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Iran Report: October 30, 2000

30 October 2000, Volume 3, Number 41

TWO YEARS OF PERSIAN BROADCASTS. RFE/RL's Persian Service broadcasts began on 30 October 1998, at which time Thomas Dine, the president of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, said that its goal "is to provide balanced, factual information of interest to the Iranian people."

The Persian Service has never strayed from that original mission, and according to Persian Service Director Stephen Fairbanks, Iranians welcome this. "In the short time since we started, Iranians have come to rely on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty as a reliable source of news and information, without the filtration, censorship, and propaganda imposed by Tehran's government-controlled radio and television. Iranians are able to participate in discussions and roundtables on our programs, which they now have little opportunity to do in the media at home. Of course, the closure of so many Iranian newspapers this year has made our role more important than ever."

When the broadcasts started, Dine expressed the hope that the service would be judged not on the basis of charges made by others but rather on the basis of what it did every day. Tehran, however, assumed the worst. Tehran's Foreign Ministry spokesman at the time, Mahmoud Mohammadi, declared that "finally the satanic voice went on antenna through cooperation of Czech officials." And he went on to threaten economic retaliation against the Czech Republic. The threat was hollow. Since 1998, Czech-Iranian trade has increased. And the Iranian Embassy in Prague continues to host popular cultural events.

Yet there are still those in Iran who are prepared to think the worst. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, as well as lower-ranking religious and political officials, have excoriated the Persian Service publicly many times since it first went on air. The government tried to prevent newspapers from quoting from or citing RFE/RL broadcasts. And the hardline newspapers continue to criticize the radio itself.

Typical of such criticism was the 1 October article in "Kayhan," "Liberty of the Satan's Trumpet or the Voice?!" This lengthy article asserted that in 1998 RFE/RL began an "ideological propaganda campaign" to counter "the wave of Islamism in the modern world." According to "Kayhan," RFE/RL's objectives include "disintegration" of Vilayat-i Faqih (rule of the supreme jurisprudent), attacking pure Islam, and "weakening the country's fundamentalist current." "Kayhan" claimed that the Persian Service is trying to polarize Iran's political climate and advocate "reformism in tune with America." "Kayhan" added that the Persian Service operates through a secret $20 million budget.

Persian Service Director Fairbanks explained that "Some in Iran feel threatened by the free flow of information. They apparently feel that by preventing access to information they can stem their countrymen's aspirations for democratic development and responsive government. One of their tactics is to try to discredit us with false accusations. They say, for example, that we are attached to the CIA and are funded by a secret $20 million budget for the purpose of overthrowing the Islamic Republic. In fact, we are a non-government organization funded by publicly disclosed appropriations from the US Congress."

Fairbanks went on to say that "We believe that it is the Iranian people, not outsiders, who have the right to choose their own government. Our detractors also say that we are opposed to Islam, a baseless charge that could not be further from the truth. We have confidence in our listeners' intelligence and their ability to ascertain the truth of these charges."

RFE/RL is a private, non-profit organization funded by the U.S. Congress via a RFE/ grant for U.S. non-military international broadcasting from the presidentially-appointed Broadcasting Board of Governors. Funding for the Persian Service was approved by Congress and signed into law by President Bill Clinton in October 1998 as part of the omnibus appropriations bill for fiscal year 1999 (Public Law 105-277), within the provisions of the Foreign Affairs Reform and Restructuring Act of 1998, "Sec. 2417 Radio Broadcasting to Iran in the Farsi Language." (Bill Samii)

INSURGENCY IN THE EAST? Events in Khorasan Province at the end of October call attention to the poor security situation there. Indeed, together with other provincial developments, these latest events suggest that what is taking place is more than simple lawlessness.

