Sunday, July 31, 2005

An Iranian hero's last days?

This is the latest photo of jailed, hunger-striking Iranian journalist and hero Akbar Ganji-now on his 51st day of his hunger strike. Is the unthinkable happening? Where's the world's conscience? How can we shake it awake?

The moon in one moonlit night will enter my dream

take me out of this jail

like a bat with itself

take me to the all black night

until the light of dawn, the martyrs of our town

will yell and shout, with the lanterns of their blood

in all the streets, In all the squares

O uncle Yadegar [memory], you who bare an old grudge

you are drunk or you're sober? you are asleep or you're awake?

we are drunk and we are sober, O martyrs of our town

we are asleep and we are awake, O martyrs of our town

at last, in one of these nights

the moon will come out

behind that tall mountain, over that valley

will pass over this square, all smile and laughter

in one moonlit night, the moon will come out.

[Lines of a modern poem in Persian folk language by Ahmad Shamlou. From Free Ganji weblog]

Sunday morning review

In his latest article titled "Talking With The Enemy," one of my favorite columnists, the always-insightful Fareed Zakaria, tells us how some Baathist elements of the Iraqi insurgency are willing to sit down at the negotiating table:

The Iraqi insurgency is, broadly speaking, made up of two parts: a rebellion directed by Baathists and former generals that styles itself as nationalist; and a radical Islamic terror movement, filled with foreigners. America's goal must be to split the insurgency, which can be done only by co-opting some important elements of the Baathist movement. A senior non-U.S. diplomat, who has spoken to all the key figures in Iraq over the past two years, tells me that for months leaders of the insurgency have been putting out feelers that they would like to talk with the United States about a settlement. (U.S. and Iraqi civilian and military officials have confirmed various aspects of this story.)
Youssef M. Ibrahim, a former Middle East correspondent for The New York Times and energy editor of the Wall Street Journal, blasts Jihadists and Suicide bombers in his latest article "Opinion: The Muslim mind is on fire," for what he calls "the widespread killings of innocents." In candid language unequalled by almost any other muslim writer, he questions the violent methods Jihadists have adopted to confront the West:

In this new cold and hot war, car bombs and suicide bombers here and there will be no match for the arsenal that those Westerners are putting together - an arsenal of laws, intelligence pooling, surveillance by satellites, armies of special forces and indeed, allies inside the Arab world who are tired of having their lives disrupted by demented so-called jihadis or those bearded preachers who, under the guise of preaching, do little to teach and much to ignite the fire, those who know little about Islam and nothing about humanity.
In one of the best thought out articles I've read in the aftermath of the recent terror wave around the world, Washington Post's David Ignatius who has covered Middle East for quite some time now, knocks down the notion of poverty as the root cause of terrorism. He rightfully argues that this new wave of terror is a revolt by the wealthy Jihadists who are now wreaking havoc on their poor muslim brothers:

I can't imagine that the poor Egyptians who've been struggling to make a living in the resort towns around Sharm el-Sheikh are too happy this week. The jihadists who came bumping over the mountains to detonate last weekend's bombs may have been thinking of the 72 virgins that awaited them in heaven. But the Egyptian fellah is thinking about where he's going to get his next paycheck to feed his family. And I can't imagine that the poor Iraqis whose families are being blown away by daily suicide bombs feel a great kinship with the Saudi jihadists who have been slipping across the border via Syria, trying to slake their angst about modern life through martyrdom.

And as for the future of Iraq, he writes in another article that he believes Iraq will survive the insurgency if the Iraqi people continue to want U.S. help in rebuilding their country:

What happens in Iraq will depend on Iraqi decisions. One of those is whether the Iraqi people continue to want U.S. help in rebuilding their country. For now, America's job is to keep training an Iraqi army and keep supporting an Iraqi government -- even when those institutions sometimes seem to be illusions. Iraq is in torment, but the Lebanon example suggests that with patient help, its institutions can survive this nightmare.
Now the following piece is the first I have read on how some Muslims' appearance and their distinct clothing can symbolize extremism. Amir Taheri, the well-versed Iranian columnist, brings up that issue in an article titled "Beards and scarves aren't Muslim. They're simply adverts for Al-Qaeda:"

Muslim women should cast aside the so-called hijab, which has nothing to do withIslam and everything to do with tribal wear on the Arabian peninsula. The hijab was reinvented in the 1970s as a symbol of militancy, and is now a visual prop of terrorism. If some women have been hoodwinked into believing that they cannot be Muslims without covering their hair, they could at least use headgears other than black (the colour of al-Qaeda) or white (the colour of the Taleban). Green headgear would be less offensive, if only because green is the colour of the House of Hashem, the family of the Prophet. Muslim men should consider doing away with Taleban and al-Qaeda-style beards. Growing a beard has nothing to do with Islam; the Prophet himself never sported anything more than a vandyke. The bushy beards you see on Oxford Street are symbols of the Salafi ideology that has produced al-Qaeda and the Taleban. Some Muslims also use al-Qaeda and Taleban-style clothing to advertise their Salafi sentiments. For men this consists of a long shirt and baggy trousers, known as the khaksari (down-to-earth) style and first popularised by Abu Ala al Maudoodi, the ideological godfather of Islamist terrorism. Muslims who wear such clothes in the belief that it shows their piety, in most cases, are unwittingly giving succour to a brand of Islamist extremism.
Also read: Amir Taheri's Terror's global ambition


And finally Time magazine's Azadeh Moaveni takes a brief look at Iran's powerful militia called "Basij," and the role they played in electing Iran's new president, Mahmoud Ahamadinejad.

Saturday, July 30, 2005

Iran's Judiciary refuses to release Akbar Ganji

As expected, Iran's Judiciary Chief Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi-Shahroudi has refused to order release Akbar Ganji, saying his recent harsh criticisms of Iran's supreme leader could be considered " a crime." Mr Shahrroudi was said to be in talks with some other senior officials such as Iran's outgoing President Mohammad Khatami and former president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani over Mr Ganji's deteriorating condition. His comments today confirm earlier reports that indicated the Judiciary Chief was of no relevence to Mr Ganji's case and had no say on his release. Reuters reports:
TEHRAN, July 30 (Reuters) - Iran's conservative judiciary has refused to bow to calls from senior figures to release hunger-striking imprisoned journalist AkbarGanji, the student news agency ISNA reported on Saturday. Ganji, an outspoken critic of the Islamic state's clerical leadership, was jailed in 2001 following a series of articles he wrote linking officials to the murder of political dissidents. "Ganji's rights must be observed and his problems must be solved, but the judiciary will under no circumstances give in to political pressure, "judiciary chief Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi-Shahroudi told ISNA.
Unfortunately, Mr Ganji's plight continues to get almost zero coverage from major news media in Europe and North America, yet political and human rights activists are doing everything humanly possible to draw the world's attention to what's happening to one of the world's most tormented prisoners of conscience and help release him. The following letter, published in New York Times last Thursday, is the latest in a series of pleas to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan to intervene to save Mr Ganji's life:
  • Letter to Kofi Annan published in New York Times A11, July 28: Mr Koffi Annan, help save the life of a journalist dying for the freedom of expression

Also, here is Mr Ganji's letter to Dr Abdolkarim Soroush, Iran's most famous Muslim philosopher:

It astounds me that [Iran's supreme leader] Mr. Khamenei calls Iran the freest and the most democratic country in the region. We should ask what freedom are you talking about, when dissidents have no right to live. If you believe in free speech, then open and clear criticism of you (Mr. Khamenei) in the media is the measure for freedom of speech. If criticizing the political leader of the country, then one can't claim there exists freedom of speech in that country. The fact that someone has to bear extremely heavy costs for indirect critique of the leader is no sign of freedom, but of tyranny, and of a totalitarian version of it for that matter...

