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Iran Report: May 15, 2000


15 May 2000, Volume 3, Number 19

DISAGREEMENTS ON TEHRAN ELECTION RESULTS CONTINUE. Iran's sixth parliament is due to convene on 28 May; but as of 11 May, results for Tehran's 30 seats have not been released. Interior Minister Abdolvahed Musavi-Lari announced on 11 May that he hopes the results for Tehran will be announced in the next few days, and Guardians Council Secretary Ahmad Jannati said the "definitive" results will be announced on 18 May. Intra-governmental disagreements over this issue have become heated, and there are demands both for annulment of the Tehran vote as well as for an immediate announcement of the results.

The Guardians Council announced on 7 May that there were discrepancies in almost 80 percent of the 577 Tehran ballot boxes that had been recounted so far. Only 133 boxes contained no errors. The recounted results in 444 boxes differed from those originally announced.

Tehran Province Governor-General Mohammad Reza Ayatollahi responded in an open letter that any errors were due to "technical flaws and pure mistakes" that were "unintentional." Ayatollahi explained, according to IRNA, that if the number of ballots did not correspond with the actual ballots in a box, it was simply due to inadvertent switching of the numbers. If the ballot boxes were not sealed, he added, this should not cause any disputes. Ayatollahi said that the number of votes cast by underage voters "was too small to have any meaningful impact on the total number of ballots." Ayatollahi called for a joint team representing the province and the Guardians Council to "scrutinize ballots" before issuing a final judgment.

The national election headquarters issued a stronger statement on 7 May. It said that 1167 ballot boxes were recounted by the Guardians Council, and if the results were released, the council's statements would be disproved. The statement added that no boxes were unsealed. If the Guardians Council did not release the results by 10 May, the statement warned, "the national election headquarters would be compelled to release the result of the final polls scrutiny."

Guardians Council Secretary Jannati told state television on 9 May that the recount would continue until all doubts were eliminated. He did not rule out a change in the lower half of the 30 seats or even a complete change in all 30 seats. Jannati explained that a total recount was being conducted to eliminate suspicions that actions were being taken to ensure a seat for candidate Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, who had come in 30th place. Asked if the Tehran parliamentarians would be present for the 28 May opening session, Jannati said that "we cannot definitely promise that it will happen." He said that at the moment, the council is very busy with other work, such as confirmation of the second-round results, as well as debating and approving legislation.

The delays are causing uneasiness in Tehran. Parliamentarian Mohammad Javad Larijani said that "only the cancellation of the Tehran elections could clean the shame of the election officials," "Iran" reported on 7 May. Larijani said that computerization of the voting process would make it more transparent in the future. The uncertainty created by the delays in announcing the results have brought the Tehran bazaar to a near standstill, "Ham-Mihan" reported on 7 May. Larger transactions, from 10 million rials upward, have been particularly hard-hit, and most transactions are in the 30,000-40,000 rial range. It is feared that this could lead to bankruptcy for smaller traders.

Parliamentarian-elect Rasul Montajabnia denounced the delays as "unprecedented," "Iran Daily" reported on 11 May. He suggested that the council hopes that it can find places in the parliament for its preferred candidates, but it does not realize that "if the elections are held again, the final outcome will be the same." Montajabnia warned that "Annulment can lead to a real ugly aftermath." Another warning came from student-leader Heshmatollah Tabarzadi, who said, "If the Guardian Council annuls Tehran election results, we will definitely break silence and take to the streets in protest - and to defend our constitutional and legitimate rights," Associated Press reported on 13 May.

Meanwhile, the Guardians Council announced on 7 May that it was ready to accept complaints related to the 5 May run-offs in 52 constituencies. Discrepancies have been reported in Karaj, "Tehran Times" reported on 7 May, and the local radio station was closed by Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting on election day. (Bill Samii)

KHAMENEI CALLS FOR UNITY AND REFORM. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's Friday Prayer sermon on 12 May added greater detail to the his concept of reform, a subject he had touched on in his sermons of 14 April and 20 March. Khamenei said that the Iranian people chose Islam as the model for their country, and religion will always be a part of the system. He also called for greater national and political unity to acheive the original objectives of the Islamic revolution.

