Accessibility links

Breaking News

Iran Report: November 29, 2006

November 29, 2006, Volume 9, Number 44

IRAN WILL PROCEED WITH HEAVY-WATER REACTOR. U.S. Ambassador Gregory Schulte said in Vienna on November 23 that Iran's request for International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) assistance in completing its heavy water reactor in Arak, a city south of Tehran, was waived, RFE/RL reported. "The removal of Arak -- an action taken by consensus -- reflects the [IAEA] board's continued concern about the nature of Iran's nuclear program and the intentions of its leadership. Heavy water reactors are well suited to producing significant quantities of plutonium, a key ingredient in building nuclear weapons."

Adding that the 40 megawatt reactor could produce enough plutonium annually to make two nuclear bombs, Schulte called for United Nations sanctions against Iran. "The time has now come to back international diplomacy with international sanctions. Meaningful measures are needed to convince Iran's leaders to make the right choice -- a choice for constructive engagement over continued confrontation, a choice for serious negotiation over repeated noncompliance."

IAEA Director-General Muhammad el-Baradei, furthermore, encouraged Iran to be more cooperative with the nuclear watchdog.

The U.S. and many other countries suspect that Iran is trying to develop nuclear weapons, a charge that Iran rejects. The Iranian government claims its nuclear program has only peaceful applications, such as medicine and energy production.

Developing countries feared that rejection of the Iranian request would set a precedent that would retard their nuclear programs, "The Washington Post" reported on November 20. According to "The Washington Post," the IAEA does not have a legal basis for denying Tehran's request.

The IAEA governing board will not consider assisting the Arak project for two more years. Ali Asqar Soltanieh, Iran's envoy to the IAEA, tried to portray the IAEA governing board's decision as a victory, saying on November 23 that the U.S. failed to prevent Iran's submission of a request for assistance, Iranian state television reported. Soltanieh said Iran's request was backed by the non-aligned countries, the Group of 77, China, and Russia. Soltanieh continued, "this is a proof that the Islamic Republic is right and that the Islamic Republic's programs are peaceful and there is no legal logic in preventing the Islamic Republic from going ahead with its nuclear activities."

Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki had a different take on events, telling reporters in Tehran on November 23, "Tehran did not ask the IAEA for any assistance in the Arak Project," the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) reported. Mottaki said Iran would "appreciate" IAEA help, but if it is not forthcoming, "we will do it on our own."

Soltanieh effectively said the same thing on November 21. He said Iran intends to build a heavy-water reactor at Arak regardless of the level of assistance from the nuclear watchdog, state radio reported. "Even if the IAEA rejects Iran's request for technological assistance, the project to complete the reactor will not stop," Soltanieh said.

President Ahmadinejad, meanwhile, is continuing his defiant stand and promoting the country's nuclear pursuits. He said on November 20 in Tehran that the Islamic republic intends to build 60,000 uranium centrifuges by March 21, the Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA) reported. This step is necessary to meet the country's nuclear-fuel requirements, he said. (Bill Samii)

ZIMBABWEAN PRESIDENT VISITS IRAN. Robert Mugabe, the president of Zimbabwe, arrived in Tehran on November 20 for a four-day visit, Radio Farda reported.

Zimbabwe is currently experiencing hyperinflation and has massive food shortages in some parts of the country. The 82-year-old Mugabe -- whom South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu has called a "caricature of an African dictator" -- has ruled since 1980. The African Union's Executive Council has criticized Mugabe's government for the arrest and torture of opposition members of parliament and human rights lawyers, arresting journalists, the preventing freedom of expression while stifling other civil liberties. Mugabe and many members of his government are banned from traveling to the European Union.

Mugabe and President Mahmud Ahmadinejad discussed political and economic cooperation.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei used a meeting with Mugabe on November 21 to denounce alleged Western efforts to dominate other countries, IRNA reported. "However, it is witnessed that the resistance of world nations and independent countries can lead to constant failure of the world arrogance -- particularly the U.S. -- in Iraq, Palestine, Lebanon, Afghanistan, and other regions," Khamenei said. He also praised the confiscation of white farmers' land in Zimbabwe.

Iranian Energy Minister Parviz Fattah said in the November 23 edition of Harare's "The Financial Gazette" that, in a meeting with his counterpart, Mike Nyambuya, the Islamic Republic was asked to build a 1,600 megawatt power station on the Zambezi River. There also are plans to build a 600 megawatt thermal power plant, to conduct a feasibility study for an oil refinery, and to erect a hospital. Iran will accept minerals as payment, the newspaper reported.

