6 June 2005, Volume 8, Number 22
NOTE TO READERS:
IRAN VOTES 2005: Get the latest election news, profiles of the candidates and parties, and background on all the issues at: http://www.rferl.org/specials/iranelections/
SUPREME LEADER WARNS AGAINST POLITICAL DISCORD. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei warned legislators on 29 May against excessive political discord, state radio reported. He warned that an unnamed enemy "counts on" people in the country who have "no sympathy towards the ruling system." He advised the parliamentarians to make their constituents aware of "the enemy's plots." "One practical way to do so is to avoid tension, differences, and fights within the parliament over political and presidential election issues," Khamenei said. (Bill Samii)
GUARDIANS COUNCIL WANTS ELECTION LAW REWRITTEN. Guardians Council Secretary Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati said in his sermon at the 27 May Friday prayers in Tehran that legislation on who can sign up to be a presidential candidate must be rewritten, state radio reported. He complained that unqualified people try to enter the race, and added, "Many of those people had mistaken the Interior Ministry [which runs elections] for the job center." More than 1,000 people signed up as prospective candidates in May.
Jannati said, in what could be a swipe at older candidates, that the best candidate is "full of enthusiasm, full of life." The front-runner, Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, is 70 years old, and another candidate, Hojatoleslam Mehdi Karrubi, is 68.
Jannati concluded his sermon by condemning the United States for its alleged desecration of the Koran. "People in the world don't really know the beastly nature of these Americans.... Oh Lord! Free humanity from these lowly and evil bandits. Oh Lord! Quickly punish Israel, which is no less good, for its crimes." (Bill Samii)
STUDENTS WONDER WHETHER THEY SHOULD VOTE. As candidates for Iran's 17 June presidential election begin campaigning, some student activists are advocating an election boycott. This is not an irrelevant matter -- two-thirds of Iran's population is under the age of 30 (46 million out of a total population of 69 million) and the voting age is 15 -- and eight years ago young Iranians helped a relatively liberal dark-horse win a landslide victory. Although a boycott could show disaffection with the country's deeply flawed political system, it is unlikely to have any real effect.
The students have not been bashful. In mid-May, students at several universities staged sit-ins to show their unhappiness with the country's stifling political climate. Leading members of the Office for Strengthening Unity, the country's best-known student organization, met in Tehran on 19 May, "Eqbal" reported on 21 May. During this meeting, they expressed unhappiness with the restrictions placed on them. They also suspended the branch from Saduqi University in Yazd, because it has expressed support for the candidacy of Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani. The Office for Strengthening Unity leadership noted that this stance contradicts its ban on political involvement.
Soon thereafter, 35 university students associations issued a statement expressing concern about the course of political developments in the country. Their statement said, according to the reformist "Aftab-i Yazd" newspaper on 23 May, that students are questioning the effectiveness of elections, given the authoritarian trend in the country. They warned of a social explosion and delays in the democratization of the country. They warned the hard-line political figures that, sooner or later, the people will realize that they have a right to choose and elect candidates freely. The students wrote that they see it as their duty to resist the country's authoritarians.
The students did not have to wait long to fulfill what they see as their duty. They spoke out after the Guardians Council, an unelected body that vets prospective candidates for elected office, rejected the eligibility of all but six out of 1,014 applicants for the presidential race. The students were particularly unhappy with the rejection of the reformist Mustafa Moin, who had served as science, research, and technology minister (effectively, the higher education minister) in President Mohammad Khatami's cabinet. At a 23 May protest meeting, speakers asked how a man who served in three presidential cabinets and also served in the legislature could be deemed ineligible for the presidency. The next day, some 300 students staged a brief march, until police herded them back on campus. Coincidentally, the Guardians Council reinstated Moin's candidacy (after the intervention of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei).
Abdullah Momeni, a representative of the Office for Strengthening Unity, told Radio Farda that many students have a negative view of the election, because of the restrictions connected with the country's legal system. Momeni said the Guardians Council's rejection of presidential candidates is driving the country into crisis. Momeni went on to say that, although the students intend to boycott the election, it does not mean they are indifferent to the rejected candidates. Meanwhile, 1,500 people participated in a sit-in at Hamedan University.
