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Reformist Journalist Sasan Aghaei in Prolonged Solitary Confinement Despite Calls for His Release by MPs

CHRI- The Iranian judiciary is refusing to release reformist journalist Sasan Aghaei, who has been detained for more than two months in solitary confinement despite calls for his release by members of Parliament.

Since August 12, 2017, the deputy editor-in-chief of the reformist Etemad newspaper has been held in solitary confinement in Evin Prison's Ward 241, controlled by the judiciary's intelligence branch.

"I ask judicial officials to please change his detention order and release him on bail," said Fatemeh Saeidi, a leading member of the Hope reformist faction in Parliament, on October 13. "The honorable authorities can avoid prolonging this journalist's detention."

Without mentioning Aghaei by name, Deputy Parliament Speaker Ali Motahari wrote a column in Etemad on October 10 criticizing the judiciary for allowing illegal detentions.

"For instance, a reporter was detained in an improper fashion by the Media Court," he wrote. "The family has not been told where he is being held. He remains in detention even though according to the law, he was supposed to be charged and released within 24 hours. Then he was held in solitary confinement for a long period of time to make him falsely confess under psychological pressure."

"For how long must the people's representatives be the refuge for the families of detainees, who constantly come to us for help when we cannot do very much for them?" asked the conservative MP from Tehran.

The public relations office of Tehran Prosecutor Abbas Jafari Dowlatabadi lashed out at Motahari for his column.

"For how long must judicial authorities be forced to tolerate interferences by people like Mr. Motahari?" said a statement published on October 10 by the judiciary's official news agency, Mizan.

The judiciary has not provided a reason for Aghaei's arrest. However, a source close to the journalist told the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) on August 21 that Aghaei was suspected of working with Amad News, a dissident-run channel on the Telegram messaging network.

"They say he is being held in connection with Amad News, even though he's a licensed journalist and editor of a newspaper and has nothing to do with that site," said the source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

With nearly 700,000 followers, Amad News is one of the most popular Iranian-content channels on Telegram.

Journalist Hengameh Shahidi and photojournalist Asal Esmailzadeh were also arrested in 2017 for alleged working with Amad News.

Aghaei was previously arrested on several occasions, beginning during the state crackdown in 2009 on the peaceful protests that followed the disputed reelection of former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Held for 128 days in Evin Prison, he was sentenced to a year in prison by Branch 28 of the Revolutionary Court for "propaganda against the state." However, the sentence was not carried out and Aghaei was released on 50 million tomans ($15,300 USD) bail.

Aghaei began his journalism career in 2001. He worked for several other moderate and reformist newspapers, including Yas-e-No, Farhikhtegan and Hambastigi, before joining Etemad.

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Imprisoned Iranian-British Citizen Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe Threatened With 16 More Years Behind Bars

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Iran's President Rouhani Pushes Back against Security Media

Iran's President Rouhani Pushes Back against Security MediaPayvandNews - As in other authoritarian states, the Iranian media landscape is greatly shaped by outlets with close links to the security and intelligence establishment. Media outlets with links to security organizations are usually launched with a defined approach and clear goal in mind. They work not only to advance the agendas of their patrons but also to weaken critics of such organizations. While receiving financial, security, and judicial support, these media outlets publish biased and targeted content. A further characteristic of this "security media" is that they employ military and security personnel as their managers, with little regard for journalistic standards.

Hamid Reza Moghaddam-Far

by Saeed Aganji (source: LobeLog)

Fars News Agency, which was launched in January 2003, is an example of this security media. The news agency belongs to the paramilitary Basij Organization and is financially supported by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). Its links with security organizations as well as biased approach first became evident during the 2005 presidential elections. At the time, it started to tarnish the image of the moderate candidate, late Ayatollah Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, while boosting conservative upstart Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The person in charge of this operation was the editor of the news agency's political service, Mohammad Paariyaab, who had previously worked with Sobh-e Sadegh, which belongs to the IRGC.

In 2008, Hamid Reza Moghaddam-Far, a senior member of the IRGC, was appointed as the managing director of Fars News Agency. With this appointment the IRGC hoped to manage news related to the 2009 presidential elections. For instance, Fars News announced Ahmadinejad's victory, with 24 million votes, just minutes after the election's close. After completing his mission in Fars News Agency, Moghaddam-Far once again returned to the IRGC in September 2011.

Rouhani and the Security Media

The shape of the media landscape has not gone unchallenged, particularly in recent years. At the 2014 National Conference on Promoting Administrative Integrity, moderate President Hassan Rouhani rather bluntly said, "If money, weapon and media all gather together in one organization, there will certainly be corruption," targeting the IRGC in an attempt to expose the nature of the media outlets connected to it.

