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Iran Report: February 19, 2001

19 February 2001, Volume 4, Number 7

TAJZADEH'S POLITICAL TRIAL CONTINUES. The trial of Deputy Interior Minister and election headquarters chief Mustafa Tajzadeh on charges relating to the February 2000 parliamentary election continued in the second week of February 2001. Tajzadeh is facing separate charges relating to the August-September 2000 clashes between hard-line vigilantes, security forces, and reformist students in Khorramabad (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 29 January 2000). The trials are clearly politically motivated, and their outcome is likely to have a serious impact on the upcoming presidential election.

Interior Minister Abdolvahed Musavi-Lari said on 10 February 2001 that procedures may not have been perfect, but overall there were no serious problems with the parliamentary election. Musavi-Lari added that examining any complaints in court is acceptable, IRNA reported, but it is not fair to try only one person. After last year's parliamentary election, the Guardians Council annulled the results in a number of constituencies. In Tehran, there were several recounts and threats to throw out all the results until Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei ordered a halt to this. Subsequently, Tajzadeh and Guardians Council secretary Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati lodged complaints against each other (and the Judiciary dismissed the complaints).

Tajzadeh expressed his surprise after the 12 February hearing that the judge had not summoned anybody from the Tehran municipal or provincial election supervision boards (which are linked with the Guardians Council), the Iranian Students News Agency reported. He added that the presence in the courtroom of Guardians Council representative Hojatoleslam Mansur Qafuri was appropriate, because Qafuri had recommended the annulment of the Tehran election, recounted the votes in 25 ballot boxes in Arak, and annulled the results in 31 ballot boxes.

The presence of press representatives is another development in the trial. Initially the hearings were closed, but reporters from "Khorasan," IRNA, and Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) attended at least one session. Then President Mohammad Khatami wrote a letter to the Judiciary in which he demanded an open trial and backed Tajzadeh, "Iran" reported on 3 February. Subsequently, a reporter from IRIB and another from IRNA were allowed to attend the hearings. In the middle of the 7 February session, Tajzadeh and his lawyer left, arguing that the trial was still being held in camera.

Tajzadeh's co-defendant in the case, Tehran Governor Ayatollah (his name, not his rank) Azarmi, did not appear for the 12 February hearing because he was hospitalized. But Azarmi also has differences with the Guardians Council. After the 8 February session, he and Qafuri had a sharp exchange, in which Qafuri said, "you and the head of the Interior Ministry's election headquarters [Tajzadeh] have adopted a satanic approach....I hope and pray that we shall all meet in hell." Qafuri then threatened to have a public exhibition on Azarmi and Tajzadeh's violations of the law. Azarmi urged him to do so, and then threatened to "expose some hidden matter on the Tehran elections to inform the people."

Tehran Deputy Governor for Political Affairs Ebrahim Babadi told a gathering at the Islamic Azad University that the Tehran elections were free of fraud, "Iran Daily" reported on 8 February. In fact, many observers believe that hostility to Tajzadeh is politically motivated. Statements to this effect have come from, among others, Fars Province Deputy Governor-General Hadi Pajuhesh ("Iran Daily," 8 February), reformist parliamentarian Ali Zafarzadeh (IRNA, 6 February), reformist parliamentarian Mohsen Mirdamadi (IRNA, 2 February), and Qazvin Deputy Governor for Political and Security Affairs Ali Hashemi ("Vilayat-i Qazvin," 15 December). Fueling suspicions about the political motives behind the trial was the report in the hard-line weekly "Yalisarat al-Hussein" on 3 February that Tajzadeh was condemned to a five-to-eight-year ban from holding any official post. It then turned out that "Yalisarat" had just repeated as fact a rumor that was reported in the reformist daily "Hambastegi."

Tajzadeh himself complained to the parliament about the Judiciary-run state inspectorate's (National Control and Inspection Organization) report on Khorramabad, and he also complained about state broadcasting's coverage of the parliamentary elections, IRNA reported on 29 January. There was even a closed-door parliamentary session, attended by officials from the inspectorate and the Justice and Interior ministries, to discuss the reported irregularities in Tehran constituencies, "Jomhuri-yi Islami" and "Hamshahri" reported on 1 February.

