17 January 2005, Volume 8, Number 3
SHIMON PERES ON IRAN AND TERRORISM. Israel's new deputy prime minister, Shimon Peres, said in an 11 January interview with Radio Farda in Tel Aviv that he is encouraged by changes in the Palestinian leadership, but he warned that Iran and Syria are undermining the prospects for regional peace.
"I think Iran is the greatest danger in the Middle East," Peres said. "They are a center of terror and they spread terror all over the place, from Iraq to Gaza. Secondly, a nuclear option in the hands of Iran will become a very serious problem for all of our countries, in the Middle East and even in Europe."
When asked about possible Israeli steps to counter the Iranian threat, Peres told Radio Farda that Israel is not the only country that Iran endangers. "Iran is a problem for the rest of the world, not only for Israel. And we don't want to narrow it to Iranian-Israeli relations," Peres said. "So there are other people and other countries that have to take the lead and decide. We are not going to be the main player there. I think that they should start with economic pressure and political pressure, not with the military one."
Peres sounded a skeptical note regarding Syrian hints of a willingness to negotiate with Israel: "Maybe the Syrians changed their language, but not their policies. And as long as some of the headquarters of the terrorist organizations are there, the language will not change. I mean we know for example that the headquarters of Hamas is in Syria. And we know that the headquarters in Syria is much more extreme than the local leaders of Hamas. So, they export terror." (Bill Samii)
IRAN'S 'MINISTRY OF TERRORISM'? The Iranian Constitution states that in order to attain its objectives the country's foreign policy must be based on "Islamic criteria, fraternal commitment to all Muslims, and unsparing support to the freedom fighters of the world" (Article 3). Furthermore, in Article 154 it says that "[Iran] supports the rightful struggle of the oppressed people against their oppressors anywhere in the world." These requirements, as well as a desire to export the revolution, are a primary factor behind Iran's support for what the United States identifies as terrorist organizations. Iran's more recent reliance on asymmetric warfare in its military doctrine, furthermore, underscores that such support will continue.
The U.S. State Department first identified Iran as a state sponsor of terrorism in January 1984, and it has borne that designation every year since despite Iran's denials of involvement. The State Department currently views Iran as the leading state sponsor of terrorism, according to its annual "Patterns of Global Terrorism" report (http://www.state.gov/s/ct/rls/pgtrpt). While Iran does not have an official "Ministry of Terrorism," the State Department report notes the involvement of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) and the Intelligence and Security Ministry (MOIS) in terrorist activities, although it does not single out any individuals for involvement.
Distrust of the officer corps in the regular armed forces led to creation of the IRGC shortly after Iran's 1979 revolution (see Kenneth Katzman, "The Warriors of Islam: Iran's Revolutionary Guard," and Nikola B. Schahgaldian, "The Iranian Military Under the Islamic Republic."). Initially, the IRGC was headed by individuals with similar backgrounds in the opposition, including training in Lebanon. Mohsen Rezai headed the IRGC from 1981-97 and he now serves as secretary of the Expediency Council. Some may debate the definition of terrorism, but there is no question that organizations openly backed by Iran are responsible for hundreds of deaths. Iran, therefore, is at least partially responsible for those killings.
The current head of the IRGC is General Yahya Rahim-Safavi, who served as deputy to Rezai. The deputy commander is Mohammad Baqer Zolqadr. Some observers believe that Zolqadr heads the IRGC's Qods Force, a special operations unit that is believed to be responsible for terrorist activities. The IRGC worked closely with the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) during the Iran-Iraq War (1980-88) and afterward, and it sent personnel to Lebanon in the 1980s to work with Hizballah.
A Revolutionary Guards Ministry headed by Mohsen Rafiqdust existed from 1982 until 1989. Rafiqdust would go on to head the Oppressed and Disabled Foundation, which continues to fund IRGC activities. Its overseas enterprises serve as fronts for IRGC operations (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 21 June 1999). The background of the current head of the Oppressed and Disabled Foundation, Mohammad Foruzandeh, can be traced to the IRGC, too. Born in 1953, Foruzandeh studied at Tehran Teachers' Training College until his expulsion for activities against the regime. After the Islamic Revolution, he served as governor-general of Khuzestan Province. In 1986, Foruzandeh served as the IRGC chief of staff, and in 1993 he was appointed as defense minister by then-President Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani.
