Thursday, 18 November 2010

Guardian: Iran charges two German journalists with spying over Ashtiani case

Pair 'confess' on state TV after interviewing son of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, the woman sentenced to death by stoning

Two German journalists have been charged with spying against Iran after interviewing the family of the woman sentenced to death by stoning, an Iranian judicial official said today.
The two women, who were identified only as a reporter and a photographer, were arrested in the city of Tabriz last month after interviewing the son of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani.
Malekajdar Sharifi, the head of the judiciary in East Azerbaijan province, said today that spying charges have been formally lodged against them.
The semi-official Fars News Agency quoted him as saying: "The espionage charge for the two German citizens who came to Iran to stage propaganda and spying has been approved."
According to Iran's English-language broadcaster, Press TV, he added: "These two women are certainly spies and their case will be addressed [in a court of law]."
Sharifi said their behaviour suggested they were spies and that they were trying to create a negative impression against Iran. Germany has said it is doing all it can to secure their release.
The two women appeared on state TV last night to "confess" they had been acting under the orders of the German-based International Committee Against Stoning (Icas) to publicise Ashtiani's case.
Appearing on TV for the third time since her case caught the world's attention, Ashtiani, 43, also accused Mina Ahadi from Icas of spreading her story around the world.
The broadcast, on Iran's Channel 2, portrayed Ahadi as "a communist dissident exiled in Germany", who had taken advantage of Ashtiani's case for her own benefit.
In the broadcast the two Germans admitted "illegal acts". One of them said: "Mina Ahadi sent me to Iran because she knew she would benefit from my arrest and I'll sue her when I get back to Germany."
The sentence of stoning against Ashtiani, for alleged adultery, has prompted international outrage.
The sentence was suspended in July this year, but the Iranian courts have since indicated that they could consider hanging her for her alleged involvement in the murder of her husband. Ashtiani's lawyers insist she is innocent.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

PA: UK dismisses Iran arrests claim

The Government has accused Iran of a "long line of slurs" amid claims four people with links to Britain had been arrested.

Iran claimed it had arrested four people suspected to be members of a British-linked terror cell blamed for at least five killings since 2008.

But a Foreign and Commonwealth Office spokeswoman dismissed the report as "baseless".
She said: "The UK does not support or encourage terrorist activity in Iran, or anywhere else in the world, and this claim will be seen as what it is: another in a long line of slurs against the United Kingdom from the government of Iran."

Iran's intelligence ministry claimed the four men were part of an Iranian Kurdish rebel faction known as Komala, the Associated Press reported.

The group has been accused of launching sporadic attacks for decades in a campaign for Kurdish autonomy.

The arrested men, said to be based in northern Iraq, reportedly received orders from a Komala commander who lives in Britain.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Herald Scotland: Scotland’s Baha’i community calls for support

26 Oct 2010

“It was not long after Ayatollah Khomeini came to power that the real trouble started.

My husband was arrested, tortured and killed and then they arrested me too,” Mehrangiz Moayyad says.
The Iranian woman is in her council home in a quiet Aberdeen estate recalling traumatic events in her homeland from nearly 30 years ago and explaining how she and her family were persecuted for their religious beliefs.

Mrs Moayyad is a follower of the Baha’i faith, a religion dating from 1844, with five million followers in 235 countries. There are an estimated 300,000 followers in Iran and around 6000 in the UK. The central idea of the faith is one of unity and followers believe people should work together for the common benefit of humanity.

“Its founder, Baha’u’llah, was the latest in a line of divinely inspired prophets that included Moses and Jesus. Baha’u’llah said he was a prophet of God so in Iran, Baha’is are viewed as heretics because Mohammed, who founded Islam, declared himself to be the last and final prophet of God centuries earlier,” Mrs Moayyad explains.

Baha’is have always faced discrimination in Iran but the situation deteriorated following the ascension to power in 1979 of Khomeini, the hard-line Shiite Muslim and Iranian political leader.

