Accessibility links

Iran Report: November 15, 1999


15 November 1999, Volume 2, Number 45

PRESS HEARINGS WITHOUT A JURY. Iranian jurist Nematollah Ahmadi recently told RFE/RL's Persian Service that no publications can be banned except following a conclusion by the press jury. Somebody should tell this to Press Court Judge Said Mortazavi, who has presided over many recent newspaper closures.

"Asr-i Azadegan" editor Mashallah Shamsolvaezin, who is on trial for forgery and insulting Islamic principles, refused to speak until a jury was seated, saying, "I will not respond to any of your questions in absence of the jury per article 168 of the constitution and article 34 of the press law," according to an 8 November Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) report. In August, a disciplinary court found that Mortazavi conducted himself improperly by issuing a verdict with neither the jury nor the accused present (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 6 September 1999).

Fourteen new press jury members were elected in October, and they will serve for two years. Before their selection, the 12 October "Jomhuri-yi Islami" expressed concern that the jurors would be factionally-oriented, and it advised that selection criteria include "commitment and piety," "revolutionary spirit and a serious faith and conviction in the path of the Imam," and impartiality.

The press jury is already showing its impartiality. Until recently, Mortazavi participated actively in jury deliberations. The new jury, however, has banned Mortazavi from any future proceedings, "Hamshahri" reported on 7 November. (Bill Samii)

NEW REALITIES SEEN MAKING VIOLENCE UNACCEPTABLE. There were several demonstrations in different parts of Iran on 9 November. Not only do these events indicate unrest among young Iranians about several issues relating to the government's interpretation of free expression, they also demonstrate the different values held by the generation that knows nothing of the monarchy and which did not participate in the Islamic revolution.

At Yasouj Medical University in Fars Province, there was a two-hour clash between students and pressure groups. This occurred when liberal journalist Ezzatollah Sahabi of "Iran-i Farda" was scheduled to address the university's Islamic student association, "Khordad" reported on 10 November,

About 1,500 students at Tehran's Amir Kabir University demonstrated against the prison sentences imposed on several of their peers. Judge Said Mortazavi had sentenced three students to prison terms in connection with an allegedly blasphemous play (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 8 November 1999). Speakers at the demonstration complained that the play was not blasphemous, the students should have been acquitted, and that Mortazavi had exerted psychological pressure on the students' families by warning that they could be executed, according to Reuters.

Also in Tehran, about 400 conservative students demonstrated against reformist newspapers, according to "Resalat." The conservative daily said the students were particularly upset about "Asr-i Azadegan" editor Mashallah Shamsolvaezin. An unknown number of conservative students from Tehran's Imam Sadiq University held demonstrations, too, "Entekhab" and "Kayhan" reported.

These reports support an article by Ahmad Shirzad in the 8 November "Sobh-i Imruz." He points out that twenty years have passed since the revolution. Behavior that was then acceptable, and even necessary, is now completely out of place. The new generation, furthermore, has different values that reflect the new realities. For example, Shirzad writes, the seizure of the U.S. Embassy was considered a justifiable action by students in 1979, but now students would see such an act as extra-legal, uncivilized, and a violation of international human rights.

Shirzad closes by saying that the mistake of hardliners and their pressure groups is the failure to recognize the new realities. In the current circumstances, violence as means of political expression is unacceptable, as is militant opposition to and repression of free expression. (Bill Samii)

JURY RECOMMENDS GUILTY VERDICT FOR NURI. The Special Court for the Clergy's jury found Hojatoleslam Abdullah Nuri guilty on 15 of the infractions with which he is charged, the Islamic Republic News Agency reported on 11 November. The jury recommended against leniency for Nuri, who has seven days to submit his final defense. Following that, the judge will issue a final verdict.

After the jury's decision was announced, Nuri said, "Since I do not deem the Special Court for the Clergy to be a legal body, I do not care about the opinion of this unlawful court and its jury." He added, "Manateq-i Azad" reported on 13 November: "I will neither appeal personally nor via my lawyer, Hojatoleslam Mohsen Rahami, but will readily accept the verdict of the court, however hard it may be."

Rahami, had hoped that the jury would make an impartial decision. He told RFE/RL's Persian Service: "I think if the gentlemen [of the jury] make their decision without political considerations, our presentation and defense arguments will not allow for any offense to be attributed to my client."

