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President Condemns Soccer Ban; Web Tech's Death Sentence Repealed

by DAN GEIST

07 Jun 2011 20:00Comments

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

SoccerWomenSittingMehr.jpgSaeedMalekpourMay.jpg
Iranian soccer team members. Saeed Malekpour.

8 p.m., 17 Khordad/June 7 At a press conference Tuesday, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad addressed the decision by FIFA, soccer's governing body, to bar the Iranian women's soccer team from taking part in Olympic qualifying while wearing full hejab head covering. "I ordered to follow up the issue and we will seriously confront the decision by dictators who just wear the gown of democracy," Ahmadinejad said.

On Friday, the team was disqualified from a second-round qualifying contest against Jordan by a match official when team members appeared in tightly bound headscarves that covered their ears and necks, violating a FIFA edict issued last year. Under the Islamic Republic's mandatory dress code, Iranian women are obliged to wear hejab in public at all times. Aside from the headscarves, team members compete in full-length tracksuits that entirely cover their legs and arms down to the wrists.

Yesterday, FIFA declared that the official's decision to disqualify was correct and that the Iranian team had been informed before the game that the players would not be allowed to participate in headscarves. According to a statement from the organization, "FIFA's decision in March 2010 which permitted that players be allowed to wear a cap that covers their head to the hairline, but which does not extend below the ears to cover the neck, was still applicable for this qualifying tournament. Despite initial assurances that the Iranian delegation understood this, the players came out wearing the hijab, and the head and neck totally covered, which was an infringement of the Laws of the Game."

Iranian Football Federation (IFF) Vice President Farideh Shojaei told a different story. According to Shohaei, Iran had made changes to its senior women's outfit after FIFA officially barred an Iranian youth team from performing with headscarves last year. The new outfit, she said, was approved by FIFA President Sepp Blatter and had been used in FIFA-sanctioned matches before the incident in Jordan.

When the IFF requested an explanation from FIFA for Friday's disqualification, Shojaei said, "They merely pointed to the fact that they had made an announcement earlier. But we received no letter ahead of these games. Perhaps they are referring to last year, after which we made the required corrections and played a match afterwards. We were not prevented from playing the next round, they didn't find anything wrong. That meant there were no obstacles for our participation in the Olympics."

Before Ahmadinejad's press conference, the first official statement on the incident by an Iranian government official came from Mustafa Musleh Zadeh, ambassador to Jordan, where the match was to be played. Characterizing the ban as "inhumane" and an example of "extremism," he declared, "FIFA should reconsider its decisions which harm Iranian players. If FIFA continues to impose a certain dress on women, it will lose a lot of players from Arab and Muslim countries.... It is not a sports or football issue. It is a political issue. Politics should not be mixed with sports. What happened was a violation of human rights as well as international and Olympic charters."

Prince Ali of Jordan, who assumed the vice presidency of FIFA last week, said Tuesday, "This is an important issue that I will raise with the Asian Football Confederation and with the International Federation of Association Football [FIFA]. We will work together to find a solution that respects the rules of the game and the culture at the same time.... Football is about fair play and respect and I am confident that we can resolve this issue."

***

Iran's Supreme Court has overturned the death sentence imposed last December on 35-year-old web programmer Saeed Malekpour. The Iranian-born Malekpour, who became a permanent Canadian resident in 2004, was convicted of charges including "taking action against national security by designing and moderating adult content websites," "agitation against the regime," and "insulting the sanctity of Islam" in connection with software he designed, one of whose end users turned out to be a pornographic website. Visiting Iran in October 2008 to spend time with his ailing father, he was arrested on arrival in Tehran and has been detained since in Evin Prison.

A year after his arrest, Malekpour issued a "confession" on Iranian state television. Then, in March 2010, he wrote an open letter to Iranian officials describing how the statement had been dictated to him by his interrogators and how he had been forced to deliver it following torture that included whippings and beatings that led to shattered teeth and infections.

"Most of the time, the tortures were performed by a group," he wrote. "While I remained blindfolded and handcuffed, several individuals armed with cables, batons, and their fists struck and punched me."

In Toronto, Malekpour's wife, Fatima Eftekhari, described the crucial role campaigns arousing grassroots-level support played in saving her husband's life. "Never underestimate the power of such campaigns when you can save the life of an innocent somewhere miles away from you by clicking a button or signing a letter," she said. "I remember that I was collecting signatures in support of my husband and people were reluctant to put their names on the campaign because they were pessimistic that they can save someone else's life by doing so. Now you can see how a signature affects lives."

