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Iran Feature: The Week in Civil Society --- Threatened Journalists, Tehran Claims the South Pole, and the End of Olympic Wrestling (Arseh Sevom)

An embrace between US and Iranian wrestlers in the 2012 Olympics --- but it may not happen again

Arseh Sevom, the NGO promoting civil society and human rights in Iran, posts its latest review of developments inside the country:

The Ministry of Intelligence, not letting up on the "enemy" BBC Persian, continues to arrest, hold, and harass journalists and filmmakers.

Meanwhile, Jafar Panahi receives international acclaim despite being under house arrest and banned from filmmaking.

The South Pole could become a vacation spot for New Year revelers if Iran’s claim to some of its vast territory holds up.

The Supreme Leader chastises President Ahmadinejad and the Larijani brothers for their very public dispute.

And Iran and the US finally agree on one thing: removing wrestling from the Olympic games is just tragic.

Iran’s Intelligence Ministry Targets BBC

On Tuesday, the Ministry of Intelligence released its third announcement about arrested journalists. The Ministry claims the journalists worked for Western news agencies, specifically the BBC. In the Ministry’s literature, the BBC is not just a news agency, it is  the “Psychological Operation Unit of British Government’s Spying Organisation".

According to the announcement, a number of the detained journalists have been released on bail, while four others have fled the country.

The statement continues by providing a list of BBC-linked "agencies", including Jaras, Kalemeh, Rooz Online, Neday-e sabz-e azadi, Saham News, Khodnevis, Ghozar, Melli Mashabi, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Deutsche Welle, Radio France International, Voice of America, and even Man-o-to TV, all related to the “Presidential elections sedition in 2009".

Iran Claims the South Pole

Mohammad Bagheri, a high-ranking official of the Iranian Armed Forces, said on Monday that Iran can legally claim governance of some parts of the South Pole.

The rationale behind Bagheri's words: Iran has direct access to the high seas from Makran’s shores, there is no land in Iran’s path to the South Pole and, according to international rules and regulations, Iran can legally claim governance of some portions of the South Pole.

A few months ago Iranian Navy Commander Rear Admiral Habibollah Sayyari said, “We have the capability to hoist Iran’s flags in various regions from the North Pole to the South Pole, and we are preparing plans for a presence near the South Pole.”

Jafar Panahi Awarded in Berlin Film Festival

Iranian director Jafar Panahi, with co-director Kamboziya Partovi, won Best Script at the Berlin Film Festival on Saturday for the film “Closed Curtain”.

The movie was made in secret, showing some aspects of Panahi’s life under house arrest in the story of a man and a woman on the run from security officers. Critics believe that the film shows Panahi’s depression and even thoughts of suicide. The filmmaker himself once said that he started the film in a state of deep melancholy, but recovered while shooting the scenes.

Iran banned Panahi from making films for 20 years in December 2010 and sentenced him to six years in prison on charge of “propaganda against the state” following the disputed Presidential elections in 2009.

Now Panahi has not only made a film, but he has again been recognised with an award at an international film festival, angering Iranian authorities. ISNA reported on the objections of the head of Iran’s national cinema organization Javad Shamaghdari: “We have protested to the Berlinfilm festival. Its officials should amend their behavior because in cultural and cinematic exchange, this is not correct.”

TedX in Tehran

Despite the odds, Tehran hosted its first-ever TedX conference, summarised by The Washington Post in a blog about the event.

Khamenei Reacts to Ahmadinejad and Larijani Dispute

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei reacted to the dispute between President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the powerful Larijani brothers, in which Ahmadinejad accused Speaker of the Parliament Ali Larijani and judiciary chief Ayatollah Sadegh Larijani of corruption. Speaking to a crowd in Tabriz, Khamenei sharply criticised the President and the brothers. He denounced Ahmadinejad’s behavior as “acting against sharia law” and called Parliament’s impeachment of the Minister of Labour as a “bad decision”.

The Larijani brothers and Ahmadinejad expressed their “obedience” to Khamenei in separate letters; however, while Ali and Sadeq Larijani released their letters immediately following Khamenei’s speech, Ahmadinejad‘ waited for a day. T

The delay may mean nothing or it may point to disagreements between the Khamenei and Ahmadinejad camps.

Olympics without Wrestling?

With more than 300,000 wrestlers in Iran and a long history of medals, Iranians were shocked by the news that The International Olympic Committee will remove wrestling from the 2020 Games.

Wrestling, which combines freestyle and Greco-Roman events, goes back to the inaugural modern Olympics in Athens in 1896. Iran is not alone in its dismay --- many countries are shocked by the news, as shown here, here, and here.

The New York Times gives a great overview of wrestling culture in Iran:

Wrestling, Mr. Dodangeh [a wrestling coach] said, is about becoming a “pahlavan,” a respectable, forgiving man, caring for the downtrodden and standing up for justice. “A good wrestler is a good, religious person,” he said.

It seems that it takes removal of wrestling from the Olympic Games to put Iran and America on the same side.

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