Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Conservative daily amazed that opposition party still issuing statements

In a front-page editorial published on Monday, Keyhan daily expressed shock that the reformist Islamic Iran Participation Front is still issuing communiqués although all of its senior members 'are either in prison or have resigned.'

Keyhan is run by arch-conservative Hossein Shariatmadari, the representative of Leader Ali Khamenei at the Keyhan institute. Its editorials, often written by Shariatmadari, are generally considered to represent the views of the Supreme Leader's office.

Monday's editorial, entitled 'Find the communiqué-writer!', was fraught with unintended meaning. The paper contended that at a time when reformist parties have been discredited, a group is issuing false statements in the name of the Participation Front's student organization.

'At the start of the academic year, [this group] has extended its alms bowl to the students in an effort to incite disturbances,' Keyhan daily wrote. 'In its new statement, the students' branch of the Participation party has called students the flag-bearers of the green movement and [...] has asked them to remain present in the theater of protests.'

The paper continued, 'It is interesting that this statement accuses the Islamic regime of provoking students and asks students to remain calm.'

'The recent statements by the Participation party have been issued at a time when the senior members of the party are either in prison or have resigned,' said Keyhan daily, before asking the question, 'So who is writing these communiqués? Find this street peddler!'

Monday, September 28, 2009

We've got your number: IRGC buys controlling stake in Iran telecom

The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) bought a controlling stake in the Telecommunications Company of Iran (TCI or Sherkat Mokhaberat Iran) on Sunday in a half-hour operation whose outcome was known in advance.

Late the previous day, Pishgaman Kavir Group had been disqualified in the 11th hour from competing for the telecom shares for 'security reasons' by the Iranian Privatization Organization (IPO). The two remaining rival bids came from groups controlled by the IRGC: the Moaseseyeh Mehr Eghtesadi Iranian (Mehr Iranians' Economic Organization) and the Tosse'eh Etemad Mobin (Mobin Development of Trust) consortium.

The Tosse'eh Etemad Mobin consortium, linked to the IRGC's social affairs mutual fund, bought 50% plus one stock in the state telecom for 340.9 toumans a share which brought the amount of the deal to 7.8 trillion toumans (about $8 billion), the largest transaction in the history of the Tehran stock exchange.

The consortium is made up of three companies: Tosse'eh Etemad, Shahriar Mahestan, and Iran Mobin Electronics Development Company, according to Masoumeh Taherkhani writing in Donyayeh Eghtesad. Tosse'eh Etemad and Shahriar Mahestan investment companies are directly run by the IRGC's social affairs mutual fund. Mobin Electronics belongs to the Setadeh Ejraieh Farman Emam (The Staff for the Enforcement of the Imam's Decree), a labyrinthine foundation directly under the authority of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei's office. The foundation is headed by Mohammad Mokhber, named by Khamenei in 2007. The chairman of Iran Mobin Electronics is Seyed Mostafa Seyed Hashemi, a former four-term conservative Majlis representative.

The sale of TCI was scheduled for September 9 (for a previous article go here), but was inexplicably postponed. At the time, it had been predicted that the price tag would be $7-$8 billion, though experts had said that the company's real value, considering its large mobile phone operations, assets, and the fact that it is a monopoly, was at least double that. The winner of the bid was announced yesterday, but the actual transaction will take place on Wednesday.

Moaseseyeh Mehr Eghtesadi Iranian lost its bid to purchase TCI, but the group can take comfort in the fact that the Iranian telecom will now be in the hands of a brother organization. According to its managing director Alireza Baghani in an interview with Iran Tejarat, Moaseseyeh Mehr Eghtesadi Iranian is a subsidiary of the Mehr Finance and Credit Institution, formerly known as the Mehr Fund, which is linked to the Basij and ultimately the IRGC. Though the Moaseseyeh Mehr Eghtesadi Iranian investment group was considered by the Privatization Organization to be a valid bidder, its web page is still under construction.

Privatization Organization head Gholamreza Heidari Kord Zangeneh claimed in an interview with Fars News that Pishgaman Kavir Group had pulled out of the bidding, but the group's president Mohammad Reza Rezainejad said in a statement on the company's web site, 'On Saturday September 26, at 3:39 PM, we received a letter from the Privatization Organization informing us that our company was not qualified to participate in the bid. But both the Privatization Organization and the telecom had approved our company.' Rezaipour told Fars News that Pishgaman Kavir Group had spent over 15 billion toumans (about $15 million) on its failed bid and that someone had to be held accountable for this sum.

According to Ayandeh News, Pishgaman Kavir Group received a fax from the Privatization Organization on Saturday afternoon, disqualifying the company for 'security reasons.' The group's spokesman Mostafa Sajjadi told Ayandeh News, 'It is up to legal bodies to determine who can participate in a historical bid of this nature, but why didn't they tell us from the beginning?' Sajjadi said that his group would pursue the matter in court.

Seyed Mehdi Tabai Aghdaie, member of the governing board of the Privatization Organization, told a televised press conference, 'Our organization could only look into the financial and technical validity of the bidders. Bodies outside the Privatization Organization had to look into the security qualifications.'

Opposition and human rights groups fear that the IRGC will now be able to tighten control over telephone and Internet communications in Iran. Though voicing concern over the acquisition, Mohsen Sazegara, a founder of the IRGC who is now a dissident in Washington DC, said that it would ultimately turn out to be a mistake on the part of the Revolutionary Guards. 'The struggle against the IRGC has entered a new phase in which an easily accessible entity like the telecom can be targeted,' Sazegara said.

Weekend roundup - Monday 28 September 2009

  • It's all about semantics. In an interview with Time Magazine's Managing Editor Richard Stengel on Friday, Mahmoud Amadinejad could hardly contain his gleeful grin as Stengel questioned him on the new urnaium enrichment facility which Iran has been building near the holy city of Ghom, and whose existence came to light last week. The new plant would endow Iran with at least two enrichment facilities -- the other known plant is in Natanz -- and would mean that the country is even closer to obtaining enough nuclear material for a bomb. According to reports, Iran divulged the existence of the Ghom plant in a letter addressed to the IAEA last Monday. Hence Ahmadinejad's grin and his ability to tell Stengel that the site is 'not secret', as President Barack Obama announced in Pittsburgh while he was flanked by President Nicolas Sarkozy and Prime Minister Gordon Brown. Iran has always contended that as a signatory of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, it is only bound to reveal a major nuclear site's existence once nuclear material has been injected into it. The international community's reading of the treaty is that such sites must be declared as soon as construction begins. This morning, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hassan Ghashghavi underlined this position by claiming that Iran had expected to be praised for its transparency because it had revealed the site's construction 18 months before any gas is to be injected into it. Iran may have tried to preempt international censure by sending the letter to the IAEA. According to sources speaking to the Associated Press, American, British, and French intelligence services had discovered the site several years ago and were waiting for construction to be sufficiently advanced before making a surprise announcement.

