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Iran Report: February 12, 2001

12 February 2001, Volume 4, Number 6

UNREST ON REVOLUTION'S ANNIVERSARY. "The world media shall see that, despite their claims of disagreements in Iran, all factions, groups, and organs will unanimously join united ranks to defend the revolution and its aspirations," state radio announced when urging people to attend rallies commemorating the victory of the Islamic revolution in 1979 (called the "Ten-Day Dawn"). In fact, the last two days of the Ten-Day Dawn were marked with anti-regime demonstrations in Tehran, Rasht, Mashhad, Isfahan, Kermanshah, Orumieh, Qazvin, and Bojnurd.

The 9 February demonstration of around a thousand monarchists in Tehran's Mellat Park was broken up by the Law Enforcement Forces and the Basij Resistance Forces. Police fired shots in the air and used tear gas. The Basij clubbed and beat dozens of demonstrators before turning them over to the LEF, which took them away in vans. When demonstrators returned to sing nationalist anthems, the LEF resorted to extinguishing the park's lights. An LEF spokesman, on the other hand, said that there only 300-400 demonstrators, 50 of them were arrested, and nobody was injured, IRNA reported.

A 10 February demonstration in central Tehran's Laleh Park -- organized by Heshmatollah Tabarzadi's People's Democratic Front of Iran -- met a similar fate. Parviz Safari, a spokesman for the Tabarzadi group, told RFE/RL's Persian Service that demonstrators were beaten up by non-uniformed individuals, although it was not clear if they were from the hard-line Ansar-i Hizbullah pressure group or the security forces, and then turned over to the LEF. Safari complained that many of the organization's members have been imprisoned since the July 1999 unrest, and their message gets no coverage from the Iranian media. Safari added that their demonstration was held on the Ten-Day Dawn to show that the revolution was for everybody, and because the Tabarzadi group is a legitimate opposition there is no need for it to participate in the government's functions.

As these events were occurring in northern Tehran, President Mohammad Khatami was speaking at the city's Azadi Square. He told a crowd of thousands that narrow-mindedness is threatening the revolution and the country, and "those who claim a monopoly on Islam and the revolution, those with narrow and dark views, are setting themselves against the people." He went on to warn, "they seek to suppress views that are not in agreement with their own narrow and dark views." The president was heckled during his speech, and the microphone went dead for about three minutes, the Iranian Students News Agency reported.

Islamic Revolution Guards Corps chief General Yahya Rahim Safavi spoke at a 10 February rally in Tabriz. Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, chief of the Expediency Council, spoke at a rally in Mashhad.

A resolution passed after the rallies, according to IRNA, "voiced the Iranian nation's outrage against the U.S. conspiracies and Washington's intervention in the domestic affairs of other countries." It also expressed Iran's readiness "to do all it can to uproot the 'cancerous and corrupt tumor' (of Israel) from the region." (Bill Samii)

PUPILS TO PASDARAN: REIN IN ROGUES. The Islamic Society of Students at the University of Fine Arts urged Major General Rahim Safavi, chief of the Islamic Revolution Guard Corps (colloquially known as the "Pasdaran"), to prevent the activities of pressure groups whose actions serve the aims of counter-revolutionary groups. The student group was referring to a recent ban against a war movie, IRNA went on to report, and the students' statement warned that people masquerading as defenders of the revolution would damage the IRGC's reputation. Cultural issues are increasingly important for the IRGC. Qazvin IRGC commander Mohammadi had warned that "in the next decade our problem will be the cultural onslaught and the Basij must block its progress," "Vilayat-i Qazvin" reported in late November. He added: "Instead of creating military bases, our policy today is to create cultural societies." (Bill Samii)

MILITARY ACHIEVEMENTS ON 'TEN-DAY DAWN.' Iranian Minister of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics Admiral Ali Shamkhani told state television on 6 February that his organization is imbued with a sense of self-reliance, which is why "domestic production of the equipment required by the armed forces, based on the Imam's self-reliant spirit, became an institutional fact in the armed forces." To demonstrate this self-reliance, two "major projects" will be commissioned during the Ten-Day Dawn, which marks the 1979 Islamic revolution. One is the Iran-140 aircraft, and another consists of equipping fast naval vessels with missiles for Persian Gulf operations.

