Thursday, February 11, 2016


Tehran Just Had A Crazy Car-Wash Attack

The incident occurred over the weekend, when dozens of municipal workers were said to have attacked a car wash in Tehran, beating up the staff and demolishing the property.

A land dispute in the Iranian capital has sparked violent clashes that reportedly left several workers at a local car wash badly injured.

The incident occurred over the weekend, when dozens of municipal workers were said to have attacked a car wash in Tehran's Saadat Abad neighborhood, beating up the staff and demolishing the property.

Iranian media reported that Tehran's city government and the Qods mosque have been battling over ownership of the land where the car wash is located for several years.

Footage released by Iranian news sites shows several men with large sticks attacking a property that appears to be the car wash. A number of men in dark uniforms are also seen in the footage.

The video also shows images of the apparent aftermath of the attack: broken windows, damaged cars and properties, and car-wash workers with bandaged heads and arms. Reports said 10 workers had been hospitalized following the incident.

"I think they were Daesh. Daesh is the worst that we have," said one of the injured workers, using an alternative term for the Islamic State extremist group.

One man said the municipal workers arrived at 1:30 a.m. local time on February 7 to shut down the car wash. "We told them: '[Show] us your order. If you have an order, then we'll [obey],'" he said.

"There were eight of them at first, then there were 200, 300. Maybe 500," he added.

He said they attacked the car-wash workers with bricks and knives, and that their cars bore the logo of Tehran's municipality.

The injured car-wash employee who referred to the municipal workers as Daesh claimed they also used stun guns and tear gas. "My arm has been [hurt].... One of my ribs has been broken, they also injured my head with a cutlass. I don't know who to complain against. Do we even have someone to complain to?"

Speaking on February 10, Tehran Mayor Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf said the released footage showed only part of the incident, adding that municipal workers had also been injured.

"They injured the municipal workers with rocks and [sticks]," he said, suggesting that the city employees were enforcing the law.

However, he was also critical of the way the municipal workers handled their duty. "Our agents shouldn't have gotten involved in clashes. They should have chosen an alternative way to do the work and resolve the issue with an appropriate response," Qalibaf was quoted as saying by Iranian news sites.

He said the city will deal with the workers who misbehaved during the car wash incident. But he added that Tehran must fulfill its legal obligations.

Qalibaf praised the members of the board of directors of the Qods mosque as "trustful and respected" individuals, while adding that the land where the car wash is located belongs to the city, which has assigned it to another organization.


Iran Releases New Footage Of U.S. Sailors

U.S. sailors are pictured on a boat with their hands on their heads at an unknown location in this still image taken from video taken on January 12-13.

Golnaz Esfandiari

Iran has released more footage and images of U.S. sailors who were briefly detained last month by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), including images that appear to show one of them crying.

The United States said the footage was clearly being used as propaganda, and expressed "disgust."

The footage was reportedly aired by Iran's state-controlled television. A number of news sites and hard-line news agencies, including the IRGC-affiliated Tasnim news agency, published the footage and the images.

One video clip appears to show a sailor shedding tears and wiping them from his face.

The move appears to be aimed at embarrassing the United States, which hard-liners in the Iranian establishment say remains Tehran's enemy despite renewed diplomacy between the two countries that helped produce a nuclear accord that was implemented last month.

Under the deal reached in July 2015 between Iran and six world powers including the United States, Tehran has significantly limited its sensitive nuclear work in exchange for sanctions relief.

State Department spokesman Samuel Werberg said the footage was "clearly being used for propaganda purposes."

"We've been clear, and [Secretary of State John Kerry] was clear, about our disgust at seeing the pictures and video of our sailors being used clearly for propaganda purposes. That remains the case with the newly released pictures and videos," Werberg told RFE/RL in an e-mail.

He added that the U.S. Department of Defense was still looking into the incident.

The footage was released following a threat earlier this month by IRGC navy commander Admiral Ali Fadavi, who said that Iran would release additional footage of the U.S. sailors "if the Americans' acts of malevolence continue."

