Posts Tagged ‘Iran’

U.N. Security Council Passes New Sanctions Against Iran

June 9, 2010

By NEIL MacFARQUHAR, New York Times
Published: June 9, 2010

UNITED NATIONS — The United States, moving firmly away from the Obama administration’s previous emphasis on wooing Iran, pushed through a new round of United Nations sanctions against the nation on Wednesday, taking aim at its military in yet another attempt to pressure Tehran over its nuclear program.

The new sanctions, a modest increase from previous rounds, took months to negotiate but still did not carry the symbolic weight of a unanimous Security Council decision. Twelve of the 15 nations voted for the measure, while Turkey and Brazil voted against and Lebanon abstained.

Beyond the restrictions imposed by the sanctions themselves, the vote sets stage for harsher measures that the United States and the European Union have promised to enact on their own once they had the imprimatur of the United Nations. European leaders are likely to discuss new measures at a summit in mid June.

Iran has defied repeated demands from the Security Council to stop enriching nuclear fuel. It has built new, sometimes secret, centrifuge plants needed to enrich uranium — and has enriched it at higher levels. These actions have raised suspicions in the West that Iran is pursuing a nuclear weapon, although leaders in Tehran insist their nuclear program is peaceful.

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Defense and Oil Companies Lobby Against Iran Sanctions

May 13, 2010

Bloomberg reported today that Boeing, Exxon Mobil and Halliburton are three of several companies lobbying against a fourth round of sanctions on Iran; the giant defense and oil and gas corporations say sanctions on Iran may cost $25 billion in U.S. exports.

The current legislation before Congress would expand the 1996 Iran and Libya Sanctions Act–later renamed the Iran Sanctions Act–financially penalizing foreign companies that invest more than $20 million for the development of petroleum resources in Iran. U.S. firms, already barred from investing in the country, claim their global sales could be negatively affected by provisions that prohibit doing business with companies in Europe, Russia or China that trade with Iran.

“We are up on Capitol Hill talking about the collateral damage,” William Reinsch, president of the National Foreign Trade Council, a Washington-based group that represents Exxon and Boeing, said in an interview. “There is legitimate, non- Iran business that will be cut off.”

Bloomberg reported that Cargill Inc., ConocoPhillips, Hannover Re, Bechtel Corp., Halliburton Co. and Siemens AG are among more than 20 international companies that have lobbied against increased sanctions.

The legislation passed the House by a 412-12 vote on Dec. 15 and the Senate unanimously on March 11. The bill is likely to pass Congress in final form later this month or early next month, according to Christopher Wenk, the trade lobbyist for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce; and While the Obama administration has tried to water down the bill, Wenk predicted the president would ultimately sign it.

The current legislation would expand the sanctionable investments to include the sale and refining of oil. It would also expand the financial penalties to cover property transfers or sales from U.S. companies to those that are sanctioned.

For U.S. companies, “virtually any transaction with foreign entities doing business related to the Iranian petroleum sector could be prohibited,” the National Association of Manufacturers said in a study that estimated the potential loss of $25 billion in exports.

Companies doing business in Iran “will pay a significant economic price for doing so,” Representative Howard Berman, a California Democrat who heads the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said in an e-mailed statement. “The safest course for all such companies, and their subsidiaries, would be to cease any and all business operations with Iran at the earliest possible opportunity.”

Wenk said the lobbying is largely focused at modifying, not totally killing, certain provisions of the bill.

“We know we can’t stop this bill,” Wenk said in an interview. “But the provisions go far beyond Iran. There are some real unintended consequences.”

According to the Bloomberg report, Boeing–the world’s second-largest commercial plane maker after Airbus SAS–wants to cut out a provision banning U.S. companies from being aided by foreign export-credit agencies that also guarantee exports to Iran, spokesman Timothy Neale said. Exxon, the biggest U.S. oil company, wants to eliminate a prohibition on joint ventures with companies that separately have oil projects in Iran, said Alan Jeffers, a spokesman for the Irving, Texas-based company. Lloyd’s and other insurers based abroad want an exemption for “cooperating countries” working with the U.S. to curb sales to Iran, Charles Landgraf, the insurance market’s Washington lobbyist, said in an interview.

