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'Final' Day in Court for US Hikers; Jailed Journalist Wins Press Courage Prize

31 Jul 2011 20:43Comments

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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Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal, appearing in court in February. Bahman Ahmadi Amouei.

7:45 p.m., 9 Mordad/July 31 Iranian Prosecutor-General Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ejei announced that the "last session" of the trial of the three American hikers detained on espionage charges was held today. Shane Bauer, Josh Fattal, and Sarah Shourd were arrested near an unmarked stretch of the Iran-Iraq border exactly two years ago. Shourd, who was released on $500,000 bail last September and returned to the United States, was tried in absentia. According to an Agence France Presse report,

"The final defence of the accused was heard. The end of the legal examination was announced and the verdict will be issued soon," said Ejei, who also acts as spokesman for the judiciary in the Islamic Republic.

The session was held behind closed doors. [...]

"The court session ended, the judge announced the end of proceedings, I did a complete defence, Josh and Shane did so also and I also defended Sarah. The court will issue its ruling in a week," [their lawyer Masoud] Shafiei said.

Asked about how optimistic he was about the ruling, he replied: "Reliance on God."

Shafiei, who was not allowed to meet with Bauer and Fattal prior to the session, was quoted by CNN as saying,

"We can still appeal this decision if we disagree with it. But I am hoping for the best." [...]

"I believe that even if the court finds my clients guilty, the two years that they have already served in prison would be considered as their sentence and they would be released," he said.

"My clients should not be considered spies, because they lack the characteristics and backgrounds of spies," he said.

The lawyer said he hoped his "clients will be dealt with according to Islamic compassion," given that their hearing falls on the second anniversary of their arrest and at the start of the holy month of Ramadan, the Iranian Students News Agency reported.

On Friday, Amnesty International issued a statement that demanded the men's release and stated that the Islamic Republic has kept them incarcerated "apparently for political reasons":

"The Iranian authorities have held these men for two years, subjecting them to legal proceedings that fall far short of international fair trial standards," said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Deputy Director of Amnesty International's Middle East and North Africa Programme.

"The parody of justice must end here - by now it seems clear that the Iranian authorities have no legal basis for continuing to hold these US nationals, so they must be released and allowed to leave the country."

During their two-year detention in Tehran's Evin Prison, Bauer and Fattal have been only been granted one brief family visit, when their mothers visited Iran in May 2010. They have been denied adequate access to their lawyer and have had very limited access to consular assistance.

***

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

Imprisoned journalist Bahman Ahmadi Amouei has been named as a recipient of the Hellman/Hammett award by Human Rights Watch. The award is given to journalists who are "targeted for expressing views that their governments oppose, for criticizing government officials or actions, or for writing about things that their governments did not want reported." Amouei, who was arrested on June 19, 2009, has not been permitted to see his family for a year, and has not been granted a furlough for 16 months. Amouei is married to distinguished Iranian journalist Zhila Bani Yaghoub, who herself has been barred from working in her profession for 30 years.

Hassan Moslemi Naeini, deputy minister of science, research, and technology for scholarships and Iranian students outside Iran, said that 97 percent of all those who take the national entrance examinations for the doctoral degrees in Iran eventually leave the country. He added that of the 140,000 people who took the exams this year, only 3 percent will be accepted and the rest will leave the country to pursue their education.

In a meeting of the cabinet with provincial governors and other senior government officials around the country, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said sarcastically, "Anybody who sits next to us is arrested." He made the statement after asking Hamid Baghaei, his vice president for executive affairs, to sit next to him. Over the last few months there have been persistent rumors that Baghaei's arrest is imminent. In the same meeting, the governor-general of Gilan province reportedly said, "Iran has always been known for Cyrus the Great. But it is now known for Mahmoud the Great." According to the report, Ahmadinejad reacted negatively to the comment.

In a meeting with members of the central committee of the Muslim Student Association of the University of Tehran's Faculty of Agriculture, Grand Ayatollah Yousef Sanei strongly criticized the house arrests of Mir Hossein Mousavi, Mehdi Karroubi, and their wives, Dr. Zahra Rahnavard and Fatemeh Karroubi. He said, "Informing those who may be deceived is a public duty," and emphasized "the urgency of confronting the injustice and oppression of the oppressors and hardliners." He warned, "Despair is always a great sin, particularly in confronting oppression. If we are to serve the religion by confronting oppression by the oppressors, we must not despair." He asked, "Is this security to put under house arrest pious and experienced leaders, such as Mr. Mir Hossein Mousavi and his wife, and Mr. Mehdi Karroubi and his wife, especially under the conditions that they are denied even their most elementary rights? Is it security to attack someone who at one time was the president [Mohammad Khatami] in a memorial for one of his relatives [his brother-in-law, cleric Mohammad Ali Sadoughi]?"

