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Entries in Rooz Online (3)


The Latest from Iran (23 January): Looking for Clues

2155 GMT: Kalemeh reports that the wife of the late Seyed Ahmad Khomeini, the son of Ayatollah Khomeini, has been attacked by clerical students.

1905 GMT: Economic Rumour or Reality (cont. --- see 1135 GMT)? The "bank crisis" continues to spark Internet chatter, whether accurate or mischievous --- the German-based Akhbar Rooz reports on bank closures after panicked customers tried to withdraw their money because of reports of bankruptcies. And Voice of America Persian is now broadcasting on the topic.

Iran Discussion: How Would Ahmadinejad Fall? (And What Would Come Next?)
Iran: A Response to “The Plot Against Ahmadinejad”
UPDATED Iran: The Plot Against President Ahmadinejad
The Latest from Iran (22 January): Breaking News

1900 GMT: You Couldn't Make It Up (Unless You're Iranian State Media). Earlier this week Kayhan, the "hard-line" Iranian newspaper, reported that a US "HARP" energy-shifting weapon caused the earthquake in Haiti.

We noted the item in amazement and good humour --- as a reader noted, shrewd Iranians think of Kayhan as Iran's version of The Onion, the satirical US "newspaper" --- and thought that would be that. However, Press TV, linking up with Venezuelan partners, keeps the joke going today:

An unconfirmed report by the Russian Northern Fleets says the Haiti earthquake was caused by a flawed US Navy 'earthquake weapons' test before the weapons could be utilized against Iran.

United States Navy test of one of its 'earthquake weapons' which was to be used against Iran, went 'horribly wrong' and caused the catastrophic quake in the Caribbean, the website of Venezuela's ViVe TV recently reported, citing the Russian report.

1845 GMT: Arrest at Beheshti Ceremony. Norooz reports that the son-in-law of Ali Reza Beheshti, the detained Mousavi chief of staff, was taken away by Iranian authorities today. The arrest occurred at the protest/ceremony (see 1500 GMT) at the grave of Ayatollah Beheshti, Ali Reza's father.

1635 GMT: Rafsanjani Chooses A Side or Issues a Warning? The Los Angeles Times, via Iranian Labor News Agency, reports on remarks by Hashemi Rafsanjani today: "At the present juncture, I consider the Supreme Leader to be the most competent individual to resolve the problems the Islamic Republic is currently faced with."

Rafsanjani's remarks follows Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's speech this week calling on "elites" to stop being ambiguous in the current conflict and to choose sides. Beyond his apparent declaration of allegiance --- note the "at the present juncture" --- Rafsanjani maintained a customary general call for unity, "I'm quite sure that moderate individual from both political camps in the country can help the Supreme Leader find solutions to the existing problems."

Then, however, Rafsanjani offered some intriguing remarks on "extremism":
I've always based my action on moderation and refrained from any extremism. Since the victory of the revolution, we have not witnessed proper conditions any time extremists were given room to maneuver....

Extremists have always cleared the way for counterrevolutionaries to damage Islam, the regime and its leadership. As far as I know (emphasis added) the Supreme Leader, he never favors illegal acts and extremisms from any political factions.

Rafsanjani followed this with an invocation which could be read either as a defense of velayat-e-faqih (clerical supremacy) or a veiled put-down that Ayatollah Khamenei has not maintained the high standards required of his position:
The Islamic Republic has managed to reach stability thanks to popular support and the leadership of Imam [Ruhollah] Khomeini who won people's hearts. Today, all forces loyal to the system and the revolution should feel obliged to safeguard this valuable legacy. The world will open to us if we effectively create a free and developed country free of any superstition.

1630 GMT: Fars News has posted an article on today's trial of three detainees arrested during the Ashura protests. The three are among five defendants who are on trial; all today were accused of links to the Mujahedin-e-Khalq (MKO).

