Saturday, October 25, 2014

Iran Lawmakers Urge Ministry To Condemn 'Rights Abuses' In Riot-Hit U.S. Town

Police actions in the restive Missouri town of Ferguson have sparked outrage both in the United States and beyond.

Golnaz Esfandiari

The unrest in the U.S. state of Missouri sparked by the fatal police shooting of a black teenager is being played up by Iranian hardliners, with several lawmakers calling on the Foreign Ministry to react and highlight what they describe as blatant human rights abuses in the United States.

The August 9 shooting in Ferguson, a suburb of St Louis, has sparked days of sometimes violent protests that have been further fueled by what critics have called a heavy-handed response by authorities.

"The Foreign Ministry should ask Americans about how they allow themselves to treat their people, especially blacks, in such a manner while magnifying other countries' problems," Esmail Kowsari, a senior member of the Iranian parliament's national security committee, was quoted as saying in an interview with the hard-line Fars news agency. 

Without elaborating, Kowsari said the United States portrays the tiniest problems in other countries, particularly Iran, as a major issue. Kowsari said it is the duty of the Foreign Ministry to pursue the issue "strongly."

The United States regularly criticizes human rights violations in Iran in its annual reports on human rights practices and international religious freedom. Washington has also blacklisted a number of Iranian officials over human rights abuses and censorship. 

Iranian officials dismiss the criticism as interference in their country's internal affairs. 

Lawmaker Hamidreza Tabatabayi said it is "necessary" for the Foreign Ministry to react to the unrest and to take a stance against human rights abuses in the United States.

"The United States claims to be the leader of the world and [defender] of human rights, but it shoots protesters on its own territory," Tabatabayi told Fars, while adding that Tehran shouldn't remain "passive" over events in Ferguson. 

Pressuring The Government

Police have fired rubber bullets, tear gas, and stun grenades during some of the clashes in Ferguson that followed the shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown by a white police officer. But they say they have not used gunfire against demonstrators and that two people who were shot on August 18 were wounded by protesters' gunfire.

Fars interviewed several other lawmakers including Ebrahim Nekou, who expressed hope that the Foreign Ministry would have a "suitable" reaction as soon as possible.

"The Foreign Ministry and Iran's diplomacy apparatus should take clear stances in support of the protesters in Ferguson and condemn the police crackdown on demonstrators and the crimes of America's rulers," Nekou said. 

Nekou was also quoted by Fars as saying that Tehran should not lag behind other countries in condemning abuses in Ferguson.

Another lawmaker, Mansour Haghighatpour, suggested that parliament take a stance instead of the Foreign Ministry.

"As a defender of the protesters in Ferguson, we can issue a statement and condemn the racist actions by the police."

Haghighatpour also spoke to Fars, said to be affiliated with the Revolutionary Guards Force (IRGC), which through its interviews with lawmakers appeared to be attempting to pressure the government of President Hassan Rohani into reacting to the events in Ferguson.

'News Blackmail'

In recent days, the violence and protests in Ferguson have featured among Fars' top stories.

Fars also carried a commentary-- picked up by several other hard-line websites and blogs -- that pondered how the State Department might respond if a Ferguson-type scenario had happened in Iran.

"Without any doubt foreign media would have pursued news blackmail [i.e. excessive coverage of the story in order to pressure Tehran] as if there had been a mass killing. The State Department would have tried hard to adopt a human rights resolution against our country," Fars wrote, while expressing regret over the lack of action by Iran's Foreign Ministry. 

Fars also said that U.S. support for the so called "seditionists" -- meaning protesters who took part in 2009 antigovernment demonstrations in Tehran and other cities -- was a "clear example" of interference in Iran's internal affairs, adding that no one had forgotten about it. 

The calls on Iran's Foreign Ministry come as Foreign Minister Javad Zarif leads a team negotiating with the United States and other world powers in a bid to reach a deal ending the long-running standoff over Tehran's disputed nuclear program. The talks have been criticized by hard-liners who have claimed that Tehran is making too many concessions. They've also said that the United States cannot be trusted. 

Ferguson has featured prominently in conservative media, including the Tasnim news agency,, state television, and the ultra-hard-line daily "Kayhan." 

The unrest has also been covered by the website of Iran's paramilitary Basij force, which is accused of attacking peaceful protesters who took to the streets in 2009 following a disputed presidential election. 

