Groups join forces, urge Iran to free journalists (Source: Committee to Protect Journalists)

By , February 12, 2010 10:36 am

An international coalition of prominent human rights organizations have joined together in an effort to raise awareness about and help secure the releases of journalists and writers imprisoned in Iran, including Kian:

“February 11, 2010, New York—A coalition of leading international journalists’, writers’, and publishers’ organizations today launched a campaign to press the government of Iran to release their colleagues imprisoned in the wake of last year’s disputed presidential election CPJ, PEN, Reporters Sans Frontières, Index on Censorship, Canadian Journalists for Free Expression, and the International Publishers Association have joined forces for the campaign out of what the groups have called “a sense of shared, urgent concern for the welfare of journalists, writers, and bloggers and a profound alarm over the situation for free expression in Iran.”

The “Our Society Will Be a Free Society” campaign, named for a pledge the Ayatollah Khomenei made during the 1979 Iranian revolution to protect freedom of expression and the press, kicks off on the 31st anniversary of the revolution and four days before the UN Human Rights Council convenes in Geneva to review Iran’s human rights record. In an open letter released today, the coalition called on Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to honor the original spirit of the Iranian revolution and order the release of at least 60 writers, journalists, and bloggers currently in prison in Iran in apparent violation of their right to freedom of expression…

The list of writers, journalists, and bloggers currently in prison in Iran includes some of Iran’s most distinguished journalists, some of the country’s leading bloggers, and Kian Tajbakhsh, an Iranian-American scholar and social planner who was sentenced in August 2009 to 15 years in prison following a mass trial of 140 activists, intellectuals, and writers accused of fomenting a “velvet revolution.” Among the journalists are Emadeddin Baghi, also a well known author and human rights defender; Mashallah Shamsolvaezin, an award-winning editor and press freedom advocate; and Shiva Nazar Ahari, a human rights journalist who has been jailed twice in the last eight months. The Committee to Protect Journalists this month announced that the 47 journalists now in prison in Iran are more than any other country on earth has imprisoned at any one time since 1996.

“Despite mass arrests, forced confessions, harassment and intimidation, journalists are still working,” said Committee to Protect Journalists Chairman Paul Steiger. “We must send these courageous men and women, and the nearly 50 journalists currently behind bars, a clear message of support. Iran is now the biggest jailer of journalists in the world. President Ahmadinejad should be ashamed of this fact and release our colleagues immediately.”

The coalition is not only addressing the government of Iran, but also urging world leaders to apply pressure on Iran to release all those who are in prison simply for exercising their right to freedom of expression.

“Next week, the Human Rights Council of the United Nations meets to examine Iran’s human rights record,” said Marian Botsford Fraser, Chair of the Writers in Prison Committee of International PEN. “In its own submission to the Council, the government of Iran points out that its constitution protects basic human rights and fundamental freedoms, including freedom of expression, the freedom to assembly peacefully, and freedom from arbitrary arrests”

“And yet,” Fraser continued, “Despite these protections, the Human Rights council has before it more than 200 reports documenting the arbitrary arrests, incommunicado detentions, and torture, often for the purposes of extracting false confessions, of intellectuals, students, artists, human rights defenders, journalists, and others after the disputed presidential elections last year. We implore the members of the Council to question Iran carefully on its human rights performance, and especially on the fate of at least 60 writers, journalists, and bloggers currently in prison in that country.”

“Arresting journalists and writers is wrong and counterproductive at the same time,” [journalist and former Evin prison detainee] Maziar Bahari said today. “It is illegal even according to Iranian laws, and the Iranian government is actually undermining its own authority by arresting journalists. In Iran, journalists have always reflected people’s frustration with the government. By denying people of a peaceful way to vent their anger the government of Iran is forcing people to act out their anger on the streets,” he concluded.

The “Our Society Will Be A Free Society” campaign is a joint initiative of The Committee to Protect Journalists, International PEN and PEN American Center and English PEN, Reporters Sans Frontières, Index on Censorship, Canadian Journalists for Free Expression, and the International Publishers Association. The campaign will run through March 20, 2010, the Iranian New Year, with events aimed at building pressure for the release of writers and journalists in prison in Iran continuing in North America and Europe through the spring.”

