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Iran Report: November 10, 2003


10 November 2003, Volume 6, Number 45

QUESTIONS SURROUND IRANIAN AL-QAEDA EXTRADITIONS. An anonymous Pakistani Interior Ministry spokesman denied on 3 November that Iran has handed over Al-Qaeda members to Pakistan, the "Daily Times" of Lahore reported on 4 November. Anonymous "Saudi official sources," meanwhile, said that Tehran and Riyadh are negotiating the repatriation of Saudi Al-Qaeda members, UPI reported on 3 November, citing the "Ukaz" daily newspaper (www.okaz.com.sa). "Saudi Arabia received al-Qaeda suspects in several batches from Iran last year, including men, women and children," the sources said, adding that nobody has been extradited since then.

These statements come in the wake of Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi's announcement on 26 October that Iran has provided the United Nations with the names of Al-Qaeda and Taliban suspects it has extradited (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 October 2003).

"Al-Hayah" on 2 November published the names of these individuals. The list includes 14 women and 46 boys. Moreover, the list includes 29 Saudi Arabians, 12 Jordanians, and 13 Yemenis, seven of whom were extradited to Yemen and the rest to Morocco. There are six Moroccans, six Tunisians who were extradited to Italy, and one Syrian. Thirty-five Pakistanis, seven Somalis, and 34 unidentified individuals were deported to Pakistan. Three Afghans and one Austrian were sent to their respective countries of origin.

"Al-Hayah" published interviews with some of these deportees on 3 November. One of the Saudis, Hatim Bin-Dawi Juhaydil al-Juayd, said he and a friend were arrested while trying to get to Iraq via Iran before Operation Iraqi Freedom, and the Iranians held them for a whole month before extraditing them. He denied membership in Al-Qaeda. The father of another man on the list said that his son died in a traffic accident two years ago.

Amman has officially requested that Tehran extradite three Jordanian citizens living in Iran, an anonymous "informed legal source" said in the 4 November "Al-Sabil" weekly. Amman also has asked Tehran to extradite Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, but it is not clear if he is in Iran or in Iraq. The individuals Amman is seeking reportedly fought in Afghanistan or Chechnya, and the later joined Ansar al-Islam. (Bill Samii)

IRANIANS EXHORTED TO 'AROUSE U.S. RAGE.' Rallies were held in Iranian cities on 4 November (13 Aban) to commemorate the anniversary of the day in 1979 when the U.S. Embassy in Tehran was seized by a group calling itself the Muslim Students Following the Imam's Line, dpa reported. As a result of that seizure, 53 American citizens were held hostage for 444 days. According to dpa, "Thousands of people, mainly schoolchildren, were brought to the former American embassy in downtown Tehran, where they chanted the standard slogans 'Death to America' and 'Death to Israel.'"

At the rally in Tehran, an Iranian filmmaker who one day earlier had been released from coalition custody in Iraq (see below) said that he is a personal witness to the White House's hatred of the slogan "Down with the U.S.A.," the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) reported. Soheil Karimi went on to say that this slogan is, in IRNA's words, "the only thing bothering the Americans." Karimi added, in his own words, "I would recommend further shouting of the slogan more loudly throughout the country to counteract the future U.S. plots by arousing the U.S. officials' rage."

Speaker of Parliament Hojatoleslam Mehdi Karrubi said during the open session of parliament on 4 November that the embassy seizure represented the nation's will, IRNA reported. He expressed the hope that the seizure of the embassy will not be forgotten.

The Qom Seminary's Board of Instructors issued a statement that the events of 4 November had a profound impact on Iranian and world history, IRNA reported on 4 November. According to the statement, the embassy seizure "revealed the oppression and misbehavior of Washington against world people [and] proved to the world the justice-seeking and anti-arrogant attitude of the Iranian people." (Bill Samii)

IMPRISONED IRANIANS SENT HOME FROM IRAQ. Two Iranians were released form coalition custody in Iraq on 3 November, but more than fifty Iranians remain behind bars. Tehran is trying to secure their freedom, and a member of the Iraqi Governing Council has promised that they will be freed soon.

