Omid Memarian

Friday, April 27, 2007

Nobel Peace Laureate Calls for Nuclear Referendum

Below is my latest piece about in IPS:

"BERKELEY, United States, Apr 25 (IPS) - Shirin Ebadi, 2003 Nobel Peace Prize laureate, is urging the Iranian government to hold a national referendum on the country's controversial nuclear programme, because it "has a direct impact" on the lives of millions of Iranian citizens. Since last December, the United Nations Security Council has adopted two resolutions to sanction Iran's nuclear and missile industry and force the Iranian government to suspend enriching uranium. Iran's foreign ministry, meanwhile, has asked the international community to exclude language about suspension of enrichment activities..." (Read the rest of the story here...)

This piece has appeared in the below websites as well:

- News Center (
- HighBeam
- Indentity Unknown

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

The Oliver Stone of Iran

By Reese Erlich
"Iranian director Jafar Panahi kept postponing our interview. He had been very friendly when we chatted at the informal party honoring Sean Penn during his 2005 visit to Tehran, so I couldn’t figure out his reluctance. Then I found out why." (Read the rest of article in the
Truth Dig)

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Here is Peter Hitchen's diary from Iran. He is a British journalist ans recently have been in Iran .

Monday, April 23, 2007

Why Is Ali Farahbakhsh Still In Prison?

Most people who have ever had to deal with Iranian judicial system, and have had to walk the halls of local and higher courts following their cases, often speak of the many ailments the judicial system suffers in implementing justice. But are all these political problems?

Over the past several years, Ayatollah Shahroodi has repeatedly referred to the Judiciary at the time he took it over as “in ruins.” He has criticized the conditions in different areas on numerous occasions, but the conditions prevail to the point where not only justice is not aided it is delayed or is turned into complete injustice.

This treatment is not for political cases only, but is clearly visible in other areas as well. Of course with the sensitivity of political cases and the immense media coverage such cases usually receive the shortcomings are more prominent in this area. Otherwise, it is not at all true that the judiciary’s subsystems in towns and villages are working effectively, and the situation is only isolated to political cases. Of course, because political cases are severely influenced and manipulated by non-Judiciary organizations, the situation becomes dire.

Part of the problem with the Judiciary Branch has to do with its administrative structure. Another part has to do with technical deficiencies of the system, inadequate resources and staffing, and lack of a system of checks and balances to monitor erroneous decisions. Such a monitoring system, if implemented, may penalize court officials who have been careless, and encourage the judges to pay closer attention to cases. Of course such a monitoring system will also identify those who get in the way of justice by intervening in cases.

With this background, I would like to ask why Ali Farahbakhsh, a journalist who was arrested and imprisoned four months ago, and who has been accused of and tried for espionage, and whose case file contains two letters from Ayatollah Shahroodi ordering a change of his temporary detainment status into bail, continues to remain in prison, and on whose will does he continue to be detained?

Let’s review the case: an Iranian journalist who is an economics expert, returns from a business trip to Bangkok; he is arrested at the airport; after 40 days he is located at Evin Prison; he is accused of espionage; after three months of investigations, he is tried; and in the end he is sentenced to three years’ imprisonment on the charges of receiving $2,300 from outside agencies—an amount Farahbakhsh says this was paid to him to cover his trip expenses.

Ali Farahbakhsh’s father, a 30-year veteran judge with the Judiciary who himself is quite familiar with the process, writes two letters to head of Judiciary. In reply, Mr. Shahroodi requests change of temporary detention to bail. The judge tells Farahbakhsh’s family: “Who is Shahroodi to give us orders?” Ordinarily, once investigations are complete, the sentence is issued and such a change is possible. But for Farahbakhsh, much like many other political prisoners whose cases are “managed” by others, this is not possible.

Evidence and statements by Farahbakhsh family and their lawyer, as well as the published sentence, all point to the fact that the whole story is about his receiving $2,300, a fee customarily paid to those attending seminars and workshops abroad. Take notice, he was tried for espionage, but was sentenced for receiving $2,300 for participating in a conference. There are no other items in his case file. This means that all that could be extracted against him during several months’ interrogation and imprisonment by the intelligence and security organizations was this. It is clear that the charge of espionage is completely disproportionate to the information in the petition. Nonetheless, authorities in charge of the case demand his continued imprisonment.

Ali Farahbakhsh is a journalist with a clear and lengthy track record. It is clear where he came from, what he has done, and what his capabilities are. The collection of his writings, organizations he has managed, and his entire life are clear. He comes from a good family, and along with his wife and toddler child, the image that appears is one of a good man who loves his country and has never considered leaving it to pursue further education or a better life abroad.

