September 15, 2007 VOLUME 40
E-ZAN VOICE OF WOMEN AGAINST FUNDAMENTALISM IN IRAN
To our readers,
In the past eight months, there has been 235 prisoners hanged, according to Iran's state-run news sources and agencies. Men and women have been publicly hanged in major cities and the number is growing daily. No criticism or condemnation, as of yet, from UN Human Rights Council. Instead, the Council's High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour traveled to Iran to attend a Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) conference on human rights and cultural diversity. Given the backing from NAM of developing nations, there is now a plan to set up a human rights and cultural diversity centre in Iran. And Arbour is ready to provide "technical and consultation assistance " for this center.
One can only wonder how Louise
Arbour, neglected to acknowledge the
atrocities taken place in Iran. While families of victims and political
prisoners desperately tried to meet with her during her trip, she enjoyed an
orchestrated visit with fundamentalist leaders in Tehran.The
day after Arbour left Iran, Ahmadinejad's regime hanged 21 people. On
September 5, the Amnesty International said that it is "appalled at
the reports of the execution of 21 people." With Ahmadinejad, it is hard to
ignore the daily public hangings in Iran these days.
Ironically, her trip also coincided with the one year anniversary of women's campaign to gather "One Million Signatures" on gender discrimination in the Islamic Republic of Iran. Some of the organizers of this campaign are still in prison. Of course, they never got a visit from Louise Arbour, nor did the families of victims and political prisoners.
With the state-sponsored escalated violence against women, public hangings, arbitrary arrests and crackdowns, Arbour's visit was adding salt to injury for Iranian people, particularly women!
E-Zan Featured Headlines
Radio Netherlands Worldwide- August 16, 2007
Editor-in-chief of Shahrzad News Mina Saadadi has
just announced that the authorities in Iran have been blocking her news agency's
website since last week. The Hilversum-based editorial staff say the Iranian
government's move follows a report on the website about the death sentence
handed down to a 25-year-old man. Most of Shahrzad News' readers use Iran's two
major Internet service providers but this route has now been cut off. Their
screens are blank, showing only the message "denied". This is the first time the
authorities have directly blocked Shahrzad News. However, three journalists were
arrested at Tehran airport at the beginning of this year on the way to a course
organised by Shahrzad News. The website, which is partly financed by the Dutch
foreign ministry, has been online since 2006. It provides news about Iran in
Farsi and English. The women journalists at home in Iran and abroad receive
training at Radio Netherlands Training Centre.
WFAFI News - August 16, 2007
Iranian parliament refined the polygamy laws to remove the condition for men to notify their wife should they decide to take on a second or third wife. The current regulation now allows men to take more than one wife so long as the can present financial papers to court and prove that they can afford have more wives.
Agence France Presse - August 20, 2007
A mother of one of the three Iranian students still held in jail after an incident in May on Monday publicly accused the authorities of torturing the young men to obtain confessions. Azam Tajik, mother of Ehsan Mansouri, a student detained for the past four months on suspicion of publishing material offensive to Islam in university newspapers, said her son had been held in solitary confinement in Tehran's Evin prison. "Our children were forced to confess in prison under torture," she told a news conference on freedom of speech held by Nobel laureate Shirin Ebadi. "When they left solitary confinement they rejected the statements they had given." The Iranian judiciary has vehemently denied that any accused are tortured in its prisons although it has said the Tehran judiciary is preparing a report about the families' claims. Mansouri was arrested in May with Majid Tavakoli and Ahmad Ghassaban over the appearance of "anti-Islamic" material and caricatures in reformist student newspapers at Tehran's prestigious Amir Kabir University. "Our children denied and condemned it, but everyone from the university to security officials said they have committed an offence," Tajik said. "Who has proven their guilt? In front of which lawyer? Under torture and in solitary confinement?" the distraught mother said. "They beat up my son when they took him from home to jail, his nose was bleeding all along, they told us we were lying and that we should stop giving interviews," Tajik said. The students said the material been planted in a plot to discredit them. Amir Kabir has long been a hotbed of student radicalism and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was last year the target of heckling in a stormy address to the university.
