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EU's Ashton Demands Top Greens' Release; Mashaei Backs New Parties

27 Mar 2011 22:46Comments

Press Roundup provides a selected summary of news from the Iranian press and excerpts where the source is in English. Tehran Bureau has not verified these stories and does not vouch for their accuracy. Please refer to the Media Guide to help put the stories in perspective. You can follow breaking news stories on our Twitter feed.

Iran Daylight Time (IRDT), GMT+4:30

Catherine Ashton; Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei.

10:30 p.m., 7 Farvardin/March 27 Our columnist Muhammad Sahimi compiled the following news items and commentary:

Catherine Ashton, the European Union High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, has demanded the release of Green Movement leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi. In a strongly worded statement, Ashton declares,

"I remain very concerned about the treatment of Mr. Mehdi Karroubi and Mr. Mir Hossein Moussavi. It remains unclear -- despite efforts to secure verifiable information -- whether they are under house arrest or otherwise imprisoned. I urge the authorities of the Islamic Republic of Iran simply to grant them the freedom of movement to which they have a right. I further condemn the unacceptable repression to which representatives of many political and civil society groups in Iran are now routinely subjected, and call on the Iranian authorities to respect the right to freedom of movement, and communication, of all those held in arbitrary detention or under house arrest. In conformity with its international obligations, notably those under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which Iran has freely ratified, Iran has the same duty as every other state-party to respect the fundamental rights of all its citizens."

Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's chief of staff and senior adviser, is reportedly the behind-the-scenes backer of seven new political groups that have asked the Interior Ministry for operating licenses. In an interview with Khabar Online, which is close to Majles Speaker Ali Larijani, Hamid Reza Fouladgar, a member of the Article 10 Commission for Political Groups, which oversees such licenses, said that one of the groups -- the Party of Justice for Islamic Iran -- has received a permit and another has been rejected, while those for the rest are pending. He also said that reformist groups can take part in next year's elections for the Ninth Majles only if they renounce the "sedition" -- the name given to the Green Movement by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Tabnak, the website close to Mohsen Rezaei, secretary-general of the Expediency Discernment Council and former top commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, reports that the government of Argentina is secretly negotiating with Iran to expand commercial relations between the two countries. Quoting Haaretz, the relatively liberal Israeli newspaper, Tabnak says that Argentine Minister of Foreign Affairs Hector Timerman is personally leading the negotiations on his country's side and that a third country is involved as an intermediary. Tabnak concludes that the negotiations suggest that Argentina has realized that the accusations that Iran was responsible for the two explosions in Buenos Aires in 1992 and 1994 that killed 114 Jewish people are false.

Well-known author Davood Ghaffar Zadegan said that the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance is gradually stopping the publication of literary books in Iran. He said that the ministry takes an interminable amount of time to inspect books submitted for publication permits. In his description, the ministry does not even state its intentions. If it does not want a book to be published, it should state so clearly, so that the author can decide how to proceed.

After Khamenei declared the new Iranian year the year of "economic jihad," a large number of posters with his picture and the declaration were placed over Tehran. After a few days, however, the security forces asked Tehran Mayor Bagher Ghalibaf to remove them, apparently because many were colored green.

As reported recently, the judiciary has summoned several high-ranking members of the two main reformist groups, Islamic Iran Participation Front and the Organization of Islamic Revolution Mojahedin, both of which have been outlawed. A new report indicates that other political figures have also been summoned. They include leading nationalist-religious figures Ezatollah Sahabi, Dr. Habibollah Peyman, and Mohammad Basteh Negar. Sahabi, 80, leads the Nationalist-Religious Coalition. Peyman, 75, leads Jonbesh-e Mosalmanan-e Mobarez (Movement of Militant Muslims), an outlawed Islamic leftist group that is part of the coalition. Basteh Negar, another well-known coalition member, is married to Azam Taleghani, daughter of the popular, progressive Ayatollah Seyyed Mahmoud Taleghani (1911-1979).

