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Iran Report: March 3, 2003

3 March 2003, Volume 6, Number 9

MOST OFFICIALS ENTHUSIASTIC ABOUT MUNICIPAL-COUNCIL ELECTIONS... Leading officials urged the public to vote in Iran's second-ever municipal-council elections on 28 February (the first council elections took place on 26 February 1999). The messages from all but Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei were enthusiastic, albeit realistic.

Khamenei said as he visited a polling place on 28 February that people should vote for the best candidates and that in some cities in 1999 voters had made poor choices, state television reported. He added that there have been complaints about the vetting process and that he would look into them. He also said that if were violations, the election results would be invalidated.

Expediency Council Chairman Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani said after voting at Tehran's Jamaran Mosque that a large turnout would ensure stronger councils and better performance, IRNA reported. He said that the performance of the first councils should be viewed as a transitional phase in which some councils were successful while others were detrimental.

President Mohammad Khatami said after voting that councils are "the fundamental basis" of public participation, state television reported. He noted that the councils enjoyed "many successes in small towns and regions" and that the occurrence of some problems and flaws was natural, and said that he hoped these problems would be resolved in the second term of the councils. (Bill Samii)

...LOW VOTER TURNOUT FULFILLS EXPECTATIONS... According to official Iranian sources, some 41.2 million people were eligible to vote in their country's second-ever municipal-council elections on 28 February. Polling stations were scheduled to be open from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m., but poll closure could be extended until 8 p.m. On election day, voters fulfilled widespread expectations that turnout would be low in the big cities but better in smaller urban centers.

More than 566,000 (12.1 percent) out of Tehran's 4.68 million-person electorate voted, IRNA reported on 3 March. This falls far below earlier reports. Executive board official Parvaneh Mafi said on 1 March that between 15 and 20 percent of the Tehran electorate voted, and Tehran Governor Ali-Awsat Hashemi said that the turnout in the capital was 25 percent, IRNA reported.

Overall, 11,691,216 voters from 21 out of the country's 28 provinces voted, IRNA reported on 3 March. The highest turnout was in Kohkiluyeh va Boir Ahmad Province, where 79.14 percent of the electorate voted. So, if 41.2 million people were eligible to vote throughout the country, turnout was about 28.7 percent.

State television on 1 March reported the following figures on voter participation: 55 percent in Bushehr Province, 63 percent in Chaharmahal va Bakhtiari Province, 67.5 percent in Gilan Province, 72 percent in Gulistan Province, 73 percent in Ilam Province, 51 percent in Luristan Province, 49 percent in Markazi (Central) Province, 67 percent in Mazandaran Province, 55 percent in Qazvin Province, 29 percent in Qom Province, and 56 percent in Semnan Province.

These figures did not compare favorably with those of the 1999 council elections, when the voting age was 16 rather than the current 15. A total of 22,201,772 votes were cast in Iran's 28 provinces, excluding Tehran, according to IRNA on 7 March 1999. This put turnout at either 56.9 percent (39 million eligible, according to the State Registration Office and IRNA) or 63.4 percent (35 million eligible, according to the Plan and Budget Organization). In Tehran itself, 1,408,275 votes were cast, and 1,403,389 of these ballots were considered valid (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 15 March 1999).

The low level of participation was not a complete surprise. A 25 February telephone survey by the Iranian Students Polling Agency (ISPA) found that out of 566 Tehran residents only 40.2 percent would vote in the council elections, "Entekhab" reported on 26 February. More than 85 percent of respondents said they had not decided whom they would vote for. An 18 February telephone poll by the ISPA found that 43.4 percent of 454 Tehran respondents stated they would participate in the upcoming elections, the hitherto unknown Iranian Youth Network News Agency reported on 22 February. In the same poll, 28.9 percent of respondents said they were undecided.

Enthusiasm for the councils in big cities like Tehran may have waned because of their overall failure to empower reformists, "The New York Times" reported on 28 February. A 26 February dpa report had a similar assessment: "The main reason for voter apathy is the inability of the reformers and the president to dent the power of the hard-liners who control the judiciary and the senate-like Council of Guardians." The councils spent more time arguing than working, according to dpa, and in Tehran voters were annoyed by the construction of high-rise buildings and real-estate speculation, as well as insufferably jammed streets.

A more enthusiastic turnout was expected in towns and villages, "The New York Times" reported, because the councils are perceived as being capable of making a difference in people's lives. Voters in these areas are less concerned about politics than they are about the need for roads, schools, and hospitals.

