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Iran Report: December 25, 2000


25 December 2000, Volume 3, Number 49

QODS DAY SHOWS TEHRAN'S HATRED OF ISRAEL. Qods Day -- Jerusalem Day -- one of the state-organized outpourings of ritualized hatred that has reinforced fears about Iran's hostile intentions, began early this year. The event was marked on 22 December in Iran, but things started early at the Iranian Embassy in Qatar, when Sheikh Yousef al-Qaradawi told a Qods Day gathering two days earlier that Palestinians should physically attack Jewish settlers and stopping the Intifada would be a sin.

The Egyptian cleric's statement might be dismissed as an idle threat, although he is a highly respected figure in some circles. Other Iranian actions indicate that Tehran may eventually take an active role in the uprising, if it has not done so already. Statements by top Iranian officials and those they support only reinforce this conclusion.

Personnel assignments are one indication. Hojatoleslam Ali Akbar Mohtashemi-Pur was appointed as the Secretary General of the International Conference on Palestine on 17 December, according to IRNA. The former ambassador to Syria, Mohtashemi helped establish Lebanese Hizballah and channel support to it in the 1980s. A statement issued by the state-organized Anti-Zionist Movement after its meeting in November, when Mohtashemi was a speaker, called on Palestinians to keep fighting. It went on to say that the names of those who killed Palestinians should be published and "be assured that not a single one of them will walk away with his life and that a hidden hand will administer retribution for their deeds," "Khorasan" reported on 12 November.

Former Islamic Revolution Guards Corps chief and current Expediency Council secretary Mohsen Rezai, speaking at the same meeting, urged volunteers to register to go to Palestinian territory to fight. The assignment of Seyyed Hadi Khosroshahi as the new head of the Iranian Interests Section in Cairo is another such indicator, since he served in the Islamic Liberation Movements Office, which was tasked with exporting the revolution.

Meanwhile, officials from HAMAS and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) have indicated their gratitude for Tehran's support, and they remain unyielding in their hostility to Israel. PIJ leader Ramadan Abdallah noted that "Islamic Iran is unyielding in its judgement that this tumorous cancer should be wiped off the map," IRNA reported on 17 December. HAMAS official Abu Marzuk noted in a 28 October interview with Iranian state television that "real peace can only be obtained through the annihilation of Israel."

Khalid Mashaal, head of the HAMAS political bureau, praised Iran's "support for our people's rights and for the resistance option," in an interview with the 23 November "Al-Zaman." Mashaal made a prediction: the first Intifada (in 1987) "developed naturally from the stone to the knife, the Molotov [a petroleum bomb], the rifle, and the suicide operation. I think this Intifada will develop faster."

Mashaal met with Egyptian Foreign Minister Amr Musa on 13 November, Cairo's "Rose Al-Yusuf" reported on 18 November, a little more than a week before Hadi Khosroshahi was assigned to the Iranian Interests Section there. Mashaal later said that he met with Musa because "we in HAMAS appreciate Egypt's major role ... We always look to Egypt to play the most prominent role in supporting the Palestinian resistance."

Aggressive statements about Israel by top Iranian officials are not unusual, especially during the holy month of Ramadan, but they can be viewed as another indicator of hostile intentions in the context of current regional developments. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei declared during the 15 December Friday Prayers sermon that "all the Muslims have a duty to fight for the return of that territory to the Islamic mainland." He added that "all nations and governments" are obliged to send aid to the Palestinian combatants.

President Mohammad Khatami, in a 13 November meeting with Palestinian Authority chief Yassir Arafat, praised the resistance and said that Muslims are "duty-bound to support the anti-Israeli Palestinian movement," according to IRNA.

Former Islamic Culture and Guidance Minister Ataollah Mohajerani donated 50 million rials to the bank account of the Palestinian Embassy in Tehran. (This may be an effort to deflect accusations that he stole money intended for the Hajj.) Several parliamentarians, in interviews with the 18 October "Jomhuri-yi Islami," called for the creation of an Islamic army to fight Israel. Tuiserkan representative Mohsen Tarkashvand added that "fighting the Zionist regime and dying a martyr in this campaign are the best actions in the path of God."

