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Persian tv weekly highlights 12/31

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Washington, D.C. – December 31, 2007 . . . Major stories this week included the assassination in Pakistan of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto on December 27; reaction to and analysis of the killing and its implications for Pakistan’s future; a review of events impacting Iran in 2007; interviews with human rights activist Parviz Dastmalchi and Dr. Ramin Ahmadi, who is on the Medical School faculty at Yale University as well as a member of the board of the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center; interview with lawyer Khalil Bahramian on the likelihood of his client, physician Hesam Firouzi, going to prison for his support of human rights; the family of Akbar Mohammadi challenging a court order into the suspicious death of the former student leader while imprisoned; 42 student organizations calling for authorities at Shahroud University to stop suspending student activists and to reopen the students’ Islamic Association; continuing tensions between Iraqi Kurds and Turkey and an interview with minister Lewis Johnson on Christmas.

Immediately after the meeting of Pakistan People Party December 30, PNN spoke to Captain Vasef, head of information for the PPP and one of the party’s media coordinators. He confirmed that Benazir Bhutto’s son, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, will be leader of the party. He said Ms. Bhutto wanted her husband, Asif Ali Zardari, to be named party leader, but Mr. Zardari gave that title to his son while he will be co-chairman. PNN asked how Bilawal can lead the party when he is only 19 years old and so inexperienced. Mr. Vasef said Ms. Bhutto was young, too, when her father was executed in 1979, adding that Bilawal’s father and other party leaders will guide him. He said that Bilawal says his mother always told him that “the best revenge is democracy.” The PPP plans to participate in elections, whether they are held next week or are postponed. The party also has asked former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, head of the opposition Pakistan Muslim League, not to boycott the elections. Bilawal, an Oxford law student, says while he is at university, his father will take care of the party. “When I return, I promise to lead the party as my mother wanted me to.”

News and Views December 27 interviewed Nazir Dokki, a close friend and colleague of Ms. Bhutto’s, who was at the scene and spoke to PNN from the hospital. He said, “Benazir was Pakistan, and those who are against Pakistan, freedom and democracy killed her.” He expressed deep concern about the situation in Pakistan. News and Views also interviewed another friend of Ms. Bhutto’s, the head of the diplomatic committee of the Pakistan’s People Party, Senator Anvar Baig. He was with Ms. Bhutto during her morning meeting with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, hours before her assassination at the Rawalpindi rally. Senator Baig said that during the meeting with President Karzai, she said she had been the recipient of constant death threats. He said Ms. Bhutto asked the government of Pakistan for security protection, but that the government had failed her. Senator Baig said that after three days of mourning, the PPP will hold a meeting to decide who will replace Ms. Bhutto as the party’s candidate for Prime Minister. News and Views also reported on the UN Security Council holding an urgent meeting denouncing the assassination as a “heinous act of terrorism” and calling on all Pakistanis to exercise restraint. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon separately condemned the killing as an “assault on stability” in Pakistan. The US ambassador to the United Nations, Zalmay Khalilzad, said he was “shocked and deeply saddened” by the death of Ms. Bhutto, whom he described as a friend and as a “significant and courageous figure. The world has much at stake in the success of Pakistan’s democratic institutions,” he said in a statement. “A tribute to her memory would be lasting democracy in Pakistan.” News and Views also reported reaction from the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Human Rights Watch, and Amnesty International – all condemning the assassination and asking for transparent investigations.

News and Views reported December 28 that President Bush said the assassination was a cowardly act, and that her assassins must be brought to justice. He said she knew that her return to Pakistan earlier this year put her life at risk. “Yet she refused to allow assassins to dictate the course of her country.” He urged Pakistanis “to honor Benazir Bhutto’s memory by continuing with the democratic process for which she so bravely gave her life.” Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice extended the sincere condolences of the US to the Bhutto family, saying the deadly results of this attack will no doubt test the will and patience of the people of Pakistan. “We urge the Pakistani people, political leaders, and civil society to maintain calm and to work together to build a more moderate, peaceful, and democratic future.”

