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Dorothy Parvaz Held Incommunicado in Iran; Regime Ruckus Rumbles On

11 May 2011 19:45Comments

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

Dorothy Parvaz. Majles deputy Parviz Sarvari.

7:45 p.m., 21 Ordibehesht/May 11 Iranian-born Al Jazeera journalist Dorothy Parvaz, who was detained by Syrian authorities on her arrival in Damascus on April 29, was extradited to the Islamic Republic of Iran two days later, according to a statement issued by the Syrian Embassy in Washington, D.C.

Parvaz is a citizen of Iran, Canada -- where her family moved when she was ten years old -- and the United States -- where she received her graduate degree in journalism and worked for many years. According to the embassy's statement, she used an expired Iranian visa in an attempt to enter Syria illegally. On May 1, she was "escorted by the Iranian consul to Caspian Airlines flight 7905 heading to Tehran," the statement said.

After her arrival at Damascus International Airport on April 29, there was no word on Parvaz's whereabouts or status for five days. Although she was apparently already in Iran, Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi, appearing May 2 at a press conference in the Qatari capital of Doha -- site of Al Jazeera's headquarters -- indicated that he had no information about her situation and called on Syria to look into the case. On May 4, Syrian authorities finally revealed that they had detained her, but gave no indication that she had been transferred to Iran three days previously. According to Al Jazeera, Syrian officials told the news network that she would be released.

Parvaz has been entirely incommunicado since she was first detained 12 days ago. As of the time of this publication, the government of the Islamic Republic has yet to issue any statement addressing the apparent fact that she has been held in Iranian custody for the past week and a half. Parvaz was apparently last in Iran in 2006, when she wrote a series of reports on her homeland for her then employer, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. According to Al Jazeera, the network is "calling for information from the Iranian authorities, access to Dorothy, and for her immediate release."

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

The struggle pitting Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his supporters against Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and his faction continues unabated.

Hardline Majles deputy and Ahmadinejad critic Parviz Sarvari, a former officer in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, raised the issue of the Supreme Council for Iranian Expatriates, which was founded by Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, Ahmadinejad's chief of staff. In the budget submitted to the Majles for the current Iranian year, Ahmadinejad requested a sizable budget for the council, which sparked considerable debate. In an interview with the hardline website Borhan, Sarvari said, "When the budget was being debated for approval, we were aware of text messages that were being sent to the deputies in which they were being promised to be put in charge of management and monitoring of projects worth more than a billion euros; this is a type of bribe that was intended to convince the deputies to approve the [council's] budget." The Majles has formed a committee to investigate the work of the council, of which Sarvari was a member. According to Sarvari, "The interesting point about the selection of members of the committee is that when the Majles was voting whether to form the committee some deputies voted against it, but [after its approval] they nominated themselves for the committee membership." Sarvari has thus resigned from the committee in the belief that it will not conduct a meaningful investigation. The Majles did not grant the requested budget for the council, but its chief, Mohammad Sharif Malak-Zadeh, said that it will continue its activities.

7-e Sobh, website of a daily newspaper published by supporters of Mashaei's, responded to Sarvari's accusations: "The claim made by some hardline Majles deputies about the Supreme Council for Iranian Expatriates offering bribes is an insult to the Majles. While the hardliners are trying to accuse the president of breaking the law and violating the rights of the legislative branch, they simultaneously and founded on a baseless accusation talk about bribes by the council to the deputies.... This is the same tactic used against the first vice president [Mohammad Reza Rahimi] when he was accused of bribing the deputies, but no evidence was ever presented and it remains just a claim."

In an analysis, Borhan also accused the "perverted team" -- code name for Mashaei and his inner circle -- of being silent about the "88 sedition," the Green Movement that arose around the time of the presidential election in 2009, the Iranian year of 1388. Borhan said that the silence did not end even after the Green Movement demonstrations of 25 Bahman/February 14, called for by Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, "which induced many to take a position, but did not ring any bells [among Mashaei and his circle]." Borhan asserted that both the "sedition" and the "perverted team" have found a "common field to play and a common goal to shoot at. Their common goal is to separate the president and the principlists [hardline fundamentalists]. Those that have penetrated the government have used the office of the president to present themselves as an important political current and are trying to increase their credibility and influence."

In an article titled "Who Benefits from Attacking the Government?" 7-e Sobh responded to Borhan and criticized those Majles deputies who have been loudly challenging the Ahmadinejad administration. According to 7-e Sobh, "The atmosphere of tension and psychological warfare that is pursued by certain groups is expanding on a daily basis, and we are seeing the increase in the criticism of the government. This is a fact that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad recently reaffirmed when he said, 'The closer we get to the end of this administration, the higher will be the psychological, political, and propaganda pressure. But despite such conditions and difficulties, the victories of the government this year and the next will be more than last year's.'" 7-e Sobh accused the administration's hardline adversaries of exploiting the forced resignation of Minister of Intelligence Heydar Moslehi and his reinstatement by Khamenei to create the impression that the president had disobeyed the Supreme Leader's order.

