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Report: Silent Protests Met with Violence; 'Layla': The Full Prison Account

12 Jun 2011 10:30Comments

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

Video of a young university student's account of her rape and torture following her arrest in the aftermath of the 2009 election protests. Homepage photo by Recovering Sick Soul (Nima Fatemi), via Flickr.

9:30 p.m., 22 Khordad/June 12 Silent pro-democracy protests today in Tehran were met with violence by security forces, according to an NBC News report:

Security forces attacked and arrested pro-reform demonstrators gathering in Tehran on Sunday to mark the anniversary of the country's 2009 disputed election, NBC News and Iran's opposition website Sahamnews reported.

"Security forces attacked the crowd with electric batons ... in the Vali-e Asr street to disperse the demonstrators," Sahamnews.org said.

Ali Arouzi, a NBC News producer in Tehran, said he witnessed about 15 arrests and saw tens of thousands of pro-reform activists marching silently around the city.

Other witnesses said thousands of security personnel were deployed to stop any revival of anti-government protests that followed President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's re-election in 2009.

For more on today's demonstration, see this dispatch from a Tehran Bureau correspondent.

Dissident journalist Hoda Saber died of a heart attack after a ten-day hunger strike in Evin Prison, where he had been incarcerated since last July. Saber was a member of the opposition Nationalist-Religious Coalition, whose leader, Ezatollah Sahabi, passed away last month.

Along with fellow Evin inmate Amir Khosro Dalirsani, Saber began his hunger strike in response to the death of Haleh Sahabi, Ezatollah's daughter, after her death during her father's funeral procession during which she was assaulted by security forces. Saber, 52, was taken from Evin to a local hospital after suffering cardiac complications. According to his wife, Farideh Jamshidi, "My husband died two days ago, but we were unaware of his death until today when someone in the hospital informed one of our friends."

2:45 p.m., 22 Khordad/June 12 The Obama administration is leading a global effort to deploy "shadow" Internet and mobile phone systems that dissidents can use to undermine repressive governments that seek to silence them by censoring or shutting down telecommunications networks. Activists in Iran, Syria and Libya may be able to communicate outside the reach of their governments under a stealth network being financed by the U.S. State Department.

10:30 a.m., 22 Khordad/June 12 Our columnist Muhammad Sahimi compiled the following news items and commentary:

Activist groups, both within Iran and in the diaspora, have issued statements encouraging the Iranian people to take part Sunday in the silent marches called for by the Coordination Council for the Green Path of Hope, the temporary leadership council while Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi are under house arrest. They include the Organization of Islamic Revolution Mojahedin, the Young Reformist Group, 15 diaspora groups that support the Green Movement, movement activists in Tabriz, Kermanshah, and Mashhad, the Green Coalition of university students in Tehran, and the Islamic Iran Participation Front.

The video embedded above, released by the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, conveys a young university student's account of her horrific treatment by the security forces after her arrest in the aftermath of the 2009 presidential election protests. (Excerpts from the video were part of Friday's PBS NewsHour report, "Iranian Women Prisoners Detail Torture: 'Death Was Like a Desire'", in which the student was identified by the pseudonym "Layla.") The young woman provides a detailed account of her rape and subsequent torture, and the degrading treatment that she and others received in jail. [Author's note: The video is extremely painful to watch and listen to. I personally could not finish it.]

In a meeting with veterans of the Iran-Iraq War, former President Mohammad Khatami said, "How is it possible to set aside people's demands? Even if someone does it, the people will not accept it." He was seemingly responding to the criticism he received after suggesting last month that "for the sake of the future, people should forgive the government and Khamenei for the injustice done to them, and Khamenei should do likewise, if people did something unjust to him" (note the "if"). Khatami emphasized that asking for a truce does not imply forgetting about people's demands and aspirations. He then added, "Those who love Iran and support the Revolution never invite people to resort to violence. They want security and tranquility for both the people and the government. This will become possible only if the pressure for imprisonment and house arrest is ended, and an open and lawful political atmosphere is created." Khatami was referring to the house arrests of Mousavi, Karroubi, and their wives, Dr. Zahra Rahnavard and Fatemeh Karroubi. Without specifically naming the hardliners, Khatami also criticized their perspective: "If some people believe that the entire world is against them and they must fight with the world, and more importantly create divisions in the nation and among the people and increase pessimism and hatred among the people, how far are they from [true] Islam and wisdom?"

