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Update: Reports Ashtiani Freed Untrue; Leading Reformist Arrested

10 Dec 2010 01:208 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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Ashtiani Recounts Murder on Press TV

Press TV | Dec 10

An Iranian woman convicted of murder and adultery has accompanied a team of TV production group to her house to recount details of killing her husband at the crime scene.

Contrary to a vast publicity campaign by Western media that confessed murderer Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani has been released, a team of broadcast production team with the Iran-based Press TV has arranged with Iran's judicial authorities to follow Ashtiani to her house to produce a visual recount of the crime at the murder scene.

Press TV's "Iran Today" program, will shed light on the highways and byways of the murder account with multiple interviews with people and individuals involved in the case.

Sajjad Asgharzadeh, Sakineh's son, and her lawyer Hootan Kian are among the individuals that have spoken to the production team.

Earlier on Thursday, some western media outlets claimed that Ashtiani has been released from prison.

Iran has cited political motives behind the Western propaganda effort regarding the legal ruling against Mohammadi-Ashtiani, arguing that the publicity scheme is part of a Western campaign to undermine the Islamic Republic establishment.

Ashtiani has been found guilty of murdering her husband, Ibrahim Asgharzadeh, in collusion with another man, Isa Taheri, whom she had an affair with before the murder.

Press TV's "Iran Today" program on Ashtiani's case is scheduled to go on air on Friday December 10 at 20:35 GMT and will be aired again on Saturday December 11 at 01:35 GMT, 06:35 GMT and 14:35 GMT.

Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani 'At Home' Pictures Trigger Confusion over Her Fate

Guardian | Dec 9

[The confusion around Ashtiani's fate was prompted by] pictures from state-run Press TV [that] showed her meeting Sajad at home in Osku in northwestern Iran, boosting supporters' hopes that she had been released.

But footage of Ashtiani broadcast by the station later [indicated that] Iranian authorities had merely taken her to her home to collect evidence against her and film a confession.

In a short clip she is seen to say: "We planned to kill my husband."

Ecstatic campaigners initially hailed the news [of her apparent release]. "This is the happiest day in my life," said Mina Ahadi of the International Committee against Stoning (Icas). "I'm very happy for her son, Sajad, who fought single-handedly and bravely in Iran to defend his mother and tell the world that she is innocent. I'm sure that this day will be written in Iranian history books, if not the world's, as a day of victory for human rights campaigners."

Mohammadi Ashtiani was convicted in May 2006 of conducting an illicit relationship outside marriage. She endured a sentence of 99 lashes, but her case was re-opened when a court in Tabriz suspected her of murdering her husband. She was acquitted, but the adultery charge was reviewed and a death penalty handed down on the basis of "judge's knowledge" -- a loophole that allows for subjective judicial rulings where no conclusive evidence is present.

Five years ago when Mohammadi Ashtiani was flogged, Sajad, then 17, was present. "They lashed her in front my eyes and this has been carved in my mind since then," he told the Guardian before his own arrest.

Ten Iranian women and four men are on death row awaiting execution by stoning, among them Azar Bagheri, 19, Iran Iskandari, 31, Kheyrieh Valania, 42, Sarimeh Sajadi, 30, Kobra Babaei, and Afsaneh R.

Jubilation over Iranian Woman's Release Gives Way to Uncertainty

Globe and Mail | Dec 9

Meanwhile, two German journalists are still being held in connection with the stoning case.

Officials have said they are considering temporarily releasing the pair to reunite with family over the holidays, in response to a request the two had made.

The journalists were arrested for violating Iranian laws by working as journalists while travelling on tourist visas after they were caught interviewing Ms. Ashtiani's son and lawyer.

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Iran Reformist Arrested, Students Held

Reuters | Dec 9

A prominent Iranian reformist was arrested on Thursday and five students were reported detained following anti-government protests, in the latest moves against opponents of hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Ali Shakourirad, a leading member of Iran's biggest pro-reform party, the Participation Front, was arrested and accused of propaganda against the system, the student news agency ISNA reported.

ISNA said Shakourirad had been arrested for making up lies about [the] Islamic Republic and after he falsely quoted the head of the judiciary in comments that appeared on websites.

An opposition website has also called for people to gather on Thursday at the grave of the late dissident cleric Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri to mark the first anniversary of his death according to the Islamic calendar.

An architect of the Islamic Revolution, Montazeri was named in the 1980s to succeed revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini as Iran's top authority, but fell out with him over the mass execution of prisoners.

Saham News, the website of Mehdi Karoubi, one of the candidates beaten by Ahmadinejad in an election the opposition says was rigged, called for people to gather in an article which described Montazeri as "the moral father of the green movement", a reference to the chosen colour of the reformist opposition.

See also: "Speech by Former Interior Minister Detailing Election Fraud Released" (Tehran Bureau) | "Dr. Shakouri Rad Arrested Because of His Disclosure of Sadegh Larijani's Election Day Congratulations to Mir Hossein Mousavi " (Rahesabz [in Farsi])

OTHER NEWS

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Iranian Blogging Pioneer Temporarily Released from Prison

Deutsche Welle | Dec 9

Iranian-Canadian blogger Hossein Derakhshan was temporarily released from a Tehran prison, after having been incarcerated for 26 months, according to a report Thursday on Mashregh News, a conservative Iranian news website.

The site was among the first to report Derakhshan's conviction at the end of September on charges of "conspiring with hostile governments, disseminating anti-Islamic propaganda, disseminating anti-revolutionary propaganda, blasphemy, and operating and managing obscene pornography websites."

The account was confirmed by a source close to the Derakhshan family, who wished to remain anonymous and said Derakhshan was "happy to be out," adding "we have been pushing for this for months, especially after his trial, but it has always been refused."

