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  • 28 December 2009
  • Posted By Patrick Disney
  • 3 Comments
  • Events in Iran, Human Rights in Iran, Iran Election 2009

Trita Parsi on CNN: Why the US should care

Trita went on CNN yesterday to discuss why Americans should care about the roiling demonstrations in Iran. He was also asked about the IRGC’s role in an increasingly militarized Iran, and what that might mean for the days and weeks to come.

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  • 18 December 2009
  • Posted By Bardia Mehrabian
  • 5 Comments
  • Events in Iran, Human Rights in Iran, Iran Election 2009

The Basiji Road

“Now that I look back on it, I feel those men deserve pity,” says Ebrahim Mehtari.  He is responding to an Al Jazeera English interview question, asking “If you could face your torturers again, what would you say to them?”

“It’s a difficult question, but I feel they are more tortured than me…[They] need help. Because these guys – knowingly or unknowingly – have become part of a system which has turned them into machines of torture and death.”

Ebrahim Mehtari – a pro-democracy campaigner and a participant in the protests that happened after the 2009 election in June – provides an interesting perspective on the Basijis and the crackdown that ensued as a result of Iran’s unrest. Mehtari himself physically abused and sexually assaulted at the hands of Iran’s hardline security forces, believes that the polarized narratives between the government and its basiji forces against opposed – or even non-aligned – citizenry creates an identity clash that justifies extreme violence and violations of human rights.

“The reality is that even those who claim that they do not know what is occurring in the jails are only deceiving themselves. Many illegal prisons exist inside Iran where, once the prisoner is incarcerated, his jailers believe they own him.

They tear you apart because they have lost their humanity and see you just as an animal would. For them, the end justifies the means.

For a long time they have been dividing people into two groups: Either ‘insider’ or ‘outsider’; and ‘outsiders’ have no rights. Inside Iran’s prisons, anything can easily happen.”

This viewpoint is substantiated by a former Basij member himself who tells of his experience right before and after the June election in Iran:

“Any hint of protest was to be firmly supressed. If anything occured, to attack. Attacking people meant nothing. As I told you, anyone who thought differently to Ayatollah Khamenei and outside of the Velayat Faqih [the Iranian Supreme Leader] was considered an outsider. Therefore his protest has no place, therefore his opinion and protest is meaningless.

It was simple. It was not for us to think anything of them – both voters and protesters. In our view, it was not a protest against the issue but a protest against Ayatollah Khamenei himself. And it’s just not comprehensible to us that someone should want to question him. He is our guide.”

Mehtari also opines that while Iran’s government expresses itself as following the highest moral principles found in Islam, Mehtari and the opposition are filled with disgust to such blatant “lying”:

“For a long time Iran’s rulers have spoken a great deal about morality – and to be fair, part of this ruling system was genuinely moral – but today my country is infected by a disease of lying and immorality, and this sickness is spreading throughout the state.

The people shouting in the streets whose blood is spilled, who are tortured and raped in the prisons or killed, or suffer other hardships at the hands of the system – everything they endure is the result of a disease called “the lie”, and the loss of morality.

And at the same time, President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad can – blatantly – sit on that chair, stand on that platform at the UN and announce that ‘I am coming from a country where people are very hospitable’.

When those men can sit in front of cameras and stand on platforms and say: ‘We are all moralists, we are the sacred Islamic Republic system …’ perhaps they should delete the word ‘sacred’.

He and his cabinet spread nothing but superstition, lies, insults and immorality.”

This dissonance between the Iranian government and its citizenry also finds itself building rifts within the Basij and Iranian security forces as well. The immorality triggered the interviewed former Basij member into disillusionment as he observed the atrocities and abdication of Islamic morality that he swore to uphold:

“This is such a heavy burden, my head hurts. The faces, the screams are with me every moment. It’s not something you can forget or separate yourself from.

They [the captured protesters] were pleading, they were crying, they wanted help.

There were two men of the Sepah [IRGC officers] and they came forward as we approached. We asked what all the noise was about. They said ‘Nothing, this is Fath Al Moin (aid to victory).’ We said, ‘What do you mean, what are you doing? Who’s in there?’

