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Headlines: Signs Multiply of Fissures in Iranian Regime

24 Sep 2010 12:51No Comments

Press Roundup provides selected excerpts of news and opinion pieces from the Iranian and international media. Click on the link to the story to read it in full. Tehran Bureau has not verified these stories and does not vouch for their accuracy. The inclusion of various opinions in no way implies their endorsement by Tehran Bureau. Please refer to the Media Guide to help put the stories in perspective. You can follow other news items through our Twitter feed.

THE LEAD

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Rafsanjani's Risky Move Reveals Increasing Support from Khamenei

insideIRAN | Sept 22

Ayatollah Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani took the risky step on September 21 and met with the families of political prisoners. Rafsanjani, the chairman of the Assembly of Experts, said he would express their concerns directly to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.

According to the official website of Ayatollah Rafsanjani, the meeting took place in his office and lasted for about three hours. In this meeting, families of political prisoners asked Rafsanjani to help them find a way to ensure that their husbands or sons receive fair treatment.

According to his website, Rafsanjani listened to every guest and then advised them to be patient. Rafsanjani asserted, "Liberty and justice are among the most important goals of the Islamic Republic and some shortcomings will certainly not prevent [us] from reaching these noble goals."

Rafsanjani's meeting with families of political prisoners is significant because it is believed that he and Supreme Leader Khamenei are now moving closer to each other in an effort to curb the increasing powers of President Ahmadinejad and his political faction.

See also: "Iran: Rafsanjani Meets with Families of Political Prisoners" (Radio Zamaneh via Payvand)

Majlis Lawmakers: Ahmadinejad's Claims Are Baseless

Rooz | Sept 23

Representatives at the Islamic Republic Majlis responded to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's latest remarks in exclusive interviews with Rooz. Mohsen Kouhkan, a member of the Principlist faction, advised Ahmadinejad not to focus on divisive and controversial issues, while Abdollah Kabi, Abadan's representative in the Majlis told Rooz, "The standard is the Constitution, not Mr. Ahmadinejad's statements." Orumiyeh's representative, Nader Ghazipour, dismissed Ahmadinejad's statements as divisive remarks that should not be taken too seriously. Isfahan's Principlist representative, Nayereh Akhavan, told Rooz, "It's better not to discuss his remarks."

On Saturday, in an interview with Iran daily, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad claimed that the executive is the main branch of government, dismissing a famous quote from ayatollah Khomeini that the Majlis was the main branch, since at the time, the Islamic Republic was parliamentary system as it used to have a prime minister.

Responding to Ahmadinejad's statements, Mohsen Kouhkan, a prominent Principlist lawmaker tells Rooz, "We don't plan to dwell on this issue very much because we want to preserve our unity, but we evaluate these statements and do not agree with them."

Urumiyeh's representative in the Majlis, Nader Ghazipour [...] says, "I don't know if these words are Ahmadinejad's, or if [advisor Esfandiar Rahim] Mashaei has put them in his mouth, but I say that Ahmadinejad is wrong to say such things. Before him, all presidents agreed that the Majlis is the top branch. [...] This is the view of the Iranian people, and the president is not permitted to say such things."

Iran Is Far from United behind Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

Los Angeles Times | Sept 23

In New York, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad can boast that he's the talk of the town, appearing on television shows with the likes of Christiane Amanpour and Larry King, hobnobbing with fellow heads of state and addressing the United Nations General Assembly on Thursday.

In Tehran these days, the outspoken hard-line politician is under withering attack from all political directions. His detractors in recent weeks have included assorted fundamentalist clergymen who have accused him of interfering in religious affairs, a judiciary that humiliated him by delaying the release of American hiker Sarah Shourd, the editor of a right-wing newspaper handpicked by supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the moderate head of the powerful Assembly of Experts, and a member of parliament who condemned him for praising the pre-Islamic Persian king Cyrus, who is an icon of secular nationalists.

"The president should be aware that he is obligated to promote Islam and not ancient Iran, and if he fails to fulfill his obligation, he will lose the support and trust of the Muslim nation of Iran," said lawmaker Ali Mottahari, who is loyal to a rival conservative faction.

