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Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif during an appearance in early December at Tehran University
The U.S. State Department has turned to social media to express its condolences over the passing of the mother of Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.

State Department Farsi spokesman Alan Eyre expressed his condolences over the death of Efat Kashani on his Facebook page, which has over 70,000 likes. He also shared the Internet link to his message via Twitter.

Eyre wrote that he heard about Kashani's death with the "deepest regret" and added that he prayed God might give the family "patience."

The United States has extensively used the public-diplomacy tools at its disposal to reach out to Iranians.

But Eyre's message is a rare -- perhaps unprecedented -- instance of the State Department using social media to reach out to an Iranian government official.

Zarif's mother passed away on December 27 in a Tehran hospital, according to reports in Iranian media.

In his condolences message, Eyre cited in Arabic a well-known phrase from the Koran that is often invoked when someone dies.

"We belong to God and to Him shall we return," Eyre wrote.

The message comes as Iran and the United States and its allies seek a lasting solution to the crisis over Tehran's controversial nuclear activities.

In recent months, Iranian officials have used social media sites that are blocked inside Iran to reach out to the world and prove that the tone of foreign policy in Tehran has changed since the election of relative moderate, cleric Hassan Rohani to the presidency.

Eyre's Facebook message has prompted hundreds of reactions from Iranians on social media.

"As an Iranian, I thank you for your your very diplomatic behavior and human behavior," wrote one user.

Another said: "Thank you and I would thank you even more if you could you use less Arabic words."

Among the many reactions, there is also criticism of Eyre for reaching out to an Iranian government official.

"Have you also sen[t] your condolences to the mother of Neda Agha Soltan?" asked one user in a reference to a protester gunned down during 2009 protests over the reelection of President Mahmud Ahmadinejad.

Eyre's message has been picked up and posted on several Iranian news sites, including that of Iran's official news agency, IRNA.

-- Golnaz Esfandiari
In what appears to be an attempt to strengthen their version of antigovernment protests in June 2009 Iranian hard-liners have published an "Encyclopedia of Sedition," featuring opposition leaders Mir Hossein Musavi, Mehdi Karrubi, and former reformist President Mohammad Khatami on the cover.
"Unforgivable" -- that's how the official website of Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei has described the alleged crimes of opposition members who took part in mass antigovernment protests in 2009.

The website has issued its verdict on a poster that shows a court file with the title "The 2009 Sedition" in green (the color of the opposition movement), on which the adjective "unforgivable" has been stamped in red. A wooden gavel is lying next to the file, which carries the logo of the Islamic republic.

Under the poster is a 2011 quote from Khamenei who said that challenging the establishment was "the great sin" of opposition members who alleged massive fraud in the 2009 reelection of President Mahmud Ahmadinejad.

"This great sin is not venial. Its effects can be still seen in our society," Khamenei is quoted as saying on the poster by the office for the preservation and publication of his writings.

It comes amid growing calls for the release of opposition leaders Mir Hossein Musavi, his wife Zahra Rahnavard, and reformist cleric Mehdi Karrubi, who have been under house arrest for some 1,000 days. The demands for the release of the opposition figures have increased since President Hassan Rohani came to power. Before his election, Rohani had promised to free political prisoners.

The poster, shared on a number of Iranian websites and also on social media, has been issued to mark the anniversary of state organized protests on December 30, 2009, which were held to condemn the so-called sedition, which is the term Iranian officials use to refer to the Green Opposition Movement.

Authorities describe the December 30 pro-government gatherings as the epic of "Dey 9" (the name of the Iranian month in which the rallies happened) and as the day of wisdom.

State media claimed millions of Iranians took to the streets on that day to express their allegiance to the Islamic republic and speak out against the "sedition."

Ahead of the anniversary, a number of officials have issued fresh warnings and condemnations of the opposition movement that was brutally repressed.

Among them is the country's police chief Esmail Ahmadi Moghadam, who is quoted by Iranian media as echoing Khamenei's comment by saying that the "sin" of those who created tensions in the Islamic republic in 2009 is "unforgivable."

The 2009 mass street protests over the reelection of Ahmadinejad saw the Islamic republic face its worst crisis. Hard-line officials accused peaceful protesters of undermining the establishment, orchestrating a revolution, and working on behalf of foreign elements.

In what appears to be an attempt to strengthen their version of events, some hard-liners have published an "Encyclopedia of Sedition."

The pictures of Musavi, Karrubi, and former reformist President Mohammad Khatami are on the cover of the encyclopedia, which, according to Iranian media, has nine volumes.

Publishers have said that, although the Islamic republic managed to put the 2009 "sedition" behind it and move forward, experience shows that further "seditions" could come that are likely to be "more complicated and tougher to handle than the one from four years ago.

Therefore, they argue, Iran needs a deep understanding of the past and "preparedness" and "sagacity" to face future seditious movements.

-- Golnaz Esfandiari

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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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