December 15, 2008 VOLUME 55


To our readers,

In recent weeks, many have written to advise President-elect Obama on how to deal with the Iranian regime. The proponents of the Iranian regime are hard at work to ensure that talks with Tehran's misogynous leadership will gain traction once again. Others are cautioning him to hold off and let the fall of oil price, economic sanctions and isolation do its magic to change the behavior of the fundamentalist regime in Tehran. Thankfully, those who advocate the military option seem to be in such minority that their voices are hardly even noticed these days. Of all these policy options, the real danger lies in inaction by the Obama administration once they take office on January 20th. More importantly, there is another viable option at hand to deal with the Iranian regime and that is to reach out to the Iranian people and their home grown opposition that has led the recent student protests in major cities. This option goes above and beyond what has been presented so far.

Placing human rights and women's rights at the center of analysis for Iran policy will present such a viable option which is in line with Obama's promise of change. Iranian women certainly hope such change will come to their aid, not in terms of money or military, but in terms of recognition and respect. It is the inalienable right of the Iranian people to struggle for democracy and freedom. United States must step a side and recognize this right by removing all political obstacles, including the delisting of Iran's main opposition group, the PMOI.

E-Zan Featured Headlines

Agence France Presse - November 17, 2008

Iran has blocked access to more than five million Internet sites, whose content is mostly perceived as immoral and anti-social, a judiciary official was quoted as saying on Wednesday. "The enemies seek to assault our religious identity by exploiting the Internet," Abdolsamad Khoram Abadi, an advisor to Iran's prosecutor general, was quoted by Kargozaran newspaper as saying. The Internet "inflicts social, political, economic and moral damage, which is worrying," he said, adding that "social vice caused by the Internet is more than that by the satellite network," Mehr news agency reported. With about 21 million users, the Internet is widely popular in Iran, which information ministry officials say ranks among the top 20 user countries. In recent years, Internet service providers have been told to block access to political, human rights and women's sites and weblogs expressing dissent or deemed to be pornographic and anti-Islamic.

Reuters News Agency - November 27, 2008

U.N. human rights investigators called on Iran Thursday to end what they called a "crackdown" on women's rights activists who have been harassed and detained for seeking equal status in the Islamic Republic. Women and men involved in a grassroots movement to collect 1 million signatures to demand full equality between women and men in Iran have been "particularly targeted," they said. "Over the past two years, women's rights defenders have faced an increasingly difficult situation and harassment in the course of their non-violent activities," the two independent experts said in a statement. Some have been prevented from traveling in the ongoing "serious repression," according to Margaret Sekaggya, U.N. special rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, and Yakin Erturk, special rapporteur on violence against women.
"Peaceful demonstrators have been arrested, detained and persecuted with prison sentences having been imposed on many of them," they said.


Agence France Presse - November 29, 2008

Iran's supreme court has confirmed a sentence of death by stoning against a woman convicted of adultery in the southern city of Shiraz, a newspaper reported on Saturday. The woman identified as Afsaneh R., was also given a second death sentence for murdering her husband with the help of a man identified only as Reza, who had an affair with her, Etemad Melli newspaper reported. The report said the supreme court had in August confirmed verdicts first issued in April, but gave no reason for the delay in making the decision public. It said Reza had also been sentenced to 100 lashes for having an illegitimate relationship and 15 years in jail for collaborating in murder. Under Iran's Islamic law, adultery is still theoretically punishable by stoning, which involves the public hurling stones at the convict buried up to his waist. A woman is buried up to her shoulders. An Iranian rights group said in July that eight women and one man had been sentenced to death by stoning for adultery over the past few years and urged the Islamic republic to halt their executions.

BBC News - December 1, 2008

The Iranian government is to set up a network of marriage bureaux to help young Iranians find a husband or wife.  The centres aim to advise people on the traditional way of finding a spouse.There are even reported to be private matchmaking organisations, effectively dating agencies, some of them run by clerics. Centres will be established to give advice to young people on how to find a spouse. And banks will issue more loans to pay for weddings.  Sermons in a number of Friday prayers across Iran marked the anniversary by echoing the message of the government and calling for marriage to be made easier. It seems the government is worried that some young Iranians might be getting into unsuitable relationships, our correspondent says. And, now that more than 60% percent of university students are female, many Iranian women are complaining they can't find a husband to match their level of education.

