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Anti Semitic Speech By Iranian Diplomat Causes Stir

Hormoz Ghahremani First secretary of the Iranian Embassy in Auckland

A video of a speech by the First secretary of the Iranian Embassy in Auckland has caused controversy in New Zealand.

The speech by the Iranian diplomat Hormoz Ghahremani was given at a mosque in Auckland on Quds day in June of this year. During the speech Ghahreman warns his audience "against any plots hatched by the Zionists and their international sponsors."

His co-speaker Hojatoleslam Shafie went a step further by calling the Holocaust a "fake phenomenon" and also made a prediction that the "Zionist regime" will be destroyed in 25 years. In his speech Shafie also claimed that "it is impossible to study the Holocaust" and that if Germany really did cause it then Germany should give a part of their land to the Jews.

The Israel Institute of New Zealand has complained to the Human Rights Commission of New Zealand and to the Foreign Minister.

The video was posted on the Youtube account of the New Zealand based Islamic Ahlulbayt Foundation which describes itself as the "first established Islamic Shia Organisation in New Zealand" The video has been since deleted from their account.

Anti Semitic Speech By Iranian Diplomat In New Zealand
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Video Courtesy of Memri TV with reporting by newshub.co.nz

Man Accused Of Big Fraud In Teachers' Fund Flees Iran

Officials of Iranian Teachers Fund (including former CEO Shahabeddin Ghandali) in their meeting on October 2015.

A person accused of roughly $146 million overdue payback related to the Teachers Savings Fund, TSF scandal has fled Iran, says a member of parliament.

Jabbar Kouchakinejad who is a member of parliament’s Education and Research Commission divulged the news in an interview with Iran Labor News Agency, ILNA, on Monday, October 30.

When in 2013 the fund’s control was transferred from Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s government to the new administration, another parliament member claimed that one billion dollars was missing; listed as “non-receivable assets”.

Later, conservatives accused the head of the fund, appointed by the new president, Hassan Rouhani of being responsible for at least part of the missing funds.

Both factions of the Islamic Republic regime, the reformists and conservatives now accuse one another of allowing fraud to take place.

But it is logical to assume that a such a large-scale fraud could not have happened over night and it must have started years ago.

The TSF is an investment vehicle for retired teachers, who invest their savings in one basket, which then tries to lend the money to businesses and return some profit to the teachers.

Most of the accused borrowed money from the fund and did not pay back.

Now, the whistle blowing MP, Kouchakinejad says that actually 20 people have been arrested since the start of the scandal, but most of them have been released with the condition that they’ll pay back what they owe to the fund.

The HQ of Iran's teachers saving fund, undated.
The HQ of Iran's teachers saving fund, undated.

However, he says that some of the accused, including a man identified as Mr. “M”, have already fled Iran.

Without revealing the full name of the accused, Kouchakinejad maintained, “Mr. M’s lawyer is currently trying to lay the groundwork for his return and settling his nearly four to five trillion rials (roughly up to $146 million) overdue debt”.

Another aspect of the scandal is that although many people have been arrested and identified as debtors to the fund, no names have been released.

This is a typical practice in the Islamic Republic. In large fraud cases, rarely the full names of the accused are announced, ostensibly to protect them in case their guilt is not proven in the end.

But some say that in reality, powerful and well-connected people are involved in fraud and different political factions make sure the identities of their supporters are not exposed.

Working teachers complain that they are one of the most neglected government employees, with minimal salaries and coping with difficult conditions. Security forces persecute those who try to organize the teachers to demand their rights.

Earlier, Kouchakinejad had reported that many of the accused connected with the TSF case have been dragged out of planes while trying to flee the country.

Citing the MP, ILNA reports that others might be detained and questioned as well, if new clues emerge.

Kouchakinejad described the extent of fraud related to the Teachers Savings Fund as “high”, amounting to fourteen trillion to fifteen trillion rials (roughly $408 million to $440 million).

Meanwhile, he also believes that the extent of the fraud might be much larger; had the other hidden layers of the case been revealed.

The Teachers Deposit Fund has more than 800,000 members who receive annual interest on their investment.

Iran Rejects Turkmen Proposal For Gas Shipments To Turkey

Iran’s First Vice President Eshaq Jahangiri (right) met with Armenia's minister for energy infrastructure and natural resources, Ashot Manukian, in Tehran in December 2016.

Energy politics around the Caspian Sea breeds complications, as a recent example involving Turkmenistan, Iran, Turkey, Azerbaijan, and Armenia reminds us.

Turkmenistan is in a serious bind. The country has the fourth-largest natural gas reserves in the world but currently has only one customer -- China -- at a time when Turkmenistan's economy appears to be spiraling downward.

Turkmenistan would likely sell gas to anyone at this point, considering its extreme revenue shortages, and needs to start selling to someone, soon.

So, according to reports from October 23-25, Turkmenistan is proposing a gas-swap deal with Iran to get Turkmen gas to Turkey, where it could be pumped into the Trans-Anatolian Natural Gas Pipeline (TANAP) that is currently under construction.

Iranian National Gas Company (INGC) Director Hamid Reza Araki, who is also deputy oil minister, replied that Iran was not "positively disposed" to the idea.

That response is hardly surprising.

Since the late 1990s, Turkmenistan has been shipping gas to northern Iran, an area that is poorly connected to Iran's gas-rich south.

At the end of 2016, Turkmenistan demanded Iran pay somewhere around $2 billion (the figure is not entirely clear) for supplies of Turkmen gas to northern Iran during the winter of 2007-08.

Iran countered that the figure was too high and claimed that Turkmenistan had jacked up the gas price during that particularly bitter winter to $360 per 1,000 cubic meters, about nine times the usual price at the time.

Last-minute negotiations before the new year appeared to end in an agreement, but on January 1 Turkmenistan shut off the gas supplies -- and they have remained off.

Iran says Turkmenistan illegally broke the contract and has periodically threatened to take Turkmenistan to international arbitration.

With that as a backdrop, there is little wonder Araki indicated that Tehran has no enthusiasm for helping Turkmenistan.

But Araki mentioned another reason the Turkmen proposal was never likely to be met with sympathy in Tehran.

"We are against the sale of a rival country's gas to Turkey via swap operations," Araki stated, an indication that even if the debt dispute between Turkmenistan and Iran is resolved, there is little hope Iran will ever cooperate in exporting Turkmen gas to Turkey.

There is no pipeline running the length of northern Iran from the Turkmen to Turkish border, so Ashgabat wants a swap: Turkmenistan exports gas for use in northern Iran, and Iran pumps a like amount into a pipeline (or one day probably pipelines) leading to Turkey.

TANAP is the prize for both Turkmenistan and Iran.

TANAP, a 1,840-kilometer pipeline to bring gas from Azerbaijan's Shah Deniz-2 Caspian Sea field across Turkey to Europe, is currently under construction and is tentatively scheduled to be launched next year.

In its initial stages, TANAP will carry only Azerbaijani gas. But as the pipeline expands capacity on its way to eventually reaching some 60 billion cubic meters (bcm), there will be space for gas from other countries.

Turkmenistan would like to be one of those countries, but Iran -- and potentially Iraq and northeastern Syria -- are better positioned to provide gas to TANAP.

However, Turkmen gas is, and, according to INGC chief Araki, will continue moving to the west, at least as far as Azerbaijan.

Araki said Iran had no objections to a gas swap with Turkmenistan as concerns gas for Azerbaijan.

Azerbaijan is a gas producer, but it purchases Turkmen gas during the summer, when the price is low, to make "maximum use of the commercial potential of storage facilities" of the State Oil Company of Azerbaijan Republic (SOCAR).

Reports did not mention the amount of Turkmen gas Azerbaijan purchases, but it could not be very much.

SOCAR buys Turkmen gas in the summer to "top off" its gas storage facilities, then resells the gas in winter at a profit.

Armenia is hoping for a similar arrangement and has offered to mediate the Turkmen-Iranian debt dispute in an agreement that would see a Turkmen-Iranian gas swap supplying gas to Armenia.

On October 20, Armenia's minister of energy infrastructure and natural resources, Ashot Manukian, claimed that "we have proposed our involvement in settling debt-management issues between Turkmenistan and Iran, and they have accepted our proposal."

Ashgabat certainly has not confirmed this, and it is difficult to see why Turkmenistan would agree to the Armenian proposal.

Manukian's solution would see Iran settle its debt by shipping gas to Armenia; Armenia would then pay off Tehran's debt to Ashgabat, but by barter, not cash.

Barter was exactly the deal Turkmenistan had with Iran before the dispute erupted.

Ashgabat had agreed to accept goods and services as compensation for the first $3 billion worth of gas exported to Iran, though Ashgabat was trying to renegotiate that agreement since Iranian gas imports rarely exceeded $3 billion.

Turkmenistan's government wants cash, not goods, so it is difficult to see how the Armenian deal would suit Ashgabat.

Additionally, Turkmenistan did sell gas to Armenia in the 1990s via Russian pipelines and Armenia was regularly deep in debt for those supplies.

And, in any case, Manukian indicated Turkmenistan would probably be competing even for the small Armenian gas market.

Manukian said Armenia was ready to import more gas from Iran "if Iran offers lower prices."

Manukian noted that Armenia also purchases gas from Russia for $150 per 1,000 cubic meters; meaning that if Iran, and presumably Turkmenistan, could sell their gas for less than that amount, Yerevan would be interested.

So it seems that Turkmenistan's possibilities to export gas westward are, at best, limited.

It is interesting that Turkmenistan made the swap offer to Iran.

After all the acrimony this year in Turkmen-Iranian ties, Turkmen officials must have known the offer would probably get a cold reception in Tehran.

But Ashgabat made the offer all the same, because there are so few options and so little time left for the Turkmen regime to turn the country's economy around.

The views expressed in this blog post do not necessarily reflect those of RFE/RL.

Motahari Says The Guardian Council Should Avoid 'Disrupting Order'

Iranian Parliament speaker Ali Larijani (2nd R) shaking hand with his second deputy Ali Motahari, May 31, 2017.

