Posts tagged: Mir Hossein Mousavi

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 Revenge (Source: New York Review of Books)

By , November 5, 2009 9:31 am

An anonymous author has published an analysis of Iran’s post-election unrest and crackdown in the New York Review:

“…Iran’s summer of discontent started on June 12, when President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad won an election that his reformist opponents, Mir Hussein Moussavi and Mehdi Karroubi, declared to have been rigged, setting in motion a large, peaceful protest movement. While it had the support of two former presidents, Mohammad Khatami and Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the movement was put down with immense brutality, although it remains, as continuing smaller demonstrations show, very much alive…

…The summer was punctuated by further protests, also savagely put down. As the regime’s leading personalities turned on one other, two events took place that might, one day, be regarded as milestones in the decline of the Islamic regime.

The first was the circulation of reports of murder, torture, and rape from behind the doors of Iran’s jails, atrocities that continue and have become a major scandal, managed with spectacular ineptness by the regime. The reports have discredited the Islamic Republic’s claims to righteousness and morality, and they have led many Iranians to compare Tehran’s most notorious detention center, at Kahrizak, between Tehran and Qom, with Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo Bay.

The second event was a mass trial that told us much about the Islamic Republic’s diminishing ability to manipulate public opinion. This trial, of leading reformist politicians and journalists, and also of ordinary demonstrators, began on August 1. It has aimed to destroy the reform movement and convince the public that the reformists have cooperated with foreigners to launch a “color revolution” of the kind that ended other anti-Western regimes in such European countries as Serbia and Ukraine. The trial was widely seen as a failure. The reform movement is not dead, and the desires that animate it, for greater political freedom and personal autonomy, have not been extinguished. And to judge by copious anecdotal evidence and the blogs of people living in Iran, a very large number of Iranians do not believe the confessions they have heard from prisoners; they see the trial primarily as evidence for the Islamic Republic’s descent into tyranny…”

[Full article]

Social Science on Trial in Tehran (Source: Chronicle of Higher Education)

By , November 4, 2009 8:26 am

Professor Charles Kurzman has published the account “Reading Weber in Tehran” on the persecution of social scientists in Iran, particularly those who participate in and study civil society and the public sphere:

“An unlikely suspect was fingered at the recent show trials of Iranian dissidents: Max Weber, whose ideas on rational authority were blamed for fomenting a “velvet revolution” against the Islamic Republic. “Theories of the human sciences contain ideological weapons that can be converted into strategies and tactics and mustered against the country’s official ideology,” Saeed Hajjarian, a leading strategist in the Iranian reform movement, explained in his forced confession.

A political scientist by training, Hajjarian “admitted” that Weber’s notion of patrimonial government wasn’t applicable to Iran. The theory, Hajjarian declared, is relevant only in countries where “people are treated as subjects and deprived of all citizenship rights,” which is “completely incompatible with and unrelated to current conditions in Iran.”

Hajjarian’s coerced denunciation of Weber is ludicrous but unsurprising. Since the disputed presidential elections of June 12, the hard-line government in Tehran has started a broad campaign against social scientists. This crackdown is not altogether new. Over the past decade, one or two prominent social scientists have been arrested each year for supposedly plotting against the state. Those scholars were typically detained for several months and then released after making videotaped “confessions.” This year, however, after the surprisingly popular presidential campaign of Mir Hussein Moussavi, and widespread protests over the official results, the number of social scientists in Iranian prisons has multiplied. At least a dozen sociologists, political scientists, and economists were put on trial, and many more have been named in court as unindicted co-conspirators…

Khamenei portrayed professors as “commanders” on the front lines of “soft warfare”—the term that hard-liners in Iran use to describe Western efforts to sway and organize Iranian youth. Professors, he suggested, have a responsibility to teach their students to avoid Western influences, and limit their “specialized discussions” in the social sciences to “qualified persons within safe environments.” To do otherwise, Khamenei said, risked “damaging the social environment.”

