”

The students, one of whom has now spent more than two months in jail, are among 70 to have been arrested since Mr Ahmadinejad came to power; nearly half of these were seized in the last four months. More than 500 others have been suspended or expelled from university because of political activities, while about 130 student publications and 40 student organisations have been closed.

The accusations levelled against them typically include “endangering national security”, spreading “rumours and lies” and “having relations with foreign intelligence agencies”, all charges that Mr Nesbati has faced in his years as an activist, during which he has been arrested three times.

“They’re not really charges as such, they just assume you are guilty and then ask why you did it,” he said. “It’s stressful the first time you’re arrested but after that it’s not so bad, although it depends what they do to you.

“Sometimes people get put in a room where they’re made to stand facing a wall for 48 hours at a time. If you fall asleep, they hit you.”

Campaigners say the crackdown began in March, when Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s Supreme Spiritual Leader and a man of similar hardline views to Mr Ahmadinejad, made a speech warning Iranians against the West’s “psychological warfare”. This was taken to be a reference to Washington’s funding of opposition groups, pro-democracy movements and anti-regime satellite broadcasts.

The president, who is regarded by many as little more than a mouthpiece for Mr Khamenei, is thought to have taken this as a cue to move against any groups critical of the regime.

Women’s rights groups and trade union leaders have reported being harassed, scholars have been put under pressure for refusing to sign anti-Israeli statements, and Iran’s press has claimed to have received lists of banned topics, such as the effect of threatened United Nations sanctions. University professors have also been warned against attending conferences abroad, and several visiting Iranian-American academics remain in custody after being charged with espionage.

One Western diplomat in Iran said the situation was “uneasy”. He said: “The crackdown has been more gradual than people expected, but over the last few months we have been getting a lot of stories of people being hassled.”

Similar clampdowns took place under President Mohammad Khatami, Mr Ahmadinejad’s reformist-minded predecessor, whose campaign to introduce a liberal regime was not always heeded by hardline elements in the security forces.

However, activists say that now there is no longer a voice in government to speak for them. “Back then people would get arrested, but then Khatami would use his influence to get them released,” said Abdullah Momeni, the leader of Tahkim Vahdat, Iran’s largest student organisation and a prominent critic of the regime. “Now those who are arrested are not even getting released.”

The attacks on reformists come as they struggle to recover from the splits and apathy that led to them losing the 2005 elections to Mr Ahmadinejad. The movement is divided between more conservative elements, who prefer gradual change within the existing clerical system of government, and those who wish to replace the Islamic republic altogether with a Western-style, secular democracy.

Both sides have talked of forming an alliance to defeat Mr Ahmadinejad in the next presidential elections, but no mutually credible figure has emerged to head it.

The fact that many reformists were still at large to criticise the regime, meanwhile, was not grounds for optimism, said Mr Momeni. “Now the judiciary and parliament and president feel so powerful that they don’t really see us as a threat any more. It shows that in a sense, we have lost our status and position in society.”

Iran urged to end petrol rations after violent unrest

By Robert Tait in Tehran

Friday June 29, 2007

The Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, was under pressure to perform a U-turn on petrol rationing yesterday after the restriction prompted violent protests at filling stations across the country this week.

MPs said they would press the government to alter or even scrap the plan after angry citizens set fire to at least a dozen petrol stations in Tehran and chanted slogans against President Ahmadinejad following Tuesday night’s sudden introduction of quotas.

Banks, supermarkets and fire engines were also attacked while further disturbances were reported in other big cities, including Isfahan and Shiraz.

There were unconfirmed reports that three people were killed in the violence, which led to 80 arrests.

In a sign of official concern that the disturbances might spread, the government temporarily closed the country’s mobile phone text messaging network after widespread circulation of a text urging protestors to gather in Tehran’s Valiasr Square.

The unrest was triggered by an announcement on state television on the rationing, prompting a rush by drivers to fill their tanks. Motorists are restricted to a monthly limit of 100 litres (22 gallons) for the next four months while cab drivers must not exceed 800 litres.

Iran, the world’s fourth largest oil producer, imposed rationing to try to cut the estimated £5bn annual cost of providing massively subsidised petrol, which has to be imported because the country lacks refinery capacity. While parliament has already approved the plan, MPs had urged the government to delay the scheme amid fears over its social and economic impact. However, some analysts say it has become more urgent because of the prospect of further UN security council sanctions over Iran’s nuclear programme.

Nevertheless, there was anger yesterday that the government had implemented the scheme without prior notice in an apparent attempt to prevent fuel hoarding. Esmaeil Ahmadi-Moqaddam, the chief of police, said its implementation had even been kept secret from his officers, so there had been no time to provide extra security for the filling stations.

MPs attacked the failure to allow motorists to buy fuel at higher free market prices and said that if disturbances continued parliament might be recalled from the three-week recess that began yesterday.

Kamal Daneshyar, chairman of the parliamentary energy committee, said: “We have told the government … that rationing with this mechanism should not be implemented, but they paid no attention. Petrol rationing will not last long and will be only a short-term measure. Free-market prices should be offered sufficiently.”

The decision has already had an impact on Tehran’s congested roads, with traffic cut as cars are left at home to save fuel. Taxi drivers have responded by raising fares.

Issa Saharkhiz, a political analyst, suggested the impact on the fortunes of Mr Ahmadinejad’s could be equally dramatic. “This will damage [him] and the people and groups around him, maybe even the supreme leader. He is not going to be a candidate for a second presidential term.”


MP threatened after comments on Khamenei

By Robert Tait in Tehran

Monday June 11, 2007

Emad Afrough

One of Iran’s most outspoken MPs has received a death threat after suggesting that the country’s supreme leader is a weaker figure than the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, spiritual head of the 1979 Islamic revolution.

The threat appeared amid abusive text messages sent to Emad Afrough, a fundamentalist critic of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, after he described Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as “more expediency-seeking than the late imam”.

“The imam [Khomeini] was more truth-seeking and less inclined towards tarouf [traditional courtesy] and expediency. Perhaps the restrictions and pressures prevent him from expressing true stances. [But] we are living in a system where truth is supposed to rule, not factional, personal or group expediencies.”

Mr Afrough’s comments, to the Farsi news agency, are highly sensitive in Iran, where insulting the leader carries a potential jail sentence. Yesterday he was ousted as chairman of parliament’s cultural committee. He insists his remarks were taken out of context and accuses “power-seekers” of orchestrating a smear campaign. “If even [assassination] happens, I would regard it as martyrdom and accept it with great pride,” he told Aftab website.

The Kayhan newspaper, believed to have close ties to the leadership, defended Mr Afrough and said his comments were not an attack on Mr Khamenei.

Meanwhile, Iran said yesterday it was holding a fourth US-Iranian citizen on suspicion of spying. Ali Shakeri, an academic at the University of California’s Centre for Citizen Peacebuilding, has failed to return from a trip to Iran. Three American-Iranians have already been detained for alleged spying and security offences.


Ahmadinejad faces backlash over plans for petrol rationing

By Robert Tait in Tehran

Thursday May 24, 2007

Iran is to introduce petrol rationing in two weeks in a move that belies its status as the world’s fourth-largest oil exporter and threatens to trigger a popular backlash against its president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

The country’s motorists – used to some of the cheapest fuel in the world – will be restricted to three litres a day under a scheme to cut fuel consumption and reduce the burden on Iran’s struggling economy of providing subsidised petrol.

The population is already restive over rising prices amid an inflation rate estimated at 20% to 30%. It also contradicts Mr Ahmadinejad’s pre-election promise to reduce poverty and bring Iran’s oil wealth to “people’s tables”.

But the country has a large budget deficit caused by fuel subsidies and there are fears that rising demand could exhaust Iran’s oil-exporting capacity within 15 years. The ration plan, earmarked for June 7, was to start this week but was delayed amid difficulties in smart card technology at filling stations. Worries over political consequences have prompted speculation that it may be postponed indefinitely.

However, the government had already upset motorists by announcing on Tuesday that a litre of petrol would go up by 1p to 5p. While tiny by western standards, the rise is controversial in a country where cheap fuel is taken for granted.

Under rationing, things will get tougher. Kamal Daneshyar, head of parliament’s energy committee, said drivers would pay 20p a litre for petrol above their quota.

A Tehran-based analyst, who requested anonymity, predicted that rationing would trigger more inflation. But he added: “This country can’t go on consuming and wasting the amount of fuel that it does. It is one of the top three per capita users of energy in the world. Keep going at that rate and we will end up consuming all the hydrocarbons we produce. It has great strategic implications for Iran as an energy exporter.”

Mr Ahmadinejad’s woes at home were compounded overseas yesterday when a spokesman at the White House called a new report by the International Atomic Energy Agency into Iran’s nuclear activities “a laundry list of Iran’s continued defiance of the international community”.

Iran had not only ignored a UN security council deadline to stop uranium enrichment activity but had expanded it, according to the IAEA report.

Relations with the US are likely to deteriorate further after reports that Iran has imprisoned another Iranian-American affiliated with George Soros’s Open Society Institute – the fourth dual citizen to be detained in Iran in recent months.

Tehran-based social scientist and urban planner Kian Tajbakhsh was arrested on around May 11. Tehran has accused the Soros group of promoting “soft revolution” – a term used to refer to a perceived US plot to undermine the Islamic state.


We cannot look from the sides as we are led towards crisis over Iran

By John Pilger

Friday April 13, 2007

Bush and Blair have spent four years preparing an onslaught that is about oil, rather than non-existent nuclear weapons

The Israeli journalist Amira Hass describes the moment her mother, Hannah, was marched from a cattle train to the concentration camp at Bergen-Belsen. “They were sick and some were dying,” she said. “Then my mother saw these German women looking at the prisoners. This image became very formative in my upbringing, this despicable ‘looking from the side’.”

It is time we in Britain stopped looking from the side. We are being led towards perhaps the most serious crisis in modern history as the Bush/Cheney/Blair “long war” edges closer to Iran for no reason other than that nation’s independence from rapacious America. The safe delivery of the 15 British sailors into the hands of Rupert Murdoch and his rivals (until their masters got the wind up) is both farce and distraction. The Bush administration, in secret connivance with Blair, has spent four years preparing for “Operation Iranian Freedom”. Forty-five cruise missiles are primed to strike. According to General Leonid Ivashov, Russia’s leading strategic thinker: “Nuclear facilities will be secondary targets, and there are 20 such facilities. Combat nuclear weapons may be used, and this will result in the radioactive contamination of all the Iranian territory, and beyond.”

And yet there is a surreal silence in Britain, except for the noise of “news” in which powerful broadcasters gesture cryptically at the obvious, but dare not make sense of it lest the one-way moral screen erected between us and the consequences of an imperial foreign policy collapses, and the truth is revealed.

“The days of Britain having to apologise for the British empire are over,” declared Gordon Brown to the Daily Mail. “We should celebrate!” In Late Victorian Holocausts, the historian Mike Davis documents that as many as 21 million Indians died unnecessarily in famines criminally imposed by British policies. And since the formal demise of that glorious imperium, declassified official files make clear that British governments have borne “significant responsibility” for the direct or indirect deaths of between 8.6 million and 13.5 million people throughout the world – from imperial military interventions and at the hands of regimes strongly supported by Britain. The historian Mark Curtis calls these victims “unpeople”. “Rejoice!” said Thatcher. “Celebrate!” says the paymaster of Blair’s bloodbath. Spot the difference.

We need to look behind the one-way moral screen, urgently. Last October, the Lancet published research led by Johns Hopkins University in the US that calculated the deaths of 655,000 Iraqis as a direct result of the Anglo-American invasion. Downing Street acolytes derided the study as “flawed”. They were lying. They knew that the chief scientific adviser to the Ministry of Defence, Sir Roy Anderson, had backed the survey, describing its methods as “robust” and “close to best practice”, and that other government officials had secretly approved the “tried and tested way of measuring mortality in conflict zones”. The figure of Iraqi deaths is now estimated at close to a million.

“This Labour government, which includes Gordon Brown as much as it does Tony Blair,” wrote Richard Horton, the editor of the Lancet, “is party to a war crime of monstrous proportions. Yet our political consensus prevents any judicial or civil society response. Britain is paralysed by its own indifference.” Such is the scale of the crime and of our “looking from the side”.

As hysteria is again fabricated, for Iraq, read Iran. According to the former US treasury secretary Paul O’Neill, the Bush cabal decided to attack Iraq on “day one” of Bush’s administration, long before 9/11 – and it beggars belief that Blair did not know that. The main reason was oil. O’Neill was shown a Pentagon document entitled Foreign Suitors for Iraqi Oilfield Contracts, which outlined the carve-up of Iraq’s oilfields among the major Anglo-American companies. Under a law written by American and British officials, the Iraqi puppet regime is about to hand over the extraction of the largest concentration of oil on earth to Anglo-American companies.

Nothing like this piracy has happened before in the modern Middle East. Across the Shatt al-Arab waterway the other prize: Iran’s vast oilfields. Just as non-existent weapons of mass destruction or facile concerns for democracy had nothing to do with the invasion of Iraq, so non-existent nuclear weapons have nothing to do with an American onslaught on Iran. Unlike Israel and the United States, Iran has abided by the rules of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has never cited Iran for diverting its civilian programme to military use. For the past three years IAEA inspectors have said that they have been allowed to “go anywhere”. The recent security council sanctions against Iran are the result of Washington’s bribery.

Until recently the British were unaware that their government was one of the world’s most consistent abusers of human rights and backers of state terrorism. Few knew that British intelligence set out systematically to destroy secular Arab nationalism and in the 1980s recruited and trained young Muslims as part of a $4bn Anglo-American-backed jihad against the Soviet Union. The fuse of the bombs that killed 52 Londoners was lit by “us”.

In my experience, most people do not contort their morality and intellect to comply with the double standards of rampant power and the media’s notion of approved evil – of worthy and unworthy victims. They would, if they knew, grieve for all the lives, families, careers, hopes and dreams destroyed by Blair and Bush. The sure evidence is the British public’s wholehearted response to the 2004 tsunami, shaming that of the government. Certainly, they would agree with Robert Jackson, the chief counsel of the United States at the Nuremberg trials of Nazi leaders. “Crimes are crimes,” he said, “whether we do them or whether Germany does them, and we are not prepared to lay down a rule of criminal conduct which we would not be willing to have invoked against us.”

Like Henry Kissinger and Donald Rumsfeld, who dare not travel to certain countries for fear of being prosecuted as war criminals, Blair as a private citizen may no longer be untouchable. On March 20 Baltasar Garzon, the tenacious Spanish judge who pursued General Pinochet, called for indictments against those responsible for “one of the most sordid and unjustifiable episodes in recent human history” – Iraq. Five days later, the chief prosecutor of the international criminal court, to which Britain is a signatory, said that Blair could one day face war-crimes charges.

These are critical changes in the way the sane world thinks – again, thanks to the reich of Blair/Bush. However, we also live in the most dangerous of times. On April 6 Blair accused “elements of the Iranian regime” of “financing, arming and supporting terrorism in Iraq”. He offered no evidence, and the MoD has none. This is the same Goebbels-like refrain with which he and his coterie, Brown included, brought an epic bloodletting to Iraq. How long will the rest of us continue looking from the side?

* This is an edited version of an article in the current New Statesman; John Pilger’s new film, The War on Democracy, will be previewed at the National Film Theatre in London on May 11


Teheran keeps reformers out of elections

By Gethin Chamberlain, Philip Sherwell and Kay Biouki in Teheran
Sunday Telegraph


Reza Khatami is the editor of a banned newspaper

The Iranian government has launched a crackdown on its critics in an apparent attempt to prevent them from standing in forthcoming parliamentary elections.

While Iran’s international opponents have been distracted by the row over the country’s nuclear programme and the British naval hostages, Teheran has taken the opportunity to tackle reformers targeted by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad since he came to power.

As part of a wider crackdown, Iran’s parliament has also passed laws enabling security organisations – including the Revolutionary Guard, which was responsible for kidnapping the 15 Britons – to detain suspects for months for the purposes of interrogation.

Police are also reportedly planning to tackle more low-level dissent, including standards of public attire. Women who fail to cover their hair fully, or who wear skirts or coats considered immodestly short, are expected to be among the first targets in the next few days.

Some western diplomats are sceptical about the credentials of the reformists, regarding them as only slightly more moderate than Ahmadinejad’s hardliners, though they enjoyed more freedom under the previous presidency of Mohammad Khatami, who held the post from 1997 to 2005.

Mr Khatami, whose foreign policy was more conciliatory than his successor’s, was elected on the back of promises to liberalise some parts of Iranian life. But his policies brought him into conflict with supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei and religious hardliners. Those who took advantage of the greater freedoms under Mr Khatami’s regime are now suffering the backlash.

One of the reformers singled out for attention is Mostafa Tajzadeh, a former deputy interior minister facing trial on charges of undermining state security.

Mr Tajzadeh, a Teheran city councillor, is a strong supporter of the 1979 Islamic revolution but has repeatedly insisted the regime should not silence its critics.

An even bigger name, Reza Khatami, the younger brother of the former president and editor of the banned reformist newspaper Mosharekat, has been charged with “activities that undermine the Islamic system”.

Mr Khatami, who is married to the granddaughter of the Islamic republic’s founder, Ayatollah Khomeini, also has impressive revolutionary credentials – as a student, he was involved in the US embassy siege and he is a former deputy parliamentary speaker.

Last night Mohsen Armin, a spokesman for the reformist Organisation of Mojahedin of Islamic Revolution party, said the aim of the charges was to prevent dissidents standing in the forthcoming elections.

“They want to have a sword above our head and the rest is excuses,” he said. “The main issue here is that in the coming year we have the parliamentary elections. Because rejecting reformist candidates in the previous election created problems for the judiciary, they are taking a different route this time.”

Rather than risk further international criticism for an overt clampdown on opponents, he said the government was using the courts to neuter them.

“What they want to do is to put the reformists in court now, and sentence them for any reason. If they have a court record, they will automatically be barred from standing for election,” he said.

“The hardliners desperately want to see the back of the reformists and have proved that they are willing to use any kind of tactic to achieve their goal.”

Mr Armin, who has previously been fined one million tomans (£600) for comments he made about the judiciary, said Mr Tajzadeh had been accused of cheating in an earlier election, resulting in the cancellation of 700,000 votes and the election of Gholan Ali Hadad Adel, the present parliamentary speaker.

He said the authorities were also targeting newspapers. Mosharekat is just one of more than 30 journals that operated under the Khatami administration but have since been closed down.

Amir Taheri, an exiled Iranian journalist based in Europe, said the regime was preparing show trials for scores of dissidents.

Despite pleas from Iraq and Iran, the US has decided to detain five Iranian intelligence agents captured in Iraq.


Poverty and Human Rights in Iran

By Navid Ahmadi


“When a country has more soldiers than teachers, how can one hope for the elimination of poverty and injustice?”

These are the words of Nobel Peace Laureate and founder of the Center for the Defense of Human Rights, Shirin Ebadi. Ebadi was giving a speech at a seminar entitled “Human Rights and Essential Needs of Humans.” “Eliminating poverty,” declared Ebadi, “is one of the main responsibilities of every government. Otherwise, one cannot hope for the recognition of human rights. If, for example, administrative corruption in a government causes poverty, then that can be classified as a crime against humanity.”

Shirin Ebadi added at the end, “One of the promises made by the current administration [in Iran] was to announce the names of those who have misused public funds. We are still waiting for the implementation of the president’s promise.”

Another participant in the seminar, Saeed Madani, spoke about the causes behind poverty. “Each year,” said Madani, “the high cost of health care pushes many individuals below the poverty line. The per capita expenditure on health care is very low in Iran compared to other countries. It constitutes only 4.4 percent of the gross domestic product.” Madani went on to talk about the regional distribution of health care expenditures: “The province of Ardebil has the poorest health indicators in the nation. In this province, for every ten thousand people there is only 1.5 general practitioner and 0.5 specialists. There are only 5 operating hospital beds per ten thousand individuals. In Tehran, by contrast, there are 7.1 general practitioners, 3 specialists and 17 operating hospital beds for every ten thousand people.”

Economist and university professor Dr. Ali Rashidi was another participant at this seminar. Rashidi’s speech revolved around the government’s economic performance. “Currently,” noted Rashidi, “there are about 1.5 million people in Iran at the lowest levels below poverty line, and about 10.5 to 12 million are at the higher levels below poverty line. All in all, about 15 percent of the population lives below the poverty line.”

Dr. Rashidi blamed inflation as one of the main causes of poverty: “We witness a 37 to 40 percent increase in the money supply, which adds to the inflation and pushes more people into poverty.”

