Reaching Millions of Television Viewers in Iran Each Week
Washington, D.C. – November 12, 2007 . . . Major stories this week included the US releasing nine Iranian detainees in Iraq; visits to Washington by French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan; German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s visit with President Bush in Crawford, Texas; Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf’s announcement that elections will take place in January as scheduled despite a state of emergency; Iran’s Supreme Court upholding a death sentence against Kurdish journalist Adnan Hassanpour; increased pressure on religious minorities in Iran; Interpol issuing arrest warrants against five former officials in Iran in connection to the 1994 bombing of a Jewish Center in Argentina; an interview with SAIS Professor Walter Anderson on the deteriorating situation in Pakistan; an interview with Ambassador John Limbert on the anniversary of the American Embassy takeover in Tehran in 1979; Iranian human rights activists calling for creation of a truth commission to investigate abuses under the Islamic regime; the arrest of Ali Niko Nesbati, a student activist who regularly appears on PNN programming to comment on Iran’s student movement; and the imprisonment of women’s rights activist Delaram Ali.
The US military released nine detained Iranians in Baghdad on November 9. Two of those released were among five men detained in an American raid in the northern Iraqi city of Irbil last January. The US had said they were members of Iran’s elite Quds Force, an arm of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps recently designated by Washington as a terrorist organization. Tehran said the five men were diplomatic staff at its Irbil consulate. Some of the others who were released had been detained since 2004. State Department spokesman David Foley told News and Views November 9 there has been a diminution of violence in Iraq, but that it is too early to judge whether this is due to Iran’s behavior and a determination by Tehran to cease and desist in sending explosive devices to Shiite militias. Mr. Foley speculated that the Iraqi government may have promised Iran that if it plays a more constructive role, coalition forces may reciprocate by releasing Iranian detainees, and he confirmed that others who are in custody might be released if it is determined they do not pose any security threat to Iraq. Analyst Bahman Aghaii Diba told News and Views November 10 that the release of the nine Iranians could lead to talks between Washington and Tehran.
News and Views reported that President Bush and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who met in Crawford, Texas, over the weekend, emphasized that diplomatic efforts with Iran have not yet been exhausted. “What the Iranian regime must understand,” Mr. Bush said, “is that we will continue to work together to solve this problem diplomatically, which means [Iran] will continue to be isolated.” Chancellor Merkel said all members of the Security Council must be engaged on the issue and that if talks with Tehran “do not yield any results, further steps will have to be made.” She said further sanctions should be considered if the International Atomic Energy Agency reports that Iran’s compliance remains unsatisfactory. The US has been pushing for a new round of sanctions against Iran, which continues to defy UN resolutions calling for its suspension of uranium enrichment. Russia and China – two of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council – are blocking the UN from moving toward a third set of harsher sanctions against Iran. Political analyst Mehrdad Khansari told News and Views that France and Germany will have to increase pressure on Iran – irregardless of their economic ties – if Tehran doesn’t satisfactorily answer the IAEA’s questions.
News and Views reported November 6 and 7 on President Sarkozy’s first official visit to Washington. “I never quite understood why we had to fight with the United States,” he told reporters. “I must say, I never quite got it.” Mr. Sarkozy’s predecessor, Jacques Chirac, was a strong critic of the US decision to go to war in Iraq, but President Sarkozy has established himself as more pro-American, and used this visit to try to heal the wounds. The US Congress welcomed Mr. Sarkozy, even passing a formal resolution of welcome. Lawmakers believe he has toughened France’s language on Iran’s nuclear ambitions and are happy he is pushing for tighter sanctions. “I think we need to be firm,” Mr. Sarkozy said. “I don’t think that sanctions are useless. People, some people, do believe this. Those who say that sanctions are useless have nothing to offer. There is no other solution [but] sanctions – UN sanctions, European sanctions – in order for the Iranian leadership to understand that the Iranian people deserve better than what they’re getting.” PNN interviewed Alain Greche, editor in chief for the Middle East, Le Monde Diplomatique, on President Sarkozy’s trip. “The French president’s trip to the United States does not mean there is a significant change in France’s policies. French policy since 2001 has been to cooperate with the US, especially on intelligence matters. Even in 2003, at the height of the crisis between the two countries over Iraq, there was extensive cooperation. They are both aware of the importance of this alliance.”
