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Entries in Sarah Shourd (3)


Iran Urgent Analysis: Judiciary Overrules Ahmadinejad --- Release of US Detainee Shourd Delayed

UPDATED 2100 GMT: President Ahmadinejad's office has just issued a brief statement, via the Islamic Republic News Agency, that the release of the "American spy" Sarah Shourd has been delayed.

LATEST Iran Breaking: Latest on Detained US Hiker Sarah Shourd

The release of Sarah Shourd, one of three US citizens picked up by Iranian authorities in July 2009 while hiking near the Iraq-Iran border, has been delayed.

An Iranian Labor News Agency story quotes Tehran Prosecutor General Abbas Jafari Doulatabadi, in what appears to have been a sudden, late-night intervention (after 11 p.m. Tehran time), "Because the legal procedure on her case is not finished, her release is canceled."

The release was supposed to take place at 9 a.m. Saturday at the Hafeziyeh of Saad Abad, a Presidential palace which has been the site of high-profile appearances of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and visiting leaders.

Our snap analysis?

The Foreign Ministry and, more importantly, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, pushed too hard and too fast on the release of Sarah Shourd. Not necessarily in the release itself --- that could be justified as a humanitarian gesture, given the end of Ramadan and Shourd's gender and poor health --- but in its presentation.

Initially the freeing of Shourd was to take place in a hotel in north Tehran, probably as a low-key handover to Swiss officials, who represent US diplomatic interests in Iran. Then, however, the plans changed: the ceremony was now going to take place in the Presidential palace at Saad Abad, the site of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's public appearances with foreign leaders.-

At the same time, the Foreign Ministry --- which had recently been at odds with the President but which wanted the release of at least one US detainee as a diplomatic move --- put out the message that Ahmadinejad deserved the credit for Shourd's release.

So now a low-key freeing of the detainee had become a high-profile showpiece for the President. A showpiece on 11 September, with all that date means, and thus a clear signal of accommodation with the US. A showpiece which in itself was the warm-up act for Ahmadinejad's trip to New York and the United Nations later this month. (Remember, the wider context is Ahmadinejad's desire to return to uranium enrichment talks with Washington via the 5+1 powers.)

That was too much for both Larijanis, Speaker of Parliament Ali and head of judiciary Sadegh. The two, already manoeuvring vis-a-vis the President over authority in a dispute which had been escalating in recent weeks, did not want Ahmadinejad to take the glory and thus the political legitimacy of spearheading Shourd's release. (A bit of recent history: in 2007, 15 British sailors were held for weeks in Tehran after supposedly straying into Iranian waters. Although Ali Larijani was central to the discussions that brought their release, it was Ahmadinejad who presided over a choreographed ceremony and gift-giving to the sailors as they were freed.)

And there was an added bit of distaste for Ahmadinejad's critics. Word was getting out that the "high officials" who were to appear at this suddenly-arranged very public ceremony might included the President's controversial and widely-disliked Chief of Staff, Esfandiar Rahim-Mashai.

So, at the last minute, on the Iranian weekend and after most of the media had gone to sleep, Sadegh Larijani's judiciary moved. The Foreign Ministry and the Presidency had no right intervening in a judicial matter. Shourd's release would have to be considered by the proper authorities, i.e., Iran's courts.

At least for this moment, that sudden move has prevailed.

Meanwhile, where is the Supreme Leader, the supposed authority in Iran's system? The apparent answer tonight is that he had been off to the side of all this drama. With Ahmadinejad's speed in raising the profile of Shourd's release and with the judiciary's sudden counter-attack, there has been no space for Ayatollah Khamenei to intervene. And, if he were to do so right now, he risks putting himself in the centre of a rather nasty fight between the heads of his three branches of Government. So the Supreme Leader's best move may be just to sit back and hope his politicians can find some face-saving accommodation.

The Latest from Iran (10 September): Khamenei Takes the Pulpit

1945 GMT: The Detained Americans. We have urgently updated the news and offered a snap anlaysis of the postponement of the release of detained US citizen Sarah Shourd. She was supposed to be freed ina ceremony in Tehran tomorrow morning.

