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Iran Uprising Blogging (Friday July 3)

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I'm liveblogging the latest Iran election fallout. Email me with any news or thoughts, or follow me on Twitter. Send me instant messages at nico.pitney@gmail.com or njpitney on AIM. Scroll down for news related to the front-page headlines. Local Iran time is 8 1/2 hours ahead of Eastern time. You can support this post on Digg here.

Sunday's updates are here.

7:48 PM ET -- Grand Ayatollah Sanei releases another statement supporting demonstrators. A reader writes, "You may have seen this statement from Grand Ayatollah Yousof Sanei -- an Iranian scholar, renowned theologian and Islamic philosopher. He is known as a senior reformist cleric and a Grand Marja (source) of Shia Islam. He is particularly noteworthy for issuing a fatwa in which he declared suicide bombing as haram and a 'terrorist act.' ... Sanei retired as the head of the Guardian Council in 1988 and has not held any political office since."

An English version was posted on his website:

HIS EXCELLENCY GRAND AYATOLLAH SAANEI'S SYMPATHY WITH THE FAMILIES OF THE VICTIMS OF THE RECENT DISASTERS

While extending my sincere condolences to the families of the victims of the recent tragedies, and wishing a speedy recovery for the injured, particularly for our precious and devoted student body in Esfahan, Shiraz, Tehran, and other cities, who have stood up for their rights and have of late protested against the ambiguities surrounding the election results, seeking clarification which is indeed their right, I hereby express my grave sorrow and grief at the detestable incidents as have taken place and also express my aversion to those who had a hand in those disasters and tragedies. I hope that the wishes of the people will be fulfilled and their demands will be met by those responsible in the system, whose foremost duty should be the protection of people's life and property.

7:45 PM ET -- U2 goes Green. Via reader Jashar, U2 performed last night in Barcelona and played their hit "Sunday Bloody Sunday" -- about British troops who shot and killed civil rights marchers in Ireland -- as green light covered the stage and Farsi lyrics ran across the screens.

A commenter on U2's website described the scene:

First up, the previous song outros with a beautiful lilting vocal piece by (we discover) Iranian-born singer Sussan Deyhim. Then as the rhythmic opening bars of 'Sunday' arrive, the overhead spherical screens turn a luminous shade of green as farsi script script scrolls into sight.


7:40 PM ET -- Iran state media: West 'regretting' its stance. This analysis is...interesting. From Press TV:

A senior Iranian dignitary says Western powers are regretting the inappropriate stance they adopted in the wake of the June 12 presidential election.

"Western countries have now realized their stance on the Iranian elections was undoubtedly out of line," head of the Iranian Parliament's National Security and Foreign Policy Commission Alaeddin Boroujerdi said on Friday.

Boroujerdi said British Foreign Secretary David Miliband's recent telephone conversation with his Iranian counterpart Manouchehr Mottaki shows that political heavyweights in Europe are retracting their wrong claims on Iran.

"After three weeks of resentment, [European countries] have a long way to go before rebuilding trust with Iran," said Boroujerdi.

7:38 PM ET -- "My fellow schoolmate." The Revolutionary Road blog has posted a really wonderful video of a student demonstration that reportedly took place in the last few days at Kashan University. The students "form chains and sing 'Yare dabestani' -- 'My Fellow Schoolmate' -- a classic revolutionary song that every Iranian around knows by heart."

Watch it all (and read the song lyrics) here.


7:33 PM ET -- "Ten days of anguish, abuse inside Tehran's prison archipelago." The Los Angeles Times publishes another account of the brutal violence facing people swept up by the Basij:

Ali-Reza said he was near Tehran's Fatemi Square on June 13, a day of riots and unrest just after the election, when he spotted the plainclothes Basiji fighters beating a man "in a very bad way," he said.

"Do not beat him!" he protested to the Basijis.

But instead of laying off, the militiamen came after him. "They started to follow me," he said. "I ran and changed my direction, but in a dead-end street they caught me."

