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Dutch Iranian Held in 2009 Protests Hanged; 'Iranians and the Cult of Death'

29 Jan 2011 13:26Comments

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Dutch Freeze Contacts with Iran after Hanging

AP | Jan 29

The Dutch government froze its official contacts with Iran on Saturday to protest the hanging of a Dutch-Iranian woman in Tehran, the Foreign Ministry said.

Iranian Ambassador Gharib Abadi was informed of the sanctions after he confirmed reports that Zahra Bahrami, 45, was executed. She had participated in protests against Iran's disputed presidential election in 2009.

Foreign Minister Uri Rosenthal was "shocked, shattered by this act by a barbaric regime," said spokesman Bengt van Loosdrecht, especially since Abadi had assured the Dutch minister on Friday that Bahrami's legal avenues had not yet been exhausted.

Iran Hangs Dutch Woman Arrested after Protests

Reuters | Jan 29

An Iranian-Dutch woman, arrested after taking part in anti-government protests in Iran in 2009, has been hanged for drug smuggling, the semi-official Mehr news agency said on Saturday.

"A woman smuggler named Zahra Bahrami, daughter of Ali, has been hanged today for the possession and selling of narcotics," Mehr reported, quoting the court.

The 45-year-old woman's daughter was quoted by the rights group International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran as saying the drug charges were fabricated after Bahrami was arrested for taking part in protests in December 2009.

Iran Hangs Iranian-Dutch Woman for Drug Smuggling

AFP (via Vancouver Sun) | Jan 28

The prosecutor's office confirmed on Saturday that she had been arrested for "security crimes."

But elaborating on her alleged drug smuggling, the office said Bahrami had used her Dutch connections to smuggle narcotics into Iran.

"The convict, a member of an international drug gang, smuggled cocaine to Iran using her Dutch connections and had twice shipped and distributed cocaine inside the country," it said.

During a search of her house, authorities found 450 grams of cocaine and 420 grams of opium, the office said, adding that investigations revealed she had sold 150 grams of cocaine in Iran.

Lawyer in Shock over Dutch-Iranian Client's Execution: 'Her Investigation Was Not Yet Complete'

ICHRI | Jan 29

The International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran was able to contact Bahrami's lawyer, Jinoos Sharif Razi in Tehran. [She] was not aware of the execution. "I am shocked. I was absolutely not informed about this. They should have informed her lawyer of the execution, but I had no idea. I don't know what to say. Just that I am shocked," she said.

An informed source told the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran that during Zahra Bahrami's detention, her interrogation team was the Iranian Intelligence Ministry's Anti-Espionage Team. Therefore the possibility that her initial charges were drug-related is nil. According to the said source, during her first few weeks of detention in prison, Zahra Bahrami was physically and psychologically tortured to provide televised confessions according to a pre-written scenario.

Jinoos Sharif told the Campaign that the Iranian Judiciary has not yet reviewed the security charges waged against her client. "I am bewildered as to how my client's death sentence was issued while her security charges had not yet been reviewed."

"My mother always says that the confessions extracted from her and her participation in a television interview were all done under duress, and that she was forced to do it, as they had promised to help her. Unfortunately, she was not helped at all," Zahra Bahrami's daughter told the Campaign last week. Asked whether her mother transported drugs during her visits to Iran, her daughter said: "As her daughter, I do not accept any of these accusations. My mother said in court that because she was under pressure during the interrogations, she was made to say those things. My mother is not interested in such things at all. She doesn't even smoke cigarettes, let alone possessing drugs. How could someone who participates in [post-] election gatherings and endangers her life, engage in such actions against her country?"

See also: Report of execution in Farsi (Human Rights Activists News Agency) | "Daughter of Ashura Death Row Prisoner: Mom's False Confessions Based on Promise of Release" (Rah-e Sabz [Jaras] via Persian2English) | "Zahra Bahrami's Upcoming Trial and Possible Death Sentence" (Human Rights and Democracy Activists in Iran via Persian2English)


Iranians and the Cult of Death

Commentary by Majid Habibi (IWPR) | Jan 28

Of the dozens of executions that have already taken place in Iran so far in 2011, all were overshadowed by one case that -- at for a moment at least -- captured the public imagination.

The public hanging was scheduled to take place before dawn on a square in Shahrak-e Gharb, in the heart of the Iranian capital Tehran. The location was chosen as it was the scene of the crime for which the condemned man was being put to death.

Many Iranian journalists attended the hanging in Shahrak-e Gharb Square, although they knew they would probably be barred from taking pictures. Asked about the moral ambiguity of being present at an execution, one female photographer said that "as journalists, we mustn't be too sensitive about these things -- they happen all the time".

Recent months have seen an acceleration in the already shockingly high number of executions. They receive little coverage, and most of the efforts directed at fighting death sentences are focused on high-profile cases like that of Sakineh Mohammadi-Ashtiyani, convicted of killing her husband on what many argue is false evidence. While she waits for clarity on her fate, thousands of other prisoners languish on death row.

Open an Iranian newspaper on any day this week, and you will be certain to find news of more hangings.

If public executions are so frequent that they numb the senses of those who witness them, they are also part of a wider culture in which the spectacle of death is accepted as normal.

See also: "A Capital Murder" (Tehran Bureau) | "EU High Representative: 'Halt All Pending Executions Immediately'" (Green Voice of Freedom) | "Iran on 'Execution Binge'; Immediate Moratorium Urged" (ICHRI) | "Stop the Execution Machine" (Persian2English)

Kurdish Political Prisoner Executed in Oroumiyeh and His Family Members Detained

RAHANA | Jan 28

Farhad Tarom, from the village of Lavark of the Dashtabel district of Oshnavieh city in West Azerbijan province in North-western Iran, has been executed in the Oroumiyeh Central Prison for membership in the Democratic Party of Kurdistan.

