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Dorothy Parvaz Released; Former President Khatami: 'Let Us All Forgive'

18 May 2011 23:30Comments

Press Roundup provides a selected summary of news from the Farsi and Arabic 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

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Mohammad Khatami. Mohammad and Abdollah Fathi Shoorbariki.

11:30 p.m., 28 Ordibehesht/May 18 Journalist Dorothy Parvaz has been released from Iranian custody, almost three weeks after she was detained on arrival at Damascus International Airport and held incommunicado first by Syrian and then by Iranian authorities. The Al Jazeera reporter, who holds passports from Iran -- the country of her birth -- Canada, and the United States, arrived in Doha, Qatar, where the network is headquartered, early Wednesday.

Speaking with Al Jazeera, she described the past 19 days:

I was in the Syrian detention centre for three days and what I heard were just savage beatings. I didn't know what these men had done, one agent said that two of them were responsible for murders in or near Deraa.

I was handcuffed repeatedly, blindfolded, taken to a courtyard and just left to hear these men being beaten. They all sounded very young, they all sounded to be in their late teens or early twenties. So it was an overall terrifying experience.

She was then transferred to Iranian custody and put onto a plane bound for Tehran, where her treatment was considerate by comparison:

Actually all told, it was relatively fair. The people there [Iran] treated me with respect. I had a clean room, I had a physical check-up with the doctor as soon as I showed up. All of my questions were answered as much as they could be.

The women who looked after me at the women's detention centre were extraordinarily kind, twice a day I was taken out for fresh air. I'm a vegetarian, that diet was adhered to, any medication I needed.

In a press conference held before her release was announced, Ramin Mehmanparast, spokesman for the Iranian Foreign Ministry, said that Parvaz had violated multiple laws when she tried to enter Syria. According to Mehmanparast, Parvaz's Iranian passport had expired, she did not have the required journalist's via, and she was traveling with several passports. He did not confirm that she had been held in Iran for over two weeks.

According to a report in the Seattle Times, a former employer of Parvaz's, she may be reunited with her parents in Vancouver, British Columbia, as early as Wednesday night. Her fiancé, Todd Barker, said, "The family and me are elated, and we're really grateful to the Iranian authorities who treated her very respectfully." According to Barker, she is in good health, "just a little tired."

Barker said he discovered that she had been released when he received a call from her around 9:30 p.m., Pacific Daylight Time, Tuesday night. Her first words were, "I'm so sorry." According to Barker, she explained that she could not call him sooner as she had been held in solitary confinement in Tehran's Evin Prison. "I didn't probe," he said. "I was so excited and happy, and I just wanted to know that she was safe and this call was real."

***

Radio Zamaneh reports on a statement released by former president Mohammad Khatami on his personal website:

Khatami writes about his meeting with some of the veterans of the eight-year Iran-Iraq War, where he said: "If there has been any wrongdoing, let us all forgive each other and look toward the future." [...]

Khatami expresses his grave concern over the "toxic atmosphere" of Iran's political arena and proposes a series of solutions to lead the country out of this situation.

Khatami urges the government not to regard every criticism as sedition and to allow political parties and groups to function and participate in elections.

The former president reminds the establishment of the ideals of the Revolution as preached by the founder of the Islamic Republic Ayatollah Khomeini. He urges the authorities to recognize people's right to those ideals.

Khatami also refers to the dire national economy. Citing a lack of economic growth, he calls into question the government's claim that it has created 2.5 million jobs.

In his nationally televised interview Sunday night, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad declared, "Last year, we created 1.6 million jobs. This year, our job creation is going to be about 2.5 million. Hopefully, if we can keep this up for a few more years, we won't have unemployment in Iran."

***

Mohammad Javad Larijani, who heads Iran's Human Rights Council, says the Islamic Republic will permit the United Nation's special rapporteur to visit the country, according to a Radio Zamaneh report. On March 24, the United Nation Human Rights Council voted to appoint a special human rights rapporteur for Iran for the first time in almost a decade. Meeting with the Japanese ambassador on Tuesday, Larijani declared,

"Iran is maintaining its position of welcoming all reporters and has no problem with their visiting Iran."

