Monday, June 29, 2009

Europe vows ‘strong and collective' response to arrests of nine staffers in Iran

From The Globe and Mail, Monday, 29 June 2009:
Iran's battle with Britain escalates
The diplomatic battle raging between Iran and Britain has escalated after the European Union's promise to launch a “strong and collective” response to Iranian arrests of British embassy staff members over the weekend.

Nine locals employed by the British embassy in Tehran were arrested, with Iran alleging they played some role in encouraging the postelection unrest that has bloodied the streets of Iran's capital city for more than two weeks.

The arrests, which are part of a broader campaign by the country's hard-line leadership to blame the unrest on foreign meddling, were called “harassment and intimidation” by David Miliband, Britain's foreign secretary. They come on the heels of a tit-for-tat set of diplomatic expulsions last week: Iran expelled two British diplomats – the embassy's second and third secretaries – and Britain responded in kind, ejecting two Iranians and pulling families of British embassy staff out of Iran.

“We have protested in strong terms, directly to the Iranian authorities, about the arrests,” said Mr. Miliband, who deemed the detentions “quite unacceptable.”

“The idea that the British embassy is somehow behind the demonstrations and protests that have been taking place in Tehran … is wholly without foundation,” he said.

Both Britain and the U.S. have been the subject of accusations by Tehran of interference related to the June 12 presidential vote, which official results showed was won by hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. His main challenger, moderate former prime minister Mir Hossein Mousavi, says the vote was rigged and that the election should be annulled.

The debate unleashed the biggest street protests since the 1979 Islamic Revolution: At least 25 have died and more than 2,000 have been arrested. Several journalists and prominent news organizations have been muzzled or expelled.

Mr. Mousavi's unwillingness to give up his campaign – and the resulting outpouring of supporters who have endured brutal violence and death while resisting police attempts to crush street-level uprisings – has plunged the country into instability and divided its political and clerical elite.

The Guardian Council, Iran's top legislative body, is due to give its final verdict on the election and could rule as early as Monday. On Sunday, Iranian Intelligence Minister Gholam Hossein Mohseni-Ejehi pre-empted the council by announcing “no organized” vote-rigging took place. He went on to accuse some British embassy staff of mingling with protest crowds to encourage unrest.

The British embassy, which sits in a compound behind three-metre-high walls in central Tehran, has at least 70 local employees, including a highly regarded political adviser whose job is to keep colleagues abreast of the Islamic republic's internal politics. Unlike British nationals, none of the local staffers are protected by diplomatic immunity. Harassment by Iranian security forces is common, but arrests are not.

The employees who were arrested have not been named. While some were released over the weekend, others remain in detention.

At a meeting in Corfu, Greece, the European Union nations, which maintain a rotating presence in Iran, condemned the arrests and demanded that all detainees be freed.

“Harassment and intimidation would meet a strong and collective EU response,” the union's foreign ministers said.

While the diplomatic wrangling continued, in Tehran, thousands of protesters took to the street for the first time in four days to demonstrate more support for Mr. Moussavi.

Witnesses said riot police used tear gas and clubs to break up a crowd of up to 3,000 protesters who had gathered near north Tehran's Ghoba Mosque. Some described scenes of brutality, telling The Associated Press that some protesters suffered broken bones and alleging that police beat an elderly woman, prompting a screaming match with young demonstrators who then fought back.

The reports could not be independently verified because of tight restrictions imposed on journalists in Iran.

The leadership seems to recognize that ending the street demonstrations is far easier than turning the clock back to the days before the election, when there was still some degree of trust in a system that sought to marry religious authority with popularly elected institutions, political analysts said.

“I think no one can predict Iran's political future,” said an Iranian intellectual who asked not to be identified for fear of reprisal. “I do believe some things have changed after this recent upheaval and that events will play out in months and years to come.”

The supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has ruled out any compromise with the opposition, said Sunday that the only solution to the crisis was to follow legal procedures. And he urged political leaders not to be what he called tools of foreign influence, returning to a theme of foreign intervention that historically has resonated across Iran but that so far has failed to silence the opposition.

“If the nation and political elite are united in heart and mind, the incitement of international traitors and oppressive politicians will be ineffective,” he said.

With reports from Globe and Mail wire services
Click into the report to view comments.

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Saturday, June 27, 2009

Leading demonstrators must be executed, Ayatollah Khatami demands

A hardline cleric close to the Iranian regime demanded the execution of leading demonstrators yesterday as the opposition ended the week in disarray.

In a televised sermon at Friday prayers in Tehran, Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami called on the judiciary to “punish leading rioters firmly and without showing any mercy to teach everyone a lesson”. He said that those leaders were backed by the United States and Israel. They should be treated as mohareb — people who wage war against God — and deserved execution.

In a clear warning to all other dissenters, he declared: “Anybody who fights against the Islamic system or the leader of Islamic society, fight him until complete destruction.”

The Ayatollah claimed that Neda Soltan, the woman shot during a demonstration last Saturday, had been killed by fellow protesters because “government forces do not shoot at a lady standing in a side street”. [...]

The most outspoken criticism of the regime is now coming from outside Iran. On Thursday President Obama called the regime’s suppression of dissent “outrageous”. He admitted that his hopes of opening a dialogue with Iran had been damaged but rejected Mr Ahmadinejad’s demand that he apologise for criticising the crackdown.

