Monday, February 18, 2008

God Will Punish Iran If It Abandons Nuclear Program

Ayatollah Khamenei Brings God into Nuclear Debate

While the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency Mohamed ElBaradei is ‎scheduled to present his next report on Iran’s nuclear program to the Governing Board of ‎the IAEA in three weeks, Iran’s supreme leader ayatollah Khamenei announced in a ‎speech that “the Iranian people publicly declared that they would stand up for their rights ‎and would protect them since God would reprimand them if they did otherwise.” ‎

In the same light, the spokesperson for Iran’s Foreign Ministry Ali Hosseini, said ‎yesterday that “the United States knows that Iran’s nuclear activities are peaceful.” ‎Responding to reporters’ questions about the launch of “a new generation of centrifuges ‎in Iran,” Hosseini said, “Such claims are usually brought up ahead of ElBaradei’s reports ‎and when Iran and the Agency are making progress in their cooperation. We believe that ‎these claims are brought up to impose political pressure on the legal and technical process ‎at the Agency. If they have new information about Iran’s nuclear activities, as they did ‎before, they can give it to Agency officials, so that they can present their findings after ‎conducting their technical examination.” ‎

The United States suspects Iran of pursuing a program to develop nuclear weapons. The ‎Islamic Republic refutes this and has refused to comply with U.N. Security Council ‎resolutions. Recently, in a rally of thousands to commemorate the 29th anniversary of the ‎Islamic Revolution in 1979, president Ahmadinejad said, “Today, in our opinion, the ‎nuclear issue is over. Everyone has recognized Iran’s innocence and the enemies can do ‎nothing other than engage in paper work and propaganda.” ‎

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Slight Increase in Number of Reformist Candidates

Only 22 Reformist Disqualifications Reversed

by: Arash Sigarchi-- 2008.02.14

The spokesperson for the powerful Guardian Council, Abbas Ali Kadkhodaei, announced ‎yesterday the Council's decision to reverse the disqualification of 282 candidates who had ‎previously been barred by the administrative and oversight committees from running in ‎upcoming parliamentary elections in March. ‎
The wide scope of disqualifications angered many prominent politicians in the Islamic Republic. ‎Prominent figures such as former presidents Hashemi Rafsanjani and Khatami, and former ‎Majlis speaker Karoubi, publicly criticized the trend of disqualifications and even complained to ‎the supreme leader. ‎
Several other reformist figures, such as former president Khatami's top aide, Mohammad Reza ‎Aref, resigned from candidacy though they were qualified by the guardian Council. Aref ‎announced that he is resigning to protest disqualifications. Several prominent ayatollahs, such as ‎grand ayatollahs Montazeri and Makarem Shirazi, and ayatollahs Haeri Shirazi, Noormofidi, and ‎Amini also protested the disqualifications. ‎
Finally, the Guardian Council's website quoted the Council's spokesperson, Kadkhodaei, that, ‎‎"We will announce a new list of the qualified candidates in the coming days." ‎
Although the names of qualified candidates have not been officially announced yet, the Fars ‎news agency published a list of 273 qualified candidates on its main page last night. ‎
In a related news report, Mehr news agency reported that with the additional 22 qualified ‎reformist candidates, the number of reformist candidates vying for Majlis seats has increased ‎slightly. ‎
Officials from the reformist coalition told a Mehr reporter that they have heard the news of their ‎qualification, but have not received any official confirmations yet. ‎
Meanwhile, the spokesperson of the reformist E'temad Melli party, Esmaeil Gerami ‎Moghaddam, confirmed reports of the qualification of additional reformist candidates. The ‎names of several members of the E'temad Melli party appear on the two unofficial lists of ‎qualified candidates. The party's spokesperson had previously announced that close to 70 ‎percent of the party's candidates had been disqualified. ‎
According to news reports, the Guardian Council has reversed the disqualification of Ayatollah ‎Khomeini's grandson, Ali Eshraghi. ‎