The Iranian parliament passed legislation on creating an intelligence agency in 1983, and the Intelligence and Security Ministry was established the next year in an effort to eliminate competition between numerous institutions and committees. Hojatoleslam Mohammad Mohammadi-Reyshahri headed the ministry from 1984 until 1989. Reyshahri served as chief judge of the Military Revolutionary Tribunal in the immediate post-revolution period. Reyshahri later served as prosecutor of the Special Court for the Clergy. In 1991, Reyshahri replaced Ahmad Khomeini as leader of the Iranian delegation to the Hajj pilgrimage. Reyshahri founded the Society for the Defense of Values of the Islamic Revolution in 1996 and stood as its candidate in the 1997 presidential election. In April 1997, Reyshahri was appointed to the Council for the Discernment of Expediency by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei, and he is now a member of the Assembly of Experts. Reyshahri also heads the Shah Abdolazim shrine foundation.
The second intelligence and security minister was Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Fallahian-Khuzestani. He was born in Najafabad in 1949, and he studied theology at Qom's Haqqani seminary. After 1979 he served as a revolutionary court judge in Abadan. In 1981, he was appointed to the court in Bakhtaran, Kermanshah Province, and in coordination with the IRGC he participated in the dismantling of the Mujahedin Khalq Organization. Fallahian-Khuzestani was appointed to the leadership of the revolutionary committees in 1982. He began working at the Intelligence and Security Ministry in 1984 as a deputy minister, in 1986 he began work as prosecutor in the Special Court for the Clergy, and in 1988 he was made head of the Armed Forces Inspectorate. Fallahian served as intelligence and security minister from 1989-97. He currently serves on the Assembly of Experts.
The next intelligence and security minister, Hojatoleslam Qorban-Ali Dori-Najafabadi, had served as a legislator and did not have a background in intelligence or security affairs. He was welcomed as a "relatively liberal and pragmatic cleric," London's "The Times" reported in August 1997. A Friday Prayer leader, Dori-Najafabadi also served as a parliamentarian, member of the Assembly of Experts, head of the board of directors and secretary of the World Center for Islamic Science in Qom, and as a member of the Council for the Discernment of Expediency. He was forced to resign from the Intelligence and Security Ministry in 1999 over allegations that rogue elements within the ministry assassinated Iranian dissidents and intellectuals. Dori-Najafabadi currently serves on the Expediency Council.
The current intelligence and security minister is Hojatoleslam Ali Yunesi. Born in Hamedan in 1955, Yunesi studied in a Qom seminary. Because of his political activism, he was imprisoned by the monarchy several times, until he left for military training in Palestinian and Lebanese camps. After the revolution, Yunesi held a number of positions in the judicial arena. His background in intelligence work includes service as representative of the Armed Forces deputy commander in chief to the military intelligence department. Yunesi worked with Reyshahri in creating the Intelligence and Security Ministry. He served on the committee investigating the 1998-99 killings of intellectuals and oppositionists in Iran.
Authoritative information on the structure of the Intelligence and Security Ministry or the size of its workforce is not publicly available. It handles domestic and foreign intelligence activities, which includes dealing with neighboring states as well as relations with so-called "liberation movements" (for example, Lebanese Hizballah and Hamas). It also addresses ethnic and sectarian issues within the country, and it monitors the clerical community and government officials. The Intelligence and Security Ministry, IRGC intelligence unit, and the IRGC's Qods Force work together. (On the MOIS structure, see Wilfried Buchta, "Who Rules Iran? The Structure of Power in the Islamic Republic.")
One Iranian official, Hojatoleslam Ali-Akbar Mohtashami-Pur, makes no effort to hide his close association with Hizballah and other groups described by the United States as foreign terrorist organizations. He was ambassador to Damascus from 1981 to 1985, Interior Minister from 1985-89, and a parliamentarian in 1989-93 and again in 2000-04. He was closely involved with the creation of Hizballah and also with the 1983 bombing of the U.S. Marine Corps barracks in Beirut. After he went to the Interior Ministry there was a bureaucratic tug-of-war over who would control the Liberation Movements Office.
Mohtashami-Pur is secretary-general of the International Conference to Support the Palestinian Uprising (Intifada), which was held in Tehran in April 2001 and June 2002. Representatives from Hizballah, Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and the Peoples' Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command participate in these events. Mohtashami-Pur has attended smaller events like this in Beirut and Damascus in the last four years.