  • With the start of the Iranian academic year, the regime will have to contend with new organized fronts in the opposition movement. Students in Tehran University convened in front of the offices of the faculty of philosophy to protest the presence of Gholam Ali Haddad Adel, former Majlis Speaker and member of the Supreme Council for Cultural Revolution. Haddad Adel's daughter is married to Mojtaba Khamenei, Leader Ali Khamenei's son. According to Mowjeh Sabzeh Azadi, Haddad Adel did not emerge from the conference room, so the students began chanting, 'Anti-nation Majlis representative, shame, shame!', 'Haddad Adel, supporter of a murderer!' and 'Whoever is uneducated is with Ahmadinejad!' (Har ki ke bisavadeh, ba Ahmadinejadeh!)

    According to the opposition Mowjeh Sabzeh Azadi, a much bigger crowd marched elsewhere on the campus today. Waving green ballons, the students called for the resignation of the 'coup government' and shouted 'Death to the dictator!'

    Another source posted a video purporting to be from the same demonstration today, this time in front of the main library building, and claimed that the number of protesters was growing by the minute.

  • The Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) bought a controlling stake in the Telecommunications Company of Iran (TCI or Sherkat Mokhaberat Iran) in a half-hour operation on Sunday whose outcome was inevitable. The two rival bids were advanced by groups controlled the IRGC. The Tosse'eh Etemad Mobin consortium, linked to the IRGC's social affairs mutual fund, bought 50% plus one stock in the state telecom for 340.9 toumans a share which brought the amount of the deal to 7.8 trillion toumans (about $8 billion), the largest transaction in the history of the Tehran stock exchange.  

  • Parviz Meshkatian, santour virtuoso and composer, passed away on Tuesday of heart failure at the age of 54. Masters of Iranian music spoke at his funeral service on Friday and lamented the loss of their fellow musician. But the presence of government representative, Deputy Minister for Culture and Islamic Guidance Mohammad Hossein Imani Khoshkhou, was too much for the participants, who prevented him from speaking by clapping loudly and continuously.

Friday, September 25, 2009

IRGC intelligence aided by KGB as early as 1979: Former Revolutionary Guards chief makes astonishing slip on live TV

Mohsen Rezai, former head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) and a candidate in the 2009 presidential election, told Iranian state television that the IRGC's intelligence service had received tips from the KGB as early as 1979.

Responding to questions over the telephone, Rezai appeared on the Islamic Republic of Iran News Network (IRINN) on Tuesday night in a program devoted to 'soft revolutions.'

'I remember, in the early days of the revolution -- I was in charge of the IRGC's intelligence -- the Soviets would tell us every once in a while that the royalists were making preparations in Turkey to attack us,' Rezai said on the 9 PM show. 'At one point, I think it was the Soviet ambassador who had visited the Supreme Leader... the Agha (NB Agha, or Sir, refers to the Supreme Leader, who was Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini at the time) called me in and said, "Look into what these people are saying. It seems a bit irrational." I looked into it and determined that they were providing us with very good information.'

Rezai co-founded and led the intelligence unit of the IRGC in 1979. According to some accounts, he commanded forces dispatched to Torkaman Sahra to crush a rebellion later that same year. He became the commander of the IRGC in 1981, at the age of 27. He held that position until 1997, having obtained a doctorate in economics from Tehran University in 1992. He was one of four candidates approved for the 2009 presidential election and has disputed the official results. Mohsen Ruholamini, the son of one of his top advisers Abdolhossein Ruholamini, was beaten to death in an Iranian prison, probably Kahrizak, in July. Though he has muted his criticism in the past two months, he remains close to the Principlist rivals of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

'They were telling us -- it was the KGB in those days -- they were saying, "We have precise information that the royalists are putting together an operation against Iran in Ankara. We wanted to tell you this,"' added Rezai. 'Later it transpired that... not that what they were saying was false, but it wasn't as big as they were saying.'

Opposition figures and protesters believe that Russia, which has close economic and political ties with the Islamic Republic, not only supports the regime, but has provided it with security advice and training. A day after the massive June 15 demonstration which rallied millions of protesters in Tehran, Ahmadinejad flew to Yekaterinburg, Russia, to attend the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit and was greeted warmly by Russian President Dmitri Medvedev. In a statement on July 1, opposition leader Mehdi Karroubi said, 'The people carrying out the crackdown were trained in Russia.' The issue of Etemad Melli, the newspaper of Karroubi's party, which published that statement was banned. The statement was subsequently printed in Kalameh Sabz, an underground newspaper.

The slogan 'Death to Russia!' has become a fixture of street protests in Iran, notably on July 17 and September 18. 


Of note:
The other guest of the program was another former head of the IRGC, Major General Yahya Rahim Safavi, who was present in the studio. He was succeeded by the current IRGC commander Mohammad Ali Jafari in 2007. Ironically, analysts believed at the time that Ayatollah Ali Khamenei had decided to replace Rahim Safavi because he was too close to Ahmadinejad, who had provoked rifts within the conservative camp. Jafari, who headed the IRGC's Strategic Studies Center and was a specialist in asymmetrical warfare, was believed to be a more consensual figure.

Jafari has used asymmetrical tactics, effectively fighting a superior military force, in Iraq. He may be employing the same knowledge now, only this time to counter the asymmetrical actions of the green movement in the streets of Iran.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Ahmadinejad gets a New York welcome - Part 2

The evening did not end well for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

As he prepared to host a dinner at the InterContinental Barclay Hotel Wednesday night, hundreds of protesters outside chanted slogans against him and the few guests who had not declined his invitation. Two New York venues - the Helmsley Hotel and Gotham House -- had already canceled banquets that the Islamic Republic's president had announced weeks ago. As the revelers arrived under a barrage of insults and boos, some covered their faces while others turned around and left. Ahmadinejad and the rest of his jet-lagged delegation would have to sleep in the same hotel later.

I want to ask him why they held my father for 90 days.

- Turaj Zaim, 33, San Francisco hip-hop artist. Zaim's father, Kourosh Zaim, was arrested a week after the June 12 election, apparenty for having given an interview to Canadian radio.

The demonstrators across from the InterContinental Braclay cried out, 'Come out, murderer!' But as a group of dinner-goers, including a cleric, came out from behind a police van and marched purposefully to the hotel's entrance, the shouts rose in intensity and turned into a continuous hoot:

Other slogans of the evening included 'Ashghal biya biroun!' (Come out, you piece of garbage!), referring to President Ahmadinejad, and 'Ya Hossein, Mir Hossein', referring to his rival in the disputed presidential election:

The green movement now encompasses everyone inside and outside Iran who wants change and freedom for their country 
- Akbar Atri, former student activist. Atri escaped to the U.S. in 2005 after being jailed several times in Iran.

The day's events had been kicked off that morning at 10:30 in Columbus Circle by a group of cyclists who had traveled from Toronto to New York. The group, members of Cycling for Human Rights in Iran, informed New Yorkers of the Iranian regime's crimes and violations as they made a loop around Central Park and continued towards the Iranian Mission at 40th Street and 3rd Avenue, the starting point of one of the rallies organized by Where Is My Vote - New York Chapter.

BoomGen TV's report on the protests includes an interview with some of the members of CHRI:

Ahmadinejad is not my president. 
- Voices of Iranians living in Iran. Iran Alive video art installation shown on Tuesday, September 22 in New York.

