Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Iran: From 1979's Revolution to 2009's 'Revolution'?

The New School held a conference entitled 'Iran: Politics of Resistance' on February 11, 2010, at the Tishman Auditorium in New York.

The participants were Abdolali Rezaei, professor of sociology at the University of Calgary, and former journalist for numerous Iranian publications including Etelaat, Shargh, and Aftab; Simon Critchley, professor of philosophy at the New School for Social Research; Charles Kurzman, professor of sociology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; and Danny Postel, journalist, co-coordinator of the Committee for Academic and Intellectual Freedom of the International Society for Iranian Studies, and member of the Chicago Committee in Solidarity with the People of Iran.

The following is a short clip of Kurzman's comments about the video of Neda Agha Soltan's death:

For those of you with a bit more time, here is the full conference which ran for over two and a half hours. The panel -- particularly Mr. Rezaei -- presents some fascinating insights and information. You can also go to Fora TV's web page which offers an outline of the conference and allows users to jump to conveniently titled chapters within the video.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Ramin Ramezani: A lesser-known martyr

CNN's Reza Sayah spoke to Zahra and Mehdi Ramezani, the parents of Ramin Ramezani, who was killed by Basij militiamen on June 15, 2009. This report was broadcast on March 22, 2010.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Tears, determination, and joy greet new year...

Iranians around the world celebrated Now Rouz, new year's day, at 5:32 PM GMT on Saturday, March 20, 2010, which coincides with the spring equinox. The hour, minutes, and seconds (and sometimes even the day) vary every year. The lead-up to this moment -- tahvileh sal -- is similar to the countdown to midnight on December 31.

  • The people of the southwestern city of Shiraz gathered at the shrine of beloved 14th-Century poet Hafez to call in the new year. 'Iranians would rather die than bear humiliation,' the crowd chanted, repeating a slogan of the post-election protests. Minutes later, they shouted, 'Ya Hossein, Mir Hossein,' referring to opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi.

    Elsewhere in the city, cars were packed bumper to bumper, their horns honking, as their passengers shouted, 'Ya Hossein, Mir Hossein!'

  • The last Thursday of the year, as I mentioned in a previous post, is a day of remembrance for loved ones who have passed away. In the following poignant footage taken at Tehran's Behesht Zahra cemetery last Thursday, Hajjar Rostami Motlagh, the mother of Neda Agha Soltan, weeps at the grave of her daughter who was killed by security forces at the age of 27 on June 20, 2009. 'My dear Neda,' she wails. 'Who can I talk to about the pain in my heart?'

  • Cries of 'Allah Akbar' and 'Death to the dictator' from the rooftops of Tehran blanketed the city seconds after the spring equinox. Pietro Masturzo's almost operatic photo (right) of this form of protest, which has become a mainstay of the green movement, won the World Press Photo award this year.

    And a bit off-key, but on cue with its message, a new song on the rooftops: 'The darkness will go away, if we stand alongside one another...'

  • Roger_S has put together an interesting review of the year using hot-links from Balatarin:

    And in another review of the year, this time much more visual, an unknown artist has put together what he/she calls a 'Requiem for a vote:'

  • 'Death to the dictator' at the Konig Pilsener Arena in the western German city of Oberhausen... 11,000 spectators attended a Now Rouz concert featuring Siavash Ghomeishi, Sepideh and others on Saturday night. 'This next song is for those who have sacrificed their lives for you and me,' said singer Afshin, before crying out, 'Death to the dictator!'

  • Meanwhile a group of protesters disrupted the preparations for the Islamic Republic Embassy's Now Rouz party in Oslo. They placed pictures of martyrs and prisoners on the traditional haft sin spread and unraveled a green banner. The police timidly escorted them off the premises, but not before they had the chance to voice their misgivings about the 'traitors' celebration.' 'May this haft sin be smashed on your head,' one woman told an embassy employee.

Donations for Iranian journalists in exile

Dear friends, as the new Iranian year begins, perhaps you can show some generosity towards journalists who have had to escape Iran and are now living in exile under difficult conditions. 

This campaign has been organized by the Balatarin community, but all proceeds are directly donated to the internationally-acclaimed NGO Reporters Without Borders. The goal is to obtain $15,000 by tomorrow, Tuesday, 23 March 2010. The total amount of funds raised thus far is just over $9,000.

You can donate through the link below or you can go to the Farsi page of Reporters Without Borders.

To publicize this campaign on your own blogs and web sites, simply click on the 'copy' tab in the box below and paste the html code on your site.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Nowrouzetan Pirouz

A very happy now rouz to you all. May the new year bring you light and joy.

Video courtesy of MyNameIsIran:

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Remembering the dead

Will all great Neptune's ocean wash this blood
Clean from my hand? No, this my hand will rather
The multitudinous seas incarnadine,
Making the green one red.
- Macbeth

O wine-bearer brighten my cup with the wine,
O minstrel say good fortune is now mine.
The face of my beloved is reflected in my cup,
Little you know why with wine, I always myself align.
Eternal is the one whose heart has awakened to Love,
This is how Eternal Records my life define.
- Hafez, Translation courtesy of Shahriar Shahriari.

The last Thursday of the Iranian year is a day of remembrance for loved ones who have passed away. The first photographs on this page were taken today, Thursday, March 18, 2010, at Beheshteh Zahra cemetery in Tehran. They are followed by photos of just some of the victims of the Islamic regime. No exhaustive list of the dead exists yet. In the mean time, I am publishing these portraits to represent all the victims, identified or anonymous. 