Deputy speaker and outspoken Tehran MP Ali Motahari has dismissed comments made by two Islamic jurists from the influential Guardian Council (GC) declaring a Zoroastrian’s membership in Yazd City Council as null and void.

The jurists’ argument was “impaired” and their behavior leads to “disrupted discipline and order” in Iran, Motahari wrote in an open letter published on October 28 on his website.

Earlier, jurist Ayatollah Mohammad Yazdi had insisted that barring a Zoroastrian, Sepanta Niknam, from membership in the city council was “certain” and “irrevocable.”

“A non-Muslim's membership in city councils is against Shari’a” Islamic law, Yazdi argued.

The ayatollahs also used words spoken by the founder of the Islamic Republic, Rouhollah Khomeini to argue that a non-Muslim cannot be a member of a council making decisions in a Muslim-majority country.

Motahari in his letter offers a rebuttal to the two jurists. He says that at the time, Khomeini wanted to prevent “Marxists” and the People’s Mujahedin from taking over local councils and accuses the ayatollahs of a superficial reading. Khomeini was not really speaking about officially accepted religious minorities, Motahari says; he was speaking about non-believers and those opposed to the regime.

Motahari also rejected another argument made by the two insisting that there’s nothing wrong with the membership of minorities in councils in the cities where the majority of people are Muslims.

“A councilor’s responsibility is upkeeping the beauty, discipline, and order as well as approving municipalities’ budgets. They are not expected to decide the path and destiny of the nation of Islam.”

Sepanta Niknam, 32, is the first Zoroastrian who has served as a city councilor in Yazd and the only non-Muslim in all city councils in Iran. However, he was suspended after his re-election in May when he secured almost 22,000 votes.

Sepanta Niknam, a member of Yazd city council who was suspended by the conservative Guardian Council.
Sepanta Niknam, a member of Yazd city council who was suspended by the conservative Guardian Council.

​Referring to democratically re-elected Niknam, Motahari reiterated that he has a vote in deciding matters solely related to city maintenance. The people of Yazd, Muslims and Zoroastrians, elected him to participate in the upkeep of the city, not deciding their way of life.

Tehran’s MP also emphasized that, contrary to the comments made by the ayatollahs, the possibility of minorities gaining a majority in the councils of primarily Muslim-populated cities is close to zero.

While praising the ayatollahs' “Islamic concerns,” Motahari, in his final blow, has accused the GC members of disrupting order and discipline in the country which can increase the risk to dometic and foreign investments in Iran.

“The GC’s style is incompatible with the spirit of the law. GC members cannot abolish laws arbitrarily. If they see a law against Islam, they should approach the government or the parliament demanding them to amend it through bills and motions."

Motahari’s argument is that the GC is a guardian when laws are being adopted and has its constitutional right to object to a law within a specified timeframe. But it cannot change laws once they are adopted and practiced.

Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani has also strongly objected to suspending Niknam from his elected seat for not being a Muslim is illegal.

“If this matter is not resolved, we have no choice other than referring it to the Expediency Discernment Council for a final resolution,” Larijani has said.

The interference of the GC in this case has made officials and parliament members nervous about the ever increasing powers the conservative body tries to claim and use.

Ahmadinejad Attacks Judiciary in Full Force

Hamidreza Baghaei & Ali Akbar Javanfekr, Ahmadinejad`s deputy & advisor summoned to court.

Hours after his close allies, Hamid Baghaei and Ali Akbar Javanfekr were summoned to the court, former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad attacked the Islamic Republic’s judiciary with unprecedented vitriolic criticism.

Calling the legal procedure against Baghaei a sign of deep disorder ruling over the judiciary, former President Ahmadinejad accused the justice department officials of using their legal power as a “tool at service of their personal ends”.

A website promoting Ahamadinejad and his allies quotes the former president as saying, “All legal and civic rights principles and standards were ignored in the procedure of questioning Hamid Baghaei”.

The bill of indictment against Baghaei, the former president has insisted “is full of legal and lawful flaws while the Prosecutor-General’s office, as well as inspectors and law enforcement officers have repeatedly violated regulations”.

In an open letter dated Thursday, October 26, Ahmadinejad has also listed some of “the crimes” Baghaei is accused of, including “requesting [from his boss, Ahmadinejad, apparently] three trillion rials (roughly $88 million) for sixteen members of Ahmadinejad’s administration”, financially assisting “Iranian International University” [owned by Ahmadinejad] and “the Government’s official daily, Iran”.

Baghaei has also been accused of collusion for signing contracts with five [unnamed] companies.

Iranian former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (L) meeting with his close aid Hamid Baghaei just after his release from detention, on July 26, 2017.
Iranian former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (L) meeting with his close aid Hamid Baghaei just after his release from detention, on July 26, 2017.

All these accusations are based on complaints made by President Hassan Rouhani’s government, Ahmadinejad has said.

Parts of the accusations mentioned in Ahmadinejad’s letter are the same as those already publicized by dozens of MPs and members of Rouhani’s administration.

Furthermore, Ahmadinejad has mentioned that the whereabout of “an unknown sum of foreign currency given to Baghaei in 2015, by a revolutionary entity to be distributed among several African [countries’] officials is yet undecided and Baghaei has been also sued for that”.

Meanwhile, Ahmadinejad has bitterly criticized the judge in charge of Baghaei’s legal suit, accusing him of directing the legal procedure towards his own ends and not allowing Baghaei or his lawyer to defend and respond to the charges.

“The fate of Baghaei has already been decided by the Judiciary and Justice Ministry and they are pursuing their decision through a legal procedure”, Ahmadinejad has regretfully added.

Ahmadinejad had earlier also circulated a video clip and a letter maintaining that arresting his close allies, including Baghaei are related to the next presidential election and the speaker of parliament [Sadeq’s brother], Ali Larijani’s candidacy in it.

Former president in his Thursday letter has advised the judiciary to avoid politicking, politicizing the Justice Department, violating the law and injustice against people”.

Ahmadinejad has attacked the judiciary at a time that Iranian parliament Audit Court has accused him of illegally spending approximately $1.3 billion of Iran’s oil income in the last 18 months of his presidency.

The court has ordered the former president to repay $1.3 billion to the treasury. The ruling accuses Ahmadinejad that during his tenure oil revenues were spent without proper transfer from the oil ministry to the treasury.

Although the court has found Ahmadinejad directly responsible, it has not issued any other measures against him.

Baghaei had already been arrested this summer and spent two weeks behind bars, eventually going on a hunger strike, He was released on July 26 and his home-coming turned into a political spectacle.

As he arrived at Ahmadinejad’s office, he greeted Ahmadinejad and many supporters waiting for him on the street. Videos taken from the scene show Baghaei speaking to people surrounding him and calling Iran’s Judiciary and specifically its deputy liars.

Baghaei dismissed the charges against him and added “we know you’ll be overthrown soon”. The crowd also chanted slogans to back Baghaei’s shocking statement.

It is reported that he was freed on a huge bail of close to $7 million.

The Judiciary, backed by the Supreme Leader, ayatollah Ali Khamenei is an all-powerful institution, often acting willfully against opponents and critics of the ruling elite.

U.S. Senators Ask Haley To Strengthen IAEA Inspections And Reporting

U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley arrives at U.N. headquarters in New York, U.S., September 18, 2017.

Thirteen United States Senators have written a letter to the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., Nikki Haley, asking for tougher inspections of Iranian sites and better reporting by the International Atomic Energy Agency, IAEA about the implementation of the 2015 nuclear deal, JCPOA.

Senator David Perdue’s (R-GA) official website has published the text of the letter, in which the senators question why IAEA does not have access to all relevant sites in Iran, especially military ones.

“When unveiling the JCPOA, President Obama promised that, ‘inspectors will also be able to access any suspicious location. Put simply, the organization responsible for the inspections, the IAEA, will have access where necessary, when necessary.’ He stressed that Iran’s nuclear program ‘faces strict limitations and is subject to the most intrusive inspection and verification program ever negotiated to monitor a nuclear program.’ In practice, it appears that this is not the case,” wrote the senators.

The letter cites Iranian officials who said recently that Iran’s military sites are “off limits” and they “will never allow such visits.”

The thirteen senators, all Republican, cite a report by Institute for Science and International Security that the latest IAEA report is full of “ambiguity”. The reason they say is lack of clarity about which sites can be inspected in Iran and also a need to strengthen reporting about Iran’s compliance.

Ambassador Haley has repeatedly asked IAEA for visits to Iran's military sites and tougher inspections.

They ask Ambassador Haley to work with her counterparts at the U.N. to resolve these issues.

Senators Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio are among the signatories of the letter.

Among other issues the senators mention is uncertainty among the signatories of the JCPOA regarding the boundaries of what constitutes activities "which could contribute to the design and development of a nuclear explosive device." They quote IAEA Director Yukiya Amano saying that "more clarification would be helpful".

Amano is scheduled to visit Iran on Saturday, October 28.

The letter also asks improved IAEA reporting on uranium mining, conversion and enrichment.

Iran's Reformists Crippled Despite Electoral Victories

Iranian president Hassan Rouhani meeting with Mohammad Reza Aref and other reformists. Undated
This is an op-ed article by Morteza Kazemian, a contributor of opinion and analysis to Radio Farda

Despite several successes in recent elections, Iran's reformists now seem crippled by a lack of unity. The crisis is caused not only by the concerted counter-efforts of conservatives, led by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, but also by their own internal problems.

Following the protests against the re-election of Mahmud Ahmadinejad as president in 2009 that brought the regime to the brink of collapse, reformist politicians came under heavy attack by the conservative establishment. Accused of igniting the protests, they became severely isolated. Many were arrested, and some received long-term prison sentences.

However, in 2016, they won the parliamentary elections, and this May they helped moderate politician Hassan Rouhani get re-elected, even winning city council elections. Their supporters had hoped for a strong reformist comeback, but they soon were disappointed.

Let’s take a cursory glance at some of the developments that helped crush the optimism of those who supported the reformist camp.

Rouhani has been unable to fulfill many campaign promises such as ending the house arrest of Green Movement leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi as demanded by many of his voters. In the meantime, more restrictions have been imposed on former President Mohammad Khatami. As one of the most popular Iranian politicians, Khatami played a crucial role in Rouhani’s victory in the election.