Hamid Reza Taraqi of the conservative Islamic Coalition Association alleged that Tajzadeh could not be trusted to run a fair election, "Dowran-i Imruz" reported on 25 January. A group of war veterans employed by the Interior Ministry defended Tajzadeh in a letter to Judiciary chief Ayatollah Mahmud Hashemi-Shahrudi, ISNA reported on 3 February. The veterans said that "[c]onfronting Tajzadeh is tantamount to confronting a manager devoted to values who has displayed nothing throughout the course of his responsibility other than selflessness and tireless efforts in the fulfillment of his duties. It is a source of great regret and sorrow that all selfless and honest service is rewarded in this way." (Bill Samii)

EBRAHIMI SENTENCE CONFIRMED. Former Ansar-i Hizbullah member Amir Farshad Ebrahimi has been sentenced to two years imprisonment and 50 lashes for his part in assaulting former Interior Minister Abdullah Nuri and Islamic Culture and Guidance Minister Ataollah Mohajerani. In a videotape that gained wide distribution in Tehran in mid-2000, Ebrahimi described the activities of hard-line pressure-groups in such attacks, and he discussed the role of prominent figures, such as Ayatollahs Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, Mohammad Taqi Mesbah-Yazdi, and Ahmad Jannati, in promoting such events.

Attorney's Mohsen Rahami and Shirin Ebadi were banned from practicing law for five years and received suspended jail sentences for videotaping Ebrahimi. After being sentenced, Rahami denied charges of preparing and distributing the tape and disseminating falsehoods, telling IRNA on 14 October that he just made three copies from the original. Rahami said the copies were given to the Supreme National Security Council, the Military Court, and the Education Ministry. But the 5 October issue of the hard-line "Resalat" accused the two lawyers, Elahe Sharifpur-Hicks of Human Rights Watch, and others of collaborating to make and distribute the tape. Parliament promised to investigate Ebrahimi's "confessions," but in late January, Tehran representative Naimpur complained that the Article 90 committee has not received the second half of the confessions yet, "Hayat-i No" reported on 24 January. And after the 28 November session of parliament, Ali Shakuri-Rad said that the Judiciary was refusing to provide Ebrahimi's file.

Ebrahimi was being held at Evin Prison, then he disappeared for five days. His family staged a hunger strike until it was reported on 21 January that he was transferred back to Evin. Ebrahimi threatened to hold a hunger strike in early January if the Tehran Justice Department did not react to his complaints about being held in the Tohid Detention Center, 126 days of solitary confinement, lack of access to his lawyers or parliamentarians, and continuation of interrogations after the end of his trial. (Bill Samii)

KURDS' COMPLAINTS UNDERCUT UNITY CLAIMS. Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati said during the 9 February Friday Prayers sermon in Tehran that after the Islamic revolution the U.S. tried to separate Kurdistan Province from the rest of the country and "tempted the various ethnic minorities by making false promises." These efforts failed, he said, and "the peaceful coexistence of the different nationalities and ethnic groups in the country through the centuries" is a point of Iran's strength. There are continuing indications, however, that Iranian Kurds want greater attention to their ethnic concerns.

Bahaedin Adab, who heads the parliament's 21-member Kurdish faction, said he expects the Kurds' problems to be resolved this year, Neu-Isenberg's Turkish-language "Ozgur Politika" reported on 2 January. Kurdish parliamentarian Jalal Jalalizadeh, who represents Sanandaj, said that the Kurdish faction in parliament wants to begin a dialogue with President Mohammad Khatami regarding the Kurds' cultural, social, and economic problems. Jalalizadeh said that the right to teach in Kurdish needed to be addressed, "Ozgur Politika" reported on 15 January. The majority of Kurds are Sunni Muslims, and Jalalizadeh asked Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to appoint a Sunni adviser. Khamenei replied that "he was directly in contact with followers of the Sunni sect," Jalalizadeh told the 11 January "Hayat-i No." And in a late November speech in parliament in the Kurdish language, Jalalizadeh accused the government of conducting a campaign of "repression, serial murder, and banning of the faith" against Sunni Kurds. (Bill Samii)