I have decided not to publish gory, blood-filled shots. They should be remembered as they appear here: smiling, radiant, full of hope, and alive.

Rest in peace.

'Don't be afraid, we're all together': Images of chahar shanbeh souri

For more videos and coverage of chahar shanbeh souri in other parts of the country, please click here

The following video is purportedly from Khorram Abad, capital of the western province of Lorestan. The people chant 'Death to the dictator!' and 'Don't be afraid, we're all together,' one of the first slogans used in the post-election unrest. The protesters shout a challenge to security forces.

Where joy is a crime: Woman arrested as child runs after her

For more videos and coverage of chahar shanbeh souri in other parts of the country, please click here.

The following video and accompanying message were posted on YouTube. I have translated the message verbatim. Although it appears genuine, I cannot vouch for its veracity.

'Police and plainclothesmen (NB Usually refers to Revolutionary Guards intelligence or security agents, or Basij militia members, not plainclothes police officers) raid a home at midnight on chahar shanbeh souri (NB Fire festival, 16 March 2010) - The savage arrest of a woman as a child runs after her - Iran

'On the night of chahar shanbeh souri, after we had all celebrated chahar shanbeh souri together in our street and had returned to our homes, our neighbor had a small family gathering with music and dancing. At around 2 in the morning, the police, led by plainclothesmen, raided the home. The screams of the women can be clearly heard in the film. Even some of the guests who were escaping over the rooftops were arrested. In the middle of the film, a woman, a boy, and two men rush out of the house, but they are arrested before reaching the end of the street. The bitterest moment of the film is where the police force the woman towards their car and the innocent child is running behind them.

'The whole film lasted 20 minutes and has been edited down to 5 minutes. For your information, as an eyewitness, I say that from the number of parked cars it can be surmised that it was no more than a small family gathering. I am sorry for the police force, which was ordered around by 3 or 4 Basijis and which did not even show mercy to this woman and child. Given the slow speed of the Internet here, please upload this film to YouTube and other sites and send it everywhere.'

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The rooftops of Tehran: Images of chahar shanbeh souri

For an article on this ancient fire festival, its particular significance this year, and the regime's longstanding efforts to counter pre-Islamic Iranian traditions, please click here. For more footage from chahar shanbeh souri, please click here.

And on a lighter note... Such, such were the joys: Images of chahar shanbeh souri

For an article on this ancient fire festival, its particular significance this year, and the regime's longstanding efforts to counter pre-Islamic Iranian traditions, please click here. For more footage from chahar shanbeh souri, please click here.

Children jumping over fires at school... I guess the teachers did not receive Leader Ali Khamenei's fatwa against celebrating this corrupt and harmful tradition.

'Neither Gaza, nor Lebanon. My life only for Iran': Images of chahar shanbeh souri

For an article on this ancient fire festival, its particular significance this year, and the regime's longstanding efforts to counter pre-Islamic Iranian traditions, please click here. For more footage from chahar shanbeh souri, please click here.

In footage purportedly from Rasht, near the Caspian coast in northern Iran, the crowd chants, 'Death to the dictator' and 'Neither Gaza, nor Lebanon, my life only for Iran,' a slogan made popular during mass protest rallies on Ghods Day.

'Seyed Ali, the thing missing in this fire is you': Images of chahar shanbeh souri

For an article on this ancient fire festival, its particular significance this year, and the regime's longstanding efforts to counter pre-Islamic Iranian traditions, please click here. For more footage from chahar shanbeh souri, please click here.

'This is Oroumiyeh, the Paris of Iran,' the cameraman says of the capital of West Azerbaijan province in northwestern Iran. In the last shot of the film, he says, '2010's chahar shanbeh souri is over. Seyed Ali (NB Leader Ali Khamenei), the thing missing in this fire is you. I see the day when you will burn in this fire. That's my heart's fondest wish. Death to you. Death to Khamenei. Murderer!'

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Video roundup - Chahar shanbeh souri fire festival, Tuesday, 16 March 2010

For more videos and coverage of chahar shanbeh souri in other parts of the country, please click here.

My apologies for not being able to provide a live blog of today's events.

The following is a collection of the first videos uploaded on the evening of chahar shanbeh souri. For an article on this ancient fire festival, its particular significance this year, and the regime's longstanding efforts to counter pre-Islamic Iranian traditions, please click here. Viewers should remember that given the stern warnings of the regime to not celebrate the fire festival, any participation in this year's chahar shanbeh souri can be considered a form of cultural resistance.

The footage is from around the country and sometimes features the student protest anthem Yareh Dabestaniyeh Man (My schoolfriend).

Purportedly Javadiyeh district, northeast Tehran

View Tehran, Javadiyeh district - Chahar shanbeh souri - 16 March 2010 in a larger map

Group of celebrants use extremely powerful crackers

Unknown location
Earlier in the day. Heavy presence of security forces on the now infamous red motorcycles...

Purportedly Takhti Street, Boroujerd
Clashes with security forces: 'Death to the dictator!'

View Boroujerd - Chahar shanbeh souri - 16 March 2010 in a larger map

Purportedly Tehran
Group of young protesters chant 'Death to the dictator!' and sing student protest anthem Yareh Dabestaniyeh Man.