The sailors, nine men and one woman, were captured on January 12 after mistakenly straying into Iran's territorial waters. They were released a few hours later on January 13 following several phone conversations between Kerry and his Iranian counterpart, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.

Following their release, state-controlled television aired footage of the U.S. sailors on their knees with their hands behind their heads, as well as a televised interview with one the sailors, who is shown "apologizing" for trespassing.

Kerry later said that he was "frustrated and angry" at the video released by Iran.

Earlier this month, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei personally awarded the IRGC commanders involved in the capture of the U.S. sailors and their vessels with one of the country's highest honors.


Trash-Talking: Collecting Garbage Isn't A Crime In Tehran. Or Is It?

Mohammad Maleki, wearing a shawl that says "Let's Sweep Garbage," flashes the victory sign along a roadway outside the capital, where he and a colleague were dumped by security agents.

Golnaz Esfandiari and Mohammad Reza Yazdanpanah

Left with few options to legally highlight state repression in Iran, former Tehran University chancellor Mohammad Maleki and former hard-line columnist Mohammad Nurizad settled on a seemingly innocuous form of public protest -- collecting garbage from the streets of Tehran.

“[Collecting garbage] isn’t a crime," Nurizad wrote on Facebook on January 26. "Or is it?"

The two well-known dissidents' first street-cleaning action went off without incident last week. But when Maleki and Nurizad met early on the morning of February 5 for another round, they were met by security agents, who drove them outside the capital and left them by the side of a road.

Yet they remained defiant, continuing their protest along a desolate strip of highway and posting the photos of their good work on social media.

former Tehran University chancellor Mohammad Maleki and former hard-line columnist Mohammad Nurizad pose with colleagues during their trash-collecting protest on February 2.
former Tehran University chancellor Mohammad Maleki and former hard-line columnist Mohammad Nurizad pose with colleagues during their trash-collecting protest on February 2.

One shows the the 82-year-old Maleki, draped in a shawl that reads "Let's Sweep Garbage," flashing the victory sign while posing for a roadside photo. In the background looms a huge billboard with a picture showing the founder of the Islamic republic, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, upon his return to Tehran from exile. 

Speaking to RFE/RL's Radio Farda afterward, Maleki said that, despite the detour thrown their way, he and Nurizad will press on.

“We will not stop our protest," Maleki said in a telephone interview from Tehran. "We will engage in symbolic acts of protests."

In recent months, the two have held a number of actions to highlight human rights violations in the Islamic republic, including the imprisonment of rights activists.

Both men are outspoken critics of the Iranian establishment who have in the past served time in jail.

The two say they decided to collect garbage because it is not considered a crime in Iran, where criticism of the establishment and attempts at public gatherings and protests often result in charges including “acting against Iran’s national security.”

In announcing the protest in late January, Nurizad said they were specifically protesting a travel ban they both face “without any reason and without a judicial order” and also against “the confiscation of some of their belongings” by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC).

Nurizad, a former regime supporter turned dissident, shared photos of himself, Maleki, and a few other men and a woman with plastic bags filled with trash collected from the streets of the capital during the initial protest, held on February 2.


Video Tonic For The Troops: Iran Singer Takes Stage In Syria

Iranian singer Saeed Haddadian

Golnaz Esfandiari

A well-known Iranian religious singer recently traveled to war-torn Syria, where he performed for Iranian fighters deployed there to bolster Tehran's regional ally, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Saeed Haddadian, a popular singer in conservative segments of Iranian society, said in a February 3 interview that he traveled to Syria with his son to honor Iranian forces who "do in action what we say in words."

The fighters, known as "defenders of the shrine," are reportedly trained and deployed by the powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) and the Basij forces. They also include Afghans who are reportedly pressured by Iran to fight for Assad in exchange for financial rewards and legal residence.

Iranian media and websites associated with the group claim the fighters travel "voluntarily" to Syria to defend the Sayida Zeinab shrine in the suburbs of Damascus and fight "terrorist groups" and "extremist forces." The area around that shrine was the scene of a grisly bombing on January 31, claimed by the extremist group Islamic State (IS), that killed more than 50 people and injured at least 100 others.

