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Entries in Expediency Council (4)


Iran: Connecting the Dots --- 5 Signs of Regime Trouble

Mr Verde drops by EA to offer this analysis

The news stories in recent days might appear unrelated, but all of them point to behind-the-scenes manoeuvres and disagreements within the regime. It is too early, given the limited information, to understand exactly what is going on within the Islamic Republic, but it is well worth watching for emerging significance.

1. The Release of Mostafa Tajzadeh

During the week, Mostafa Tajzadeh, leading member of the reformist Islamic Iran Participation Front and former Deputy Interior Minister, was released without bail for the Iranian New Year.

It is an unusual move. The Iranian judiciary has been setting very high bails for post-election detainees. In some instances, even after posting the required bail, detainees have been held for several days. Tajzadeh had refused to pay the bail, saying that he does not own any property to put up as collateral, and now he has been freed temporarily.

Tajzadeh has been a bitter critic of the Guardian Council and its head Ahmad Jannati. He has in the past accused Jannati by name of taking part in fraud during Parliament elections. Given this, who has taken the decision to released Tajzadeh without bail? Why give this small, but very symbolic victory (Tajzadeh has received a hero's welcome, with visits by high-profile political figures) to the reformists at this time?

2. The Parliament Vote Against Ahmadinejad's Subsidy Reform Proposal

To pressure the Majlis to accept his proposal for control of $40 billion from reductions in subsidies, President Ahmadinejad asked the Supreme Leader for help. Khamenei in turn summoned the Majlis Speaker, Ali Larijani, and asked that the Parliament consider the Government's proposal carefully. t

Ahmadinejad then went to the Majlis on the day of the vote and spoke at length in defence of his proposal. He even stayed during the voting to lobby MPs. (Both of these actions are considered illegal.) Despite the Leader’s personal intervention and Ahmadinejad’s appearance, the Majles voted against the President, allowing him to control only $20 billion of the revenue.

Because of the way elections are held in Iran, with the filtering of candidates by the Guardian Council, MPs usually take very seriously what the Supreme Leader says. Many of the current MPs are ex-military, with close links to the Revolutionary Guard and the intelligence services.

So why did 111 MPs vote against the Supreme Leader’s wishes? Has someone else managed to influence the Majles in order to embarrass both Khamenei and Ahamadinejad? Has the Supreme Leader said one thing in public but privately given the go-ahead for the negative vote?

3. The Altered Khamenei Speech

Two weeks after his speech to the Assembly of Experts, the Supreme Leader's website has publisedh a verson of the address with new sections, including references to the Expediency Council’s moves to change the election laws. Khamenei says that he will only approve parts of the Council’s proposals with which he agrees.

Why the two-week delay?  Was this section added to the “speech” after the meeting?  Was it originally omitted not to upset certain people or groups? Is the new version intended to reassure the Guardian Council and its supporters that the Supreme Leader is backing them?

4. Ahmadinejad's Nuclear Story

On Saturday, Fars News quoted Ahmadinejad as saying that, after the 2005 election, he met with the Supreme Leader and asked that the International Atomic Energy Agency's seals be taken off Iran’s nuclear facilities before the President took office.

This directly contradicts Khamenei’s version, as the Supreme Leader has said that he had himself decided for the seals to be removed and uranium enrichment to be resumed.

Is Ahmadinejad deliberately trying to undermine Khamenei? Is he just trying to talk himself up without considering the consequences?

5. Rafsanjani's Moves

Recently Hassan Rohani and Mohammad-Bagher Ghalibaf, both said to be close to Hashemi Rafsanjani, have taken direct aim at Ahmadinejad’s government. Rouhani said that some people want to run the country with one gang. Qalibaf said that for the past 14 months no serious work has been done in the country.

Rafsanjani has recently said that he does not want students to be quiet, but he has warned students against talk and actions that would provide excuses for people who want crackdowns on Iranian society.

So what is "The Shark" up to? Is he, working with or through Rohani and Qalibaf, pushing against Ahmadinejad? Is he sanctioning protest or trying to hold it back?

