Thursday, April 22, 2010

Ahmadinejad the veteran?

My previous post concerning a photo of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Mojtaba Samareh Hashemi in the early 1980s provoked an exchange in the comments section between Mark Pyruz, who has a much better knowledge of Islamic Republic military issues than I, and a reader who remained anonymous:

Mark Pyruz: homy, have you seen this photo purportedly of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as a soldier during Jange Tahmili (the Imposed War)?
It would be interesting to know the dates of your student Ahmadinejad and this soldier Ahmadinejad, for purposes of authentication. (He's definitely older in the later.)

Anonymous: To Mark Pyruz,
It is not A.N. on that picture taken during the war. The man standing on the right side of the picture is colonel Sayyad Shirazi, perhaps the most famous army commander during the Iran Iraq war.

I won't get into Ali Sayyad Shirazi's military career, which did indeed include senior commands during the Iran-Iraq War. He was assassinated outside his Tehran home in 1999 by members of the MKO who had disguised themselves as garbage collectors. He was at that time a brigadier general, I believe. (If I'm mistaken, I'm sure I will be corrected on this by Mark or another reader). Leader Ali Khamenei and President Mohammad Khatami attended his funeral.

The issue of Ahmadinejad's military career is a much murkier affair. The official web site of the presidency states, 'During the war imposed on Iran, Dr. Ahmadi Nejad was actively present as a member of the volunteer forces (Basij) in different parts and divisions of the battlefronts particularly in the war engineering division until the end of the war.' Rumors have circulated for years that Ahmadinejad has exaggerated his war record, but the dissenting voices have grown louder since the disputed election of June 12.

Towards the end of July 2009, conservative Tehran Mayor (and Ahmadinejad rival) Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf uttered some extremely harsh words about Ahmadinejad's management and policies: 'I don't consider Ahmadinejad a revolutionary or a member of the party of God or a follower of the Leader or a manager or honest. Mr. Ahmadinejad, with all his being, fools himself and then fools everyone else.' But more relevant to the issue of Ahmadinejad's military career, Ghalibaf, who fought in the Iran-Iraq War from an early age and was the commander of the Panj Nasr division by the time he was 22, said, 'Ahmadinejad does not have even one day's experience prior to the revolution, he did not receive even one slap for the cause of the revolution. If he did something, he should come and tell us where. Ahmadinejad did not see the war or the front. If he had been on the front for only one day, he would have boasted about it for a thousand days.'

More recently, on February 28, 2009, Mehdi Khazali, a medical doctor who owns a publishing house, wrote a scathing piece on his blog entitled 'Ahmadinejad's mischief in his biography.' Before getting to the blog post, a few words on Khazali and, perhaps more importantly, his father.

Mehdi Khazali is the son of Ayatollah Abolghassem Khazali, member of the Assembly of Experts since its inception, one of the authors of the final draft of the Islamic Republic's constitution (he claims that Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini did not want women to become president, which could be true), the head of the Ghadir Foundation (he famously called for the Muslim celebration of Ghadir to replace Now Rouz as the Iranian new year's day) and one of the most mealy-mouthed, blubbering, and Messianic supporters of Ahmadinejad to roam the land of Iran. Sorry to have lost my journalistic objectivity there for a second, but Ayatollah Khazali actually said that Ahmadinejad's election to his first term was supported by the Hidden Imam, or Messiah, of Shiites. In short, not exactly an unbiased observer when it comes to Ahmadinejad. The ayatollah's son, however, begs to differ.

Mehdi Khazali has been such a regular critic of the government that the Guardian Council disqualified him from running in the last legislative elections and he was prevented from being a candidate in the national medical organization's board elections. On June 29, 2009, Mehdi was arrested for participating in street protests and for slandering the president by claiming on his blog that Ahmadinejad has Jewish roots and that he was compensating by being zealously Muslim and anti-Israel. Mehdi was inexplicably tried by the Special Court of the Clergy and was released on bail a month later. In the mean time, his father had disowned him in a highly publicized statement.

Mehdi Khazali's short prison stay did not calm his ardor and he has been writing on his blog on an almost daily basis. Which brings us to his February 28 post.

'In the half-finished biography on his personal web site, Ahmadinejad has craftily mixed himself up with the warriors [of the Iran-Iraq War],' Mehdi Khazali began. 'I knew he had never been to the front, but out of caution, I asked the commander of the Revolutionary Guards during the Imposed War, brother Mohsen Rezai (NB One of the four presidential candidates on June 12 and not a great admirer of Ahmadinejad). He also confirmed the absence of the aforementioned on the battlefronts. Of course, the heads of the other two branches of government (NB Speaker Ali Larijani and his brother judiciary chief Sadegh Larijani) never saw the front either, but at least they do not make any pretenses about war and being warriors.'

He continued in his post, 'I remember the good old days, when I told my interrogator that the heads of the three branches had never been to the front, and that when we were fighting in the war, many others were jockeying for appointments and consolidating their positions. The interrogator responded, That's not a criteria! I told him, If the Iraqis had made it to Tehran and your honor had been in their hands, you would have understood whether its a criteria or not.'

Khazali later quoted from Ahmadinejad's personal web site, 'Read this paragraph from the biography of Mr. Ahmadinejad: At the beginning of the war, I was 25 years old. My mother and my wife, and all the mothers and wives whose children and husbands were defending their country on the fronts, were patiently raising a resistant, brave, and pious generation.' Khazali accuses Ahmadinejad of equivocation in this sentence in order to pretend that he was also fighting on the front.

