Friday, July 12, 2013

Who wants this blog?

UPDATE: I've decided to keep the blog. If anyone wants to submit a post for possible publication, let me know. Dear Readers, I would love to pass this blog on to someone in Iran. Is there anyone out there who would like to take up the mantel of writing in English about life in Iran -- it would be best if you were not a native Iranian or have lived abroad for some time. If you would like to write here, let me know. Please pass on to friends or acquaintances.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Too Much Is Never Enough: Making Ghelye Mahi

My first cooking article is up now at Tehran Bureau. It's for one of my favorite dishes, Ghelye Mahi. Please go read it, and if you make the dish let me know how it turns out.
Every time we had people over for dinner, my husband would say to me, "Tori, we didn't make enough food." "How can that be?" I'd ask. "There are leftovers." It wasn't until we moved to Iran in 2003 for a four-year stay that I understood what he meant. A chicken leg or two is not leftovers. It's ta'rof -- good manners. It's what the guests leave behind so you won't think you served them insufficiently. "Enough food" means that another party can be fed with what is left over at the end of the evening. The first time we were invited out in Iran, we were served omelets, fish, whole roasted chicken, yogurt and cucumbers, yogurt and spinach, tomato, cucumber, and onion salad, salad with iceberg lettuce and Thousand Island dressing, spring chicken kebabs, and chopped lamb kebabs. All of this was brought to the table just before midnight. Kamran whispered, "Do they think we're cows?" I tell you this so you won't balk at the amount of food my friend Zohreh Sanaseri (pictured) prepared for our dinner of ghelye (ghalieh) mahi -- a stew of fish, herbs, and tamarind paste. She invited three others to share the stew with us, but made enough for at least ten people. In four years of living in Iran, I never once encountered ghelye mahi. In fact, it wasn't until a night out at a Persian restaurant in Amsterdam that I ate it for the first time. The flavor was surprising: sharp, sour, sweet, and fishy all at once. It was made with many of the ingredients found in other stews I'd eaten in Iran, but tasted nothing like them. I searched for recipes and tried making it a few times before giving up. None was as good as my first time... And then I ate ghelye mahi at the home of my friend Zohreh, who hails from the city of Abadan in southwestern Iran. "It was the Paris of Iran," the eldest of her two daughters, who were born in the Netherlands, tells me. "Was," Zohreh emphasizes. "Before the war." It was the war with Iraq that drove Zohreh and her family out of Iran. She settled in the Netherlands with her husband when she was just 25. "I had never cooked before in my life," she says. "I learned everything here." "My father tells us she used to burn food all the time and that her cooking was awful," her daughter adds. This seems impossible now because Zohreh's "cooking hand" (dast pocht) is renowned among friends and family. Like many migrants, she learned cooking by calling her mother long-distance and working at her side during extended visits. "For me, ghelye mahi is the most important dish. This is our dish. It is the dish of Abadan and the one food that makes me feel connected to my family and my city."
Read more:

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Arseh Sevom Weekly Review: Love, Sanctions, Norooz, and Human Rights

Weekly Review from Arseh Sevom:

Celebrating Norooz

Norooz, a celebration of the new year that is marked by people from every religion and belief, was met with relief and joy by Iranians all over the world. Millions in Iran traveled in cars, buses, trains, and planes to see family and friends and to do a bit of urban camping. Iran's press was filled with stories of tourist attractions and the numbers of travelers.

"Unbelievable Inflation"

Sanctions are taking a huge bite out of the budgets of most Iranian households. Prices are "unbelievable," sources tell Arseh Sevom. "Prices change three times a day and the government blames it all on the embargos," an Ahwazi householder says. A Tehrani resident says that her home has lost 50% of its value this year. With sanctions on doing business with Iran's central bank kicking in, inflation is expected to continue to rise. The Economist Intelligence Unit predicted further pain for the majority of Iranian households as the rial continues to plummet.