News and Views December 28 interviewed David Foley, the State Department’s spokesman on the Middle East, on US reaction to the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, and he said it was a blow to democracy in Pakistan, but that the US government fully supports Pakistan’s efforts in rooting out Islamic extremism and returning to democracy. Whether the election is postponed or not, according to Mr. Foley, is a decision the Pakistani government will make in close consultation with Pakistan’s political parties to ensure the election takes place in as normal a set of circumstances as possible. On whether the US military assistance program to Pakistan is going to continue unabated despite harsh criticism made by the US Congress, he said, “The administration is in discussion with Congress about the program and ways to improve it, but in the meantime, we are fully supportive of the Pakistani government in its efforts to fight the Taliban and al Qaeda elements in the tribal areas.”

News and Views December 28 interviewed Iranian-American scholar Vali Nasr, Professor of International Politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy of Tufts University, on the turmoil in Pakistan following Ms. Bhutto’s assassination. He said her murder shows that Pakistan’s military rulers and Islamic extremists – who have often been in collusion behind the scenes – will not allow a democratic figure to emerge in that country. He said her death creates major challenges for Pakistan. General Musharraf, he said, is the winner in the short-term because her elimination as the country’s only credible democratic voice gives him more space. In the longer-term, her murder enhances the prospect for civil strife, especially in the south where Ms. Bhutto’s power base is located. “The situation is particularly grave because General Musharraf has weakened and undermined the country’s political institutions, making it difficult for this country of 150 million to weather this kind of crisis.” Mr. Nasr also said, “Prospects for a return to democracy and some sense of normalcy are very dim. Under the military rule of Musharraf in the past 10 years, [Pakistan’s independent judiciary, a tradition of elections and strong political parties] have been systematically decimated.”

Roundtable with You December 29 interviewed Reza Taghizadeh, a professor at Scotland’s Glasgow University, on Pakistan’s looming political crisis. The show started off with a brief statement made by Secretary Condoleezza Rice as she was leaving the Pakistani Embassy after signing a condolence book for the slain former Prime Minister. She told reporters, “This is a day of great tragedy, great mourning. [Benazir Bhutto] was a champion of democracy. She was a courageous woman. The way to honor her memory is to continue the democratic process in Pakistan. And they will have a friend in the United States by doing so.” Mr. Taghizadeh said that the turmoil in Pakistan may spill over to Iran’s Baluchestan province and may strengthen the secessionist groups in that area. He added that Pakistan’s greatest challenges are lawlessness and the government’s inability to exert its authority. “With Bhutto’s victory in the January 8th election widely anticipated, Pakistan had a chance of moving toward a democratic form of government with her as prime minister. But that prospect has been very much clouded with her assassination,” he said. “Her death has left such a void that it’s impossible to make predictions about Pakistan’s political future.”

News and Views reported on December 30 that January 8th parliamentary elections in Pakistan are likely to be delayed by a few months. The Election Commission is holding an emergency meeting Monday when it is expected to decide when the vote will take place. Thousands of people gathered outside Ms. Bhutto’s family home Sunday chanting slogans accusing President Pervez Musharraf of her killing. Meanwhile, senior officials for Ms. Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party have rejected the official account of her death, calling the government’s version of the events “lies.” A top aide (Sherry Rehman) who was involved in washing Ms. Bhutto’s body for burial, told VOA that the former prime minister had a bullet wound to the head. The government said Friday that Ms. Bhutto was killed when the blast from a suicide bombing forced her head against a lever on the sunroof of her vehicle in Rawalpindi. The White House says Pakistan has a responsibility to ensure its investigation into Ms. Bhutto’s death is thorough. A spokesman for Pakistan’s Interior Ministry says Ms. Bhutto’s party is welcome to exhume her body to perform an autopsy. The government also has said an intelligence intercept indicated that a wanted al-Qaeda terrorist, Baitullah Mehsud, was behind the assassination. A spokesman for Mehsud denied the militant leader was involved in the killing.

VOA’s correspondent in Pakistan, Ayaz Gul, joined News and Views December 27 to provide the latest information on the assassination when it was a breaking story. He said a suicide bomber fired shots at Ms. Bhutto as she was leaving the rally venue in a Rawalpindi park before blowing himself up. “The man first fired at Bhutto’s vehicle. She ducked and then he blew himself up. She died as a result of gunshot wounds to the neck and chest – not the blast.” Mr. Gul recounted his interview with Ms. Bhutto a day before her assassination. He also said that after her meeting with President Karzai, she fielded questions from reporters, saying they discussed the issue of Islamic extremism and how to combat it in Pakistan’s tribal areas. Mr. Gul speculated that elections, scheduled for January 8, will now be postponed.

