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Political Prisoners' Lawyer Imprisoned, Disbarred; Report on Iran, Nuke Arms

03 Feb 2011 22:31Comments

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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Khalil Bahramian; Farzad Kamangar

Iranian Judiciary Continues Attacks on Lawyers

Radio Zamaneh | Feb 2

Khalil Bahramian, defence attorney to several Iranian political prisoners, was sentenced to 18 months in prison today and also banned from practising law for 10 years.

"I am charged with propaganda against the regime, insulting the head of the judiciary and activity against national security but I have appealed the sentence they gave me;" Bahramian told Zamaneh.

Bahramian was the defence attorney for five political prisoners that were hanged in Evin Prison last May amidst fierce protest in Kurdistan Province: Farzad Kamangar, Shirin Alam Holi, Farhad Vakili, Ali Heydarian and Mehdi Eslamian.

Bahramian is also the lawyer for two other political prisoners sentenced to death.

Last month, human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh was sentenced to 11 years in prison and was banned from practising law for 20 years. In November, Moahmmad Seyfzadeh, another member of the Human Rights Defenders Centre, was sentenced to 9 years in prison and was banned from practising law for 10 years.

Think Tank: Iran Could Make Nuclear Weapon in One to Two Years

RFE/RL | Feb 3

An influential think tank says Iran may be able to make a nuclear weapon in as little as one or two years if it chose to do so.

The London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) said in a report today that evidence showed "beyond reasonable doubt" that Iran was seeking the capability to produce nuclear weapons should its leaders decide to go down that route.

The IISS report says that if the 4,000 centrifuges that appeared to be working well at Iran's Natanz enrichment plant were used for weapons purposes, and they continued to perform at their maximum output to date, "a little over a year and seven months would be required for the first bomb's worth of [highly enriched uranium]."

Iran 'Could Have Nukes within Year'

UKPA | Feb 3

Under the most likely scenario it would take Tehran over two years to make a single atomic bomb, according to the IISS.

But if Iran was able to make untested uranium enrichment methods work, this timeline could be much shorter.

At the report's launch, Sir Richard Dalton, a former British ambassador to Tehran, asked about the possibility of Iran using more advanced "third generation" centrifuges to enrich uranium for a weapons programme.

Lead author Mark Fitzpatrick, director of the IISS non-proliferation and disarmament programme, replied: "That's the scary part. If Iran were able to get the third generation working well and producing in large numbers, the time to produce a weapon's worth of HEU (highly-enriched uranium) reduces to four weeks."

Iran Could Make Nuclear Weapon in 1-2 Years: IISS

Reuters | Feb 3

[Fitzpatrick] said so far Iran's leaders had not gone "all out" to develop a nuclear weapon, but they clearly wanted the option to ramp up production should they make the decision to do so.

"The diplomatic parlor game for the last couple of years has been guessing when the US or Israel might attack Iran's nuclear program," said IISS director-general John Chipman. "But it appears they already did but used a cyber munition with much less publicity and collateral damage."

[The] IISS said Iran's current stockpile of low-enriched uranium (LEU) would, if further enriched, be enough for one or two nuclear weapons. But it said Tehran would need more than one [...] for a credible nuclear deterrent.

OTHER NEWS

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Iran Head of Parliament Slams US Role in Egypt

Radio Zamaneh | Feb 3

The Iranian Parliamentary Speaker has denounced U.S. intervention in Egypt and accused it of supporting violent confrontations among Egyptian protesters.

"Of course you want American-style democracy in the region," Mehr News quoted Ali Larijani as saying. "If you wanted real democracy, you wouldn't order that the protesters be attacked by camels and horses."

Yesterday, on the ninth day of unrest in Egypt, at least five people were killed and 1,500 injured when supporters of President Hosni Mubarak attacked protesters.

Larijani accused some foreign media of confusing the issue by attributing Marxist leanings to the uprising in Egypt and other popular movements in the region. The leader of Iran's Parliament adamantly insisted those uprisings are "a kind of Islamic awakening."

"It is no use cutting off broadcasters and the internet," he said, referring to measures taken by the Egyptian government to control information. "The Islamic nation has reached maturity."

