Reaching Millions of Television Viewers in Iran Each Week

“Iranian officials state that the Iranian people have freedom of speech. We do have freedom to speak, but we do not have freedom after we speak.” Mashallah Shamsolvaezin, Iran’s Association for Press Freedom

Washington, D.C. – May 19, 2008 . . . Major stories this week included President Bush and Defense Secretary Gates on US-Iran relations; a massive earthquake killing at least 32,000 in China; problems in delivering international aid to Burma in the wake of May 3’s devastating Cyclone Nargis; the International Atomic Energy Agency meeting with officials in Tehran to discuss Iran’s nuclear program; Iranian support for Hezbollah as it stirs up sectarian violence in Lebanon; renewed efforts to enforce Islamic dress requirements in Iran; Iranian attacks on Kurds in Iraq; the killing of a 15-year-old Kurdish boy by IRGC forces; attacks on Iranian diplomats in Baghdad; the lack of press freedom in Iran; the State Department’s new One Woman Initiative to establish a women’s empowerment fund; and interviews with Goli Ameri, the newly sworn-in Assistant Secretary for Educational and Cultural Affairs; with State Department spokesman David Foley on US-Iran relations; with Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi on landmine problems in Iran as well as a systematic violation of human rights in the country; with Ramin Ahmadi, co-founder of the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center, and Payam Akhavan, who was a prosecutor in the trial of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, on crimes against humanity in Iran; with actress on Isabella Rosellini on making films for mobile phones, increasing international access to information; with two members of one of the world’s leading percussionist ensembles, Zarbang; and with filmmaker Hossein Fazeli on documentaries.

PNN correspondent May 18 reported live from the World Economic Forum in Sharm-el Sheikh that President Bush is on his way home from a five-day visit to the Middle East, where he urged Arab leaders to reject the policies of countries such as Iran and Syria because they restrict political and economic freedom. In a speech at the World Economic Forum in the Egyptian town of Sharm el-Sheikh, Mr. Bush urged Arab nations to oppose what he called Iran’s nuclear weapons ambition. Before the speech, President Bush’s National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley told reporters Mr. Bush will return to the Middle East if it will help the peace process. He said the President is encouraged by progress in Israeli-Palestinian talks. Before the forum, Mr. Bush met briefly with the leaders of the Palestinian Authority and Jordan. As he arrived in Egypt Saturday, local media slammed Mr. Bush for his perceived bias towards Israel. Egyptian editorials accused the US president of trying to “appease” the Jewish state after he began his Middle East tour by attending Israel’s 60th anniversary celebrations. During the May 14th events, Mr. Bush said the US is Israel’s “best friend in the world,” and he hardly mentioned the Palestinian people’s plight. Later on the trip, President Bush said he is determined to help the Palestinians achieve what he called “the dream” of an independent state to ease the suffering there. He said he is committed to helping Israeli and Palestinian leaders reach a peace accord by the end of the year.

News and Views May 15 reported that in a speech before the Israeli parliament, President Bush said America stands with the Jewish state in breaking up terrorist networks and opposing what he called Iran’s ambition to develop nuclear weapons. “Permitting the world’s leading sponsor of terror to possess the world’s deadliest weapons would be an unforgivable betrayal for future generations,” he said. “For the sake of peace, the world must not allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon.” Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has said his nation’s nuclear program is about generating electricity not weapons. Meanwhile, in Washington, US Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the United States should develop some leverage on Iran and then hold talks with the regime that the US government says supports global terrorism and sponsors insurgents in Iraq who are killing American troops. Secretary Gates said the United States needs to recognize that Iran will need to get something out of any talks, so US officials should not expect to simply go into talks with Iran with a list of demands. He also said more people-to- people exchanges could help build such US leverage on Iranian leaders. Speaking at the American Academy of Diplomacy, Mr. Gates said the 2006 Iraq Study Group’s recommendation for more engagement with Iran has not been implemented. Secretary Gates said the United States might have missed an opportunity to engage with Iran during the term of former president Mohammad Khatami. But he indicated it will be more difficult to have constructive talks with Iran today, under President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Today’s Woman May 13 reported that Iranian-American Goli Ameri has been sworn in as the State Department’s Assistant Secretary for Educational and Cultural Affairs. VOA/PNN was at the swearing-in ceremony, and interviewed Ms. Ameri. She said, “Iranian women are intelligent, hard workers. There is nothing that they can’t do, and no one should strip them of their universal rights. We women are entitled to the same rights as men.” Ms. America, who will be the guest on Roundtable with You May 14, said the State Department’s international programs “seek to have 50% representation of women.”

