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Iran Live Coverage: Detaining the Journalists

Campaign poster for 15 journalists imprisoned in late January

2044 GMT:Communications Watch. Four Grand Ayatollahs --- Nasser Makarem-Shirazi, Hossein Nouri Hamedani, Jafar Sohbhani, and Seyyed Sajjad Alavi Gorgani--- have issued fatwas banning Iran's first 3G service Rightel, in part because of its video-call function.

"The decadence and corruption associated with [Rightel’s] use outweighs its benefits,” decreed Grand Ayatollah Makarem-Shirazi. “It will cause new deviances in our society, which is unfortunately already plagued with deviances.”

Ayatollah Alavi Gorghani said that the video-call service would “jeopardize the public chastity” and “inflicts numerous damages” on Iran’s religion and political system.

Rightel, which sponsored Iran’s recent International Fajr Film Festival,,# allows customers to use both video-call and multi-media messaging functions. The company offers pay-and-go, contact, and data-card packages.

Petitions to ban Rightel have sprung up, and 17 MPs have asked President Ahmadinejad and the Ministry of Intelligence to act.

1918 GMT:Political Prisoner Watch. Journalist Ehsan Mazanderani, who works for Etemad, has been arrested.

1851 GMT:Election Watch. Minister of Interior Mostafa Mohammad Najjar has announced that "trustworthiness, justice promotion, and implementation of the law" will be the slogan for June's Presidential election.

1818 GMT:Political Prisoner Watch. Ahmed al Qabbanji, an Islamic scholar and cleric from Iraq, has reportedly been arrested.

Al Qabbanji, known for his translation of Iranian scholar Abdul Karim Soroush’s works into Arabic, was detained in Qom on charges of “deviation” from Islam and promoting “deviant thoughts”.

Some of Qabbanji's family are members of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, a leading Shia group in the country.

1712 GMT:Political Prisoner Watch (Journalist Edition). Iran Emrooz reports that more than 10 journalists and poets, detained earlier this week in Ilam in Iranian Kurdistan, have been released.

Iran Emrooz says five were arrested, but Fars denies that any charges were filed.

1644 GMT:Women's Rights Watch. Back from an academic break to find MP Fatemeh Rahbar saying that the "scandalous law" requiring women below 40 to get permission from a guardian before travelling abroad has been cancelled.

The proposed legislation was put before the Majlis late last year.

1014 GMT:Human Rights Watch. The prominent human rights lawyer and political prisoner Mohammad Seifzadeh was sentenced to six years imprisonment yesterday.

Seifzadeh was arrested in April 2011 and initially charged with “illegally exiting the country” and then with "assembly and collusion against national security” following his dissident activities whilst in detention.

Central to yesterday’s hearing, which had been postponed a number of times, was Seifzadeh’s ‘crime’ of “writing a letter to [former reformist President] Mohammad Khatami” while in prison.

Seifzadeh had previously been sentenced to nine years in prison in October 2010. After an appeal this was reduced to two years although the ten-year ban on legal practice was maintained.

0959 GMT:The Battle Within. A site of the seriousness of the political dispute? Gholam Ali Haddad Adel --- leader of the Principlist faction in the Majlis and member of the Supreme Leader's inner circle --- has said that joint meetings tween the Government and Parliament are suspended.

0934 GMT:Ahmadinejad Watch. A prominent member of the Endurance Front for the Islamic Revolution, Hojatoleslam Ruhollah Hosseinian, appears to have issued a warning to President Ahmadinejad in Parliament.

Hosseinian, a close ally of the hard-line Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi, declared, “The same sword we unsheathed in defence of the authorities, with permission we will draw against the very same person [Ahmadinejad].”

0922 GMT:Student Watch. Preparations are reportedly being made for the return of Iranian students from foreign universities, with the Supreme Council for Iranians Abroad issuing an order for their transfer, following financial difficulties for the students.

The students have been affected by the 70% fall in the open-market exchange value of the Iranian Rial over the last year. Authorities have been hesitant in providing foreign currency to the students at official rates, under which the Rial purchases more than three times the amount of dollars or Euros.

