Thursday, November 29, 2007


With opponents divided, Iran continues nuclear effort

With opponents divided, Iran continues nuclear effort

By Elaine Sciolino

Thursday, November 29, 2007

PARIS: President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran is known for overheated, boastful pronouncements. So it was hardly a surprise earlier this month when he declared that despite demands from the United States and other countries that Iran stop enriching uranium, Tehran was pressing ahead and negotiations were out of the question.

"From our point of view," he said, "this subject is closed."

In this case, Iran's intransigence appears to be defeating whatever new attempts are made by the rest of the world to curtail its nuclear ambitions, at least for the moment.

Nine months after the United Nations Security Council unanimously imposed new sanctions on Iran to pressure it to stop its nuclear activities, and threatened more if it refused, Iran has steadily increased its enrichment of uranium, which can be used to produce electricity or fuel bombs. At the same time, the nations that joined together behind the sanctions are now divided over what to do next.

The foreign ministers from the six nations that backed the United Nations sanctions are now facing another decision on Iran, having agreed to pass a new Security Council resolution if there were no signs of progress in negotiations with Tehran by Friday.

But nothing seems to be bending the will of Iran, which is flush with oil revenues. The incentive strategy, led by Javier Solana, the European Union's foreign policy adviser, has failed to entice Iran to stop enrichment in exchange for economic, political and technological rewards. So has the punishment approach of increasing sanctions, as Russia and China hold firm to the view that further punishment will only intensify the standoff.

In May, desperate to engage Iran, the six nations leading the negotiations made a small, but important, concession. They offered a brief freeze in further sanctions if Iran froze its enrichment program at the current level - effectively dropping their demand that Iran stop enrichment altogether. But that face-saving idea, known as a "double freeze," barely got Tehran's attention.

"The chosen strategy of pressure and engagement is not working," said one senior European official involved in the diplomacy. "As a result, you have a lot of people desperately banging on the door of the Iranians. All of them are coming back empty-handed."

Last week Mohamed ElBaradei, the director of the United Nation's International Atomic Energy Agency, reported that while Iran was cooperating on answering questions about past nuclear activities, it had crossed the threshold of putting into operation 3,000 centrifuges. He added that restrictions placed on his inspectors by Iran precluded his agency from determining whether Iran's nuclear program was intended to generate power or make weapons.

On Friday, Solana is scheduled to meet in London with Iran's new nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili, before reporting to officials from the six countries. But Iran's official government spokesman said this week that enrichment would not even be on their agenda.

Representatives of six nations - the United States, Britain, Russia, China, France and Germany - will then meet in Paris on Saturday to discuss a possible new Security Council resolution. But in interviews, officials from those countries expressed frustration in dealing with Iran, and a growing consensus that the momentum in their diplomacy had evaporated and that any new resolution would be weak.

"As far as new ideas, I don't have any new ideas to offer," Solana told reporters on Wednesday. Privately, he has told governments that the most they can hope for is a cap on Iran's enrichment program at some point in the future, according to officials involved in the conversations.

The Security Council has twice imposed limited economic and political sanctions that aim to freeze Iranian assets linked to its nuclear and ballistic missile programs. Although there is considerable debate inside Iran on the wisdom of continuing a nuclear policy that isolates the country, the sanctions have hardly budged Iran.

Kim Howells, a senior official in the British Foreign Office, told a Parliament committee on Wednesday that the current sanctions were "pretty weak" and that "I don't think the UN is going out of its way to cripple Iran in any way."

Behind the scenes, the impasse has encouraged a number of independent initiatives by would-be deal makers, complicating the joint diplomacy of the six powers. Switzerland floated a plan with detailed mathematical formulas that would allow Iran to expand its enrichment program but would set limits on how fast it could do so. The plan, which is contrary to the Security Council resolutions, has been criticized by the six powers.

Russia has recently tried but failed to sway Iran to compromise. During a recent visit to Tehran, President Vladimir Putin of Russia was granted a rare audience with Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

But when Putin sent his foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, to Tehran, he received a frosty reception and returned home furious, Russian, Iranian and European officials said. Still, Russia prefers to make the next priority not more sanctions but winning Iran's cooperation on allowing wider inspections of its nuclear sites by the International Atomic Energy Agency, senior Russian and Western European officials said.

China, meanwhile, whose trade with Iran is soaring, has missed two recent meetings of the six powers, thought it is expected to attend the meeting Saturday.

The only negotiating process with Iran that seems to be moving forward is the limited one aimed at resolving questions the agency has about its past nuclear activity. Under a formal agreement reached last summer with the agency, Iran has begun to turn over documents and make various officials and former officials available for interviews.

Both agency and Iranian officials say that it is likely to take months before Iran resolves the remaining past issues. As long as Iran is making progress on this front, the United States and its European allies are likely to have a difficult time persuading Russia and China to agree to further Security Council sanctions.

Perhaps the biggest setback in the recent attempts to negotiate with Iran was the failure of the "double freeze" proposal. Early last May in Brussels, the six powers first presented a visiting Iranian delegation with what they considered the generous offer to temporarily "freeze" all further punitive action in the Security Council if Iran put a temporary "freeze" on expansion of its enrichment program.

But the Iranians at the table did not even bother to read the document, nor was there ever an official response.

Solana repeated the offer in Rome last month, but it was rejected, officials involved in the negotiations said.

Even so, the apparent softening of the six powers' demand on uranium enrichment - however brief - may have helped convince Iran that its policy of defiance was paying off. "Of course the proposal could be seen as moving our red line," said one senior official involved in the diplomacy. "But we are diplomats. We have to find a formula for negotiations with Iran."


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Wednesday, November 28, 2007


Iran's women: listen now!

Iran's women: listen now!
Roja Bandari

The courageous voices of the women of Iran's One Million Signatures campaign demand to be heard. Roja Bandari tells their story.

26 - 11 - 2007

I could write about gender violence in Iran; about stoning, wife-killings, or a wife's legal responsibility in marriage through the law of Obligatory Sexual Obedience, or Tamkin. But apart from offering our solidarity, you and I might not be able to do much about these problems from far away. So instead, I would like to write about the people who can and are doing something about it; about my sisters in Iran who can tell you about what is happening to Iranian women, why it's happening, and what should be done to fix it.

These women are part of a movement called the One Million Signatures Campaign for Equality, which aims to change discriminatory laws in Iran many of which facilitate and condone gender violence. So far several of these activists have been arrested and released on absurdly high bail, many have received prison sentences, and some are currently in custody and unable to speak to their families.

Ronak's story

"If anything happens to my daughter, I'll stop the world and I will dedicate my whole life to Ronak and her goals." This is what Ronak Saffarzadeh's mother said in an interview with the Campaign for Equality website. She was recently assaulted by court security when she tried to inquire about Ronak's situation and the location where she is being held.

Ronak is only 21. She is an activist in the One Million Signatures Campaign and part of the Azarmehr Kurdish Women's Group. She lives in Kurdistan, a province that has long suffered ethnic and religious discrimination by various Iranian governments. It is where tradition rules the lives of women, and gender violence is abundant. Social or even cultural activism in this region often carries a risk of deadly accusations of treason by the government. Despite all of this, there are many enlightened Kurdish men and women who work to make their society better.

Ronak's monthly salary as a secretary and a graphic designer was about $60 and her friends say that she spent much of it on buying books for village libraries. She worked mainly in villages near her hometown of Sanandaj, helping to teach reading and writing classes. She helped set up a mobile library for the villages and held discussion sessions at the local mosques where women could speak out about their everyday issues. Ronak also worked to educate women about female circumcision, and woman-killings.

On 9th October 2007, nine men raided Ronak's house, took her computer and some of her educational pamphlets and arrested her with no official charges. Ronak's mother went to the court almost every day to ask to see her daughter, but no contact with Ronak was allowed and instead her mother was called names and beaten by the court security. Eighteen days after her arrest, without any news of her condition, the court told her family that they will keep her for another month. Ronak is still in jail and her family has not been able to speak to her.

Delaram, Hana, and Maryam

Delaram Ali is 24, and was one of the first members of the One Million Signatures Campaign. Delaram is a social worker and has mainly worked with women and children in abusive conditions. Since her first year in college in 2002, she has worked for organisations like the Society for Protection of Children's Rights, the International Blue Crescent, and the Cultural Centre for Child Labor. When a catastrophic earthquake hit the city of Bam in December 2003, Delaram, then only 20, traveled over 600 miles to provide relief to the children of Bam and worked with them for over a year.

Due to a lack of access to public media, Iranian women's rights activists use many different legal methods to raise awareness about women's rights. Public gatherings are one of these methods and are explicitly permitted in the Iranian constitution. On 12th June 2006, Delaram along with hundreds of other activists participated in a peaceful gathering in the Hafte-Tir Square in Tehran in order to express Iranian women's demand for legal equality. They were sitting on the ground and singing songs. Unfortunately the government does not respect the demands of women and tries to suppress them even at the expense of undermining the constitution. The female police reacted violently, kicking and punching the participants and beating them with nightsticks.

