Thursday, May 31, 2007


Iran: End harassment of dual-nationals - Human rights groups protest detentions and travel bans

AMNESTY INTERNATIONALPRESS RELEASEAI Index: MDE 13/063/2007 (Public)News Service No: 097 31 May 2007
Iran: End harassment of dual-nationals - Human rights groups protest detentions and travel bansJoint statement from Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the International Federation for Human Rights, Reporters Without Borders(New York, May 31, 2007) – The Iranian government should immediately release two Iranian-Americans from detention and clarify the case of a third who may have “disappeared,” a group of leading human rights organizations said today. Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the International Federation for Human Rights, Reporters Without Borders and the Nobel laureate Shirin Ebadi also urged Iran to lift travel bans on two journalists with dual nationality whom Iran has barred from traveling back to their home countriesThese measures appear to be an attempt by Iran’s security authorities to sow fear into the wider community of journalists, writers, scholars and activists. Their exchanges with counterparts in other parts of the world underscore both their commitment to enhance mutual respect and recognition of human dignity through dialogue and to see human rights norms upheld in their country. “These actions violate Iran’s laws as well as international norms,” said Ebadi, winner of the 2003 Nobel peace prize, who is also the lawyer for two of those caught in the crackdown. “The Judiciary is denying dual-nationals their basic rights.” The detentions and travel bans are part of a broad crackdown being mounted against Iranian human rights activists, students, and labor organizers by Iranian intelligence officials based in the country’s Information Ministry. Intelligence officials in the Information Ministry are currently holding two Iranian-American scholars, Kian Tajbakhsh and Haleh Esfandiari, inside Tehran’s notorious Evin prison.Another Iranian-American, Ali Shakeri, a peace activist from Irvine, California, is also believed to be in detention, and may be the victim of an enforced disappearance. In addition, the government has confiscated the passports of two journalists, Parnaz Azima, an Iranian-American, and Mehrnoush Solouki, a French-Iranian, preventing them from leaving Iran.Ebadi and the human rights groups expressed grave concerns for the health and safety of the detainees as well as the two journalists trapped in Iran.Esfandiari and Tajbakhsh are currently being held in ward 209 of Evin prison. On May 29, 2007, the Judiciary’s spokesperson, Alireza Jamshidi, told a news conference that they and Azima had been charged after a complaint was made against them by the Information Ministry. It accuses them of “acting against national security by engaging in propaganda against the Islamic republic by the method of spying on behalf of foreigners.”Agents of the Information Ministry arrested Esfandiari on May 8. The 67-year-old director of the Middle East program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, DC, was transferred to Evin prison the same day. Tajbakhsh, a 45-year-old social scientist who consulted for the Iranian government as well as international organizations, was detained three days later, on May 11. Both are being detained incommunicado and denied access to their lawyers or family.On May 20, the Information Ministry issued a statement accusing Esfandiari of promoting civil society in Iran “to further the interests of foreign powers.” This statement and a number of articles in the hardline daily Kayhan have referred to the professional activities of Esfandiari and Tajbakhsh, such as attending international scholarly conferences, as evidence of “acting against national security.”“These charges are politically motivated and only serve to further isolate Iranian civil society,” Ebadi said. “The government is punishing these detainees because they promoted dialogue between Iranians and the international community.” Shakeri, 59, “disappeared” on May 8 as he was leaving Iran for Europe. According to his associates, he called his family 48 hours later to say that “there was a misunderstanding, and I am OK.” On May 29, the Judiciary’s spokesperson said “Shakeri is not in detention, and there are no charges against him.” However, Shakeri’s whereabouts remain unknown. The international organizations called on the Iranian government to investigate Shakeri’s initial detention on May 8, to make public his current whereabouts and to release him if he is in detention, and allow him to leave the country to join his family in California.The authorities have also banned two journalists with dual nationality from leaving Iran. Solouki, a Quebec University journalism student who has dual French and Iranian nationality, was detained on February 17 while making a documentary film about events following the 1988 ceasefire in the war between Iran and Iraq. She was held for a month at Evin prison by Information Ministry officials who also confiscated her notes and film, and then released on bail of 100 million Touman (US$100,000) on March 19. However, the authorities did not return her passport, preventing her from leaving Iran. Intelligence officials have summoned her for interrogation several times since her release.Azima, a reporter for the Persian-language services of Radio Free Europe who holds both Iranian and American citizenship, is also being prevented from leaving Iran. Her passport was confiscated by the authorities in January 2007. On May 21, following the deposit of a large bail payment, the authorities refused to return her passport, citing the interest in her case by the Information Ministry. Iranian intelligence agents often bring politically motivated charges of “endangering national security” against activists and intellectuals. Agents of the Information Ministry arrested Abdolfattah Soltani, a prominent human rights lawyer, in August 2005, accusing him of spying. The ministry’s agents held Soltani in Evin prison for seven months, before releasing him on bail. On May 28, 2007, an appeals court in Tehran acquitted Soltani of all charges.Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the International Federation for Human Rights, Reporters Without Borders, and Ebadi reminded the Iranian authorities that they bear full responsibility for the health and safety of all those detained by the state, and that all detainees must be treated with dignity and allowed access to their lawyers and visitors. They also called on the Iranian government to end its persecution and prosecution of dual-national scholars and journalists.For more information, please contact:In London, Amnesty International’s press office: +44-20-7413-5566In New York, for Human Rights Watch, Hadi Ghaemi (English, Persian): +1-917-669-5996 (mobile)In Paris, for the International Federation for Human Rights, +33-1-43-55-2011 and Karim Lahidji (French, Persian): +33-6-304-603-73In Paris, for Reporters Without Borders, Reza Moini (French, Persian): +33-1-44-83-84- 84
Public Document****************************************For more information please call Amnesty International's press office in London, UK, on +44 20 7413 5566Amnesty International, 1 Easton St., London WC1X 0DW. web: http://www.amnesty.orgFor latest human rights news view

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Friday, May 25, 2007


Iran's Human Rights Activist letter to Human Rights Organizations

Requesting from the world human rights communities regarding the 75 milion dollars budget by the US
Louise ArbourThe High Commissioner for Human RightsThe Office of the High Commissioner for Human RightsThe United Nations
Irene KhanSecretary GeneralAmnesty International
Kenneth RothExecutive DirectorHuman Rights Watch
Paul EnglishExecutive DirectorPrison Reform International
Executive DirectorReporters without Borders
Christina M. StormPresidentLawyers without Borders
Norman L. ReimerExecutive DirectorNational Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers
Michel TaubeLe President Ensemble Contre la Peine de Mort
Michel ForstSecrétaire Général-CNCDH
Gabriel MouescaPresident of observatoire international des prisons(OIP)
May 18, 2007
Dear Colleagues and Human Rights Activists,
We are all sensitive to violations of human rights by governments and consider it our duty to react to these violations even if in countries such as Iran these reactions have costs. At the same time, we are expected not to be indifferent to new kinds of human rights violations or outright endangerment of human rights activists.
In recent years, the government of the United States has announced that it has allocated a yearly budget for the support of civil society, democracy, and human rights in Iran. This so-called “democracy fund” is approved by the United States Congress and extensive media coverage of this financial endeavor has been encouraged.
Given the existence of longstanding hostilities between the governments of Iran and the United States, the government of Iran has shown extreme sensitivity to the idea of individuals or groups receiving funds to engage in activities that, in the public words of at least some American officials, is intended for an eventual “regime change” in Iran. I am sure the United States government would show similar sensitivity if it was revealed that there were individuals or organizations in the United States that were receiving funds from hostile groups or countries intent on creating instability in that country.
The allocation of yearly funds has led to the Iranian government’s widespread concern and suspicion towards civil society organizations and human rights activists, clearly exacerbating in significant ways pressures on them and the number of arrests. Undoubtedly, not all these pressures and arrests are reflective of recently developed government concerns and suspicions. Forces that are against liberty also use the U.S. budget allocation as a pretext or excuse to legitimize their opposition to civil liberties and to discredit their critics.
In such an atmosphere, individuals and organizations that are more active and well-known are easier to spot and hence easier to threaten. In the past two years, we have been witness to numerous accusations hurled against civil society institutions such as the Society for Defending Prisoner’s Rights. Such organizations have also faced investigation and even closure of their offices. In the past 14 months, for instance, I have been summoned by the Iranian judiciary or intelligence organizations 7 times but have not publicized the matter in order to avoid political tensions. I think it time to change course and act in different ways.
I would like to state categorically that it is neither wise nor morally justifiable for the United States to continue its path, without due respect or concern for the specific harm and harassment the so-called democracy fund entails for human rights activists in Iran. It is not right for independent individuals and institutions inside Iran to pay the price for allocated funds that the United States government spends on broadcasting from the United States into Iran or for the activities of exiled Iranian groups that cooperate with various American organizations.
This is why I hereby make a plea to you and your respected organizations to insist that the United States government change its ways or, in case of its insistence on allocating a yearly budget, make public and transparent the exact amount and recipients (individuals and groups) of these funds. In this way, problems are reduced for independent democracy and human rights activists in Iran. In addition, the United States government can no longer be accused of, willingly or unwillingly, being complicit with the suppressive forces in Iran which have been using the so-called democracy fund as an excuse to harass civil society activists.
I thank you in advance for your careful attention to this urgent matter and hope that the necessary steps are taken as soon as possible to correct the wrong approach taken by the government of the United States and to promote transparency.
Respectfully yours,Emaddeddin Baghi Defending Prisoners’ Rights SocietyTehran, Iran