In Iran, Internet Surfers Battle Cyber Police

AFP | Feb 3

Western sanctions have done little to stop the flow of computers and software to Iran, where the real challenge for cyber surfers is getting around local censors who block thousands of websites, including Facebook and YouTube.

To circumvent blockades, Iranians have adopted various techniques such as free solutions like Freegate and paid ones like the Virtual Private Network (VPN).

"Battling domestic censorship is now engraved within the definition of Internet experience in the Islamic republic," said Faezeh, a 27-year old English teacher, who calls herself a Facebook and YouTube faithful.

"It is difficult to stay in touch in these modern times, and the few options we have are targeted by the government," she said.

"They do what they do best, which is placing more hurdles every day, and we do what we do best, which is finding new ways to get around them."

Student Activists Mahdieh Golroo, Majid Tavakoli and Bahareh Hedayat Summoned to Court

RAHANA | Feb 3

Three jailed student activists were summoned to court Tuesday to face further charges by the Iranian judiciary. Bahareh Hedayat, Majid Tavakoli and Mehdieh Golroo were summoned to branch 28 of the Islamic Revolutionary court to denounce statements attributed to them on websites and to press charges against the publishers of the material, Danehshjoo News reports.

The three activists issued a joint statement last December on the occasion of National Student Day in Iran, which led to further interrogations of Tavakoli and Hedayat in prison last month.

On Wednesday, the judge reportedly told the prisoners that if they deny the statements and press charges against the websites that published them, all current charges would be dropped.

The defence attorneys for the three activists did not attend this trial. Golroo, Hedayat and Tavakoli refused the court's request and demanded that their attorneys be present. They also spoke out against the court's procedures, which led the judge to expel Tavakoli from court.

Iranian Television Banned from Displaying Images of Rafsanjani?

Rooz | Feb 3

After Hashemi Rafsanjani reasserted his position over the June 2009 tenth presidential elections and its aftermath in Iran, the pro-administration media launched a new wave of verbal and written attacks on the veteran politician and head of the powerful Assembly of Experts on Leadership. One official at the ministry of Islamic guidance, which supervises Internet activities in the country, announced that Rafsanjani's website lacked the necessary operating permit. In response, Rafsanjani's website revealed other restrictions and said that the state-run television network was refraining from airing Rafsanjani's images.

Mehdi Sarami, a deputy at the ministry of Islamic guidance told Fars news agency -- which is affiliated to the country's security-military establishment -- "Hashemi Rafsanjani's website has till now not been registered in the Iranian Internet database and therefore it lacks an identity and a permit."

These remarks by a government official come a week after Rafsanjani told a group of students from Gilan University that he continued to believe in his views regarding the 2009 presidential elections, and he referenced his Friday prayer speech on this in the presence of other Green Movement leaders Mir-Hossein Mousavi, Mehdi Karoubi and Mohammad Khatami, and thousands of others. In that talk, Rafsanjani criticized the Guardians Council for prematurely confirming the legality of the 2009 presidential election and also suggested respect for law, release of political prisoners and gaining the support of the masses as ways to resolve the current impasse.

Iran Uses Media Stunts in Lieu of Fair Trials

News Release from the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran (ICHRI) | Feb 3

Iranian officials should base convictions on reliable evidence and due process instead of televised confessions and dramatic re-enactments, the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran said today.

On 1 February 2011, state television's Channel One evening news, known as "20:30," broadcast a "confession" by Zahra Bahrami, a Dutch-Iranian woman, one day after her execution on drug charges. In the video Bahrami "admits" to drug trafficking and re-enacts some scenes in her home showing how she hid cocaine and heroin. The program commented extensively on how international and Dutch outcries over the execution were misled, in an apparent attempt to justify Bahrami's execution after the fact.

"The issue is not whether crimes occur in Iran, but whether death sentences are based on real trials, with real evidence, and real cases presented by lawyers," said Aaron Rhodes, a spokesperson for the Campaign. "Staged-for-TV confessions that reek of coercion are no substitute for due process," he added.

On 10 December 2010, Press TV, the government's English language news network, aired a confession by Sakineh Ashtiani, whose pending execution by stoning for adultery provoked international condemnation of Iran's judiciary. On Press TV, Ashtiani re-enacted her part in the murder of her husband. Her jailed son also appeared in the program playing the role of his father.