The protesters proceeded from the Iran Mission up 3rd Avenue to the corner of 47th Street, where the main rally was to take place next to the UN Building. The number of people grew significantly as the day advanced and soon reached the thousands. Eyewitnesses spoke of at least ten thousand demonstrators, but the figure has not been confirmed by the NYPD. The following footage shows a considerable number of people.

'Political prisoners must be freed!' - 'Liar, where's your 63%?' - 'Independence, freedom, Iranian Republic!' (NB Contrary to the revolution slogan which ended with 'Islamic Republic.')

We asked, 'Where's our vote?' and they answered us with tear gas and batons. 
- Hassan Alizadeh, 38, who had come from Iran to attend the rally. Alizadeh plans to bike to Washington, Charlotte, and Atlanta in protest.

In this video, the cameraman walks past crowds lining the street.

There are thousands in Iran who are in jail, who get beaten...
- Jewish activist as he is being arrested by New York police for blocking traffic while protesting Ahmadinejad.

The rally, at times boisterous, at others more earnest, was always spirited, with an eclectic mix of politics, creative sloganeering, and songs. At one point, Arash Sobhani, leader of the band Kiosk, performed a song. 'It is dismaying that in a country in which 70% of the population is under 30, a dozen old men who are over 400 years old sit in the Guardian Council and get to decide who becomes president,' he told the cheering crowd. 'This song is for the Guardian Council...'

Just outside the UN security perimeter, one Iranian accosted a regime cleric and engaged in talks (for version with subtitles click twice on the image to open in large format in YouTube):

If I had a chance to meet Ahmadinejad, I would say to him, 'You don't deserve to be Iran's president, because you are a cheat and a liar.' 
- Alireza Sadr, 30, dentist. Sadr flew in from Tokyo to attend the protests.

On 1st Avenue and 41st Street, a group of rabbis and Jewish activists were arrested for blocking traffic as they denounced Ahmadinejad. The New York Post said that Ahmadinejad had managed to unite Muslims and Jews on this day of protests:

Meanwhile, inside the UN Building, the General Assembly was in session. Ahmadinejad was programmed to deliver his speech at around 5 PM, but finally arrived at the lectern two hours later. Muammar Ghaddafi's 95-minute unending address was partially to blame.

As Ahmadinejad delivered a series of critiques and suggestions to a an already less-than-full chamber, the number of attentive diplomats began falling alarmingly. Delegation after delegation began walking out ten minutes into the speech as the Islamic Republic's President launched into an anti-Semitic rant about a 'minority group' which controls the world's business and media. The televised fiasco can be viewed here. Moments of interest are at the following time marks 10:30, 11:45, 12:10, 16:15, 27:50, and 30:05. The embarrassing footage shows Ahmadniejad speaking before line after line of empty seats. One twitter activist noted, 'I think I just saw a chair walk out as well.' The scene was broadcast live in Iran, through at least one official news outlet, Fars News, but was probably missed by most Iranian viewers because it took place well after midnight local time.

President Ahmadinejad left the UN Building after his speech to attend what he thought would be a more relaxed event: dinner at the InterContinental Barclay.

Thursday morning, protesters gathered at Brooklyn's Cadman Plaza Park at 10:30 AM local and walked across Brooklyn Bridge with the world-record-breaking green scroll covered with the signatures of tens of thousands of Iranians around the globe who say, 'Ahmadinejad is not my President.'

This evening (Thursday), the Empire State Building will be bathed in green, a fitting tribute to the thousands who attended the events of the past two days. Protesters will gather below the landmark skyscraper for photo shoots. However, the green lighting has nothing to do with Iran. It is part of the 70th anniversary celebration of the movie 'The Wizard of Oz' and the Emerald Ball which will be held at the Tavern in the Green tonight.

(For part 1 go here)

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Ahmadinejad gets a New York welcome - Part 1

Thousands of Iranians have traveled to New York by chartered bus, plane, automobile, and bicycle to demonstrate against Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and support human rights in Iran.

Ahmadinejad arrived in the city last night, Tuesday, to attend the UN General Assembly and deliver a speech today, Wednesday, sometime after 5 PM. For weeks various groups have been planning events and protests to coincide with this visit. Where Is My Vote - New York Chapter is among many organizations which offered cheap transportation on chartered buses to New York ($30 round trip from Washington DC).

The welcome mat had already been pulled out from under Ahmadinejad last week when two venues where he was to speak abruptly canceled the events. On September 17, the New York Helmsley Hotel declared it would not host the president's banquet. Helmsley spokesman Howard Rubenstein said that the hotel was unaware that Ahmadinejad would be at the event and that the banquet hall had been rented months ago by an Iranian student organization. Subsequently, Gotham Hall also cancelled an engagement at which the Islamic Republic's president was to have appeared.

'No vacancy' for Ahmadinejad:

Despite a concerted telephone, fax, and e-mail campaign to get Ahmadinejad thrown out of the InterContinental Barclay, which reportedly had hotel staff up in arms, Ahmadinejad has apparently managed to managed to maintain his reservation at the plush hotel.

Since the start of the week, mobile billboards on trucks have been circling the UN neighborhood, denouncing human rights violations in Iran and attracting considerable attention:

Though the biggest protests will take place today and tomorrow, demonstrators kicked off the events last night at the corner of 47th Street and 2nd Avenue, near the UN building, with an art installation organized by Voices For Iran. Hundreds watched a video projected onto a living screen of white-clad people. The voices in the footage are of Iranians inside Iran and were collected especially for the installation. Roxana Saberi, the Iranian-American journalist who was detained in Iran months ago, was present at the event, according to Radio Farda.

The original footage that was used in the installtion:

The art installation with the 'living screen':

A group of cycling activists who had been pedaling from Toronto to New York since September 19 arrived to loud applause at the art installation just before the video was screened. They were members of CHRI (Cycling for Human Rights in Iran), a group that had delivered an Amnesty International petition to the Iranian embassy in Ottawa in July after another long bike ride from Toronto.

Footage of CHRI and Amnesty International activists just before their departure from Toronto, September 19:

The Iranian-Canadian cyclists organized a loop around Central Park, starting at Columbus Circle at 10:30 this morning, to bring their message to New Yorkers, before heading for the Iranian Mission at 40th Street and 3rd Avenue, where the first mass gathering of the day will take place at 12:30 PM. 'We all know Mr. Ahmadinejad will be addressing the UN on the 23rd of September,' the group explained on its FaceBook page. 'By cycling a all over New York City, we intend to draw attention to the widespread and systematic human rights abuses that have, and still continue to take place in Iran. We ask you to join us to show solidarity with the people of Iran and condemn the violation of human rights worldwide.'

The protesters in front of the Iranian Mission will walk north on 3rd Avenue up to 47th Street, then head east to the main rally site at 3 PM local. The main demonstration will take place from 4 PM outside the UN Building near 47th Street and 2nd Avenue and will last for the duration of Ahmadinejad's speech which will start at around 5 PM local.

(For part 2 please go here)

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Unprepared and vapid, France 2 journalist falls for Ahmadinejad's song and dance - 22 September 2009

France 2 Télévision broadcast an interview with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in its Tuesday evening newscast. The interview had been conducted the day before in Tehran by Renaud Bernard.

Bernard elicits one key element in the encounter -- Iran's desire to link the fate of Clothilde Reiss, a French lecturer accused of espionnage, to that of 'Iranian prisoners' in France -- and one outrageous comment indicative of the regime's shameless distortion of the facts -- French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner is 'responsible' for Neda's death.