Iran Agrees “In Principle” to Brazilian Mediation

May 5, 2010

The Iranian president has reportedly agreed “in principle” to Brazilian mediation in the stalled United Nations-backed nuclear fuel swap deal, which was first offered to Iran in October. Iran had initially agreed to the deal, but when Iran’s representative went back to Iran with the news, Iran said it would agree to the deal on a conditional basis: The swap had to take place on Iranian soil and Iran would send out its LEU for reprocessing in smaller doses than the UN-back plan called for. The original plan would have required Iran to send almost 80 percent of its total LEU to Russia for enrichment to the 20 percent level and then to France, for conversion of the enriched uranium into fuel rods to be used in Iran’s for medical and scientific purposes.

A statement issued today by the Iranian president’s office said that President Ahmadinejad spoke about Brazil’s offer of mediation during a conversation with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez–a friend of Iran’s–yesterday.

Brazil has previously called on the international community to show flexibility on the deal. This comes as the West is pressuring for a fourth round of sanctions on Iran over its controversial nuclear program.

In the past, Ahmadinejad has repeatedly said his country would not give up its right under the NPT to enrich uranium. In an interview aired Wednesday, Ahmadinejad said pressure or threats from other countries would not force Iran to change its position. Tehran maintains that it’s nuclear program is for peaceful purposes, but many Western nations remain unconvinced.

Negotiations come a few weeks after the U.S. and Russia agreed to scale back their nuclear weapons caches. In an attempt to be more transparent about its own nuclear program, the Obama administration announced it has 5,113 nuclear warheads.

Despite Sanction Talk, Venezuela and Vienna Maintain Alliance with Iran

April 27, 2010

Iran and Venezuela have been building their friendship for years now, with joint banks and similar outlooks on the US, but Caracas denied this week a US report that Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps had an increasing presence in his country.

The Pentagon report presented to the Congress earlier this month reportedly said the Revolutionary Guards’ elite Qods force, which operates internationally, had a growing presence in Latin America, and specifically in Venezuela.

Responding to the US report, Venezuela’s President, Hugo Chavez said, “Look at what they are saying.  If the US applies sanctions to Iran, these forces that are here—something that is absolutely false—could then attack US territory or US interests with terrorist acts.”

Chavez explained the report as part of Washington’s effort to pressure and intimidate Caracas.

“Tell me this isn’t an open threat by the government of the United States against Venezuela once again using infamy and lies,” Chavez was quoted as saying.

But South American countries, like Venezuela and Bolivia, aren’t the only countries interested in working with oil-rich Iran.  A report out this week in the Wall Street Journal said Austria is moving closer towards Iran, as it welcomed Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki.

Vienna on Sunday hosted a joint press conference with Mottaki. As he shook hands with Austrian Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger, the flag of the Islamic Republic flew on top of the building of the foreign ministry, together with those of Austria and the European Union. During the conference, Spindelegger was quoted as saying, “dialogue is a central element” and urged Iran to cooperate so that sanctions could be avoided.  Mottaki thanked his Austrian counterpart for hosting him, referring to Spindelegger as “my friend.”

It remains unclear as to whether or not Austria—a rotating member of the United Nations Security Council—would sign onto a fourth round of sanctions on its trading partner.

All this comes as Austria’s neighbors in Europe are working to reduce their trade ties with Iran, and while the U.S. and other Western countries look to Iran’s neighbors in the Middle East to secure petroleum supplies as a replacement to Iranian supplies.  Yet oil-hungry countries like China continue to remain trading partners with Iran, despite U.S. efforts.

According to the Wall Street Journal report, Austrian exports in general fell 20 percent in 2009; but exports to Iran—which reportedly include sophisticated machinery and electronic goods—rose by almost 6 percent in 2009.  All this while the U.S., Britain, France, and Germany are pushing hard for sanctions on Iran. 

