Wednesday, August 31, 2016


Afghan Girl's Death Has Iranians Questioning Ban On Organ Transplants For Foreigners

Iranian Health Minister Hassan Ghazizadeh Hashemi has defended his country's ban on organ transplants for foreigners. (file photo)

Golnaz Esfandiari

The death of a 12-year-old Afghan girl in Iran has prompted that country's health minister to publicly defend a national ban on organ transplants for foreigners that some were initially blaming for the tragedy.

Latifeh Rahmani died last week at a hospital in Shiraz, where she had reportedly been hospitalized for liver problems resulting from a genetic disorder, Wilson's disease, which causes dangerous accumulations of copper in the liver and other vital organs.

Latifeh's father was quoted by a hard-line website on August 19 as saying the girl died because doctors at a local hospital denied her organ transplant because she was an illegal immigrant.

In an interview a few days later with the semiofficial ISNA news agency, Latifeh's father said that doctors at the hospital had first asked whether the family could afford the surgery.

"I told the doctors, 'Do the surgery, we will manage [the payment],'" he was quoted by ISNA as saying. "They said Tuesday. But on Tuesday they didn't operate on her, they said Saturday. But my daughter died on Thursday, August 19."
 
Iranian authorities in September 2014 announced a ban on foreigners receiving Iranian organs via transplants in the country, citing long waiting lists for would-be recipients. 

But doctors at the hospital in question, Namazi, and Iran's health minister rejected the idea that her nationality played a part, and said instead that Latifeh's quickly deteriorating health prevented her from receiving a liver transplant.

"Latifeh was hospitalized at the children's intensive-care unit, where she received medication and was examined for liver transplant. But because of the quick progression of her disease, organ transplant was not possible at all. She died because of a drop in her blood pressure and a heart attack," Saman Nikeghbalian, who works in the liver-transplant unit of Namazi, told local media.

"It is possible to transplant a part of the father or the mother's liver to the child," Health Minister Hassan Ghazizadeh Hashemi said on August 22, "but because of the disease's progress, surgery was not possible."

'Careless' Reporting

Ghazizadeh Hashemi said Latifeh had received the best care and had been examined and treated by "the world's greatest surgeons."

"The death of Latifeh Rahmani was not at all because of a lack of an organ," he said, accusing the media of "carelessness" in reporting on her death in part because unnamed individuals are seeking to create tension between Iranians and Afghans, whom he called "our brothers and sisters."

He also defended the ban on foreign recipients, which was announced in September 2014.

"Regarding the organ transplant, we still believe the law banning organ transplant from Iranians to foreigners is for the preservation of the dignity of the people of our country, [so] we defend it," the health minister said.

In the past 10 years, he said, 608 foreigners have undergone organ transplants in Iran, where the sale of kidneys is legal.

Ghazizadeh Hashemi suggested that the real number could be higher because "many foreigners have received organs through illegal and other paths."

He condemned what is sometimes dubbed "transplant tourism," long condemned by the World Health Organization and other international forums, in which frequently wealthy purchasers abroad bypass a country's laws on organ donation at the expense of the donors' home country. 

"It is a disgrace for foreign nationals to be allowed to visit Iran and buy the organs of poor Iranians and transplant them," Ghazizadeh Hashemi told domestic media earlier this week, citing similar bans in other countries.

He also noted that he had himself issued "exceptions" in the past, but said, "We can't expand it, because it is not in the interests of our country."

A deputy chairman of the parliament's health commission, Mohammad Hossein Ghorbani, said that body will look into Rahmani's death and suggested a revision of the ban could be in order.

"If necessary, then there should be a revision of the law and hospitals should be given permission to address exceptions," Ghorbani said. "What matters to the medical staff is to save people's lives and exceptions should be taken into account."
 


Iranian Journalists Alarmed As Media Legislation Resurfaces

Critics say proposed new legislation in Iran would mean an end to any form of independent journalism in the Islamic republic while playing into the hands of the country's security organs and hard-line conservative judiciary, who would like to see even tighter state control of the media. (file photo)

Golnaz Esfandiari

Journalists in Iran are sounding the alarm over a government-drafted media regulation bill that is expected to be sent to the parliament for approval soon, after a two-year delay.
 
The government has said that the bill, which will call for the creation of a media oversight organization, is aimed at supporting media rights and freedoms and regulating the media.
 
But some critics say its approval would mean an end to any form of independent journalism in the Islamic republic. They say that, instead of ensuring more rights for the media, it would satisfy the demands of the country's security organs and the hard-line conservative judiciary for a tighter state control.
 
