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Iran Report: May 30, 2005

30 May 2005, Volume 8, Number 21

CRITICS ASK IF IRANIANS SHOULD BOTHER VOTING. High voter turnout in elections is important to the Iranian regime, which cites this factor when trying to justify its existence and defend its misrule. Recent calls for an election boycott, therefore, are a cause for concern in Tehran.

A group of more than 500 critics and dissidents have signed a letter saying they will not vote in the June polls, as they will not be free or serve the people's wishes, Radio Farda reported on 15 May. It cited one signatory, Abbas Amir-Entezam, as saying that "most" Iranians have opposed elections since the 1979 revolution, except the 1997 presidential polls, when they believed, "mistakenly of course," that elected President Mohammad Khatami "could do something." He said that "as far as I know, and can see and speak to people," most Iranians are also opposed to the upcoming election.

Separately, Deputy Interior Minister Morteza Moballeq said in the northeastern town of Gunbad-i Kavus on 13 May that officials are concerned that certain "sections of society" might not vote in the polls, Radio Farda reported on 15 May. He blamed voter disenchantment on the Guardians Council's "conduct" in the last parliamentary and municipal elections, when the council barred many from running as candidates. While Iranians have a "civic right" not to vote, a boycott would not serve Iran's political system, Moballeq said.

The government is trying to put a positive face on the situation. The deputy director of Iranian state television, who was identified only by the surname Rahmani-Fazli, announced on 20 May that a poll conducted by his organization found that voter turnout in the presidential election will be approximately 70 percent, state radio reported. He did not describe the methodology of his survey.

Other surveys have found that 50-60 percent of respondents intend to vote. There has been a downward trend since the turnout of more than 80 percent in 1997, with an official turnout of 51 percent in the 2004 parliamentary election.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei told thousands of University Basij members in Tehran on 26 May that students should play a big part in a massive turnout for the 17 June presidential election, IRNA reported. He told the students that they should safeguard Iran by defending it against a cultural onslaught. He said the most important factors to consider in choosing the country's next president are his Islamic faith, his sense of justice, and his stance against discrimination. Khamenei said Iran's future belongs to its youth and to university students. (Vahid Sepehri, Bill Samii)

PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGNING BEGINS EARLY. The big issue in Iranian politics at the moment is the vetting of candidates for the 17 June presidential election by the Guardians Council -- an unelected body of six clerics and six lawyers. The council announced on 22 May that only six out of 1,014 prospective candidates were eligible to compete in the election. That is less than 1 percent -- an impressively small figure.

It can be argued, with some justification, that not all applicants are eligible. Indeed, Guardians Council spokesman Gholam Hussein Elham said on 13 May that among the applicants were 81 unemployed people, 19 teenagers, and 250 people without a secondary-school diploma, Radio Farda reported. During the 15 May legislative session, furthermore, Tabriz parliamentary representative Seyyed Mohammad Reza Mir-Tajedini called on the Interior Ministry to prevent the registration of people who do not meet the minimum qualifications, "Resalat" reported on 16 May.

The Guardians Council's vetting of candidates for elected office has been a controversial issue since the parliamentary elections of 1988. This is part of the council's constitutionally mandated responsibility to supervise elections -- termed approbatory supervision or "nizarat-i estisvabi." Yet the controversy over the council's actions does not end with its disapproval of candidates that it does not care for. The council has taken its powers up a notch by overturning results after election day, which it did after parliamentary elections in February 2000 and in February 2004. There is no question that, as the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights reported in September 2000, the council is "a major obstacle to the further development of democracy" in Iran.

No one reasonably expected approval of all 1,014 applicants this time, but the mass rejection that included individuals who have previously served in government elicited an outraged reaction from Iranian political elites. Following intervention by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on 23 May, two more applicants -- former Minister of Education and Training Mustafa Moin and Vice President for Physical Training Mohsen Mehralizadeh -- were reinstated.

