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Is Mashaei Next?

27 May 2011 23:45Comments

Press Roundup provides a selected summary of news from the Farsi and Arabic 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

537305_orig.jpg8 p.m., 6 Khordad/May 27 Our columnist Muhammad Sahimi compiled the following news items and commentary:

Over the past few days Khabar Online, the website close to Majles Speaker Ali Larijani, had speculated that Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's chief of staff, has been arrested. There has been no confirmation of the claim. A new report indicates that an unnamed Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps commander has said in a private gathering that Mashaei will soon be arrested. According to the report, the commander has said that security agents follow Mashaei, and there are even some around his home. He is also not allowed to go anywhere without coordinating it with the security forces. According to him, "Sooner or later Mashaei will be arrested; it may take a while, but it will happen."

In an interview with IRNA, Iran's official news agency, Executive Vice President Hamid Baghaei claimed that the news about a contract worth $450 million with a newly founded company in Tehran "does not exist." As Tehran Bureau has been reporting, several conservative and hardline websites, including Alef, Asr-e Iran, and Mashregh News, have been publishing information about the contract for constructing a conference center and hotel in Kish Island, in which the conference of heads of states of non-aligned nations will be held in 2012. Baghaei denied that a contract to the company, owned by an Iranian American, Panteha Fivazi Yousefi and her father exists. He said that the false report has been used by "foreign mass media and counter-revolutionaries" as propaganda material against the Islamic Republic. Another accusation against Baghaei and Mashaei is that they are major shareholders in a company that is involved in the tourism industry and by receiving large lands free of charge from the government constructs hotels and other tourism related complexes. Baghaei denied that he has any share in the company, and said, "If there are shares under my name, I give them to others free of charge."

But, despite Baghaei's denial, Mostafa Pourmohammadi, head of the National Organization for Inspection (NOI) said that there have been many violations of the laws regarding granting lands in Kish Island, totaling about $400 million. The NOI believes that a contract has been awarded worth 450 million euros (as had been claimed by the website Alef) without any bidding or going through the legal process. Pourmohammadi said that the case should be studied more carefully, because he believes that the interest of the country has not been taken into account.

In an interview with Khabar Online, Hamid Reza Katouzian, head of the Majles Energy Commission, repeated his previous accusation that the explosion in Abadan refinary was caused by bringing a new unit for gasoline production online prematurely, and not testing all the equipments of the unit. Abdollah Kabi, member of the commission and deputy from Abadan also said that the government wanted to bring the unit online. There are conflicting reports about the number of dead. Some have put it as high as four, or as low as one, but most reports indicate that two people were killed and at least 20 people were injured, some very seriously.

A group of mothers who have lost their children either by execution or during political demonstrations, together with their supporters around the world, have issued a strong statement demanding that the conditions in prisons in Iran should be studied and improved. The group is known as "Mothers of Laleh Park" or "Mourning Mothers of Iran." Laleh Park in Tehran was the place where the mothers gathered for the first time to protest the execution and murder of their children. The statement refers to the letters written by several political prisoners, including those by reformist journalist Mehdi Mahmoudian, Shirin Alam-Hooli, the Kurdish activist that was executed, university activist Zia Nabavi, nine female political prisoners who had been transferred to Gharchak Prison, 12 miles southeast of Tehran, and Hashem Khastar, the retired teacher who has been imprisoned in Vakilabad prison in Mashhad -- all previously reported by Tehran Bureau.

9:45 p.m., 5 Khordad/May 26 Our columnist Muhammad Sahimi compiled the following news items and commentary:

Ali Larijani was reelected as Majles speaker for another year. He ran unopposed and received 212 of the 244 votes cast. The remaining ballots were blank. Mohammad Reza Bahonar and Shahabeddin Sadr received 183 and 131 votes respectively, and were elected first and second deputy speakers.

In a speech he delivered at a conference on the history of the Majles, Larijani said that the parliament is not supposed to be controlled by the executive branch. Referring to the late Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh, Larijani said, "Mosaddegh's strategic mistake was that he dissolved the Majles. That laid the foundation for the [CIA-sponsored] coup [of 1953], and concentrated the power in the executive branch, which led to the Majles becoming powerless. Any country that commits such an error will either have a revolution or a coup. If the countries of the region had powerful legislative branches, they would not have experienced popular revolutions. Moreover, if the legal framework [to express] the popular demand is respected, there would never be a dictatorship. It is not an honor for the executive branch to declare that to develop the country it must control the Majles; this is the foundation for a dictatorship. But it is an honor when the legislative branch controls the executive branch."

Citing as an example Abolhassan Bani Sadr, the first president of the Islamic Republic who was impeached by the Majles in June 1981, Larijani continued, "The Majles is not supposed to be controlled by the president; this was the difficulty that Bani Sadr had. He was always confronting either the legislative or judiciary branch." Larijani was directly responding to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's claim a while ago that his administration is the most important organ of the political system and that other organs, such as the Majles, must be subservient to it.

