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Iran Report: August 20, 2001

20 August 2001, Volume 4, Number 31

TEHRAN REACTS TO U.S. COURT JUDGEMENTS. Judiciary chief Ayatollah Mahmud Hashemi-Shahrudi has announced the establishment of a new court to pursue complaints against the United States. Hashemi-Shahrudi told "Qods" daily that the cases to be investigated by the court include the failed hostage rescue mission at Tabas in 1980, the shooting down of an Iranian passenger aircraft by the U.S.S. Vincennes in 1988, and "various other U.S. crimes." The new court also will address cases dealing with Israel, Tehran radio announced on 12 August.

A little over one month earlier, Expediency Council Chairman Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani had called for lawsuits against the U.S. (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 16 July 2001), and the Judiciary announced that a Tehran court of common pleas had been assigned this responsibility. Judiciary spokesman Hussein Mir-Mohammad Sadeqi said that "Iranians can file complaints when foreign countries have broken international conventions, causing prejudice to Iranian nationals." Last November the parliament and the Guardians Council approved legislation that allowed "victims of U.S. interference" to sue the U.S.

The most recent decision against Iran was in a suit filed by the family of Reverend Lawrence M. Jenco, who was director of Catholic Relief Services in Beirut when he was abducted in January 1985 and held hostage for 564 days. A U.S. federal judge ruled that the government of Iran must pay $314.6 million to Jenco's family. The judge said that Jenco was treated "little better than a caged animal" -- his captors chained, beat, threatened, and blindfolded him, "The Washington Post" reported on 4 August. In an earlier case, a federal judge ruled that Tehran must pay $247 million in punitive damages to the family of Alisa Flatow, an American student who was killed in a 1995 suicide bus bombing in the Gaza Strip. In all, U.S. courts have ordered Iran to pay damages in a terrorism case eight times, and Tehran has not defended itself in any of the cases.

In these cases, damages are to be secured from Iranian assets that have been frozen in the U.S. since 1979. Mohammad Hadi Nejad-Husseinian, Iran's permanent representative to the United Nations, claimed that Washington has seized about $1.6 billion of these frozen assets to pay for the damages in these court cases, according to the 11 August "Tehran Times." He went on to say that the remaining 20 percent of the damages has been paid for by the U.S. government.

Tehran's reaction to the most recent court judgement? "The interesting point is that Western citizens, including the American hostages in Lebanon, were released in 1985 with the mediation of Iran. Had Iran not mediated for their release, all the hostages could have lost their lives," state radio said on 5 August. These Westerners were held by Iranian proxies, at least two American hostages -- William Buckley and William Higgins -- were murdered by their captors after being tortured, and the release of others owed something to the Reagan administration's arms-for-hostages deal. But Tehran radio expressed its surprise: "Local courts in the U.S. are now giving a hostile response to Iran's friendly measure." Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid-Reza Assefi rejected the ruling in the Jenco case as "unlawful," IRNA reported on 5 August, and he said that there were "political motivations" behind the decisions.

Meanwhile, the family of former Prime Minister Shahpur Bakhtiar, who was assassinated by Iranian agents in 1991, has filed a $165 million wrongful death lawsuit in a California court against the Iranian government. The suit, which was filed on 6 August, names the Islamic Republic of Iran, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the Ministry of Intelligence and Security as defendants. (Bill Samii)

PARLIAMENT BEGINS DELIBERATIONS ON NEW CABINET. President Mohammad Khatami has not had much of a honeymoon since being re-elected in June. The courts have summoned his parliamentary allies, reformist newspapers are being closed, his inauguration was postponed, and now it seems that some of his proposed cabinet members will face parliamentary opposition.

The legislature's deliberations on the cabinet candidates began on 18 August, and below is the list Khatami introduced on 12 August. Five new names appear on the list (in parentheses), and one current minister will assume a new portfolio.

