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Iran Report: February 11, 2008

Iranian Dissidents See Dark Legacy Of 'Glorious Revolution'

President Ahmadinejad addresses a Tehran crowd on the anniversary of the Islamic revolution

Thousands of Iranians have turned out for rallies to mark the day 29 years ago when the U.S.-backed shah of Iran was toppled. It's called the "Glorious Victory of the Islamic Revolution."

But not everyone looks back on it as a glorious time for Iran.

Akbar Ganji, an Iranian journalist and dissident, tells Radio Farda that the unity in the public squares belies a much more complicated legacy for the guardians of Iran's revolution.

"One of the achievements of the Iranian revolution, perhaps an unwanted one, was the politicization of the Iranian society," Ganji says. "This society, compared with that of the prerevolution era, is very politicized to the extent that one cannot find a similar society in the [world]."

Ganji says that while "this politicized society is very disappointed, it has many political and social demands."

The anniversary is celebrated each year on February 11, when the Iranian Army in 1979 refused to continue fighting the antigovernment uprising led by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi had left Iran three weeks earlier. But the army's decision effectively handed control to Khomeini and spelled the end for the shah's prime minister, Shapur Bakhtiar. The rupture with Washington was completed nine months later, when students seized the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and held 52 hostages captive for 444 days.

Iranian officials this year called on people to turn out in large numbers to show their unity in the face of Western pressure. State television broadcast live footage of major rallies held in Tehran and other cities.

While President Mahmud Ahmadinejad used to occasion to tout the revolution’s alleged success at a rally in Tehran's Azadi Square, dissidents pointed to the failings of the 1979 Islamic uprising.

Author Azar Nafisi tells Radio Farda that the revolution's ideology failed because it never took into consideration the practical needs of the Iranian people.

"One of the achievements of the revolution is the [political] awareness of the people," Nafisi says, echoing Ganji's view but adding what she regards as lessons learned from the experience. "It has become clear that a unitary approach does not work in the country. Without the people's participation and in the absence of meeting their demands, any ideology would fail, and using religion as an ideology would not work either."

Abbas Milani, an Iranian-born professor at Stanford University in the United States, takes the example further. He says that to get a sense of just how badly the revolution has failed the Iranian people, Iran's performance since 1979 should be compared to that of other countries in the ensuing decades.

"Iran missed an historic opportunity for leaping forward and becoming a developed country of the 21st century. This was the main consequence of the revolution," Milani says. "In order to assess the consequences of the revolution, we ought to compare Iran with similar countries in 1975."

Milani noted that Iran's economy and compared favorably with those of Taiwan, South Korea, and Turkey. "Now, the state of our economy cannot be compared with the economies of those states," he says, despite huge revenues from the sale of crude oil. He argued that "the same applies to the political situation of Iran."

For his part, Ahmadinejad did not use his February 11 speech to address rising unemployment, inflation, or a wave of arrests of political dissidents, journalists, and students who do not agree with hard-line clerical rule.

Instead, Ahmadinejad said Iran would not back down in its dispute with the West over its nuclear program, and that Tehran did not fear the possibility of another round of United Nations sanctions.

The West "should know that the Iranian nation will not retreat one iota from its nuclear rights," Ahmadinejad said.

Ahead of parliamentary elections on March 14, Ahmadinejad also lashed out at his critics at home. He accused them of betrayal over the nuclear issue.

The president did not mention authorities' disqualification in recent days of thousands of reformist candidates from running in the March polls, mostly on the grounds that they are of "unproven loyalty" to the revolution.

(with additional agency reports)

Does Iran's Government Fear Educated Women?

By Iraj Gorgin

Iranian female university students in Tehran (file photo)

Who’s afraid of girls? The Iranian government, it seems. Recent years have seen a dramatic rise in the number of Iranian girls enrolling in universities and other institutions of higher education. While many governments would see this as a blessing worth boasting about, that's not the case in Iran.

In a report to the administration of President Mahmud Ahmadinejad, Iran’s Research Center of the Majlis (parliament) recently called the trend of more girls going to universities "alarming" and urged the government to stop it.

"With the door of opportunity closed to most young girls, with all the control their families and others exert over them, young women are mostly going after knowledge and science to gain freedom and human dignity."

'Worrisome' Trend

The research center documented what it called a worrisome rise in the number of females to enroll in universities and other centers of higher education. The report said that over the last two decades there’s been a 23 percent increase in the number of girls taking university entrance exams, with the number of girls who passed the tests nearly doubling -- to 65 percent -- over the same period.

The influential research center -- which has decision-making powers in both parliament as well as in government agencies -- also warned that the rise in female students could eventually lead to "social disparity and economic and cultural imbalances between men and women."