Khamenei said that the Iranian people chose Islam, and with that model came specific values. These values were and are: faith; justice; "elimination of poverty and the narrowing of the gap between [the rich and the poor];" and religiosity. Another value is "freedom of opinion and expression," but because of its own deep cultural roots, Iran "did not want to follow a foreign culture blindly." Khamenei rejected suggestions that people wanted something else, because as their participation in the war with Iraq showed, "The people knew full well what they wanted and they know now quite well what they are supporting."

These values must be supported in their entirety, Khamenei said, but this is an evolutionary process. "The revolution itself is dynamic. It involves constant evolution and moving forward. Our society must move forward on the basis of these values." The Supreme Leader called on the young and opinion-makers to "safeguard the values" and view them as "a single entity." In other words, one cannot have "economic and cultural independence, but ignore the religious values. Likewise, one cannot pay attention to the issue of safeguarding the religion, but ignore freedom of thought. Moreover, one cannot pay attention to the freedom of thought and expression, but ignore the issue of preserving the people's faith and religion."

Khamenei criticized those who "respect the revolutionary values, but pay no attention to the issue of progress and transformation. Others pay attention to progress, transformation and innovation but fail to pay the necessary attention to the values." He warned that "Those who are immersed in religious values and who fail to see the importance of change and development threaten to become reactionary. Those who are only concerned with change and development and fail to put the [religious] values on top of the agenda are threatened by the danger of deviation."

Khamenei launched an attack against some reformists. He said that "these very lackeys who were totally devoted to the former regime are chanting reformist slogans. What sort of reforms do they want? Their reforms are American reforms. They say that the Iranian nation...should reform its ways and should allow the American masters to return to our country and to take control of our economy, our culture and our social affairs." Others, he said, "speak about Islam but they also promote the ideas of secularism, non-religious government, anti-religious government, government without religion, laic government.... They are infiltrators. They are aliens. They are strangers."

Khamenei called for greater tolerance between political factions, and he warned "Sometimes, the enemy tries to infiltrate both factions." "It is even more dangerous if they infiltrate the cultural sectors which deals with people's ideas, faith and religion; or if they take control of people's movement." He called on the factions to "reduce the borders between them and become closer to one another; at the same time, they must make their borders with foreigners more transparent."

Khamenei also criticized some sectors of the press, because they were "drawing a wrong, twisted, and distorted picture of the future." This was playing into the hands of the "enemy," which wants to "make people despondent about the future of this country, the revolution, government officials. They want to make people despondent about the various committed officials in the executive, judiciary and legislative branches.... They want to create divisions--a rift among officials."

Khamenei's sermon, therefore, was a repetition of his oft-repeated calls for national unity. At the same time, his comments sought to emphasize that Iranians, although they may have different priorities, have common roots in the revolution and in its values. Viewed in the context of disagreements about the parliamentary election, Khamenei may be seeking to reassure both hardliners and conservatives that even if reformers dominate the legislature, revolutionary priorities will not be forsaken. (Bill Samii)

MORE CONFESSIONS IN ESPIONAGE TRIAL. Three more suspects have confessed in the closed trial of 13 Jews accused of espionage on behalf of the U.S. and Israel, while one suspect proclaimed his innocence. Tehran, meanwhile, is reacting more vociferously to the international attention the case has attracted.

Amnesty International said on 12 April that the "Proceedings in the trial of 13 Iranian Jews, accused of 'spying for Israel' are unfair and should be held in public." The London-based human rights organization went on to say that "Any conviction or sentence based on such 'confessions'...would be in violation of international human rights law." On the other hand, Fars Province judiciary official Hussein Ali Amiri defended the conduct of the trial, saying that the court was "acting within the framework of both the internationally recognized and Iranian laws and regulations." Amiri said that negative commentary about the trial was just a pretext for propaganda against the Islamic Republic, IRNA reported on 8 May.