He claimed seven rapporteurs have so far been welcomed in Iran, adding that Iran is critical of the lack of professionalism and technical precision of the ensuing reports.

"Iran's stance regarding the reporting mechanism of the Human Rights Council, especially regarding UPR [the UN's Universal Periodic Review], is positive and supportive," Larijani said. "However, by using transparent and accurate methods, we must not allow the reporting mechanism to be turned into a propaganda machine."

The UPR is a review of the human rights report cards of United Nation's member states, published every four years to improve human rights in the world.

"If a rapporteur travels to Iran in order to review 200 cases but only has a three-day stay, then we know that the job will not have a strong process and will lack professionalism," Larijani said.

He added that Iran is more than ready for all forms of international cooperation because it is confident in the oversight of its judicial system.

The UNHRC approved the appointment of a rapporteur in response to a report submitted by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon that detailed an array of human rights violations in the Islamic Republic including the rampant enforcement of capital punishment, the execution of minors, torture, amputations, and arbitrary detentions.

***

The Associated Press is reporting that officials of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N.'s nuclear oversight body, are investigating suspicions that their cellphones and portable computers were hacked by Iranian authorities while they were in the Islamic Republic conducting monitoring activities. According to a diplomatic source, the IAEA

is examining "a range of events, ranging from those where it is certain something has happened to suppositions," all in the first quarter of this year. He said the Vienna-based nuclear watchdog agency was alerted by inspectors reporting "unusual events," suggesting that outsiders had tampered with their electronic equipment.

Two other diplomats in senior positions confirmed the essence of the report but said they had no further information. [...]

An agency official...said strict security measures included inspectors' placing their cellphones into seamless paper envelopes, then sealing these and writing across the seal and the envelope to spot any unauthorized opening while they were away. [...]

But the diplomat who spoke at greatest length about the reported breach said the Iranians had found ways to overcome the security measures.

The Islamic Republic's nuclear program has been subject to IAEA monitoring for close to a decade.

***

Our columnist Muhammad Sahimi compiled the following news items and commentary:

Hardliners continued to criticize Ahmadinejad and Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, his chief of staff and confidant. The website Asr-e Iran went after Ahmadinejad indirectly by attacking one of his closest aides, Hamid Baghaei. As reported by Tehran Bureau, a newly founded company was awarded, without formal bidding, a contract worth 450 million euros to construct the conference center for a meeting of heads of state of nonaligned nations to be held next year on Kish Island in the Persian Gulf. The company is owned by a friend of Mashaei. Asr-e Iran demands that Baghaei, who apparently was instrumental in awarding the contract, address three questions: (1) Even if it was necessary to award the contract without bidding because time was running out, what qualified the company to receive the contract? (2) The contract was awarded for 400 billion tomans (roughly $380 million), but Baghaei asked the minister of economic and financial affairs to provide 450 million euros to finance the construction, equivalent to 742 billion tomans (about $680 million). Why, and what becomes of the extra $300 million? (3) According to various estimates, the cost of construction is at most $1,000 for every square meter of Kish Island, which means that the building should cost about $230 million. What happens to the rest of the funds? Fararu, another conservative website, publicized a copy of a letter by Mashaei to the economy minister, asking him to help a company called Alaghili, which is apparently owned by a man named by Ahmadinejad in 2006 as one of the most important culprits in the country's economic corruption.

Hardline websites also criticized Ahmadinejad for his Sunday night interview that was broadcast nationally on state television. Ayandeh News argued that what the president said in the interview was simply a repeat of his positions of two weeks ago when he and Ayatollah Ali Khamenei were involved in a power struggle over the forced resignation of Minister of Intelligence Heydar Moslehi. Ayandeh criticized Ahmadinejad in particular for his position vis-à-vis Khamenei, because he suggested once again that his relation with the Supreme Leader is similar to that of a father and son; hardliners had demanded that he correct his position and acknowledge that he must obey Khamenei without ever questioning him. Asr-e Iran criticized Ahmadinejad for contradicting what Moslehi said regarding Osama bin Laden. Moslehi claimed that the al-Qaeda leader had long been dead, but Ahmadinejad said that he was captured and detained by U.S. forces some time ago and only recently killed.