See also: "At Home, Iran's President Faces Political Battle over Efforts to Widen His Powers" (Washington Post)

OTHER NEWS

Phone Lines to Karroubi Home Cut Off

Green Voice of Freedom | Sept 23

Since Tuesday afternoon, all phone lines to the home of outspoken opposition leader Mahdi Karroubi have been cut off, according to a report published by Saham News, the website of the National Trust Party (Etemade Melli), which is headed by Karroubi himself.

"All of the house's telephone lines have been cut off. We don't know what these men [the authorities] aim to do by such childish and ridiculous actions, but whatever their goal is, such acts cannot hamper with our will and resolve to defend the people's rights," Karroubi's wife, Fatemeh Karroubi, told Saham News.

On Wednesday, authorities arrested Ehsan Bakeri, son of Iranian war hero Hamid Bakeri, for a number of hours as he was making his [way] to the house of Mahdi Karroubi along with the family of late Commander Mohammad Ebrahim. They had to decided to move towards the former parliament speaker's house after they had been prevented by security forces from meeting with former prime minister Mir Hossein Mousavi on Wednesday morning. According to reports, pepper spray was used against the families during today's disgraceful attacks.

U.S. and Iran Trying to Set Up Covert Diplomatic Channel

Haaretz | Sept 22

Diplomats from the United States and Iran have begun initial contacts to examine the establishment of covert communication between the two countries.

Sources in New York told Haaretz that the two sides secretly convened at the United Nations headquarters in New York. [...] American and Iranian officials discussed a U.S. initiative to establish unofficial diplomatic relations.

Officials from the entourage of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who arrived in New York this week, are involved in the secret talks. Sources add that Iranians are demanding a U.S. "tribute" in return for the release of American backpacker Sarah Shourd last week.

Intelligence Minister: Culprits behind Terror Act in NW Iran Arrested

Mehr | Sept 23

Intelligence Minister Heidar Moslehi said on Thursday that members of a group behind the terrorist attack which killed 12 women in the northwestern city of Mahabad have been arrested.

"The group that carried out this terrorist attack has been arrested," Moslehi said, according to the national TV.

"The blast targeted unity among Shias and Sunnis" in the northwestern region, Moslehi said.

According to local sources, the bomb was hidden inside a bag placed on the branch of a tree near where some civilians were standing.

IRNA Calls on Judiciary to Hinder Distribution of Political Prisoners' Letters

Tabnak | Sept 23

Iranian official news agency IRNA has called on the judiciary to hinder distribution of letters and memoirs written by political prisoners addressed to the Iranian or international authorities.

The Islamic Republic News Agency, IRNA, said in a note addressed to the judiciary that "a deliberation of the country's and the world's existing laws indicate that nowhere [in the world] is it recognized a right for a prisoner to continue to commit felony while in prison."

The note, titled "The judiciary's leniency and compromise is not ignorable," also said that in such deliberations "no discrimination is recognized between political and non-political prisoners," according to Jomhuri-Eslami newspapers.

Iran Establishes New Censorship Board

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty | Sept 22

Iranian Culture Minister Mohammad Hosseini has announced plans to create a new five-person board that will approve the content of all books prior to publication, RFE/RL's Radio Farda reports.

Hosseini said on September 20 that the new board would be similar to Iran's Press Supervisory Board, and its members would decide which books can be published.

The five board members will be appointed by the Supreme Council of the Cultural Revolution.

Faraj Sarkouhi, a prominent writer and journalist living in exile, told RFE/RL on September 21 that "it appears that the five members of the new board are going to be in charge of supervising book censorship."

He added that censorship by the Culture Ministry, without whose approval nothing is published in Iran, had no legal basis. "Even according to the laws of the Islamic republic, censorship is illegal," he said.

Is Iran behind an Attempted Coup?

Washington Times | Sept 22

As the country's major English-language paper, the Gulf Daily News, put it: "A web of lies, deceit and maliciously false information to fuel terrorism in Bahrain was revealed."

