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Iran Report: February 5, 2001

5 February 2001, Volume 4, Number 5

'TEN-DAY DAWN' -- NOT MUCH TO CELEBRATE. The Ten-Day Dawn, which marks the return of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini to Iran and the victory of the Islamic revolution in 1979, is being commemorated from 31 January through 10 February. A number of events are planned to mark this event, according to IRNA. Energy Minister Habibollah Bitaraf said that 1,185 dredging, irrigation, water and power supply, and production projects will become operational during the celebrations. 118 development, sports, culture and economy projects will be launched in Chaharmahal va Bakhtiari Province. 158 fisheries projects that create 2,700 jobs will be launched in Hamedan Province.

But these are far from the only developments that mark 22 years of theocracy in Iran. Changiz Aslani, manager of Hamedan's Labor House, commented that 1,400 Iranian factories have been closed and many workers in his province have not been paid in 3-5 months, "Kayhan" reported on 13 January. And according to a report in the 17 January "Dowran-i Imruz," the state monopolies that dominate the Iranian economy "have imposed heavy chains on the hands and feet of the country's economy." Unemployment is estimated at 25 percent and inflation is estimated at around 15 percent.

Article 3 of the Iranian Constitution states that the Iranian government must direct all its resources to, among other things, planning an economic system that will provide social insurance for all. But the social security system in Iran is lagging 50 years behind that of the developed world, Social Security Organization of Iran chief Mohammad Sattari-Far said on 27 January, according to IRNA. In a related matter, Iran's elderly population will reach 15 million in the next 20 years, double its current level, Mehdi Derakhshan, secretary of a seminar on geriatric medicine said, according to a 1 January IRNA report.

In the last two decades, Reza Afshari notes in his forthcoming book entitled "Human Rights in Iran," Iran has systematically jailed, tortured, and executed dissidents without proper legal processes. The Iranian people will have much more to celebrate: the closure of at least 38 publications in nine months; rising drug-addiction and prostitution rates; agricultural dependency; and a housing crisis. And while all this is happening, the Islamic Republic is buying arms from Ukraine, Russia, and other foreign powers, and simultaneously dedicating money to fighting the American "cultural onslaught." (Bill Samii)

PRESS REPRESSION CONTINUES UNABATED. The battle against press freedom in Iran is continuing, with the closure of two more publications and the arrest and trial of several journalists in January. IRNA director Fereidun Verdinejad tried to describe the impact of this situation at the inauguration of IRNA's Isfahan bureau on 30 January. He said that journalists cannot do their jobs if they are worrying about imprisonment, and if they cannot do their jobs, they won't be able to defend Iran from "the information bombardment from the global arrogance." He warned that voters have long memories.

"Hadis," a Qazvin weekly, was closed in late January and will stay closed until March, when its editor's trial begins. "Hadis" is accused of publishing articles that insult public officials and provoke public opinion, according to IRNA. "Kiyan," an intellectual and philosophical monthly, was banned on 17 January for "publishing lies in order to incite public opinion" and "insulting religious sanctities," according to state radio.

Abdol-Karim Sorush described the "Kiyan" closure as a "calamity," "Dowran-i Imruz" reported on 21 January. An editorial in the 21 January "Asr-i Ma" said that the closure of "Kiyan" demonstrated the targeting of President Mohammad Khatami's "slogans of the freedom of thinking and writing and the rule of law." "Asr-i Ma" added that the right wing is trying to dissuade Khatami from standing in the June election. Six days after the "Kiyan" closure, three periodicals received warnings from the Islamic Culture and Guidance Ministry, IRNA reported. "Avay-i Malayer," "Neday-i Saveh," and "Payam-i Shomal" were warned for publishing articles deemed contradictory with the Press Law, especially their coverage of a recent soccer riot in Tehran.

Some attempts to get new publication licenses, meanwhile, are facing obstruction from the Tehran Justice Administration. 1,700 people had applied for licenses, and 132 of the applications were rejected in early January. Shaban Shahidi Moadab of the Islamic Culture and Guidance Ministry said that the rejected applicants included a vice president, parliamentarians, government officials, and municipal council members.

