Archive for December, 2009

Sister of Iranian Nobel Laureate Arrested

December 30, 2009

Iranian Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi says her sister has been arrested by the intelligence services, hours after opposition figures were detained.

Ms Ebadi said her sister Nooshin, a medical professor, was arrested at home on Monday evening, and taken to prison.

She said her sister was only detained to prevent her own human rights work. Several journalists are also being held, according to opposition sources.

Earlier, Tehran rejected international calls for it to halt the crackdown.

On Monday, UK Foreign Secretary David Miliband hailed the “great courage” of the protesters and said it had been “particularly disturbing to hear accounts of the lack of restraint by the security forces” on Ashura, one of the holiest days in the Shia calendar.

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Ebrahim Yazdi arrested

December 30, 2009

KEY Iranian opposition figure Ebrahim Yazdi, who served as foreign minister at the start of the 1979 Islamic revolution, has been arrested.

Yazdi, secretary general of the outlawed but tolerated Iran Freedom Movement, “was arrested at home and taken to an unknown place early Monday morning by security agents,” according to the Rahesabz website.

“He was summoned to an intelligence ministry office (last) Monday but did not go.”

The arrest came as Iranian state television said that more than 15 people were killed in riots which rocked Tehran yesterday.

More than 10 of the dead were members of “anti-revolutionary terrorist” groups, the state television website said.

The other five who died during Sunday’s fierce clashes in the Iranian capital were killed by “terrorist groups,” the report said, without elaborating.

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Body of Opposition Leader’s Nephew Taken

December 29, 2009

During this weekend’s protests to commemorate the death of Ayatollah Montazeri and to honor the Shia Saint Hossain (the highest saint in Shia Islam) 8 Iranians have reportedly been killed–one of whom was opposition leader Mir-Hossain Mousavi’s nephew. The body of Mousavi’s nephew, as well other bodies, were reportedly mysteriously taken from the hospital so as to prevent the murdered opposition members from being honored as martyrs. Especially during the month of Ashura, when the Prophet Mohammad’s grandson Hossain was martyred during the Battle of Karbala in 680 AD by Yazid’s army, the regime wants to make sure not to allow the opposition to take control of the Ashura protests and to identify themselves as the martyrs and the regime as Yazid’s forces. During the lead up to the 1979 revolution, Khomeni and the opposition at that time saw themselves as Hossain’s small army, standing up to the Shah’s strong regime.

Iran holds bodies of slain protesters

December 29, 2009

Iran holds bodies of slain protesters

Associated Press Writer

CAIRO (AP) — Iranian authorities said Monday that they were holding the bodies of five slain anti-government protesters, including the nephew of the opposition leader, in what appeared to be an attempt to prevent activists from using their funerals as a platform for more demonstrations.

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Iran battles reinvigorated opposition

December 29, 2009

Iran battles reinvigorated opposition

By Thomas Erdbrink
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, December 28, 2009; A01

TEHRAN — The intense clashes in several Iranian cities that left at least five protesters dead and scores more injured Sunday have raised the stakes for both sides as the government seeks to contain a newly revitalized opposition movement.

The street battles took place on one of the holiest days in the Shiite Muslim calendar, a fact that is likely to give even deeper resonance to Sunday’s deaths and that could help spawn further demonstrations in the days ahead. Opposition Web sites reported that as many as 12 protesters had been killed, including the nephew of defeated presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi. The government conceded there had been five deaths in Tehran but denied responsibility and said the police had not used their weapons.

That account conflicted with those of numerous opposition sources, which reported that security forces had at various points opened fire on the crowds. Witnesses also reported that demonstrators, who numbered in the tens of thousands, fought back with unusual force, kicking and punching police officers and torching government buildings and vehicles.

In Washington, the White House condemned what it called the “violent and unjust suppression” of civilians by the government.

“Hope and history are on the side of those who peacefully seek their universal rights, and so is the United States,” White House National Security Council spokesman Mike Hammer said in a statement.

After a relatively quiet autumn, the wide-scale protests Sunday recalled some of the largest and most contentious demonstrations from the summer, when hundreds of thousands of Iranians took to the streets after a June presidential election that the government claims was won by the incumbent, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, in a landslide but that the opposition believes was stolen.

On Sunday, demonstrators fanned out across the center of Iran’s capital, Tehran, with many fighting vigorously as security forces sought to disperse the crowds. Police said that at least 300 “conspirators” had been arrested and that 10 police officers had been wounded.