EASTERN INSECURITY. Instances of drug smuggling and kidnapping in Bardeskan, Jabez, Kasrineh, Mozaffarabad, and Sangpir were reported by "Hamshahri" on 6 February. According to the Tehran daily, the LEF commander said two months earlier that Bardeskan had been "cleansed" of bandits and hostage-takers. On the same day, Khorasan Province Basij commander Brigadier General Ebrahimzadeh said that regional security has improved considerably now that 30,000 Basijis have been stationed along Iran's eastern borders. Ebrahimzadeh described the killing and arrest of bandits and seizures of opium, heroin, and hashish, IRNA reported on 6 February. Army Commander Major General Mohammad Salimi also described armed clashes with smugglers, state radio reported on 12 February, and he said that the Nabi-yi Akram mobile brigade can react rapidly to any attempted infiltrations within 200 kilometers of the eastern borders. Salimi added that the army's main duty is to establish lasting security along Iran's frontiers. (Bill Samii)

'LURISTAN IS NOT BERLIN' "...and we will not accept the disgrace of hosting the likes of Salman Rushdie," Kuh-Dasht and Chagini parliamentary representative Ali Imamirad declared on 24 December 2000. When sentiments such as this are expressed by the people's representatives, it is not surprising to learn that other state organizations continue to support Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's 1989 decree sentencing British author Salman Rushdie to death for writing the allegedly blasphemous "Satanic Verses." The Islamic Revolution Guards Corps said on 12 February that the decree is irrevocable, and the Islamic Propagation Organization urged Muslims everywhere to "implement the historical verdict," IRNA reported. The student Basij of Yazd's Azad University said it allocated 140 million rials ($80,000 at the official rate or about $16,000 at the market rate) to implement the decree , the Iranian Students News Agency reported on 14 February.

President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami had declared in September 1998 that the Iranian state would not attempt to enforce the decree, but at the same time some figures with much higher religious standing than Khatami's said the decree could not be changed. Some members of parliament shared this sentiment. Tehran's Ali Movahedi-Savoji said on 30 September: "The issue of the decree concerning Salman Rushdie is not an issue that the government can revoke, nor the Islamic world, or anyone else. When the minister of the honorable government says that we do not encourage it, if a revolutionary Iranian Muslim wants to implement that decree, can it arrest and convict that Muslim? Never." And on 8 October, Seyyed Ahmad Rasulinezhad from Damavand and Firuzkuh said: "I declare decisively that all the Muslim followers of the Imam are counting the moments for the materialization of the divine ruling of the Imam concerning the execution of Salman Rushdie." The para-statal 15th of Khordad Foundation, furthermore, upped the bounty for Rushdie to $2.8 million.

Even Khatami seemed to back away from his sentiments on Rushdie. In March 1999, Khatami declared that Rushdie is "a person who has desecrated...the feelings of more than one billion Muslims" and he went on to "confirm" the sentence against the author. And in a 1999 campaign at the Shahid Chamran Basij Base in Mashhad, over 500 Iranians, Indians, Iraqis, Lebanese, and Pakistanis pledged to sell their kidneys to raise money for anybody who killed Rushdie. Also, hundreds of student Basijis signed a statement announcing their readiness to execute the decree and sent it to the British Embassy in Tehran, according to state radio. (Bill Samii)

Aliyev LUKEWARM ON IRAN... During a 14 January trip to Ardabil, Iranian Minister of Intelligence and Security Ali Yunesi said that Iran wants to forge good relations with its neighbors, and in the case of Azerbaijan, he said, "We like to assist the people of that country and see the establishment of good bilateral ties." Yet disagreements with Tehran about division of Caspian Sea resources have led Azerbaijan's President Heidar Aliyev to postpone travelling to Iran several times. Disagreements about foreign forces in the Caspian, Iranian electricity supplies to the Nakhichevan exclave, and Iranian intelligence activities in Azerbaijan militate against stronger ties, too.

