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Opposition Figure Ezatollah Sahabi Dies; Nasrin Sotoudeh Brought to Court

01 Jun 2011 03:00Comments

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

Ezatollah Sahabi. Nasrin Sotoudeh. Sotoudeh and her husband, Reza Khandan.

3 a.m., 11 Khordad/June 1 Our columnist Muhammad Sahimi compiled the following news items and commentary:

Iran has lost one of its greatest sons and a true patriot.

Ezatollah Sahabi, leader of the Nationalist-Religious Coalition and a distinguished political figure who spent his entire adult life in the struggle against dictatorship, has passed away. A son of Dr. Yadollah Sahabi (1905-2002) who, together with Mehdi Bazargan (1907-1995) and Ayatollah Seyyed Mahmoud Alaei Taleghani (1911-1979), founded the Liberation Movement of Iran in 1961, the younger Sahabi was born in 1930 in Tehran. He studied at the Faculty of Engineering of the University of Tehran, and was active in the movement led by Dr. Mohammad Mosaddegh to nationalize Iran's oil industry. Joining the LMI upon its founding, he was arrested in 1963 and given a six-year prison sentence, of which he served five years. He was arrested again in 1971 and imprisoned until autumn 1978, when the Revolution was accelerating. He was a member of Bazargan's provisional revolutionary government. After Bazargan's government resigned on November 5, 1979, the day after the American embassy was overrun by Islamic leftist students, Sahabi, together with several others, left the LMI. He was elected to the first Majles, as well as the Assembly of Constitutional Experts, which drafted the Constitution of the Islamic Republic, and was opposed from the beginning to Velaayat-e Faghih, the doctrine of guardianship of the Islamic jurist. He was arrested in 1990, tortured by Saeed Emami -- mastermind of the infamous Chain Murders -- and forced to "confess." In 1991, he founded the weekly Iran-e Farda, which was shut down nine years later by the hardliners. He was arrested again in 2001 and after a show trial was sentenced to 11 years in prison, but remained free after posting an enormous bail. His daughter, Dr. Haleh Sahabi, is currently in prison, serving a two-year sentence for participating in the protests against Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's "reelection."

After the announcement of Sahabi's death, a large crowd gathered by his house in northern Tehran. Reports indicate that the security forces have pressured his family to bury him as soon as possible, but they have resisted. The funeral procession will begin Wednesday at 8 a.m. Tehran time from his home in Lavasanat.

Condolence messages have come from across the political spectrum. So far, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani; Grand Ayatollah Yousef Sanei, the progressive cleric who has supported the Green Movement; Ayatollah Asadollah Bayat Zanjani; Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi; Ahmad Montazeri, son of the late Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri; the family of the late Dr. Ali Shariati, the sociologist and distinguished Islamic scholar; the Association of Teachers and Scholars of Qom, the pro-Green clerical organization; the Office for Consolidation of Unity, the umbrella organization for most university student unions; the Organization of University Graduates; the Coordination Council for the Green Path of Hope (CCGPH); the central committee of the Nationalist-Religious Coalition; journalist and documentary filmmaker Mohammad Nourizad, who was recently released from prison; Reza Alijani, the nationalist-religious journalist who was the editor of Iran-e Farda; Mohsen Kadivar; Masoud Behnoud; Azam Taleghani; Abbas Abdi; and many others in both Iran and the diaspora, have issued messages of condolence or written about Sahabi. Even Ayande News, the conservative website, honored Sahabi as a pious man, a patriot, and an opposition member who never lost his sense of fairness and always advocated peaceful means for change. The CCGPH and other groups within Iran have called on the people to make Wednesday a national day of mourning.

On Monday, attorney, journalist, and human rights advocate Nasrin Sotoudeh was brought to court to attend a hearing on whether she should be disbarred and her license to practice law revoked. The session was held by the Iran Bar Association. She was brought in handcuffs from Evin Prison by two guards and a policewoman. She was smiling and appeared to be in great spirits. Despite the handcuffs, she hugged her husband, Reza Khandan. During the hearing, a group of lawyers reviewed the case for disbarring Sotoudeh. They stated that they want to defend the rights of attorneys for the defense of the people. No decision was made, and the IBA decided to postpone one until after an appeal hearing on Sotoudeh's 11-year prison sentence is held.

