Saturday, 26 March 2011

UNPO: Minority Rights Required if Iranian Democracy Movement is to Succeed

In light of the recent revolutions in the Middle East, Iranian writer Yousef Azizi Benitorof discusses what is needed if Iran is to follow Egypt and Tunisia’s paths.

Below is an article published by Shahrvand:
For a few days, or few hours, depending on how engrossed you were in the events, the entire world was Tunisian, then Egyptian and now Libyan?

Youth from all over the region looked to the Middle East and thought that today is a good day to be Arab.
For Iranians the youth-led pro-democracy movements in the Arab world injected a new energy into the streets of Esfahan, Mashad, Shiraz and Tehran. Once again Iranians took to the streets with newly minted slogans inspired by the streets of Cairo.

Slogans like: “Mobarak, Ben Ali, nobate Seyed Ali” which translates to Mobarak (Hosni Mubarak the ousted Egyptian President), Ben Ali (Zine El Abidine Ben Ali the fallen president of Tunisia) now it’s Seyed Ali’s turn, a reference to Seyed Ali Khamenei the current (soon to be former) Supreme Leader of Iran.
In Tehranto [sic] we also rallied in solidarity with the people of Iran, this time we were armed with new placards and slogans connecting the revolutions in Tunisia and Tahrir to the mobilizations in the streets of Tehran.

It seemed that for a brief moment historical fissured between Iranians and Arabs were set aside as Iranian youth and Arab youth were united in their struggle for democracy against tyrannical dictators.

I even received a Facebook message from a young Iranian looking for contacts in Egypt to do an interview for a student publication.

Sure for those of you who are Canadian, American, or European, this unity between Iranians and the Arab world seems natural. After all, EYE-RAN, EYE-RAQ what’s the diff right?

But for Iranians we have the Iran/Iraq war, the Sunni/Shia divide, and the legacy of the Arab invasions in the sixth century. We hold a grudge.

But all that seemed ancient history as Iranian youth in Toronto enthusiastically chanted slogans of solidarity with Tunisia and Egypt.

And then it happed, a middle-aged man, in his fifties or sixties perhaps, waving an Iranian flag from days gone by, chanted: “Nasl-e man Aria, Din az Siasat Joda.” Which loosely translates to “My Origin is Arian, Religion and Politics must be separated.”

Now you have to know a thing or two about Iranians to understand the impact of this slogan. The second part about separating religion from politics was a no brainer; we were all in support of that. But the first part . . .

You see for the outsider, it’s easy to see Iranians in Tehranto as a monolithic bunch.

To the untrained Westernized eye we all look and sound fairy similar, a nondescript brown crowd of prominent noses and arched brows.

It’s only when you look closer, when you become an insider that you start seeing the fractures, fragments and factions in the community.

When you know the language you can discern the various accents and intonations, and that’s where the discrimination and racism begins.

The slogan was a reference to the idea of Iran as a community of Arians, which deliberately excludes Iranian-Arabs, Iranian-Turkemans, Iranian-Kurds, Iranian-Azari’s, and Iranian-Baluchs to name a few.

In short the chant was asking for an Iran that did not include over thirty five percent of its population.

According to Yousef Azizi Benitorof an Arab-Iranian writer and journalist and the Chairman of the Centre for Combatting Racism and Discrimination against Arabs, it is this intolerance towards various nationalities in Iran that has prevented the Green movement from overthrowing the Islamic regime.

Azizi Benitorof explains, “Iran has various nationalities, in addition to the Persian population we have Turks, Arab, Baluch, Lurs, and Turkemans. A democratic movement in Iran will have its own unique challenges.”
According to Azizi Benitorof there are two simultaneous movements growing in Iran. He notes, “One movement is the Green movement which is alive in places like Tehran, Esfahan and Shiraz, the Persian regions of Iran.”

He continues, “There’s also a movement of the non-Persian nationalities that is alive beside this Green movement, this is an anti-racist movement, a movement for linguistic rights and equality.”
Azizi Benitorof adds, “These two movements are moving side by side and they are engaged in a dialogue but they have not yet become united.”
He quickly adds, “This does not mean that there are no non Persians in the Green movement, but they are a minority.”