1623 GMT: Neda's Birthday Ceremony. Setareh Sabety translates the account, provided by an Iranian activist (see 1500 GMT), of today's ceremony on the birthday of Neda Agha Soltan:
Near 2 p.m. we reached plot 257, Neda’s grave was adorned with candles, rose petals and pictures of her childhood. From the first moments...plainclothesmen in cars and on motorcycles started surrounding the plot.

Neda’s mother claimed (Iranian authorities) had not allowed her to hold a 40th day memorial for her daughter so she had to commemorate her birthday instead. The previous day authorities had told Neda’s brother that holding a birthday (celebration) for her was allowed as long as no slogans were chanted.

Slowly the number of people attending the ceremony increased. Present were mourning mothers and their supporters and tens of (other) individuals who had made it to the cemetery. When Neda’s mother saw the people appearing one by one, as she was crying loudly, she addressed her martyred daughter, "Neda darling, wake up and see how many guests are here for you. Last year you were alone. Wake Up!” The distraught mother would sometimes sit by her daughter’s grave and stare at it, remembering her.... It seemed like the people surrounding this mother and her daughter’s tomb were remembering Neda’s last open-eyed look. The look that seemed to scream freedom!

Neda’s birthday cake was placed on her tomb with a ‘27’ on it, while her mother cried, “My darling Neda is twenty-seven, People’s Neda is 27 years old." As the crowd increased around 2:45 p.m., two cars from security forces stood facing plot 257. The security forces stepped out with three plainclothes men --- Neda’s aunt was taking pictures of the tomb when the forces spoke to Neda’s father and asked to see the pictures in Neda’s aunt’s mobile phone.

Ashkan Sohrabi’s mother called and (said) that on Navab St. officers stopped cars and kept them from going to Behesht-e Zahra cemetery. For as long as 15 minutes they had prevented Ashkan’s family from moving. Finally they managed to get to Behesht-e Zahra from another route.

At the end of the commemoration the Mourning Mothers stood in front of Neda’s tomb and quietly sang this poem from Parvin:

You left my heart is heavy
From the night you did not return
Blissful world turned sad
From the night you failed to return

At 3:25 p.m. an unmarked white van stopped in front of plot 257 and a few plainclothes men came out as though to make the crowd disperse.

1610 GMT: Radio Farda reports that, during today's meeting with the family of Ali Reza Beheshti after the ceremony protesting his detention (see 1500 GMT), Mehdi Karroubi declared that the road to resolve the issue of detainee abuse "had been closed".

It is unclear whether Karroubi's statement was in response to the overtures from Ali Larijani (see yesterday's updates) for opposition leaders to join a process of reconciliation.

1505 GMT: Amidst his further allegations of Government abuses and crimes over the Kahrizak Prison scandal (noted as part of the coverage of "The Plot Against Ahmadinejad"), Abdolhossein Rumolamini claimed that a fourth detainee, Ramin Aghazadeh Ghahremani, was killed at the facility last year. The incident was covered up to “avoid hurting the public's conscience”.

1500 GMT: Two Ceremonies. Family, mourning mothers, and supporters gathered at the grave of Neda Agha Soltan this afternoon. Activists report that security forces stopped some people from attending.

A ceremony was also held at the grave of the late Ayatollah Mohammad Beheshti to protest the detention of his son Ali Reza, chief advisor to Mir Hossein Mousavi. Those attending were family members of the martyrs of 7-Tir, killed in an attack soon after the 1979 Revolution which took 72 lives, including Ayatollah Beheshti. The family members also Hashemi Rafsanjani, in his role as the head of the Expidency Council and the Assembly of Experts, to protest Ali Reza Behesti's imprisonment.

1300 GMT: We have posted an urgent update in "The Plot Against Ahmadinejad": a new interview with Abdolhossein Ruholamini with claims on the Kahrizak Prison deaths, printed in the newspapers linked to both Mohsen Rezaei and Mohammad-Baqer Qalibaf.

1235 GMT: Alef News has continued its pressure on the Government, opening a discussion on the problems of the Presidential election.