Deputy ground forces commander Brigadier General Mohammad Ashtiani told state television on 7 February that his organization is working on 110 self-sufficiency projects. Ashtiani described production of the Zolfaqar tank, the Babr-400 tank carrier, and the Sayyad armored personnel carrier, as well as establishment of a helicopter pilot training center. Another project -- the Qoqnos antitank missile launcher-- was described by Mr. Haqiqat, the managing director of Shiraz's electronic industries in a 5 February interview with state television. Haqiqat said the launcher can hold eight Tufan missiles and comes equipped with a laser range-finder, night sights, a siren, and "a sonic system for psychological warfare." Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeyev inspected the Tufan assembly line on 27 December.

Iranian self-sufficiency was discussed on Capitol Hill, too. Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet told the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence on 8 February that "the transfer of ballistic missile technology from Russia to Iran was substantial last year, and in our judgment will continue to accelerate Iranian efforts to develop new missiles and to become self-sufficient in production." President Mohammad Khatami is scheduled to visit Moscow in March.

Iranian naval forces concluded the five-day Nour war games on 8 February. The exercises involved destroyers, submarines, helicopters, and speedboats, as well as commandos, parachutists, and frogmen.

Meanwhile, the appointment of Brigadier General Abdol Ali Purshasb as chairman of the Army's Joint Chiefs of Staff was announced on 5 February by state television. Formerly commander of the Ground Force of the Army, Purshasb replaces Brigadier General Shahram Rostami, who had assumed the post less than one year ago. General Nasser Mohammadi-Far succeeds Purshasb as ground forces commander. (Bill Samii)

WOMEN IN IRANIAN ARMED FORCES. Women are active in Iran's military. Mehri Soveyzi, who commands the 2.4-million-member Women's Basij, said that the organization had logistics, relief, and headquarters support duties during the Iran-Iraq War and that there were 4,470 female martyrs. The Women's Basij also was active in "cultural stimulation and morale boosting." Afterwards, she told the 30 November "Qods," they participated in Iran's reconstruction; now they undergo paramilitary training; and soon they will publish a monthly magazine. Also, the first female adviser to the Islamic Revolution Guard Corps and the head of the IRGC's Women's Affairs Office, Mehrshad Sheibani, was introduced in late September. A founder of the 7,000-member women's branch of the IRGC, Sheibani said, according to "Zanan," "the main task of Iranian women is that of defending the sanctity of Vilayat, and in this effort the women serving in the IRGC are the standard bearers."

The Ministry of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics launched a Female Employees' Affairs Office in August. Fatimeh Akbari, women's affairs adviser to MODAFL chief Ali Shamkhani, did not say how many females are employed by the ministry, but in a 21 September interview in "Iran," she described a number of her office's accomplishments. These include the approval of regulations permitting maternity leave and part-time employment, as well as health insurance coverage for the children of female employees. The MODAFL also approved a regulation giving priority to female employees' housing loan applications. Training for female employees has been initiated, too, Akbari said, with military familiarization courses, legal courses, and even household management courses for married employees. (Bill Samii)

WOMEN'S POSITION IN IRAN SAID 'STABILIZED.' Speaking at a Tehran conference attended by foreign representatives and the wives of some foreign ambassadors, Islamic Culture and Guidance Minister Ahmad Masjid-Jamei noted that the 1979 Iranian revolution "prepared the ground" for women's social and political activities and "stabilized the real position of women in Iran." Indeed, the Islamic Republic's Constitution promises that women will benefit greatly from the Islamic revolution, and Article 21 adds that "the government must ensure the rights of women in all respects" and it should "create a favorable environment" for the restoration of women's material and intellectual rights. On 1 January, furthermore, President Mohammad Khatami expressed the hope that women could have "stronger participation in social affairs" in a meeting with members of the parliament's Women and Family Affairs Committee, IRNA reported.

