Iran: Student Activists Detained On Anniversary Of Unrest
By Golnaz Esfandiari
Critics accuse officials of retaliating against those who protested against President Ahmadinejad at Tehran's Amir Kabir university in December
July 9, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- A number of students from Iran's main reformist student group have been detained in Iran, including six young Iranians from the Office to Foster Unity (Daftare Tahkim Vahdat) who were staging a picket today to protest the imprisonment of fellow students.
The arrests come on the eighth anniversary of an attack by police forces and vigilantes on a university dormitory in Tehran that is regarded by some government critics as a symbol of continuing political repression.
It is unclear where the student detainees were taken after being picked up by authorities this morning. The six members of the pro-reform student groups had staged their protest for about one hour when police forces and plainclothes agents reportedly detained them and took them to an unknown location.
The student group's website, advarNews.com, has identified them as a woman and five men: Bahareh Hedayat, Mohammad Hashemi, Ali Nekunesbati, Mehdi Arabshahi, Hanif Yazdani, and Ali Vafaghi.
Student leader and Abdollah Momeni told Radio Farda earlier today that their families have sought in vain to learn where the detainees are being held.
"There is no news about the location where the members of the central council of the Office to Foster Unity are being detained. Their families and also individuals who are due to represent them are following the issue -- they've gone to the prosecutor's office, but so far there has been no news about their situation or where they're being held."
Shortly after Momeni spoke to RFE/RL, he and a number of other students were also detained following a raid on the student group's office.
The cause of the arrests is unclear, and authorities have so far avoided commenting on today's events.
The six members of the reformist student group's central council had vowed ahead of their arrests to protest the continued imprisonment of eight fellow students.
They had pledged to mark the anniversary of the day eight years ago when plainclothes vigilantes violently attacked a dormitory in Tehran. That attack led to a week of civil unrest and massive arrests that marked an iconic confrontation between government-backed forces and students in Iran's postrevolutionary history.
Students have tried to mark the date each year with protests, but they have met with official curbs.
This year's anniversary comes amid heightened pressure on student activists and universities as part of what is being described by some as a "cultural revolution" by President Mahmud Ahmadinejad's government.
Nekunesbati, one of the student activists who was detained today, told Radio Farda on July 7 that arrests and the summoning to court of students represent an attempt by authorities to prevent commemoration of the student unrest, known as or "18 Tir."
"This is a message to students to refrain from having any protest action on the anniversary of 18 Tir," Nekunesbati said. "The wave of violence against students that we are witnessing in recent days shows that [authorities] want to prevent any ceremony from taking place on that day. Of course, we should not ignore the fact that [authorities] are facing many problems and because of that they have put all their critics under pressure."
Jailed, Not Forgotten
Nekunesbati also expressed concern about the fate of eight students from the Polytechnic University (Amir Kabir) who have been in jail -- and incommunicado -- for around two months.
They include students who had organized an anti-Ahmadinejad protest when he visited their elite university in December. Reports at the time said students held pictures of the Iranian president upside-down, burned several of them, and implied he was a dictator and a fascist.
Some protesters chanted that "students will die, but they will not accept humiliation," and called for "death to the dictator."
Ahmadinejad cited the incident as evidence that Iranians are allowed to protest with total freedom.
But some students suggest the arrests of the polytechnic university students -- including three editors of student publications -- came in retaliation for that protest.
Today's arrests come with at least one of the students who was arrested in Tehran eight years ago still in jail. Several human rights groups have called for the release of Ahmad Batebi, who reportedly suffers from health problems as the result of ill treatment in prison. But authorities have ignored such calls.
(Radio Farda correspondents Farin Assemi and Hamid Fatemi contributed to this report.)
Moderating Discourse In Tehran Complements Nuclear Talks
By Vahid Sepehri
Larijani (left) and Solana met in Portugal on June 23
July 4, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Iranian officials maintain that Iran has a right pursuant to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) to enrich uranium and make nuclear fuel for what it describes as a wholly peaceful energy program. Iran's response to international fears about potential military applications -- and the ensuing UN sanctions to discourage enrichment -- has been to tout enrichment work as its right and a "red line."
Iran's officials mitigate their red-line position with offers to keep talking and to clarify certain questions the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has over its nuclear program.
Some officials have been highlighting the benefits of continued talks since Iran's top negotiator, Ali Larijani, met twice in Europe with IAEA head Muhammad el-Baradei and with EU High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana in late June.
