Accessibility links

Breaking News

Iran Report: July 8, 2002

8 July 2002, Volume 5, Number 25

AMERICAN EARTHQUAKE RELIEF ARRIVES IN IRAN. An aircraft carrying U.S. relief supplies arrived in Tehran on 2 July, according to IRNA. Tehran accepted the U.S. offer of assistance after a devastating earthquake affected Qazvin, Hamedan, and Zanjan provinces (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 1 July 2002). The aircraft was crewed by Ugandans and its cargo included six 10,000-liter water tankers, two water-treatment systems, 5,000 wool blankets, and 12,000 personal health kits. Hamid Marashi, an official with the Tehran office of the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), said that USAID put the supplies at UNICEF's disposal, and they would be delivered to the Natural Disasters Headquarters soon. Deputy Interior Minister for Development Affairs Mohammad Hussein Moqimi said on 2 July that the earthquake caused 2.5 trillion rials in damage and claimed 231 lives, according to IRNA. Moqimi said that reconstruction has started already and should be complete by the winter, and rebuilding the regions infrastructure will top the agenda. (Bill Samii)

AGHAJARI SUBPOENAED. Hojatoleslam Zekrollah Ahmadi, head of the Hamedan Province Justice Department, announced on 2 July that his organization has issued a subpoena for Mujahedin of the Islamic Revolution Organization official Hashem Aghajari and his hearing would be held in Hamedan, IRNA reported on 2 July. Aghajari is accused of insulting Islamic sanctities. Aghajari had questioned the current religious hierarchy during a mid-June lecture, prompting irritated comments from a number of Iran's top religious and political leaders (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 1 July 2002). Speaker of Parliament Hojatoleslam Mehdi Karrubi announced on 2 July that unspecified "efforts and measures" have been undertaken, IRNA reported, and MIRO leaders and parliamentarians Mohsen Armin and Behzad Nabavi are being kept abreast of developments. (Bill Samii)

CONCERN OVER STUDENT SENTIMENTS. As the anniversary of the violent, weeklong July 1999 student demonstrations approaches, expressions of concern have appeared in the conservative Iranian press. The hard-line "Jomhuri-yi Islami" daily on 2 July claimed that foreign radio stations have launched a propaganda campaign to coincide with the anniversary of the demonstrations at Tehran University. This newspaper claimed that Iranian monarchists are planning to organize riots in the Iranian capital. On the same day, the hard-line "Resalat" daily reported that a group it referred to as Heshmatollah Tabarzadi's "Student Movement Coordination Committee" intends to generate unrest at Tehran and Tabriz Universities and has applied for a demonstration permit.

Meanwhile, Hojatoleslam Mohsen Qomi, the Supreme Leader's universities representative, said that students are lonely and alienated and political groups have not won their confidence, according to the conservative "Entekhab" daily on 2 July. Qomi went on to say that only three students remain in prison in connection with the July 1999 events. And on 29 June, members of the country's largest student group, the Office for Strengthening Unity (OSU), staged a sit-in in front of the Judiciary headquarters in Tehran. An unidentified OSU member told the Iranian Students News Agency on the previous day that the group intends to request the release of university students who are in prison.

Tehran parliamentary representative Elahe Kulyai served on the committee that investigated the July 1999 events. In a 1 July interview with "Aftab-i Yazd," she criticized the Judiciary's handling of the case. She said that the students' demonstration against the closure of the "Salam" daily "was not exactly remarkable," but poor judgment by some officials led to a "massive socio-political crisis." The actions taken after the incidents, when the only officials who got in trouble were charged with stealing an electric shaver (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 5 June 2000 and 17 July 2000), only rubbed salt into the wound. Kulyai said that the July 1999 incidents and the Judiciary's failure to address the issue fairly have contributed to Iran's brain drain. (Bill Samii)

CALLS FOR SHIA-SUNNI UNITY. Minister of Intelligence and Security Hojatoleslam Ali Yunesi said on 3 June that Iranian officials are concerned about the escalating differences between Iran's Shia majority and Sunni minority, IRNA reported, and he warned that Shia-Sunni differences are fanned by Iran's enemies. The Supreme Leader's representative for Afghan affairs, Hojatoleslam Hussein Ibrahimi, reminded his audience at the Imam Hussein Mosque in Birjand, Khorasan Province, that "our glory and grandeur will only be redeemed if Shia and Sunnis stand firm in the face of the great infidels of the universe, namely, the U.S.A. and Israel." IRNA reported on 1 June. Regardless of such calls for solidarity, Iranian Sunnis have some grievances.