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My wife, a prisoner in Iran,1,3201226.story?ctrack=1&cset=true
From the Los Angeles Times
My wife, a prisoner in Iran
The husband of a U.S. scholar accused of fomenting a 'velvet' revolution fears for her safety.By Shaul BakhashSHAUL BAKHASH teaches Middle Eastern history at George Mason University in Virginia.May 25, 2007ON MAY 8, the walls of Tehran's Evin prison closed around my wife, Haleh Esfandiari, a 67-year-old scholar, grandmother and dual citizen of Iran and the United States. Haleh, director of the Middle East Program of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, went to Iran in late December to visit her 93-year-old mother, a trip she has made almost twice each year for a decade or more. On Dec. 30, on her way to the airport to fly back to Washington, she was stopped by three masked, knife-wielding men who took all her belongings, including her Iranian and U.S. passports. In retrospect, it was clearly an inside job; Iran's Ministry of Intelligence fielding "highwaymen" against Iran's own citizens.Without a passport, Haleh was forced to return to her mother's apartment. When she tried to apply for a new one, a member of the Ministry of Intelligence took her aside. Over the next six weeks, Haleh was subjected to 50 hours of interrogation. At first, she told me by e-mail and phone, her inquisitors asked about her work, who spoke at what conference, where and when — things they could easily find with the click of a mouse on the Wilson Center's website. But Haleh told them what she remembered about the lectures, exchanges, panels and classes she had arranged. To help with the details, I e-mailed piles of downloaded documents at night. If the questions seemed almost laughable, the interrogations were not. They were accompanied by threats, accusations and intimidation — and always the implication that Haleh was involved in something nefarious. She also was pressured to provide information she did not have, to identify alleged "networks" of whose existence she was unaware, to admit that she was holding things back. She refused.Then, on Feb. 14, the interrogations ended. Except for two unpleasant phone calls from her interrogators inviting her to "cooperate" and warning her that worse things were to come if she did not, there was silence — for 10 weeks. But on May 7, Haleh was called to the Ministry of Intelligence. The next day, when she arrived for her appointment, she was arrested. The unofficial charge, we would later find out, was working for an organization that was conspiring to foment a "velvet" revolution in Iran. Since her incarceration 17 days ago, Haleh has been allowed only one- or two-minute phone calls with her mother. She speaks as if a minder is present. No visits are allowed, no legal representation. With so little contact, I have every reason to assume the worst: that she is subject to blindfolding, solitary confinement and harsh, even brutal interrogation calculated to extract a false confession.Some suggest that hard-liners wanted Haleh in custody to block next week's U.S.-Tehran talks. Others say the government wants to trade her for Iranians held in Iraq. This is mere speculation. The only explanation I've been given came in a statement issued Monday by the Ministry of Intelligence, a fantastical accusation that reveals the imaginary web Tehran wants to weave to entrap my wife and others. It goes like this: American think tanks such as the Wilson Center are advancing a U.S. government plan for a "soft toppling" of Iran, creating "links" between Iranian intellectuals and U.S. institutions and forming "informal communication networks" that can then be used "against the sovereignty of the country." In effect, in the eyes of the Iranian government, any exchange among scholars is tantamount to treasonous conspiracy. Should you wake up one day to find your wife or child or parent in the hands of the secret police in a country that routinely violates the rule of law, you will likely choose quiet probing over publicity. You have no recourse to law or courts. You fear publicity may make things worse. You believe, almost always wrongly, that if you work quietly, use the contacts you have and wait reasonably, the nightmare will be over. When Haleh was initially prevented from leaving Iran and the interrogations began, it was principally at my insistence that we did not "go public." Repeatedly I was told by those who supposedly understand the inner workings of Iran: "Don't worry; it's only an interrogation; once they have finished with their questions, they will let her go." Once Haleh was arrested, however, silence was no longer an option. It is preposterous that she is accused of conspiring to overthrow the Iranian government by organizing conferences and encouraging dialogue between Iranians and Americans. The Wilson Center issued a fact sheet; Lee Hamilton, its president and director, held a news conference; and I began to speak openly about Haleh's frightening predicament. The extraordinary media attention, as well as the support for Haleh from presidential candidates and political leaders, from scholars and academic associations, from the students at Princeton University who she taught to love the Persian language, from women's groups, human rights organizations and people everywhere have astonished and gratified her family and friends. It is easy to feel powerless in the face of a state's overweening power — especially a state that arrests, incarcerates and accuses its citizens at will. But the events of the last few weeks — the universal condemnation Iran has earned by imprisoning Haleh and others — have taught me that people also have power when they condemn injustice and stand up for wronged individuals. Is the Iranian government listening?