In 1982, Mrs Moayyad’s husband, Menouchehr, a prominent banker, was arrested by the police and ordered to publicly renounce his faith. Although the alternative was torture and possible death, Menouchehr refused to embrace Islam as instructed.

“He was jailed and I visited him in prison every week. They eventually killed him. I remember a sympathetic guard let me see his body afterwards. It was horrific. His fingers had been removed and there was a hole through his nose and he had been shot in the stomach. His face was contorted with the pain,” she says.

In 1985, Mrs Moayyad herself was detained and tortured in Tehran’s Ghasr Prison for five months, but she too refused to renounce the Baha’i faith and was then sentenced to death by hanging by a religious court.

“Tradition has it that a woman must put the noose around her own neck but I’d been so maltreated in prison I was seriously ill and unable to stand. They sent me to a hospital for blood transfusions and vitamin treatment so I could be executed. I managed to escape and went into hiding before getting out of the country. I travelled to the UK via Pakistan and claimed political asylum in 1986,” Mrs Moayyad says.

She spoke to The Herald after Iran recently sentenced seven Baha’i leaders to 20 years in prison in a move that provoked outrage around the world.

The seven – Fariba Kamalabadi, Jamaloddin Khanjani, Afif Naeimi, Saeid Rezaie, Mahvash Sabet, Behrouz Tavakkoli, and Vahid Tizfahm – were all senior members of Iran’s 300,000-strong Baha’i community. They were accused of propaganda activities against the Islamic order and the establishment of an illegal administration. All the charges were denied.

Foreign Secretary William Hague and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton were among world leaders who condemned the verdict, which Amnesty International described as “a sad and damning manifestation of the deeply rooted discrimination against Baha’is by the Iranian authorities”.

Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa deputy director, says: “These Baha’i leaders, some of whom are elderly, are prisoners of conscience jailed on account of their beliefs or peaceful activities on behalf of the persecuted Baha’i minority. They were held for months without charge before being subjected to a parody of a trial.”

Scotland’s Baha’i community has embarked on a series of protests to raise awareness of the problems facing their religion in Iran and held a vigil outside Glasgow’s St Mungo Museum of Religious Life and Art in September. They also put a motion to the Scottish Parliament, supported by religious leaders. Scotland’s Catholic leader, Cardinal Keith O’Brien, said: “I regard what has happened as being a most appalling transgression of justice and a gross violation of the human right of freedom of belief.”

UN General Secretary, Ban Ki-moon, also expressed strong concern over Iran’s persecution of Iranian Baha’is in a new report.

The Iranian authorities deny anyone is persecuted for their religious beliefs and claim those in prison have been tried fairly.

Repression for all religious minorities in Iran has worsened since the presidential elections of 2005 and in particular after the disputed election last year. 

It would appear that international pressure on Iran has had some impact, as prison sentences for the seven Baha’is leaders have reportedly been reduced from 20 to 10 years, according to their lawyers.

AFP: Iran hangs 'satanic' man

Worthy News: Iranian Christian Dies After Being Beaten by Relative

By Marshall Ramsey II, Worthy News Correspondent

TEHRAN, IRAN (Worthy News)-- A believer with a Muslim Background (BMB) died in Iran after being severely beaten by a relative, according to Christian Human rights group.

According to Middle East Concern, he left behind a wife and two young children.  Due to security concerns to the surviving family, the man's name was not able to be released.

A number of Christians continue to be held in jail in Iran for their faith in Jesus Christ. According to Farsi Christian News Network, three of 15 believers arrested near Mashhad on July 8th of this year are still in detention. They are under pressure to renounce their faith in Jesus Christ, but have refused to do so.

In the city of Ahvaz, another believer, the assistant pastor of a fellowship, remains detained after having been arrested during a raid on his home July 24th. His wife and daughter were also arrested and detained, but were released shortly after.

According to a report on Iranian State television in early September, nine Christians were arrested in the town of Hamedan on charges of evangelism. Any religion other than Islam is forbidden in Iran.