Women Hit Hardest

In a Swedish publication (translated by Anusche Noring), Sholeh Irani writes of warmongering and the oppression of women, stating there is broad consensus among Iranian women's rights that sanctions and war do not lead to freedom and democracy. The article quoted prominent women's rights activist Parvin Ardalan as saying:
“Under the shadow of the looming threat of war and economic sanctions, the Iranian regime has been stepping up its oppression of women, new discriminatory legislation is coming into force, and further pressure has been brought to bear upon civil society actors in recent months. One example which has not attracted any attention or resistance was the new legislation introducing total gender segregation in the country’s universities.” Ms Ardalan, who has been following developments closely, finds that the impact of economic sanctions is manifesting itself more and more each day. They are affecting civil society – the regime, on the other hand, has managed to get by so far. “In the majority of families in Iran, the husband is the sole breadwinner. Women are in charge of handling the familyʼs finances and need to ensure that their husband’s small income will cover all expenses. This has been a difficult struggle for the majority of women for some time now, due to the regimeʼs economic policies, but in recent months, it has become an impossible task. Alarmingly high prices for food, rent and other necessities of life, combined with rising unemployment and the general anxiety that exists in Iran, entail a dramatic increase in the burden borne by women."

Extended Term for UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Iran

The report presented by the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Iran, Dr. Ahmad Shaheed, was discussed at length in the Iranian blogosphere. There was wide agreement among activists and organizations that the report was comprehensive and accurate. More than 20 organizations signed a letter urging the retention of the Special Rapporteur:
The country mandate has mobilized, in an unprecedented manner, Iranians both inside and outside the country, to engage with the international community. In meeting after meeting, victims and activists have told us that they see the office of the Special Rapporteur as a critical focal point for documenting rights abuses, and an impartial and reliable channel of communication between victims and the United Nations and its member states. In this regard, the Special Rapporteur fulfills an important role for Iranian survivors of human rights violations which is denied to them in Iran.
Last week a second year was indeed added to his mandate. (Arseh Sevom has been following this story on its Persian site: Iranian Human Rights Activists at an International Meeting in Geneva, The Need for Human Rights Education in Iran, Torture and Oppression of Prisoners)

Iranian Journalist Wins British Media Award While Another Spends his 999th Day in Evin

Radio Farda interviewed Amir Taheri who was awarded International Journalist of the Year by the British Media Foundation. Eighty journalists signed a letter to the imprisoned journalist Massoud Bastani on the occasion of his 999th day in Evin Prison. They thanked him for his resistance, courage, and nobility in the face of brutality and imprisonment.

Who Would've Guessed?

News that Chinese companies have been supplying Iran with surveillance technologies since at least 2010 has come as no surprise to many. Human rights activist Anita Hunt tweeted:
@lissnup: 14 months after you saw it on Twitter, Reuters does a special on #China selling #Iran snooping software
It should also come as no surprise that these technologies are often used to track down dissenters. In related news, China has been using malware to attack Macs used by NGOs focusing on issues related to Tibet. Activists should expect similar actions from Iran.

EU Sanctions Human Rights Abusers and Bans Export of Surveillance Tech

China is not the only country providing surveillance technology to Iran, the EU is home to a number of companies that have provided surveillance and monitoring capabilities in the past. This past week, the EU banned these sales to Iran. In addition 17 human rights abusers in Iran were sanctioned by the EU. Enduring America has the complete list on its site. Marietje Schaake, a member of the European Parliament, told Arseh Sevom:
"In the midst of all the talk about possible military actions against Iran these important new human rights sanctions signal the EU's ongoing concern about the systematic violation of the Iranian's fundamental rights and freedoms. By banning the export of European-made Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) and operational services used for surpression and by targeting those within the Iranian regime responsible for the massive censorship and monitoring of internet and mobile communication traffic, the EU seeks to prevent the successful establishment of an electronic firewall and the "national internet," which would cut off Iranians from the open world wide web. Sustainable change in Iran can only come from within, therefore the international community should stand by the Iranian people and preserve an ongoing dialogue, both online and offline, how difficult that may be. In my opinion democatization and human rights should be elevated even higher on the political agenda."