Haddadian's trip comes amid reports of a spike in the number of Iranian fighters and "military advisers" killed in Syria.

In recent weeks, Iranian media have published the names and photographs of dozens of Iranians and Afghans killed in Syria, where Assad's forces are fighting both IS and more moderate armed groups, some of which have received backing from the United States and its allies. 

Iranian media outlets have also reported on large funerals held for these fallen fighters.

Video footage posted online shows Haddadian performing in a room full of men who are frantically beating their chests and at times singing along.

WATCH: Saeed Haddadian Performs

The hard-line Tasnim news agency, which is affiliated with the IRGC, said Haddadian performed for the "defenders of the shrine" two days before an unspecified operation in the Syrian city of Aleppo.

Both Tasnim and the Fars news agency, which is also affiliated with the IRGC, reported on February 3 that about a dozen Iranian fighters were killed while fighting in Syria, including IRGC Brigadier General Mohsen Ghajarian, who was said to have been killed "in the province of Aleppo" while carrying out an "advisory mission." The exact date of his death was unclear.

Haddadian said that an unspecified number of clerics have also been killed in Syria recently.

"It’s a great achievement. The media should cover it. The clergy does good work there," Tasnim quoted him as saying.

Haddadian spoke in grandiose religious terms about the situation on the front lines of the bloody war five-year-old war in Syria. In his comments, he did not mention Assad, whose fragile reign has been propped up with military interventions by both Russia and Iran.

The United States and its allies accuse Assad of committing war crimes against his own people and say he must step down as part of a political transition to end the bloodshed, while Moscow and Tehran have stood by the Syrian president.

A U.S.-led coalition has been bombing IS targets in Syria and Iraq. Washington has said Russia's bombing campaign in Syria, launched in late September, and ground operations by Iranian forces and the Tehran-backed Hizballah militant group are aimed at propping up Assad rather than destroying IS extremists.

Iran says it only has military "advisers" on the ground in Syria who are not taking part in combat.

'Spiritual' Atmosphere

Haddadian said one of the aims of his trip was to breathe in what he called the "spiritual" atmosphere among the Iranian fighters.

He also said that the morale of the troops is "excellent" and that many of the fighters he met asked him to send their greetings to Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.

"I sing twice a year in the presence of [Khamenei]. That’s why they wanted me to convey their greetings," he said.

Haddadian also said that a group of non-Iranian fighters would demonstrate that they are "like-minded" by chanting in Persian: "God is Great, Ali Khamenei is the leader." 

At one point, he claimed, he was about 500 meters away from the front line.

"We went to a location where I laughed when I saw how the weapons were positioned. The mortar launchers faced three sides," he said.

Haddadian added that his son asked the commanders about the location of "the enemies."

"They said, 'You should ask where they’re not!'" he said, claiming that the comment made them laugh.

Haddadian spoke to Tasnim after several photos published online showed him and his son wearing military fatigues in Syria, sparking rumors that they had been killed in the fighting.

"Not everyone can achieve the grace of martyrdom," he said in reaction to the rumors.

He added: "God willing, you will one day hear the news of my martyrdom."

Haddadian said that his son had sent the photo to his friends, who had then shared it on social media.

He added that he is very much against the publishing of such images online.
 


Former BBC Journalist, Translator Arrested In Tehran

Bahman Darolshafayi

Golnaz Esfandiari

Iranian journalist and translator Bahman Darolshafayi, a dual Iranian-British national and former BBC journalist, has been arrested in Tehran.

Authorities had not announced the reason for Darolshafayi's arrest on February 3.

The opposition website Kalame said Darolshafayi was arrested at his Tehran home by security forces who did not identify their affiliation. They also did not say where they were taking Darolshafayi.

Sources told RFE/RL that Darolshafayi had been interrogated repeatedly by Iranian security officials in recent months.

Darolshafayi lived in London but returned to Tehran about two years ago.