If there was anything else in his file, it would have been reflected in the petition and would have been raised by now. Now, since the court proceedings are complete, the question is whose will is still keeping Ali Farahbakhsh behind the bars? How is such a will capable of defying the orders of the Head of Judiciary, along with the millions of eyes who are capable of analyzing this case and understanding the outcome?

Unfortunately, the configuration and administration of the Judiciary system allows such action. This is why Head of Judiciary and other high level authorities of the country must continually interfere in certain cases and try to resolve certain issues as a group. The system itself suffers from so many cracks, it is possible for similar cases to get lost in it. Ali Farahbakhsh, however, has had access to Head of Judiciary, and he has two signed letters from him in his file. If this has happened to him, how will the thousands of other Iranians who have no access to authorities in the Judiciary, fare in their search for justice?

Farahbakhsh’s situation with respect to his arrest, imprisonment, and the sentence handed to him, is another political file dealt with injustice over the past several years, and this leads us to face the abhorrent condition of lack of justice for Iranian citizens. Every day that Ali Farahbakhsh and those like him remain in jail, is another day where this widespread and continuous injustice in Iranian society is upheld. This will do little to further the Judiciary’s reputation, or for that matter that of intelligence forces.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

A shocking video of the gunman in Virginia which is send by himself!

Sunday, April 15, 2007

This Office Is Closed Today!
"...These are bad days for Iranian civil society, Dr. Razzaghi, Koneshgaran(Volunteer Actors Institute), arrested women, teachers, drivers, factory workers, journalists, and many others."

How can the society change? How can people’s participation and their part in their socio-political destiny be increased? What are the quick and expensive ways? What are the slow and low-cost ways? How can the game of change in a society have a win/win outcome, as opposed to a lose/lose or a win/lose situation?

Over the past few years, these questions are constantly occupying the minds of those active in Iranian civil society. Many organizations have started work, based on the very same questions over the past several years, and many people, from those in newspapers to universities to private sector, have mobilized all their resources to reduce society’s shortcomings, and to use all available capacities for solving the shortcomings with a civil society presence.
Koneshgaran Davtalab (Volunteer Actors) Institute is one of tens of such organizations. In mid-March, two offices related to the Institute were shut down and sealed, barring it from further activities. The day along with Dr. Sohrab Razzaghi and a few other social activists we started this Institute was a very big day for us. Such was our enthusiasm and optimism about strengthening social ties through the Institute that we stayed together for years. Dr. Razzaghi, a university professor, who has researched and written about social development and public participation for many years, and all those who began work in the Institute later, followed the goals of promotion of understanding of civil society, public participation in problem-solving through increased awareness, and effective participation in social events.

It is obvious that such social ambition cannot fit any intolerant political system. Raising political awareness and encouraging the nation’s participation in their social destiny, is not only one of the original objectives of the Revolution, but is one of the main missions of all democratic societies, whether right or left, and will strengthen existing social relations, upgrade social investment, and develop a general political consciousness. What government will not appreciate those active in this effort and admire their hard work?

Over the past years, I have observed foreign journalists, writers, government and non-government organization members traveling to Iran who would say that non-government organizations in general, and Koneshgaran in particular, represented symbols of the will inside the Iranian society to bring about change, and how it portrayed an elevated maturity of Iranian society, determined to overcome shortcomings.

Photo: A workhshop on the role of United Nations to empower civil society in 2003. Omid Memarian (Left), Bagher Asadi (Middle), Dr.Sohrab Razzaghi (Right)
Today, however, Koneshgaran’s offices are closed. All of this has to do with the government’s pessimistic views over the past few years of all civil society organizations in Iran. This view condemns and criticizes all relations with organizations outside Iran, and is incapable of understanding the complexities of the multi-faceted relations of a modern society, perceives conspiracies forming against it, and is breathless with a sense of insecurity. This view will not only discourage organizations seeking assistance from international support organizations, but will also blame them for this effort. All this where, in fact, such relationships will improve international outlook on Iran, because in this type of interaction, cultural misunderstandings and inaccurate cultural images of Iran are corrected.