[Link to statement]

Iran Mobilizes to Stifle Opposition Protests (Source: Wall Street Journal)

By , February 11, 2010 1:44 pm

WSJ’s Farnaz Fassihi reported on the run-up to Iran’s February 11 anniversary demonstrations, including news of Kian’s appeal:

“BEIRUT—Iranian authorities deployed in force across Tehran Wednesday to conduct last-minute security sweeps and warn residents to refrain from joining antigovernment protests planned for Thursday.

The government typically orchestrates large, carnival-like rallies and demonstrations to mark the anniversary of the Islamic Republic. For this year’s events on Feb. 11, the day marking the culmination of the annual celebrations, opposition leaders have called for protesters to demonstrate against the regime. That has set the stage for clashes between authorities and demonstrators, who have taken to the streets repeatedly to protest the outcome of presidential elections in June.

Government officials, meanwhile, ratcheted up threats against any protests Thursday, vowing to confront demonstrators on the streets and calling for government supporters to turn out in large numbers. Iranian officials have branded protesters as agents of foreign powers.

The Iranian judiciary has handed down a number of harsh sentences against protesters arrested in previous demonstrations, including at least 10 pending death sentences.

On Wednesday, semi-official news services and opposition Web sites reported last-minute attempts by police and plain-clothes militia to suppress antigovernment demonstrations.

Basij militia took over a large bus and taxi station in western Tehran, shutting it down and draping a banner over the terminal stating the area will serve as headquarters for security forces.

Iranian Web sites said the bus terminal would also be used by security forces coming in from the provinces to help suppress protests in the capital.

The government typically buses in large numbers of government supporters from outlying regions to Tehran to participate in rallies.

Meanwhile, human-rights groups in Iran reported late Wednesday that 19 mothers whose children were killed in previous post-election unrest, had been detained by authorities.

Iran’s telecommunications agency announced what it described as a permanent suspension of Google Inc.’s email services, saying instead that a national email service for Iranian citizens would soon be rolled out. It wasn’t clear late Wednesday what effect the order had on Google’s email services in Iran.Iranians have reported widespread service disruptions to Internet and text messaging services, though mobile phones appeared to be operating normally Wednesday.

Google didn’t have an immediate comment about the announcement.

Police have also confiscated satellite dishes from residential roof tops, according to opposition Web sites. Some pedestrians have been quoted on opposition Web sites saying that their mobile phones were searched and, in some cases, taken by police patrolling areas of the capital where protests have erupted in the past.

Iranian authorities tasked with upholding Islamic values have also been scouring the streets, harassing people wearing green, the trademark color of the opposition, according to witness accounts posted on opposition Web sites.

Basij forces, the mostly volunteer corps of progovernment militia, have distributed flyers to homes in many neighborhoods, saying that progovernment supporters “will confront the enemies of Islam” in any protests Thursday.

In south Tehran, Basij members came in a caravan of 15 motorbikes, according to several opposition sites, whose accounts corroborated with each other. They knocked on doors and handed out flyers, or threw them over the street-side walls of residential compounds, the reports said.

Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, the country’s elite security force, has deployed its troops along routes planned for the opposition demonstrations on Thursday.

Local media have been warned to avoid provocative headlines and not to cover protests not sanctioned by the state. The few foreign reporters still accredited to work in Iran have been told they can only cover government celebrations, and are banned from interviewing opposition supporters or regular citizens.

Political dissidents and activists who were recently released from jail have been called in by the intelligence ministry in the past few days and warned not to take part in demonstrations on Thursday, according to a report by the Organization to Defend Human Rights and Democracy in Iran, a local human-rights group.

Opposition leaders don’t appear to be backing down. Mehdi Karroubi, a former presidential candidate, said Wednesday he will march peacefully from a neighborhood in west Tehran towards the capital’s Azadi Square Thursday morning.

Opposition Web sites reported that former president Hashemi Rafsanjani, an opposition leader, held an emergency meeting with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Monday night, complaining about the heavy-handed crackdowns ahead of Feb. 11 and calling for “the end of shameful actions” against protesters.

