Sunday, 27 December 2009

New York Times: Tehran's Biggest Fear


The biggest threat to the ruling ayatollahs and generals in multi-ethnic Iran does not come from the embattled democratic opposition movement struggling to reform the Islamic Republic. It comes from increasingly aggressive separatist groups in Kurdish, Baluch, Azeri and Arab ethnic minority regions that collectively make up some 44 percent of Persian-dominated Iran’s population.

Working together, the democratic reform movement and the ethnic insurgents could seriously undermine the republic. But the reform movement, like most of the clerical, military and business establishment, is dominated by an entrenched Persian elite and has so far refused to support minority demands.

What the minorities want is greatly increased economic development spending in the non-Persian regions, a bigger share of the profits from oil and other natural resources in their areas, the unfettered use of non-Persian languages in education and politics and freedom from religious persecution. Some minority leaders believe these goals can be achieved through regional autonomy under the existing Constitution, but most of them want to reconstitute Iran as a loose confederation or to declare independence.

Should the United States give money and weapons aid to the ethnic insurgents?
During the Bush administration, a debate raged between White House advocates of “regime change” in Tehran, who favored large-scale covert action to break up the country, and State Department moderates who argued that all-out support of the minorities would complicate negotiations on a nuclear deal with the dominant Persians.

The result was a compromise: limited covert action carried out by proxy, in the case of the Baluch, through Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate or, I.S.I., and in the case of the Kurds by the C.I.A. in cooperation with Israel’s Mossad. My knowledge of the I.S.I.’s role is based on first-hand Pakistani sources, including Baluch leaders. Evidence of the C.I.A. role in providing weapons aid and training to Pejak, the principal Kurdish rebel group in Iran, has been spelled out by three U.S. journalists, Jon Lee Anderson and Seymour Hersh of the New Yorker and Borzou Daragahi of the Los Angeles Times, who have interviewed a variety of Pejak leaders.
Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, speaking in the Kurdish city of Bijar, charged on May 12 that the Obama administration had not reversed the Bush policy. “Unfortunately, money, arms and organization are being used by the Americans directly across our western borders in order to fight the Islamic Republic’s system,” he declared. “The Americans are busy making a conspiracy.”

Mossad has long-standing contacts with Kurdish groups in Iran and Iraq established when the United States and Israel wanted to destabilize the Kurdish areas of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. But now the United States wants a united Iraq in which Kurds, Shiites and Sunnis cooperate. Iran, too, wants a united Iraq because it fears cooperation among its own Kurds and those in Iraq and Turkey to create an independent Kurdistan. So aiding Pejak would hamper future Iran-U.S. cooperation in Baghdad in addition to complicating the nuclear negotiations.

Both the Baluch and the Kurds are Sunni Muslims. They are fighting vicious Shiite religious repression in addition to cultural and economic discrimination.

By contrast, the biggest of the minorities, the Turkic-speaking Azeris, are Shiites, and Ayatollah Khamenei himself is an Azeri. His selection as the supreme leader was in part a gesture to the Azeris designed to cement their allegiance to Iran and to blunt a covert campaign by ethnic kinsmen in adjacent Azerbaijan to annex them. The Azeris in Iran are better off economically than the other minorities but feel that the Persians look down on them. Prolonged rioting erupted for days after a Tehran newspaper published a cartoon in May 2006, depicting an Azeri-speaking cockroach.

The Arabs in the southwestern province of Khuzestan, who are also Shiites, pose the most dangerous potential separatist threat to Tehran because the province produces 80 percent of Iran’s crude oil revenue. So far the divided Arab separatist factions have not created a militia but they periodically raid government security installations, bomb oil production facilities and broadcast propaganda in Arabic on satellite TV channels from shifting locations outside Iran.
The most serious military clashes between the Revolutionary Guards and separatist groups have come on the Kurdish border, where Iran repeatedly bombarded Pejak hideouts in September 2007, and in Baluchistan, where the Guards frequently suffers heavy casualties in clashes with militias of the Jundullah movement operating out of camps just across the border in the Baluch areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Compared to the massive protests in the streets of Tehran and Qum, the uncoordinated harassment of the regime by ethnic insurgents may seem like a sideshow. But if the ethnic insurgents could unite and if the democratic opposition could forge a united front with the minorities, the prospects for reforming or toppling the Islamic Republic, now dismal, would brighten.
For the present, the Obama administration should tread with the utmost care in dealing with this sensitive issue, guided by a recognition that support for separatism and engagement with the present regime are completely incompatible.

Selig S. Harrison is director of the Asia program at the Center for International Policy and author of “In Afghanistan’s Shadow.”


Early Day Motion

EDM 337

Durkan, Mark

That this House notes with grave concern the continuing human rights violations against ethnic and religious minorities in Iran; strongly condemns the discrimination against Bahá'is, Arabs, Azeris, Baluchis, Kurds, Christians, Jews, Sufis and Sunni Muslims in Iran; further condemns the persistent harassment, intimidation and persecution of human rights defenders, political opponents, ethnic and religious minorities and other groups by the Islamic authorities; welcomes and supports the resolution passed by the Third Committee of the UN General Assembly on 20 November 2009 strongly condemning the continuing abuse of the fundamental human rights of these groups and Iran's failure to comply with international standards in the administration of justice; and urges the Government to further support this Resolution, to work with international partners and use every influence to ensure that the rights of Bahá'is and all the other minority groups are upheld by the Iranian authorities.

Pakistan Christian Post: Iranian Police Attack Pre-Christmas Celebration

Washington, D.C; December 23, 2009. International Christian Concern (ICC) has learned that on December 17, security police and undercover officers raided a Christian worship gathering and arrested two of the group’s leaders in Karaj, Iran.According to reports by Farsi Christian News Network (FCNN), Iran security police and ‘plain clothes’ officers invaded a group of more than 70 new believers, interrupting pre-Christmas celebrations.

Group leaders Kambiz Saghaee and Ali Keshvar-Doost were arrested and are currently held at an unknown location. Family has not received contact from the leaders, and are deeply concerned for their well-being.All present at the gathering were photographed. They were alerted that formal interrogations will ensue and to comply when summoned before legal prosecutors. Moreover, Bibles, Christian books and other materials were confiscated by the security officers.The Christians were gathering in preparation for Christmas just prior to the assault.

ICC sources indicate that this raid is only one of many that have occurred before the holidays. “This move by the security forces of the Islamic Republic of Iran clearly shows that Farsi-speaking Christians in Iran are deprived of their right to celebrate Christmas and welcome the Christian New Year,” reports FCNN.Aidan Clay, ICC Regional Manager for the Middle East, said, “The Iranian government severely restricts religious freedom. ICC is highlighting this particular incident as one of many occurrences that have taken place, demonstrating Iran’s ongoing trend of executing severe tactics of brutality toward Christians and other religious minorities.