News and Views December 27 reported on the assassination of Benazir Bhutto as Western and Pakistani news agencies reported her death after sustaining injuries in a suicide attack at an election rally in Rawalpindi. Scores of people were also killed in a double suicide attack in October at a homecoming procession in Karachi for Ms. Bhutto, who had just returned from exile. Earlier in the day on December 27, four supporters of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif were killed during a gun battle at one of his political rallies. Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf met just 24 hours earlier in Islamabad with Afghan President Hamid Karzai to discuss ways of increasing intelligence-sharing in their struggle with terrorism and extremism. Mr. Karzai met with Ms. Bhutto shortly before her death. After their meeting, Ms. Bhutto told reporters, “I explained to President Karzai that the Pakistan People's Party hoped to win the elections and form the government and we looked forward to working very closely with Afghanistan.”

Roundtable with You December 27 focused on the assassination of Benazir Bhutto with two London-based political analysts, Amin Habibi and Alireza Nourizadeh. Mr. Habibi blamed the killing on members of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda, both of which, he said, have penetrated Inter-Services Intelligence and the Pakistani Armed Forces. He called the Pakistani system of government one of the most corrupt in the world and said Islamic radicals in Pakistan are the “enemies of progress and peace in the world.” Mr. Habibi referred to the meeting between President Karzai and Ms. Bhutto, saying the two leaders had expressed support for united action against Islamic fundamentalism. President Karzai called the assassination a “great tragedy for Pakistan.” Mr. Nourizadeh pointed out the similar destinies of two political dynasties in the subcontinent – the Bhuttos of Pakistan and the Nehrus of India.

News & Views interviewed the Afghan Ambassador to Canada, Omar Sadad, on the assassination of Bhutto. Ambassador Sadad commented on the differences between Bhutto and Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, “One has been in the military all of his life and has been military commander and the other came from a martyred political family with high education and political experience familiar with democracy and a government of laws. She was a moderate Muslim in the political scene. Although there were mistakes made during her rule, such as support for fundamentalist and terrorist groups, but from our (Afghan) point of view their political views were different. Ms Bhutto was ready to fight ‘Talebanism’ and fundamentalism and bring about reforms in the political and military institutions of Pakistan which was both to the benefit for Pakistan as well as the region and the world. But now, it is unclear who is going to implement these reforms and who will occupy her place.”

Roundtable with You December 28 featured London-based political analyst Alireza Nourizadeh on what’s next in Pakistan in the wake of Benazir Bhutto’s assassination. Mr. Nourizadeh said the prospect of a victory in the upcoming election by Ms. Bhutto’s party and a unity government with President Parviz Musharraf was unacceptable by radical Muslims who want an Islamic government similar to Afghanistan’s when it was governed by the Taliban. Mr. Nourizadeh said those who believe President Musharraf was behind the assassination said he would have benefited had Benazir Bhutto lived. He said it was very likely that Ms. Bhutto would have won a majority in the upcoming election and could have forged a strong parliament with President Musharraf’s party, leading Pakistan toward prosperity and secularism. He said radical Islamists envisioned these results and decided to stop it now rather than later. Mr. Nourizadeh said these fanatics are destroying the image of Islam and that the greatest loser of all is the Islamic religion, adding that the face of Islam presented to the world in recent years is quite different from the message of peace which true Islam embraces.

News and Views December 27 interviewed former Afghan Interior Minister Ali Jalali about Ms. Bhutto’s assassination. He said it’s too early to determine who is responsible for the murder, but said it is clear she had many enemies because she had declared her intention to fight extremism in all of its forms in Pakistan. He noted that Ms. Bhutto has previously accused elements in the intelligence services of trying to kill her and said she had also received death threats from Islamic militant groups, including al Qaeda. “Islamic fundamentalism has put the entire region in peril,” Mr. Jalali said. “Efforts to root out extremism in Pakistani tribal areas have been largely ineffective and, in fact, counterproductive.” Mr. Jalali said President Musharraf might postpone elections scheduled for January 8. “It does cast a shadow over the election and it raises some concerns over how the government might deal with any popular reaction to this tragedy,” he concluded.

