Thursday, May 05, 2016


From Blog To Telegram, Iranian Citizen Journalist Keeps Challenging Regime

Amir started his publishing career lampooning Iranian life.

Golnaz Esfandiari

By day, Amir pores over data on nuclear safety at a European research institute in pursuit of his doctorate in neutron imaging. 

But by night, he becomes a witty, tech-savvy citizen journalist who floods the Persian-language cyberspace with news and information about his native Iran with "a twist of humor." It keeps him up to speed with the country he loves but dares not return to, Amir says, for fear of arrest over his web activism.

"I try to cover issues that cannot be reported by domestic media" because of censorship efforts by Tehran's clerically dominated postrevolutionary leadership, says the 30-something grad student, who left Iran around seven years ago to study abroad and posts under the pseudonym Mamlekate. 

In one recent post to Telegram, the de rigueur messaging app these days for privacy-minded Iranians, Amir shared a poignant window on modern Iran. Contributed by an unnamed contact in Iran, the snapshot shows a group of people trying to push a marked police van across a sandy beach in northern Iran.

"The morality police van came to the beach and arrested a number of people. After getting stuck in the sand, everyone had to come out to push it out. It's the story of Iran," Amir captioned the photo, which has been shared and viewed thousands of times.

Frustrated by a culture that has been subject to "red lines" and other strict checks on public expression since Islamic revolutionaries swept to power in 1979-80, Amir has made it his moonlight mission to seize on memes, images, and other postings on politically sensitive issues that are making the rounds on social media and elsewhere on the Internet.

He does it by exploiting areas that continue to frustrate Iranian officials because they are seemingly beyond their technological reach, despite Tehran's best efforts at "smart filtering" and other methods to block entire swaths of the World Wide Web.

Amir has moved on from a successful "entertainment" blog called So Just What Kind Of Country Is This That We Live In?, which routinely lampooned aspects of official Iranian life, to launch a public channel on the Telegram mobile messaging app that has attracted some 130,000 followers.

20 Million Users

Telegram is among the few social-networking platforms that has not been blocked by Iranian authorities, despite criticism by some hard-liners who have denounced it as a tool used by Iran's enemies.

As a result, it is thought to have become Iran's most popular social-media application, used by some 20 million Iranians, according to an estimate published in a semiofficial Iranian news agency.

Amir's recent posts include tweets and pictures poking fun at the newly launched undercover morality police and calls for the release of a jailed physician who was recently hospitalized for surgery.

Telegram has not been blocked yet by the Iranian authorities.
Telegram has not been blocked yet by the Iranian authorities.

Another mocks the ultra-hard-line daily Kayhan newspaper with a picture of editor Hossein Shariatmadari lying in a hospital bed and speaking by phone with Binyamin Netanyahu, prime minister of archrival Israel, and assuring him that he's doing well.

"Come over for dinner," Shariatmadari tells Netanyahu. 

Iranian activists have ridiculed the two men as de facto allies over their opposition to last year's atomic accord with world powers, under which Iran significantly limited its nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief.

"We call [Shariatmadari] 'Israel's interest section in Iran,'" says Amir.

Amir earned his Internet nickname (Mamlekate) while administrating and contributing to the popular "So Just What Kind Of Country..." collective blog -- Mamlekate Darim, in Persian. That blog won top prize in 2010 in the Farsi category of the Best Of Online Activism awards created by Germany's Deutsche Welle.

The concept was simple: Each post included a short, often funny observation about the paradoxes of life in the Islamic republic, followed by the question: So just what kind of country is this that we're living in?

One post observed, for instance: "I study music at the university. For six terms I have to take a course on Islamic science that says music is haram. So just what kind of country is this that we're living in?"

The blog is no longer active.

On the Telegram channel he launched around six months ago, Amir has reposted pictures from Iran, information, and opinions, while also poking fun at state policies, including the strict Islamic dress, or hijab, that became compulsory following the 1979 revolution and state propaganda surrounding it. Users can view, share, and download the heavily encrypted Telegram content on their cellphones. Official surveys suggest that about half of Iran's 80 million people have smartphones. 

