Accessibility links

Breaking News

Iran Report: July 16, 2001

16 July 2001, Volume 4, Number 26

HISTORY REPEATS ITSELF. In a repeat of the previous year, the Iranian government arrested citizens who were commemorating the anniversary of the 1999 attack on a Tehran University dormitory by hard-line vigilantes and security forces. And in another parallel with the previous year, the announcement of verdicts in a trial connected with the July 1999 attack indicated a whitewash.

The Interior Ministry announced that it had not issued any permits for rallies or gatherings on 9 July (18 Tir, the date of the anniversary), according to state radio, and it claimed that nobody had requested such authorization. Yet there was at least one authorized gathering in Tehran, dubbed the "Seminar Against Violence" and organized by the Office for Strengthening Unity, the main pro-Khatami student group. The OSU also marked the anniversary with a public display of furniture and other property destroyed in the raid by police and hard-line vigilantes. The exhibition was held at the Tehran University dormitory complex.

Security forces and vigilante groups were determined to see that there were no anti-regime demonstrations on the second anniversary. So the Law Enforcement Forces stood by as Ansar-i Hizbullah vigilantes attacked people in the university neighborhood, according to "Noruz." Haji Bakhshi, a Hizbullah leader, claimed that his group was acting of its own accord: "There is no need for an official call to be made for the brothers to convene. They have come here out of a sense of duty.... There has definitely not been any coordination between us and the LEF at any stage, but the LEF has not yet announced that it can establish order and, if it announces it, the kids [of Hizbullah] will leave."

The vigilante groups detained some of the students and then turned them over to the LEF, according to an 11 July report from the Iranian Students News Agency. According to a later report from IRNA, the LEF arrested at least 85 people in Tehran. Ali Talai, who is in charge of security in the Tehran governor-general�s office, claimed that "Some of the detainees were dispatching reports abroad including England from the site of the demonstrations on their cell phones."

The 1999 unrest in Tehran sparked violence throughout the country, but the second anniversary was relatively subdued. There was a rally in Hamedan, but there were no reports of rallies or demonstrations in Tabriz, which had seen a great deal of violence two years earlier and also last year. Tabriz University student Ali Bikas, who was sentenced to jail for participating in the unrest but was later pardoned, explained the quiet mood in Tabriz in an interview with RFE/RL�s Persian Service. Bikas said: "There is a heavy atmosphere at the university and the students do not have the same enthusiasm they had before the incident. We can say that the generation that experienced the incident -- because of the high price that it paid -- will not take part again in such political and intellectual activity. There is an atmosphere of despair throughout the university."

East Azerbaijan Province Governor-General Yahya Mohammadzadeh criticized the Judiciary�s handling of the original incidents in Tabriz and Tehran. He said, according to IRNA on 8 July, that some of those behind the attacks on the students seem immune from punishment. One of individuals convicted (in July 2000) for attacking the student housing still has not served his sentence, Mohammadzadeh said. Tehran parliamentarian Davud Suleimani added that the Judiciary�s failure even to identify the plainclothes individuals connected with the 1999 Tehran University attack was inexcusable, IRNA reported on 7 July.

These statements were followed by conflicting and probably unsatisfactory reports about the fate of the attackers. Revolutionary Court judge Ali Mobasheri said that 15 convicts, including "students and hooligans," received sentences ranging from six to 12 months and would be sentenced soon, according to 9 July reports. He added that a ruling on the plainclothes individuals was forthcoming.

On 12 July, according to state radio, Mobasheri said that all the men involved in the attack on the Tehran University dormitory had been convicted and none of them were members of the Basij Resistance Forces. But then he said that all those who were accused of acting against the security of the state were "exonerated." Last year, about 20 Law Enforcement Forces officers, including Tehran LEF chief Farhad Nazari, were tried for the attack on the dormitory. All were acquitted with the exception of two men who had stolen an electric razor (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 17 July 2000).