Rouhani on "money, weapon and media all gather together in one organization"
Read related report by Etemaad daily

But in practice, such outlets remain immune from prosecution, publishing accusations against both administration officials and dissidents with impunity. Although both individuals and legal entities have filed legal complaints against these media outlets, they have yet to be held accountable in court due to the power and influence of the IRGC. At the same time, Reformist media outlets that support the administration-Bahar newspaper in 2014, Ghanoon newspaper in 2016-have been repeatedly closed down as a result of their political leanings.

Tasnim News Agency, another media outlet connected to the security establishment, was launched in 2012. Operating in parallel with Fars News Agency, it was also founded by Hamid Reza Moghaddam-Far, who rose to become deputy for cultural and social affairs of the IRGC.

Tasnim and Fars, whose agenda and content are prepared by the IRGC, use terms and key words mentioned by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in order to assemble what is commonly referred to as "security cases." For instance, after the disputed 2009 presidential elections, Khamenei used the word "sedition" to address critics who questioned the election results. This one key word was enough for the security media to start addressing the issue and paving the way for the security establishment to confront Reformist political activists and journalists.

Before Iran's eleventh presidential elections in 2013, media outlets connected to the IRGC commonly prepared security cases that the Ministry of Intelligence then executed. For instance, in Feb. 2013, the ministry arrested 19 journalists. The security media referred to the arrestees as members of "the sedition group connected to foreign-based media outlets." When Rouhani took office, however, the Ministry of Intelligence's approach toward journalists and media outlets changed. This change resulted in a conflict between the Ministry of Intelligence and the IRGC, which resulted in the IRGC taking over the entire process of designing, preparing, and executing security cases with the aid of its media outlets.

Battling over the JCPOA

In 2015, the security media undertook another project to oppose the nuclear deal between Iran and the six world powers. For instance, in October 2015, during a meeting with the commanders and officials of the Navy of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, Ayatollah Khamenei said, "It is forbidden to negotiate with the United States; what the United States wants out of negotiation is infiltration." In this vein, IRGC commander Mohammad Ali Jafari  said on November 2, 2015, "The fourth sedition is a dangerous and long sedition." He then added, "The United States is more interested in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action [JCPOA] than we are because they are interested in what comes after it."

Jafari's comments had been preceded by the arrest of two foreign citizens-Lebanese American Nazar Zaka and Iranian American Siamak Namazi-in August 2015. However, the very next day after his speech, five journalists with ties to the Rouhani administration were detained while the security media published a series of articles about the "discovery of an American network of infiltration in Iran's press."

After these arrests and the increasing talk of "infiltration," Rouhani reacted by saying, "We need to seriously and genuinely fight against any sort of foreign infiltration and we should not allow anyone to misuse the term 'infiltration' for their own personal gains or for the benefit of a certain political faction."

As key opponents of the nuclear deal, the IRGC and radical principlists continued to use the security media to either target the JCPOA or weaken the nuclear negotiation team.

For instance, in May 2017, Javad Karimi-Ghodousi, a member of parliament's national security and foreign policy commission, once again claimed that some members of the negotiation team are spies. He had first initiated the claims last year, which precipitated denials from both the foreign ministry and the intelligence ministry. Moreover, on August 17, the office of the president responded to Karimi-Ghodousi's comments by emphasizing that accusing the members of the negotiation team of being spies belittles the position of MPs.

The security media-Fars News Agency and Tasnim as well as Keyhan and Vatan Emrooz newspapers-view the JCPOA as an important achievement for Rouhani's administration, so generally its positive political and economic outcomes. Even before the nuclear agreement reached its conclusion, they attempted to prevent the compromise from taking place. However, due to the fact that the Islamic Republic of Iran's Supreme Leader Khamanei had announced his relative support, the security media and the hardline political factions could not implement their project.

However, after the nuclear deal they reiterated that the JCPOA is a disgrace and began lobbying for Iran to withdraw from the agreement. The security media is constantly putting pressure on Rouhani's administration by emphasizing that the P5+1 countries, particularly the United States, are failing to implement the deal. Donald Trump's statement at the United Nations against Iran, his repeated statements of dissatisfaction with the nuclear deal, and his desire to void or at least renegotiate the agreement have prompted a reaction from Rouhani, who continues to state that "Iran will never be the first party to violate the agreement." Rouhani has asked for the Trump administration to apologize to the Iranian nation and insisted that the JCPOA is not renegotiable. Trump's position against the nuclear deal is precisely in line with Iran's security media and the hardline political factions. The security media is taking advantage of this opportunity to put pressure on Rouhani's administration to withdraw from the JCPOA.

