Sunday, January 20, 2008


Iran: Investigate Detention Deaths

Two Alleged Prison Suicides Raise Suspicion

(Washington, DC, January 18, 2008)

" Iranian authorities should investigate the sudden deaths of two people while in custody in northwestern Iran, Human Rights Watch said today.

Ebrahim Lotfallahi, 27, died in the detention center in Sanandaj sometime between January 9 and January 15.

Zahra Bani-Ameri, a 27-year-old female physician, died in October while in custody in the town of Hamedan. In both cases, officials claimed the cause of death was suicide.

"The sudden death in detention of two apparently healthy young people is extremely alarming," said Joe Stork, Middle East deputy director at Human Rights Watch.

"The government only heightens our concern by quickly dismissing them as suicides."

Security forces arrested Lotfallahi on January 6, 2008 as he was leaving the Sanandaj campus of Payam Noor University. Lotfallahi?s family does not know what charges, if any, the authorities had brought against him. Three days after his arrest, Lotfallahi?s family visited him in the Sanandaj detention center. His brother told Human Rights Watch that Lotfallahi was in good spirits and seemed fine at the time of the visit.

On January 15, officials from the detention center contacted Lotfallahi?s parents and informed them that they had buried their son in a local cemetery. The officials claimed that Lotfallahi had committed suicide in his cell.

The family told Human Rights Watch that they plan to ask the authorities to exhume the body for a forensic determination of the cause of death.

The death in custody of Bani-Ameri also occurred under suspicious circumstances. On October 12, 2007, police and security forces arrested Bani-Ameri and her fiance in a public park in the city of Hamedan on charges of having an ?illegal relationship.? According to Iran?s Islamic Penal Code, ?immoral? relationships between men and women who are not married may be subject to criminal punishment.

On the following day, prison officials informed Bani-Ameri?s family that she had committed suicide in her cell. In statements at the time to the Iranian press, Bani-Ameri?s brother claimed that she had seemed fine during telephone conversations he had with her, including a call 30 minutes before the time of her reported death.

Iranian Nobel laureate Shirin Ebadi is representing the Bani-Ameri family in their lawsuit against the officials responsible for her arrest and detention.

?These two young lives were extinguished in circumstances that make the official explanation implausible and cry out for accountability,? said Stork. ?The Iranian authorities must take credible steps to determine what actually happened and hold accountable any officials responsible for these two deaths.?

United Nations Principles on the Effective Prevention and Investigation of Extra-Legal, Arbitrary and Summary Executions provide that there shall be ?thorough, prompt and impartial investigation? of all suspected cases of unlawful killing, including where complaints by relatives suggest unnatural death. The principles state that if the ?body has been buried and it later appears that an investigation is required, the body shall be promptly and competently exhumed for an autopsy [which] shall be available to those conducting the autopsy for a sufficient amount of time to enable a thorough investigation to be carried out. ? In order to ensure objective results, those conducting the autopsy must be able to function impartially and independently of any potentially implicated persons or organizations or entities.? The principles also state that families of the deceased and their legal representatives shall have access to all information relevant to the investigation, and have the right to insist that a medical representative be present at the autopsy.

Previously, Human Rights Watch has documented and raised concern about the abuse and torture of detainees in Iran. Two reports, ?You Can Detain Anyone for Anything? and ?Like the Dead in Their Coffins? documented the mistreatment of dissidents and perceived critics of the government in detention centers. In August 2006, Human Rights Watch expressed alarm over reports of past torture and suspicious death in custody of student activist Akbar Mohammadi. In December 2006, Human Rights Watch called on Iran?s Judiciary to investigate the arbitrary detention and alleged torture of bloggers arrested in 2004.

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Saturday, January 19, 2008


URI and the upcoming election in Iran

United Republicans of Iran
For a Democratic and Secular Republic

January 19, 2008

The greatest affront to our nation is disenfranchising the opposition to participate in elections

Today as we are approaching the eight parliamentary elections in Iran, a great many of our devoted compatriots who are committed to democratic values, and believe in separation of State and Religion, are still deprived from being nominated. The secularists, the ethnic minorities, and women are subject to the outermost discrimination and constraints. The laws of Islamic Republic do not recognize the right of free engagement in the elections for the opposition of the Islamic state, thus disenfranchising a large population of Iran’s citizens from their basic right. The leaders and authorities of the regime have gradually and practically increased such constraints so that even political groups within the system are no longer able to nominate their members in the elections.

Activists of social movements, women, workers, and students are either being constantly persecuted or serving time in jails. Censorship prevails even though there are only a handful of newspapers that are permitted to continue publication. Journalists, writers and intellectuals are being openly threatened and suppressed. Ayatollah Khamenei as the supreme leader interferes more and more in the daily affairs of the state. He has personally ordered the exclusion of the opposition from the election. Khamenei has labeled those who criticize him as foreign agents thus obstructing their nomination in the election process. He has rejected the opposition’s request for international monitoring of the election on the basis that such requests purport an insult to the Iranian nation. Repeating Ayatollah’s remarks by Mr. Moussavi Lari, the chief of reformists’ campaign is regrettable. It demonstrates a lack of decisiveness in the reformist camp that would only lead to their own elimination from the election process on bogus premises. The greatest insult to the Iranian nation is banning the opposition of the government to run in the election and excluding the people from free participation. With the current format of the election process people can only choose among filtered candidates. The impact of the previous elections has been noticeable on the country and on the balance among the political forces within the state. At least until now, despite the ongoing antagonism, the competition between reformists and hardliners within the regime has been recognized. However, Ayatollah Khamenei is trying to limit the competitions between his own supporters and turn it into an election of candidates who are endorsed by the Guardian Council. Members of the Guardian Council are chosen by the Ayatollah himself. Thus defending the vetting process of the candidates by this body purports defending the elimination of the opposition, either insiders or outsiders, from the political scene in Iran. This attitude shows once again that without structural changes in the way the authoritative forces operate, elections can always be manipulated by the supreme leader and his appointees.

Our organization, the United Republicans of Iran, demands that Islamic Republic respect people’s vote and formation of a government based on nation’s free will. The necessary elements of a free election include respecting voter’s basic rights and freedom, involvement of political parties in the elections and recognizing freedom of expression for journalists and newspapers.

We believe that the best mechanism for a free election is to allow political parties to oversee the election process, to discard the vetting process by the Guardian Council, and to exercise transparency. At the same time international monitoring of the election is an essential measure that can guarantee realization of people’s aspiration. It can provide a condition for a transparent and fair election process that would allow reflection of people’s true choices. Ayatollah’s opposition to international monitoring of the election only reduces the credibility and significance of the election. It only downplays the role of elections in policy making.

The United Republicans of Iran strongly petitions administration of a free election, recognition of political parties by the government, providing for all inclusive conditions, and disposition of all discriminatory measures that deny the rights of secularists to partake in the election and influence policy making.

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Friday, January 18, 2008


'Torture and Democracy' by Darius Rejali,0,3773768,print.story


'Torture and Democracy' by Darius Rejali

A history of torture
By Laurel Maury
Special to The Times
January 18, 2008

Torturers don't usually leave a paper trail, but when they do, they prefer it locked behind official secrecy acts. The Bush administration's infamous 2002 memo on acceptable interrogation techniques may yet stay buried for decades, and liberal intellectual Noam Chomsky's assertion that all torture in the late 20th century stems from the CIA cannot be examined without documents -- or tapes. Torture is on a lot of people's minds, but it's difficult to study.

Reed College professor Darius Rejali's approach is to track the different behaviors, trends and traditions in torture throughout history to see who influenced whom and what they did. In his book, "Torture and Democracy," Rejali argues that torture is a craft, not a science, whose practitioners "pick their techniques by imitating others, opportunistically adapting familiar procedures from other contexts, and following gossip and rumor."

Rejali, a leading expert on government interrogation techniques, reaches key conclusions. First, monitoring by human rights groups doesn't stop torture; it simply causes torturers to resort to techniques that don't scar, including methods that some Americans call "torture lite." After the Abu Ghraib scandal broke, a U.S. Special Forces unit placed a sign in a detention center that read, "No blood, no foul," he writes. In fact, techniques that don't leave marks can cause more psychological damage; they traumatize yet leave no physical evidence to corroborate a victim's story.

Second, most contemporary torture traditions were passed on like crafts from teacher to apprentice, with transmission often flowing both ways between colonial powers and occupied peoples.

Third, Rejali writes, a person being tortured is likely to say whatever he thinks his captors want to hear, making it one of the poorest methods for gathering reliable information. The most useful intelligence is gathered through questioning the public. For instance, he notes that suspects in the recent bombings in Britain were found because family and neighbors contacted police.

Rejali writes that torture methods believed to have been used in Iraq are rooted in Western police practices of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, in British military punishments and in tortures practiced on slaves. When soldiers at Abu Ghraib used pepper and salt solutions on prisoners' wounds, they were taking part in a tradition with roots in slave markets. Spice and salt solutions leave no marks -- a scarred prisoner has evidence against his captors, and a scarred slave is less valuable.

Sleep deprivation, used at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay, was how Scottish Protestants secured confessions from witches. (Sleep deprivation causes hallucinations; curiously, it wasn't used during the Spanish Inquisition; inquisitors found that the information produced was too unreliable.) The origin of water-boarding is harder to track because media descriptions of the practice don't make sense, Rejali says. But the famous picture from Abu Ghraib of a hooded man standing on a box resembles a technique used in modern-day Brazil, where it was called the "Vietnam."

Anthropology and folklore have been used for decades to reconstruct thought patterns behind many traditions as mundane as canning food and woodworking. Applying these methods to an examination of torture is a masterful idea. But after a few fairly coherent chapters, "Torture and Democracy" becomes a mess. The archival research appears firm, but Rejali uses little in the way of anthropological methods or folklore theory to examine the practices. There are no maps, and the few graphs included are hard to understand. (I found myself praying for battleship graphs -- instrumental in decoding trends in New England gravestones.) If you want knives to dissect cultural phenomena, anthropology has a kitchen-full: statistical analysis, reams of theory and some fairly sensible thoughts about why people lie. Rejali uses almost none of this.

"Torture and Democracy" does lay the groundwork. However, the frightening question is: Who will read it? Torturers and their keepers may find it useful, not as an academic study but as a field manual.

Laurel Maury is a New York- based writer and critic.