Coalition forces in Iraq on 3 November released Said Abu Taleb and Soheil Karimi, two filmmakers employed by Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting, news agencies reported. They were arrested on 1 July in Al-Kut. Speaking in Abadan, Karimi said, "We were initially transferred to Baghdad prison, from where we were transferred to Diwaniyah prison, and finally to Umm Qasr prison near [Al-] Basra that was controlled by the British forces, and this meant 127 days in custody," IRNA reported. Karimi added, "the strange thing is that the Americans found nothing at all against us throughout the past four months, and kept repeating 'we made a mistake.'" Abu Taleb said that at the time of their detention the two were filming a checkpoint after having received permission to do so, but then another military unit arrived and they were arrested.

Abu Taleb claimed on Iranian state television that the U.S. military tortured them, AP reported. An anonymous U.S. military spokesman rejected this claim, saying, "The coalition does not mistreat anyone in its custody -- full stop," ft.com reported on 3 November. Moreover, the two met the Iranian consul-general in Baghdad, Ali Reza Haqiqian, on 22 October at Umm Qasr, and IRNA reported the next day, "the prisoners enjoy good health physically and psychologically."

Haqiqian met with Iraqi Governing Council member Jalal Talabani on 5 November and called for the prompt release of the 56 Iranians being held by coalition forces in Umm Qasr prison, IRNA reported. The previous week, according to IRNA, Haqiqian met with council members Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim, Ahmad Chalabi, and Muwaffaq al-Rubay'i, and asked for their help in securing the Iranians' freedom. Haqiqian said that so far he has succeeded only in securing the release of the two Iranian filmmakers.

Al-Hakim said on 8 November that the imprisoned Iranians would be released soon, the Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA) reported. Al-Hakim said that the Iranian Embassy in Baghdad has given him a list of the 56 prisoners and he has officially submitted this list to Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) Administrator L. Paul Bremer. "After the names were given to Paul Bremer and after talks were held on this issue, we got positive promises that those people would be released as soon as possible," al-Hakim said. "We hope that we will see those dear ones released over the next few days." (Bill Samii)

TEHRAN DENIES INTERFERING IN IRAQI AFFAIRS, BACKS GOVERNING COUNCIL. Tehran continues to deny accusations of interfering in Iraqi affairs, while the Iranian press reports that Iran is the friendliest of Iraq's neighbors. The Baghdad press is not convinced.

Speaking after a 2 November meeting in Damascus of foreign ministers from Iraq's neighbors (Egypt, Iran, Jordan, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Turkey), Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi denied that Iran is interfering in Iraq's internal affairs, IRNA reported. Kharrazi added that those who make such allegations are trying to cover up their own failures in Iraq. "We are confident they can produce no proof for their claims," he said. "Tehran wants nothing but good for the Iraqi nation, and I hope that a representative and democratically elected government would be soon established in Iraq."

In Tehran, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi denied that people are crossing the border into Iraq illegally, according to IRNA. "Our borders are under control and we confront anyone who illegally crosses the border," Assefi said. The accuracy of Assefi's statement about secure borders with Iraq should probably be judged in the context of his previous statements about secure borders with Afghanistan. Indeed, the Iranian government and security forces in Iraq frequently complain about people making illegal pilgrimages into Iraq (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 8 September and 6 October 2003). The Iranian consul-general in Baghdad has even visited Iranian prisoners there (see above).

Notably, nobody from the Iraqi Governing Council attended the meeting in Damascus. Iraqi officials expressed dismay when Syria issued a last-minute invitation to Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari. Syrian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Bushra Kanafani admitted to London's "Al-Sharq al-Awsat" in an interview published on 5 November that "Syria was not very enthusiastic about the idea of Iraq's participation" in the meeting.

