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Amnesty Int'l: Release Opposition Leader, Young Human Rights Activist

08 Apr 2011 01:30Comments

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

Heshmatollah Tabarzadi. Bahareh Hedayat.

1:30 a.m., 19 Farvardin/April 8 Amnesty International has made an urgent action appeal for the release from prison of Heshmatollah Tabarzadi, journalist and leader of the banned opposition Democratic Front of Iran. Tabarzadi was arrested in December 2009. After periods of detention in Tehran's Evin Prison and Karaj's Katchoui Prison, he was transferred to Rejaei Shahr Prison (also in Karaj), which has been repeatedly cited for its poor conditions. During his detention, Tabarzadi reported, he was beaten, threatened with rape, and put under great pressure to "confess" to receiving foreign financial backing. Last August, he was one of five Iranian political prisoners to write an open letter to then Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, asking him to press the Iranian government to release all prisoners of conscience in the Islamic Republic.

Tabarzadi was convicted in September 2010 on charges of "insulting the Supreme Leader," "insulting the president," "propaganda against the system," "gathering and colluding with intent to harm state security," and "disturbing public order." His original sentence of nine years' imprisonment and 74 lashes was reduced to eight years' imprisonment on appeal. He remains in Rejaei Shahr Prison.

Our columnist Muhammad Sahimi compiled the following news items and commentary:

On the occasion of the 30th birthday of human rights activist Bahareh Hedayat, member of the central committee of the Office for Consolidation of Unity (Dafter-e Tahtim-e Vahdat), an international campaign has begun to secure her release from jail. Ann Harrison, Amnesty International's Iran researcher, said, "I was cheered to see Amnesty International members joining others across the world to wish Iranian Prisoner of Conscience Behareh Hedayat Happy Birthday in an effort to secure her release. A Facebook page has been set up to collect messages and videos of support. Behareh Hedayat is celebrating her 30th birthday today -- her third behind bars -- in the notorious Evin Prison in Tehran where she is serving a nine and a half year prison term in connection with her activities as a student leader. I sometimes wonder how effective such a campaign might be, in the face of the ongoing ruthless repression by the Iranian authorities. How could someone held in such restrictive circumstances -- she is currently banned from family visits -- even find out that people around the world are singing her 'Happy Birthday' and calling for her release? But as ex-prisoner of conscience Maziar Bahari reminded us after his release, 'the prisoner's worst nightmare is the thought of being forgotten.' These messages of support will reach her family and friends and eventually will get to her. Other families have told us how much such expressions of support have meant to them in the long nights when they sit at home with an empty chair beside them."

Hedayat was arrested in December 2009 while trying to travel to the city of Qom to take part in the funeral of Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri. Daneshjoo News, a dissident Iranian students' website, has published a special page in her honor. Distinguished philosopher and Islamic scholar Dr. Abdolkarim Soroush has also sent a letter of congratulations for Hedayat's birthday. For an article written by her, as well as several video speeches, see here.

Mehdi Hashemi Rafsanjani, son of former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, was exonerated by Oxford University of any wrongdoing in the composition, submission, and approval of his Ph.D. thesis proposal. The university released a short statement saying that it has investigated the issue and found no basis for taking any legal action.

Announcing the award of the annual UNESCO World Press Freedom Prize to jailed Iranian journalist Ahmad Zeidabadi, jury president Diana Senghor said, "The final choice of Ahmad Zeidabadi pays a tribute to his exceptional courage, resistance, and commitment to freedom of expression, democracy, human rights, tolerance, and humanity. Beyond him, the Prize will also award the numerous Iranian journalists who are currently jailed."

UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova supported the jury's selection and called for an immediate end to the six-year prison sentence Zeidabadi is currently serving. She said, "Throughout his career Ahmad Zeidabadi has courageously and unceasingly spoken out for press freedom and freedom of expression, which is a fundamental human right that underpins all other civil liberties, a key ingredient of tolerant and open societies and vital for the rule of law and democratic governance. Ahead of World Press Freedom Day and in recognition of the concerns expressed by the international jury for his health and well-being, I call on the Iranian authorities to release Mr Zeidabadi from detention."

Thirteen ministers in the administration of former President Mohammad Khatami have sent Mir Hossein Mousavi a message of condolence for his father's death. They praised Mousavi for his service to the nation. The group includes such prominent figures as former Oil Minister Bijan Namdar Zanganeh, former Vice President and Environmental Protection Agency head Dr. Masoumeh Ebtekar, former Interior Minister Abdolvahed Mousavi Lari, former Energy Minister Habibollah Bitaraf, and former Vice President and Organization for Budget and Planning chief Mohammad Sattarifar.

Conservative Majles deputy Hassan Ghafourifard said that if Mahmoud Ahmadinejad does not take steps to establish the Ministry of Sports and Youth, as required by legislation approved by the Majles, he will be summoned to the parliament to explain his inaction. Ghafourifard also said that both the Sports Organization and National Organization for the Youth are supposed to be part of the proposed ministry and, therefore, from now on the Majles will not recognize them as separate entities, implying that no budget outlay will be dedicated to them.

Majles deputy Hamid Reza Fouladgar said that the Ahmadinejad administration has asked the parliament to approve price increases for many items. He said that according to the president, if the increases are approved, then the government can distribute the cash handouts among the population. In a press conference on Monday, Ahmadinejad said that the elimination of subsidies will be implemented fully in the current Iranian year. The moves are predicted to bring the government $60 billion in extra income this year. Gholamreza Mesbahi Moghaddam, deputy head of the legislature's Budget Committee, warned that if the predicted extra income does not materialize, the government is not allowed to take extra funds from the special saving accounts for foreign currency. Another Majles deputy, reformist Mohammad Mehdi Shahriari, said that the government cannot keep prices artificially low forever after slashing the subsidies. He added that the subsidies were supposed to be eliminated over a five-year period, not the one year on which the administration now seems bent.