The Associated Press - August 21, 2007
A detained Iranian-American academic accused of conspiring against the government will be freed from prison within hours if bail is posted in her case, a top judiciary official said Tuesday. Haleh Esfandiari, director of the Middle East program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, has been jailed largely incommunicado at Tehran's Evin prison since early May on charges of acting against national security.Bail was set at 3 billion rials or about $333,000, Mohammad Shadabi, an official at the Tehran prosecutor's office, told The Associated Press. "I can't say for now that she will be allowed to leave the country or not," Shadabi added. [Esfandiari was released on August 22 and left Iran a week later.
Radio Free Europe - August 27, 2007
A lawyer for Radio Farda broadcaster Parnaz Azima, who has been trapped in Iran since January, says Azima is now facing a charge of acting against Iran's national security by working for the U.S.-funded broadcaster. Azima was already facing charges of working with Radio Farda and spreading propaganda against the Iranian state. Azima and her lawyer, Mohammad Hossein Agassi, have rejected the charges as baseless. Agassi told Radio Farda that authorities have given Azima no indication of when she might be allowed to leave. "Officials who decide about the case -- apart from judiciary officials -- have emphasized that she should stay in Iran for now. The reason they mention is her special situation in international relations -- in fact, that means ties between Iran and the U.S.," Agassi said. Azima traveled to Tehran in January to visit her sick mother. On her arrival, authorities confiscated her Iranian passport. Since then, Azima has been unable to leave Iran and return to her work in Prague. In an August 27 telephone interview with Radio Farda, Azima described her situation as "unbearable." "This uncertain situation is very difficult to deal with. I left all my life abroad to come and visit my ailing mother, and now I feel my personal life is falling apart," Azima said. "My grandchild will be born soon in the U.S., and I wish I could be there to experience it. I was under medical treatment before coming to Iran, and that has now been interrupted." Azima said that authorities had urged her to resign from Radio Farda, but she told them that her work was her own decision.
Reuters News Agency - August 27, 2007
Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi said she had
asked the United Nations to investigate the status of women in Iran and accused
Iranian authorities of detaining activists demanding more women's rights. Ebadi,
speaking at a press conference on Monday marking the first anniversary of a
campaign to gather 1 million signatures in favour of women's rights in the
Islamic state, said she had contacted top U.N. human rights official Louise
Arbour. She said about 50 activists had been detained over the last 14
months for involvement in women's rights protests and some of them faced charges
of acting against national security. She did not say how many -- if any -- were
still being held. Western diplomats and rights groups say Iran is taking a
tougher line against dissent in general, possibly in response to increased
international pressure over its disputed nuclear activities, which the West
suspects is aimed at making bombs. The Islamic Republic rejects allegations it
discriminates against women, saying it follows sharia law. Tehran usually reacts
dismissively toward criticism from any foreign organisations, including the
United Nations. "I have written a letter to the U.N. High Commissioner for Human
Rights and complained for the first time, and said this is the situation of
women rights in Iran and these are our demands," Ebadi said. "Please send a
special rapporteur to Iran to report on women, to investigate the conditions for
women," she said, describing her message to Arbour.
Radio Free Europe - September 3, 2007
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour
is in Iran to attend a meeting of the Nonaligned Movement on human rights and
cultural diversity. During her stay in Iran, Arbour is reportedly scheduled to
meet with women's rights advocates and human-rights defenders at the UN office
in Tehran, Radio Farda reported.
Women eNews - September 4, 2007
Two bills regarding the Islamic veil pending in the
Italian parliament are a symbol of the country's increasing focus on the
assimilation of immigrants. Stories of fundamentalism are spurring public debate
over the condition of Muslim women.
While it is still not clear which of the competing bills might be approved into law, in Catholic Italy, where a woman in a veil is as likely to be a nun in a habit as a Muslim under a chador, tensions over the veil are bringing into public debate larger concerns over integration and assimilation among the nation's 900,000 Muslim immigrants. "It is not so much a matter of veil or not veil," Sholeh, of Democratic Iranian Women in Italy, told Women's eNews. "The fundamentalist frame of mind is far more dangerous than the veil itself." Sholeh thinks every woman should be able to make a conscious decision free from people who tell her what to think and say. "See what is happening in Iran," says Sholeh, referring to the thousands of women arrested there for infringing the strict dress code imposed by religious leaders. "Even after 28 years, there are women who still do not accept."