Saham News, the website that reflects Karroubi's views, published an interview he gave in 2009 before the presidential election. Saham says that it is not yet allowed to publish the entire transcript. In the interview, Karroubi predicted that the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, or Sepah, would not allow meaningful elections to take place. He is quoted as saying, "I do not believe that the elections will be held [under normal circumstances]. Since Ahmadinejad came to power, Sepah has taken control of all the economic resources and will not be willing to accept the election [results] and give up all that wealth. Sepah will not allow the people to elect someone who monitors it, prevents its intervention in politics, and inspects what Sepah does with the resources with which it has been provided. Working [for election] has become very difficult."

The Guardian Council declared unconstitutional legislation for the founding of a new Ministry of Infrastructure that is supposed to be formed form the merger of three existing ministries. The council said that the duties of the new ministry must be clearly spelled out before a nominee to head it can be introduced to the Majles.

In an interview with Mehr, the news agency run by the Organization for Islamic Propaganda, Majles deputy Ahmad Tavakoli said that he believes that the Ahmadinejad administration has violated the law more than any other administration since the 1979 Revolution. He added, "That Ahmadinejad claims that his administration has been the most law-abiding government in Iran and the world is not an achievement. There are official and legal organs that must confirm the claim."

Last year, when the Majles complained that some of the legislation it had approved had not been signed by the president into law, Ahmadinejad responded that he would not do so for legislation he deemed to be "against the religion and the Constitution." Tavakoli pointed out that the Guardian Council immediately issued a statement reminding Ahmadinejad that he does not have the right to decide which legislation is against the religion and the Constitution -- a task relegated to the council. Tavakoli also described a letter Ahmadinejad wrote last year to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei complaining about his lack of authority. In response, the Supreme Leader ordered the formation of a committee with representatives from the Guardian Council, the Majles, and the executive branch representatives. After meeting for six months, the committee rejected all of the administration's claims. Tavakoli also revealed that three judges told Ahmadinejad that they have read the financial corruption charges against First Vice President Mohammad Reza Rahimi and that they are serious and must be pursued by the judiciary; Ahmadinejad purportedly defended his vice president while lecturing the judges for "100 minutes." Tavakoli said that Rahimi must not remain in his post "even for one more hour" and must be prosecuted as soon as possible.

Cleric Seyyed Abbas Nabavi, head of the Organization for Islamic Civilization and Development, said that the "perverted team" -- code name for Ahmadinejad's chief of staff and confidant Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei and his allies - will create more problems by the end of the summer. He added that although the group is currently silent, it plans to attack and defame its adversaries over the next several months. "They are having a lot of internal debates among themselves about what to do next, because Ayatollah [Mohammad Taghi] Mesbah Yazdi and others have confronted them seriously, and the Supreme Leader has also stood his ground," he added. Mesbah Yazdi, who used to be considered Ahmadinejad's spiritual mentor, has strongly criticized him and Mashaei, and expressed regrets over his past support for them.

Deputy Majles Speaker Mohammad Reza Bahonar said that the principlists will form a coalition for the upcoming Majles elections in March 2012, but "without the perverted group." Bahonar said that the most important danger of the group to the principlists is that "they also claim to be principlist. But before they realized it, their true identity was revealed. Everyone tried to better inform people about this group, and the Supreme Leader was at the forefront of this effort."

For several days, Mashaei has not been seen in public, and there are all sorts of rumors about the reason for his absence. He did not attend Ahmadinejad's Tuesday press conference, and the government has not released any photos from the cabinet meetings for quite some time. It was even reported that he has been put under house arrest, which has been denied by Mashaei's supporters.

Discussing the "perverted group," Hossein Eslami, spokesman for the Article 90 Commission of the Majles, which investigates citizens' complaints, said, "The most revealing evidence for the existence of this group is the arrest of those that have been detained by the Ministry of Intelligence. If the Supreme Leader decides, the documents [related to the arrests] will be released to the public, so that the people learn more about them." He added, "One piece of evidence is the DVD that was distributed widely in the country" -- referring to the film The Appearance is Imminent, which claims that Imam Mahdi will soon return and Ahmadinejad will serve as his close aide.