"We act as an extra pair of eyes, we try to expose false claims and discriminatory policies and nonsensical statements as best as we can," Amir says.

When an Iranian lawmaker said parliament was "not a place for women" or "donkeys," Amir published the lawmaker's telephone number and asked followers to text the legislator to protest against his comments. He said he received dozens of screenshots of texts his followers had sent to the lawmaker, who eventually apologized for his controversial statement.

Journalist Omid Memarian says Amir's Telegram feed is "a good example of a strong grassroots campaign."

"He creates a public conversation about key subjects while also challenging the state narrative on issues such as elections, forced hijab, or for example Iran's role in Syria," Memarian says.

Amir recently asked followers to express their demands from Iranian President Hassan Rohani. He received dozens of short recorded messages that he shared on his channel, some of which were used by the New York-based International Campaign for Human Rights In Iran, which included them in a video that has been viewed more than 300,000 times. In one, a man urges Iranian authorities, "Please end the jamming of satellite channels."

Another asked Rohani -- who has Twitter feeds in both Persian (260,000 followers) and English (477,000 followers) -- whether "it isn't unjust that you can use Twitter but the people who voted for you can't." Twitter is filtered in Iran, although many Iranians access it through antifiltering tools.

When a friend and fellow administrator at "So Just What Kind Of Country..." was arrested years ago, Amir says the blogging colleague later told him he was a main topic of questioning by the interrogators.

Amir says he fears arrest if he returned to Iran, and he stayed away when his father passed away earlier this year. 

"I feel I've become the media and also the voice of some [people inside Iran]. They wouldn't let me go," he says. 


Iran Launches Undercover Morality Unit

Iranian police warn a young Iranian woman about their clothing and hair during a crackdown to enforce Islamic dress code on the streets of Tehran. This latest initiative is just the latest of many aimed at forcing Iranians to conform to conservative dress codes. (file photo)

Golnaz Esfandiari

Iranian authorities have launched a new undercover police unit that will be tasked with monitoring citizens' morality in the Iranian capital and reporting transgressions to authorities.
 
Tehran's police chief Hossein Sajedinia said that the male and female agents -- numbering around 7,000 -- will focus on issues such as "improper veiling and removal of veils inside cars," as well as noise pollution and reckless driving.
 
Sajedinia was quoted by the official news agency of Iran's judiciary, Mizan Online, as saying that the undercover agents will not have the right to directly confront people. Instead, agents will send police via text message the license plate numbers of the alleged violators and their crimes, for police to follow up.
 
The move is the latest initiative aimed at forcing Iranians to adhere to some of the strictures imposed after 1979 Islamic Revolution. Though not stated explicitly, the announcement appears aimed squarely at women, and enforcing laws that require wearing head veils and covering their bodies.
 
Iran's official news agency IRNA reported in recent days that a new campaign against immoral behavior and improper veiling had been launched in Tehran with morality police units stopping citizens at major highways and shopping centers.
 
Since the 1979 revolution, authorities have tried with varying degrees success to force Iranians to conform to conservative dress codes. Despite arrests, fines, and threats, though, many Iranian women, particularly in Tehran and other major cities, have pushed the boundaries, wearing small colorful scarfs, makeup, tight pants and short coats.
 
In June 2014, lawmakers in parliament held a public debate about what was perceived to the problem of excessively tight women's leggings.

The announcement by Sajedinia was met with criticism online and protest by many Iranians inside and outside the country who termed the new vice squad as yet another act of state interference in people's lives.
 
"Big Brother is watching you," one Twitter user said.
 

 
"Too much security can bring insecurity," another Iranian wrote on social media.
 
"If I decide to leave Iran for one reason that's the hijab," another woman from Tehran wrote on Twitter.
 
Mizan Online, the judiciary news agency, also posted online photographs of members of the new unit. That prompted some social media users to ridicule the authorities, saying that Iran was likely the only country in the world where photographs of its undercover agents were available online. 