News and Views reported the two leaders also discussed the situation in Pakistan. Mr. Bush maintained his support for President Pervez Musharraf, saying the general “has declared that he will take off his uniform and he has declared there will be elections.” President Musharraf said November 11 that parliamentary elections should be held before January 9th, but that a state of emergency would remain in place to guarantee the elections were free and transparent. In a joint news conference with French President Nicolas Sarkozy earlier in the week, President Bush said he’d telephoned President Musharraf: “My message was that we believe strongly in elections and that you ought to have elections soon. You need to take off your uniform. You can’t be president and head of the military at the same time.” President Sarkozy agreed, saying elections need to take place as quickly as possible in Pakistan.
Roundtable with You interrupted its program in progress on November 9 to report that it had just been made public that Iran’s Supreme Court upheld the death sentence for 27-year-old Kurdish-Iranian journalist Adnan Hassanpour for spying. His lawyer, Saleh Nikbakht, said the ruling upholds the original conviction in July for his “taking up arms against the government, having unauthorized contacts with foreigners and helping several Iranian dissidents illegal escape abroad.” The court quashed the conviction of another journalist convicted in the same case, Abdolvahed Botimar, on the grounds of procedural irregularity. In addition to writing for Asou, a local magazine, until it was banned in 2005, Mr. Hassanpour also worked for foreign news media, including Persian News Network and Radio Farda. Leila Hassanpour, Adnan’s sister, told PNN that the “death sentence is unfair and inhuman.” “We appeal to the international community to take every possible action to get this journalist released,” Reporters without Borders said. “This sentence should be taken very seriously as Iran has already executed more than 300 people since the start of the year.” Mr. Hassanpour was arrested outside his home on January 25 and was taken to Mahabad, where he was not allowed to receive visits from his family or his lawyer. For the past several months, Mr. Hassanpour has been held in Sanandaj prison, where his lawyer was not even allowed to meet with him in private in order to inform him of the Supreme Court’s decision.
Student leader Ali Niko Nesbati, an activist at Amir Kabir University, joined Roundtable with You via phone from Tehran November 6 to report on continued suppression of student activists in Iran. PNN – and our Roundtable viewers – learned three days later from student activist Hanif Yazdani that security forces stormed the home of Mr. Nesbati one day after his Roundtable appearance. Mr. Yazdani said security forces searched Mr. Nesbati’s family’s apartment and took his computer and other personal belongings. He said he believed Mr. Nesbati – who has appeared regularly on PNN to discuss Iran’s student movement – was taken to Tehran’s notorious Evin prison.
News and Views reported on increasing pressure on religious minorities, with members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps attacking a Sunni religious school in the southeast and a Sufi temple in the southwest. Mahmoud Barahouyinejad, a journalist in Sistan and Baluchistan province, told PNN that the gunmen released all of the students, but kept control of the school. “People believe that the Revolutionary Guard Corps, or Sepah, is behind this attack,” he said, “to put pressure on Sistan and Baluchistan’s Sunni minority.” Iran’s Fars News Agency reported the Revolutionary Guard Corps destroyed a Sufi temple in Borujerd, on the other side of the country. Hundreds of Sufis were reportedly detained. Behrooz Sarshar, a member of the Gonabad Dervishes from northeastern Iran, told News and Views that a lot of young Iranians want to convert from Shia Islam to Sufism, and that this is the reason behind the suppression.