News and Views December 30 interviewed Ambassador Robert Hunter, senior advisor at the Rand Corporation and former US Ambassador to NATO under President Clinton, on US-Iranian relations. He acknowledged President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s comments are an impediment, but said the US and Iran should resolve their differences through diplomacy, adding that they have common interests in the region. He also said the security of Afghanistan is vital to the region, to the people of Afghanistan and Iran, and to NATO.

News and Views December 30 interviewed economist Fereydoun Khavand on Iran’s increasing inflation in Iran. He said the rising inflation rate has raised a lot of concern among economy experts and political figures. But the government rejects criticism, he said, and defends its economic policies and performance – no matter what. He said unless the government combats the problem, Iran’s inflation rate will grow even higher.

In an interview December 25 with PNN, Hormoz Hekmat – analyst and editor-in-chief of Irannameh, an Iranian publication – reviewed the main events impacting Iran in 2007. He said the most significant were the approval of UN sanctions against Iran and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s controversial visit to the United Nations in late September. Mr. Hekmat said Iran can avoid conflicts in the year to come if it would stop uranium enrichment.

News and Views December 27 looked at Iraqi President Jalal Talabani’s calling the Algiers Accord null and void. Mr. Talabani said the agreement signed by Iran and Iraq in 1975 over the Shatt al-Arab waterway, which forms the boundary between Iran’s Khuzestan Province and Iraq, has been rescinded. He said the treaty was signed by Saddam Hussein and the late Shah of Iran – not by Iran and Iraq, adding that groups opposed to Iraq’s former government have cancelled the agreement. News and Views interviewed Reza Taghizadeh, a professor at Scotland’s Glasgow University, about this action, and he said under international law, one nation cannot unilaterally rescind a previously ratified treaty, and the treaty had no clause providing for abrogation by one nation. Mr. Taghizadeh said under international law, treaties governing borders entail commitments for countries and are “unchangeable,” and events such as wars and the replacement of governments and can never affect them. He said Iran should expel the Iraqi ambassador from Tehran and recall its own ambassador from Baghdad if President Talabani does not retract his statement.

Roundtable with You December 24 focused on human rights violations in Iran with author and human rights activist Parviz Dastmalchi and Dr. Ramin Ahmadi, who is on the Medical School faculty at Yale University as well as a member of the board of the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center. Dr. Ahmadi said Iranian authorities have imprisoned former deputy Prime Minister Amir Abbas Entezam without any trial for the past 28 years, making him the country’s longest held political prisoner. Mr. Dastmalchi cited the 1992 assassination of four Kurdish opposition leaders in Berlin by agents of the Islamic Republic. He also noted that one of the men convicted and sentenced to life for the murders, Kazem Darabi, was an agent of the Islamic Republic. He said Mr. Darabi’s release from a German prison after serving only 15 years and his official reception in Tehran earlier this month underscores Iranian participation in terrorist activities and is a clear violation of human rights. Dr. Ahmadi said the repression of women by the Islamic Republic and the regime’s enforcement of Sharia, or Islamic law, also is a clear violation of human rights. He said students activists have been arrested en masse in recent weeks, with many more kidnapped – their whereabouts unknown. Dr. Ahmadi also said scores of union leaders have been arrested in Iran, adding that their lives are in danger – all in violation of human rights by a country that is a signatory of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

News and Views December 26 interviewed Khalil Bahramian, the attorney who represents physician and human rights activist Hesam Firouzi. Dr. Firouzi has been free on bail for the past year, but Mr. Bahramian said he might end up in prison because an appeals court in Tehran has approved an earlier verdict sentencing him to one year on charges of agitating public opinion and anti-regime propaganda. Additionally, Mr. Bahramian said Dr. Firouzi still faces charges of hiding an escaped prisoner in his house. The escaped prisoner to whom the charges refer is former student Ahmad Batebi, one of those imprisoned in connection with the so-called 18 Tir demonstration in July 1999. In addition to providing care to Mr. Batebi, Dr. Firouzi also has provided medical care to Mansour Osanlou, the jailed leader of the Syndicate of Workers of Tehran and Suburbs Bus Company.

News and Views December 26 also talked directly with Dr. Firouzi – not about his own case, but about the situation of Mr. Osanlou. Dr. Firouzi said he has written a letter to judicial officials warning them of Mr. Osanlou’s poor health and how his life is at risk in prison.