Too early to answer any of these questions, but more than enough here to question where All is Well within the Islamic Republic.

Iran Analysis: Rafsanjani's "Finger in the Dike" Strategy 

Masoud Shafaee writes at The Newest Deal:

As the Persian Nowruz New Year fast approaches and Iran's post-election crisis enters its ninth month, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani remains as mercurial a figure as ever in Iranian politics. True to his nickname of Kooseh, or "The Shark", Rafsanjani has been paying lip-service to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei while simultaneously signaling (if only tacitly) solidarity with Iran's Green opposition movement. With his reputation as an incredibly calculating figure, it is hard to believe that this contradiction is coincidental. In fact, Rafsanjani's high level of influence in the system may be paradoxically inhibiting him from more closely aligning with the Green Movement.

In many ways, Rafsanjani's position resembles that of the boy who stuck his finger in the leaking dike in Hans Brinker's classic tale.

In the story, the boy's plugging of the hole with his finger was not an attempt to solve the problem at hand, but rather, to prevent an immediate and far more dangerous outcome from occurring. Had the boy gone to fetch help to repair the dike, the levee would have broken and the city would have been flooded. By staying at the dike all night -- not fixing the problem, but preventing it from worsening -- the boy bought time until others discovered him the next morning and were able to make necessary, lasting repairs.

Rafsanjani may find himself in similar circumstances and equally incapable of making a significant move. Ahmadinejad and the Revolutionary Guard have shown no intention of curbing their quest to completely control the Islamic Republic. What started out as a President hand-in-hand with the Supreme Leader (with his undoubted blessing of plans to rig the June election) has grown into something far greater. Only one month after the election, Ahmadinejad publicly disobeyed Khamenei by failing to immediately withdraw Esfandiar Rahim-Mashai as his top deputy after the Supreme Leader voiced his disapproval. A month later, he showed up unannounced in the Majlis parliament flanked by his armed bodyguards. Constitutional rights have been discarded in countless instances. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's statement that "Iran is moving toward a military dictatorship" appears troublingly accurate.

One factor that has arguably prevented a complete takeover of the regime from already occurring is the enormous weight that Rafsanjani carries inside of Iran. A father-figure of the 1979 Islamic Revolution, head of two constitutional branches of government, and a man of considerable wealth and influence, Rafsanjani has in many ways served as a buffer to Ahmadinejad's megalomaniacal ambitions. And while by no means himself a democratizing figure, Rafsanjani's perceived loyalty to the Supreme Leader (and the ruling theocracy) has gone to ensure that he remains a formidable presence in the country's politics, thereby creating space for the Green Movement to breathe, evolve, and grow. Ayatollah Mahdavi Kani's recent remarks labeling "those who want to exclude Rafsanjani" from the system as "irrelevant" speaks of just this clout.

This public backing of Khamenei came as recently as two weeks ago, when Rafsanjani reaffirmed his support for the doctrine of Velayat-e Faqih. “Our focal point is clear and that is the constitution, Islam, the principle of the office of the jurisprudent and supreme leadership,” he said. Statements such as this are far more calculated than simply supporting the Supreme Leader for the sake of winning political capital. Indeed, Rafsanjani is essentially forcing Khamenei to own the very mess that he created. This was just the case when he stated back in December and again earlier this month that the Supreme Leader is “the only one” capable of unifying the country out of the current crisis. While elevating the position of the Supreme Leader with false praise, Rafsanjani’s words actually directly clash with the regime’s official line that there is in fact “no crisis in the country" to begin with.

This obviously does not mean that the Supreme Leader will lead the country out of crisis, nor would it excuse his actions were he to do the unthinkable and actually reverse course and unify the country. Rather, it points to Rafsanjani’s maneuvering within the system. He is not with the Greens per se, but he is taking steps that ultimately help their cause. He is not fixing or replacing the dike; he is plugging the hole until help arrives.

