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Iran Report: May 12, 2006

12 May 2006, Volume 9, Number 17

DATE SET FOR NEXT ELECTIONS. Guardians Council spokesman Abbas Ali Kadkhodai announced on May 6 that the election for the Assembly of Experts and parliamentary mid-term elections in Tehran, Rey, Shemiranat, Islamshahr, Bam, and Ahvaz will take place on November 17, the Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA) reported.

It was previously announced that municipal-council elections will take place on the same as Assembly of Experts elections. The head of the Tehran council, Mehdi Chamran, is not happy with this idea. He said there will be a six-month gap between the actual polling and the date when new councilors take office (in April), "Etemad-i Melli" reported on April 24. Council members who are not reelected, Chamran continued, will be undermined. (Bill Samii)

ALLEGED BOMBERS ARRESTED IN SOUTHWEST IRAN. Deputy Interior Minister Mohammad Baqer Zolqadr said in Shiraz that the Iranians responsible for "undermining security" in the southwestern Khuzestan Province and the southeastern Sistan va Baluchistan Province have been arrested, state radio reported on May 4. There was foreign involvement, Zolqadr added, saying, "The arrested individuals were some duped persons who enjoyed the support of the forces occupying Iraq."

The supreme leader's representative in Khuzestan Province, Ayatollah Mohammad Ali Musavi-Jazayeri, told a May 3 meeting of officials from the southwestern province that they must attend to public needs and difficulties if they are to improve the situation in the province, Khuzestan television reported. "This is the year for creating a major change in the province and taking steps towards comprehensive progress," he said. Musavi-Jazayeri encouraged the completion of unfinished development projects.

Provincial Governor-General Amir Hayat-Moqaddam told the meeting that the province is one of the country's top recipients of development funding, and the 500 billion rials ($57 million) allocated to Ahvaz exceeds the amount allocated to some of the country's other provinces. Hayat-Moqaddam referred to a lack of potable water in cities and villages, and he mentioned Abadan, Khorramshahr, and Masjid-Suleiman.

Two days earlier, Ahvaz Prosecutor-General Iraj Amirkhani announced on state radio that 25 people have been arrested in connection with recent bombings. State radio noted that the most recent bombings took place in late January (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," January 31, 2006).

Many ethnic Arabs live in Khuzestan Province, and they make up 3 percent of the total population (roughly 2 million out of 68,688,433). Amnesty International on April 28 expressed concern for several ethnic Arabs in Iran -- Ali Matourzadeh, his wife, Fahima Ismail Badawi, and their one-month-old daughter, Salma. Reportedly arrested on February 28, Matourzadeh is a founder of the illegal Hizb-i Vifaq party. His whereabouts are unknown, while his wife and daughter are being held at Sepidar Prison in Khuzestan Province. Amnesty International has suggested Fahima and Salma are being held in order to force Ali Matourzadeh to cooperate, and the group demanded their unconditional release. (Bill Samii)

MEMBERS OF RELIGIOUS MINORITY JAILED. Fifty-two Sufis have been given prison sentences on a range of charges, Reuters reported on May 4, citing "Kargozaran" newspaper. "Each of them has been sentenced to a one year jail term, some fines, and 74 lashes," attorney and defendant Farshid Yadollahi said. Yadollahi and another defendant received the same sentence, plus a five-year ban on practicing law. They have 20 days to appeal the sentences. A major crackdown on Sufis began in Qom in February, when more than 1,000 of them were arrested (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," February 22, 2006). (Bill Samii)

WORKERS DEMONSTRATE. Workers marking International Labor Day in Tehran demonstrated against temporary contracts and also called for greater job security, state television reported. A demonstrator interviewed by the state-television correspondent complained about his "very low" salary, which he explained is approximately $150 per month. A female demonstrator demanded permanent contracts, according to state television. The Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) also reported that the workers demonstrated, but it focused on their support for Iran's nuclear pursuits. (Bill Samii)

NONGOVERNMENTAL GROUPS NOTE LACK OF PRESS FREEDOM. Human Rights Watch reported on May 4 that Ramin Jahanbegloo, a Canadian-Iranian scholar who has written for newspapers and magazines in Iran and abroad, was arrested the previous week and is at risk of torture.