News and Views December 26 also talked with Mr. Bahramian about the family of Akbar Mohammadi challenging a court order. Mr. Mohammadi was a student leader who died in jail while on a hunger strike, protesting failure of the authorities to permit his proper medical treatment. Mr. Mohammadi is reported to have been savagely beaten by prison guards, and his family called for an investigation into his suspicious death. Mr. Bahramian reports the court’s investigation is now ended, but Mr. Mohammadi’s family claims the judiciary’s investigation into the case was illegal. Mr. Mohammadi was first arrested in 1999 after clashes between security forces and students at Tehran University. He was freed in 2006 but later rearrested.

News and Views December 29 interviewed Iranian student activist and women’s rights advocate Bahareh Hedayat and the father of Keyvan Amiri, a student activist from the Industrial University of Sharif who was detained earlier this month at a Student Day demonstration. After more than three weeks in the custody of security forces, no information has been released on more than 30 students incarcerated in Tehran. The Ministry of Intelligence has accused the students of “acting against national security.” Mr. Amiri’s father said a member of the Iranian parliament, Mahmoud Mohammadi, has threatened the families of the imprisoned students to avoid making the same accusations as their children. The father said the threat was made because the families are diligently seeking information and have conducted interviews with foreign media. “Authorities are not allowing us to visit our children,” he said. “We have gotten no news. Our children are kept in solitary confinement, and we believe they have been subjected to torture – that’s why we’re not getting any information.”

News and Views December 26 interviewed Ali Gholizadeh, a spokesman for Shahroud University’s Islamic Association. Mr. Gholizadeh said 42 student organizations in Iran have issued a joint statement calling for the campus’s Islamic Association to be re-instated. The statement condemned the university’s crackdown on members of the Islamic Association and its suspension of student activists. Mr. Gholizadeh said human rights organizations around the world should put more pressure on Iranian authorities to stop suspending Iranian students just because they are activists.

News and Views December 24 reported that an Iraqi Kurdish official said Turkish warplanes targeting Kurdish rebels bombed areas in northern Iraq for a second day in a row Sunday, but caused no civilian casualties. The spokesman for Iraqi Kurdish security forces said the Turkish aircraft hit a mountainous area north of the city of Irbil, but no civilians were hurt because residents had already fled the area. Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan defended the country’s right to defend itself under international law. The US Ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker, echoed Turkey’s sentiment before Sunday’s air strike, but urged Ankara not to endanger basic stability inside Iraq. Ankara accuses the PKK of staging deadly attacks in southeastern Turkey from bases in northern Iraq. The PKK has been fighting for Kurdish autonomy in southeastern Turkey since 1984. More than 30,000 people have died in the conflict. Turkey, the United States and the European Union consider the PKK a terrorist group.

News and Views December 26 reported on Turkish warplanes striking suspected Kurdish rebel hideouts in northern Iraq. The Turkish military said the warplanes hit eight caves and hideouts used by guerrillas of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) Wednesday. The military said it will continue its offensive against PKK separatists inside Turkey and across the border in northern Iraq. It said helicopters also took part in the operation in Sirnak province. Tuesday, the Turkish military said it has killed around 150 to 175 Kurdish rebels since the middle of the month, when its warplanes began targeting PKK. It says the death toll does not include rebels killed in hideouts and caves. There has been no independent verification of rebel casualties.

Dr. Jamshid “James” Elist is a surgeon and urologist in Los Angeles who is one of the physicians whose research Time Magazine describes as a breakthrough for new and early treatment of prostate cancer. Dr. Elist joined Roundtable with You December 25 to talk about the treatment of prostate cancer, which is the second most common type of cancer among men in the United States, second only to skin cancer. He said out of every three men who are diagnosed with cancer each year, one is diagnosed with prostate cancer. He added that more than half of the men between the ages of 60 and 70, and as many as 90% between the ages of 70 and 90 have symptoms of BPH. Dr. Elist said, “Although this condition is seldom life-threatening, it may require treatment.” He said the Centers for Disease Control report that fewer than 10% of men with prostate cancer die of the disease within five years of diagnosis. Dr. Elist referred to a recent article in Time Magazine (12/13/07), which described a new blood test that can aid earlier detection of lung cancer by screening for a protein rarely seen in healthy people. Indeed, Dr. James Elist is a member of the team that successfully made the new discovery, deemed a breakthrough in medical science for 2007.

