Friday, November 28, 2014


Video Video Appears To Show Police Harassment In Iran

Police officers in the past have publicly paraded alleged thieves, muggers, and others in crackdowns on "thugs" and "gangs." Law enforcement officials say it improves security.

Four young men are publicly paraded in the back of a vehicle while masked men in black who appear to be members of Iran's police force beat them up and tell them "to bleat" like sheep.

One of the young men has his hair pulled and is repeatedly hit on the head while being forced to eat leaves. "I want to see you bleat," one of the balaclava-clad men shouts.

The young men appear to have no choice but to obey. They make animal sounds while the masked men assault them.

"I eat ***," the young men shout, using a Persian slang expression that means he made a serious mistake. "I was wrong, I was wrong," another shouts. The beatings continue.

A YouTube video of the disturbing scene has circulated on the Internet since last week. 

The date and location of the video, which has raised rare public criticism in Iran, is unclear, as is the reason for the public shaming and mistreatment of the men.

On November 9, the Iranian daily "Farhikhtegan" interviewed several lawyers who said it was illegal for police to beat up suspects and criminals. The four young men in the video are likely to be "neighborhood thugs," the newspaper added.

"If the video is [genuine], then police have committed a crime [and] acted against the law even by publicly parading thugs and hooligans," lawyer Shapoor Esmailian was quoted as saying by the daily.

Another lawyer, Abdolsamad Khoramshahi, said that even if the young men in the video are thugs who have committed crimes, the police forces do not have the right to beat them up and insult them.

Police officials have not commented publicly on the video.

Police officers in the past have publicly paraded alleged thieves, muggers, and others in crackdowns on "thugs" and "gangs." Law enforcement officials have defended the moves by saying that they improve security.

The crackdowns have been documented by Iranian state media

-- Golnaz Esfandiari


Dear Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei…

Besides this latest reported letter, President Barack Obama (left) has purportedly written to Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (right) on three previous occasions.

U.S. President Barack Obama has penned several letters to Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in the past five years, leading American media have reported.

Obama's latest letter, his fourth, was sent to Khamenei in mid-October, according to a November 6 report by "The Wall Street Journal." 

Obama stressed in the letter that any cooperation with Iran in the fight against Islamic State (IS) militants is contingent on whether Tehran and major world powers can reach a deal over Iran's nuclear program by a November 24 deadline, the newspaper reported.

Responding to the report, U.S. national security adviser Susan Rice said on November 7 that Washington is "in no way" coordinating with Iran militarily to counter IS militants and that there is "no linkage" between U.S. efforts to end a standoff over Iran's nuclear activities and the campaign against IS fighters.

Here is a glance at Obama's previous reported missives to the Iranian leader.

First Letter

Obama sent his first letter to Khamenei a few weeks prior to the 2009 presidential election in Iran that resulted in the disputed re-election of Mahmud Ahmadinejad, Iranian and Western media reported. 

The letter reportedly called for improving relations between the two countries, which have been at odds since the 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran that saw the ouster of the U.S.-backed shah.

The Iranian leader confirmed the correspondence in his Friday Prayers sermon delivered on June 19, 2009. 

Khamenei, who spoke in the sermon about the postelection antigovernment demonstrations, accused the United States of sending mixed messages.  

"The president of America was quoted as saying: 'We were expecting the day that Iranians would take to the streets.' On the other hand, they send us letters, they express interest in [re-establishing] ties, they express respect for the Islamic republic. Which one of these remarks should we believe?" he said. 

Second Letter 

Obama sent a second letter to Khamenei several weeks later, according to Iranian and Western media reports.

The conservative Iranian website "Tabnak" reported in September 2009 that Obama used an "unprecedented" and "very polite" tone in the letter while proposing changes in bilateral ties.

The U.S. newspaper "The Washington Times" quoted Trita Parsi, head of the National Iranian American Council (NIAC), as saying that Khamenei responded to Obama's first letter and that Obama had sent a second letter. 

In a speech delivered on November 3, 2009, Khamenei again mentioned the correspondence while rejecting Obama's outreach.