The same source also told Deutsche Welle that Derakhshan "will be out for a couple of days only," and that the family had put up a bail with a value of $1.5 million (1.3 million euros) to ensure Derakhshan returns to prison when demanded by authorities.

Derakhshan Released on Short Furlough on Unprecedented $1.5 Million Bail

ICHRI | Dec 9

Hossein Derakhshan was charged with 'cooperation with hostile states, propagating against the regime, propagation in favor of anti-revolutionary groups, insulting sanctities, and implementation and management of obscene websites,' and sentenced to 19.5 years in prison, five years' ban from membership in political parties and activities in the media; and returning received funds in the amount of 30,750 Euro, US$2,900, and 200 British Pounds. His lawyer has appealed the decision, but the appeals court has not yet made its ruling.

Hossein Derakhshan was detained at his home on 1 November 2008. Previously, a source close to his family told the Campaign that Derakhshan spent nearly ten months in solitary confinement, completely isolated from the outside world, and was subjected to beatings to coerce him to make false confessions about having ties to the CIA and Israeli intelligence services. His family was only able to visit him twice during the first year of his detention. Derakhshan's family was not allowed to attend his trial sessions.

Iranian-Canadian Blogger Temporarily Bailed: Report

AFP | Dec 9

In 2001, Derakhshan sparked a cyber revolution in Iran by posting precise instructions on how to set up Persian-language blogs.

He visited Iran's arch-foe Israel on his Canadian passport in 2006. He chronicled his experience on his Persian- and English-language blogs, saying he sought to show Israelis and Iranians a different image of each country.

He was arrested after returning to Iran in November 2008.

The Islamic republic neither recognises dual nationality nor allows its citizens to travel to Israel.

Derakhshan is the third Canadian journalist to be arrested in Iran in recent years. In July 2003, Canadian-Iranian photo-journalist Zahra Kazemi died in prison and Newsweek correspondent Maziar Bahari was briefly detained in 2009.

See also: "Hossein Derakhshan Released after 26 Months" (Mashregh News [in Farsi])

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Tehran Chokes and Blames Severe Pollution on US Sanctions

Guardian | Dec 9

Residents of Tehran are blaming US sanctions for unprecedented levels of air pollution that have repeatedly forced the closure of universities and schools in the Iranian capital in the past month.

Tehran, surrounded by mountains and with millions of cars on its congested streets, has long been regarded as one of the world's most polluted cities, but the heavy smog that has recently shrouded its streets has been described as the worst in its history.

Earlier this week, an advisor to Tehran's mayor said the city's residents were breathing "poison" and said the government had asked environmental officials not to discuss the air pollution in public. Muhammad Hadi Heydarzadeh told an Iranian news agency that the situation in the city was "critical".

"What people in Tehran inhaled in the past few weeks was just poison," he said.

The smog is said to be the result of a locally produced form of petrol that the government introduced after the imposition in July of US sanctions preventing foreign firms from selling petrol to Iran.

Locally refined petrol produces high levels of pollution, said Hosseinali Shahriari, the head of the Iranian parliamentary committee for healthcare, who said Iranian petrol contains 10 times the level of contaminants of imported fuel.

Behrooz Mohammadi, a 35-year-old computer engineer, told the Guardian that the haze in Tehran was so bad this week that even the Milad Tower, the sixth tallest in the world, was not visible from close by.

He said: "People in Tehran are accustomed to the polluted air but these weeks' pollution were even unprecedented [by] our standards. I could hardly breathe and I got severe headaches, and my eyes were itching so badly that tears were coming out of them as if I was crying."

According to Fathollah Emami, the director of Tehran's Project to Reduce Pollution, 27 Tehranis die each day from pollution-related diseases.

Iran Says Poor Fuel Not to Blame for Choking Tehran

Reuters | Dec 8

The severe smog occurred a few months after Iran announced it had become self-sufficient in gasoline by implementing an emergency plan to refine gasoline in petrochemcial plants, foiling international sanctions.

Oil Minister Massoud Mirkazemi denied the emergency gasoline production was at fault and said Iran's Western foes were trying to spread rumours to further undermine an economy they have tried to hit by sanctions.

"This rumour of Tehran's air pollution getting intensified due to the production and sale of non-standard gasoline comes from beyond Iran's borders," Donya-ye Eqtesad daily quoted him as saying.

"The West has lost the sanction game to Iran and this false news is the last episode of the unwise sanction scenario."

Traders told Reuters that Iran, long an importer of gasoline, had exported its first cargo in August, but said it had a low research octane number (RON) of 75, dubbed "Iraq grade" as it meets the standards of Iran's war-torn neighbour but would not be allowed for sale, for example, in Europe.

Mohammad Royanian, the official in charge of Iran's transport fuel management, said this was untrue.

"Gas heaters and water heaters are the main reason for the increase in Tehran's air pollution," he told Donya-ye Eqtesad "Right now, the octane of gasoline produced from petrochemicals is near 100."

See also: "Basij Calls to People to Pray for Rain" (Trend)

20 More Executions in Mashad amidst Continued Silence from the Judiciary

ICHRI | Dec 8

Following the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran's reports of secret group executions without due process inside Mashad's Vakilabad prison, local sources told the Campaign that nine more people were executed on 30 November. The source also reported of 11 executions of individuals for drug-related crimes on 9 November. Counting the other 10 prisoners who were executed on 26 October, in less than two months 30 executions have been carried out inside Vakilabad prison. According to reports from informed sources, 23 other prisoners were hung inside the prison in early October. These executions are not included in official statistics released by the Judiciary to government media.

The inmates were hung inside Vakilabad's Security Ward. According to sources, the executions that took place on 9 and 30 November did not follow laws of the Islamic Republic of Iran and were carried out without the knowledge and presence of the lawyers and families of those executed. "As in previous instances, those executed did not know about the fact that the Supreme Court had upheld their death sentences and executions until just a few hours before the death sentences were carried out. The written confirmation of the Supreme Court's ruling was not served to the convicts, nor their lawyers or families; the documents were only sent to Mashad Prosecutor's Office for implementation." Previously, the said sources told the Campaign that several of these cases have major ambiguities with respect to the judicial review process.