The only country that was enthusiastic about Iraqi participation was Iran, "Etemad" reported on 4 October. From the outset, the daily reported, Iran has accepted the Iraqi Governing Council. Zebari's refusal to attend the Damascus meeting, therefore, "could not have been addressed directly at Tehran -- especially since Tehran was the main supporter in favor of extending an invitation to him to attend the conference." According to a report in the 3 November "Yas-i No," Zebari's rejection of the last-minute invitation upset the participants in the Damascus meeting.

Despite this incident, Iraqi Governing Council rotating President Jalal Talabani, who holds the post for the month of November, has decided to improve Baghdad's relations with Ankara, Damascus, and Tehran by visiting them personally, "Kurdistani Nuwe" reported on 5 November.

Talabani is likely to receive a warm welcome in Tehran. Foreign Minister Kharrazi said in a statement that appeared in the 6 November "Sharq," "we stress on the need for the Iraqi Governing Council to increase its constructive interaction with its neighbors based on bilateral and international agreements." He also said, "We believe that the Iraqi Governing Council is the first step in handing over affairs to the Iraqi people and in establishing national rule and the formation of a provisional government in order to draw up a constitution and form a legal and nationally-elected government in Iraq."

This attitude towards the Iraqi Governing Council is not shared by all Iranian officialdom, according to an 8 October report in the Iraqi "Al-Khalid" newspaper. Sources in the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) say that they are under pressure from Iranian hard-liners to declare allegiance to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and to recognize Ayatollah Ali al-Haeri, who is based in Qom, as their source of emulation. (Bill Samii, Kathleen Ridolfo)

BLAIR UPSETS TEHRAN. A comment made by British Prime Minister Tony Blair in a 30 October interview with BBC Radio has upset the Iranian government. Blair referred to the war in Iraq as a "test case" that showed the world's seriousness in stopping aggression and that the war had a positive impact on global security. "Why do you think Iran is now willing to co-operate with the [International] Atomic Energy Agency for the first time in years? Precisely because people now know we are serious about these issues," Blair said.

The Iranian Foreign Ministry subsequently summoned Ambassador Richard Dalton to hear a protest from Director General of West European Affairs Ebrahim Rahimpur, IRNA reported on 1 November. Rahimpur described Blair's observation as "irrational" and a means of sidestepping British public opinion.

Speaker of Parliament Hojatoleslam Mehdi Karrubi on 2 November described Blair's remarks as "careless," the Iranian Labor News Agency (ILNA) reported. Karrubi also said, "The Iranian people have a negative perception of Britain," state television reported. "In recent years, British statesmen have been trying to rectify this perception. However, Blair's recent performance was contrary to the underlying trend."

Two parliamentarians said in the 2 November "Mardom Salari" that Blair's comments reflected Iranian diplomatic incompetence. Akbar Alami of Tabriz, who chairs the Iran-Britain parliamentary friendship group, described Blair as an unpopular figure who is trying to divert the British public and who also has colonialist ambitions. Alami added sarcastically, "We should truly congratulate the country's [Iran's] diplomats and those who rolled out the red carpet to appease the foreigners and ignore the national interests." Mashhad representative Ali Tajernia linked Blair's statement with efforts to pressure Iran into signing the Additional Protocol of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Tajernia said that the people who did not let Iran sign the protocol under normal circumstances should be held accountable. (Bill Samii)

IRANIAN DEFECTOR TESTIFIES ON 1994 ARGENTINE BOMBING. Abolghasem Mesbahi, a former Iranian intelligence officer, testified from Germany via teleconference to a panel of judges in Buenos Aires that Iran is responsible for the 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish community center in the Argentine capital, the ACAN-EFE news agency reported. "The entire AMIA operation was headed, organized, and executed by Iran," he said. Mesbahi said that Mohsen Rabbani, the Iranian Embassy's cultural attache, rented the van that carried the bomb. Rabbani is one of eight Iranian officials for whom there are outstanding international arrest warrants in connection with the bombing.