Khamenei, who has the final say in the Islamic republic, characterized the U.S. president's expressed desire for change as merely lip service. 

"This new U.S. president had nice words, he has given us messages repeatedly -- spoken and written [messages] -- saying: 'Let's turn the page, let's create a new situation, let's work with each other to solve the world's problems,'" he said. 

The Iranian leader, however, said the Islamic republic had witnessed from the U.S. side only the opposite of what Washington was saying. 

Third Letter

Obama penned another letter to Khamenei in 2012, according to conservative Iranian lawmaker Ali Motahari, who claimed that the U.S. leader had called for direct talks with Tehran. 

"The letter said that closing the Strait of Hormuz is [Washington's] red line, and it also called for direct negotiations," Motahari said in January 2012. 

The first part of the letter contained threats, while the second part was friendly in tone, Motahari added. 

The United States broke its diplomatic ties with Iran following the 1979 embassy takeover and the hostage-taking of American diplomats in Tehran.

Tensions between the two countries have eased greatly since last year's election of Iranian President Hassan Rohani, who has promised moderation at home and on the international scene.

Obama and Rohani spoke by telephone in September 2013. 

The call marked the first direct talks between the leaders of the two countries since the 1979 revolution.

-- Golnaz Esfandiari


Iran Lawmakers Propose Lashes For Leashes

Iranians walking their dogs in public could be sentenced to 74 lashes and a fine of more than $3,500.

Their pet dogs could also be confiscated, taken to the zoo, or left in a desert.

That is according to a draft bill proposed by 32 Iranian lawmakers who have claimed that walking dogs and other "harmful" animals in public is not only a health hazard but also a "blind imitation of decadent Western culture." 

The draft bill is the latest measure by Iranian hard-liners who have over the years denounced dog ownership and called for action against dog owners. Iranian authorities and conservative clerics say that, according to Islam, dogs are considered to be dirty animals. 

The lawmakers have argued that they're proposing the draft bill in an effort to confront the "growing trend" of dog walking in public and dog ownership in big cities, particularly in Tehran. 

The lawmakers submitted their proposals for tougher punishments for dog owners earlier this week. According to the text of the proposed article of the Islamic Penal Code, posted on the website of Iran's Parliament Research Center, monkey owners could also face punishments. Lawmakers have said that they will issue a list of other animals that are "dirty," "dangerous," or "harmful" to public health three months after the approval of the bill by Iran's Health Ministry.

"Those walking or petting publicly animals such as dogs and monkeys [whose] presence in public places damages the health or calm of others, especially women and children, and those who trade them or keep them at home while ignoring warnings by the police, will be sentenced to fines ranging from 10 million to 100 million rials [$377-$3770] or 74 lashes and the confiscation of the mentioned animals,' the proposed law reads.

It also says that following court orders, the confiscated animals will be transferred to a "zoo, forest, or desert" based on the condition of the animals, while owners will have to take care of all the financial charges before the transfer takes place.

The law will not apply to those who need dogs to perform their work, including police forces, farmers, and licensed hunters.

If passed, the bill would also criminalize "the promotion of dog walking" by the media.

Dog owners have faced harassment in the Islamic republic. In past years, pet dogs have been impounded on several occasions in the Iranian capital and held in a special "dog prison."

The measures have been condemned by Iranian animal lovers including the Iranian Society for the Prevention of Cruelty Against Animals, which in 2012 documented a dog detention center in Tehran.

-- Golnaz Esfandiari


Iranians React To Republican Victory in U.S. Elections

Republican supporters cheer as a giant TV screen displays the results of the Senate race in the U.S. midterm elections in Denver, Colorado, on November 4.

With a deadline for a nuclear deal less than three weeks away, many in Iran have focused their attention on the likely impact of the victory of the Republicans in the U.S. midterm elections on the nuclear negotiations between Iran and the United States and other major world powers.

The two sides have set November 24 as the target date for reaching a lasting accord that would end the crisis over Iran's sensitive work and result in the lifting of sanctions against the Islamic republic.

