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Discontent Grows over Labor Issues; The Stars Virus: A New Cyber Attack

25 Apr 2011 23:30Comments

Press Roundup provides a selected summary of news from the Iranian press and excerpts where the source is in English. Tehran Bureau has not verified these stories and does not vouch for their accuracy. Please refer to the Media Guide to help put the stories in perspective. You can follow breaking news stories on our Twitter feed.

Iran Daylight Time (IRDT), GMT+4:30

AlborzMiners1.jpgAhmadTavakoliApr.jpg
Coal miners in Alborz. Majles deputy Ahmad Tavakoli.

11:30 p.m., 5 Ordibehesht/April 25 Our columnist Muhammad Sahimi compiled the following news items and commentary:

The Coordination Council for the Green Path of Hope, the Green Movement's temporary leadership council while Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi are under house arrest, has issued its seventh statement for the upcoming May Day -- International Workers' Day. The statement emphasizes the council's full support for workers' fundamental rights, including holding marches on May 1. The council has asked all the social networks and mass media to discuss what it called the "sad conditions of the workers that make their daily lives more difficult every day," the economic problems they face and their demands for a better life, and the fact that the government does not allow any criticism of labor conditions by the workers. Using data from the Central Bank, the Center for Statistics, and the International Monetary Fund, the council shows how rampant militarization over the past five years has stalled the economy and how $430 billion that Iran has earned from oil exports was squandered on uncontrolled imports, destroying domestic production, instead of being spent on the country's infrastructure and job creation.

According to the council, "Our dignified workers feel the terrible state of the economy by their flesh and blood, and understand better than any other societal stratum the baseless statistics that the government claims indicate improvement in the state of the economy." The statement declares, "Iranians recognize that their best asset, namely, the hope for a better future, has been destroyed and their human rights have been violated. The laborer or farmer who wanted to provide a decent life for himself and his family must now wait and rely on the kindness of the ruling group who, through their incompetence, have emptied the national treasury and try to cover up for it."

Conservative Majles deputy Ahmad Tavakoli, a leading critic of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, declared that the economic data and statistics presented by the Ahmadinejad administration are false, and that the rate of economic growth is close to zero. In an open letter to the Majles deputies, Tavakoli, who has a Ph.D. in economics, used IMF data, the relation between gross domestic product and unemployment, and the statistics on the number of bank checks that have bounced to accuse the administration of providing the people with false information on the rates of economic growth and unemployment.

Referring to Ahmadinejad's claim that during the past Iranian year, which ended on March 20, 1.6 million new jobs were created, and that in the current year another 2.5 million jobs will be created, Tavakoli said, "The unemployment rate decreases when the GDP increases. Against the law, since the winter of 2009, the Central Bank and the Center for Statistics have not reported the rate of GDP growth. It appears that because the GDP has been decreasing and indicates bad economic conditions, the Central Bank has been prevented from reporting the rate. Otherwise, if the rate were positive, there would be no reason not to report it. Both the Central Bank and the Center for Statistics have the special tools for monitoring the economy and preparing the required statistics, and their experts are doing their jobs. They also know how to perform their tasks and how to compute. Presenting fake statistics is neither good for the Bank, nor would they do such a thing. Therefore, the order not to report the data has been issued by the higher officials. Thus, when the GDP is decreasing, the unemployment must be increasing."

Another Majles deputy, Samad Marashi, also said that the economic statistics provided by administration officials are not real. But Deputy Minister of Economics and Financial Affairs Mohammad Reza Farzin, said that Iran had "good" growth during 2010, and the International Monetary Fund's assertion that Iran's rate of economic growth was less than 1 percent is not reliable.

Alireza Mahjoub, secretary-general of Worker's House, said that every year, 1.2 million people join the ranks of the unemployed in Iran. Mahjoub, who is also a Majles deputy, said that according to official statistics Iran currently has 3.3 million unemployed. He also warned that the problem will worsen in 2016 when a new generation of young people begins to enter the job market.

Majles deputy Khalil Hayat-Moghaddam said that the real rate of unemployment is about 24 percent. Hayat-Moghaddam -- who represents Bandar Mahshahr, a port on the Persian Gulf -- said that workers at the petrochemical complex in his district have recently demonstrated because local people are being fired and replaced by non-local workers, which has drastically increased the unemployment rate among his constituency.

Reports indicate the continuation of several protests by workers around the country. Eight hundred workers of Alborz Tire Company gathered in front of the presidential office to protest nonpayment of their wages for the past nine months. The company, which used to be government-owned, was privatized. It has been losing money and has had difficulty paying its 1,300 employees. The workers were promised that the government would provide $28 million to the company, transfer its control to Bank Sepah, and immediately pay the workers a month and a half in back wages. A large number of workers from Isfahan Steel Company, controlled by the government, also gathered by the Majles to protest the failure to pay their wages.

