The Latest from Iran (11 April): Targeting Ahmadinejad

1500 GMT: Political Prisoner Watch. Singer/songwriter Arya Aramnejad has been Arya Aramnejad sentenced to one year in prison.

Aramnejad, seized in November 2011 in Sari in northern Iran, was freed last week on bail. He distributed a song, “All Rise”, after the Ashura demonstrations of December 2009, and is known for other anthems such as “Nostalgia” and “In Order to Touch Freedom”.

1440 GMT: Detention Watch. Two Russian nationals working for the Zarkouh mining company were reportedly arrested on 5 April in Tehran.

1430 GMT: Elections Watch. Back from a vacation break to find that the head of Iran’s Election Commission, Soulat Mortazavi, has said that that the second round of Parliamentary elections will be held on Friday, 4 May.

There will be contests for 65 seats — 25 of them from Tehran — in 33 districts with 14,640 poll stations.

Both the Unity Front and the Islamic Constancy Front, the two most prominent conservative/principlist factions in the first round on 2 March, have announced 25-candidate lists for the Tehran contests.

0750 GMT: At the Movies. Hizbullahi activists from Rasht in northern Iran have shut down a cinemashowing “Gasht-e Ershad (Moral Police)”.

The film’s humourous treatment of Iran’s social laws and their enforcers has drawn heated criticism. The movie has been banned by Tehran’s municipal authorities.

0720 GMT: Surveillance Watch (Part 2). Reuters claims from documents that China’s ZTE Corp, which recently sold Iran’s largest telecommunications firm a powerful surveillance system, later agreed to ship millions of dollars of embargoed US computer equipment to Tehran.

The American components were part of an 8 million euro ($10.5 million) equipment-supply contract, dated 30 June between ZTE and a unit of the consortium that controls Telecommunication Co. of Iran.

The equipment to be delivered from China included IBM servers; switches made by Cisco Systems Inc and Brocade Communications Systems Inc; database software from Oracle Corp and a unit of EMC Corp; Symantec back-up and ant-virus software; and a Juniper Networks firewall.

A spokesman for ZTE said last week in an email that “as far as we know” the company had not yet shipped any of the products. Asked if ZTE intended to do so, he replied on Monday: “We have no intention to implement this contract or ship the products.” He said ZTE decided “to abandon” the agreement after “we realized that the contract involved some US embargoed products”.

0715 GMT: Surveillance Watch. Global Post reports on a lawsuit alleging that Africa’s biggest cell phone company conspired to help Iran obtain South African weapons and Pretoria’s support for Tehran’s nuclear programme.

Cell phone company MTN, in exchange for a license to operate in Iran, allegedly said it would persuade the South African government to support the Islamic Republic at the United Nations and to sell it heavy weapons prohibited by international sanctions.

The accusations of bribery and corruption against MTN, filed in a US court, are made in a lawsuit by a rival mobile firm that was also vying for the Iranian operating licence.

MTN has denied the accusations made in the $4.2 billion lawsuit launched in a US federal court by Turkcell, a Turkish company initially awarded the Iranian cellular license.

0540 GMT: International media eagerly spread President Ahmadinejad’s declaration on Tuesday that the Islamic Republic could withdraw sanctions, to the point of surviving even if it did not sell a drop of oil over the next three years.

No one seemed to recognise that this was a diversion. The real story in Iran lay elsewhere — away from the impending nuclear talks, away from the “West”, and even away from the sanctions.

Monday’s pressure on Ahmadinejad, including the threats to prosecute his Vice President and two of his top advisors, escalated yesterday. MPs took up Speaker of Parliament Ali Larijani’s damnation of the Government’s subsidy cuts, with 15 legislators calling on Larijani to summon Ahmadinejad for questioning over the programme, problems with domestic production, and inflation. (One of the MPs, former Minister of Health Ali Larijani, had proclaimed only last week that “his entire family had voted for Ahmadinejad” in 2009.)

And in a move which may be symbolic or may be much, Parliament passed an emergency bill which warns of much more to come: the measure says Ahmadinejad can be dismissed if he fails to answer six or more questions satisfactorily.

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