In another counterattack by Ahmadinejad supporters, Ali Akbar Javanfekr, director of IRNA, Iran's official news agency, went after Fars, the news agency controlled by the Revolutionary Guards' intelligence unit, and Kayhan, the daily mouthpiece of a faction of the security/intelligence forces. Javanfekr rebuked both news outlets for attacking him because he had cast doubts on whether Khamenei had actually ordered Ahmadinejad to retain Moslehi.

Supporters of Tehran Mayor Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, former commander of the Revolutionary Guards' air force, entered the ring to attack Mashaei. A piece in Shaffaf, a pro-Ghalibaf website, inquired, "How is it that a large project such as constructing the building for the [planned 2012] conference of heads of nonaligned nations in Kish Island, which needs $450 million, is given to a company that was founded with initial capital of $1,000? Mr. Mashaei is certainly aware that 'Company F.,' one of whose managers is 'Mrs. P.,' founded a company with initial capital of $1,000 in April 2010. The same company signed a few days later, and without due legal process, a contract worth $400 million with Kish Free Post. At that time, some mass media stated that the contract was granted on the order of Mr. Mashaei, but he remained silent about it. So, the question is, how can 'Mrs. P.' and her father, who live in the U.S., come to Iran, found such a company, and just a few days later get such a large contract? Is this possible without lobbying and prior negotiations?" Shaffaf posted the advertisement that announced the founding of the company and asked, "Has the company been able to attract investment? Has the owner brought capital into the country? If the company has taken a loan in Iran, how was that made possible?" The Shaffaf report was picked up by other hardline websites, such as Asr-e Iran, whose post was titled "Mr. Mashaei, Explain This One."

In another article, Shaffaf claimed that an Iranian German has provided information about the link between "Mrs. Panteha" and "Mr. M." (Mashaei). The man's name is supposedly Yousef Kh. The informer talks about "Mr. Abbas Gh.," who is close to "Mr. M." "Abbas Gh." is presumably Abbas Ghaffari, a man said to be close to Mashaei; as reported by Tehran Bureau, he was arrested a few days ago and is said to be involved with exorcism and spirits. According to the informer, several years ago he had applied for a visa to go to Germany, but was not hopeful to receive it. The informer met Abbas Gh. at a mutual friend's home where Dr. [....] -- presumably Ahmadinejad -- was also present. Abbas Gh. brought a pomegranate and cut it in half, giving half to Dr. [....] and the other half to the informer, whom he told, "'This was sent to me by our Molaa [master, a reference to Imam Ali, Shiites' First Imam and the cousin and son-in-law of the Prophet]. If you eat it, you will receive your visa.' And, miraculously I received my visa." Then, "Last year I came to Tehran to participate in the bidding for the Kish Island project. I saw Abbas Gh. again and asked him to fill out the necessary documents, so that I would win the bidding. He said the problem would be solved. Just then 'Mr. M.' showed up. He asked me to meet with him in an apartment in northern Tehran, by the Italian Embassy. When I went there, 'Mr. M.' told me that the contract is yours, but you should pay the 'Imam's' [Imam Ali] share. I asked him how much it was, and he responded 500,000 euros. In the same place, I met 'Mrs. Panteha' without any hejab, and it turned out that she, her father, and their company are in charge of the Kish Island project."

Tamasha News, another website published by allies of Mashaei, responded to the accusations by Shaffaf. Tamasha revealed that the company, Tehran-based Fivazi International Architectural Company, was founded by Panteha Fivazi Yousefi, an architect who lives in the United States. According to Tamasha, the company has indeed been granted the aforementioned contract. The website then threatened that Shaffaf's publisher and staff will be taken to court over the allegations they have made about the links, real or supposed, between Mashaei, Yousefi, and Ghaffari.

After the threat by Tamasha News, Shaffaf posted a short warning to Mashaei: "Instead of just informing the public [about a possible lawsuit], it is better if Mr. Mashaei takes a practical step. Over the past few days, we have received a considerable amount of information that we would be happy to reveal in court."

Mahramaneh Online, another website that supports Ahmadinejad, alleged that it has documents that indicate that Ghalibaf was responsible for the death of seven people in Azadi Stadium on March 26, 2005, the day of a soccer match between the Iranian and japanese national teams. It claimed that the cause was that the main gate was closed because a helicopter had landed that belonged to Ghalibaf's aides. Mahramaneh also claimed that 70 websites, 42 weeklies, and two dailies are published with funds provided by Ghalibaf as Tehran's mayor. Mahramaneh has replaced another pro-Ahmadinejad website, Aeen News, which was closed by the security forces.

