Iran Feature: The Week in Civil Society --- Political Prisoners, Israel Loves Iran, and Looking Too Much Like Ahmadinejad (Arseh Sevom)
The latest weekly review of developments inside Iran from Arseh Sevom, the NGO promoting civil society and human rights in the country:
The aftermath of the earthquake in the province of East Azerbaijan still dominates news coming out of Iran. Meanwhile, 130 political prisoners have been released. the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) Summit will mean 5 days of holiday for those living and working in Tehran. Graffiti messages call for the release of political prisoners and United4Iran calls on the NAM to put pressure on The Islamic Republic of Iran to adhere to international human rights agreements.
The number of female breadwinners in Iran has doubled over the past 5 years. Shirin Ebadi has issued a letter to United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon protesting the denial of education to female students and joined in a rebuke against the US channel NBC for turning war into a reality show with Stars Earn Stripes. Iranians and Israelis share messages of peace via Facebook.
The pro- and anti-sanctions debate causes rifts among expat Iranians. Saeed Mortazavi is removed from his post as head of the Social Security Organization while actor Mahmoud Basiri complains he cannot get any work because he looks too much like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Before the opening of the Non-Aligned Movement meeting in Tehran and in keeping with the tradition of granting pardons to mark the end of Ramadan, it was reported that 130 political prisoners would be released. Some noted that among the names many of the prisoners have already served all or most of their sentences. To date, 90 have been freed. Meanwhile 14 political prisoners were reported to have been lashed.
In preparation, the Iranian government has announced a five-day holiday in the capital.
Of the 115 members of the NAM, around 100 are said to be attending by Iranian officials, with 30 sending Heads of State.
Last week we covered the letter from political prisoners inviting the heads of state in town for the Non-Aligned Movement summit to visit Iranian prisons. Images coming out of Iran show written messages in public places demanding the release of opposition figures:
During the Non-Aligned Movement summit, oppose the arrest and imprisonment of our green companions including [Mir Hossein] Mousavi and [Mehdi] Karroubi.
United For Iran has released a statement addressing the “democratic leaders” and delegates of the Non-Aligned Movement, to pay attention to the violation of human rights by the Islamic Republic, not settling for the recent release of the 130 political prisoners:
According to its founding charter, NAM members are required to “respect fundamental human rights” and “respect justice and international obligations.” United for Iran reminds NAM members that Iran is not qualified to lead the organization as it has shown a deep-seated hostility to recognized human rights and has repeatedly demonstrated a disregard for its international human rights obligations....
Acts of "pardon" are not convincing until all political prisoners are released and laws that outlaw guaranteed civil and political rights reformed.”
According to the new census report, women support more than 12% of Iranian households economically. The number has doubled within a span of five years.
News that female students will be banned from studying more than 70 subjects is causing alarm.
Iranian Nobel Peace Laureate Shirin Ebadi submitted an open letter to the United Nation Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon, contesting the banning of female students from participating in certain programs of higher education in Iran. After describing the extent of the new efforts to ban women from studying a number of topics including English language and literature, chemistry, and education, she adds:
The Iranian government is trying to stifle any opposition voice regarding gender discrimination. For instance, one could highlight the arrest and punishment of dozens of women’s rights activists, some of whom have received heavy prison terms; Mahboobeh Karami, Bahareh Hedayat, Narges Mohamamdi, Nasrin Sotudeh, Haniyeh Farshid Shotorban are currently serving their prison terms.
Last year, security forces illegally shut down the “Sedighe Dolat Abadi” Library, the only independent, non-governmental library in the filed of Women’s studies.
CBS News reports that Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Shirin Ebadi and several other Nobel laureates “protested in an open letter to the US network NBC that its new reality competition series Stars Earn Stripes glorifies war and armed violence.” The Nobel laureates mention in their letter that the TV series is "trying to somehow sanitize war by likening it to an athletic competition".
The people behind the Israel Loves Iran campaign have launched another initiative to combat war rhetoric. A post on their Facebook page reads:
We are millions of people who will be hurt. Will be drafted, will have to fight, lose our lives, our relatives. We, parents from TelAviv and Teheran will have to run with our children to the shelters and pray the missiles will miss us. But they will fall somewhere, on someone.
Those last few days the sound of war is becoming louder. So once again, loud and clear, we are saying NO to this war We saying to the people of Iran: We Love You.
Here is an example of an Iranian soldier:
Haartez reports that in Israel a group of hundreds of anti-war Israelis wrote a letter to the Israel Defense Forces declaring that they would refuse to bomb Iran.
Global Voices has more on the story.
The story is still a source of debate among analysts and activists. The Iranian American Forum offers another perspective, saying that the Government uses the sanctions as an excuse for bad economic policy and to control the population. It blames Iranian lobbyists in the US for spreading anti-sanctions opinion.
Journalist Golnaz Esfandiari, who has written about the sanctions, told Arseh Sevom: “I'm not sure to what extent the lack of drugs is due to the sanctions. But I see a disturbing trend among expat Iranians: whoever speaks against sanctions --- because they hurt the people --- is being accused of being pro-regime. That's total nonsense.”
Former Tehran Prosecutor General Saeed Mortazavi, who was promoted to the head of the biggest financial holding organization in Iran, the Social Security Organization [Sazman-e Tamin-e Ejtema’ie] by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s administration, has been removed from his post. After many protested the promotion, including members of Parliament, it has been revoked by the Iranian Court of Administrative Justice which pronounced Mortazavi as “not eligible for the post” and said his appointment was “illegal”.
The Iranian blogosphere is buzzing with the news that actor Mahmoud Basiri told Farda News he has been banned from working for the past 7-8 years due to his “resemblance to the President".
Basiri and a group of his colleagues met Ahmadinejad this week and, according to the banned actor, “Some raised the issue of my working ban.” When asked whether the Islamic Republic President was aware or not Basiri responded “Of course, how couldn’t he be?...These days they send me scenario scripts and arrange appointments but suddenly disappear.”