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News | Asylum Seeker Fears Adultery Death Sentence; Student Visas Denied

by PAUL MUTTER and CORRESPONDENT

21 Sep 2012 02:15Comments

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.

TosarvandanAndSon.jpg2:15 a.m. IRST, 31 Shahrivar/September 21 The Toronto Star reports that Fatemeh Derakhshandeh Tosarvandan, an Iranian national living in Canada with her 16-year old son, is set to be returned to the Islamic Republic despite the fact that she faces a charge of adultery there that could lead to her execution. Tosarvandan's husband, whom she describes as abusive, has accused her of adultery, a capital crime in Iran, with the death sentence potentially carried out by stoning.

Tosarvandan, whose claim for asylum was rejected last October, has run afoul of a new Canadian immigration law that bars a rejected refugee claimant for one year from applying for a pre-removal risk assessment (PRRA), a process that determines whether it is safe or not for a claimant to be returned home. "The average Canadian would be horrified to know that we're going to send a woman to Iran to be stoned for adultery," Tosarvandan's lawyer told the Star.

The Star report suggests that if Tosarvandan and her son are forced to return to Tehran, she may be spared execution in light of the Isamic Republic's decision to commute the adultery death sentence of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani. However, Ashtiani still faces up to ten years in jail for other charges, and her whereabouts are apparently not known. Due to international censure, the Islamic Republic has also not carried out the executions of two Canadian citizens of Iranian descent sitting on death row in Iran.

Asylum seekers' lawyers and advocates in Canada accuse the government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper of sacrificing asylum seekers rather than having to face a judicial rebuke of the immigration law. It is not known if the official break in Canadian-Iranian relations will impact Tosarvandan's likely trial, or see her granted special asylum before the end of the week.

Growing number of Iranian science students denied U.S. visas

Bloomberg Businessweek reports on the hardships Iranian students seeking a graduate education in the sciences face in the United States. The State Department is severely limiting the number of visas available to prospective students on the grounds that they will take their education back to Iran and work in the U.S.-sanctioned "energy industry, nuclear science, nuclear engineering or... related field[s]," such as metallurgy, mechanical engineering, or rocketry. The visa denials follow a ramping-up of sanctions by Congress, even though the Justice Department told Bloomberg that "no Iranian students have been criminally prosecuted in the past five years for exporting restricted U.S. technology or munitions to Iran." According to the report,

The visa denials run counter to the policy of the Obama administration, which has reached out to Iranian students and has said that its sanctions are designed to hurt Iran's regime, not its people. The U.S. eased travel restrictions for some Iranian students in May 2011, and opened a "virtual embassy" in Tehran in December to foster communication. Enrollment of Iranian graduate students at U.S. universities more than tripled to 4,696 in 2010-2011 from 1,475 in 2004-2005, according to the Institute of International Education in New York.

Although the United States has officially changed its visa policy with Iran "for Iranian students whose research isn't sensitive or technical" to allow them to return to America if they travel back to Iran during their time at school for personal reasons, Bloomberg shows that multiple students have been denied reentry after being labelled espionage risks for returning to Iran.

Canadian students in Iran are also increasingly worried over the issue of visa status as a result of the Canadian government's decision last week to close its embassy in Iran. Canada had already closed its immigration desk in Tehran over the summer, and the closure of the Iranian embassy in Ottawa means that students will face difficulty renewing their visas. The CBC reports that "according to the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs, it is now Iran's responsibility to look after its citizens here in Canada by finding a third country to handle Iranian consular affairs through its own embassy."

Students protest anti-Islamic video outside French, Swiss embassies in Tehran

Students demonstrated outside of two Western European diplomatic compounds in Tehran this past week in protest over the highly publicized, anti-Islamic short video Innocence of Muslims, according to the Fars News Agency.

The video was shot in the United States as as low-budget Arabian Nights knockoff and then dubbed by an anti-Islamic activist (and convicted felon) to insult and provoke Muslims. For unknown reasons, the fraudster originally claimed to be an Israeli director and to have dozens of "Jewish donors" bankrolling the production, comments that were immediately seized on by Iran's state press as proof of a "Zionist conspiracy" against Islam. The Iranian government has demanded that President Barack Obama apologize for the video and announced that it will "prosecute" the director. And the 15 Khordad Foundation called for renewed efforts to carry out Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's fatwa against novelist Salman Rushdie.

No violence was reported in the Tehran demonstrations -- the Swiss Embassy was said to be cordoned off by "5 layers of police" and only 100 people are thought to have appeared at the French compound's gates. Still, the Canadian government cited the protests as further justification for its sudden -- but apparently long-planned -- decision last week to close its embassy in Iran and expel the staff of Iran's embassy from Canada.