Dr. Kamal Athari was another economist present at the seminar, who spoke about housing problems. “The government,” said Athari, “is responsible for the provision of housing, which is a main component of human rights. But we are witnessing a rise in the number of unofficial housing units at the margins of urban cities such as Tehran. The rate of marginal urban dwellings has increased from 5 percent per year in 1977 to 20 percent.”


Iranian President’s Setbacks Embolden His Domestic Critics

Establishment Rivals
Fault Populism, Foreign Policy;
Nuclear Deadline Looms

January 30, 2007; Page A5

TEHRAN, Iran — With another confrontational moment in Iran’s nuclear standoff approaching next month, criticism of the country’s president at home is increasing. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whose landslide victory in elections 18 months ago set the Iranian establishment reeling, suddenly faces a concerted effort by political foes to constrain both his populist economic policies and his public defiance of the West.

Many of Tehran’s elite politicians and even clerics have long harbored concerns about Mr. Ahmadinejad, who ascended to the country’s top political post from outside the traditional ruling circles. But the immense popularity he generated among Iran’s poor and working-class voters kept many of his critics from speaking out or openly moving against his policies. He also appeared to have the backing of the most important figure in Iran’s power structure, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. But a round of elections late last year — for local municipal and village leaders as well as an important national consultative body — has undermined Mr. Ahmadinejad’s political momentum and unleashed a flood of public criticism and moves to clip his wings. Candidates whom Mr. Ahmadinejad supported fared poorly in the elections, while key adversaries re-established themselves as fixtures of the political scene.

In Tehran’s city council, from which Mr. Ahmadinejad launched his campaign for president two years ago, his supporters went from a majority to a handful of seats. Meanwhile, Hashemi Rafsanjani, whom Mr. Ahmadinejad defeated in the presidential election two years ago, dominated the voting for seats on the Assembly of Experts, the body charged with choosing a new Supreme Leader when the 67-year-old Mr. Khamenei steps down or dies.

Since those public votes, a drumbeat of criticism against Mr. Ahmadinejad’s administration has emerged from within Iran’s Parliament and among some senior regime officials. The president even found himself confronted by a crowd of jeering students during an appearance at a Tehran university campus, with a video of the incident distributed on the Internet. “The elections opened a space and legitimized criticism of him,” said Nasser Hadian, a political-science professor at the University of Tehran. “There are going to be more attempts to contain him.”

The poor showing by candidates associated with Mr. Ahmadinejad in local elections — and the relatively better performance of reform candidates opposed to him — resulted from the sort of strong turnout that generally favors reformers. The country’s conservatives also failed to rally behind a single slate of candidates, as they did during the earlier presidential election. But high on many voters’ minds is Iran’s increasingly muddled economy.

The president won the election with vows to improve the living standards of Iranians. He has pursued a populist agenda, while traversing the nation to announce development initiatives. Rising spending, however, has sparked a bout of inflation, which officially is 15% but private economists say likely is far higher. After a speech introducing his annual budget — which will push spending another 20% higher for the fiscal year beginning in March — Mr. Ahmadinejad argued with several parliamentarians over the rising price of tomatoes.

While Mr. Ahmadinejad’s appeal persists among his core supporters, they are among the hardest-hit by rising inflation, and some privately express doubts about his leadership.

“He looked like a decent person, one of us,” says one 57-year-old man who works part time washing dishes in a restaurant in southern Tehran. “I voted for him, but I wouldn’t again.”

Meanwhile, Mr. Rafsanjani, a longtime regime power broker and president of the country during much of the early 1990s, is spearheading a tentative movement to rein in Mr. Ahmadinejad, particularly his proclamations about Iran’s nuclear program and denunciations of Israel. A large group of parliamentarians, including many who once supported Mr. Ahmadinejad, recently met with Mr. Rafsanjani. The gathering was seen as an important indication that support for Mr. Ahmadinejad is eroding.

A key question is whether Mr. Khamenei will continue backing Mr. Ahmadinejad. While the Supreme Leader has vocally defended the president and largely embraced his confrontational approach toward the United Nations Security Council on the nuclear issue in, Mr. Khamenei has done little to stem criticism of Mr. Ahmadinejad. He also has held several meetings with Mr. Rafsanjani.

Mr. Ahmadinejad’s standing with Mr. Khamenei, and the broader attempts to rein him in, could be important in the run-up to a Feb. 20 deadline for the Security Council resolution passed in December ordering Iran to stop its uranium-enrichment program. The U.S. and European countries say the program has violated international rules and is aimed at creating a nuclear weapon. Iran says the program is peaceful and hasn’t violated international rules.

The resolution included a limited set of sanctions targeting officials and organizations accused of involvement in the nuclear program. European governments have joined with the U.S. to broaden and toughen those punishments. The U.S. is expected to push for harsher sanctions if Iran doesn’t stop its enrichment program.

Mr. Khamenei reiterated publicly recently that Iran wouldn’t halt enrichment, but Mr. Ahmadinejad has been relatively quiet on the issue in public. Some European diplomats and Iranian analysts say Iran might agree to a temporary pause in the program after the country completes a research-level enrichment project in coming weeks, in an effort to keep the crisis from escalating further.

Write to Bill Spindle at


Whose Iran?

The New York Times Magazine


The Mahestan mall in South Tehran is sometimes called “the honeycomb” of the Basij, the Iranian youth militia, because it is here that Basijis, as the militia members are known, buy and sell banners for the Shiite festival of Ashura, as well as religious books and posters. Somber, bearded young men in collarless shirts linger over tea behind stands selling tapes of religious singers – cult celebrities who belt out tear-jerking laments for the martyrdom of Hussein and make a small fortune performing at memorial services. Omid Malekian, a 28-year-old employee of a Tehran petrochemical refinery and the son of a carpenter, was shopping at Mahestan on Dec. 16, the day after Iran’s elections for city councils and for the Assembly of Experts, the 86-member clerical board that will select the next supreme leader should anything happen to the current leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. In the 2005 presidential election, Malekian voted for the winner, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and when I asked if he was happy with the president, he answered frankly.

“Sometimes I am analyzing myself and thinking, Oh, we have done wrong,” he mused. “He is very popular and friendly with the people, but sometimes when he is expressing his ideas, he doesn’t think about the future or the consequences. He is a simple man.”

In particular, Malekian suggested that Ahmadinejad had been incautious in his promises to improve the economy – promises he has yet to keep. There was another area, too, in which Ahmadinejad had faltered: “About the Holocaust,” he said. “I don’t know much about it, but from the reaction of the world, it seems he should have said something different.” Still, Malekian said that he voted for the most severe fundamentalist among the candidates running for the clerical Assembly of Experts. The campaign turned on the competition between two incumbents, Ayatollah Taqi Mesbah-Yazdi – widely reputed to be Ahmadinejad’s spiritual leader – and Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the pragmatic former president who lost the presidential race to Ahmadinejad in 2005. Each hoped to increase his share of the vote and thus his power on the assembly. South Tehran is Ahmadinejad’s heartland. It is here, in the less affluent neighborhoods of the city of 14 million where he was once mayor, that he rose from the obscure end of the seven-candidate roster in 2005, only to become one of the most popular figures in the Muslim world. Because liberal-minded Iranians boycotted the 2005 presidential election, and because Ahmadinejad so adeptly played the populist card, the militants, the unemployed and the cultural conservatives of neighborhoods like this one were in the driver’s seat, steering the politics of this crucial nation while their opponents warned of their presumed doctrinaire views and political naïveté.

Early on, Ahmadinejad’s faction was expected to win last month’s elections handily. But the results contradicted the conventional wisdom about the Iranian electorate. The president put forward his own slate of candidates for the city councils. It was trounced. By some reckonings, reformists won two-fifths of the council seats and even dominated in some cities, including Kerman and Arak. Some conservative city-council candidates did well, particularly in Tehran, but they were not the conservatives associated with Ahmadinejad: rather, they belonged to the rival conservative faction of the current Tehran mayor, Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf. And most significant, the vote for Rafsanjani for the Assembly of Experts dwarfed that of Mesbah-Yazdi by nearly two to one. By mid-January, Ahmadinejad’s isolation even within his own faction was complete: 150 of 290 members of parliament, including many of Ahmadinejad’s onetime allies, signed a letter criticizing the president’s economic policies for failing to stanch unemployment and inflation. A smaller group also blamed Ahmadinejad’s inflammatory foreign-policy rhetoric for the United Nations Security Council resolution imposing sanctions on Iran. As if that were not enough, an editorial in Jomhouri Eslami, a newspaper that reflects the views of the supreme leader, accused the president of using the nuclear issue to distract the public from his failed policies. Ahmadinejad’s behavior was diminishing popular support for the nuclear program, the editorial warned. The Iranian political system seems to be restoring its equilibrium by showing an extremist president the limits of his power. But is it an equilibrium that can hold?

In part, last month’s election results reflected the complexity of Ahmadinejad’s skeptical, conditional and diverse constituency. They also demonstrated his isolation within the powerful conservative establishment, whose politics, however opaque, are determinative. At its center, Khamenei commands a faction known as the traditional conservatives. No elected leader can serve, let alone execute a policy agenda, without the acquiescence of the supreme leader and his associates. But was Ahmadinejad one of the leader’s associates? Or was he, like his predecessor, Khatami, something of a political rival? The answer to this question should determine the extent to which Ahmadinejad’s foreign-policy extremism and authoritarian tendencies are taken seriously as a political program. But it is a puzzle that has vexed political analysts since the president took office in August 2005, bringing with him a faction that was largely new to the post-revolutionary political scene. Composed partly of military and paramilitary elements, partly of extremist clerics like Mesbah-Yazdi and partly of inexperienced new conservative politicians, those in Ahmadinejad’s faction are often called “neoconservatives.” But to the extent that they have an ideology, it is less new than old, harking back to the early days of the Islamic republic. Since that time, the same elite has largely run Iranian politics, though it has divided itself into competing factions, and the act of wielding power has mellowed many hard-liners into pragmatists. Ahmadinejad’s faction, on the other hand, came into power speaking the language of the past but with the zeal of the untried.

In 2005, many analysts believed that Ahmadinejad’s elevation to the presidency must have been sanctioned by the supreme leader – indeed, that it reflected a hardening agenda among the traditional conservatives. He would be the “secretary” of Khamenei, a number of reformists said to me that summer in Tehran. But the way Ahmadinejad governed was nothing if not divisive. He undertook the most far-reaching governmental housecleaning since the revolution itself, reportedly replacing as many as 20,000 bureaucrats. And when it came time for the elections last month, he offered his own slates of candidates, disdaining to ally himself with the traditional conservatives or with anyone else. For the Assembly of Experts, Ahmadinejad endorsed a ticket of scholars from what is known as the Haqqani circle, a group of clerics who cleave strongly to the notion of the divine state and disdain popular sovereignty and democracy.

The senior figure in this circle, Mesbah-Yazdi, already belonged to the assembly. But in the fall of 2006, buoyed by association with the populist president, his group put forward a wave of candidates in a bid to transform the assembly. Even after the Guardian Council – an appointed body that answers to the supreme leader and that vets candidates and legislation – had disqualified almost half the proposed candidates, including most of the reformists and a large number of Mesbah-Yazdi’s students, clerics associated with Mesbah-Yazdi still stood a reasonable chance of winning dozens of the 86 seats. It was here that the ideological contest of the Ahmadinejad presidency was starkest. Were the public and the leadership ready to accept Mesbah-Yazdi’s brand of extremism along with the populism Ahmadinejad had served up? And what did it mean if they were not? The 97-mile stretch of highway from Tehran southwest to Qom passes through a cratered landscape of magnificent desolation to the basin between a salt marsh and a desert at the foot of the Zagros Mountains. Middle-class, educated Tehranis often scorn and even fear Qom as the center of religious Puritanism and political repression. But for pious Shiites in Iran and elsewhere, the city is a pilgrimage destination, home to one of the holiest Shiite shrines, most of the living Shiite marjas (senior religious figures, literally “sources of imitation”) and more than 50 seminaries, institutions that long pre-existed universities in Iran and where the works of the Greek philosophers have for centuries been studied alongside religious texts.

Students, who number some 40,000, enter Qom at an average age of 17. Some of them continue their studies for decades, as Shiite religious learning has no set end point. Since the Islamic revolution, the seminary city has thrived as the government has spent lavishly on mosques and dormitories, nearly all with the same pale brick and blue tile facades. In recent years, Qom has absorbed waves of Shiite immigrants from Afghanistan and Iraq. There is an Iraqi bazaar not far from the holy shrine, and the sight of men in Arab dishdashas is commonplace.

Mesbah-Yazdi has a major presence here in the form of the Imam Khomeini Institute, the enormous seminary of which Mesbah-Yazdi is the head scholar. It holds Iran’s most extensive library of scholarly books in English, totaling 11,200 volumes. It is the envy of the universities in Tehran. Mesbah-Yazdi, a fellow cleric told me, believed that it was important to understand Western ideas to better resist and refute them.

Born in 1934, Mesbah-Yazdi is an éminence grise among the ayatollahs of Qom, but age has not mellowed him. In the last decade he has become famous less for his learned philosophical exegeses (he posts his entry in the Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy on his Web site) than for his jeremiads at Friday prayers against popular sovereignty, free speech, women’s rights and Islamic reform. Public execution and flogging are “a basic principle of Islam,” Mesbah-Yazdi has said, and the government should regulate the content of speech “just as it checks the distribution of adulterated or contaminated foodstuffs.” Because “Mesbah” sounds like the Farsi word for crocodile, he is known by his critics as Ayatollah Crocodile. (A cartoonist was once imprisoned for depicting him as a reptile, shedding crocodile tears as he strangled a dissident writer with his tail.)

At Ahmadinejad’s invitation, members of Mesbah-Yazdi’s Haqqani circle occupy several key government posts. But before Ahmadinejad came to power, they had been pushed mostly to the margins of Iranian politics, where they complained bitterly about the efforts of the reformist Khatami and his colleagues to advance their agenda through the elected branches of government. To the Haqqani scholars, it seemed that the reformists were challenging the doctrine of velayat-i-faqih, which is based on the sovereign power of the chief jurist, the supreme leader. “We shall wait to see what place these foxes who claim to be the supporters of reform will occupy in hell,” Mesbah-Yazdi proclaimed. If Iranians believed in their supreme leader as the agent of God, second-guessing his judgment through elections was tantamount to holding a referendum on whether or not Damavand was the highest peak in Iran. What if 51 percent of the public said that it was not? “It doesn’t matter what the people think,” Mesbah-Yazdi was quoted as saying. “The people are ignorant sheep.” He has also said, “Islam was the government of God, not the government of the people.”

Mesbah-Yazdi’s most open and media-friendly acolyte, Ayatollah Mohsen Gharavian, did not put the matter quite so strongly when, draped in the encompassing Iranian chador, I met with him in an unadorned office at a small seminary on one of Qom’s dusty side streets.

“In the name of God, the beneficent and merciful,” Gharavian intoned, “before coming to the main question and answer, I want to know where you got this chador. Is it from the United States or Iran?” From Iran, I told him.

“Congratulations on seeing you in a very Islamic manner,” Gharavian replied.

For a cleric who had been quoted as saying that despotism was not all bad and that public opinion was meaningless, Gharavian, who teaches philosophy at the Imam Khomeini Institute, did not have a severe presence. Rather, he was a big, courteous man of 54 with a reddish beard. The election to the Assembly of Experts was just a day away, and Gharavian was the hard-line candidate for the hard-line city of Qom. Still, he expected to lose, and he did lose. Amiably, he remarked that he had run and lost before, and that to win would have required a financial outlay of which he disapproved.

When it came to politics, he spoke mostly in evasions and platitudes. Democracy, he explained, was acceptable within the boundaries of Islam, and human rights were contained within Islam, but such rights should not include freedom of worship or freedom to believe things that are untrue or unwise. (His examples were the misguided beliefs of Nietzsche and Machiavelli.) The Islamic penal code required no modification in the modern era; its harshest punishments, he asserted, were no more violent than some American and European spectator sports. He appeared shocked by the suggestion that Iran held political prisoners and demanded an example. I offered the journalist Akbar Ganji, imprisoned for six years on account of his critical writings. Gharavian replied: “Did you read Mr. Ganji’s manifesto? He questioned the whole establishment.” Freedom of expression, he explained, did not include the freedom to “breach the peace of the society.” He demanded, “Don’t you have prisoners in your country?”

Mesbah-Yazdi’s statements on most of these matters were a matter of public record, and they were even blunter. “If someone tells you he has a new interpretation of Islam, hit him in the mouth,” he said in 2000. Two years later, he said, “The prophets of God did not believe in pluralism. They believed that only one idea was right.” On Sept. 4, 1999, he said: “Killing hypocrites does not require a court order, as it is a duty imposed by the Shariah on all genuine Muslims. The order of Islam is to throw them down from a high mountain and kill them outright.” He spoke the following month of the need to break the unnecessary taboo on violence.

If such a taboo existed in the Islamic republic, it had been broken. That year, a string of dissidents were murdered under suspicious circumstances. In the writings that led to his prison sentence, Ganji accused Mesbah-Yazdi of sanctifying such actions with whispered fatwas and members of the Haqqani circle of direct involvement in the murders. A member of the shadowy vigilante group Ansar-e Hezbollah, which had violently attacked student demonstrators in July 1999, lent credence to Ganji’s claims with videotaped testimony in which he said that Mesbah-Yazdi had encouraged the group to assassinate a reformist politician. “Now, on the issue of whether I authorized the assassination of individuals,” Mesbah-Yazdi declared unapologetically in March 2001, “I must say that Imam Khomeini, may God be satisfied with him, issued a decree saying that shedding Salman Rushdie’s blood was a religious obligation and, therefore, he advocated resorting to violence as well.” Why Ahmadinejad would ally himself with these clerics remains something of a mystery. Contrary to popular belief, says Nasser Hadian, a political scientist at Tehran University and a childhood friend of the president, Ahmadinejad never expounded a particularly conservative moral or social agenda. Rather, says Hadian, Ahmadinejad was and continues to be inspired above all by Ali Shariati, the mid-20th-century theorist of radical Islamic egalitarianism. The president’s agenda is redistributionist and anti-imperialist, Hadian says. That doesn’t make him a democrat. Nonetheless, “he is basically using Mesbah,” Hadian says. It is an alliance of political convenience.

Alireza Haghighi, a political scientist who teaches at the University of Toronto at Mississauga, agrees that the association between Ahmadinejad and Mesbah-Yazdi has been overstated. But in an article he wrote with his colleague Victoria Tahmasebi in International Journal, Haghighi documented yet another Ahmadinejad genesis story. Young Ahmadinejad led a politically and religiously conservative Islamist student group during the Islamic Revolution, the writers claim. When the leftist Islamist students proposed seizing the American Embassy in 1979, Ahmadinejad opposed the action as imprudent, but he suggested that if they went ahead with it, they should seize the Soviet Embassy as well. His plan rejected, Ahmadinejad found himself excluded from historic events and spurned by the Islamic left, which was at that time a powerful faction within the regime. His opposition to that faction ossified into a vendetta.

Soon after Khomeini’s death, the Islamic left lost the factional battle for dominance. Its members wandered eight years in the political wilderness before returning as the reform movement. That, too, Ahmadinejad was anxious to crush. In that aspiration he would have found ample common ground with the Haqqani circle.

As president, Ahmadinejad looked to the extreme right rather than seeking allies among the traditional conservatives, and in so doing, he exposed himself politically. “They were very arrogant,” Hadian said of Ahmadinejad and his camp. “They didn’t want to make any compromises. He has stood against the entire political structure in Iran, not inviting any of them, even the conservatives, to be partners. You don’t see them in the cabinet; you don’t see them in political positions.”

And for that there was a price to be paid. This fall, Rafsanjani, who had suffered a humiliating defeat at Ahmadinejad’s hands in the presidential election of 2005, was reportedly persuaded to run again for the Assembly of Experts by the supreme leader or people close to him. Rafsanjani is a divisive figure in Iranian politics. He is widely perceived as a kingmaker, the power behind the rise of Khamenei to the position of supreme leader and that of Khatami to the presidency. But though he remains highly respected among clerics, Rafsanjani is not a beloved figure in Iranian public life. During his presidency, he adopted an economic liberalization program that involved extremely unpopular austerity measures; meanwhile, through pistachio exports, he had himself become one of the richest men in Iran. Political and social repression did not ease until Khatami, his successor, came into office.

