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Iran Report: September 5, 2005


5 September 2005, Volume 8, Number 35

TEHRAN OFFERS TO AID U.S. VICTIMS OF HURRICANE KATRINA. Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi said during a 4 September press conference in Tehran that Iran would send aid to the United States for the victims of Hurricane Katrina if it is requested, state television reported. The aid would go through the Red Crescent Society, Assefi said, adding, "many of the people who have suffered have voiced protests against the relief operations and have said that they have not been helped as well as they ought to have been."

Assefi on 30 August expressed condolences for the deaths resulting from Hurricane Katrina, the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) reported. Assefi said the Iranian people and government sympathize with the American people and grieving families, and hope that the situation will return to normal soon.

Some members of the Iranian public sounded sympathetic in 3 September interviews with state television. "This is a humanitarian crisis," one man said. "In my view, we must help these people. This will be a message from the Iranian government to the people of America. And I believe this will be a positive message." A concerned Iranian woman said: "I heard on the radio this morning that the UN had called for international aid. I want to know how I can help. How can we send aid?"

But the ability of Iranian state media to influence opinions was apparent. "It would appear that the white survivors were given shelter, food, and aid immediately," a man told state television. "You didn't even see black people queuing for food." Another man said people have a duty to help each other but the United States "never fulfilled its pledges after the Bam earthquake." "It sent useless goods," he continued. (Bill Samii)

TEHRAN ANNOUNCES SCHEDULE FOR NUCLEAR PROPOSAL. Members of the International Atomic Energy Agency's board of governors received a report on Iran's nuclear activities on 2 September, the "Los Angeles Times," "Financial Times," and "The New York Times" reported the next day. The report is similar to one from November 2004, but it does note that the Iranian government has been less than forthcoming about some of its activities and has been reluctant to provide access to some sites. The report states, "In view of the fact that the agency is not in a position to clarify some important outstanding issues after two and a half years of intensive inspection and investigation, Iran's full transparency is indispensable and overdue." It adds, "Given Iran's past concealment efforts over many years...transparency measures should extend beyond the formal requirements...and should include access to individuals, documentation on procurement, and dual-use equipment."

The board of governors is scheduled to meet on 19 September.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi said in Tehran on 28 August that Iran will submit its proposal on the nuclear issue within 45 days, IRNA reported. Tehran rejected in early August an EU proposal that covered political and commercial concessions. "The proposal will help to come up with a breakthrough with respect to our current situation with Europe," Assefi said.

Supreme National Security Council spokesman Ali Aqamohammadi said in Tehran on 28 August that Iran's new nuclear initiative has been discussed in four sessions of the council's secretariat already, and more meetings will take place in the next two weeks, IRNA reported. The initiative, he said, is intended to move discussions with the EU forward. Aqamohammadi noted postelection changes in the composition of the Supreme National Security Council -- namely, new ministers of foreign affairs, of intelligence and security, and of the interior -- and the requirement for a new consensus. Turning to the recent EU proposal, Assefi said Tehran has demanded an apology and added that nonaligned countries that have always backed Iran could participate in future talks.

Supreme National Security Council Secretary Ali Larijani visited Vienna a few days earlier to discuss the nuclear issue with International Atomic Energy Agency Director-General Muhammad el-Baradei. Assefi said the talks were constructive, the Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA) reported. Assefi said some people in Iran want the discussions to include more countries than the EU-3 (France, Germany, and the United Kingdom). He added, "If the Europeans can't negotiate with us, we will enter negotiations with other countries." Assefi dismissed the possibility of including the United States in these discussions.