The fourth hearing of the trial, which started in mid-April, was held on 8 May. During this session, Ramin Farzam and Nasser Levi Haim made confessions. According to Iranian state television, Farzam said that after visiting Israel and meeting with government officials, he agreed to cooperate with them in exchange for money. Haim confessed to being the second in command of the network and to holding talks with Mossad agents in a third country.

Although the hearings are closed, the accused or their representatives have given interviews to the media. Farzam's lawyer said his client was not part of a network and was acting independently. Since Farzam had not fulfilled his objectives, the lawyer said, he should receive amnesty and leniency. Haim said the network started its activities in 1979, and it subsequently "magnified the economic, social, and domestic problems of the country," IRNA reported. Haim met with Mossad officials in Austria, state television reported, and he went to Israel for training. He described his post-arrest treatment as "very fair." He went on to say that "during my detention, there were no restrictions on my relatives to visit me." (This contradicts earlier statements made by the prisoners' relatives.) Haim asked the court for "Islamic leniency."

Shahrokh Paknahad, who had confessed earlier, "told reporters [on 8 May] that the Zionist regime was using information received from the spies to weaken the system of the Islamic Republic of Iran." He added, according to Iranian state television, that the network was tasked with collecting information about Iranian officials, recruiting more agents, and acquiring intelligence for sabotage activities.

Faramarz and Farzad Kashi's cases were heard on 10 May. Faramarz Kashi also confessed, according to state television. Faramarz Kashi said that he joined the network in 1985 due to his religious ties with Israel, and he was recruited by his rabbi. Farzad Kashi, however, proclaimed his innocence and rejected charges of participating in and receiving money from an illegal network, passing on classified information to Mossad, and using codes for espionage activities.

International commentary about the case is greeted with resentment by some Iranian observers. Musa Qorbani of the parliamentary Judicial Committee told the 8 May "Tehran Times" that "The trial of the accused is legal, and no outsider has any right to interfere in this matter." And parliamentarian Nafiseh Fayyazbakhsh said the trial conforms with the law, and "there is no reason for raising a hue and cry by other countries." "Jomhuri-yi Islami" complained on 9 May about the "the interference of notorious foreign governments and politicians in [Iran's] internal affairs." The hardline daily went on to complain about the West's "double standard" regarding espionage, and as an example it described the imprisonment of Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard in the U.S.

The Iranian government, however, seems to be more sensitive to all the international criticism. Two French lawyers, Pierre Dunac and Stephane Zerbib, who are affiliated with the French branch of Lawyers Without Frontiers have been granted an Iranian visa. They told Agence France Press on 14 May that they hope to assist the lawyers and the accused, and will even try to speak in court.

But the wives of the Faramarz and Farzad Kashi are satisfied with the trial's conduct, IRNA reported on 10 May. Mrs. Faramarz Kashi said that "she hoped that her husband would be pardoned on the basis of Islamic principles." (Bill Samii)

MORE COMPLICATIONS IN RELATIONS WITH TURKEY. As Turkey's new president, Necdet Sezer, planned to visit Iran, the Turkish media published reports linking Tehran with the assassination of journalist Ugur Mumcu. Statements from Ankara and developments in Iran, however, indicate that Turkey is unwilling to let a murder seven years ago thwart its desire to head the Organization of the Islamic Conference or ruin relations with its eastern neighbor.

The case of the Mumcu assassination resurfaced on 6 May, when nine terrorists were arrested in Turkey, Ankara State Security Court Prosecutor Hamza Keles told Anatolia news agency on 8 May. They allegedly belonged to the illegal Salam organization. The suspects in the Mumcu murder, Tel Aviv's "Maariv" reported on 9 May, are also responsible for killing a security officer at Israel's embassy in Turkey and U.S. officer John Maverick.