They join Tehran Mayor Mahmud Ahmadinejad, former state broadcasting chief Ali Ardeshir-Larijani, Expediency Council Secretary Mohsen Rezai, former police chief Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, former Speaker of Parliament Hojatoleslam Mehdi Karrubi, and Expediency Council chairman Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani.

Officially, these candidates can campaign from 27 May until 24 hours before election day. In fact they began campaigning months earlier, by paying visits to the provinces, meeting their supporters, and trying to gain new ones by making vague promises. After prospective candidates registered, the campaigning took on a new tone, and Hashemi-Rafsanjani became a lightening rod. This is probably because other candidates see the two-time former president as the frontrunner and their main rival.

One day after Hashemi-Rafsanjani registered, on 11 May, a commentary in the hard-line "Ya-Lisarat al-Hussein" weekly said the growing gap between rich and poor, injustice, and economic discrimination, as well as the resulting cultural and social difficulties, can be traced to his administration. His registration, the commentary continued, obstructs the circulation of elites and is indicative of an excessive desire for power. It is an insult to the nation to suggest that nobody else is qualified to be president 25 years after the revolution. The commentary suggested that a Hashemi-Rafsanjani presidency would open the way to foreign interference in the country's affairs, it would allow members of the reformist 2nd of Khordad Front to remain unaccountable, and it would allow them to retain power.

In a 15 May pre-agenda speech in parliament, Garmi and Dasht-i Moqan representative Nasser Nassiri defended Hashemi-Rafsanjani, saying that he can resolve foreign policy problems -- especially the international crisis over Iranian nuclear activities -- due to his half century of political experience. Nassiri also said Hashemi-Rafsanjani is popular with young people, "Sharq" reported on 16 May, and he will implement new media policies.

Deputy Speaker of Parliament Mohammad Reza Bahonar criticized Nassiri for speaking on behalf of a candidate, which is not surprising as Bahonar chairs the conservative Coordination Council of Islamic Revolution Forces that backs Larijani's candidacy. Several other legislators walked out during Nassiri's speech.

Hashemi-Rafsanjani's rival, Karrubi, criticized the candidate in a letter that was published in the 19 May "Aftab-i Yazd." Karrubi noted that Hashemi-Rafsanjani previously said he would only compete in the election if there is no acceptable or competent candidate. If that is the case, Karrubi wrote, the seeds for such a situation were sown during Hashemi-Rafsanjani's presidency.

As for the alienation and isolation of revolutionary forces that Hashemi-Rafsanjani referred to when he announced his candidacy, Karrubi wrote, that can be traced to the fourth parliamentary election in 1992, when the Guardians Council disqualified many dedicated public servants. Karrubi also wrote of the abuses committed by the Ministry of Intelligence and Security and the police during Hashemi-Rafsanjani's presidency, as well as the Intelligence Ministry's extensive involvement in economic activities.

Karrubi concluded his letter with a threat, referring to "unsaid points that I will have no choice but to disclose if the former methods and the humiliation of other candidates should continue."

Supreme Leader Khamenei said in a 24 May speech in Tehran that candidates should avoid creating a "tense and antagonistic climate," state radio reported. He also criticized those who create tension in the print and broadcast media.

The trading of insults and accusations is an increasingly common, albeit unfortunate, aspect of political campaigns throughout the world. Resulting tensions are therefore unavoidable. In Iran, the interference of the Guardians Council is responsible for much greater problems. That body answers only to the Supreme Leader, who thus is ultimately responsible for much of the current political strain in Iran. (Bill Samii)

OFFICIAL CANDIDATE VETTING ANGERS REFORMISTS... The Guardians Council, which is tasked with vetting candidates for elected office in Iran, announced on 22 May that it has approved six men -- only one of whom is backed by the reformists -- to stand in the 17 June presidential election, Radio Farda and state television reported. They are Tehran Mayor Mahmud Ahmadinejad; the supreme leader's adviser, Ali Ardeshir-Larijani; Expediency Council secretary Mohsen Rezai; former police chief Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf; reformist former Parliament Speaker Hojatoleslam Mehdi Karrubi; and Expediency Council Chairman Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani. A total of 1,014 candidates had registered to run for president earlier in the month.