But just as Rafsanjani has been cautious to not stray too far from the conservative camp, he has also been equally cognizant of the need to reassure the Greens that he shares many of their same concerns. His daughter, Faezeh Hashemi, has phrased it less ambiguously,claiming that her father's demands "are the same as the Green Movement." When asked of the possibility of political reconciliation, she went even further, stating that any compromise would be "out of the question" if it did not take into account the gross violation of people's rights. The fact that the Iranian judiciary has now filed charges against Faezeh Hashemi (and her brother Mehdi) for "fomenting riots" in Tehran only adds to the credibility of the Rafsanjani name within Green circles.

Whether Rafsanjani is technically a 'Green' or not, comments posted on his website following his Khobregan [Assembly of Experts] address are unmistakably similar to some of the criticisms coming from the leaders of the Green Movement. Comparing the current crisis to the events surrounding the 1906-1911 Constitutional Revolution, Rafsanjani said that certain individuals, while conspiring against the regime, pretend to be supporting the ideals of the Islamic Revolution. With the proper historical context, his message is less veiled: much like how the country's very first National Assembly collapsed, leading to the coup d'etat of Reza Shah in 1921, the regime faces similar dangers today from those who carry the regime's banner but stray from its ideals. Mir-Hossein Mousavi made a similar assessment when he told Kalemeh in a post-22 Bahman interview that the refusal to listen to the people's demands "is a sign of tyranny and a distortion of the ideals of the Islamic Revolution."

And while "the Shark" has kept a relatively low profile during the last few months  -- at least when compared to the increasingly pointed rhetoric of both Mousavi and Mehdi Karoubi -- his maneuvering within the Islamic Republic's framework points to a strategy to align with some of the more immediate goals of the Green Movement. Just as Mousavi called for the reform of electoral laws in his 17th statement, the Expediency Council  -- a constitutional body which Rafsanjani chairs -- began considering a proposal that would take away the Guardian Council's vetting role, and instead give it to a new "National Election Committee." The committee, not coincidentally, would be under Rafsanjani's supervision at the Expediency Council. It should also be noted that Rafsanjani himself alleged election fraud following his defeat in the 2005 presidential election to none other than Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Yet it would be remiss to neglect mentioning that Khamenei ordered the new election plans to be drawn up two years ago. The plans, in other words, outdate post-election developments. Irrespective of their origin, there is no chance that the regime, facing its greatest crisis since its inception, will suddenly decide to make itself more democratic, and inevitably, more vulnerable.

Rafsanjani's intentions should not be seen in an altruistic or nationalist light. If he is indeed scheming to help the Greens, then he is surely being driven in part by his own political ambitions. For this was Ayatollah Khomenei's right-hand man, a two-term (and almost three-term) president, and still the head of two powerful constitutional bodies. He is Iran's de facto number-two. Helping the Green Movement's cause ultimately helps his cause: more power.

While Rafsanjani's current primary concern may be preventing Ahmadinejad from tearing Iran's already-polarized political landscape asunder, that may in time prove to be lead to his grander scheme: he was the boy who saved the city from ruin.

The Latest from Iran (10 March): The View from Washington

2305 GMT: Back on the Road Again. Off for flight to UK and work in Liverpool so will be quiet for a while. Thanks to everyone for backing up EA on an eventful day.

2300 GMT: Political Prisoner Watch. Reports that student activist and weblog writer Fouad Shams has been released from prison after 96 days. Saeed Nourmohammadi, a member of the youth branch of the Islamic Iran Participation Front has been freed after 4 1/2 months in detention.

NEW Iran Interview: Habibollah Peyman “Change Through Social Awareness”
Iran Analysis: Corruption Within the Government?
The Latest from Iran (9 March): Political Acts

2255 GMT: Maintaining Control. Radio Zamaneh headlines, "Iran's Supreme Leader May Approve Changes to Electoral Policies", but the more you read, the more this is an assertion of Khamenei's authority rather than reform.

Meeting members of the Assembly of Experts, the Supreme Leader said that he will approve the changes in “general policies of the elections” under discussion in the Expediency Council, headed by Hashemi Rafsanjani.