The bill "will in practice turn all of Iran's media into state media," Ali Asghar Ramezanpour, who served as deputy culture minister under reformist former President Mohammad Khatami and is now based in London, told RFE/RL.
 
"Despite what is being said, a governmental organization will be in charge of controlling all issues related to media, meaning that in practice we won't have any independent media anymore," he said.
 
A number of senior newspaper editors and media experts have warned that the bill is likely to worsen the already difficult situation journalists face in the Islamic republic, where they are subjected to state pressure and written and unwritten censorship rules.
 
The publication of a draft of the media-regulation bill sparked widespread criticism among journalists and media-freedom advocates, and it was not submitted to parliament at the time.
 
Culture Minister Ali Jannati said on August 6 that the bill would be submitted to parliament "in the next few days."

Strong Concerns
 

It is unclear whether there have been substantial changes in the text, but some who have seen it say their concerns remain strong.
 
Media expert Kambiz Norouzi described the planned legislation as an attempt to undermine the independence of the media and subject it to government control.
 
"Such problems still exist in the text of the draft bill which I saw recently -- even though some say that it has been amended, it still aims at eliminating the independence of the media and journalism," he told the semi-official ILNA news agency.
 
The 2014 text says the media organization will be a "nongovernmental" institution run by a "high council." But it says the council will include state officials, among them the culture minister or his representative and three members of the press advisory board: a lawmaker, a judge, and a representative of the Qom seminaries. 

The seminaries, where Shi'ite clerics are trained, are home to a number of influential conservative clerics. 

Mehdi Rahmanian, the chief editor of the reformist Shargh daily, is among critics who fear the bill will limit the media further and result in greater self-censorship.
 
"The draft bill includes conditions that would push media toward more government control; it sees the press and journalists as a government body, the government can directly interfere in their work whenever and whenever it wants," Rahmanian told ILNA on August 16. 
 
The organization that would be created under the legislation would be in charge of issuing work licenses for journalists and overseeing their work, according to the 2014 text.
 
Some of the stated goals of the organization, including "upholding religiosity" and "observance of national interests and national security" have also led to concerns as journalists have in the past been summoned and jailed for allegedly undermining religious values, "harming the country's national interests," or "acting against national security." 

A 'Gift' To The Media
 

The draft bill says that journalists who commit violations, including those who disrespect religious and legal principles, can face punishments that range from a warning to a permanent ban on all journalistic activities.
 
Culture minister Jannati has described the draft media oversight bill, as well as draft legislation on access to information, as a "gift" to the media.
 
"Creating a media regulating organization, similar to the oversight medical board, has been one of the measures that has always been expected by media workers, it can determine ties between journalists and also with the government," Jannati was quoted as saying on August 6 by the official government news agency IRNA.
 
He added that the draft bill had been prepared in consultations with media workers and think tanks.
 
But critics have said that the government has not taken into account their views. 
 
Ramezanpour pointed the finger at Hossein Entezami, the deputy culture minister for press affairs, who has reportedly promoted the creation of a media oversight organization.
 
"[Entezami], a former expert of the intelligence ministry, is the main decision-maker in the Culture Ministry regarding press bills, and he thinks more about limiting media [outlets] than about advocating for their rights," Ramezanpour said.
 
Media watchdogs regularly criticize Iran for limiting the free flow of information and accuse the authorities of imprisoning journalists while denying them the right to fair trials.
 
Paris-based Reporters Without Borders said in May that "Iran continues to be one of the world's five biggest prisons for journalists, with a total of 30 professional and citizen-journalists detained."


Iran's Rohani Orders Delay In State Recruitment Exams To Address Gender Quotas

Hassan Rohani's vice president for women's affairs, Shahindokht Molaverdi, said earlier this year that some of the gender quotas in place were discriminatory and did not conform with his promises.

Golnaz Esfandiari

President Hassan Rohani has ordered the postponement of state recruitment exams for Iranians seeking government jobs, saying that gender quotas must be fixed and based on "justice."

Rohani's order on July 31 followed Iranian media reports alleging that some of the 13 state bodies participating in the exam, which had been scheduled for September 6, have quotas that discriminate against women.

Rohani ordered Iran's Management and Planning Organization to cancel quotas that are based on "unjust discrimination," the official government website said. It said he demanded quick action to ensure that gender quotas are based on justice and merit and are in line with his plans and promises.