Because they were Basij from the provinces we didn’t know them. We asked: ‘What’s happening, why are they crying?’

As we pursued the matter the confrontation got worse and they said ‘You have no right to enter.’ My relative said: ‘What do you mean? I’m one of the leaders here. You can’t tell me I have no right.’ And it really was so, but they didn’t allow us entry. We were all responsible and we clashed. After a few minutes a vehicle came into the courtyard.

Someone must have alerted the others that we were trying to prevent them from achieving what they set out to do, the Fath Al Moin.

They had come for us to prevent the scene from deteriorating. They said our superior had summoned us. They said, ‘Let’s go. Haji wants to speak to you.’ My relative was furious and very frustrated.

When we got there he said, ‘What is this? Sexual abuse is a serious crime. Who gave this order? Who authorised this? Haji calmly replied with a smile, ‘This is Fath Al Moin. It’s a worthy deed. There’s nothing wrong with it. Why are you complaining?’

When he said this Haji thought it would calm my relative down to know this. But the opposite happened, he became more upset. He raised his voice saying, “What do you mean it’s not a recognised crime? That it’s a good deed? Haji saw that he had lost control and said, ‘What’s the big deal? Nothing’s happened. What is the issue here?’

My relative said again, ‘What do you mean what’s the big deal? Is there anything more filthy than this, more ugly than this? With children, these are children, they haven’t done anything. They’re from our own home town.’

Haji saw that he couldn’t control him, that he wanted to return to the base and stop what was going on. He [Haji] said: ‘You can stay here for now. Tomorrow we’ll have a meeting about it, we can discuss it and see what the issue is.’

I insisted on staying with him. But Haji said: ‘You go and rest and we’ll get him home. You go, the driver will take you home and wait there. We’ll call you.’

The pain and the shame in front of people and before God. I’ve lost my world and my religion. I never thought that these matters could be contaminated like this. I thought that I was continuing the path of my uncles and our martyrs. All my interest and enthusiasm: to have the integrity for martyrdom.

We really saw ourselves as upstanding and separate from others. We really believed that what we did was correct, that we were serving the people, that we were serving God and that our mission was nothing but worshipping God. But now I am ashamed in front of people, even say that I was mistaken, and I am ashamed in front of my religion. I committed crimes, knowingly and unknowingly.

Now I’m left with my conscience punishing me for what I did. I hope that God and people forgive me.”

  • 16 December 2009
  • Posted By NIAC
  • 0 Comments
  • Congress, Diplomacy, Events in Iran, Human Rights in Iran, Sanctions

NIAC Efforts to Reform Sanctions on Internet Tools for Iranians Successful

For Immediate Release

Contact: Phil Elwood
212.486.7091

Washington, DC – The National Iranian American Council welcomes the decision by the Obama Administration to waive provisions of US sanctions that have kept important tools for online communication out of the hands of the Iranian people.  NIAC has worked extensively with members of Congress and Executive Branch officials, both before and after the Iranian presidential election in June, to ensure that US sanctions do not infringe upon the Iranian people’s basic rights to access information and communications tools.

NIAC President Trita Parsi called the decision “an important step in making sure the policies of the US government don’t unintentionally aid the Iranian government’s efforts to silence its people.” “Iranians are standing up to make their voices heard, using the Internet and social media as a powerful tool,” Parsi said, “unfortunately past efforts by the US to sanction Iran have unintentionally put up barriers to Iranians’ access to information on the Internet.  We are pleased that the Obama administration has taken steps to correct that fact.”

In a letter sent to members of Congress yesterday, the State Department explained that it has requested the Office of Foreign Assets Control to authorize the export to Iran of software necessary for the exchange of personal communications or for sharing of information over the internet, such as instant messaging and social networking. “Personal internet-based communications are a vital tool for change in Iran as recent events have demonstrated,” the letter said. “However, U.S. sanctions on Iran are having an unintended chilling effect on the ability of companies such as Microsoft and Google to continue providing essential communications tools to ordinary Iranians.”