What is known is that the government of Bahrain has arrested a group of 23 men whom it accuses of plotting to overthrow the government and of resorting to terrorist activities. The government is hinting that "outside forces" are behind the plotters. While Bahrain refrained from naming those outside plotters, a quick look at the region's map will leave no doubt in anyone's mind that the accusing finger points at Iran, with which Bahrain has had a series of diplomatic rows in the past. Most Gulf countries refrain from openly naming Iran even when it's obvious.

Human rights groups, meanwhile, have accused the Bahrainis of resorting to torture to extract confessions from the suspected terrorists. Naturally, both sides deny the accusations. Iran denies it is involved in any illicit business in Bahrain and says relations are based "on mutual respect," and the Bahrainis deny they have resorted to torture to advance their investigation.

Defense Minister Cautions Russia on S-300 Delivery

Tabnak | Sept 23

Iran's Defense Minister says Tehran has cautioned Russia not to cave in to Western "pressure" by reneging on a delayed deal to deliver S-300 defense systems.

"A lot of pressure has been exerted on the Russians, and they have so far proven their inability to reach the correct decision," Brigadier General Ahmad Vahidi told al-Alam television.

"We have repeatedly said that it would not be in Russia's interests to present itself as an unreliable and undependable partner," he added.

See also: "DM: Iran to Develop S-300 Air Defense System" (Tabnak)

Russia-Iran Nuclear Power Plant Project Unaffected by Weapon Ban -- Kremlin

RIA Novosti via Tabnak | Sept 23

The construction of the Bushehr nuclear power plant in Iran will not be affected by a Russian presidential decree banning the delivery of military hardware to Iran, the Kremlin said Thursday.

The decree, which Russian President Dmitry Medvedev signed on Wednesday, is part of measures Russia is taking to comply with new UN sanctions imposed on Iran over its controversial nuclear program.

Medvedev also banned entry to and transit via Russia for a number of Iranian nationals connected with the country's nuclear program, and banned Russian individuals and legal entities from rendering financial services if the services relate to Iran's nuclear activity.

"We have never considered any restrictions [on the Bushehr construction], because the Bushehr project is being implemented under the full supervision of the International Atomic Energy Agency, and nobody has ever questioned this project," presidential aide Sergei Prikhodko told reporters in Moscow.

One Million Signatures Campaign Activist Navid Mohebbi Detained

RAHANA | Sept 24

Navid Mohebbi was detained when 8 security forces raided the house of his father in the city of Amol and transferred him to the Sari Prison.

There are reports that he was beaten when arrested and the security forces threatened his family [with] firearms.

There has been no information as to the reason for his arrest.

This civil rights activist had been summoned to the security organizations of Amol after the March 8, 2008, gathering when he was a high school student.

Afshin Hossein Panahi Detained

RAHANA | Sept 24

Afshin Hossein Panahi had been threatened and disturbed by the Intelligence Ministry for following the case of his brother, Anvar Hossein Panahi. He had also been detained in September of last year.

According to the RAHANA reporter, there has been no information as to his location or the reason of his arrest.

Anvar Hossein Panahi was detained in fall of 2007 and sentenced to death but his sentence was later reduced to 16 years in prison. He is currently held in the Sanandaj central Prison

See also: "Ziaeddin Nabavi Exiled to Ahvaz Prison" (RAHANA)

Germany's ThyssenKrupp Halts All Business in Iran

Reuters | Sept 23

ThyssenKrupp said it would freeze all new business with Iran with immediate effect and terminate existing contracts there as soon as possible in response to ever-harsher sanctions against the Islamic Republic.

"By halting business with Iran we are supporting the sanctions policies of the Federal Republic of Germany, the European Union and the United States," Ekkehard Schulz, chief executive of Germany's biggest steelmaker, said on Thursday.

ThyssenKrupp is the latest in a series of German companies reducing business ties with Iran.

Carmaker Daimler said earlier this year it would sell its stake in an Iranian engine manufacturer and freeze planned exports to Iran, following similar moves by Siemens, Munich Re and Allianz.

