Reaching Millions of Television Viewers in Iran Each Week
Washington, DC – January 2, 2007 . . . Major stories this week included the execution in Iraq of Saddam Hussein, increased violence in Iraq, the death of President Gerald R. Ford, reaction in Iran to UN sanctions and ongoing human rights abuses in Iran.
VOA Persian broadcast coverage of the execution of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein on December 30 in Baghdad, provided reaction to the execution and reported on Saddam’s burial in his native village near Tikrit, this as the 3000th American was reported killed amid increasing violence in Iraq.
President Bush said in a statement issued from his ranch in Texas that Saddam received “the kind of justice he denied the victims of his brutal regime.” He said bringing Saddam Hussein to justice “is an important milestone on Iraq’s course to becoming a democracy that can govern, sustain and defend itself, and be an ally in the war on terror.” President Bush said that the execution marks the “end of a difficult year for the Iraqi people and for our troops” and cautioned that Saddam’s death will not halt the violence in Iraq. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said he hoped the execution of Saddam Hussein would bring stability to Iraq, though he said the hanging prevented the exposure of atrocities the former strongman committed during his rule. State-run television in Iran called the former Iraqi leader an “enforcer of the most horrendous crimes against humanity.” Former Iranian President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani welcomed the execution, saying it was a clear example of God’s historical justice.
Israel and Kuwait hailed the news while Libya announced three days of official mourning. Palestinian officials denounced the execution. Some Arab governments condemned the timing of the hanging, which came just before the Muslim Eid al-Adha, or Feast of Sacrifice. The European Union reiterated its opposition to capital punishment, but opinion polls showed many Europeans believe Saddam deserved to be executed.
Death of 38th US President
VOA Persian reported on the death of President Ford December 26 at the age of 93 and his body lying in state at the US Capitol in advance of funeral services in Washington and burial in Michigan. Remembrances of Mr. Ford’s service to the country in the wake of Vietnam and Watergate were broadcast.
Iran / Sanctions Reaction
The United States warned Iran December 27 against heading into a “downward spiral” of non-cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency. Earlier in the day, Iran’s parliament passed a bill authorizing the government to revise its compliance with the U.N. nuclear agency. State Department spokesman Gonzalo Gallegos said further reductions in Iran’s cooperation with the agency would likely lead to more I.A.E.A. reports of additional Iranian non-compliance. The bill, approved by Iran’s conservative-controlled parliament, also tells the government to “accelerate” Iran’s nuclear activities.
Former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani told western countries December 31 that their strategy of pressuring Iran to roll back its nuclear program by imposing sanctions will backfire. Mr. Rafsanjani, who heads the influential Expediency Council, also said that Iran was willing to work with international organizations to resolve the standoff over its nuclear program. “The problems will not be limited to Iran. Many [countries] will suffer from the smoke from this fire,” Mr. Rafsanjani told a crowd of thousands at Tehran University who gathered on the first day of the Eid al-Adha holiday. The U.N. Security Council voted unanimously on December 23 to impose sanctions on Iran for refusing to halt uranium enrichment.
From Los Angeles, former minister of state planning (1973-1977) Abdolmadjid Madjidi said the motto of Iran’s clerical rulers “has always been self-preservation” – not the well-being of the people. A well-known technocrat prior to the Islamic Revolution of 1979, Mr. Madjidi said the sanctions will further fuel the already stagnant Iranian economy. “The flight of capital from Iran is an indication that no one feels Ahmadinejad’s Iran is a safe place to invest.”
Freelance journalist Homa Sarshar said Iran’s parliament reacted to U.N. Resolution 1737 in much the same way the government did, saying sanctions were undiplomatic and unreasonable. She said that those in Iran who are concerned about the future are worried about their government’s reaction, adding that the Ahmadinejad government wants to take advantage of the resolution to develop the crisis for political gain. She predicted foreign investment in Iran will decline and that domestic investors may take their capital out of the country.
Energy consultant and academic Sohrab Sobhani said no one argues the merits of nuclear energy, and that he hopes Iran can enjoy the benefits of nuclear power. But he points out that the Islamic regime has mismanaged Iran’s oil industry, and that Iran needs to build more new refineries, maintain existing refineries and sign transparent contracts with international oil companies in order to extend oil revenues.
From Tehran, journalist Masoud Bastani told VOA Persian that the U.N. sanctions worry Iranian citizens and investors. He said former President Mohammad Khatami’s team handled the issue of nuclear energy and nuclear weapons much more ably than President Ahmadinejad, and that Mr. Ahmadinejad’s policy is isolating Iran at too high a cost.
Freedom of the Press
Journalist and blogger Roozbeh Mirebrahimi appeared on Roundtable with You to discuss Iran’s crackdown on the press. Mr. Mirebrahimi left Iran in mid-November to participate in a seminar at Princeton University on democracy and human rights in Ahmadinejad’s Iran. He has not been able to return home, and is being tried, in absentia, on what he describes as “bogus charges.” He contends that as soon as a newspaper or Web log – known as a blog – is thought to be effective in enlightening the public about issues such as democracy, it is shut down or the Web site is filtered. Mr. Mirebrahimi said he believes that eight years of Mohammad Khatami’s presidency, and the subsequent government of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, proves that Iran’s system of government is not open to any kind of reform. Mr. Mirebrahimi is represented by lawyer Shirin Ebadi, who won the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts for democracy and human rights. Ms. Ebadi also appeared on Roundtable via telephone from Tehran. Human Rights Watch says the Iranian judiciary is trying to prosecute government critics using vague, overbroad laws whose very names restrict free expression. Sarah Leah Whitson, director of the Middle East division at Human Rights Watch, says “Iran should be prosecuting the officials accused of torture, not the bloggers accused of holding opinions.”
