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Bin Laden blew himself up to escape capture, bodyguard says

Wednesday, May 29th, 2013

Bin Laden “wore an explosive belt for the last ten years of his life,” his bodyguard reportedly said. (File photo: AFP)

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Al Arabiya

Osama bin Laden blew himself up to avoid being captured, a bodyguard of the former al-Qaeda leader told Gulf News on Monday.

“U.S. special forces did not kill Osama Bin Laden. He detonated himself to avoid being captured after American forces raided his hiding place in Pakistan in 2011,” said Nabil Naim Abdel Fattah, a former leader of Islamic Jihad in Egypt.

“The American president lied when he claimed that Bin Laden was buried in the sea,” he added.

Abdel Fattah acknowledged that he was not present at the scene, but said he “heard what happened there from Bin Laden’s cousin.”

Bin Laden “wore an explosive belt for the last ten years of his life. He insisted on never handing himself over to the Americans. The American intelligence had planned to capture him alive, but they miscalculated. He blew himself up to avoid being captured because he wanted to protect his secrets until death,” Abdel Fattah said.

Iran confirms arrest of its own senior diplomat

Friday, May 3rd, 2013

RadioZamaneh

Thu, 05/02/2013
Bagher Asadi

The Iranian Foreign Ministry has confirmed the arrest of senior Iranian diplomat Bagher Asadi in Tehran.

On Thursday May 2, the Iranian national broadcaster announced that a knowledgeable source in the Foreign Ministry has confirmed the arrest of an Iranian diplomat.

The report says: “After Reuters reported the arrest of a prominent Iranian diplomat and a member of the Iranian Mission to the United Nations in New York, a knowledgeable source confirmed the case in response to reporter questions but did not provide any details.”

The report was also mentioned by ISNA and other official media in the country.

Reuters had reported earlier that Bagher Asadi, the 61-year-old senior diplomat, was arrested in Tehran in March.

Charges against Asadi remain unknown, but Reuters suggests that his arrest may be connected with the coming presidential election in June.

Asadi was a supporter of former reformist president Mohammad Khatami. While many progressive forces in Iran have called on Khatami to run again in the upcoming election, conservative factions have indicated that his candidacy would not be approved by the Guardian Council.

Iran: Assembly of Experts Member Says Supreme Leader Not Infallible

Thursday, April 25th, 2013

In this March 10, 2013 photo, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, left, holds hands with chief of staff Esfandiari Rahim Mashaei, during a press conference in Tehran, Iran. Source: AP Photo/Fars News Agency/Mohammad Hassanzadeh

In this March 10, 2013 photo, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, left, holds hands with chief of staff Esfandiari Rahim Mashaei, during a press conference in Tehran, Iran. Source: AP Photo/Fars News Agency/Mohammad Hassanzadeh

Asharq

Despite decades of rhetoric to the contrary, the Iranian supreme leader is not considered infallible in the constitution—a fact which may become useful if there is a falling out between the top cleric and President Ahmadinejad.

Written by : 
on : Thursday, 25 Apr, 2013

Hojat Al-Islam Mohsen Heydari, a member of Iran’s Assembly of Experts, has acknowledged that the assembly is duty-bound to supervise and assess the supreme leader’s conduct. The statement came in an interview with Borhan, a Persian political website with a religious perspective.

Heydari clarified that the assembly should also make appropriate recommendations about concerns it has about the supreme leader’s conduct.

These comments are a very rare recognition by an official cleric that the leader can be fallible. Although the Iranian constitution does allow the dismissal of the supreme leader should he prove incapable of competently fulfilling his duties, the semi-official narrative has been shaped over the last two decades to portray an infallible leader. Anyone who dared to question his conduct was deemed an anti-establishment element and could be prosecuted according to the Islamic Republic’s penal code.

Heydari’s remarks do not pertain only to the present leader, Ayatollah Khamenei. In his interview, he pointed out that “Ayatollah Khomeini regretted his mistaken decision to appoint Adbol Ali Bazargan,” the first prime minister after the 1979 Islamic revolution.

According to the Islamic Republic’s constitution, the supreme leader must always be just and pious. Article 111 of the constitution stipulates that when the supreme leader loses his justness, he automatically is considered dismissed.

In the run up to the June presidential election, President Ahmadinejad is pushing hard for his favored candidate, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei. He is continuing his support for Mashaei despite clear signals from the leader’s inner circle that Mashaei will not be confirmed as a candidate for the presidency. Over the last few days, Ahmadinejad has outraged conservative officials by lambasting them over their intention to engineer the election, thereby depriving the nation the ability to exercise its inalienable right.

Perhaps Heydari made his sensitive remarks in contemplation of what might happen if Ahmadinejad is impeached by parliament or dismissed by the supreme leader. It seems that he is trying to pre-emtively explain why the supreme leader’s previous support of Ahmadinejad should not be considered an error of judgment should there be a falling out between the president and the establishment.