The Canada-Iran nexus appears to be especially upsetting for the Iranian government. On May 3, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) stated in its annual report covering 2005 that three Iranian security officials at the embassy in Ottawa launched a "brutal attack" on a Canadian-Iranian filmmaker. RSF also asserted that the Iranian government has "total control over news within [its] borders and [is] among the world's most repressive regimes." RSF called Iran "the region's biggest prison for journalists." The presidency of Mahmud Ahmadinejad has seen a worsening of the situation, RSF continued, and at least 32 newspapers were suspended in the last quarter of 2005. Predatory practices also are applied to the Internet, according to RSF, with "a score of bloggers and online journalists" jailed since September 2004.

Freedom House's media survey of the Middle East, which was released on April 27, described Iran as "Not Free." The report noted harsh press laws that result in self-censorship, secret trials, and "solitary confinement and torture" of journalists and writers. (Bill Samii)

TOP OFFICIAL SELECTED FOR GUARDS CORPS. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has appointed Brigadier General Morteza Rezai as first deputy commander of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC), the ISNA reported on April 30. Rezai succeeds Mohammad Baqer Zolqadr, who now serves as deputy interior minister.

Mohammad Ebrahim Dehqani, a commander with the IRGC naval forces and spokesman of recent naval war games, said on May 2 that "We have announced that wherever America perpetrates wicked deeds, Israel will be our prime target," ISNA reported. Dehqani went on to say, in response to a student's question, that Iran does not fear U.S. B-52 bombers.

General Alireza Afshar, a public-relations official at Iran's Armed Forces General Headquarters, downplayed Dehqani's remarks, "Iran" reported on May 4. Afshar noted that the naval exercises ended in March, so anything Dehqani says subsequently are his personal views and do not reflect the military's official views. (Bill Samii)

IRAN-IRAQ BORDER CROSSING OPENED. The Chazabeh border crossing, where Iran and Iraq meet in Khuzestan Province, was opened on May 2, provincial television reported. A border market was opened as well. Interior Minister Hojatoleslam Mustafa Purmohammadi said at the speech at the opening ceremony, "The enemies of the people of Khuzestan must know that these people's participation and vigilance will foil their discord-creating plots, poisonous propaganda, and ominous designs."

In Tehran the previous day, the deputy commander of the Armed Forces Joint Chief of Staff for Cultural and Defense Affairs, Brigadier General Alireza Afshar, said any border incidents will be taken seriously, IRNA reported on May 2. He referred to unspecified incidents along the border and said, "We cannot be indifferent to these incidents."

Iranian forces reportedly clashed with Kurdish militants in the northwest. Uthman Mahmud, the interior minister of Iraqi Kurdistan, said on May 1 that Iranian artillery shelled 10 villages in the border region, Al-Sharqiyah television reported. This is the second attack in 10 days, he claimed, adding that there have been an unspecified number of casualties. The incidents reportedly are connected with the effort to suppress the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which Turkey, Iran, and the United States consider a terrorist organization.

The PKK vowed to retaliate against Turkey and Iran if either country launches another attack on its bases in Iraq, Reuters reported on May 3. "If Iran and Turkey continue attacking the bases of the PKK or other Kurdish factions, the PKK will launch a guerrilla war against Turkey because the PKK has forces based in Turkish areas," senior PKK leader Murat Karayilan said at a May 3 press conference in the Iraqi Kurdish town of Raniyah, located close to Lake Dukan and the Iranian border.

The incidents are upsetting Iraqi officials as well. Iraqi parliament speaker Mahmud al-Mashhadani asked the Foreign and Defense ministries to provide a formal explanation to the Council of Representatives of Iran's military incursions into Kurdistan on May 3, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq reported the same day. Al-Mashhadani made the request after Kurdish parliamentarian Husayn Barazanchi requested that the council issue a statement condemning Iran's shelling of Kurdish villages. Only about half of the parliamentarians attended the May 3 session, which focused on the appointment of a committee to draft the council's by-laws. The council is slated to reconvene on May 10.

