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Iran Report: December 9, 2002


9 December 2002, Volume 5, Number 45

TEHRAN COMMENTS ON RADIO FARDA. The "Kayhan" daily newspaper -- which is affiliated with the Iranian supreme leader's office -- claimed on 1 December that the Central Intelligence Agency is closing down Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty's Persian Service and replacing it with the new Radio Farda as part of its psychological-warfare program against Iran. "Kayhan" reported incorrectly that RFE/RL is "funded and managed by the State Department and the American espionage organization." The Iranian accusations against the U.S. radio stations are wholly false. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty is a private, international communications service funded by the U.S. Congress through a grant for nonmilitary broadcasting that is administered by the Broadcasting Board of Governors.

There are, furthermore, more than 20 radio stations broadcasting in Persian that are not affiliated with the Iranian government. Some of these stations probably have very limited appeal. The Baghdad-backed Mujahedin-i Khalq Organization's Voice of the Mujahid transmits for 4 1/2 hours a day on 11 frequencies, but it is subject to intensive jamming and is only heard briefly on each frequency. The Voice of the Iranian Communist Party broadcasts in Persian for one hour a day on two frequencies.

Many of the stations are linked with Kurdish groups. The Voice of the People of Kurdistan is affiliated with the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), and it broadcasts for seven hours a day in Kurdish and Arabic. The Voice of Iraqi Kurdistan is affiliated with the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), and it broadcasts for seven hours a day in Kurdish and Arabic. The Voice of Kurdistan Toilers broadcasts for 2 1/2 hours a day in Kurdish and Arabic. Kurdistan Radio, Voice of the Kurdistan Socialist Democratic Party, broadcasts for two hours a day in Kurdish and Arabic. The Voice of Iranian Kurdistan transmits for two hours a day in Kurdish and Persian. The Voice of the Iranian Revolution transmits for one hour a day in Kurdish.

Radio Komala transmits for 90 minutes a day in Kurdish and Persian. The Voice of Strugglers of Iranian Kurdistan has a one-hour daily Kurdish program. Radio Freedom (Radio Azadi), which is associated with the Kurdish Communist Party, has a daily one-hour show in Kurdish. The Voice of the Iraqi People, Voice of the Iraqi Communist Party, transmits for 90 minutes in Arabic. The Voice of the Iraqi People, Voice of the Iraqi Republic, is based in Riyadh and transmits for eight hours a day.

Radio Ava-yi Ashna (Radio Familiar Voice) broadcasts for one hour a week in Persian. Radio International is affiliated with the Worker-Communist Party of Iran and broadcasts in Persian. Radio Barabari (Radio Equality) purports to be on the side of workers, women, the unemployed, and national minorities. Radio Iran of Tomorrow broadcasts in Persian. KRSI, or Radio Seda-yi Iran (Radio Voice of Iran), broadcasts in Persian and is based in California.

Some of the other stations broadcasting in Persian are the British Broadcasting Corporation, Deutsche Welle, Radio France International, and Radio Israel. The federally funded Voice of Russia's Persian Service broadcasts for two hours a day. (Bill Samii)

IRANIAN RADIO LISTENERS SURVEYED. Iran's Voice and Vision Organization Center for Radio Program Research, Study, and Evaluation recently surveyed some 13,600 radio listeners in 31 cities, and the results of that survey were published in the 20 November "Jam-i Jam." Provincial radio stations were more popular than the seven national ones: Network One, Farhang (Culture), Koran, Educational, Sports, Youth, and Payam (an FM station heard mostly in Tehran that has traffic reports, short news items, and music). Listeners said that the quality of the signal, as well as the specific topics on the air, generally determined their listening choices. Listeners ranked their interests as social, cultural, training, family, scientific, and educational subjects.

Peak listening hours were from 9-10 a.m. and 5-6 p.m. Sixty-nine percent of the respondents listened to the radio at home, 14 percent listened at work, and 13 percent listened in their vehicles. Kish Island and Tehran had the highest percentage of people listening to the radio in their vehicles. More men than women listened to the radio, but women spent more time listening to the radio. Radio listeners had a lower literacy rate than non-listeners. (Bill Samii)

PARLIAMENTARIANS DISCUSS AMENDING SATELLITE LAW. Iran's parliament in November resumed discussions on amending the law banning ownership of satellite television receivers, an issue it also considered one year ago, and at the end of November the authorities resumed confiscation of satellite dishes (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 29 October 2001 and 2 December 2002). Dashti and Tangestan representative Hojatoleslam Mehdi Pur-Fatemi said that attempting to place limits on satellite equipment would only pique people's interest, "Toseh" reported on 24 November. He suggested that the state broadcasting organization slightly delay rebroadcast of satellite programs so it can edit out offensive material.

