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The Latest from Iran (13 August): Letters to the Judiciary

1830 GMT: Your Belated Friday Prayer Update. Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, head of the Guardian Council, tried to bounce back from a recent rough patch --- you know, the $51 billion US-Saudi-opposition plot episode --- by taking the podium.

Lots of banter about bad America, but no apparent big numbers today, before Jannati laid down the reassurance that everyone was accountable in the Iranian system: "If you don't serve the people, they will not trust you and not vote for you. If they have committed the error to vote for you, they will take back their votes."

1825 GMT: The Battle Within. Mohammad Hashemi, member of the Expediency Council (and brother of former President Hashmei Rafsanjani), has declared that the President's duty is to implement laws, not to interpret them --- saying that he doesn't accept a law is illegal and outside of his duties.

1815 GMT: Ahmadinejad, Unifier-in-Chief. Declaration of the day comes from the President, who told Algerian counterpart Abdelaziz Bouteflika in a Friday telephone call that unity among Muslim nations will lead to the elimination of inequality and oppression everywhere.

1310 GMT: Black Economy Watch. Iran Focus claims that a leaked internal Islamic Revolution Guards Corps report confirms the IRGC is running a major smuggling network from the southern Iranian island of Qeshm in the Strait of Hormuz at the mouth of the Persian Gulf.

The report also says that the IRGC is building a large base at Roudkhaneh Sarbaz in the southeastern province of Sistan and Baluchistan as part of smuggling, including drugs, from Pakistan.

1300 GMT: The Nuclear Plant. Russian officials say that, after repeated delays, nuclear fuel will be loaded from 21 August into Iran's reactor at Bushehr.

Russian and Iranian specialists will spend 2-3 weeks putting uranium-packed fuel rods into the reactor:
"This will be an irreversible step," Sergei Novikov, a spokesman for Russia's state nuclear corporation, Rosatom, said. "At that moment, the Bushehr nuclear power plant will be certified as a nuclear energy installation."

Novikov said the first fissile reaction would take place in early October.

The Bushehr plant is monitored by the International Atomic Energy Agnecy and has no link with Iran's uranium enrichment programme. Tehran has agreed to return spent fuel to Russia.

1200 GMT: Parliament v. Government. MP Mehrdad Lahouti says the demand for impeachment of agriculture minister Sadegh Khalilian, with 22 signatories, will be handed over to Parliament on Sunday when it returns from summer vacation. The allegation is that Khalilian has inflicted heavy damage to domestic agriculture and caused severe irregularities in the sector.

Ahmad Tavakoli, speaking about the President's refusal to accept Parliament's authorisation of $2 million for the Tehran metro, has said that Ahmadinejad is "dictatorial in his decisions", breaking the law and the Constitution.

1145 GMT: Execution Watch ---Germany Gets Vocal (cont.). According to Die Welt , an (unnamed) official of Germany's Foreign Ministry has demanded the cancellation of the death sentence Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani.

1000 GMT: In Afghanistan. The Washington Post claims --- probably from a US Government official ---- that a "human intelligence asset", in a report for Afghanistan’s domestic intelligence agency, has said that Iran has supplied fresh batteries for about three dozen shoulder-fired SA-7 missiles stockpiled by Taliban forces in Kandahar, in anticipation of a U.S. attack.

The Post adds a note to the dramatic claim:
Any reports linking Iran to the Afghan conflict must be viewed with caution. A previous intelligence report, surfaced by WikiLeaks, describing a 2005 missile-buying mission to North Korea by rebel leader Gulbiddin Hekmatyar and a senior aide to Osama bin Laden, is now suspected of having been fabricated by elements in Washington or elsewhere who wanted to implicate Iran in the Afghan insurgency.

0900 GMT: Execution Watch --- Germany Gets Vocal. Leading Free Democrat politician Rainer Stinner, who visited Iran from 31 July to 3 August, has said that not only Tehran's sentences to death by stoning but its entire legal procedure are flagrant violations of human rights. He claimed that Iran cannot pretend this is a domestic affair, as it has ratified the International Human Rights Convention, and it is isolated by such practices.

The statement is a significant modification of the "live and let live" approach of the Free Democrats towards Iran in the 1990s.