"Some of those executed were professional smugglers, and some of them were petty smugglers. But authorities refuse to announce the executions. The way the convicts are executed and the lack of publicity about what is happening inside Vakilabad prison suggests that judicial authorities do not wish these execution statistics to be added to the annual statistics of the country," said the source. Currently, Iran and China are at the top of the world list for the number of annual executions.

Detained Razi University Students Held Incommunicado

RAHANA | Dec 9

The families of Ahmad Ghiyasvand and Seyyed Ghasem Mahmoudi, 2 engineering students at Razi University, who were arrested on December 6th after exiting the university, have not been able to receive any information as to their condition.

They were arrested by the security forces after protesting the presence of former Culture Minister Safar-Harandi. Razi University students had greeted Safar-Harandi by chanting "death to the dictator" which was not well received by the security authorities.

Prominent Iranian Dissident Detainees Tajzadeh and Nourizad Allowed No Visitors

RAHANA | Dec 9

Mostafa Tajzadeh, senior member of the Iranian reformist party, Islamic Iran Participation Front, and Mohammad Nourizad, Iranian writer and filmmaker have lost their visiting privileges in prison.

The families of the two political prisoners were barred from visiting their kin at prison today.

Mostafa Tajzadeh was arrested after the widespread protests to the disputed re-election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2009. He was held in prison for over nine months before being given a furlough which lasted five months. He was recalled back to prison in last August.

The opposition claims that Tajzadeh can no longer be visited because he has filed official complaints regarding the interference of security and intelligence forces in judicial matters.

Tajzadeh along with seven other prominent reformists have written an official letter to Ayatollah Larijani, head of Iran's judiciary to challenge the role of Security forces in the past elections and condemn the "illegal interference" of these forces in determining the outcome of the elections.

Mohammad Nourizad on the other hand has written six letters to Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, to criticize the reaction of the government to protesters of the 2009 elections. Nourizad was one of the prominent columnists of the state-backed daily, Keyhan and a staunch supporter of Ayatollah Khamenei and the conservatives. However, his critical view of the crackdown on protesters following the 2009 elections landed him in prison.

In his letters, he has reported suffering severe torture and abuse by the hands of the prison authorities and urged the Supreme Leader to intervene on behalf of abused prisoners.

Ayatollah Khamenei has not responded to any of Mahmmad Nourizad's letters.

Mohammad Sadigh Kaboudvand and Hamed Abolhassani in Critical Condition

RAHANA | Dec 8

Human rights activist Mohammad Sadigh Kaboudvand is in critical condition and the authorities refuse to admit him to a hospital in order to undergo surgery.

In his latest prison visit on December 6th, he had lost 15 kilograms and was hardly able to stand or concentrate. He also had very bad headaches.

He has been given suspicious anti-anxiety medication in prison which has depression, loss of concentration and drowsiness as its side effects.

The Medical Examiner's Office has stated that he needs prostate surgery and another surgery for his blocked arteries, and that he should not be confined.

He has suffered heart attack and brain stroke several times.

In another case, the physical and mental condition of Hamed Abolhassani, a physical education student at the Rajaei University, who was detained 2 years ago for baseless charges of acting against national security and attempting an armed operation, has been described as critical.

He was the Editor in Chief of the Faryadeh-Maa publication and was sentenced to 20 years in prison.

His family was informed of his arrest a few months later which affected the quality of legal assistance offered to him.

He is suffering from mental and physical problems in prison and has not received any medical attention.

Iranians Want Nuclear Arms, US Survey Finds

AFP | Dec 8

Many Iranians are worried about international nuclear sanctions but also want the country to have atomic weapons, according to a survey by a US institute revealed Wednesday.

The poll, carried out by Charney Research for the International Peace Institute, a New York-based think tank, also indicated that most Iranians voted for President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in a controversial June 2009 election that many countries said was fixed.

Forty-seven percent of Iranians said sanctions ordered by the United Nations, and by individual countries, were having a big impact, said the poll of 700 people carried out in early September. Fifty three percent believed it is Iran's major foreign policy problem.

But 71 percent of Iranians want the country to have nuclear weapons and only 21 percent opposed such a move. Lead researcher Craig Charney said this compared to 52 percent support for nuclear weapons and 42 percent opposition in a similar poll in 2007.

With international tensions rising, the poll indicated that the number of people who were pro-United States had fallen from 34 percent in 2008 to eight percent now.

Sixty percent of those asked said they had voted for the populist Ahmadinejad in the June 2009 poll, close to the official figures released by the government.

IPI vice president Warren Hoge said the survey was ordered for a private Middle East forum in the United Arab Emirates held in early November and attended by 21 foreign ministers from the Middle East, Europe and Asia.

Charney said the poll was carried out by telephone from Istanbul.

US Cables: Turkish-Syrian Ties Made Iran Jealous

Today's Zaman | Dec 9

A newly released sensitive US diplomatic cable unveiled on Tuesday was based on information from Syrian observers who said Syria's renewed relations with Saudi Arabia, its deepening ties to Turkey, and even Washington's desire to re-engage Syria had made Iran "jealous."

The cable says many Syrian and some diplomatic observers believe Syria is in the process of recalibrating its relations with Iran and is seeking to avoid choices that would constrain its flexibility as it faces an uncertain regional setting. The cable said some analysts in Syria argue that Syria's improved relations with Turkey, France and Saudi Arabia afford Damascus a greater range of choices in dealing with the West, the Arab world, Israel and Iran.

"Even if Damascus and Tehran maintained some semblance of their political-military relationship, the extent of their ties would be constrained by Syria's competing equities in deepening relations with others, including the US," the cable said.