Tehran's effort to get more actors involved in the negotiating process was demonstrated when parliamentarian Alaedin Borujerdi, who heads the National Security and Foreign Policy Committee, visited Algeria. Borujerdi said in Algiers on 31 August that U.S. and Western efforts to restrict other countries' access to nuclear energy are futile, IRNA reported. Borujerdi said during a meeting with Abdelkader Bensalah, who heads the Algerian parliament, that such Western policies not only threaten Iranian interests but those of all Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) members. They should therefore devise a joint solution to this problem. Borujerdi called for increased cooperation between NAM members and developing countries, particularly within the International Atomic Energy Agency's board of governors. (Bill Samii)

FRIDAY PRAYER LEADERS DISCUSS NUCLEAR ISSUE. Ayatollah Mohammad Reza Nasseri-Yazdi, Friday prayer leader in Shahr-i Kurd and the supreme leader's representative in Chahar Mahal va Bakhtiari Province, said on 26 August that "Foreign threats with the aim of dissuading Iran from gaining access to nuclear technology would not yield any results," IRNA reported. He said Iranians withstood international "bullying" during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War and they will do the same in the face of European and U.S. demands regarding the nuclear issue. He said Iran has a right to nuclear technology and it is not interested in nuclear weapons. In Tehran, substitute Friday prayer leader Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati said, "We are the winner of the current nuclear issue and not America," state radio reported. "Right now, there is no room for America's bullying in any part of the world, particularly in Iran." (Bill Samii)

TEHRAN CLAIMS BREAKTHROUGH IN NUCLEAR PROCESSING. Iran continues to press ahead with its controversial efforts to master technologies that could one day give it the domestic ability to produce nuclear fuel.

The latest sign comes with an announcement on 29 August on state television that Tehran has successfully used biotechnology to convert uranium ore mined in Iran's central desert region into a concentrated form of uranium. The concentrated uranium, known as "yellowcake" is used in an early stage of the complex process of producing nuclear fuel.

State television provided few details of the biotechnology technique other than to say it was more efficient and less expensive Iran's previous method of using acid. Biotechnology techniques involve the use of microscopic organisms to convert material through organic processes from one form to another.

Shannon Kyle, a nuclear expert at the Stockholm Institute of Peace Research in Sweden, said the new technology does not by itself bring Iran closer to mastering the sensitive process of uranium enrichment -- the focus of the Iranian nuclear crisis. "The process that was announced yesterday is the very first step when the uranium is actually extracted from the mine and then is converted into yellowcake," Kyle said. "That's the beginning step of any process in the subsequent nuclear fuel cycle, so this is really the very first step at the front-end of the fuel cycle."

But the analyst said the development is important because it shows that Tehran is determined to master less-sensitive elements of the fuel cycle despite European and U.S. requests it abandon all uranium-enrichment-related activities. "I think it is important to see the announcement by the Iranians as indications that they are going to move ahead with their civilian nuclear fuel-cycle program and that they have no intentions of suspending all the activities in that program as has been requested by the Europeans and the Americans," Kyle said.

The news of Iran's latest uranium-enrichment-related activity comes two months after Iran broke an agreement with three European states to suspend work related to producing nuclear fuel while the two sides held talks. (Charles Recknagel)

DEFENSE MINISTER DENOUNCES NUCLEAR WEAPONS. Minister of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics Mustafa Mohammad Najjar said at a 30 August farewell ceremony for his predecessor, Admiral Ali Shamkhani, in Tehran that Iran has a right to use nuclear energy, Mehr News Agency and ISNA reported. He said, "Access to nuclear energy is an inalienable right of Iran and we shall safeguard it by our presence at international organizations and through diplomacy and confidence-building measures." However, he emphasized the inadmissibility of using nuclear weapons, saying, "From an Islamic viewpoint, military and nonpeaceful use of nuclear technology is haram [religiously forbidden] and prohibited."