Iranian officials encouraged the public to participate in the Qods Day rallies. President Khatami, during a 21 December meeting of the International Conference on Palestine, denounced Israel as "brutal and barbaric," and Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi said support for the Intifada is central to Iranian foreign policy. First Vice-President Hassan Habibi, Deputy Foreign Minister Mohammad Sadr, and IRGC commander Major General Yahya Rahim Safavi also stressed the importance of the Qods Day events. Parliamentary speaker Mehdi Karrubi called for "all-out participation" in the rallies. Shia and Sunni Friday Prayer leaders from all over Iran said the same thing on 15 December, IRNA reported.

On 22 October, "millions of fasting Muslims thronged into the streets throughout the country," IRNA reported. The throng included women, young people, adults, the disabled, clerics, the military, and even representatives of the Jewish community. They chanted "Death to America" and "Death to Israel" and heard speeches by local and national luminaries.

Some observers may be tempted to dismiss events such as the Qods Day rallies, World Arrogance Day rallies, anti-Israeli statements, and support for terrorist organizations as a ritual and a way to divert Iranians' attention from the Islamic Republic's numerous problems and shortcomings. But as Jon B. Alterman wrote in the December 2000 "Middle East Review of International Affairs," "As long as the image of Iran in American minds is of angry, fist-shaking mobs, hostile clerics, and supporters of terrorism, it will be hard for American officials to move forward. Iranian statements on Israel have a doubly negative effect ... Continued Iranian support for groups that use violence against civilians deepens Americans' hesitancy." (Bill Samii)

TEHRAN'S ACTIONS MAKE IRANIAN PRESS 'NOT FREE'. An examination of the state of the Iranian press since January 2000 strongly supports the "Not Free" rating given to Iran in the annual report that was released on 20 December by Freedom House, a New York-based human rights monitoring organization. The Islamic Republic was judged in terms of political rights and civil liberties in "Freedom in the World."

At least 17 dailies have been closed since January. These include Aftab-i Imruz, Ahrar, Arya, Asr-i Azadigan, Bahar, Bamdad-i No, Bayan, Fath, Gonbad-i Kabud, Guzarish-i Ruz, Ham-Mihan, Manateq-i Azad, Mellat, Mosharekat, Payam-i Azadi, Sobh-i Imruz, and Talieh.

Another 17 weeklies have been closed. These include Ava, Aban, Arzesh, Cheshmeh, Gunagun, Iran-Javan, Khalij-i Fars, Jahan-i Pezeshki, Jebheh, Mihan, Milad, Payam-i Hajar, Qeseh-yi Zendegi, Ruzdaran, Sepideh Zendegi, Sobh-i Omid, and Tavana. And two monthlies have been closed as well. These are Iran-i Farda and Javanan-i Qorveh.

"Hamshahri," the Tehran municipality's daily, has not been closed yet. But on 11 December, the Press Court issued an order that the newspaper's circulation should be limited to the Tehran city limits. Press Court Judge Said Mortazavi decreed that "the scope of activity of each publication should correspond with the scope of activity of the publisher," Reuters reported.

Numerous people involved with the press -- managers, editors, commentators, cartoonists, and journalists -- have had to appear in court in the last twelve months. Most recently, Hambastegi managing director and parliamentarian Qolam-Heidar Ebrahim Baysalami received a court summons on 19 December. Ezzatollah Sahabi of "Iran-i Farda" was arrested on 17 December for statements he made during a late-November speech at Amir Kabir University. After putting up his house as collateral, journalist Masud Behnoud was released on bail on 16 December. Not only is he accused of press offenses, which he denies, but he is also charged with drug trafficking, drug addiction, and liquor consumption, according to IRNA.

Mashallah Shamsolvaezin, Latif Safari, and Emadedin Baqi protested to the Press Court about the delay in granting them a trial, "Dowran-i Imruz" reported on 13 December, and they also complained about being forced to wear prison uniforms. Yadollah Eslami, managing director of "Fath," appeared before the court on 4 and 11 December. He rejected charges of publishing articles that were defamatory or harmful to national security. Akbar Ganji complained on 10 December that he had been beaten while in prison.