A few Iranian officials who have so far reacted publicly sought to downplay the likely impact of the Republican victory on the ongoing nuclear talks. Analysts, however, warned that the Republicans could increase the pressure on Iran by imposing more sanctions, if a deal is not reached by the target date.

Hamid Aboutalebi, deputy presidential chief of staff for political affairs, offered his analysis on Twitter, a social-media site filtered by Iranian authorities. He said Washington's ties with Iran and the nuclear issues is one of the three crises that the United States is facing.

He added that Iran is a major regional player while claiming that it has "the upper hand" due to the "astute views of [Iran's] supreme leader and the policies of President [Hassan Rohani]."

Aboutalebi then argued that both Republicans and Democrats need Iran for the 2016 presidential election, "especially Republicans who are trying to create a change in the foreign policy." 

"Therefore, both U.S. parties will be after reaching a nuclear agreement with Iran and strategic cooperation with Iran in regional issues, especially in fighting ISIL and....," Aboutalebi tweeted. 

Iranian Communications and Information Technology Minister Mahmud Vaezi said the victory of the Republicans in the November 4 elections will not have "any effect" on the nuclear negotiations. "We do not see what is happening in the U.S. as a factional shift which will change [the U.S.'s] aims. What has been done in the nuclear negotiations is important and binding, " Vaezi was quoted as saying by the Tasnim news agency.

But former diplomat Ali Khorram, who reportedly advises Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, said that the Obama administration could be forced into taking a harder line in the nuclear negotiations with Iran, if both sides fail to reach a final agreement by November 24. "Obama has to use the remaining time to reach a deal with Iran," Khoram said.

Apparently addressing domestic critics, he said those who oppose the talks "out of ignorance" should "wake up" because he said Iran's national interests could be jeopardized if there was no deal. "We should not allow Republicans to unite with Israel and witness the tensions we saw under [former President] Mahmud Ahmadinejad and George W. Bush because it is not in the interests of Iran and the region," Khorram said in an interview with the official IRNA news agency.

University professor Davoud Hermidas Bavand, also a former diplomat, had a similar analysis. Speaking to the semiofficial ISNA news agency, Bavand said that if the nuclear negotiations fail to bring results, the U.S. Congress would push for more sanctions on Iran, which he said would be "worrying" for the talks. 

In the talks succeed in reaching a comprehensive agreement, then he said the impact of the Congress would be minimal.

Analyst Hassan Beheshtipour, described by Khabaronline.com as an expert on Iran's nuclear dossier, said that even if Iran and the United States reached an agreement by the end of November, Congress could make it difficult for the U.S. government to lift sanctions against Iran.

Another Iranian analyst, university professor Alireza Kouhkan, said the victory of the Republicans in the midterm elections makes a nuclear deal more difficult to achieve. "[It] can strengthen those in Congress who oppose any deal with Iran," he said in an interview with the hard-line Fars news agency.

Analyst Foad Izadi warned that following their victory on November 4, Republicans are likely to move to confront Iran. "The problem the Islamic republic has had with the U.S. Congress in the past 30 years is likely to become more tangible in the coming days and months."

-- Golnaz Esfandiari


Despite Nuclear Talks, U.S. Seen As 'Great Satan' In Iran

A woman steps on a U.S. flag outside the former U.S. embassy in Tehran.

The United States remains "the Great Satan" despite nuclear negotiations between Iran and Washington, Iranian hard-liners conveyed in a November 4 message marking the 35th anniversary of the takeover of the U.S. embassy in the Islamic republic.

The statement was issued by anti-U.S. demonstrators who gathered outside the former U.S. embassy in Tehran -- dubbed the "Nest of Spies" -- and called for resistance against the United States, which they decried as an oppressor. 

The Iranian people still consider the United States their main enemy, the demonstrators said in the statement issued at the annual rally, which coincided with the religious Ashura holiday that commemorates the killing of the venerated Shi'ite spiritual leader Imam Hussein in 680 C.E.  