Another disappointment came with Rouhani’s choices for cabinet positions when he failed to appoint high-profile reformists as ministers.

His latest nominee for science minister is also a sign he has distanced himself from his base, which demands more freedom and political reforms. The nomination of Mansour Gholami, head of Bu Ali Sina University in Hamadan, has not only been criticized by students but also by some reformist MPs. His critics say Gholami has a record of neglecting students’ rights and freedoms.

Rouhani seems to be trying to please the supreme leader by avoiding hard-core reformists, who do not have much power in the current political constellation.

Due to their organizational weakness, reformists have failed to pursue their demands through the executive branch and despite criticism they have taken no measures to get their act together.

Another challenge faced by the reformist camp, which comprises a diverse group of people, is that it lacks unity on many core issues, such as political reforms, the relationship between state and religion, the role of civil society, and the interpretation of the constitution.

For instance, some reformists don’t mind the pre-screening of candidates for presidential and parliamentary election by the Guardian Council, which is responsible for the exclusion of many moderate politicians. Other reformists want to see the role of the Guardian Council eliminated in elections.

Some of them pursue only superficial changes, while others want deep structural reforms. For some, mobilizing citizens to vote for them is sufficient; others want to see an active civil society that becomes the engine for democratic change.

Reformists can also be criticized for some character deficiencies; some follow their personal interests or are avaricious, too pragmatic and afraid of challenging the powerful institutions.

Under such circumstances, the reformist movement faces a serious crisis that will put a big dent in their popular support. We cannot expect cautious, moderate reformists to take the initiative and try to solve the issue.

The only glimpse of hope is a small group who has not forgotten civil society, is deeply critical of the current situation, and has the courage to express its criticism.

The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of Radio Farda or RFE/RL

Toyota's U.S. Apology Raises Specter Of 'Fear' Of Iran Dealings

The fact that Toyota has apologized for selling just car to an Iranian embassy seems to indicate that it is wary of doing business with Tehran despite the easing of international sanctions in recent years. (file photo)

The world's largest carmaker selling a single vehicle to a country of 82 million people is not usually a recipe for controversy.

But that's what Toyota is facing after it issued an apology and revealed on October 24 that the Japanese car manufacturer's Indian subsidiary, Toyota Kirloskar Motor Private, sold one vehicle to the Iranian Embassy in New Delhi in early 2017.

The apology has provoked an angry backlash in Tehran and highlighted the caution of multinational companies wanting to deal with Iran two years after a landmark deal to lift many international sanctions on the Islamic republic in exchange for halting sensitive nuclear work.

Toyota's actions have fueled accusations in Tehran that Washington is pressuring foreign companies into avoiding business with Iran to effectively keep sanctions in place.

"It seems that America intends to scare international companies that are willing to cooperate with Iran, threatening them with open hostility and forcing them to apologize," Iran's hard-line Javan news website, which is affiliated with Iran's powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), a branch of the armed forces, argued on October 24.

The reformist Shargh Daily appeared to double down on that sentiment, with editor Sadra Mohaghegh accusing the company of double standards by not responding similarly when Toyota cars are used for terrorist attacks in Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan.

European Commercial Dealings

Ever since the 2015 nuclear agreement, officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), officials in Tehran have also accused Washington of pressuring Europeans not to do business in Iran.

U.S. President Donald Trump has vowed to increase pressure on Iran, assailing Tehran as a "rogue regime" and threatening to walk away from the nuclear deal reached under his predecessor, Barack Obama. Trump on October 13 declined to certify Iran's compliance under a U.S. law tied to the JCPOA. Accusing Tehran of violating the "spirit" of the deal, Trump said he would ask Congress to strengthen a U.S. law to put additional pressure on Tehran.

Trump said in an interview aired on October 22 that he was not against France or Germany doing business with Iran.

"When they buy those things, it is a little harder," Trump said of French and German commercial dealings with Iran. "I told them just keep making money. Don't worry. We don't need you on this one."

U.S. President Donald Trump (right) speaks alongside Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (L) at a Cabinet meeting in the White House earlier this month.
U.S. President Donald Trump (right) speaks alongside Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (L) at a Cabinet meeting in the White House earlier this month.

Continue reading the article

Students Continue To Protest Against Nominee For Science Ministry

Mansoor Gholami, Head of Bu Ali Sina University and Rouhani's nominee for ministry of Science.

While protest assemblies against Rouhani’s nominee for heading the Science Ministry have gained momentum at universities around Iran, the candidate, Mansour Gholami, has maintained that no student at Bu Ali Sina University in the city of Hamadan has ever been disciplined for political activities under his management.

Hundreds of students at universities in the cities of Tehran, Qazvin, and Mashhad have staged protests against Gholami in recent days.

Meanwhile, according to Iran’s semi-official labor news agency, ILNA, three student associations at Tehran’s Amir Kabir University wrote a letter on October 25 calling Gholami to attend a gathering on October 28 and answer students’ questions.

“Instead of lobbying, behind the scenes consultations, imposing pressure to break students’ unity and silence their protests at the universities, you should attend Saturday’s gathering and deliver coherent answers to their questions,” read the letter.

The associations also referred to protests against Gholami’s nomination by 145 student associations and more than 3,000 activist members of Rouhani’s May 19 presidential election.

Furthermore, the students accuse Gholami of not signing the license for a reformist students’ association, not supporting student rights activities, inappropriate confrontations with students, and installing an individual close to the Front of Islamic Revolution Stability, an ultraconservative group, as cultural deputy for Bu Ali Sina University.

However, on October 24, at a meeting with the Iranian Parliament’s Omid (Hope) faction, Gholami dismissed the criticisms.

“Any legal activity at the universities should be free, and we will not allow anybody to prevent it,” Gholami affirmed.

The students immediately fired back by publishing a copy of Bu Ali Sina’s Disciplinary Committee ban against a student for a semester, allegedly for supporting protests against the outcome of the 2009 presidential election.

After meeting Gholami, a member of Omid, Shiraz MP Bahram Parsaei, also announced, “Regarding the many complications related to the management of the Science Ministry, many concerns have not yet been addressed.”

Gholami ranked 21st among Rouhani’s candidates for managing the ministry, according to Parsaei.

Based on Iran’s constitution, the president does not need to seek the approval of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei for his cabinet nominees, but per tradition he pre-approves candidates for key ministries, including the Science Ministry.

Khamenei’s official website allows that he is “sensitive” when it comes to nominating candidates for managing the ministries of Defense, Foreign Affairs, Science, Education, Culture and Islamic Guidance.

When Rouhani presented his new cabinet on August 8 to the parliament, he left the position of science minister vacant. The vacancy indicated that Rouhani had not reached a compromise with the Khamenei over the post.

Keeping the position vacant was followed by bitter criticism from reformists and pro-reform political figures including Tehran’s outspoken MP and deputy parliament speaker Ali Motahari, who said the vacancy was illegal.

Another reformist MP, Mahmoud Sadeqi, also declared, “Gholami is far from our ideal nominee. Nevertheless, seeing as nominating our 10 to 12 other candidates led nowhere, Gholami might be an acceptable choice.”

Iran Ranks Low Among Most Powerful Passports In The World

The Most Powerful Passports In The World
The Most Powerful Passports In The World
The Most Powerful Passports In The World

'Just About Money': Iran Recruits Afghans For Syria Fight

Funeral held in Iran for Afghans killed in Syria - Undated

AFP - Fleeing grinding poverty and unemployment, thousands of Afghan Shiites have been recruited by Iran to defend Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime, former fighters and rights activists say.

Afghan men and boys as young as 14 are signing up to fight on the promise of money and legal residency in Shiite-dominated Iran, Assad's regional ally, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW).

Since 2013 the Afghans, including undocumented migrants living in Iran, have joined the Tehran-backed Fatemiyoun division fighters in Syria, said HRW and ex-members who spoke to AFP on condition their real names were not used.

"For me it was just about money," said Shams, a former fighter.

The 25-year-old, a member of the Hazara ethnic group, went to Syria twice in 2016 to fight in a conflict that has now been raging for more than six years.

"Whoever I saw was going for money and to have free entry to Iran. I never saw anyone fighting for religious reasons," said Shams, who now lives in the Afghan capital Kabul.

The withdrawal of US-led NATO combat troops at the end of 2014 drained the Afghan economy and left many people out of work, fuelling the flow of migrants into Iran in search of a better life.

HRW estimated last year that Iran hosts around three million Afghans.

In this desperate pool Iranian recruiters targeted Shiites to swell the ranks of Fatemiyoun soldiers, who HRW says fight alongside Syrian government forces.

"I went there (Iran) because I was jobless and it was a way to get money for my family," said Shams.

"My idea was to find a job in Iran. I had no plan to go to fight in Syria but after a month of being jobless I decided to go.

"They were encouraging us saying 'you will be a freedom fighter and if you return to Iran alive you can stay with a 10-year residence permit'. But my main goal was to earn money."

Afghan Shiites are given 1.5 million toman (about $450) to register at a recruitment centre for the Fatemiyoun, Shams said. Once they have signed up they receive three million toman a month, a fortune for many poor Afghans.

Bodies

Shams' first mission was in June 2016 in the Syrian capital of Damascus, where he was assigned to protect a barracks for two months.

He went back to the country in September and was deployed to Aleppo, where he was given his first AK-47 after receiving rudimentary weapons training from Iran's Revolutionary Guards.

On the front line of the battle between Islamic State militants and the Al-Nusra Front jihadist group, Shams said he found himself caught up in an intense and deadly battle.

"In Aleppo we faced an ambush -- out of 100 fighters we lost almost all of them. There were 15 of us left alive," Shams said.

"The bodies were sent back to Iran and the families in Afghanistan held funeral ceremonies in mosques without a coffin or grave."

Ali Alfoneh, a senior fellow at the Washington-based think tank Atlantic Council, estimates more than 760 Afghans have been killed in Syria since September 2013.

Another man who fought in Syria in 2014 when he was 17, said it was not just Afghans in Fatemiyoun. "There were also Pakistanis, Iraqis -- all the Shiites," he told AFP.