The current situation has created a state of fear for journalists in the outlets which remain open, forcing them to be ever more cautious in what they report. Karim Arqandinpur of the Association of Iranian Journalists told the 16 December "Washington Post" that "[t]here is self-censorship." Farid Yasamin, editor of Shiraz's 12-page "Nim-Negah," said that he goes to sleep at night wondering if his office will be closed the next day.

Iranian media figures have earned a great deal of international recognition this year. Most recently, publisher Shahla Lahiji was a joint winner of the Women in Publishing's Pandora Award. Currently, Lahiji is being tried for her participation in a controversial April conference in Berlin. She is not the only Iranian recognized for press accomplishments this year. Akbar Ganji earned the International Press Freedom Award given by the Canadian Journalists for Free Expression. Faraj Sarkuhi, former editor-in-chief of "Adineh," was named a "world press freedom hero" by the International Press Institute last spring.

And Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei received an award of a different kind. He achieved the dubious status of second place on the ''10 Enemies of the Press'' list compiled by the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists. (Bill Samii)

TRIAL FOR 1998 SERIAL MURDERS TO BEGIN. A Tehran military court is to start hearings on the "serial murders" of political dissidents and writers on 23 December, IRNA reported three days earlier. The term "serial murders" refers to the late-1998 killings of Dariush and Parvaneh Foruhar, Majid Sharif, Mohammad Jafar Puyandeh, and Mohammad Mokhtari. Judge Aqiqi will preside in the Tehran Military Court, and it remains to be decided whether or not the trial will be open. Seyyed Reza Zavarei, who has served in the Ministry of Justice and is a member of the Guardians Council, said that the trial should be an open one, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 16 December.

Eighteen people are facing charges, and the state claims that rogue agents in the Ministry of Intelligence and Security are to blame. The main suspect, Said Emami, supposedly killed himself in June 1999 by ingesting a depilatory solution. Nobody seems to accept the official story, and on 26 November the Armed Forces Judicial organization promised that it would "deal strongly" with anybody who leaks information or makes "irresponsible comments" about the case.

Nasser Zarafshan, the attorney handling the murders of Puyandeh and Mokhtari, said the murders started in 1990, and there actually were 43 victims. Zarafshan described the victims as Sunni and Christian clerics, intellectuals, writers, and political figures, and he added that the most recent murders were authorized by religious decrees from senior clerics. Zarafshan was arrested and held for three days in mid-December.

Journalist Akbar Ganji's allegations have been more inflammatory. Ganji first made references to mysterious Gray Eminencies and Master Keys in his newspaper columns, describing a secret cabal and a power mafia that really ran the country and was also responsible for the murders. Other reformist journalists and political figures picked up this mantra. Now that Ganji is being tried for participation in an April conference in Berlin, he is being more forthcoming and has made open accusations against former MOIS chief Hojatoleslam Ali Akbar Fallahian-Khuzestani and his successor, Hojatoleslam Qorban Ali Dori-Najafabadi. Fallahian rejected the accusations in an interview with the 11 December "Jomhuri-yi Islami."

Hardline cleric Hojatoleslam Ruhollah Husseinian has claimed repeatedly that allies of President Mohammad Khatami are behind the killings and those who once were or still are in the MOIS killed Emami to cover up their own actions. His views are reported extensively by hardline publications like "Yalisarat al-Hussein."

And in late-January, the video-taped confessions of the accused were shown to a group of parliamentarians. The accused allegedly acknowledged links with Israel and the U.S. (see "RFE/RL Iran Report, 14 February 2000).

In a strange twist to an already tangled affair, on 20 December the victims' families dismissed their lawyers and said they would not attend the trial. Perhaps this is because they believed that the trial would only be an opportunity to hear the type of forced confessions, described in Ervand Abrahamian's "Tortured Confessions: Prisons and Public Recantations in Modern Iran" (1999), that are used as propaganda tools to legitimize the regime while demonizing its supposed enemies. If the trial is closed, on the other hand, speculation about what really happened and who really ordered the killings will continue. (Bill Samii)

MONTAZERI PUBLISHES MEMOIRS. The hardline Islamic Documentation Center chief and Special Court for the Clergy judge Hojatoleslam Ruhollah Husseinian voiced concern in late-October about Ayatollah Hussein Ali Montazeri-Najafabadi's website. His concern was appropriate. This time, Montazeri, who has been under intermittent house arrest since his 1989 dismissal as the designated successor to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, has made his memoirs available on the internet.

