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The Latest from Iran (13 November): Admitting a Blogger's Death in Detention

See also EA Video Analysis: Iran Sanctions, Human Rights, and the Nuclear Issue
Iran Opinion: The Crisis in Medical Care --- It's Not Just About Sanctions
The Latest from Iran (12 November): The Economic Squeeze Tightens

Sattar Beheshti1856 GMT: Sanctions Watch. Hong Kong will remove permission for 19 ships linked to the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines (IRISL) to operate under its flag, according to a letter from the Hong Kong Government's Marine Department.

"As it is of paramount importance to HKMD in safeguarding the quality of Hong Kong ships, HKMD has therefore taken action already in notifying the owners of these 19 ships for the closure of the registration in Hong Kong within 90 days beginning from the date of the notice being served," S.F. Wong, Hong Kong Shipping Register's general manager, said in the letter.

1742 GMT: Import Watch. Sasan Khodayi, the head of import and export regulations for the Trade Development Organization of Iran, said today, "Registering for the import of laptops and computer equipment is now possible and without restrictions."

Khodayi added that import of equipment produced domestically, such as mouses and keyboards, is still prohibited.

The Trade Development Organization announced last week that it was banning import of 77 luxury goods including cars, household items, mobiles and computers and their parts, toys, cosmetics, musical instruments, microphones, speakers, and CDs.

1652 GMT: Oil Watch. Press TV declares success, "IEA Confirms Iran’s Oil Production Boost":

International Energy Agency (IEA) has confirmed [an] increase in Iran’s crude oil production in spite of international sanctions on the Islamic Republic’s energy sector....

“China and South Korea appear to account for the lion's share of the increase in Iranian [oil] imports,” the IEA said in its monthly report for October.

Press TV does not give the specific figures from the IEA --- "Exports jumped to 1.3 million barrels per day from 1.0 million in September and in August" --- nor does it note that, despite the rise, exports are still far below the 2011 figure of 2.2 million bpd.

Even more striking is Press TV's pursuit of a regime deception, even as the IEA report gives the true story, "Iran produced 2.7 million barrels per day in October, up around 70,000 on September."

The Press TV version? "In October, Iran’s Oil Minister Rostam Qasemi dismissed media speculation that the country’s oil production and exports have fallen to about 2.7 million barrels per day, adding that Iran is still producing 4 million barrels per day."

Iranian oil production in 2011 was about 4.1 million bpd.

1625 GMT: Foreign Affairs Watch (Syrian Front). In an apparent response to the formation of the opposition Syrian National Coalition in Qatar, Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian has said Tehran will "host a meeting between Syrian government and opposition groups next week".

1615 GMT: A Death in Detention. The latest regime line on last week's death in prison of blogger Sattar Beheshti, courtesy of Mohammad Hassan Asafari, a member of Parliament's National Security Committee, and Press TV: “Based on postmortem exams, there is no sign of anything having been administered to him or any [lethal] blow having been inflicted on him...and the coroner has pronounced cardiac arrest as the cause of his death."

Asafari did note "that there have been a few bruises on the blogger's body and leg which are being investigated by forensic experts".

Monday's line on Press TV, supposedly from a doctor, was that Beheshti had suffered from "extreme exhaustion".

1440 GMT: A Death in Detention (and Other Political Prisoners). Tehran Prosecutor General Abbas Jafari Doulatabadi has said that "several people" have been arrested in connection with the death in prison of blogger Sattar Behesti amid "extensive inquiries".

Doulatabadi said he hoped the investigation would be completed within the next 10 days.

On other prison matters, Jafari Doulatabadi denied reports that "some inmates" --- nine women political prisoners --- had gone on hunger strike over their treatment. He said detained lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh, in the fifth week of her strike, had been allowed to meet her children.

On the currency front, Jafari Doulatabadi said traders who had been "disturbers" of the market had been arrested and that "detailed investigation is ongoing".

1340 GMT: A Death in Detention (Ahmadinejad Exploitation Edition). An interesting political twist over the death in prison of blogger Sattar Beheshti....

Mohammad Reza Taghavifard, the editor of Khorshid and a producer at State broadcaster IRIB, has suggested that Beheshti's death would not have occurred if President Ahmadinejad had been allowed to visit Evin Prison.

Ahmadinejad, in a public dispute with head of judiciary Sadegh Larijani, said he wanted to visit Evin to investigate conditions there and suggest reforms. The President's critics claimed Ahmadinejad was motivated by the desire to see Ali Akbar Javanfekr, his senior aide serving a six-month sentence.

0850 GMT: Foreign Affairs Watch (Syrian Front). Ali Akbar Velayati, the Supreme Leader's top aide for foreign affairs, has claimed, “More than 90% of the people in Syria who are at war against the government and people of this country are not Syrian.”

0845 GMT: The Battle Within. The head of President Ahmadinejad’s political bureau, Mohammad Jafar Behdad, has continued his fight with other groups in the regime. Without naming the organisations, he alleged that the Basij militia and Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps have used “internal bulletins” to compare Ahamadinejad to former President Abdolhasan Banisadr --- forced to flee the country in 1980 --- and Masoud Rajavi, the leader of the "terrorist" People’s Mojahedin of Iran.

0745 GMT: Nuclear Watch --- A Clarification. Yesterday we noted the comments of leading politician and Secretary of the Expediency Council Mohsen Rezaei linking discussions with the US to negotiations with the 5+1 Powers.

We indicated that Rezaei had pointed to the existence of back-channel talks between Washington and Tehran. In fact, the 2009 Presidential candidate, while implying these talks might have taken place or are being proposed, gave a warning against any bilateral moves: “Before starting the negotiations with America we have to reach a positive result with the P5+1 group, because this group is a good channel for negotiating with superpowers.” He said that the Islamic Republic must be careful to avoid involvement in the rivalries of superpowers, through talks with the US without coordination with other countries.

My thanks to the EA reader who gave us the precise translation and interpretation.

0455 GMT: In a Monday of confusing and sometimes contradictory statements, the regime admitted that Sattar Beheshti, seized from his home on 30 October, died in prison last week while trying to hold off the allegation that the 35-year-old blogger had been killed during interrogation.

At one point, leading figures appeared to be backing away from responsibility. Alaeddin Boroujerdi, the head of Parliament's National Security Committee, said that a "preliminary report" --- apparently completed only 24 hours after the Majlis said it would take up the case --- had shown "no traces of beating".

That was a denial too far for the judiciary, which had also said on Sunday that it would consider the situation. Iran Prosecutor General Gholam-Hossein Mohseni Ejei said five bruises were found on Beheshti's body. He reported that Beheshti had written a letter of complaint from prison that he hadd been subjected to "threats, insults and beatings".

Still, Mohseni Ejei insisted that Beheshti died from natural causes: “His body showed no fractures of bones, nor did his skull." He reported that a doctor had found the blogger “extremely exhausted”, without considering whether the detention and interrogation might have contributed to the exhaustion. 

Mohseni Ejei, having tried to define what the judiciary's investigation would find, said the enquiry would last 45 days.

In another layer of confusion, State-run Iran Network News website said three interrogators involved in the case had been arrested but gave no details.

Beheshti, who was also held in 2009 in the Kahrizak detention center where post-election protesters were tortured and killed, was arrested by cyberpolice because of blog entries that challenged the repression of the regime: "We will not step down until we set ourselves free of the chains of existence, or break away from the chains of injustice!"

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