Some said that the move went against campaign promises of more freedom and less state interference in people's lives by President Hassan Rohani. 


Video Women Deputies Sue Iranian Lawmaker Over 'Donkey' Remarks

Iranian Nader Ghazipur's controversial comments came just as it seemed likely that a record number of of women would gain seats in parliament following elections on February 26.

RFE/RL

Iranian female lawmakers are suing a hard-line male colleague, Nader Ghazipur, for saying parliament was no place for women and donkeys. 

Parliamentary deputy Fatemeh Rahbar told the government news agency IRNA that she and some of her colleagues had filed complaints with Iran's prosecutor-general, parliament's supervisory committee, and parliament speaker Ali Larijani.

“There has been a defamation against women, and Ghazipur must be held responsible," said Rahbar, who has a similar hard-line stance to her fellow lawmaker on many other issues.

Ghazipur who was returned to parliament in general elections last month, reportedly made the comments during his reelection campaign. A video of his remarks was later posted online, sparking outrage in many quarters.

"The parliament is not a place for women, it's a place for men," Ghazipur says in the video, before going on to place women in the same category as "donkeys," a term used to insult a person's intelligence.

"We didn't easily win control over the country to send every fox, kid, and donkey there. The parliament is not a place for donkeys," he said.

The 57-year-old lawmaker's comments came as a record number of women -- as many as 20 -- were expected to gain seats in the parliament following the February 26 poll.

WATCH: Nader Ghazipur's Controversial Campaign Speech (in Persian, no subtitles)

When the YouTube video of Ghazipur's controversial and crude remarks was published, it quickly attracted both online and offline criticism, as well as calls for him to be barred from office.

Zahra Nejadbahram, the head of the Information Council of the government's office for women's and family affairs, was quoted by Iranian news sites as saying that Ghazipur should be disqualified.

"When his thinking [allows] him to insult half of the country's population, he should expect a reaction, and the reaction should be the rejection of his [credentials]," Nejadbahram said on March 2.

The video also prompted a social media backlash, with some calling on the Guardians Council, which approved Ghazipur's parliamentary candidacy, to disqualify him. Others likened him to former President Mahmud Ahmadinejad, who was known for his use of crude and undiplomatic language.

As the condemnation mounted, the parliamentary deputy apologized to the women of his electoral constituency, saying he "wasn't talking about them." 

Ghazipur, however, went on to describe himself as a "servant and soldier" of Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and insisted that he would not be changing his "stances."

According to fellow lawmaker Fatemeh Rahbar, Ghazipur has since issued another apology through mediators and said that he didn't mean to insult female parliamentarians. Nonetheless, Rahbar said the complaint won't be withdrawn.

"His words have gone public through the media and gone viral inside and outside Iran," she said. "He should come out and [explain himself] in the same way, she said." 

Ghaazipur is currently a member of the parliament's Mine and Industry Commission. His biography says he fought during the 1980-88 war with Iraq to defend "his country and Islamic values."

His biography posted on the website of the parliament's research center says he also worked as Khamenei's campaign manager when the supreme leader ran successfully for president in 1981 and 1985.

According to media reports, the journalist who originally posted the video of Ghazipur's controversial comments online was later beaten up by unknown assailants.

With reporting by IRNA, AFP
 

Iran Sets New Restrictions On University Concerts

Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and his conservative allies say universities are no place for concerts.

RFE/RL

Iran has set new restrictions on concerts held at universities, as hard-liners dig in their heels after election gains for moderates who might seek to ease some of the Islamic republic's harshest limits on cultural life.

The regulations, issued by the state council for the Islamization of universities and educational centers, declares that "holding concerts and independent musical programs is not a priority for universities and is not allowed."

But it adds that only "fine and valuable Iranian music" that "strengthens national identity" and is in line with "Islamic norms" can be played while emphasizing that promoting music is not part of universities' mission.

The regulations also say that music played at university concerts should encourage commitment to "moral, social, political, and revolutionary responsibilities."