Lewis Johnson is an unusual Presbyterian minister in that he speaks fluent Farsi, is married to a Persian woman and lived in Iran some 20 years, from 1960 until 1979. He first went to Iran as a missionary, but eventually left the pulpit and began a very successful legal practice in Tehran. Mr. Johnson left Iran shortly after the Islamic Revolution after being accused of being a CIA spy. He joined News and Views live in PNN’s Washington studio December 24 to talk about Christmas. Mr. Johnson said he hoped the message of peace and hope of the Christmas season will affect everyone, and that Iranians will soon see their problems solved. Mr. Johnson has been deeply involved in the American Bible Society’s recent translation of the Bible into Persian, working directly from Hebrew and Greek, both of which he knows well.

News and Views December 25 began with Pope Benedict’s Christmas mass at the Vatican in which he urged people to make room in their lives for the poor, their neighbors and God. Midnight mass was also celebrated in the West Bank town of Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus. Tens of thousands of tourists attended, significantly more than recent years when Israeli-Palestinian violence kept many foreigners away. However, a heavy police deployment, the presence of Israel’s massive separation barrier and unease in Bethlehem’s ever-shrinking Christian population served as reminders of lingering tensions in the region. In Iraq, the leader of Iraq’s ancient Chaldean Church, Cardinal Emmanuel III Delly, led Christmas Day mass in eastern Baghdad. Christians, who make up about three percent of the Iraqi population, are fleeing Iraq in high numbers because of the country’s increasing sectarian violence. News and Views highlighted Christmas celebrations across the world, from China to Indonesia and Pakistan.

Panelists on NewsTalk this week talked about the assassination of Benazir Bhutto and its impact on democracy in Pakistan and in the Islamic world; UN weapons inspector Hans Blix telling Der Spiegel that Iran will continue being pressured by the international community until it halts uranium enrichment; UN sanctions against Iran causing decreased trade and no foreign investment; how the NIE reduced tensions enough that diplomacy has a better chance to work; how the NIE has reduced Europeans’ desire for further sanctions; international organizations denouncing stoning by death in Iran, but Iranian judiciary officials stating this is an Islamic verdict and they are not ashamed to implement it; the government’s fear of non-violent civic disobedience, particularly that of student activists; despite an increase in oil revenue, President Ahmadinejad has admitted his government has been incapable of meeting the basic needs of the Iranian people; less being spent on per capita health care in Iran than in most African nations; the Islamic regime’s failure to invest in the construction of oil refineries; Turkey earning billions in tourism while Iran earns nothing; Qatar exporting natural liquid gas to Asia and Europe while Iran exports none; the necessity of recognizing treaties and agreements signed by previous governments – contrary to the announcement by Iraq that it doesn’t plan on honoring the 1975 Algiers Agreement with Iran; and Italy’s criticism of Iran’s sentencing two Kurdish journalists to death.

Today’s Woman put together a primer on the 2008 elections. What is a primary? What is a caucus? The shows addressed why primaries are important in the process of choosing candidates, how states have different ways of electing candidates, and why they do so at different times. Panelists talked about the presidential elections being the country’s main election, but explained that different organizations and institutes such as the school board, fire department and police, also hold elections. They discussed political parties, involvement of citizens and grassroots organizations, conventions, platforms, the role of the media and issues that are important in this election cycle, including poverty, education, health care and crime. Brief portraits of the leading Republican and Democratic candidates were provided. The show pointed out that Iranian women were granted the right to vote for the first time in 1962.

News and Views December 30 interviewed Iranian filmmaker Bahram Beizai. He praised Akbar Radi, the renowned Iranian playwright who died of cancer December 26 at the age of 68. He said Mr. Radi was one of four writers who did the most for modern theatre in Iran, but that he was not properly appreciated for his contributions in his lifetime. Mr. Beizai said the Iranian government tries to control playwrights, directors and others involved in the world of theatre and film, adding that it did not grant screening permits to a number of Mr. Radi’s movies because “they are not in accordance with the Islamic code currently in use in Iran’s motion picture industry.”