Min. of Agriculture Jihad_____________Mahmud Hojjati
Min. of Commerce_________________Mohammad Shariatmadari
Min. of Cooperatives_______________Morteza Haji-Qaem
___________________________________(Ali Sufi proposed)
Min. of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics__Ali Shamkhani
Min. of Economic Affairs and Finance__Hussein Namazi
________________________(Tahmasb Mazaheri-Khorasani proposed)
Min. of Education and Training________Hussein Mozafar
________________________________(Morteza Haji-Qaem proposed)
Min. of Energy_____________________Habibollah Bitaraf
Min. of Foreign Affairs_______________Kamal Kharrazi
Min. of Health, Treatment, and Medical Education__Mohammad Farhadi
_________________________________(Masud Pezeshkian proposed)
Min. of Housing and Urban Development___Ali Abdol-Alizadeh
Min. of Industries and Mines___________Eshaq Jahangiri-Koshai
Min. of Intelligence and Security________Ali Yunesi
Min. of Interior_____________________Abdol Vahed Musavi-Lari
Min. of Islamic Culture and Guidance____Ahmad Masjid-Jamei
Min. of Justice______________________Mohammad Esmail Shushtari
Min. of Labor and Social Affairs_________Hussein Kamali
_________________________________(Safdar Husseini proposed)
Min. of Petroleum___________________Bijan Namdar-Zanganeh
Min. of Post, Telegraph and Telephone (PTT) __Ahmad Motamedi
Min. of Roads and Transport___________empty
_________________________________(Ahmad Khorram proposed)
Min. of Science, Research and Technology__Mostafa Moin-Najafabadi

Many members of parliament expressed disappointment with the proposals. Mohammad-Reza Khabbaz told IRNA on 12 August that up to seven of them may get votes of no confidence. Malayer's Bijan Shahbaz-Khani said that Morteza Haji was not a good choice as education minister, and he also expressed his unhappiness with Pezeshkian at the Health Ministry, ISNA reported. Elahe Kulayi predicted that the nominees for the Ministries of Economic Affairs, Foreign Affairs, Oil, PTT, Health, and Education would have trouble getting enough votes, IRNA reported on 13 August. Ardestan representative Valiollah Tavakolitaba Zavarei said that the majority of the candidates do not have the required experience, education, or aptitude for the jobs, "Iran News" reported on 13 August, and Rajabali Mazrui said that the president should have chosen more competent candidates.

Parliamentarian Rasul Montajabnia, who is on the central council of the relatively moderate Militant Clerics Association (Majma-yi Ruhaniyun-i Mobarez), said that six of the nominees were not qualified to undertake their duties. He said that the person nominated to the Education Ministry is better suited for the Labor Ministry, and the nominees for the Ministries of Defense, Economics, Foreign Affairs, and PTT were objectionable.

Indeed, the choice of Shamkhani is an odd one, since he ran against Khatami in the presidential election. This choice probably was made by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Oil Minister Bijan Namdar-Zanganeh has had a particularly difficult time lately, having had to deal with allegations of corruption in his ministry. Moreover, there is criticism of "buy-back" arrangements whereby foreign companies help explore and develop oil and gas fields in exchange for a share of the profits once oil or gas begins to flow, while production itself remains under Iranian control. Such deals are considered quite conservative by oil companies, but in Iran they are seen as a means by which foreigners can come to dominate the energy sector. Abadan deputy Mohammad Rashidian, who is a member of the parliamentary Energy Commission, said on 13 August that the Energy Commission opposes Zanganeh.

Khatami's failure to appoint any females has generated anger, too. Deputy Fatemeh Rakei questioned the president about this omission, according to the 15 August "Iran," and he responded that females would be used at other administrative levels. "Sources close to Khatami," however, said that the Supreme Leader objected to the president's desire to appoint a female education minister and cooperatives minister, "Al-Sharq al-Awsat" reported on 15 August.