Azizi Benitorof’s sees the unity of these two movements as the true emergence of the pro-democracy movement in Iran. He states, “When the green movement and the movement for minority rights are put together as one entity they will emerge as a true pro-democracy movement in Iran.”

While Azizi Benitorof remains optimistic about the dialogue between these two simultaneous movements, he admits, “There is disagreement between the leaders of the Green movement and the leaders of the movements that represents the various nationalities in Iran.”

He explains, “As the minority rights leaders we refuse to fight alongside the majority Persian population again without having our rights acknowledge.”

He adds, “We refuse to participate in your movement without having our conditions met. The leaders of the Green movement must announce that minority rights would be included in their vision for a new Iran. They must accept federalism as part of their platform.”

Azizi Benitorof notes, “Until now the dialogue between the leaders of the minority rights movement and the leaders of the Green movement have been conducted primarily on the internet with a few minor exceptions.”

“People like me and others from Turk, and Kurdish communities would write and publish on the internet and active members of the Green movement would read our pieces. Similarly, we would closely follow all the major statements issued by the Green movement,” recounts Azizi Benitorof.

Despite the limitations in the dialogue between the two movements for change in Iran, Azizi Benitorof believes that real change is inevitable. He notes, “There are two possibilities. One that Karoubi and Mousavi, the figureheads of Iran’s Green movement will confirm and echo the demands of the people on the ground or if they don’t a new seed will emerge from the heart of the movement like Tunisia and Egypt.”

Azizi Benitorof sees the trajectory of the recent revolutions in the Middle East as a possible blueprint for Iran. He states, “Tunisia and Egypt seem to be classic examples of revolutions. In both cases faced with an oppressive government that failed to represent the people and an ineffectual opposition that seemed to at best be flirting with the regime, a third force emerged from within.”

Azizi Benitorof expands, “The various parties, the Marxists, Liberals, Islamists were all unable to bring about any real change in Egypt, and therefore a new power emerged, the new youth movement.”

Azizi Benitorof remains extremely hopeful about the future for a democratic movement in Iran. He notes, “No power can stand against this pro-democracy movement. In the recent past we’ve seen two regimes in Tunisia and Egypt collapse. Now we are seeing how Libya, a dictatorship that we thought would not budge, be shaken to its core. In Morocco, Yemen, Bahrain the calls for democracy are boiling over.”

According to Azizi Benitorof, “Iran is the closest country to these Arabic nations. It is very similar and there is a dialectical relationship between Iran and the Arab world.”

Azizi Benitorof ends by stating, “The revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt have given new potential to the revolutionary momentum in Iran. Now we can see that the youth are paying particular attention to the revolutions in Yemen, Tunisia, and Bahrain. Among these youth in Iran is a population of four to five million Arabs in Ahvaz who watch Al Jazeera twenty-four hours a day and celebrate the gains of the pro-democracy movement in the Middle East.”

RFE/RL: Iranian Revolutionary Court Charges Sufi Dervishes

A Revolutionary Court in the western Iranian city of Boroujerd has brought some 189 Gonabadi dervishes to court for questioning and presented 10 with criminal charges, RFE/RL's Radio Farda reports.

Mostafa Azmayesh, a representative of the Nematollahi Gonabadi Sufi Muslim community outside Iran, told Radio Farda on March 6 that the dervishes were questioned on the previous day on charges, including "disobedience," "disrupting public order," and "insulting high-ranking authorities of the regime."

The head of Boroujerd's Justice Department, Mohammad Sadegh Akbari, said on March 5 that the dervish defendants and their lawyers numbered "about 15 people in all," not 189.

Azmayesh termed Akbari's announcement vague and said from a legal point of view, the phrase "about 15" makes no sense. He added that following the publicity generated by the mass questioning in court of the dervishes, Boroujerd's Justice Department reconsidered its decision.

Consequently, of the 189 dervishes who appeared in court on March 5, only 10 were told they will be put on trial and the rest were told they would be dealt with later, Azmayesh said.

Azmayesh said that in 2007, Iran's Basij militia attacked and demolished the dervishes' main house of worship in Boroujerd, and detained and beat many Sufi dervishes. He added that the dervishes who were injured during the raid filed a complaint with officials at the time, but it is they who have now been charged.