Tehran consistently rejects accusations of involvement with or support for international terrorism and claims instead that it is a victim of this phenomenon. Some observers may debate the definition of terrorism, but there is no question that organizations openly backed by Iran are responsible for hundreds of deaths. Iran, therefore, is at least partially responsible for those killings.
[Further reading: Wilfried Buchta, "Who Rules Iran? The Structure of Power in the Islamic Republic," (The Washington Institute for Near East Policy and the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung, 2000); Daniel L. Byman, Shahram Chubin, Anoushiravan Ehteshami, Jerrold Green, "Iran's Security Policy in the Post-Revolutionary Era," (Santa Monica, CA: RAND, 2001); Kenneth Katzman, "The Warriors of Islam: Iran's Revolutionary Guard," (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1993); Magnus Ranstorp, "Hizb'allah in Lebanon: The Politics of the Western Hostage Crisis," (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1997); Amal Saad-Ghorayeb, "Hizbu'llah: Politics and Religion," (Pluto Press, 2002); A.W. Samii, "Order out of Chaos," Hoover Digest, 2004, no. 3 (Summer 2004); Nikola B. Schahgaldian, "The Iranian Military Under the Islamic Republic" (Santa Monica, CA: RAND, 1987); Gary Sick, "Iran: Confronting Terrorism," The Washington Quarterly, vol. 26, no. 4 (Autumn 2003).] (Bill Samii)
IRAN REPORTEDLY TARGETS NEW PALESTINIAN LEADER. Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi said on 11 January that Iran respects the outcome of the 9 January Palestinian Authority presidential election won by Mahmud Abbas (aka Abu Mazen), the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) reported. He warned that Palestinian leaders and groups should be vigilant against "Zionist conspiracies."
Lebanese Hizballah, acting on instructions from Iran, might physically harm President Abbas in order to prevent his reaching an accommodation with Israel, "Haaretz" reported on 11 January, quoting anonymous "senior defense officials." Those sources referred to increasing Hizballah involvement in Israel, with 38 Fatah cells, six Islamic Jihad cells, three Hamas cells, and at least four Popular Front cells linked with Hizballah. Nearly every Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade cell is on the Hizballah payroll, "Haaretz" reported. Hizballah reportedly initiated 68 attacks, or 20 percent of the terrorist attacks in Israel.
The involvement of Iran and Hizballah in Palestinian terrorist activities is increasing, according to the Israeli domestic security agency's annual report, Voice of Israel reported on 6 January. The report from Shin Bet states that Hizballah was behind 68 terrorist attacks, that it is transferring a substantial amount of money to the terrorists, and that it operates many terrorist squads in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. (Bill Samii)
IRANIAN MILITARY OFFICIAL THREATENS UNITED STATES. "Islamic Iran will not tolerate the presence of the America in the region and considers it a threat against its interests," Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) deputy commander Brigadier General Mohammad Baqer Zolqadr said on 10 January, Fars News Agency reported. He went on to tell a gathering of IRGC and Basij personnel in Khuzestan Province that the pursuit of oil explains the U.S. regional presence. He said Iran will not tolerate this situation. (Bill Samii)
IRAN HAS GOOD-NEIGHBOR POLICY. Vice President Mohammad Reza Aref-Yazdi told Iraqi Ambassador to Tehran Muhammad Majid al-Shaykh on 12 January in Tehran that improving relations with neighboring states tops the Iranian foreign-policy agenda, IRNA reported. Instability in one country has regional implications, he said, adding that Iran is firm in its position concerning Iraqi territorial integrity, solidarity, and development. Aref-Yazdi said Iran hopes to participate in Iraq's reconstruction and development. Al-Shaykh said Iraq is ready to benefit from Iranian expertise and that Iran is not interfering in Iraqi affairs. (Bill Samii)
IRAN AND IRAQ TRADE ACCUSATIONS. Anonymous Iranian sources said on 8 January that an Iraqi spy was arrested in Kurdistan Province, Mehr News Agency reported. The sources added that the spy was sent to Iran by the Iraqi Defense Ministry to gather information that would corroborate its accusations of Iranian involvement in the insurgency.