The rapporteur of the Iranian parliament's National Security and Foreign Policy Committee, Kazem Jalali, set out a seemingly moderate position in a piece for the daily "Etemad-i Melli" on June 25. Jalali said Iran has a right to produce fuel and will not tolerate a halt to its program. But he added that Tehran is -- "as Ali Larijani...has declared" -- prepared to undertake "any cooperation with the [IAEA] to resolve remaining issues."
"Tehran does not intend to be furtive" in its nuclear efforts," Jalali said, and will provide the "requisite answers" to "questions that have arisen."
Jalali alluded to "realities" about Iran's technical progress that Iranian officials say have been accepted by el-Baradei. He claimed the West knows it has a choice between a "transparent nuclear Iran" and a secretive one.
Jalali added that a "continuation of talks would be very useful in removing questions and all European parties today welcome talks with Iran." He said Iran's parliament has passed a bill to restrict cooperation with the IAEA, but that the move was a response to the case's referral to the UN Security Council. Jalali's suggestion appeared to be that Iran has shown flexibility if -- as Iran has urged repeatedly -- the case is returned to the IAEA and its more "technical" approach.
IAEA Inspections To Continue
Cooperation with the IAEA was also stressed by Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Mehdi Mostafavi. Mostafavi said on June 26 that "there are no problems" with ongoing IAEA inspections and said that Larijani had assured el-Baradei that Iran is ready for "more cooperation" with the UN nuclear watchdog.
Mostafavi said inspectors due to arrive in Iran are "mainly at the specialist and technical level." An IAEA team has been invited to discuss how Iran and the IAEA might clarify questions over Iran's program that are cited as possible signs of Iranian military-related activities. Mostafavi stressed that Iran rejects the enrichment-suspension demand, but would engage in confidence building. "We are ready for negotiations," he added.
Like other officials, Mostafavi said the Security Council is not -- in Iran's opinion -- the place to resolve the nuclear impasse.
But conservative politician Hamid Reza Taraqqi deplored reported moves to push ahead with discussions of more UN sanctions against Iran, even as talks between Larijani and Solana continue.
Taraqqi said this was a means of pressuring Iran and extracting concessions. Taraqqi said Iran is not afraid of threatened sanctions that would likely have no effect, and said enrichment suspension is effectively "off the agenda."
Academic Piruz Mojtahedzadeh said the nuclear dossier requires time and talks to be resolved. He said the chief achievement of talks between Larijani and Western officials has been the continuation of talks themselves.
Larijani (left) met with el-Baradei in Vienna on June 22 (official photo)
Mojtahedzadeh suggested that el-Baradei's comments on the need to recognize the reality of Iran's nuclear advances was made with the implicit approval of some Western countries -- suggesting a new Western position. He claimed that "everyone has reached the conclusion" that talks are the only way toward a resolution, adding that "talk of confrontation from America...is really for publicity."
Mojtahedzadeh heads the Urosevic research body in London and is a university lecturer in Tehran who usually spells out Iranian "national-interest" positions. He expressed skepticism toward some Iranian politicians' claims of a new division among Western powers known as the 5+1 (the five permanent members of the Security Council plus Germany) turning into the "3+3" -- with Great Britain, France, and the United States favoring tougher measures against Iran, while China, Russia, and Germany favor dialogue.
Time is arguably more valuable to Iran than to the West. Iran wants time to move as its nuclear case remains -- at worst, as viewed from Tehran -- the focus of ongoing deliberations. Its immediate aim would be to block any progress toward another set of UN sanctions.
In that scenario, officials and politicians might have reason to welcome the renewal of talks with the EU, as well as el-Baradei's continuing involvement in the case -- and his seemingly accommodating pronouncements.
Iran might congratulate itself for its ability to maintain some form of intermittent dialogue for so many years -- years in which it has continued to develop an ostensibly peaceful but contested nuclear program.
Tehran's other diplomatic achievement has arguably been its ability to leave the diplomatic onus on Washington -- which is often obliged to react and express skepticism about the usefulness of talks. As a result, Tehran often appears willing to resolve problems and the United States often seems intransigent in its demands.
Indeed, that was the impression one might have had of remarks on June 25 by U.S. State Department spokesman Tom Casey, who expressed skepticism of Iran's record of cooperation and clarification. The same might be argued of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's dismissal of any talk of a new, more lenient approach among Western allies to Iran as simply "chatter."
Tehran seems pleased that it has won itself a little more time without the imposition of a new set of sanctions.
