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Iran Report: February 25, 2008


Iran: U.S. Says IAEA Report Bolsters Case For Fresh Sanctions

Iran's top nuclear negotiator, Said Jalili, told reporters in Tehran on February 22 that the IAEA report confirms Iran's peaceful nuclear intentions

The United States says a new report by the UN's nuclear watchdog strengthens the case for fresh sanctions against Iran.


In a report released on February 22 to its board member states, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said Tehran continued to enrich uranium in defiance of UN demands and was testing centrifuges to speed up the process.


"This report demonstrates that whatever the Iranians may be doing to try to clean up some elements of the past, it is inadequate -- given their current activities, given questions about their past activities and given what we all have to worry about, which is a future in which Iran could start to perfect the technologies that could lead to nuclear weapons," U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said. "This is good reason to move forward with the Security Council resolution."


Rice was speaking to reporters in Washington as the UN nuclear watchdog said it could offer no "credible assurances" that Iran was not building a bomb.


Evaded Proper Response


In its report, the IAEA did praise Iran for granting its inspectors access to sites previously off-limits.


But the nuclear watchdog said Tehran had evaded a proper response to claims it had made secret efforts to coordinate uranium processing, missile warhead design work, and high-explosives tests, a file known as "weaponization studies."


"The issue is still critical for us to be able to come to a determination as to the nature of Iran's nuclear program." -- IAEA chief Muhammad el-Baradei

"I should, however, add that in connection with the weaponization studies, we have not seen any indication that these studies were linked to nuclear material," IAEA Director-General Muhammad el-Baradei told reporters in Vienna. "So that gives us some satisfaction, but the issue is still critical for us to be able to come to a determination as to the nature of Iran's nuclear program."


In Tehran, Iran's top nuclear negotiator, Said Jalili, told reporters that further sanctions would be a "disgrace," arguing that the IAEA report proved that accusations that it wanted nuclear weapons were baseless.


"The [IAEA] in this report published today confirmed the truth about the comments of the Islamic Republic of Iran on its nuclear program," Jalili said. "I congratulate the Iranian nation for this success and victory, which was a result of their resistance on [the country's] nuclear rights."


Third Sanctions Resolution


Tehran refuses to stop enriching uranium, claiming its work is aimed purely at generating electricity.


On February 21, France and Britain formally submitted a third sanctions resolution against Iran to the UN Security Council, a draft of which was approved last month with support from the United States, Russia, China, and Germany.


Senior diplomats from the five permanent members of the Security Council and Germany are to meet in Washington on February 25 to mull their next step.




Vetting Exacts Heavy Toll On Iran's Reformist Candidates

By Hossein Aryan

Majlis seats have frequently proven difficult to fill

Nearly one in three aspiring candidates has been excluded from Iran's parliamentary elections next month, including current and former officials and a grandson of revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. Many of the thousands of disqualified candidates are known to support political reforms, echoing past elections in which authorities have silenced dissenting voices long before any voters are allowed to mark their ballots.


But the rules for vetting Iranian parliamentary candidates appear increasingly subject to political interpretation, prompting public accusations that the Guardians Council is abusing its oversight powers in order to meddle in the elections.


Through a tough, complex system of checks and balances, Iranian authorities exercise extensive control over those who want to run for parliament, or Majlis. Candidates with "unproven loyalty" to the Islamic republic are deemed unsuitable and disqualified.


Candidates initially register with the Interior Ministry and are subject to the elaborate vetting system of its election administrative board. The board vets candidates on the basis of reports from the Intelligence Ministry, the police, and the judiciary as well as investigations in the candidates' neighborhoods. Those considered suitable by the board are subsequently vetted by the Guardians Council.


Familiar Pattern


The latest disqualifications are not unprecedented. Ahead of the last Majlis elections, in 2004, the Guardians Council disqualified about one-third of the 8,000-plus prospective candidates, including incumbent legislators. Appeals eventually salvaged about 1,500 of the 3,500 disqualifications.


A similar proportion of the 7,200 registered candidates has been disqualified this time, with former vice presidents, ex-ministers, senior politicians, and current Majlis deputies and the grandson of the late Ayatollah Khomeini, the father of the 1979 Islamic Revolution, among them.


With weeks to go before the vote, the appeals procedure that ends on March 5 is likely to reinstate some candidates. But they will emerge chastened by the establishment, and with slightly more than a week to campaign ahead of the March 14 polling.


Ali Eshraqi, Khomeini's grandson and a political independent, says he won't appeal to the Guardians Council and regards its decision as "an insult to the Khomeini household."