Iran has adopted the strategy of eliminating any potential challenge to its sovereignty and to Islam. Christianity’s growth is seen as a threat and is being targeted for elimination by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s tyrannical regime. ICC strongly condemns Iran’s brutality and requests the immediate release of Kambiz Saghaee and Ali Keshvar-Doost, that they may celebrate Christmas this year with family, and not from a prison chamber.”

RFE/REL: Reports Of Deaths Mount In Iran Clashes

Opposition and other unofficial sources claim at least eight protesters have been killed and many others injured in clashes between government critics and security forces in Iran. A nephew of opposition leader Mir Hossein Musavi was said to be among those killed.

SEE a photo gallery of Iran's Ashura Day protestsThe police chief in Tehran, where at least four deaths were being reported, insisted in the afternoon that no deaths had occurred.The opposition "Rahe Sabz" website reported that three protesters had been shot dead by security forces in the middle of the Iranian capital's central Enghelab Street. A Tehran-based human rights activist told RFE/RL that a fourth protester apparently had died after being hit on the head with truncheon by security forces."So far there have been no reports of killings, and no one has been killed up to now," Reuters quoted Tehran police chief Azizollah Rajabzadeh as saying in the afternoon, based on an ISNA report.Later, the opposition "Jaras" website claimed that "at least four protesters were killed in [the northwestern Iranian city of] Tabriz and many others were wounded," Reuters reported.
Protesters wipe the bloodied face of a man who was allegedly shot during an antigovernment protest in Tehran on December 27.The reports of deaths, as well as a YouTube video purporting to show demostrators carrying a gunshot victim, could not be immediately verified.But graphic videos and photographs of serious injuries have emerged, appearing to confirm some of the worst fears.
The "Parlimannews" website -- which has ties to reformists in Iran's parliament -- reported that Seyed Ali Musavi, the opposition leader's nephew, had been killed during a confrontation with security forces. The report said the younger Musavi had been "shot in the heart" during "Ashura Day events" and died en route to a hospital.A Musavi aide who requested anonymity after being contacted by RFE/RL's Radio Farda confirmed the report of the relative's death.

In an open letter posted later addressed to Musavi and posted to his "Kaleme" website, adviser Alireza Beheshti expressed his family's condolences over "the martyrdom of your nephew Ali Habibi Musavi." The violence in Shi'a-dominated Iran is especially jarring as it comes on one of the holiest days on Shi'ite Islam's calendar, Ashura, commemorating the seventh-century martyrdom of Imam Hussein.As evening approached in Iran, government critics have vowed to continue the protests. Eyewitnesses said that appeared to be the case.

A pro-opposition website, "Jaras," said the opposition was organizing more protests in major public parks and in Tehran's Enghelab, Mohseni, Tajrish, and Vanak squares.Tear Gas And Reported GunfireIranian authorities have banned foreign journalists from many events and imposed tight strictures on domestic media.Around midday, an eyewitness told Radio Farda by telephone from Tehran that security forces were using tear gas and pepper gas against opposition supporters to try to disperse them from the city center.She reported "a big crowd of people" at the intersection of Bozorgmehr and Vali Asr streets."The [security forces] on motorbikes attacked [the crowd]. I can see about 100 or 150 of them," the witness told Radio Farda. "People have set fire to several garbage cans. They're trying to chant slogans against the leader of the Islamic Republic [Ayatollah Ali Khamenei] and the dictatorship."

A protester holds stones as he faces off against security forces in Tehran on December 27.The witness, who did not want to be named for security reasons, added that she saw blood on some of the sidewalks in central Tehran.Other reports, mostly from websites sympathetic to the opposition, reported occasional sounds of gunfire.Today's protest and bloody clashes come seven days after the death of Iran's longtime dissident cleric, Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri. Montazeri was once in line to succeed revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini but had a falling-out that led to jail time and internal exile.Montazeri is widely considered the spiritual father of Iran's opposition Green Movement, although two unsuccessful presidential candidates, Mir Hossein Musavi and cleric Mehdi Karrubi, have been the political faces of the resistance that began after the disputed June presidential election.Witnesses told RFE/RL many of the chants targeted Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Energized Reform Movement?
Montazeri's death has appeared to reenergize the opposition movement, which turned his funeral in the holy city of Qom a week ago into a huge antigovernment protest.

Since Montazeri's death last week, protests have taken place in several cities including Tehran, Isfahan, Najafabad and Zanjan. Protests are also reported today in Isfahan, Montazeri's hometown of Najafabad, Shiraz, and Qom.On Ashura, Iranians usually march in the streets and beat their chests in memory of the death of the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad, Imam Hossein.This year, however, many of the Ashura ceremonies in Iran have turned into protests against the Iranian establishment.A speech on December 26 by former reformist President Mohammad Khatami at the home of the founder of the Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Khomeini, was disrupted by hard-liners.

Khatami, who backed Musavi ahead of the disputed June presidential election as is regarded as a leader of the reform movement, was reportedly drawing parallels between Iran's opposition movement and the struggle of the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad, Imam Hussein, whose martyrdom is being commemorated today in one of Shi'a Islam's holiest days.

The incident led to protests for several hours until riot police were deployed and dispersed the crowd.Iran has been rocked by a series of street protests since the June 12 presidential vote and the reelection of President Mahmud Ahmadinejad, which the opposition insists was the result of massive fraud.Radio Farda broadcasters Mohammad Reza Kazemi and Roozbeh Bolhari contributed to this report

AFP: White House condemns 'suppression' in Iran

WASHINGTON — The White House on Sunday strongly condemned "violent and unjust suppression" of civilians in Iran, following a fierce government crackdown on opposition protests.

The blunt statement contrasted with careful initial responses by the White House following post-election protests in Iran in June and came as the nuclear showdown between Tehran and world powers reached a critical point.

"We strongly condemn the violent and unjust suppression of civilians in Iran seeking to exercise their universal rights," National Security Council spokesman Mike Hammer said in a statement.

"Hope and history are on the side of those who peacefully seek their universal rights, and so is the United States.

"Governing through fear and violence is never just, and as President Obama said in Oslo -- it is telling when governments fear the aspirations of their own people more than the power of any other nation."

The White House commented after Iranian security forces killed several protestors, including opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi's nephew, in a crackdown on anti-government rallies in Tehran, websites said.

Witnesses said dozens of protesters were hurt and several arrested during what turned into the bloodiest showdown between protesters and security forces since the height of unrest in June following the disputed presidential election.

As violence mounted following that presidential poll, the White House reacted carefully, trying to avoid inserting the United States into the middle of an escalating political crisis with its arch foe.

On June 15, Obama, who came to office vowing to engage the Islamic Republic, said he was "deeply troubled" by violence in Iran, but warned he did not want the United States to become a "political football" in the post-election crisis.