Amid thick smoke from fires and tear gas that blanketed key parts of the city, Tehran became the scene of hand-to-hand combat between security forces and the protesters. At one point, according to witnesses, members of the pro-government Basij militia fired their handguns while ramming a car through two barriers set up by demonstrators. Elsewhere, the protesters, who in recent months had run whenever security forces moved in to disrupt demonstrations, began to attack riot police, pelting them with rocks and setting some of their vehicles ablaze.

“The people’s protests have become deeper, wider and more radical,” said Hamid Reza Jalaeipour, an opposition supporter and a sociology professor at Tehran University. He said to expect the government to respond with an even greater crackdown than the one over the summer. “Everything will, from now on, be harsher, tougher, stronger,” he said.

Jalaeipour suggested an alternative that he said the government is unlikely to pursue: “The correct solution for the government is to answer the requests of the opposition, not to stand in front of them and prevent them.”

Growing protests

Since June, the opposition has demanded that the results of the election be annulled and that a new vote be held. But their movement had appeared to lose steam during the fall, when a pervasive government crackdown prevented protesters from taking to the streets in large numbers.

The latest round of demonstrations began Dec. 7 and has been building since then with protests at universities nationwide. The protests spread last week after the death of Hussein Ali Montazeri, a grand ayatollah who was considered one of the leading dissidents in the religious establishment.

Officials were quick to describe the anti-government demonstrations as small and insignificant acts staged by groups of “rioters.” The demonstrators, the government said, had deliberately exploited Sunday’s ceremonies marking the death of the third Shiite imam, Hussein, whose small band of supporters fought a losing battle against a powerful and repressive army during the 7th century.

Sunday’s religious commemoration, called Ashura, marks the 10th and final day of mourning for Hussein. It not only defines Shiite Islam but also drives politics in Iran, with its themes of martyrdom and suffering in the name of a just cause.

Both sides in this year’s struggle have laid claim to Hussein’s mantle of victimhood. Members of the opposition say they are being oppressed after what amounts to a government-backed coup by the elite Revolutionary Guard Corps; government supporters say that the opposition is a puppet of hostile foreign governments, including Britain and the United States, that want to impose their will on Iran.

Fighting in the streets

Demonstrators on Sunday wrapped themselves in the symbolism of the day’s commemorations, shouting slogans that compared Iran’s leaders to Yazid, Hussein’s arch-enemy. “This is a month of blood. Basijis will die!” the crowds shouted.

At an overpass above Azadi Street, protesters flashed victory signs and sang songs from the 1979 Islamic revolution. Young men, some with their faces covered, shoved burning trash bins toward security forces, who quickly ran. Later, about a dozen members of the Revolutionary Guard, recognizable by their uniforms, dared the protesters to throw stones at them, while assaulting the crowd with paintball bullets, tear gas and stun grenades. After reinforcements arrived, firing in the air from their cars, the Guard forces managed to push back the hundreds of protesters that had gathered.

Similar scenes unfolded at several crossings along the centrally located Azadi and Enghelab streets, witnesses reported. Large clouds of black smoke billowed into the air as fires erupted across the city. Motorists created a din by honking their horns in solidarity.

Internet service was briefly cut off in Tehran on Sunday but was restored later in the evening. The government, as it has since June, imposed controls on the media, banning reporters and photographers from the rallies.

Abbas Abdi, a political analyst, said that a solution must be found quickly in order to stop the growing unrest.

“Both sides are losing control and this will ultimately be to the detriment of both of them,” Abdi said. “This situation is unstable and cannot continue like this.”

Special correspondent Kay Armin Serjoie contributed to this report.

