27 December 2005, Volume 8, Number 50
IRANIAN BAHA'I DIES IN JAIL. Zabiullah Mahrami, a 59-year-old member of the Baha'i faith who has been in prison for 10 years, has died of unknown causes, Reuters reported on 19 December, citing the Baha'i International Community. Mahrami was sentenced to death for abandoning Islam, but his sentence was commuted to life in prison. Mahrami was forced to engage in hard labor at the penitentiary in Yazd where he died. The Baha'i International Community added that there is a renewed crackdown on Baha'is in Iran, and a minimum of 59 Baha'is have been arrested, detained, or imprisoned this year. The Baha'i faith is not constitutionally recognized in Iran, unlike Christianity, Islam, or Judaism, and its adherents are subject to intense repression.
Amnesty International (AI) on 22 December called for an inquiry into Mahrami's death. In its letter to judiciary chief Ayatollah Mahmud Hashemi-Shahrudi, AI expressed concern about abuse of Baha'is and urged an end to imprisonment of people because of their religious or cultural identities. AI also spoke out against the apparent pattern of harassment of Baha'is, and it said nine are still imprisoned. (Bill Samii)
IRAN AS 'PIONEER OF HUMAN RIGHTS.' Human-rights observers, international organizations, and Iranian activists have expressed concern about the human-rights situation in Iran this month. Tehran has reacted dismissively and with counteraccusations, and the newest Friday-prayer leader in Tehran, Hojatoleslam Ahmad Khatami, said on 23 December, "we consider ourselves pioneers of human rights."
Iranian activists held several demonstrations in Cologne, Germany, to mark International Human Rights Day on 10 December and draw attention to the plight of detained dissidents in Iran, Radio Farda reported on 10 December.
Separately, Iranian Human Rights Activists Groups in the EU and North America, a coalition of 15 groups, issued a 10 December statement listing rights abuses in Iran in the past seven months. The statement alleged that Iran has in this time interrogated 254 students, 46 reporters or bloggers; prosecuted 157 political or social activists; condemned 101 people to death; and ordered two women to be stoned. Group member Hussein Mahutiha told Radio Farda on 10 December that "given the fact that the extensive, continuous, and planned violation of human rights encompasses all social institutions, writers, pressmen, workers, and students...one can see this is not an isolated matter or the work of a few lawless people," but that it is "planned."
The Office for Strengthening Unity student group also urged the Iranian government on 11 December to respect the rights cited in Iran's constitution and in the Universal Declaration, which Iran's parliament has ratified, Radio Farda reported on 12 December.
EU foreign ministers issued a statement in Brussels on 12 December regretting the state of human rights in Iran, but affirmed a persistent interest in talking to Iran about them, Radio Farda reported.
Abdolkarim Lahiji, vice president of the International Federation of Human Rights Leagues, told Radio Farda on 12 December that the impact of the statement will depend on Iran's response. Iran, he said, has responded to such statements in the past by saying the state of human rights in Iran is generally acceptable; that Western states -- including the United States -- have themselves violated rights; and that parts of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights contradict Iran's state religion, Radio Farda reported.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi dismissed as "political" on 18 December a resolution passed by the UN General Assembly on 16 December deploring rights abuses in several countries, including Iran, the Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA) reported. The resolution was reportedly sponsored by Canada, and approved by countries including the members of the EU and the United States. Assefi said the condemnation of human rights abuses has become a "tool at the hands of certain countries," which means "nobody in the world pays any attention to such resolutions." He accused Canada of its own rights abuses, including the "deplorable" state of its indigenous population. "Human rights are absolutely not respected in Canada, and we simply do not see...Canada as being in a position to comment on human rights," ISNA quoted him as saying.