Farhad Tarom had resided in Iraqi Kurdistan for 3 years and was arrested one month after his return to Iran. He was later transferred to the Oroumiyeh Intelligence Ministry. After a few months, he was sentenced to death for membership in the Democratic Party of Kurdistan. After hearing about his death, the residents of Oroumiyeh and Oshnavieh gathered in front of prison and demanded that the authorities return his body to his family for proper burial.

Security forces arrested 10 of his family members: Touran, his mother; Zeinab, his wife; Rana, his sister in law, Saleha, his cousin; Fakhreddin, his brother; Latif, his cousin; Golpiaz Tarom; Bahaeddin Khandehpour; Seifeddin Khandehpour; and Shahram Khandehpour.

Ten Executions in Iran

RAHANA | Jan 28

Ten citizens have been executed in Oroumiyeh and Karaj Ghezelhesar prisons.

The Supreme Court had upheld the death sentence for the individuals and the head of the judiciary Sadegh Larijani had confirmed the decision. One of the executed individuals had brought 370 grams of crack into prison and 2 other individuals were charged with possession and use of crack and heroin. It is unclear whether they were originally arrested for drug related charges or other crimes.

The other executed individuals were charged with possession and sale of crack and marijuana and use of opium.

Three other prisoners were also executed in the Oroumiyeh Prison. They had been convicted of drug trafficking charges.

Last month, 89 people were executed. The Human Rights Watch has published the annual report on Iran and has expressed concerns over the human rights violations in the country. Iran has the highest rate of executions in the world after China.

See also: "World Report 2011: Iran" (Human Rights Watch)



Hard-line Cleric Predicts Mubarak's Fall

insideIRAN | Jan 28

Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami, a senior conservative cleric in the Islamic Republic, said at Tehran's Friday prayer Jan. 28 that Iran was worried about "a vacuum of Islamic leadership" in the crisis unfolding in Egypt. Khatami appeared to expressing dismay that an Islamist group was not leading the popular uprising in the Arab world's most populous state.

According to Fars, a semi-official news agency with ties to the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, Ayatollah Khatami claimed that unrest in the Arab world in "pro-American dictatorships" are the "aftershocks of the Islamic Revolution," which took place thirty-one years ago in Iran.

Khatami, who denounced the uprising of the Iranian people in the summer of 2009, asserted, "In Tunisia, people came to the streets and pulled down their dictator of twenty three years; in Egypt, the waves of anger are rising high and today is called the day of 'anger' by the Egyptian people. The situation is the same for Oman, Yemen, and Jordan."

Khatami compared President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt to the Pharaoh and said that he will be "sunk" like the Pharaohs who ruled Egypt and brutalized the masses.

Cleric: Uprisings in Arab States Promising Birth of Islamic Middle-East

Fars | Jan 28

Khatami said the popular uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, Jordan and Yemen signify [the] creation of an Islamic Middle-East.

"Incidents that are happening in the Middle-East and the Arab world should not be regarded simply," Ayatollah Khatami said, addressing a large and fervent congregation of people on Tehran University campus.

"To those who do not see the realities I clarify that an Islamic Middle-East is being created based on Islam, religion, and democracy with prevailing religious principals," Ayatollah Khatami stressed.

Iranian Hardliner Says Islam at Heart of Arab Protests

Radio Zamaneh | Jan 28

"The uprising of the Arab nations is an Islamic movement and the west is trying to downplay the Islamic content of these protests," [he] told worshippers.

Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami said, "31 years after the victory of the Islamic republic, we are faced with the obvious fact that these movements are the after shocks of the Islamic Revolution."

"The fate of those who challenge religion is destruction," he added.

Ahmad Khatami told worshippers that the former Tunisian president, Ben Ali had forbidden Friday Mass Prayers and given rise to torture in the prisons. "These are exactly the events that took place at the time of the Shah," the Iranian hardliner said referring to the last Iranian monarch who was ousted in 1979 before the establishment of the Islamic Republic in Iran.

"They want to highlight the labour, liberal and democratic issues but the most important issue which is the religious streak of these protests are being denied," Khatami insisted.

Iran Sees Rise of Islamic Hard-Liners

New York Times | Jan 28

Hopeful that the protests sweeping Arab lands may create an opening for hard-line Islamic forces, conservatives in Iran are taking deep satisfaction in the events in Tunisia, Egypt and Yemen, where secular leaders have faced large-scale uprisings.

"In my opinion, the Islamic Republic of Iran should see these events without exception in a positive light," said Mohammad-Javad Larijani, secretary general of the Iranian High Council for Human Rights and one of the most outspoken figures among Iran's traditional conservatives.

He made it clear that he hoped that the "anti-Islamic" government of Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, who was ousted in Tunisia, would be replaced by a "people's government," meaning one in which conservative Islamic forces would gain the upper hand, as they did when Iranian people overthrew Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, establishing a quasi-theocracy.

"Today, as a result of the gifts of the Islamic revolution in Iran, freedom-loving Islamic peoples such as the peoples of Tunisia, Egypt and nearby Arab countries are standing up to their oppressive governments," said a leading hard-line cleric, Ayatollah Mohammad-Taghi Mesbah-Yazdi, who is believed to have influence with President Ahmadinejad.

Official: Public's Uprising in Egypt Shows Islamic Vigilance in Region

IRNA | Jan 29

An informed source in the Iranian Foreign Ministry said Egypt and its people deserved better positions in the Islamic world and better influence in the Middle East region.

The source believed the popular movement of the Egyptian people was only a token of the general Islamic vigilance and wakefulness in the region.