Turkish officials would not discuss the case in any detail because the investigation was continuing. Justice Minister Hikmet Sami refused to predict what action Turkey would take if an Iranian connection was proven, because "bilateral relations are an extremely sensitive issue," but "committing such murder can, in no way, be tolerated." Unnamed sources said that Ankara was practicing restraint in light of the factional struggle occurring in Tehran. Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit and Interior Minister Sadettin Tantan also refused to answer questions about the case during a 9 May press conference. On 10 May, Deputy Foreign Ministry spokesman Sermet Atacanli said that there is no evidence to support allegations of Iranian involvement.

The Turkish media, however, did not feel constrained. The semi-official Anatolia news agency reported on 9 May that 107 people were arrested in nine provinces in an operation against the illegal Tevhid (Unification) organization, and a file is being prepared about the Iranians involved in the Mumcu case. Anatolia went on to say that Ankara will ask Tehran to extradite them. Istanbul's "Hurriyet" daily gave a detailed report on the case on 11 May, in which it reported that the car bomb which killed Mumcu was planted by experts from Iran's Ministry of Intelligence and Security. It went on to say that the nine men arrested for the Mumcu murder had been to Iran 40-50 times since 1980, and they identified the camps in which they were trained. Turkish Foreign Ministry official Farak Logoglu received Iranian Ambassador Mohammad Hussein Lavasani and demanded an explanation, and he also complained about Iranian support for the PKK (Kurdistan Workers' Party), "Hurriyet" reported. (Lavasani later denied that the Mumcu case was discussed, Anatolia reported.)

Sources in both Iran and in Turkey have denounced the allegations about Tehran's involvement as an attempt to ruin the two countries' relations. "Alien affiliated circles in Turkey plan to damage the developing relations between Tehran and Ankara," Iranian state radio said on 9 May. Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi said on 11 May that "It is obvious that the ups and downs in Iran-Turkey relations are created by those [countries] which oppose the two countries' ties." Khorasan parliamentarian Mohammad Azimi said that "espionage organizations and international Zionism" were trying to ruin the relationship, the 11 May "Tehran Times" reported.

Turkish Labor Party leader Dogu Perincek said that a "four-person Super NATO team" murdered Mumcu, Anatolia reported on 8 May. Columnist Cengiz Candar wrote in the 9 May "Sabah" daily that reports about the Mumcu case seem to surface often, especially before Turkish officials visit Iran. Virtue Party leader Recai Kutan said "One should also not opt for immediately accusing a neighboring country," Anatolia reported. And former Turkish intelligence officer Mahir Kaynak told Istanbul's Kanal 7 on 11 May that he suspected the story was planted by Israel.

If the allegations of Iranian involvement in the Mumcu murder were meant to ruin Iran and Turkey's relationship, they have not been very successful. Turkish Foreign Ministry special envoy Yasar Yakis called on Kharrazi on 11 May and requested Iranian support for Turkey's nomination as Secretary-General of the OIC, IRNA reported. A customs memorandum between the two countries was signed on 13 May. Also, Turkey's Trebizon Province and Iran's Zanjan Province signed an economic protocol on 9 May. (Bill Samii)

ARAB NATIONALISM RESURFACES -- ON THE INTERNET. A new website, titled Ahwaz, Arabistan (http://www.al-ahwaz.com) appears to be an appeal to Arab nationalist sentiments in Iran. The site refers to entities such as the Arabistan Liberation Movement. A similar theme appears in the Fertile Crescent homepage (http://leb.net/fchp), which refers to "Ahwaz" (rather than "Ahvaz") as the "easternmost region of the Fertile Crescent. It is currently occupied by Iran." Despite modern innovations like the Internet, and whether there is a theocracy or a monarchy in Tehran, the argument over southern Iran and the Persian Gulf has a common history. But it does not appear to hinder an improvement of relations between Iran and its Arab neighbors to the south.