Two separate trials are underway relating to the AMIA case. Mesbahi's testimony is part of the investigation into the possible role of Argentine officials in the bombing or a subsequent cover up. Mesbahi said in his teleconference that the media distorted his statement about an alleged $10 million bribe to Argentina's president at the time, Carlos Menem. An Argentine claiming to represent Menem came to Tehran and asked for the money, Mesbahi said, adding, "I never saw that person in my life, I have no evidence or confirmation that payment was ever made, and I never said that the money had been paid to Menem."

Argentine Justice Minister Gustavo Beliz is scheduled to travel to Switzerland from 10-12 November to secure information on bank accounts that top officials -- including Menem -- may have there, Reuters reported on 7 November.

In Tehran on 7 November, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi rejected Mesbahi's allegations, IRNA reported. Assefi denounced the allegations as an attempt to cover up the presiding judge's receipt of bribes and added that the Argentine judiciary is trying to please Israel. "The baseless allegations of the 'Witness C' [Mesbahi] are the lies that have been devised by the Zionist circles and the judge of the case to cover up their political plot against the Islamic Republic," Assefi said. (Bill Samii)

IAEA WANTS IRANIAN URANIUM ENRICHMENT TO HALT. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is speaking with guarded optimism about Iran's cooperation with it. Meanwhile, the date when one commentator said Iran would test a nuclear weapon has passed uneventfully.

IAEA Director-General Muhammad el-Baradei said in a 3 November interview that Iran's provision of documentation on its nuclear activities and its promise to sign the Additional Protocol of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) indicate an Iranian "change of attitude," Spain's "El Pais" daily newspaper reported on 4 November. The documentation confirms that Tehran violated some of its NPT commitments, el-Baradei said. He noted that, in order to analyze the data provided by Tehran, the IAEA must reconstruct the past, establish what took place over the last 20 years, and regulate the future.

Referring to environmental samples that showed traces of highly enriched uranium (HEU), which Tehran alleges came from second-hand equipment it bought on the black market, el-Baradei said that it would take some time to get to the truth. "We have to identify the country of origin of the contamination, go to that country, take samples to verify if indeed the traces of enriched uranium are from contamination and not from self-production.... At least another couple of months, until the beginning of next year." El-Baradei stressed that Iran's uranium-enrichment activities must stop because this would contribute to Middle East security and would normalize Iran's relations with the West.

Iran's representative at the IAEA, Ali Akbar Salehi, said in a 5 November interview with Reuters that Iran has submitted drawings of the centrifuges on which inspectors found traces of highly enriched uranium. "We revealed all components to the agency, including [original] drawings...so there is nothing which the agency has no information on," he said. An anonymous diplomat told Reuters that this is important because it could assist the IAEA investigation into the origin of the HEU. Salehi claimed, "Every expert knows [the HEU] has come from outside."

Salehi also said that Tehran would soon submit its application to be a signatory to the additional protocol of the NPT. "We cannot specify exactly the date. But it's certainly going to be before the [20 November IAEA Board of Governors meeting] because they have to be informed before the board [meeting] so they can put it on the agenda," he said. Iran can sign after the board's approval.

The possibility of Tehran's signing the protocol led to angry protests in Iran. Such demonstrations took place after the Friday prayers on 24 October in Karaj, Qom, and Tehran, state radio reported. Students from the Ayatollah Iravani Seminary demonstrated in front of the Foreign Ministry in Tehran on 26 October, ISNA reported. Yet another protest took place after the 31 October Friday prayers in Tehran, ISNA reported.

Nevertheless, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has the final say on such issues, and in a 2 November speech he went to some lengths to assuage Iranians' concerns about the nuclear agreement. Permitting the more intrusive inspections required by the additional protocol is a way to counter Israeli and American propaganda about the Iranian pursuit of a nuclear-weapon capability, he said. Khamenei added that this does not mean Iran will forsake it technological capabilities. He summarized by saying, "What happened is what I just told you. That is to say, a wise measure without surrender, without accepting bullying, in order to break a conspiracy by the Americans and the Zionists against the Islamic Republic."