Under US sanctions laws, the export to Iran of goods and services is prohibited, including free mass-market software that can be downloaded over the Internet.  Following this decision, companies such as Microsoft and Google who have previously shut down instant messaging services in Iran will be authorized to reopen their programs to Iranian users.

This idea was also raised in HR 4301, the Iranian Digital Empowerment Act, and the State Department’s decision comes two days after that bill was introduced by Rep. Jim Moran (D-VA). Last May, NIAC reported on Microsoft’s decision to shut down its instant messenger service in Iran, and sent a letter to Microsoft’s corporate offices requesting they reconsider their decision.

In the results of a survey conducted by NIAC this July, 95% of NIAC members support “the lifting of sanctions prohibiting exchanges, communication and interaction between ordinary Iranians and Americans.”

Some in Congress Get Smart on Iran

Cross-posted from the HuffingtonPost:

For more than two decades now, US policy on Iran has depended almost entirely on sanctions. Even now, Congress is set to pass the latest in a long line of “crippling” pressures: a gasoline embargo that both Republicans and Democrats believe is unlikely to alter Iran’s behavior in the slightest, but which some hope will cause enough pain for the Iranian people that they will protest a little harder than they already are.

But the yardstick for an effective Iran policy is not how much pain and suffering it will cause among innocent Iranians. Rather, changing the policies and behavior of Tehran’s repressive government should be our ultimate goal. This means that when it comes to sanctions, bigger is not always better. If Washington wants to do something on Iran, it should first stop helping the Ahmadinejad government repress its people.

Luckily, there is a chance that things are about to change. Just as most of Congress is stuck in the narrow mindset of draconian sanctions, two new bills have been introduced that offer a new way forward on Iran. The Stand with the Iranian People Act (SWIPA), led by Rep. Keith Ellison, and the Iranian Digital Empowerment Act (IDEA), led by Rep. Jim Moran, both seek to redefine how Congress approaches the Iran issue, in favor of a smarter, more holistic strategy.

To Twitter or Not to Twitter

“It was Sullivan who famously proclaimed ‘The Revolution Will Be Twittered’ and called Twitter ‘the critical tool for organizing the resistance in Iran,’” writes Evgeny Morozov a Foreign Policy blogger and Georgetown University Fellow. “It is easy to see why so many pundits accepted this narrative: they had seen something similar before,” he continues, referring to the “Velvet Revolutions” of Eastern Europe during the eighties and nineties.

However, Morozov quickly points out the fundamental flaw in such pre-emptive victories:

“In reality…this new media ecosystem [like Facebook and Twitter] is very much like the old game of ‘Telephone,’ in which errors steadily accumulate in the transmission process, and the final message has nothing in common with the original.”

Morozov’s critique – in the Fall 2009 issue of Dissent – on the opinion that Iran’s protest movement is somehow catalyzed through the conduits of social networking would make any postmodern thinker at least grin. However, Morozov posits that it is wishful thinking and arrogance on the side of Western democracy exporters who believe that the gadgets and toys for capitalist mass consumption can be seriously considered a source for “real change”.

  • 8 December 2009
  • Posted By Patrick Disney
  • 3 Comments
  • Events in Iran, Human Rights in Iran, Iran Election 2009

Turning Iran’s paper money green

Via Payvand, an ingenious new strategy from the Iranian protesters: scribbling opposition messages on bank notes.

Anti-government activists are not allowed to express themselves in Iranian media, so theses activists have taken their expressions to another high circulation mass-medium, banknotes. The Central Bank of Iran has tried to take these banknotes out of circulation, but there are just too many of them, and gave up. For the activists’ people it’s a way of saying “We are here, and the green movement is going on”.

Most of the notes are written in green ink.

Translation: “Plan to write 1 Billion slogans on bank notes.  Bank notes without slogans is like saying no to spring.”

A re-write of a saying on the left side, which says ‘Iranian people will find “knowledge” no matter where – Prophet Muhammad’ – changed to say ‘Iranian people will find “justice” no matter where’

“People’s enemy”

See more here.

