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Iran Report: October 18, 1999

18 October 1999, Volume 2, Number 41

RUSSIA ANSWERS IRAN ON NORTH CAUCASUS. Iran initially expressed support for Russia in its handling of the situation in Daghestan and the North Caucasus, describing it as an internal Russian matter (see "RFE/RL Iran Report, 4 October 1999). As Russian armed forces commenced military activities against Chechnya, however, Iran apparently realized that it could not condemn Western support for Kosavar Muslims while turning a blind eye to Russian repression of its own Muslims.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi said: "The Islamic Republic of Iran, while honoring Russia's territorial integrity, does not regard violent and hostile acts as a suitable way of dealing with recent incidents in Chechnya and Daghestan." Assefi urged Russia to cease its military operations, the Islamic Republic News Agency reported on 5 October. The next day, Assefi said "The government and people of Iran cannot but deplore the continued armed operation by the Russian troops on the Northern Caucasus," according to Russia's governmental RIA-Novosti news agency. Assefi added that "Iran is determined to cooperate with Russia to settle the crisis through peaceful means."

Russian Foreign Ministry Secretary-General Alexander Lyusukov responded, IRNA reported on 11 October, that Russian public opinion demands that the "Chechen crisis" be settled quickly, but "We assure you that the Russian government will do what it can not to inflict any damage on Muslims in that region." Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said in a note sent to Iran, ITAR-TASS reported on 12 October: "We are concerned over the attitude of Islamic countries to the events in Chechnya. However, it is a domestic Russian problem, and we intend to settle it independently, without any aid or interference." (Bill Samii)

FRANCE PLANS TO SPEAK OUT FOR ARRESTED JEWS. President Mohammad Khatami is scheduled to visit Paris soon to deliver an address at UNESCO. Perhaps to allay concerns that hosting Khatami sends the wrong signal to Iran's government, French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine said he would tell Khatami that the issue of 13 Iranian Jews arrested on charges of spying for Israel is harming efforts to improve Iran's relationship with the outside world. Vedrine also said, Reuters reported on 13 October, that Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi "gave him the impression" that Iran is looking for a face-saving way out of the situation.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi reminded Vedrine that Iran's relations with other countries is based on "mutual respect and non-interference in each other's domestic affairs," according to state broadcasting on 13 October. Assefi added that the case is being handled by Iran's Judiciary. Assefi's words essentially matched Kharrazi's earlier, and oft-repeated, comments about the case.

While attending the UN General Assembly session at the end of September, Kharrazi gave "indirect assurances" that the 13 Jews would not be executed, according to the 1 October "Washington Post." This "assurance" was Kharrazi's patently false statement that "Iran does not carry out capital punishment for crimes committed in peacetime."

But according to the logic of some in Iran, that country is not in peacetime where Israel is concerned. "Since the Zionist regime is the enemy of Muslims and the Islamic Republic, the punishment for those who spy for the enemy is death," the conservative "Jomhuri-yi Islami" newspaper reported on 4 October. (Bill Samii)

IRANIAN FEARS ABOUT IMPACT OF PAKISTAN COUP. On 13 October, IRNA reported, Hojatoleslam Quchani, head of the Ideological and Political Department of the Islamic Republic of Iran's Armed Forces said that "There is no proclivity in the Islamic Republic of Iran's Armed Forces toward political factions." He added that "the armed forces must abide only by the orders of the late Imam and afterwards those of the eminent leader of the revolution [Ayatollah Khamenei]." His timing suggests that he was reacting to the military coup against Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, which Iranian state broadcasting described on 13 October as the Pakistani military's move to "once again stamp its absolute authority over all aspects of the economic and political life in the country."

The official Iranian reaction came from Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi, who said that Iran "hopes to see that peace and security is swiftly restored in Pakistan," IRNA reported on 12 October. The Foreign Ministry also issued a circular asking the press "to confine themselves to factual reporting and to refrain, until further notice, from talking sides in view of the uncertainty of the situation," "Khordad" reported on 14 October.

