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Iran Live Coverage: Ahmadinejad's Advisor Mortazavi Faces Trial

Iran Feature: Top Iran Newspaper Protects the Oscars from Michelle Obama's Shoulders
Sunday's Iran Live Coverage: Ahmadinejad Tries to Take Control on the Economy

Saeed Mortazavi2111 GMT: Political Prisoner Watch (Journalist Edition). More releases of journalists detained in the regime's crackdown over the last month --- Akbar Montajebi and Reyhaneh Tabatabaei have been freed, with reports that Milan Fadai Asl will soon be out of prison.

2102 GMT: All the President's Men. It looks like Presidential advisor Saeed Mortazavi will not face "accessory to murder" charges when he goes to court tomorrow.

The Iranian Labor News Agency reports that the former Tehran Prosecutor General, being tried for his involvement in the abuse and killing of three post-election protesters in the Kahrizak detention center in summer 2009, has been indicted for “participating in unlawful detentions” and “assistance in setting up false reports or encouraging such actions in relevant officials”.

Two other judiciary officials face charges pf “assistance in setting up false reports".

2054 GMT: Economy Watch. Central Bank head Mahmoud Bahmani has said that inflation will rise from 28.7% to 31.5% by late March.

2014 GMT: Political Prisoner Watch (Journalist Edition). Two more of the 18 journalists arrested in the last month have been released --- Emily Amrayi and Narges Joudaki

2000 GMT: Nuclear Watch. The head of Parliament's National Security Committee, Alaeddin Boroujerdi, bluntly states Tehran's position for the nuclear talks with the 5+1 Powers tomorrow in Kazakhstan, "Iran will suspend enrichment of 20% uranium if the United Nations Security Council's sanctions are cancelled."

The Security Council's sanctions, passed in spring 2010, are distinct from the more restrictive US and European measures which has been imposed since then.

1930 GMT: Happy Birthday, Fars. Joanna Paraszczuk writes....

Fars News turned 10 today, and congratulated itself in a story with this catchy headline: "Fars Is A News Agency Committed To The Islamic Revolution".

The story quotes the leader of Parliament's Principalist faction, Gholam Ali Haddad Adel, who said that Fars's reporting had "grown in quality and quantity since its founding in January 2003" and that it served the Islamic Revolution, the Islamic Republic and the Iranian people.

In his speech praising Fars, Haddad Adel politely omitted to mention that the news outlet has been embroiled in several controversies, including in June 2012 when it published what it said was an interview with then-newly-elected Egyptian president Mohamad Morsi. Fars quoted Morsi as saying he wanted to strengthen ties to Tehran and rethink the Camp David Peace Accords with Israel. Morsi denied ever speaking to Fars, while Iran's state-run and pro-Ahmadinejad IRNA news agency also said the interview was a fake.

Fars, often referred to by the Western media as Iran's "state-run" or "semi-official" news agency, has close ties to the Revolutionary Guards.

In October, Fars opened an office in Damascus, to "cover events in Syria and present a realistic view of them".

1845 GMT: Anti-Argo Watch. Joanna Paraszczuk writes....

Hardline Mashregh News notes that Ben Affleck, whose movie Argo won Best Picture in last night's Oscars, is Jewish -- and in its lengthy article on the subject even includes Affleck's full name in Hebrew, just to drive its point home. Mashregh, whose reporters clearly have access (for research purposes!) to otherwise blocked sites like IMDB, provides a full biography and filmography for Affleck -- to whom it refers as "Binyamin" -- and if readers somehow missed the point of Affleck's Judaism, includes a helpful stock photograph of an ultra-Orthodox Jewish man.

Mashregh comments:

Binyamin, like many other Jews, does not have many children, and currently has only three official kids.

1640 GMT: 5+1 Under US Control. Hardline Mashregh ran a feature on US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, Wendy Sherman, who left for Almaty on Saturday as part of the US delegation to the 5+1 nuclear talks.

Mashregh commented: "It seems that of the women who participated in the 5+1 nuclear talks with Iran -- i.e. Catherine Ashton, the EU's High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy; Helga Schmid, Helga Schmid, Deputy Secretary General of the European External Action Service; German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Wendy Sherman, Sherman is the only one who has something to say, and in the Moscow talks it was Sherman who in statements addressed to the Iranian delegation implicitly referred to the fact that [...] the five powers were operating under US control."

1630 GMT: Show of Strength. Ahead of the nuclear talks in Kazakhstan, Iran's IRGC-linked media published stories emphasizing the Guards' strength on Monday.

In a story intended for a Western audience, Fars News in English reported that the IRGC had tested T72S tanks and BMP2 armored personnel carriers by having them fire indigenous Tondar and Tousan missiles.

The IRGC's ground forces have been engaged in a three-day military exercise in the south and southeast of the country.

IRGC chief BG Hossein Salami was quoted as saying that the drills showed just a small part of the Guards' strength.

Meanwhile, the IRGC's official PR outlet Sepah News quoted IRGC ground force commander Mohammad Pakpour as saying that Guards had achieved all their objectives in the drills, while Salami praised the Guards' concentration, consistency and accuracy of fire during the exercises.

1135 GMT: Apologies for limited updates, as I am involved in academic business and media work until early this evening. I will return then with a full round-up of developments.

0815 GMT: Drone Watch. Joanna Paraszczuk writes....

What happens when the Western media unwittingly publishes Iranian propaganda? Hardline Kayhan News takes full advantage of yesterday's headline-grabbing -- but incorrect -- story (see separate EA Feature) that the Revolutionary Guards had intercepted and grounded another Western surveillance drone.

The Western misreporting was apparently the result of a translation error, after Iran said that the Ground Forces of the Guards had taken down a "mock enemy drone" in a military drill.

Kayhan devotes part of its front page this morning to the gloating that the Western media -- including major wire agencies and outlets -- had "recognised Iran's successes in the [electronic warfare] field":

"The New York Times newspaper, recognizing our country's success in this field, pointed out that "Iran has yet to comment on the identity of the UAV [Unmanned Aerial Vehicle]....American news network CBS also recognized that Iran had taken over US drones previously....Reuters also acknowledged our recent military successes.

Kayhan stumbles, however, as it unwittingly hints at how the Western mis-reporting happened --- it notes CNN had "reflected" the news of the UAV from a Revolutionary Guards' report.

0555 GMT: All the President's Men. The Iranian Labor News Agency has published the full text of the complaint against Presidential advisor Saeed Mortazavi, confirming that he will finally face charges over his alleged role in the abuse and killing of post-election protesters in the Kahrizak detention centre in summer 2009.

Mortazavi, who was Tehran Prosecutor General at the time, is accused of three counts of accessory to murder. There were numerous allegations that detainees, seized for their challenge to the "victory" of Ahmadinejad on 12 June, were beaten and tortured. The case came to light, however, because of the death of Mohsen Ruholamini, the son of the campaign manager for Presidential candidate Mohsen Rezaei. Two other men were also confirmed to have been killed by Kahrizak staff.

The centre was subsequently closed, and some lower-level personnel finally were convicted of offences in the three deaths. However, Mortazavi continued to escape prosecution. He was appointed as an advisor by Ahmadinejad in 2010. This year, he was named head of the Social Security Funds, and --- despite a court order that the appointment is illegal and Parliamentary opposition --- has remained in the post.

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