Delaram was pushed by one of the security forces and broke her arm. She was then dragged to the police car and kept at the station overnight with no medical care but an ice-pack. Delaram and her lawyer, Shirin Ebadi, filed a claim against the police. The court exonerated the police and instead sentenced Delaram to 10 lashes and 34 months in prison on charges of "actions against national security" and "advertising against the government". Last month, the appeals court ordered that Delaram must report to the court to start her sentence by 10th November 2007. Through relentless campaigning by her friends and pleas to legal authorities, Delaram's sentence was postponed for two weeks. At the time of writing, Delaram and her husband of four months, Payam, are still waiting for news.

These pressures on the activists are on the rise and will not simply go away on their own. The latest arrests are those of Hana Abdi, one of Ronak's friends, and Maryam Hosseinkhah, a young journalist who wrote about women's issues including the condition of female inmates in Evin prison.

Breaking the silence

Despite the charges of "actions against national security" and "advertising against the government", the harsh retaliation against the activists has nothing to do with national security. These women are not trying to overthrow or oppose the government of Iran or break the law in any form. This is not about political activities or challenging religion. This is about challenging patriarchy; about women gaining knowledge and confidence, talking to each other, and sharing their stories. Patriarchy demands silence in the face of violence and discrimination and the objective here is to force women's rights defenders to be silent by intimidation, arrests, heavy sentences, probation, and lashing.

In a recent article, another campaign member, Noushin Ahmadi Khorasani, writes,

"The unpleasant stench of war is everywhere. Once again the powerful in the world, the governments, have decided to ruin the lives of their people so one can stay in power a while longer and the other can expand its current power. [...] They tell us to stop our independent, peaceful, equality-seeking and real work and instead pick a side between the two abstract and artificial fronts made up by the powers. [...] Once again, we are being sacrificed in the violent game between the governments, without having any role in starting this deadly game." (Translation of article published in the online magazine Zanestan, recently taken down by the government.)

Noushin's words tell us that the looming threat of war with the US is marginalising activists in Iran as wars so often do to peaceful movements. In the international community, the media landscape is dominated by discussions about the Iranian nuclear program and war, thus further marginalising the voices of these women. There is simply not a lot of interest by the foreign media in reflecting human rights issues or women's rights conditions in Iran.

Sitting at my desk, I try to think about these events from different angles, but no matter how I look at it I come to the same conclusion; these are my sisters and my friends, and I have no choice; I cannot let this happen. I have to amplify their voices and tell their stories for all to hear. Forget your war and nuclear talks; this is our priority, this is what we are talking about! Listen!


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Tuesday, November 27, 2007


In Iran, a cadre of lawyers takes the case of justice

In Iran, a cadre of lawyers takes the case of justice

Of Iran's 27,000 attorneys, perhaps no more than 100 take politically charged cases. They
brave insults, assaults and jail.
By Borzou Daragahi
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
November 27, 2007


The night before lawyer Mohammed Dadkhah was to appear in court for his first human rights case, two masked men on motorcycles pulled up alongside him as he walked home. They hurled him into one of Tehran's ubiquitous street-side drainage canals. They grabbed at the briefcase filled with papers for the next day's defense.

Dadkhah refused to let go. They punched and kicked him. They ripped off a piece of the briefcase and roared away into the night.

Panting in fear, his face scraped raw, his clothes soaking wet, Dadkhah pulled himself out of the gutter and brushed himself off. When he got home, he caught his breath and considered his options.

He was in his late 40s and had been working since 1979 as a lawyer, building up a bustling practice. His father had been a lawyer, his uncle among the greatest litigators in his native city of Esfahan and his grandfather a famous cleric and jurist.

This was 2000, and Iranian authorities had just arrested a member of the outlawed but barely tolerated Freedom Movement and ordered him to appear before the Revolutionary Court.

Dadkhah's decision to take on the case had raised eyebrows in the legal establishment. Few, if any, lawyers represented defendants in the Revolutionary Court, which handles politically charged cases.

"My worst fear was that they would kill me in an accident," he said of his decision to take the case.

With the clock ticking toward the court appearance, he contemplated his stark choice: stand up for justice or protect his family, his wife and his children.

As the United States pressures Iran over its nuclear program and its alleged support of militant groups across the Middle East, it also has decried human rights abuses in the country. The Bush administration has refused to rule out military intervention against Iran.

Inside the country, a small number of activists continue to struggle peacefully for change. They are protected by a cadre of lawyers, including 2004 Nobel Peace laureate Shirin Ebadi, the first Iranian to receive the prize.

But such defenders are few: Out of 27,000 licensed lawyers here, perhaps no more than 100 take on tough politically charged cases.

These lawyers say that for now they are able to work and speak their minds, and that despite a recent reduction in political liberties, the climate here is comparable to that in other Middle Eastern countries. But they also say they have to battle not just Iran's Islamic laws but authoritarian mind-sets and powerful interests that often act with impunity.

Most agree the legal climate has improved since the first days of the 1979 Islamic Revolution, when signs saying, simply, "No Lawyers" went up outside courtrooms here.

The ayatollahs who had come to power were determined to break with the past. As Shiite Islam became the rule of the land in Iran, secular lawyers not schooled in Sharia law were considered suspect and branded atheists.

Among them was Mohammed Saifzadeh, a pious native of the holy city of Qom and family friend of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. A judge in the 1970s, he says he once signed a letter to the French authorities, urging them to give Khomeini shelter after he was expelled from Iraq in 1978, a move he now says he regrets.

Saifzadeh says he wholeheartedly supported the revolution, only to be disillusioned.

"From the beginning of the revolution, I opposed the penal code, which included Islamic punishments," says Saifzadeh, his brown eyes peering out from above large rectangular eyeglasses. "I was opposed to allowing the clergy into the judiciary."

Saifzadeh was purged from his judicial post and banned from practicing law for more than 10 years. Whenever he tried to work as a legal consultant, authorities pressured employers to fire him. By the time he regained his legal accreditation in 1992, he had lost his passion for law but had found one for human rights.

Since 1997, he has taken on more than 300 human rights cases: reporters charged with writing against the system, activists alleged to be subverting national security, scholars accused of insulting Islam, members of the Bahai religious faith rejected from university for their beliefs. He was one of Ebadi's lawyers when she was charged with security crimes and locked up in prison.

Saifzadeh has been to prison nearly half a dozen times, tossed on several occasions into solitary confinement. "Two months in solitary for someone like me," he says, heaving a deep sigh, "it really changes your personality."

His wife was killed in a suspicious car accident, a hit-and-run that remains unsolved. He remarried, to a lawyer. She promised to stick to lucrative real estate and tort cases.

"We are few because the danger is great," Saifzadeh says. "Lawyers here can make a lot of money. Many of our fellow attorneys think we're just fools."

Khalil Bahramian is among those who know well the sacrifices and disappointments of taking on Iran's establishment in court.

In 1984, Bahramian agreed to represent the parents of a young man who was allegedly killed by members of the Black Scorpions, an offshoot of the Revolutionary Guard Corps. It was his first human rights trial and among the first times the group had been brought to court.

The suspects were well-connected and powerful. Bahramian says they called his relatives and threatened to kill him. They accused him of being a communist. They torched his car. Authorities decided to hear the case in the Revolutionary Court, which is stacked with sympathizers of the Revolutionary Guard, whose elite Quds Force was recently labeled a terrorist organization by the Bush administration.

But Bahramian, now 68, says he wasn't scared off that easily. His father was a labor leader, organizing peasants among the rice paddies and orchards of the Caspian Sea coast while evading the shah's secret police. A small copy of Picasso's "Guernica" hangs in his office next to a statue of the 10th century Persian poet Ferdowsi.

"When you enter political work in Iran, you have to put your life aside," he says. "But I've always been careful. I don't want to be a hero."

Bahramian made his arguments with the utmost care. "I told them, 'I want to remove these black sheep from your flock.'

"To his shock, the judge sentenced the three suspects to death; an appellate court upheld the verdict. But the case was later reopened and the defendants acquitted at the behest of Iran's then-president, Ali Khamenei, now Iran's spiritual leader.

Lawyers dread arguing a case before the Revolutionary Court, or even entering and exiting the court building. Men are harassed or barred for wearing ties, considered a sign of Western decadence, while women must adhere to the strictest Islamic dress codes.

The Revolutionary Court system runs parallel to its other courts and its jurisdiction includes matters of national security, moral corruption, espionage and insurgency, and insults to the pillars of the Islamic Republic, according to the website of Iran's judiciary.

Lawyers complain that the court sessions have a theatrical quality, with sentences appearing preordained. The judge often acts as the prosecutor, grilling the suspect while hurling insults at the lawyer. Often the judge won't acknowledge legal arguments or even pay attention to the lawyer.

Under law, Revolutionary Court defendants are entitled to lawyers. But the judge sometimes rejects the defendant's choice.