The reason I have stood firm is to show that it is possible to stand against darkness and ruthlessness. The letters and notes I have written all are nourished from the essence of my life. For tens of pages that I have written, I have lost 25 kg of my very flesh and blood. I wanted to show that even in the darkness of night, one can shine the light of hope. Otherwise, in the heat of July in Tehran, I lie down in a room with closed windows, with the air conditioners turned off, wearing two headbands over my ears and sinuses and with a blanket covering me to escape the cold, the coldness of winter that encompasses me.

It's unfair how cold it is, it is that cold ... oh... . ...The air heavy, doors shut, heads down, hands covered; Breaths coming out like clouds, hearts tired and sad,Trees like skeletons made of crystals, The earth dead, the roof of heavens low, Full of dust, Sun and Moon,It is winter.[lines of a famous Persian modern poem by Mehdi Akhavan-Sales]...

Friday, July 29, 2005

IRA's announcement: Peace at last?

The IRA's statement that it ends its armed campaign for politics was certainly nothing short of a major historic breakthrough. That said, the question now is if in the wake of this stunning development, the long-awaited peace will finally take hold after 30 years of violence and bloodshed. The following article by The Economist addresses this issue and is definitely a good read:

Economist: Now, IRA stands for I Renounce Arms

After a three-year logjam in the Northern Ireland peace process, the IRA has announced that it is finally abandoning its armed struggle for a united Ireland-ordering its fighters to dump their arms and pledging henceforth to seek its goal by peaceful means. It is an historic day in a conflict whose origins go back more than five centuries. But those who want the province to stay British will take some convincing.

Also: A quick glance at Northern Ireland conflict via BBC News

Thursday, July 28, 2005

White House: Iranian leader involved in 1979 hostage crisis

The White House has finally said Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran's president-elect who will take over the presidency in less than two weeks, was a leader of the student movement that organized the 1979 takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran:

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - In its strongest statement so far, the White House said on Thursday that Iran's president-elect was a leader of the student movement that organized the 1979 takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran.But the United States has not yet determined whether Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was involved in the taking of hostages, a White House national security council spokesman said. The White House has been checking on assertions by former American hostages that Ahmadinejad was involved in the siege on the U.S. embassy. "We have looked into the allegations concerning Iranian president-elect Ahmadinejad's involvement in the 1979 hostage crisis," the spokesman said.

This new development is of tremendous importance since the new President is to attend United Nations General Assembly in New York in September. It is now unclear whether he will be able to attend the Assembly since according to some unconfirmed reports, the US decision to grant diplomatic visa to Mr Ahmadinejad had been delayed pending upon the investigation into his past.

Here is the rest of today's news on Iran:

  • Reuters: U.S. warns Iran against violating nuclear deal

WASHINGTON, July 28 (Reuters) - The White House warned Iran on Thursday against resuming key work on its nuclear fuel cycle, saying it could prompt the United States and its European allies to pursue U.N. sanctions against Tehran. On Wednesday outgoing Iranian President Mohammad Khatami said Iran would resume some work on its nuclear fuel cycle, which the West suspects is part of a clandestine effort to produce a bomb."Iran made some commitments to suspend their uranium enrichment and reprocessing activities. We expect them to abide by that commitment," White House spokesman Scott McClellan told reporters.

  • Reuters: Iran's Rafsanjani urges jailed writer's release

TEHRAN (Reuters) - Iran's former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani called on Thursday for the release of jailed journalist Akbar Ganji, whose family says has been on hunger strike for over six weeks, the official IRNA news agency said. Ganji, an outspoken critic of the Islamic state's clerical leadership, was jailed in 2001 following a series of articles he wrote linking officials to the murder of political dissidents. A former hardline Revolutionary Guard turned radical reformer, Ganji was rushed to a Tehran hospital last week. Rafsanjani, who was president from 1989 to 1997, said he had been in talks with judiciary chief Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi-Shahroudi over Ganji's release.

  • BBC: Raid on Iran dissident's lawyer

Human rights activists have told the BBC that officials have raided the home of a lawyer representing Iran's best-known political prisoner. His client, journalist Akbar Ganji, is reported to be gravely ill after 48 days on hunger strike. Mr Ganji was jailed five years ago for linking senior Iranian officials to the murders of prominent intellectuals. His hunger strike is aimed at achieving his unconditional release. His wife says he is "fighting with death".

And finally this weird report from Guardian. Had you ever heard about this?:

  • The Guardian: A fatwa for freedom

Maryam Molkara was a woman trapped in a man's body. She was also living under Islamic law in the Iran of Ayatollah Khomeini. Yet, as Robert Tait reports, her determination to confront the hallowed leader has made Tehran the unlikely sex-change capital of the world

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Akbar Ganji and we the Iranian people

Not a single day passes by that you don’t hear about a new statement appealing for the life of Iranian jailed journalist Akbar Ganji--now on hunger strike for 47 days. President George W. Bush, Mr Ganji’s attorney and Noble Peace laureate Shirin Ebadi, The European Union, Amnesty International, Reporters without Borders and a wide array of Iranian scholars and political activists have all voiced their grave concern, demanding Mr. Ganji’s immediate, unconditional release. But have these demands had any tangible effect? Are the Iranian officials feeling the heat? Is Mr.Ganji any closer now to freedom than he was before the world turned its attention to his plight? No, not at least by what we see. In fact, the Islamic Republic officials--flying in the face of the world as always-- seem to have even adopted more bullying tactics in dealing with Mr.Ganji every passing day. Why? It’s very simple: Because of us the Iranian people.

We, the Iranian people, helped embolden our government--from the very first day of its existence 26 years ago--to deny us all our God-given rights and then some. We never protested against the inhumane treatment of our children, brothers, sisters, friends, and above all, compatriots--because we are compatriots after all. We kept nagging in our private gatherings about the theocratic system and the harm it was doing to us, our society, our culture and of course our future, but when it was time for us to stand up for our rights when they were shamelessly trampled on, we were nowhere to be found. We always took part in sham elections, thus legitimizing our rulers’ brazen disregard for human rights and helping them use our ballots to tighten their grip on every aspect of our lives. Political and social injustice turned into entertainment for us. We still keep regaling ourselves with stories about how we got arrested for carrying a music CD, or how we bought our way out of the hands of the police when our parties were busted. The more we were harassed, the more we caved in.

And now Akbar Ganji is sacrificing his life for us the Iranian people, and for the social and political rights he believes we Iranians are entitled to, just like any other free nation. In return, we’ve been as indifferent to his suffering as we could be, showing the world we are not the least bit concerned about what’s befalling our country and its few remaining voices of conscience.

Aung San Suu Kyi, one of the world's most famous prisoners of conscience and 1991 Noble Peace laureate, believes “the only real prison is fear and the only real freedom is freedom from fear.” That, I believe, is the lesson heroes such as Akbar Ganji, Manoochehr Mohamadi, Naser Zarafshan and other political prisoners are trying to teach us the Iranian people by sacrificing their own lives. Will we ever learn that lesson?