Purportedly Shahin Shahr, north of Isfahan

View Shahin Shar - Chahar shanbeh souri, 16 March 2010 in a larger map
Protesters sing Yareh Dabestaniyeh Man and chant 'Political prisoners must be freed!' and 'Don't be afraid, we're all together!'

Purportedly Sadeghiyeh district, central Tehran

View Tehran, Sadeghiyeh district - Chahar shanbeh souri, 16 March 2010 in a larger map
'Death to the dictator!' 'With God's help, victory is near!' and again Yareh Dabestaniyeh Man...

More unrest in the same area...

'Death to the dictator' cried out in the same area...

Purportedly Ajoudaniyeh Street, north Tehran
'Get inside, they're beating the people.' And then, 'Death to the dictator!'

Towhid Square, Tehran
Security forces are amassed...

Purportedly Karaj

View Karaj - Chahar shanbeh souri, 16 March 2010 in a larger map
Street party as protest...

Purportedly Tabriz

View Tabriz - Chahar shanbeh souri, 16 March 2010 in a larger map
Large crowd celebrates...

Purportedly Amir Abad district, Tehran

View Amir Abad, Tehran - Chahar shanbeh souri, 16 March 2010 in a larger map
Huge bonfire and celebrants...

Purportedly Bandar Anzali

View Bandar Anzali - Chahar shanbeh souri, 16 March 2010 in a larger map
And more celebration during a festival deemed anti-religious by the country's senior clergy and Leader Ali Khamenei...

Purportedly Bandar Abbas

View Bandar Abbas - Chahar shanbeh souri, 16 March 2010 in a larger map
'Go ahead. Who are you afraid of?'

Purportedly Rasht

View Rasht - Chahar shanbeh souri, 16 March 2010 in a larger map

'Don't be afraid, we're all together!' And then, the song Yareh Dabestaniyeh Man. 'Dictator, feel some shame. Leave my country alone!'

Regime's ideologues: Only idiots and miscreants celebrate ancient fire festival

It's that time of the year again.

Spring is almost upon us. The gray winter chill slowly gives way to chirping birds, budding trees, and gurgling streams.

And the regime's clerical ideologues pull their lightweight tan cloaks out of mothballs and begin their onslaught on ancient pre-Islamic Iranian traditions, foremost among them the chahar shanbeh souri fire festival and the now rouz new year celebration.

A certain brand of Islam has always frowned on Now rouz, which corresponds to the the spring equinox and falls on March 20 this year, and its accompanying rites, from the haft sin spread (seven objects beginning with Sin or the letter S in the Iranian alphabet) fraught with symbolism, to sizdah bedar, the thirteenth day of the year when Iranians close the holiday season by leaving their homes, having picnics, throwing the sabzeh (green sprouts) they grew for the haft sin into a river, and young women tie knots in sabzeh for good luck in love.

For years Ayatollah Abolghassem Khazali, staunch supporter of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi, has called for replacing now rouz with the Muslim festival of Ghadir as the Iranian new year celebration. 'Now rouz is for the trees,' Khazali, obviously in a poetic mood, said at Tehran Friday prayers last year. 'What honors they bestow on now rouz! Do they respect Eid Ghadir a quarter as much?' Ghadir is the place where the prophet Mohammad designated Ali as the first imam and the date of this event, 18 Zilhajj in the Arabic calendar, is Eid Ghadir. Two years ago, reformist cleric Mohammad Ali Abtahi wrote on his blog, 'Placing now rouz and ghadir in confrontation with each other is both an injustice towards Ali and the history and greatness of the Iranian people.' Abtahi has been silent on the topic this year. Perhaps his recent stint in prison and being tortured and force-fed psychotropic drugs has made this once-eloquent and popular blogger less talkative.

But now rouz's disfavor among some clerics cannot hold a candle up to the ire provoked by the chahar shanbeh souri (literally 'red Wednesday') fire festival, which is celebrated on the evening before the last Wednesday of the year. Chahar shanbeh souri will be held this evening, March 16. Perhaps the sight of people jumping over bonfires while they recite, 'Take my sickly yellow, give me your vibrant red,' and generally engaging in unbecoming behavior such as having fun are too much to bear for some dour types with furrowed brows. Most likely, the festival's roots in pre-Islamic Iran and Zoroastrianism play a part.

The regime has shown particular sensitivity about chahar shanbeh souri this year. The country's leaders rightly consider that the combination of general unrest, firecrackers, and bonfires dispersed across cities once night falls is, well, explosive. Warnings have been issued almost daily for the past few weeks to would-be troublemakers. The News Center of the Islamic Republic of Iran Police posted a statement this morning entitled, 'The police's measures against dangerous behavior, trouble-making, damage to public property, and creating traffic jams on the last Wednesday of the year.' The Basij, Revolutionary Guards, and the police have joined forces to patrol the streets of the country this evening. The use of motorcycles has been banned from 2 PM on Tehran's main arteries.

The regime has also brought out its heavy theological arms against the year-end traditions. In response to a religious query, Leader Ali Khamenei took the rare step of denouncing chahar shanbeh souri as conducive to 'harm and corruption' and therefore something to be avoided. Khamenei added that the festival has no Islamic foundation.