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Final Report of the visit to Iran by European Parliament delegation


The Chair

Chairman of the Committee on Foreign Affairs
European Parliament
Rue Wiertz
B-1047 Brussels

Chair of the Committee on Development
European Parliament
Rue Wiertz
B-1047 Brussels

Subject: 2nd EP/Iran Interparliamentary meeting in Tehran on 7-9 December 2007

Dear Chairmen,

Please find enclosed the report on the 2nd Interparliamentary meeting between the
European Parliament and the Majlis of the Islamic Republic of Iran, which took place in
Tehran on 7-9 December 2007.

I shall be happy to provide you with any further information you may require.

Yours sincerely,
Angelika BEER


2nd Interparliamentary meeting
between the European Parliament and the Majlis of the Islamic Republic of Iran
7-9 December 2007
* * *

Mission by the Delegation for relations with Iran to Tehran, 7-9 December 2007

In Tehran, the Delegation met its main objectives, i.e. to hold a dialogue with Members of the Majlis and of the Government, and to meet also with representatives of civil society, on topical issues in EU/Iran relations as well as on developments in Iranian society (in particular with regard to respect for democracy and human rights). The establishment of a regular dialogue, after the 1st Interparliamentary meeting held in October 2006 in Brussels, can be regarded as a considerable success, since it institutes an important channel of communication between the EU and Iran.
The complete list of our meetings is included in the attached programme. It should be noted that the dialogue with NGOs and “civil society”, as well as the briefings by EU mbassadors, were organised by the Embassy of Portugal (representing the Council residency in Iran) in co-operation with the European Parliament, while the rest of the rogramme was organised by the Majlis Secretariat and by the Ministry of Foreign ffairs of Iran.
On the programme:
It should be stressed that the Delegation had requested a very wide range of meetings at
official level, including with personalities such as the Head of the Expediency Council and of the Assembly of Experts, Ayatollah Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the Secretary and the former Secretary of the Iranian Supreme Security Council (Said Jalili and Ali Larijani) and the Head of the Iranian Judiciary, Ayatollah Seyyed Shahroudi. The Delegation had also requested to visit detainees Mr Mansur Ossanlou and Mr Emadeddin Baghi in prison: this was, ultimately, not possible. On strong request of the delegation, the Portuguese Presidency also tried to arrange a meeting with Peace Nobel Price Winner Shirin Ebadi, but unfortunately failed due to conflicting time schedules.
The Delegation was received at a very high level, including Speaker of the Majlis Dr. Haddad Adel and Foreign Affairs Minister, Dr. Manoucheer Mottaki. These two meetings, in particular, continued for about twice the originally allotted time, and allowed for a very comprehensive dialogue and exchange of views with the Delegation.
The following other important elements should be mentioned:
-upon receiving from the Majlis the final version of the programme, the Delegation realized, on 7 December, that the requested meeting with students had been organized in the Institute for Political and International Studies (IPIS) of the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. EU institutions and think-tanks, however, have suspended cooperation with IPIS since it hosted the “Holocaust Conference” in December 2006, where positions denying the shoa were prominently disseminated. The Iranian authorities were therefore asked by the Delegation to move the scheduled meeting to some other premises; the dialogue with students eventually couldn’t take place, allegedly because of organizational problems.
- the Chair of the EP Delegation and the MEP representing the Subcommittee for Human
Rights were approached by the families of students arrested by Iranian police (apparently,
in order to avoid student demonstrations on the occasion of the “Iranian Students’ day”, on 7 December). A list of arrested students, which were still held “incommunicado” in undisclosed detention centers, was transmitted to the MEPs. The EP Delegation contacted Amnesty International to initiate an urgent action on the cases. It also forwarded the list, with a request for speedy liberation of the students, to the Chair of the Iranian Majlis Delegation, Dr. Mahmoud Mohammadi, who undertook to ask the competent Iranian authorities for information on these cases. According to press reports members of the Iranian parliament's National Security and Foreign Policy Committee and deputy intelligence ministers met in parliament on December 12 to examine the cases of people arrested at Tehran University on December 4.
The Portuguese Presidency was also asked to exert, jointly with other EU Member States’
Embassies, best efforts in view of the liberation of the arrested persons, via diplomatic
- the Delegation took part in a meeting with former Members of the MKO (Mujahiddin e-
Khalq Organisation). On this occasion, the Chair of the Delegation underlined that the
European Union considered the MKO (under its various forms) as a terrorist organization, and stressed that it was still included in the official EU terrorist list. She underlined that the authoritarian and sect type nature of the organisation in itself already rules out official contacts between the Iran delegation and the MKO. Any visits of its members to the European Parliament in the past have been solely the initiative of individual members of parliament.
Friday, 7 December, 14.00-19.30
These meetings took place in the UN headquarters in Tehran.
Present: representatives from UNDP, UNHCR, UNICEF, WFP, UNODC, IOM, UNSPA, UNOCHA, ISDR.
The UN agencies represented gave an overview of UN activities in Iran and of internal
developments in this country. The Delegation thanked, in particular, Mr. Knut Ostby, UN
Resident Coordinator, for the hospitality and the availability of UN agencies active in Iran.
The Delegation then met representatives of Iranian "civil society"; these included, in particular
- The wives of arrested trade unionists Messrs. Ossanlou, Salehi, Madadi and other Iranian trade unionists. An urgent plea was made to the Delegation for assistance in obtaining the immediate release of the arrested trade unionists, unjustly detained, who had suffered physical harm and were in need of medical treatment. Speedy and open trials should therefore be held in court as soon as possible Contacts with the detainees were very difficult, since the journey to the prison could take, in some cases, up to one day, and meetings were limited to 20 minutes.
Trade union activity in Iran, although legally authorized, was in some sort of "legal limbo": despite the agreement reached in 2004 between the ILO and the Iranian Government on trade union activities, trade unionists could be accused of ill-defined crimes such as "negative propaganda" and arrested.
The Delegation underlined that it had requested to meet Mr Ossanlou in prison (the request had been however denied) and undertook to insist with competent Iranian authorities on the release of the detainees. Ebrahim Madadi, the Vice President of the Syndicate of Workers of Tehran and Suburbs Bus Company, has been released on 17 December 2007.
- Women's' rights activists, and in particular representatives of the campaign for "one million signatures". Discussion focused on the following subjects:
* The Family protection bill under discussion in the Majlis. This proposal received a lot of criticism (in particular its art. 23); the bill, if adopted, would "take the situation of women in Iran back 40 years" with regard to polygamy, temporary marriage (mutah), unilateral right for men to arbitrary divorce, custody rights.
* The Children and juvenile courts bill which had been tabled 4 years ago and has to the
grievance of the rights' activists still not been adopted. This bill would minimize the
possibility for death sentences to be meted out to minors: despite Iran being part to the
Convention on the rights of the child, death sentences for "child offenders" are in fact still
executed in Iran, when the sentenced person had reached a minimum of 18 years of age.
*The problem of many children in Iran (and especially the offspring of Afghan refugees and Iranian women) who cannot obtain birth certificates, and have therefore no "legal existence".
*The activists' claim that the "women's movement" was a social, not a political movement; that it was not limited to the rich and instructed, but enjoyed wider social consensus.
The Delegation undertook to sensitize its counterparts in the Majlis on the issues raised during the discussion
- Members of ethnic minorities, and in particular of Kurd and Ahwaz minorities. For reasons of time constraint, the delegation could unfortunately not meet with representatives from the Baluch community.
The situation of arrested Kurdish journalist Adnan Hassanpour was particularly underlined. Mr Hassanpour was sentenced to death on 16 July 2007, convicted of being a "mohareb" (enemy of God) and of espionage. The death sentence had been upheld by the Supreme Court on 22 October 2007. A request for a new trial had been introduced to the Ministry of Justice. The death sentence of Mr. Abdolwahed Butimar, also a Kurdish journalist, had been on the contrary quashed on the grounds of procedural irregularities.

The Delegation considered that the trial against Mr. Hassanpour should be revised, and a stay of execution immediately decided by the competent Iranian authorities.
The position of the Kurdish minority (7-10 million persons) is difficult: discrimination in employment is pervasive (local government, judiciary, army are almost entirely off-limits for Kurds), and little investment is made by the Government in this extremely poor region. Kurds are not separatists, but support a federal solution for Iran; there are no relations between the PKK and Kurdish groups in Iran.

With regard to the Ahwaz minority, it was stressed that the use of the Arabic language is the main issue: there are no newspapers in Arabic, although e.g. up to 70% of the population in Khuzestan is of Arabic mother tongue. Demonstrations and arrests had taken place, in particular in April 2005, and legal proceedings against Ahwaz intellectuals are continuing.

Again for reasons of time constraints only staff of the delegation met with representatives of the Azeri minority who are mainly struggling for more cultural freedom. (About a quarter of the Iranian population is believed to be of Azeri origin). While the constitutionally tolerated religious minorities such as Armenians and others (see below) have the right to schooling in their own language, this is forbidden for all ethnic minorities, including Azeris despite their great numbers.

- Members of religious minorities, who are persecuted on the basis of their religious believes, namely Baha'is and recently Sufis. Baha'is considered that "suffering had increased Exponentially" in the last 3-4 years. Economic and social pressures were increasing; these ranged from employment restrictions to difficulties in obtaining visas, to harassment of pupils in schools, to expulsions of students. While about 300,000 Baha'is were registered in Tehran, a very large number was unaccounted for: this community constitutes in fact the largest religious minority in Iran besides the Sunnis.

Iranian Sufis are mostly Shiite Muslims, and count up to 700 years of presence and activity in Iran. Problems started about 5 years ago, with accusations against Sufis of being "deviated Muslims". People had since then been injured in attacks by religious militias (basijis), while many practitioners had been arrested and shrines destroyed. These attacks were inspired by "radical ayatollahs" in Qom, and had increased in particular after the recent international Congress on the poet Rumi: the Government had been strongly criticized by hard-liners for having permitted this event to take place. Recently, many young people have taken a hightened interest in the Sufi current of Islam, which is supposedly perceived as a threat to the theocracy in power.

Saturday, 8 December, 10.00-12.00
The following Members of the Majlis took part in the dialogue: Dr Mahmoud Mohammadi, Chairman, Ms Bayat, Mr Sobhanya, Mr Talainik, Mr Alikhani The Iranian side thanked the EP Delegation for the invitation to Brussels in October 2006, and stressed the importance of the continuing dialogue. It also remarked that a change in the name of the EP Delegation (to: "Delegation for relations with the Islamic Republic of Iran") would be most welcome.