Khazali then wrote in his deliciously irreverent style, 'Dear Haj Mahmoud, stop grandstanding. When were you on the front? Which division, which battalion, which area, which operation? No dear one, in those days you were again behind the lines, jockeying for position. Even afterwards, you ran Hashemi Rafsanjani's campaign in your neighborhood so you could get a job in Hashemi's government. You kissed the hands of the gentlemen so they would pat you on the back and... Come on, be yourself. Don't run after halos and battlefronts (NB The halo refers to Ahmadinejad's claim that a halo formed around his head as he was addressing the UN General Assembly in 2005.'

I've posted the photo purportedly showing Ahlmadinejad during the Iran-Iraq War and referred to by Mark Pyruz below. It should be pointed out that even if the person in the photo is Ahmadinejad, it does not clarify the question of whether he ever saw any combat or whether he spent the war years behind the lines:

Here are several shots of Ali Sayyad Shirazi, which my anonymous reader says is the person in the photograph above:

I'd be interested to know what the readers think and invite you contribute any additional information you may have on this issue.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The way they were: Ahmadinejad and Samareh Hashemi in the early 1980s

The following photo shows a group of university students in their mid-twenties relaxing in a dormitory room at Tehran's Elm-o-Sanat (Science and Technology) University, circa early 1980s.

On the extreme left of the photo you can see Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, an engineering student, leaning back with a smirk on his face and sporting a chin-curtain beard. Fifth from the left is the bearded Mojtaba Samareh Hashemi, currently his senior adviser and a key figure in his political life.

It is hard not to think of what was going through those young minds back then. Could the young Ahmadinejad imagine that such university dorm rooms would be devastated by armed goons and security forces, the students beaten to a pulp, a few decades later during his presidency?

Samareh Hashemi is considered to be a very influential political figure in the Islamic Republic due to the patronage of arch-conservative cleric Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi, his ties to the Basij and the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, his family affiliations (he is the nephew of the late Prime Minister Mohammad Javad Bahonar and the current Deputy Speaker Mohammad Reza Bahonar) and his symbiotic relationship with his childhood friend Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Newsweek called him an Iranian Karl Rove in its May 23, 2009 issue, referring to the architect of George Bush's ascension to the presidency. Last year, he resigned from his post as senior presidential adviser to become the head of Ahmadinejad's re-election campaign. He is believed to have been behind Ahmadinejad's letters to President George Bush and Chancellor Angela Merkel. Ahmadinejad's recent letter to President Barack Obama coincidentally was sent after Samareh Hashemi's reinstatement within the president's inner circle a few months ago.

Here is a more recent photo of Samareh Hashemi and Ahmadinejad.

And to complete this walk down memory lane, here's the reaction of students at Ahmadinejad and Samareh Hashemi's alma mater, Tehran's Elm-o-Sanat University which has become a hotbed of dissent, on April 13, 2010, when Samareh Hashemi tried to give a speech on the nuclear issue. The students walked out and began singing the protest anthem 'Yareh Dabestaniyeh Man':


As an addendum to this post and to continue the debate launched in the comments below, I'm posting the photo referred to by Mark Pyruz, purportedly of Ahmadinejad during the Iran-Iraq War, and some photos of Ali Sayyad Shirazi in a separate post, which you can go to by clicking here.

Three death sentences in Kahrizak trial: Justice served?

The trail of murder and torture is long, but the quest for justice will seemingly end behind the closed doors of a military courthouse with death sentences against three unnamed defendants. 

In an exclusive report published on April 21, 2010, a conservative news site claimed that three death sentences will be delivered in the case involving the torture and murder of at least three protesters held in the Kahrizak detention center south of Tehran.

The trial, presided by Judge Mohammad Mossadegh, is widely considered to be a gesture on the part of the regime to placate public opinion and put an end to the uproar caused by the murder, torture, and abuse of dozens of post-election protesters by punishing a small number of relatively junior officers for a tiny fraction of the crimes committed by the Islamic Republic's security forces. The judiciary has not announced any plans to prosecute anyone for the murders of dozens of other protesters, the documented cases of torture, or prison rape.

Farda News, not to be confused with Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty's Radio Farda, wrote today, 'Based on what Farda has heard, the court trying the defendants in the Kahrizak case is ready to issue its verdicts and apparently death sentences have been issued for three of them.'

Farda did not explain why it would be privy to court verdicts which have yet to be announced publicly.

It is also unclear whether the secretive trial held behind closed doors will lead to justice or will ease concerns about human rights abuses in the Islamic Republic. The Armed Forces Judiciary Organization announced the start of the court hearings in a carefully worded and customarily uninformative statement released on March 9. The names of the 12 alleged defendants were withheld, but it was stated that the session was held in the presence of the 'next of kin, other plaintiffs, and their lawyers.'

Judge Mossadegh announced on the same day, 'Given that a portion of the case file contains information and topics whose publication would be detrimental to public order and discipline in the country, it is forbidden for those present in this court to publish information about the trial.'

Since the Armed Forces Judiciary Organization was trying the case, it was assumed at the time that the defendants were solely members of the Islamic Republic's security forces. The Farda News report however alleges, 'Two of the individuals sentenced to death are police officers and the other person is one of the louts and thugs who had been in Kahrizak from before.'

'Louts and thugs' -- arazel va obash -- is an unsavory term often used by the Islamic Republic when it is engaged in 'cleaning up' crime-ridden neighborhoods. The lack of information concerning this individual is particularly worrisome since he could be a common criminal set up as a scapegoat in this case. There are also reports that the judiciary is hiding the actual number of political prisoners by charging such individuals with common crimes.