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Thursday, May 24, 2007


Iran: Another Iranian-American Scholar Detained

Iran: Another Iranian-American Scholar Detained
Crackdown Against Iranian Civil Society Intensifies
(New York, May 24, 2007) ? The increasing arrests and detentions of Iranian-American scholars in Iran points to an Iranian government campaign to deter local civil society activists from interacting with Iranians based abroad, Human Rights Watch said today. The Iranian authorities should immediately release the three Iranian-Americans and the dozens of activists, teachers and scholars arbitrarily detained in a recent government crackdown. On May 11, agents of the Ministry of Information arrested Kian Tajbakhsh, an Iranian-American sociologist, at his home in Tehran. He is being detained without charge in Tehran?s notorious Evin prison. The Ministry of Information is currently holding at least three Iranian-Americans, including Tajbakhsh. It has also confiscated the passport of a fourth Iranian-American, preventing her from leaving the country. ?The Iranian government is holding Iranian-Americans as pawns in its crackdown on local Iranian civil society,? said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. ?Intelligence agents are trying to force these detainees to make false confessions to incriminate the broader community of Iranian activists and scholars.? Human Rights Watch said that any statements made by the detainees, while in detention and in the absence of their lawyers, are not credible. The government is holding all of these Iranian-American detainees in incommunicado detention. Tajbakhsh is a 45-year-old former professor at the New School for Social Research in New York. He has worked as a consultant for several Iranian government agencies, including Iran?s Municipalities Organization and the country?s Social Security Organization. In addition, he has consulted for international organizations such as the World Bank and the Open Society Institute. Tajbakhsh is being held in incommunicado detention without access to legal counsel. Since May 8, the Iranian authorities have detained Haleh Esfandiari, the 67-year-old director of the Middle East program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, DC. Esfandiari traveled to Iran to visit her 93-year-old mother in December, but the government subsequently prevented her from leaving the country and instead subjected her to lengthy interrogations. After government agents arrested Esfandiari and detained her in Evin prison, the authorities have not allowed her lawyers or family members to visit her. Human Rights Watch is seriously concerned about Esfandiari?s health and well-being. The authorities charged her with politically motivated charges of ?acting against national security? on May 15. Associates of Ali Shakeri, another Iranian-American who had recently traveled to Iran, told Human Rights Watch that he is also being detained by the Iranian authorities. The Iranian government has not provided any public information about his whereabouts. The authorities are also preventing Parnaz Azima, a reporter for the Persian language services of Radio Free Europe who holds both Iranian and American citizenship, from leaving the country by confiscating her passport in January. In tandem with this campaign of detaining and harassing Iranian-Americans, in the past month the government has also detained dozens of other Iranian activists, including students, labor organizers and the leaders of a teachers? union. The Information Ministry, which is responsible for intelligence operations, has been leading a broad campaign of persecution and prosecution against a wide array of Iranian activists. The ministry is in charge of section 209 of Evin prison, where the majority of detainees, including Esfandiari and Tajbakhsh, are being held. In recent months, interrogations of detained activists have focused on their ties with their international counterparts. On March 4, agents of the ministry arrested 33 women?s rights activists and held them in Evin prison, where they were interrogated at length about their connections with international organizations. All of the women?s rights activists have been freed after posting heavy bails and their prosecution on charges of ?acting against national security? is currently under way. ?The government is allowing an atmosphere of fear and paranoia, propagated by intelligence and security operatives, to dictate its policies,? said Whitson. ?Iranian civil society is paying a heavy price for these actions.?
Related Material
Iran: Jailed Iranian-American Scholar Faces CoercionPress Release, May 12, 2007
More of Human Rights Watch's work on IranCountry Page, August 3, 2006
© Copyright 2003, Human Rights Watch 350 Fifth Avenue, 34th Floor New York, NY 10118-3299 USA

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Wednesday, May 23, 2007


Petition for the Release of Dr. Haleh Esfandiari

For Immediate ReleaseMay 22, 2007For further information:Christina Halstead, Women's Learning Partnership301-654-2774 (Tel) wlp@learningpartnership.orgPetition for the Release of Dr. Haleh EsfandiariSigned by Women's Studies and Middle East ScholarsWe are shocked and dismayed that Dr. Haleh Esfandiari has been chargedwith endangering "national security". Dr. Haleh Esfandiari, the well-knownand highly respected Iranian-born academic and life-long advocate ofwomen's rights was arrested on May 8 in Tehran. Dr. Esfandiari heads theMiddle East Program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center forScholars in Washington, DC, a nonpartisan research institution devoted tothe promotion of national and international dialogue. In December 2006 shewent to Iran to visit her ailing mother. On her way back to the airport,she was accosted by armed men who took all her belongings, including herpassport and other documents, at knife-point. Subsequently, she was placedunder virtual house arrest and subjected to more than 50 hours ofintensive interrogation. On May 8, she was arrested and taken to Evinprison. Her arrest comes at a time of increased harassment andintimidation of women in Iran, especially those involved in civilactivism. The non-formal charges advanced by certain semi- governmentalpress in the country, including Kayhan Daily, though clearly fabricated,underline the precariousness of Dr. Esfandiari's condition.In her long career, Dr. Esfandiari has been a true advocate for equalrights for women, especially in Muslim-majority countries. In recentyears, she has been active in promoting understanding and peace amongnations. Her focus has been on facilitating interaction among Iranian andnon-Iranian scholars.We the undersigned strongly deplore the arrest of Dr. Esfandiari and callon the Iranian authorities to release her immediately and to allow her toleave Iran.* Amal Abdel Hadi, Founder, New Woman Research Foundation* Mahnaz Afkhami, Founder, Women's Learning Partnership* Barbara Aswad, Professor Emeritus of Anthropology, Wayne StateUniversity* Margot Badran, Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding, GeorgetownUniversity* Nimat Hafez Barazangi, Cornell University* Beth Baron, Co-Director, Middle East and Middle Eastern American Center,Graduate Center, City University of New York* Catherine Baylin, The American University in Cairo* Sharon C.B. Baylin, Instructor, Graduate Department of Education,Goucher College* Lourdes Beneria, Cornell University* Marilyn Booth, Director, Program in South Asian and Middle EasternStudies, University of Illinois* Ladan Boroumand, Research Director, Abdorrahman Boroumand Foundation* Beverly Bossler, Professor of History, University of California - Davis* Donna Lee Bowen, Professor of Political Science, Brigham YoungUniversity* Dana Coelho, University of Maryland* Chris Crews, Ohio University* Pezhmann Dailami, Independent Scholar, Schwerin, Germany* Margaret Dieter, Psychotherapist, New York* Omnia El Shakry, Department of History, University of California - Davis* Matthew Evangelista, Professor of Government and Director of the PeaceStudies Program, Cornell University* Nancy Gallagher, Chair of the Middle East Studies Program andCo-Director of the Center for Middle East Studies, University ofCalifornia - Santa Barbara* Mara Giglio, Peace and Justice Organizer, Ohio* Ali Granmayeh, Middle East Institute, University of London* Julio Guzman, School of Public Policy, University of Maryland* Sondra Hale, Professor of Anthropology and Women's Studies, Universityof California - Los Angeles* Frances Hasso, Associate Professor of Gender & Women's Studies andSociology, Oberlin College* Mary Elaine Hegland, Associate Professor, Anthropology/SociologyDepartment and Program for the Study of Women and Gender, Santa ClaraUniversity* Barbara Ibrahim, American University in Cairo* Saad Eddin Ibrahim, American University in Cairo* Heather Irwin, Ohio University* Alexandra Laetizia Jerome, Instructor of Islamic Studies, HumanitiesDepartment, York College of Pennsylvania* Julie Joosten, Cornell University* Suad Joseph, Professor of Anthropology & Women's Studies, University ofCalifornia -Davis* Ahmad Karimi-Hakkak, Director, The Center for Persian Studies,University of Maryland* Zayn Kassam, Associate Professor of Religious Studies, Pomona College* Kate Lang, Associate Professor and Chair Department of History,University of Wisconsin - Eau Claire* Mary Layoun, Professor of Comparative Literature, University ofWisconsin - Madison* Patrizia Manduchi, Facoltà di Scienze Politiche, Dipartimento StoricoPolitico Internazionale, Universita degli Studi di Cagliari* Mary Martin, Anthropologist, University of the Arts, Philadelphia* Guenter Meyer, Centre for Research on the Arab World, University ofMainz* Amy Mills, Assistant Professor, Department of Geography, University ofSouth Carolina* Val Moghadam, Professor of Sociology and Director of Women's Studies,Purdue University* Madhu Mukherjee, Research Scholar, University of Kent* Jehan Mullin, American University of Beirut* Azar Nafisi, School of Advanced International Studies, Johns HopkinsUniversity* Archana Parashar, Associate Professor, Division of Law, MacquarieUniversity* Pamela Day Pelletreau, Independent Scholar* Alexandra Pittman, Assistant Coordinator of the Middle Eastern andIslamic Studies Program, Boston College* Samantha Power, Carr Center for Human Rights, Harvard University* Annalisa Raymer, Cornell University* Parama Roy, University of California - Davis* Nerissa Russell, Associate Professor of Anthropology, Cornell University* Oliver Schlumberger, Senior Researcher, Deutsches Institut fürEntwicklungspolitik, German Development Institute* May Seikaly, Associate Professor, Department of Near Eastern & AsianStudies, Wayne State University* Neelam Sethi, Cornell University* Caroline Seymour-Jorn, University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee* Nada Shabout, Assistant Professor of Art History, University of NorthTexas* Amir Sheikhzadegan, University of Zurich, Sociological Institute* Diane Singerman, Department of Government, School of Public Affairs,American University* Iain Stewart, Senior Lecturer in Law, Macquarie University* Poopak Taati, Professor of Sociology* Dede Tete-Rosenthal, Cornell University* Baki Tezcan, Assistant Professor of History and Religious Studies,University of California - Davis* Nayereh Tohidi, Professor and Chair, Women's Studies Department,California State University* Neda Toloui-Semnani, Consultant on Women and Development* Namie Tsujigami, Kobe University* Aleardo Zanghellini, Lecturer in Law, Macquarie University* Estelle Zinsstag, School of Law, Queen's University Belfast* Sherifa Zuhur, Director, Institute of Middle Eastern, Islamic, andDiasporic Studies

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Saturday, May 19, 2007


Nobel Laureate Condemns Arrest Of Iranian-American Scholar

Nobel Laureate Condemns Arrest Of Iranian-American Scholar

May 18, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Iranian Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi has condemned the arrest of Iranian-American scholar Haleh Esfandiari as a violation of Iranian laws. Ebadi has announced that her Tehran-based legal group intends to defend Esfandiari, but says that Iranian judiciary officials have not yet cleared the way for her team to represent the prisoner, nor to meet with her.

