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Political Prisoners in Group Hunger Strike; Feud Flares over Mahdi Movie

14 Apr 2011 09:30Comments

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

Rajaei Shahr Prison.

3:30 a.m., 26 Farvardin/April 15 The list of the 32 Islamic Republic officials sanctioned by the European Union for human rights violations has been published. The cited individuals are:

1. Brigadier General Esmail Ahmadi Moghaddam, commander of the national police

2. Hossein Allah Karam, Revolutionary Guard officer and head of Ansaar-e Hezbollah, a paramilitary vigilante group

3. Brigadier General Abdollah Eraghi, deputy commander of the Revolutionary Guards' ground forces

4. Brigadier General Ali Fazli, deputy commander of the Basij militia

5. Brigadier General Hossein Hamadani, commander of the Revolutionary Guards' Mohammad Rasouallah corps

6. Major General Mohammad Ali Jafari, top commander of the Revolutionary Guards

7. Ali Khalili, head of the medical division of the Saarallah military base

8. Brigadier General Bahram Hosseini Motlagh, commander of the Saarallah base

9. Brigadier General Mohammad Reza Naghdi, commander of the Basij militia

10. Brigadier General Mohammad Reza Radan, deputy commander of the national police

11. Brigadier General Azizollah Rajabzadeh, former commander of the Tehran police (he left the post in January 2010)

12. Brigadier General Hossein Sajedinia, commander of Tehran's police force

13. Hossein Taeb, head of the Revolutionary Guard intelligence unit

14. Sayyed Hassan Shariati, head of the judiciary branch in Mashhad

15. Ghorban Ali Dorri Najafabadi, former national prosecutor-general (he left the post in September 2009; he was previously minister of intelligence in 1997-99, when the Chain Murders occurred)

16. Hassan Zare Dehnavi, known as Judge Haddad, judge of Branch 26 of the Revolutionary Court

17. Mohammad Soltani, judge of the Revolutionary Court in Mashhad

18. Ali Akbar Heydarifar, judge of the Revolutionary Court

19. Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi, Tehran prosecutor-general

20. Mohammad Moghiseh, judge of the Revolutionary Court

21. Gholam-Hossein Mohseni Ejei, national prosecutor-general, judiciary spokesman, and former minister of intelligence (he held the post at the time of the 2009 presidential election)

22. Saeed Mortazavi, Tehran prosecutor-general during the 2009 presidential election and one of the main culprits behind the crimes at the Kahrizak detention center

23. Abbas Pirabbasi, judge of Branches 26 and 28 of the Revolutionary Court

24. Amir Mortazavi, deputy prosecutor of Mashhad

25. Abdolghasem Salavati, judge of Branch 15 of the Revolutionary Court

26. Molk Ajar Sharifi, judiciary head of East Azerbaijan province

27. Ahmad Zargar, judge of the appeals court

28. Ali Akbar Yaseghi, judge of the Revolutionary Court

29. Mostafa Bozorgnia, head of Evin Prison's Ward 350

30. Gholam-Hossein Esmaili, head of the National Organization of Prisons

31. Farajollah Sedaghat, deputy head of the Tehran prison organization

32. Mohammad Ali Zanjirehei, senior official in the National Organization of Prisons

9:30 a.m., 25 Farvardin/April 14 Our columnist Muhammad Sahimi compiled the following news items and commentary:

A large number of political prisoners who are being held in Rajaei Shahr Prison have been on hunger strike for the past four days. They are protesting the terrible conditions at the facility, as well as the denial of their fundamental rights, including the right to furlough and to telephone and meet with their families face to face. They are on a wet strike, meaning that they only drink water. Such prominent political prisoners as Mansour Osanloo, Isa Saharkhiz, Heshmatollah Tabarzadi, Majid Tavakoli, Mehdi Mahmoudian, Kayvan Samimi, and others are among those who are participating in the hunger strike.

After Hossein Shariatmadari, the hardline managing editor of Kayhan, mouthpiece of a faction of the security forces, criticized the producers of the documentary movie about the return of Imam Mahdi, The Appearance Is Imminent, supporters of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, his chief of staff and confidant, began to harshly attack him. The film claims that the return of Imam Mahdi, who disappeared over 1,000 years ago, is nearly at hand and that Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Ahmadinejad, and Hassan Nasrallah of Lebanese Hezbollah will be the Imam's close aides. Shariatmadari had accused the producers of being linked to Mashaei, and asked rhetorically, "Is it the return of the Imam that is imminent or the elections for the Majles?" The elections are to be held in late February 2012.