Thousands of protesters in the post-election unrest of the summer were arrested by security forces and hundreds were held at the Kahrizak detention center, a fancy name for the collection of dark, stiflinng and unhygienic silos and partially buried structures, in conditions considered so inhumane that Leader Ali Khamanei was compelled to order it shut in late July. The conservative Farda News proudly proclaims this fact in its short report.

After months of denial and a less-than-convincing investigation into the abuse of prisoners and protesters by a special committee of the legislature, the Islamic Republic finally admitted that three individuals had been tortured to death at the facility, largely because one of the victims was Mohsen Rouholamini, 25, son of regime insider Abdolhossein Rouholamini. The other two victims finally recognized by the regime are Amir Javadifar, 25, and Mohammad Kamrani, 18. Farda News writes in a factually-challenged segment of its report, 'The representatives of the Majlis and officials of the judiciary have repeatedly stressed the importance of pursuing this case with determination and strongly punishing the transgressors.'

Rouholamini's head had been battered by a blunt instrument and his jaw was shattered. Then Health Minister Kamran Lankarani said that he had died from meningitis, a claim that Dr. Ramin Pourandarjani, a young conscript who visited Kahrizak once a week as a part of his military service, refused to second.

Pourandarjani later died in suspicious circumstances at the dormitory of the military medical services building. Officials initially said that this key witness of the abuses at Kahrizak had committed suicide. The report of the Majlis's special investigative committee does not even mention Pourandarjani and the case is in legal limbo.

Javadifar, a student at Ghazvin University, died while he was being transferred from Kahrizak to Evin Prison. A friend who saw his body at the morgue told RFE/RL's Radio Farda, 'He had a fractured skull, one of his eyes was almost crushed, all the nails on his toes had been extracted, and all of his body was bruised.' Kamrani was arrested in Tehran's Vali Asr Square on July 9. He was tortured at Kahrizak and died of his injuries in Mehr Hospital.

The special investigative committee's report also fails to mention a number of other alleged deaths at Kahrizak, notably that of Ramin Aghazadeh Ghahremani, who died of his injuries after he was released. Aghazadeh Ghahremani was mentioned by Mohsen Rouholamini's father in a subsequent complaint about the special investigation's lack of zeal.

But the greatest shortcoming of what appears to be a sham trial is the absence of at least two senior officials in the defendants' box: Then Tehran Revolutionary Prosecutor Saeed Mortazavi and National Police Commander Esmail Ahmadi Moghaddam.

Mortazavi said that he was on vacation when the events occurred, a dog-ate-my-homework excuse (incidentally untrue) which has apparently convinced the judiciary of his innocence. Mortazavi was promoted to the post of deputy prosecutor general, then promoted again to head the national agency which fights financial corruption and smuggling.

Ahmadi Moghaddam announced that the atrocities were limited to the Kahrizak detention center and that they had been carried out by rogue elements.

His plea of innocence has also been accepted.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Former President Khatami prevented from traveling to Japan, say opposition legislators

Former reformist President Mohammad Khatami was prevented from traveling to a nuclear disarmament conference in Hiroshima, Japan, on Thursday, April 15, 2010, according to Parleman News, the news site of the Imam Line Faction of the Majlis.

Parleman News cited an 'informed source' as saying, 'This evening (Thursday), Seyed Mohammad Khatami was supposed to travel to Hiroshima, Japan, to attend the annual conference on nuclear disarmament.' But, according to the source, Khatami was banned from traveling abroad.

It is unclear from this article whether the alleged measure against the former president was taken at Tehran's Imam Khomeini Airport as he was preparing to leave the country or whether Khatami was informed of the travel ban before embarking on the visit. But Serajeddin Mirdamadi, a reformist journalist who is generally considered reliable, told Radio Farda today that according to information he had managed to obtain, the Islamic Republic's Foreign Ministry informed Khatami of the ban before the trip and that Khatami's office had been unable to get an explanation despite repeated requests to the ministry.

Ghodratollah Alikhani, an outspoken reformist member of the Majlis, said on Friday, April 16, that Khatami was not under any travel restrictions, but that 'because of some interests which have been determined in some circles, Mr. Khatami was respectfully asked not to participate in this conference.'

Neither Khatami's personal site, nor those of his two foundations, the Baran Foundation and the International Institute for Dialogue Among Cultures and Civilizations, commented on the news related by Parleman News. (Khatami's personal site does however deny another report in regime-affiliated outlets, according to which he recently met Ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani and discussed opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi's shortcomings.)

The news about the travel ban could have been planted by one of the Islamic Republic's intelligence services which regularly employ disinformation as a tool of psychological warfare. Khatami, who along with Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi is considered one of the leaders of the opposition, could be the target of a campaign to belittle and insult him.

In early March, the semi-official Fars News Agency, close to the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, reported that a travel ban had been imposed on Khatami. The report was subsequently denied by Khatami's lawyer, Mahmoud Alizadeh Tabatabie. (For the March report on this blog, please click here) The next day, on March 10, Javan newspaper, close to the regime, accused Khatami of wearing a suit instead of clerical garb in his new passport photograph. (For this blog's report, please click here).

But media outlets close to the regime are also good barometers of things to come. Analysts read newspapers like Keyhan, run by Leader Ali Khamanei's representative Hossein Shariatmadari, on a daily basis to glean not only what is happening in the backrooms of power, but also to determine the marching orders of the regime's various bodies.

Fars news and other news sources close to the government have been strangely silent about this alleged development. It would have been expected that they would at least gloat. Consequently the silence appears orchestrated. Khabar online, purported by some to be close to Majlis Speaker and Ahmadinejad rival Ali Larijani, posted a piece on the alleged travel ban without citing Parleman News.