In subsequent days, Obama hardened the US line as violence escalated and critics accused him of giving insufficient backing to anti-government demonstrators.

Obama has given Iran until the end of this year to respond to an international offer to defuse the nuclear showdown or face tough new sanctions.

Thursday, 17 December 2009

Comic Campaign 5

Iranian Minorities’ Human Rights Organisation (IMHRO)



'Brothers,' asks the secretary of the Hezbollah Party in Iran, 'Do you have an opinion on this question?'

'I have an opinion yes, but I don't agree with it!

In IMHRO we decided to produce and reproduce some of the finest jokes regard of situation in Iran, and revealing what is going on, we do believe those jokes will help to spread around awareness more than e-mails!! Plus give you a smile!!

Please share them with your colleagues and your friends and show solidarity regard of Human Right of minorities in Iran.

Monday, 14 December 2009

Ms. magazine: Iran Cracks Down on Women's Rights Activists

Somayeh Rashidi, an Iranian women's rights activist with the One Million Signatures Campaign, was targeted this morning with a search of her home and a summons to court. She told Change for Equality, that she "asked the security officials to provide me with identification, but they refused, claiming instead that [she] will find out in the future what intelligence agency they are working with. [She] also objected to the search and seizure of property belonging to [her]
roommates, but the security officials did not pay any attention to [her] protests." Rashidi was also arrested in November in connection to public protests and spent two days in prison. Today's search is just the latest in a series of arrests of or attacks/threats towards Iranian women's rights activists.
The One Million Signatures Campaign, which seeks to collect one million signatures against the legal discrimination women face under Iranian law, has been particularly targeted. A number of activists associated with the campaign have been arrested and imprisoned in recent years, including American graduate student and feminist activist Esha Momeni.Shirin Ebadi, Nobel Laureate and one of Iran's leading human rights defenders, is also being harassed and her family is being targeted.
Iranian authorities not only froze her bank account, but also broke into Ebadi's safe deposit box and stole her Nobel medal, which has since been returned, according to the LA Times. Omid Memarian, an exiled Iranian journalist, told the Daily Beast, "I talked to Shirin Ebadi just a few days ago.
The authorities have summoned her husband, brother, and sister...Her organization in Iran cannot operate freely. She has been the most significant voice for human rights in Iran over the last five months. Harassing her is a very intimidating signal to others."According to the Daily Beast, in addition to the continued harassment of women's rights activists, last month "Iranian state television ran a documentary attacking the nation's women's rights movement."
Airing of the documentary preceded an announcement earlier this month from the head of Iran's state television, Ezatollah Zarghami, who declared that state-sponsored television programs will henceforth prohibit women who appear on air from using make-up. Zarghami told the newspaper Eternad that "make-up by women during television programs is illegal and against Islamic Sharia law.
There should not be a single case of a woman wearing make-up during a program."
Media Resources: Feminist Daily Newswire 11/12/08, 12/4/09, 8/14/09; Change for Equality 12/14/09; Daily Beast 12/13/09; LA Times 12/11/09

AFP: Iran bans best-selling paper over Bahai temple

TEHRAN — Iran on Monday shut down a best-selling newspaper, Hamshahri, for carrying a picture of a temple belonging to the outlawed Bahai sect, the official IRNA news agency reported.

The press watchdog "banned Hamshahri over carrying a picture of the Bahais' temple and encouraging tourists to visit this place on its front page" on Sunday, IRNA said, without giving a timeframe for the ban.

Hamshahri, which attracts the highest number of advertisements among Iran's newspapers, has been published by the Tehran municipality for nearly two decades.

Tehran's high profile conservative mayor, Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, is a fierce critic and rival of Iran's hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

The Bahais have a sprawling temple in Haifa, Israel, which is the Islamic republic's arch-foe.

Followers of the Bahai faith, founded in Iran in 1863, are regarded as infidels and have suffered persecution both before and after the 1979 Islamic revolution.
The Bahais consider Bahaullah, born in 1817, to be the last prophet sent by God.

This is in direct conflict with Islam, the religion of the vast majority of Iranians, which considers Mohammed to be the last prophet.

Ahmadinejad's government has shut down scores of publications -- mainly from the reformist camp critical of his administration -- since coming to power in 2005. Conservative media and entertainment periodicals have also been hit.

Rueters: Iran delays executing Sunni rebel to get more info

TEHRAN, Dec 2 (Reuters) - Shi'ite Muslim Iran has delayed for a second time the execution of a convicted member of a Sunni Muslim rebel group in order to extract information from him, semi-official news agency ISNA reported on Wednesday.

Iran has hanged several members of the Jundollah (God's soldiers) group, but the execution of Abdolhamid Rigi, a brother of the group's leader Abdolmalek Rigi, was first delayed in July to get more information from him."Based on his confessions on having cooperation with Pakistani intelligence and America's agents, his death sentence has been postponed to gather more facts," provincial judiciary chief Ebrahim Hamidi was quoted by ISNA as saying.

"The country's and the system's interests need him to be alive ... to find out more information on their activities," said the Sistan-Baluchestan top judge.Many minority Sunnis live in the impoverished area in southeast Iran, which has seen an increase in bombings and clashes between security forces, ethnic Baluch Sunni insurgents and drug traffickers.

Jundollah, which accuses the government of discrimination against Sunnis, said it was behind an Oct. 18 attack -- the deadliest in Iran since the 1980s -- that killed more than 40 Iranians, including 15 from the elite Revolutionary Guards.

Iran has accused Pakistan, Britain and the United States of backing Sunni militants. London, Washington and Islamabad all denied involvement in the attack last month.Iran, a major oil producer locked in dispute with the United States and its allies over its nuclear programme, rejects allegations by Western rights groups that it discriminates against ethnic and religious minorities.

(Reporting by Reza Derakhshi; Writing by Andrew Hammond; Editing by Louise Ireland) ((Tehran newsroom, +98 21 8820 8770))

Gay City News: Twelve Men Face Execution for Sodomy in Iran


Ten young Iranian men, including eight teenagers, are currently awaiting execution for sodomy, and two more are being re-tried on the same capital charge. And, in an exclusive interview with Gay City News, an Iranian student gay rights activist confirmed for the first time the existence of queer organizing on multiple university campuses throughout Iran.The information about the ten youths currently under sentence of death for sodomy (lavaat in Persian) was released on November 25 in a joint appeal by the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC), the Iranian Queer Organization (IRQO), and COC of the Netherlands, the world’s oldest LGBT rights group, founded in 1946.