At a 7 January news conference in Baghdad, Iraqi Defense Minister Hazim Sha'lan al-Khuza'i played a 24 December recording in which Jaish Muhammad leader Mu'ayyad Yasin Aziz al-Nasiri purportedly described Iranian involvement with terrorist activities in his country, "Al-Hayah" reported on 8 January. Al-Nasiri said leaders of armed Iraqi factions met with Iranian officials, including Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Al-Nasiri said they received $1 million and two carloads of weapons, and they purchased more weapons from Iranians in southern Iraq. Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Assefi dismissed these claims, Mehr News Agency reported, and said the Iraqi defense minister does not want the 30 January elections to take place because he will lose his position.
Shi'a officials are trying hard to persuade others that Iranian is not interfering with the election process in their country, and they also stress that they will not recreate the Iranian model of government. The United Iraqi Alliance, a coalition of 22 political parties and groups that is backed by Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, includes the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) and Al-Da'wah al-Islamiyah.
SCIRI Chairman Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim said in a 10 January interview with Al-Arabiyah television that accusations of Iranian interference in his country are "irresponsible." He added, "Let the Iraqi people see your evidence." Al-Hakim also denounced the televised confession of Jaysh Muhammad leader Mu'ayyad Yasin Aziz al-Nasiri. Al-Hakim said the claims of a "criminal" are unreliable and, furthermore, claimed that the man is trying to drive a wedge between Tehran and Baghdad. Rather than relying on such confessions, al-Hakim said, there should be a thorough investigation. Al-Hakim said nobody approves of foreign interference in Iraqi affairs and the provision of weapons to the combatants there, and he condemned the "the regional and other countries, particularly the men of religion, [who] are completely silent over this issue."
The Iraqi defense minister also has accused United Iraqi Alliance co-creator and nuclear scientist Hussein al-Shahristani, who is a Shi'a Muslim, of being an Iranian stooge. Al-Shahristani dismissed these allegations in an 11 January interview with Al-Sharqiyah television and put the issue in context. Shahristani said he spent 12 years (1979-91) in Saddam Hussein's jails, and when he fled the country with thousands of his countrymen the only open border was to the east. After some time in a refugee camp he taught at the university level, and he helped in some "research laboratories, which are located at nuclear facilities." Al-Shahristani said that the Iranian authorities then threw him out of the country and he became a refugee again.
Mowafak Rubai, a leader in the United Iraqi Alliance, said at a 15 January news conference in Baghdad that it is an all-inclusive movement, "The Washington Post" reported on 16 January. "There is no intention of forming an Islamic or religious state in Iraq, or a Shi'ite state or an Iranian-style government," he said. (Bill Samii)
IRAQI VOTERS IN IRAN COULD HAVE PROBLEMS. Muhsin al-Hakim, a political adviser to the head of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), said on 11 January that the out-of-country-voting program for Iraqis in Iran is flawed, IRNA reported. Iraqis who want to vote in Iran must prove that they were born before 31 December 1986 and provide documentation of their identity, he said, but Iraqis voting in other countries only have to meet the age requirement.
Al-Hakim went on to say that there are not enough ballot boxes and polling places. There are polling facilities in Ahvaz, Kermanshah, Mashhad, Qom, Tehran, and Urumiyeh, but there are sizable Iraqi communities in Ilam, Isfahan, Shiraz, and Yazd. In Isfahan, for example, there are 40,000 Iraqis, al-Hakim said. Voter registration will take place from 17-23 January, and voting will take place from 28-30 January.
Protestors gathered outside the office of the International Organization for Migration, which has organized the polling in Iran, on 16 January, IRNA reported. (Bill Samii)
TEHRAN CRACKS DOWN ON BILLIARD PARLORS. A recent edict from the Public Establishments Office (Edareh-yi Amaken Omumi), which deals with issues such as music and lewd behavior, regulates the time billiard parlors in Tehran may stay open, Radio Farda reported on 10 January. Billiard parlors must close by 11 p.m. in the first six months of the year (March-September) and by 10 p.m. in the last six months of the year (October-March). Moreover, no new pool halls will be licensed. Physical Education Organization official Hassan Mirza Aqabeig told Radio Farda there are 450 licensed billiard parlors in Tehran. He added that no family wants its children shooting pool until 2:30 a.m.
Reza Haidari, a young man who said he occasionally hangs out in billiard parlors, told Radio Farda that young people go to such places to relax and have fun. He said he has heard of places where boys and girls played billiards together, but said he never went to one himself. (Bill Samii)
HUNDREDS INJURED IN EARTHQUAKE. An earthquake with a magnitude of 4.1 struck the Kerman Province town of Jiroft during the evening of 10 January, Radio Farda reported, citing IRNA. A local reporter, Ruhollah Khodishi, told Radio Farda that most families stayed awake all night out of fear, but the earthquake did not cause any casualties.