Ebadi told Radio Farda on May 17 that Iranian authorities have also not yet informed her legal team of the charges against Esfandiari, who is being held in Iran's notorious Evin prison.
"Unfortunately,” said Ebadi, “the style of the Revolutionary Court regarding those charged with political crimes is such that it never allows lawyers to meet their clients or to be informed about the charge against them or the reasons for it. All of these actions I mentioned are against the law and we have always protested against [such actions]."
“The charges that have been brought against Haleh Esfandiari by some extremist newspapers are baseless.”
Ebadi said that by denying Esfandiari access to legal representation, Iranian authorities are violating Iranian law.
Esfandiari, the director of the Woodrow Wilson International Center in Washington's Middle East Program, had traveled to Iran in December to visit her 93-year-old grandmother.
She was taken to Tehran's Evin prison on May 8 following repeated interrogations by intelligence officials.
Accused Of 'Security' Crimes
Esfandiari had been under virtual house arrest since December 30, when, according to the Wilson center, three masked gunmen ambushed her taxi and stole her luggage -- including her Iranian and American passports -- while she was heading to Tehran airport for her departure to Washington.
Tehran said earlier this week that Esfandiari has been detained on security charges.
On May 12, the hard-line daily "Kayhan" accused Esfandiari of involvement in efforts to topple Iran's Islamic regime, and alleged that she is a main element of Israeli efforts to spur revolution in Iran.
Esfandiari’s husband has denied the accusations against his wife.
Ebadi has also dismissed the suspicions as groundless, saying: “The charges that have been brought against Haleh Esfandiari by some extremist newspapers are baseless and they're not compatible with her personality, behavior, or her past.”
U.S. officials have condemned Esfandiari's arrest, and human rights groups have called for her immediate release.
In Iran, a prominent human rights defender, Emad Baghi, told Radio Farda that Tehran should give Esfandiari fair treatment.
"Judiciary and security officials should act based on human rights laws and respect the principles of a fair trial,” Baghi said. “Unfortunately, the problem we are facing here is that a government paper has used the expression 'spy' about [Esfandiari] before she has been put on trial. This happens at a time when that person is in prison and is not able to defend herself."
Iranian officials have said that Esfandiari's arrest was based on Iranian laws and that she will be treated like any other Iranian national.
Esfandiari was born in Iran and holds U.S. citizenship.
(Radio Farda contributed to this report)

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Iran: Student journalists detained in Tehran

Iran: Student journalists detained in Tehran
Source: Amnesty International

Students at Amir Kabir Polytechnic in Tehran:
Bejaz Ahmad Qasabian (m)
Moqdad Khalilpour (m)
Pooya Mahmoudian (m)
Majid Tavakkoli (m)
Majid Sheikhpour (m)
Babak Zamanian (m)
At least six students, four of whom are connected with student publications, from Amir Kabir Polytechnic in the capital, Tehran, have been arrested and are believed to be held in the city's Evin Prison. Amnesty International fears that they may be at risk of torture or ill-treatment.

Ahmad Qasabian, Moqdad Khalilpour, Pooya Mahmoudian, Majid Tavakkoli and Majid Sheikhpour are editors-in-chief of student publications. All men were reportedly detained apparently in connection with articles deemed by university officials to "insult Islamic sanctities", a criminal offence. These reportedly appeared on 30 April in several student publications.

According to reports, Ahmad Qasabian, the managing editor of "Sahar" was arrested on 3 May, and Moqdad Khalilpour, the editor of "Atiyeh" was arrested on 7 May. Three other students, Pooya Mahmoudian, editor-in-chief of "Rivar"; Majid Tavakkoli, editor-in-chief of "Khat-e Sefer" and Majid Sheikhpour, editor-in-chief of "Sar-e Khat", other student publications, were reportedly summoned to a Revolutionary Court on 8 May and were detained by judicial officials that afternoon.

Ahmad Qasabian is reportedly held in Section 209 of Evin Prison in Tehran, run by the Ministry of Intelligence and outside the control of Iran's prison service.

Another student, Babak Zamanian, the spokesperson for Amir Kabir's Islamic Students' Association, was reportedly arrested on 25 April, and appeared in court on the same day, charged with "acting against state security". This may be in connection with interviews he reportedly gave to radio stations broadcasting outside Iran. He had already spent several days in detention following these interviews. He is reportedly now being held in section 209 of Evin Prison.

Following the publication of articles considered by some students to be controversial, clashes broke out between students and members of the paramilitary Basij, who see themselves as acting on the authority of the Supreme Leader, on the campus of the Amir Kabir Polytechnic, during which several students were reportedly beaten severely. Some students claimed that the controversial articles were forged, and had been produced in order to provide an excuse to crack down on student journalists and activists.

The arrests took place in the course of elections on 7 May to the board of the university's student union, the Islamic Student Association and some observers have suggested that these arrested may be an attempt by the authorities to disrupt the students' election process.

On 2 May the Justice Ministry spokesman, Ali Reza Jamshidi, reportedly said that an inquiry into the incident had been opened.

During a speech at Amir Kabir Polytechnic on 11 December 2006, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was interrupted by heckling and jeers as one student burned his picture and another hurled a shoe towards the stage.

RECOMMENDED ACTION: Please send appeals to arrive as quickly as possible, in Persian, Arabic, English or your own language:
- expressing concern for the safety of the six students (please name them);
- asking to be informed of the reasons for their arrest, including any charges against them, which should be made public and communicated to the students and their lawyers without delay;
- calling for their immediate release if they are not to be charged with a recognizably criminal offence;
- calling for them to be granted immediate and unconditional access to their lawyers, family members, and any medical treatment they may require;
- seeking assurances that they not being tortured or ill-treated in detention.

Leader of the Islamic Republic
His Excellency Ayatollah Sayed 'Ali Khamenei, The Office of the Supreme Leader
Shoahada Street, Qom, Islamic Republic of Iran
Fax: +98 251 7774 2228 (mark FAO Office of His Excellency Ayatollah al Udhma Khamenei)
Salutation: Your Excellency

Minister of Intelligence
Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ejeie
Ministry of Intelligence, Second Negarestan Street, Pasdaran Avenue, Tehran, Islamic Republic of Iran
Salutation: Your Excellency

Head of the Judiciary
Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi
Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Justice Building, Panzdah-Khordad Square, Tehran, Islamic Republic of Iran
Fax: +98 21 3390 4986 (please keep trying)
Email: (In the subject line write: FAO Ayatollah Shahroudi)
Salutation: Your Excellency


His Excellency Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
The Presidency, Palestine Avenue, Azerbaijan Intersection, Tehran, Islamic Republic of Iran
via website:
Salutation: Your Excellency

Speaker of Parliament
His Excellency Gholamali Haddad Adel
Majles-e Shoura-ye Eslami, Baharestan Square, Tehran, Islamic Republic of Iran
Fax: + 98 21 3355 6408

and to diplomatic representatives of Iran accredited to your country.

PLEASE SEND APPEALS IMMEDIATELY. Check with the International Secretariat, or your section office, if sending appeals after 26 June 2007.