The three organizations called on Western countries “with significant diplomatic and economic ties to Iran, including Germany, France, Canada, as well as the European Union, to pursue diplomatic efforts to cease these executions.”It is extremely difficult to obtain information about death penalty cases involving homosexuality under today’s repressive theocratic regime in the Islamic Republic of Iran, where the press is heavily censored and journalists, regime critics, and human rights advocates are routinely persecuted and arrested and where the subject of same-sex relations is officially considered a political and religious taboo. Defendants in sodomy cases are denied open trials.

Last month, Human Rigths Watch, basing its finding on an Iranian newspaper report, told of the execution of two men for sodomy.Most of the new information about the 12 defendants now threatened with execution for sodomy was provided by lawyers and activists with the Committee of Human Rights Reporters (CHHR) in Iran, according to Hossein Alizadeh, the Middle East and North Africa program coordinator for IGLHRC, while contacts in Iran provided by IRQO yielded additional information, he told Gay City News.CHRR, founded in 2005, has become one of the most important sources of information about human rights violations in Iran and recently became the first Iranian human rights organization to officially recognize the LGBT rights struggle by creating a Queer Committee to deal with persecution of sexual minorities. (“Queer” is the translation preferred by Alizadeh and other gay Iranians for the Persian word “degar-bash,” a term meaning “different” and which embraces gays, lesbians, and transpeople.)Hesam Misaghi, a 21-year-old leading member of CHRR’s Queer Committee, speaking through a translator by telephone from Isfahan, Iran’s third largest city, told Gay City News that this committee had been established some five months ago.

The establishment of the Queer Committee by CHRR “is the sign of a new cultural awareness, because a new generation of Iranians no longer share the reactionary views of the regime with regard to sexual minorities,” said Misaghi, who courageously insisted on using his real name for the interview with this reporter.

He added that “while an important part of those with this new attitude are secular, there is even a new generation of conservative Muslims who want to recognize queer rights.” Most of CHRR’s activists are in their 20s, 30s, and 40s, and a number of them have been arrested and harassed by security forces for their human rights work.

“We’re not afraid of criticism from other human rights organizations or from society” in taking up the cause of queers, Misaghi said. “While since the fraud-tainted elections the regime has been putting repressive pressure on all sectors of civil society, one way the government wants to prove its authority and show its muscle is by persecuting and silencing sexual minorities and other marginal groups.” The activist added that “people in all the other CHRR committees and departments cooperate fully with the Queer Committee and help out.” The Queer Committee’s activism, Misaghi said, is “empowered by students.”Misaghi confirmed to this reporter the existence of queer organizing on a number of university campuses throughout Iran, marking the first time that a student activist has spoken openly to a Western reporter about this new development.

The reason there has been no reporting outside Iran on campus queer organizing, according to the activist, is that “based on what I’ve experienced, there is great secrecy on the part of student queer activists, most of whom use aliases in their work, and in issuing public statements will do so only in the name of a group.

There is no visibility, no head figure, no out activists.”A joint statement from several campus groups and signed “Queer Students of the Iranian Universities,” issued for the December 7 nationwide commemorations of what is known as Student Day and addressed to the larger Iranian student movement, declared: “Considering that a considerable number of students are sexual minorities and the fact that many queer activists are either students or alumni of Iranian Universities, on the eve of this year’s Student Day we should embrace a more thorough meaning of human rights values that includes the rights of queers.

It is also imperative that those in the Green Movement [the name given to the pro-democracy, anti-regime agitation following the fraudulent elections] who are working on the draft of Iran’s new constitution, expand their horizons and include the sexual rights and protection of sexual minorities in this document.“The queer students of Iranian universities would like to address the Green Movement in friendship and solidarity and tell them that the respect for human rights and the rights of all citizens is above and beyond all other demands, including the desire of the leaders of the student movement to protect the [framework and the principles ] of the Islamic revolution.

”The December 7 Student Day commemorates the 1953 slaying of three students during a protest under the late shah, and this year was marked by large anti-regime demonstrations at campuses across the country, including by hundreds of students chanting anti-government slogans at Azad University in Mashhad, the city in which the hanging of two teenagers on sodomy charges in 2005 sparked world-wide protests. The demonstrators in Tehran, who chanted, “Death to the dictator” and “Do not be scared, we are all together,” were violently attacked by Basiji, the thuggish parapolice the regime employs to attack dissidents and muscularly enforce its stringent morals policy.

Tear gas and even live rounds were reported to have been used, and all university campuses were surrounded by security forces. On other occasions, the Basiji have used beatings, kidnapping, and torture against queers.Misaghi explained the queer students’ declaration by observing, “The majority of the student movement is dominated by conservative Muslims, who, even when they criticize the current regime, defend the Islamic Republic and aren’t at all sympathetic to queer rights, due to the taboo nature of homosexuality in the Islamic Republic. Leftist student groups are more inclined to support the queer struggle.

But this is a zero tolerance regime, and even student critics who share its Islamist ideology are subjected to arrest and persecution.”Misaghi noted that “as an indicator, when the Queer Committee of CHRR puts out a statement, it is the leftist groups and students of leftist tendencies who pick it up and redistribute our statement” in their blogs and literature.The student movement as a whole has been under serious attack in recent weeks, with at least 130 students arrested as of December 9, according to Hadi Ghaemi, director of the US.-based International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran.

Misaghi told Gay City News that on Student Day he was part of a conference to talk about the student movement, but that the meeting was dispersed by riot police. When Misaghi was a second-year student at Isfahan University, he was expelled for being a member of the Baha’i faith, a monotheistic religion founded in 19th century Persia that emphasizes the spiritual unity of all humankind. The target of ferocious persecution since the Islamic Revolution of 1979, the Baha’ii have been subjected to a marked increase in repression since Mahmoud Ahmadinejad became president of Iran, including loss of employment, arrest, expulsion from universities, the sacking of their shrines, and the desecration and bulldozing of their cemeteries.

The joint statement on those facing the death penalty for sodomy by IGLHRC, IRQO, and COC noted, “In most cases, the Court convicts the defendants of sodomy charges solely on the basis of ‘the knowledge of the judge.’ According to the Iranian law, when there is not enough evidence to convict a defendant of a sexual crime, the judge may use his knowledge, in a deductive process based on the evidence that already exists, to determine whether the crime took place or not. Unfortunately, the excessive use of this principle means that rather than paying attention to evidence, the judge often sentences defendants to death based on his speculations.

A number of prominent legal and religious scholars believe that such a broad application of the ‘the knowledge of the judge’ to issue death penalty for sexual crimes is in violation of the letter and the spirit of Sharia law.”Among the dozen cases detailed in the joint statement by the three groups were the following:Ghaseem Bashkool, 25, a third-year student of applied mathematics, was arrested along with another young man on May 31, 2007 on charges of sodomy. Both men were convicted despite an absence of credible evidence, the First District of the Criminal Court of the Ardabil province finding them guilty of sodomy and sentencing them to death. In February 2009, in an open letter on the Internet in which he pleaded for his life, Ghassem insisted that the sodomy allegation was baseless and that in the absence of any credible evidence, the judge had referred to the “knowledge of the judge” as the basis of his ruling.