On March 8, Mehr News Agency published an article relating the fatwas or religious edicts of 'seven grand ayatollahs' on the celebrations. It should be pointed out that all of the clerics mentioned in the article are grand ayatollahs, except Khamenei. However, the other clerics are simply referred to as ayatollahs, most notably Ali Sistani, considered by many to be the most senior Shiite cleric in the world, who is placed in fifth position:
His Excellency Ayatollah Ali Khamenei: Chahar shanbeh souri has no meaning based on reason.
Makarem Shirazi: Purchasing and selling fireworks are religiously proscribed
Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi stressed that chahar shanbeh souri is a superstitious celebration based on the false customs of the ancients and that it has no place in Islamic culture. He reminded, 'Traditions such as visiting relatives and friends, showing clemency, and aiding others must be encouraged but we must not surrender to the superstitious customs of the ancients. The purchase and sale and transport of fireworks, which can lead to accidents and injury, are not permissible and any profits from the aforementioned are religiously proscribed.
Ayatollah Sheikh Mohammad Taghi Behjat: Such actions have no legitimacy.
Ayatollah Sheikh Lotfollah Safi Golpayegani: It is wrong.
Ayatollah Seyed Ali Sistani: Actions which are detrimental to society and harm people, such as using fireworks or trading in them are not permissible.
Ayatollah Fazel Lankarani: Considering that it has dangers for life and limb and property, and harms others, and is against the laws and public order, it is not permissible.
Ayatollah Sheikh Mirza Javad Tabrizi: None of these acts have any religious basis and encouraging them is to encourage them to concentrate on worldly matters and not the ever-after. And their belief that this enjoins the people to preserve the nation and honor is a false belief. That which compels the people to find honor and preserve the nation is faith and nothing else.

The constant declarations made by security authorities concerning chahar shanbeh souri reached such a fever pitch that a satirist on state television took note. Jalal Samii, 27, who presents a daily piece on channel 1's popular 'Good Morning Iran' (NB Sobh Bekheir Iran) made the following tongue-in-cheek presentation (translation after the video):

Jalal Samii:
The fire department has issued a warning to watch over your children in the end-of-the-year period. You have to watch over your children in general anyway, but the fire department has said that children buy fireworks and crackers at the end of the year, so you should keep a closer eye on them. The fire department has cautioned that you should make sure that children don't have firecrackers and such things.

From now on, children don't have the right to keep their hands in their pockets or under their shirts or whatever, because you can hide firecrackers anywhere. Interrogate your children's bags -- I mean, conduct a search of your children's bags. Conduct an interrogation of the child as well. Whenever you feel the child may be lying, conduct an interrogation. Interrogations take place in many places, and they're very effective too. I mean, they sometimes even tell you things that you didn't expect when they're interrogated.

Whatever the child's age, it makes no difference. He is not permitted to go out to play. He should sit in front of you and play in the dirt or play at doctors. Make sure he doesn't play with matches. The child is no longer allowed to spend too much time in the lavatory, he may make something explode in there, a firecracker or something. He shouldn't touch the heater.

If any sound emanates from the child, interrogate him with regard to firecrackers. Whatever the sound. This is a very important point so close to the last Wednesday of the year. Don't allow the child to watch just any movie. Only let the child watch family-oriented shows and if he falls in love, so be it, as long as he doesn't explode any firecrackers.

If necessary, the mothers should keep an eye on the fathers. The father may take the child's firecracker away and then go and explode it with his buddies. Unfortunately the fire department hasn't mentioned this. Shouldn't the authorities release information about firecrackers? The child may blow up a plastic bag and then you beat him, thinking it was a firecracker. He blows up some bubble gum and then you hit him.

Is any noise a part of the this firecracker issue? Or should other noises be inspected by other official bodies? Why is everyone asking the fire department to make these declarations? With all these noises that may emanate from a child... well, the fire department is only supposed to show up after there's been an explosion. The fire department can't handle all noises. I think you should make a general declaration about all possible sounds.

Regardless of all the bellicose statements made by the regime in recent weeks, it is worth remembering that the 'original sin' of rejecting ancient Iranian traditions in order to impose an Islamic system was committed from the start of the revolution and no one embodies it better than Ayatollah Morteza Motahari, who was assassinated in 1979. Motahari, father-in-law of current Majlis Speaker Ali Larijani and father of Principlist, yet anti-Ahmadinejad, Majlis representative Ali Motahari, was considered a moderate and enlightened cleric in the years leading up to the revolution. Yet, his comments in the following video tell a different story. The footage is from an episode of Voice of America's Newstalk program almost exactly a year ago. Motahari's voice is from a recording reportedly made in the months before his death. I have included the reaction of Nasser Mohammadi, editor of the London edition of Keyhan, not to be confused with the arch-conservative Tehran Keyhan, run by Hossein Shariatmadari  (translation follows the video):

Host Jamshid Chalangi: 
First we have a tape of Ayatollah Morteza Motahari, who before the revolution was a member of the Royal Philosophical Society, led by Dr. Hossein Nasr at the time. After the revolution, Ayatollah Motahari was a member of the Council of the Revolution. [Islamic Republic founder] Ayatollah Khomeini said in his regard, 'He is a part of my heart.' [Motahari] was subsequently assassinated. He made comments rejecting Iranian customs -- chahar shanbeh souri and nowrouz -- which became guidelines for supporters of the Islamic Revolution. Let's listen to Ayatollah Motahari's comments and then we'll get to my question...