Rohani has criticized the "culture of sexual discrimination" in Iran and promised to give women more rights and equal opportunities.

His vice president for women's affairs, Shahindokht Molaverdi, said earlier this year that some of the gender quotas in place were discriminatory and did not conform with Rohani's promises.

Molaverdi was quoted in April by Iranian media as saying that she had corresponded with Rohani and other relevant authorities in hopes of amending the quotas.

The daily Vaghaye Etefaghieh reported last week that out of the roughly 3,000 jobs advertised in the exam, only 30 percent were designated for women.

It said that "961 job opportunities belong exclusively to men, meaning that 30 percent of the jobs -- only 16 titles -- are for women," adding that the situation had improved since last year, when 2,284 of the 2,800 job opportunities were for men only.

With zero job offers available for women, Iran's Islamic Propaganda Organization has the most discriminatory recruitment practice. The organization says that "wearing clerical garb" is mandatory for all applicants.

Out of the 271 jobs advertised by the country's Prisons Organization, 31 would go exclusively to men while 13 were set aside for women, with the rest potentially open to both genders.

In addition to the unequal quotas, the BBC reported that the majority of management-level positions were set aside for men, while women were offered lower posts.

While an estimated 60 percent of university entrants are female, women make up less than 20 percent of Iran's workforce.

Iranian government officials have expressed concern about high unemployment among women, which unofficial figures put at about 40 percent.

In March 2015, a group of women's rights activists blasted the gender quotas as "overt discrimination against women" and blamed high female unemployment on state policies they said aim "to eliminate women from society."

The World Economic Forum's 2015 Gender Gap Index ranked Iran 141st out of 145 surveyed countries, meaning that it found only four countries to be more discriminatory toward women.


Iranian Daily Under Fire For Airbrushing Cigarette From Cleric's Hand

Ayatollah Mahmud Taleghani, a key figure of the 1979 Islamic Revolution who became Tehran's first Friday Prayers leader after the revolution, was a known chain smoker who wasn't shy about his habit.

Golnaz Esfandiari

A major reformist Iranian daily has created controversy by altering an iconic image of a prominent deceased cleric to remove a cigarette he was holding.

The cleric, Ayatollah Mahmud Taleghani, a key figure of the 1979 Islamic Revolution who became Tehran's first Friday Prayers leader after the revolution, was a known chain smoker who wasn't shy about his habit.

So, when the daily Sharq posted one of Taleghani's most famous pictures on its front page alongside a story marking the anniversary of the cleric's first Friday Prayers sermon, the missing cigarette did not go unnoticed. 

Social-media users criticized the move, with many posting the original photo showing a pensive-looking Taleghani holding a cigarette in his right hand.

Some questioned whether the content of a daily that publishes doctored photos could be trusted.

Others poked fun at Sharq's airbrushing by posting memes in which Taleghani is seen holding various things in place of the missing cigarette.

The doctoring job has cast attention on media censorship in the Islamic republic, where publications face tough state restrictions while at the same time practicing self-censorship in order to prevent being shut down by the authorities. 

Taleghani's son, Mehdi Taleghani, blasted Sharq's doctoring as "a clear example of censorship."

"It means portraying people to society the way we want, and removing the parts we don't [like]," he added.

The deceased cleric's son noted that his father appears in dozens of other photographs with a cigarette. "Some see [smoking] as a bad habit, but my father wasn't trying to hide it," he said.

"I don't understand how a media outlet allows itself to remove this aspect of Taleghani," he told the news site Nasimonline.ir.

The author of the photo, Iranian-born Magnum photographer Abbas, also criticized Sharq for censoring his work, saying in an open letter published on Iranwire.com that he was sure Ayatollah Taleghani would not appreciate the daily depicting him as a "nonsmoker."

"I noticed you published my photo of Ayatollah Taleghani without my permission. I am aware there are no copyright laws in Iran, but the least you could do was to publish the photo whole -- with the cigarette in Taleghani's right hand," Abbas wrote in a letter to Sharq.

"One starts by erasing a cigarette and ends up erasing Trotsky! (in case you do not know, this refers to the famous photo of Trotsky -- standing next to Lenin --which was erased.)"

"For your information, I also have a photo of Ayatollah Khamenei smoking a pipe," Abbas added.

The photo alteration was also mocked by Sharq reporter Mehdi Ghadimi, who posted an anecdote on Twitter about Taleghani's smoking habit as recounted by deceased senior Ayatollah Mohammad Ali Montazeri, who shared a prison cell with Taleghani in 1977.

