Thursday July 16 – the daily story

Rafsanjani ‘to lead demonstration’ — Ayatollah Rafsanjani intends to lead a demonstration in Tehran on Friday after delivering the keynote speech at Friday prayers at Tehran university, according to the Arab daily al-Sharq al-Awsat, quoting an Iranian source. He will be joined in the demonstration by Mir-Hossein Moussavi, Mehdi Karroubi and Mohammad Khatami, the key reformist leaders, it said. “In this way Rafsanjani wants to send a clear message to say that the things that have happened in Iran recently should not happen again and that what happened in recent weeks in Tehran must be investigated,” added the source, which the newsaper said was close to the former president. According to this source, before the election Rafsanjani had tried to position himself in the centre between the two camps, but after the election “he moved much closer to the reformists and is with the moderates who want change in a peaceful and legal way”.

There was no other confirmation of the report, which added to fevered speculation inside Iran and out about which way Rafsanjani will move Friday,  and hints that the hardliners are plotting to do their best to prevent the occasion being turned into a reformist power display. The Green Brief page on the Anonymous Iran website quotes Ghoratullah Alikhani, a member of the Imam’s Way faction of parliament and a staunch reformist, as saying the ayatollah will “defend the people’s rights” in his sermon and express his unhappiness with the post-election violence. Alikhani claimed the sermon would be a “tipping point” in the post-election unrest and that Rafsanjani would make an important “pro-protester” announcement. That could suggest he will openly declare his support for the political front Moussavi is attempting to form as an umbrella movement for the various reformist factions.

Certainly there is a high level of expectation among the reformist supporters expected to converge on the Friday prayers in numbers not seen since the violent crackdown. Posters have talked of the rise of the green wave and  there has even been talk of people using green payer mats.

However, in another intriguing hint of the way Rafsanjani’s sermon might go, the Green Brief said the ayatollah had declared this week that his relationship with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei “was that of two lovers and it would never be broken”. There was no further explanation of this statement and I have so far not been able to find it in any other reports. But Reuters quoted Anush Ehteshami, an expert on Iran at Britain’s Durham University, as saying he did not expect Rafsanjani to stir any great controversy. “I doubt he can stand there and say, all right, go back on the streets to protest against the election result. But nor can he ignore a reference to the election outcome. That would be totally discrediting to his standing.” Yet another hint of some kind of compromise deal came from Al Arabiya, which quoted ” sources close to religious authority Ayatollah Sayed Abdul Karim Moussavi Ardabili in Qom” as saying that in return for Rafsanjani holding Friday prayers many of the prisoners detained in the recent crisis would be released.

Gholam-Hossein Mohseni-Ejei, the intelligence minister, clearly reflected official concern over the event by warning the reformists against going too far. “The vigilant Iranian nation must be aware that tomorrow’s sermon should not turn to an arena for undesirable scenes,” he said. And Hossein Shariatmadari, editor of the hardline Kayhan newspaper who has openly demanded Moussavi’s prosecution,  said he expected Rafsanjani to take a clear position against the rioters “and condemn their illegal acts”. Shariatmadari warned against “provocation” from demonstrators chanting slogans “dictated from abroad”. But he also appeared to warn the many hardline supporters that will be present against any untoward reactions. “We have even heard that some with a hezbollahi (Islamist) appearance intend to carry out these provocations. So worshippers should be careful not to be deceived and reject those who shout divisive slogans,” he wrote.

The website iranian.com, apparently quoting from the same article, said it urged “true believers” to turn out in big numbers for the prayers to deny places to the “fake worshipppers” i.e Moussavi supporters. It also quoted Mehdi a businessman and former member of  the basij in Tehran, as saying that basij regional commanders had urged active members to take part in the prayers “to blind the eye of mutiny”, not the first time the phrase has been used by hardline leaders. The article speculated that since the prayers site is put under special guard from Thursday nights onward the security officials may try to prevent Moussavi’s supporters from entering. The reeport quotes a journalist in Iran it names as just Ahmad as saying:  “Hashemi will face a big number of pro-government worshippers on Friday who will chant for Ahmadinejad. He will naturally have two choices: to speak up for Moussavi, which will receive harsh chants from worshippers, or beating about the bush,  which will disappoint reform supporters. But he is the ace of Iranian pro-reform politicians and he may find a way to manage the mess.”