At the medical university in Shahr-i Kurd, furthermore, there were several days of protests and students clashed with security personnel. The students objected to the rejection of nearly all the presidential candidates. Furthermore, activist Arsh Kuhi told Radio Farda on 27 May, students are objecting to the on-campus presence of security personnel, which is illegal. Kuhi noted that the students at Shahr-i Kurd are backed by organizations at the country's other medical universities, as well as the Office for Strengthening Unity.
An unaffiliated student organization called the Republic Students of Yazd staged a sit-in to protest the university administration's restriction against the group, "Eqbal" reported on 29 May. Security forces broke up the protest.
This student activism is encouraging -- but the numbers available are not. The total university-student population is 1.2 million, which seems like a small number of people when the total population is around 69 million. Other factors, such as tactical differences, state repression, and the resulting lack of leadership, also limit the students' potential.
Students are divided on the political role they should play. The Office for Strengthening Unity (Daftar-i Tahkim-i Vahdat) is divided into two wings. The majority "Allameh" faction wants to withdraw from the political system and generally advocates an election boycott, whereas the minority "Shiraz" faction generally favors participation and operating within the current political framework. Another student organization, known as the "Tabarzadi Group" for its founder, the oft-imprisoned Heshmatollah Tabarzadi, advocates a more radical approach to politics. In the 1980s, furthermore, the regime created the University Jihad and the Student Basij, and 1998 legislation created a Basij unit in every university.
State repression has also dampened young people's political ardor. For example, police arrested some 4,000 people after June 2003 demonstrations over the possibility of paying tuition. Individuals associated with July 1999 demonstrations are still in jail. An ominous phenomenon that has emerged in the last few years is the detention of activists by unaccountable security agencies at undisclosed locations.
A few brave students continue to come forward, occasionally to lead but more often to at least show solidarity. The overall lack of forceful and consistent leadership, however, hinders their ability to effectively express themselves or to oppose the system. Moreover, the Office for Strengthening Unity specifically, and young voters generally, are disappointed by the result of elections. The individuals they voted for -- President Khatami in 1997 and 2001, and reformist legislators in 2000 -- could not accomplish anything substantive because their efforts were countered by unelected but powerful institutions and individuals.
Under these circumstances, the tactical approach of student activists has changed. By early 2000, they had adopted the policy of "active calm" (aramesh-e faal), in order to avoid a violent crackdown by the security forces and their vigilante allies. By March 2005, there were calls for a boycott of the presidential election from a wing of the Office for Strengthening Unity. In early May more than 500 critics and dissidents signed a letter saying they will not vote in the June polls. These calls have picked up steam, and at least one of the mainstream political parties, the Islamic Iran Participation Front, threatened to boycott the election if its preferred candidate, Mustafa Moin, was not allowed to run.
Most of the candidates have, at one time or another, met with student groups in an effort to get their support. Moin is the only candidate who counts on student support, particularly from the majority faction of the Office for Strengthening Unity, according to an analysis in the 16 May "Etemad." The minority faction of the student organization tends to back another candidate, Hojatoleslam Mehdi Karrubi. It is noteworthy that after his candidacy was reinstated, Moin said the Guardians Council actions caused unhappiness in the country, "especially among the students," "Eqbal" reported on 25 May.
Moin will have to do more to earn the students' support. Hadi Kahalzadeh, a member of the central council of an organization that represents former Office for Strengthening Unity members, said on 1 June, "We are waiting for Moin to declare his sensitivities about the violation of human rights and democracy in a more tangible way, because merely issuing a statement cannot convey his sensitivities to society," the Iranian Labor News Agency (ILNA) reported. Kahalzadeh denied that his organization backs Moin and said, "We still believe in not taking part in the elections."
Whether or not they boycott the election, opponents of the current set-up, including the students, face a no-win situation. The victory of a hard-line candidate -- and this includes front-runner and former two-time president Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani -- is almost certain if most Iranians do not vote, because the hard-liners can easily mobilize their constituencies. In the absence of neutral election observers, furthermore, the regime can manipulate the figures to show a high turnout. The regime will describe a large turnout as popular support and a sign of its legitimacy. In the unlikely chance that a pro-reform candidate is elected, experience has shown that his or her ability to implement meaningful changes is sharply curtailed. (Bill Samii)
CLERICS FACE PRESIDENTIAL DILEMMA. The Iranian Constitution requires that the president be a "religious-political individual" (rejal-i mazhabi-siasi), but this does not mean the president must be a cleric. Indeed, only two clerics won approval as candidates in the presidential race. Nevertheless, the clerical community's endorsement is important in a theocratic state. Clerical leaders are professing neutrality, but their effort to ensure a conservative consensus is indicative of their biases.