NCR Website - September 5, 2007
The mullahs’ henchmen hanged seventeen prisoners identified as Masoumeh Aramideh, Rahandel Shiri, Gholam-Hossein Saljoqi, Hossein Gholami, Seyed Hossein Hosseini, Reza Dawoodi, Mohsen Afshar-Barji, Hassan-Reza Saiidi, Esmail Khoshkerdar, Sharaf-aldin Golmajdi, Mahmoud Hafezi-Far, Mohammad Saraii, Javad Khayat-Azad (a.k.a Khayatzadeh), Reza Jafari-Zadeh, Ali Naderian, and Mohammad Saiid Zabi-allah-Habibi on the charges of being “corrupt on earth,” in the northeastern city of Mashhad, the state-run television reported today. The regime hanged another four prisoners identified as Mohammad Ali Qasemi, Alireza Bar-Ahoii, Gaz-Ava Mahmoudzehi, and Abdulrasoul Qorbanzadeh in the southern city of Shiraz. Deputy Judicial Ministry in the southern Fars province, Abdulnabi Najibi said, “The [executions] will guarantee a long lasting public security.” The total number of executions in the past eight months has more than doubled the same period last year according to the state-run media. In the same period a number of political prisoners have been executed as common criminals.
Agence France Presse - August 20, 2007
Iran is pressing on with one of its toughest moral crackdowns in years, warning tens of thousands of women over slack dress, targeting "immoral" cafes and seizing illegal satellite receivers, local media reported on Monday. The Iranian police launched the crackdown in April in a self-declared drive to "elevate security in society" that encompassed arrests of thugs, raids on underground parties and street checks of improperly dressed individuals. Reza Zarei, commander of police in Tehran province, said that since the drive began police in his region have handed out 113,454 warnings to women found to have infringed Iran's strict Islamic dress rules. "Of these 1,600 cases have been given to the judiciary" for further investigation, he said. He added that 5,700 people -- including 1,400 men -- have been sent to "guidance classes" on how to behave in society.
E-Zan Featured Reports
Iranian Opposition Could Hold
By Correspondent, Western Mail
August 18, 2007
The carnage in Iraq continues to rage with no end in sight, despite attempts by the United States to curb the violence by increasing troop levels and engaging in direct talks with Iran. Ex-MP Win Griffiths gives his view of the situation
THE rapidly deteriorating situation in Iraq will not only impact on Iraqis, it would also have dire and strategic consequences for the entire Middle East. Iraq’s stability could not become a reality unless we explore the root causes of the current crisis, and act decisively and quickly to deal with them.
How did we end up in this situation in the first place? While our men and women in uniform sacrifice their lives, the Iranian regime, which is widely recognised as “the number one state sponsor of terrorism”, has been reaping all the benefits.
It is all too easy to point to the Sunni-Shiite rivalry as the root cause of Iraq’s troubles. But, that is only part of a much larger picture. An increasing number of Iraqis are now voicing concern about the “hidden occupation” of Iraq by Iran.
The dividing line in Iraq is between two rival political forces with diametrically opposed agendas for the future. On the one hand, there are independent, nationalist, and democratic parties. On the other hand, a pro-Iranian fundamentalist block has been mobilised against the nascent democratic process by perpetuating instability and violence.
The Iranian strategy of dominating Iraq is born out of the mullahs’ need to export their hard-line Islamic fundamentalism to Iraq and elsewhere in order to preserve an increasingly tenuous hold on power at home. So, the anti-democratic forces in Iraq enjoy the unequivocal backing of the Iranian regime.
The democratic block, however, lacks any support from the outside. Against this backdrop, the Iranian regime’s intrusions have had dramatic results. Iraq’s government is subject to Iranian pressure behind the scenes, and most of its security organs are infiltrated by pro-Iranian militias. A great portion of the country’s economic resources, including a significant part of its oil industry, are monopolised by Tehran’s proxies. And, there is mounting evidence that even al-Qaeda is on the receiving end of Iranian funds and weapons.
So, what can be done to curb the Iranian influence in Iraq? Some have proffered a two-tracked strategy: A phased withdrawal of Coalition forces and engagement with Iran to induce its cooperation in dealing with a situation that is spiralling out of control. This would be a recipe for disaster.
Franklin Roosevelt once said, “No man can tame a tiger into a kitten by stroking it.” Reaching out to Tehran as a partner in stabilising Iraq would have the opposite effect. Iran is the main problem, not part of the solution.