Another earthquake, of a magnitude of 5.8, struck the Mazandaran Province town of Aq Qala on 10 January, IRNA reported. More than 100 people were injured, but an emergencies official named Ibrahim Karimi said most of the injuries were minor. (Bill Samii)
TEACHERS AND NURSES PROTEST IN TEHRAN. A group of teachers and another group of about 200 nurses gathered outside the Iranian parliament in Tehran on 9 January to stage employment-related protests, according to Iranian newspapers on 10 January.
The teachers, who taught at overseas Iranian schools, complained that they had not received their full salaries and benefits, "Hemayat" reported. The teachers' earlier demonstration outside the Management and Planning Organization did not yield results, and legislator Mohammad Hussein Nejad-Fallah asked them to select one person to represent them.
The nurses demanded salary increases, an end to privatization in their field, fewer night shifts, and a larger pool of nurses, "Sharq" reported. Several parliamentarians met with the demonstrators and promised to look into their grievances. The result of this was an agreement to hire more nurses, Dashtestan representative Seyyed Abdolmajid Shoja told "Sharq." (Bill Samii)
CONSERVATIVE COALITION NARROWS ITS FOCUS. Ali-Akbar Nateq-Nuri, a leader of the Coordination Council of the Islamic Revolution Forces, said on 7 January that his conservative organization will not endorse the candidacy of anyone other than the five people on whom has already focused, Mehr News Agency reported. Those five are: Tehran Mayor Mahmud Ahmadi-Nejad; an adviser to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Ali Larijani; Expediency Council Secretary Mohsen Rezai; Tehran parliamentary representative Ahmad Tavakoli; and another adviser to the supreme leader, Ali Akbar Velayati. Nateq-Nuri was responding to a journalist's question about Expediency Council Chairman Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani and Expediency Council Secretary Hojatoleslam Hassan Rohani, both of whom have been mentioned as candidates by political cognoscenti.
Former Minister of Economic Affairs and Finance Tahmasb Mazaheri, who is currently a university lecturer, intends to enter the presidential race, "Iran News" reported on 5 January. He wants to open up the Iranian economy and adopt an economically driven foreign policy. Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, who heads the national police force, intends to be a conservative presidential candidate, "Jomhuri-yi Islami" reported on 1 January. Neither Mazaheri nor Qalibaf has been mentioned as a prospective candidate elsewhere. (Bill Samii)
NOBEL LAUREATE GETS COURT SUMMONS. Nobel peace price winner Shirin Ebadi said on 13 January that the judiciary has summoned her, Radio Farda and other news agencies reported, but the reason for the summons is not specified. "In the summons, it simply says that I must present myself to the court within three days to provide some explanations and that I will be arrested if I refuse." A lawyer by profession, Ebadi is involved with the serial killings of dissidents and intellectuals in 1998-99 and with the summer 2003 killing of Canadian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi.
International Federation of Human Rights Leagues Vice President Abdolkarim Lahiji told Radio Farda that these cases involve two judicial officials, press court judge Said Mortazavi, and former Intelligence and Security Ministry chief and current Prosecutor-General Qorban-Ali Dori-Najafabadi. "When the judiciary is in the hands of two people like this, it is obvious that for freedom-lovers and defenders of human rights and supporters of the rule of law, every day there is a conspiracy, a plot, against them," Lahiji said.
In a 14 January interview with Radio Farda, Ebadi said, "Such a summons is not in accordance with [Iran's] criminal laws because the law says that if someone commits an offense, he or she must be informed of the allegations against him or her and be summoned to court to present an explanation. This summons from the court -- it does not specify whether I stand accused and if I am, what my charges are -- stands against our criminal law."
Ebadi refused to go to court and sent a team of lawyers to represent her. One of the lawyers, Mohammad Ali Dadkhah, told Radio Farda on 15 January: "Today I and the other lawyers went to the relevant office. They said that the case has been dispatched to another office [of the Revolutionary Court] because there is a private complaint against Shirin Ebadi."
Ebadi also has denied signing an online petition calling for a national referendum that has attracted some attention (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 20 December 2004).