0815 GMT: The Battle Within. Mehdi Khalaji, summarising many of the events covered by EA in recent weeks, writes an analysis for the Washington Institute on Near East Policy, "Internal Divisions among Iranian Hardliners Come to the Fore".

0755 GMT: International Affairs Update. Yesterday we noted the British Ambassador's diplomatic response to 1st Vice President Mohammad Reza Rahimi's rather un-diplomatic remarks about "England". We cited The Daily Telegraph as the source, but we have learned that the original story was by Martin Fletcher in The Times of London.

0715 GMT: US-Iran. We have posted a separate analysis by Greg Thielmann on the latest US intelligence and Iran's nuclear programme.

0710 GMT: Execution (Ashtiani) Watch. Human Rights Activists News Agency has more information on Wednesday's "confession" on Iranian state television by Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, condemned to death for adultery and then complicity in murder of her husband. The New York Times, in an article by William Yong and Robert Worth, has also picked up on the article.

The Guardian of London reports that the execution by stoning sentence of Mariam Ghorbanzadeh, who allegedly miscarried after being beaten up in Tabriz prison this week, has been changed to hanging in a rapid judicial review.

0700 GMT: You Can't Go Home Again. Tehran has set new restrictions on Iranian expatriates coming into the country.

Mohammad Sharif Malekzadeh, head of the High Council of Iranian Expatriates, said Wednesday that Iranians residing abroad can return for academic reasons only after being approved by certain institutions. Asked if the "Iranian expatriates with political problems" who want to return would face any difficulties, Malekzadeh said that "certain institutions will do their duties in this regard".

0655 GMT: Sanctions(-Busting) Watch. Officials say recent UN Security Council and unilateral sanctions will not affect the €18 billion gas contract between the Swiss energy group EGL and the National Iranian Gas Export Company (NIGEC).

According to Fars News, Turkey's Energy Minister has said Ankara will respect its €1 billion deal wfor the construction of a 660km pipeline to transfer Iran's gas supplies to Europe.

The minister also reportedly said that Iran and Turkey will continue plans for the joint construction of power plants with a total capacity of 6,000 megawatts. And another minister has supposedly confirmed that Turkey paid Iran a $600 million fine for failing to import natural gas at the amount previously agreed between the two countries.

0645 GMT: Sensitive Journalism of the Day. The headline in Keyhan in an article on US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s recent remarks on human rights abuses in Iran: "Bill Clinton's Slave Defending the Murderers".

0640 GMT: All the President's Men. More on President Ahmadinejad's defence of his controversial chief of staff, Esfandiar Rahim-Mashai, against criticism from clerics, members of Parliament, and even Iran's top military commander:
There is an abnormal sensitivity against Mashai....I fully trust him....If someone has any criticism or believes what he says is wrong, he should invite Mr. Mashai to speak with him and even debate with him. Why all this row? Some want to change the issues of our enemies, illegal sanctions and enemies at home into secondary issues....

0630 GMT: International Affairs. Khabar Online writes of possible problems between the Foreign Ministry and the Government because the President's office is taking over the appointment of ambassadors.

(This is far from a new development, as Ahmadinejad's staff pushed out many Iranian ambassadors soon after thge 2005 election. What is interesting here is that Khabar would highlight this and the timing: only yesterday EA's Scott Lucas spoke with The National about Foreign Ministry disquiet over un-diplomatic statements by the President and 1st Vice-President Rahimi.)

0625 GMT: Economy Watch. MP Musalreza Sarvati has challenged the Minister of Works in Majlis that the official unemployment rate of 14.6% is untrue: "employed" includes people who work 1 hour per week and others who work 100 hours without being able to earn a living.

Sarvati claimed that every year 1.1 million new jobseekers are added in Iran.

0615 GMT: The Cleric's Apology. Ayatollah Dastgheib's has replied to a letter of prisoner families: "I, for my part, apologise for not being able to follow your pledges for justice."

Dastgheib warned Iran's ruling class they are "going the wrong way", asking them to "sit down for once" with a group of the people's representatives and senior clerics without harrassing them to explain the reasons for arresting the so-called "uproarers".

Dastgheib's message to these leaders? "This situation will pass, but your deeds will be documented by God and history."

