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Iran Feature: The Week in Civil Society --- From Forbidden Books to a Shrinking Middle Class (Arseh Sevom)

Arseh Sevom, the NGO promoting civil society in Iran, issues its latest weekly round-up of developments:

Parliamentary Elections Conclude

This week the second round of the Iranian parliamentary elections was held. The opposition websites have reported extensive irregularities, such as the use of government funds to run campaigns, while state media praised the massive turn-out and Keyhan newspaper observed that 20,000 photos were taken of Ayatollah Khamenei while he was casting his vote.

A cartoon on the pro-government Fars News website portrays the two election rounds as knockout blows to the US.

The opposition site, Rah-e Sabz [Green Path] described the second round as an “unfair, dim, and staged.”

Official Book Fair and Unofficial Books

The annual International Book Fair of Tehran opened on 1 May and will continue to the 11th, even as the list of forbidden books grows. Authorities collect “illegal copies", sometimes turning them into paper paste (recounted in our review of 23 April). Meanwhile, a shadow book fair has sprung up featuring the forbidden texts.

Ayatollah Khamenei: Anti-Filter Software “Not Permissible”

Mehr News Agency in Iran reports that one of its journalists recently submitted a legal question to the Islamic Republic Leader’s office asking about his religious decree on using anti-filter software for “people whose job requires them to use filtered websites using anti-filter software". Ayatollah Khamanei’s one-sentence response apparently dismissed the use of anti-filter software for anyone, “In general, the use of anti-filter [software] is subject to the laws and regulations of the Islamic Republic and violating laws is not permissible".

Press Freedom Day in One of the “Biggest Prisons for Journalists”

Press Freedom Day passed with little attention in Iran.

In our last round-up, we reported on a recent list published by Iranian expatriate journalist and activist Masih Alinejad of 108 journalists who have been officially arrested since 2009 in Iran. On this year’s Press Freedom Day, Reporters without Borders stated:

The Islamic Republic of Iran has both Supreme Leader Khamenei and President Ahmadinejad [as predators of freedom of information], who – despite their rivalry – agree on gagging the media. Iran still ranks with Eritrea, China, Turkey and Syria as one of the world’s biggest prisons for journalists.

On the same occasion, the incarcerated journalist, Masood Bastani, wrote from Rajaie Shahr prison:

“I wish others too thought like we do that elsewhere members of this sphere-shaped village of ours have passed the “freedom of expression” stage and are now in search of newer horizons for their own people and we are ‘repeating the cycle of night and the day, and yet...’ [ "shab raa o rooz raa dor mikonim va hanooz raa" Ed not: Please forgive our awkward translation of the line from the poem by Ahmad Shamlou.]”

Nobel Peace Laureates and Iranian Activists Demand Release of Narges Mohamadi

The Defenders of Human Rights Center, founded by Shirin Ebadi, published the news of an appeal by a group of Nobel Peace Laureates demanding the release of human rights activist, Narges Mohamadi, who was recently sentenced to six years in prison in Iran. The signatories include Mikhail Gorbachev, Dalai Lama, and Lech Walesa.

In addition to the letter, a total of 311 Iranian activists and civil and cultural entities have demanded the release of Narges Mohamadi in their open letter to Ahmad Shaheed, the United Nations Special Human Rights Rapporteur on Iran.

Independent United Nations Human Rights Experts Concerned about Human Rights Defenders in Iran

On 4 May, after the sentencing of a number of human rights defenders in Iran to long prison terms, independent human rights experts affiliated with the United Nations released a statement of concern. The Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran, Ahmad Shaheed, said:

The conviction and extremely harsh sentencing of human rights defenders is an indication of mounting repression against the legitimate activities of human rights defenders and represents a serious setback for the protection of human rights in Iran.

Who Me? Repressing Human Rights Defenders?

The same day the statement was released, human rights lawyer Mohammad Ali Dadkhah was sentenced to nine years in prison for “membership of an association [the Center for Human Rights Defenders] seeking the soft overthrow of the government” and “spreading propaganda against the system through interviews with foreign media".