The explosion at the Abadan refinery in southern Iran has provided fresh ammunition for Ahmadinejad's critics. Larijani said that the government must implement the view of the Guardian Council regarding the Ministry of Oil. The council has ruled that Ahmadinejad cannot appoint himself the acting oil minister.

There are rumors that Ahmadinejad will nominate Mohammad Ali-Abadi to head the new Ministry of Energy that is to be created by the merging of the ministries of Oil and Power. Ahmadinejad had nominated him as the minister of power in 2009, but he could not get a vote of confidence from the Majles. Ali-Abadi was present during Ahmadinejad's visit to the Abadan refinery.

Alef, a website run by Ahmadinejad critic and Majles deputy Ahmad Tavakoli, demanded that the president apologize to the nation for the Abadan refinery explosion. As reported here, many experts believe that the explosion would not have happened if the refinery's new gasoline production unit had not been brought online prematurely. Alef said the explosion happened because Ahmadinejad appointed himself as the acting minister of oil, even though he lacks knowledge of the ministry and has little time to devote to it.

Abdollah Kabi, Majles deputy from Abadan, also said that the explosion was due to the premature start of the new unit. Two other Majles deputies said that since Ahmadinejad has appointed himself as the acting oil minister, he is also responsible for the explosion and must be summoned to the Majles as the minister to respond to the deputies' questions.

A statement issued by the National Iranian Oil Company indicated that one person was killed and 24 were injured in the explosion. The National Iranian Refining Company issued a statement saying that the explosion was caused by leakage of natural gas from a unit, that the new unit was not prematurely brought online, and that the explosion could not have been predicted because many tests had been performed on the units. The statement was apparently issued under pressure from the Ahmadinejad administration.

In a ceremony to introduce the new head of the Organization for Cultural Heritage and Tourism (OCHT), Ahmadinejad responded to the allegations about financial irregularities and possible corruption of Hamid Baghaei, one of his eight vice presidents. As reported by Tehran Bureau, Baghaei has been accused of playing a key role in granting a contract worth $380 million to a company that had been founded only two days before the contract was signed, and without any bidding. The contractor is to construct a large hotel and conference center in Kish Island, and will be the site of the conference of the head of non-aligned states in 2012. Ahmadinejad said, "A contract has been granted to someone, [but] some retarded people consider this as a crime. If it is, then we are proud of it." He also honored Baghaei, the last previous head of the OCHT and called him someone "who has dedicated his life to serving this nation and Islam."

Abbas Ali Kadkhodaei, spokesman for the Guardian Council, said that members of the central committee that will monitor the upcoming Majles elections, to be held next March 2, have been selected. They include, in addition to Kadkhodaei himself, Council Secretary-General Ahmad Jannati, reactionary cleric and Council member Mohammad Yazdi, Mohammad Reza Alizadeh, and Mohammad Reza Mirshamsi.

Majles deputy Ali Akbar Olia said that the investigation by the Majles indicates that right before the 2009 presidential election the government paid 80,000 tomans (roughly $80) each to nine million people, without any justification whatsoever. The money was paid under the guise of profits for the government-issued "justice shares," while the investigation indicated that there was no profit to be distributed.

Minister of Intelligence Heydar Moslehi said that the confessions of some of the people arrested on accusations of spying for the West will soon be broadcast. He said that those who were arrested had planned to disrupt the work of the Ministry of Power and damage the country's nuclear program and oil and natural gas installations. He also accused them of being linked to the Green Movement.

In a speech in Qom, hardline Majles deputy Alireza Zakani, publisher of the website Jahan News, said that the goal in firing Moslehi was to take away the cases that the Ministry of Intelligence had built against several members of the "perverted team." He added, "This [perverted] current has also been involved in economic corruption that is under investigation by the judiciary. The amount involved is more than $1 billion."

Mojmal News, a website close to the hardliners, reported that in a recent meeting between Ahmadinejad and Major General Mohammad Ali Jafari, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps' top commander, the general told the president, "Your position among the rank and file of Sepah [the Guards] and the Basij has become weaker. We are trying to control them [to prevent them from taking action against you], but this is not always possible." The general also told Ahmadinejad, "There is a corrupt group around you." When Ahmadinejad asked whether Jafari meant that everyone in his government was corrupt, the general replied, "Some around you are," to which Ahmadinejad responded, "Arrest anyone who is corrupt."

June 4 is the anniversary of the death of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. The political system always hold a commemoration at the mausoleum of the ayatollah in which Iran's president, the Supreme Leader, and Seyyed Hassan Khomeini, the ayatollah's grandson speak. Last year, the commemoration was used by Ahmadinejad's supporters to attack the younger Khomeini, which angered even some of the hardliners. This year, for the first time, Ahmadinejad has not been included in the program, another indication of the deep rift between him and Khamenei.