1225 GMT: Mohammad Hassan Haeri Shirazi, the son of Ayatollah Haeri Shirazi, has continued his challenge to the Supreme Leader. Having criticised Khamenei for overseeing a deterioration of democracy and the moves to an oppressive regime, Haeri Shirazi has declared that the Supreme Leader must be accountable for the actions of his headquarters and associated institutions (IRIB, Revolutionary Guards and Basiji, Islamic Propaganda Organization, deputies in universities, Kayhan newspaper, and the Guardian Council).

1150 GMT: Health Concerns. In addition to the heart attack of Mousavi advisor Ali Reza Beheshti, Rooz Online notes the transfer to hospital of Hassan Ahmadian, head of the Mousavi campaign's public committee, because of a worsening kidney condition.

1145 GMT: The 31 Manifesto (cont. --- see 0845 GMT). Rooz Online has an English translation of an interview with Dariush Ashouri, one of the expatriate intellectuals who signed this week's declaration: "The Green movement’s strategy of nonviolence is a reflection of a new political philosophy in Iranian society. The foundations of this philosophy are the principles of tolerance and pluralism."

1135 GMT: Economic Rumour or Reality? After chatter this week that Iran's major banks are on the verge of insolvency, Peyke Iran reports that the Bank-e Mellat branch in Tehran's Bazaar was closed by security forces. And Rah-e-Sabz writes that the Government has asked Parliament for 15 billion Toman ($15.2 million) to ease the cash problems of the banks.

1125 GMT: Mediawatch (2). Britain's Channel 4 goes for human interest rather than political recommendation, featuring an interview with Caspian Makan, the fiancé of Neda Agha Soltan. Neda, who died from a Basiji gunshot on 20 June, would have been 27 today.

1010 GMT: Mediawatch. A big symbol of the changing line in the US Government and associated networks towards the Green movement comes in Richard Haass' "Enough Is Enough" for Newsweek, as he explains, "Why we can no longer remain on the sidelines in the struggle for regime change in Iran".

Haass, who was a high-level official in the State Department in the Bush Administration and now heads the Council on Foreign Relations, marks himself out as a "realist" in the artificial divide from "neo-conservative".
However, given the stalemate in the talks on Iran's nuclear programme, Haass now believes, "The United States, European governments, and others should shift their Iran policy toward increasing the prospects for political change. Leaders should speak out for the Iranian people and their rights."

Given Haass' place in the Washington-New York corridor of power and his image as a "moderate", the column is being quickly picked up as a sanction for the US Government's backing of the Iranian opposition. Barbara Slavin of The Washington Times and Laura Rozen of Politico, both channels for and gatekeepers of the acceptable in US foreign policy, are already circulating the article.

0955 GMT: The Moving Image of Protest. More directors, including Britain's Ken Loach, have announced that they will not attend Iran's Fajr Film Festival.

0950 GMT: Launch of the "Greenlist". Sabzlist, a listing service for the Green movement, has been launched. Initial posts include requests for volunteers, offers of assistance, and a call for an MC for a fundraiser.

0940 GMT: Non-Story of the Week. Press TV's website announces, "An Iranian lawmaker says the Parliament (Majlis) has settled on limiting relations with Britain, rather than a full severance of ties as advocated in a bill last week."

The bill, if passed, would still have consequences, reducing the level of diplomatic representation between Iran and Britain from Ambassador to Chargé d'Affaires. However, it is primarily a vehicle for bluster about "foreign intervention", as in lawmaker Hossein Sobhani-Nia's declaration, "Considering the gross interference of the British government in the post-election developments, the Parliament (Majlis) has opted for lowering the level of ties between Tehran and London."

0830 GMT: Claims of the Week. Peyke Iran has two stories which raises eyebrows. The first asserts that the relatives of high-ranking officials are fleeing Iran and seeking asylum abroad.

The website also alleges that children are now being detained when their activist parents are arrested by Iranian authorities.