News and Views interviewed Walter Andersen, Acting Director of the South Asia Studies program at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies, who said the Pakistani military has continued its support of President Musharraf and should continue to do so unless the security situation deteriorates further. “The world – and the United States in particular – has tolerated General Musharraf and his anti-democratic ways because he has been perceived as a stalwart ally in the global war on terror.” Mr. Andersen said, “President Musharraf insists he called the week-old state of emergency to help fight Islamic extremists who control swathes of territory near the Afghan border. But the main targets of his subsequent crackdown in this nation of 160 million people have been his most outspoken critics, and I think he has made this war against terrorism and Islamic extremists more difficult to conduct.”
Roundtable with You looked at the impact of world affairs the past two weeks on Iran with political analyst Alireza Nourizadeh. Mr. Nourizadeh said if President Pervez Musharraf fails to calm the situation in Pakistan and restore order, the whole region faces unpredictable consequences. Mr. Nourizadeh said Pakistan is fertile ground for religious factionalism and continued tensions between Shia and Wahabi Muslims. He predicted the UN Security Council would pass a third round of sanctions against Iran based on Russia’s Foreign Minister’s recent trip to Iran and the latest round of political activities among the permanent members of the Security Council and Germany.
Sisters Roya and Laman Boroumand, co-founders of the Abdorrahman Boroumand Foundation for the promotion of human rights and democracy in Iran, appeared on Roundtable with You November 7 and called for the creation of a Truth Commission to look into the disappearance of thousands of Iranians under the Islamic regime. Roya Boroumand said that thousands of young people were tried and executed 20 years ago, during a short period in the summer of 1987. She said the names of many of the victims were never released, but that computer research and imaging is helping families still trying to find their missing loved ones. “Our goal is to end bloodshed in Iran,” Roya Boroumand said. “No more revenge and no more violence.” The Foundation is named after the sisters’ father, Abdorrahman Boroumand, an Iranian lawyer and pro-democracy activist, who was allegedly assassinated by agents of the Islamic republic in Paris in 1991.
Late Edition interviewed Fereshteh Molavi, an Iranian writer who immigrated to Canada 10 years ago. While still living in Iran, she published a novel, The House of Cloud and Wind, and a collection of short stories, The Sun Fairy. PEN Canada published her Listen to the Reed in 2005, based on her dialogue with Karen Connelly, the award-winning Canadian writer. Her latest collection of short stories in Persian, The Wandering Nightingale, was released in Tehran in 2006. Ms. Molavi is currently living in New Haven, where she is working with Yale University to develop a Persian collection for the Sterling Memorial Library. Berlin-based journalist Elahe Boghrat said women journalists in Russia face similar challenges, citing the murder of journalist Anna Politkovskaya, a Russian journalist and human rights activist shot dead on President Vladimir Putin’s birthday last year. Her friends and supporters believe her dogged and gloomy reporting under what she called Mr. Putin’s “bloody leadership” led to her being killed. Ms. Boghrat said women journalists’ activities are limited in Iran, adding that the Iranian regime kills and threatens journalists without respect for freedom of speech.
PNN interviewed Ian Vasquez, director of the Cato Institute’s Center for Global Liberty and Property about the World Bank’s suspension of payment to Iran on four projects. “The World Bank should be more careful to whom the loans are granted,” Mr. Vasquez said. He said he agreed with members of Congress who are trying to pressure the World Bank to stop its ongoing projects with Iran. He said the suspension, while small, shows the importance and reach of sanctions against Iran. “It will be more difficult,” Mr. Sanchez said, “for Iran to do business with foreign countries.”
Today’s Woman focused November 7 on Iran’s latest crackdown on women activists. Shirin Ebadi, the first Iranian and the first Muslim woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize, is the defense attorney for Delaram Ali, the human rights activist who was arrested at a women’s rally on June 12, 2006 and sentenced to 2 years and six months imprisonment. Ms. Ebadi said her client was instructed to present herself to prison authorities November 10, “unless Ayatollah Shahrudi, the head of Iran’s judiciary branch of government, orders a stay of the execution of the order, something that has already been requested from him.” Earlier, Delaram Ali herself told Today’s Woman she believes the charges against her are unfair. Her husband, Payam Roshanfekr, told PNN all his wife has done is call for greater legal rights for Iranian women. Another prominent activist, Khadijeh Moghadam, said the verdict issued for Delaram Ali applies to all Iranian women. Today's Woman spoke with author Monireh Baradaran November 9 on her memoirs of being a political prisoner in Iran. She and other activists called for the release of Delaram Ali.
