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The Latest from Iran (26 February): Bashing the BBC, Jailing the Journalists

See also Iran Opinion: Myth and Reality About Nuclear Ambitions
Iran Snapshot: When the Revolutionary Guards Confuse Computer Viruses with Condoms
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The Latest from Iran (25 February): A Far-from-Simple Election

Journalist Marzieh Rassouli (see 0550 GMT)2038 GMT: The House Arrests. Authorities have relaxed the house arrest of Fatemeh Karroubi to allow a visit to the family of detained blogger and physician Mehdi Khazali. Karroubi urged the family to ask Khazali to stop his 49-day hunger strike.

2028 GMT: CyberWatch. The "Hezbollah Cyber Army" hacked the website of the reformist Assembly of Combatant Clerics today to post the message: "I participate in elections. With God's wisdom, the great Iran nation will put supporters of the US line of an election boycott in their place."

The Assembly has already replaced the text with a quote from former President Mohammad Khatami, "Nothing will appease people but ruling their fate themselves."

1622 GMT: Tough Talk of the Day. The head of the Basij militia, Mohammad Reza Naqdi, has responded to the controversy over the burning of the Qur'an by US armed forces in Afghanistan: “The U.S. has committed such an ugly act and burnt Qur'ans because of the heavy slap it has been given by Islam. Nothing but burning the White House can relieve the wound on us, the Muslims, caused by burning the Qur'an.”

1612 GMT: Rumour of Day. Rah-e Sabz publishes claims that Mojtaba Khamenei, the Supreme Leader's son, met Mir Hossein Mousavi, asking the detained opposition figure to co-operate since the country is in crisis.

1610 GMT: The Battle Within. Mashregh News claims that several prominent supporters of the President have called for an election boycott to protest the barring of 600 pro-Ahmadinejad candidates from the ballot.

1607 GMT: Elections Watch. Four Kurdish parties have called on people to boycott Friday's Parliamentary elections.

1600 GMT: Clerical Intervention. More on Ayatollah Dastgheib's criticism today of the system and the Supreme Leader (see 1035 GMT)....

Dastgheib declared, “The essence of the regime is now under question; the people have distanced themselves from religion and God and are now completely pessimistic about it.”

The cleric added, “Before the elections of 2005, there were no critical issues and no one’s rights had been openly violated, but after the 2005 elections, because of the mismanagement and the rule of an unprofessional group, the system is now damaged.”

Challenging the claim of the Supreme Leader's camp that Ayatollah Khamenei is beyond critique, Dastgheib took up matters of justice: "How can mujtahids (Islamic scholars) justify forced confessions? Is the questioning of the arrests of (opposition figures Mir Hossein) Mousavi and (Mehdi) Karroubi a secondary issue?"

1550 GMT: Oil Watch. Earlier we noted the unsourced report of Fars (see 1405 GMT) that Iran held up a shipment of 500,000 barrels of oil to Greece as a pre-emptive strike against the European Union's suspension of imports of Iranian oil from 1 July. The managing director of the Iranian Oil Terminals Company has denied the claim: "There has been no change in Iran's oil shipment to Greece or any other country. No changes in our shipment schedule."

1540 GMT: Jailing the Journalists. A twist in our story of the day....

Even though she was posted as one of the detainees swept up by the Revolutionary Guard as an "agent" of BBC Persian, blogger/journalist Parastou Dokouhaki has been released on bail of 300 million Toman (about $160,000).

However, Marzieh Rasouli --- arrested in mid-January like Dokouhaki and also labelled as one of the BBC agents swept up in the "Eye of the Fox" operation --- remains behind bars. Her father says:

Every day since the day she was arrested I've been to the prosecutors office at Evin; all to no avail, no one feels responsible to give answers. We've been to the Tehran Court of Justice too, with the request to visit Marzieh. We were told to go to the Prosecutor's Deputy. And there they said the Deputy didn't deal with 'security' cases, but only the Prosecutor himself.

We don't have a clue why she's been arrested.

1405 GMT: Oil Watch. Fars claims, without giving a source, that Iran has refused to give Greece a shipment of 500,000 barrels of crude oil, retaliating against the European Union's suspension of imports of Iranian crude from 1 July.

Fars said the tankers were "destined to the Greek refiner Hellenic", but a Hellenic Petroleum official denied it had been refused any such shipment: "That has nothing to do with us...all supplies from Iran have been processed normally."

1125 GMT: Elections Watch. In a campaign debate, "breakaway" principlist MP Ali Motahari has denounced improper payments to the Islamic Constancy Front, connected with Ayatollah Mesbah and "billionaire businessman" and former Minister of Interior Sadegh Mahsouli.

Motahari criticised "Basiji thugs with Sundis (free drinks handed out by the regime)" who showed up in front of Parliament and insulted MPs in the dispute over control of Islamic Azad University.

And Motahari took on those, such as the pro-Ahmadinejad Resistance Front, who allegedly said the system of velayat-e faqih (clerical supremacy) could never be questioned: "I believe that there are mutual rights between velayat-e faqih and the people....We should not represent [the Supreme Leader] as a “just dictator”.

1035 GMT: Clerical Intervention. Ayatollah Dastgheib has jabbed at the Supreme Leader: if the Guardian Council is not allowed to intervene in the system of velayat-e faqih (clerical supremacy), then this is "illogical".

Recent reports have claimed that Ayatollah Khamenei's office has informed both the Guardian Council and the Assembly of Experts that they cannot interfere with the decisions of the Supreme Leader.