In a moving letter to her husband, Sotoudeh had already indicated that with or without a license she will defend the political prisoners and protest the courts' unjust verdicts. Here is her letter:

My beloved Reza:

Much has been said about the loneliness associated with prison. I want to share prison life with you, for it somehow takes you off guard. Can you imagine the environment that the new generation has created in prison? The same surprising environment that currently exists outside prison is also pervasive within the prison walls, creating a new form of life both within our society and behind bars. This life is at times happy and upbeat, at times calm and demure, at times watchful and analytical, but always tolerant and willing to compromise; a tolerance that will eventually lead us to achieve our goals. You know better than anyone that, much like running water that over time creates fissures in rocks, it is our tolerance and flexibility that will be eventually remove the obstacles from our paths.

My beloved Reza, everyone thinks about their freedom while in prison. Although my freedom is also important to me, it is not more important than the justice that has been neglected and denied [to the political prisoners]. Like many other prisoners, I too dream of going on a trip with my family, or to walk freely under the rain, to gaze upon the trees in the alley, or to spend the afternoon with my children in a park. Do you remember, by the way, the joy with which the three of us greeted you every afternoon when you came home from work? We were a happy family and despite the threats by my interrogator during that first interrogation session, when he threatened to obliterate me and my husband from the face of the earth, we remained happy, for my interrogator can not recognize that happiness lies within an individual's heart. It goes without saying that I would like to have all such things, and that they are all important to me, but nothing is more important than those hundreds of years of jail sentences that were rendered to my clients and other freedom-seeking individuals, accused of crimes they did not commit. Though I had the privilege of representing only a few, I will continue to object to their unjust sentences, regardless of whether or not I have a license to practice the law.

They are holding a trial in order to revoke my license to practice the law, a license that I always tried to use with honor. Even if my license is taken from me by the government some day, they cannot strip me of my honor, and that will be all I need.

My beloved Reza, as long as such unjust sentences exist and the Revolutionary Court continues to render such shocking rulings, with or without a license to practice the law, I will continue to object to such sentences, for one does not need a license in order to protest unjust sentences. Tell them they can revoke my license if they wish, but cannot strip me of my right to justice.

Ghasem Hosseini, third secretary in the Office of Interest Section of the Islamic Republic in Egypt, was expelled from the country. He was arrested by Egyptian security forces on Sunday and charged with espionage. Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi denied that Hosseini was expelled, claiming that he merely accompanied a group of 40-50 Egyptian intellectuals who traveled to Tehran. The Al-Arabiya website, which reflects the views of the Saudi Arabian regime, reported that Hosseini provided funds to Egyptian political groups to encourage them to be active in support of Iran. According to the website, Hosseini was interrogated before it became clear that he was an Iranian diplomat. Iran's interest section in Cairo previously denied that Hosseini had even been arrested.


The public relations office of the Expediency Discernment Council, headed by Rafsanjani, issued a statement declaring, "To reduce the psychological pressure on the government, some people and groups and mass media that support the government have resorted to childish tactics in order to find a partner for the perverted group, and -- in order to distract public opinion -- have fabricated claims that exorcists and geomantic groups were also connected with the office of Ayatollah Hashemi [Rafsanjani] or that Ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani had suggested to a member of the Assembly of Experts that the head of the perverted group not be criticized." The reference to the "head of the perverted group" is to Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, Ahmadinejad's chief of staff.

The statement was issued in response to a claim by Hossein Saffar Harandi, deputy Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps commander for cultural affairs and a former minister of culture and Islamic guidance in the Ahmadinejad administration. In a speech to the vigilante group Ansaar-e Hazbollah, Saffar Harandi said, "The geomantic person of the perverted group also worked in the previous governments with Ataollah Mohajerani and Gholam Hossein Karbaschi." Mohajerani was first vice president in the Rafsanjani administration and the culture and Islamic guidance minister in the first Khatami administration. Karbaschi, a former mayor of Tehran and Isfahan, was a key aide to Rafsanjani and Karroubi's senior adviser in the 2009 presidential election.

7-e Sobh, Mashaei's daily mouthpiece, declared that the government supports the execution of Abbas Ghaffari, who has been accused of exorcism and insulting the Qur'an. Without naming Ghaffari, the daily said, "Even ten executions are not enough for him."

