Saturday, July 31, 2010

Up to 600 national publications continuously attack government, complains regime's Deputy Islamic Guidance Minister

A senior official in the Ahmadinejad cabinet strongly denounced what he described as the 'undesirable situation of the press' in the Islamic Republic during a controversial speech to students at Qazvin's Imam Khomeini International University on Wednesday night, July 28, 2010.

Was he referring to the dozens of imprisoned journalists and banned newspapers? Think again.

'The government is criticized and even disparaged on a daily and weekly basis by at least 500 to 600 publications in the country in the strongest, sometimes insulting, terms,' complained Mohammad Ali Ramin, Deputy Islamic Guidance Minister in charge of the press, who is directly responsible for banning publications, towards the end of his question-and-answer session with the students, according to the semi-official Fars news agency.

Ramin also deplored the fact that there are too many publications in the country. 'In the period before me, the supervisory committee would issue 60 licenses during a one-hour meeting,' he said. 'We are now facing problems and some people have licenses over which there is no supervision. [...] Some of these publications which have obtained licenses are in the hands of individuals with no money and they become dependent on investors. The government must help them become absorbed into parties and organizations.'

Ramin, 56, was fairly unknown on the national stage until Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's first term, when he became a presidential adviser. He allegedly contributed to Ahmadinejad's questionable positions about Israel and the Holocaust, and was the prime initiator of the infamous 2006 Holocaust conference held in Tehran, which was attended by such luminaries as Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke and Holocaust denier Robert Faurisson. He headed Tehran's International Holocaust Foundation and was named deputy Islamic guidance minister last year.

Ramin lived in Germany from 1971 until 1994, when he was expelled from the country for unknown reasons, though some sources cite his activities in Islamist and neo-Nazi circles as the cause. He was jailed for a short period in 1982, again for reasons that have not been made public. He obtained degrees in engineering from Karlsruhe University and the Technical University of Clausthal, where he founded the Islamische Gemeinschaft in Clausthal (Islamic Community of Clausthal). It is said that during his time in Germany he forged close relations with neo-Nazi and extreme-right figures, including Benedikt Frings of the NPD (National Democratic Party), who was also a guest at the Holocaust conference.

For an individual whose devotion to the Islamic Republic and its principles was only exercised through a long-distance relationship for over 20 years, he has become quite a die-hard devotee of the concept of velayateh faghih (rule of the Islamic jurisprudent) and its embodiment Leader Ali Khamenei. 'The [Leader] has the position of surrogate of the Imam Zaman (NB The Mahdi or messiah of Shiites) and on his behalf must manage the world, in other words the imposition of God's proof upon humanity during the time of absence [of Imam Zaman],' Ramin said at the beginning of his address in Qazvin.

'We must find a way for the velayateh faghih system to manage the world,' Ramin told the students a bit later, obviously still enamored of the idea of world dominance with which he flirted in his younger days.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Genoa names square in honor of Iranian women

The Italian city of Genoa renamed one of its squares 'Rotonda Donne di Teheran' (Women of Tehran Square) in the Fiumara commercial district as part of its Human Rights Week on July 21, 2010.

View Fiumara district, Genoa, Italy in a larger map

Mayor Marta Vincenzi unveiled the new plaque honoring the women who demonstrated for freedom on the streets of Iran's capital at a moving ceremony attended by Nobel peace laureate Shirin Ebadi. 'This is a sign of solidarity with the women of Iran, and other parts of the world, who are fighting for freedom,' said Mayor Vincenzi.

She expressed the hope that mayors in other major cities around the world would follow Genoa's lead and pay tribute to Iran's women.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Pro-regime, anti-Ahmadinejad site publishes photos of bazaar strike

A conservative news site published a photo report showing that the strike in Tehran's Bazaar continued on Thursday, July 15, 2010.