However, Khamenei added that the opinion of the Expediency Council regarding election policies is “debatable”, and once he is informed of their decision, he will enforce what he deems necessary. Hardly a ringing endorsement of the Council's moves for change.....

2240 GMT: Economy Watch. It's not the headlines over the sanctions that should be garnering attention; instead, keep an eye on the companies ceasing business with Iran.

Royal Dutch Shell has announced that it has stopped selling gasoline/petrol to Iran which, despite its oil reserves, is dependent on imports to meet domestic demand. Shell still receives revenues from an oilfield deal completed in 2005. (The New York Times also reports that Shell "has a natural gas development in the works" but --- and here is where a Washington conference comes in useful --- informed insiders say there is little likelihood of the project moving ahead in the foreseeable future.)

Ingersoll-Rand, a manufactuer of air compressors and cooling systems, has also said that it will no longer allow its foreign subsidiaries to sell parts or products to Iran.

2230 GMT: More In-Fighting. Kayhan editor Hossein Shariatmadari, in an editorial “Outrageous Overstatement”, has gone after Presidential Chief of Staff Esfandiar Rahim-Mashai for his recent “base,” “hyperbolic”, and “pompous” remarks. Shariatmadari accused Rahim-Mashai of seeking to undermine the presidency, distort the principle of velayat-e-faqih (clerical authority), and cause rifts among the principlists.

2225 GMT: Watch This Closely. Earlier this week Mr Verde picked up on the challenge of the head of Iran's judiciary, Sadegh Larijani, that he was going to root out corruption in the Government and punish those responsible, including a high-ranking official.

Well, Sadegh's got back-up from the Parliament that his brother Ali heads:
A majority of Iranian lawmakers have asked Judiciary Chief Ayatollah Sadeq Larijani to decisively deal with the case of a major ring of corrupt government employees.

Larijani announced on Sunday that the judicial system had arrested 11 members of a ring of corrupt employees who embezzled millions of dollars by forging government documents.

Ayatollah Larijani stated that 11 key members of the ring have been arrested and all of them have made confessions.

In a letter sent to the Judiciary chief on Wednesday, 216 MPs also thanked him for his efforts to ensure that the members of the gang were arrested.

But the MPs said that based on the available information, the embezzlement ring has been active in more than one state organization and therefore the rest of its members should be tracked down and arrested.

They said they have been informed that certain people with high-ranking positions played more active roles in the ring than those who have been arrested.

The lawmakers urged Larijani to deal with all the members of the ring, regardless of their positions.

"Certain people with high-ranking positions"? First Vice President Mohammad Reza Rahimi, by chance?

2200 GMT: Back from a most interesting day of Iran panels. Hoping to collect thoughts for an analysis, but I'm very tired. So, for now, thanks a million to everyone for all the great support.

1300 GMT: March on Washington. I'm off to Capitol Hill to see some folks about Iran. We'll be on the road for awhile, so keep us up-to-date with developments by posting in our Comments section.

1220 GMT: We have posted the thoughts of Dr Habibollah Peyman, the head of the banned Movement of Combatant Muslims, on the strategy of the Green Movement.

1115 GMT: Kiarostami Speaks Out. The prominent Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami has published an open letter in a Tehran newspaper calling for the release of Jafar Panahi and Mahmoud Rasoulof, fellow directors who were detained last week.

Kiarostami has also sent an English translation thorough a friend to The New York Times, which prints the text.

1105 GMT: Political Prisoner Watch. Persian2English summarises news of a series of releases on bail:
Emad Bahavar, member of reformist group Nehzat-e Azadi [Freedom Movement of Iran] , and Yashar Darolshafa, a student activist, were released last night.

Political activist Mehrdad Rahimi was released last night after posting a $70,000 bail. Rahimi, who was arrested over two months ago, was under pressure to submit to confessions on live television.

Political activist Hamideh Ghasemi, journalist Ahmad Jalali Farahani, and Saleh Noghrekar were also released after a month in prison.

Saleh Noghrekar is the nephew of opposition leader, Zahra Rahnavard. He was released on a $50,000 bail.