Tehran Governor Hashemi predicted on 25 February that the results in Tehran should be ready within 48 hours of the polls' closure, state radio reported. Hashemi said 50 computer centers, 1,500 computers, and 2,500 computer operators would count the ballots and that hand counting would also be carried out. The process will be closely watched, according to Hashemi. "At every stage of the elections and the counting of the votes, representatives from supervisory, executive, and inspection boards, as well as representatives of parties and volunteers, will oversee the rectitude of the council elections," he said.

Parliamentarian Ali Tajernia, who heads the Central Supervisory Board, said on 1 March that the most common violation was the presentation of candidate lists on election day, including at Friday-prayer venues, IRNA reported. Tajernia denied rumors that a polling place had been closed. (Bill Samii)

...TRYING TO LEARN FROM DEFEAT, REFORMISTS LOOK AHEAD... It was fairly clear that Tehran's 15 council seats had gone to conservative candidates with almost 550,000 of the ballots counted by the afternoon of 2 March, according to an IRNA dispatch. Parliamentarian Ali Tajernia, who heads the Central Supervisory Board, said that the conservative candidates in Tehran were identified with the Developers (Abadgaran) coalition and in Isfahan they were identified with the Sun (Aftab) coalition.

The disappointed reformists are taking a practical approach to this outcome. Islamic Iran Participation Party (IIPP) member Ali Shakurirad, for example, said, "We accept that we have lost the elections, and we consider it our duty to take lessons from this defeat," Reuters reported on 2 March, citing IRNA. IIPP member Mohammed-Reza Khatami was quoted as telling state radio, "Thirty-nine percent of voters participated in the municipal elections, which is an acceptable figure compared to other countries, but we cannot keep silent over the very low turnout in the big cities," AFP reported.

Parliamentarian Mohammad Kianush-Rad said that the low level of participation indicates popular belief that voting has little impact on politics, ISNA reported. He ascribed greater public participation in smaller towns to "the existence of ethnic and local considerations."

Parliamentarian Mohammad Baqer Zakeri hinted that the reformists were harmed by their inability to form a solid coalition, "Toseh" reported on 1 March. He said that doing so for council elections, in which there are so many candidates, is more difficult than doing so for presidential elections, in which there is just one candidate. Zakeri predicted that creating a coalition in the future will be more difficult.

Interviewees in the 1 March "Hambastegi" said that the reformists must work on coalition building, although it appears that they were being prematurely optimistic. Said Hajjarian said that the IIPP intends to create a coalition with other 2nd of Khordad members in the Tehran council "as soon as the results of the elections are announced." Fayyaz Zahed of the Solidarity Party also called for building a reformist coalition. He warned, "If a more detailed and realistic picture is not drawn before the seventh Majlis elections, the front will lose the seventh parliament." (Bill Samii)

...CONSERVATIVE DAILIES CRITICIZE CAMPAIGNS... More than 1,300 people vied for 15 council seats in Tehran, according to preelection reports, whereas on 1 March IRNA reported that "as many as 1,240 candidates" actually contested the election. Campaign posters featured "clean-shaven technocrats, sports champions, women in cloak-like veils, dissidents, and a few clerics," Reuters reported on 26 February, and the candidates' slogans reportedly focused on everyday problems more than on political issues.

A gloating commentary in the conservative "Kayhan" daily on 1 March by Alireza Malekian asked what the reformist 2nd of Khordad coalition would do now after being trounced in the council elections. Malekian ascribed the reformists' loss in the big cities to factionalism and political bickering, as well as to occasional financial skullduggery.

Malekian also wrote that the voters were turned off by some candidates' campaigns: "There are candidates that give free lunches and dinners at their campaign headquarters. There are candidates that give clothes, rice, and cooking oil and so forth as gifts in order to get votes. There are candidates that buy identity cards in exchange for cash, thereby buying votes."

An editorial in the conservative "Jomhuri-yi Islami" daily on 26 February criticized what it described as "the shameful election campaign and disgraceful publicity stunts." The daily suggested that candidates are spending lots of money in their campaigns in order to make even more money once they are in office. The daily criticized campaign slogans that do not refer to Islam, the revolution, or the imam (Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini), and it said the slogans are deceitful, deceptive, and alienated from Islamic culture.