Iran: No light at the end of the tunnel. Not at least for now.

The news coming out of my land keeps getting more and more disturbing everyday...

Let's begin with the latest on the new Zahra kazemi ruling.Yesterday's news on the refusal of an appeals court in Iran to re-open zahra kazemi's case was no surprise. As Shirin Ebadi proclaims, it's now abundantly clear "Ms Kazemi was tortured to death." Re-opening the case would only implicate the Iranian officials. On the other hand, Canadian government's reaction to this mockery of justice has been nothing more than diplomatic dilly-dallying which has done serious damage to Canada's credibility in protecting the rights of its citizen. Mr Prime Minister, your government's "controlled engagement" policy toward Iran has just emblodened the perpetrators. Is this where Canada stands on human rights?:

Critics are calling on Prime Minister Paul Martin's government to take a tougher stand with Iran in the case of a Canadian woman who was tortured and killed in an Iranian prison two years ago.The federal Conservatives and the freedom-of-speech group PEN Canada made the appeal yesterday - a day after an Iranian court rejected demands for a new investigation into the case.

  • Khaleej times: ‘Canadian photographer was deliberately killed’

TEHERAN — Lawyers representing the family of a Canadian photographer who died in custody in Iran said yesterday she was deliberately killed and demanded that an impartial court retry the case. Zahra Kazemi, a Montreal-based photojournalist, died in July 2003 after her skull was split following her arrest for taking photographs outside Teheran’s Evin prison where many political dissidents are held.“Forensic reports show her head was hit in two spots and based on Islamic penal code, this cannot be unintentional,” 2003 Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi, one of the four lawyers acting for Kazemi’s family, told the court hearing.

BBC reports on riots in two provinces of Iran:

  • BBC: Iran press reports Kurdish riots

The Iranian media has reported more disturbances in Kurdish areas of the country
after several days of riots. Two people were wounded on Monday when "hooligans" caused disorder in the town of Oshnavieh, the hardline newspaper Jumhuri Islami said. But Kurdish journalists report that three people were killed on Monday and seven died in previous days.

  • BBC: Iran clamps down on Arab protests

Iranian police have arrested at least 12 people in connection with fresh protests in Khuzestan province. Iranian media said the unrest was sparked when people took to the streets after being tricked by local conmen. Five people were killed in riots last April over reports that Tehran wanted to change the ethnic balance of the area, home to about 2m ethnic Arabs. The authorities are sensitive to reports of unrest in Khuzestan, which contains most of Iran's oilfields.

The following news item shames me as a peace-loving Iranian. A mullah in Iran, who has tremendous backdoor influence on the official policies of the Islamic Republic, is encouraging young Iranians to enlist for suicide bombing missions around the world:

  • BBC: Iran body seeks suicide 'martyrs'

An advertisement in an Iranian publication has called for people to come forward for "martyrdom operations" against the enemies of Islam. It is published by an institute managed by one of Iran's most conservative and radical clerics, Ayatollah Masbah Yazdi, who has declared his support for Iran's new President, Mahmoud Ahmedinejad. The advertisement calls for men and women to enlist with the "Martyrdom Lovers' Headquarters".

CNN reports Iran will resume nuclear activities. How long will the European negotiaters continue to fool themselves into thinking they can negotiate an agreement with the Iranian government?:

  • CNN: Iran won't give up option to enrich uranium

Monday, July 25, 2005

Monday's press clippings

A court in Iran has rejected an appeal to investigate the death of photojournalist Zahra Kazemi as premeditated murder after she died while imprisoned in Tehran two years ago.The ruling Monday comes a day after Iran's judges acknowledged in report that human rights violations in the country's prisons are widespread. The appeal was denied because the initial court had found Kazemi's death was unintentional and Monday's hearing had no jurisdiction to reopen the case, the deciding judge said.
  • NY Times: Checkpoints Are Thought to Have Hastened 2 Egypt Blasts

SHARM EL SHEIK, Egypt, July 25 - Egyptian officials, giving their first detailed account of a deadly terrorist strike at this Red Sea resort, said Monday that all three explosions were suicide bombings and suggested that police checkpoints may have forced two of the bombers to set off their explosives early, before reaching targets packed with Western tourists. As a result, most of the victims of the bombings on Saturday were Egyptians. Of the 64 people who were killed, and at least 44 were from Egypt, said the governor of southern Sinai, Mustafa Afifi.

  • NY Times: New U.S. Envoy Will Press Iraqis on Their Charter

BAGHDAD, Iraq, July 25 - The new American ambassador to Iraq waded into the debate over its constitution on Monday, signaling that the United States would work to guarantee the rights of Iraqi women and to blunt the desires of ethnic and religious factions pushing for broader autonomy in the new Iraqi state.With less than three weeks to go before the country's permanent constitution is supposed to be completed, the new ambassador, Zalmay Khalilzad, indicated that the United States would play an active and, if need be, public role in brokering what he called a "national compact" among the country's ethnic and sectarian groups.

  • Newsweek: Trying Saddam could help to exorcise the ghosts of Iraq's brutal past. Or it could stir up new demons.

He's as shameless as ever. The Arab news channel Al Arabiya aired a video clip of Saddam Hussein last week confidently asserting his rights before an Iraqi Special Tribunal judge. "Is this how the law works?" the jailed ex-dictator demanded. "The defendant doesn't see his lawyer until he is in court? And doesn't know there is a hearing until he gets there?" He said it indignantly, as if he had no memory of the thousands of Iraqis who were tortured and summarily killed during his reign.

  • Der Spiegel: Pakistan Remains the Global Center for Terrorism and al-Qaida. Also: Financial Times reports "Pakistan claims al-Qaeda command destroyed."

General Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan's military ruler, claims that the command and control system of al-Qaeda in his country has been destroyed, excluding any possibility that the terrorist network could have carried out this month's bombings in London and Egypt.

  • BBC: Amnesty International calls Iraqi insurgents 'war criminals'

Iraqi insurgents are committing war crimes that undermine any claim they may have to be fighting a legitimate cause, Amnesty International says. A report by the UK-based group accuses anti-US forces in Iraq of showing "utter disdain for civilian life". It says there can be no justification for deliberate killings of civilians, hostage taking and torture. The perpetrators "place themselves totally beyond the pale of acceptable behaviour", Amnesty International said.

  • Fox News: Mel Gibson to direct, finance film set in 16th century Central America — this time spoken in Mayan dialect

Iranian jailed journalist still hospitalized against his will


Akbar Ganji, Iran's most famous prisoner of conscience, is still held againt his will in hospital by the direct order of Tehran's notorious General Prosecutor, Saeed Mortazavi, who is also implicated in the 2003 death in detention of Canadian-Iranian photographer Zahra Kazemi .

The news black-out ordered on Mr Ganji's condition in hospital and reports of an imminent questionable knee operation on Mr Ganji have raised more serious concerns regarding his fate. Mr Ganji, who was rushed to hospital on July 10, is still on hunger strike and has repeatedly asked to be returned to prison, due to poor hospital conditions. Saturday, in an interview with Radio Farda's Persian service, Mr Ganji's wife, Massoumeh Shafieh, said an operation at this stage could be highly life-threatening to Mr Ganji whose body has extremely weakend after 44 days of hunger strike.