The constitution's promises have come to little, however, and although many women supported Khatami's presidential bid, he has been a disappointment. "Though I emphatically believe in the president, and from the beginning I quite liked him and felt that he is of undeniable high moral standing, I am sorry to say that I have not seen a fundamental change in the position of women in any way -- family or workplace," female attorney Mehrangiz Kar told RFE/RL's Persian Service. Since Khatami's 1997 election, she went on to say, "Women's issues were forgotten or became secondary to all other issues." Kar explained that in areas of employment, marriage, and divorce, women continue to be at a disadvantage.

The majority of such problems can be ascribed to tradition and culture, according to Zahra Shojai, President Khatami's adviser on women's affairs. She told "Zanan" in September that the biggest cause of women's problems -- 41 percent -- is cultural traits. Shojai added that discriminatory laws cause 22 percent of women's problems; political issues cause 12 percent; economic inequality causes 11 percent; social traits cause 9 percent; and religion causes 6 percent. She explained further in "Kar va Kargar" in September that women's advancement is hindered by prevailing attitudes: "they still have to face a lack of belief and trust...even among large numbers of women this attitude prevails."

Mehrangiz Kar is now in prison, as are publisher Shahla Lahiji and attorney Shirin Ebadi. Hojatoleslam Hassan Yusefi-Eshkevari, who was tried in connection with the April 2000 Berlin conference, faced charges for his comments on hijab. Hojatoleslam Mohsen Saeidzadeh, another women's rights advocate, was imprisoned in 1998. It is not clear if all these people were tried for being outspoken on gender-related issues, but it seems unlikely that their questioning the status quo or confronting the predominant culture helped their cases.

A subject that caused some controversy was the Guardians Council's 18 January rejection of a bill proposing state funding for female Iranian students abroad. Currently, the government will provide scholarships for male students going overseas, but it will not do so for female students. Women are not banned from studying overseas, but they must obtain a male guardian's permission and will not receive state funding. Human Rights Watch and the Academic Freedom Committee called on the Guardians Council to reverse this decision.

Another controversial matter is the value of a woman's testimony, which under current law is worth half a man's testimony. Ayatollah Seyyed Mohammad Musavi-Bojnurdi said in September that reducing the value of women's testimony based on arguments about their sentimentality or excessive emotionalism cannot be viewed as absolutely correct, according to IRNA. Bojnurdi argued against automatic disqualification of women as judges in late July.

But there may be a few apparent bright spots, at least given this gloomy background. The parliament created a 210-billion-rial credit line for women's self-employment, IRNA reported in early November. Zahra Shojai had explained previously that a women's credit facility is needed to turn women's savings into productive capital, thus helping the national economy. First Lady Zohreh Sadeqi (Mrs. Khatami) called for the establishment of a special fund to help rural women in late September, IRNA reported. She said such a fund would be spent on improving the financial, technical, communications, and marketing services available to women, and would be used for improvements in health care, "particularly family planning."

The play "Empty Hands," which is made for and acted out by females, is due to open in March. Playwright Nehzat Arabshahi said, "This play is neither political nor feminist, it's just a call on Iranian women to stand up and realize their own capabilities, believe in themselves, and break the cliches." A cosmetics exhibition opened on Kish Island on 3 February, and manufacturers from several countries displayed their products. A simultaneous fashion show for an all-female audience was planned, but the authorities cancelled it. A fashion show was held in Tehran in mid-January, however, by making it part of a youth fair and opening it only to women. The show combined modern and traditional fashions, leading one observer to complain about "Western corruption," AP reported, while another said "it gave me a sense of freedom and freshness."

