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News | Reaction to EU Rights Sanctions; New Handouts ... More Subsidy Cuts?

by DAN GEIST

27 Mar 2012 02:30Comments

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. Any views expressed are the authors' own. 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

HangingSilhouetteMehr.jpg2:30 a.m., 8 Farvardin/March 27 Reacting to the European Union's announcement that it is sanctioning 17 Iranian officials for what it describes as "serious human rights violations," Press TV, the English-language subsidiary of Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting, declares that the move is part of the E.U.'s "efforts to mount pressure on the Islamic Republic over its nuclear energy program."

The Council of the European Union's news release issued last Friday announcing the new sanctions is titled "Human Rights Violations: Council Tightens Sanctions against Iran." The statement it includes by E.U. policy chief Catherine Ashton focuses entirely on the issue of human rights abuses:

The EU remains deeply concerned by the deteriorating human rights situation in Iran. We deplore the continuing increase in executions and the widespread repression of Iranian citizens, including human rights defenders, journalists and members of the opposition. We renew our calls on the Iranian authorities to live up to their international human rights obligations and to protect all fundamental freedoms to which the Iranian people are entitled.

The only reference to Iran's nuclear activities in the news release or in the new E.U. Regulation 264/2012 published in the Union's official journal on Saturday involves a matter of semantic "coherence" -- switching a previously instituted "prohibition on the sale, supply, transfer or export of equipment [to Iran] which may be used for internal repression" from the text of E.U. Regulation 961/2010, which "reflect[s] the Council's concerns over the nature of Iran's nuclear programme," to the text of Regulation 359/2011, which "reflect[s] its concerns about the deterioration of the human rights situation in Iran." According to 264/2012, the new general provision it embodies, a "prohibition on the export of telecommunications monitoring equipment for use by the Iranian regime," is explicitly motivated by "the gravity of the human rights situation in Iran."

The Press TV report continues:

The 17 names were agreed on during a Friday meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels.

The individuals on the EU blacklist are subject to asset freezes and travel bans. They include officials in the Iranian judiciary and media who have no links with the country's nuclear energy program.

The EU has also alleged that some of the Iranian officials were involved in human rights violations.

In fact, the E.U. alleges that all of the 17 officials were involved in human rights violations and does not characterize any as being linked to nuclear activities. The 17, who include Iranian judiciary chief Sadegh Larijani and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's representative to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, Ali Saeedi Shahroudi, join 61 other IRI officials individually sanctioned by the E.U., again for alleged participation in human rights abuses, not for any connection to the country's nuclear program. As stated in Regulation 359/2011, published last April 12, which named 32 Iranian officials, the E.U. sanctions on individuals

target persons complicit in or responsible for directing or implementing grave human rights violations in the repression of peaceful demonstrators, journalists, human rights defenders, students or other persons who speak up in defence of their legitimate rights, including freedom of expression, as well as persons complicit in or responsible for directing or implementing grave violations of the right to due process, torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, or the indiscriminate, excessive and increasing application of the death penalty, including public executions, stoning, hangings or executions of juvenile offenders in contravention of Iran's international human rights obligations.

Regulation 1002/2011, published on October 10, similarly cited "ongoing human rights abuses in Iran" in summarizing the reasons for imposing sanctions on 29 additional members of the regime. (According to a report issued earlier this month by Iran Human Rights, at least 676 people were executed by the Islamic Republic in 2011, the highest figure since the early 1990s and the second-highest figure in the world after China. Sixty-five of those executions were public and at least four were of juvenile offenders.)

Press TV does eventually turn without confusion to the matter of human rights: "Such allegations by the EU and its ally the US come as major European and Washington officials have themselves already been found guilty of violating human rights. They include politicians branded as war criminals by human rights organizations for waging wars on other countries such as Iraq and Afghanistan."