He said they began pummeling him. "The started to beat and beat and beat me, with their batons, feet and cables."

They stuffed him into a van with other young men and women and took them to a holding cell near Horr Square, where they were all beaten for more than two hours, he said.

"You voted for Mousavi," one of the Basijis told them, according to Ali-Reza. "Beating you is our right. We can even kill you."

The violence continued for days.

1:27 PM ET -- The Nation's cover story: "Iran's Green Wave." It is absolutely worth going over and reading Robert Dreyfuss' complete cover story in this week's Nation magazine. He was in Iran for the election and its aftermath, and has a wealth of interesting details. Here's a taste:

[T]here was the Obama factor. Countless Iranians watched his June 4 Cairo speech, and its transcript was parsed word by word. By offering to respect Iran rather than locating it in the "axis of evil," Obama appealed to secular nationalists, activists seeking greater individual freedom and businessmen hungering for an end to the sanctions strangling Iran's economy. Nearly everyone I spoke with during the ten days I was in Iran brought up Obama, whether I asked or not. At a frenzied Moussavi rally in the city of Karaj, west of the capital, I met a campaign organizer, Hojatolislam Akbar Hamidi, 48, a distinguished cleric who's known Moussavi for more than twenty years. "I listened to Obama's speech, and it made me very happy," he told me. "But we're afraid that some Iranian authorities do not understand the positive message of Obama." In interviews at polling places on election day, dozens of voters praised Obama's opening to Iran. At a Tehran mosque where hundreds of people were lined up to vote, several dozen crowded around as I asked an older woman why she supported Moussavi. When I suggested, "Perhaps Moussavi and Obama might meet someday soon?" the crowd, translating for one another, erupted in cheers, laughter and thumbs-up signs.

More prosaically, many plugged-in Iranians told me that nearly the entirety of Iran's business class is fed up with Ahmadinejad's bellicose rhetoric, and they want to put an end to sanctions. Saeed Laylaz, an economist and former official at the Ministry of Industry, said that as a result of sanctions critical sectors of the economy--including computers and information technology, oil and natural gas, and civil aviation--are suffering badly. "Ahmadinejad's is the first right-wing government since the revolution, and it has been a catastrophe," he said. "You cannot run the government with populism. You need experts. You need technocrats. You need planners." (Laylaz was arrested days after the election; he's still in detention.) To get a sense of what the business community thinks, during election week I attended a forum packed with executives at the offices of Etelaat, a liberal newspaper, where eight former ministers of oil, industry and mining slammed the government over its incompetence. Later, at Moussavi's campaign office, one of them, Mohammad Reza Nematzadeh, who was minister of industry under Khatami, told me that he'd put his business on hold to travel across the country working for Moussavi. "I'm a businessman, and I've been reluctant to get into politics," he told me over several cups of tea. "It's the desire of most of us in the business community to rebuild relations with the United States," he said. "It doesn't mean that we have to give up our independence or our dignity."

Besides reformists, students, women and businessmen, Khamenei and Ahmadinejad are losing their core constituency: the clergy. And given that Iran is a state run by the priestly class, that might prove their undoing. I spoke to a dozen or so clerics, from low- to mid-ranking mullahs to a few who'd attained the rank of hojatolislam, just below ayatollah. There are hundreds of thousands of mullahs in Iran, perhaps a hundred or more who have attained the rank of ayatollah, and just two dozen or so who have developed sufficient reputation and following to be called grand ayatollah. And more and more of them, including many grand ayatollahs, have joined the opposition. "After the television debates with Ahmadinejad, a large number of mullahs who'd been undecided went over to Moussavi," one hojatolislam told me. They were offended, he said, by Ahmadinejad's insulting attitude toward Moussavi--particularly his rhetorical assault on his wife, Rahnavard, whom he accused of falsifying her academic credentials--and his accusations against Rafsanjani and Khatami. "A president should be polite," the cleric told me. "Impolite behavior and ugliness cannot be accepted."