The cable claimed that the successive visits of three high-level Iranian officials to Damascus in early December appear at first glance to reaffirm strong Iranian-Syrian security ties and other forms of bilateral cooperation, but they may, in fact, mask deepening rifts over Iraq and Yemen and the possibility of war with Israel.

UAE Wants Sanctions on Iran to End

Gulf News (via Tehran Times) | Dec 9

The UAE wants sanctions on Iran to end if it cooperates with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) over its nuclear program.

The statement came on Tuesday after His Highness Shaikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan announced the conclusion of the 31st summit of the cooperation council of Arab states in Abu Dhabi.

Addressing a press conference after the summit, Shaikh Abdullah Bin Zayed, the UAE foreign minister, said: "We want the Security Council to end sanctions on Iran, but they need to cooperate. We hope all parties will exercise goodwill to end this conflict."

Iran Urges Iraq to Protect Pilgrims

Press TV | Dec 9

Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Hassan Qashqavi has strongly condemned the recent terrorist attacks against Iranian pilgrims to Iraq, urging the Baghdad government to tighten security.

He called on Iranian pilgrims to refrain from travelling to Iraq unaccompanied by a tour due to the "current situation and the occurrence of certain security lapses which has left several innocent people, including our countrymen, martyred or wounded."

"Unfortunately, we have repeatedly witnessed such tragic incidents involving Iranian pilgrims and we hope that Iraqi officials act more responsibly towards protecting the lives of Iranian pilgrims who have acquired Iraqi visas," ISNA quoted Qashqavi as saying.

On Saturday, five bombing attacks hit the capital of Iraq, killing around 50 people, including seven Iranians pilgrims, and wounding 160 others.

Iran Says Impounding IRISL Ships Violates Int'l Law

Xinhua | Dec 9

The Chairman of the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines (IRISL), Mohammad Dajmar, said the impoundment of three Iranian vessels in Singapore is a violation of international law, the local satellite Press TV reported on Wednesday.

Three Iranian vessels, named Tochal, Sahand and Sabalan, have reportedly been impounded in Singapore by the order of a French bank, Dajmar said, according to the report.

"We had a loan (on the vessels) and (the French bank) changed it from a loan to a due (payment) because of sanctions. In other words, they committed a violation. Because the loan contract was signed before the sanctions," said the chairman.

"We are trying to prevent the auctioning (of these vessels)," said Dajmar, adding that IRISL is negotiating to pay the bank and resolve the issue.

Stuxnet Worm Still Out of Control at Iran's Nuclear Sites, Experts Say

Fox News | Dec 9

Iran's nuclear program is still in chaos despite its leaders' adamant claim that they have contained the computer worm that attacked their facilities, cybersecurity experts in the United States and Europe say.

Eric Byres, a computer expert who has studied the worm, said his site was hit with a surge in traffic from Iran, meaning that efforts to get the two nuclear plants to function normally have failed. The web traffic, he says, shows Iran still hasn't come to grips with the complexity of the malware that appears to be still infecting the systems at both Bashehr and Natanz.

"The effort has been stunning," Byres said. "Two years ago American users on my site outnumbered Iranians by 100 to 1. Today we are close to a majority of Iranian users."

At one of the larger American web companies offering advice on how to eliminate the worm, traffic from Iran has swamped that of its largest user: the United States.

"Our traffic from Iran has really spiked," said a corporate officer who asked that neither he nor his company be named. "Iran now represents 14.9 percent of total traffic, surpassing the United States with a total of 12.1 percent. Given the different population sizes, that is a significant number."

Ralph Langner, the German expert who was among the first to study and raise alarms about Stuxnet, said he was not surprised by the development.

"The Iranians don't have the depth of knowledge to handle the worm or understand its complexity," he said, raising the possibility that they may never succeed in eliminating it.

"Here is their problem. They should throw out every personal computer involved with the nuclear program and start over, but they can't do that. Moreover, they are completely dependent on outside companies for the construction and maintenance of their nuclear facilities. They should throw out their computers as well. But they can't," he explained. "They will just continually re-infect themselves."

"With the best of expertise and equipment it would take another year for the plants to function normally again because it is so hard to get the worm out. It even hides in the back-up systems. But they can't do it," he said.

OPINION & ANALYSIS

Playing Chess with Iran: One Game Barack Obama Has Not Yet Fumbled

Lexington (Economist) | Dec 9

Mr Obama entered office promising not to let Iran build the bomb. Since then his administration has worked methodically to weaken and encircle the regime in Tehran. This led last June to yet another UN Security Council sanctions resolution -- the fourth -- calling on Iran to stop enriching uranium. Although Iran ignored this resolution, the severity of this round of sanctions seems to have taken the regime by surprise and may have encouraged its return to the table. For America, such moments are a danger as much as an opportunity, because periods of negotiation give waverers such as Russia and China an excuse to relax their squeeze. So far, however, there is no sign of this happening as a result of the inconclusive meeting in Geneva. In some cable not yet acquired by WikiLeaks American diplomats may well be breathing a sigh of relief.

If so, the relief is not shared by the army of domestic critics of Mr Obama's Iran policy. The shrillest of these are hawks who say that he is naive to suppose that sanctions can end the Islamic Republic's nuclear programme and are impatient for him to unleash the bombers. One such is John Bolton, George Bush's point man on Iran, who now says that he may run for president and maintains that this president is "in over his head" on national security. But there are also doves who are no less scandalised by Mr Obama's approach, albeit for precisely the opposite reason.