But for the most part, Renaud Bernard blunders through an interview for which he seems ill-prepared. To be fair, France 2 had been informed that its journalist could meet with Ahmadinejad only 24 hours before the encounter took place. Most major newsrooms, however, have an Iran expert who can be dispatched to the scene within hours and can return with a solid report that does not make him look like a cub reporter at a local newspaper.

Bernard makes a wobbly start. In his first question he refers to 'the first round of the presidential election which you won with 63% of the vote,' apparently mistaking himself for the president of the Guardian Council or a UN election observer. He uses no qualifier like 'allegedly' or 'according to your Interior Ministry figures' as any journalist should, given the circumstances. With that introduction, Bernard's ensuing remark that 'a large portion of the population still contests the results' and believes that 'you [stole] the election' can now mean that 37% of Iranians are misguidedly protesting your victory and can you tell us what you think about this, Mr. President, Sir.

Perhaps this could be laid down to a poor choice of words, but a minute later he becomes a repeat offender as he gives a tally of victims 'since the June 12 election, which you won.' Why the repeated confirmation of Ahmadinejad's victory?

And what of the tally of victims advanced by Bernard? 36 dead, according to unnamed human rights organizations. The opposition committee investigating the deaths and abuse of protesters has compiled a provisional list of 72 people killed in the unrest and in prisons. The figure was regularly updated until the committee's offices were raided, documents were seized, and two key members -- Alireza Beheshti and Morteza Alviri -- were arrested. Bernard could and should have mentioned these facts.

But France 2's journalist seems a bit short of facts. The one dead protester he does name is Neda Agha Soltan, whom he mistakenly refers to as 'Neda Soltani'. And when he brings up last Friday's protests, which he erroneously says occurred four months after the election, he says that 25 to 30 people were arrested. Perhaps Mr. Bernard would be kind enough to divulge his independent sources because this figure seems to coincide with those released by the Iranian police.

Bernard moves onto foreign policy and Barack Obama's 'extended hand.' The France 2 journalist appears to have read news reports from before the disputed election, when President Obama did indeed engage in a more conciliatory approach towards Iran. But the situation has changed and neither the US, nor the EU, have even congratulated Ahmadinejad on his 'victory.' Bernard asks Ahmadinejad if he will respond positively to Obama's overtures, as if the matter is solely in the Iranian president's hands. Most analysts believe that Ahmadinejad is desperate to score a diplomatic coup and meet a US official in New York, anyone from Obama to Senator John Kerry, but that the American delegation is adamant in not even having a chance encounter in the UN's corridors. Obama has set an informal deadline of year's end for Iran to make substantive proposals or face harsher sanctions. Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg told the Washington Post, 'We view it as a win-win proposition' for the US.

Ahmadinejad's tactic of diverting attention by denying the Holocaust pays off once again as Bernard devotes a quarter of his interview to this matter. The questions are predictable, the answers even more. Couldn't have Bernard said something like, 'Your shocking statements about the Holocaust have dismayed and disgusted the world. You keep saying that people should be able to research the historical fact of 6 million deaths. Is Iran willing to allow research to be conducted on the thousands of political prisoners killed in mass executions over just several months at the end of the 1980s, a historical fact that prompted Ayatollah Montazeri to give up his position as the next Supreme Leader by openly complaining to Ayatollah Khomeini?'

In one of the more interesting parts of the interview, Ahmadinejad seems to suggest that French citizen Clothilde Reiss's fate is linked to that of 'Iranian prisoners' in French jails. Not only does Bernard seem unaware of who Ahmadinejad is talking about (NB The most famous Iranian prisoner in France is Ali Vakili Rad, one of the assassins of former Prime Minister Shahpour Bakhtiar, who received a life sentence in 1994 and is up for parole this year. Bernard would have been aware of this had he followed Iran news and read an article in Le Figaro, published less than two weeks before his interview.), but he does not even ask Ahmadinejad whom he is alluding to. This would have been a much more appropriate question, instead of the breathless one he actually did voice: 'It sounds like you're imposing some form of blackmail!' Really?

Ahmadinejad appears to have gotten away with another song and dance -- a musical comedy/tragedy now entering its fifth year. When will interviewers learn? It's not as if they won't get out of there alive. On second thoughts...

The full interview can be viewed here.

France 2:
Mr. President, thank you for receiving us here, in your offices in central Tehran. Three days ago, demonstrations took place in Tehran and other cities. Four months after the first round of the presidential election which you won with 63% of the vote, a large portion of the population still contests this result. All the opposition leaders were also in the streets. Numerous other [protesting] voices can be heard. I have to ask you, Did you steal the election as the opposition claims?

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad:
In Iran, there is freedom. Individuals can express their views. But there is the rule of law.

France 2:
And concerning the election...?

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad:
The law applies to the elections as well. We have no problems. The people express their views and the law is applied. The Iranian government is the most legitimate in the region and the world.

France 2:
[French President] Nicolas Sarkozy says that Iranians deserve a better government than the current regime...

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad:
You mean Mr. Sarkozy is interfering in our domestic affairs? I also think that the French nation deserves better leaders. Mr. Sarkozy's anger holds no weight for us.

France 2:
Human rights organizations maintain that since the June 12 election which you won, 4,000 people have been arrested -- there were 25 to 30 arrests last Friday -- at least 36 people have died... Everyone recalls the images of young Neda being shot in the street. She has become an icon for this movement. There have allegedly been cases of rape and torture in prisons. You haven't said anything about this subject in the past four months.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad:
I have expressed myself. I have asked the judiciary to act more quickly and with greater precision. And the judiciary will do this. In Iran, anyone who is a criminal is punished according to the law, whether he is a police officer or someone who sets fire to private property in the streets.

France 2:
And the dead, the tortured...?

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad:
We are sorry that some individuals incited people to riot. Ask that question of the Voice of America, the BBC, or the French Foreign Minister [Bernard Kouchner] who incited the people. We are sorry that some of our countrymen were ultimately hurt.

France 2:
You think that Bernard Kouchner is responsible for the events of the past four months? Bernard Kouchner is responsible for the death of Neda Soltani (sic)?

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad:
Yes, he is also responsible.

France 2:
Tomorrow, you're flying to New York to attend the UN General Assembly. You're going to cross paths with US President Barack Obama, who has decided to extend his hand to Iran. Are you going to seize [this extended hand]?

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad:
Our position is clear. We believe in talks, but within the framework of justice and respect. We are waiting to see Mr. Obama's behavior and actions.

France 2:
The IAEA considers that you have enriched enough uranium to produce an atomic weapon. You possess sufficiently powerful missiles to transport such a payload. You are able to produce an atomic bomb.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad: 
The official report of the agency states that we have no reason or evidence to believe that Iran wants to move towards military nuclear applications

France 2:
What do you think about Nicolas Sarkozy's tough stance towards Iran?

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad: 
Mr. Sarkozy is free to hold whatever position he wants, but we believe that he is seriously mistaken. He mustn't sacrifice France for the interests of others. We were interested in good relations with France, but we're not insisting on this. Mr. Sarkozy shouldn't think that the Iranian nation needs him.

