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Sunday
Sep112011

Latest from Iran (11 September): Arrest and Protest

2030 GMT:Political Prisoner Watch. News of four detainees who have been released....

Hashem Khastar, a retired teacher in Mashhad who spoke publicly about the poor conditions in Vakilabad Prison, released after posting bail of about $100,000;

Journalist Masoud Lavasani, arrested on 26 September 2009, originally sentenced to 8 1/2 years in prison, later reduced to two years;

Student activist Moein Mohammad Beigi, who served half of his 2 1/2-year sentence;

Nima Pour Yaghoob, an activist at the University of Tabriz, arrested in June.

Meanwhile, detained student activist Ali Malihi has said recently-released political prisoners have not recanted their political views, despite claims by Tehran Prosecutor General Abbas Jafari Doulatabadi.

In a letter published by Advar News, written from inside Evin Prison, Malihi declares:

In view of some of the rumours in the media in recent days, I feel it necessary to explain that in my 20 months in prison, I have applied to the judiciary for various legal provisions available to detainees, including the appeal of a preliminary sentence, reduced sentencing,a conditional release and furloughs. But at no time have I ever repented of my beliefs and actions, and I have complete faith that the green path of hope that the Iranian people are following will continue.

Malihi was arrested in February at his home and charged with assembly and collusion against the regime, propaganda against the regime, participation in illegal gatherings, publishing falsehoods, and insulting the President. In August, he was sentenced to four years in prison and a cash fine.

1905 GMT: Corruption Watch. Both AFP and Egypt's Ahram Online have picked up on the story of an alleged $2.6 billion fraud in several Iranian banks.

The fraud, over two years, was reportedly orchestrated by a single man, referred to as "Mr X" in the Iranian media, who forged letters of credit to purchase assets, including one of Iran's largest steel production companies, Khuzestan Steel Company.

The head of Iran's Central Bank, Mahmoud Bahmani, revealed the fraud last weekend, and the Chief Executive Officer of Bank Saderat, Mohammad Jahromi, said his institution and several other banks were affected. Iran Inspector General Mostafa Pour-Mohammadi, said the fraud was "the most unprecedented financial corruption case" in the history of the Islamic Republic.

As noted below (see 0945 GMT), influential MP Ahmad Tavakoli has blamed the case on Executive mismanagement. On Wednesday, head of judiciary Sadeq Larijani said "the people involved in this case have been arrested" but gave not details.

1900 GMT: Threat of the Day. The head of the Basij media, Mohammad Reza Naqdi, has announced that Iran is "ready when needed" to promote its policies by interfering in the internal affairs of Western countries.

He gave as an example the possibility for Iran to deploy its assets in the case of the recent unrest in England, stopping the "killing of people by the rulers".

1530 GMT: Political Prisoner Watch. Seyed Amir Khoram, a member of the Freedom Movement of Iran, was reportedly seized in front of his home this morning.

Khoram had been summoned by phone to start a six-year sentence in prison. He refused and asked for a summation of the legal situation.

1510 GMT: 9-11 Watch. President Ahmadinejad has made his contribution to the 10th anniversary of the 9-11 attacks by declaring that the US Government set up the events as a pretext for its wars.

“This incident was a complicated game planned to influence the human community and a pretext to occupy Iraq and Afghanistan, and cause more than one million people to lose their lives or get wounded,” Ahmadinejad said at the opening ceremony of the Ahl al-Bayt World Assembly in Tehran.

The World Assembly, held every four years, will discuss regional developments in the context of Iran's declaration of an "Islamic Awakening".

1240 GMT: Ahmadinejad Watch. A couple of notable shots at the President....

Javan, the outlet Revolutionary Guards, has claimed that the Ahmadinejad camp are trying to form a bloc with Saudi Arabia, usually seen as a Sunni-led foe of Tehran in the region.

Kayhan has asserted in an editorial that the Supreme Leader is opposed to elections whose results are clear in advance, giving Ayatollah Khamenei's view, "We have a duty to protect people's vote."

Meanwhile, Davood Ahmadinejad, the elder brother of the President, said that the "deviant current" is financially, politically, and morally corrupt, and "We never allow them to hurt this God-given gift [the Supreme Leader], or challenge the political system and deviate it from its path."

1230 GMT: Elections Watch. Acoording to Esmail Gerami-Moghaddam, a spokesman for Mehdi Karroubi's National Trust Party, Karroubi --- still under strict house arrest --- told his son Hossein in a rare meeting that he has watched the speeches of "high officials of the state and believes that there is no place for the reformists in the upcoming Majies elections".

1140 GMT: (Dis)Unity Watch. It looks like conservatives and principlists are no closer to a unified front before next March's Parliamentary elections.