1:21 PM ET -- Friday prayers. Some images from today.

Iran's head of the Guardian Council Ahmad Janati delivers his speech at the weekly Friday prayers sermon in Tehran University on June 3, 2009. The powerful Iranian cleric said that some local British embassy staff will be put on trial for allegedly stoking post-election unrest, a move set to plunge already strained ties to a new low.




1:11 PM ET -- New video. Via reader Jenny, this video was uploaded today, but the date of the events is unclear. Given the smaller crowd sizes, it seems very likely to have been filmed at least a few days after the massive demonstration on Saturday.

What's curious is that this video was apparently aired by Iran's state media (notice the PressTV logo). Also, throughout much of the footage, one can hear what sounds to be a photo camera clicking -- perhaps someone capturing images of the people in the streets.

(Warning: some intense images, including a militiaman trying to run over a demonstrator with his motorcycle.)


1:08 PM ET -- Report: U.S. to block Iran sanctions at G8. "The United States is opposed to enacting a new set of financial sanctions against Iran that are due to be discussed in the G8 summit next week, diplomatic officials in New York reported Friday. According to officials, sanctions against Iran are expected to top the G8's agenda. Sources are also predicting a pointed debate between the heads of the industrialized nations over an appropriate response to Iranian authorities' suppression of reformist demonstrations in Iran led by Mir Hossein Mousavi and other Iranian opposition leaders. "

12:49 PM ET -- Iran views: Quiet but not normal. The BBC publishes three first-person accounts from Iranians. One describes being beaten at the hands of Basij paramilitaries and the climate of fear around Internet use. Another offers this observation:

Most of the shouting from the rooftops at night has been coming from the rich and middle class areas of Tehran. There's much less, if any, from the poor areas.

On Monday I was in Niavaran Park, a very expensive area. I heard people shouting 'Allahu Akbar' as you wouldn't believe!

Afterwards I wondered if it's because the rich have satellites and can watch foreign TV, so they are influenced by that. But the poor don't have satellites and just watch the normal government TV.

12:47 PM ET -- Dalton on Iran. The tireless Steve Clemons posts an interview he conducted with Sir Richard Dalton, the UK ambassador to Iran from 2002-06.

Clemons writes, "Despite Dalton's clear concerns about the unprecedented eruption we have seen recently in Iran, he believes that engagement with Iran's regime should be a top priority."


12:42 PM ET -- New UN watchdog: no hard evidence Iran seeking nukes. Some provocative comments from the new IAEA chief: "The incoming head of the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog said Friday he did not see any hard evidence that Iran was trying to gain the ability to develop nuclear weapons. 'I don't see any evidence in IAEA official documents about this,' Yukiya Amano told Reuters in his first direct comment on Iran's nuclear program since his election, when asked whether he believed Iran was seeking a nuclear weapons capability."

12:11 PM ET -- EU summons all Iranian ambassadors in coordinated protest. Tensions are definitely rising.

The EU decided today to summon all Iranian ambassadors in capitals across Europe in a co-ordinated protest over the detention of UK embassy staff. The move came after a senior cleric said some of the staff accused of inciting protests following last month's disputed presidential election would be put on trial.

The head of Iran's guardian council, Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, said the detained staff members had "made confessions" in connection with the unrest.

The surprise move by the council, Iran's top legislative body, will cause relations between London and Tehran to deteriorate further after tit-for-tat diplomatic expulsions last week.

10:01 AM ET -- Iran cleric says British embassy staff to stand trial. The New York Times reports:

Brushing aside British and European efforts to seek the release of local British Embassy staff members held in Tehran, the Iranian authorities indicated Friday that they plannedto put some of them on trial -- a move that deepened a diplomatic crisis and could provoke the withdrawal of ambassadors.

In London, the Foreign Office said it was urgently checking reports that the Iranian authorities planned to put two of its local employees on trial. Nine staff members were seized after the unrest sparked by Iran's disputed presidential elections on June 12.