The web site, Alef, is run by Ahmad Tavakoli, Majlis representative (Tehran) and head of the legislature's research center. Tavakoli is a cousin of Speaker Ali Larijani -- he is the son of Larijani's aunt -- and has been a critic of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad since his first term as president. Tavakoli, who obtained his doctorate in economics from the University of Nottingham in the 1990s, was one of the first Malis deputies to accuse Ali Kordan, interior minister in Ahmadinejad's first administration, of faking his doctorate. The late Kordan was subsequently impeached. Tavakoli and several of his close allies in the Majlis have continued to denounce the government's economic policies, the level of the post-election crackdown, and the fake doctorates of several ministers and vice-presidents.

The article which was posted yesterday on Alef contended, 'While [National Traders' Council chief] Ghassem Nodeh [Farahani] has spoken of the conclusion of discussions on traders' taxes [...] and business as usual in the bazaar in recent days, Alef's journalist's report shows that some portions of the bazaar remain closed.' Alef posted photos of the bazaar which were purportedly taken at noon on Thursday.

The report was followed by 27 comments left by the site's readers as of noon GMT on Friday, July 16. Only one reader opined that the tax rate on traders should not be increased (the government has agreed to a tax hike of 15% after first mentioning 70%).

But this did not mean that the comments on this conservative site favored the government either. Only two readers expressed support for the Ahmadinejad administration. One wrote, 'Stick to perfecting your prose and let the government do its job.' This comment garnered 5 thumbs up and 34 thumbs down. The other comment read, 'The benefit-seeking profiteers are lining up against the president.' It scored 23 'likes' and 46 'dislikes' by the other readers.

The vast majority of the comments either blasted the bazaaris (9 comments), without any kind words for the government, or questioned the coverage of the pro-regime media, particularly state radio-television, which have denied the existence of a strike or have tried to minimize its scope (6 comments).

'It's great that, after a week, you're finally covering this issue,' wrote one person. 106 readers gave this a thumbs up, while 7 disliked it. 'So why was television portraying the bazaar news in a different manner?' asked another individual. 110 readers approved this question, while 7 did not. Another comment read, 'We really didn't expect this text and the photos from you... You should have prepared a report on the bazaar like the 20:30 television newscast which said that everything is fine and dandy and the economy is growing and everything is open and what shutdown are you talking about... To hell with the age of technology and communications and the Internet... As long as these gentlemen, instead of resolving problems, continue to deny them and cover them up, not only will nothing be solved, but our problems will get worse every day.' 112 readers agreed with this, while 12 disagreed.

One angry comment said, 'So these heavy-hitting bazaaris shouldn't pay taxes and my father who is an employee should? Is this justice? 7% of my father's small salary goes to taxes.' 84 readers liked this and 7 did not. Another person said, 'Don't get me angry. How much do these people make every month? Where are their homes? Why are employees' salaries taxed before they see any money, while these privileged individuals refrain from paying taxes? I want to see their stores boarded up, by Imam Hossein.' 73 people supported this opinion while 20 did not.  'I think it's the best time for rivals of the bazaar to come on the scene. Chain stores and companies which engage in marketing and selling directly to customers are better solutions,' wrote another individual. This comment was approved by 26 people and opposed by one.

These are some of the photos published by Alef:

A view of the textile traders' section:

Jewelery and gold traders:

The jewelry and gold bazaar:

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Shahram Amiri's first interview on the Islamic Republic's news network

Shahram Amiri, the Iranian researcher who disappeared in June of last year and is now en route to Tehran, gave an interview to the Islamic Republic of Iran News Network (IRINN) while still in Washington, D.C., at the Iranian interests section maintained by the Pakistani embassy. (For a post on the first videos released by Amiri in early June of this year, please click here).

The following is footage of Amiri's interview, of which the 8 PM news show only broadcast segments. A translation follows. I have tried to stay as true as possible to the exact phrases used, even if they appear somewhat convoluted:

Thank you for watching '20.' The abducted Iranian scientist is en route to Tehran. The Foreign Ministry spokesman gave news of Shahram Amiri's departure from American soil and said that he would soon arrive in Iran from a third country. [Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin] Mehmanparast stressed that the US's responsibilities in the abduction of Amiri would be pursued through various legal and diplomatic channels.