"One night [Taleghani] was smoking nonstop. I told him: 'We're choking from the smoke. Why don't you go to sleep?'"

Sharq editor in chief Mehdi Rahmanian suggested that the daily had airbrushed the cigarette out of Taleghani's hand in order to avoid promoting smoking. "The photo of Ayatollah Taleghani with a cigarette is, in a way, a promotion of cigarettes," Rahmanian told the Mizan news agency. "We didn't want this to happen."

He highlighted written and unwritten censorship rules publications face in the Islamic republic. "I'm not sure if a photo with a cigarette is banned by law or not. But as far as I know it faces some restrictions, meaning that media are not allowed to [publish] it," Rahmanian said.

Photographer Arash Ashourinia weighed in on the controversy by writing about his experience as a former photo editor of a number of publications and highlighting the plight of editors, who often have to second-guess the outcome of their editorial decisions.

"This is not a permanent and predictable issue," Ashourinia wrote on Facebook. "Based on whether the subject is a cleric or not, political or not, based on the political atmosphere in the country, the stances of the daily or magazine, its circulation, ...such a picture can easily lead to the closure of a daily."

The photographer added that what Sharq did and what many other Iranian publications do on a daily basis is wrong. But he reminded readers that their main criticisms should target the "system of censorship in the Islamic republic and the self-censorship that results from it."

(For a photo gallery of a sample of photographs censored in Iran, click here)


Tots Caught: Tehran Kindergarten Shut Down Over Mixed-Gender Swimming Pool

Photos like these, showing young girls and boys swimming together, resulted in a Tehran kindergarten being closed down.

RFE/RL

An Iranian official says a kindergarten has been shut down in the capital over a mixed-gender swimming pool.

A welfare department official for Tehran Province, Ebrahim Ghafari, announced the temporary closure in a July 19 interview with the hard-line Tasnim news agency, which earlier this week published a critical report that included photos in which young children in boys' and girls' swimsuits could be seen together in a pool. 

Tasnim had reported disapprovingly that the pool belonged to a kindergarten on Africa Street in an affluent neighborhood of the capital that had allowed mixed swimming and "proudly" posted the pictures on its official website.

Mingling between sexes outside the family is banned in Iran, which has promoted and enforced sexual segregation in many public places since the 1979 revolution and the creation of the Islamic republic.

Ghafari said that, following Tasnim’s coverage, authorities made a surprise visit to the kindergarten and prepared a report. 

"The management of the kindergarten would not acknowledge the issue," he said, adding that "all the evidence in the pictures matched the kindergarten."

Ghafari said that an emergency meeting followed at which authorities decided that the kindergarten would be shut down temporarily for not respecting "rules and norms."
 


Leaked Salaries Cast Iran Officials In Harsh Light, But To What End?

Iranian President Hassan Rohani greets supporters in the southeastern city of Kerman last month. Some have suggested the publication of the pay slips is an attack on him ahead of next year's presidential election.

Golnaz Esfandiari

Simmering anger in Iran's hard-line media over official salaries has forced President Hassan Rohani's administration onto the defensive with a likely reelection bid for the relative moderate on the horizon.

The purported pay slips from earlier this year of executives from government-owned insurance agencies and banks were recently leaked online, and appear to show inflated salaries, bonuses, and other benefits that could prove politically divisive in a country where roughly 30 percent of the population lives below the poverty line.

Instances cited by conservative media suggest an insurance executive received about $30,000 in monthly compensation and a bank manager was paid more than $65,000 for a month's work, as much as 200 times what modestly paid government employees make and more than 100 times the official average household salary.

The original source of the leaks remains unclear.

The scandal has already prompted the resignation of Iran's state insurance regulator, Mohammad Ebrahim Amin, and a reported jail term for an unnamed government executive who was said to have refused to explain and document his income to the head of the General Inspectorate Organization, Nasser Seraj.

Some Iranians have taken to social media to criticize the officials' salaries and post their own pay slips to highlight the disproportion. Blue-collar laborers in Iran frequently wait months for their wages, teachers struggle to make ends meet, and union leaders are among the most influential critics of the country's leadership.

Under pressure from conservative media and expressions of public outrage, Rohani in a letter urging official action in mid-June acknowledged "unconventional payments" but blamed holdover legislation from previous administrations and promised action.

On June 27, Rohani's first vice president, Eshagh Jahangiri, vowed that the government would act against those who receive "illegal" or "extraordinary" salaries.