Speaking at the same event, Chief of the Joint Staff General Hassan Firuzabadi said the United States, which he said symbolizes tyranny, corruption, and Satan, is trying to extinguish the torch of religion. (Bill Samii)

HAMEDAN HOSTS NUCLEAR-TECHNOLOGY EXHIBITION. A three-day exhibition on nuclear technology opened in Hamedan on 29 August, IRNA reported. Exhibits by Atomic Energy Organization institutions based in Arak, Bonab, Isfahan, Karaj, Natanz, and Tehran feature nuclear electronics, biotechnology, nanoagriculture, and efforts to modify tangerines. Speaking at the Imam Khomeini Husseinieh in Hamedan on 29 August, Isfahan Uranium Conversion Facility chief Hussein Faqihian said the United States is trying to hold back Iran's scientific and technological proficiency, IRNA reported. The head of the Arak heavy-water nuclear complex, Manuchehr Madadi, said his facility's products have medical, sanitary, and pharmaceutical uses. Hamedan parliamentary representative Ebrahim Karkhanei said at the same event, "If Iran didn't take serious steps aimed at setting the foundations of an indigenous nuclear technology today, it would face very miserable conditions tomorrow when it would be deprived of its nonrenewable oil and gas resources." (Bill Samii)

INDIAN, KUWAITI FOREIGN MINISTERS VISIT IRAN. India's External Affairs Minister Kunwar Natwar Singh arrived in Tehran on 2 September for a three-day visit. The main topics of the visit were to be the nuclear issue and cooperation in the energy sector, India's PTT news agency reported on 1 September. Other aspects of bilateral relations would be discussed as well, according to PTT. Iran and India have been discussing for several years a natural-gas pipeline that will cross Pakistan, but Washington is reluctant to see this project reach fruition.

Singh met with his counterpart, Manuchehr Mottaki, as well as President Mahmud Ahmadinejad and speaker of parliament Gholam-Ali Haddad-Adel. In his 3 September meeting with Mottaki, Singh raised the subject of approximately 450 Indian families in Iran who have had trouble with their residency permits and property rights, PTI reported. They also discussed the pipeline, with Singh saying, according to RFE/RL, "We also discussed the gas pipeline and our experts have met...will be meeting. India has appointed a consultant and it is hoped that the tripartite meeting between the concerned ministers of Iran, Pakistan, India, could be held before 31 December." Singh added that Tehran has agreed to provide 5 million tons of liquefied natural gas annually.

Iranian Supreme National Security Council Secretary Ali Larijani was in India recently, where he met with Singh on 31 August, Doordarshan TV reported. During the visit, Larijani stressed that Iran will not go back on the resumption of activities at the Isfahan Uranium Conversion Facility, which began in early August. The two also discussed cooperation on energy issues and the pipeline project, India's PTI news agency reported on 31 August. Larijani said, "The focus of our negotiations with India is on strategic relations, particularly in the field of energy and more particularly, on a natural-gas pipeline and the liquefied-natural-gas supply to India." He added that Iran-India cooperation contributes to regional security.

Kuwaiti Foreign Minister Sheikh Muhammad Sabah al-Salim al-Sabah arrived in Iran on 28 August, and met the same day with his counterpart, Manuchehr Mottaki, and President Ahmadinejad, Kuna and IRNA reported. Al-Sabah expressed an interest in ongoing negotiations with Tehran, as well as cooperation and coordination on Iraqi affairs. Ahmadinejad described Iran as the "best guarantor of regional security." He expressed an interest in accelerated negotiations on energy issues and the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), as well as water. Mottaki and al-Sabah also talked about Iran's provision of drinking water to Kuwait. (Bill Samii)

DISSIDENT JOURNALIST RETURNED TO PRISON. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on 4 September pardoned 7,780 people who had received prison sentences from public, military, and revolutionary courts, IRNA reported. This is a traditional gesture to mark Mabath, when Muhammad was appointed as a prophet, and other religious occasions.

One person who did not get a pardon is dissident journalist Akbar Ganji, who recently ended a 70-day hunger strike.