In a 24 May letter to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Guardians Council secretary Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati stated that the candidacies for the 17 June presidential election of two individuals -- former Minister of Science, Research, and Technology Mustafa Moin and Vice President for Physical Training Mohsen Mehralizadeh -- had been reinstated, state radio reported.

Khamenei instructed the council, in a 23 May letter, to reconsider the applications of Moin and Mehralizadeh, the Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA), IRNA, and Radio Farda reported. Khamenei stepped in following a request from Speaker of Parliament Gholam-Ali Haddad-Adel. Khamenei had also asked the Guardians Council to reconsider the disqualification of 44 percent (3,533 out of 8,145) of the candidates for the parliamentary election one year earlier, but the council only reinstated 1,160 of them. (Bill Samii)

...ELICITING DIFFERENT REACTIONS. An Interior Ministry official and reformist political figures reacted angrily to the Guardians Council announcement about candidates, Radio Farda reported on 22 May. Ali Shakurirad, who heads the election headquarters for Islamic Iran Participation Party candidate Mustafa Moin, said that his organization announced beforehand that if its candidate is not accepted it will boycott the election. Ali-Akbar Mohtashami-Pur, who heads Karrubi's election headquarters, said the Guardians Council's action is illegal.

An Interior Ministry official identified only as Habibzadeh said that announcing the names publicly in this way is against the rules, Radio Farda reported. The proper protocol is to inform the Interior Ministry, which in turn has 48 hours to inform the candidates.

"This move is unfair, unreasonable, and illegal," Moin said on 23 May about the rejections of so many presidential candidates and before he was reinstated the following day, Mehr News Agency reported. Mehralizadeh criticized the rejection and said it is illegal, adding that he sent a letter to this effect to the Guardians Council. Two candidates whose applications were accepted, Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf and Hojatoleslam Mehdi Karrubi, also spoke out against the council's action.

Some 300 Tehran University students demonstrating against Moin's disqualification on 24 May tried to conduct a protest march, but were stopped by police, IRNA and Radio Farda reported. The police herded them back to the campus without incident and blocked roads in and out of the area.

At a 23 May meeting at the University of Tehran, speakers questioned the ineligibility of Moin, a man who has served in three different cabinets and has served in the legislature for three terms, according to the Tehran Student News Network website. Islamic Society of Students secretary Hesamedin Allameh asked, "How low have we descended that we cannot even tolerate Dr. Moin?" He also questioned the ineligibility of Ebrahim Yazdi, who was foreign minister in the first postrevolutionary cabinet.

Thirty-five of the country's Islamic student associations have issued a statement about the dangerous authoritarian trend in Iran, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 23 May. The statement warned that this will challenge the country's "national interests and territorial integrity," and will ultimately lead to a "social explosion." The statement invited members of society to "resist and participate in an informed manner on deciding [Iranian society's] fate."

Observers are divided on whether Moin, whose candidacy the Guardians Council reinstated on the supreme leader's orders, should continue as a candidate. By withdrawing, Radio Farda reported, some believe he will fulfill the Guardians Council's objectives. Others say that by withdrawing he will show solidarity with all the disqualified prospective candidates and could draw attention to the illegal action of the Guardians Council.

Moin's primary backers are the Islamic Iran Participation Front and the Mujahedin of the Islamic Revolution Organization. Behzad Nabavi, a leading member of the latter organization, said Moin will decide whether to run in the next few days, Radio Farda reported. President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami insisted at a 26 May news conference in Tehran that Moin will remain in the presidential race, IRNA reported.