With regard to the nuclear non-proliferation dossier, it considered that "the emphasis should be on international conventions and international treaties", and requested the EP to "resist sanctions" against Iran. While the recent report by US intelligence agencies had given more time for discussions, Iranians didn't trust the US to change their established policy; the report was simply part of a "psychological war" against Iran. The IAEA was the international body which had the necessary expertise on this subject, and contacts should therefore continue in that forum.

Iran was "ready to disarm", and to participate in the destruction of all armaments in the Middle East. Nuclear armaments, as well as all WMDs, were against Islam, and should be forbidden. It was necessary to create "much more trust", and confidence-building was the primary objective.

The US intelligence report had ascertained that no nuclear military activity had been going on in Iran since 2003: this meant that the situation should go back to the one prevailing before the resolutions adopted by the Security Council in 2005-2007. The EU had to act on this basis, and the EP should take the initiative to this effect. More in general, the EU should adopt a political line more independent from the US: there was the possibility for concluding a security treaty between Iran and Europe, and for developing a "comprehensive cooperation".

With regard to human rights, it should be stressed e.g. that there was considerable press freedom in Iran, including the right to criticize the Government. While Human Rights problems did exist in Iran (especially at local level), efforts for reform were ongoing.
International standards and Islamic standards "had to be reconciled". Execution by stoning didn't take place in Iran and if it was proved that any execution of a "child offender" did take place, the Iranian side would follow-up the issue in the National Security Committee of the Majlis.

A "very negative image" had been created with regard to women's right in Iran, but this
image was caused essentially by "lack of dialogue".
The European side agreed on the importance of this opportunity for a direct dialogue, and thanked the Majlis for the invitation.

With regard to the nuclear dossier, it stressed that a new situation had been created by the
NIE report. What elements could an EU/Iran agreement on nuclear/security issues possibly contain? Time was right for "new, positive ideas", and for "negotiations without preconditions". It was essential to resume discussion within IAEA, on the basis of 100% transparency. While the right of Iran to develop nuclear energy could not be put in question, a viable solution could be to conduct "multilateral enrichment in a neutral place". In due time, both TCA negotiations and the Human Rights dialogue should be resumed.

With regard to human rights, the recent execution of a "child offender" was strongly criticized. Did Iran intend to abide to its commitment to a moratorium on execution of "child offenders" as well as on stoning? In its legal procedures, was Iran following "Islamic values" or "cultural values"? What were the possibilities for raising the age of criminal responsibility in Iran to18? Women in Iran were concerned by the new family bill being discussed in the Majlis (in particular with regard to polygamy, temporary marriage, custody of children, divorce provisions) while the bill aimed at instituting juvenile courts and prisons, introduced 4 years ago, was making no progress.

Saturday, 8 December, 15.00-16.00

Dr. Mohammad Bayat, Director for international relations, introduced the discussion. He stressed the fact that, due to its position, Iran played a "buffer role" against drug traffic from Afghanistan to Europe. Narcotics production in Afghanistan had increased by 34% in the last year, and despite protective measures adopted by Iran (such as construction of fences, concrete barriers e.a. on the Afghan-Iranian border) traffic had also sharply increased.

The cost of producing 1 Kilo of heroin could be estimated at 3,000 euros, and the selling price at 100,000 euros. This left a huge profit for the trafficking mafia, while there was "no will and determination by the US and the West to combat drug production in Afghanistan". Afghan soil was extremely productive (up to 42.5 kilos of opium per hectare), but each producing family ended up with, on average, about only 1,965 USD per year. With 1 billion USD, it was possible to buy up the entire Afghan crop, which could then be used (at least in part) for legal purposes. International aid to Iran for fight against drugs was about 6 million USD, while damages to Iran were around 600 million USD. This was, of course, widely insufficient.

The Delegation enquired about two projects supported by the EU in this sector, and stressed the importance of long-term projects, as well as the possibilities offered by partial drug legalization for medical purposes. Perhaps, also, the effects of recent droughts offered some opportunity for offering alternatives to poppy producers.

Saturday, 8 December, 16.30-18.00
The Deputy President for International Affairs of the Iran Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Mines, Mr. Seyed Shamseddin Kharegani, and the Director General for Specialized Agencies and International Organizations, Mr. Abdolreza R. Hanjani, welcomed the Delegation and introduced the discussion.

Among items discussed : Iran's orientation for trade and investment; the impact of sanctions; the privatization programme; the structure and property of the Chamber of Commerce; the Iranian fiscal system; the structure of Iranian employment, in particular with regard to gender issues.

Iranian participants underlined that sanctions "were not very effective" but still contributed to orienting Iranian economic and trade relations away from Europe, towards China and Asia in general.

"600 years old relations were breaking down" and the EU "had not responded to Iranian requests". TCA negotiations were blocked, and a "real dialogue" should take place.

Sunday, 9 December, 11.00-12.45
This meeting, originally scheduled for one hour, lasted in fact for almost two hours. Dr Mottaki gave a comprehensive introduction, and then answered questions by Members.

The Delegation, in particular, stressed the case of the 32 arrested students whose place of
detention was still unknown, and asked for rapid release, as well as for information to be
given to families and lawyers.
On Afghanistan: the Minister considered that, because of the mistakes of the coalition, the situation was deteriorating fast; at least 6 provinces could easily fall in the hands of the Taliban. There was an alarming increase in opium production which was accelerating the political disintegration. Iran had, by now, learnt how to live with "restless neighbours" and was therefore "not really worried". Serious international cooperation should however take place. Mr. Mottaki had spoken to that effect to the UNSG special Envoy.

On the Middle East: the US President had declared in Annapolis that the Israeli-Arab conflict would be solved by end 2008, but the Israeli Government had contradicted him straight away. If the "root causes" were not treated, no solution was possible.

Iran had agreed to hold a fourth round of talks with the US on Iraq, but the US had not
maintained its commitments undertaken in the three previous rounds.
Contrasts between Sunnis and Shias were underlined by people who were neither Sunni nor Shia. Iran, in fact, maintained excellent economic, security and strategic relations with Saudi Arabia and the Gulf countries. Bilateral trade with e.g. the UAE had risen from USD 9 billion in 2005 to USD 14 billion in 2007.

On the nuclear issue: Iran demanded nothing more but would settle for nothing less than its full rights under the NPT. The NIE report had "exposed Bush's lies". IAEA reports confirmed that Iran's current activities were peaceful, that ambiguities only concerned the past and the "work plan would provide the necessary answers. Mr ElBaradei had acknowledged that the most important outstanding questions on centrifuges had been answered. It was time to restore the "centrality of the IAEA" . Iran expected the EU to "draw the right conclusions": building confidence was a reciprocal effort. Iran had always kept its commitments, but most EU countries hadn't. Iran therefore, justifiably, didn't fully trust the EU.

The EU should take advantage of the NIE and work on a framework agreement which would recognize Iran's rights and peaceful intentions; the resolutions adopted by the UN Security Council on the basis of false information should be repealed, and the case moved back to IAEA.. This would be welcomed by Iran, and "positive steps" would follow. Iran was strongly in favour of non-proliferation and nuclear disarmament: it had supported the UN General Assembly resolution on this subject adopted the previous week despite US opposition.

With regard to Human rights, the Minister underlined the extraordinary stability of Iran, despite being "a multi-secular, multi-ethnic, multi-religious" country.. All types of minorities enjoyed protection, even "unrecognized religious sects" derived from Islam (i.e. the Baha'is). While the death penalty was enforced, legal proceedings for its implementation were very long and offered all necessary guarantees. Dialogue on Iran's implementation of Islamic law could be conducted, but with reciprocal respect. The EU/Iran Human Rights dialogue had been very useful, but the fact that the EU had supported Canada's resolution in the UN General Assembly had blocked the bilateral dialogue. The situation of Human Rights in the EU gave also rise to concern, in particular with regard to discrimination of minorities and CIA activities.

The US influence on the EU: the US "pushed the EU forward" in order to pursue its own
policies, but did not hesitate to "circumvent the EU" if it was in its interest. The EU was
therefore paying (e.g. by higher oil prices) for errors committed by the US. The EU was
also losing huge business opportunities because of sanctions adopted following US pressure. The EU should engage in strategic discussions with Iran, in particular on regional issues, such as Afghanistan.


Sunday, 9 December, 16.00-17.00 hours
Present to the meeting, Members of Majlis: Mr Robert Beglarian (Armenian Christian), Mr Younatan Betkolia Googtapeh (Assyrian Christian), Mr Maurice Motamed (Jewish), Kurosh Niknam (Zoroastrian).

A discussion on the situation of religious minorities in Iran took place. Representatives of
recognized religious minorities explained their Constitutional role, as foreseen by the
Constitution of 1906, confirmed in 1979, as well as the system of their designation.
They stressed that, while designated by their respective communities, as Members of the
Majlis they represented the whole Iranian people. They considered that the issue of religious minorities had been adequately solved in Iran, and that recognized minorities enjoyed total freedom of expression and worship, while each religion respected all other religious denominations, as prescribed by Islamic Shariah.

Holocaust denial, as expressed in the recent Conference organized by IPIS in Tehran, did
constitute however a problem, and an insult to citizens of Jewish religion.
It was considered as normal that religious minorities such as the Baha'is had no comparable representation in Parliament, since they were not 'recognized' minorities.

Sunday, 9 December, 18.00-19.30 hours

The Speaker of the Majlis, Dr Haddad Adel, conducted a comprehensive dialogue with
the Delegation, which also went beyond the scheduled time-frame.
The Speaker concentrated on the following issues:
- Europe had not understood "the reality of Islamic democracy". Iran enjoyed a stable democracy, unique in this particular region of the world, despite ethnic and religious diversities. Iran was interested in peace and economic development and in constructive dialogue with all European friends

- the NIE report was a positive development, it proved that Iran had "never lied before the
- the death penalty was prescribed in Iran for certain crimes, but its "philosophy" was
prevention, rather than repression. No "child offender" had been condemned to death: the
EP Delegation, if it maintained the contrary, should "send proof" of such executions
- the MKO was simply pretending it had quit terrorist practices. In Ashraf, it was still "carrying out war games". The EU relied, for information on Iran, on intelligence from the US and from the MKO, but "none of these two sources are reliable"

- while, before the revolution, there were in Iran more than 10,000 political prisoners, there were now in Iran "20 to 25 true political prisoners"

Sunday, 9 December, 19.30-20.30
Also present at the meeting, the following Members of the Majlis: Dr. Mahmoud Mohammadi, Mr Soleiman Jabarzadeh, Ms Elham Aminzadeh Chairman Mr Buroudjerdi stressed the importance of the visit by the Delegation of the European Parliament. Parliamentarians directly represent the people, and are "free to talk". The EP Delegation had lots of questions about Iran, just like Iranian Members had lots of questions about what was happening in Europe.