In another important development yesterday, in response to a letter by Ayatollah Hossein-Ali Montazeri, Iran's leading dissident cleric, Mr Ganji said he believed civil disobedience was the most effective tactic to reach democracy in Iran. Refering to "Velayat Faqih", or the rule of an autocratic cleric as " Iran's most important political problem," he also--for the first time--called on Iran's supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, to vacate power.

Also:

Since 1979, when the mullas seized power in Tehran, an estimated 2.3 million Iranians have spent some time in prison because of their opposition to the regime. In a sense anybody who is somebody in most walks of life has had some experience of prison in the Islamic Republic. And that includes the Shiite clergy. More mullas have been imprisoned in the past 27 years than members of any other social group in Iran. The revolutionary regime has also executed over 100,000 of its real or imagined opponents and driven a further 4.5 million people into exile, without a second thought.

"I call on the judiciary and human rights groups to pay serious attention to my client's dangerous situation," Ebadi said in a statement faxed to Reuters."Ganji's wife says his hunger strike continues in the hospital. He has even lost weight since being hospitalised."

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Sunday's press clippings

  • Roman Polanski's recent court battle against Vanity Fair is the subject of a feature in today's Sunday Times titled "Sufferings of the great seducer."
  • Washington Post's Rob Pegaroro tells us why he believes Podcasting is turning into a phenomenon that can make radio seem like a "dusty fossil." Also read Newsweek's report: "Podcasting: Talking Dirty on Your iPod"
  • USA Today puts spotlight on Barak Obama, the up-and-coming senator from Illinois.
  • Newsweek's Fareed Zakaria discusses in his latest article the contagion of radicalism and the ideology that drives it:

Like all ideologies, radical Islam is a phenomenon of the educated class. From Muhammad Atta to Mohammed Sidique Khan, almost all suicide bombers have been men who read and write. In V. S. Naipaul's book "A Million Mutinies Now," the author interviews a young Hindu fanatic. The man explains his fascistic views, and then Naipaul asks the man's father, who happens to be sitting there, what he thinks. The old man explains that he works at a factory from morning till night and doesn't really have time for these kinds of ideas. Extremist ideology is a leisure-time pursuit.

  • To hell and back: The BBC takes a look at Lance Armstrong's amazing career after he won his seventh and last Tour de France today. Also read National Geographic's report on Armstrong: The Science of Lance Armstrong: Born, and Built, to Win

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Iran report says rights violations common in prison

Reuters reports:

TEHRAN (Reuters) - An unprecedented report from Iran's conservative judiciary acknowledged that human rights violations were widespread in prisons, the ISNA students news agency said on Saturday.

According to ISNA, the report said prisoners faced solitary confinement, torture, unwarranted arrest and possibly sexual harassment when detained by Iran's judiciary, military and police.

Iran's former reformist-dominated parliament last year wrote into law an order from Judiciary Chief Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi-Shahroudi that banned torture and solitary confinement."Any kind of torture used to extract confessions ... is banned and confessions made under such circumstances are not legal," the legislation said.But the judicial report, parts of which were shared with ISNA, said thelegislation had been ignored in several cases.

"The report accepts that torture and solitary confinement exist in detention centers and asks for measures to address this," wrote ISNA.The report said a detention center run by the conservative Revolutionary Guard had refused to admit inspectors. The judiciary says it has the right to oversee all detention centers, but some security and military groups bar them.

Iran's constitution specifically outlaws the use of torture, but human rights groups say the Islamic Republic's security forces routinely use it to extract confessions. Several journalists and political dissidents have said they were forced to make false confessions and were mistreated in detention.ISNA said Abbasali Alizadeh, the head of Tehran's judicial department, who also heads a committee overseeing anti-torture legislation had shared the report with the agency. Judiciary spokesman Jamal Karimirad was not immediately able to confirm details of the report to Reuters but said that he would check facts with Alizadeh.

In other news:

  • French President Jacques Chirac has told Isreali daily Haaretz that if European negotiations with Iran fails the issue will have to be moved to the UN Security Council:

"I hope that [the European negotiations with Iran] will succeed and eliminate the danger of the proliferation of nuclear weapons," Chirac said. "If this does not prove to be the case, it will, of course, be necessary to transfer the handling [of the Iranian problem] to the UN Security Council."

  • AFP reports on Akbar Ganji's deteriorating condition in hospital:

The family of Iran's highest profile political prisoner said his fragile health has worsened and protested at poor hospital conditions after he was moved to a facility outside prison on the 37th day of his hunger strike.

"(Akhbar) Ganji was hospitalised (in jail) while he was on hunger strike and the conditions in which he finds himself in the hospital are worse than in prison," said a letter to Milad Hospital signed by family members.

  • Reuters reports from Tehran Iran tells EU not to demand an end to nuclear work:

TEHRAN (Reuters) - Iran said on Saturday it had delivered a message to European foreign ministers in London last week, telling them not to try to solve a nuclear dispute by asking Tehran to surrender atomic technology.An EU troika of Britain, Germany and France has been negotiating with Tehran to try to defuse a crisis over Iran's nuclear programme. The EU group has asked Iran to stop making nuclear fuel in return for economic incentives.

Attacks on reformists by hardline pro-regime elements have been commonplace during the past few years. But as the ultra-Islamist president-elect, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, prepares to take power next month, protesters have noticed a significant development.

"In the past it was plainclothes vigilantes who were beating us, but now it was uniformed law enforcement officers," said Abdullah Momeni, a prominent student leader. "Before, we were attacked by a hidden government, with no one taking responsibility. Now it's all out in the open.

  • Times of London reports on public execution for the teenagers convicted of rape in Iran. Update: Iran's Noble Peace Laureate Shirin Ebadi censures Iran for hanging two teens

Friday, July 22, 2005

Editor's note


Powerful Journalistic photos oftentimes possess the quality even the most effectively written headlines can't top: The ability to tell of not just the story, but the undertone that runs through that particular story or conflict.Having that in mind, last night I went through plenty of online photos to choose the right one for my own report on the new London attack; something that could best encapsulate Londoners' emotions after experiencing the second terrorist attack in only two weeks.That's how I decided to run the photo that also made the front page of Canada's most important newspaper "Globe and Mail" this morning: A policeman inside the police cordon, somberly wondering to himself what could be next for London.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Fear returns to London


Two weeks after the terrorist bombings that killed 52 people and injured hundreds, three London subway lines and one double-decker bus were again the target of a new round of attacks, carried out in a strikingly similar way to 7/7 bombings. Fortunately, there were no fatalities this time. Today's events once again put to the test English legendary stoicism, now strained further than ever by several terrorist incidents in just two weeks. Will Londoners have to live with the threat of terror from now on? will the city that has servived much more ferocious attacks in the 20th century be able to ride out the terror storm of the new century?

  • BBC's security correspondent analyzes today's attacks
  • Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf appeals to stop terror
  • Guardian reports: Four bombers on the run
  • Times of London:A sense of déjà vu, but these bombs were aimed at tourists, shoppers and schoolchildren
  • NY Times: Militant London sheik had predicted more terror attacks
  • Washington Post: British Prime Minister Tony Blair's reaction (video)

The war of words escalates between Tehran and Berlin


In an interview published Monday in Germany's most-respected weekly news magazine Der Spiegele, German interior minister Otto Schily voiced concern over the deepening ties between Iran and Iraq and the rise of a fundamentalist to Iran's presidency:"...and when we now hear that Iran and Iraq will now cooperate more closely, and in Tehran meanwhile a fundamentalist comes to power with whom it is not certain that he has distanced himself absolutely from terrorism, these are all perspectives that raise major concerns," Mr Schilly was quoted as saying.

