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April 11, 2014
“We do not have a replacement for Mr. Aboutalebi and we will pursue the matter via legal mechanisms anticipated in the United Nations,” said Abbas Araghchi, a senior Foreign Ministry official, as quoted by Iran’s official IRNA news agency.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said Friday the U.S. had informed the U.N. and Iran it would not issue the visa. Asked whether the Obama Administration is concerned the action may impact ongoing nuclear talks with Iran, Carney said, “We do not expect them to.”
Under a 1947 treaty establishing the headquarters of the UN in New York, the U.S. is generally required to expeditiously approve visa requests for UN diplomats. But on Tuesday, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said visas can still be denied on “security, terrorism, and foreign policy” grounds.
However, neither Psaki nor Carney would expand on the reasons for denying Aboutalebi’s visa.
“We’ve been very clear with the Iranians that this nomination is not viable,” Psaki said Friday. “So there has been no secret of that, but I think they understand what the reasons are.”
In 1988, the U.S. denied a visa to then Palestinian Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat to visit the U.N. on account of his group’s ties to terrorism.
Carney’s comments came after Congress gave final passage this week to legislation to formally bar Aboutalebi, Iran’s choice to be its new United Nations ambassador, from entering the country.
Outraged by his involvement in the 1979 hostage-taking of Americans in Tehran, the House unanimously passed the bill Thursday. That followed Senate passage on Monday, which was also unanimous. If signed by President Barack Obama, the bill would bar representatives to the United Nations from entering the U.S., where the U.N. is headquartered, if such persons have engaged in espionage or terrorist activities against the United States.
Carney said Friday that the Administration is “reviewing the legislation and will work to address any issues related to its utility and constitutionality.” It remains unclear if Obama will sign or veto it. Lawmakers sponsoring the bill have called on the President to “act quickly.”
“We, as a country, can send an unequivocal message to rogue nations like Iran that the United States will not tolerate this kind of provocative and hostile behavior,” Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex) said in a statement.
Aboutalebi previously served as Iran’s ambassador to the European Union, Australia, Belgium and Italy.
Christian Science Monitor
In 2008, Iran banned all pop music. But a recent female solo performance signals growing freedom in a country where heavy metal musicians have been told to stay seated on stage.
By Scott Peterson, Staff writer / March 30, 2014
Lady Gaga is not about to play Tehran. But Iranian musicians say the growing openness of the past two years has now blossomed under centrist President Hassan Rouhani, enabling live performances today that would have been impossible not long ago.
Exhibit A is a groundbreaking show that just finished a 20-gig run in Tehran’s renowned Vahdat Hall. Redefining what is acceptable on stage, women sang solos; Western songs filled the playlist, from John Lennon to Frank Sinatra; and most lyrics were in English.
Audiences who crammed into the plush multi-story theater gasped at the spectacle, some singing quietly along as the lead female vocalist – wearing a maroon head scarf that fell to her waist – belted out Amy Winehouse’s “Back to Black.”
Called “The Last Days of March,” the hybrid theater-band act set out to test the limits of a cultural battle with conservatives who fear “Westoxicating” influences on the Islamic Republic.
“From the third night, ticket sales shot up. People were very surprised…we could have doubled the run,” says Behrooz Saffarian, the musical director.
At 36, he is just one year older than Iran’s 1979 Islamic revolution, and has witnessed the incremental improvements and setbacks that led up to this new era of openness.
“Up to now, it is very hopeful and very positive. But how it continues is very important,” says Mr. Saffarian, who has produced hit albums and pop music. “After ‘Last Days of March,’ I don’t think there are serious limitations that still need to be crossed.”
Headbanging in their seats
That conclusion may be premature, but today’s music scene is hardly recognizable from from a generation ago, when Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the father of the revolution, first told the directors of Radio Iran to battle music “with all your might.”
“Music corrupts the minds of our youth. There is no difference between music and opium,” he said.
A decade ago underground heavy metal bands rehearsed in tiny rooftop rooms padded with decibel-dampening Styrofoam and could rarely play in public. And in early 2008, during the first term of arch conservative President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, pop music was banned altogether.
Traditional Persian music has long been a partial exception, though even those musicians once needed permits to carry their instruments. Fifteen years ago a male vocalist at a keyboard in the resort island of Kish was still a novelty, and musicians playing weddings scoped out hiding places for their instruments in case of raids by morality police.
“They have tried to keep us on a leash for so many years,” says Babak Riahipour. He is one of Iran’s best-known bass players – but is not officially recognized as a musician because the labor ministry doesn’t consider it an occupation.
Years ago, when heavy metal bands Mr. Riahipour played in got permits, the band members had to perform while sitting, and the audience had to headbang in their seats.
Eight years under Ahmadinejad was “like a prison” for musicians, Riahipour says. Things began to loosen up in the final years of his presidency, as Ahmadinejad wrestled with rival conservatives. ”They give some entertainment so people think they have some freedom,” he says.
His fiancée Negin Akbarpour is a singer and songwriter with a lyrical, high-pitched voice. But her studio work is still not openly available in Iran because of prohibitions against female singing. The two are working on demo tracks, but doing so is illegal, as is selling any resulting albums, they say.
Drawing a crowd
Concert permits are more readily available these days, though venues can be prohibitively expensive to rent. Potentially controversial performers like rock bands are now comfortable announcing their performances a month in advance, while previously they would give only a few hours notice to lessen the risk of the event being shut down by hard-line vigilantes. The late notice kept crowds small.