Former parliamentarian Yadollah Eslami commented in the 1 December "Seda-yi Idalat" that prohibiting access to satellite television programs would only make them more attractive. Eslami also said that television shows are not to blame for social corruption. "There must already be fertile ground for the seed of corruption to grow," he said, "So, the problem lies somewhere else."

Quchan parliamentary representative Mohammad Zakeri said that even with the legislature's approval of a new law on satellite reception equipment, the use of satellite television would not be unregulated, "Kayhan" reported on 25 November. Zakeri explained that under the new law, the ministries of Intelligence and Security; of Islamic Culture and Guidance; and of Post, Telegraph, and Telephone, as well as the state broadcasting organization, would cooperate on drafting the related regulations. In this way, they can control what people watch. He added, "Following the approval of this bill, the law prohibiting the use of illegal satellite equipment will continue to be implemented."

One of the satellite programs that Tehran could be trying to block is the Voice of America's "Next Chapter," which is "subtly subversive" according to "The New York Times" on 7 December. VOA officials said that it is too soon to have viewership data. It appears that the program is not reaching many people, according to "The New York Times," as Iranians complain that they cannot find the show and that the signal is too weak for good reception. (Bill Samii)

JOURNALISTS NEED FREEDOM, RESPECT. Speaker of parliament Hojatoleslam Mehdi Karrubi on 4 December met with members of the Presiding Board of the Association of Muslim Journalists, the Iranian Republic News Agency (IRNA) reported, and he said that the press is fundamental for enlightening the public. Moreover, the press reflects the public's expectations of the government. Karrubi said that the government must provide an atmosphere in which the press can criticize the government.

President Mohammad Khatami on 3 December called on government officials to respect journalists, IRNA reported. Khatami expressed regret that officials do not give reporters enough respect, adding that the government communicates with the people through the media. In a sign of that lack of respect, Abdol Rasul Vesal, the managing director of the Islamic Culture and Guidance Ministry's "Iran" newspaper, had to report to the Public Court on 1 December to face several complaints, ISNA reported. (Bill Samii)

SUPREME LEADER CRITICAL OF U.S. IN EID AL-FITR SERMON. The Friday-prayer sermon at Tehran University for 6 December was replaced by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's sermon marking Eid al-Fitr, the last day of the fasting month of Ramadan, Iranian state radio reported. Khamenei noted in his second sermon that Islamic states are closing ranks in the face of the enemy's presence and its designs on the region. Awareness of such designs, Khamenei said, is the reason why Islamic states hate the United States and Zionism and global arrogance. Khamenei also warned that the enemy opposes the Basij, the clergy, and the seminaries, and it plans to break up the country. He also advised officials not to make remarks that the enemy can exploit. "Those inside the country who, for various motives, sometimes repeat the enemy's remarks must be very careful. Although, in most cases, God willing, they do so out of ignorance and inadvertently and unwittingly. But, they have to be careful," the supreme leader said. (Bill Samii)

KHATAMI CRITICAL OF U.S. 'EXTREMISTS'... President Khatami in a 4 December news conference complained that Iran has always faced U.S. repression, IRNA reported. Khatami went on to say that he could not make any predictions about the resumption of Iran-U.S. ties because an "extremist" wing whose policies threaten the whole world is in power in the United States. Khatami would not rule out relations with the United States because "we are pursuing a policy of detente toward all countries." Nevertheless, he said that it is up to the actor who has committed injustices to change its policies and behavior. (Bill Samii)

...AS OTHER OFFICIALS DISCUSS IRAN-U.S. COMMON INTERESTS. Expediency Council Chairman Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani in a 1 December meeting at the Iranian Navy headquarters said that the United States could cooperate with Iran only if it gives up its "bullying practices," IRNA reported. Rafsanjani said that the United States has not moved in that direction yet. He said that the U.S. economy depends on Persian Gulf oil and, as a result, there is a shared interest: "They want to buy oil and we want to sell oil." "So the best policy for the U.S. is to give up its bullying," Rafsanjani added. Rafsanjani said that Persian Gulf security cannot be guaranteed without Iranian cooperation.

Tehran parliamentary representative Mohsen Mirdamadi, who heads the National Security and Foreign Affairs Committee, said in a 29 November interview with the Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA) that there should not be any undue haste in the resumption of relations between Tehran and Washington but there should be no unnecessary delays, either. He explained that if Iran acts hastily and moves too quickly, "we may not be able to obtain the necessary concessions, and we may even give away some concessions.... Of course, we should not indefinitely delay talks and ties with America.... This is also wrong, and it will create a situation of pressure where we will have to make concessions."