Moin has decided to continue in the presidential race, campaign publicity chief Issa Saharkhiz announced on 28 May, according to IRNA.

Tabriz parliamentary representative Akbar Alami, whose application to be a presidential candidate was disallowed by the Guardians Council, complained on 24 May that the speaker of parliament did not speak out on his behalf, Mehr News Agency reported. Alami noted that he has served in the legislature twice, has held a number of other responsible positions, and has written 500 political essays. He criticized the Guardians Council for not recognizing his qualifications.

The National Front announced on 23 May that it will boycott the 17 June presidential election because the candidacy of its leader, Ebrahim Yazdi, was rejected by the Guardians Council, Radio Farda reported. The National Front is not recognized officially as a party. National Front supporter Ahmad Sadr Hajj-Seyyed-Javadi told Radio Farda that the country faces an explosive situation and the Guardians Council's actions are making the situation worse. (Bill Samii)

STUDENT LEADER NOTES ABSENCE OF FEMALE CANDIDATES. Akbar Atri, a member of the Allameh faction of the Office for Strengthening Unity student organization, expressed hope in an interview with Radio Farda on 23 May that on election day Iranian women will express their unhappiness with the Guardians Council's rejection of all prospective female presidential candidates. Nearly 90 women registered to be candidates and, according to Atri, the council spokesman said women do not have the power or intellect to administer society. (Bill Samii)

CONSERVATIVE CANDIDATES MAKE ELECTION PACT. Two conservative candidates in the 17 June presidential election race have entered a pact, "Iran" newspaper reported on 23 May. Mahmud Ahmadinejad and Ali Larijani have agreed to keep campaigning until 31 May, at which point an opinion poll will be taken to determine who is the more popular candidate. The individual who has a poorer showing will step out of the race and back his rival. (Bill Samii)

IRANIANS DEMONSTRATE AGAINST ALLEGED KORAN DESECRATION. Large anti-American demonstrations took place in Tehran and other Iranian cities on 20 May, according to state television. State radio reported that the demonstrations followed the Friday Prayers and reflected anger over the alleged desecration of the Koran by U.S. military personnel at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, where Al-Qaeda suspects are detained.

Tehran Friday Prayer leader Ayatollah Mohammad Emami-Kashani addressed the Koran desecration story in his 20 May sermon, state radio reported. He said, "as soon as 'Newsweek' published the story, the American [government] accused the magazine of tarnishing America's integrity. They have forced the magazine to change its story." He continued, "We know that the leaders of the White House are the enemies of the Koran and God. They are not sincere when they profess to be Christians."

High-ranking clerics and other theologians protested on 18 May by closing their classes and holding rallies, state television reported. On the same day, 160 legislators condemned the alleged desecration, the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) reported. They accused the U.S. and its allies of waging a crusade against the Islamic world.

A 17 May state radio commentary denounced Washington's reaction to the "Newsweek" story. "Interviews given by the White House spokesman, the answers given by the American State Department, and the stage-managed expressions of regret by 'Newsweek' magazine... cannot hide the crimes and offenses of Washington statesmen, especially so because prisoners who have been released from Guantanamo prison explicitly say that they witnessed repeated desecrations of the holy Koran." The commentary accused President George W. Bush of insulting the Koran to propound "hatred."

The state-affiliated Islamic Information Dissemination Organization on 14 May condemned the U.S. military for desecrating the Koran and "The Washington Post" for publishing an insulting caricature of the issue. (Bill Samii)

FRIDAY PRAYER LEADER DENOUNCES U.S. During his 20 May Friday Prayers sermon, Ayatollah Emami-Kashani also criticized the 19 May testimony of U.S. Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns, given to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, when he discussed human rights in Iran, Iran's support for terrorism, and Iran's nuclear program (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 May 2005, and Emami-Kashani said Iran will not return to the "imposed culture" and dependency on the U.S. of the prerevolutionary era. He said leaders in Tel Aviv and Washington are "Zionists." (Bill Samii)