Such rhetoric has fueled calls for a purge of the universities, with special scrutiny on the social sciences. “The human sciences should not be taught in the Western style in the country’s universities,” Ayatollah Mohammad Emami-Kashani, a senior member of Iran’s Assembly of Experts, declared in a nationally televised sermon in September.

Max Weber is not alone in being blamed for the unrest in Iran. Other social theorists, like Jürgen Habermas, John Keane, Talcott Parsons, Richard Rorty, and unspecified feminists and poststructuralists have also been accused of “threatening national security and shaking the pillars of economic development.”

What links this group of scholars, it appears, is their belief that an independent civil society, beyond the reach of the state, is necessary for the development of democracy and human rights. This view is particularly pronounced in Habermas’s concept of the public sphere: free spaces for the exchange of ideas among autonomous institutions and individuals. Where the public sphere is weak, society is vulnerable to domination by the state—a concern that Habermas borrowed from Weber…

Iranian social scientists are being harassed and imprisoned both for their participation in the public sphere and for their study of the public sphere. The Iranian government’s goal, it seems, is to undermine not only the institutions of civil society, but the very idea of it.”

[Full article]

The New Hostage Crisis (Source: Foreign Policy)

By , October 24, 2009 9:44 am

In a cover story for Foreign Policy magazine, Kian’s friend Karim Sadjadpour considers Kian’s detention and sentencing and questions “why Iran’s rulers imprison people they know are innocent”:

“My friend, the Iranian-American scholar Kian Tajbakhsh, was recently sentenced to 15 years in Tehran’s Evin prison. For those familiar with the ways of authoritarian regimes, the charges against him will ring familiar: espionage, cooperating with an enemy government, and endangering national security.

Since his arrest last July — he was accused of helping to plan the post-election uprisings — Kian’s family and friends have made countless appeals for clemency to the Iranian government, written letters to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad pleading his innocence, and signed dozens of petitions. All to no avail.

I’ve come now to realize that the regime probably thinks we’re obtuse. Indeed, they know better than anyone that Kian is an innocent man. As the expression goes in Persian, “da’va sar-e een neest,” i.e. that’s not what this fight is about.

Allow me to explain.

Kian was first arrested in 2007. His crime was having previously worked as a consultant for the Open Society Institute (OSI), a U.S.-based NGO. Though his work was nonpolitical, focused on educational and developmental projects, and had received the explicit consent of the Iranian government, he was accused of trying to foment a “velvet revolution” on behalf of U.S. intelligence agencies.

While in solitary confinement in Evin, he was subjected to countless hours of interrogation. Had the authorities found any evidence for the above charges during all this, Kian certainly would not have been freed after four months.

He was permitted to leave the country after his release, but chose to remain in Tehran with his wife and newborn daughter. He reassured his worried family and friends that he was now an open book to the Iranian government and there could be no further rationale or pretext to detain him.

Over the last two years, he regularly met with his minder from the Ministry of Intelligence. Aware of the fact that the government was monitoring all of his activities and communications — including e-mail and telephone conversations — he kept a very low profile and exhibited great caution.

During this period, Kian and I regularly exchanged e-mails. He urged me to read his favorite book, Polish writer Czeslaw Milosz’s brilliant novel, The Captive Mind, which examines the moral and intellectual conflicts faced by men and women living under totalitarianism of the left or right.

On the 30th anniversary of the fall of the shah we debated the successes and failures of the 1979 Islamic Revolution, and he told me he believed that the former outweigh the latter. Hardly the worldview of a subversive counterrevolutionary.

Even amid the massive popular uprisings following the tainted June 2009 presidential elections, Kian remained cautious and unmoved, steering way clear of any political activity and continuing to meet with his minder.

On June 14, two days after the election, he wrote me an email saying, “I’m keeping my head down … I have nothing to add to all the reports that are here.” In the same e-mail, Kian even expressed skepticism about the opposition’s accusations of electoral fraud, saying he had seen “little hard evidence.”

A few weeks later he was arrested, bafflingly, on charges of helping to plan the post-election unrest.

Given the government’s intimate familiarity with the benign nature of Kian’s activities and communications, it appeared he was simply needed as an unfortunate pawn in the regime’s campaign to portray indigenous popular protests as orchestrated by foreign powers. Though the unrest gradually subsided, we went from counting Kian’s detention in days to weeks to months.