Even Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has weighed in.

Over the weekend, a Twitter account believed to be maintained by Khamenei's media team blasted the United States over the events in Ferguson in a series of tweets. 


Iranian Math Genius's Photos Too Racy For Media Back Home

Apparently, images of Iranian mathematician Maryam Mirzakhani without Islamic hijab were too risque for Iranian media.

Golnaz Esfandiari

"No hair, no ears, no neck." That's how one journalist described a front-page portrait of Iranian mathematician Maryam Mirzakhani that an Iranian newspaper digitally doctored to obscure her hair and skin to placate censors in the Islamic republic.

The altered picture of Mirzakhani, who this week became the first woman awarded the Fields Medal, mathematics' equivalent of the Nobel Prize, was published in the Iranian reformist daily "Sharq," whose journalist tweeted the snarky quip about the manipulation of the image.

Mirzakhani's achievement appears to have created a challenge for Iranian newspapers forced to follow stringent written and unwritten censorship guidelines concerning images exposed female skin and hair.

Women in Iran are required to wear the Islamic hijab to cover their hair and body, and newspapers and websites often digitally alter pictures of women to make them acceptable to censors and hard-liners.

U.S. first lady Michelle Obama and EU foreign-policy chief Catherine Ashton are among women whose photographs have been doctored by the Iranian media in recent years.  

Other images of Mirzakhani, a professor at Stanford, also appear to have undergone digital editing in order to be published by Iranian newspapers.

While some conservative media -- including the hard-line "Kayhan" daily -- completely ignored Mirzakhani's achievement, others posted an old picture of her wearing the hijab.

The government-run daily "Iran" appears to have photoshopped a scarf from an old photo of Mirzakhani onto a newer image of her without the hijab. The reason for the move was not clear. "It might be because they wanted to use a high-quality photograph, but weren't allowed to publish it without adding a veil," a web project hosted by the news channel France 24 noted.

Maryam Mirzakhani gets a head scarf.
Maryam Mirzakhani gets a head scarf.

The portrait of Mirzakhani published by "Sharq" reportedly underwent several rounds of alterations before it was approved by the newspaper's editors.

Iranian journalist Farvartish Rezvaniyeh posted images on Facebook showing the changes made to the portrait by artist Hossein Safi. The original portrait stands side-by-side with a version altered by the artist, which in turn stands next to the final version published by "Sharq."

Farvartish wrote that "Sharq" had asked the artist to change his original portrait to make Mirzakhani's hair less visible, adding that the final editing was done without the artist's knowledge. 

"Oops! Did we censor her picture? Seems we had to!" a journalist for the newspaper, Sobhan Hassanvand, wrote on Twitter.

Meanwhile, Iran's "Hafte Sobh" newspaper cropped Mirzakhani's photo on its front page, leaving only her face and editing out her short hair.

Maryam Mirzakhani loses her hair.
Maryam Mirzakhani loses her hair.

In a statement posted on his official website, Iranian President Hassan Rohani congratulated Mirzakhani for winning the Fields medal.

"Today the Iranians can feel proud that the first woman who has ever won the Fields Medal is their fellow citizen. Yes! The most competent must sit at the highest position and must be the most respected," Rohani said in the statement.

Rohani's unverified Twitter account -- said to be run by people close to him -- posted a Tweet featuring two photographs of Mirzakhani side-by-side, one with a head scarf and one without.

The tweet was met by cheers by some Iranians, who praised Rohani for posting an unveiled photograph of the mathematician.

Photogallery Wave Of Forgiveness Washes Over Iran

  • The convicted killer, identified only as Balal, is led to the gallows. He was sentenced to death for fatally stabbing another young man, Abdollah, in a fight seven years ago, when both were 17.
  • The day before the planned execution, Balal's mother said she had lost hope that he would be pardoned.
  • People gather to watch the planned execution in the town of Noor in Mazandaran Province.
  • The family of the murder victim was expected to participate in the hanging by pushing a chair out from under the prisoner. The custom is endorsed by a part of Sharia law known as "qisas," or retribution.
  • Balal's relatives cry as the time of the execution approaches.
  • The victim's parents stand by as the noose is put around Balal's neck.
  • At the decisive moment, the victim's mother approached Balal, slapped him in the face, and said that she forgave him.
  • The decision meant that the prisoner's life was spared. The victim's parents removed the noose from his neck.
  • A member of the security forces thanks the victim's father, Abdolghani Hosseinzadeh, for the family's decision to forgive the killer.
  • The mother of Balal, left, and the mother of Abdollah, the victim, cry together.
  • Relatives of Balal thank Abdollah's father for their family's decision to pardon him.
  • Relatives of Balal embrace. The pardon does not mean that he will be freed; the victim's family only have the right to call off the execution.
  • The parents and sister of the victim, Abdollah Hosseinzadeh, at their home. The family had lost another member, their 11-year-old son, in a motorbike accident.
  • Abdollah's parents visit his grave.
Golnaz Esfandiari