“Bilateral business relations between Austria and Iran are excellent, but still expandable.” No wonder his Iranian counterpart Ali Naghi Khamoushi said a few years back that “Austria is for us the gateway to the European Union.”

Washington Rules out Military Strike for Now

April 22, 2010

Washington has said it is ruling out a military strike against Iran’s nuclear program for the time being, and will continue to focus its energy on sanctions with Tehran.

An AP report out today quoted <a href="Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Michele Flournoy telling a press briefing in Singapore that, “Military force is an option of last resort. It’s off the table in the near term.” She added, “Right now the focus is a combination of engagement and pressure in the form of sanctions. We have not seen Iran engage productively in response.”

A few days earlier, Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced to the White House that the US “does not have an effective long-range policy for dealing with Iran’s steady progress toward nuclear capability.”

Iran, who is a member of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, has said that as a member of the NPT, it has the right to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes. The U.S. and many other western nations, however, question Iran’s nuclear program.

It’s important to point out, however, that the hardline leader of the Islamic revolution, the late Ayatollah Khomeini, issued a fatwa in which he said the use of nuclear weapons and weapons of mass description of any kind were unlawful and unIslamic because they did not distinguish between those killed. Iran’s current Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei has renewed this fatwa.

Of course, saying one thing does not necessarily promise that a country will not go back on its word, however Iran has in the past stood firm on this issue. During the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq War, the U.S. provided Saddam Hussein’s Iraq with chemical weapons, which Saddam used against the Iranians and the Kurds. The Iranian, however, under the then new leadership of Khomeini, refrained from using WMD against the Iraqis for exactly this reason.

Washington, along with Germany, Britain, France—and more reluctant Russia and China—has been pushing for a fourth round of sanctions for Iran.

Iranian Supreme Leader Khamenei, however, was quoted last week as saying that Iran would not give into US pressure. “We’ve said time and again that we are not after weapons of mass destruction but the Iranian nation won’t give in to such threats and will bring those threatening it to their knees,” Khamenei said.

Pressure for sanctions on Iran comes six months after Iran rejected the initial 2009 UN-backed deal that would have had Iran send almost 80 percent of its 5 percent and lower LEU in exchange for nuclear fuel rods to be used for medical and research purposes. Iran said it would send small amounts of its LEU so long as it was exchanged either on its own soil or traded by a trusted 3rd party.

Iran Moves to Ban Two Opposition Parties

April 21, 2010

Authorities in Iran this week reportedly banned two of the country’s official opposition parties; and on Monday, two opposition leaders from the Islamic Iran Participation Front and the Mujaheddin of the Islamic Revolution Organization were handed prison sentences.

The move to ban the opposition parties must still be confirmed by the Iranian judiciary, which has turned more conservative since former Judiciary Chairman Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi left office and Sadeq Larijani took over the leadership role.

The Islamic Iran Participation Front and the Mujaheddin of the Islamic Revolution Organization parties advocated more civil liberties and changes in Iran’s system of Shiite religious rule. The political parties together comprised one of the country’s main political blocs.

Iran’s main political opposition group, the Green Movement, is reportedly not an officially recognized party in the country. Green party leaders include former Prime Minister Mir Hossein Mousavi and former Majlis Speaker Mehdi Karroubi. Mousavi, who was the leading Green Party candidate, was declared to have lost in a highly controversial election that had so many people claiming electoral fraud that they were willing to take to the streets en mass protesting the official outcome of the election.

The move to ban the opposition parties follows the sentencing on Sunday of two of the parties’ leaders, including Mohsen Mirdamadi of the Front and Mostafa Tajzadeh of the Mujaheddin, to six year prison terms for charges related to national security.

Tehran Informs IAEA of Second Uranium Enrichment Site

April 13, 2010

The Islamic Republic has informed the International Atomic Energy Agency that it is working on a second uranium enrichment site, which was kept secret until last week.