Patriotic Union of Kurdistan official Imad Ahmad issued a stern warning to the PKK against launching attacks on Turkey or Iran from inside Iraqi territory in an interview with AFP, the news agency reported on May 5. "They [PKK] are on our land. We want them to respect the law and not use our territory to stage attacks," said Ahmad, deputy prime minister of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan-led government in Kurdistan. "We want them to leave our country but in peace, not in war. If they want to stay, they have to use politics, not weapons," he added. The PKK on May 3 vowed to retaliate against Turkey and Iran if either country launches another attack on their bases in Iraq. (Bill Samii, Kathleen Ridolfo)

SWEDES JAILED IN IRAN FOR ESPIONAGE. Two Swedish construction workers in Iran have received three-year jail sentences for allegedly photographing naval and military facilities and telecommunications equipment on Qeshm Island, according to the Sveriges Radio Ekot website on May 2. Swedish Ambassador to Iran Christopher Gyllenstierna confirmed the sentence on April 29, but he would provide no other information other than that the men are in their 30s. "In general, we have been reticent with details about this in order not to draw too much attention to it. We feel this best serves the two prisoners' interests," Gyllenstierna said. (Bill Samii)

NUCLEAR WATCHDOG REPORTS NEGATIVELY ON IRAN. An April 28 report on Iran from Muhammad el-Baradei, director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), finds that "existing gaps" in the IAEA's "knowledge" about the Islamic Republic's nuclear activities "continue to be a matter of concern." Insufficient information on the centrifuge program and on "the role of the military in Iran's nuclear program" means that the IAEA is unable to confirm "the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities in Iran."

The IAEA report refers to inadequate Iranian transparency and cooperation: "Iran declined to discuss these matters...," "Iran continues to decline the agency's request for a copy of the document," "Iran has continued to decline the agency's request for a copy." The report also notes that Iran refused to make individuals available for interviews. Iran said information on its Green Salt project was "baseless," but documentation Iran provided previously contradicted this assertion ("green salt" is a reference to uranium tetrafluoride; see "RFE/RL Iran Report," February 6, 2006). (Bill Samii)

TEHRAN CRITICIZES U.S. DIPLOMACY. Representatives of the five permanent members of the Security Council (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) and Germany met in Paris on May 2 to discuss the Iranian nuclear issue.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi declared on May 3 that U.S. foreign policy is in crisis, according to Fars News Agency. Assefi based his assessment on U.S. Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns' statement earlier that day that the participants in the Paris meeting had failed to reach a consensus on how to deal with the Iranian nuclear problem.

"Iran's nuclear issue has made the U.S. totally lose global trust," Assefi said, according to Fars. "The U.S. has foul intentions to impose its policies on countries and disrupt international peace and security through forceful measures and putting pressure on its allies."

Burns had suggested that "the Security Council has no option but to proceed under Chapter 7," "The New York Times" reported, in a reference to the UN Charter's article that would open the way for sanctions or military force. Burns predicted that this could take up to two months, according to "The New York Times," and he added that it could take up to three months to generate support for sanctions.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is in Washington, the "Financial Times" noted on May 3, and Berlin reportedly supports the idea of a Chapter 7 resolution. (Bill Samii)

ROHANI INSISTS NUCLEAR CRISIS CAN BE SOLVED. Hojatoleslam Hassan Rohani, head of the Expediency Council's Strategic Research Center and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's representative in the Supreme National Security Council, said during a May 3 meeting with visiting German parliamentarian Ruprecht Polenz that the current crisis over the Iranian nuclear program is solvable, Radio Farda reported.