Influential Majles deputy Asadollah Badamchian, deputy secretary-general of the right-wing Islamic Coalition Party, said that Ahmadinejad does not even accept the notion that some of the people surrounding him are perverted, let alone take action against them. He also claimed that Abbas Amirifar, a cleric close to Mashaei who has been arrested, has "given away" some members of the perverted team and that the Ministry of Intelligence is pursuing the matter. In an interview with Javan, the daily mouthpiece of the Revolutionary Guards, Badamchian claimed, "The perverted group will try to take control of two-thirds of the Majles [in the elections next March 2], in order to prevent Vali-ye Faghih [Supreme Leader Khamenei] from doing anything."

Cleric Hassan Noroozi implicitly threatened Mashaei and his inner circle with assassination. In an interview, he said, "Unfortunately, some perverted people have penetrated the office of the president and create tension. They should be confronted as soon as possible. The officials must fire these people. Otherwise, events such as explosions in the Islamic Republican Party or the office of the prime minister will not be unexpected." Noroozi was referring to the bomb that exploded in the headquarters of the Islamic Republican Party on June 28, 1981, which killed close to 120 prominent politicians, and the explosion in the office of Prime Minister Dr. Mohammad Javad Bahonar two months later that killed him and then President Mohammad Ali Rajaei.

On the fourth day of protests against the firing of the former acting governor-general of Fars province and the appointment of a Mashaei ally to the post, all doors to the gubernatorial office building remained locked and chained by supporters of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Saeed Ghasemi, a member of the central committee of Gharargah Ammar, a vigilante group, said that the Hezbollah has been told to prepare itself to confront the Ahmadinejad team. Ghasemi said that they do not know how strong Ahmadinejad's group is, nor do they know anything about its future plans.

Seyyed Emad Hosseini, spokesman for the parliament's Energy Commission, confirmed that a letter by 11 Majles deputies was submitted to Speaker Ali Larijani about the Ahmadinejad administration's violations regarding the Ministry of Oil. Based on Article 233 of the Majles bylaws, the letter will be read in one of its sessions. If the Majles votes in approval of the letter, it will be sent to the judiciary for investigation and possible prosecution.

There is widespread speculation that Mohammad Aliabadi, a close friend and aide to Ahmadinejad, will be nominated to be the next oil minister. Aliabadi is the former head of the national sports organization. He was previously nominated to be the minister of power, but could not garner enough votes in the Majles to be confirmed. Hassan Ghafouri Fard, a member of the Majles Energy Commission, dismissed the speculation, saying that Aliabadi was already rejected by the parliament for other posts, and if he could not win a vote of confidence to lead a small ministry, it should be explained how he could be expected to win one for the much larger and far more significant Oil Ministry.


The Coordination Council for the Green Path of Hope, the temporary leadership council while Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi are under house arrest, has issued a new statement on the occasion of the beginning of the Iranian month of Khordad (May 22- June 21), during which many important events have occurred in the country's recent history. The council declared that it is currently focusing on the release of all the political prisoners, particularly Mousavi and Karroubi, asked the people to support its efforts, and promises that it has extensive plans for protests in the coming weeks that it will soon announce.

Seyyed Ramezan Shojaei Kiasari, a member of the Majles Cultural Affairs Commission, said that satellite dishes are an undeniable worldwide phenomenon. He criticized the law that putatively bans them in Iran: "The fact that the law is not implemented means that there is no executive power to do so and it cannot be implemented. The law must be reformed. Satellite dishes have become a tool for threatening many governments, and [therefore] we too can use it against the enemies of the political system." He added, "We should ask, why is it that people are increasingly using satellite dishes?"

Majles deputy Ali Motahari said in a debate that even if freedom of expression leads to the denial of God's existence or rejection of the Islamic Republic, if such opinions are reached as a result of a thinking process, people must be allowed to express them. When asked why freedom should even exist, Motahhari responded, "(1) one cannot prevent the blossoming of people's talents, and (2) most things cannot be imposed on the people by force, and in [our] religious thinking [a certain way] cannot be mandatory." He added, "If based on my thinking, I concluded that there is no God or the Prophet, I should be free to express my opinion and should not be persecuted for it, because I have been after the truth. But if someone uses Qur'anic verses without believing in them, that should be stopped."

The Division of AIDS Prevention in the Ministry of Health has provided new statistics on the HIV-positive population. According to the division, as of March 20, the final day of the last Iranian year, 22,727 people were identified as being HIV positive, of whom 91.7 percent were men. According to the report, 4,187 people died of AIDS, of whom 46.5 percent were between 25 to 34 years old. The sharing of needles between drug addicts accounted for 69.7 percent of the cases, 9.8 percent were due to sexual activity, 8 percent were due to the transmission of the virus from the mother to her fetus, 1.1 percent were due to blood transfusions, and the rest were of unknown causes.