Today’s Woman interviewed Kabul-based BBC journalist Neda Farhat, who said the number of women journalists is increasing despite the Afghan government’s inability to provide adequate security, particularly in remote areas, and despite the challenges posed by working in a traditional society. Ms. Farhat said is also troubling that the deaths of three female journalists have not been properly investigated and that no official findings have yet been released.
Behzad Ranjbaran, a member of Julliard’s music faculty, was the featured guest on Roundtable with You November 8, speaking about national historical identity through music. The Tehran native, who teaches literature and materials of music, is the recipient of ASCAP’s Rudolf Nissim Award for his violin concerto. His Persian Trilogy was recorded by the London Symphony, and others of his work have been performed by Yo-Yo Ma, Joshua Bell and Renée Fleming. Mr. Ranjbaran said one of his best known works, The Blood of Seyavash. is based on the Shahnameh, the national epic of Iran, written by the renowned Persian poet Ferdowsi at the end of the 10th century. It tells the mythical and historical past of Iran from creation until the Islamic conquest of Iran in the seventh century. With his music playing in the background, Mr. Ranjbaran told PNN viewers about the composition’s seven passages and their central hero, Rostam.
PNN interviewed novelist Abbas Maroufi, author of The Symphony of the Dead, about copyright laws. Now living in Germany, Mr. Maroufi, who also is a publisher, said the Iranian government refuses to abide by World Trade Organization copyright laws despite having a legal code protecting the proprietary and intellectual rights of work produced inside Iran. He said the government endorses the free distribution of pirated software in large quantities and rejects demands to comply with WTO laws. Mr. Maroufi said the main reason for flouting the WTO is the government’s own financial profit.
Mehrdad Mashayekhi, a visiting professor of sociology at Georgetown University, talked about nationalism in Iran on Roundtable with You November 9. He described Iranian society as a land of contrast between modernity and old religious tradition. President Ahmadinejad, who represents the past, wants to use advanced western technology to become a world power, Mr. Mashayehki said, but at the same time, he practices stoning as a means of punishment. He said the Iranian regime has tried to destroy ancient historical cities and has forbidden the celebration of cultural festivals, while a new generation of Iranians outside Iran is trying to keep these same traditions alive. Mr. Mashayehki said this is how Iranians are keeping their national identity alive. He compared the nationalism introduced by President Ahmadinejad as that practiced by Hitler or Italian fascism. His speeches and slogans, Mr. Mashayehki said, have contributed to worldwide reaction against Iran. Mohammad Izadi, spokesman for the Defense of Kurdish Journalists, joined Roundtable with You from Iranian Kurdistan and announced that Adnan Hassanpour, a Kurdish journalist, has been condemned to death. He appealed for help in overturning the sentence.
Roundtable with You focused on Interpol’s decision to uphold arrest warrants against five Iranian suspects in a deadly 1994 bombing against a Jewish organization in Argentina. The November 7 decision was made with a two-thirds majority at the world police body’s annual general assembly in the Moroccan city of Marrakech. Iman Ansair, a political lecturer in southern France, told Roundtable the warrants are for former intelligence minister Ali Fallahian, former Revolutionary Guards commander Mohsen Rezaei as well as three diplomats. Meir Javadanfar, head of Israel’s Middle East Economic and Political Analysis Company, told Roundtable Israel welcomed the decision. He said Iran – which condemned the decision – has always blamed Israel and its friends in the United States for the Argentine prosecutors’ allegations that it masterminded the bombing and entrusted its execution to its Lebanese ally, the Shiite militant group, Hezbollah. Mr. Ansari said he wasn’t particularly optimistic the five would actually be arrested as Interpol cannot force countries to cooperate with its warrants. News and Views reported that Tehran strongly lobbied Interpol to stop putting the Iranians on its most wanted list, claiming a US and Israeli plot to turn the police agency into a political tool.