Khatami may have avoided some of this opposition and hostility had he consulted with parliament when selecting his cabinet. But he was inundated with up to 600 recommendations and requests from groups, factions, and individuals, according to Beshahr deputy Rahmani-Khalili. So in the end, the president made his choices on the basis of compatibility, "Iran" reported on 15 August. "Iran Daily" noted one day earlier that Khatami's first cabinet did not have a collective spirit, and accountability and transparency were not in evidence either. And when Khatami met with the "new" cabinet on 14 August, he described unity among the ministers as a condition for fulfilling people's needs, state television reported.

Divisions within the pro-Khatami 2nd of Khordad front will have an effect on the process of approving cabinet members. When Khatami met with 2nd of Khordad deputies to discuss the proposed cabinet, only the Executives of Construction were absent. Two years ago this would have been unimaginable, because the ECP and its secretary-general, Gholamhussein Karbaschi, were instrumental in Khatami's 1997 victory. But an ideological gap is increasingly evident between the pro-Khatami reformists and the ECP technocrats linked with former President Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani. Indeed, Abadan deputy Mohammad Rashidian complained that "the proposed ministers for the economy [sic] sector are the same people who served in previous governments, including that of Hashemi-Rafsanjani, whose service in government only resulted in poverty and unemployment in society."

In fact, during the Hashemi-Rafsanjani presidency Moin-Najafabadi, Namdar-Zanganeh, and Shushtari served as ministers, and Abdol-Alizadeh, Hojjati, Jahangiri, Khorram, and Sufi served as provincial governors. So this too could be a reason for parliamentary opposition to Khatami's proposed cabinet. Regardless of the reasons behind such opposition to the cabinet, this kind of start indicates that Khatami is in for a long four years. (Bill Samii)

TEHRAN SAYS UNEMPLOYMENT RATE DOWN... Vice President for Management and Planning Mohammad Reza Aref-Yazdi said on 28 July that the unemployment rate now stands at 13.7 percent, down from the 14.2 percent rate in March, according to IRNA. This assertion is questionable in light of statistical and anecdotal evidence, and it probably does not account for disguised unemployment, underemployment in the governmental bureaucracy and in para-statal organizations, and very low productivity.

"Taking into account the immense number of hidden, seasonal or unregistered jobless people, independent economists and experts at the parliament research center believe that the real jobless number is several times the figure above and the unemployment rate over 25 percent," "Kar va Kargar" reported on 14 June. The pro-labor daily stated that the government manipulates statistics and even presents false statistics in an effort to hide its planning failures. "With the present economic pace in the country, the number of unemployed will reach 6 million quite soon," Expediency Council secretary Mohsen Rezai warned, according to the 23 June "Abrar."

Regardless of specific numbers, it is clear that unemployment is causing unrest in Iran. Western news agencies occasionally report on workers' unrest in Tehran. Unemployment and poor workers' conditions in other parts of Iran get less attention, but complaints are heard from the provinces, too. In Shahanjerin, which is about 100 kilometers from Hamedan, police arrested 20 people after some 300 locals attacked a cement factory in a protest against layoffs, "Tehran Times" reported on 2 August, while employees of Kashan textile plants staged a protest against receiving only partial wages. In Gulistan Province, there are some 50,000 weavers of Turkman carpets, whereas there were 160,000 weavers 18 years ago. The Gonbad-i Kavus Commerce Department chief added that these weavers receive low wages, IRNA reported on 1 August, while an academic expert said that the marketing of these products has not been very successful.

The chief of the Mazandaran Province Workers House complained that factories are closing and workers' rights are being ignored, "Kar va Kargar" reported on 16 July. The chief of the East Azerbaijan Workers House said that privatization of factories in the country is not creating jobs or job security and does not maximize the quantity or quality of labor, Tabriz's "Mahd-i Azadi" reported on 13 June. Some employers in East Azerbaijan Province use short-term contracts for their employees so they can avoid paying insurance, "Fajr-i Azerbaijan" reported on 14 April. About 120,000 people have registered at the provincial unemployment office since 1992, the East Azerbaijan labor and social affairs chief explained.