Several female political prisoners were allowed to meet with their families after long being barred from doing so. They were University activists Bahareh Hedayat and Mahdiyeh Golrou, attorney and journalist Nasrin Sotoudeh, journalist Hengameh Shahidi, and other political and human rights activists, Leila Tavasoli, Nazanin Hasannia, Maryam Darvish, Fatemeh Khorramjou, Parvin Javadzadeh, Maryam Kameli-Monfared, and Sousan Tabianian. The news of the meeting was reported by Amin Ahmadian, Hedayat's husband. According to him, the prisoners were supposed to be transferred to the Gharchak Prison 12 miles southeast of Tehran, but after revelations were made about the conditions there, most of them are being held in Evin Prison. Ahmadian said that there are currently 34 female political prisoners in Evin, and that conditions there have improved somewhat.

Reports indicate that scores of people have been secretly executed in Vakilabad Prison in Mashhad. The executions took place between March and April and up to 70 people may have been executed. The latest executions, involving ten people, apparently took place on April 16. Those put to death were convicted of involvement in narcotics trafficking. Ahmad Ghabel, a progressive Islamic scholar and a student of the late Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, has in the past provided some credible information about the execution, since he was imprisoned there for some time.

Another report indicates that a prisoner, Sadegh Heshmatian, has been executed in Karaj, after being imprisoned for seven years. It is not yet clear why he was executed after such a long time.

Houshang Fanaeian, a Baha'i, a religious minority not recognized by the Islamic Republic, has been sentenced to four and a half years of imprisonment. He was arrested in March. He wrote a letter to Khamenei, asking the Supreme Leader to stop the injustice being done to him, but the court interpreted the letter as an insult. The persecution of three other Baha'is has been reported: Danial Oji, a student at the online Azad University for the Baha'is, has been arrested; Delara Darabi, a senior in physics at the University of Mazandaran, has been prevented from attending her classes; and Reza Ghazi Nouri, a graduate student of sociology at the University of Tehran, has not been allowed to finish his studies.

Ali Asghar Soltanieh, Iran's permanent representative to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), said that Iran will soon respond to the latest report of the agency about the status of Iran's nuclear program. Soltanieh said, "The new report is only a repeat of the past reports; there is nothing new in it. Its allegations are unfounded." He said that the IAEA report indicates that Iran's nuclear program is under full monitoring of the agency, and that there is no evidence that indicates that Iran's program is not peaceful.

On Wednesday, Amnesty International and the International Commission of Jurists condemned the ongoing arrests and imprisonment of several prominent lawyers in Iran, which they describe as part of an orchestrated attempt by the Islamic Republic's government to repress dissent. The two organizations called for the immediate and unconditional release of attorneys Nasrin Sotoudeh, Mohammad Seyfzadeh, Maedeh Ghaderi, and Ghasem Sholeh Sadi, who have been jailed arbitrarily in violation of Iran's obligations under international law. The two organizations have declared the attorneys prisoners of conscience, because they are held solely for the peaceful exercise of their rights to freedom of expression and association, or for their work as defense lawyers.

The two organizations also called on the judiciary to overturn the conviction of Khalil Bahramian, an attorney sentenced for publicly expressing his views about flaws in the judicial process in the cases of some of his clients who were executed. They also called for clarification of the current legal status of Javid Houtan Kiyan, a lawyer who represented Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, a woman sentenced to death by stoning for "adultery while married," including any charges brought against him and any sentences imposed. The two organizations declared that if -- as appears -- he is held solely for the peaceful exercise of his right to freedom of expression, including in connection with his work as a defense lawyer on behalf of Mohammadi Ashtiani, he should be released immediately and unconditionally. The allegations that he has been tortured while in detention should be investigated immediately, the two organizations demanded, and anyone found responsible for abuses brought to justice.

In their joint statement, the two organizations welcomed the release on April 19 of prisoner of conscience Mohammad Oliyaeifard, a defense lawyers and a board member of the Committee for the Defense of Political Prisoners in Iran, a human rights organization, after serving the complete one year prison sentence imposed for speaking out against the execution of one of his clients during interviews with international media. His client, Behnoud Shojaee, was executed for a murder he committed when he was 17 years old. Oliyaeifard has also defended many prisoners of conscience, including independent trade unionists, as well as juvenile offenders.

After several weeks of talking about improved and upgraded diplomatic relations between Iran and Egypt, Egypt's foreign minister Nabi al-Arabi said on Wednesday that his country's next parliament, to be elected in September, will review the establishment of diplomatic ties with Iran. He told the official MENA news agency that he informed his Iranian counterpart, Ali Akbar Salehi, who he met in Bali during a meeting of the Non-Aligned Movement, that his country wants to open "a new chapter with all countries." MENA reported that, "Arabi said the issue of raising the diplomatic representation will be reviewed by parliament." Iran severed diplomatic relations with Egypt in 1980 to protest its peace treaty with Israel signed in 1979. The two nations maintain only interests sections in Tehran and Cairo.

Copyright © 2011 Tehran Bureau

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