1720 GMT: Eid al-Fitr Round-Up (cont. --- 1519 GMT). Rah-e-Sabz claims that in Najafabad the ceremony of followers of Grand Ayatollah Montazeri, who died last December, was much better attended than the Government's gathering.

Green Movement followers also attended Ayatollah Sane'i's ceremony in his office in Qom. The cerlic declared, "Our committment to Eid al-Fitr should be that we should divert from yesterday's wrong path, which dishonoured Islam or its principles, and do everything to compensate. Everyone who took the problematic way yesterday, causing injustice for people, should know that he will be punished on Doomsday."

NEW Iran Urgent Analysis: Judiciary Overrules Ahmadinejad — Release of US Detainee Shourd Delayed
NEW Iran Interview: Fatemeh Hashemi “Every Iranian Seeking Rights is Green”
Iran Exclusive: The Escalating Battle With Ahmadinejad
Iran Special: Abdollah Momeni Writes Supreme Leader About His Detention & Torture
Iran Document: Karroubi on the Siege of His Home and of the Iranian People (8 September)
The Latest from Iran (9 September): US Hiker Shourd to Be Released

Khodnevis, under the headline, "Siege, prohibitions, and Threats", claims that all Sunni ceremonies were forbidden in Tehran. Security forces allegedly hung banners declaring, "The unifying Eid al-Fitr ceremonies will be held at Tehran University, led by Supreme Leader, leader of all Muslims of the world."

1710 GMT: Sanctions Watch. Another major European company --- the Linde Group of Germany, an engineering firm and one of the world’s biggest industrial gas suppliers --- has decided to cut ties. Spokesman Uwe Wolfinger said the company recently decided “to stop our activities in Iran and with Iran completely”.

Dutch-based plastics and chemical firm LyondellBasell said just over two weeks ago that it was ending business in Iran.

1535 GMT: Political Prisoner Watch. More on the latest court hearing for journalist and activist Heshmatollah Tabarzadi....

Tabarzadi, whose lawyer Nasrine Sotoudeh was detained last Saturday, told the court, "We did not topple the Shah to recreate the same situation. This court has no legal authority to judge accusations against me."

1519 GMT: Eid al-Fitr Round-Up. At the start of today, we wondered if today's Eid al-Fitr ceremonies, marking the end of Ramadan, would be a sign of support for the regime and Government. The results appear to be inconclusive.

Iranian media features photographs of crowds in Tehran. Khabar Online adds details: more than 40,000 security forces and police were mobilised, 700 taxis and 6000 buses and vans  were organised for free fares to the ceremony. Two tons of dates were distributed. About 100 ambulances with 1000 personnel
were on hand.

In Bandar Abbas in southern Iran, the authorities appear to have chosen a dusty dockyard outside town, possibly to avoid Green "interference". probably most of the praying people are poor rustabouts and their wives. Photos show Mashhad's Imam Reza shrine was crowded, but Isfahan's Naghshe Jahan square was half-empty.

Rah-e-Sabz claims that security forces prevented the ceremony in the house of Habibollah Peyman, the leader of an Islamic Socialist party.

Ayatollah Sane'i said in his sermon that  "the evil-doer will be punished on earth as well" and warned, "Whoever took the wrong road yesterday by doing injustice to people, should take a better road today." In what one EA correspondents sees as a tacit apology for acts of the past 31 years, he continued, "If we did injustice yesterday, believing it would help us to stay in power, know that no one will stay with the help of injustice."

In Shiraz, Ayatollah Dastgheyb --- prevented from speaking last Friday by a pro-regime crowd ---  told his audience to "beware of doomsday and the devil" and commanded, "Don't allow anything in the name of Basij [militia] and upholding clerical rule."

1435 GMT: Diplomatic Move? Georges Malbrunot claims at Le Figaro that Hussein Ali Zadeh, a counselor at the Iranian Embassy in Finland, is leaving his post to support the Green Movement. The decision will supposedly be announced in the next few hours.