Khoy, West Azerbaijan Province, is traditionally an area where agriculture and animal husbandry thrived and provided jobs for many people. But now, according to the "Khoy" newspaper of 12 May, the government is emphasizing the creation of a "compound cycle power plant," whereas a pasteurized milk factory would employ more people and help the province more. The Khoy Sugar Cube plant is not used nine months out of the year due to a lack of sugar beets -- and local farmers do not grow sugar beets because the government does not help them. The plant, therefore, buys sugar beets from Azerbaijan's Nakhichevan exclave.

The head of the Kermanshah Province Teachers' Higher Education and Public Management Center said that there are about 133,000 unemployed people in the province, and 80 percent of these people are unskilled and do not have diplomas, "Resalat" reported on 5 March. Hashemi, the Isfahan Province planning director, predicted that unemployment there would reach 15.9 percent by 2004, and there would be 224,000 people without jobs, "Kar va Kargar" reported on 5 March.

State officials are well aware of the political and social impact of unemployment, and job creation is major aspect of the Third Five-Year Development Plan. President Mohammad Khatami stressed the importance of job creation and the campaign against unemployment in a 2 July speech. He said that at least 760,000 jobs a year must be created. (Bill Samii)

...UNEMPLOYMENT LEADS TO IRAQIS' REPATRIATION. Tehran's forcible repatriation of Iraqi refugees is not as commonly recognized as the similar treatment suffered by Afghan refugees, but all foreign workers have been targeted because they supposedly take jobs from Iranians and the government is eager to solve its unemployment problem. This has led Iraqi figures to ask Tehran to reconsider its actions.

Independent Iraqis and those representing opposition organizations sent a letter to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami in which they threatened to pursue a lawsuit if the ban on Iraqis working in Iran was not rescinded. The campaign against Iraqi workers includes television and radio announcements urging Iranians to contact specific phone numbers to inform on Iraqi workers, Abha's "Al-Watan" reported on 9 August. The letter reminded the Iranians about the sacrifices their Arab guests made during the Iran-Iraq War, "Al-Hayat" reported on 6 August, and warned that repatriations will "provide an opportunity for their enemies to drive a wedge in these relations and implement the satanic schemes that target the entire Islamic nation."

Three Iraqi clerics -- Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq Chairman Ayatollah Mohammad Baqir al-Hakim, Murtada al-Askari, and Sheikh Mohammad Mahdi al-Assefi -- met with President Khatami in late June and asked him to exempt their compatriots from the plan to expel foreign workers, "Al-Hayat" reported. There are about 213,000 Iraqis in Iran, according to "Al-Watan," while "Al-Hayat" says that there are about 450,000 there. (Bill Samii)

PUBLIC REVULSION WITH FLOGGINGS AND HANGINGS. Police (according to Reuters) or plainclothes vigilantes (according to the reformist "Noruz" daily) fired tear gas at a crowd in southeastern Tehran on 15 August as people tried to prevent the authorities from carrying out a public hanging, and the police/vigilantes also seized photographers' cameras and beat up reporters. In early July, a riot broke out at a public flogging in Tehran when bystanders could not stomach the authorities' actions. Public sentiment against such penalties and efforts by President Mohammad Khatami's administration have so far failed to rein in public punishments.

Tehran journalist Fariborz Gharib described the July incident in an interview with RFE/RL's Persian Service. "[In early July] a court of the Islamic Republic sentenced 16 people to be flogged in public. The sentence was carried out in a very populous neighborhood. A lot of onlookers, including young people, gathered immediately. One very strong young man received his lashes then got up as if he were indifferent to being flogged. His manner elicited cheers from the crowd." But then the mood changed, according to Gharib: "As the onlookers realized that the accused were 16 ordinary people [like themselves], the atmosphere turned into a feeling of disgust and, finally into a riot. Disciplinary police had to attack the onlookers with batons and beat them and even arrested a few and took them off."