***

Gholam Reza Jalali, commander of the national civil defense system, said that Iran has been hit with a new software virus as part of cyber attacks against the country. The name of the new virus is Stars. Jalali told Mehr News Agency, "Certain characteristics about the Stars virus have been identified, including that it is compatible with Iran's system. In the initial stage, the damage that the virus inflicts is low and it may even be mistaken for governmental executable files." According to Jalali, Iranian experts are still investigating the full scope of the virus's abilities, but he did not specify what kind of equipment the virus was targeting, or when and how it had been discovered.

This is the second sophisticated computer virus to hit Iran's computer network. Iran was previously attacked by another computer worm, Stuxnet, which caused major disruptions at the uranium enrichment facility at Natanz, putting 1,000 centrifuges out of service and forcing the entire facility to be shut down for a few days. Despite claims by other officials that the Stuxnet problem has been solved, Jalali said that the efforts to contain Stuxnet are continuing. "Confronting the Stuxnet virus does not mean that the threat has been fully removed, since viruses have a certain life span and it is possible that they continue their activity in a different form," Jalali said. He said that Iran's Foreign Ministry will take the appropriate steps in the international arena to confront the ongoing cyber attacks.

In an interview with the Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Mustagbal, Prime Minister Essam Sharaf of Egypt said the Egyptian people oppose any moves that endanger the pan-Arabism and security of the [Persian] Gulf Cooperation Council countries. "This is a red line," he said. Sharaf denied that Egypt is mediating between Saudi Arabia and Iran. He said, however, that Iran is a Muslim country and a neighbor -- like Turkey -- that Egypt takes interest in and respects. But Egypt will not tolerate Iran's meddling in Arab affairs, he said.

Amr Mousa, secretary-general of the Arab League, told Le Figaro, "I believe that the remarkable winds of change will not be confined to the Arab world and will also sweep Iran." He also defended the presence of forces from the Peninsula Shield, the military arm of the Gulf Cooperation Council, in Bahrain."The deployment of the troops is legal and is in application of a treaty between the six members of the GCC," he said when asked whether Saudi Arabia was wise in sending its troops to Bahrain, which has been strongly protested to by Tehran. "For us, the situation is crystal clear: Bahrain is an Arab country and so it shall remain. Safeguarding its stability is essential," Mousa declared.

Foreign Ministry Spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast rejected the assertion by President Barack Obama that the Islamic Republic helps Syria to crack down on its people who are demonstrating against President Bashar al-Assad. Mehmanparast described the assertion as "political posturing against Iran." He also asserted, "Our policy is clear. We neither intervene in other nations' internal affairs, nor do we believe in it." In a meeting with clerical legislators, Majles Speaker Ali Larijani also rejected Obama's assertion, saying, "The United States attributes its own interventions in the internal affairs of other nations to other countries. Iran has neither dispatched troops to other countries, nor has it invaded any nation."

Ahmadinejad's cabinet met, but the president himself was absent. The meeting was chaired by First Vice President Mohammad Reza Rahimi. Minister of Intelligence Heydar Moslehi also took part in the meeting. There have been reports that Ahmadinejad has not shown up in his office since Moslehi's reinstatement by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamanei. In addition to the cabinet meeting, Ahmadinejad was supposed to meet with a number of Majles deputies, but the meeting was cancelled.

Nationalist-religious journalist Dr. Alireza Rajaei was arrested. Rajaei, who obtained his degree in political science, was formerly political editor of several reformist newspapers, including Jame'eh, Tous, Khordad, Neshat, and Asr-e Azadegan, all of which were banned by the judiciary. He has been arrested twice before: In the elections for the Sixth Majles in February 2000, Rajaei received enough votes to be elected as one of Tehran's 30 deputies, but the Guardian Council nullified 700,000 votes in order to prevent him from taking office. Instead, Gholam-Ali Haddad Adel, Mojtaba Khamenei's father-in-law, was "elected." Rajaei, together with many other leading nationalist-religious figures, was arrested after those elections and spent months in the infamous Prison 59, controlled by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. He was arrested again in the aftermath of the 2009 presidential election.

Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi has made some significant changes in the structure of the Foreign Ministry. The ministry's former ten divisions have been reduced to six. For example, the division of Asia, Oceania, the Middle East, and the Commonwealth countries has been transformed to Asia, Oceania, and the Commonwealth, while the Middle East subdivision was merged with the division for African and Arab countries. The separate European and United States divisions have also been merged.

