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Executed Dutch Iranian Surreptitiously Buried; Chief Justice Hails Hangings

07 Feb 2011 21:44Comments

Press Roundup provides selected excerpts of news and opinion pieces from the Iranian and international media. Click on the link to the story to read it in full. Tehran Bureau has not verified these stories and does not vouch for their accuracy. The inclusion of various opinions in no way implies their endorsement by Tehran Bureau. Please refer to the Media Guide to help put the stories in perspective. You can follow other news items through our Twitter feed.



Zahra Bahrami Buried Secretly

RNW | Feb 7

The Dutch-Iranian woman Zahra Bahrami, who was executed in Iran last week, was buried at a secret location on Sunday afternoon. Her daughter, Banafsheh Najebpour, who lives in Tehran, was informed of this by the Iranian secret service.

Najebpour passed the news of the burial to Sadegh Nageshkar of the Iranian human rights organisation HRADI and he informed Radio Netherlands Worldwide. She also told him that the secret service barred her from informing the Dutch embassy in Tehran about the burial. This, she believes, is because the Dutch authorities were explicitly demanding that Ms Bahrami's body be handed over to her family.

"The daughter received a phone call from the secret service at 3.30 p.m. local time informing her that preparations for the burial had begun. She or one other relative was given permission to attend the funeral, which would take place in the town of Semnan," Nageshkar told RNW, "but Semnan is more than 400 kilometres from Tehran so the family would never have been able to arrive on time."

The Iranian human rights organisation says this strongly suggests that Zahra Bahrami was convicted for political reasons and not for possession of drugs, as the official verdict states. "The bodies of prisoners executed in Iran for drug offences are always returned to the families. That never happens with political prisoners because the regime is afraid their funeral will turn into a demonstration."

Netherlands Recalls Ambassador from Iran

NIS | Feb 8

The Netherlands has recalled its ambassador from Iran. Foreign Minister Uri Rosenthal is furious that it has emerged that Zahra Bahrami, who was executed last week, has been buried without the foreknowledge of her family.

Rosenthal is recalling the Dutch ambassador for consultations. Before the diplomat returns, he will first at the request of the minister issue a sharp protest to the Iranian authorities on the "disrespectful behaviour of the Iranians towards the relatives of Bahrami," Rosenthal said yesterday in the Jordanian capital of Amman, where he was on a visit.

According to Iran, the woman was hung. But last week, reports also surfaced saying she was tortured to death. If the body of Bahrami had been released to her relatives, they could then have looked at whether Bahrami should be buried in Iran or her body taken to the Netherlands.

Just over a week ago, the Netherlands heard that the woman was hung for drugs smuggling and involvement with violent opposition. A day earlier, Rosenthal was still being told that her court case was still underway. In reaction to the execution -- a "barbarous deed by a barbarous regime" -- the minister had then already frozen all contacts with Iran.

Dutch Recall Ambassador to Iran

Reuters (via Irish Times) | Feb 7

Instead of the normal procedure of handing over the body to family members for burial, Ms Bahrami's remains were taken 400km from Tehran and interred with no relatives present.

"This is a shocking fact which bears upon the regime which does not meet the normal standards of civilised behaviour towards citizens and foreigners," Mr Rosenthal told Reuters, ahead of a meeting with the Jordanian monarch in Amman.

Asked about the allegations of torture, Mr Rosenthal said: "I am not entering into this now, simply now it's that the next of kin have not been permitted to go through a mourning process which should be allowed to anyone who is losing next of kin."

The Dutch ambassador to Iran has now been recalled. "I am shocked by this situation and for that matter I have recalled my ambassador in Tehran for urgent consultations just to show to the regime that we consider this to be a totally disrespectful behaviour vis-a-vis the next of kin of the executed Madame Bahrami," Mr Rosenthal said.

See also: "Dutch Iranian Held in 2009 Protests Hanged; 'Iranians and the Cult of Death'" (Tehran Bureau Press Roundup)

121 Executions In Six Weeks: Prosecutor General Confirms Secret Birjand Executions

ICHRI | Feb 6

According to the statistics compiled by the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, 121 individuals have been hanged between 20 December 2010 and 31 January 2011.

