At Long Last: Iran Updates

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on July 15, 2009

I have seriously fallen down on the job when it comes to providing news updates concerning Iran, so this post will contain news from today, as well as important news from the past few days that I should have highlighted, but didn’t.

The significance of Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri has been explained on these pages before. His opposition to the actions of the Islamic regime continues:

One of Iran’s most senior clerics issued an unusual decree on Saturday calling the country’s rulers “usurpers and transgressors” for their treatment of opposition protesters in recent weeks, in the strongest condemnation by a religious figure since the contested presidential election a month ago.

The decree by Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, a dissident who has often criticized Iran’s ruling clerics, did not mention by name Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, but was clearly aimed at the clerical leadership.

Posted on the Web site of Mohsen Kadivar, a dissident cleric and former student of Ayatollah Montazeri, the ruling said the recent arrests and shootings of protesters were proof that Iran’s leaders are unqualified to rule the community of Muslims.

“In my estimate this is the strongest criticism ever of the supreme leader,” said Rasool Nafisi, a United States-based academic and Iran expert. “Although it doesn’t mention Ayatollah Khamenei by name, it is clear he is referring to him.”

And it would appear that Montazeri is not alone:

Three prominent clerics criticized the Iranian authorities on Monday for failing to condemn the recent killing of Muslims in western China. Their comments often seemed aimed at the Iranian government’s own conduct during the crackdown after the disputed June 12 presidential election.

One of the clerics, Ayatollah Youssef Sanei, a reformist, drew a sardonic parallel, suggesting that Iran, which considers itself the defender of Muslims worldwide, could not criticize China’s repressive tactics while it was doing the same thing. He also said Iran’s silence was related to its commercial, military and political links with China.

“How could China suppress the Muslims so violently and seek good relations with Muslim countries, and sometimes dominate their markets?” Ayatollah Sanei wrote, in comments published on news services and reformist Web sites.

Several Parliament members and a member of the Tehran City Council have invoked the same comparison, Web sites reported. Although some seem genuinely upset by the deaths of Muslim Uighurs in western China, the issue has clearly gained a special resonance in light of the violence in Iran, where many opposition protesters have been killed and wounded since the election.

Mehdi Karroubi joins in the critiques of the regime as well.

Readers will note that this story (linked supra) makes mention of Sohrab Arabi, who was killed in Iran’s notorious Evin prison. As the story mentions, Arabi’s funeral was closely monitored for dissident activity. The mourners were supposed to try to keep their emotions under control, lest their mourning spilled into dissent against the Islamic regime.

Try telling Arabi’s mother to be silent. Try telling any mother to be silent when her child is savagely murdered. Be warned: This is really hard to watch.

In addition to the barbarism that has been perpetrated on Iranians, there has been barbarism perpetrated as well upon people visiting Iran. Consider:

The family members of an Iranian-American detained by authorities in Tehran are still waiting for more information on his whereabouts, three-days after his arrest, the reports and an human rights group said.

Kian Tajbakhsh, a social scientist, was arrested by Iranian security police at his home in Tehran on the evening of July 9, according to the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran.

The human rights group said the security personnel did not provide any legal justification for the arrest and took him to an undisclosed location.

And more:

Iran has arrested a founding member of Nobel laureate Shirin Ebadi’s rights group amid a crackdown on critics following President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s disputed re-election, a colleague told AFP on Thursday.

“Yesterday Mohammad Ali Dadkhah was arrested with a number of other lawyers at his office,” said fellow lawyer Mohammad Seifzadeh, who is also a founding member of Ebadi’s Human Rights Defenders Centre.

The group is an outspoken critic of the human rights situation in Iran and has faced mounting pressure since December 2008 after its office was shut down in a police raid.

Yet more on detentions in Iran here. Of course, the detentions are of a piece with what the regime is doing on other fronts:

An Iranian regulatory agency announced a new set of guidelines Tuesday that it says are designed to ensure “objectivity” in Iran’s domestic media.

The move appears to be the latest in a series of measures aimed at reining in the local and international press, after contested June 12 presidential elections and the sometimes-violent clashes between demonstrators and authorities that followed.