"We were mixed up with the Arabs, we didn't understand their language."

HRW says the Iranians refuse to provide accurate figures, but estimates there are nearly 15,000 Afghans fighting for Fatemiyoun.

Treated like slaves

"They are used by the Iranian government, which treats them like slaves," said Ramazan Bashardost, a Hazara member of parliament in Kabul.

"The sorrow, pain and hunger of the people is not a major concern of the Afghan government."

Afghanistan's foreign ministry called on Iran in October to stop sending young Afghans to Syria after the HRW report condemning the recruitment of minors.

But preventing Afghans from volunteering will not be easy.

"Money and the prospect of a guaranteed residency for your family in Iran are major draw cards," said Shuja.

Shams returned to Afghanistan after pleas from his family and he now hopes to buy a shop. He has no intention of going back.

"I would never advise anyone to go there if he has a job here," he said.

Heritage Director Denies Pasargadae Shutdown As Cyrus Day Approaches

Pasargadae gathering on Cyrus Day in October 2016, turned into a political protest.

The director of Fars Province’s Cultural Heritage Organization (CHO) has dismissed the authenticity of a purportedly official statement declaring that Cyrus the Great’s mausoleum, Pasargadae, would be closed to the public from October 27 to 30.

Last year on October 28, a large crowd spontaneously gathered at Pasargadae to pay tribute to Cyrus the Great and the gathering turned into a protest against the Islamic Republic.

Now, speculations are rife that the authorities will simply shut access to the site, in time to prevent any gathering.

“CHO and the Fars governor-general have not yet decided on Cyrus the Great’s International Day or celebrating it at Pasargadae on October 28,” Fatemeh Rezaei said.

“Statements recently circulated with the governor-general and CHO logos are fake and invalid,” Iran Students News Agency (ISNA) cited Rezaei as saying.

Warning against further “extrapolations,” Rezaei insisted that the decision to keep Pasargadae open to the public on Cyrus the Great’s International Day had not yet been resolved.

Recently, a statement bearing official logos was widely circulated on social media declaring people would be barred from participating in annual ceremonies commemorating Cyrus the Great’s day at Pasargadae, which is near Shiraz, the capital of Fars Province in southern Iran.

“In respect to ‘anti-revolution’ petty groups abusing [Cyrus’ day] for their political ends, the Pasargadae touristic complex will be shut down from October 27 to October 30,” the statement read, adding, “All roads leading to the complex will be blocked by the authorities.”

The statement triggered an avalanche of criticism.

People gathering at Pasargadae to celebrate Cyrus the Great’s International Day and pay homage to the founder of Persian Empire have made headlines in recent years.

Conservatives and close allies of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei are bitterly against commemorating any non-Islamic event, particularly those related to the monarchy and pre-Islamic Iran.

However, in a letter to Culture and Islamic guidance minister, Shiraz MP Bahram Parsaei called on Iran’s decision makers to formally celebrate the day.

It’s time to celebrate Cyrus the Great’s day (October 29) with an official state ceremony, he wrote.

The Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA) published a copy of the reformist MP’s letter to the minister.

Parsaei urged Abbas Salehi to prepare a plan for celebrating the international day with an official state ceremony to present Iranian civilization and culture to the world.

A copy of the letter was sent to the Intelligence and Interior ministries, the justice department, the National Heritage Organization, and the governor-general of Fars Province, ISNA reported.

Last year, thousands of people gathered at Pasargadae chanting slogans against Iran’s ruling system, angering security forces and leading to the detention of several people.

Protesters reportedly chanted, "Iran is our homeland; Cyrus is our father," and “Clerical rule is synonymous with only tyranny, only war,” and “Freedom of thought cannot take place with beards,” an explicit reference to the theocratic leaders currently in power.

Furthermore, referring to Prince Reza Pahlavi, the heir to the throne of the late Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, many people chanted, “Happy Birthday, Prince.”

Pahlavi, who lives in exile in the United States, was born on October 31 in Tehran, and his other given name is Cyrus.

The exiled prince on his Facebook account described the slogans chanted in his favor at Pasargadae as “My best birthday present, ever.”

Immediately after the gathering, Fars Prosecutor-General Ali Salehi announced, “The main leaders and organizers of this gathering who chanted heteroclite slogans against the Islamic Republic’s values have been arrested.”

Ayatollah Hossein Nouri Hamadani, one of the Shi’ite sources of emulation, also joined the conservatives’ chorus to condemn the gathering at Pasargadae.

Fars News Agency quoted Hamadani as saying, “These people are against the revolution. I wonder how they can gather around Cyrus’ tomb and chant the same slogans (about Cyrus) that we chant about our supreme leader.”

Reportedly, he also quoted the founder of the Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, as saying, “Those who remembered Cyrus were anti-revolution.”

Nevertheless, there are some grand ayatollahs and Shi’ite sources of emulation who commend Cyrus the Great as a fair and just king.

Ayatollah Nasser Makarem Shirazi and late Allameh Tabatabaei are among senior Shi’ite clergy who deeply respect Cyrus the Great.

It is not yet clear how many people gathered at Pasargadae last year. However, a cultural activist based in the city of Isfahan, Shaheen Sepanta, told Radio Farda that according to unofficial estimates 15,000 to 20,000 people were present.

Though not yet registered on official calendars, October 29 has long been designated as the international day of Cyrus the Great, the founder of the Persian Empire who is widely believed to be the first defender of human rights. His human rights charter is inscribed on a clay cylinder currently kept at the British Museum.

More Labor Protests Show Pains Of Privatization In Iran

Iran - Mahshahr: contract workers on strike in a petrochemical project in Mahshahr.

According local media in Iran, labor protests have gained momentum again in different parts of the country.

Despite attempts by security forces to end the demonstrations, workers were actively participating in peaceful assemblies, demanding their overdue wages.

A group of workers at the Persian Gulf International Transport Company gathered in front of the Labor, and Social Welfare Ministry on October 23 to protest privatization of the company and demanding unpaid salaries, the Iran Labor News Agency (ILNA) reported.

“The management of the Persian Gulf International Transport Company was transferred to the private sector in May 2016 and the payment of our wages and insurance premiums has since been in shambles,” ILNA quoted the protesters as saying.

Furthermore, the protesters asserted that nearly 1,200 workers had either not received overtime bonuses or received them with considerable delay.

Earlier, workers at several industrial complexes in Iran, including privatized companies like Hepco, Poly Acryl, a ball bearing factory, Haft Tappeh Sugar Cane and Azarab, had also called for the companies to be returned to the public sector.

Workers usually complain that privatized companies are not paying wages regularly.

However, Rouhani’s administration has so far ignored these demands and still insists on shrinking the government’s work force by promoting the privatization of public plants and factories.

Problems are created when private owners fail to properly downsize an enterprise. Instead of legally paying off unneeded workers and reducing workforce, the privatized company, without government subsidies, is unable to pay people regularly.

In other instances, the private buyer is simply not interested in investing and improving production, rather the real purpose of purchasing a government owned enterprise is to strip it down and use the land for construction.

Workers at Rampco Project, a subdivision of Bu Ali Sina (Avicenna) Petrochemical Complex, also peacefully assembled to demand three months’ overdue wages and salaries.

Employees of HEPCO Protest In Front Of The Governor's Office In City Of Arak
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Nevertheless, the director of public relations at Bu Ali Sina , Ebrahim Gholamshahi, insisted that Rampco Project is run by private contractors and has no direct relation to its mother company.

However, Gholamshahi maintained that as soon as they were informed of the problem, managers were attempting to address workers’ demands.

Furthermore, Iran’s Free Trade Union reports that 170 workers at Shakhiss company, a contractor for Bandar Imam Petrochemical Complex, went on strike on October 21 and 22 to protest not receiving bonuses for their hard work in a disagreeable climate.

The government’s official news agency, IRNA, also reported that 400 workers at the South Pars Natural gas field in Asaluyeh, southern Iran, went on strike on October 22 to protest overdue wages and salaries.

The strike was later ended when contractors promised to address the problem.

Moreover, ILNA reported that nearly 1,000 industrial workers, forest rangers and pensioners of Mazandaran wood and paper mill went on strike on Sunday. They assembled at the factory’s compound demanding their two-month overdue wages and salaries.

In the meantime, workers at Hepco industrial unit in the city of Arak are also struggling to receive their overdue wages. They have held several rallies in the past few years to call for help.

In a peaceful rally in front of the governor-general’s office, Hepco workers were carrying a banner, declaring, “No Compromise, No Submission – Combat until Victory.”

In one of the video clips published on social media, protesters are heard chanting slogans, shouting, “Poor workers don’t deserve to be battered.”

Iran MP Slams Friday Prayers As Parroting Orders

Ali Motahari in the parliament - File photo

Iran’s outspoken Deputy Speaker of Parliament, Ali Motahari has attacked Friday prayers, one of the pillars the loyal clergy use to prop up Iranian regimes policy messages to the people and the local media.

The Tehran MP has insisted that Friday Prayer leaders take orders from a “central command” and merely parrot the catchphrases dictated.

In a comparison that most Shi'ite clergy would consider an affront, Motahari compared today’s Friday Prayers to those from the time of the Umayyad and Abbasid dynasties. For Shi'ite religious leaders, this would be like telling a democratic country its media is controlled as in a dictatorship.

In an interview with the Khabaronline news website, Motahari criticized what he said is the “inappropriate distribution of the ruling system’s tribunes,” adding, “It is not right to see that only certain people who praise the system and never criticize it are licensed to speak from public podiums and tribunes.”

Speaking out against the communal Friday Prayer ceremonies is quite unprecedented. The ruling system has always insisted they are the “real trenches of the Islamic Revolution” in a war against “anti-revolutionaries” and all other “hostile forces.”

During the first days of the Iranian Revolution, Friday Prayer ceremonies in Tehran and other cities were jam-packed with people eager for revolutionary guidelines, revolutionary slogans, and rosy messages about an ideal future.

