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UN Human Rights Rapporteur Named; 12 Political Prisoners Join Hunger Strike

19 Jun 2011 11:45Comments

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

Dr. Ahmed Shaheed. Former President Mohammad Khatami meets with the family of Ezatollah and Haleh Sahabi.

11:45 a.m., 29 Khordad/June 19 Our columnist Muhammad Sahimi compiled the following news items and commentary:

The United Nations Human Rights Council has appointed Dr. Ahmed Shaheed, former minister of foreign affairs of the Maldives, as the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Iran. The 47 member states of the council unanimously endorsed the appointment of Shaheed after he was selected from a list of candidates by the president of the council. The U.N. decided to establish the mandate of the special rapporteur in March, following a significant deterioration in the human rights situation in Iran after the 2009 presidential election. A report by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on human rights in Iran in September 2010 criticized "excessive use of force, arbitrary arrests and detentions, unfair trials and possible torture and ill-treatment of opposition activists in relation to post-election unrest in 2009." Based on his reports, as well as several others, the Human Rights Council adopted Resolution 16/9, which established the post of special rapporteur to monitor the human rights situation in Iran and work with all parties to improve human rights promotion and protection.

Resolution 16/9 calls upon "the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran to cooperate fully with the Special Rapporteur and to permit access to visit the country as well as all information necessary to allow the fulfillment of the mandate." It requests Shaheed to report to the United Nations General Assembly in New York by September with his interim findings, and then to submit a full report to the Human Rights Council in Geneva in March 2012.

Zohreh Elahian, head of the Majles Commission on Human Rights, declared that Iran will not allow the special rapporteur to travel to Iran, because he has "political goals." She added that Resolution 16/9 is wrong and purely political.

Twelve leading political prisoners have announced that they have gone on a hunger strike to protest the death of Haleh Sahabi and Reza Hoda Saber. According to Maryam Sharbatdar Ghods, wife of one of the hunger strikers, Fayzollah Arabsorkhi, the 12 men were witness to the physical attacks by Evin Prison security personnel on Saber just before he passed away due to a heart attack. The 12 men are Bahman Ahmadi Amouei, Hassan Asadi Zeidabadi, Emad Baghi, Emad Bahavar, Ghorban Behzadianejad, Mohammad Davari, Amir Khosrow Dalirsani, Arabsorkhi, Abolfazl Ghadyani, Mohammad Javad Mozaffar, Mohammad Reza Moghiseh, and Abdollah Momeni. As reported previously by Tehran Bureau, three other political prisoners, Mehdi Khodaei, Arash Sadeghi, and Ahmad Shah Rezaei, have also gone on hunger strike for the same reason.

Former President Mohammad Khatami visited the Sahabi family at their home to personally convey his condolences over the death of Ezatollah Sahabi and his daughter, Haleh Sahabi. He also met with Dr. Taghi Shamekhi, Haleh Sahabi's husband. Expressing his regrets, Khatami said that he hoped that the sad death of the two is a secret kindness by God that will yield some good results for the people and the nation, and will result in the opening of the country.

Ali Jamali, member of the central committee of the Organization of University Graduates (Advar-e Tahkim-e Vahdat), was granted a three-day furlough to take his end-of-semester exams. He was arrested on June 21, 2010, and was later sentenced to four years of imprisonment. There have been reports that his sentence has been reduced to two years.

Hanieh (Sharareh) Farshi, a 38-year-old woman from Tabriz who has been imprisoned since July 18, 2010, has been sentenced to seven years for "insulting the Leader and the religion." The basis of the sentence is a few emails that she supposedly sent. Her mother has said that Farshi has never been a political person. According to her family, after spending two months in solitary confinement Farshi became depressed, and when her father passed away and the prison did not allow her to participate in his funeral, her depression worsened.

June 19 is the anniversary of the death of Dr. Ali Shariati, the sociologist and distinguished Islamic scholar who passed away in 1977 in London. Thirty-four years after his death, he is still very influential and has many supporters and some detractors, as well. On this anniversary, many have spoken about him and his life. See, for example, here for what Reformist Majles deputy Gholam Ali Dehghan has said about him. See also here to read an article by Dr. Mohammad Maleki, first chancellor of the University of Tehran after the 1979 Revolution and now an opposition figure, about the attack on Shariati's home in Tehran on the fourth anniversary of his death in 1981. In a future article, I will describe Shariati's life and work.

