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Entries in Fintan Dunne (12)


Iran Deaths: A Further Word on the Figures

Earlier this week I wrote, as part of our posts on the casualties and detentions in the post-election conflict in Iran, about a figure of 245 deaths put forward by the on-line journalist and activist Fintan Dunne. While I valued Mr Dunne's efforts to pin down the story, especially in light of the Iranian Government's efforts to limit or block knowledge of the deaths, I expressed uncertainty about whether a figure could be drawn from Mr Dunne's methodology, "We do not know."

I was distressed to learn this morning that this post has been taken out of context. Apparently those commenting on discussion boards are using it to claim, "Made-up research discredits Fintan Dunne and the Green Movement".

Mr Dunne's research is not "made-up". His 245 estimate was based on news accounts, such as the account from two doctors in Le Figaro of 92 bodies in the hospital in which they work and the revelation this week of 34 bodies of protesters in three Tehran hospitals on 20 June. It also is based on Mr Dunne's sources, some of whom may not be able to be revealed for fear of Government retribution.

As there is no possibility of a 100% count of the deaths, or any official partial count that would carry credibility, Mr Dunne had to extrapolate from what we do know. He did so using a methodology based on a ratio of deaths in Tehran to those outside the capital (where there is little information), an estimate of the numbers of deaths being hidden by the Government, and other factors.

Personally, that is not my approach. I prefer to work from confirmed information, partly out of concern that any estimate can be labelled by a regime as "propaganda".

To my chagrin, however, I find that this is precisely what has happened to Mr Dunne's work. So let me be clear: there is a basis for his methodology, and his estimate is more than plausible in the context of those deaths that have been established. And, for those who have political motives in denigrating the 245 figure, you should beware that eventually the confirmed (if partial) total will be greater.

It is unfortunate that, in a conflict such as this, those who strive to lift the veil of secrecy are the first targets for denigration. I regret any inadvertent support I may have given for this effort to undermine Mr Dunne's work, even as I anticipate that his efforts and those of other valuable journalists inside and outside Iran will give us an approximation of the "truth".

The Latest from Iran (16 July): Waiting for Rafsanjani's Prayers

NEW The “Other” Rafsanjani: Faezeh Hashemi Criticises Supreme Leader, Government, Khatami
NEW Iran: How Friday's Prayers Might Develop
UPDATED Iran: How Many Protesters Have Died?
The Latest from Iran (15 July): Chess not Checkers

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1940 GMT: A contact reports that Ahmadinejad's business trip to Mashad could be met with opposition demonstrations. Online rumour has it that an 'assassination attempt' will be staged by the Ahmadinejad camp, which will provide an excuse to increase security and surveillance in Iran- which can then be used against the opposition.

1930 GMT: A group of scholars have released a letter in support of Ayatollah Ostadi, who said after leading prayers in Qom last Friday that they would be his last for the foreseeable future. [Link: Persian / English via iran88] One of the scholars is Ayatollah Javadi-Amoli. [Link: Persian / English]

1920 GMT: An article on the UG Government's Radio Farda site demonstrates the diversity of opinion over what may be in The Rafsanjani speech tomorrow. The staunchlly pro-Government Kayhan is asking for a "unifying speech that is worthy of a pillar of Islamic leadership", while members of the reformist party have stated that "generally speaking, Mr. Rafsanjani's speeches in Friday prayers  have always had large political significance with huge effects".

1715 GMT: A possibly significant development from Wikileaks on the resignation of Aghazadeh as head of the Iranian nuclear programme: "Week ago, source in Iran gave WL a report of a nuclear accident at Natanz. Now Iran's nuke head resigns-no reason. Anyone know more?"

1610 GMT: Twitter's IranRiggedElect states that Mehdi Karroubi will also attend Friday prayers. (AUT News link, in Persian).

1600 GMT: The Guardian has updated its database of dead and detained in Iran- it now contains almost 700 names.

1545 GMT: Twitter's iranbaan reports says that, "Etemade Melli newspaper reports that Mohammad Khatami, Mehdi Karroubi, Hashemi Rafsanjani, and Ali  Nategh Nouri will not attend Ahmadinejad's inauguration ceremony."

1230 GMT: How Big is This News? Iranian Students News Agency reports that the head of Iran's nuclear programme, Gholam Reza Aghazadeh, submitted his resignation to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad almost three weeks ago.

It is unclear if the resignation is related to post-election conflict and why news of it was not released until now. An Enduring America correspondent notes, however, that the development could be very unsettling in the ongoing manoeuvres between Iran and the "West": "Aghazadeh was close to Ayatollah Khamenei but had also developed a good rapport with [former International Atomic Energy Agency head Mohammad] El-Baradei. He was one of the last of the Khatami-era officials."

Combined with Hillary Clinton's clumsy statement on Iran yesterday --- the US will "engage" but only to the end of September --- this news points to difficulties related to but beyond Iran's internal situation.