Members of the Assembly of Experts, the 86-member clerical body that is tasked with supervising the supreme leader, said the body does not support a specific person and an individual does not have to be a cleric to be president. Tabriz representative Ayatollah Mohsen Mojtahed-Shabestari, for example, said: "In Islam, the criteria for selecting a person is meritocracy and his familiarity with the constitution. Place and position are not important" ("Siyasat-i Ruz," 5 April 2005).
The two clerical candidates in the election, which is scheduled for 17 June, are Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani and Hojatoleslam Mehdi Karrubi. In terms of the political spectrum, the former is center-right, while the latter is center-left.
But it is the one of the right-wing candidates, former police chief Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, who seems the keenest for a clerical endorsement, having spent a whole day with the senior clerics in Qom in late May. He told reporters later that some of his meetings were behind closed doors, but in general terms he received guidance on how to serve the country effectively ("Iran," 28 May 2005).
Seyyed Ahmad Khatami, a member of the Qom Seminary Lecturers' Association, said in late May that his organization has not expressed support for a specific candidate. Anybody saying otherwise is only expressing a personal opinion, he added ("Etemad," 28 May 2005). Just a few days later, Khatami said, "I would guess that the final choice is unlikely to be a noncleric, but the final decision has to be taken by the Qom Seminary Lecturers' Association as a whole" (Fars News Agency, 30 May 2005).
Five of the eight candidates in the parliamentary race -- Hashemi-Rafsanjani, Qalibaf, Mahmud Ahmadinejad, Ali Larijani, and Mohsen Rezai -- are supported by different conservative constituencies. This includes the Coordination Council of Islamic Revolution Forces, Islamic Coalition Party (Hizb-i Motalefeh-yi Islami), Islamic Iran Developers Council (Etelaf-i Abadgaran-i Iran-i Islami), Islamic Revolution Devotees' Society (Jamiyat-i Isargaran-i Inqilab-i Islami), and the Tehran Militant Clergy Association (Jameh-yi Ruhaniyat-i Mobarez-i Tehran). Their differences have as much to do with age and the belief that their moment has come as they do with ideology.
The big concern for the conservative clerical community is that having so many candidates undermines the image of unity. On election day, furthermore, there is the fear that no single candidate will secure enough votes for a clear-cut victory, and in the subsequent second round the clerics' favorite could lose. Leading clerics, therefore, are demanding that the right wing act with greater coordination. Indeed, Ayatollah Mohammad-Reza Mahdavi-Kani, who is secretary-general of the Tehran Militant Clergy Association, in mid-April urged the conservative candidates to behave selflessly and settle on one candidate. His action was unexpected and showed the urgency of the situation, because he is seen as more of a "traditional guru" (murshid-i sunnati) rather than an activist, and in recent years he has tried to work behind the scenes ("Etemad," 21 April 2005).
More than one month later, other senior clerics were expressing similar opinions. Grand Ayatollah Hussein Nuri-Hamedani called on the conservative candidates to "reach a general consensus in these sensitive conditions," and Grand Ayatollah Abdol-Karim Musavi-Ardabili asked, "How much longer will this business of factional differences go on, while the people's general conditions are overlooked?" ("Aftab-i Yazd," 28 May 2005). Grand Ayatollah Nasser Makarem-Shirazi told the conservatives that they must achieve consensus in the short time remaining before the election ("Siyasat-i Ruz," 28 May 2005).
Hashemi-Rafsanjani met with Qom seminarians at Jamaran's Husseinieh No. 2 and told them that he will not withdraw from the race (Fars News Agency, 27 May 2005). Asked if he would do so if the conservatives reach a consensus on another candidate, Hashemi-Rafsanjani responded, "For the time being, no."
Hashemi-Rafsanjani is a member of the Tehran Militant Clergy Association, and one would expect it to support his candidacy. Yet it does not seem very enthusiastic. An association spokesman said that it has postponed its decision for a week (ILNA, 27 May 2005). And Mahdavi-Kani's office was forced to deny a report in which he allegedly said, "I have no attachment to Hashemi-Rafsanjani, but, at the end of the day, he is a cleric and I support him on this basis" (Fars News Agency, 30 May 2005).