Aliyev was scheduled to visit Tehran in September 1999, then in October 2000, then in January 2001, and now it is reported that he will do so in June 2001. Explaining these delays, Azerbaijani diplomats cited disagreements over Caspian Sea issues, Baku's MPA news agency reported on 22 January. Iran and Turkmenistan believe that the states bordering the Caspian should have a 20 percent share each of the seabed, surface, and waters, whereas under the current agreement Iran only has a 14 percent share. Azerbaijan, Russia, and Kazakhstan advocate dividing the seabed and leaving the surface and waters in common use. A summit of the Caspian's littoral states is planned for 8-9 March in Turkmenbashi, according to "RFE/RL Newsline". Azerbaijani Deputy Foreign Minister Khalaf Khalafov was in Tehran in early February to discuss the summit and other issues.

In mid-January, Azerbaijani Ambassador to Tehran Abbasali Hassanov hinted that there was more than the Caspian delaying Aliev's travels, when he asked rhetorically, "Why does Iran have relations with Armenia, which occupies 20 percent of our territory (Nagorno-Karabakh), expelled one million Azeris, and is not Muslim?" Furthermore, Iran's Army Commander Major General Mohammad Salimi claimed in late November that "Israeli and NATO forces are in the Caspian Sea as prospecting for oil is in progress at that region," IRNA reported. And Salimi warned, "Iran's powerful army is the messenger of peace and security in the region and with the blessings of God, Iran and other regional states will foil all threats posed by the trans-regional troops." Azerbaijan's Border Guards commander Abbasali Novruzov rejected these accusations and said that per a 1940 agreement, which Tehran itself often cites, Iran does not have the right to keep armed forces in the Caspian.

Another area of disagreement between the two countries can be traced to the late October termination of Iranian electrical supplies to the Nakhichevan Autonomous exclave. Tehran supplies up to 60 percent of the electricity used there, and the cut-off was in reaction to late-payment of debts, Iranian sources claimed. An editorial in "Iran News" at that time suggested that the power cut-off related to Tehran's irritation with Baku's stance on Caspian oil issues and its opposition to a pipeline passing through the Islamic Republic. In late December, IRNA reported that the power supplies had been restored because Azerbaijan had paid the first installment on its $45 million debt.

Several weeks later, it became clear that the issue was not so straightforward. According to the original agreement between the two countries, in exchange for the supply of power by Iran's Tavanir company, the State Oil Company of the Azerbaijani Republic (SOCAR) would supply the equivalent amount of diesel fuel, "Yeni Musavat" reported on 18 January. Instead, according to the debt repayment agreement cited in full in "Azerbaijan" newspaper on 17 January, SOCAR is to make quarterly cash payments of $2.768 million over a four-year period. The not-completely-reliable "Yeni Musavat" pointed out that this will drain Azerbaijan's cash reserves and it will lose an outlet for its finished products.

MOIS chief Yunesi complained during his 14 January statement that "illegal crossings also take place from Azerbaijan to Iran." Yet Azerbaijani sources frequently describe hostile Iranian intelligence activities, terrorism, and propaganda. In late January the trial of several supposed Iranian agents for the assassination of Academician Ziya Bunyadov began, with one suspect promptly announcing that he would say nothing more because he had been tortured. In October "Zerkalo" had described Bunyadov's assassination by five Iranian-trained terrorists who escaped to Iran afterwards. These Azerbaijanis were arrested when they came back later via Georgia. And on 4 January, "Yeni Musavat" reported that Abulfaz Mohammadi, an Iranian citizen who was passing himself off as a folk singer, was detained for being a spy, although "Azadlyg" reported a day later that Mohammadi was a tramp and would be sent home.

Azerbaijani sources also claim that Yezidi Kurds linked with the Tehran-backed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) have been based in Nagorno-Karabakh. "Azadlyg" reported on 8 December, furthermore, that new members of the PKK are recruited throughout the Commonwealth of Independent States, trained in Iran, and then cross back and forth through Azerbaijan.

There also are complaints about hostile propaganda broadcast by Iran's Sahar television. It has broadcast programs that claim Baku is cooperating with Tel Aviv to sell Azerbaijani children and make them Israeli citizens, "Yeni Azerbaijan" reported on 10 January. Azerbaijan's ANS television reported in October that Sahar comments on events in Azerbaijan and on the Nagorno-Karabakh issue from an anti-Azerbaijani perspective. Also, Sahar portrays Azerbaijan as a pro-Zionist state.