Since May 22, a group of four prominent political prisoners in Rajaei Shahr Prison, west of Tehran, have been on hunger strike to protest the violations of their rights and the terrible conditions in the facility. They have vowed to continue their strike until June 12, the second anniversary of the rigged 2009 presidential election. The group includes journalists Isa Saharkhiz, Keyvan Samimi, and Mehdi Mahmoudian, as well as Rasoul Bodaghi, a member of the League of Teachers who has reportedly been transferred to solitary confinement. Leading opposition groups and individual reformists have asked them to end their hunger strike. The Islamic Iran Participation Front, the largest reformist group, which has been officially outlawed, issued a statement to that effect, while also asking everyone, both domestically and internationallly, to protest the inhumane conditions in which they are incarcerated. Former president Mohammad Khatami asked Mrs. Fatemeh Alvandi, Mahmoudian's mother, to ask her son to end his strike. But Mahmoudian's father told the Rooz website, "Mehdi says that we do not belong to ourselves [but to the people]. We will not ignore people's rights and they must support us. They must learn about the crimes that are happening in prisons." Ayatollah Asadollah Bayat Zanjani, who supports the Green Movement, has also asked the prisoners to end their strike. HRANA, the Human Rights Activists News Agency of Iran, reports that the health of the four has deteriorated badly.

One hundred and fifty-one cultural, political, and social Iranian figures have written a letter to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon asking him to send a team to inspect the state of the Islamic Republic's prisons. According to the communication, "Iranian prisons are overflowing with civil and political activists that, following extensive arrests, have not only been suffering due to the extremely difficult conditions of their detention, torture, and physical and psychological pressure, but also, in violation of domestic and laws and Iran's international obligations regarding the rights of the accused, their most elementary rights are being violated and in most cases have had to deal with the verdicts of show trials, and then live in jails that do not have the minimum conditions and together with common offenders who are imprisoned due to murder, rape, and drug addiction."

Journalist and documentary filmmaker Mohammad Nourizad denied Tehran Prosecutor-General Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi's claims made last week that Nourizad was granted a furlough and that he wrote a "good" letter to Khamenei, implying that he asked for clemency. Nourizad says that he has not done anything wrong to warrant a request for clemency and that he was not given a furlough, but was released from prison because the judiciary realized that he had committed no offense. After writing several highly critical letters to Khamenei, Nourizad was arrested and imprisoned.

There have been several reports that Foreign Minister Salehi plans to travel to Saudi Arabia soon, which has angered some conservatives. Kazem Jalali, spokesman for the National Security and Foreign Policy Commission of the Majles said, "There is talk of a probable trip to Saudi Arabia by the foreign minister. Although there is some ambiguity about the recent trips of the respected minister to some countries of the region, considering the crimes of Saudi Arabia in Bahrain, such a trip cannot be justified" -- referring to Saudi Arabia's dispatch of 4,000 troops to Bahrain to help suppress the popular uprising in the island nation.

Ahmad Tavakoli, head of the Majles Research Center, also criticized the reported plan, saying, "Current developments in the region and repression of the people of Bahrain by Saudi Arabia military are the reasons that make a trip to Saudi Arabia totally unjustifiable. Currently, because Saudi Arabia needs reasons for its acts and to create a positive image of itself in the region, it is negotiating with the officials of Islamic countries and provokes them against Iran. A trip by our foreign minister to Saudi Arabia is an indication of a weak foreign policy."

Salehi has denied that he has any plan to travel Saudi Arabia. Speaking after a session of the Joint Commission on Economic Cooperation between the Islamic Republic and the Republic of Armenia, he said, "There has not been any plan or even discussion regarding the issue in the Foreign Ministry and [in fact], to the contrary, deputy ministers have denied the report, but we see that some new agencies still report on the issue, the reason for which is not clear to us."

Abdollah Sohrabi, the Islamic Republic's ambassador to Qatar, said that 16 Iranian fishermen who had been imprisoned there have been released and returned to Iran. After entering Qatari territorial waters in the Persian Gulf, they were arrested and their boats were confiscated. They were found not guilty and their boats were returned to them.

Copyright © 2011 Tehran Bureau

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