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SPIEGEL ONLINE - May 17, 2007, 12:03 PM URL:,1518,483295,00.html
Tehran Cracks Down on Feminist Movement
The burgeoning feminist movement in Iran is coming under increased pressure from Ahmadinejad's hardline regime. Activists who are campaigning to improve women's rights are being harassed, arrested and imprisoned for violating "national security."
The growing movement has largely taken place in the shadow of a global diplomatic crisis. For months, as the world focuses its attention on Iran's nuclear intentions, Iranian feminists have been bravely fighting the country's entrenched patriarchy.
But even as the world has taken little notice of the activists, Iranian authorities have. Accusing the women of being a threat to national security and of using foreign funds to stir up dissent in Iran, Tehran, in recent months has been doing what it can to crush the home-grown feminist movement.
The most recent move in the ongoing crackdown was the arrest of prominent activist Zeinab Peyghambarzadeh earlier this month. The 21-year-old was arrested after she had gone to court to answer questions about her participation in a rally in March. The crackdown, however, has been gaining steam for months.
Over the past 10 months the Iranian security forces have "become more and more aggressive even as women's actions have become more peaceful and more tame," one activist, Jila Baniyaghoub, told Associated Press. "By tightening the noose on us, they are warning us that they will not tolerate even the mildest criticism," she said.
In recent months Peyghambarzadeh and her fellow activists have been organizing a series of demonstrations across the country to rally against patriarchal laws and structures in Iran, including polygamy, unfair inheritance laws, and a lack of custody rights in divorce settlements. They have likewise been going out to talk with Iranian women in the streets, universities, schools and factories. They have also been active on the Internet, setting up a number of Web sites dedicated to women's issues.
The most prominent supporter of the movement is Shirin Ebadi, the Nobel Peace Prize Laureate. According to Ebadi the popular support for the women's movement has unsettled the regime in Tehran. They see the feminists as calling into question the Iranian constitution, which is based on Shariah law and effectively treats women as second-class citizens.
"With a correct interpretation of Islam we can have equal rights for women," Ebadi said in a recent interview with Radio Free Europe, adding that women in Iran "haven't had the opportunity ... to demonstrate their capabilities." In an earlier interview with SPIEGEL ONLINE, Ebadi said that "harassment is a fact of life for someone pursuing human rights in Iran."
On March 4, over 30 women, including Peyghambarzadeh, were arrested after they attended a protest rally in support of a number of arrested activists. Police loaded the 31 women into a bus and drove them to Tehran's Evin prison where they were blindfolded, forced to wear chadors and interrogated, before being released over the following weeks.
According to Reporters Without Borders, four other women's rights activists were given prison sentences in March for using the Internet to demand better conditions for women in the country. The "cyber-feminists" had been trying to collect a million signatures to call for a change to discriminatory laws. The women were found guilty of "violating national security," and given sentences ranging from six months to a year.
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"Despite the constant harassment of its members, the Iranian feminist movement is growing and is alarming the government," Reporters Without Borders said in a statement. "The Internet is now a battle-ground between these women, who are just demanding the same rights as men, and a regime that remains as rigid as ever."
The series of arrests are an indication that the small progress that had been made under the former reformist president Mohammad Khatami is now being rolled back by his successor, the hard-liner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, since he was elected in 2005.
The Iranian police are also ramping up their inspections of women to ensure they are adhering to the Islamic dress code. The annual spring offensive to make sure women are covering up enough has been particularly strict this year. And the government in Tehran is now drafting a law to limit female students to half the places in college, instead of the 65 percent they currently occupy.