Roundtable with You May 14 welcomed the State Department’s newest Assistant Secretary, Iranian-American Goli Ameri. She now leads the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, which fosters mutual understanding between Americans and the people of other countries. At her confirmation hearing with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Ms. Ameri said what she repeated on Roundtable: “I learned (in America) that it is OK to be a woman. It is OK to be an immigrant. And most importantly, it’s OK to be a dreamer.” Ms. Ameri also referred to the Iranian-American community as “vibrant, passionate, strong, independent-minded and focused on giving back, a community that knows what to do with freedom.” Ms. Ameri encouraged Iranian young people – and in particular, Iranian girls – to join her effort to foster cultural ties between Iranians and Americans. Viewers who called in and sent e-mails during the program were overwhelmingly supportive of Ms. Ameri, and they expressed a sense of national pride in her success.

Roundtable with You May 18 with Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi opened with her addressing the issue of landmines in Iran, saying “the Iranian government has been ineffective in removing landmines from the area along the Iran-Iraq border.” The Iranian government reports that millions of landmines were laid in Iran during the Iran-Iraq war of 1980-1988 and that western provinces in particular are severely affected. Estimates of civilian casualties from landmines also vary. The government states that thousands of civilians are injured or killed each year and that on the border with Iraq alone, two or three people are killed or wounded every day. Ms. Ebadi called on the Iranian government to do more to provide restitution for the victims of landmines and urged the Iranian government to join the Mine Ban Treaty, also known as the Ottawa Convention, which is an international agreement that bans anti-personnel landmines. She also urged Iranian leader to heed the calls of the international community to suspend uranium enrichment. “Iran cannot afford to continue ignoring international law and its obligations or we will face further isolation,” she said. On human rights, Ms. Ebadi said there has been a systematic violation of human rights in Iran and criticized the government over its treatment of dissidents and activists. “The lack of a real and effective observance of human rights deepens the gap between the people and the government and breaks the pillars of peace, stability and development in the country,” she said. Ms. Ebadi concluded by saying she supported a total separation of state and religion because clerics are tempted to distort the holy scriptures and manipulate religious feelings of the faithful in order to stay in power.

Roundtable with You May 17 looked at the involvement of Iranian-Americans in American politics during this election year. Jimmy Delshad is the first Iranian-American to have been elected as mayor when he was elected to the post in Beverly Hills. Mayor Delshad said that during his one-year tenure he made the city of Beverly Hills one of the smartest and greenest cities in the United States by installing solar-powered parking meters, automated license-plate readers and smart video-cameras. Mr. Delshad said the main motivation for running for the office of mayor was to be a trailblazer and open the door for other minorities – especially Iranians – to enter into public service. He said he was able to accomplish about 80% of what he wanted to do and that the Department of Homeland Security has expressed interest in making Beverly Hills a model city for other American cities because of its attention to the safety of its citizens. Roundtable’s second guest, Hamid Akbari, is a business professor at Northeastern Illinois University. He said Iranian-Americans have not been able to send one of their own to the US Congress because unlike other ethnic groups, Iranian-Americans are not concentrated in one locale. “But eventually, it’s going to happen, as we saw Goli Ameri was a candidate from a major party and nearly won a congressional seat from the state of Oregon,” he said.