Masumeh Shafii, Ganji's wife, said on 26 August that he is in generally good health but is still weak because of his 70-day hunger strike, the Iranian Labor News Agency (ILNA) reported. She added that the medical team attending Ganji has informed the Milad Hospital that he can leave, and the hospital is awaiting a response from the judiciary. Shafii said her husband is to be released, and if the judiciary does not fulfill its promise to this effect then Ganji will take action.

Shafii said in a 1 September fax to ILNA that her husband is not being allowed to receive visitors. Shafii said she and her children have not been allowed to see Ganji since 26 August. They go to the Milad Hospital every day, she said, but visitors are banned and they have no information on his health. She added that some officials promised that her husband would be released, but this has yet to happen.

The Tehran deputy prosecutor for prison affairs, Mahmud Salarkia, said on 4 September that Ganji was returned to prison, ILNA reported. (Bill Samii)

TWO BLOGGERS FREED, BUT OTHERS HELD. Iranian weblogger Mohammad Reza Nasab-Abdullahi has been released from prison after serving six months, ILNA reported on 31 August (According to Reporters Without Borders (RSF), he was released on 27 August). The Kerman Revolutionary Court sentenced him for acting against national security and insulting Supreme Leader Khamenei.

Iranian Internet journalist Mujtaba Lotfi was released on 28 August after serving more than six months, according to RSF. RSF added that there are other charges against the two and they could be sent back to jail. The press watchdog said one more blogger, Mujtaba Saminejad, remains in jail; he was arrested in February and was given a two-year sentence.

Attorney Nemat Ahmadi said on 14 August that another blogger, his client Afshin Zarei, has been held in "temporary detention" for eight months, ILNA reported. Ahmadi said Zarei is charged with insulting the supreme leader. (Bill Samii)

JUDGE SHOT IN TEHRAN. Mohammad Torang, a Tehran police spokesman, said on 28 August that a judge who was investigating illegal land transactions was wounded in a shooting, IRNA reported. Unidentified gunmen shot Malard Judicial Department chief Mohammad Reza Aqazadeh in the eye and hand outside his Tehran home. Malard is a district in Karaj, which is west of Tehran. Justice Minister Jamal Karimirad said Aqazadeh is in surgery, Reuters reported. An anonymous "official close to the case" said the judiciary is looking into recent attacks against judges -- one was shot dead in Tehran in early August, another was stabbed to death in Fars Province, and acid was thrown in the face of a third judge in Khuzestan Province.

State television later cited the head of the public prosecutor's office as saying that all judges will be armed and will have the right to shoot if they believe they are in danger.

Judiciary spokesman Jamal Karimirad said on 30 August that judges will not be armed, Fars News Agency reported. Earlier in the week, following the shooting of a judge in Tehran, a judiciary official claimed that judges will be armed. Karimirad said only judges in the criminal office will be armed, and furthermore, attempted assassinations will not discourage members of the judiciary. (Bill Samii)

AHMADINEJAD MAKES APPOINTMENTS. President Mahmud Ahmadinejad has appointed Seyyed Ahmad Musavi vice president for legal and parliamentary affairs and Hojatoleslam Ali Akbari a vice president and head of the National Youth Organization, IRNA reported on 30 August. Ahmadinejad selected Seyyed Kazem Vaziri-Hamaneh as interim oil minister, because his nominee for the post, Ali Saidlu, failed to win a parliamentary confidence vote.

On 27 August, Ahmadinejad introduced Farhad Rahbar as vice president and head of the Management and Planning Organization, IRNA reported. Rahbar was appointed on 19 August.