The Iranian regime’s support for terrorist networks in Iraq, in conjunction with its nuclear defiance, has put it on a collision course with the international community. Dialogue with the Iranian regime has so far netted no tangible benefits on both accounts. Further talks would only embolden Tehran to persist in its rogue conduct.
Instead, we must move in and decisively deter Iranian aggressions in Iraq. As part of that strategy, we must seek to ensure that militias supported by the mullahs’ regime are disbanded, forces loyal to Tehran are expelled from government agencies and sensitive posts, and the Iraqi Constitution is modified in order to respect the rights of the minorities and political refugees.
At the same time, the UN Security Council should impose meaningful sanctions to dry up the resources Tehran is using to develop nuclear weapons. Comprehensive sanctions must include an oil embargo if they are to have any real effect on the second-largest exporter in the Opec oil cartel.
Simultaneous with matching Iranian interference with firm action inside Iraq, the West should try to influence developments inside Iran.
Ironically, the recent spate of anti-government demonstrations and strikes nationwide, despite the harsh crackdown, not to mention some 5,000 similar protests last year, are a reflection of the ruling theocracy’s vulnerability rather than its strength.
The most recent case was the nationwide uproar over the decision to ration petrol. It is ironic that the country believed to hold the second-most amount of oil reserves does not have the infrastructure to produce petrol, even while it spends billions in its nuclear proliferation projects.
The regime’s state media reported that, within the span of a few days, more than 50 petrol stations and state banks were set on fire by Iranians angry with the new rationing scheme.
Of all the options, the most practical and cost-effective approach would be to reach out to the Iranian people and the democratic opposition that has been working to bring about regime change in that country.
So far, we have done exactly the opposite. In trying to mollify Tehran, governments on both sides of the Atlantic have blacklisted Iran’s main opposition movement, the People’s Mojahedin of Iran (PMOI).
Here in Britain, a former Home Secretary proscribed the PMOI, and confirmed later on that this was done at the behest of the Iranian regime.
This did not go down well with MPs, the majority of whom back the Iranian resistance. Thirty-five Parliamentarians have since launched a legal challenge to the proscription, the hearing for which was held in the Proscribed Organisations Appeals Commission (POAC) last week.
Last December, Europe’s second highest court, the Court of the First Instance in Luxembourg, overturned the European Union’s decision to brand PMOI as terrorist. In its 41-page ruling, the Court also affirmed that, ‘the PMOI was founded in 1965 and set itself the objective of replacing the regime of the Shah of Iran, then the mullahs’ regime, by a democracy”.
The EU’s decision to ignore the European Court ruling makes a mockery of the rule of law. This was the message of 50,000 Iranians who gathered in Paris on June 30 to denounce the EU’s defiance of the Court and register their support for Iranian Resistance leader Maryam Rajavi.You would think that, with such a clear ruling, the EU would move swiftly to undo an act politically motivated in the first place. Not so.
Some officials, especially in Britain, argued that the removal of the PMOI from the list would send the theocrats ruling Iran the message that European policy had shifted to regime change, since the PMOI is the most viable actor for change in Iran.
For years, Iran’s rulers made it clear that marginalising the resistance was a strong sign of willingness to placate them.
Western diplomats, in a search for illusory moderates within the clerical establishment, disgracefully acquiesced in the mullahs’ demands to blacklist the Iranian resistance in return for lucrative commerce and support (ironically) in the campaign against international terrorism.
But the “moderate” fantasy completely ran aground when the regime’s supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, managed to manipulate the election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a diehard Revolutionary Guards commander and a Holocaust-denier, as president.
So what are the options? As the President-elect of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, Maryam Rajavi told the European Parliament in July 2006 that appeasement has proven futile and a foreign war would be a recipe for disaster. The viable option, as she put it, was democratic change by the Iranian people.
Ironically, the Court ruling offers the West a face-saving way out of its policy statement.
The EU must comply with the CFI ruling and remove the terrorist labelling of the PMOI, thereby freeing up the focal point of the organised opposition to the regime in Tehran. This would encourage the Iranian people to step up their struggle, and strengthen the international community’s position in dealing with Tehran’s nuclear defiance and efforts to destabilise Iraq. Now is the time to grab the opportunity for dealing with Tehran’s tyrants.Win Griffiths is a former Labour MP from Bridgend, and has followed Iranian affairs for nearly two decades.Iraq’s stability could not become a reality unless we explore the root causes of the current crisis.