News and Views talked with Ramin Ahmadi, co-founder of the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center about Iran and the International Criminal Court, or ICC. Mr. Ahmadi said the mass execution in 1988 of close to 4,000 leftist prisoners in Iran most likely qualifies as a crime against humanity because it was the widespread and systematic murder of a significant number of civilians based on their political beliefs. He said, “The ICC doesn’t have jurisdiction “because the jurisdiction of the Court only applies to crimes committed after the entry into force of the statute in 2002” – and Iran hasn’t ratified the statute. News and Views also talked with Payam Akhavan, who worked as a prosecutor in the International Court of Justice’s trial of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. Mr. Akhavan said, “The Minister of Interior [Mostafa] Pour-Mohammadi was part of the so-called ‘Death Commission’ that sent many of the victims to their deaths in 1988. There is evidence that the former Justice Minister [Esmail] Shooshtari may also have been involved. How can these individuals be holding ministerial positions when they should be standing trial for crimes against humanity? Because the national courts in Iran are clearly unwilling to prosecute, we need to establish an international ad hoc court like the ones for Yugoslavia and Rwanda that can bring perpetrators to justice.”

Today’s Woman May 14 focused on a new crackdown on the implementation of Islamic dress requirements in Iran. The commander of the police moral security unit, Ahmad Rouzbehani, says the crackdown – which goes into effect next week – will give authorities the right to go into the offices of private companies in order to assess whether women there meet Islamic dress requirements. Iranian lawyers have expressed outrage that authorities are granted such permission without proper warrants, stating that the acts are constitutionally illegal. The new crackdown on Islamic dress in the workplace makes women workers more vulnerable to employers who don’t want to deal with enforcement of the dress requirements. The next segment looked at press restrictions in Iran with Mashallah Shamsolvaezin – spokesman for Iran’s Association for Press Freedom – who joined the show by telephone from Tehran. He said with more and more penalties and limitations, the state of Iran’s press is the worst it’s been in 30 years, adding that media restrictions have tightened under President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. He said, “The people of Iran are concerned that the Islamic regime will implement stricter media laws. News agencies and publications are hoping that no new restrictions will be imposed. Iranian officials state that the Iranian people have freedom of speech. We do have freedom to speak, but we do not have freedom after we speak.”

Late Edition May 18 reported that many activists in northeastern Iran have been arrested or threatened with arrest as the second anniversary of widespread Azerbaijan demonstrations approaches. PNN's Zarezadeh Ardeshir reported that the Ministry of Intelligence has started a new crackdown on activists in the past month. He listed those arrested as Hodjat Iraq, Salman Iraqi, Salar Iraqi and Akbar Abdollahi in Khoy; Ali Sedighi, Jamshid Zareie in Tabriz; and Hojat- ul-Islam Abdul Aziz Azimi Gadim in Ardabil. Mr. Ardeshir said another activist, Abbas Lesani, who has been jailed the past two years, was transferred the prison in Yazd from Ardabil prison. Meanwhile, in Iranian Kurdistan, 25-year-old political prisoner Kaveh Azizpour died after being tortured while in prison. He has been jailed two years. In “west Ivan” in Ilam, authorities arrested student activist Farshad Doostipour. Mr. Ardeshir said Farshad was arrested nearly one week ago because of his involvement in a demonstration to protest the second-round parliamentary elections.

News and Views May 15 reported that China says nearly 400 dams and reservoirs near the epicenter of Monday’s [May 12] deadly earthquake were damaged, triggering new worries as Chinese officials warned that the death toll could top 50,000. The military is in a race against time to rescue tens of thousands believed buried beneath the rubble from the quake. Officials in southwestern Sichuan province say the known death toll has risen to more than 19,500. The Chinese military has sent 130,000 troops to Sichuan and deployed 101 more helicopters to airlift victims and drop emergency supplies to quake survivors. Xinhua News Agency says 44 counties and districts in Sichuan were severely hit and the strains from tens of thousands left homeless are growing. The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies has issued an emergency appeal for medical help, food, water and tents. A 30-member emergency relief team will arrive from Japan in Sichuan’s provincial capital, Chengdu, Friday and appears to be the first foreign rescue team to be allowed to help out on the ground. China’s government has spent more than 150 million dollars for disaster relief efforts, while public donations have reached more than 192 million dollars in cash and goods for the recovery efforts.