Since then, a bitter war of words has erupted between the two countries, with Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesman accusing Mr Schilly of being "influenced by the Zionist circles," and Mr Schily's spokesman refuting the Iranian side's comments as "unbelievable outrageousness." Deutsche Welle's English service reports:

Ever since the German defense minister accused the Iranian president of having been involved in terrorist activities, the diplomatic exchange between Berlin and Tehran has taken an unusually acrimonious tone. In an interview for the German weekly Der Spiegel, published Monday, the German interior minister Otto Schily expressed his concern about "a fundamentalist coming to power in Tehran." He was referring to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who was elected president of Iran on June 24. "We can't be certain that he (Ahmadinejad) has absolutely distanced himself from terrorism," Schily said. The spokesperson of the Iranian ministry of foreign affairs, Hamid Resa Asefi, responded to Schily's criticism of the Iranian president by calling it "unfounded and laughable" and advising the German minister "to express himself more carefully, get rid of the influence of Zionist circles and respect democratic principles."

Berlin strikes back

In a rebuttal from the German ministry of the interior, Rainer Lingenstahl, the ministry spokesperson, referred to his Iranian colleague's statements on Wednesday as "unbelievable outrageousness."

"It would be difficult to surpass the effrontery of such a voice from a country in which human rights are constantly abused, in which women are flogged as a consequence of dubious sentences, and in which critics of the regime, who have no access to legal support and appropriate legal procedures, are kept in isolation for months," said Lingenstahl. "If there is a place in which democratic principles ought to be respected, as my colleague from the Iranian foreign ministry believes he needs to establish, then he should turn to his own country," he said.

A president with a shady past?

Ahmadinejad has been accused of being one of the hardliners who took part in the attack on the US embassy in Tehran in 1979. He is also rumored to have been involved in a murder of an exiled Iranian Kurd politician and his two associates in Vienna. But the official investigation of the Austrian authorities has produced no results, and neither of the two accusations have been proven. The growing tensions between Iran and Germany are possibly related to the stagnating negotiations about Iran's atomic weapons. Although Great Britain, France and Germany insist that Iran gives up its plans for accumulating uranium, Iran has repeatedly turned down that request. The Iranian spokesperson said his government would require an explanation from the German government for Schily's statements.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Iraq's new constitution could limit women's rights

The tragic news that comes out of Iraq almost everyday makes us eagerly welcome any news that offers a glimmer of hope--however small-- for the future of the country, such as Iraq's first constitution in the post-Saddam era. But today's news of the working draft of Iraq's new constitution is every bit as disappointing as the everyday news of insurgents' killing spree across the country. NY Times reports that "a working draft of Iraq's new constitution would cede a strong role to Islamic law and could sharply curb women's rights, particularly in personal matters like divorce and family inheritance.":

The draft of a chapter of the new constitution obtained by The New York Times on Tuesday guarantees equal rights for women as long as those rights do not "violate Shariah,"...One of the critical passages is in Article 14 of the chapter, a sweeping measure that would require court cases dealing with matters like marriage, divorce and inheritance to be judged according to the law practiced by the family's sect or religion.Under that measure, Shiite women in Iraq, no matter what their age, generally could not marry without their families' permission. Under some interpretations of Shariah, men could attain a divorce simply by stating their intention three times in their wives' presence. Article 14 would replace a body of Iraqi law that has for decades been considered one of the most progressive in the Middle East in protecting the rights of women, giving them the freedom to choose a husband and requiring divorce cases to be decided by a judge.

According to Reuters, In a Pentagon news briefing this morning , Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said that Iraqis would make "a terrible mistake" in adopting any constitution that sharply curbs women's rights:

I personally believe that any country that does not include half of their population in a reasonable way is making a terrible mistake in terms of the future of that country and the prospects for that country and the opportunities for that country.

In other developments, CNN reports that "four Sunni Arabs suspended their membership on a committee writing Iraq's new constitution.The Iraqi National Dialogue Council members made the move because of Tuesday's shooting deaths of three, including a Sunni Arab committee member and a committee adviser, in Baghdad."

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

President Bush chooses Judge John Roberts for the Supreme Court

Earlier tonight President Bush nominated John G. Roberts Jr., for the Supreme Court of the United States. He called Mr Roberts a man of extraordinary accomplishment and ability who has the qualities Americans expect in a judge: experience, wisdom, fairness, and civility.

But who is John Roberts? ABC News Original Report answers that question. Also, here are some other reactions to Mr Roberts's nomination :

For learning more about the US Supreme Court, which is one of the most important institutions in the United States, and the substantial influence it wields on American life and politics, visit here and here.

Al Gore's Current TV will feature youth culture in Iran

For those of you wondering right now, " Al Gore's what? you mean fomer Vice President? But he..." Reuters has all the low-down:

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - A new cable channel headed by former Vice President Al Gore hopes to draw twenty somethings looking for news, information and features produced by young adults for young adults. Current TV, of which Gore is chairman, will launch Aug. 1 in 20 million cable and satellite households nationwide in place of 24-hour news channel Newsworld International. About 25% of the content will be produced by viewers, much of it submitted over the Internet using new, cheaper video and editing technology; all of it will be in short three- to seven-minute "pods" of content on topics including youth culture in Iran, parenting and spirituality. "We want to be the television home page for the Internet generation," said Gore, who along with other members of the San Francisco-based channel made a presentation Monday afternoon at the Television Critics Assn. summer press tour at the Beverly Hilton.

What Gore and his young staff are trying is an innovative blend of content and advertising that will merge high- and low-tech video along with advertiser-sponsored spots and three minutes of longform advertisements every hour. It wants to have a heavy Internet component, allowing viewers to vote on what they want to see on the channel as well as serve as a two-way conduit between viewers and programers. It's not a news network, though there is a collaboration with the search engine Google that provides reports every half hour on what Google users are looking for in popular culture and the issues of the day."At its core, Current TV will be a place where 18- to 34-year-olds can tune in to see what's going on in their world," said Laura Ling, who will appear on air and manage enterprise video journalism for Current. Ling has been a producer for Channel One News and has worked for ABC's "Nightline," PBS and NBC. While early stories about the channel highlighted Gore's role in the network, the former presidential candidate said there's no political tilt to Current. "I think the reality of the network will speak for itself. It's not intended to be partisan in any way, not ideological in any way," Gore said.

Monday, July 18, 2005

What policy is the right way to deal with Tehran's nuclear ambitions?

In the March/April issue of Foreign Affairs magazine and in an article titled " Taking on Tehran," Kenneth Pollack, the Director of Research at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution and the author of The Persian Puzzle: The Conflict Between Iran and America, and Ray Takeyh, a Senior Fellow in Middle East Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, discussed how-- they believed--Washington should approach Tehran's nuclear program:

If Washington wants to derail Iran's nuclear program, it must take advantage of a split in Tehran between hard-liners, who care mostly about security, and pragmatists, who want to fix Iran's ailing economy. By promising strong rewards for compliance and severe penalties for defiance, Washington can strengthen the pragmatists' case that Tehran should choose butter over bombs.