It also says that music should not create "excitement that is out of the norm" or provoke "lust."

Lyrics that encourage "promiscuity," "despair and hopelessness," "superficiality," and "neglect human dignity" should be avoided, according to the regulations as published by the news site Khabaronline.ir.

The new restrictions come several months after Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei strongly criticized university concerts and mixed student camps as very wrong.

In a July 2015 meeting with a group of students, Khamenei quoted approvingly a student as saying that "university is not a place for concerts."

"Sending students to mixed camps and holding concerts in universities to, in our minds, create joy in the student environment, is among the most wrong deeds," Khamenei was quoted as saying by domestic media.

In September, the semiofficial Mehr news agency quoted Khamenei's representative at universities, Hojatoleslam Mohammad Mohammadian, as saying that "universities have been told that they don't have the right to hold concerts."

Several concerts have reportedly been canceled at universities in recent months, including a music festival that was due to be held at Tehran's Sharif University in February.

Music came under a crackdown following the 1979 revolution, but restrictions have since been relaxed.

In past months, hard-liners who deem cultural policies advocated by President Hassan Rohani too liberal have disrupted or canceled a number of concerts.

Rohani's moderate and pragmatic allies saw gains in last month's national elections to parliament and the body that oversees the supreme leader, who holds ultimate power in politics and religion under Iran's constitution.

Since a landmark nuclear deal was struck last year with world powers, Supreme Leader Khamenei and hard-liners have repeatedly warned against allowing Western culture or values to creep into Iranian society.


Nine Takeaways From Iran's Elections

An Iranian supporter of the Reformists during an election campaign in Tehran.

Golnaz Esfandiari

Iran's moderates and reformists have had nearly a week to celebrate their return from a decade of political marginalization in elections that recast the ranks of the parliament and the clerically dominated Assembly of Experts, which selects and oversees the supreme leader. But how much has really changed?

Here are nine things you should know about the results of the latest voting under Iran's tightly controlled, carefully vetted, political system.

Hard-Liners Were Dealt A Blow...

The results of the votes demonstrate a rejection of hard-line views and policies.

The message was particularly emphatic in the capital, where moderates won all 30 seats reserved for the parliament and 15 of 16 Tehran seats in the Assembly of Experts.

"Tehran is the political hub and the definitive center of power," says analyst Saeed Barzin, highlighting the psychological blow.

Two clerics known for their radical worldviews failed to keep their seats in the Assembly of Experts. Out is Ayatollah Taghi Mesbah Yazdi, a longtime supporter of hawkish ex-President Mahmud Ahmadinejad known for his hard-line views, including saying recently that people's votes don't matter in an Islamic system. Ayatollah Mohammad Yazdi, the current head of the Assembly of Experts and former judiciary chief who has opposed any loosening of social norms, was also defeated in Tehran. Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, who heads the powerful Guardians Council, snuck in at the bottom of the Assembly of Experts list from Tehran.
 
"People didn't trust those who don't value their vote and opinions, they voted for the opposite side," the popular news site Asriran.com argued on March 1.
 
"The election results were surely a big victory for moderate forces and a terrifying failure for hard-liners," Saeed Laylaz, an economist who advised former reformist President Mohammad Khatami, told the Financial Times.
 
...But They're Not Gone
 
Despite the embarrassing defeat in Tehran, hard-liners reportedly won 78 races for the 290-seat parliament. Moderate forces have so far been declared winners in 83 races and independents 60. The fate of a further 69 seats will be decided in run-offs expected in April.

Hard-liners remain in charge of powerful state bodies, including the judiciary and the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) that are so actively involved in state repression. Those powerful bodies are unlikely to veer in the near future from their course of repression.

And while some reports question the health of the staunchly conservative and anti-Western supreme leader, 76-year-old Ali Khamenei, he continues to have the final say in Iran's religious and political affairs. 

Reformists Are Not Back

The reformist gains are a boost for the pro-reform camp that was able to reconnect with voters. But it doesn't mean that Iran is seeing a reemergence of the reformist movement that rose to prominence with the 1997 election of Mohammad Khatami as president. 

