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Entries in Iran Elections 2009 (54)


Iran Interview: The Diplomat Who Resigned Over the Election

The website insideIRAN interviews Mohammad Reza Heidari, the Iranian diplomat in Norway who resigned from his post in December and remained in Oslo:

Q: Why did you leave your post at the Iranian embassy in Norway and cut off ties with the Islamic Republic?

A: This did not happen over night. My friends and I followed the events of Iran as diplomats. My colleagues and I always talked about the progress other countries have made and compared that to the situation in Iran. Then we had the June 12 election. Everyone was shocked by the level of cheating.

The Latest from Iran (29 April): New Mousavi Video

On election day, I was in charge of the ballot box at the embassy and I never thought this was going to happen. Large numbers of Iranian expats voted in the election and Moussavi won in our precinct. Then the government in Iran reacted violently to people inside the country who were asking for their votes to be counted. These horrific scenes and seeing for ourselves the government killing our youth on the streets made me resign my post in order to motivate the Iranian people to continue their fight.

Q: Are there people in Iran benefiting from the government but are now against the system out of moral objections to the actions of the government? How large is this group? Are they growing in number?

A. Even the founders of the Islamic Republic, people like [Mir Hossein] Mousavi and [Mehdi] Karroubi who worked in the highest echelons of the system for many years, admit that this is a government that tries to make people dependent on its existence.

Almost all my colleagues reached the same conclusion. They see no future in the path the government has chosen. The vast majority of experts who work for Iran’s foreign policy apparatus have objections to what has been happening. Many of them have fled the country. Some have resigned quietly and some are resigning their posts as we speak. I think more complicated issues will challenge the regime and hopefully, this year will be their final year and the Iranian people will taste freedom.

Q. Is there widespread dissatisfaction only in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs or is there widespread dissatisfaction in the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps or the Ministry of Intelligence?

A. This is true about every institution in the government. When they send diplomats on foreign missions, they send us through multiple layers of security screenings. We were among those who served during the Iran—Iraq war. I have friends in the IRGC, the Basij, the Ministry of Intelligence, Iran’s radio and television, and other places who are against the government. They have to cooperate with the government because if they do otherwise, they will face many severe challenges. This issue requires a national will. Strikes are on the way. Teachers, who went on strike, have started the right thing. Iranian labourers are on the same path.

Q: How fearful is the Iranian government?

They have gathered a bunch of commoners around them to protect themselves. They try to associate the Green Movement with the rich and then tie them to Western countries. They are terrified. I am from the lower classes and I worked for the government for many years. All my friends are the same. The government has to spend large sums of money to feed people and bus them into cities in order to generate crowds for pro-government demonstrations. But they are still unable to address the basic causes of widespread dissatisfaction.

Q: The dissatisfaction you are talking about is just simply dissatisfaction with the government or are these friends of yours in the government questioning the very legitimacy of the regime?

The legitimacy of the regime was gradually destroyed by the actions of the regime since the June 12 election. The current government does not have legitimacy and it is only a body to carry out the responsibilities of the executive branch. With the crimes they committed, torture and rape, the regime has lost its legitimacy. They have been able to remain in power only through terrorizing the masses and using their coercive apparatus. New challenges such as sanctions are going to make matters much worse.

Q: The rhetoric of the EU [European Union] has gotten much harsher towards Iran. What is the reason behind that?

A: European countries have always been interested in their national interests. They did not care about what happened in Iran. But now, they realize a stable Iran is more suitable for investments and it would also prevent the flight of so many Iranians seeking asylum in Europe. The Europeans are tired of a regime that supports terrorism and is a major obstacle to peace in the Middle East. This Iranian government does not serve their long-term interests.

Q: What do you think about possible sanctions against Iran?

A: Sanctions must be smart and targeted and only go after the ruling elite. These sanctions should not affect the Iranian people. Countries should not issue visas for the leaders of Iran and their families. Companies should be banned from dealing with the IRGC. The last issue I would like to mention is human rights. Western countries must make human rights the priority. Iran has made such a big deal of the nuclear program to divert attention from its human rights abuse.