A Holiday Reprieve for Some, Communication Blackout for Others

The holiday of Norooz gave some relief to political prisoners such as Mehdi Karroubi, who after four months was allowed to see his family. The Guardian reported:
The news about Karroubi comes after several activists and journalists were given temporary leave from prison for the Nowruz holiday. Journalist Ali Mousavi Khalkhali, singer Arya Aramnejad, activist Mehdi Khazali and Parvin Mokhtarea, the mother of human rights activist Kouhyar Goudarzi, were among those let out of prison for Nowruz. There was no news on whether Mir Hossein Mousavi, another opposition leader, had been given prison leave.
Most, however, were left imprisoned, without access to family or even telephone calls. To bring attention to their situation, political prisoners refused all communication in the week after the holiday.

Arab Minority Targeted for Harsh Punishments

In Ahwaz, six Arab minority, political prisoners arrested during a peaceful demonstration, were sentenced by the revolutionary court to imprisonment and execution. The Arab minority in the area continues to be targeted by authorities.

Religious Minorities Face Discrimination

On April 1, 7 Baha'i will have been in prison in Iran for a combined total of 10,000 days and several cities, including Amsterdam, will be taking action to bring attention to their plight and to that of other prisoners of conscience. This comes in the wake of a report on religious freedom issued by the US State Department that condemns Iran for its discrimination against religious minorities.
The commission condemned the Iranian government for discriminating against its citizens on the basis of their beliefs, using imprisonment, torture and executions. The annual report, published Tuesday, describes how conditions have worsened for the country’s religious minorities, such as the Baha’is, Christians and Sufi Muslims. But even those protected under Iran’s constitution — including Jews, Armenian and Assyrian Christians and Zoroastrians — have come under attack.
A pdf of the report can be downloaded here:

Israel Loves Iran

Finally, the facebook campaign launched by a couple of Israeli graphic designers, Ronny Edry and Michal Tamir, felt like a Norooz gift to many Iranians. The Israel Loves Iran Campaign was started as an attempt to reach out across the divide and start a conversation between Israelis and Iranians. In an interview with Arseh Sevom (to be published later this week), a volunteer for the campaign said that in the first days the Israeli designers had received over 20,000 emails from Iranians all over the world. The campaign has captured the imagination of people all over the world and has been featured on Al Jazeera, CNN, Radio Zamaneh, and more. It resulted in a peace demonstration in Tel Aviv on Saturday evening. Iranian groups and individuals have also taken up the peace gauntlet.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Unveiling Iran

My piece on two series of photographs -- Listen by Newsha Tavakolian and Chador by Kamran Ashtary is up on the Swiss publication, Neuland Magazin:

In 1978 and 1979, life in Iran drastically changed. This was especially true for women and girls, who once again found themselves and their bodies the focus of revolutionary change. Decades earlier they'd been forced to give up the veil in the name of modernity. Now they were forced to put it back on. They could no longer sing or dance in public. Iranian photographers Newsha Tavakolian and Kamran Asthary use their work to respond to a world fundamentally changed.
Click here to read more and to see the photographs.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

What are you doing #4Peace

The whole world is watching the phenomena of the Israel loves Iran campaign: I am writing a piece right now about individual and organizational efforts for peace. I talked to Sany from the Israel Loves Iran campaign who said, "If it's naive to want peace, than I choose to be naive." I would love to hear from others as well. Does anyone out there in the digital vacuum have actions they want to share? What are you doing for peace? Leave a comment.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Save the Lorestani Salamander, Human Rights Report, Economic Squeeze

Another weekly update from Arseh Sevom proving there's more to Iran than the threat of war.

A New Year Greeted with Empty Pockets, Joy, and Trepidation

The celebration of Iranian New Year (Norooz), which falls at the moment of the Spring Equinox (5:14 am UTC or GMT, March 20), has managed to survive every political regime and every change of religion. It remains autonomous of state control and an example of “the configuration in which society stands apart from the state.” Its continuing celebration in Iran represents a requisite of a civil society (more about civil society here).