Events in early July 2001 reflect established patterns in Iranian politics in at least three ways. The announcement of sentences indicates that low-ranking individuals are being used as scapegoats. The sentences also demonstrate that in Iran the rule of law remains out of reach for most people and justice remains the province of the strong. And thirdly, Ansar-i Hizbullah attacks against demonstrators reflect the relationship between the hard-line pressure groups and official bodies, which in turn facilitates their avoidance of responsibility. (Bill Samii)

ANOTHER SECURITY AND INTELLIGENCE CRISIS. The early 1999 resignation of Iran's minister of intelligence and security as a result of the discovery of murderous rogue agents in the MOIS (the Said Emami gang) was hailed as a great victory for President Mohammad Khatami and his reformist backers, and it shed light on the existence of individuals and groups within the government who were pursuing agendas that were distinct from the official ones. Recently, concern about parallel security organizations resurfaced, and the optimistic assessments of 1999 seem like political hyperbole next to reports that Khatami's office is running its own intelligence and security operations.

Several parliamentarians warned in late June that there were parallel security organizations that were beyond the law. They argued that the creation of a single MOIS was meant to bring the post-revolutionary security bodies under parliamentary oversight, yet even now some bodies are unsupervised. Abbas Abdi of the Islamic Iran Participation Party told the 26 June "Noruz" that the existence of unsupervised intelligence organization indicated a sort of dual government. Moreover, this indicated that the people behind such organizations recognized that their actions were unacceptable. Former public prosecutor Seyyed Hussein Musavi-Tabrizi added that the existence of dual structures wasted public money.

Meanwhile, a member of parliament reported that a security advisor to Khatami had imported devices for tapping mobile telephones. Kuh-Dasht representative Ali Emami-Rad claimed that "a key element at the security apparatus of the former Prime Minister Mir-Hussein Musavi was behind the scandal," IRNA reported on 30 June. Another deputy, Fereidun Hassanvand of Andimeshk, said that the responsible individuals got help from associates in military organizations and they did not answer to parliament or other supervisory bodies.

Khatami's office rejected these allegations on 1 July, according to IRNA, but neither the issue of bugging nor of parallel security organizations died there.

Parliamentarian Mohsen Mirdamadi said on 2 July that eavesdropping by military organizations against civilians would be illegal, IRNA reported on 2 July. And a commentary in the 2 July "Toseh" called on Khatami to tell the public the truth about the alleged mobile phone tapping and reassure people about the activities of other institutions. Members of parliament have a similar responsibility, according to "Toseh."

The hard-line "Resalat" daily added fuel to the fire on 3 July, when by way of calling for an investigation into rumors about phone-tapping and the like, it described the creation of an "X Committee" which consists of radical politicians and is charged with crisis creation. The X Committee would create crises by dominating state broadcasting, establishing its own radio and television network, creating commercial enterprises that would sponsor political activities, and starting a militia.

Subsequently, Judiciary spokesman Mir-Mohammad Sadeqi said that his organization does not have an independent security unit. Sadeqi told the Iranian Students News Agency on 3 July that the Judiciary can legally use personnel from the Islamic Revolution Guard Corps, the Basij Resistance Forces, and the Law Enforcement Forces to conduct preliminary investigations, so it does not have its own security unit. Sadeqi went on to say that the Judiciary has a counter-intelligence unit, but it is only for investigating problems in the Judiciary itself.

Deputy IRGC commander for cultural affairs Masud Hejazi said that the IRGC's involvement in intelligence issues is limited. He went on to say that the IRGC did not interfere with the MOIS's operations, but the two agencies did cooperate.

Administrative Tribunal head Qorbanali Dori-Najafabadi, who had served as Khatami�s MOIS chief until resigning in January 1999, discussed the alleged existence of parallel security organizations in the 5 July "Iran." He denied their existence, saying, "It is clear who is supposed to be doing intelligence work in the country, and I don't think that there is a body doing parallel intelligence work." Dori-Najafabadi said that a council headed by the MOIS chief coordinates all intelligence and security activities, and when this council is unable to reach a decision, the Supreme National Security Council provides direction.