Mugabe, his wife Grace, and Zimbabwean officials returned to Harare on November 23, ZBC Radio Zimbabwe reported. (Pete Baumgartner, Bill Samii)

IRAQI'S VISIT TO TEHRAN POSTPONED. Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, who was scheduled to arrive in Iran on November 26, has postponed his visit because of a curfew in Baghdad and the airport's closure, Reuters reported. Tehran had invited Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to join Talabani and President Mahmud Ahmadinejad for a trilateral summit, Reuters reported on November 21.

U.S. State Department spokesman Tom Casey said on November 20 that such an event would be welcome because Iraq should have good relations with all its neighbors, RFE/RL reported. "While there have been positive statements from the Iranian government about wishing to a play a positive role in Iraq, those statements haven't been backed up by actions," Casey said. "And so very much what we'd like to see the Iranian government do is desist, first and foremost, from negative actions it's taken in Iraq." (Bill Samii)

TEHRAN DECRIES REFUGEE PRESENCE. Deputy Interior Minister and Bureau for Aliens and Foreign Immigrants Affairs chief Ahmad Husseini said in the West Azerbaijan Province city of Urumiyeh on November 20 that more than 1 million Afghans reside in Iran illegally, IRNA reported. Husseini said 950,000 Afghans and 60,000 Iraqis are documented residents. Some 250,000 Afghans were arrested this year as they tried to enter the country illegally, he added, while 10,000 Afghans, Bangladeshis, and Pakistanis were arrested as they tried to leave Iran and illegally enter Turkey. Afghans resist leaving, he said, because of violence, poverty, and unemployment in their home country.

On October 31, a labor organization official said in Isfahan Province that 238,000 people are unemployed there, provincial television reported. He said the problem could be resolved by getting rid of foreign workers who do not have permits. A law enforcement official in the governor-general's office urged employers to reconsider hiring Afghans over Iranians.

In Geneva in October, Iranian Interior Minister Hojatoleslam Mustafa Pur-Mohammadi expressed concern that Afghans are not returning home as rapidly as desired (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," October 17, 2006). (Bill Samii)

LABOR LEADER DETAINED IN TEHRAN. Mansur Osanlu, head of the Tehran bus drivers syndicate, was detained by plainclothes security personnel on November 19, ISNA and the Iranian Labor News Agency (ILNA) reported. Ebrahim Madadi, deputy head of the syndicate, told Radio Farda that he was with Osanlu when they stopped to buy a newspaper at around 9 a.m. Intelligence and Security Ministry personnel detained Osanlu, according to Madadi, and one of them pulled out a handgun when Osanlu's companions objected. Madadi said the security officer fired his weapon into the air to get the crowd to disperse. Madadi added that Osanlu had received a summons the previous day to appear in court on November 20. Osanlu was arrested in December 2005 and held for approximately eight months (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," January 9, 2006). (Bill Samii)

KURDS IN TEHRAN BARRED FROM CONGREGATIONAL PRAYERS. Jalal Jalalizadeh, who represented the predominantly Kurdish city of Sanandaj in the Iranian parliament from 2000 to 2004, said on November 19 that Sunni Muslims in Tehran have not been allowed to hold congregational prayers for two weeks, ILNA reported. Jalalizadeh noted the absence of a Sunni mosque in Tehran and explained that Sunnis therefore gathered at the Pakistani Embassy's school. "But, as of two weeks ago, as a result of the pressures exerted on the embassy, they closed the school and moved it elsewhere, where it is not possible to hold the prayers," Jalalizadeh said. Given the lack of options, Sunnis gathered in Mellat Park to pray on November 17. Police and plainclothes agents broke up the crowd. Some 9 percent of Iran's population is Sunni, while 89 percent is Shi'a. Shi'a Islam is the state religion. (Bill Samii)

STUDENT KILLED IN FRONT OF FIANCEE. Students gathered outside the Teachers Training College in the city of Sabzevar on November 19 to protest the reported killing of a student the previous day, ILNA reported. Tohid Ghafarzadeh, a student at the city's Islamic Azad University, was stabbed to death by a member of the student Basij at the Teachers Training College on November 18, Radio Farda reported.

Mustafa Sedaqatju, a former member of the student union, told Radio Farda that this was not a political incident. Ghafarzadeh was standing in front of the Teachers Training College talking to his fiancee when the Basij member inquired about their relationship. The two argued and Ghafarzadeh was killed.