The fast approaching new year is causing a mixture of apprehension and excitement. This will be a difficult Norooz for many suffering from the bad economic situation in Iran where a combination of run-away inflation, poor economic management, and sanctions are really taking their toll. The impact of Western sanctions is becoming more manifest in the daily life. The Wall Street Journal reports:

"'We have to keep going,' says one merchant in a neighborhood shopping district. 'People here are boiling, but don't make a sound.'

“Iran's economy has hit a rough patch, even by its own fitful performance standards. The most acute problem now is relentlessly rising prices—brought on in part by tightening sanctions, but also decades of economic mismanagement by Iran's own government. “The inflation rate, officially pegged at 20% annually, is probably more like 50%, according to Farhad Khorrami, an economist at Allameh-Tabatie University in Tehran. The most recent spur to prices has been a sharp fall in Iran's currency, triggered largely by fears about the newest round of sanctions announced by the U.S. and Europe. “The result for working-class Iranians like 40-year-old Reza, married with two daughters, has been struggle.”  

(If you can't access their site, you can read a portion of the article on Enduring America.)

Director of “A Separation” Calls for Reinstatement of Iran's House of Cinema

Asghar Farhadi, the director of the award-winning film “A Separation,” returned to Iran where he was met by a joyful crowd.

Upon his return to Tehran on 10th of March, pointing to the few officials who had come to the airport to congratulate his success, Asghar Farhadi said: “their real congratulations will only come when the House of Cinema [Iranian Alliance of Motion Picture Guilds] is reopened; only then will I feel happy...”

Women’s Day

This week, Amnesty International praised the role of Iranian women in efforts to achieve human rights. Amnesty International’s statement on Women’s Day states: “Iran’s women played a key role in massive protests around the June 2009 elections, when they advocated for a wide range of human rights reform, including greater freedoms for women. But the country’s women activists continue to pay a high price for their peaceful work.”

Amnesty International also urges Iranian leadership once again to “release Nasrin Sotoudeh immediately and unconditionally.”

Women Speak Out Against War

Iranian women's activists chose March 8th, International Women's Day, to launch a campaign against war. On the website, Change for Equality, the group writes:

Change for Equality: War does not happen in the course of a day. There is no need for war to land in our cities with a bomb. The shadow of war is also frightening. The possibility of war too changes the lives of women. Every day that we spend at war or in conditions of war, is filled with the fear of the death of the our achievements, which have come about through years of struggle. War for us, means destructive violence committed against women and children. It means more severe crackdowns. It signifies the silencing of our demands and civil protest and…Still our bodies are covered in the dust of the eight year war with Iraq, and our country is once again faced with the threat of war.

Global Voices has an overview here.

Report of Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Iran

The U.N. Human Rights Council’s Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights Situation in Iran, Ahmed Shaheed, released his recent report this week. The 36-page report comprises cases of human rights violation such as torture, alarming number of executions, imprisonment as well as repression of laborers’ unions, women groups, students, journalists and ethnic minorities. Ahmed Shaeed’s report concludes (par.69):

“The Special Rapporteur has catalogued allegations that produce a striking pattern of violations of fundamental human rights guaranteed under international law. He restates his call for the Government to respect its international obligations, and underscores the pre-eminence of international human rights law, as it relates to the need to develop domestic laws that are compatible with international human rights laws and national standards. This includes the guarantees stipulated in the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Consequently, he urges the Government to reconsider the Parties and Associations Law Reform Plan, the bill on the establishment and supervision of non-governmental organizations, the bill aimed at the review and discipline of Members of Parliament, and the family protection bill, as well as security laws, to ensure that they do not contravene international standards.”

According to the report, the Islamic Republic has accused the Special Rapporteur’s findings to be void of “positive reference…to meetings with officials and representatives of civil society.”

The Iran Human Rights Documentation Center wrote a summary of the report can be found here.

Activists still under constant pressure

The Iranian prisoner of conscience, human rights defender Nargess Mohammadi, was sentenced to six years in prison on the charge of “membership in Iran’s Defenders of Human Rights Centre (DHRC) and assembly and collusion against the national security and propaganda against the Islamic Republic.” Ms. Mohammadi’s lawyer was notified of her client’s sentence confirmation a full 19 days after the decision was made by the judicial authorities.

