126 Iranian journalists signed a letter protesting the arrests and harassment of journalists and sent it to the head of the judiciary and the speaker of parliament. A cartoonist faced lashing for his drawing of an MP, and cartoonists all over the world launched a campaign of support. An MP assaulted a journalist who asked a sensitive question. Publishers banned from attending the International Book Fair received support from a prisoner of conscience, while women were targeted for bad hejab. The ICT minister calls for government instituions to host their email and sites on domestic servers. Rapper Shahin Najafi wakes up to find a price on his head offered by an anonymous Gulf resident after his new song satirizing the wait for the tenth Imam hit the airwaves. And more…

Journalists Protest Imprisonment and Harassment

126 journalists signed a letter to the head of Iran’s judiciary and the Speaker of the Parliament protesting the imprisonment of journalists:

“In the same moment that the person behind the illegal Kharizak prison [refers to Saeed Mortazavi, whose promotion to head of the social security agency while still under criminal investigation for abuses at Kharizak remains controversial] is promoted, and the forces under your command turn a blind eye to the accusations against him, journalists are being arrested one after the other, facing verbal and physical abuse.”

“He Drew Me Ugly! Boohoo…”

With the conclusion of the parliamentary elections in Iran, two MPs attracted much attention last week. Mahmood Shokraiyeh, a cartoonist from the city of Arak, was sentenced to 25 lashes for drawing his local MP, Ahmad Lotfi, in a football jersey published in Name-ye Amir weekly. The verdict triggered a wave of outrage inside and outside Iran. Mana Neyestani, an Iranian cartoonist living in exile, called on his colleagues to join a campaign drawing cartoons of the parliamentarian. Many have contributed. Amnesty International has also condemned the sentence and called for its annulment:

“Mahmoud Shokraye’s brutal sentence, just for drawing a harmless cartoon, sends a chilling message to all Iranians that they cannot freely and peacefully express their views without the fear of facing harsh reprisals from the Iranian authorities. This is yet one more example of the Iranian authorities’ relentless attack on freedom of expression….”

The lawmaker has since dropped the suit against the cartoonist.

Angry Birds Round Two

In a similar incident, another member of the Parliament, Mehdi Koochakzadeh, assaulted a journalist who tried to interview him.  According to reports Mr. Koochakzadeh flew off the handle when the name of “Saeed Mortazavi” was mentioned by the journalist who went on to criticize the MP for failing to prevent the “butcher of the press” from being promoted to the head of the biggest financial holding organization in Iran, the Social Security Organization [Sazman-e Ta’min-e Ejtema’ie].

Kofi Annan Praises Iranian Cartoonists

In Geneva earlier this month Kofi Annan, the former U.N. Secretary General, dedicated the award for the first international cartoonist prize to four Iranian cartoonists, Firoozeh Mozaffari, Hassan Karimzadeh, Mana Neyestani, and Kianoosh Ramezani.

Solidarity with Banned Publishers from Behind Bars

Last week, a jailed student activist, Majid Dorri, sent an open letter from prison calling for support of publishers banned from Tehran’s International Book Fair.

This prisoner of conscience who has been behind bars for more than 1000 days writes:

“It has now been three years since I had the opportunity to participate in the book fair. Had I had the chance, my friends and I would have celebrated the annual book celebration at Cheshmeh Publication’s booth or a booth belonging to another one of the four banned publishers. Though these days I have less need to buy books, I have put aside some money to buy books already published by these publishers.”

Worth a Thousand Words 

A photo that made the rounds on social media showed a young woman being dragged into the morals police van [gasht-e ershad] for having worn “non-Islamic” dress. The Iranian opposition group called “25th of Bahman” (marking a demonstration date) captioned the photo: “An image from this year’s book fair: as citizens let us react and not remain silent before such ugly and inhumane acts. Rest assured the same awaits us tomorrow.”

The Morals Police to Continue Operation “With Full Power”

The summer is approaching and it is already nearly 30 degrees centigrade in Tehran. In some parts it is much warmer. Once again, the leader of the Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Khamenei, has warned against non-observation of the Islamic Hijab (dress code). Following the leader’s remarks, the chief of the morals police announced that the moral security plan would be implemented with full force again this year. Brigadier Roozbehani stated that “26 ministries and governmental organizations are appointed to cooperate in fighting against ‘foul-dressing’ in Iran.”