Azmayesh said authorities have accused the dervishes of "disobedience" because, in their view, the dervishes who did not leave their house of worship at the time of the attack resisted the regime, hence disrupting national security.

"This means that being a Sufi dervish is considered a crime by Iranian authorities," Azmayesh said.

New York Times: U.N. Rights Council Backs Investigator on Iran

GENEVA — The human rights body of the United Nations voted Thursday for the appointment of an investigator to monitor and report on Iran in response to its harsh crackdown on political dissent.
The vote, by the Human Rights Council, which is based in Geneva, was 22 to 7, with 14 abstentions and 4 not voting among 47 members. It approved a resolution co-sponsored by the United States and Sweden to appoint the investigator, or special rapporteur.
It is the first time the council has appointed an investigator with a mandate to monitor a specific country since it was set up in 2006.
The resolution regretted “the lack of cooperation of the Islamic Republic of Iran” with U.N. General Assembly requests over human rights abuses.
Iran condemned the resolution as an abuse by the council and accused the United States of being “the main organizer of this campaign.”
Earlier, the council heard a report by Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in which he said Iran’s rulers had intensified their crackdown on political opponents, human rights defenders, female activists and journalists and noted a “dramatic surge” in the number of executions since the start of this year.
Eileen Donahoe, the U.S. ambassador to the council, hailed the vote as a “seminal moment” for the council. She said it “had shown itself able to deal more effectively than in the past with crisis situations as well as in the case of chronic severe violators” of human rights like Iran.
The council has often been accused of subordinating human rights to the political interests of regional blocs and countries with a poor human rights record.

Christian Today: Christians face trial for blasphemy in Iran

Pastor Behrouz Sadegh-Khandjani, Mehdi Furutan, Mohammad Beliad, Parviz Khalaj and Nazly Beliad are due to appear before the court in a fortnight’s time, according to Christian Solidarity Worldwide.

They were first arrested in June last year on charges of apostasy, holding political meetings, and committing blasphemy and crimes against the Islamic Order.

The Revolutionary Court in Shiraz found the five men guilty of crimes against the Islamic Order and sentenced them to one year’s imprisonment.

They served eight months of their sentence before being released in February on bail.

Their lawyer has appealed the one-year prison sentence and a decision is pending.

It had been presumed that the other charges against the men had been dropped but a source close to them confirmed that they are to stand trial for blasphemy.

CSW’s national director Stuart Windsor said he was “dismayed” by the charges levelled against the group.

“The international community must press Iran not only to rescind the unjust punishments to which these Christians have already been subjected, but also acquit them at the upcoming trial,” he said.

CSW said the situation for Christian in Iran was worsening, with churches finding it difficult to hold meetings and many considering leaving the country.

It expressed concern for Yousef Nadarkhani, the pastor of a large church in Rasht, who was arrested in 2009 and later sentenced to death for apostasy.

As there are no articles in the Iranian legal code criminalising apostasy, the judge based his ruling on texts by Iranian religious scholars.

Nadarkhani remains in prison and his fate is uncertain as he awaits the outcome of an appeal filed at the Supreme Court last December. A hearing is due to take place in the next two months.

Mr Windsor called upon Iran to guarantee religious freedom for all its citizens.

He said: “We are concerned that the judgement handed down in Pastor Nadarkhani’s case did not follow due procedure under Iranian law.

“As a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Iran has an obligation to uphold international standards of religious freedom for all its citizens, to follow due process and refrain from arbitrary judicial rulings based on open-ended legislation.”

Sunday, 20 March 2011

RFE/RL: Jailed Iranian Journalist 'In Grave Condition'

A jailed ethnic Azeri journalist and human rights activist is in critical condition in Tehran's Evin prison, his wife has told RFE/RL's Radio Farda.

Saeed Matinpour's wife, Atieh Taheri, told Radio Farda on March 8 that he has been suffering from severe heart problems since shortly after his detention in December 2009, but has been denied medical treatment.

Matinpour was sentenced by the 15th branch of Tehran's Revolutionary Court to seven years' imprisonment on a charge of "having connections with foreigners" and one year for "spreading propaganda against the regime."