Fooled by Winds of Reform
By Camelia Entekhabifard
The New York Times
August 24, 2007
On many early mornings in Tehran, my uncle Ali would bang on our door to deliver large heaps of mammoth mushrooms from the mountain of Shemiran. Every summer and early autumn when I saw thunderstorms gathering in the sky, I knew we would have giant bunches of wild, tasty mushrooms the following day. My uncle believed that the storms pushed the mushrooms up from beneath the mountain's numerous stones. Mushroom hunters like Ali would wake up early the next morning to go after those fresh, juicy mushrooms and cut off their heads.
As a journalist and writer in Iran, I have often compared myself, and many of my colleagues and friends at other Iranian newspapers, to those mushrooms. In 1992, when I started working in Tehran, I was very careful about what I would report. That is, until right after the election of Mohammad Khatami, the reformist president, in 1997. Then I, like so many other journalists, quickly went to work for the country's leading reformist papers. Moderate clerics began using those newspapers as conduits for challenging religion-based laws, like the restrictive dress code and death by stoning. President Khatami brought reform to the political system and exposed the involvement of Iranian intelligence agents in the murder of a number of intellectuals.
Every day, Iranian journalists, with the encouragement of the Iranian people, disclosed news or challenged the system. We trusted that the changes that had come about would remain and that we would be protected by the government we had elected.
The last newspaper I worked for in Iran -- Zan -- was closed by the judiciary in the spring of 1999. I was in the United States at that time, and as soon as I returned to Tehran, I was arrested. The government held me in solitary confinement for three months, and during that time I confessed to crimes I never committed and did whatever a human being could do to save his or her life.
I now wonder if all the opportunities we had seen for reform were really illusions created to trick us. Did the Iranian government encourage a fleeting era of reform in order to identify its opponents so as to come after them? Was President Khatami's election the thunderstorm that ultimately allowed the government to hunt us down?
This storm drowned not only us but also those expatriate Iranian intellectuals and scholars who had begun to visit Iran again after President Khatami traveled abroad with his famous message of "Iran for all Iranians." Many academics started to travel back and forth to Iran after this historic announcement. But recently some of them have been arrested too.
Ramin Jahanbegloo, who is an Iranian-Canadian scholar, spent four months in an Iranian prison last year. He "confessed" on Iran's national public media that at conferences outside Iran he "got acquainted with" many Americans and Israelis, some of whom were "intelligence figures." Zahra Kazemi, an Iranian-Canadian photographer, died under interrogation while in detention in Tehran. And, of course, Haleh Esfandiari, an Iranian-American academic who directs the Middle East program at the Wilson International Center for Scholars, in Washington, spent more than 100 days in Evin Prison before being released on bail on Tuesday. She, too, made a statement on television, which Iranian officials cast as an admission that she was associated with a "velvet revolution" against the regime in Tehran.
The situation in which Dr. Esfandiari finds herself today is the same one that has repeatedly been endured by Iranian citizens who have dared to think differently and who have sought to progressively influence the country's youth. The message being sent to Iranian scholars abroad is the same one being given to intellectuals at home: "You are not welcome here anymore." Those who have had a taste of Iran's jails and interrogation -- including scholars and writers of my generation who work for reformist media in Iran, and the British sailors who were recently detained by the government -- know what I am talking about. They, too, have endured psychological torture and false charges.
In prison, all you have left is to pray for your freedom so that you can leave the country for good and never return. This is what the regime really wants: for any writers, scholars or academics who could have some sort of intellectual influence over the Iranian people to leave Iran for good and be too afraid to return.
It is still not clear whether Ms. Esfandiari will be allowed to leave Iran soon. I would not be surprised if she is now promising herself to never visit her mother or her homeland again, and to advise other Iranians to do the same.
Iran's hangmen work overtime to silence opposition
By Con Coughlin
August 24, 2007
Stonings, hangings, floggings,
purges. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad might claim that United Nations sanctions
can't hurt his country, but that is not how it feels for Iran's long-suffering
population which now finds itself on the receiving end of one of the most brutal
purges witnessed since the 1979 Islamic revolution.