Earlier this year Iranian diplomats in Norway and Japan resigned their positions in sympathy with the demands of the opposition.

1425 GMT: Political Prisoner Watch. Protester Nezam Hassanpour has been sentenced to six years in prison.

1350 GMT: Kiss and Make Up? It appears that the imminent release of detained US hiker Sarah Shourd might be the occasion for a reconciliation between President Ahmadinejad and the Foreign Ministry.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said that the freeing of Shourd was made possible by the President's efforts.

Tension between Ahmadinejad and his diplomats had risen because of the President's appointment of four special envoys, with Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki only withdrawing hisresignation after the intervention of the Supreme Leader's office..

1300 GMT: Execution Watch. Lecturer and author Ahmad Ghabel has been summoned to answer questions in Revolutionary Guard. Ghabel claims this was prompted by his revelation, upon release from Mashhad Prison, of mass executions in that facility.

1120 GMT: Economy Watch. In a jab at the Government, Grand Ayatollah Makarem-Shirazi has said that the official statistics for inflation do not match up with what Iran's people are experiencing.

1115 GMT: Today's All-Is-Not-Well Alert. Iran's Minister of Oil Masoud Mirkazemi has been proclaming this week that the country is now self-sufficient in gasoline production.

He may want to have a word with Iran's statisticians. Latest figures indicate that gasoline imports rose 135% in the first five months of the Iranian year (March-August).

0903 GMT: Converting the US message. This was the statement from US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at the Council on Foreign Relations on Wednesday: "It is definitely our policy to support freedom and human rights inside Iran, and we have done so by speaking out. We have done so by trying to equip Iranians with the tools, particularly the technology tools that they need, to be able to communicate with each other to make their views known."

And here is how it is presented in Fars News: "US Confession of Efforts to Support the Insurrection in Iran".

0900 GMT: Unity? Before his sermon, the Supreme Leader met with Iranian officials. An EA correspondent reports two notable absentees: the head of the Guardian Council, Ahmad Jannati, and former President Hashemi Rafsanjani.

0830 GMT: Authority Re-Asserted? The official outlet Islamic Republic News Agency does have wall-to-wall coverage of the Eid al-Fitr ceremonies, but much of the message seems tangential or diversionary.

IRNA carries the official statement from President Ahmadinejad's website to the heads of Islamic countries, calling for the strengthening of unity and friendship amongst all nations based on monotheism.

But any reference to Iran's own affairs has to come indirectly through "All Have Come", a short item and photo noting the attendance of "all authorities", such as Ahmadinejad, Speaker of Parliament Ali Larijani, former President Hashemi Rafsanjani, Guardian Council head Ahmad Jannati, 1st Vice President Mohammad Reza Rahimi, and the head of Iran's armed forces, General Hassan Firouzabadi.

0815 GMT: Authority Re-Asserted? The Supreme Leader has led prayers for Eid al-Fitr, marking the end of the holy month of Ramadan, at Tehran University.

A week ago, the regime tried to establish its leadership of the people through the commemoration of Qods (Palestine) Day. That effort quickly receded into disappointment, with little evidence of a mass response. On that occasion, however, the lead speaker was President Ahmadinejad. So could Ayatollah Khamenei's camp be hoping that the claim of velayat-e-faqih (clerical authority) had a greater influence than that of the current Government's legitimacy?

Press TV's report on the Khamenei sermon focuses on the Supreme Leader's denunciation of  direct Israel-Palestine talks as "a cover-up for Israeli crimes against the Palestinian nation". Khamenei said:
The United States and the West just sit back and watch the suppression of the Palestinian nation, and yet they arrange talks for peace, what peace? Between which people?...Tyrants wish to push the Palestinian issue to a corner however a strong turnout at the annual International Quds Day rallies indicates motivation and hope among Muslims worldwide.

The Supreme Leader also referred to the need to help those suffering from Pakistan's floods.

Hmm, we'll keep reading but the re-assertion of last Friday's message and the denunciation of the US and Zionist does not seem to address the internal issues or even bolster the Government. There is no follow-up coverage of note on Press TV's broadcast.