Maziar Bahari, an Iranian-Canadian journalist and Newsweek contributor, spent three months in prison after the Iranian election in 2009. Bahari told the Campaign that authorities forced him to tape a confession that was staged and scripted by security officials.

"Three teams of reporters came into the prison--Press TV, IRIB's Persian service, and Fars News Agency. The interrogator said, 'We will give some of the footage from your confession to be broadcast on the 8:30 program,'" Bahari said. "Each [reporter] had a set of questions and I gave the answers I was supposed to give. When I made a mistake, just like an interrogator, the reporter would say, 'It's better if you say it this way.'"

Green Pharaohs: New Names for Mousavi and Karroubi

Rooz | Feb 2

Immediately after Mir Hossein Mousavi published his statement on the developments in the Middle East, pro-Mahmoud Ahmadinejad news sites in Iran responded with verbal attacks and viewed it as acknowledgement of the accusations that the principlists (a group supporting Ahmadinejad) have leveled against the leaders of the Green Movement in Iran, which one news site called "the green Pharaohs."

In his statement, Mousavi wrote that what has been taking place in the streets of Tunis, Sanaa, Cairo, Alexandria and Suez began in Tehran with the multi-million man demonstrations and protests on June 15, 18 and 30th in 2009.

The Raja News writer discounted Mousavi's comparisons and wrote, "The protestors to the June 2009 presidential election in Iran were intellectually pro-Western and their leaders had close and friendly ties to Western countries, which is why after the failure of the green sedition some of them fled to London to take refuge against the wrath of the millions of Iranians while others went to the US. In contrast, what has brought out the wrath of the Arab people who have risen in revolt is the Westernized direction of their rulers."

The article in Raja News asserts that, "The groups that guided the revolts had one point in common: they were secular. The National Front, Iran's Freedom Movement, royalists and American-type reformists, and even the Bahais and People's Mojahedin demonstrated their unity through secular calls for an Iranian republic. In contrast, the main group opposing Mubarak is Muslim Brotherhood which is an Islamist-based movement."

Jahan website, affiliated to Alireza Zakani, a principlist Majlis deputy, also attacked Mousavi's statement. [...] "Mousavi has compared the overthrow of the dictatorial Arab regimes and the popular movement of Egyptian youth in a caricature[d] manner with the trash cans burnings in Tehran," he wrote. Jahan news, which is commonly referred to as the site of the IRGC intelligence agency, writes that Mousavi is known for his "big lie of 2009." The site continues, "The pro-freedom and pro-justice people of Egypt will undoubtedly deal with Arab dictators the way Iranian people dealt with the green Pharaohs," [a] spin on the Green Movement in Iran that was born in protest to the fraudulent 2009 presidential election.

Ministry of Intelligence Orders Removal of Hossein Ronaghi Maleki's Infected Kidney

HRANA via Persian2English | Feb 3

The physical health of Hossein Ronaghi Maleki held in ward 350 of Evin prison is severely deteriorating, but authorities have ignored the situation. His life is at serious risk.

According to HRANA, the Ministry of Intelligence has not approved a sick leave for Hossein Ronaghi Maleki and, instead, ordered the removal of his infected kidney, even though the Evin prison doctors believe that a laser operation on his kidney will allow for it to function again without removal.

Hossein Ronaghi Maleki had no health issues prior to his imprisonment and the kidney infection began while he was held in ward ward 2A of Evin prison (controlled by the IRGC).

Additionally, two Revolutionary Guard agents (whose names HRANA has not revealed but has stored in their database) have interfered with the case due to their own personal reasons (Hossein's family had once filed a complaint against them) and added new charges to his case file, resulting in Hossein being denied sick leave.

Hossein Ronaghi Maleki, blogger, human rights activist, and the person in charge of the Iran Proxy group was arrested on December 13, 2009 in Malakan by the Revolutionary Guard forces. He was immediately transferred to ward 2A in Evin prison.

He spent a year in solitary confinement and endured various forms of physical and mental torture. Finally, on December 19, 2010, he was tried in an illegal court to give a television interview. He was sentenced to 15 years in prison by Judge Pir Abbasi in branch 26 of the Revolutionary Court.