Feminist Daily Newswire - December 4, 2008

Two Iranian women have been sentenced to death in the past week, one by stoning. According to a Women's Forum Against Fundamentalism in Iran (WFAFI) press release in Iran 14 women currently face execution by stoning in Iran, a punishment faced only by those accused of adultery. According to Agence France Presse, Afsaneh R. and a man called Reza have been charged with adultery and with murder in the death of Afsaneh's husband. Afsaneh was sentenced to death under Iranian law, but since Reza is married, he was pardoned from execution and instead received 15 years in prison for murder and 100 lashes for adultery, according to the Associated Press. The second death sentence involves a pregnant woman and her husband who have both been sentenced to execution under charges of drug trafficking. According to WFAFI, the couple has no criminal record, come from underprivileged backgrounds and do not have legal counsel. Though a judge claims that the couple has confessed to drug trafficking, no evidence that supports the charges has been presented.

Telegraph UK - December 4, 2008

 Iranian police have arrested 49 people during a crackdown on what the Islamic republic deems "satanic" clothes.Mahmoud Rahmani, head of police in the northern city of Qaemshahr, where the arrests took place, denounced Iranians who wore western-style clothes and haircuts. "Police confronted rascals and thugs who appeared in public wearing satanic fashions and unsuitable clothing," he said. He added that five local barber shops were closed and twenty more warned for "promoting western hairstyles". These are believed to include spiky haircuts. Periodic crackdowns on western styles have been a feature of Iran since the Islamic revolution brought the ayatollahs to power in 1979. Western businessmen used to regularly face having their ties clipped by zealous revolutionary guards as neckties were viewed as decadent. But while crackdowns normally last only a few months, the current one has been going on for well over a year. Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has in the past suggested Iran's enemies may try to stage a "soft" or "velvet" revolution by infiltrating corrupt culture or ideas. Visitors to Iran are often surprised by the number of young women in the capital city Tehran who wear figure-hugging trousers and make-up, often pushing back their headscarves to expose their faces. But such deportment is carried out by only a minority and is frowned on by government officials. "Some individuals, not knowing what culture they are imitating, put on clothing that was designed by the enemies of this country," Mr Rahmani said. "The enemies of this country are trying to divert our youth and breed them the way they want and deprive them of a healthy life."

RFE/RL - December 07, 2008

Every year, Iran's Islamic regime devotes an entire week to the glorification of the Basij Resistance Force. This year, Basij Week ended on November 27 with extensive media coverage and a raft of activities, including a high-profile review march by 15,000 Basij members in Tehran.In terms of maintaining law and order, Basij members act as "morality police" in towns and cities by enforcing the wearing of the hijab; arresting women for violating the dress code; prohibiting male-female fraternization; monitoring citizens' activities; confiscating satellite dishes and "obscene" material; intelligence gathering; and even harassing government critics and intellectuals. Basij volunteers also act as bailiffs for local courts.


Agence France Presse - December 10, 2008

Iran on Wednesday prevented a prominent woman human rights lawyer from leaving the country to receive an award in Rome, the activist told AFP. "After getting a departure stamp in my passport at the airport, I was paged and two men from the government approached me and confiscated my passport," Nasrin Sotoudeh said by telephone. However she said that her husband and her children had been able to leave Tehran and would be receiving the award from Italian group Human Rights International on her behalf. Sotoudeh described the seizure of her passport as "illegal," saying she had not been informed by any court that she was banned from travelling abroad. "The fact that she could not leave Tehran is a proof of the importance of her activities," Human Rights International president Adolf Pfitscher was quoted as saying by Italian news agency ANSA.

NCRI Website - December 10, 2008

In the latest move by the Iranian regime to impose more restrictions on women, Brig. Gen. Akbar Hedayati, chief of the State Security Forces --mullahs' suppressive police-- in Qazvin, some 165 kilometer northwest of Tehran, announced the start of gender segregated buses."We were testing the new measure [bus segregation] since the beginning of October. The results were satisfactory and now the buses are working under new plan," Hedayati told the state-run news agency ISNA on Tuesday. The plan was first tested in April and May by the SSF. But it was postponed until now, SSF chief in Qazvin said.Passenger buses running between Tehran and Qazvin are fully segregated and every possible effort is made to ensure the families' safety and security, Hedayati added

The Guardian - December 11, 2008

A popular Iranian internet dating website that claimed to be helping people find a spouse and start families has been banned for "promoting prostitution", on the advice of leading Islamic clerics. Hamsarchat.com, which boasts of having chalked up more than 1.6m page visits, was also fined and ordered to pay back money collected from clients, after a judge consulted senior ayatollahs - known as "sources of emulation" - following a complaint from Tehran's public prosecutor. It has been marketing itself as "Iran's most complete spouse-finding website" and had promised to link members with "the closest person or persons to your standards" in return for a 25,000 rial (£1.66) fee. Potential clients were required to complete a questionnaire which asked their religion, age, height, weight and occupation. It also asked how strongly they felt about a partner's hijab and invited them to state their attitude towards religion, offering "free of religion" as a possible option. Another question asked if the applicant's goal was permanent marriage, Islamic temporary marriage or "unknown". Hamsarchat - translated as spouse chat - stressed that its aim was to promote marriage rather than mere "friend-finding". But Raja News, a fundamentalist website close to the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, said the ban had been issued because of the online posting of clients' pictures and email addresses.