Only one day before two United Nations Special Rapporteurs asked the Islamic Republic of Iran for a moratorium on executions and a visit by the Rapporteurs, Iran's Prosecutor General noted executions inside Birjand Prison, and spoke of more executions during the coming days. But these executions have not been reported by official sources, such as the Prosecutor's website and the South Khorasan Judiciary's website, increasing concerns that numerous secret executions are taking place around the country.

On 31 January 2011, Fars News Agency reported that Mohseni Ejei told a press conference, "At dawn this morning, several drug traffickers were executed in Birjand, and over the past several days, also, several drug traffickers were executed in Tehran and Karaj."

The International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran has received reliable information from local sources that as many as fifty inmates have been executed inside the Birjand Prison over the past few months. Much like executions that have been taking place inside Mashad's Vakilabad Prison, referenced in the UN Special Rapporteurs' statement, the Iranian Judicial authorities have refrained from reporting the widespread executions.

News of the Tehran and Karaj executions referenced by Mohseni Ejei on 31 January has also not been previously published in government media or the Iranian Judiciary's websites.

According to Iranian laws, families and lawyers of death row convicts must be informed prior to their execution.

Our Life Depends on Executions

Rooz | Feb 7

Iran's Chief Justice, Ayatollah Mohseni Gorkani said, "Our life, tranquility and peace depend on executions and ghesas" (loosely translated as retaliatory punishment).

Mehr news agency reported that the ayatollah made these remarks in his ethics class without stating where exactly the class was held. According to Mehr, during the cleric's class, the chief justice first read a verse from the Quran about executions and ghesas, and then added, "The issue of executions and ghesas that the Quran dictates, are what our life, tranquility and peace depend on."

Gorkani thanked the judges and staff of the judiciary branch for their "work" and said that some in the judiciary did not appreciate the work of the branch adding, they "do not understand that the current security in the country is in the hands of the judges of the judiciary." He further said that the "judges and judiciary staff spent all their efforts to protect rights and institutionalize security in society."


Iran Court Sets Second Hearing for Held Americans, Lawyer Says

Bloomberg | Feb 7

The Iranian Revolutionary Court trying three Americans charged with espionage and illegal entry into Iran scheduled a second hearing for the case, their lawyer Masoud Shafiei said.

Josh Fattal, Shane Bauer and Sarah Shourd are being charged with espionage and entering the country illegally, after they were detained in July 2009. The U.S. government has said the trio mistakenly wandered across the border during a hiking trip in Iraqi Kurdistan.

Bauer and Fattal were present at the session and were in "good spirit" Shafiei said. Shourd, who was released in September 2010 on bail of $500,000, leaving the country immediately, was also represented by Shafiei and tried in absentia. All three entered pleas of not guilty, Shafiei said.

American Hikers' Laywer Unable to See Them before Trial: I'm Disappointed; The Case Is Extremely Political!

ICHRI | Feb 7

Massoud Shafiee, lawyer representing the three American hikers talked to the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran about today's trial session. "The main problem with the court was that the case review was not completed in this session. I had expected that this session would lead to a ruling, and that this would be the last trial session for the suspects; unfortunately, even though the session lasted 2-3 hours, the review was not completed. Anyhow, in answer to my objection, they promised that the next session would be in the near future," he told the Campaign.

Asked whether he was able to see his clients and read their case files, Massoud Shafiee said: "I was able to review the case. But despite my repeated requests to see my clients, I was not allowed to do so. They were supposed to be available to me one-to-two hours before the session today, and I arrived the courts early, but they were brought to court from prison fifteen minutes after the scheduled court time, and we had to go directly into court."

"Today I objected again to these circumstances, where I was not able to see my clients before court in order to talk to them. Judge Salavati promised to give me an extensive visit in prison. We will have to wait and see what happens," said Massoud Shafiee.


Iranian Opposition Launches Facebook Page for Coming Rally

Radio Zamaneh | Feb 7

A group of Iran's Green Movement supporters has launched the "25Bahman" Facebook page in support of a rally planned for February 14. Bahman 25 is the date in Iranian calendar that coincides with February 14.