One person who won’t be witnessing this in person, it is understood,  is Ahmadinejad, who yesterday visited Mashad, where he accused the West of setting up satellite channels to influence Iranians against their better judgment.  “During the whole election process, certain foreign countries attempted to push the country to the brink of civil war,” he said. “I have told the enemies that this nation will strike you in the face so hard you will lose your way home.”

Adding to the crisis atmosphere is what appears to be a new fatwa from Grand Ayatollah Assadollah Bayat-Zanjani, an acknowledged Moussavi supporter,  declaring civil disobedience to bring down Ahmadinejad’s “illegitimate government” to be a religious duty. al-Sharq al-Awsat, Green Brief, Reuters, AFP, iranian.com PressTV, Al Arabiya

Atomic Energy head quits — Gholamreza Aghazadeh has resigned as president of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organisation after 12 years in the post. It means he also relinquishes his post as Vice President for atomic energy. No reason was given for the departure, but his history attests to close relations with Mir-Hossein Moussavi. Aghazadeh has been at the heart of the Iran’s row with the west over the true ambitions of its nuclear programme – Iran says it is enitrely peaceful but the West believes it is working on a nuclear bomb.  He remains a member of the Expediency Council headed by Ayatollah Rafsanjani.

PressTV’s report on the “unexpected turn of events”, quoting ISNA, said Aghazadeh had submitted his resignation to President Ahmadinejad 20 days ago and it had been accepted. Although never involved in Iran’s negotiations with the West over its nuclear policy, Aghazadeh’s periodic announcements about the progress in manufacturing the centrifuges vital to Iran’s uranium enrichment programme helped to stir the West’s concern over Iran’s programme. The Guardian quotes Mark Fitzpatrick,  a proliferation expert at the International Institute of Strategic Studies in London, as suggesting the resignation could pose at least a short-term problem for Iran’s nuclear programme, although not changing its direction. “He brought a strong management discipline to the Iranian programme. Under his predecessor the [uranium] enrichment programme had been floundering.” But he did not expect it to mark any change in rthe programme’s direction.

The partly American-educated Aghazedah returned to Iran in 1979 to involve himself in the revolution and quickly became  a director of the newspaper Jomhuri Islami (Islamic Republic) run by Moussavi, regarded as the mouthpiece of the then all-powerful Islamic Republican Party. When Moussavi became Foreign Minister in 1980 he made Aghazadeh a deputy and, upon becoming Prime Minister, put his protege in several positions including deputy prime minister and finally, in 1985, Oil Minister. He moved to the atomic post after Kha tami became president in 1997.  ISNA, AP, GuardianWikipedia

Rights group says hundreds may be dead — The number of deaths in the post-election turmoil far exceeds official figures, the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran has stated. “Despite official obfuscation and denials, reliable information is accumulating suggesting that hundreds of protesters were slaughtered during the demonstrations,” says Aaron Rhodes, a campaign spokesperson. “It thus appears that large numbers of those assumed to have been held in undisclosed locations and incommunicado detention may be dead. “

The campaign quotes as an example June 20 when the government reported 11 protesters killed.  “The campaign has ascertained that on 20 June … three Tehran hospitals placed a total of 34 corpses of demonstrators in their morgues: Imam Khomeini Hospital had 19 bodies; Rasool Akram Hospital, 8 bodies; and Loghman Hospital, 7 bodies. The information was collected by medical staff with access to the morgue records of these hospitals.”

A post by journalist Fintan Dunne on  the  Anonymous Iran website says a “methodical evaluation” of news reports suggests a high probability that the toll to date is between 245 and 285. “We also conclude there has been a systematic plan to conceal fatalities … which was in place before the killings began.” The main elements of this plan, he says are:

— allow about 35% of the dead to be taken into hospitals;

— hide the remaining 65% in Revolutionary Guard morgues and cold storage facilities;

— severely restrict information about detainees to make families think they are detained rather than dead;

— “very slowly” allow the hidden bodies to enter Iran’s standard death statistics by pressuring families to agree to label the deaths as accidental or from natural causes before returning the bodies.