They called for the removal of all "unilateral" and "unjust" sanctions against the Islamic republic, while also expressing support for the Iranian nuclear negotiators and emphasizing the need to follow the guidelines set by Iran's supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, to defend Iran’s "inalienable rights."

Iran’s conservative-dominated parliament should also be vigilant regarding any potential nuclear agreement, according to the statement.

The rally’s main speaker, cleric Alireza Panahian, said that even if November 4 were not the anniversary of the hostage-taking by radical students in 1979, the slogan "Death to America" would have been chanted in the sermons.

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif and the government’s nuclear negotiators should receive a pay raise because they negotiate with "savages," Panahian added. 

"When someone is dispatched for a mission to a region with an unpleasant climate, they provide them with a special allowance due to the bad climate they have to suffer from," Panahian was quoted as saying by the official IRNA news agency.

"Therefore, our nuclear negotiators should receive a pay rise due to the toughness of their work and for negotiating with wild individuals," he continued. "And we hereby tell the arrogant [power] that if you do not come to your senses, then we will make you come to your senses." 

Meanwhile, in a November 4 article headlined "The Ethos Of U.S. Embassy Takeover," the hard-line Fars news agency, which is close to the powerful Revolutionary Guards, listed reasons why Tehran opposes the United States. 

These include the 1953 coup d'etat in Iran which saw Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mosadegh overthrown, as well as the 2002 designation of Iran as part of an "Axis of Evil" by former U.S. President George W. Bush. 

The Fars article argued that it is understandable that Tehran is "hesitant" about the results of the nuclear talks with Washington.  

"Tehran has legitimate questions that need to be addressed before it could even start contemplating trusting Washington ever again," the news agency said in its report. 

Another hard-line media outlet, the Tasnim news agency, reported over the weekend that according to a new poll, distrust toward the United States among citizens in Tehran has slightly increased during the past year.

Tasnim claimed that the number of Teheranis who agree with the idea that "America is not trustworthy at all" has increased to 63 percent, up from 61 percent a year ago.

The poll was conducted by the social science alumni society of Tehran University, Tasnim reported without providing details on the methodology used or the number of respondents. 

Fars reported that 54 percent of the respondents in the poll said U.S. policies toward Iran have not changed since Iranian President Hassan Rohani came to power last year.

"Twenty percent believe U.S. stances have 'improved,' and 23 percent consider it 'worse' compared to before," Tasnim reported.

Polls conducted in Iran are widely regarded as unreliable. 

-- Golnaz Esfandiari 


Iran's Culture Ministry Defends 'Successful' U.S. Presence

Iran's Culture Ministry said the U.S. has a distorted and negative image of the country.

Iran's Culture Ministry has defended the "successful presence" of an Iranian delegation in an October 28 conference in Pittsburgh that was reportedly also attended by State Department official Greg Sullivan.

The conference, "Growing Business between the U.S. and the Middle East," was organized by the American Middle East Institute.

The Iranian delegation included Deputy Culture Minister Ali Moradkhani and the director of the Fajr Music Festival Ali Torabi. 

In a statement published on Iranian websites on November 3, the Culture Ministry said the Iranian delegation did not have any "official or unofficial" meeting or discussion with U.S. officials.

"The presence of the Iranian delegation led to criticism by pro-Israel and anti-Iran hardliners, and one week ahead of the visit, two senators and members of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives drafted an anti-Iran motion to prevent Iran from attending the seminar," the statement said.

The statement added that the efforts failed to bear any result.

"Following the successful presence of the Iranian delegation, [an] anti-Iranian group published a one-sided and distorted report from the seminar's proceedings," the statement said apparently in reaction to a report by the conservative "Free Beacon" website.

The website reported on October 31 report that former Iranian nuclear negotiator Hossein Mousavian was present at the conference.

“Ali Alfoneh, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, said the Pittsburgh visit appeared to be an attempt by Mousavian “to mobilize the U.S. business community as a pressure group calling for removal of the sanctions regime.”