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Thursday, May 17, 2007


Akbar Ganji---The View from Tehran:Changing Iran from within

The View from Tehran
Changing Iran from within
Akbar Ganji
8 Most Iranians, I believe, share a broad outlook on American foreign policy: they think that Iran is valued only for its vast energy resources and its role in regional politics and that Iranian culture and economic development and the peace, welfare, and basic rights of Iranian citizens are largely irrelevant to American policymakers. I write this as an Iranian intellectual, not as a politician, and I offer these critical observations about U.S. policies with an eye toward more constructive proposals.
In particular, Iranians would endorse three basic propositions about the past 50 years of U.S.-Iranian relations:
American policy has focused on advancing America’s own economic interests and military supremacy. Because American strategic discourse has accentuated the role of military, security, and intelligence organs inside Iran, the agents who control those organs have been the main interlocutors for U.S. policy, while other political agents have been marginalized. The military concerns had roots in the Cold War. After the Soviet collapse, Iranians had hoped to see significant changes in U.S. foreign policy toward Iran and the Middle East. But the approach remained the same. And since the evil of 9/11, the “war on terrorism” has only entrenched this approach and eclipsed other possibilities.
American policy has been a major factor in modern Iran’s stalled political and economic growth. Of course, underdevelopment and despotism have deep roots in Iranian history, and are to a great extent the product of domestic cultural, social, religious, and economic factors. But Iranians will never forget the 1953 U.S.-supported coup that toppled the nationalist, moderate, democratic government of Dr. Mohammad Mosaddeq and ushered in a closed, dictatorial political system. Iranian society lost one of its most important historical opportunities for the establishment of a democracy.
In the 1970s the same U.S. interests produced the Nixon Doctrine, which promised military aid to strategic allies. Ostensibly to combat the spread of communism in the Middle East, the United States strongly supported the Shah’s regime, hoping it would act as a regional gendarme, regardless of its extensive violation of Iranians’ civil and human rights. As a result of this policy, efforts to foster democracy and protect human rights were completely overshadowed. After the 1979 Iranian revolution, the same stance turned the American government into a full-blown supporter of Saddam Hussein and his aggressions over the course of his eight-year war against Iran. The ruinous losses suffered by Iranian society pushed aside the ideals of freedom and justice that had inspired the 1979 revolution and brought national-security considerations to the fore. From the early 1990s on, the same preponderance of security and military considerations led to the American policy of dual containment and the economic sanctions on Iran. The Bush administration’s policy continues along this trajectory.
The Clinton administration did take some positive steps—as, for example, when Secretary of State Madeleine Albright described U.S. conduct toward Mosaddeq’s government as a mistake. But even during that period, the continued economic sanctions against Iran ultimately undermined the reformist government of President Mohammad Khatami. Some recent remarks by U.S. statesmen, too, have helpfully distinguished Iran’s cultured and peace-loving people from its repressive and fundamentalist state. Unfortunately, the impact of these welcome observations has been significantly diminished by the Bush administration’s escalating belligerence.
American policy has fostered a military mentality in Iranian political life. In the very first years after the Islamic revolution, a group of Iranian citizens occupied the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and took its diplomats hostage. These radical forces cited American policies toward Iran to justify their conduct. In fact, radical forces in Iran—especially some of its security and military forces—have always used accusations of “enemy conspiracies” to justify repressive policies. Today, politicians with close ties to the military establishment have taken control of the Iranian government and are trying to manage the cultural and political arena in the style of a police state. These policies are, in turn, aggravating hostilities and allowing the Bush administration to justify its belligerence. Thus the vicious cycle continues.
The United States, by invoking the threat of a “Shia Crescent” or “Crescent of Crisis” extending from Iran (which is 90 percent Shia) through Iraq, Lebanon, and Syria, perpetuates the cycle by imagining a unified political enemy, and perhaps creating that unity in reality. The war that is now underway in Iraq—inflamed by al Qaeda and the former Baathist power holders—is much more a dispute between Iraq’s ethnic and religious communities over power and resources than a war between Islamic sects. Sunni and Shia religious teachings never endorse the abduction and murder of innocent people in streets and marketplaces or the destruction of religious sites.
Shias number more than 140 million in the Middle East. They constitute 75 percent of the population of Bahrain, 45 percent in Lebanon, 35 percent in Kuwait, 60 percent in Iraq, 10 percent in Saudi Arabia and Oman, 15 percent in Syria, 20 percent in Turkey, and 42 percent in Yemen. They have numerous, varied, and deep national attachments. Not all Shias favor Islamic governments: after the formation of an Islamic republic in Iran, some of the most senior Shia clerics in Lebanon and Iraq announced that the conditions did not exist in their countries for the establishment of a religious state.
Politicizing the Shia identity will only increase tensions in the Middle East, and may even destabilize North Africa and parts of Central Asia. Of course, some Islamic extremist groups see their political life as hinging on these polarizations. But encouraging these forces would only bring them from the fringes of the Middle East’s political arena to its volatile center.
* * *
The disastrous war in Iraq is the natural outcome of America’s military approach to the problems of the Middle East. In Iran, this approach is rapidly bringing the Bush administration to the brink of military confrontation with the government. But an attack against Iran would be morally and legally indefensible, and will produce calamitous results.
In saying this, I defend the nation of Iran, not the domestic or foreign policy of its current repressive, despotic government. But opposition to the current regime must not lead to a blanket endorsement of U.S. foreign policy.
What could justify military action against Iran? Under international law, governments have the right to take military action to repel an armed attack and to preempt a certain and imminent attack. But the United States has not been attacked by Iran, and is clearly not in any imminent danger of armed attack.
A more likely rationale is provided by the preventive-war doctrine formulated by the Bush administration in 2002. Preventive wars are said to be critical wars of last resort, directed at a “gathering threat” that might in the future dramatically change the balance of power to the advantage of the enemy. There are fundamental doubts about the justifiability of preventive wars, but even if we accept that such wars are justifiable in exceptional circumstances, such circumstances do not exist today. Even if the Iranian government is trying to produce nuclear weapons—despite its claims to the contrary—expert assessments put that goal at least five years away. In the meantime the international community can use non-military options to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. In the words of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s director-general, Mohamed ElBaradei,
I don’t see a military solution of the Iranian issue. First of all, as far as we know, what Iran has now today is the knowledge. We do not know that Iran has the industrial capacity to enrich uranium. We don’t know, we haven’t seen indication or concrete proof of a nuclear weapons program. So I don’t see that people talk about a military solution. I don’t know what they mean by that. You cannot bomb knowledge, as I said before. I think it would also be completely counterproductive.
And setting aside the Iranian government’s political poses, the Bush administration’s concern with Iran as a regional aggressor reflects a double standard. Based on the figures of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, in the years between 1988 and 2005, Iran’s annual military spending ranged between 16 percent and 73 percent of Israel’s spending. During this period, Iran’s military spending was also far less than Saudi Arabia’s and Turkey’s. If we look at per capita spending, calculated in a January report of the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies, in 2005 Iran spent by far the least in its region: approximately five percent as much as Israel, eight percent as much as Saudi Arabia, and less than half as much as Turkey.
On the nuclear side, Israel has about 100 to 200 ready-to-launch nuclear warheads. The January report of the International Institute for Strategic Studies put Iran’s nuclear-weapons manufacturing capacity years away: “If, one day, Iran has 3,000 operational centrifuges, the IISS estimates that it would take a minimum of 9 to 11 months for it to produce 25 kg of high-grade enriched uranium which would be enough for making one explosive weapon. On the most optimistic assessment, that day is two or three years away.”
Iran is not a serious military threat to any country in the region, nor has it upset the regional balance of power. Setting aside the sensationalist rhetoric of Iranian leaders, any realistic look at the Middle East and Iran must conclude that Iran’s military activities are primarily driven by fear and designed to preserve the regime. If the American goal is to achieve a just peace and reduce regional tension, inflaming the regime’s fears seems unlikely to succeed. The only legitimate way for Iran to develop nuclear technology for non-military purposes is to bring such activities under the supervision of the relevant international bodies, especially the International Atomic Energy Agency. The voluntary suspension of enrichment activity by the Iranian government until a comprehensive agreement is reached is the most rational and least costly way of preventing the escalation of tension and the outbreak of a ruinous war against Iran.
I believe this is possible. Through its official propaganda, the Iranian regime is trying to convince the world that there is consensus within Iran on its nuclear policies; in truth they are formulated by Iran’s leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Nearly all leading Iranian reformists and reformist groups have expressed opposition to these policies, either through open letters or confidential letters to Khamenei himself calling for the suspension of enrichment.
The voluntary suspension of uranium enrichment by the Iranian government will only yield lasting results, however, if it is a part of a broad set of initiatives that guarantee security, peace, and economic development in Iran and the Middle East. Unilateral action against Iran in the absence of an overall plan for regional peace and security will be seen by most of the people of the region as aimed at safeguarding Israel’s supremacy and imposing an unjust peace on Palestinians and the broader Muslim world.
Some people have tried to justify military action by claiming that the Iranian government endangers regional stability, specifically by obstructing the Palestinian–Israeli peace process. But the hollow slogans of Iran’s fundamentalist rulers are not preventing a just peace between Palestine and Israel. Statements favoring the destruction of Israel and denying the Holocaust are unwise and destructive, with serious negative consequences for Iran at the international level. But the root cause of much regional instability and violence, and of the troubling growth of fundamentalism, is the Palestinians’ appalling situation and the painful conflict between Israel and Palestine. There is no peace plan on the table today because the parties involved do not even have a common framework for dialogue. America’s unilateral support for Israel, its attempts to impose Israel’s power without considering Palestinians’ basic human rights, the setting aside of the Oslo Accords, and the recent wars in Gaza and Lebanon have, in practice, removed the possibility of achieving any kind of agreement in the near future. The Israeli government’s opposition to a genuinely independent Palestinian government and to a right of return for Palestinian refugees helps perpetuate the crises and makes peaceful life impossible in the region. If the U.S. government places on its agenda the establishment of two independent states in two independent lands—Palestine and Israel—no government can oppose such a plan.