While in Senegal on 15 January, meanwhile, President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami insisted that Ebadi is safe and will not have any problems. "As head of state, I have personally guaranteed her safety and her freedom to continue her activities," he said, according to IRNA. (Bill Samii)
'CYBERDISSIDENTS AND WEBLOGGERS' MEET JUDICIARY CHIEF. Ruzbeh Mir-Ebrahimi told the Iranian Labor News Agency (ILNA) on 7 January that the Public Prosecutor's office has summoned him and his colleague, Omid Memarian. Mir-Ebrahimi said he would go with his attorneys, Shirin Ebadi, Yusef Molai, and Mohammad Sharif, but he does not know if he is to be a defendant in his own case or a witness for another case.
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemned the mistreatment of "cyberdissidents and webloggers" on 6 January. The international media watchdog reported that Mir-Ebrahimi and Memarian were mistreated while in custody and coerced into making public confessions. The online publishers have been released, RSF added, but the authorities summon them for questioning several times a week. They also reportedly receive death threats.
Judiciary spokesman Jamal Karimirad said at an 11 January news conference in Tehran that online publishers who are accused of violating the law will be dealt with according to existing rules and regulations, ILNA reported. New laws, he said, will not be added. He encouraged the webloggers to register any complaints about their treatment while in detention with the Public Prosecutor's Office, rather than with irrelevant authorities. Karimirad said there are laws protecting citizens' rights, and those who accuse the judiciary of wrongdoing are trying to cause trouble and have "ulterior motives." When asked how people can complain about the public prosecutor to the public prosecutor, Karimirad said the judiciary is the final authority in every country and one cannot expect anybody else to deal with possible offenses on the part of the judiciary.
President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami said on 10 January that he will talk to judiciary chief Ayatollah Mahmud Hashemi-Shahrudi about these cases, "Etemad" reported.
Hashemi-Shahrudi and other judicial officials met on the evening of 11 January with several of the Internet activists who allege that they were mistreated while in custody, ILNA reported. Mahbubeh Abbasqoli, Hanif Mazrui, Omid Memarian, Ruzbeh Mir-Ebrahimi, Arash Naderpur, Fereshteh Qazi, Masud Qoreshi, and Shahram Rafizadeh reviewed allegations they had discussed previously with presidential adviser Hojatoleslam Mohammad Ali Abtahi and the Committee for Monitoring Implementation of the Constitution. In that initial meeting they described beatings, humiliating questions about their sexual habits and relationships, solitary confinement, lack of access to lawyers, and being forced to write confessions.
Hashemi-Shahrudi subsequently instructed the Public Prosecutor's Office to turn the case over to a special committee from the judiciary, "Hemayat" reported on 16 January. Karimirad and Abdulreza Izadpanah, the deputy judiciary chief for social affairs, are the officials in charge of the committee, which is reviewing the confessions.
Also on 16 January, Fereshteh Qazi and her husband received a court summons, ILNA reported. She said she will not go to court because judiciary chief Hashemi-Shahrudi told her that if she receives another summons, she should say that he is handling the case. She added that her husband is not involved with the media or with politics but is accused of "spreading lies." (Bill Samii)
HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH CRITICIZES IRAN. "The [Iranian] judiciary...has been at the center of many serious human rights violations," according to the January 2005 report from Human Rights Watch (HRW) (http://hrw.org/english/docs/2005/01/13/iran9803.htm). The report also notes the activities of "parallel" organizations that have a quasi-official role but do not seem answerable to anybody.
The HRW report refers to clandestine detention centers run by the judiciary and the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) in which "severe physical torture," solitary confinement, and lack of access to legal counsel is used to secure confessions. Although judiciary chief Hashemi-Shahrudi's April 2004 directive bans torture, there is no mechanism to enforce this. Minorities -- such as Bahais, Sunnis, Baluchis -- also encounter discrimination and persecution, according to Human Rights Watch. (Bill Samii)
LEGISLATURE REJECTS MINISTER-DESIGNATE. The Iranian parliament voted against Ahmad Sadeq Bonab as President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami's new roads and transport minister, Radio Farda reported on 9 January. Bonab has been acting minister since the legislature passed a no-confidence motion in Roads and Transport Minister Ahmad Khoram in October (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 11 October 2004). One hundred twenty-nine of 249 legislators voted against Bonab, 105 voted for him, and 15 abstained, IRNA and Mehr News Agency reported. In speaking against the minister-designate, Ahmad Mahdavi-Abhari, from Abhar in Zanjan Province, noted his lack of specialized education, Radio Farda reported. Isfahan's Mohsen Kuhkan said Bonab is at odds with the Roads and Transport Ministry's Islamic Association. Government spokesman Abdullah Ramezanzadeh said later the same day that the failure to approve Bonab presents a vacancy in an important position, IRNA reported, and he complained that factional politics were behind it. (Bill Samii)
AFGHANS IN IRAN REPORTEDLY ARRESTED AND DEPORTED. Over the past two weeks, Iranian authorities reportedly have arrested a large number of Afghans -- mostly around Kerman in the southeast -- and begun deporting them back to their country of origin. Most of these Afghans are illegal migrants, but even some who have temporary residence permits have been arrested. A number of these Afghans have contacted Radio Free Afghanistan to express their concern.
