Thursday, June 17, 2010

Taking Tehran’s Temperature: One Year On

On June 8, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace organized a fascinating round table on the situation in Iran a year after the fateful and disputed presidential election of last summer. National Public Radio's Steve Inskeep moderated the discussion between Abbas Milani of Stanford University, Gary Sick of Columbia University, and Carnegie’s Karim Sadjadpour:

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

'Long live a free Iran!': Paris mayor calls for Iranian democracy on the eve of June 12

Painting the Iranian people's struggle for freedom with the broad brushstrokes of history, popular Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoë invoked his own city's tumultuous battles for liberty minutes before he made Nobel peace prize laureate Shirin Ebadi an honorary citizen on Thursday, June 10, 2010 (video at the end of this report).

'At this particular moment in time, June 10, I would like to tell all Iranians if they are able to hear me, Paris stands alongside you. The Paris of the French Revolution, the Paris which with its people and its allies overcame Nazism at the liberation of this city on August 25, 1944,' said Delanoë, a senior Socialist leader and national figure. 'In exactly eight days, we will commemorate General de Gaulle's call for resistance, dignity, and love for the homeland, which unified, by the way, all religions, cultures, origins, and even all political opinions. The struggle of Iranians today is simply a struggle for Iran. It is a struggle for the greatness and nobility of this people.'

The press and guests had been called to Paris's city hall to attend a ceremony in honor of Shirin Ebadi. It was the third time the Iranian lawyer and human  rights activist had been officially welcomed by Delanoë. Hundreds of guests and dozens of television, radio, and print journalists attended the event.

'By bestowing honorary citizenship of the city of Paris on you, I would like to offer our support to you -- for who you are -- and beyond that to the Iranian people. When I say that I would like to proffer the support of Paris to the Iranian people, I am not speaking of politics in the partisan sense of the word. I am not speaking of this or that candidate. I am speaking of the Iranian people in all their diversity, who have the right to live upright, free to express their beliefs as masters of their own destiny.'

In her acceptance speech, Ebadi recalled the events of a year ago, when millions took to the streets of Tehran and were countered with unabated state violence. 'They expressed their opposition peacefully, based on a right enshrined in the constitution,' Ebadi reminded the audience. 'The only response they obtained was bullets and violence. Over 70 people were killed and thousands were jailed. Some died under torture and others testified that they had been raped in prison.'

And of the regime's hypocritical and cynical release of some political prisoners, the Nobel peace laureate said, 'Some prisoners have been released temporarily, after having paid astronomical bails. The threat of extremely long prison sentences still hangs over them and there are still many detainees who have no access to due judicial process.'

Asked by a blogger after the ceremony how the cyber community can help prisoners of conscience, Ebadi responded, 'Tell the world what they are doing to the Iranian people.'

Ebadi shared the stage with representatives of Reporters Without Borders and the International Federation for Human Rights, who have launched a joint campaign for the release of all prisoners of conscience in Iran. Before the ceremony, the groups distributed leaflets bearing the names of 40 Iranian journalists currently in prison -- from Emadeddine Baghi to Ahmad Zeidabadi -- and recounting the Islamic regime's sorry record over the past year. The web site created by the two organizations contains a petition, naturally open to the general public, which has already been signed by dozens of artists, writers, and activists. 

To date, the mayor of Paris is the only political leader to have signed the petition which demands the unconditional and immediate release of all political prisoners held by the Islamic Republic. Delanoë has been a staunch supporter of the Iranian democratic movement from the start.

The day after the ceremony with Shirin Ebadi, Bertrand Delanoë published a virulent post on his blog entitled 'Long Live a Free Iran.' I invite readers to visit this page and leave a message of appreciation for this true friend of the Iranian people.

'Today, the intense hope for the future has not abated and the desire for freedom still inflames this proud people who aspire to live upright,' wrote Delanoë. 'Do we understand the extent of the courage these women and men exhibit by defying such a regime? In one year, 23 newspapers have been banned, opposition web sites have been blocked. Dozens of protesters have been arrested and torture appears to have become a sinister norm. On May 9, five political prisoners were hanged in Tehran's Evin prison.'

'Meanwhile, Iran, the one and only, the true Iran has risen up to express its yearning to live free. This is the Iran I would like to address today,' continued the Paris mayor on his personal blog.

