Friday, October 31, 2014


UN Rapporteur Notes 'Alarming Increase' In Iran Executions

Ahmed Shaheed, UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran (file photo)

Golnaz Esfandiari

The United Nations special rapporteur on the human rights situation in Iran is warning about a recent surge in executions by the Islamic republic.

In his latest report to the UN General Assembly, Ahmed Shaheed said at least 852 people, including eight juvenile offenders, have been executed in Iran since June 2013.

He said the figure represents an "alarming increase." 

In his October 28 remarks to the UN General Assembly’s third committee, Shaheed said, "The majority of the executions continue to be for alleged crimes that do not meet international standards of most serious, including political crimes, drug possession, and corruption."

He said Iran should consider a moratorium on juvenile and public executions.

He also said that despite "some recent advances by the Iranian government and the parliament," Iran's human rights situation remains a serious concern.

Shaheed cited amendments to the Islamic penal and criminal-procedure codes and the proposal of a Citizens Charter in September as examples of progress by elements of the Iranian establishment.

The UN Rapporteur also warned about censorship and other pressure on Iranian media, noting that at least 35 journalists are currently jailed in Iran.

"Another 36 journalists, bloggers and authors have been arrested, summoned, or sentenced in connection with their journalistic activities or for simply expressing their opinions on social media websites since May of this year," he said.

Shaheed, who has come under criticism by Iranian authorities over his reports detailing human rights violations in Iran, also noted the pressure on religious minorities there.

He said there are currently about 300 individuals in Iran’s prisons because of their religious beliefs and practices. They include 126 Baha’is, 49 Christians, and nine dervishes.
 
Shaheed also noted the ongoing state pressure on human rights defenders, who he said often face defamation campaigns that equate them with terrorists and foreign agents.

Shaheed said discriminatory laws against Iranian women and girls continue to institutionalize their second-class status.

He said that following the 2012 introduction of gender quotas, the number of women at universities has declined from 62 percent in 2008 to 48 percent last year.

An Iranian representative speaking at the UN criticized Shaheed's mandate as "politically motivated" and said that his reports provided a "flawed" picture of the situation in Iran.

But she said Iran will continue its "efforts" for the promotion of human rights.


Iran Moves To Muzzle Media Coverage Of Acid Attacks

An Iranian woman, hiding her face so as not to be identified, raises a placard during a protest to show solidarity with the acid-attack victims, in front of the judiciary building in Isfahan on October 22.

Golnaz Esfandiari

Iranian officials are moving to muzzle media coverage of a string of recent acid attacks targeting young women in the central city of Isfahan.

The attacks have sparked outrage and fear among many Iranians who last week took to the streets of Isfahan and Tehran to protest and call for government action. 

Seven or eight women in Isfahan have had liquid acid thrown on them by men on motorcycles, according to Iran’s police chief, Esmail Ahmadi Moghadam. The attacks have left some of the victims badly burned, disfigured, and blind.
 
In recent days, several Iranian officials have warned the media over their coverage of the crimes, accusing them of fomenting public discord and promoting the "views of the enemy."
 
Hard-liners are irked over reports linking the attacks to religious zealots who enforce Islamic norms in the country, including the Islamic hijab that became obligatory for women following the 1979 revolution. 

They have also said that the attacks should not be linked to draft legislation that would offer protections for vigilantes, and have criticized the media for suggesting that women were targeted for not being sufficiently veiled. 

The heads of Iran's powerful judiciary, Ayatollah Sadedgh Amoli Larijani, said on October 26 that some media had committed an "injustice" against authorities by connecting the acid attacks to the enforcement of Islamic norms.

"Why should you pollute the atmosphere while a bill about the promotion of [Islamic] virtues and prevention of vice is [being discussed] in the parliament?" he asked.

"If Westerners provoke such an atmosphere, it's because of their nature: They are anti-revolutionaries," Larijani added. "But I'm sorry for some media that connected the attacks to the promotion of [Islamic] virtues."

A day earlier, Tehran prosecutor Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi was quoted as saying that numerous media outlets had received warnings and that legal action could be taken against them.

'Badly Veiled'

Lawmaker Hasan Kamran said Iran’s Press Supervisory Board will look into the coverage of acid attacks by media that he says linked the attacks to hijabs worn loosely by women and those who promote Islamic norms. 

Kamran, who is a member of the board, said associating the acid attacks with the issue of "badly veiled" women is against Iran's national interests.  

"These media outlets are sick. They make headlines out of false reports to make our enemies happy," Kamran was quoted as saying by the hard-line Tasnim news agency.