Car bomb hits French embassy in Libya, wounds two guards

Tuesday, April 23rd, 2013

People stand among debris outside the French embassy after the building was attacked, in Tripoli April 23, 2013. (Reuters)

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Al Arabiya with Agencies -

A car bomb targeted the French embassy in the Libyan capital early on Tuesday, wounding two French guards and bringing violence to the capital after attacks on foreign missions in the east.

“There was an attack on the embassy. We think it was a booby trapped car,” Reuters quoted an official as saying. “There was a lot of damage and there are two guards wounded.”

The wall surrounding the property was destroyed and the embassy building badly damaged, AFP reported, adding two cars parked near the embassy were also destroyed.

  • Libya 1 (reuters)
  • Libya 4 (reuters)
  • Libya 3 (Reuters)
  • Libya 2 (Reuters)

 

France on Tuesday condemned the “odious” attack on its embassy.

Al Arabiya correspondent in Tripoli said a unit of French’s special forces were being flown in to Tripoli.

“In liaison with the Libyan authorities, the services of the state will do everything to establish the circumstances of this odious act and rapidly identify the perpetrators,” Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said in a statement.

Fabius will fly to Libya Tuesday following the attack, a diplomatic source told AFP.

“The minister will be leaving in a matter of hours,” the source said. President Francois Hollande said earlier he had asked Fabius to dispatch a representative to Tripoli to assess the situation and oversee the repatriation of two injured embassy guards.

Meanwhile, residents living near the embassy compound, in the capital’s Hay Andalus area, said they heard two blasts early in the morning around 0700 a.m. (0500 GMT).

“We think it was a booby trapped car,” a French embassy official told Reuters. “There was a lot of damage and there are two guards wounded.”

In Paris, Fabius condemned what he called a heinous attack and said everything would be done to find the perpetrators. “I send my solidarity and deepest sympathy to the two injured French guards and my wishes for their recovery,” he said in a statement.

Tuesday’s attack is the first such serious assault on an embassy or foreign mission in Tripoli, where in general security is seen as better than in the east.

Security remains precarious in post-war Libya, a country awash with weapons and where militias often do as they please.

Veteran activist says Iranians still under tyranny

Saturday, February 9th, 2013

RadioZamaneh

Fri, 02/08/2013
Abolfazl Ghadiyani

Iranian political prisoner Abolfazl Ghadiyani has issued an open letter from prison, saying the Iranian Revolution failed because “absolute monarchy was reproduced as the absolute leadership of the Faqih (the expert cleric).

In a letter marking the anniversary of the 1979 Revolution, Ghadiyani writes: “The Revolution triumphed 37 years ago, but Iran’s freedom-seeking people…[did not attain victory]; the monarchy was toppled, but democracy was not established, and the people got only a taste of liberty.”

In the past three years, Ghadiyani has published several letters criticizing Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei for which he was recently transferred to the Ghezel Hessar Prison.

Ghadiyani is one of Iran’s veteran political activists. He was a political prisoner in the time of Iran’s last monarch and was released when the 1979 Revolution toppled the old regime.

Ghadiyani’s letter on the Kaleme website goes on to add: “Our Revolution did not reach its objective, and we failed because we revolted against an absolute monarch and being ruled by a single individual, and now those very structures are reproduced and established in the absolute leadership of the Faqih”

He insists that the people have to resist against the totalitarian regime by “demanding free elections at every opportunity.”

Ghadiyani accuses Iran’s Supreme Leader of “a coup against the people’s vote in 2009 and tainting his hands in the innocent blood of peaceful protesters.” He adds that now the leader has lost all legitimacy and regards any talk of free elections as a “seditious move and a betrayal of the authoritarian religious regime.”

He concludes: “In view of the current leader of the Islamic Republic and the physical elimination of its opponents, the responsibility for anything that might happen to me must rest with the highest authority of the regime.”

Last month a number of political prisoners in Evin Prison issued a letter protesting the transfer of Abolfazl Ghadiyani to Ghezel Hessar Prison, which they regarded as a punitive measure for writing critical letters addressed to the Supreme Leader.

Ghadiyani is 68 years old and suffering cardiovascular complications.

A horrifying journey from Iran to freedom

Friday, February 8th, 2013

A must read for everyone to understand the truth about the evil regime ruling Iran:

Hooman Musavi fled Iran upon being released from prison after several years of incarceration for “acting against national security.”

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty

By Vahid Pour Ostad

February 06, 2013

Born In An Iranian Prison — And Into A Lifetime Of Consequences

A young prisoner sat blindfolded, facing a wall in Tehran’s Evin prison. It was April 2010, nearly a year after the disputed presidential victory of Mahmud Ahmedinejad sparked massive street protests and thousands of arrests. The room was silent, but suddenly he heard a voice, closer than he would have expected.

“What’s your name?”

“Hooman Musavi.”