Last Friday, Ali Akbar Salehi, chief of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, confirmed that the Islamic Republic was in fact building a new uranium enrichment plant and alluded to the fact that UN inspectors would be allowed to visit the previously secret site. The Islamic Republic acknowledged the existence of the nuclear facility for the first time last week in a letter to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Tehran’s letter to the IAEA stated that “a new pilot fuel enrichment plant is under construction.”

President Ahmadi-nejad told a news conference last week that his country had complied with UN rules that required it to inform the IAEA six months before a uranium enrichment facility became operational, adding that the newly declared facility woudn’t be operational for another 18 months.

Tehran revealed information about the plant to the UN for the first time September 21; Tehran had previously acknowledged it had only one enrichment plant, at Natanz.

Salehi presented the facility as new, saying the country had achieved a “successful new step in the direction of preserving and enjoying its accepted right for peaceful use of nuclear energy.” He added that the Islamic Republic was “now in the process of building a semi-industrial plant for enriching nuclear fuel,” according to the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA).

“The activities of this facility, like other nuclear facilities in Iran, will be in the framework of the measures of the agency (IAEA),” he said.

At the Group of 20 summit in Pittsburgh last Friday, U.S. President Barack Obama, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and French President Nicolas Sarkozy threatened a new round of sanctions if the Islamic Republic did not come clean about its nuclear program, and for the first time, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev signaled that Russia may not object to new sanctions on Iran.

After a bilateral meeting between Obama and Medvedev last week, the Russian leader said, “Russia’s position is clear: sanctions rarely lead to productive results but in some cases sanctions are inevitable.”

China maintained its stance against sanctions but said the Islamic Republic should work with the UN nuclear watchdog.

Speaking about the Iranian situation last Friday, Obama said, “Iran is breaking rules that all nations must follow… and threatening the stability and security of the region and the world.” He went on to say that the Islamic Republic’s action “represents a direct challenge to the basic foundation of the non-proliferation regime.

“It is time for Iran to act immediately to restore the confidence of the international community by fulfilling its international obligations. We remain committed to serious, meaningful engagement with Iran to address the nuclear issue through the P5+1 negotiations,” Obama said just days before the scheduled October 1 meeting between Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia, the United States and Iran in Geneva.

But speaking in New York that same day about Tehran’s revelation of its second nuclear site, Ahmadi-nejad said, “It’s not a secret site. If it was, why would we have informed the IAEA about it a year ahead of time?”

The Islamic Republic has long said its nuclear program is not up for negotiation, but recently the Iranian president hinted that he may be willing to disucss the controversial program during the upcoming October meeting. The Obama administration has said it would bring up the issue of Iran’s nuclear program regardless of whether Iran is willing to talk about it.

The international community has come out strong against Iran in recent days. France gave the Islamic Republic a December deadline to comply or else face new international sanctions, Chancellor Angela Merkel said Germany was “very worried” about the construction of an additional nuclear site, Russia said it was surprised by Iran’s new disclosure of its second nuclear site, while China urged the country to cooperate with United Nations inspectors, but said it still wanted a negotiated solution.

IAEA spokesman Marc Vidricaire said Iran had stated that it intended to enrich uranium at the new plant, like its Natanz complex, only to the five per cent level suitable for power plant fuel. Since its revelations to the IAEA, the Agency has asked the Islamic Republic to provide access to and information about the plant as soon as possible.

According to the BBC, the new facility is said to be located underground at a mountain on the site of a former missile site belonging to the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, north-east of the holy city of Qom. Construction on the nuclear site, which is believed to be large enough to contain 3,000 centrifuges, began in mid-2006, diplomatic sources said.

Iran Caught in a 10-Year Cycle

April 13, 2010

Iran Caught in a 10-Year Cycle
Since the Iranian revolution of 1979, major changes have emerged every 10 years in Iran. In 1979, the Iranian people, led by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, forced out the shah as the country shifted from a monarchy to a theocratic republic.