***

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

In separate letters by Majles Speaker Ali Larijani to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, 26 plans and projects approved by the government were declared illegal. Among those barred include construction of an an underwater tunnel to connect Gheshm Island in the Persian Gulf to the mainland, the contract awarded for construction of a freeway connecting Mashhad to Tehran and Qom, and an order to the Central Bank to provide loans at reduced interest rates in the town of Doroud after it was struck by an earthquake. The most important cabinet decision that has been declared illegal is the formation of a working group by Ahmadinejad to make all the decisions about the Oil Industry. In addition, the cabinet's plan does not specify that the export income from the sale of oil must be deposited in a special saving accounts for foreign currencies, which is against the law.

Hamid Reza Katouzian, head of the Majles Energy Commission, said that the new gasoline production unit at the Abadan refinery was not ready to come online. A few minutes after Ahmadinejad officially opened it on May 24, there was an explosion in the refinery that killed up to four people and injured at least a dozen. Katouzian and other commission members visited the refinery and then said that certain aspects of what happened have been kept secret and the information was not made available to his commission.

Katouzian also warned that, compared with last year, the cost of electricity will increase by a factor of four to five. He also said that the increase in the price of natural gas has been steeper than what was approved by the Majles, putting considerable pressure on the people. He warned that if the government does not reconsider the price of natural gas, the Majles will be obliged to approve new legislation to force the Ahmadinejad administration to limit the increase in the cost of energy to 20 percent annually.

The Majles has approved the merger of three ministries, Communications and Information Technology, Roads and Transportation, and Housing and Urban Development. In their place, a new ministry Ministry of Infrastructure will be established. The new law calls on the government to submit legislation to the Majles defining the new ministry's tasks. Apparently, the merger of the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology with the other two ministries been greeted very negatively by the experts. Mohammad Karampour, deputy minister of communications and information technology, said that merging ministries such as his with others has been done in other countries and been a failure. Rasoul Jalili, a professor of computer science at Sharif University, said, "I do not know anyone who is an expert on communications, roads and transportation, and housing and urban development, all at the same time."

Majles deputy Ali Asghar Zarei said that a plan is being circulated by some deputies according to which the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology will remain independent. Zarei said that there is no rationale behind its proposed merger with the other two ministries.

Majles deputy and Ahmadinejad critic Ahmad Tavakoli said that Mohammad Aliabadi, acting minister of oil, does not have the experience and qualifications to take over the presidency of OPEC, which has recently been assumed by Iran. Aliabadi has claimed that when he graduated from an engineering school in 1975, he participated in the development of an oil reservoir. Tavakoli said that such experience, gained 36 years ago, is not relevant and that "the Iranian nation does not accept such hollow reasoning."

Mojtaba Zolnour, deputy to Ali Saeedi, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's representative to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, said, "The perverted group intend to hurt the political system of the Islamic Republic of Iran, using the resources that it has within the system. This group is directed and led by [Esfandiar Rahim] Mashaei. Unfortunately, using a mask of religion this group wants to create a split within the main path of the Revolution, hoping that this way it can achieve its goals." The "perverted group" is the hardliners' code name for Mashaei, Ahmadinejad's chief of staff, and his inner circle. Zolnour said that the group wants to topple the Islamic Republic, or at least weaken its pillars. Invoking Article 150 of the Constitution, Zolnour said that the Guards will confront the "perverted group" He also denied that the Guards have ever directly intervened in any election, though by issuing statements, it tries to help the electoral process.

In another attack on Mashaei, he was accused of being part of an illegal network that imports cigarettes into Iran's lucrative market, worth about $2 billion a year. Fars, the news agency that is run by the Guards' intelligence unit, reported that the inner circle of Ahmadinejad is trying to pressure the courts to find a man named al-Aghili not guilty of corruption. According to Fars, he is one of "the most corrupt people in Iran's cigarettes market." Apparently, he has exclusive rights to import Marlboro brand cigarettes, produced by Phillip Morris. Calling the U.S. firm a "Zionist company," the hardliners invoked an Intelligence Ministry declaration that there should be no dealing with such companies. Seyyed Mahmoud Abtahi, the previous head of Tobacco Products of Iran, a state entity, has said that the reason the government has not been successful in dealing with illegal cigarette imports is intervention by "some groups within the government." Interestingly, in October 2006, al-Aghili was mentioned by IRNA, Iran's official news agency, as one of the two most financially corrupt people in Iran. In 2007, the courts ordered him to pay $9,360,000 in fines for his illegal financial dealings. According to several hardline websites, the intermediary between al-Aghili and Mashaei is Mohammad Sharif Malakzadeh, who is the Supreme Council for Iranian Expatriates, an organization Mashaei formed last year. The hardline website Raja News, when it was still supporting Ahmadinejad, had previously accused Mohsen Rezaei, former top Revolutionary Guard commander, of being involved in illegal cigarette imports. During the 2009 presidential elections, Rezaei called the accusation "ridiculous."