But if there is any semblance of clerical unity, even if that unity is a reluctant one, it is illusory. Some seminary lecturers reportedly have asked Hashemi-Rafsanjani to withdraw from the race ("Siyasat-i Ruz," 28 May 2005). They fear that he will continue policies that lead to corruption and a widening gap between the rich and poor.
Meanwhile, the popular dissident cleric Ayatollah Hussein-Ali Montazeri predicts that public participation in the election will be low (Reuters, 20 May 2005). This is because the president does not have any real power, he said, unlike the unelected supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
With a little more than two weeks remaining before the election, Iran's clerical community is not sure who it will endorse. As Ali Larijani is the chosen candidate of the Coordination Council of Islamic Revolution Forces, he is probably the first choice. But some clerics may feel an obligation to support Hashemi-Rafsanjani, because of his long involvement in the revolution. Younger members of the clerical community may feel a greater affinity with Qalibaf or even Ahmadinejad. The clerics face a difficult choice -- they will not want to endorse the losing candidate, because this would highlight the distance between them and the public. (Bill Samii)
HASHEMI-RAFSANJANI DESCRIBES PRESIDENTIAL PLATFORM. Presidential candidate Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani described his election platform in a 31 May message on state television. The former president (1989-97) said the Iranian Revolution led to the overthrow of the "thousand families" (the aristocracy) and "imperialists," so people with that kind of experience should not fear changes in today's world. He accused the United States of pursuing imperialist objectives using democracy and human rights as pretexts. Rafsanjani said Iran could benefit from globalization if it acts wisely, and he added that Iran needs international organizations.
Rafsanjani said he has a 14-part program that includes strengthening the country's technological base and human resources; creating jobs, expanding the private sector, and shrinking the state sector; and wiping out poverty. Other parts include helping youth, helping culture and the arts, and decentralization. He also discussed women and resolving bureaucratic problems. Hashemi-Rafsanjani described himself as a proponent of "small government."
Ali-Akbar Velayati, who pulled out of the presidential race when Hashemi-Rafsanjani announced his candidacy, announced on 31 May that most people in his election headquarters now back Hashemi-Rafsanjani. (Bill Samii)
QALIBAF MAKES POPULIST APPEAL. Conservative presidential candidate Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, a former police chief who still heads the antismuggling headquarters, said during a 31 May television talk show that previous governments have not controlled inflation, nor have they succeeded in privatization or in achieving economic growth. He complained that the country's capabilities had not been properly assessed.
Turning to the economy, Qalibaf specifically criticized former President Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani's policies in 1995-96. Qalibaf said Iran is not ready for World Trade Organization (WTO) membership, citing tariffs in Iran of 130 percent compared to a 12 percent average for WTO members. He said WTO membership will result in job losses. Qalibaf said he generally supports subsidies, but the gasoline subsidy must be altered because it benefits the wealthy.
There is a gap, Qalibaf said, between the people and the government.
Hussein Fadai, secretary-general of the Islamic Revolution Devotees' Society (Jamiyat-i Isargaran-i Inqilab-i Islami), said his political party backs Qalibaf's presidential candidacy, "Iran" reported on 29 May. He said having such competent managers in the executive branch will let the government meet public demands. Fadai cited Qalibaf's record as police chief as proof of what he could accomplish as president.
In a 31 May question-and-answer session with members of the Islamic Revolution Devotees' Society, Qalibaf said that some top officials are involved with goods smuggling and have impeded his efforts, Fars News Agency reported. Some obtain special dispensations to import cigarettes, although this is banned. Qalibaf said 75 percent of smuggling occurs "through official channels via roads, aircraft, and rail, [and] even through customs." (Bill Samii)
LARIJANI CALLS FOR INDIGENOUS NUCLEAR CAPABILITY. Presidential candidate Ali Larijani said, during a 1 June gathering at the Hafizeh Mosque in Yazd, that the failure to achieve an indigenous nuclear capability is tantamount to treason, Fars News Agency reported. Larijani claimed that the United States intends to substitute Islamic culture with its own cultural model, and he said withstanding U.S. intentions requires technological and economic improvements in Iran. Larijani also pledged to double teachers' salaries.
