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Iran Report: May 8, 2000


8 May 2000, Volume 3, Number 18

REFORMISTS DOMINATE SECOND ROUND. Iranians went to the polls on 5 May for the second round of the parliamentary election. And by the next day, reformists were claiming a sweeping victory. Behzad Nabavi, spokesman for the reformist 2nd of Khordad Front, said that 71.2 percent of the elected candidates are reformists, 15.15 percent are conservatives, and the remainder are independents. Nabavi broke this down as 47 reformists, 10 conservatives, and nine independents. If true, this will give the reformists a majority in parliament, with about 185-190 seats.

The first round of voting for parliament's 290 seats was held on 18 February, and in the second round, votes were cast in constituencies where no candidate managed to get over 25 percent of the votes cast. Eligible to vote were those who voted in the same constituencies in the first round or who did not participate in the first round, according to Interior Ministry official Javad Qadimi Zaker.

The whole affair was steeped in some confusion. It was not until shortly before the actual election day that the government announced that at issue would be 66 seats in 52 constituencies. Next year, furthermore, by-elections will be held in 12 constituencies where the Guardians Council overturned the first-round results. And there was a hint that the council might interfere with the second-round results when it announced that "those who protest the runoff elections can lodge their complaints with the secretariat of the Guardian Council within seven days from election day." ("Thousands" protested against electoral irregularities in Khoy, and there were clashes between locals and security forces, the Student Movement Coordination Committee for Democracy in Iran reported on 6 May.)

Also, the Guardians Council still has not announced the final results for Tehran's 30 seats. In a 4 May statement, the council said that all the Tehran ballot boxes would be recounted because major discrepancies were being discovered. The statement gave as an example a ballot box in which the number of votes for candidate Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani was put at zero, but after recounting it turned out that Rafsanjani had 1,022 votes.

The Interior Ministry extended the polling hours "due to the voters' enthusiastic participation, particularly in the final hours of voting." Some 4,662,442 people voted this time, Zaker told state television on 6 May.

The new parliament is supposed to be sworn in at the end of May. It will, in theory, cooperate with President Mohammad Khatami in implementing the reforms he supposedly represents. His cabinet members, furthermore, may be safe from the interpellation efforts that the last parliament used against former Interior Minister Abdullah Nuri or Islamic Culture and Guidance Minister Ataollah Mohajerani. But the parliament will face opposition from the Guardians Council, which must approve all legislation before it becomes law.

And the rumors of a possible coup by the Islamic Revolution Guard Corps persist. Even if such an event does not occur, the very danger that it might do so may dampen the new parliamentarians' enthusiasm. And the shooting of prominent reformist Said Hajjarian may instill them with some caution. (Bill Samii)

TRUE CONFESSIONS OR TRUE LIES? During show trials the accused make confessions that are almost undoubtedly coerced, while the government staging the trial crows about the fairness of the proceedings. It is a reminder of Stalin's Soviet Union, as described in Victor Serge's "The Case of Comrade Tulayev," when people who have never even met are portrayed by the regime as participants in a grand conspiracy, and they eventually confess to crimes they never even considered.

Three of the 13 Jews facing espionage charges confessed, lawyer Ismail Nasseri-Mojarrad announced on 30 April. (After the first session, on 13 April, Nasseri denied that any confessions were made; see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 17 April 2000). He added that the other Jews were being held because they are charged with being part of a network. Nasseri said that the defense attorneys had unrestricted access to their clients, IRNA reported.

IRNA also reported that over 60 international reporters were in Shiraz to cover the trial. The reporters and other international observers were not allowed into the actual courtroom. Elahe Sharifpur-Hicks from Human Rights Watch was allowed to meet briefly with the accused and the judge.

After the first hearing, provincial judiciary chief Hussein Ali Amiri said that documentation and evidence supported the confessions, and suspect Hamid (Dani) Teflin confessed to spying for Israel and having contacts with Mossad, IRNA reported. Teflin's brother, Omid, is among the accused, although he was not in court. The other suspects at the 1 May hearing were Faramarz Kashi, Ramin Nematizadeh, and Shahrokh Paknahad.

