Reaching Millions of Television Viewers in Iran Each Week
Washington, D.C. – June 11, 2007 . . . Major stories this week included a live interview by telephone with detained Radio Farda reporter Parnaz Azima in Tehran; updates on the status of Ms. Azima, Haleh Esfandiari and the three other dual Iranian-American citizens being held in Iran, including a Congressional resolution; coverage of the G-8 Summit in Germany; coverage of the Conference on Democracy and Security in Prague, including an interview with participant Crown Prince Reza Pahlavi; ongoing problems with Iran’s domestic economy; and a meeting between Switzerland’s foreign minister Iran’s top nuclear negotiator.
News & Views interviewed Parnaz Azima, one of several Americans detained in Iran, live by telephone from Tehran on its June 7 program. A reporter for Radio Farda in Prague, Ms. Azima said her lawyers and Iranian officials have warned that her case could take years to resolve. She appealed to the State Department to keep pressuring Tehran over her fate and that of the four other Iranian-Americans being imprisoned or detained, saying Iran might pretend it doesn’t care about Western reaction, but in fact gives it significant merit. Ms. Azima said she does not know what will be happening for herself next, saying she has basically been living under house arrest since her passport was confiscated in January. “It’s like living in prison, but a larger one,” she said. Ms. Azima believes authorities are monitoring her home and activities, and are tapping her telephone. She has been charged with endangering Iran’s national security by promoting anti-revolutionary propaganda and receiving illicit funds from the US government. Unlike the other Iranian-American detainees, who are incarcerated at Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison, Ms. Azima is out on bail.
News & Views reported on State Department spokesman Sean McCormack releasing a statement June 7 saying the United States is “dismayed by the Iranian government’s decision to harass, and in some cases, imprison, a number of American citizens on groundless charges. These academics, scholars and journalists, many of them in Iran to visit relatives, pose no threat to the Iranian government. Indeed,” the statement continued, “many of them have served for years as bridges between our two cultures, working to enhance understanding between our countries. We urge the Iranian authorities to release immediately the Americans in their custody, as well as return the passports of others being kept in Iran against their will. We additionally call on Tehran to cooperate in the case of American citizen Robert Levinson, who has been missing in Iran since March 8. The US Government is committed to making every effort to reunite these citizens with their families.”
Speaking on News & Views June 9, London-based political analyst Alireza Nourizadeh said the detention of five Iranian-Americans in Tehran should be taken as a warning by all people holding such dual citizenships. He said the detentions show US citizenship doesn’t necessarily confer protections and that Iranian-Americans stop traveling to Iran because of threats to their safety, it could harm Iran and its economy.
In addition to think tanks, universities and members of Congress, 36 former students of Haleh Esfandiari, director of the Woodrow Wilson Center’s Middle East Program, have written a letter on her behalf to the Supreme Leader of Iran. The letter, presented last week to the Iranian ambassador to the United Nations was written by students who had previously taken classes in Persian Language and Literature at Princeton University with Ms. Esfandiari. One student, Erin Marie Logan, told VOA Persian that the letter was sent to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei because, “We thought he might understand our concern and help secure her release. The only thing Ms. Esfandiari wanted is to improve relations between the United States and Iran. I cannot imagine her as a spy. It is such a ridiculous charge. She is a woman of learning who wanted to build bridges.” Another student of Ms. Esfandiari’s, economist Mustafa Saiyid, told VOA that “she did not have any political agenda in mind. She was teaching Farsi to us. She was a proud Iranian woman. She emphasized building a bridge of understanding to people of the Middle East based on customs, traditions and culture. She is not a spy. I hope she stays strong in her old spirit. We are all committed to obtaining her release.”
News & Views reported June 6 that the House of Representatives approved a resolution calling on Iran to release the dual Iranian-American citizens it is holding, saying Iranian intelligence officials have yet to produce any evidence of wrongdoing on the part of Haleh Esfandiari or the other three dual citizens being detained: Kian Tajbakhsh, Parnaz Azima and Ali Shakeri. The resolution said Iran cannot justify actions against the four and calls for their immediate and unconditional release. Representative Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), author of the resolution, said the detentions are a gross perversion of the rule of law. He said, “the Iranian government’s claim that it seeks dialogue and improved relations with the West is belied by the actions the have taken with respect to these individuals.”