Iran: The Establishment Frets Over the Supreme Leader

Mr Verde is back, taking a long look at manoeuvres within the Iranian "establishment":

In recent weeks some members of the establishment (Speaker of Parliament Ali Larijani, Ayatollahs Ahmad Jannati and Ahmad Khatami, the Islamic Coaltion Party's Habibollah Asgaroladi, and recently Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi) have changed tack. The clerics and politicians had been accusing the post-election protestors and their leaders, specifically Iran's reformists, of trying to overthrow the Islamic Republic in collusion with the West.

However, in the last few weeks the talk from the establishment figures is about attacks on the Supreme Leader. There is hardly any mention of “barandazi” (overthrow of regime) these days. Instead, the words are of conspiracies to limit the power of or to remove the Leader. The declarations that Khamenei is the best possible Supreme Leader give the game away --- why make such declarations if no one doubts him?

Recently Mesbah Yazdi, a strong backer of President Ahamdinejad, was the alleged source of some strange comments about the principle of “velayat-e-faqih” (clerical authority). He was quoted as saying that the “velayat-e-faqih” does not need to be the most prominent “marja” (source of emulation). He supported this with the assertation that, at the time of the 1979 Revolution, Ayatollah Khomeini was not the most prominent “marja”.

Although this might be seen as an indirect attack on Khomeini’s credibility --- it is well known that Khomeini and Mebah had serious disagreements --- the comment may be an attempt to argue in favor of Khamenei as “velayat-e-faqih”. Mesbah Yazdi has some religious credentials that Khamenei lacks, and his comments were reportedly to religious scholars at the Qom Seminary.

Mesbah Yazdi supposedly said that, although the Supreme Leader is chosen by God, if the people do not accept him, he should step aside. If true, this is a reversal of Mesbah Yazdi's previous statements that the “velayat-e-faqih” is chosen by God and the people’s opinion does not matter.

Mehdi Karroubi and Mir Hossein Mousavi are now referring to Khamenei’s statements with sarcasm and challenging him directly (although they are still not naming him). Earlier this year, Khamenei likened the regime to a rescue ship and said that some insiders are being left behind and the ship is sailing. Karroubi's response was to poke fun in his Nowruz message, likening the regime not to a ship but to a small dinghy full of unsavoury characters. Mousavi later added, "They say we have left the regime’s ship, well we have not left the ship of Islam", implying that the regime is no longer on the Islamic path.

So the question arises: are the recent changes in the speeches by the establishment figures an indication that Khamenei is facing problems from regime insiders and not just Mousavi, Karroubi, and other reformists over his credentials as Supreme Leader?

The Latest from Iran (28 April): Making a Date

2130 GMT: Controlling the Teachers. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty summarises the pressure by Iranian authorities on teachers ahead of Teachers Day on 2 May.

This includes the arrest of two senior members of Iran's teachers union, Ali Akbar Baghani, and spokesman Mohammad Beheshti Langarudi, warnings to activists in several cities, including Tehran and Tabriz, not to take part in any protests, and fines and arrests for demonstrating. It is reported that several blogs and websites on teachers' issues have been blocked.

NEW Iran Document: English Text of Mousavi-Karroubi Meeting (26 April)
NEW Iran: President Ahmadinejad’s Joke of the Day
Iran’s Detained Journalists: EA’s (Vicarious) Confrontation with Foreign Minister Mottaki
Latest Iran Video: Mousavi & Karroubi Meet (26 April)

Earlier this week, the Coordinating Council of the Teachers Trade Unions called for a hunger strike on Teachers' Week (May 2-8) to protest prison sentences and death penalties handed out to teachers. Four teachers are reported to have been jailed in recent months and at least one, Kurdish teacher Farzad Kamangar, is facing the death penalty.

2045 GMT: Corruption Watch. Conservative member of Parliament Ali Motahari has criticized Iran's judiciary for lack of independence and nepotism.

Motahari told the Iranian Students News Agency that, in corruption cases involving relatives of top officials, prosecutors are seeking permission from the officials themselves before even investigating.

1600 GMT: Oil Squeeze Posturing. In an interview with Khabar Online, Ali Vakili, the managing director of Iran's Pars Oil and Gas Company, has warned Royal Dutch Shell and Spain's Repsol that they must declare if they plan to pursue a project, agreed in 2007, to develop liquefied natural gas in the South Pars field.

Shell recently announced that it is suspending all involvement in the project.

Vakili insisted that Iran can develop the South Pars, having overcome financial obstacles, and that it has the necessary technology.

1530 GMT: We've posted a special separate entry: the English translation of Monday's discussion between Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi.