Ayatollah Morteza Motahari's recorded voice:
'In the past they did this and we'll do the same.' That's the last Wednesday of the year, the last Wednesday of the month of Esfand. Many families -- which we must call families of idiots -- many families of idiots light fires, set logs on fire, and then grownups with their big statures jump over fire. 'Oh fire, my sickly yellow to you, your vibrant red to me.' How ignorant this is. Why do you do this? 'Sir, this is a tradition of us people. From ancient times, our fathers did this.' The Quran says, (recites line from the Quran). Even if your fathers and ancestors acted in this way, when you see that it is a foolish act and a sign of the stupidity of your forefathers, then cover it up. Why do you keep repeating this evidence of ignorance every year? This is just evidence of ignorance. You strive to keep this evidence of ignorance alive. We had such idiots for fathers and mothers.

(Another recording) Our first day of the month of Farvardin (NB First day of the Iranian calendar) is also cursed. What's the difference between the 1st or 2nd or 3rd or 4th or 13th or 14th or 15th of Farvardin? What must we do to escape this cursed state? You go out and tie knots in stalks of grass instead of going to the mosque. [inaudible] This is a day that symbolizes our superstition and ignorance. It's a holiday? [inaudible] These things are against Islam.

Host Jamshid Chalangi:
Well, Mr. Mohammadi, those were the words of one of the revolution's leaders in the first year after the revolution. Opposition to traditions. Insults to millions of Iranians and Iranian families. Ayatollah Motahari called them idiots. The revolutionaries supported his comments, or at least were silent. How do you explain this rejection? Iranians have respected Islamic traditions and still do, but they have also respected their historical, national, ancient traditions. What are the roots of this opposition to Iranian traditions by the revolutionary clergy?

Nasser Mohammadi:
Mr. Chalangi, before getting to the reasons for this opposition, which has been present throughout history... It is truly regretful. When we were young, we considered Dr. Motahari as one of the enlightened clerics. In those days, he used to write articles in Zaneh Rouz (NB Today's Woman magazine), he was a member of the Royal Philosophical Society, he worked with the government, he was a university professor... It is truly amazing to hear such words from the mouth of a university professor, a cleric at that. 'They're donkeys (NB stupid), idiots, it is stupidity, it is ignorance, our forefathers were idiots.' It is regretful that a cleric, a person who calls himself an Iranian, so boldly insults millions of Iranians and calls everyone an idiot. When this man, with the fame that he had, with the top position that he held in the Council of the Revolution, says such things, what can we expect of Basijis and Hezbollahis, how can we expect such people to not insult those in front of them or assault them?

But the question is, Why are they against [such traditions]? All tribes and peoples who invaded Iran throughout its history first directed their attacks against Iranian culture and traditions. It is now rouz and chahar shanbeh souri and other festivals which have helped the Iranian nation weather vicissitudes and extremely hard times. The Iranian nation has been able to bring all invaders to their knees and has endured and has preserved its civilization by holding firm to such traditions, beliefs, and festivals, at the zenith of which is now rouz, the symbol of the nation's unity and solidarity. That [Motahari] presents such an interpretation, well, it's his own interpretation. From the day the Islamic Republic came into being, it showed opposition and enmity towards anything which had a national hue, anything that represented the nation. The Agha [NB Ayatollah Khomeini] used to say that national identity represents opposition to Islam.

Any ideological regime which sees itself as extra-territorial -- and the Islamic Republic and its leaders say that it is... These regimes, which want to transform the nation into an umma or the masses, have to destroy national identity and replace them with ideological values and identity.


I don't know.. when you say such things, people accuse you of being insulting... Is it stupidity and ignorance to
celebrate the last Wednesday of the year, or to take a 6-year-old child and cut open his scalp and repeat this every year? (NB Referring to the dubious act of making one's head bleed at Islamic mourning ceremonies such as Ashura.) That's not ignorance, but this is? How is it that the members of a government get together and write a petition that they then throw into a well outside a mosque in order to form a pact with the Imam Zaman? (NB Referring to the 12th Imam, the Shiite messiah) That's wise and rational, but if someone celebrates, then it's called stupidity.


All of the ancient Iranian festivals -- now rouz, sadeh, mehregan... -- are celebrations, without any weeping or chest-beating, and are based on natural cycles like the beginning of spring or harvest time. These gentlemen -- and this is not Islamic -- want to impose a culture of mourning. It is natural that they have opposed such celebrations from the first day they came to power. Mr. Chalangi, you and I remember -- young people don't remember this  -- in 1980, we thought that now that their revolution has been victorious they will celebrate now rouz. They said, No, we want to mourn. Let's go to Behesht Zahra cemetery and mourn our martyrs.

The chahar shanbeh souri celebrations will be beginning in Iran in a few hours.

It's that time of the year again.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Student protest anthem subtitled

Several weeks ago, Where Is My Vote - New York released a new version of 'Yareh Dabestaniyeh Man', performed by Fared Shafinury and his band Tehranasaurus. (For article, click here) The group also financed an animation to accompany the song.

The sub-titled version of the clip, with a very good translation of the lyrics, is now available:

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Regime mouthpiece accuses Khatami of, gasp!, wearing suit in passport photo

The regime is continuing to spread innuendos against opposition leader and former reformist President Mohammad Khatami.