Meanwhile, there is a shot across the Supreme Leader's bow. Ayatollah Sane'i, a prominent critic of the Government and even Khamenei, has declared that the Iranian people can properly commemorate Eid al-Fitr by remaining at home rather than coming out to hear clerics.

0710 GMT: The US Detainees. We're looking for further developments on yesterday's news that Tehran will release Sarah Shourd, one of three US hikers detained in July 2009 along the Iraq-Iran border, on Saturday.

Meanwhile, James Miller of Dissected News assesses the possible Iranian motives behind the move: "[This] may be the perfect excuse to save face during Iran’s ongoing political limbo."

0605 GMT: Political Prisoner Watch. Arjang Davoudi, nearing the 60th day of his hunger strike in Rajai Shahr Prison, has vowed to continue it after a meeting with his wife.

Davoudi demanded that phone calls and visits to the prison return to normal, that the position of the prison's head be addressed, andthat his house confiscated by the judiciary be returned to his wife.

Ali Jamali, a member of the alumni organisation Advar-e Tahkim Vahdat, is reported to be in solitary confinement, three weeks after his detention.

The Latest from Iran (9 September): US Hiker Shourd to Be Released

2055 GMT: Iran Confirms Shourd To Be Released. Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast has just told Press TV, "Given that Eid al-Fitr [the celebration of the end of Ramadan, occurring on Saturday] is upon us, it was decided that this lady (Sarah Shourd) should soon be released and rejoined with her family."

2045 GMT: The US Detainees. Chris Crowstaff of A Safe World for Women, which has campaigned for the three detained US hikers, has just provided a statement to EA:
I have just read reports that Sarah Shourd is to be released on Saturday. While the news fills me with joy, I also ask the Islamic Republic of Iran to be compassionate to her fiancé Shane Bauer and friend Josh Fattal and release them at the same time.

My heart also goes out to the families of other women imprisoned in Iran and ask the Iranian government to show the same compassion and benevolence to them.

NEW Iran Exclusive: The Escalating Battle With Ahmadinejad
NEW Iran Special: Abdollah Momeni Writes Supreme Leader About His Detention & Torture
NEW Iran Document: Karroubi on the Siege of His Home and of the Iranian People (8 September)
Iran Feature: Re-visiting the 2009 Election (Keshavarz)
Iran Snap Analysis: Who is Running Foreign Policy?
The Latest from Iran (8 September): Sakineh Execution Suspended?

1939 GMT: Hiker Shourd to Be Released? Journalist Christiane Amanpour, quoting the Iranian Mission to the United Nations, says detained American Sarah Shourd will be released soon.

Amanpour asked, "Today or tomorrow?" The delegation replied, "Very soon."

The Iranian spokesperson gave the same message to NBC News and to CNN.

1930 GMT: And on the Foreign Policy Front. Javad Mansouri, the former Iranian ambassador to China and Pakistan, has repeated his criticism of the President's appointment of four special envoys, declaring that Ahmadinejad must retreat or otherwise problems will rise. Mansouri added that Ahmadinejad's actions prove his doubts in Foreign Ministry and show that he wants to take over foreign policy.

I suspect that Mansouri's opinions are not just his own but on behalf of colleagues who are still in the diplomatic service.

1920 GMT: The Battle Within. Over to Mohammad-Hossein Saffar-Harandi for today's shot at the Ahmadinejad camp....

Saffar-Harandi, who was ousted as Minister of Culture in last summer's clashes within the Cabinet, tried to get a bit of payback today against Presidential Chief of Staff Esfandiar Rahim-Mashai. Saffar-Harandi said only "disturbed and ill minds" can propagate the "Iranian school", a reference to Rahim-Mashai's recent statement that other countries should follow Iran rather than Islam as a model.

The former Minister added, "We must follow strictly all of the Supreme Leader's words,;unity can only be centred around him."

1645 GMT: The US Detainees. An official at Iran's Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance has said that one of three US detainees, taken by Iranian forces in July 2009 when they allegedly walked across the Iraq-Iran border, will be released Saturday. This would coincide with Eid al-Fitr, the celebration of the end of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.