The "Jomhuri-yi Islami" editorial also said the constitution envisaged completely apolitical municipal councils, but instead there has been "politicization, disputes, disruption, and eventual dissolution." The editorial questioned whether it is right to add even more people to the public purse while simultaneously increasing political disputes and favoritism. (Bill Samii)

...PARTIES DIVIDED OVER ELECTIONS... The reformist Mujahedin of the Islamic Revolution Organization (MIRO) on 24 February urged Iranians to vote in the municipal-council elections, IRNA reported on 25 February. The reformist 2nd of Khordad coalition -- of which MIRO is a member -- was not united, however, on which candidates it would support. The IIPP, the Executives of Construction Party, and the Islamic Solidarity Party all presented separate candidate lists, According to "Iran Daily" on 24 February.

The Office for Strengthening Unity's (OSU) public-relations officer, Jamal Zaherpur, said his organization would not support any candidates and is gradually "moving away from the political domain to social issues and civil movements," "Iran Daily" reported. The OSU on 2 March announced its departure from the 2nd of Khordad front, dpa reported, citing IRNA. A statement from the student group announced that it had renamed itself the Democratic Movement and had parted company with the 2nd of Khordad movement because the latter organization "gradually distanced itself from society and turned into another power apparatus." The dpa report did not make clear which wing of the OSU (the conservative minority "Neshast-i Shiraz" or the more radical majority "Neshast-i Allameh") had recreated itself as the Democratic Movement. It is presumably the majority wing, which has expressed its frustration with the slow pace of reform and has said that student groups should be independent critics of the system.

None of the conservative parties released candidate lists, either, and IIPP's Mohammad Reza Khatami said that this amounts to a boycott of the election, according to "Iran Daily."

Conservatives affiliated with the Islamic Coalition Association (ICA) discouraged voter participation. Assadollah Badamchian, one of the leaders of the ICA, was quoted in reformist newspapers prior to the election as saying "pious people will not take part in the election." Badamchian, however, said in a 25 February interview with the Fars News Agency that the newspapers misquoted him. Badamchian told Fars that what he really said is that because one faction controls every stage of the election, from vetting candidates to counting the votes, "many people, especially pious people, are not prepared to take part in the elections." He added, "I hope, at the same time, that the people will take part in the elections because they see elections as being linked to the system."

The conservative Tehran Militant Clergy Association (Jameh-yi Ruhaniyat-i Mubarez-i Tehran) issued a statement on 25 February in which it urged people to participate in the municipal-council elections, "Entekhab" daily reported on 26 February. The association urged citizens to vote because councils were established to make policy, solve problems, and serve the people, and it urged voters to elect independent individuals who would not turn the councils into factional arenas. The Tehran Militant Clergy Association urged people to elect devout and trustworthy individuals who are loyal to the Vilayat-i Faqih (Guardianship of the Supreme Jurisconsult).

This was the first time in many years that members of the banned Freedom Movement (Nehzat-i Azadi) were able to compete in an election, because the Guardians Council did not vet candidates. Senior members of the Freedom Movement, such as Gholam Abbas Tavassoli, Khosrow Mansurian, and Abolfazl Bazargan, stood as independent candidates, according to a 24 February AP report.

The Freedom Movement in a 25 February fax to IRNA urged all Iranians to vote in the elections. Referring to conservative efforts to discourage participation in the election, the Freedom Movement said, "Those not supporting the municipal elections are, in fact, against the council-oriented system of government and against democracy and the reform process." (Bill Samii)

...RADIO FARDA ACCUSED OF CAMPAIGNING FOR REFORMIST PARTY. The conservative "Resalat" daily on 26 February claimed that Radio Farda -- "which produces and broadcasts programs with the direct financial and ideological guidance of America's espionage organization and with the aim of leading the Iranian public astray" -- has in the past week given undue attention to candidates affiliated with the pro-Khatami Islamic Iran Participation Party. The newspaper claimed that Radio Farda has publicized the views of IIPP candidate Mustafa Tajzadeh at least four times.

In fact, Radio Farda interviewed Tajzadeh only once, and it interviewed council candidates in Mashhad, Shiraz, and Tehran. Radio Farda also organized a roundtable with three council candidates. Conservative candidates declined requests for interviews. (Bill Samii)

WAS TERRORISM BEHIND KERMAN PLANE CRASH? A funeral ceremony was held on 27 February at Kerman's main mosque for 275 victims of the 19 February crash of an Ilyushin 76 aircraft, IRNA reported the previous day. According to the IRNA dispatch, the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) had chartered the aircraft and nearly all the victims were IRGC personnel.