Yesterday, March 9, Fars News Agency, linked to the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corp (IRGC), claimed that a foreign travel ban had been placed on Khatami. The report was rebutted half an hour later by Khatami's lawyer. (For report, click here)

Today it was Javan Online's turn to attempt to discredit the former two-term president by reporting that he had committed the crime of wearing a suit in his new passport's photograph. Javan Online, the web site of Javan newspaper which also happens to be controlled by the IRGC, made the affirmation this morning. The item will probably appear in tomorrow's edition of the daily.

Javan was as closefisted as Fars News in its use of honorifics or titles for Khatami:

'Prior to February 11 (NB Anniversary of 1979 revolution), Seyed Mohammad Khatami intended to travel to a European country (NB Code for: What's wrong with the beach resort of Gaza or beautiful downtown Mazar-i Sharif?),' Javan Online wrote. 'Because his passport had expired, he took steps to obtain a new one.'

'Khatami's representative with power of attorney applied for a new passport in one of the police stations of eastern Tehran,' Javan continued. 'According to the documents that were submitted, Khatami's passport was issued without clerical garb and with a suit, per his request and contrary to [past applications].'

Since Javan Online did not publish the said photograph, despite the newspaper's obvious close relationship with the authorities, this blog had to resort to on-line research to illustrate this post and hit a gold mine at graphic designer Mehrdad Aref-Adib's web site:

Please visit Aref-Adib's lookalikes page for more.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Peers hold 'birthday ceremony' in memory of Kianoush Asa

Fellow students at Tehran's Elm-o-Sanat (Science and Technology) University held a ceremony today on would have been the 27th birthday of Kianoush Assa, a graduate petro-chemistry student who was killed by security forces during protests on June 15, 2009.

Kianoush's family searched for him for almost ten days, during which time security and judicial officials gave them the runaround. His body was finally identified by his family at the coroner's morgue on June 24.

The following is a video of Kianoush playing the tanbour. RIP.

Khatami travel ban reported, then denied

A semi-official news agency announced that a travel ban had been placed on former reformist President Mohammad Khatami, but the report was denied thirty minutes later by a source close to Khatami.

At 2:55 PM, Fars News, linked to the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, claimed Khatami had been banned from making any trips abroad in an article that refrained from using any honorific such as 'former president,' 'mister,' or even the statesman's religious title of hojjatoleslam.

Fars's claim was promptly denied by Khatami's lawyer, Mahmoud Alizadeh Tabatabaie, in an interview with the Iranian Labor News Agency which was posted at 3:31 PM. 'You can't easily restrict the travel of individuals,' Tabatabaie told ILNA. 'For this to happen, you need a judicial case to be constituted and then a judiciary decision must be issued. As the reformist government's lawyer, I am not aware of any case or even any accusations against [President Khatami.]'

Fars news wrote:
An intelligence official: 
Mohammad Khatami is subject to a travel ban
Fars News Agency: An intelligence official gave news of a travel ban on Mohammad Khatami, head of the Baran Foundation

According to the political reporter of Fars News Agency, Hojjatoleslam Abbas Amirifar, executive secretary of the Preachers' Society of Tehran, referring his organization's gathering last night, said: Last night at the private meeting of the clerics of the Preachers' Society, this intelligence official gave news of the foreign travel ban on Seyed Mohammad Khatami, head of the Baran Foundation.

He added: In this regard, this official stressed that Khatami recently intended to leave the country.

In an obvious attempt to belittle Khatami, the post simply referred to Khatami as the head of the Baran Foundation. The foundation, whose motto is 'Freedom, growth, and prosperity for Iran,' was created by Khatami after his second term, but is run by Morteza Haji, a former minister of higher education who was briefly arrested after the opposition protest rallies on Ashura Day, December 27, 2009. The foundation's documents were sealed and confiscated by intelligence agents at the time.

The Baran Foundation web site posted an article which denied Khatami had intended to go on a foreign trip.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Moharebeh: The last refuge of a scoundrel?

The death sentence of a 20-year-old student activist has been confirmed by the Islamic Republic's court of appeals, according to opposition news site Nedayeh Sabzeh Azadi, signaling the Islamic regime's increasing reliance on execution and human rights abuses to maintain its grip on power.

Mohammad Amin Valian, a member of the reformist student association of Damghan University and an activist for opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi's presidential campaign, was accused of moharebeh (waging war against God) and 'corruption on Earth' for having participated in protests, having thrown three rocks, and having chanted 'Death to the dictator' on the holy day of Ashura, December 27, 2009.

The appeals court's confirmation of Valian's sentence means that he can be hanged at any moment.

Aaron Rhodes, spokesman for the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran told Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty that the main evidence against Valian was a photo showing him holding a rock. Ashura is the tenth day of the Islamic month of Moharram, the anniversary of the 7th-Century martyrdom of Imam Hossein, a key figure of Shiism. This year, the opposition staged rallies which were confronted with extreme violence by the regime's security forces. (For this blog's reports and video on Ashura, click here)

The Islamic Republic's judiciary has announced that eleven death sentences have been issued in the trials of post-election protesters, according to Radio Farda. Arash Rahmanipour, 20, and Mohammad Reza Ali Zamani, 38, were hanged on January 28, 2009, on charges of moharabeh after show trials plagued with legal improprieties.