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

High-Ranking Clerics Criticize Disqualifications ‎

While Ahmad Jannati, head of the powerful Guardian Council, insists that the upcoming ‎parliamentary elections are "fully competitive," a number of high-ranking clerics have protested ‎the Council's decision to bar thousands of reformist and independent candidates from running. ‎Ayatollahs Montazeri, Makarem Shirazi, Ebrahim Amini, Noormofidi, Haeri Shirazi, and Bayat ‎Zanjani have all released statements condemning the scope of disqualifications. Ayatollahs ‎Montazeri and Makarem Shirazi are among the handful of living Shi'ite grand ayatollahs. ‎
Ayatollah Montazeri told an Italian publication, "You can speak of freedom, particularly in ‎elections, only when conditions are such that all groups and especially the elite and professionals ‎are able to enter the scene, not when only people affiliated with a certain school of thought are ‎allowed to participate. Elections mean that people will be the electors, not the Guardian Council ‎or a special group; otherwise, these are called selections, not elections!"‎
In addition to Ayatollah Montazeri, Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi is another grand ayatollah who ‎has criticized the scope of disqualifications. Though Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi sympathizes ‎with conservatives and was opposed to the reform movements, he protested the "disqualification ‎of many candidates," noting, "In some cases, fairness has not been observed, and even some of ‎the supreme leader's candidates have been disqualified… We hope that, in the remaining time, ‎reasonable objections are taken into account and that those who support and are loyal to the ‎regime would receive friendly vindication." ‎

Ayatollah Noormofidi, Gorgan's Friday prayer leader, told followers in a meeting, "What has ‎brought up many questions for concerned people from all walks of life these days is the issue of ‎widespread disqualifications. Some of the people that were disqualified are fully known by the ‎supreme leader, and I am certain that he would not have approved the decision to disqualify ‎them." ‎
Ebrahim Amini, the conservative Friday prayer leader of Ghom, called for the observance of ‎‎"Islamic ethics" and "laws" in examining candidates' qualification, adding, "Bigotry and close-‎mindedness cost us and undermine the reputation of the Islamic nation." ‎

Meanwhile, the conservative Friday prayer leader of Shiraz, Haeri Shirazi, condemned the ‎barring of reformist and independent candidates and announced his intention to resign with the ‎supreme leader's approval. ‎

Finally, Ayatollah Asadollah Bayat Zanjani, a high-ranking cleric in Ghom who sympathizes ‎with reformists, sent an open letter to Rafsanjani, Karoubi and former president Khatami ‎warning them that the Islamic Republic will be in danger of disintegration if they back down ‎from their demand to hold competitive elections. ‎

Though several high-ranking ayatollahs have criticized the government's handling of the ‎qualification process, the spokesperson for the Guardian Council denied reports that clerics have ‎began protesting the Council's decisions. The Council's spokesperson, Abas Ali Kadkhodaei, ‎told reporters, "I have not heard any criticism. Some have called for more precision, which we ‎accept and will certainly take into account, and if anyone's rights have been undermined, we will ‎work to restore those rights." ‎

Monday, February 11, 2008

Men in Uniform Position Themselves for the Elections

Arash Sigarchi - The massive disqualification of reformist candidates for the March 14 Majlis elections ‎that took place over the last few weeks in Iran overshadowed the strong military presence ‎in the politics of the country. The presence of the Passdaran Revolutionary Guards in the ‎upcoming elections is so prominent that in addition to the presence of its members in the ‎executive and supervisory boards, they shall also be at the elections stations either as ‎executive officers or as security officers enforcing security.‎

Soon after general Afshar took up his new post as the new chief of the country’s ‎Elections Board, it selected the members of the Executive Boards. I the past, it was the ‎practice to use university professors and presidents for these posts, this time, individuals ‎close to the Passdaran and the Basij mobilization force were handpicked for the job.‎
Their first job was to review the qualifications and background of the candidates who had ‎signed up to stand for elections. Passdaran members played the key role in eliminating ‎those candidates that are known as the reformists. Before these boards began their work, ‎Sobh Sadegh, an internal newsletter of the Passdaran wrote this, “Since reformists will be ‎eliminated from the elections process, they are advised to remove themselves from such ‎candidacy and withdraw from the elections.”‎
At the same time, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of Iran publicly announced, ‎‎“We should be careful not to allow those individuals who look up to the US [as their ‎inspiration] to succeed in getting into the Majlis.” Other Passdaran commanders made ‎similar remarks. For example, the commander of the Ghazvin Passdaran division stressed ‎that the sixth Majlis (whose majority comprised of reformist candidates between 2000 ‎and 2004) should not be repeated. “We should not allow contaminated individuals to ‎enter the Majlis and contaminate it as well. The untrustworthy and outsiders should not ‎enter the Majlis,” he said. Such directives continued until quite recently. Just two days ‎ago general Nasser Shabani, commander of the Staff and Officer’s College of the ‎Passdaran (DAFOOS) verbally attacked reformers and criticized them for even having ‎the guts to nominate themselves for the Majlis.‎
It is clear that the Passdaran is bent on ensuring that the Majlis remains firmly in the ‎hands of the ideologues. And if any body still has any doubts, then one should listen to ‎the words of the representative of the supreme leader in the Passdaran. “We support the ‎ideologues,” he said. ‎
In addition to such directives, the other concern that many have about the Passdaran and ‎the Basij is their planned presence at voting stations. In the past it was a tradition to use ‎employees from the Ministry of Education or other government offices as monitors at the ‎voting stations. But now, according to a website close to reformers, “A proposal has been ‎made to replace these individuals with people from the Basij.” But concerns go beyond ‎even this. The plans are to use the Passdaran to enforce security at the polling stations In ‎this regard, the chief of police is on record to have said, “We shall utilize Basij and ‎Passdaran forces in consultation with the provincial and township security bureaus to ‎provide security for the elections.”‎
So, the Passdaran corps not only has members in the Executive Boards that vet ‎candidates to the Majlis, it also members in the Supervisory boards that are the main arm ‎of the Guardians Council, in the polling stations as monitors and as law enforcement ‎officers. All of this of course is in addition to having many candidates of their own for the ‎Majlis as well. ‎