The foreign ministry source further stressed that the movement of the justice-seeking nation of Egypt was based on religious teachings and was inspired by the Islamic vigilance in the region which will help the country restore its original position in the national, regional and international arenas.

It said the Egyptian authorities should abide by the rightful demands of the nation and refrain from any kind of violent reactions to the public movement through using military and security forces.

Iran Asks Egypt to Meet Public Demands

Press TV | Jan 29

Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast has called on political leaders in Egypt to follow the "rightful demands" of their people.

"Iran expects Egyptian officials to listen to the voice of their Muslim people, respond to their rightful demands and refrain from exerting violence by security forces and police against an Islamic wave of awareness that has spread through the country in form of a popular movement," Mehmanparast said Saturday.

He further pointed out that Tehran attaches great importance to the fulfillment of public demands in Egypt and added, "Iran regards demonstrations by the Muslim people of this country as a justice-seeking movement in line with their national-religious demands."

Like Iran & Tunisia, Egypt Protests Fueled by Social Sites Twitter, Facebook, YouTube amid Censoring

Daily News | Jan 28

In the age of social media, it is often individual stories of tragedy that help draw global support for people's movements.

In Iran, it was the face of Neda Agha-Soltan, her beautiful brown eyes wide with shock after she was shot on her way to 2009 election protests.

The video was posted to YouTube. Nearly a million people have viewed the original posting, and millions more watched it via other YouTube accounts and mainstream news websites as Iranians continued to protest recent elections.

In Egypt, it was the stark sound of a single gunshot, the image of an unknown protester falling heavily to the ground and the voices of his panicked comrades carrying his limp body away.

As the video racks up views on YouTube, the Egyptian government continues to block access to social networking sites and the Internet at large.

How Are the Protests in Egypt, Tunisia's Jasmine Revolution Being Viewed in Iran?

RFE/RL | Jan 28

"The Islamic world is ripe with major new developments and Khomeini's Islam is the engine of these events," Iran's hard-line daily "Kayhan" wrote in a January 27 commentary devoted to the recent wave of protests in the Arab world.

The daily, which often reflects the views of the Iranian establishment -- or more specifically, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei -- added that the third millennium is witnessing "the powerful [presence] of Islam under Iran's leadership."

"'Death to the U.S. Death to Israel. Islam is my religion. We don't want American rulers. We're not afraid of martyrdom.' Are these slogans familiar to the ears and eyes of the world? Aren't these slogans the same that Iranian people [chanted] in the run-up to the Islamic Revolution?" wrote "Kayhan."

The commentary made no mention of the calls for economic reforms and political freedom being voiced in the protests. There was also no mention of comparisons that have been made between Tunisia's uprising and the mass antigovernment demonstrations that shook the Iranian establishment in 2009.

[A]ccording to journalist Roozbeh Mirebrahimi, who monitors Iranian state television, "After Tunisian President [Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali] fled the country, they started reporting that the protests were taking place in the name of Islam and that they were targeting the anti-Islamic government of Tunisia.... The same applies now to protests [elsewhere], including in Egypt."

In the immediate aftermath of Tunisia's uprising, Iranian state media kept silent about the protests that led to the collapse of Ben Ali's 23-year rule.


Iran Khodro Shuts Down amidst Labour Protests

Radio Zamaneh | Jan 28

Workers protests to harsh working conditions continued for days after Tuesday's fatal accident at Iran Khodro car manufacturing plant that killed four and injured 13 according to official reports.

The management of the largest car manufacturing company in Iran announced today that the plant is closed today Friday and will continue to close on Fridays on a weekly basis. ILNA reports.

According to Iranian labour laws, workers should get Fridays and other statutory holidays off work. However, labour activists maintain that in the past years, Iran Khodro has shut down only for a handful of public holidays.

Some reports also indicate that Iran Khodro workers have staged a sit-in inside the plant.

A workers blog indicates: "The plant's atmosphere is highly volatile. The protesting workers who believe forced overtime was responsible for the fatal accident have refused to leave the plant and are still protesting inside the factory premises."

Iran Outlaws Khatami's Baran Foundation

Radio Zamaneh | Jan 27

Iranian interior ministry announced that Baran Foundation, founded by former Iranian president Mohammad Khatami, is an "illegal" entity and its activities must be banned. The statement appears to be the latest in the wave of government attacks against the reformist president, who is considered one of the top three leaders of the post-election protests in Iran.

Head of the political branch of the interior ministry contended that Baran Foundation has not gone through the proper procedures for licensing.

"The so-called reform government at the end of its mandate prior to the transfer of power, quickly tried to create a number of organizations to further its agenda," Mahmoud Abbaszadeh Meshkini declared.

He goes on to add that Baran Foundation was registered and issued a permit in haste without going through the required procedures.

Baran Faoundation was established in 2005 by Mohammad Khatami and a number of his cabinet ministers and colleagues and describes its mission as promotion of freedom, growth and development in Iran.

Iran's First Nuclear Power Plant to Join National Grid in April

Xinhua | Jan 29

Iran's Bushehr nuclear power plant, the first of its kind in the country, is to join the national power grid in early April, the head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization (AEOI), Ali Akbar Salehi, said Friday.

Salehi had earlier said that the plant could join the national power grid sometime around mid-February.

But he said Friday that having a safe facility is more important than rushing to the production stage, local satellite channel Press TV reported.

Iran Nuclear Plant Will Be 'Ready in April'

AFP | Jan 28

He again reiterated that the computer worm Stuxnet had not entered the "main systems," and that Iranians are "pursing work with the Russians while observing all the safety issues."

Stuxnet has reportedly mutated and wreaked havoc on computerised industrial equipment in Iran. The New York Times has said it was tested by Israel and the United States on Tehran's atomic installations.

