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SL Pardons 70 Political Prisoners; Lake Devastation Behind Tabriz Protests

28 Aug 2011 13:45Comments

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

4:35 a.m., 7 Shahrivar/August 29 According to a Radio Zamaneh report,

Authorities say Iranian internet users chalked up more visits to pornographic sites than people from any other country on Ashura Day, a Shiite day of mourning.

The Fars news agency reports that Ebrahim Bayani, a senior official of the [Islamic] Revolutionary Guard Corps, told a meeting of IRGC commanders and administrators that the Revolutionary Guards Cyber Army has established that among internet users from 182 countries, Iranians made the highest number of visits to "immoral sites" on Ashura Day.

He added that these "alarming statistics" and the use of satellites mean "we cannot expect the youth of the country to have any motivation to fast or go to mosque."

9:25 p.m., 6 Shahrivar/August 28 Our columnist Muhammad Sahimi compiled the following news items and commentary:

Judiciary chief Sadegh Larijani said that Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has agreed to the judiciary's request to pardon or reduce the sentences of 1,218 [common] prisoners on the occasion of the end of the fasting month of Ramadan.

Mohammad Reza Tabesh, leader of the reformist bloc of the Majles, said that the release of some political prisoners will help improve the political atmosphere of the country and expressed his hope that all the political prisoners will soon be released.

Meanwhile, Kaleme, the website that reflects the views of Mir Hossein Mousavi, reported that some of those who have been released, such as Nazanin Hassania, had almost finished their sentences and would have been released over the next several days. Others, such as Ehsan Abdoh Tabrizi, who had no previous convictions, had served half of their sentences, and could have been released based on current laws.

Ayatollah Khamenei's office just announced that Tuesday is the last day of Ramadan.

A court has sentenced to death Majid Jamali Fashi, purported to be the assassin of Professor Masoud Ali Mohammadi. Mohammadi was assassinated on January 12, 2010, in front of his home.

Citing a confidential Iranian source, the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran reports that since the transfer of Mehdi Karroubi to a small apartment 42 days ago (see below), he has been under heavy psychological pressure to appear on a nationally broadcast television program to "confess." According to the Campaign, the government has hired several "psychologists" to try to escalate the pressure on Karroubi. The "psychologists" appear to be veteran security agents with considerable experience in interrogating political prisoners. The government has a long track of employing such tactics, going back to the 1980s when they were used to produce tavvabs, political prisoners who not only "repent," but also collaborate with the security forces.

"We are extremely concerned for the health and well-being of Karroubi, who is 74 years old, and no one has heard from him for six weeks, not his wife, any family, or associates," said Hadi Ghaemi, the Campaign's spokesman.

8826_646.jpg5:45 p.m., 6 Shahrivar/August 28 Our columnist Muhammad Sahimi compiled the following news items and commentary:
Tehran Prosecutor Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi announced that 70 political prisoners would be released by Saturday evening, Tehran time. In addition, the sentences of 18 others will not be enforced, and those of 12 others have been reduced. Jafari Dolatabadi said that the prisoners have been pardoned by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on the occasion of the end of the fasting month of Ramadan [which will be either on Tuesday or Wednesday], and claimed that the prisoners had expressed regret for their offenses and asked for clemency. Whether the claim is true remains to be seen. Such assertions were also made about the release of other political prisoners, who later denied the claims.

Several reports over the past two weeks indicated that many of the political prisoners were taken to Dolatabadi's office and told that Khamenei was not happy about their detention. He had asked the prisoners to sign a letter and ask for clemency. But among the names of the political prisoners to be released, no significant figures in the opposition, journalists, human rights activis,ts or well-known university students has been seen so far. Fars, the news agency run by the intelligence unit of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, reported that some of those released were arrested in the post-election demonstrations.

Over the past two months, former presidents Mohammad Khatami and Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani had called for the release of all political prisoners. Whether this weekend's announcement is in response to those calls remains unclear.

Meanwhile, the arrest of other Iranians and the imposition of severe sentences on others appears to have continued unabated:

* Vajiheh Nasheri, a 60-year-old Bahai Iranian, was arrested a few days ago in Sari, in the northern province of Mazandaran. Her husband, Vajihollah Mirza Golpour, had already been arrested and interrogated, but released.

* Reza Kermani, an engineer and a senior member of the Pan-Iranist Party, has also been arrested. He had been previously arrested on February 6 and sentenced to one year of imprisonment. His sentence is apparently now being enforced.

* Hassan Asadi Zeidabadi, a member of the central committee of the organization of university graduates [Advaar-e Tahkim-e Vahdat], who is also in charge of its human rights committee, was returned to jail after a short furlough. He has been sentenced to five years of incarceration and a fine of $100. He was first arrested in November 2009, but was released after some time. He was arrested again on August 22, 2010, and has been in jail ever since.