Once, lawyer Nasrine Sotoudeh tried to argue on behalf of two detained women's rights activists. The judge refused to let her and ordered her out of the courtroom, but refused to sign the document that would allow her to leave the building. She tried to walk out, but the security guards stopped her. After waiting for hours, the guards finally let her out without the signature.

"They don't want lawyers in there," she says. "Lawyers know the law. They protest."

Five months ago, the same judge summoned Sotoudeh to the Revolutionary Court. He told her he'd read interviews she'd given to the international media and said that if she continued, he'd throw her into jail.

"If I get thrown into prison, it would be a lot easier than dealing with these laws," Sotoudeh, 44, says.

The morning after his encounter with the motorcyclists, Dadkhah appeared in court. He had decided that a few scrapes and bruises weren't going to stop him.

The judge accused his client of being a member of an outlawed political party. But Dadkhah produced a letter from Iran's Interior Ministry, then under the control of reform-minded moderates, that said it wasn't illegal.

This outraged the judge and other authorities. They overruled their own ministry but let the defendant go.

The next year, Dadkhah was thrown into Evin Prison for five months. Prison authorities put in him in solitary. Guards stripped him naked in the winter cold and threw him against iron bars. They locked him up with common criminals, killers and drug dealers.

If the punishments, pressure and threats were supposed to send a message, they sent the wrong one. The treatment only enraged Dadkhah. He sees himself as a Renaissance man well-versed in poetry, history and architecture, as well as law. Throwing him in with common criminals was an insult.

Instead of lowering his profile, Dadkhah took on the case of Zahra Kazemi, an Iranian Canadian journalist held in Evin Prison who eventually died of injuries allegedly suffered at the hands of government officials.

Dadkhah expanded his law practice to nearly 20 attorneys, drawing in earnest interns dedicated to defending women, trade unionists, students and activists and taking other tough cases few other lawyers would. Every week, they canvass Evin, asking for new prisoners detained on political charges or just in dire straits.

"A hundred years from now, I don't want people looking back and saying, 'No one stood up,' " Dadkhah says. "Now at least they'll be able to say, 'Yes, a couple of people stood up.' "


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Reporter Q&A: Akbar Ganji

WEBWIRE – Monday, November 26, 2007

Akbar Ganji, Iran’s most prominent political dissident, is a well-known journalist, author and former Revolutionary Guard turned activist. He spent six years in Tehran’s infamous Evin prison, where he undertook a hunger strike and produced a series of influential political manifestos and open letters calling for the secularization of Iran and the establishment of democracy through mass civil disobedience. McGill’s Centre for Human Rights and Legal Pluralism will welcome Mr. Ganji for a public lecture titled ‘Iran, Human Rights, and the Nuclear Question: What are the Connections?’ on Thursday, Nov. 22, from 4:30 to 6 p.m., at the Faculty of Law’s Moot Court.

He recently spoke with the McGill Reporter’s Pascal Zamprelli.

Reporter: As a student at that time, what kind of changes did you hope the 1979 revolution would bring to Iran?

Akbar Ganji: Like all revolutionaries, we were hoping to establish a new society with a new deal. At that time, we were looking for justice.

Reporter: You even became a member of the Revolutionary Guards. What made you eventually decide to leave that group?

AG: The Guards was originally a people-powered force that was formed to protect the revolution – the revolution that we all had agreed on and that we all had worked hard to achieve. But what we wanted out of the revolution never came – it didn’t turn out to be the way we thought is should. Consequently, we distanced ourselves from it.

Reporter: What went wrong?

AG: The government violence after the revolution was one of the things that went wrong, in which even the opposition was cooperating as well. The government became severely oppressive and that wasn’t what we expected from the revolution. I can’t say they betrayed it, as this is the nature of a revolution. Any revolution, when socially studied, most of the time results in the same sort of clashes after the power is transferred. The revolutionaries, after the revolution, separate into two groups and they will start fighting among themselves, and the process of violence starts. If you study, for example, the French, Russian or Chinese revolutions, you see similar trends and patterns of violence after the revolution.

Reporter: What then would be a more effective way of bringing about change?

AG: Anything but revolution. Non-violent disobedience and civil resistance is the way to go.

Reporter: Tell me about your time in Evin prison and how you went about continuing to make your message heard despite being incarcerated.

AG: It has happened before in history with revolutionaries or opposition members – from Nelson Mandela to Gramsci. They all managed to get their words out and it’s simply a matter of the nature of the job. Political prisoners will find a way to get their words out, especially because things have changed since the time of Mandela. The revolution in communication has changed the nature of it; it’s made it much easier for communication and relations between the inside and outside of a jail to be sustained.

Reporter: What specific methods did you use?

AG: I can’t tell you the details of that because it might cause problems for other people who cooperated with me. The fundamental issue is that as soon as the message is out of the jail, then everybody will find out, thanks to new technology. When it’s an e-mail, it’s all over the place. That wasn’t there 50 years ago.

Reporter: What was it like to undertake a hunger strike? Where did you find the willpower to go through with something like that?

AG: We all have goals that we fight for and I was standing by mine. The aim to reach a goal was driving me – and that goal was combined with hope. They had closed all avenues of opposition to me: I couldn’t make a phone call, I couldn’t see a doctor. And they would tell me that even when my six-year term was over, they wouldn’t let me go. So I had no other chance, and at that time this was the method that turned out to be successful. The special circumstances that existed allowed that message to become global and go beyond borders – political circumstances inside and outside Iran allowed this transition of message and helped it become international news. In many cases, others might not have such an opportunity, even if they do go on a hunger strike, to have it become such international news.

Reporter: Today, what is the role of Iranian civil society in bringing about democratic and human rights reform in Iran?

AG: Without civil society, you will not have democracy. The more powerful civil society is, the more hope for democracy exists. We do have an active civil society in Iran, but one problem is that it is not united. And it doesn’t have leadership. But obviously, dissatisfaction is widespread. We do have many of the prerequisites needed to be at the forefront of a democratic transition.

Reporter: In particular, what role could students play?

AG: Students are playing a very important role and the student movement is one of the most powerful elements of civil society in Iran. It’s by far the most powerful and active in comparison to other NGOs and movements in Iran.

Reporter: Is there any hope that the 2008 legislative elections in Iran will be a catalyst for change?

AG: Not exactly. I’m not sure about that because the government will disqualify all the reformist candidates. There is a possibility that they will allow some very conservative reformists to run, which doesn’t represent that much of a hope.

Reporter: But do you expect to see democracy in Iran in your lifetime?

AG: For sure. In fact, I am alive with the hope that it will happen and that’s also based on a realistic analysis of what is happening. Iranian civil society’s active role and participation is going to be vital in this transition.

Reporter: If Iranian civil society is central to bringing about change, what complementary role should the international community play?

AG: The international community could be very helpful for the transition to democracy. In their relations with Iran and their international relations, they should make human rights and democracy their priority. And Iran’s regime should be condemned because of its gross violations of human rights. There has to be express support for the people’s resistance and for their active participation in this transition to democracy. But this support must be a moral support, not a financial one. It must not be material, but substantial in terms of morality.

Reporter: So support from the international community must be moral rather than financial, but what about military action?

AG: That would be 100-percent disaster. There is no way that you can bring about democracy with militarism. The disaster of Iraq is before us. Democracy is not like cars – you can’t export it.

Reporter: What do you say then to those who argue that either economic sanctions or military actions are necessary to affect the Iranian regime?

AG: Well, first of all we say look at the disaster in Iraq. Before, if we wanted argue [against militarism] we didn’t have such an example; now we have a living example. There is no democracy in Iraq. Human rights are violated and Iraq is in shambles. Hundreds of thousands have died, security is non-existent, and $500 billion has been spent so far of American taxpayers’ money. We simply don’t want our country to turn out like that. [Laughing] I could go on if you want…

As for the economic argument, any sanction that is somehow, directly or indirectly, affecting the people of Iran is one to be condemned and is ineffective. Instead, the international community should be putting pressure on the regime to dismantle its forces of oppression against civil society.

Reporter: What are the larger implications of change in Iran for the peace process in the area and for peace in the Middle East?

AG: Iran is the gateway to democracy in the Middle East. If Iran has a democratic regime, this will be a major blow to fundamentalism in the Middle East. It’s not just that they would lose ideological support from the Iranian government; they will also lose their financial support coming from that government.

Reporter: What do you hope to hear from the outgoing US administration and from the one that will take over in 2009?

AG: First, that they will keep their hands off Iran militarily. The language of threatening Iran and threatening to act militarily should be dropped. They have to start negotiations with the Iranian government. They have to start normalizing relations with Iran. And they have to realize that the transition to democracy is an onus on Iranian people and is the responsibility of Iranian people and Iranian civil society, not the American administration.

Reporter: What do you make of the US’s recent congressional resolution calling for Iran’s Revolutionary Guards to be designated a foreign terrorist organization? Is that helpful?