Ten years later, in 1989, the leader of the Islamic revolution passed away and was replaced by the current Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. Ten years after that, in 1999, Iran was rocked by students protesting in support of more freedoms.

Now, exactly 10 years later, up to a million Iranians have taken to the streets after the June 12 election publicly questioning, “Where is my vote?” Despite the mass public protests, however, it is what is going on behind the scenes within the leadership that has the potential to evoke real change.

The 2,500-year-old country, which has a history of democratic movements, has passed through two revolutions in recent memory, the most recent of which is the basis for Iran’s Islamic Republic. Today, however, there is a growing divide within the leadership between the reformists who want to lead Iran towards democracy, openness and freedom, and ultra-hardliners who want to take the country back centuries before the revolution, to the time of the Prophet Mohammad.

While both groups emerged out of the revolution, the hardliners – who claim their authority and legitimacy from the late Khomeini – seem actually to be going against the very principals of the revolution he led.

While Khomeini spoke about the power of the people and the legitimacy of Iran’s leaders as given through the will of the people, hardline leaders such as Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi are working behind the scenes to guide Iran from its path towards democracy back to the time when Islam was first emerging.

In the early 1980s, Khomeini warned against radical leaders and cautioned that people in power should remember where their legitimacy came from. He said at the time, “It is necessary for me to give some brotherly advice to the respectable future leader or council of leadership and sincerely remind them that in the religions of the book and in great Islam, leaders or the leader do not have any innate value and should not, God forbid, become afflicted with pride and arrogance.”

The regime’s crackdown in response to the protesters shows that the current Iranian leadership is not following the guidelines of the Islamic Republic’s founder.

Many of the same individuals who helped lead the revolution are now working to take the country back to the time before the revolution – before even the monarchy – to the time when Islam was first emerging. These same leaders are believed to be working
discretely to change the leadership of the Islamic Republic from a theocratic republic to a theocratic dictatorship.

Studying Iran’s history reveals it is often what is out of the public eye that has the ability to evoke change within the country. The protests of 1999 garnered massive attention, but resulted in merely that. The outcome of recent protests against the re-election of Mahmud Ahmadinejad for a second four-year term remain unclear; but they have undoubtedly revealed a divide within the leadership and brought into question the legitimacy of not only the Ahmadinejad regime, but for the first time, the role of the supreme leader and the system itself.

It remains unknown, however, whether these public protests and the increasing and public division within the leadership will evoke a real change in the system.

Much of the future direction of Iran is dependent on the growing rift between two groups. One is led by former presidents Ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani and Mohammad Khatami, former presidential candidates Mir Hossain Mousavi and Mehdi Karrubi, and Grand Ayatollah Montazeri. The other side is led by Khamenei and firebrand Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi and his hardline hojjatieh (a semi-clandestine, radically anti-Sunni organization).

Rafsanjani, who is currently the head of the Assembly of Experts – the only group that has the constitutional ability to remove the supreme leader from his position – was recently in the holy city of Qom leading a hushed meeting with the Assembly of Experts of which the subject of the meeting is believed to have been focused on the role of the velayat-e faqhi.

The velayat-e faqhi, a post held only in Iran, has come to be accepted as the supreme leadership held by a single religious leader. Many Iranian leaders, however, argue that the post was originally held by Khomeini, but that the position – as outlined by the constitution – does not specifically call for one leader. They go on to claim that Khomeini, as the founder of the Islamic revolution, held the post as a single man, but that the constitutional position could be interpreted as being allotted to a group of religious leaders in an attempt to move the country towards a more democratic system. Khomeini himself referred to the position as being filled by either one leader or a council of leaders.

This issue, which is now being debated within the leadership itself, has caused an unprecedented rift between the mullahs of Iran. Reformist leaders such as Rafsanjani, Khatami and Mousavi are believed to want to move the country towards a more democratic system and are reportedly calling for the position to be filled (as the current supreme leader is reportedly ill) by a group of religious leaders.

