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Iran Feature: The Week in Civil Society --- From Earthquakes to Islamic Law in Outer Space (Arseh Sevom)

"Our Hearts Are With You, Azerbaijan"

The latest weekly review of developments inside Iran from Arseh Sevom, the NGO promoting civil society and human rights:

It was a week that began with medals and international sportsmanship yet ended with disaster as two earthquakes hit an area close to Tabriz in northwestern Iran. Netizens were shocked by the lack of Iranian media coverage of the quakes and an MP called for direct donations and volunteerism. Many inside and outside Iran are using social media to organize and report on assistance to the quake stricken areas.

The Supreme Leader turns a deaf ear to pleas from student organizations to "open prison gates" and a news agency affiliated with the Revolutionary Guards acknowledges the mass executions of the 1980s. There are questions about a doubling of US wheat imports while sanctions blocking the payments for needed medications are in place. A community exchanges waterpipes for sports equipment and a seminary promotes Islamic jurisprudence in outer space.

Our Hearts Are with You, Azerbaijan

Two consecutive earthquakes occurred over the weekend in the province of Eastern Azerbaijan, in northwest Iran. At the time of this report, the death toll is more than 300, with thousands injured, most of them women and children.

Exiled journalist Masih Alinejad, reached parliament member Abbas Falah Babajan, who represents two of the villages hard hit by the quake.

Babajan told Alinejad:

More than 50% of the villages have been ruined, We have not received any relief from other places… the survivors have been relocated and are in urgent need of tents, warm clothes, fresh food, dry food, water.

I ask people from all over Iran not to hand their help to the Red Crescent… I ask people to bring their donations in person as volunteer groups to the survivors; otherwise, I fear there could be more loss of life.

ISNA has posted a set of photos from the villages hardest hit by the earthquake.

State TV on Mute All over Iran, people were dismayed at the lack of coverage by State television. An image of screen captures from Iranian State TV, reportedly when many were looking for news updates on the earthquakes, made the rounds in cyberspace. In the snapshot, all channels are broadcasting religious programming and live reports from religious sites such as Karbala in Iraq and Mecca in Saudi Arabia. A comment posted under the image reads:

Trust me! This is my town, Andimeshk, [in Western Iran]. The Red Crescent is closed. The national Blood Transfusion Organization office is closed. Why? Because these people were staying up last night chanting “Al-afv” [a religious ritual for specific nights in Ramadan] if you don’t believe me make a phone call and see for yourself.

Another much-liked comment reads:

One of the reasons that the Iranian state-run media do not cover the news of the earthquake as they should is because they never deal with issues realistically. An earthquake on the 22nd of Ramadan [a religious holiday] between the nights of Ahya and Ghadr is in direct conflict with their official advertising campaigns. The [State] media is in the hands of those who claim that earthquake does not have scientific reasons and is, instead, caused by people committing sins.

An MP from Meshkinshahr, Younes Asadi, criticised IRIB for their coverage of the earthquake and said, “The officials of the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting should be ashamed.”

Global Voices has a summary of some of the responses.

Social Media Shaken

The blogosphere was filled with reports from all over the country of people in Iran rushing to open relief centers to give blood and make other donations.

These truckswere heading for Azerbaijan filled with donations collected by student groups from Mashhad in North Eastern Iran.

Pages like "Help for victims of the earthquakes in Azerbaijan" have been created to organise people’s donations independently from official charity organizations.

NGOs join in

The Society for Protecting the Rights of the Child, founded by Shirin Ebadi, has published a bank account number for the collection of donations for those in real need.

UPDATE: The British Red Cross explains why they aren't asking for funds to assist with the earthquake in Iran:

The Iran Red Crescent is very well prepared to respond to such emergencies. The National Society in neighbouring Turkey is on standby, and other National Societies around the world have offered to help if needed. The Iran Red Crescent has not requested support from other National Societies.

Student Group to Supreme Leader: Come Listen to the Students

The student group, Office for Consolidating Unity, addressed the Islamic Republic’s Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, pleaded with him “to open prison doors in order to hear the real voice of students".

After Satellite it is Hubble-Bubble Time

Following the example of collecting satellite receiver units in Tehran, a mosque in Southern Bushehr launched a similar campaign to “change hubble-bubbles [water pipes] for sports equipment”.

Bushehr News published a photo-report of the event.

Wheat Imports from U.S. Doubled?

The Customs Administration released statistics showing that the “import of wheat from other countries including the USA has been doubled". This raised questions among activists and analysts, who wondered why this occurred while vital medications cannot be purchased due to banking restrictions, as mentioned in our review last week.

Some economists doubted that statistics released by thecustoms organisation are based on facts. Speaking to Rooz Online, Jamshid Asadi said, “It is improbable that Iran’s wheat imports have been doubled....unless they have purchased American wheat circumventing the sanctions through a few middle dealers.”

Iran Tribunal Leads to Acknowledgment of 1980s Mass Executions

Finally, perhaps for the first time in its history, Fars News Agency, which is close to Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, has acknowledged the mass executions of the 1980s. Criticising Iran Tribunal for investigating the killing of political prisoners, Fars wrote:

The reason for writing this note is the anniversary of a Fatwa issued by Imam Khomeini about the jailed members of the MKO ["terrorist" Mujahedin-e Khalq], which, in reality, was a rescuing fatwa. [This] was a fatwa that helped pluck out the eye of sedition at the time.

The piece justifies the executions under the concept of as “enemy character", claiming that all rules applicable during a state of war may be applicable to individuals in contact with enemy forces.

Thinking of a Higher Degree? Consider “Space Jurisprudence”

But anyhow, it's important for Muslims to know how to conduct their religious duties in space. I will tell you now, since people are floating in space, if the body of a female astronaut touches the body of a male astronaut that would not be a problem. But it is necessary to join them in temporary wedlock before traveling to space to be on the safe side.

This dialogue from the film Marmoulak, featuring the escapades of an escaped convict posing as a cleric, has now been brought into reality. The Education deputy of Khorasan Hawzah (Shiite Seminary) announced the opening of a special higher degree program in “Islamic Space Jurisprudence".

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