"Resalat" reported on 30 January that 60 parliamentarians petitioned the Judiciary to act more strictly against the press. The next day, however, some of the parliamentarians denied signing such a petition. And several days earlier, 70 parliamentarians called for an investigation of the Judiciary and said it was being used as an anti-reformist weapon, and they also complained about the abuse of prisoners. Parliament's Article 90 committee said on 27 January that it was investigating 20 complaints against the judiciary.

Journalists continue to face legal difficulties. Mohammad Hassan Alipur of the banned "Aban" weekly is facing 39 charges of spreading lies and propaganda, insulting religious sanctities, and other offenses, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 30 January. Naqi Afshari, editor of Qazvin's weekly "Hadis," was arrested for criticizing the arrest of his son, student leader Ali Afshari. Afshari pere was released on bail. Journalist Hoda Saber of the banned "Iran-i Farda" was arrested in late January, too. Journalists Akbar Ganji, Khalil Rostamkhani, Ezzatollah Sahabi, and Mehrangiz Kar received jail sentences in mid-January, purportedly for their participation in a Berlin conference (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 22 January 2001). Fatimeh Farahmandpur of the banned weekly "Gunagun" received a two-year work ban on 13 January. Satirical writer Ebrahim Nabavi received an eight-month prison sentence in early January.

Yadollah Eslami of the banned "Fath" was found guilty of 18 press violations in early January. In what has become a familiar pattern in all the press cases, the complainants included the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps, the Basij, Society of Ziarat al-Yassin, and several private plaintiffs. And in a display of extreme bad taste, the Tehran Revolutionary Court summoned journalist Piruz Davani in early January. Davani disappeared 28 months ago, and he is believed to be a victim in the serial murders of what could be up to 100 political dissidents, and others who have "disappeared."

Reporters sans Frontieres has launched an awareness campaign about the actions against Iranian journalists and publications. Sources in Iran have complained, too. The Association for Press Freedom condemned the arrests and called on the judiciary to look into their impact.

New news sources are planned. A Basij news agency will become active in the near future, according to "Kayhan," and 5,000 Basijis have completed journalism training. A local councils' news agency is scheduled to start work in mid-February, and Tehran city council began publication of a biweekly called "Shora" on 20 January. Five Khorasan Province periodicals received publication licenses in late December. They are the monthlies "Mossaferan" and "Andisheh;" the weeklies "Jaddeh-yi Abrisham" and "Eqtesad-i Asia;" and the quarterly "Khorasan Pazhouhi." (Bill Samii)

AGRICULTURAL INDEPENDENCE NONEXISTENT. Agriculture largely determines a country's economic stability, Speaker of Parliament Hojatoleslam Mehdi Karrubi said on 1 January, and that in turn determines the country's independence. Cereals Organization managing director Mohammad Memarzadeh underlined this statement when he said, later in the month, that annual demand for wheat in Iran is 10 million tons a year, while only 4 million tons is produced domestically.

Karrubi added that under-investment and "misguided policies" have hindered the progress of Iran's agricultural sector, IRNA reported. An "exemplary farmer" who spoke at the 1 January meeting with Karrubi pointed out that many agricultural products, with the exception of wheat, are left in the warehouses, and he advocated producers' participation in the policy planning process.

Som-i Sara parliamentary representative Mohammad Taqi Ranjbar, who serves on the agriculture committee, said in late December that despite the importance of the agricultural sector in the country's self-sufficiency, the 2001 budget does not pay sufficient attention to it. Ranjbar said that attention to agriculture would create many jobs at relatively little cost, "Resalat" reported. Despite this, total credits for agriculture when adjusted for inflation indicated negative growth, according to Ranjbar.

Agriculture-related policies seem to be arbitrary and capricious. After the Qadir Dam was built, farmers were informed that they must pay for its construction and maintenance. The Energy Ministry runs the dam, so its officials would periodically appear with new guidelines on how much to pay for the water, "Jomhuri-yi Islami" reported in late November. Another costly irrigation project actually resulted in less water being available because it was climactically inappropriate. So now the farmer faces "a heap of rusting and dilapidated pipes and other monstrous and useless instruments and machinery."