* Amir Khorram, a member of the central committee of Liberation Movement of Iran and head of its political office, has been summoned to serve out his six-year sentence. He has been repeatedly arrested over the past few years, the last of which was after the Ashura Day demonstrations in December 2009, for which he served 50 days.

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There have been several demonstrations in Tabriz, in the province of Eastern Ajerbaijan, and in Orumieh in the province of Western Azerbaijan. The police have used tear gas and plastic bullets to disperse the demonstrators. According to unconfirmed reports, dozens of people have been injured or arrested. Two police motorcycles were reportedly set ablaze by the demonstrators, and security agents and plainclothes intelligence agents beat up people. Reports indicate that at least 30 people have been arrested in Tabriz, and another 20 activists in Orumieh have been issued warnings by the security forces. Seven hundred people from Mianeh in East Azerbaijan, as well as a group of Reformists and supporters of the Green Movement in Azerbaijan, have issued separate statements, condemning the government's lack of attention to the problem.

The reason for the demonstrations has been the rapid deterioration of Lake Orumieh, which has been drying up, fueling strong reaction from Azerbaijanis and environmentalists alike. Emergency legislation proposed pumping a large volume of water into the lake, but was voted down in the Majles, also prompting angry protests by the deputies from the two Azerbaijan provinces as well as other provinces in the area. Jamshid Ansari, a reformist deputy from Zanjan, said that addressing the problem of Lake Orumieh is a national problem, and if not addressed properly, 18 of Iran's provinces will be negatively affected. Twenty-two Majles deputy have written a letter to Majles Speaker Ali Larijani stating that the government must take responsibility for the political, social, and economic consequences of Lake Orumieh's deteriorating state. (For more, see: Protest videos via Iranian.com | Photos of Lake Orumieh drying up.)

The textile and fabric merchants in Tehran's bazaar have been on strike for a month to protest the VAT law. New reports indicate that other businesses in the Bazaar have joined the strike, causing most of the Bazaar closed on Saturday. Last year, gold and other precious metal merchants in the Tehran bazaar went on strike over the same law, which spread to other cities, forcing the government to retreat. Interestingly, the conservative Islamic Coalition Party, which supports Khamenei, has also supported the strike. Historically, the ICP has represented the interests of Tehran's bazaar merchants.

For the first time since the 1960s, the government has issued a permit to the private sector to launch a television channel. The channel, called "the Music Channel of Iranians," will be devoted to broadcasting music.

2:30 a.m., 6 Shahrivar/August 27 According to Reuters (via Mehr), Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has ordered the release of 100 political prisoners including some arrested in the post-election crackdown. The order was timed to coincide with the end of Ramadan, and also preparations for parliamentary elections in March, the first since the presidential poll in June 2009. "The report did not name the pardoned prisoners and there was no indication it included two Americans who were sentenced to eight years' jail last week for spying after they crossed the border from Iraq where they said they had been hiking."

KarroubiArabi09.jpg11:45 p.m., 5 Shahrivar/August 27 Our columnist Muhammad Sahimi provided the following item:
Saham News, the website that reflects the views of Mehdi Karroubi, has a report on the latest developments with his extralegal detention. (He is seen here in a photograph from 2009 with the mother of 19-year-old Sohrab Arabi, who was shot and killed during the protests following the disputed presidential election.) His wife, Fatemeh Karroubi, told a Saham News interviewer that her husband has been transferred from their apartment, where he was held for more than six months, to another location. She said,

I must first point out that in the Friday Prayers of February 18, 2010, [the reactionary cleric] Ahmad Jannati proclaimed, as the spokesman for the state, the necessity of putting the Green Movement's leaders under house arrest and declared, "The judiciary must cut off all contacts between the leaders of the sedition [the Green Movement] and the people. Their houses' doors must be blocked, and their phones cut off. Their Internet connections must also be cut off so that they will not be able to send or receive any messages. They must be jailed in their own homes."

It was after this speech that the apartment complex in which we live, as well as the home of my son, were occupied [by security forces]. After this, and right from the beginning, Mr. Karroubi always emphasized that occupying people's homes is illegal and a religious violation. He told them [the security agents] many times to transfer him to another place in order to prevent the harassment of our neighbors, so that other [apartment] owners in the complex could return to their homes.

Regarding the conditions of her husband's incarceration, Fatemeh Karroubi said,

Right from the beginning he has been denied all of his most elementary rights, such as taking a walk outside, the right to visits [from family members] and books and newspapers, and this will hurt him [even] physically.