Dori-Najafabadi went on to say that telephone tapping could not take place without a court order, and such activities were overseen by a body working as part of the Supreme National Security Council. If anybody believes that government organizations have exceeded their authority or engaged in illegal activities, such as unauthorized phone tapping, Dori-Najafabadi said, he or she should report this to the Judiciary or the Administrative Tribunal.

Deputy Interior Minister for security affairs Gholam Hussein Bolandian also said that there are no parallel security organizations; different organizations have legally defined responsibilities. He went on to say, "Hayat-i No" reported on 7 July, that intelligence officials from all the security, military, and intelligence agencies meet regularly in a forum chaired by the head of the MOIS. There should not be any problems when the laws ratified by this forum are implemented.

The whole business appeared to have come full circle by 10 July, when MOIS chief Hojatoleslam Ali Yunesi said that the allegations of eavesdropping by Khatami's office were a "political joke," according to IRNA. Yunesi said that such equipment was very sophisticated and only was at the disposal of the MOIS. He also denied the existence of an X Committee. (Bill Samii)

PERSONNEL CHANGES IN GUARDIANS COUNCIL. Forthcoming changes in the membership of the Guardians Council could have a profound impact on future elections and legislation in Iran. Reformist parliamentarians hope to influence those changes both before and after they are made, but the Supreme Leader's approval of clerical oversight of the Council's jurists makes approval of such a proposal seem unlikely.

The Council's six clerical members (appointed by the Supreme Leader) determine the Islamic compatibility of all legislation. Together with the six jurist members (proposed by the Judiciary chief, who is appointed by the Supreme Leader, and subject to approval by the parliament), they determine the constitutional compatibility of legislation, per Article 96 of Iran's Constitution. Article 98 authorizes the Council to interpret the constitution with the consent of three-fourths of its members. And in one of its more controversial roles, the Council is tasked with supervising elections for the presidency, parliament, and Assembly of Experts, per Article 99.

Judiciary chief Ayatollah Mahmud Hashemi-Shahrudi proposed that jurists Hassan Habibi and Arad remain in the Council, and Mir-Mohammad Sadeqi would be the new jurist member, "Tehran Times" reported on 9 July. Moreover, "Tehran Times" reported that Ayatollah Hassan Taheri-Khorramabadi (who also serves in the Assembly of Experts and is a substitute Friday Prayer Leader for Tehran) would be leaving due to ill health and would be replaced by the conservative seminarian Ayatollah Mohammad Hassan Qaderi. Other clerical members are Ayatollahs Mohammad Mohammadi-Gilani, Reza Ostadi, Gholamreza Rezvani, Ahmad Jannati, and Mohammad Yazdi.

Hashemi-Shahrudi's proposal, therefore, does not indicate that any substantive changes would be forthcoming. Moreover, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei agreed with Jannati's proposal to form a consultative assembly of senior clerics with whom the six jurists could consult, IRNA reported on 13 July. Taheri-Khorramabadi would lead this assembly, which backs up reports that he will leave the Council.

In late June, however, some parliamentary deputies proposed amending Article 91, that describes the Council members' qualifications, so the jurists meet certain standards to serve on the Council. These standards would include a minimum age requirement (40), an educational requirement (graduate degree), and minimum experience (15 years), "Noruz" reported on 27 June. Moreover, the jurists should have expertise in different areas of law, such as criminal law, private law, commercial law, or international law, so they could handle the different types of legislation they might encounter.

The parliamentarians also proposed that the Council jurists should be accountable to the legislature, and the parliament should be given the right to impeach them. An attorney named Riahi explained in an interview with "Noruz": "The selection of Guardians Council jurists is like the vote of confidence given to cabinet ministers. If people proposed are at odds with parliament's criteria, it has the right to reject the judiciary's nominees. The judiciary would have to present parliament with new people, several times if necessary, until parliament is satisfied that the candidates have the expertise and conditions such jurists need." Guardians Council member Seyyed Reza Zavarei rejected this proposal outright, saying that "the Guardians Council is above parliament."