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

More Candidates for the Majlis Are Rejected

Only 31 Seats Are Available for Reformist Candidates

Following the patchy news about the review of the candidates for the March 14 Majlis ‎‎(parliamentary) elections by the Guardians Council (the highest body that vets the ‎candidates for the elections), it is now clear that reformers have no prominent candidates ‎permitted to participate in the forthcoming Majlis elections. The elections process in Iran ‎involves the initial vetting of candidates to the parliamentary elections which takes place ‎by the Executive Elections Committees in the provinces. Following that, a higher body ‎the Guardians Council conducts its own vetting through its Elections Supervisory ‎Committees. ‎
In this regard, former vice-president during Mohammad Khatami’s presidency ‎Mohammad Ali Abtahi posted statistics regarding this disqualification. Following the ‎massive disqualification of reformist candidates by the Executive Elections Committees ‎of Iran’s Ministry of the Interior, the next higher body, the Election Supervisory ‎Committees belonging to the Guardians Council (which is tasked with reexamining the ‎qualifications of the candidates), rejected another 180 reformist candidates! According to ‎Abtahi, “Only 31 seats from a total of 290 in the Majlis are left for reformists to compete ‎for. “This means that from amongst the 909 known reformist candidates who announced ‎their candidacy to run for the Majlis, only 138 are allowed to run for the 31 available ‎seats,” according to Abtahi. ‎
With this development, the Supervisory Committees have completed a mission that began ‎with the Executive Committees, i.e. the elimination of all reformist candidates for the ‎eight Majlis elections to be held on March 14, 2008.‎
Initially there were some reports that the Supervisory Committees had approved the ‎qualifications of some of the reformist, thus paving the way for their candidacy. Among ‎them was Morteza Haji, a cabinet minister during Mohammad Khatami’s administration. ‎But he later denied such reports. Assadollah Kianersi, a member of the Etemad Melli ‎party also among the approved candidates. Montakhabnia, who was the leading candidate ‎son the list presented by Karubi was also approved, albeit after much behind the scenes ‎maneuverings. On the other hand, the candidacy of Abolfazl Shakuri, an MP in the sixth ‎Majlis and a close associate of the Karubi’s Etemad Melli party too was not approved. ‎Reports had circulated earlier that the Guardians Council had announced its criteria for ‎approving candidates, among which was the writing of a letter of repentance to the leader ‎of the Islamic regime by any one who had participated in a protest sit-in for the ‎disqualifications of the candidates to the seventh Majlis which would also denounce the ‎others who had participated in the sit-in. And despite his earlier public announcement that ‎he had not participated in the sit-in against the disqualifications and was “against the sit-‎in by other MPs”, Shakuri was still disqualified for running for the elections.‎
It is with these developments in mind that Abtahi believes there is no hope for the ‎presence of reformists in the upcoming elections. “Now that only 31 seats are available ‎for reformists to compete against, there are actually no candidates who have been ‎approved to participate in the elections,” Abtahi wrote on his web blog. I the provinces, ‎some groups that have pooled in candidates to form coalitions no longer have a reason to ‎continue their work as their candidates have been disqualified. Even among the few ‎prominent individuals who have been allowed to participate as candidates, the candidates ‎themselves question the rationale for staying in the game because they believe that ‎without the coalition groups, there will be nobody to campaign and work for them to get ‎the votes.‎