Describing the disqualification of candidates by the Interior Ministry as "catastrophic," reformist former President Mohammad Khatami said that the trend of disqualification gained momentum in the Guardians Council, a 12-member body of clerics and jurists. Senior officials of the Islamic revolution should be concerned about the extensive disqualification of candidates, Khatami stressed.


The disqualifications have even led to criticism by members of the fundamentalist camp, the right-wing faction loyal to President Mahmud Ahmadinejad known as the "principlists."


In a letter to the Guardians Council, Ahmad Tavakkoli, himself an influential member of the faction and the head of the Majlis Research Center, said, "the narrow-mindedness of some executive officials has undermined some [candidates'] rights and brought them into disrepute." He added that as a result, "the people are going to give the [upcoming] elections a wide berth, which will be detrimental to our achievements in Iran and abroad."


The reformist "Etemad-i Melli" newspaper, citing Masud Soltanifar, a senior official of the pro-reform National Trust Party, recently reported that the Interior Ministry and the Guardians Council have disqualified 70 percent of that party's candidates. Questioning the vetting system, Soltanifar said that the "first condition for membership" in the party is "commitment to Islam" and velayat-i faqih (the rule of the supreme jurisprudence), Iran's theocratic system. "Therefore, it is surprising that some candidates who had been elected as legislators on several occasions were disqualified for not being committed to Islam," Soltanifar said.


Meanwhile, Mostafa Tajzadeh, a former deputy interior minister in the Khatami administration, suggested on the "Norouz" website that it might be better if the Guardians Council simply canceled the elections. Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, the secretary of the Guardians Council, "and his colleagues will discredit the country less if they forgo the forthcoming elections and -- like the Stalinist communist parties -- announce the names of 290 [Majlis deputies], or establish an advisory Majlis like the one in Saudi Arabia."


IRGC Speaks Out


At the same time that candidates have been vigorously weeded out, senior commanders of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) have been flexing their political muscle and openly attacking reformist rivals of the government.


Major General Hasan Firuzabadi, the chief of the armed forces General Staff who hails from the IRGC, recently vehemently criticized the reformists for seeking a rapprochement with the West and said that the "United States is counting on them." He also said that the people should not vote for those "who are moving toward the West...and, God forbid, those who are the hope of the United States should sit in the Majlis."


On February 8, Major General Mohammad Ali Jafari, the commander of the IRGC and its Basij militia, asked members of the Basij to back the fundamentalists. He also said that "the fundamentalists are in control of the executive and the legislative branches and, God willing, the judiciary will soon follow the 'principlist' movement."


Likewise, Hasan Taeb, deputy commander of the Basij, has stressed that Basij members should have a "maximum presence" in the elections and promote political understanding so that the best choices are made.


The "Sobh-e Sadeq" weekly, an official IRGC publication, recently lashed out at reformists in the last Majlis and said that "those who were adding grist to the mill of the imperialists...should not be allowed to run for the elections."


In response to the open support of the fundamentalists by senior military commanders, Hasan Khomeini, another grandson of Ayatollah Khomeini, has warned against the IRGC's interference in the election. Khomeini has also stressed that military men who wish to follow his grandfather's line should stay out of politics altogether.


Meanwhile, in a statement protesting against the Guardians Council's extensive vetting, ex-legislators from the Assembly of Former Majlis Representatives stated that, in line with Article 99 of the Iranian Constitution, "the Guardians Council is charged with the responsibility of supervising over and not interfering in the elections, and therefore the council's power of approbation is illegal and should be abolished."


The statement was issued on February 8, the same day that Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said, "The law should not be bypassed," adding that "all are duty-bound to participate in the forthcoming elections and should refrain from making excuses."




Human Rights Activists Concerned Over Iranian Prison Deaths, Torture

By Farangis Najibullah

Ceremony marking the death of Bani Yaghoub

Zahra Bani Yaqub seemed to have everything going for her. A 27-year-old graduate of the Tehran Medical University, she was a young doctor with a bright future.


But last October, Bani Yaqub was arrested while walking in a park in the western city of Hamadan with her male companion. The next day, she was dead.


Police say she committed suicide in prison overnight, but her family says that’s impossible -- that she was happy and upbeat about her future as a urologist. They accuse prison authorities of killing Bani Yaqub, whose case is merely the latest in a series of suspicious deaths or tortures in prison to be highlighted by human rights activists.



Shirin Ebadi, the Iranian human rights attorney who won the Nobel Peace Prize, told RFE/RL’s Radio Farda that she is handling Bani Yaqub’s case as a suspicious death under detention.


"I found many controversies in [Bani Yaqub’s] case: for instance, the exact time of Zahra’s death; also the height of the bar from which Zahra allegedly has hanged herself, and its contrast with Zahra’s height. Furthermore, the official reports about the way she was arrested and was kept in detention are dubious," Ebadi said.


