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The Moslehi Blowback: Ahmadinejad Allies Arrested, Top Aides Targeted

05 May 2011 00:30Comments

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

Presidential aide Hamid Baghaei and the American flag (see below). From left to right, Majid Tavakoli, Mahdieh Golroo, and Bahareh Hedayat.

12:30 a.m., 15 Ordibehesht/May 5 Our columnist Muhammad Sahimi compiled the following news items and commentary:

The counterattack on Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's inner circle by supporters of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, following the forced resignation and reinstatement of Minister of Intelligence Heydar Moslehi, has apparently begun.

Etedaal, a moderate conservative website that has been critical of the president, claimed that 25 people in the inner circle of Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, Ahmadinejad's chief of staff and confidant, have been arrested by security forces. According to Etedaal, the widow of Dr. Hossein Fatemi, Mohammad Mosaddegh's foreign minister who was executed after the CIA-sponsored coup of 1953, and "Mrs. A. A." were among the arrested. A correction to the original report subsequently appeared, stating that considerably fewer than 25 people had been arrested.

Last year, Ahmadinejad met with Fatemi's widow and honored her and her late husband, in an appeal to Iranians' nationalist sentiments. "Mrs. A. A." is apparently Azadeh Ardakani, who heads Iran's national museum. She is close to Mashaei, and served as a foreign-language tutor to both him and and another close aide of Ahmadinejad's, Hamid Baghaei, who heads various organizations controlled by the office of the president. The Organization of Cultural Heritage and Tourism, which oversees the national museum, issued a statement denying the report.

It has been confirmed that a clerical member of Mashaei's inner circle, Abbas Amirifar, secretary and prayer Imam of the cultural commission of the president's office, was arrested on the orders of the Special Court for the Clergy. He is said to have had a leading role in the production of the documentary film The Appearance Is Imminent, which claims that the Mahdi, Shiites' 12th Imam who disappeared over 1,000 years ago, will soon reemerge and that Ahmadinejad will be one of his closest aides. The movie, distributed widely free of charge, was criticized by many conservatives. Amirifar had been reported to be Ahmadinejad's candidate to replace Moslehi. Hossein Fadaei, a former officer in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and a hardline political figure, said that Ahmadinejad himself wanted to be in charge of the Intelligence Ministry, but Khamenei rejected that possibility.

Aty News, another website that has been critical of Ahmadinejad, reported that "Hossein N.," who managed many of the websites that support the president, is a fugitive. The reference is apparently to Hossein Nobakhtian, who ran several websites that have been blocked since soon after the Moslehi affair began, including Nosazi, Hemmat Online, and Bakeri Online. Aty News also alleged that "Hossein N." was in charge of coordinating the supporters of the "perverted team," the phrase used by Mashaei's opponents to refer to him and his circle. Both 7-e Sobh (7 a.m.), the website of Mashaei's daily, and Yekshanbeh, another pro-Ahmadinejad website, reported that several staff members of websites that support the president and his chief of staff have disappeared. Abbas Ghaffari, who is supposedly close to Mashaei, has also reportedly been arrested.

Alef, the website published by conservative Majles deputy Ahmad Tavakoli, one of the president's most prominent critics, reported on an apparently major case of financial corruption in which both Mashaei and Baghaei have allegedly played major roles.

According to Alef , the two are major shareholders in a company called Samga, which is supposedly active in the hotel industry, tourism, and cultural activities. According to Alef, the company was founded on June 27, 2009 (two weeks after the presidential election), with $20 million in initial capital. The new company soon established six subsidiaries, in particular, a private bank called Gardeshgari (tourism), founded with $200 million, which swiftly grew to $600 million. These are astronomical figures in Iran, and it is not clear how Ahmadinejad's aides could have attracted such huge sums. Samga's chief executive officer is Mehdi Jahangiri, who was a deputy to Mashaei when he headed the Organization for Cultural Heritage and Tourism.

On March 14 last year, according to Alef, the Ahmadinejad administration approved the transfer to Samga, free of charge, 1,258,000 square meters of land in some of the most prized areas of northern Tehran, but an arm of the Majles that inspects such land grants blocked the order. Alef also alleges that the administration gave Samga 31,000 square meters of land, again free of charge, by Tehran's international airport, about 20 miles southwest of the city. The company was authorized to build a hotel there and operate it for 25 years, after which it would be turned over to the government. A hotel is currently under construction at the site.

Meanwhile, Hossein Eslami, spokesman for the parliament's Article 90 Commission, which investigates people's complaints, reported that Ahmadinejad has ordered an investigation of corruption by an unnamed woman who is linked to Mashaei and has tried to obtain special privileges. She has tried to start a tourism organization and hotels in many cities, threatening local officials that if they do not grant her the necessary permits, she will call her contact in the president's office to complain.

In another thinly disguised attempt to disparage Ahmadinejad and his inner circle, Jahan News, the website published by hardline Majles deputy Ali Reza Zakani, published two photos of Baghaei, one showing him with the Statute of Liberty, and a second with the U.S. flag.