There have been different accounts of the number of passengers and much speculation about the cause of the crash. The IL-76's flight-data recorder has been recovered and sent to Tehran for evaluation, dpa reported on 24 February. IRGC commander Brigadier General Yahya Rahim-Safavi said on 23 February that an investigation into the crash has started, IRNA reported. Expediency Council Chairman Hashemi-Rafsanjani said in Kerman on 27 February, "evidence at hand points to bad weather conditions as being the main cause of the crash, [but] we are still waiting to hear the experts' report on the issue," according to IRNA.

An anonymous "expert," however, described five eyewitnesses who said that they saw a flash of light and sparks resulting from an explosion in the airplane's cockpit, "Tehran Times" reported on 26 February. This expert also said that the experienced pilot did not say anything to the control tower about poor vision or impaired flight systems. The expert concluded that the crash was probably caused by terrorism and that Al-Qaeda's silence on the subject increases the likelihood of this being the case. (Bill Samii)

IRGC RESTRICTS MONTAZERI'S ACCESS TO MEDICAL CARE. Ahmad Montazeri, the son of Ayatollah Hussein-Ali Montazeri-Najafabadi, said on 24 February that IRGC personnel would not let his father travel from Qom to Tehran for a medical exam after he refused to let a government minder enter his car, AFP and Reuters reported. The IRGC set up a roadblock and refused to lift it regardless of instructions to the contrary from the provincial governor and the Supreme National Security Council.

Ahmad Montazeri explained that his father "is generally in good health but [that] he has to be taken to Tehran for medical checkups." Montazeri's five-year house arrest ended on 30 January. He was taken to the hospital for heart problems on 4 February, and dpa reported on 11 February that he had traveled to Tehran for heart surgery (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 3, 10, and 17 February 2003).

Ayatollah Montazeri is to resume teaching in Qom, "Iran News" reported on 23 February, citing "Seda-yi Idalat." Ahmad Montazeri was quoted as saying, "A former center [where] my father used to teach has been prepared for him." (Bill Samii)

ANOTHER GOVERNMENT CRITIC ARRESTED IN IRAN. The wife of former Iranian parliamentarian Qasem Sholeh-Saadi said on 25 February that her husband had telephoned her from Evin Prison to say that he is detained in relation to an open letter he had written to Supreme Leader Khamenei, ISNA reported. Sholeh-Saadi was arrested on 24 February at Tehran's Mehrabad Airport upon his return from Paris, his son Javad Sholeh-Saadi told Radio Farda. "What I know is that last night my father, who had left Paris for Tehran, arrived around dawn," Javad Sholeh-Saadi said. "Again, what I know is that he was arrested at the airport. Apparently, the airport intelligence group [Ministry of Intelligence and Security unit] arrested him."

Qasem Sholeh-Saadi said in a 1 February interview with Radio Farda that the intervention of unelected officials and institutions has eliminated democratic processes, and he added that the conservatives have left no breathing room for institutions representing public sovereignty. In a letter that was published on his website ( in early December, Sholeh-Saadi criticized Supreme Leader Khamenei's religious credentials, said Iran's refusal to normalize relations with the United States was harmful and denounced the double standard in supporting Palestinian Muslims and ignoring Chechen Muslims. (Bill Samii)

IRANIAN JOURNALIST JAILED, THEN HOSPITALIZED. Mohsen Sazgara, who was the managing editor of several banned newspapers and now runs the website, was arrested on 18 February, his son Vahid Sazgara told ISNA. Vahid said he does not know which organization had his father arrested or why it did so. A friend who was with Sazgara also disappeared.

Sazgara was located on 19 February, according to ISNA. The public-relations department of the Islamic Human Rights Commission announced that Sazgara was in Evin Prison. After making numerous inquiries of different institutions, the Human Rights Commission learned from the Tehran Justice Department verbally about Sazgara's whereabouts but was not told on what charges he had been detained. Sazgara was released from prison on the night of 22 February and taken by his family to the Mehr hospital, Sazgara's wife told IRNA on 23 February.

Sazgara's wife visited him at Evin Prison on the morning of 22 February, ISNA reported. She told ISNA her husband was physically unwell and that he was on a hunger strike. Sazgara told his wife that he had not been given a reason for his detention but that he believed the Ministry of Intelligence and Security ordered his arrest in connection with his recent article entitled "First Step, Last Word." The article, published on the website, questioned the role of the supreme leader. Sazgara's conditions for ending his food and medicine strike include an unconditional release.

An 18 February Reuters report asserted the possibility of a link between Sazgara's arrest and his public letter last year to Supreme Leader Khamenei in which he questioned Khamenei's lack of accountability and his more recent "First Step, Last Word" article.