France 2:
Concerning the nuclear issue, an Israeli official said today that the military option is still on the table.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad: 
You mean that the Zionist regime has threatened Iran? So why is Mr. Sarkozy silent? I have to tell you that the Zionist regime is too small to threaten Iran. We don't even pay attention to its threats. We're able to fully defend ourselves and make anyone making threats regret their actions.

France 2:
You'll be sitting several seats away from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the UN. Will you be addressing him?

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad: 
We don't recognize the Zionist regime and we don't have any need to talk to him.

France 2:
The state of Israel was created after a tragedy, the Holocaust. The death of six million Jews. This weekend you once again referred to this tragedy as a myth. The world, and France in particular, was shocked.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad: 
If the Holocaust is a historical fact, they should allow research on the topic. In conclusion, if such a thing occurred in Europe and European countries are responsible, why must the Palestinians pay? Why must they be killed? Why must they give up their land? Someone else has committed the crime, in some other place. Why don't you give them some French land? If the French government is so sorry for the Zionists, it should give them a part of France. Why doesn't it?

France 2:
A Frenchwoman has been held here since July 1. She is under house arrest at the French embassy. Her name is Clothilde Reiss and she is accused of espionage. She is awaiting a verdict. France considers her a university lecturer. Her father asked me to give you this book which she translated and has just been published in France. He's written you a letter. (reporter extends the book and letter, but Ahmadinejad does not take them) Can you and will you do something for her so that she can return to France and her family? (Ahmadinejad finally takes the book and letter).

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad: 
I've asked the judiciary to accomodate her case as much as possible. But you should know that some Iranians have been languishing in French prisons for years. They also have families. Unfortunately we haven't witnessed any gesture on the part of France to help these prisoners.

France 2:
It sounds like you're imposing some form of blackmail. Clothilde Reiss against some Iranian prisoners held in France.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad: 
If we were looking for a payoff, there would have been easier ways.

France 2:
Do you think she's a spy?

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad: 
I'm not a judge. The judge will decide, according to the law.

(End of interview.)

Tit for tat: Pro-regime officials allegedly attacked on Ghods Day

Opposition figures were not the only ones who were attacked during the Ghods Day rallies on Friday, September 18, according to a pro-regime news service.

Reports of assaults or attempted assaults on green leaders such as former President Mohammad Khatami, Mir Hossein Mousavi, and Mehdi Karroubi quickly spread trough the Internet on Friday. However, only news of an attack on Khatami could be confirmed. The former president was manhandled near Palestine Square, north of Tehran University, by a mob led by Abolfazl Shariatmadari, son of Keyhan editor Hossein Shariatmadari. Parleman News, the news service of the Imam Line Faction of the Majlis, posted photos of that attack on its web site.

The alleged attacks on Mousavi and Karroubi, reported by the Islamic Republic News Agency, appear to be attempts by the regime to portray the opposition leaders as unpopular. According to IRNA, the two men 'had to leave the rallies in their automobiles after being attacked by angry people.' Footage and photos of Karroubi on Ghods Day show a beaming cleric being acclaimed by tens of thousands of supporters as he made his way from Hafteh Tir Square down Karim Khan Zand Street. One photo shows a single man charging towards Mousavi, but neither his bodyguards, nor the presidential candidate appear unduly perturbed.

But according to Bultan News (NB The transliteration of 'bulletin' in Farsi), pro-regime officials were also attacked during the Ghods Day rallies. While bemoaning the fact that such assaults are becoming commonplace on both sides of the political divide, Bultan News concentrates on misdeeds targeting pro-Ahmadinejad personalities during Friday's demonstrations 'which were truly another epic orchestrated by the Iranian nation in support of the oppressed people of Palestine.'

The news service goes on to say, 'When these people saw [Assadollah] Badamchian, representative of Tehran, former Interior Minister [Ali] Kordan, and current Commerce Minister [Mehdi] Ghazanfari, they physically attacked them, and insulted them with obscene and inappropriate words.' The report also claimed that Ghazanfari's car sustained 4 million toumans (NB about $4,000) in damage.

Badamchian, a Principlist and deputy head of the Islamic Motalefe Party or Islamic Coalition Party, has been vocal in his criticism of the green movement. Kordan was mired in a scandal involving his fake doctorate from the 'Oxford University of London.' He was impeached and sacked by the Majlis in November of last year.

It should be noted that Bultan News is considered pro-regime. Its web site was brought down by opposition supporters through a cyber-attack in the month of June.

Monday, September 21, 2009

IRGC commander observes mysterious lights over Persian Gulf

An Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps commander has declared that unidentified flying objects emitting light were observed over Kharg Island off the coast of the strategically sensitive port of Bushehr, home of Iran's first, and still inoperative, nuclear reactor.

Commander Ali Razmjou said in a statement Monday that three shining objects flew over Kharg Island, also known as Khark, on the night of September 9 and that one of them had been shot down. The wreckage has not been discovered yet and a search is ongoing. Razmjou added that such flying objects have been seen occasionally along the coast of Bushehr Province.

Razmjou commands the IRGC's fleet in naval sector 2 which includes the port of Bushehr. Newly-appointed Interior Minister Mostafa Mohammad Najjar, a fellow IRGC officer and the former Defense Minister, recently offered Razmjou the governorship of Bushehr province, but Razmjou turned him down, citing his desire to remain a man in green -- the green of the Revolutionary Guards uniform.

Weekend roundup - Monday 21 September 2009

A review of the most important Iran news of the weekend.

  • Ebrahim Sharifi, one of the alleged victims of rape in Iranian prisons, remains undaunted. Mehdi Karroubi initially referred to Sharifi without naming him and published a limited account of his experiences on the Etemad Melli web site. The regime's panel which looked into Karroubi's allegations quickly dismissed all evidence and claims of abuse, rape, and murder in Iranian prisons, in particular disparaging a certain 'E. Sh.' Sharifi courageously maintained his position and divulged his identity in video testimony that appeared on the Internet ten days ago. Sharifi has now left Iran and gave a detailed interview of the abuse to which he was subjected in an interview with Radio Farda which was released this weekend. For an English translation of this interview, please come back to this blog later today.

  • In another sign of sharp divisions between senior clerics and the regime, a number of grand ayatollahs rejected Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei's announcement that September 20 was the date of Eid Fitr, a key celebration in Islam which marks the end of the fasting month of Ramadan and is the first day of Shawwal. Several grand ayatollahs -- 'sources of emulation' whom Shiites choose to follow -- including Hossein Ali Montazeri, Youssef Saanei, Abdolkarim Mousavi Ardebili, and Asadollah Bayat Zanjani declared erroneous Khamenei's assessment that Eid Fitr was to take place on Sunday and said that the correct date is today, Monday September 21. The Muslim calendar is lunar and senior clerics must declare when months such as Ramadan end according to their observations of the lunar cycle. 'Those who mistakenly broke their fast on Sunday have not sinned because they did not do so deliberately,' observed Grand Ayatollah Saanei.