News and Views May 14 reported that the Chinese military is air-dropping food and medicine to earthquake survivors in remote mountain villages of Sichuan province, but time is running out for thousands buried under the rubble and mud of collapsed buildings, homes and schools. China raised the official death toll to nearly 15,000. Authorities expect that number to go up as rescue crews arrive at the hardest-hit areas and begin digging through the rubble. Officials estimate that an additional 40,000 people are either buried or missing. As help arrived in some of the hardest-to-reach areas, some victims were being pulled out alive. More than 50,000 troops have been sent to assist with relief work in quake-affected areas, but China has said conditions are not right for international teams to come in and help.

News and Views May 13 reported that the massive 7.9 magnitude earthquake that hit Sichuan in southwestern China May 12 has buried more than 18,000 people. The first rescue and relief troops arrived in Wenchuan, home to more than 100,000 people. The number of casualties there is still unknown, but an initial report from Xinhua News Agency says a large number of people are buried. The report also says 70% of roads and bridges in the county have been destroyed and that the area is inaccessible. More than 50,000 troops have been sent to assist relief work in quake-affected areas and to help dig out thousands who remain buried under collapsed buildings and schools. Local officials say they have recorded more than one thousand aftershocks, some as strong as magnitude six.

News and Views May 12 reported that Chinese state media estimate 3,000-5,000 people were killed Monday when a powerful earthquake struck China’s southwestern province of Sichuan. The official Xinhua news agency said the quake buried nearly 900 students when two primary schools collapsed but no details were provided and their fate is unknown. Xinhua said President Hu Jintao ordered all-out efforts to help those affected by the earthquake, and he sent Premier Wen Jiabao to the area to direct the rescue work. The agency said the Chengdu Military Area Command has dispatched troops to help with disaster relief work. The US Geological Survey says the 7.8 magnitude quake hit at nearly 2:30 in the afternoon (0628 UTC). The USGS said the epicenter of the quake was 92 kilometers from Chengdu, a city of more than 10 million. The quake and tremors were felt as far away as Bangkok, Hong Kong, Vietnam and Taiwan. In Beijing, 1,500 kilometers from the quake’s epicenter, buildings swayed and people were evacuated into the streets, but there was no damage reported.

Roundtable with You May 12 looked at breaking news in Iran and Lebanon with London- based political analyst Alireza Nourizadeh. He talked about the speech given by Iran’s former President, Mohammad Khatami, at the University of Gilan last week. Mr. Khatami said Ayatollah Khomeini had called for the export of Iran’s revolution – but not for the export of revolution by subversion, explosions and intervention in other countries. His remarks triggered a harsh reaction by 77 deputies of the Majlis, who accused him of abetting Iran’s enemies. They asked that Mr. Khatami, a reformist, be tried for treason. Mr. Nourizadeh then turned to Lebanon, where the Iranian-backed opposition, Hezbollah, has brought the nation to the brink of another civil war. US and Iraqi officials complain regularly of Iran’s role in supporting militias in Iraq, providing them with sophisticated weapons and fomenting instability in Iraq. Mr. Nourizadeh said there is widespread anti-Iranian sentiment in Lebanon, adding that Arab media blame Iran and Syria for the violence in Lebanon. On the internal politics of Iran, Mr. Nourizadeh brought up the announcement of the arrest of six persons on charges of exploding a bomb at a Shiraz mosque last month. Iranian authorities originally ruled out subversion and called the blast accidental, but have now changed the official story, blaming the blast on monarchists who were allegedly supported by the US and Britain.

News and Views May 12 talked with VOA’s Burmese Service Chief on the problems encountered delivering foreign aid to Burma following the devastation and loss of life caused by Cyclone Nargis on May 3. Than Lwin Htun said international aid is not even covering 10 percent of the needs of survivors, adding that the Burmese junta does not have the capacity to respond to this natural disaster. He said the US military cargo plane that landed earlier in the day is a breakthrough, and it being allowed in indicates just how bad the situation is on the ground. Than Lwin Htun said Burma’s reclusive military rulers have been anxious about opening their doors to the West.

