Monday July 27 – the daily story

Habeus corpus, Iran style: Khamenei orders prison closure –  Iran’s Supreme Leader today ordered the closure of a “non-standard prison” set up after the outbreak of post-election violence. Said Jalili, head of the National Security Council, said Ayatollah Khamenei  made the order because the un-named prison “did not measure up to the required standards”. He added: “In the light of recent events, the Leader has ordered officials [to act] so that no one, God forbid, suffers injustice.” Jalili, who is Khamanei’s representative on the council, said the leader had also ordered officials to make  detailed investigations of  possible illegal acts committed against detainees.

Jalili said the security council had formed committees to “seriously confront those violating the rights or harming the security and lives of the people”.  He said: “The Islamic Republic will not allow anyone to violate the nation’s rights using  any excuse as it does not permit any foreign enemy to do so. No one has the right to ignore people’s rights under any given pretext.”  Jalili emphasised that the law should be “the cornerstone” for any action. At the same time Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi, head of the judiciary, has ordered officials to decide within a week on the fate of detained protesters. Ali Reza Jamshidi, judiciary spokesman, said more than 300 protesters were still incarcerated and added: “Those prisoners who have not committed serious enough crimes to be kept in jail should be freed.”

Earlier it was revealed that the Majlis had also swung into action to investigate the detentions and it is not clear how the various operations will dovetail.  On the orders of Speaker Ali Larijani a committee established to investigate the detention of protesters has already begun work. Persian websites report that it paid its first visit Sunday to Evin prison. “The first meeting of the committee was held yesterday  afternoon,” Hossein Sobhani-nia, deputy chairman of the national security and foreign policy committee,  told the ILNA news agency. He said it included “representatives of internal affairs and members of the judiciary and research commission”. The committee was hastily set up  following mounting public criticism of the wave of arrests and subsequent deaths in custody of a number of those held. But Mohammad-Reza Bahonar, the deputy Speaker, denied that it had only been formed because of the high profile death of Mohsen Ruholamini, whose father is the head of the Pasteur Institute in Tehran.  “We were pursuing the issue before this. All the incidents and all the cases of detainees and deaths of individuals will be seriously examined. [We] regard ourselves as responsible for… every citizen of the Islamic Republic of Iran.”

Whatever Bahonar says, there is no doubt that the moves for an official investigation of the detentions only gained momentum after Ruholamini’s death. The reaction is summed up by Ali Motaheri, the Principlist MP who on Saturday demanded the media fully investigate the detentions and forced confessions, when  he said  MPs should pursue Ruholamini’s case as if one of their family members had died.

Yesterday Motaheri revealed that a number of MPs were now seeking to impeach both the Interior and Intelligence ministers for their role in the detentions (this clearly having been said before it emerged that the Intelligence Minister had been sacked).  He told Mehr News Agency: “These officials should explain to the people what has happened to the detainees. It is the duty of the Majlis to pursue these issues.” Motaheri also demanded that the interior, intelligence and  justice ministers, plus the heads of the  judiciary and security forces, should make their positions clear about the detentions.  “It should be determined what roles each of these organisations and institutions has played in the events,” he said. PressTV, Fars, WAtoday, Tehran Times

Culture Minister ‘resigns’ — It’s getting difficult to tell who is in and who is out of President Ahmadinejad’s cabinet. In the latest twist reports say Mohammad-Hassan Safar-Harandi has resigned as Minister of Culture and Islamic Guidance – but the president has refused to accept it. In a letter to Ahmadinejad, the minister said he wished to leave a government that had been weakened by the sacking on Sunday of Gholam-Hossein Mohseni-Ejei as Intelligence Minister. Safar-Harandi’s letter also revealed that Ahmadinejad had indeed “verbally” sacked  him before changing his mind because the dismissal would tip the balance of ministerial changes in the cabinet.