During the trial, Nuri demolished many long-standing hardline values with clear logic. While this may have earned him popular support, it did not help his case. The prosecutor in the case, Hojatoleslam Mohammad Ebrahim Nikunam, said the more Nuri talks, "we realize that our opinion about him was right and his guilt becomes more certain," according to the 11 November "Sobh-i Imruz."

Nikunam also wanted to clarify that the neither he nor the Special Court is factional. He said: "Many of my friends know that I am not factional and the Special Court for the Clergy is not factional either. The Special Court was appointed by the Imam and the Supreme Leader. Are they factional?" (Bill Samii)

IRANIAN GAS PLANS MEET SETBACKS. Speaking at the inaugural session of a Tehran conference on Persian Gulf gas resources, Iranian Petroleum Minister Bijan Namdar Zanganeh said his country is ready to play a "proactive role" in the regional hydrocarbons trade through purchases and/or swaps of crude oil and natural gas, IRNA reported on 7 November. The next day, National Iranians Gas Company official Assadollah Malek Nejad added that Iran is ready to cooperate with foreign companies to form a consortium for gas export promotion. But Iranian ambitions are meeting obstacles imposed by its own negotiating techniques, the nature of the gas market, and U.S. sanctions against development of Iran's energy sector.

To attract more trade, Zanganeh announced that swap fees from Central Asia will be dropped 30 percent, and he predicted that fees will fall even more as trade volume increases. These factors, combined with "Iran's enhanced facilities," will lead to the inevitable failure of the politically driven multiple pipelines concept, Zanganeh said. The Petroleum Minister promoted Iran as a supplier by saying that it has the second largest natural gas deposits in the world, and he promoted natural gas itself by saying 85 percent of Iran's thermal power plants currently run on natural gas and soon this will reach 93 percent.

High costs have hindered swap agreements with Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan, so the reduction in fees may lead to an increase in volume. Also, industry officials and consultants told RFE/RL that negotiating with the Iranians is a long and unpleasant process, as the Iranians try to maximize their profits to such a degree that the deal becomes unsound. Iran's reduction in fees may have come too late as other countries appear to be concluding that building new pipelines is easier than negotiating with the Iranians.

Deputy Petroleum Minister for International Affairs Mehdi Husseini told the conference that gas development projects are being hampered by the low price of gas. To correct this problem, Qolam Hussein Hassan-Tash, director of Iran's Institute for International Gas Studies, suggested creation of a "common market" for the gas industry. He added that this would help overcome "non-transparency in prices and pricing mechanisms, huge initial investments, long negotiations on pipeline construction, political and legal obstacles, and imbalance between supply and demand." Hassan-Tash warned: "non-coordination does not benefit anybody and it seems that both producers and consumers will get hurt."

Development of oil and gas pipelines through Iran has met with stiff resistance from the US government, which is promoting the Baku-Ceyhan oil pipeline and a gas pipeline from Turkmenistan to Turkey through the Caspian Sea. White House adviser on Caspian energy issues John Wolf expressed the hope that Turkey, Azerbaijan, Georgia, and the BP Amoco-led consortium known as the Azerbaijan International Operating Company would sign a technical agreement on Baku-Ceyhan soon, the "Washington Post" reported on 6 November. Financing still must be arranged.

Russia is still promoting its own Blue Stream gas pipeline, which would pass through the Northern Caucasus and the Black Sea, and into Turkey. It has lobbied against Baku-Ceyhan and the Trans-Caspian Pipeline, but the conflict in Chechnya makes Blue Stream unlikely for the time being. Turkish Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit traveled to Moscow in the first week of November to discuss the project, but he did not sign the protocol that would open the way for construction. Turkish Daily News reported on 10 November that this was for domestic political reasons, but Istanbul's "Radikal" said the U.S. had pressured Ecevit not to sign the protocol.