Iran’s Pragmatic Opposition: Take Caution When Your Enemy is Your Friend

December 10, 2009

As international attention has turned from the disputed June 12 Iranian presidential election and that regime’s brutal crackdown to the negotiations surrounding Tehran’s nuclear program, hardline neoconservatives in the United States, Iranian opposition leaders and some within the Iranian Diaspora have begun employing the same tactics to achieve contradicting outcomes for Iran.
Neocons are among many groups in the United States who have sat by quietly—at best—through decades of human rights abuses in Iran. Now, however, after Tehran’s unprecedented move in coming to the negotiating table in October, the neocons have emerged as supposed advocates of Iranians in their domestic fight for human and civil rights.
The actions and claimed motivations of the neocons, however, remain suspicious; but they are not unique to this group. The leadership of the Iranian opposition has begun employing the same tactics as the neocons in their own effort to stall negotiations between Washington and Tehran, while some within the Iranian Diaspora wrongly see themselves as sharing with the neocons a similar goal for Iran—not realizing their desired outcomes are in stark contrast.
The history of relations between Iran and the U.S. has been mired by interference from Washington in Iranian affairs—intervention that was generally in contrast to the Iranian struggle for human rights and democracy.
Events such as the CIA overthrow of the democratically elected Mossadegh regime, the sending of chemical weapons to the Saddam Hussein regime to use against the Iranians during the Iran-Iraq war, and the Iran Contra Affair, in which the Reagan Administration sold weapons to the Khomenei regime when it was killing en masse the Iranian opposition, are just a few examples of events when hardline conservatives in the U.S. remained silent—at best—even when the most atrocious human rights abuses were being committed against the Iranians.
If history is any guide, behind the neocons’ newfound concern for human rights and democracy promotion in Iran lies an agenda not of behavior or even regime change, but system change in the Islamic Republic—a change that could potentially allow the West increased control over a strategically located and oil-rich country. Their supposed calls for Iranian human rights stem from no known basis or historical lineage. Instead, human rights are becoming an instrument with which one can push for military action or other confrontation under the guise of moral outrage. Preferring system change to regime change in Tehran, the neocons are calling on an issue close to the heart of the liberals—human rights—in a final attempt to persuade the Obama administration to increase pressure on Tehran.
Neocons in the U.S. are not the only ones guilty of this game, however; Iranian opposition leaders are employing the same tactics. Seeing the hardline Ahmadinejad regime now open to negotiations with Washington, the Iranian opposition’s leadership fears further talks will give legitimacy to and solidify control of a regime many Iranians see as illegitimate.
In an attempt to draw support for their leadership from other groups in Iran, and for their goal of regime—not system—change, Iranian opposition leaders have taken up a cause dear to the conservatives in Iran—Iran’s nuclear rights—in a similar attempt to stall negotiations between Tehran and Washington. As such, opposition factions in both the U.S. and Iran are working to thwart negotiations.
When Iran’s Chief Nuclear Negotiator Saeed Jalali initially agreed on October 1 to send up to 80 percent of Iran’s LEU to Russia for reprocessing and then to France to convert the 20 percent enriched uranium into fuel rods for medical use, the regime in Tehran did not come out and say Jalili had no authority to do so. Nor was Iran using this as a delaying tactic, as the U.S. had set a short deadline for Iran to respond by October 23.
Continued pressure from neoconservatives, however, compelled the Obama Administration to hold strong to the original draft deal without compromise, while opposition leaders in Iran pressured Tehran to hold strong to its nuclear rights. With these two groups pressuring their corresponding regimes, there was no room for either Washington or Tehran to show any sign of giving in, ultimately leading to the current situation in which Ahmadinejad announced Iran would enrich its own uranium up to the 20 percent level.
Despite having completely different desired outcomes for Iran, neocons and Iranian opposition leaders are using the same tactics to pursue their goals at the expense of Americans, Iranians and any potential peace between the two countries.
While it may seem logical that two groups currently out of power would use the same tactics to consolidate power for themselves, it is surprising to see two groups with starkly different desired outcomes for Iran push for the same goal and the same confrontational method for achieving that goal.
Many within the Iranian Diaspora community seem to have the same goal as the neocons—system change—but for starkly opposing reasons. While the neocons’ agenda ends in system change for the desired outcome of the removal of the perceived threat to Israel and the U.S. with the potential of control and exploitation, the Iranian Diaspora seeks system change in the hopes that a new system will usher in human rights, democracy and freedom. Some within the Iranian Diaspora, however, have become convinced that the means of achieving these desired outcomes are the same confrontational means the neocons are advocating to achieve their agenda.
In their search for these ideals, however, Iranians of all walks of life should remember the lessons of the 1979 Islamic Revolution—achieving a goal does not necessarily bring about the desired outcome. System change in and of itself does not necessarily bring about more freedom or democracy, as the 1979 revolution has shown. The Iranian Diaspora community should take care not to follow the neocons in their push for confrontation without knowing what will come in the place of the current regime. As for the Iranian opposition leaders, playing the same game as the neocons may slightly increase their support from the conservatives within Iran, but will greatly decrease their legitimacy in the eyes of the Iranian opposition who desperately need honest leaders after having gone for decades without one.