Polenz proposed that the enrichment of uranium for Iran outside the country would contribute to the restoration of international confidence in the Islamic republic. Iran no longer trusts the international community's promises or guarantees, Rohani countered. He added that the resumption of activities at the Isfahan uranium-conversion facility and the Natanz Pilot Fuel Enrichment Plant, as well as the end of voluntary compliance with the Additional Protocol of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) were reactions to the Europeans breaking their promise not to report Iran to the UN Security Council. The solution to this matter, Rohani said, is dialogue.

Rohani said a week ago in Tehran that "Iran has no problem with short-term suspension, but the problem is that the West and America are using this short term suspension as a pretext to prolong the issue," according to "Etemad-i Melli" on April 25. Iran has strict limits, Rohani declared: "Our red line in the nuclear dossier is for Iran's right to be guaranteed and for us to be certain that we can conduct enrichment activities." (Bill Samii)

RICE PURCHASES COULD SIGNAL PREPARATIONS FOR SANCTIONS. Chookiat Ophaswongse, president of the Rice Exporters Association of Thailand, said representatives of the Government Trading Cooperation of Iran are in Thailand to negotiate the purchase of 300,000 metric tons of rice, "The Nation" newspaper from Thailand reported on May 3. Bloomberg on May 2 put the figure at 300,000-400,000 tons. "Iran may have to speed up its rice purchases to reduce the risk of a shortage that may occur from economic sanctions if the United Nations decides to impose them," Chookiat said, according to "The Nation." Iran has already contracted to purchase 400,000 tons of Thai rice, and some deliveries remain to be made. (Bill Samii)

HIZBALLAH ACKNOWLEDGES IRANIAN SUPPORT. Seyyed Hassan Nasrallah, secretary-general of Hizballah in Lebanon, acknowledged Iranian assistance to his organization and also defended Tehran in a May 1 speech in Beirut. "The Islamic Republic of Iran has always supported the Lebanese people and Hizballah's military branch known as the 'Islamic Resistance,'" Nasrallah said, IRNA reported on May 2.

Nasrallah also spoke against warnings of an Iranian-promoted "Shi'ite crescent," (Jordan's King Abdullah suggested in 2004 that Iran seeks to create a Shi'ite crescent stretching across Iraq to Lebanon, and Egypt President Hosni Mubarak more recently suggested that Shi'a in the region are more loyal to Iran than to their home countries), Al-Manar television reported on May 1.

Nasrallah said "America and the Zionists" are inciting the world against Iran by raising the issue of a "Persian empire." At a time when Arab states would not dare host a conference like the one on Palestine and Jerusalem that took place in Tehran in mid-April, he continued, "Would [Iran] publicly declare its political and financial support for the Palestinian people and the Palestinian government?" Iran's raising concerns about alleged Persian ambitions and contributing to strife and discord, Nasrallah said, is a "great and decisive disservice for the U.S.-Zionist scheme that tries to firmly plant its feet in the region." (Bill Samii)

IRAN, HIZBALLAH COUNTER U.S. ACCUSATIONS OF SUPPORTING TERRORISM. Tehran has responded to an annual U.S. State Department report fingering Iran as "the most active state sponsor of terrorism" by suggesting that the United States is not qualified to pass such a judgment. Iranian allies in the Lebanese Hizballah singled out in the April 28 report responded similarly, accusing the Bush administration of supporting "Israeli terrorism" and carrying out its own terrorist activities. But the participation of numerous terrorist groups in a mid-April conference in Tehran -- as well as Iranian officials' open encouragement of suicide bombings -- undermines that country's defense of its policies.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi countered the State Department report by accusing the United States of hypocrisy. He was quoted by IRNA on April 29 as saying the U.S. administration singles out countries whose policies it opposes and who stand up to what he described as the "Zionist regime." Assefi described the United States as Israel's "main supporter," and he said U.S. policies contribute to the intensification of terrorism. He added that the United States is therefore in no position to point the finger at others.

The State Department's annual "Country Reports on Terrorism" also describe the Lebanese Hizballah -- which it has labeled a "foreign terrorist organization" -- as being "closely allied with Iran and often act[ing] at its behest."

