Wednesday, 28 July 2010

IMHRO met with British Ambassador to Iran

Iranian Minorities’ Human Rights Organisation (IMHRO)



On 19th of July IMHRO met with HMA Simon Gass, British Ambassador to Iran in FCO office in London.

In meeting IMHRO discussed situation of human rights and suppression of religious and ethnic minorities’ in Iran.

"The UK government believes that treatment of minorities in Iran is not acceptable and will urge Iran to fulfil their international obligations through binding UN treaties and conventions."

IMHRO is an NGO started in 2008 with aim to defend minorities’ rights in Iran.

Friday, 23 July 2010

RFERL: Iran's Ethnic Azeris And The Language Question

by Abbas Djavadi

Call it discrimination or even chauvinism: Millions of Iran's ethnic Azeris have no right of education in their mother tongue. But, surprisingly, it appears the majority of them don't care much about this inequality.

Over the last two months, I have interviewed more than 80 people, mostly from Tabriz, Ardabil, Khoy, and Tehran. The people I spoke to worked in bazaars or as nurses, as government employees and housewives, computer traders, lawyers, students, medical doctors, and laborers. But I found only five who said they were very interested in seeing education in Azeri Turkish in Iranian Azeri schools.

Most of the others were uninterested and didn't view it as a priority. Some supported the idea in principle but said that it could lead to elevated social tensions. Some suggested Azeri Turkish could be offered as an optional course of two or so hours per week, although they suspected most parents wouldn't send their kids to those courses for fear it would weaken their acquisition of Persian. A smaller group even opposed the idea outright.

Whenever the subject of "Iranian Azeris" -- those who speak Azeri Turkish as their native language -- comes up, there are disputes about how many people we are talking about. Iranian censuses don't include data about native languages, so no one can say for certain how many Azeris live in the country. Officially, the population of the four Azeri-inhabited provinces (Eastern and Western Azerbaijan, Ardabil, and Zanjan) is about 10 million. A few million more ethnic Azeris live in Gilan and Khorasan provinces, as well as in Tehran and other urban centers. The total is probably about 15 million.
No Schooling In Azeri Turkish

At home and in their communities, these people speak Azeri Turkish. But the spoken language is strongly influenced by Persian in terms of lexicon, pronunciation, and even sentence structure. This is especially true of the language spoken among the more highly educated portion of the population. The basic language is "more Turkish" ("Turki" or "Torki," as we say in Iran), while the more you want to talk about complex or contemporary topics, the stronger Persian's influence becomes.
Iran's Azeris have played and continue to play an active role in the country's development, politics, economy, and culture -- on a par with their Persian-speaking compatriots. The only difference they feel is language.
Written communication is carried out almost exclusively in Persian. Only a tiny minority tends to write in Azeri Turkish -- and most of them do so with a conscious ethnic awareness or political motivation. But their written language is heavily influenced by either the official Azeri of the South Caucasus country of Azerbaijan or by the Turkish spoken in Turkey. There is no standardization of the written language used by Iranian Azeris, and the result is that using the written language often produces alienation from the majority of their fellow Azeri Turks.

There is one major reason for this situation: There has been no schooling or other education in Azeri Turkish in Iran for the last 90 years (with the exception of 1945-46, when the Soviet imposed Pishavari government allowed it). This situation remained unchanged after the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Iran's current constitution says the country's "official and educational language is Persian, but the languages of other ethnic groups may also be used." This article, however, has never been applied.

Prior to the 1920s, there was no centralized government in Iran. There was no central army, no clear borders, no state educations system, and, of course, no "official language." Students in traditional religious schools learned in Persian and Arabic for the most part, but there was no ban on education in Azeri Turkish. During the centuries of the ethnic Azeri dynasties in Iran -- from the Safavids in the 16th century through the Qajars from 1794 until 1925 -- Persian was promoted as the language of government and literature, Arabic was used for religious culture, and Azeri Turkish was spoken privately in the court of the shah and among all Iranian Azeris.
'National Culture'

The establishment of a central and modernizing government by Reza Shah Pahlavi beginning in 1925 also brought the promotion of a "national culture" based on an official state language -- Persian. All other languages were banned from official use and from the educational sphere (Arabic remained in the "unofficial" sphere of the clergy, who had been deprived of their legal status and political authority).

Modernization also saw a surge of migration of ethnic Azeris to Tehran and other major cities. There, communication in Persian was a key to social progress, contributing to the assimilation of Iranian Azeris into the larger national culture based on Persian. It also led to the deepening of the influence of Persian on spoken Azeri Turkish.

Iran's Azeris have never felt like aliens in the country they have lived in for thousands of years. They are as proud of Iran's achievements and as distressed by its shortcomings as any other Iranians are. They have played and continue to play an active role in the country's development, politics, economy, and culture -- on a par with their Persian-speaking compatriots. The only difference they feel is language.

Despite the discrimination against their language, Iranian Azeris have compelling reasons for feeling fully Iranian. For one thing, Iranian-Azeri dynasties ruled the country for centuries and did much to uphold the nation's existence and unity. Having been in Iran for thousands of years, Iran's Azeris have never felt like a minority or newly arrived people.
Mir Hossein Musavi is an ethnic Azeri.
In the 16th century, the ethnic-Azeri Safavid dynasty restored Iran's unity after the destruction and chaos of the Mongol invasion. They introduced Shi'ite Islam as the country's state religion, a key part of the country's emerging national identity.

In the first part of the 20th century, ethnic Azeris led the Constitutional Revolution against the despotism of the (ethnic Azeri) Qajar regime and the imperialism of Russia and Great Britain.

Religion also plays a key factor in uniting ethnic Azeris with other Iranians. Sharing the Shi'ite confession of Islam with their Persian compatriots means that Iranian Azeris have felt closer to them than to Sunni Turks or other peoples beyond Iran's borders. The Iranian Azeri opposition to Islamic republic founder Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini was led by Ayatollah Kazem Shariatmadari from Tabriz and was not based on ethnicity but on his insistence of the need to separate religion and the state.
Unfavorable Starting Point

Some scholars have argued that since the 1920s, Iran has built a sort of meritocracy that allows social progress for any citizen who accepts the national language and culture of a united Iran without regard to ethnicity. This is true, but only partially. Sunni Muslims and some recognized non-Muslim communities hold a few seats in Iran's parliament. These communities can generally live in peace as long as they abide by some politically and religiously discriminatory restrictions. For instance, no Suni Kurd or Armenian Christian could become a minister.

