Apr 28, 2007

Iranian Activists Tarred By Allegations of U.S. Funding

The administration wants so badly to convince themselves and others that they are "doing something about Iran", that they are (presumably) unwittingly endangering the very people who might be expected to be the most sympathetic to the United States.

The Bush administration's $75 million program to promote democracy in Iran has undermined the kind of organizations and activists it was designed to help, with U.S. aid becoming a top issue in a broader crackdown on leading democracy advocates over the past year, according to a wide range of Iranian activists and human rights groups.

Since Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice unveiled the program more than a year ago, a wide array of activists -- teachers, women's rights campaigners, labor organizers, students, journalists and intellectuals -- have faced interrogations, detentions, imprisonment and passport confiscation over suspected links to the new U.S. funding, activists and human rights groups say. Iranian officials have charged that Washington is supporting the kind of soft revolution that transformed Eastern Europe.

"Dozens of Iranian activists are paying a price since the announcement of the $75 million, and practically everyone who has been detained over the past year has been interrogated about receiving this money," said Hadi Ghaemi, Iran analyst for Human Rights Watch. "They are obsessed with the perception that the U.S. is fueling a velvet revolution through this money." ...

The money is a persistent focus during interrogations, say Iranians who have been questioned or detained. "If you look at the crackdown on non-government organizations and human rights defenders over the past six months, one common facet is that they were all suspected of receiving foreign funds," said Zahir Janmohamed, Amnesty International USA's advocacy director for the Middle East. "It's not just the funding but the rhetoric around the funding about 'regime change' and the 'axis of evil.' " ...

The majority of the U.S. money pays for Persian-language Radio Farda and Voice of America broadcasts into Iran, an interactive Web site, cultural exchanges and conferences, and support for international organizations advocating human rights in Iran, said R. Nicholas Burns, the undersecretary of state for political affairs. The program, which is expected to increase to more than $100 million in fiscal 2008, marked a major increase in funding from earlier years.

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