On 21 October, state television reported the killing of "four insurgents" near the villages of Sarbala and Nuri in the Torbat-i Heidarieh district, but "a number of armed insurgents escaped the area of the clashes." Three days later, IRNA reported the evacuation of three villages -- supposedly due to an explosion at an ammunition depot State radio reported on 25 October that traffic along the Mashhad to Neyshabur/Torbat-i Heidarieh route, as well as the Tehran-Mashhad route, was stopped to protect the public. No reason for the alleged explosion or fire was given.

At the same time that these events were occurring, locals from different villages -- Deh No, Kasrineh, and Badafkan (Bardeskan) -- held demonstrations in Kashmar, a Khorasan Province town, over a series of kidnappings. Kazem Khoshniat, a local journalist, told RFE/RL's Persian Service that because some of the kidnappings go unreported, there are no solid numbers on how many there are. He went on to say that there has always been some banditry in this part of the country, but now there is real physical danger and it has become so bad that many villagers are afraid to go out at night, and in other cases livestock and crops are untended.

Khorasan's Governor-General Mohsen Mehralizadeh called on the Law Enforcement Forces to step up their security measures against "Afghan bandits and smugglers," IRNA reported on 25 October. President Mohammad Khatami met with Khorasan Province parliamentarians two days earlier and said that the provincial security situation requires cooperation between the executive and the legislature, and from the security and military forces. The central government hopes to improve the security situation by sealing the eastern border and assigning more security personnel there.

Closing off the borders is not enough, Khoshniat told RFE/RL's Persian Service. As it is, the Afghans are able to penetrate 300 kilometers into Iranian territory, sell their drugs, and commit other crimes. The failure to solve the province's security problem does not make sense to the locals, Khoshniat said. He pointed out that Iran fought and won an eight-year war with Iraq against much greater odds, and the central government succeeded in its campaign in Kurdistan in spite of harsher terrain.

In addition to closing the borders, the government has been preparing village defense units, a plan that was announced earlier this summer (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 18 September 2000). The Islamic Revolution Guards Corps's mobilization and arming of villagers is familiar. The U.S. Army Special Forces' Vietnam-era Civilian Irregular Defense Group program called for arming locals, too, with the intention of strengthening South Vietnamese counterinsurgency efforts and discouraging locals from joining the Viet Cong. Within a few years of its establishment about 60,000 Vietnamese highlanders had joined the CIDG program. Eventually, CIDG units led by Special Forces engaged in military operations. More recently, village defense units in Turkey fought the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), and there are village defense units in Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, and Thailand.

Referring to insurgents as "bandits," "smugglers," or "criminals" is a common way of trying to delegitimise their struggle. This method was employed by the Soviet Union when referring to the Afghan Mujahedin, and the Russian Federation uses the same tactic in its current conflict in Chechnya. But official Iranians use the term "insurgent" with some frequency.

Brigadier-General Abdol Ali Purshasb, commander of the Ground Force of the Army, noted that the army is employed against "insurgents" in the east (Saff, April-May 2000). Similar comments appeared in an interview with Brigadier General Mostafa Torabipur, Chief of the Joint Staff of the Army (Saff, March-April 2000); and in the report to the president from Commander-in-Chief of the Army Major General Mohammad Salimi (Saff, July-August 2000). Also, IRNA referred to the deaths of "insurgents" at least nine times since January.

Some observers suspect that attention to eastern insecurity has taken on a factional tone and serves as a way to criticize the Interior Ministry and the Khatami government. Indeed, conservative newspapers from Mashhad like "Qods" and "Khorasan" write about the subject in dramatic terms. On 26 October, furthermore, Governor-General Mehralizadeh attacked Iranian state broadcasting for its reportage on the subject. Local journalist Kazem Khoshniat, however, said that locals actually thank IRIB for bringing attention to the matter, although he admitted that the newspaper accounts are exaggerated. (Bill Samii)

STATEMENTS CANNOT HIDE WOMEN'S PROBLEMS. Zahra Shojai, President Mohammad Khatami's adviser on women's affairs, told a 23 October gathering of foreign diplomats' wives about the progress Iranian women have made in sports and education. If her audience listened to other Iranian officials and read the Iranian press, rather than to such platitudes meant for foreign consumption, they would be likely to learn that Iranian women suffer a precarious existence in the more meaningful aspects of life. They would certainly hear about increasing prostitution and suicide among female teenagers, runaway girls, high numbers of raped and murdered females, uneven social codes, and restricted access to educational facilities. And they would also learn about a very low female employment rate and inferior working conditions for the women who do have jobs.