  • Footage filmed from the pedestrian overpass at 7th Tir Square, Tehran, at 2 PM on Friday September 18 shows Basiji forces escaping as people charge them and burn a dozen of their motorcycles. The person filming the video says, 'Look at the people's rage. It is Iran Day! (NB Protesters are now referring to Ghods Day as Iran Day. This follows the same trend as the slogan employed throughout the country -- 'Neither Gaza, nor Lebanon, my life for Iran.' -- during this event which is supposed to show support for Palestinians and opposition to Israel.

  • According to a report released this morning by the Iranian Labor News Agency, disruptions in Internet service which began on Thursday, September 17, the day before the mass protests around the country, have not been resolved yet. 'Such widespead disruption had occurred in the days before and after the election,' notes ILNA. 'But since the authorities have stated that there are no security concerns at this time, the current problems have provoked confusion among the country's Internet users.'

  • On Sunday, it was announced that Interior Minister Mostafa Mohammad Najjar, formerly Defense Minister, would be visiting Kurdistan province with a security delegation following following recent 'terrorist activity' there. Mamosta Borhan Aali, one of Sanandaj's Friday prayer leaders, was gunned down outside his home on September 13. Four days later, Mamosta Mohammad Sheikholeslam, Assembly of Experts representative from Kurdistan province, was shot and killed outside a Sanandaj mosque. Two Kurdish judges were injured in assassination attempts over the past ten days. Intelligence Minister Heydar Moslehi told Mehr News that his agents were looking into these events which 'showed the abject nature of the enemy.' It is unclear who is behind the series of assassination attempts but some opposition analysts believe that some, if not all, may have been orchestrated as a prelude to a violent crackdown in Kurdistan province.

  • Alireza Beheshti, Mousavi adviser and head of the opposition committee investigating the abuse and deaths of protesters, announced on Sunday that Muslims wishing to offer fitriyeh -- charitable gifts given on Eid Fitr (see above) -- to those who have suffered in the post-election unrest, could transfer donations to a bank account set up for the occasion. Beheshti was recently arrested and released in a weeklong crackdown targeting those looking into the regime's human rights violation. Details of the bank account were published on the web site of the Etemad Melli Party.

  • According to a document released by the Mousavi camp this weekend, hospitals were ordered to keep secret the medical records of those injured in the post-election unrest. The alleged confidential directive issued to the Health Ministry on July 19 by the IRGC's Sarollah Base, a division of the Revolutionary Guards intelligence apparatus under IRGC deputy commander-in-chief General Mohammad Hejazi, orders hospitals to refrain from providing those injured in the post-election unrest with any medical records. The document, stamped 'urgent' and 'confidential,' was signed by General Ali Khalili and was acknowledged by the Health Ministry on July 26.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Live blog - Ghods Day - Friday 18 September 2009

That wraps up today's live blog. 

7:45 PM Tehran time - 3:15 PM UTC
Scene of desolation bears witness to the violence of clashes. The burning motorcycles and the lack of any security forces may indicate that regime's agents did not always have the upper hand. The young man filming the street says today's date. 

6:30 PM Tehran time - 2:00 PM UTC

Parleman News, the news service of the Imam Line Faction of the Majlis, has published a photo report of the attack on former President Mohammad Khatami that took place earlier today. In a previous article on its web site, Parleman News said that Khatami was attacked by a group of hard-liners as he was approaching Palestine Square, just north of Tehran University. The people intervened and defended Khatami. The group of hard-liners was led by Abolfazl Shariatmadari, son of Hossein Shariatmadari who is the head of the ultra-conservative Keyhan daily and represents Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei at the Keyhan Institute. Khatami reportedly lost his turban in the scuffle. Six photos were posted on the site, though the pictures were numbered 1 to 7. Photo 5 was missing and likely showed the moment of the assualt.

6:15 PM Tehran time - 1:45 PM UTC
Note: 'Death to Russia!' has been chanted by green protesters because it is widely believed in Iran that Russia has aided the coup plotters. Russia also has close ties to the Iranian regime. 
Footage of opposition leader Mehdi Karroubi joining protesters earlier today. Demonstrators shout, 'If Karroubi is arrested, Iran will become Hell!'

6:00 PM Tehran time - 1:30 PM UTC
According to BBC Persian, demonstrators in Shiraz attacked security forces which had arrested some of their fellow protesters and managed to release them. 

5:45 PM Tehran time - 1:15 PM UTC
This footage was allegedly filmed at 7th Tir Square at 10:30 AM Tehran time. The lone voice of the chant-master desperately calling out 'Death to Israel!' and 'Death to America!' is all but drowned out by the crowd exclaiming 'Death to Russia!' 7th Tir Square was the start of one of the seven official routes leading to Tehran University.

5:00 PM Tehran time - 12:30 PM UTC
Unconfirmed reports of clashes in Vanak Square. Two police vehicles were allegedly set on fire. Protesters reportedly threw projectiles at the state radio-television building.
International telephone service from Iran is extremely sporadic. 
New footage from earlier in the day shows green protesters passing by the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance annex for traditional arts and handicrafts. They simply chant: 'Iran! Iran! Iran!...'

4:30 PM Tehran time - 12:00 PM UTC
Footage almost certainly from today's Ghods Day rally was posted on YouTube a short while ago. This video was allegedly taken several hours ago on Tehran's Karim Khan Zand Street, which goes between 7th Tir Square and Vali Asr Square. One of seven official routes in Tehran ran along this street, then continued past Vali Asr Square onto Keshavarz Boulevard and finally to the northern gate of Tehran University. The massive number of green protesters stream past police cars and respond to the hapless chant-masters' repeated calls of 'Death to Israel!' and 'Death to America!' with their own 'Death to Russia!'

4:00 PM Tehran time - 11:30 AM UTC
Reminder: For maps of the march routes, go here
Caller on ePersian radio: I was on Kargar and Vali Asr. Supporters of Mousavi, Karroubi, Khatami and Rafsanjani lined the streets. There were 15 or so Basijis with bullhorns, shouting 'Death to Israel!', then the people would shout back 'Death to Russia!' Then a Basiji on a motorcycle tried to ride into the people. You should have seen how the people beat him up. There was a Basij support car right behind the motorcyclist and the people beat up the Basijis in the car too. Vali Asr Street is littered with rocks and bricks and sticks for about 2 miles. There were serious clashes here, but you should have seen how the Basijis ran when the people with sticks charged them.

3:30 PM Tehran time - 11:00 AM UTC
Opposition news sites, Mowjcamp and Mosharekat, appear to be down. This could be the result of heavy traffic, although it must be noted that Norouz's site was brought down after an orchestrated cyber-attack last week.
Mobile telephone service is reportedly sporadic.
Caller on ePersian Radio: I don't know why they're saying there were no clashes. I was on the route from 7th Tir Square and I personally was beaten. They were just standing on the side of the street and beating anyone who went by. When we got to Vali Asr Square, there were hardly any regime supporters. They were using bullhorns, but I swear I was near them, but I could barely hear them. All I could hear was the voices of the greens. I think this was an even greater victory than previous demonstrations. I'm proud of our country because of the young people who live here. Cars would stop and give us rags and kleenex for our wounds. I saw a young man, blood pouring from his head, holding a rag to it, but still shouting out slogans. There was some guy on a motorbike, he looked like a Basiji and was trying to push through the crowd, then people started to grumble, he quicklygot off his motorbike and raised his fingers in a V and said, I swear I'm with you guys. (she also says that she has filmed the events and will post the videos)
Caller on ePersian radio: 'I was at the protest between 7th Tir Square and Vali Asr Square. There was a huge crowd.
The following video purports to show the protest along that route. (NB Mehdi Karroubi joined the protesters on this same route and reportedly continued beyond Vali Asr Square, into Keshavarz Boulevard.):

3:00 PM Tehran time - 10:30 AM UTC
According to a report datelined 14:53 by Fars news agency, under the control of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps: 'A small number of Mir Hossein Mousavi's supporters were dispersed in a timely manner by security forces in Shohada Square. The Ghods Day rally is progressing in all its splendor and the marchers are approaching the Masoumeh Shrine.' This brief was inexplicably taken off the Fars news feed minutes ago. 