In the current issue of Foreign Affairs, Mr Siamak Shojai, Professor of Economics and Dean of the School of Business at Georgian Court University, questions that argument:

Tehran has had ample opportunity to open up the economy. Instead, it has limited liberalization to so-called free-trade zones -- mostly island areas far away from the rest of the country. The regime fears strong, independent business owners who could gain enough political influence and social status to threaten the mullahs' power base. Indeed, one of the reasons the Iranian people have not risen up against the government is that they are too busy struggling to survive. There is thus no carrot big enough to convince Tehran to give up its nuclear program.

In response, Kenneth Pollack and Ray Takyieh write that Mr Shojai's assertion that the Iranian leadership is not interested in instituting deep-seated structural economic reforms reinforces their argument:

As we noted, the theocratic leadership fears the ramifications of far-reaching privatization measures, and thus increasingly relies on foreign investment as a substitute to rejuvenate the economy. Contrary to Shojai's assertion that the theocratic leadership will never trade its nuclear program for economic incentives, there is a rather heated debate within the Iranian leadership over this very issue, and a number of Iranian leaders have argued -- albeit obliquely at times -- that Iran must make this very sacrifice, because its economic health is ultimately more important to the survival of the regime.

You can find more about both perspectives in the current edition of Foreign Affairs which is published by Council on Foreign Relations.

Akbar Ganji hospitalized

Jailed Iranian journalist Akbar Ganji was rushed to hospital yesterday, according to the latest reports including this one by Reporters Without Borders :

Reporters Without Borders voiced outrage today at the refusal of the Iranian authorities to let the family and lawyer of imprisoned journalist Akbar Ganji visit him in the hospital to which he was rushed yesterday. Ganji has been on hunger strike for 37 days and has lost 22 kilos in weight. "Ganji's family and lawyer must immediately be granted the right of visit allowed by Iran's laws, so that they can establish his state of health," the organisation said. "The attitude of the judicial authorities is unacceptable. They are directly responsible for his fate. A journalist cannot be allowed to slowly die and be denied the treatment he needs. That is a serious human rights violation." Ganji was sentenced to six years in prison in 2001 for linking senior regime officials to a series of murders of writers and intellectuals.He has been held in Evin prison, where he began his hunger strike on 10 June. He was rushed yesterday to Milad public hospital north of Tehran. His wife told Reporters without borders she was worried and did not trust the Iranian authorities. Calls for his release have been made by US President George Bush, the European Union and many international human rights organisations.

Meanwhile, Saeed Mortazavi, the infamous General Prosecutor of Tehran, denied Mr Ganji was ever on hunger strike and said " he will be returned to prison after being operated on for a torn meniscus in his right knee." A claim sharply disputed by the recent photos of Mr Ganji's deteriorating condition and Mr Ganji's wife who has told the BBC that she was worried because nobody told her why her husband had suddenly needed medical treatment. she also said that she had been badly treated by police guarding her husband's hospital room where she waited for three hours before being pushed out.

For more reports on Akbar Ganji's status, visit Release Ganji!

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Latest on Karl Rove/Valerie Plame case

Time magazine's Matt Cooper talked publicly this morning for the first time after testifying before the Grand Jury. The Karl Rove/Valerie Plame story took a new twist today when Mr Cooper explained how he had learned about Joe Wilson's wife working for the CIA for the first time through Karl Rove and that Mr. Rove had concluded his conversation with him by saying "I've already said too much" (Mr Cooper's complete acount is available in this week's Time magazine). Mr Cooper also mentioned--again for the first time--his conversation with Mr Scooter Libbi, Vice President Dick Cheney's Chief of Staff about Mr Wilson's wife.

To get a better perspective of today's developments, check out the following links:

Blogs:

Mr Kofi Annan, time is running out!

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan surprised almost everyone earlier this week when according to New York Sun, he pleaded ignorance on the case of Akbar Ganji:

WASHINGTON - As three senators joined President Bush's call for the Iranian regime torelease dissident journalist Akbar Ganji from prison, the secretary-general of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, yesterday refused to comment when pressed, claiming ignorance on the matter.When asked by a New York Sun reporter if he would speak out on behalf of Mr. Ganji in light of the president's statement Tuesday, Mr. Annan said, "I don't know enough about the case, so I'd prefer not to comment."

But Mr. Annan wasted almost no time to let the the Iranian officials know that he looked forward to "continuing to work with the authorities of the Islamic Republic under its newly elected President, His Excellency Mr Mahmud Ahmadinejad," and that he hoped "to have the pleasure of meeting him at the 2005 World Summit in New York in September."

Mr Annan will probably know enough on Mr Ganji's case by September (although he should have already known more than enough by now), when he is expected to meet with Iran's new President. Problem is, it'll be too late then for him--or simply anyone--to try to save Mr Ganji's life.

Also: To see the new open letter to Mr. Kofi Annan and sign the petition, go here.

Iranian lesson


Michael Ignatieff, the Canadian scholar and professor of human rights at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, tells us about his recent observations of life in Iran and what he learned there first hand in today's New York Times Magazine:

From their vantage point inside a theocracy, young Iranians long for ''a wall of separation'' between religion and government, as Thomas Jefferson called it, and they told me they found it puzzling, even disappointing, that religion and politics are not actually separate in the United States. I tried to explain that keeping God in his place in a democracy is work that never ends. Democracy in Iran also means working free of what one student called ''the culture of dictatorship,'' a floating web of patriarchal controls over private life. All of the young people I talked to were under 30, invariably were living at home till marriage and were chafing under restrictions on their personal lives. For young women, living free means the right to choose whom you marry and how much hair to display around your hijab...

Mr Ignatieff was Invited to Tehran during the recent presidential election to lecture on human rights.

Additional Reading: Also check out Christopher Hitchens's account of his recent trip to Iran and what he discovered there. Mr Hitchens currently writes for Slate and The Daily Mirror and is a contributing editor to The Atlantic Monthly and to Vanity Fair.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Iran's latest news round-up (updated)

Here are the latest:

  • AFP reports jailed Iranian journalist Akbar Ganji is nearing death.(See Ganji's photos on his thirty fifth day of hunger strike here) :

Ganji, who has been on hunger strike for 35 days, hinted in a recent letter that he is dying."This flame is going out, but (my) voice will raise others that will be louder," Ganji said in a July 10 letter to "defenders of freedom throughout the world" that caused growing concern among his supporters.

  • AP reports from Washington the State Department is disturbed by the reports of the brutality of the Iranian police force against peaceful demonstrators and calls on the "regime" in Tehran to exercise restraint and permit the Iranian people to invoke their right to peaceful assembly and free speech.
  • AP reports that the Iraqi Prime Minister will arrive in Tehran tomorrow with a large delegation on his first official visit to Iran. This will be the first such high-level visit since the 1980 war broke out between the two countries.