Were the March stories simply attempts to humiliate Khatami and take away some of his presidential aura or were they trial balloons, hoisted to see the reaction of the body politic and also to herald things to come?

Alireza Nourizadeh, director of the Center for Arab and Iranian Studies, in London, told the Voice of America that he believed Khatami was already under a travel ban at the time of the Fars report, but that he had denied the news to save face and not rock the boat. This time, however, Nourizadeh said, Khatami was officially invited to the conference in Japan and was unable to issue a credible denial.

The veracity of the Parleman News report cannot be confirmed.

This blog was unable to find a nuclear disarmament conference taking place in Hiroshima until reader Wiitekr pointed out that the InterAction Council will be holding its 28th annual meeting in that city from April 18 to 20. (For the press release, please click here)

Whatever the truth -- the Khatami camp will have to issue a denial or confirmation in time -- this is the first instance that a news source which is not close to the regime has reported that such an unprecedented step has been taken against the popular former president.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Blame your own actions for tarnishing your image, not us: Journalists' open letter to Islamic regime's judiciary

In an open letter to the Islamic Republic's judiciary chief Sadegh Larijani on March 10, 2010, more than one hundred Iranian journalists and lawyers denounced the widespread imprisonment of journalists and argued that the regime, not honest reporting, is responsible for its own tarnished image. (translation of letter at the end of this report)

The Islamic regime, is particularly sensitive about its image and often accuses its critiques of 'tarnishing' its reputation, honor, or image. 'Makhdoush kardan' -- to tarnish, disfigure, or alter -- has become a hackneyed term in the Islamic regime's lexicon and has been bandied as frequently as that other meaningless charge, 'endangering national security.'

In October of last year, when international watchdog Reporters Without Borders released its annual press freedom report in which the Islamic Republic was ranked 172nd out of 175 countries, Islamic Guidance and Culture Minister Seyed Mohammad Hosseini announced, 'The goal of ranking Iran 176th [sic] was to present an inappropriate image of the regime.' The problem was obviously the ranking system not the Islamic Republic's record.

Two months ago, the Political Division of the state radio-television broadcaster (yes, such a division officially exists) related the comments of Nourollah Heidari Dastyabi, member of the Majlis education committee, rejecting the existence of students deprived of studying in Mashhad's Ferdowsi University because of their activism. 'Counter-revolutionary sites have been spreading these rumors to tarnish the image of the sacred regime of the Islamic Republic as we approach the anniversary celebrations of the revolution (NB February 11),' Heidari Dastyabi said. Not only are students routinely expelled from universities for a set number of terms for transgressions such as participating in demonstrations, but some student leaders have been sentenced to heavy prison terms. Student leader Majid Tavakoli, for example, was sentenced to 8 and a half years behind bars in January. Other students who have been arrested and mistreated in prison: Soroush Sabet, Soroush Dastsetani, Bita Samimizad, Anahita Hosseini, Mohammad Pourabdollah, Bijan Sabagh, Behzad Bagheri, Morteza Khedmatlou, Amin Ghazai, Mohammad Zeraati, Farzad Hassanzadeh... The last two in this list were arrested at Mashhad's Ferdowsi University, by the way.

A visit to the web site of the 'Mashhad students seeking freedom and equality' takes us to a page bearing the message posted on the right. 'This blog has been shut down for one of the following reasons: The order of legal authorities to close down the blog, Infringement of the terms of use, The publication of obscene content or content which is illegal according to the laws of the country.'

Or consider this remark made by the chief of the General Inspection Organization of the Islamic Republic, Mostafa Pourmohammadi, on the state body's official web site: 'The enemy wanted to tarnish the image of the regime after the 10th presidential election (NB June 12, 2009).' Pourmohammadi, loyal servant of the regime, former Deputy Intelligence Minister, former Interior Minister, and, according to the late Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, representative of the Intelligence Ministry in charge of interrogating prisoners during the mass execution of over 3,000 political prisoners in Evin Prison in the late 1980s knows a thing or two about tarnishing the face of the regime.

This short list of quotes would be even more incomplete if I did not include one by the exalted founder of the Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. On May 26, 1979, a short while after the victory of the revolution, Khomeini remarked on the risk of tarnishing the image of Islam (if the words seem at times to be rambling and syntactically-challenged, please remember that they were uttered and not written down): 'The thing which I consider very important is that today we have an Islamic Republic. [...] All the various portions of the nation, especially those who are working at the top, especially the clerics who are working at the top, these people must pay attention that, God forbid, the image of the Republic of Islam does not appear ugly among the people. This is at the peak of important issues. Assets are not things which are taken away, embezzled, or confiscated. Or they can work for the deprived. Of course, these things can be done. But the most important thing is the reputation of Islam and efforts must be made to preserve this reputation.'

Speaking of the tarnished face of the regime, here are the faces of just some of the dozens of journalists who are currently in jail and have made the Islamic Republic the biggest prison for reporters in the world. The translation of the open letter to judiciary chief Sadegh Larijani follows the photos...

Ahmad Zeidabadi, arrested June 2009. Sentenced to 6 years in prison in December 2009. Journalist, secretary general of the national alumni association, member of the Association of Iranian Journalists, winner of the World Association of Newspapers' Golden Pen of Freedom Award:

Massoud Bastani, arrested July 5, 2009, sentenced to 6 years in October 2009 (per Norooz). Journalist for Jomhouriyat, arrested when he went to the Revolutionary Court to seek information about his arrested wife, journalist Mahsa Amrabadi.