Several newspapers ignored this request. "Jomhuri-yi Islami" speculated on 14 October that the coup stemmed from public dissatisfaction with Sharif in two areas. One was his handling of the Kargil crisis, "which resulted in the humiliation of the military," and during which it seemed "he was following [U.S. President Bill] Clinton's orders." The other was the spate of sectarian violence. The English-language "Iran Daily" -- affiliated with the Islamic Republic News Agency -- ascribed the coup to identical factors.

Editorials in "Iran Daily" and "Iran News" also stated that Sharif did not recognize his country's power structure, in which the military is at the top, followed by Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), the president, and finally, the prime minister. Both publications speculated that he may have been encouraged by the U.S. to try to upgrade his status.

Regarding the impact of the coup on Iran, "Iran News" said "Tehran should double its vigilance on our common borders with Pakistan" to prevent an increase in drug trafficking. And "Khordad" criticized the Foreign Ministry for not having a "transparent stance" regarding developments in Pakistan. (Bill Samii)

THE REAL GREEN PARTY. The Canada-based "Green Party of Iran" announced on 12 October that the Iranian government has created a "government controlled green party." Licensing of the Islamic Republic's "Green Party" was announced by the Islamic Republic News Agency in September (see "RFE/RL Iran Report, 11 October 1999). The Canada-based Green Party says it was "founded to defend Iran�environment, [and] ... expose and oppose the current Iranian regime�nuclear, chemical, and biological mass production of weapons." It also has condemned death sentences against student protesters and called for the release of 13 Iranian Jews accused of espionage. (Bill Samii)

ARRESTS, ELECTIONS MAY DELAY MURDER TRIAL. Additional arrests -- and government charges against the newspaper that identified those arrested -- suggest that the case against dissident Iranian intellectuals and journalists is either approaching a resolution or unraveling before an ever more sceptical public. But combined with the approaching elections, these arrests seem likely to push any trial date back into next year.

Among the people arrested was the wife of Said Emami, the Ministry of Intelligence and Security official who allegedly committed suicide last June after confessing fully about the plot to commit numerous political murders, according to the 6 October "Tehran Times." Also arrested was the brother-in-law of Musavi, another imprisoned MOIS official. The Armed Forces judicial organization announced the arrest of six people in connection with the case, but no names were provided.

London-based journalist Ali Reza Nurizadeh told RFE/RL's Persian Service that, in addition to Mrs. Emami, Mustafa Kazemi, Pur-Mohammadi, Pur-Fallah, Akbarian, and Taheri were arrested. An un-named source, however, told "Tehran Times" that three of the people arrested are Emami's (un-named) secretary, Qobbeh, and Samadi. The reports from RFE/RL and "Tehran Times" were cited by the 11 October "Kar va Kargar."

The Armed Forces judicial organization said in a 12 October state television broadcast that such stories are intended to "disrupt the course of the investigations." The Tehran Public Prosecutor's Office would, therefore, "pursue any individual who embarks on propagating and publishing such rumors, fabricated and misleading reports and unsubstantiated commentaries on this case, as accessories before or after the fact." Emphasizing this threat was the 12 October questioning of "Tehran Times" managing-editor Abbas Salimi Namin, who later said: "The judiciary officials were insisting that I reveal the identity of the sources of the stories recently carried by the daily."

"Manateq-i Azad" reported on 12 October that another suspect in the murders, Akbar Khosh-Kush, committed suicide while in prison. The next day, the Tehran Province military prosecutor told "Manateq-i Azad" that nobody named Khush-Kush was arrested, and the whole thing was a rumor "spread about two months ago ... the source of the rumor is Ali Reza Nurizadeh (an Iranian journalist residing in Europe) and his ilk."