And who represent the face of this free Iran? After mentioning Ebadi, Delanoë added, 'It has the face of filmmaker Jafar Panahi, who could not break his chains in time to attend the Cannes film festival and whose empty chair we will never forget. It has the face of poet Simin Behbahani, who was supposed to come to Paris at my invitation to attend International Women's Day on March 8, and who was informed by border police that she had been subjected to a travel ban as she tried to go through Tehran airport. It bears the faces of those young men who defied an order which pretends to be immutable and demonstrated with a veil over their heads, while young women marched with their heads uncovered. It has the face of Ahmad Zeidabadi, Shiva Nazar Ahari, and all prisoners of opinion who have committed no other crime than to want to think, speak, and write freely. It has, alas, the face of those who have left us: Neda, Taraneh, Sohrab, those victims of a security force which is becoming all-powerful as the regime falls increasingly into impotence.'

'To all of them, I wish to express my admiration and affection. And from Paris, on the anniversary of the start of their revolt, we join them in their struggle and their hopes, to cry out alongside them: Long live a free Iran!' concluded Delanoë.   

Further information

Bertrand Delanoë's latest post on Iran: 'Long Live a Free Iran!' (and a previous post on Iran)
The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)
Reporters Without Borders (RSF)
Joint campaign for the release of prisoners of conscience in Iran

Video of the Shirin Ebadi ceremony at Paris's city hall, June 10, 2010

Monday, June 14, 2010

June 12 - Film projected onto facade of Islamic Republic's London embassy

Protesters projected a short film documenting the unrest and crackdown following the disputed election onto the facade of the Islamic Republic's embassy in London, south of Hyde Park, on the evening of June 12, 2010.

View London - Islamic Republic's embassy - 12 June 2009 in a larger map

Footage of the operation was posted on YouTube. The group placed the video projector on the roof a car which was parked across the street from the embassy building. After a few minutes, embassy staff turned on a spotlight situated on the front of the building. 'This is a new form of attack we can wage against the embassy,' the cameraman says at the end of the video:

Earlier in the day, hundreds of demonstrators had gathered in front of the embassy to mark the first anniversary of the disputed election, chanting, 'Neda [Agha Soltan] is not dead. It is the Leader [Ali Khamenei] who is dead.'

Another slogan called out by the crowd was, 'Mesbah, you're dreaming if you think you'll become the supreme leader,' referring to Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi, a hard-line mentor of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has been a key leader of a faction within the regime which is inspired spiritually by the Hojjatiyeh Society and aims to radicalize the system even more. He has been accused by reformists in the Majlis of seeking to replace Khamenei as the country's next supreme leader.

Two weeks ago, reformist Hadi Khamenei, none other than the brother of Leader Ali Khamenei, blasted the Hojjatiyeh Society for trying to divert and endangering the values of the revolution and its founder, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. The Hojjatiyeh is increasingly called the Mesbahiyeh because of Mesbah Yazdi's influence within the Shiite adventist organization which opposes religious minorities and adheres to a totalitarian interpretation of the position of supreme leader.

Footage of the London protest earlier in the day was also posted to YouTube:

Saturday, June 12, 2010

World Cup 2010 - demonstrates for human rights in Iran

The human rights group handed out fliers in support of human rights in Iran on the first day of the World Cup in Johannesburg, South Africa. The group also paid for large advertisements on the backs of buses, calling for the release of jailed activists, including Tehran Transit Workers' Union chief Mansour Ossanlou and journalist Kouhyar Goudarzi.

June 12 - Heavy security presence on anniversary of disputed election

Video posted to the Internet purports to show heavy security in the Iranian capital on the first anniversary of the disputed election of June 12, 2009. Opposition leaders earlier called off a march along Azadi all the way to Azadi Square. However, some opposition sites have announced plans to congregate on six squares around Tehran from 4PM local time: Sadeghiyeh, Vanak, Saadat Abad, Haft Howz, Rah Ahan, and Hafteh Tir. 

Ferdowsi Square, Tehran

Hafteh Tir Square, Tehran

Friday, June 11, 2010

Paris group announces human chain for June 12 anniversary

In a video posted to YouTube, the Paris chapter of Where Is My Vote announced its intention to organize a human chain of green-clad, masked protesters to mark the anniversary of the June 12 disputed election and honor the faceless political prisoners being held in the Islamic Republic's jails.

The short film shows the preparations for Saturday's event which will begin at the Mur de la Paix (Wall of Peace art installation, southeast of the Eiffel Tower) and extend to the Invalides at 2PM, June 12, 2010.