As Shi'a, Iran's Azeris do not face such restrictions. Both Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and opposition leader Mir Hossein Musavi are ethnic Azeris. However, it cannot be denied that because Persian is not their native language, Iranian Azeris begin from an unfavorable starting point with regard to education and social mobility.

Nonetheless, as my interviews with Iranian Azeris show, they have largely adapted to this injustice and are not much exercised by the language question. But this could change if demands for liberalization and increased individual liberties continue to mount in Iranian society.

As Touraj Atabaki of the University of Amsterdam argues: "The fate of Iran's ethnic compositions and territorial integrity may depend, more than any other factor, on the introduction of reforms in the country's political structure to secure individual as well as collective rights in a nondiscriminatory inclusion and access to economic opportunities, political participation or cultural status, including language recognition, either on an individual basis or through some pattern of group proportionality. Or else, nothing is eternal."

Abbas Djavadi is an associate director of broadcasting at RFE/RL. The views expressed in this commentary -- which is based on a speech presented at a conference in Istanbul organized by the German Orient-Institut and Turkey's Bilkent University on June 5-6, 2010 -- are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of RFE/RL

Newsweek: Eight Other Pending Executions in Iran

News of the imminent stoning of one Iranian woman for alleged adultery galvanized a global movement to save her. But sadly, her case was not an anomaly.

Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani has been imprisoned in Tabriz Prison in northwestern Iran since 2005, having suffered 99 lashes and been condemned to die by public stoning for her alleged adultery. Until last month, those facts were known only to a small handful of people working quietly through the Iranian legal system to secure her release. Now, with Ashtiani’s story filling the pages of newspapers and Web sites around the world, her name, and the appalling details of her case, are familiar.

Judges relied on “wisdom” rather than evidence to determine her guilt, using a loophole in the Iranian legal system. But even by Iranian legal standards, the case was fraught. Ashtiani had no lawyer until late in the appeal proceedings, despite being illiterate and unable to speak Farsi, the language used in court, according to the International Committee Against Execution (ICAE). She retracted a confession she says was made under duress. Nonetheless, court after court signed off on her death warrant, until all legal avenues had been exhausted.

Her lawyer, Mohammad Mostafai, a frequent defender of death-row inmates in Iran, and her children, Sajjad, 22, and Fasride, 17, finally decided to go public with her story via the lawyer’s blog, at great personal risk. While the media-savvy Mostafai is enough of a public figure to make his arrest unlikely, says the ICAE’s Ahmad Fatemi, Ashtiani’s children have no such protection. Sajjad was recently summoned to the intelligence office of the Tabriz prison—a move, says Fatemi, that is meant to send a clear message. “That’s the part of the prison where torture takes place,” he told NEWSWEEK. “When they do this, it is to put pressure on a person.” Sajjad, he has been told by sources inside Iran, was wise enough to ignore the summons.

Iran's judiciary chief, Ayatollah Sadeq Larijani, has the power to halt executions and make recommendations to the country’s Supreme Leader, who decides whether to pardon prisoners convicted of crimes against God or state. For crimes against individuals, like murder, the victim’s family has final say.

For the last week, Iranian officials have said the case is under review on “humanitarian grounds,” but their reasoning is as unclear as Ashtiani’s fate. They have steadfastly denied that international attention had any effect on the decision, but they’ve also taken care to impose a media blackout on the case in Iran. Still, even postblackout, the ICAE has seen two local Iranian newspapers publish quotes from Tabriz’s head of the judiciary declaring Ashtiani’s execution to be imminent. 

This directly contradicts what Iran’s human-rights chief, Mohammad-Javad Larijani, has said about putting the case under review. Then again, supporting his statements, the ICAE has obtained a document showing that the Supreme Court accepted a request to reopen the case. NEWSWEEK’s calls to the Iranian mission in New York for clarification went unreturned.

Still, while there is no guarantee that Ashtiani will walk free, given the global attention she’s received, she likely stands a better chance than the some 140 other prisoners sitting anonymously on death row in Tabriz alone, according to the ICAE’s count. An accurate count of the total number of prisoners on death row in Iran is impossible to come by. 

The Iranian government doesn’t publish execution data, and many executions in Iran are never announced, with lawyers and family members often finding out only after they have taken place. According to the Abdorrahman Boroumand Foundation, which monitors media for Iranian death-penalty cases, 135 executions have taken place so far this year in Iran. Those are just the cases that can currently be confirmed, though, and the numbers are always rising. The foundation currently lists the total number of executions in Iran in 2009 at 399, second only to China (in the U.S., by contrast, there were 52).

Watching the numbers climb, rights experts say Iranians are wary of a return to the dark days of 1988, when the state executed more than 3,000 Iranians, largely for political crimes. While most executions in Iran are carried out for murder and drug crimes, the sentence can also be applied for sexual and political crimes like adultery, sodomy, corruption, and the broadly defined “enmity against God.” Just as problematic are the trials themselves, which often fail to meet standards for fairness set by treaties like the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Iran is a signatory. Prisoners have reportedly faced torture, been held incommunicado, been denied counsel, and confessed under duress in cases leading to capital punishment; Iran also executes more juveniles than any other country in the world. NEWSWEEK consulted with human-rights groups to highlight eight other problematic cases involving inmates on death row in Iran:

Name: Azar Bagheri
Location: Eastern Azerbaijan

Bagheri, now 19, was convicted of adultery and sentenced to death by stoning at age 15. She claims she was forced to marry an older man the previous year, when she was 14. Her husband brought the case against her, claiming she had a relationship with another man. According to the ICAE, Bagheri has been subjected to two mock stonings, for which she was taken out of her cell and buried up to her shoulders in the yard, as if she were to be pelted with stones. Bagheri’s case came to light in the wake of the media storm around Ashtiani, likely because of ICAE founder Mina Ahadi’s contacts in Tabriz, where she had been held and her husband executed before she fled Iran in 1990. Ann Harrison, an Iran researcher at Amnesty International, believes Bagheri’s sentence might have been commuted to 99 lashes.