Asr-e Iran also reported on the speech in the Majles by conservative deputy Asadollah Badamchian, a prominent member of the Islamic Coalition Party. Badamchain declared, "If anyone or any group of people in any position distance themselves from Velaayat-e Faghih [the doctrine of guardianship by the Islamic jurist, represented by the Supreme Leader], the nation will leave him and isolate him. The deputies issued a statement supporting the Leader and warned that they are unified. With this warning, the deputies destroyed the baseless thinking of the enemies. They are ready to take the final action." This presumably means the impeachment of Ahmadinejad.

The merger of eight state ministries into four has been another ongoing source of tension between the Islamic Republic's executive and legislative branches. The Ahmadinejad administration has merged the ministries without informing the Majles or seeking its approval. During Tuesday's parliamentary session, several deputies said that the mergers are illegal without the Majles's consent. Speaker Ali Larijani agreed with the deputies.

The administration reacted strongly. First, Vice President for Parliamentary Affairs Mir Taj ol-Dini said that what the administration has done is completely proper and in accordance with the law enacted by the Majles for the country's fifth development program. Then Ahmadinejad himself weighed in, echoing his vice president's assertions. Directly responding to Larijani, Ahmadinejad continued, "The respected speaker of the Majles believes that he is the law, which is not true. We should not distort the environment of the country. We cannot wait for the Majles to approve the mergers, because there is no need for it. Similar mergers have taken place in the past, and there were never any problems with them." In a related matter, Mojtaba Samareh Hashemi, senior adviser to Ahmadinejad, said that the president has written a letter to Larijani explaining the problems that the creation of a Ministry of Sports and Youth Affairs will produce. The law mandating establishment of the ministry passed the Majles several months ago, but Ahmadinejad has refused to implement it.

In another move that has angered the hardliners, Ahmadinejad appointed First Vice President Rahimi to the board of trustees of the University of Medical Sciences of Kurdistan. The central point of controversy is the fact that in his letter of appointment, the president referred to "Dr. Rahimi," even though Rahimi himself has acknowledged that he has no doctoral degree. Furthermore, several Majles deputies have previously asked the Ministry of Science, Research, and Technology, which oversees Iran's universities, to investigate the validity of those degrees that Rahimi does claim.


In other news, 26 political prisoners have submitted a letter of complaint against the Ministry of Intelligence and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, accusing them of torture and other crimes. The letter has been sent to the Majles Article 90 Commission, which is supposed to investigate citizens' complaints and forward them to the judiciary. The letter has been submitted on the first anniversary of the approval by the Majles of a law called "Respect for Legitimate Freedom and Rights of Citizens." A copy of the letter has also been sent to the commission set up to monitor implementation of that law.

The letter details multiple violations of the law by the Ministry of Intelligence, the Revolutionary Guards' intelligence unit, and the police, including: (1) arrests without warrants, or with warrants lacking any authority's signature, or with dozens of names, and the fact that some warrants were signed several days before the June 12, 2009, presidential elections to which the charges supposedly related; (2) conviction of political prisoners based on suspicion, rather than on proper legal cases; (3) absence of attorneys during prisoners' interrogations, though several laws explicitly state that the presence of an attorney is necessary; (4) inhumane and un-Islamic treatment of prisoners by their interrogators; (5) procedures for arresting, interrogating, and trying the accused that completely violate the procedures specified by the law; (6) covering the eyes of the accused and other forms of mistreatment during interrogation; (7) the fact that the interrogators hide themselves during interrogation, a violation of the law that says the accused must be able to see the interrogator; (8) destroying or confiscating personal items of the accused at work or at home; (9) torturing the accused; (10) use of inexperienced and extremist interrogators who consistently violate the laws; (11) improperly delving into the private lives of the accused; and (12) changing the responses of the accused to interrogators' questions so that they conform to preconceived judgments. Among the letter's signatories are some of the best-known reformist figures, university activists, and journalists imprisoned in the Islamic Republic, such as Mostafa Tajzadeh, Mohsen Mirdamadi, Keyvan Samimi, Bahman Ahmadi Amooei, Abdollah Momemi, Zia Nabavi, Abdollah Ramazanzadeh, Behzad Nabavi, Feyzollah Arab Sorkhi, Abolfazl Ghadyani, Ali Malihi, and Hassan Asadi Zeidabadi.

Kalemeh, the website that reflects Mousavi's views, reported that members of the Green Movement leader's family were finally allowed to meet with him and his wife, Dr. Zahra Rahnavard. The exact date of the meeting was not specified. The meeting was between the couple and the oldest of their three daughters and her family in "a place other than their home" and lasted one hour. According to Kalemeh, Mousavi and Rahnavard's ability to talk to their family by phone remains severely restricted.