News and Views reported that the House of Representatives approved a resolution November 5 expressing concern about threats to the United States by deepening economic and security ties between Iran and like-minded regimes in the Western hemisphere, including Venezuela. The resolution, introduced by Rep. Ron Klein (D-FL), cites evidence that Hezbollah, a designated terrorist group backed by Iran, raises millions from counterfeit products made in the tri-border region of Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina and foments anti-American and anti-Semitic sentiments at Iran’s behest. The resolution urges creation of joint counterterrorism operations and intraregional information-sharing to counter Iran’s growing involvement in the region.
Roundtable with You interviewed Ambassador John Limbert, a former diplomat who was held hostage at the American Embassy in Tehran for 444 days in 1979. Mr. Limbert said after nearly three decades, “The Iranian people are still paying a heavy price for that irresponsible act. Only radical Islamist elements were the winner in the hostage taking. The Iranian people lost a great opportunity to march forward as a great society, and instead of economic prosperity, Iran has moved toward international isolation.” Mr. Limbert, who is now retried from the State Department, now teaches at the US Naval Academy. He is the author of Shiraz in the Age of Hafez: The Glory of a Medieval Persian City.
NewsTalk this week looked at French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s embrace of the US; the state of emergency in Pakistan (President Musharraf is doing what’s best for himself in defiance of the US and Europe); how Germany’s commercial ties with Iran might impact its imposition of sanctions; Defense Secretary Robert Gates’s visit to China (he says Beijing is helping to put pressure on Iran to halt its nuclear program); German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s visit with President Bush (and their agreement that another round of sanctions should be imposed on Iran because of its defiance of UN resolutions); the ongoing crackdown in Iran against student activists;
In Istanbul November 1-4 for the Iraq Neighbors Conference, News and Views co-anchor Setareh Derakhshesh was warmly greeted by Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki. As they passed each other in a conference hall, Mr. Mottaki stopped with his 20-person entourage and with a big smile and bit of surprise on his face said, “Hello to you. It is so nice to see you. What are you doing here?” Reporters with state-run Iranian media had this to say, “Ms. Derakshesh, I admire your performance on the air. Everybody loves you.” (a representative from IRNA) and “I am so happy to meet you. I can’t believe it’s you. We love you and the streets are empty when your show goes on the air.” (a senior reporter from IRTV). During a one hour lay-over in Frankfurt enroute to Istanbul, four couples and three individuals – all Iranian – stopped Ms. Derakhshesh, saying they watched the show, loved PNN and even watched the repeats. In Istanbul, on the street, Ms. Derakhshesh was frequently stopped by visiting Iranians. One family from Tabriz, on vacation in Turkey, said, “We are so proud of you. You represent what Iranians can do and how successful they can become internationally.” Another group came up to her and took pictures, even taking a sleeping three-month-old out of a carriage to take a picture. “We are counting on you to be our voice,” they told her.
PNN interviewed German-based Navid and Omid (www.navid-omid.com), Iranian brothers whose music is a mix between R&B and hip hop with an infusion of Persian melodies and instruments. In the four days after they were interviewed by PNN November 3, the duo said they received 5,000 e-mails and postings on their website. “VOA is the most popular Persian network in the world,” they told us.
Today’s Woman continues to generate significant numbers of e-mail from viewers. A sampling:
Please help me support and participate in the One Million Signature Campaign. I am an active Christian priest and a Christian musician in Iran. I love your programs and I am proud of you because you are helping the Iranian people to view the world with a new perspective. From my point of view, you are God’s voice, a way of enlightening the Iranian people. Please do not identify my name in your program.
I am an Iranian woman, and I watched your program on polygamy. It was very interesting.