Friday Prayer leaders in the capital -- the ayatollahs Mahmoud Taleghani, Hossein-Ali Montazeri, Mohammad Beheshti, and even Ali Khamenei (today’s supreme leader but a mid-ranking cleric at the time) -- were treated like celebrities. Their speeches attracted hundreds of thousands of people from all walks of life.

Comparing the current ceremonies in Iran to those held during the most hated historical eras for the Shi’a, the Umayyad and Abbasid dynasties, Motahari reiterated, “It is clear that all Friday Prayer leaders parrot the same monotonous hackneyed sermons. There’s a central command that orders them to talk against a certain person or elaborate on a certain subject, and all obey.”

Such a mechanism, he maintained, “eliminates Friday Prayer leaders’ independence.”

Thoughtful, intelligent, quality men have long been kept out of the Friday Prayer arena and public tribunes, Motahari continued. “There would be no problem if a Friday Prayer leader decided to criticize the entities and organizations under the supreme leader’s direct supervision. Then, the audience would feel a natural atmosphere. We should leave artificial trappings behind,” he said.

Noting a drop in quality of the sermons, he said, “Today, the repellant power of the sermons is much more than their attraction. Sermons delivered on the basis of outside orders have deeply damaged the position of communal Friday Prayer as an important Islamic, political, and social stronghold.”

However, historically, Shi’ite clergy have discouraged Shi’a from attending communal Friday Prayer in the absence of their 12th imam, Mahdi.

Nevertheless, the practice of communal Friday Prayer was welcomed by the founder of the Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, and became a standard practice in post-revolution Iran.

Motahari Attacks 'Behind The Scenes Decisions'

Ali Motahari, Deputy Speaker of Iranian parliament and outspoken critic of hardliners.

Deputy speaker of the parliament and Tehran MP, Ali Motahari has once again criticized restrictions imposed on political activists and the house arrest of Green Movement leaders.

“It is not acceptable to see some individuals decide behind the scenes, without being accountable to anybody”, Motahari said.

Motahari’s comments were apparently a response to recent remarks made by the deputy of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps’ intelligence apparatus, Mohammad Hossein Zibayinejad, known as Hossein Nejat.

“The restrictions imposed on the former president Mohammad Khatami are not new. These restrictions are the same as those ratified in 2011”, IRGC Brigadier General Nejat had said on Thursday, October 19.

Motahari responded by dismissing claims that the Islamic Republic’s Supreme National Security Council, SNSC, has ever ratified a resolution to impose restrictions on political activists.

Branding the claims as “dubious”, Motahari averred, “Even if there were such a resolution, one should note that the SNSC cannot replace the judiciary, condemning the accused to punishment”.

Directly referring to IRGC Gen. Nejat’s remarks, Motahari proposed, “It will be a good idea to publish the text of the SNSC’ resolution that Mr. Nejat is referring to. It is also imperative to publish the letter recently delivered to [former president] Khatami [ordering him to stay at home]. Then, one can decide whether there are new restrictions imposed on him or not”.

Meanwhile, Motahari confirmed that security forces had prevented reformist former President Mohammad Khatami from leaving his house on Wednesday, October 18.

Remorse cannot be one sided. If repenting is the order of the day, both sides must come forward and repent; those who lay the ground for the ‘sedition’ and those who stoke its furnace" - Motahari

According to the website Kalameh, linked to the Green Movement, security forces told Khatami they had been instructed to stop him from going to a regular meeting he used to attend.

Motahari’s remarks can be construed as criticism of hardliners who enjoy Supreme Leader ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s support and also the IRGC, which lends its muscle to intimidate critics.

The deputy speaker of the parliament has also noted, “We merely know that some unidentified individuals discern the regime’s expediency [in secret] and impose house arrest and restrictions on anybody they want and whenever they find it appropriate, let them go, let’s say right before their death”.

Deputy commander of Revolutionary Guards intelligence organization, Mohammad Hossein Nejat, undated.
Deputy commander of Revolutionary Guards intelligence organization, Mohammad Hossein Nejat, undated.

Earlier, IRGC Gen. Nejat had also demanded the leaders of the Green Movement, former twice speaker of the parliament, Mehdi Karroubi, 81, former prime minister Mir Hossein Mousavi, 76, and his wife Zahra Rahnavard, 71 to state their remorse and repent.

“If these individuals [the leaders of the Green Movement] repent and condemn the ‘sedition’ [movement], the regime will let them board the salvation boat”, Gen. Nejat had asserted.

A day later, Motahari has fired back, “Remorse cannot be one sided. If repenting is the order of the day, both sides must come forward and repent; those who lay the ground for the ‘sedition’ and those who stoke its furnace”.

Apparently, Motahari was referring to former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad whose controversial reelection in 2009 led to months of unrest. His main challengers, Mir Hossein Mousavi called the official result of the presidential election “engineered in favor of the incumbent”.

Motahari had earlier called for putting Ahmadinejad on trial for his role in triggering the longest uprising against the regime in the history of the Islamic republic.

Mehdi Karroubi, Mir Hossein Mousavi and his wife Zahra Rahnavard have been under house arrest since February 2011 without any breakthrough for their plight in the horizon.

The trio was extra-judicially placed under house arrest in February 2011, after they invited people to participate in street demonstrations in support of democracy movements during the Arab Spring, in Egypt and Tunisia.

Lifting the house arrest has been one of the main demands of those who have voted for Rouhani both times he was elected president.

Rouhani has not only been unsuccessful in releasing the Green Movement leaders, but he has also witnessed further restrictions imposed on reformist former President Mohammad Khatami, who played a crucial role in his re-election.

A few Iranian politicians, including deputy speaker of the parliament, Ali Motahari have explicitly stated that the extrajudicial detention of the trio is solely Khamenei’s decision.

Iran’s constitution grants broad powers to the supreme leader, but according to Article 30 no one can be banished from his place of residence, prevented from residing in the place of his choice, or compelled to reside in a specific locality except in cases provided by the law.

Tillerson's Mideast Aim Is A Saudi-Iraqi Axis Against Iran - AP

U.S. ‪Secretary of State Rex Tillerson

DOHA, Qatar (AP) — As U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson visits the Middle East this weekend, he'll hope to achieve something that has eluded top American diplomats for a generation: sealing a new alliance between Saudi Arabia and Iraq that would shut the doors of the Arab world to neighboring Iran.

While the United States strives to heal the rift between the Gulf Arab states and Qatar, and resolve civil wars in Yemen and Syria, Tillerson is the Trump administration's point man on an even more ambitious and perhaps even less likely geopolitical gambit.

U.S. officials see a new axis that unites Riyadh and Baghdad as central to countering Iran's growing influence from the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean Sea, particularly as the Iraqi government struggles to rebuild recently liberated Islamic State strongholds and confronts a newly assertive Kurdish independence movement.

History, religion and lots of politics stand in Tillerson's way. He arrived in Riyadh on Saturday and planned to visit Qatar on Monday.

The effort to wean Iraq from Iran and bond it to Saudi Arabia isn't new, but U.S. officials are optimistically pointing to a surer footing they believe they've seen in recent months. They're hoping to push the improved relations into a more advanced phase Sunday when Tillerson participates in the inaugural meeting of the Saudi Arabia-Iraq Coordination Committee in Riyadh.

Tillerson will seek Saudi financial generosity and political support for Iraq, its embattled northern neighbor. Two U.S. officials said Tillerson hopes the oil-rich Saudis will contribute to the massive reconstruction projects needed to restore pre-IS life in Iraqi cities such as Mosul and lend their backing to Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi.

He is treading delicately among a host of powerful countries on Iraq's borders which are increasingly trying to shape the future of the ethnically and religiously divided nation.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to publicly preview Tillerson's plans.

Shiite-majority Iraq and Sunni-led Saudi Arabia, estranged for decades after Saddam Hussein's 1990 invasion of Kuwait, have tried in recent years to bridge their differences.

Nevertheless, the relationship is still plagued by suspicion. Saudi Arabia reopened its embassy in Baghdad in 2015 after a quarter-century, and earlier this year unblocked long-closed border crossings.

But the emergence of arch-Saudi rival Iran as a power player in Iraq continues to gnaw at Riyadh and Washington. Iran's reported intervention in Iraq's semi-autonomous northern Kurdish region, following last month's much criticized vote for independence in a referendum, has deepened the unease.

President Donald Trump wants to see "a stable Iraq, but a stable Iraq that is not aligned with Iran," H.R. McMaster, his national security adviser, said this past week. He suggested Saudi Arabia could play a pivotal role.

The U.S. view is that the alternative may mean more conflict in Iraq, which endured years of insurgency after the U.S.-led 2003 invasion and ethnic warfare when the Islamic State group rampaged across the country in 2014.

"Iran is very good at pitting communities against each other," McMaster said Thursday at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. "This is something they share with groups like ISIS, with al-Qaida. They pit communities against each other because they use tribal and ethnic and sectarian conflicts to gain influence by portraying themselves as a patron or protector of one of the parties in the conflict and then they use that invitation to come in and to help to advance their agenda and, in Iran's case, I think is a hegemonic design."

Trump and his national security team have framed much of the Middle East security agenda around counteracting Iran, which they see as a malign influence that poses an existential threat to Israel and other American allies and partners in the region.

They also accuse Iran of menacing the United States and its interests at home and elsewhere in the world. Shortly after taking office, Tillerson identified improving Saudi-Iraqi ties as a priority in the administration's broader policy to confront and contain Iran.

Officials say he has devoted himself to the effort. On his second official trip abroad, Tillerson in February canceled a planned "meet and greet" with staffers at the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City to focus on the matter, according to one of the U.S. officials.

Tillerson's decision to skip that gathering was widely criticized at the time as a sign of disengagement with his employees, but the official said Tillerson adjusted plans to speak by secure telephone to Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir on the Iraq rapprochement.

Tillerson, according to the official, implored al-Jubeir to visit Baghdad as a sign of Saudi goodwill and commitment to the effort to defeat IS, which then still held about half of Mosul. Al-Jubeir agreed. Two days later, he made a surprise trip to the Iraqi capital. He was the first Saudi foreign minister to do so in 27 years.

Political Prisoner On Hunger Strike Pleads For Help

Political prisoner Mohammad Nazeri has been in prison for more than two decades.