Nonetheless, in the Assembly of Experts elections in December, Rafsanjani emerged as the compromise candidate of the reformists and traditional conservatives. One reformist activist described him to me as the very last line of defense against the extreme right. And Rafsanjani delivered a staggering blow, winning nearly twice as many votes as Mesbah-Yazdi. The neoconservatives, it seemed, had been slapped down much the same way the reformists had: the traditional conservatives had decided that the threat they posed was intolerable, and the voters had decided that the president associated with them could not deliver on his promises.

On the morning of Election Day, Dec. 15, there were long lines outside the polling places in central and east Tehran. A crowd milled about the front courtyard of Masjed al Nabi, a large mosque in the east. There were children, a television camera and a seller of balloons in the shape of rabbit ears. A middle-aged couple stood by the sinks normally used for ablutions; the woman wore a long, tailored raincoat and a conservative black scarf. Her husband explained that the election was very important to them. “We are choosing our future,” he said through an interpreter. He was too sick, really, to move, but he had told his doctor that he could not forgo his civic duty to participate in the election.

Then I asked him if he saw big differences among the candidates for Assembly of Experts. “No,” he said, “they are all the same.”

What about the ones for city council?

“No,” he replied. “They are all the same, too.”

It is nearly impossible to have a political discussion with only one person on an Iranian street. Outside Masjed al Nabi, the first interloper was a clean-cut 35-year-old man in a plaid shirt who gave his name as Ali. “How can you say they are all the same?” he nearly shouted at the man who had been speaking. “We have candidates who are like the Taliban and others who are practically liberals. We have candidates who think women should be free and others who do not think so at all.”

“I never heard of a thing like that,” the first man said calmly. “The country has laws to decide these matters.”

To my right, a woman in a chador heatedly exclaimed: “He’s right! How can you say they are all the same? That’s why we’re here to vote, because they are all different. Our new president, Ahmadinejad, before the election he said women were free and equal. Now he says we should just make babies. Because he wanted our votes, he said good things.”

The original couple took advantage of the hubbub to slip away. Mohammad, a 37-year-old in a running jacket, pushed his way into our circle. “I am not voting,” he told me. “I want to choose my freedom. I don’t want to vote for them. I’m sure that whether I vote or not, it makes no difference. I don’t accept the Constitution of this country, and I hope I can change it without voting.”

Ali was listening intently. “The people who are good in this thing accept the vote of the people not just for show and not just on Election Day,” he told Mohammad. “Even in America it is the same; everywhere in the world it is. Everywhere in the world there are some people who are pro-democracy and others who are against it. Now people are more educated. One day, our democracy will be better than democracy in the United States, if we believe in it. We like our religion, our imams, God and Islam. We want democracy next to this. We don’t believe in democracy and freedom the way it exists in other parts of the world. We want something of our own.”

It was 5 o’clock when I left the crowded mosques of middle-class central and east Tehran for the deserted polling places of the affluent northern hills. In Tajrish, an election official told me that he had seen just 200 voters – far fewer than in the presidential election less than two years ago. “All the mullahs are the same,” he confided. “Everything always gets worse. Ahmadinejad is like a catalyst, speeding it up. The philosophical foundation of the state is not good.”

The debates among ordinary voters go to the heart of a structural weakness in the Iranian state. Founded on two conflicting ideas – the sovereignty of the people and divinely inspired clerical rule – the Islamic Republic of Iran has suffered from a decadelong crisis of legitimacy. Nothing forced that crisis quite the way the reform movement did, despite, or perhaps even because of, its cautious temperament and legalistic methods. Over the course of Khatami’s presidency, Iranians were faced with an inevitable question: What use was a supreme leader in a democracy, and what use were elections in a theocracy? The rise of Ahmadinejad, then his comeuppance, have forced those questions from the other direction. How far could the conservatives go in the authoritarian direction, and if not all the way, why not?

“In a sense, many people, including myself, we believe that Mesbah is right,” Sadegh Zibakalam, a reformist Tehran University professor, reflected when I visited him at his mother’s home in north Tehran in December. “Trying to make an amalgam of Western, liberal, democratic ideas and Shiite theology is nonsense. It doesn’t work.”

Later, he added: “Either Khamenei is infallible, or he’s not. If he’s not, then he is an ordinary person like Bush or Blair, answerable to the Parliament and the people. If he is, then we should throw away all this nonsense about Western values and liberal democracy. Either we have Western liberal philosophy, republican government and checks and balances, or we should stick to Mesbah. But to combine them? Imam Khomeini was so popular and charismatic. People rallied behind him and believed he was infallible. We never thought, What if the supreme leader is not supported by the people? The answer to this was brilliantly made by Mesbah: to hell with them.”

Zibakalam described Mesbah-Yazdi’s reading of velayat-i-faqih as a radical version of the one first proposed by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. But when I looked back through the lectures in which Khomeini first delineated the theory in Najaf in 1970, I found a vision strikingly similar to Mesbah-Yazdi’s. At that time, Khomeini had little truck with popular sovereignty. He quoted the Koran and sayings attributed to Muhammad: “The prophet has higher claims on the believers than their own selves” and “The scholars are the heirs of the prophet.” The only legitimate legislation was that which had already been made by God, and this would be administered by the learned jurist, who would rule over the people like a guardian over a child.

Nine years later, from his Paris exile during the revolution, Khomeini would approve a constitution drafted by more liberal associates. It was the blueprint for a parliamentary democracy, in which a council of clergymen would play an advisory role. This draft became the basis for the debate that occupied the first Assembly of Experts, convened to revise and approve a final constitution. After much discussion of the contradictions it engendered, the experts, many of them clerics, nonetheless yoked velayat-i-faqih to the republican structure they had been handed.

To this day, the structure of the Iranian state remains too liberal for the authoritarians and too authoritarian for the liberals, but the traditional conservatives at the center of power cannot resolve this obvious paradox at the republic’s heart without relinquishing their own position. The best they could do was to revise the Constitution after Khomeini’s death, greatly expanding the powers of the clerical councils and of the supreme leader at the expense of the elected offices. Clerics I spoke to from the traditional conservative camp associated with Khamenei were paternalistic in their view of the state rather than outright authoritarian. They seemed to genuinely believe in a limited form of popular sovereignty – guided, of course, by Islamic scholars so that the people would not fall into error but nonetheless necessary for the legitimacy of the state.

It was this traditional conservative establishment that the reformists, many of them clerics, hoped to transform by introducing new policies through the legal channels of the state and by persuading jurists to assimilate new ideas about rights and freedoms into their interpretations of the sacred texts. One of the leading reformist theorists, Mohammad Mojtahed Shabestari, explained to me: “Many nations have influenced our jurisprudence. We could set aside some of the decrees of Islam today and bring some Western laws to replace them. This doesn’t make us infidels.”

After eight years in power, the reform movement found itself blocked by the conservative establishment, hamstrung by its own mistakes and unwilling or unable to shore up the failing economy. Ahmadinejad rose in its wake, campaigning not on ideological extremism but on populist blandishments. He would ease the financial pain of his countrymen, he promised, by bringing Iran’s oil wealth to the people’s tables.

As Omid Malekian had intimated to me at the Mahestan shopping mall, however, this was not a promise to make lightly. The Iranian economy has been mismanaged at least since the revolution, and to fix it would require measures no populist would be willing to take. Under Ahmadinejad, inflation has risen; foreign investors have scorned Iranian markets, fearing political upheaval or foreign invasion; the Iranian stock market has plummeted; Iranian capital has fled to Dubai. Voters I talked to pointed to the prices of ordinary foodstuffs when they wanted to explain their negative feelings about the government. According to Iranian news sources, from January to late August 2006 the prices of fruits and vegetables in urban areas rose by 20 percent. A month later, during Ramadan, the price of fruit reportedly doubled while that of chicken rose 10 percent in mere days. Housing prices in Tehran have reached a record high. Unemployment is still widespread. And Ahmadinejad’s approval rating, as calculated by the official state television station, had dipped to 35 percent in October.

Iran is not a poor country. It is highly urbanized and modern, with a sizable middle class. Oil revenues, which Iran has in abundance, should be channeling plenty of hard currency into the state’s coffers, and in fact the economy’s overall rate of growth is healthy and rising. But as Parvin Alizadeh, an economist at London Metropolitan University, explained to me, what ultimately matters is how the state spends its influx of wealth. The Iranian government has tried to create jobs swiftly and pacify the people by spending the oil money on new government-run projects. But these projects are not only overmanned and inefficient, like much of the country’s bloated and technologically backward public sector; they also increase the demand for consumer goods and services, driving up inflation.

Ahmadinejad has continued this trend. He has generated considerable personal good will in poorer communities, but hardly anyone I asked could honestly say that their lives had gotten better during his presidency. He fought to lower interest rates, which drove up lending, leading to inflation and capital flight. The government cannot risk infuriating the public with the austerity measures that would be required in order to solve its deep-rooted economic problems. But as long as its short-term fixes continue to fail, the government will go on being unpopular. The last two presidents have lost their constituencies over this issue. And so officials seek to distract people from their economic woes with ideological posturing and anti-Western rhetoric. Not only has this lost its cachet with much of the Iranian public, it also serves to compound Iran’s economic problems by blackening its image abroad. “Iran has not sorted out its basic problem, which is to be accepted in the international community as a respectable government,” Alizadeh said. “Investors do not take it seriously. This is a political crisis, not an economic crisis.”

For a Western traveler in Iran these days, it is hard to avoid a feeling of cognitive dissonance. From a distance, the Islamic republic appears to be at its zenith. But from the street level, Iran’s grand revolutionary experiment is beset with fragility. The state is in a sense defined by its contradictions, both constitutional and economic. It cannot be truly stable until it resolves them, and yet if it tries to do so, it may not survive.


Fragmentation in the Majlis

By Vahid Sabetian


Conservative deputies in the Majlis (Iran’s Parliament) had their first experience with fragmentation, when a group of deputies broke off from the conservative bloc to form the new bloc called “innovative conservatives.” The reason for this fragmentation is the escalation of the row surrounding a bill to summon President Ahmadinejad to appear in the Majlis.

Within the past few months, a group of conservative deputies, led by Mohammad Reza Bahonar, have tried to stifle voices opposing the performance of Ahmadinejad and his administration. Bahonar’s efforts reached their climax when he tried to convince a number of deputies to retrieve their signatures from a bill asking President Ahmadinejad to appear in the Majlis and explain his government’s dismal performance in managing the economy and minimizing the tensions over Iran’s nuclear program.

Recent reports indicate that only 50 deputies had attended the latest meeting of the conservative bloc. In that meeting, Bahonar had implicitly threatened the deputies who had signed the bill. Bahonar later denied the reports, but Saeed Abutaleb, one of the members of the new “innovative conservatives” bloc, confirms this adding, “In the latest meeting of the majority bloc, which unfortunately is only majority in name, fewer than 60 or even 50 deputies were present.”

“The new bloc,” explains Abutaleb, “insists that pure conservatives part ways with Mr. Bahonar and the current leadership, so that they can preserve the integrity of the Majlis and fulfill their constitutional duty as members of a political bloc.”

Dr. Sobjani, Dr. Afrough, Khoshchehreh, Madani and Abutaleb are some of the more prominent deputies in the new bloc. Emad Afrough, who presides over Majlis’s cultural committee, told the Aftab News Agency, “I have said time and again that the Iranian society is evolving and shedding skin, but unfortunately some do not want to understand this political evolution and try to oppose it. Their understanding of politics is limited only to the left-right dichotomy.”


Hardliners On Both Ends of the Gulf

By Masoud Behnoud


Nearly two years have passed since the election of Ahmadinejad to Iran’s presidency. His administration, whose coming to power was a blessing for both domestic and foreign radicals, has served half of its time. And it is still busy handing out promises, and threats. In the midst of it all, except for a handful of radicals in Tel Aviv and Washington, people have had enough of this administration.

There is an assertion in the above statement that must be carefully examined. Following the death of a number of the Islamic Republic’s founding fathers )people like Motahhari, Taleqani, ?Ahmad Montazeri, Beheshti, and Ahmad Khomeini( a radical group rose to prominence and worked to eliminate the remainder of the founding fathers. Mousavi Ardebili, Mir Hussein Mousavi, Mehdi Karoubi and Mousavi Tabrizi were the first targets. Then the movement went further and focused on Hashemi Rafsanjani, Gholamhussein Karbaschi, Abdullah Nouri, Saeed Hajjarian, Ataollah Mohajerani, Hassan Rowhani, Ali-akbar Velayati, Nateq-Nouri, Mahdavi Kanni, etc. This group had a plan and a goal.

If we shy away from using this group’s tactic of labeling every other group or faction that opposes it as a ‘mafia,’ we still have to say that this group is itself a mafia. It has become clear over the years that this group uses the method of “label and eliminate” to get rid of its opponents: it first labels whatever that gets in its way, and then uses that label to eliminate it.

Let us for the moment leave aside how the ninth government came to power. Let us just try to understand why an administration that came to power on some popular support is now under such heavy criticism that it has to actually confront the very same “people” that voted it into office!

The group’s political tactics have not been and are not complex. In fact, this group is essentially incapable of designing elaborate plans. In the field of foreign policy, it decided to create controversies whenever it could, so that the price of oil would go up and more money could be spent on the poor – to purchase popularity, so to speak. The tactic seems plausible on the surface. And it worked for a year. Mr. President talked of the need to remove Israel from the face of the planet, and there was a huge uproar. He denied the Holocaust, and more controversies emerged. Both times the price of oil went up and reached a peak. But this group did not know that the opposite side would use expertise and computer rooms to come up with a counterattack very soon. And the counterattack came all right: nowadays, no matter what Ahmadinejad says or does, there are no major controversies; the price of oil stays the same, and has even gone done.

The group’s whole plan, which seems “complex” to itself, can be summarized in one line: provoking the international community into making threats and using those threats as an excuse to create an abnormal and emergency situation, in which publications, labor unions, the student movement and non-governmental organizations can be suppressed.

What was it that enabled the American neo-cons to implement their lifelong dream of bringing 200-300,000 troops to the oil wells of the Middle East? The answer is clear: Bin Laden. The presence of “Bin Ladens” is essential for quenching the thirst of neo-cons for energy resources. The radicals on both sides live parasitically off one another.

These are not the times of the Iran-Iraq war, when people were still hot about the revolution and poured onto the battlefield to defeat a devil like Saddam. Today, most, if not all, people want to coexist peacefully with the international community, and know about these tactics very well. They ask, very clearly, what have you done to bring us to this point?

Masoud Behnoud is a seasoned Iranian commentator and journalist living in exile.


Ahmadinejad’s “Nazis”

By Norman Markowitz

14 Dec 2006

Rabbi Moishe Arye Friedman, left, from Austria, give his business card to a Muslim clergyman, as Rabbi Ahron Cohen from England, looks on, at the Holocaust conference in Tehran, Iran. Photo: Vahid Salemi/AP

If I were a conspiracy theorist, which I am not, I would say that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran’s far right president, was an agent provocateur of the Bush administration, working to isolate his country from the civilized world and set the stage for a military attack on it. Ahmadinejad seems to think that the best way to advance himself is to seek alliances with open fascists throughout the world while distracting his own people’s attention from the high unemployment and inflation that they face, posing as the defender of the Palestinian people and the enemy of the U.S. and the Israeli governments.

Ahmadinejad’s government held a “conference” this week on the Holocaust, as the fascist genocide perpetrated against the Jewish people of Europe during WWII is universally known. The “conference” was advertised as an event that would present “both sides” on the issues, which is like saying that one might have a conference on slavery in the U.S. giving both sides, the slaveholders praising slavery’s “positive accomplishments” and denying the millions who perished under its brutal sway as against slavery’s critics. Or perhaps a conference on the genocide in the Congo at the beginning of the 20th century, with Belgian colonialists contending that they were providing work for the Congolese and denying and/or explaining away the many millions who perished at the hands as against those who hold the now accepted view. Or even a “conference” on whether or not Islam is a religion of warfare and conquest whose theology threatens the peace of all non-Muslims (there is a “scholarship” that takes that position and quotes chapter and verse extensively to uphold it) against those who see all religions as open to many interpretations and uses

But the “conference” didn’t even have any voices defending the accepted historical facts “Holocaust deniers” dismiss and/or denounce, that is, that the Hitler regime and its allies organized a war of extermination against all Jewish people whom they could hunt down in their occupied areas. That they further used a number of methods to accomplish these goals, from roaming murder detachments to mobile poison gas vans to what became the major and most efficient means of slaughter, poison gas chambers in concentration camps into which millions, transported by the German and European railway system in freight cars, were exterminated and cremated after gold teeth and anything else of possible value was taken from their corpses.

The number six million, which derives from analysis of the Nazis own records, may if anything have been an underestimation. But the numbers really aren’t the central point. Neither are the pseudo-technical contentions once more on display at Ahmadinejad’s “conference” that the gas chambers could not have been built, that many died “accidentally” as a result of disease, etc., “interpretations” that Hitler fascist supporters have subsidized for decades and which has come to be called Holocaust Denial.

The central point seems to be that Ahmadinejad believes that he can reach out to the American people by bringing to Teheran David Duke rather than the peace activists (a number of them of Jewish background) who have actively opposed Bush administration maneuvers to launch a war against his country. Or perhaps he believes that the Muslims of the world have something in common with former KKK leaders and open defenders of the Hitler regime. If he does, that is truly a great insult to all of the world’s Muslims.

If he were interested in “helping” the Palestinian people, why did his government block a Palestinian lawyer (who also happens to be an Israeli citizen) who heads an Institute to study the Holocaust and its effects on Israeli-Palestinian relations and was prepared to challenge directly the motley crew of “Holocaust deniers” from Europe, Australia, and the U.S? Why did Ahmadinejad in effect greet and try to legitimize thinly disguised racists and fascists from many countries as if he were their patron and supporter, even though most of them espouse theories that would portray virtually all of the Muslims of the world, including his own people, as “racial inferiors”?

From everything that Iranian friends tell me, Ahmadinejad’s government is very unpopular in Iran because of the deepening economic crisis and his repressive policies, including the arrest of labor leaders, suppression of student opposition, and general identification with the most reactionary sectors of the society. The people who voted for Ahmadinejad did so in the hope that he would alleviate the economic crisis that many identified with the previous government’s improved economic relations with the great capitalist powers. From what I can gather, he has made the economic situation worse.

Although Ahmadinejad is the leader of a clerical regime, he is not himself a cleric and many see his religious politics as political opportunism. Some have contended that he identifies with pro Nazi ideologues in the Court of the Shah in the 1930s (the old Shah who tilted toward and perhaps sought to ally himself with Nazi Germany to break the hold of British oil interests on his nation before WWII). In 1941, Soviet and British forces ousted that Shah, whose actions were clearly aiding the fascist Axis, and replaced him with his son, as a constitutional monarch. Had this not happened, Hitler might have declared the Iranians “honorary Aryans” as he did his Japanese allies.

In holding his conference this week, Ahmadinejad was inviting fascist elements from many countries to become his allies. Perhaps he will follow in Hitler’s footsteps and declare them “honorary defenders of the faith.”

In 1953, the CIA with British support overthrew the elected prime minister, Mossadegh, and in effect made the Shah into an all powerful dictator, savagely suppressing the Tudeh Party (communist) and all secular center and left forces in the society. In the political vacuum created by the dictatorship, a section of the Islamic clergy became a center for opposition and when the Shah was overthrown in 1978, a clerical “Islamic Republic” was established.

What would Iran be like today if Mossadegh had not been overthrown and the oil wealth of the nation used for social development. What would Iran be like today if the Reagan administration had not supported Saddam Hussein’s war of aggression against the clerical regime after the overthrow of the Shah? It is very doubtful that the Iranian people would be suffering today under the regime of Ahmadinejad, just as the Iraqi people would probably have been able to dispense with Hussein in the 1980s had it not been for the Reagan administration’s support of his regime.

Anti-Jewish racism, which the world has called anti-Semitism since the late 19th century, has little resonance in the history of the Iranian people, or in the Muslim religion for that matter, although the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has enabled rightwing elements to highlight anti-Jewish statements in Muslim religious texts and peddle anti-Jewish racist works, including The Elders of the Protocols of Zion, in Arabic speaking countries under the pretext of fighting Israel and Zionism.