Iran's first female indoor soccer championship, with more than 20 teams playing for ten days, started on 28 January. All the referees are female, the audience is female, and men are not allowed to enter the complex where the event is being held, according to DPA. At the end of December, IRNA reported that a taxi service that only employs women will be launched soon. The Iranian Society for Women's Studies was established in mid-December, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported, with objectives that include women's empowerment and advancement of their academic qualifications. And a program for female students who have received no formal education was launched in Bojnurd, Khorasan Province, in mid-December. There will be classes on relief aid, health care, family planning, needle work, and knitting.

During October's Law Enforcement Week, Hojatoleslam Mohammad Ali Rahmani, head of the LEF politico-ideological department, promised that female police units would be active soon (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 16 October 2000). An official at the LEF Women's Affairs Office said in late November that female officers are active in detention centers, police stations, and in the "campaign against social corruption;" they are posted to Karaj, Qom, and Mashhad; and 100 women had been admitted to the police academy.

"Despite all that, our era is a good era. The taboos are breaking one after the other," Mehrangiz Kar said. Describing her imprisonment in the monthly "Payam-i Imruz," Kar explained that now she, Shahla Lahiji, and women like them will be able to reminisce about the prison experience, just like their male counterparts. (Bill Samii)

PROCURING PERSONNEL PUNISHED. The closure of a Karaj home for runaway girls and the arrest of some of its personnel and a local Revolutionary Court judge were confirmed by "Hambastegi" on 8 February. The same day, Tehran Province Justice Department official Abbas Alizadeh said that the local Revolutionary Court judge was in "temporary detention" on "unpublicized charges," IRNA reported. The arrest of Judge Hojatoleslam Muntazir Moqaddam and other officials for running a prostitution ring out of the girls' home had been reported by London's "Al-Sharq al-Awsat" on 28 January (see "RFE/RL Iran Report, 5 February 2001). According to "Hambastegi," all the girls were under 18. In a related matter, Alizadeh said on 6 February, according to IRNA, that security forces had broken up a band that smuggled young Iranian girls to the Persian Gulf states. Alizadeh called on the government, parliament, and Judiciary to help fight "the increasing debauchery and corruption confronting the country." (Bill Samii)

HOW IMMUNE ARE PARLIAMENTARIANS? The brief arrest on 28 January of Hamedan parliamentarian Hussein Loqmanian resurrects the question of whether or not a member of parliament enjoys legal immunity. The issue of immunity arose in August 2000, when some parliamentarians' objection to the Supreme Leader's ban on a press law debate was met with a warning from the Guardians Council that sitting deputies who do not show practical loyalty to the Vilayat-i Faqih could have their credentials revoked.

According to constitutional article 84, "every representative is responsible to the entire nation and has the right to express his views on all internal and external affairs of the country." Many deputies cited this article when insisting that the Council is not legally entitled to oust them (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 29 August 2000). Article 86, furthermore, says: "Members of the Assembly are completely free in expressing their views and casting their votes in the course of performing their duties as representatives, and they cannot be prosecuted or arrested for opinions expressed in the Assembly or votes cast in the course of performing their duties as representatives." Article 98, however, gives the Guardians Council the right to interpret the constitution.

Nasser Qavami, head of the parliamentary judicial and legal committee, called on 28 January 2001 for a bill granting immunity to MPs. Parliamentarian Mohammad Dadfar said the next day that "there are no legal shortcomings concerning judicial immunity of MPs and no need is now felt to compile any law in this regard," IRNA reported. Furthermore, Hassan Rohani, who was deputy speaker of the fifth parliament, said in an interview with the 19 January 2000 "Jomhuri-yi Islami" that "[t]he parliament has the right to look into, investigate, and review all the country's affairs, and the representatives of the parliament have the right to express their opinion on all internal and external matters without exception, and they have absolute immunity with regard to expressing their opinions, and carrying out their responsibilities, and no one can persecute them for doing their job as representatives." (Bill Samii)