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As part of Amnesty International's 2012 death penalty campaign, the Guardian and animators from Sherbet tell the story of Mohammad Mostafaei, a lawyer who has saved 20 of the 40 juveniles he has defended from execution in Iran:






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The semiofficial Mehr News Agency reports that Majles deputies are concerned about the Ahmadinejad administration's recent disbursement of supplementary cash handouts to Iranian citizens, on top of the monthly payments they have been receiving to partially offset the higher prices that have resulted from the government's subsidy reform program. The source of the funds is unclear and legislators believe that the payments may presage a "hasty" new round of food and energy subsidy cuts. The administration has already come under fire in parliament for its implementation of the first round of subsidy cuts, which were imposed in a matter of days in December 2010, effectively defying the Majles, which had enacted authorizing legislation that mandated a five-year phase-in plan. According to Mehr,

Currently, citizens receive a monthly payment of 450,000 rial cash subsidy. On March 18 an extra 280,000 was put into accounts. However, the money still cannot be withdrawn by recipients.

Officially 12,260 rial is traded for one dollar.

According to the parliamentary approval [sic] the administration is not allowed to start the second phase of the subsidy cut in the first two months of the current Iranian year which started on March 20.

Elyas Naderan, a trained economist who sits on the Majlis Economic Committee, said the putting of extra cash into people's accounts was "illegal."

Naderan told the Mehr News Agency that the government has "imagined" that through such a move it can put the Majlis in a fait accompli but the Majlis Economic Committee will decide about the issue.

He said an expert meeting that was held to evaluate the pros and cons of the second phase of the targeted subsidies [by] the administration failed to determine the sources of direct cash payment in the second phase. [...]

MP Ahmad Tavakoli who is the chairman of the Majlis Research Center also said he was "shocked" to hear that more subsidy cash has been put into people's accounts.

Gholamreza Mesbahi Moqaddam said this is a "clear violation of law" by the government and said the government was facing a budget deficit in the first phase of the subsidy reform plan and it is not clear what has been the source of the extra cash subsidy.

Bloomberg's Ladane Nasseri reports on the effect that subsidy reform, combined with Western efforts to isolate the Islamic Republic's economy, is having on average Iranians:

Mehdi slams a bottle of Heinz ketchup on the counter of his Tehran grocery store and says it's the kind of item Iranians have stopped buying, after the price doubled in two months. "People are spending their cash with more caution," Mehdi said. He blames Iran's government, as well as international sanctions, for the inflation that is hurting his business. "It's a crisis in policy making, there's not much thought behind it," he said. "It was obvious from the start that this is what we were heading for." [...]

In Tehran, shoppers and retailers list the international brands they can no longer obtain. Shahram, the head of a pharmacy on Vali-Asr Avenue, says he had to stop stocking items including Gillette razors and Pampers diapers, both made by Procter & Gamble Co.

At the Tajrish bazaar, Abdullah, 50, wearing plastic boots up to his knees as he rinses fish for display, says the price of a kilogram (2.2 pounds) of white fish, the traditional Nowrouz meal, has risen as much as 50 percent to 120,000 rials ($10). People are opting for cheaper options such as trout, selling at 65,000 rials, he says. Nuts and pistachios, another holiday staple, have doubled to 300,000 rials a kilogram. [...]

Wealthier Iranians also are buying fewer consumer goods. In a northern Tehran computer shop dedicated to Apple Inc. (AAPL) products, salesman Khashayar says customers are dwindling after the price of Apple computers and iPhones increased by about 30 percent in a few months. "There were times when the shop would get so busy we would close it just to take a break," says Khashayar. "Six months ago when we sold a dozen computers a day we would whine. Now if we sell three or four we pat ourselves on the back."

Nasseri also reports that many Iranians who customarily travel abroad for Nowruz were priced out of such plans this New Year. Even modest travel packages to popular destinations like Lebanon and India now cost 20 million rials or more per person. The resulting spurt in demand for domestic vacations has fueled inflation on that front as well -- hotels in locales such as Shiraz have been hiking room rates by 25 percent.

Copyright © 2012 Tehran Bureau

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