In the past, the security media could advance their agendas without facing any obstacles, particularly considering that Iranian activists, and Iranian citizens more broadly, had limited access to information tools. Now, however, the Rouhani administration has been able to create obstacles for them by strengthening communication infrastructures and using tools of communication such as Twitter, Instagram, and Telegram to put out its counter-message.

The outcome of recent battles is clear. In the media war that took place between the security media and pro-Rouhani outlets, both during the nuclear negotiations and in the 2017 presidential elections, the administration and its supporters emerged as the winners. Only time will tell whether these are one-offs or part of a genuine realignment of the Iranian media landscape.

About the author: Saeed Aganji is an Iranian journalist, researcher, and former editor-in-chief of the Saba student publication.

... Payvand News - 10/05/17 ... --

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Death Of Young 'Porter' Highlights Plight Of Iran's 'Human Mules'

Bent under the weight of their loads -- smuggled cigarettes, alcohol, gasoline, and even home appliances -- the RFL/RE - Working in the smuggling trade in Iran is a risky business -- one that has cost the lives of hundreds of anonymous "human mules" who carry heavy loads of contraband on their backs across the western border with Iraq and Turkey.

The death of 17-year-old Vahid Dolatkhah provides an exception to the norm -- a face, a name, and an identity of one of those who died plying the perilous trade.

Dolatkhah died on August 21 near the border with Turkey due to an "unnatural accident," according to Iran's semiofficial ILNA news agency. Opposition websites and groups documenting rights violations in Iran have claimed, however, that Dolatkhah was shot in the chest and stomach by Iranian border guards while carrying smuggled cigarettes.

Hundreds of the human mules have been killed or injured in past years, according to reports by rights groups. Some have been shot by security forces and border guards; others have died after being caught up in natural disasters, stepping on land mines that remain from the 1980-1988 war with Iraq, or falling from mountains.

As images and videos that emerged online attest, Dolatkhah was much more than a beast of burden. He had his whole life ahead of him, a young man who enjoyed playing the tar and singing in a Kurdish dialect:


When he died of his injuries after being taken to a hospital in West Azerbaijan Province, he unintentionally became the human face of an occupation often born of economic desperation. By Iranian lawmaker Rasool Khezri's estimation, there are currently 70,000 smugglers, often referred to as "porters," working in Iran's border regions. The trade is particularly prominent in Kurdish-populated regions, such as Kurdistan Province and West Azerbaijan Province.


In 2016, 42 human mules in Kurdish areas were shot dead by Iranian border guards and 22 died as a result of hypothermia and other causes, according to the France-based Kurdish Human Rights Network.

The New York-based Center for Human Rights In Iran reported in 2012 that between February and March 2011, 70 porters, or smugglers, had died. The overwhelming majority were killed by security forces; four died as a result of mine explosions, avalanches, or extreme cold.

Bent under the weight of their loads -- smuggled cigarettes, alcohol, gasoline, and even home appliances -- the mules, known in Iran as kolbar, are a common sight in Iran's western border regions.

They're usually residents of local villages -- both men and women, and children as young as 13 and others in their 70s --who turn to smuggling goods to sustain their families.

The unemployment rate in Iran's Kurdish-populated provinces, where many of the porters come from, is about 20 percent. But a lawmaker last year suggested that unemployment in Kurdistan Province is much higher.

"The real rate of unemployment in the province of Kurdistan is between 40 to 50 percent – despite what officials claim -- and this is very worrying," Mohsen Biglari, who represents the people of Baneh and Sagez in the Iranian parliament, was quoted by the semiofficial Tasnim news agency as saying.

Sanandaj-based journalist Soma Safari says some of the mules have university educations.

"They basically have no other choice," Safari told RFE/RL. "They chose this profession because of lack of employment opportunities, lack of investment in the region, and ethnic and religious discrimination they face."

"Being a kolbar is not a choice, it is a compulsion," some 60 Kurdish civil society and political activists said in an open letter issued in January. "If other jobs were available, the majority of porters would definitely not choose their extreme profession."

The activists called on Iranian authorities to reach out to the porters in the short-term and to create jobs in Kurdish-populated regions in the long-term.

Nima Sarvestani, a Sweden-based filmmaker and the director of a documentary about the plight of several Iranian mules, says they risk their lives for little money.

Sarvestani spent about a year and half in the border region with Iraq to make his 2009 documentary, On The Border Of Desperation:


"They would tie tanks with 60 liters of petrol on their backs and carry them out from Marivan to the border crossing of Bashmakh in Iraq, where they would sell it and make about $7 or $8 for a trip," Sarvestani told RFE/RL in a telephone interview.

"If the conditions were right, they would make the trip twice a day," he added.

Savestani says many of the mules must pay bribes to border guards. Those who don't face confiscation of their goods, detention, or even summary execution.

Safari says that in recent months there appears to have been a rise in public awareness and sensitivity about the lives of porters.