In a tongue-in-cheek reference to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's claim that the Islamic Republic is the freest democracy in the world and that any legal group can obtain a permit to stage a demonstration, the video begins with one of the group's members going to the Paris police headquarters. He exits a short while later, holding up his fingers in a V sign and brandishing a permit for Saturday's protest. 'It says we can do everything. Wear masks, make a human chain, expose Ahmadinejad,' says the organizer.

'Who said it was difficult to get a permit in France?' asks the cameraman. 'Ahmadinejad,' responds his associate. 'They said, wear masks, hold hands, and go all the way from the military school to Invalides.'

View Paris - protest - 2:00 PM - 12 June 2010 in a larger map

The organizers are then shown distributing and posting fliers around the city -- from crepe shops to rug stores to telephone booths.

Where Is My Vote has been particularly active over the past year and has launched spectacular protests. In the lead-up to the February 11 anniversary of the revolution, they splattered the IRI embassy with green paint and famously heckled a garden party organized by the Islamic Republic's embassy which led His Excellency the ambassador to get into a scuffle with French police. In August, they covered the windows of the Iran Air office with stickers bearing slogans against the Islamic regime:

Iranian film among Democracy Challenge finalists

A young Iranian director's short film has garnered enough votes to be among the 18 finalists of the Democracy Challenge competition, organized by the US government and featured on YouTube. The film with the greatest number of votes by midnight, June 15, 2010, will be declared the winner of the challenge to create a short video that completes the phrase 'Democracy is...' and will be awarded with the chance to meet industry insiders, democracy activists, and government leaders in Washington DC, New York, and Los Angeles.

Farbod Khoshtinat, 21, entered the competition with a short film called 'ATTN: Mr. Democrat.' He is currently one of the front-runners, but needs more votes to win the challenge.

Khoshtinat, aka Fred, attended the 'Seda-va-Sima' high school where he obtained a degree in cinema. He graduated from Tehran's University of Applied Science and Technology (Elmi Karbordi) in 2007.

After founding Persian Underground Cinematic Arts, he directed the wildly-successful video of 'Ye Mosht Sarbaz' (Bunch of Soldiers) by rapper Hichkas in 2008. The regime's radio-television used a short segment of the clip in a propaganda program which compared rappers to drug-addled Satanists:

Director Bahman Ghobadi called on Khoshtinat's talents to edit all the video clips in 'No One Knows About Persian Cats' which won the special jury prize in the Un Certain Regard category at the Cannes film festival last year.

His short film 'ATTN: Mr. Democrat' features animation by Taraneh Golozar and a beautiful score by Shahin Pajoom.

To help Khoshtinat win the Democracy Challenge, please vote in the following manner:
Sign In to your YouTube account
Go to
Click on VOTE, search for ATTN: Mr. Democrat
Click on green thumbs up to vote

A new video of Neda's death

A new video posted on the Internet shows the last moments of Neda Agha Soltan. It also provides a fleeting glance at the face of the person -- a balding, gray-haired man -- who filmed the original footage of her death.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

For Neda: View HBO documentary in three languages

This film will have its official television premiere on the American channel HBO on June 14, 2010. For more information on this documentary, please click here to go to HBO's page.

In Farsi:

In English:

In Arabic:

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Close-up: The case of the missing nuclear scientist

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.

The Islamic Republic's state television broadcast a video on its evening news on Monday, June 7, 2010, which it contended was made by Shahram Amiri, an Iranian scientist who went missing on June 3, 2009, and was obtained through 'special methods' by the Islamic regime's intelligence agencies. The Islamic Republic claims that Amiri is a scientist who does not work for the country's nuclear program and that he was abducted in Medina, Saudi Arabia, by the United States while he was on a pilgrimage. The US has declared that it has no information concerning Amiri, although ABC News reported in March 2010 that Amiri was a scientist working in the IRI's nuclear program, and that he had defected to the US and was cooperating with the CIA. The grainy film, apparently shot on a computer, shows a person alleged to be Amiri saying that he is currently in the US, that he was abducted by the US, and that he had been tortured in order to get him to tell an American news outlet in a televised interview that he had handed over crucial secret information about the IRI's nuclear weapons program.

8 hours later, a second film, this one much more polished, appeared on the Internet, showing the same person. This time the person alleged to be Amiri said that he had not been abducted, that he was free and safe in the US, and that he planned to obtain a doctorate in an American institution.

The veracity of the films, their source, and whether or not they are a part of a disinformation campaign, are unclear.