The memoirs can be found on Montazeri's homepage (www.montazeri.com). The Iranian government has tried to confuse people by creating an alternative website with a similar address (www.montazery.com) which contains information about the current Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Alternative sites for the memoirs are: www.geocities.com/hamontazeri/, members.theglobe.com/hamontazeri/, hamontazeri.tripod.com/, and www.idrive.com/hamontazeri/.

The memoirs contain comments on the religious establishment's involvement in politics in the 1950s and 1960s and its resistance to the Pahlavi monarchy. Montazeri also discusses the constitution, senior figures like Khamenei and Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, and what led to his removal from the line of succession. Montazeri also discusses the infamous Mehdi Hashemi case and the mid-1980s arms-for-hostages deal.

It is not just the memoirs that are making waves. One of Ayatollah Montazeri's sons, Said, was arrested for distributing some of his father's literature in early-December. Ayatollah Montazeri spoke out in defense of Hojatoleslam Hassan Yusefi-Eshkevari in late-October, when he was being tried by the Special Court for the Clergy. Eshekavri's trial related to his participation in a controversial conference that was held in Berlin in April. 568 clerics sent an open letter to the Supreme National Security Council in mid-October in which they called for Montazeri's release from house arrest. And in early-October, parliamentarian Mustafa Taheri-Najafabadi called for Montazeri's release. (Bill Samii)

DISCRIMINATION AGAINST SUNNIS CONTINUES. Parliamentary deputy Jalal Jalalizadeh, who represents Sanandaj, called for the "removal of discrimination against Sunnis" on 28 November, "Hamshahri" reported the next day. He complained about the refusal to permit the building or expansion of Sunni mosques, generally, and more specifically, about the refusal to permit the building of a Sunni mosque in Tehran. He also complained about state broadcasting, saying, "The Voice and Vision not only refuses to broadcast any programs about Sunnis, it also offends them by broadcasting some insulting programs."

About 10 percent of the Iranian population practices Sunni Islam, whereas Shia Islam, which is practiced by 89 percent of the population, is the official religion. According to the constitution, "other Islamic schools are to be accorded full respect," and in regions where Sunnis make up the majority, local regulations should be in accordance with their school of Islam. Most Baluchis (who make up the majority of the population in Sistan va Baluchistan Province and in the southern part of Khorasan Province), Turkmen (in the northeast, near the Caspian Sea), and Kurds (in the west and northwest) are Sunnis. (Bill Samii)

DRUGS AND INSECURITY NOT GOING AWAY. Khorasan Province Governor-General Mohsen Mehralizadeh urged the media to "analyze" the issue of insecurity in the eastern provinces, IRNA reported on 2 December, rather than providing just straight news coverage. In its effort to oblige, "RFE/RL Iran Report" made several discoveries when studying reports about Khorasan and Sistan va Baluchistan Provinces. First of all, the climbing casualty rate associated with provincial security activities belies official claims of having resolved problems there. The type of security measures and official comments, furthermore, indicate that there is more going on than a fight with Afghan drug smugglers. Finally, the government's inability to protect the public or formulate a functioning counter-narcotics strategy continues to elicit hostile commentary in the parliament and in the press.

State officials periodically claim to have achieved great successes against criminality and insecurity in the eastern provinces, but the problems resurface soon thereafter. Interior Minister Abdolvahed Musavi-Lari told the parliament in late-November that Iranian security forces have killed 360 Afghan drug traffickers and arrested another 4,000 of them during the last six months.

On 1 December, however, it was announced that the 1st Brigade of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps' 5th Nasr Division had staged a 48-hour operation near Salehabad and Torbat-i Jam, killing 20 bandits, including three of their leaders (Shiro, Akbar, and Golab), and arresting 20 more. The brigade commander, Colonel Seyyed Hassan Mortazavi, added that the bandits' "main command headquarters" was destroyed, and the IRGC drove the bandits out of a 200 square-kilometer area.