At the time of his letter, Ghassem had spent 20 months in Ardebil prison, but despite repeated efforts by a lawyers and human rights defenders inside Iran, his fate is currently unknown.Mohsen Ghabrai, who was a minor at the time of his arrest, was found guilty by a Court in Shiraz of sodomy and sentenced to death. His lawyer appealed, but the Supreme Court upheld his death sentence, which is expected to be carried out soon. Mohsen has consistently said he is innocent of the charges.Mahdi Pooran, 17 years old, and three other teenagers — Hamid Taghi, Ebrahim Hamidi, and Mehdi Rezaii — were found guilty of sodomy by the Second District Criminal Court of Tabriz in July 2008, and sentenced to death.

The case was based on a complaint alleging physical and sexual assault from a 19-year old man, Hojat, with a history of family feuds with the defendants. After repeatedly telling the court he had no witnesses to substantiate his charges, in the most recent court session, Hojat introduced three male relatives he said were witnesses. Given the absence of the fourth witness required under law, the court’s ruling was based on the “knowledge of the judge.”A prominent Iranian human rights lawyer, Mohammad Mostafaii, who represented the four defendants, believes his clients were framed. In a post to his blog, he said that following a fistfight between his clients and a group of four young men who trespassed and damaged land owned by Hamidi’s father, the police intervened and arrested his clients, accusing them of gang rape.

When his clients declared their innocence, the police officials subjected them to three days of beatings and torture, trying to force a confession from at least one of them. Failing that, the police referred the case to the court as a sodomy rape case.After the initial hearing, the court ordered the release of the men on $10,000 bail, but it took the defendants 28 days to provide the bail and get out of jail.

Fifty-five days later, during the trial, the deputy district attorney requested the death penalty for the defendants. The court sentenced the four to death, a penalty that will be carried out if the Iranian Supreme Court approves when it takes up the case at an unspecified date.Nemat Safavi, now 19, was arrested in June 2006 at age 16 for alleged sodomy, and the Criminal Court in Ardebil sentenced him to death. But the Supreme Court overturned his sentence on March 4, 2009, and sent the case to another criminal court in Ardebil for retrial.

Saeed Jalalifar, a member of CHRR who recently obtained a lawyer for Safavi, was arrested on November 30 and is still in prison.Gay City News spoke by telephone through a translator with that lawyer, 32-year-old Masomeh Tahmasebi. She said she had been denied the files relating to Safavi’s death sentence and would only learn more about the case when she traveled next week to meet with him in Ardebil, a northwest frontier province whose former governor is President Ahmadinejad and whose population is largely made up of ethnic Azeris, who are racially persecuted by the Islamic Republic.Tahmasebi explained that it was often very difficult for defendants in sodomy cases to find competent lawyers. “Because of the social stigma attached to sodomy cases, many lawyers are not willing to take on such cases because of fears of accusations that they might be gay themselves,” she told Gay City News.

“And because of this same social shame, families often do not contact lawyers to defend the accused, so as a last resort the court assigns a lawyer pro bono, who often does not get the case until the day of the trial. So most of these sodomy cases are badly defended.”That means, Thamasebi added, that “the only real chance left for the defendant is international human rights pressure and protest against the application of the death penalty — but often this occurs so late that the window of opportunity to prevent these executions is very small.

”In recent weeks, the Ahmadinejad regime has increased its monitoring and disruption of Internet and telephone communications in an attempt to stifle opposition and criticism, and this reporter chillingly experienced this first-hand while interviewing the two Iranians quoted here. During the interview with Thamasebi, when Ahmadinejad’s name was mentioned, the communication was abruptly terminated in mid-sentence.

And in the interview with Misaghi, when the question of organizing to repeal the death penalty for sodomy was brought up, the communication was similarly cut off quite suddenly.This reporter would like to thank Hossein Alizadeh of IGLHRC for his translation services in the preparation of this article. The English-language web site of Iran’s Committee of Human Rights Reporters is at

To protest the impending executions for sodomy in Iran, click on Doug Ireland can be reached through his blog, DIRELAND, at

The Times: Iran’s investigations into abuses are a sham, says Amnesty International

Iranian security forces used rape, torture and mock executions in their campaign to crush anti-government protest this summer, an Amnesty International said today, citing a “climate of impunity” that has seen human rights in the country plunge to their lowest point in 20 years.
Amnesty said in a report that protesters were incarcerated in appalling conditions, raped and tortured into false confessions and sentenced to death after suspect show trials while official investigations into alleged abuses “seemed to have been more concerned with covering up abuses than getting at the truth”.

Amnesty cited the case of Ebrahim Sharifi, a 24-year-old student from Tehran who was seized by plainclothes detectives during the June demonstrations and held incommunicado for weeks. Mr Sharifi said that he was bound, blindfolded and then beaten and raped, before being forced to undergo mock executions.

When he filed a complaint, secret policemen threatened him and his family, forcing him to go into hiding. An investigating committee later denounced his allegations as false and politically motivated.

Authorities deployed the hardline Basij militia and the Revolutionary Guards to suppress the hundreds of thousands of Iranians who took to the streets to accuse the regime of rigging the presidential elections in favour of President Ahmadinejad. The reports says that the security forces “resorted to exceptionally high levels of violence and arbitrary measures to stifle protest and dissent”.

“Members of militias and officials who have committed violations must also be promptly held to account and on no account should anyone be executed,” said Hadj Sahraoui, the deputy director of Amnesty’s Middle East and North Africa Programme.

Dozens of protesters were killed during the brutal suppression. Amnesty said that authorities tried initially to pin the blame on foreigners and opposition groups, and even produced people who pretended to be those killed in an attempt to downplay the extent of the violence.

One protester described being locked in a shipping container with 70 other people for 58 days, and told during interrogation that if he did not confess his son would be arrested and raped. He was then beaten until he lost consciousness.
Another said that he saw a student, Ali Kheradnejad, “with his clothes ripped and his forehead bloody and later learned that he had died in detention, apparently as a result of torture or other ill-treatment”.

Despite the damning testimony, Iran has not only denied the widespread abuse but threatened to crack down even harder on protesters if the mass demonstrations continued.

As tens of thousands of students staged nationwide protests against the regime, Iran’s chief prosecutor, Gholam Hossein Mohsen Ejeie, said: “So far, we have shown restraint. From today no leniency will be applied. Intelligence and security forces have been ordered not to give any leeway to those who break the law, act against national security and disturb public order.”

Amnesty also the noted that Iran’s courts had handed out sentences of flogging and amputations, and had executed at least 346 people, possibly more, this year. Two men were executed by stoning, while eight of those killed were juvenile offenders.