TEHRAN LASHES OUT AT U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE. Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid-Reza Assefi said on 25 May that U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's comments are "uncalculated and pretentious," as well as "ridiculous and worthless," IRNA reported. He accused Rice of trying to "please the Zionists," in IRNA's words, and added that U.S. involvement in other countries' affairs has marred its image. The Iranian news agency did not specify what Assefi was reacting to, but Rice reportedly told British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw at a 17 May meeting that Washington opposes any agreement between Iran and the European Union that would permit the conversion of uranium, "The Washington Post" reported on 25 May. Rice also said that referring Iran to the UN Security Council continues to be an option, "The New York Times" reported on 18 May. (Bill Samii)

ANALYST SAYS IRAN-EU NUCLEAR TALKS LIKELY TO FAIL... International Institute for Strategic Studies ( Director John Chipman said on 24 May that the current discussions between Iran and the EU-3 (France, Germany, the United Kingdom) are unlikely to produce a "lasting resolution," AP reported. Chipman was speaking at a book launch for the London-based organization's annual "Strategic Survey." Gary Samore, director of studies at IISS, speculated that Iran wants a nuclear-weapons capability for defensive purposes and also so it can dominate the region. He noted that some of the smaller states are "quite vulnerable." Samore predicted that some neighboring states will seek U.S. protection, and that there could be a regional arms race. (Bill Samii)

...BUT THEY DRAG ON. Closed-door discussions between Iranian Supreme National Security Council Secretary Hojatoleslam Hassan Rohani; EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana; and the foreign ministers of France, Germany, and Great Britain -- Michel Barnier, Joschka Fischer, and Jack Straw -- took place on 25 May in Geneva, Radio Farda and other news agencies reported. Rohani said afterwards that Tehran has agreed to continue the suspension of uranium enrichment. The two parties agreed to meet again in July or August, when the Europeans will present proposals on what the EU would provide in exchange for an enrichment suspension.

Rohani returned to Tehran on the morning of 27 May and told reporters at the airport that any European proposals should conform with Iran's basic objectives, Radio Farda and state radio reported. He said the continuation of nuclear fuel production is Iran's "red line," meaning this is something Iran will not forsake. Rohani added that, if top Iranian officials agree to consider future European proposals, then the suspension of uranium enrichment will continue until the next Iran-EU meeting in the summer. If the European proposal is rejected, the officials will decide when to resume enrichment.

In Rohani's words, according to Radio Farda: "The Europeans said they would present us a comprehensive proposal by the end of July. Since this was a new offer, it is up to [officials in] Tehran to decide about it. If our officials decide to wait until the Europeans submit their proposal, the suspension [of uranium enrichment] will continue. Otherwise, we will make a decision and resume whichever parts of our nuclear activities that we wish."

The state radio dispatch noted that Rohani arrived at Mehrabad Airport, which indicates that the use of the controversial Imam Khomeini International Airport is still limited. (Bill Samii)

TEHRAN NONPLUSSED THAT WASHINGTON WILL NOT OPPOSE ITS WTO APPLICATION. Washington has agreed not to oppose Iranian efforts to join the World Trade Organization (WTO), Radio Farda, Reuters, and the "Financial Times" reported on 26 May. The decision reflects Washington's support for European efforts in nuclear negotiations with Iran. Later on 26 May, the WTO agreed to allow Tehran to begin membership talks, Reuters reported. According to the "Financial Times," Washington decided on this course of action in March. Iran first applied to the WTO nine years ago. It normally takes a minimum of five years for a country to become a WTO member.