Many of the reformist camp's most prominent figures were disqualified from these elections. The reformists responded with a so-called List of Hope -- an alliance of reformists, moderate conservatives, and pragmatists supportive of the relative moderate who swept into the presidency in 2013, Hassan Rohani. Rohani has called publicly for greater rights for women, "the right to think freely" for Iranians in "their private lives," and greater Iranian diplomatic engagement with the world, although his progress has been confined to the last of those areas, most notably through the nuclear deal reached with world powers in July.

But Washington-based political analyst Ali Afshari says the reformists elected to parliament in these elections have a "weak" reformist agenda, suggesting they're not supportive of some of the reformist's more liberal and pro-democracy demands.
 
"It's not clear, after entering the parliament and facing pressure and threats from the establishment, to what extent they will remain firm on their stances," Afshari tells RFE/RL.
 
For instance, one reformist lawmaker-elect quickly came under pressure over a quote that appeared after the vote suggesting that women should be allowed to choose whether or not they want to wear the hijab, the Islamic head scarf. Parvaneh Salahshuri reportedly made the comment in a February 29 interview with Italian journalist Viviana Mazza but, following hard-line criticism, said that her comments had been "misunderstood." In an interview with the hard-line Tasnim news agency, Salahshuri said while there could be differences in the way the wearing of the hijab is enforced, "there is no doubt that it should be observed." Tasnim quoted her as saying that she "apologizes "and understands "the sensitivities" regarding the issue.
 
Parliament Looks More Moderate
 
The hard-liners appear to have lost their dominance in the parliament, where they have openly challenged Rohani's outreach efforts, including the nuclear deal and other engagement with the international community, as well as social policies they deem too liberal.

London-based analyst Barzin even speculates that the incoming parliament is likely to be controlled by pro-Rohani forces. 
 
"The parliament will be split almost evenly between a pro-government camp, the [right-wing] principlists, and the independents. Each bloc has about 25 percent of the seats. Some 25 percent of the seats have gone to [run-offs in] the second round, and will probably again split between the three trends," Barzin says.
 
A more cooperative parliament could make it easier for Rohani to advance his economic agenda, pave the way for foreign investment, and bring modest social changes.

No Major Foreign Policy Changes Are Expected

Iran's role in Syria, where the IRGC is supporting the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, is unlikely to change as the results of these elections.
 
On the other hand, analyst Barzin says the moderate win in parliament could positively affect Iran's ties with regional rival Saudi Arabia by empowering Rohani. The Saudis broke their ties with Iran after an attack by hard-liners on the Saudi Embassy in Tehran, which itself followed the execution of a Shi'ite cleric accused of violent extremism, Nimr Al-Nimr, a move that was strongly condemned by Iranian officials.
 
With greater support at home, Rohani and his foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, will be in a stronger negotiating position for outreach efforts that have been criticized by hard-liners, argues Barzin.
 
"A stronger government should mean the possibility of [a] greater approach [to] a political solution [to] the crisis in relations with Saudi Arabia," says Barzin.
 
Despite Appearances, There's No Seismic Shift In The Assembly
 
The elimination from the Assembly of Experts of current Chairman Yazdi and the hawkish theologian Mesbah Yazdi is significant. 

Farzan Sabet, a nuclear security fellow at Stanford University and managing editor of a website, IranPolitik.com, which focuses on Iranian politics, says hard-line defeats there are "a win for those who wanted a more moderate assembly." 

Yet the assembly's composition doesn't appear to have undergone major changes, although it is perhaps too soon to tell.

"We don't fully understand what kind of new assembly we are looking at," Sabet says.

And anyways, Sabet adds, the results of any major shift "would mainly be seen in a potential future supreme-leader transition, rather than in the short term."

Analyst Ashfari cautions that "the majority of seats are still controlled by the hard-liners, those [on the list] of the influential Qom Society of Seminary Teachers, and those loyal to [Supreme Leader Ayatollah] Khamenei." 