Mirdamadi added, "The views of Iran and America have always been different and even contradictory over the issue of the usurping Israeli regime. But we could have common interests over other issues such as Afghanistan. Whether we say it or not, we have common interests with America over Afghanistan.... The existence of a strong central government in Afghanistan is to our benefit. Chaos and instability in Afghanistan is not in our interest. The Americans too prefer a strong central government in Afghanistan."

Mohammad Javad Larijani, the judiciary's foreign-policy adviser, recommended in the 3 December issue of "Entekhab" that Iran should take some foreign-policy risks, but at the same time it should be realistic, neither underestimating nor overestimating its potential. For example, he said, it is natural for students to attack a foreign embassy as a form of protest. Nevertheless, the government's "alliance" with the students who seized the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in 1979 was in the long run harmful to the country. (Bill Samii)

AFGHANS ACCUSED OF INGRATITUDE. As Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi headed for Bonn to participate in a conference on Afghanistan, the Iranian daily "Aftab-i Yazd" editorialized on 2 December that Afghanistan has shown its appreciation for 20 years of Iranian hospitality by shutting the flow of the Hirmand (Helmand) River's water into Iran. The daily said that when he returns Kharrazi would have to explain what he had won for the Iranian people in exchange for their help in Afghanistan, because they "cannot accept the closure of the Hirmand to their farmers while they continue to show generosity and munificence."

A 1973 Tehran-Kabul agreement establishes how much Hirmand River water should reach Iran. The river's water resumed flowing to Iran on 25 October and but stopped again about 10 days later (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 November 2002).

Indeed, Kharrazi met with Afghan President Hamid Karzai on 2 December to discuss resumption of the water flow, IRNA reported, and Karzai blamed the drought. At a press conference two days later, Kharrazi said that Karzai had invited Tehran to send somebody to confirm this, according to IRNA. Karzai told Kharrazi that they are waiting for seasonal rainfall so the water will resume flowing.

This could happen soon. The first snowfall in the northern provinces of Afghanistan was welcomed by Mashhad radio on 6 December. It speculated that with sufficient precipitation the Helmand River would flow again. (Bill Samii)

IRANIAN EMBASSY IN KABUL FACES TERRORIST THREAT. The Iranian charge d'affaires in Kabul, Ashjazadeh, told embassy staff on 4 December that Iranian facilities in the Afghan capital face a serious threat from Al-Qaeda and the Taliban, "Entekhab" daily newspaper reported on 5 December. Ashjazadeh said that two Al-Qaeda Arabs disguised as Afghans have entered Kabul to blow up the embassy, kill Iranian diplomats, or conduct a suicide operation. Ashjazadeh added, according to "Entekhab," "In the current circumstances and because there is an absence of security, the threat is very serious and a source of concern." He also said, "The bombers have plans for dispatching vehicles packed with bombs, placing explosives in cars used by the embassy and other Iranian offices, or causing explosions in front of the main embassy building." Ashjazadeh did not describe the source of his information, but he said the Iranian Embassy has no security measures.

Regardless of the terrorist threat, the Iranian Consulate in Kandahar has begun working. Mashhad radio's 6 December Dari-language broadcast reported that the consulate in Kandahar has not opened officially but that it has opened an office to manage consular affairs and issue visas to Kandahar businessmen. Other Iranian consulates are located in Herat and Mazar-i Sharif. (Bill Samii)

IRAN COMMEMORATES 'NAVY DAY.' Iran's Navy Day was celebrated on 28 November this year. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei commended a group of naval officers for the navy's achievements in attaining self-sufficiency, IRNA reported on 29 November. At the same gathering, commander of the regular naval forces Rear Admiral Abbas Mohtaj said that the navy would launch the "Sina-1" missile frigate (missile frigate in Persian is "Navcheh-yi Mushak-Andaz") by March 2003. Mohtaj said that design and construction of the Mowj destroyer would follow completion of the "Sina-1," state radio reported on 20 November.

Mohtaj also told reporters that the navy is prepared to defend Iran's territorial waters and its national interests. Mohtaj said that Iranian naval forces using sonar had detected a foreign submarine in the Caspian Sea and had chased it out of Iranian territorial waters, "Siyasat-i Ruz" reported on 23 November, but he did not say when this incident occurred, and he could not identify the country to which the submarine belonged. (Bill Samii)

IRANIAN STATE SEEKS QUIET 'STUDENT DAY'... The Iranian government's wariness over recent student unrest suggested that the 7 December Student Day (a.k.a. 16 Azar, its date on the Iranian calendar) would be fairly subdued this year. A permit for a rally by the main student organization was not issued, student leaders underwent interrogations at the Ministry of Intelligence and Security, and the president declined to meet with the students. A leading reformist figure suggested that the efforts at containing student sentiment have put Iran on the verge of a major political transformation.