Name: Mohammad Ali Navid Khamami
Location: Gilan

Khamami, convicted of adultery, was also sentenced to be stoned. The last public reference to his case came last year, when judiciary spokesman Ali Reza Jashidi confirmed in a press conference that another man had been stoned to death in Gilan province and declined to deny that another stoning could be forthcoming.

Name: Kobra Babaei
Location: Eastern Azerbaijan

Married couple Rahim Mohammadi and Kobra Babaei were convicted of adultery while married. In an interview with the news Web site Rooz last year, their lawyer, Mohammad Mostafaei, said that the couple was unable to find work and turned to Babaei’s prostitution to support themselves. They have a teenage daughter. Rahim Mohammadi was hanged in October 2009, after being convicted of adultery and sodomy. Amnesty’s Harrison received information Thursday suggesting that Babaei’s sentence might be commuted to lashes, but this has not yet been confirmed.

Name: Maryam Baagherzaade
Location: East Azerbaijan

Baagherzaade, 25, was sentenced to death by stoning. She has been in jail for four years, but recently became pregnant during a short leave from prison. According to the ICAE, pregnant women on death row are usually allowed to give birth before they are executed.

Name: Fariba Shafaa’at
Location: East Azerbaijan

Shafaa’at was 14 when she was arrested and charged with the murder of her father. Now 20, she is on death row. In Iran, the legal age of adulthood for girls is 8 years and 8 months, allowing judges to sentence girls older than this to death. The ICAE received information from sources in Tabriz on July 12, indicating that judiciary authorities in Tehran have given the go-ahead for her execution. The method of her impending execution is unknown.

Name: Mohammad Reza Haddadi
Location: Fars

In 2004, Haddadi was convicted for a murder he allegedly committed when he was 15 years old. A court in Shiraz found Haddadi and his codefendants guilty of kidnapping and hiding the body of Mohammad Bagher Rahmat in an attempt to steal Rahmat’s car, but convicted only Haddadi of Rahmat’s murder. Rahmat’s body was burned and buried at the side of a road. According to Human Rights Watch, Haddadi has confessed to suffocating Rahmat with a belt after his codefendants struck Rahmat over the head with a stone and locked him in the trunk of the car. Haddadi, now 23, has had his execution scheduled and cancelled multiple times. Amnesty’s Harrison says this is because Iranian authorities are attempting to arrange a deal between the Haddadi family and the victim’s family for blood-money compensation but have so far been unsuccessful.

Name: Zeynab Jalalian
Location: Tehran

Jalalian, 27, was convicted of the crime of moharebeh, or “enmity against God,” for allegedly participating in the banned Free Life Party of Kurdistan, or PJAK. Her sentence, death by hanging, was approved by Iran’s Supreme Court in November 2009, even though she has been denied access to a lawyer throughout her detention. The trial was said to have lasted just minutes. Some media reports have her being held in Section 209 of Evin prison, which is run by the intelligence ministry, but they have not been verified. Four other Kurdish dissidents were executed without warning in May, and 16 more are currently facing execution, according to Human Rights Watch. Jalalian claims to have been tortured in detention.

Name: Jandarshah Nabizada
Location: Yazd

Sixteen-year-old Nabizada, a villager from northern Afghanistan, was sentenced to death at the Iranian-Afghan border after being caught carrying 200-300 grams of narcotics, according to an interview conducted by Radio Free Europe by phone in March. He is one of thousands of Afghans who have found themselves on death row in Iran, mostly as a result of drug smuggling. In Iran, a major drug transit route between Afghanistan and Western Europe, possession of more than 30 grams of hard drugs like heroin can result in the death penalty. An Afghan parliamentary delegation this past winter turned up 5,630 Afghan prisoners in Iran, about 3,000 of whom are on death row. The Iranian government disputes those figures but has not offered any of their own.

FCO: Foreign Office Minister Alistair Burt condemns atrocity in south-eastern Iran.

Speaking about the attacks at the Jamia mosque in the city of Zahedan in south-eastern Iran, Mr Burt said:

"I was horrified to hear of yesterday's twin bomb attacks against a mosque in Zahedan in Iran, which has been claimed by Jundullah. The UK strongly condemns this atrocity.  In targetting a busy mosque, the bombers claimed the lives of peaceful worshippers and passers by. Our thoughts are with the families of those who have lost their lives so far, and the many more injured."

The Provincial Government has reported 22 people dead and over 160 injured so far. 

Saturday, 17 July 2010

FT: Defeated group returns to haunt Iran

By Najmeh Bozorgmehr in Tehran
It is less than a month since the Iranian regime claimed victory over the country’s main ethnic opposition group by hanging its commander, but Thursday’s bomb attack claimed by Jundollah shows that the organisation is still capable of causing damage.

The group, which says it is fighting for independence for Iran’s Baluchi minority, claimed responsibility for two suicide bombs outside a mosque in Zahedan, the capital of Sistan-Baluchestan province, late on Thursday, which left 27 dead.
It said the attacks were in retaliation for the execution of its leader, Abdolmalek Rigi. But on Friday the authorities stuck to the official line that Jundollah has been virtually eliminated and instead blamed the US, Israel and Britain for the bombs.

“It cannot be true” that Jundollah masterminded the blasts, said Ali Mohammad Azad, the governor-general of the province on state television. “We are investigating to see who did it,” he added.

It would be embarrassing for the Iranian regime, which has adopted an iron fist policy towards dissident ethnic groups, to admit that more hangings have failed to bring security.

Hassan Abedini, a conservative commentator, said the US felt the need to divert world opinion away from the return of Shahram Amiri, the nuclear scientist who was allegedly kidnapped by the CIA, to Iran on Thursday. He hinted this motive might have been behind the attack.

However, many reform-minded analysts blame the religious radicalism of Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad, the fundamentalist president, and repression by the Revolutionary Guard Corps for fuelling ethnic tensions.

While Iran is dominated by Shia Muslims, most of whom are Persians, some ethnic minorities, notably the Baluchis and Kurds, are largely Sunni. They complain of both religious and ethnic discrimination.

The regime does not employ Sunni Muslims in senior government jobs and restricts their religious ceremonies to the ethnic regions. Shia clerics have so far resisted the establishment of a Sunni mosque in Tehran.