Kaleme website reports that ever since opposition leaders MirHosein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi officially requested government permission to stage a peaceful demonstration on that date, to show support for recent Arab uprisings, "Green sites have begun exploiting the internet social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter to launch the message of the February 14 rally."

Kaleme reports that these pages will carry the latest posters, announcements and minute-by-minute developments regarding the proposed rally.

At the time of this report, 9,000 had joined the Facebook page. [At the time of the posting of this Press Roundup, the figure had passed 11,000.]

See also: 25 Bahman (Facebook)


Iranian Opposition Says Government 'Fearful' of People's Movement

Radio Zamaneh | Feb 7

Iranian opposition says if the Islamic Republic refuses to issue them a permit for a pro-Arab rally, it will only be proving its fear of popular movements.

Ardeshir Amirarjmand, an aide to MirHosein Mousavi, told Jaras website that the request for demonstrations "is a test for those who keep saying the Green Movement is dead."

Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, Iran's two main opposition leaders, have requested a government permit to stage demonstrations on February 14 in support of the recent Arab uprisings.

The request has put the Islamic Republic authorities in a bind. While they have declared their support for the people's movements in Egypt and Tunisia, they have repeatedly denied the Iranian opposition the right to stage demonstrations in the past year.

Amirarjmand told Jaras that if the Islamic Republic refuses to grant its own opposition the right to demonstrate, then it is in no position to express support for popular protests in other countries.

"Tyrants of our country need to realize that the right to determine one's fate is a universal right and there is no difference between Iran, Egypt and Tunisia," Mousavi's advisor added.

The Iranian government has so far made no response to Mousavi and Karroubi's request for a rally permit; however, today the state-backed daily Keyhan described the opposition's request as a "move to alleviate the misfortunes of Israel and the U.S."


Rotterdam Festival Rallies Support for Iranian Filmmakers

Radio Zamaneh | Feb 7

The International Rotterdam Film Festival is rallying support for Jafar Panahi and Mohammad Rasoulof, two Iranian filmmakers who have been sentenced to six years in prison and 20 years ban from filmmaking by the Islamic Republic authorities.

Festival participants were urged to have their photo taken holding the names of the two filmmakers. Reports say more than 800 people have posed for the pictures, which can be seen on the Festival website.

Panahi and Rasoulof were arrested during the crackdown on election protests in Iran last March and sentenced for "propaganda against the Islamic Republic."

Reports: Iran, Turkey Sign Trade Pact Potentially Worth $30 Billion

CNN | Feb 7

Iran and Turkey signed a trade pact Sunday, one which Tehran said could be worth $30 billion over five years and signaled even stronger ties between the two nations.

Both nation's leaders touted the agreement as something that could provide huge mutual economic benefit, according to their respective state media. Tehran, especially, played up the deal as evidence of a new era in relations.

"Iran and Turkey are two countries that complete each other," Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said, according to Turkey's official Anadolu news.

Turkish State Minister Cevdet Yilmaz noted that trade between his nation and Iran has risen from $1 billion to $10.7 billion in the past decade. Still, he said that it could go even further, with Sunday's pact to ratchet down protectionist measures and promote cooperation potentially instrumental to that cause.

IRGC Chief: Iran to Mass Produce Intelligent Ballistic Missiles

IRNA | Feb 7

Chief Commander of the Islamic Republic Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) Major General Mohammad Ali Jaafari said intelligent ballistic missiles to be used for sea targets will be mass produced in the country.

Outlining the latest IRGC achievements, he said the speed of the missiles exceeded triple of the sound speed and enemies could not detect and down them.

Making the remarks in a press conference Monday morning, he said that the revolutionary moves and developments in north of Africa especially in Egypt and Tunisia were quite natural and inevitable given the support the hegemonic powers have been rendering to the dictator regimes in the region.

The major general further said the freedom-seeking mottos based on the ideals of Iran's Islamic Revolution are now quite evident and easy to hear among world people.