Along with dozens of other prisoners, dressed in pajamas and sandals, he was forced to participate in humiliating show-trials that were broadcast on official state television. Hard-liners used Kian to attack their reformist opponents, inventing fantastic claims that he was the link between former President Mohammed Khatami and OSI founder George Soros.

Though his face looked visibly different, haggard, his two-year old daughter Hasti ran and kissed the television screen when she saw his image. His wife sobbed.

When our courageous mutual friend, Canadian-Iranian Newsweek reporter Maziar Bahari, was finally released from Evin after four months, we thought it boded well for Kian. These hopes were dashed by Tuesday’s almost comically harsh sentence. 15 years!

The over-the-top severity of the sentence makes it eminently clear that this case really has little to do with Kian, and everything to do with Iran’s negotiating posture toward the United States. A disaffected contact in the Iranian foreign ministry — the vast majority of whom were thought to have voted for Mir Hossein Mousavi — bluntly confirmed my suspicions. “Eena daran bazi mikonan,” he told me. “These guys are just playing.”

While neighboring Dubai and Turkey have managed to build thriving economies by trading in goods and services, Iran, even 30 years after the revolution, remains in the business of trading in human beings. In addition to Kian, Iran is now holding at least five other American citizens against their will, including three young hikers — Shane Bauer, Sarah Shourd, and Josh Fattal (an outspoken Palestinian-rights activist) — detained in June along the Iran-Iraq border in Kurdistan.

What, if anything, Tehran seeks in return for these human subjects is unclear, and frankly it’s a difficult issue for Iran to broach, given that it undermines the accusations the regime has concocted. That said, the official line can often change abruptly, and for no apparent reason. After Iranian-American journalist Roxana Saberi was sentenced last year to eight years in prison (on preposterous charges of espionage), she was summarily released a few weeks later.

Until recently, it was accepted wisdom that the uptick in Tehran’s repression of its own citizenry and detention of U.S. nationals was merely a reaction to the hostile policies of the Bush administration. This thesis is being quickly disproven as the Obama administration’s hands-off approach to human rights in Iran proves equally unsuccessful in getting the regime to improve its practices.

Whether Republic or Democrat, U.S. officials are often puzzled by the detention of dual nationals, and unsure how to react to them. Do U.S. statements and/or diplomatic efforts help or hurt the cause of the detainees?

Based on the experience of several Iranian-Americans who have served time in Evin — including esteemed scholar Haleh Esfandiari, Saberi, and peace activist Ali Shakeri — we know that thoughtful public statements from U.S. officials coupled with behind-the scenes intervention were helpful to their cause.

But these are individual cases. What U.S. policy measures could help improve the overall human rights situation in Iran, and prevent further detentions from taking place in the future?

Broadly speaking, I support the argument — made mostly by the American left — that expanding and improving ties between Washington and Tehran would help mitigate the detention of innocents in Iran — whether Iranian or American.

I also agree with the counterargument, made mostly by the right, that Tehran’s hard-liners use continued enmity with the United States in order to blame Washington when, among other things, their population rises up, economic malaise worsens, or a terrorist attack happens in Baluchistan.

Unfortunately, the difficulty of potential engagement has increased significantly in recent months as any remaining moderates and pragmatists have essentially been purged from the Iranian government’s power structure. The color spectrum of the regime now ranges from pitch black to dark grey. And insofar as the continued detention of U.S. citizens in Tehran decreases the likelihood of a diplomatic breakthrough with Washington, the interests of at least some of these hard-liners will be served.

Sadly, languishing in Evin prison, my friend Kian understands this dynamic only too well.

Shortly after President Obama’s speech in Cairo last June, Kian wrote, “Iranians might ponder Barack Obama’s challenge to Iran to articulate ‘not what it is against, but what future it wants to build.’ Each Iranian will wonder how much thought our rulers or our fellow countrymen have given to this critical question and why answers to it are so vague and so few.”

[Full article]

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