Iraqi PM 'Accused Iran, Syria of Arming Fighters'

AFP | Feb 3

Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki told US diplomats in 2009 that neighbouring Iran and Syria were providing weapons to insurgent groups within Iraq, a leaked document showed on Thursday.

Maliki's comments to then-US ambassador to Baghdad Christopher Hill came in the midst of a year-long diplomatic row with Damascus that prompted both Iraq and Syria to withdraw their respective ambassadors, while US officials have long alleged that Iran backs militia groups operating inside Iraq.

"Iran and Syria have both been providing weapons -- including "Strela" (SA-7B) shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles -- to insurgent groups within Iraq," Maliki told Hill in a September 22, 2009 meeting, read the cable published on Wednesday by whistleblower website WikiLeaks.

"Five members of the Sadrist-affiliated Promise Day Brigade (also linked to the Iranian al-Quds force) were captured recently attempting to smuggle such missiles in the false floor of a Toyota Land Cruiser, Maliki alleged."

India to Pay for Iranian Crude in Euro

PTI (via Oneindia News) | Feb 3

Ending a six-week long stalemate,India today decided to use euro to pay for Iranian crude oilbut will route the payment through a German bank instead ofits central bank.

Banks like State Bank of India (SBI) had refused tofacilitate payments for Iranian oil after RBI on December 23clamped down on the main conduit used by the Indian companiesto pay for the Persian Gulf nation imports, which make up forover 12 per cent of the nation''s oil needs.

But, Iran had continued to supply oil on credit despitethe outstanding amount crossing a staggering USD 3 billion.

"It was decided today that euro payments will be madethrough Hamburg-based Europisch-Iranische Handelsbank AG (EIHBank)," a finance ministry official said after a high-level meeting called to end the deadlock.

WikiLeaks: Treasury 'Slow to Act in Blocking Terrorist Finance'

Telegraph | Feb 3

America accused the Treasury of blocking attempts to close down "terrorist financiers" operating in Britain and being more concerned with protecting the interests of the City, leaked documents show.

American officials also questioned whether the Labour government was "willing to pull out all the stops" to prevent Iran's attempts to acquire nuclear weapons, during a diplomatic row that continued behind the scenes for two years.

The secret memos show:

British-based firms made millions through controversial deals with Iran.

A firm whose directors include Lord Lamont, the former chancellor, was the focus of a global probe over attempts to sell aircraft to Iran.

Japan WikiLeaks: Banks and Iran

Wall Street Journal | Feb 4

Japanese banks were considered to be jumping into Iran, stirring problems for the U.S. and parts of Europe as they intensified efforts to choke off Iran's financial system with economic sanctions, according to a 2008 U.S. embassy document recently released on WikiLeaks.

While Japan's banks had long maintained that they only conducted a small and limited amount of business in Iran a discussion between U.S., French and U.K. officials in 2008 shows that the banks were viewed as increasing activity in the country. The contents suggest a view that Japanese banks went against pressure from Washington to curtail business in Iran. The U.S. and other Western powers hoped to sap Iran of foreign capital to force the country to halt its nuclear-development program.

The cable summarizes a conversation between Mariot Leslie, the then-director general for defense and intelligence at the FCO, the government arm responsible for overseeing the U.K.'s foreign interests, with her U.S. and French counterparts John Rood and Jacques Audibert, respectively.

The cable goes on: "[Leslie] said Japanese banks were beginning to take up more Iranian business as financial sanctions bite in Europe. She emphasized the need to use sanctions to pressure the Iranian leadership while taking care to preserve Iran's economic linkages to the global economy."

More Gender Segregation At Iranian Universities

RFE/RL | Feb 1

Male and female students will be separated at a Tehran university in the upcoming academic year in the latest instance of gender segregation in higher education.

Allameh Tabatabai University President Seyed Sadredin Shariati said the plan would be implemented first in general courses with a large number of students.

Co-ed classes remain the norm at Iranian universities, but a growing number of schools are choosing to separate male and female students.

Earlier this year, Ferdowsi University's Department of Engineering in Mashhad said it would segregate students by gender in nearly 50 courses, according to the U.S.-based International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran.