In its report last month, the independent Iranian group Human Rights Defenders severely criticized the harsh treatment of detainees and prisoners across the country. In particular, the report focuses on the Shapur Street bureau of Tehran’s Agahi criminal department detention center. According to the rights group, hundreds of detainees are routinely tortured there in order to extract "confessions."


The activists maintain that such abuses occur before suspects are officially charged or have had access to a lawyer.


Beatings


One young Iranian woman who spent some time in Agahi told Radio Farda that she experienced severe torture from the moment she was entered the facility: "On the first day, they told me: ‘We are going to make roasted chicken out of you.’ I thought perhaps they would beat me up so badly that I would turn red like a roasted chicken. But they brought some instruments. They tied my hands up and hanged me from the ceiling. They put a water pipe between my legs and hands and started to pull the pipe. Then they started to beat my feet with a belt."


The former prisoner said her interrogator told her that she was "either going to die or to confess." She said it is not surprising that many suspects "admit their guilt" under duress.


Some Iranian lawyers deny that torture is used in Iranian prisons, and insist interrogators use only "a few methods, including beating or sleep deprivation." They say such procedures are routine in police detention facilities around the world.


But Ali Rahimi, a human rights activist, tells Radio Farda that Iranian authorities see torture as a deterrent to crime and that its use is widespread in Iranian prisons.


"Unfortunately, it is an established method for the Iranian police. According to this method, when a suspect enters a detention center, he has to be beaten up and insulted in order to intimidate and punish him, and supposedly, to prevent him from committing further crimes," Rahimi says. "Sometimes, they even detain suspects’ relatives in order to put pressure on them. In some cases even family members become subject to torture in order to put the pressure on the detainee."


Naser Zarafshan, a Tehran-based defense lawyer who represents leftist students imprisoned in the capital’s notorious Evin prison after antigovernment protests last year, says that solitary confinement -- even without physical abuse -- is a severe form of psychological torture that is widespread in Iranian prisons.


"There are also interrogations methods. One of the simplest examples is sleep deprivation of suspects by interrogating them at nighttime. They also use intimidation methods such as claiming that they would arrest suspects’ family members," Zarafshan says. "Sometimes they give false information to prisoners; for instance, they play the recorded voice of one of his family members to make the detainee believe that his relative has been arrested, too."


For their part, Iranian judiciary authorities have actually acknowledged that ill-treatment of suspects and inmates takes place in the country’s prisons.


In an unprecedented report in July 2005, judiciary authorities listed several detention facilities where serious abuses had taken place. They included Agahi, the Public Establishment Office detention facilities, and the Ministry of Intelligence and Security’s infamous Section 2009 at Evin.


The Iranian government welcomed the report. But rights activists dismissed that as an attempt by officials to show concern about human rights.


(RFE/RL’s Radio Farda contributed to this report.)




Iranian Women's Activist Wins Human Rights Award

By Farangis Najibullah

Parvin Ardalan's movement has become popular with young women

Parvin Ardalan, a leading Iranian women's rights activist, has won the Olof Palme Prize for her work and commitment to human rights.


Ardalan is a founder and active member of the One Million Signatures Campaign, a movement that aims to promote equal rights for women in Iranian society.

The $75,000 prize is named for former Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme and is awarded annually for "outstanding achievements" by those who actively promote peace, equality, and security.



Ardalan's friends say she has dedicated her adult life to fighting for women's issues. Ardalan was one of the first members of the Women's Cultural Center, the first-ever Iranian nongovernmental organization to advocate women's rights.


The 37-year-old, Tehran-based journalist and author has previously worked for women's publications such as "Zanestan" and "The Feminist Tribune of Iran" before both of those online magazines -- as well as "Women's Cultural Center" -- were shut down by Iranian authorities in 2007.


Ardalan, who is currently an editor of "Change for Equality," contributes to many publications in Iran -- including the most influential women's magazine, "Zanan," which was suspended last month for allegedly "painting a gloomy picture" of Iran.


In her writings, Ardalan focuses on women's issues and the challenges that Iranian women face in their everyday lives.


Ardalan became an active supporter of women's rights when the One Million Signatures Campaign was set up by Iranian feminists in August 2006.


The campaign members aim to change what they call "discriminatory laws against women," such as different inheritance and child custody rights for women and men as well as unequal rights after a divorce.


One Million Signatures


To realize these changes, Parvin and other members of the feminist movement have been trying to collect 1 million signatures from Iranians to urge the country's parliament to change the "discriminatory laws."