With regard to the MKO, he underlined that this organization had murdered many
representatives of the people, and had also taken part in the massacre of Kurdish populations.
With regard to the death penalty, he stressed that laws and regulations were similar to those prevailing in the US. Legal proceedings leading to executions were long and complicated, and the law was respected scrupulously.

The Iranian Majlis believed in exchanges of views and dialogue in a calm atmosphere of mutual respect, and considered it was important to continue the regular dialogue with the European Parliament.

The EP Delegation agreed with these last remarks; in particular, the issue of the death penalty for "child offenders" was of great importance, and should be exhaustively discussed.

A link had been established during the Delegation's mission, and contact should be maintained: a Delegation from the Majlis should travel to the EU in 2008, and the EP Delegation would reciprocate the visit, in the framework of a regular, open dialogue.

The European Parliament Delegation thanked the Majlis of the Islamic Republic of Iran for its kind hospitality.

2nd EP/ Iran Interparliamentary meeting between the European Parliament and the Majlis of the Islamic Republic of Iran Tehran, 8-9 December 2007
Joint Statement by the Chairs Members of the European Parliament and of the Majlis of the Islamic Republic of Iran held their 2nd interparliamentary meeting in Tehran on 8-9
December, 2007.

Both Delegations stress the importance of regular dialogue, which affords an opportunity for engaging in constructive discussion of a range of political, social and economic issues.

We agreed to report to our Parliaments the content of our discussions, particularly in the areas where efforts should be deployed by both sides in order to achieve positive results.

We examined a wide array of issues of common interest, including the situation in the Middle East, Iraq and Afghanistan, EU/Iran political and economic relations, human rights issues, combating terrorism and drug trafficking, nuclear non-proliferation and the possibilities for developing satisfactory, peaceful solutions to nuclear issues, under NPT and IAEA regulations.

The two Delegations renew their commitment to improve the effectiveness of their dialogue, which should be put on a permanent, regular basis so as to deliver the full potential of the interparliamentary relationship.

Dr. Mahmud Mohammadi
Angelika Beer
EP Delegation to Iran addresses human rights, nuclear non-proliferation
11/12/2007 The European Parliament's Delegation for relations with Iran travelled to Tehran
from 7 -10 December, for the 2nd EP/Iran interparliamentary meeting. The 11-Member
Delegation was led by its Chair, Angelika Beer (Greens/EFA, DE).
The Delegation met its interlocutors in the Majlis (Parliament) of the Islamic Republic of Iran
(including the Speaker, Haddad Adel), members of government (in particular, Foreign Affairs
Minister Manouchehr Mottaki) and senior officials, as well as officials of the UN agencies active in
Iran. It also held a dialogue with members of Iranian "civil society," including representatives of
trade unions, women's organizations, ethnic and religious minorities, and met Members of the
diplomatic and business communities. It visited associations of victims of MKO terrorism as well
as of former Members of terrorist organizations.
The Delegation would like to thank all those who took part in this dialogue, and in particular those who attended the meetings held "under the UN umbrella" in the UN headquarters in Tehran, and who in many cases ran personal risk in order to meet the Delegation and inform it on the situation in Iran. They asked the Delegation to transmit to the European Parliament and to the wider international Community a series of urgent requests:
-the immediate liberation of arrested trade unionists, including the leaders of the bus drivers'
union, Mansour Osanlou and Ebrahim Madadi as well as Mahmoud Salehi (bakery workers'
union); the Delegation met the wives of these detainees who also stressed the need for them to
receive adequate health care

-a stay of execution for Kurdish journalist Adnan Hassanpour, who was condemned to death, as
well as a revision of his trial

-improvements in the area of women's rights and family law, such as important amendments to
the proposed "family protection bill" and the quick adoption of the "children and juvenile courts
-end to the discrimination and harassment suffered by religious and ethnic minorities, in particular with regard to education and public employment; this request was expressed to the Delegation by representatives of Bahais, Sufi, Kurdish and Ahwaz minorities.

The Chair of the Delegation and the representative of the EP subcommittee on human rights met
the families of students arrested in the first days of December in a nation-wide police action
against student organizations. A list of 28 names of students (whose whereabouts and conditions
were still unknown) was transmitted to the Iranian Majlis, with a call for immediate action in view of their liberation. The Chair of the Iranian Delegation, Dr. Mahmoud Mohammadi, undertook to raise this issue with the competent Iranian authorities. The list was also forwarded to the EU Presidency, with a call for rapid action.

With regard to the interparliamentary meetings, the Delegation warmly welcomed the establishment of a regular dialogue with its counterparts in the Iranian Majlis. A "joint statement" was issued by the two Chairs, which you can consult as an attachment.
In light of the recent report by the US intelligence agencies, nuclear non-proliferation was
discussed extensively. The Delegation stressed the importance of seizing the favourable political
moment in order to make progress towards a satisfactory, peaceful solution to this problem, in
accordance with NPT and IAEA regulations.
Human rights were also discussed, particularly in the light of possible reform of Iran's legislation
on the death penalty, the age of legal responsibility and the execution of "child offenders". Other
items of particular interests were the problem of the impact of economic sanctions and
developments in EU/Iran economic relations, the situation in the Middle East, and the fight
against drug trafficking and consumption as well as international terrorism. The Delegation
underlined the continuing status of the MKO as a terrorist organization, on the basis of the list
adopted by Council.
The Delegation thanked the Iranian Majlis for the warm hospitality enjoyed, and extended an
invitation in order to continue the dialogue at the next meeting, to be held in the EU in the course of 2008.

The other Members of the Delegation were: Vice-Chair Romano LARUSSA (UEN, IT), Vice-Chair Christa PRETS (PES, AT), Vittorio AGNOLETTO (UEL/NGL, IT), Iles BRAGHETTO (EPP-ED, IT), Agustin DÍAZ DE MERA GARCÍA CONSUEGRA (EPP-ED, ES), Baroness Emma
PURVIS (EPP-ED, UK), Vicente Miguel GARCES RAMON (PES, ES), and Libor ROUČEK (PES,

2nd Interparliamentary meeting
7-9 December 2007
Friday 7 December 2007
01.25 Arrival of the delegation from Frankfurt on the flight LH 600 and transfer
Laleh International Hotel
Dr. H. Fatemi Avenue, Tehran, Iran
Tel: (+98-21) 8965021-9, 8966021-9, 8967021-9
Fax: (+98-21) 8965517, 8965599
11.00 Staff meeting - Hotel lobby
12.00 Entire Delegation meets in Hotel Lobby.
12.15 leave by mini-van for
13:00-13.45 Briefing by EU Presidency
Embassy of Portugal, 13 Rouzbeh Alley, Hedayat Ave. Darrous
Tel 0098 21 22582760, 22764060, 22764061l
14.00- 19.00 Meetings at the UN building n.5
Sharzad Boulevard, 30
14.00-14.45 Meeting with UN Agencies
14.45-16.00 Meeting with Trade Unions
16.00-16.45 Meeting with Women's Rights Activists and Juvenile Defenders
16.45-17.30 Meeting with ethnic minorities
17.30-19.00 Meeting with religious minorities

evening free
Saturday, 8 December
8.30 Depart from Hotel forMajlis and
9.00 Meeting with HE Dr. Mahmoud Mohammadi, Chairman of Subcommittee for Foreign relations and other Members of the Majlis
11.30 Depart for Hotel Laleh
(Lunch free)
14.30 Leave Hotel Laleh for
15.00 Meeting with Drugs control organization
President, Dr. Mohammed Bayat
16.00 Leave for Chamber of Commerce of Iran
16.30 Meeting with Mr. Kharegani, Deputy Chairman of the Chamber of
Commerce for International affairs
18.00 Leave for Residence of the Ambassador of Portugal
Qeytarieh, N.12, Alizadeh st. North Bahar, Sadr Highway tel +9821
19.00 De-briefing with EU Ambassadors and
20.00 Dinner hosted by the Embassy of Portugal
Sunday, 09 December
8.30 Leave Hotel for Nejat Organisation
9.00 Meeting with former Members of MKO
10.30 Leave for Ministry of Foreign Affairs, call on HE Dr. Manoochehr
Mottaki, Minister of Foreign Affairs-
12. 30 Depart for Laleh Hotel
Lunch free
14.15 Leave for
14.30 Meeting with victims of terrorist organizations
16.00 Meeting with Iranian MPs representing religious minorities
17.00 Press Conference
18.00 Meeting with HE Dr. Haddad Adel, Speaker of the Majlis of the Islamic
Republic of Iran
19.00 Meeting with the Chairman of the Committee on National Security and
Foreign Affairs of the Majlis, HE Mr. Alaeddin Buroudjerdi and other
20.00 Dinner Reception hosted by HE Mr. Mahmoud Mohammadi, Chairman of
the Foreign relations Subcommittee of the Committee for National
Security and Foreign Affairs
22.00 Leave for Hotel Laleh
Monday, 10 December
01.30 Depart Hotel for Imam Khomeini International Airport
03.05 Return flight to Frankfurt
European Parliament and the Majlis of Iran
2nd Interparliamentary meeting
7-9 December 2007
Members (10 + 1) Group Country Committees
Angelika BEER, Chair Greens Germany Committee on Foreign Affairs
Romano LARUSSA,1st Vice-Chair UEN Italy Committee on Industry, Research and
Christa PRETS, 2nd Vice-Chair PES Austria Committee on Culture and Education ;
Committee on Women's Rights and Gender
Iles BRAGHETTO EPP-ED Italy Committee on Employment and Social
Affairs , Committee on Fisheries
EPP-ED Spain Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and
Home Affairs
EPP-ED United
Committee on Economic and Monetary
Affairs , Vice Chair
Vicente Miguel GARCES
PES Spain Committee on the Internal Market and
Consumer Protection
Libor ROUČEK PES Czech
Committee on Foreign Affairs, Vice Chair
ALDE United
Committee on Foreign Affairs
Tobias PFLÜGER GUE Germany Committee on Foreign Affairs
Subcommittee on Human rights:
Vittorio AGNOLETTO GUE Italy Subcommittee on Human Rights
EPP-ED Group of the European People's Party (Christian Democrats) and European Democrats
PES Socialists Group in the European Parliament
ALDE Group of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats of Europe
GUE/NGL Confederal Group of the European United Left/Nordic Green Left
UEN Union for Europe of the Nations Group
GREENS Group of the Greens/European Free Alliance
European Parliament and the Majlis of Iran
2nd Interparliamentary meeting
7-9 December 2007
Secretariat (3)
Mr Jean Louis BERTON
European Commission (1)
Political Groups Advisors (3)
Ms Sabina MEYER Greens
Ms Patricia QUIGLEY (EN)
Ms Karen TWIDLE (EN)
Mr Francesco PICCARDI (IT)

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Tuesday, January 15, 2008


Iran's Nobel Peace laureate condemns election process

Published: January 14, 2008

MADRID (AFP) Iranian Nobel peace laureate Shirin Ebadi hit out Monday at her country's electoral process, saying it could not be free while candidates had to be approved by the government's hardline vetting body.