Gender segregation was first suggested in 2009 by Hojatoleslam Nabiollah Fazlali, the representative of Iran's Supreme Leader at Khajeh Nasir Toosi University of Technology.

Fazlali criticized mixed-gender universities, saying they prepare the ground for relationships with dangerous consequences for students. He said placing male and female students in the same class is like "putting meat in front of a cat."

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'Celebration of Iranian Cinema' Adds Classic Films

Los Angeles Times | Feb 3

It isn't easy being a serious art-house filmmaker in Iran. Witness the sentencing last year of renowned directors Jafar Panahi and Mohammad Rasoulof to six years in prison and banishment from making movies for 20 years because of their protests of the contested 2009 presidential elections, which saw hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad continue in power.

Though Iranian films are shown in international festivals and have distributions in numerous countries, most are never released in Iran. Rather, they are screened through underground channels and sometimes become available through the black market. Still, the cinema endures.

"It is very interesting how people continue to try to make movies they want to make," says UCLA Film and Television Archive's Shannon Kelley, who curated the archive's annual "Celebration of Iranian Cinema" film festival opening Friday at the Billy Wilder Theater for a monthlong engagement. "We keep seeing people in Iran making very interesting and complicated stories."

Aside from a plethora of thought-provoking, complex political dramas and documentaries from directors including Tahmineh Milani, Rakhshan Bani-E'temad and Vahid Vakilifar, the festival also is highlighting vintage Iranian movies. (Rasoulof's 2010 film, "The White Meadows" is screening Feb. 9.)

[T]he festival [...] kicks off with Milani's comedy "Payback," about four women who meet in prison and decide to take revenge on the men who ruined their lives.

OPINION & ANALYSIS

Frightened Iran Steps Up Its Murders

Sayeh Hassan (National Post) | Feb 2

In his recent article, former attorney general Irwin Cotler brings to light some of the shocking details around the recent step-up of executions and other serious human rights violations taking place in Iran. January alone saw at least 65 people executed. Amongst them were political dissidents Ali Saremi, Jafar Kazemi, Akbar Siadat and Hossein Khezri, courageous Iranians well known to dissident support groups abroad.

While the Iranian Republic has been systematically carrying out executions of both political and non-political prisoners for the past 31 years, the dramatic escalation in recent months reminds us of the summer of 1988, when thousands of political prisoners were brutally murdered after three-minute show trials. The regime proved then it was a criminal dictatorship without regard for human rights, and it seems bent on reinforcing that fact once again, and with the same heinous tactics.

I have been an activist for regime change in Iran for many years, and believe that Iran's surge in executions has a simple explanation -- the regime feels threatened. Threatened because they feel vulnerable to a populist revolution. I believe they are correct in their assessment, and that the time is ripe for regime change.

How can Iranians achieve regime change with no -- or, more realistically, little -- bloodshed? First of all, two-way communication must be loud and clear. We must hear and listen to the voices of dissidents within the regime. And they must hear the voices of supporters from outside. The international community must do its part. Not with military intervention, but with unequivocal statements of support for regime change and with smart sanctions, notably oil sanctions. The Islamic Republic receives about 85% of its revenue from oil sales, and uses this money to keep the government afloat. Oil money pays for the salaries of the dreaded Revolutionary Guards. Without this revenue stream, the regime will quickly collapse. Irwin Cotler has released a petition urging the United States, the EU and the UN to impose such sanctions -- sanctions with real teeth.

Why Egypt 2011 Is Not Iran 1979

Juan Cole (Informed Comment) | Feb 2

Alarms have been raised by those observing the popular uprising in Egypt that, while it is not itself a Muslim fundamentalist movement, the Muslim fundamentalists could take it over as it unfolds. The best-positioned group to do so is the Muslim Brotherhood. Some are even conflating the peaceful Brotherhood with radical groups such as al-Qaeda. I showed in my recent book, Engaging the Muslim World, that the Muslim Brotherhood has since the 1970s opposed the radical movements. In any case, the analogy many of these alarmists are making, explicitly or implicitly, is to Iran in 1978-79, which saw similar scenes of massive crowds in the street, demanding the departure of Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, their king.