Sazgara said in the 24 February "Aftab-i Yazd" that the hand-written arrest warrant did not specify the charge against him and that he was never told why he was arrested. Sazgara added that because he objected to being arrested he refused to sign the prison log. Sazgara denied that his arrest was related to his open letter to the supreme leader because the letter was written in late April 2002 and that because no one had mentioned it for almost a year and nothing was said about it after his arrest.

A commentary by Amir Mohebbian in the 24 February "Resalat" daily questioned the reason for arresting, and after a few days releasing, Sazgara. The daily noted that until this most recent incident, Sazgara had never been prosecuted for his open letters that criticize state officials, and he remarked that the incident occurred during the visit to Iran of a United Nations human rights team (see below). The commentary asked if "hidden hands" are trying to improve the stature of relatively unknown political figures in order to harm the system and urged the Ministry of Intelligence and Security to resolve and clarify the issue of such arrests. (Bill Samii)

JUDICIARY REJECTS REPORTS OF JEWS' AMNESTY. Louis Joinet, head of a UN human rights delegation that visited Iran from 15-26 February (see below), said that his team met in Shiraz with five Jews who were imprisoned in July 2000 on espionage charges, AFP reported on 26 February. "They have been definitively freed, a senior judicial official told us," Joinet said. He added that, although this information has not been communicated to the prisoners, he had received assurances that it would be soon. The UN delegation met with the imprisoned Jews on 21 February, dpa reported on 24 February.

Iranian judiciary spokesman Gholam Hussein Elham on 24 January said that the five Jews had not been amnestied, dpa reported, whereas Haroun Yashyai, "a leading Jewish figure in Tehran," said that Supreme Leader Khamenei had pardoned the men, "The New York Times" reported on 21 February. The five were given a furlough in early February (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 10 February 2003). (Bill Samii)

CONVICTED OPINION POLLSTERS GET HOME LEAVE. Ayandeh Research Institute board member Abbas Abdi was given a one-hour leave from prison on 22 February, "Iran News" reported on 25 February, citing "Seda-yi Idalat." Abdi's daughter told the daily that her father was in good health. Abdi was sentenced to eight years in prison after Ayandeh conducted a poll that found that the majority of Tehran citizens favor the resumption of Iran-U.S. relations.

Ayandeh Managing Director Hussein Qazian's lawyer, Ramazan Haji-Mashhadi, said his client was also granted a few hours' leave to visit his family, "Etemad" reported on 22 February. Qazian is considering filing an appeal on his conviction in the case.

The granting of leave to these individuals may have been connected with the visit to Iran by a UN team that was examining the country's prisons (see below). It is not known if other prisoners have access to the same privilege. (Bill Samii)

UN HUMAN RIGHTS OFFICIALS VISIT IRANIAN PRISONS. A five-member team of UN officials began a 12-day tour of Iranian penal facilities on 15 February and visited Tehran's Evin Prison and detention centers in Isfahan, Shiraz, and Yazd. The team met with officials from the legislature, the Foreign and Interior ministries, and the Justice Department. Other meetings were held with representatives of the Supreme Court, the Revolutionary Court, the Prisons Organization, and the Prosecutor-General's Office.

Mohammad-Javad Larijani, the judiciary's foreign-policy adviser, told Louis Joinet, head of the UN delegation, that Iran implements its laws in a transparent fashion, so Iranian officials are not afraid to discuss their cases with international experts, IRNA reported on 15 February. Larijani added that judiciary chief Ayatollah Mahmud Hashemi-Shahrudi opposes incarceration, so laws on imprisonment are under review.

Lawyers Association head Bahman Keshavarz, on the other hand, said on 16 February that prison inspections will not resolve problems with the existing laws. He also described overcrowding, inadequate resources, and a paucity of prisons.

Parliamentarian Hussein Ansari-Rad described a 17 February meeting with the international guests in the 18 February issue of "Hambastegi." Ansari-Rad said the UN team asked if defendants are informed of their legal rights when they are arrested; if a person can have a lawyer as soon as he or she is arrested, and if he or she cannot afford a lawyer, whether one would be appointed for him; how long temporary detentions last; and under what circumstances are they imposed. Ansari-Rad said that the visitors also asked about detention centers that are outside the jurisdiction of the Prisons Organization.

The UN delegation visited a military and civilian prison in Shiraz, "Iran News" reported on 25 February, citing "Afarinesh." Afterward, the visitors declined to speak with reporters and noted that Persian-speaking interpreters were accompanying them.