Ahmadinejad will name Parviz Davudi his first vice president and Ali Saidlu his executive deputy, Mehr News Agency reported on 31 August, citing an anonymous informed source. Davudi earned a doctorate in the United States, teaches at Shahid Beheshti University, is an adviser to judiciary chief Ayatollah Mahmud Hashemi-Shahrudi, and served in the Economy Ministry during the presidency of Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, Mehr reported. (Bill Samii)

REFORMIST PARTIES UNDERGO MAJOR CHANGES. It was apparent even before Iran's presidential election in June that the country's party system was undergoing changes. Disputes among the reformist and centrist parties reflected disagreements over how extensively they would operate within the political system, the proper response to the disqualification of reformist parliamentary and presidential candidates, and the reaction to widespread and ultimately decisive fraud in the presidential election. Rifts in the hard-line parties had as much to do with generational discord as they did with ideological and strategic disputes. Such discord continues to roil Iranian politics, and international observers are better served by focusing on these developments and their long-term impact than on futile arguments over how to persuade Iran to discontinue its nuclear activities.

The Militant Clerics Association

Hojatoleslam Mohammad Asqar Musavi-Khoeniha agreed on 28 August to be secretary-general of the Militant Clerics Association (Majma-yi Ruhaniyun-i Mobarez), Radio Farda reported. The left-leaning clerical party was created in 1988 when a number of prominent political figures split from the older and more conservative Tehran Militant Clergy Association (Jameh-yi Ruhaniyat-i Mobarez-i Tehran). In early August, the association elected former President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami as its secretary-general, but he turned down the post, citing time constraints.

Musavi-Khoeniha has served as the state prosecutor-general and headed the now banned "Salam" newspaper. The Special Court for the Clergy found Musavi-Khoeniha guilty of spreading fabrications, disturbing public opinion, and publishing classified documents, and in August 1999 it sentenced him to 3 1/2 years in prison and a flogging. Due to his revolutionary credentials, the sentence was suspended and instead he was fined; he also was banned from publishing activities for three years and "Salam" was banned for five years (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 2 and 9 August 1999). Radio Farda noted that Musavi-Khoeniha was associated with the occupiers of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and the subsequent hostage crisis, and it noted rumors of his communist tendencies.

The National Trust Party

Militant Clerics Association Secretary-General Musavi-Khoeniha succeeded Hojatoleslam Mehdi Karrubi, who resigned after the June presidential election and who has since created his own political party. The Militant Clerics Association tried to persuade Karrubi to stay on as its leader. Not only did he refuse to continue in this role, but he left the association completely. Karrubi acknowledged his anger with association members who did not back his candidacy in the election ("Sharq," 26 July). Although the association backed him formally, only a few members backed him in practice. Indeed, Musavi-Khoeniha reportedly implied that Karrubi should resign in favor of another reformist candidate, Mustafa Moin. Yet another prominent member, Hojatoleslam Majid Ansari, reportedly backed Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani's candidacy.

Karrubi announced his plan for a new party just days after his loss in the first round of the presidential election. "Strong, powerful, inclusive parties must be formed to supervise institutions," he said ("Aftab-i Yazd," 23 June). He would create a party for those who believe in an Islamic republic in which one does act on behalf of the people, and he stressed inclusiveness. Asked about the future of the Militant Clerics Association, Karrubi said some of its members were coming with him. Karrubi said his new party wants to defend people's rights and supervise the government (ISNA, 5 July). He said it is no longer enough for him to work in an exclusively clerical body.

Karrubi subsequently named his new organization the National Trust Party (Hezb-i Etemad-i Melli), and it received a permit on 13 August. Some of its more prominent founders are former parliamentarians Javad Etaat, Elias Hazrati, Hojatoleslam Rasul Montajabnia, Abdul Hussein Moqtadai, Seyyed Reza Noruz-zadeh, and Abdolreza Sepahvand, as well as current legislators Javad Amini and Ismail Gerami-Moghaddam (ISNA, 4 July).

Contrasting the new party to other ones, Hazrati said the country's parties are elite institutions (ISNA, 6 July). The new one, he continued, will consider the elites but it will also be "popular and broad-based and nationwide and it will have cells -- even in villages, hamlets, towns, and various districts and for interested social groups."