1245 GMT: Political Prisoner Watch. The lawyer for reformist politician Mostafa Tajzadeh has said that Tajzadeh has not yet reported to prison to begin his six-year sentence: “My client was admitted into a hospital in Tehran because of his disc problem (in his back)....During the past 2 days, my client was expected to introduce himself to the prison to continue serving his prison term; however, this has not happened....As soon as his physical condition improves, he will present himself to the authorities.”

0845 GMT: Corruption Watch. Mardomsalari newspaper frets that corruption has become a political issue and warns that "justice" should end it once and for all before foreign ennemies can take advantage of the situation.

0830 GMT: The Subsidy Battle. While there has been a general between Parliament and President over the subsidy cut and spending plans, the fight over implementation continues.

Maintaining that Iran's political, social and economic situation cannot cope with a shock, MP Ahmad Tavakoli has written Ahmadinejad with three propositions: 1) no across-the-board rise in prices, 2) provision of reliable data on familiy's income, and 3) gradual implementation of the plan. ()

0810 GMT: Culture Wars. Rah-e-Sabz claims there will be increased pressure from the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance upon people, especially women, to "satisfy the Supreme Leader" on the eve of the election's anniversary on 12 June. The website alleges there are "serious plans" for reeducation from kindergarten to university.

As if to prove the point, Kayhan proclaims that "bad hijab" has to be fought everywhere, from schools to offices.

0755 GMT: Does the Regime Need Legitimacy? An interesting debate, as reported by Rah-e-Sabz: the Supreme Leader's deputy to the Revolutionary Guard denies it is necessary to rely on people's votes, while Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi insists that the Government does precisely that.

0750 GMT: (More) Persistence. Reformist MP Rasul Montajabnia declares that hardliners cannot become an alternative to reformers and replace them: "We are alive."

0745 GMT: Continuing the Labour Theme. Rah-e-Sabz, anticipating May Day, reports that workers' incomes have suffered in the Iranian New Year. There are widespread dismissals and threats to dismiss those who "do not work enough". Meanwhile, protests have increased over the lack of accepted unions and organisations.

Reformist member of Parliament Hajsheikh Alikhani has insisted the government "doesn't give a damn about workers' problems".

0740 GMT: Awards. Hassan Karimzadeh from the banned newspaper Etemade Melli has won 1st prize in the World Press Cartoon competition.

Mahdi Razavi has been given an award by an Italian panel for his No War photograph.

0735 GMT: Labour Watch. Iran Labor Report offers a full summary of preparation for a "Labor Week" around May Day: "The experience of last May Day’s brutal clampdown...has prompted most independent labor organizations to call off May Day gatherings. Instead, they are encouraging workers to celebrate the occasion in small numbers at factories and shop-floors.

0730 GMT: Mahmoud Visits New York? A blog on the Foreign Policy website claims, from "senior UN officials and diplomats", that President Ahmadinejad has requested a visa to attend a high-level conference next week at United Nations headquarters to review progress on the 1970 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

0725 GMT: Not Worried (Really). The "hard-line" newspaper Kayhan has asserted that any Iranian using Haystack, the software developed by Austin Heap to allow access to the Internet while avoiding surveillance, will be tracked down by Iranian authorities. Kayhan claimed that the Green Movement is advising followers not to use the software.

0720 GMT: Persisting. The two major Iranian reformist organizations, Islamic Iran Participation Front and Mojahedin of Islamic Revolution, announced that they will continue their activities despite the recommendation of Parliament's Article 10 Commission for the dissolution of the parties. Both factions called for a public hearing in order to defend all their activities.

Leaders of the two organizations have written to the Commission maintaining that the dissolution lacks “legal justification.”

0420 GMT: Time will tell, but Tuesday appeared to be a day to mark in this lengthening crisis. The building series of statements from opposition figures, notably Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, culminating in the emergence that, yes, the two men had met on Monday and, yes, they had called for a demonstration on 12 June, the anniversary of the election.

We'll wait a day or two for follow-up before attempting an analysis, but the obvious issue is whether --- after 2 1/2 months of relative passivity since the 22 Bahman (11 February) moment --- those challenging the regime can seize the initiative.