The conservative Islamic Associations of the Bazaar and Guilds of Tehran (Anjumanha-yi Islami-yi Bazaar va Asnaf-i Tehran) endorsed Larijani's presidential bid on 1 June, ILNA reported. That group also advised all conservative candidates to get in step and warned of the possible damage caused by divisions within the conservative camp. (Bill Samii)
REFORMIST CAMPAIGNING COULD YIELD AN UPSET. The two reformist presidential candidates -- Mustafa Moin and Mohsen Mehralizadeh, who were initially disqualified by the Guardians Council and then reinstated on the orders of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei -- are campaigning in earnest. Moin is taking some controversial positions and is trying to duplicate Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami's 1997 presidential campaign. Mehralizadeh's campaign has so far been more lackluster. If Iranians do vote in large numbers, it is not impossible that there could be an upset reformist victory in the 17 June presidential election.
Moin has decided to stay in the presidential race, campaign publicity chief Issa Saharkhiz announced on 28 May, according to the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA). Initially disqualified by the Guardians Council, Moin was reinstated on the orders of Supreme Leader Khamenei. Some of his supporters said he should decline to run as a protest against the vetting system, which ultimately found that only eight out of 1,014 prospective candidates were eligible to stand in the 17 June election.
Moin appears to be trying to duplicate Khatami's campaign, when the eventual president won the support of students and women. Moin has a female spokesperson. He once served as science, research, and technology minister (effectively, the higher education minister), so he has some popularity with students and has appealed to them in his campaign. He is backed by several of the parties that supported Khatami, namely the Mujahedin of the Islamic Revolution Organization and the Islamic Iran Participation Front.
Moin's running mate will be Mohammad Reza Khatami, secretary-general of the Islamic Iran Participation Party, according to IRNA. Moin has pledged to create the post of vice president for human rights.
Moin's spokeswoman, Elaheh Kulyai, said he will cooperate with any groups that intend to operate within a constitutional framework, "Eqbal" reported on 29 May. She said Moin does not rule out working with Iranian expatriates, and he may have women and members of the nationalist-religious forces in his cabinet. The legislature must give designated cabinet members a vote of confidence, and then they must be approved by the supreme leader. It is extremely unlikely that this would happen with a national-religious activist. So either Moin is trying to get as many votes as he can, or he is taking a genuinely original stance.
Mohammad-Reza Khatami, Moin's running mate, said at a 1 June news conference that Iran-U.S. relations are not beyond repair, IRNA reported. "One of the major challenges facing Iran's foreign policy is relations between Iran and the U.S.," Khatami said. "The relations are presently critical with a record of complicated problems; the possibility exists for their settlement, although the problems are enormous." He said that cooperation, dialogue, and social contacts between Iranians and Americans, particularly among scholars, journalists, and undefined "elites," will contribute to resolving disputes.
Khatami also said on 1 June that Iran should not interfere in the Middle East peace process, dpa reported. He said, "We support the Palestinian cause, but Palestine is a sovereign state with a sovereign government and Iran should in no way interfere in their affairs."
Moin described his presidential platform or manifesto on state television on 2 June. "I have repeatedly said that democracy is the only and only answer to threats against Iran," he said. Democracy is essential for sustainable development, he said, whereas the opposite of democracy is not sustainable and will eventually result in dictatorship. Economic growth is required to resolve economic problems, but this is not possible without democracy and respect for the rule of law. Moin also complained of extensive corruption and said this can only be fought in a democracy, where a free press and civic institutions serve as a watchdog. Moin condemned media censorship, described press freedom as "the foundation of democracy," and called for an end to Internet censorship. Moin also promoted cultural diversity, respect for ethnic languages and all religious groups, and the promotion of academic freedom.
Unlike Khatami eight years earlier, however, Moin does not have the support of two very important political parties. The left-wing Militant Clerics Association (Majma-yi Ruhaniyun-i Mobarez) is supporting the candidacy of its secretary-general, Mehdi Karrubi. The centrist Executives of Construction Party is supporting Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani's candidacy.
The other reformist who was initially disqualified and then reinstated on the orders of Supreme Leader Khamenei is Mohsen Mehralizadeh, who serves as vice president for physical training. The Association of Iran's Positive Thinkers (Jamiyat-i Mosbatandishan-i Iran) has endorsed Mehralizadeh's presidential bid, "Etemad" reported on 1 June. Five thousand Azeri students and lecturers at Tehran University have endorsed Mehralizadeh, ILNA reported on 29 May, as have residents from Taleqan, which is west of Tehran.
In a speech to the underprivileged in Ardabil Province, Mehralizadeh said the country needs to revise its welfare and medical-insurance system so people do not endure poverty, "Etemad" reported. Rather than stressing ethnic uniformity, he told youngsters and athletes in Islamshahr the same day that minorities' linguistic and cultural issues should be addressed so they feel that they are part of the country. Mehralizadeh said he has seven rivals in the presidential race, but he does not plan to engage in negative campaigning.