But others see society as the problem, not women's desire to seek higher education.

"If such concern [about more women going to universities] is being expressed, then it’s because our society is not ready to accept that a woman could be more educated than a man," said Elahe Hejazi, a university professor in Tehran. She tells RFE/RL’s Radio Farda that the report reflects both traditional gender discrimination as well as despair among young males about their prospects in life. She calls it a "cultural problem."

"Our culture is preserved in its traditional form, but the more important problem in our society is that boys have no motivation for continuing their education," she said.

Detrimental Or Good?

The report says the rise in female students has created other concerns, such as "securing university dorms and maintaining their [girls] physical security in confronting possible social perils." Another problem, according to the report, is economic, "such as the possibility that expenses will be underused for specialized skills, as well as a change in the gender of the workforce."

The center's report also warns about a detrimental affect on families and urges officials to swiftly find a solution to the "disproportion between the number of men and women" in Iran’s universities.

Shahla Shafigh, an Iranian-born women’s rights activist in Paris, tells Radio Farda that she believes the opposition to female students is ideological.

"With the door of opportunity closed to most young girls, with all the control their families and others exert over them, young women are mostly going after knowledge and science to gain freedom and human dignity," Shafigh says. "And this is a good thing to happen in a country."

But what steps the government might take in regards to the situation is unclear.

Last year, after reports that the government might limit female enrollment in entrance exams, women’s rights activists in Iran expressed concern. The government later denied that there had ever been any such plans.

But there are signs the government intends to act on the gender issue, including recent media reports suggesting there could be a change in textbooks based on "gender differentiation."

Last week, Zohre Tabibzadeh Nouri, who runs the government's office of Women’s Participation, told reporters in Tehran that "gender discrimination" will be implemented in certain sectors of the workforce. She added that the government must help women attain the kind of education and expertise suitable for them.

(Fereidoun Zarnegar of Radio Farda contributed to this report.)

Iran: 'Hardened Drinker' Faces Death Penalty

By Farangis Najibullah
An Iranian court has sentenced a 22-year-old man to death for his fourth violation of the country's ban on drinking alcohol.

The man -- identified only by his first name, Mohsen -- was reportedly sentenced to death after a Tehran court judged him a "hardened and incorrigible drinker." Iranian media reported that a second Tehran court is currently deciding whether Mohsen should be executed. He has 20 days to appeal the decision.

Under Iran's Islamic Shari'a law, a person who is caught drinking for a fourth time may face capital punishment. First-time offenders are punished with cash fines, flogging -- 80 lashes for a single drinking offense -- or a jail sentence.

Mohsen has been punished for drinking alcohol three times before -- in May, June, and October 2006.

Iranian news agencies quoted his lawyer, Aziz Nokendei, as saying his client was recently arrested again for drunken and disorderly behavior.

Since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, alcohol consumption has been strictly forbidden in Iran.

A judge at a Tehran criminal court, Jalil Jalili, suggested that the courts have gone easy on Mohsen until now. According to "the Islamic Penal Code, if someone drinks twice and is punished for it on each occasion, he should be executed on the third offense," Jalili said.

Nevertheless, some Iranian lawyers argue that the execution of such offenders is also a violation of the country's laws because of Tehran's international obligations.

Mohammad Ali Dadkhah, a board member of Iran's Independent Society of Defense Lawyers and the head of a Tehran law firm, tells RFE/RL that executing a person for merely being drunk violates Iran's obligations under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, an advisory declaration adopted by the UN.

"According to the ninth article of the Iranian Civil Code, we can say that these [international] agreements are a part of domestic laws and cannot be ignored," Dadkhah says. "In this context, we can say that handing down the death penalty for drinking alcohol is questionable."

Many Iranians ignore the ban on alcohol, despite the risk of harsh punishments. Iranian authorities admit that alcohol consumption has increased in the country in recent years, and that Iranians drink at least 1 million liters of alcoholic beverages annually. Alcohol can easily be obtained on the black market in all parts of the country.

Christian minorities in Iran -- such as Armenians -- are allowed to produce and consume alcohol. They are required, however, to drink it behind closed doors in order not to upset Islamic sensibilities.

Iran has been criticized by Western governments and human rights groups for having one of the highest rates of executions in the world. Murder, rape, adultery, and drug trafficking are among the offenses punishable by death under Iranian law.

However, executions for drinking are very rare there. Amnesty International says a Kurdish man, Karim Fahimi, was sentenced to death in 2005 in the western city of Sardasht after having been convicted of drinking alcohol for at least the third time. It is not known if the sentence was carried out.