VOA: More Descrimination In Iran

The government of Iran's discriminatory gender laws across the social, judicial, and economic spectrum have been under a spotlight in recent years, thanks to the peaceful, grassroots efforts by Iranian women's rights activists who are working to overturn them.  Those activists have educated their countrymen and the world at large about how Iranian laws treat women like second class citizens and promote discrimination against them.

Yet one area in which Iranian women seemed to have thwarted any societal or legal discrimination has been in university attendance: until recently, between 60 to 65 percent of all university students in Iran were women.

Now, however, that has changed, according to the head of Iran's Research and Planning Organization of Higher Studies.  Massoud Hadian Dehkordi says there are currently 3,790,859 university students in the country, of which 50.5 percent are men and about 49.5 percent are women.

This announcement follows an Iranian government proposal to implement quotas limiting the admission of female students to many university programs, particularly in science and technology, and capping them at 50 percent. Iranian women's rights activist Shadi Sadr told RFE/RL's Radio Farda that the government's effort to impose quotas has been successful. "A limit is being imposed on the number of women who want to study in fields that are considered manly or the government believes that is more [important] for men to study these courses than women," she said.

Recently, the World Economic Forum published its annual Global Gender Gap Report in which it assesses the size and scope of gender inequality in the areas of economic participation, education, political empowerment and health in 134 countries.  Iran ranked near the bottom of the index of nations:  number 123 out of 134.  And that was with the old numbers for university attendance by Iranian women compared with men.  The report also noted that Iran is one of only three countries -- Saudi Arabia and Mali are the others -- which has little or no legislation punishing acts of violence against women.

Iran's dynamic and talented women deserve better. As Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says, "Discrimination against women is a violation of human rights, and equality for women is not only a matter of justice – it is a political, economic and strategic imperative. The world cannot make progress if women are denied the opportunity to fulfill their God-given potential."

RFERL: Rights Group Says Secret Executions In Iranian Prison Continue

The International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran (ICHRI) says authorities at a prison in eastern Iran are continuing to carry out secret executions, RFE/RL's Radio Farda reports.

According to the New York-based group, 13 prisoners at Vakilabad prison in the city of Mashhad were secretly hanged on October 5, and 10 more were hanged on October 12. It said the families and lawyers of those executed were not notified beforehand, which constitutes a violation of Iranian law.
ICHRI Executive Director and spokesman Hadi Ghaemi told Radio Farda on November 1 that the executions of 23 prisoners in Vakilabad prison are the most recent he has been informed about by prisoners still able to communicate with the outside world.

He estimated the number of prisoners clandestinely executed in Vakilabad in recent months to be in the hundreds. Ghaemi also said the authorities are trying to hide the ongoing executions by switching the venue and other changes.

"Even the places where executions used to be carried out have been changed; but as the number of executions is high, such cover-ups cannot go on," Ghaemi said.

Ghaemi said he believes the recent executions are being kept secret because the number is so high. He said if the current trend continues, the number of executions in Vakiliabad alone could come close to the annual total for the entire country.

Amnesty International estimates that at least 388 people were put to death in Iran in 2009.

Ghaemi said the identity of those hanged and the crimes they committed are not known with any certainty, but it is believed that most were convicted for drug-related crimes.

Ghaemi cited what he termed a "worrying" statement by Iran's chief prosecutor, Gholamhossein Mohseni-Ejei, who said most drug traffickers who are arrested are not key figures in the drug trade, but their minions.

VOA: Iranian Plans to Execute Woman for Adultery Unclear

An Iranian demonstrator holds a picture of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani as she protests in front of the EU Council in Brussels. About 50 protestors asked for action from the EU to save Ashtiani from being stoned to death in Iran, 3 Nov 2010.

Recent reports have warned that Iran was preparing to execute Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, the woman sentenced to be stoned for adultery.  But her lawyer tells VOA he believes the information is incorrect. And French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner also says he has received assurances that there are no immediate plans to execute the woman.