Today’s Woman December 24 looked at Iranians in Hollywood, beginning with Sean Toub, who starred in the Oscar-winning Crash and had extended roles in The Bold and the Beautiful, Seinfeld and The Sopranos. Maj Jobrani is a comedian/actor who has appeared in several films – Interpreter, 13 Going on 30 and America is Beautiful – as well as on TV shows such as Curb your Enthusiasm and 24. Omid Djalili is an award-winning actor/comedian who has appeared in films including The Mummy, Gladiator and Pirates of the Caribbean III. Iranians are also behind the scenes . . . people like sound engineer Kami Asgar, who worked on The Passion of the Christ and Apocalypto, and scriptwriters Cyrus Nowrasteh (The Path to 9/11) and Azita Zendel, who works with Oliver Stone. Shohreh Aghdashloo was nominated for an Oscar for her role in The House of Sand and Fog and has appeared in 24 and Will and Grace. Today’s Woman panelists talked about why Iranians are more involved in Hollywood today, such as enthusiasm, hard work and luck – being in the right place at the right time. They agreed that language can be a barrier for Iranians and other foreigners who want to break into Hollywood. The program conducted three interviews, with Ms. Aghdashloo, who discussed her path to Hollywood, her background and how she’s made a name for herself; with actress and filmmaker Roya Aryanpad, who talked about projects she has done, including her work in the films Air and Beyond Darkness; and with Katayoun Afrooz, who produced a documentary about an Iranian village called Abyaneh. She says her goal is to introduce Iranian culture to American audiences through her films.

Late Edition December 29 interviewed Iranian-French journalist and sports analyst Iraj Adibzadeh on the politicization of soccer in Iran. Mr. Adibzadeh talked about Iran’s preparation for the 2010 World Cup qualifiers, candidates in the presidential elections for the Iranian Football Federation and hiring a new coach for the national team, saying Portugal’s Artur Jorge is the most likely pick. He also talked about Iran’s suspension from international competition by FIFA because of alleged government meddling and the impact it has had on soccer in Iran. Mr. Adibzadeh said, “The Islamic Republic is trying to hijack Iranian soccer in a bid to control the new generation of sports fans.”

This week’s History Channel segments included features on the mobile society and modern stadiums, both of which were first built by the ancient Romans 2300 years ago. The Romans built a 53,000 mile network of highways linking all parts of the empire with highway amenities such as service stations to repair carts and chariots, and rest stops and road houses that provided food, drink and a place to sleep. Likewise, the ancient Coliseum in Rome had many of the same features as Wembley, the world’s most technologically advanced football stadium. The Romans managed to erect the 16-story Coliseum in the middle of a crowded city, with concrete, an arch and a movable roof seating 55,000 spectators. Another segment focused on the origin of weapons of mass destruction, and how computer guided nuclear warheads, anthrax and Sarin gas all had their beginnings over 2000 years ago in Greece. The week’s fourth segment also looked at ancient Greece: today’s modern warships and gigantic cargo and container ships are the cutting edge of maritime technology. But 2500 years ago, no one dominated ship building like the Greeks. And the week’s last segment focused on the ancient Mayan civilization. Some 2000 years ago, when Washington was still a swamp, the Maya were busy transforming some of the most inhospitable jungle imaginable into the New World’s first powerful metropolis.

This week’s “On the Record” – Persian News Network’s once-a-week program featuring executive editor Kambiz Mahmoudi as ombudsman. Dr. Mahmoudi answered questions about PNN’s online presence and promised that 2008 would see further improvements and enhancements to PNN’s website. Concerns were raised by viewers about the standardization of Chryons, particularly the use of names, geographical locations and international organizations. Dr. Mahmoudi assured viewers that PNN was compiling a list of important words and names and that a PNN “style book” was being produced.

PNN’s question of the week was, “Is it in Iran’s national interest to refuse Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s offer that she is ready to meet any time, anywhere, with Iran’s leadership if it suspends its enrichment of uranium?”

Out of 8,189 respondents 54% said yes, 42% said no and 4% responded don’t know.


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.



From a viewer in Iran: “Bureaucratic labyrinths have hindered progress in rebuilding Bam. As you can see from some of the attached [Fars News Agency] pictures, official statistics about construction are far from reality. Children are still living and playing in ruins, and are exposed to pollution and disease. No governmental body is taking ownership of this problem.” (Editor’s Note: Much of the city of Bam was destroyed on December 26, 2003, by an earthquake measured at 6.6 on the Richter scale.)