Hardline cleric Mojtaba Zolnour, deputy to Ali Saeedi who is Khamenei's representative to the Revolutionary Guards, strongly criticized the president. He said, "We have problems with Ahmadinejad and they are fundamental problems, but we must evaluate our behavior toward him based on what the Supreme Leader does." He specifically rebuked Ahmadinejad for his recent statement that his relation with Khamenei is like "the relation between a father and son." Zolnour said that the correct relation between the two men is one in which Ahmadinejad obeys Khamenei completely, and that, "we have no doubt that that Ahmadinejad's kindness to Mashaei is abnormal, extreme, and deviant."

Ahmadinejad's cabinet approved the merger of the Oil and Power Ministries. After missing the previous cabinet meeting -- reportedly while meeting with a group of clerics in Qom -- Moslehi attended the session, which was chaired by the president. Jahan News cast doubt on his participation by publishing a photo of the meeting in which he is not visible and wondered, "Why is Moslehi not in the photo?" BBC Persian picked up also ran the story of the Moslehi-less image. According to a report on the Fararu website, Moslehi showed up for the meeting, but then left at Ahmadinejad's request. That report was contradicted by 7-e Sobh, which claimed that Ahmadinejad was late for the session and that Moslehi had already left by the time the president arrived.

More than three months after Hamid Behbahani, former minister of roads and transportation, was impeached by the Majles, Ahmadinejad has not brought forward a replacement candidate to receive a parliamentary vote of confidence. Legally, he must do so after a maximum of 90 days. Jamshid Ansari, a member of the legislature's Commission for Economic Affairs, said that the Majles will warn the president about his violation of the law. If the warning is ineffective, Ansari added, the Majles will cut off funding for the ministry until a replacement is named. Ahmadinejad appointed Ali Nikzad as interim minister, but has not introduced him to the Majles as his candidate for the position on a permanent basis.

Defense Minster Ahmad Vahidi said that there is doubt about the death of Osama bin Laden. According to Brigadier General Vahidi, even if the al-Qaeda leader has been killed, this is not a victory for the United States, but a defeat, because it used him as an excuse to invade Iraq and Afghanistan, resulting in the deaths of hundreds of thousands, including nearly 6,000 U.S. soldiers (in fact, there have been 6,122 U.S. military fatalities in the two wars), and has cost the United States over $1 trillion. "Is this a victory?" Vahidi asked.

Meeting with a group of teachers to honor them on Teachers' Day, former President Mohammad Khatami said, "A society in which lack of knowledge, poverty, and discrimination rule is not a desirable society." He declared, "The wave that has risen in in the Middle East and the Arab world, and God willing will also rise in other countries, is a wave of freedom, opposition to dictatorship, and opposition to the state of emergency that has existed in all of these countries." Turning to the situation in Iran, he said, "What we want and talk about and what our Revolution also sought is a political system in which both moral values and rationality and wisdom rule, in which legitimate freedom exists and the government is responsive to the people, one in which people have the right to criticize and protest, and can remove the rulers freely through free and peaceful elections."

The Majles added $75 million to the budget that Ahmadinejad had requested for the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps for the current Iranian year that began on March 21.

As reported by Tehran Bureau, well-known university activists Bahareh Hedayat, Majid Tavakoli, and Mahdieh Golroo, all currently imprisoned, were subjected to new show trials. After only two days, the court announced its verdict and sentenced each to an additional six months of incarceration. Hedayat, Tavakoli and Golroo, respectively, were already serving sentences of nine and a half, eight and a half, and two and a half years.

The court also added one more year of imprisonment to the sentence of journalist and human rights advocate Abolfazl Abedini. He was arrested in July 2009 and charged with membership in a human rights organization, having links with foreign powers, and granting interviews to foreign radio stations. He was convicted and sentenced to 11 years in jail.

ZiaNabaviLarge.jpgIn a moving letter to Mohammad Javad Larijani, who is in charge of the judiciary's human rights division of the judiciary, jailed student activist Zia Nabavi describes the terrible conditions at the prison in Ahvaz in the southwestern province of Khuzestan. Nabavi writes that the conditions are beyond the power of any pen or camera to adequately convey. According to Nabavi, human beings are debased to the level of animals in the facility.

What is going on here is beyond description. I have never experienced such a place, nor have I read about one anywhere. No movie or novel can ever describe this place, and I never thought that such a place might actually exist anywhere.... Ward 6, where I am being detained, has a capacity of 120 people, based on the number of beds that are here. But, on average, there are 300 imprisoned people here [at any time]. Even when they all stand, it is still difficult to fit them all in, and a large number of people sleep on the floor without any bed (I did not have a bed for six months). Some sleep in the kitchen, some in the toilet, some in the bathroom. [The condition is so bad that] in addition to being alive, my greatest pleasure is that I sleep on a bed.

Only one-sixth of the people in Ward 6 are political prisoners, and the rest are here for robbery and narcotics. They have many medical problems, and therefore being close to them and living with them is dangerous to the health of the rest. The term "healthy condition" has no meaning here.