“Before if we said we wanted a concert for 200 people, they would laugh at us,” says guitarist Amir Tehrani, who has played in heavy metal and rock bands for years, both underground and in public. “These days we really have shows; now there is a lot of entertainment on the stage, and lots of recording studios.”
Government officials in Iran must approve all cultural output, from live performances and commercial recordings, to book, magazine and newspaper publishing. Though the musical thaw began during Ahmadinejad’s time, musical director Saffarian attributes the current ”rebirth” of pop music in Iran to new, more enlightened officials, many of whom come from the music business.
When the independent House of Music, which has 13,000 members and acts on behalf of musicians, complained last October about restrictions on the music industry, conservatives reacted with a slew of rulings from high-ranking religious scholars defending the strict rules. But days later Rouhani’s Minister of Culture and Islamic Guidance Ali Jannati pushed back, citing religious scholars who said female singing was permissible if it did “not cause any immorality.”
“It is 34 years that the music scene is experiencing a cold winter. They still believe music is [forbidden],” says House of Music spokesman Dariush Pirniakan of authorities. “It is not right to ignore the crowd of people who are music listeners.”
Some of the damage to the music industry may have been self-inflicted. During the Ahmadinejad era, when Iranian heavy metal and rap were pushed underground, there were no filters for quality, says Saffarian, who produced Iran’s first rap album a decade ago.
Iranian rappers, for example, copied American artists, singing about jail, carrying guns, and lewd behavior – as if musicians were real gangsters. Families who listened together to the music ended up with “poisoned” opinions, he says.
“We didn’t have any standards [or know how] to bring music to society,” he explains. “In every part of the world, not to say there is censorship, but there are some filters – MTV uses standards,” Saffarian says, referring to rules on profanity, nudity, and violence.
“Here they didn’t know what to do so everything came up… and this wrecked appetite for music [that] in some quarters will take a long time to repair.”
Even with the new openness, “The Last Days of March” attracted its share of controversy. The hard-line Serat News website deemed the show un-Islamic and inaccurately claimed that well-known lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh – who was released from prison last September on charges of “acting against national security” – was invited on stage, that night’s performance dedicated to her.
In the past such criticism from conservative quarters meant “the next night it would be shut down,” says Saffarian. “This time, it had the full run.”
A TV report I prepared in Myanmar will air today on Al Jazeera America (4 and 6 p.m. ET and perhaps later again). It follows Jack Rendler, an American who moved to Myanmar to teach young monks English and discovered what they really wanted to learn about was human rights. What these monks believe matters to the future of Myanmar, a country transitioning from dictatorship to democracy.
گزارش تلویزیونی که من در میینمار تهیه کردم امروز در الجزیره آمریکا در ساعت چهار و شش بعد از ظهر بوقت شرق آمریکا و شاید یکبار دیگر پخش خواهد شد. این گزارش داستان جک رندلر یک امریکایی که به میینمار رفت تا به راهبان جوان انگلیسی یاد بدهد اما دریافت آنچه که این راهبان در واقع می خواستند یاد بگیرند درباره حقوق بشر بود. باورهای این راهبان اهمیت زیادی برای آینده میینمار که کشوری در حال تحول از استبداد به دموکراسی است دارد
I’ve been very touched by the kindness of people here, as well as their curiosity and openness. I’m one of 400 journalists in Yangon, Myanmar, attending the East-West Center Conference on Challenges of a Free Press. Looking forward to speaking on a panel with a number of courageous journalists this evening.
|At least 80 people have been executed in Iran so far this year, marking a rise in its use of capital punishment, the UN’s human rights office has said.
The majority of executions in Iran are by hanging and are handed down for drug-related offences, which fail to meet the threshold in international law for “most serious crimes”, a category which covers acts such as murder, the AFP news agency reported.
“We are deeply concerned about the reported spike in executions in Iran since the beginning of this year,” said Ravina Shamdasani, spokeswoman for the UN high commissioner for human rights.
“In just over seven weeks, at least 80 people have been executed. Some reliable sources indicate the figure could be as high as 95,” she told reporters.
The case of two activists from Iran’s Arab minority was of particular concern, Shamdasani said.
Hadi Rashedi and Hashem Shabani Amouri were reportedly executed in secret in January following proceedings that did not meet international fair trial and due process standards, she said.
After reportedly being denied access to lawyers and family members, and tortured into confessing, they were sentenced to death on what Shamdasani said were the “ill-defined” charges of “enmity against God” and “corruption on earth”, as well as acts against national security.
“An escalation in executions, including of political prisoners and individuals belonging to ethnic minority groups, was notable in the second half of 2013,” Shamdasani noted.
She said that at least 500 people are known to have been executed in 2013, including 57 in public, but that the number may be as high as 625.
The toll in 2012 was 314, according to Amnesty International.
The increased deployment of capital punishment dashed hopes after the “encouraging signs” last year when President Hassan Rouhani’s release of a string of political prisoners.
Rouhani, a moderate, defeated a pool of conservatives in last June’s presidential election.
“We regret that the new government has not changed its approach to the death penalty and continues to impose capital punishment for a wide range of offences,” said Shamdasani.
“We urge the government to immediately halt executions and to institute a moratorium.”