Mehdi Amizesh, children’s rights activist, was also released on bail after two months in prison.

1055 GMT: Mahmoud Knocks, K arzai Not at Home. Here is the not-so-dramatic of the saga of President Ahmadinejad saying he would go to Afghanistan on Monday (Sunday), Ahmadinejad not going to Afghanistan (Monday), Ahmadinejad saying "oh, I meant Wednesday" (Tuesday).

Well, the good news is that the President finally got to see Kabul's sights, and Hamid Karzai is one of them. Initial reports indicated that the Afghanistan President was not at home, but the two men finally showed up at a press conference.

With US Secretary of Defense Gates still in Afghanistan --- his visit with Karzai on Monday was the likely reason for the postponement of Ahmadinejad's trip --- the Iranian President took a swipe at Washington, "I believe that they themselves are playing a double game. They themselves created terrorists and now they're saying that they are fighting terrorists." Gates had put out the "double game" charge against Tehran earlier in the week.

1045 GMT: I Don't Even Like the Guy. If Jahan News was trying to undermine Mehdi Karroubi with the claim that he was very nice to Saeed Mortazavi, the Ahmadinejad aide who has been blamed for the post-election abuses at Kahrizak, the effort does not appear to have worked. Karroubi hasn't reacted, but Mortazavi is more than a bit upset. His office put out this statement:
Mr. Mortazavi attended a memorial service held for the mother of his colleague in Nour Mosque on Saturday....Mr. Mehdi Karroubi was present at the beginning of the ceremony and left approximately half an hour before Mr. Mortazavi arrived. Therefore, Mr. Karroubi and Mortazavi never encountered each other.

It is not clear what the intentions of this website was in reporting the warm exchange of pleasantries and kisses between these two individuals [Karroubi, Mortazavi]. The intention to disseminate such false news reports is also a matter to reflect upon.

The son of Mr. Karroubi was one of the suspects the former Tehran prosecutor [Mortazavi] dealt with and the Etemade Melli newspaper owned by Mr. Karroubi was banned by him therefore such fabricated stories aimed at influencing public opinion will have no success.

0450 GMT: We're off for some downtime before the Wednesday conference. Back in a few hours.

0435 GMT: The War on Football. Yesterday we noted that Iranian authorities had issued a warning, for an unspecified reason, to a football publication.

Well, here's an even more serious football story from Iran Human Rights Voice:
Football journalist Abdollah Sadoughi was arrested in the city of Tabriz, north-west Iran, on 18 January, after publishing a poster supporting the city’s Traktor Sazi football team. He is held without charge at Tabriz prison, and is on hunger strike in protest at what he considers to be his baseless detention....

Abdollah Sadoughi, aged 33, a member of Iran’s Azerbaijani minority, writes for the Iranian publications Goal, Corner and Khosh Khabar (Good News). He supports Tabriz’s Traktor Sazi football team. The authorities have accused him of acts “against national security” including supporting “Pan-Turkism” for publishing posters, one of which says, in the Azerbaijani Turkic language, “All of Azerbaijan feels pride with you”, alongside an image of the football team. Abdollah Sadoughi maintains he had permission from the relevant authorities to print posters [but] Azerbaijani Turkic is not recognized as an official language in Iran....

In late February, Abdollah Sadoughi began a hunger strike. According to media reports, soon after starting his hunger strike he was transferred to solitary confinement and held in filthy conditions, and then moved to a cell with criminal convicts. On 2 March 2010, having lost considerable weight and suffering from various medical problems, he was transferred to the clinic within Tabriz prison. Abdollah Sadoughi has been able to meet his lawyer and his family, most recently on 6 March, when he said he would continue his hunger strike until he is released or brought before a court.