Moreover, Iranian governments over the past century have adopted an unspoken policy of keeping ethnic areas under-developed to help foil separatist movements.

Sistan-Baluchestan province is one of the most deprived areas in Iran, where there is naked poverty and high unemployment.

“Such discriminatory policies and an increase in the regime’s violence have in fact paved the ground for radical groups like Jundollah to recruit forces in Baluchestan,” said one analyst.

People in the restive province claim that Sunni religious seminaries have been placed under more restrictions in recent years, with some clerics being hanged. Meanwhile, youths who are suspected of joining Jundollah - which means the “army of God” - have allegedly been killed under the pretext of the fight against drug smuggling.

Jundollah has resorted to kidnapping and beheading officials in front of television cameras, and killing civilians in ambushes.

The explosion on Thursday was the second outside a Shia mosque, creating fears in Tehran that religious sites might become more frequent targets.

Iran has long argued that western governments, notably the US, have been helping Jundollah with money and logistics to undermine the Islamic regime.

Yadollah Javani, a senior commander of the Revolutionary Guard, which is responsible for security in Sistan-Baluchestan, said there was “no doubt” that the US, Israel and some other western countries – an implicit reference to Britain – were behind the explosions. The aim, he said, was to spark sectarian violence between Shia and Sunni.

Tension between Shia and Sunni is nothing new in Iran, but these sentiments have been intensified under Mr Ahmadi-Nejad, who promotes a radical interpretation of the Shia faith. This encourages Sunni radicals to spread their version of Islam, which Iran says is close to Wahhabism.

The central government has been also struggling with Pejak, an armed Kurdish group in the north-west, and has hanged some of its fighters in recent months.

“Violence by the regime brings violence by Baluchi and Kurdish groups,” said an analyst. “Ethnic and religious tensions need cultural work, not bullets.”

Panorama: James Phillips: Iran regime threat for Azerbaijan


James Phillips, a US Senior Research Fellow for Middle Eastern Affairs at The Heritage Foundation, called on Azerbaijani authorities to keep away from the regime in Iran since it could be a threat for Azerbaijan, Turan reported.

He said in his interview with Turan, Iran backs all the terrorist and extreme organizations which carry out attacks in Turkey, Iraq, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Israel, Gaza and a number of other states.

“Azerbaijan shouldn’t forget how Azeris are persecuted in Iran. Ahmadinejad regime should be isolated and undergo sanctions unless it has stopped backing terrorists and persecuting its own people,” he said.

BBC: Iran's grim history of death by stoning

Iran appears to have backed down over the stoning of a woman for adultery amid an international outcry, putting the whole issue of stoning as a punishment under the spotlight once again.

Iran has said Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, 43, will be spared being stoned to death for adultery while leaving it unclear what fate does await her.

The mother of two was arrested in 2005 and subsequently convicted of having an "illicit relationship" for which she was given 99 lashes witnessed by her son, then in his late teens.

Her case was then reopened and she was convicted of adultery during her marriage, for which she was given the sentence of death by stoning.

Iran's existing penal code provides for this form of execution for one crime - adultery, an offence "against divine law" - though murder, rape, armed robbery and drug trafficking are also punishable by death.

Stoned or spared

Human rights campaigners say Iran has one of the highest rates of executions in the world.

Death by stoning came into use in Iran after the 1979 revolution.

The case has sparked an international outcry Amnesty International says that at least eight people were stoned to death in 1986.

The group says some people have linked this to the passing of a law that year which allowed the hiring of judges with minimal experience and that it led to an increase in the number of judges from a traditional religious background.

In 1995, Amnesty International received reports that as many as 10 people may have been stoned to death that year.

In 2002, the Iranian judiciary placed a moratorium on death by stoning.

But such sentences have continued to be reported. And Amnesty said this week that eight men and three women were awaiting the carrying out of sentences of stoning and since 2006 at least six people had been put to death in this manner.

It also said 15 people had been saved from stoning.
The brief statement from the Iranian embassy in London announcing that Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani would not be executed by stoning said that "this kind of punishment has rarely been implemented" in Iran.

It also said stoning was not in a draft Islamic penal code currently under consideration in the Iranian parliament.


Iran has long argued that the death penalty is essential in maintaining public security.

It also says it is only carried out after exhaustive judicial proceedings, a claim that has been challenged by human rights groups.

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Iran is a party, requires those states that maintain the death penalty to restrict it to "the most serious crimes".

Critics of the way Iran has been using capital punishment say that it has acted in clear violation of the covenant.

From time to time there have been reports of stonings from other countries, such as Somalia and Afghanistan.

A case in Somalia in October 2008 attracted much attention. A girl was stoned to death before a large crowd at a football stadium.

The suggestion - particularly from her lawyer - that Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani appeared to be on the verge of being stoned to death saw Iran accused internationally this week of allowing a "medieval" practice which has no place in the modern world.

It brought a response from the Iranian authorities indicating that they do not relish a confrontation on this issue, even if the next steps are not yet clear.

AllVoices: Iran Intensifies Attack on Christians

Iran has intensified its attacks on the Christian minority with the recent crackdown on the growing influence of the Protestant Churches in the country as it has condemned to death a well-known pastor.

This revelation is contained in a report by Open Doors UK adding that Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani is facing execution after two judges agreed to make him ‘liable to capital punishment.’

It noted that Pastor Nadarkhani was detained in June along with his wife, Fatemeh Pasandideh, in the northwestern city of Rasht, because of their Christian activities.

“A senior pastor of the Church of Iran movement said that judges had ‘already signed’ an Islamic order that would potentially allow a death sentence for Nadarkhani, pending further investigations,” the report said.

It observed that the news of Pastor Youcef’s arrest overshadowed the joy over the release of several other Christians, including two Church of Iran believers and two, identified only as ‘Brothers Mehdi and Afshin’.

According to the report, they were part of a group of eight believers arrested last month adding that one, Fatemeh Kojouri Tork, remains in Tehran's notorious Evin prison, while her husband, Behrouz Sadegh Khanjani, who was one of a group of seven arrested on 11 January, is still being kept in isolation in a security prison in the southwestern city of Shiraz.

It stated: “Concerns remain over the wellbeing of a number of other believers, including Pastor Behnam who remains in detention.”