Despite the crackdown, authorities Wednesday appeared to also signal some flexibility. Iran’s Revolutionary Court on Wednesday reduced the prison sentence of Iranian-American scholar Kian Tajbakhsh to five years in from 15, in an appellate hearing. Mr. Tajbakhsh was sentenced on charges of plotting against national security.

Alireza Beheshti, a top aide to opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi, was released from prison Tuesday night in critical condition, after suffering a heart attack in Evin prison this week, according to opposition Web sites.”

[Link to article]

In Tehran, opposition and government gather forces on eve of 22 Bahman (Source: LA Times)

By , February 11, 2010 1:40 pm

The expected protests on February 11 have prompted Iranian officials to order sweeping arrests and a media crackdown punctuated by occasional demonstrations of leniency toward certain political prisoners including Kian:

“Helicopters circled overhead Wednesday as municipal workers erected refreshment stands in Tehran’s Azadi Square in preparation for Thursday’s nationwide celebration of the founding of the Islamic Republic, according to eyewitnesses.

Meanwhile, opposition protesters are steeling themselves for an impending showdown, coming up with slogans such as “Yes, Islamic Republic, but not dictatorship”; “The continuation of revolution is to fight despotism”; and “Death to oppressors, whether in Gaza or Tehran,” according to a witness.

“The regime is really scared,” one resident of the capital wrote in an e-mail to The Times. “Anytime [the helicopters] fly over my domicile, everything trembles.”

Major television channels Wednesday were dominated by footage of previous years’ rallies accompanied by patriotic songs and scrolling tickers that read, “The Iranian nation will rise up on 22 Bahman and will voice their cries of freedom and anti-tyranny.”

Alternative media outlets and social networking sites were abuzz with rumors of “shoot to kill” orders and Chinese paintball guns for tagging protesters.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has vowed that the government will be “the sole owner of 22 Bahman,” but the authorities aren’t taking any chances.

Security forces have announced that no opposition will be tolerated, and have arrested several individuals for preparing “deviant slogans.”

“If anyone wants to disrupt this glorious ceremony, they will be confronted by people and we too are fully prepared,” Police Chief Ismail Ahmadi Moghaddam told Fars news agency.

The judiciary also sent a strong message Wednesday, sentencing one protester to death and eight to prison for participating in protests in December, and upholding sentences for 35 people arrested in connection with the post-election unrest, according to the website Dadsara.ir, the official news outlet of the judiciary.

An appeals court did, however, reduce the Iranian American academic Kian Tajbakhsh’s sentence from 15 to five.

Meanwhile, Reporters Without Borders says more than 65 journalists and “netizens” have been imprisoned in Iran.

“This is a figure that is without precedent since Reporters Without Borders was created in 1985,” the organization’s secretary-general, Jean-François Julliard, said in a statement on the group’s website. “The detainees include journalists based in Tehran and the provinces.”

Those with connections to opposition figures are also reportedly being rounded up. The nephew of Mir-Hossein Mousavi’s wife, Zahra Rahnavard, was detained after security forces summoned him to Evin Prison to “answer to some questions,” and two senior members of the Supreme Council for Cultural Revolution have been dismissed for their cooperation with Mousavi’s presidential campaigning committees.”

[Link to article]

Iran: The Politics of Resistance (Source: New School for Social Research)

By , February 10, 2010 1:46 pm

A conference dedicated to Kian entitled “Iran: The Politics of Resistance” is scheduled to be held at the New School in New York City this Friday, Febraury 12.

[Conference program]

Iran court cuts jail term for U.S.-Iranian scholar (Source: Reuters)

By , February 10, 2010 1:35 pm

Although Kian’s 15-year sentence has been reduced to 5 years on appeal, the struggle to free him continues. The news was announced by his court-appointed (as opposed to independent) lawyer in advance of tomorrow’s expected protests:

“TEHRAN (Reuters) – An Iranian appeal court has reduced to five years the jail sentence for an Iranian-American scholar detained after last year’s disputed election and accused of espionage, an Iranian news agency reported on Wednesday.

In October, official media said Kian Tajbakhsh was sentenced to more than 12 years in jail.

“The appeal court sentenced my client … to five years in jail,” said lawyer Houshang Azhari, the semi-official Fars News Agency reported.