One of the longest serving political prisoners in Iran, Mohammad Nazari has been taken to a clinic after losing more than 25 kilos (55 pounds).

Mohammad Nazari, who has been on hunger strike for the past eighty-one days, has lost his voice and can hardly walk, human rights websites reported on Friday, October 20.

“I am the loneliest prisoner in this city [Rajaee Shahr prison]. Despite 81 days of hunger strike, no one has listened and helped me in this city”, Nazari has lamented in a letter reflected in human rights websites and social media.

Nazari’s life could “end in tragedy” due to a prolonged hunger strike, a source with knowledge about his case told the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI).

“He has been refusing food since July 30, [2017], to demand a review of his case that could result in his freedom,” said the source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “But he has no lawyer or family members to help him.”

The source added that Nazari was taken to the clinic in Rajaee Shahr Prison, located west of Tehran, “a couple of times and received IV shots, but he is being ignored by the officials and that could result in a terrible tragedy.”

“He is in a very bad condition,” said the source. “He has all sorts of physical problems and emotional issues. Losing his teeth is the least of his problems caused by the lack of medical attention.”

Don’t abandon me,” pleaded Nazari in his letter. “I don’t have anyone. My father, mother and brother were laid to rest years ago... Your helping hand is my only hope. Help me. Help me so that my voice can be heard. Help me gain the freedom I am legally entitled to.”

Nazari has been behind bars for the past 24 years in several prisons in cities of Mahabad, Urmia, and Rajaee Shahr (Gohardasht) without any leave of absence.

“Now, in the 24th year of my imprisonment, I am alone, with no one to rely on,” he has written, adding, “I am on hunger strike because I have no options left.”

Nazari was arrested in city of Bukan, West Azarbaijan province, 24 years ago when he was 23. He was condemned to death for allegedly being a member of Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdestan (PDKI). Later, in 1999, he received a pardon that reduced his sentence to life imprisonment.

The informed source who spoke to CHRI has noted that after the penal code was amended in 2013, membership in the PDKI was no longer considered a crime.

Nevertheless, Nazari, now 47, is still behind bars.

“Don’t abandon me,” pleaded Nazari in his letter. “I don’t have anyone. My father, mother and brother were laid to rest years ago in the cemetery in Boukan. Your helping hand is my only hope. Help me. Help me so that my voice can be heard. Help me gain the freedom I am legally entitled to.”

In his letter, Nazari who is an ethnic Iranian Azeri Turk insists that he is seeking nothing, but justice, “I want neither freedom nor a furlough; I want the law to be enforced.

According to the law, I should have been released four and a half years ago. But the invisible hands of power and security have prevented the implementation of this law. Now, after 24 years in prison, while I am completely alone and left with nothing, I have no choice but to go on hunger strike”.

According to several of his former inmates, the fact that Nazari is an ethnic Azeri Shi’ite accused of supporting a Sunni Kurd Party (PDKI) has aggravated the sensitivity of his case.

“Help me reach my legal right to freedom that they have deprived me of. Anything other than my release, and I will continue my strike until I too pass away and buried in Bukan cemetery where my family is” Nazari has concluded his letter.

Hundreds Of Students Criticize Rouhani's Nominee For Ministry Of Science

Mansoor Gholami, Head of Bu Ali Sina University in Hamadan and president Rouhani's latest nominee as Minister of Science

Hundreds of Iranian students have criticized President Hassan Rouhani for his latest choice for Minister of Science, Technology and Research, who oversees higher education institutions.

In a letter addressed to the Iranian president, 525 students have said that his nominee for the job had a proven record in neglecting students’ rights and freedoms.

President Rouhani was sworn-in for a second term on August 5 of this year, but so far he has not succeeded to appoint anyone as science minister.

According to Mahmoud Sadeghi, a pro-reform Iranian MP, President Rouhani has nominated more than 10 people for the office, however, they have all been rejected by the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Based on media reports, Rouhani’s latest choice is Mansour Gholami, the President of Hamadan's Boo Ali Sina University.

In their protest letter, students reminded Rouhani of his campaign promises for making universities safe, free, and independent and warned him not to appoint someone who would undermine these goals.

In a second letter, several student organizations accused Rouhani's latest choice for the ministry of science not only responsible for the academic “downfall” of Hamedan University, but also for the suspension of many students who were supporting political reforms in the country.

Students also accuse Gholami of preventing reformist students from having publications and associations.

Tehran MP, Mahmoud Sadeghi.
Tehran MP, Mahmoud Sadeghi.

In an interview with Iranian media, MP Sadeghi mentioned the student allegations against Rouhani’s new nominee, but expressed support for Gholami. He is not an “ideal” candidate, but he could be an alternative for getting out of the current “limbo”, Sadeghi said. The MP was referring to the fact that other candidates were all disapproved by the supreme leader.

Based on the Islamic Republic constitution, the president does not need to seek supreme leader’s approval for his cabinet nominees, but in course of time, a tradition has been established that Khamenei should pre-approve the candidates for some key ministries, including the ministry of science.

Some MPs, including Mahmoud Sadeghi and Ali Motahari, deputy speaker of Iran's parliament criticized the practice, arguing it would limit president’s freedom to do his job.

Last Monday, Motahari said that the President should nominate a person who is considered qualified, instead of waiting for approval by others.

In a Tweet on Tuesday, Sadeghi asked the office of the supreme leader to provide details about his role in the nomination process “in order to eliminate doubts” in this regard.

The Zoroastrian Councilman's Fate Still In Limbo

Sepanta Niknam, a member of Yazd city council. Undated

Sepanta Niknam, 32, is the first Zoroastrian who has served as a city councilor in Yazd and the only non-Muslim in all city councils in Iran. However, he was suspended after serving a full term and re-elected this year.

The Court of Administrative Justice led by the head of the judiciary, ultra conservative ayatollah Sadiq Amoli Larijani has ordered the Governor of Yazd to suspend the Niknam’s membership.

Nevertheless, the head of Yazd city council, Gholam Ali Sefid and several other members of the council have insisted that they will resign from their posts if the suspension is not revoked.

The conservative court’s decision was prompted by a complaint from a rival, Ali Asghar Bagheri, who was one of Niknam’s opponents in last May’s elections.

Niknam garnered more than 20,000 votes, kept his seat as a city councilor and Bagheri, with only 7707 votes, ranked 45th and was left out of the eleven-member council.

This was the second time someone has challenged Niknam’s election to the Council, by zooming on his minority religion.

Four years ago, in Yazd’s 2013 City Council election, Niknam collected nearly 20,000 votes and defeated a conservative clergyman; Mohammad Mahdi Horrzadeh.

The young conservative cleric also tried to turn the tables on Niknam, by highlighting his religion to block his membership in the Council.

Horrzadeh, argued that according to Shiite Islamic teachings and principles, religious minorities, including Zoroastrians are prohibited from representation in a council where Muslims’ issues are resolved.

The young cleric’s efforts were unsuccessful since most of those who had voted for the Zoroastrian candidate were Muslims. Niknam had collected more than 20,000 votes while according to unofficial statistics, there are only 5,000 Zoroastrians living in Yazd, and not all of them are eligible to vote.

Therefore, Niknam stayed in and proudly completed his term as a Councilman.

His clergy challenger was vanquished by people’s votes and ayatollahs who preferred to ignore Horrzadeh’s demands for issuing fatwas against Niknam’s victory.

Later, the young clergy, Horrzadeh was apparently awarded for his fight against a member of the minority and got appointed to ayatollah ALi Khamenei's representative to Yazd province universities.

However, Niknam’s new challenger looks set to achieve what Horrzadeh failed to do; keeping Niknam out of the council, at least for the time being.

It is worth noting that Bagheri has a friend a fellow Yazdi citizen among the Guards in a very influential position.

During the Iran-Iraq war, Bagheri and IRGC chief commander, Major General Mohammad Ali Jafari fought hand in hand in Sousangerd front, in 1980.

Is this an ace in Bagheri’s sleeve? It is hard to say, since there is no direct evidence that General Jafari is involved in Bagheri’s attempts to oust Niknam.

But in the political environment of Iran, having such a powerful friend can certainly help.

Disregarding that he was ranked 45th for an eleven-member city council, Bagheri did not end his efforts to deprive the seventh ranked Niknam of his seat in the council.

First, he sought the influential Guardian Council’s (GC) help. Soon, he found out that GC has no legal power over city council elections.

In Iran, City Council elections, contrary to presidential and parliamentary elections are not supervised by the influential Guardian Council chaired by the 90-year old ultra conservative ayatollah Ahmad Jannati. It is parliament’s responsibility to supervise city council elections.

By issuing a guideline aimed at Niknam, Ayatollah Jannati tried to disqualify the minority candidate from running in the city council elections.

For his part, Jannati, in a letter published on Tuesday, April 18, noted that religious minorities are not allowed to stand as candidates since it contradicts the views of the founder of the Islamic Republic, ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini (1902-1989), “and is therefore against the tenets of Sharia (Islamic law).”

Apparently, Jannati was referring to a speech made by Khomeini on October 4, 1979, less than a year after the Islamic Republic was established in Iran.

“First of all, [candidates for council seats] should be Muslims. Second, they should believe in our movement. They should be trustworthy and sincere in their faith."

Nevertheless, the speaker of the parliament, Ali larijani stepped in and asked the election supervisors to stick to the law and not to follow Jannati’s guideline.

Therefore, Ali Asghar Bagheri opened up a new front against Niknam by complaining to the Court of Administrative Justice.

Now with the court order suspending Niknam’s membership in Yazd city council, Bagheri appears to be winning outside the voting arena.

Meanwhile the suspension has triggered an avalanche of criticism in social media and among human rights activists, as well as reformists and President Hassan Rouhani’s supporters.

On October 18, 2017, Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani reiterated that suspending Sepanta Niknam from his elected seat for not being a Muslim is illegal.

“If this matter is not resolved, we have no choice other than referring it to the Expediency Discernment Council for a final resolution,” said Ali Larijani in a meeting with a group of city councilors.