Nedaye Enghelab, a website controlled by the security forces, claimed that Karroubi has developed heart palpitations and has been hospitalized. According to the report, a doctor examined him and told him that the problem was caused by stress. The website claims that the palpitations were triggered when the problem between Ahmadinejad and Khamenei was resolved, which supposedly angered Karroubi. Mojtaba Vahedi, who used to be a senior adviser to Karroubi, declared that the claim is untrue. Karroubi and his wife, Fatemeh, have been under house arrest for more than 80 days.

Dr. Ali Shakouri Rad, leading reformist and member of the outlawed Islamic Iran Participation Front's central committee, said that during Akbar Hashemi Rafsajani's second term as president, from 1993 to 1997, his office was bugged. According to Shakouri Rad, this was done on the orders of notorious Minister of Intelligence Ali Fallahian. The discovery of the eavesdropping equipment by an aide of Rafsanjani's aide prompted a fight between his younger brother Mohammad Hashemi and Fallahian. Rafsanjani, however, kept publicly silent about the matter.

The Majles approved the creation of a commission that will monitor the deputies. According to the plan, not only will the Guardian Council vet candidates for the legislature before they are allowed to run, but the new commission will be able to declare a deputy unqualified during his or her tenure. In effect, the commission will ensure that no deputy dares say anything not to Khamenei's liking. Deputy Ali Motahari argued that the Majles itself is a monitoring organ and does not require such supervision. He predicted that the commission will render the Majles useless.

Abbas Palizdar, a former Ahmadinejad ally who in April 2008 made many revelations about the depth of corruption among leading clerics, has been appointed to head the policy council of Hezbollah's daily mouthpiece. He was put on trial and given a six-year prison sentence, which apparently will not be enforced.

Human rights advocate Maryam Bahrman was arrested in Shiraz. The security agents also took many personal items, including her books and computer. Reformist journalist Mohsen Ghalei was also arrested after being summoned to the court. No reason has been given for his arrest. Mahboubeh Karami, a human rights advocate and feminist activist, has been summoned to prison to serve her three-year sentence.

Vahid Lalipour, husband of university student activist Mahdieh Golroo, has been sentenced to two years imprisonment. One year of the sentence must be served, and the second year will be suspended for four years. Lalipour, arrested with his wife in November 2009, had been free after posting $50,000 bail.

Many university students groups in Iran have announced that they will protest and go on strike on May 15 to honor student activist Majid Tavakoli, an engineering major at Amir Kabir University of Technology. Tavakoli is currently in jail, serving a nine-year sentence. The groups have invited the faculty and all students to join them in the protest and strike.

Reports indicate that at least 34 inmates were killed in the March 15 confrontation between prisoners and security forces Ghezel Hesar Prison. Previously, government-controlled mass media had put the number of dead at between ten and 14. Most of those killed had been convicted of common crimes and narcotic trafficking. Prison officials claim the event was sparked when some prisoners tried to escape. In contrast, the prisoners and their families say that the prisoners were protesting the large number of executions at the facility and the terrible conditions there.

Saeed Jalili, secretary-general of the Supreme National Security Council and chief nuclear negotiator, responding to a letter from Catherine Ashton, the European Union's foreign affairs chief, has welcomed talks with the P5+1 -- the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany -- based on "common grounds and in a pressure-free atmosphere." Jalili described "respect for nations' rights and avoidance of pressure" as two fundamental principles for cooperation, reitered that the will of nations will finally overcome hegemonic relations in the word order, and noted, "Recent developments over the past few months have proved that Iran's package of proposals put forward three years ago is based on a real understanding of facts."

The Bushehr light-water nuclear power plant has come online, operating at a low level. According to the BBC, "The generating unit at the Bushehr reactor was brought up to the minimum controllable level of power on Sunday, May 8." Atomstroyexport, the Russian company that is constructing the reactor, reported on Monday that it had initiated "a self-supporting chain reaction" in the "active zone" of the plant's first reactor. Vladislav Bochkov, an Atomstroyexport spokesman, said, "This is one of the final stages in the physical launch of the reactor." Alaeddin Boroujerdi, chairman of the Majles Commission for National Security and Foreign Policy, said that no date has yet been set for bringing the reactor up to full operation.

Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi met with Iraqi Premier Nouri al-Maliki in Baghdad. He stated, "The problem in Bahrain has no military solution and people's demands should be investigated and pursued through peaceful means. Not only have foreign forces in Bahrain not solved the problem, they have made it more complex."

Reiterating an assertion made ten days ago by Hassan Danaeifar, Iran's ambassador to Iraq, Minister of Intelligence Moslehi said that most of the Mojahedin-e Khalgh Organization members that live in Iraq's Camp Ashraf can return to Iran without any fear of prosecution, provided that they repent. He added, "We have considerable information about them and are aware that many of them have changed their thinking, and we pay attention to their new thinking and behavior."

Copyright © 2011 Tehran Bureau

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