“It was a very good reduction … about two-thirds of the initial sentence,” he said.

Last year, the U.S. State Department said it had been told that Tajbakhsh was jailed for 15 years and it urged Tehran to immediately release him, saying the United States was deeply concerned about the long jail term.

Tajbakhsh was among thousands of people detained after the presidential poll in June last year, which plunged the Islamic Republic into turmoil. He was accused of espionage and acting against national security.

The moderate opposition says the vote was rigged to secure President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s re-election. Officials deny the accusations.

Iranian authorities have portrayed the protests that erupted after the election as a foreign-backed bid to undermine the Islamic Republic’s clerical leadership.

Tajbakhsh, an Iranian American who holds a doctorate in urban planning from Columbia University, was first arrested by Iranian authorities in May 2007, charged with spying and then released after more than four months in Tehran’s Evin prison.

The United States, which cut diplomatic ties with Tehran after the revolution, accuses Iran of seeking to develop nuclear weapons. Iran says its nuclear program is to generate electricity so it can export more oil and gas.”

[Link to article]

Kian Tajbakhsh’s 15 year sentence will be overturned (Source: International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran)

By , February 10, 2010 1:31 pm

Prior to the verdict on Kian’s appeal, his lawyer explained that his sentence should be overturned:

“Replying to a question from International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran about the case of Kian Tajbakhsh, a post elections prisoner whose case is in an appeals court, Kian Tajbakhsh’s attorney said: “Regarding the appeals request I filed with the Revolutionary Courts after the initial court’s verdict, soon we expect an appeals verdict and God willing, through efforts and existing evidence, this ruling will be overturned.”

Massoud Shafiee told the Campaign that by reviewing Kian Tajbakhsh’s case, he has come to the conclusion that no crime has taken place and he has asked the Appeals Court to consider exonerating his client. “I have asked for an exoneration and I hope that the fair judge would consider the evidence in the case and rule for my client’s innocence.”

Referring to Tajbakhsh’s initial court, his attorney also said: “He had a court appointed lawyer in the initial court. In the beginning of his case he had bail orders. When I entered the case at appeals stage, I noticed that his bail orders had been converted to detention orders.” He emphasized that he has read the case and he is sure that the ruling will be overturned.

Kian Tajbakhsh’s initial bail was set at $500,000. According to Shafiee, he can meet with his family every Thursday and is currently in a house outside the prison with other post-elections prisoners. His detention location is under the custody of IRGC. Previously, he was kept in IRGC’s Ward 2.”

[Link to article]

Joint EU-US Statement Calling on the Iranian Government to Fulfill Its Human Rights Obligations (Source: White House)

By , February 8, 2010 1:29 pm

On the advance of expected protests in Iran on February 11, the United States White House and European Union have issued a statement calling on Iran to respect human rights:

“The United States and the European Union condemn the continuing human rights violations in Iran since the June 12 election. The large scale detentions and mass trials, the threatened execution of protestors, the intimidation of family members of those detained and the continuing denial to its citizens of the right to peaceful expression are contrary to human rights norms.

Our concerns are based on our commitment to universal respect for human rights. We are particularly concerned by the potential for further violence and repression during the coming days, especially around the anniversary of the Islamic Republic’s founding on 11 February. We call on the Government of Iran to live up to its international human rights obligations, to end its abuses against its own people, to hold accountable those who have committed the abuses and to release those who are exercising their rights.”

[Link to statement]

Clinton urges Iran to ‘unilaterally release’ Americans (Source: AFP)

By , February 3, 2010 5:22 am

United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, speaking to reporters in Washington with Bahrain’s foreign minister Sheikh Khalid bin Ahmed al-Khalifa, renewed calls for the unconditional release of Americans held in Iran including Kian:

“WASHINGTON – US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called Wednesday on  Iran to “unilaterally release” three hikers and other Americans in Iranian custody as she denied there were any negotiations on a prisoner swap.

In a state television interview, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadineja said Tuesday that talks about exchanging prisoners with Washington were underway when asked about the fate of three American hikers detained in Iran…

“There are no negotiations taking place between the United States and Iran. We believe they should unilaterally release our detained citizens,” the chief US diplomat said.

