8 January 2001, Volume 4, Number 1
CONFESSIONS IN SERIAL MURDERS TRIAL. The trial of 18 Ministry of Intelligence and Security employees for the killings of political dissidents and writers -- called the "serial murders" -- started on 23 December and continued during the first week of January 2001. There are 17 people in the dock. Said Emami, the alleged ringleader who reportedly committed suicide in June 1999 by drinking a depilatory solution, is being tried posthumously.
Little is known about the actual proceedings because the trial is closed at the request of the deputy military prosecutor for Tehran, who said that "holding an open trial is inimical to public security and order," IRNA reported on 23 December. Responding to complaints about this situation, Judge Mohammad Reza Aqiqi asked, according to IRNA on 30 December, "who can guarantee that an open court would not provide information to the enemies outside the country?" All information on the trial, therefore, comes from state news agencies.
Mustafa Kazemi confessed to ordering the killings on 30 December, and Mehrdad Alikhani said on 31 December that the decision to commit the murders was made collectively. Ali Roshani said that he killed Mohammad Jafar Puyandeh and Mohammad Mokhtari, according to state radio on 2 January. Mahmud Jafarzadeh said that he killed Dariush Foruhar, Ali Mohseni said that he killed Parvaneh Foruhar, and Hamid Rasuli said he supervised the Foruhars' murder and supplied the killers with the necessary means. Morteza Haqqani participated in the murders of Mokhtari and Puyandeh.
Mohammad Azizi also participated in the murder of the Foruhars, and he said the orders were relayed to him by Hamid Rasuli. Abolfazl Moslemi said that he supervised Parvaneh Foruhar's murder. Mohammad Hussein Asna-Ashr, Ali Safaipur, Morteza Fallah, and Mustafa Hashemi confessed to their roles in the Foruhars' murders on 6 January. On 7 January, Ali Nazeri confessed to his part in the killings of Puyandeh and Mokhtari, and Asqar Sayyah pleaded guilty to the murder of Puyandeh.
Iraj Amuzegar denied participation in the killings of the Foruhars or Puyandeh, although he said he knew about their murders. Alireza Akbarian also denied participating in the murders of the Foruhars, saying he was outside the house while they were being committed.
Writer Majid Sharif is seen by many as the fifth victim in the serial murders. His family, however, denies that he was murdered.
There is little public confidence in the fairness of the trial because it is taking place in camera, Mashhad's reformist parliamentarian Ali Tajernia said on 2 January, according to IRNA. The limited amount of information about the case has increased rumor-mongering, too, the 23 December "Hayat-i No" reported.
Moreover, members of the victims' families are not attending the trial because they do not want to legitimize a process they see as flawed. Parastou Foruhar, daughter of the victims, said that the "main part" of the files was not available to the co-plaintiffs or to the public prosecutor, the "Financial Times" reported on 23 December.
The case is seen as an important examination of the Islamic Republic's old guard by Elahe Sharifpur-Hicks of Human Rights Watch. She told the 23 December "Washington Post" that initial statements in January 1999 confirmed the involvement of top officials. The public now knows that "it was the system, the high ranking establishment, that did it." The bigger question, Hicks said, is who declared the victims "apostates" and authorized their deaths. If such a ruling still stands, furthermore, then other people may be in danger.
The closed nature of the trial, and complaints that the prosecution has not had complete access to the case files, makes it seem very unlikely that the answers to these big questions will be forthcoming. (Bill Samii)
NEW SQUAD CALLED 'POLICE 110.' Raids on Tehran New Year's parties may strike some as being part of the reformist-conservative, good-guy bad-guy struggle in Iran. But in fact, they are part of the broader security crackdown which has been in force for the last several months.
Some 262 people were arrested during the raid on a New Years party at Tehran's ASP apartment complex. Interior Ministry official Jahanbakhsh Khanjani said that those arrested included two Arabs, two Westerners, and two Indians. Khanjani went on to say that the guests were arrested for their inappropriate appearances, and later reports cited alcohol consumption and mingling between sexes.
A woman who received 70 lashes after being arrested indicated in an interview with RFE/RL's Persian Service that the security personnel employed excessive force, using batons against the female guests. The people who were arrested were taken to a Ministry of Intelligence and Security facility and then transferred to Evin Prison, where they remained overnight. A judge then came and decreed that 11 out of 126 women were to be flogged.