"In previous elections, we saw that many people were not approved to take part because they had criticized the government," she told a news conference in Madrid.

Candidates have until Friday to register for Iran's March 14 elections to choose the eighth parliament in the history of the Islamic republic.

But in order to be eligible, the law says candidates must be approved by the Guardians Council, which has the right to disqualify any entrant deemed insufficiently supportive of Iran's Islamic system.

"As long as we have this law, we will not have free elections in Iran," she said.

The 2003 Nobel laureate, a lawyer and human rights activist, said she would not vote, but fell short of calling for a boycott.

"I am not advising the people what they should do (in the elections). I think people should do what is right for them."

She again spoke out against President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's nuclear policy, saying he must obey UN resolutions on the issue "to gain the confidence of the world order."

The United States says Iran is using its nuclear drive as a cover for efforts to build an atomic bomb, but Tehran denies the charges, saying its programme is aimed at generating energy for its growing population.

Ebadi said she is convinced Tehran "intends to suspend the process."

But she also reiterated her opposition to economic sanctions against her country.

"I am against economic sanctions, because it makes people suffer," she said. "What I really promote are political sanctions, not economic sanctions.

"I think countries can decide on bringing down the level of political action on Iran. For example, they can ask the ambassadors to go back."

Ebadi, 60, was in the Spanish capital to attend the first Alliance of Civilizations Forum, a Spanish initiative aimed at bridging the divide between peoples of different cultures in the wake of the September 11 attacks in the United States and the March 2004 Madrid train bombings.

She praised the two-day UN forum, which starts Tuesday, as a "good response to the clashes between civilizations.

"After hearing the debates and the dialogue, we will realise there is no clash between civilizations. Civilizations do actually have many points in common. We should start from those common points that we have."

Ebadi runs a group that supports human and minority rights in Iran.

In 1974, she emerged as the country's first female judge, but after the 1979 Islamic revolution, the government decided that women were unfit to serve as judges. So, she chose to become a lawyer and devoted herself to human rights, women and children.

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Campaigning to end stoning in Iran

15 January 2008

Eleven people in Iran - nine of them women - are waiting to be stoned to death on charges of adultery. Many have been sentenced after grossly unfair trials. Amnesty International has called on the country's authorities to immediately abolish this grotesque punishment, which is specifically designed to increase the suffering of its victims.

Iran's Penal Code prescribes execution by stoning as the penalty for adultery by married persons. It even dictates that the stones are large enough to cause pain, but not so large as to kill the victim immediately. Amnesty International is calling for urgent changes to Iranian law to ensure that no one can be sentenced to death for adultery, whether by stoning or any other means.

"We welcome recent moves towards reform and reports that the Majles (Iran's parliament) is discussing an amended Penal Code that would permit the suspension of at least some stoning sentences," said Malcolm Smart, Director of Amnesty International's Middle East Programme.

"But the authorities must go much further, and take the steps needed to ensure that the new Penal Code neither permits stoning to death nor provides for execution by other means for adultery."

Despite official claims that stonings have been halted - including a moratorium issued by the Head of the Judiciary in 2002 - several have taken place, with the latest only last year. Ja'far Kiani, a man, was stoned to death for adultery on 5 July 2007 in the village of Aghche-kand, near Takestan in Qazvin province. There are fears that Mokarrameh Ebrahimi, with whom he had two children, may suffer the same fate. She is in Choubin prison, Qazvin province, apparently with one of their children. A woman and a man are also known to have been stoned to death in Mashhad in May 2006.

The majority of those sentenced to death by stoning are women. Women are not treated equally with men under the law and by courts, and they are also particularly vulnerable to unfair trials because their higher illiteracy rate makes them more likely to sign confessions to crimes they did not commit.

Despite this bleak reality, human rights defenders in Iran believe that international publicity can help bring an end to stoning. Courageous efforts are being made by their Stop Stoning Forever campaign, whose efforts have helped save five people from stoning (and led to another sentence being stayed) since it began in October 2006.

These efforts have come at a price, with campaigners facing harassment and intimidation by the authorities. Thirty-three women, including members of the Stop Stoning Forever campaign, were arrested while protesting in March 2007 about the trial of five women's rights activists in Tehran.

Amnesty International opposes the death penalty in all cases. The report issued on 15 January, End executions by stoning, sets out the organisation’s concerns, including for the 11 people currently known to be under sentence of death and awaiting execution by stoning.

"We urge the Iranian authorities to heed our calls, and those of the Iranians who are striving relentlessly to obtain an end to this horrendous practice," said Malcolm Smart.

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Monday, January 07, 2008


Iran: End Widespread Crackdown on Civil Society

Vague Security Laws Sharply Restrict Peaceful Dissent

(New York, January 7, 2008) – The Iranian government is relying on its broadly worded “security laws” to suppress virtually any public expression of dissent, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. It uses these laws to subject those arrested to prolonged incommunicado detention without charge, solitary confinement, and denial of access to counsel.

The 51-page report, “‘You Can Detain Anyone for Anything’: Iran’s Broadening Clampdown on Independent Activism,” documents the expansion in scope and number of the individuals and activities persecuted by the Iranian government over the last two years.

“Dozens of Iranian laws provide the government cover for suppressing any peaceful activity they perceive as critical of their policies,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “The authorities can trample over people’s basic rights and still claim to be acting legally.”

Relying on information from detainees and eyewitnesses, as well as a close analysis of Iran’s security laws, “You Can Detain Anyone for Anything” documents the government’s use of security concerns as a pretext for detaining and denying due process rights to a range of civil society activists. These include women’s rights campaigners calling for changes to Iran’s laws that discriminate against women, students working for social and political reform, workers calling for better wages and independent unions, and journalists and scholars, including those with no history of political activism.

Since President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad took office in August 2005, government officials have increasingly used “security” as grounds for persecuting independent activism. A set of laws within Iran’s Islamic Penal Code entitled “Offenses Against the National and International Security of the Country” lay the groundwork for the government to suppress peaceful political activity and deny due process rights to those arrested.

The government has also increasingly brought security charges based merely on an individual’s connections to foreign institutions, persons, or sources of funding. In most of the cases documented in this report, the authorities have accused those arrested of undermining national security through their alleged foreign connections.

The authorities frequently hold detainees arrested on security grounds in facilities operating outside the mandated prison administration, most notoriously in Section 209 of Tehran’s Evin prison. Detainees in Evin 209 are subject to violations of their due process rights as well as abusive treatment during interrogation and in detention.

One former detainee told Human Rights Watch about the psychological and physical abuse he and fellow detainees suffered at the hands of his interrogators in Evin 209:

“They would insult us and our family in the most vulgar ways. Or they would threaten to beat us or throw us in the cells of dangerous criminals like al Qaeda members. They would threaten rape with soda bottles or hot eggs. They also would give us false news about our loved ones and brought forged documents to scare us. They told one guy that his dad had been fired because of him and showed him a piece of paper on official-looking letterhead.”

Another former detainee described the authorities’ disregard for Iranian laws pertaining to the treatment of prisoners and their use of indefinite solitary confinement as a form of punishment:
“We didn’t know what we were being charged with, or what was going to happen to us. The guards blindfolded us at the entrance of [Evin] 209. Almost everyone objected at once to this, but they ignored us. I think to scare us for speaking out, they took one of us to solitary confinement right away.”

Iran’s vague security laws allow the government to arbitrarily suppress and punish individuals for peaceful political expression, association, and assembly, in breach of international human rights treaties to which Iran is party. Prison units such as Evin 209 and the treatment of detainees inside its walls are also in violation of Iranian laws governing the operation of detention centers and the rights of detainees.

Human Rights Watch called on the government of Iran to amend or abolish the vague security laws and other legislation that allow the government to arbitrarily suppress and punish individuals for peaceful political expression, association and assembly in breach of international law. Human Rights Watch also called on the government to treat detainees in accordance with international standards, and to either bring Evin 209 under the supervision of the regular prisons administration or shut it down.

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As the regime cracks down, life goes on behind closed curtains,,331971698-103681,00.html

Last week our Iran correspondent was expelled without explanation. In his last dispatch from Tehran, he talks about the country he grew to love and which he found to be at odds with its image as an austere Islamic nation

Robert Tait
Monday January 7, 2008

The scenes of boisterous revelry would not have been out of place in a crowded nightclub. In time to a throbbing beat, men and women of varying ages danced with a sensuality and abandon at odds with their surroundings.

For this frivolity was taking place not on a dancefloor, but in the passageway of an Iranian bus on a seemingly humdrum cultural excursion from Tehran to the western city of Hamedan.

Denied a more appropriate venue by rigid Islamic regulations which forbid dancing in public, the passengers turned the coach into a travelling disco.

Drawing the curtains to keep their illicit activities hidden from onlookers, women discarded their obligatory overcoats and hijabs before letting their hair down for an uninhibited knees-up.

The tumultuous scenes were a graphic and defiant demonstration of the national passion for dancing, which - contrary to common stereotypes - Iranians perform with a grace and subtle eroticism beyond most westerners.

But the unlikely setting was also deeply symbolic of modern Iran, where much of real life takes place behind closed curtains and where what you see on the surface is often not what you get.

To the outside world, Iran is a religiously devout Islamic republic in the grip of a rigidly ascetic revolutionary ideology. But that image conceals a multitude of surprises and wells of pent-up energy.

Such insights gained from surreptitious glimpses beneath the surface of this bewildering and contradictory country will be lost to me from now on.

After nearly three years, I am leaving Iran. Having arrived fortified only with superficial snippets of knowledge gleaned from books, I depart with a kaleidoscope of memories and images, a limited but (I like to think) rapidly expanding grasp of Farsi and an Iranian wife. So I cannot say the experience has not been beneficial.