AG: I can’t see how this helps the democracy movement in Iran. The Iranian government – with or without tensions with the United States – will continue to oppress civil society in Iran. But when the tensions rise to a higher level, this will turn into an added excuse to oppress and limit civil society. So at the height of tensions, it is always harmful to civil society. That’s why we want tensions to calm down and we don’t see this move by Congress to be helpful at all.

Reporter: Much of the rhetoric tied to that resolution and to Iran revolves around the question of nuclear capacity. What is the view of the reformist movement and civil society in Iran with respect to the regime obtaining nuclear weapons?

AG: A lot of members of civil society are against the nuclear policies of the government. At the same time, they see it as preposterous for this to become an excuse for any sort of military attack on Iran. First of all, Iran doesn’t have an atomic bomb. Even by the estimations of the Israeli and American intelligence services, Iran is three to five years away from any real possibility of having a nuclear bomb. Therefore, the discussion is really not about Iran having an atomic bomb at this point. It’s a discussion about the possibility of Iran gaining the potential for a nuclear bomb in the distant future.

Reporter: And this diverts attention from the real debate?

AG: Yes, indeed. The real problem is human rights.

Reporter: What message do you hope to leave with Canadians on your current speaking tour?

AG: That Canada should turn human rights and democracy into a first priority in terms of your relations with the Iranian government. Democracy and human rights should not be victims to your trade relations with Iran and you must instead help civil society in Iran. For example, Canada is taking a very hard, unrealistic and incomprehensible stance towards Iranians who want to enter Canada for one reason or another. The Canadian embassy in Tehran is implementing stiff rules that are basically disqualifying many of the most intellectual and most educated from entering the country. Open your gates and let the smart, successful Iranian students come and pursue their lives in Canada. Many of the opposition members who want to leave Iran, even for a visit, are having difficulty getting Canadian visas.

Reporter: What are your thoughts on winning the John Humphrey Freedom Award?

AG: Not the least of it is the fact that Canadians fist of all have such individuals in their communities. And the fact that they have established such prizes – a prize in the name of someone like John Humphrey – shows that they see human rights as a priority. The more powerful the concept of human rights becomes internationally and the more the international community is active in pursuing human rights – that is good news for us. And the fact that they have awarded this prize to an Iranian is an indication that they are sensitive towards the developments in Iran and that is very much welcomed. I am receiving and accepting this prize on behalf of all Iranians who are fighting for democracy and human rights.

The John Humphrey Freedom Award is awarded annually by the organization Rights and Democracy and is named in honor of the McGill law professor who was principal drafter of the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

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Monday, November 26, 2007


Iranian’s Emerging “Positive” Nationalism

Mehrdad Mashayekhi

I define nationalism as “the collective sentiment of a nation with a unique background and identity.” Nationalism is a modern phenomenon, emerging in 18th century Europe as a unifying ideology, resulting from the formation of nation states. While a shared history and identity led to nationalist ideologies, clear bias existed in transforming this history into a nationalist movement and connecting events of the present to those of an ancient past.

As a modern concept, Iranian nationalism first appeared in the 19thcentury after the country came into contact with the Western powers. Following several military defeats, humiliating treaties, and the presence of Western powers, notably England and Russia, Iranians began to feel a sense of national inferiority in comparison to the foreigners present there. Furthermore, the economic consequences of integrating into the world market, and the dominance of Europeans in Iran’s economy undoubtedly damaged the national pride of Iranians. The hurt that many Iranians felt resulted in resistance such as the 1891 general strike against the decision to lease Iran’s tobacco industry to a British company.

In addition to resistance, however, the cultural influence of the Western powers in Iran gave rise to new concepts inside existing political schools of thought in Iran, such as liberalism, socialism, rule of law and nationalism. These theories ultimately turned into intellectual tools for fighting against tyranny and colonialism. Nationalism as a concept entered into the political lexicon of many social groups, from the Qajari princes, to segments of the clergy, merchants, and intellectuals, and eventually manifested itself in the Constitutional Revolution of the early 20th century. According to Iranian historian Nazemol-eslam Kermani, the first reference to an “Iranian nation” was heard during the anti-government demonstrations held in Tehran during the Constitutional Revolution. This new “national” identity was different from the ancient Iranian identity expressed in Ferdosi’s heroic epic of Shahnameh. While the post-modern belief that one is a precursor of the other has gained popularity, Iran’s modern nationalism does not flow from this ancient culture.

In a nation-state framework, nationalism is followed by “national integration,” and in Iran this occurred during the reign of Reza Shah. Sociologist Turaj Atabaki believes this was a new stage of Iranian nationalism, which he refers to as “ethnic nationalism,” during which pride in the Persian language was emphasized. This form of nationalism was very autocratic, as it considered the state dictatorship a key factor in maintaining national integrity. Additionally, the prevailing elements of this national ideology were both anti-Islamic and anti-Arab.

In the years leading up to oil nationalization under the leadership of Dr. Mohammad Mossadeq, Iranian nationalism took a different course. “Dictatorship” was replaced with “liberal” and “democratic” components. There was no emphasis on ethnic language anymore, and in contrast Islamic identity became intertwined into a greater Iranian identity. The tension between the Iranian identity and culture and anything having to do with “foreigners” and “colonialists” remained a common theme in Iranian nationalism. In any definition of national identity there exists an element of differentiation between “self” and “other.” As expected, during the Mossadeq era, the “other” was mainly British colonialists.

After the 1953 coup deposing Dr. Mossadeq, Iranian nationalism shifted paths. Following the decline of the National Front Party, the collapse of the oil nationalization project, and the Shah’s return to power, political activities went underground. Autocratic governments with their American protectors on one side and the opposition forces on the other reflected a polarization of forces in the domestic and international stages. The nationalist movement of 1960s and 1970s became more radical and violent, and appeared in two forms: the Marxist left and revolutionary Islam. This discourse was born out of the National Front Party and its student organization, Bijan Jazani’s Cherik-haye Fadai-ye Khalgh-e Iran (Iranian People’s Fedayeen). Dr. Mossadeq’s political discourse, rooted in liberalism and rule of law (evident in his efforts to nationalize Iran’s oil industry through international law and negotiations), was eventually transformed by the Nehzat-e Azadi (Freedom Movement) and the Mojahedin Khalgh into a violent “anti-Imperialist” and “anti-American” movement to end the imperialist pillage of Iran’s resources. Other traditional Islamic groups (Khomeini’s followers, the Organization of Islamic Nations, and clerics such as Beheshti, Taleghani, Motahari, and Montazeri) were also against the economic, political, and cultural presence of Americans in Iran. Khomeini, for example, was against the presence of American military advisors in Iran and asked why dams in Iran should not be built by Iranian technicians instead of American ones.

The Islamic Revolution of 1979 drove the nationalistic discourse into the periphery. The revolutionary leadership, who had defeated the monarchy and enjoyed mass support in the early years of the revolution, did not seek to challenge the status quo. On the contrary, its main motive was to preserve power in the face of any challenge from competing groups, and it considered “secular nationalism” a serious intellectual and political threat.

One can explain Khomeini and his followers’ antipathy toward Dr. Mossadeq and the National Front in the early days of the Revolution in this regard. The slogan: “Both democracy and nationalism distract the people,” was chanted by Hezbollah followers, reflecting this confrontation. However, at this time, only pre-Islamic and Mossadeq’s nationalism were under attack, while radical and anti-American forms of nationalism remained popular among Marxists and the Islamist left.

The eight-year war with Iraq further developed this contradiction in the nationalist movement. In the face of an Iraqi invasion, Iranian nationalism was reintroduced rapidly and became an important tool in mobilizing various segments of Iranian society to support the war. During this time, the Islamic Republic was forced to balance several forms of nationalism. On one hand, all political representation and corresponding secular images, especially those which were contradictory to Islam, were repressed, people were mobilized using nationalist themes against both the US and Iraq. National and patriotic songs and the juxtaposition of “Iran” alongside “Islam” by the spiritual leadership were some examples of this policy.

Since the end of the Iraq-Iran war and the death of Khomeini, the Islamic Republic has been more comfortable with nationalism. Strong nationalist tendencies have been seen in both the words and policies of Hashemi Rafsanjani and in the current reformist literature. As long as nationalist goals and rhetoric support the Iranian regime’s anti-Americanism policy and goal of extending influence throughout the region and international community, they are largely tolerated and occasionally used by the government for their own benefit.