Saturday, July 16:

  • According to Radio Farda's Persian Service, in a letter to Akbar Ganji, Ayatollah Hossein-Ali Montazeri, Iran's leading dissident cleric, has asked Mr Ganji to end his hunger strike, saying he is really concerned about Mr Ganji's health. Ayatollah Montazeri, once a designated successor to Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, was deposed in 1988 for his outspoken criticism of the regime and was held under house arrest for 15 years.
  • Reuter reports that yesterday at Tehran's Friday prayers, Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, the head of Iran's Guardian Council, told worshippers "the British government could have orchestrated last week's bombings in London to stir up flagging enthusiasm for British military involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan ."
  • In an interview with the Council on Foreign Relations, former Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger says he is disturbed at the possibility of Iran developing nuclear weapons know-how if current negotiations to stem Tehran's nuclear program fail, calling Iran's nuclear program more worrisom than North Korea's:

CFR: What do you think of the policy that's being followed to try to stop Iran's uranium processing through negotiations?
H.K:I agree that we should try to stop the processing and probably,tactically, it's very useful to let the Europeans do the negotiating and we back it up. But the fact is, at some point in the relatively near future, we will have to decide whether those negotiations are working or whether they are not simply a way of legitimizing a continued program. That will be hotly disputed. Then we have to decide, we together with our allies, what measures are appropriate, and then we will face the question of how far we are willing to go to prevent nuclear-weapons technology in Iran. Iran will get us probably beyond the point where nonproliferation can be a meaningful policy, and then we live in a world of multiple nuclear centers. And then we'd have to ask ourselves what the world would look like if the bombs in London had been nuclear and 100,000 people had been killed.
CFR: Am I right to think you're not adverse to some kind of military action down the road?
H.K: I'm not adverse to thinking about it, but I think it has to be very carefully looked at.
CFR: That would be quite a quagmire.
H.K: I'm not recommending it but, on the other hand, it is a grave step to tolerate a world of multiple nuclear-weapons centers without restraint. I'm not recommending military action, but I'm recommending not excluding it.

Escalating violence in Gaza

After five months of relative calm in Israel and Palesinian territories, things are going awry again. On Tuesday, an Islamic Jihad militant killed five Israelis in a suicide bombing in the Israeli coastal resort of Netanya.Israel responded by carrying out raids in Nablus. This in turn triggered Thursday's rocket attacks by al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades and Hamas. In the mean time, a second day of clashes between the militants and Palestinian security forces--the worse since the mid-1990s-- forced the Palestinian authorities to declare a state of emergency earlier Friday. All this, after a suicide bombing whose ripple effects could seriously jeoprodize the fragile peace process. In a revealing article in London Times titled "Are you ready? Tomorrow you will be in Paradise . . ." Nasra Hassan, a relief worker and journalist in Vienna, tells us what goes on in the minds of suicide bombers. Take a look and as always, feel free to discuss your take in the comments section.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

London attacks: a week later

As tens of thousands of people across Europe observed a two-minute silence today in memory of the victims of last weeks bombings, socio-political experts continued to offer their thoughts on last week's attacks on London:
  • Financial Time's Anatol Lieven warned, "Engage Muslim support or lose the war on terror":
Promoting democratic development can be part of a strategy, but not if it is used as an excuse to ignore the other parts. Improved western security is essential and, in certain cases, preventive military action and assassinations directed at terrorist planners in the Muslim world are also justified. But in the end, defeating the terrorists, whether in the Middle East or the Muslim diaspora in Europe, is dependent on Muslim help. Gaining new Muslim allies is therefore a central part of any effective counter-terrorism strategy.
  • Max boot from Los Angeles Times wrote, "Then and now, evil always wants more. Whether it's Hitler or Bin Laden, history teaches the dire consequences of appeasement":
The BBC now refuses to refer to the London terrorists as "terrorists." They are to be known by the more neutral term "bombers," lest the public be deceived by "the careless use of words which carry emotional or value judgments." Value judgments about blowing up innocent commuters? How gauche!
  • The Australian's Daniel Pipes called Great Britain "The most hapless nation in the west":
Counterterrorism specialists disdain the British. Roger Cressey calls London "easily the most important jihadist hub in Western Europe". Steven Simon dismisses the British capital as "the Star Wars bar scene" of Islamic radicals. More brutally, an intelligence official said of last week's attacks: "The terrorists have come home. It is payback time for ... an irresponsible policy."
  • Washington Post's Jim Hoagland wrote "The long-term struggle is within Islam, for Islam, and will be won or lost by Muslims -- with crucial outside support":
But his [Bin Laden's] ultimate aim is to encircle and dominate the Muslims who do not submit to the Salafist ideology of the Sunni extremists. Muslim moderates, Shiites of all political persuasions and other "nonbelievers" -- especially Jews -- are the physical targets of destruction, not Western freedoms or armies. The long-term struggle is within Islam, for Islam, and will be won or lost by Muslims -- with crucial outside support.
  • Mansoor Ijaz from Christian Science Monitor offered moderate muslims in Britiain a three-step strategy to combat Islamic extremists:
Britain's Muslims have an opportunity to set an important example by elevating the duties of citizenship above fears of looming civil rights violations.What to do? The action plan for moderate Muslims is uncomplicated if the political will to combat Islam's extremists from within takes hold. In Britain, three steps would be effective
  • And finally, Times of London explained how the trail of the bombers leads back to Pakistan:
Pakistan today is troubled by religious turmoil, a country now reaping a deadly harvest from years of military rule, repeated democratic failure, the indulgence of Islamic obscurantism and sectarian violence...Most Pakistanis who came to Britain two generations ago left behind the tortuous politics of their country. But neither they, nor the younger generations, can wholly escape the waves of religious extremism coming from their former homeland
.

Why innocent children?

I wish there were some answers-- some real answers-- to the questions Jeff Jarvis is asking in regard to this heartrending report.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Iranian jailed journalist Akbar Ganji in critical condition

Inspite of increasing international demands for his immediate, unconditional release--including those by the European Union and the White House--Iranian Journalist Akbar Ganji is still in detention.He is now on the thirty third day of his hunger strike. Mr Ganji's grave condition prompted more calls today for his immediate release. In a letter to UN's Secretary General Kofi Annan, a group of Iranian political activists and university scholars urged him for his direct intervention.Also today, some shocking photos of Mr Ganji in prison were posted on the internet which clearly demonstrate he is in very critical condition. The rest of todays's developments, regarding Mr Ganji, are as follows:
  • Mr Ganji's wife has told the BBC he has lost 22kg and has low blood pressure. She has also told the BBC that her husband had been asked to write a brief apology to Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and renounce two of his pamphlets, but he had refused to do so.
  • In a press conference earlier today in London, Ms. Shirin Ebadi, Iran's Nobel laureate and Mr Ganji's defense attorney, asked all journalists around the world to help save Ganji's life.
  • NY Sun's editorial discusses today's statement by President Bush on Ganji's condition.
  • Update: Statement by Democrat Senator Joseph Biden on Iranian Prisoners
  • Statement by Human Rights Watch on Ganji

President Bush calls for the unconditional release of Akbar Ganji in Iran

White House statement :

Akbar Ganji, an Iranian journalist who since 1999 has been routinely sentenced to prison by the Iranian government for advocating free speech, is again in jail because of his political views. Through his now month-long hunger strike, Mr. Ganji is demonstrating that he is willing to die for his right to express his opinion. President Bush is saddened by recent reports that Mr. Ganji's health has been failing and deeply concerned that the Iranian government has denied him access to his family, medical treatment, and legal representation. Mr. Ganji is sadly only one victim of a wave of repression and human rights violations engaged in by the Iranian regime.His calls for freedom deserve to be heard. His valiant efforts should not go in vain. The President calls on all supporters of human rights and freedom, and the United Nations, to take up Ganji's case and the overall human rights situation in Iran.The President also calls on the Government of Iran to release Mr. Ganji immediately and unconditionally and to allow him access to medical assistance. Mr. Ganji, please know that as you stand for your own liberty, America stands with you.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Police beat protesters at protest rally in Iran


Reuters reports from today's protest rally in support of Akbar Ganji in Tehran:

TEHRAN, July 12 (Reuters) - Iranian police beat dozens of protesters with batons on Tuesday at a demonstration to call for the release of Iran's most prominent jailed journalist. About 150 people, mostly students, had gathered in front of TehranUniversity chanting "political prisoners must be freed" when dozens of police moved in to break up the protest.