Emadeddine Baghi, arrested December 8, 2009. Journalist, prominent human rights activist and the founder of the Committee for the Defense of Prisoners' Rights. Baghi was jailed in Evin prison last year. When Baghi was arrested this year, he told his children that he would 'stand strong in prison' as he was taken away. At that point, one of the intelligence agents turned to the family and said, 'He won't live long enough to stand strong.' Winner of the Martin Ennals Award, one of the most prestigious human rights prizes in the world, in 2009. He was also awarded the 2008 prize for International Journalist of the Year by the British press.

Alireza Beheshti Shirazi, arrested December 28, 2009, spent 70 days in solitary confinement. Editor of Kalameh and senior adviser of opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi.

Mohammad Javadi Hessar, arrested in December 2009. Journalist and former legislator in Mashhad. Senior member of opposition leader Mehdi Karroubi's Etemad Melli Party. Editor of Tous Magazine, fined and banned from journalism for 10 years in 1998 for an article criticizing higher education policies.

Mohammad Davari, arrested September 8, 2009. Editor of Saham News, opposition leader Karroubi's news site. Went on a hunger strike in march to protest his transfer to solitary confinement. In April, it was reported that he was being tortured to force him to publicly reject Karroubi's claims that the regime's security officers had raped political prisoners.

Issa Saharkhiz, arrested July 3, 2009. Editor of banned publications Akhbar Eghtesad and Aftab. Columnist for Rooz and Norooz web sites.

Hengameh Shahidi, arrested June 30, 2009, released on bail in November 2009, arrested again in February 2010. She went on a hunger strike in October 2009. She has been threatened with a 6-year sentence. Observer for Human Rights Watch, activist for Campaign Against Stoning. Adviser to opposition leader Mehdi Karroubi. Winner of Press Fair award for her coverage of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Abolfazl Abedini, arrested and badly beaten by security officers March 2, 2010. Sentenced to 11 years in prison. Transferred to Evin Prison's infirmary after severe torture on April 11, 2010. Member of the Pan-Iranist Party. Journalist who most recently covered labor unrest in Ahvaz.

Massoud Lavasani, arrested October 1, 2009. Sentence reduced from 8 and a half years to 4 and a half years upon appeal. He was forbidden to see his two-year-old son for several months. Journalist and blogger. His blog has been shut down.

Javad Mahzadeh, arrested October 2009. Sentenced to 4 years in prison on February 3, 2010. Novelist and journalist. Author of the critically-acclaimed novel 'Take Laughter Away From Me,' about a young man's life in the first decade after the revolution.

Mehdi Mahmoudian, arrested September 18, 2009. Not allowed to see his young daughter for six months. Has severe health problems, particularly a lung ailment that developed in prison. Journalist and member of the Islamic Iran Participation Front. Was the first journalist to make revelations about the notorious Kahrizak detention center.

Yasser Masoumi, arrested March 14, 2010. Technology specialist and journalist for reformist publications.

Badrolsadat Mofidi, secretary general of the Association of Iranian Journalists. The organization's offices were sealed by security forces on the night of August 5, 2009, to prevent reporters who had been convened from the around the country to participate in a general assembly. On December 22, 2009, she gave an interview to Deutsch Welle in which she described the regime's crackdown on the press. A week later, security forces stormed her house and arrested her, along with her husband Massoud Aghai. 

Ali Malihi, arrested February 9, 2010. Journalist at Etemad daily and a senior member of the national alumni association (Advareh Tahkim).

Ehsan Mehrabi, arrested February 7, 2010. Journalist at Hambastegi and Etemad Melli newspapers.

Shiva Nazarahari, arrested June 14, 2009, released on bail on September 23, 2009, and arrested again on December 21, 2009, as she was driving to Ghom to attend the funeral of dissident Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri. Human rights activist and journalist.

Hossein Nouraninejad, arrested September 17, 2009. Journalist and head of communications for the Islamic Iran Participation Front.

Mohammad Nourizad, arrested December 20, 2009. A conservative journalist and documentary filmmaker who became a staunch critic of the regime. He issued an open letter to Leader Ali Khamenei after Khamenei's intransigent Friday Prayer sermon on June 19, strongly criticizing the regime's stance.

Open letter to judiciary chief Sadegh Larijani:

In the name of God.

To the Honorable chief of the judiciary branch, Ayatollah Sadegh Amoli Larijani:

As you know, unexpected and at times painful events took place following the 10th presidential election in the summer of last year. These events began with the peaceful and widespread objections of large portions of the Iranian people, objections which continue to this day and were confronted by the government. The government's actions, which have not ceased, include widespread arrests, trials, and imprisonments, conducted under the supervision of the judiciary or ostensibly by officers of the courts.

In this context, our concerns and anguish have been deepened by the treatment of newspapers and journalists critical of the ruling faction. Numerous newspapers and publications have been suspended, many web sites have been blocked, and dozens of reporters who have voiced criticism have been arrested. Some journalists have been tried and convicted in revolutionary courts without a jury and sometimes without the presence of a defense attorney. Many have been held in a state of uncertainty in preventive detention for months. And some have been released temporarily after paying heavy bails.

The office of the Association of Iranian Journalists was sealed months ago and a short while later, Mrs. Badrolsadat Mofidi, the secretary general of this, the only professional organization which is trusted by journalists, was arrested. She is still in jail without any steps being taken to try her in an appropriate court or to release her on suitable bail. You are aware that preventive detention is prescribed on special occasions and that the common practice is to set bail after arraignment. This process is rarely applied in the case of journalists.