The same day that Shojai was describing the great progress made by Iranian women, Interior Minister Abdolvahed Musavi-Lari was telling female parliamentarians that serious measures are needed to solve women's problems. He urged the MPs to beware of gender discrimination and to be as aggressive as their male counterparts when commenting on legislation, IRNA reported on 23 October. The average age of prostitutes now is below 20, "Qods" reported on 22 October, and women's drug abuse is increasing. In several cases, it turned out that runaways were being induced into working as prostitutes in the Arab states of the Persian Gulf. A woman is raped, murdered, and mutilated every six days in Tehran, the state-run "Iran" newspaper reported on 16 October, and the number of runaways has increased by 30 percent in the last year.

Mojgan Shirazi, deputy director of Tehran's Khaneh-yi Rayhaneh shelter for runaway girls, told RFE/RL why the young women leave home. Shirazi said the girls are either from broken homes with abusive relatives or they are from homes where one or both parents are drug addicts and have turned the children into go-betweens with drug dealers. Others flee homes where the parents continually fight one another. Also, rural families try to marry off young daughters to avoid supporting them. Shirazi explained, "In some cities the reason is arranged marriages. Parents want to get out of feeding another mouth, they want to marry these girls off to either men decades older than the girls or even to addicts."

The problem of runaway girls is so bad that Tehran and other cities established a network of Khaneh-yi Rayhaneh shelters for them in 1999. Speaking at the 17 September inauguration of yet another shelter, Tehran Mayor Morteza Alviri said he hoped this will change society's attitude to the problem. So far, 450 girls use these facilities.

Ali-Reza Alavi-Tabar, a teacher at the Center for Public Administration, told "Zanan," a publication for women, about other problems that Iranian women have. He said that legal discrimination is found in penal law, the value of women's testimony, and the rights of women in child custody. Alavi-Tabar added that there is an insufficient number of civil institutions dedicated to and established by women. Also, he said, women suffer discrimination in opportunities. As Alavi-Tabar sees it, a fundamentalist (rather than traditionalist or modernist) strand of Islamic thought is behind the discrimination against women and opposes the independent presence of women. He believes that this fundamentalist strand is dominant in Iran's decision-making centers and explains the lack of substantive advances in women's problems.

Alavi-Tabar's "fundamentalist" thought was evident in late-September and early-May, when parliament approved a bill that would eliminate a ban on unmarried women studying abroad. Parliamentarian Soheila Jelodarzadeh told RFE/RL's Persian Service that she hoped the Guardians Council, which must approve all legislation before it becomes law, would not veto this bill. But the six clerical members of the Council must approve the Islamic character of legislation, and statements by other clerics have not been encouraging. Grand Ayatollah Nasser Makarem-Shirazi, one of Shia Islam's top sources of emulation, wrote a letter to the speaker of parliament that Iran does not need such legislation, state radio reported on 1 October. Speaker of Parliament Hojatoleslam Mehdi Karrubi said that he opposed sending girls abroad for continued education, too, state television reported on 1 October. Qom seminarian Ayatollah Allah Bedashti said that "in view of the existing conditions in the outside societies, it is not expedient to send our daughters abroad," "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 3 October.

Fifty-six percent of college applicants and 60 percent of university entrants are women, but there are some archaic attitudes about why they are pursuing higher education. Their "main motivation" is marriage, the conservative "Siyasat" reported on 23 September, but they also are encouraged by "a kind of 'feminism.'" Even worse, "Siyasat" lamented, "some of the few job opportunities that exist will be given to women."