  • 23 November 2009
  • Posted By Patrick Disney
  • 0 Comments
  • Events in Iran, Human Rights in Iran, Iran Election 2009

118 Days, 12 Hours, 54 Minutes

 

Newsweek reporter Maziar Bahari has written a touching and horrifying account of his experience in Evin prison following this summer’s tumultuous election crisis.

His story is not unique, either, and should be read as an indication of the ordeal so many other political prisoners are still enduring in Iran.

  • 18 November 2009
  • Posted By Matt Sugrue
  • 1 Comments
  • Events in Iran, Human Rights in Iran, Iran Election 2009

“A Death in Tehran”

Frontline’s “A Death in Tehran” has long been billed as a documentary re-visiting the June 20, 2009 murder of Neda Agha Soltan. However, the segment focuses more on those who are still alive, and who carry the emotional scars of those who have both lost a loved one and had their government turned against them. The story examines the heartbreaking stories of those close to Neda, from her sister and boyfriend, Caspian Makan, to Arash Hejazi, the doctor who tried to save Neda, Faranak, a former reporter for PressTV, and Bilba Tavakoli, a friend.

Makan, Hejazi, and Faranak are now living in exile but have been consistently threatened by the Iranian government for speaking out about the circumstances surrounding Neda’s death. Hejazi decided to speak out against the government’s attempts to obscure the truth because

in every life a moment comes that the integrity of some person would be tested. I realized on that day that this was the moment in my life. I had to chose between keeping myself safe or proving my integrity.

Faranak left PressTV when, after the election, she became disillusioned with the station’s coverage of the election and joined the protesters. After being shot in the knee with a plastic bullet, Faranak was taken to the hospital where she witnessed Basij forces storming the emergency room and attacking the patients. If Faranak’s testimony is viewed in conjunction with Ahmadinejad supporter Nader Mokhtari’s forceful statement “we will not lose Iran,” then it becomes clear just how far the current government is willing to go in order to maintain its power.

“A Death in Tehran” includes numerous clips – albeit largely from cell phone cameras – of the protests and government’s reactions. Videos of Basij members firing into crowds of protesters provide some of the most chilling images of the entire documentary. Even if the crowd were attacking the militia and military buildings, it is impossible that the Basij firing from the rooftops were strictly targeting the few violent protesters.

 What they [the Iranian leadership] don’t want to accept, don’t want to understand, this is the people of Iran. Like the Islamic Revolution that was the people of Iran as well; like the Constitutional Revolution. This is the majority of the people who want freedom, who want democracy, who want human rights,

said former Deputy Prime Minister Mohsen Sazegara when discussing the government’s crackdown on the protesters.

With its investigation of the events leading up to and following Neda’s murder, Frontline provides a chilling, insightful account of the ongoing post-election violence that is taking place in Iran.

  • 18 November 2009
  • Posted By Sanaz Tofighrad
  • 0 Comments
  • Events in Iran, Human Rights in Iran, Iran Election 2009

Five Iranian Activists Sentenced to Death

Tehran’s prosecutor office announced on Tuesday that five Iranian activists, accused of instigating unrest after the June 2009 presidential election, have been sentenced to death.  According to Radio Farda, these activists have been charged with accusations such as “acting against national security,” “publicizing against the Islamic Republic,” and “disturbing public order and peace.”  In addition, 81 of the 89 people who have been tried so far have received sentences of six months to 15 years in prison.

  • 17 November 2009
  • Posted By Patrick Disney
  • 0 Comments
  • Events in Iran, Human Rights in Iran, Iran Election 2009

PBS: A Death in Tehran

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At the height of the protests following Iran’s controversial presidential election this summer, a young woman named Neda Agha Soltan was shot and killed on the streets of Tehran. Her death — filmed on a cameraphone, then uploaded to the web — quickly became an international outrage, and Agha Soltan became the face of a powerful movement that threatened the hard-line government’s hold on power.