Several other Iran-related events have occurred that might cause heartache in Baku, although none of them seem serious enough to have an effect on Heidar Aliev's travel plans. Reports that the Ark fortress in Tabriz was being destroyed elicited a letter of concern from the Republic of Azerbaijan's parliament, "Bizim Asr" reported on 30 December. The fortress will be replaced by a prayer center, "Bizim Asr" reported earlier. The Young Intellectuals Movement warned parents against sending their children to Iran for education, because they are being indoctrinated, "Yeni Musavat" reported on 22 December. Then, "these robots, who have been turned into zombies, call themselves Islamic patriots, regard Azerbaijan as historical Iranian territory, and say that, in the near future, they will build an Islamic state in our country." (Bill Samii)

...BUT NOT COLD YET. Republic of Azerbaijan President Heidar Aliyev may not be rushing to visit Tehran, but he is not ignoring his southern neighbor, and relations are continuing at a more mundane level. On 10 February, Aliyev attended a party in Baku commemorating the anniversary of the Islamic revolution 22 years ago. When Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei met with head of the Spiritual Board of Muslims of the Caucasus Allahshukur Pashazade, he sent his greetings to Aliev, "Azerbaijan" newspaper reported on 2 February. And at the end of January, Iran's Imam Khomeini Charity Fund donated rice, dates, and cooking oil for distribution among needy families in Azerbaijan, "RFE/RL Newsline" reported. According to Bahram Kazemzadeh, who heads the Fund's Baku office, his branch supports more than 10,000 families.

On 9 February, the deputy chairman of Azerbaijan's State Customs Committee, Salim Muslimov, announced Azerbaijani and Iranian customs have reached an agreement not to levy road taxes on vehicles, Baku's "Bilik Dunyasi" reported. On 8 February there was a meeting between 27 Iranian business people, Iranian Ambassador to Baku Ahmad Qazi, Ardabil Governor Said Hamid Tahai, Azerbaijan's Salim Muslimov, and Azerbaijani business representatives. Subsequently, the Commercial-Industrial Chamber of Ardabil and the Confederation of Azerbaijani Entrepreneurs signed a cooperation agreement, Baku's Sarq News Agency reported. Also, Valeh Alasgarov from the State Oil Company of Azerbaijan (SOCAR) is in Iran to negotiate the export of Azerbaijani gas from the Shah Deniz field to Iran, Sarq reported on 14 February.

Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Vilayat Guliev also said that Baku would welcome Iranian mediation in the Nagorno-Karabakh issue, but he has not heard any concrete proposals from Tehran yet, Baku's "Detektiv" reported on 7 February. Former Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Tofiq Zulfagarov dismissed the possibility of Iranian mediation, saying that Iranian mediation efforts in 1992 were counter-productive, "Yeni Musavat" reported. (Bill Samii)

EGYPT-IRAN RELATIONS DEVELOPING. The head of the Egyptian interest section in Tehran, Muhammad Fathi Rifaah al-Tahtawi, said, "We hope that the ties between Iran and Egypt will get stronger through the efforts made to improve relations," IRNA reported on 8 February. But there has not been smooth sailing in this effort. Iranian publishers, who had more than 10,000 books to sell, walked out of a Cairo book fair because they were denied contacts with Egyptian publishers who could market their books, "Al-Wafd" reported on 29 January. But in Tehran, Mohammad Ali Shoaei, director general of the Department for Cultural Activities at the Islamic Culture and Guidance Ministry, said the Iranian publishers could not attend because they did not receive their visas in time, IRNA reported on 28 January. Shoaei expressed the hope that the Egyptian government would issue the visas immediately. (Bill Samii)

CORRECTION. Attorney Shirin Ebadi received a suspended prison sentence and is not imprisoned, as incorrectly stated in the 12 February 2001 "RFE/RL Iran Report." And attorneys Mehrangiz Kar and Shahla Lahiji are awaiting their appeals. (Bill Samii)

CAMPAIGN STARTS EARLY IN PROVINCES. "Since the next presidential election is nearing, the enemies are trying to create political excitement and make the atmosphere hectic," Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei warned on 15 February. "Domestic and foreign enemies are trying to spread disenchantment among the people in order to prevent them from going to the polls," Abbas Ahmadi, director general of the Interior Ministry's election headquarters, warned in a 30 January interview with "Iran." Be that as it may, election preparations are continuing throughout the country, President Mohammad Khatami supposedly has set out conditions if he is to run again, and campaigning of a sort has begun in the provinces.