Ex-President Khatami Remains Influential
 
The reformist former President Mohammad Khatami (1997-2005) remains popular despite a media and public-speaking ban and and his failure to achieve many of his stated reform goals. He has been given credit for much of the support that reformist and moderate forces received in these elections, partly the result of a YouTube clip encouraging his supporters to vote for candidates from the "List Of Hope."
 
Tehran-based professor Sadegh Zibakalam noted that some of those elected to parliament from Tehran are relative unknowns deeply indebted to Khatami for their victory. "This shows the depth of people's trust in the senior figures of the reformist movement," Zibakalam said in the Iranian daily Arman on February 28.
 
Speaking on state-controlled television on March 1, moderate conservative lawmaker Ali Motahari (who won reelection from Tehran) said the long-running media ban on Khatami had resulted in the opposite of its intended effect. "Those who enforced the ban on Khatami did so to prevent him from influencing the elections. But we saw that this policy resulted in [Khatami] having a greater influence."

Elections Are Seen As The Only Option For Change

Many Iranians want to see a stronger economy, more jobs, good ties with Western countries, and more freedom. Rohani's election to the presidency three years ago and last week's gains by relative moderates highlight those desires.

The 63 percent turnout last week suggests that despite the heavily restricted nature of the Iranian elections and the sharply disputed reelection of Ahmadinejad in 2009 and subsequent crackdown, many Iranians still believe the ballot box is the only option to achieve gradual change in the Islamic republic. Some of last week's voters have said they cast their ballots knowing that the elections were not free but rather a choice between bad and worse.
 
Khamenei Wins, Too

The elections are seen as a victory for Rohani and the moderate forces that are supportive of last year's nuclear accord, under which Iran has significantly limited sensitive nuclear activities in exchange for sanctions relief. 
 
But Rand Corporation senior analyst Alireza Nader noted that they are also a win for Khamenei, who had urged even those who don't approve of him to vote. Nader said in a March 2 analysis that the sizable turnout "eases Khamenei's fear of his regime losing legitimacy in the face of economic malaise and popular dissatisfaction."

He added, citing popular disillusionment from 2009 election and the Green Movement whose leaders were subsequently put under house arrest: "Khamenei's concerns are framed by the massive 2009 Green uprising that shook the Iranian regime to its core. [Rohani's] presidency, the nuclear agreement, a slight improvement in the economy, and Iran's reduced international isolation and improved regional position have made the regime much more stable since 2009. And the recent elections add to this momentum." 


Iranian Lawmaker Says Parliament Is No Place For Women, Donkeys

Women wait in line to cast their votes in parliamentary elections in Tehran on February 26.

Golnaz Esfandiari

A hard-line Iranian lawmaker has come under fire for declaring that women should not be allowed to serve in parliament.

"The parliament is not a place for women, it's a place for men," lawmaker Nader Ghazipur said in a video posted online in which he appears to suggest that women can be abused and places women in the same category as "donkeys," a term used to insult a person's intelligence.

"We didn't easily win control over the country to send every fox, kid, and donkey there. The parliament is not a place for donkeys," he said.

Ghazipour, 57, was reelected to Iran's parliament last week in his hometown of Orumiyeh in West Azerbaijan Province. He appears to have made the comments during a meeting at his campaign headquarters.

His comments come as a record number of women -- as many as 20 -- are expected to gain seats in the parliament following the February 26 poll.

The YouTube video of Ghazipur's controversial and crude remarks was posted recently, sparking both online and offline criticism, as well as calls for him to be barred from office.

Zahra Nejadbahram, the head of the Information Council of the government's office for women's and family affairs, was quoted by Iranian news sites as saying that Ghazipur should be disqualified.

"When his thinking [allows] him to insult half of the country's population, he should expect a reaction, and the reaction should be the rejection of his [credentials]," Nejadbahram said on March 2.

The Orumiyeh branch of a women's group, the Islamic Society of Revolutionary Women, said Ghazipur should be disqualified for his "obvious and blatant disrespect of women."