The prisoner felt a powerful blow to the back of his head. The man standing over him opened a briefcase and took out a pile of papers. “Sign them,” he said. He struck the prisoner again, this time in the face.

“The session took 18 hours,” says Musavi, 26, who recently fled Iran and shared his account of the experience with RFE/RL’s Radio Farda. “The entire time, the interrogator threatened me and insisted I sign everything — documents describing whom I had been in contact with, which demonstrations I had participated in, what reports and footage I had prepared, and to whom I had sent them.”

Musavi, who had been arrested for participating in and documenting the Green Movement protests, cried throughout the incident. “I felt so much pressure,” he says. Finally, the interrogation ended and guards took him back to his cell in the prison’s infamous Section 209, the solitary confinement ward where he was to spend the next seven months.

Any relief at the interrogation ending was short-lived. Within minutes, two men had entered Musavi’s cell and handcuffed his hands to a radiator affixed to the prison wall, so high that Musavi, already exhausted, could not sit down. As the hours passed, he watched as his hands turned purple from the pressure of the handcuffs and lack of blood.

“I was so weak, and the guard would open the cell door, put some food on the floor and close the door. I couldn’t move a muscle, let alone reach for the food,” he says. “I lost consciousness for some time, and when I came to, I panicked when I looked at my hands. They had turned black and purple by then. It was a very strange condition. My shoulders were numb; I couldn’t move them.”

A day later, guards entered his room and removed the handcuffs. Musavi fell to the ground, drained of all strength, as he felt the blood begin to flow back into his hands. The guards dragged him back to the interrogation room. The pile of papers had quadrupled. Musavi, desperate, said he was ready to sign whatever they put before him, but his hands were still too numb to hold a pen. So the guard brought an ink pad, and one by one, Musavi marked each piece of paper with a single fingerprint.

Hooman Musavi’s father, Shantia, was executed as a political prisoner before his son was born. Hooman’s mother died in a wave of mass executions when he was 2.

Day after day the interrogations continued, much as they had since security agents had stormed his Tehran apartment on April 1, posing as gas repairmen. They kicked him in the stomach, handcuffed him from behind, and combed every inch of his home — even the meat in his refrigerator — before taking his computer, camera, and mobile phone to look for evidence of Musavi’s participation in the postelection protests.

But it wasn’t just Musavi’s role in the Green Movement that had made him a target of the authorities. His family history had contributed as well. It was something his interrogator liked to remind him of, every day, as he returned him to his cell. “We’re going to execute you,” the man would say, in a voice that would make Musavi shiver. “Just like your mother and father.”

Repeating History

Hooman Musavi was born in prison, on Yalda, the night of the winter solstice, in 1986.

A month earlier, his father had been arrested on charges of cooperating with the Mujahedin-e Khalq Organization (MKO), which had participated in a series of antiregime attacks in the 1970s and ’80s and had fought alongside Saddam Hussein’s forces in the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War.

Musavi’s father, a textile manufacturer in the city of Shiraz, had sold head scarves to female MKO members. He and an in-law were taken to the city’s Adelabad prison and were executed within weeks. By then, Musavi’s aunt and mother had been arrested as well. Musavi’s mother, Haiedeh, gave birth in Adelabad, and Hooman spent the first two years of his life inside the prison.

“My aunt used to tell me how I was always sick during those two years; I cried the whole time,” he says. “I had sores and often caught bad colds. Even when I got older those symptoms stayed with me because of the stress I had endured early on. My aunt said my mother stopped producing milk and she couldn’t feed me. So some of the female inmates would give their food rations to women who were lactating and could still breastfeed children. I used to be fed by five or six different women there in order to keep me alive.”

Hooman Musavi’s childhood was marked by poverty and neglect.

In 1988, Musavi’s mother was executed as part of a five-month wave of mass executions of political prisoners. “My mother was a very simple woman. She didn’t even know what the ideals of organizations like the MKO were,” he says. “She never gave up under interrogation; she remained faithful to my father until the last moment. She was executed for this very reason.”

For the rest of his life, the shadow of his parents’ executions hung over him. Two decades later, struggling to survive in Evin, Musavi began to share his interrogator’s conviction that he would share his parents’ fate.

“I was thinking they might come back and take me to the gallows at any moment,” he says. “It had already happened to my family. I was raised with the understanding that innocent people can be captured and executed.”

Lonely, But Never Alone

Musavi was raised by his aunt after she was released from prison. An older brother and sister had been divided between other relatives and lived far away, in Mahshahr and Tehran. His upbringing was difficult, marked by poverty and neglect. There was no fatherly hand on his shoulder, no motherly affection.

For years the young Musavi harbored a secret dream: “I wished that they would throw a birthday party for me and that someone would buy me a gift,” he said. “But it never happened.”

When attention came, it was unwelcome. Musavi was 12 when he received his first summons to the Shiraz division of the Intelligence Ministry. He had done nothing wrong to attract the gaze of the security services. In his words, he had simply reached the age when authorities saw fit to remind him of his family’s history and urge him, firmly, to mind his manners.