It continued: “Over the last decade the Iranian church has grown significantly and Open Doors now estimates the total number of Christians in Iran to be about 450,000. The government has intentionally sought to stop this growth and make it impossible for Christians to practice their religion.”

The report said that, although churches connected to minority groups, such as Armenians and Assyrians, are allowed to teach their own people in their own language, it is forbidden to minister to people with a Muslim background i.e. speaking Farsi.

“Please pray and ask God to strengthen these persecuted Christians physically, emotionally and spiritually, so that they will be a ‘light in the darkness.’ Also thank God that despite the horrendous circumstances for Christians in Iran and the opposition they face from the government that the church is growing. Pray for the house church movement, which is responsible for much of the growth of the church, ask God to protect its leaders and give them wisdom and understanding.”

As a Christian organization Open Doors provides Bibles, Christian literature, training and practical support to the persecuted church worldwide. It’s the world's largest outreach to persecuted Christians, working in the most high-risk places.

Fore more information on their other activities log on to their website:

VOA: US Condemns Terrorist Attack in Iran

The United States is strongly condemning suicide bomb attacks Thursday against a Shi'ite mosque in Iran, a country that is listed by Washington as a state sponsor of terrorism. President Barack Obama called the murder of innocent civilians in a place of worship an "intolerable offense."

American condemnation of acts of terrorism in Iran is not unprecedented. But the U.S. reaction to Thursday's attack was at an unusually high level, with both President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton issuing written statements expressing sympathy to the families of victims and calling for the attackers to be held accountable.

Iranian officials say at least 27 people were killed and some 270 wounded in twin suicide bomb attacks at a mosque in Zahedan in Sistan-Baluchistan province, where worshippers had gathered to mark the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad's grandson, Imam Hussein.

The victims included members of Iran's Revolutionary Guards Corps. Responsibility was claimed by the Sunni Muslim militant group Jundallah, which said it staged the attacks to avenge the execution in June of the group's leader for terrorism.

Iran has accused the United States and Britain of funding Jundallah, which it says is based in Pakistan, but all three countries deny aiding the group.

In his statement, President Obama said the terrorist attacks were outrageous and said the United States stands with the families of the victims and with the people of Iran in the face of what he termed "this injustice."

Secretary Clinton called the bombings "appalling acts" and said they, along with other recent attacks in Uganda, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq and Algeria underscore the world community's need to work together to combat terrorist organizations.

State Department Spokesman P.J. Crowley said the statements show the United States condemns all forms of terrorist and sectarian-driven violence wherever it occurs.

"We are actively combating terrorism in all its forms all over the world," he said. "We are seeking cooperation from all countries around the world including Iran, which is a state sponsor of terrorism itself. So we are determined to work as we can with countries from around the world to reduce the threat of terrorism to all innocent civilians anywhere in the world."

The United States and Iran have not had diplomatic relations since after Iran's 1979 Islamic Revolution, but diplomats of the two countries have occasionally met at international gatherings.

Both Secretary of State Clinton and Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki are expected to attend the Kabul conference early next week aimed at bolstering the Afghan government. However spokesman Crowley said interaction between Clinton and her Iranian counterpart in Kabul is doubtful.

GlobeandMail: It’s a crime to be a woman in Iran

Margaret Wente

Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, the Iranian mother who was convicted of adultery and sentenced to death by stoning, is still alive, for now – saved by an international outcry of revulsion against state barbarism. But the story isn’t over. She’s still on death row. Once the heat dies down, the regime may simply choose to hang her, instead.

“This regime has taken so many lives,” says Maryam Namazie, an Iranian human-rights campaigner who now lives in London. “There’s got to be a time when it stops.”

The Tabriz prison where Sakineh is locked up contains 200 other death-row cases, according to Ms. Namazie. Thirty-five are women who face death by stoning. One is Maryam Baagherzaade, 25, who has been in jail for the past four years. Her execution has been postponed because she got pregnant while on a short leave from prison. The regime usually waits to kill pregnant women until after they’ve had their babies.

Then there’s Azar Bagheri, 19. She was 14 when she was forced into an unwanted marriage. Her husband later pressed charges against her, claiming that she didn’t love him and that she had had a relationship with another man. She was arrested, convicted of having sex out of wedlock, and sentenced to death by stoning when she was only 15. She has been subjected to mock stoning on two occasions – buried up to her chest and threatened with death unless she co-operated. The death-row inmates include children, adolescents and 18 people who’ve been sentenced to hang for homosexuality. Last week, a 16-year-old girl killed herself in her cell to escape hanging.

Even a suntan constitutes a crime against Islam. “The public expects us to act firmly and swiftly if we see any social misbehaviour by women, and men, who defy our Islamic values,” Tehran’s police chief, Hossein Sajedinia, announced in April. “In some areas of north Tehran, we can see many suntanned women and young girls who look like walking mannequins. We are not going to tolerate this situation and will first warn those found in this manner and then arrest and imprison them.”

As Ms. Namazie puts it: “It’s a crime to be a woman in Iran.”

You might think the regime’s habit of murdering women for imaginary crimes would earn it universal condemnation – especially from places such as the United Nations. You would be wrong. In April, Iran was given a seat on the UN Commission on the Status of Women, whose goal is “gender equality and the advancement of women.” No one explained how stoning women to death advances gender equality. This is a moral inversion so twisted that it defies satire. If you still harbour any illusion that the UN is truly interested in the rights of women, please abandon it now.

Iran’s ludicrous appointment was a consolation prize for its failure, despite fierce lobbying, to gain a seat on the UN Human Rights Council. That would not have been as bizarre as it sounds, given that its members include the rights-conscious nation of Saudi Arabia. The Human Rights Council is dominated by a bloc of Islamic and African states that refuse to condemn Iran for anything. Instead, the council spends most of its time denouncing Israel and the United States. “It’s tragic,” says Ms. Namazie, who fled Iran in 1980. “It’s like asking apartheid South Africa to sit on the commission for racial equality.”

Some Western feminist groups have been conspicuously silent on stoning and other quaint Iranian customs. They’re so fearful of being tainted by Americans and neo-cons that they’d rather say nothing. The same is true of “moderate” Muslim groups in the West.