OPINION & ANALYSIS

Iran's 'Shaky' Ahmadinejad

Interview with Kaveh Ehsani, Assistant Professor International Studies, De Paul University (Council on Foreign Relations) | Sept 21

What is Ahmadinejad's standing in Iran right now?

His standing is fairly shaky, because he was first elected in 2005 on a platform of combating corruption; improving the economy; dealing with issues of social justice and unemployment, especially for the young; and creating greater opportunities for people. His slogan was, "I will better distribute the existing wealth." Crudely put, he said, "I'll bring the oil money to people's dining tables."

And what happened after he was elected?

He really hasn't delivered on his promises. The economy has gotten worse. Now Iranians are facing all these international sanctions; the unemployment numbers have gotten worse; the inflation has really gotten worse. He's beset by popular discontent. The elections of June 2009 really harmed his legitimacy. There is a significant portion of the population that objects to the way that the elections were carried out as well as the results. And the way that the objections were dealt with--with sheer brute force--reflected badly on Ahmadinejad and the regime as a whole. This is a view held even among his lukewarm supporters. His situation is pretty precarious. In a way, this is nothing new in Iran. Since the 1979 revolution, Iran's politics have been very divided, fragmented, and factionalized.

Opportunity Knocks at the UN

Robert Tait (Daily Star, Lebanon) | Sept 24

A series of events is threatening to turn the UN's annual assemblage in New York into an atypically constructive experience. Speaking from Tehran, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki on Thursday made clear the Islamic Republic's willingness to negotiate with Western powers over its disputed nuclear program. We find Mottaki's eagerness more than an accidental coincidence with Russian President Dmitri Medvedev's decree issued one day earlier banning the sale of S-300 missile systems to Tehran.

This turnaround, articulated by the leadership of such crucial players, marks a massive change from just one week ago. Iran seems to be recognizing -- if not admitting outright -- that the latest barrage of US-driven sanctions is indeed squeezing the Islamic Republic's wheezy economy. Years of economic mismanagement, as well as President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's annual redistribution of Iranian GDP in the form of politically motivated subsidies, have left the Iranian economy weak and vulnerable.

The War against Iran Has Already Started

Trevor Butterworth (Medialand/Forbes) | Sept 21

There is little doubt that the fine gradations of history will give cyber war an earlier start. But just as television news was transformed by technology before the Iranian Revolution in 1979, and politics was transformed by social networking before it appeared that Twitter would bring about a second Iranian Revolution, process and progress need crystallizing events, where the political and cultural significance of technological innovation becomes indisputable.

Such a moment came in July with the discovery of a worm known as Stuxnet, which sought out a particular version of the Siemens' SCADA (supervisory control and data acquisition) systems that control power grids and industrial plants. According to Ralph Langner, an expert in industrial control systems who published a study of the worm last week, Stuxnet was capable of taking over SCADA controls in order to deliver a kinetic attack by causing critical systems to physically malfunction. The systems infected weren't randomly targeted: a majority are in Iran.

Warfare is never going to be the same, at least while the underlying protocols governing the Internet create these kinds of systemic vulnerabilities. But even if there was agreement to rewrite these protocols starting tomorrow, such a project would take a decade. So, let the damage assessment begin. Who knows? By demonstrating how Iran could so very easily experience a Chernobyl-like catastrophe, or the entire destruction of its conventional energy grid, the first round of the "war" may have already been won.

Excessive Sanctions Will Not Solve the Iranian Nuclear Problem

Dmitry Kosyrev (RIA Novosti via Tabnak) | Sept 23

On June 9, the Security Council adopted a fourth set of sanctions on Iran purely concerned with elements related to its nuclear program. The sanctions were a compromise between the resolutely anti-Iranian U.S. proposals supported by Europeans and the ideas posited by Russia, China and some other Security Council members. However, many Security Council members remained dissatisfied even with that compromise version of the sanctions.