Karrubi in late-August speeches and interviews discussed reformist politics and his hopes for the future. Karrubi expressed great optimism about parties' potentials and downplayed the reformists' disagreements. He added that although the National Trust Party does not have any major problems with the other reformist entities, it is important to make distinctions. He said he expects his new party to have a profound influence on Iranian politics and its main objective is to form the next government after President Mahmud Ahmadinejad's term ends. ("Iran," 9 August; Mehr News Agency, 29 August; "Sharq," 30 August).

The Participation Front

Said Hajjarian, a prominent reformist ideologue, has said that the Islamic Iran Participation Front is going to select a new leader, and this will be a new beginning ("Sharq," 27 July; "Farhang-i Ashti," 30 August).

Hajjarian stressed that the reform movement will continue through the inclusion of a variety of groups, including national-religious activists, in a broad front. What the front needs, he said, is a new leader. A hard-line daily suggested the new leader would be Moin ("Siyasat-i Ruz," 30 August).

The Moderation Front And The Executives Of Construction Party

Shortly after his defeat in the second round of the presidential election, Expediency Council Chairman Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani met with his backers and associates and said an Islamic culture is what is best for the country, and that Islam rejects extremes ("Farhang-i Ashti," 28 June). "The formation of the Islamic Moderation Front [Jebhe-yi Ettedal] is a necessity, and it would be better for some of our colleagues to become the forerunner and compile an instrument of association similar to that of the Islamic Republic Party [which existed from 1979-87]," he said. Hashemi-Rafsanjani advised against haste in forming the front.

Although Hashemi-Rafsanjani called for creation of the Moderation Front, his own relationship with it is far from obvious. A member of the Tehran Militant Clergy Association, he also is seen as the center-piece of the center-right Executives of Construction Party. Indeed, Executives of Construction central council members Mohammad Atrianfar and Hedayat Aqai said Hashemi-Rafsanjani does not plan to create the Moderation Front, rather, he is willing to back such an entity if and when it is created (ISNA, 15 July; "Farhang-i Ashti," 25 July).

At first glance it would seem that there is little support for such a front, especially if Hashemi-Rafsanjani is connected with it. However, even if he did lose the presidential election he still garnered 10,046,701 votes on 24 June, compared to 6,159,453 votes the previous week. In the few days between rounds, in other words, the former president secured the support of conservatives, reformists, intellectuals, and clerics who did not back him previously. An editorial in a reformist daily referred to this gain in votes as "an astonishing display of national convergence among scattered assets whose only common point was 'Iran and Islam,' in the general sense, uninhibited by ideological interpretations" ("Sharq," 24 July).

The future of the Executives of Construction is unclear, too. Atrianfar said its leadership will remain unchanged, but it must refocus its efforts and devise a platform that reflects public concerns ("Iran," 6 August). Turning to parties in general, he said that after the election they have lost their vitality and need to renew their activities.

An outside report, on the other hand, said the Executives of Construction Party is in crisis ("Siyasat-i Ruz," 10 August). In an effort to reshape itself it is expelling some of its old members.

Pointless Parties?

Article 26 of the Islamic Republic of Iran's 1979 constitution permits the formation of parties. A law on parties went into effect in 1981, and there now are more than 100 of them. Yet, parties in the sense of entities with mass membership have yet to take hold in Iran, and some Iranian observers, therefore, remain critical of them. A commentary in a reformist daily warned that the creation of new alignments and coalitions -- and it cited Karrubi and Hashemi-Rafsanjani -- always follows elections ("Farhang-i Ashti," 30 June). The conservative commentator Amir Mohebbian said the presidential election showed that the public does not have confidence in parties or prominent individuals, regardless of their ideological inclinations ("Etemad" and "Farhang-i Ashti," 21 July).

