Paris, 8 Feb. (IPS) Growingly unpopular at home and pressed and isolated internationally, the government of the fanatical Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadi Nezhad is increasing pressures and crackdown on Iranian political dissidents.
In the past weeks several Iranian scholars, journalists, human rights and female activists have been either prevented to go abroad attending international seminaries, conferences, study courses etc … or have been detained on their return.
As the result of his antagonizing policy, Iran is about to face disaster.
“The more Ahmadi Nezhad is facing troubles at home and pressures abroad, the more he makes life difficult for the all those who do not support blindly his policy of confrontation”, one prominent scholar told Iran Press Service on condition of anonymity.
“As the result of his antagonizing policy, Iran is going to face for the first time an international sanction imposed by the United Nations, Arab countries and Israel are getting closer against us, Palestinians and Lebanese are angry at our meddling in their affairs, billions of capital are leaving for Persian Gulf emirates and hundreds of our best brains are moving out of the country. We are facing disaster”, he added.
On 4 February, agents from the Islamic Revolution Court prevented Professor Hashem Aqajari and student’s leader Abdollah Mo’meni from boarding on a plane to attend an international conference at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology on political reform in Iran.
“As I was leaving Iran to take part in a speech at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), they prevented me from boarding the plane", the semi-independent Iranian Students News Agency ISNA quoted Mr. Aqajari as having said.
"My lecture at this university was to defend the thesis that says religion does not contradict democracy. Banning me from leaving the country under such conditions is not transparent and justifiable", he lamented.
Aqajari, an Islamic thinker and reformist, rose to international prominence on 2002 after he was sentenced to death for blasphemy for having stated in a speech in the northwestern city of Hamadan that Shi’a Muslims were not "monkeys to blindly follow religious leaders”.
However the verdict was commuted to five years in jail in 2004 and he was finally cleared of the charges in March 2005.
Both Aqajari and Mo’meni had their passports processed and stamped with an exit permit in Tehran’s new Imam Khomeini airport when, while they about to board the plane, plainclothes officials prevented them from getting into the plane and confiscated their passports and notified them that the Passport Services division of the Presidential Executive Office, under the order of the Revolutionary Court, has imposed a travel ban on them.
Mo’meni is the spokesman of a reformist student organisation, Organisation of the Educated of Islamic Iran, a branch of the the Office for Consolidating of Unity, Iran’s largest students organisation.
He was handed a five year suspended jail term in late 2005 over his role in organising rallies related to protests calling for the release of Aqjari.
"Even though we had gone through all the pre-flight procedures, they did not allow us to leave the country," Mo’meni said.
"They seized our passports and told us to refer to the presidential office department in charge of passports within the next 72 hours."
On 27 January, authorities detained women’s rights activists and journalist Mansoureh Shoja’i, Sadigheh Tal’at Taghinia and Farnaz Seifi at the airport as they were preparing to board a plane to attend a journalism workshop in India.
The security forces subsequently searched the women’s homes, confiscating their personal belongings, including cell phones, computers, books, and notes, and transferred them to section 209 of Tehran’s Evin prison, which is run by Iran’s security services.
Shirin Ebadi, the women’s lawyer and the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize winner, told Human Rights Watch that there was no prior arrest warrant against the women. On January 28, after interrogating the three women, the authorities charged them with “acting against national security” and released them on bail.
One hundred people who were directly working for the US and Israeli intelligence ... were identified and are now in our intelligence net.
On 13 January, security forces at the airport prevented Taghi Rahmani, a writer and civil society activist, from traveling by plane to Denmark, where the PEN Association of Denmark had invited him to deliver a series of lectures.
“All of my official papers were processed in the airport, and the passport authorities stamped my passport with an exit stamp”, Rahmani told Human Rights Watch. “As I was waiting to board the airplane, however, a group of plainclothes security agents approached me and told me that I was banned from leaving the country.”
“They confiscated my passport and told me to follow up with the Passport Services division of the Presidential Executive Office”, Rahmani added. “After I went there, they notified me that the Revolutionary Court’s Deputy for Security, supervised by Tehran’s Prosecutor General, Sa’id Mortazavi, had issued the order to ban me from travel. I have not been able to recover my passport so far”.
A protégé of Iran’s leader Ayatollah Ali Khameneh’i, Mr. Mortazavi is better known as “The Butcher of the press” for having, on orders from his master, shut down more than 120 publications, including newspapers and weeklies, most of the reformists or independents.
On 26 November 2006, the security forces in Tehran detained Ali Farahbakhsh, a journalist and economist, one week after he had returned from a conference for journalists held in India. Before detaining him, the security services took him in for interrogation each day and pressured him to make confessions that he had endangered national security. After he refused, the authorities detained him. His family told Human Rights Watch that he is being held in section 209 of Evin prison. He was held in solitary confinement for 44 days.
The authorities also confiscated the passport of another women’s rights activist, Sussan Tahmasebi, upon her return from a trip abroad in November.
Over the past year, the government has barred several other prominent human rights defenders, writers and journalists, including Issa Saharkhiz, Emadeddin Baqi, Fatemeh Govara’i and Ahmad Qabel, this one a reformist cleric, from traveling outside Iran.
“The Iranian government is effectively putting the country’s civil society leaders under national house arrest,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “After silencing activists inside Iran, the government is preventing them from expressing their views outside the country as well”.
On Wednesday 7 February, Hojjatoleslam Qolamhoseyn Mohseni Ezheh’i, the Information (Intelligence and Security) Minister told basiji volunteers in the city of Qom that a hundred of Iranians working for the American and Israeli spying agencies have been “caught in Iranian security net”.
"One hundred people who were directly working for the US and Israeli intelligence ... who were intending to collect political and military information, were identified and are now in our intelligence net", Mr. Mohseni Ezheh’i was quoted by the semi-official Pars News Agency as having revealed.
"We were able to identify and arrest all those who wanted to take part in espionage course abroad under the guise of taking part in educational courses", the minister added, referring to the international conferences and forums and professional courses organized in other countries and to where Iranians have also been invited.
He also warned the already tightly censored Iranian press to be “vigilant as not becoming loudspeakers of the enemies”.
On 4 February, an official with the Tehran Judiciary, Saberi Zafarqandi, told reporters that “accused persons” can be banned from traveling abroad under article 133 of the Procedures for Criminal Courts. Article 133 provides that, “taking into account the weight of the evidence underlying the charges brought against the accused, a court can ... issue an order to ban the accused of traveling abroad.”
However, none of the activists and journalists subject to the travel bans had been charged with a criminal offense, and therefore none of them can be considered as an “accused person” under article 133. In addition, none of those subject to these travel bans had received any notice from any court of a travel ban against them, as is required by article 133.
“The Iranian government should immediately lift foreign travel bans used to prevent human rights activists and journalists from attending international forums”, the New York-based Human Rights Watch urged. ENDS DISSIDENTS CRACKDOWN 8207