Mohammad Sharif Malekzadeh, a close aide to Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's chief of staff, has been appointed deputy foreign minister for financial affairs. Alef, the website that is published by Majles deputy and Ahmadinejad critic Ahmad Tavakoli, reports that Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi had to accept the appointment under pressure from the president. Malekzadeh is the secretary-general of the Supreme Council for Iranian Expatriates, founded by Mashaei in 2010, and has been attacked by Ahmadinejad's critics. Alef previously reported that Ahmadinejad's staff has been trying to shore up Malekzadeh's foreign affairs credentials, and had published some documents related to the effort. At the same time, according to IRNA, Iran's official state news agency, Malekzadeh's work in the council has ended, and he has returned to his original work in the Foreign Ministry.

Mohammad Dehghan, a member of the Majles leadership, criticized Salehi for allowing Malekzadeh to be appointed as a deputy foreign minister. Dehghan said, "This man, aside from the fact that does not have a good record and there are several cases against him by the judiciary, is a member of the group known as the perverted group, and according to the news and information that we have received the foreign minister was pressured to sign the order for his appointment." The "perverted group" is the hardliners' codename for Mashaei and his circle. Dehghan threatened that if Salehi "does not resolve the issue by himself," he may be impeached by the Majles.

At the same time, Mashregh News, a website close to the security forces, speculated that the reason that Iran has not yet appointed ambassadors for 45 countries is that the government wanted to first find someone reliable for the Foreign Ministry. Mashregh speculates that with Malekzadeh's appointment as deputy foreign minister, the ambassadors will soon be appointed.

Fars, the news agency run by the intelligence unit of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, reported, however, that the Majles is investigating the council headed by Mashaei and Malekzadeh, and that its report will be submitted by July 20. At issue, according to Fars, are the huge bills that the council ran up in summer 2010, when it invited a large number of Iranian expatriates to Tehran and paid for all of their expenses.

Habibollah Asgaroladi Mosalman, secretary-general of the conservative Front of Followers of Imam's and Leader's Line, and former secretary-general of the Islamic Coalition Party, said that the letter that Ahmadinejad submitted to the Majles in which he nominated Hamid Sajjadi as the minister of sports and youth affairs, but also criticized the legislation establishing the ministry, violated the guidance of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to the government's high officials. He said that the letter was too harsh, and against the advice of Khamenei that national unity is paramount.

Basij commander Brigadier General Mohammad Reza Naghdi said that 17,140 people have been killed as a result of terrorist attacks in Iran, of whom 12,000 were killed by the Mojahedin-e Khalgh Organization (MKO), and the rest by the groups that are supported by the United States and Britain. He added, "The world must recognize that those who shout for human rights and question freedom-loving people are [themselves] criminals."

Referring to the upcoming Majles elections next March, cleric and Majles deputy Morteza Agha Tehrani said, "The people expect the votes that they cast will also be announced as the true vote." Agha Tehrani, who used to support Ahmadinejad but has now turned against him, warned against electing what he called "representatives of the rich," saying that if such people are elected but do not serve their constituency, they would be committing treason. In related news, Raja News, the website published by Fatemeh Rajabi, who used to be an ardent Ahmadinejad supporter calling him the miracle of the third millennium) but has also turned against him, reported that a "movement for protecting the votes of the poor people" in the upcoming elections has been founded. Hardliners are worried that the government will steal the elections.

In related news, Seyyed Mohammad Javad Abtahi, member of the Islamic Revolution bloc in the Majles, said that the conservatives will not be united in the upcoming legislative elections, and will participate in three different factions. Abtahi criticized Seyyed Mohammad Reza Mir Taj-alddini, vice president for parliamentary affairs who had rejected several warnings by the Majles deputies regarding actions taken by the government. Abtahi added that the three factions will be the Islamic Revolution, the principlist critics of the government, and the Mashaei faction.

Mashregh News reports that members of the "perverted group" are trying to create a rival to the Basij militia among the youth. According to the website, the vehicle for doing so will be Iran's Red Crescent Organization. The group will try to attract the youth through the Boy Scout program that is run by the organization.

Absar News, a website operated by Ahmadinejad supporters, published an interview with Ayatollah Seyyed Mohiyoddin Haeri Shirazi, a member of the Assembly of Experts. Haeri rebuked the critics of the "perverted group" because they have refused to debate Mashaei or any of his close aides. Haeri said, "Why do we call them perverted, but refuse to debate them? I have declared that the solution to the problem [posed by the perverted team] is to debate them." One week ago, supporters of Mashaei challenged students of reactionary clerics and former Ahmadinejad supporter Mohammad Taghi Mesbah Yazdi to a debate, but the challenge has not been accepted.