Two people were hanged in Mashhad on 15 August, and five more were hanged in Tehran. Close to 20 public executions and an untold number of floggings have occurred in the last two months. The executions, usually hangings, are the punishment for murder and for drug smuggling, and many believe that political dissidents are executed under this guise.

The floggings, usually of young men, are for offenses such as flirting with girls and drinking alcohol. On 14 August, 13 young men were whipped in Tehran, six were flogged a few days earlier, and another 14 received 70-80 lashes each on 24 July. But there have been exceptions: on 10 July, some 20 dealers in pornographic CDs and videotapes were flogged in Tehran's Imam Khomeini Square, while plainclothes security personnel barred IRNA correspondents from taking photographs. And in mid-June a Tehran court sentenced a 20-year-old runaway girl to 50 lashes, as well as jail time, after her brother (her guardian) complained that she was staying away from home and having extramarital relations with a boy.

In some cases these floggings have sparked a public reaction, but not always. A late July flogging in Borujerd -- five young men received 74 lashes each -- elicited almost no reaction from bystanders, a local journalist who requested anonymity told RFE/RL's Persian Service. "The onlookers had come there without any prior notice and there were about 200, 250, 300 people, not very many. They were just watching. There was no particular reaction which I could say meant they were opposing it, or encouraging it, or condemning it. They might have whispered among themselves but they were just watching the flogging."

President Khatami's administration has called for an end to the public floggings. Ali Taali, director-general for security affairs in the Tehran governorate, said on 31 July that orders for floggings would have to be reviewed by the Interior Ministry. This clearly had no effect, since the public floggings have continued, and Deputy Interior Minister Mohammad-Javad Haqshenas told IRNA on 15 August that "Interior Minister Abdol-Vahed Musavi-Lari is sharply opposed to the floggings which, instead of making the victims repentant, increase public sympathy for them aside from being contrary to the Islamic objective."

But by far the most outrageous form of public punishment in Iran is the stoning of adulterers. For the execution, the condemned person is partially buried in a pit and then pelted by court-appointed officials or ordinary citizens with stones that are large enough to cause pain, but not large enough to kill immediately. In June a woman identified as Robabeh was sentenced to death in this way for adultery and for murdering her husband. In May a woman was stoned to death at Evin Prison for acting in pornographic films and having sexual relationships outside marriage.

Former Revolutionary Prosecutor Ayatollah Seyyed Hussein Musavi-Tabrizi said that it is not up to the Judiciary to decide when to implement punishments publicly, "Noruz" reported on 12 August. The final decision rests with the Leadership, the Expediency Council, and the heads of the three powers, because it is a matter that affects the system's reputation. Musavi-Tabrizi gave some examples from his own time: "when I was the chief revolutionary public prosecutor, the process of stoning in public and amputating hands was reduced to a minimum.... I gained an audience with the Imam and asked him what shall we do with women whose adultery has been proved? He graciously said: If it was proven kill them, but do not stone them, for it would be degrading the system." (Bill Samii)

PARLIAMENT CRITICIZES PRISON CONDITIONS. The Iranian parliament's Article 90 Committee, which looks into complaints against the Executive, the Judiciary, and the Legislature, on 14 August criticized conditions in which prisoners are held in jail and their lack of access to lawyers and to their families. The committee accused the Judiciary of multiple violations of the most basic rights of prisoners. Committee Chairman Hassan Ansari-Rad said the Judiciary refused to cooperate with its inquiry and did not allow committee members to meet imprisoned opposition figures and journalists.