The white collar and labor activists are far more central to the organization of the Egyptian protests than had been their counterparts in the Iranian Revolution. The Egyptian "bazaar" is much less tied to the Muslim clergy than was the case in Iran, and far less likely to fund clerical politicians. Whereas Iran's bazaar merchants often suffered from Western competition, Egypt's bazaar depends centrally on Western tourism. Secular parties, if we count the NDP, have an organizational advantage over the religious ones, since they have been freer to meet and act under Mubarak. It is not clear that the law banning religious parties will be changed, in which case the Brotherhood would again be stuck with running its candidates under other rubrics. And, Sunni Muslims don't have a doctrine of owing implicit obedience to their clergy, and the clergy are not as important in Sunni religious life as the Shiite Ayatollahs are in Iran. The Muslim Brotherhood, a largely lay organization, has a lot of support, but it is not clear that they could gain more than about a third of seats even if they were able to run in free elections.

One of the sources of the Muslim Brotherhood's popularity was its opposition to Mubarak, and it may actually lose followers without him around. Other religious politicians and entrepreneurs may proliferate, in a freer atmosphere, dividing the religious section of the electorate. And, the Brotherhood could well evolve to be more like Turkey's Justice and Development [AK] Party than like its old, sectarian, underground self. There is nothing in MB ideology that forbids participation in parliamentary democracy, even though it was not exactly a big theme of its founder, Hasan al-Banna.

An Iran-Style Outcome for Egypt? Why There Are Key Differences

Scott Peterson (Christian Science Monitor) | Feb 2

[An important lesson from the Iranian Revolution] may be the events of Sept. 8, 1978, when security forces of Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi fired on antigovernment demonstrators with helicopter gunships and tanks. The opposition claimed the death toll from Black Friday to be 4,000, with 500 dead in downtown Jaleh Square alone.

"If Mubarak stays for awhile [with US support] and there is a crackdown - then the dire predictions would come true," says Ervand Abrahamian, a historian at Baruch College, City University of New York.

"In Iran, if the shah had been eased out earlier - before Jaleh Square - it would have been possible to have a compromise and peaceful transition," says Mr. Abrahamian, author of "Iran Between Two Revolutions" and other books on Iranian history.

"After Bloody Friday, moderates were undercut and no possibility of peaceful transition could have occurred," adds Abrahamian. "Similarly, a peaceful transition in Egypt is now possible, but if it is delayed and massive blood is shed then we will see the strengthening of extremists and the triumph of the die-hardists. The same people who wanted the shah to stay created the eventual disaster."

Tehran Looks on Calmly as Arabs Protest

Ali Reza Eshraghi (Mianeh) | Feb 2

Should President Hosni Mubarak go, Tehran is [...] positioned to engage with any new government that emerges. Given the choice, Washington would clearly prefer the secular Mohamed ElBaradei to take the reins, not the Muslim Brotherhood. But it would make little difference to Iran.

Elbaradei is viewed with particular sympathy in Tehran since, as head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, he held out against US pressure to accuse Iran of shifting its nuclear programme to weapons production.

Mubarak's departure would almost certainly be followed by the reopening of the Iranian embassy -- absent from Cairo for almost 32 years -- and could draw a line under the enmity between the two countries that has persisted for over five decades.

It is no exaggeration to say that Iran's position in the Middle East has never been better in centuries, as US-backed state leaders land in trouble one after another.

"The new Middle East is taking shape," wrote Hossein Shariatmadari, who is the editor-in-chief of the hardline daily Kayhan and is close to Supreme Leader Khamenei. "Contrary to [ex-US president George] Bush's wishes, it is being formed with Iran at the centre."

DOCUMENTS & DECLARATIONS

Rahnavard: 'Iranian Women Stand with Sisters in Arab World'

Statement by Dr. Zahra Rahnavard (Kalame via Green Voice of Freedom) | Feb 3

University professor and author Zahra Rahnavard has hailed the role of Tunisian and Egyptian women in their struggle against tyranny and maintained that "in the fight against tyranny the women of Iran stand by them."

Rahnavard's statement to Arab women fighting for change in the Arab world comes just days after her husband and Green Movement leader Mir Hossein Mousavi also praised the democracy movement in the Middle East and North Africa.