The third hearing was held on 3 May, at which time Paknahad and Nematizadeh confessed. Paknahad said, according to state radio, that he persuaded Jewish youth to avoid military service during the Iran-Iraq War. Also, "I was even instructed to collect information from the air raid shelters, [and] some buildings and places of social gathering. The information I was collecting was passed to the Iraqi regime via Israel."

Paknahad rejected allegations that the trial has anything to do with his religion. He said that "we can see that currently there are about 4 million Muslims living in France, but they do not have a representative in the French parliament. Whereas there are 30,000 of us, members of the Jewish minority, in Iran. The Islamic Republic of Iran's Constitution has said that we should have one deputy in the Majlis. In view of the fact that only one deputy can go to the Majlis for every 250,000 people in the country, we [are privileged to] have a seat in the Majlis."

The trial's fourth hearing is scheduled for 8 May.

Confessions also marked the trial of Said Hajjarian's eight would-be assassins, which reopened on 3 May. This case is being heard in the Tehran Revolutionary Court. At an earlier hearing, chief suspect Said Asqar confessed to shooting Hajjarian, although he denied intending to kill him. This time, suspect Mohsen Majidi said that he and his cohorts were duped into shooting Hajjarian by Mohammad Ali Moqaddam, one of the other suspects.

Observers suspect Islamic Revolution Guards Corp involvement in the attempt on Hajjarian's life, although the government rejects such allegations. Minister of Intelligence and Security Ali Yunesi said only one of the suspects was remotely linked with the IRGC (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 3 April 2000). Moqaddam's brothers, however, told the 3 April "Aftab-i Imruz" that their sibling served in the IRGC for five years and was accepted for 25 more.

Although confessions supposedly have been made in the case of the serial murders of Iranian dissidents and intellectuals, it appears that the case may never come to trial. The confessions may not be accepted because they were secured through torture. "Tehran Times" reported on 2 May that eight MOIS employees were arrested for mistreating suspects. And all but two of the suspects in the case have been released. At one point, the accused were forced to confess that they were Bahais, the 8 March "Abrar" reported. (Bill Samii)

WORLD PRESS FREEDOM DAY. Iranians and the Iranian media earned recognition on World Press Freedom Day, which was commemorated on 3 May.

Faraj Sarkuhi, former editor-in-chief of Adineh, was named a "world press freedom hero" by the Vienna-based International Press Institute. Sarkuhi and 49 other journalists from around the world were selected for their significant contributions to the defense or promotion of press freedom in their countries or worldwide. Sarkuhi now lives in exile in Germany.

Meanwhile, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei won second place on the ''10 Enemies of the Press'' list compiled by the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). Khamenei was selected due to the difficulties faced by reformist newspapers, and he and others on the list "use methods that range from outright torture and murder to more subtle techniques aimed at keeping uncomfortable truths from being told,'' according to Ann Cooper, CPJ's executive director.

Amnesty International issued a statement saying: "Governments around the world are continuing to control and suppress information by violating the human rights of the individuals whose job it is to report it. In some cases authorities are literally shooting the messenger -- the journalist." Tehran was singled out for its press closures and the arrests of journalists and writers.

The same day, Amnesty urged people to contact Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami, and Judiciary chief Ayatollah Mahmud Hashemi-Shahrudi to register concern about the arrests of several Iranians for their participation in a Berlin conference. Amnesty International reported that lawyer Mehrangiz Kar, publisher Shahla Lahiji, and student representative Ali Afshari are facing accusations of harming national security and are being detained. Other Iranian journalists who have faced legal problems for the same reason are Akbar Ganji, Hamid Reza Jalaipur, Ezzatollah Sahabi, and Alireza Alavi-Tabar, as well as writer Mahmud Dolatabadi.

Another protest against the press closures and other acts of repression is being organized by UCLA professor Nayereh Tohidi (ntohidi@humnet.ucla.edu). The petition urges Tehran "to respect the wishes of the majority, the rule of law and human and basic civil rights, release journalists, writers, and all other prisoners of conscience."