“They questioned me and told me more about my family,” he says. “When I entered high school, the interrogations became more frequent and they would always tell me not to follow politics. ‘Fool around with girls, drink, use drugs — do whatever you want, but don’t get involved in politics. If you have the slightest political inclination we’ll arrest you.’”

The warnings proved ineffective. After entering university in Qazvin to study industrial engineering, Musavi was called before the school’s disciplinary committee numerous times for participating in student protests. “They would ask whether I prayed or why I was absent from visits to religious sites like Qom and Jamkaran. Questions that had nothing to do with the university and were meant to hurt me.” Half a year before he was due to graduate — and just a few days after the 2009 presidential election — he was suspended.

‘We Didn’t Want Much’

Many claims of irregularities were made in the 2009 vote, which officially handed the incumbent Ahmadinejad a 62 percent win, with his reformist rival, Mir-Hossein Musavi, trailing with 34 percent. Outraged, hundreds of thousands of people flooded onto the streets of Iran to support Musavi and a second candidate, Mehdi Karrubi.

Hooman Musavi (no relation to the presidential candidate) was among the protesters, using his camera to shoot photographs and videos of the demonstrations in Iran. When the government responded with a forceful crackdown, dozens of protesters were killed and thousands, like Musavi, were arrested in the weeks and months that followed.

Looking back at the events, Musavi insists his activism had nothing to do with the remorse he still feels for his parents. His aim, he says, was purely rational. “We didn’t want much,” he says of himself and his fellow protesters. “We just wanted someone to answer our question — what happened to the votes we had put in the ballot boxes?”

Friendship, Tears

After a few months in his tiny isolation cell, Musavi says he no longer feared his interrogators’ threats of execution. To the contrary, he longed for it. “I would cry for hours in my cell, and ask God for them just to take me and execute me,” he says. “Just to put an end to the situation.”

After seven months Musavi got a reprieve of sorts, when he was moved out of solitary confinement and into Section 350, the ward reserved for political prisoners. Living conditions remained grim. But Musavi says after months of isolation he was happy to be with other prisoners — especially former protesters like himself.

“They were dissidents of the regime or members of the Green Movement or prisoners of conscience, and there was so much sympathy,” he says. “They gave me a jacket and a knit cap, and my morale began to improve. I really felt like I had no regrets about having gone onto the street to film the demonstrators, to help make sure the world heard their voices. It was a good feeling.”

Hooman (right) was separated from his siblings as a child and they were not reunited until they were older.

Section 350 held some of Iran’s most famous political prisoners, including Hoda Saber, a well-known journalist and activist who had been serving jail time off and on since 2000.

In June 2011, the 52-year-old Saber began a hunger strike to protest the death of a fellow activist. His health quickly failed, and he died just eight days later of a heart attack. Witnesses at Evin complained that prison authorities ignored Saber for hours after his chest pains began, even as he begged for help.

“Mr. Saber was losing weight every day and his situation deteriorated,” Musavi recalls. “During the final days he was left in his bed and he could no longer see. He didn’t recognize his fellow prisoners; his condition was very bad. No one attended to him; when he would lose consciousness we would take him to the prison clinic. But they wouldn’t take him and he’d be returned after five minutes.

“The last time we took him to the clinic we didn’t hear until the next day that he’d become a martyr at the hospital. When the news reached us, the 200 inmates in the ward, there wasn’t a single person who wasn’t crying. It was one of the worst days of our lives.”

No Mercy

Nearly a year after Musavi’s arrest, officials had still not scheduled his court hearing; each month, a prison authority renewed his arrest warrant in order to keep him in detention. Finally, in March 2011, he was taken to court for a closed-door session. His lawyer was barred from attending and the Revolutionary Court judge was preoccupied throughout by workmen who had been brought in to repair the air conditioning.

The trial was over in 20 minutes. The judge, delivering the verdict, referred to Musavi as the son of antirevolutionaries and pronounced him guilty of acting against national security by participating in illegal gatherings and establishing contact with opposition satellite channels. His sentence: three years in prison, prohibition from all state universities, fines, and 74 lashes.

Another 16 months passed before Musavi was taken to be lashed. A total of 14 political prisoners were lashed that day: Musavi was the first. He had taken care to put on several layers of clothing, in the hope of dulling the pain. But a judge observing the proceedings ordered Musavi to strip down to a T-shirt.

“I was the first person to be lashed and I had the feeling that the soldier didn’t know how to do his job,” he says. “The lash consisted of three strands of leather woven together with a knot at the end, to make the tip very heavy and painful. When the soldier was lashing me, it hit me in the chest. My chest was purple, covered with bruises. My entire torso was swollen. I was doing my best not to moan or beg for mercy, but I asked: ‘Why are you lashing my chest? You should hit me on the back.’”