In a 2 June interview on Iranian state television, Mehralizadeh expressed concern about brain drain. He noted that some young Iranians who go abroad to study are unwilling to return, and that the government must do something to counteract this phenomenon. He also touched on ethnic issues, saying that homogeneity is harmful and diversity enriches the country.
Turning to foreign policy, Mehralizadeh said the government must force the United States to resolve its problems with Iran. Iran should not, however, expect the United States to address it from a position of strength.
These developments, particularly Moin's statements, indicate that the campaign could be more exciting than expected. If a large number of people do vote, then the expected triumph by conservatives is no longer a certainty and there could be an upset. This does not change the fact that, in Iran, the president and other elected officials are essentially powerless compared to the supreme leader and other unelected institutions. Moreover, it would probably mean that the largely ineffectual reformist movement will continue to limp along, vainly trying to change the system via its flawed constitutional framework. (Bill Samii)
KARRUBI GETS PRO-REFORM GROUP'S BACKING. The pro-reform organization called the Forces Following the Imam's Line has endorsed Hojatoleslam Mehdi Karrubi's presidential bid, ILNA reported on 1 June. Young Journalists Society Secretary-General Vahid Abideh announced on 29 May that his organization also backs Karrubi, the Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA) reported. Abideh said Karrubi can resolve the country's problems, because of his extensive experience. (Bill Samii)
REJECTED CANDIDATES EXPRESS ANGER. The Democracy Party has issued a statement demanding that the Guardians Council explain its rejection of party Secretary-General Mustafa Kavakebian as a presidential candidate, "Farhang-i Ashti" reported on 29 May. Nevertheless, according to the statement, the party will not boycott the election.
Rejected presidential candidate Ebrahim Asqarzadeh, secretary-general of the Islamic Iran Solidarity Party, said that he wanted to run in the election because the current political system is increasingly warlike, "Iran" reported on 26 May. Asqarzadeh described the Guardians Council's rejection of candidates as illegal, and he added that the council is engineering events in favor of a specific faction. Asqarzadeh thanked his supporters. (Bill Samii)
AZERI IRREDENTIST CALLS FOR ELECTION BOYCOTT. Mahmudali Chehragani, who is identified as the leader of the Southern Azerbaijan National Awareness Movement (in the past he has been linked with the National Liberation Movement of Southern Azerbaijan), on 27 May called on Iranian Azeris to boycott the presidential election, Turan news agency reported. An estimated 24 percent of the population is Azeri (almost 17 million out of 69 million). (Bill Samii)
COURT CLEARS CHRISTIAN EVANGELIST ON APOSTASY CHARGE. A judge in the Bushehr General and Revolutionary Court has cleared Hamid Purmand, an evangelical Christian and former military officer, of charges of apostasy, but has passed down a sentence for espionage, ISNA reported on 29 May. Purmand's unnamed attorney said his client received a three-year prison sentence for the latter crime. The attorney said he is working to have those charges dismissed and secure his client's immediate release. (Bill Samii)
PARLIAMENT WANTS URANIUM ENRICHMENT TO RESUME. A 1 June letter signed by 175 of 290 Iranian parliamentarians calls on President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami to resume uranium enrichment, Mehr News Agency reported. The letter suggests that continuing negotiations with the European Union is a waste of time.
On 28 May, the Guardians Council approved legislation calling on the government to master all aspects of nuclear technology, including the complete fuel cycle, Iranian state television reported. The parliament passed the legislation on 13 May. The legislation states that the country's nuclear activities must remain within the framework of international commitments, such as the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei met with Iranian legislators on 29 May and praised their stand on the nuclear issue, state radio reported.
In their 1 June letter, the legislators say they postponed passage of the law in an effort to show the international community that Iran's intentions are peaceful, IRNA reported. The letter goes on to note that the process is not fruitful, due to alleged pressure from Washington. (Bill Samii)
TEHRAN ACCUSES U.S. OF PSYCHOLOGICAL WARFARE. Speaker of parliament Gholam Ali Haddad-Adel accused the "U.S. propaganda machine" of encouraging Iranians not to vote in the 17 June presidential election, IRNA reported. Speaking at a conference in Tehran, Haddad-Adel said Iranians object to "U.S.-backed puppet regimes."