Tehran municipality has made available buildings to the Basij militia. Mayor Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf is a former commander of the Revolutionary Guards' air force wing. He is believed to be a leading candidate for the next presidential elections in 2013. It appears that the municipality and the Guards have begun collaborating in anticipation of the upcoming Majles elections.

As reported by Tehran Bureau, two weeks ago the Central Bank increased the rate of exchange between the U.S. dollar and the Iranian toman by 11 percent. The increase had not been authorized by the budget resolution for the current Iranian year that will end next March 20. Mohammad Mehdi Mofattah, spokesman for the Majles Commission on Budget and Planning said that the increase by the Central Bank has generated additional income, equivalent to $8 billion, and that the Majles will demand that the bank deposit the income into the national treasury, because according to the law the additional income must not be spent by the government. This is another indication that Ahmadinejad's critics among the hardliners are afraid that he and his supporters will use the national resources to turn the upcoming Majles election in their own favor.

The armed forces are opposed to the merger of the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology with any other ministry, Hossein Sobhaninia, a member of the Majles leadership, told the Fars News Agency. According to him, after several Majles deputies opposed the merger, Majles Speaker Ali Larijani spoke to Saeed Jalili, secretary-general of the Supreme National Security Council, and Jalili informed Larijani that the Council had received a letter from the chief of staff of the armed forces, expressing the opposition. Ahmadinejad has proposed to the Majles to merge three ministries, including ministry of communications and information technology, in order create the ministry of infrastructure. In its letter, the armed forces headquarters has said that communications have to do with the country's security, and it is not in the country's national interest for the ministry to be merged with other organizations.

A few days ago Seyyed Ali Akbar Tahaei, governor-general of Mazandaran province in northern Iran, appointed Ali Babaei as governor of Sari, the provincial capital. But, just before Babaei was to be introduced, the governor-general canceled his appointment, which quickly became a major news item in Iran. On Saturday, Tahaei explained that between his order for the appointment and its cancellation he had done estekhareh. This is something of a tradition whereby a person who is about to make an important decision, but cannot for some reason, first tells God what the problem is, then opens the holy Qur'an, reads the opened page, and then interprets the first verse in the page as affirming or rejecting the important decision that the person is to make. According to Tahaei, when he did that, the estekhareh was bad, meaning that he should not have made the appointment. Thus, he cancelled it!

The Majles will begin investigating the so-called "justice shares" that the Ahmadinejad administration has distributed among the population. Hamid Sa'adat, deputy head of the Majles Commission on Budget and Planning, said that his commission will closely scrutinize the issue. As reported by Tehran Bureau, it has been revealed that right before the 2009 presidential election the Ahmadinejad administration paid the equivalent of $80 each to nine million people under the guise of profit for the "justice shares."

E'temad, a newspaper that is close to the reformists, began publishing again. The daily had been shut down in March 2010. It is published by Elyas Hazrati, a former university activist and Majles deputy from 2000 to 2004.

Javad Oji, the CEO of the National Iranian Gas Company, reported that Iran's daily production of natural gas has reached 410 million cubic meters, a record. The South Pars field, the world's largest natural gas reservoir, alone produces 250-270 million cubic meters. Mohammad Aliabadi, the acting oil minister, said that he has extensive plans for Iran's oil industry and the South Pars reservoir. Iran is about 11 years behind Qatar in producing from South Pars, which is shared between the two nations. Jahan News, the website published by hardline Majles deputy Alireza Zakani, reported that Aliabadi is trying to attract senior managers and experts who have left the Oil Ministry. According to Jahan, a meeting is to take place this week between Aliabadi and Mohammad Reza Nematzadeh, former head of the National Iranian Refining and Distribution of Oil Products Company; Akbar Torkan, former deputy oil minister for planning; Mohammad Hadi Nejad Hosseinian, former deputy oil minister for international affairs; and Bijan Namdar Zangeneh, oil minister in the administration of former President Khatami.

Hamid Reza Katouzian, head of the Majles Energy Commission and a critic of Ahmadinejad, said that the president "has crossed many red lines," and that "it is unfortunate that our friends [among the principlists] have confronted him only over the issue of Velaayat-e Faghih" -- the doctrine ogfguardianship of the Islamic jurist, by which Khamenei rules. He added, "If the number of people who have criticized Ahmadinejad has increased, it is due to him crossing many red lines. There is no doubt that believing in Velaayat-e Faghih must be paid attention to, but some keep silent about lawbreaking by the government.... Unfortunately, Ahmadinejad does not believe in [using] experts' views, and is not willing to use collective wisdom and, moreover, those that are used as experts have very shallow views."

Copyright © 2011 Tehran Bureau

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