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Iran Report: October 29, 2001

29 October 2001, Volume 4, Number 41

OVERALL AFGHAN OPIUM OUTPUT REDUCED SHARPLY. Opium poppy cultivation and the production of raw opium has dropped sharply compared to the previous year, according to the United Nations Drug Control Program's "Annual Opium Poppy Survey 2001" that was released in the last week of October. Seizures in Iran have continued, however, and there is concern that cultivation and production rates may climb due to the war in Afghanistan. Tehran is trying to address such problems by arresting drug addicts and anybody else involved with the narcotics trade, but a Tehran academic told RFE/RL's Persian Service that these measures are likely to fail.

There has been a 91 percent reduction in the total area of Afghanistan where opium poppy was cultivated during the 2001 season (7,606 hectares in 2001, compared to 82,172 hectares in 2000). Moreover, the production of raw opium is down an estimated 94 percent (about 185 metric tons of raw opium in 2001, compared to 3,276 metric tons in 2000). The report asserts that the main reason for the reduced figures is the ban on opium poppy cultivation in areas under Taliban control.

In northeastern Badakhshan Province, cultivation increased from 2,458 hectares in 2000 to 6,342 hectares in 2001 (nearly a 260 percent increase). This makes the province, which is under the control of the Northern Alliance (United Front), responsible for 83 percent of the national poppy area. The two highest opium-producing districts are in Badakhshan Province. Some farmers in the province, furthermore, told the UNDCP that because opium prices have increased they would sow a second crop that would be harvested in September/October. The farmers also said that opium traders had visited the province and promised prices for fresh opium that were 10 times higher than last year, and they also provided the farmers with cash advances.

The patterns shown in this UNDCP report may change in the immediate future. The Taliban warned that they would permit renewed opium cultivation if Afghanistan was attacked (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 1 October 2001), and now Afghan farmers in Nangarhar and Kandahar Provinces are preparing their fields for the winter opium crop. Bernard Frahi, the UNDCP chief in Islamabad, predicted that because most of Osama bin Laden's bank accounts are frozen, the Saudi-born terrorist would turn to drug-trafficking to earn money, "The Washington Post" reported on 23 October. (Should this occur, Washington would not be prepared to deal with it. American officials concede that they are poorly informed about the makeup and operations of Afghan trafficking organizations, "The New York Times" reported on 22 October, and they know even less about these organizations' links with bin Laden and other terrorists.)

On one hand, the traffic in opium-based products continues regardless of the Taliban cultivation ban. In five separate case on 24 October, 12 smugglers were arrested and 654 kilograms of opium were seized, IRNA reported. Law Enforcement Forces in Iran's Fars Province confiscated 9 kilograms of narcotics, seized 14 rifles, and arrested 28 pushers in the third week of October. Police in Isfahan Province confiscated 78 kilograms of opium and morphine in different incidents on 14 October.

On the other hand, the ban on opium cultivation has had an impact on consumption habits in Iran. Anti-Narcotics Headquarters Secretary-General Mohammad Fallah told a gathering of provincial counter-narcotics officials on 17 October that consumption of natural narcotics had decreased, but the use of synthetic drugs had moved upward.

Prisons Organizations chief Morteza Bakhtiari said that drug-related arrests (of dealers, smugglers, and consumers) had increased the overall prison population by 25 percent, and earlier (in August) he had said that a police round-up of drug addicts has added some 28,000 prisoners to the prison population.

Tehran academic Davar Sheikhavandi told RFE/RL's Persian Service that such harsh measures are counterproductive. The difficulties people face, such as joblessness and insufficient housing, contribute to the drug abuse problem, Sheikhavandi said, and if the government cannot address these difficulties, the amount of drug abuse would climb. He predicted that there would be over 200,000 prisoners next year. People in the narcotics trade, especially those in Sistan va Baluchistan Province, have few economic alternatives to smuggling. Sheikhavandi went on to say that many of the people who quit drugs resume their addictions because of the country's bleak realities and because of the lack of alternatives. The ex-addicts are rejected by their families and cannot get good jobs if they have served prison time, although work centers have been created for them. As a result, they fall back in with bad company. (Bill Samii)

MORE NEWS OF SECRET CONTACTS -- AND A PUBLIC ONE. Iranian officials' statements indicate that relations with the U.S. are continuing at the normal level, but some Iranian and European press reports suggest otherwise.

Tehran's public statements do not indicate approval of American actions, nor do they acknowledge any unusual contacts. Expediency Council Chairman and former President Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani said on 26 October that the cooperation of Islamic states with the U.S. was "disgusting." Rafsanjani also said that if the roots of terrorism are investigated, the U.S. would have a lot to answer for and it would be one of the main countries accused of terrorism.

Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi on 24 October repeated Tehran's criticism of the U.S. strikes on neighboring Afghanistan, calling the campaign "counterproductive." Kharrazi went on to say that the military strikes could not exterminate terrorists and were provoking the Islamic world, especially because of civilian casualties, Cologne's Deutschlandfunk radio reported.

One day earlier, President Mohammad Khatami ruled out normalization of ties with Washington, and he rejected reports about secret contacts with Washington. Khatami said, "There are no new developments between Tehran and the United States and our position toward that country remains the same." He went on to say that any communications had taken place through the normal channels. "This certainly would not be the right moment" for Tehran to mend fences with Washington, Vice President for Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Hojatoleslam Mohammad Ali Abtahi said in the 18 October issue of Rome's "La Republica."