Other parties accounted for about another 50 arrests. "Iran" newspaper said that the police discovered "gangs organizing corruption and prostitution," raided "houses of disrepute," and then "arrested the hosts who had fooled young and ignorant girls in order to spread corruption."
Such parties are not uncommon, especially among the more affluent classes of Tehran. That these were raided could be the fault of the parties' hosts: either they forgot to bribe the security forces, the bribes were insufficient, or the hosts bribed the wrong people. It is also possible that the parties were so large that the security forces could not ignore them.
The raids appear to be part of a wider security effort. Creation of a special security unit tasked with prevention of "cultural, social, and economic insecurity" was announced in early-October (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 16 October 2000). At that time the new unit was unnamed, but a month-and-a-half later it not only had the name Police 110, it had made its mark as what appears to be a vice squad.
The 110 moniker is derived from the Abjad system of enumeration, the Arabic equivalent of Roman numerals. 110 is spelled A-L-I, and this is the year of Imam Ali in Iran. 110 is also the Iranian equivalent of America's emergency 911 telephone number.
Police 110 has been very busy. The activities of "street bandits and gadabout rogues" and "lawbreakers and those who live off women and girls" have been causing a great sense of insecurity in Tehran, "Resalat" reported on 27 November. But because Police 110 made 40,000 raids in 40 days, "people feel safer...[so that they] can live in peace and tranquility."
The continuing actions of hardline vigilante groups in Iran's capital city, however, make Police 110 look redundant. The vigilantes raided Tehran cinemas showing the film "Mix," which features women playing musical instruments, in front of a mixed audience, "Entekhab" reported on 2 January. (Bill Samii)
CORRUPTION AND BIAS IN THE COURTS. A Judiciary spokesman cautioned in January 2000 that anybody who opposes Judiciary chief Ayatollah Mahmud Hashemi-Shahrudi's plans to reform his organization would be replaced (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 3 April 2000). Hashemi-Shahrudi warned in October 2000 that a more thorough vetting system is needed for selecting his organization's personnel, and he also described instances of factionalism and partiality in the National Control and Inspection Organization (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 16 October 2000).
The arrest of 40 judges, court clerks, and middle-men that was reported by IRNA on 31 December may reflect the fulfillment of these warnings. Hashemi-Shahrudi also described the establishment of a new inspectorate charged with oversight and investigation of bribery and corruption in courts and local justice departments.
Such efforts, however, will not satisfy Maurice Motamed, the Jewish representative to the parliament. He called on "Muslim religious leaders and the officials of the Judiciary to pay more attention to the rights of non-Muslim families as far as issues such as blood money and verdicts of the courts are concerned," IRNA reported on 24 December. Under current laws, the money paid to Muslim crime victims and their families exceeds that which is paid to non-Muslim victims and their families. (Bill Samii)
MORE UNREST IN IRAN. Since 1 November there have been a large number of incidents of public unrest -- riots, strikes, and sit-ins -- which, when viewed separately, may appear to be only isolated expressions of people's dissatisfaction with their lives. Indeed, when such events occur in such a disconnected way, the government can either meet them with force or let them burn themselves out. But if more of these incidents occur simultaneously, the government may find it more difficult to cope.
In Tehran in late December a match between the Esteqlal and Piruzi soccer teams turned into a brawl involving the 100,000 fans in Azadi Stadium. 250 buses were seriously damaged, IRNA reported, and Tehran Police chief Mohsen Ansari told "Iran" newspaper that 60 people were arrested.
In Lamerd, Fars Province, in late December, the violence lasted several days in demonstrations that stemmed from dissatisfaction with public services. Fars Governor General Gholam Reza Sahraian complained, according to IRNA, that President Mohammad Khatami's opponents were behind the unrest. The Lamerd Friday Prayer Leader had made the initial complaints during a sermon, and when the governor general sought to provide an explanation, the audience interrupted him. Police used tear gas in an effort to subdue a crowd that set fire to official buildings.
In Isfahan in early November, there was a demonstration by people who, according to "Jomhuri-yi Islami," distributed literature with monarchist logos. Isfahan Governor General Seyyed Jafar Musavi said that 120 people were arrested in this incident, "Hayat-i No" reported on 6 December.