Iraj Hassan Zadeh, deputy governor-general of Kurdistan province for political and security affairs, said that in two terrorist attacks on Thursday evening in Sanandaj, the provincial capital, two police men were killed and three were injured. Hassan Zadeh said that he believes that the attacks were carried out by what he called an "extremist religious group" and with the support of foreign powers.

The second annual World Celebration of Nowruz, the beginning of the Iranian new year, was held today in Tehran.The presidents of Afghanistan, Iraq, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, and Armenia, and representatives of 25 other nations took part in the celebration. The celebrations were used by Ahmadinejad and Mashaei to burnish their nationalist credentials. Both have been talking about an "Iranian school of thought," which has angered the religious conservatives. In related news, Shahabeddin Sadr, deputy Majles speaker, said that the "Iranian school" is a minor issue. It is the "Islamic school" that is important, he argued, and talking about such minor issues is divisive.

Dr. Abdolkarim Lahiji, deputy head of the International Federation of Human Rights Leagues, said that if Iran does not cooperate with the United Nations special envoy for human rights in Iran, then the case may be referred to the U.N. Security Council. He said that the appointment of such an envoy means that the status of human rights in the country is terrible and that Iran is obliged to allow the envoy to travel there and inspect the situation first-hand.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast characterized the resolution approved by the U.N. Human Rights Council as "anti-Iran" and said that its approval is "unjust, unjustified, and completely political that was done under pressure by the United States." Arguing that the aim is to focus on Iran so that the world will not learn about the violations of human rights elsewhere, he said, "The goal of this resolution is to pressure Iran and change the normal path of of the Human Rights Council for investigating human rights in all countries." Alaeddin Boroujerdi, chairman of the Majles National Security and Foreign Policy Affairs, said that the resolution has no credibility and that Iran should not allow the special envoy to enter the country.

Maurice Copithorne, former United Nations rapporteur on human rights in Iran (1995-2002), described the qualities an effective human rights envoy to Iran should possess:

"I think the presence of a legal background in some form or other is important. I don't want to say it's essential, but it's important. Most of the ones that I have known have had a legal background, but certainly not all of them. I think they have to have a pretty thick skin because they will be attacked by various groups, including, of course, the government of Iran. A number of things circulated about me, personally and otherwise, during my time. You have to just take these in your stride and keep writing what you believe are accurate reports on the state of human rights. So you have to be prepared for a degree of this sort of activity -- that is to say, the Iranian government's attempting to justify itself in various forms. It just comes with the mandate. With regard to having an impact on the Iranian government so that it changes its ways, I came away from my mandate thinking that was highly desirable, but close to being unattainable as an objective. You just don't know when you're having an impact on the Iranian government, but I always felt there were situations in which I was having an impact -- usually a nonpublic impact."

Despite his pessimism, Copithorne said, "I still believe that we should have special rapporteurs because it does increase pressure on the government." The Iranian government allowed Copithrone to travel to Iran only once.

Kamran Najaf Zadeh, a reporter for the Voice and Visage of the Islamic Republic (the national network of television and radio channels), was expelled from France. In a statement supposedly signed by 1,700 reporters of pro-government new agencies and websites, his expulsion was condemned. The statement declared, "Under the conditions in which the looting West, particularly the United States, Britain, and France consider themselves the absolute defenders of freedom, we are witnessing that they do not respect the simplest and most primitive principle of freedom, and deny their own people their fundamental right to 'know.'" The statement claimed that Najaf Zadeh's expulsion was the proof that there is no freedom of expression in France. However, before Najaf Zadeh was expelled, the deputy chief of the Agence France-Presse bureau in Tehran, Jay Deshmukh, was ordered to leave Iran, which he did on March 11. AFP's information director, Philippe Massonnet, said that Iranian authorities gave no reason for the decision to expel Deshmukh. He simply "received the order to leave." In addition, Najaf Zadeh apparently did not have a permit to work as a journalist, despite reporting from France for 18 months. Hossein Abedini, head of foreign reports for the Voice and Visage, said that the French government told Najaf Zadeh that he was being expelled for filing reports that "disturb the security of France."