Khamenei and Yazdi – who runs a seminary in Qom – are calling for the position to continue to be filled by one person. They are also rumored to be working behind the scenes to shift Iran away from its movements toward democracy and its foundation as a republic, towards a hardline dictatorial Islamic theocracy. Many leaders in Yazdi’s camp are believed to be grooming Khamenei’s son Mojtaba, who was this month honored with the title of ayatollah, as Khamenei’s successor.

Rafsanjani is well aware of this. During Friday prayers late last month, Rafsanjani said, “If the Islamic and republican sides of the revolution are not preserved, it means that we have forgotten the principles of the revolution.” Rafsanjani went on to recall that his mentor, Khomeini, said that the “people’s will” must be done, something Rafsanjani has accused the current regime of ignoring.

Yazdi, however, seems to want to do away with the republican nature of the regime, and some feel he has blatantly disregarded the will of the people. He has been quoted as saying, “If anyone insults the Islamic sanctities, Islam has permitted for his blood to be spilled, no court needed either;” and “It does not matter what the people think; they are ignorant sheep.” Insiders claim he wants to radically transform the country and take it back to the time when Islam was first emerging. Yazdi goes much farther than the hardline leader of the Islamic revolution, to the extent that Khomeini actually banned Yazdi’s hojjatieh group in 1983, saying “they cannot run even a bakery, let alone a country”.

In 1990, a year after Khomeini’s death and Khamenei’s takeover as supreme leader, the group reportedly re-emerged and began advocating an Islamic regime in which the velayat-e faqhi was an unelected leader selected by god not elected by the people. It is this same hardline leader who is the spiritual leader of Ahmadinejad.

Freedoms enshrined in the constitution are these days being withheld from the people, suggesting a move away from the fundamentals of the Islamic revolution and towards an even more regressive form of government. For example, Article 24 of the Iranian constitution states: “Publications and the press have freedom of expression except when it is detrimental to the fundamental principles of Islam or the rights of the public.” Yet the regime continues to censor the press and crack down on freedom of expression. Simply wearing green or chanting “Allah-o Akbar” can now led to detention.

According to Article 25, “The inspection of letters and the failure to deliver them, the recording and disclosure of telephone conversations, the disclosure of telegraphic and telex communications, censorship, or the willful failure to transmit them, eavesdropping, and all forms of covert investigation are forbidden, except as provided by law.” Yet, according to reports, the Nokia Siemens Networks sold to Tehran is now being used for exactly those purposes against the Iranian people.

In another example, Article 27 states: “Public gatherings and marches may be freely held, provided arms are not carried and that they are not detrimental to the fundamental principles of Islam.” But after the June 17 Friday prayers, tens of thousands of demonstrators were met with baton-wielding Basiji militia and riot police armed with tear gas.

Observers believe that Iran’s hardline leaders, including Yazdi, Ali and Mojtaba Khamenei and their followers, are currently working behind closed doors to drag the Islamic Republic back to the 7th century, away from democracy and in the direction of an absolute theocracy.

The millions of Iranians who risked their lives to join protests and call for their rights are not enough to stop this alleged political shift. It is up to Iran’s reformist leaders who have gained legitimacy from the Iranian people themselves.

Iran cannot afford to wait another 10 years.

Long Term vs Short Term Interests in the West

April 13, 2010

June 2010

The echo of 1978-79 and the Islamic revolution is everywhere, even for those too young to remember or those born later. A sea of protesters—men and women, of all ages, clad in western styles and in the full hijab—peacefully throngs the streets and chants from the rooftops, the demand for rights and opposition to injustice on everyone’s lips.

Today’s protesters against the official announcement of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s victory in the presidential election on June 12 have already secured one concession: Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s promise of an “investigation” into this outcome.

This is a signal of the intense pressure on the Iranian regime—from within the elite itself, from its own people, and from the international arena. This pressure was already evident during the election campaign, in (for example) Ahmadinejad’s attack on Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani on grounds of corruption, which in turn provoked the influential former president to criticize Khamenei for not intervening to stop the allegations. Now, after the questionably fraudulent election, the people have piled more pressure on the regime with their immense mobilization in Tehran.