The videos

Video 1
This is the first video from the state television of the Islamic Republic (translation follows). I am placing quotes around the name Shahram Amiri because the individual's identity remains to be confirmed:

This individual is Shahram Amiri, the Iranian researcher who disappeared a year ago. How was Amiri abducted and where is he now? The answer in Amiri's own words...

'Shahram Amiri'
In the name of God. Today is Tuesday, Farvardin 17, 1389, which corresponds to April 5, 2010. I am Shahram Amiri, expert and researcher at Malek-Ashtar University of Technology. I am currently in the city of Tucson, state of Arizona in the United States. On Khordad 13, 1388 (NB June 3, 2009) in an operation coordinated between the terroristic and abduction teams of the American intelligence agency CIA and Saudi Arabia's Istikhbarat, I was abducted from Medina Munnawarah (NB alternate name of Medina, Saudi Arabia, which means enlightened city). They transferred me to a house in an unknown location in Saudi Arabia. They injected me with a syringe which made me unconscious in this house. When I regained consciousness, (garbled) in an American wide-body aircraft going towards the United States.

During this time, what did the Americans want from Shahram Amiri, this Iranian researcher?

'Shahram Amiri'
Over the eight months that I was kept in the United States, I was subjected by interrogation teams of the American intelligence agency to the most severe torture and psychological pressure. The main goal and the main pressure that these interrogation, in reality torture, teams exerted on me... Their goal was, they wanted this from me, that I claim, in a televised interview with an American news outlet, that I am an important person in the Iranian nuclear program and that I requested asylum from the United States. And that in the course of requesting asylum, I had handed over important evidence and documents from my country, along with a laptop containing secret information on Iran's nuclear weapons program.

Why do the Americans want to force Shahram Amiri to falsely claim that he has important information about Iran's nuclear program?

Shahram Amiri
The main goal in these developments is to put political pressure on the Islamic Republic of Iran and to condemn... to prove the lies that the United States continuously utters about the Islamic Republic of Iran.

This Iranian researcher also directed a request to international organizations in this footage which lasts minutes...

'Shahram Amiri'
I ask organizations and departments which are concerned with human rights and are active in seeking freedom for captives to pursue my case. I have truly been abducted unjustly from a third country and brought to the United States. I ask that you put all your efforts and energy into obtaining my freedom so I may return to my dear homeland, Iran.

And his words for his family...

'Shahram Amiri'
I'd like to say a few words to my dear family. If they see my speech some day, if they hear my final words, I ask them to please be patient.

The words of this Iranian researcher which were obtained by Iran's intelligence bodies through special methods are the clearest evidence of his abduction by the United States, with the cooperation of Saudi Arabia's government. This film also constitutes unique proof that the United States' claims about Iran's nuclear program are no more than worthless fabrications. The United States must now answer for this abduction.

Video 2
The following is the footage posted to YouTube channel ShahramAmiri2010 about 8 hours later (translation follows):

'Shahram Amiri'
I would like to express my greetings and gratitude for the opportunity given to me to be able to speak directly to the international community. I, Shahram Amiri, citizen of the Islamic Republic of Iran, am in the United States and intend to continue my studies in this country.

I am free here and assure everyone that I am safe. My aim in today's comments is to put an end to all the rumors and accusations concerning me in the past year.

I am an Iranian and have not taken any action against my homeland. My hope is to see Iran and its people at the summit of progress and success. I am not a political individual and have no particular interest in the political affairs or positions of any government or country.

I do not believe in weapons research and have no experience or knowledge in this field. I am a simple health physics researcher who is studying and researching in the field of protection against radiation.

My plan, while I am in the United States, is to obtain a doctorate in health physics in order to help improve the health and safety of Iranians and the international community. After completing my studies, if the conditions for my safe travel are ensured, I hope that my studies here will be beneficial for Iranians and international academic and scientific circles.

During the period I have been engaged in scientific and academic activities, I have really missed my dear wife Azar and my son Amir Hossein. I know that the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran will take care of and protect my family. I want them to know that I never abandoned them and that I will always love them. I hope to see them again and to join them after the completion of my studies.

I ask everyone to stop giving the wrong image of me.

Finally, I thank and express gratitude to the international community for its correct understanding and support for Iran's positive advances and its proud people's achievements

Thank you.

What follows is my personal analysis, which is obviously not infallible. I must add that I believe that no intelligence service, including the CIA, is above carrying out such an abduction and that Amiri may very well have been taken to the US against his will.