Hours after the Iranian threat, the European Union seemed to hold back from an out-and-out showdown, resolving to summon Iranian ambassadors in all 27 countries to send "a strong message of protest against the detention of British Embassy local staff and to demand their immediate release," a European diplomat said, speaking in return for anonymity.

Other measures -- such as a ban on issuing visas to Iranian travelers and a pullout of European ambassadors -- would be considered depending on how the crisis unfolded, the diplomat said.

9:35 AM ET -- "In possible signal to Iran, Israel sends sub through Suez canal." The Jerusalem Post, which tends towards sensationalism, offers this report:

After a long hiatus, the Israeli Navy has returned to sailing through the Suez Canal, recently sending one of its advanced Dolphin-class submarines through the waterway to participate in naval maneuvers off the Eilat coast in the Red Sea.

IDF sources said the decision to allow navy vessels to sail through the canal was made recently and was a definite "change of policy" within the service. In 2005, then OC Navy Adm. David Ben-Bashat decided to stop sending Israeli ships through the canal due to growing threats in the area.

In the run-up to Iran's election, there was ample reporting that the Netanyahu-led government in Israel saw an Ahmadinejad victory as the optimal scenario -- he was a better bogeyman to use to rally international support. Since the Green uprising, the commentary from Israeli analysts has been far more divided (many now see Mousavi as a far better option), and there have been demonstrations by ordinary Israelis in support of Iran's reformists.

Yet the rhetoric from Netanyahu and Avigdor Lieberman continues to seemingly be aimed at injecting Israel into the debate in Iran (both Israeli leaders have, for instance, openly endorsed Mousavi). These are displays of support that only serve to strengthen Ahmadinejad's hand domestically.

UPDATE: Here's Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren discussing Iran with The Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg yesterday at the Aspen Ideas Festival (Iran section starts at 3:00):


9:31 AM ET -- Blogger who claimed Ahmadinejad had Jewish roots reportedly arrested. "The Iranian blogger who claimed President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has Jewish roots is being detained by the authorities after he was arrested along with 150 university students earlier this week, according to sources in Teheran. Dr. Mehdi Khazali, who reportedly participated in several recent opposition demonstrations, was reportedly summoned to a special court convened for religious figures, detained and transferred to an unknown location."

3:51 AM ET -- Jordan shuts down Press TV? Sara writes, "According to BBC Persian, Al-Alam has written to the network news offices in Amman ordering the state offices of the English-language Iranian television network of Press TV to be shut down." More Press TV discussion below.

3:43 AM ET -- Ahmadinejad 'facing diplomatic isolation.' The Los Angeles Times' term -- "diplomatic isolation" -- may be too strong for what we've seen thus far. A dozen or so countries have recognized Ahmadinejad'd victory, and even the U.S. provided visas to Iranian officials who visited the UN in New York last week. But as the Times notes today, Ahmadinejad's diplomatic treatment has certainly undergone a significant change since his tainted "victory" in last month's election:

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev publicly greeted Ahmadinejad at a recent meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, but did not grant him a private meeting as he had the leaders of Pakistan and Afghanistan. In Belarus, the Iranian leader was met not by President Alexander Lukashenko, but by the speaker of the upper house of parliament.

A similar pattern has emerged in the Middle East, where Arab regimes have long been wary of Iran's ambitions. Authorities in Jordan withdrew licenses for two Iranian news organizations this week and the sultan of Oman reportedly canceled a trip to Tehran following the unrest after Iran's June 12 election.

Snubs and slights in the diplomatic world are common, sometimes almost imperceptible. But as long as Ahmadinejad remains in power, with the support of Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, there are concerns about how the messy fallout over his reelection will influence diplomacy regarding Iran's nuclear program, regional stature and relations with the U.S. and Europe.

3:40 AM ET -- "Your breath smells of Allah-o Akbar." A great cartoon via Tehran Bureau, which reports on Iranians' daily battles to keep their satellite dishes.