The Russian delegation then warned the United States and the European Union that balanced UN sanctions should not prompt them to introduce unilateral, much harsher, sanctions against Iran that would be detrimental to the country's economy and its people. What's the point of hammering out agreements in the UN if some countries opt to act unilaterally?

[Foreign Minister Sergei] Lavrov said in his address at the 65th General Assembly: "There has long been a general consensus about the need to abide by the humanitarian limits of sanctions, and to prevent these measures from adversely affecting either the civilian population or the country's socio-economic development. However, we must express our serious concern over individual countries' persistently taking unilateral forcible measures [...] exceeding the provisions set out in the UN Charter and the decisions made by the Security Council. We believe that this practice must be stopped."

Congressional Backers Look to Exiled Iranian Group for Regime Change

Dokhi Fassihian, Democracy Coalition Project Executive Director (Middle East Journal/Foreign Policy) | Sept 22

Recent weeks have seen a renewed discussion of military options for stopping Iran's nuclear program - kicked off by Jeffrey Goldberg's cover article in the Atlantic. But there is also a campaign underway to promote a different option on Iran: regime change, via Iranian dissidents in exile.

Members of Congress led by Rep. Bob Filner (D-CA) have introduced a resolution calling on the Secretary of State and the President to throw the support of the United States behind an exiled Iranian terrorist group seeking to overthrow the Iranian regime and install themselves in power. Calling the exiled organization "Iran's main opposition," Filner is urging the State Department to end the blacklisting of the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK) -- a group listed by the State Department as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO). The resolution currently has 83 cosponsors and is gaining significant ground.

The designation of the MEK as a terrorist organization stems from its activities inside Iran aimed at overthrowing both the Shah's government and, later, the Islamic Republic. According to the State Department's description included in the FTO listing, "[d]uring the 1970s the MEK staged terrorist attacks inside Iran and killed several US military personnel and civilians working on defense projects in Tehran," and their activities continued through the 1990's and after.

For Americans, perhaps nothing about the group is more offensive than its support of the takeover of the US Embassy in 1979, during which its members strongly denounced the hostages' ultimate release in January 1981. But for Iranians, the MEK's betrayal came during the Iran-Iraq War of the 1980's, when the group sided with Saddam Hussein in the fight against their home country. The group bombed Iran's parliament in 1981, killing both the president and the Prime Minister, and regularly assassinated and bombed Iranian governmental officials up until the 2000's.

Thus, the MEK organization has literally zero support among the Iranian people. The closest thing to how Iranians feel about the MEK is how Americans feel about al-Qaeda. It's not even a subject of debate.

Iran: Surface Truths, Inner Lives

"R Tousi" (Disinformation) | Sept 22

It's what passes for an Iranian society wedding these days. The bride is beautiful in an Italian handmade gown; the groom as sleek as a member of the "rat pack" in a vintage suit that his father had worked in in the 1960s. There are smartly uniformed ushers and waiters in each corner ready to serve the 300 guests spread around a country-villa in the northeastern outskirts of Tehran.

Some are lavishly hosted in a grand hall where a Persian classical ensemble gently plays in the background; others are seated around sumptuous lantern-lit tables in the garden filled with fragrant pots all evidently in full bloom; while the huge indoor pool has been covered and a large youthful crowd dance the night away to a live pop band. It's a mixed family crowd and seemingly there are as many women in headscarves as there are in low-cut slinky gowns.

Mixed-sex parties are illegal in Iran and as far back as I can remember have risked being raided by the "morality police." I raise this point with the sister of the groom. After I am gently chided for my negativity during such a happy occasion; the sister then says, "we've been remarkably lucky to get the wedding planners. They have assured me that they have not been raided even once in the last year -- 'they' just don't do that anymore." She then whispers loudly: "Did you know that even all their waiters are graduates?"

DOCUMENTS & DECLARATIONS

International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) Report

Part I. Executive Summary (ICHRI) | Sept 23

This report presents information about compliance by the Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI) with its obligations as a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

The grave human rights violations in Iran are primarily violations of the fundamental civil and political rights protected by the ICCPR. In many, and very serious cases, Iran's laws themselves are incompatible with the Covenant. However, Iranian authorities routinely violate the country's own Constitution and laws that are meant to protect human rights.