A 28 May Iranian state television program also alleged that there is foreign media interference that is trying to reduce election turnout. Persian-language radio and television programs, it said, are trying to exploit minority grievances. The program carried interviews with some Kurds, an Azeri, and some tribesmen who made statements such as, "The enemies of Iran are afraid and scared of the solidarity and unity of the people of Iran," and "All tribes will join hands and take part in the elections."
Two university lecturers, Ahmad Bakhshayekhi and Hojatoleslam Naqavian, claimed on the program that the United States is hostile to Iran. Naqavian accused the United States of using the Internet, satellites, and the press to wage a cultural battle against Iran. (Bill Samii)
SWEDISH-IRANIAN VIRUS RESEARCH UNDER SCRUTINY. The Swedish Institute for Infectious Disease Control and the Karolinska Institute are cooperating with the Pasteur Institute in Iran, Sweden's "Dagens Nyheter" daily reported on 31 May. One project focuses on the virus for hemorrhagic fever. Sweden's National Inspectorate of Strategic Products has suspicions about the Pasteur Institute's activities, according to General Director Lars-Hjalmar Wide, on the basis of information from many sources in different countries. (Bill Samii)
IRAN INCREASES MISSILE'S RANGE. Minister of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics Admiral Ali Shamkhani announced at a 31 May seminar at Tehran's Malek Ashtar University that the Shihab-3 missile has been tested successfully with solid fuel engines, IRNA and Fars News Agency reported. Shamkhani added, "Using solid fuel would be more durable and increase the range of the missile." The Shihab-3 medium-range ballistic missile has a 1,300-kilometer range, and Tehran claims it is developing a 2,000-kilometer version.
According to a 1 June report in "The Jerusalem Post," solid fuel is more stable than liquid fuel. It also allows a shorter launch time, because liquid fuel must be stored separately. (Bill Samii)
DESPITE JAIL TIME, JOURNALIST REMAINS DEFIANT... Akbar Ganji remains defiant after having spent five years in prison -- including several months in solitary confinement.
Ganji held a press conference at his home shortly after his release on 29 May. He told journalists that his time in prison has made him even more determined to push for democratic changes in Iran. He said, "Even if I have to spend the rest of my life in prison, I will not change my views."
He was temporarily released after he threatened he would indefinitely continue his hunger strike to protest against his detention conditions.
In recent years, going on hunger strike has become a last resort for many Iranian political prisoners seeking to highlight their situations and to gain more rights.
Ganji said on 30 May that while he was not physically tortured in prison, he was placed under psychological pressure. He said he was denied rights granted to other prisoners. He called his imprisonment illegal and unfair and said that "all writers, journalists, and web bloggers who are in jail" should be released. He said they have expressed their views without resorting to violence.
Several human rights groups, academics, and activists -- including Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi -- had expressed concern over Ganji's deteriorating health and called for his release.
Ganji said he suffers from asthma and back pain.
French media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has called on EU foreign ministers and on Javier Solana, the EU's high representative for common foreign and security policy, to put pressure on Iran regarding Ganji's case. RSF is calling for an unconditional and definitive release of Ganji.
RSF spokesman Reza Moini says several factors contributed to Ganji's temporary release. "All observers should first consider Akbar Ganji's state and see what could have been the consequences of a person who goes on a hunger strike and is determined to continue [the strike] until [death]," Moini said. "I have no doubt that the Islamic Republic feels endangered in the current situation and I'm glad it takes some matters into consideration. In this case international pressures -- extensive activities by web bloggers and journalists [have also had an impact]. It was a big campaign for Akbar Ganji."
Other observers have suggested that Iranian leaders are showing leniency toward dissidents ahead of the country's presidential elections, in order to encourage people to vote. Ganji seemed to lend credence to this view when he said on 30 May that the presidential elections could be one of the reasons for his release.
Ganji was jailed for 10 years in 2001 on charges ranging from harming Iran's national security to spreading lies against the Islamic Republic and its leaders. His sentence was reduced to six years on appeal.
His book, "The Dungeon of Ghosts," is a collection of his articles on the serial killings of dissidents and intellectuals in Iran. In the bestseller, Ganji implicated Iran's former President and current presidential candidate Hashemi-Rafsanjani, former Intelligence Minister Ali Falahian, and several other conservative officials in the killings of four opposition leaders and writers in 1998.