Sedaqatju noted that the authorities have done nothing about this incident and have remained silent, but they have been very critical about an event at the University of California-Los Angeles earlier in the week. In that incident, 23-year-old Iranian-American Mustafa Tabatabainejad was tasered by police when he refused to provide his identification or leave the library, the "Daily Bruin" reported on November 15. A bystander videotaped Tabatabainejad accusing the police of abusing their authority while he resisted them. (Bill Samii)

COMMEMORATION FOR SLAIN DISSIDENTS BANNED. The children of two Iranian dissidents who were murdered eight years ago invited their compatriots to commemorate the anniversary of the killings, Radio Farda reported on November 20, citing ISNA and ILNA. Parastu and Arsh Foruhar, the daughter and son, respectively, of Hezb-i Mellat-i Iran leaders Dariush and Parvaneh Foruhar, said the event will take place on November 22.

The Foruhars -- as well as poet Mohammad Mokhtari and writer-translator Mohammad Jafar Puyandeh -- were allegedly killed by so-called "rogue elements" in the Ministry of Intelligence and Security. The reputed ringleader of the crimes reportedly committed suicide before his trial, and the killers were sentenced in January 2001 after a trial that failed to establish who actually ordered the murders.

In August 2001, the Supreme Court reduced the original death sentences to served time, and in January 2003 those sentences were reduced again (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," January 29 and August 27, 2001, and February 3, 2003). Parastu Foruhar said the authorities have yet to respond to their request for a permit to hold a public gathering, so the event will take place at their home.

On the day the commemoration was scheduled to take place, the authorities prevented any sort of gathering. Parastu Foruhar said, "Since this morning, law enforcement personnel have closed off the two ends of the street on which the Foruhar house is located and they are even preventing the entry of close relatives," ISNA reported. (Bill Samii)

SENIOR CLERIC DIES. Grand Ayatollah Mirza Javad Tabrizi has died in Qom, Fars News Agency reported on November 21. The funeral procession took place in Qom on November 22. The Iranian government declared a day of national mourning for Tabrizi, who was in his early 80s. (Bill Samii)

JOURNALISTS DETAINED AT MEHRABAD AIRPORT. The Iranian journalists' guild on November 21 denounced the detention of correspondents who had just arrived at Tehran's Mehrabad airport after undergoing training in Holland, Radio Farda reported. The journalists were interrogated for several hours. A hard-line newspaper, "Siyasat-i Ruz," earlier denounced the journalists, and the Aftab website argued that the timing of the arrests signals a new wave of media repression. (Bill Samii)

PORNOGRAPHERS FACE DEATH IN IRAN. Tehran prosecutor and press-court Judge Said Mortazavi warned on November 21 that producers of pornographic videos will be put to death and their distributors will be punished severely, state radio reported. An uproar followed news that a video purporting to show intimate scenes of an Iranian television star and her boyfriend is currently available on the Internet (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," November 21, 2006). (Bill Samii)

DEBATE SHARPENS OVER GENDER SEGREGATION. Conservative elements in Iran are pushing to increase the segregation of men and women in public. A new park for women is due to open in the capital, Tehran, and reports say plans are under way for single-sex hospitals and women-only public transport. Supporters claim the effect will be a more moral and Islamic society, but activists warn that the moves are aimed at curbing women's participation in public life.

The separation of men and women has arguably been part of Iranian culture for longer than its Islamic-based government. But gender-based segregation in public life was institutionalized following the establishment of the Islamic republic in 1979.

Some fundamentalists consider it a solution to prevent social interaction that they regard as a potential source of evil.

Iran's schools are already segregated to some extent. Young men and women sit in separate rows in university classes. All metro trains in the capital have distinct compartments for women, and women and men must sit in separate sections on public buses.

In the past 27 years, there have been attempts to introduce segregation in other pubic places -- including health institutions and parks. So far, those attempts have failed in part due to impracticality, but also because of efforts by vociferous opponents.

Since former hard-line Tehran Mayor Mahmud Ahmadinejad assumed the presidency, the segregation efforts appear to have gained momentum. As mayor, Ahmadinejad reportedly imposed a system of segregated elevators.

The recent moves to further separate the sexes are backed by some senior clerics and legislators.

Former reformist legislator Fatemeh Rakei tells RFE/RL that she thinks the new push for segregation is unlikely to succeed.

"In the early years of the revolution, some people wanted to do the same in the universities and, as far as I know, the late Imam [Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini] opposed it," Rakei says. "But currently there are some strange radical views, which also exist in the Islamic world -- unfortunately -- but I don't think they can implement these views."

Despite such criticism, advocates of segregation appear determined to enforce gender segregation in public arenas.

In one of the latest initiatives, a senior official within Iran's Social Welfare Organization, Abbas Maleki, ordered that gender segregation be implemented in that organization's offices as soon as possible.

In mid-November, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei's representative to universities, Hojatoleslam Mohammad Mohamadian, called for segregated classes and said boys and girls can currently mingle more easily in universities than in parks.