According to Article 112 of Iran’s Constitution, the Expediency Discernment Council can issue final rulings when the Guardian Council, the clerical body that vets elections and laws for conformity with Islamic principles, and Parliament cannot agree on a piece of legislation, reports Center for Human Rights in Iran.

“In my talks with Ayatollah [Ahmad] Jannati, the honorable secretary of the Guardian Council, I emphasized that local councils should be handled according to the law,” averred Larijani.

Pictures of Smiling Prisoners Shut Down Tehran Prison Ward

A riot police member stands in front of the Evin prison's door .UNDATED

Ward 350 at Tehran’s notorious prison, Evin, has reportedly been shut down after images of three outspoken prisoners were widely circulated on social media.

The pictures depict imprisoned human rights activists Arash Sadeghi, Esmail Abdi, and Soheil Arabi smiling and posing for photos in the prison’s courtyard. All prisoners of the ward have been transferred to other wards except for Sadeghi, who has reportedly been exiled to another prison, Rajaee Shahr, outside Tehran.

Citing a well-informed source, the Campaign for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) reported that civil rights activist Sadeghi was sent to Rajaee Shahr prison on October 18.

Meanwhile, the dissident website Zeitoun confirmed that, following the publications of the pictures, Ward 350 had been completely shut down.

According to Zeitoun, most of the prisoners who were forced to leave Ward 350 are being kept in Evin’s quarantine ward, Salon Four. Arabi, who is accused of actions against national security, after being acquitted of insulting the prophet of Islam, was transferred to Evin’s Ward Eight.

Immediately after the pictures were published, Zeitoun maintains, “The prison guards attacked Ward 350, confiscated cell phones, dragged Soheil Arabi to Ward Eight and exiled Arash Sadeghi to Rajaee Shahr prison in Karaj, a city near the capital, Tehran.”

Political prisoners at Evin are not allowed access to cell phones.

In an interview with CHRI, renowned lawyer and former prisoner of conscience Mohammad Seifzadeh denounced Sadeghi’s transfer to a prison in Karaj as illegal.

“Sadeghi has been sentenced to prison, but the final verdict did not include exile,” he said. “Since he is a resident of Tehran, banishing him to a prison in Karaj is excessive punishment and a violation of the law by prison officials and judicial authorities.”

Exiling Sadeghi to Rajaee Shahr means he will no longer be able to have weekly meetings with his wife, Golrokh Amraee, who is also serving a five-year sentence in Evin Prison’s Women’s Ward for writing an unpublished story about the practice of stoning in Iran and for the content of some of her personal posts on Facebook.

The photos taken in Evin prison, Arash sadeghi, Esmaeil Abdi and Soheil Arabi
The photos taken in Evin prison, Arash sadeghi, Esmaeil Abdi and Soheil Arabi

In June 2016, Sadeghi was convicted of assembly and collusion against national security, propaganda against the state, spreading lies in cyberspace, and insulting the founder of the Islamic Republic with his peaceful defense of civil rights.

Transferring political prisoners from Ward 350 is not unprecedented. Many political prisoners behind bars at Ward 350 -- including journalists Ahmad Zeidabadi and Bahman Ahmadi Amouei as well as students and human rights activists Keyvan Samimi Behbahani and Majid Tavakoli -- have been exiled to Rajaee Shahr.

However, according to accounts from former Rajaee Shar prisoners, the conditions there are as inhumane and inhuman as Evin’s, if not worse.

In August and September, as many as 20 political prisoners at Rajaee Shahr went on hunger strike to protest the transfer of dozens of inmates without their belongings from Ward 12 to the security-enhanced Ward 10, CHRI reported.

Earlier, in December 2016, political prisoner Saeed Shirzad sewed his mouth shut for a hunger strike against what he described in a letter sent to judicial officials as “the quiet death of prisoners,” a reference to human rights violations suffered by prisoners.

“The clinic did not have medicines to treat anything worse than a cold, let alone high blood pressure,” Seifzadeh said. “Bad nutrition and a lack of vitamins weakened the prisoners.”

Furthermore, on October 9, several political prisoners at Rajaee Shahr issued a statement saying that prisoners are deprived of furlough, medical equipment, telephones, and required medicines, among other things.

Last year, Sadeghi, went on hunger strike for more than 70 consecutive days to protest his wife’s arrest by security agents. Arash ended his hunger strike after she was granted furlough.

Ms. Amraee was returned to Evin last February.

The other prisoner smiling in the Evin photos, Arabi, was first arrested in 2013 and charged for blasphemy and insulting the prophet of Islam. A year later, he was tried and condemned to death.

Later, in 2015, Iran’s Supreme Court acquitted him of insulting the prophet, which by the Islamic penal code is punishable by death, and sent his case back to the lower court for deliberation.

The lower court canceled the charge of insulting the prophet but sentenced Arabi to seven years and five months and banned him from leaving the country for two years after completing his term.

CIA Director Voices Concern On IS, Terrorism, N. Korea And Iran

CIA Director Mike Pompeo

WASHINGTON (AP) — Islamic State militants are capable of orchestrating and carrying out an attack against the United States, possibly downing an airplane, even after being evicted from their self-declared Syrian capital of Raqqa, the CIA director said Thursday.

Mike Pompeo said the U.S. is threatened by other militant groups as well. "IS' capability to conduct an external operation remains," Pompeo said. "But I wouldn't put them in a singular bucket.

Speaking a day after President Donald Trump's acting homeland security chief invoked the possibility of another 9/11-style attack, Pompeo said America's enemies around the world "are intent upon using commercial aviation as their vector to present a threat to the West."

However, he also worried about a terrorist capability "we just don't see." The typically blunt threat assessment came during a wide-ranging discussion at a Washington think tank, in which Pompeo also underscored President Donald Trump's intent to counteract North Korea.

He said Pyongyang is only months away from perfecting its nuclear weapons capabilities. "They are closer now than they were five years ago, and I expect they will be closer in five months than they are today, absent a global effort to push back against them," Pompeo said.

On another nuclear concern, Iran, Pompeo stressed that Trump wants to ensure the U.S. foe has no pathway to developing the bomb.

To that effect, he said, the Iran nuclear deal President Barack Obama and America's allies negotiated with Iran was insufficient.

The notion that the agreement would "curtail Iranian adventurism or their terror threat or their malignant behavior has now ... two years on, proven to be fundamentally false," said Pompeo, a former Republican congressman from Kansas who keenly opposed to the seven-nation accord when it was reached.

He said the Iran deal put the United States in a better place with respect to inspections of Iranian facilities. But from an intelligence perspective, he said, even more "intrusive inspection" is needed.

"The Iranians have on multiple occasions been capable of presenting a continued threat, through covert efforts to develop their nuclear program along multiple dimensions ... the missile dimension, the weaponization effort, the nuclear component itself," he said.

Trump has provided the CIA with the authority it needs to track Iran's compliance with the deal, he said. Pompeo also said it's an "open secret" that Iran has links to al-Qaida.

"There have been relationships, there are connections. There have been times the Iranians have worked alongside al-Qaida," Pompeo said. "There have been connections where, at the very least, they have cuts deals so as not to come after each other."

Pompeo and Trump's national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, who also spoke at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies event, both said the U.S. must counter Iran's aggression in the region.

They noted Iran's support for the Lebanon's Hezbollah militants, who threaten Israel; backing of Shia militias in Iraq and Syria; cyber activities; ballistic missile efforts; and a long history of proliferation ties with North Korea.

Pompeo also discussed Pakistan's help in getting an American woman, her Canadian husband and three children released last week from the Haqqani militant network. The couple had been held for five years inside Pakistan, he said.

Audit Court Rules Ahmadinejad Must Repay $1.3 Billion

Former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (L) meeting with his close aide Hamid Baghaei just after his release from detention, on July 26, 2017.

Iranian parliament’s Audit Court has announced that former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, in the last 18 months of his presidency, spent 4.6 trillion tomans or approximately $1.3 billion of Iran’s oil income “illegally”.

On Wednesday, parliament’s news website published the report of the court about “oil related infractions” of the Ahmadinejad government.

The court has ordered the former president to repay $1.3 billion to the treasury. The ruling accuses Ahmadinejad that during his tenure oil revenues were spent without proper transfer from the oil ministry to the treasury.

Although the court has found Ahmadinejad directly responsible, it has not issued any other measures against him.

Parliament’s Audit Court has limited powers of punishment. It can reduce an official’s pay or at most fire officials from government jobs, but it is not empowered to issue harsher verdicts.

The court has alleged that in one kind of illegal activity, Ahmadinejad’s government swapped unrefined oil with imports of gasoline and kerosene, without going through the legal process of obtaining permits.

It has also alleged that a lot of accounts in the energy sector remained unsettled after the former president ended his term. In one instance, the police were given permission to sell approximately $170 million of oil and the money was never seen again.

The Chairman of Parliamentary Budget and Planning Commission, Gholamreza Tajgardoon said that the reason for publishing the court decision was all kinds of speculations about corruption in the Ahmadinejad administrations.

There are widespread speculations that corruption in this period was astronomical; otherwise how could the country be in dire economic shape when from 2005-2013 oil prices were high and Iran exported close to $750 million of oil.

On July 30, the head of the Audit Court announced seven verdicts against Ahmadinejad but the full report was not made public.

At the time, the former president dismissed the charges and threatened to disclose a “cowardly scenario” by “bands of power and wealth”. He alleged that a “cabal” was waging war against the former leading officials of his administration.

One of them, Hamid Baghaei was arrested and kept in prison for months.

Security Forces Prevent Ex-President Khatami From Leaving His House

President Hassan Rouhani meeting with former president Mohammad Khatami after his first election in 2013.

Security forces in Iran prevented former President Mohammad Khatami from leaving his house on Wednesday.

According to the website Kalameh linked to the Green Movement, security forces have told Khatami they had been instructed to stop him from going to a ceremony that he was supposed to attend.

Based on the report, Khatami’s house is currently guarded by security forces stationed in the street..

Kalameh did not clarify what ceremony Khatami wanted to attend, but according to reports published in social media, the reformist president wanted to join a meeting at Baran Institute that he himself was presiding over.