Criticism also came from Orumiyeh's Friday Prayers leader, Mehdi Ghoreishi, who did not name Ghazipur but said that "insults and vulgarity" are "not worthy of an Islamic society."

"We should not allow rudeness and vulgarity to become institutionalized in our city," the cleric was quoted by domestic media as saying.

On social media, some called on the Guardians Council, which approved Ghazipur to run in last week's elections, to disqualify him. Others likened him to former President Mahmud Ahmadinejad, who was known for his use of crude and undiplomatic language.

In an Instagram post, Ghazipur apologized to the women of Orumiyeh while calling himself a "servant and soldier" of Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

"I apologized for the comments that hurt the feelings of the ladies of Orumiyeh because I wasn't talking about them," he wrote.

"Those who spied [on me] and recorded and published the video should doubt themselves, because by attempting to hurt Ghazipur, they're putting people's votes under question," he wrote, adding that he will not change his "stances."

Ghazipur is a member of the parliament's Mine and Industry Commission. His biography says he fought during the 1980-88 war with Iraq to defend "his country and Islamic values."

He also worked as Khamenei's campaign manager in 1981 and 1985, according to his biography posted on the website of the parliament's research center.


Iranian VP Under Fire For Claiming All Of Village's Men 'Executed'

Iranian Vice President Shahindokht Molaverdi has yet to react publicly to the wave of criticism.

Golnaz Esfandiari

Iranian Vice President Shahindokht Molaverdi has come under fire for claiming that the entire male population of a village in restive Sistan-Baluchistan Province has been executed on drug-related offenses. 
 
Molaverdi made the claim in a February 23 interview with the semiofficial Mehr news agency, without specifying the name of the village or the number of people executed.
 
"We have a village in Sistan-Baluchistan where every single man has been executed," Molaverdi said.

The province is used as a route by drug traffickers due to its proximity to Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Molaverdi warned that "the survivors are potential drug dealers, as they would want to seek revenge for their fathers and also provide for their families."
 
The shocking claim, which made headlines in Persian-language and Western media, has angered local officials, who accuse Molaverdi of spreading lies and damaging the province.
 
Sistan-Baluchistan's deputy chief justice, Mohammad Ali Hamidian, said on March 2 that a legal complaint has been launched against Molaverdi because, he said, her claim constituted "spreading lies and defamation" about the judicial system.
 
Hamidian was quoted by local news sites as saying that Molaverdi has linked "the failure" of the executive branch to solve the problems of Sistan-Baluchistan -- one of Iran's poorest regions -- to the judiciary.
 
Another local official, Hassan Razavidust, also blasted Molaverdi, while dismissing her claim as a "pure lie."
 
"Since the claim is false, the vice president should be held [legally] responsible and apologize to the people in the province," Razavidust, a deputy prosecutor for the region's capital, Zahedan, was quoted by domestic media as saying.
 
Several lawmakers also criticized Molaverdi while suggesting that such a village does not exist. Among them is Zahedan's representative to the parliament, who said the issue will be pursued through the parliament and other bodies.
 
"This interview destroyed the reputation of Sistan-Baluchistan," the lawmaker, Hosseinali Shahriari, said. He added: "Many people contact us and ask about the basis for this claim."
 
Shahriari said he personally had no information about such a village.
 
Mohammad Javad Larijani, head of the Iranian judiciary's Human Rights Council, told CNN on March 1 that he is looking into the issue.
 
He suggested that the number of those executed in the village was small.

"[As for] what the vice president said, I think we should be aware that a village which has only five families living in it...the male population of that -- five or six [men] -- could be involved in the drug-trafficking incident," Larijani told CNN in an interview from Geneva.
 
Molaverdi has yet to react publicly to the wave of criticism.
 
She was quoted by a local website as saying that she does not plan to give any interviews on the matter.

Iran has one the highest execution rates in the world. According to figures released by Amnesty International, Iran executed nearly 700 people in the first half of 2015. 

Most of those were hanged after being convicted of drug-related offenses, including drug trafficking.

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