The last prisoner in the group was a dentist who had been sentenced to nine years and 160 lashes for his satirical writing about religion. The remaining prisoners, already reeling from their own lashings, were forced to watch. The strokes of the lashes were so harsh that they peeled away his skin. Blood gushed from his wounds, and the man screamed in pain. Finally, it ended.

“He was quite resilient, but when we took him from the room it was like carrying a corpse,” Musavi says. “His condition was critical. None of the others bled from the lashings. Their skin wasn’t cut, only bruised. But this man’s body was bleeding in several different parts, and his skin was slashed open. We were all crying for him.”

The 14 prisoners returned to the ward. No medical care was provided. The other prisoners brought bowls of water and strips of cotton to make compresses for their injuries. “It was if all the prisoners had been lashed,” Musavi says. “Everyone felt crushed.”

Escape, And Uncertainty

In August 2012, Hooman Musavi was released after 2 1/2 years in prison.
But even once outside he continued to feel trapped by the thoughts of his fellow prisoners still held in Evin. He visited their relatives and went to see the graves of activists who had lost their lives in the Green Movement protests, including Neda Agha-Soltan, the student whose shooting death was captured on video and became a graphic symbol of the brutality of the government crackdown.

But even these quiet activities drew the attention of the security forces. Musavi’s interrogator summoned him with a warning, reminding him of his months in solitary confinement and promising he would not escape the gallows again if he returned to prison a second time.

Left with no other option, Musavi fled the country, carrying only a small pack of possessions. (For his protection, his location has been left unstated.) He is uncertain what the future holds, but hopes that he will finally escape the destiny of the child, born and orphaned in prison, who could never outrun the Iranian regime.

REEL Talk

Thursday, January 31st, 2013

REEL TALK with Audrey Russo

Iran, Nukes and the Rest of Us with Reza Kahlili.
A detailed discussion on Iran.

January 31, 2013

Listen Here

Iran: Consolidating Power as Elections Near

Thursday, January 31st, 2013

hrw.org

Authorities Step Up Targeting of Lawyers, Opposition

JANUARY 31, 2013
(New York)– Authorities arrested, detained, and harassed some of Iran’s most celebrated rights lawyers, and stepped up their assault on critical journalists, bloggers, and their families in 2012, HumanRightsWatchsaidtodayinits World Report 2013.The government also prevented reformists and opposition leaders from participating in parliamentary elections, and is holding the opposition leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi, Mehdi Karroubi, and Zahra Rahnavard under house arrestas Iran prepares for its presidential election in June 2013.

The judiciary issued death sentences based on non-serious, vague, or ill-defined crimes such asmoharebeh, or enmity against God, and authorities executed several hundred prisoners, many of them alleged drug offenders. Discrimination, both in law and in practice, against Iran’s ethnic and religious minorities led to the arrests of dozens of Baha’is, Christians, and Sufi Muslims. Iran’s government refused to cooperate with United Nations bodies and denied entry to the specialrapporteuronhumanrightsinIran, Ahmed Shaheed, who released two reports providing a “deeply troubling picture of the overall human rights situation” in Iran. Thousands of Iranians, including many journalists and activists, have fled the country since 2009.

“The Iranian authorities’ obsessive clampdown on rights defenders, journalists, and the internet suggests they are intent on clearing the field of all opposition for the upcoming presidential election,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, MiddleEastdirectoratHumanRightsWatch. “The lesson that free and fair elections, not increasing repression, will lead to legitimacy and long-term stability seems to be lost on them.”

In its 665-page report, Human Rights Watch assessed progress on human rights during the past year in more than 90 countries, including an analysis of the aftermath of the Arab uprisings. The willingness of new governments to respect rights will determine whether the Arab uprisings gives birth to genuine democracy or simply spawns authoritarianism in new clothes, Human Rights Watch said.

In February 2012, Iran’s Guardian Council, an appointed body of 12 religious jurists, disqualified more than 2,000 prospective candidates for the March 2 parliamentary elections, on ill-defined grounds such as “lack of adherence to Islam and the Constitution.” Weeks earlier, the Iranian judiciary had announced that calls for an election boycott constituted “a crime.”

Authorities have so far not allowed opposition parties and candidates affiliated with the reformist movement to field candidates for the June 14 presidential election.

Iran remained one of the world’s foremost executioners, with more than 500 prisoners hanged either in prisons or in public in 2012. Many had been convicted of drug-related offenses, including trafficking and possession, which internationally are not considered sufficiently serious to warrant execution. The UN Office of Drug Control (UNODC) continued financial support for law enforcement projects to combat drug trafficking in Iran although its guidelines require it to freeze or withdraw assistance to countries carrying out executions for drug-related offenses.

Iranian authorities have executed dozens of people since January 2010, many of them ethnic minorities, for moharebeh because of their alleged ties to armed or terrorist groups. Currently, more than 20 members of Iran’s Kurdish minority are on death row, sentenced on politically motivated charges. They include Zaniar and Eghbal Moradi, who are at imminent risk of execution. Since May 2011, authorities have executed at least 11 Iranian-Arab men and a 16-year-old boy for alleged links to groups involved in attacking security forces. On January 9, 2013, authorities informed the families offive Arab activists that Iran’s Supreme Court had affirmed their death sentences for moharebeh.