Regional instability and insecurity, as well as extremism and fundamentalism, are fueled by pervasive poverty, illiteracy, and corrupt and dictatorial states that, more often than not, enjoy the support of Western countries, especially the United States. As long as these root causes remain, there will be instability and insecurity in the region.
Some may want to justify an attack on Iran with the claim that the Iranian government supports terrorism. This is another double standard: the fact is that some of America’s allies in the Middle East are more likely than Iran to be secretly supporting terrorist groups, such as al Qaeda, and Islamic fundamentalist groups, such as the Taliban.
A final justification for military action might be the extensive human-rights violations in Iran. The Iranian state is certainly guilty of violating many of its citizens’ basic rights; responsible members of the international community ought not to view these violations with indifference. But a military attack is not a just or effective response. Military intervention may be a valid humanitarian response to genocide, or crimes against humanity. But nothing so extreme is going on in Iran, and the Iranian government’s human-rights violations are much less severe than those of many of America’s allies in the Middle East.
And even if the rights violations were more severe, any case for military action must also take the consequences into account. First and foremost, an attack would be calamitous for the innocent people of Iran and the region. As in Iraq, where civilian deaths outnumber military ones by a factor of 15, the vast majority of victims in this war will be civilians. Politics must be aimed at reducing the pain and suffering of human beings. Any policy that increases human beings’ pain and suffering and violates their sanctity and dignity is morally repugnant.
A military attack on Iran would also yield terrible political consequences. It would foster the growth of fundamentalism in the region, which would be bad for the United States and other Western countries and even worse for the Islamic world. Fundamentalism—with its inhuman view of women, hatred of freedom and democracy, and denigration of human rights—is a significant factor in the underdevelopment of Islamic communities. Fundamentalists largely reject Western art, morality, philosophy, culture, and science, though they make an exception for technologies of violence. This narrow-minded view of some of humanity’s great achievements is particularly harmful to Muslims. But a military attack on Iran would reignite the conviction that the Judeo-Christian West, led by the United States, is assaulting the world of Islam, from Afghanistan and Palestine to Iraq and Iran; and it would encourage the view that fundamentalist methods are the best way to fight the non-Muslim invaders. Western governments must not¬ equate the battle against fundamentalism with a battle against Islam—as President Bush does when he describes the “war on terror” as a “crusade,” or when he speaks of “Islamic fascism.” It not only isolates moderate and democratic Muslims; it also provides fertile ground for fundamentalists among them.
We can already see this dynamic at work. After the 1997 election of Mohammad Khatami as president of Iran, civil society, human rights, and political freedoms became the dominant concerns in Iranian political life. The current U.S. military threat has given the Iranian government a freer hand in repressing Iran’s budding civil society in the name of national security, provided a pretext to entrust key political posts to military and security officers, and so eclipsed democratic discourse that some Iranian reformists see themselves caught between domestic despotism and foreign invasion.
Political change in Iran is necessary, but it must not be achieved by foreign intervention. Any U.S. military attack is likely to involve “regime change.” Iran’s rulers know this and are likely to become far more vicious, severe, and repressive if they are forced to prepare to fight to the very last breath. In the historical memory of Iranians, regime change is accompanied by killings, the seizure of property, repression, and human-rights abuses. And if the regime change occurs through U.S. intervention, it will be far more destructive than any structural political change instigated by domestic forces.
In addition to its crushing effect on political life, the fire of war will also destroy Iran’s economic infrastructure. The people of Iran are still paying the cost of the eight-year-long war with Iraq, a war that not only overshadowed Iranians’ struggle for freedom but also derailed Iran’s economy for many years. A U.S. military attack would undo everything good that has happened since the end of that destructive war.
* * *
What, then, should be done about Iran? Iran’s largest problem is its domestic politics. I believe that a consensus exists among leading Iranian intellectuals and democrats that the current government is incapable of fulfilling Iran’s national interests and having a constructive relationship with the international community.
But regime change is the duty of Iranians. And it must proceed not by military means but through a sustained, nonviolent civil campaign. The campaign must protect individuals, groups, and professions. And it must aim to bring about free elections and a constitution that recognizes basic political and civil rights and creates checks on institutional power by establishing freedom of expression, the right to form trade unions and political associations, a separation of powers, a guarantee of the political neutrality of the judiciary and the armed forces, the rule of law, and fair trials.
Three decades of experience in southern and eastern Europe and Latin America demonstrates that a democratic transition will not occur through violence. Where force during the period of transition has produced sectarian conflict, authoritarian systems have reemerged. The aim of free and fair elections is not to replace unelected despots with elected despots. Getting agreement on the rules of political activity from the start—an agreement to respect those rules in the exercise of power—is more important than holding any single election.
Iran’s democracy movement must also reject a strategy of revenge and elimination. Faced with death or revenge, a political regime will have no inclination to negotiate and will not submit to the peaceful alternation of power. Iran’s leaders must have hope for their own personal and political futures. If Argentine generals, the leaders of the Pinochet regime, South Africa’s apartheid rulers, and eastern European Communists had come to the conclusion that democracy meant death, they would likely have resisted change with all their might, and history might well have taken a very different course.
A successful democratic transition in Iran will require favorable international conditions to increase the bargaining power of domestic pro-democracy forces.
First, the international community must understand that the Iranian government is grappling with extensive economic and social problems: widespread youth unemployment, administrative corruption, drug addiction, rampant inflation, and, for many Iranians, the lack of social and psychological security. Solving these problems hinges on economic growth. And economic growth requires foreign investment and a transfer of technology and know-how. But foreign investment in Iran fell from $482 million in 2003 to $100 million in 2004 and $30 million in 2005. For Iran’s oil industry to maintain its current level of production, it will need at least a billion dollars of foreign investment per year, as well as the transfer of the relevant technology. The international community can provide economic assistance while making it conditional on the Iranian government’s respect for human rights and democratic standards.
Second, the United Nations can supervise the allocation of economic projects to domestic and foreign contractors through the ILO, UNCTAD, and UNDP. The Iranian government has been giving these contracts to its own forces to strengthen its control over the economy and create allies against Iran’s movement for democracy and freedom. If international agencies decide that the Iranian government has acted unlawfully in allocating contracts, they can prevent new contracts with foreign companies. This supervision is particularly necessary in the oil industry.
Third, the international community can support Iran’s work force and strengthen its civil society by making its commercial arrangements with the country’s public sector conditional on the creation of a right to form independent trade unions. In Iran, neither public-sector nor private-sector workers are allowed to have independent associations to represent their interests. Just as the international community concerns itself with Iran’s nuclear activities and demands that they take place under the oversight of UN treaties and agencies, it must also work to bring Iran’s labor standards into compliance with international laws. The international community must not forget that the International Labor Organization, like the International Atomic Energy Agency, is an agency of the UN.
Fourth, the international community must ban exports to Iran of technology used for control and repression. The Iranian state has easily obtained up-to-date technology for filtering Web sites and tapping telephones, for example. These technologies have been instrumental in repressing Iran’s democracy movement by allowing the state to control the media and to paralyze the free flow of information.
Fifth, to establish long-term stability in the Middle East, the international community must devise an overarching policy for the region grounded in the principles of non-aggression and economic development. Purging the entire Middle East of nuclear and biological weapons should be an important element of any plan.
In response to such international support, leading Iranians, Iran’s freedom lovers, and the Iranian people in general must continue to pressure the regime to abandon its nuclear dream. Even if the Iranian regime only pursues nuclear energy, given the country’s poor technology and weak control, the Iranian people and neighboring countries will be in constant danger of human and environmental disaster. If Iran’s nuclear program becomes focused on creating weapons, the dangers will be much greater. But external pressure that would inflict hardship on Iranian men, women, and children is unacceptable.
The international community can offer to exchange economic assistance for democratic reform and make investment and (non-military) technology transfer conditional on free and fair elections, thus strengthening Iran’s budding civil society and supporting internal efforts to establish democracy. But taking these steps, and making them work constructively, will require a fundamental reorientation of prevailing American policy discourse about the Middle East. The threat of military action must give way to the idea of changing the current regime’s conduct and structure, making it accept the rule of law, hold free and fair elections, reform discriminatory laws, and recognize the Iranian people’s right to determine their own political destiny.
The Iranian and American governments have many common interests in the Middle East and can more effectively help bring regional peace and stability through cooperation. It will not be easy, but one thing is certain: lasting peace and stability cannot be established through violence. <
Translated from the Persian by Nilou Mobasser.
Akbar Ganji is Iran’s leading political dissident. He has been given over a dozen human-rights awards, most recently the British House of Commons Press Gallery Speaker Abbot Award. Since his release from prison in 2006 after serving a six-year term for exposing human-rights abuses, he has been on a world speaking tour raising awareness about the human-rights and pro-democracy struggle inside Iran. He is working on the third installment of his “Republic Manifesto,” which lays out a strategy for a nonviolent transition to democracy in Iran, along with a book of dialogues with prominent Western philosophers and intellectuals. He plans to return to Iran, where, he has been told, he will be re-arrested upon his arrival.