That follow-up has already begun. Mehdi Karroubi, in comments posted on Mihan News, has set out and defended his political approach, working with a cross-section of opposition groups: "I have talked to a lot of leftists. They did not become Muslim, and I didn't become a Communist." The message is not only for the regime, but for the Green Movement: secular and religious can co-exist in the demand for justice and rights in the Islamic Republic.

The Karroubi-Mousavi accompanies other signs of a renewed challenge to the Government. A Street Journalist has published an English translation of the joint resolution, with 15 demands, issued by a coalition of Iranian labour groups.

Elsewhere, reformist MP Jamshid Ansari has declared that, contrary to its claims, Parliament has not initiated an investigation into the attack on the dormitories of Tehran University on the night of 14/15 June.

In a debate with fellow MP Gholamreza Mesbahi Moghaddam at Tehran University, Ansari said, “You should not expect any report from the Parliament regarding this matter because no committee has been assigned to this task, neither by the Speaker nor by the Parliament.”

The raids by security forces killed several people and caused extensive damage, two days after the elections and hours before the mass march on 15 June.

The Latest from Iran (27 April): An Opposition Wave?

1840 GMT: The Uranium Squeeze. Time magazine notices a key point that we've mentioned for some time, "Iran's need to find fresh supplies of raw uranium supplies is increasingly urgent, according to some reports."

1830 GMT: The Oil Squeeze (cont.). Following the announcement by major French firm Total that it will pull out of Iran  if US sanctions proceed and the defiant stance of Iranian officials that absolutely nothing was wrong with energy supplies --- see 0540 and 1050 GMT), Italian company Eni says it is "working on handing over the operatorship of the Iranian Darquain oil field to local partners".

NEW Iran’s Detained Journalists: EA’s (Vicarious) Confrontation with Foreign Minister Mottaki
NEW Latest Iran Video: Mousavi & Karroubi Meet (26 April)
Iran Document: Mehdi Karroubi “We Will Make The Nation Victorious”
Iran: The Mousavi 4-Point Message “Who Defends the Islamic Republic?"
Iran Exclusive: A Birthday Message to Detained Journalist Baghi from His Daughter
The Latest from Iran (26 April): Points of View

1700 GMT: Impact. We've known for days that opposition figures have been building up their challenge to the Government, but it's today, with the revelation of the meeting between Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi on Monday, that you know the wave has hit.

For the first time in weeks, the non-Iranian mainstream media is taking notice of the opposition as more than a post-11 February blip. Reuters headlines, "Iran opposition urges vote anniversary rally"; CNN, who established an "Iran Desk" for the 22 Bahman (11 February) demonstration and soon let it lapse, follows suit: "Iranian opposition candidates call for renewed protests".

1125 GMT: No Further Comment Necessary. From Press TV: "Deputy Foreign Minister Hassan Qashqavi said that it is 'ridiculous' to place limitations on the peaceful use of nuclear energy by making 'unfounded' claims about human rights and freedom of women."

1050 GMT: All is Well  Update. Despite the accumulating news of a possible oil squeeze on Tehran with foreign producers withdrawing imports, the Government line is No Problem:
Iran says its strategic gasoline reserves have climbed by a billion liters, reiterating that sanctions on gasoline sales to Iran will never materialize.

"Iran is not worried about (possible) gasoline sanctions," Deputy Oil Minister Noureddin Shahnazi-Zadeh told Iran's Mehr News Agency on Tuesday, adding that sanctions on gasoline sales to Iran will never occur as there is no possibility of imposing such sanctions under current conditions.

1045 GMT: We have posted a short video from Monday's meeting between Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, in which the two agreed to call a demonstration for 12 June, the anniversary of the election.

We have also posted a feature of how EA's list of detained Iranian journalists may have made its way into an Austrian newspaper's interview of Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki.

0835 GMT: British Deportation. Last week, we reported on the British Government's plan to deport Bita Ghaedi, an Iranian woman who fled the country because of alleged abuse by her father and brother. Ghaedi was being returned to Tehran despite the likelihood that she would face punishment because of her participation in a rally protesting conflict over Iraq' s Camp Ashraf, home to many members of the People's Mojahedin Organisation of Iran.

Volcanic ash intervened to prevent Ghaedi's flight last week; however, her deportation has now been rescheduled for 5 May.

0830 GMT: Political Prisoner Watch. Farid Taheri, a member of the Freedom Movement of Iran, has been sentenced to three years in prison.