0835 GMT: Some public threats are being made that Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mohammad Khatami "will be beaten up" in Friday prayers. Possibly in response, the conservative newspaperKayhan has declared that " while some individuals claiming to be hezbollah [followers of the party] may engage in thuggish behavior, the intelligent Iranian public should recognize that this behavior is not hezbollah etiquette and should ostracize such individuals".

0830 GMT: More on the efforts of the Interior Ministry (0700 GMT) to check the protests. The ministry, which currently can authorise or ban political parties, has taken the unprecedented step of declaring that its permission is required for a "political front" of groups. The step comes after news this week that Mir Hossein Mousavi was seeking to form a front for the opposition challenge.

0745 GMT: Fintan Dunne has offered an estimate of 245 protester deaths since 12 June. We've posted an analysis in our separate blog on the casualties.

0700 GMT: The Regime Strikes Back (a Bit). Interior Minister Gholam-Hossein Mohseni-Ejeie shook a fist at the opposition in a press conference on Wednesday, claiming that the Intelligence Ministry enquiries into post-election conflict were finding culprits: "The role of some of these political figures has been proven and their case is nearing completion."

Beside putting out an unsubtle warning 48 hours before Friday prayers, Mohseni-Ejeie was also indicating that the Government would hold out against pressure to release detainees. As cases were still being investigated, "no exact time can be announced for their release." He added that confessions obtained from those arrested could be made public, should the country's judiciary decides to do so.

0500 GMT: Just over 24 hours to go before Friday prayers in Tehran, to be led by former President Hashemi Rafsanjani, and all is relatively quiet in Iran. The one important exception was last night's confirmation by Mir Hossein Mousavi that he will join the march to the prayer site. The news, which broke on Mousavi's website and Facebook page, was reconfirmed three hours ago.

In the lull before the event, the most intriguing discussion has been of Rafsanjani's approach tomorrow. Maryam at Keeping the Change has an excellent consideration of "the delicate balancing act that Rafsanjani will likely play on Friday". Reviewing both the former President's objectives and the hopes and fears of the opposition movement, Maryam summarises from "a source in the Mousavi campaign": "They are expecting Rafsanjani's speech to unite the opposing factions, though they also believe he will speak about the rights of the people and be critical of the government's treatment of them during the election crisis."

That assessment points to some interesting realities and some even more interesting questions. Rafsanjani's emergence highlights the striking weakness of President Ahmadinejad, whose relegation to the sidelines has been further illustrated by his flight to Mashaad and thus his non-appearance in Tehran on Friday. Just as striking has been the recent silence of the Supreme Leader. I cannot recall a statement by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei after the 18 Tir protests of last Thursday, which were scathing about the supposed role of his son, Mojtaba, in manipulating the election and leading security forces against the opposition.

But this is no means now a simple alliance of Rafsanjani with the Green Movement against the Government. Maryam's assessment points to the negotiation that is taking place between the former President, who after all was a key reason why Khameini ascended to the Supreme Leadership, and those who have been pressing for substantial change to the system. If Rafsanjani calls for a unity government, does Mousavi accept? Under what conditions? What of the reactions of Mehdi Karroubi, Mohammad Khatami, and other opposition leaders, some of whom still remain in detention? And how would the Rafsanjani appeal be received by a fragmented clerical leadership in Qom?

Maybe more importantly, is "compromise", if that is the word offered or hinted at by Rafsanjani, a word that will be accepted by a mass of protesters who have rallied but then been beaten --- verbally, emotionally, and sometimes physically --- by those in power?

Iran: How Friday's Prayers Might Develop

The Latest from Iran (16 July): Waiting for Rafsanjani’s Prayers

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IRAN FRIDAY PRAYERSI was planning a full analysis, building on our morning update, of what might happen at the Friday prayers led by former President Hashemi Rafsanjani, but wiser minds have overtaken me. As we mentioned in the update, Maryam at Keeping the Change is outstanding in the assessment of a possible Rafsanjani move for compromise. Now an Enduring America correspondent has sent in a latest update with an equally convincing reading. (Some of this echoes the possibilities that Fintan Dunne and I discussed earlier this week: Rafsanjani, under the umbrella call for "unity", may set out possibilties through electoral reform, some "reformist" involvement in the Government, and the release of detainees.)

After reading these, my not-so-wise mind jumps ahead.  If this is the path that Rafsanjani takes, what will be the reaction of the opposition politicians and protesters? And is our correspondent right that, irrespective of the statement tomorrow, no compromise is possible?

The speaker giving the introductory lecture to the Friday prayers has been changed. Previously the Friday Prayers organization declared that the Minister of Economics was supposed to give this lecture, subsequently it has been declared that Hojattoleslam Taghavi, the former Chairman of the Parliamentary Culture Committee, is replacing the minister.

This change in speakers is an important issue.

The introductory lecture is not a ritual part of Friday prayers, in contrast to Rafsanjani's speech, the Khotbeh. After the revolution these introductory lectures were introduced as a political complement to the prayers. These introductions played a myriad of roles: one role was to strengthen the message of the Khotbeh; conversely, these lectures could also give a forum to present the viewpoint of a faction other than that of the khotbeh speaker.