Finally, the parliamentarians proposed that the Judiciary chief propose three times as many jurists as are required, so they would have a real choice of candidates. (Bill Samii)

IRAN RANKS 90TH ON UN HUMAN DEVELOPMENT SCALE. Iran ranks 90th out of 162 countries in the United Nations Development Program's "Human Development Report 2001," which was released on 10 July. Determination of the HDI is based on factors such as life expectancy at birth, the adult literacy rate, school enrollment rates, and per capita gross domestic product.

This placed Iran ahead of Pakistan (127) and possibly ahead of Afghanistan and Iraq, but information on the latter two countries was not available. Iran did not do as well compared to its other neighbors, placing slightly lower than Turkmenistan (83), Turkey (82), Azerbaijan (79), and Armenia (72). Iran came behind 11 Middle Eastern states (Israel, Cyprus, Bahrain, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Oman, and Jordan).

Per capita GDP in Iran was higher than in some of its neighbors, but both life expectancy and adult literacy rates lagged behind the figures in those countries. Taken in isolation, however, Iranians are healthier now than they were 25-30 years ago, according to the report. Life expectancy from 1970-1975 was 53.9 years, but in 1995-2000 it was 68 years. The infant mortality rate in 1999 was 37 per 1,000 live births, whereas in 1970 it was 122 per 1,000 live births.

Iran was rated 83rd in the Gender-related Development Index, which compared male and female life expectancy, adult literacy, and estimated earned income. In this category it placed in front of Syria (90), Pakistan (117), and Yemen (131), but only 146 countries were ranked in this index.

The report discussed the importance of technology in boosting human development, because technological proficiency can spur advances in creating vaccines and medicines, increase agricultural productivity, and generally raise the standard of living. Iran was classified as a "Dynamic Adopter" in the "Technology Achievement Index," coming after 37 "Leaders" and "Potential Leaders" but ahead of nine "Marginalized" countries. This determination was made on the basis of each country's creation of technology, diffusion of recent innovations, diffusion of old innovations, and human skills.

Norway was in first place and Sierra Leone was 162nd. Almost thirty countries were not included in the index due because of the lack of sufficient information. (Bill Samii)

PRESSURE ON YOUTH PERSISTS. The Iranian Judiciary rejected reports that a teenage Pakistani boy was sentenced to death on drug charges (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 25 June 2001), state radio reported on 11 July, saying that he is considered a juvenile and therefore cannot be criminally responsible. Youth may not be eligible for capital punishment in Iran, but corporal punishment is another matter. Fourteen males, aged between 18 and 25, were flogged publicly on 12 July in northern Tehran. Each one received between 20 and 70 lashes as punishment for harassing women and drinking alcohol. About 50 young Iranians received between 30 and 99 lashes after being arrested at a Tehran party where boys and girls danced together, "Iran" reported on 2 July. (Bill Samii)

U.S.-IRAN: A TEMPORARY FREEZE. Statements by Iranian and American foreign affairs leaders indicate that they are waiting for the other side to take the first step before a restoration of relations, and their positions of relative intractability (Washington because it is in the right and Tehran because it thinks it is and because it refuses to acknowledge U.S. concerns) suggest that it will be a long wait. At the same time, the White House continues confidence-building measures by permitting Iranian officials to travel in the U.S. (a move which Tehran does not reciprocate), by involving Iran in regional conflict resolution activities, and by acknowledging Iranian counter-narcotics and anti-smuggling activities.

Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi said during a 10 July speech in New York that the Bush administration's stance towards Tehran had come as a surprise so far. Kharrazi complained that the White House could have worked "more seriously" to change the law (the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act) blocking investment in the Iranian oil sector for another five years. Kharrazi added that Tehran is waiting to hear something positive from Washington.