VOA/PNN May 18 reported that a large group of journalists who work for Iran, the government’s official newspaper, have waged a sit-in to protest their not having receiving a paycheck or benefits for two months. One of the journalists agreed to talk with PNN on condition of anonymity. This journalist said that since President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s appointee, a 28- year-old man named Kaveh Eshtehardi, became director of the newspaper 1½ years ago, he has hired 280 of friends and relatives. Adding insult to injury, Iran is published with profound censorship and has lost readers. This journalist said 26 of the journalists participating in the sit-in had already been fired.

Roundtable with You May 13 Hossein talked about the roots of Iranian distrust with Hossein Lajevardi, President of the Paris-based Association of Iranian Researchers. The Association, known by its French acronym ACR, was established 17 years ago to study the issues and challenges facing Iranians today and in the future through an academic approach by over 700 Iranian researchers around the globe. This non-partisan non-profit organization has held over 45 conferences, many of them in the US, on issues such as Iranian identity, status of the Persian Gulf, religion and state, obstacles for democracy in Iran, Iranian refugees, Iran’s oil industry, and so on. The theme for this year’s conference is to find the roots of distrust in Iranians, which many political observers say is the key reason for the failure of Iranian opposition groups to counter the Islamic regime. Mr. Lajevardi said this “epidemic distrust” has prevented all of the opposition groups, both inside and outside of Iran, to unite in their common cause of wanting to replace the current regime with one that respects the basic principles of human rights. He said this distrust also extends itself between the people of Iran and the government, which is a common characteristic of a closed society.

News and Views May 13 reported on the newest round of talks Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency. This round of talks, which began May 12 in Tehran, are being conducted by the IAEA’s Regional Director for Safeguard Operations and Iran’s Ambassador to the IAEA, Ali Asghar Soltanieh. Representatives of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany, known as the P5+1, will be delivering an incentives package to Iran during the talks. Meanwhile, Iraq’s Foreign Minister, Hoshyar Zebari, said that tripartite Iraq-Iran-US talks have ended. He said the possibility of the US and Iran continuing talks over security in Iraq has diminished. Mr. Zebari commented two days after Iran’s Foreign Ministry turned down another round of bilateral talks with Washington on Iraq. Commenting on Mr. Zebari’s remarks, the State Department’s spokesman on Middle Eastern affairs, David Foley, said the United States is still open to such talks. News and Views reported that Saudi Arabia has warned Iran that Tehran’s support of Hezbollah will affect its relations with other Islamic and Arab states. Iran reportedly delivered 35 speedboats to Hezbollah three weeks before the latest violence in Lebanon. The US also weighed in on the matter, with State Department spokesman Sean McCormack saying, “Backed by Syria and Iran, Hezbollah and its allies are killing and injuring fellow citizens.”

News and Views May 16 reported that South Korea’s chief envoy to the six-nation talks on North Korea’s nuclear program says the negotiations are likely to resume next month. Kim Sook spoke in Seoul, where he briefed reporters on his recent trip to China, which is hosting the talks. Mr. Kim will travel to Washington Sunday to meet with his US and Japanese counterparts. South Korea’s Foreign Ministry said earlier this week that North Korea is expected to give Beijing a formal declaration of its atomic work in the coming days. Pyongyang turned over more than 18,000 documents last week to Sung Kim, Director of the State Department’s Office of Korean Affairs, detailing its activities at the nuclear reactor and reprocessing plant at Yongbyon. Mr. Kim said, “I do think these documents are an important first step in terms of verifying North Korea’s declaration. Obviously, the documents themselves are alone not enough. We will need to conduct a very full verification.”

Roundtable with You May 16 looked at Iran’s oil industry with petroleum consultant Mansour Kashfi. The price for crude oil continues to soar and the effect is evident everywhere, including at gas pumps in the US. Where does this windfall profit go? And in the case of oil exporting countries, and in particular Iran, what has this windfall done to improve the life of ordinary citizens? Mr. Kashfi, former professor at Pahlavi University in Shiraz, shared statistics that show poverty has expanded in Iran despite earning more than $600 billion dollars since the revolution, so many, in fact, that 50% of Iranians are living beneath the poverty line. Mr. Kashfi warned that Iran may not be able to export oil in as soon as a decade because its oil industry is running with an old and obsolete infrastructure. He explained that three elements are responsible for this failure: a lack of management, corruption on the highest level, and sanctions caused by Iran’s defiance of the international community’s wishes regarding its nuclear program.