Khamenei noted that the European foreign ministers who visited Tehran rather graciously offered to build reactors for Iran and supply the nuclear fuel for them (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 27 October 2003). Khamenei rejected this offer and said it reflects an effort to make Iran dependent on the West. Moreover, "the supply of fuel will depend on fulfilling hundreds of conditions."

Meanwhile, the latest date predicted for Iran's testing of a nuclear weapon appears to have passed quietly. National Review Online contributing editor Michael Ledeen warned in a 17 September column, "According to Iranians I talk to, they believe that Iran now has all the necessary components for an atomic bomb or two or three, and all that remains is to assemble the damned things." And in a 14 October column, Ledeen added that Supreme Leader Khamenei wanted to test the weapon in the third week of October, but his advisers said that such a date in unobtainable. "They are now aiming for November 4 or 5."

As of 9 November, international media had not reported on such a test. But Ledeen may have explained the failure to detect such an event in his 17 September column. "Almost the whole Iranian nuclear program is underground. Deep underground, thanks to the Chinese and the North Koreans who helped dig the tunnels and secure areas, mostly underneath the cities. Maybe so deep underground than even our jazzy satellite technologies can't figure out what's going on down there." (Bill Samii)

IRANIAN PARLIAMENT LEGISLATES MILITARY POLITICAL ACTIVITY. The Iranian legislature has already approved several parts of a 137-article bill regulating military offenses, "Sharq" reported on 5 November. These articles of the bill are intended to prevent political and electoral activities by military personnel. Article 40 of the bill bans military personnel from membership in political organizations or parties, forbids their interference with or participation in "political line-ups and disputes," and bans them from engaging in election publicity. Article 17 states that military personnel who use armed forces' assets to engage in planning intended to change or overthrow the Islamic republican system and who form an association of more than three people with this intention will be subject to the punishment for those who are "at war with God" (muharib; the penalty is death). Under another article, military personnel found to have created an association of more than two people with the intention of undermining national security or "causing fear, riots, or murder" will serve three to 15 years in prison unless they are found to be at war with God. Military personnel who try to damage the country's independence or territorial integrity will, according to the new regulations, also face the punishment for those who are at war with God. (Bill Samii)

DISSIDENT CLERIC'S SONS ARRESTED BRIEFLY. Plainclothes security agents arrested two sons of dissident cleric Ayatollah Hussein-Ali Montazeri-Najafabadi and four members of his household on 3 November, ILNA and AP reported. Hojatoleslams Ahmad and Said Montazeri were trying to reopen a house next to the ayatollah's so he could use it to teach classes. The house belongs to Ahmad Montazeri's wife but was seized by the Special Court for the Clergy about four years ago.

Mujtaba Lotfi, described by AP as an aide of the ayatollah, said that the Qom mosque at which Montazeri used to preach has remained closed since his being placed under house arrest (December 1997-January 2003). "They [hard-liners] believe the mosque where [Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali] Khamenei was criticized in should never open again," he said. "It is apparently a symbolic decision to tell everyone that Khamenei should not be criticized."

Both of Montazeri's sons and three of the aides were released in the evening of 3 November, AP reported, but the house they were trying to reopen remained sealed. Ahmad Montazeri said, "That mosque still remains closed, and we need facilities for the grand ayatollah to teach." He added that hard-liners "don't want my father to have any facilities to teach, let alone engage in political activities." The fourth aide, Reza Ziai, was released on 4 November, and Ahmad said that although he and his brother were not abused, Ziai was blindfolded, handcuffed, and beaten. (Bill Samii)

NOBEL LAUREATE TAKES UP SLAIN CANADIAN JOURNALIST'S CASE. The trial relating to the death in Iranian custody of Canadian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi was scheduled to resume on 5 November, but the court granted a delay so that Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi, who has just joined the case on behalf of Kazemi's family, can familiarize herself with it. The defendant in the trial is a Ministry of Intelligence and Security employee, but a parliamentary inquiry into the case found that the Tehran Public Prosecutor's Office was to blame (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 3 November 2003).