Today, a new form of nationalism is emerging in Iran. In order to differentiate it from other forms of nationalism, I would like to refer to it as ‘positive nationalism.’ It is positive because it emphasizes the constructive features of Iranian identity and rights which Iranians should enjoy. This notion of nationalism differs from a ‘negative nationalism’ which stems from being victims of imperialism and is focused on battling foreign influences. This new trend cannot be explained away by referring to cultural values or Iranians’ temperament. Globalization has undoubtedly been a catalyst for this new form of nationalism as the Iranian economy and culture become more integrated into the global system. Iranians are aware that many aspects of their life are affected by globalization and the emergence of multinational institutions. Examples include the International Atomic Energy Agency, sanctions of the UN Security Council, the role of the World Bank and IMF in economic matters, non-governmental organizations which support the Iranian people in their quest for human rights, and even FIFA’s role in Iran’s national football federation. Also, satellite radio, television broadcasts, and the internet affect fashion, leisure, diet, and everyday lifestyles. As long as they are aware of these global trends and enjoy these global goods, the current Iranian nationalist movement cannot remain indifferent to these global phenomena. Therefore, this nationalism is more “positive” than “negative.” It places more emphasis on celebrating Iran’s global image and role and improving the standards of living (including on issues related to culture and identity) for all Iranians.

The emergence of this new cultural and political trend can be traced to the younger generation living inside Iran. While my observation will remain a hypothesis until we can perform a thorough field survey, the initial evidence suggests that today’s youth in Iran do not find themselves in conflict with “foreigners.” This generation is not anti-American, anti-Western, or even anti-Arab. Members of this generation are dispersed all over the world and have widened their world view through international travel and the internet.

Although globalization has tempered the negative nationalist attitudes, Iran’s younger generation is not necessarily completely infatuated with all aspects, policies, and actions of world powers. The younger generation is in fact quite sensitive to the issue of Iranian sovereignty. The undermining of these rights by global policies is viewed as a personal attack on their country and their Iranian identity.

Before we overstate the positive aspects of globalization, it is important to note that this process has also created aspects of negative self image among some Iranians. The confrontation between the Islamic Republic’s “crisis generating” policies and the reactions of the world powers have stigmatized Iranians. Other examples include visa limitations and discrimination at the hands of foreign governments for Iranian travelers, the perception of Iranians as terrorists, the threat of military action and economic sanctions, the production of humiliating films against Iranians and our culture (such as Not Without My Daughter and 300), and the dispute over three Iranian Persian Gulf islands.

A big part of this negative self image is due to shameful actions of the present regime in Iran toward its own people. Young people are constantly humiliated, in every corner of Iran. In the streets, in their homes, they are questioned and their expression is restricted. The practice of stoning, discrimination against women, and the exclusion of progressive individuals from participating in political processes have forced Iranians to question their history and image. Exhausted with these domestic and global pressures, many Iranians are asking themselves: “How can I be proud of my national identity given these circumstances?”

What we call “positive nationalism,” is in fact a psychological reaction experienced by a large number of Iranians with respect to their condition in the turbulent world of today. The present generation asks, “Can we find positive aspects in our history, society, or even in some of our government policies?”

Some examples of this emerging “positive nationalism,” include celebrations for Iran’s soccer team in the French and German World Cups; the world-wide call for support of the preservation of Iranian historical sites; the in-depth study of Iranian history and culture from a new point of view; support for a nuclear energy program (arguing, “why don’t we have a right to it when others do?”); respect for the older generation’s artists, academics, and sportsmen as the symbols of a better time; the differentiation between “Iran and Iranian” and “Islamic Republic” in political debates; broad opposition to the use of “Arabian Gulf” term instead of “Persian Gulf” in National Geographic Magazine; using names and national symbols at political and social events (photographs of Dr. Mossadeq and the signing of patriotic songs, “Ey-Iran”); and commemorating Constitutional Revolution day.

Although in its first decade, the Islamic Republic firmly opposed these trends and drove nationalism into a corner, in recent years it has had no choice but to adjust its policies to accommodate this phenomenon. Reformists during Khatami’s administration explicitly introduced the “Iranian” identity as one of the main cornerstones of a national identity. Even Ahmadinejad’s administration indirectly utilizes national sentiments to justify its public policies, for instance the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program.

Nationalism is not an all-encompassing ideology, and can easily coexist with other ideologies, or even be manipulated by them. As mentioned earlier, Iran experienced historical nationalism, Mossadeq’s nationalism (liberal), leftist nationalism (anti-imperialist), and radical nationalism (chauvinistic). Iranians seek to preserve positive nationalism as a moderate force and to incorporate democratic and secular values into it. Any political faction who can manage this political task and bring nationalism and democracy together will surpass others. In an era defined by democracy, globalization and diversity, we must redefine nationalism. Today’s nationalism is not in opposition to the US, Israel, Arab nations or imperialism, nor is it obsessed with pre-Islamic culture or images, nor does it brag about the “nationalization” of every industry or economic resource. Instead, it offers a clear positive, modern, and moderate image of Iran. In the meantime, we must deliberately reject any definition of nationalism which might prevent other Iranian ethnicities from celebrating their own identities, such as the repression of the celebration of Babak Khoramdin, a hero among Iran’s Azeri youth.

Mehrdad Mashayekhi is the author of dozens of articles and interviews on post-revolutionary political and sociological developments. He has published in numerous English and Farsi publications including the Washington Iranian, Open Democracy, and Shahrvand Publications. He is the co-editor of Iran: Political Culture in the Islamic Republic. His book Social Movements & Contentious Politics in Post-Revolutionary Iran (Farsi) is forthcoming. Dr. Mashayekhi has a Ph.D. in sociology and an M.A. in economics, both from American University, and is currently a visiting assistant professor of sociology at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.


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Baha'I International Community letter to URI


United Nations Office
866 United Nations Plaza, Suite 120, New York, NY 10017 USA
Telephone: 212-803-2500, Fax: 212-803-2566, Email:

OCTOBER 23, 2007

Honorable Board of Political Executives Cuncil of United Republicans of Iran,

Please accept our warmest greetings.

Hereby the Baha'I International Community extends its gratitude to you for following Human Rights issues in Iran, in particular, defending the rights of the Baha’is.

As you already know, your fellow Iranian Baha’is have been persecuted in Iran since the inception of their faith. Currently there has been many attempts to label them as foreign spies or raise suspicion in public eyes that they corroborate with foreign governments against national interest of Iran. This offensive has been led by the Islamic religious figures and the government of Islamic Republic of Iran. The majority of Iranians have all along been deprived of learning the truth about the Baha’i faith. The reason being, in Iran, Baha’is have never enjoyed freedom of expression to respond to accusations or to write about the misinformation and unfounded allegations being disseminated regarding their beliefs. Additionally the adopted policies towards Baha’is worry the sincere Iranians who want to assist them and therefore, they shun away. In fact in the past 150 years, the effect of counter-Baha’i campaign in the country has prevented the Iranian intellectuals from opposing the injustice that goes on against them. Now the real intentions of those, who over the past 2-3 centuries, have impeded the majority of Iranians from nurturing their talents and their capabilities and employing them for the advancement of the country is becoming to light. In recent years we have witnessed that increasing numbers of Iranian thinkers and scholars have defended the rights of Baha’is every time they have a chance to do so. Your courage and sincerity in declaring your stance to support the Baha’i faith as a minority religion deserving equal rights with the rest of the society in Iran is praiseworthy.

Today the problems facing Iran are not limited to harassment of minority religious groups. To name a few others, one can mention poverty, unemployment, addiction to substance abuse, gender inequality, and discrimination against seculars. All these issues make people’s daily life more and more difficult. They also hinder the progress of the country as a whole. Commitment to elimination of prejudice, maintaining the grounds for equal rights of all the citizens, defending freedom of expression, and backing the disadvantaged will bestow our country with divine benediction and a guaranteed future that everyone would benefit from. We assure you that Iranian Baha’is, without siding with any political party or without opposing any government or state (because political impartiality is in accordance with our beliefs), will cooperate in foremost candor with the rest of the society to bring about progress and advancement in our country. In this endeavor, we will not fall short of any undertaking. Also millions of Baha’is who regard Iran as the birthplace of their faith will be honored to give a helping hand in order to move Iran forward with its progressive national goals.

Once again we present our heartfelt gratitude for your support of Baha’i community of Iran.

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More than 1,000 Equal Rights Defenders Protest imprisonment of Hosseinkhah

Change for Equality: Monday November 25, In a statement issued yesterday on Sunday November 24, more than 1,000 equal rights defenders have protested the imprisonment of Maryam Hosseinkhah, while claiming, that all those who seek equal rights for women and a remedy to the negative impact of discriminatory laws, are as responsible as Maryam. The text of the Statement in English appears below:

Statement of Protest to the Arrest of Maryam Hosseinkhah

On 18th November, Maryam Hossienkhah, a journalist who is one of the many active members of One Million Signatures Campaign to end legal discrimination against women, was arrested after having been summoned to the revolutionary court. After being interrogated she was charged with disruption of public opinion, propaganda against the state, and publication of lies through her activity and writings in sites such as “Change for Equality” ( and “Zanestan” ( The bail was set for 100 million Tomans (more than hundred thousand dollars). As she could not afford bail she was transferred to Evin prison’s public ward.

We the activists, in support of legal equality, have taken steps, however small, to raise public awareness of the present discriminatory legal system. We have tried where possible to record by writing, whether in sites such as Change for Equality, Zanestan, Kanoone Zanan, and Meydaan, or in weblogs and newspapers, the experiences and pains of women in our society.