April 16 was supposed to be the last day of Balal's life. Seven years after stabbing another teen dead in a street fight, Balal was to be publicly executed in front of his victim's family, in a small town in Iran's northern province of Mazandaran.

Instead, Balal was given a new lease on life when, in the very last minute, he was spared by his victim's mother. The dramatic scenes of Balal, his neck in a noose, being pardoned have received extensive coverage in the media and on social-networking sites.

Since then the scene has been reenacted dozens of times in a wave of forgiveness that belies the authorities' efforts to push the death penalty.

Last week alone, according to the reformist "Shargh" daily, nine individuals sentenced to death were pardoned by victims' families.

Observers say a concerted publicity campaign is at play, but money is also a factor.

Artists, television celebrities, and rights activists have been publicly calling on citizens to spare the lives of those sentenced to death and the media have been sympathetic in their coverage.

In Balal's case, for example, popular TV presenter Adel Ferdowsipour spoke to an audience of millions  in favor of him being pardoned.

But Abdolsamad Khoramshahi, a well-known Iranian lawyer who has represented several convicted killers, says that what media call a wave of mercy is in fact a "business."

Under Islamic laws applied in Iran, the families of convicted murderers are able to buy their kin's freedom from victims' families. The official rate for blood money is 150 million toumans -- or about $50,000 -- but often the sum requested is higher.

In Balal's case, his victim's family reportedly received blood money of about 300 million toumans.

"Based on the information I have about some of the cases, I have to say that a large part of the reconciliations in Qisas" -- a reference to the Islamic law of retribution -- "cases are happening in exchange of enormous sums of money from the families of those convicted," Khoramshahi said earlier this month in an interview with

The Tehran-based lawyer added that media should encourage people not to request huge sums of money for showing mercy.

Iranian Prosecutor General Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ejei said in April that during the past Iranian year -- from March 2013 to March 2014 -- the lives of 358 condemned Iranians were spared under the Islamic law of retribution.

Mahmood Amiry Moghaddam, spokesman of the Norway-based Iran Human Rights organization, says it is not clear how many pardons were prompted by the lure of financial compensation.

But Moghaddam thinks that some Iranians are finding "value" in showing mercy.

"I think as much as the establishment is trying to promote executions," he says, "a culture that goes against it -- a culture of mercy -- is being promoted." 

Moghaddam says Iran's civil society and anti-death-penalty groups should be given credit for the trend.

One of the groups active against executions is the "Step By Step To Stop The Death Penalty In Iran" campaign, founded by a number of prominent intellectuals and rights activists including former Tehran University chancellor Mohammad Maleki.

Maleki tells RFE/RL there's a growing distaste for the death penalty in Iran and a tendency toward mercy.

He agrees that many families spare the lives of their relatives' killers for money. At the same time, he says he's come across a number of cases where the families pardoned convicted killers out of compassion.

"It will take time before it becomes ingrained in the society," he says in a telephone interview from Tehran. "People have to realize slowly that money cannot replace forgiveness and sacrifice."

Maleki notes that the trend comes as the Iranian establishment continues to hold public hangings.

"The establishment only knows violence and blood," he says.

One journalist in the Iranian capital says the establishment is already benefiting from the wave of forgiveness because "it shows a more human face of Iran."

But others fear that violence is so deeply rooted in Iranian society that it will take a long time before things change.

The country carried out 665 executions in 2013, according to the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center.

And with Iranians under tremendous pressures that discourage communication and dialogue, the wave of mercy is not likely to last, according to prominent university professor and sociologist Mostafa Eghlima.

"It's not easy [for people] to forgive someone who has killed their children," he concludes.