Hussein Ansari-Rad, chairman of the legislature's Article 90 Committee -- which investigates complaints against the government -- said on 2 November that a complaint has been filed against Tehran Public Prosecutor Hojatoleslam Said Mortazavi for his refusal to appear before the committee to answer questions about the Kazemi case, ISNA reported. Ansari-Rad said the legislature views Mortazavi as a defendant and added: "Mortazavi should be interrogated and given a chance to defend himself. There is absolutely no room for debate."

Mortazavi said on 3 November in a letter to speaker of parliament Hojatoleslam Mehdi Karrubi that the investigation into Kazemi's death is continuing and it is premature to say that his office is responsible, IRNA reported. Mortazavi said that the inquiry by the Article 90 Committee is incomplete and added that the committee's membership is pursuing political objectives.

Prosecutor's Office official Mohammad Shadabi said on 2 November that answers to the Article 90 Committee's questions have been provided to Karrubi, IRNA reported. He subsequently filed a complaint against Article 90 Committee chairman Ansari-Rad, Fars News Agency reported on 5 November. The complaint is that the Article 90 Committee prepared an inaccurate report about Kazemi's killing that insulted, slandered, and harmed the Prosecutor's Office. A complaint also has been filed against the managing director of "Yas-e No" daily, because an article in its 3 November issue accused Shadabi of involvement in Kazemi's death, according to the same news agency.

Human rights groups called for the creation of an independent commission to re-examine the incident. Paris-based activist Abdol Karim Lahiji told RFE/RL's Golnaz Esfandiari: "Given the fact that Said Mortazavi has played an important role in this case since the first minutes of Kazemi's arrest, and also given the fact that the investigation was conducted under his supervision as the general prosecutor of Tehran, the results of the [parliamentary] report show the investigation has no legal value. The investigation should be carried out again."

Ebadi's involvement in the Kazemi case, meanwhile, has given some other Iranians hope. Ahmad Batebi, an Iranian student whose picture was widely published by international media in July 1999, has appealed to Ebadi to help secure his release from prison, "Iran News" reported on 4 November, citing the "Peykeiran" website (www.peykeiran.com). "I request the lady of peace and friendship in my country to use her spiritual clout and secure the release of prisoners of conscience," Batebi's letter said. (Bill Samii)

UN RAPPORTEUR NOTES IRANIAN LIMITS ON PRESS FREEDOM. Ambeyi Ligabo, the United Nations' special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, visited Iran in the first week of November, and his statements during the visit revealed that he has no illusions about the situation in the country. This became clear during his 6 November meeting with Abdullah Nasseri, the managing-director of the official Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA).

Nasseri told his guest that the situation in Iran has changed in the last five or six years and "Iranian society is fully satisfied with the achievements made towards promoting freedom of the press," IRNA reported. Nasseri added that a new press law drawn up by the government would contribute to the improvements in freedom of expression of the last five or six years. Nasseri described the red lines that IRNA must not cross: "religious, historical, and cultural sensitivities or some limitations set by the government."

"We also noticed that there exist some limitations on freedom of speech and idea in the country," Ligabo allowed, according to IRNA.

Those "limitations," according to international media watchdogs, are extensive. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) on 20 October produced its second world press-freedom ranking (http://www.rsf.fr/article.php3?id_article=8247), and Iran finished in the bottom 10 (160th place out of 166 countries). RSF compiled data provided by journalists, researchers, jurists, and human-rights activists. Moreover, RSF on 4 November called on Tehran to release 11 jailed journalists (http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=8422) and allow Ligabo to meet with them. RSF also called on Tehran to lift its ban on more than 100 newspapers.