These include Flynt and Hillary Mann Leverett, a husband-and-wife team who worked for the Bush administration but have become tireless promulgators of the view that America is heading towards another calamitous war. They complain that for all his lofty words about his "extended hand" Mr Obama has never believed in rapprochement with Iran, and that his ballyhooed overtures have been bogus. He has, they say, approached negotiations in a way he knows will fail, primarily in order to bring international partners and the American public on board for more sanctions and, eventually, military strikes. In their view his spiking of a plan last year to provide fuel for a research reactor in Tehran, in return for Iran sending most of its low-enriched uranium abroad, was all part of this "Machiavellian" agenda.

Would that nice Mr Obama, the precocious possessor of a Nobel peace prize, really be so duplicitous? Here's hoping. Feints and stratagems are the stuff of chess. In August Mr Obama claimed that many apparently separate elements of his diplomacy were in fact all part of a broader plan to deal with Iran. His early offers to Tehran were not based on any expectation of success but intended to prove to others that America was willing to work with Iran if it behaved reasonably. His administration's wider emphasis on nuclear disarmament, and his decision to "reset" relations with Russia, were desirable in themselves but also part of this strategy to pressurise Iran. All in all, the president concluded, his national-security team could be proud of a piece of "well-executed diplomacy" using "all elements of national power".

So which is the real Mr Obama: the naive incompetent "in over his head" or the duplicitous Machiavellian? Certainly not the former: members of Mr Bush's national-security team more senior than Mr Bolton give the new president credit for strengthening sanctions and beginning to detach Iran from Russia and China. Nor does Mr Obama look like a closet warmonger. Though he has talked of "other options" if sanctions fail, his own defence secretary, Robert Gates, says repeatedly in public that bombing Iran's nuclear sites would merely delay and not stop its programme. Instead, Mr Obama appears to have settled in for a long game of encirclement, fending off those (like the Saudis) who want him to "cut off the head of the snake" while making it progressively more costly for Iran to continue on its nuclear path.

A Sterile Conversation

Washington Post Editorial | Dec 9

THE TALKS with Iran in Geneva this week appear to have produced little. Delegations from Iran, the United States and its Security Council allies mostly appear to have delivered statements; Iran did not respond substantively to the concerns raised about its nuclear program. The only agreement reached -- to meet again in Istanbul in late January - benefited Tehran in two ways: It advanced its aim of introducing Turkey, which opposed the last round of U.N. sanctions, into the negotiations, and it provided a means to postpone further international pressure. According to reports by international inspectors, Iran has the capacity to enrich another 150 kilograms of uranium -- a quarter bomb's worth when fully processed -- between now and the next meeting.

The Obama administration's assessment is that Iran's very participation in the talks shows that its policy is working. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has been arguing that sanctions adopted by the U.N. Security Council in June, and additional measures imposed by the United States and Europe, are "having an impact inside Iran." She told an interviewer from the BBC last week: "So I think Iran comes to the table with a much more sober assessment of what isolation means, what the impact on their economy has been, and we hope that will cause them to have the kind of serious negotiation we are seeking."

There was no evidence of that in Geneva. Instead, Iranian negotiator Saeed Jalili declared at a news conference that "halting uranium enrichment" -- the West's principal objective -- "will not be discussed at the Istanbul meeting." And on the eve of the talks, Iran announced that it had begun producing its own processed uranium ore, or yellowcake - another step toward creating an autonomous production line for bombs.

There is another logical explanation for Iran's willingness to talk -- that it seeks to delay further sanctions, create dissension among the United States and its allies, and distract attention from its continuing crackdown on the opposition Green movement. As Iran scholar Ray Takeyh of the Council on Foreign Relations points out, it's probably not a coincidence that in the weeks before the Geneva talks, there were dozens more arrests of civil society activists and new interventions on university campuses.

Iran's Women: Canaries in the Coal Mine

Azar Nafisi(Huffington Post) | Dec 9

The main difference between this generation and their parents was that young people have been jailed, flogged and tortured or, in the case of the 23-year-old Neda Agha Soltan, murdered, for their desire for freedom. Another example among many is Shiva Nazar Ahari, now 26, who has been protesting against the regime since she was 17, whose story is told below.

Women like Shiva or Neda might be inspired by the ideas and struggles of women in other parts of the world, just as the Islamic regime has borrowed from totalitarian ideologies -- it is no accident that President Ahmadinejad denies the Holocaust and that his government has given legal permission to a website that promotes Adolf Hitler. But Iranian women do not need Western examples; what mainly motivates them is the reality of their own lives and those of their mothers and grandmothers.

To justify its mutilation of Iran's present, the regime confiscated its history, cutting and pasting in its own version. Understanding women's resistance starts with resurrecting ghosts that have haunted the Islamic regime from its very inception.

The first woman to question the basic tenets of absolutist monarchy and orthodox religion in Iran had no connections with the West. Known by her title, Tahereh (the Pure), she was born into a prominent religious family in Ghazvin in 1814 and became a poet. Married at 14, she left her husband and children to follow the Babi movement, the precursor of the Baha'i religion.

She became one of its most outspoken leaders, demanding radical change. In 1848 Tahereh appeared unveiled, announcing the advent of a new religion. Many fled in horror and one man slashed his throat at such an act of sacrilege. Tahereh was put under house arrest and strangled in 1852, her body being thrown down a well to prevent it becoming a shrine. As they came to kill her, she said: "You can kill me as soon as you like, but you cannot stop the emancipation of women." So her life and death became synonymous not just with freedom for women, but for Iran as a whole.

DOCUMENTS & DECLARATIONS

Iran, China Drive Prison Tally to 14-year High

Report by Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) | Dec 8

Iran's sustained crackdown on critical voices and China's brutal suppression of ethnic journalism have pushed the number of journalists imprisoned worldwide to its highest level since 1996, the Committee to Protect Journalists has found. In its annual census of imprisoned journalists, CPJ identified 145 reporters, editors, and photojournalists behind bars on December 1, an increase of nine from the 2009 tally.