But I also believe that the evidence strongly suggests that both videos were made by the same intelligence service, most probably the intelligence unit of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, in order to put pressure on the US and to discredit allegations made against the Islamic Republic's nuclear program. If this is the case, then either the person in the videos is Amiri, he was never abducted by anyone, and the whole affair was a disinformation operation from the start or the person in the videos is a lookalike employed by the IRGC. I lean towards the second option.

The videos are complementary although they are made to look as if one is genuine (Video 1 which is grainy) and the other is fabricated (Video 2 which is polished), a hurried reaction by the CIA. The messages in both, overt in Video 1 because it is supposed to be the truth and hidden in Video 2 because it is so obviously acted out that any any reasonably intelligent person is expected to believe the opposite of what is being said, is the same: 'I am not free. I was abducted. The US violates human rights and is making false accusations against the Iranian nuclear program.'

I encourage readers to freely comment at the end of the article.

Where is Shahram Amiri?
Given the Islamic Republic's astute use of disinformation in the past, it is worth asking whether Amiri is missing at all or whether he is somewhere in Iran. This is the same regime, for example, which created the story of a young woman, Saeedeh Pouraghai, who was allegedly raped and murdered by the Islamic Republic's security forces. After the opposition started reporting this 'fact,' the intelligence services presented Saeedeh, very much alive, on the evening news show '20:30.'

According to the Islamic Republic, Shahram Amiri went missing on June 2, 2009, but it was not until October 7 that Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki officially accused the US of being behind his disappearance. Meanwhile IRI Supreme National Security Council chief Saeed Jalili had been engaged in nuclear talks with US Undersecretary of State William Burns, of which even Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had said, 'The U.S. representative had asked for talks, Mr. Jalili welcomed the proposal, and their negotiations were fruitful.' During the same period hard-liner Hossein Shariatmadari, editor of the arch-conservative Keyhan daily and the representative of the Leader at the Keyhan Institute, was writing vociferously against the talks in his newspaper's columns and wrote of Ahmadinejad's positive comments about the discussions, 'There is no doubt that Dr. Ahmadinejad’s remark was a slip of the tongue.' (For a look at the reformists' opinion of these events, please click here to go to the foreign policy web site of Sadegh Kharrazi, former ambassador to the UN and France, and senior adviser to President Mohammad Khatami.)

The fiasco that ensued -- Jalili first accepted the terms put forth at the Geneva 2 Talks, but then Leader Ali Khamenei backtracked -- indicate that there may have been serious differences in the country's senior leadership at the time. Ali Alfoneh, an expert on the IRGC at the American Enterprise Institute, told the Voice of America that Jalili would not have been able to agree to the Geneva proposals if he had not received the express acquiescence of Khamenei. He surmised that the IRGC, which is in charge of the nuclear program, had subsequently convinced Khamenei that he should not accept the terms of the agreement.

Could the Amiri affair have been designed by hardliners to derail any nuclear agreement? Could part of the intelligence services, particularly the intelligence unit of the Revolutionary Guards whose power has increased at the expense of the Intelligence Ministry, have organized a fake disappearance?

Not only would such a plan have been useful in sidelining those in the regime who wish to reach some sort of nuclear settlement (and they certainly exist), but Amiri could also be pulled out at an opportune time, in a grainy video somehow secreted out of an American dungeon for example, to discredit accusations against Iran's nuclear program. This week, with Russia's hardening stance towards the Islamic Republic and UN sanctions looming in the near future, appears to be just such an opportune time.

Is the man in the videos Shahram Amiri? 
It is particularly difficult to judge whether the man who appears in the videos is the same man whose photo has been presented by the Islamic Republic as Shahram Amiri.

First the easy part. I think it is clear to everyone that both videos almost certainly show the same man. So the best image, one from Video 2, can be used as a point of comparison. 

The following are the very few photos which have been made public and I managed to find. If readers have located others, please send a file or a link.

First, a photo of Shahram Amiri's passport with a detail showing the ID photo. This is the passport used by Amiri to travel to Saudi Arabia. The pages on the left show a Saudi visa and an entry stamp:

Next, a batch of three photographs which are really variations of the same shot. Strangely, although the Islamic Republic has publicized the case of Amiri for close to a year, it had refrained from issuing any other image of the scientist except this low-quality shot until last night. Photo 1A appears stretched and Photo 1C seems compressed. Photo 1B is the most likely original portrait. My initial reaction is that any customs officer receiving a passport bearing the photos below from the gentleman in Video 2 would take a much closer look.