Events in the last three months bear out the gravity of the situation. Mohammad Kazem Shokuhi-Rad, managing editor of "Gilan-i Imruz" newspaper, appeared before the Revolutionary Court on 2 October to face accusations of undermining security and encouraging unrest, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported. He was released on bail.

The managing editor of "Nasim-i Saba" daily received a court summons following complaints that he propagandized against the state, disseminated falsehoods, and published false information, "Iran" reported on 1 October.

The Press Court on 28 September banned the reformist "Yas-i No" daily newspaper for 10 days, news agencies reported. Said Shariati, the political affairs editor of "Yas-i No," told ISNA that the daily's refusal to republish a Judiciary response to one of its articles is behind the ban. Shariati said the response had been published once and, furthermore, it was not clear to which article the response originally referred. The daily reappeared on 1 October thanks to what a "Yas-i No" editorial referred to as "two days of consultations, talks, companionship, and committed sympathy."

Alireza Alavi-Tabar, current publisher of "Aftab" monthly and editor of several banned reformist newspapers, was summoned to the Tehran Penal Court on 22 September, ISNA reported. "Aftab's" managing editor, Issa Saharkhiz, was arrested in late August, his wife told IRNA on 27 August.

"Hambastegi" Executive Editor Ali Salehabadi and "Cheshmandaz-i Iran" Executive Editor Lotfollah Meisami appeared before the court in mid-September to face charges of press violations, "Iran" reported on 15 September. They were released on bail. Meisami told IRNA on 14 September that the charge relates to his monthly's interview with Fazlollah Salavati, a reformist cleric in Isfahan.

Qoli Sheikhi, managing director of "Toseh" daily newspaper, appeared in court on 19 August for the fourth time in the past 1 1/2 months, IRNA reported. The daily's editor in chief, Seyyed Hussein Sajjadi, said the summons related to the general prosecutor's complaint that the daily distorted public opinion. Among the plaintiffs are the Islamic Azad University, the Security Department of the state police, the Basij Resistance Force, and the ultraconservative "Ya al-Tharat" daily.

The managing directors of three dailies -- Hussein Shariatmadari of "Kayhan," Elias Hazrati of "Etemad," and Ali Yusefpur of "Siyasat-i Ruz" -- appeared in court on 13 August, IRNA reported. Shariatmadari and Hazrati faced complaints from the Blood Refining and Research Company and the Armed Forces' General Headquarters, while Yusefpur had to explain his daily's report about the resignation of Science, Research, and Technology Minister Mustafa Moin.

Abdul Rasul Vesal, the managing director of "Iran," which is the state news agency's Persian-language daily, posted bail on 10 August after facing charges of propagandizing against the Islamic establishment and publishing false news, "Iran Daily" reported on 11 August.

UN special rapporteur Ligabo made it fairly clear in an interview with IRINnews.org that was published on 7 November that the current situation is unacceptable and that the UN is ready to help. He said, "We - the UN Commission on Human Rights - are ready to extend certain technical programs to the government of Iran. We are ready to reactivate the working groups so that various technical programs involving education programs can create awareness with regards to human rights, particularly in the judiciary, in the police force and law enforcement agencies." He added that his report would have concrete proposals, but he also noted that the Iranian government must first ask for help.

Ligabo said that one must compare Iran with other countries to determine if its press laws are excessively stringent. "Every country has its own constitution, has its own values, its own cultures and traditions," he said. "However, I believe in Iran, society itself, even tradition itself and religion itself, does not prohibit the free expression of ideas." (Bill Samii)

IRANIAN STUDENTS MEET WITH UN RAPPORTEUR. Abdullah Momeni, secretary of the Allameh wing of the Office for Strengthening Unity student organization, said on 6 November that 11 members of his group met that day with visiting UN special rapporteur Ambeyi Ligabo, ISNA reported. Momeni said they discussed citizens' rights, arrests, and the treatment of political activists and journalists. Momeni said that some people who have been arrested on other occasions participated in the meeting. Momeni was imprisoned from late June until early August (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 30 June and 11 August 2003). (Bill Samii)