From a viewer in Tehran: “Salaam. I am a graduate student in American Studies at the University of Tehran. I hope to write my thesis on a post 9/11 VOA. It is really a pleasure to become acquainted with your programs. I was able to download many of the programs from your web site. However, there are some questions that I can’t get a straight and reliable answer on here in Iran. I would appreciate if you could help me so I can write an OBJECTIVE and also a PRECISE thesis. 1) What is VOA’s objective in broadcasting into Iran? (I know there is a charter, but I would appreciate more elaboration on that.) 2) According to VOA’s estimates, how many people in Iran do you think watch VOA TV? (Is there any [scientific] data to support your figures?) 3) What is the intended audience that VOA is trying to reach? Does VOA think that it is reaching its intended audience? 4) Which program has the largest audience? PS: I am trying to have a fair and balanced thesis on VOA and I would appreciate VOA’s providing answers to these questions. I would be glad to send a copy of my completed thesis, which you could possibly find of some use.”

From a viewer in Arak: “During the 28 years of the Islamic Republic’s existence, not even once have we seen better conditions in people’s lives. Hoping for change in each election, people more or less participated by casting their ballots. Now the question from the people is: having tested the Islamic Republic government all these times, do we have to go to the polling places again?”

From an Iranian viewer in Germany: “I am a fan of VOA and always visit your site to watch TV programs. I see that your domestic news of Iran is better now than it used to be, and I think it is a good step.”

From a viewer in Miandoab (in West Azerbaijan province): “Please ask Mr. Ahmadinejad – who asks western and American officials all the time to hold referendums on all sorts of matters – if he is ready to put the questions of the people of Iran to a referendum. He claims the Holocaust is a lie and that people around the world should be told as much. My question to him is, is he ready to explain to the people of the world what happened with the mass executions that took place during the eighties in the prisons of the Islamic Republic? In 1978, Ayatollah Khomeini said in Behesht Zahra [a famous cemetery located south of Tehran], ‘Why should we feel guilty over the government chosen by our forefathers?’ Please ask Mr. Ahmadinejad why we should feel guilty that a government was chosen for us 29 years ago . . . why don’t we put to a referendum the existence of the Islamic Republic? Is President Ahmadinejad ready to put to a referendum what the Iranian people think of the financial and moral support given by the government of Iran to the terrorist movement of Hamas, and what it costs the Iranian people? Also, ask him if he is ready to debate on live TV with [political analyst Alireza] Nourizadeh on different matters pertaining to Iran.”

From a viewer in Uroomiyeh (in East Azerbaijan province): “A ruined house looks much better than the model school I attend. Some teachers teach in their mother tongue, and when we ask them to teach us in Farsi, they say that they cannot. We have raised this problem with the authorities and with the school headmaster, but since they all have the same language in common, they tell us this is our problem and not theirs. ‘Go and learn this language,’ they tell us. I ask Mr. Ahmadinejad, instead of going to God’s House [Mecca, Saudi Arabia] and returning with Haaji before your name, don’t you think you should solve the problems of your own people?”

From a viewer in Tehran: Yesterday, just minutes after "News and Views" reported on migration of 40 Iranian Jews to Israel, Network 2 of the regime's TV which is for distorting news and fooling the people broadcasted a report at 20:30 hours which was 180 degrees opposite of the truth.at 20:30 hours the reporter, Kooh-Khezri shamefully reported that anti Iranian TVs have broadcasted forged videos claiming of Jewish migration to Israel, relating them to Iranians. I wanted to express to the 20:30 hours news producers "shame on you". First of all in the segment that "News and Views" broadcasted two of such people could be clearly heard spoking Farsi and secondly you the reporters for the 20:30 hours news who close your eyes on truth in lieu of receipt of very little money.

From an Iranian viewer living in Sweden: “I mostly follow political shows, but in my opinion the real star of VOA is [Late Edition anchor] Luna Shad.”

From a male viewer in Iran: “Thanks a lot. I love Luna.”

From a staffer at the Persian Service of Deutsche Welle in Bonn: “Hi Mrs. Shad. The students at the University of Isfahan are on a hunger strike. Please call _____ at ________. He is their spokesman and he is ready for an interview. Happy holidays.”

From a physician in Iran: “Good morning. I wish you all a Merry Christmas & Prosperous New Year. I hope that this year will bring Democracy & Freedom for the Iranian people!! Best regards.”

From a viewer in Shiraz: “Merry Christmas to all Christians in Iran and VOA.”