In an indirect criticism of Ahmadinejad and his chief of staff, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, Major General Mohammad Ali Jafari, top commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), said, "Whatever the IRGC has is due to the Islamic Revolution, not Iran and the 'Iranian school of thought.'" Without naming them, Jafari was referring to the fact that over the past year Ahmadinejad and Mashaei have been advocating an "Iranian school of thought," instead of the Islamic school, which has angered many clerics. Jafari continued, "Many are trying to take away whatever the IRGC has and redirect the strength of the political system to another direction." Concerning the Guards' intervention in the political process, Jafari said, "The IRGC is not just a military organization, but also has security and cultural missions."

Controversy has erupted over several journalists who resigned en masse from Tehran-e Emrooz and joined the new daily Haft-e Sobh. The former is close to Tehran Mayor Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, while the latter is believed to be run by supporters of Mashaei. The group considers itself reformist and has declared its intention to use Haft-e Sobh to advocate reforms, an assertion that has been rejected by long-established reformists. Hardliners are claiming that Haft-e Sobh is financially supported by Iran's Red Crescent, an assertion that has been rejected by the daily. The basis for the accusation is that Ali Mazinani, who chairs the general policy committee of Haft-e Sobh, is an adviser to Abolhassan Faghih, head of Iran's Red Crescent. Arash Khoshkhou, Haft-e Sobh's editor, was previously editor of Tehran-e Emrooz and worked with several reformist newspapers.

Hardline cleric Ahmad Khatami said that to address the problem of bad Islamic hejab, cultural work is not enough. "There must be bloodshed to solve the problem and uproot the problem in the country," Khatami said. He said that to attract those who voted for "other candidates" in the 2009 presidential election, the government has been flexible about the problem.

In an interview with Rooz, reactionary cleric Jafar Shajouni said that Albolhassan Bani Sadr's fate awaits Ahmadinejad. Bani Sadr, the first president of the Islamic Republic, was elected in February 1980. He was impeached by the Majles the following June and fled the country a month later. Shajouni said that Khamenei must control the Intelligence and Foreign Ministries, because they both are vital to the country. He demanded that the Majles approve legislation to officially transfer control of the two ministries to the Supreme Leader.

Prosecutor general and judiciary spokesman Gholam-Hossein Mohseni Ejei said in a press conference that Faezeh Hashemi, daughter of Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, will be summoned to court and prosecuted. In an interview with Rooz, Hashemi strongly criticized the regime and cast doubt on whether anything would be done about the those who perpetrated the crimes in the Kahrizak detention center -- in which four young detainees were killed in the aftermath of the 2009 election protests -- or about Saeed Tajik, the Basij member who verbally assaulted her. She said that the country is run by "a bunch of thugs and criminals." Ejei said that he had talked to Tehran Prosecutor Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi and told him that he would prosecute Hashemi.

Ejei also said that Ali Akbar Javanfekr, head of IRNA, Iran's official news agency, has been summoned to court. This is presumably due to IRNA not reporting part of Khamenei's recent speech in which he had said that forcing Moslehi to resign indicated that the national interests were being neglected. Ejei added that the Kahrizak case is ongoing and sentences for some of the culprits will soon be issued. He explained that furlough is granted to political prisoners only if they have "repented." When asked about the political parties that have been outlawed, Ejei said that if the Islamic Iran Participation Front, the largest reformist group, reactivates, it will be confronted severely and its leaders will be prosecuted. It should be pointed out, however, that many of the leading members of the Front are already in jail.

Reza Khandan, husband of imprisoned journalist and attorney Nasrin Sotoudeh, said his wife will not appeal her prison sentence, because even before she was put on trial, the sentence had already been issued. For example, Sotoudeh had been told by security agents that she would not receive any jail sentence shorter than ten years, and after her show trial she was given an 11-year sentence.

Fatemeh Alvandi, mother of imprisoned journalist Mehdi Mahmoudian, said that her son has lost one of his lungs because he did not receive medical treatment that prison doctors recommended six months ago. Mahmoudian is a member of the public relations department of the Islamic Iran Participation Front and the Committee for the Defense of Political Prisoners. He was arrested in September 2009 and spent three months in solitary confinement. Alvandi said that her son has been tortured, has not been granted a furlough, and is allowed neither to see nor call his family.

Marzieh Nikara, attorney for Mohammad Seifzadeh, who represented several political prisoners and is now in jail himself, said that Seifzadeh is in poor health. When his son met with him recently in the Orumieh prison in northwest Iran, Seifzadeh was limping and had lost a lot of weight.

Copyright © 2011 Tehran Bureau

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