Five days earlier, Secretary of State Colin Powell rejected suggestions that the U.S. should now reach out further to Tehran, telling Reuters that Iran, not the U.S., must make the next move towards improved relations. Powell went on to say that Iranian reformist elements have not yet produced a situation where it would be appropriate to lift U.S. sanctions. Washington is carefully watching Iranian policies following the June re-election of President Mohammad Khatami, Powell said, and he added there is a new generation of Iranians who are interested in better relations with the West.

Powell's comments probably did not make Kharrazi feel very optimistic, although he, like many of his compatriots, persists in the belief that American oil companies cannot wait to invest in Iran and American businesses cannot wait to get access to the Iranian market of almost 70 million people. Realistically, however, statements coming from Iran in the days before Kharrazi's speech will do little to encourage the desired signals from Washington.

Reacting to Powell's interview, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid-Reza Assefi said that it is the U.S. which "has caused the bilateral mistrust." Assefi added that Washington should take the first step toward rapprochement and "prove its goodwill," "Jomhuri-yi Islami" and IRNA reported on 8 July. According to Assefi, Powell's comments reflected the conflict between anti-sanctions business interests and the pro-Israel lobby -- "U.S. national interests and those of the Zionist minority." By trying to "throw the ball into Iran's field" and "pretend" that Tehran must take a "serious step" for sanctions to be lifted, Powell was attempting to hide the administration's failure to overcome "pressure from Zionist circles and anti-Iranian extremists in Congress" to renew sanctions, state radio commented on 7 July. The commentary went on to compare the U.S. stance to blackmail.

The day after Powell's interview, Expediency Council Chairman Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani discussed Iran-U.S. relations, too. He criticized U.S. legal judgements in which victims of Iranian-backed terrorism receive financial awards. Rafsanjani gave as an example the relatives of somebody who was taken hostage in Lebanon: "America's entire argument is that some of the Lebanese people are Shia and Hezbullahi and enjoy good relations with Iran. This is all their reasoning, there is nothing else."

Iran should follow a similar legal course, according to Rafsanjani: "Well, why are we not filing such lawsuits?" Possible cases he mentioned related to the July 1988 shooting of an Iranian passenger aircraft over the Persian Gulf by the U.S.S. Vincennes, the disappearance in Lebanon of four Iranian diplomats, and the freezing of Iranian assets in U.S. banks: "Billions of dollars were frozen and as a consequence many of our projects remained unfinished and we are facing so many problems. If we were to calculate the accumulated cost of these losses, it would become a hefty figure. We have such clear cases to pursue."

In spite of such seemingly hostile albeit indirect exchanges, the White House is sending friendly signals to Tehran. U.S. Ambassador to Baku Ross Wilson urged Armenia and Azerbaijan in late June to include Iran in peace talks aimed at resolving the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute, and the fact that IRNA reported this indicates Iranian recognition of such signals. The White House also hopes to involve Tehran in anti-Iraq measures. The U.S. Navy has acknowledged the importance of Iran in preventing Iraqi oil smuggling, and the State Department has acknowledged Iran's role in intercepting narcotics originating in Afghanistan.

Recent developments in the U.S. Congress also suggest that some members of the House of Representatives are not convinced about the effectiveness of the current sanctions regime, which dates from 1996 and is aimed at curbing Iran's pursuit of weapons of mass destruction, its promotion of terrorism, and its hostility to the Middle East peace process. The problems posed by Iran and Libya are real, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Thomas (R-California) asserted, but he said that sanctions themselves have been ineffective in changing the two countries' behavior.

Members of the Ways and Means Committee backed renewal of ILSA for five years, Reuters reported on 12 June, but they added a review mechanism by which the sanctions could be terminated after 18 months. Under the Ways and Means Committee�s version of the bill, ILSA could be repealed pursuant to a joint resolution of the Congress, which could be offered under certain "expedited procedures" after submission of a report no later than 18 months after the date of enactment. The joint resolution providing for ILSA�s repeal would have to be passed by both houses of Congress and signed by the president. (Bill Samii)