In January 2012, the Guardian Council approved the final text of an amended penal code, but the bill has not yet been signed into law. Lawmakers and judiciary officials have repeatedly portrayed the proposed code as a serious step toward compliance with Iran’s international human rights obligations, but it retains the death penalty for child offenders and for crimes not considered serious under international law.

As of December, 43 journalists and bloggers were in prison in Iran, according to Reporters Without Borders. On November 6, authorities notified family members of Sattar Beheshti, a blogger, that he had died in custody following his arrest by Iran’s cyberpolice on October 30. In response to international and domestic pressure, and allegations that Beheshti had been tortured, Iran’s judiciary announced on November 11 that it would open an investigation and hold anyone responsible for wrongdoing accountable. A parliamentary committee announced in January that several arrests had been made in connection with Beheshti’s killing, but that his initial arrest was lawful and warranted. The committee said investigations were ongoing.

The government systematically blocked websites, slowed internet speeds, and jammed foreign satellite broadcasts. Iranian security forces significantly increased their targeting of family members of Iranian journalists working for foreign media organizations. In September, the government announced that the first phase of a “halal,” or legitimate, internet to protect users from socially and morally corrupt content had been carried out in most provinces.

On March 4, Abdolfattah Soltani, a prominent rights lawyer,  learned that a revolutionary court had sentenced him to 18 years in prison, barred him from practicing law for 20 years, and ordered that he serve his sentence in Borajan, a city more than 600 kilometers south of Tehran, where he lived. Prosecutors charged Soltani with “propaganda against the state,” assembly and collusion against the state, and establishing the Center for Human Rights Defenders (CHRD), which Soltani co-founded with the Nobel peace laureate Shirin Ebadi. An appeals court reduced Soltani’s sentence to 13 years and reversed the ban on practicing law. On the same day, an appeals court issued a six-year prison sentence against Narges Mohammadi, a CHRD spokesperson, on similar charges.

A month later, an appeals court informed Mohammad Ali Dadkhah, a defense lawyer, that it had upheld his nine-year prison sentence on charges related to interviews he had given to foreign media and membership in the CHRD. The court also sentenced Dadkhah to fines and corporal punishment (in the form of lashes) and banned him from teaching for 10 years. Mohammad Seifzadeh, Houtan Kian and Nasrin Sotoudeh, other defense lawyers, are also in prison. In December Sotoudeh and the filmmaker Jafar Panahi were awarded the Sakharov Prize.

The government denied freedom of religion to Baha’is, Sufi Muslims, and evangelical Christians. Security forces particularly targeted Baha’is in the northern city of Semnan. According to the Baha’i International Community, the government has shut down at least 17 Baha’i-owned businesses, and 22 Baha’is have been sentenced to prison terms ranging from 6 months to 6 years since 2009, with 111 Baha’is in prison as of September.

The government also targets Sufis, particularly members of the Nematollahi Gonabadi sect. It detained and prosecuted prominent lawyers and adherents affiliated with the group on a range of national security charges. Shaheed said authorities have arbitrarily arrested and detained over 300 Christians, the majority of them evangelicals or Protestants, since June 2010.

“The Iranian people will neither forget nor forgive the abuses that the government has committed against human rights and minority activists, journalists and opposition leaders when it is time to head to the polls in June,” Whitson said. “Nor will they forget those such as Sattar Beheshti who have been made to pay the ultimate price in the struggle for a free Iran.”

Iran currency collapse hits Iraq’s tourism

Thursday, January 31st, 2013

Thursday, 31 January 2013

By REUTERS 
KERBALA-IRAQ

Traders and owners of hotels in the holy city of Kerbala complain of sluggish business and a drop in Iranian pilgrims as a result of a sharp fall in the Iranian rial caused by a package of international sanctions imposed on neighboring Iran. (Reuters)

Traders and owners of hotels in the holy city of Kerbala complain of sluggish business and a drop in Iranian pilgrims as a result of a sharp fall in the Iranian rial caused by a package of international sanctions imposed on neighboring Iran. (Reuters)

The Iraqi city of Kerbala is a popular destination for shi’ite pilgrims, often drawing in thousands every year, with many coming from neighboring Iran.

But a plunge in Iran’s currency, due to western sanctions, has been a blow to the thousands of Iranian pilgrims who make up the backbone of religious tourism in the city.

Traders say business is slow, and those who can afford to travel to Iraq say the country is expensive for them, “Our problem is the exchange rate, we could not shop and buy presents because it is very expensive. The rate of the rial has dropped so we could not shop because the price of goods is higher than our purchasing power,” said Iranian pilgrim Abbas Najfi.