The Association for the Defense of Press Freedom in Iran announced that it is protesting the recent press closures, detention of journalists, and the new press law, IRNA reported. Demonstrators assembled at Tehran's Science and Industry University to protest the arrest of Hussein Kafi and Arash Pahlavan-Nassir -- board members of the "2nd of Khordad" bulletin. Board member Farhad Asgari, furthermore was physically attacked, according to the Student Movement Coordination Committee for Democracy in Iran.

In other press news, Minister of Islamic Culture and Guidance Ataollah Mohajerani is again under parliamentary scrutiny (they tried to interpellate him in April-May 1999). This time, Mohajerani is accused of allocating unauthorized funds to reformist publications. Mohajerani's ministry issues press licenses, while the Press Court issues press closures. (Bill Samii)

STATE BROADCASTING MANIPULATES OPINION. The closure of pro-reform publications and the harassment of journalists are just two aspects of the Iranian government's attempt to control public opinion. Another aspect is the manipulation of public opinion through state radio and television. The broadcast by Voice and Vision of the Islamic Republic (a.k.a. Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting, IRIB) of a heavily and unfavorably edited video of an April conference in Germany at which reformist figures were speaking (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 24 April 2000) has aroused renewed condemnation of the organization from government officials, as well as outside observers.

President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami, during a speech at the 22 April inauguration of the new Ministry of Science, Research, and Technology, condemned the broadcast. He said that "I did not in any way agree with the what the Voice and Vision had done, that is, to raise an issue in such a manner, and contribute towards provoking sensitivities of the people." Khatami went on to say that: "This was not the right thing to do. I do not accuse it of having been a criminal act or prompted by cliquish motives. But, I do not approve the action."

The Islamic Culture and Guidance Ministry criticized IRIB a few days later, and on 2 May, Minister of Science, Research, and Technology Mustafa Moin-Najafabadi said that IRIB is involved in "the burgeoning of mistrust and discrepancy in society as well as giving cause for disappointing the youths."

On 22 April, IRIB chief Ali Larijani defended the broadcast of materials that some found offensive. He said that "this was a documentary and aimed at allowing the pictures to speak for themselves and reflect the atmosphere at the conference." IRIB, furthermore, invited conference attendees to a debate.

Several pro-reform newspapers (these are not genuinely "independent media" because licensed dailies receive funding from the Ministry of Islamic Culture and Guidance) also criticized IRIB's broadcast and accused it of ulterior motives. "Fath," for example, said on 20 April that the broadcast was part of "a clear and ongoing scenario based on which there is supposed to be obstacles thrown in the path of reform, progress, and even national security and unity. Through this method they want to ensure that the interests and political desires of a political oligarchy is saved."

IRIB also was criticized by "Sobh-i Imruz," before it was shut down by the government and before the Berlin conference video. In a 29 March commentary, Suleiman Kiai wrote that IRIB "broadcasts only the sound and pictures of a particular class and disseminates the opinions of a limited group of people in Iran." IRIB reporters always go to the same sources, and the broadcasters do not represent the nation. IRIB's activities explain the popularity of foreign radio services, Kiai wrote. "Considering the limitations of literacy and the even greater limitation in their access to the press, people will turn to Voice of America, the BBC, and Radio Free Europe, which can be heard in the most remote villages with two-band radios." (Bill Samii)

IRAN IS 'MOST ACTIVE' TERRORISM SPONSOR. On 1 May, the U.S. Department of State's "Patterns of Global Terrorism: 1999" report was released, and Iran was designated as "the most active state sponsor of terrorism." This is a position Iran has occupied before. In the 1997 and 1996 reports, Iran was singled out as the premier state sponsor of terrorism. The 1998 report indicated an improvement in Iranian behavior, because Iran was not identified similarly. Other state sponsors of terrorism were Cuba, Iraq, Libya, North Korea, Sudan, and Syria.