0430 GMT: Does the Movement Live? Mohammad Sadeghi offers a spirited response to those who claimed 22 Bahman (11 February) marked the end of the Green Movement:
Any measure of the movement's success must focus on the incredible changes brought about in Iran thus far, rather than the outcome of specific tactics. Conversations on the proper role of government, which would have been unthinkable less than a year ago, are now commonplace throughout the country. The government is constantly on the defensive on issues ranging from sexual abuse in prisons to its failed economic policies. Although the regime maintains tight control over all levers of power in society -- police and security forces, the media, the oil industry, etc. -- its popular support has been steadily slipping since June's presidential election. These changes have taken place because of the millions of Iranians who see it as their duty to peacefully protest in the streets, document the regime's brutality, and spread this documentation around the world. In other words, the movement owes its greatest successes to the horizontal organization and innovative use of technology that [critics are] so quick to dismiss.

0315 GMT: Now in place in Washington for Wednesday's open hearing on Iran and US-Iran relations. Will get an insider's look later today but already one point of note has emerged: the Ali Larijani mission to Japan for a possible uranium enrichment deal should be taken seriously.

That impression is accompanied by signals from Iranian state media of confidence that the push for tougher international sanctions on Tehran will fail. Under the headline, "Anti-Iran plot failing, Israeli envoy laments", Press TV carries Agence France Presse's quotation from Israeli Ambassador to the UN Gabriela Shalev: "The chances now seem grim regarding sanctions that will be crippling." Shalev said Russia and China "are still looking to the diplomatic track" and appear reluctant to back a new round of sanctions.

Back in Iran, the trial of 12 police officers charged with post-election abuses in Kahrizak Prison has begun.

The Latest from Iran (6 March): Justice

2130 GMT: Jailing the Workers. Radio Farda reports the arrests of a number of labour activists in northwestern Iran in recent days.

2120 GMT: Mystery of Day. Iranian Labor News Agency reports that Ayatollahs Safi Golpaygani and Javadi-Amoli have met recently.

Given that these meetings between senior clerics are rare, what were the issues that brought the two ayatollahs together? And was there any connection to the clerical disquiet over the Mohammad Amin Valian death sentence?

UPDATED Death, Confusion, and Clerics in Iran: The Case of Mohammad Amin Valian
NEW An Open Letter to the Editors of Iran’s “Principled” Newspapers
University Special: Iran & Conservapedia Ally Against Dangerous Professors
The Latest from Iran (5 March): Re-aligning

2045 GMT: Mohareb Trial for Dr Maleki? Iranian Labor News Agency reports that Dr Mohammad Maleki, the first post-1979 Chancellor of Tehran University is being charged with "mohareb" (war against God). Maleki's lawyer, Mohammad Sharifi said that his client, who is 76 and suffers from prostate cancer, is also charged with links to an outlawed organisation.

2040 GMT: Political Prisoner Watch. Banafsheh Darolshafaei, the sister of blogger Agh Bahman, has been released from detention.

1955 GMT: The Khomeini Challenge. Seyed Hassan Khomeini, the grandson of Ayatollah Khomeini, has again criticised Iranian authorities. He claimed some people refuse to see the truth, and even when they are told about it, try to “accuse you of an offence”
1945 GMT: A Little Change? The Expediency Council voted overwhelmingly on Saturday to consider changes in Iran's electoral law, starting deliberations on qualification of voters, candidates, and the quality of election campaigns, according to Council member Mohammad Hashemi, the brother of Hashemi Rafsanjani.

Hashemi said a large number of council members insisted on the need to reform the election law, prevailing over others who believed that the issue should be delayed due to the country’s "special condition".

1930 GMT: Nothing to See Here, Move Along. "Conservatives" in the Parliament have decided not to press the Ahmadinejad Government on the issue of last June's attack on Tehran University dormitories.

The spokesman for the Majlis National Security and Foreign Policy Committee, MP Kazem Jalali, said the committee found nothing new in an 18-minute graphic film --- an abridged version of which was broadcast by Persian and found nothing new --- of the attack.

Jalali claimed that the emergence of the film, which was shot by a member of the attacking force, was because Iran's "enemies" were "disappointed" by massive pro-regime rallies on 11 February, Iran's nuclear, aerospace, and scientific achievements, and the capture of Jundullah leader Abdolmalek Rigi.