The Islamic Constancy Front, led by Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi, is continuing to hold out against participation in the 7+8 Committee, now headed by former Foreign Minsiter Manouchehr Mottaki. MP Hamid Rasaei, a leading figure in the Constancy Front, said that his group wants representatives of Speaker of Parliament Ali Larijani and Deputy Speaker Mohammad Reza Bahonar expelled from the committee, before the Front participates.

Muhammad Sahimi posts a summary of other developments in the dispute.

1130 GMT: Political Prisoner Watch. Majzooban Noor reports that two more Gonabadi Dervishes have been arrested in Kovar in southeastern Iran.

There have been a total of 13 detentions of dervishes, who are members of a sect of Sufi Islam, and journalists amidst clashes with security forces in the last two weeks.

1107 GMT: The Battle Within. MP Ali Motahari, a persistent challenger of the Government, has alleged that Iran's Parliament and judiciary are not independent.

Pro-Ahmadinejad MP Ruhollah Hosseinian has denied remarks, reported on Saturday, that Speaker of Parliament Ali Larijani projected a victory for Mir Hossein Mousavi in the 2009 Presidential election.

1105 GMT: Ahmadinejad Watch. The heads of the three branches of the Government --- President Ahmadinejad, Speaker of Parliament Ali Larijani, and head of judiciary Sadegh Larijani --- met on Saturday for almost four hours. No details were released about the discussion.

1100 GMT: Economy Watch. Abbas Vatanparvar, a former representative of employers to the International Labor Organization, has said worsening economic conditions in Iran will raise the poverty line in metropolitan areas stands to $2000 from $1600 by March 2012.

Vataparvar claimed, "During the first six months of the year [from 21 March], the rate of inflation has increased by 50%. With the start of the targeted subsidy plan, due to the increase in the price of fuel, the country's production units have been in crisis."

0955 GMT: Protest Watch. An Iranian journalist puts footage claiming to be of protests in northwestern Iran --- both yesterday's featured clip and the 24-minute video in our opening entry today (see 0630 GMT) into context. He comments on yesterday's images:

This is a celebration of Tractor FC football supporters after their win against Isteghlal, which meant the Tabriz-based team went to the top of the league. I have watched the entire video and could not hear one anti-government chant. At the end of the video there is some swearing at the riot police, but presumably because the police wanted to end their celebrations and disperse the crowd. Can't really regard it as a protest.

0945 GMT: Political Prisoner Watch. Dr Mohammad Maleki, the first President of Tehran University after the Islamic Revolution, has written an open letter to Dr Ahmad Shaheed, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights, setting out the crimes committed by the regime. Maleki announced that he is ready and available to testify about the torture and execution of prisoners in Iran, both today and in the 1980s.

Maleki, who is in his late 70s, was last arrested in August 2009 and released in March 2010 because of deteriorating health. He spent five years in jail in the 1980s; having received a seven-year suspended sentence in March 2000, he can be summoned back to prison at any time.

0935 GMT: Corruption Watch. MP Ahmad Tavakoli, a leading critic of the Government, has claimed that the Executive Branch's delay in dealing with corruption is the leading cause of graft in Iran.

Referring to cases such as a recent $2.6 billion fraud in an Iranian bank, Tavakoli criticised the Central Bank and Ministry of Economy and said authorities, including Minister of Economy Shamseddin Hosseini, should come Parliament and answer questions.

Tavakoli announced that he will send certain documents to the Guardian Council that prove financial corruption on the part of some MPs, with a view to their disqualification from next March's Parliamentary elections.

0645 GMT: Economy Watch. Shargh reports that rents in Tehran have risen 24% in the last year.

0630 GMT: Prominent Iranian lawyer Abdolfattah Soltani was arrested on Saturday outside the Revolutionary Court.

Soltani's wife Masoumeh Dehghan told BBC Persian that security forces then raided the family home, “Today at 1:30 p.m. Mr. Soltani and four [officers] came into the house, went to his bedroom, and took any CDs, papers, or documents they could find. When we protested and explained the documents belong to the children, they didn’t listen and even took my children’s laptop with them.....The four [officers] left the house along with Mr. Soltani at 4:00pm and I am not sure where they took my husband. We were told to refer to the court to get our possessions returned to us."

Soltani, a member of the Center for Human Rights Defenders, was also arrested four days after the disputed June 2009 Presidential election and served 219 days in detention in 2005 before he was handed a five-year sentence for "disclosing confidential documents" and "propaganda against the system". He was subsequently acquitted on appeal.

Another video has emerged of Friday night's protests in East Azerbaijan in northwest Iran. People gathered in Marand, northwest of the provincial capital Tabriz.

The 24-minute clip is low-quality but gives an impression of the blend of celebration of victory of the region's leading football team and demonstration over the destruction of Lake Urmia.

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References (2)

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