The Tehran Province governor-general's office turned down the request for a rally permit from the majority faction of the country's main student organization, the Office for Strengthening Unity's Allameh branch, ISNA reported on 4 December. The governor-general's letter said, "it is not expedient to hold any form of rally or march in the current circumstances, and therefore it is not possible to issue a permit for such a rally."

The authorities used other means to make sure the students did not cause any more trouble. University officials refused to issue a permit for a news conference with four members of the Office for Strengthening Unity who were arrested in late November: Abdullah Momeni, Mehdi Aminzadeh, Amir-Hussein Balali, and Said Razavi-Faqih. Hadi Kahalzadeh of the Office for Strengthening Unity's Allameh branch explained that Allameh Tabatabai University Chancellor Najafqoli Habibi and Education Ministry representative Farshad Momeni were willing to issue the permit, "Hayat-i No" reported on 4 December, but the supreme leader's representative on the university's supervisory board, Mr. Fatemi, would not consent to holding such an event.

Moreover, the Ministry of Intelligence and Security summoned a number of student activists in the first week of December for questioning, "Iran" newspaper reported on 5 December. Hadi Kahalzadeh from Allameh Tabatabai University, Mujtaba Tardast from the Science and Technology University, and Arash Pahlavan-Nasir of the Office for Strengthening Unity's central council visited the Ministry of Intelligence and Security on 4 December, and a student from Shahid Beheshti University was there on 2 December. Most of the questions related to the recent campus demonstrations, and some of the students had to complete inquiry forms. Some observers said, according to "Iran," that it is better to be summoned to the ministry than to be interrogated at an undisclosed location, whereas others fear the documentation could be used against them later.

President Khatami, meanwhile, rejected pressure from his "radical aides" to participate in Student Day ceremonies or to speak at Tehran Teachers Training College (Tarbiat Mudariss) the next day, "Resalat" reported on 4 December. An editorial in the 5 December issue of the "Aftab-i Yazd" newspaper noted that this is the first time that Khatami would not address the students, and it added that he is in a delicate position. It said that he can no longer "respond with generalizations or expressions of hope" or "skirt around issues with a dignified silence," but he is not at a point where he can give clear answers.

Khatami's decision not to meet with the students, the "Aftab-i Yazd" editorial said, can be interpreted several ways. Some will see it as the end of dialogue between society and officialdom, while others will see it as a sign of Khatami's confusion. Nevertheless, according to the editorial, Khatami must act cautiously in the current tense atmosphere. If anything, Khatami's refusal to meet with the "ordinary people" should serve as a "serious warning" to those who have created such an atmosphere, according to "Aftab-i Yazd."

Parliamentarian Mohammad Reza Khatami, who is the secretary-general of the Islamic Iran Participation Party (IIPP), said that even before the 1979 revolution student activism was attributed to foreigners and political movements, IRNA reported on 4 December. Khatami said that the IIPP has not been active in the universities so far. He warned that Iran is on the verge of a "major transformation," and he added that what is provoking this transformation is "the illegal behavior of those authorities, the judicial authorities in particular, which are blocking the activities of the elected sector of the society." (Bill Samii)

...BUT STUDENTS HAVE OTHER IDEAS. Regardless of the Iranian government's efforts to prevent any Student Day demonstrations, a number of them took place around the country and some turned violent. The Tehran University Basij group warned in a communique that university officials were going to allow a gathering there despite the ban on such an event, "Entekhab" reported on 7 December. Hadi Panahi, speaking on behalf of the minority faction of the country's main student organization, the Shiraz branch of the Office for Strengthening Unity, said his group would sponsor speeches in the cities of Ardabil, Kashan, Mashhad, Mazandaran, Qazvin, Shiraz, Tabriz, and Zabol.

Office for Strengthening Unity spokesman Abdullah Momeni told an RFE/RL correspondent on 7 December that during a gathering of 3,000 people at Tehran University's Shahid Chamran Hall there were calls for a referendum on the country's form of government. There were also calls for the resignation of judiciary chief Ayatollah Mahmud Hashemi-Shahrudi, the freedom of political activist and university professor Hashem Aghajari, and the release of all political prisoners.

There was another gathering off campus at the burial place of murdered national-religious activists Dariush and Parvaneh Foruhar. Student activist Reza Mehregan participated in this gathering, and he told an RFE/RL correspondent that this group started chanting slogans as it marched toward the Tehran University campus. Among the slogans they chanted were, "Referendum, referendum"; "Political prisoners must be freed"; "Death to Taliban, in Kabul and Tehran"; "Khatami! Resign, resign"; and "One day Taliban will leave Iran," according to ISNA.