He said the world was gradually witnessing the step-by-step developments which the Founder of the Islamic Republic Imam Khomeini forecast many years ahead.

Iran Will Close Strait of Hormuz if Attacked: IRGC Navy

Mehr | Feb 7

The IRGC Navy commander has said Iranian forces will close the Strait of Hormuz if the enemies take any military action against Iran.

"Iran is capable of closing the Strait of Hormuz at any time, and if the enemy makes the slightest threatening movement to undermine the security of the region, it will receive a very firm response," Rear Admiral Ali Fadavi told the Mehr News Agency on Monday.

He said the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz are completely under the control of the IRGC naval force.

The IRGC naval force is responsible for the security of the Persian Gulf.

The commander also announced that in the near future various models of domestically manufactured submarines will be delivered to the IRGC naval force.

On the most recent UN sanctions resolution which allows countries to inspect Iranian ships if they suspect ships are carrying cargos which can have military applications, he said, "Since the adoption of this illegal resolution, we have received no report that Iranian ships have been inspected."

"The United States knows that it is a dangerous game and they can not tolerate the repercussions."


Nazanin Khosravani Denied Release, Despite Securing Bail

HRANA (via Persian2English) | Feb 7

Despite issuing the release papers, judicial authorities have stood in the way of journalist Nazanin Khosravani's release from prison by increasing the bail amount. Her family had secured the initial bail amount and arranged for her release by obtaining the required papers from prison authorities.

According to HRANA, Iranian judicial authorities voided the temporary detention order on January 31, 2011 and, in an unusual move, increased the bail to $600 thousand USD. Nazanin Khosravani's release was based on ensuring the high bail amount.

Following further efforts by her family, the new bail was also secured and Khosravani's release was set for February 1, 2011. However, agents from the Ministry of Intelligence stood in the way of her release and informed the family that Nazanin Khosravani will be imprisoned until the day of her trial.

Nazanin Khosravani is a reformist journalist and has collaborated with newspapers like Norooz, Bahar, Doran Emrooz, Kargozaran, Sarmaye and Aftab News.

In an interview with the state-run media, the Tehran Prosecutor Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi accused her of committing crimes against national security.


Saudi Arabia Fears Egypt Unrest Could Bolster Iran

Ulf Laessing (Reuters) | Feb 7

Saudi Arabia is more concerned about losing allies to counter its regional adversary Iran than with the risk that upheavals sweeping Tunisia and Egypt might spread to the kingdom, diplomats and analysts say.

The kingdom, custodian of Islam's holiest sites, sees itself as a bastion of Sunni Islam, so it is also deeply concerned about wider Shi'ite influence in the region having watched the 2003 U.S.-led invasion produce a Shi'ite-led government in Iraq.

"There will be a vacuum. Egypt was a very important element for Middle Eastern stability. Saudi Arabia will have to carry the burden if there is instability or a vacuum on the political side," said Turad al-Amry, a Saudi political analyst.

"Saudi influence will probably diminish, while others such as Qatar and Turkey who do not want an isolation of Iran like the Saudis will play a bigger role," said a Gulf-based diplomat.

For these stalwarts of a once-static Arab order, U.S. calls for Mubarak to cede "change now" awaken memories of American demands for reform in Iran before the shah was toppled in 1979.


Iran: XXXXXXXXXXXX Says Election Precluded by 'Political Coup,' Urges USG Focus on Human Rights and Political Support for Protestors

Cable from U.S. Embassy, London, United Kingdom, to U.S. Department of State, Washington, D.C. (WikiLeaks via Telegraph) | June 18, 2009

Ref ID: 09LONDON1442
Date: 6/18/2009 17:50
Origin: Embassy London
Classification: SECRET//NOFORN
Destination: 08LONDON2691

1. (S) Summary: Syed XXX on June 16 told London Iran Watcher (Poloff) and a small group of diplomats that "a majority" of leaders within the government of Iran and the IRGC want the United States, while continuing to avoid interference in Iran, to continue and even strengthen its public messages on human rights, so as to support popular protests in Iran and prevent any consolidation of Ahmedinejad's electoral win. XXX said "a majority" of the IRGC have split from the Basij and from IRGC commander Jafari over the manipulation and aftermath of the June 12 elections. He added that a person he "cannot name, very close to the Supreme Leader," XXX conceived and ordered engineering of the election and of attempted suppression which has followed. XXX claimed no senior clergy other than XXX in fact support Ahmedinejad. XXX offered no compromise solution among contending parties in Iran, and indicated throughout that either Moussavi or Ahmedinejad would be politically vanquished. He explicitly played down the prospect of a "civil war" raised by a European interlocutor. End summary.