E-Zan Featured Reports

Iran vice-president under fire over Koran "dance"

By Edmund Blair

November 16, 2008

Reuters News Agency
An aide to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has come under fire for attending a ceremony that involved actions deemed insulting to the Koran, a row that has given fuel to the Iranian president's opponents before next year's election.
Ahmadinejad is expected to run for re-election in June. But criticism over his economic management is mounting and he faces a more hostile parliament, which sacked his interior minister this month over a fake university degree.
In comments published on Sunday, opponents targeted his vice-president, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaie, who is in charge of a culture and tourism body, for hosting a ceremony where women in traditional dress carried in the Koran, Islam's holy book, to music. Media described the ceremony as a "dance."
"Violation of the sanctity (of the Koran) in the presence of your Excellency's deputy and under his management ... causes deep regret for every Muslim," the head of the Islamic Coalition Front, Mohammad-Nabbi Habibi, said in a letter to the president.
The Front is a conservative party that previously backed the president but, along with some others in the broad conservative camp, has become increasingly critical of his policies.
Mashaie is not new to controversy. He created a storm earlier this year by saying Iran was friendly even to the people of Israel, Iran's sworn foe. Ahmadinejad had said those comments by his vice-president were misrepresented.
The "dance" row offers the president's critics ammunition, one political analysts said. "It's like giving those unhappy with Ahmadinejad another piece in this jigsaw puzzle (to piece together against him)," he said, asking not to be named.
The analyst said it would particularly play into the hands of pro-reform politicians, some of whom are trying to convince reformist former President Mohammad Khatami to run in June.
Clerics, including several ayatollahs, which is a top Shi'ite religious rank, have also assailed Ahmadinejad's vice- president. One described the ceremony as a "shameful" act.
Ahmadinejad, the first non-cleric to be president for about a quarter of a century, has had prickly relations with clerics before. Early in his presidency he had to reverse a decision to allow women into football stadiums after clerical criticism.
A group of clerics who are lawmakers in parliament called in a statement for the president "to deal legally with those behind this action" involving the Koran, ISNA news agency said.
Other lawmakers have said Mashaie should be sacked. Even a party close to Ahmadinejad has voiced concern.
Ahmadinejad is facing heavy criticism for economic policies. He came to power in 2005 vowing to spread Iran's oil wealth but critics say lavish spending has fuelled inflation and squandered oil earnings that should have been saved. [Watch the Video]