The austere image fostered by the Islamic authorities is very different from the Iran I know.

Far from being the religious monolith projected by the regime, it will be forever associated in my mind with glorious food, dancing, dramatic landscapes, dazzling mosques and stunningly beautiful women. My departure is involuntary. The authorities have refused to renew my residence permit and have resisted all entreaties to reconsider.

It was the second attempt in the past year to send me packing, an earlier refusal to renew my documentation having been reversed after the Guardian appealed on my behalf. The culture and Islamic guidance ministry, which is responsible for monitoring the activities of foreign journalists, provided no reason for the latest decision but a foreign ministry official told me I had been deemed guilty of negative coverage of "his excellency", by whom he meant President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Whether or not it can be taken at face value, the explanation provides an illuminating counterpoint to Ahmadinejad's protestations that the Islamic regime allows free speech and tolerates criticism.

In fact, the president's description is an Orwellian inversion of reality. Under Ahmadinejad, the flame of relative glasnost tentatively ignited under the reformist presidency of Mohammad Khatami has been extinguished. Liberal-minded newspapers critical of the government have been closed and journalists jailed for misdemeanours ranging from printing "lies" to insulting Islamic mores. Criticism is not welcomed and is being met with decreasing tolerance.

This prohibitive atmosphere has spread to the rapidly dwindling foreign press corps and, in that context, my effective expulsion is hardly surprising. I was the last remaining British print journalist of an English-language newspaper. Other reporters had either been expelled or had left, their places vacant after visas were denied to their chosen replacements. With a tiny number of exceptions, most western outlets now rely on English-speaking local Iranian correspondents, a situation welcomed by the authorities who reason that their own citizens are more susceptible to pressure than journalists from outside.

Covering Iran has always been fiendishly complicated. Permission has to be sought for virtually all trips outside of Tehran; requests to visit sensitive border provinces such as Kurdistan and Sistan-Baluchistan are routinely denied. Information has long been hard to come by. The local English-language papers, providing a mixture of international wire reports and regime-spun propaganda, are rarely a source of news. Access to officials is virtually non-existent and interviews with important figures a pipe dream.

Yet when I arrived at the tail end of Khatami's presidency, I joined a small and active community of western correspondents and stringers, who were closely watched but relatively unmolested by the authorities. Having been virtually absent since the aftermath of the 1979 Islamic revolution, the foreign media had drifted back after Khatami's landslide election victory in 1997, which seemed to promise a thaw in Iran's relations with the west.

The dynamic changed after Ahmadinejad's election in June 2005. Driven by fears of a US military attack and a residual paranoia that suspected all westerners as spies, the new president's hardline administration put the spotlight on foreign reporters as never before.

Resident press visa applications were denied, press cards were not renewed and correspondents were expelled on flimsy security pretexts as the regime gradually put up the shutters on international coverage.

Those reporters remaining were subject to harsher scrutiny. From personal experience, this could lurch from the Kafkaesque to the ridiculous. On a visit to an archaeological site in the ancient town of Shush that could hardly have been considered a security threat, a man in dark glasses - presumably from the local branch of the intelligence ministry - followed me with a video camera. Some months ago, I became aware that a wide-angled camera had been trained on my front door after a contact in the Iranian student movement told me that during an interrogation intelligence agents had shown him photos of him entering and leaving my house.

Recently, visiting South Khorasan province for a story on Iran's saffron industry, I was shadowed for two days by a security agent from the provincial governor's office. His unstinting dedication even extended to accompanying me to the toilet.

The irony of this Ahmadinejad-inspired clampdown is that the man himself is a journalist's dream. His theatrical persona and blow-torch rhetoric has given a dramatic lease of life to a story which hitherto, while interesting, was largely dormant.

When I arrived, Iran's nuclear programme was a source of western concern but lacked the urgency of an international crisis. Khatami's nuclear negotiating team had suspended uranium enrichment in a conciliatory gesture and the issue was essentially on the back burner. Coming from a background in the revolutionary guards and with a political philosophy rooted in messianic beliefs, Ahmadinejad transformed that scenario. Within days of his taking office, the country's uranium enrichment programme had been re-started and within months he was boasting that Iran had joined the nuclear club and was not for turning back.

It may not have been all his doing; nuclear policy comes under the ultimate direction of the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Yet it was Ahmadinejad's polarising personality that converted Iran's relations with the west, particularly the US, from simmering mistrust to outright conflict that found expression in UN security council resolutions and sanctions.

Internationally, Ahmadinejad has been viewed largely in the context of his views on Israel and the Holocaust, which was perhaps his intention as well as his just deserts. The Holocaust conference, staged at his behest and attended by an international rogues' gallery of deniers, was an unmitigated disgrace. Yet depicting Ahmadinejad as a pantomime "new Hitler" bent on Israel's destruction over-simplifies a complex, if misguided, political figure who does not lack sympathetic traits.

It may not redeem him in the eyes of his many critics, but his demagoguery and ignorance of western history are often leavened by a capacity to be funny, intentionally or not. It is hard not to laugh about a politician brazen enough to offer his services as a US presidential election observer. There is also something reassuringly human about a man so sensitive to mockery that he orders aides to monitor jokes circulating about him on text messages or so fearful of assassination that he suspends his Islamist principles by deploying sniffer dogs to detect possible explosives.

His more humane impulses manifested themselves in a desire to deliver "justice" to the poor, expressed in a pre-election promise to bring oil wealth to people's tables and in a chaotic mix of measures, such as mandatory wage rises for the low-paid and awarding "justice shares" in state-owned companies to low-income families.

None of these redeeming features amount to sufficient qualification to be president and they are offset by a darker side. Ahmadinejad's chaotic economic management has triggered an inflationary spiral that is crippling the middle classes and threatens to deliver his goal of economic justice in the unintended form of a more even spread of poverty.

Strikingly for a man so keen on displaying his spiritual leanings, his pre-occupation with justice does not appear to extend beyond the economic or material realm. He seems to have no room for human rights, which have deteriorated alarmingly during his presidency. In the past year, the number of executions - many carried out in public - has soared while scores of women and student activists have been arrested and some allegedly tortured in detention. Thousands of women have been arrested or cautioned for breaching Islamic dress codes in a zealous crackdown on moral offences unknown in Khatami's time.

Yet it would be wrong to conclude from all this that Ahamdinejad is mad or evil. As the reformist politician Saeed Hajarian explained to me months ago, the president's beliefs and governing style are rooted deep within the traditions of Iranian society. Those traditions are religious and rural in origin. They are held dear by millions of Iranians who, like Ahmadinejad's family, migrated from remote villages to the cities amid a great wave of social and economic change during the reign of the last shah. At their core is a fear of many aspects of the modern world that are taken for granted in the west.

This was lost on me when I first arrived in Tehran. The city's concrete modernity, stylishly attired population, the ubiquity of mobile phones and myriad other contemporary features all conspired to delude me into believing that, despite more than a quarter-century in isolation, this was a country at home in the modern world.

It was a mirage. Iran is a country still in thrall to the past, I gradually discovered. While Tehran's affluent northern suburbs display an alluring modern edifice, tradition - far more than religion - is the true bedrock.

It refers not just to a few quaint customs rooted in a bygone age, but to much of what Iranians live by today. The Farsi word for tradition, sonnat, answered so many of my questions. It explained why women from poorer families cover themselves with forbidding black chadors, why women are expected to remain virgins until marriage and sundry other social conventions.
It also explains Ahmadinejad's intolerance of press freedom and dissent, which stems from Iran's traditional tendency towards authoritarianism. A free press is nothing if not a symbol of the modernity the country has yet to embrace and the president's attitude is simply in line with the majority of its ruling classes.

Yet change is coming and its key agent may well be the very man charged with holding it back. For the past two years, Ahmadinejad and his revolutionary guard backers have been preparing for war. But that prospect seems to have receded after this month's report from 16 US intelligence agencies concluded that Iran had suspended its nuclear weapons programme four years ago. Ahmadinejad hailed the report as a victory, but in the absence of looming war as its defining raison d'être, his team has to come up with a programme for peace.

There is little evidence of such a plan but unless he finds one fast, the radical president could be washed away in a tidal wave of economic problems of his own making. If so, events may show him to have been an essential catalyst to political change by demonstrating the limitations of Islamic radicalism.

Iran is desperately in need of a sustainable political consensus. Ahmadinejad's narrow ideology is incapable of delivering that. The nation's culture is too varied and too vital to be wrapped up inside religion alone.

Its people are thirsting for a sense of social freedom which the Islamic system is withholding from them. The gusto with which they danced on the bus was ample demonstration of that.

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Sunday, January 06, 2008


Interview with Shirin Ebadi

Illegal to Publicly Announce Charges Before Trial and Conviction

Ronak and Hana’s only crime is to seek equality

Sunday 6 January 2008

Change for Equality: Over two months have passed since the arrests of Ronak Saffarzadeh and Hana Abdi, two members of the Azar Mehr Kurdish Women’s Society (a women’s NGO in Kurdistan, Iran). They were arrested shortly after they collected signatures for the One Million Signatures Campaign at an event in commemoration of the International Day of the Child. Ronak Safarzadeh was arrested on October 10, and Hana Abdi was arrested on November 4. Lack of information about their condition has concerned many equal-rights and human rights activists in Iran and internationally. Meanwhile, in order to derail efforts designed to ensure their freedom, some news websites have announced that Ronak and Hana were collaborating with terrorist groups [working against the Iranian government]. The girls have not yet been permitted visits with family members or any of the lawyers who have volunteered to take on their cases. Shirin Ebadi, lawyer and Nobel Peace Laureate, offered to take on legal representation of Hana and Ronak but the Sanandaj Revolutionary Court has stated that until the conclusion of the investigations, they will not permit any lawyers to take on the cases of these women’s rights activists. We asked Shirin Ebadi about the allegations against Hana and Ronak and the treatment they have received since their detention. Here is what Ebadi had to say with respect to the case of these two young activists:

Unfortunately we are seeing that these days any small matter is viewed as a threat to national security. Individuals like Delaram Ali, Maryam Hosseinkhah, or Jelveh Javaheri were also arrested or tried with charges of disturbing public order and disrupting public opinion.

Ronak and Hana, who were arrested because of their participation in the One Million Signatures Campaign and volunteering to collect signatures, have committed no crime but that of seeking gender equality. Their crime is that they do not want their husbands to marry other women; their crime is that they say God has created men and women equal and has given them equal rights, so why is the law so biased?