The most visible manifestation of the new oppression sweeping Iran has been the wave of public executions and floggings carried out in Teheran and provincial capitals over recent weeks in a blatant attempt by the regime to intimidate political opponents. The official government line is that the punishments are part of its "Plan to Enforce Moral Behaviour".
It's the same kind of argument that was used immediately after Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini took control to purge the country of its prosperous, secular middle class and secure his hold on power. Now Mr Ahmadinejad is adopting similar tactics in a desperate attempt to keep his embattled regime in power.
Although Iran has one of the world's highest execution rates, until recently most of the sentences were carried out within the confines of prisons such a Teheran's notorious Evin complex. But this month diplomats at the Japanese and Australian embassies in the capital were alarmed to find the bodies of two convicted criminals hanging from cranes stationed directly outside their office windows.
The location of the cranes, at a busy thoroughfare surrounded by office blocks, was chosen as much to remind the diplomatic community that Mr Ahmadinejad's hardline regime was still very much in charge as to send a message to ordinary citizens.
For these public executions, together with the estimated 30 others that have taken place in other parts of the country, are nothing more than a brutal exercise in political, as opposed to religious, persecution. There have also been several public floggings carried out on men and women accused of flouting the strict morality laws. Many of the executions were shown live on Iranian television. The message the government wants to get across is clear: mess with us and this is what will happen to you.
However much the authorities insist the sentences relate only to their campaign to improve public morals, Western diplomats in Teheran believe many of the victims have been singled out for their participation in the anti-government fuel riots that erupted in late June.
Those disturbances, in which an estimated third of the country's petrol stations were destroyed by protesters angry at the introduction of fuel rationing (Iran, remember, boasts the world's second largest oil reserves), can be seen as a direct consequence of the sanctions imposed by the United Nations over Iran's controversial nuclear programme.
It was the first serious challenge the regime encountered since setting itself on a collision course with the West following Mr Ahmadinejad's surprise election as president two years ago. So it is no coincidence that the past two months have seen a dramatic increase in the execution rate.
Far from being pressured into changing tack on Iran's nuclear programme, Mr Ahmadinejad's regime remains determined to pursue the holy grail of uranium enrichment. It is even prepared to take extreme measures to silence domestic opposition, while at the same time placing loyal supporters of the regime under intense pressure to ensure the country's nuclear programme is not unduly affected by the UN sanctions.
In this respect, the deal agreed this week between Teheran and the United Nations-sponsored International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the Vienna-based organisation responsible for monitoring Iran's "peaceful" nuclear programme, should be taken with a pinch of salt.
The official line from Teheran is that it is now prepared to readmit teams of UN nuclear experts to its top secret nuclear facilities and help clear up a number of issues relating to the development programme. This includes determining what small traces of weapons-grade uranium were doing at a facility that the Iranians insist is part of their nuclear power programme, which does not require uranium to be enriched to such a high level. But many diplomats suspect this is just another Iranian ploy to string out the UN while pressing ahead with its nuclear ambitions.
Certainly there appears to have been no let-up in Iran's quest to acquire sophisticated uranium enrichment technology irrespective of the effects of sanctions. According to reports recently received by Western security sources, Iran has been concentrating its efforts on acquiring tens of thousands of highly specialised magnets that are an important component in the successful operation of the gas centrifuges that are used for uranium enrichment.
Until the imposition of the UN sanctions this year Teheran had been able to buy industrial magnets from European Union countries. Now they are having to buy them on the black market, and are making intensive efforts to acquire the equipment illegally from former Soviet republics and the Far East. It's all crucial if the Iranians want to enrich uranium to a level that can be used for nuclear warheads.
The Iranians' determination to get the magnets and other sophisticated industrial equipment has led Reza Tahmasebi, Iran's minister of industries and mines who was given responsibility for acquiring the magnets, to tender his resignation. When it comes to Iran's nuclear programme, Mr Ahmadinejad clearly wants results, not excuses.
Mr Tahmasebi is just one of several prominent officials who have found themselves out of a job because of their failure to help Mr Ahmadinejad escape the more punitive affects of the UN economic sanctions.