Much of the unrest involves Iranian students and academics. In Tabriz in early January, 400 students from the Islamic Azad University gathered to protest mismanagement, high fees, and incompetent instructors, "Iran Daily" reported. On the other hand, a number of the Tabriz students who were arrested in July 1999 were released following an amnesty from Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, IRNA reported in mid-December, although many question their being arrested in the first place.
Students of the mathematics faculty at the Science and Industry University of Tehran began a strike in late December to protest against mismanagement. Around the same time, the Office for Strengthening Unity at Sharif University of Technology issued a statement protesting the arrests of student leader Ali Afshari and politician and journalist Ezzatollah Sahabi.
Six hundred students and staff at Isfahan's Industrial University staged a 20-hour protest against the management's inability to promote virtue and prohibit vice, "Kayhan" and "Tehran Times" reported. A December student demonstration in Kurdistan Province was broken up by the Law Enforcement Forces, prompting demands for an explanation from provincial parliamentarians, such as Bahaedin Adab. There were rallies at Zahedan's Islamic Azad University to protest the mysterious death of a female student, Sakineh Tavakolizadeh, according to "Jomhuri-yi Islami." Malus Radnia (a.k.a. Maryam Shansi), who was arrested in connection with the July 1999 demonstrations, was summoned for questioning by the Tehran Revolutionary Court in early December.
Three hundred students at the Aviation Industry University staged a sit-in in early December to protest poor food and accommodations, incompetent instructors, and outdated teaching materials. The head of the university threatened to resign, prompting a student leader to say: "If he wants to resign let him go ahead. We have nothing to do with his resignation. They should solve our problem. Their resignation or remaining in office is not our problem, out problem is the low education quality in this college."
Iran's House of Teachers released a statement stating that it will stage a demonstration on 15 January. Among the teachers' objections are salary increases that do not match the inflation rate, cliquish management, and job selection based on partisanship and nepotism, "Dowran-i Imruz" reported on 2 January. (Bill Samii)
MONTAZERI WEBSITE SHUT DOWN. Ayatollah Hussein-Ali Montazeri-Najafabadi's website (http://www.montazeri.com) is no longer functioning, and neither is a similarly-addressed site with information about Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (http://www.montazery.com). One of Montazeri's sons told a foreign radio station that he had closed the site due to "certain [unspecified] problems," according to the 26 December "Tehran Times." Montazeri's memoirs are available at http://www.montazeri.net.
In fact, the montazeri.com website was shut down after legal action was taken against its operators for distributing copyrighted material. Specifically, it was distributing a Persian font called ParsNegar, which is copyrighted by International Systems Consultancy (ISC), an Australian firm run by Tooraj Enayati. According to ISC, the operators of the montazeri.com site received "sufficient warning," but because they failed to comply with the request to remove the font from their website it was shut down.
Meanwhile, the 31 December "Hayat-i No" reported that the ayatollah's son, Ahmad, wrote a letter to President Mohamad Khatami in which he asked for information about another of Montazeri's sons, Said, who was taken into custody in early December for distributing some of his father's literature. Said is reportedly very sick and the family has not heard from him since his arrest. Ahmad denied earlier reports that he met with Mohammad Ali Abtahi, Khatami's chief of staff, to discuss his brother's case. Said's family subsequently asked the Islamic Human Rights Commission for help, the Iranian Students' News Agency reported on 3 January.
Parliamentary deputy Mustafa Taheri-Najafabadi called for the release of Ayatollah Montazeri from house arrest and also for the release of Said Montazeri, AP reported on 26 December. Taheri-Najafabadi made a similar demand in October (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 23 December 2000). (Bill Samii)
'SHEER LIE' ABOUT DEFENSE MINISTER. The publicity department of the Ministry of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics said on 30 December that Vice Admiral Ali Shamkhani has not had any sort of interview with Beirut's "Al-Mustaqbal" daily, according to IRNA, and any report to that effect is a "sheer lie." According to the 30 December "Al-Mustaqbal," Shamkhani had said that if Israel attacks Syria or Lebanon, Iran would stand by them: "our response will be astonishing and unexpected." Shamkhani's follow-up statement in the "Al-Mustaqbal" interview may explain the Defense Ministry's later denials: "You do not say everything you know and you do not write everything you say." (Bill Samii)
NAVAL EXERCISES HELD IN PERSIAN GULF, SEA OF OMAN. The Ghadir-79 naval exercises in the Sea of Oman near Chahbahar ended on 3 January, according to state broadcasting, having started on 31 December. The different phases of the maneuvers involved night-firing exercises, commando operations with frogmen, and amphibious operations with marines. The navy units also practiced escort duties and protection of commercial shipping. Naval airborne units and units from the Islamic Republic Air Force participated in the exercises on 31 December.