But the fighting continued. The deaths of 10 air force personnel in Khorasan were reported on 5 December. The killing of four smugglers was announced the next day. Brigadier General Ruyanian announced on 8 December that 35 bandits were killed or captured, and 27 hostages were freed by the security forces. The Nasr Division announced the next day that infantry with artillery and helicopter support cleared a 600 square-kilometer portion of Khorasan Province. LEF chief Brigadier General Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf announced on 9 December that the "clean up" of Kashmar, Bardeskan, Esfareyan, and Khaf was complete. The kidnapping of more villagers was reported on 12 and 13 December. The killing of ten and wounding of nine others in Torbat-e Jam, Torbat-e Heidarieh and Gazik was announced on 15 December.

The continuous nature of the crisis is probably what led the parliamentary representative from Kashmar, Mohammad Reza Khabbaz, to openly reject Interior Minister Musavi-Lari's 13 November statement that security activities had slowed the flow of drugs into Iran and this was why there were so many kidnappings. Musavi-Lari responded that the topic should be discussed in a closed committee "so that I may inform them of the untold problems. Many of the factors and agents of insecurity have been there for years and I shall talk about them in the committee," "Dowran-i Imruz" reported on 18 November.

Musavi-Lari's cryptic comment, references to "rebels" and "insurgents" by official sources, and the methodology employed against them also undermine the belief that this is just a conflict with smugglers and criminal gangs. Hinting that the public is not helping the security forces, Hojatoleslam Qolam Heidar Heidari, the ideological-political deputy of the LEF's Salman Tactical Base in Birjand, asked people not to give incorrect information about the rebels. "People's non-cooperation leads to the failure of the operations and even martyrdom of the security forces' members," he said, according to the 1 November "Ava-yi Birjand."

Flight commander 2nd Lieutenant Brigadier General Majid Aqiqi-Ravan, commander of the Army Aviation Corps, discussed the use of helicopters for inserting troops and also as weapons platforms in "the fight against those who cause insecurity along the borders and against armed insurgents," "Jomhuri-yi Islami" reported on 6 December. State television reported the death of five "insurgents" and the arrest of another "insurgent" at the hands of the Tayyebad border regiment on 2 December. And Intelligence and Security Minister Hojatoleslam Ali Yunesi said during a late-November trip to Sistan va Baluchistan that there were efforts to undermine unity between local Sunnis and Shia.

Several government organizations are responsible for security in the eastern provinces: the LEF, the regular military, the IRGC, and the Basij Resistance Forces. The way these forces are utilized also indicates that there is more afoot than fighting smugglers. IRGC Joint Staff central headquarters chief Ali Akbar Ahmadian said on 24 November that the Basij would recruit 15 million new members in the next five years, and Khorasan IRGC commander Brigadier General Akbar Ebrahimzadeh said on 21 November that 800,00 Basij members have been trained for duties along the eastern borders. What this really means is that locals are given weapons and rudimentary small arms training, then the government announces that they are members of the Basij.

Torbat-i Heidarieh IRGC and Basij commander Colonel Ali Mohammadifar said they will initially protect their villages, but they also will "take part in ambush operations against bandits," "Kayhan" reported on 23 November. This is a pattern seen in other counter-insurgency campaigns (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 30 October 2000).

Deployment of the Army's Nabi Akram mobile brigade in Khorasan and Sistan va Baluchistan was mentioned by Army commander Major General Mohammad Salimi in mid-November. Brigadier General Mulla Ebrahimi had said in late-September that these units would not have a fixed base but instead would move around the southern parts of Khorasan and all of Sistan va Baluchistan. And the assignment of "offensive operational battalions" to the region was described by LEF training centers commander Qasem Rezai, "Khorasan" reported on 16 October.

In addition to law enforcement activities, Tehran hopes to address the problem of drug abuse in Iran and insecurity in the east is by blocking the traffickers' access to the country, witness Khorasan Governor-General Mohsen Mehralizadeh's repetition on 10 December of the government's pledge of 200 billion rials for security measures. Yet Law Enforcement Forces chief Brigadier General Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf said that this amount is insufficient on 9 December.