The popular and dissident cleric Ayatollah Hussein Ali Montazeri criticized the party process in a 2 July statement about the presidential election that was available on the Internet (http://www.iran-emrooz.net/). "Unfortunately, in our country the matter of strong or powerful political parties has not been established," Montazeri said. "Some spontaneous and transient parties are set up, which after a while become ineffectual." He contrasted this situation with "progressive countries around the world," where candidates are chosen from "established powerful and popular political parties comprising society's elite and intellectuals, for whom the people cast their votes once they have learned about those candidates' competencies."

Party development is important in mass mobilization and in the formulation and expression of political objectives. This is translated into results during elections. But in the Iranian case, the importance of elections remains questionable due to the interference of unelected institutions like the Guardians Council in the polling process. After new officials take office, furthermore, their efforts can be blocked by individuals who are unaccountable. Nevertheless, this is an area that is flexible. Iran is steadfast on its nuclear ambitions, however, and has shown that it will not be swayed. (Bill Samii)

EDITORIAL IS HOPEFUL FOR IRANIAN REFORMISTS... A 30 August editorial in "Sharq" daily says that in the past the reformist Second of Khordad Front operated in such a way that a minor party in the front had as much influence as its largest component, the Islamic Iran Participation Front. One of the most influential actors within the front was the Militant Clerics Association (Majma-yi Ruhaniyun-i Mobarez), which recently got a new leader, Hojatoleslam Mohammad Asqar Musavi-Khoeniha.

Conflicts within the front became apparent after the reformists gained control of the legislature and presidency, according to "Sharq." The differences were sharpest between Militant Clerics Secretary-General Hojatoleslam Mehdi Karrubi and Mujahedin of the Islamic Revolution Organization leader Behzad Nabavi; Nabavi called Karrubi excessively conservative, while Karrubi said Nabavi was insufficiently cognizant of and sensitive to power relationships. These disputes got worse during the 2004 parliamentary elections, when Nabavi and his supporters boycotted the election, while Karrubi participated reluctantly. Khoeniha has better relations with the other reformist parties. Given the new relationships and the ideological closeness of its leaders, "Sharq" continued, some believe that the reformist front can "rebuild and reunite." (Bill Samii)

...AS IRANIAN PAPERS CONSIDER REFORMIST ALIGNMENTS. Musavi-Khoeniha, the new secretary-general of the Militant Clerics Association, has received congratulatory messages from other reformist parties and figures, "Etemad" reported on 31 August. One such message came from the Mujahedin of the Islamic Revolution Organization. Reformist presidential candidate Mustafa Moin congratulated Musavi-Khoeniha, and in a separate message to former Militant Clerics Association leader Karrubi extolled his efforts and wished him well with the newly created National Trust Party. The same day, "Hemayat" Editor in Chief Seyyed Solat Mortazavi criticized the Militant Clerics Association's leaders for unspecified activities that he said undermine the party's dignity as well as Karrubi's. (Bill Samii)

IS THERE AN ANTIHOMOSEXUAL CAMPAIGN IN IRAN? According to Islamic law, homosexuality is a capital crime. The execution of two Iranian males in July and current allegations that two more Iranian men are on death row because they are gay has led to allegations of an antihomosexual campaign in Iran. But homosexuality is just part of the laundry list of charges leveled against people caught up in the Iranian justice system, and in a country with such a reprehensible human rights record, the actual charges rarely have a connection with reality.

Some legal punishments in Iran, such as the amputation of limbs and stoning, even when not universally enforced, are frequently commented on and condemned by human rights activists. Iran, furthermore, has one of the highest rates of capital punishment in the world. Islam condemns homosexuality and, according to Iranian law, sodomy between consenting adults is a capital crime.

Several recent cases have garnered a great deal of attention in this regard, but they appear to be overshadowed by concern over the execution of minors. The freshest allegations are that a homosexual was executed in the city of Arak in mid-August, and that two more men there are awaiting execution on similar charges.