The eight-day Vahdat-79 exercises of late-October and early-November involved over 8,000 representatives of the regular armed forces, the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps, the Basij Resistance Forces, and naval units from the Law Enforcement Forces. There were amphibious operations involving frogmen, marines, and paratroopers. Special operations, involving personnel rappelling onto submarines and surface ships, also took place. Fixed-wing aircraft, such as U.S.-made F-4 Phantoms and Brazilian Emb-312 Tucanos (which are turboprop trainers), and rotary-wing aircraft, were involved. The firing of Fajr-3 and Fajr-5 missiles was practiced, too. Vahdat-79 also involved surface and underwater combat maneuvers.
Vahdat-79 spokesman General Golverdi told state television, when the exercises ended on 6 November, that the main objective was to test and enhance troops' readiness for defending the mainland. Another objective was achieving unity between different branches of the armed forces. Golverdi also described the quest for technical and tactical self-sufficiency. He said the main needs and requirements during these maneuvers were in electronic warfare systems, guidance systems, data transmission systems, and radar data networking.
All this training has impressed some foreign observers. Pakistani naval chief Admiral Abdul Aziz Mirza called for greater interaction between Iran and Pakistan, IRNA reported in late October, and he said that their navies signed a "Letter of Agreement" on joint exercises, mutual visits, and exchanges of expertise. Also, Sudanese naval chief Rear Admiral Abbas al-Sayyid Uthman said during a mid-October visit to Iran that "our interest has doubled in strengthening our navy though the transfer of Iran's technology and know-how to Sudan." Uthman added that his country would like Iranian naval experts and lecturers' assistance in establishing Khartoum's naval academy, according to IRNA. (Bill Samii)
IRAN'S ARMS SUPPLIERS IN TROUBLE. The Iranian Ministry of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics' quest for self-sufficiency is in trouble because some of Tehran's overseas suppliers are having legal problems.
In mid-December, Austrian authorities raided the offices of Dieter Buehrle, Vienna's "Profil" reported. Buehrle is the principal stockholder and former chief executive officer of the Oerlikon Buehrle Holding Group, which makes short-range air defense equipment that Iran uses. Buehrle also is the sole stockholder of Zurich's Technology Trading Limited, which has supplied Iran with 155 mm artillery barrels and other military equipment. Some of this equipment was shipped to Iran indirectly, through a firm in Slovakia called ZTS IDOP Limited. Such transactions, according to Austrian officials contacted by "Profil," were illegal because an application to export gun parts to Iran would not have been approved.
In late December, a federal grand jury in San Diego, California, indicted Soroosh Homayouni for conspiracy to violate export laws. An Iranian citizen, Homayouni is a shareholder of Multicore Limited, a London-based firm that has been investigated seven times by the U.S. Customs Service for illegally exporting military equipment to Iran. In 1988 Homayouni was convicted for trying to export radar equipment and received a 21-month sentence. He was deported in 1989.
Earlier in the month, Said Homayouni, an Iranian-born Canadian, and Yew Leng Fung, a Malaysian, were indicted. Also shareholders of Multicore, they operated out of a Bakersfield, California, apartment, and purchased parts for the F-4 Phantom, the F-5 Tiger, and the F-14 Tomcat so they could be exported to Iran. Said Homayouni used the aliases Sid Hamilton and Joe Barry, according to "The Washington Post."
Shipment of almost all commodities to Iran -- from military goods to computer encryption items to auto parts -- requires a license for export, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce's Bureau of Export Administration (BXA). The BXA's "List of Denied Persons" -- specific persons that have been denied export privileges because they have violated these rules -- includes people and firms with Iranian links.
Among these are Reza Panjtan Amiri (Ray Amiri) of California, and his businesses, Ray Amiri Computer Consultants (CCC Inc.) of Frankfurt, and Pars Hafezeh of Tehran. Another denied person is Gholamreza Zandianjazi (Reza Zandian) of Irvine, California, and his businesses, Computer World Europe of Argenteuil, France, and Computer World Middle France of Tehran.
