The violence of despair

Even the most miserable of prisoners, damned without hope of any kind, can turn the tables for a while:

Gohardasht Prison

Gohardasht Prison

A group of prisoners took control of Ward 1 of Gohardasht prison in the city of Karaj, west of Tehran, on Sunday during a riot against appalling prison conditions and the harsh treatments by the authorities. The prisoners clashed with members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) disarming two of the guards, Mohsen Khalesi and Marjani, before taking control of the Ward. Other prison guards and torturers fled the premises. Angry prisoners managed to get hold of the keys to solitary cells and release[ed] all the inmates. The riot continued until 21:00 local time, [after which] the prison’s special guards … took back the control of the Ward … The Ward 1 that houses solitary confinements is known as “dog house” because of harsh conditions and barbaric tortures deployed there. The prisoners are subjected to humiliation, insults and various physical tortures such as hunger and rape and are facing gradual death in the appalling living conditions. Every year a dozen of them commit suicide.

Bomb plots

Still worried about Af/Pak? According to David Blair, writing in the Telegraph,

Tehran’s nuclear ambitions have overtaken Afghanistan as the biggest security problem.

Breaking the Ramadan fast in Mashhad 06

Breaking the Ramadan fast in Mashhad 06

That’s bigger then all the currently highly irritating wars. Negotiations continue ─ after a fashion. The Gang of Six make a proposal. Iran accepts (it has just been caught with its pants down; Russia is miffed). Rejoicings. Then Iran gives a different version of what had been agreed. Despondency. Then Iran has to respond by a deadline. Iran secures an extension of the deadline. Yawn. Then it makes counter-proposals instead. These are said to be unacceptable to the Gang of Six.

In one of those anonymous but sublime diplomatic jokes,

“It’s like playing chess with a monkey,” said one diplomat close to the talks. “You get them to checkmate, and then they swallow the king.”

Is this what is known in the trade as ‘refreshing candour’?

Daily, there is news of bombs going off. So try plotting them on a map. Baghdad, Islamabad, Kabul. Occasionally also Mosul, Sistan, Lahore, Kashmir, Rawalpindi. Get the idea? Lots of orange flashes in an Islamic Crescent. What an explosive religion.

In Iran, everyone goes to jail

Hossein Rassam

Hossein Rassam

It is said that you are nobody in Iran if you haven’t been to jail. Nevertheless I feel sorry for Hossein Rassam, chief local research analyst for the political section of the British embassy. First he was arrested because the Little Satan must have sparked off the June/July protests. Then he was released on bail. Now he has been sentenced to four years.

For what exactly? For spying? For bringing God into disrepute? For wearing a multicoloured pullover? For spreading malicious tales about prison violence? No, for working for the British.

First Miliband spoke out. Now the whole European Union has spoken with one voice:

The European Union presidency [what Presidency?] … reiterates that any action against one EU country, a citizen or member of embassy staff, is considered an action against the entire EU, and will be treated accordingly.”

That’s the stuff. Make them tremble in their sandals. Threaten them with a return of Jenghiz Khan.

Border frictions

Women play cricket ... well, sort of

Women play cricket ... well, sort of

On 18th October, a suicide bomber managed to kill six senior Revolutionary Guard commanders in Pisheen, in the Sistan-Baluchistan province in south-eastern Iran. The Iranians have all sorts of trouble with their minorities who live along the borders who consider themselves Kurds, Arabs, Turks, Afghans or Baluchis respectively, depending on where they live. This lot are Sunni Moslems, which makes matters worse. They prefer Caliphs to Imams. There is a local resistance (“terrorist”) movement, the Jundallah, who may or may not have been responsible.

Anyway, a total of 42 people was killed. The Iranian government was quick to blame the United States, Britain and Pakistan. Somehow one gets the feeling that these people want to be taken seriously … but are going the wrong way about it.

A week later, an apparently secret mission involving Iranian soldiers, including Revolutionary Guards, in two vehicles was intercepted by Pakistani forces inside Pakistan’s territory, fired on and its cover blown. Eleven soldiers were taken into custody. The Iranians have been downplaying the incident.

This is a sideshow for Pakistan, however. Having for years made glowering faces and shaken nuclear fists at their Hindu superstate neighbour (because this is easiest for nationalist Islamic sentiment), the Pakistani government is now facing virtual national extinction from the northerly threat of Islamic extremism (Al-Qaida, Kashmiri militants, Taliban, Afghan insurrectionists), all done on its own territory and in the name of Islam. They are responding with uninhibited and successful ferocity, but already bombs are going off daily in the national capital and outside their military headquarters.

Bold student

During a visit of the Wise Donkey to Tehran students on 28th October,

a student from Sharif University, named by some websites as Mahmud Vahidnia, criticized the Iranian leader, state broadcast media, the postelection crackdown, and the closure of the reformist press — for a whole 20 minutes. The student reportedly told Khamenei that he had never seen criticism of Khamenei in the Iranian press. He said those surrounding Khamenei have turned him into “an idol.” He then went on to accuse state media of biased reporting and giving a false picture of postelection events. He added that since the supreme leader appoints the head of state broadcast media, he is responsible for its content and biased coverage.

Women sleep rough

Women sleep rough

According to his own website, Khamenei

reacted by saying that he welcomes criticism and knows that there is a lot of it.

Since you can go to jail in Iran for a lot less than this, we hope to hear that Mahmud is alive, well ─ and free.

Human rights at the UN

Demonstrators and Nobellists alike have long called for attention to switch from the nuclear issue to that of human rights. And it is true that with a more human government in Tehran the West would take a very different view of the risks involved in a peaceful nuclear programme. But little has happened until now.

“Today [i.e. 29-Oct-09], at the United Nations General Assembly, Canada will table the toughest resolution on the human rights situation in Iran,” Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon said in the House of Commons just ahead of the UN filing. “For the first time, under this government, we are calling on the investigators to focus on Iran’s appalling human rights record.” The United States and five other big powers have long led the international focus on Iran’s suspected bid to develop a nuclear bomb. But Canada has emerged as a catalyst for UN scrutiny of Iran’s human rights record since the 2003 torture and murder of Canadian-Iranian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi while she was in Iranian custody.

Women wait for the right train

Women wait for the right train

So even gentle, agreeable Canada can be goaded into action. Good for them ─ and may the memory of Zahra burn brightly!