Speaking after talks with Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, he said that their two countries spoke with “one voice” in condemning the regime’s behaviour.

The foreign ministers of the G8 powers, meeting in Italy, issued a statement deploring the crackdown and urging Iran to resolve the crisis over the disputed election through democratic dialogue. “We deplore post-electoral violence which led to the loss of lives of Iranian civilians and urge Iran to respect fundamental human rights, including freedom of expression,” the G8 ministers said in a joint statement.

Full story: The Times by Martin Fletcher, Saturday, 27 June 2009:
Leading demonstrators must be executed, Ayatollah Khatami demands

Note, one of 101 comments at the article says:
Do not be fooled by the uneasy calm. There is something in the offing in Iran. They have a saying 'there is fire underneath the ashes'. Ayatollah Khatami (not to be confused with the former president of the same name) might find himself being strung upside down, sooner than he thinks.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Computer mouse cartoon (Iran Cyberwar News Update 4)

Peter Brookes cartoon

Cartoon by Peter Brookes - Times Online UK, 18 June 2009.
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Update on 19 June 2009: From Channel 4 News' Snowmail by Jon Snow, UK, Thursday evening, 18 June 2009 - excerpt:

Iran is incredibly finely balanced tonight. Despite being asked by the opposition leader, Mr Mousavi, not to come onto the streets for a planned demonstration, there are huge numbers of people out tonight supporting him.

There is also an Ahmadinejad rally elsewhere in town. This as the guardian council say they will do some kind of limited recount in contested areas (clearly leaving the door open to the possibility that they might simply put Mousavi into power – after all, many of the mullahs are well disposed to him).

Mr Ahmadinejad himself has, perhaps predictably, left Iran altogether for a conference in Russia. For him either it is business as usual or in some way he’s been advised to remove himself from the scene for a bit.

For our people on the ground it is exceptionally difficult. All foreign media who do not have bureaux in Tehran have been ordered out by tomorrow. And mobile phone networks upon which we heavily depend, are down.

We hope Lindsey Hilsum will be able to file tonight. Alex Thomson is also covering events. And I shall be doing a take on the remarkable cyber-war that is going on inside Iran.

Iran in turmoil:

Briton caught up in Iran internet wars:
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From BBC News:

Iran's powerful Guardian Council says it is ready to recount disputed presidential election votes in some areas, after huge protest marches.

For more details:
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From BBC News - 19 June 2009:

Iran's top leader Ayatollah Khamenei says the results of the country's contested elections were not rigged, and warns about more protests.

For more details:
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Update : Excerpt from Channel 4 News' Snowmail by Jon Snow 19 June 2009 c. 6pm GMT -

Iran's Supreme Leader has put the frighteners on. In a gripping speech at Friday prayers in front of Iran's top brass he said the protests must end, people must accept the result. It was impossible to fix 11m ballots he claimed, and threw his all behind President Ahmadinejad.

Any further protest, he added, would amount to an attack on Iran.

So will that be enough to stop things? A 'friend' of Moussavi is being quoted as saying he does not want his supporters to protest tomorrow. We'll just have to wait and see what happens on the streets.

The Ayatollah also took aim at Britain and put us top of the hate list cueing chants of 'Death to Britain'. The regime is partly angered by Gordon Brown and David Miliband's comments this week (although they have been pretty muted) but is most irritated at the BBC World and BBC Persian TV channels. We'll be assessing what it all means.
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Update: Excerpt from UK Channel 4 News' Snowmail by Alex T dated Saturday, 20 June 2009 c. 19:30 GMT
Alex T here - our lead item tonight can only be the distressing news given in a bald statement from the Foreign Office by the foreign secretary, David Miliband.

The Iraqi authorities in Baghdad have informed the British there that two bodies have been found.

Their identities are not confirmed. But Mr Miliband indicated that they were likely to be the bodies of two of the five British nationals who have been held for more than two years in Baghdad.


The authorities in Tehran and beyond promised they would get tough(er) with any opposition protesters on the streets today.

Word is, they've made good on that promise. Basiji militias, riot police, ordinary police, undercover police, you-name-it police - they're all out there in force and beating up protesters.

As I write I'm getting word of shots being fired. Our team has been slung out of the country along with most other foreign reporting teams, so getting a clear picture of life on the streets of Tehran - never exactly easy - has become extremely fraught, which is just the way the regime wants it of course.

We shall endeavour to peek through the censors via the web and other means.

Iran's supreme leader appeals for calm:
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From Drima The Sudanese Thinker 17 June 2009:
Iran and Twitter on Fire

The drama continues unabated in Iran, and Twitter has now become an active battleground apparently getting infiltrated even by the Iranian security apparatus.

To get a sense of what’s happening, watch this video.

To understand how Twitter and new media are such a central part of the psychological warfare getting waged by both sides, read this and watch this video.

More on leveraging Twitter to help Iranian activists here.

Yay to cyberwar.


Monday, June 15, 2009

Channel 4 News's Lindsey Hilsum is blogging direct from Tehran, Iran

UK's Channel 4 News's International Editor Lindsey Hilsum is reporting and blogging direct from the ground in Tehran, Iran 3-4 times a day.

Click here to see her important reports and updates.

Lindsey Hilsum in Beijing