Thank you for a great show. For a long time, the presence of this show as missing in VOA’s programs. This step taken by VOA is significant for the future of democracy in Iran. I am a family psychologist in Iran, and I am aware of the various topics that you cover in your shows. Working as family therapists in Iran, we face contradictions. On the one hand, you have to teach women to stand up for themselves and work on their self- confidence. On the other hand, the regime wants us to advocate traditional values. I am against this.
Today’s Woman focused on depression in women on November 8, talking with Los Angeles-based psychologist Homa Mahmoodi. Dr. Mahmoodi said losing hope and thinking negatively can develop into depression as can wintertime and the sudden loss of a loved one. She said depression in children is different than it is with adults, and can reveal itself in their anger, in their being quiet or in a lack of communication with others. She said men and women exhibit different symptoms with depression, and that thinking positively can help as can depression medication. On November 6, the program focused on cancer, including an interview with NIH oncologist and researcher Nima Sharifi, who shared information on early detection, the relationship between hormonal changes and cancer, nutrition’s impact on cancer treatment and the importance of getting second opinions.
Our question of the week was, “Do you agree with the separation of the sexes in schools, hospitals and other public places?”
This week’s “On the Record” – Persian News Network’s once-a-week program featuring executive editor Kambiz Mahmoudi as ombudsman – answered a number of viewer e-mails. One viewer asked how PNN avoids extreme political opinions, particularly by its own staff members. Mr. Mahmoudi said it is natural and normal for people living in a free society to have their own ideas and opinions, and that PNN staffers certainly have their own beliefs – but are prohibited by VOA’s charter and from a journalistic code of ethics from influencing programming with their personal views. He said PNN is not intended to be a vehicle for the expression of personal opinion. Another viewer asked why PNN didn’t pay more attention to its web site, saying it had a number of shortcomings, including an old-fashioned format. “You are right,” Mr. Mahmoudi said. “We are working on it, but have budgetary restrictions. The good news is that we should be having some improvements in the near future.” A third viewer criticized PNN’s news coverage of domestic events in Iran. “VOA does not have correspondents in Iran because the US and the Islamic regime do not have diplomatic relations. We only put news on the air that can be verified by two reliable sources. That limits what we can do.”
This week’s History Channel segments included a two-part profile of author Ernest Hemingway, the man often quoted as the most important writer of the English language since Shakespeare; a profile of explorer Christopher Columbus, whose discoveries changed the world but who received little credit in his own lifetime; a profile of tennis legend Andre Agassi, whose aggressive play on the court was matched with equal compassion and charitable spirit off the court; and a feature on deep sea exploration, from hollow-reed snorkels to mini-submarines equipped with video cameras.
The Persian News Network’s television programming complements our simulcast 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 has the largest combined radio and television audience of all international broadcasters in Iran, with one in four adult Iranians tuning into a VOA show at least once a week. Programs are also streamed on our website, www.voapnn.com.
PNN’s 7-hour program block opens with Today in Washington, a brief look at the latest news developments in Washington, as well as the content of PNN’s upcoming programs. Then we present cultural programming translated into Farsi from A&E Television Network’s The History Channel. We intersperse 30-minutes of news breaks throughout our original programming, which includes the following shows: Today’s Woman, PNN’s newest program, had its debut September 27, 2007. The one-hour program features influential women from around the world discussing a full spectrum of topics, including social, medical, human rights, legal, sports and business. News and Views, PNN’s existing flagship, is now 2 hours in length, and features live news coverage of the latest headlines from Washington, Iran and across the globe. Roundtable with You is a talk show with expert guests, featuring discussion of current events, politics, popular culture and global health. Viewers and listeners from Iran and around the world participate in the show via phone calls and e-mails.
Late Edition begins with a wrap up of the day’s news and a close look at the day’s top story. Targeted to a younger demographic, the show also features segments on health, technology, sports, entertainment and culture. NewsTalk is a new journalists’ roundtable discussion program that features a news update followed by an examination of the day’s top stories and an in-depth look at issues relating to Iran.