I don’t believe that these two young women have endangered our national security. In my opinion, the court that considers our national security to be so frail and weak as to be disturbed by a signature, is in fact disrupting public opinion. By asserting this position, the court is creating fear and anxiety among the general public who are left wondering how exactly a simple signature on a petition can endanger our national security. The verdict [of endangering national security] in itself can be examined according to the Islamic Penal Code. I hope that judiciary officials realize that after 30 years, the Islamic Republic is strong enough as to not have its national security threatened by the mere act of signature collections [requesting the Parliament to reform certain laws]. This argument [of endangering national security] is not valid and it is somewhat of an insult to the Islamic Republic.

Worst of all, according to our law, it is illegal to publicly announce the charges against someone before their trial and conviction. The person responsible for the public announcement of charges which are not yet official is subject to arrest for slander. This is the law that we must all abide by but unfortunately we sometimes see that the same officials who are responsible for enforcing these laws, don’t respect it. Some press outlets have accused Ronak and Hana of possessing weapons and attempting to overthrow the government; they have gone further to accuse these young girls of collaborating with enemy groups. And yet the cases of Ronak and Hana are still in their investigation phase; their cases have not been referred to court and these accusations are unproven. Unfortunately this conduct is not something new. Mr. Abdolfattah Soltani, a courageous lawyer, was arrested some time ago. Forty-eight hours after his arrest, the spokesperson for the judiciary—the government body responsible for ensuring the correct implementation of the law—announced that there was enough evidence to suggest that Mr. Soltani was a nuclear spy and that he has provided our enemies with nuclear secrets. After enduring 7 months in solitary confinement, they found that Mr. Soltani’s record was clean and he was cleared of all charges.

My question is this: who must pay for the consequences of these actions? They arrest a lawyer and keep him in custody for 7 months, his family is distressed, his clients are stranded, and then they rule that in fact he was innocent all along. The same thing is happening to Hana and Ronak today. Two young girls who have no motives other than gender equality are arrested and before their case goes to court, fabricated news about charges against them appears in the press accusing them of possessing weapons, attempting to overthrow the government, and collaborating with enemy groups. I am certain that these young women will be acquitted on all these charges if they are tried in a just, fair, and public trial.

The question here is why is it that some officials prefer to introduce a social critic as an armed enemy of the state? Attracting supporters is not such a difficult task. So, why is it that some officials act in ways that result in the increase of their enemies, rather than an increase in their supporters? I hope that the judiciary understands that our country can only thrive on the power of young people. They should engage in attracting young people as their supporters. This is the main challenge, because throwing young people into jail is easy.

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Candidates sign up for Iran's March election

Sat Jan 5, 6:14 AM ET

Candidates began registering on Saturday for Iran's parliamentary election in March, which will pit conservatives who now dominate the assembly against moderates seeking a comeback.

State television said prospective candidates began applying to stand in the election for the 290-seat parliament throughout the Islamic Republic. Voting will take place on March 14.

The result will have no direct effect on policies such as Iran's nuclear plans, which are ultimately determined by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei under a system of clerical rule.

However, political analysts say it may influence the direction of debate.

Parliament is now dominated by the conservative Abadgaran faction, which broadly backed Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's successful presidential bid in 2005. Since then, members of the group have often criticized his economic and other policies.

Reformists seeking social and political change who were trounced in the last election four years ago are seeking to make gains, as are more moderate conservatives also critical of Ahmadinejad's policies.

Critics blame the president for failing to curb inflation, which has risen to 19 percent, and for further isolating Iran internationally with speeches berating the West.

Iran is locked in a row over its nuclear program, which the West fears is designed to master technology that could be used to make atomic bombs. Iran denies any such aims.

Hopefuls must fill in a four-page application on an Interior Ministry Web site before going to the governor's office to complete the process, Iranian media reported.

Registration is due to last a week after which the clergy-based Guardian Council will start screening applicants for their political and religious qualifications.

Reformists regularly complain that the Council has disqualified many of their prospective candidates before previous elections, skewing the elections against them.

The final list of approved candidates will be announced on March 5. Candidates will then have one week to campaign.

(Writing by Zahra Hosseinian; editing by Edmund Blair and Andrew Dobbie)

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Tuesday, January 01, 2008


Interview with Jelve Javaheri: From a Reading Group to the Campaign for One Million Signatures

By: Nahid Keshavarz, Change for Equality (translated by: MS)

I've known Jelve since the early 2000's. Along with her friends, she attended the Women's Cultural Center's speak-out event, "Resisting Violence Against Women," in Laleh Park on International Women's Day in 2003. She and her friends had been working on violence against women issues and were eager to share their experiences and learn from others. Jelve strongly believed in consciousness-raising among women on the issue of violence as a form of resistance. Jelve and her friends worked to make violence against women a public issue. They held workshops on gender-based violence, broke taboos by speaking about sexual violence in the home, and advocated for women's rights and legal reform to protect victims of violence.

Jelve served as the website programmer for the websites of two women's NGOs, Hastia Andish (Hastia Andish) and Women's Cultural Center (Feminist Tribune). She voluntarily gave her time and expertise because she recognized the influential role of the Internet in publicly voicing women's need and demands.

Jelve can be personally described as a calm, even-tempered, introspective and a quiet person. She is one of the founders of the Million Signatures Campaign. She and I worked together on the Campaign Volunteers' Committee. She wholeheartedly devoted her energy, experience, and skills to the Campaign. Her mother's home was like a second home to Campaign members. She was perpetually prepared to work for the Campaign, day or night. She never turned down a chance to canvass a neighborhood or particular location to collect signatures, which she always did with the utmost composure and respect. In her soft-spoken voice, she would introduce the Campaign's goals and objectives and then offer the petition statement for her audience to read. For further information, she would provide the Campaign booklet and website address. She was humble and listened carefully to people's opinions and concerns while canvassing, because she understood that her responsibility was not only to educate, but to learn as well.

Jelve has been in Evin Prison since December 1, 2007 on charges of disturbing public opinion and propagating falsehoods on the Campaign's website, We know her crimes well since many of us are guilty of the same crime: To bring the issue of gender equality in the public's view and consciousness. She stands accused because she has helped raise consciousness about gender-based discrimination among a larger audience, beyond the usual groups of women's rights advocates and supporters. Her crime is helping to create public platforms for women to articulate their demands for equality. The following interview with Jelve took place this past October as part of an academic research project, which includes interviews from numerous social actors from the women's movement.

Q: Jelve, please describe your personal and family life.

JJ: I come from a lower-middle class family. My father died when I was 6 months old, and my mother raised and supported me and my four brothers and sisters through sewing work. My two brothers fought in the war against Iraq and were killed at the front while still teenagers. My older sister was killed in an accident with her husband. My other sister, Javaneh, is two years older than me and married. My mother's life changed a great deal after my father's death. She worked long hours and was able to buy a home in Javadieh. When my sister and I were in university, my mother sold the Javadieh home and relocated to Navab, which raised our socio-economic condition. I've been working on women's issues for 6 - 7 years. I can't remember exactly when women's issues first became important to me. I was always sensitive to the issue. Perhaps because I was raised in a family where there were no men. I lost my brothers at a very early age. I was eight years when my first brother died and then a year later, my other brother died. Our family was composed of women. I watched my mother struggle. I saw how my father's family mistreated her. I witnessed my sister's husband's bad behavior. It was all unjustifiable. As a result, my sister and I struggled and resisted harder. I'm not entirely sure where this compulsion came from. It wasn't organized, theoretical, or collective. I studied computer science as an undergraduate and am currently working on my MA thesis in sociology. Even before entering the sociology program, I began reading books on sociology and women's issues.

Q: When did you begin working on women's issues?

JJ: When I was 18 years old, I heard that some women from the National-Religious Front, were running a women's studies group and I joined them. We began with Simone de Beauvoir's The Second Sex. It was in that group that I was introduced to Noushin Ahmadi Khorasani's journal, The Second Sex. I became familiar with her and Shahla Lahiji's works. I already knew Shahla Sherkat by that time and was a regular reader of her magazine, Zanan. By the time Noushin Ahmadi Khorasani, Shahla Lahiji and other women collectively organized the first public International Women's Day gathering in City Book store in 2000, I had been following their work for a couple of years and eagerly attended the event.

In 2001, I joined other University of Tehran students to create a women's group, which we named Hastia Association. I was a member of Hastia for 4 years. Since leaving Hastia, I have joined the Campaign for One Million Signatures and have become active there.

Q: Please describe the activities of Hastia Association.

JJ: The first members of Hastia were university students. Some of the founders were studying health and sciences and they initially wanted to focus on women's health issues. But later the activities expanded to include women's legal rights and violence against women. Since we were all young and still students, most of our membership came from other university students. This worked for and against us. No one in our group had any prior experience to share and offer so we had a lot to learn. Yet our youth and inexperience made us self-reliant, led us to take independent positions, and forced us to work harder for others to get to know us. One of our goals was to empower women but we first had to empower ourselves.
Our objective was to work on women's issues but we really didn't have issues that were of specific importance to us. We hadn't narrowed our focus so we joined all sorts of activities and events. If the Women's Cultural Center NGO organized an event on violence against women, we attended. If Azam Taleqani held an event to protest the prohibition of women candidates from the Presidency, we would go there too. For some of us who have left Hastia, working in the Campaign became priority so we have put all our energies there.

Q: How would you describe feminism and what would you call yourself?

JJ: I began calling myself a feminist shortly after I had heard the word for the first time. I came to know feminism quite late. My home life situation was very difficult and unstable, so I never really had time to pursue independent reading. Also, being a girl, my restrictions were numerous, particularly around the neighborhood in which I lived. When I entered university at 18, I had access to social spaces where there were books and reading materials available.
I first heard the word feminism uttered from a man. I was 19. He told me that my opinions were similar to feminism. I asked him what feminism was. He introduced some books to me. After reading the books, I realized that he was right. I never had any resistance to the word. Since then, I have tried to use the word in my surroundings. That man was part of my circle of friends at the university, and he later became my critic after I became involved in women's activities. I think for many men, challenging givens are acceptable when they are happening elsewhere. But when the challenges penetrate their circles and lives, they become defensive. Most men want to be masters. He taught me about feminism because he wanted to serve as my guide and escort me down the right path. After I found my own way, he still wanted to lead me to prevent my deviation.

Q: Do you see this among the young men who work for the Campaign?