1620 GMT: The Rigi-US-Capitalism-Zionism-"9-11 Was a Lie" Conspiracy. Western news media have picked up on President Ahmadinejad's statement, in a meeting with Ministry of Intelligence personnel, that the destruction of the World Trade Center in New York on 11 September 2001 was a "complicated intelligence scenario and act": "The September 11 incident was a big fabrication as a pretext for the campaign against terrorism and a prelude for staging an invasion against Afghanistan."

That, however, is only the top of Mahmoud's West-Did-It-All Iceberg. The full speech, reported by the Islamic Republic News Agency, announces that the arrest of Jundullah leader Abdolmalek Rigi exposes the core of the campaign by US and Israeli intelligence services against Iran. This in turn is part of a struggle of "good" human nature against the devils of capitalism, liberal democracy, and US global leadership.

1515 GMT: Women's Solidarity. Zahra Rahnavard, the wife of Mir Hossein Mousavi, has posted a message for International Women's Day on Monday.

Rahnavard noted that discrimination and oppression of Iranian women has increased and invited the Iranian people and ruling powers to return to compassionate and humane values honouring the dignity of Iranian women.

Rahnavard added that today the leading women of the Green Movement are unjustly in prison only because they demand justice in the political, social and cultural affairs of the country. She stressed that the Green Movement is the manifestation of the ideals of any noble and justice-seeking human and that it honours women because of these humane and moral principles.

1415 GMT: Mohareb Watch. We've published two updates on the case of Mohammad Amin Valian, reportedly sentenced to death this week.

1045 GMT: Political Prisoner Watch. Human Rights Watch has issued a statement calling on the Iranian judiciary to release six women, connected with Mothers of Mourning, arrested in January and early February 2010.

0945 GMT: Political Prisoner Watch. Reporters Sans Frontieres offers this summary of recent developments:
Journalist Abolfazl Abedini Nasr was arrested at his home in the city of Ahvaz on 2 March by several men in plain clothes. The men, who all wore hoods, broke down the door of his house and brutally beat him. He had been earlier arrested on 30 June 2009 and freed on 26 October after putting up bail of 300 million tomans (270,000 euros).

Several human rights activists were arrested on the same day, among them the blogger and activist Naghipour Nasour. The director of the website was arrested at home in Qazvin by agents in plain-clothes. The reasons for his arrest and the place in which he is being detained are still unknown.

Reporters Without Borders learned on 3 March of the release of three journalists:

Noushin Jafari, journalist for Etemad, arrested on 3 February. Reza Norbakhsh, editor of the daily Farhikhteghan, arrested at his workplace in Tehran on 4 August, and who had been sentenced to six years in prison for “taking part in illegal demonstrations” and for articles posted on the news website Jomhoryat. Mortaza Kazemian, journalist for several reformist newspapers, arrested on 28 December 2009, was released after spending 34 days in solitary confinement in section 209 of Evin prison.

Journalist Said Laylaz had his sentence of nine years in jail reduced to three years by the Tehran appeal court. Kambiz Norrozi, head of the Association of Iranian Journalists, sentenced on 17 November to two years in jail and 76 strokes of the whip for making “publicity against the regime and disturbing public order”, had his sentence reduced on appeal to one year in prison.

0850 GMT: Political Prisoner Watch. HRA News Agency publishes reports, which we have heard for days, of "the widespread arrests of human rights activists, particularly members and affiliates of Human Rights Activists in Iran (HRA)". Among those detained in "at least 27 incidents of arrests" is Milad Abrahamian.

0845 GMT: Iran Down Under. Our partner, Arshama3's Blog, offers an interesting account of a meeting of activists in New Zealand supporting democratic change in Iran.

0835 GMT: We begin this morning with two specials, one putting a wry smile on a regime threat, the other offering a response to a story which has no smile.

Our "black comedy" moment comes out of a speech by Iran's Minister of Science and Higher Education, Kamran Daneshjoo, in which he threatens to dismiss deviant professors. And our more serious reflections are in an open letter responding to the editors of Iran's "principlist" newspapers, who have criticised "Western" media for unfair coverage of Iranian events.