Nobel laureate Ebadi urges EU, US to ban Iran from TV satellites

Shirin_Ebadi_FIDHNobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi has called on the European Union and United States to ban Iran from using U.S. and European satellites to broadcast what she described as the Islamic Republic’s propaganda, Reuters reports.

Ebadi (right), exiled in Britain since 2009, expressed disappointment with Iran’s new president, Hassan Rouhani.

“The motto of Mr Rouhani was that he was going to change the conditions and this is why people voted for him. Unfortunately that’s not what happened,” she said:

Ebadi said the number of executions in Iran since Rouhani’s June election was twice what it was a year ago, when Ahmadinejad was still in power. Nearly all of the opposition activists in prison before he was elected are still in prison and religious and ethnic minorities continue to be persecuted, she added.

She cited figures from the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), which reported that over 200 people, including as many as four minors, were executed between June 14 and October 1. She said it was double the number of executions that took place in the same period in 2012.

“Unfortunately the world focuses on nuclear energy more than human rights and does not pay attention to the situation of violations of human rights in Iran,” she said. “And this is why the human rights conditions are worsening.”

“My question for European countries is – what if they agree with the government of Iran on nuclear issues,” said Ebadi, a former human rights lawyer and judge who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2003.

“Are you willing to shake hands with a government that stones women? Are you going to trust a government that executes its political opposition? Are you willing to compromise standards of human rights, that you believe in, for your own security?”

FIDH is supported by the National Endowment for Democracy, the Washington-based democracy assistance NGO.


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Dissident Squared.’ Let’s rename streets outside dictators’ embassies

majidtavakoliIn the ’80s, the U.S. Senate renamed the street outside the Soviet Embassy Sakharov Plaza to protest the dissident’s treatment. It’s time to give similar reminders to today’s dictatorships, James Kirchick .

Renaming the streets, squares, and plazas outside Russian embassies and consulates after Magnitsky is the brainchild of David Keyes, executive director of the innovative advocacy organization Advancing Human Rights. Last month in New York, he confronted Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif about the plight of Majid Tavakoli (right), a leading student activist and political dissident imprisoned by the Iranian government since 2009. .. Keyes’s piece inspired thousands of Iranians to confront their foreign minister on social media about Tavakoli’s plight; two weeks later, Takavoli was freed.

Keyes calls his project “Dissident Squared,” a name that evokes both the physical dimension of its purpose and its ability to multiply the notoriety of imprisoned dissidents and confront their jailers head on.

“It will help concentrate the minds of dictatorships wonderfully well,” says Irwin Cotler, former attorney general of Canada and counsel for Nelson Mandela and Natan Sharansky, among others.

Cotler recalls a conversation he had with Gorbachev years after the Soviet authorities decided to release Sharansky, then the most famous of the Soviet Jewish refuseniks who had campaigned for the right to emigrate.

“I never knew anything about Sharansky,”Gorbachev told Cotler. “I never even knew the name. I came to Canada as the minister of agriculture, and I appeared before a Canadian Parliamentary Committee on agriculture, but instead of getting questions about agriculture, I got questions about Sharansky. I left the Parliament building and saw placards of Sharansky. Wherever I went I was confronted by Sharansky. So I came back to the Soviet Union and I said, ‘Who is this guy Sharansky?’ I got the files and said, ‘Well, he might have been a troublemaker, but he isn’t a criminal,’ so we ordered his release. It wasn’t worth the international price we paid.”


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Soft landing in Cuba? As regime cracks down on dissidents, ‘Connect Cuba’ with ‘Internet without the Internet’


Cuban singers Gloria Estefan and Willy Chirino are backing an initiative to deliver what Havana blogger Yoani Sánchez has called “the Internet without the Internet”  to the island, providing USB drives, DVDs, CDs and other formats loaded with uncensored information, Cubaheadlines reports.

Meanwhile, Cuban security officials detained nearly 30 members of the dissident Ladies in White while a government-backed mob twice pummeled and kicked a top opposition leader in the latest weekend crackdown on pro-democracy activists, The Miami Herald’s Juan O. Tamayo reports:

GuillermoFariñasTristeGuillermo Fariñas (right), one of the country’s best known dissidents, said he suffered half a dozen bruises in the attacks Sunday as he twice approached a police station in his hometown of Santa Clara to file a complaint against the arrests of 11 Ladies in White. ….Fariñas, winner of the European Parliament’s 2010 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Conscience, said he recognized some of the people who beat him up as sports trainers and nurses waiting for profitable but government-controlled job assignments abroad.

“These people are being blackmailed to hand out punches,” said Fariñas, who serves as spokesman for the Cuban Patriotic Union (UNPACU), one of the most active pro-democracy groups on the island.

The Connect Cuba campaign will feature an online petition urging Havana to provide citizens with unabridged and affordable access to the Internet, according to the Miami-based Foundation for Human Rights in Cuba:

The foundation raised $35,000 in 35 days through a crowd-funding request on to pay for the initial costs of the campaign such as the Web page and designs, said José Luís Martínez, the foundation’s communications director.

The Foundation for Human Rights in Cuba received a $3.4 million, three-year grant in 2011 from the U.S. Agency for International Development to support Cuban civil society, and separately raises more than $600,000 a year from private donors. None of the USAID money will be used for the Connect Cuba campaign, Costa said.