News & Views interviewed Frank Finver, Chief of the Arab and Regional Media Division of the State Department’s Near Eastern Affairs Bureau, on the detentions on June 7. He said the United States is working with all its allies to tell Iran that detention of the five Iranians (the four mentioned above plus one additional dual citizen whose name has not been released) is not logical. He said such acts only isolate Iran in the world of public opinion.
News & Views covered the G-8 Summit in Germany, including the leaders’ news conference in which they expressed concern over Iran’s nuclear program, expressing their desire that Iran abide by UN resolutions requiring a suspension of Tehran’s uranium enrichment program. The leaders also were open to talks with Iran. What they are not open to, VOA reported, is Iran’s continued intransigence on enrichment. The G-8 leaders said Iran needs to exercise a better approach in the Middle East and that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s remarks are unacceptable. Russian President Vladimir Putin called the Summit a success, and insisted there is no threat from Iran. The Russian leader and President Bush were at odds over placement of a missile defense system in Europe, but President Putin suggested facilities in Azerbaijan might provide whatever countermeasures are needed.
London-based political analyst Alireza Nourizadeh said G-8 leaders were united in their strong opposition to Iran’s nuclear program, adding that they all want Iran to stop nuclear enrichment, and would support further UN sanctions to encourage such behavior.
VOA Persian filed a feature from Heiligendamm on the recommendations presented by nine young people to world leaders at the G8 Summit. The young people – eight from the G8 countries and one from Tanzania – spent 45 minutes talking to the leaders, and discussing the four challenges they believe face their generation: economic prospects for Africa, HIV/AIDS, climate change and the global economy. The young people were part of the J8, a joint project of UNICEF and Morgan Stanley.
News & Views reported live from Prague June 5 and 6 on the Conference on Democracy and Security, with coverage of President Bush’s speech as well as interviews with several participants, including Crown Prince Reza Pahlavi, who said the Iranian people have the power to effect change in Iran, and that others not only should but will support such a people’s army. “The best way to change the situation in Iran,” the Crown Prince said, “is to support the people of Iran. The Iranian people should rely on themselves, and know that the world will support them.” News & Views also interviewed Iranian dissident student leader Amir Abbas Fakhravar, who said those attending the conference certainly had the clout to help pressure the Iranian regime into giving more rights to the Iranian people: “I am sure this conference will pressure totalitarian regimes like Iran,” he said. President Bush said freedom is the best weapon against terrorism. He said Iran’s nuclear program is depriving the Iranian people of their rightful place among the thriving.
News & Views reported June 7 that Switzerland has confirmed reports from Tehran that Swiss Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey has met Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani. Mr. Larijani says Switzerland has expressed interest in being involved in nuclear negotiations. He said the Swiss Plan – which he describes as simultaneously suspending UN resolutions and Iran’s uranium enrichment – are not acceptable in their current form, but that they could be amended. Swiss officials would not comment beyond confirming that the meeting took place.
Roundtable with You focused on Iran’s economy June 8 with guest Siamack Shojai, Dean of the School of Business at New Jersey’s Georgian Court University. Mr. Shojai said authorities paid little attention to the economy or planning in the eighties, and that it wasn’t until the administration of President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, from 1989-1997, that the government tried a more conciliatory approach toward the West. Mr. Shojai said if Iran’s economy continues on its current path, the country will run head on into destruction soon. Iran’s oil industry will not be able to meet domestic demand, he said, let alone be exported for revenue. Mr. Shojai said UN sanctions and a lack of foreign investments are having a direct negative impact on oil production.
NewsTalk June 5 highlighted the week-old strike at the Haft Tappeh sugar factory in Iran. More than 5,000 workers at the factory, located in the southern province of Khuzistan, have been on strike. The workers say they have not received any wages since March and claim that the importation of sugar has caused a stockpile of their own product. The deputy editor of Kayhan newspaper in London, Nasser Mohammadi, told NewsTalk that members of a mafia connected to the regime have tried to monopolize the market, making it impossible for the Haft Tappeh factory to compete. He said the regime confiscated sugar factories from private owners after the revolution, and now that they cannot run them, they also cannot sell them, creating a catch-22 with no obvious resolution. Mr. Mohammadi said Iran’s economy is in the hands of the regime’s mafia.