Javan, the daily mouthpiece of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, accused Abbas Ghaffari, a member of Mashaei's inner circle who has been arrested, of being linked with the "Zionist regime" -- Israel. It also accused him of working closely with "Gholam-Hossein K." -- former Tehran Mayor Gholam-Hossein Karbaschi, an adviser to Mehdi Karroubi in the 2009 elections -- and "Sayyed Mohammad Kh." -- former president Khatami. Ghaffari has been accused by hardliners of being involved with exorcism and djinns.

Shafaf News, the website published by the inner circle of Tehran Mayor Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, directly accused Ahmadinejad of being responsible for all the recent problems, and demanded that "this lose-lose game for the nation...be ended." It also charged Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting, the national TV and radio network, with idolizing Ahmadinejad, and stated, "There is no doubt that Mashaei is perverted. But why do we not criticize Dr. Ahmadinejad? One cannot separate Ahmadinejad from Mashaei, and criticize Mashaei separate from Ahmadinejad." Mashregh News, a website published by the security forces, claimed that Mashaei's team owns 700,000 square meters in Minsk, the capital of Belarus. According to the allegation, the land will be used for building hotels and other tourism attractions.

Kayhan, the mouthpiece of a faction of the security and intelligence forces, also criticized Ahmadinejad and implicitly likened him to Abolhassan Bani Sadr, the first president of the Islamic Republic, who was impeached in June 1981 and fled the country the following month. Mohammad Imani wrote in Kayhan, "Bani Sadr also received 11 million votes, but became arrogant and was toppled." Without naming Ahmadinejad, Imani said, "You think khatamiyat [the belief that Muhammad was the last prophet] has ended and a new prophet has emerged, and that is you?" According to the hardline weekly Khabar Nameh Daneshjooyan, "Based on a credible recent poll, the popularity of Ahmadinejad among the pious people and the principlists [fundamentalists] has decreased after the episode over the firing of Heydar Moslehi."

Fash News, the website close to Mohammad Hossein Saffar Harandi, former editor of Kayhan, Ahmadinejad's first minister of culture and Islamic guidance, and current deputy for cultural affairs to Major General Mohammad Ali Jafari, the Revolutionary Guards' top commander, referred to Ahmadinejad's circle as the "coup team." He said the "coup team" wants to take over the Martyr Foundation, which cares for veterans of the Iran-Iraq War and the families of those who were slain in the conflict. The foundation controls vast real estate holdings. Referring to Masoud Zaribafan, the head of the foundation and a former Ahmadinejad ally, Fash declares that "criticisms of Zaribafan must end, because otherwise that will pave the way for the coup team." Members of the Green Movement have referred to Ahmadinejad's group as the "coup team," but this is the first time that the hardliners have done so.

The conservative daily Khorasan alleged that "Mrs. S." -- an incarcerated associate of the "perverted team" (the hardliners' epithet for Mashaei's circle) -- has "confessed" to having links with the British intelligence organization MI6. "Mrs. S." is Parivash Satvati, the widow of Dr. Hossein Fatemi, Mohammad Mosaddegh's foreign minister, who was executed by the Shah's regime in November 1954, over a year after the CIA-sponsored coup of 1953. Last year, Ahmadinejad honored Satvati in an appeal to Iranians' nationalism.

In response, Tamasha News, the website close to Mashaei, said, "Khorasan, in a regrettable piece, without any documentation and evidence, has accused Mrs. Parivash Satvati of being a spy for Britain. It is believed that this action was taken to hurt Mohandes [Engineer] Mashaei. It is not clear based on what religious or legal authorization Khorasan has made such an accusation against a pious lady." In Iran, "engineer" is used as a title like "doctor."