Recently the case of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, who was sentenced by the Iranian judiciary to be stoned to death for adultery, has again made headlines in the West, with reports saying she would soon be executed.

Human-rights groups and ordinary citizens who sympathize with her plight protested her case in many Western cities, earlier this year.

Ashtiani's son and daughter attracted the attention of Western news organizations to their mother's sentence, complaining it was unjust and urging Iran to review it. Then Brazilian President Ignacio Lula da Silva even offered Ashtiani asylum in his country if Iran would accept.

Last July, Iranian TV tried to justify the sentence, interviewing Ashtiani, who claimed to be guilty.  In the interview she even begged Iranian authorities to hang her.  Both her family and her former attorney Mohammed Mostafaei insisted that she had "confessed" under "extreme duress."

Attorney Mohammed Mostafaei, who lives in exile in Norway, tells VOA he contacted a number of Iranian judiciary officials recently and was told a report that Sakineh Ashtiani would be hanged soon was not correct.

"This news was wrong.  I called my friends in Iran ...  I have some friends in the Iranian judiciary in Tabriz and I talked about this news and they said the news is not true and they informed me that there is not any hanging execution in Sakineh's case.  There is only a stoning punishment," Mostafaei said.

In addition to the woman's lawyer, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner says he received assurances from Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki that no final verdict has been reached in the woman's case.

Hadi Ghaemi of the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran says the Iranian judiciary had "stepped up its executions" at Mashhad's Vakilabad prison, but he has been "unable to confirm" reports Ashtiani was about to be hanged.  He said at least 23 prisoners were reportedly hanged in recent days, without any announcement by Iranian judicial authorities.

Ghaemi says Iran has "doubled the number of executions it normally conducts" in recent months and is now second only to China in its per-capita execution rate.

The head of Iran's official human-rights organization, Mohammed Larijani, recently insisted Tehran is being "unfairly targeted" for its human-rights abuses.  He claimed, "Abuses in Iranian prisons are only isolated cases."

Families of Iranian political prisoners, as well as former political prisoners, have repeatedly complained to VOA about the appalling conditions in many Iranian prisons, including Tehran's Evin Prison and Rajai Shahr prison in Karaj.  A facility at Kahrizak was ordered closed after several young detainees were reportedly tortured to death in 2009.

One Iranian political prisoner who wrote an open letter, earlier this year, describing his conditions of detention at the overcrowded Rajai Shahr prison in Karaj, described life there as a "hell and human catastrophe."

He wrote of "naked and sweaty bodies, red with lice bites," living amid "dirty, polluted air, the smell of rotten trash, sewage from clogged toilets, dried vomit from food poisoning, and mucus from infected throats."

BBC: US lists Iran group Jundullah as terrorists


The US has announced it is designating the Iranian militant group Jundullah as a terrorist organisation.

The state department said Jundullah had killed and maimed scores of Iranian civilians and government officials since its inception in 2003.

The group says it wants Iran to respect the human rights, culture and faith of the ethnic Baluch people.

It said it was behind a mosque bombing in the city of Zahedan in July that killed 28 people.

Jundullah (Soldiers of God) operates primarily in Sistan-Baluchistan province.
'Horrific attack'
The State Department terrorist designation said: "Jundallah uses a variety of terrorist tactics, including suicide bombings, ambushes, kidnappings and targeted assassinations."

The designation as terrorists means a ban on anyone "knowingly providing material support or resources to Jundullah".
Mourners shouted anti-US slogans at funerals for July's Zahedan bomb victims
Jundullah said it had carried out the mosque bombing in the south-eastern city of Zahedan - which targeted members of the elite Revolutionary Guards Corps - in revenge for the hanging of its leader Abdolmalek Rigi in June.

At the time US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton condemned the "horrific attack" and called for the perpetrators to be held accountable.
Zahedan is the capital city of Sistan-Baluchistan province, which borders Afghanistan and Pakistan and is prone to unrest.

Correspondents say there is resentment in the mainly Sunni area against perceived discrimination by Iran's Shia establishment.