“Torture and other ill-treatment of detainees were common and committed with impunity,” Amnesty says.

Reuters: U.N. rights chief concerned by harsher Iran crackdown

By Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA (Reuters) - United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay voiced concern on Tuesday that Iran is using more force to suppress protests and urged the Islamic republic to respect opposition supporters' right to protest.
"The suppression of protests is escalating, it is much more serious," Pillay told Reuters.
She also said that a senior Iranian human rights official, who had requested a meeting with her, set for Tuesday, had cancelled it.
"We are really helpless when a country is closed -- Iran is one of them. It is very defensive when we raise issues but we will continue to raise them."
An Iranian judiciary official said on Tuesday that Iran will "show no mercy" towards opposition protesters seen as threatening national security.
A nationwide rally on Monday to mark the killing of three students under the Shah turned violent when students clashed with security forces armed with batons and tear gas in the largest anti-government protests in months.
The protests were a fresh show of force following demonstrations after the June re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, which the opposition says he won by rigging the vote. Dozens of people were arrested and several hurt in clashes in different Iranian cities on Monday.
The protests in Tehran were smaller than the post-election rallies but the mood seemed more radical with protesters chanting slogans against the clerical establishment and not just criticising Ahmadinejad's re-election.
Pillay, speaking earlier at a news conference, said that in recent months she had raised concerns with Iran's ambassador to the U.N. in Geneva and had written to the authorities in Iran "calling for respect for the right to protest".
The South African judge and former U.N. war crimes judge said that she was reviewing the fairness of trials of people arrested in the post-election violence, which had led to some receiving death penalties or severe prison terms.
"I also drew attention to the trials that are going on. There are very severe penalties that are being imposed," Pillay said. "I've asked about the mode of those trials and I'm examining whether there has been fair trial."
Pillay's department relies on a variety of sources, including the Human Rights Council's own independent experts, to investigate cases and does not depend solely on national authorities for information.
Thousands of people were arrested in the June protests. Most have since been freed, but more than 80 have so far been sentenced to up to 15 years in jail and five people have been sentenced to death.
(Editing by Louise Ireland and Jonathan Lynn)

AP: Iran to try 3 Americans who crossed Iraqi border


TEHRAN, Iran — Iran said Monday it would try three Americans jailed since crossing the border from Iraq in July, a step certain to aggravate the U.S. at a time when Tehran is locked in a standoff with the West over its nuclear program.

Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki did not say when proceedings would begin or specify the charge other than to say the Americans had "suspicious aims." In November, however, authorities accused the Americans of spying.

In Washington, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said the Iranian move was "totally unfounded" and appealed anew to authorities in Iran to release them.

"We consider this a totally unfounded charge," she told reporters. "There is no basis for it. The three young people who were detained by the Iranians have absolutely no connection with any kind of action against the Iranian state or government."

"In fact, they were out hiking and unfortunately, apparently, allegedly, walked across an unmarked boundary," she said. "We appeal to the Iranian leadership to release these three young people and free them as soon as possible."

There are concerns in the U.S. that Iran could use the three, arrested July 31, as bargaining chips in talks over its nuclear program or in seeking the return of Iranians they say are missing.
"They will be tried by Iran's judiciary system and verdicts will be issued," Mottaki said at a news conference, without elaborating. He said the three were still being interrogated.
Even if the Americans are tried, however, there is still a chance they could be released fairly soon. Iranian-American journalist Roxana Saberi was convicted of espionage and sentenced to eight years in prison, before she was released on an appeal in May.

Canadian-Iranian journalist Maziar Bahari of Newsweek was released in October on bail and allowed to leave the country after being swept up in the post-election crackdown on street protests.

The Americans — Shane Bauer, 27, Sarah Shourd, 31, and Josh Fattal, 27 — were detained by Iranian authorities after crossing an unmarked border from northern Iraq.
They have been held in Iran's Evin prison, where Swiss diplomats have visited them twice and said they are healthy. Because the U.S. and Iran do not have direct diplomatic relations, the Swiss Embassy maintains an American interests section.

The three graduates of the University of California at Berkeley had been trekking in Iraq's northern Kurdistan region, their relatives say.

Bauer and Shourd had been living in Damascus, Syria — he studying Arabic, she teaching English — and both had done freelance journalism or writing online. Friends have described them as passionate adventurers interested in the Middle East and human rights.

Fattal, who spent three years with a group dedicated to sustainable farming near Cottage Grove, Oregon, had been overseas since January as a teaching assistant with the International Honors Program.

Fattal's mother, Laura, declined to comment on Monday's announcement.
In November, Tehran chief prosecutor Abbas Jafari Dowlatabadi said the three "have been accused of espionage." But it was not clear from his brief comments whether formal charges had been filed against the Americans.

Raising concerns that Iran might be seeking to use them in a deal, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad noted last month that the United States was holding several Iranian citizens.
In particular, he drew a link between the case of the three Americans and the trial in the U.S. of Amir Hossein Ardebili, an Iranian who faces up to 140 years in prison after pleading guilty to plotting to ship sensitive U.S. military technology to Iran.

According to court papers, Ardebili worked as a procurement agent for the Iranian government and acquired thousands of components, including military aircraft parts, night vision devices and communications equipment. U.S. federal authorities targeted him in 2004 after he contacted an undercover storefront set up in Philadelphia to investigate illegal arms trafficking.
Copyright © 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

The Wall Street Journal: Thousands Flee Iran as Noose Tightens

NEVSEHIR, Turkey -- Sadegh Shojai fled Iran after government agents raided his Tehran apartment, seizing his computer and 700 copies of a book he published on staging revolutions.

Now, he and his wife spend their days in this isolated Turkish town in a cramped, coal-heated apartment that lacks a proper toilet. But Mr. Shojai, 28 years old, continues to churn out articles on antigovernment Web sites about Iranian political prisoners, and helps to link students in Tehran with fellow students in Europe.

"I feel very guilty that I have abandoned my friends and countrymen, so I make up for it by burying myself in activism here," he says.

He's part of a small but spreading refugee exodus of businesspeople, dissidents, college students, journalists, athletes and other elite Iranians that is transforming the global face of Iran's resistance movement.

"Because of new technology and the Internet, prominent figures of the opposition can be more effective outside of Iran and do things they wouldn't be able to do there," says Hamid Dabashi, a professor of Iranian studies at Columbia University. People staying behind "are ridiculed and sidelined," or thrown in jail.

The United Nations says more than 4,200 Iranians world-wide have sought refugee status since Iran's controversial June presidential vote and bloody street violence. This provincial Turkish town -- near the famed carved-rock dwellings of Cappadocia that harbored outcasts in millennia past -- is home to 543 Iranians seeking asylum.

After sometimes spending weeks hiding in and hopping between safe houses, Iranians have turned up in countries as far away as Australia, Canada and Sweden. They typically seek refugee status.