NORWEGIAN BRIBERY CASE ENTERS IRANIAN POLITICS. The bribery case involving the Iranian oil industry and Norway's Statoil is showing signs of entanglement with domestic Iranian politics. As anonymous sources denounce the awarding of contracts to Statoil and downgrade the quality of the company's work, other sources are making new corruption allegations involving the son of a former president. The head of Iran's Petroleum Ministry, meanwhile, is under pressure from the parliament.

Ishaq Ruyvar, public-relations chief at the National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC) subsidiary National Iranian South Oil Company (NISOC), said on 5 November that Iran's Oil Research Institute and Norway's Statoil are conducting research on the Bibi Hakimeh, Ahvaz Asmari, and Makhzan Marun oil fields in southwestern Iran, IRNA reported. Ruyvar said Iranian experts are supervising the Statoil research project; work on Bibi Hakimeh will be completed in three months, while the other projects will take longer. Ruyvar said the contract for these research projects is normal compared to similar projects worldwide, and he denied reports that the Statoil research was rejected.

An anonymous "oil expert" had told IRNA on 2 November that the Statoil studies on the three oil fields were found to be error-filled by NISOC officials who visited Oslo. The estimated value of the contract for the studies is $10 million, and the Petroleum Ministry awarded the work without putting out a tender. An NIOC directive reportedly named Statoil as the likely winner of the tender, and asserted that, even if Statoil does not win the tender to develop the oil fields, the winner must cede about 10 percent of the development work to Statoil.

This is not the first time that there have been complaints about Statoil research in Iran. An NIOC geologist said in September 2002 that Statoil is not qualified to conduct studies on or to develop Iran's oil fields after Statoil officials asserted that the oil fields a recovery ratio of only 20 percent, compared to 60 percent for Norwegian fields (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 4 November 2002).

The current dispute seems to have more to do with recent allegations of bribery involving Statoil and NIOC than with actual concern over the contract or the research being done by Statoil. Statoil had signed a 10-year, $15 million contract with Horton Investments, which is incorporated in the Turks and Caicos Islands. Allegedly owned by an Iranian living in London named Abbas Yazdi, Horton is reportedly associated with Mehdi Hashemi-Rafsanjani, the managing director of an NIOC subsidiary called the Organization for Optimization of Energy Consumption, and the son of former President Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani. (On this extremely unusual case of corruption in Iran, see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 22 and 29 September, 6 October 2003.)

Another case was leaked to the press in early October, and it, too, involved Mehdi Hashemi-Rafsanjani. In this case, full payment for Norwegian lifeboats bought by the Iranian Offshore Engineering and Construction Company (IOEC) was paid only after an Iranian consulting company received a payoff to facilitate the transaction. Mehdi Hashemi-Rafsanjani headed IOEC at the time, and the Norwegian press said he was involved in the case. NIOC and the Industrial Development and Renovation Organization are the shareholders in IOEC. (See "RFE/RL Iran Report," 13 October 2003.)

Petroleum Minister Bijan Namdar-Zanganeh was called to appear before the legislature's Energy Committee on 28 October to answer questions about the Statoil case. Shadegan parliamentary representative Issa Moqaddami-Zad said in the 29 October issue of "Aftab-i Yazd" that Namdar-Zanganeh's responses were not satisfactory. In light of the resignations at Statoil, the parliamentarian asked, has anybody in the Petroleum Ministry been dealt with similarly? Moqaddami-Zad continued, "The petroleum minister has no evidence disproving the receipt of bribes, and is only commenting based on what he has heard. I have not been convinced by the minister's remarks and the question has been forwarded to the open chamber of the parliament for further review." Moqaddami-Zad did not explain how Namdar-Zanganeh could prove a negative. (Bill Samii)

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