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HRW: Iran: End Arrests on Immorality Charges

Iran: End Arrests on Immorality Charges
Mass Detentions, Home Raids Are Assaults on Privacy
(New York, May 17, 2007) ? Iran?s arbitrary arrests of thousands of men and women in recent weeks under the banner of ?countering immoral behavior? threaten basic rights to privacy, Human Rights Watch said today. Human Rights Watch called for the immediate release of all those detained as part of this campaign, including more than 80 people seized in a raid on a private gathering in the city of Esfahan on May 10, 2007. ?In Iran, the walls of homes are transparent and the halls of justice are opaque,? said Joe Stork, deputy director of the Middle East division of Human Rights Watch. ?This ?morality? campaign shows how fragile respect for privacy and personal dignity is in Iran today.? Since early April 2007, Iranian police and militia known as basiji have launched a nationwide crackdown against people they accuse of deviating from official standards of dress or behavior. On April 14, Iran?s Supreme Court overturned murder sentences against six basiji who had killed five people in 2002 whom they considered ?morally corrupt,? contributing to a climate of impunity for the militia forces. Ismail Ahmadi Moghadam, Iran?s chief of police, told the semi-official Mehr News Agency on April 25 that ?law enforcement agents detained 150,000 people? during the campaign and forced the majority of them to sign ?commitment letters,? to observe official dress codes before being released. According to Moghadam, the police referred 86 people to the judiciary for prosecution. On May 13, Mahmoud Botshekan, the police chief for airport security, told the semi-official Iranian Labor News Agency that his agents had stopped and interrogated more than 17,000 people at Iranian airports during the past month. He said that his agents detained 850 women, releasing them only after they signed ?commitment letters.? Another 130 people are being prosecuted by the judiciary, he said. A witness to the raid in Esfahan told Human Rights Watch that, around 10 p.m. on May 10, police and basiji raided a private birthday party in an apartment building in the city. They reportedly arrested 87 persons, including four women and at least eight people who were accused of wearing the clothes of the opposite sex. The police and basiji agents led those arrested to the street, stripped many to the waist, and beat them until their backs and faces were bloody. Several reportedly suffered broken bones. The authorities reportedly released the four women the next day, along with a child. While additional detainees have reportedly been released, an undetermined number remain in custody. A judge told family members that all those held will be charged with consumption of alcohol and hamjensgarai (homosexual conduct). Family members have apparently not been allowed to see those detained, and they have been denied lawyers. ?When the authorities break doors and bones in the name of morality, the rule of law is reduced to a mockery,? said Stork.
Related Material
More of Human Rights Watch's work on IranCountry Page
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Friday, May 11, 2007


Iran: Jailed Iranian-American Scholar Faces Coercion

Iran: Jailed Iranian-American Scholar Faces Coercion
Arbitrary Arrest of Haleh Esfandiari Coincides With a Week of Crackdowns
(Washington, DC, May 12, 2007) ? Iran should immediately release Iranian-American academic Haleh Esfandiari and allow her to return to the United States, Human Rights Watch said today. Human Rights Watch expressed concern that Iranian authorities have subjected Esfandiari to arbitrary detention and coercive interrogation. On May 8, officials at the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence summoned Esfandiari for questioning, arrested her without warrant or explanation, and transferred her to Tehran?s notorious Evin prison, where Human Rights Watch has documented cases of torture and detainee abuse. Prior to Esfandiari?s arrest, ministry officials had repeatedly interrogated her in their offices on Africa Street in Tehran, and subsequently in their main building on Khaje Abdollah Ansari Street. Esfandiari, who is head of the Middle East program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, had traveled to Iran in December to visit her ailing mother. On December 30, prior to her planned departure from Iran, armed and masked men stopped her taxi and seized both her Iranian and US passports. Since December, Iranian authorities have failed to replace her passport and instead have subjected her to repeated and protracted interrogation sessions. In a statement on May 10, the Wilson Center said that during interrogations, Esfandiari ?was pressured to make a false confession or to falsely implicate the Wilson Center in activities in which it had no part.? ?President Ahmadinejad is desperately trying to discredit his government?s many critics as American pawns,? said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. ?Haleh Esfandiari is a well-known advocate of dialogue between Iranian and American scholars, and the Iranian authorities are trying to coerce her into making a false confession to incriminate Iranian writers and activists.? Human Rights Watch said the Iranian government?s mistreatment of Esfandiari recalls that of Ramin Jahanbegloo, a Canadian-Iranian philosopher whom Iranian authorities arbitrarily arrested in April 2006. After nearly four months of detention and interrogation, Jahanbegloo ?confessed? that his scholarly works had contributed to the planning of a ?velvet revolution.? Iran?s decision to increase its pressure on Esfandiari by detaining her comes at a time when the authorities have also escalated repressive campaigns against Iranian women?s right activists and student leaders. On May 9, three students from Tehran Polytechnic University ? Pouya Mahmoudian, Majid Sheikhpour and Majid Tavakoli ? responded to a summons to appear before a Revolutionary Court in Tehran. Authorities then arrested and transferred them to Evin prison. At least four other students from Tehran Polytechnic University are also arbitrarily detained in Evin. All are active in student organizations. None has been charged with any offense. Student and women?s rights activist, Zeynab Peyghambarzadeh, is also being held in Evin prison. She was among the 33 women arrested by security forces on March 4 when they gathered before a branch of Tehran?s Revolutionary Court where other women?s rights activists were being prosecuted. On May 7, authorities detained Peyghambarzadeh for failing to provide the bail the court recently set in relation to her pending case. She is currently being held in Unit 3 (youth section) of Evin prison. When Peyghambarzadeh?s father and lawyer arrived at the Revolutionary Court on May 8 to put up her bail, court authorities prevented them from entering the court.
Related Material
Iran: Top Scholar Detained Without ChargePress Release, May 5, 2006
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Thursday, May 10, 2007


HRW: Iran: National Security Laws Used to Jail Women's Rights Activists

Six Women?s Rights Advocates Receive Lengthy Prison Sentences
(New York, April 27, 2007) ? The head of Iran?s Judiciary, Ayatollah Mahmud Hashemi Shahrudi, should immediately overturn the convictions this week of six women?s rights advocates and end the Judiciary?s persecution of all such human rights defenders, Human Rights Watch said today. The six women are active participants in Iran?s burgeoning women?s rights movement. The Judiciary filed charges against them following a public demonstration to protest Iran?s discriminatory laws against women in Tehran on June 12, 2006. ?The Iranian Judiciary is using national security laws to imprison women?s rights activists for peacefully protesting against legally sanctioned discrimination,? said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. ?Instead of persecuting women?s rights activists, Iran?s government should scrap laws that discriminate against women.? On April 24, the Sixth Branch of the Revolutionary Court in Tehran sentenced Nusheen Ahmadi Khorasani, Shahla Entesari and Parvin Ardalan to three years? imprisonment for ?collusion and assembly to endanger the national security,? under article 610 of the Islamic Penal Code. The court ordered Khorasani, Entesari, and Ardalan to serve six months in prison, but suspended the remaining two-and-half years of their sentences. The same court sentenced two other women?s rights advocates to prison terms on April 18. It sentenced Fariba Davoodi Mohajer to four years? imprisonment, three of which are suspended, also for ?collusion and assembly to endanger the national security.? The court sentenced Sussan Tahmassebi to two years? imprisonment, with one-and-a half years suspended, for ?acting against national security.? A week earlier, Branch 15 of the Revolutionary Court in Tehran on April 11 sentenced Azadeh Forghani, also a women?s rights activist, to a suspended sentence of two years for ?acting against national security by participating in an illegal gathering.? In these proceedings, the judge can implement the suspended sentences if he determines that the defendants have broken any law during the next five years. All six women supported the recently launched campaign, ?Change for Equality,? to collect 1 million signatures to protest these discriminatory laws. This campaign seeks specific reforms, including making women?s testimony in court carry the same weight as that of men, equality of inheritance rights between men and women, the elimination of polygamy, and equality of compensation payments in the event of the wrongful death of a man and of a woman. As a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Iran is legally bound to protect freedom of expression, assembly and equality before the law, and prohibit arrest and detention resulting from the exercise of one of these rights. Over the past year, the Iranian government has substantially increased its persecution and prosecution of women?s rights activists. The security forces detained 33 prominent women?s rights advocates on March 4. Ardalan, Entesari, Khorasani, and Tahmassebi were among the detainees. Although the Judiciary released all of the detainees on bail, it has started to announce prison terms for those detained. On April 18, the Iranian minister of information, Gholamhussein Mohseni Ezhei, alleged that ?the enemies of the government? are pursuing their plans through the women?s rights movement. ?The Iranian government is making a mockery of national security laws by using them to prosecute women?s rights activists who peacefully protest against discrimination,? said Whitson.

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Iran: Update on Imprisoned Women's Rights Activist

Please read the latest update on the latest status of Zeinab Peyqambarzadeh, arrested member of the One Million Signatures Campaign:

No Written Summons Needed!

Vozara Detention Center : A Place for Women in Search of Freedom, by Zeinab Peyqambarzadeh

Other articles newly posted on the site of the Campaign:

The One Million Signature Campaign is legally and rightfully justifiable - Mohammad Sharif

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