Clinton repeated previous demands that all US citizens held in Iran should be released “without delay” on humanitarian grounds because their detention “is baseless.”

Earlier, her spokesman Philip Crowley dismissed the idea of a prisoner swap with Iran, saying Americans in Iranian custody cannot be equated with Iranians convicted in US courts.

“We’re not interested in a swap per se,” Crowley told reporters. “We are interested in resolving the cases of our citizens.”

Iran is holding a number of US citizens in custody, including hikers Sarah Shourd, Josh Fattal and Shane Bauer, who were arrested on July 31 after wandering over the Iraq border into Iranian territory.

Crowley added that Washington also wants the release of US citizens Reza Taghavi and Kian Tajbakhsh, and remains concerned about the fate of Robert Levinson, a former FBI agent who went missing during a visit to Iran in 2007.

“There’s not really an equivalence, if you will, between, say, an Iranian citizen who has been indicted and or convicted of arms trafficking, in violation of… international law, and three hikers who wandered across an unmarked border,” Crowley said.

But he and Clinton repeated the US stand that Washington remained open to questions from Tehran about Iranians held in the United States.

“To the extent that Iran has questions about Iranian citizens in US custody, we would remain… willing to entertain those questions and facilitate consular access, if that’s what Iran desires,” Crowley said.

Iran alleges that 11 Iranians are “illegally” detained in the United States, including nuclear scientist Shahram Amiri, who went missing in Saudi Arabia while on pilgrimage to Mecca last year.

Crowley said he did not know how many Iranians were in US custody.

In a case unveiled for the first time on December 2 last year, US prosecutors said an Iranian man, Amir Ardebili, pleaded guilty in May 2008 to 14 counts of violating US arms control rules.

Court documents obtained two weeks later by AFP showed he had been sentenced to five years in prison for trafficking weapons to Tehran.

Prosecutors said Ardebili was apprehended in an unnamed Central Asian country in October 2007 and extradited to United States, where he had been secretly detained since January 2008.

The State Department said an Iranian government representative could visit him.”

[Link to full article]

“We’re prepared to listen” (Source: Politico)

By , February 3, 2010 5:18 am

U.S. National Security Council spokesman Mike Hammer was quoted in the influential blog Politico urging the resolution of Kian’s case, along with those of other missing and detained Americans in Iran:

“…In what was being reported as a potentially signficant shift, Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told Iranian State Television today that Iran is ready to send its uranium abroad…

A western diplomatic source said Ahmadinejad’s comments reflect that Iran is nervous about the threat of further sanctions and pressure…

Ahmadinejad also reportedly told Iranian State TV that Iran would consider exchanging U.S. citizens being detained in Iran for Iranians being held abroad. “We are having talks to have an exchange if it is possible,” Ahmadinejad was cited. “We are hopeful that all prisoners will be released.”

The NSC’s [Mike] Hammer stressed that the reports of what Ahmadinejad said are fragmentary, and the U.S. has not entered into any discussion with Iran about an exchange.

“We have made clear that we would like the cases of all our missing and detained Americans citizens to be resolved,” Hammer said, including those of “Sarah Shourd, Josh Fattal, Shane Bauer, Kian Tajbakhsh, Reza Taghavi, and Robert Levinson.”

Shourd, Fattal and Bauer have been detained in Iran since accidentally wandering into Iran while hiking in northern Iraq last summer. Tajbakhsh is an Iranian-American scholar arrested in Iran in the post-elections dispute. Robert Levinson is a former FBI agent who went missing while meeting a contact in Kish Island almost three years ago.

“If President Ahmadinejad’s comments suggest that they are prepared to resolve these cases, we would welcome that step,” Hammer continued. “But we have not entered into any discussion with Iran about an exchange. As we have indicated publicly, if Iran has questions about its citizens in U.S. custody, we are prepared to answer them.”

POLITICO previously reported that Swiss diplomats acting as intermediaries have told U.S. officials that Iran was seeking to link the case of the three U.S. hikers detained in Iran, and several Iranians detained in the U.S., Europe and Canada, many on export control violation-related charges.”

[Link to full article]

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