In a seemingly coordinated move, several websites that support the Khamenei camp against Ahmadinejad published a picture of Mohammad Reza Madhi, the man that the Ministry of Intelligence claims worked with the opposition in the diaspora to form a "government in exile," showing him in a hospital and being visited by two of Ahmadinejad's close allies, Gholam Hossein Elham and Ali Saeedlou. The websites include Tabnak, 598 (a reference to United Nation Security Council Resolution 598, which called for a ceasefire between Iran and Iraq), Khabar Online, Bushehr News, Rahbord News, Aty News, and Bibak News. The goal is apparently to create the impression that Madhi was, or is, linked with Ahmadinejad's supporters.

After months of friction with the Majles, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad nominated Hamid Sajjadi as the minister of sports and youth affairs, subject to a vote of confidence by the Majles. Sajjadi, a veteran athlete, won several medals in long-distance track events in international competitions. Ahmadinejad's inner circle, including Mashaei, had declared that the president was opposed to the formation of the new ministry, and Ali Saeedlou, who headed the national organization for sports and youth affairs, had called it a catastrophe. By law, Ahmadinejad had to introduce his nominee within 90 days of the legislation's approval; after the deadline expired and he still had not brought forward a nominee, the Majles began taking steps to deal with his inaction as a constitutional violation.

In April 2000, after the reformists swept the elections for the Majles, a conference was held in Berlin about the reform movement and the future of democracy in Iran in which several leading political figures and journalists participated. After returning to Iran, many of them were arrested, put on trial, and given long jail sentences. Some stayed out of prison by posting bail, while others, such as Akbar Ganji, were incarcerated. A court in Tehran has declared that the accused are no longer under consideration by the judiciary, since too much time has passed since their arrest and trial. They include Ganji; nationalist-religious figure Ezatollah Sahabi, who passed away about two weeks ago; reformist strategist Dr. Saeed Hajjarian; human rights attorney and activist Mehrangiz Kar; and former university activist Ali Afshari. Ganji, Kar, and Afshari currently live in the United States.

The reformist daily Etemad will begin publishing again at the end of June. Publisher Elyas Hazrati, a former Majles deputy, said that all the legal issues have been resolved, and the newspaper has received permission to start publishing again. Etemad was shut down in March 2010 by the judiciary for alleged violations of the press law.

Leftist economist Dr. Fariborz Raeis Dana was sentenced to one year in prison. He was arrested in December 2010 after severely criticizing the elimination of the food and energy subsidies . He was released after a month in detention. In the court verdict, however, his "offenses" were "membership in a league of writers," "writing the '88 sedition [2009 Green Movement] statements," "issuing statements against the state, propaganda for leftist figures such as [teacher and short-story writer] Samad Behrangi and [journalist and poet ] Khosrow Golsorkhi, participation in the memorial for Mohammad Mokhtari and Mohammad Jafar Pouyandeh [two victims of the infamous Chain Murders], interviews with the BBC and Voice of America, accusing the Islamic Republic of torture and rape, and calling the court proceedings 'show trials.'"

Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines (IRISL) says it will take legal action against the United States and the European Union over sanctions they have imposed against Iran, IRISL Managing Director Mohammad Hossein Dajmar said Friday. Dajmar added, "With four [U.N. Security Council] resolutions and one manifesto since 2006, the Islamic Republic of Iran has become the target of the E.U. and U.S. attacks by means of sanctions and resolutions." He added that the most important U.N. resolution was one adopted in 2010 that enabled governments to impose their own sanctions against Tehran.

He said that IRISL has taken actions in British, European, and U.S. courts in coordination with the International Legal Affairs Department of Iran's Presidential Office. "The company's launch of a lawsuit with Britain['s Royal] Courts [of Justice] against the P&I [Steamship Mutual] Club may be referred to as a case in point whose verdict was fortunately issued in favor of the Islamic Republic of Iran," he said. The court ordered the club to fulfill its insurance obligations and pay compensation to Iran's shipping lines. P&I had shirked its responsibilities after Britain ordered its financial firms to stop all business with IRISL in 2009. Dajmar declared, "Shipping around more than 35 million tons of merchandise on the international level last year, [IRISL] has been able to successfully pass through the crisis. The shipping lines, in the current circumstances of sanctions, which are referred to as the 'soft war,' are capable of playing their role as the country's defensive forefront."