Those who have taken to the streets do not all advocate regime change, but they do want more openness and democracy. This is where the third source of pressure—powerful states outside Iran (especially the United States, Europe and Israel)—need to be cautious and sensitive, especially in refraining from any statements or actions that may unintentionally encourage the Iranians to move away from the path they are on.

A political system on the verge of change exhibits two major signs: a crack within the leadership, and a widening gap between what the people want and what the system can provide.

In the current fluid and delicate circumstances, the United States, Europe and Israel must be careful to allow the emerging democratic movement in Iran to breathe, and refrain from actions that imperil it.

The pressure from within may be enough to force change on the Iranian regime in the direction of openness and democracy. But the wrong sort of pressure from without could yet put this process into reverse. The external powers most concerned by and involved in events in Iran could, by seeing the turmoil in Tehran as an opportunity to promote short-term interests, thwart the Iranians’ historic struggle. The future relationship between the Iranian people and the international community will depend on how the world behaves towards Iran today.

Women’s Rights Activists Detained in Iran

April 13, 2010

February 2010

Iranian police have detained three women’s rights activists collecting signatures in the mountains north of Tehran on behalf of the One Million Signatures Campaign for Equality.

The trio was seized January 30 while collecting signatures in support of changing laws they say deny women in Iran equal rights in matters such as divorce, inheritance and child custody.

Without naming the three, Sussan Tahmasebi—a leading member of the campaign—told Reuters one of those held was accused of spreading propaganda against the state; the charge is a common one used against women’s rights activists. Tahmasebi said the second detainee was released January 31, while the third was likely to be released by February 1.

Agence France Presse (AFP), quoting the Sarmayeh newspaper, identified one of the women arrested as Nafiseh Azad.

Campaign activists claim 47 of its members have been detained since the effort was launched in 2006, but most of them were freed after a few days or weeks.

“Obviously there are people who don’t want laws that are discriminatory against women to change,” Tahmasebi told Reuters, later suggesting that the recent arrests may be a message from the authorities ahead of International Women’s Day on March 8.

The Iran Times asked Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch (HWR), why she thought the regime was clamping down so hard on the One Million Signatures Campaign. “The issue is two fold,” Whitson said. “This is an issue that a wealth of Iranians are involved with as their sisters, mothers and wives are subjected to these discriminatory laws. The government feels very threatened by a campaign that the people themselves are directing that has broad popular support.

“The second issue is that if these women are successful in their campaign to make their desires known to the government, the government will feel threatened that other groups may also make similar attempts, so they want to nip it in the bud.”

Farida Deif, a Middle East and North Africa Researcher in the Women’s Rights Division at HRW told the Iran Times, “What has been concerning to us over the past year is the intensification against women’s rights activists in Iran. The One Million Signatures Campaign for Equality has been such a successful, peaceful, grassroots movement—a model movement in the Middle East. It is astonishing that the Iranian government has responded with harassment, travel bans and prosecution to silence this group. Our hope would be that the government would try to better understand the grievances of these thousands of women instead of silencing them. But instead, this is a testament that the Iranian government is unwilling to hear any type of reform.”

Despite the arrests, Tahmasebi said the campaign—which last month was awarded the Simone de Beauvoir Award for their efforts on behalf of women’s rights—had been successful in many of its efforts. She noted a recent decision by the Majlis to allow women to inherit land from their husbands or fathers as a “huge accomplishment.” She also praised a judiciary directive last year under which women who suffer injury or death in a car accident will be entitled to the same insurance company compensation as men.

Under Iran’s Islamic laws, compensation for the loss of a woman’s life, “blood money,” is half that paid for a man. This rule, which applies to physical injury as well, had also governed payments from insurance companies even though both sexes paid equal premiums.

In addition, Majlis deputies in September amended the controversial Family Protection Bill that would have made it easier for men to have multiple wives.