Reaching Millions of Television Viewers in Iran Each Week
Washington, D.C. – March 5, 2007 . . . Major stories this week included the announcement that the United States is willing to discuss Iraq with Iran and Syria in a multinational forum; rapid progress in a new sanctions resolution against Iran; Saudi Arabia and Iran agreeing to work together to end sectarian violence in the region; the arrest in Iran of domestic journalists; and increased human rights violations in Iran, with an exclusive interview with Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch.
VOA Persian reported on U.S. participation in next weekend’s Iraq conference in Baghdad and the White House saying that such participation does not change its policy on Iran and Syria. Spokesman Tony Snow says the U.S. will not hold direct talks at the conference with Iran or Syria, despite increasing pressure to reach out directly to both countries. The United States has accused them of helping to instigate violence in Iraq, a charge both Tehran and Damascus have denied. Washington has diplomatic relations with Syria, but severed ties with Iran in 1979.
A first meeting, scheduled for March 10, will bring together ambassadors from Iraq’s neighbors and envoys from the five permanent member countries of the U.N. Security Council. A second meeting, in early April, will be at the ministerial level and also involve the G-8 grouping of major industrialized countries, thus adding Japan, Italy, Germany and Canada.
The outgoing U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, says there have been some recent indications that Iran is interested in a dialogue with the United States with regard to Iraq. Speaking on CNN's Late Edition program, Mr. Khalilzad stressed he has not received any instructions from Washington regarding the conference. All the same, he did not close the door on the possibility of some sort of discussions with Iranian officials. He said the goal is to find ways for Iraq's neighbors to help end the bloodshed. “We have not decided at this point with regard to anything bilateral, but we will be prepared to play our role as constructively as possible,” he said. The Ambassador made clear there is one issue he would want to raise with the Iranians, should the opportunity arise. He pointed to evidence that some of the armor-piercing roadside bombs that have shown up in Iraq have markings indicating components were manufactured in Iran. “The purpose of any talks, should they take place, bilateral talks, will be very much the security of our forces,” he noted.
Parviz Raji, Iran’s ambassador to the Court of Saint James under the Shah, told VOA Persian that he sees U.S. willingness to participate in a meeting with Iran as a change in U.S. policy. Appearing on News & Views March 2, Mr. Raji said Iraq would not have invited Iran to participate in the conference without U.S. permission, and that the conference could open the door to bilateral talks.
Nukes / New Sanctions
The United States says rapid progress has been made on a new U.N. sanctions resolution aimed at curbing Iran's nuclear program. Representatives of Germany and the five permanent U.N. Security Council members – the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China – discussed the resolution in a conference call March 1. Iran ignored a U.N. Security Council deadline last week to suspend uranium enrichment or face new U.N. sanctions, on top of those imposed in December. The December sanctions resolution required weeks of tough negotiations, but State Department officials say agreement is already near on the basics of a follow-on measure that will incrementally tighten the sanctions on Tehran. At a news briefing March 2, State Department Deputy spokesman Tom Casey said senior diplomats of the six countries hope to be able to finalize agreement on the “elements” of a resolution in another telephone hook-up Saturday, enabling diplomats at the U.N. to begin work on a draft resolution early this week. “I think we want a resolution certainly as soon as possible, because I think it is important that the international community show that it is serious about continuing to apply diplomatic pressure on the Iranian regime for its failure to meet its obligations,” Mr. Casey said. “But in terms of the substance, I do think this will be a substantive resolution.” Iran insists its program is entirely peaceful but that pursuing enrichment and other aspects of the nuclear fuel cycle is its national right.
KRSI journalist Hossein Mohri told Roundtable with You from Los Angeles that President Ahmadinejad compared Iran’s nuclear program last week to a train that had no brakes. “He said Iran has nuclear technology and that this nuclear train has neither a brake nor a reverse year. He said that last year, we threw both brake reverse gear away.” Mr. Mohri said Iran under such a president is incapable of reform, and he said he would be surprised if the U.N. Security Council didn’t increase pressure on Iran in the face of such defiance.
Journalist and political analyst Alireza Nourizadeh said Iran has not only defied U.N. resolutions by maintaining its nuclear program. He says Iran has increased its nuclear activities. Appearing on News & Views, Mr. Nourizadeh said additional sanctions will hurt the Iranian people, but “people are ready to go through hardship if they know it will lead to salvation.”