For years, the fight for Iranian women’s rights has been led by a tireless group of advocates such as Ms. Namazie and Mina Ahadi, who now lives in Germany. Ms. Ahadi narrowly escaped death for campaigning against forced Islamic dress codes. (Her husband was executed.) “When we organize events worldwide, when we protest worldwide, and, in particular, when we contact European governments, and these governments put pressure on the Islamic regime in Iran, sometimes we have a chance,” she told CNN.

The conviction of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani was based on false evidence, her lawyer and her two children insist. She already received 99 lashes. When their efforts to plead for her life proved fruitless, her son appealed to Western-based activists for help – a high-risk move that brought a summons to visit the police. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch took up the case. Women from Norway to Canada, including Indigo Books CEO Heather Reisman, launched Internet petitions. Ms. Reisman’s petition, which she started 11 days ago, has already gathered more than 100,000 signatures. (You can find it at

The Iranian regime strenuously depicts Western protests as an assault on Iran and Islamic values. So how much good do these petitions really do? Those who follow Iranian affairs say they do have an impact. Stoning is hugely unpopular inside Iran, and Iranians do not like their country to be portrayed as medievally barbaric. Support from outside also energizes those inside Iran who are struggling with the regime.

“The commotion that the Western media has started in connection with this case will not affect our judges’ views,” insisted one Iranian official. “The execution of Islamic religious laws on [such things as] death by stoning, hijab and inheritance has always faced their audacious animosity and, basically, any issue which hints of religious law is always opposed by them.”

But thanks to the tireless efforts of women such as Maryam Namazie, Mina Ahadi, Shirin Ebadi and others, Sakineh is still alive. So long as it’s a crime to be a woman in Iran, they’re not going to stop. Neither should the rest of us.

AFP: Iran denying medical treatment to prisoners: rights groups

NICOSIA — More than a year after a crackdown over a disputed presidential election Iran is still holding more than 100 political prisoners and denying them basic rights such as medical treatment, two international rights groups said on Friday.

"More than 100 political prisoners are still being held in Iranian jails in inhuman and degrading conditions. Their most basic rights are being violated, starting with the right to adequate medical treatment, Amnesty International and Reporters Without Borders said in a joint statement.

"These conditions have had a considerable physical and psychological impact on their health and most of them are ill," the statement said.

The organisations said they believed medical treatment was being denied to prisoners to "put pressure on them and their families."

The June 2009 re-election of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad triggered widespread protests, with the opposition charging that the voting was massively rigged in favour of the hardliner.

Iranian authorities cracked down heavily on protesters. Dozens were killed in clashes, hundreds wounded and thousands arrested, including top reformists, political activists and journalists.

Of those arrested, dozens have been put on trials and sentenced to varying sentences. Ten protesters have even been sentenced to death in verdicts severely criticised by international human rights groups.

Last month an Iranian military court sentenced two men to death in connection with the deaths of at least three anti-government protesters in Tehran's notorious Kahrizak prison, according to Iranian media reports.

The rights groups said that according to information obtained from prisoners' families and published media reports in Iran "many prisoners of conscience have had heart attacks or other cardiac problems in different prisons, especially Evin and Raja?i Shahr."

Denying adequate medical treatment to prisoners contravenes Iran's own prison regulations, as well as several international treaties, they said.

Saturday, 10 July 2010

Asharq Al Awsat: Asharq Al-Awsat Visits the PJAK

Asharq Al-Awsat ExclusiveBy Sherezad Sheikhani

Asharq Al-Awsat, Qandil Mountains - For the past two years the Kurdistan Regional Government [KRG] has imposed a complete media blackout on the Qandil Mountains in compliance with Turkish pressure; therefore no news media has been able to reach this area. However Asharq Al-Awsat's insistence upon receiving the news it conveys from first-hand and reliable sources caused it to attempt the perilous journey to reach this region. Asharq Al-Awsat reached the Qandil Mountains via an unofficial route which was used in the past by local smugglers travelling to and from Iran. The path was extremely rough, and it took almost an hour to reach the Qandil Mountains. Asharq Al-Awsat was concerned with one thing in particular, and that is confirming the KRG's claims that it is militarily impossible to eradicate the Kurdistan Workers' Party [PKK] fighters, and Free Life Party of Kurdistan [PJAK] fighters from this area. Approaching the PJAK stronghold in the Qandil Mountains, Asharq Al-Awsat can confirm that the roads in this area cannot be used by military vehicles, and that for the most part pack animals, specifically mules, are utilized to deliver food and supplies to the headquarters of these two movements.

Asharq Al-Awsat met with the PJAK commander Shirzad Kamanger at the movement's headquarters in the Qandil Mountains, and immediately asked him "Iran is using the pretext of your presence to shell areas of Iraqi Kurdistan, and in journalism we must cite the location where this interview took place, however this is something that we also fear to do as we do not want to cause you any trouble, especially since you say that you do not launch anti-Iranian activities from Kurdish territory, so how do you think we can solve this dilemma?"

Commander Kamanger replied "Don't worry. It is true that we are present close to the PKK in the Qandil Mountains, and this mountain links the borders of Iran, Iraq and Turkey and has long been a centre for Kurdish revolutions and a stronghold for revolutionary forces. In principle we do not recognize artificial borders drawn by the forces of imperialism and colonialism and countries hostile to the Kurdish people. However in spite of this, let me confirm to you that we do not use this territory for military operations against Iran or Turkey. This is our political headquarters, and as you see, we are not in a certain village, but we constructed these huts in an isolated and remote area, and the only operations or activity that we conduct here is political. As for our forces, they are present inside the Iranian border, in Ilam, Kermanshah, Mukryan, Khoy, Radaya, and Salmas, which are all areas located within 100 km of the Iraqi border."

From the press coverage of PJAK military operations, Asharq Al-Awsat noticed that PJAK's military operations against the Iranian regime primarily take place deep inside Iran, and until now PJAK has not launched any military attack [against Iran] in the border region, or within the territory of Iraqi Kurdistan. Asharq Al-Awsat also noticed that the PJAK headquarters in the Qandil Mountains was nothing more than three mud houses build under the cover of trees to prevent it from being targeted from the air, and that at the time of this interview no more than 10 figures could be seen inside the PJAK headquarters, the majority of whom being women fighters.