Iran and China, with 34 imprisoned journalists apiece, are the world's worst jailers of the press, together constituting nearly half of the worldwide total. Eritrea, Burma, and Uzbekistan round out the five worst jailers from among the 28 nations that imprison journalists. (Read detailed accounts of each imprisoned journalist.)

Data from Iran are surprising in that they reflect imprisonments not simply from the post-election crackdown of 2009, but from a sustained assault on critical voices that continues to this day. In the last two months alone, CPJ found, Iranian authorities have detained four journalists. The Iranian detainees range from internationally known writers such as Issa Saharkhiz, a veteran state journalist who became a reform-minded columnist, to Navid Mohebbi, a blogger covering women's rights who, at age 18, is the youngest person in CPJ's census.

Unprecedented Death Sentence for Christian Pastor on Charge of Apostasy

Statement by International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran (ICHRI) | Dec 7

The Supreme Court of Iran should immediately reverse the apostasy conviction and death sentence of Christian pastor Youcef Nadarkhani and release him from prison, the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran said today. The judiciary should also release another pastor, Behrouz Sadegh-Khanjani, who faces a similar prosecution.

Nadarkhani, 32-year-old who became a Christian at age 19, is a member of the Church of Iran ministry and the pastor of an approximately 400-person congregation in the northern city of Rasht. Despite being sentenced to death for apostasy, no articles in the Iranian legal code refer to such a crime.

"It is the low point of any judicial system to sentence a person to death outside of its own legal framework," said Aaron Rhodes, a spokesperson for the Campaign.

"To execute someone based on the religion they choose to practice or not practice is the ultimate form of religious discrimination and disregard for the freedom of conscience and belief," Rhodes added.

On 22 September 2010, the 11th Circuit Criminal Court of Appeals for the Gilan Province upheld the death sentence and conviction of Youcef Nadarkhani for apostasy.

Apostasy, the act of renouncing one's religion, is not a crime under Iran's Islamic Penal Code. Instead, the presiding judge in Nadarkhani's case rested his opinion on texts by Iranian religious scholars.

According to the judgment, Nadarkhani was born to Muslim parents but converted to Christianity at 19. The judgment stated that during interrogations Nadarkhani made a written confession admitting he left Islam for Christianity. But at his trial, Nadarkhani said his interrogators pressured him into making the statement.

"I am not an apostate ... prior to 19 years old I did not accept any religion," Nadarkhani said at trial. After repeated questioning, "my interrogator coaxed me [into thinking] that a person who is born to Muslim parents, and does not accept a religion other than Islam before reaching the religious maturity age [15 for males], is automatically a Muslim."

Articles 13 and 26 of the Islamic Republic's constitution recognize Christianity, granting Christians the right to freely worship and form religious societies. Article 14 obligates the Iranian government to uphold the equality and human rights of Christians.

"More and more, the Iranian judiciary is departing from any recognized form of due process, issuing arbitrary judgments based on vague, open-ended laws," said Rhodes. "Laws and evidence are increasingly irrelevant and unrelated to judicial outcomes in Iran."

Another Christian pastor, 35-year-old Behrouz Sadegh-Khanjani, is facing a possible indictment for apostasy in the southern city of Shiraz.

Russian-Iranian Relations in the Context of the Tehran Declaration

Essay by Ghoncheh Tazmini, Founder of Stella Orientis: Centre for Inter-civilisational Research and Dialogue (Iranian Review of Foreign Affairs via Tabnak) | Fall

Introduction

Historically, relations between Russia and Iran have been multifaceted and complex, wavering between collaboration and rivalry. Observers find it difficult to get an accurate fix on Russia-Iran relations. Terms like "strategic partner", "healthy rival" and "natural ally" have been used by observers to qualify the dynamism between the two countries. Perhaps, "ambivalence" is the most suitable term to describe bilateral relations. However, recent unexpectedly critical and even harsh exchanges between Tehran and Moscow following the May Tehran Declaration and the subsequent Security Council sanctions resolution cast new light on a question that analysts and historians have grappled with: Is Russia a friend or a foe? Moscow's reaction to this watershed agreement and full-fledged support for the Council resolution highlight the underlying drivers that motivate Russia in dealing with Iran. This then begs the question: where are Russia-Iran relations going?

This paper will make the case that there has been a significant downgrade in Russian-Iranian relations. Moscow's support for the United States-led United Nations Security Council resolution to impose a fourth round of sanctions against Iran allows us to glean an important development: there has been a marked turnabout in Russia's position vis-à-vis the Islamic Republic. We will support this contention by exploring factors that have prompted this sharp turn. However, first, we will provide a brief survey of Russian-Iranian relations in order to support the claim that there has been more change than continuity in bilateral relations.

Second, we will examine the implications of the "reset" policy initiated by US President Barack Obama in dealing with Russia. Why has Russia responded favourably to this initiative? Certainly the Kremlin has warmed up to the West by backing the UNSC resolution. We will examine the principles and priorities behind this apparent thaw in Russia-US relations.

Third, we will consider the implications of an Iran-Turkey cooperation axis. The breakthrough reached by Turkey, Brazil and Iran suggests paradigmatic shift in relations between the three countries. The nuclear fuel swap could have potential far-reaching implications, threatening, inter alia, Russia's dominance in the energy market that supplies Europe. The rapidly shifting landscape suggests that a new regional energy hub could potentially emerge. This would allow for diversification of energy supply routes, thereby breaking Russia's monopoly on the kingpin of fossil fuels: natural gas. Russia's motives towards Iran are overwhelmingly guided by this new geopolitical calculus, one in which Moscow faces unprecedented competition in energy politics.

We will explore these themes against the backdrop of the May 2010 Tehran Declaration. By weaving together these two perspectives we will achieve a more substantive understanding of why relations have soured between Tehran and Moscow. The premise of this argument is based on the assumption that Russia's calculations and conduct has instigated this downgrade. In this study we attempt to unravel why.