The government limited the UN delegation's access to the Iranian public. The Tehran Governorate-General's director-general for political-security affairs, Ali Talai, said on 22 February that police arrested about 12 people who had congregated outside the Laleh Hotel, where the UN delegation was staying, ISNA reported. Talai said that 200-300 people had gathered in front of the hotel and that "some of them had come at the invitation of foreign Persian-language TV stations." The police arrested those who refused to disperse, he said. AFP reported on 22 February that the crowd (which it estimated at 70-80 people) was demanding freedom for political prisoners and that police used tear gas against the protesters before arresting some of them.

At a 26 February press conference, Joinet said that his team received "unprecedented cooperation" from the authorities, "The New York Times" reported the next day. Joinet said that his team selected the prisoners it interviewed and chose the locations it inspected and that it was able to conduct its interviews without the presence of government minders and away from cameras.

The inspectors were critical of the extensive use of solitary confinement, which in Evin's Block 209 takes place on "a large scale and for long periods," Reuters reported on 26 February. Joinet said that his team had never seen solitary confinement on such a scale. Other areas of concern are detention of defense attorneys, undermotivated state-appointed defense attorneys, and sentences disproportionate to the crime. This disproportion indicates "a repressive interpretation of the law" and discourages lawyers from getting involved with cases, Joinet said, according to dpa. Bail is usually out of proportion with alleged offenders' income level, he added.

Shortly before the UN team visited Iran, there were several developments in the penal system. Two prisoners died, and 10 others were injured during a 12-hour riot at the main prison in Isfahan, IRNA reported on 15 February, citing "Kayhan." The rioters were demanding that individuals arrested for drug offenses be released from solitary confinement.

Prisons Organization chief Morteza Bakhtiari said in the 8 February issue of "Hambastegi" daily that the warden and deputy warden of the prison in Gorgan had been released on bail. The two were arrested after 27 inmates died in a fire at the prison (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 6 January and 27 January 2003).

Bakhtiari said that 50 percent of the prison population is incarcerated for narcotics offenses. Bakhtiari also said during a visit to the Lakan Prison in Rasht, Gilan Province, that the Prisons Organization treats all prisoners with respect and focuses on their reform and rehabilitation. The recidivism rate for prisoners who learn a trade in prison is only 3 percent, compared with 38 percent for those who do not learn a trade. (Bill Samii)

HEALTH MINISTRY ANNOUNCES HIV/AIDS FIGURES. Mohammad Mehdi Guya, who heads the Health, Treatment, and Medical Education Ministry's infectious-diseases department, said on 18 February that 4,424 people with AIDS have been registered and that an estimated 22,000 people in Iran have HIV, ISNA reported. He added that in the year from March 2001 to March 2002, 1,298 HIV-positive people developed AIDS but that so far this year only 744 cases have been reported. Approximately 95 percent of the AIDS patients are men, while 54.3 percent contracted the virus through intravenous drug use, 19 percent contracted it through transfusions of tainted blood, 15 percent contracted it through intercourse, and 3 percent are infants who contracted the virus from their mothers. Guya said his organization's current budget of 1.3 billion tomans ($1.6 million) is insufficient.

One of Guya's Health Ministry colleagues said in December that 4,237 Iranians have AIDS (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 17 February 2003).

Welfare Organization head Mohammad Reza Rahchamani said on 22 February at a Mashhad seminar on tuberculosis that 15 percent of "street women" (presumably prostitutes) are drug addicts, IRNA reported the next day, and he said drug abuse is behind the rising HIV/AIDS rate. Drug Control Headquarters head Ali Hashemi said at the same event that the counternarcotics campaign has so far focused on interdiction but that this approach must be reformed and greater attention should be paid to reducing the demand for illegal drugs. (Bill Samii)

SUPREME LEADER WARNS TABRIZIS OF U.S. AMBITIONS... Supreme Leader Khamenei in a 17 February speech in Tehran to visitors from Tabriz warned about the dangers of U.S. propaganda, state radio reported. Khamenei said that the United States intends to undermine the Iranian people's "vigilance, religious zeal, unity, devotion, and steadfastness" with "the propaganda of its public media." "The propaganda of the enemy's mouthpieces [radio and television] against the Iranian nation has filled all the air around us," Khamenei added. Iranians' enthusiastic participation in celebrations of the revolution's anniversary, he said, contradicted the expectations of "the gang leaders of global arrogance and the palace dwellers of the Black House [known elsewhere as the White House]." The United States is jealous of Iran's independence, according to Khamenei, but, "The Iranian nation is saying: We will not permit you bandits and you savages in civilized clothing to come to our country and make your dreams come true." (Bill Samii)