Ahmadinejad was supposed to visit the Republic of Armenia on Monday, but his trip was cancelled at the last moment. The Foreign Ministry announced that the reason for the cancellation was "the need for more time to prepare the [necessary] documents." However, it has been reported that the real reason is that Mashaei and Vice President for Executive Affairs Hamid Baghaei have been barred from leaving the country. The hardliners have been attacking the two continuously since the episode over the forced resignation of Intelligence Minister Heydar Moslehi and his reinstatement by Khamenei.

Majles deputy and labor activist Alireza Mahjoub criticized the government's claims about the number of jobs it created last year. He said, "The Center for Statistics says that the unemployment rate is 9.6 percent. A survey indicates that over the past six months the rate has been over 14 percent. But the rate of unemployment among the youth is 22.3 percent. Thus, one out of every four young people is unemployed, and this worries many social and economic experts."

Aftab News, the website close to Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, reports that a new political group has been organized by government ministers whom Ahmadinejad has fired. The group intends to put up candidates for the upcoming Majles elections, to be held in early March 2012. According to Aftab News, the group meets weekly to plan its strategy for the elections.

Journalist and documentary film maker Mohammad Nourizad has made public his eighth highly critical letter to Khamenei. Nourizad was arrested and imprisoned in response to his previous seven letters and was recently released. In his latest letter, Nourizad compares the state of Islam before and after the 1979 Revolution and states, "We the revolutionaries hurt Islam more than the Pahlavi regime. We have presented a terrible image [of Islam] based on our own beliefs, tastes, and interests, but in the name of [the Prophet] Muhammad and [Imam] Ali. [Hardline cleric] Seyyed Ahmad Khatami, despite the damage that his views have inflicted upon religion, is propped up, but Seyyed Mohammad Khatami, who has no kinship with Ahmad Khatami and to whom millions listen, is thrown in an abyss of hatred...."

Blogger Sakha Rigi, 31, a member of Mir Hossein Mousavi's presidential campaign, has been sentenced to 20 years in jail. He was arrested on June 18, 2009. He is currently incarcerated in Karoon Prison in Ahvaz, in Khuzestan province.

Seyyed Mohammad Hossein Salehi and Hossein Goodarzi, who were members of the clerical committee of Mousavi's presidential campaign, have been sentenced to three years in prison by the Special Court for the Clergy. They had produced a documentary about the crimes that took place in Kahrizak detention center on Tehran's southern edge in the aftermath of the 2009 presidential election. At least four young protestors were murdered at Kharizak.

Blogger and women's rights activist Rahil Ashenagar was arrested in her father's home in Bandar Anzali, in northern Iran. Five Baha'is have also been arrested in northern Iran.

A storm on Saturn discovered by Iranian amateur astronomer Sadegh Ghomizadeh last December 8 has been officially recognized by NASA. The storm has expanded into one of the largest in the Solar System, after Jupiter's giant Red Spot. Such storms develop once a year on Saturn. One Saturn year is equivalent to 29.4 years on Earth.

The Board of Governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency met on Monday. Agency Director-General Yukia Amano reported on Iran's nuclear program and said,

Since my previous report on the "Implementation of the NPT [Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty] Provisions of Security Council Resolutions in the Islamic Republic of Iran," the Agency has received further information related to possible past or current undisclosed nuclear related activities that seem to point to the existence of possible military dimensions to Iran's nuclear program. There are indications that certain of these activities may have continued until recently.

Last month, I sent a letter to His Excellency, Dr. Fereydoun Abbasi, Vice President of Iran and Head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, reiterating the Agency's concerns about the existence of possible military dimensions. I also requested that Iran provide prompt access to relevant locations, equipment, documentation and persons. I received a reply from His Excellency, Dr. Abbasi, on 31 May. I replied in turn in a letter to him dated 3 June, in which I reiterated the Agency's requests to Iran.

The Agency continues to verify the non-diversion of nuclear material declared by Iran under its Safeguards Agreement. However, Iran is not providing the necessary cooperation to enable the Agency to provide credible assurance about the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities in Iran, and therefore to conclude that all nuclear material in Iran is in peaceful activities. I urge Iran to take steps towards the full implementation of all relevant obligations in order to establish international confidence in the exclusively peaceful nature of its nuclear program.

Copyright © 2011 Tehran Bureau

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