Today, the revolutions, movements and struggles of oppressed nations are more than ever before, aimed against dictatorships, class divides, deceit, corruption and the incompetence of regimes, and naturally, the core goal of the peoples is to achieve freedom, democracy, the people's control over their own destiny, the elimination of totalitarian police states and the non-interference of states in people's private lives.

You, the brave women of Egypt, Tunisia and other countries under tyranny, have started a new chapter in the history of popular struggles with your sacrifice and resistance in the face oppression, tyranny and crackdowns alongside [the rest of] your nation.

Because of violence and clampdowns, the Green Movement in Iran which began following an election overshadowed by a coup with the key slogan "Where is my vote," quickly turned into a focal point for the people's different demands shaped by a will for liberty, democracy and free elections.

In this unequal battle, women stood alongside the rest of the nation and were at times at the forefront, sacrificing their loves, children and spouses in this sacred path.

Beloved youth, such as Nedas, Sohrabs, Ashkans, Shabnams, Alis and Rouholamins, and many other slain youngsters, are just examples of those martyred in the path to freedom and protecting the nation's rights. And in this path, Iran's prisons have become filled with young freedom-seeking individuals. Prisons in which they have endured physical and psychological torture. Harsh sentences ranging from execution, to imprisonment and exile were handed down without any regard for norms, regulations and laws and without any respect for the rights of those arrested, with the delusional belief that it would somehow deter the people from pursuing their rights.

At this moment in time, we, the women of Iran, take pride in the fact that along with our sisters from brave struggling nations, we stand alongside all the courageous nations in lands under the rule of tyranny such as Egypt and Tunisia, [in the hope] that we can soon witness the realisation of freedom and democracy.

UN Experts Call for a Moratorium on Death Penalty in the Islamic Republic of Iran

News Release from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) | Feb 2

Two UN independent experts warned Tuesday that there has been a dramatic surge in death sentences in the Islamic Republic of Iran carried out in the absence of internationally recognized safeguards, despite numerous calls by the UN to immediately halt executions.

"We call on the Iranian Government to immediately declare a moratorium on the death penalty in view of the gravity of the situation and the regular disregard of due process guarantees," urged the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Christof Heyns, and the Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, Gabriela Knaul.

"Any death sentence undertaken in contravention of a Government's international obligations is tantamount to an arbitrary execution," Mr. Heyns stressed. The UN expert noted that in January alone, at least 66 people have reportedly been put to death -with some sources reporting up to 83 executions-, the majority of whom on charges of drug trafficking, moharebeh (enmity against God) and alleged membership in or contact with a banned opposition group. A large number of the executions of those charged with drug trafficking have reportedly taken place at Vakilabad prison.

"Such a practice is unacceptable," Mr. Heyns said. "Under international law, the death penalty is regarded as an extreme form of punishment which, if it is used at all, should only be imposed for the most serious crimes, after a fair trial."

On her part, Ms. Knaul also deplored that "in many cases, people sentenced to death do not have access to legal representation and their families and lawyers are not even informed of the execution." She pointed out that "the ongoing violations of fair trial guarantees and recurrent application of the death penalty by the judiciary, may be seen as a means to intimidate the population."

Both UN experts urged the Iranian Government to comply with its international obligations, reiterating the General Assembly resolution 65/226 adopted on 21 December 2010, which called on the Government to abolish executions carried out in the absence of respect for internationally recognized standards.

The Special Rapporteurs reiterated the appeals made to the Iranian authorities by several UN independent experts to allow them to visit the country, and encouraged the Government to respond positively to their request.

See also: Iran (Islamic Republic of) Country Page (OHCHR)

'I Miss the People and Their Warmth'

Interview with John Limbert by Fariba Amini (Rooz) | Jan 31

Ambassador John Limbert [...] lived in Iran in the 1960s as a Peace Corps volunteer and afterwards held various diplomatic posts including Ambassador to Mauritania. John was also one of the hostages held for 444 days at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in the 1980s. Asked about his experience as a hostage, he said, "I think I got a new appreciation for our own profession -- that is, the profession of diplomacy. And the idea of how do you solve problems between nations and between people."