This change may be:

1) A tactical retreat by the Ahmadinejad faction.(An introductory lecture giving veiled threats and insinuations would allow ample room for rebuttal in the Khotbeh. On the other hand, a tame lecture by the Ahmadinejad faction would be tantamount to accepting defeat).

2) A signal that Rafsanjani is in a strong enough position to demand that the introductory lecture not be given by an Ahmadinejad spokesman, the Minister of Economics.

3) This is some kind of compromise effected behind closed doors, signalling the begining of a detente between the factions.

Personally, I do not think that option 3 is viable in the long run, even if Rafsanjani gives a warm and fuzzy speech as Maryam of Keeping the Change suggests. The reformers must be convinced by now that the Ahmadinejad faction abides by no rules, plays for the kill, and takes no prisoners. Any compromise will just be be treated by the Ahmadinejad and Khamenei factions as an oppurtunity to carry out their agenda for stifling reform. Indeed Faezeh Hashemi, Rafsanjani's daughter, in her most recent statements harshly criticized Khatami's policy of seeking a detente with Khamenei.

The wave of green is a second chance given to reformist politicians to redeem themselves and the concept of the Islamic Republic in the eyes of the Iranian public. It is a responsibility that I am sure has disturbed the nocturnal rest of many politicians, far more than a lack of sleep caused by the fear of persecution by the associates of Ahmadinejad and Khameini.

UPDATED Iran: How Many Protesters Have Died?

The Latest from Iran (15 July): Chess not Checkers

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UPDATE (16 July, 0700 GMT): Internet chatter has been of 200-300 deaths in violence against protesters. Fintan Dunne offers the basis for the estimate, putting forth a figure of 245. This is based on news reports, unofficial hospital counts, and a series of assumptions.

I admire Fintan's work greatly, but I can't see this as more than speculation with asssertions like "allow around 35% of fatalities to enter hospitals; hide 65% of the bodies in IRGC morgues / cold-store locations". The percentage hidden could be higher, could be lower. Same for the total number of casualties.

We simply don't know.

We have been very cautious in reporting casualty figures from the post-election violence in Iran. Inevitably, given tension and concern, there are a swirl of rumours and partial information that can lead to inaccurate and misleading numbers.

On 25 June, we posted a list from the International Committee for Human Rights of "at least 27 fatalities in Tehran" with its note that "the true numbers are most probably much higher....There are also reports of fatalities in other cities but the Campaign has not been able to collect any reliable information." On 4 July, we noted the names of 12 people whose deaths had been confirmed. And there have been individual cases such as Sohrab Arabi, whose death on 15 June was only confirmed last week.

The situation is still unclear, but the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran has made another intervention, claiming that 34 people were killed in a single day, Saturday, 20 June, in Tehran. (This was the day that Neda Agha Soltan was killed by a Basij gunman as she watched the demonstrations.) The Campaign, noting that the Government only acknowledged 11 deaths, adds, "There are also several other major hospitals along the routes that could have received the dead and injured on that day."

What is even more striking, however, is the Campaign's assertion, "Information is accumulating suggesting that hundreds of protesters were slaughtered during the demonstrations."

That "information" appears to be based on a report in Norooz, the newspaper of the Islamic Iran Participation Front (strongly opposed to the current Government):
Authorities took [family members looking for missing relatives] to a cold storage facility in southwest Tehran made for storing fruits and dairy products. In their presence they showed pictures of hundreds of those that have been killed until they were able to find the picture of their loved one. It took nearly thirty minutes of searching for them to find the photo of their relative. As they were leaving, they saw hundreds of bodies piled on top of each other.

In addition, the Campaign cites "sources in Iran" that "hundreds of family members are desperately searching for their missing relatives".

Such reports need to be treated with caution. Amidst grief and panic, worries can be exaggerated into fact. At the same time, the Government has a clear motive in minimising the casualty figures as well as blocking any possibility of a comprehensive investigation. The outcome is that we are mostly likely to hear of deaths on an individual basis, as in the case of Sohrab Arabi.

The sad reality is that truth will be hindered and rendered impossible by the lack of any transparency over what has happened, both at the time and subsequently. Let it be said, however, that the claim of tragedy and loss does not need a specific number to be valid.

Iran: Scott Lucas on "Sea of Green Radio"

The Latest from Iran (14 July): Ripples on the Surface

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IRAN GREENIt is a real honour to be involved with the launch of "Sea of Green Radio", a co-operative venture between Anonymous Iran and Fintan Dunne. The initiative is to bring latest news and analysis via Internet-hosted audio; already broadcasts feature Josh Shahryar, the creator of the "Green Brief".

In this chat with Fintan Dunne, I discussed he conjunction of the manoeuvres behind this Friday's prayers, with Hashemi Rafsanjani presiding and a mass march which may include Mir Hossein Mousavi, Mohammad Khatami, and Mehdi Karroubi, with stories of possible compromise within the Iranian system.