The man behind the show trials and most of the the death sentences, including those of Rahmanipour, Ali Zamani, and Valian, is Judge Salavati, presiding magistrate of the 15th Branch of the Revolutionary Court. Salavati is almost definitely an alias and the first name Abolghassem or Abdolghassem have been used infrequently. It is believed that he is a protégé of former Intelligence Minister and current Prosecutor General Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ejei. No official information is known about the personal past of this figure who holds such a senior position, although his recent judicial history is widely publicized and closely linked to the persecution of dissidents and protesters.

This is not particularly strange in the Islamic Republic, where intelligence figures and judges presiding over 'national security' cases hide their pasts, rarely pose for photographs, and use several aliases. For example, the real name of Judge Hassan Haddad, the deputy prosecutor for security affairs until several months ago whose colorful past includes stints as interrogator/torturer at Evin Prison in the 1980s, is Hassan Zareh Dehnavi.

Judge Mohammad Mogheiseh is another honorable magistrate who has several identities. On December 28, 2009, Mogheiseh sentenced to death Ahmad Karimi, a young carpenter accused of being a ringleader in the post-election unrest. The charge: moharebeh. Judge Mohammad Mogheiseh, also known as Mogheisieh and Nasserian, was one of the tight circle of prosecutors and judges responsible for the mass executions of thousands of political prisoners in the late 1980s. He was prosecutor at Gohardasht and Evin prisons at the time and operated under the name Nasserian, according to sources who wish to remain anonymous.

The current head of the General Inspection Organization, which investigates state bodies, is Mostafa Pourmohammadi. It was only during his confirmation as Interior Minister in Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's first government that he informed the Majlis, and only then to bolster his credentials, that he had been the Deputy Intelligence Minister for counter-intelligence for 16 years.

The regime's secretiveness does not only extend to its officials. The names of those arrested, the accused, the charges against them, and even verdicts are routinely kept hidden.

The International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran declared that the identity of the latest protester who has been sentenced to death, presumably Valian, has been deliberately withheld by the judiciary. Nedayeh Sabzeh Azadi wrote that neither Valian, nor his court-appointed lawyer, have been informed of the verdict. This has been an unfortunately common and inhumane practice by the regime's courts. Rahmanipour's death sentence, for example, was allegedly issued as early as October of last year, although he was kept in the dark for months (To view relevant October article on this blog, click here)

Valian and an unnamed friend were arrested in Damghan, a small city 350 km northeast of Tehran with a population of less than 100,000, on January 12, a number of blogs and the Human Rights Activists News Agency wrote at the time. A day before he was detained, he was denounced as an Ashura protester in a newsletter published by his university's Basij association. The pro-regime militia's newsletter called on security forces and university officials to confront Valian. According to Nedayeh Sabzeh Azadi, the Basiji student behind the publication has been wracked with remorse since the death sentence was passed and has been collecting signatures on a petition asking the judiciary to overturn the verdict.

Opposition news site Nedayeh Sabzeh Azadi also contended that the case of moharebeh against Valian had been based on remarks allegedly made by Grand Ayatollah Nasser Makarem Shirazi that 'the desecrators of Ashura Day are mohareb.' The news site added that Makarem Shirazi's comment had been considered a fatwa or religious edict by the judicial authorities.

Makarem Shirazi's last fatwa was published, however, in November and condemned the practice of self-flagellation and cutting open the scalp to make it bleed during mourning ceremonies in the month of Moharram, including on the day of Ashura.

Though no fatwa has been issued since that date, on December 29, two days after the protest rallies of Ashura, Makarem Shirazi released a statement in which he said, 'A group of protesters took to some of Tehran's streets and broke the sanctity of the ceremonies [for Imam Hossein] which are a factor of the nation's unity, first with political slogans against [the regime's structure] and then by destroying people's property and setting fire to it.' The statement added, '[...] A destructive and foreign-financed group has infiltrated the ranks of the people and its only goal is to ruin and dissolve the country and hand it over to foreigners.' The English translation of this statement on Makarem Shirazi's web site differs in a noteworthy manner from the original and refers to 'a terrorist and foreign mercenary group.'

Despite Makarem Shirazi's strong words, he does not mention moharebeh in this statement, although he does write, 'Clear and reliable information has reached me that they are promoting the separation of government and Islam.' Could regime officials and state media have taken this remark made by a senior cleric and reinterpreted it to justify their actions and bolster their religious legitimacy and credentials? If this is the case, the effort appears to have backfired.

Only one day after the allegations were made -- faster than the grand ayatollah reacted to the Ashura unrest -- Makarem Shirazi responded to a comment on the Valian sentence left on his web site.

First a word of explanation. Makarem Shirazi is a marja taghlid or source of emulation, a particularly Shiite concept. Almost all practicing Shiites choose a marja, who must be an ayatollah regarded by his peers to be exceptionally learned, as a personal guide who interprets religious texts, issues edicts, and responds to questions. In the old days, such questions, which can relate to the most mundane topics of everyday life as well as to complex theological issues, were submitted in person or through a letter. Today, the queries can be sent via the marjas' web sites. The query page on Makarem Shirazi's site claims that the site has over 10,000 questions and responses in its archives, and invites petitioners to go through the records before submitting their question.

Yesterday, March 3, a reader used the more public guestbook to ask for clarification on the Valian case:
Greetings. Unfortunately many insider and outsider news sources (NB The terms khodi and gheyreh-khodi are used to denote those within and close to the regime, and those who are not) are relating a rumor that the unjust death sentence of the student from Damghan was based on a ruling of Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi. Please inform the public of the reliability or unreliability of this news on your web site.
Makarem Shirazi responded:
I have absolutely not issued such a fatwa concerning such individuals, and this is mischief carried out by some sites. God willing, act according to Islamic precepts and do not hastily pass judgment. [...] I know that some young people, under the influence of certain passions, took part in some violence and they must be enlightened and guided, and if they are not linked to corrupt foreign groups, they must be pardoned.

Makarem Shirazi's answer was incorporated into an official denial that he was behind any ruling labeling Ashura protesters as mohareb and was posted on his site today, Thursday, March 4. The ayatollah's speedy and unequivocal response indicates the uproar that the death sentence has provoked and the desire of at least this senior cleric to distance himself from it as quickly as possible.

In another indication that the moharebeh charge, and consequent death sentence, against Valian is not only legally unsound but, more significantly for the regime, is running into clerical resistance is the fatwa issued today, March 4, by Grand Ayatollah Youssef Saanei. Saanei is a firm supporter of the green movement and famously referred to Ahmadinejad as a 'lying bastard' in a virulent speech on August 12. In response to the question, 'What are the criteria for determining moharebeh and what is the punishment for it?' Saanei responded with the criteria enshrined in the law and added, 'It should not be left unsaid that whenever an organized group has objections against the acts and behavior of a government and these individuals voice their objections, they are definitely not mohareb and their acts are considered the defense of their rights and objection to the oppression that has befallen them, and are not only permissible, but compulsory.'

Extensive research by this blog has failed to unearth any comment made by Makarem Shirazi equating Ashura protesters with mohareb (readers are invited to provide sourced information on this matter). What is certain is that supporting the separation of church and state, mentioned in Makarem Shirazi's December 29 statement, does not comply with the legal definition of 'waging war against God.'

Moharebeh and corruption on Earth (Efsad Fel'arz) are covered in section 7, articles 183 to 189, of the Law of Islamic Punishment. Article 183 defines a mohareb as 'anyone, who in order to provoke fear or to deprive people of freedom and security, takes up arms.' It is unclear whether plainclothesmen and Basijis who have terrorized the population and restricted the people's freedom of assembly, expression, and thought by employing knives, chains, clubs, electrical cables, and guns fall into this category.

Subsequent articles in section 7 expand the range of crimes which are considered moharebeh. Article 185, for example, considers armed robbers to be mohareb. But more significantly, considering the calls made by senior officials and regime supporters to brand opposition leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, and by extension the opposition movement, as mohareb, article 186 provides, 'The members and supporters of any organized group or association which wages armed revolt against the Islamic government [...] are mohareb, even if they do not belong to the armed wing. [...] A united front, which is composed of various groups and individuals, is subject to the same verdict.'

The charge of 'moharebeh' or waging war against God is a particularly heavy one in the regime's Law of Islamic Punishment, but the possible penalties, though they may include state-sanctioned violence described in excruciating detail, are at the discretion of the judge and do not necessarily involve death. Article 190 defines four possible verdicts for a mohareb, though strangely the first two options are execution or hanging. This is because the regime reserves the right, enshrined in article 195, to bring about death by crucifixion. The Law of Islamic Punishment warns that the manner in which the guilty party is bound to a cross must not result in immediate death and that if the person is still alive after three days, he or she must not be put to death. The other possible penalties are amputation of the right hand and left foot, or exile (ostracism) for no less than a year. Some Islamic jurists consider the last option to also include loss of civil rights and a ban on certain activities, for example journalism.

As article 191 explains, the judge may choose any of these four verdicts, even if the mohareb has committed murder. That judge Salavati sentenced Valian to death for having thrown rocks on the religious holiday of Ashura is indicative of the intransigent position the regime has chosen to take in order to subdue the population.

Abdolfattah Soltani, prominent human rights lawyer and member of the Defenders of Human Rights Center co-founded by Nobel laureate Shirin Ebadi, told the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran that the absolute condition for moharebeh is armed activity. 'This has been clearly stated in all texts of Fiqh (religious jurisprudence). In articles 186 and 189 of the Islamic Penal Code, several conditions have been elaborated upon and in particular these articles clearly state, that if a group has been formed that engages in armed struggle, and if a person who is a member of such a group or associates with it promotes its goals through armed activity, then that is considered Moharebeh. Therefore, the condition of armed activity is essential in charging someone under Moharebeh and the person must have carried out effective actions. If these conditions are not present then the charge of Moharebeh cannot be applied,' he said.

Soltani was arrested on June 16, 2009, four days after the disputed presidential election, and was held in prison for 72 days for 'being skeptical about the results of the election,' as he was told by Judge Majid Matin Rasekh (also an alias?).

The human rights organization asked Soltani if throwing rocks can be considered moharebeh. 'Absolutely not,' he responded. 'If a person is arrested because of association with an armed group then moharebeh may apply. But if an ordinary person, for whatever reason, such as anger or losing his temper, throws a stone, aimed at the destruction of some property or hurting someone, then there are other legal charges applicable and such actions do not rise to the charge of moharebeh.'

It is sometimes said that patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel. But in the Islamic Republic, it seems that lies and death and the Islamic Law of Punishment have become the last refuge of a scoundrel. A supreme scoundrel.