In its year-end report, Reporters Without Borders said it is monitoring 30 cases of bloggers arrested in 2006, which is many more than in the past. The organization said the worst countries for monitoring and controlling the Internet include China, Syria, Iran and Cuba.
A Look Back and a Look Ahead
From London, political analyst Alireza Nourizadeh said Iran will likely become the center of tensions in 2007 if the current regime does not change its policies. He said Iran has lost allies in the Middle East because of Iraq, adding that Iran has supplanted Israel as “the enemy” for many Arab countries. Paris-based Iranian journalist Safa Haeri said Iran is the source of most, if not all, problems in the Middle East. He said the Tehran regime will not agree to any talks with the United States because negotiations with Washington would mean an end to Iran’s Islamic government. DC-based research Ali Afshari said Iran is the main source of crisis in the Middle East. He said President Ahmadinejad’s policies have intensified violence and unrest in the Middle East. He characterized the government’s modus operandi as creating crises outside Iran to increase the power of Iran’s Supreme Leader and the interests of a tiny elite. Mr. Afshari said it was a bad year for Iran: Iran’s relationship with the European Union and Arab world soured. The Tehran regime lost its credibility in Lebanon. The U.N. Security Council imposed defeat on President Ahmadinejad with sanctions. Last month’s Holocaust conference foisted more hate on the government, internally and externally. Ahmadinejad foes enjoyed more successes than expected in last month’s elections. All in all, Mr. Afshari concluded, 2006 was a bad year for Iran, and 2007 doesn’t hold much promise.
The editor of Iran Nameh magazine, Hormoz Hekmat, said Iran’s image has seriously deteriorated since the 1979 revolution, beginning with the taking of hostages at the American Embassy, to a series of other events: the 1983 bombing of Marine barracks in Beirut; the 1996 bombing of the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia; the chronic violation of human rights in Iran; the unprecedented murder of Iranian opposition activists outside Iran; and the execution of political prisoners, some in prison, some after their release. Mr. Hekmat said Iranian exiles, on the other hand, are helping to create a better image of Iran and her citizens by showing the stark distinction between the Islamic regime and the Iranian people.
Political activist Khalid Azizi, a member of the Paris-based Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan, told VOA Persian that the Kurdish struggle for equality and justice continues unabated. Mr. Azizi said all religious and ethnic minorities in Iran are discriminated against, but that Iranian Kurds are singled out more than most. In particular, he cited the arrest and imprisonment of hundreds of Kurdish students, journalists and human rights activists. Mr. Azizi said his party calls for the promotion of democracy and regime change through non-violent means, saying all ethnic and religious minorities must work together to achieve that end.
Lawsuit Scheduled to Reach Court
Mohammad Parvin, founder of the Los Angeles-based Mission for Establishment of Human Rights in Iran (MEHR), appeared on Roundtable to discuss the lawsuit filed by an Iranian-American torture victim against Iran’s Islamic regime. The lawsuit, sponsored by MEHR and the San Francisco-based Center for Justice and Accountability, will come before the Federal District Court in Washington, DC on January 9, 2007. Mr. Parvin summarized the case thusly: Ghollam Nikbin alleges he was tortured in Iran for converting to the Mormon faith and for allowing mixed dancing at his wedding. He quoted Mr. Nikbin as saying he was whipped with an electric cable on his bare soles, flogged with a leather whip and hung upside-down during interrogation and punishment by Iran's security forces in the mid-1990s. The torture reportedly damaged Mr. Nikbin’s kidneys and made walking difficult. Mr. Parvin said this is MEHR’s first lawsuit against the Iranian government, “but will certainly not be the last. We seek justice for the victims of the Islamic regime of Iran because we believe peace cannot be achieved without justice.”
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News Talk, an hour-long program featuring a panel of experts discussing the day's top news stories, had its debut in October. News Talk opens VOA's daily four-hour Persian-language television block every day with a brief recap of the day's top headlines. It features in-depth discussions of the issues of greatest concern to Iranians and closes with a segment on worldwide media coverage of Iran. News Talk is followed by News and Views, Roundtable with You, and Late Edition, all one-hour shows that constitute a four-hour daily block of Persian-language television broadcast by satellite to Iran. News and Views, which debuted in 2003, features correspondent reports, interviews, and the top news stories from Washington and around the world. Roundtable with You, which debuted on television in 1996, takes calls from viewers and features a wide variety of guests discussing issues ranging from popular culture to politics. Late Edition, a youth-oriented program which first aired in July, looks at major world events and issues of interest to young people.
VOA's Persian television shows complement VOA Persian's daily radio broadcasts and Radio Farda, a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week, youth-oriented radio program that is a joint project of VOA and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. VOA's Persian language Internet site is at www.VOANews.com/persian.