Explainer: How Iran Could Help Iraq Fight ISIL

Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps would be the most likely force to help Iraq.

Golnaz Esfandiari

To help Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s government battle militants of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), Iran could potentially offer significant assistance through its powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), which reportedly has been active in Iraq during the past decade, analysts say. 

What Can Iran Offer? 

Afshon Ostovar, a Middle East analyst with the nonprofit Center for Naval Analyses (CNA), believes Iranian military assistance to Iraq would likely focus on several areas: advising, training, planning and coordination; information and intelligence; and supplying military materiel. "I suspect whatever assistance Iran provides at this time will be limited to these areas and kept mostly behind the scenes," Ostovar says.

Light Footprint

Geneva-based researcher Farzan Sabet says Iran is likely to deny any military involvement in Iraq, even in the face of credible reports. 

Sabet says Iran's preference for "a light footprint" has been confirmed on a number of occasions since its 1979 Islamic revolution.

"It has relied on small and discreet special operations and intelligence units which gather vital information and act as trainers and advisers to realize its goals," Sabet wrote in a June 30 piece analyzing Iran's potential military intervention in Iraq.

Quds Force

Reports suggest that Iran has already dispatched units of IRGC's elite Quds Force to help Maliki, amid denials by Iranian officials who say they are ready to send arms to Iraq if asked to do so.  

Ostovar says the Quds Force detachment and other specialized IRGC units are likely to be relatively small -- in the hundreds.

He believes the role of the Quds Force in Iraq is likely to be similar to the role it has played in Syria, where through training and other measures it has helped Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad stay in power. 

"Quds Force is probably helping at two main levels: the political level, helping garner support for Maliki among Shi'a militants and streamlining the response to [ISIL]; and the ground level, helping train, organize and coordinate irregular Shi’a forces."

Involving Shi'ite Militias

Mohsen Milani, the executive director of the Center for Strategic and Diplomatic Studies at the University of South Florida, believes that Iran will try to mobilize Shi'ite militia that have been dormant in recent years.

"It will surely try to regroup and rearm the Iranian-trained Badr Brigade (although many of its members have since joined the Iranian national security forces). It will probably also take the more controversial step of encouraging the Shi’a militant cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's powerful Mahdi Army to join the fight," Milani wrote in a June 22 analysis published at 

Milani added that Iran will turn to smaller Shi'ite insurgent groups to push them to join the fight against ISIL. 

"Iran believes that the Sunni insurgency can only be defeated if Iraq's fractious Shi’a militias agree to cooperate," he wrote. 

Ostovar says the Quds force is likely to coordinate the role of the Shi'a militant groups in the fight against ISIL and help train new recruits.

"Qods Force commanders have worked closely with Shi'a militant groups in the past and helped organize their involvement in Syria, so any effort in Iraq will likely be a continuing evolution of this relationship," Ostovar says.

'Iran Origin' Jets Arrive In Iraqi
|| 0:00:00
July 02, 2014
Video released by the Iraqi Defense Ministry shows SU-25 ground attack aircraft arriving in Baghdad. Russia on June 28 delivered a batch of Sukhoi jets to help Iraq quell an offensive by Islamic militants. The new video shows a second batch of aircraft delivered July 1. The defense ministry did not say where the planes came from. But an analysis of the video, conducted by defense experts of the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies, concluded that the latest warplanes originated from Iran. (Iraqi Defense Ministry handout video)

WATCH: 'Iran Origin' Jets Arrive In Iraq

Military Materiel

The International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) said on July 2 that imagery analysis of a video released by the Iraqi authorities suggests that Iran has supplied Iraq with Sukhoi jets. The report said it wasn't clear whether the jets will be maintained and piloted by Iranian forces. 

Ostovar says it is important to note that these jets are part of IRGC's air fleet. 

"I highly doubt that the IRGC would just give them away. I also would be surprised if IRGC pilots were not acting at the very least as advisers and trainers for these aircraft," he told RFE/RL in an email.  

Direct Confrontation With ISIL

Analysts believe that for now Iranian forces are not likely to get directly involved in the fight against ISIL.

Ostovar says Iran's calculations could change if ISIL manages to penetrate important Shi'ite shrines, or if ISIL fighters reach the Iranian border. 

"If the latter happens, Iranian forces will likely confront [ISIL] directly as a matter of border and national security,” he says.