The attacks have nothing to do with improper veiling, Kamran said, adding that one of the victims is from a "very respectable" family of war veterans. 

Iranian opposition websites have reported that Arya Jafari, a photographer who covered an October 24 protest in Isfahan against the acid attacks, was arrested.

Jafari's photographs of the large gathering were published by the semiofficial news agency ISNA, as well as by Western news agencies. They were also widely shared on social media.

Two days after the protest, authorities arrested women's rights activist Mahdieh Golrou, who took part in an October 24 demonstration in Tehran. Activists said that at least two other female participants in the Tehran gathering in front of the parliament had received threatening phone calls over their actions.

Scrapping the bill that provides protections for religious zealots was among the demands of protesters both in Tehran and Isfahan.

Some Iranians officials have described the acid attacks as "suspicious" and suggested that foreign intelligence services could be behind them.

Authorities have said that the perpetrators of the attacks should be severely punished.


Video Video Asks Tehranis About Their Fears

A capture from the YouTube video by Iranian artist Ali Molavi, who asked people in Tehran what they’re afraid of.

In a newly released video, Iranian artist Ali Molavi has asked a group of citizens in the Iranian capital what they're afraid of.

One woman says her fear is the lack of status for women living in Iran. "Women in Iran have no value," the woman says.

A man says he fears his wife, while another says that "war" is his greatest fear.

"Poverty, unemployment, the future, a bad future," responds a young man when asked about what he fears in life.

WATCH the video here (Click "Turn on captions" for English subtitles):

Molavi had previously produced two other moving videos in which he asked Tehranis about their wish for the day and about what they would do if they could do anything they wanted.

-- Golnaz Esfandiari


In Washington, Poetry Diplomacy With Iran

U.S. nuclear negotiator Wendy Sherman

In an October 23 keynote speech on the status of nuclear negotiations with Iran, U.S. chief nuclear negotiator Wendy Sherman cited a verse by the great Persian poet Saadi.

“Have patience; all things are difficult before they become easy,” Sherman, U.S. under secretary of state for political affairs, said in remarks that came a month before the November 24 deadline for Iran and major world powers to reach a lasting nuclear deal.  

The citation appeared to be an attempt by Sherman to reach out to Iranians by showing respect for their culture and love of poetry, an approach employed earlier by other U.S. officials as well, including the American leader.

U.S. President Barack Obama has recited Persian poetry in his efforts to engage Iran, as has State Department Persian language spokesman Alan Eyre, who frequently uses poetry in his media appearances and video messages to Iranians.

In his 2011 message for Nowruz, the Persian New Year, Obama recited a verse from Simin Behbahani, a poet known as “The Lady of Iran’s Ghazal” who passed away in August and repeatedly faced pressure from Iranian authorities. 

“Old, I may be, but, given the chance, I will learn. I will begin a second youth alongside my progeny. I will recite the Hadith of love of country with such fervor as to make each word bear life,” Obama said in his citation of Behbahani.

Behbahani later told VOA’s Persian Service that she appreciated the gesture.

For Obama’s 2013 Nowruz message, his speechwriters included a verse by the 14th century poet Hafez, whose book of poetry is part of almost every household in Iran. 

“Plant the tree of friendship that bears the fruit of fulfillment; uproot the sapling of enmity that bears endless suffering," Obama said in the video message. 

There have been few public acknowledgements of this poetry diplomacy from Iranian leaders, who have called on Washington to recognize “Iran’s rights to uranium enrichment” and give up its “hostile” policies.  

As Sherman noted in her speech, despite progress in the nuclear negotiations, there is still a “forest of distrust” on both sides. 

“Given what has happened in past decades, how could there not be? But I can affirm to you this afternoon that the United States will not accept any arrangement we can’t verify, and that we won’t make any promises we can’t keep. Just as we will demand good faith, so will we demonstrate good faith,” she said.

Sherman said the remaining time before next month’s deadline for a final nuclear deal should be used “wisely and with a sense of urgency and purpose.” 

“We hope the leaders in Tehran will agree to the steps necessary to assure the world that this program will be exclusively peaceful and thereby end Iran’s economic and diplomatic isolation and improve further the lives of their people,” she said. “If that does not happen, the responsibility will be seen by all to rest with Iran.” 

Sherman warned that a failure of the talks could lead to an “escalation” on all sides.

That could also mean an end to poetry diplomacy. 

-- Golnaz Esfandiari


Hundreds Of Iranians Protest Acid Attacks

Hundreds are estimated to have turned out for the protests in Tehran and Isfahan.