Monday, February 4, 2008

Budget for "Religious Activities" Expands by 600 Percent

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who promised to bring oil revenues to people's tables in his 2005 ‎presidential campaign, has arranged to bring oil revenues to mosques' tables by authorizing a 600 ‎percent increase in the "budget for religious activities" in next year's fiscal package. ‎
Last year, the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance had a budget equivalent to 20.111 ‎billion rials for religious activities. The Ahmadinejad Administration has proposed increasing ‎this amount to 150.62 billion rials for the upcoming year, increasing the previous year's budget ‎by exactly 639 percent. ‎
The increase comes despite the fact that mosques have leftover funds from previous years in ‎which they failed to introduce enough programming to spend all of their allocated funds. ‎
The administration has also asked for a 307 percent increase in the budget for "cultural activities ‎in mosques," increasing it from 40.167 billion rials to 170 billion rials for the upcoming fiscal ‎year. ‎
In another section of the budget, the administration increased funds for "supporting and directing ‎cultural and religious activities," driving up the number from 90 billion rials last year to 320.825 ‎billion rials for the upcoming year, an increase of 264 percent.

January 30 Picked as Day of Solidarity with Imprisoned Students

Iranian Bloggers Unite in Solidarity with Imprisoned Students - 2008.01.23

By Arash Sigarchi:On the eve of the second month of incarceration of several prominent student activists across the ‎country, Iranian bloggers have decided to celebrate 10 Bahman [January 30, 2008] as a day of ‎solidarity with imprisoned students. ‎
A statement published on the websites of united bloggers referred to complaints made by ‎families of detained students against the judiciary: "These families, who are under severe ‎psychological pressure and live in deep worry, have repeatedly condemned the imprisonment of ‎their loved ones and asked for their release. Despite many efforts to bring about the release of ‎the aforementioned students, a great number of these dear colleagues remain in detention. Some ‎are not allowed to even have telephone conversations with their families." ‎
Naser Zarafshan, who represents several of these imprisoned students, divides the detained ‎students into three groups: "currently, the students are divided into three groups. The first group ‎is composed of students that the judiciary has announced will be released after posting bail. The ‎second group is composed of students who are still in interrogation and for whom no bail has ‎been set yet. The third group is composed of students who were arrested last week and of whom ‎we have no accurate information." ‎
It is worth noting that the judiciary has set bail amounts of 300, 500 and 1,000 million rials [33 ‎thousand, 54 thousand, and 108 thousand U.S. dollars, respectively] for several students who ‎have completed their interrogations. Many of these students remain in jail as they are unable to ‎post the excessive bail amount. ‎

Another Police Attack on Tehran University

While the Sunday police attack on students at Tehran University resulted in injuries to ten ‎of them and the arrest of more than five, University officials either remained silent about ‎the incident or complete denied it.‎
After the bloody police attack on students on July 9, 1999, Iran’s Supreme National ‎Security Council under the chairmanship of reformist president Mohammad Khatami ‎banned the intrusion of police into university campuses. To enter the campuses, the ‎police was required to first obtain the approval of the supervisory board and president of ‎the institution. Last Sunday’s event has raised this question for students: on what pretext ‎did the police enter the University and beat up students. Was the entry sanctioned by the ‎school’s supervisory board or was it yet another unilateral decision on behalf of the ‎police.‎
The largest student organization Daftare Tahkim Vahdat issued a statement on the ‎incident and labeled the police’s entry into the campus as an “illegal” act, for which they ‎have filed a complained. “Following the protests of students over the condition of the ‎food that is provided by the school, plainclothes and uniformed police entered Tehran ‎University on Sunday and injured more than 10 students, while arresting between 3 to 5 ‎of them. The police intervention took place as the students had almost ended their ‎gathering who were on their way to their dormitories,” the statement read.‎
‎“Anti-riot police began entering the technical school at about 9:30pm on Sunday,” ‎according to Payman Arif, a student activist who confirmed that about 500 students had ‎gathered to protest the quality of the food provided by the school. Amir Kabir University ‎newsletter wrote that over 70 anti-riot police officers positioned themselves on Amirabad ‎street outside the university, along with other plainclothes police. The police booed the ‎students in response to the latter’s anti-police cries, and marched in front of their ‎dormitory buildings. According to the newsletter, following the police attack, the number ‎of participants in the gathering increased to a thousand people. At that time, students ‎shouted slogans against some officials of the Islamic Republic. The students also engaged ‎in throwing stones at the police outside the campus, forcing the police to take guard and ‎retreat from their positions. Scuffles followed and the students dispersed after the police ‎attacked them, into the early hours of Monday.‎