The Free Life Party of Kurdistan or PJAK has been fighting a bitter struggle against Iran since its foundation in 2004. Speaking about the circumstances surrounding the establishment of the party, Commander Kamanger told Asharq Al-Awsat that "the Kurdish people were in need of a revolutionary party that put forward a new vision for revolutionary activity, for the classical parties in the struggle failed to make any gains for the people, while day after day Iran continued to intensify its antagonistic policy against the Kurdish people with regards to arrests, execution campaigns, and torture in prison. Due to such circumstances we decided to establish a new party to fill the existing vacuum. We extensively benefited from the experiences of other Kurdish parties in the other parts of Kurdistan. This is what helped us achieve many military victories against the Iranian organs of repression and against its army, and this began to impose a new reality in the arena of Iranian Kurdistan."

The Kurdish commander stressed that his party is no rival to the revolutionary parties that exist within Iran, and he also denied that PJAK is a wing of the PKK. In response to a question by Asharq Al-Awsat as to whether PJAK is the Iranian wing of the PKK, as the majority of political and intelligence experts claim, Kamanger responded by saying "we adopt the philosophy, ideas, and approach of the leader Apo [in reference to PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan]…but we are not a wing or a part of the PKK. We are the same as any other communist party that adopts the Marxist ideology, and these include Maoism, Leninist, and other parties, however the unifying factor is Marxism." He reiterated "we share the same ideology and viewpoint with the PKK, but are not a part of it. We are linked to the PKK in terms of our shared struggle, as we are with other Kurdish parties. We are also prepared to defend this party, or any part of greater Kurdistan, if it is subject to threat or danger, but we are now concentrating our operations in the western part of Kurdistan, which is the Iranian part."

Asharq Al-Awsat also asked Kamanger "Iran and Turkey disagree about everything, except for their hostility towards PJAK and the PKK, and you say that there is cooperation and coordination between Ankara and Tehran in their war on these two groups. So why are you so embarrassed about admitting that PJAK and the PKK are both different wings of the same party?"

Kamanger answered "we are not embarrassed at saying this publicly, however unfortunately there is some ambiguity in the public's view of us, and there confusion surrounding the true nature of our party. The PKK is entitled to call for a unified Kurdistan, and it is free to raise any slogan that it chooses, including the slogan of liberating Greater Kurdistan. However we in the PJAK look at the current situation realistically and we are well aware that the international situation do not allow for this dream to be fulfilled. We believe in the philosophy and ideology of leader Apo, but there is no organic link between us and the PKK, we are fighting in the eastern part [of greater Kurdistan] and have adopted an approach that is different from the approach followed by others. Our situation in Iran is different…as it the nature of the regime [we are fighting against]. As I said, we have ideology, however from the political and organizational viewpoint, there is no connection between us [PJAK] and them [PKK]."

Asharq Al-Awsat also asked Kamanger "Does the PJAK have fighters from other areas of Kurdistan, i.e. Turkish Kurdistan, Iraqi Kurdistan, etc?"

Kamanger acknowledged that PJAK included fighters from many different regions of Kurdistan, although he stressed that "our struggle is centred in Iranian Kurdistan, but if the interests of the Kurdish people in any other part of Kurdistan were under threat or in danger, we would not hesitate to defend them. Do you think we would accept another Halabja [poison gas attack under Saddam Hussein] to take place in Iraqi Kurdistan? Should we accept new crimes of genocide being committed against our people in any other part of Kurdistan? Of course this is unacceptable, because we – in principle – do not accept artificial borders, and we consider the Kurdish people to be one. Accordingly, we have repeatedly called for the unification of the Kurdish people, and we will continue to call for this unity to confront the regimes that seek to eliminate our national existence."

As for whether PJAK represent a problem for the KRG leadership, Kamanger told Asharq Al-Awsat "I don't think so; we monitor what is happening in the Kurdistan region. There are some parties that view our presence as a problem, but the Kurdish people do not view us like this, and in fact we believe that public awareness in the region has reached an advanced stage, and this is something that we can sense in the local media. When Iran executed a number of our party members recently, we found widespread public condemnation from our people in southern Kurdistan, and the people of Kurdistan have demonstrated deep sympathy towards us."

However Asharq Al-Awsat pointed out that PJAK's presence must represent a problem because the Kurdistan region is constitutionally a part of Iraq, and so PJAK's military operations against Iran violate international law, and are being used by Tehran as a pretext to bombard the Kurdistan region, something that only increases the tension between Iran and Iraq. The PJAK commander responded to this by saying "Firstly, let me tell you that anybody who considers our presence here a problem is fooling himself because the military attacks and the shelling and bombardment are not targeting PJAK or the PKK. There were Iranian military operations and shelling and bombardment prior to the establishment of our party in 2004, were we also the cause of this? In spite of this, we are aware of the KRG's concern, and we are trying not to cause it any problems, and are taking into account the domestic and regional situation. However it would be a mistake for the KRG to consider us a cause of the problems, and this is something that would lead them to make other mistakes. We should also not forget that Iran today is flagrantly interfering in all Iraqi affairs, and it even has a hand in the formation of the Iraqi government…and so Iran has a considerable influence in Iraq. Therefore why should we be surprised by its attempts to put pressure on the KRG leadership through bombardment and military operations, and then place the blame for this on us? I have already said that we do not undertake any military operations whatsoever from the Kurdistan region."

As for the recent events within Iran, from the public protests, and PJAK's role in this, Kamanger said "what happened in Iran last year was a turning point in the public's uprising against the Islamic regime, and this is an important development that has not been seen in thirty years. The problem is that this uprising was lacking in unified or qualified leadership to lead this popular movement, and so it faded. As for our role as an opposition party, we in principle do not believe in the slogans or approach of coup d'état, despite the fact that the Iranian regime lost its legitimacy due to the protests [against it] whether this is the negative protests, or the people taking to the streets. We believe that fundamental change should come from the people, however the people need leadership, and the Iranian popular movement is suffering from a lack of this, for without this [leadership], the desired change is impossible to achieve."