Maybe this is the reason civil society organizations such as Konenshgaran, have always served as a detriment to catastrophic social and political upheavals, and their absence increases the society’s vulnerabilities. I remember all the days that Dr. Razzaghi would paint his ideas about a strengthened civil society at his desk, participate in workshops, share in the laughter and sorrow of workshop participants, and was always involved in a creative two-way learning process. There were days when all participants of such workshops, from the most religious layers of the society to the most secular ones, were encouraged to be diligent in solving social problems they could tackle.
The very satisfaction of existence within such a process has always been the reason why so many choose to endure the difficulties of this road, as one can continually feel the intangible steps taken in this process. I am sad these days to know that people like Dr. Razzaghi are inactive. I remember the days when he would talk to the Institute’s visitors, taking pride in the strength of the Iranian society and their will as the most important factor in the coming changes. When asked for examples of this will, he would point out to activities in which Koneshgaran and similar organizations were involved, because from Lebanon to Afghanistan, our region does not have a similar social movement with such stellar participation rates.

Sometimes when we faced serious funding difficulties in Koneshgaran, and had to endure a lack of compassion for our cause from the authorities, I would ask myself how I would interact with these organizations if I were representing the Government? I would always arrive at the same conclusion that these organizations need support and encouragement, because collective efforts of ordinary citizens of the nation, determined to bring change about with minimal costs, would achieve a strengthened society which is capable of solving its own problems. Would a healthy modern government act differently?

During all this time, I remember how patiently Dr. Razzaghi would talk about ways to continue our activities, his demeanor never appearing affected by these adversities. Perhaps one of the reasons he could continue more easily, was that he had no expectations as a member of the civil society. His immense patience was representative of many others active in the Iranian civil society movement.

Over the past few years, especially after Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s election, those in charge of overseeing and interacting with Iranian civil society and its related organizations view them with fear and this fear propels them to take actions to prevent and stop people’s participation and presence. These actions not only lead to our nation’s pessimism toward government organization, but also disappoint people in connecting with the government. This process keeps people at home. Closure of Koneshgaran Institute, a pioneer of strengthening and empowering civil society organizations, along with the non-government training center, whose director is Mahboubeh Abbasgholizadeh, and Ahi Institute which provides free legal services, to name just a few, are very bad signs, signs of the increased levels of insecurity among government organizations to the point where the most important agents for social change are harassed and eliminated.

This is a bad sign, because those who could bring effective change to the society are rendered inactive, and the regime loses its effective sensors, becoming blind and deaf. Retiring a former university professor who chose social activism over academic life, and gave all he had to this cause, is a bad sign. This acute lack of appreciation for all those who give themselves to Iranian society selflessly is now a standard practice by the ignorant few in charge, guaranteeing social discouragement and ill. I wished every job would be entrusted to specialists in its field. This office is closed today and the hustle and bustle of social activists visiting it with a glint of excitement in their eyes is no longer present. These are bad days for Iranian civil society, Dr. Razzaghi, Koneshgaran, arrested women, teachers, drivers, factory workers, journalists, and many others. How much more can be added to this list? Really, what is happening with this country? Who can destroy with a higher speed? Who?

(Photo: Dr Razzzaghi and me at the WSIS in Geneva, 2003.)

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Iranian envoy wounds 'confirmed'

The head of the International Red Cross in Tehran says he saw wounds on an Iranian diplomat who has alleged that US forces in Iraq tortured him.
Peter Stoeker said there were marks on Jalal Sharafi's feet, legs, back and nose but he was unable to say if they were the result of torture.
Iranian media quoted Mr Sharafi saying the CIA tortured him "day and night".
Mr Sharafi was abducted in Iraq in February and released last week. The US denies any involvement in the case. (
Read the rest of the article here)

Thursday, April 05, 2007

This Game Will Have No Winners

Who is in fact the winner of the British sailors’ dispute? How can this question be answered? Over the past few days, many analysts have attempted to review this event from different angles. The struggle between Iran and the West, or at least the US, is slowly taking the shape of a Grand Prize Game. This game has players and spectators, takes place in stages, and each of the contestants have strengths and weaknesses in different areas. One gets ahead of the other, only to be overtaken by him in a different stage of the game. But this game can only have one final winner. With the stance the US has assumed vis a vis Iran, the loser—whether Iran or US—will gain nothing. The difference between this Grand Prize Game and chess is that there can’t be a tie. This game may be analyzed in different ways. It can be evaluated in each stage, or based on the final results. Environmental or outside factors of the game can also be reviewed, each of which can affect the game in its entirety. In this way, the analysts can each take a piece of the facts and base their results around it.
With this opening, what was the message of the British sailors’ saga? Was their freedom a sign of Iranian Government’s generosity? Did it cause the world to see how benevolent the Ahmadinejad government is? Or did it work to strengthen the anti-Iran propaganda which has been in full force over the past months? What are the effects of this crisis in short- and long-term? For Iran, what are the ramifications of the sailors’ statements yesterday, telling of psychological pressures while in custody, threatened to seven years in prison if they didn’t confess to entering Iranian waters? What will be the price Iran will have to pay? Is it still too soon to examine the different dimensions of this event?