Hizballah's reaction was described on the Lebanese organization's Al-Manar television on April 29. Hizballah charged that Washington supports what it called "Israeli terrorism." The group said that actions by U.S. President George W. Bush's administration warrant a spot at the top of a list of global terrorists. Hizballah declared that it is unmoved by its appearance in the U.S. report, adding that it considers it "a big medal on [the] mujahedins' chests."

The State Department report asserts that Iran's Ministry of Intelligence and Security and the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) were "directly involved in the planning and support of terrorist acts." It claims they also encourage the leadership of Lebanese Hizballah and Palestinian groups with leaders in Syria to "use terrorism in pursuit of their goals."

The State Department alleges that "Iran maintained a high-profile role in encouraging anti-Israeli terrorist activity -- rhetorically, operationally, and financially." The report notes that Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Mahmud Ahmadinejad have "praised Palestinian terrorist operations."

The State Department accuses Iran of having provided "extensive funding, training, and weapons" to groups that include the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command. Iranian officials and members of those groups have rejected the U.S. accusations.

Representatives of those organizations attended an April 14-16 conference in Iran called Support for the Palestinian Intifada.

The State Department report does not mention that recent conference, as it covers the year 2005. But Supreme Leader Khamenei made statements in connection with the event that arguably encourage terrorist operations. He told the conference on April 14 that "the values of jihad and martyrdom are revived," IRNA reported. Khamenei added that "the noble blood of martyrdom-seeking youths and the presence of dauntless warriors within the struggle invalidate all calculations of worldly materialists and hedonists." Khamenei hailed "a new arena where blood triumphs over sword."

Khamenei's emphasis on martyrdom is not unusual. It is a prominent theme in Shi'a Islam, the Iranian state religion. It is also cited when Iranians discuss those who gave their lives in the Iran-Iraq War or otherwise serving the country. Yet in the context of a conference on the Intifada and to such an audience, Khamenei appeared to be encouraging suicide bombings (also known as martyrdom-seeking operations).

Indeed, Iranian officials appear to have encouraged their own citizens to participate in such attacks. The Headquarters for Tribute to the Martyrs of the Global Islamic Movement -- which is connected with the IRGC -- began enrolling volunteer suicide bombers in 2004. Headquarters spokesman Mohammad Ali Samadi said in an interview that appeared in the April 20 issue of "Il Giornale" that 55,000 Iranians have volunteered for suicide-bombing missions in Palestine or Iraq. He said that 1,000 of those volunteers have completed their training. The spokesman added that the Iranian martyrdom volunteers are active. But he noted that "unlike Hamas or Islamic Jihad," the Martyrs of the Global Islamic Movement "are not committed to a declared conflict."

The State Department's terrorism report also describes Cuba, Libya, North Korea, Sudan, and Syria as "state sponsors." The report alleges that those countries facilitate terrorists' acquisition of funds, weapons, and materials, and they also provide terrorist groups with safe havens. (Bill Samii)

STATE MAINTAINS TIGHT CONTROL OVER INFORMATION. Suspension of newspapers, the intimidation and harassment of journalists, arrests and prison sentences by Iran's conservative judiciary were frequent events during reformist Mohammad Khatami's presidency. His successor -- hard-line President Mahmud Ahmadinejad -- has not improved the situation for Iranian journalists who complain of increased pressure and tighter media restrictions. At the local level, a growing number of journalists have been jailed and their publications have been suspended.

Vahid Pourostad, a media lawyer and member of the editorial board of the reformist "Etemad-i Melli" (National Trust) newspaper, was attacked by an unknown assailant on the night of April 8.

The man reportedly placed a knife on his throat and threatened to kill him. Pourostad was not hurt but his files were stolen. He revealed the details of the attack in his online blog.

In recent months there have been other reports of threats and intimidation against journalists.