There is little likelihood of that happening. Only 10 percent of Iranian women hold jobs outside the home, according to the 5 June "Iran Daily," which is run by the state news agency.

And those women who do have outside jobs are treated unequally, do not receive the same pay as men for doing the same work, and are rarely appointed to key posts, according to the 14 August "Kar va Kargar." Women have fewer employment opportunities and employers generally prefer men. Parliamentarian Soheila Jelodarzadeh pointed out that employed women effectively have two jobs, because when they get home they are responsible for the family. If a woman is employed, she will not receive her husband's pension after his death. And a Social Security Act that would ensure that a woman's children would receive her pension was rejected by both the Guardians Council and the Expediency Council.

At least one non-Iranian woman is not convinced by statements' like Shojai's and is aware of the situation faced by Iranian women. Ana Botella, wife of Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, refused to accompany her husband during his visit to Tehran because she objected to veiling. It was not the veil itself that bothered her; she refused "'due to everything that there is behind what the veil symbolizes in Iran,' namely the treatment of women 'and the violation of their rights,'" Barcelona's "La Vanguardia" reported on 22 October.

As bad as the situation is for women now, it was even worse a few years ago. The Center for Public Administration's Alavi-Tabar said that women being born now can justifiably hope for a better future and adult literacy among women is on the increase. They also enjoy better health facilities and their participation in public activities is on the increase. Nor do all religious figures oppose women's education: Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in a 6 October speech, noted that seminaries for women must have curricula that address women's needs. Also, Ayatollah Seyyed Hussein Musavi-Tabrizi said there is no difference between boys or girls studying abroad, and in either case, it could help the country.

Some women may break through the glass ceiling, too. Shahla Turkomani was appointed as head of the Tehran West Customs Office, and President Khatami is supposedly considering Zahra Rahnavard as his next Islamic Culture and Guidance Minister. Also, 100 armed female police officers, the first female graduates of the police academy, participated in a 10 October parade. (Bill Samii)

IRAN LINKED WITH THREE TERRORISM CASES. Iran is being linked with recent and past incidents of terrorism. The validity of such reports may be questionable at the moment, however, because one case relies on circumstantial evidence, another case relies on the testimony of an international terrorist, and a third case relies on claims by the attorney of two convicted terrorists.

It is not unreasonable to assume an Iranian role in a new alliance between the Palestinian Authority, HAMAS, and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, nor is it unlikely that Iran is connected with recent actions by Lebanese Hizballah in support of the "new Intifada." Indeed, representatives from these organizations, and Palestinian Authority chairman Yassir Arafat himself, either visited Tehran or met with Iranian officials in Beirut and Damascus in July, August, September, and October.

HAMAS spokesman Mahmud Zahar said PIJ, HAMAS, Fatah, and Palestinian Authority representatives meet regularly in the High Committee Follow-Up Intifada of Nationalist Islamic Organizations. In exchange for HAMAS and PIJ support, the "Washington Post" reported on 25 October, the Palestinian Authority has released jailed members of these groups over the last four weeks. HAMAS founder Sheikh Ahmed Yassin added that his organization is trying to revive its paramilitary arm. Neither Yassin nor PIJ spokesman Abdallah Shami would reject the possibility of renewed terrorist activities, although they would not predict when they would begin. The first prisoner releases probably occurred on 29 September, and on 4 October Beirut's "Al-Mustaqbal" reported that HAMAS, the PIJ, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine - General Command, and Lebanese Hizballah had created an "operations room" at Tehran's behest in order to monitor developments in the "new Intifada."