Honorable chief of the judiciary branch,

When the offices of the only professional organization trusted by journalists is sealed, its secretary general is imprisoned, and dozens of journalists and bloggers are sent to jail, does this not mean that the Islamic Republic of Iran cannot tolerate journalists and their open criticisms? And is this interpretation by public opinion not the worst kind of publicity for the regime? Does it not paint the regime as violent and irrational?

When some bodies, whose only duty is to carry out the laws approved by the Majlis, begin to define crime and expand the notion of criminality, does this not constitute interference in the duties of the relevant branches (legislative and judiciary), and ultimately an infringement on the judiciary's independence? And does this not tarnish the image of the regime?

If, as is claimed, writing an article in a publication or web site, or giving an interview to a foreign media outlet tarnishes the image of the regime, then is the regime not sullied by months of confrontation with newspapers and jailed journalists and bloggers to whom fair judicial procedure has not been applied?

Honorable chief of the judiciary branch,

We are increasingly worried about the well-being of the secretary general of the Association of Iranian Journalists given the news that has surfaced almost four months after her arrest. Along with Mrs. Mofidi, many of our colleagues and friends are currently in prison and this adds to our concerns.

We are journalists. Our duty is to disseminate news and analyze the political, economic, social, and cultural situation in the country. Our duty is to draw a true picture of whatever is occurring. And, of course, criticism is our most obvious right.

Free our friends and colleagues so that they may carry out their duties.

April 10, 2010


Shiva Aba, Farzaneh Ebrahimzadeh, fatemeh Astiri, Saeedeh Eslamiyeh, Amir Houshang Eftekharirad, Zohreh Aghayani, Sanaz Allahbedashti, Parvin Emami, Amir hadi Anvari, Lida Ayaz, Masoumeh Imani, Sergeh Barseghian, Parvin Bakhtiarnejad, Setareh Bakhtiari, Mohammad Bastehnegar, Sadra Baktash, Jila Baniyaghoub, Negin Behkam, Fatemeh Beikpour, Iman Paknahad, Mahmoud Pourrezai, Abdolreza Tajik, Mehdi Tajik, Reza Tehrani, Zahra Jafarzadeh, Hamid Jafari, Mohammad Jafari, Noushin Jafari, Hamidreza Jalaipour, Reza Javalchi, Nargess Jodaki, Fereshteh Haghi, Ali Hekmat, Mohammad Heidari, Hadi Heidari, Alireza Khamsian, Reza Khojasteh Rahimi, Elaheh Khosravi, Ali Dehghan, Nima Rad, Alireza Rajai, Taghi Rahmani, Shabnam Rahmati, Alireza Rahiminejad, Sami Rastegari, Marzieh Rasouli, Nargess Rasouli, Nasrin Rezai, Massoud Rafii Taleghani, Ali Ranjipour, Farzaneh Roustai, Mohammad Reza Zahdi, Masoumeh Sotoudeh, Ezatollah Sohabi, Sonita Sorabpour, Pouria Souri, Ali Asghar Seidabadi, Mariam Shabani, Reza Shojaian, Saba Sherdoust, Hamed Shafii, Mashaollah Shamsolvaezin, Ameneh Shirafkan, Hedi saber, Mohammad Sadeghi, Azam Taleghani, Siamak Taheri, Rihaneh Tabatabai, Ehsan Abedi, Eshrat Abdollahi, Mohammad Adli, Amin Alamolhedi, Hadis Elmi, Mohammad Hassan Alipour, Reza Alijani, Reza Gheibi, Ezra Farahani, Mehran Farji, Soroush Farhadian, Soleiman Farhadian, Gisou Foghfori, Mahtab Gholizadeh, Morteza Kazemian, Azam Golbari, Sara Laghai, Marjan Laghai, Seyed Hamid Motaghi, Hassan Mohammadi, Davoud Mohammadi, Soleiman Mohammadi, Nargess Mohammadi, Sam Mahmoudisarai, Saeed Madani, Ali Mazroui, Mohammad Javad Mozafar, Abouzar Motamedi, Sara Masoumi, Behrad Mehrjou, Keyvan Mehregan, Ameneh Mousavi, Minou Momeni, Bijan Momeivand, Maryam Nazari, Sahar Namazikhah, Mehdi Norouzian, Azam Veisameh, Zeinab Hemati, Massoud Youssefi

Lawyers supporting journalists
Nemat Ahmadi
(FaceBook page, lawyer of Fiaz Zahed of the Etemad Melli Party, Feizollah Arabsorkhi of the Mojahedin of the Islamic Revolution Organization, etc. Six-part interview with Nemat Ahmadi on VOA.)
Saghi Bakhtiari 
Houshang Pourbabai
(Lawyer of Mostafa Tajzadeh and Mohsen Mirdamadi of the Islamic Iran Participation Front, etc. Interview with Houshang Pourbabai)
Seyed Mohammad Ali Dadkhah
(One of the founders of the Defenders of Human Rights Center. Lawyer of Zahra Kazemi, Iranian-Canadian photographer killed in custody, Omidreza Mirsayafi, blogger who died under suspicious circusmtances in Evin Prison last year, Ebrahim Yazdi of the Freedom Party, etc.)
Nasrin Sotoudeh
(Member of the Defenders of Human Rights Center and the campaign for One Million Signatures. Defender of women's rights activists and juvenile offenders facing execution. Lawyer of Arash rahmanipour, 20, who was executed for moharebeh, Mohammd Sedigh Kabudvand, human rights activist in Kurdistan province, etc. CNN interview with Nasrin Sotoudeh.)

Abdolfatah Soltani
(Founding member of the Defenders of Human Rights Center. Prominent defender of numerous activists, he has been imprisoned many times, most recently for 72 days after being arrested in June 2009. Awarded the Nuremberg Human Rights prize. ) 
Seyed Mohammad Seifzadeh
(Founding member of the Defenders of Human Rights Center. Has defended members of the Baha'i faith, student activists, journalist Mashaollah Shamsolvaezin, etc.)
Sahar Seifi

Shirin Ebadi
(Founding member of the Defenders of Human Rights Center. Nobel Peace Prize laureate.)
Farideh Gheirat
(Director of the Association for the Defense of Prisoners.)
Mariam Karbassi
Mariam Kianarsi
(Member of the Volunteer Lawyers Network which opposed the Islamic penal Code bill). 
Marzieh Nikara
Saleh Nikbakht
(Member of the Association for the Defense of Prisoners. Lawyer of opposition political leaders Abdollah Ramezanzadeh and Mohammad Ali Abtahi, etc. Interview with Saleh Nikbakht about the second session of the infamous show trials.)

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Close-up: Islamic regime's rape victims?

Much of the information coming out of Iran is in the form of footage uploaded to the Internet without the benefit of any description or explanation. Each installment in the Close-up series provides an in-depth analysis of a single video or a series of videos covering one event.

A video posted on several YouTube channels on April 6, 2010, purports to show victims of rape in a prison of the Islamic Republic, according to descriptions and titles accompanying the video.

The video
This clip is from Unity4Iran's YouTube channel, although others have also posted it. (Viewer discretion advised)

The incidence of rape in the Islamic Republic's prisons has been widely reported, although the judiciary has yet to prosecute anyone for such crimes. Victims have described being raped by security forces, sometimes with bottles and batons.

Opposition leader Mehdi Karroubi famously accused the regime's security forces of numerous cases of prison rape and declared that he had compiled evidence which he would gladly submit to a special investigative committee of the Majlis. No such committee ever summoned Karroubi, but a three-man judiciary panel, which included former Intelligence Minister and current Prosecutor General Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ejei, hastily rejected the complaints and recommended that Karroubi be prosecuted for making false allegations. Karroubi has yet to be charged.

After this video was uploaded to the Internet, a great number of posts on Twitter, FaceBook, various blogs, etc, alleged that it showed two victims of prison rape. The Voice of America's Newstalk show reported on Tuesday night, April 6, that it showed a scene from the notorious Kahrizak prison (Please click here for VOA Newstalk program. Go to 51:30 mark).

The circumstances
The language spoken by everyone in the video is unaccented Farsi, which may indicate it was filmed in Tehran.

The cameraman points his camera down, for the most part hiding the faces of a group of young men tending to two individuals lying on the ground. This suggests that the cameraman does not want security forces to discover the identities of the people in the video. This would probably not be the case if they were already in prison.

No one is wearing prison-issue plastic slippers, though this does not preclude outright the possibility that the people in the video are in detention.

The locale is well-lit. Shadows indicate that the light source is directly above. No windows are visible. A staircase leads up, but none can be seen going down. These facts suggest that the scene is being filmed in a basement.

Four young men are bent over Injured Individual 1, while only one stands next to Injured Individual 2.

Injured Individual 2 speaks on several occasions, but Injured Individual 1 cannot be heard on the clip. One man appears to be stemming the flow of blood from Injured Individual 1's pubic area. His underwear has been pulled down to his knees.

Injured Individual 2 has a torniquet around his upper thigh. There are several puncture wounds on his thigh, but he is no longer bleeding.

The young men are treating the injured individuals with bottled water, Kleenex, gauze, and antiseptic. Rudimentary as the supplies are, they would probably not be freely available in the detention centers and prison cells where rape has taken place.

The locale appears clean and there is no sign of blood. The individuals were probably injured elsewhere.

The discussions are often garbled, but the following can be heard in the video:

'Bring water.'

As the cameraman approaches Injured Individual 2.
Injured Individual 2: 'Don't film my face.'
Cameraman: 'No, no. Not your face. Rest assured.'

'Don't be afraid.' The voice sounds farther away and is perhaps directed at Injured Individual 1.

Inaudible woman's voice. Men and women would probably not have been held in proximity to one another in a prison.
'The ambulance has arrived.' Suggesting someone had called for an ambulance and that the people in the video were waiting for it. This does not conform to a prison situation, where prisoners would probably be first taken to the infirmary. Kahrizak prisoners were visited by a doctor only once a week, whatever their dire conditions, according to accounts that surfaced after the death of Doctor Ramin Pourandarjani.
'Don't take them out.' Probably referring to the injured, indicating that the danger is outside, and that the current locale is a temporary shelter or hiding place.
'One of you, come in.' Probably directed at the emergency workers.

'Who's got the key to this?' This is said after two faint thuds, perhaps the sounds of someone attempting to open a door. Prisoners would probably not have keys.
'F*** your mothers... Your mothers are dogs...' An angry young man, probably expressing his anger at those responsible for the injuries.
A woman shrieks out some inaudible words.

'Is it just these two?' Probably the emergency worker. The man's fluorescent jacket with a logo on the back is visible. The uniform and logo resemble those of emergency workers of the Islamic Republic's Health Ministry.
'Yes, just these two.'

Injured Individual 2: 'Don't take me.'
Emergency worker: 'Why?'
Injured Individual 2: 'Don't take me. They'll come and capture me.'
This last exchange strongly indicates that the individual is not in a prison, and actually fears being arrested if he is taken to a hospital. During the post-election protests, there were numerous reports of security forces arresting injured people in hospital emergency wards.