DEPUTIES SUMMONED BEFORE. Hussein Loqmanian is not the first member of the sixth parliament to appear in court as a plaintiff. Mohammad Reza Khatami, Qolam-Heidar Ebrahimbay-Salami, Hadi Khamenei, Behzad Nabavi, and Ali Shakuri-Rad have all received summons for press offenses or because something they said appeared in the press. Davud Suleimani faced a complaint from the Tehran LEF because of something he said in July 1999. Issa Musavi-Nejad faces charges related to the Khorramabad unrest. Nahavand representative Mohammad Reza Ali Husseini faces charges dating to the time of his employment in the Ministry of Post, Telegraph, and Telephone. Most of these deputies are considered reformists, according to the 5 February "Aftab-i Yazd," while the minority faction deputies who appeared in court did so only as witnesses.

Asked why he was summoned, Loqmanian told the 29 January "Aftab-i Yazd," "I think the summons was totally political in nature." A day earlier, he said that the summons referred to his criticism of the Judiciary on 26 November. (Bill Samii)

CONVICTED JEWS' APPEALS REJECTED. Jewish parliamentary representative Maurice Motamed said that a request for the pardon of ten Iranian Jews convicted on espionage charges last year was submitted to the Supreme Leader's office and the head of the Judiciary on 30 January, "Tehran Times" reported a week later. It is traditional to pardon prisoners on major holidays, and Motamed told the English-language daily that the Ten-Day Dawn celebrations would provide such an opportunity. The Fars Province Appeals Tribunal rejected the requests, however, the Islamic Republic News Agency and state radio reported on 7 February. According to an official communique, "the crimes committed by the Zionist spies were so heavy" that the Shiraz Revolutionary Court's verdicts were in fact very lenient, and if the case was reopened "the spies could have faced more severe punishments." The communique went on to say that the appeal request contained no new information and was only a repetition of the original defense. The sentences, which were originally handed down in July and then reduced in September, range from nine to two years imprisonment. Two Muslims defendants in the same case received two-year sentences. (Bill Samii)

IN THE EYE OF THE BEHOLDER. After an Iranian Foreign Ministry roundtable on the legal dimensions of terrorism on 6 February, Judiciary spokesman Mir-Mohammad Sadeqi told IRNA that Iran is called a terrorist state for propagandistic reasons. "This is a strategy adopted by terrorism-backing states to harm the victims of terrorism," Sadeqi said. He added, according to the 7 February "Tehran Times," "some countries like the United States accuse independent countries like Iran of supporting terrorism in order to tarnish their image in the eyes of the world public."

Indeed, the U.S. State Department refers to Iran as a state sponsor of terrorism that is linked with the activities of Hamas, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine - General Command (PFLP-GC), Lebanon's Hizballah, the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU). In recent Senate testimony, Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet noted that Tehran "has not reduced its willingness to use terrorism to pursue strategic foreign policy agendas." He added that Iran has increased its support for groups opposed to the Middle East Peace Process, and the CIA is becoming increasingly concerned about the activities of the IMU, which Tenet described as an extremist insurgent and terrorist group whose incursions into Uzbekistan have become bloodier and more significant every year.

Tehran is organizing another event that may deal with terrorism -- a 24-25 April conference on the second Palestinian Intifada. Invitations to this event have been conveyed by parliamentarian Hojatoleslam Ali Akbar Mohtashemi-Pur, the Secretary General of the International Conference on Palestine, who is touring the Middle East. The former ambassador to Syria, Mohtashemi helped establish Lebanese Hizballah and channel support to it in the 1980s.

Hizballah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah said on 28 January that his organization is ready to seize more Israeli prisoners (it captured three Israeli soldiers and a reservist in October). Mohtashemi met with Nasrallah on 31 January, IRNA reported. And during a stop in south Lebanon, Mohtashemi said: "we declare to our brothers in occupied Palestine that the combatants of the Islamic resistance and Hizballah as well as representatives of all Arab and Muslim states who attended the Qods conference in Beirut have vowed to stand beside you in your struggle to liberate Palestine."