Dadkhah has defended a number of activists and gained international attention for defending the Christian pastor, Youcef Naderkhani, who faces execution for converting from Islam.

He told the Guardian, "I was in a court in Tehran defending one of my clients, Davoud Arjangi, a jailed political activist on death row when the judge told me that my own sentence has been approved and I will be shortly summoned to jail to serve the nine-year sentence."

Ann Harrison, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa, stated, “Mohammad Ali Dadkhah’s only crime is to have defended the rights of others. He should not even have been on trial in the first place and his sentence should be quashed immediately".

Narges Mohamadi’s Husband: “My children Must Know Why Their Mother is in Prison.”

Taghi Rahmani, Narges Mohamadi’s husband, participated in an interview with Zanan TV, an online platform dedicated to Iranian women’s issues. The political activist and former prisoner of conscience now in exile, stated that his main concern was their children, and that he wants them to know why their mother had to go to prison: “Narges is behind bars for defending the rights of children their age.”

Teenager Imprisoned for Protesting Drying of Lake

An 18-year-old in Iran has been arrested and sentenced to one year in prison for having participated in a demonstration demanding government action to prevent the drying of Lake Urmia. Security forces captured Sahand Nobakht in Miandoab of Western Azerbaijan Province.

Mortazavi’s Right Hand Arrested

The former Tehran Deputy Prosecutor under Saeed Mortazavi, Ali Akbar Heydarifard, has been arrested. Many know Heydarifard as the “walking stick” of Mortazavi, the notorious figure behind Kahrizak disaster, who is also known as “The Butcher of the Press” for his key role in shutting down the Iranian media.

Ali Akbar Heydarifard was arrested on the charge of disrupting public order, after he shot in the air to intimidate people who confronted him for not waiting in line at a gas station in Isfahan.

Save Our Theatre

Almost 400 people active in the theatre community sent a letter to the mayor of Tehran, Mohammad-Bagher Qalibaf, asking for help to save an historic theater/center for the arts in Tehran. This is their second plea for the preservation of the building and support for the arts.

University Students Uni-Formed

Last week the dean of Al-Zahra girls’ university in Tehran announced that a student uniform brand will soon be launched in cooperation with the University of Tehran to preserve students’ Iranian-Islamic identity. According to the repot, the brand is going to be named “Parnian".

Iranian Netizens Protest Omission of Persian Gulf from Google Maps

Last week Google omitted the name of Persian Gulf from its Google Maps Service. The act raised protests among Iranian netizens both inside and outside the country. This Facebook group is an example. A representative of Google has told the BBC that his company “did not name every place in the world.” When asked to cite other instances, the Google representative “was unable to provide an example of a similar case of a missing landmark".

Iranian Middle Class Shrinks

Prices are still rising in Iran “on a weekly basis” according an interview published on The Etemad. The interviewee, Dr. Hossein Raghfar, contests official figures and says he is “extremely disappointed with the official inflation rates announced by the government".

Raghfar adds: “In my opinion the inflation rate during the current Persian year has been above 55%.” Dr. Raghfar points to an alarming figure he presents as “the absolute poverty line” for Iranian major cities, including Tehran. “Apparently the absolute poverty line in Tehran for a family of five people, with three children studying at different levels, is a minimum of one and a half million Tomans, [almost $830]” The minimum wage has been set at around $250 in Iran.

Raghfar warns that the current crisis within Iranian society has led to the shrinking of the middle class and “transferring of a large part of this social group into the lower [economic] class".

Noble Man in Orange

Dariush Mehrjooyi the veteran director of the Iranian cinema and the creator of the now-classic “The Cow” praised Ahmad Rabani, whose story appeared in our previous weekly roundup. Speaking at a ceremony held in Tehran, Dariush Mehrjooyi said, “At such times when everyone is facing economic hardship in Iran and this man does not have a big income, what he did was absolutely admirable. He is the noble man in orange.”

In Iran municipal sweepers dress in orange, which is co-incidentally also the title of Mr. Mehrjooyi’s recent movie “Orange Dressed”:

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