Iran is working on a gas pipeline to Turkey, also. Iranian Petroleum Minister Zanganeh said on 7 November that he expects Iran's work to finish sometime early next year, but he did not specify when Turkey is scheduled to complete its portion of the pipeline, which will link Iran's natural gas fields with the Turkish distribution network. According to the "Radikal" newspaper, the U.S. has blocked delivery of a compressor station ordered by Turkey. When the Turkish Pipelines Company (BOTAS) asked the U.S. Embassy about the delay, it was told that "the U.S. administration has not issued a permit for the compressor station as part of its policy of curtailment of investments in Iran and Libya." (Bill Samii)

IRANIAN ATTITUDES TOWARDS CHECHEN CONFLICT. There are almost 200,000 displaced persons in Ingushetia now. After an Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe delegation visited one of the refugee camps, the delegation head, Norwegian diplomat Kim Traavik, said Russia's military actions in Chechnya are no longer Moscow's "internal affair." But Iran has consistently referred to the North Caucasus conflict as an internal Russian affair. And when the official Iranian reaction was to urge Russian moderation, the Russian Foreign Ministry told its Iranian counterpart that the issue would be settled without foreign interference (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 18 October 1999).

Since that time, however, commentary in some Iranian newspapers has urged Russia to cease its offensive. Iranian governmental and semi-governmental organizations also have called for a peaceful resolution to the conflict, although their statements are relatively subdued in comparison to those made about NATO during the Kosova conflict. Meanwhile, there are more reports from Russian sources about Iranian military aid to the Chechens.

"Moscow officials should ... adopt modern methods in dealing with the situation," an editorial in the 13 October "Kayhan International" advised. The English-language newspaper went on to say that escalation of the conflict should be avoided so it does not affect regional stability. On 28 October, "Kayhan International" condemned the Russian military campaign and urged the international community and particularly the Muslim community to press Moscow to stop its military campaign. "No influential Islamic state has yet told Russia that the carnage has gone too far," the daily complained on 1 November. It warned that NATO just wants a pretext to expand eastward and the U.S. may soon jump in to "complicate the situation." In light of reports about the problems facing the thousands of displaced persons fleeing to Ingushetia, on 8 November "Kayhan International" urged the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) and the UN to act to end the conflict.

When Deputy Foreign Minister Mohsen Aminzadeh went to Moscow, "Tehran Times" asked on 25 October, "Did he really try to persuade the Russian officials to seek peaceful solutions to the Chechen crisis and stop carnage of the innocent civilians?" The daily, which is affiliated with the Islamic Propagation Organization, said it was against disintegration of the Russian Federation, because this would undermine third world countries and "shift the balance of power in favor of the United States." By alienating its Muslim population, the Russian government was only playing into "the diabolic plots to dismember the federation [that] have been hatched by the United States." "Tehran Times" urged the Iranian Foreign Ministry to help resolve the dispute so Iran's regional diplomacy will not be considered a "paralyzed diplomacy."

The semi-governmental Islamic Propagation Organization "condemned the massacre of civilians" in Grozny, the Islamic Republic News Agency reported on 24 October. The IPO called on international organizations and Islamic governments to "make efforts to prevent massacre of Muslims" and help achieve a peaceful settlement. Praising the efforts of President Mohammad Khatami, as head of the OIC, to settle problems facing Muslim countries, the IPO urged the Iranian government to pressure Russia to accept a cease-fire and enter negotiations. The IPO criticized the international community's silence on "Russian crimes in Chechnya."

The official Iranian reaction to the conflict was still fairly subdued at the end of October. Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi "expressed deep regret and concern" over the deaths of Chechen civilians killed in a Russian air attack on a convoy, IRNA reported on 30 October. Expressing hope that the conflict would be resolved peacefully, Assefi said that "military moves not only have always failed to resolve crises in this sensitive region but have made the situation more complicated and unstable."

Apparently this approach is meeting with increasing unhappiness in some sections of Iran. A number of "religious figures of Iran" sent a demand to Khatami to outline the government's Chechnya policy, IRNA reported on 8 November.

Reports likely based on Russian disinformation now accuse Iranians of supplying the Chechens with arms. Moscow�s "Segodnya" on 11 November reported that Chechen leader Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev is getting weapons from a Kuwait-based Iranian firm called Muassasat Fallah Li al-Istithmarat. According to "Segodnya," the Chechens are so cash-strapped that they are paying for the weapons with drugs. According to another report, senior members of the Islamic Revolution Guard Corps met with "two senior Chechen rebels, representing the Chechen warlord Khattab," in October. The Chechens reportedly asked for SAM-7 anti-aircraft missiles and Iranian-made anti-tank missiles, the London "Times" reported on 5 November. The weapons will be delivered "by lorry, travelling via Armenia and Georgia, and then by cargo ship across the Caspian Sea, via Daghestan."