In a blog posted by Omid Hosseini on Alef, the website run by conservative Majles deputy Ahmad Tavakoli, the attacks and counterattacks were discussed. Hosseini goes beyond even Shariatmadari's accusations and says that the film is meant to scare people off of criticizing Ahmadinejad and force them to keep him at the heart of the political scene: "If he is linked to Imam Mahdi, why would you criticize him and get rid of him?" At the same time, Mojtaba Zolnour, deputy to Ali Saeedi, Khamenei's representative to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, said that some clerics believe that Khamenei may indeed be the mythical figure who will help Imam Mahdi on his return. In its Thursday issue, Kayhan persisted in its criticism of The Appearance Is Imminent and the claim that the return of Imam Mahdi is nigh.

The European Union has announced that it will freeze the assets of 32 officials of the Islamic Republic accused of violating Iranians' human rights and ban them from traveling to the E.U. British Foreign Secretary William Hague said that the 27-nation union intended a strong response to the "appalling human rights record of Iran." He condemned the detention of Green Movement leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, the imprisonment of more journalists "than any other country in the world," and the Islamic Republic's "excessive use of the death penalty, often on vague charges." Consideration is being given to expanding the list to 80 Iranian officials. The White House issued a statement supporting the sanctions.

The German airline Lufthansa announced that as of Thursday, its aircraft will not be able to refuel in Tehran. Lufthansa operates a daily flight to the Iranian capital. On Tuesday, Mohammad Reza Rahimi, Ahmadinejad's first vice president (Iran has eight vice presidents), announced that because some European countries refuse to provide fuel to Iranian civilian airliners, the Islamic Republic would retaliate by denying their airlines fuel when their planes fly to Tehran. IranAir flights from Tehran to London must stop in a third country to refuel, so Iran responded by denying fuel to the aircraft of the British airline BMI. Flights from Amsterdam to Tehran by the Dutch airline KLM must also refuel in a third country.

Announcing imprisoned Iranian journalist and attorney Nasrin Sotoudeh as the recipient of the annual PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award, Kwame Anthony Appiah, president of PEN American Center, said, "As a writer, as an activist, and as a lawyer she has dedicated herself to a simple and powerful idea: the principle that the rights guaranteed by law are absolute and shared equally by all. At a moment when women and men around the world are standing together peacefully to reclaim this most basic truth, she is in one of the world's most infamous prisons, to the great shame of the Iranian government. In honoring her with this award, we stand with the millions of Iranians she has stood up for and inspired, and we urge individuals and governments around the world to join us in pressing for her immediate release." The award will be presented on April 26 at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi, a close friend and associate of Sotoudeh's, will receive the honor on her behalf.

The International Monetary Fund released its report on the state of the world's economy since 2008 and its projections for 2011. According to the report, Iran's rates of economic growth during 2008, 2009, and 2010 were, respectively, 1, 0.1, and 1 percent, and it was projected that the rate would be close to zero in 2011. According to the report, the average rate of growth worldwide during 2010 was 4.4 percent. Iran's Central Bank used to publishes such reports about the country's economy on an annual basis, but has not done so since 2008. The IMF predicted that the rate of inflation in Iran in 2011 will 22.5 percent.

Mohammad Taghi Mesbah Yazdi, the reactionary cleric and Ahamdinejad's avowed spiritual guide, has warned that the Freemasons are reestablishing their network in Iran. Criticizing Ahmadinejad and Mashaei without naming them, Mesbah said, "If we act lazily, when we wake up that darkness has spread everywhere and realize that we actually trained those who created the sedition [the Green Movement]. What is the reason for all the nationalistic talk of an Iranian school of thought, especially when an Islamic movement is taken shape in the Islamic world? What is the motivation...? Today in our society the organization of the Freemasons is forming. Just as during the Constitutional Revolution [1906-11], the Freemasons used Qur'anic and Islamic slogans, today they have also come forward with revolutionary and Islamic slogans." It is widely believed that many officials of the regime of Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, as well as many Iranian intellectuals of the past 100 years were secretly members of Freemason Lodges, which were first established in Great Britain.

In a speech in the province of Sistan and Baluchistan, Ahmadinejad declared that Iran is the most powerful nation on earth and no country can hurt it. He said, "George W. Bush began his presidency by frowning and Obama began his with smiles, but the goals of the two are the same.... For years, the U.S. and its allies used stupid and uninformed people to achieve their goals, and hid their true face behind religion, but their goal was to devour the Middle East. Any plot that they have had in the Middle East has benefited Iran. Iran is the most powerful nation in the world."