With the help of a unique network of correspondents in and out of the country, FRONTLINE investigates the life and death of the woman whose image remains a potent symbol for those who want to keep the reform movement alive. The film also explores a number of unanswered questions in the aftermath of the greatest upheaval in Iran since the 1979 revolution: How many were arrested and killed as the security forces attempted to contain the growing protest movement? To what extent was the presidential vote manipulated? What is the future of the movement that seems to have been silenced?

Read the official press release after the break.

Sign the Petition

 

7,350 signatures

Tell Google: Stop playing Persian Gulf name games!

May 14, 2012
Larry Page
Chief Executive Officer
Google Inc.
1600 Amphitheatre Parkway
Mountain View, California 94043

Dear Mr. Page:

It has come to our attention that Google has begun omitting the title of the Persian Gulf from its Google Maps application. This is a disconcerting development given the undisputed historic and geographic precedent of the name Persian Gulf, and the more recent history of opening up the name to political, ethnic, and territorial disputes. However unintentionally, in adopting this practice, Google is participating in a dangerous effort to foment tensions and ethnic divisions in the Middle East by politicizing the region’s geographic nomenclature. Members of the Iranian-American community are overwhelmingly opposed to such efforts, particularly at a time when regional tensions already have been pushed to the brink and threaten to spill over into conflict. As the largest grassroots organization in the Iranian-American community, the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) calls on Google to not allow its products to become propaganda tools and to immediately reinstate the historically accurate, apolitical title of “Persian Gulf” in all of its informational products, including Google Maps.

Historically, the name “Persian Gulf” is undisputed. The Greek geographer and astronomer Ptolemy referencing in his writings the “Aquarius Persico.” The Romans referred to the "Mare Persicum." The Arabs historically call the body of water, "Bahr al-Farsia." The legal precedent of this nomenclature is also indisputable, with both the United Nations and the United States Board of Geographic Names confirming the sole legitimacy of the term “Persian Gulf.” Agreement on this matter has also been codified by the signatures of all six bordering Arab countries on United Nations directives declaring this body of water to be the Persian Gulf.

But in the past century, and particularly at times of escalating tensions, there have been efforts to exploit the name of the Persian Gulf as a political tool to foment ethnic division. From colonial interests to Arab interests to Iranian interests, the opening of debate regarding the name of the Persian Gulf has been a recent phenomenon that has been exploited for political gain by all sides. Google should not enable these politicized efforts.

In the 1930s, British adviser to Bahrain Sir Charles Belgrave proposed to rename the Persian Gulf, “Arabian Gulf,” a proposal that was rejected by the British Colonial and Foreign offices. Two decades later, the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company resurrected the term during its dispute with Mohammad Mossadegh, the Iranian Prime Minister whose battle with British oil interests would end in a U.S.-sponsored coup d'état that continues to haunt U.S.-Iran relations. In the 1960s, the title “Arabian Gulf” became central to propaganda efforts during the Pan-Arabism era aimed at exploiting ethnic divisions in the region to unite Arabs against non-Arabs, namely Iranians and Israelis. The term was later employed by Saddam Hussein to justify his aims at territorial expansion. Osama Bin Laden even adopted the phrase in an attempt to rally Arab populations by emphasizing ethnic rivalries in the Middle East.

We have serious concerns that Google is now playing into these efforts of geographic politicization. Unfortunately, this is not the first time Google has stirred controversy on this topic. In 2008, Google Earth began including the term “Arabian Gulf” in addition to Persian Gulf as the name for the body of water. NIAC and others called on you then to stop using this ethnically divisive propaganda term, but to no avail. Instead of following the example of organizations like the National Geographic Society, which in 2004 used term “Arabian Gulf” in its maps but recognized the error and corrected it, Google has apparently decided to allow its informational products to become politicized.

Google should rectify this situation and immediately include the proper name for the Persian Gulf in Google Maps and all of its informational products. The exclusion of the title of the Persian Gulf diminishes your applications as informational tools, and raises questions about the integrity and accuracy of information provided by Google.

We strongly urge you to stay true to Google’s mission – “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful” – without distorting or politicizing that information. We look forward to an explanation from you regarding the recent removal of the Persian Gulf name from Google Maps and call on you to immediately correct this mistake.

Sincerely,

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