Tehran's newest Friday-prayer leader, Hojatoleslam Ahmad Khatami, addressed human-rights complaints in his 23 December sermon. He said Western countries' accusations against Iran are "really ridiculous" when these same countries face "popular rebellions" and employ "martial law," state radio reported. Khatami said the United States will never wash away the "stain" of Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghurayb. "America talks of human rights while its own citizens are not secure," he continued. "All media have reported that [U.S. President George W.] Bush has ordered illegal tapping of all telephones." Khatami accused the West of using the human-rights issue and added, "we consider ourselves pioneers of human rights." (Bill Samii, Vahid Sepehri)
DISSIDENT WRITER BARRED FROM ACCEPTING HONOR IN FRANCE. Emadedin Baqi, a dissident writer and president of the Association in Defense of Prisoners' Rights in Iran, was recently prevented from going to France to receive a 2005 human rights prize from France's National Consultative Commission of Human Rights (awarded by the Commission Nationale Consultative des Droits de L'Homme), Radio Farda reported on 13 December. Baqi is presently barred from leaving Iran, and his wife Fatemeh Kamali-Ahmadsarai received his medal for him on 12 December in Paris. The prize was awarded on 18 November, according to the commission's website. Lawyer and International Federation of Human Rights League Vice President Abdolkarim Lahiji, who attended the ceremony, told Radio Farda on 13 December that the prize is for Baqi's efforts to reconcile Islamic jurisprudence with an abolition of the death penalty. (Vahid Sepehri)
IRANIANS CONCERNED OVER INTERNET FILTERING. A group of 48 legislators has written to Culture Minister Mohammad Hussein Safar-Harandi objecting to the increased blocking of websites by the authorities, while 12 legislators have written to President Ahmadinejad asking him to order the removal of filters on "permitted" websites, Radio Farda reported on 18 December, citing the Iranian Labor News Agency (ILNA). But journalist and Association in Defense of Press Freedoms spokesman Mashallah Shamsolvaezin told Radio Farda that the restrictions are no surprise, and the objections of legislators will prove fruitless, coming as they do from the minority group of reformist legislators with little influence in government. Safar-Herandi, he said, "has shown that he only believes in those media that absolutely preach and...approve government policies." He said that with the closure of numerous newspapers and journals, the government is focusing on the Internet, while Tehran's chief prosecutor can use tried-and-tested "excuses like 'the publication of false reports,' 'spreading corruption', or 'promoting secularism,'" to order websites blocked, Radio Farda reported. (Vahid Sepehri)
HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH TROUBLED BY IRANIAN MINISTERS. In a report released on 15 December, Human Rights Watch (HRW) describes as "particularly troubling" the appointment of Iranian Intelligence and Security Minister Gholam Hussein Mohseni-Ejei and Interior Minister Mustafa Pur-Mohammadi, Radio Farda reported. But Tehran denounced the report and some Iranian human-rights specialists questioned its efficacy.
Pur-Mohammadi reportedly served on a committee that gave orders for the execution of thousands of prisoners -- described as a "crime against humanity" by HRW. There also are suspicions that he is connected with the murders of dissidents in the late 1990s. Mohseni-Ejei is suspected of ordering the killing of at least one dissident, and in his position as prosecutor-general of the Special Court for the Clergy he was connected with the trials of several reformist clerics. HRW calls on the Iranian government to investigate the allegations against the two ministers, and it suggests they be relieved of their duties until the investigation is completed. Barring this, it continues, the legislature should hold a vote of no confidence on the two.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi on 18 December described the HRW report as "vulgar and incoherent," ISNA reported. Assefi said, "I think Human Rights Watch watches over Western interests more than it does over human rights."
Iranian human-rights specialists have differing opinions on the status of the ministers mentioned in the HRW report and on the effectiveness of such a report. Ahmad Bashiri told Radio Farda that although Mohseni-Ejei and Pur-Mohammadi held sensitive posts at the time of the serial murders (a common reference to the killings of dissidents in the late 1990s), there is insufficient evidence to prosecute them. However, Reza Moini of Reporters Without Borders told Radio Farda there is enough evidence available on the involvement of the two men in those killings of the last two decades. Hussein Davani, the brother of murdered journalist Piruz Davani, told Radio Farda his sibling was killed on the basis of a fatwa issued by Mohseni-Ejei. (Bill Samii, Vahid Sepehri)
STUDENT ACTIVISTS HAVE LEGAL TROUBLES. Student activist Said Kalanaki has received a suspended prison sentence for membership in an illegal organization and participating in illegal gatherings, ILNA reported on 21 December. The charges relate to his participation in 2003 rallies, and he has been free on bail since that time.
An Iranian court on 20 December sentenced Abdullah Momeni, former leader of a student political organization called the Office for Strengthening Unity, to five years in prison for undermining national security, Radio Farda reported. The sentence is described as "habs taziri," which means that the prison sentence must be served in full. Momeni also is banned from public affairs for five years. The day before, according to Radio Farda, the trial of several student activists and national-religious activists began. Momeni told Radio Farda his was a closed trial without a jury, and the accusations against him were based on his pro-democracy activities and were therefore baseless. His activities, Momeni continued, had nothing to do with national security. Momeni said he protests these charges and believes the sentence will not deter the student movement from the promotion of democracy, human rights, and civil society.
The one-year prison sentence of Amir Hussein Balali, another student activist, was changed to a 10 million-rial fine, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 19 December, citing attorney Mohammad Sharif. (Bill Samii)
JAILED LAWYER'S CONDITION WORSENS. The wife of imprisoned lawyer Abdolfattah Soltani told Radio Farda on 20 December that her husband is getting weaker every day. Soltani was detained in July, and he has spent a great deal of time in solitary confinement. In late November almost 200 jurists wrote to judiciary chief Ayatollah Mahmud Hashemi-Shahrudi to demand Soltani's release (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 19 December 2005). Soltani's wife, Masumeh Dehqan, told Radio Farda that she sees her husband every two weeks and last visited him on 19 December. She said that his health is deteriorating and fears he will succumb to illness. Dehqan said she has written to Hashemi-Shahrudi and expressed concern about her husband's well-being. (Bill Samii)
POLICEMAN SAYS TEHRAN'S POLLUTION LETHAL. Iran's national police chief, Ismail Ahmadi-Moghaddam, warned on 10 December that a continuing "pollution crisis" in Tehran will kill as many city residents as the 2003 earthquake in Bam that killed over 20,000 people, and a "silent death" will engulf the capital, Mehr news agency reported the same day. He said that about 10 million liters of fuel is consumed in Tehran daily, and this must be cut, though he said less personal car use and more public transport are not enough. On 9 December, he said, 70 percent of cars on Tehran's roads had one occupant, and that "one must change the people's perspective on car use." Legislator Ali Riaz told ISNA on 10 December that parliament's Article 90 Committee, which usually deals with public complaints against government agencies, will discuss pollution "at the first opportunity." Separately, Kazem Nedafi, a lecturer at the Tehran Medical Science University, told Radio Farda on 11 December that 5,000 to 9,000 Tehran residents die annually from pollution-related causes. (Vahid Sepehri)
ATTACKERS OF PRESIDENTIAL MOTORCADE ARRESTED. Ismail Ahmadi-Moghaddam, chief of Iran's national police force, said on 20 December that an attack on the presidential motorcade in Sistan va Baluchistan Province the previous week was not an assassination attempt, dpa reported, citing ISNA. President Ahmadinejad was not in the motorcade at the time of the 14 December attack. A bodyguard and a driver, as well as one of the attackers, were killed in the incident. Government spokesman Gholam-Hussein Elham on 19 December described the attackers as bandits who contribute to local insecurity while pursuing materialistic goals. Elham said the bandits were identified and arrested. (Bill Samii)
IRAN, EU NUCLEAR TALKS RESUME. Diplomats from France, Germany, and Great Britain began talks with Iranian Supreme National Security Council official Javad Vaidi on 21 December in Vienna, AFP and the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) reported. Other members of the Iranian team, according to IRNA, were Security Council deputy for economic affairs Mohammad Nahavandian, Atomic Energy Organization deputy head for international affairs Mohammad Saidi, Permanent Representative to the International Atomic Energy Agency Mohammad-Mehdi Akhundzadeh, and Foreign Ministry Deputy Director-General for Political and International Affairs Ali-Asghar Soltanieh.
Previous discussions were interrupted by Iran's resumption in August of uranium-conversion activities. An unnamed European diplomat told AFP on 21 December it will not be easy to persuade Iran to forsake enrichment. Interacting with a new Iranian team further complicates the issue -- the last discussions took place in April with representatives of former President Mohammad Khatami's government. An unnamed Iranian diplomat told AFP the new talks would be an opportunity for the new players to get to know each other.
Akhundzadeh said after the talks' conclusion on 21 December that the two sides are determined to settle the issue, IRNA reported, and the discussions will resume in January.
One day before the talks took place, Supreme National Security Council spokesman Hussein Entezami said that Iran will propose that it enrich uranium on its own territory with international participation, dpa reported. An anonymous "diplomat close to intelligence sources" said on 20 December that Iran is "laying the groundwork of uranium enrichment," AFP reported.
Iranian Atomic Energy Organization head Gholam Reza Aqazadeh-Khoi said in Tehran on 19 December that Iran's nuclear "capabilities" are "irreversible, and cannot be eliminated," though he said Iran will try to "win the international community's trust" in the peaceful nature of its program, IRNA reported the same day. He said President Ahmadinejad's proposals on foreign participation in fuel-production activities in Natanz, a plant near Tehran, "go beyond customary assurances in the world." If the Europeans "understand the point that the best way right now is to interact with Iran," talks set for 21 December "will be successful," IRNA quoted him as saying. He said Iran will enter the talks with "entirely clear, very serious and determined views," adding that all factions in Iran agree on "Iran's rights" and "the Europeans have admitted in various forms that they cannot easily overlook Iran's rights."
Supreme National Security Council Secretary Ali Larijani said in Tehran on 19 December that "the national will of Iranians to enrich uranium is serious," IRNA reported the same day. Addressing the press after meeting with Japanese Deputy Foreign Minister Tsuneo Nishida, he said the coming round of talks will address "nuclear nondeviation, and I hope the talks will move toward assuring Iran's rights [with] positive results." He dismissed the idea that the international community does not trust Iran, and said talks are "to resolve misunderstandings."
Foreign Ministry spokesman Assefi said on 18 December that EU negotiators should not "ask for too much" in coming talks on Iran's nuclear program, while Iran will be asking for its rights and nothing more, ISNA reported. "We have not asked too much from the start, nor will we in the future," he said. The next session, he said, will be "on how Iran's rights concerning [uranium] enrichment will be respected...we have said we are ready to...cooperate with the [International Atomic Energy] Agency and clarify...so there is no concern over any possible deviation by Iran," he said, referring to Western concerns over any move by Iran to make nuclear weapons. Talks will go well, Assefi said, "if Europe recognizes Iran's rights, and naturally if there is any question of excessive demands, there will be a different atmosphere," ISNA reported. (Bill Samii, Vahid Sepehri)
TEHRAN DISCUSSES ENERGY AMBITIONS. Atomic Energy Organization head Gholam-Reza Aqazadeh-Khoi said in Tehran on 10 December that Iran is considering the construction of one or two nuclear power plants with foreign participation, for which it hopes to issue tenders in the Persian year that begins on 21 March 2006, news agencies reported the same day. He said foreign participation would be for the construction of a 2,000-megawatt "nuclear electricity plant." Official remarks earlier indicated the intended construction of two power plants.
Iran intends to build its own 360-megawatt light-water nuclear plant in Khuzestan Province, he said without saying when construction might begin, ISNA and AP reported. "We have valuable experience and in terms of resources and equipment, we are able to do this," he said. He expressed hope that the plant will be designed and built by Iranians only. "Some people think it would be difficult to have this type of power plant in Iran, but...they do not know about Iran's capabilities," ISNA quoted him as saying. Aqazadeh said Iran's plant in Bushehr is "90 percent complete," and expected to start operating in 2006. Russian Federal Atomic Energy Agency head Sergei Kirienko is to visit the site "this year" to discuss the timetable for completion, he added. (Vahid Sepehri)
IRAN NEEDS NO SECURITY GUARANTEES. Supreme National Security Council Secretary Ali Larijani told the press in Tehran on 13 December that Iran can defend itself and needs no security guarantees from the United States, as recently suggested by the UN's nuclear inspectorate chief, ISNA and news agencies reported on 12 and 13 December.
On 12 December, International Atomic Energy Agency Director-General Muhammad el-Baradei suggested in Stockholm that the United States might have to include security guarantees for Iran in order to attain a definite agreement on Iran's controversial nuclear program, according to AP.
But U.S. State Department spokesman Adam Ereli later said in Washington that Iran should first act like a responsible member of the international community, then "maybe other kinds of notions will become more palatable," AP reported on 12 December.
Larijani said: "Iran does not need such haughty assurances. It has a good capacity" for defense, ISNA reported. He said Iran is surrounded by nuclear-armed states and "we just want an attentive ear to understand this." He said countries with nuclear bombs "cannot admonish others. The Americans have not given a proper answer to this, and Iran does not need such sympathy in matters of security." In the nuclear dossier, he said, "we do not want anything beyond what other countries have," ISNA reported. (Vahid Sepehri)
ISRAELI MILITARY INTELLIGENCE WARNS OF IRANIAN CRUISE MISSILES. Israeli Defense Forces intelligence chief Major General Aharon Farkash-Ze'evi told the Knesset on 20 December that Iran has acquired 12 cruise missiles with a 3,000-kilometer range, "The Jerusalem Post" reported on 21 December. Speaking during his last meeting with the Israeli legislature, Ze'evi said the 12 missiles originated in a shipment of 18 from Ukraine that were bound for Russia. Ze'evi added that Iran seriously endangers Israeli security.
In Fars Province on 21 December, meanwhile, Ayatollah Mohieddin Haeri-Shirazi, a representative of the supreme leader, supported President Ahmadinejad's denial of the Holocaust and his recommendation that Israel be relocated to Europe or North America, Fars Province TV reported. Haeri-Shirazi said, "What Mr. Ahmadinejad has said is what all our people believe, and his remarks were logical." (Bill Samii)
IRAN DISMISSES CLAIMS ON PERSIAN GULF ISLANDS. Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi described on 19 December in Tehran as "baseless and unacceptable" the "repetitive positions" of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) on three disputed islands in the Persian Gulf, IRNA reported the same day. Iran holds the islands, but they are also claimed by the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.) (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 21 June 2004). The GCC -- which is made up of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the U.A.E. -- reportedly referred to the matter in a 19 December closing statement of its 26th summit in Abu Dhabi.
Assefi said Iran and the U.A.E. should pursue bilateral talks to reach an agreement on the fate of Abu Musa, one of the islands, IRNA reported.
GCC Secretary-General Abd al-Rahman al-Attiyah said in Abu Dhabi on 18 December that Iran continues to occupy the islands in spite of many U.A.E. calls for "direct, peaceful negotiations" or the matter's referral to the International Court of Justice, according to the U.A.E. Information and Culture Ministry's website (http://www.uaeinteract.com).
Assefi praised on 19 December the GCC's call on Israel to open its nuclear program to UN inspections, in a summit statement that urged a nuclear-free Middle East but failed to mention Iran, Reuters and IRNA reported the same day.
This was not for lack of concern at Iran's program, as summit participants thoroughly discussed the program, especially the proximity of the nuclear power plant Iran is building in Bushehr on its southern coast, Reuters reported. U.A.E. Foreign Minister Rashid Abdullah al-Nuaimi told Reuters on 19 December that GCC states are "extremely worried and concerned" by the plant and the consequences of any mishap there. Oman's Foreign Minister Yusuf bin Alawi said on 18 December that the GCC is not pressuring Iran over its program, and wants "good relations" with Iran, but he urged talks to resolve outstanding questions on this program, with due regard for "the environmental impact" of Bushehr, uaeinteract.com reported the next day. GCC Secretary-General al-Attiyah said on 18 December that GCC states do not fear Iran's program if it is peaceful, though "the issue will not be neglected" if it isn't. He told reporters "we do not want to see" the Bushehr reactor, "which is closer to our coast than...Tehran," posing "perils and damages to us," uaeinteract.com reported the next day. (Vahid Sepehri)
IRAN-AZERBAIJAN GAS PIPELINE INAUGURATED. Iran's President Ahmadinejad and Azerbaijan's President Ilham Aliyev participated in the 20 December inauguration of a natural-gas pipeline connecting their two countries, Baku Public Service television, Turan, and IRNA reported. Also in attendance were Iranian Petroleum Minister Kazem Vaziri-Hamaneh and Nateq Aliyev, president of the State Oil Company of Azerbaijan (SOCAR). Iran began supplying the Nakhichevan exclave with gas in early November, and this will reach 70 million cubic meters by the end of 2005. In 2006, Nakhichevan will receive 250 million cubic meters of natural gas, and this will increase to 350 million cubic meters from 2009-24. In exchange, Azerbaijan will deliver 80.5 million cubic meters of gas to Iran at the Astara border crossing by November 2006. Iran will keep 15 percent of the gas as a swap fee, according to IRNA. The two sides also signed agreements on the expansion of political ties. (Bill Samii)
IRANIAN VICE PRESIDENT VISITS BEIRUT. Vice President Hussein Dehqan arrived in Beirut on 21 December for a three-day visit, IRNA reported. Dehqan was scheduled to meet with President Emil Lahud, National Assembly speaker Nabih Berri, and Prime Minister Fuad Siniora. The previous day, Dehqan was in Damascus, IRNA reported. He said it is essential that Iranian and Syrian officials consult each other at this sensitive time, particularly because of what he described as the chaos caused by the United States. Former Iranian President Mohammad Khatami was in Beirut in the first week of December, and several Iranian officials -- including Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi -- have visited Damascus in the last two months. (Bill Samii)
IRANIAN EX-PRESIDENTS DISCUSS PALESTINE. Former President Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani told the ambassador from the Netherlands, Hein de Vries, on 20 December that Palestinians should be free to decide their own affairs, Mehr News Agency reported. Hashemi-Rafsanjani said Iran does not interfere in Palestinian affairs and it provides the Palestinians with only moral and humanitarian assistance. Hashemi-Rafsanjani's successor, Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami, said on 23 November that Middle East peace will not be restored until all Palestinians can return to their homeland, Mehr reported. Khatami was speaking at a ceremony marking the one-year anniversary of the death of Palestinian Liberation Organization leader Yasser Arafat. (Bill Samii)
DOMESTIC DRUG ABUSE AND SMUGGLING ON THE RISE. President Ahmadinejad told a 6 November meeting of Iran's Drug Control Headquarters that addiction rates in the country are falling, IRNA reported. Some three weeks later, the commander of the national police force, Brigadier General Ismail Ahmadi-Moghaddam, said the official drug-abuse statistics are wrong. Ahmadi-Moghaddam said the actual number of drug addicts is less than 2.2 million, IRNA reported on 26 November, and he said 1.1 million to 1.2 million Iranians abuse drugs on a daily basis. He went on to say that consumption of heroin and morphine is falling.
Not only do these statements contradict those of the country's counternarcotics and law-enforcement officials, but the most recent statistics on Afghan narcotics production promise that Iran's problems are only going to worsen.
Drug Abuse On The Rise
According to a recent Drug Control Headquarters report, 2,299 Iranians died in connection with drug abuse in the first six months of the Iranian year (starting 21 March), ISNA reported on 15 November. This is a 14 percent increase over the same period one year ago. The number of deaths in July-August was 48 percent higher than the previous year. The rise in mortality is attributed to contaminated and impure drug supplies, overdoses, and infections.
The deputy policy chief in Markazi (Central) Province, Nematollah Mokhtari, said in early October that seizures since the beginning of the Iranian year were 60 percent higher than the same period a year ago, IRNA reported on 9 October. Opium was seized most frequently, followed by heroin, hashish, and other narcotics. Mokhtari said counternarcotics legislation must be revised, because 95 percent of the people who are arrested return to their old habits after they are released.
An editorial in the 1 December "Tehran Times" claimed, "It is very hard to find a city or village in Iran where there is no sign of opium or its use." The public does not always trust the police, and in some locations, the police no longer arrest drug dealers. Even if the dealers are arrested, the editorial continued, they are quickly released. On the same day, an editorial in "Iran News" mentioned a "deadly drugs-prisons-AIDS triangle in Iran is responsible for a majority of HIV-positive cases in the country." The editorial said jailed addicts use dirty needles.
Crystal Meth And Synthetics
Radio Farda's Kaveh Basmenji notes in his 2005 book, "Tehran Blues -- Youth Culture in Iran," that drug abuse has been on the increase for years. In just the March 2004-March 2005 period, 40,000 Iranians died as a result of drug abuse, according to Basmenji. A dose of heroin costs the equivalent of just $7, and officially, use of intravenous drugs is the leading cause of HIV-AIDS in the country. Once a problem mainly affecting males, furthermore, addiction now is a problem shared by Iranian females.
The abuse of synthetic drugs, including ecstasy and methamphetamine, is increasing too. Police inspecting a bus at Torbat-i Jam, Khorasan Razavi Province, seized 66 kilograms of crystal methamphetamine on 24 November, Fars News Agency reported. The drugs were discovered in the air-conditioning unit of a bus coming from Afghanistan's Herat Province. The number of Iranian users of these drugs is unknown.
Supplies From Afghanistan
The "Afghanistan Opium Survey 2005," which was released by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in late November, asserts that the opium yield for the most recent growing season surpassed that of the previous year. So although the total area dedicated to drug crops fell by 21 percent to 104,000 hectares, total potential opium production decreased only some 2.5 percent to 4,100 tons.
Approximately 60 percent of the opiates (opium, morphine, and heroin) produced in Afghanistan leave the country via Iran, according to the UNODC, marking an increase from the 40 percent level of 2004. Broken down further, 93.7 percent of the opium was exported to Iran in 2002-04, compared to 3.4 percent to Pakistan and 2.9 percent to Central Asia. UNODC added that some of the opium entering Pakistan may be shipped onward to Iran by Baluchi smugglers. A relatively small proportion of Afghan opium is converted to morphine or heroin in the country. Approximately 36 percent of the morphine and heroin exported from Afghanistan ended up in Iran, compared to 50 percent in Pakistan and 14 percent in Central Asia.
Either because of increased demand or because of law-enforcement efforts, opium prices in Iran surpass those in Afghanistan's other neighbors, the UNODC reported. A kilogram of opium cost an average of $930 in the portion of Sistan va Baluchistan Province that borders Afghanistan. In Tehran, that kilogram of opium retails for approximately $4,400. Morphine and heroin were more costly: in the portion of Sistan va Baluchistan Province that borders Afghanistan a kilogram of morphine cost an average of $3,800 and the same amount of poor-quality heroin cost $2,300. By the time the drugs get to Tehran, the prices will have increased to $4,700 for a kilo of morphine and $4,400-$7,700 for a kilo of heroin, depending on the purity.
Iran's primary means of attacking the drug supply is through law-enforcement activity along its eastern borders. It also has created numerous static defenses -- such as trenches, fences, and giant sand berms -- along the border. Moreover, Tehran is working closely with Kabul and other countries to address the problem.
When Afghan Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah visited Iran in late November, the narcotics problem was a frequent topic of conversation. Abdullah said after a 23 November meeting with Supreme National Security Council Secretary Ali Larijani that they discussed counternarcotics extensively, IRNA reported. "Iran and Afghanistan have suffered immensely from illicit drugs and it is imperative that they cooperate on the issue," Abdullah said. They concurred that the international community should play a bigger part in combating drug trafficking from Afghanistan. Abdullah and Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki also discussed counternarcotics cooperation, according to Mehr News Agency and IRNA. On 23 November they signed a memorandum of understanding that addressed border controls, as well as other issues.
Mottaki said on 7 November in Tehran at a conference on Central Asia and the Caucasus that drug-related activities threaten society and they also fund terrorists and criminals, IRNA reported. Mottaki noted the danger this poses to regional security and stability. Mottaki urged European states, which he described as the ultimate destination of the drugs, to do more to help Iranian counternarcotics efforts.
Mottaki also discussed drug control during a 28 November meeting with his Azerbaijani counterpart, Elmar Muhammad-Yarev. The two sides reportedly agreed that cooperation in this area must be strengthened, IRNA reported.
Looking For Scapegoats
Through its cooperation with Afghanistan, and through its numerous drug-control agreements with other countries, Iran shows every sign that it recognizes the causes of drug production and abuse. Nevertheless, Iranian officials frequently resort to tired and preposterous theories when discussing the topic.
In a discussion of June and October violence in southwestern Iran, Minister of Intelligence and Security Gholam Hussein Mohseni-Ejei pinned the blame on the United States. He said drug smuggling has worsened since U.S. forces were deployed in Afghanistan, Fars News Agency reported on 10 November. "By increasing the level of insecurity, America is trying to justify its presence in the region and it is for this reason that America supports the smuggling [of drugs] and the creation of insecurity, because the establishment of security will mean the end of the American presence in the region."
As he toured the border with Afghanistan on 10 October, Interior Minister Mustafa Pur-Mohammadi said the U.S. presence in the region has contributed to drug trafficking and terrorism, Mehr News Agency reported.
Neither official speculated on the factors that might contribute to drug abuse by Iranians, such as unemployment, poverty, boredom, and hopelessness. "I have lost my hope," a retired social worker said in Kaveh Basmenji's book. "Drug abuse is going wild and out of control. Honestly speaking, I do not think we can do anything to fight the increasing number of addicts in Iran." (Bill Samii)