0825 GMT: The 31 Manifesto. This week's statement by 31 Iranian intellectuals and artists, calling for a new system in which government is separated from religion, continues to attract attention. Deutsche Welle Persian features an interview with signatory Hossein Bagherzadeh, who declares that the Green movement differs from the 1979 Revolution.

0820 GMT: Movin' On Up. President Ahmadinejad's advisor on press affairs, Ali Akbar Javanfekr, is reportedly going to become the head of the Islamic Republic News Agency.

0815 GMT: A new Green website, Neda-ye Sabz-e Azadi, has been launched and has immediately been filtered by Iranian authorities.

0800 GMT: We begin this morning by reviewing yesterday's feature on "The Plot Against President Ahmadinejad". There is an update evaluating how the story stands up 24 hours later, and Chris Emery and an EA Iran specialist consider the complications of removing the President and what comes next.

Iran: The Ali-Mohammadi Case "A Political Assassination" 

This is one of two items we are carrying today from Ahmad Shirzad, a former member of Parliament, physicist, and friend of the killed Professor Massoud Ali-Mohammadi. In the other, Shirzad offers a moving account of the funeral of Ali-Mohammadi.

From Rooz Online:

Rooz: Mr. Shirzad, you knew Dr. Masoud Ali-Mohammadi well. If you were to describe him in a few sentences, what would you say?

Iran: The Ali-Mohammadi Funeral “The Stolen Coffin”
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Latest from Iran (17 January): Setting Aside Diversions

Shirzad: He was extremely serious in his work. He was a hard worker. He published a total of 58 scientific articles in his field, which is an outstanding record and rare in Iran. He was also a successful teacher. His students have great memories of him and ee was very popular at Tehran University because of his good relations with the students. He was very successful in attracting students. Overall, he was an extremely active intellectual.

Rooz: He had signed several political statements. Do you know much about this aspect of his personality?

Shirzad: He certainly signed statements that were circulating among the Tehran University professors. In some cases even he collected signatures. For example, he was among the first to sign an open letter condemning the attack on university dormitories in June. Other colleagues signed it later. He was also among the main signers of other letters released in support of Mr. Mir-Hossein Mousavi.

Rooz: Given your familiarity with the late Ali-Mohammadi, what was your reaction when you saw reports by pro-government media outlets that an “Iranian nuclear physicist was assassinated”?

Shirzad: In regards to the official propaganda I have to say it was very surprising. Not much can be said about the official propaganda. It seems to be based on opinions only. A professional investigation has not been conducted on his murder, which can be called a political assassination.

Rooz: Pro-government websites announced soon after the assassination that it was the work of America and Israel. Is that also an opinion in your view?

Shirzad: Yes. Naturally if they want to connect the assassination to a source they must have documents and evidence. It seems that the profession of teaching physics must from now on be added to the list of dangerous occupations.

Rooz: You too have studied physics and have also signed similar statements.

Shirzad: That seems to be the case.

The Latest from Iran (6 January): Distractions

IRAN GREEN2030 GMT: US Walks Tightrope on Green Movement. Earlier today we posted Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's declaration about the "ruthless repression" of the Iran Government. Now State Department official John Limbert, who has direct responsibility for Iran, has put out a longer, more balanced statement.

On the one hand, Limbert continues the rhetoric criticising and cautioning the regime, "I think it's very hard for the government to decide how to react to the legitimate demands of the people. The more violence it uses, the more it will hurt itself in the end....We will never remain silent in the face of state violence and the mistreatment of people."

On the other, Limbert is also assuring that the Obama Administration will not break off discussions with the Ahmadinejad Government: "As you know, the U.S. president is determined to renew ties with Iran despite all the problems -- which we don't underestimate -- based on a new beginning."

NEW Iran: Hillary Clinton on Engagement & Pressure with Regime of “Ruthless Repression”
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Latest Iran Video and Transcript: Haghighatjoo and Marandi on CNN (4 January)
Iran: How Outside “Help” Can Hurt the Green Movement

2020 GMT: Setareh Sabety has posted an article commenting on the recent declaration of five Iranian intellectuals living abroad and declaring, "[Their] ten demands...should be embraced because they provide the democratic framework within which we can debate the future of our beloved Iran."

