Iran Feature: The Week in Civil Society --- Honouring Detained Student Activist Tavakoli (Arseh Sevom)
A defiant speech from student activist Majid Tavakoli, now serving a nine-year prison sentence, in December 2008
Arseh Sevom, the NGO promoting civil society and human rights in Iran, posts its review of the latest developments inside the country:
Student leader Majid Tavakoli, locked up in prison in Iran, will be awarded the International Student Peace Prize in a ceremony in Norway today. Authorities announce new categories of criminalised speech in advance of the upcoming Presidential elections. Opposition leaders Mehdi Karroubi, Zahra Rahnavard, and Mir Hossein Mousavi remain under house arrest while their children are harassed by authorities, and secret executions continue in Iran’s prisons.
The situation has gone from bad to worse when it comes to the economy. New sanctions are on the way, while the government tries to placate the population by offering a pittance for the New Year holidays.
Majid Tavakoli, Student Peace Prize Winner, Iranian Prisoner
Majid Tavakoli will be awarded the International Student Peace Prize award in absentia today.
Tavakoli is serving a nine-year sentence for his outspoken dissent. When he was arrested in December 2009, after a speech on National Student Day, authorities tried to humiliate him by publishing a photo of him in hijab. The propaganda sparked a worldwide campaign in solidarity with the imprisoned student.
Vigdis Lian, President of the Norwegian branch of UNESCO, said:
Students are often the first on the barricades when a society moves in the wrong direction and systematized attacks on education expands. Academic persons, schools, students and universities are increasingly susceptible for violence and threats. They are exposed for arbitrary harassment and imprisonment, or simply disappear. Why is education so threatening for the people in charge?...
This year’s prize winner, Majid Tavakoli, is a role model for student all over the world. We join in the congratulations.…
New Round of Sanctions: Iran Prepared for Barter
The US imposed its latest round of sanctions on 6 February, aimed at further restricting Iran’s ability to trade with the rest of the world. The targets: trade of oil for gold and precious metals and the activities of financial, shipping, and communications companies.
The situation is likely affect the next Presidential elections, and some officials are already warning against “economic unrest". Meanwhile, the Iranian Ministry of Industry, Mining, and Trade has established a “barter committee” to trade its oil with international customers. Deputy Minister Hamid Safdel said Iran has arranged a series of barters in the past few months.
On Monday, the US State Department announced the imposition of new sanctions on two Iranian entities --- Iran Electronics Industries and the Marine Industries Organization --- and one individual, Milad Jafari.
Secret Executions Take Anonymous Lives
Iran Human Rights has reported on two cases of secret executions in Iran, one in Rajai Shahr Prison, west of Tehran, and the other in Vakilabad Prison in Mashhad. According to reports, there have been secret executions every Wednesday or Sunday in Vakilabad, and sometimes even three times a week. At least 400 prisoners may have been executed in the past four or five months.
In Rajai Shahr, prisoners are being transferred out of their wards daily and the execution of a number of them, including Masoud Alimoradi and Mahmoud Nezami, has been confirmed. Sources say that prisoners are normally transferred to Evin Prison for execution on Tuesdays, but for the past two months Iranian authorities have been executing prisoners in a hall newly built in Rajai Shahr.
The International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran issued a report on the secret executions last year.
Arrest and Release of Children of Detained Opposition Leaders Mousavi, Karroubi, and Rahnavard
It has been two years since 2009 Presidential candidates Mehdi Karoubi and Mir Hossein Mousavi, along with Mousavi's wife Zahra Rahnavard, were placed under house arrest. On the anniversary of the detentions, BBC News reported on the seizure of Mousavi’s daughters, Zahra and Narges by security forces, who searched the houses for hours and took away the two women after finding relatives to take care of their children.
The home of Karroubi’s eldest son Mohammad Hossein was also raided by security agents. Mohammad Hossein Karoubi was arrested and taken to the Prosecutor’s office at Evin Prison for nine hours of interrogation.
This week, several human rights organizations called for an end to the house arrests of the the three opposition leaders. Nobel Laureate Shirin Ebadi stated:
If authorities had evidence showing that these opposition figures had committed a serious crime they should have charged and prosecuted them in a fair and transparent manner quite some time ago. The fact that they have failed to do so for two years is a clear indication that they have no such evidence and that the continuing house arrest of these three critics is politically motivated.
Criminalising the Elections
Iran's Criminal Content Working Group determines illegal content on the internet, with its website including a section where Iranian people can report websites and request authorities to block them.
The working group, presided over by Iran’s Prosecutor General, has determined the types of content that will be deemed criminal in regards to Presidential elections. Posting the material of the Internet is illegal and will lead to prosecution.
While some of the actions deemed criminal protect voters and the process, such as the injunctions against election fraud or threatening voters, most guidelines are so vague that them could turn any form of criticism into a crime. The 16 categories include:
- Creating conflict in society
- Promotion of a boycott
- Publication of content that insults the elections or the candidates
- Publication of content against the regime, government, judicial, legislature, or governmental organizations
- Publication of “false” information regarding the election results
- Using a false identity to publish content that would interfere with the election process
“New Year’s Gift” or “New Year’s Inflation”?
The chairman of Parliament’s Economy Committee, Arsalan Fathipour, said more than 73 million Iranians will receive 700,000 to 900,000 Rials (about $18 to $23 at unofficial exchange rates) for the Persian New Year: “The total budget for Nowruz bonus is about $2.7 million, which will be paid from the National Development Fund.”
The bonus is meant to increase liquidity in the country, but the injection of money may just fuel inflation.