Israeli observers also believe that Iran is behind the October kidnapping of Israeli reservist Elhanan Tannenbaum by Hizballah. Deputy Defense Minister Efraim Sne told CNN on 16 October that Iran has a global campaign of terrorism that could facilitate such actions; and well-connected writer Zeev Schiff wrote that Tannenbaum might be in Iran already. Military commentator Ron Ben-Yishal wrote that although Tel Aviv does not have specific evidence in this case, it has substantial information on Tehran's creation of international networks for hostile actions against Israel by Hizballah. Hizballah is ready to provide the Palestinians with "money, weapons, means of information, and political protection," Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah told Milan's "Il Giornale" on 21 October. One day earlier, Israeli "security sources" said that Iran had increased its shipments of weapons to Hizballah through Damascus. The weekly "Al-Wasat" reports that rumors in the Lebanese capital have the Iranians "considering a comeback."

Both Hizballah and Tehran deny Iranian involvement in these latter incidents. Nasrallah said at the 16 October press conference in which he discussed Tannenbaum's capture that any accusations against Iran are "conjectures." And when President Mohammad Khatami was asked if Iran would use its influence over Hizballah to help secure the release of three Israeli soldiers captured by Hizballah, he answered that Iran has "no control over" Hizballah, Iranian state radio reported on 22 October.

Despite these denials, and although there is not any direct evidence of an Iranian hand in the region's violence, Iran is the thread that appears to connect all these organizations and events. Statements from Iran contribute to suspicions that many there are not averse to a role in the current hostilities.

The flag of Jihad has been hoisted in Palestine, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said in a 20 October speech. He said, "There is only one remedy and there is only one cure" to the Middle East crisis, and that is to "destroy the root and cause of the crisis." "What is the root," Khamenei asked rhetorically, "The answer is the Zionist regime; a regime which has been imposed on the region." "The crisis will be present as long as its root and cause remains intact." Khamenei then urged his "Palestinian brothers and sisters to continue their Jihad." He added that "the combatants of HAMAS, the [PIJ], and Fatah ... they must not abandon the arena." Khamenei told officials and ambassadors from Islamic countries on 25 October that "all Muslims have a duty" to help the Palestinians � "there are many different types of help and assistance." And he reminded them that Israel is not alone: "The partner to those crimes is undoubtedly the government of the United States of America."

The Islamic Revolution Guards Corps called for "removing the tumorous cancer Israel off the region's map (IRNA, 24 October). 110,000 student Basijis stated, in a 20 October letter to Khamenei, that they are willing to go to "the divine battlefields" of the occupied territories "in order to defend the honor of Islam and the homeland as vanguards of the liberators of Qods." The letter added that "America is striving to extinguish the fire of the Islamic Intifada and to delay the definite victory of God's soldiers against Satan's party." A few days earlier, Basijis explained that "all sufferings of Muslims come from the arrogant United States."

Speaker of Parliament Mehdi Karrubi said the grounds for confronting Israel are ready (Iran Daily, 17 October); Judiciary chief Ayatollah Mahmud Hashemi-Shahrudi said it is incumbent on all Muslims to support the Palestinian Jihad (IRNA, 16 October); and Defense Minister Ali Shamkhani said that Muslims states should support the Palestinians with all their resources (IRNA, 17 October). Other condemnations of Israel, as well as offers of aid, came from the pro-Khatami 2nd of Khordad Front, the Islamic Iran Participation Party youth branch, the Executives of Construction Party, Grand Ayatollah Mohammad Fazel-Lankarani (who also authorized aid to the Palestinians from religious funds), and Friday prayer leaders.

Events in Israel and the occupied territories may be more newsworthy, but there are other cases connecting Iran with terrorism. Ali A. Mohamed, who on 20 October pleaded guilty to participating in a terrorist conspiracy against U.S. citizens, was a close associate of Saudi terrorist Osama Bin Laden. During his testimony, Mohamed linked Bin Laden directly with the bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi. Mohamed also described some of the intricate relationships between international terrorist organizations, such as Bin Laden's Al Qaida, Egypt's al-Jihad, and Lebanon's Hizballah. Mohamed claimed that he arranged security for a meeting between the "head of Hizballah" (presumably Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah) and Bin Laden, and Hizballah gave demolitions training to Al Qaida and al-Jihad. He added that Iran provided the Egyptians with weapons. The Egyptian government claims that Iran supports al-Jihad, and Iranian support for Hizballah is a matter of record.

