Monthly Report: July 2007
01 July 2007 Gozaar
Freedom of the Press
Continuing the ban on reporting sensitive subjects, the Islamic Republic’s government ordered journalists not to write about the petrol rationing or subsequent riots of late June. Newspaper closures have continued this month with the shutdown of Ham Mihan newspaper on July 3, only two months after it was allowed to resume publishing. According to officials, the new ban derives from a procedural mistake in the trial of its publisher, Gholam Hossein Karbaschi. Two days later, the government formally closed the newspaper Mosharekat, revoking its license and fining its editor, Mohammad Reza Khatami. Mosharekat had been under suspension for seven years for alleged propaganda against the regime, insulting articles, and other charges.
On July 7, the Minister of Culture, Mohammad Hossein Saffar-Harandi, stated that the government sees a “creeping coup in the press” Reuters reports. Consequently, President Ahmadinejad’s office announced the creation of a team to confront publications critical of the government. Communications and Information Deputy Mohammad Jaffar Behdad stated that the team would “use its legal and professional right to take a stand against the insulters and the black propaganda of a school that will keep on propagating its lies and black views against the government,” according to Rooz.
Six members of Tahkim-e Vahdat (The Office for the Consolidation of Unity) were arrested on July 9 while picketing at Amirkabir University to mark the eighth anniversary of a police raid on the university dormitories, as well as to protest the continued detention of eight other student activists. Later that morning, the offices of Advar-e Tahkim-e Vahdat, the student association’s alumni organization, was raided. Student activists and alumni present were arrested, materials and computers were stolen, and the offices were padlocked.
In late June, Shahrood University created a rule stating that student activists are to be expelled from dormitories. Only those students affiliated with the basij or the university’s Koran club are allowed to remain on campus. In late June, campus security at Amirkabir University raided an on-campus mosque where members of the Islamic Students Association were gathering at a late-night sit-in to protest the arrest of the eight students from their University. Iran has also put pressure on the families of arrested students. Rooz reports that the father of Saeed Derakhshandi, a Yazd University student currently serving a prison sentence in Evin prison, was ordered to court in late June. Sources at the BBC have said that 29 students were arrested in May and June, with over 200 brought to disciplinary committees.
Journalists Adnan Hassanpour and Abdolvahed Botimar were sentenced to death by a revolutionary tribunal in Marivan, in Iran’s Kurdish northwestern region, on July 16. Reporters Without Borders called the death sentences “outrageous and shameful.” Hassanpour, who worked for Asou, a magazine which has been banned since August 2005, was found guilty, in a closed-door trial, of “activities subverting national security” and “spying.” Botimar also contributed to Asou, although, according to Reporters Without Borders, the charges of which he was convicted are not known.
On June 10, the Islamic Republic sentenced Ayatollah Seyyed Hossein Kazemeini Boroujerdi and 17 members of his family to death. Boroujerdi was well-known as one of the few moderate clerics of his level, having publicly criticized the Islamic Republic as a dictatorship, the policies and ideology of Khomeini, and the office of Velayat-e Faqih, and he was additionally ideologically aligned with the moderate, secular-minded Ayatollah Sistani in Iraq.
On July 5, Jafar Kiani was stoned to death for charges of adultery, despite an order put forth by the Judiciary banning stoning as a form of execution. Kiani and his partner, Mokarremeh Ebrahimi, were originally sentenced to be stoned together in June, but tremendous international pressure led the government to stay their execution. According to the Stop Stoning Forever campaign, the sentencing judge, required by law to be present for stoning to commence, was absent for the execution. On July 11, Human Rights Watch (HRW) has issued an urgent call to prevent the execution of Mokarrameh Ebrahimi, the 43-year-old mother of three children by Kiani, as well as to remove stoning from Iran’s penal code.