There are no official statistics on the number of Sunni Muslims living in Iran, but Sheikh Mohammad Ishaq Madani, President Mohammad Khatami's adviser on Sunni affairs, said in the 16-22 June issue of London's Arabic-language "Al-Majallah," "I think the number of Sunnis is not less than 7 million. They account for 10 percent, or possibly slightly more than 10 percent, of the population of Iran."

This Sunni-Shia ratio is not matched in the legislature, where there is no special dispensation for the number of Sunni representatives. According to Madani, there are 18 Sunnis in the 290-member parliament (6 percent), but he acknowledged that a Shia was elected in a predominantly Sunni area (Iranshahr) and a Sunni was elected in a predominantly Shia area (Urumiyeh). There are three Sunnis in the popularly elected Assembly of Experts, of which Madani is a member. The presence of Sunnis in government institutions has improved, Madani said, although there are no Sunni provincial governors.

Madani said that the absence of a Sunni mosque in Tehran has been a long-running concern, according to "Al-Majallah," and President Khatami promised that "something good will happen." The fact that this promise has not yet reached fruition, according to Madani, is because "not everything is in the hand of one person...there are several influential political forces in government departments. The views of some people who have power and influence are different from Khatami's views."

Birjand's Sunni Friday prayer leader, Molavi Gholam-Heidar Faruqi, said at the end of May that anybody who sows Shia-Sunni discord is a traitor, the "Ava-yi Birjand" weekly for 29 May-4 June reported. Speaking at the same event, a Shia cleric from Birjand, Hojatoleslam Ali Ahadi, said: "Unity between Shia and Sunni must not only be verbal, and in the form of slogans. It must become functional." The issues raised by Sheikh Mohammad Ishaq Madani -- inadequate political representation and no mosque in Tehran -- as well as other complaints of Iranian Sunnis -- such as high unemployment and underdevelopment in their regions -- must be resolved for these demands for unity to become real. (Bill Samii)

HERAT AND IRAN STRENGTHEN TIES. Herat Province, Afghanistan, Governor Mohammad Ismail Khan on 28 June rejected all reports about Iranian interference in Afghanistan, Mashhad radio reported on 29 June. Ismail Khan said, "There are lies and groundless claims about my relations with the Islamic Republic of Iran, but personally I have great respect for Iran because that country helped the Afghans during the Jihad times against the USSR and during the period of Afghan people's resistance to the Taliban."

Ismail Khan received a delegation from Khorasan Province on 26 June, Herat's "Etefaq-i Islam" newspaper reported on 27 June, and the "beloved emir of the southwest zone" met with an individual identified as Khorasan Province governorship adviser Ali Akbari. When the Iranian delegation arrived in Herat the previous day, it was greeted by officials from the Afghan Ministry of Foreign Affairs and other branches of the central government, Herat TV reported.

On 23 June, Ismail Khan met with Iranian consular officials Mr. Zarai and Mr. Afrasiabi. The Afghan governor assured his Iranian guests that the authorities in southwestern Afghanistan are ready to "consolidate friendly relations and develop and expand fraternal relations with the noble and Muslim nation of Iran." (Bill Samii)

AFGHAN VICE PRESIDENT ASSASSINATED. Haji Abdul Qadir, who was only recently appointed as one of Afghanistan's vice presidents and the minister of public works, was killed in Kabul on 6 July. Two men shot the Pashtun vice president and his driver, then got into a waiting vehicle and fled the scene. Afghanistan's Transitional Authority announced the creation of an investigative commission. According to "The Washington Post" on 7 July, police detained 10 of Qadir's bodyguards from the Interior Ministry as well as several witnesses. Speculation is rife on the identity and motive of the assassins, but Barialai Qadir, a brother of the victim, told "The Washington Post," "[Qadir] enjoyed the trust of the people, and he thought he had no enemies." Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi referred to the assassination as the work of "enemies of stability" in the country, AFP reported on 6 July. (Bill Samii)