Conservatives say such measures would lead to a healthy Islamic society. But critics reject it and say gender segregation has neither a religious basis nor scientific support.

Ex-lawmaker Rakei says clerics and open-minded Islamic scholars should speak out against the push.

"I speak as someone who is deeply religious -- the segregation of men and women is not essential to a moral life," Rakei says. "Instead of such physical measures, they should explain teachings by different religions on issues such as morality and spirituality."

Azadeh Kian, a lecturer in political science and an Iran researcher at France's National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS), says she thinks it is difficult to enforce segregation laws beyond some government offices.

"How do they want to apply segregation, for example, on all public transportation?" Kian asks. "How do they want to segregate parks, hospitals, and streets? Women would have to walk on this side of the street and men on the other side. Currently women who are close to the government are on the city councils -- what do they want to do about that? For example, how would they have meetings of Tehran's city council? They would have to put women in one room and men in another."

Some backers of segregation have conceded that it is impossible to implement such a policy in all public places. But they have said men and women should be separated where possible if it does not hinder the workflow.

A member of the parliament's education committee, Mussalreza Servati, recently told the semi-official ILNA news agency that it would be good -- if possible -- to implement segregation in universities like that in schools.

Servati also expressed support for segregation in workplaces and said it would liberate workers from certain obligations. He cited as an example the danger of women in mixed workplaces falling in love with colleagues and leaving their husbands.

One female legislator, Efat Shariati, was quoted as saying recently that segregation in the office would lead to increased efficiency and commitment.

Former legislator Rakei warns that the new push for gender segregation could prompt a backlash.

"Those who have such views and do such things should know that by stepping up such measures, they will have negative results," Rakei says. "People will escape from the religion [that those people] advocate."

There have been conspicuous public calls for women to return to their traditional roles as housewives in recent months.

Kian tells RFE/RL that support for gender segregation is the result of a patriarchal view in which women should be confined to the home, housework, and satisfying the desires of their husbands.

"Instead of bringing up the issue of gender segregation, I think the current government should express the depth of its view -- and that is that women should not be active in public spheres, with the exception of those who hold the same view as the government," Kian says.

Ahmadinejad said in October that women should devote more time to their main mission of raising children. He suggested that women can work part-time on full-time salaries. The comments were denounced by activists as an attempt to isolate women.

One senior cleric, Grand Ayatollah Safi Golpayegani, recently described mountain hiking by women as shameful, and said there is no honor in women being elected to city councils. He instead praised housekeeping as a "holy" job.

Kian says the new measures will meet resistance from women who now compose about two-thirds of new university students.

"These attempts will fail, because today women in Iran have a very high level of knowledge," Kian says. "They are very active in public spheres, and they can't -- through public segregation -- force women to return and stay in their homes." (Golnaz Esfandiari)

IRAN SOCCER SUSPENDED FOR �GOVERNMENT INTERFERENCE.' FIFA, world soccer's governing body, has suspended Iran from all international competition.

In an interview with RFE/RL, FIFA spokesman Pekka Odriozola said the decision was made on November 22 and that it was due to Iranian government interference in soccer matters.

"The FIFA Emergency Committee took this decision after determining that the Iran Football Federation was not adhering to the principles of the FIFA statutes regarding the independence of member associations, the independence of the decision-making process of the football governing body in each country, and the way in which changes in the leadership of associations are brought about," Odriozola said.

Earlier this year, Mohammad Dadgan, the Iranian federation's elected president, and his board were forced out of office by Iranian authorities.

Odriozola said the Iranian federation then failed to meet a FIFA deadline of November 15 to reinstate Dadgan and his board and to comply with FIFA rules.

"In this respect, FIFA and the AFC [Asian Football Confederation] adopted the clear position that Dr. Dadgan and the members of his board remained the recognized and legitimate president and leadership of the Iran football federation," Odriozola said. "This deadline was not met by the Iran Football Federation."

Iran took part in the 2006 World Cup in Germany and last week beat South Korea 2-0 to qualify for next year's Asian Cup.

To play in that cup and other events, FIFA said in a statement that the Iranian federation must meet a "road map" of conditions, including drafting new statutes based on FIFA rules and holding elections to appoint a new president and board under the supervision of FIFA and the AFC.

The Zurich-based FIFA also called on the Iranian federation to set up a "normalization committee." Its members would be appointed by FIFA and the AFC to oversee Iran's full compliance and implementation of the road map.

Iran is the second country to face recent FIFA sanctions. Last month, Kenya was also suspended for failing to respect signed agreements and for recurrent problems in its federation. (Jeffrey Donovan)