1025 GMT: Political Prisoner Watch. The daughter and son-in-law of detained reformist Mojtaba Tajzadeh, have been banned from leaving the country and referred to court.

The move is symbolic, as Arefeh Tajzadeh and Ali Tabatabaee are outside Iran, but it effectively blocks them from a return to the country.

Tajzadeh, a former Deputy Minister of Interior, is serving a six-year sentence.

0905 GMT: Fraud Watch. Leading MP Ahmad Tavakoli has launched an attack on the Government over its handling of fraud.

Tavakoli's Alef website has accused the judiciary of a double standard. It asked, "What is the difference between those accused in 2009's post-election events and those in the "great fraud" [of the $2.6 billion bank embezzlement]? Why has the judiciary held quick group trials for those accused after the election, showing their faces in all types of media...but it has not done the same for the great fraud?"

Tavakoli’s lawyer also announced that a complaint against 1st Vice President Mohammad Reza Rahimi, who has been accused of involvement in a multi-million-dollar insurance fraud, was delivered to the judiciary on 14 February. Based on this, the lawyer said, Rahimi should personally attend a session in court for interrogation.

0855 GMT: Ahmadinejad Watch. Abbas Ali Kadkhodaei, the Guardian Council's spokesman, has expressed the Council's criticism of the President's appointment of Mohammad Ali Hejazi as the director of Supervisory Board of the Constitution.

Ahmadinejad had disbanded the Board at the start of his Presidency, but he recently said that this board is “very very important and necessary”. Leading MPs have denounced the President's apparent attempt to resurrect the Board to challenge political rivals.

0738 GMT: Unity Watch. Hassan Ghafourifard has declared that, despite the proliferation of factions for the Parliamentary elections, the effort for a "grand coalition" of principlists has not been "dissolved". It is only suspended, he said, awaiting the decisions of Ayatollahs Mahdavi Kani and Mesbah Yazdi, the leaders of the rival Unity Front and Islamic Constancy Front.

In contrast, Gholam Hossein Elham, the former spokesman for the Government, said the pro-Ahmadinejad Resistance Front could never join the Unity Front: "We will not let go of Ahmadinejad. We believe in his discourse."

Elham said the Unity Front are “reviving the sedition current” and “gathering dignity for Hashemi Rafsanjani as [its] manager" through criticism of the President.

Hitting back, Hossein Fadaee, debating the pro-Ahmadinejad Mehrdad Bazrpash, said the "deviant current" has planned for two years to win 200 seats in the 310-member Parliament.

Fadaee claimed 600 candidates "related to the deviant current" are not qualified to stand for election.

0735 GMT: CyberWatch. Etedaal reports on websites that were filtered on Saturday, including the pro-Ahmadinejad outlets "598", Serat News, and Bibak News.

0724 GMT: Deviant Current Watch. Last year, one of the prominent episodes in Iran's political battle was the distribution of a CD heralding the return of the Hidden Imam.

A number of people, including advisors to President Ahmadinejad, were imprisoned for putting out the CD, and the incident contributed to the declaration of a "deviant current" trying to upset the Islamic Republic.

Now a second CD, "Lessons of History", has appeared. It compares President Ahmadinejad to Al-Mukhtar, who led an abortive rebellion against the Umayyad Caliphs in the 7th century, and portrays former President Hashemi Rafsanjani as the leader of the "sedition current" trying to destroy the Government.

The CD asserts that the supposed "deviant current" and Ahmadinejad's "Iran-first" approach are based on religious and historical texts.

0714 GMT: Poster of the Day. A declaration of "Unity" between Iranians and Syrians seeking freedom, rights and justice:

0710 GMT: Political Prisoner Watch. Economist Ali Rashidi, a senior member of the National Religious Front, has been released from Evin Prison after four months in detention.

0705 GMT: Press Watch. The Bamdad daily newspaper has been banned for publishing a letter of clerical students to the Qom seminaries about Speaker of Parliament Ali Larijani.

0550 GMT: We open with a story combining political prisoners, propaganda, the Revolutionary Guards, journalism, and the "enemy".

Yesterday the regime rolled out its PR campaign about "Eye of the Fox", a Revolutionary Guards operation which had supposedly broken up a ring carrying out the devious schemes of BBC Persian: “In line with the British government’s neo-colonialist attitude and through the use of new and complicated intelligence methods, (the BBC) had created a complicated intelligence network with the aim of collecting specific and purposeful intelligence.”

This network had been established to recruit members from Iranian political and media circles, establishing connections with anti-revolutionary groups, particularly the "terrorist" Mojahedin-e Khalq, and gathering intelligence about Iran’s strategic points, centers, and organizations, including ministries, embassies, and oil platforms.  

This is far from a new campaign. In the "first phase of the operation" last September, six prominent Iranian filmmakers were detained.  And three weeks ago, "an informed source [had] confirmed reports...that Iran has arrested a number of people, who had been working secretly for the Persian language service of the BBC". And while the regime's outlets have not headlined these operations, the Guards and Minister of Intelligence have also harassed the families of BBC Persian staff, in one case detaining the sister of a London-based employee so they could carry out an interrogation by Internet.

This time, the victims --- "24 main members of the network" --- were bloggers and journalists seized in January. Iranian media only gave initials, as well as photographs of five people with bands across the eyes, but the activist news agency RAHANA named three of the five: Parastou Dokouhaki, one of the first bloggers in Iran; Marzieh Rassouli, a cultural journalist for newspapers such as Shargh, Etemaad, and Roozegar; and Sahameddin Bourghani, the editor of the Iranian Diplomacy website.

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