"What good can a lawyer do in Iran if she is in jail?" says Nikahang Kousar, an Iranian political cartoonist in Toronto who formed an "underground railroad" of sorts to advise and assist other Iranians trying to leave Iran.

A spokesman with Iran's U.N. mission in New York declined to comment on the refugees or their claims of repression or violence.

Iran's refugee exodus is exacerbating a brain drain that has stunted the country's development for years. Mr. Dabashi, the Columbia professor, says he has fielded hundreds of inquiries from students in Iran wanting to study overseas -- more than 20 times the rate of previous years. "It's mind-boggling how many extremely accomplished young people are trying to come abroad," he says.

Not all defectors are necessarily politically active. Two athletes from the national

wrestling and karate teams, a well-known anchor on state television and a young film director have applied for political asylum in Europe in recent months.

The most popular destination remains neighboring Turkey, which shares a long border with Iran. Turkey is one of the few countries that doesn't require Iranians to obtain a visa in advance, making it a relatively easy escape.
But not everyone can openly cross the border. About 20 individuals (mostly journalists) have escaped Iran illegally since June because they had been jailed or been blocked from leaving, according to Omid Memarian, a human-rights activist in San Francisco who is another participant in the loose-knit global underground railroad.

Maryam Sabri fled Iran in September after being jailed.

Hanif Mazroui, the son of a reformist Iranian politician, says he snuck across the border, leaving behind a wife and newborn baby he hasn't met. Today Mr. Mazroui is in Belgium where he is working as a journalist for reformist Web sites.
No matter the route, many Iranians arrive abroad carrying pictures or videos of themselves participating in post-election demonstrations in Tehran. Some also continue their antigovernment activities by blogging or distributing photos, videos, articles and news to Iranians inside and outside the country.

Relations between Turkey and Iran have warmed in recent years. Just last month, the two sides announced a trade agreement, including construction of new power plants and establishment of a free-trade zone on the border. Turkey also relies on Iran as a major supplier of natural gas.

Turkey also opposes U.S.-backed sanctions on Iran over Tehran's nuclear program. Just this past Monday, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan met with President Barack Obama at the White House. "We believe that the role of Iran can only be changed through diplomacy," Mr. Erdogan said afterward.

U.S. officials view Turkey as a central player in forging an international consensus on pressuring Iran, due to Ankara's expanding economic and diplomatic ties to Tehran and Mr. Erdogan's considerable influence across the Middle East. The Obama administration also sees Turkey as a crucial ally in addressing a range of regional security issues, including Iraq and Afghanistan.

Sadegh Shojai operates in Turkey as an online middleman between Iranians at home and abroad.

A State Department official says the U.S. is prepared to accept more Iranian refugees provided the U.N.'s refugee agency makes the referrals. The official said there is a refugee quota of about 35,000 this year for the Near East and South Asia, so "there's enough wiggle room that we could increase the number of people we take out of Turkey."

Turkey is one of the world's only countries that bans refugees from taking up permanent residence within its own borders. The U.N. has found no evidence that Turkey is treating Iranian political refugees any differently than other refugees.
Still, there is fear among Iranian refugees in Turkey of being caught or harassed by Iranian intelligence agents. Many say they are afraid to call their families back home, believing the phone lines in Iran are tapped and that relatives there will face reprisal.

Ibrahim Vurgun, project coordinator for a Turkish nonprofit that is under contract with the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, or UNHCR, to assist refugees, says Iranian intelligence operatives have infiltrated the ranks of asylum seekers.
"It's very easy to get into Turkey, and you can't differentiate between an Iranian intelligence agent and a real refugee," he says.

Masoume Mohammadian is seeking work in Nevsehir.

Maryam Sabri, a 21-year-old refugee in Kayseri, an industrial city home to more than 1,000 fleeing Iranians, says two Iranian men she believes were security agents chased her in Ankara, but she ran into Turkish police and her assailants fled. She says her hope is that she can leave Turkey as soon as possible. "I am not safe here," she said.

Ms. Sabri came to Turkey in early September, shortly after spending two weeks in a Tehran prison, she says, after being arrested while protesting the killing of Neda Agha-Soltan, the young woman whose videotaped shooting on the street in Iran became a rallying cry for the protest movement.

A miniaturist painter, Ms. Sabri says she had produced fliers for opposition presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi. In prison, Ms. Sabri says, her interrogator repeatedly raped her and warned her that she would be tracked after release. "If you do not do everything we want, we are going to finish you off somewhere, very easily," she says she was told.

The Iranian government has denied that any prisoners have been raped and has called the allegations propaganda by opposition groups.

The Turkish government requires refugees to live in remote locations far from big cities like Istanbul. This is how many wind up here in Nevsehir, about a five-hour bus ride south of Ankara. A community of Iranian asylum seekers has sprung up in a dusty hillside neighborhood of stone streets and cinder-block dwellings known as "350 Houses."

WSJ's Steve Stecklow tells Simon Constable why hundreds of Iranians are seeking asylum in a small town in Turkey.

That's where Mr. Shojai, the Iranian publisher of revolutionary materials, lives with his wife, Fateme Faneian, a 25-year-old blogger who worked at an opposition Web site in Iran before the government shut it down.

They arrived in Turkey in August after hiding in Iran for more than a month while participating in demonstrations. She says that during one protest in Iran, police kicked her in the stomach, causing her to have a miscarriage.

It's their first time outside Iran. They arrived by train with four suitcases of belongings, including several bags of rice.

Mr. Shojai says he now spends eight to 10 hours a day online, acting as an intermediary for a large network of student activists within Iran to get updates on arrests, interrogations and jailings back home. He then distributes what he learns globally on Facebook, Twitter and Balatarin, an Iranian news and social-networking site.

Because of Turkey's strict rules for refugees, Iranians can find themselves in a bureaucratic limbo that can last for years.

Once here, Iranians must wait for the U.N. to approve their status as refugees, which can take several months. If approved, they then next wait for assignment to another country (typically the U.S., Canada or Australia), which can take two years because of immigration quotas. If they're rejected as refugees, they can appeal, extending the process.

"Time can be the best torturer," says Kiumars Kamalinia, an Iranian Christian living in Nevsehir who says he was forced to flee Iran two years ago because of evangelical activities. He says the U.N. recognized him as a refugee a year ago but he's still awaiting resettlement.

An official with Turkey's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, who declined to be named, said the refugee issue "is very complex and should be addressed by the international community." Noting that 67,000 people have sought refuge in Turkey since 1995 -- nearly half of them from Iran -- the official said Turkey wants to avoid a "mass influx" of additional refugees.