Mohammad Zarafshan, a lawyer and associate of Mohammad Puyandeh, one of the victims of the MOIS murderers, spoke about the murder case in the 6 October "Aftab-i Imruz." He expressed the belief that hardliners do not want a neutral court to judge the case. Therefore, they must silence the reformist newspapers, and because that has not been achieved yet, the trial will not be held until the parliamentary election is over. (Bill Samii)

EXPEDIENCY COUNCIL TO DECIDE ON ELECTION BILL. Iran's parliament passed the new election bill to the Council for the Discernment of Expediency for final determination, state television reported on 12 October. The parliament had approved the bill, but the conservative Guardians Council rejected it on the grounds that the bill's requirement for a written explanation to disqualified candidates was unconstitutional.

At first glance, the Guardians Council's rejection of the bill may be encouraging to opponents of that body's role in supervising every aspect of elections ("advisory supervision"). That is because, in the past, the power of "advisory supervision" was used to reject candidates, and it may have been used this time to reject reformist candidates for parliament. It was this very aspect of the bill (explanations to disqualified candidates), however, that was hammered out in discussions between President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami's government, the Guardians Council, and parliamentary leaders (see "RFE/RL Iran Report, 28 September 1999). "Khordad" suggested on 21 September that the amendments to the election law will create bottlenecks for candidates, increase the Guardians Council's authority, and undermine public will.

Interior Minister Abdolvahed Musavi-Lari, who has consistently opposed the Guardians Council's role in approving candidates, cast some doubt on whether the regulations would be applied to the February election. He said, according to IRNA on 10 October, that implementation depended on how early the bill was approved, which in turn would determine whether or not the Interior Ministry had time to make preparations. One should bear this in mind when looking at Deputy Interior Minister Mustafa Tajzadeh's statement, reported by IRNA on 11 October, that "a massive turnout of people and close competition among the contenders can be expected."

Rasht parliamentarian Mohammad Baqer Nobakht thinks amending the election law is unnecessary. According to the 11 October "Iran Daily," he said: "Since the present Elections Law does not have many shortcomings, there is no need to create problems for candidates by modifying it." (Bill Samii)

PRESS SEEKS PROTECTION AMIDST CLOSURES, ARRESTS. The state of the Iranian press continues to reflect the dynamic nature of Iranian politics. While parliament is considering the press bill, a daily is opened, a weekly is closed and its editor imprisoned, and several other editors are summoned by courts. It is very likely that these events are connected with the build-up to the February parliamentary election, and overall, the picture is not encouraging. What may be even more discouraging is that, so far, President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami has not acted or even spoken out to protect the media.

As parliamentary debate on the press bill approached, Iran's Muslim Journalists Association issued a statement asking parliament not to limit press freedoms, according to IRNA on 2 October. The Organization for Strengthening Unity, the Mujahedin of the Islamic Revolution Organization, the Islamic Iran Participation Party, and other 2nd Khordad movement members issued a joint statement on 8 October asking the parliament to postpone discussions on the press law for six months in order to "eliminate the suspicion that the press laws are being amended to influence the forthcoming parliamentary elections factionally."

The press bill that parliament is considering is almost identical to the plan for muffling the media which allegedly was devised by Ministry of Intelligence and Security official Said Emami last year. Be that as it may, the 12 October "Keyhan," defended the proposed press law, saying it will "block foreign influence and ... safeguard the freedom of speech."

Some reformist parliamentarians proposed boycotting the sessions at which voting on the bill would occur, with the intention of precluding a quorum's formation. Other reformists, such as Abbas Abdi and Mohsen Armin, told "Manateq-i Azad" on 10 October that the timing clearly indicated a desire to influence the pending elections. Member of Parliament Akbar Golbaz said the press law would harm all of society, "Sobh-i Imruz" reported on 10 October.