Basij militiaman to driver: "Your breath smells of Allah o Akbar." The chant of Allah o Akbar, which helped bring down the Shah 30 years ago, is now being chanted every night in protest of the current government.


3:32 AM ET -- Don't negotiate. There has been a notable swing in the pendulum among centrist and progressive Iran analysts -- Trita Parsi (in the call mentioned below), NYT columnist Roger Cohen, and Fareed Zakaria all now advocate a relative freeze in negotiations with Iran. Zakaria explained his position in a new interview with CNN:

CNN: Is this from a position of weakness, because the West has so few options?

Zakaria: Not really, because while it might seem like the West has few options, in reality, Iran has fewer. Its economy is doing badly, the regime is facing its greatest challenge since its founding, and its proxies in Lebanon, Iraq and elsewhere are all faring worse than it had expected. Let the supreme leader and President Ahmadinejad figure out what they should do first. Time might not be on their side.

3:30 AM ET -- Digg. I try to post these Digg solicitations fairly regularly, and readers have been so supportive. Having Iran news featured on social networks really helps remind people that the uprising continues and still needs their attention. If you'd like to support this post, click here. Thanks.

3:28 AM ET -- Trita Parsi on the Iranian opposition: Nothing is over. Spencer Ackerman reviews a press call that keen Iran analyst Trita Parsi held today:

Parsi further explained, in response to Matt Duss of the Center for American Progress, that the critical constituency would be conservative clerics who feel threatened by Ahmadinejad's consolidation of power. In an irony from the perspective of the American debate about Iran -- which conflates reformism with secularism -- the clerics see Ahmadinejad "as a dangerous element, quite correctly, who tries to undermine the clergy as a whole." That might compel some of them to resist Ahmadinejad, or to place pressure on Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei to find some compromise with the opposition.

But if a compromise can't be found, then the opposition enters a new phase, having to face a choice between accepting Ahmadinejad and moving to a more radical position. "There are people loyal to the system, who don't want to bring the system down but at the same time believe the system is quite imperfect [and wish to] ensure the system changes through peaceful means," Parsi said. If they fail, "then we face a significantly more radical movement in Iran, with more bloodshed than we've seen."

3:17 AM ET -- Some bad news, and some great news. First the bad: Freegate, an organization formed to help Chinese get around web censors, has cut Iran's access by 75 percent due to the high costs.

The much better news: the excellent Tor Project is still seeing major growth in Iran connections -- but as they explain, the project is always in need of donations.

Meanwhile, there are multiple efforts around the world right now to establish serious funding to help ordinary Iranians break through the government's Internet wall. I'll post details here as soon as they're available.

3:14 AM ET -- Swedish PM speaks on Iran. As readers know, Sweden assumed the presidency of the EU on Wednesday. Video via reader Heather:


3:02 AM ET -- Press TV rep claims network is "impartial." Via reader Heather, the BBC aired a debate on Wednesday between a senior staffer of Iran's state-backed network Press TV and British journalist Martin Bright. At the onset, the BBC noted that Britain's communication department is reviewing Press TV's broadcasting license.

To be honest, the debate is a bit unsatisfying, since neither the BBC host nor Bright seemed to do much research before the segment. But the fact that this propaganda outlet is increasingly coming under scrutiny is certainly good news.


2:45 AM ET -- Charges sought for Mousavi carry 10 year prison sentence. "Iran's embattled opposition leader, Mirhossein Mousavi, faces a new threat after the Basiji militia accused him of 'offences against the state' and 'disturbing the nation's security', charges which carry a sentence of 10 years' imprisonment."

2:40 AM ET -- Imprisoning an innocent, severely disabled man. Tehran Broadcast publishes an emotional plea for the release of Saeed Hajarian, "a prominent reformist theorist, [who] survived an attempted assassination in March 2000, at the peak of the conflicts between conservatives and reformists in Iran, and has subsequently become severely disabled."