Rising Tide of State Pressure

Mashallah Shamsolvaezin, a prominent Iranian journalist and the spokesman of the Committee To Defend Press Freedom, tells RFE/RL that state pressure on journalists has also increased. "The National Supreme Security Council allows itself whenever it wants to warn journalists and issue circulars to editors in chief telling them what to write and what not to write and Tehran's prosecutor-general, Said Mortazavi, directly contacts the press," Shamsolvaezin said. "I once said in an interview that Mr. Mortazavi is the editor in chief of Iranian newspapers. The Culture Ministry also summons journalists and talks to them and in these talks they also make implicit threats so that journalists don't cross red lines."

Iranian journalists have always had to deal with red lines. For example, any criticism of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei is a red line that journalists know not to cross.

Figuring Out Where The Boundaries Are

In recent months journalists have come under pressure not to criticize the country's nuclear policies and not to depict the Iranian government's dealings in the nuclear crisis as unsuccessful.

Fariba Davudi Mohajer, an outspoken journalist in Tehran, tells RFE/RL that "the boundaries have become much tighter" than they were before. She adds, however, that in some cases journalists do not know where the boundaries are.

"Some of these red lines are very clear and some are not," she said. "The issue of talks with the U.S. was, until a month ago, a red line. For example, if I would write an article about it, it wouldn't get published. Therefore, journalists are confused.

The online daily "Rooz" recently reported that after March 21 -- the beginning of the new Iranian year -- Iran's National Supreme Security Council has announced new restrictions on the media.

According to the report, editors in chief have been warned to avoid publishing political analysis that differs from the country's official policy.

Shamsolvaezin believes that in recent months the situation regarding freedom of expression, freedom of information, and the safety of journalists has deteriorated in Iran.

Problems At The Regional Level

"Since the government of Ahmadinejad came to power we have not witnessed as many cases of journalists being arrested, but the act of bringing criminal charges against journalists is spreading to [other] cities and provinces," he said. "In Tehran, courts only issue heavy suspended sentences against journalists but don't send them to prison because of the negative international reaction."

Many journalists have also left the country. Others have changed their jobs and many have been forced to submit themselves to censorship and stay in line with official policies in order to keep their jobs.

Davudi Mohajer says some have also lost their jobs. "It seems that now there is freedom of expression only for the supporters of a certain opinion and not for all people," she said. "Just in the last few weeks we witnessed that about half of the ILNA [Iranian Labor News Agency] news agency staff losing their jobs under the pretext of economic issues but, in fact, most of them are considered reformists and this dealt a severe blow to Iran's journalism community."

The Rise Of The Internet

In addition to increased pressure on the media, there are also reports of the government's tighter control of the Internet, which in recent years has turned into a serious alternative news source.

Many Iranian journalists have their own weblogs and some have accused the government of blocking and filtering their sites.

In the past two years many bloggers have faced harassment and some have been imprisoned.

There have also been reports of attempts to monitor text messaging (SMSes on mobile phones), which has become very popular in Iran for communicating and sharing jokes and is also used as a political tool.

There has been no comment from the Iranian government about complaints of tighter media restrictions and an assault on the freedom of expression.

Tehran Prosecutor-General Mortazavi, who has been called "the butcher of the press," said recently that "freedom of the press and freedom of expression are not absolute and are subject to respect for Islamic and legal principles." (Golnaz Esfandiari)

ACTIVISTS FEAR LOOMING CRACKDOWN. Some 400 students protested in front of a Tehran university on May 2 to protest the expulsion of a student by the country's Education Ministry. The ministry reportedly said that Peyman Aref -- a graduate student at Tehran University's Faculty of Law and Political Science -- does not have "general and ideological competence" to continue his studies, and should be expelled. Student activists and observers, however, believe that Aref's expulsion and similar sentences against other politically active students are part of a new government crackdown on Iranian universities.

At least two graduate student activists -- Peyman Aref and Mehdi Aminizadeh -- former members of Iran's largest and most outspoken reformist student group (Daftar-i Tahkim Vahdat) have been expelled from school in recent months.

Others have reportedly been banned from studying for one or several semesters. Students have regularly reported being summoned to disciplinary committees, security bodies, and courts -- some have even faced jail sentences.