Tehran also is encouraging the Afghans to grow alternative crops, Anti-Narcotics Headquarters chief Mohammad Fallah said on 3 December, according to state radio. Tehran and the UN Drug Control Program also created the NOROUZ project, which addresses interdiction, demand reduction, legal reform, and public awareness, and CIRUS (Combined Interdiction Unified Strategy for Iran).

There is little confidence in these efforts. Parliamentarian Mohsen Mirdamadi complained that despite all the governmental efforts, transiting of narcotics through Iran continues, so Iran must "take a more comprehensive view of this important matter," "Khorasan" reported on 15 December. Many other state officials have called for a new strategy (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 26 June and 23 October 2000), and the Iranian media is also calling for something new.

"Hambastegi" said in November that the insecurity results from competing and multiple decision-making centers and a lack of clarity about who is responsible for security in the east. And Mohammad Kianush-Rad, a member of the parliamentary national security and foreign policy committee, ascribed crime in the region to unemployment and drought-related crop failures. Arming villagers was criticized by "Dowran-i Imruz" on 3 December for weakening the central government.

Commentary in the conservative press is even more critical of the government. The 28 October "Javan," for example, said the drug interdiction forces had surrendered, the "electronic barrier" was inadequate, and the foreign exchange surplus should be used to solve the security problem. Two weeks earlier, "Javan" had recommended the firing squad, rather than prison, for major smugglers and dealers, labor camps for lesser dealers, and treatment for addicts. "Qods" advised on 26 October, "Act instead of issuing slogans."

Taliban chief Mulla Omar decreed in July of this year that "opium poppy cultivation in the whole country is strictly prohibited." It is very unlikely that cultivation will be eliminated, since opium is the biggest money earner for Afghanistan, but it will be interesting to see what becomes of cross-border trafficking and to observe the impact on security in Iran's eastern provinces. (Bill Samii)

IRAN TRADES FOODSTUFFS. Iran has pledged to import about 120,000 head of Somali cattle over the next six months, Mogadishu's "Ayaamaha" daily reported on 18 December. Also, the Colombian Agricultural-Livestock Institute has signed a letter of intent and sanitary cooperation with the Iranian Embassy in Colombia, with the expectation of exporting over 5,000 tons of meat in the first half of 2001, Bogota's "Portafolio" reported on 14 December. Smuggled cattle also is entering Iran, and according to an official from Birjand's Sarbisheh District who was speaking on condition of anonymity, "Pakistani and Afghan cattle are infected with plague and other dangerous diseases," "Iran Daily" reported on 5 November. Livestock that was captured in late-September suffered from Congo Fever, Zahedan police chief Nasser Shabani said, according to IRNA.

It remains unclear why meat imports -- legal or illegal -- are necessary, because last February the Construction Jihad Ministry's Deputy Minister for Livestock Affairs, Ahmad Kabiri, said Iran has "attained self-sufficiency in production of major animal products." Also, a subsidiary of Iran's Oppressed and Disabled Foundation (Bonyad-i Mostazafan va Janbazan) has begun production of milk-fed white veal, according to the 6 December "Tehran Times." According to a report from Turkey's Gendarmarie, however, Iran buys animals from other countries and ships them onward, Anatolia news agency reported on 5 November. The report also said that 400-500 cows and 4-5 million sheep are smuggled into Turkey from Iran and Iraq by the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).

Mohammad Memarzadeh, managing-director of Iran's Cereal Organization, announced on 11 December that Iran purchased 5.6 million tons of wheat, at an average price of $130 per ton, from Australia, Argentina, Canada, France, and Kazakhstan, according to IRNA. The main reason for importing so much wheat, Memarzadeh said, was the damage caused to the domestic crop by drought. 4.5 million tons of wheat was purchased from Iranian producers at a price of 875 rials per kilogram. In the March-November 2000 period, Iran exported $43 million worth of saffron, dates, and almonds, the Export Promotion Center of Iran reported according to a 17 December IRNA report. Date and saffron exports were higher than in the previous year, whereas the almost export rate dropped nine percent. (Bill Samii)

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