This will be quite a feat, since Georgia does not border the Caspian. But just to be safe, and probably in reaction to Russian pressure, Georgia has temporarily stopped issuing visas to citizens of 21 countries (including Iran), that could be "potential suppliers of arms and fighters," Georgian State Border Guard Chairman Valery Ckheidze said, according to Tbilisi's Prime-News on 10 November. (Bill Samii)

AMAL'S RELATIONSHIP WITH IRAN. Amal was the first major Shia militia in Lebanon, and an Iranian-born cleric was instrumental in its formation. In the 24 years since Amal's creation, other armed Shia organizations have emerged, and their relationship with Iran is much closer than Amal's ever was. In an interview with RFE/RL, an Amal leader described the major differences among Lebanon's Shia parties, Amal and Hizballah.

In the summer of 1975, an explosion in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley killed thirty to forty Lebanese Shia and their military instructors. At the funeral a few days later, Iranian-born cleric Imam Musa Sadr admitted to the formation of a Shia militia called Amal (Afwaj al-Muqawama al-Lubnaniya). This announcement was greeted with a roar of approval and chants for the "Imam of the Disinherited" and the "Imam of the Mujahedin." In the following years, Amal's relationship with Iran consisted of training opponents of the monarchy, many of whom, such as Mustafa Chamran, rose to leadership positions in the Islamic Republic. As for Imam Musa, he disappeared in August 1978 while visiting Libya, never to be seen again.

Although the Iranian revolution inspired many Lebanese Shia, there were divisions over the desirability of emulating Iran. As the civil war in Lebanon intensified, splits within Amal emerged over the party's relative moderation and relations with Syria and Iran. A number of people left Amal to join more militant organizations, believing their interests would be better defended by such groups.

One of the first to part ways with Amal was Hussein Musawi, a member of its Command Council, who wanted to emulate the Iranian revolution. Musawi went on to form Islamic Amal, which operated in the Bekaa Valley with support from the Islamic Revolution Guard Corps. Hizballah emerged in 1982 with cells in the Bekaa and in Beirut. Among its leaders were militant Shia clerics, such as Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, Sheikh Abbas Musawi (d. 1992), and Sheikh Subih Tufaili. Another Hizballah founder, Sheikh Raghib Harb (d. 1984), stated: "my house in Lebanon is the embassy of the Islamic Republic of Iran."

Now, Amal, Hizballah, and most recently, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, are considered to be the "Islamic Resistance" against the Israeli presence in southern Lebanon. But Amal and Hizballah continue to differ on tactics and objectives. Even if Israeli forces leave Lebanon, Hizballah wants to fight on to Jerusalem and "liberation" of Palestine.

Amal is also hostile towards Israel. This can be traced to the fact that many of Lebanon's Shia came from the south, but it is also linked with two fatwas (religious decrees) passed by Imam Musa. The fatwas declared that dealing with Israeli is forbidden (haram) and that Israeli is absolute evil (sharun mutlaq). Even now, Amal officials believe that Israel does not want a strong and united Lebanon. But there is a difference with Hizballah's approach. A member of Amal's political bureau, Ali Hamdan, told RFE/RL that "We believe there is rational and mature Islam...we can fight to liberate our land. Defending yourselves and liberating your land is a right, but we do not believe ... in moving to an open front."

Also, Amal does not believe in Vilayat-i Faqih (rule of the supreme jurisprudent). It does not look to Iran for leadership, or even to Lebanese cleric Sheikh Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah. As far as Amal is concerned, according to Ali Hamdan, Lebanon's Shia leadership is based in that country's Supreme Shia Council (al-Majlis al-Islami al-Shii al-Ala), which currently is led by Sheikh Mohammad Mehdi Shams al-Din. Shams al-Din was a member of Amal's Command Council until 1983.