The Students Protest

The authorities have also -- despite some student objections -- started burying the remains of unknown soldiers killed during the Iran/Iraq war on university campuses. The campaign is considered by many as an attempt to bring extremist political groups into universities to pressure more moderate students.

There have been also reports about the dismissal of professors.

Mohammad Maleki, a former chancellor at Tehran University, tells RFE/RL that the actions are aimed at crushing the pro-democracy student movement.

Maleki was among students on May 2 who protested against Aref's expulsion and growing pressure on student activists.

"[The main point of] our protest [is] that these actions have become a trend; by burying the remains or martyrs in the universities and expelling students, it seems that they want to have a new kind of cultural revolution and put students and professors under pressure," he said. "They especially want to create fear in the universities. This government cannot stand criticism and opposition."

Abdullah Momeni, an outspoken student leader in Tehran, also believes that the Iranian government is trying to limit freedom of expression and crush student dissent.

Calls For Tolerance

He tells RFE/RL that the authorities are violating the rights of students. "Unfortunately, in the new system Ahmadinejad's government and the Education Ministry are ordering actions that are being taken by security organs that violate the students' basic right to study," he said. "Students who have a critical view of the establishment, those who protest against government policies and search for democracy in Iran do not have the possibility to study and be politically active."

Mehdi Aminizadeh, who has also reportedly been expelled from university following intervention by Iran's Intelligence Ministry, recently called in an open letter for students groups, human rights organizations, and political parties to work on his behalf to help him return to school and pursue his studies.

Aminizadeh told Radio Farda on April 26 that he is determined to fight for this right. "Continuing my studies is my right; I have the right to study in the country where I was born and where I live and I'm determined to do so," he said. "It is possible that there will be opportunities to study outside the country but that doesn't mean that whoever is [politically] active in this country can be kept by the Intelligence Ministry from studying and be forced to leave the country."

Human rights activists have expressed concern about the "intensifying repression" and the worsening of the situation regarding freedom of expression in Iran since the government of hard-line Ahmadinejad took office in August 2005.

Iran's main pro-reform group, the Participation Front, expressed concern on May 2 over pressure on students, including their expulsion, and called on the government to have "more tolerance in accepting criticism."

Leading Intellectual Detained

Front spokesman Said Shariati told ISNA that the group has also expressed concern about the detention of leading scholar and author Ramin Jahanbegloo, and called on authorities to release information about his situation.

Jahanbegloo, who also holds Canadian citizenship, was reportedly arrested late last week after returning from a trip to India. Jahanbegloo, the head of the department for contemporary studies at Tehran's Cultural Research Bureau, has published several books on such subjects as liberal political philosopher Isaiah Berlin and modernity in Iran.

The "Los Angeles Times" reported that Jahanbegloo had challenged, in an article he wrote this year for the Spanish newspaper "El Pais," Ahmadinejad's suggestion that the Holocaust was a myth.

In recent days several Iranian websites had published reports about his arrest and Iran finally today it was confirmed that he has been detained.

The head of Tehran's prison organization, Sohrab Suleimani, told Fars news agency that Jahanbegloo was arrested on May 2 and is currently detained in Tehran's notorious Evin prison. He did not give details about the reasons of his arrest.

Another official who did not want to be named has told Fars agency that Jahanbegloo was arrested for security reasons and on espionage charges.

Today in Tehran liberal cleric Mohsen Kadivar told a gathering at the Association of Iranian Journalists that World Press Freedom Day is celebrated as one of the country's leading intellectual is under arrest.

Kadivar who has been jailed in the past for his criticism of the Iranian establishment added: "It has not been announced why [Jahanbegloo was arrested] but we hope the day will come when no one is held...before being tried by an open court."

On April 30, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi said that Canada's ambassador to Tehran has reported the detention of a Canadian citizen to the Foreign Ministry. He added that the matter will be pursued in the courts. (Golnaz Esfandiari; Radio Farda's Mosadegh Katouzian)