In the Grand Prize Game, the West (represented by Britain and US) has been able to facilitate three resolutions against Iran in the United Nations Security Council, encourage Iran’s neighbors to form a united front against Iran, slowly limit Tehran’s economic ties to Western banks and countries, limit Iran’s allies’ maneuverability in Lebanon and Palestine (Hezbollah and Hammas), and to take measures displaying Iran as an enemy of US strategies in the region. To this list we can add more traditional measures of attempting to destabilize Iranian boarder security, support of anti-revolutionary groups’ terrorist activities, support of ethnic and religious minority opposition groups—this effort’s goal is a regime change in Iran--, and so forth. Let’s not forget a buildup of military presence in the Persian Gulf, which with the several US navy ships there is slowly becoming an “American Lake,” and a re-emphasized stance on “all available options against Iran are on the table.” Of course the list does go on.

With the image which has been successfully developed against Iran both in the region and worldwide, Tehran is now facing the international community. Arrests and the subsequent release of the British sailors and their statement in London, has been accompanied with the word “hostages.” In an evening program, CNN copied the style of ABC’s Nightline program during the 1979 American hostage crisis in Iran, counting the days the hostages were held in Iran. Nightline continued that style until “Day 444,” reminding Americans daily of the Iranian Government.

Hostage situations pose a very bitter image to Westerners. Carter’s Deputy of Secretary of Defense said in a recent interview with CNN that prior to this event, Iran had left all the “hostage taking” to its allies such as Lebanon’s Hezbollah, Hammas in Palestine, and Shiite insurgency in Iraq, and now Iran is directly involved, in essence seeking a confrontation with the world. To what end is this statement and similar reasoning made? It serves to convey that Tehran government is itself a hostage taker and a terrorist regime. This same image has been promoted heavily against the Iranian Government over the past few weeks. This is also the same claim by Neoconservative groups who call Tehran a terrorist government. Whether we like it or not, whether we love Ahmadinejad or whether we are objectively reviewing the situation, recent events fuel the fires set by supporters of war in Washington.

Unlike supporters of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s Government, or those who criticize the Government but are concerned about the future of Iran, people in the West don’t watch programs on Iranian Television or Al-Alam Network, so they aren’t bombarded with Iranian Government propaganda; therefore they are not affected by the same. Western media views arrest of the British sailors as a message by Tehran about a preference for a confrontation as opposed to negotiations. Western analysis is founded on the notion that innocent sailors completing a mission inside Iraqi boarders cannot be arrested first, followed by invitations for negotiations, and the eventual release of the sailors called a “gift to British People.” The British sailors said in their press conference that “resistance was not an option. If we were to resist, none of us would have come out alive.”

Issuance of incorrect information by Iranian authorities in the beginning of the affair, coupled with behavior demonstrated over the coming days such as television interviews which angered British public, was an unsuccessful attempt by Tehran to replicate the treatment it has afforded its political and journalist dissidents. Though time and again this policy has proven unsuccessful and an out-of-date measure inside Iran, it was surprising to see that intelligence organizations close to Revolutionary Guard continue to implement this policy. This policy pays no regard to the fact that these prisoners, much like any other prisoner, will eventually be released and upon their release, they will say things which will face a very receptive audience, unlike Iranian Government’s words which have a very sparse audience now. Surprised by the sailors’ story and pressure for their confessions, over the past two days, Western networks have referred to this event as “Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s Political Theatre.”

Arrest of the sailors in disputed Iran/Iraq water boarders was another sign for Iran’s neighbor to remember its previous struggles with Iran several decades ago. A continued dispute over waters around Iran’s southern boarders will lead to renewed age-old differences with Iraq, an issue better left alone at this time. This type of adventurism will also threaten Iran’s shaky friendship with its other neighbors, making them fearful. This will have the exact same impact as Iran’s nuclear program has had on its neighbors.

Iran’s posturing for the West, and making threats about how any harm to Iran might have unforeseen results for the West has both proponents and opponents. Some Ahmadinejad supporters view this as a pre-emptive measure, and believe that this way the US will not dream about attacking Iran.

Opponents of this idea believe that with the determined stance of the West for reining Iran in, such actions only confirm that the Islamic Republic of Iran is a rogue government, and sooner or later it must be toppled. It is noteworthy, for example, to say that over the past two weeks, the word “evil” has been frequently used on different US television network programs. In a recent program on CNN, the topic for which was “End of Time,” war between “good” and “evil” forces was discussed, and unfortunately, Iran was not mentioned in the “good” category.