Like David Duke, for whom anti Jewish racism, anti-Black racism, anti-whatever the market calls for racism, has been something like a racket for over thirty years, Ahmadenejad has “invested” his government in anti-Jewish racism or anti-Semitism, hoping perhaps to “corner the market” and become the leader in this niche of the racist business. In the process, he has hurt and insulted his own people and their progressive traditions. He has, along with and insulting all Jewish people regardless of their religious sentiments and views of Israel, insulted the Palestinian people who struggle against Israel’s oppressive policies he has sullied by identifying that struggle with the crude lies perpetrated by supporters of Hitler fascism.

I started this article in a semi-serious way that if I were a conspiracy theorist, I would accuse Ahmadinejad of being a Bush agent. Actually Ahmadinejad has helped Bush more than if he were an agent. He has on his own given the Bush administration a propaganda victory against his country that millions of CIA dollars could not have accomplished. If he continues on this path he may even top Saddam Hussein as a paragon of political wisdom.

–Norman Markowitz is a contributing editor of Political Affairs and can be reached at


Holocaust deniers gather in Iran for ‘scientific’ conference

Robert Tait in Tehran
The Guardian

12 Dec 2006

Rabbi Moishe Arye Friedman, left, from Austria, give his business card to a Muslim clergyman, as Rabbi Ahron Cohen from England, looks on, at the Holocaust conference in Tehran, Iran. Photo: Vahid Salemi/AP

An international cast of established Holocaust deniers and implacable foes of Israel were given an open forum by Iran yesterday to support Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s contention that the murder of six million Jews by the Nazis was a “myth”.

The foreign ministry opened a two-day conference, Review of the Holocaust: Global Vision – which senior officials portrayed as scientific scholarship but which Ehud Olmert, Israel’s prime minister, denounced as a “sick phenomenon”. Visiting Berlin, Mr Olmert urged Germany to sever diplomatic ties with Iran.

Iran’s foreign minister, Manouchehr Mottaki, insisted the event was necessary to counter an alleged lack of free speech in the west about the Holocaust, which Iranian officials argue is used to justify Israel’s oppression of the Palestinians.

“Today people who claim to be against Nazism have a record of colonialism and racism,” he said. “The objective for organising this conference is to create an atmosphere to raise various opinions about a historical issue. We are not seeking to deny or prove the Holocaust.”

But pretensions to scholastic objectivity were undermined by the background of some among the 67 foreign visitors from 30 countries, including Britain. They included David Duke, a former imperial wizard of the Ku Klux Klan; Robert Faurisson, a French lecturer stripped of his academic tenure for his anti-Holocaust opinions; and Michele Renouf, a London-based associate of the British author David Irving. Irving is currently serving a jail sentence for Holocaust denial in Austria.

A group of radical anti-Zionist rabbis, Jews United Against Israel, who oppose a Jewish state on religious grounds, were given a prominent role. Among them was Rabbi Ahron Cohen, a retired former lecturer at the Jewish religious college in Hitchin, Hertfordshire. Rabbi Cohen acknowledged that the Holocaust had happened but said he saw nothing anti-semitic in Mr Ahmadinejad’s comments.

However, exhibitions on the conference’s fringes conveyed a different message. A series of posters carried the words “myth” and “truth” juxtaposed. Under “myth” were widely accepted verities of the Holocaust while under the “truth” label were opposing contentions.

One poster, simply headlined “truth”, carried photos of Irving and Ernst Zundel, a prominent German neo-Nazi also now in jail. Two of Irving books, Hitler’s War and Nuremberg: The Last Battle, were displayed along with several other Holocaust revisionist works. There were no books by orthodox historians on the Nazi era.

A video referred to the “supposed gas chambers” and the “alleged final solution”. A series of photos showed British soldiers “forcing” German prisoners to remove corpses from a mass grave. The caption suggested that the British were responsible for the deaths, saying: “The interesting point is that the grave was established in the last days of the war just as the camp was being opened by British soldiers.” Another picture, purportedly of Dachau concentration camp, shows a smiling, well-fed group of inmates.

Few visitors were apologetic. Mr Duke praised the event as an exercise in free speech. “It’s a shame that Iran, a country we often call oppressive, has to give this opportunity for free speech,” he said. “I think Israel is a terrorist state. It is the number one terrorist state in the world.”

Ms Renouf said “terrible things” had happened to the Jews during the second world war but claimed their own leaders had brought it upon them. “If people become anti-semitic, it’s because they believe the leaders of the Jews and are reacting to the anti-gentile nature of Judaism,” she said.

Moshe Ayre Friedman, an Austrian rabbi, argued that the figure of six million Jewish dead had come from a prophecy by Theodore Herzl, founder of modern Zionism, long before the second world war. He said recent research suggested the true figure was about one million. “Politically and historically, the land of Palestine doesn’t belong to the Jews and should be returned to Palestinians,” he said.

But Moris Motamed, Iran’s sole Jewish MP, labelled the gathering a “huge insult”.

In Britain, Stephen Smith, chairman of the Holocaust memorial day trust, said the conference contrasted with a high awareness of the Holocaust among young Britons. “Three-quarters of young people know when the Holocaust took place and 84% have heard of Auschwitz. Knowledge is the first step to prevention. Denial is the first step to repetition,” he said.


Pulitzer prize given 27 years on

Arash Bahmani

7 Dec 2006

Execution of Kurds

AN Iranian identified as the anonymous Pulitzer prize-winning photographer of a mass execution is to receive his $10,000 (£5,100) award more than a quarter of a century late.

Until last week Jahangir Razmi, 58, was too frightened to own up to the 1979 picture of 11 Kurds being shot by firing squad at an airstrip.

The photograph has been described as “the most famous and revealing picture of the Iranian revolution”. Razmi reluctantly agreed to accept credit for it after an American journalist spent five years tracking him down.

Razmi, who works in a small photographic shop and is President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s official photographer, said he was already regretting that he had agreed to be named. “I wish that reporter had never come. The picture isn’t a happy image of my country and I’m worried it will upset people,” he said.

Razmi was working for the Ettela’at newspaper when he witnessed the executions in Sanandaj, western Iran. The victims being executed had been tried that day for crimes such as arms trafficking, inciting riots and murder. Several have since been proved innocent.

One man was reportedly a Kurdish sandwich maker with no political leanings called Essa Pirvali who was arrested for possessing a handgun and then condemned to death for murder.

The paper’s editor at the time, Mohammed Heydari, decided to print the picture without a credit for fear of reprisals. Two days later, on August 29, 1979, it was splashed over front pages of newspapers across the world.

The regime had executed 500 Kurds in seven months, but until Razmi’s photograph was published there had been little international coverage of what was going on. Shortly after it printed the photo, Ettela’at was nationalised by the Iranian government.

Several photographers have claimed credit for taking the picture, and only last year an Iranian living in France stated it was he who had captured the image.

Photojournalists around the world have been commending Razmi’s bravery for speaking out this week, despite being a reluctant hero. “This image ranks up there with the very great news pictures of all time,” said Tom Stoddart, one of Britain’s leading the photojournalists.

“The big issue here is the photographer’s safety and it is extraordinarily commendable that after all these years Razmi can step forward and accept the acclaim that he deserves.”


Ramezanzadeh: Danger Facing the Country

Arash Bahmani

7 Dec 2006


Abdullah Ramezanzadeh served as the spokesperson for president Khatami’s government and is currently the vice-chairman of the Islamic Iran Participation Front [IIPF, the largest reform party in Iran]. He has interesting things to say about the reformers’ coalition and the infighting within the hardliner camp. Here are the excerpts.

Q: Mr. Ramezanzadeh, how come the reformers, who were divided into various factions during last year’s presidential election, have now agreed to form a coalition for the December 15th city council elections?

Ramezanzadeh (AR): Our friends and others at IIPF tried from the very beginning to prevent the formation of divisions inside the reformers camp. We wanted to prove to our opponents and to ourselves that the reform movement was a flexible movement and capable of change. So we spoke with our friends and did whatever we could to form a united coalition for the upcoming elections. The reality is that Iranian society is so heterogeneous that no group is able to claim that it can take power single-handedly. For this reason coalitions are part of the political reality in any heterogeneous society, and we have tried to actualize this option here as well.

Q: In that case why did the Etemad Melli Party and Mr. Karoubi refuse to be a part of the coalition?

AR: This has no particular meaning. The important point is that the two lists are the same, and the names on the two lists are identical. Now the format under which this is done does not matter.

Q: How about some of the more fringe reform parties, such as the Populist Reformer Front?

AR: We did our best to speak with all individuals and groups. We also provided certain principles when we formed the coalition council so that everyone could comply with those principles. A single political action is not important to us; what is important are the principles, which we will defend until the very last day. Unfortunately some of our friends did not agree with those principles. Any coalition requires a minimum shared foundation. We announced to friends who agreed with these minimum principles that we would work with them. And while we failed to include every group in this coalition, I believe that our future coalitions would be broader and stronger.

Q: It has been said that former president Khatami played an instrumental role in the formation of the coalition. What was his role?

AR: It is evident that all of the reformers who are part of this coalition have a particular and spiritual connection to Mr. Khatami. Mr. Khatami has always pushed the reformers towards the direction of unity.

Q: With respect to divisions within the hardliners camp, how do you view the split between Ahmadinejad and Ghalibaf [current mayor of Tehran]?

AR: I am not aware of the exact reasons but I know that these two do not get along with one another at all.

Q: In view of the last elections, do you think reformers have a chance to win the forthcoming elections?

AR: Our victory depends on our ability to get people to participate. If people come forward then we will win. This is true in every election: when people came to the voting booths, we won. On the other hand, when people’s participation was low, hardliners won. For example, hardliners won when 42 percent of the people did not come out to vote in the most recent presidential election.


Mohsen Armin: Garrison Party Will Again Intervene in Elections

Arash Bahmani

7 Dec 2006

Mohsen Armin

In an exclusive interview with Rooz Publication, Mohsen Armin, one of the founders and spokesman for the Sazman-e Mojahedin Engelab Eslami (Mojahedin of the Islamic Revolution Organization, MIRO) political group talked about the forthcoming Assembly of Experts (Khobregan Assembly) and local elections, the situation with the reformers, and the differences among ideologues. Mr. Armin is a former deputy speaker of the Majlis (Parliament). The following are the key excerpts from the interview.

Q:Ever since the current hardline administration won last year’s presidential elections, reformers in Iran have complained about the legality of the elections that brought them to power. Is this going to be repeated after December 15th when the Assebly of Experts and local elections take place?

Mohsen Armin (MA): Reformers have two basic concerns during the upcoming elections. The first is the health of the elections, which they doubt we will have. Already there is evidence to support this concern and doubt. Events indicate that the ruling garrison party will widely intervene and exert its influence. Now that the Ministry of the Interior (which oversees the implementation of the elections) and the Guardian Council (which vets out the candidates) have coordinated their activities, we have more reason for concern. While it is possible that by placing some observers at polling stations, reformers may prevent some election fraud, this is not a fool-proof checkpoint. Our only hope is that people will participate in the elections on a wide scale, thus making any fraud irrelevant and ineffective. You know that during Mr. Khatami’s presidential elections there were some 2 million fraudulent votes, but because of the size of his victory margin, this made no difference to the outcome of the race.

Q: How did reformers agree on a common list of candidate, which was a surprise?

MA: I was always optimistic about such a development. In fact, differences among reformers were pumped up by the opposing groups and their psychological war. This consensus is even stronger than the one that created a reformist majority in the sixth Parliament (2000-2004). The reason for this is the experience of prior elections, and especially the last presidential elections. But perhaps even more important are the events of the past year, i.e. since the coming into power of hardliners and the danger that people recognize they pose to the country. One should not forget that reformers have a hard battle and everything is against them. Political competition is absolutely unfair in this country, whether one looks at available publicity and propaganda tools or at the national media, or even at the agencies that supervise and implement the process of elections, which are under the control of the government.

Q: Some peripheral groups among reformers have a problem with the list. What is being done to guarantee this consensus?

MA: There are 18 groups in the current coalition, which comprises almost all the reform groups. Etemad Melli party of Mehdi Karubi is a member too and adjustments had to be made to accommodate it. A lot of effort went into creating this wide and precious coalition. Still, it is clear that it is almost impossible to satisfy each and every individual and group. One should also note that the new coalition does not comprise the oldest reform groupings. There may be some 40 reformist groups altogether, but it is impossible to come up with 40 nationally recognized candidates, let alone groups, for the national elections who will be acceptable to everyone and the public. This idea of 40 groups and the absence of some groups is a media stunt by those who appear only during election periods. Their aim is to destroy the reformist movement. We would have been happy if they too would have joined, but their absence is not going to harm the movement and the elections.

Q: What has Mr. Khatami’s role been in the formation of this coalition? MA: He occupies a special place in the movement and is respected by all its factions and individuals. He is in fact the foci of the reformers coalition. The elections headquarters and the coalition itself were created on his ideas. Groups accept his view points and ideas.

After last year’s presidential race, reformers spoke of their inability to win over the public and speak their language. Is that still true? MA: I do not think we will have that problem for the provincial elections because the presidential race and elections to the Majlis (Parliament) are different from provincial elections. This is true even if the problem of reaching the masses still continues today, because these are civic-social elections and not as political as the former ones. Reformers have a special position and place because people recognize that what is needed is a single faction to rule and tackle their problems. They can present better goals and slogans in this context and for the issues that related to the provinces.

Q: Ideologues seem to be as divided as they were during the presidential elections. What will be the outcome?

MA: Unlike the reformists, they have another element that is at play. Reformers have come up with a minimum common platform and views. Ideologues do not have this. In fact, what unites the ideologues is the force of power centers that drives and guides them. Certainly their competition with reformers also helps them unite. Their views and scope of party and political operations are not large enough to strike a significant coalition, because they have deep differences among themselves. I think without the imposing power of the power centers in the country, they will not be able to stand together. Their drive for power and goals spin them apart. This is especially true regarding the extremists who now hold political power. They lack the requirements to work with the other groups and form a coalition. This faction is extremely monopolistic in its drives and desires.

Q: So you think that the differences between president Ahmadinejad and mayor Ghalibaf are serious?

AR:Their differences are very deep. I think this has prevented them from uniting.

Q: Could Mr. Ghalibaf’s list be close to that of the reformers?

MA: I doubt this very seriously. While it is true that Ghalibaf opposes Ahmadinejad, he still has responsibilities and ties that do not allow him to step outside that group and present a list of candidates that is close to the reformers.


Ayatollah who backs suicide bombs aims to be Iran’s next spiritual leader

By Colin Freeman and Kay Biouki in Teheran
Sunday Telegraph

19 Nov 2006

An ultra-conservative Iranian cleric who opposes all dialogue with the West is a frontrunner to become the country’s next supreme spiritual leader.

In a move that would push Iran even further into the diplomatic wilderness, Ayatollah Mohammad Taghi Mesbah-Yazdi, 71, who publicly backs the use of suicide bombers against Israel, is campaigning to succeed Grand Ayatollah Ali Khameini, 67, as the head of the Islamic state.

Considered an extremist even by fellow mullahs, he was a fringe figure in Iran’s theocracy until last year’s election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a fellow fundamentalist who views him as his ideological mentor. He is known to many Iranians as “Professor Crocodile” because of a notorious cartoon that depicted him weeping false tears over the jailing of a reformist journalist.

Mr Mesbah-Yazdi and his supporters will attempt to tighten the fundamentalists’ political stranglehold next month, by standing in elections for the Assembly of Experts, an 86-strong group of theologians that would be responsible for nominating a replacement for Ayatollah Khamenei, whose health is rumoured to be ailing.

Opposing them will be a coalition of moderate conservatives led by Hashemi Rafsanjani, a former president, and members of the increasingly marginalised reformist movement, who have formed an alliance to prevent what both groups fear is a drift towards political extremism.

Appointing Mr Mesbah-Yazdi as supreme leader would be a massive blow to Western efforts to get Iran to cease its nuclear programme and backing of militants in Lebanon, Iraq and among the Palestinians. Although he has never spoken publicly on the issue, Mr Mesbah-Yazdi is thought to support the idea of an Iranian nuclear bomb.

Ali Ansari, an Iran specialist at the Royal Institute of International Affairs, said: “Mesbah-Yazdi is on the hard Right and very authoritarian. He doesn’t even believe in democracy. Having him in power would lead to a much more hard-line puritanical rule in Iran. It would not be good news for the West.”

The assembly of experts is elected every eight years and has the power to appoint, supervise and impeach the supreme leader, who, in practice, wields ultimate power. Although Ayatollah Khameini, who has been in office since 1989, is expected to remain for the time being, the assembly elected next month is almost certain eventually to decide his successor.

The run-up to the vote has been marred by complaints of rigging in favour of hardliners. The guardian council, a hardline conservative body that vets candidates, is accused of vetoing reform-minded clerics from taking part. Around half of nearly 500 applicants have been banned from standing.

In a letter to the council last week, Mehdi Karroubi, a reformist cleric, accused the council of “injustice” and misjudgement, saying that it would lead to “people’s distrust in the authorities and the clergy”. The reformists’ despair has been deepened by fears that few of their disillusioned supporters will vote, despite the possible consequences of a hardline victory. Constant political interference in the electoral process has persuaded many Iranians that it is not worth voting, an attitude that many reformists concede helped Mr Ahmadinejad’s victory at the polls last year.

“Many reformists have lost faith, although the hardliners will hope to organise a mass turn-out among their own supporters,” Mr Ansari said.

Mr Mesbah-Yazdi, who will be standing for election to the assembly of experts, regularly meets Mr Ahmadinejad, whose presidential bid he endorsed in a fatwa, or holy order.

The cartoonist whose drawing earned “Professor Crocodile” his nickname suffered the same fate as the journalists whose frequent imprisonment was depicted. He, too, was sent to jail.


Simin Behbahani: “No Fear”, An Interview with Iran’s National Poet


30 Oct 2006

Simin Behbahani: “No Fear”An Interview with Iran’s National Poet In the eighth decade of her life, Simin Behbahani, contemporary Iran’s first lady of lyric poetry, with her lined brow and white hair, speaks more of times long gone by than today. On a blazing hot summer day, Simin Behbahani, with her usual banter and mocking way?which has its roots in her days as a teacher?speaks of pain and the unending and inconclusive story of political prisoners in her homeland. Today, 100 years after the unfinished Constitutional Revolution, Iran is passing through yet another restless period. Some posters of her poems (“I Will Rebuild You, Homeland” and “Open a little Window of Freedom onto my Prison Cell”) and photos from Simin’s past and present decorate the walls of her home.

The aged poet, with tear-filled eyes that no longer see that well, emphasizes that she has no fear of the Islamic Republic as she goes over the memories of times gone by. She speaks of nights in Evin Prison in 1981 and the 1988 massacres; and how, from dusk until dawn, prisoners counted gun shots to keep a tally of the number of political prisoners who were executed by the Islamic Regime. She remembers the period after shah’s coup d’etat of August 19, 1953, when political prisoners were shot in groups. She continues into the years after the “Revolution,” and to the morning when Saeed Soltanpour, the revolutionary poet, director, and member of the Iranian Writers’ Association, was taken from his wedding ceremony to Evin prison and never returned. She continues her travel through time to the night when, under the rule of the “velayat-e faqih”, Iran’s renowned journalist and researcher, Rahman Hatefi, scratched at and injured his face with his own nails until morning so that he could not be filmed for televised confessions like his comrades. The blood of thousands of other political prisoners had not yet dried in the cells of Evin Prison when the Forouhars were stabbed to death inside their own home in 1998. Thousands of other activists have also been murdered in the course of the years, such that the fate of alternative thinkers in Iran has become a matter of repetition. That fate continues today; both Akbar Mohammadi and Valiollah Feyz Mahdavi died in prison only a few weeks ago after a short hunger strike. The well-known and adored Iranian poet considers her painful memories to be reflective of a nation’s history and the struggle for justice and freedom.

Soheila Assemi: Ms. Behbahani, in recent years, you have been an active participant wherever there has been an effort to demand the freedom of political prisoners and prisoners of conscience in the Islamic Republic of Iran. You have given speeches, written poetry, and participated in protests. Please tell us why you feel these activities are necessary during this specific period in our homeland?

Simin Behbahani: I have done this because speaking out, expressing one’s views, and standing by one’s opinion are among the pillars of democracy. If we seek to establish a democracy in our country, then every citizen should be able to express his/her opinions; every person must be able to say what is in his/her heart and put forth suggestions for reforming society. When no possibility exists for any of the above in a country, then freedom becomes meaningless. Of course, observing and upholding the rights of others has its own importance in freedom. Human rights must be observed completely. Individuals must not be doomed to being suppressed and executed by firing squads for expressing their opinions.