An excerpt from the piece, directed at Hajarian's interrogators:

What did you tell Saeed? How did you ask him to talk? Saeed?

He can't talk. I have seen Saeed. When he wants to talk he has to concentrate all his afflicted and sick body to utter a word. Don't tell him to talk; he can't talk. When he was able to talk, he wasn't talking either. Outside the prison, when he met his friends, he was barely talking. Now what do you expect from him? Him who hardly can speak and even forcing himself is still not able to utter a word.

You have been putting your one hand on his afflicted shoulder and have been pressuring his weak body and have been telling him, "Tell me you were trying to do 'Green Revolution,' Tell me..." Meanwhile, you have been making a fist with the other hand to punch his face. Move away your hand. HE CANNOT TALK!

I had visited Saeed Hajarian when he was at "City Council". With numerous surgeries they had kept him alive and he was still not able to have control over his face and his hands. With great effort, he said," Seyed, I read your piece and I laughed. It's been a while since I've laughed." I was glad I was able to give a smile to his afflicted heart, but I was upset that this smile might have made him suffer more pain in his body. A body which suffered for freedom and was injured for knowing.


2:28 AM ET -- Programming note. I'll be on C-SPAN's Washington Journal this morning at 8AM ET.

2:25 AM ET -- Doctor who tried to save Neda responds to Iran propaganda. A reader helpfully sent along this link to the blog of Arash Hejazi, the doctor who attempted to save Neda's life, subsequently fled to London, and now is being attacked in state media by Iranian officials. The reader provided a nearly full translation of the blog post:

After my interview on June 25th, 2009, regarding my personal account of the brutal killing of Neda Agha Soltan, I read the news of my arrest warrant by the government of Iran.

As I mentioned in the interview, I was expecting such as action from a government, which is founded on lies and deceit. I was expecting them to deny my statements. This government, instead of bringing justice to the murders of this innocent girl and others and accepting their responsibilities, tries to blame individuals and organizations, which have done nothing wrong.

They have put pressure on my friends and family who have done nothing. They have harassed my father who is 70 years and a university professor.

I did what every human would have done in my situation. I tried to save a victim. When the government tried to cover up the details, I testified what I witnessed.

I have lived my life so that I would have no regret. I was one of the first physicians who went to Bam after the earthquake so that I could be near the victims who had no hope. However this time, this victim was not the victim of a natural disaster.

I am a writer and from my essays and stories, you will realize that I have always been a human rights advocate and I have paid the price.

I have always tired to live honestly and do not betray my principles.

I believe what I did regarding Neda was the right things. I believe that if I have to pay the price, so be it, but I reserve the right to defend my honor.

God is my witness that I told the truth.

This lie questions the entire principles of this government. A government which questions the events of WWII, claims that there is freedom of speech in Iran, claims that there is no censorship, states that there are no political prisoners and that each individual enjoys full rights including regarding their sex, religion and race.

In the past 20 days, the world has come to realize that these are false claims. I know that the world will not believe these new lies and know that this physician has do nothing except following his principles and coming to the help of people who need help and stating the truth.

Neda was not the only victim. Are all the other victims the result of Western conspiracy?

I am only a witness. Why are they pursuing the witness and not the killers? Is there enough bloodshed? Should I have been silent regarding this horrible crime? Is this the message that we want to send to the future generations?

I believe that all the citizens of the world will support me and thousands of other Iranians who have been beaten, murdered and imprisoned, in order to achieve freedom and join the rest of the free people.

I am proud of myself for being a part of this movement. I have done something that every honest human being would have done. This is my crime and this is why they are threatening me.

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Useful Resources

Translations: TehranBroadcast.com | Translate4Iran
Helping Iranians use the web: Tor Project (English & Farsi)IranHelp.org (Farsi)
Demonstrations: Facebook | WhyWeProtest
Activism: Avaaz.org | National Iranian American Council