The proposed laws do not clarify the role of the Press Jury or ways of investigating press offenses, "Iran Daily" reported on 10 October. Parliamentarian Ali Asghar Yusef-Nejad said that the status of the Press Jury is degraded to that of an observer, according to the 14 October "Asr-i Azadegan." It seems unlikely that the press court will have a more tolerant attitude, because the judge responsible for many of the closures to date, Hojatoleslam Said Mortazavi, will remain in place, according to the 11 October "Tehran Times."

From a judicial perspective, in fact, events indicate that there will be no respite for the press. Mashallah Shamsolvaezin, editor of the banned dailies "Jameah," "Tus," and "Neshat," began producing a new daily called "Asr-i Azadegan" on 7 October. Shamsolvaezin's return was welcomed by Hojatoleslam Qolam Reza Hassani-Bozorgabad, Orumieh Friday Prayer leader and Assembly of Experts representative, who said: "You ignorant journalist! Think before you write. ... your vulgar piece of writing has insulted Islam, the Koran, and the Lord of the Age, your verdict therefore will be judged as one who has waged war against God" (which is punishable by death). The hardline daily "Keyhan" said "'Jameah' shed its skin again!"

If the new publication's opening indicated a respite for Shamsolvaezin, it was short-lived, because on 13 October the Special Court for the Clergy issued charges against him. The Press Court, furthermore, issued a warrant for Shamsolvaezin's arrest because he refused to appear before it.

Mohammad Hassan Alipur, managing editor of the weekly "Aban," has been undergoing intermittent questioning by the Special Court for the Clergy since September. He is accused of publishing articles about dissident cleric Ayatollah Hussein-Ali Montazeri, in contradiction of a Supreme National Security Council directive. Alipur said he had never seen such a directive and would like to see it, to which the prosecutor responded that the directive was secret, according to the 12 October "Akhbar-i Eqtesad." Alipur's requests for a court-appointed attorney, according to the 11 September "Aban," have been rejected.

Jaleh Oskui, editor of a tabloid weekly called "Panshanbe-ha," was arrested on 10 October in connection with her weekly's stories about the recent controversy over a student play. Director of Domestic Press of the Islamic Culture and Guidance Ministry, Mehrnush Jaafari, said the case went to court "due to the outrageous attitude of the weekly which mostly offended public morality," IRNA reported on 12 October. While Oskui was imprisoned, journalist Camellia Entekhabi-Fard was released. She was arrested in July after returning from a trip the U.S.

Abbas Salimi-Namin, managing director of "Tehran Times," was summoned by the military court for "revealing secrets and publishing false reports." The charges related to several articles the daily published about the investigation into last year's murders of dissident intellectuals and journalists by alleged Ministry of Intelligence and Security renegades.

Meanwhile, Hojatoleslam Abdullah Nuri, managing-editor of the daily "Khordad," was summoned by the Special Court for the Clergy. A former Interior Minister, Nouri was interpellated in June 1998, elected to Tehran municipal council in February 1999, and he recently announced his intentions to run for parliament. Complaints against "Khordad" were filed by students from Ayatollah Irivani's seminary, the student Basij, state broadcasting, the Antisacreligious Acts Office (Amr be Maruf va Nahi az Monker) and the Law Enforcement Forces' Counter-Intelligence branch.

Nuri faces charges of publishing reports that insult officials and institutions of the system, reporting lies and waging propaganda against the system, insulting Father of the Revolution Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and his views, publishing reports contrary to religious principles, and insulting religious sanctities. The 12 October "Hamshahri" goes on to report that other charges include backing ties with America, promoting dissident cleric Ayatollah Hussein-Ali Montazeri's political views, and urging recognition of Israel. The Special Court for the Clergy's special prosecutor said the contents of "Khordad" "smack of conspiracy and hostility."

Answering a Shahr-i Kord University student's question about the possible ban of "Khordad," Nuri explained: "I published this newspaper in order to revive Islam and introduce this true religion in a novel way to the youth and the adolescent, and to bring them closer to this religion." He was defiant, according to a 12 October IRNA report: "even if it is banned I will deem it my duty to promote the revival of Islam in another way."