Taheri said despite her repeated requests and the letters which the prison physician wrote to the judge and prosecutor, Matinpour has not been allowed to leave prison for medical treatment.

Matinpour was first taken into custody in May 2007 in the northwestern city of Zanjan. He was released after 278 days in detention after posting a large bail bond.

His wife said her protests to the authorities have had no result. "First, I objected to Saeed's temporary detention, which lasted nine months, then to his two-minute trial, which ended with an eight-year prison sentence, and now to his being denied the right to prison leave," Taheri said.

VOA: A Special Rapporteur Needed For Iran

There is a clear need for establishment of a special U.N. Human Rights Council rapporteur on Iran, to gather evidence on human rights conditions there.

The repression of Iranian citizens and the violation of their rights by the Iranian government continue unabated.

In a newly published report, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon expressed grave concern regarding human rights abuses in Iran, including reports of "increased executions, amputations, arbitrary arrest and detention, unfair trials, and possible torture and ill-treatment of human rights activists, lawyers and opposition activists." The report noted a "worrying trend is the increased number of cases in which political prisoners are accused of mohareb (enmity against God) offenses which carry the death penalty."

As an example of the ongoing repression in Iran, an undisclosed number of people have recently been arrested for supposedly preaching the Baha'i faith in several Iranian cities.  Bahai's are the largest non-Muslim religious minority in Iran.  They are considered apostates by the government and suffer systematic persecution. In 2008 in a blatant illustration of that persecution, the government rounded up seven Baha'i national leaders, and in 2010 sentenced each to ten years in prison on trumped up charges of espionage.

Iran's treatment of the Baha'i community, as well as its repression of other minority religious groups, including Christians and Sufi Muslims, abrogate its international obligations under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which Iran has ratified, and which enshrines the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.

As noted in Secretary General Ban's report, the Iranian authorities' treatment of Baha'is and their continued repression of human rights in Iran offer strong evidence of the need for the U.N. Human Rights Council to establish a special rapporteur on Iran to gather more information on conditions there and to raise international pressure on the government to stop violating the rights of the Iranian people. The United States is working with Sweden, Zambia, the Maldives and other partners to create such a position, which is scheduled to come up for a vote in the Council in late March.

At recent address in Geneva, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that a positive outcome would mark "a seminal moment" for the Human Rights Council, and would test the ability of the Council to work together to advance its goals of protecting human rights and holding violators accountable.  "The denial of human dignity in Iran," said Secretary Clinton, "is an outrage that deserves the condemnation of all who speak out for freedom and justice."

RFE/RL: Iran's Future President 'Chosen By God'

Iran's President Mahmud Ahmadinejad has said that his successor has already been designated by God. Ahmadinejad reportedly made the comments in a March 16 meeting of provincial councils in the Iranian capital.

"Several friends had come and were saying, 'We're worried about the future.' I said, 'The future has been decided, go do your work, the result will come.' [One of them] said, 'Who's the next one?' I said, 'Do you think God doesn't know who's next?' He said [yes, he knows]. I said, 'So why are you sad? The time is over when they could rule people through factional games.'"

Ahmadinejad did not mention any names but reports suggest that he is pushing for his close aide, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, to succeed him, even though the ultimate decision about the country's future president lies with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei., a website that focuses on hard-line blogs and websites, reports that Ahmadinejad had predicted a week before the disputed June 2009 presidential vote that he would be the winner of the election.

The Iranian president said on March 16 that before the vote he had told his supporters that a major event would take place.

"I kept saying before the 2009 election that a big event is on the way," Ahmadinejad said. "After the vote someone came and asked me, 'What was the big event?' I said, 'Is there any event bigger than this?!'"

The former mayor of Tehran and a relatively unknown figure, Ahmadinejad came to power in 2005 reportedly with the support of the Revolutionary Guard and Basij. His 2009 reelection is also credited by the opposition to support and vote manipulation by the powerful Revolutionary Guard. He has, however, said that the Iranian election was free and fair.

In a lecture last April Ahmadinejad's spiritual mentor, Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi, made similar comments to those of the president. In a video that has recently appeared on YouTube, the ultra-hard-line Yazdi says the Iranian establishment has divine legitimacy, which makes it different from other regimes. He also says the people have no say.