Photo 1A

Photo 1B

Photo 1C

The following photograph was used in the state television report last night. It was, as far as I could ascertain, the first new photo allegedly of Amiri that had been released since the one above. Notwithstanding the similar beard and the nose, a comparison between Photo 2 and Photo 1B does not seem conclusive. Why did state television suddenly decide to use this new photo instead?:
Photo 2

Photo 2 more closely resembles the man in Video 1 and Video 2, than Photo 1B. Is Photo 2 the image that state media will be using from now on?:

Most international news reports wrote that the person in the video somewhat resembled Shahram Amiri, but they were basing themselves on the photo that state television had placed next to the video. What if photo 1B had been used?:

The greater resemblance between Photo 2 and the man in the videos is more apparent when I place a beard on him and make him thinner:

Furthermore I find differences between the eyebrows of the man in Video 2, which actually appear plucked, and those of Photo 1B which arch slightly at the ends. The eyes are not completely similar either and appear larger in Photo 1B:

Biometrics is a complex science and I am not an expert by any means. However the inconclusive evidence seems to suggest that the man in the videos more strongly resembles the man in Photo 2 than the one in Photo 1B. That state media decided to introduce another alleged photo of Amiri (Photo 2), instead of the one which had been used thus far (Photo 1B), provokes some suspicion.

Tortured and placed under psychological pressure for eight months?
The man in video 1 claims that after his abduction he was taken to the US, where he was subjected 'to the most severe torture and psychological pressure' for 8 months. That means he was mistreated until early February, allegedly two months before the video was made. Is it likely that such a person would have gained so much weight? Is it also likely that such a person would have access to a computer and an unsupervised private room two months after enduring such hardship? And if he did, would he also be given a headset with a microphone?

Why the analysis?
Halfway through Video 1, the man explains why the US wanted him to say certain things in a televised interview: 'To put political pressure on the Islamic Republic of Iran and to condemn... to prove the lies that the United States continuously utters about the Islamic Republic of Iran.' Would a captive give political analysis of this sort? The statement appears contrived and manufactured to play well on the evening news in Tehran. In fact, it is somehow the exact conclusion given in the voice-over at the end of the footage.

The Istikhbarat?
How does the man in Video 1 know that agents of the Saudi intelligence service helped the Americans abduct him? Because they spoke Arabic? Just like the analysis mentioned above, this detail appears incongruous and designed to play well to audiences. It also places pressure on a regional rival of the Islamic Republic and ally of the US.

The date
The man in Video 1 begins by giving the date: 'Tuesday, Farvardin 17, 1389, which corresponds to April 5, 2010.' The 17th of Farvardin was indeed a Tuesday, but it corresponded to April 6, not 5. Wouldn't a captive being held in the US be more familiar with the American date rather than the Iranian one?

Details of the actual abduction?
The man in Video 1 provides many details -- I'm an expert AND researcher, it was a wide-body aircraft that took me to the US... -- but he fails to give the first  information that one would expect from a victim of an abduction: The actual place and time and manner he was taken. Was it at his hotel? On the street? In a restaurant's lavatory? Did four men jump out of a car?

Patently fake
Video 2 so obviously looks fake that it is laughable and seems designed to make the viewer question its veracity. The decor desperately screams out that it is in the US. All that's missing is a fireplace and prints of Sedona, Arizona, on the wall. The globe is turned so that the US is pointing towards the camera. The man hams it up to the camera to appear uncomfortable and glum, regularly swallowing hard, his eyes darting in an excessively obvious manner to the side every now and again to read what we are expected to understand is the text prepared for him.

This is supposed to help the US?
Why would the CIA want the man in Video 2 to say that he has no experience in nuclear weapons research and that he works in the field of health physics? This would confirm what the man says in Video 1. And why would the CIA want him to say, 'I thank and express gratitude to the international community for its correct understanding and support for Iran's positive advances and its proud people's achievements,' when the statement sounds like an Ahmadinejad speech extolling Iran's advances in nuclear research?

Why would the CIA want him to say he is pursuing a doctorate in health physics when this can easily be verified by checking the limited number of institutions which offer doctorates in that field? And wouldn't every reasonably intelligent person wonder where and when he had obtained his student visa? I don't suppose everyone at the CIA is a genius, but I expect that they could have come up with a more convincing story that could not be debunked so easily. Not to speak of a better video that did not appear so fake.

And finally, a threat to the real Amiri?
'During the period I have been engaged in scientific and academic activities, I have really missed my dear wife Azar and my son Amir Hossein. I know that the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran will take care of and protect my family.' No comment.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Free goodies: It must be another regime event

Arch-concervative newspaper Keyhan wrote yesterday that two million people would attend. The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps announced that it could have brought in five million people, but that housing issues precluded busing in so many.