2010 GMT: Kalemeh is reporting the latest statement of Mehdi Karroubi that he is "prepared for everything" and "could not have imagine" the behaviour of the regime in the post-election conflict.

1950 GMT: Mesbah Yazdi Calling for Death Penalty? Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi, close to President Ahmadinejad, ran out the standard line on the "evil" protests as the product of the "West" and Jews today. He allegedly added, however, that the demonstrators were "corruption on earth" and, as such, are subject to the death penalty.

1940 GMT: Iran's Energy Boost. "Turkmenistan has opened a second gas pipeline to Iran....Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad inaugurated the new 30km (19 miles) pipeline with Turkmen President Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov in a ceremony in the desert near the Iranian border."

What is interesting beyond the story is that the BBC not only reports the development but praises it for "further eroding Russia's historical domination of its energy sector". Not sure the US authorities will see the deal in exactly the same way.

1930 GMT: Oh, Please (with an MKO twist).... We try our bet to limit the damage, but sometimes you cannot keep a bad article down. Laura Rozen of Politico, who normally has the best pairs of eyes and ears in Washington, swallows The New York Times "Iran Nuclear Bunkers/Tunnels" story (see 0640 GMT). What's more, she inadvertently highlights more reasons for concern, quoting Broad:

In late 2005, the Iranian opposition group [Mujahedin-e-Khalq] held news conferences in Paris and London to announce that its spies had learned that Iran was digging tunnels for missile and atomic work at 14 sites, including an underground complex near Qum. The government, one council official said, was building the tunnels to conceal “its pursuit of nuclear weapons”.

Hmm.... That's Mujahedin-e-Khalq, dedicated by all means to topple the Iranian regime. A neutral source for solid, reliable intelligence?

1430 GMT: With continued quiet, I'm off to address the conference in Beirut. Back for evening updates around 2000 GMT.

1305 GMT: Mortazavi Accused? Alef reports that a Parliament committee has unanimously approved a report, after several months of investigation, naming Saeed Mortazavi --- former Tehran Prosecutor General and current aide to President Ahmadinejad --- as chief suspect in the death of detainees in Kahrizak Prison.

1240 GMT: The day continues quietly in Iran, and in the lull more media mischief (see 0640 GMT). The Washington Times declares, "Iran's Al Qaeda Connection in Yemen", based on the suspect testimony of a former Guantanamo detainee, a suspect letter supposedly from Al Qa'eda Number 2 Ayman al-Zawahiri, and the assertion of a Yemeni politician.

For sheer stupidity, however, this pales into insignificance beside the Guardian's allocation of space to a Brian Binley, whose comment, "End Appeasement of Iran's Regime", offers this approach to resistance:
If the British government seriously wishes to find a solution to the Iran problem, they need look no further than the streets of Tehran and the Iranian people's determination to purse democratic ambitions.
For a number of years now, colleagues and I on the British Parliamentary Committee for Iran Freedom have worked with Iran's largest opposition group in exile, the National Council of Resistance of Iran, and its president-elect Maryam Rajavi to strengthen our policy towards Iran whilst seeking increased support for the Iranian opposition movement.

That would be the National Council of Resistance of Iran, the political wing of the Mujahedin-e-Khalq and its often-violent campaign to overthrow the Iranian Government since 1979.

Such political "wisdom" deserves a separate entry, I think.

0920 GMT: Breaking the Movement. Rooz Online reports the Freedom Movement of Iran, many of whose members have been detained, including the recent re-arrest of its head Ebrahim Yazdi, has suspended operations for the first time in its 48 years. The organisation added, “While we express our regret at the regime’s unlawful confrontation aimed at limiting the free flow of information and the demand that the Freedom Movement of Iran stop the activities of its official website and its analytical website Mizan until further notice, we reserve the right to legally pursue our rights in this regard.”