2. (S) As in the past, XXX appeared at the invitation of the Next Century Foundation (NCF), a small UK policy forum NGO enjoying occasional Embassy support; XXX had just arrived in the UK from XXX late that same day, June 16. The venue was the residence of the German Political Counselor; besides NCF staff, attendees included XXX, the Norwegian, Spanish, and Japanese embassies and a mid-level Whitehall (UK) diplomat.

Events of June 12 and Afterwards: "A Political Coup"

3. (S) After warning the group against any leaks of his remarks, XXX characterized events in Iran since June 12 as a "political coup," and said "the Islamic Republic has never faced such a situation.8 He emphasized it was "not a military coup," since, according to XXX, there was for the most part no involvement by the great majority of IRGC officers; at the same time ,XXXdrew a clear line between the IRGC and the Basij, emphasizing the Basijis' central role in suppression of protestors.

4. (S) Asked for an explanation of events since June 12, XXX gave a tense, extended narrative that closely resembled reformist narratives, which Poloff and other posts have reported. XXX said ruling circles on June 12 had fully expected that, due to the political chemistry and excitement generated by the Moussavi-Ahmedinejad debate, Moussavi would emerge a clear winner. The indicia of fraud he listed were similar to what Western observers have cited, but centered on implausible proportions of the vote for Ahmedinejad uniformly throughout Iran and an implausibly fast announcement. XXX spoke at length on the democratizing effects worldwide and in Iran of digital technology and said the deliberate interruption of SMS services had been a key factor in inhibiting opposition candidates' supporters from effectively monitoring vote compilation at polling centers.

XXX Version of the Views of "Traditional" Insiders

5. (S) Of special interest XXX description of the perceptions of persons inside "traditional revolutionary groups." XXX said this election, Iran's first failed election "after 40 successful elections since the Revolution," had been unique for its "lack of advance clarity." The Iranian electoral norm, according to XXX, was that all parties' positions and interests are well defined many months in advance, whereas in this case it had not been clear to insiders, according to XXX, whether one of the major candidates, Karroubi, would even stand two days before the election. XXX said this atmosphere created a need for certainty, and represented an opportunity for "those who had done this before" (XXX did not explain this point to the larger group but see para. 10 below). Speaking elliptically, and without drawing a clear line between his points, XXX said there were additional elements contributing to insiders' "atmosphere of uncertainty" and the motive and opportunity to "once more" manipulate the June 12 results. He said there were splits for the first time among the conservatives themselves, and not just among reformists, but emphasized strongly that "only a minority (of high-level individuals) supported Ahmedinejad, then and now. XXX said the television debates were a very new factor and that the atmosphere, and insiders' "sense of control...changed completely overnight" after the Moussavi-Ahmedinejad debate; "green appeared everywhere."

Where Senior Clerics Stand

6. (S) He also said the debates produced "an explosion" among the clergy, directed, according to XXX, against Ahmedinejad. The late replacement of Interior Minister Pir Mohammadi by Ahmedinejad confederate Mahsouli had also been a worrisome event. Also significant, said XXX in a distinctly positive tone, had been the candid and electrifying remarks in May on Iranian television of Tehran University political scientist Zeba Qolom, who had candidly criticized the government's rejectionist foreign policy vis a vis the United States. XXX noted very pointedly that, in his view, there is very little senior clerical support for Ahmedinejad; he said "they remember Ahmedinejad attacked them, and only one -- just one -- in Qom supports him," an apparent reference to XXX.