2:45 PM Tehran time - 10:15 AM UTC
A large number of videos purporting to be from today's protests across Iran can be found on UNITY4IRAN and OnlyMehdi's YouTube channels.
Reports of heavy clashes on Karim Khan Zand Street. People are allegedly responding to the charges of the security forces with rocks and sticks.

2:30 PM Tehran time - 10:00 AM UTC
According to an article posted over two hours ago on Parleman News, the news service of the legislature's Imam Line Faction, former reformist President Mohammad Khatami was attacked by a group of hard-liners as he was approaching Palestine Square, just north of Tehran University. The people intervened and defended Khatami. The group of hard-liners was led by Abolfazl Shariatmadari, son of Hossein Shariatmadari who is the head of the ultra-conservative Keyhan daily and represents Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei at the Keyhan Institute.

2:15 PM Tehran time - 9:45 AM UTC
ePersian radio's reporter says that protesters are going towards Vanak Square (NB Far north of the official routes) on foot and in cars: 'I'm a kilometer from Vanak Square and there are no security forces in sight.'
Caller to Radio Farda: 'I'm on Keshavarz Boulevard (NB along one of the official routes to Tehran University). Listen to the chants!' The crowd is crying out: 'Long live Karroubi, Mousavi may you stand long!' 'If Karroubi is arrested, Iran will be in turmoil!'
Live on mobile telephone: 'Huge numbers of people on Karim Khan Zand Street (NB next to Vali Asr Square). The protesters are going into vali Asr Street.' Chant in background: 'With God's help we will reach victory, death to this deceitful government!'

2:00 PM Tehran time - 9:30 AM UTC
A video purporting to show Hafez Street (NB running north-south, five blocks east of Tehran University), Tehran, today has been posted. Again, the slogans which are chanted appear to confirm this.

1:45 PM Tehran time - 9:15 AM UTC
At Abbas Abad Crossroads, cars honking in support of protesters as they chant: 'Palestine, where are you? You should see Kahrizak!' (NB Referring to Kahrizak detention center, site of much prisoner abuse and rape.) The crowd begins singing Yareh Dabestaniyeh Man, an iconic protest song of the student movement.
Protesters appear to be spreading across town, towards Fatemi, Takhteh Tavous, Vanak, Abbas Abad... and not necessarily going towards Tehran University anymore.

1:15 PM Tehran time - 8:45 AM UTC
Caller on ePersian: (honking in the background) 'I'm at Takhteh Tavous crossroads and we're going up towards Vanak Square (NB This is away from Tehran University, going north towards a section of town which has been the scene of many nighttime demonstrations.) Chants in the background: 'Rape, torture, no longer have any effect!'
Caller on Radio Farda: 'I'm on Karim Khan Zand Street (NB Street leading from 7th Tir Square to Tehran University). It's 10:40 AM in Tehran. There are a hundred times more protesters than Basijis. (anti-regime chants can be heard in the background.)'
Another caller on Radio Farda: 'I'm on Karim Khan Zand. There are even more people than on June 15.'
Another caller on Radio Farda: 'I was in Paramount Street in Shiraz earlier and I saw things that made me cry. The club-wielders of the regime and the Revolutionary Guards were attacking the people with such ferocity! I saw a kid that they caught in a side street, his mother was pleading, and they sprayed him the face with gas.'
ePersian Radio continues to broadcast live coverage of protest and anti-regime chanters.
Another video posted by Mehdi Saharkhiz, son of jailed journalist Issa Saharkhiz, purports to show a protest earlier in Isfahan. The location appears to be outside Isfahan University. The chants, 'Neither Gaza, nor Lebanon, my life for Iran', substantiates the claim that it is from today.

Caller from Mashhad to ePersian Radio: 'I was at the rally earlier. There were a lot of protesters along the route to Imam Reza's shrine.'

1:00 PM Tehran time - 8:30 AM UTC
Caller Hassan ePersian Radio: 'At Enghelab Square, a huge crowd responded to calls of 'Death to Israel!' and 'Death to England!' with their own 'Death to Russia!' They've blocked all the protesters at Jamalzadeh Street (NB A street running north-south to the west of Tehran University.)
Ahmadinejad engages in Holocaust-denial in his speech at Tehran University.
Several green-clad demonstrators were arrested along the route to Imam Reza's shrine. Security forces used tear gas on the crowds.

12:45 PM Tehran time - 8:15 AM UTC
Crowd accompanying Mehdi Karroubi on Keshavarz Boulevard in the direction of Tehran University are chanting: 'Karroubi, the idol-breaker, break the great idol!'
Caller to ePersian Radio: 'The footage on state TV is from previous years. This is clear because this year's official banner is red with a photo of Khamenei.'

12:30 PM Tehran time - 8:00 AM UTC
First purported footage of today's protests begin appearing on YouTube. This YouTube channel contends the video is of today's protest in Shiraz. It is hard to determine the city, but the slogan 'Neither Gaza, nor Lebanon, my life for Iran' seems to indicate that it is from today.

12:15 PM Tehran time - 7:45 AM UTC
Western media starts taking note, as the BBC issues a 'Breaking News' report.
Swedish television starts reporting on the protests.
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, having arrived under heavy escort earlier, is delivering his speech at Tehran University.
Caller to ePersian Radio: 'Channel 2 is broadcasting the speech of the people's choice.' Host Ghaem-Maghami: 'Yes, we're listening to his rubbish. Let's go to something else. I can't take this.'

12:00 PM Tehran time - 7:30 AM UTC
Iranian state TV starts broadcasting footage from previous years.
Massive crowds on Karim Khan Zand Street and Keshavarz Boulevard, between 7th Tir Square and Vali Asr Square. 
On Vali Asr Square: 'Liar, liar! Where is your 63%?'
'Long live Saanei!' (Grand Ayatollah Youssef Saanei, who has spoken virulently against the regime)
Keshavarz Boulevard: 'Death to the dictator!' 

11:45 AM Tehran - 7:15 AM UTC
Iranian state TV says that unfortunately the police has not allowed it to film the Ghods Day rallies from a helicopter.
On Vali Asr Square: 'Neither Western, nor Eastern, an Iranian Republic!' (Contrast with the revolution era slogan which ended 'Islamic Republic'.) 'Political prisoners must be freed!' 'Death to Russia!'
On Vali Asr Square: Crowd starts loudly singing patriotic song 'Ey Iran!'