...URGES VIGILANCE AGAINST FOREIGN PLOTS IN SISTAN VA BALUCHISTAN. Khamenei continued in this vein when he kicked off his tour of southeastern Sistan va Baluchistan Province on 23 February. In Zahedan, he asked, according to Iranian state radio, "Aren't the people of the world right in thinking that the arrogant American power is a liar and that American officials are fascists and the Hitlers of the present era?" Khamenei said foreigners "trumped up" an excuse to pressure Afghanistan and are "trumping up another excuse" to pressure Iraq.

Khamenei also warned in his 23 February speech that Iran's enemies have come up with "complicated plots" to stir up religious and ethnic tensions, IRNA reported the next day. Khamenei urged his audience to be careful. "The nation, from all walks of life, especially the clergy, must remain fully vigilant and neutralize all the seditious plots," he said. "The enemy is very active behind the scenes and by using many tricks, including by insulting the beliefs of Shia and Sunni Muslims, seeks to pit religious castes against one another," he added. Khamenei called for unity among all Iranians.

On the evening of 25 February, Khamenei stressed the importance of unity in a meeting with leading members of provincial tribal and ethnic groups, state radio reported. He also warned that the country's problems are all related to foreigners and their allies. "Today, too, just as during the early days of the revolution, parallel to the obstructionist efforts of the enemies, corrupt elements are trying to create obstacles in the way of the nation." Before Khamenei spoke, his representative for Sunni affairs, Hojatoleslam Husseini, praised Sunni-Shia unity in the region, according to IRNA. It is noteworthy that the Sunni-affairs representative is a Shia cleric.

Khamenei met with personnel from the IRGC, Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS), police, and Basij Resistance Force in Zahedan on 26 February, according to state television. He told them that the enemies of Islam hate the IRGC, MOIS, army, and police but that the enemies have not been able to stop young Iranians from defending the country and maintaining security. Young people's faith and officials' willingness to serve prevent the "plots hatched by centers of world arrogance" from bearing fruit.

Khamenei said in a 27 February speech in Chahbahar that Iran's enemies are trying to instigate instability but that the assorted security forces and the people themselves will do their utmost to promote tranquility, IRNA reported. Khamenei described the need for continuing and deepening unity between Shia and Sunni Muslims, and he noted that public faith and the region's clerical leaders would foil the enemies' efforts to create rifts. (Bill Samii)

KHAMENEI CAUTIONS AGAINST SMUGGLING. Sistan va Baluchistan is Iran's least-developed province and has one of the country's highest unemployment rates, so many residents are forced to make a living by smuggling goods, people, and narcotics across the border with Pakistan and across the waters of the Persian Gulf.

Khamenei said in his 23 February speech that "there remains a considerable level of poverty in Sistan va Baluchistan," IRNA reported, and he added that the province has potential for agriculture, mining, fishing, and commercial transit. People should avoid narcotics trafficking, he said, because "drug trafficking means trading [in] death, disease, and disability and the destruction of young people." "People from all walks of life in this province must be sensitive toward the problem of drug trafficking," Khamenei said. He also cautioned against other forms of smuggling.

In his 25 February meeting with leading members of provincial tribal and ethnic groups, Khamenei warned that Iran's enemies are using such banditry to undermine provincial security, state radio reported. He said that locals have a responsibility to confront this phenomenon. "Besides the powerful confrontation of the law-enforcement and military forces against smugglers, the tribes of Sistan va Baluchistan, as the defenders of this sensitive border region, will also confront such elements," he said. (Bill Samii)

PRESIDENTIAL ENVOY IN SYRIA AND LEBANON. Iranian parliamentarian Hojatoleslam Ali Akbar Mohtashami-Pur, a founder of Lebanese Hizballah, secretary of Iran's "Support for the Palestinian Intifada" conference series, and now President Khatami's special envoy, arrived in Damascus late on 23 February to discuss regional issues, IRNA reported the next day. Mohtashami and Iranian Ambassador to Syria Hussein Sheikholeslam met with President Bashar al-Assad on 24 February to discuss the Iraq crisis and Palestinian issues, IRNA and Syria's SANA news agency reported.