This latter group clashed with individuals identified by numerous sources as being in "plain clothes" and who presumably are members of the Basij and/or Ansar-i Hizbullah. The security forces tried to keep to the two sides apart and deployed tear gas. People on the university campus who saw what was happening tried to join the fight, but the campus gates had been locked. Therefore, they showed their support by throwing rocks. Reuters described "a cordon of buses around the campus to hamper the stone throwers and block the students from view," whereas Mehregan told RFE/RL that many buses were parked around the campus to take away people who were arrested. Tehran Governorate security official Ali Taala said later that the authorities arrested about 60 people, according to an ISNA report. Taala said that this was an unlicensed and therefore illegal event, and only a few of those arrested were students. Later that day, about 500 friends and relatives of the detainees gathered outside Tehran's central police station and clamored for their release, according to Reuters.

There were incidents elsewhere in the country. The Student Movement Coordination Committee for Democracy in Iran reported on 7 December that the police and vigilantes attacked a peaceful demonstration at Mashhad's Ferdosi University, and Basijis attacked protestors in the Namazi District of Shiraz. The student committee described similar incidents in Ahvaz and Isfahan. (Bill Samii)

POLLING-INSTITUTE TRIAL BEGINS. The first session of the trial of Ayandeh Research Institute directors Hussein Qazian, Abbas Abdi, and Ali Reza Alavi-Tabar was held in Tehran on 3 December, and a second hearing is scheduled for 8 December. The three pollsters face charges of espionage related to a survey, conducted by Ayandeh in cooperation with the Washington-based Gallup Organization, in which a majority of Tehran respondents favored the resumption of Iran-U.S. relations (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 7 October 2002 and 2 December 2002).

Also in attendance at the hearing was National Research and Opinion Poll Institute Managing Director Behruz Geranpayeh, whose organization participated in the poll. Presiding judge Said Mortazavi announced, ISNA reported on 3 December, "It has become clear in the course of the investigations and according to the statements of Geranpayeh himself that the National Research and Opinion Poll Institute, where Behruz Geranpayeh was the managing director, was cooperating with foreign institutes in collecting information and sending information to them, and, on this basis, the deputy head of the Justice Department lodged charges at Bench 1410."

A representative of the public prosecutor, Mr. Tashakori, said that information in the case comes from queries submitted to the Ministry of Intelligence and Security, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the Ministry of Islamic Culture and Guidance, according to state radio on 3 December. The accused are charged with setting up an unofficial Gallup office in Iran. Other charges include "secret and unlicensed contacts with institutes and individuals affiliated with foreign intelligence and security services;" secret contacts with a "Zionist institute, belonging to Jewish and Zionist elements in America, via a counterrevolutionary middle man;" and gathering information for a Swiss human rights organization. They are also charged with having "secret and unlicensed contacts and repeated meetings" with Columbia University Professor Gary Sick, with a British MI-6 official in Tehran, and participating in counterrevolutionaries' meetings in the United States and the United Kingdom.

The trial was supposed to start on 1 December, but it was delayed slightly because the defendants' attorneys complained that they had not had access to their clients or time to prepare. Hussein Qazian's lawyer, Ramazan Haji-Mashhadi, wrote in a letter to Judge Mortazavi that he only had time to study one out of five dossiers and was not ready to defend Qazian, according to "Siyasat-i Ruz," as cited by IRNA on 1 December. Saleh Nikbakht, representing Abdi, told "Siyasat-i Ruz" that he had not been informed of the charges against his client. Asked how he would defend his client, Nikbakht replied, "You should ask this question of Judge Mortazavi." (Bill Samii)

PRESIDENTIAL COMMITTEE TO INVESTIGATE POLLING CASE. President Khatami has appointed a three-member committee to look into the polling-institute trial, IRNA reported on 3 December. Khatami acted in response to a letter he received from 156 members of parliament in which they asked the president to ensure that there would be a proper decision in the case (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 2 December 2002). The committee consists of Vice President for Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Hojatoleslam Mohammad Ali Abtahi, Justice Minister Hojatoleslam Mohammad Ismail Shushtari, and Islamic Culture and Guidance Minister Ahmad Masjid-Jamei. (Bill Samii)

AGHAJARI AND HIS LAWYER UNHAPPY. Political activist and university professor Hashem Aghajari -- sentenced to death in early November for an allegedly blasphemous speech he made in June -- said in an open letter faxed to IRNA on 3 December that the verdict against him resulted from the judge's misinterpretation of his philosophical challenge. In his speech, Aghajari questioned the system of religious hierarchy, and he advocated people's freedom in choosing a source of emulation. Aghajari said the verdict is politically motivated.

Aghajari refused to appeal the verdict on principle, saying in a letter that his lawyer read to reporters on 13 November, according to IRNA: "The authorities that issued this verdict must carry it out if they think that the sentence was just. But if they believe that it was not fair, then the judicial branch must investigate the case, because the sentence was issued by the judicial apparatus." Aghajari's legal representative, Saleh Nikbakht, added at the time that he would try to persuade Aghajari to appeal (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 2 December 2002). Nikbakht in fact filed the appeal on 2 December.