AFGHANISTAN GETS NEW WOMEN'S AFFAIRS MINISTER. Habiba Sorabi has been appointed as Afghanistan's women's affairs minister, and Mahboba Hoquqmal has been appointed as the minister of state for women's affairs, according to "The Irish Times" on 28 June. Former Women's Affairs Minister Sima Samar is to lead a human rights commission that is investigating alleged crimes by warlords and Taliban officials still at large, according to "The Boston Globe" on 28 June. There were reports that Afghanistan's Supreme Court had banned Samar from government office because she allegedly claimed that she did not believe in Islam (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 24 June 2002).

Samar said that she had fallen victim to a smear campaign led by former President Burhanudin Rabbani's Jamiyat-i-Islami Party, according to a 25 June EurasiaNet report by Camelia Entekhabi-Fard. Samar said that the campaign against her began with a Canadian Persian-language newspaper's publication of an article in which she purportedly said that she did not believe in Islamic law. This article was reprinted in "Payam-i Mujahid," the Jamiyat-i-Islami newspaper, and circulated among participants in the Loya Jirga. Samar told EurasiaNet that she was targeted because "I am a woman, I am a professional, I am outspoken, and I am a Hazara." (Bill Samii)

KABUL BROADCASTING CHIEF WON'T GO. Abdul Hafiz Mansur, the head of Kabul radio and television, rejected an order to vacate his office from Information and Culture Minister Rahim Makhdoom, according to 2 July newspaper reports. Mansur is being dismissed because he imposed a ban on female singing on radio and television. "I didn't ban this," he said according to "The Daily Telegraph," "But Islam bans this. This is a matter for the country's Supreme Court. We are an Islamic society." There also is speculation that Mansur played a major part in filing a blasphemy complaint against former Women's Affairs Minister Sima Samar. (Bill Samii)

TALIBAN GONE BUT OPIUM BACK... About 9 million people, or two-thirds of the world's opiate abusers, consumed illicit substances from Afghanistan, and until the year 2000, Afghanistan was "the main source of illicit opium and heroin produced, trafficked, and consumed in the world," according to the United Nations Office for Drug Control and Crime Prevention's (UN ODCCP) report entitled "Global Illicit Drug Trends 2002." This trend changed on 27 July 2000, when Taliban leader Mullah Omar banned opium cultivation, and production fell by 94 percent -- from 3,276 tons in 2000 to 185 tons in 2001. And it changed again when poppy planting resumed after the Taliban's removal from power.

The new Afghan government's antinarcotics drive has gotten off to a slow start, with efforts to encourage crop substitution through the provision of cash sometimes meeting with armed resistance and at other times being negated through corruption (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 20 May 2002). The UN believes that Afghanistan will produce 1,900-2,700 tons of opium in 2002.

There also is hope that a more stable and accountable government will be able to bring an end to opium cultivation. "The weakening of civil society and the breakdown of law and order facilitate criminal activities," UN ODCCP Executive Director Antonio Mario Costa said on 26 June -- the international Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking. Costa said that the way to fight narcotics is to help countries "establish democratic accountability and sustainable development." This may not be so easy in the case of Afghanistan, where there is speculation that some leading officials are involved in the narcotics trade. UN officials are reluctant to discuss the issue of Transitional Authority officials who allegedly have links to the international drug-smuggling trade.

Bernard Frahi, the head of the UN drug-control office in Kabul, told journalists on 25 June that he had been instructed not to mention the specific names of any Transitional Authority officials who are known to be involved in the drug trade. "It's not for us, the UN, to make any comment about the authorities who have been appointed within the government. What is important for the international community is to ensure that the so-called warlords will also be approached in order to ensure that whatever is related to drug trafficking is put to an end. We know that Afghanistan is [a country where], unfortunately, some permanent figures in some areas have been involved in, or encouraged, drug trafficking in a certain way," Frahi said according RFE/RL's Kabul correspondent, Ron Synovitz.