By U.S. law [Title 22 of the United States Code, Section 2656f(d)], terrorism is defined as "premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents, usually intended to influence an audience." The State Department report notes that states are designated as sponsors of terrorism in order to "enlist a series of sanctions against them for providing support for international terrorism. Through these sanctions, the United States seeks to isolate states from the international community, which condemns and rejects the use of terror as a legitimate political tool."

Iran's Ministry of Intelligence and Security and the Islamic Revolution Guard Corps were singled out for their involvement in the planning and execution of terrorist acts. Among the groups supported by Tehran are HAMAS (Islamic Resistance Movement); Hizballah (Party of God), a.k.a. Islamic Jihad, Revolutionary Justice Organization, Organization of the Oppressed on Earth, and Islamic Jihad for the Liberation of Palestine; the Palestine Islamic Jihad; and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command.

Iran's continuing support for the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) is noted too, specifically its provision of safe havens. Osman Ocalan, brother of imprisoned PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan, spends time in Iran, according to the report. Tehran also is involved with Central Asian terrorism, according to the report. Statements by the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) leadership are broadcast by Iranian state radio. The IMU staged two hostage-takings in Kyrgyzstan in August-October 1999.

North African governments also complain of Iranian-sponsored terrorism. Algiers accuses Iran and Sudan of supporting the Armed Islamic Group and other extremists. Cairo believes that Iran, Sudan, and Afghan militant groups support Al-Gama'at al-Islamiyya (Islamic Group) and al-Jihad (a.k.a. Egyptian Islamic Jihad, Jihad Group, Islamic Jihad, Vanguards of Conquest, Talaa' al-Fateh).

The report notes that the Triborder Region of Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay is the "focal point of Islamist extremism in Latin America." Although Iran is not specified in this context in this report, such linkages have been made in the past.

The targeting of regime dissidents and opponents was noted, too. In this case, Tehran's bombing of Mujahedin-e Khalq Organization (MEK or MKO) facilities in Iraq was mentioned, although the report acknowledges that Iran has been the victim of repeated MKO terrorist acts. The report does not mention that the murders of intellectuals and dissidents in Iran, which were described in the 1998 report, still have not come to trial. Nor does the report mention, as it did last year, that despite official commentary, Tehran has done nothing to force the 15 Khordad Foundation to withdraw the $2.8 million bounty it has offered for killing Salman Rushdie, the author of "The Satanic Verses."

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi rejected the report's veracity, state radio reported on 1 May. He added that "America's biased approach towards terrorism demonstrates this government's insincerity in dealing with this sinister phenomenon." Assefi went on to describe the report as a U.S. attempt to "manipulate the public opinion and divert its attention from the real supporters of state-sponsored terrorism, namely, the Zionist regime."

Tehran state television said that Washington has no right to issue such a report because of its own record in "in connection with America's military intervention in Iran, Vietnam, Grenada, Panama, Haiti, and lately in Puerto Rico...America's air raids on Sudan and Libya...its extensive support for the Zionist regime." (Bill Samii)

MUJAHEDIN PROVE A POINT. Another terrorist group described in the State Department's "Patterns of Global Terrorism: 1999" report is the Iraqi-based and funded Mujahedin-e Khalq Organization (MKO; a.k.a. the National Liberation Army of Iran [the militant wing of the MKO], the People's Mujahedin of Iran [PMOI], National Council of Resistance, Muslim Iranian Student's Society).

On the same day that the report was released, a mortar attack was launched in northern Tehran. The MKO took credit for the attack, which, according to Iranian state radio, injured six civilians. The MKO has launched several similar attacks this year. Western Ilam Province was bombed in January, and Tehran was bombed once in February and twice in March.