November 17, 2008
By Steven Edwards
Canwest News Service
UNITED NATIONS - Leading human rights advocates in Canada warn of a "disaster in the making" for thousands of Iranian dissidents interned in Iraq's Camp Ashraf north of Baghdad.
They and Canadian-Iranians with family in the group are at the centre of calls for United Nations action to prevent the dissidents' expulsion to Iran, where a 1988 fatwa for their execution remains in place.
A new UN report highlights Iraq wants "in the near future" to replace the U.S. military as protectors of the 3,500 members and family of Ashraf's Peoples Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI), which is the main Iranian opposition group in exile.
But concern is high that religion-based ties between Iraq and Iran mean the changing of the guard could lead Baghdad to hand over Ashraf's residents to the Islamic republic, which brands them dangerous terrorists.
"I'm worried about my brother and sister. They're there and they're all that I have left," Toronto resident Maliheh Salehyar, who immigrated to Canada in 1999, said in halting English. "The ayatollahs killed my other brother, they killed my other sister."
Salehyar clutched a red leather-bound book bearing the pictures of 20,000 PMOI members among many more the group accuses the Islamic regime in Tehran of having killed. Among them is a picture of her sister, Sayedeh Salehyar, 47 at her death in 1989.
"I heard she was arrested, tortured and killed," the 53-year-old mother of three said, "but we don't know where her body is."
The group emerged in 1965 with a leftist-Islamic ideology, but fell foul of the mullahs following a power struggle despite taking part in the 1979 overthrow of the Shah.
Saddam Hussein allowed many who fled to set up shop in Iraq, but while the group now says it seeks a democratic secular Iran, its ties with Iraq's Sunni dictator are among ghosts that have returned to haunt it.
In 1991, PMOI's military wing is alleged to have helped Saddam put down Kurd and Shia uprisings after he helped arm its fighters during the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq War for cross border operations deep inside Iran.
Today Iraq's Shia majority holds sway in the country's elected government, and some see dealing with the Ashraf question as a way to improve relations with Iran's Shia theocracy.
"If the Iraqi forces expel this group, they would likely be murdered," say refugee lawyer David Matas and former MP David Kilgour in a letter to the UN's refugee agency.
"Camp Ashraf is a disaster in the making. We should not have to wait until disaster happens and then wonder what could have been done."
The pair says the Iraqi government's September 1 pledge not to expel the Ashraf residents is contradicted by numerous high-level calls to empty the camp.
"Even if the intention not to expel remains, the ability of Iraqi forces to protect the camp from local militias sympathetic to Iran or from infiltrators of Iraqi forces is questionable," the letter says. "The Minister of Justice himself said that if it were not for the presence of U.S. forces, the 'people of Iraq' would attack and destroy the camp."
Besides the fatwa, Iranian law from 1997 says PMOI activists are "guilty of waging war on God" and face punishment including internal banishment, amputation of the right hand and left leg, or death.
Carved out of the desert by the dissidents, Ashraf has long since evolved into a small town complete with amenities like a shopping centre.
In 2004, Washington granted the residents "protected status" under Geneva Conventions after determining they had not been belligerents during the U.S.-led invasion.
The group had earlier renounced military activity, and surrendered its arms to U.S. forces following Saddam's overthrow. The U.S. also says it has screened Ashraf residents in a bid to ensure the camp is free of terror suspects.
But the camp is not mentioned in the Iraq-U.S. security agreement approved Sunday by the Iraqi cabinet that dictates terms of the U.S. military presence beyond an expiring UN mandate.
"The assumption of both parties is that control...would shift from the U.S. to Iraqi forces by year's end," the Matas/Kilgour letter says.
The pair wants the UN to grant the Ashraf residents "group recognition" as refugees - a status that would prohibit their repatriation and grant them resettlement rights.
Their campaign is in tandem with similar calls by other groups, among them Washington-based Iranian exiles of the National Coalition of pro-Democracy Advocates.
But complicating the efforts is that some countries, including the United States and Canada, list PMOI as a terrorist organization.
"Yes, the PMOI has a past history of violence but never against the West, and only in defence of life and liberty in Iran," Kilgour said in an interview.
Matas argues the terrorism designation is irrelevant when considering whether repatriation should be prevented.
"I don't take a position about whether they were terrorists," he said. "My view is that no one should be killed arbitrarily."
Still, the group has challenged the terrorism label in European courts with some success.
U.S. military and intelligence officials, meanwhile, have praised the group for help that included providing evidence of Tehran's secret nuclear program.
More than three million Iraqi Shiites also recently signed a petition declaring support for the PMOI and Ashraf.
But Tehran's influence in Baghdad remains strong, Kilgour and other supporters of the Ashraf cause say.
Salehyar was one of a number of Canadians joining a rotating sit-in now entering its third month in front of UN headquarters in New York in a bid to highlight the Ashraf cause.
"Because they've given up their weapons they are not able to protect themselves without international help," said Sahand Khoshbaten, 22, a health policy student at Toronto's York University, who was a baby when his parents fled Iran.
Ryerson engineering student Ali Ziaei, 19, said he felt a "responsibility to speak out before it's too late."
The Canadian mission to the UN says Canadian ambassador John McNee "and the rest of the mission are all aware of the problems," according to a note Khoshbaten received after he called on the delegation to help.
Each year since the 2003 murder in a Tehran jail of a Canadian-Iranian photojournalist, Canada has pushed through at the UN a resolution highlighting Iran's poor human rights record. While this year's draft makes no mention of PMOI's predicament, it expresses "deep concern" over Iran's "persecution of political opponents."