Salehi said "Westerners are not seeking people's health and security and will do anything to gain their aims even if it poses danger to human society.

"If anything happens to a nuclear plant its repercussions will not be confined to one border and they should know that it can tie them down," Salehi said without elaborating.

Livingstone: I Am Not Surprised

Press TV | Jan 29

Former London mayor Ken Livingstone has reacted to the tarring campaign against Press TV Limited by the British media over the past week.

Press TV Ltd. is an independent company based in London and incorporated to produce news, factual programmes and documentaries to be sold to the Tehran-based Press TV News Channel.

Livingstone, who is running as Labour candidate for the London mayoral election said he is not surprised with the media campaign against him and that he has been ready for the attacks.

Referring to his monthly book review show on Press TV news channel, he said he is committed to continue his work with the Epilogue program and will stick to his current contract with the Press TV Ltd. for pre-recording three more shows.

"Press TV is one of the few news channels anywhere in the world that fairly presents the Palestinian case," Livingstone has recently stressed adding it is "a British company, wholly owned in Britain, that makes and sells programmes to Iran and to other places".

Kazemi's Son Can Sue Iran

Montreal Gazette | Jan 29

The son of slain Canadian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi claimed a partial victory this week in his ongoing legal battle with the government of Iran, but acknowledged he still faces a long road.

After nearly seven years of legal wrangling, Stephan Hashemi found out on Wednesday that he will be permitted to proceed with a civil suit filed against the Iranian government for its alleged involvement in his mother's torture and death.

The 32-year-old had been seeking the right to sue Iran, its supreme leader, Ayatollah Sayyid Ali Khamenei, and two officials for authorizing and committing the violent rape that led to Kazemi's death in July 2003. While this week's decision represented a partial victory for Hashemi, Superior Court Justice Robert Mongeon also ruled that Kazemi's estate would not be allowed to proceed with its own $17-million suit against the Middle Eastern nation.

"That was really disappointing," said Hashemi. "What was really motivating for me was that this case could serve as a precedent...so other victims of torture might have legal recourse...on the other hand, it was good to hear that the judge had left open the option for my (personal) case."

Iran had argued that under Canada's State Immunity Act, neither its government nor its officials could be the targets of civil litigation in Canada. In his ruling, Mongeon agreed that while the estate's litigation was indeed subject to the Act and could therefore be blocked, Hashemi's case was a rare exception and could move ahead because his trauma occurred on Canadian soil.


2-Year Jail Term for Women's Rights Activist Somayeh Farid

Green Voice of Freedom | Jan 27

Women's rights activist Somayeh Farid has been sentenced to two years in prison.

According to opposition website Kaleme, Somayeh Farid, a member of Iran's prominent student organisation Advare Tahkime Vahdat, was sentenced to two years in prison by branch 28 of Tehran's Revolutionary Court.

She was arrested in March 2010 after referring to Tehran's Evin prison to follow-up on the case of her imprisoned husband, Hojjat (Siavash) Montazeri. She was released on a heavy bail a few weeks later.

Prominent Lawyer Faces New Charges While Clients Ail in Prison

ICHRI | Jan 27

Mohammad Ali Dadkhah, a prominent lawyer who was arrested after the 2009 presidential election on charges of "firearms and drug possession" in his legal offices and released later on bail, told the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran that he has been informed of new charges against him, and summoned to Evin Prison Court.

"I have been charged with 'being a co-founder of the Defenders of Human Rights Center,' 'acting against national security,' and 'propagating against the regime,' and issued bail orders of $70,000, but I don't have any court dates for either of my cases," Dadkhah said about his new charges.

Dadkhah represents many clients who were arrested in the aftermath of the 2009 elections. He represents Hossein Ronaghi Maleki, a university student who has been sentenced to 15 years in prison and is currently inside Evin Prison's Ward 350, suffering from severe kidney complications. "His kidneys have developed an acute condition, and he must be transferred outside the prison for immediate treatment. The Prison Infirmary's limited resources are [in]sufficient for his treatment. The prisoner's family have also said that they would pay his entire treatment expenses. Right now they are trying to seek the authorities' agreement for outside treatment for Ronaghi Maleki," he said.

'No Mourning Ceremony' For Hanged Iranian Activist

RFE/RL | Jan 27

The widow of an Iranian activist hanged this week for ties with a banned opposition group says the family has been warned not to hold a mourning ceremony for him, RFE/RL's Radio Farda reports.

Jafar Kazemi and Mohammad Ali Hajaghai were executed on January 24 for ties with the exiled People's Mujahedin of Iran (also known as the Mujahedin-e Khalq Organization, MKO).

The Tehran prosecutor's office said both were involved -- with guidance from a contact in England -- in the unrest following the disputed Iranian presidential elections of 2009.

Kazemi's widow, Rodabe Akbari, told Radio Farda on January 26 that the authorities have forbidden the family from holding a public ceremony in remembrance of her husband.

"They told us not to announce the death of Jafar. Nor could we hold any ceremony in a mosque," she said. "They told us that we are only allowed to mourn in our private homes."

Akbari also said her husband's body had not yet been returned to the family despite repeated requests

Rafsanjani Accused of Interfering with Ahmadinejad Government

Radio Zamaneh | Jan 27

Ahmadinejad's legal adviser says Ayatollah Rafsanjani chairman of Iran's Expediency Council is "the lead manager of the moves against the government."

Gholamhossein Elham maintained that the Expediency Council has invaded the arena of the executive branch and is trying to "limit or completely overstep" the authority of the government. He maintained that the Council will soon step over the authority of the Guardian Council and even the Supreme Leader.

"What guarantee do we have that in this manner we will not suddenly come face to face with a new constitution and a new regime," Elham added.