Bultan [Bulletin] News, a website linked with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, acknowledged in an article that Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is facing great obstacles in implementing his plans for the country. Comparing him with Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the website said, "In the era of the Imam, the people fought with our enemies and in particular the United States. Neither the hawza [seminaries] nor any political faction could oppose him. But, today, if we are to fight, the difficulties will be numerous." The article then posed the question, "If the Supreme Leader decides to fight with a group as well as addressing seriously the internal and external problems, what kinds of hurdles will he have? Will the pious people and the seminaries tolerate the semi-socialist [economic] programs? Will different strata [of the society] tolerate a war? Or will they stand against the Supreme Leader?"

Major General Seyyed Hossein Firoozabadi, chief of staff of the armed forces, said that the Ahmadinejad administration should not use the the so-called justice shares and the cash handouts it is giving in lieu of the subsidies to advance its agenda for the Majles elections next March 3. Ahmadinejad's opponents have expressed concerns that he will take advantage of the programs to attract people's votes for his preferred candidates.

The judiciary publicized details of financial corruption at five banks. At Bank-e Refah, a staff member opened nominal accounts under the names of his relatives, transferred large sums to them by manipulating the banking system, and then withdrew the funds. At Bank-e Tejaarat, three people separately embezzled $500,000, $1 million, and $2 million, respectively. At Bank-e Melli, a man embezzled $980,000. A group of five people used Bank-e Mellat to illegally obtain $3.2 million. At Bank-e Sepah, another group of five people received illegal payments totaling about $15 million.

Ahmad Ghaleh Bani, director of the National Iranian Oil Company and deputy oil minister, said that Khatam ol-Anbiya, the Revolutionary Guards' engineering arm, has received oil and natural gas contracts from the NIOC totaling $25 billion. He added that the projects that have already been approved for the oil industry during the country's fifth development program total $120 billion, with another $100 billion under study.

Meanwhile, Khatam ol-Anbiya chief Brigadier General Rostam Ghasemi was officially introduced to the Majles as Ahmadinejad's nominee for the post of oil minister. In a meeting with senior managers in the oil industry, Ghasemi said that if he is approved by the Majles, his priorities will be development of the country's oil and natural gas fields, particularly the giant South Pars gas field that Iran shares with Qatar, and bringing back Iranian oil experts that have left the country. Ghasemi also said that he will not allow NIOC executives to be involved in politics.

Neda-ye Enghelab, a website close to the Revolutionary Guards, reported that Ghasemi set two conditions for accepting Ahmadinejad's nomination. The main condition was that those associated with the "perverted group" -- the circle around Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, Ahmadinejad's chief of staff and confidant -- must leave the ministry. When the condition was rejected, Ghasemi turned down the nomination. The second condition was that two particular deputy ministers be dismissed. Eventually, Ahmadinejad was forced to accept the conditions.

Ahmadinejad also named three others nominees to head three newly established ministries: Abdol Reza Sheikholeslami for the Ministry of Cooperatives, Labor, and Social Security; Mehdi Ghazanfari for the Ministry of Industry, Mines, and Commerce; and Mohammad Abbasi for the Ministry of Sports and Youth Affairs. The Majles will vote on the nominations on Wednesday.

Reza Almasi, chief operating officer of National Iranian Gas Transportation Company, said that the gas pipeline that transports Iran's natural gas to Turkey has been repaired and exports have resumed. On Saturday, there was an explosion in the pipeline near Makoo, a town in northwest Iran near the border with Turkey. The cause of the explosion remains unknown.

Ali Zabihi, deputy minister of power, said that the elimination of subsidies and the large hike in the price of electricity has resulted in $2 billion savings due to lower consumption. Electricity consumption had been increasing at an average annual rate of 8 percent, he said, whereas it has decreased by 2 percent since the elimination of the subsidies.

Based on millions of recent test results from Speedtest.net, Iran ranks 169 out of 172 countries in consumer download speeds. The rankings represent the rolling mean throughput in Mbps over the past 30 days, where the mean distance between client and server is less than 300 miles. Lithuania, South Korea, and Romania are the top three, while the United States ranks 29th.

Reformist Majles deputy Dariush Ghanbari said that Ahmadinejad will definitely be summoned to the Majles and questioned. He added, "Those who are opposed to the questioning are in fact opposed to the Articles of the Constitution, and thus must respond to the people."