One source said Darolshafayi's Gmail account was hacked recently. Pro-government forces in Iran have been accused in the past of hacking into the e-mail and social-media accounts of journalists and political activists to extract information that has, at times, been used in interrogations.

Darolshafayi worked for about five years with the Persian service of the BBC, which has been accused of spreading lies by Iranian hard-liners. He has also been affiliated with moderate and pro-reform Iranian dailies, including Hamshahri and Sharq.

In recent months, Darolshafayi had mainly been doing translation work. He also has published several books.

Darolshafayi also supported the Green opposition movement that was brutally repressed in 2009. Several of his relatives were arrested in the crackdown that followed the disputed reelection of Iran's former President Mahmud Ahmadinejad.

He has posted information on social-media sites about human rights abuses and the plight of political prisoners in Iran.

The cover photo of his personal Facebook page is an image of Iranian opposition figure Mir Hossein Musavi, who has been under house arrest, along with his wife, university professor Zahra Rahnavard, and reformist cleric Mehdi Karrubi, since February 2011.

Darolshafayi's detention is one of several recent arrests of journalists ahead of elections in February for the parliament and the Assembly of Experts -- a group that could choose Iran's next supreme leader.

Other journalists have been arrested by the intelligence branch of the powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC).

In London, The Guardian newspaper suggested that Darolshafayi's arrest could be an attempt by Iranian hard-liners to undermine an upcoming visit to London by Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.

"The awkward timing of the arrest suggests that hard-liners, who dominate the judiciary and the intelligence apparatus, may be seeking to undermine Zarif and the moderate faction in control of the government as the Iranian foreign minister visits the U.K.," the British newspaper said.

Iran is routinely criticized by media watchdogs for detaining and jailing journalists. Reporters Without Borders ranked Iran 173 out of 180 countries in its 2015 Press Freedom Index.


Iranian Commanders Who Detained U.S. Sailors Receive Hero Treatment

Commanders who were involved in the detention of the U.S. sailors were awarded for their actions by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.

Golnaz Esfandiari

Meet Iran's new heroes: the head of the naval forces of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) and four of its commanders who last month briefly detained U.S. sailors after their vessels mistakenly strayed into Iranian territorial waters.

Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei on January 31 personally decorated the IRGC officers with the Order of Fath for their "courageous and timely" move to seize the sailors and their boats. The Fath, or "Conquest," medal is one of the Islamic republic's highest honors.

A day later, the five IRGC commanders were guests of honor at the Iranian parliament, where they each received a "certificate of appreciation" and praise from speaker Ali Larijani, who said the IRGC's navy remained the country’s "sharp eyes" in safeguarding Iran's maritime borders.

The hero treatment appears to reflect Iranian hard-liners' position that Washington remains Tehran's enemy despite the nuclear accord that Iran reached in July with the United States and other major powers that curbs its nuclear activities in exchange for sanctions relief.

But it also sends a message to Iranians that, despite the compromises made by Iran in the nuclear deal, their country remains strong and uncompromising.

Alex Vatanka, a senior Iran analyst at the Washington-based Middle East Institute, says the "glorious treatment" the IRGC's navy commanders are receiving is meant to project power at a time when hard-liners are worried that the opening up of the country following the nuclear deal could diminish their power.

Iran released video of the U.S. sailors on their knees with their hands behind their heads.
Iran released video of the U.S. sailors on their knees with their hands behind their heads.

"It's about showing who's calling the shots at home in Tehran with [Iranian President Hassan Rohani] being out and about in the world cutting deals," Vatanka said. "But what it, to my mind, shows is how insecure [the hard-line faction of the Iranian establishment] is about their position."

Middle East analyst Rasool Nafisi told RFE/RL that the move is aimed at deflecting attention from the nuclear program to Iran's military might.

"The Iranian [establishment] is trying to make Iranians believe that the Iranian military is No. 1 in the region and can even take on the American military," Nafisi said.