During his rise to prominence, Imam Musa worked with all the confessional groups in Lebanon, be they Sunni or Shia, Christian or Muslim, and he promoted Lebanese national unity. Amal continues to operate on that basis, and the party has Sunnis and even Christians among its membership. The Amal Charter states that the organization is a "national movement, firmly attached to national sovereignty and territorial integrity of the homeland." Hizballah is still a Shia organization, on the other hand, and some Lebanese observers believe that Hizballah hopes Lebanon will become an Islamic republic on an Iranian model. Regarding the relationship with Iran, Amal political bureau member Ali Hamdan said that "our policies may or may not interact with Iran's, but that is for the government to decide." Amal leader Nabih Berri is speaker of the Lebanese National Assembly.

Amal is proud of Iran's Islamic revolution, Hamdan said, and it appreciates Iranian assistance for the Lebanese government and people, "but we want to be equal partners." There is a difference between being allies and being partners, he explained, and "it is a Lebanese matter, not a Shia matter." (Bill Samii)

THREE BOMBINGS BLAMED ON IRAN. Recent news reports connect Iran with several terrorist bombings. The most recent report links Iran with the bombing in Netanya, Israel. There also are reports, citing unnamed sources, of official Iranian involvement in the 1996 bombing in al-Khobar, Saudi Arabia, and in the 1983 bombings in Beirut, Lebanon.

Palestinian Authority Secretary General al-Tayyib Abd al-Rahim told Qol Yisrael radio and the Voice of Palestine that Iran was behind the 7 November bombing in Netanya. He said that the PA has "complete information about some forces in Iran, some influential persons in Hizballah, the Islamic Jihad or some in the Islamic Jihad, and also some forces in Hamas - all of whom receive their orders from Iran" having plans to conduct such terrorist operations.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid-Reza Assefi said on 8 November "the allegations by Palestine authorities against Iran are aimed at covering up the failure of Palestinian officials to receive anything in return for the concessions" they have made to Israel. A Hamas spokesman told Qatar's al-Jazirah television that accusations of an Iranian link are false and are being made because Iran is "targeted by the Americans and the Zionist entity." Even Israeli defense sources dismissed claims that Iran was behind the Netanya attack, according to Maariv. It reported that Israel's domestic security agency (Shin Bet) blames Hamas, and the bombers came from areas under PA control.

But there are many signs that the Iranian leadership does not oppose such occurrences. On 9 November, a Jihad Movement rally sponsored by Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei was held in Tehran, al-Jazirah reported. At this event, Palestinian Islamic Jihad threatened to resume armed operations in Israel soon. Other participants at the rally included Hizballah and Hamas.

Unnamed U.S. government officials said, according to "Newsweek" magazine's 15 November edition, that they have hard evidence of Iranian government involvement in the June 1996 bombing in Saudi Arabia that killed 19 American military personnel and wounded hundreds of other people. Iranian government assistance in this case included provision of passports, money, and agents, according to the weekly's sources.

"Newsweek" also reports that the U.S. National Security Agency recorded a 1983 telephone call from Tehran's Ambassador in Damascus to his foreign minister, Ali-Akbar Velayati. In this call, the ambassador described ordering Abu Haidar of the Husseini Suicide Forces Movement to get weapons from Yassir Arafat's Fatah group to use in an operation against the U.S. Marines in Beirut. The October 1983 bombing of the Marine barracks killed 241 people.

Then-Ambassador Ali Akbar Mohtashemi-Pur is now viewed as a "reformist" by some observers. And in the 1980s, Arafat was passing information about militant Shia groups in Lebanon to the U.S. government.

It is not clear why this information is being reported now, because it is already part of the public record. David C. Martin and John C. Walcott, in their book "Best Laid Plans" (1988), wrote that the driver of the truck that destroyed the Marine barracks was a member of the "Husseini Suicide Forces," which was led by a relative of Islamic Amal leader Hussein Musawi. The book also reported that the NSA had intercepted the phone call from Mohtashemi-Pur to Tehran, as well as to the IRGC in Baalbek.

Other intercepted phone calls from Damascus to Tehran, as well as post facto interrogations, provided detailed information about the April 1983 bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Beirut. This incident killed 63 people. Mohtashemi-Pur's contact in the Foreign Ministry for these activities was Hussein Sheikholeslam, currently the ambassador to Syria. (Bill Samii)

CORRECTION: Last week's "RFE/RL Iran Report" incorrectly referred to Maurice Copithorne as the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, but he actually is the Special Representative of the Commission on Human Rights on the Islamic Republic of Iran. The High Commissioner for Human Rights is Mary Robinson.

XS
SM
MD
LG