Said one caller: "I am calling from Kerman. They have intensified their operations throughout Kerman province in recent days. [Afghans] are suffering. They are collecting Afghans randomly; people with refugee IDs or without face the same treatment. They themselves issued ID cards for Afghan refugees -- why are they not paying any respect to these IDs? Why are they exposing people to suffering? The Iranian authorities are not giving us any direct answer about our neither, nor are Afghan authorities in Iran helping us."
Another caller said Afghans in Sirjan were beaten and forced to pay bribes. Afghans reportedly were arrested in other cities as well, such as Mashhad, which is home to a large Afghan community.
The United Nations High Commissioner For Refugees (UNHCR) spokesman in Tehran, Xavier Creash, said the refugee agency is monitoring the situation. "Our people, our staff on the ground in the various cities concerned are trying to make sure that among these illegal migrants there are not registered refugees and if they find some registered refugees they immediately intervene. It has happened so far for very few cases," Creash said.
Iran has denied that it has arrested refugees from Afghanistan, which shares a long border as well as cultural traditions with Iran. Dari, one of Afghanistan's main languages, is very similar to Persian.
The director of Iran's Bureau for Aliens and Foreign Immigration Affairs, Ahmad Husseini, has been quoted as saying that the claims contradict official Iranian policies toward refugees. Iranian officials emphasize that they have generously hosted more than 2 million Afghan refugees for two decades without receiving any significant international aid. But since the fall of the Taliban in late 2001, they say it is time for Afghans to go home. Iranian officials view Afghans as a financial burden on Iran's economy.
In April 2002, a tripartite agreement was signed among Iran, Afghanistan, and the UNHCR to encourage the voluntary repatriation of Afghan refugees. Since then more than one million Afghan refugees have returned home, including some 400,000 Afghans who have returned since March.
Toriali Ghiasi, a senior official with the Afghan consulate in Mashhad, said Afghanistan's first direct presidential election had a positive impact on the return process. "It was really a step toward stability and peace in Afghanistan and it created peace of mind. In all these years, especially since 2001, we had the biggest number of returnees in 2004," Ghiasi said. "Recent political developments in Afghanistan and the reconstruction process had an impact."
Ghiasi warned that the recent wave of arrests might negatively affect the repatriation of Afghans from Iran: "There was a natural course in the return process of some of the Afghans who are residing in Iran without documents. They would spontaneously and voluntarily sign up [for the repatriation program] and leave Iran under police control," he said. "But today we don't have (this trend) anymore, because when Afghans are being raided from cities, they are not ready to return, they need time. And those who want to return are scared, they don't sign up and they remain even more secretly hidden. They think: 'We will be sent to camps, what is going to happen to our belongings? What is going to happen to us? How long are we going to stay there?"
There are more than 1 million Afghan refugees and thousands of illegal Afghan migrants living in Iran. Many came to Iran following the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan and the civil war. Others came after the Taliban took power in 1995. Many Afghan laborers have also come to Iran in search of work. (Golnaz Esfandiari, Sultan Sarwar)
IAEA NUCLEAR INSPECTORS ARRIVE IN IRAN. A delegation of International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) officials arrived in Iran on 12 January and was expected to begin inspecting the Parchin military site on 13 January, state television reported. The inspectors are looking into allegations that the military tested conventional explosives that can be used to detonate nuclear weapons at Parchin, which is southwest of Tehran.