Many human rights organizations, including, the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders have condemned the sentence. The statement released by the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders reads: “[The organization] deplores the relentless harassment of members of the Defenders of Human Rights Centre (DHRC) and more particularly the sentencing on appeal of Ms. Nargess Mohammadi to six years of prison.”

Another Iranian woman, the journalist Nazanin Khosravani, received a six-year prison term as well. The charge? Another case of “collusion against the national security and propaganda against the Islamic Republic” plus “acts against national security.”

In an interview Nazanin Khosravani’s mother said that her daughter was asked to sign a letter of repentance and avoid going to prison, but “my daughter told them she hadn’t done anything wrong, and she went to the prison herself.”

Big Brother is Watching: The High Council for Cyberspace

In another sign that the office of the Supreme Leader is taking even more control over communications inside the country, “The High Council for Cyberspace” was formed last week. Members were appounted directly by the Supreme Leader and include a hand-picked group of experts plus the leadership of state institutions such as parliament, state television and radio, and the Revolutionary Guards. The council will be charged with regulating, monitoring, and controlling cyberspace.

More Publishing Houses Closed

After banning Nashre Cheshmeh publishing house from publishing two weeks ago , this week there was fresh news of the ban on Saales publishing house. While Cheshmeh mostly published literary books, Saales focused on the social sciences. The undersecretary of the publishers' and booksellers’ union announced that they are following these cases and are negotiating with authorities to find a way out of this situation. Whether or not they have any negotiating clout to support their members is an open question.

Tree Planting in Solidarity with Prisoners of Conscience

March 5th marked Iran's annual Tree Planting Day. This year a group of Iranian activists planted trees in solidarity with Iranian prisoners of conscience. See photos of their beautiful trees in Tehran here and here in Isfahan.

Celebrate Norooz by Sparing a Life and Preventing the Extinction of an Iranian Salamander

The Norooz celebration has gone through many changes and during the past 100 years it has found a peculiar addition: the Chinese goldfish. Most of these fish die quickly after Norooz from neglect.

In recent years, there have been attempts and calls by Iranian environmentalists to stop people from buying goldfish during Norooz. Now there is a new and more disturbing development: Mehr News Agency, has reported that a rare amphibian, the Lorestani Salamander (also known as Kaiser Spotted or Lorestan Newt Neurergus kaiseri) -- categorized by CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) as “Critically Endangered” -- is being sold illegally along with the usual goldfish in its Native Lorestan and in the capital Tehran. Apparently only 3000 of these salamanders are left.

Of course we at Arseh Sevom wish everyone a very happy Norooz and we celebrate those who have made the wise choice of sparing a living being by not neglecting or purchasing a goldfish. We join environmental groups in calling for a stop to the sales of the beautiful Lorestani Salamander and the protection of its habitat.

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Threat of War, Press TV Attacks, Parliamentary Elections, Amnesty Reports

Hi to the readers of this dormant blog... I am reviving it by reposting some of the things published at Arseh Sevom. I might just start posting some other stuff as well... I definitely would love to start hearing from readers again. If you're still out there, let me know. 

Now: Threat of War, Press TV Attacks, Parliamentary Elections, Amnesty Reports

 This week was dominated by news of parliamentary elections, and threats of war, Asghar's Oscar continued to bring some joy to people and to be a topic of discussion all over the world. In the streets of Tehran some even handed out candy to celebrate. The New York Times has provided a flurry of opinion pieces on Iran and the effects of diplomacy, sanctions, and war: (Only Crippling Sanctions Will Stop Iran, Iran and Israel Share Bonds,Starving Iran Won’t Free It - letter from United4Iran-London's Kamran Hashemi published in The Financial Times stated:
As odd as it may appear, the western governments and Israel are doing everything possible in their power to ensure the survival of the Islamic Republic’s regime at the time when it is probably at its weakest state, desperately struggling to prove, with little success, its legitimacy both at home and abroad. With the gross mismanagement of the economy and widescale corruption, the Iranian economy is facing the bleakest prospects since the formation of the Islamic Republic. Faced with such calamities, the regime views the latest round of sanctions as a godsend.
Parliamentary elections were held in the Islamic Republic of Iran against a backdrop of calls for boycott by political opposition. The result of the elections is no surprise to any Iran-watcher: accusations of voter fraud, more than 100% turnout in some regions, and the success of the Supreme Leader's candidates.