Mohammad Bagher Batebi, the father of jailed student/political prisoner Ahmad Batebi, appeared via phone from Tehran on News Talk. He told VOA Persian’s audience that he was able to talk with Ahmad by telephone and that his son’s medical treatment has not yet begun. (Ahmad has reportedly been tortured numerous occasions and has suffered from strokes while imprisoned.) Mr. Batebi said the government has rejected his requests that his son be released for treatment, but said those requests have been rejected. He said his last resort will be to contact the Red Cross. “This regime has destroyed my family,” he said.
Elahe Hicks, formerly with Human Rights Watch and now with Radio Farda, told News Talk that human rights organizations have called for Ahmad Batebi’s release, that his physicians say he needs medical care, and that organizations are now calling for an investigation into the treatment of Mr. Batebi’s wife, who was kidnapped and jailed for several nights last week. She said a new advocacy group, called the Human Rights Council, was created a year ago to take up the cause of specific human rights cases, and that the group is scheduled to discuss Mr. Batebi’s situation this coming week.
Political activist Abbas Fakhravar said Iran’s Islamic regime has never supported human rights, but that of late, it has increased abuses at Iranian universities. “Everyday, we are witnessing the expulsion or suspension of students. They are being punished variously. Last week, Keyvan Ansary, who headed the Islamic association at Amirkabir University, was convicted for acting against national security and disrespect to Islamic principles. He received a sentence of three and one-half years.” Mr. Fakhravar said another revolution or regime change is the solution to these kinds of problems.
Human rights activist Hossein Bagherzadeh, appearing on Roundtable with You from London, told VOA viewers that Iran’s Islamic regime has ignored every article of the universal human rights charter by ordering arbitrary arrests, summary executions and imposing Sharia or Islamic law. He said Iran’s new constitution not only places Shi’ite clergy in a special place at the top of the governmental structure, it also demotes all others – including Sunni Muslims, Christians, Jews and Zoriastrians – to a lower class. And then there are yet others, Mr. Bagherzadeh added, who are not tolerated at all. Bahais, he said, are considered the “enemy of God on earth.” He said Bahais are not allowed to own property, obtain an education or practice their faith in Iran.
Interview: Kenneth Roth
VOA Persian interviewed Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, a post he has held since 1993. Human Rights Watch investigates, reports on, and seeks to curb human rights abuses in some 70 countries. Mr. Roth said the human rights situation in Iran has gone backward under the Ahmadinejad regime, and that the government is trying to shut down all political debate. He encouraged other governments to support opposing voices in Iran.
Interview: Mashallah Shamsolvaezin
Late Edition interviewed Mashallah Shamsolvaezin, the reformist editor of several now-banned Iranian dailies. Mr. Shamsolvaezin is a spokesman for the Iranian chapter of the Committee to Protect Journalists, an international press rights campaign group. He said if the Iranian regime has no mercy for the spouses of political prisoners – referring to the arrest of Ahmad Batebi’s wife – than how can it be trusted with neighboring countries? Mr. Shamsolvaezin said a speech he was giving in Golestan province was interrupted by Ansar Hizbullah – a paramilitary organization which carries out attacks on those whom it perceives to be violating the precepts of Islam. Mr. Shamsolvaezin said his affront was discussing Iran’s nuclear program – that even discussing the nuclear program is insulting to Islam is a warning, he said, that hardliners are trying to tie Iran’s nuclear stance with people’s religious beliefs.
Freedom of Press
Iran says it has arrested several Iranian journalists, charging that their work was aimed at fueling ethnic divisions within the country. Iran's intelligence ministry announced the arrests but has not named the journalists who were detained. A ministry statement March 3 said the journalists admitted they were receiving significant sums of U.S. dollars from abroad to publish articles aimed at partitioning Iran. The ministry did not say where the money was coming from. Iran's largest ethnic minorities include Kurds, Arabs, Azeris and Baluchis. Human rights groups have criticized Iran for suppressing the rights of its ethnic minorities.
Speaking on News Talk via phone from Karaj, writer Ali Ashraf Darvishian told VOA Persian that censorship in Iran is increasing, and that the Ahmadinejad government is gradually destroying independent publishing and writing. Mr. Darvishian said writers are isolated, and he believes the only way to fight censorship will be cooperation among independent writers. He said the Center for Iranian Writers – which has freedom of press in Iran as its platform – has been publishing statements at home and abroad regarding censorship problems in Iran, speaking with one voice on behalf of all writers.
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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.