In the third case linking Iran with terrorism, the attorney for two Palestinians convicted in England for the 1994 bombing of the Israeli Embassy claims that confidential intelligence reports may show that the incident was linked with a secret conflict between Iran and Israel, according to the 25 October "Guardian." Michael Mansfield, QC, said, "We believe there is more information that may link London to Buenos Aires and to a secret war that has been going on between Iran and Israel." A warning that an attack on the Israeli facility would occur was shelved by Britain's domestic security service, MI5, according to Mansfield, and his efforts to get reports about the 1994 bombing of the Jewish Mutual Association in Argentina have been turned down. (Bill Samii)

FOUR DAYS OVER TOKYO. President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami is due to arrive in Tokyo on 31 October for a four-day visit. Khatami will meet with Emperor Akihito, Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori, and business leaders, and he will address the Diet as well as the Tokyo University of Technology, according to IRNA. This will be the first visit to Japan by an Iranian head of state in 42 years, according to the Iranian Foreign Ministry.

Diplomats from Tokyo and Tehran have been optimistic about Khatami's trip. Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi told a news conference that he hoped for strengthened bilateral economic relations, Radio Japan reported on 25 October. Deputy Foreign Minister for Asia and Pacific Affairs Mohsen Aminzadeh told the 24 October "Iran News" that there is room for expansion in the economic field: Iran could supply basic materials and Japan could supply technology. Aminzadeh went on to say that a committee was formed recently to discuss expanded cooperation in the energy sector. He added that Iran is interested in the subject of Iranians living in Japan, too. Japanese Foreign Minister Yohei Kono said the visit provides the chance to discuss economic cooperation, particularly investment by Japanese firms in Iran. Kono added, according to IRNA, that Japan recently extended medium-term credit guarantees to Iran and his government is encouraging Japanese firms to invest in Iran.

Political analysts in Japan, however, are more skeptical. They point out, according to reports in "The Japan Times" (21 October 2000) and Kyodo news agency (17 and 25 October), that several aspects of Iran's behavior are extremely unpalatable. Japanese officials said they will ask Iran to take specific and tangible measures to address concerns about its Weapons of Mass Destruction Program. Iran's efforts to purchase weapons components through a Japanese firm earlier this year (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 27 March 2000 and 17 April 2000), as well as Tehran's refusal to cooperate with an investigation into the matter, have offended some members of the Japanese legislature.

Japanese observers also suggest that increased economic ties are unlikely. There is concern that expanded economic relations with Iran could antagonize Washington, so Japan's earlier promise to finance a 770-kilometer rail link from Mashhad to Bafq probably will not be fulfilled. Furthermore, a Japanese Foreign Ministry official said that substantial investments probably will not be forthcoming, either, and further negotiations would be unnecessary. If this is true, then earlier expectations that Prime Minister Mori would tell Khatami that "Japanese businesses intend to expand their joint economic activities in the petrochemical and steel industries 100-fold from the current figure of hundreds of million of yen," as reported in "The Daily Yomiuri" on 29 September, probably will not materialize.

Japanese government officials told "The Japan Times" that Mori and Khatami will issue a joint statement in which Japan will declare its full backing for Iran's third five-year development plan, which went into effect this year. Japan also will indicate its support for information technology development in Iran, and both countries will pledge to strengthen their political dialog. Japan is to promise support for Iran's bid to join the World Trade Organization, it will provide aid for Afghan refugees, and it will increase support for Iranian counter-narcotics efforts. The two countries have held counter-narcotics discussions before. (Bill Samii)