ICT Minister Calls for Nationalizing Emails

Mehr News Agency published a report from the minister of ICT, Reza Taghipour, which has ordered all institutions affiliated with the Islamic Republic to stop using foreign email services such as Yahoo, Gmail, Hotmail and MSN and instead use domestic email services to maintain security and keep information from leaking. In addition to the ban on foreign email services in the government sector, all official web-hosting, internet and domain names must be registered at www.nic.ir as the ICT minister has decreed.

Rapper with a Price on His Head

Shahin Najafi, an Iranian dissident rapper residing in Germany, has recently released an album causing much controversy within the Iranian community around the world. The cover of Najafi’s new album depicts the dome of a shrine in the shape of a woman’s breast with a rainbow flag on the top.The title song, “Naghi,” named for the tenth Shia Imam, has made him a number of blood enemies. Others applaud him for his outstanding courage in breaking taboos within a closed society.

The website Shia online (www.shia-online.ir) announced that a wealthy donor from a Persian Gulf region country has pledged the sum of $100,000 in prize money for anyone who manages to kill Shahin Najafi for his “heresy.”

Enduring America has published an overview of the case translated from a post in German on Arshama3’s Blog.

Digarban reveals that the source of attacks against Najafi is not, as reported earlier, a fatwa directed specifically at Najafi, but a campaign initiated by the Revolutionary Guards.

Notorious Evin Prison to be Transformed into a Park

The mayor of Tehran, Mohamad Bagher Ghalibaf, says Evin prison will be transformed into a park in the future and a new prison will be constructed outside Tehran.

Death Sentence of Web Developer Reconsidered

In a positive move, the death sentence of Vahid Asghari, the Iranian cyber activist, has reportedly been sent back to the courts for review by the high judicial council. Vahid Asghari is a web developer who was arrested in 2008 and accused of spying. In a letter written in 2009, he stated:

“I was alleged to have received money from abroad as a result of Google advertising on the websites I hosted. I was accused of insulting the Shiite Imams and the Prophet because of their content. And I was forced to say that Hossein Derakhshan was an agent of both the Iranian ministry of intelligence and the CIA.”

Gender Segregation in Universities Underway

Shargh newspaper has reported that full-fledged gender segregation is underway in Iran’s universities. Pioneered by the largest social sciences university of the country, Allameh Tabatabaie University, the report states that presently “there are more than 350 segregated classes at Allameh Tabatabaie University of which 263 are for girls and 87 for boys.”

The Movements of Female Students Reported Via SMS

Young women swiping an ID to get in and out of the dormitory triggers an automatic text message sent to “the father of the family.” Tehran’s Hamshahri newspaper quoted the dean of Azad University of Boroojerd saying, “The messages are sent in real time when female students use their electronic cards to enter the dormitories.”

Amnesty International Calls for Appeals to Free Iranian Trade Unionist

Last week Amnesty International issued a statement on the prison sentence of Iranian unionist, Reza Shahabi, describing the verdict as based on “vaguely worded charges”.

An excerpt of Amnesty International ‘s statement reads:

Reza Shahabi […] the Treasurer of the Union of Workers of the Tehran and Suburbs Bus Company (Sherkat-e Vahed), has been detained in Evin Prison in the Iranian capital, Tehran, since June 2010. He is in poor health after numerous hunger strikes in protest at the conditions in which he is held. Since around February 2012, he has complained that one side of his body was numb. However, it was not until 30 April that the prison authorities took him to hospital. It is not clear whether he is receiving adequate medical treatment. Reza Shahabi was sentenced to five years’ imprisonment for “gathering and colluding against state security” and one year for “spreading propaganda against the system”

Amnesty International mentions two other Iranian unionists arrested on similar charges: Zabihollah Bagheri and Ebrahim Madadi. A letter writing campaign is unterway demanding their release.

Environmentalist Rescues Purple Heron in Qom 

A post on the website of the Iranian Department of Environment reports of a rescue mission of a Purple Heron (Ardea purpurea) initiated by a philanthropic environmentalist in the city of Qom. The 80-cm bird was discovered in critical condition near a pond in the suburbs of the city in central Iran. The good news is that the bird has been resuscitated and released back into its natural habitat.