"Society and public opinion expect the government to return illegal payments to the treasury and dismiss the violators on this issue," Jahangiri was quoted by a government website as saying.

Political Attack?

Rohani supporters have suggested the publication of the pay slips is aimed at hobbling Rohani and dimming his chances of reelection in next year's presidential vote.

Health Minister Hassan Ghazizadeh Hashemi was quoted by the hard-line Fars news agency on June 20 as saying that "people believe the leaks are politically motivated."

Rohani swept into office in 2013 on pledges of reform that included greater rights for women and dialing down persecution of dissent and public criticism of the government, although such efforts have mostly stalled.

He also successfully concluded an agreement with the United States and other world powers to curb Tehran's fiercely disputed nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief that could revive trade and other ties with the West, further angering hard-liners in Iran.

He has come under increased pressure to deliver on promises to improve Iran's economy, including through tangible benefits from the nuclear deal.

Reformers and political allies with Rohani's explicit or implicit backing returned in significant numbers to Iran's parliament in elections earlier this year, although most of the power in the country's clerically controlled system resides with the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

The state-run daily Etelaat, which has shown sympathy in the past to reformist causes and politicians, suggested earlier this month that the online leak of the pay slips in the final year of Rohani's presidential term was a "planned" move aimed at chipping away at public trust.

An ultra-hard-line daily, Kayhan, last week rejected that argument as a "weak defense that doesn't convince anyone" and said, "Even if that is the case [that the leak was orchestrated], then solve the problem and don't give an excuse to critics."

Kayhan called on the government to make the pay slips of its executives public: "The pay slips of managers is not among confidential documents. Transparency is the most principled way to act against these issues."

It added that "a real and acceptable apology will be when the government gives all access to the pay slips of its managers."


Red Card For Yellow Pants: SpongeBob Gets Iran Soccer Player In Hot Water

Goalkeeper Sosha Makani represented Iran at the 2014 soccer World Cup in Brazil.

RFE/RL

An Iranian soccer player has been banned from domestic matches for six months over "inappropriate" behavior that included the wearing of SpongeBob SquarePants trousers.
 
Iranian media reported on June 7 that the morality committee of the Iranian Football Federation based its decision on goalkeeper Sosha Makani's "unconventional attire."
 
A photo shared by Shargh Daily shows Makani -- who represented Iran at the 2014 World Cup and currently plays for Persepolis in Iran's Pro League -- looking trendy in a seemingly candid moment clad in the bright yellow pants, a playful azure T-shirt, and yellow-trimmed high-tops.

SpongeBob SquarePants is an anthropomorphic yellow sea sponge at the center of an animated children's series that has spawned billions of dollars in global merchandising revenues for U.S.-based Nickelodeon and MTV Media Networks.
 
A member of the morality committee was quoted by sports website Varzesh3 as saying that Makani had been summoned repeatedly by the Football Federation to explain his attire but had failed to do so.
 
"We made the decision based on the clothing of this national football team player and the impact it can have on society," the unnamed official from the federation's morality committee said.
 


 
The reports say Makani can appeal the decision, and the ruling does not prevent him from playing in international matches.
 
Makani's headache began after the snapshot was posted online and shared widely on social media. Some news sites criticized his attire as "inappropriate" and accused him of setting a bad example for fans.
 
Hojatoleslam Alireza Alipour, the secretary of the federation's moral charter, told the hard-line Tasnim news agency in May that celebrities "should watch their behavior."
 
"These people are, intentionally or unintentionally, a role model for the youth," the cleric told Tasnim.
 
Some Iranians mocked the ban on him via social media.
 
"Are we in a kindergarten?!!! Why do they care about what he's wearing," tweeted one user.

"If Makani's banned over yellow pants, then this mullah should be defrocked," another Twitter user wrote alongside what appeared to be a screengrab from Iranian state television showing a cleric in a yellow shirt.
 


 
Makani has not commented publicly on the controversy, which is his second perceived misstep in the eyes of Iran's hard-line establishment.
 
The 29-year-old was arrested and jailed earlier this year over photos posted online showing him with unveiled women. He was later released and allowed to return to join his Persian Gulf Pro League team in Tehran. 
 
Under Islamic laws enforced in Iran following the 1979 revolution, women must cover their hair and body while men are required to dress modestly in public.
 
Iranian officials appeared to step up their vigilance against Western influences following the signing in July of an international deal to ease UN and U.S. sanctions in return for curbs on Tehran's nuclear program.

 

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