Predictions Come True and Boycott Betrayed
Professional Groups Remain Mute
Press TV Shows Its True Colors in “Eye of the Fox”
The Butcher of the Press Gets a Promotion
Amnesty International Documents Systematic Abuses of Human Rights
I'll Be Watching You

Predictions Come True and Boycott Betrayed There were no real surprises for many analysts and activists who expected the state-controlled media to affirm the Supreme Leader’s prediction of a massive turn-out. Opposition figures described the same event as “the most lifeless election in the history of the Islamic Republic.”

 As Iran-watchers turned to the Internet to get a glimpse at the ballot boxes through the lens of netizens and to follow updates on social media (and yes, the internet was working pretty well on Election Day according to Arseh Sevom sources in Iran). former reformist president Mohammad Khatami – who was the first to open up the Islamic Republic of Iran to independent civil society – broke the opposition calls for boycott and cast his vote. This caused a lot of hand-wringing among the opposition including from Ayatollah Khomeini’s granddaughter and Khatami’s sister-in-law, activist Zahra Eshraghi, who posted on Facebook: “This was a heavy blow.” On Sunday, March 4, Radio Zamaneh published a disturbing piece in which Khatami is quoted as saying to political activist Hossein Nourinejad:
“I had received some disturbing information in the last two days leading up to the elections, regarding plans and plots by the extremists in the establishment to be carried out after the elections, which had to be defused by some surprising action on my part.” The former president expressed hope that his vote did not disrupt “reformist solidarity.” He has reportedly stressed the “complexity” of the internal as well as the international situation and called for “understanding of these complexities by everyone.” Nourinejad reportedly asked the former president what he had written on his ballot, to which Khatami responded: “Islamic Republic.” showed videos from polling stations in Iran and Tehran Bureau's Mohammad Sahimi explains that Iranians have their identity cards stamped when they vote, which has an effect on their lives in many ways from accessing government resources to finding work. He does a good job describing the complexity of the elections on the radio program On The Media.

Tehran Bureau had a live blog on the day of the elections, which reported of roaming polling booths making visits to workplaces, extended voting hours, and the strict limitations on access by foreign journalists.

Professional Groups Remain Mute

 Iranian human rights lawyer, Abdolfatah Soltani, was sentenced to 18 years in prison and 20 years barred from practice. Last week Iran's bar association met to elect its board, while remaining silent on the cases of lawyers who are imprisoned unfairly. This is a direct result of state control of professional organizations and the persecution of lawyers who dare to represent clients who face abuses of their basic human rights.

Press TV Shows Its True Colors (Again) in “Eye of the Fox”

 Last week's review spoke of hints by the Revolutionary Guards via their site of revelations concerning BBC Persian. With the release of the transparent propaganda film by the Islamic Republic's Press TV, “The Eye of the Fox,” the promise of new allegations is fulfilled. Press TV shows “shocking” photos of Iranian journalists receiving training from the BBC in Turkey. They blame the BBC Persian for the unrest following the 2009 elections, accusing the organization of espionage. It broadcasts confessions, and shows the arrest of an Iranian female journalist in what appeared to be her home.
«چشم روباه»؛ مستند پرس تی.وی from mardomak on Vimeo

 Around minute 19 of the film, Mohammad Kooshki, who is described as a media expert, defines "espionage" as: “depending on the national interests and laws of the country, what definition that country has of national interest, a certain action might be considered espionage in one country because the gathering of that information might threaten national security and render it illegal, but the same action might be considered reporting –not espionage– in another country.” He offers a purposefully vague definition of espionage that could easily be construed to meet the requirements of the day. Today speaking about the economy might be ok, tomorrow it could be threatening to national security.