The seizing of the sailors on January 12 and their release several hours later on January 13 came amid improved ties between Iran and the United States, which successfully negotiated the July nuclear deal together with other members of the P5+1 group of world powers -- Britain, China, France, and Russia, plus Germany.

The sailors were swiftly freed following several phone calls between U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and his Iranian counterpart, Mohammad Javad Zarif.

The quick resolution of the incident was praised by U.S. President Barack Obama's administration as the result of renewed diplomacy between the two countries, which have been at odds since Iran's 1979 revolution and the hostage-taking of U.S. diplomats in Tehran.

But hard-liners who are suspicious of the diplomatic rapprochement between the two countries have been touting the incident as a sign of Iran's military might and a humiliation for the United States.

They've released pictures and footage of the U.S. sailors on their knees with their hands behind their heads, as well as a televised interview with one the sailors, who is shown "apologizing" for trespassing.

A deputy IRGC commander, General Hossein Salami, claimed on January 16 that the U.S. sailors "cried" when they were being detained but that IRGC forces treated them with "kindness."

Speaking at the Iranian parliament on February 1, an IRGC navy commander, Admiral Ali Fadavi, said Iran has more video footage of the arrest of the U.S. sailors. He added that "if the Americans' acts of malevolence continue, we will release them."

Fadavi also claimed that the IRGC had extracted "extensive information" from the mobile phones and laptops of the U.S. sailors.


Khomeini's Grandson Vows To Challenge Decision to Bar Him From Election

Hassan Khomeini, the grandson of late Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, arrives to registers his candidacy at the Interior Ministry during the registration for the elections to the Assembly of Experts in Tehran on December 18.

Golnaz Esfandiari

A grandson of the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the cleric who led Iran's 1979 revolution and founded the Islamic republic, says he will challenge a decision to bar him from running in the February election for the Assembly of Experts even though it could be fruitless.

Hassan Khomeini, 43, was quoted on January 29 as saying that he will appeal "at the request of the public and some senior religious and political figures," while adding that the move was unlikely to "open a new path."

Khomeini, a mid-ranking moderate cleric with ties to the reformist faction of the Iranian establishment, made the comments a few days after his son confirmed on Instagram an earlier media report that the Guardians Council had not approved him to run in the February 26 vote.

The powerful hard-line conservative body is in charge of vetting all election candidates in Iran, which Khomeini's grandfather ruled over as supreme leader from the revolution that ended the secular Pahlavi monarchy until his death in 1989.

The Guardians Council has reportedly approved only 166 out of some 800 candidates hoping to run for the Assembly of Experts, including Iranian President Hassan Rohani and former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani.

The Assembly, which is in theory in charge of overseeing the work of Iran's supreme leader, could determine the successor to current Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who is 76.

"It's a surprise to me and to many others that some of the respectable gentlemen jurists in the Guardians Council couldn't establish I am qualified," Khomeini said in comments published by Iranian news sites.

He added that he was barred from running despite the fact that his application included the testimony of senior clerics and others to his religious qualifications and "hours of tapes of his lectures" and "several books" he has authored.

"If the gentlemen couldn't establish I am qualified through the testimonies of grand ayatollahs, and my lectures and writings, then it's unlikely they will do so in the future," Khomeini said.

He said he had decided to run "as a duty and concern over the future of the revolution and the Islamic establishment."

Khomeini also said that despite "rumors," he had not been invited to take a qualifying test or be interviewed by the Guardians Council.

Hard-line conservatives have in past years made attempts at tarnishing Khomeini, who is said to be close to former President Mohammad Khatami. A reformist, Khatami has fallen out of favor of the Iranian establishment over his support for the Green opposition movement and its leaders, who are under house arrest.

Khomeini has also been attacked over his ties with former President Rafsanjani.

Khomeini's disqualification could be part of attempts by Iranian hard-line conservatives to tighten their grip on domestic politics following a July deal with global powers that placed restrictions on Iran's nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief.

The deal has created hope among the hard-liners' opponents that their power and authority could be diminished in the long run.

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.

Guerrilla Translators

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