In the aftermath of the vote and amid massive protests, Iran clamped down on international and domestic journalists, refusing to extend visas and eventually forbidding correspondents from attending unapproved gatherings or news conferences. Regime officials also rounded up scores of local journalists, and have accused the foreign media of inciting violence or working as agents of foreign governments during the unrest.

Forty-one journalists and bloggers are being held by authorities in the Islamic Republic, according to media watchdog Reporters Without Borders. Iran expelled the British Broadcasting Corp.’s correspondent in Tehran, Jon Leyne, and has held Iranian-Canadian reporter Maziar Bahari, who has reported for Newsweek, in detention since mid-June.

Iran’s State Inspectorate Organization, a sort of superregulatory agency that supervises a wide range of government administrations, said the guidelines will ensure that any criticism communicated through state media is “constructive,” “nonjudgmental” and doesn’t “stray from objectivity,” Iran’s state-controlled English-language news site Press TV quoted SIO chief Mostafa Pourmohammadi as saying.

Perhaps the disgusting behavior of the regime is finally getting to people:

A top advisor to Iran’s supreme leader Saturday urged the country’s establishment to be more tolerant of dissent, even as military officials stepped up their rhetoric in the latest signs of divisions created by the marred reelection of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad one month ago.

Mohammad Mohammadian, a midranking cleric who heads Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s office of university affairs, acknowledged the simmering discontent over the vote, which sparked massive protests and a violent crackdown last month.

“We cannot order public opinion to get convinced,” Mohammadian said, according to the Mehr news agency. “Certain individuals are suspicious about the election result, and we have to shed light on the realities and respond to their questions.”

Of course, as the story notes, there remain plenty of people dedicated to the proposition that a hard line must be maintained. But as we see, there is a real split amongst the members of the leadership class that is not going away anytime soon.

Meanwhile, Mir Hossein Mousavi is creating a new political party that is aimed at maximizing and augmenting the work the reformists are doing to change the political situation in Iran . . . and he has the support of Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani in doing so. The same report indicates that Mousavi, former president Khatami, and Rafsanjani will all be at the upcoming Friday prayer service, with Rafsanjani leading. As discussed in other stories, this could either mean that there has been some kind of rapprochement between the reformists and the regime hardliners, or that the reformists are directly challenging the hardliners on the latter’s home turf. I am betting on the latter. And why not? Khamene’i himself has suffered some serious blows as a consequence of this uprising:

For two decades he was considered to be above the petty political squabbles, a cautious elder contemplating questions of faith and Islam while guiding his nation into the future.

But Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, whose title of supreme leader makes him Iran’s ultimate authority, has gotten his hands dirty. His decision in recent weeks to so stridently support the nation’s controversial president after a disputed election has dramatically changed his image among his people, setting in motion an unpredictable series of events that could fundamentally change the Islamic Republic.

“Public respect for him has been significantly damaged,” said one analyst, speaking on condition of anonymity. “Opposing him is no longer the same as opposing God.”

The venerated Khamenei has even become the target of public jokes and criticism.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad “commits crimes, and the leader supports him,” was a popular slogan during the riots of June 20, the day after Khamenei delivered a blistering Friday sermon in which he said that the election a week earlier had been won by Ahmadinejad.

At July 9 demonstrations, protesters mocked the ayatollah’s son, Mojtaba, who many believe hopes to succeed his father.

Khamene’i's response to the problems that now beset him is to blame the Jews. Who didn’t see that coming?

Finally, it is worth noting that the basijis, the feared thugs that are tasked with the responsibility of maintaining order through terror, are now openly reviled. Consider the case of Mehdi Moradani, a devoted basiji:

For Mr. Moradani, the biggest shock during the election turmoil came in his personal life. He had recently gotten engaged to a young woman from a devout, conservative family. A week into the protests, he says, his fiancée called him with an ultimatum. If he didn’t leave the Basij and stop supporting Mr. Ahmadinejad, he recalls her saying, she wouldn’t marry him.

He told her that was impossible. “I suffered a real emotional blow,” he says. “She said to me, ‘Go beat other people’s children then,’ and ‘I don’t want to have anything to do with you,’ and hung up on me.”

She returned the ring he gave her, and hasn’t returned his phone calls. “The opposition has even fooled my fiancée,” he says.

Seems to me his fiancée is one smart cookie. If only Moradani was halfway intelligent, he might have married up.

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