Sabet also believes that penetration of the Iranian border by ISIL's forces,  or threats to Shi'a holy sites or Baghdad, may force Iran to engage in overt operations, including "a pursue-and-destroy mission into Iraqi territory."

Military Cooperation With The U.S.?

Ostovar says direct military coordination or collaboration in Iraq between the United States and Iran is highly unlikely. 

"It is possible that, in their respective advisory and training roles, the missions of the U.S. and Iran might come to overlap at some point. However, neither the U.S. nor Iran’s Quds Force want to work with each other, " he says.

U.S. officials have ruled out military cooperation with Iran.

Last month, the spokesman of the National Security and Foreign Policy Commission of Iran’s parliament, Hossein Naqavi Hosseini, said that Iran will never stand alongside the United States.

"America wants to achieve its political goals in Iraq through Iran, therefore Iran will never stand next to the U.S.," Hosseini was quoted as saying by Iranian media on June 24.

Iranian Official Dressed Down Over Revealing Women’s Leggings

Iranian police warn a woman wearing leggings about her clothing and hair during a crackdown to enforce the country's Islamic dress code. (file photo)

Skin-tight leggings popular among Iranian women have sparked an uproar in the Islamic republic's parliament, where the interior minister was dressed down over the female population's fashion choices.

Iranian Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli received a warning from parliamentarians at a June 24 hearing amid accusations that he is not doing enough to stop women from wearing the elastic leggings known as "supports" in Iran.

Fazli was summoned to the conservative-dominated parliament to answer questions regarding the enforcement of Iran's obligatory Islamic dress code, which requires women to cover their hair and bodies.  

Lawmakers questioned Fazli specifically about the form-revealing leggings, which hard-liners have criticized as a symbol of decadent Western culture. 

"Why is the Interior Ministry indifferent to the phenomenon of women who wear supports in Tehran and other cities?" lawmakers asked the official. 

Fazli was also asked why a "small budget" designated for enforcing the dress code had been eliminated. 

He responded by saying that the Interior Ministry is just one of 22 entities responsible for enforcing a law requiring women to wear the Islamic hijab, which became obligatory following the 1979 revolution and the creation of the Islamic republic. 

During the past three decades, the clerical establishment has used force and cultural measures to compel many women to wear the hijab. 

'National Security Issue'

Fazli said his ministry is actively working on the issue, which he said could not be solved in the short term. Budgetary funds have been allocated to promote the hijab, he added.

The interior ministry has taken several measures to encourage the Islamic dress code, including the creation of nongovernmental organizations and dress-code supervision at department stores, airports and student dormitories, Fazli said 

Iranian media reported that the official did not manage to convince lawmakers, who proceeded to issue him a warning -- or a "yellow card" in soccer parlance. 

Lawmaker Ali Motahari said women who wear leggings should not be allowed into official buildings. 

Motahari claimed that a majority of Iranian women have accepted the hijab but that there are "rare" exceptions that threaten the foundation of families. 

"It is the government's duty to act against clear sins. The government should prevent support clothing from being promoted," Motahari was quoted as saying by the semi-official news agency ISNA.

Iranian news agencies reported that Motahari caused a commotion during the hearing when he used large monitors to display photographs of women wearing leggings.  
Motahari reportedly reacted by saying that lawmakers appeared to enjoy viewing the pictures. 

Commenting on the debate in the parliament, a Tehran-based woman wrote sarcastically on Facebook that leggings are becoming a "national security issue" in the Islamic republic. 

"Forget the nuclear issue, poverty and inflation, and the advances of ISIL [the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant]. Support pants are the priority for our lawmakers."

-- Golnaz Esfandiari


Men's Sports, Shorts Not For Women In Iran

Men's sports events, such as volleyball, in Iran are often exclusively male affairs as women are banned from even watching the contest. (file photo)

Golnaz Esfandiari

Iranian women are free to love sports, as long as they do it in the safety of their own homes.

Female fans got a harsh reminder of this when they attempted to cheer for their men's soccer and volleyball teams this week.

Women attempting to attend World League volleyball matches being held this month in Tehran learned from the national police chief that their presence "was not in the public interest," while a female lawmaker argued that women at sporting events was a source of "disrespect and rape in society."