The New Role of Latin America in Iran's Foreign Policy

Essay by Saideh Lotfian, Professor of Political Science at the Faculty of Law and Political Sciences, University of Tehran, and Chair of the International Pugwash Council (Iranian Review of Foreign Affairs via Tabnak) | Fall

Abstract

The present article intends to explore [the] discernible shift in Iran's foreign policy toward Latin American countries in recent years. Iran's relations with Cuba, Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Peru, and more recently, Brazil, have grown warmer in recent years. The ever-increasing scale and scope of diplomatic ties and bilateral economic cooperation agreements between Iran and these Latin American states, most of whom pursue generally radical, anti-US policies, demonstrate the changing orientation in the Iranian policy as well as in the dynamics of the Latin American politics. The emergence of an Iranian president in 2005 with a populist outlook and pronounced anti-US/Anti-Western rhetoric has facilitated the closer ties between Iran and the leftist Latin American governments. This aspect of the Iranian policy has drawn both domestic criticism and outside opposition, particularly from the United States. Given this, a major question that could be raised is whether the new trend will be a long term feature of Iranian foreign policy or a temporary, transient one, especially taking into account the major role played by the personality of these countries' leaders in their policymaking. A related question is whether these heads of states will be able to create the necessary institutions, processes, and coordination mechanisms to remain in place even after they leave office. The author looks at the recent developments in these politico-economic relations, and tries to examine the degree of long-term resilience of Tehran's current involvement in Latin America. The main conclusion of the paper is that for as long as the Islamic Republic of Iran feels the need to look for countervailing force in its ongoing conflict with the US and the West, the current policies in seeking close political and economic ties with the anti-Western and radical Latin American states, as part of a larger coalition of like-minded developing countries, will continue.

Majid Dori Writes Statement from Prison for National Student Day in Iran

Statement by Majid Dori (Center to Defend Families of Those Slain and Detained in Iran via Persian2English) | Dec 8

Majid Dori is a university student who has been denied education and expelled from Tehran's Allameh Tabatabai University. He has been in prison since July 9, 2009 without a period of time off. On the occasion of Iran's National Student Day (December 7th), Majid Dori has issued a statement from prison. Due to eye problems and limitations imposed on him every day, the statement was released late.

It is noteworthy that Majid Dori recently refused to be placed in shackles while visiting an eye doctor outside the prison. This refusal has cost him dearly since prison officials have placed new restrictions on him. The following is the full text of Majid Dori's statement:

Men and women, ablaze
Their most painful song, still not sung.
Silence fills the air, the impatient silence
How it is bursting with anticipation
-- Ahmad Shamloo

How long do you intend to sacrifice Quran and flee from reality by oppressing others? How long do you intend in the name of law and religion to repress the dissidents and delay what is inevitable? Till when do you intend to ignore the Green movement, mar it by blood and entrap it in the darkness?

Once more, 16 of Azar (December 7) has arrived, the Student Day, the day belonging to our universities, the day spearheaded by scholars, the day that served your purpose well before but now places your security forces on alert. Your fear and anxiety is sufficient enough to prove that our universities are alive with Greens, not dead from darkness. Although our numbers may have decreased, our perseverance has increased. Iran's universities are bidding their time to strike at your peaceful slumber.

What do you think our universities are? Do you think you're the commanders and students your obedient soldiers? Wishful thinking! Iranian students don't follow orders blindly and stand up to tyranny regardless of your military might. Our universities don't bow to ignorant individuals disguised as statesmen who plot our destruction. We will make a stand boldly and take our chances in this battle.

Of course, we deserve a government whose path has been blocked by a man whose words are based on falsehoods, a man who doesn't fear lying. Student activists welcome expulsion from school since becoming a star is still fashionable. Those in charge of our universities have no other thought but destruction and no other way but that of the iron fist.

My professor from the University of Allameh was in prison with me while a few feet from us, Mahdieh Golroo was in the women's ward. Glowing with pride, they arrested all, students and professors, men and women. In other universities, they did no less. Countless students were arrested, and their accumulative prison sentences proved that our universities continue to stay by our people and don't abandon the battlefield.

We were beaten, but our universities still endured; we were slaughtered, but our universities persevered. They attacked our dormitories, but we made a stand. We were killed but our universities continued the fight; we were imprisoned but our universities didn't surrender. This is how Iran became a university and the entire population transformed into students fighting for freedom and democracy. University, hearts embraced thee; minds preoccupied with thee; lips shouted thy name.

So greetings to student activists, the heroes, the expelled. Greetings to all college students since being a student has become a crime. Greetings to all professors although.... Greetings to the destitute who rejected oppression and shouted in the name of freedom. Greetings and salutations to a movement that was Green, is staying Green, and will remain Green.

Freedom is approaching from the bloody trail
Nonetheless imminent as I tremble
What is concealed in your hand?
What shackles your feet?
Freedom, do you come in chains?

Humbly,
Majid Dori
Behbahan Prison

Zahra Rahnavard Defends Imprisoned Eye Witness: 'We Are All Leila Tavassoli'

Statement by Zahra Rahnavard (Kalame via Persian2English) | Dec 9

According to reports by Kalame, Zahra Rahnavard, a writer, university professor, and wife of Mir Hossein Mousavi, wrote a short note in response to the arrest of Leila Tavassoli, an eyewitness to the events on the day of Ashura. [She] was arrested as a result of protesting against security officers running over and killing an innocent citizen while protesting in Vali Asr Square. Tavassoli who was sentenced to two years in prison, was once again incarcerated. According to Kaleme, the full content of Zahra Rahnavard's note is as follows:

We are all Leila Tavassoli and we all bear witness to the fact that innocent citizens and mourners of Imam Hossein were martyred on Ashura. Why don't you take a look back at our history? Where do you stand on cruelty and oppression? We are all Leila Tavassoli and we bear witness to the fact that you the unworthy oppressors [ruling government] crushed and martyred our innocent citizens and innocent youth, the mourners of Imam Hossein, under the wheels of your cars on Ashura. Martyrs Amirarjmand Tajmir, Abbas Farajizadeh, Shahrokh Rahmani and Shabnam Sohrabi , a hard working mother and most probably many other innocent citizens whose names have not been published have been crushed by the cars of security officers all under the pretext of national security.