Golnaz Esfandiari

Large crowds numbering in the hundreds have demonstrated in Tehran and Isfahan against several recent acid attacks on women that apparently occurred because they were not properly veiled. 
 
Hundreds gathered in front of the parliament building in Tehran on October 22, while eyewitnesses said hundreds came to the Justice Ministry building in Isfahan, the central-western city where the acid attacks took place.

Demonstrators carried signs against the vicious attacks while calling on the state to protect women against violence.

"Where is my face," read a sign held up by a woman. While another sign said: "A secure street is my right."  

"Don't allow crimes against women to become legal in the name of religion and Islam," said another sign, which also called for an end to violence against women.

"Acid attacks are a crime, security, security," chanted protesters, including many men.

WATCH: Protests Against Acid Attacks In Isfahan

Other chants and slogans targeted extremists and religious zealots who are believed to be behind the violent attacks.

"Death to the Daesh [Islamic State] School of Thought," some chanted. 

Some also called on the parliament to drop a proposed bill that provides protection for religious zealots who attempt to enforce Islamic codes and take action against men and women who they believe violates those rules. 

ALSO READ: Iran's Isfahan Outraged Over Acid Attacks
 

A deputy governor in Isfahan Province declared the rally there illegal, and there was a large police presence at the protest.

At least two survivors of acid attacks attended the demonstration in Tehran, as did leading human rights advocate Nasrin Sotoudeh, dissident Mohammad Nourizad, and human rights activist Narges Mohammadi.

Leading Iranian rights activists Nasrin Sotoudeh (far left) and Mohammad Nourizad (far right) attend a rally in Tehran to protest recent spate of acid attacks on women.
Leading Iranian rights activists Nasrin Sotoudeh (far left) and Mohammad Nourizad (far right) attend a rally in Tehran to protest recent spate of acid attacks on women.

One of the protesters, activist Peyman Aref, told RFE/RL's Radio Farda that Nourizad was beaten up and detained by the police.

Officials from Iran's Interior ministry have said that "three to four" people were arrested in connection with the attacks in Isfahan.

Authorities say four women have been targeted in the attacks in Isfahan.  However, local media have said that between six to eight women have become victims of the attacks. 

These incidents have led to outrage among many Iranians who have accused hard-liners of instigating the attacks by spreading hatred against women. 

PHOTO GALLERY: Acid Attack Protests In Tehran (ISNA)
 

Desired Traits Of A Nameless Soldier Of The Hidden Imam

"The nameless soldiers of the Hidden Imam are under cover and do not have identity cards." (file photo)

Golnaz Esfandiari

What makes a good intelligence agent in the eyes of the Islamic republic?

Complete obedience to the supreme leader is crucial, along with moral behavior, dedication, courage, sincerity, honesty, and devotion.

This according to Iran's Intelligence Ministry, which listed the traits it requires of agents in a magazine issued to mark its 30th anniversary.

The lengthy publication, titled "30 years of Silent Endeavor," was reportedly distributed with a major daily last week.

The ministry draws on various sources to make its case for devotion to the supreme leader, including Koranic verses such as: "Oh you who have believed, obey Allah and obey the Messenger and those in authority among you."

The ministry says the supreme leader needs others to follow his commands because of "the extraordinary sensitivity" of his mission.

The Prophet Muhammad’s intelligence forces would follow his commands fully and precisely while on missions, the ministry argues, emphasizing that the Prophet's intelligence agents would never take a step that would violate his orders.

More references to the Koran and sayings by the Prophet Muhammad and Shi'a's first imam follow.

Imam Ali had instructed one of his commanders to choose intelligence agents from among brave people because, according to a saying cited by Iran's Intelligence Ministry, cowards would not provide accurate reports to their commanders.

Intelligence agents also need to be virtuous and pious to enable them to complete their missions and reports, banish personal passions and spite, and work for the satisfaction of God, the ministry advises. 

The list of necessary traits for intelligence agents also includes the need to learn the languages of "the enemy" and be able to read and write in those languages. 

Again there's a reference to the Prophet Muhammad.

"The Prophet of Islam committed his intelligence agents to learn the language of the enemy based on the type and location of their missions," writes the ministry, adding that intelligence agents also need to become familiar with the use of coded language.

The ministry adds that intelligence agents in charge of the security of an Islamic society should come from an Islamic background and advises citizens to be wary of anyone who claims to be working for Iranian intelligence.
 
"The nameless soldiers of the Hidden Imam," it says, are under cover and do not have identity cards. 