Whatever the number of participants at the ceremony for the 21st anniversary of Ayatollah Khomeini's death held at his mausoleum on June 4, 2010 -- and we can almost be certain that Keyhan's figure of 2 million will be presented as fact in tomorrow's newspapers -- it wouldn't be a proper regime-organized, yet somehow 'spontaneous' show of popular support, if there were no handouts for the masses, particularly the ever-popular Sundis fruit juice. The term Sundis-khor (Sundis drinker) has entered the Iranian political lexicon as a term for those who support the regime out of interest.

Already yesterday, as a part of preparations for the event, Basij trucks loaded with crates of juice, fruit, and other goods could be seen around Tehran and the suburbs. The photo to the right shows a vehicle with the emblem of the Karaj chapter of the Basij.

Well today's event did not disappoint as videos posted to the Internet show.

The beginning of the first video shows what are referred to as istgaheh salavati or praise booths where gifts are handed out to participants. The second part shows people carrying away crates of fruit or other gifts. Incidentally, the voice heard over the loudspeakers is Leader Ali Khamenei delivering his long-awaited sermon:

The second video shows youngsters carrying away as many crates as they can, with whatever means at their disposal. Notice another mainstay of such events -- the buses in the background:

In the following videos, the masses converge on the handout booths with extreme vigor:

When abuse becomes ingrained in security forces: video shows police mistreating illegal Afghan immigrants

Footage released by the Reporters and Human Rights Activists News Agency (RAHANA) on Thursday, June 3, 2010, shows the security forces of the Islamic Republic abusing captured illegal Afghan immigrants.

The Afghans were captured around Rafsanjan, Kerman province, and taken by truck to a police base outside the town about two weeks ago, according to RAHANA.

View Rafsanjan, Kerman province - Afghans are abused by islamic Republic security forces - 20 May 2010 in a larger map

The film shows a police officer ordering the captured Afghans to beat themselves, beat the person in front of them, or stand and sit repeatedly. 'One, two, three. One, two, three. Harder. Harder,' the police officer shouts, setting the pace for the prisoners to beat themselves on the head. A fellow security officer can be clearly heard laughing and snickering in the background.

'We won't come to Iran again,' says an Afghan. The sadistic police officer is inspired by this remark and asks everyone to repeat it in unison.

Khamenei delivers dire threat to opposition leaders

Leader Ali Khamenei radically hardened his stance against opposition leaders during his sermon at Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's mausoleum in a ceremony marking the 21st anniversary of the death of the Islamic Republic's founder.

Referring to Islamic history, Khamenei recounted how Imam Ali, the first imam of Shiites and Muhammed's son-in-law, led his forces from Medina against former allies who had strayed from the true path in the 7th century AD.

The two main opposition figures, Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, were close companions of Khomeini and held important positions in the Islamic Republic. Mousavi was Khomeini's prime minister during the crucial war years in the 1980s. Karroubi was placed at the head of the powerful and extremely well-funded Martyrs Foundation at Khomeini's personal order in the same period. Karroubi later served as the Speaker of the Majlis.

In an allusion to the two men in particular, and dozens of senior leaders from opposition parties who also held important functions within the apparatus but have been imprisoned or otherwise silenced since the presidential election, Khamenei said that the true criteria for judging individuals is their current positions towards the regime, not their pasts.

Then Khamenei made a thinly-veiled and extraordinary threat. 'There were individuals who accompanied the Imam [Khomeini] on the plane to Tehran who were later executed [for treason],' he said. Khomeini, who had been residing in the french village of Neauphle le Château, flew triumphantly from Paris to Tehran on February 1, 1979. Only his closest aides accompanied him on that trip. Many were later arrested, exiled, or executed, including Sadegh Ghotbzadeh, who sat next to Khomeini on the flight to Tehran. Ghotbzadeh served as the head of state radio-television and foreign minister before being arrested and executed in 1982. He was allegedly severely tortured to obtain his confession of plotting against the regime.

Mousavi and Karroubi ran in the disputed June 12 election of last year after the Guardian Council validated their candidacies. Mohsen Rezai, the former commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps during the Iran-Iraq War, was the fourth candidate. All three men initially made accusations of fraud after Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was declared the winner, although Rezai subsequently retracted his charges and tempered his critique of the government.