In 1979 we witnessed a mass movement that was referred to as a revolution or an uprising. The ideals and demands of that movement have continued, in one form or another, since the Constitutional Revolution of 1906 but remain unfulfilled. The main slogans of both revolutions were “national sovereignty, freedom, and social justice.” One hundred years of the people’s struggle has passed – that is one hundred years of being suppressed, jailed and executed for being the people’s advocates. In your opinion, how is the situation of the political prisoners under the ruling “velayat-e faqih” different from what their fate would have been under the shah’s regime?

We have had political prisoners under both regimes. Under monarchy, suppression ruled our country. Of course, there were more individual freedoms then because that shah’s regime was not a religious regime but a secular one.

Does this mean that the “religious” nature of this regime has created a more problematic situation?

That is right; because now religion intrudes on all aspects of people’s lives in Iran. Therefore, in addition to the fact that freedom of expression does not exist in our country, individual freedoms have been curtailed due to the religious character of the regime as well. The range of the government’s intervention has become quite broad. This means, based upon the suspicions of the beholder, any criticism or resistance may be construed as opposition to religion.

When the 1979 Revolution occurred, the doors to all prisons were supposed to be opened as a matter of principle. In fact, the people’s pivotal slogan was “free all political prisoners.” What, in your opinion, has happened to us in the course of the last 27 years?

We all took part in the revolution because we thought we would attain freedom. However, in the 27 years since the Islamic Republic was established, our prisons have been filled with political prisoners and prisoners of conscience. The only “crime” of the most of these prisoners has merely been the expression of their opinions. A large number of our political prisoners lost their lives inside the prisons of the Islamic regime; and a number of the survivors were then killed outside the prisons. There were many freedom lovers who were executed in prison, such as the famous poet and member of Iranian Writers’ Association, Saeed Soltanpour, or Saeedi Sirjani, and many others. Among those who were murdered outside prison were Dariush and Parvaneh Forouhar, Jafar Pouyandeh, Mohammad Mokhtari, Mir Alaie, Tafazzoli, Zalzadeh, and others. The latest victim is Akbar Mohammadi. Before him, Zahra Kazemi, an Iranian-Canadian photojournalist residing in Canada, was also tortured to death after being charged for photographing student protesters and the families of political prisoners. Well, obviously these acts violate the basic principles of human rights.

What do you remember from the decade between 1981 and 1991? What do you recall from the massacre of political prisoners that took place in the summer of 1988?

At that time, I regularly heard about the mass executions of a very large group of Iran’s youth. Those who have been in the Islamic Republic’s prisons recall that every night, until dawn, all they heard was the sound of shots being fired. They used to tally the number of the victims based on the number of shots they heard. Several mass graves exist in every city. It has been told by eye witnesses that the corpses of a great number of the executed political prisoners encased in burlap sacks were transported by trucks and buried in unmarked mass graves. The list, published abroad, of those executed is very long. Those executed were, mostly, members of political parties or organizations such as the Mojahedin-e Khalgh, “Fedayeen” (Majority and Minority), the Tudeh Party, or the Laborer’s Path, or “Peykar.” I have not been particularly close to, nor have I worked with, any of these organizations.

I have heard that in your youth, you were a sympathizer of the Youth Organization of the Tudeh Party of Iran. Is that right?

Yes it is. When I was young, I sympathized with the Tudeh Party. I used to work with its Youth Organization. However, when I realized that their characteristics did not suit my way of thinking, I pulled out. After August 19, 1953, I did not work with any political organizations.

We just passed the 53rd anniversary of the coup d’etat of August 19, 1953. What do you remember from the country’s political and social atmosphere after the fall of Dr. Mohammad Mossadegh’s independent government, the shah’s return, and the wave of executions and the compulsory migration of activists?

Following the coup d’etat, an absolute silence took hold and the press did not publish for awhile. We witnessed the execution of several groups of military and intellectual Tudeh Party supporters, among them, Morteza Keyvan, Iran’s great poet and critic. Many others spent years in prison. A few years later, several magazines such as “Sepheed-o-Siah” (Black and White) and “Omid-e Iran” (Hope of Iran), were published. Little by little, things changed and everything grew anew until the revolution.

Our homeland has gone through many stages-both successes and disappointments-in the course of the 100 years following the Constitutional Revolution. Perhaps one of these turning points was the 2nd of Khordad, 1376 (May 23, 1997) when Mr. Khatami was elected as the Islamic Republic’s president and assembled his reformist administration. At that time, at the peak of that movement, how far did you believe the changes could go?

After eight years of war with Iraq,the resultant destruction, and the deprivations that the people of this country suffered, I believed that the situation had no other chance to change and improve. Under those circumstances, Khatami’s rise to power was a source of hope and optimism. In the 1997 elections, many people expressed their feelings quite freely on this subject. Unfortunately, in the very first year Khatami’s term, the political chain murders took place. This issue brought back feelings of despair to society at large- especially when the investigation of those murders proved inconclusive and even more so when Nasser Zarafshan, the courageous prosecutor in this case, was thrown in prison over five years ago. The second time that Khatami was elected, people still retained a smidgeon of hope in their hearts. Unfortunately, that hope, too, turned quickly into despair and the country’s socio-political atmosphere worsened.

During the last year, concurrent with the excitement of the ninth presidential elections, those who sought to transform Iran emphasized people’s demands through gatherings and demonstrations. Among these activities were the seven-day gathering in front of Evin Prison, which demanded freedom for Nasser Zarafshan and other political prisoners, the gathering of women in front of Tehran University, and the gatherings calling for the release of Akbar Ganji, including one in front of Tehran’s Milad Hospital during his hunger strike. You partook in all these gatherings. Please tell us about your experience participating in these events.

I did not think Ganji deserved all that suffering. We were close to losing him after he went on his long hunger strike. At the beginning of his hunger strike, I wrote a poem for him. Also, when it was time for him to break his strike, I wrote another poem. At the time of the gathering in front of Milad Hospital, we met with Ganji’s attending physician, but they did not permit us to visit him. I sent Ganji the poem I had written for him-in which I had requested him to break his hunger strike-along with a single rose, through his physician. Akbar Ganji was at the verge of dying at the Milad Hospital.

Recently, with Mr. Ganji’s departure from Iran and the three-day public hunger strike he organized to promote the cause of three political prisoners representing the country’s three political movements, varying opinions were expressed. The Iranian Writers’ Association-of which you are an active member-issued a communiqué rejecting participation in this hunger strike, but you emphasized your support. What was the story behind that discord?

You see, the Iranian Writers’ Association is an independent organization comprised of writers with varying opinions who may even disagree with each other’s personal beliefs. Therefore, we cannot ask everyone to follow a certain policy or opinion. As members of this organization, we have agreed on only two principles: opposition to censorship and agreement with and support for democracy. Regardless of the member’s other beliefs, opinions, ideologies and religion, any writer who accepts the above two principles can become a member of the Iranian Writers’ Association. A number of members opposed the hunger strike organized by Ganji. The rest of us could not impose our opinions upon them so that they, too, would support it. I was in favor of supporting Ganji and still stand by this belief. I hope Ganji can remain a free, incorruptible and respectable man

One of the criticisms directed at Mr. Ganji’s recent action by the country’s leftist and democratic forces was that Dr. Nasser Zarafshan’s name did not appear on Ganji’s list. Concern arose that, given the above fact, Mr. Ganji’s movement embraces what is known as “religious liberalism, and therefore, why should we follow that?” What is your opinion on this matter?

In any case, Ganji is free to make his own decisions and express his opinions. We did not support Ganji’s opinions. We spoke of Ganji’s freedom and endeavored to bring about circumstances in which he could openly express whatever he wishes in the arena of public opinion. However, it does not necessarily mean that all political prisoners are correct when they become free and express their plans and opinions. And it is not necessary that their beliefs be accepted by others. We support their right of freedom of expression; though they may be incorrect. However, thus far, I have liked everything Ganji has expressed and I believe that, so far, he has behaved appropriately.

Unity is an essence issue in our people’s movement. How can such unity be achieved among the various political forces in order to maintain the “absolute minimums” necessary for the continuation of the democratic movement and its ability to play a role in the country’s future?

I believe in unity. I believe that, as much as possible, we should bring together the various political groups, organizations, parties and activists. Of course, the Iranian Writers’ Association is not a political party or group, but it is an organization. Our organizations must not hinder each other. On the contrary, they should accept what they like in each other; and peacefully oppose what they dislike in a reasonable fashion. Tolerance of others’ opinions-even though their opinions may be different than one’s own-is the essence of democracy.

How do you believe these “absolute minimums” must be defined in order to bring the country’s various political forces closer together?

Many potential problems lie in this path. We can reach agreements with each other through forgiveness, tolerance, mutual understanding and peaceful cooperation. However, in actuality, sometimes this equation does not hold true. Political arrogance, vehement expressions of feelings, insistence on opinions, prejudiced beliefs, etc., split political activists and groups.

Another concern regarding Mr. Ganji’s struggle for political prisoners’ freedom, expressed by certain political activists, is the potential repetition of what happened in February 1979: blindly following one person leadership and his slogans without really knowing where he is taking the followers.

I do not believe this holds true in Ganji’s case. Based on the short meetings I have had with him, I do not believe Ganji plans to get a group of people to follow him. I have also heard him speak several times via satellite television programs and I have not felt this was the case. This is no longer the era when one person can become the sole leader and gather a group of blind followers.

Some analysts believe that our country is now in a delicate and complicated situation. On the one hand, there is an authoritarian regime that violates the national interests of Iran. On the other hand, there are international powers that also threaten our country’s national interests, who have even mentioned the possibility of a military strike on the country. In your opinion, under these circumstances, what is the pressing and overriding responsibility of the country’s democratic forces bound by the three principal concepts of our revolutions: liberty, independence and social justice?

One cannot always get ahead through waging war, applying force and being a bully. There are times when national interests dictate that one be patient and not let destruction rule. Inviting others to initiate a war is a huge mistake. Of course, I do not believe that there are Iranians who are waiting for their country to engage in a war, because I believe that no sane person would agree to such a thing. However, if there are persons or movements who have such plans in mind due to their inconsideration, I hope that they will realize their mistake very soon and that understand that war will not threaten our national interests yet again. The Iranian people do not have the ability to withstand the consequences of another war imposed on our country. Such a war could even lead up to Iran’s fragmentation.

Some people or movements inside Iran and abroad believe that following a planned military strike against Iran, regime change is possible. What is your opinion in this regard?

You know, the issue here is not one of regime change. The issue here is that proper action must be taken. It is possible that this regime would fall, but nothing major would change; or the situation may even become worse. It is also possible that people may actually use their intellect and that things may change for the better. For me, it is not important which regime is in power. What is important to me is how that regime acts and behaves.

The rumors indicate that in accordance with a project known as “creating opposition forces” among certain neo-cons in the U.S., the debate on a military attack on Iran is being pursued thoroughly.

Yes, I am familiar with these currents. There are elements that want the U.S. to rain bombs on Iran, so that one of these bombs may hit such and such places or persons. However, the people of Iran will reap no benefits through such a war. Any war that takes place in Iran will definitely result in Iran’s breakup and division.

Ms. Behbahani, let us return to the subject of political prisoners. When we speak of political prisoners, we must also speak of a forgotten part of the equation -the families, especially the wives, of political prisoners. During the time their spouses suffer imprisonment, these brave individuals shoulder all the hardships of life in a male-dominated society.

I definitely agree. I have said many times that when a person is imprisoned, it is not that person alone who is harmed. That person’s family also suffers the consequences and this affects the entire family’s future. Judges should consider providing the families of those whom they find guilty-though I believe that political prisoners are innocent honorable people-with certain minimum provisions at the time their loved ones are arrested.

Ms. Behbahani, throughout the years you have repeatedly and clearly voiced your views. Have you ever given thought to the possible consequences of this for yourself in Iran?

I have been asked this question many times. I am not out to overthrow any government. I am not a guerilla, nor do I seek destruction. I am a just a person who speaks about matters which I consider to be just, and I have no fear of the Islamic Republic. However, if anyone wishes to silence me, let him come and do it. If someone seeks to blind me, let him do it. I hope that all political prisoners and prisoners of conscience will be freed soon. I hope that this country will experience repose and peace. I hope that the people of this country can be tranquil and that they will be subjected to no unwise pressures. These people can not tolerate any more hardship.


Affection for Teachers on Teachers’ Day

Shirzad Abdollahi

13 Oct 2006

World's Teachers' Day

On October 5, more than 300 teachers gathered peacefully in front of the building of the Ministry of Education, an event organized jointly by Kanun-e Senfiy-e Moaleman (Society of Iranian Teachers) and Sazman-e Moaleman-e Iran (Teachers’ Association of Iran).

UNESCO designated October 5 as the World Teachers Day in its general assembly meeting in 1994. Though the Iranian delegation was present at the meeting and the Islamic Republic of Iran was one of the signatories, the World Teachers’ Day is practically ignored in Iran by officials. In the past three years, teachers’ associations have themselves organized events to commemorate the day.

Last week, teachers begin gathering peacefully in front of the Education Ministry’s building from 10am. The ministry is closed on Thursdays, so it looked empty. Passers-by curiously looked at the crowds and read the placards: “Happy World Teachers’ Day!”

The Minister of Education and his deputies were at the time attending another meeting. The minister spoke and said that it did not own an oil well to finance pay raises for the teachers. At the same time, he praised teachers throughout his whole speech, even though he did not recognize the World Teachers’ Day. Two days earlier he had supervised the arrest of a high school teacher who was distributing a publication, Sokhan-e Moalem (Teacher’s Word), to his colleagues on charges that he had not obtained the required permit.

The teachers who had gathered in front of the ministry believed that the minister’s decision to ignore the World Teachers’ Day was an illegal act. They say that the minister is committed to upholding intentional treaties. They ask, if celebrating a professional international days is bad, then why is the first day of May celebrated in Iran? Moreover, they believe that releasing a statement to commemorate the day does not require a budget or an oil well.

There is a common concern in the teachers’ voices: discrimination.

Alireza Hashemi, president of the Teachers’ Association of Iran, says, “Mr. President! Come see one million teachers and spend a few days looking over their problems, like you do in your provincial visits. Mr. Minister! What do you have to say about tens of promises that you made in the Majlis to receive your vote of confidence? The inappropriate behavior towards the teachers and their organizations has decreased motivations and the marginalization of able managers has made everyone disappointed.”

The next speaker at the rally was Mahmoud Beheshti Langeroudi, president of the Society of Iranian Teachers, who spent 50 days of his summer vacation in 2004 in jail for participating in the 2003 teachers’ strike. Beheshti said in a calm tone, “This minister is not at the level of this ministry. Majlis deputies must impeach him and send him back to the school he came from.” Beheshti added, “With these policies our educational system is descending into the Middle Ages.”

Ali Akbar Yaghani, vice president of the Society of Iranian Teachers, noted that the official recognition of international days falls under the jurisdiction of the Supreme Council for Cultural Revolution. He thus asked the council to recognize the day and include it in the official calendar. The teachers left the gathering after releasing a 10-point statement.


The Second Wave of Ideological Purges

Esfandyar Saffari

21 Sep 2006

Student placement cells at Iranian universities have intensified their activities. The non-admittance of tens of qualified students to Masters programs is part of this revival. In a letter to all its bureaus across Iran, the Minister of Education in Tehran has called for greater activity by the placement cells that determine who should get into which program and who should be denied admission. In his circular Minister Mahmoud Farshidi has stressed that absolutely no person whose credentials, qualifications and past record have not been thoroughly scrutinized by the Placement cells should be hired even by private educational institutions.

Last year, many executive managers in government ministries and agencies were unilaterally removed from their posts despite the service and record of some who had helped establish the Islamic Republic of Iran. These individuals were dismissed because of their political or ideological views that were close to the rivals of the hardliners, who had won the presidential race last year. And while no official statistics have been provided for the number of people affected by these dismissals or forceful retirement, newspaper estimates have put them at 25 thousand individuals.

This appears to be the second round of purges that is taking place, and with the same goal and criteria. Only the venue has changed. Under a report titled “The Return of Screening to Universities”, Saheb Galam newspaper writes of tens of students who have been denied admission to Masters programs despite having successfully passed the national competitive exams. “In telephone calls to students, some of whom had been political activists during their first four years on different campuses, one week before the results of placement tests of students who had applied to university Masters programs were announced, many said they had been summoned to the Ministry of Science – the government ministry that supervises higher education in Iran – because of incomplete application documents. When the students showed up at the ministry, there were confronted with an official who asked them questions that were similar to those asked by the placement cells during the days of the Cultural Revolution,” the newspaper article wrote.

This revival of the placement tests follows the renewal of activities of the disciplinary committees last year. Officials of the universities and the Ministry of Science insist that the new measures were to ‘make the campuses healthier’ and to “create a better educational climate.”

During the first years after the establishment of the Islamic Republic in 1979, what mattered most to its officials was ensure that those it hired held views and thoughts in line with those of the newly-established government. In those days people were divided into “Hizbullahis” and regular folks, “Basijis” and regular folks, etc. This type of discrimination took a different form during the second decade of the revolution, and was called “useful forces”, vs. useless ones and in some cases destructive. Some even called it “from amongst us” vs. others (khodi, gheyre khodi).

These divisions that placement cells implemented and enforced in government ministries and agencies gradually separated the government from the public, especially after the 8-year war with Iraq in the 1980s which was instrumental in the public’s choice of an outsider during the fifth presidential race in 1997 that brought in the reformist Khatami to office in a completely surprise outcome. The gap between the rulers and the ruled widened so much that even official intelligence agencies confidentially reported that people were rapidly loosing interest and belief in religion and favorable views of the government.

But since their return to power, hardliners have once again revived the purging activities of individuals and cells in educational institutions and the Ministry of the Interior, among other government controlled agencies.


The Year of Living Fearfully


Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has gone from being an obscure and not-so-powerful politician to a central player in the Mideast, simply by goading the United States.
By Fareed Zakaria

09 Sep 2006

Sept. 11, 2006 issue – It’s 1938, says the liberal columnist Richard Cohen, evoking images of Hitler’s armies massing in the face of an appeasing West. No, no, says Newt Gingrich, the Third World War has already begun. Neoconservatives, who can be counted on to escalate, argue that we’re actually in the thick of the Fourth World War. The historian Bernard Lewis warned a few weeks ago that Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, could be planning to annihilate Israel (and perhaps even the United States) on Aug. 22 because it was a significant day for Muslims.

Can everyone please take a deep breath?

To review a bit of history: in 1938, Adolf Hitler launched what became a world war not merely because he was evil but because he was in complete control of the strongest country on the planet. At the time, Germany had the world’s second largest industrial base and its mightiest army. (The American economy was bigger, but in 1938 its army was smaller than that of Finland.) This is not remotely comparable with the situation today.

Iran does not even rank among the top 20 economies in the world. The Pentagon’s budget this year is more than double Iran’s total gross domestic product ($181 billion, in official exchange-rate terms). America’s annual defense outlay is more than 100 times Iran’s. Tehran’s nuclear ambitions are real and dangerous, but its program is not nearly as advanced as is often implied. Most serious estimates suggest that Iran would need between five and 10 years to achieve even a modest, North Korea-type, nuclear capacity.

Washington has a long habit of painting its enemies 10 feet tall-and crazy. During the cold war, many hawks argued that the Soviet Union could not be deterred because the Kremlin was evil and irrational. The great debate in the 1970s was between the CIA’s wimpy estimate of Soviet military power and the neoconservatives’ more nightmarish scenario. The reality turned out to be that even the CIA’s lowest estimates of Soviet power were a gross exaggeration. During the 1990s, influential commentators and politicians-most prominently the Cox Commission-doubled the estimates of China’s military spending, using largely bogus calculations. And then there was the case of Saddam Hussein’s capabilities. Saddam, we were assured in 2003, had nuclear weapons-and because he was a madman, he would use them.

One man who is greatly enjoying being the subject of this outsize portraiture is Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. He has gone from being an obscure and not-so-powerful politician-Iran is a theocracy, remember, so the mullahs are ultimately in control-to a central player in the Middle East simply by goading the United States and watching Washington take the bait. By turning him into enemy No. 1, by reacting to every outlandish statement he makes, the Bush administration has given him far more attention than he deserves. And so now he writes letters to Bush, offers to debate him and prances about in the global spotlight provided by American attention.

Ahmadinejad strikes me as less a messianic madman and more a radical populist, an Iranian Huey Long. He has outflanked the mullahs on the right on nuclear policy, pushing for a more confrontationist approach toward Washington. He has outflanked them on the left on women’s rights, arguing against some of the prohibitions women face. (He wants them to be able to attend soccer matches.) Almost every week he announces a new program to “help the poor.” He uses the nuclear issue because it gives him a great nationalist symbol. For a regime with little to show after a quarter century in power-Iranian standards of living have actually declined since the revolution-nuclear power is a national accomplishment.

Even Ahmadinejad’s most grotesque statement, implying the annihilation of Israel, is likely part of this pattern. Iran is seeking leadership in the Middle East, and what better way to do so than by appropriating the core grievance of the Sunni Arabs: Israel. By making his dramatic statements, he is taunting the regimes of the Arab world, using rhetoric they dare not, for fear of Washington. His rhetoric is not so new; the Iranian “moderate” Ali Hashemi Rafsanjani said similar things. The real shift that has taken place in the Middle East is that 30 years ago most Arab regimes would have made statements like Ahmadinejad’s. Today his “rejectionism” stands alone.

Iran is run by a nasty regime that destabilizes an important part of the world, frustrates American and Western interests, and causes problems for allies like Israel. But let’s get some perspective. The United States is far more powerful than Iran. And, on the issue of Tehran’s nuclear program, Washington is supported by most of the world’s other major powers. As long as the alliance is patient, united and smart-and keeps the focus on Tehran’s actions not Washington’s bellicosity-the odds favor America. Ahmadinejad presides over a country where more than 40 percent of the population lives under the poverty line; his authority is contested, and Iran’s neighbors are increasingly worried and have begun acting to counter its influence. If we could contain the Soviet Union, we can contain Iran. Look at your calendar: it’s 2006, not 1938.


Military Dictatorship

Mehrdad Sheibani

07 Sep 2006

The last month of the Persian summer, which is half way through, clarified the political situation in Iran. Two religious hardline governments face each other. Their battlefield is the Middle East for which forces are aligning themselves from outside the region.

The conditions on the ground are complicated conditions, the situation is complex and there are multitudes of events, some of which contradict others, while others compliment some. They all reflect the strategic importance of a war whose consequences will have a long term impact on our contemporary world.

On one hand we have the Islamic Republic of Iran which is pursuing this not in defense of its national interests, but to advance its ideological reach which is called the ‘Mesbahie’ movement( Mesbah Yazdi) in Iran, while George Bush calls it the ideology of al-Qaeda.

This week the Islamic regime announced its view of the world through the words of the commander of the Passdaran Revolutionary Guards – the principal helmsman of Iran’s power – who said this to a group of military commanders: “The honored leader of the revolution(Ayatollah Khamenei) is the awakening of the Islamic world, the Muslim nation and awakening movements in the Third World.” The executioner of this view is no other than President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who showed his presence in all domestic and international events.

On the foreign policy front, the policy of the killing time of the Islamic regime was rejected entered a new phase with a show of force. The chitchat about acquiring nuclear weapons should the ‘public request’ which was denied as is the routine practice of the regime, strengthened the suspicions that the purpose of killing time is to acquire nuclear weapons, which was used by George Bush too who said, “Now the regime is trying to acquire nuclear weapons.” Last week, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan left Iran empty handed. The publicized meeting between Larijani and EU’s Solana was postponed, and China and Russia continued their strategic games. Everyone is waiting to show their final winning card which will protect their greatest national interest, except Iran whose national interests is a tool in the hands of those who wish to remain in power at any cost.

The former minister of Islamic Guidance Ataollah Mohajerani who is a self-exiled politician wishing to remain off politics issued a warning last week. “We must remember that all countries, including Russia and China are after their own national interests. Their relations with the United States are such that in a US-Iran confrontation, they will absolutely not side with Iran. When they said that they would send Iran’s nuclear issue to the UN Security Council, these gentlemen argued that they would not. We saw that they did. They said that the Security Council would set a deadline for Iran to respond to, again these gentlemen said they would not, but they did. The next, third phase are the sanctions and barriers, and following that a military confrontation.”

America identifies itself through military confrontation and so it searches for a justification to destroy, ruin and throw back Iran from its development efforts. But how do Iranians define themselves? A friend was arguing with me that since the US is bogged down in Afghanistan and Iraq, it will not open yet another military front. I told him we must assume that precisely because of its current failure, it will start another adventure because that is how it defines itself.

There is a suspicion that former president Mohammad Khatami’s trip to the US is to prevent the US from doing what his minister of Culture has warned: War. The very same war that the Islamic Republic is awaiting, and planning to confront it through national maneuvers and with the gradual establishment of the ‘military dictatorship’, which is almost complete these days, while silencing all non-official voices and critics.

Last week, a news website that was published from inside Iran committed suicide for fear of being killed. The editor of Iran Ma (Our Iran) news website Bijan Saf Sari clearly demonstrated the atmosphere that hangs over Iran these days. “They no longer tolerate anyone’s voice except their own. And if you wish to know why we are packing up our work, we reveal that since they are filtering our website and denying access to our readers, there is no interest left to continue. And this is also true for all other reliable news sites that fear being caught up. And so we give up.”

And in the same atmosphere, the government spokesman issued his death warrant for critical publications to judge Saeed Mortezavi who is notorious for this task. The Ministry of Islamic Guidance which is said that is run directly by the ‘supreme leader’ for the first time in history published a list of news agencies that are legal and acceptable to be quoted and used by the domestic press, while banning all others. The government’s official filtering of websites did not exclude even the website of a women’s group belonging to ayatollah Sanei, whom Etemad Melli newspaper called a ‘grand ayatollah’. The policy of filtering out websites includes those that use the word ‘woman’ or ‘girl’ in any language and called the use of these words by a grand ayatollah as sinful, and in the technical world simply ‘deleted’ the sites.

An interview with a Majlis (Iran’s Parliament) representative (Akbar Alami) last week also revealed that the only thing that is left of the legislative body in the country was the building façade of parliament void of its contents, thus making it another agency of the military administration. This is the third time in the history of the Majlis (Iran’s Parliament) that the legislature is being relegated to a ceremonial role. The parliament during Reza Shah’s rule and the one after the 1953 coup d’etat during Mohammad Reza Shah’s rule both gradually turned into rubber stamps for the whims and wishes of the king.

During last week, Iranians also experienced the new prices for their daily bread, reminding them of the continued inflationary trend to come. And as imports during the first 5 months of the Iranian fiscal year passed the $17 billion threshold, they reminded many that instead of going to people’s tablecloth – as promised by president Ahmadinejad during his presidential campaigns to win votes – Iran’s petro-Dollars were now pouring into the accounts of government affiliated businessmen and those in the industrial world that produced the grain. During the same week, major labor strikes in 2 key car manufacturing plants brought work to a standstill, while yet another political prisoner lost his life while on a hunger strike behind prison bars.

And there was also again talk of the ‘disintegration of leadership’. Mohammad Khatami had implicitly said in the past what Mohammad Ali Abtahi (former Vice-President) and Ali Akbar Mohtashemi (former Minister of the Interior) said last week: Mesbah Yazdi’s views constituted the ‘Mesbahie’ movement, which was rooted in the values of the Hojjatieh Society, whose goal has been the toppling of the leader in the country. And this is precisely what this newspaper has been saying in its writings, i.e. the Islamic Revolution is a prelude to a ‘military dictatorship’ similar to the one in neighboring Pakistan.


Nobel Laureates Warn Iran on Ebadi’s Prosecution


03 Sep 2006

Nine Nobel Peace Laureates sent a letter Iran’s Foreign Minister, Manochehr Mottaki, asking the government of Iran “to immediately reverse its threat of prosecution against Iran’s most prominent independent human rights organization and Dr. Shirin Ebadi.”

Dalai Lama, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize (1989), Jody Williams (1997), Adolfo Perez Esquivel (1980), Betty Williams and Mairead Corrigan (1976), Rigoberta Menchu Tum (1992), Carlos Belo (1996), Wangari Maathai (2004), and Elie Wiesel (1986) authored this letter.

On August 2, Iran’s Ministry of Interior (MOI) announced that Ebadi’s Defender of Human Rights Center (DHRC) had failed to obtain a valid license, deeming the activities of the center “illegal” and threatening its members with possible prosecution. Shirin Ebadi, the president of the DHRC, and co-founders Mohammad Seyfzadeh, Abdolfatah Soltani, and Mohammad Dadkhah are some of Iran’s most respected human rights lawyers.

The DHRC had submitted a permit request to the Ministry of Interior four years ago. The ministry, however, did not issue a permit or explain why it refused. Over the years, DHRC’s lawyers have taken on prominent cases such as the “serial murders,” the death of Zahra Kazemi, and the trial of Akbar Ganji as well as other journalists and political prisoners.

The letter, which was written by nine Nobel Peace Laureates, states that “There is a very important matter we would like to discuss with you. We are concerned about the government of Iran’s current actions toward Defender of Human Rights Center (DHRC), which provides essential work to protect human rights in Iran. In particular, we were alarmed that on August 3, 2006 your government declared the DHRC illegal and threatened its president, Dr. Shirin Ebadi, and her staff with prosecution if they continue the their human rights activities.”

Reacting to the government’s intimidation, Ebadi announced that she and the other members of the center will continue their activities, which do not violate the Iranian Constitution. Ebadi has been imprisoned once before because of her involvement in the so-called “tape-makers” case.

The letter further states, “This center is a member of the International Federation for Human Rights and has been awarded a human rights prize by the Human Rights National Commission in France. In addition, Dr. Shirin Ebadi has been recognized with the Nobel Peace Prize for her work to protect human rights. The world acknowledges and relies upon the important work of this organization and its president.”

As the nine Nobel Peace Laureates indicate in their letter, they believe that “The government of Iran also has an obligation to protect Dr. Ebadi and other human rights defenders.” They also identified the silencing of the DHRC as an enormous setback for human rights around the world.

Copies of this letter were also sent to Mostafa Pour-Mohammadi, Interior Minister, Javad Zarif, Iran’s Ambassador to the United Nations, Kofi Anan, Secretary-General of the United Nations, Louise Arbour, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Luis Alfonso de Alba, President of the United Nations Human Rights Council, Hina Jilani, Special Representative of the Secretary General for Human Rights Defenders.

Dozens of prominent international figures and organizations have already voiced their objection to the curtailing of free speech and human rights in Iran. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, in particular, reacted quickly to the news of the ministry’s decision to declare DHRC illegal. The government of Iran is yet to comment on the growing international concern surrounding the ministry’s decision.


A cause without effects

With the world’s eyes on Iran’s nuclear ambitions, the deteriorating human rights situation in the country is being forgotten,

says Robert Tait

Wednesday August 23, 2006
Guardian Unlimited

Seven years ago, he was the symbol of a brave new dawn of student protest in Iran. Famously featured on the cover of The Economist waving the bloodied T-shirt of a fellow demonstrator beaten by security forces, Ahmad Batebi seemed emblematic of the raw courage of the country’s pro-reform student movement in its clamour for greater freedoms from a repressive Islamist government.

His subsequent death sentence on charges of endangering the security of the state – later commuted to 10 years in prison – bestowed on him a halo of martyrdom, while bearing eloquent testimony to the demise of his quixotic cause.

Today, Batebi is still a symbol – though, in contrast to those intoxicating 1999 student protests, very much a hidden one. And the martyr’s mantle which he never sought is in danger of becoming his epitaph.

Still only 28, Batebi, a former film studies student, is in solitary confinement in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison, the authorities’ holding pen of choice for their most troublesome political critics. He was reimprisoned last month after 18 months out on medical leave, and is apparently being held in closed secret wing run by the widely feared intelligence ministry.

His re-arrest came as he was about to undergo surgery for serious back injuries sustained through torture while under interrogation. Though his family cannot be sure, having been denied access to him since his reimprisonment, he is now believed to be have been on hunger strike for more than three weeks. His doctor has warned that, with the multiple illnesses Batebi has suffered through torture and the privations of prison, his life is now in grave danger.

What Batebi represents today is not the hope of seven years ago, but growing despair. With international attention focused almost exclusively on Iran’s nuclear activities, the country’s small and beleaguered human rights community fear its cause is becoming more forlorn than ever. Under the cloak of national security, a fierce crackdown is underway, and Batebi’s case is just the tip of the iceberg.

Activists long becalmed since the presidency of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad last year are being arrested and given jail sentences for offences committed during the term of the former reformist president, Mohammed Khatami.

In an ominous move, the Centre for Defence of Human Rights – an advocates’ group headed by the Nobel peace prize-winning human rights lawyer, Shirin Ebadi – has been outlawed on the flimsy pretext of failing to apply for a proper permit. The group has provided free legal defence for academics, journalists and political advocates.

This is no mere administrative detail. The Ahmadinejad government has made clear that it will not brook criticism. Just this week, its official spokesman, Gholamhossein Elham, wrote to Tehran’s public prosecutor, Said Mortazavi, exhorting him to legally pursue journalists and news outlets responsible for printing “lies” about the government. He was referring to the chorus of media criticism over Mr Ahmadinejad’s economic policy, which many experts believe is failing to deliver his pre-election promises, while producing a witch’s brew of high inflation and rising unemployment.

The threat is clear. The government is prepared to embark on the same wave of newspaper closures and mass arrests of journalists that followed the brief Tehran spring of free _expression of the late 1990s, when hundreds of new publications opened, only to be forcibly closed.

A pattern has already been set. Ramin Jahanbegloo, a philosopher and activist arrested in May after having addressed the Woodrow Wilson Centre in Washington, remains in Evin prison, suspected of trying to foment a “velvet revolution”. Rumours abound that a taped “confession”, in which Jahanbegloo admits to establishing an internet spy network, is to be televised soon to a nationwide audience.

Another high-profile dissident, Mansour Osanloo, a trade unionist, was released from jail this month on £100,000 bail after seven months in detention on charges of organising an illegal bus drivers’ strike.

The outlook for Osanloo appears bleak, but he may be one of the lucky ones. More drastic has been the fate of Akbar Mohammadi, another iconic figure of the 1999 student protests, who died in his prison cell on July 30 after a nine-day hunger strike. Like Batebi, Mohammadi – whose imprisoned brother Manouchehr is also believed to be fasting – had been reincarcerated after having been freed for medical reasons.

The tragedy of this trend is that, with all eyes on the Islamic republic’s supposed yearning for the bomb, few in the outside world are watching. It is an oversight that has not escaped Amnesty International, which has written to the Iranian authorities about Batebi. “At a time when the world is paying so much attention to Iran’s nuclear programme, we are concerned that individual governments and the wider international community are not making enough of the appalling human rights situation inside the country,” said an Amnesty spokeswoman, Sarah Green.

Conventional wisdom amongst diplomats and analysts in Tehran has it that Iran’s chief decision-makers are loathe to reach a deal on the nuclear dispute because they fear the US will simply shift the ground to human rights in its quest for regime change. They might consider that one way of forestalling that would be to release men like Ahmad Batebi, who hardly constitutes a threat.


Reading a Death Warrant in Tehran


The New York Times Magazine

April 9, 2006

In the fall of 2000, after a decade of defending victims in the courts of Iran, I faced the most harrowing days of my career. The work I typically handled – battered children, abused women, political prisoners – brought me into daily contact with human cruelty, but the case at hand was different. The government had admitted partial complicity in a few of the dozens of murders of intellectuals during the 1990’s. Some were strangled while running errands, others hacked to death at home. I represented the family of two victims, a husband and wife.

The judge had granted us just 10 days to read the entire dossier, thousands of pages. That would be our only access to the investigation’s findings, our only chance to build our case. The disarray of the investigation, the attempts to cover up the state’s hand and the mysterious prison suicide of a lead suspect compounded our difficulty in learning the truth. The stakes could not have been higher. It was the first time that the Islamic republic acknowledged it had murdered its critics – it said that a rogue squad within the Ministry of Intelligence was responsible – and that a trial would be convened to hold the perpetrators accountable. We arrived at the courthouse tense with determination.

After surveying the sheer volume of files, stacks up to our heads, we realized that we would have to read them concurrently and, therefore, except for one of us, out of order. The other lawyers allowed me to start at the beginning, so each page I hurriedly turned, my eyes were the first to see.

The sun shone through the dirty windowpane as we hunched over the table, silent save for the rustle of papers. The significant passages, transcripts of interrogations of the accused killers, were buried in pages of bureaucratic filler. The material was dark with descriptions of the brutal murders – one killer told of crying out “Ya Zahra,” in dark homage to the Prophet Muhammad’s daughter, with each stab.

Around noon, our energy þagged, and we called to the young soldier in the hall for some tea. The moment the tea arrived, we bent our heads down again. I had reached a page more detailed, and more narrative, than any previous section, and I slowed down to focus. It was the transcript of a conversation between a government minister and a member of the death squad during the worst wave of killings. When my eyes first fell on the sentence that would haunt me for years to come, I thought I had misread. I blinked once, but it stared back at me from the page: “The next person to be killed is Shirin Ebadi.” Me.

My throat went dry. I read the line over and over again, the printed words blurring before me. The only other woman in the room, Parastou Forouhar, whose parents had been brutally murdered, sat next to me. I pressed her arm and nodded toward the page. She bent her veiled head close and scanned from the top. “Did you read it? Did you read it?” she kept whispering. We read on together. My would-be assassin went to the minister of intelligence, requesting permission to carry out my killing. Not during the fasting month of Ramadan, the minister replied. But they don’t fast anyway, the mercenary argued; these people have divorced God. It was through this belief – that the intellectuals, that I, had abandoned God – that they justified the killings as religious duty. In the grisly terminology of those who interpret Islam violently, the spilling of our blood was considered halal, permitted by God.

The door creaked open again. More tea, þavorless cups that cluttered the table but kept us alert. I distracted myself by rearranging papers, my mind reeling. I wasn’t scared, really. I remember an overwhelming disbelief. Why do they hate me so much? I wondered. How have I created enemies so eager to spill my blood that they cannot wait for Ramadan to end?

We didn’t stop to talk about it then. We couldn’t waste any precious time. I sipped my tea and went on, though I turned the pages with difficulty. It was only after we had finished for the day, as we passed through the courtyard outside, that I told the others. They shook their heads, murmured, “Alhamdolellah,” thanks to God. I had evaded death.

I stepped into the welcoming cacophony of Tehran traffic, the wide streets overrun by wheezing old cars, and got a taxi home. I ran inside, peeled off my clothes and stayed under the shower for an hour, letting the water cascade over me, rinsing off the filth of those files. Only after dinner, after my daughters went to bed, did I tell my husband. So, something interesting happened to me at work today, I began.

Shirin Ebadi received the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize for her work as a human rights lawyer and an activist. This essay is excerpted from her book “Iran Awakening: A Memoir of Revolution and Hope,” to be published next month by Random House.


Suicides on the Rise


Barbod Kaveh

09 Jul 2006

According to statistics provided by the Management and Planning Organization of Iran the number of suicides in Iran is rising by the year. The ministry of health says that there are 13 suicides a day and the average age of the victims is 29 years. The statistics also indicate that there are 3 times as many men as women who attempt suicide. The provinces with the highest suicide figures are Ilam, Bushehr, Kahkilooieh and Boyeer-Ahmad, Khuzestan, Fars and Kerman. These are the provinces generally considered the poorest in the country. The statistics also show that for every suicide, there are between 8 to 25 attempted and failed suicides. Interestingly, the number of women attempting suicide is 3 times that of men. Exactly the opposite of the number of successful suicides.

The youth comprise the largest group of people who commit suicide. According to a report by the National Youth Organization (Sazemane Melli Javanan), the mental health of half the youth under 29 years of age in Iran is disturbing, while 40.2 percent of all youth suffered from some mental problem.

According to Dr Moinfar, an analyst on social issues, the young people who commit suicide mostly have noteworthy potentials and capabilities, but because those around them do not grasp their talents and abilities, these young people loose hope and attempt suicide.

In recent years, suicide has become common even among students, especially those who are far from their homes and live in dorms. Dr Moinfar, the exemplary research in 2003, says, Some of the university managers lack long-term managerial experience and so their lack of understanding youth and their issues, promotes and exacerbates the problems students face. Whenever a student threatens to commit suicide, they think he is simply making excuses for something. Of every 100 suicide threats, between 2 and 4 actually do it.

Suicides among women too have become more common. According to an aide for the governor of Ilam province – the province with the highest number of suicides – with a population of 580,000 inhabitants, there are about 400 suicides annually in Ilam of which 220 are women. Most women chose the method of setting themselves on fire to commit suicide. This is method of choice for women in Iran. Sociologist Dr Shahla Amadeh believes that the cause of suicides is the male dominated society women live in. “The traditional family structure among Iranians, especially among the families in nomadic and ethnic groups in provinces such as Ilam, and Kahkilooieh and Boyeer-Ahmad which are built on the culture of male domination are the causes of this type of suicides, i.e. setting oneself on fire. In this culture, young women are sometimes forced into marriage, which is recognized as one reason for the suicides of women. Another reason for women’s suicides are the unfavorable social conditions for women and the unpleasant events such as rape or their mistreatment because of their feelings and passions. As an example, a movie film was distributed around the country two years ago which showed university girls partying in Tabriz. The film was distributed by opportunists around the country. Two of the women in the film were so scared of the loss of their family honor and the possible reaction by the father that they committed suicide.

The number of suicides is on the rise and with the deteriorating living standards among families and the cultural generation gap, along with the dominant traditional culture in the country; this social problem is expected to become even more acute. As things stand now, no day passes in Iran, without a mourning ceremony for a person who has committed suicide.


Pitfalls of Rice’s Plan for ‘Democracy Promotion’ in Iran


Donya Ziaee

20 Feb 2006

United States Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, asked Congress for $75 million last Wednesday to back democracy promotion in Iran. Speaking before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Rice proposed a Cold War-style program to promote political change in Iran by increasing U.S. radio and TV broadcasts to the country and funding dissident groups. She proclaimed: “We are going to begin a new effort to support the aspirations of the Iranian people. We will use this money to develop support networks for Iranian reformers, political dissidents and human rights activists.”

Of the proposed sum of money, $50 million will go towards introducing 24-hour Farsi broadcasts into Iran by U.S. government TV and radio, $15 million to trade unions and dissident groups, $5 million to increasing student exchanges, and another $5 million to setting up independent websites, and TV and radio stations in Farsi. This willingness to provide financial assistance to internal, rather than expatriate, dissident groups marks a shift in U.S. policy. The U.S. had hitherto advocated economic sanctioning of Iran and all Iranian individuals and organizations.

This thinly-veiled imperialism, however, has nothing to do with the promotion and proliferation of democracy. First and foremost, the move is most likely to worsen relations between the Islamic regime and domestic dissident groups, and to create an even closer and more guarded atmosphere of political opposition in Iran. All activism in Iran that relates to the promotion of democracy and human rights will undergo even closer scrutiny by the regime, for officials will seek to discover those groups that have benefited from U.S. support. The regime will almost certainly use this move by the Congress as an excuse to suppress internal opposition in the country even further.

This new proposal for ‘democracy promotion’ in Iran is, furthermore, like all other such plans in the history of U.S. foreign policy, nothing but a cover for other self-interested motives. It is reminiscent of the crackdown on ‘communist’ regimes during the Cold War, and the Truman Doctrine under which the U.S. was prepared to send all necessary financial support to countries ‘threatened by communist governments’. The move is also extremely similar to the funds appropriated by the Congress in the 1990s to support of opposition groups in Iraq. In 1998, President Clinton approved almost $100 million for weakening the former Saddam regime, and this figure was matched by President Bush in 2002.

The proposed support for dissident groups is also comparable to U.S. intervention in the democratic processes of a number of Latin American countries. In fact, the same state-funded organizations that were used to meddle in the internal affairs of these countries – the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and the International Republican Institute (IRI) – are now being proposed to be used by the Congress to manipulate the political atmosphere of Iran. These two organizations are part of a labyrinth of other similar groups that receive funding from the U.S. government to subvert, in the name of ‘democracy promotion’, the political processes and social movements of other countries, in order to ensure that outcomes are compatible with U.S. interests. The NED was formed in the early 1980s under the Reagan administration, ostensibly to promote pro-democracy organizations and democratic values around the world. It operates with an annual budget of $80 million from U.S. Congress and State Department.

In Chile, the organization helped to avert a leftist overthrow of the Pinochet dictatorship, by acting as an outlet through which Assistant Secretary of State Elliot Abrams and other government officials worked to devise an electoral transfer of power to centrists in the opposition movement. The NED and other U.S. governmental funding ensured, furthermore, the victory of the United Nicaraguan Opposition in Nicaragua’s 1990 election that brought down the U.S.-maligned Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN). In Venezuela, the NED has played an active role in funding several political opponents of President Hugo Chavez and contributed to the attempted coup against him in April 2002. In the months preceding the recent elections in Haiti, furthermore, the NED provided considerable financial support for the country’s tiny elite and former military. In all cases, the U.S. government sought through these ‘democracy promoting’ organizations to subvert and undermine the legitimate popular democracies that were about to take root, in fear that the governments that would be formed as a result would pose a challenge to U.S. interests.

The United States government also had ‘democracy promotion’ as an objective in its recent occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq. If the images of the occupation of these countries are not enough evidence of the utter failure of the U.S. in this regard, then the unfolding political processes in these countries surely are. In particular, the constitution approved and adopted in Iraq, which creates a theocratic, federal state, is gleaming evidence of the failure of the establishment of democracy in that country.

‘Democracy promotion’ has thus been a facade, used as a cover-up to ensure that the political environment in other countries is compatible with U.S. interests. In a number of the abovementioned cases, U.S. subversion of civil society occurred where there already existed legitimate political processes that promised burgeoning democracies, such as in Venezuela and Haiti. Where democracies did not exist, furthermore, such as under the dictatorships of Saddam Hussein and Pinochet, U.S. interference served to avert outcomes, legitimate though they would have been, that posed threats to U.S. interests. By undermining these legitimate processes, the U.S. also significantly disrupted the native and nascent struggles for genuine democracies in these countries.

What this bleak track record of U.S. ‘democracy promotion’ reveals, thus, is that this strategy has never in fact had the promotion of democracy as an objective. It has been used to veil U.S. pursuit of self-interested interference in the internal affairs of other, sovereign, countries. It is under such light that Congress plans for implementing such a strategy in Iran become problematic and disconcerting.

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the Constitutional Revolution in Iran. The 100-year long struggle for democracy in Iran has faced a number of obstacles and interference along the way, but it continues to persist to this day. Subversion of this historic struggle by the U.S. government and its funded groups would constitute nothing but yet another setback. Democracy, by its very definition, must come from within. In their fight for democracy, what the Iranian people need is not foreign intervention, but an atmosphere of absolute freedom of expression, where they can develop and improve their perspectives and beliefs through the free and open exchange of ideas, as they did during the Constitutional Revolution.


Oil Mafia and Passdaran’s Billion-Dollar Contracts


Hamid Ahadi

04 Jul 2006

Following the signing of an agreement for $7 billion between Iran’s Oil Ministry and the Khatam al-Anbiya Reconstruction Organization belonging to the elite Passdaran Revolutionary Guards Corps, informed sources have expressed their concerns that the events that had in the past followed the Passdaran’s intrusion into business activities at the expense of murders, imprisonment of investors, suspension of investments, and the flee of managers would be repeated again, and there would be no body to contain the destructive consequences of the trend.

The disclosure of the events that led to this large contract, and the purchase of shares of the Oriental Oil Kish, one of Iran’s largest private oil companies with controversial management, were the reasons for the negative publicity of Iran’s hardline media against the company and the hostility of the Passdaran to the management of this oil enterprise. Fars news agency, which is under the influence of Iran’s hardliners, quoted ‘an informed source’ and revealed that the value of Oriental Oil Kish was about $90 million, and that “talks for a final price were underway.”

Oil Kish was created about four years ago through a number of private investors and the express permission from senior officials of the Islamic regime. The mission of the company was to develop oil and gas resources over fields that Iran shares with some of its regional neighbors. Soon, the company won on-shore and off-shore contracts for its mission. This included Paydar fields shared with Iraq, Foroozan offshore fields shared with Saudi Arabia, and Salman and Hengam fields shared with Qatar. But perhaps the biggest victory for the company came when it acquired permission to work with the American giant Halliburton.

Even at that time some had informed the company that they would not be able to cooperate with it without the participation of individuals connected to the military. Oil Kish rejected those warnings. And that is when the ‘revelations’ about the company began to appear in the pro-government media such as Keyhan newspaper and Baztab news website which has strong links to the economic branches of the Passdaran. The first attacks were for the cooperation that the company was pursuing with Halliburton, which forced Oil Kish to cancel. But the pressures continued leading to the arrest of Sirus Nassseri, the vice-chairman of the Board of Directors of the oil company, who was also a member of Iran’s negotiating team with the international community over the nuclear issue. This forced the company to suspend its activities altogether.

At the same time, Oil Kish began to have a formidable rival every time it bid for a contract from no other than Passdaran Corps’ Khatam al-Anbiya Reconstruction Organization. But the Khatam company mostly lost the competition due its lack of expertise.

When Mahmoud Ahmadinejad became president last year and announced his policy of fighting the oil mafia, the ground-work for arresting the mangers of Oil Kish gained momentum. In one of their first acts, supporters of president Ahmadinejad tried to install a Passdaran commander as the minister of oil, which was rejected by the Majlis (Iran’s Parliament). Vaziri Hannaneh, the then minister of oil displayed his decision not to participate in the fake scandals under the name of ‘oil mafia’ and thus did not remove the valuable managers and personnel of the oil industry. This is when the battle went underwater, but continued even more fiercely, but eventually reached a compromise.

Apparently, with that agreement, the managers of Oriental Oil Kish company, including Nasseri, were acquitted while the Passdaran Revolutionary Guards Corps were the given the oil contracts, while it would purchase all the shares of Oriental, including its contracts. This happened last week when Rahim Safavi, the supreme commander of the Passdaran signed the multi billion dollar contract with Khatam al-Anbiya. It is reported that Passdaran’s commercial organization which is now the largest business and economic trust in the country, especially in the oil sector, had as its goal to achieve this status even from the days of the presidency of Mohammad Khatami in the late 90s. In those days, however, few thought it would succeed in its goal. But as events have turned out, the recent $7 billion contract was signed without the normal bidding process and outside any controls.

A veteran oil industry specialist said of the recent contract that Khatam al-Anbiya is not going to implement anything and only acts as a primarily contractor who will subcontract the actual work to others, mostly foreign experts, thus reaping large profits as a middle-man. What is worrisome, he said is that this new arrangement may again produce the same kind of criminal activities that took place when the military institution got involved in business deals in the past.

This is why two Majlis deputies have already asked cabinet ministers to appear before the legislature and respond to the questions about contracting the oil deal to the Passdaran and what is the role of the private sector in the arrangement.


Ganji: There Is No Consensus on the Nuclear Issue in Iran


Maryam Kashani

25 Jun 2006

The famed Iranian imprisoned journalist Akbar Ganji declared in Paris that the Islamic Republic of Iran was a violator of human rights. On the nuclear issue he said, “There is absolutely no consensus on the nuclear issue in Iran and everything that is attributed to be ‘national’ in this regard is merely ideological propaganda.”

Speaking to reporters in the presence of the head of the Society for the Defense of Human Rights in Iran (Jame-e Defa az Hogooge Bashar Dar Iran) Abdol Karim Lahiji, the founder and secretary general of Reporters Without Borders Robert Menart, and judge and UN expert for human rights Louis Joinet, Ganji said Iran’s “laws explicitly violate human rights.” “According to para 2 of article 295 of Iran’s Islamic Punitive (criminal) Code, any citizen who determines another individual to be MahdoorAl-dam (i.e. left or rescinded from a religion), he has a duty to kill him,” Ganji said and continued: “In other words if a person can prove in court that he has killed a person because the victim had no religion, then the court can determine him to be innocent and free him.” “In today’s world there is even a debate about the death penalty of citizens. But even if we assume there is a consensus on this, it is the judgment of a court with the presence of a qualified jury that determines this.”

In his response to questions from the audience, Ganji talked about the specific Iranian laws and regulations that ban people from writing for life. “The laws of the Islamic Republic of Iran say that anybody who engages in propaganda against the state is punishable for one month up to a year. During the last eight years, most journalists in Iran have been accused of this. According to paragraph 8 of article 6 of the current Press Law, any journalist who is judged to have engaged in propaganda against the regime is banned from journalism for the rest of his life,” Ganji said, adding, “I think the Islamic Republic of Iran is the only country in the world that still has laws banning journalists from writing.”

When asked about the reasons why the regime allowed him to travel outside the country, Ganji explained as follows: “I was invited to attend a meeting of 1,700 international news men. If the Islamic Republic tried to prevent me from going to this event, it would be pinning itself against the whole world media, which is not something the regime can accomplish. In today’s world, power rests with the media.” And conveying the possible consequences of his talk outside Iran, Ganji said, “What is important regarding my trip is not that I could leave Iran, but my return back there.”

IN explaining the current conditions in Iran Ganji described said there was no differentiation between civil society and the government, something that exists in all modern governments today. “In a totalitarian state, the state views any act of an individual to be political in nature. For example, the clothing that a person wears in a modern state is a private affair whereas in the Islamic Republic all women are forced to wear the hijab (Islamic attire). When women push their headscarf back an inch or two, this is interpreted to be a political act.”

Ganji explained his own status after years in prison to be, “a journalist who likes to defend the rights of citizens and protest human rights violations.” “I am against revolution and am proud of it,” he continued. “Democracy cannot be created through revolutions. The most important dichotomy that I make for a society is between those who support democracy and human rights, and those who oppose it,” he explained.

Talking about the conditions prevalent in Iran today, Ganji said that there existed a very powerful democracy movement in the country. “For the first time in history Iran’s intellectuals have a consensus in their desire and drive for democracy. But the movement has a weakness right now: it has no organization or structure. The groups that exist in this movement, whether inside or outside Iran, are very varied, which is the reason why it lacks a leadership. When Poland was struggling for democracy, they had one leader: Lech Walesa. The Czechs had the Vaclav Havel. I hope we too will solve this problem democratically,” he said.

I see it as my duty to defend the powerful women’s movement in Iran,” Ganji said, mentioning the recent arrest of Mousavi Khoeini, expressing his hope that Khoeini along with Ramin Jahanbegloo and other political prisoners and journalists would be freed soon.

When asked about former president Mohammad Khatami and the reformers, Ganji said, “Khatami was a reformer who could not provide what he promised. So there emerged those who continued to be hopeful of reformers, while others lost their faith in them.”

Ganji also spoke of the nuclear issue and how it is perceived in Iran. “There is no consensus on the nuclear issue in Iran. What you hear is mere propaganda. All 18 groups comprising the reformers oppose the government position on this. All the reformers outside the regime oppose the government’s policy in this regard. All intellectuals and thinkers who are not reformers too oppose the government on the nuclear issue. Hashemi Rafsanjani definitely opposes the current government’s position on this. In the presence of the leader, he categorically said at a National Security Council meeting that enrichment had to stop. And because he seriously is concerned about Iran, he has requested that his words be recorded in history. But even among conservatists in Iran there are differences of opinion on the issue, with some believing that enrichment should be suspended for a few years. In contrast to all of the above, there is a small minority within the regime that pursues the current policy, and it is led by the leader. In fact the words of the president and the military that you hear in this regard are really the words of the leader of the regime. He emphatically pushes for the continuation of the current policy,” Ganji said.

“How can you claim the nuclear policy to be nationally supported when the programs were hidden from the public for 15 years?” Ganji questioned Iranian officials.

Ganji concluded his remarks by saying that instead of promoting or repeating destructive ideas and solutions, everybody should be promoting disarmament. “We do not desire the destruction of our country, even though we oppose the Islamic Republic of Iran. We should remember that neither the powerful Soviet military nor nuclear bombs could prevent the collapse of the Soviet Union. Nuclear weapons will not protect us, but they will certainly unite the whole world against us; a consensus that did not exist in the case of Iraq.

Finally, Ganji welcomed the new policy of the US to directly participate in talks with Iran. “These talks must be open and transparent, and they should not weaken freedom or human rights in Iran,” he cautioned.

During this meeting, Robert Menart spoke of violations of the rights of journalists in Iran while Louis Joinet who had met Ganji two years earlier in the notorious Evin prison in Tehran, said, “When I spoke with Ganji for 2 hours in Evin, I concluded that he was not even a political prisoner, but a prisoner of ideology, which I explained to Iranian officials.”

Lahiji was the final speaker who spoke about freedom of thought. “In the initial years of the revolution Ganji and I belonged to opposing fronts. Today, I would like to welcome him to the movement supporting human rights,” he said.


The Return of Television Confessions


Esfandiyar Saffari

23 Jun 2006

With the increase in pressure on critics and the growing detentions in recent months, many fear the return of the old television confessions by some agencies in Iran. In the latest such incident, Ali Akbar Mousavi Khoeini, secretary general of Iran’s Danesh-Amookhtegan student organization, announced from his place of detention over the telephone, “The standard for authenticity of my words and actions are what I have said or done outside the prison, and so any writing or film that contradicts the positions I have made when I was outside the prison has no validity.”

During the recent weeks when the detention centers in Tehran and some other provincial towns in Iran are filled with detainees, reports have been published that speak of pressure on the detained to make televised confessions. The source for these reports relates to the arrest of Ramin Jahanbegloo, a cultural activist. After his arrest, certain pro-government media published reports speaking of “hundreds of pages of confessions” by Jahanbegloo.

Similar news reports were published for detainees arrested in connection with the unrest in Tabriz city and some political groups in the city issued statements reporting that the detainees had been pressured for televised confessions.

The short but meaningful news item from prison by Mousavi Khoeini a few days ago has strengthened the suspicion that previous news reports about increased pressure on recent detainees to obtain televised confessions were correct. Khoeini is an Iranian student movement activist who was voted into the sixth Majlis (Iran’s Parliament). In his efforts to form a committee to visit prisons and detention centers in Iran in 2000, he became one of its members and leader of representatives who repeatedly visited Evin and other detention centers. The reports of this committee at the time were one of the main impediments to illegal detentions and coerced confessions from prisoners which created problems for those government agencies that engaged in such activities in prisons.

Khoeini was among the first officials to protest interrogation methods and the practice of “taazir” (torture) of detainees in prisons, and has said, “Measures are also underway to define “taazir” because this term has carried many ambiguities and even some personal interpretations have been made over it.”

Coerced confessions have a long story in Iran and have been practiced not only in the initial years of the victory of the 1979 revolution, but also during all subsequent years. These confessions became the source material for a television series called “hoviyat” (meaning identity). It was subsequently discovered that the series were the product of Saeed Emami (An individual from the ministry of intelligence who was arrested by the government and portrayed as the person responsible for the serial killings of imprisoned writers. He died in prison after taking a strong hair removal liniment) and Hossein Shariatmadari (the editor-in-chief of right-wing extremist Keyhan newspaper). The last time such confessions were broadcast on national television was in connection with the four detained web-bloggers which was severely criticized by political and social circles, in addition to the committee to pursue and oversee the constitution, and human rights organizations in and outside Iran.


Forgotten massacre — The Ayatollah’s hidden legacy

This report was originally written by

Veronique Mistiaen

for the New Internationalist (Jan/Feb 2006) on the 1988 massacre of political prisoners in Iran. Veronique has researched the massacre for two years, interviewing 12 survivors and studying a great number of documents.

EVERY Friday, families gather on a derelict plot next to the cemetery of religious minorities in the district of Khavaran, in south-east Tehran. They call it ‘the rose garden of Khavaran’ – for a rose, in a culture where it is often safer to use poetry, represents a fallen freedom fighter. The Iranian leadership calls it the ‘place of the damned’ or the ‘cemetery of the infidels’. There, in unmarked mass graves, lie thousands of political prisoners killed by the Islamic regime.
In February 1989, the world expressed outrage when Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a fatwa, sentencing the writer Salman Rushdie to death for blasphemy. Yet a few months earlier, Khomeini had issued another fatwa ordering the killing of thousands of prisoners of conscience. Silence.
In July and August 1988, the Islamic regime had executed in secret thousands of political prisoners throughout the country – men, women and teenagers. They were intellectuals, students, leftists, members of opposition parties and ethnic and religious minorities. Many were jailed for no more than distributing leaflets, having a banned book or being accused by ‘a trusted friend of the regime’.
The slaughter was efficient and relentless. All day long, prisoners were loaded on forklift trucks and hanged from cranes and beams in groups of six at half-hourly intervals. Others were killed by firing squad. Those not executed were subjected to horrific torture. The killing was ‘an act of violence unprecedented in Iranian history, unprecedented in form, content and intensity,’ wrote the historian Ervand Abrahamian in his book on Iranian prisons Tortured Confessions.
‘When they took me to the death committee in (Tehran’s) Gohardasht prison, the lobby was piled high with sandals, glasses and blindfolds. That’s all that was left of our friends. They are all gone and I am alive. Iam alive to tell their story. That is my only goal,’ says Mehdi Aslani, 49, who survived the massacre and now lives in exile in Germany.
The regime has never acknowledged the massacre, revealed how many were executed, nor why. Amnesty International has recorded the names of 2,800 victims, but survivors believe it was probably between 5,000 and 10,000. The execution of such a large number of people within such a short time, without any due process, violates many international human rights treaties to which Iran is signatory; yet the world has remained largely silent. Most of the perpetrators are still in power today. ‘Nobody has been brought to justice’ says Drewery Dyke, Amnesty’s Iran researcher. ‘Impunity for such appalling crimes only leads to further human rights abuses.’
The husband and two brothers of Rakhshndeh Hosseinpoor, now 53, were killed by the Islamic regime. She now lives in Germany with her son. ‘They have ruined so many lives. I’ve lost three members of my family, but some families have lost six or seven. So many children are without fathers and mothers, so many young widows, so much pain that never goes away… We need justice.’
‘We need people to know about the massacre of 1988 because it isn’t just the problem of the survivors and their families,’ says Reza Moini, another survivor, who works as a human rights activist in Paris. ‘It was a political act, a social act, not a private one. We need the truth for tomorrow’s youth.’