Turning to wheat, "Jomhuri-yi Islami" reported that "thousands of hectares of wheat fields" were not sprayed with pesticide. Then, the experts from the Cereals Organization said that the wheat's quality was unacceptable and it would have to be mixed with foreign wheat if it was to be used for bread-making. Ironically, representatives from Tehran's Government Trading Corporation, which handles Iranian wheat purchases, told Islamabad that Pakistani grain had been placed on its "quarantine list," Karachi's "Business Recorder" reported on 15 January. Previous Pakistani reassurances that the wheat was pest-free had not satisfied Tehran. In what may be a related matter, Seyyed Hussein Salimi, who led an Iranian trade delegation's visit to Pakistan, suggested that tariffs and non-tariff barriers were impeding trade between the two countries. And on his return from Sofia on 26 January, Speaker of Parliament Karrubi announced that Tehran had agreed to purchase Bulgarian wheat. (Bill Samii)

GOVERNMENT ADDRESSING URBAN HOUSING CRISIS. In 1979, the number of Iranians living in cities exceeded that of Iranians living outside the cities for the first time, according to the "Atlas d'Iran" by Bernard Hourcade, et al., and by 1996, 61.5 percent of the population had become urban. As the authors note, Kermanshah, Zahedan, Orumieh, Sanandaj, Mahabad, Bandar Abbas, and Khorramabad no longer are the outposts of the central authorities in the non-Persian provinces, but complex cities in themselves. Conurbanations have formed, such as Amol, Babol, and Qaemshahr, and cities like Tehran and Isfahan have spread out and incorporated outlying villages. Villagers' migration to the cities "has not followed a natural process," university professor Javad Monazzamitabar warned in "Entekhab" in September, because people have come to the cities, not to fill existing job openings, but to escape unemployment in the provinces or to escape the war with Iraq.

Due to overall population growth and urban migration, demand for housing in Iranian cities is increasing. Article 31 of the Islamic Republic's Constitution states that "it is the right of every Iranian individual and family to possess housing commensurate with his needs." Yet many young adults, even after marriage, must continue to live with their families because housing is unavailable. Other problems associated with the poorly regulated growth of Iranian cities are pollution, traffic congestion, inadequate green spaces, and the presence of businesses in residential areas. Urban growth also stretches the limits of urban services, such as water, gas, electricity, or telephone lines. Sometimes these factors converge and there are riots. In the last year, such incidents have occurred in Abadan, Ajabshir, Alamdar, Astaneh Ashrafieh, Islamshahr, Lamerd, Ramhormoz, and Shahr-i Rey. Most recently, the Basij suppressed a demonstration in the Karaj metro station on 28 January, after commuters protested against mismanagement and fraud.

Questions about housing occasionally come up in parliamentary sessions, too. Quchan representative Mohammad Baqer Zakeri asked during the 10 January session, for example, what is being done to provide villagers with housing and what is the government's housing policy.

President Mohammad Khatami indicated his awareness of the housing shortage in a 23 August speech and noted that most people cannot afford to buy their own homes. He added that banks should make the necessary resources available, but because state management is slow and inefficient, "the problems are acute...the inefficiency of the system has meant that we have not been able to direct the necessary state and banking resources towards this project." Khatami described a project in which people would get easy terms on home loans, making a 30 percent down payment and paying off the rest of the loan in 10-15 years. Khatami also described a rent-to-own plan.

The Iranian government also has tried to address the housing shortage by building new towns and satellites to the cities, per a 1985 proposal. In 1989, a Development Company for New Towns was created to handle the planning of all related projects. It handles everything from issuing building permits to enforcing regulations. 18 new towns have been built already, and another 12 are planned. These new towns have some problems in common with the old ones, such as a shortage of facilities like schools and hospitals. They are mercifully free of pollution, however, "Ettelaat" reported in September.