The parliament has been trying to limit the authority of the president in the election of the head of the Central Bank by stating that the appointment initiated by the president must also be approved by the majority of the parliament.

Two Al-Qaeda Terrorists Arrested

Iran Daily | Jan 29

Security Forces have reportedly arrested two individuals affiliated with the Al-Qaeda terrorist group in the northwestern town of Sardasht.

The two militants, identified by their first names as Nemat and Nasser, were arrested two days ago by security forces in the northwestern province of West Azarbaijan, an informed official said on Thursday on the condition of anonymity.

"Notes and books related with the misleading cult of Wahhabism were confiscated from the detainees," IRNA quoted the source as saying.

According to the official, the detainees, who were arrested on the charge of promoting Wahhabist ideology, would face trial in the near future.

Deputy Duma Speaker Opposes Russia's Participation in Iran Sanctions

Tehran Times | Jan 29

Deputy speaker of the Russian lower house of parliament (State Duma) said in Moscow on Thursday that he does not approve of Russia's participation in sanctions move against Iran.

"We oppose U.S. and European Union's sanctions on Iran and we are not pleased with Russia's participation in (imposing) the sanctions," Vladimir Zhirinovskiy said in a meeting and members of Iran-Russia parliamentary friendship group and Tehran's ambassador to Moscow.

The top Russian lawmaker also said, "We support Iran's principled stances."

Iran Launches Wikifiqh

Mehr | Jan 28

Wikifiqh, containing over 50,000 statements on fiqh, was recently launched by the Islamic Documentary Organization.

The portal aims to enhance knowledge of Islamic sciences and to provide an opportunity where experts' viewpoints on fiqh are discussed in the virtual world, the public relations office of the organization reported on Friday.

It will also assist in leading to the development of knowledge on fiqh and promotion of Islamic culture.

Users can leave their comments at the wiki link of the website www.islamicdoc.org.

Located in Qom, the organization is affiliated with Iran's Islamic Ideology Dissemination Organization (IIDO).


What I Learned from Iran's Failed Revolution

Abolhassan Bani-Sadr, Former President of Iran (New York Times) | Jan 28

By removing a despot who was the main obstacle to democracy, the Tunisian revolt has immense importance for the Arab and Islamic world. Above all, it has opened up a future that, due to the iron grip of an authoritarian political system backed by European and Arab governments, had been considered closed.

As we see from the burgeoning demonstrations in Egypt, it is not lost on others in the region that ousting corrupt autocrats is no longer just an impossible dream. Tunisia's message to others in the region is that despotism is not a lot in life to which they must submit. That message is spreading fast because the Tunisian democratic movement is legitimately homegrown and not tied to a Western sponsor, as was the case with the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

As I well know from personal experience, however, an open future includes not only the possibility of democracy, but the possibility of resurgent dictatorship.

In order to achieve democracy and diminish the prospect of a new strongman taking over, certain conditions have to be fulfilled.

The unfortunate lesson of the Iranian revolution was that most political organizations did not commit themselves to democracy. Lacking the unity of a democratic front, one by one they became targets of power-seeking clergy in the form of the Islamic Republic Party, and were pushed aside.

Did Someone Recycle the Shah of Iran's Last Speech for Hosni Mubarak?

Shirin Sadeghi (Huffington Post) | Jan 28

It was just weeks before he left Iran forever amidst a massive nationwide demonstration against him that the Shah of Iran broadcast his last speech to the people, apologizing for his past mistakes. On November 5, 1978, he pleaded:

I heard the voice of your revolution. As Shah of Iran as well as an Iranian citizen, I cannot but approve your revolution. Let all of us work together to establish real democracy in Iran. I make a commitment to be with you and your revolution against corruption and injustice in Iran.

Not so for President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt. He did not apologize for anything in his speech to the people on their day of rage today.

Like the Shah before him, Mubarak promised to change things. He promised that he cared about the people.

Like the Shah before him -- a man whose grave is in the heart of Cairo because he was refused burial in the nation of his birth -- Mubarak's big speech indicated how very out of touch he was with the reality of the people and the reality of his own shortcomings in addressing their concerns.

A Distraction from Iranian Dissidents' Fate?

Thomas Erdbrink (Washington Post) | Jan 28

In Tehran a sentence of death by stoning has propelled an illiterate Iranian woman convicted of adultery to international fame, with Hollywood stars, French intellectuals and Western governments calling for her release.

But inside the Islamic republic, many government critics, activists and artists say the case of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani is diverting attention from the fate of dozens of imprisoned dissidents.

"Our political prisoners are the main issue here," said Leili Rashidi, a well-known Iranian actress who campaigned for President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's challenger in 2009. "I am sad that Mohammadi was given a death verdict, but in the present-day circumstances of my country, Iran, her issue just is not a main priority for me."

"With all respect to my friends who are political prisoners...people like me and them have chosen our path knowingly and with information," said Mahnaz Mohammadi, a documentary filmmaker who is not related to Sakineh Mohammadi. "People like Sakineh are victims of their illiteracy, of their disconnection with information, and of the faulty laws in our country."

But for others, the international outcry over Mohammadi's case has become hard to take.

"Why is there so much concentration for a case of a possible murderer, when there are such obvious cases of oppression in Iran?" said Faghrolsadat Mohtashamipour, who has written a series of deeply affectionate open letters to her imprisoned husband, Mustafa Tajzadeh, a prominent critic of the government.

Iran: Ahmadinejad Alienates Key Protector

Omid Memarian (IWPR) | Jan 28

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has made quite a few domestic enemies over the years, from the reformist opposition to leading ayatollahs in Qom and conservative politicians in senior state positions. All are now watching keenly to see whether the president is beginning to lose the once unconditional backing of Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

If that happens -- and there are some indications that Ahmadinejad's relationship with Khamenei is cooling -- the president's rivals among the group known as "moderate conservatives" may feel they are no longer constrained from attacking him head-on.