Journalist and attorney for political prisoners Nasrin Sotoudeh, who has been sentenced to 11 years in jail and a 20-year ban on practicing law, was named a recipient of Florence, Italy's biannual human rights award given to two individuals or organizations that have taken "worthy steps to promote and establish peace and to defend human rights and have suffered harm and abuse in this path." Fr. Mario Bartolini, a Peruvian human rights activist, was named as the other recipient. The city council of Florence cited Sotoudeh's resistance to legal discrimination against women, her defense of juvenile offenders sentenced to death, and her struggle for gender equality in Iran.

In an interview with Hamshahri, the daily published by Tehran's city council, conservative Majles deputy Ahmad Tavakoli, head of the legislature's Research Center, said that it is very likely that the confrontation between the Ahmadinejad administration and the Majles will grow more severe in the new Iranian year that began on March 21. Tavakoli said that the reason is that Ahmadinejad ignores much of the legislation approved by the Majles. He said, "When Mr. Ahmadinejad makes a decision, the views of others are no longer important to him, and he thinks that he should do whatever he has thought. He feels that whatever decision is made by his administration must be followed by others, and this is a very bad characteristic." Tavakoli also criticized his fellow legislators: "The Majles has the means to question and impeach [administration officials], but I consider this Majles weak due to some deputies being sellouts. The officials take the expectations of the deputies [for their districts] hostage, and release them only when they have their votes." He also said, "I am aware of the sedition by the government, but I keep silent." The interview took place before Khamenei ordered members of the Islamic Republic's government not to criticize each other in public.

Alef, the website run by Tavakoli, justified the silence of the hardline-controlled mass media about the developments in Syria by declaring, "Syria is Iran's strategic ally and creating problems for it is not in Iran's interest." Acknowledging that freedom is very limited in Syria, Alef said that the friendship between the two nations does not imply that Iran supports every policy of the Syrian government.

Distinguished journalist Jila Baniyaghoub has written a letter to Tehran Prosecutor Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi, demanding to be allowed to see her husband, imprisoned journalist Bahman Ahmadi Amouei. The couple have not been allowed to see each other for seven months. In her letter, Baniyaghoub said, "My last letter to you was seven months ago. All I did in that letter was asking you to also be our [people's] prosecutor once in a while [as opposed to carrying out the hardliners' orders]. Your only reaction to my letter has been that you have denied my right to see my husband. Review my letter once again. You will see that, as a common citizen and with a polite tone, I asked you to investigate the illegal sentences that I have been given." Baniyaghoub has been sentenced to a year in jail and banned from working as a journalist for 30 years. Her husband has been sentenced to five years imprisonment and has not been granted a furlough for nearly one year. Baniyaghoub added that her husband has not been allowed to make a single telephone call to his ailing mother.

Reports indicate that Shahram Amiri, the Iranian nuclear scientist who defected to the United States in May 2009 and returned to Iran in July 2010, has been put on trial by a military court. According to the report, Amiri has been accused of "having illegal communications with enemy countries, acting against national security, and passing on secret information to the enemy."

Emruz, the website that is close to the outlawed reformist Organization of Islamic Revolution Mojahedin, reported that the security and intelligence forces are pressuring political prisoners to "confess" that they are linked with the Mojahedin-e Khalgh Organization (MKO), the exiled opposition group. Emruz names two people that have been under such pressure: Zahra Hatami, a close friend of Dr. Zahra Rahnavard, Mousavi's wife, and Vahid Talaei, who worked with a committee that aided those who were hurt during the peaceful demonstrations in the aftermath of the 2009 presidential election. Hatami's sister, Shahin Hatami, an MKO member, was executed by the government in the 1980s. Her husband remains a member of the MKO and reportedly lives in Camp Ashraf in Iraq. Zahra Hatami is a retired teacher who served the nation during the war with Iraq in the 1980s, and is said to be very religious. She was arrested last December. Rahnavard had previously warned that the government might pressure political prisoners to "confess" that they are in league with the MKO. According to Emruz, both Hatami and Talaei have so far resisted the pressure.

Copyright © 2011 Tehran Bureau

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