Supreme National Security Council secretary Hojatoleslam Hassan Rohani said on 26 May that the U.S. concession on WTO membership is meaningless, state radio reported. Iran is entitled to WTO membership, Rohani said, so Washington should explain why it has opposed this right until now. Turning to the general course of Iran-EU nuclear discussions and the agreement that a further meeting will take place in the late summer, Rohani said the West must back down, because Iran has the right to develop nuclear technology. (Bill Samii)

IRANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER VISITS BEIRUT. Iranian Ambassador to Beirut Masud Edrisi met with Lebanese Foreign Minister Mahmud Hamud on 24 May to discuss bilateral relations and Lebanon's upcoming parliamentary elections, IRNA reported. Edrisi told reporters afterwards that Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi is scheduled to visit Beirut on 26 May.

Kharrazi arrived in Beirut on 26 May, IRNA and the Lebanese National News Agency reported. His counterpart, Mahmud Hamud, met him at the airport, as did Iranian Ambassador Masud Edrisi. Kharrazi later met with Prime Minister Najib Mikati, who thanked Iran for its support of the Lebanese people. According to IRNA, Kharrazi said after the meeting that the Lebanese people's "greatest asset" is their resistance to "the Zionist regime." Kharrazi is scheduled to stay in Lebanon for two days.

Meanwhile, a three-member UN military observer team asserted in a 23 May report to the Security Council that Syrian military personnel appear to have left Lebanon ( "The team has therefore concluded, to the best of its ability, that no Syrian military intelligence personnel remain in Lebanon in known locations or in military uniform. But the team has been unable to conclude with certainty that all the intelligence has been withdrawn." (Bill Samii)

AMNESTY SAYS IRAN-EU HUMAN RIGHTS DIALOGUE HAS FEW BENEFITS. "The ongoing Human Rights Dialogue process between the EU and Iran led to few lasting benefits," Amnesty International notes in its most recent report on human rights, which was released on 25 May ( The report notes that the parliament elected in February 2004 has rejected gender equality legislation. The increasingly hard-line atmosphere has encouraged the judiciary and the security agencies to stifle dissent through arbitrary arrests and detaining individuals at hidden facilities. "Discriminatory laws and practices" are the source of "social and political unrest and human rights violations." The report notes discrimination against religious and ethnic minorities in seeking state employment and in education. A flawed legal system, according to themAmnesty International report, has led to limitations on freedom of expression and association. (Bill Samii)

ARAB-IRANIAN SEEKS KHATAMI'S HELP. Jasem Shahidzadeh, who represented Ahvaz in the sixth parliament (2000-2004), has written a letter to President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami in which he calls for attention to the problems faced by ethnic Arabs in the southwest of the country, according to the British Ahwazi Friendship Society website ( Shahidzadeh wrote that Arabs' land is being bought at very low prices or even confiscated, and he added that the government has bulldozed predominantly Arab neighborhoods in Khuzestan Province. He complained that the Iranian government does not allow Arab political parties to compete in elections and bans Arabic-language newspapers and magazines. Ethnic Arabs, therefore, have no way to express themselves nonviolently, he wrote.

Turning to the aftermath of the mid-April unrest in Ahvaz, Shahidzadeh asked the president to secure the release of prisoners.

The New York-based Human Rights Watch urged Iran, in a statement on 11 May, to release an Iranian journalist apparently detained for criticizing the government's fierce response to unrest last month in the southwestern Khuzestan Province.

Yusef Azizi Bani-Taraf was arrested in Tehran on 25 April, after denouncing at a seminar the excessive use of force by security forces and consequent deaths of protestors in Ahvaz. Local residents claim government agents killed at least 50 protestors and arrested as many as 1,200 people, Human Rights Watch reported. Iran has said it detained over 300, and released most of those, while Defense Minister Ali Shamkhani said on 19 April that less than five had died, stated.