Allegations of involvement in the drug trade touch on recently murdered Nangarhar Province head Haji Abdul Qadir (see above), one of the three vice presidents of the Transitional Authority. UN studies have linked former Northern Alliance commanders -- particularly those whose fighters control the export routs to Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan -- with the narcotics trade, too, according to RFE/RL's Synovitz. (Bill Samii)

...AND IRAN IS ON THE FRONT LINE. If previous patterns are any indication, Iran will bear the brunt of the Afghan opiate flood. Iran accounted for more than 80 percent of the world's opium seizures last year, and it is responsible for more than one-third of the heroin and morphine seized in the world, according to the UN ODCCP "Global Illicit Drug Trends 2002" report. (These statistics are derived from Iranian government sources.) Iran's Deputy police chief Brigadier General Amir-Ali Amiri noted on 16 June, according to IRNA, that the amount of narcotics entering Iran has increased by 140 percent since 21 March.

Currently, Iran is home to some 1.2 million drug addicts and 600,000 drug abusers, according to press reports. (Drug Control Headquarters chief Mohammad Fallah suggested on 1 July that the real figures could be much higher because most drug abusers try not to be identified as addicts, according to IRNA. Iranian society tends to stigmatize drug addicts.) Some 150-200 petty dealers and users are arrested in Tehran every day, police Colonel Mehdi Aboui said on 26 June according to IRNA, but some are released because of the shortage of prison space. Aboui went on to say that in the last year, some 3,500 "addict hangouts" were cleansed and 196,000 addicts were arrested. And Jamshid Ahmadi, head of the Family and Drugs Research Center at the Central Parent-Teachers Association, said that 40 percent of Iranian students use drugs and over 100,000 prisoners are addicted to them, IRNA reported.

Iranian officials ascribe drug abuse to many factors, chief among them being unemployment. Dorud, Luristan Province, Friday prayer leader Hojatoleslam Qasem Musavi said on 1 July that unemployment and poverty are among the root causes, IRNA reported, and he urged the government to create job opportunities. Musavi said that the unemployment rate could hit 24 percent within four years, as 5.5 million high-school graduates join their 3.5 million already unemployed compatriots. And drug abuse has been linked to a range of social problems, Welfare Organization chief Mohammad Reza Rahchamani said as he inaugurated a Kerman therapeutic center on 2 June, according to IRNA. Among these problems are prostitution, homicide, suicide, domestic violence, and divorce, Rahchamani explained, and the level of HIV/AIDS through intravenous drug use is increasing rapidly.

The main solutions for reducing drug abuse would be job creation and the creation of social outlets. Officials also believe that there must be greater public awareness about the dangers of drugs. Dorud's Hojatoleslam Musavi called on his fellow clerics to speak to young people about the dangers of drugs. Rasht Friday prayer leader Ayatollah Zeinolabidin Qorbani said 31 May that public awareness is important in dampening the spread of drugs among young people, IRNA reported. Qorbani called for greater family involvement.

Mohammad Jahantiqi, deputy head of the Sistan va Baluchistan Province Education Department, said that young people must be made aware of the adverse results of using drugs, IRNA reported on 29 June. Kermanshah Anti-Drug Council Secretary Mehdi Famil Shoqi concurs on the importance of awareness, IRNA reported on 24 June, and he stressed the importance of families in discouraging youth drug abuse. Shoqi also said that "organizations [presumably NGOs] and ministries" must do a better job of coordinating activities.

Drug Control Headquarters chief Fallah called for greater attention to reducing the demand for narcotics, and he also advised drug addicts to turn to treatment centers for help. Fallah said that forcing people to quit drugs would not solve the problem. Antonio Mazzitelli, who heads the UN Drug Control Program's office in Tehran, said during a 25 June seminar that the allocation of 50 percent of the counternarcotics budget to demand reduction programs is a positive step, according to IRNA. Mazzitelli noted that there were only 33 treatment centers in Iran in 1999, but that number has tripled. He praised the private sector for its part in addict rehabilitation and added that rehabilitation facilities are adequate but need to be used more effectively.