Nikbakht said at a 2 December press conference that he filed the appeal because the 20-day deadline to do so was approaching, ISNA reported. Nikbakht said that the case should be dealt with in Tehran, where the judges are more experienced. Nikbakht pointed out Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei had called for a review of the case on 17 November, and he wondered why the president of the Supreme Court, the state prosecutor-general, and the head of the Judges' Disciplinary Court had not called for such a review. Nikbakht said that Aghajari should be freed on bail. He added, "I shall definitely file a lawsuit against the judge who spoke on television before the verdict was finalized." (Bill Samii)

...BUT THEY DON'T NEED SALMAN RUSHDIE'S HELP. A few weeks ago, the hard-line Ansar-i Hizballah group staged a march at which Aghajari was decried as "Iran's Salman Rushdie" (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 18 November 2002). A death sentence was passed against Rushdie in 1989 for insulting the Prophet Mohammad and his family in his book titled "The Satanic Verses," and the hard-liners were trying to compare Aghajari's criticism of current Shia orthodoxy with what Rushdie had done. But when Rushdie spoke out on Aghajari's behalf recently, the political organization most closely identified with Aghajari denounced the British author.

In an article about "a week in the wonderful world of Islam" that was published in "The New York Times" on 27 November, Rushdie noted that Aghajari is "a person with impeccable Islamist credentials." Nevertheless, Rushdie noted, Aghajari is in prison and facing a death sentence because he criticized the clerics who run Iran. Rushdie noted that Aghajari has been labeled as his Iranian namesake, and he did not mind this. Rushdie asked why Muslims are not protesting the capture of their religion by a bunch of fanatics, although he noted with approval the demonstrations in Iran.

Thanks but no thanks, Mr. Rushdie. The political group of which Aghajari is a member, the Mujahedin of the Islamic Revolution Organization, in a 3 December statement denounced Rushdie's article as a "new Satanic Verse," according to IRNA. The Mujahedin of the Islamic Revolution Organization statement accused Rushdie of trying to provoke fanaticism and foment discord, and it warned that extremists would use his article for propaganda purposes. (Bill Samii)

KHATAMI CRITICAL OF COURTS. President Khatami said during a 4 December press conference that he is not very happy with the conduct of the courts recently. Referring to the opinion-poll trial, which was to resume on 8 December, Khatami said, "I am not a judge, but I believe that the way the case was dealt with and its reporting in the press were not right. I hope that the case will be dealt with on the basis of the law," according to the official Vision of the Islamic Republic of Iran television network. And according to IRNA, Khatami criticized the judiciary for its failure to review Aghajari's case, as the supreme leader had instructed on 17 November. (Bill Samii)

NEW COURT TO BE ESTABLISHED... Judiciary spokesman Mir Mohammad Sadeqi announced on 2 December that the judiciary has decided to establish a discernment bench, according to Iranian state television. Sadeqi said that this bench would be used in cases where "a definite verdict is issued by the Court of First Instance and endorsed by the Appeal Court, but the convicted person still claims that the verdict against him is contrary to Sharia [Islamic law] principles or legal principles." Any defendant can send a request to the State Supreme Court to be investigated by one of the discernment benches. Sadeqi explained that religious-law experts would serve on each discernment bench, and they could investigate the case and make their judgments without the presence of the plaintiff, the judge of the Court of First Instance, or the defendant. Legislation proposed by the executive branch in September would enable it to overturn court decisions (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 18 November 2002), and the creation of the Discernment Bench may be intended to preclude the necessity of such a measure. (Bill Samii)

...AND PUBLIC PROSECUTOR'S OFFICE TO BE RESTORED. Tehran Justice Department chief Abbasali Alizadeh announced on 4 December that a public prosecutor's office would soon be established in the judiciary, IRNA reported. Alizadeh expressed the hope that the office would be opened during the 10-Day Dawn (the February anniversary of the Iranian revolution). Alizadeh described the opening of this office and the restoration of specialized courts that were eliminated in the early 1990s as two of the means by which the judiciary hopes to improve its performance.

According to IRNA, the changes implemented 10 years ago were meant to accelerate the judicial process. In fact, magistrates were saddled with conducting investigations as well as delivering verdicts, and they were forced to pass judgment on cases in which they did not have sufficient expertise. Under the new system, the prosecutor would be distinct from, and independent of, the judge and the accused, and the judge could maintain his neutrality.