Foreign investment and participation are often looked to as a source for resolving the housing crisis and urban congestion. Hussein Mehrdadi, chairman of the Development Company for New Towns, said in July that Iran hopes to attract $1 billion in foreign investment for related projects. And shortly before a mid-October conference in Tehran, Housing and Urban Development Minister Ali Abdol-Alizadeh announced that 1,250 urban development projects planned for Tehran will be put up for international tenders.

Recent reports indicate that some foreign sources have shown an interest. An Iranian delegation led by the Housing and Urban Development minister was in Russia and Tatarstan in mid-January and met with chief Moscow builder Vladimir Resin and Anvar Samuzafarov, chairman of the Duma's construction committee. Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov told his guests about Russian experience in construction and proposed direct Russian cooperation with Iran in this field, "Kommersant" reported on 20 January, and the two sides signed a Memorandum of Understanding. Moscow specialists will be sent to Iran soon, IRNA reported. Civil engineering specialists from South Korea's Daewoo company had met with representatives of Iran's Development Company for New Towns earlier in the month, IRNA reported.

The government's effort to solve the housing crisis and other urban difficulties has been criticized as well. A November editorial in Tabriz's "Fajr-i Azerbaijan" complained that speculators claim they are going to build just so they can gain access to public finances and cheap loans. And Abdol-Alizadeh was forced to deny rumors that the building of new cities is intended to fill the Housing and Urban Development Ministry's coffers. Remarking that Iran's population will double by 2021, Abdol-Alizadeh told "Javan" in January 2000 that "The plan to construct new cities is a long-term program, whose main aim is purely to guide and house the overflowing population of the big cities." (Bill Samii)

VIRTUE AND VICE AT LOGGERHEADS. According to the Iranian Constitution, the government must direct its resources to the "creation of a favorable environment for the growth of moral virtues based on faith and piety and the struggle against all forms of vice and corruption." The Antisacreligious Acts Office (Amr be Maruf va Nahi az Monker), aided by the Law Enforcement Forces, the Basij, and self-appointed members of the public, attempts to promote and impose what it views as virtuous behavior. Economic circumstances force some Iranians into illegal activity, such as prostitution, however, while others resist efforts to control their private lives.

Although there have been complaints about prostitution in Iran in the past, early January raids on 29 brothels in Tehran and the arrest of 85 people working there call attention to the extent of prostitution in post-revolution Iran. Furthermore, Iranian prostitutes are active in the Persian Gulf states and in Turkey. Dr. Bahram Yeganeh, secretary of the National Committee to Combat AIDS, added that foreign women passing through Iran on commercial tours are involved in the sex trade, too, "Tehran Times" reported on 29 January. Minister of Intelligence and Security Hojatoleslam Ali Yunesi said that poverty and unemployment are the main sources of many social immoralities, including prostitution, IRNA reported on 13 January. According to Prof. Farideh Purgiv, the age of prostitution for Iranian women is now below 20, IRNA reported in October, and the increasing number of runaways is contributing to the problem.

State officials are involved in the sex trade as well, London's Saudi-backed "Al-Sharq al-Awsat" reported on 28 January. Citing an unnamed reformist cleric, the report states that girls at a Karaj home for runaways were taken away at night in governmental vehicles and returned in the morning. When Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei heard of this after being briefed about an investigation by President Mohammad Khatami's office, he ordered the arrest of the officials involved. Some of those arrested include Revolutionary Court Judge Hojatoleslam Muntazir Moqaddam and Hojatoleslam Hussein Ali Shalari, who runs a Karaj prison. Other Revolutionary Court officials, clerics, merchants, and Ministry of Intelligence and Security officials were arrested, too. According to the "Al-Sharq al-Awsat" report, 37 girls between the ages of 14 and 20 were involved in the prostitution ring.

Not only is there official connivance in prostitution, organizations that are tasked with confronting it are not very effective. Khosro Mansurian, managing director of an organization to support the socially vulnerable, complained to "Dowran-i Imruz" in November that there are several organizations to deal with the social difficulties that lead to women's involvement in prostitution, and when the budget is being allocated, they all claim to lead the way. But when one asks such an organization to deal with a problem, it says that it is another agency's responsibility. Mansurian added that the schools do not pay sufficient attention to sex education or substance awareness, which later leads to problems.