Also on 1 May, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to change the MKO's terrorist designation. The PMOI earned this sobriquet in 1997, and the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia upheld the group's terrorist designation. (Bill Samii)

MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING. On 16 April, "The New York Times" published a special report about the Central Intelligence Agency's (CIA's) role in the 1953 overthrow of Iranian Prime Minister Muhammad Mussadiq. Normally, this would not be such a unique development. There has been serious work on the subject, most notably by M. Gasiorowski, 'The 1953 Coup D'Etat in Iran,' "International Journal of Middle East Studies 19" (1987). Also, participants in that tumultuous event have published autobiographies. Writing about the British side in the affair was C.M. Woodhouse, "Something Ventured" (London, 1982), and the American side was covered by K. Roosevelt, "Countercoup: The Struggle for the Control of Iran" (New York, 1979), and D.N. Wilber, "Adventures in the Middle East: Excursions and Incursions" (Princeton, 1986).

Wilber's work might have been expected to be the final word regarding the American perspective on the affair because he was the CIA contract officer that planned it. But he had great difficulty in getting his book past the CIA's censors, and the history that he wrote about the episode remained in the agency's archives. Although it was made available to CIA employees, historians and scholars did not have access to it.

The situation has not been completely resolved. "The New York Times," says it "decided not to publish the main body of the [report] after consulting prominent historians who believed there might be serious risk that some of those named as foreign agents would face retribution in Iran."

Unfortunately, the Times' article contains historical errors, and this leads to unanswered questions about where the mistakes originally appeared. For example, readers are told that "Britain occupied Iran in World War II to protect a supply route to its ally, the Soviet Union." Iranian resentment of Britain's hold on its natural resources explains the 1951 oil nationalization. It should be pointed out, however, that although British troops occupied southern Iran, Soviet troops occupied the north, and American forces served as a buffer between the two. The Soviets, as the war progressed, supported labor disputes; supplied Kurdish separatists with arms and money; and encouraged Jafar Pishevari's separatist Democratic Party of Azerbaijan (Firqeh-i Demokrat-i Azerbaijan). This was a clear (in retrospect) indication that the Soviets did not intend to fulfill the requirements of the 1942 Tripartite Treaty, planning instead to make their occupation of northern Iran permanent.

Such points could be dismissed as pedantic, but to historians and those concerned with accuracy, they are important. It seems unlikely that a historian as good as Wilber, who knew the region so well, would make such a mistake. Nor would the "prominent historians," theoretically.

The summary of Wilber's report says that events in 1951-1953 led to an estimation that "Iran was in real danger of falling behind the Iron Curtain" and concern about a "dangerously strong Communist Party." Such concerns are a little surprising, because both the CIA and British intelligence had thoroughly infiltrated the Tudeh, a CIA officer would later say in the "Oral History of Iran Collection of the Foundation of Iranian Studies." Some also might argue that it was not until 1954 that a secret Tudeh network was discovered in the military (it was established in 1949-50, according to the military governor of Tehran's "Kitab-i Siyah Dar Bareh-yi Sazeman-i Afsaran-i Tudeh," which was published in 1955). In 1952, however, Iranian military intelligence (J-2) informed the U.S. Embassy about the existence of a 250-member Communist network in the armed forces, according to documents available in the U.S. National Archives.

As it turned out during the coup, the Tudeh (Iran's Communist party) did not support Mussadiq because there were splits within the party.

None of the Iranians in "The New York Times" article looks very good. Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi is portrayed as craven and cowardly. Fazlollah Zahedi, who succeeded Musaddiq, does not look much better, both because it took money to get him involved in the first place, and afterwards the CIA had to keep prompting him to follow through. It seems, furthermore, that the Iranians exhibited very little initiative, and the CIA had to spend a lot of time getting them to act.

Other aspects of the coup remain unanswered in "The New York Times" account. Specifically, a "leading cleric" was sent to Qom by the Iranians involved in the coup. Who was he, and did he know that the CIA and MI6 were behind the coup? Was it Ayatollah Abol Qasem Kashani or Ayatollah Mohammad Behbehani, who had received financial encouragement from CIA contract officers so they would split with the pro-Mussadiq National Front? How would the Tehran theocracy react if this information became known? Until the full text of the report on the coup becomes available, such questions will remain unanswered. (Bill Samii)

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