It is impossible to make an absolute determination, but the evidence strongly suggests the video was not filmed in a prison. Because of the cameraman's efforts to hide faces, the desire to hide from authorities in the locale, and particularly the last exchange, it is almost certain that the individuals were injured by the regime's security forces.

It is equally impossible to determine whether one or both individuals were raped. Injured Individual 1's bleeding pubic area, however, seems to support the possibility of some form of sexual assault.

A friend of this blog has offered the hypothesis that the locale is the basement of a university dormitory after a raid conducted by security forces.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Security forces and protesters clash in Orumiyeh

The following footage shows protesters clashing with security forces next to Orumiyeh Lake, northwest Iran, on April 2, 2010, Sizdah Bedar in the Iranian calendar. Sizdah Bedar is the 13th day of the Iranian new year when everyone traditionally leaves the house to go on picnics and celebrate nature.

The level of Orumiyeh Lake has fallen drastically in recent years because of the construction of dams on rivers flowing into this body of water. Environmentalists fear that Orumiyeh Lake will turn into salt lands within decades. Activists in West Azerbaijan province had called on citizens to come to the banks of the lake on Sizdah Bedar, an appropriate celebration of nature, to voice their concerns.

Protesters from around Azerbaijan brought bottles of water with them and ceremoniously emptied them into the beleaguered lake.

Security forces had set up blockades on roads leading to the lake and prevented protesters from making their way to the meeting point.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

The anthem that refuses to go away

The spectators, who were gathered at London's Barbican center for a concert by celebrated vocalist Mohammad Reza Shajarian, gave a spontaneous rendition of the patriotic, anti-Islamic Republic, anthem Ey Iran on Saturday evening, April 3, 2010.

The wildly popular Master Shajarian, a living legend of Iranian classical music, was performing with the Shahnaz Ensemble, under the direction of Majid Derakhshani. The following footage shows the audience singing several lines from Ey Iran...
May my life be sacrificed for the pure soil of my homeland
Since your love became my calling
My thoughts are never far from you
In your cause, when do our lives have value?
May the land of our Iran be eternal.

Following the disputed election of June 12, Shajarian demanded that the state radio-television of the Islamic Republic refrain from playing his music in protest at the regime's violent crackdown against demonstrators. 'I have always been on the side of the "dust and dirt"', Shajarian said at the time, using a derogatory phrase that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had employed on June 14 to describe protesters. The arch-conservative Keyhan newspaper, run by Leader Ali Khamenei's representative Hossein Shariatmadari, subsequently wrote that Shajarian had 'sold out his country.'

One of Shajarian's latest works, Tofangat Ra Zamin Begozar (Lay down your gun), is a thinly veiled indictment of the regime's actions:

Ey Iran has never been the national anthem of the country, although it played that de facto role for a few months between the victory of the 1979 revolution and the establishment of the Islamic Republic. Neither the first official anthem of the Islamic Republic, Payandeh Bada Iran (May Iran Be Everlasting), with its religiously militant tones -- Our helper is the hand of God/He is our guide in this battle./Under the shadow of the eternal Qoran/May Iran be everlasting! -- nor the current anthem adopted in 1990 after the death of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, with its elegiac references to the Imam (Khomeini) and the martyrs of the revolution, have ever enjoyed the popularity of Ey Iran.

The song became an instant success from the moment it was written by Hossein Golegolab and Ruhollah Khaleghi in the aftermath of World war II. Its rousing melody, rooted in the notes of traditional Iranian music, its unabashed patriotic lyrics without any mention of religion except for the word izadi (divine), which is a pre-Islamic term from the Pahlavi language and Zoroastrianism, have turned Ey Iran into an anthem of opposition to the Islamic Republic. In the following footage, literally thousands of demonstrators chant the song in the streets of Tehran on June 18:

And in this video, violinist Shadmehr Aghilli, decked in appropriate green, plays the tune while spectators sing two verses from the song at a concert in July 2009 in the United States:

For those readers who have never heard the full song, here is a version by the fabulous soprano Darya Dadvar at a concert in Vancouver, April 2007. Notice how the audience spontaneously stands up once she starts singing:

As for Iranian national anthems, past, present, and future, I have developed a soft spot for Vatanam (My Homeland), particularly the following version by classical vocalist Salar Aghili. This 19th-Century song is the first ever national anthem of Iran and it was written by a Frenchman. But that is a story for another post...


Ey Iran
Oh Iran, oh bejeweled land
Oh, your soil is the wellspring of the arts
Far from you may the thoughts of evil be
May you remain lasting and eternal
Oh enemy, if you are of stone, I am of iron
May my life be sacrificed for the pure soil of my homeland
Since your love became my calling
My thoughts are never far from you
In your cause, when do our lives have value?
May the land of our Iran be eternal
The stones of your mountains are jewels and pearls
The soil of your valleys are better than gold
When could I rid my heart of your affection?
Tell me, what will I do without your affection?
As long as the turning of the earth and the cycle of the heavens lasts
The light of the divine will always guide us
Since your love became my calling
My thoughts are never far from you
In your cause, when do our lives have value?
May the land of our Iran be eternal
Iran oh my green paradise
Bright is my fate because of you
If fire rains on my body
Other than your affection I will not cherish in my heart
Your water, soil and love molded my clay
If your love leaves my heart it will become barren
Since your love became my calling
My thoughts are never far from you
In your cause, when do our lives have value?
May the land of our Iran be eternal
(translation, with a few personal modifications, courtesy of Wikipedia)