0545 GMT: Friday is expected to be quiet in Iran, as the holy month of Ramadan begins, but news arrives that the head of the judiciary, Sadegh Larijani, has more work in his in-box....

The reformist Mosharekat (Islamic Iran Revolution) Party has demanded that the High Court to investigate the files, submitted by seven political prisoners and including a claimed audio proving manipulation by the Revolutionary Guard, of a rigged election:
The wide distribution of a tape of commander Moshfegh's speech, a high official of [Revolutionary Guard] Sarollah Forces, has proven the claims of Green leaders on the manipulation of 10th presidential elections. This person, who boldly and crudely describes the organisation of the putsch intoxicated by power, openly confesses to actions, which cannot be named other than a putsch according to all political schools of the world.

Families of former hunger strikers, having gone three days without news, have written Larijani: "Have our beloved outlived the hunger strike?"

The families of political prisoners have also asked Tehran Prosecutor General Abbas Jafari Doulatabadi:
How can we be sure of the physical condition of our lovedones after two grueling weeks of hunger strike? The only way we can be reassured of their well-being is if we are given the opportunity to hear their voices, if they are transferred back to the general ward at Evin (Prison), and when we are finally given permission to visit with them.

Students of three Tabriz univerisities have appealed to Larijani that it is time for him to break his silence in the face of major corruption committed by the "ruling body" of Iran. They complain about the lack of justice and the judiciary's independence, with silence amidst unpunished bloodshed, slander, insults, and lies.

Iran Witness: Talking to Ahmadinejad...and the Opposition (Anderson)

Jon Lee Anderson writes in The New Yorker of 10 days in Iran, including an interview granted by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad granted before his autumn trip to the United Nations in New York:
Early this summer, while walking in the Alborz Mountains outside Tehran, I came across three members of Iran’s reformist Green Movement. It was a parching-hot afternoon, and they had taken shelter from the heat in a cherry orchard next to a stream, where fruit hung glistening from the branches. The Alborz Mountains have long provided refuge, clean air, and exercise for the residents of north Tehran. The northern districts are more prosperous than the rest of the city, and their residents are generally more educated and aware of foreign ideas and trends. North Tehran was not the only locus of the Green Movement, but support there was particularly intense last summer after the conservative hard-liner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad claimed victory in the disputed Presidential elections. One of the most popular hiking trails begins just outside the walls of Evin Prison, where in recent decades thousands of dissidents have been tortured, killed, and buried in secrecy. A few hundred feet away, just across a wooden bridge over a narrow river canyon, the last paved streets of the city end. Along the river’s banks are open-air teahouses, where nostalgic music is played and people drink fresh cherry juice and smoke narghile waterpipes. Such places offer a respite from the restrictions of life in the Islamic Republic, away from the roving units of religious police and the paramilitary Basij, the plainclothes zealots who attacked Green Movement supporters in last year’s protests.

Since the government crackdown, street demonstrations have been rare, and so, too, have foreign journalists in Iran. I had been given a visa to come interview Ahmadinejad, and during my stay was watched closely by the government. Even a hike in the mountains did not insure privacy; as I climbed, I saw, among the other hikers, several pairs of men who wore the scraggly beards, nondescript clothing, and tamped-down looks of Basijis. At one point, I passed a unit of soldiers. They were out hiking with everyone else, but it was apparent that they were there to make their presence felt. The women on the trail were flushed and sweating in their chadors and manteaus, the black tunics that Iranian women are obligated to wear over their clothes.In the orchard, though, women had taken off their head scarves and were laughing and talking animatedly. People greeted me politely, obviously recognizing me as a Westerner, a rare sight in Tehran these days. One man struck up a conversation; in excellent English, he made it clear that he was a reformist. Three other men who were sitting together nearby looked over appraisingly, then raised their voices enough to be overheard. Quoting the late Iranian poet Ahmad Shamlou, one of them recited:

They smell your breath,

lest you might have said I love you.

They smell your heart.

These are strange times, my darling.

The butchers are stationed at each

crossroads with bloody clubs and cleavers.

Gesturing toward Tehran in the distance, he said, “There are the new butchers. They sniff out everything, not only in public but in private life, too.” His friends nodded. One of them said, “The people’s frustrations will find an outlet once the cracks in the monolith begin to appear.

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