Judiciary spokesman Hussein Mirmohammadi announced on 25 November that a law restoring the public prosecutor's office and specialized courts would come into effect within the next three weeks, Iranian state television reported. Mirmohammadi told journalists that the Iranian parliament had ratified the law and the Guardians Council subsequently approved it. Mirmohammadi said that public prosecutors would be "in charge of investigations [and] detecting offenses and crimes," and eventually there would be a "public prosecutor in every public prosecutor's office to deal with the initial investigations." (Bill Samii)

MOIN SAVED FROM INTERPELLATION. Speaker of parliament Hojatoleslam Mehdi Karrubi announced on 8 December that a motion to interpellate Minister of Science, Research, and Technology Mustafa Moin has been withdrawn by the legislators who originally submitted it, IRNA reported. Karrubi expressed his gratitude, noting that the interpellation process could have delayed action on legislation.

Some 20 conservative members of the legislature submitted the interpellation motion, "Resalat" reported on 1 December, according to an IRNA dispatch the next day. The legislators are critical of the ministry's officials for provoking Iranian students to stage rallies against Aghajari's death sentence. "Resalat" cited Kuhdasht representative Ali Emami-Rad as saying that some university deans were turning the campuses into "rooms of war and devising plots against the system."

Tabriz parliamentarian Ahmad Shirzad said on 3 December that this would be a good opportunity for Moin to defend his performance, according to ISNA. Shirzad went on to say that Moin and ministry officials are being made into scapegoats for the student unrest in November: "Apparently the officials of the ministry are targeted so as to distract attention from the main objectives of the students' protests. It seems that the government officials are going to be blamed for the students' activities." Shirzad predicted that Moin would survive the interpellation motion.

Shirzad concluded, "If the members of parliament who proposed the motion against Dr. Moin are really concerned about the state of higher education, universities, and research in the country, they better spare a thought for the fate of a bill on the objectives of the Ministry of Science, Research, and Technology that has hit the obstacle of the Guardian Council's censorship for more than 1 1/2 years." (Bill Samii)

EIGHT MINISTERS TO FACE QUESTIONING. Minister of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics Ali Shamkhani; Foreign Minister Kharrazi; Agriculture Jihad Minister Mahmud Hojjati; Energy Minister Habibullah Bitaraf; Roads and Transport Minister Ahmad Khoram; Health, Treatment, and Medical Education Minister Masud Pezeshkian; Commerce Minister Mohammad Shariatmadari; and Labor and Social Affairs Minister Safdar Husseini are scheduled to appear before the parliament in the first week of December to answer questions, "Iran Daily" reported on 1 December.

The parliament's Social Committee will examine a plan to permit the non-Iranian husbands of Iranian women to reside permanently in Iran, according to "Iran Daily," and the related bill will be debated in the full legislature in early December. Tehran representative Fatemeh Haqiqatju explained in "Afarinesh" daily, as cited by IRNA on 1 December, that thousands of Iranian women have married Afghan immigrants over the last 20 years. The forcible repatriation of these Afghans has created problems for the women, because, although a foreign woman married to an Iranian male automatically is eligible for Iranian citizenship, the opposite is not the case. Tehran parliamentarian Elahe Kulyai added that the bill calls for granting Iranian citizenship to Afghans who married Iranian females before 21 March 2002.

The Social Committee will also look into an administrative and employment plan for the Industries and Mines Ministry, according to "Iran Daily." The Industries and Mines Committee will examine the Industries and Mines Ministry's performance in the first five months of the year and will also discuss e-commerce.

On 3 December, the Education and Research Committee will meet at the request of Hamedan representative Hamid-Reza Haji-Babai. Haji-Babai is the sponsor of a motion to investigate the Education and Training Ministry (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 11 November 2002).

The Health Committee must choose replacements for Alireza Nuri and Mahmud Hashem-Zehi, head and deputy head of the committee, respectively, who were killed in an automobile accident on 30 October. The Energy Committee will finalize a report on the electrical-power industry, and the Plan and Budget Committee will examine a plan to restructure the health-services sector. (Bill Samii)

LEGISLATORS CALL FOR BIGGER FARMING BUDGET. Two-thirds of the parliamentarians in attendance at its 3 December session called for a 30 percent increase in next year's budget for the agriculture and water sectors, IRNA reported. In a letter to President Mohammad Khatami, 200 representatives wrote that it is logical to extend more credit to these sectors because of their importance in sustainable development and employment. The letter called for allocation of funds for irrigation projects that would turn a quick profit, rescheduling loan repayment, and earmarking enough hard currency to strengthen mechanized farming and processing industries. The letter writers also called for a television channel that would be exclusively about farming matters. (Bill Samii)

TEHRAN CONSIDERS PETROL RATIONING. Parliamentary Energy Committee head Hussein Afarideh said on 4 December that gasoline should be rationed in order to check excessive consumption of it, IRNA reported. Gasoline is heavily subsidized in Iran, and Afarideh said that adjustment to the subsidy regime could reduce excessive gasoline use. Gasoline use increased 9 percent in the period from March to November 2002 in comparison with the same period in the previous year. The average daily gasoline-consumption level was as high as 59.5 million liters in the Iranian month of Shahrivar (23 August-22 September), according to IRNA. Iran imported 9.5 million liters of gasoline in the first seven months of the Iranian year, 28 percent more than in the same period last year.