11:15 AM Tehran time - 6:45 AM UTC
Iranian state television is broadcasting live footage of the crowds on Palestine Street without any sound.
'Death to the dictator!' and 'Death to Russia!' in response to 'Down with the USA!' on Karim Khan Zand Street
Massive Green presence near Paramount (15 Khordad) street.
Karroubi is arriving at Keshavarz Boulevard. Trucks with sound systems are trying to drown out the protesters' chants, to no avail. People are carrying photos of Karroubi and Neda. 'Death to Russia' as people raise their hands and wave green ribbons.

11:00 AM Tehran time - 6:30 AM UTC
Iranian channel 2 state TV is broadcasting live segments only lasting seconds.
Mehdi Karroubi arrives between Hafteh Tir Square and Vali Asr Square to massive acclaim.
'Ya Hossein, Mir Hossein' live between 7th Tir and Vali Asr Squares

10:45 AM Tehran time - 6:15 AM UTC
Al Arabiya TV: reports of clashes between protesters and security forces in Isfahan.
Chant and counter-chant on Enghelab Sq, opposition and regime supporters on opposite sides of the square.
Live from Enghelab Square, on ePersian Radio:'Neither Gaza, nor Lebanon, my life for Iran!'

10:15 AM Tehran time - 5:45 AM UTC
Large green crowd at Enghelab Square, the people have come out in large numbers. (woman calling on ePersian Radio)
At Hafteh Tir Square, chants of 'Deah to the dictator!' (broadcast live from mobile phone)
Chant-master says 'Death to Israel', the people respond 'Death to Russia!'

Official marching routes for Ghods Day, Friday 18 September 2009

Following the government's refusal to grant licenses to the opopsition for peaceful marches, the green movement has announced plans to attend Ghods Day rallies in the millions.

Ghods Day, the last Friday of Ramadan, is an annual event created by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini to support Palestinians and oppose Israel. However, numerous opposition web sites have declared that the slogan for tomorrow will be 'Neither Gaza, nor Lebanon, my life only for Iran!'

Leading figures, including Mir Hossein Mousavi, Mehdi Karroubi, and former President Mohammad Khatami have declared their intention to participate in tomorrow's marches, along official routes determined by the regime.

The following maps illustrate the marching routes in major cities. To access the maps directly in Google Maps, click on the links below the maps.

Tehran - 7 routes ending at Tehran University, start of marches 10 AM.

Friday Prayers will be led at Tehran University by hard-line cleric Hojjatoleslam Ahmad Khatami and will be preceded by a speech by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

View Tehran - 20090918 - Ghods Day - Friday 18 September 2009 in a larger map

Isfahan - Start of march: 10 AM - Enghelab Square

View Isfahan - 20090918 - Ghods Day - Friday 18 September 2009 in a larger map

Tabriz - Start of march: 10 AM - Abresan Crossroads

View Tabriz - 20090918 - Ghods Day - Friday 18 September 2009 in a larger map

Mashhad - Start of march: 9:30 AM - 15 Khordad Square

View Mashhad - 20090918 - Ghods Day - Friday 18 September 2009 in a larger map

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

CLOSE-UP: The slap heard around the cyberworld: fact and fiction around a viral video

Much of the information coming out of Iran is in the form of footage uploaded to the Internet without the benefit of much description or explanation. Each installment in the Close-up series will provide an in-depth analysis of a single video.  
As the dust settles on the furor provoked by dramatic footage first touted as that of a dead protester's father being slapped by an Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) officer, it appears that the video illustrates a no-less-interesting case of internecine friction within the regime camp.

The video's wide circulation began on Monday and soon turned into an Internet sensation. In two days, just one YouTube channel registered over 76,000 views. The ensuing commentary came thick and heavy amid a wave of anger and revulsion. The rumors soon followed: the man was the father of a martyred protester, the officer was a Basij commander, authorities had refused to return the body unless the father pledged not to pursue the matter...

For the sake of disclosure, this blogger also joined the ranks of the pitchfork-and-torch mob and quickly described the video in a tweet on Monday as 'Father of a dead protester takes IRGC officer to task.' But upon reviewing several reports and carefully translating the full exchange, the facts appear to be inconsistent with the initial claims.

First, the individuals in the video. The man with his back to the camera describes himself as the father of a deceased young man and a 40%-disabled veteran of the Iran-Iraq war with 28 and a half years of service within the IRGC. This would almost certainly make him at least a mid-level IRGC officer and the fact that he addresses the IRGC officer using the word tow, the more informal second-person pronoun, instead of shoma may confirm that he is fairly senior. (NB The French equivalent would be the difference between tu and vous). The quality of the footage is poor, however the IRGC officer sitting to the cleric's left is almost certainly General Abdollah Araghi, Greater Tehran's IRGC chief and commander of the Mohammad Rasoulollah (Mohammed, Prophet of God) Brigade. Not only does the father refer to him as Mr. Araghi, but a comparison to one of Araghi's rare photos seems to bear this out. The cleric, again notwithstanding the poor quality of the video, appears to be Ayatollah Mohammad Ali Movahedi Kermani, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei's former representative within the IRGC. The footage can be compared to the photo to the right.

Several news sources confirm that the man's son was killed, but give a different account of the details. The man's son, a Basiji, was killed in an altercation with another individual living in a residential complex of buildings where a large number of IRGC officers and their families reside. The killer was a seyed, a direct male descendant of the Prophet Mohammad. He was supported by the IRGC which tried to obtain the father's consent to not execute the killer, but the father refused and the individual was hanged. Araghi subsequently mustered the IRGC and Basij's resources to organize a funeral service for the killer in the residential complex. The father not only complained about this misuse of resources, but said that he had been threatened by elements linked to the IRGC.

While these allegations have not been confirmed, they are consistent with the exchange that takes place in the video:

You've organized a funeral service for the killer in the same residential complex in which this innocent Basiji was murdered. Go ahead and organize a funeral service for the father of the killer too. Why did you use the sepah's (IRGC's) resources for the service of a murderer? They threatened me. I was harassed by rabble and louts. I announce here that if I'm killed, Mr. Araghi is responsible (he points to the IRGC officer). My life is in danger. I'm a 40% disabled janbaz (veteran of the Iran-Iraq War). I've served 28 and a half years in the sepah. But these people have supported a killer, that's my complaint. Why should the Revolutionary Guards defend a murderer and insult me. He insulted me.

IRGC officer:
We'll attend the service and you can go and complain. Do whatever you can.

You see. He says he'll go to a murderer's service. Ultimately, there is a God--

IRGC officer:
He's a descendant of the Prophet--

This descendant of the Prophet is a murderer. A murderer is null and void--

IRGC officer:
If you were a man, you would have consented--

Why should I have consented. If your child had been killed, would you have consented? What a foolish expectation! I was a man and had him executed. It was God's verdict!

IRGC officer:
Why are you shouting?

Why are you saying 'If you were a man'?

IRGC officer:
I'm saying what more do you want? He's been executed--

You're the one who isn't a man!

(IRGC officer slaps the father)

This video does not seem to show a dead protester's father being slapped by an IRGC officer. While the regime continues to commit horrendous crimes, any rumor-mongering and dissemination of untruths can only discredit the veracity of true cases of human rights violations in Iran.