The Economic Affairs Commission of the Majles has appointed a subcommittee to investigate the existence of illegal wharves in the country. Seyyed Kazem Delkhosh Bagheri, deputy chairman of the commission, acknowledged that there were such wharves in the past that were out of the control of the customs office and run by the military, security, and intelligence forces, but that those activities have been reorganized. He added that if illegal wharves are discovered, the Majles will be informed.

Interior Minister Brigadier General Mostafa Mohammad Najar said that the government has developed a special security program to protect scientists and researchers. He said that the assassination of Iranian scientists indicates the extent of enemies's fears about the Islamic Republic's scientific progress.

Majles deputy Seyyed Emad Hosseini said that Iran's oil exports to India have been suspended. Hosseini, a member of the parliament's Energy Commission, said that India owes Iran $7.9 billion for oil it has received. It was previously reported that India's oil debt to Iran was about $5 billion. Hosseini also denied several reports that China owes Iran $30 billion, and claimed "China has no oil debt to Iran." A new report indicates that India will pay back its debt to Iran via Turkey. Previous reports indicated that the reason for India's nonpayment was the difficulty it faced in transferring U.S. dollars due to the sanctions imposed on banks dealing with Iran.

Fifteen hundred students at Sharif University of Technology, one of Iran's top two science and technology academies, signed a letter to the judiciary in which they demanded the immediate release of Ali Akbar Mohammadzadeh, a student activist at the school. Mohammadzadeh, secretary-general of Sharif's Muslim Student Association, was arrested on February 15 at the gates of the university after he was beaten up by the security forces.

Although Hashem Khastar, a retired teacher and political activist in Mashhad, completed his two-year prison term, he was not released. He is facing new charges because of a letter that he wrote to the judiciary in which he described the terrible conditions at Vakilabad Prison, where he has been incarcerated.

The first trial session of Dr. Ali Shakoori Rad, member of the central committee of the outlawed Islamic Iran Participation Front, the country's largest reformist party, was held on July 30. He was first arrested in October 2010, but released after three weeks, after Grand Ayatollah Mousa Shobeiri Zanjani intervened in the matter. He is now on trial because in a debate with an Ahmadinejad supporter, Shakoori Rad said that both Majles Speaker Ali Larijani and his brother Sadegh Larijani, who is now judiciary chief, called Mousavi on the evening of June 12, 2009, and congratulated him on his election as Iran's next president.

Masha'allah (Hamid) Haeri, a political detainee incarcerated in Rajaei Shahr Prison in Karaj, west of Tehran, was taken to a hospital after he suffered a heart attack. Haeri, 58, was arrested on December 6, 2009, and spent 74 days in solitary confinement. He was then sentenced to 15 years in jail. Haeri, who was also a political prisoner in the 1980s, has been suffering from heart problems for months. Haeri's wife, Arya Almasi, and his daughter Negar Haer, were also arrested in 2009 in the aftermath of the presidential election, but were released after posting bail. Almasi was again briefly detained last April.

Eight members of a group called the "Children of the Great Iran" have been sentenced to jail terms. They are Dr. Ebrahim Babaei, Mohsen Sadeghi Nour, Mehdi Koohkan, Mohsen Javadi Afzali, Abolfazl Shahpari, Mohammad Javad Shahpari, Naser Azarnia, and Aref Darvish. Their sentences vary from six years, nine months, and one day of incarceration for Babaei to one year for Darvish.

Iran, Qatar, Bahrain, and Indonesia are in the same group in the preliminary round of competition to select the Asian teams for the next soccer World Cup, to be played in Brazil in 2014. The games will be played from September 2011 through March 2012.

Dmitry Rogozin, Russia's envoy to NATO, said on Thursday that the United States might be planning to use its European missile defense project against Iran. "The missile defense system is not purely a defensive system," Rogozin said. "There are serious and authoritative experts in Russia and in other countries who fear that the creation of a European missile defense system, officially assigned the task of blocking a threat from Iran, may in fact be a pretext for preparing an attack on Iran. It is absolutely clear that a missile defense aimed against virtual and nonexistent weapons and nonexistent threats can only aggravate the situation."

Iran is evidently lagging in its plan to equip the Fordow uranium enrichment facility near Qom with more advanced centrifuges that will enrich uranium to the 19.75 percent needed for the Tehran Research Reactor. Iran told the International Atomic Energy Agency that half of the approximately 3,000 centrifuges to be installed at Fordow will churn out uranium enriched to that level. The rest will produce low-enriched material at around 3.5 percent. The new centrifuge cascades were supposed to be in place by the end of July. But as of July 23, the last time that IAEA inspectors visited the site, none had been installed. The reason for the delay is not yet clear.

Copyright © 2011 Tehran Bureau

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