JJ: Fortunately, I don't. Maybe it's because the women in the Campaign are so strong and speak with such force. Maybe if the women showed their strength less, the men would feel the urge to take over. I think that women's behavior and interactions play a big role in men's acceptance. One major factor is women's capabilities and also, the longer men work on women's issues, the more they internalize principles of equality.

Q: You have recently married. Do you see this urge in your husband?

JJ: Fortunately, this urge is very weak in Kaveh. But to be honest, I think Kaveh is an exception. For as long as I have known him, Kaveh has been willing to listen and accept. He is very self-aware and self-critical. I have seen many young men who engage from a position of authority. They couldn't accept that as women, we had our own opinions. They would say that we weren't capable of organizing, our understanding was limited and that we hadn't read or studied enough. Meanwhile, their own readings were just as limited. They would launch very general criticisms, discourage us and try to weaken our self-confidence yet show themselves to be all knowing.

The younger men who are joining the women's movement are different from the young men I knew several years back. They have internalized the discourse of equality more seriously. At the same time, women have become stronger. There is a big difference between now and before. We don't hang our heads low and we've got something to say.

Q: There are different kinds and branches of feminism. Which kind of feminism are you closest to?

JJ: I really don't know. I'm the kind of feminist that lives and tries to work in the specific cultural and religious context of Iran. I think if anything, I am a feminist who is action-oriented. I think that the Campaign is using the situational feminism that Noushin Ahmadi Khorasani discusses. By action-oriented feminism, I mean that we have to analyze the situation and daily realities and act accordingly, while not losing our values. For example, I don't believe in carrying arms but I will go to prison if I have to. They are the minimal conditions we set for ourselves, seemingly obvious yet very important. I don't want violence to break out. I don't want people to be deceived. These human values need to be maintained and reproduced so they are not lost in today's world.

Q: You don't think that pursuing these minimal and daily demands will distract us from our larger ideals and vision?

JJ: Ideals are the small accomplishments that we achieve. If my ideals are so far-reaching that I can't realistically pursue them, then they will be limited to awareness only. It exists in our minds and imagination but for which we take no action. What's the use of that?
Q: How much has becoming a feminist impacted your life?
JJ: A great deal. Before becoming a feminist and joining the women's movement, I wasn't very optimistic about my future. Perhaps because of my family situation or social environment, I just wasn't very hopeful. But now I am someone who thinks for herself and independently makes choices ? about my friends, who to love, how to live my life. More importantly, I have been able to make a difference in the lives of people around me. Even my mother is more enthusiastic about her life. Feminism has given me a distinct and reaffirming identity. I gave my mother some Campaign booklets to distribute among the women in her religious gatherings. They were very positive and signed the Campaign petition. They are discussing women's issues and are supportive of such social actions. My mother recently went to another religious gathering and challenged the government's new family bill that is being reviewed in Parliament for passage. She is very involved and discusses the issues with her friends and social circle. Sometimes she manages to collect signatures.

Q: Can you explain the history of the Campaign's development?

JJ: The issue of women's rights has always been important in Iran's modern history. During the reformist period, diverse groups of women pursued various issues impacting women's lives. Some worked on violence against women, others on AIDS, another on the issue of peace, and so on. But none of the groups distinctly focused on women's legal status.
The women's public gatherings in June of 2005 in front of Tehran University, and then again in 2006 prompted new developments. We had gone out into the streets, articulated our demands, and publicly presented the movement and ourselves. At the same time, the country's situation was changing. The office of the Presidency had switched hands and an atmosphere of fear took over some parts of society. In the midst of all this, security forces suppressed and beat women who had participated in a March 8 2006 public gathering. When it came time to organizing another June gathering, some people said that holding another gathering in Hafte-Tir Square was too costly, that the security forces had been given authority to shoot, that it was madness to go out in this environment, etc. Our response was that the number of participants mattered less than going out into public and voicing our demands again. Many of those who participated in the second June gathering played an important role in developing and launching the Campaign.
The criticisms that were launched after that gathering were crushing. Our detractors such as Shahla Sherkat and others said that holding such public gatherings were futile and furthermore, radical and revolutionary. Others expressed their opposition in their weblogs. We suffered a loss in our support base ? we felt very alone.

However, we had distributed small booklets among people before the gathering, which outlined our position and demands and highlighted women's current inferior legal status. Those booklets had attracted a new group of people who attended our gathering. The positive outcome of the second gathering was the realization that we had to work among and with other people. We had to expand our base beyond the familiar groups of the movement who participate in gatherings when the environment is good but who decline when the situation gets bad. We had to broaden our demands and make them more tangible to a larger group of people. Out of this realization came the development of the Campaign.

The scope of the Campaign is diverse because it does not only aim to collect one million signatures. It has an education component that aims to raise gender awareness among people by direct face-to-face advocacy. From the start, people have been very responsive to the Campaign. It is a legal and peaceful social action which has attracted a wide base of people.

Q: How do you assess the Campaign's strengths and weaknesses?

JJ: The Campaign's method of collecting signatures through face-to-face canvassing is very important. The only other groups to do something similar were environmental groups who went door-to-door at a more limited scope. I have never seen this method used before where advocacy is done among people through face-to-face discussion. Several times, people have commented on how interesting our method is. The Campaign has been able to establish and use this method to good effect.

Another positive feature is that there are many young people working in the Campaign. Their abilities and self-confidence have developed to such an extent that many of the Campaign's important responsibilities are entrusted in their hands. The new people who join are able to immediately get their hands dirty and take on responsibilities. This young force is very important in energizing and expanding the Campaign. Another positive impact is that the Campaign has been able to integrate the discourse of equality into people's religious discourse. Many people have written about the relationship of the two discourses in a positive manner and there have been lots of discussions. I think the Campaign is the first social action that has been able to articulate the issue of women's rights and Islam so broadly among people.
In terms of weaknesses, the Campaign's older activists have not been transmitting their experiences to the younger more inexperienced cadre. The transfer of knowledge and experience isn't happening as much as it should although it's been recently improving among some who are sharing with the younger group.

At the same time, sometimes I feel that the younger generation is less interested in learning from others. It's true that we are equal but some of us have worked longer and have more experience. There is a tendency among the younger group to be self-aggrandizing and more insistent on asserting their own position than hearing others who have worked for 10 or 20 years. Some of the people who have joined the Campaign have had no prior experience with women's rights actions and have no knowledge of women's organizing and coalitions. And they view democracy within the Campaign in absolute terms, as if such a democracy had a prior existence to which the Campaign must now adhere. They don't even view the establishment of democracy as a process.

Q: Externally, what are some of the problems the Campaign has faced?

JJ: The Campaign is promoting a new action, so it is both attractive and threatening. Even the government takes contradictory positions. One day they say that they don't have a problem with the Campaign's demands, the next day, they do. I feel that they're not sure themselves on what to do with the Campaign. But from the start, they have worked to contain the Campaign and have erected numerous obstacles to slow its growth drastically. They arrest people when they are collecting signatures, they continuously filter the Campaign's website, Change for Equality, they refuse us access to public spaces to hold seminars and gatherings. Such pressures create internal tensions, yet at the same time, build strong solidarity among the different groups whom we work with, despite significant differences in our thinking.

Q: Can you elaborate?

JJ: Some of the opposition to the Campaign has come from the leftists who don't consider legal change to be very important. Other opposition comes from the Islamists who see our demands as anti-Islamic. Then there is the perpetual criticism among some that says that we are cooperating with the regime and that our actions are serving to reinforce existing power structures.

There are two critical viewpoints from an Islamic viewpoint. Some say that Islam is what the regime says it is and because the regime is unwilling to change it, our actions are futile. Yet another position holds that Islam is and should be what our current laws says it is. This perspective is very close to the political Islam that exists within the regime.

But our greatest opposition comes from the security and intelligence forces who fear the growing connections between women. I believe that there are people within the regime who believe in the necessity to reform the laws but who are opposed to this independent action. I think our situation is similar to the U.S. suffragists in the early 20th century. The regime has a problem with our strategy and prefers that negotiations and change take place behind closed doors. That said, I seriously doubt their will to change the laws since that would fly in the face of their patriarchal interests. Nevertheless, the regime doesn't want women to work together and they would prefer our diversity to divide us. They don't want the different movements to associate with another but the women's movement has to build links with other movements and actions if it is to make its demands more widely heard.

Q: How successful has the Campaign been in bringing people together?

JJ: I think that we have become more successful than we initially anticipated. Our goals were general and broad. One was to create a platform where diverse people could participate. Unfortunately, we have been unable to attract the political parties. They still cannot accept that parties operate within movements, not outside them and that they must join in. Because of the current environment, our political parties are closed off and conservative to some extent. As a result, the Campaign has not been able to attract the Participation Party for example.

The Campaign has been able to enter people's homes and gain supporters, and has volunteers throughout the world. It has grown a great deal and has garnered broad support. Perhaps least expectedly, its discourse has entered the ranks of the regime and there are sympathizers within the power structures as well.

There have been setbacks and obstacles as well, such as the Family Support bill presented by the current government, which further curtails women's rights. But there has been great resistance to this bill from the start and opposition is growing. Some parliament representatives - among them even "fundamentalists" - have taken a stand against it. During the last year, the just and rightful demands of women have become popular and have even found supporters within the regime.

Q: The Campaign activists have steadily been under attack. How do you assess the impact of the continuing persecution?

JJ: The actions of the security forces have had some unintended consequences. It has elevated the visibility of the Campaign because with every arrest and detainment, its news is spread throughout the world. I don't think we would have attracted as many supporters and activists if the Campaign had been allowed to progress quietly. These arrests have kept the Campaign alive and high on the public's consciousness. It's true that the arrests have also caused fear but they also confirm that the Campaign is alive and active despite the pressures. On the one hand, people are arrested but on the other, people are still going out and collecting signatures. This has a positive impact on people who see that the Campaign and its activists are serious and committed about reforming discriminatory laws. People respect that. Of course, some supporters drop out along the way too which is damaging. The persecution forces us to continuously rethink out tactics and future steps to keep the Campaign alive, and of course creates numerous worries, which occupies a lot of energy and time.

Q: How hopeful are you for the Campaign?

JJ: I'm very hopeful and optimistic. In the past two years, women's issues have become much more widely discussed throughout society. It is well on its way and will continue unless something unusual happens, like war, to stop its progression.

I really don't think it's possible to stifle women's discourse of gender equality. Women are much stronger now than ever. Yes, I'm very hopeful.

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