‘‘We have many problems here because everything is expensive, including the prices of transportation,” added another Iranian pilgrim Kifani Kuwaini.

Due to Iran’s currency crisis, neighboring Iraq has emerged as an important source for dollars, especially as business ties have been growing rapidly.

Since the fall of Iraq’s Sunni dictator Saddam Hussein, its Shi’ite-led government has brought the country closer to Shi’ite power Iran.

Although Iraqi money changers are making profits from supplying dollars to Iran, some merchants now refuse to accept Iranian currency from travelers, preferring the safety of U.S dollars,

“The rate of the rial dropped heavily, so the exchange rate for a rial is 300 Iraqi Dinar, the price of rial was1250 Iraqi Dinar. There were many Iranian pilgrims before and all the hotels were packed with pilgrims but now there is a drop in the number of Iranian customers due to the fall in the Iranian currency. As you know, our work depends on Iranians, there was no problem before but now there are many problems, many hotels were shut down when the Iranian currency collapsed. The cost of [hotel] is by U.S.

dollars now, but the Iranians can’t afford dollars,” said Haider Abbas who owns a hotel in the city.

Traders also say they are paying the price for the reduction in tourists, “Of course, people’s purchasing power has been reduced because of the discounted dinars and the dollars, so business has slowed down and the number of Iranian visitors have dropped. Before, there used to be around 2000 to 2500 visitors every day, now there are about 400 to 500 visitors coming to Kerbala every day,” said shop owner Abu Essam.

The Iranian economy has taken a battering since the introduction of U.S. banking sanctions a year ago that virtually severed the country’s links to the global financial system.

As a result Iranians have seen the price of food and goods rocket and their spending power slump, especially regarding imports which are directly affected by the weakening rial.

Iran Uses Machine to Amputate Criminal’s Finger in Public

Tuesday, January 29th, 2013

01/29/2013

ABC News

ap iran finger amputation ll 130129 wblog Iran Uses Machine to Amputate Criminals Finger in Public

(ISNA)

Three black-masked men stood on either side of a blind-folded, bearded man and held him as they guided his right hand towards what looks like a saw blade on the side of a large machine. A bloody finger flops off.

The man, a convicted thief and adulterer, suffered the grisly punishment in public in Iran late last week, according a report and graphic pictures posted by Iran’s official Student News Agency Friday.

The ISNA published four photographs of the incident, one of which appears to shows a masked member of the Iranian authorities showing the crowd the bloody aftermath of the 29-year-old’s hand. The man does not appear to show pain in any of the pictures, leading the French outlet France 24 to speculate he may have been drugged.

Immediately following the amputation, a local prosecutor reportedly issued a warning to all would-be criminals: the punishment for such crimes would be getting more severe.

The amputation comes just days after about 300 people reportedly gathered to witness a public execution by hanging in a Tehran park, as reported by The New York Times. The Times said that the public hanging was part of a “heavy-handed offensive by Iranian authorities, who say they are trying to prevent rising crime rates from getting out of hand by setting harsh examples.”

According to Norway-based Iran Human Rights, monitoring of Iran’s media shows there have been eight public hangings, one public amputation and four public lashings in Iran in the past 10 days alone.

Mahmood Amiry-Mooghaddam, a spokesperson for the rights group, said he believes the ISNA report is the first time Iranian media has shown the amputation machine – a move he sees as an effort to “terrorize” the Iranian people ahead of the 2013 presidential elections there.

Hadi Ghaemi, executive director for another rights group, the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, agreed and said he believes fighting crime is, at best, just part of the reason Iran has suddenly resorted to public punishments.

“Delivering such a cruel and inhumane punishment… [that's] a message to the general public that this regime is capable of extreme violence,” Ghaemi told ABC News today, also noting that the authorities may be preparing for public unrest ahead of national elections, not unlike 2009′s widespread protests.

Faraz Sanei, an Iranian specialist at Human Right Watch, said it’s impossible to know what the government’s intent is by holding these spectacles, but said Human Rights Watch believes some punishments “meted out by the judiciary violate Iran’s international rights obligations.”

Ghaemi said this kind of violence witnessed by Iranian citizens “belongs in the Dark Ages.”

Iran’s Evin prison: Jail or ‘hotel’?

Thursday, January 24th, 2013

By Bozorgmehr Sharafedin BBC Persian

24 January 2013 Last updated at 03:22 ET

File picture of female inmate peering from behind a wall as a guard walks past in the female section of Evin prison (June 2006)

On Monday, a group of Iranian MPs who visited the notorious Evin prison described Iran’s biggest jail for political prisoners as a “hotel”.

“From now on, I will call it Hotel Evin, rather than Evin prison,” one of them, Safar Naeimi, said after his six-hour tour of the complex in the capital, Tehran.

But in recent years, many prisoners of conscience, who were mostly arrested after the post-election protests of 2009, have complained about their conditions in Evin.