Meanwhile, on Wednesday the Huffington Post put up this video on its regular Iran blog. Although it details cases of torture before the current troubles, it is neverthless instructive of how the regime operates in the name of Islam.

The Green Brief on the Anonymous Iran website reports that the families of more than 30 political prisoners held a rally Wednesday in front of the Islamic Courts in Tehran asking for the immediate release of their loved ones. Prayer sessions are due to be held today across Iran for the safe return of detained protesters across Iran, while the Mourning Mothers group has said it plans a rally next week. iranhumanrights.org and their list of detainees since June 12, Anonymous Iran,   YouTube, Huffington Post, Green Brief

New rules ‘impossible for lawyers’ — New rules currently in front of parliament governing the conduct of lawyers  will destroy the Bar Association and make it impossible for lawyers to defend people’s rights, lawyer Mohammad Mostafai said in an interview with Rooz. He said the plan for a five-man committee to oversee the activities of lawyers, including three judicial appointees, would end the Bar Association’s independence. Under the new guidelines, he said, a lawyer’s licence could be revoked at any time , for instance if they said something the regime disagreed with, which might at times make it impossible for them to speak out in a client’s defence. “The important point is that lawyers can defend their clients’ rights only if they are operating independently and are not under anyone’s orders or pressures.  If such pressures exist, lawyers cannot defend their clients’ rights.” Mostafai said  claims the Bar Association had instigated and supported the changes were false – it was in fact excluded from all discussions. He urged the association to ignore the new rules and carry on as before. The Green Brief on the Anonynmous Iran site also reports that 52 prominent  lawyers released a statement urging the government to respect people’s rights and charge people within 24 hours of their arrest or set them free. Rooz, Green Brief

In other news:

Hossein Rassam, the detained Iranian worker at the British embassy in Tehran, called his wife Wednesday night asking her to make bail arranmgements for him, his lawyer Abdolsamad Khorramshahi said. Financial Times

Two of the three black box flight recorders have been recovered from the wreckage of the Caspian Air jet in which 168 died Wednesday near Qazvin.  One of the boxes was reported to be damaged. They are expected to be sent to the plane manufacturers, Tupolev, for analysis. Meanwhile an article in the hardline Kayhan newspaper blames former President Khatami and the West for the crash – Khatami for seeking to buy Western aircraft to replace Iran’s ageing fleet and the West for not selling them to him.  PA, worldmeets.us

After three days of talks, Iran and Iraq have signed two memorandums of understanding on the management of joint oilfields and bilateral energy cooperation. ISNA

More than 100 “prominent journalists” from 47 countries have signed a petition sent to the Iranian government Wednesday demanding the immediate release of Maziar Baheri, the Tehran correspondent for Newsweek who has been in detention since June 21.  With the number of detained journalists in Iran now put at 43 by the Rooz website, the Reporters Without Borders organisation says Iran  has surpassed China for the number of journalists in prison.  cnw.ca, Rooz, ifex.org

Moussavi’s facebook page has posted an audio of a speech made by Abdollah Ramezanzadeh, the former government spokesman during the Khatami presidency,  the night before his arrest, accusing the regime of effecting a coup to sell the nation out to foreigners and arresting protesters in order to scare the people into subjection. It has English subtitles. Facebook

Farhad Fakhreddini, the renowned composer and director of the National Orchestra of Iran which he founded, is the latest artist to resign  over the post-election crackdown, although he has given no public reason. Tehran Times

A sign that all is not sweetness and light among those supporting the reform movement is an excerpt from  the videos being circulated of Rafsanjani’s daughter, Faezeh Hashemi, speaking in an informal discussion several days ago. She attacks former president Mohammad Khatami for what she deems his incomopetence in allowing the hardliners to hijack the 2005 elections.   “If all reformists had supported Hashemi things would have been different,” she said. Enduring America

France is to recognise President Ahmadinejad’s reelection, but will also build ties with the reformist movement, Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said. He explained that since Ahmadinejad had been proclaimed president, it would be “useless and counterproductive” for France to reject this. Tensions between the two countries remain high however, after the Iranian Foreign Ministry summoned the French ambassador to condemn France’s  “widespread oppression” of protesters. This was believed to be a reference to youth violence that hit poor French suburbs ahead of the July 14 Bastille Day holiday.  Washington TVReuters

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