Iranian Intelligence to pressure on Iranian refugees and dissidents abroad

the Minister of Intelligence and Security Gholam-Hossein Mohseni-Ezhei

Following the recent uprisings in the northern provinces and demonstrations across the country, which the Iranian secret services has attributed protests to “foreign elements”, Tehran decided to “strike back”. As local sources reported, the Minister of Intelligence and Security Gholam-Hossein Mohseni-Ezhei expressed fear that “the enemy is trying to sow divisions among the people and their government.” He claimed that “a number of the instigators of the unrests are located over the borders and we have begun to make them lose hope in their tactics. Through the Foreign Ministry, we are in contact with the governments of countries where these people are residing or have fled to or from where they are being directed. We have tried to convince these countries to hand them over to the Islamic Republic or at least restrict their activities”. But it is insufficient to his mind, so the Iranian secret services will start acting abroad to oppress “instigators”. Mostly it applies to the Iranians in Azerbaijan and leaders of the Iranian Azerbaijanis abroad, local sources report.

As AIA previously reported, Tehran’s secret services recently have boosted their work in the countries of the Southern Caucasus and Central Asia. The regional activity of Tehran’s secret services concerns mainly the South-Caucasian and Central-Asian politics of the USA. From the point of view of confidential information, Iranian representatives pay most attention to the regional contacts of the Americans in political and military sphere, in particular – to the Pentagon, CIA, and NATO officials’ visits to the countries of the region. The Iranians also have a particular interest in all contacts of the employees of the local US embassies, and in the activity of US academic circles and humanitarian foundations. Iranian special services’ primary purpose is to collect information about possible use of the states in the region for military, intelligence, and propaganda activity of the USA against the Ayatollahs’ regime.

Worldwide Appeal

IRAN: Writer detained without charge or trial

Ramin Jahanbaglou
Ramin Jahanbegloo, a prominent intellectual and writer on democracy and non-violence, has been detained in solitary confinement since his arrest on 27 April. He is at risk of torture or other ill-treatment.

Ramin Jahanbegloo has joint Iranian and Canadian citizenship, and is the Head of the Department of Contemporary Studies at the privately run Cultural Research Bureau in Tehran. The author of more than 20 books in Persian, English and French on philosophy and current affairs in Iran, he is also a frequent commentator on Iranian affairs in the international media.

Ramin Jahanbegloo was arrested at Tehran’s Mehrabad airport. On 3 May, the Iranian authorities confirmed his arrest, but gave no reason for it. Some Iranian media believed to have close links to the authorities have reported that he is being held for allegedly co-operating with “counter-revolutionary” groups and US and Israeli intelligence services.

On 7 May Minister of Intelligence Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ejeie stated that Ramin Jahanbegloo was in the custody of his Ministry for “having contacts with foreigners”, which is not a crime under Iranian law. AI fears that he may be held for the peaceful exercise of his right to freedom of expression. If so, he is a prisoner of conscience and should be released immediately and unconditionally.

Detained in solitary confinement, in Section 209 of Evin Prison, Ramin Jahanbegloo has not been permitted a visit by his family or lawyer. No formal charges were known to have been brought against him by 10 June. Under Iranian law, there is no legal limit to the time he can be detained before being charged or released.

Please write to the Iranian authorities, calling for Ramin Jahanbegloo to be granted immediate access to his family and lawyer, and for his immediate and unconditional release unless he is promptly charged and tried for a recognizably criminal offence.

Send appeals to:
His Excellency Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ejeie
Minister of Intelligence
Ministry of Intelligence
Second Negarestan Street
Pasdaran Avenue


Ganji: All Roads to Democracy are Closed

Akbar Ganji

Seyed Ibrahim Nabavi

20 June 2006

Akbar Ganji, the imprisoned Iranian journalist who was released last month and who is currently on a European trip to an audience in Italy that under the current political structure in Iran it was not possible to implement any reforms. “During Hitler’s fascism the Gestapo was created to control and spy on the opposition, Stalin created the KGB for this purpose and Italy a special organization too was formed. But controlling people through the police is the worst way. A simpler way is to give freedom to people. I mean freedom as a process to gain information. If we reverse this we will arrive at the relationship between the public and freedom. In a free society, people behave freely to gain information whereas if society is not free, people can hardly gain information. Now how does the Iranian government look at this? I will mention freedom of the press. The debate that the Iranian government has formed centers on the issue of an ‘enemy.’ Iranian officials argue that Iran has an external enemy which plans to attack the country. The way this enemy wishes to accomplish its goal is through cultural invasion for which it needs a domestic base. The Iranian press is that domestic base. Therefore, officials argue, journalists are agents for the enemy, and suppressing them is a national measure.”

In another part of his talk, Ganji said that in analyzing the situation in Iran one needed to pay attention to two things. “The legal structure and the real structure of the regime. The legal structure, which is based on the constitution, almost all the power rests with the leader and institutions under his control. Even though separation of powers is provided for in the constitution, this is not the actual arrangement. You may think of a referendum about the regime, as this is provided for in the constitution too. But in reality a referendum must be approved by the Guardians Council which we know will veto it. Another way is to amend the constitution which is also provided for in the constitution. But this very document also says that any change of the constitution must be carried out through the supervision of the leader. Furthermore, members of the Constitution Amendment Council too are appointed by the leader. Currently, the general plans of the regime in all fields are determined by the State Expediency Council, whose members are all appointed by the leader as well. As you see, there is absolutely no possibility to reform the system under its legal structure. This is true only if the reforms are for democracy and freedoms. So if we returned to the events of 8 years ago, the same results would be produced. [Translators Note: this is a reference to the election of reformist president Mohammad Khatami and the failed attempts to reform the system from within and open it to democratic forces.] The real structure – as opposed to the legal one – is even worse. The military and security agencies are very strong and they interfere in all facets of life. The power of the leader and institutions associated with him are ten times more powerful than the legal provisions. There is no possibility for any action. On the other hand, we are faced with meaningless concepts. We have a parliament, but in fact this is not a true parliament. We have a president, but in fact he is only the office manager for the leader. So when we hear the president say something, it is really the leaders speaking through the president’s voice. All the things that are said about the nuclear issue are the views of the leader which are stated by others.”

‘We do not want war, we want peace. But to achieve it we must talk,” Ganji continued. “The requirement for world peace is world disarmament. Is Europe ready to defend a general disarmament? From the view of Iranian intellectuals, the position of the Iranian government regarding nuclear energy is not a wise one. They argue that because Israel, Russia, China, the US and Pakistan have nuclear weapons it is our right to have them too. But this is pouring fuel on fire and promoting war. Instead, we should spread the word of disarmament. Another step for us is to defend direct talks with the US. Iran can protect its interests better if it engages in direct talks.”

At the end of his talk, Ganji reiterated that he opposed revolution. “I am against revolution and view myself as a reformist. I agree with civil disobedience. This is a method that is used all over the world But in Iran civil disobedience bears a very high price. We need the spiritual support of Europe and the world. Human rights are not an internal issue, but a human issue and the concern of the whole world. I criticize Europe for not well treating exiled Iranian journalists. These journalists are under pressure who continue to be viewed as foreigners. Europe must take more steps in the direction of changing this situation. I can raise even more demands but am sure I will receive negative responses. This is why I will stay content with spiritual support.

The curse of the black gold

Abouzar Nasirzadeh

The Middle East has been one of the hotbeds of conflicts and instability in the recent times. This region also holds a sizable chunk of the world’s proven oil reserves. With oil prices reaching record levels in recent months, “petrodollars”, the money earned from selling oil, is flowing faster and faster into the region. Petrodollars and the existence of oil have created many problems in the region.

The rentier states and the democratic deficit

Petrodollars have brought extreme amounts of wealth into the Middle East. These dollars have aided in the construction of what political scientists call “rentier states”. Rentier states are states where the main source of revenue is a natural resource such as oil. Taxes in these states do not account for much of government’s revenue. Consequently, the state is not reliant on taxing its citizens’ earnings for survival while the citizenry are extremely reliant on the state for their income, wellbeing, and maintaining their current living standards.

This peculiar relationship between the state and its citizenry has many consequences. One of the factors that has led to the democratic deficit within the Middle Eastern countries is the existence and the prevalence of the rentier states within the region. Indeed, taxes in the Middle Eastern countries account for around 25% of the GNP, which is significantly lower than many of the industrialized countries around the world. Thus, the Middle Easterners are reliant on their states rather than the state being reliant on them.

With this drastic inequality in the relationship of the state and its citizens, the states of the Middle East have been able to control almost every aspect of their citizens’ lives as the citizens depend directly and indirectly on the government for their incomes. Consequently, the lack of dialogue between the government and the citizens has made sustainable democratic experiences and governmental accountability in the Middle East very challenging

The rentier states and the labour migration

The massive amounts of petrodollars in the rentier states have led to drastic and rapid socio-economic changes within the Middle East. Under these conditions, class divisions are rapidly growing. A new class of wealthy populace is emerging who are well connected to the ruling elite. These individuals seek to keep the status quo to preserve their status within the society.

In addition, the displaced migrant workers are not granted citizenship in the oil rich countries and with foreign labour comprising around 70% of the total workforce in some oil-rich countries of the Middle East, the existing power structures of the oil rich Middle Eastern states are left uncontested as the majority of people are non-citizens and have no status in the state of their residence. Hence, the Middle Eastern states can rely on these workers and maintain their unchallenged hold on power.

The rentier states and the rapid socio-economic changes

The massive amounts of petrodollars in the rentier states have led to drastic and rapid socio-economic changes within the Middle East. Under these conditions, class divisions are rapidly growing. A new class of wealthy populace is emerging who are well connected to the ruling elite. These individuals seek to keep the status quo to preserve their status within the society.

Conversely, there is also a growing class of disenchanted people who are dismayed by what they perceive as an invasion of foreign cultures into their country, which has come with the rapid modernization, implemented using the growing oil wealth. This tension sometimes displays itself in violence and the rise of reactionary forces. Indeed, the 1979 revolution of Iran, which toppled the Shah, and the rise of Al Qaeda could be partly attributed to the rapid socioeconomic changes in the region.

The rentier states and foreign interventions

Over reliance on oil and petrodollars in the rentier states leaves these states vulnerable to foreign intervention. With the world economic system extremely dependent on oil, oil security has come to be a dominant concern of many industrialized states. Subsequently, the industrialized states seek to secure the oil resources by aiding the oppressive regimes of the Middle East to maintain the stability of the region. Within this climate, some rentier states often use oil as a coercive diplomatic tool much in the same way as brinksmanship of nuclear weapons. In response, the industrialized states have used force and other methods to ensure oil security. The War in Iraq has partly occurred because of this reason.

In short, the prevalence of the phenomenon of the rentier states in the Middle East has caused many problems such as democratic deficit within this region. These problems could only be resolved through a responsible and a drastic structural reform within the Middle Eastern states.


Iran: Top Scholar Detained Without Charge


(New York, May 5, 2006) One of Iran’s most prominent scholars, Ramin Jahanbegloo, is being held in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison, where he is at risk of being tortured, Human Rights Watch said today. Iranian authorities must immediately release Jahanbegloo, who is being held without charge after nearly a week in incommunicado detention.

A prominent philosopher who has written extensively on cultural and philosophical topics, Jahanbegloo is director of Contemporary Studies at the Cultural Research Bureau, a private institution in Tehran. His academic writings include more than 20 books in English, French and Persian. He has also written for newspapers and magazines in Iran and abroad.

“The arbitrary arrest of Ramin Jahanbegloo shows the perilous state of academic freedom and free speech in Iran today,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “This prominent scholar should be celebrated for his academic achievements, not interrogated in one of Iran’s most infamous prisons.”

The authorities detained Jahanbegloo at Tehran Airport on or around Thursday, April 27. Officials refused to acknowledge his detention until Wednesday, May 3, when Tehran’s deputy prosecutor general, Mahmoud Salarkia, confirmed Jahanbegloo’s detention in an interview with the Iranian Students News Agency.

Also on Wednesday, the Fars News Agency quoted the chief of prisons in Tehran Province, Sohrab Soleimani, as saying that Jahanbegloo is being held in Tehran’s Evin prison. Neither official gave any reason for Jahanbegloo’s arrest. An unnamed Judiciary official told the daily Etemad-e Melli that charges against Jahanbegloo “will be announced after the interrogations.”

“Iran’s Judiciary is notorious for coercing confessions by means of torture and ill-treatment,” Stork said. “We hold the Iranian government entirely responsible for Jahanbegloo’s well-being.”


Speaking on Whose Behalf?

Shirin Ebadi


01 Jun 2006

The aftermath of the US occupation of Iraq has apparently turned some non-government organization activists into indifference to the role of the “global civil society” in dealing with international crises. These activists point out to the wide opposition within the global civil society to the occupation of Iraq which eventually failed to exert any difference on the decision-makers and prevent the military attack on Iraq. Apparently it is the same view that prevails in the civil society regarding the threat of a military action against Iran. This is probably the most negative and destructive conclusion that one can draw from the Iraqi expedition. Normally, if we believe that the work of the global civil society failed to prevent a war, we should embark on more effective anti-war activities. So the inability to produce results should in fact lead to an increase in activity and not question the goal itself. At this time, parallel to our opposition regarding the violations of human rights of Iranian citizens by the government of Iran, we human rights activists view our duty to do everything possible and in our power against the eruption of another war. It is in this light that Jody Williams and I as the only women winners of the Nobel Peace Prize has launched a campaign to voice the concerns of our respective civil societies regarding another war in this region. Our latest measure is the preparations we are making to hold a joint meeting of a group of pro-peace NGOs from Iran and the US to explore ways to prevent another war. Our hope is that this meeting between June 5 to 8, 2006 with the participation of 5 NGOs from Iran and 5 from the US would be joined in by other anti-war NGOs from across the world. It is noteworthy that in our struggle with this initiative and other similar anti-war tasks, we are continuously under attack by groups that interpret opposition to an attack on Iran to equal supporting the rulers of Iran. As a human rights activist, I have focused my efforts on two fronts: fighting human rights violations in Iran, and, opposition to war against Iranians. It is significant that in the first effort I regularly and continuously face security charges by Iranian rulers who accuse me of “siding with the enemy” in my human rights endeavors. And regarding my second effort, I am accused of supporting those who inside Iran are fabricating security charges against me! Those who make these accusations against me have even asked me who has given me power of attorney to speak on behalf of Iranians that they are against a military attack! I do not intend to discuss whether human rights defenders inside Iran can be representatives of their compatriots or not, just as I do not understand how can one believe that war and killing can lead to democracy and respect for human rights in a country with Iran’s peculiarities. But those who ask who has given me the power to speak on behalf of Iranians in my quest against a US attack on Iran probably have an answer. But how is it that when I speak of gross violations of human rights in Iran nobody asks me who has given me the power to speak about these violations on behalf of Iranians, but when I speak of opposition to a US military attack on Iran, speaking of the disasters that this would bring is interpreted not to have legitimacy and popularity. In conclusion, if we support a military attack on our own country, are we then really speaking on behalf of the Iranian citizenry? Shirin Ebadi is an attorney and human rights activist who won the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize for her work in human rights and especially on the struggle for the rights of women and children. She was the first ever woman judge in Iran. Today, she is an outspoken reformer and regular contributor to Rooz.


‘Smart’ Internet Filtering


Bahram Rafii

30 May 2006 In recent days, the Iranian government has sharply increased its control and monitoring of Internet users though what is known as “smart filtering”, which is blocking access to sites as well as monitoring user’s access to the Internet. Many experts have publicly expressed their opposition to such filtering while officials in the ministry of communications and technology, and Iran’s Information Technology Company (ITC) insist that filtering is a useful and necessary measure. They deny that they are violating the private sphere of Internet users. Esmail Radkani, technical and support manager of ITC has confirmed that smart filtering and surveillance of Internet sites and their users takes place. Radkani asserts that foreign-developed software falls short in monitoring all server ports and, blocking specific ports and addresses. The ones locally developed in Iran, he claims, are capable of sorting pages, monitoring the contents of all ports, blocking designated ports and internet addresses, and can update data banks. The head of the Internet committee of Tehran’s professional computer users organization has strongly denied news reports of the existence of smart filtering system to control users’ IP addresses. But he has acknowledged that technically software systems that can identify Internet users around the world, which are classified as surveillance, control and monitoring, do exit, activities that he does not consider filtering. Mohammad Reza MirTajedini, a Tabriz Majlis (parliament) MP has said that the main purpose of the draft bill in parliament to create non-government news agencies is to form a supervisory board to oversee the activities of these news agencies, and also create a jury board to investigate the lawsuits brought against them. He has specifically said that this draft bill attempts to define Internet webblogs But despite frequent denials from Information Technology officials about smart filtering, evidence indicates that surveillance of internet users is going to sharply increase. These concerns were raised during a recent seminar on Internet filtering. Ali Reza Tousi, director of Tehran Prosecutor’s Office of Internet affairs has warned that Internet crimes can be classified as spreading moral corruption, insulting religious beliefs and contents that are against Islam and the revolution. Launching of illegal Internet sites is also considered a crime. Amir Hossein Saiidi Naini who is the director of Iran’s professional computer users organization defends the need to filter internet sites and users. “If such filtering does not take place, there will be negative social consequences and damage. We live in a country where cultural values are tremendously important. So it is natural for us that we be sensitive to filtering”, he said at the Internet Filtering seminar. Support manager of Information Technology Company says the government-funded, National Data Network, has the capability of filtering and sorting of 150,000 internet users simultaneously.


Job Security of Defense Attorneys

Mehrangiz Kar


19 May 2006

A defense attorney cannot defend the rights of a client without enjoying the security of his job. Iranian defense attorneys however, have for years now been deprived of this security and yet they have taken up every available case to defend the rights of the accused. Recently it was announced that in the case of the Dervishes who were severely beaten up, arrested and their temple in Qom confiscated by government agents, the two defense attorneys who had been hired to represent and defend the Dervishes in the case brought up against them by the government by the names of Farshid Yadollahi and Omid Piruzi were both not only arrested and sentenced to flogging, but through a group sentencing, were also denied their practice licenses for five years by a court in the town of Qom. This is how they have been behaving for years and through their judicial work they have tried to show that they do not have any respect for achievements attained by individuals before the revolution of 1979. One such achievement of the Iranian people has been the independence of Iran’s Bar Association, which is the only professional organization for Iranian lawyers. The association was once completely rejected in the first decade of the revolution. Today, some of that loss has been regained. One of the attributes of this independence has been that by belonging to the bar association – which is a rooted organization with modern underpinnings – an attorney’s professional license to practice can only be revoked if, according to article 17 of the independence of the bar association and following an indictment by the disciplinary court and a final court ruling, his license is revoked and he is barred from practicing law. Therefore, judicial forums do not have jurisdiction to unilaterally issue decrees in this regard. Had the bar association been completely independent, judicial authorities could not have violated its independence so blatantly. Unfortunately, a strong defense of an accused leads to detention and elimination of attorneys from their field. In fact, qualified jurisdictions such as disciplinary and regular courts which are ageless symbols of the independence of the Bar Association have no influence in preventing such violations so that the independence of the bar has remained only on paper and not in fact. Under such conditions where defense attorneys are denied their rightful professional and job security and their innocent-until-proven guilty has been stamped on, how can one talk of the rights of a citizen? On what basis can one claim this now? Mehrangiz Kar is an Iranian human rights attorney currently living in the United States. She is a regular contributor to Rooz.