Ahmadinejad's supporters also continued their attacks on Khamenei's camp. An article by Mohammad Jafar Behdad in Iran, the daily published by the government, warned, "The most important current task of the opposition is convincing people to believe that there is a perverted team within the government, so that the true Hezbollah members can finish off the Ahmadinejad administration. They first spoke of the perversion within the principlist camp, then attributed it to the government, and in the next step will declare the president as such. If that happens, they should await their final great defeat."

Mahramaneh News, the website that is close to Mashaei, strongly criticized Ayatollah Mohammad Taghi Mesbah Yazdi, the hardline former Ahmadinejad supporter who has recently been attacking the people around the president. Mesbah Yazdi had said that Ahmadinejad is fascinated by Mashaei and is under his control. According to Mahramaneh's response, "Suppose that this is true. Why do you not talk about all of its positive results? Over the past six years Ian has become a superpower in the world. Even if it is true and bad, is attacking someone the way to end it?"

Even as the attacks and counterattacks continued, the Supreme Council for Cultural Revolution reportedly granted Mashaei a permit to start a private university that will accept students without obliging them to take the entrance examinations relied on by virtually all Iranian universities. But council member Hassan Ghafouri Fard denied that the permit has been granted and said that it is being investigated.

People close to Khamenei have been meeting with reactionary ayatollahs in Qom. Bibak News, the website that is close to Mesbah Yazdi, reported that Majles Speaker Ali Larijani met with him in the holy city, where they discussed the current state of affairs in the country. Bibak criticized the Mehr News Agency for claiming that the budget for Mesbah Yazdi's research school was also a topic of discussion. Mehr is run by the Organization for Islamic Propaganda, which is headed by Ruhollah Hosseinian, a hardline cleric and Ahmadinejad supporter. At the same time, Fars, the news agency run by the Guards' intelligence unit, reported that Major General Yahya Rahim Safavi, former Guard commander and current senior military adviser to Khamenei, had "confidential meetings" with senior right-wing clergy in Qom.

For now, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will directly control the Ministry of Oil, until its planned merger with the Ministry of Energy is approved by the Majles. He said that the role of the ministry in Iran's economy is so important that he has decided to be its interim chief. On the other hand, he also claimed that "in Iran's oil [industry], the minister of oil is not so significant, whereas the National Iranian Oil Company is very important." There is speculation that Ahmadinejad may nominate Mashaei to head OPEC, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries.

***

Two brothers, Mohammad and Abdollah Fathi Shoorbariki, respectively 27 and 28, were executed in Isfahan. The two were arrested in April 2010, along with five other people, and originally charged with murder and armed robbery. Those charges were eventually dropped or subordinated to the capital charge of moharebeh (warring against God), of which they were convicted and for which they were sentenced to death in a court session lasting two hours. Their father, who is now in Turkey, said that his sons were killed in retribution for his own political activities and that he will file a lawsuit against those responsible for their deaths. Dr. Hadi Ghaemi, head of the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, said that because of the many flaws in the case against the two, their execution should have been stopped. HRA News, a website for Iranian human rights advocates, has published a long interview with the parents of the two brothers.

Minister of Interior Mostafa Mohammad Najar appointed Deputy Minister for Political Affairs Seyyed Solat Mortazavi to supervise the elections for the Ninth Majles, to be held on March 2, 2012. Maneuvers by various political groups to exclude the reformists and other supporters of the Green Movement have already begun.

In a presentation to the Baran Foundation, the think tank founded by former president Mohammad Khatami in 2005, Eshagh Jahangiri, minister of industries and mines in the Khatami administration, said that since the discovery of oil in Iran over a century ago, the country had earned about $1 trillion from its export oil. Of this figure, $150 billion was made prior to the 1979 Revolution, $400 billion between 1979 and 2005, and $450 billion since 2005. Jahangiri said that if the fourth development plan, launched under Khatami and then continued under Ahmadinejad, had been implemented according to its original design, Iran would have $200 billion in currency reserves. However, instead, using the oil money, Iran's economy is effectively being transformed into a subsidiary of the Chinese one, due to the flood of imports. He pointed out that during the Khatami administration, the custom duty on sugar was 100 percent; now it is 0 percent, bankrupting the domestic production. Jahangiri criticized Ahmadinejad's claim that the economy created 1.6 million new jobs during the last Iranian year, which ended on March 20. He said, "Such a claim is nothing but mocking the fundamental of economics." He also said that the rate of inflation was 11 percent and oil production was 4.2 million barrels per day when Khatami left office, but inflation is now above 25 percent and daily oil production has fallen below 4 million barrels. In 2004 the amount of unfunded, returned checks was equivalent to $5 billion; the annual figure is now $50 billion. Jahangiri said that when any economists criticize the current situation, they are accused of being pro-Western.