Shamsolvaezin and journalist Hamid Reza Jalaipur had appealed to Khatami in a 2 October open letter to protect them and provide security. They said it was time for the president, as leader of the reformists, to stand up to the hardliner in defense of the press, and they asked "What are our rights and duties?" They also appealed to Judiciary chief Ayatollah Mahmud Hashemi-Shahrudi for protection, asking if they should forget their civil and religious rights instead. So far, their questions have gone unanswered.

Discussing the status of the press in Iran, Shamsolvaezin said in the 4 October "Der Spiegel" weekly that a Tehran public prosecutor asked how long the game of cat-and-mouse must continue. Shamsolvaezin responded for all Iranian journalists: "I told him that I would continue until the cat realized that the mouse had a right to live." (Bill Samii)

FOREIGN EXCHANGE BALANCE FOR VEHICLE INDUSTRY UNLIKELY. Although the Paykan automobile has been coming out of Iranian factories for 31 years, it was not until 1992 that the car was a wholly Iranian product. Overall, Iran's auto industry has 11 manufacturers, six assembly plants, five engineering and commercial firms, and two auto body casting plants. But all cars produced in Iran -- such as the Sepand, the Paykan, the Paykan RD, and the Pride -- cost more than middle-income Iranians can afford, "Iran Daily" reported on 29 August. Some 36 percent of families cannot afford a car. In terms of per-capita ownership, in Iran there are 50 vehicles for every 1000 people, according to an Industries Ministry official.

This situation can be traced to problems in manufacturing and in government planning, according to "Iran Daily." While Paykan has not improved the manufacturing process to make a defect-free product, other car companies have established assembly lines to produce foreign cars under licensing arrangements. Not only that, Paykan has resumed importing parts. This makes the finished products unaffordable. Also, the Industries Ministry's plans are made on the basis of its hard currency allocation. Most of Iran's auto manufacturers, however, are controlled by the Industrial Development and Renovation Organization, which has its own planning process.

The chairman of the parliamentary Industries and Mines Committee said the import of foreign cars was necessary if a monopoly was to be avoided, according to the 15 February "Khorasan" daily from Mashhad. As it is, Engineer Dana said, Iran Khodrow and Saipa Car Manufacture cooperate with each other in research and development, marketing, cost reduction, and joint investments. Dana also said that there is little motivation to improve, because 90 percent of the economy belongs to the state. Overall quality, therefore, will drop, he predicted.

Ahmad Nemat-Bakhsh, director of the vehicles department of the Industries Ministry, painted a more optimistic picture in a 4 October Islamic Republic News Agency report. He said that last year 206,000 vehicles were manufactured in Iran. The export of vehicles and vehicle parts were $35 million in 1997 and $65 million in 1998. Nemat-Bakhsh believes the vehicle industry will achieve a foreign exchange balance by the year beginning on 21 March 2003.

Nemat-Bakhsh is overly optimistic. Agriculture Minister Issa Kalantari said the current annual domestic production of 4,000 tractors does not meet Iranian requirements, "Iran Daily" reported on 12 October. The agricultural sector requires 15,000 tractors a year, he said. Automotive industry expert Engineer Bahrabady told "Khorasan:" "exports .. are now only a slogan." (Bill Samii)

NO DUTCH CREDIT. The 11 October 1999 "RFE/RL Iran Report" cited an Iranian state broadcasting report of a statement by Dutch Embassy consultant Khosrow Salur, in which he said two Dutch banks soon will issue 8.5 year lines of credit worth $2 billion to Iranian investors. The head of the Dutch Embassy's Economic and Cultural Section, Natalie Lintvelt, said Salur's comments "had little to do with reality," according to the October "Iran Focus." She said there have been no developments in loans to Iran from Dutch commercial banks and that $2 billion is an insurance ceiling for Iran. (Bill Samii)