Iraqi opposition leader Ayad Allawi, leader of the Al-Iraqiya political group, accused Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki of relying on Iran to stay in control of the government. Allawi charged al-Maliki with "lying, hypocrisy and deception," as well as depending on foreign intervention and Iran in particular to secure and maintain hold on his office.

On Friday, Amnesty International released a report, "Determined to Live in Dignity: Iranian Trade Unionists Struggle for Rights," condemning the harsh treatment of independent trade union activists who speak up for workers' rights under what it called "Iran's pervasive climate of repression." According to the human rights group,

"Independent trade unionists have been made to pay a heavy price by a government that has shown itself increasingly intolerant of dissent," said Malcolm Smart, Amnesty International's director for the Middle East and North Africa. "The harassment and persecution they face smacks of a desperate government attempt to stave off social unrest that could arise from new hikes in the costs of fuel and power to which Iranians are now being exposed."

"The government seems determined to break existing unions while continuing to ban new, independent workers' bodies that have begun to emerge, in gross contempt for its international obligations as an ILO member, and for the labour rights of its own people," said Shane Enright, Amnesty's global trade union adviser.

Leading activists in the banned Tehran bus drivers' union were arrested in the crackdown following the 2009 presidential election, and up to 1,000 union members and their families were subjected to a brutal attack by security forces during a strike in 2006.

Mansour Ossanlu, president of the banned Tehran bus drivers' union, has been repeatedly arrested and by the time of his conditional release last week had been in prison for almost four years. Since organizing strikes in support of pay rises for bus drivers, he has been subjected to enforced disappearance, unfair trials and beatings, and frequently denied medical treatment. On the few occasions when he was allowed medical treatment, he was generally kept shackled to his bed.

"We greatly welcome Mansour Ossanlu's release but he should never have been jailed in the first place," said Shane Enright. "His release must be made unconditional and other trade unionists who are prisoners of conscience must be freed immediately. The Iranian authorities must end, once and for all, their persecution, harassment and imprisonment of trade unionists simply because of their efforts to uphold workers' rights enshrined in International Labour Organisation conventions."

Mansour Ossanlu's union is affiliated to the International Transport Workers' Federation (ITF), one of the global unions campaigning with Amnesty International for Iranian workers' rights.

"The incredible mistreatment meted out to Mansour Ossanlu and his fellow members of the Tehran bus drivers union is a sign of how much some elements in the Iranian authorities fear them as a force for genuine change and reform," said David Cockroft, the ITF's general secretary. "His release is a positive sign but he and his colleagues must now be allowed to freely represent the interests of their members without fear of arrest or persecution."

Amnesty International has also called on Iran's judiciary to launch a prompt and impartial investigation into the circumstances of the death of Haleh Sahabi. The group made its call in a letter to judiciary chief Sadegh Larijani on June 2. According to the letter, which has now been made public,

Amnesty International received an eye-witness account stating that a member or members of the security forces manhandled Haleh Sahabi and hit her after she refused to relinquish a photograph of her father she was holding. Other accounts corroborate this: for example, Ahmed Montazeri, the son of the late Grand Ayatollah [Hossein-Ali] Montazeri, in an interview with the BBC gave his account of the death of Haleh Sahabi after being struck by members of the security forces. Official Iranian sources have attempted to downplay any involvement of security forces: an interview was broadcast on Iranian national television with a paramedic who is said to have treated her and according to whom Haleh Sahabi fainted, and then died, apparently of a cardiac arrest, while en route to the hospital.

Haleh Sahabi's own funeral, organized by security forces, was held at 10 pm later on the same day as her death. No autopsy was performed beforehand. Several mourners were reportedly arrested during her funeral. Amnesty International condemns the actions of security forces in restricting and disrupting both funerals, causing further distress to the mourners.

Haleh Sahabi, whom Amnesty International considered to be a prisoner of conscience, was serving a two-year prison sentence imposed after she was arrested in relation to her peaceful participation in a demonstration protesting at the inauguration of President Ahmadinejad in August 2009. She was reportedly beaten during her arrest. She was released on bail in mid-August 2009, but was later sentenced to two years' imprisonment and flogging after conviction of "propaganda against the system by repeated presence at illegal gatherings and disturbing public order." Branch 54 of the Appeals Court upheld the prison term in May 2010, but commuted the flogging sentence to a fine, and she began serving her prison sentence in January 2011. She had been granted temporary prison leave to visit her father in hospital before his death.

Copyright © 2011 Tehran Bureau

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