Shahram Amiri, the abducted scientist who took refuge in the Iranian interests section in Washington on Tuesday, said that the White House was responsible for his abduction. Amiri said this about the manner of his arrest in Saudi Arabia...

Shahram Amiri:
After I crossed about two streets, a white van stopped in front of me. There were three individuals in the automobile: a driver, a bearded person wearing an official suit, and a person sitting in the back of the automobile with the same well-grounded and official look.

The spoke to me in Farsi and said, "We're from another group and we're going to the Nabi Mosque. If you'd like, we'd be delighted to take you there."

I'd halted out of respect for the fact that they had stopped. I went towards the automobile to get in. When I opened the door to get in, the passenger in the back seat stuck a weapon into my side and said, "Please be quiet and don't make any noise."

Shahram Amiri said, "After I managed to escape from the American agents and posted a video on the Internet, I was arrested once again in the state of Virginia. When the American agents became aware that this video had been made and that it might be broadcast by Iran or Internet sites, they decided to make another video of me through which they could announce that I was on my way back to Iran."

The Iranian scientist, given the many details which are known about his abduction, said that he would cover these topics with media outlets after arriving on Iranian soil.

The Iranian scientist also gave explanations about the remarks of leaders of the Zionist regime about a request to the US to deliver him to that regime for propaganda purposes...

Shahram Amiri:
In fact, Israel wanted to take responsibility for this case. It said, If you're unable to force this individual to cooperate, we're ready to take responsibility for this abduction and to take custody of this individual and to make him talk. And if he doesn't talk, we'll keep him in our secret prisons and we can transfer information in his name to the world press, and his name, we can say that he has cooperated with us and this information, this false information, can be used against the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Press TV broadcast more segments of the same interview with subtitles in English:

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Regime's propagandist welcomed by two German television network presidents

Earlier this week, the head of the Islamic Republic's radio-television broadcaster (IRIB), Ezatollah Zarghami, canceled his trip to the Netherlands where he was to have met with Dutch network heads. The official reason was that he had conflicts in his schedule, but perhaps protests planned by opponents of the regime which could have embarrassed Zarghami during his photo ops also played a part in the cancellation.

So where does the top media executive of a pariah regime have to go to get some love in Europe?

Germany, it seems, where Zarghami was welcomed by not one, but two network presidents in Mainz yesterday, Friday, July 9, 2010. Islamic Republic TV cameras were present to film Zarghami's meeting with ARD chairman Peter Boudgoust and ZDF director-general Markus Schächter:

'In a friendly meeting with Mr. Zarghami, ARD chief Peter Boudgoust expressed satisfaction with the encounter and said, "We would like to increase our cooperation with [IRIB] by collaborating on all facets of program production and exchanges,"' IRIB journalist Jafar Azizi gushed. Boudgoust also asked Zarghami to help ARD set up an office for its radio operations in Tehran, according to the segment.

'Schächter, the head of the ZDF network, welcomed a close relationship with IRIB and said, "We seek to pave the way for cooperation in all fields of radio and television with Iran,"' IRIB's correspondent said in the report. 'In an official letter, ZDF's president requested the establishment of a representative office in Tehran.'

At a time when major German companies such as Siemens and Mercedes are pulling out of the Islamic Republic, the cozy meeting and the statements attributed to the heads of the media outlets, which happen to be public-service networks, are bizarre.

A beaming Zarghami said, 'ZDF and IRIB are two powerful organizations which can engage in extremely worthy cooperation in the field of media. The people of Iran and Germany will be able to see the results.' I'm sure they will.