In an added slight, it was made clear that women and televised World Cup soccer matches were not a good match either -- at least not in public. The authorities made that clear by preventing public screenings of the game, which could result in mixed crowds, and putting pressure on cafes and restaurants to not show the games.

Defiance Wins

The strong-arm tactic backfired, because women promptly and publicly defied the authorities' efforts by assembling at small businesses to watch games and in the streets to celebrate Iran's World Cup performance. 

And, while Iranian men and foreign women enjoyed the June 20 volleyball match between Iran and Italy at Tehran's Azadi Stadium, security forces dealt harshly with a small group of Iranian women outside.

The women had gathered to protest a longstanding ban on female spectators at sports stadiums, earning them physical and verbal abuse and, for some, police detentions. 

They did succeed in highlighting gender inequality and discrimination against women in Iran, however.

Women were banned from attending sports events after the 1979 Islamic Revolution and the creation of the Islamic republic. Since then some exceptions have been made -- for example, during a 2006 World Cup qualifying game against Qatar played in Iran, and generally for volleyball and basketball games.

Hard-liners have claimed it is not inappropriate for women to attend such events, because men often use crude language and players wear shorts. 

Some who oppose the ban -- including former President Mahmud Ahmadinejad, who in 2006 wrote to Iran's Physical Education Organization asking that women be allowed into stadiums -- have argued that the presence of women would improve the atmosphere at sporting events and push men to refine their behavior.

But Iran is not quite ready to lift the ban, apparently.

Playing With Rape

While in 2013 women were allowed to attend Volleyball World League games, fans who tried to buy tickets to league matches scheduled to be played in Tehran were told they would not be allowed.  And while an exception had been made for women journalists, this month they too were barred.

Amid the ensuing outcry, female lawmaker Fatemeh Alia dismissed the idea of women spectators, saying their duty was to raise children and take care of their husbands, not to watch other men play volleyball.

"There is no reason for women to go to a venue where thousands of men have gathered," she said. "It [creates] the grounds for disrespect and rape in society." 

Another female lawmaker, Sakineh Omrani, told that women can watch sports matches at home, on television, if they wish, but not in stadiums "because while doing sports, men are not fully dressed."

Pouring salt in the wound is the fact that foreign women have been allowed to attend a series of Volleyball World League matches played in Tehran this month. 

The indignity has attracted much attention, including from lawmaker Kamaledin Pirmoezen, who, after a mid-June series against Brazil said that "Iranian women, like Brazilian [women], should benefit from volleyball matches."

But bad news, accompanied by clarity regarding recent events, came on June 22. With Iran preparing for a second-leg match against Italy, it was announced that women journalists would be barred from attending World League contests for the rest of the month.

The same day, Iran's police chief, Esmail Ahmadi Moghadam, explained that "in the current conditions, the mixing of men and women in stadiums is not in the public interest." 

Ahmadi Moghadam also noted that Ahmadinejad's 2006 call for women to be allowed into sports stadiums had been opposed by senior clerics. 

"The stance taken by religious scholars and the supreme leader remains unchanged, and as the enforcer of the law, we cannot allow women to enter stadiums," he said. 

Where Is My Seat?

"Stadiums for all" read one sign at the small protest organized outside Azadi Stadium on June 20.  "Women ask: Where is my seat?" read another.
That was enough to attract the strong arm of the law, with protesters and eyewitnesses saying that several of the women, their male supporters, and at least one journalist were forcefully detained. 

Iranian police forbid Iranian women from entering a stadiums to see volleyball game in Tehran earlier this month.
Iranian police forbid Iranian women from entering a stadiums to see volleyball game in Tehran earlier this month.

Well-known journalist Jila Baniyaghoob is among the most vocal critics of the ban on women fans and sports correspondents. 

"The Islamic republic once again violated its commitment regarding women's rights," she wrote recently on her Facebook page.

There has also been criticism in the Iranian media. 

Earlier this month, likened the ban on women at sports stadiums to Saudi Arabia's driving ban for women.

"It's a simple issue, an issue that is common, banal, and normal all over the world, but in Saudi Arabia it has become a security problem." 

Outside Iran, activists such as Leila Mouri are making sure the world is aware of the gender games being played.

Mouri was a member of the "White Headscarves" campaign that was launched in Iran in the 1990s to push for the ban to be lifted. 