With respect to Article 2 and 3 of the Covenant, Iran's laws are deeply discriminatory, particularly against women. Iran's laws and social policies not only devalue women, but also put them at risk of exploitation, abuse, and even murder. The Right to Life (Article 3) is massively violated on the basis of laws under which citizens may be executed for a wide range of crimes including sexual offenses, while women and non-Muslims are at greatest risk. There are excessive numbers of executions and including executions of those who committed crimes as juveniles. Torture (Article 7) is systematic and widespread in a system in which confessions often are the main evidence upon which convictions are made. Thousands of Iranians have been arbitrarily detained (Article 9) in the context of recent political disturbances. Prison conditions (Article 10) are in many cases intentionally inhumane and unhealthy, particularly for prisoners of conscience. The Freedom of Movement (Article 12) is violated by arbitrarily-imposed travel bans.

This report deals at length with ways in which judicial processes and guarantees in Iran violate Article 14, and in particular with the lack of an independent judiciary. The Right to Privacy (Article 17) is violated by extensive monitoring of private communications. The Freedom of Expression (Article 19) is severely limited by censorship, the closing of newspapers, restrictions on Internet use, and arrests of journalists. The report includes information on how Iranian officials and publications have engaged in incitement to violence (Article 20). Iranian civil society organizations and social movements, in particular women's rights groups, students, human rights activists and labor activists, have been denied the Freedom of Assembly (Article 21) and the Freedom of Association (Article 22). Finally, the report includes an analysis of laws governing elections in Iran, which conflict with Article 25 and with the basic principles of equality and non-discrimination.

Part II. Introduction (ICHRI) | Sept 23

Particularly over the past five years, Iran has become among the most repressive countries in the world in terms of basic civil and political rights, with an official policy aggressively hostile to human rights and civil society; a country where torture is routine and more people are executed per capita than in any other country in the world. The profound legal discrimination faced by women and religious minorities has not been addressed, but peaceful and legal efforts to change it from civil society have been met with violent repression. Especially since the June 2009 presidential election, peaceful political dissent and demands for human rights have been met with extreme violence, including dozens of murders, and dissent has been criminalized and punished with sentences including the death penalty. Over five thousand people were detained after the 2009 election and at least 500 of them remain in temporary detention or serving prison terms, and arrests of human rights defenders and reform-oriented intellectuals, journalists and others continue as of this writing. The Iranian judiciary has given up any pretense of independence and objectivity on politically sensitive cases, and is influenced by the Revolutionary Guards and intelligence services. Victims of human rights abuses are receiving credible threats of harm to themselves or their families if they speak to journalists or human rights groups. A sizable segment of Iran's community of independent human rights activists have been forced into exile or are imprisoned, and those in Iran are isolated and often banned from travel. Iran is stepping up attempts to restrict Internet access, imposes travel bans on civil society activists on their way to international conferences, and otherwise seeks to impose isolation on the society. Iran has barred visits from UN special rapporteurs since 2005. It is one of the few countries in the world that refuses visas to international human rights groups.

A Letter to Christiane Amanpour about the Media, "Freedom," and Ahmadinejad

Masih Alinejad, Iranian Journalist (Rah-e-Sabz via Enduring America) | Sept 24

Ms Amanpour,

In our country Iran, those who control the prisons and have control over citizen's lives are the absolute power.

Those who can interpret the law as they wish or change it for their own benefit should be strongly challenged. Those who have the means to change the fate of their citizens should be questioned seriously. The criticism and questioning of those in power, above all the President whose winning of the election has cost hundreds of lives, is encouraged by the Iranian people.

The people of Iran know that, because we, Iranian journalists, are not able to do this right now, the responsibility has fallen on other journalists, like you, in the foreign media. We would like to think it is this responsibility to criticise absolute power that has resulted in the line of interviewers wanting their time with Mr Ahmadinejad.

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