The reformist parliamentarians were concerned mainly with those being held for political offenses, but recent incidents underline the difficulties faced by the country's convicts. Eight inmates at Golpayegan Prison in Isfahan Province escaped on 26 July by staging a riot, stealing guns from the prison armory, taking a guard hostage, and fleeing in a car. In mid-July a riot erupted at the southeastern Iranshahr Prison when a guard seized two kilograms of heroin. During their six-hour rampage, the rioters injured the guard (a conscript), attacked the buildings, and complained about the conditions, according to IRNA. In West Azerbaijan Province the prison population is increasing and has surpassed the penitentiaries' capacity. Hojatoleslam Akbar Feiz said there are 3,500 prisoners in the province, but the population in the Maku facility sometimes fluctuates by 300 percent due to illegal entries and exits, "Mahd-i Azadi" reported on 26 June.

Judiciary chief Ayatollah Mahmud Hashemi-Shahrudi called on 6 August for regular inspections of Iranian prisons, saying that this would be a way to address convicts' problems. A prelude to dealing with overcrowded prisons is finding a solution to unemployment, according to Prisons, Security, and Correction Organization head Seyyed Mahmud Bakhtiari. Bakhtiari said that the prison population increased by 40 percent in the last year, IRNA reported on 28 June. There are about 160,000 people in Iranian prisons, about two-thirds of them are there for drug-related offenses, and most of them are aged between 22 and 38.

These figures do not account for all the prisoners because all of Iran's prisons are not under Bakhtiari's control -- the Law Enforcement Forces, LEF precincts, the Armed Forces Judicial Organization (AFJO), the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps, the Judiciary, and the Revolutionary Courts each run their own facilities (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 22 January 2001). Bakhtiari said in an April interview with "Payam-i Imruz" that the Ministry of Intelligence and Security's detention facilities would soon come under his jurisdiction. Moreover, the figures may change even more because of plans to move all drug-related convicts to camps in remote locations: "If we take this group, which is about two-thirds of all prisoners, out of prison, we will be proud in terms of international propaganda and also the problem of lack of space for the rest of the prisoners will be solved." So far there are camps in eight provinces, according to Bakhtiari, and there will be two more camps by March 2002.

Bakhtiari also said: "We welcome visits by the Principle 90 Commission to prisons and prisoners. We ourselves have invited it several times." He then described the exceptions to that rule: "There are instances, however, when they request to visit a particular prisoner who is being held under an arrest warrant. In this case a meeting is not possible because we are not allowed to arrange a meeting unless a judicial authority issues permission." (Bill Samii)

IRAN POPULAR WITH TOURISTS. 1.7 million tourists visited Iran in the March 2000-March 2001 period, Nasrollah Mostofi, deputy head of Iran's tourism organization, said at a Tehran conference. Three times more tourists visit Iran now than in 1997, Mostofi said according to a 14 August IRNA report, and Iran registered a 30 percent annual increase in tourist visits in the past five years. Iran placed second in South Asia, behind India, for tourist revenues and visitors. Mostofi added that Iran is implementing a national plan to develop the tourism industry.

The actual number of tourists visiting Iran is less than 100,000 a year, according to the tourism affairs chief at the Oppressed and Disabled Foundation (Bonyad-i Mostazafan va Janbazan), Ahad Mohammadi. He said that the government needs to promote tourism more aggressively and many hotels do not provide adequate services for domestic and foreign tourists, IRNA reported on 28 July. Mohammadi added that tourists responded in surveys that services at hotels and historical sites were inadequate and lodgings were of low quality. The visitors did, however, praise Iranian hospitality.

The previous week, a visiting official from the World Tourism Organization (WTO) said that Hamedan Province would be the site of a pilot project for establishing the national tourism project, and the WTO and UN Development Program would establish tourist information centers in Hamedan, Isfahan, and Shiraz. She added that lodging would have to be upgraded to international standards, language training centers were necessary, and management and marketing had to be strengthened. (Bill Samii)