The sewer system is terrible. Cockroaches and mice are constantly around and the sight of them is completely normal. It overflows sometimes so, in addition to creating all sorts of problems, there is a stench that is maddening. Breathing the air at such times is by itself a torture. And then, when it rains, the ward becomes a polluted pool. After the water level goes down, the prisoners have to sit on the same contaminated ground.

As for food, we can have at most 1 kg of fruit every six weeks that we must purchase from the jail's supermarket. The amount of fruit is so low that we have to argue with each other to buy it. Because of the lack of fruit, we have all sorts of diseases due to lack of vitamins. There is no refrigerator here in which to keep anything. They say that there was a refrigerator here in the past, but because they discovered narcotics in it, they took it away. So, [I guess] that means that we should also take away all the cars in the country, because they sometimes find narcotics in a few of them too.

There are no newspapers or magazines here and no possibility of getting them from outside. I have not been able to get a single book that I requested, and they are all about philosophy and literature. As for calling our families, every inmate has three minutes a week. Even then, under many excuses, they deny us the right to call our families.

Leading reformist Behzad Nabavi, a minister in the administrations of Mir Hossein Mousavi in the 1980s, and a member of the Organization of Islamic Revolution Mojahedin -- the primary reformist party, which has been outlawed -- returned to prison. He had been granted a medical furlough. Nabavi, 69, was arrested immediately after the 2009 presidential election and sentenced to six years in jail. He reported that his arrest warrant had been dated several days before the election. Javad Emam, another leading member of the OIRM, has also been ordered to report to Evin Prison to serve his year-long sentence. Emam was the head of Mousavi's presidential campaign in Tehran. A former member of the Revolutionary Guards, Emam was badly wounded in the Iran-Iraq War.

As reported by Tehran Bureau, nationalist-religious journalist Dr. Ali Reza Rajaei has been arrested. The reason has not been explained by any judiciary official, but his family has reportedly been told that he was taken into custody to serve a jail sentence he was handed over seven years ago. Rajaei was arrested in March 2001 and put on trial in 2003. He was sentenced to four years of imprisonment and a five-year ban on any political activity. The sentence was appealed, and the appeal court never made any decision.

As reported by Tehran Bureau, distinguished journalist Dr. Ahmad Zeidabadi is the recipient of the 2011 Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize. On Tuesday, the award was presented to his representative in Washington. In a taped message, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton congratulated Zeidabadi, and past winners of the awards paid tribute to him. Zeidabadi himself sent a message in which he apologized for his absence, unavoidable as he is currently imprisoned. In his message, Zeidabadi said, "The Revolutionary Court, in addition to sentencing me to six years of imprisonment, five years of internal exile, and a permanent ban on any political/cultural/social activities, has also banned me from writing. Thus, any type of message only increases the pain and sadness of my family and me."

Attorney Hassan Younesi, son of Ali Younesi, intelligence minister for most of Khatami's presidency, was sentenced to three years imprisonment. He was arrested after the 25 Bahman/February 14 demonstrations that were called for by Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi. He has also been banned from practicing law for five years.

Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi visited Qatar for one day and held talks with its top officials, including the king, Sheikh Hamad ibn Khalifa al-Thani; the crown prince, Sheikh Tamim ibn Hamad ibn Khalifa al-Thani; Foreign Minister Sheikh Hamad ibn Jabr al-Thani; and Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Ahmed ibn Abdullah al-Mahmoud. Unlike most Arab nations of the Persian Gulf, Qatar has always had cordial relations with Iran, even though both the United States and France have major military bases there. Salehi then traveled to Oman to meet with Sultan Qaboos ibn Said al-Said.

The interior ministers of the six nations that are members of the [Persian] Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) met in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday. They denounced Iran and asserted that the Persian Gulf does not belong exclusively belong to the Islamic Republic. The ministers declared, "The Gulf is Arab and it will remain as it is." They said that recent remarks by Major General Hassan Firouzabadi, chief of staff of Iran's armed forces, were "provocative, irresponsible, and contrary to the principles of good neighborliness, mutual respect, and noninterference." On Saturday, Firouzabadi condemned what he called an "Arab dictatorial front" in the Persian Gulf and claimed that the "Persian Gulf has belonged to Iran forever." In a statement two days later, GCC Secretary-General Abdullatif al-Zayani declared, "The Gulf belongs to all states on its shores, and Iran has no right to claim otherwise as it owns nothing from the Gulf but its territorial waters."

The second joint ministerial meeting for strategic dialogue between the GCC states and China also concluded in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday. UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah ibn Zayed al-Nahyan chaired for the GCC side; his Chinese counterpart was Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi. Addressing the session, al-Nahyan said, "You might have noticed along with us a state of instability in the Arab Gulf region as a result of the Iranian interference in the internal affairs of the GCC countries, which was evident in particular in Bahrain and Kuwait. All of us in the GCC consider this a threat to the security and stability of these states. Moreover, this intervention works to promote a climate of mistrust and skepticism about the intentions, thereby undermining the possibility of hope in terms of providing stability in the near future." He also claimed that Iran's nuclear program has caused great concern among the Persian Gulf countries, which is why, he said, the GCC states keep on urging Iran to work honestly to provide the highest standards of transparency in cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Copyright © 2011 Tehran Bureau

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