Iran Election Guide

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The Latest from Iran (13 March): "Tehran is a Pioneer of Human Rights in the World"

UN Special Rapporteur Ahmad Shaheed's summary of his findings on the human rights situation in Iran

See also Iran Feature: The Week in Civil Society, from Women's Activism to Harsh Sentences to Cyberspace
Iran Video Document: Tehran's Larijani to UN "We Are a Benchmark for Human Rights"
The Latest from Iran (12 March): Ahmadinejad Escapes Interrogation?

1744 GMT: Bank Watch. More on yesterday's story that the Central Bank has seized $1.4 billion from seven Iranian banks, claiming that they did not provide legitimate records for foreign exchange transactions --- Central Bank head Mahmoud Bahmani has defended the action as one "on behalf of the Government".

1733 GMT: Oil Watch. Parliament has extended the rights of the Minister of Oil, Rustam Qassemi, to make deals for "exploration, development, production, repair and maintenance of joint oil and gas fields" without going through formal tenders and processes for compliance.

An EA reader is sceptical:

Iranian oil income is now the personal wealth of Brigadier Qassemi and he can legally, without any Majlis oversight, give it to whomever he wants for wha ever price ---China,Russia, his cousin twice removed, his mother-in-law, you name it because it is more "expedient" this way. Even some of the "principlists" are having a hard time swallowing this one.

In this context, we note the Supreme Leader's statement on Monday, which left us baffled at the time:

Based on the development plan, oil must stop being used as source of income and for funding the country’s budget and instead become a source for the progress and economic might of the country and authorities must pursue this policy ...with determination....It is necessary that we act in a manner that any decision making about our oil production and sales is up to us and based on our interests and of course we have taken good steps in this regard.

On a related matter, MP Asadollah Abbasi has claimed that 4000 Iranian oil experts have "taken refuge abroad" and this could have been stopped by higher payments to staff.

1730 GMT: Khatami Watch. The Nationalist-Religious Coalition and Freedom Movement groups have issued a statement criticising former President Mohammad Khatami for voting in this month's Parliamentary elections but asking all to respect him.

1722 GMT: Budget Watch. Voice of America reports on Parliamentary criticism of the Government's 2012/13 budget, submitted two months late, because of unrealistic projections of oil revenue.

According to the critics, Iran's production has fallen by 109 million barrels in the first two months of 2012. If true, that decline of 1.8 million barrels per day would be a decline of almost half in Iranian output.

1715 GMT: Economy Watch. Voice of America, citing Mehr, claims that the price of unsubsidised gasoline has risen to up to 1200 Tomans (about 65 cents) per litre.

The price of subsidised gasoline, after the December 2010 subsidy cuts, was set at 400 Tomans (about 22 cents) per litre with unsubsidised gasoline initially set at 700 Tomans (about 38 cents) per litre.

1330 GMT: Ahmadinejad Watch. State news agency IRNA offers a big clue to the course of tomorrow's Parliamentary interrogation of the President.

The pro-Ahmadinejad website headlines, "President Responds to the Question of Statistical Documentation" about Iran's economy. The article itself is a convoluted and confusing defence of the Government's suspect claim of at least 5.8% growth.

Far more important is the context from IRNA that this will be "one of the questions" raised by Ahmadinejad's interrogators tomorrow.

1030 GMT: Clerical Intervention. Grand Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi has warned that "inflation is unbearable" and "the Government should look for solutions".

0800 GMT: Oil Watch. Amidst questions over the long-run impact of sanctions on Iran's oil exports, Bloomberg posts this item of significance:

The Iran-driven run in oil prices to the highest since 2008 masks the Middle East producer’s diminishing importance to global oil supplies as record spending on drilling unearths reserves from Argentina to Angola.

New fields will ease pressure on prices, according to the Centre for Global Energy Studies. Futures show investors expect benchmark Brent crude to drop to less than $100 a barrel in 2015 from $125 today. Global exploration spending, led by Exxon Mobil Corp. (XOM) and Royal Dutch Shell Plc (RDSA), will jump 20 percent this year to at least $90 billion.

0620 GMT: Sanctions Watch. Summarising the squeeze on the Iranian economy, Simeon Kerr of the Financial Times opens with this snapshot from Oman:

The Iranian souk in Khasab, an Omani port on the Strait of Hormuz, is deserted.

Just four months ago, this network of low-rise trading posts, only 100km from the Iranian mainland, was a vibrant hub of commerce with Iran.

Late last year tougher US sanctions tightened Iranian access to international finance, restricting Tehran’s ability to convert crude oil exports into hard currency. Since then, the Iranian rial has collapsed.

Its 60 per cent decline in value against the dollar on unofficial currency markets has staunched Iranian demand for consumer goods. For traders in Khasab, on the Musandam peninsula, the impact has been disastrous.

0510 GMT: Last week we posted the 34-page report of the United Nations Special Rapporteur for Human Rights, Ahmad Shaheed, on the Islamic Republic's "striking pattern of violations of fundamental human rights guaranteed under international law". The investigation detailed Iran's extensive use of the death penalty, issues over detentions, and the repression of students, women, journalists, religious groups, and other communities. It also concluded that this repression pointed to the likelihood of a fraudulent 2009 President Election.

That would seem a pretty daunting list of charges. But Mohammad Javad Larijani, the head of the human rights section in Iran's judiciary, has countered them with the declaration that Tehran is a pioneer of human rights in the world. He assured the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva that Iran has successfully established a democracy, based on religious rationality instead of Western liberal democracy, which is a source of inspiration for other nations in the region. (See our separate feature for the video of Larijani's statement.)

In the Press TV summary, Larijani, the brother of the Speaker of Parliament and of the head of judiciary, does not directly respond to Shaheed's statements of fact. Nor does he mention that the Special Rapporteur was blocked from entering Iran and denied interviews with Iranian officials, instead assuring, "Please me put on record: the Islamic Republic will welcome and fully co-operate with reporting mechanisms of the Council which aim at discovering the real situation of human rights in Iran and elsewhere." Then he told the Council:

Instead of fulfilling his main duties, [Ahmed Shaheed] has taken part in interviews with various media outlets like a movie star. To prepare such a report which is filled with baseless charges [against Iran], the rapporteur does not need to take the trouble and travel to Iran…rather he can stay in Geneva or New York and visit counterrevolutionary websites...and simply copy and paste their content.

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