Supreme National Security Council official Hussein Musavian said on 12 January that the inspectors would not be allowed to spy on Iranian military activities, Mehr News Agency reported. They may only take environmental samples, he said, adding that no secret nuclear activities take place at Parchin. (Bill Samii)
IRAN SIGNS GAS DEAL WITH HALLIBURTON SUBSIDIARY. U.S. oil-services company Halliburton has won a tender to drill in two phases of the South Pars gas field, Iranian state television reported on 9 January. "Some American officials have shares in Halliburton," state television added, without providing any names.
Reuters reported the same day that a U.S. grand jury has subpoenaed Halliburton, in order to get information about the work of its Cayman Islands unit in Iran. Halliburton is adamant that it is legal for its offshore subsidiaries to work in Iran, and a Halliburton spokesperson said the subsidiary is only a subcontractor.
RFE/RL correspondent Andrew Tully suggested that Halliburton's reluctance to be identified with the project is understandable. The company has been criticized in the past for doing business in Iran. In addition, it is under investigation for allegedly paying bribes in Nigeria and overcharging the U.S. military in Iraq.
There is speculation that Halliburton's work in Iran reflects some sort of diplomatic initiative. George Washington University law professor Sean Murphy explained that U.S. laws that prohibit firms from working in certain countries usually allow for exceptions to serve diplomatic ends, Radio Farda reported. "The way these sanctions regimes are set up, you ban a scope of activity, but then you give the executive branch the ability to carve out exceptions as needed -- typically on national security grounds," Murphy said. "That makes sense, if you're talking about certain types of aid that might be provided or if you're trying to do 'carrots and sticks.' That is the way that statute is structured."
Murphy added that Halliburton or its subsidiary could serve as a conduit for back-channel contacts between Washington and Tehran, Radio Farda reported. "There's probably some kind of 'dance' going on here relating to the nuclear issue. The Europeans, as you know, have been at the forefront of negotiating that with Iran. The U.S. has been pretty hostile generally and has been more interested in wielding the stick rather than the carrot (laughs). But there's all kinds of discussions, I am sure, going on behind closed doors -- you know, the Europeans, the U.S. and Iranians." (Bill Samii)
TRADE AND COOPERATION TALKS WITH EU RESUME. Iran and the European Union resumed discussions on a trade and cooperation agreement on 12 January, Radio Farda and Reuters reported. There was a two-year pause in the talks due to EU discomfort over Iran's nuclear program. The talks show the EU's interest in working with Iran, External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner said, according to Reuters. "Iran can look forward to a richer relationship with the European Union, as long as the international community can be confident that Iran's nuclear program is not being developed for military purposes," Ferrero-Waldner said. The EU is unwilling to write a blank check, Radio Farda reported. Therefore the discussions will address four issues: human rights, Middle East security, counterterrorism, and nuclear nonproliferation, according to Radio Farda. Other topics will include counternarcotics, refugees, and migration.
"This first round of the resumption of talks was not just only [about] preparations, organization of the talks but mainly [about that]," Cristina Gallach, spokeswoman for EU High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana told Radio Farda on 14 January. Gallach went on to claim that human rights is an important part of the discussions, saying, "We have developed a sometimes complex and difficult so-called human rights dialogue, which has [helped] the European Union to [understand] better, to monitor better, what is going on in this field in Iran. Therefore, and I believe, the European Union will give this issue a very, very important priority."
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Assefi said on 16 January that the discussions were fruitful, IRNA reported. He said the next round of talks will take place in March. (Bill Samii)
KHATAMI SUBMITS DRAFT BUDGET. Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami introduced the budget for the year beginning 21 March to the legislature on 9 January, IRNA reported. The budget, totaling the equivalent of $172 billion, is 30 percent larger than the previous year's. It anticipates economic growth of 7.1 percent and a 14.5 percent inflation rate. Khatami said imports are expected to rise to $32.3 billion (up 5 percent), and non-oil exports will increase as well, to $8.5 billion (up 10.7 percent). Oil revenues are expected to fall almost $2 billion to $14.1 billion, while petrochemical production should increase by 37 percent to 27 million tons.
Khatami described some major projects that will begin in the coming year, including the building of six dams. Looking back, Khatami said that in the 7 1/2 years he has been in office, he has focused on taxes rather than oil revenues to deal with the country's daily expenses. The other accomplishments of his administration, Khatami said, are a unified exchange rate, decentralization of the government, and providing job opportunities for young people. (Bill Samii)