Therefore, the responsibility for the legality and transparency of the sites “Change for Equality” and “Zanestan” falls on the activists of this movement and each one of the signatories of the letter recognizes herself/himself as a member of the movement for equality. Each one of us, the defenders and activists of the movement for equality under the law, like Maryam Hossienkhah, are reporters of the pain and suffering of women in our country. We all write and we all protest the present legal discriminations. We reflect this pain and suffering through peaceful means in these sites, weblogs and newspapers such as “Change for Equality” and “Zanestan.” Therefore we share responsibility with Maryam Hosseinkhah. All the sites that write about legal equality belong not only to Maryam Hossienkhah, but to us all. They belong to all those who speak of the objections to legal discrimination through their writings. Therefore, we are all responsible for content of the internet sites and other media that publish on women’s rights issues.

We the signatories of this statement, like Maryam Hossienkhah, write in women’s sites, newspapers and magazines in the hope of improving women’s lives by echoing the pains and sufferings that are due to the existence of discriminatory laws such as polygamy, unequal blood money and age of criminal responsibility, etc.

There is no doubt that if Maryam Hosseinkhah is responsible for the writings and activities of women’s sites such as “Change for Equality” and “Zanestan,” then we the signatories are equally responsible. If Maryam Hossienkhah is imprisoned for what we all have done, then thousands of activists and defenders of equal legal rights in Iran should also be imprisoned.

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Sunday, November 25, 2007


Report from Prison: Clear Examples of Inequality

Friday 23 November 2007

By: Maryam Hosseinkhah*

Translated by: Roja bandari

This is prison; the women’s ward of Evin prison. This is not my first time here; not the first time I’ve come to Evin. The first time, I came here as a journalist. Alongside the warden, I walked from cell to cell to listen to the stories of women who were here on charges of addiction, prostitution and murder. I heard only a few words from each woman, only what the presence of the warden allowed. That day all the inmates spoke highly of prison conditions in front of the officials and said they had no problems but as I was leaving they slipped a crumpled piece of paper in my pocket that read: "Help us! No one thinks about us here.”

The second time I too was a prisoner. Just like everyone else in the ward. While I was in the general ward, thirty other women’s rights activists were in solitary confinement. I was concerned and disoriented, lost between the uncertain fate of my friends and the misery of the inmates I used to write about. That day I was merely a guest who would soon be able to leave.
This time, the third time, however, everything is different.

This time because of a $100,000 bail [which I can not afford], I’m just like one of them; one of the hundreds of women shut up inside the high walls of Evin with no-one to help them. The law doesn’t protect them; neither do their families, nor does anyone else in the world. It is exactly here that you can truly understand the meaning of powerlessness: in the eyes of these women who could have been at home with their children right now, if only the law were slightly more just. Women who bear no resemblance to our clichés about woman inmates; some of these women could not cope with the unequal laws and took the law into their own hands and are now considered law-breakers by our legislators.

Some are locked up as a result of a lack of education and poverty that has always plagued women; some others, like Leila, are here because they asked the court for their nafagheh1. It’s hard to believe this; Leila is 47 and for the past twenty years she has been trying to get some financial support from her husband who left her and their two children one of whom was born with Down syndrome. No court has helped her yet. Leila gazes at the floor with eyes filled with tears.

“Less than two years after we married I found out that my husband had another wife before me. When my second child was born with Down syndrome, he left us. I was alone with two young children one of whom was disabled and I had to pay for her medical expenses. My husband has a house, a car, and money. I only wanted enough to pay for these two poor children. But he wouldn’t pay and no court would declare him responsible and make him pay."

When I ask her, “why didn’t you get a divorce?”, she replies “I’m still hopeful that maybe the law will side with me and I can get the financial support for my children.” She says, “I’d be happy with only $10,000 for those 20 years, but he won’t even give us that.” Two days ago in court, Leila’s husband declared that he will not pay for them and attacked and beat Leila and the kids. For disturbing the peace in his courtroom, the judge sent both Leila, who was beaten, and her husband, who had done the beating, to jail; and not just to any jail! The Evin prison! Her husband posted bail that night and was immediately released. But Leila is here with teary eyes and a gaze full of disbelief, waiting so maybe someone will come and post bail and free her…

Every time we talk about lack of women’s rights, they throw mehrieh and nafagheh in our face. We are only too familiar with the sentence “you have all of this, what else do you want?” But Leila and others like Leila neither have a mehrieh2 to live on nor a nafagheh. Leila’s experience tells us if a man so wishes, he can withhold nafagheh and no law or court can make him pay. Mehrieh or nafagheh—which are sometimes impossible to collect—shouldn’t be used as a pretext to neglect undeniable rights like equality in dieh3, inheritance, testimony, divorce, etc.

Leila is one of hundreds of women whose lives are ruined because of the unequal laws and all she is left with is the sight of a metal ceiling and never-ending walls. As I’m writing these words, a few steps away from me a young woman whose body is completely bruised is weeping. It’s more like a scream. She bangs her head against the wall, and shouts. She tries to suffocate herself with a scarf she has tied around her neck. Maybe it is the complete loss of faith in law and justice that has brought her so close to death.

A few nights ago, when I was being threatened with arrest, I thought about what I can do to survive in prison. But now I feel I might run out of time and not be able to speak to all of these women each of whose stories is a clear example of inequality.

1. Nafagheh: The money that a man is obligated to pay his wife and children for their expenses.

2. Mehrieh: The amount of money that the woman is entitled to when entering a marriage contract.

3. Dieh: The amount of money paid as compensation for a physical injury or death. A women’s dieh is half of a man’s.

*Note: This article was written by Maryam Hosseinkhah from Evin Prison. Maryam Hosseinkhah was called to court on November 17 in relation to her activities and writings in defense of equal rights for women. On the 18th, a very high bail order was issued in her case. Because of her inability to post this high bail, an arrest warrant was issued and she was transferred to Evin Prison, Ward 3, which is general ward for non-violent offenders. Read updates about the case of Maryam and others currently in detention for their activities in support of the Campaign, namely Ronak Safarzadeh and Hand Abdi in Kurdistan, in the Campaigners section of this website

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Friday, November 23, 2007


Farah Karimi is Oxfam Novib’s new director

On February 1, 2008 Farah Karimi will begin as the new general director of Oxfam Novib. Karimi has ample experience in the field of international co-operation and human rights. She is succeeding Sylvia Borren, who has been in the position for eight years.

As general director Karimi will become Oxfam Novib’s new face in the Netherlands. She will represent the organisation internationally, in Oxfam International as well as with partner organisations in the South.

Oxfam Novib’s mission of a just world without poverty links up seamlessly with Karimi’s interests and background. “The struggle for justice is the red thread in my life”, says Karimi. “I’ve always been committed to human rights and to realising them for everybody – first in Iran and later in the Netherlands. The big issues of our time: from poverty and increasing inequality inside and between countries, to cultural and religious intolerance and extremism, all problems caused by people, and thus all problems that must be solved by people. Oxfam Novib is a leading organisation in this field and I am going to commit all my efforts. I want to dedicate my efforts above all to further improving the impact of our work, its support-base and our accountability. ”

In the years to come Oxfam Novib will continue to develop into an international actor, and in Karimi is getting a director with a rich international experience. Joris Voorhoeve, chairman of the Board of Supervision: “As a politician Karimi has acquired a lot of expertise in international co-operation, defence and human rights. She has an extensive network, both in Dutch politics and around the world. It is a special moment when a woman with her rich experience comes to lead the Dutch organisation Oxfam Novib.”

Farah Karimi came to Europe as a refugee in 1983. In the Netherlands she studied Policy and Governance of International Organisations, and has been a member for the Green Left of the Lower House of Parliament for more than eight years, where she focussed on development co-operation, foreign affairs, defence and European affairs. Early this year she was involved in the capacity building of the Afghan parliament, as a consultant for the UN organisation UNDP. As a governor she is, among others, active on the advisory board of the International Institute for the Study of Islam in the Modern World.

Farah Karimi also writes books, like The Secret of Fire, about her personal history, and Battlefield Afghanistan, about developments in Afghanistan.

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Iran: Nobel Laureate Ebadi Founds Peace Movement


Iran: Nobel Laureate Ebadi Founds Peace Movement

By Breffni O'Rourke

November 23, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Iranian Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi has called for the creation of a broad-based "National Peace Council" to give voice to Iranians who want to halt a perceived drift toward military conflict with the United States.

Ebadi, a Tehran-based human rights activist and lawyer, this week invited all Iranians to participate in the creation of the national body, saying the initiative emerged from a group of activist lawyers called the Center of Human Rights Defenders, which she co-founded.