The government is taking other actions to confront the spread of immorality. In mid-January, police in Bushehr confiscated 700 satellite decoders and 10,000 films on DVD. Tehran police chief Said Shokripur warned that action would be taken against "centers of corruption and gangs distributing alcohol, places with unofficial entertainment programs, and centers distributing films, tapes, and CDs," Kayhan reported on 13 January. Shokripur added that improper dress by women would be stopped, too.

Also, the government is actively encouraging young people to marry, and a 14,000-couple mass wedding is planned for March. Posters in Tehran announce, according to AFP, "Marriage gives young people responsibility and character." Hojatoleslam Mahmud-Abadi, the cultural deputy at the Islamic Culture and Guidance Ministry office in Hormozgan, also advocates marriage, albeit temporary marriage, saying that as long as a young person is not emotionally or spiritually satisfied, he cannot concentrate on ideological topics, "Omid-i Sahel" of Bandar Abbas reported in November. Mahmud-Abadi explained that "temporary marriage is the only way of fighting the cultural invasion, because if we interpret the cultural invasion we find that most of the ways it penetrates the minds of our youth relate to sexual issues."

Hojatoleslam Hamedani, Hamedan�s Friday prayer leader, may have a different view on such issues. After announcing that he would protest if an orchestra plays at Ten-Day Dawn celebrations, "Iran" reported on 1 February, he added that boys and girls should not mingle during the festivities.

Not everybody appreciates the actions of self-appointed vigilantes and morals police against what they see as inappropriate behavior. This may explain why Police Emergency Center commander Ruyanian warned that anybody interfering with the "virtue and vice squads" would be dealt with "decisively," state radio reported on 26 January. (Bill Samii)

FOREIGN HELP NEEDED IN FIGHTING DRUGS. Mohammad Fallah, secretary of the Anti-Narcotics Headquarters, announced on 30 January that 3,000 Iranian Law Enforcement Forces officers have been killed in drug-related battles in the last two decades. Fallah also repeated his call for foreign assistance. That same day, British Foreign Minister John Battle announced that the UK has provided 400,000 pounds to the CIRUS (Combined Interdiction Unified Strategy for Iran) project run by the UN Drug Control Program (UNDCP) to assist Iranian counter-narcotics efforts, and British counter-narcotics coordinator Keith Hellawell visited Iran. In early January, furthermore, visiting Italian Interior Minister Enzo Bianco signed a Memorandum of Understanding on counter-narcotics with his Iranian counterpart, Abdulvahed Musavi-Lari.

Iranian officials are seeking foreign assistance in protecting the country's borders, but they are showing a great reluctance to dedicate their own money or political will to the war on drugs. For example, Sistan va Baluchistan Province LEF chief Hussein Salehi told Hellawell that Iran has allocated over $900 million to sealing the eastern borders, and officials frequently cite the 200 billion rials (about $114 million at the official rate or $25 million at the market rate) earmarked for a "security fence" on the border. But on 17 January IRNA reported that the parliament slashed the proposed 200 billion rial budget for eastern security measures to only 50 billion rials (about $28 million or $6.25 million), which led Khorasan Province LEF commander Javad Hamed to complain that such a move was irrational, "Iran" reported on 18 January.

Furthermore, easterners who have been pressed into service in Basij units which then participate in military operations against smugglers, bandits, and others are demanding financial compensation. An official in Sir hamlet told the 25 January "Hamshahri" that locals must resume farming in the spring, and if they cannot do so, they should be given wages. Hussein Abbasi, the Sir Basij commander, added that the government and Islamic Revolution Guards Corps should build forts and pay wages, adding, "the government should shoulder the overhead cost of keeping the Basij units in these bases permanently." And Kashmar journalist Kazem Khoshniat told RFE/RL's Persian Service that although military operations in December had driven away the drug traffickers, they soon returned.