Yesterday, the U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC’s Young Leaders Group released the sixth installment of its dissident awareness campaign:

Angel Yunier RemónAngel Yunier Remón (left), a young Cuban rapper known as ‘El Critico,’ sat in a Cuban prison on the verge of death due to his courageous 18+ day hunger strike, Capitol Hill Cubans reports:

Angel was first arrested in March when he tried to stand up to an organized mob sent by the Cuban Government to harass Angel and his family and to vandalize his home. Like other Cuban dissidents, Angel was targeted for openly criticizing his government’s oppression and brutal human rights record in his lyrics. Angel has said that he intends to maintain his hunger strike to shed light on the unjust nature of his imprisonment and to demand his freedom. We ask that the international community stand up in solidarity with Angel and demand that his oppressors #FreeElCritico Now!

Private movie theaters and video arcades, which have sprung up across Cuba in recent months, are not among occupations sanctioned by recent government reforms and must shut down, state media said, according to Agence France Presse:

Dozens of home movie theaters and video parlors have popped up since communist Cuba began allowing some measure of private employment, as part of a gradual reform of its Soviet-style economy….President Raul Castro in 2010 introduced the reforms in an effort to rescue the foundering Cuban economy, including deep projected cuts in the number of workers employed by the state.

Soft Landing in Cuba?

The ‘Market-Leninist’ reforms were designed to liberalize the economy, allowing for a dynamic private sector, a growing middle class and a wider range of goods and services, according to the Latin America Initiative in Foreign Policy at Brookings:

As a result, about 20 percent of the Cuban workforce can now be classified as a participant in the private sector and are poised to create jobs and provide real savings opportunities. However, emerging entrepreneurs face many challenges – an inaccessible state banking system, scarcity of critical capital and commercial rental space, burdensome taxation and an uncertain business climate. It remains unclear whether the powerful Cuban state is prepared to allow private businesses to grow, partner with state entities to take advantage of foreign capital and set Cuba on a sustainable path towards prosperity.

On November 8, the Latin America Initiative in Foreign Policy at Brookings will host the launch of a new study, Soft Landing in Cuba? Emerging Entrepreneurs and Middle Classes by Brookings Nonresident Senior Fellow Richard Feinberg, a former advisor to the Clinton administration’s National Security Council and now professor at the University of California, San Diego. Drawing on conversations with Cuban business owners, the report locates emerging entrepreneurs and the modern middle class as the potential pillars of a new economic model that could bring a soft landing for the Cuban economy.

Feinberg will be joined by Carlos Saladrigas, chairman of the Cuba Study Group; and Saira Pons, a researcher and instructor at the Center for the Study of the Cuban Economy (CEEC) at the University of Havana. Senior Fellow Ted Piccone, acting director and vice president of Foreign Policy at Brookings, will provide introductory remarks and moderate the discussion.

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Eastern Partnership reality check: challenges for civil society

europshipPolitical paranoia is fueling the Russian President Vladimir Putin’s determination to prevent Ukraine signing a free-trade agreement with the European Union, alongside Moldova and Georgia, analysts suggest.

The Kremlin is trying to strong-arm European Partnership states into joining a Customs Union established in 2010 by Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan, in the hope that it will evolve into a more powerful “Eurasian Union,

A forthcoming event will bring together civil society leaders from the Eastern Partnership countries and the European Union, key experts from regional and transatlantic non-governmental organisations, think-tanks, international aid agencies and political foundations, as well as distinguished political figures and public activists. The conference participants will focus on the main challenges faced by civil society in Eastern Partnership countries, and ways to support it through increasing its operational capacity and enhancing civil society’s participation in the decision making processes.

Conference participants will also discuss the Eastern Partnership strategy beyond Vilnius, and the role of civil society in supporting the implementation of the future Association Agreements, including DCFTAs, that are expected to be finalized in Vilnius.

This conference will be the continuation of the annual Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum, which this year will take place in Chisinau, Moldova, on October 3-6, 2013.

Organized by the Eastern Europe Studies Centre, the conference is held in cooperation with the Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum and with the kind support of the European Commission, Lithuanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and National Endowment for Democracy.

More information available here.

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Latin America reset? 10 elections in 13 months


Credit: SUNY Levin Institute

From October 2013 to December 2014, there are ten national elections occurring in Latin America, SUNY’s Levin Institute reports.

Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Costa Rica, Chile, Colombia, El Salvador, Honduras, Panama, and Uruguay are having presidential and/or legislative elections. In most of these countries, democracy has taken root. In general, analysts do not fear that the elections will result in violence or a weakening of democratic institutions. Honduras though is the exception on that front.

There are international, regional as well as national factors at play that will determine the outcomes of these elections. Some of the international and regional factors include weakened commodities markets, less access to capital, and the inclusion of expat populations in elections. On a national level, security and economic issues will play an important role in choosing a leader that will grow the economy and provide for personal security, both of which are lacking in many of these countries.

If Xiomara Castro wins as well as Sánchez Cerén from FMLN in El Salvador, then politics in Central America may shift toward the ALBA Alliance in Latin America, says Miriam Kornblith, director of the Latin America and the Caribbean Program at the National Endowment for Democracy.

Castro is likely to join ALBA if she wins the presidency, while it is unclear if FMLN will join as well, its politics are certainly left-leaning. The 2014 FMLN presidential candidate, Sánchez Cerén, is also much further left-leaning the current FMLN leader, Mauricio Funes, who is considered a moderate.  ALBA’s influence though may be waning due to Chavez’s death, so analysts will see if Chavez’s legacy continues or if this regional body loses steam.


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