Esfandiar Rahim-Mashai, President Ahmadinejad’s deputy on the Supreme Council, has asked the Ministry of Education and Azad University to make the necessary accommodations for the students’ return.

0840 GMT: Corruption Watch. Ali Akbar Tahaei, the Governor of Mazanderan Province in northern Iran, makes the latest statement in the feud --- between President Ahmadinejad and the judiciary --- over an alleged 300 major "bank defraudarers".

Tahaei said that "27 of the 300 biggest bank debtors owe more than 500 billion Toman ($410 million at official rate; $125 million at open-market rate) to the banking system".

President Ahmadinejad has claimed that the judiciary is protecting the 300, whom he claims control 60% of Iran's wealth. Iran Prosecutor General Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ejei has responded that Ahmadinejad has not turned over the names of the 300 to the judiciary, despite repeated requests.

An EA correspondent interprets: "Ahmadinejad camp is setting up an "anti-corruption campaign" versus the Supreme Leader's camp, which will puruse an "enemy campaign", for the Presidential elections."

0820 GMT: The Battle Within. Hassan Fadaei, a senior official with the Islamic Revolution War Disabled Society, throws this morning's punch at the President:

Ahmadinejad wants to bring people out on the streets. The deviant current [the President's inner circle] wants to divide society, setting the barefoot against the elite and capitalists....

The deviant current believes it can present itself as the winner in the nuclear talks with the US. We are the ones who broke the taboo on talks.

An EA correspondent notes, "Fadaei delivers the bluntest analysis of the current political in-fighting and the fears of the Supreme Leader's camp."

0740 GMT: Nuclear Watch. The Iranian Students News Agency summarises a meeting between the European Union's Catherine Ashton, the lead nuclear negotiator for the 5+1 Powers, and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. It notes Ashton's comment that Iran "should be flexible" in forthcoming high-level talks on 26 February in Kazakhstan.

The significant message, however, is this passage:

This comes after Iran submitted all its proposals during the Moscow talks and is waiting for a response to those proposals from the 5+1 powers during the Kazakhstan talks.

Interpretation? Tehran is standing on its step-for-step plan, put forward at the last high-level discussions in Moscow in June. Unless there is a significant step by the US and Europe towards sanctions relief, Iran will not make any move away from enrichment of 20% uranium.

0615 GMT: Buddha Watch. Jaber Ansari, the Secretary of the Headquarters for Supporting and Protecting Cultural Works, has pulled back from his weekend statement calling for a ban on Buddhas in Iranian shops.

The official reportedly declared that the Buddhas were "an example for cultural invasion", with the "enemy wanting to spread certain kind of religion".

Ansari said on Tuesday, "Unfortunately, my remarks have been misinterpreted. I just meant the illegal imports of certain cultural works and items and in violation of the customs (rules and regulations). From our point of view, disrespect for the beliefs of other regions is unacceptable."

Ansari's original statement was widely reported in international media, with allusion to other restrictions such as the ban on the sale of Barbie dolls.

0559 GMT: Press Watch. The regime campaign against journalists continues, following the detention of 16 editors and reporters in late January.

Although one of the journalists, Javad Deliri, was freed on bail on Tuesday, the Ministry of Intelligence continued to warn "troublesome" elements in the media with the statement "that it has summoned and later released a number of reporters and journalists after briefing them about their rather unwilling links and connections with a media spy network run by the BBC in Iran":

During the trend of investigations, the other individuals linked to the (BBC-led) network of psychological operations were summoned and interrogated and also a number of others who were not aware of the nature of the network were also called in and were briefed about the covert goals and ill intentions of the network

The statement said four of the summoned people are on the run and one has escaped the country.

Thirteen of the 16 journalists seized in late January are still in prison. More than 100 have been detained since the disputed 2009 Presidential election, with dozens serving long sentences and others under threat of a summons back to prison.

In December, the Committee to Protect Journalists reported that 45 journalists were imprisoned in Iran, the second-highest figure in the world.

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