We are all Leila Tavassoli and we bear witness to the fact that you perpetrators crushed the bones, ribs and heart of young Negin's mother, Mrs. Shabnam Sohrabi, under the wheels of your car.

We are all Leila Tavassoli and we bear witness to the fact that on Ashura, a day of mourning for Imam Hossein, you aimed directly for the heart of Seyed Ali Mousavi [Nephew of Mir Hossein Mousavi], murdering and martyring him at around noon on Ashura while he was chanting "Ya Hossein" (Hossein is Great). We bear witness to the beaten and bloody bodies of innocent citizens such as Ali and Karim Mostafa Beygi and Rasekhnia who were also present on that day.

We are all Leila Tavassoli and we bear witness to the fact that you unjust perpetrators threw innocent protesting citizens off bridges, murdering and martyring them on bloody Ashura last year.

However in the very near future, the ashes that remain under the fire will once bear witness to your crimes. Today more than ever everyone is aware. Your actions are no longer hidden to others. They will bear witness to your cruelty and destruction. For who amongst us is not aware that you have filled the prisons with our innocent and righteous intellectuals, scholars, students and educators, while allowing murderers, oppressors and those who support dictatorship to roam free?

To those whose hands are stained with the blood of children of our nation,

To those who have orphaned children through violence,

To those who have wounded the hearts of so many mothers,

To those who are responsible for so many women becoming widowers and the destruction of so many families,

To those who have put newly weds behind bars,

To those who have for ever separated the beating hearts of lovers with bullets and arms,

To Those who have tortured young women and insulted, hurt and beaten our elders,

To those who have sent so many innocent, freedom seeking citizens to prison or punished them through exile

and

To all those who demonstrate their superiority complex towards women through persecution, coercion, and interference in their private lives, accosting women with rude and offensive language and accusing them of vulgarities.

To all those we say,

We are all Leila Tavassoli and we all bear witness to the fact that you the oppressors have incarcerated the innocent witnesses of your crimes while allowing the murderers to roam free; but know this too, it is not just us the Leila Tavassoli's that have stood witness to your crimes, but history that will once again prove that the likes of you have never prevailed and it is a divine promise that this injustice will not last and is on its way out.

May those who oppress repent and see the light.

Zahra Rahnavard

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8 Comments

I really cannot believe "The poll, carried out by Charney Research for the International Peace Institute." It seriously is wRONg.

amin / December 10, 2010 4:56 AM

If the report of Ashtiani being freed is true, then, this makes for a very good news. Hopefully, we will at some point see the permanent suspension of the death penalty in our beloved country.

Ekbatana / December 10, 2010 8:01 AM

" Hello Mr. Ali X, we are calling you from Istambul on behalf of Charney Research ,as part of an opinion poll. Would you mind answering a few general questions frankly? Of course, your responses will be completely confidential. Yes, we are an American company. Wikileaks? No we have nothing to do with that. How do you know we aren't with the Interior Ministry? Good question. You don't. However, can we get started? Who did you vote for....."

pirooz / December 10, 2010 10:17 AM

Both links to pdf documents in the Iranian Review of Foreign Affairs (via Tabnak):

The New Role of Latin America in Iran's Foreign Policy

Russian-Iranian Relations in the Context of the Tehran Declaration

get page not found errors. Could you please post the correct links are to these documents?
Thanks!

Catherine / December 10, 2010 10:42 AM

Catherine, thank you for bringing this to our attention. I have replaced the direct pdf links with links to the respective Tabnak reports. In each case, scroll down the Tabnak page to find the pdf link. Hopefully, this method will prove functional.

On a side note, pirooz's wittily presented analysis of the Charney Research poll is very well taken. So long as its methodology was made clear, I was confident that our readership is wise enough to put it into proper perspective. I'm pleased to see that confidence borne out.

Dan Geist / December 10, 2010 11:50 AM

@pirooz & Dan Geist et al.
Survey participants have the option not to participate; there is no need to agree to take a survey out of free will and then lie. The possibility that mostly President Ahmadinejad's supporters must have agreed to participate due to the nature of the phone survey is also ill conceived for at least two reasons: first, to imply that individuals may be in danger of being harassed because they 'voted for the opposition' has never been heard of or been an issue since the election. I believe this is the only blog that is promoting the preposterous possibility that the government of Ahmadinejad is now after harassing those who voted for the opposition.

Second, Iranian voters never hid who they voted for.

Remember, even Mousavi supporters wore a green band announcing it to the world; neighbors, relatives, friends at work and friends at school and on and on, everyone knows who the next person voted for in the previous election. Why would President Ahmadinejad's government wait for a call from Istanbul to find out who did or did not vote for him?

The results reflecting less favorable attitude of the Iranian nation toward the US also makes sense, since Iranians have observed much evidence and begun to understand that neither the US government nor the American public really give a rat's ass about Iranian nation, and Iranian culture, history, and ancient national borders.

Why do you imply that the survey participants had a dose of cowardice in their replies to the survey? You cannot cherry-pick survey results that fit well in your beliefs and cast away the rest as not credible when they do not fit your mental picture about the nation.

Ekbatana / December 10, 2010 1:24 PM

Never trust a Molla, not even for a micro second.

Agnostic / December 11, 2010 4:59 AM

and never trust an 'Agnostic' without a name for a nano second!

rezvan / December 11, 2010 6:28 PM