Appointed by President Obama in 2009, John Limbert became the senior official at the State Department on Iran. He currently teaches at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.

In his latest book [Negotiating with Iran, he] writes: "The reality is that Iranians have almost never been able to choose their political system. Instead, they have tolerated and survived governments whose only functions were to collect taxes and take sons for the military."

***

You were among a number of diplomats who encouraged the Obama administration to reinvigorate diplomacy with Iran during the talks in Istanbul. The talks soon broke down, however, ending in the usual impasse. Why is it that Iran and the West cannot come to a compromise on this issue? What or who is responsible?

By all reports, the Istanbul talks did not make much progress. It is possible that the semi-public format of these meetings is not helpful. It is pushing the sides into posturing and taking maximalist positions for the sake of domestic politics. It appears that progress on the nuclear front is blocked and the Aliqapu (the main gate) is closed. In that case, we need to look for what the Hungarians call the kiskapu, the small gate or loophole. Doing so may mean changing the format and shifting our focus away from the nuclear program.

In your book, "Negotiating with Iran," you note that the media, with their 30-year second analysis, tend to portray Iran as a xenophobic nation, that they like martyrdom, and so forth. Wouldn't you say that some of it is in fact true at least for a part of the population?

There is a grain of truth in the sense that some Iranians are xenophobic and some welcome martyrdom. But one can make the same generalizations about any people. There are xenophobic Americans and racist Turks, for example. The real question is "so what?" I would say that such factors -- even if partly true -- are NOT going to be the main influence that shapes actions in negotiation.

What would be the best deal for Iran and for the U.S.?

The best deal is the one arrived at through dialogue, not one that humiliates one side. In other words, we need to talk, not as friends, but as persons who have common concerns. They are not going away; neither are we. What needs to happen is for both sides to ask themselves, "What is in our interests and how do I achieve it?" rather than, "How can I impose my will on the other side?" People have been asking the second question for thirty years and the results have been continuing futility and frustration.

You also say in Negotiating with Iran, one should pay attention to BATNA. Can you elaborate on this? What do you mean?

BATNA is Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement. In other words, what do we (and they) get if there is no deal? In a negotiation, both sides have to see an agreement as being better than no agreement. As I said in my book, "what works in any negotiation -- being prepared, building relationships, exercising patience, knowing both one's own and the other side's BATNA, understanding the other side's real interests -- will work in negotiations with the Islamic Republic."

During the last month, close to 45 people (other reports put the number at 55) have been executed in Iran on various grounds. A number of women activists, lawyers, university professors, and liberal/religious thinkers have been arrested; why do you think the Islamic Republic of Iran is launching such a vicious attack on Iran's civil society?

I do not know why the authorities in Tehran do what they do. I do agree that they appear to have declared war against a segment of their own population. But the relations between the IRI and the intelligentsia have been difficult since the earliest days of the revolution. All of the people you mention ask inconvenient questions.

You were a hostage for 444 days; do you have any resentment towards those who kept you? I remember you said once that they should apologize to the people of Iran and not to me which is very honorable. Would you meet with any of them?

I have no problem meeting with any of them privately. I have no particular resentment against them. At the time they were young and emotional engineering students. If I blame anyone, I blame the opportunistic politicians who did not take responsibility but rode this particular wave of emotion and fury.

It is claimed that Ahmadinejad was one of the hostage takers. Is that true? Can you, as one of the former hostages, say whether this is accurate or not?

I do not believe that he was. He was among the students (from the engineering school) who originally planned the take-over of embassies but he, as I have heard from different sources, was against the take-over of the U.S. Embassy. He had indicated that the left was more dangerous; therefore the Soviet embassy should be targeted. As we saw, the left came under direct attack a bit later.

You lived in Shiraz for many years and taught in the schools of Kurdistan. What do you miss about Iran?

I miss the people and the warmth of human contact. I miss sitting for hours outdoors on a Shiraz afternoon talking, drinking tea, eating fruit, and playing cards or backgammon. I miss my students and their wonderful curiosity and creativity. I miss the kharboozeh of Mashhad and Hamadan on a hot summer day. I miss the matrons of Shiraz coming door to door to arrange a marriage for their sons or nephews.

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