Regarding the transfer of her husband to another location, she said,

Finally, as a result of Mr. Karroubi's persistence, since the beginning of the fasting month of Ramadan [August 1], he was transferred to a small apartment and is living there with several security officers. It was not possible for me and him live in a small one-bedroom apartment together with the security personnel and they have also blocked me from visiting him. We had an agreement with the security establishment to transfer him to his own house in Jamaran [in northern Tehran], but for some unknown reasons the security forces reneged and did not transfer him to his own house, which is the only one he owns. I declare that Mr. Karroubi has only one house, which is in Jamaran, and imposing the rent of another place on his family does not mean that it is Mr. Karroubi's.

Finally, Fatemeh Karroubi described her husband's state of mind:

Despite the fact that over the past 190 days [since the beginning of the house arrest], Mr. Karroubi has been allowed to go outside for a walk only once, and even though the last visit that he has had was in the middle of Shaban [the month before Ramadan, and the day celebrated as Imam Mahdi's birthday], he is in great spirits. Since the very beginning, Mr. Karroubi has never asked the security forces for anything, and despite the fact that he has been denied his most elementary rights, he has tolerated the difficulties with great confidence and is proud of what he has done to defend people's rights. The state should know that both before and after the Revolution, Mr. Karroubi has been willing to pay any price and has been prepared for anything.

SalehiISNAAugust11.jpgIn an interview with ISNA, the Iranian Students' News Agency, Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi declared that the Syrian government should address the "legitimate demands" of its people, even as he warned of the consequences should Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, a close ally of the Islamic Republic, be forced from power.

Here is how ISNA's English-language website reported the story:

Salehi said creating [a] vacuum in the Syrian regime would bring about unpredictable consequences for neighboring countries and the region.

"We take one single position on Middle East and North African countries' popular developments. We believe developments in regional countries came following discontent of their nations," Salehi told ISNA, referring to Syrian recent developments.

He continued, "Regional governments should be vigilant about foreigners' meddling in their internal affairs. Current interference of foreigners in internal affairs of some regional countries, particularly in Syria, is clear cut to everyone."

He called on foreigner[s] not to meddle in domestic issues of other countries to prevent misuses [sic] and also asked Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to pay heed to [the] legitimate demands of his people. Salehi noted al-Assad should be supported and that, "Changing the regime in Syria is unconventional and is followed by an evil purpose."

He went on to say Syria should be more cautious and patient when treating with people [sic].

Here are excerpts from the interview's coverage in the New York Times:

Although the remarks, by Iran's foreign minister, Ali Akbar Salehi, did not advocate any specific changes, they were the first public sign of growing unease with the crisis in Syria -- even as Iran has maintained an unyielding crackdown on its own dissenters. [...]

"The government should answer to the demands of its people, be it Syria, Yemen or other countries," Mr. Salehi was quoted by the ISNA news agency as saying. "The people of these nations have legitimate demands, and the governments should answer these demands as soon as possible."

But Mr. Salehi warned of dangerous regional implications if the crisis in Syria was not solved peacefully, in a reference to the international military intervention in Libya to help rebels there end the rule of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi. Mr. Salehi's remarks echoed those on Friday by Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of the Iranian-backed Shiite militant group Hezbollah, in which he called on Syria to introduce reforms but warned of regional fallout.

Mr. Salehi cautioned, "A vacuum in the Syrian regime would have an unpredictable impact on the region and its neighbors."

The semiofficial Mehr News Agency interviewed Salehi on Saturday, as well. In this conversation, he focused on the recent call by the United States for Assad to step down:

"The U.S. is still living in the era of a unipolar world and believes that it is the gendarme of the world and unfortunately is making such remarks," Salehi stated.

"Many of those remarks should not be taken seriously because if such comments were effective, they would resolve the issue of Afghanistan," he added.

He also said, "It must be emphasized that Syria is an independent country. International conventions, international agreements do not allow a country's officials to adopt interventionist policies toward another country."

"On the one hand, they (U.S. officials) are saying that there should be no intervention in the internal affairs of countries and claim that as a foreign policy principle, but on the other hand, they make such remarks. The reason behind such statements is their pride and arrogance," Salehi said.

Salehi also addressed the fact that Iran was recently retained on a U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism, along with Cuba, Sudan, and Syria. He posed a series of rhetorical questions to the Mehr interviewer: "Is there anything remaining that the U.S. has not blamed Iran for? Is our support of Hezbollah, which is legitimately defending its homeland, support for terrorism? Is our moral support of Hamas, whose country has been occupied, support for terrorism?" Salehi concluded, "If this is the definition of terrorism, it should be revised."

See also | Iran's Nightmare: Losing Syria

Copyright © 2011 Tehran Bureau

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