  Arseh Sevom has warned about the abuse security concerns to prosecute many of the Baha'i faith and human rights defenders. Such an understanding of espionage is already crippling journalism in Iran as it gives arbitrary authority to the government to silence members of the press and, charging them with espionage and treason which is punishable by death according to Iranian law.

 This film clearly serves two purposes:

 1. To create a case for trying journalists and those who speak with journalists as spies, and
 2. To warn anyone from speaking with foreign journalists about anything at all.

 Arseh Sevom has already had contacts turn down interviews citing this film as the reason.

The Butcher of the Press Gets a Promotion

 In our past Civil Society Review from the week of Feb.14, we wrote that Saeed Mortazavi’s vindication for the post- election (2009) torture and deaths at Kahrizak Detention Center had shocked many human rights activists still hoping for some positive development in Iran’s civil society. Just as this review was being finalized on March 4th, the Iranian newspaper, Tehran-e Emrooz reported on Mortazavi’s promotion to the head of the biggest financial holding organization in Iran, Social Security Organization [Sazman-e Tamin-e Ejtema’ie].

  Fifteen parliamentarians protested the appointment citing his lack of experience with social security as a drawback. In addition, Abd al-Hossein Rouh-al-Amini, leader of the Justice and Development Party and the father of Mohsen Rouholamini who was killed in Kahrizak, also sent a letter of protest concerning the appointment of Mortazavi.

 As if to pour salt on the wounds of civil society activists and those who dare to speak out, this week Mehdi Mahmoodian, a prisoner of conscience who testified about the extensive use of torture in Kahrizak, was severely beaten “in the presence of the prison manager.” According to a letter written by his mother to the head of the prisons organization of Iran, much of the damage to him is not even treatable.

Amnesty International Documents Systematic Abuses of Human Rights

 In a massive report released last week, Amnesty International documented systematic human rights abuses in the Islamic Republic of Iran. They speak of a quadrupling of public executions, the persecution of journalists, human rights defenders, and lawyers, and a crippled civil society. This well-documented report makes an elegant plea for continuing the work of the Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in Iran. Amensty's recommendations include:
  • release immediately and unconditionally all prisoners of conscience – those detained solely for the peaceful exercise of their internationally recognized rights;
  • amend legislation which unduly restricts the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly, and to permit open public debate prior to the March 2012 parliamentary elections;
  • establish an immediate moratorium on executions and work towards the complete abolition of the death penalty.
In the absence of independent and impartial bodies to investigate allegations of human rights violations and to provide reparations to victims and affected families in accordance with international human rights standards, the organization is also calling on the Iranian authorities to:
  • allow international scrutiny of the human rights situation in Iran, including by allowing visits by the UN Special Rapporteur on Iran, in addition to other thematic UN human rights mechanisms which have requested visits, as well as independent international human rights organizations such as Amnesty International.
Amnesty International is also appealing to the international community not to allow tensions over Iran’s nuclear programme or events in the wider region to distract it from pressing Iran to live up to its human rights obligations as set out in a number of international human rights treaties to which it is a state party. In particular, Amnesty International is calling for:
  • the UN Human Rights Council to renew in March 2012 the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Iran;
  • the international community to press the Iranian authorities to grant the Special Rapporteur on Iran access to the country and to fulfil commitments to receive visits by UN human rights mechanisms that have asked to visit Iran.
I'll Be Watching You

 The report from Amnesty comes in the wake of a report from The Committee to Protect Journalists, which lists Iran as the world's worst jailer of journalists and netizens in 2011 with 42 imprisoned and 66 forced to flee the country. The report also names Iran as the world's foremost internet oppressor.

 Arseh Sevom continues to be concerned about the persecution of netizens and the further isolation of Iran's population as a result of the planned “halal internet,” which may be launched this spring. There is much doubt that this is a completely homegrown effort. The results of a report done last year by the OpenNet Initiative which revealed that American and Canadian companies were supplying Iran with filtering software raise serious concerns.

  Until next week...