Ardalan told RFE/RL's Radio Farda that the campaign members are not expecting that their campaign will lead to changes in the discriminatory laws any time soon. But she added that "so far we have succeeded in changing Iranian people's attitude toward such laws."


"We haven't achieved too many results. But we were able to give this issue a bigger profile in society, and succeeded in bringing the society's attention -- both men and women's attention -- to the fact that promoting women's rights could well be a part of the wider promotion of democratic values," Ardalan said.


Members of the campaign and other supporters -- most of them young women in their 20s -- spread their message through the Internet and print media as well as in face to face meetings with people all over the country -- and it comes with a heavy price for the feminists.


The campaign claims it is a social movement that has "nothing against religion or the Iranian political system."


Yet at least 40 of its members have been detained by the police and intelligence services, and most of them have been charged with spreading propaganda against the state.


Maryam Khosenkhah and Jelveh Javaheri are among the campaign members who have been arrested in Tehran since October 2007. They have been subsequently released on large bails and are still awaiting a court decision.


Iranian intelligence services persecute the campaign supporters all over the country. Two young feminists, Ronak Safarzadeh and Hana Abdi, were arrested last fall by the local office of the Intelligence and Security Ministry in Kurdistan Province. They are still in prison.


Parvin Ardalan says that during such a difficult period --when women's rights activists are being persecuted and feminist publications are being shut down in Iran -- she believes that the Olof Palme Award will give the One Million Signatures Campaign greater recognition and provide hope to its activists inside Iran and its supporters outside the country.


(Radio Farda correspondent Farin Assemi contributed to this report.)




Iranian Women's Magazine Felled By Latest Government Closure

By Farangis Najibullah

The last issue of "Zanan" ahead of its late-January shutdown

Iranian authorities' decision to shut down an influential women's magazine for "damaging society" and painting a gloomy picture of life in Iran has sparked criticism at home and in the West.


The closure is notable in that the monthly, "Zanan," is widely regarded as a moderate magazine that cautiously avoids politics and focuses exclusively on women's issues.


That strategy had allowed it to survive the political pressure and crackdowns that had led many other publications in Iran to be shuttered by authorities.


Iran's Commission for Press Authorization and Surveillance revoked "Zanan's" license on January 28, saying the magazine offers "a somber picture of the Islamic republic" that "compromises its readers' mental health" by "publishing morally questionable information."


"Zanan," which means "women" in Persian, was founded 16 years ago by Shahla Sherkat, a Tehran-based journalist and editor who wanted to explore issues in her magazine that affect Iranian women.


The Paris-based Reporters Without Borders (RSF) denounced the move as a "crusade against news media that stray from the official line."


Reza Moeni, who is in charge of the Iran, Afghanistan, and Tajikistan desk at RSF, tells Radio Farda that "Zanan" was merely depicting what happens in Iranian society. He said the closing of the magazine shows that "people's right to know is seen by Iranian authorities as a security threat."


Dozens of publications and independent journalists have been accused of acting against national security in the more than two years since hard-line President Mahmud Ahmadinejad came to power.


"During the past two years, we have seen more than 50 cases -- which [Iranian authorities] themselves call 'cases against the press' -- and all these cases are related to national security," Moeni says.


Other Targets


The "Zanan" closure was followed by a court summons for female journalist Jila Bani Yaghoub on January 23. The daily "Sarmayeh" reporter is being prosecuted for reporting from a women's demonstration in March 2007, when she was arrested and held for three days. Bani Yaghoub was also charged with "activity against national security."


Female Internet journalists Maryam Hosseinkhah and Jelveh Javaheri were sent in November-December to Tehran's Evin prison on similar charges. They were released weeks later when their relatives posted considerable bail.


Badrulsadat Mofidi, a Tehran-based journalist and the secretary of the Iranian Journalists Association, tells RFE/RL that although the government commission has increased its attacks on the media, "apparently, there is no organization in Iran which can listen to journalists and protect them from these attacks."


"In the past two months, we have seen many publications being suspended," Mofidi says. "The newly established 'Ariya' newspaper was suspended even before it managed to publish its first issue."


According to RSF, the Commission for Press Authorization and Surveillance has suspended 42 publications and canceled 24 media licenses in the past two years. Several other newspapers have been temporarily closed by the courts.


The "Arzesh," "Bilmaj," and "Madrasah" publications are among those that have been suspended since October.


The Iranian Journalists Association says the Commission for Press Authorization does not have the legal right to suspend "Zanan," and that only a court can order such a halt.


"Zanan" could opt for legal action to challenge the governmental body over the magazine's closure, but Iranian journalists say that would lead to a lengthy, expensive, and likely futile process.


(Radio Farda contributed to this report.)




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