These moderate conservatives include a number of current and former political figures like the speaker of parliament, Ali Larijani, Tehran mayor Mohammad-Bagher Ghalibaf, and Mohsen Rezaie, a former commander-in-chief of the powerful Revolutionary Guards. They have frequently accused Ahmadinejad and his administration of using deliberately provocative rhetoric, of chaotic management, undermining other parts of the state like the legislature, judiciary and local government institutions, and sometimes of disregarding the Islamic principles it professes to follow.

Having Khamenei's unreserved backing meant Ahmadinejad had a free hand to crush the protests that followed the disputed 2009 presidential election and effectively eliminate the opposition Green Movement. The Supreme Leader paid a high price, as he was criticised internationally and lost the support of many influential Qom clerics.

Now Khamenei finds himself with a president who disregards his views and does not follow his advice -- both of which would be unpardonable offences coming from anyone else.

Beware the Cyber War Boomerang?

Richard Clarke (ABC News) | Jan 28

The leak prone governments of the United States and Israel seem to be competing to claim credit for a cyber war attack on Iran's nuclear weapons program, while officially refusing to confirm or deny their role in the "Stuxnet" computer worm.

Many politicians in Washington and Tel Aviv are now giving high fives to their friends in the intelligence business when they think no one will see it. Not so fast. Yes, the precision guided cyber attack was apparently successful at slowing the Iranian drive to get weapons grade uranium. It was, however, a major failure in two important regards.

First, it was discovered. It may have taken some hackers from Minsk to do it, but the stealthy attack code was identified. The attackers intent seems to have been to avoid detection, so that the Iranians might doubt their own skills at enrichment. Moreover, as a covert program, the attack was meant to be not only unknown, but unattributable. The Iranian government could avoid acknowledging publicly that it had been attacked. Therefore, they would not be under any internal pressure to retaliate. With the attack now the subject of international press attention and the Iranian president forced to admit it happened, we should be standing by for the retaliation. It need not be in cyberspace, but could instead come in the form of increased deaths of Americans in Iraq and Afghanistan from Tehran's vast supply of road side bombs. Or it could come in cyberspace, aided by the second failure of Stuxnet.

Second, the cyber agent Stuxnet was captured and successfully interrogated. That was not supposed to happen. The attack program had built in to it all sorts of collateral damage controls, including instructions to kill itself after a date certain in 2009. Those controls, most unusual in the world of hackers but common in certain countries covert action programs, failed apparently because the weapon's designers took the collateral damage controls less seriously than they did the ingenious attack. For a hacker, attacking is always more interesting than pleasing the lawyers. Thus, after laying low the Iranian nuclear enrichment centrifuges at Natanz, the worm made its way from that plant's supposedly isolated, internal computer network to freedom in cyberspace. Thousands of other computers in Iran were infected, as were many in countries such as Pakistan, India, Indonesia, and even a few in the United States.

Can the Nuclear Talks With Iran Be Saved?

Olli Heinonen (Foreign Policy) | Jan 27

[There is] a golden opportunity for the United States and its partners to get together with Iran and agree to replace the TRR with a new reactor monitored by the IAEA.

The bottom line for Iran and the West is providing a secure supply of medical radioisotopes in a way that does not enable Iran to enrich uranium that could be diverted to a weapons program.

Iranians ought to be concerned about the safety of the TRR, which uses outmoded technology. It was located well outside Tehran when it was built in 1967, but the city's sprawling growth has seen apartment complexes and office buildings bump up against the research reactor site. And this is an earthquake-prone region.

Currently, Iran is constructing a heavy-water reactor in the city of Arak that is not best-suited for radioisotope production and that produces plutonium, which has raised proliferation concerns. But this reactor design could be modified to accommodate a new research reactor using low-enriched fuel instead. After all, when Iran announced the Arak reactor plan in 2003, its stated rationale was that the TRR was aging.

Then, last June, the Iranian government said it would design another research reactor, to be operational in five years. Ali Akbar Salehi, the president of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, did not disclose a location or specifics -- all the more reason to seek a comprehensive solution for Iran's research reactor projects.

The offer to help build a new, more secure research reactor to replace the TRR could revive the fuel swap program, in which Iran would agree to send more of its enriched uranium out of the country to be converted into fuel for the new reactor. The outcome would provide Iran with a solid supply of medical isotopes and a new, up-to-date training facility for its scientists. And it would address proliferation concerns by limiting the increase of stocks of enriched uranium and future production of plutonium.


Afghanistan's Outlook on Iran: A Karzai Insider's View

Cable from U.S. Embassy, Kabul, Afghanistan, to U.S. Department of State, Washington, D.C. (WikiLeaks via Guardian) | Feb 3, 2010

10KABUL436 2010-02-03 13:01 2011-01-25 08:08 SECRET Embassy Kabul
S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 02 KABUL 000436


Classified By: D/Ambassador Ricciardone; Reasons (b) and (d)

1. (S) Summary: President Karzai's Chief of Staff and former Ambassador to Iran, Omar Daudzai, offered the Palace's outlook on Iran's role in Afghanistan. Daudzai suggested that Karzai could provide "an open door" for the United States to engage Iran, at such time as the U.S. may judge this useful. Daudzai had found in Iran that paradoxically, the Iranian people hate foreigners, except for Americans; but that the Iranian revolution survives on its animosity towards the United States. He said that the Iranians no longer deny their support for the Taliban. While there is room for "indirect" U.S.-Afghan cooperation on Afghanistan, Daudzai cautioned that at best the Iranians would only "tolerate" our presence in Afghanistan. End Summary.