Abbas Ahmadi said that the Guardians Council is the only institution that will deal with candidates' credentials. The Interior Ministry will register candidates from 2-6 May, the Guardians Council will review their qualifications from 7-11 May, and eligible candidates will be announced on 18 May. Deputy Interior Minister Gholam Hussein Bolandian went on to say, according to the 29 January "Iran Daily," that candidates can campaign from 19 May until 6 June, and the election will be held on 8 June.

There are about two months before campaigning starts and there is still some question about President Mohammad Khatami's willingness to run again, but election-related events have started in the provinces. Thousands of young people in Rafsanjan, Kerman Province, urged Khatami to declare his candidacy during his visit there on 14 February, according to IRNA.

Khatami did not respond to these entreaties, and according to the 20 January "Al-Sharq al-Awsat," he has told the Supreme Leader that if he is to run again eight conditions must be met. (1) Hard-liners and alumni of the Haqqani seminary must be expelled from the Judiciary. (2) Officials must comply with the Constitution. (3) The executive branch must have control of state broadcasting. (4) There must not be any interference in the selection of ministers. (5) The press law must be amended so that banned newspapers can reopen. (6). The Supreme Leader�s office must not interfere with parliamentary affairs. (7) Special security units must be eliminated with the intelligence and security minister having control over those remaining. (8) The duties and responsibilities of the Guardians Council and the Expediency Council must be clarified so they do not clash with the executive and legislative branches. Mohammad Reza Khatami, the president's brother and head of the Islamic Iran Participation Party, told the 23 January "Tehran Times" that the president had not laid down any conditions.

In Shiraz, Fars Province, Leader's Representative and Friday Prayer leader Ayatollah Mohieddin Haeri-Shirazi advised elimination of factional disputes and said that anybody who does not approve of Khatami is not allied with Khamenei, IRNA reported on 9 February. Shiraz parliamentarian Reza Yousefian accused the opponents of reform of resorting to naked force, IRNA reported on 7 February, and another local deputy, Ahmad Azimi, said that the Iranian people have chosen reform.

In Qom, hard-line hecklers prevented reformist parliamentarians Mohammad Reza Khatami and Hadi Khamenei from giving speeches at pre-election festivities organized by the Second of Khordad Front, which is named after the date of Khatami's election in May 1997.

In Mashhad, Second of Khordad spokesman Alizadeh met with journalists. He told them that Khatami would be even more successful than last time, "Khorasan" reported on 16 January.

In Veramin, Islamic Iran Participation Party members were accused of criticizing the revolution and insulting the people of Qom on the anniversary of their martyrdom at the hands of imperial troops in January 1978. The local "Farhang-i Islami" explained on 8 January that the incidents of the last three years are "the outcome of perverted and futile slogans such as 'Iran for all Iranians'" (the IIPP election slogan).

Rasht parliamentarian Ahmad Ramazanpur, reacting to Khatami's uncertainty about standing in the election, declared that the conservatives do not respect the cultural and economic achievements of the revolution, IRNA reported on 9 January. In Rasht itself, the Islamic Iran Participation Party has built a headquarters building so the party's activities in Gilan Province are in greater accord with party activities elsewhere, "Pegah" reported on 28 October.

The Ardabil branch of the IIPP predicted a Khatami victory and continuation of the reformists' efforts, "Ava-yi Ardabil" reported in late November. Ardabil's Governor Seyyed Hamid Tahai predicted that Khatami would win by a greater margin than in the previous election, "Ava-yi Ardabil" reported in late October. (Bill Samii)