In early September, the killing of two of them by border guards led to protests and strikes in Baneh on Iran's western border.

Reports say police used tear gas to disperse the angry crowd.

Prosecutor Mojtaba Shiroudbozorgi in Iran's Kurdistan Province was quoted by domestic media as saying that five suspects in the killings of the porters have been identified and detained.

Sarvestani believes that unless jobs are created, the mules' plight is likely to continue.

"The only solution is for the government to create jobs, to create industry where people can be employed," Sarvestani said, suggesting that Kurds be given top regional posts.

He added that he's not hopeful, claiming the establishment "does not care about Kurdistan."

Safari agrees that many in the region believe only permanent and stable jobs and investment in the region can resolve the issue and suggests that the little guy is being singled out for abuse.

"Unfortunately, instead of fighting big and organized smugglers who have crippled Iran's economy, authorities are busy eradicating porters," lawmaker Shahab Naderi, who represents people from the majority Kurdish-populated city of Paveh in the Iranian parliament, was quoted as saying by the Mardom Salari daily.
16x9 Image
Golnaz Esfandiari
Golnaz Esfandiari is a senior correspondent with RFE/RL.

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Iranian Miners’ Call for Justice Echoes in Social Media

Radiozamaneh - In December of 2015 miners of Agh Dareh gold mines staged a number of protests which earned many miners imprisonment, flogging and hefty fines. Some of the miners described their treatment in a 59 second video where one of the Agh Dareh residents stresses that miners were imprisoned, flogged and fined simply because they wanted to work and earn a living.

The video went viral in Iranian social media highlighting the importance of recounting acts of state cruelty against Iranian workers for the public.

The miners were arrested and sentenced following complaints filed by the mine’s ownership. They were charged with impeding business, vandalism and disorderly behaviour.

Watch the video:


Media reflection of the events triggered a parliamentary probe which issued its report last August confirming that the charges had no foundation. According to the report, the miners had not engaged in impeding business and disturbing public safety and order. They were merely protesting their mas lay off and wanted to meet with management to talk matters over.

In early December 2015 Pouya Zarkan Company laid off 350 workers who had been working in the Agh Dareh mines for over ten years. The workers called for a meeting with the management but were refused.

The miners then proceeded to stage demonstrations in the company premises during which three of the miners, under stress of their job loss, attempted suicide but were rescued. The employer then proceeded to lay charges against the miners and 17 of the miners were sentenced for their participation in the protests.

Flogging of workers in Iran

Nine of the miners who were sentenced to imprisonment, 30 lashes and fines were released on bail after the complainant withdrew the charges against them.

Last June however the flogging sentence against 8 miners and a local resident was carried out triggering widespread outrage.

International Trade Confederation reported the incident to the International Labour Organization which added it to the complaint file against the Islamic Republic.

Head of Western Azerbaijan Labour Ministry was fired for denying any knowledge of the events; however, head of the province’s Justice Department defended the proceedings saying the punishment was not meted out for labour protests but for “disturbing public safety and order”.

Head of Takab Justice Department, where the sentences were carried out, also stood by the legality of the floggings and threatened the media with legal action. Counsel for the miners had reportedly managed to reach a settlement with the management who had withdrawn their complaint but the prosecutor had apparently pressed charges on the state’s behalf and proceeded to execute the sentences.

The parliamentary probe reveals widespread illegal handouts from the mining company to various security and administrative offices of the municipality of Takab aimed at tax evasion as well as avoiding environmental regulations.

Flogging of Iranian Workers a Cartoon by Assad Binakhahi for Zamaneh Media

Agh Dareh mines are located 40 kilometres outside Takab and their workers are mainly from local Kurdish residents who make their living through agriculture, stock farming and carpet weaving. The development of mining in the area in the past twenty years has provided employment for the residents however its extraction practices have rendered the region’s soil inadequate for farming. It has also polluted the air increasing the incidence of skin disease as well as lung and throat cancer. Additionally, it has increased mercury and cyanide levels in the local water supply and had adverse effects on the wildlife in the region.

The workers who were sentenced will face greater obstacles in finding work elsewhere since they now have a police record marking them as disturbers of public safety and security.

Currently from the 17 charged workers only six remain in Agh Dareh and the rest have migrated to other parts of the country in search of employment. Those who have remained are making do with odd jobs or have to rely on their spouse’s carpet weaving income.

However there may be a silver lining in these events. Once communicated across the web, the flogging of the miners of Agh Dareh became a symbol of the injustices borne by Iranian workers all across the country. Its reflection in social media and the outrage it engendered forced the hand of the state. It was pivotal in getting the miners released and in preventing such treatments from becoming the order of the day. A mighty feat for a simple 59 second video.

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