"Who are the people to give someone the right [ to rule]?"

-- Golnaz Esfandiari

Saturday, 19 March 2011

AFP: Iran arrests 'a number' of Bahais

TEHRAN — A number of Bahais who were "promoting their faith in kindergartens" have been arrested, a prosecutor in the southern city of Bam was quoted by the official IRNA news agency as saying on Saturday.

"A number of Bahais who were promoting their programmes under the guise of kindergartens in Bam, Kerman and Tehran were arrested by intelligence agents after nine months of intelligence work," prosecutor Mohammad Reza Sanjari said.

"This group had also infiltrated a local newspaper in Kerman province and were weaving Bahai views into children's stories," Sanjari added without naming the publication.
He did not say how many people had been arrested or when.

The Bahais, who are barred from higher education and government posts in staunchly Shiite Muslim Iran, are regarded as infidels and have been persecuted both before and after the country's 1979 Islamic revolution.

In August, Iran sentenced seven leading members of the community to 20 years in jail on charges ranging from spying for foreigners, spreading corruption on earth, undermining Islam and cooperating with arch-foe Israel.

The French Bahai community later said its lawyers had been told the sentences, which had sparked criticism from the international community, had been halved.

The Bahais consider Bahaullah, born in 1817, to be the latest prophet sent by God and believe in the spiritual unity of all religions and all mankind.

Bahai leaders believe a total of 47 members of their religion are imprisoned in Iran simply for their beliefs.

Guardian: Iran 'using child soldiers' to suppress Tehran protests

Armed children as young as 14 are said to have been deployed alongside riot police
Robert Tait Sunday 13 March 2011 

A bin blazes behind Iranian protesters at an anti-government protest in Tehran last month. Photograph: AP

Iran's Islamic regime is using "child soldiers" to suppress anti-government demonstrations, a tactic that could breach international law forbidding the use of underage combatants, human rights activists have told the Observer.

The International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran says troops aged between 14 and 16 have been armed with batons, clubs and air guns and ordered to attack demonstrators who have tried to gather in Tehran. The youths – apparently recruited from rural areas – are being deployed in regular riot police roles and comprise up to one-third of the total force, according to witnesses.

One middle-aged woman, who said she was attacked by the youths, reported that some were as young as 12 and were possibly prepubescent. They had rural accents, which indicated they had been brought in from villages far from Tehran, she said.

Some told her they had been attracted by the promise of chelo kebab dinners, one of Iran's national dishes.
"It's really a violation of international law. It's no different than child soldiers, which is the custom in many zones of conflict," said Hadi Ghaemi, the campaign's executive director. "They are being recruited into being part of the conflict and armed for it."

The UN convention on the rights of the child requires states to take "all feasible measures to ensure that persons who have not attained the age of 15 years do not take a direct part in hostilities".

The allegation comes amid efforts by Iran's opposition Green movement to revive the mass protests that challenged President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's re-election in 2009, which opponents say was rigged. Drawing encouragement from the uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia, organisers have vowed to stage demonstrations every Tuesday.

Protesters who gathered on 1 March and a week later were met by a blanket security presence, which activists say refined the tactics used to crush the post-election revolt, when smaller detachments of youths were used informally by the hardline Basij militia.

Last Tuesday youthful riot squads formed along Valiasr Street, Tehran's central thoroughfare, and forced pedestrians to run an intimidating gauntlet. Protesters chanting anti-government slogans were attacked. Multiple arrests were reported.

"They are very keen to display violence. Teenage boys are notorious for that," said Ghaemi. "They are being used to ensure there is a good ratio of government forces to protesters and because the average policeman in Tehran could have some kind of family connection to the people they have to beat up. It's a classic tactic to bring people from outside, because they have no sense of sympathy for city dwellers."

The renewed clampdown coincides with concern over the whereabouts of the Green movement's nominal leaders, Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi. Both were apparently placed under house arrest last month and then reported to have been taken into detention, despite official denials.

Robert Tait is a senior correspondent for RFE/RL and a former Tehran correspondent for the Observer.