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We Can Help Open the Door to Iran
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2. (S) At a meeting within the GIRoA with COS Daudzai, D/Amb. Ricciardone asked for Afghanistan's outlook on the anti-coalition Jundullah organization (Septel), and Karzai's and Daudzai's assessments of Afghanistan's interests with Iran. Daudzai confirmed February 2, that only he and President Karzai had any substantial political engagement with the Iranian government. Karzai does pay close attention to Iran, Daudzai said, and he suggested that Karzai could help "open a door" for the United States to engage Iran "perhaps after Ahmadinejad leaves the scene," or at any time the USG may judge useful. He explained that Karzai had maintained excellent relations with Iran and Khatami personally, and that Karzai had obtained the former Iranian president's support for Daudzai's appointment as Afghan Ambassador to Tehran. Relations had become more complicated with Ahmadinejad's election. Daudzai went on to serve about a year and a half in Tehran, from 2004-2005.

3. (S) D/Amb. Ricciardone posited that, while President Obama and Secretary Clinton had made clear the United States' willingness to discuss our differences with the Iranians, Iran evidently is not ready to engage with us. Even though we believe that many Iranians desire more normal relations with the United States, the Iranian government appears out of touch with its people, in particular an increasingly angry middle class.

4. (S) Daudzai related that after the first and only time he was "summoned to the MFA" for a complaint on alleged GIRoA support for Jundullah (Septel), and his categorical denial later proved true, he developed excellent relations with Iranian officials. Nonetheless, living in Tehran had been "challenging". At first, Iranian intelligence shadowed Daudzai's every move; after he told the Iranians that he was annoyed that he was being followed, the Iranians became more subtle in their approach. He was astonished that while there were no Sunni mosques in Tehran, an estimated 30 to 40 percent of its population was Sunni (combining Iranian and Afghan Sunnis residing there). He established an informal mosque in the basement of the Afghan Embassy, an act that drew much appreciation from the Sunni population.

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Iranian People Dislike Foreigners, Except Americans
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5. (S) Reflecting on his time in Tehran, Daudzai said he had reached two main conclusions: 1) "Common" Iranians hate foreigners, except for Americans, whom they "miss". To illustrate, he said that even his wife's doctor told her, "Please tell the Americans to bring their soldiers to our country next." 2) paradoxically, the Iranian revolution lives on its animosity towards the United States. If this animosity ends, then the revolution will end. The national leadership knows this and thus do all they can to sustain "the revolution." While Daudzai did not foresee that the Iranian revolution would end under Ahmadinejad's tenure, he predicted that Ahmadinejad's influence over the remainder of his term would wane. Therefore, he said, it was opportune to now start "preparing the ground" for U.S. relations with Iran under a better leader who would replace Ahmadinejad even though the Supreme Leader really "calls the shots." Daudzai said that Iran's "real" Foreign Minister is not Motaki, but rather Ali Akbar Velayati, who reports to the Supreme Leader.

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The Two Sides of Iranian Influence in Afghanistan
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6. (S) Daudzai said Iran's influence in Afghanistan, like Pakistan's, has been both helpful and hurtful. (Last year, Daudzai had acknowledged that Iran paid limited amounts of money to the Palace only episodically and unpredictably. He contrasted this with sustained U.S. financial support to Afghanistan with far more than the Iranians' occasional cash payment.) Iran and Pakistan each had supported their own favored Afghan Mujahedin groups against the Soviets, largely along religious affiliations. Likewise, in the current conflict, Iran, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia were each supporting their "preferred" Taliban groups. This time, however, Iran's support was driven by "a war of objectives" not religious sympathies: Iran would even support Sunni Taliban to counter Western influence in Afghanistan, so long as the Taliban factions they supported were not affiliated with Mullah Omar.

7. (S) Daudzai said that two years ago when he raised with the Iranians their support for Afghan Taliban, they had flatly denied any involvement. However, over the past half year, the Iranians, including their Ambassador in Kabul, no longer deny this assertion -- now they remain silent, he said. Daudzai attributed the Iranian change in posture to their awareness that the GIRoA has evidence of Iranian support for some Taliban elements.

8. (S) Daudzai said that on occasion, young Afghan males are allowed to cross into Iran, where they are recruited and trained before returning to Afghanistan to fight against the GIRoA and Coalition Forces. The Iranians also recruit Afghan university students and graduates. Daudzai said that approximately 7,000 Afghans hold Iranian university degrees, including three of President Karzai's cabinet picks, who "fortunately" Parliament did not confirm. He claimed that Iran is also offering three-year visas to Afghans who deposit USD 100,000 in an Iranian bank account.

9. (S) According to Daudzai, Iran grooms thousands of Afghan religious scholars. After completing their education in Iran, they return to Afghanistan to work in Madrassas, where they continue to receive "support packages" from Iran. The support package included a monthly salary. Daudzai claimed that a man named Ibrahim directed this program from the Supreme Leader's office. He also asserted that in addition to financing Afghan religious leaders, Iran had provided salary support for some GIRoA deputy ministers and other officials, including "one or two even in the Palace." Daudzai claimed that some of these officials had been relieved of their duties because "you can't be an honest Afghan if you receive a (Iran) package."

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U.S.-Iranian Convergence of Interests is Complicated
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10. (S) Daudzai opined that there could be room for indirect, but not direct, cooperation between Iran and the U.S. regarding Afghanistan. Iran at best would "tolerate" the U.S. participation in an area of common interest here, he said. He would reflect further on the subject and would look forward to continuing the conversation. Eikenberry

US Discusses Iran and Gaza with Mubarak's Son

Cable from U.S. Embassy, Cairo, Egypt, to U.S. Department of State, Washington, D.C. (WikiLeaks via Guardian) | Feb 23, 2009

Cable dated:2009-02-23T13:07:00
S E C R E T CAIRO 000326
E.O. 12958: DECL: 02/23/2019
Classified By: Ambassador Margaret Scobey for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d).