Iran: Reports Of Death Sentence Spark Concern Over Ayatollah's Fate
By Golnaz Esfandiari
Ayatollah Borujerdi as he appears in an undated publicity flyer
July 3, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Iranian and international rights groups have expressed concern over reports suggesting that a possible death sentence was handed down against a controversial Iranian cleric and some of his followers despite subsequent denials among semiofficial media.
Ayatollah Seyyed Hossein Kazemeyni Borujerdi has been a vocal advocate of the separation of religion from politics. However, he's known only to a limited number of followers and people who follow developments in Iran and is not considered to be an influential ayatollah.
Unconfirmed reports on Iranian websites suggested that Iran's Special Court for the Clergy (SCC) in mid-June ordered the executions.
Borujerdi has been in jail for the past nine months, but his strident argument to secularize political leadership in Iran has long upset the country's ruling clerics.
Iranian and international concerns grew after the reports hinted that Borujerdi and sympathizers had been found guilty of serious charges -- including "waging war against God" -- and sentenced to die.
Semiofficial news agencies soon ran stories quoting at least one unnamed official from the special clerics' court rejecting the reports, saying no sentence has been issued and officials are still reviewing the case.
Borujerdi was arrested at his Tehran home on October 8 along with more than 100 of his sympathizers after violent clashes with police forces. Most of his followers were later released, many on bail.
But Borujerdi remains in jail, with little information available about his condition.
Borujerdi, like many other political and prisoners of conscience detained at Tehran's Evin prison, has reportedly been denied contact with his family and prevented access to legal counsel. Reports say the ayatollah was not allowed to see his mother, who fell ill and died during his detention.
Abdolkarim Lahidji is vice president of the Paris-based International Federation of Human Rights, which allies more than 100 groups in scores of countries. He says he heard reports that Borujerdi -- who appeared before the clerical court in June -- appeared frail, and could neither speak clearly nor stand upright.
"We have been informed by his family that the health condition of Kazemeyni Borujerdi is very worrying," Lahidji says. "He suffers from Parkinson's disease, what has added to his family's concerns that he's been denied treatment -- meaning that they take him to court in this situation, they treat him badly, they take him to court with handcuffs and shackles."
Amnesty International said on June 15 that there are increasing concerns that Borujerdi's treatment in custody is endangering his life. The group added that there are allegations that the ayatollah -- who is also said to suffer from diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart problems -- was tortured during interrogations.
Thorn In Officials' Sides
Several days before his arrest, Borujerdi told RFE/RL that he had been under increased government pressure. He also said that authorities had threatened him with execution.
In October, Borujerdi said that authorities had targeted him for what he regards as his traditional interpretation of Islam.
"I demonstrate that real Islam is free of political ornaments," Borujerdi said. "It is included in verses whose interpretation is different from that provided by [the authorities]. Its interpretation is from 1,428 years ago. It is about the rule of the Prophet (Muhammad) and how he lived; he was against repression and opposed discrimination. Our divine leaders took food from their mouths and the mouths of their children to give it to the poor. Today, unfortunately, despite the immense wealth of this country, people live in poverty."
Borujerdi's view on the secularization -- transferring power from clerical to civil control -- could be interpreted as challenging the foundations of the Islamic republic established after Iran's 1979 revolution.
Iranian authorities have accused Borujerdi of misinterpreting Islam. Some have also accused him of claiming to be a representative of the Twelfth Imam -- know as "the Hidden Imam" -- who Shi'a believe disappeared in the 10th century. Borujerdi has rejected such accusations and claimed he follows "the true Islam."
Difficult To Know
Some reports by Iranian news sources suggest the ayatollah and some 20 of his followers were charged with "acting against national security," "waging war against God," and publicly calling Iran's form of "absolute rule of supreme jurisprudence" ("velayate vagih") unlawful.
The International Federation of Human Rights' Lahidji says a lack of transparency by Iran's judiciary and the clerics' court makes it impossible to confirm reports of the charges or possible sentencing.
He thinks Borujerdi and his followers are being tried and persecuted for their convictions.
"Kazemeyni Borujerdi is in favor of non-political Islam, and he's been in prison for more than nine months," Lahidji says. "He and his followers were arrested only because of their ideas -- they're in prison under very difficult conditions, [and] their families are worried and say they have been mistreated to force them to make televised confessions."
Lahidji urged authorities immediately to reverse any sentences against Borujerdi or his followers, whom he describes as "prisoners of conscience."