Borujerd parliamentary representative Alaedin Borujerdi said on 19 June that Luristan Province has devised the Nejat (salvation) plan to deal with the drug problem, IRNA reported. Borujerdi did not provide any details on the plan but said that it is being considered by the Drug Control Headquarters in Tehran. And in mid-May, parliamentarians Morteza Kheirabadi said that the legislature has approved a 20 billion-toman ($25 million) budget for controlling Iran's eastern borders. Kheirabadi went on to say, "Siyasat-i Ruz" reported on 15 May, that the budget for education and training to prevent drug abuse is six times higher than it was in the previous year.

Law enforcement and interdiction continue to be major parts of Iranian narcotics control. Law Enforcement Forces chief Brigadier General Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf said during an 18 June press conference in Rasht that two times as much narcotics were confiscated over "the past few months" as they were during the same period in the previous year, IRNA reported. But the police have a tough time of it, Qalibaf added, because the financial resources for drug interdiction are inadequate, and he specifically cited the problem of low law enforcement salaries.

Tehran attaches great of importance to international involvement in and awareness of its counternarcotics activities. In recent years it has signed bilateral agreements or memoranda of understanding with Afghanistan, Armenia, Australia, Cyprus, France, Georgia, Great Britain, Greece, Italy, Japan, Kuwait, Norway, Pakistan, Russia, Singapore, Spain, Switzerland, Thailand, Turkey, and Turkmenistan. On the eve of Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi's 1 July trip to Cyprus, IRNA reported that he would sign an agreement on cooperation against narcotics trafficking, IRNA reported on 30 June. Madrid announced on 28 June that it would provide Iran with 100,000 euros to help its counternarcotics activities, according to IRNA. The money will be provided to nongovernmental organizations so they can improve demand-reduction education.

When Iranian National Security Adviser Hassan Rohani met with his Indian counterpart, Brajesh Mishra, in New Delhi on 25 June, they discussed the issue of drug trafficking and Afghanistan, according to IRNA. The second Iran-Kuwait joint security meeting was held in Kuwait City in early June, and at its conclusion there was a call for greater for coordination in counternarcotics and efforts against illegal immigration. According to IRNA on 4 June, this committee is the result of an October 2000 memorandum of understanding signed by Iran and Kuwait.

A delegation of Iranian judicial officials visited Germany to discuss counternarcotics, IRNA reported on 12 June. Headed by Tehran Province Justice Department chief Abbas Ali Alizadeh, they discussed judicial educational cooperation, exchanging information on traffickers, and exchanging know-how. German Interior Ministry official Fritz Rudolf also announced that a German drug liaison officer would be assigned to Iran permanently.

Italy's national anti-Mafia prosecutor, Pietro Luigi Vigna, said in the 24 June "La Stampa" that his country is working on the creation of a database, and in this connection he recently met with a delegation of Iranian officials who "painted a very ominous picture of which we are not yet fully aware." Tehran Province Justice Department chief Alizadeh and his colleagues had arrived in Rome on the weekend of 13-14 June, but according to RFE/RL Persian Service correspondent Ahmad Rafat, the Italians resisted signing a protocol with the Islamic Republic of Iran because they believe that Iran's Judiciary does not enjoy full independence. According to an 8 June IRNA report, however, Iranian and Italian officials on 8 June signed a draft agreement on cooperation in fighting drug trafficking and money laundering, and they agreed to work against illegal immigration. The previous week, Drug Control Headquarters chief Mohammad Fallah met with Italian Deputy Interior Minister for Security Affairs Alfredo Mantovano, who said that Rome is ready to cooperate with Tehran within the framework of the UN Drug Act Program, according to IRNA.

Tehran also is active in multilateral antinarcotics activities. Iran is part of a regional drug control campaign, with the 14 June signing of the second phase of a project to strengthen coordination and cooperation among Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO) member states -- Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. In the first phase of this project (July 1999-December 2001), according to a UN press release, the ECO Secretariat created a Drug Control Coordination Unit to coordinate the drug-control activities of member states. In the second phase, project activities will include operational cooperation and improvements in the technical skills of national drug-control agencies. (Bill Samii)