Assad mentioned the "important and effective" role that Iran and Syria play in settling regional crises. It was not clear if this was a reference to the two governments' assistance to Hizballah, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command, as described in the U.S. State Department's annual "Patterns of Global Terrorism" reports (

Mohtashami arrived in Beirut on 24 February, according to IRNA. On the evening of 25 February, he met with Hizballah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah to discuss "key regional developments," IRNA reported on 26 February. Mohtashami also met with Lebanese President Emil Lahud, Speaker of Parliament Nabih Berri, and Foreign Minister Mahmud Hammud.

Mohtashami described his discussions with the Lebanese officials in the 27 February issue of Beirut's "Al-Nahar" daily. "The talks I held yesterday and today with the Lebanese officials centered on two main issues: the grave dangers of the American military campaign in the region at this stage and [Israeli Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon's mad, persistent Zionist crimes against the oppressed Palestinian people." He added that "power and megalomania" dominates the United States and that only the opposition of the international community can "curb this tendency" and bring the United States "back to its senses." (Bill Samii)

TEHRAN ANGRY OVER ARGENTINE TERRORISM ALLEGATIONS. Government spokesman Abdullah Ramezanzadeh said on 26 February that Tehran will "review its relations" with Buenos Aires if its "anti-Iran propaganda campaign" over the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center in the Argentinean capital persists, IRNA reported. On 25 February, the Iranian Foreign Ministry summoned Argentinean Charge d'Affaires Ernesto Carlos Alvarez to hear an Iranian protest against these allegations, IRNA reported.

Argentinean prosecutors on 21 February issued arrest warrants for Supreme Leader Khamenei; former Minister of Intelligence and Security Ali Fallahian-Khuzestani; a former Iranian ambassador to Argentina, as well as other Iranian officials; Lebanese Hizballah official Imad Mughniyah; and Hizballah members from South America's so-called tri-border area, where the borders of Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay meet, Buenos Aires' "La Nacion" daily reported on 22 February, and Buenos Aires' "Clarin" daily reported on 26 February.

When this subject came up in July 2002, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi blamed "Zionist circles," and he also said Israel was behind the bombing (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 29 July 2002 and 5 August 2002). (Bill Samii)

LEBANESE COURT: AL-QAEDA FIGHTERS TRAVEL THROUGH IRAN. A Lebanese Military Tribunal on 25 February called for the death penalty for a Turkish Al-Qaeda member who is allegedly the main coordinator for smuggling combatants into and out of Afghanistan through Iran, Beirut's "The Daily Star" reported on 26 February. Chief Military Investigating Magistrate Riad Talih said Miglit Ziakar (a.k.a. Abu Obeida al-Turki) created "a terrorist organization in Lebanon and abroad to commit crimes against civilians, undermine the state, and carry out terrorist operations." The magistrate added that Ziakar runs his operation from Istanbul "by facilitating the entry of militants from all Arab and Muslim countries to Afghanistan through Iran to fight with the Taliban." (Bill Samii)

HEKMATYAR'S WORLD SHRINKS. An anonymous "senior Pakistani official" said the Iranian government has ordered the family of Hizb-e Islami leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar to leave the country, the "Financial Times" reported on 22 February. Hekmatyar lived in Iran from 1996 until early 2002, when the Iranian government sent him back to Afghanistan and closed down Hizb-e Islami offices in Mashhad. Since then, he has been linked with violent Al-Qaeda and Taliban efforts to undermine Afghan President Hamid Karzai's government.

The United States on 19 February announced that it considered Hekmatyar a "specially designated global terrorist" because of his activities and requested that the sanctions committee created under UN Security Council Resolution 1267 include Hekmatyar on its consolidated list of entities and individuals associated with Osama bin Laden, Al-Qaeda, and the Taliban, which would oblige all UN member states to impose sanctions, including the freezing of assets.

In a 22 February message to Iranian state radio's Pashto service, Hekmatyar denied having links with the Taliban or Al-Qaeda, and he denied having money in foreign banks. "We feel justified in waging jihad against invaders inside the borders of our country," he said. "We, among the Afghan people, urge the foreign forces to leave our country." (Bill Samii)

IRGC COMMANDER SAYS IRAN IS NEXT AFTER IRAQ. IRGC ground-forces commander Brigadier General Mohammad Ali Jafari said on 21 February that the United States wants to disarm Iraq, change the country's ruling regime, and control its oil, ISNA reported. Jafari then claimed that U.S. President George W. Bush has said, "'After Iraq, it will be Iran's turn.'" Jafari claimed that the United States wants to eliminate the principle of the Guardianship of the Supreme Jurisconsult and block the expansion of the Islamic revolution. (Bill Samii)