The 1,000 or so Iranians who have arrived in Turkey since the June elections joined more than 3,000 others already waiting to be declared refugees or to be resettled. They include Christians and members of the Bahai faith who say they fled to escape religious persecution. There also is a sizable community of gay and lesbian Iranians. Homosexuality is punishable by death in Iran.

UNHCR officials say the number of refugees in Turkey has increased in recent years, largely because of an influx of Iraqis. Waiting periods for resettlement have also grown.
Last year, there were only about 5,000 placements for 18,000 refugees. The U.S. accepted 1,099 Iranians from Turkey. An additional 486 went to six other countries.

While refugees wait, Turkey charges them the same residential-permit fees as any foreigner, about $200 per adult and $100 per child, every six months. The fees have stirred up resentment, since Turkey also prohibits refugees from finding legal employment if Turkish citizens are qualified to do the job. Many work illegal, $10-a-day jobs like housepainting.

Hossein Salman Zadeh, an Iranian news photographer who fled to Turkey in September to avoid arrest for taking pictures of demonstrations, says he was fined $50 for failing to pay the residential-permit fees on time, even though the office that collects the money was closed for a holiday.

"The fee itself is a serious burden, every six months having to come up with that money in a country where you cannot work legally," says Brenda Goddard, a refugee-status determination officer at UNHCR in Ankara.

The Turkish foreign-ministry official said the government is considering changes in the permit fees to benefit the refugees.

However, Turkish unemployment is fairly high at around 11%, and because of that, it's "not really an option to allow these applicants to work in Turkey," another government official said. The official added that Turkey is worried that if it allowed refugees to remain, the country would soon become "a huge warehouse for asylum seekers from European Union countries."

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

amnesty international: Iranian security forces condemned for protest crackdown

Amnesty International condemned the excessive use of force by Iranian security forces that saw scores of protesters beaten and detained during student-led demonstrations on Monday.

In a number of instances, security forces - including the volunteer Basij militia - used batons and tear gas to disperse opposition supporters in the wake of threats by officials that all demonstrations would be considered illegal and met by force.

By the end of the day, the number of protestors arrested was not known. “Since the disputed election a pattern has emerged of the authorities preventing peaceful demonstrations, and then hastily resorting to violence against people who nevertheless choose to exercise their right to freedom of expression and assembly.” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa. “All those arrested for simply attending today’s demonstrations should be immediately and unconditionally released.

The Iranian authorities continue to treat peaceful dissenters as criminals in violation of Iran’s Constitution.” Others arrested should be released unless they are to be charged with a recognizably criminal offence and tried promptly and fairly. Thousands of opposition supporters and students had gathered in Tehran and cities across the country to mark the anniversary of the killing of three students by security forces in 1953. In recent years the anniversary has become a focus for demonstrations by students on campuses calling for reform and greater respect for human rights.

One eyewitness told Amnesty International that students from Shahid Beheshti University marched alongside the walls of Evin Prison in northern Tehran chanting “political prisoners should be free” and “students will die, we won’t accept oppression.” Another told Amnesty International that central Esfahan, along with the university in the southern part of that city was full of Basij militia and plain clothed security officers to stamp down on any protests.

In the course of the day, Amnesty International has been receiving reports of confrontations between plain-clothed security officers believed to be Basij and students at sites throughout the country, such as at Mazandaran and Sari universities, in the north of the country. Since the morning, security forces in Sari are said to have told students not to attend university.

According to reports, police used plastic bullets at Amir Kabir University in Tehran to stop students inside the campus from joining up with protestors outside.

In recent weeks, students suspected of organising the protests had received threats and scores were detained in an attempt to stifle the dissent. Protestors also faced other repressive restrictions as the authorities blocked the use of the internet and mobile phones. In a further crackdown the authorities banned foreign media from covering the protests.

On Saturday the security forces arrested up to 29 women taking part in a silent protest in Tehran. The group, Mourning Mothers, which is made up of mothers whose children died in the post election violence and other women who gather every week to call for an end to the human rights violation which have taken place since the election, including justice for their dead children.

Monday, 7 December 2009

Telegraph: Iranian police shoot at unarmed protesters during Tehran demonstrations

Iranian police fired tear gas and live bullets as they fought back thousands of unarmed protesters on the streets of Tehran.

By Damien McElroy, Foreign Affairs Correspondent

There were bloody clashes as young people launched a fresh wave of anti-government protests on the country's official Students Day.
Police used warning shots, baton charges and gas but failed to stop rallies, sit-ins and campus marches across the capital.
Universities in several cities, including Tehran's top seats of learning, were sealed off as guards checked identity cards of people trying to join the student demonstrations.

Earlier in the day, the authorities detained 23 members of a protest group of grieving mothers. They included the mother of Neda Agha-Soltan, known as the "Angel of Freedom", who was shot by pro-government militia at the height of demonstrations against Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's re-election in June.

Hajar Rostami-Motlaq has enraged the authorities by condemning pro-government students who accused British agents of killing Miss Soltan.

She was later released but friends expressed concern for other members of the protest group, Mourning Mothers of Iran, who were rounded up at a weekly protest in Tehran's Laleh Park.

Supporters of opposition leader Mirhossein Mousavi chanted "Death to the dictator" and "Do not be scared. We are all together", according to witnesses at the rallies on university campuses.

The authorities had deployed troops and militias in anticipation of the protests, the fourth such outbreak under the opposition strategy of using official public holidays as cover for protests.

Television pictures showed hundreds of men and women gathering in front of Tehran university gates, pulling at the padlocked fence and making hand gestures of "V" for victory.

Images of the crowds taken on mobile phones were sent to the West despite attempts to suppress news of the demonstrations by confining the staff of foreign news organisations indoors.
"Security forces are beating demonstrators, men and women. Some of them are injured and bleeding," said one Tehran eyewitness.
"There's anxiety that there will be violence and shooting. I shout slogans and demonstrate but try not to provoke any clash with the security," said Kouhyar Goudarzi, a student. "We are worried."

Iran's Revolutionary Guards and Basij militia had warned the opposition not to use the rally to revive protests against the clerical establishment after the June vote.

Internet and mobile phone connections were also affected by an official clampdown. "The network in central Tehran and near Tehran university is completely down," said one website.
Mr Mousavi issued a message that warned the country's leadership that popular frustration was continuing to grow.
"You fight people on the streets, but you are constantly losing your dignity in people's minds," Mr Mousavi, a former prime minister, said. "Even if you silence all the universities, what are you going to do with the society?"

Mr Ahmadinejad has retained the backing of Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, despite deep splits in Iran's clerical establishment. Hashemi Rafsanjani, the former president, broke weeks of silence to apologise for the hardliners refusal to relent in the face of widespread popular dissatisfaction.

Iranian students were commemorating three scholars who were killed by Shah Mohamed Reza Pahlavi's security forces on Dec 7, 1953, as they protested the sacking of nationalist prime minister Mohammed Mossadegh.