President-elect Obama Should Engage Iranian Women Calling for Change

By Soona Samsami

December 9, 2008

Huffington Post

By all accounts, women played a pivotal role in the rise to prominence and election of Barack Obama. It is, therefore, fitting that women play a key role in helping him address one of his greatest foreign policy challenges - the growing threat from Islamic extremists, particularly the ayatollahs in Iran.
Muslims and non-Muslims alike are eager to see Mr. Obama chart a new course which contains the calamity commonly known as Islamic fundamentalism. Iran is unique as the first country where fundamentalists managed to attain power and institutionalize their medieval worldview. A monopolistic, suppressive, dogmatic, misogynous, and terrorist political regime strives to preserve and expand the velayat-e-faqih (absolute rule of the clergy). Gender distinction and discrimination against women is an essential social and legal element.
Iran's misogynist state imposes gender inequality with a series of laws that go so far as to legalize the rape and murder of women. There are widespread arrests, torture, flogging, and stoning of women. In his November 2008 report, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon expressed concern about "cases of stoning and public execution."
The ruling clerics' hatred of women is in part based on fear. Over 60% of Iran's 70 million population is under the age of thirty; nearly half are women. Additionally, in excess of 60% of university students are women. The paucity of professional and social opportunities and rampant discrimination fuel female dissent, creating a home-grown threat to the powers that be.
It should, of course, be emphasized that the Tehran regime's sadistic hostility to women, as well as the velayat-e faqih system itself, are diametrically opposed to Islam. The principle of equality; regardless of gender, race, or ethnicity, is among the pillars of Islamic belief. According to the genuine message of Islam, women must have equal participation in political leadership.
Tehran's regional influence has certainly been fueled by its unique ideological regimen, and the hesitant Western reaction to it. To advance it regional hegemony, the regime is hurtling full speed ahead to develop nuclear weapons. Its survival depends on continued perpetuation of domestic repression - particularly against women, and export of fundamentalism and terrorism.
Ignoring these fundamental features of Iran's theocracy, successive U.S. administrations sought to engage Iran with the hope of altering the regime's behavior. None, however, has truly engaged the Iranian people, or more specifically Iran's women and their undeniable movement for change.
Currently 3,500 members of the main Iranian opposition reside in Camp Ashraf in Iraq, where they have been recognized as "protected persons" under the Fourth Geneva Convention. Nearly 1,000 are women; many of them spent years in Iranian prisons and subjected to torture, others escaped the country after Tehran sought leaders of anti-government student demonstrations. Ashraf residents have been under the protection of the United States military since 2003. As Tehran ramps up pressure to extradite or disperse its primary opponents from Iraq, and in light of the approval of the SOFA agreement, the U.S. must continue its protection of Iranian dissidents to avoid a major humanitarian tragedy.
The least costly and most effective way to bring about change in Iran is to rely on the strength of the Iranian people, its women, and its organized resistance for democratic change.
In charting a new course, Mr. Obama's administration, U.S. interests, and indeed the cause of democracy in Iran will be well served if the lessons of history are heeded. As World War II loomed, Winston Churchill cautioned against appeasement of Hitler's regime. But many, including British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, advocated engagement with Germany. Ultimately the agreement Britain signed with Hitler allowed his expansionist machine vital time to prepare, before he launched his aggression in Europe.
As the world community increasingly realizes that Iran's rulers are illegitimate, it must also recognize the legitimacy of the democratic alternative. Coupled with increased international diplomacy, President-elect Obama should look to Iranian women and their organized democratic opposition as a partner in seeking the establishment of democracy in Iran and stability in the region.

Shocking crimes in mullahs' medieval prison of Kahrizak unveiled

 December 14, 2008

NCRI Website - Public Statement
18 women died in inhuman conditions in the prison
10 other inmates died under torture

Eighteen women died of inhuman conditions in Kahrizak medieval prison, southern suburbs of Tehran.  The 18 inmates were locked in a metal mobile container during the scorching summer heat in August since there was no women ward in Kahrizak prison.
They died of dehydration and respiration problems and prison authorities paid no attention to their problems. Other prisoners found out about the tragedy by the odor of decomposing corpses spread in the prison complex. The regime made no attempt to transfer the corpses and left them in the metal cells to create more fear among other prisoners. The prison authorities tried to cover up their crime by claiming that the prisoners died of heart failure or committed suicide.
According to eye witnesses, in October 2007, ten other prisoners died under torture in this prison. During that period 80 children who were staying with their mothers in the same prison were kept in inhumane conditions in a warehouse.
These crimes are committed under the supervision of Revolutionary Guard Mohammad Reza Radan, Commander of the State Security Forces. He regularly visits this prison and praises the henchmen for their suppressive crimes.
Kahrizak prisoners are mostly victims of raids in the streets or are picked up by the mullahs' police patrols. These arrests are not subject to any judicial process and none of the detainees are handed over to judicial authorities for investigations while they experience months of detention and torture. During their detention they have been denied of minimum due process of law.
The Iranian Resistance draws the attention of human rights organizations in particular the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to the tragic situation in Iran and calls for condemnation of these crimes. It also calls for referral of the regime’s human rights dossier to the UN Security Council for adoption of urgent and binding measures.

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Volume 55, December 15, 2008

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