Afghanistan produces some 4,800 tons of opium, but it is impossible to calculate the actual amount of drugs moving from Afghanistan through Iran. The UNDCP believes that 60 percent of the drugs coming into Iran move on to Turkey, the Persian Gulf, and to Europe, while 40 percent of the drugs go to major trading centers in Iran for domestic consumption. There are now about 1.2 million addicts and another 800,000 casual users in Iran. Sanadaj parliamentary representative Bahaedin Adab told the 2 December "Abrar" that young people turn to drugs because of "unemployment, depression, and neglect," adding that "no hope for the future or social joy" are contributory factors.

Availability of drugs makes the problem worse, according to Behrouz Meshkini, who deals with the treatment and prevention of addiction at the Welfare Organization. He said, "Kar va Kargar" reported on 2 December, "the purchase of heroin has become easier than the purchase of a bottle of milk. To buy bread, we are forced to wait in a line for a long time, but to purchase drugs, no problem exists."

Despite the cost in Iranian lives of fighting narcotics, the government is not wholly committed. In December a new parliamentary committee was formed to discuss the issue, and its members even traveled to Khorasan Province, but the committee was obviously ineffectual since the budget for eastern security was reduced later. Also, Mahmud Alizadeh Tabatabai, who has served in the Anti-Narcotics Headquarters under Presidents Hashemi-Rafsanjani and Khatami, told "Siyasat" in early December that Khatami has attended about one meeting a year, and because of his inattention, other officials rarely attend meetings.

There also are allegations of official involvement in the drug trade. Tabatabai said that the profits from narcotics "went to certain places that were connected with sources of power, and we were unable to deal with them." The profits were laundered by purchasing carpets, smuggling them out of Iran, and then selling them. Tabatabai also said that although security forces are committed to the war on drugs, cultural organizations have not acted similarly. (Bill Samii)

FIGHTING AMERICA ON THE CHEAP. Expediency Council Chairman Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani warned in a 31 January speech that "the enemy" is encouraging some Iranians to "launch a propaganda campaign against the system," and this propaganda is "in harmony with the radios financed by the world arrogance." During its 29 January debate on next year's budget, the Iranian parliament approved a 12.5 billion rial (about $7 million at the official rate or $1.6 million at the market rate) fund to, according to state radio: "identify and neutralize conspiracies of the American government against internal affairs of the Islamic Republic of Iran, to raise our country's claims against America at international forums, and to enlighten public opinion at home and abroad about America's cultural onslaught, its violation of the UN Charter and the Algerian Accord." The budget for 2000-2001 had an allocation for identical purposes. During the most recent session, it also was decided to place 20 billion rials (about $11 million or $2.5 million) at President Mohammad Khatami's disposal for the "dialog of civilizations." (Bill Samii)

TEHRAN WANTS MORE FOREIGN AIRCRAFT. During his recent trip to Kiev, Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi said that Iran wants to cooperate with Russia and Ukraine in production of the Tu-334 passenger aircraft, ITAR-TASS reported on 31 January. The project already involves Russia's MIG and Tupolev companies and Ukraine's Aviant factory. Iran will soon become the third largest buyer of Russian weapons, Moscow�s weekly military newspaper "Nezavisimoye Voyennoye Obozreniye" reported on 12 January. Meanwhile, the Iran-140, which is a Ukrainian Antonov-140 assembled in Iran, is scheduled for its maiden flight during the Ten-Day Dawn celebrations. The 52-passenger aircraft is designed for short-haul flights and can land on unpaved runways, Iranian state radio reported on 22 January. The aircraft is estimated to cost $9 million. (Bill Samii)

POLL SHOWS STRONG SUPPORT FOR KHATAMI. A poll conducted in early January by a subsidiary of the Islamic Culture and Guidance Ministry -- the National Institute for Public Opinion Polls -- found that of the 1,118 Tehran citizens aged 16 and above that it interviewed, 77.8 percent have "great confidence" in President Mohammad Khatami and 83.1 percent are "satisfied" with his performance. 83.3 percent of the respondents wanted Khatami to stand in the June presidential election, "Dowran-I Imruz" reported on 31 January, 57.6 percent would definitely vote for him, and 53.2 percent responded that Khatami was the best choice. (Bill Samii)