Under the constitution, if more than half the cabinet changes during a president’s four-year term, it cannot continue without a vote of confidence by the Majlis. This may explain why Jafar Mohmadzadeh, communications director of the president’s office, later said:  “This resignation has not been accepted by the president. The government does not need a vote of confidence from the parliament.” That last comment, however, may be challenged by Mohammad-Reza Bahonar, the deputy speaker of the Majlis, who said Sunday the sacking of Ejei  had already put the number over the half-way mark.

Criticism of the president continued with the announcement that 200 MPs had written a letter to Ahmadinejad criticising his failure to obey Khameni’s  instructions immediately and demanding that he “rectify his conduct”.  And  MP Mousa al-Reza Servati, who announced the letter, refused to rule out  the possibility of the president having to face a vote of confidence before his August 5 inauguration. “Members of parliament will see into the matter tomorrow in the open parliament session,” he said.  Nasdaq, PressTV

‘Power struggle? What power struggle?’ – Ayatollah Rafsanjani  has rejected talk of a power struggle among the Iranian leadership, but defied demands from hardline clerics to break away from the reformists and pledge total loyalty to Ayatollah Khamenei, the Supreme Leader. In remarks carried by Mehr news agency, Rafsanjani paid tribute to Ayatollah Khamanei as “a progressive and forward-looking thinker on different subjects”. But he continued to press the solutions he offered in his Friday prayers sermon nearly two weeks ago as the way out of the current problems. He also repeated his demand for the release of all those detained in protests after the election.

Speaking after several days of talks with top religious leaders in Mashad, Rafsanjani was no longer talking of a “crisis”, a term that bitterly upset his hardline rivals when he used it in his sermon. He emphasised that the only problems faced by the Islamic revolution were those thrown up by the election and its aftermath.  “The propaganda by the foreign media who try to suggest that there is a power struggle in the top level of the regime is unfair injustice to the Islamic revolution. The current differences are only related to the election and its aftermath. If these disputes are settled, the row will end.”

But Rafsanjani’s remarks seemed clearly aimed at answering a statement said to have been issued last week by a majority of the Assembly of Experts that he heads, which was highly critical of his position and questioned his loyalty to Ayatollah Khamenei.  “ The leader and I have been friends for more than 50 years. We have been through various stages of the revolution together. I have hope that the supreme leader can solve the current problems based on his knowledge and experience and I still stick to the solutions I offered in the Friday prayers.”  He added:  “I have, however, heard several times the leader himself saying that those who easily detain people would not do so if they had been detained like you (Rafsanjani) and me (Khamenei).’”

Again Rafsanjani made no direct mention of President Ahmadinejad, but he was seen as the intended target of the ayatollah’s warning of the dangers of calling the whole Islamic system of government into question. “A mistake by a party, person or political group can be compensated, but if the whole system is questioned, then it would be difficult to repair the damage. We can still show to the world a suitable and practical model of Islam, but this needs proper management.”

Big question marks hang over the statement issued by a reported majority of the Assembly of Experts towards the end of last week  in which they cautioned against “deviations from the path and positions of the Supreme Leader and the revolution’s ideals and Imam Khomeini’s righteous path.” The assembly is the body, headed by Rafsanjani, responsible for picking and, if necessary removing, the Supreme Leader and monitoring his progress – something it has shown itself extremely reluctant to do despite  the reported urgings of Rafsanjani.  Although Iranian media reports refer to 50 signatories out of 88 assembly members (and Fars put the number as high as 68), the document apparently bears only 16 signatures. This had led to speculation that either the hardliners are trying to pull a fast one or that many clerics loyal to Khamenei but unhappy with the political limelight have signed “anonymously”.  In any event, by sticking to his Friday prayers sermon and effectively, if sweetly, calling on Khamenei to pick up on its offered solutions, Rafsanjani has rejected the Experts’ call for him to back the election result yet deftly deflected their criticism that he is against the Supreme Leader.

Ayatollah Mohammad-Ali Dastgheib, one of the Assembly members who presumably did not sign the statement, today rounded on those that did in a strong defence of Rafsanjani’s position. He questioned why his fellow experts were attacking the ayatollah now simply because he did not agree with their views when they had no objections to the way he “did his best to save the Islamic Republic” by convincing the assembly to pick Khamenei as Supreme Leader in the first place. “No one said then that he was talking and acting contrary to the [Islamic Republic] establishment and was causing division, but now that he is telling the truth, which is against your will although it is quite clear for all of you what the truth is, you are objecting. Is this fair?”