The overall sentiments of such Arab nationalist appeals, which reached their heyday during the era of Egypt's President Gamal Abdel Nasser, are exemplified by a 1971 article that appears on the latter website. It states that Tehran urged Iranians to move to the Gulf states to provide a pretext for later annexation. The article goes on to say that these events pose a threat to "Arab Liberation movements," and the Iranians living in the Gulf states should be seen as allies in a common struggle. "The poor Iranian must be liberated from the reactionary and chauvinistic ideology of the Iranian ruling class," the article states, and the border separating Iraq from Arabistan must be eliminated.

In addition to such appeals in the 1970s, the Iraqi government provided support for Baluchi separatists in Pakistan, hoping that their conflict would spread into Iran. Iraq provided the Baluchis with arms, and it opened an office for the Baluchistan Liberation Front in Baghdad. Soon thereafter, a Baluchi insurgency which lasted until November 1977 broke out. Tehran supplied Islamabad with AH-1 (Cobra) helicopters and crews.

Another Iraqi-supported group was the Democratic Revolutionary Front for Arabistan (a.k.a. Arab Popular Movement in Arabistan), which initiated a hostage siege at the Iranian Embassy in London in April-May 1980. The hostage-takers said that they had initially supported Iran's Islamic revolution, but afterwards concluded that "the new leaders forgot all their promises to the people," according to a recording secured by the BBC. Several hostages were released, but after one of them was executed, England's Special Air Service raided the building. All but one of the hostage-takers was killed, and the remaining hostages were released. (Tehran expressed its gratitude, but it also demanded compensation from England for the damage done to its embassy.)

More recently, the Arab Front for the Liberation of Ahvaz (AFLA) commemorated the "75th anniversary of the occupation of Ahvaz," and the AFLA secretary-general said that "the Iranian occupation of the Ahvaz region would not have happened had it not been for the malicious British plotting and the weakness of the Arab nation." Songs, poems, and art "reflected the determination of the Ahvaz people to persist in their resistance to and confrontation of occupiers," Baghdad's "Al-Iraq" reported on 21 April.

The Internet appeals to Arab nationalism may be connected with the continuing dispute, which dates from 1971 in its modern incarnation, over the Persian Gulf islands of Abu Musa and the Greater and Lesser Tunbs. The United Arab Emirates claim the islands, despite Iran's historical and de facto claims. And it does not matter who rules in Iran. In March 1999, President Mohammad Khatami postponed a trip to Saudi Arabia when this issue flared up (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 22 and 29 March 1999). 25 years earlier, the Iranian monarch postponed a trip to Saudi Arabia for the very same reason.

The dispute over the three islands and irredentist Arab claims traditionally hindered Iran's relations with the Persian Gulf's Arab states. Shahram Chubin of the Center for Security Policy in Geneva suggests, however, that the situation may be changing. Chubin told RFE/RL that "The UAE has tended to make this difference of view on the islands ... a barometer and the precondition for any improvement of relations between the GCC [Gulf Cooperation Council] and Tehran. The other GCC countries, including Saudi Arabia, think that yes, it is a nuisance, it is an irritant, but it ought not to prevent improvement of relations. So there has been a certain amount of discord within the GCC on dealing with Iran." (Bill Samii)

WEBSURFING IN IRAN. Reflecting the increasing popularity of the Internet, Iranian state radio announced in mid-April that "steps have been taken so that the entire population can use Internet services around the country." State radio went on to report that private Internet service providers using an as-yet unannounced fixed price structure will become available. The Ministry of Post, Telegraph, and Telephone, therefore, will no longer have a monopoly on Internet access, "Tehran Times" reported on 3 May.

Indeed, Internet use appears to be on the increase, and related facilities are becoming more widespread. There are now 15 Internet cafes in Tehran, the "Christian Science Monitor" reported on 2 May. So even though the Iranian government closed down 15 publications in April, access to the Internet, and therefore alternative news sources, persisted.

Yet only a limited number of Iranians can use this new medium for access to the news. According to the "Christian Science Monitor," Iranian Internet cafe's charge $3 per hour. In a country where the per capita disposal income is $5,000 annually (allowing for purchasing power parity), it would seem that few people can afford such an expense. (Bill Samii)

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