“The Islamic Republic’s motive for participating at the conference is understandable: Ambassador Hossein Mousavian, who is a brilliant diplomat, desires to convey the message to the U.S. business community that Iran is open for business,” said Alfoneh.”

But in an interview with Khabaronline.com, Mousavian denied the report. He said he had been invited to the Pittsburgh meeting but had not been able to attend because of a speaking engagement in Washington D.C.

Mousavian also claimed that he didn’t have any role in organizing the trip. He said the “unofficial” trip was aimed at opening cultural ties between the two countries.

"The approval of the trip by the U.S. government and attendance in conferences and consultations means that the U.S. government is gradually removing barriers facing people-to-people ties between Iran and the United States," he said.

The conference organizer, American Middle East Institute Director Simin Curtis, told the BBC Persian Service that there was no talk about business with Iran at the conference. She said the aim of the discussions with the Iranian delegation was to facilitate cultural ties between Iran and the U.S.

She said the State Department had "welcomed" the presence of the Iranian delegation.

Reacting to a question on Twitter, State Department spokesperson Marie Harf said  the meeting was aimed at cultural collaboration.

Iran's Culture Ministry said because of the absence of the Islamic republic in important cultural spheres in the U.S., the "enemies and ill-wishers" have replaced Iran and depicted a distorted and negative image of the country.

"That is why counterrevolution Iranian groups and warmonger supporters of [Israel] are adamantly against the participation of Iranian intellectuals and artists [in cultural events]," the statement said.

The ministry issued the statement following criticism in Iranian conservative media and hard-line websites regarding the silence surrounding the trip.

"Is this trip a cultural cover up for a political move? And a more important question is: why was there no news about the trip, while for the American side, providing information about the trip was a winning card that was used to challenge our country?"  the semi-official Mehr news agency asked in a report.

In its statement, the ministry said Iranian media outlets should not cover "speculation" and avoid providing an opportunity for "the enemies" to take advantage. 

-- Golnaz Esfandiari


Iran's Cabinet Ministers Weep To Mark Religious Festival

Iranian cabinet ministers during the November 3 session

Iranians have been celebrating the Shi’ite religious festival of Tasua Ashura to honor the martyrdom of Prophet Muhammad's grandson, Imam Hussein, who was slain in a battle in Karbala in 680 C.E.

Many Iranians take to the streets or go to mosques and beat their chests to mourn the suffering and death of the third Shi’ite imam and his companions. Some gather to watch the traditional Ta'zieh, a play that recounts the events that surrounded Hussein's death. Still others cook food and offer it to friends, neighbors, and the poor.

Iran's cabinet of ministers launched its November 3 session by listening to a tearful sermon by President Hassan Rohani.

State-controlled television reported that Rohani's sermon appeared to have brought cabinet ministers to tears -- some loudly -- focused on the lessons of Ashura, including resistance in the face of oppression and injustice.

Here's an ISNA photo gallery of tearful ministers.

Iranians are used to seeing their leaders cry in public, particularly at times of religious mourning.

The website of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei often posts pictures of the cleric in tears over the death of Shi’ite religious figures (as over Imam Hussein here).

Here's a tweet by @Khamenei_ir, which is believed to be run by Khamenei’s media team:

Iranian politicians have also wept in public during election campaigns and on other occasions.

While some of the crying may be genuine, weeping politicians are often accused by critics of attempting to manipulate the public and influence emotional Iranians.

The pictures of Rohani and other government ministers, including Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, weeping this week have been ridiculed by some social-media users.

"They cry in front of cameras to prove their sincerity?" one Facebook user wrote.

Under a short video of Rohani's sermon and weeping posted on an Instagram account believed to be managed by people close to the Iranian president, many reacted with great appreciation, while others criticized the move.

"As one of your supporters I didn't agree with your sermon, I think it's not befitting of a president's status," wrote a young man.

"This is all great," wrote another, adding, "But when are people's economic situations going to improve?"

-- Golnaz Esfandiari

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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Seen anything in the Iranian blogosphere that you think Persian Letters should cover? If so, contact Golnaz Esfandiari at esfandiarig@rferl.org