0750 GMT: Labour Watch. A collection of Iranian unions have issued a joint 15-point statement for May Day, "strongly supporting the demands of teachers, nurses, and other working classes of society to end discrimination".

Member of Parliament Alireza Mahjoub has criticised the Government's failure to implement rises in pensions and the hidden discrimination against female workers.

0740 GMT: Women's Rights Corner. Member of Parliament Ali Motahari has harshly criticised the "feminist and anti-family" views of Faezeh Hashemi, the daughter of former President Hashemi Rafsanjani. Motahari said that Hashemi's critique of polygamy was misguided, as the prohibition of polygamy would lead to prostitution.

0715 GMT: Political Prisoner Watch. Amidst reports of the poor health of many detainees, reformist member of Parliament Mostafa Kavakebian has insisted that a Majlis commission investigate the prisons.

0710 GMT: A Successful Protest. The sit-in of female detainees at Evin Prison has forced authorities to establish the separation of men and women in the facility.

0700 GMT: Corruption Watch. Green Voice of Freedom has repeated the claim that the Supreme Leader has insisted the corruption case against First Vice President Mohammad Reza Rahimi must be dropped because of "sensitive issues of nezam (the Iranian system)".

0640 GMT: We Persist. The Islamic Iran Participation Front has issued a protest against the recommendation of Parliament's Article 10 Commission that the reformist party be suspended. The IIPF declares that it will continue its activities.

The protest is signed by Mohsen Safai-Farahani, who was recently handed a six-year prison sentence.

0630 GMT: More Challenges. From the conservative side, leading member of Parliament Ahmad Tavakoli has said that the number and impudence of corrupt high-level officials have risen. He insisted that these officials must be confronted, no matter where and who they serve.

And reformist Ahmad Shirzad has asserted that the opposition movement has been bolstered by the addition of "dissatisfied hardliners".

0540 GMT: Monday was notable for the rush of opposition challenges to the Government. There was Mehdi Karroubi on a law-abiding, Constitution-promoting resistance that would bring victory to Iran, Mir Hossein Mousavi's "Who Defends the Islamic Republic?",  and Zahra Rahnavard calling for the release of detained workers and teachers.

Of course, the important leap will be from statement to action. Yet it is striking this moment to compare the renewed calls for justice and freedom with the Government's rhetorical flourishes.

There was President Ahmadinejad again looking outside Iran with his promotion of the "satanic tools" of the United Nations and the US. There was Foreign Minister Mottaki, confronted with a list of more than 100 detained journalists and political analysts, replying brusquely, "Stick to the nuclear issue."

And there were apparent flights of desperation. As the chief executive of the French oil company Total was announcing that it would pull out of Iran if US sanctions proceeded, the deputy head of Iran's oil industry, Hojatollah Ghanimi-Fard, proclamed, "Iran has negotiated development projects with several foreign oil companies, including French concerns."

Ghanimi-Fard's optimism contrasted sharply with a statement from the Revolutionary Guard that it was prepared to replace Total and Royal Dutch Shell in oil and natural gas projects. Ali Vakili, the managing director of the Pars Oil and Gas Company, said a one-week ultimatum had been given to Shell and Spanish company Repsol, “We will not delay the development of South Pars phases waiting for foreign companies.”

Iran's Detained Journalists: EA's (Vicarious) Confrontation with Foreign Minister Mottaki

On Saturday, thanks to our German Bureau, we posted a list of 101 journalists who have been detained during the post-election crisis. Imagine my surprise when an EA reader sent me evidence of how quickly and how far that list may have spread. An extract from an interview by Austria's Die Presse of Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki, who was in Vienna for discussion of Tehran's nuclear programme:

Iran: The List of 101 Journalists Who Have Been Jailed
The Latest from Iran (27 April): An Opposition Wave?

Die Presse: Iran must make a credible case that the nuclear program is for civilian purposes.

Mottaki: What should we do? We have agreed a few years ago the position of all our nuclear activities, we have agreed to cooperate fully with the International Atomic Energy Agency. What did we get in return? Nothing. We have no interest in nuclear weapons. When Iraq used poison gas against our soldiers, did we respond with weapons of mass destruction? No. Weapons of mass destruction are not part of our defense doctrine.

Die Presse: Another issue I have here a list of the names of more than 100 imprisoned journalists and political analysts. Amnesties and releases were a gesture of good will.

Mottaki: Stick to the nuclear issue.