The rally was in support of Akbar Ganji, an outspoken critic of the Islamic state's clerical leadership who was sentenced to six years in jail in 2001 for articles he wrote alleging links between senior officials and the murder of political dissidents. Ganji's
family and lawyers say he is suffering from poor health and needs medical treatment outside prison. They say he has been on hunger strike for more than 30 days.

Judiciary officials say Ganji is in good health and is not on hunger strike. A Reuters journalist saw police beat several protesters, including young women, in streets surrounding the university and was struck by batons several times himself. It was not immediately clear if police made any arrests.

Monday, July 11, 2005

London attacks: The debates continue

Heated debates and follow-up analyses of last week's attacks on London continued today in the world's major press outlets:
  • The Guardian's Gary Younge had some pretty harsh words for Prime Minister Tony Blair. So did NY Time's Bob Herbert for President Bush
  • Refering To Al-Qaeda's new terror tactics, General Wesley Clark called on president Bush to shift strategies in Today's USA Today
  • And finally, Tim Hames of Times of London explains why in his opinion last Thursday was the day that terror lost.

Militia leader appointed as Iran's new police chief

NY Time's Nazila Fathi reports that the commander of Iran's most powerful militia "Basij" has been chosen by Iran's supreme leader as the new commander of Iran's national police force:

The new chief, Brig. Gen. Esmail Ahmadi Moghadam, 44, will replace Muhammad Baqer Qalibaf, who resigned to run for president in last month's election. General Ahmadi Moghadam is the commander in Tehran of the Basij, a conservative volunteer militia that is a branch of the Revolutionary Guards and that has taken part in a crackdown against pro-democracy protests. He is also a senior commander in the Revolutionary Guards. The Basij, whose members supported Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the conservative candidate who won the presidency, uses the vast network of mosques around the country as its organizational base.

(Updated):The takeover of the national Police force by militia commanders could have dire consequences for the Iranian people. Basij militia, created after the 1979 Islamic revolution as a branch of Iran's Revolutionary Guard, has always been used by the establishment to violently disperse gatherings, suppress protests and arrest young people for a variety of absurd excuses, from not abiding by the proper Islamic dress code, to throwing private parties. This new development, considering the militia's egregiously bad trackrecord, seems to be yet another major setback for the people who have constantly been denied of their basic human rights for the past 26 years.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Matt Cooper's source confirmed:Karl Rove

Newsweek's Michael Isikoff confirms that it was Karl Rove who acted as the source of Time magazine's Matt Cooper in the Valerie Plame case and released Cooper from his confidentiality pledge last week. Will this confirmation help turn this story into a full-blown scandle for the White House?

Al Qaeda recruiting in British colleges?

This sounds like alarming news for the British: According to Sunday Times, AL-QAEDA is secretly recruiting affluent, middle-class Muslims in British universities and colleges to carry out terrorist attacks in Britain.

A joint Home Office and Foreign Office dossier — Young Muslims and Extremism — prepared for the prime minister last year, said Britain might now be harbouring thousands of Al-Qaeda sympathisers.

Lord Stevens, the former Metropolitan police chief, revealed separately last night that up to 3,000 British-born or British-based people had passed through Osama Bin Laden’s training camps.

The Whitehall dossier, ordered by Tony Blair following last year’s train bombings in Madrid, says: “Extremists are known to target schools and colleges where young people may be very inquisitive but less challenging and more susceptible to extremist reasoning/ arguments.”

In another development, AP reports that three people have been arrested under Britain's anti-terrorism law at Heathrow airport.

Also:

  • Al-Sharq Al Awsat denounces Thursday bombings.
  • Update:News Week's Fareed Zakaria discusses how defeating terror requires Muslim help—and much more than force of arms, in his article "How We Can Prevail"


Iranian-American filmmaker freed in Iraq

Straight from AP. For learning more about Cyrus Kar and how he was detained in Iraq, go here.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

the SECRET MAN





If you missed Tom Brokaw's program" The Secret Man" on NBC on wednesday, here you can get the full transcript and watch a small section of it. Bob Woodward's late night, clandestine meetings with his source Mark Felt (aka deep throat) in a parking garage in Rosslyn, Virginia, and also the way he and Carl Bernstein approached the multi-headed monster of Watergate will serve as exceptional examples of consummate journalism for years to come.

World press: Iran

  • NY Times reporter Michael Slackman details the factors that played a big role in what he calls "Iran's reformists' defeat in the recent election" in the July 7 edition .
  • Jim Hoagland from The Washington Post also has an interesting perspective on the recent developments regarding Ahmadinejad's past and its future consequences for Iran and the world in "In Iran, a Question That Clarifies".
  • Financial Times has a report on two recently-published books on Iran, Countdown to Terror by Curt Weldon, a Pennsylvania republican congressman and vice-chairman of the House armed services committee and Countdown To Crisis: the Coming Nuclear Showdown With Iran, by Kenneth Timmerman who FT calls "a journalist and author with close ties to exiled Iranian opposition groups."

Take a look.

Friday, July 08, 2005

London Attacks: Who are we dealing with?

My fellow-Iranian Amir Taheri takes us deep into the minds of those who could be behind yesterday's attacks in today's London Times. Also, make sure to read Thomas Friedman's take on the same issue " If It's a Muslim Problem, It Needs a Muslim Solution" in today's NY Times. Here is an excerpt:

What do I mean? I mean that the greatest restraint on human behavior is never a policeman or a border guard. The greatest restraint on human behavior is what a culture and a religion deem shameful. It is what the village and its religious and political elders say is wrong or not allowed. Many people said Palestinian suicide bombing was the spontaneous reaction of frustrated Palestinian youth. But when Palestinians decided that it was in their interest to have a cease-fire with Israel, those bombings stopped cold. The village said enough was enough.

The Muslim village has been derelict in condemning the madness of jihadist attacks. When Salman Rushdie wrote a controversial novel involving the prophet Muhammad, he was sentenced to death by the leader of Iran. To this day - to this day - no major Muslim cleric or religious body has ever issued a fatwa condemning Osama bin Laden.

Latest on Akbar Ganji

Amidst all the fuss regarding the outcome of Iran's recent presidential election, I'd like to dedicate my first post to Akbar Ganji, the brave Iranian journalist and writer who is in critical condition, due to the hunger strike he's launched in protest to his unfair imprisonment. Radio Farda's Persian service reports that the European Union has issued a statement calling for Ganji's immediate release. I'll post the original statement once I get a hold of it.In the meantime, you can check the latest news about Ganji and his condition on a weblog dedicated to him.

Update 1: Here's a new blog on Ganji.

Update 2: EU's Statement regarding Ganji on Islamic Republic News Agancy