The council is seen primarily as a discussion forum, but analysts say it has the potential to offer an alternative to the pro-confrontation policies of the current Iranian leadership.
Appeal To Both Sides

Ebadi told Radio Farda's Niusha Boghrati that the council would include "individuals who are trusted by people." "The National Peace Council will discuss ways to decrease political and military tensions between Iran and the United States and Western countries," she said.
Ebadi also called on the Iranian government to suspend those sensitive nuclear activities that are at the core of Western suspicions that Iran aims to develop nuclear weapons.

The initiative "attacks Ahmadinejad's hard line, but at the same time it says that our nuclear energy rights should be recognized. And so, in that way, it is quite an important [initiative]." -- Massoumeh Torfeh, SOAS

At issue is the enrichment of uranium, which Iran has refused to abandon, despite directives to do so from the United Nations Security Council. Ebadi urged both sides to observe the norms of international law in the dispute.

"What we want is that the two sides should respect international law, and we warn them on this," she said. "The United States cannot have the right to deal with Iran outside the framework of international law, and Iran cannot build a wall around itself and say, 'I have nothing to do with international law' and pay no attention to [UN] Security Council resolutions."

Positive First Reactions

Reliable figures on public opinion are notoriously hard to come by in Iran. But Ebadi's peace initiative has struck a positive chord among the Iranian public, judging from Iranians who spoke to Radio Farda's Ruzbeh Bolhari.

"No matter to whom you talk, to the youth, workers, farmers, elder people, families, no one wants a war to begin," says Tehran journalist Siamak Taheri. "The reason is quite clear: we experienced about eight years of war, in the meeting [horrible] figures were given about the destruction of the war with Iraq. With regard to the peace-seeking nature of the Iranian people, it seems that its chance for success is very high and also [many] political activists have welcomed it."

Analyst Massoumeh Torfeh, of the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, says it is too early to say what impact the National Peace Council might have on Iran's political scene. But she says that the number of prominent Iranians backing the Peace Council idea -- from the political, religious, intellectual, artistic, and student worlds -- could make it difficult for the authorities to move against them.

She also says that Ebadi has found the correct tone for the new body, by standing up for Iran's right to develop nuclear energy but pointing out that there are other rights. "At the same time, we have another right, which is far more important, which is our right to security," Torfeh says. "So the initiative is two-pronged. It attacks [President Mahmud] Ahmadinejad's hard line, but at the same time it says that our nuclear energy rights should be recognized. And so, in that way, it is quite an important [initiative]."

'State Of Denial'

The United States has consistently said it wants a diplomatic solution to the nuclear crisis, but has refused to rule out the use of force against Iran if there is no other way to prevent it acquiring techniques essential for the building of nuclear weapons.

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Ahmadinejad's government have just as consistently denied their country has any intention of developing nuclear weapons.

But Ahmadinejad has never been able to plausibly explain why Iran insists on enriching its own uranium, when suitable low-enriched fuel for civilian nuclear power plants is readily available on the world market.

Ahmadinejad vowed earlier this week that Iran "won't give the smallest concession" in its disputes with foreign powers. If Iran persists in expanding its enrichment "cascades," it would eventually be able to produce highly enriched, weapons-grade uranium, which has no place in a civil nuclear program.

Mick Gapes, chairman of the British Parliament's select committee on foreign affairs, says the Iranian leadership is in a "state of denial" about their obligations to meet the needs of Security Council resolutions 1737 and 1747, which imposed UN sanctions on Iran for its failure to stop enriching uranium.

Gapes, who has just visited Iran with a party of parliamentarians, told Radio Farda's Sharan Tabari Iran must realize that the international community is not trying to interfere with its right to develop a peaceful nuclear program.

"We have made clear to them many times that we are not trying to stop them having civil nuclear power," Gapes says. "What we were saying, what the British government was saying, what the international community was saying, was that Iran has obligations under the non-proliferation treaty to not develop nuclear weapons, and they need to reassure, and to build confidence and trust in the world that this is the case."


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Tuesday, November 20, 2007


Perkovich: Pressures and Benefits Must Be Made Clearer to Iran

Perkovich: Pressures and Benefits Must Be Made Clearer to Iran

Council on Foreign Relations Interview, November 16, 2007

Interviewee: George Perkovich, Vice President for Studies, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

Interviewer: Bernard Gwertzman, Consulting Editor

George Perkovich, a leading expert on Iranian nuclear issues, says the latest IAEA report on Iran written by Director General Mohamed ElBaradei only underscores the importance of increasing efforts to resolve the nuclear enrichment dispute diplomatically. He favors increasing the pressure from the UN Security Council and others, and suggests the possible benefits to Iran if they engage in negotiations should be better defined. “It’s the only strategy to be pursued,” he says. “The Iranians haven’t felt the need to negotiate yet because they haven’t felt enough pressure. And they also haven’t seen any kind of potential reward, so they are holding back. I think that the challenge all along has been to bring both increased pressure on Iran and to be much clearer on what the potential benefits to Iran would be.”

Mohamed ElBaradei, the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has delivered his report on Iran’s compliance or non-compliance with the demands or requests on its nuclear enrichment program (PDF). It seems to me to be the classic “Is the glass half-full or half-empty?” report, depending on your point of view. How did you find the report?

Well, as I was getting ready for the interview, I couldn’t get off the “half- full, half-empty” metaphor myself, and I think it is the way it reads. It has a kind of very neutral language, “the Iranians did some things but they haven’t done other things.” I think the report in the end really depends on the eye of the beholder.

So for the readers who aren’t going to read the whole report, can you sum up first what Mr. ElBaradei was pleased with, what were the good things that Iran did?

You have to understand that there was an agreement that Iran made with the IAEA in August, and the Iranians said: “Okay, look, we’ve had these outstanding questions for a number of years, and now we are going to answer your questions, and we’re going to do it over a schedule over the next few months.” So this was the first installment of the reporting on the first half of the answers. Where it was positive was on the issue of the centrifuges for enriching uranium which Iran had bought from Pakistan on the black market, after having denied years ago that it had done any such thing. The Iranians provided additional information, letters, and files that allowed the IAEA to establish a consistent chronology of how those transactions took place. So that the IAEA said: “Yes, this story basically adds up, it happened when Iran said it happened.”

The more sensitive issue is with a second generation of centrifuges known as P-2’s. What happened is that the P-1, the first generation that Iran bought from Pakistan’s A.Q. Khan network [named after the founder of Pakistan’s nuclear program who later launched a worldwide black market in nuclear materials and expertise], didn’t work well. The Iranians couldn’t get them to work. So if you read between the lines, the Iranians went back to the Pakistanis and said: “Hey, you sold us junk,” and the Pakistanis said: “We’ll give you or sell you designs for the next generation.” The big mystery was that the IAEA found out several years ago that Iran had received these designs but didn’t do anything with them for six years. That was something people didn’t believe. Iran said: “They basically sat in a drawer for six years, and we didn’t do anything with them.” And, it has long been a suspicion that in fact Iran did do something with those blueprints, probably in secret military facilities, which would have been a major violation of the agreement with the IAEA.

What the report explains, not completely, is the process by which Iran did get the blueprints, and it explains that Iran didn’t do anything with them because it had trouble with the P-1’s and it couldn’t manufacture components to get the P-1’s to work, so it didn’t think it would make any sense to manufacture more advanced P-2 centrifuges. So the plans basically sat there until, I think, 2002 and then Iran went to a private machine shop in Iran and got a head start on working on this design, and then Iran totally stopped in 2003. The Iranians in effect said: “We got caught in the overall program and the spotlight shone, we told the guy to stop but he kept on working on it on his own.” Now, the IAEA report says that that theory is consistent and checks out.

Anything missing from the history?

What we can absolutely say is missing is that Iran has not allowed the IAEA to interview the two people they really want to interview who are the people who direct the P-2 work. Iran has not made them available for interviews and interviews are very important because what the IAEA is reporting on is Iran’s past activities and whether they have been explained and put to rest.

What about the Security Council resolutions?

The whole bigger context surrounds the Security Council resolutions that are legally binding and require Iran to suspend its uranium enrichment and plutonium related activities. Here there is no question of half-empty, half-full. Iran has “broken the glass; the glass isn’t even in the room.” They have said, emphatically, that they are not going to suspend and they continue to do the enrichment work. ElBaradei is trying not to focus on that and just focus on the answers to the past questions.

In other words, his report is a kind of a historical document and not really a germane political document, because it doesn’t grapple with the question of ‘Why doesn’t Iran stop its nuclear enrichment program?’

Right. And this is part of the context of what the situation has become for reasons that one can understand. In other words, the IAEA’s formal job is just to deal with questions of the past because it’s sole job is just to monitor the people, reporting that they’re doing as they say, and managing nuclear material. What happened was when Iran got caught in violations, negotiations started because Iran wasn’t cooperating and so on. The IAEA emphatically didn’t want the issue to go to the Security Council, so a deal was made: “You negotiate with the EU, work through the IAEA, to sort this out.” So, uncovering the past got mixed with the diplomacy of dealing with the future. And that has continued. You have these two actors. On the one hand, you have the Security Council passing binding resolutions, which it should do since that’s its job, and you have the IAEA that’s an investigatory agency but has already put itself in the middle as a big negotiator as well, and the Iranians keep saying: “We’ll only deal with the IAEA, we won’t deal with the Security Council.”