"Anyone who introduces himself as an employee of the Intelligence Ministry and aims at abuse is definitely a crook."


Tehran In No Mood To Laugh At Khomeini Jokes

The leader and founder of the Islamic revolution, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, waves from a Tehran balcony during the country's revolution, in February 1979.

Golnaz Esfandiari

A friend of the Imam asks him, "Would you like to drink vodka or tequila?" Outraged at the indignity, the pious Imam slaps the man in the face.

"What's wrong with homemade aragh sagi?" he asks.

This knee-slapper, which mocks Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's fierce rejection of alcohol and his promotion of domestic production (aragh sagi is a home-distilled liqueur), is among hundreds of "Imam" jokes making the rounds via text messages and social media in Iran.

And while the anecdotes may seem harmless enough, Iranian conservatives say they are an insult to the founder of the Islamic republic.

On September 3, Iranian police chief Esmail Ahmadi Moghadam warned that action would be taken against those insulting Khomeini.

“The fact that our streets are open and there is freedom in our country doesn't mean that drivers can drive at the speed they want in the streets," he was quoted as saying by the hard-line Tasnim news agency. "These insulting acts are considered a crime."

Ahmadi Moghadam flatly added that those who fail to respect "the limits of freedom" and violate the country’s laws will be dealt with.

Ayatollah Khomeini is a revered figure in the Islamic republic, where he is commonly referred to simply as "the Imam." Iranian state media generally portrays him as religious, knowledgeable, insightful, kind, merciful, and deeply caring about his countrymen. 

The recent slew of jokes largely mocks those traits.

He is depicted drinking alcohol, making fun of others, cursing and using crude language, and as uncompassionate, merciless, and mean-spirited. 

Some of the jokes appear to reflect common criticisms of Khomeini, while others highlight unfulfilled promises he made to Iranians, including his pledge to provide them free water and electricity.

"The Imam comes home and sees bills for water, electricity, and gas on the ground. He asks, 'Weren't these free?'" The joke concludes: "Forgetfulness was one of Imam's weaknesses."

Another is about a man who complains to the Imam that there is often no electricity and he has to eat his dinner in the dark.

"Imam suggests he use an oil lamp," goes the punch line, capped by the reminder that "bringing oil to people’s tables" was one of Khomeini's main characteristics.

London-based Iranian Internet researcher Nariman Gharib says the jokes first appeared on the instant messaging app Viber and later on Facebook.

One Facebook page, titled "Imam's Distinctive Characteristics," has received more than 20,000 "likes." The page administrators wrote that the page was created "only for a bit of fun and laughter" and that it didn't belong to any political party.

Iranians are no strangers to making jokes about their leaders, including Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati. The Guardians Council head has been targeted over his advanced age and his more-than-three-decade presence on the country's political scene.

But jokes about Khomeini were relatively rare, at least until recently. But the power of social media to inspire trends and memes have helped spread the Imam jokes like wildfire.

Mocking Khomeini, Gharib says, has become "normalized."

"I think [conservatives] are angry because ayatollah Khomeini has lost his grandeur and making jokes about him has become very easy for people,” the researcher concludes.

Earlier this week, prominent Tehran-based political scientist Sadegh Zibakalam suggested that the jokes were being spread by hard-liners in a backhanded effort to put pressure on the government of President Hassan Rohani.

Rohani has promised Iranians more freedom, online and offline. But he's met with resistance from hard-line opponents who criticize his policies, including in the cultural sphere.

"[They want to say], 'Why is the Culture Ministry not acting against these behaviors? Therefore Rohani's government is to blame," Zibakalam was quoted as saying on September 2.

He suggested that hard-liners could also be using the jokes to oppose the introduction of high-speed Internet by the government and the potential halt of filtering of some social-networking sites.

Zibakalam said hard-liners could argue that considering the fast spread of Imam jokes even with slow Internet and blocked social media sites, the situation would get much worse once speeds rose and filters were removed.

The government recently granted licenses for 3G services to two major mobile operators, drawing criticism by hard-liners who claimed faster Internet would facilitate the sharing of un-Islamic content.

Amid the spread of the jokes, an image of a "secret letter" emerged online bearing the logo of Iran’s powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps. It called on Communications Minister Mahmud Vaezi to filer social-networking sites by which the jokes are being spread.

Vaezi on September 4 was quoted by state media as saying that the letter was fake.

He added, cryptically, that those who attempt to put pressure on a government body in order to further their aims should know that they have not chosen "the right goal."

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