During a 30 January meeting with PIJ Secretary General Ramazan Abdullah in Beirut, Mohtashemi said, according to IRNA, "the only way to restore the rights of Palestinians is jihad...against Zionist forces." That same day, IDF intelligence chief General Amos Malka warned that Iran has increased its support for Palestinian terrorist groups and is providing training and money, Israeli radio reported. And Deputy Defense Minister Efraim Sne said that Hamas, Hizballah, the PIJ, and the PFLP-GC were cooperating under Iranian auspices, "The Jerusalem Post" reported on 30 January.

The PIJ vowed on 5 February that "we will carry out the most painful blows against the criminal entity." The PIJ, in a statement faxed to AFP, said these actions would be in retaliation for the death of one its operatives at the hands of the Israel Defense Forces. It and Hamas have been linked with recent bombings and shootings in Jerusalem, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip. The IDF warned, furthermore, that Hizballah and the PIJ are operating a cell in the Gaza Strip, "Haaretz" reported on 2 February.

In addition to Mohtashemi's activities, other Iranian officials are organizing support for anti-Israel groups. President Mohammad Khatami "called for extending all forms of aid and support to the valiant Palestinian Intifada" during a meeting with Syrian President Bashar Assad, Damascus radio reported on 25 January. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei declared that "the essence of the Islamic state opposes the Zionist regime and [Iran's] permanent stance dictates that Israel should be eliminated from the region," state television reported on 15 January. And on 7 January Khatami declared that Israel is "an artificial entity created under the aegis of the international colonialism, Israel which has inflicted great damage to the Islamic Umma including the Palestinian nation."

Perspectives on what constitutes an act of terrorism differ. Ayatollah Mohammad Ali Taskhiri of the Islamic Propagation Organization said at a 1987 meeting of the Organization of the Islamic Conference that "Terrorism is an act carried out to achieve an inhuman and corrupt (mufsid) objective, and involving threat to security of any kind, and violation of rights acknowledged by religion and mankind." Taskhiri said the following did not constitute terrorism: "acts of national resistance exercised against occupying forces, colonizers and usurpers; resistance of peoples against cliques imposed on them by the force of arms; rejection of dictatorships and other forms of despotism and efforts to undermine their institutions; resistance against racial discrimination and attacks on the latter's strongholds; retaliation against any aggression if there is no other alternative."

The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, on the other hand, defines terrorism as "the unlawful use of force or violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives."

There is belief that Iran is involved in other acts of terrorism. In an interview with RFE/RL, David Mack of the Middle East Institute in Washington discussed the suspicion that Iran was involved in the 1996 bombing of the Al-Khobar Towers in eastern Saudi Arabia that killed 19 U.S. servicemen. He said: "It is almost certain in the minds of people in Washington that Iranians were at least involved in the training and encouragement of the perpetrators of that bombing." The Al-Khobar investigation ended inconclusively because of the lack of cooperation from Saudi Arabia, and the relatives of the victims, in keeping with military tradition, have been far less outspoken about their loss than the families of the 270 civilians killed in the 1988 bombing of Pan AM flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. But Mack says that while the relatives of the Al-Khobar victims may not be vocal, the dead are far from forgotten by U.S. officials.

And although a Libyan intelligence officer was convicted in late January for the 1988 bombing over Lockerbie, suspicions of an Iranian hand in this case may persist. For the first few years after the bombing, the investigative focus was on Iran, but around the time of the Gulf War the focus shifted to Libya on the basis of forsenic evidence. David Claridge, an analyst at London-based security advisory firm Rubicon International, told RFE/RL in June 2000 that "[there is] some fairly hard evidence suggesting that there is involvement of Iranian-sponsored Palestinian groups, possibly the Abu Nidal organization and other Palestinian groups operating out of Germany." Some believe that Iran ordered the destruction of Pan Am 103 in retaliation for the U.S. Navy's accidental shooting of an Iranian Airbus in July 1988 over the Persian Gulf. (Bill Samii)