Under the rallying cry, "Women's rights equal half the freedom," the campaign shot to fame when it forced the authorities to allow women to attend the 2006 World Cup qualifier played at Azadi Stadium. 

Mouri, who left Iran in 2006 and is now based in New York, says the election of Iran's relatively moderate President Rohani has created a space for activists to renew their call.

"Women feel the [political] atmosphere is slightly more open, they feel they can repeat some of their past demands, at the same time because of the [successes] of Iran's volleyball team, women decided they want to enter the stadium.

Iran's Repressed Religious Minorities Using Internet To Practice Faith

Iranian dervishes dance their traditional collective dance. Minority Iranian religious groups like these, who face persecution from authorities, have turned increasingly to the Internet for mutual support and to reach out to potential fellow believers.

Golnaz Esfandiari, a website dedicated to news and information about the Gonabadi dervishes in Iran, has been blocked more than 40 times since its launch in 2007.
Iranian authorities have also arrested most of its founders.
The website is an example of dozens of sites, social-media networks, and online communities that religious minorities in Iran depend on to make their voices heard, practice their faith, highlight abuses by the state, and reach out to potential followers.
A new report by the London based non-profit group Small Media says the Internet is playing an "essential role" in empowering Iran's repressed religious minorities who are banned from public places and platforms.
Among the minorities are the Baha'is, who are not recognized in the Constitution of the Islamic republic; evangelical Christians, who can face the death penalty for converting from Islam; and Sufis, such as the Gonabadi dervishes, who have come under attack over their interpretation of Islam.
Ahmed Shaheed, the United Nations special rapporteur on the human rights situation in Iran, wrote in his March report that Baha'is are "almost exclusively" prosecuted for facilitating educational services and publicly engaging in religious practices. Shaheed wrote that Christian converts have also faced a similar pattern of persecution. He also noted increased state pressure on Sufis and also Sunni Muslims who face limits in their religious practices.
The report by Small Media, titled "Heretics," says these groups have turned to the Internet to create faith networks that span not just Iran, but the world.
The increasing use of the Internet by these groups comes amid state filtering of all their major websites.
"As the Iranian state cracks down on Christian and Baha'i evangelism and minority political activism on the ground, it is simultaneously waging a war against religious minority communities online and on the airwaves," the report notes.
Countering Oppression With Creativity
Despite this ongoing war, religious activists are migrating to cyberspace in an effort to evade state surveillance and get news of the state's human rights abuses out to the international community.
James Marchant, research manager at Small Media, said religious communities are using the Internet and satellite channels creatively in the face of the state oppression they face.
Marchant told RFE/RL that different groups make use of online technology based on their needs.
"For the Baha'i community, one of their greatest issues is the lack of access to [university] education," he said. "And so they've set up the Baha'i institute of Higher Education [BIHE], connecting Baha'is in Iran to Baha'is around the world, faculty students, and providing Baha'is with an education."
BIHE has increasingly been using the Internet -- including the organization of online and Skype-based courses -- to educate young Baha'is. It has been targeted by Iranian authorities who have arrested a number of its staffers over the years.
Evangelical Christians are developing "some of the most innovative and imaginative forms of resistance to state pressure," the report says.
Marchant says televangelism, chat-room evangelism, distance learning, and closed Facebook groups, are among the platforms used by Christians to spread the word in Iran.
An unnamed Iranian pastor is quoted in the report as saying that online churches are working alongside house churches that have faced police raids.
"They are an important tool to support us in our work, but there is no substitute for ministering personally to Christians," he said.
The pastor also said that many evangelical Christians use the social networking site Facebook.
Farhad Nouri, who serves as editor in chief of from outside the country, told RFE/RL that the Internet has allowed Sufis to inform others about state crackdown more quickly and to reach a wider audience.
At the same time, he says, Sufis active in cyberspace have come under attack from Iranian authorities.
The Small Media report says recognized minorities -- including Jews, Christians, and Zoroastrians -- who are free to perform their rites and ceremonies within the laws, use the Internet mostly for cultural purposes and also to connect with the diaspora.
Their major websites remain unblocked, according to the report by Small Media.

About This Blog

Persian Letters is a blog that offers a window into Iranian politics and society. Written primarily by Golnaz Esfandiari, Persian Letters brings you under-reported stories, insight and analysis, as well as guest Iranian bloggers -- from clerics, anarchists, feminists, Basij members, to bus drivers.

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