On July 11, the Islamic government announced that 20 more men would soon be executed on morality violations. Most executions in Iran are hangings, often in public at the alleged crime scenes. Police arrested some 1,000 in May during a morality crackdown. Fifteen more men are being tried and could receive death sentences. Tehran’s Prosecutor General Saeed Mortazavi reported that 16 men, who according to police were part of a large group of “bums and gangs,” have been hanged in Evin prison. These men were arrested on charges of insulting women, theft, forced entry of private property and other minor crimes, highlighting the arbitrary nature of Iran’s justice system. According to Mortazavi, 17 more will be executed in coming weeks.
A 40-year old man accused of drug trafficking was hanged in public in Shiraz on June 20. The same day, Human Rights Watch called for Iran to end its execution of children. According to the organization, Iran has executed 17 people under the age of 18 since 2004, more than any other country.
Earlier this month, Iran sentenced several women who had been arrested for taking part in a June 2006 protest calling for the reform of Iran’s discriminatory legal code. Delaram Ali was sentenced to 10 lashes and three years in prison; Aliyeh Aghdam Doust was sentenced to 20 lashes and three years and four months in prison; and Nasim Soltan Beigi was sentenced to two years of prison. Amnesty International called for the release of all three women whom they consider prisoners of conscience and called for the commutation of their flogging sentences which it believes constitutes cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment amounting to torture.
On July 4, in a speech commemorating National Women’s Day, Supreme Leader Khamenei said “In our country, some activist women, and some men, have been trying to change Islamic rule in order to match international conventions relating to women… This is wrong.” Khamenei explained that “while certain issues relating to women which exist in religious jurisprudence are not the final word, only a skilful jurist can make new interpretations.”
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad stated that the criticism of the 57 economists directed at him last month will not change his economic policies, despite evidence of rampant inflation and unemployment. The petrol rationing initiated on June 27 was met with a surge of protests, with dozens of petrol stations and cars attacked and torched alongside the shouting of anti-Ahmadinejad slogans. The rations are seen as particularly unpleasant as Iran had previously subsidized gasoline, but although it is the second-largest producer in OPEC, it is forced to import over half of its refined products, according to the Telegraph. Iranians are now limited to 100 liters a month, roughly 26 gallons. The rationing protests have been among the most visible expressions of discontentment with the President, who was elected partly on promises of economic improvement based on oil revenues.
Iran has been preventing the exit of Mehrnoush Solouki, an Iranian-French doctoral student based in Montreal. She has been held in Iran since March, and spent one month in Evin prison. She was arrested on February 17 while conducting interviews for a film she was producing, with the government’s permission, on the effects of the Iran-Iraq war. Authorities have returned her French passport to her, yet she still remains under house arrest. Reporters Without Borders has reported that she has not been found guilty of any crimes and she has not been given any reasons for her detention. Reporters Without Borders has also reported the detention of three more journalists, Mohammad Sadegh Kabovand, Said Matinpour, and Mohammd Hassan Fallahieh. All were involved with minority-language media: Kurdish, Azeri, and Arabic, respectively.
Nobel Laureate Shirin Ebadi wrote a letter to Ayatollah Hashemi Shahroudi, head of the judiciary in late June, criticizing the lenient treatment of criminals in comparison with the journalists and scholars held in Iran on spurious charges. She claimed that the bail for journalist Parnaz Azima was 50 times that of a rapist. Ebadi also stated that she is still being denied access to her client Haleh Esfandiari, who is only allowed infrequent contact with her mother.
On July 16, the Iranian television network broadcast taped confessions by Esfandiari and Kian Tajbakhsh, purporting their participation in a U.S. government-funded “velvet revolution” aimed at overthrowing the Islamic Republic. The two scholars “confessed” to creating a network “to lead to very fundamental changes in Iran’s system.” Haleh Esfandiari, director of the Middle East Program at Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, and Tajbakhsh, a consultant with the Open Society Institute, were detained separately in May while visiting Iran from the United States. On July 25, Intelligence Minister Gholam-Hossein Mohseni Ezhe’i announced that “some people related to networks of Haleh Esfandiari and Kian Tajbakhsh have been arrested.”
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