Other recently-performed analysis can be added to the above. Iran’s willingness to see its hostages released in Iraq, Ahmadinejad’s concerns about Tehran’s loss of control over the crisis and a subsequently forced freedom of the sailors without any tangible gains for Tehran, and Tony Blair’s statements about British soldiers’ casualties in Basra and Iran’s possible involvement in the matter, etc., are among these new analysis.

The game continues, however, and the results are not yet clear. We must wait and see what the next stage of this Grand Prize Game is, and whose side has been strengthened through Iran’s arrest of the 15 British sailors. As events shape and continue, there is another speculation on the horizon and that is that this game will have no winners.

Journalist Gets the Kafka Treatment

Here is my piece about the Iranian journalist who has been sentenced to 3 years jail in Iran in IPS:

OAKLAND, United States, Apr 5 (IPS) - In a continued effort to suppress reform-minded critics, the Iranian government has sentenced yet another prominent journalist, Ali Farahbakhsh, to three years in jail and slapped him with a huge fine, partly due to a typo in the court documents. Farahbakhsh was convicted of spying in a trial held behind closed doors on Mar. 26. He was first imprisoned five months ago on his return to Iran after participating in a conference on the news media organised by civil society groups in Bangkok, Thailand. His lawyer has appealed the sentence. Farahbakhsh was arrested on Nov. 26 and held in solitary confinement for 40 days, until the Association of Iranian Journalists issued a statement publicly revealing the details of his case. The security forces had pressured his family to remain silent about his arrest, which was only confirmed on Jan. 7 by the director of Tehran's prison department, Sohrabe Soleymani.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Release of British Sailors in the Presence of Journalists

The crises that erupted because 15 British sailors were detained by Iranian forces 13 days ago eventually ended with their release. The conclusion of the crises came through the orders of the Iranian president and one day after some sources had mentioned that the president had presented a new “initiative” in resolving the issue.

During the last 3 days of the crises, there were public signs that both sides were engaged in talks to peacefully free the British captives, while British Prime Minister Tony Blair announced on Tuesday that the next 24 hours were critical in resolving the issue. In his press conference announcing the decision to release the detainees, Ahmadinejad said that Britain had informed the Foreign Ministry that it would not repeat trespassing into Iranian territory.

The British sailors appeared before the cameras, wearing suits provided to them, after the president’s press conference. With the release of the detainees, the Iranian president once again appeared on the front pages of major international papers – the precise spot where he loves to be.
The display of the British sailors was for Ahmadinejad’s government was a display of victory and success because for the first time in his term a collection of his ministers and other senior Iranian officials were present with him during his press conference. At the end of the conference, he asked the journalists to stay for the ceremony to release the British sailors and report on the event. The sailors were handed over to the British diplomatic authorities in Tehran, and eventually left the country.

After Ahmadinejad’s recent failure to come to the UN, this episode was a blessing for him as the world was eager to watch him following Tony Blair’s ultimatum-like statement. His press conference was unusual in that this was the first time that military honors were presented to an officer in a press meeting. Normally such military awards are presented in special military ceremonies. So the event catapulted him to the front page of the New York Times. After awarding the naval commander Abolghasem Amangah who led the team that captured the British sailors in the Shat-al Arab waterway, Ahmadinejad said that the Brits were pardoned by the Islamic Republic and he expressed hope that the Britain would not punish the sailors on their arrival for “confessing” to their trespass into Iranian waters and speaking the “truth.”
Over the last few days there were those who believed that Iran’s seizure of the British sailors was a response to the five Iranians detained in Iraq in January, who according to US officials, are from the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps even as Iran insists they are diplomats. The release of Jalal Sharafi, the second secretary of the Iranian embassy in Baghdad earlier this week added more suspicions to the release and possible deal behind-the-scenes. But officials on both sides denied reports of any deal and connection between the two events.

The Iranian Minister of Intelligence said, in a press conference on the British sailors, that no deal was made and that the two issues (Iranian detainees in Iraq and the British sailors in Iran) were not connected. He emphasized that the British sailors were released because Islamic clemency and a gift to the British people. He also denied any knowledge about an American who has been reported to be missing by US officials. The minister also denied knowledge of a French national who is report3ed to have been arrested in Tehran. He did confirm that Iran would do its utmost to free the detainees in Iraq, adding that the US had not done anything effective in this regard.
The release of the British sailors dropped prices in the international crude oil prices by about $1.5 per barrel, following its rise to over $65 per barrel earlier in the week.