News & Views reports that student unrest continues in Iran, this time with the detention of two student leaders from Amir Kabir University. In an interview with VOA Persian, student activist Hassan Zareh Zadeh Ardeshir said two leaders – Abbas Hakim Zadeh from Tehran and Ali Saberi from Mashed – were arrested and transferred to Evin prison. Speaking from Toronto, Mr. Ardeshir said it is still not clear why the two were arrested, but said there are reports that one of the two was seen at Evin’s hospital and that he had apparently been beaten.
Roundtable with You focused June 5 on the Movement of 15 Khordad, which took place on June 5, 1963 in protest against the arrest of Ayatollah Khomeini. Two days earlier, the ayatollah had made a historical speech against the dependence of the Shah’s regime on foreign powers. He was immediately arrested, but his imprisonment inspired major public demonstrations of support that eventually led to the Islamic revolution of Iran 15 years later. Historian Mehra Maleki recounted that it was in January 1963 that the Shah introduced a six-point reform program known as the White Revolution. The program called for land reform, the nationalization of forests, the privatization of state-owned enterprises, electoral changes to enfranchise women, profit sharing in industry and an anti-illiteracy campaign in schools across the country. Ms. Maleki said the reforms were seen as removing many of the traditional powers of Iran’s clerics, with the extension of the right to vote for women creating the biggest furor. She said Ayatollah Khomeini described the measure as anti-Islamic.
Bijan Moridani, author of “The Persian Wedding,” told Late Edition that his journey to the United States and his writing of the book started in 1941 when he was born in a small town on the shore of the Caspian Sea in northern Iran. He studied medicine at Pahlavi University Medical School in Shiraz and did his residency at a Yale University-affiliated hospital in Connecticut. He eventually moved to northern California after the Islamic Revolution of 1979 where he practices as a board certified obstetrician-gynecologist. “The Persian Wedding” celebrates marriage. The bilingual English-Persian text uses ten paintings by internationally renowned artist Nasser Ovissi as well as numerous photographs of the ceremonial wedding setting with all of its details and symbolism.
Shabnam Rezaei, founder and editor-in-chief of www.persianmirror.com, was born in Tehran, grew up in Vienna, and now lives in New York. She told Late Edition that Persian Mirror’s mission is to educate the world about the Iranian community through art, culture, entertaining articles and personal stories. She said the purpose of the online magazine is to promote “the beauty of Iranian culture by exposing the audience to the rich traditions in Persian celebrations, literature, cinema, art, poetry, music and cooking. The website, she added, is non-political and non-religious, making it a common platform for the more than three million Iranian professionals living outside of Iran.
History Channel programming included a three-part series on the Gestapo, Hitler’s secret police force, and how its role changed from one of ‘protecting’ the state from dissent to enabling the Third Reich to promote its expansionist policies, including that of seeking out enemies with increasing self-confidence. Program Two of the series, called “The Sword Unsheathed,” showed how the Jew was the ultimate enemy, and the effort spent on tracking Jews down and deporting them to the death camps, a task Hitler placed firmly in the hands of the Gestapo. Program Three of the series, called “The Sword is Broken,” showed how it was clear by 1944 to all but the most fanatical of Hitler’s followers that the war was lost. Many Gestapo officers who saw the writing on the wall were able to slip back into normal society after the end of the war, with only a very few brought to justice for their crimes. A segment from Ten Days that Unexpectedly Changed America focused on Shay’s Rebellion: The First American Civil War back in 1787. The week’s fifth program focused on George Washington – the man who was a warrior solider before becoming the Father of His Country.
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History Channel programming opens VOA’s daily five-hour Persian-television block with news headlines followed by various History Channel programs, translated and narrated in Farsi, that illustrate the cultural fabric and political landscape of the United States. News and Views, which debuted in 2003, is an hour-long program featuring correspondent reports, interviews and the top news stories from Washington and around the world. News and Views is followed by Roundtable with You, Late Edition and NewsTalk, all one-hour shows that together constitute a five-hour daily block of Persian-language television broadcast by satellite to Iran. 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 2006, looks at major world events and issues of interest to young people. NewsTalk, which went on the air in October 2006, opens with a brief recap of the day’s top headlines followed by a panel of experts discussing the day's top news stories. NewsTalk features in-depth discussions of the issues of greatest concern to Iranians and closes with a segment on worldwide media coverage of Iran.
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.