Arak prosecutor Hamzeh Pakbin denied these reports on 28 August, ISNA (http://markazi.isna.ir/mainnews.php?ID=News-870) and Islamic Republic News Agency (http://www.irna.ir/fa/news/view/line-7/8406061984141949.htm) reported, and he described two current cases that may be related to the allegations. He said Ahmad Choqa, who is 25 and worked as a taxi driver, took a 22-year-old male passenger at knifepoint to his home, and he and two confederates kept the man there from midnight until 9 a.m. During this time they allegedly raped the man. The 22-year-old man escaped and made it to the police, who subsequently arrested Choqa and his cohorts. Choqa has a lengthy criminal record that includes fighting with police, drinking, rape, highway robbery, and petty theft. The only "criminal" behavior on his record that could relate to his sexual preference is, according to the Arak official, sexual relations with a man (lavat in Persian) and "tajavoz be onf" (rape). He has not been sentenced yet.

The other case relates to the 25-year-old Mahbod Kurd Afshar, who stabbed somebody to death, was sentenced to six years in prison in 2002 and has served three years of his sentence, according to Pakbin.

In July, two males -- one of them reportedly a minor -- were hanged after being found guilty of raping a 13-year-old boy. However, exile sources claimed that the execution of the two, Mahmud Asgari and Ayaz Marhoni, related to their engagement in homosexual activities. Human Rights Watch, in a 27 July letter to judiciary chief Ayatollah Mahmud Hashemi-Shahrudi, expressed concern with the execution of juvenile offenders, but did not refer to any other aspect of the case.

In an earlier case, Mohammad Bijeh was accused of killing 20 boys in the poor neighborhood of Pakdasht in Karaj near Tehran. Many of the victims were poor Afghans and their families, some of whom were immigrants who feared deportation, did not bring any charges against Bijeh. Nevertheless, Bijeh was convicted for raping and killing 16 children and was hanged on 16 March. His accomplice, Ali Gholampur (aka Ali Baqi), was flogged and sentenced to 15 years in prison.

Tehran-based lawyer Farideh Ghayrat is a prominent human-rights advocate and the spokeswoman for the Association for the Defense of Prisoners Rights. She also is the lawyer for the families of the victims in the latter legal case. While she is not an advocate of the death penalty, she noted the inconsistency of the legal system and questioned why just one of the defendants was executed. Ghayrat told Radio Farda that there is no reason for Ali Baqi not to be executed (http://www.radiofarda.com/iran_article/2005/01/9CB7E950-DF61-4BCD-B01E-6BEEF8138FA1.html). Even if all the killings he was involved in are ignored, the numerous rapes of boys -- lavat in other words -- are inexcusable, according to the lawyer.

A different perspective, and one that seem to reflect the official attitude, came from Shahpur Ismailian, a lawyer and retired judge in Iran. Even if the victims' families in the Pakdasht case had not filed complaints, he said, the charge of homosexuality would have justified the death penalty for Ali Baqi, "Hamshahri" reported on 16 October 2004 (http://www.hamshahri.org/hamnews/1383/830725/news/havad.htm). According to some sources of Islamic law, Ismailian said, the punishments for homosexuality include being thrown from a mountain, immolation, or execution by sword.

Official Iranian sources occasionally express hostility to homosexual practices. A state radio commentary on 7 March criticized gay marriages in Western countries. Ayatollah Ebrahim Amini said in his Friday-prayer sermon in Qom that gay and lesbian marriages reflect a weakness of Western culture, state television reported on 13 July 2002. Ayatollah Ali Meshkini in his Friday-prayer sermon in Qom criticized Germany's Green Party for being pro-homosexual, state television reported on 29 April 2000.

It is clear that officially and in practice, there is discrimination against homosexuals in Iran. However, systematic repression of homosexuals does not seem to be an issue. The most recent cases of capital punishment for homosexuality are connected with rapes, but the official terminology, Iran's system of retribution as a form of Islamic punishment (qesas), and the country's terrible human rights record make it very difficult to determine the true nature of a so-called crime. (Fatemeh Aman, Bill Samii)

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