Kayhan claimed that the person who purchased Ahmadinejad's old car at a charitable auction three and half months ago is under investigation for financial corruption. The man reportedly owes $1.2 billion to Iranian banks, while at the same time he is a major shareholder in two private financial institutions. It was reported that the man bought Ahmadinejad's car for $2.5 million.

Ahmad al-Qattan, the Saudi Arabian ambassador to Egypt said in an interview that his country is hopeful that Iran will not test the military power of his nation. He said that Saudi Arabia has always sought friendship with Iran, but "unfortunately the conspiracies of Iran against the Arab nations of the [Persian] Gulf never ends. They are still dreaming about the Persian empire." He said Iran's claims about Saudi Arabia's intervention in Bahrain are false and absurd, and that he "can prove it." Alaeddin Boroujerdi, chairman of the Majles National Security and Foreign Policy Commission reacted angrily to the report. What al-Qattan said, according to Boroujerdi, is "the policy of Israel and the United States.... Our policy in the Persian Gulf is not entering a military phase, and every country of the region knows this. If Saudi Arabia had not committed its historical mistake in Bahrain, the present strains in the relations between the two nations would not have developed."

On Monday, members of the Basij militia staged a protest in front of the Saudi Arabian Embassy in Tehran and then attacked it with Molotov cocktails. Six or seven such missiles were thrown at the embassy. The militia members were led by Alireza Panahian, a reactionary cleric. The crowd did not have a permit for its gathering, but the police did not stop the militia members from protesting. They tried to pull down the Saudi Arabian flag and replace it with that of the Lebanese Hezbollah, but the police prevented them from doing so. Some of the militia members who carryied Molotov cocktails were arrested, but soon released.

The British Embassy in Tehran has asked its staff not to show up for work until further notice, effectively closing the embassy. Relations between Iran and Britain have been strained for several years. In the latest incident, an Iranian staff member at the embassy was arrested on March 8 and has not yet been released.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast rejected the allegations about the two Iranians on trial in Bahrain charged with spying for Iran. Mehmanparast said that the goal of such a trial is to distract public opinion from what is going on in Bahrain. Along with a Bahraini citizen, the two Iranians have been accused of providing Iran information on Bahraini military and economic matters between 2002 and 2010.

Iran's permanent representative to the United Nations, Mohammad Khazaei, has arrived in Egypt to meet with Egyptian officials. This is the first trip by an Iranian official to Egypt since former President Hosni Mubarak was removed from power. Khazaei is also a member of the board of directors of the Iran-Egypt Joint Bank.

Siamak Sohrabi, a graduate student in civil engineering at Sharif University and head of the general council of the school's Muslim Student Association, was released from prison. He was arrested on February 28, after he criticized Reza Sharif, the university's interim chancellor.

Bahareh Hedayat and Mahdieh Golroo, two well-known university activists, have been transferred to solitary confinement in Ward 209 of Evin Prison. Reports indicate that they have not undergone new interrogation and the reason for the move is not clear. The two have been denied the right to see their families for the past three months. Milad Asadi, another well-known university activist, has also been transferred to solitary confinement. At the same time, two other political prisoners -- Ayoub Ghanbarpourian and Hadi Hosseini -- have suddenly been sent to Rajaei Shahr Prison. The former was arrested on June 15, 2009, and is serving a five-year jail sentence, while the latter has been accused of working with al-Qaeda. The reasons for these transfers are also unclear.

Hossein Ebrahimi, deputy chairman of the Majles Commission on National Security and Foreign Policy, claimed that every political prisoner in the country was granted a furlough for Nowruz, the Persian New Year. In fact, hundreds of political prisoners were denied furlough, and only a few were allowed to spend the holidays with their families.

Fouad Sajoudi Fariman, a Ph.D. student in biomedical engineering at Amir University of Technology in Tehran, was released from detention after posting $500,000 bail. He had been held for three months, of which he spent 45 days in solitary confinement. He has been given an eight-year jail sentence.

Blogger and political activist Homan Mousavi, age 28, was arrested on April 1, 2009, but after more than two years he is still in "temporary detention." His parents were both executed in the summer of 1988, among over 4,500 political prisoners ordered killed by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini that year. Mousavi spent 211 days in solitary confinement in Evin's Ward 240, and was then transferred to Ward 209, both of which are run by the Ministry of Intelligence.

Copyright © 2011 Tehran Bureau

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