In order to congratulate these two pioneering German media executives on their spirit of entrepreneurship:

Peter Boudgoust
ARD chairman
Neckarstraße 230
70 190 Stuttgart
Telephone: +49-7 11-92 90
Fax: +49-7 11-9 29 2600
Press office: Harald Dietz
ARD contact page

Markus Schächter
ZDF Enterprises GmbH
Erich-Dombrowski-Str. 1
D-55127 Mainz
Tel. +49 (0) 6131-991-0
Fax +49 (0) 6131-991-1552
ZDF contact page

Friday, July 9, 2010

Regime's populist riposte to bazaar strike: 'Merchants sell rugs adorned with pictures of Angelina Jolie and half-naked women'

Following three days of strikes in Tehran's Bazaar over increased taxes on tradesmen, a semi-official news site launched an attack on rug merchants because they allegedly sell decorative carpets with pictures of female movie stars and bare women in an article posted on Thursday, July 8, 2010. (The photos of the 'offensive rugs' are courtesy of Jahan News)

The regime has long depended on the support of the bazaar and the current unrest which was triggered by reports of a 70% tax hike and has spread to at least two other cities, Tabriz and Khorramshahr, has provoked concern in the government. Rug merchants, along with gold, home appliance, shoe and textile traders, have played a central role in organizing the strikes.

Yesterday, Jahan News, widely considered to be a mouthpiece for the intelligence unit of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), published a report entitled 'Angelina Jolie and half-naked women instead of traditional rug designs.'

The author of the piece bemoaned the fact that in most stores in Tehran's rug bazaar 'there were wall carpets bearing half-bare women and girls, and the faces of [Indian superstar] Aishwarya Rai, Angelina Jolie, Nicole Kidman, and some Iranian actresses were more prominently displayed than [traditional rug designs].' But there were more sinister signs of moral decay, according to Jahan News. 'Regretfully, master rug weavers, who in the old days would not sit before their looms before performing ablution, now weave pictures of skulls and swastikas of Satanist groups into Iranian carpets. And even more regretfully, the bulk of rug traders' orders to weavers consists of vulgar pictures of women in various poses.'

Jahan News did not publish any photos of rugs with Hollywood stars or Satanic symbols in its article.

While one merchant told the reporter that he was merely following the shifting tastes of customers -- 'People aren't willing to pay anything for a picture of a vase full of flowers any more.' -- Jahan News pointed an accusatory finger at rug merchants. 'The main culprits are the leading rug traders and merchants who order such carpets in large numbers,' Jahan quoted an anonymous weaver and designer.

Jahan News expressed anger at an alleged CD of designs that rug traders gave to weavers. The CD, according to Jahan, contains designs of Koranic verses and holy cities such as Mecca and Medina along with 'designs of bare women and girls and famous vulgar Bollywood and Hollywood actresses.' Perhaps a digital curtain should have been placed between the sacred and the 'vulgar.'

The editors of the Jahan site took this opportunity to take a jab at the Cultural Heritage Organization. Though the organization is not mentioned in the piece, the title of the post was preceded by the line 'The Cultural Heritage Organization is asleep.'

The CHO was formerly headed by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's chief-of-staff Esfandiar Rahim Mashai, who was in charge of the arts at Tehran's City Hall when Ahmadinejad was mayor. Rahim Mashai, not a choirboy himself, has been the focus of attacks by some regime hardliners, including portions of the IRGC, and anti-Ahmadinejad Principlists (The reasons for and history of this enmity are too convoluted to explain in this short post). Last year, a majority of Majlis representatives managed to block Ahmadinejad's efforts to name Rahim Mashai first vice-president. Ahmadinejad subsequently made him his chief-of-staff.

Rahim Mashai was often faulted for his lack of cultural and historical knowledge. He was replaced at the CHO by one of his proteges, Hamid Baghai, who is an IT specialist and whose main qualification for the post appears to have been his close relationship with Rahim Mashai.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Majlis deputies acclaim Khamenei more loudly than the Prophet Muhammed

A video posted by Jonbesheh Raheh Sabz on Thursday, June 1, 2010, allegedly shows Principlist Majlis representatives mumbling a prayer after the Prophet Muhammed is mentioned at the start of a speech, but enthusiastically acclaiming Leader Ali Khamenei when Speaker Ali Larijani utters his name a few minutes later...

Conservatives who seek a return to the founding principles of the revolution are called Principlists. Though they form one parliamentary group, they have splintered into smaller factions, most notably those who are pro-Ahmadinejad and those who support Larijani. The group as a whole has been accused of deifying Khamenei as the surrogate of the Mahdi, the messiah of Shiites.