The official said one of Iran's vice presidents will be present when the detainee is released at 9 a.m. local time.

Another US journalist is reporting that the freed hiker will be Sarah Shourd. Shourd has reportedly been suffering from health problems.

The other two detainees are Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal.

1515 GMT: Political Prisoner Watch. Journalist and writer Javad Mahzadeh has been released from detention after 11 months on $40,000 bail.

1255 GMT: Execution (Ashtiani) Watch. The European Union has said that a "suspension" of the death sentence against Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, convicted of adultery, is not enough and that the penalty should be commuted.

1020 GMT: Execution (Sakineh) Watch. Sajad Ghaderzadeh, the son of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, has reacted to yesterday's statement, from the Iranian Foreign Ministry, that the execution of his mother on charges of adultery has been suspended. Ghaderzadeh said, ""We have so far not received an official and legal document on stopping the stoning sentence and execution, we therefore do not accept these claims.They must issue us legal documents in this regard."

The Foreign Ministry's statement said the process of sentencing for Ashtiani's conviction of complicity in the murder of her husband was continuing. Originally, the 43-year-old woman had been condemned to die by stoning on the adultery charge, but the method --- though not the death sentence --- was suspended earlier this summer.

0940 GMT: Exclusive. We have posted what we hope is a very special Iran Special, based on sources inside Iran, "The Escalating Battle With Ahmadinejad".

0840 GMT: Keyhan v. Ahmadinejad. The "hard-line" Keyhan newspaper has had another go at the President's men. It tells readers to beware of "intruders", for their mission is not only terror and bombings.

Who are those intruders? One might cast a glance at Keyhan's dislike of Ahmadinejad Chief of Staff Esfandiar Rahim-Mashai.

0830 GMT: Economy Watch. Amidst concerns over imports and their effect of Iranian agriculture, the Ministry of Trade has announced that rice coupons are being re-introduced, with the replacement of the imports by domestic rice.

Seven months into this Iranian year, the budget and statistics for last year still have not been published by the Central Bank and Government. The suspicion is that the data is being withheld because it would reveal high Government debt, unpaid debts to Iranian banks, and a decline in builiding projects.

But never mind, for here is today's All-is-Well Alert. First Vice President Mohammad Reza Rahimi says, "Soon we will celebrate all Iranians having a house of their own."

0825 GMT: Parliament v. President. About 100 MPs have signed the demand for impeachment of Minister of Education Haji Babaei. They claim that the ministry is on the verge of collapse, there is mismanagement of the budget, and they note protests against employment policies.

On another front, an olive branch from Alireza Tabesh. He said government representatives had approved changes to the 5th Budget Plan, and it will be approved by the Majlis Coordination Commission after discussion with the chamber of commerce, Strategic Research Centre, and the Audit Court.

Earlier this week, Ahmadinejad's representatives had boycotted a meeting of the Coordination Commission.

0810 GMT: Khamenei and Ahmadinejad. We note another message from the Supreme Leader to the President in Ayatollah Khamenei's speech on Tuesday.

Behind the headline that Iran will defy international sanctions, there was not only a sign of weakness in the Supreme Leader's reference to Iran's "economic downturn". Khamenei also urged a “full, precise, comprehensive and continuous” implementation of Article 44 of the Constitution on privatisation of state companies: “Implementation of this article will resolve most of the problems.”

Those "problems", as noted by key MPs and the Supreme Audit Court, have included the sell-off of the majority of state firms (85% in one estimate) not to the private sector but to consortia including groups within the state, notably the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps.

Khamenei called on the government to “properly manage the country’s financial resources” and “improve business atmosphere”, he declared, "Excessive and illogical imports are a big danger.”

0725 GMT: We begin this morning with two features. We have posted the English translation of another statement of defiance from Mehdi Karroubi, commenting on the siege of his home and of the Iranian people and putting the blame at the feet of the Government.

And we have published what we think is an extraordinary letter, as activist Abdollah Momeni, detained since June 2009, tries to tell the Supreme Leader of his detention and torture in Evin Prison.