7. (S) XXX said the ultimate denouement will be determined by interplay between the Guardian Council as it deliberates on the candidates' petitions for redress, and the Supreme Leader. This deliberation will be set against a background either of acquiescence by the international community and a lessening of the energy behind current protest levels, or of continued pressure and withholding of legitimacy through mass protest and united, sustained international attention. XXX claimed that opponents of the Ahmedinejad win can settle for nothing less than a "re-vote," that the ballots as cast June 12 are too tainted for a recount now to have value. He said the United States &must not recognize Ahmedinejad.

Rafsanjani Said To Be Unwilling to Tolerate A "Third Provocation"

8. (S) XXX repeatedly underlined what he called XXX central role in resisting the "coup" and in backing the three aggrieved candidates. He described the June 12 vote manipulation as "a third provocation" against XXX and the community he represents. Without naming the specific provocateurs, but saying the same ones are behind the current manipulation of election results, XXX said XXX had chosen not to respond to the electoral manipulations which had undercut him in the previous (2005) presidential elections and the 2007 Majles elections, but that he and "those whom this figure represents.... do not accept a third provocation;" XXX repeated the phrase at several points in the evening. XXX twice during the evening provided a detailed description of the IRGC and the original leaders of the 1979 revolution as being &those who really decide the national interest. At one point XXX declared: &Presidents come and go but we remain and we decide what is the interest of the nation and the interest of the revolution.

XXX Picks the Green Folder

9. (S) Poloff, seated next to XXX during dinner, offered XXX one set apiece of Farsi language versions of President Obama's Cairo speech and his June 15 remarks (during Prime Minister Berlusconi's visit) on Iran: the two document sets were packaged in a green and a blue folder.

XXX Points at Jafari, Basij, and "A Person Very Close to the Leader"

10. (S) On the margins of the meeting afterwards, speaking to Poloff and to German Political Counselor Hans Best, XXX said IRGC commander XXX has been a principal planner and instigator of election manipulations. Asked about the possible role of XXX, XXX said that "yes, we have serious division;" he said he could not name who in XXX was involved, but emphasized "the large majority" of IRGC officers and rank and file "oppose what has happened."

Human Rights

11. (S) In response to points Poloff made, drawing from NSC's June 16 public guidance, on USG concern over violence, possible vote fraud, the unchanging nature of international security concerns, and USG respect and noninterference in Iranian affairs, XXX immediately and in front of the group asked that USG be very careful not to de-emphasize human rights in its public comments on Iran in the coming days. There was then a lengthy segue, not without irony, into the role human rights should play in U.S. foreign policy in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Israel/Palestine and Central Asia, followed by XXX return to a request that the USG keep the human rights and safety of "peaceful Iranian demonstrators" at the center of the USG message. XXX praised USG public statements on the elections to date, and agreed the principle of noninterference needs to be constantly repeated, but said the human rights component needed to go "somewhat farther." He argued that a failure to establish a strong and clear signal on human rights would legitimate, and thereby empower, security forces to slowly and quietly crush the current resistance.

Nuclear Engagement: "Cash for Cash"

12. (S) XXX asked to comment on prospects for nuclear engagement, politely but immediately dismissed the P5 1 offer as being "not business-like," in that it promises in his view "future U.S. action such as light water reactor or friendly security talks" in exchange for "real action by Iran now -- suspension of enrichment." He then made general remarks about the possibility of "a practical solution," but repeated "it must be business-like" with concrete motivations, and he raised anti-narcotics and anti-terrorism as things "which mean something to Iran -- you must make a real offer." He repeated the mantra "cash for cash" at least four times in describing what in the Iranian view constitutes a "business-like" approach to negotiation.

Personal Disappointment

13. (S/NF) Poloff informed XXX that, further to XXX earlier expressions of interest at traveling to Washington to brief senior U.S. experts and officials (ref), USG officials were aware of his interest in traveling to the United States. As before Poloff offered to support and expedite the application but noted sharp limitations on Poloff's ability to assist; XXX was visibly disappointed, remarking ruefully he would have to tell people "my Washington connection cannot produce as I wished." XXX politely noted Poloff's pending departure from post and asked for an introduction to the incoming London Iran Watcher -- Poloff made tentative arrangements for introductions to be made in person on June 30, shortly before XXX are due to return from the UK to Iran.