Human Rights Watch also expressed concern for the condition of protestors detained on 16 and 17 April, the days following the unrest, and the "possible use of torture" on them. One, Sadiq Shoiki, was reportedly tortured so badly that he could no longer "talk, walk, or stand," Human Rights Watch stated, citing a U.S.-based Iranian rights group and Shoiki's family, who visited him in prison in Abadan, a town near Ahvaz. Human Rights Watch urged Iran to let independent journalists visit the area. (Bill Samii, Vahid Sepehri)

JUDICIARY CHIEF WANTS SICK PRISONERS TO BE GIVEN LEAVE. Judiciary Chief Ayatollah Mahmud Hashemi-Shahrudi has issued a directive allowing convicts imprisoned for lesser offences and gravely ill prisoners to be given leave for three months, Radio Farda reported on 16 May. Certain inmates who are considered political prisoners, including lawyer Nasser Zarafshan and investigative writer Akbar Ganji, who is reportedly ill, might benefit from the decision, Radio Farda reported, citing Tehran attorney Muhammad Hussein Aqasi (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 April 2005). This was a seemingly "generous" gesture by Ayatollah Shahrudi, intended to facilitate a decision by subordinates to "allow these people to go on leave," Aqasi told Radio Farda.

But Akbar Ganji began a hunger strike on 19 May "for an unlimited period," to protest against the harsh treatment he says he has received in prison for the past five years, Radio Farda reported on 21 May, citing Ganji's lawyer Yusef Molai. Molai read to the press a statement Ganji had written, in which he complained that he is given less leave than other prisoners, is not allowed to call his family, nor seek outside medical treatment for asthma, Radio Farda reported. Ganji said in his statement that Tehran chief prosecutor Said Razavi promised in a meeting in 2003, apparently attended by Government Spokesman Abdullah Ramezanzadeh and trade minister Mohammad Shariatmadari, that he would ensure Ganji would receive an ordinary prison regime, which has not happened, Radio Farda reported.

Molai told ISNA that he is "surprised that [at] a time when [Ayatollah Shahrudi] is making an effort to normalize the situation of prisoners... subordinates seem not to have taken these directives seriously," Radio Farda reported on 21 May. (Vahid Sepehri)

LEADERS DISCUSS STATE ANTICORRUPTION DRIVE. The heads of the legislative, judicial, and executive branches of government, and officials including the finance and intelligence ministers, met in Tehran on 18 May to discuss the work of the Headquarters to Fight Economic Corruption, ISNA reported the same day.

The body coordinates the anticorruption measures of state agencies, and makes relevant policy proposals, state inspectorate chief Mohammad Niazi told ISNA after the meeting.

President Mohammad Khatami also told the press on 18 May that government agencies have done "what they can" to fight "pernicious" and "extensive" corruption, but cannot eliminate it "overnight," ISNA reported. He said his successor should fight corruption and "be honest," observing that "knowledge is better than money." Parliamentary Speaker Gholam Ali Haddad-Adel interjected that "if knowledge were better than money, we would not have such a problem with... corruption," ISNA reported. Haddad-Adel added that officials are now more familiar with corruption and its causes, after studying it for the past two or three years. One of the causes of corruption in state bodies, according to Niazi, is "complicated" regulations, ISNA reported. (Vahid Sepehri)

RECKLESS DRIVING, DRUGS, HEART DISEASE THE MAIN KILLERS IN IRAN. More than 40,000 Iranians died from narcotics abuse between 20 March 2004 and 20 March 2005, and just over 26,000 died in car crashes, Radio Farda reported on 8 May, citing a report issued by the Iranian state coroner. The report categorized drug-related deaths as "suspect," while automobile-related deaths were the leading cause of "unnatural" deaths and caused serious injury to an additional 250,000 Iranians. Most "natural" deaths were due to cardiac and cardiovascular conditions, with heart attacks the leading cause of death in that category, the report stated. Medical centers run by the state coroner's office also treated 1.5 million Iranians injured in fights, while just over 1,400 Iranians drowned that year, the report stated. (Vahid Sepehri)