0730 GMT: To Be Fair. Disdain for some of the US portrayals of "Iran" this morning should be balanced with a hat-tip to Robin Wright of The Los Angeles Times, who considers the possibility of "An Opposition Manifesto in Iran":
Three bold statements calling for reform have been issued since Friday, one by opposition presidential candidate Mir-Hossein Mousavi, one by a group of exiled religious intellectuals and the third by university professors. Taken together, they suggest that the movement will not settle for anything short of radical change.

0640 GMT: Not much breaking news from Iran overnight and this morning, with the outcome that the US papers are awash in distracting rhetoric, tangential stories, and even a forceful call to recognise the legitimacy of the Iranian regime.

The rhetoric comes from Emanuele Ottolenghi in The Wall Street Journal. A long-time proponent of regime changes in countries such as Iraq, Ottolenghi grabs the Ashura story of the martyrdom of Imam Hussein to praise "Iran's Righteous Martyrs": "This time we should root for [them]." (Presumably the United States was unable to root for Imam Hussein in the 7th century.)

The Los Angeles Times, in an article by Robert Faturechi, features the claims that the cost of the Green movement's protests has been the "loss" of three detained Americans:
With street protests raging in Iran, political activism is on the rise among Los Angeles' already vocal Iranian American community. Flag-waving demonstrators clad in the opposition movement's signature green have been a common sight outside the Federal Building in Westwood, and Iranian-language media is abuzz with debate.

But when it comes to the three young American hikers being held in Iran on espionage charges the community has been decidedly silent. No large demonstrations, little conversation, virtually no push for action.

For William Broad in The New York Times, the issue is not the politics either of the Iranian protests or the imprisoned US trio, but Nukes, Nukes, Nukes.

In yet another piece fed to him by by "American government and private experts", Broad launches the latest proclamiation of Imminent Iranian Threat: "Iran has quietly hidden an increasingly large part of its atomic complex in networks of tunnels and bunkers across the country."

On a different page of The Times, however, the Iranian Government has a vocal defence team. Flynt and Hillary Mann Leverett, in the latest of their numerous calls for discussion with President Ahmadinejad and his representatives, open with the declaration: "The Islamic Republic of Iran is not about to implode. Nevertheless, the misguided idea that it may do so is becoming enshrined as conventional wisdom in Washington."

To bolster their argument that the Obama Administration has no choice but to engage with Ahmadinejad, the Leveretts throw out a confetti of unsupported assertions:
Antigovernment Iranian Web sites claim there were “tens of thousands” of Ashura protesters; others in Iran say there were 2,000 to 4,000....Vastly more Iranians took to the streets on Dec. 30, in demonstrations organized by the government to show support for the Islamic Republic (one Web site that opposed President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s re-election in June estimated the crowds at one million people)....

Even President Ahmadinejad’s principal challenger in last June’s presidential election, Mir Hossein Mousavi, felt compelled to acknowledge the “unacceptable radicalism” of some Ashura protesters.

The Leveretts do put a series of challenges, discussed also at EA, about the opposition's leadership, its strategy, and its objectives, but this is all to prop up the "default" option that the regime (whose political, religious, economic, and ideological position is not examined beyond that claim of a million protesters on its behalf on 30 December) must not only be accepted but embraced in talks.

Just as the US Government set aside the inconvenience of Tiananmen Square 20 years ago, so it should put in the closet the trifling annoyance of those Iranians who demonstrate against rather than for the Government. The Leveretts conclude:
As a model, the president would do well to look to China. Since President Richard Nixon’s opening there (which took place amid the Cultural Revolution), successive American administrations have been wise enough not to let political conflict — whether among the ruling elite or between the state and the public, as in the Tiananmen Square protests and ethnic separatism in Xinjiang — divert Washington from sustained, strategic engagement with Beijing. President Obama needs to begin displaying similar statesmanship in his approach to Iran.