While Kalameh reported that Khatami could go to work on a daily basis, Saham News, another reformist website said that the former president was under conditions similar to house arrest .

“Based on eyewitness accounts, three cars that belong to security organs are parked in front of Khatami’s house for hours and have created a situation similar to house arrest for him,” Saham News wrote.

The same website had reported two weeks ago that the “Special Clerical Court” had sent a letter to Khatami telling him that he was not allowed to attend any public or private event in the next three months. The ban applied even to going to theater, concerts, or any “non-family related“ events, the report said.

This was later confirmed by Khatami’s lawyers. However, judiciary officials have denied imposing any “new” restrictions on the former president.

The prosecutor of the Special Clerical Court announced that the measures against Khatami were taken based on an order by Iran’s national security council. However, Hassan Rouhani, Iran’s president and the head of the council has said in the past that the security council had never issued any order against the former President.

It is common in the Islamic Republic for different state organs or officials to contradict each other, since the system is based on parallel, overlapping and often competing centers of power.

Rouhani criticized restrictions on his ally Khatami and said sarcastically that Khatami was punished because he had asked people to participate in the presidential election and vote for him. He also criticized the judiciary for “not having anything else to do rather than summoning people.”

Just days before no one prevented Khatami from going to Tehran University to meet with members of the Islamic Associations, where he criticized U.S. President Donald Trump for his recent speech against Iran's policies and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). Additionally, he defended the IRGC, describing it as the pillar of Iran’s national security.

The former president had also defended Iran’s missile programs and praised the IRGC for what he called fighting terrorism, Kalemeh reported on October 16.

Khatami said, “They should not misunderstand. There might be some different opinions in the Islamic Republic but, when it comes to guarding Iran’s dignity, the foundation of the revolution, our principal national interests and resisting outside threats, we are unified and have no differences.”

Breaking Down Khamenei’s Inner Circle

Ali Khamenei, Iran's leader, meeting a group of senior clerics-- 9 Mar 2017

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has played a crucial role in the fate of the so-called Islamic Republic since its establishment in 1979.

From 1981 to 1989, he served two terms as president, and since 1989 he has led the country as successor of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic Republic.

During all these years, Khamenei has worked with hundreds of people from the political elite. But only a handful have been able to gain his trust and join his inner circle. Others he either just tolerates or isolates, or even places under house arrest for disloyalty.

Khamenei rewards those close to him with high positions in non-elected institutions, such as the Guardian Council or the Expediency Council, or appointments as advisers to himself or the president.

Here is a glance at some of the central players.

All of these people have one thing in common: They are all completely obedient to ayatollah Ali Khamenei. They make no compromises in their animosity toward critics and opponents of the leader... Only with their help is Khamenei able to maintain his dictatorship.

Ali Akbar Velayati

Velayati served as Iran's foreign minister from 1981 to 1997. Later, Khamenei appointed him as his adviser and a member of the council for foreign relations.

When Ayatollah Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani died this past January, Khamenei immediately named Velayati to succeed Rafsanjani as head of the board of founders of Azad University. With assets worth billions of dollars, Azad University is an institution founded by Rafsanjani. For a long time, Khamenei tried to bring the wealthy institution under his own control.

Ali Akbar Velayati, advisor to Iran's supreme leader, undated.
Ali Akbar Velayati, advisor to Iran's supreme leader, undated.

The reason the supreme leader likes and trusts Velayati is that he, like himself, is a conspiracy theorist who constantly searches for enemies and is vehemently anti-Western. Velayati wants to Islamize Azad University more than before and believes its students should be pious Muslims, as he stated in an interview last year.

Mostafa Mir-Salim

In 1985, during Khamenei’s presidency, Mir-Salim was his choice for prime minister. However, leftist MPs, supported by Khomeini -- supreme leader at the time -- did not support him and imposed Mir Hossein Mousavi on the president.

Mousavi is one of the leaders of the so-called Green Movement who is currently under house arrest.

Mostafa Mirsalim, former Minister of Culture May 2017
Mostafa Mirsalim, former Minister of Culture May 2017

As culture minister from 1994 1997, Mir-Salim implemented the harshest censorship on cultural works. If censorship of a book can be considered killing the writer’s thoughts, Mir-Salim is a mass murderer who killed thousands of them.

Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ejei

As a high-ranking official of the judiciary for many years and intelligence minister in the government of President Mahmud Ahmadinejad (2005-2009), Ejei has played an important role carrying out Khamenei’s wishes for the suppression of journalists and the opposition.

The United States and the European Union placed him on the list of sanctioned individuals due to his role in the suppression of Green Movement supporters.

First deputy and the spokesman of Iran's judiciary, Gholamhossein Mohseni-Ejei.
First deputy and the spokesman of Iran's judiciary, Gholamhossein Mohseni-Ejei.

Gholam-Ali Haddad-Adel

Haddad-Adel, who has served as speaker of the Iranian Parliament, shares family ties with the supreme leader; his daughter is married to Khamenei’s son. Without this boost, Haddad-Adel could probably barely even become a high-school teacher.

Now, in addition to several distinguished positions, such as president of the Persian Academy, he teaches Western philosophy to graduate students at Tehran University despite not having much knowledge on the subject.

Gholam Ali Haddad Adel, the head of Iran's main conservative parties, gives a speech during a conservatives campaign meeting for the parliamentary elections at Motahari mosque in Tehran, February 23, 2016
Gholam Ali Haddad Adel, the head of Iran's main conservative parties, gives a speech during a conservatives campaign meeting for the parliamentary elections at Motahari mosque in Tehran, February 23, 2016

Haddad-Adel is the author of a book about the German philosopher Immanuel Kant that is, in fact, plagiarized.

He opposes any kind of reform or change and has played a crucial role in purging universities of free thinkers. Along with his family members, he runs several elite schools for training new recruits for the regime.

Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati

Jannati, a hard-line cleric, is one of the oldest members of the influential Guardian Council, which pre-approves candidates for presidential and parliamentary elections, among other things.

In 1992, Khamenei appointed Jannati as chairman of the council, a position he has held since.

Jannati is responsible for keeping liberal minds and any critics of the leader away from important positions such as the office of the president or key parliamentary positions.

At the age of 90, Jannati also presides over the Council of Experts, which is responsible for selecting the supreme leader.

Iran Guardian Council head Ahmad Janati in Iraq, undated
Iran Guardian Council head Ahmad Janati in Iraq, undated

All of these people have one thing in common: They are all completely obedient to ayatollah Ali Khamenei. They make no compromises in their animosity toward critics and opponents of the leader and would do anything to keep them away from power. Only with their help is Khamenei able to maintain his dictatorship.

New Mayor Promises More On 'Astronomical Properties'

Reformist political figure and the new mayor of Tehran Mohammadali Najafi. August 26, 2017.

A special committee has been formed to investigate the scandal in Tehran Municipality called “Astronomical Property Sellout,”, Mayor Mohammad Ali Najafi disclosed at his first press conference.

Reportedly, during the tenure of Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) commander Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf at Tehran Municipality, estates worth billions of dollars were generously distributed among city councilors and municipal staff.

The estates and properties were not sold using proper channels, such as City Hall Property Agency, Najafi maintained, vowing details would be published after further investigation.

Meanwhile, the newly installed mayor said, “I believe the published report that revealed the astronomical properties [scandal] was partly wrong and should be corrected."

Furthermore, he insisted that “several people who were named and accused on the list of people benefiting from the scandal” are not guilty and should be “rehabilitated."

However, Najafi noted there are several guilty parties whose names are missing from the list.

“As a matter of fact, we were not able to collect precise information on the case," he conceded.

Corruption in holding bids and offers, employing an inefficient work force in management levels as well as employing retired and disabled people are examples of deeply rooted fraud in Tehran Municipality.

In an interview with Students News Agency (ISNA), Morteza Alviri, a former mayor of Tehran (1999-2002), had said the scandalous case of “astronomical estates” was the “tip of the iceberg."

“Corruption in holding bids and offers, employing an inefficient work force in management levels as well as employing retired and disabled people are examples of deeply rooted fraud in Tehran Municipality,” Alviri said on August 14.

The scandal was first disclosed in 2016 when a pro-reform website, Memari News, reported on Aug. 27 that it had received documents indicating that 1,100,000 square meters (110 square hectares) of state-owned properties had been sold to various individuals, including people close to power bases in Iran. 250 names, including the names of several Tehran’s municipality staff and city councilors, were listed in the report as those who benefited the scam.

Iranian Politician and member of Tehran's City Council, Morteza Alviri, undated.
Iranian Politician and member of Tehran's City Council, Morteza Alviri, undated.

According to the article, the names of the individuals and the specific properties involved were leaked in a document from the State General Inspection Office. The General Inspection Office had reportedly written a letter to the Mayor’s office and the Tehran City Council about the case.

Former mayor Qalibaf immediately dismissed any wrong doing, insisting that everything had been done under the necessary permits and strictly according to the law and regulations.

Soon, the leak turned into the worst nightmare ever for the conservative Mayor who was preparing himself to challenge the “moderate” incumbent, Hassan Rouhani, in the 2017 presidential election.
Tehran’s Prosecutor-General office named Najafi, Rouhani’s close ally, as one of the whistle blowers who disclosed the “astronomical estates sell-out scandal”.

Nevertheless, Najafi dismissed the claim, maintaining, “I even suggested to keep the letter [report disclosing the scandal] confidential and wait for Tehran Municipality's explanation. But, at the same day, ‘our dear brother,' who was present at the session and I prefer not to name him, passed a copy of the report to Yashar Soltani. Three days later, the report [on the astronomical estates sell-out scandal] was published on cyberspace."

Explaining the procedure for investigation of the scandal, Najafi told reporters that "Qalibaf had appointed one of ‘his special consultants,’ who was in charge of all legal cases for City Hall, as the liaison between the municipality and the Justice Department."

The liaison, according to the new mayor, “was Tehran Municipality’s middleman for investigating the scandal at the justice department,” until recently.

Without naming the liaison, Najafi disclosed, “I wrote a letter to Tehran’s prosecutor-general, officially declaring that the middleman is not representing the municipality and he has not filed any report for City Hall."

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