Iran atom chief claims to have fooled IAEA, West on nuclear program

Fereydoun Abbasi Davani, chief of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, told the Arabic-language daily Al-Hayat that Iran "sometimes...pretended to be weaker than we really were, and sometimes we showed strength that was not really in our hands," adding that "sometimes we leak false information in order to protect our nuclear sites." He bragged that this false information has successfully misled the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) as well as Western intelligence services. He also stated that the Islamic Republic had "taken measures to prevent satellites from photographing military facilities at Parchin" and reiterated the claim he made earlier this week that IAEA inspection teams have been infiltrated by foreign intelligence agents.

Abbasi Davani singled out Great Britain's MI6 in his interview with the London-based daily, accusing the intelligence organization of working with unnamed "Zionist intelligence agencies" -- i.e., Mossad and the CIA -- to assassinate Iranian nuclear scientists. MI6 has not before been named as having potentially been involved in those killings, of which Mossad and the Mojahedin-e Khalgh Organization are widely regarded as the perpetrators. In July, MI6 director Sir John Sawers claimed that Western intelligence agencies have severely crippled the Iranian nuclear program over the past few years.

IAEA statement roils Iranian officials

The Mehr News Agency reports that Majles Speaker Ali Larijani groused over Iran's signatory status to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in a parliamentary session, posing the rhetorical question to reporters, "What is the benefit of the NPT and membership in the International Atomic Energy Agency for countries?" Larijani blamed "certain tyrannical countries" for an IAEA Board of Governors' statement that criticized Iran for insufficient transparency concerning its uranium enrichment activities. Despite his remarks -- and further critical comments from both Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi and Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps commander Mohammad Ali Jafari -- there is nothing to suggest the Islamic Republic will pull out of the NPT, which Iran joined in 1968. Larijani himself told Western media that "there has been no such decision," though he claimed "there is a serious discussion among Iran's intellectuals about" it.

Ironically, despite the Iranian government's condemnation of the IAEA statement, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace reports that the Board of Governors' remarks actually may represent a toning down of the dispute between Iran and the organization. According to Mark Hibbs, GOV/48, the agency resolution that has been the target of Larijani and other officials' scorn,

has three messages: Two are for Iran. One of these is, as [U.S. envoy to the IAEA Robert] Wood pointed out: "You are on notice: We will not let this issue go away." The other however is "Let's kick this can down the road until after November 6″ (the IAEA governors will meet on November 29). The resolution's third message is for Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu: "Cool it. Diplomacy may resume in earnest in about three months."

Larijani admits holding talks with Syrian rebels

A Financial Times interview with Larijani in Tehran on Tuesday covered the IAEA, the possibility of reaching a "grand bargain" with the United States, and Syria's internal conflict. Larijani, like all Iranian officials, publicly blames the violence in the country on "Western intelligence services," despite the well-documented evidence that the government of Bashar al-Assad has been waging a destructive nationwide counterinsurgency campaign and only some of the promised support from the West and Arab states has actually made it to black-market dependent rebel quartermasters and medics. Though Revolutionary Guard forces and Iranian supplies have been reported in Syria, Larijani denied Iran was involving itself in a "proxy war" there.

Surprisingly, Larijani told his interviewers that Iran has hosted representatives of multiple Syrian rebel groups in Tehran to undertake negotiations regarding the conflict -- including, Larijani said, the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood (which has little love for the Iranians, or Syria's Alawite rulers). He refused to discuss specifics and dismissed the rebels as lacking unity and strong leadership, but the admission is significant because the Islamic Republic routinely paints every Syrian opposition group as Salafist jihadis backed by Israel, the United States, and Saudi Arabia.

***

A Tehran Bureau correspondent based in Iran submits the following:

Couple summoned by Internet police for posting family photos online

According to a report from the Islamic Republic of Iran Police News Center, cyber police in Gilan used their "scientific and engineering capacities" to identify and locate a husband and wife who posted racy family photos on a foreign social networking website. Upon seeing the evidence against them, they confessed and their case file was referred to a court for legal action.

Colonel Mohammad Khani, Gilan's cyber police chief, advised citizens to refrain from posting their individual or family photos online and to remember that publishing content that violates public decency is a crime punishable by a fine and jail time.

"There are countless individuals active on social networking websites with special, premeditated objectives who have criminal intent to defame, extort, steal identities or information, and to promote decadent Western culture," said Khani. He warned that any negligence by citizens in this regard could threaten their families and personal lives and inflict serious psychological harm.

Iran bans volleyball federation website

The Islamic Republic has officially banned the website of the International Federation of Volleyball (FIVB). The news comes ahead of international games that require the team members to register via the FIVB website. The Iranian volleyball team recently qualified for the World Volleyball League, the sport's premier international event. Correspondence with the FIVB is mainly done via the website, which clubs also visit to recruit foreign players.

Copyright © 2012 Tehran Bureau

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