News and Views May 18 talked with Ali Haj Ghasem Ali, a spokesman of the Iranian National Front. Speaking to VOA/PNN by telephone in Tehran, Mr. Ali said the Front, which is a nationalist opposition group in Ira, organized a meeting earlier in the day in the Tehran suburb of Ahmadabad to memorialize Mohammad Mosadeq, a former Iranian Prime Minster and leader of the Iranian National Front in 1953. He said Ezat Sahabi, one of the group’s top leaders, said “We do not have any choice. We must stand against tyrants and government violence with non- violence. Mr. Ali said the meeting was peaceful and there was no violence y paramilitary or government security forces during the event.

Reporting from Irbil, VOA/PNN stringer Ali Javanmardi reported on News and Views May 18 that Iran has denounced what it described as terror attacks on Iranian diplomats at the Iranian Embassy in the Iraqi capital, and that it was holding the US responsible for violating their diplomatic immunity in Iraq. He said an Iraqi police spokesman said that all diplomats provide information on their travel to and from their embassies and request security – with the exception of Iran, which never gives any information about their diplomats’ activities outside the Iranian Embassy. Mr. Javanmardi also reported on an alleged attack against Kurdish rebels in Iraq by Iranian military rockets. He said the Iranian military regularly exchanges artillery and rocket and cannon fire with Kurdish rebels who have taken refuge across the border. But he reported that Iraqi Kurdish officials say they are worried that Iran’s willingness to cross the border raises the possibility of a broader confrontation that could draw the Iraqi government and US forces into an unwanted showdown with Iran. One Kurdish legislator said that if reports of the attacks were true, then Iraq must “stand firmly” against future Iranian encroachments.

News and Views May 14 reported that Australia is considering taking Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to the International Court of Justice for his incendiary comments about Israel. Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd Kevin Rudd said, “The Iranian president’s repeated extraordinary statements, which are anti-Semitic and expressing a determination to eliminate the modern state of Israel from the map, are appalling by any standards of current international relations….It’s not just hyperbole from the bully pulpit of Tehran. It’s the roll-on effect across the Islamic world, particularly those who listen to Iran for their guidance.” In another development, Russia has urged world powers to give Iran security guarantees to help resolve the dispute over Tehran’s nuclear program. Russian news agencies quote Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov as saying the powers should also ensure Tehran has a better place in Middle East negotiations.

News and Views May 15 reported from Irbil that Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps shot and killed a 15-year-old Kurdish boy named Rostam near Piranshahr, a city located in West Azarbaijan province in northwest Iran. A videotape of the incident was briefly available online at YouTube [Editor’s Note: The video is still available for viewing on the Kurdish Aspect website at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VoEKnCYjEUE; do note the warning that the video is very disturbing]. It showed the guards wrapping the boy’s body even though he was still alive. None of them acted to help the boy, though he was obviously severely wounded. Kurdish sources report Rostam was neither a smuggler nor had he done anything to threaten the national security of Iran.

Today’s Woman May 16 talked about the creation and significance of Encyclopedia Iranica with Ahmad Karimi-Hakkak, Professor and Founding Director of the University of Maryland’s Center for Persian Studies. The Encyclopedia Iranica is a multi-disciplinary reference of Iranian history and civilization, and is one of the most ambitious projects to record and preserve Iranian civilization throughout the centuries. Mr. Karimi-Hakkak said the Encyclopedia is 35-years-old and that there are now 13 volumes. “It is the biggest English reference of its kind,” he said. “All universities with a Persian Studies program have a collection of the Encyclopedia Iranica. Its Information is much more credible than Wikipedia, which is not an entirely legitimate source of information.” In the next segment, Today’s Woman also interviewed Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi, who was at an event at the University of Maryland’s Persian Studies Center. She said the Encyclopedia Iranica is “important because it shows the world the true culture of Iran. We should not be judged solely on the history of the last 30 years. We are a country that has a culture and history that is 3,000 years old.” Ms. Ebadi, who is a lawyer and activist in Iran, also talked about human rights, saying “There is no democracy in Iran and the people are not free.”