Rezai was present in the audience at today's sermon. Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the Expediency Council chief and Assembly of Experts president, was also there, sitting in the front row, a few places away from Ahmadinejad who has famously accused him and his family of corruption.

Ahmadinejad employed the same bellicose tone and themes in his speech which preceded Khamenei's. Stressing that the Islamic Republic has the most democratic government in the world and that he had really garnered 25 million votes, Ahmadinejad said it was strange that the opposition leaders claimed they were followers of Khomeini's path, when they were actually moving in line with 'monarchists [...] and world arrogance (NB The US or Western powers) who were the worst enemies of the Imam.'

'According to the Imam, preserving the regime is of the highest importance,' Ahmadinejad said. 'I am sorry to say that those who are tarnishing the reputation of the Islamic Republic cannot claim to be followers of the Imam.'

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

EU legislators greet regime's FM with cries of 'murderer' and photos of Neda

Islamic Republic Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki received a less than enthusiastic reception from some EU parliamentarians as he made his way into the Foreign Affairs Committee in Brussels to make a speech on Tuesday, June 1, 2010.

British conservative legislator Struan Stevenson held up a photo of Neda Agha Soltan, who was killed by regime security forces during a protest in Tehran last year. He shouted 'murderer' at Mottaki as the Foreign Minister pushed his way into the committee hearing room.

Other legislators, particularly from Italy, Spain, and Estonia, joined the unusual protest, during which EU parliament security agents pushed back members of parliament, who were brandishing photos of Neda. 'We should never have invited him in the first place,' a British lawmaker can be heard saying on footage of the skirmish.

Satellite news channel Al Arabiya reported on the event and broadcast the same footage:

Meanwhile, protesters stood outside the European Union building in Brussels. One Iranian woman took a Belgian representative to task for organizing a luncheon with Mottaki as she explained that members of her family had been killed by the Islamic regime. She pointed to an older woman next to her and said that she had also lost dear ones, namely a son and a niece:


Further reading: The Wall Street Journal - 'Honoring Neda Soltan's Memory'

Close-Up: Students commemorate Kianoush Asa's death

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.

Hundreds of protesters commemorated the death of fellow student Kianoush Asa with a peaceful march that began at noon on Tuesday, June 1, 2010, on the campus of Elm-o-Sanat (Science and Technology) University, where Asa was pursuing a graduate degree.

Kianoush Asa was killed by security forces in Tehran's Azadi Square on June 15, 2009, but his family only managed to find his body at a Tehran morgue on June 24. He was buried in section 58, plot 12 of Bagh Ferdows cemetery in his hometown of Kermanshah a few days later.

The organizers of today's ceremony may have decided to hold the commemoration two weeks earlier than the real anniversary of his death in order to circumvent severe security measures which are expected to be in place in Tehran during the anniversary of the disputed election of June 12.

Students were asked to congregate in front of the chemical engineering school (number 1 on map below) of Elm-o-Sanat University at noon. Kianoush Asa was studying to become a petrochemical engineer before he was killed.

The following footage shows students amassed in front of the chemical engineering school as they shout, 'Students would rather die than accept humiliation':

The protesters then marched peacefully towards what has come to be called Martyr Kianoush Asa Park (number 2 on map), a green area between the men's cafeteria and the professor's cafeteria. Students have started calling the area Asa Park since a memorial service was held for Kianoush there last year.

Students chanted 'Honorable student, support, support.' They cover their faces as they go past a man who is filming them:

The same man can be seen in this footage trying to film the faces of the students:

'We are all Kianoush and Neda. We speak with one voice,' they said, referring to Asa and Neda Agha Soltan, perhaps the most famous protester killed by security forces:

'Woe on Science and Technology University if it accepts humiliation':

Students sang the protest anthem 'Yareh Dabestaniyeh Man' (My Schoolmate). For a subtitled clip of a new version of the song, please click here:

The protesters chanted the name of opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi. 'Ya Hossein, Mir Hossein':

On March 9, 2010, Students celebrated what would have been the birthday of Kianoush at Asa Park:

Greens stage mock ballot in Stockholm

The Green Democracy group, based in Sweden, has staged another anti-Ahmadinejad event, part performance art, part demonstration. The participants organized a mock ballot in front of a banner proclaiming, 'Iran re-election 2010. Ahmadinejad is not Iran's president':

In March, to mark protests which took place around Iran during the chahar shanbeh souri fire festival, members of the group stationed themselves in public places in Stockholm and displayed videos documenting the post-election unrest on laptops: