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Iran Report: January 27, 2003

27 January 2003, Volume 6, Number 4

MONTAZERI MAY BE FREED. Ahmad Montazeri, the son of dissident cleric Ayatollah Hussein-Ali Montazeri-Najafabadi, said on 19 January that his father's health problems have been cured and the only remaining problem is sleepiness, ISNA reported. "My father continues to sleep about 16 hours a day," Ahmad Montazeri said. "He is not very lively even when he is not sleeping." The conservative "Resalat" newspaper on 18 January reported that Ahmad Montazeri said his father is using a great deal of medication to deal with his various ailments, and doctors believe that the situation is dangerous.

Earlier in the month, Ahmad Montazeri had complained that security officials would not give a physician and a Health Ministry official access to his father, who is suffering from heart problems, high blood pressure, diabetes, and a sleeping disorder (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 13 January 2003). Montazeri was the designated successor to the founder of the Iranian revolution, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, until 1989. Montazeri's criticism of the current supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, resulted in his being placed under house arrest in 1997.

Ayatollah Montazeri's continuing confinement in the face of his advanced age and declining health prompted some observers to recommend ending his house arrest. The former Friday-prayer leader of Isfahan, the immensely popular Ayatollah Seyyed Jalaledin Taheri, sent a letter to Iran's top clerics voicing his concern about Montazeri's well-being, "Iran" newspaper reported on 18 January. The letter was addressed to Grand Ayatollahs Musa Shobeyri-Zanjani, Mohammad Hussein Vahid-Khorasani, Javad Aqa-yi Tabrizi, Mohammad Taqi Bahjat, Mohammad Fazel-Lankarani, Lotfollah Safi-Golpayegani, Yusef Jannati-Sanei, Abdol-Karim Musavi-Ardabili, and Hussein Nuri-Hamedani.

Moreover, Najafabad parliamentary representative Mustafa Taheri-Najafabadi said on 17 January that it is no longer expedient to detain Montazeri in light of his ill health and the length of time he has been under house arrest, ISNA reported. The parliamentarian said this is why more than 100 members of the legislature wrote a letter to President Mohammad Khatami in which they called for the lifting of restrictions on Ayatollah Montazeri.

It is possible that Ayatollah Montazeri may soon regain his freedom because of concerns about the cleric's poor health. Unidentified "informed sources" said the Supreme National Security Council has placed on its agenda a proposal to end the house arrest, "Jomhuri-yi Islami" reported on 23 January. ISNA reported on 23 January that the intent of the proposal is to give Ayatollah Montazeri better access to medical facilities.

A commentary in the "Resalat" daily on 21 January suggested that the council lift the house arrest because Ayatollah Montazeri's family and associates convey his views regardless of his confinement. The commentary also hinted obliquely that criticisms such as those made by Ayatollah Montazeri should be dealt with more effectively and efficiently than by locking people up in their homes. (Bill Samii)

AGHAJARI DEATH SENTENCE STILL IN PLACE. Attorney Saleh Nikbakht, who represents political activist and university professor Hashem Aghajari, said on 20 January that his client's death sentence has not yet been changed, IRNA reported. A Hamedan court in August sentenced Aghajari to death for blasphemy. Ayatollah Mohammad Sajjadi, who is one of the three judges examining the appeal against the death sentence, said on 19 January that the death sentence should be revoked, IRNA reported. Sajjadi added that the charges against Aghajari are groundless. (Bill Samii)

TEHRAN MAYOR DISMISSED, SENTENCED TO PRISON. Former Tehran Mayor Mohammad Hassan Malek-Madani has been sentenced to five months in prison, banned from holding public office for three years, and banned from performing any municipal functions for five years, the "Resalat" daily newspaper reported on 23 January. The judge found Malek-Madani guilty of misappropriating state funds and, in the words of "Resalat," "failing to respect state laws." Malek-Madani's lawyer, identified only as Mr. Behestian, told the daily he has no information on his client's conviction.

In spite of long-standing rumors of Malek-Madani's pending dismissal, it was not until 20 January that Interior Minister Abdolvahed Musavi-Lari actually dismissed him, "Tehran Times" reported on 21 January. Citing an "informed source at the Interior Ministry," the daily reported that Mohammad-Hussein Moqimi has been appointed as a caretaker in Malek-Madani's place. An editorial in the 22 January "Iran Daily" questioned the value of appointing a caretaker and speculated that he would not last long.

Some members of the recently dissolved Tehran municipal council do not think that Malek-Madani will serve time in prison. Council member Hassan Abedini said on 23 January that he hopes the appeals court will overturn the sentence against Malek-Madani, ISNA reported. Mahmud Alizadeh-Tabatabai, another former council member, said that the verdict is not final and that he hopes it will be reversed. He also questioned the legal basis of the sentence. Alizadeh-Tabatabai said that imprisonment is not the correct sentence for misappropriating state funds and that he is certain the verdict will be overturned. (Bill Samii)

WILL IRANIAN ELECTION LAW BE AMENDED SOON? Deputy Interior Minister for Parliamentary Affairs Seyyed Mahmud Mirlohi told ISNA during an 18 January interview that the deadline for the legislature's review of an amendment to the election law is 26 January. The legislation, according to Mirlohi, deals with supervision of elections, investigation of candidates, and approval of election results.

According to the amendment, a candidate who has already been approved by the supervisory boards may complain to the court if the Guardians Council rejects him or her. And if the Guardians Council tries to reverse the result of a specific election, the initially elected candidate will have the right to appeal the reversal in court. The amendment may seem more promising than it actually is, however, as conservative judges dominate the courts and would tend to favor the decisions of the similarly conservative Guardians Council. Moreover, the Guardians Council must approve the legislation for it to become law. (Bill Samii)

PARTIES PREPARE FOR COUNCIL ELECTIONS. Habibullah Asgaroladi-Mosalman, secretary-general of the hard-line Islamic Coalition Association, said recently that it will actively participate in the upcoming council elections, the "Aftab-i Yazd" daily reported on 19 January. Asgaroladi added that, in a recent letter to the leader of the pro-reform Islamic Iran Participation Party (IIPP), Mohammad Reza Khatami, he denied wanting to see the IIPP's dissolution and vowed to work with the IIPP to serve the people. Asgaroladi said that a domestic detente is necessary to confront foreign threats successfully.

Mohammad Salamati, secretary-general of the Mujahedin of the Islamic Revolution Organization, said on 19 January that the Coordination Council of the 18-member 2nd of Khordad Front (which is named after the day in May 1997 that President Mohammad Khatami was elected) is decentralizing and that candidate lists for the upcoming council elections would be decided at the provincial and local levels, ISNA reported. Salamati went on to say that the 2nd of Khordad Front's opponents are trying to portray the dissolution of the Tehran council as a defeat for the reformists, but this is just an election tactic. (Bill Samii)

STUDENTS CRITICIZE IRANIAN PRESIDENT. A recent open letter from the Islamic students society at Shahid Beheshti University to President Khatami asked why he has been silent when people jeopardize national security in order to pursue their own political interests, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 19 January. Why does he remain a hostage to their desire to tolerate a silent Khatami, the letter asked. And if he cannot say or do what he wants, then he should let the people know this. If he advances with determination, the letter promised, "then we will do our utmost to accompany you [Khatami]." (Bill Samii)

IRAN'S PRISONS CONTEND WITH HIV/AIDS. Prisons Organization chief Morteza Bakhtiari said recently that 10 new health clinics will be established in the corrections system to complement the existing six clinics, "Iran News" reported on 19 January. On 16 January, Bakhtiari said some prisoners have HIV/AIDS and that drug-addicted prisoners will be isolated in an effort to check the spread of the disease, IRNA reported on 17 January. A recent circular from the Health Ministry warned that any health professional that turns away an AIDS patient is in violation of the law and faces consequences. "Iran News," in its report, asked what will happen to individuals who are HIV-positive or who have AIDS when they are released from prison. (Bill Samii)

PRISON OFFICIALS ARRESTED AFTER FATAL FIRE. The warden and deputy warden of a Gorgan prison at which a fatal fire broke out in December have been arrested on the order of Majid Elahian, the acting Justice Department chief in Gulistan Province, IRNA reported on 21 January, citing "Hambastegi." Bail has been set at $280,000 each. Twenty-seven inmates died in the blaze (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 6 January 2003), and Elahian said there are 27 complaints pending against the warden and his deputy. (Bill Samii)

MORE THAN 1 MILLION IRANIAN WOMEN ARE SOLE PROVIDERS. A Welfare Organization official identified only as Motamedi said recently that the agency provides support to less than 10 percent of the women who are the sole sources of income for their families, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 18 January. Motamedi said that these women end up supporting their families because their husbands are dead, unemployed, or addicted to drugs, or they are divorced or unmarried. Motamedi said that society misunderstands these women and that sometimes they must work in the street, selling flowers or otherwise trying to make ends meet. (Bill Samii)

20,000 IN TEHRAN SLEEP UNDER THE STARS. Parviz Piran, who is associated with the academic staff at the first conference on Tehran's stability, said recently that more than 20,000 people sleep out of doors in Tehran and that that number is climbing, "Entekhab" reported on 18 January. Drug addiction, prostitution, class differences, discrimination, and social injustice contribute to the city's problems, Piran said. (Bill Samii)

OFFICIALS' FEAR MEANS NO RESPITE FOR THE PRESS. Iranian courts have recently closed more newspapers, including the high-circulation "Hamshahri" daily from Tehran, in what appears to be a reaction to fear about U.S. propaganda. As the anniversary of the 1979 revolution -- known as the Ten-Day Dawn -- approaches, Iranian complaints about the United States are likely to increase as officials seek to avoid taking responsibility for the theocratic system's failings.

Ayatollah Mohammad Emami-Kashani said during the 24 January Tehran Friday prayer sermon that was broadcast by state radio that the "global arrogance is led by the White House and it intends to extirpate Islam... to change the culture of Islamic societies... to change the culture of this nation and our young people." Emami-Kashani added that some people in Iran are cooperating with the enemy.

Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani told a 22 January meeting of officials responsible for the celebrations of the revolution's anniversary that the United States is promoting a secular system in Iran, IRNA reported. Rafsanjani said this is a mistake and reflects U.S. leaders' attention to the propaganda of the opposition; namely, "ex-revolutionaries, liberals, Marxists, and monarchists." In a seeming reference to the commencement of Radio Farda broadcasts in December 2002, Rafsanjani said that the United States has started a new Persian-language radio to propagandize against Iran. The Iranian people's participation in anniversary celebrations would discourage Iran's enemies, he said.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei told a 19 January meeting of Ministry of Intelligence and Security officials that the "camp of arrogance" has realized that it cannot harm the Islamic establishment without resorting to propaganda, IRNA reported. He added, "Unfortunately, certain frightened, diverted and Western-oriented factions and elements are following the same line; the Ministry of Intelligence should confront the goal of the enemy very vigilantly, accurately, and properly."

Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati said during the 17 January Tehran Friday prayer sermon that was broadcast by state radio that the United States is trying to dismember Iran in the same way that it dismembered the Soviet Union. The United States will not resort to military action, he said; instead, it will use a "propaganda and political bombardment." Jannati warned that newspapers and the media as a whole are important in this vein.

This fear of perceived U.S. propaganda efforts against Iran may be behind the continuous press closures, although in some cases publications are closed for revealing corruption and other malfeasances by powerful individuals.

The publication of "Hamshahri," a popular daily newspaper put out by the Tehran municipality, has been suspended for 10 days, Tehran Justice Department deputy head Ali-Asghar Tashakori said on 22 January, according to IRNA. The suspension stems from a complaint by Labor House Secretary Alireza Mahjub that the newspaper refused to print his clarification regarding one of its articles. The editor of "Hamshahri," Zahra Ebrahimi, said on 22 January that an article in the newspaper last summer suggested that Mahjub and the Labor House played a secret part in choosing the leaders of the Islamic Labor Party, AP reported. She added that "Hamshahri" published Mahjub's response two months ago and intends to publish another reply from him.

Qazvin Judge Fereidun Parvinian said on 21 January that the weekly "Taban-i Qazvin" has been closed down for libel, and the court had summoned managing editor Mohammad Alikhani to answer for the charge, IRNA reported. Parvinian told IRNA on 25 January that the ban was lifted after Alikhani signed a pledge that he would not publish such materials again.

The temporary ban on the "Noruz" daily newspaper was due to expire soon, but IRNA reported on 20 January that Judge Said Mortazavi has extended it indefinitely. Mortazavi cited complaints from the Basij and the police when he announced the closure's continuation on 19 January. The Islamic Iran Participation Party criticized the ban in a public statement. The newspaper was to resume publication under the new name of "Ruz-i No" with IIPP founder and parliamentarian Mohammad Reza Khatami as its editor. The IIPP's statement also criticized the "temporary" ban on the "Mosharekat" daily that was imposed 30 months ago, ISNA reported on 20 January. (Bill Samii)

CONSERVATIVE PROPOSES IRANIAN SATELLITE REBROADCASTS. Hamid Reza Taraqi of the conservative Islamic Coalition Association proposed on 22 January that the state broadcasting network launch its own channel to broadcast selected satellite-television programs, the "Iran Daily" reported on 23 January. Taraqi said such a move would be appropriate because the Guardians Council recently rejected legislation that would end the ban on private ownership of satellite receiving equipment. The Guardians Council cited discrepancies with the constitution and with Islamic law, IRNA reported on 22 January. The Guardians Council feared that the legislation might open the way to unauthorized use of satellite dishes. (Bill Samii)

GAS PIPELINE COULD DOMINATE KHATAMI'S INDIAN VISIT. On the eve of a four-day trip to New Delhi, President Khatami met on 23 January with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, IRNA reported. Khatami is expected to sign the so-called Delhi Declaration, which will create a framework for the development of bilateral ties, Calcutta's "The Telegraph" reported on 23 January. Delhi University is scheduled to grant Khatami an honorary doctorate, Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee will host a private dinner for him, and Indian President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam will host a banquet in Khatami's honor on 25 January at the presidential residence at Rashtrapati Bhavan. Khatami will participate in Republic Day celebrations on 26 January, AFP reported on 23 January, and will discuss terrorism, the Iran-Pakistan-India natural-gas pipeline, and construction of a highway to Afghanistan with Indian officials.

The pipeline could come to dominate Khatami's visit to India, because the recent signing of a Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan pipeline deal appears to be making Tehran anxious. Presidential envoy Mohammad Hussein Adeli arrived in New Delhi on 15 January, eight days before Khatami, to persuade the Indians to approve of a natural-gas pipeline running through Pakistan that would connect the two countries, "The Telegraph" reported on 18 January.

Tehran would prefer a pipeline running overland through Pakistan because it is the cheapest route, and some believe that Pakistani involvement in the project might make it more flexible on the Kashmir issue. "Hawks in Delhi" argue, according to "The Telegraph," that Pakistan would use the money earned from transit fees for terrorist activities against India.

Adeli noted that both routes have their drawbacks. According to a 17 January IRNA dispatch, the sea route for the pipeline is technically complicated and therefore more expensive, according to Adeli, while the land route suffers from legal, financial, and commercial complications. (Bill Samii)

IRAN-INDIA MILITARY EXERCISES FORTHCOMING. Indian naval chief Admiral Madhvendra Singh arrived in Tehran on 16 January for a four-day visit, IRNA reported the next day. (Another IRNA dispatch reported that he arrived on 17 January for a five-day visit.) Singh said during 18 January discussions with Iranian Minister of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics Rear Admiral Ali Shamkhani that Iran and India are excellently situated to cooperate, IRNA reported. Singh added that the signing of a memorandum of understanding at the end of his visit would indicate the two countries' resolve to exchange technology. Shamkhani expressed an interest in further cooperation in the energy, trade, transport, culture, military, and security spheres.

Singh said after a meeting in Tehran with his Iranian counterpart Rear Admiral Abbas Mohtaj that the two countries will conduct joint military exercises, New Delhi's Doordarshan Television reported on 23 January. Singh said he is in Iran to foster naval cooperation, and he visited Iranian naval forces at Bandar Abbas. (Bill Samii)

IRGC COMMANDER DESCRIBES U.S. REGIONAL AMBITIONS. Brigadier General Mohammad Baqer Zolqadr, deputy commander of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC), said at the 23 January meeting of the air force's politico-ideological tutors that the United States wants to dominate the Middle East's energy resources, IRNA reported. "After America dominates Iraq and the region, it will try to exert pressure on Iraq's neighbors, who are against the policies of the United States and the Zionist regime." Zolqadr added that the United States also intends to dominate Central Asia so it can pressure Iran, Russia, and China. (Bill Samii)

IRAN INVITED TO FEBRUARY NATO CONFERENCE. A spokeswoman for the 39th NATO Security Conference scheduled for 7-9 February in Munich told IRNA on 22 January that Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi has been invited and will participate, the "Tehran Times" reported. An unidentified Foreign Ministry official, however, told the paper that the invitation is under consideration and a final decision has not been made. Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi said on 21 January that Iran will participate in the conference, adding that the conference is important in the context of Persian Gulf security, IRNA reported. (Bill Samii)

TEHRAN WORKING BILATERALLY, MULTILATERALLY TO RESOLVE IRAQ CRISIS. Hussein Sadeqi, who heads the Iranian Foreign Ministry's Persian Gulf desk, was in Baghdad on 19 January to discuss bilateral relations, Iraq Satellite Television reported. Sadeqi met with Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri, who discussed the work of international arms inspectors, Republic of Iraq TV reported. Sabri described for his guests what he perceives as a U.S. threat to regional security.

Syrian Foreign Minister Faruq al-Shara stopped in Tehran on 18-19 January on his way to Riyadh and met with President Khatami and Foreign Minister Kharrazi, according to IRNA and Syrian Arab Republic Radio on 19 January. Khatami told his guest that Iran opposes a unilateral war against Iraq and supports Iraq's territorial integrity, and he expressed support for regional diplomatic efforts to preclude a war in Iraq. Khatami also told the visiting Syrian, in IRNA's words, that, "the Zionist regime is taking advantage of the current situation in the region by intensifying its attacks against Palestinians."

Shara said that Iranian-Syrian relations are strong and that there are constant Damascus-Tehran contacts, according to Damascus radio. Such statements and the brevity of the visit reflect an effort to dispel rumors of a chill in Tehran-Damascus relations that were strengthened by the sudden "postponement" of President Bashar al-Assad's visit to Iran (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 20 January 2003).

Foreign Minister Kharrazi on 22 January called on Iraq's neighbors to work together to forestall a war in Iraq and the "interference" of foreign countries in its domestic affairs, IRNA reported. The next day he arrived in Istanbul to participate in discussions about Iraq with his counterparts from Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Turkey, IRNA reported. "We have to stick to multilateralism and urge the United States not to resort to unilateralism," Kharrazi said, according to "The Washington Post" on 24 January. "The United Nations system has to be the center of any decision to be made."

The Istanbul group's joint statement called on Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to cooperate fully with UN weapons inspectors and said that the countries do not want another war in the region, AP reported on 23 January. The statement urged Baghdad to respect international borders, resolve outstanding issues with its neighbors, and take steps to preserve Iraq's sovereignty. It pledged support for maintaining Iraq's territorial integrity. (Bill Samii)

IRAQI POWS GIVEN ASYLUM. Brigadier General Abdullah Najafi, head of Iran's POW and MIA Commission, said on 18 January that Iran is continuing its efforts to learn the whereabouts of almost 900 prisoners of war (POWs) from the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War. Najafi said the two sides have determined the fate of almost 98 percent of the POWs. He added that many Iraqi POWs sought asylum in Iran and now are citizens. Iranian and Iraqi officials were scheduled to meet on 19-20 January to discuss the remaining POWs. (Bill Samii)

TEHRAN CITES RADIO FREE IRAQ. The official Islamic Republic News Agency on 22 January cited a report by RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq on Baghdad's execution of three Kuwaitis taken captive in 1991. The three Kuwaitis -- Abdul-Hussein al-Salimi, Muhammad al-Najjar, and Rashed al-Ahmadi -- were all employed in Baghdad's clandestine military industry, according to IRNA. IRNA also cited a Radio Free Iraq report about the Ansar al-Islam Kurdish group. Tehran previously issued a circular forbidding use of RFE/RL's Persian Service as a source. (Bill Samii)

TURKS MAY WANT FURTHER GAS DISCOUNTS. Turkey currently is buying Iranian natural gas for $0.08 per cubic meter, which is $0.04 cheaper than originally agreed, the "Iran Daily" reported on 18 January, citing "Entekhab." Moreover, Turkey is pushing for a further reduction in the price it pays. Iran was forced to give in to Turkish demands because it faces competition from cheap Russian and Qatari natural gas, according to "Iran Daily." Turkey suspended its imports of Iranian natural gas last summer until it received a discount in October (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 16 September and 21 October 2002). (Bill Samii)

IRAN PLEDGES MORE AID FOR AFGHAN RECONSTRUCTION. Iranian Foreign Minister Kharrazi on 21 January pledged $120 million in Iranian aid for reconstruction in Afghanistan in 2002-03, Kyodo News Service reported. Kharrazi is attending a two-day donors' conference in Tokyo. At a similar meeting last year, Tehran pledged $560 million in aid over a five-year period. (Bill Samii)