Contributing to the excessive consumption of gasoline is the dilapidated state of many automobiles in Iran. Speaking in Bojnurd, Khorasan Province, Esrafiyan parliamentary representative Reza Nurizadeh said on 4 December that there are more than 1.5 million cars that have been operating on average for more than 20 years on Iranian roads, IRNA reported. Nurizadeh said that the legislature would consider a bill on eliminating such cars "in the near future." Also under consideration is a project to convert Iranian cars to use natural gas as fuel. (Bill Samii)

MORE IRANIAN WOMEN BURNING THEMSELVES. The head of the Burns Unit of Mashhad's Imam Reza Hospital, Dr. Amuzegar, said on 4 December that women were responsible for 80 percent of the cases of self-immolation in Khorasan Province in the year starting March 2002, according to ISNA. Amuzegar said that this marks an increase in comparison with the previous year, and he attributed these incidents to family disputes, forced marriages, poverty, and poor living standards. Amuzegar added, "Most of the individuals who take this action are totally unaware of its consequences and resulting problems, and regret it within the first few seconds." (Bill Samii)

UN REPORTS ON IRANIAN POPULATION. The UN Population Fund (UNFPA) on 3 December released its "State of World Population 2002" report (http://www.unfpa.org/swp/2002/pdf/english/swp2002eng.pdf). The report asserts that global population is projected to increase from 6.2 billion people now to 9.2 billion by 2050, and that in that period the number of people living in the least developed countries will triple, from 600 million to 1.8 billion.

Iran's total population in 2002 is 72.4 million people, according to the UNFPA report, and by 2050 it is projected to rise to 121.4 million, representing an average annual population growth rate of 1.4 percent. Iran's infant-mortality rate is 36 out of 1,000 live births, while male/female life expectancy is at 68.8 and 70.8 years, respectively. About 65 percent of Iran's people live in urban areas, and the urban population is growing at a rate of 2.4 percent per year.

The report notes that controlling population growth is a key to reversing the worsening spiral of poverty in the world's poorest countries. UNFPA official Andre de Clerq said in an interview with RFE/RL (see "World: UN Report Says Population Control Key To Solving Severe Poverty," rferl.org, 3 December 2002) that there is a small window of time in which reduced fertility increases the ratio of working-age adults to children and allows more women to work, thus raising the overall productivity of a population.

As de Clerq explained, "The number of children diminishes while the active population augments, so that this active population that works -- and lower fertility also allows more women to work -- [can] have better earnings, can educate children better, and have better opportunities, then, for their children. And so this demographic window appears only once in the transition of a population."

The benefits of lowered fertility begin to dissipate as the adult generation ages and leaves the workforce, but the economic improvements can continue if countries invest wisely in health care and industrial development. Other important factors, according to the report, are ensuring reproductive health and rights, elimination of gender inequality, and reducing the spread of HIV/AIDS.

UNFPA is involved in a program to empower poor Iranian women in Sistan va Baluchistan Province, Bushehr Province, Gulistan Province, Kurdistan Province, and Islamshahr township near Tehran. UNFPA, according to its report, is cooperating with the Center for Women's Participation to introduce a pilot income-generation scheme for poor women in a number of villages. Through a revolving fund mechanism, women who are heads of households have received loans to engage in animal husbandry, carpet weaving, sewing, and fishing. A project with the Literacy Movement combines literacy training and skills development with reproductive-health education, and after undergoing the training, women receive seed money to start the businesses for which they have been trained. (Bill Samii)

IRAN-ARMENIA GAS DISCUSSIONS RESUME. A 17-person delegation of Armenian officials headed by presidential administration chief Artashes Tumanyan began the fourth meeting of the Iranian-Armenian economic commission in Tehran on 5 December, ITAR-TASS news agency reported, and the commission will continue its work until 12 December. The two sides are to discuss prospects for transporting natural gas from Iran to Armenia, as well as bilateral cooperation in transport, communication, banking, trade, power engineering, science, and education. Deputy foreign ministers from Greece and Armenia met with their Iranian counterpart in Tehran on 12 November and discussed gas transport, and Tehran and Kyiv discussed the transport of natural gas via Armenia in October (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 21 October 2002 and 2 December 2002). (Bill Samii)

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