DEPUTY MINISTER SAYS 60,000 IRANIANS 'HAVE AIDS.' Deputy Health Minister Hussein Malek-Afzali said in Tehran on 16 May that "at present, 60,000 Iranians have AIDS," the daily "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 17 May, citing IRNA. He did not specify whether he meant these people were infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, or have developed full-blown AIDS. The Health Ministry estimated that in March more than 10,000 Iranians were HIV-positive. Malek-Afzali was satisfied that the infected population in Iran is "10 times less than the world average," but warned that "figures in recent years" show an "increase in the rate of spread" of infection, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported. He urged public bodies, including state television and radio, to inform the public of the status of AIDS in Iran, and said Iran has only carried out "10 projects" to study AIDS and HIV in the country. Most of those, he said, have been to investigate the sexual practices of young Iranians in such places as Tehran, Semnan, and Qazvin, northeast of Tehran, the daily added. (Vahid Sepehri)

IRAN OFFERS TO EXPORT ELECTRICITY TO IRAQ. Energy Minister Habibullah Bitaraf announced in Khuzestan Province on 23 May that he and visiting Iraqi officials have discussed the possibility of exporting Iranian electricity westward, Mehr News Agency reported. The transfers would theoretically take place from Iranian to Iraqi Kurdistan, Sarpol-i Zohab to Khaneqin, and Khuzestan to Al-Basrah. (Bill Samii)

CANADA LISTS MUJAHEDIN KHALQ ORGANIZATION AS TERRORIST ENTITY. The Canadian government on 24 May added an armed Iranian opposition group to its list of 38 terrorist "entities" ( Known as the Mujahedin Khalq Organization (MKO or MEK), the group is also known as the People's Mujahedin Organization of Iran, and its armed wing is known as the National Liberation Army of Iran. The United States and the European Union already classify the MKO as a terrorist organization. A front organization, the National Council of Resistance, promotes the MKO in Western countries and lobbies for its removal from the terrorist lists.

The Canadian government report notes that the MKO was supported by Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, and it is "even suspected of past collusion with the regime of the Taliban in Afghanistan."

According to Canada's "National Post" on 25 May, anybody who supports the MKO or another terrorist entity could face a 10-year prison sentence. Warren Creates, a Canadian lawyer who represents the MKO, told the daily that Ottawa's decision "stunned" him. Canadian legislator Paul Forseth, who attended an MKO rally in the United States and subsequently received a visit from Canadian Security and Intelligence Service personnel, said the designation concerns him.

Human Rights Watch has issued a report, including personal testimonies, on the torments the MKO has visited for years on its own members, Radio Farda reported on 19 May, citing a statement that same day by Human Rights Watch on its website (

The MKO beat, tortured, and confined members to solitary confinement if they criticized the movement or wanted to leave, stated. "Members who try to leave... pay a very heavy price," quoted one of its directors, Joe Stork, as saying. It held one member in solitary confinement from 1992 to 2001, stated. Iran has a "dreadful" rights record, Stork said, "but it would be a huge mistake" to promote an opposition group "responsible for serious... abuses.

HRW's Stork, MKO spokesperson Farid Soleimani, and dissident former MKO member Mohammad Hussein Sobhani discussed this report in a roundtable on Radio Farda (

Stork said that the report was based on information received from former MKO members. Soleimani charged that HRW had released the report without contacting the accused entity, namely the MKO. Stork rejected this criticism, stressing that his organization does not need to get confirmation from the accused entity. He insisted that, despite the Iranian government's bad human rights record, it would be a mistake to support another violator of human rights as an alternative to this regime. Former MKO member Sobhani charged that MKO leaders had jailed him for eight years at the Ashraf base in Iraq and for one year at the notorious Abu Ghraib prison, where he was tortured. This claim was rejected by MKO speaker Soleimani, who claimed that the MKO has repeatedly invited international human rights organization to inspect MKO bases in Iraq. Stork, however, denied ever having received any such invitation from the MKO. (Bill Samii, Vahid Sepehri, Fatemeh Aman)