Film director Mohammad Rasoulof, who had been banned from leaving Iran, has been told he may travel abroad. He was arrested in February 2010 and sentenced to a six-year jail term, which is currently under appeal. His attorney, Iman Mirza-zadeh, said that the travel ban has been lifted and that Rasoulof may now attend the Cannes Film Festival, where his latest film, Be Omid-e Didar (Goodbye), is being shown.

Green students at Iran University of Science and Technology in Tehran have called for a one-day strike on May 24 to commemorate the second anniversary of the death of Kianoush Asa. A graduate student in chemical engineering, Asa was killed on June 15, 2009, when huge, peaceful demonstrations broke out three days after the rigged presidential election. The day of commemoration has been brought forward because the semester will be over by June 15.

Prominent nationalist-religious journalist Taghi Rahmani was rearrested. He was previously detained in February and released two days ago after posting bail of $135,000. He was then summoned to the judiciary branch of Evin Prison again and was jailed. Rahmani's wife, journalist and human rights advocate Narges Mohammadi, said that the judiciary gave her no reason for why her husband was arrested again. "We are shocked about his imprisonment," Mohammadi said. In 2005, Human Rights Watch honored Rahmani, 51, who has spent more than 17 years in the Islamic Republic's jails, with its Hellman-Hammet Award. The award aims to help writers who dare to express ideas that criticize official policy or people in power. According to a recent report, Rahmani has been released again.

The appeals court in Tehran has suspended the one-year prison sentence of university student Dorsa Sobhani for five years. Sobhani, a human rights advocate and member of the Baha'i religious minority, which is not recognized by the Iranian government, has been expelled from her university. She was arrested in March 2010 and spent 45 days in jail, 27 in solitary confinement, before her release on bail.

Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi is visiting Kuwait on Wednesday. He will meet with Kuwait's emir, Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah, Prime Minister Sheikh Nasser al-Mohammad al-Sabah, and National Assembly Speaker Jassem al-Kharafi. The Iranian delegation will also meet with their counterparts in the Kuwaiti Foreign Ministry to discuss the cementing of relations and the latest regional and international developments.

On Tuesday, an Iranian envoy delivered a message from Ahmadinejad to Qatari Emir Sheikh Hamad ibn Khalifa al-Thani in Doha. Ahmadinejad's special envoy, Deputy Foreign Minister for Middle Eastern Affairs Mohammad Reza Sheibani, delivered an oral message to Sheikh Hamad about bilateral relations and issues of mutual interest. Sheibani also met senior Qatari officials to exchange views over developments in the region.

Yemen's navy claimed that an Iranian-flagged ship suspiciously docked in Yemeni territorial waters in the Gulf of Aden. "The Iranian ship was detected by the radar of the Navy' s joint maritime operations," a naval official, Colonel Abdul-Rahman Moussa, was quoted by Saba, the official Yemeni news agency, as saying. "When we communicated with the captain of the Iranian ship for the reasons behind the stopover in Yemeni waters, about 20 nautical miles south of the Yemeni port city of Lahj, the captain refused to respond, which forced the Yemeni Navy to send a warning message for the ship to leave the area," the official said. After transmitting the warning, the Yemeni Navy dispatched a number of boats toward the Iranian ship, prompting it to depart for Somali waters. "The ship apparently tried to smuggle prohibited shipments or dump forbidden substances into the territorial waters of Yemen," the official concluded.

Copyright © 2011 Tehran Bureau

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