14. (S) Well-briefed, smooth, and supremely confident as always, XXX appeared a consummate and effective salesman, sent to make a case. Though he may have intended throughout the evening to mislead as to his true allegiances, XXX has in the past in this setting consistently and repeatedly expressed deep contempt for Ahmedinejad and his political supporters (ref). XXX, whom Poloff has observed in a series of similar small group sessions since 2006 (ref), projected his usual smoothly self-confident, dominating presence, but seemed more internally agitated and ill at ease than in previous meetings. As the dinner broke up, his manner with Poloff on the margins in requesting USG public rhetorical support for demonstrators and human rights principles was (not quite but) almost pleading in tone, and far more urgent and solicitous than anything Poloff had previously heard from him. XXX had the air less of an impassioned campaigner for human rights, and more of a real party in interest, working to maintain composure and self-assurance even as his prize ox is being gored.

Iran: BBC Persian TV Begins Operations

Cable from U.S. Embassy, London, United Kingdom, to U.S. Department of State, Washington, D.C. (WikiLeaks) | Jan 16, 2009

DE RUEHLO #0127/01 0161630
P 161630Z JAN 09

C O N F I D E N T I A L LONDON 000127


E.O. 12958: DECL: 01/16/2019

REF: EMB LONDON (GAYLE) EMAIL TO DEPT 12/24/08 Classified By: Political Counselor Richard Mills, Jr. for reasons 1.4 ( b) and (d)

1. (C) Summary. BBC Persian TV launched its well-resourced broadcast operations January 14. Both anti-regime exiles and the Tehran regime continue to attack BBC's objectivity. The BBC's effort is a long-term one aimed at attracting Farsi-speaking audiences in Iran, Tajikistan, and Afghanistan; broadcasts will be unhindered by jamming. BBC Persian TV has no office in Tehran, but has in recent months recruited many young journalists directly from Iran for its London staff, and will rely heavily on internet contributors for footage from inside the country. One BBC executive's public comments, possibly intending to curry favor with Iranian authorities, claimed for BBC Persian TV a level of credibility and objectivity he argued compares favorably with VOA Persian TV's work. End Summary.

Iranians' Criticism, BBC's High Hopes; BBC Radio Farsi Unaffected

2.(C) BBC Persian TV, boasting a sharply expanded staff and lavish studio facilities on Regent Street in London, launched its 8-hour per day broadcast operations January 14.The launch comes amidst a flurry of rhetorical charges, widely reported by BBC and other media, from the Tehran regime that the BBC has a subversive agenda of regime change and psychological warfare, along with opposing claims from anti-regime Iranian exiles that BBC's coverage has a biased, pro-regime slant. Rhetoric from both sides is likely to continue, given Tehran's broad distrust of Western media as well as the BBC's past role, in the eyes of many Iranians, as an interested participant in modern Iranian history (most notably, Iranians argue, in the 1953 Mossadegh coup and in criticism of the late Shah before his 1978 fall). UK press, and some Embassy contacts, see BBC Persian TV's hiring of several dozen young Iranian journalists and staff recently arrived from Tehran as inherently suspect, and evidence of manipulation by the Tehran regime of BBC programming.

3. (SBU) BBC World Service Head Nigel Chapman, as reported in UK press, said the BBC aims at 11 million viewers by 2011 in Afghanistan, Iran, and Tajikistan. London Iran Watcher (Poloff) in a December tour of BBC Persian's spanking new studios in Upper Regent Street engaged Daryush Karimi, a news editor for the Persian TV operation. Karimi said BBC's Persian radio (broadcasting since 1941) will be unaffected; Persian radio is a separate program in BBC's offices in Aldwych, a different area of central London. Karimi said BBC Persian TV would work closely with and draw from contributions from BBC's on-line Persian website and blogging activities.