Last month, 20 prisoners wrote an open letter to the head of the prison in which they criticised him for allegedly not letting sick inmates receive proper treatment, claiming his alleged negligence had “political motives”.

It seems the MPs’ visit to the prison is an attempt to defuse such complaints.

Mohammadreza Mohseni-Sani, one of the four visiting MPs, said prisoners “had no complaints regarding security, health, nutrition and the facilities provided at the prison”.

Mr Naeimi said the prison’s hospital was of the highest quality, while the kitchen served good food and offered a diverse menu.

He said as well as meeting other political prisoners, he had met Faezeh Hashemi Rafsanjani, the jailed daughter of former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani.

“She was one of the few prisoners who complained about the food in Evin,” Mr Naeimi said.

Ms Rafsanjani is serving a six-month sentence in Evin for taking part in anti-government protests and spreading anti-state propaganda.

The outspoken daughter of the former president was put in solitary confinement last month and was barred from any visits for “disrupting prison order”, because she had protested against the situation in the women’s ward.

Safar Naeimi said “the quality of Evin’s food is better than the food at my home”, adding that “if Faezeh complains, it’s because she has been spoiled by different types of food that ordinary people do not eat”.

Mohammadreza Jalaeipour is a reformist political activist who spent five months in solitary confinement in Evin for running a campaign supporting the opposition leader Mir-Hossein Mousavi in the 2009 presidential election.

He has told the BBC that the main problem at Evin is not the facilities, but the way prisoners are punished by being put in solitary confinement, or by being deprived of leave, phone calls and family visits.

“In solitary confinement, the prisoner is struggling [to breathe] the stuffy air, with isolation from the outside world and the pressures of the interrogators. It’s not a matter of food or hygiene. The pressures are more mental than physical,” Mr Jalaeipour said.

He said Evin’s hospital might seem to meet standards, but it is short of specialised staff to treat certain diseases.

‘Health risk’

The wife of Abolfazl Ghadyani, one of the oldest political prisoners of Iran, has told BBC Persian that she was afraid for her husband’s life.

Zahra Rahimi said Mr Ghadyani almost had a heart attack in Evin last year, and that he was given the wrong medicine which caused him more health problems.

She mentioned the case of Hoda Saber, an Iranian journalist and veteran activist, who died of a heart attack in Evin after going on a hunger strike seven months ago.

“It was because the doctors didn’t do enough to save him,” she said.

She is afraid that the same thing might happen to her husband or other prisoners with heart conditions.

Abolfazl Ghadyani was sentenced to six years in prison for insulting the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

He was transferred to Ghezel Hesar prison outside Tehran a few days ago for continuing to write critical letters to the authorities from inside the prison.

“He is now in the same ward as drug addicts, traffickers and murderers,” his wife says.

More than 100 complaint letters have found their way out of Evin prison in the last few years, but its prisoners can still be punished by being sent to other prisons in Iran.

Iran helps Syria build paramilitary force

Monday, January 21st, 2013

Theaustralian.com

  • AAP 
  • January 22, 2013
PRESIDENT Bashar al-Assad’s regime has put together a new paramilitary force of men and women, some trained by key ally Iran, to fight what is now becoming a guerrilla war, a watchdog says.

The force, dubbed the National Defence Army, gathers together existing popular committees of pro-regime civilian fighters under a new, better-trained and armed hierarchy, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

The popular committees were originally formed to protect pro-regime neighbourhoods from rebels.

“The (regular) army is not trained to fight a guerrilla war, so the regime has resorted to creating the National Defence Army,” said Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman.

Most of the new fighters are members or supporters of the ruling Baath party, said Abdel Rahman. “They include men and women, and members of all the sects.”

The new force is not connected to the pro-regime shabiha militia, which the army and security forces have deployed ever since the outbreak of an anti-regime revolt to help it suppress dissent across the country.

Members of the paramilitary force, like the popular committees before, will focus on fighting in their own neighbourhoods.

On Friday, Moscow’s Russia Today reported on its website that the new National Defence Army was being set up to “defend districts against gunmen”.

“The Syrian authorities are set to create … a National Defence Army, parallel to regime forces, so that the (regular) army is freed up for combat,” the website reported citing an unnamed official.

Abdel Rahman, whose Observatory relies on a network of activists and medics on the ground, said Iran was involved in building the paramilitary force.

“The paramilitary force includes an elite fighting force trained by Iran,” Abdel Rahman told AFP.

“Iran has provided training to the paramilitary force’s commando fighters.”

Iran, Damascus’s key regional ally, staunchly backs Assad and in September 2012 said its elite Quds Force, which is tasked with carrying out operations outside the Islamic republic, was giving Damascus “counsel and advice”.

On the ground, an activist said the new force was already active in the central province of Homs.

“The number of regime fighters in the province has swelled in recent days, as the National Defence Army has started to come into action,” anti-regime activist Hadi al-Abdullah told AFP via the internet from the rebel-held town of Qusayr.

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