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Cuba blows the whistle on Iranian jamming
By Safa Haeri

The Islamic Republic of Iran might lose one of its very few friends in the world, Cuba, which, according to American officials, has officially informed them that the Iranian embassy in Havana was the source of jamming programs send out by US-based Iranian radio and television stations aimed at mainland Iran.

The jamming related to Telestar-12, a commercial communications satellite orbiting at 15 degrees west, 22,000 miles above the Atlantic, which carries programs by the American government as well as by Iranian radio and television stations based in the US aimed at mainland Iran. The interference began on July 16, coinciding with the start of a new wave of pro-democracy protests led by Iranian students in Tehran against the country's clerical leaders.

At first, it was believed that the Cuban government, acting on demands from Iran's ayatollahs, was jamming the US government and private Persian-language radio and TV broadcasts into Iran, as the stations, based mostly in Los Angeles, had attracted an impressive popularity within Iran.

Satellite-broadcasting experts said at the time that since Tehran could not jam the Telstar-12, due to its stationary position, it made the request for friendly Cuba to do it instead.

But on Wednesday a spokeswoman for the US State Department said that Havana had informed them that the jamming was made by the Iranians in Cuba, using a compound in a suburb of the capital belonging to the Iranian embassy.

According to a source, the Cubans have now shut down the facility and presented a protest note to the Iranian government in Tehran, and the jamming stopped earlier this month. "Cuba informed us on August 3 that they had located the source of the interference and had taken action to stop it," Jo-Anne Prokopowicz of the State Department said.

"The government of Cuba informed us that the interference was coming from an Iranian diplomatic facility," she said, adding, "We will be following this up with Iran."

After denying that it was responsible for the jamming but pledging to investigate the US complaints in mid-July, Cuba told the US that it had found the source and that it had acted to stop it, she said.

The news surprised many Iranian observers, doubting Cuban leader Fidel Castro's "innocence" in the affair. "Being a fully police state, it is difficult to believe that the Iranians had introduced the sophisticated jamming equipment into Cuba without the knowledge of the Cuban authorities," Dr Shahin Fatemi, a veteran Iranian political analyst, told The Asia Times Online.

Noting that both Iran and the Marxist regime of Cuba shared the "same mutual hate" towards Washington, Fatemi, who teaches international economics at the American University of Paris, added, however, that if the information is correct, then it must be welcomed by all Iranians opposed to the present theocracy.

In his view, the Cuban decision could also be viewed as a signal from Castro to the Bush administration, which has labelled Iran as a part of an "axis of evil" along with North Korea and Iraq under Saddam Hussein.

According to Alireza Meybodi, a popular radio broadcaster at Radio Yaran in Los Angeles, Iranian authorities gave in the past jammed foreign broadcasts locally (in Iran) with mobile equipment bought from Russia, while using more sophisticated means installed in Cuba as well.

"This is quite obvious when we announce some of our programs beforehand, like one very recently concerning an interview with Hojjatoleslam Hoseyn Khomeini, the grandson of Ayatollah Khomeini, which was filled with locally-produced parasite [interference]," he indicated, adding that most of the foreign-based radio and television stations could be seen normally outside the capital Tehran.

About a dozen of Persian-language television and radio stations, run by Iranians opposed to the present Iranian regime, are beamed towards Iran, where a majority of the 70 million inhabitants is made of men and women under the age of 30, thirsty for modern entertainment programs - and news.

Though the regime has banned satellite dishes, it is estimated that more than 2 million households, using small and easily concealed equipment, receive the programs.

At the time of last month's student protests, Iran said that the US broadcasts into the country were interference in its internal affairs, and accused the US-based Iranian opposition of inflaming the unrest.

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