Jamming Not An Issue

4. (C) Karimi told Poloff jamming is not expected to be a problem; he said BBC will jump its broadcasts back and forth between two satellites. IRIG entities, according to Karimi, use one of the same satellites for their own programming and are thus expected not to try to interfere with BBC broadcasts. A UK media report noted Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps has Cuban-supplied jamming equipment, but that such equipment is not cost-effective in the Iran context.

Large Budget but No Tehran Office; Many Recent Hirees Fresh from Iran

5. (C/NF) BBC Persian TV has a USD 23 Million (GBP 15 million) annual budget. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office in 2007 had told Poloff BBC Persian TV was to start operations just a few months after its 2006 authorization by Parliament; FCO explanations since mid-2007 for the delay have cited general funding problems. Karimi and other BBC Persian TV staff during Poloff's mid-December visit to BBC Persian TV studios were reluctant interlocutors but said among BBC Persian's 150-plus staff (a figure also in current UK press reports) were dozens of 2008 arrivals to London in their 20's and 30's from Iran, where they worked in "journalism-related" positions. Extrapolating from the FCO- and BBC-provided timeframes, the most recently hired staff at BBC Persian TV appear to have been hired out of Iran after BBC had been refused permission by IRIG to open an office in Tehran. All recent arrivals at the BBC from Iran to whom Poloff spoke, and their managers, declined to discuss details of their hiring and background, but said they were recruited by BBC in Iran, by phone and internet, beginning in spring 2008. BBC has one accredited, English-speaking staffer in Tehran. BBC editors indicate BBC will, because it has no office in Tehran, have to rely heavily for news images on input from other BBC offices in the region and, especially, on internet uploads from web-savvy BBC collaborators and audience members in Iran. All of the dozen or more phone conversation fragments Poloff overheard in BBC Persian TV's news and editing rooms were in Farsi, and may have been international calls; most email screens were also in Persian.

6. (C) One staffer at BBC Persian, whom Poloff first met in November, is a 20-something who stated she had never traveled to the West, and had been in the UK since September 2008, but spoke remarkably fluent, idiomatic, U.S.-accented English. She had worked for Press TV in Tehran about which she was non-specific but characterized as a "difficult" experience due to constant official monitoring of loyalties and work content. Perhaps still adjusting to a Western environment, and clearly struck by being in conversation at last with a representative of the "Global Arrogance," the staffer was evasive over the course of several conversations, in discussing how BBC found her or other recent hirees inside Iran and how transparent she was with her then-current employer about her BBC contacts.

BBC Enjoys Prestige, Claims "Balanced, Friendly" Coverage, Calls VOA Persian "Slanted"

7. (C) Somewhat ironically, according to press sources and Embassy Iranian blogger contacts, BBC is the overwhelmingly preferred source for foreign information among Iranian politicians and leaders, including hard-liners for whom UK (and U.S.) perfidy is a daily catechism. In general, the cachet and prestige of the BBC, remains high in Iran, due in no small part to an ubiquitous belief among Iranians in British political acumen and omniscience. Earlier in January, as the BBC broadcast start-up neared, IRIG critiques of BBC's intention to subvert Iran through a soft "velvet revolution" increased. In response to these official Iranian attacks, BBC has portrayed itself as an institution which has moved on from admitted historical errors in Iran. BBC Persian Executive Editor Steve Williams described BBC Persian's rival, the Persian service at Voice of America, as "blatantly neo-con" and "incredibly critical and slanted (against IRIG)," contrasting VOA's alleged bias with BBC's own plan to be "balanced, sophisticated and friendly."


8. (C/NF) The long delay to BBC's start of operations, from 2006 to 2008, may have arisen, in addition to budgetary challenges, from unsuccessful, repeated BBC attempts to obtain IRIG permission to establish an office in Tehran. Not having such a presence inside Iran inevitably makes generating coverage of Iranian politics and society much harder, and may have forced BBC to reassess its reporting strategies, re-working its London staffing to assure a flow of web-based footage from inside Iran. BBC's characterization of its own benign intent, and its starkly negative portrayal of VOA's objectivity reflects, if not BBC's own political bias, then at least a very competitive approach to audience share, and a possible desire to reach an accommodation with IRIG authorities on BBC's operations in Iran.

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