Clearly, ElBaradei is afraid that the Security Council actions will escalate into military actions.

Yes, he has said, and his actions demonstrate, that he thinks the biggest problem that he must deal with, is his concern that the United States might go to war with Iran. Everything he says and does is through that prism of waiting on a U.S. military action on Iran, which he thinks, after Iraq, is the predilection of the Bush administration. There are many of us, however, who think that whatever possibility there was of that before, the administration now wants a diplomatic solution and doesn’t want to go to war. So the big problem is to get Iran to actually negotiate and to take this seriously.

Iran hasn’t been negotiating. When Ali Larijani was dismissed as a negotiator not long ago, there was a lot of press speculation that this was a step back from negotiations. But what was missed was that he wasn’t able to negotiate for some time. If you talk to [the EU’s top foreign policy official] Javier Solana’s people and others who were in the room ostensibly negotiating, he didn’t do any negotiating, he just looked over his shoulder at the minders behind him and there was no negotiation. So Iran has not negotiated in years actually.

You have been immersed in this subject for a long time now. You’ve written about it, and you’ve been critical of Iran’s continuing to enrich, without taking heed of the Security Council resolutions. Do you think the diplomatic strategy is a sound one, or should there be any alterations in it, or are we on a kind of slippery slope here?

I really believe that there is no alternative to a diplomatic strategy, and no one can say if it would be successful. But it’s the only strategy to be pursued. The Iranians haven’t felt the need to negotiate yet because they haven’t felt enough pressure. And they also haven’t seen any kind of potential reward, so they are holding back. I think that the challenge all along has been to bring both increased pressure on Iran and to be much clearer on what the potential benefits to Iran would be.

What do you expect from the Council?

Increasing the pressure would ideally follow from the next round of Security Council resolutions because they bind everybody and are most powerful politically with Iranians who don’t like being looked down upon by the entire Security Council. If that’s not possible, as China is now seen as the major blocker there, then at least it is important to get the European Union as a whole to agree on more sanctions. That would have an effect on the Iranian community in the long term, and would help generate more of a debate in Iran over whether they should continue to not negotiate or to actually get into a negotiation.

I read press statements and commentaries out of Iran and there seems to be a school of thought critical of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, that says Iran is in big trouble and is facing a big security threat and it needs to do something to improve its standing in the world. Others like Ahmadinejad say, “Well, the IAEA report shows that we are completely right and we should just keep on doing what we are doing.” How do you think it’s going to play out?

I think what’s important is how the international community responds and interprets the report. Even on Ahmadinejad’s claims of being vindicated it’s not true, and that should be said. ElBaradei should be clearer because people really, politically, follow his view around the world. But there is a debate in Iran. Just the other day you had the very conservative but highly regarded mayor of Tehran, Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, pound Ahmadinejad on the nuclear issue. He was saying: “Of course we should hold the line, of course we should continue enrichment, but we could do this in a way that is much less offensive and would bring much less pain to Iran.” The more pressure that comes on diplomatically, the more people in Iran will step up. Now no one will come out and say, “we should stop enriching forever.” They’re never going to agree to that, but you could at least get into negotiation, and this point seems to be not well made. There hasn’t been a real negotiation for a couple of years now.

Now, the Western powers want a suspension before negotiating with Iran. Should they drop that and just negotiate without a suspension first?

I think that it’s proper to continue to insist on the temporary suspension. But in any case, there are already de facto negotiations that are going on through the EU, through Solana’s office, with other powers. Russian President Vladimir Putin has gone to negotiate with both Ahmadinejad and Ayatollah Ali Khamenei so there are plenty of opportunities to negotiate if Iran is actually interested. So far, obviously they have been playing it tough, and you’d have to say that in the short term the Iranians feel like they’re playing it well.

Do you think Iran really wants the potential for nuclear weapons?

I think they want the capability to produce fuel for nuclear weapons. I am still not convinced that they have made a decision or have decided that they must make nuclear weapons. I don’t think that’s a foregone conclusion, but I think that they will not give up, in any formal way, their maneuver room over the long term.

Do you think that the United States has overreacted?

No, I don’t think the United States overreacted. I think the United States has practiced very, very ineffective diplomacy with Iran going back to the Clinton administration, and especially in the Bush administration up until about 2005 when it started to improve. Now the big problem is that the administration is trying to clarify that we actually don’t want to go to war, and that we are not making plans, but people do not believe the administration. I know Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Adm. Michael G. Mullen did an interview on that that was about as clear as you can get. He gave this interview a couple of weeks ago that was really stark, talking about there being no military plans and no interest. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has made that clear, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was unequivocal. They are really trying to clarify this because it’s really important to get ElBaradei to shift. We have to convince him that we don’t want to go to war and for him to be more constructive, and then to get many of the Europeans and others who don’t trust the United States to work more closely. We have to convince them that this is not a prelude to war, and the administration officials are trying to do that. I believe them. They have a problem that the Vice President every once in a while says something to contradict that.

Do you think Iran would have a better opportunity with a new President in 2009?

They may but I think that’s a really big mistake for a variety of reasons. I try to tell Iranian counterparts when I meet them: “If you look at history for the last 50 years from the Kennedy administration on, new administrations make a big foreign policy blunder early on that usually involves the use of force: Kennedy with the Bay of Pigs, Clinton with Haiti and Somalia, Bush with Iraq.” I say: “You don’t want to be the first big mistake of the next administration. You’re better off dealing with an administration that has already made it’s catastrophic mistake and is trying to do things differently and basically deliver the Republican party.” Whether Iranians think that they are going to have a better opportunity in the future or not, I think it’s a mistake for them to act on that belief.

This interview is also available on the Council on Foreign Relations Website:

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# posted by @ 5:35 PM  0 comments


Iran arrests women's activist: report

TEHRAN (AFP) — Iran has arrested a journalist and women's rights activist for writing articles on "discriminatory laws" for women in the Islamic republic, a press report said on Tuesday.

"Maryam Hosseinkhah, journalist and women's activist was arrested on Sunday," the reformist Sarmayeh newspaper said.

"She was issued with a one-billion-rial (107,000 dollar) bail, which she could not afford and so was taken to prison," her lawyer, the Nobel peace prize winner Shirin Ebadi, was quoted as saying.

Iran has stepped up arrests of rights advocates and unionists in the past year, detaining prominent figures including labour leader Mansour Osanloo and prisons' activist Emadeddin Baghi.

"The revolutionary court told Hosseinkhah she was accused of propaganda against the system and spreading lies by publishing false news on Zanestan and Change-For-Equality websites," the report said.

Hosseinkhah, who also works for the reformist daily Etemad, was a regular contributor to the feminist website Zanestan and Change-For-Equality, an initiative targeting Iran's "discriminatory" laws against women.

Several women have been jailed for their involvement in the campaign which started a petition dubbed "One Million Signatures," to change laws by collecting signatures online and in person.
Hosseinkhah had also taken part in a June 2006 protest in a Tehran square against Iranian laws in marriage, child custody and divorce for women.

Seventy people were arrested in the protest, which was broken up by the police, who were accused of beating up women, and several have been handed jail terms.

Young women's rights activist Delaram Ali was sentenced to 30 months in jail for taking part in the demonstration but the judiciary suspended the sentence at the last minute.

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# posted by @ 8:20 AM  0 comments


Iran nuclear work 'not worth war'

Nobel laureate Shirin Ebadi has called on Iran to suspend its controversial nuclear work to avert what she says is a mounting threat of war with the US.

"Using nuclear energy is every nation's right, but we have obvious other rights including security, peace and welfare," she told a press conference.

Iranian lawyer and human rights activist Ms Ebadi won the Nobel peace prize in 2003.
Criticism of Iran's nuclear policy is rare in the Islamic Republic.

Correspondents say Ms Ebadi's comments represent an unusually explicit condemnation of the government's entrenched policy at a time of mounting tension with western powers.

"We can hear the evil sounds of war drums, however far away. We don't like it but there is probability of war," she said.

"In the past 30 years there has been a revolution and eight years of war. People are tired and want peace and quiet to lead their lives."

Military threat

Iran has rejected repeated international demands to stop enriching uranium, which its foes say is a means towards obtaining a nuclear weapons capability.

Neither the United States nor Israel have ruled out the use of military action to prevent the possibility of a nuclear-armed Iran.

Tehran insists its nuclear programme is for peaceful, energy-producing purposes alone.
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has called Iranian critics of uranium enrichment "traitors".
The UN Security Council has imposed two sets of sanctions on Iran because of its nuclear activities.

"Iran should respect UN Security Council resolutions and it means suspending uranium enrichment and resolving the dispute through talks," Ms Ebadi said.

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# posted by @ 4:37 AM  1 comments

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