RSF's Moini praises Ganji's courage and journalistic commitment in probing the sensitive issue of political murders.
"In his articles Ganji had written not only about the serial murders but he had also focused on the issue of political crimes. In relation to this he didn't just mention the four cases of murders that were recognized by the court -- but he mentioned more than 80 political murders inside and outside Iran. The issue of impunity from justice among leaders in Iran is important. It has always been [important], and Mr. Ganji -- and I also have to mention [prominent Iranian journalist] Emadeddin Baghi -- have made great efforts in [addressing] this," Moini said.
Mehrdad Mashayekhi, a professor of sociology at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., is one of 60 professors who had called for Ganji's release in an open letter. Mashayekhi said Ganji is a very influential figure in Iran's cultural and political scene. "He is one of the few people who started human rights activities in Iran," Mashayekhi said. "His disclosures about the serial murders [of intellectuals] and his courage are brilliant. He is also significant as a writer and also as someone who has [brought] many new terms into Iran's political literature."
It is not clear yet how long Akbar Ganji will be allowed to remain out of prison for medical treatment. Some Iranian papers have written that his leave will be extended indefinitely and that he will be freed. Ganji said on 30 May that he has not accepted "any conditions" to being granted leave. (Golnaz Esfandiari with Radio Farda correspondent Nazi Azima)
...AND CALLS FOR ELECTION BOYCOTT IN RADIO FARDA INTERVIEW. In an exclusive interview with Radio Farda, Ganji pointed to several factors he says makes elections under Iran's current laws and system meaningless.
He refers to the right of the Guardian Council - the country's powerful constitutional watchdog -- to disqualify candidates considered un-Islamic or not loyal to the Islamic establishment. "The election process is unfair and undemocratic. Those who are not of the same mind as the regime are being eliminated. Many parts of the society are being eliminated illegally in the beginning of the [election] process. Therefore, this process -- apart from its other problems -- will not be a process of free elections."
Out of more than 1,000 candidates who submitted applications to run in the upcoming presidential elections, only eight have been approved. Two candidates from the reformist camp were reinstated only after Iran's Supreme Leader urged the conservative Guardian Council to review their applications.
Ganji told Radio Farda that, under Iran's current state structure, the president has almost no power. Therefore, he says, there is no point in electing a new president. "I say even if we consider these elections as free -- which they are not -- the other issue is that the person who would be the next president, the product and the result of the elections -- even if he's a reformist -- in the power structure he is good for nothing; because the real power is in the hand of the leader, the judiciary, the parliament, the [Revolutionary] Guards, the Basij [volunteer militia force] and other organs," he said. "In this framework, what will [the president] achieve? What can he do? The Guardians Council, the Expediency Council -- they will all stand against him."
Ganji also noted what he called President Mohamed Khatami's failure to deliver on his promises of reform and change during his eight years in office.
Earlier this month, Ganji wrote in the second part of his "Manifesto of Republicanism" that an election boycott is a step toward democracy in Iran. He has called for civil disobedience and noncooperation. The first and second parts of the book have been widely published on Iranian news websites.
Ganji said an election boycott would be a blow to the legitimacy of Iran's establishment: "The transition to democracy in different regimes has different prices. In dictatorships, this transition requires noncooperation with the self-ruler and delegitimizing him," he said. "No despot has ever given up his power willingly."
He says the transition to democracy in Iran should be achieved without violence.
Iranian reformists say the power of unelected bodies, such as the Guardians Council, should be limited. The head of Iran's main pro-reform party, Mohammad-Reza Khatami, has said, "In our country, we have two power structures and preserving the democratic one is a major step toward establishing democracy."
Ganji, however, rejects such calls and says that, under Iran's current political system and constitution, real democracy cannot be achieved. "Those who are theoretically and practically committed to Iran's constitution, if they go after reforming the current ruling establishment, maybe they are taking the right way," he said. "But if someone's main concern is democracy and establishing a democratic regime that is bound to human rights, then that person would not be willing to reform the establishment; his main issue would be how to move from an un-democratic regime to a democratic regime. And I've written in the first and second 'Manifesto' that under the current regime I have no hope for any reform leading to a transition toward a democratic system."
Ganji says his views have become more radical through the years spent in prison. On 31 May, he told reporters in Tehran that, even if he had to spend the rest of his life in prison, he would not change his views. (Golnaz Esfandiari with Radio Farda's Mina Baharmast)