Iranian Judiciary Chief Seeks Curb On Public Executions

By Antoine Blua

Noose ahead of simultaneous hangings around Iran in September 2002

The head of Iran's judiciary is seeking to impose limits on public executions amid a rise in death-penalty cases during President Mahmud Ahmadinejad’s 2 1/2 years in office.

Long regarded by rights groups as the world’s leading executioner of children, Iran put some 300 people to death in 2007, up from under 200 the previous year.

So far, 2008 is shaping up to be no less lethal. More than 30 people have already been put to death this month, including five convicted murderers hanged on January 30 in Tehran's notorious Evin prison.

The same day, Ayatollah Mahmud Hashemi-Shahrudi, Iran's judiciary chief, ordered a halt to public executions unless they had his approval. His decree also prohibited publishing photos or images of executions in the media. Previously, presiding judges had decided whether to subject a condemned criminal to public execution.

But the record suggests it might be premature to think that average Iranians have seen the last of the makeshift gallows and other grim spectacles that authorities use to remind them that the executioner awaits wrongdoers.

Public Outrage

The sister of a 48-year-old musician and teacher, Abdollah Farivar Moghaddam, told Radio Farda this week that the country's highest court recently rejected an appeal against Moghaddam's death sentence by stoning for adultery.

Moghaddam's sister suggested a prosecutor recently responded almost gleefully in rejecting her appeals, vowing to publicly execute the father of two as soon as he received the high court's verdict in writing.

She said the authorities based their case on a bogus confession and, since his imprisonment in 2003, misplaced evidence of her brother's 99-year temporary marriage -- a frequent tool to avoid running afoul of Iran's Islamic laws on male-female relations outside of wedlock.

"I asked the prosecutor where such a thing could be possible," Moghaddam's sister told Radio Farda. "I screamed and said that I want my rights, and the judge shouted at me and said, 'Upon receiving the verdict in writing, I will implement it in public.'"

Public executions have previously been used for crimes that cause public outrage. But reports suggest that under Ahmadinejad’s hard-line administration, the spectacle has been increasingly used to intimidate dissenters.

Judiciary spokesman Alireza Jamshidi said that according to the new decree, public executions would be carried out on a “social-necessity” basis. In a statement, he did not elaborate. But he said executions should not be carried out or publicized in a way that would be a "psychological disturbance to society, especially the youth."

Child Offenders

Some Iranian youth might be more worried about being executed themselves. After all, the group Human Rights Watch calls Iran the world's leading executor of children and juvenile offenders.

Lawyer Mohammad Mostafai defends young men on death row, including a boy named Said Jazi. Speaking to Radio Farda, Mostafai recalled that the execution of individuals under 18 years of age violates Iran’s own commitments as a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Children.

“Article 37 of that convention clearly asserts that executing individuals under 18 is condemned," Mostafai said. "Considering due process in the parliament and in the Guardians Council, the execution of individuals who have committed a crime when they were under 18 years of age has no legal basis. But unfortunately in our country they wait for the minors to reach the legal age [and then execute them].”

Iran's judiciary regularly issues death sentences for minors and executes them after they turn 18, but there have also been cases where criminal offenders have been executed while they were still minors.

Amnesty International, which opposes the death penalty around the world in all cases, counts up to 80 child offenders currently facing the death penalty in Iran. It also says five juvenile offenders have been executed there in the past year.

Capital offenses in Iran include murder, rape, armed robbery, serious drug trafficking, and adultery. Hanging is the most common method of execution in the country, although stoning and firing squads are used in some cases.

Reports say Iran has executed at least 33 convicts since the start of the year.

Amnesty International's Ann Harrison says she is "very disturbed to see that the rate of executions continues to be very high in Iran."

Such concerns have put Iran's judiciary under greater international scrutiny, particularly over the execution of minors and what are seen as cruel forms of killing, such as stoning.

Amnesty International on January 15 called on Tehran to abolish death by stoning, stating that nine women and two men are currently waiting to be stoned to death in Iran.

Such attention may explain in part the move to limit public executions. Mostafai, for one, says he believes the judiciary already tries to spread out executions to avoid international scrutiny.

"I think the number of people waiting to be hanged in Iran is so high that [authorities] don't want to hang 25 people in one go, this would raise complications internationally," Mostafai said. "I believe they want to hang fewer people at a time, so that less noise is made internationally."

Whether the new move to limit executions in public will actually be followed is unclear. Local officials have ignored previous stay-of-execution decisions by judiciary chief Hashemi-Shahrudi, who is considered to be a moderate conservative.

(Radio Farda’s Mahin Gorjiferidani contributed to this report.)