The governor of Iran's Central Bank, Ibrahim Shibani, is reported to have been relieved of his duties for failing to supervise adequately the return of Iranian overseas assets before they could be frozen, and dozens of other senior officials have lost their jobs as the regime seeks to tighten its grip over the entire apparatus of government.
None of which is good news for those who still cling to the notion that the international dispute over Iran's nuclear programme can still be resolved by peaceful means.
A Quiet Battle for Rights in
By Fotini Christia
August 26, 2007
TEHRAN -- It was during a recent visit to a middle-class beauty salon here, amid the women getting their upper lips threaded and their legs waxed, that I saw what the One Million Signature Campaign is up against. A female volunteer approached another customer and encouraged her to sign a petition, which organizers hope to submit to Iran's parliament along with a request for legal reforms on gender equality. The woman said she supported the demands for equality but shied away from what she considered overt political activity against the regime.
The campaign against gender discrimination is encountering resistance on multiple fronts.
Activists gave themselves two years to collect a million signatures, but tomorrow, the campaign's one-year anniversary, they will not have more than 100,000 to report. But unlike other human rights movements battling repressive regimes, which have traditionally looked to the West for a lifeline, Iran's activists are adamant that for all the gratitude they may feel for their Western supporters, they would prefer that we keep our distance. Their efforts offer a fascinating window on how one aspect of the Iranian democracy movement is struggling to survive in a period of growing government repression and paranoia.
The campaign for the million signatures was born after the arrest of 70 women who staged a demonstration against gender discrimination last year in Tehran's Haft-e-Tir Square. Nine of those women were convicted on charges of "endangering national security" and face lengthy prison sentences, beatings with whips and, in some cases, both. (They are free pending appeal.) The crackdown prompted Iranian women's rights activists to embark on a new strategy based on quiet campaigning, face-to-face organizing -- and disavowing any Western help.
With extraordinary tenacity, the activists seek out all possible venues in which to gather support without incurring the wrath of the Ahmadinejad regime. They collect signatures not just in beauty salons but in living rooms and parks, on street corners and at bus stops. In Tehran, they have assembled and trained at least 400 volunteers through private parties at organizers' homes, over popcorn and watermelon.
Yet for all the campaign's efforts to elude government attention -- and to disown any connection with the West -- the regime has been aware of and has reacted to the activists. In March, 34 members were arrested in front of Tehran's Revolutionary Court, where they had gathered in solidarity for their nine convicted colleagues. Over the past year, 13 others involved in the campaign have been arrested. The campaign's Web site-- a key tool in a country that lacks an independent media -- has routinely been blocked. Members repeatedly have been denied permission to assemble in public places.
The regime aims to paralyze the movement by instilling fear. Even so, many women are undeterred.
"The regime wants to scare us. But we won't let them win. When they push, we resist," Parvin Ardalan, a journalist who was one of the nine convicted in March, told me this month. She is appealing her three-year sentence.
Despite all the institutional repression, perhaps the trickiest issue for organizers is their relationship with the West. In recent months, a number of prominent Iranian Americans with Western passports -- such as Haleh Esfandiari and Kian Tajbakhsh -- have been charged with conspiring against the Iranian government. Political leaders increasingly voiced charges of a "velvet revolution conspiracy," allegedly aimed at toppling the government and backed by "lackeys of the West."
The omens aren't good. Already, the country's intelligence minister has described the movement as comprised of "elements of soft subversion" -- an unsubtle attempt to link them to foreigners. In public statements and in conversations with prospective signers, campaign activists emphasize their Iranian roots and their respect for Islam -- if only to avoid giving the regime an excuse to discredit them. "What hurts the most is hearing people who claim to be for democracy and reform accuse us of being tools of the West," said Parastoo Alahyaari, a computer engineer and campaign member. "We want to prove that we can do this on our own."
Financial independence is also important. The movement raises funds through documented membership dues and donations and explicitly states on its Web site that it does not accept financial or other support from organizations or governments. Volunteers are asked to strictly adhere to this rule.
"Our regime has phobia," Nobel Peace Prize winner and campaign advocate Shirin Ebadi told me at her Tehran office. "When people talk about human rights they get immediately accused of being with America. But we are Iranian and want to work for our rights . . . And we know we are doing something right because we are being persecuted." About aid from the West, Ebadi was just as firm. "No money. Never."
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Volume 40, September 15, 2007
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