Asharq Al-Awsat mentioned the presence of opposition leaders Mir Hussein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, to which the PJAK commander responded that "Mousavi and Karroubi are part of the regime. It is true that they have a definite desire to achieve change, but they failed to attract the Iranian street, and to lead the protests. It is true that this began initially as objection to Ahmadinejad's candidacy, but in essence this was targeting the heart of the regime. As I said before, the problem of this [protest] movement was in the lack of a unified and qualified leadership…and this is what caused this movement to fade. This is why we called for a large national front to be formed that includes all Iranian political forces to lead the upcoming stage [of protests]."

As for the Iranian troops who were deployed along the border, and whether he expects Iran to launch a military offensive against the PKK and PJAK, Kamanger told Asharq Al-Awsat that "the troops continue to have a presence along the border, and the recent bombardment and military penetration is a message to the world, and Iran flexing its muscles at a time that it is facing international pressures due to its nuclear project." Kamanger also said that "I would like to say that PJAK, as a party, have not until now declared war on Iran, rather it was Iran who declared war on us. Iran is attempting – by winning over Turkey to this war – to change the regional balance and make its presence felt in the region in order to draw the world's attention to the border region. The other goal from this Iranian military action is to weaken the Kurdish influence in Baghdad, for Iran is trying to weaken the KRG in order force it to side with the Shiites. Notice that with the crisis over the formation of the Iraqi government in Baghdad, the Iranian forces began its bombardment that reaches the point of military infiltration. Believe me, the feeble excuse about our presence [causing this] are not credible. As I said, our military activities are primarily centred within Iran, so why doesn't Iran attack our forces within its territory, especially as they located in Kermanshah, Ilam, Khoy, Salmas, and elsewhere. We are present in these areas, so the Iranian's should bombard our sites there, instead of deploying to the border and shelling civilians in order to put pressure on the KRG. Are you aware that Iran shelled buildings belonging to the Kurdistan Democratic Party that is led by Mr. [Massoud] Barzani? Are we present inside the headquarters of this party?"

The PJAK commander also told Asharq Al-Awsat that "Iran is attempting to draw Turkey into the war along the border, in an attempt to draw Turkey away from American influence and its anti-Iranian policies. Everybody knows that it would be backbreaking for Iran if Turkey were to abandon it at this particular stage because Iran does not have any other ally other than Turkey. Therefore by making sweet promises about exterminating the PKK that opposes it to Turkey, it is attempting to involve Turkey in a joint war against this party [PKK] and our party [PJAK] as well. We believe that if Iran is successful in this, this would be something that threatens the very existence of the Kurdistan region as a whole. Iran is trying to win over Turkey by showing its willingness to eradicate the PKK from the Qandil Mountains, but image that we and the PKK did not have any presence in the Qandil Mountains, wouldn't it have turned into a stronghold for extremist Islamist parties Ansar al-Islam. This would be extremely likely, and the presence of such extremist parties would be a major threat on the Kurdistan region, and our current presence [in the Qandil Mountains] is what prevents this from happening, and protects the Kurdistan region from the evils of extremist Islamist parties."

Asharq Al-Awsat also asked commander Kamanger "Turkey is waging a fierce war – with US support – against the PKK, and this has resulted in the PKK being placed on the list of international terrorist organizations, and caused the movement to have financing problems. Since Turkey is a US ally, while the US considers Iran an enemy, why doesn't the PJAK attempt to take advantage of this and establish relations with the US in favour of your agenda?

Kamanger answered by saying "We principally rely upon domestic support from our people, but this does not preclude us from extending our hands to any country or power that wants to help us to achieve democratic change in Iran. Although many of our revolutions have fallen victim to international interests, we are prepared to enter into negotiations with any country that wants to help us, and the US was among the countries that was seeking to do this, however the negotiations between us failed after the first meeting between us and them because of the conditions they wanted to impose on us, something that we completely rejected."

As for the specifics of these conditions, Kamanger told Asharq Al-Awsat "The US wanted to use us as pawns in its war against Iran, using us at any time that it wants, but we rejected this, because we are nobody's servants, except for our people who back us."

Asharq Al-Awsat reminded the PJAK commander that the situation is now different, and that PJAK originally met with the Americans in 2004, when Iran did not possess such a large influence in Iraq, and when Iran was not such a source of trouble to the international community as a whole. Asharq Al-Awsat asked Kamanger if there was any possibility of PJAK reconsidering its possession and agreeing to cooperate with the US today. He answered "it is true that the political situation [today] is different than the previous stage, but do not forget that the US has placed our party on the US Treasury Department's list of terrorist groups at a time that it also considers Iran to be a terrorist country. Our party is struggling to fulfil the wishes of our people, and this is something that is guaranteed by international law. We blame the international media for ignoring our party and its political activities. We changed our political rhetoric some time ago, and we now believe that Iran's problems are not just due to its nuclear project or the threat it represents to the world, and there are a number of problems that we are suffering in Iran due to the current Iranian regime; there is the problem of democracy, human rights, women's rights, and the rights of minorities, and therefore anybody who wants to help us to achieve our goals and solve our internal problems is very welcome. Our doors are open to everyone, but without imposing preconditions for cooperation."

In answer to a question about the reason why PJAK leader Abdul Rahman Haji Ahmadi – who was recently subject to attempts to secure his arrest and extradition – has not returned to Kurdistan to lead the party's struggle, Kamanger told Asharq Al-Awsat that "some people are ignorant of the nature of the leadership in our party. In our party we rely upon group leadership, and Ahmadi is present in Europe to lead the political activity. Europe is important to us, especially in managing our diplomatic affairs and relations. Whereas here [in Kurdistan] we have a military leadership that is leading the party's struggle, and we both compliment and complete each other. If we thought that there was a need for Ahmadi to return, he would definitely do so, but we prefer that he remains there [in Europe] now to lead the political component of the party."

As for the issue of foreign aid, and the accusations that PJAK are receiving assistance from Israel, the PJAK commander told Asharq Al-Awsat that "this has always been a prepared accusation, and something that people attribute their political and military failures to. We in the Kurdish movement have gotten used to such accusations that label us as being agents [for another power], or wanting to secede…however we are not in need of military aid from any country. This is because we live in the Middle East, and it is easy for anybody here to purchase any kind of weapon he wants. For instance, in Iraq one can buy any weapon one desires, we are nobody's servants, and this is why we refuse any cooperation that comes with preconditions. We rely on our own people, although we do not rule out cooperating with any country or party that supports our legitimate struggle."