A single page from an edition of the Shahnameh, the epic Book of Kings by the great Iranian poet Abolghasem Ferdowsi, that belonged to the Safavid Shah Tahmaseb I was sold in London for $12 million. This represents a world record for any objet d'art from an Islamic country. The previous record was set last year when an Iranian rug sold for about $9.5 million.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates alleged that Iran intends to create chaos in Bahrain and elsewhere. Gates made his allegation at the end of his trip to Saudi Arabia, during which he met with King Abdullah and other officials. He said, "We have documents that show that Iran wants to take advantage of the situation in Bahrain, and wants to create problems in other places as well."

Lebanon's interim Prime Minster Saad Hariri accused Iran of interference in the internal affairs of the Arab countries and said that neither Bahrain nor any other Arab state will become an Iran protectorate. Hariri said that Iranian interference is one of the region's most important challenges, and that "Lebanon, many of the nations in the Arabian [Persian] Gulf, and non-Gulf states are suffering from political, economic, and security problems due to the unlimited interference by Iran." Hariri's government toppled after the Lebanese Hezbollah, Iran's ally, withdrew its support for his administration. Iranian Ambassador to Lebanon Ghazanfar Roknabadi responded that Iran is opposed to any intervention that exports the uprisings in the region to other nations.

Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh held a press conference in Amman during which he strongly rebuked the Islamic Republic. He claimed that Iran poses a threat against the Arab nations of the Persian Gulf and that Jordan considers this a threat against itself. He also said that Jordan wants Iran to cooperate with the Persian Gulf countries and be a good neighbor. One month ago, the Jordanian government issued a permit for a satellite TV outlet, the Arabian Gulf Channel, which broadcasts anti-Islamic Republic programs into Iran. It has been reported that many Arab businessmen in the Persian Gulf region have invested in the channel.

In a speech in Kermanshah, Ahmadinejad alleged that the West intends to start an Iranian-Arab war in the region. He based his allegation on the developments in Bahrain and the civil war in Libya in which the West has taken the side of the rebels. He said that the goal of the Libyan campaign is to improve the image of the United States and save "the bankrupt and on-the-verge-of-collapse Zionist regime [Israel]." On Monday, Ahmadinejad had warned Saudi Arabia about its forces in Bahrain and rejected the [Persian] Gulf Cooperation Council's accusations that Iran is intervening in the internal affairs of the region's countries. In Thursday's speech, Ahmadinejad also called U.S. President Barack Obama's message to the Iranian people on the occasion of Nowruz, the Persian New Year, "insulting," and announced that the government plans to create 5.2 million new jobs per year. Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, Ahmadinejad's chief of staff and senior adviser, said that the objective of the president and his cabinet in traveling around the country, including to Kermanshah, is to create jobs and solve the problem of unemployment.

Nine Iranians have been arrested in Malaysia on charges of involvement in narcotics trafficking. According to the police, 70 kilograms of methamphetamines, known in Iran as "shisheh" (glass), have been confiscated from the group, which includes four women. The narcotics' value has been estimated at $5.6 million; the police also confiscated $2.3 million in cash.

Amsterdam police announced that an Iranian refugee set himself on fire in the city's center and was killed. The man, 36, had applied for asylum in the Netherlands. His application was rejected, and there was a possibility that he would be returned to Iran.

Time magazine has named Iranian film director Jafar Panahi to a list of ten prominent world artists who have been subjected to government persecution. Among the award-winning films Panahi has directed are The White Balloon (1995), The Circle (2000), and Offside (2006). After the 2009 presidential election, he was arrested and convicted of propaganda against the government and making films without permission. He was sentenced to six years in prison and banned from any participation in filmmaking for 20 years. Amnesty International, supported by leading figures in the Hollywood and international film communities, has been campaigning for his release.

Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi phoned his French counterpart Alain Juppé. According to the Fars News Agency, the two men discussed their countries' bilateral relations, as well as international developments.

Poet and teacher Bahman Nasirzadeh (Araz), from the northwestern town of Maku near the Turkish border, has been arrested. He was previously arrested last May 24 and held in detention for 116 days, most of them in solitary confinement. He was later given a one-year jail sentence, which he has now been taken to jail to serve.

The temporary arrest warrant for attorney Maedeh Ghaderi has been extended. She was arrested on March 10. Her husband, Ali Parandian, was arrested last year, and after Ghaderi pursued her husband's case with the judiciary, she was ultimately arrested in the northeastern city of Mashhad. In a brief phone conversation with her family, Ghaderi described the terrible conditions in which she is being held in Mashhad's Vakilabad Prison in Mashhad, calling the situation "intolerable."

Human rights activist Narges Mohammadi, wife of imprisoned nationalist-religious figure Taghi Rahmani, wrote a letter to Tehran Prosecutor Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi in which she pleaded for better treatment of prisoners. On behalf of the prisoners' families, she wrote, "We and the imprisoned people are human beings and your compatriots. The ruling group must pursue implementation of the laws even more than others, because it is well aware that the survival of the government depends on implementing the laws carefully and correctly. We do not have any unlawful expectations. Ignoring of the law, morality, and human dignity by some officials is a clear injustice against the oppressed citizens, especially when a citizen is unjustifiably arrested and unlawfully jailed, and he and his family cannot do anything to correct the injustice." Rahmani was arrested on February 9 without a warrant and has not been allowed to meet with his family. His attorney has been told that there is no case against him, even though he remains incarcerated. Since his arrest, he has been held in solitary confinement and has not been allowed even to walk in the prison yard.

Copyright © 2011 Tehran Bureau

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