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Heard This Week - 06/01/2006

Heard in Iran This Week
on Radio Farda

(Prague, Czech Republic -- June 1, 2006) Radio Farda's major stories this week included a special program on Azeri unrest in northern Iran, arrests of student protesters in Tehran, and a look at the rising prisoner population in Iran.

>> Following widespread protests by Iran's Azeri population in Tabriz, sparked by a cartoon in a state newspaper, Radio Farda held a special 25-minute roundtable discussion on May 28. The discussion, which involved Azeri activists in Iran and Germany, looked at the causes of the protest and the grievances of Iran's largest minority. Ali Hamed-Iman, a journalist in Tabriz and publisher of the "Azerbaijani Nationalist Website" said the cartoon was "a spark to...the Azeri nationalist movement," and that "Azeri people are suffering under the yoke of Persian chauvinist policies." Hamed-Iman was arrested and taken away the day after he spoke on Radio Farda.
Dr. Hassan Farhoudinia, professor of law at Tabriz University and member of the Eastern Azarbaijan & Ardebil Bar Association, said "Iranian Turkish speakers are despised; their language, their literature and their culture are insulted...and unfortunately this policy still continues...the cartoon gave certain people an voice their own civil protests...and of course the actions were initially peaceful...but unfortunately later became chaotic due to certain interventions."
Hassan Shari'atmadari, son of the late Azeri Grand Ayatollah, was the third expert on the panel. Shari'atmadari now lives in Hamburg, Germany and is head of the Republicans of Iran exile group. He said: "Iran's ruling establishment has not provided Azeris with equal opportunity for social progress, and... has not created enough jobs in the Azarbaijan province. This centralism and patrimonialism akin to tribalism leads the establishment to allocate and use material privileges for its own ethnic group. And Azarbaijan's people feel this discrimination."

>> With Iranian authorities rounding up participants in last week's student protests at two Tehran universities, Radio Farda has provided daily coverage of the story and updated reports every hour as merited. On May 30, a member of a reformist student association at Tehran's Amir Kabir University told Radio Farda about the arrest of a fellow student by security agents. On May 31, Ali Akbar Mousavi Khoeini, a former parliamentarian and member of a reformist student association, told Radio Farda by phone from Tehran that security forces had surrounded the association's building and sought to arrest Abdollah Momeni, one of its senior members. Khoeini was on the phone to Radio Farda from inside the building when he said security forces surrounded it. Thursdays and Fridays are the weekend in Iran, and sources told Radio Farda the situation is now quiet.

>> The head of Iran's Prisons Administration, Ali Akbar Yassaghi, said last week that in the 27 years since Iran's 1979 Islamic revolution, the country's population has doubled, but the number of prisoners has risen by a disproportionate ten times. Radio Farda spoke to Mohammad Reza Faqihi, lawyer and secretary of the Committee to Defend Prisoners' Rights in Iran. He told Radio Farda by phone from Tehran, in an interview aired May 27, that several factors have contributed to this trend. These include the considerable broadening of the legal definition of criminal acts, which has resulted in many people finding themselves in prison simply for failing to pay their debts. Faqihi said the majority of prisoners were convicted for drug-related crimes; the second largest group are debtors and swindlers.

For more on these and other stories about Iran, please visit: -- Radio Farda's Persian-language website -- "Focus on Farda" bi-weekly review -- "RFE/RL Iran Report" weekly analysis -- RFE/RL English-language coverage of Iran

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