He adds:  “You suggest that we should behave ethically. It would have been good to reject all those illegal actions that happened during the televised debates and it would have been good if you had objected to all the illegal torture in the prisons that results in bodies being delivered every day. Be sure that all people admire truthful scholars and clergymen if they are treated genuinely. For God’s sake, it is not too late: instead of all these accusations, suppression, calling others godless, naming them opponents of the Supreme Leader, linking them to foreign agents, accusing people of getting orders from foreigners and trying to overthrow the government, and pushing back everyone and every group, show kindness to people, release the prisoners, ask for forgiveness … “. AFP, PressTV, Reuters, ncr-iran.orgm&c,  Keeping the Change, Facebook

In other news:

Mir-Hossein Moussavi today urged his supporters to take to the streets every day next week during a religious festival  and declared: “The future of the movement depends on our willingness to pay the price. “ He also issued his most stinging verdict yet on the damage he says the continued detentions are doing to the country and the Islamic revolution. He said: “Can they not see it, feel it? These things are blackening our country, blackening all our hearts. … People made the (1979) revolution for freedom. Where is that freedom now? This situation will destroy everyone.” LAT, NYT, PressTV

Venezuela has bought the rights for 12 of 16 Iranian oil exploration sectors, Gholam Hossein Nozari, the Oil Minister, has announced. “The choice of the sectors is up to Venezuela, which will make its decision after thorough studies,” he said. The two countries are already collaborating on a refinery project in Iran. Fars

Ali Larijani, the Majlis Speaker, has called for a strengthening of Iran’s ties with North Korea. In a meeting with So Se Pyong, the North Korean ambassador, Larijani said the Majlis is set to support deeper relations in the political, parliamentary and economic domains and he accepted an invitation to visit Pyongyang. Reports from Israel accuse the Koreans of helping Iran with a programme to develop nuclear weapons. ISNA

Larijani demanded a full explanation of the recent air accidents in Iran in a meeting with Hamid Behbahani, the Minister of Road and Transportation, yesterday. Just hours earlier a McDonnell-Douglas MD-82 jet flown by Mahan Air made an emergency landing at Tehran airport shortly after takeoff, after developing a technical fault. PressTV, PressTV

Iran is to summon the Saudi Arabian ambassador to Tehran to complain about police “misbehaviour” with Iranian pilgrims. The chief complaint appears to be that the Saudi police “insulted Iranian female Haj pilgrims by fingerprinting them at Jeddah international airport” when “according to international law, only those travellers deemed to be criminals or terrorists can be fingerprinted.” PressTV

Hillary Clinton, US Secretary of State, has warned Iran that its pursuit of a nuclear weapon was “futile” and that America’s message was that “if you’re pursuing nuclear weapons for the purpose of intimidating, of projecting your power, we are not going to let that happen”. The comment is seen as an attempt to assuage Israeli fears that her earlier call for a Gulf  “defence umbrella” suggested a shift in the US position on Iran’s nuclear programme. During a visit to Israel Robert Gates, US Defence Secretary, said President Obama`s offer to engage with Iran was not open-ended and he was looking for a response within the next two months. His visit to Israel however pointed up a clear disagreement on a potential military strike on Iran. Responding to Gates’s call for patience, Ehud Barak, Israeli Defence Minister, said: “We clearly believe that no option should be removed from the table. This is our policy – we mean it. We recommend others take the same position.”  Times Online, UNIAN News Agency, The Mercury

Hassan Qashqai, the Foreign Ministry spokesman, reiterated that  Iran has no plans to acquire nuclear weapons, but as a signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty is within its rights to carry out peaceful nuclear activities.. He also said Iran is preparing a package to be presented to the global powers in a bid to address nuclear issue. ForexTV.com

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