1. (C) During an hour-long meeting on February 17, Gamal Mubarak discussed with Senator Joseph Lieberman the problems with Gaza and Palestinian reconciliation, as well as the broader political split within the Arab world. Senator Lieberman sought Gamal's advice on ways for the U.S. to engage Iran; Gamal offered that the best way to defeat Iranian ambitions in the region is to make progress on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Unfortunately, Qatar is playing "spoiler" in order to get "a seat at the table." Gamal, a former international banker, opined that the U.S. needed to "shock" its financial system back to health, and said that Egypt -- which had so far escaped much of the pain of the global economic crisis -- was preparing to face tough economic times ahead. The Ambassador, Senator Lieberman's foreign policy adviser, and the ECPO MinCouns as note taker were also present. End summary.


2. (C) After welcoming Senator Lieberman, Gamal began by criticizing the Israeli government's "last minute" decision not to move forward on the Gaza ceasefire without the release of Corporal Shalit. This complicates several aspects of the Israel Palestinian conflict, Gamal explained, not simply the situation in Gaza. The various Palestinian factions are due to begin reconciliation talks in Cairo "in about 10 days" and this development will make those discussions more difficult. It makes Egypt look bad, and strengthens Hamas.

Iranian Exploitation of Arab Divisions

3. (C) Another complicating factor, Gamal explained, is the current split within Arab ranks between "moderates" (Egypt and Saudi Arabia) and "radicals" (Syria and Qatar). This polarization, he opined, has "paralyzed the peace process." Iran has skillfully exploited -- using Hamas -- the lack of movement towards peace. As long as there was a viable peace process, Gamal averred, "there was no place for Iran." The best way to thwart Iranian ambitions in the region, according to Gamal, is to reinvigorate the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. What is also needed, he continued, is a unified Palestinian government. "The Palestinians need elections, both presidential and parliamentary."

U.S. Re-engagement with Tehran?

4. (C) Senator Lieberman asked Gamal if he thought the United States should re-engage with Iran. "As long as Ahmedinejad is there, I am skeptical," Gamal responded. Senator Lieberman said he shared that skepticism, but explained that the new administration believes the U.S. should try to engage the Iranians, but no clear strategy has yet emerged in Washington; Dennis Ross has been tasked with "reviewing" the situation. The one thing that is clear, Gamal stressed, is that by removing Saddam, the U.S. opened the door for Iran to flex its muscles and spread its influence throughout the region. "Like it or not, Saddam was a stumbling block to Iranian aspirations. His fall led directly to an increase in Iranian influence on the region." Now, it is all the more important not to send a message of weakness to the Iranians, Gamal said, "neither from the U.S., nor from the moderates in the region." We cannot "concede to their policy of aggression."

5. (C) There are many in the region, Gamal explained, who believe that the U.S. was weakened by its actions in Iraq, and that Iran was strengthened. Furthermore, there is a perception that the U.S. has been hurt by the economic crisis and that it will be more inward looking for the next few years. Therefore, the Americans, it is said, will deal with problems in the region in a "less confrontational" fashion, and "may be willing to compromise. Iran is working hard to convince others that this is the case." This creates a very dangerous situation for moderate states like Egypt, Gamal stressed. Noting that there was some truth in this analysis, particularly concerning the economic straits the U.S. is in, Senator Lieberman said that the U.S. will nonetheless engage in an even more aggressive Middle East foreign policy than previously, as evidenced by President Obama's choice of

Secretary Clinton and Special Envoy Mitchell. Gamal welcomed this reassurance, noting that the GCC states in particular are "terrified" of Iran. Just the previous week, he said, an Iranian general had said publicly that Bahrain "has always been part of Iran," as well as the Tunb Islands.


6. (C) Senator Lieberman then asked Gamal for his assessment of Qatari behavior. They are coordinating closely with Syria and Iran, Gamal said, "in an orchestrated attack on Egypt and other moderate Arab states." Qatar has enabled Hamas to hamper every effort we have made to cement a ceasefire in Gaza. For some reason, Qatar seems to want to play the role of spoiler, Gamal surmised. "Even regarding the March 2nd Gaza conference we are hosting, they have called for another Arab only meeting in Doha just two days before." In response to Senator Lieberman's question as to Qatari motives, Gamal responded, "They just want a place at the table, no matter what."

Egypt's Economy

7. (C) Turning to the impact of the global financial crisis on Egypt, Gamal -- a former international banker -- said that while Egypt has so far escaped the worst effects of the crisis, "we are bound to feel the brunt of it eventually." Because Egypt's banking sector was thoroughly overhauled about five years ago, he explained, it is in much better shape than it night have been. Nonetheless, Egypt expects to see significantly lower GDP figures in 2009; "the most recent quarterly numbers are already way down." The one ray of good news, Gamal said, is that inflation also is down; "nonetheless, we know we are in for a rough ride." Egypt will be watching the United States very closely, Gamal said. Senator Lieberman asked for his advice as an experienced international financier. "Your banking system needs a shock," Gamal offered. "You need a dramatic fix. Unless you get the banking sector revived, nothing else will come around." However, Gamal continued, a piecemeal approach to the problem will not be enough; you need to inject even more money into the system than you have, and you need to get as much of the bad debt as possible out of it; "you must remove the toxic assets from the books" and restore the confidence of investors and consumers. Senator Lieberman agreed on the need for bold measures to restore confidence.

8. (U) This cable was cleared by Senator Lieberman. SCOBEY

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