Such regulations do not exclude trade with Iran. The Office of Foreign Assets Control of the U.S. Treasury Department, which administers and enforces economic and trade sanctions against targeted foreign countries, terrorism-sponsoring organizations, and international narcotics traffickers, has approved Iranian government procurement bodies for licensed sales of agricultural commodities and products, medicine, and medical equipment. The list of approved bodies includes health facilities, such as the Amir Kola Children's Hospital and the Iranian Blood Transfusion Organization, pharmaceutical firms, such as the Medical Products Distribution Company, and the well-known Government Trading Corporation, which handles Iran's international wheat purchases. (Bill Samii)
ARE RUSSIAN ADVISERS COMING? Although several of Iran's suppliers are having legal difficulties, Moscow appears prepared to fulfill Tehran's arms supply desires. Arms sales were clearly the primary objective of Russian Federation Defense Minister Igor Sergeev's 26-28 December visit to Iran. Signed at the same time, a little-noticed agreement to train Iranian personnel at Russian institutions not only guarantees that such arms sales will continue for the foreseeable future, but it also paves the way for Russian military advisers to come to Iran.
The composition of the Russian team, the places it visited, and Russian statements indicate that arms sales topped the agenda. The head of the Russian Defense Ministry main directorate for international military cooperation, Colonel General Leonid Ivashov, accompanied Sergeev. The deputy general director of the State Company for the Export of Arms and Military Equipment (Rosoboroneksport) also made the trip, "Moscow News" reported on 27 December. The Russian delegation visited Iran's aerospace organization to familiarize itself with Iran's "rocket production problems" and the weapons' specifications, ITAR-TASS reported. The Russians also visited Isfahan to meet representatives of the Iranian aviation industry, according to ITAR-TASS.
Ivashov was cited by DPA news agency as saying that the Iranian arms market potentially is worth $2 billion, while according to "Segodnya," Ivashov sees $4 billion earnings from the sale of arms and defense weapons systems to Iran as "quite realistic." "Russian experts," meanwhile, told "Moscow News" that the Iranian market could be worth $8 billion over the next 10 years. "Kommersant" suggested that Russia could win up to $7 billion worth of the $25 billion Iran intends to spend on its military.
Ivashov tried to reassure observers who think arming Iran is a bad idea. Discussing which weapons Iran would receive, he said that the main subject is "defensive conventional weapons" and added that "the question of missile technology supplies is not even being considered," the official RIA information agency reported on 27 December. Ivashov also was quoted as saying that Moscow is ready to supply spare parts for Soviet-era equipment only.
Some of the equipment Russian sources have described is quite advanced: S-300 anti-aircraft missiles, Moskit anti-ship complexes, Mi-17 helicopters, and Su-25 fighter jets.
Washington, therefore, is not very impressed with the Russian assurances. State Department spokesman Philip Reeker said on 28 December that "it's not sufficient for Russia to simply call this type of equipment, quote, 'defensive.' Some of the equipment reportedly being discussed between the Russian minister of defense and his Iranian counterpart would pose a serious threat. And so calling it defensive is not going to diminish that threat." And State Department official John Barker visited Russia earlier in the month to say that if the arms sales occur, Washington may impose economic sanctions on Moscow, "Izvestiya" reported on 28 December.
Direct arms sales were not the only subject under discussion. Sergeev said that Moscow and Tehran have agreed on the training of Iranian personnel at Russian military schools, ITAR-TASS reported on 28 December. Not only will the Iranians learn Russian tactics, they will be trained on Russian equipment. So when they revise and reformulate Iranian military doctrine, it will be done with that equipment in mind. The new Iranian Table of Order and Equipment will be based on Russian equipment more than it already is, thereby increasing demand for Russian goods. And the flow of Russian-trained officers and Russian equipment probably will be accompanied with Russian advisers. (Bill Samii)
RUSSIA SHIPS PARTS TO BUSHEHR. "Iran is currently experiencing a chronic electricity crisis," Moscow's "Segodnya" reported on 26 December, "which prompted the country's leadership to continue building the nuclear plant." Atomash of Volgodonsk and the Izhorsk and Podolsk Machine-Building Plants are therefore filling orders for components of the nuclear power plant in Bushehr. Iranian state radio reported the next day that the shipments include atomic filters, window covers, and domed roofs. Unnamed officials also announced that the plant would commence operations soon. (Bill Samii)