The "Aftab-i Yazd" daily reported on 22 October that the U.S. is trying to establish contacts with Iran via Canada, Switzerland, and Britain in order to deal with the Northern Alliance. Paris' "Al-Watan al-Arabi" reported on 19 October that Iranian and U.S. officials held a very covert meeting near Geneva on or around 7 October. One of the Americans was a leading figure in 1983 negotiations between the two sides. Some of the meetings were in a hotel, while others were in the villa of an Iranian-American businessman.

In the short term, Tehran agreed to provide intelligence about events in Afghanistan and about Osama bin Laden and Al-Qaeda. The Americans' longer-term demands included an end to Iranian political, military, and financial support for Lebanese Hizballah, Hamas, and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Tehran's longer-term demands included: having a say in Afghanistan's political future, giving Iran access to Caspian Sea oil resources, and a reduction in the American presence in the Persian Gulf. The Iranians indicated their willingness to participate in the overthrow of Iraq's Saddam Hussein, but their participation in such an operation is conditioned on their having a say in Iraq's future.

On 17 October U.S. Senators Arlen Specter (R-PA), and Mike DeWine (R-OH), as well as Representatives Bob Ney (R-OH), Jim Leach (R-IO), Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), and Paul Kanjorski (D-PA), met with Tehran's representative to the UN, Mohammad Hadi Nejad-Husseinian. The participants in this informal gathering in Washington, D.C., called for the continuation of such contacts, although a specific time-table was not designated, in an effort to normalize relations between the U.S. and Iran. (Bill Samii)

IRANIANS SPEAK THE 'LANGUAGE OF THE UNHEARD.' "A riot is at bottom the language of the unheard," the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., wrote in 1967. Iranians spoke that language a lot in October, when soccer-related gatherings turned political. The government reacted with mass arrests, followed by promises of re-education and televised confessions.

Riot police fired into the air and used their batons and teargas to disperse the crowds when people gathered in Tehran's Noor Square and in other areas lit fires and set off firecrackers to celebrate Iran's 25 October victory in a World Cup qualifying match against the United Arab Emirates. Many people were arrested and taken away in minibuses.

The authorities arrested over 1,000 people for rioting after Iran lost a World Cup qualifying match in Bahrain on 21 October. Most of the arrests were in Tehran, where the rioters attacked banks, ticket kiosks, public telephones, and traffic signs, as well as police and public vehicles. Police claimed that they seized 5 kilograms of explosives. An eyewitness told RFE/RL's Persian Service that people of all ages fought against the Basij, using bricks, rocks, and whatever else came to hand. The rioters were chanting anti-government slogans, most of which are too offensive for a family publication. The tamer slogans included "Freedom, Freedom," "Death to the Basij," and "Only Reza Pahlavi." At least 180 people were arrested in Isfahan, where people damaged public buildings, ticket dispensers, and private homes. There was rioting in Tehran on 12 October after Iran defeated Iraq in another match. At least 400 people were arrested, although most of them were released on 17 October.

Revolutionary Courts official Ali Mobbasheri said that many people "confessed," state television reported on 26 October, and "[a] film of their confessions has been produced and it will be shown in due course in order to provide further information to the people."

Reza Jafari, head of the Juvenile Criminal Complex, said that 1,000 people have been sent to his facility for their part in the riots, state television reported on 24 October. The punishments they could face include imprisonment, a cash fine, or a flogging. Those under 18 who are found guilty would be sent to reform and education centers, where, according to Jafari, "they are helped and guided by psychologists and welfare specialists." The Soviet Union used this kind of psychological treatment, too. (Bill Samii)

SUPREME LEADER DELAYS TRIP TO ISFAHAN. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei was due to visit Isfahan on 23 October, but he caught cold and was forced to postpone his trip. In a 23 October interview with state radio, Khamenei explained, "This began on Friday [19 October] and I tried to recover before Tuesday by resting and medication, but it didn't work. The doctors said that I need to rest and this visit is not a good idea, so, I had to postpone the visit."

Isfahan is the base of Ayatollah Hussein Ali Montazeri and Ayatollah Jalaledin Taheri, both of whom are alienated from the political establishment but also have large and loyal followings. Ahmad Salamatian, a former parliamentarian, told RFE/RL's Persian Service that for this reason, and also because locals face economic difficulties, Khamenei's visit would be seen as a hard-line provocation. Salamatian went on to say that some local religious leaders and the local radio and television station had promoted Khamenei's visit in terms of his being a Source of Emulation to prepare the way for actually recognizing him as one, but this had enraged the local clerical community. Moreover, heightened tensions because of the soccer riots could have made the situation worse. (Bill Samii)

PRESS REPRESSION REDUCES IRANIANS' FREEDOM. The 2000-2001 Freedom House Survey of Freedom, released in early October, finds that there is forward momentum to greater freedom in the world -- four countries entered the "Free" category last year. Iran, however, is headed in the opposite direction, mainly because of press repression: "Iran received a downward trend arrow because of an intensified campaign by hardliners against opposition journalists and political figures." The survey goes on to say that prospects for reform have waned because of the conservative backlash against the press (as well as students and moderate political figures).

Iranian government officials frequently criticize surveys and reports such as this one, saying that they are influenced by exile opposition groups, they are pursuing a hidden agenda, or they are insensitive to Iran's Islamic culture. Nevertheless, it is not just foreigners who are unhappy with the state of the press in Iran.

The Iranian Association for Press Freedom wrote a letter to President Mohammad Khatami in which it demanded the restoration of press liberties as a priority for the government. The letter, IRNA reported on 22 September, acknowledged that Khatami faces obstacles that are beyond his control but that cannot justify "the total lack of government policy vis-a-vis the media." The letter also pointed out that the government has not presented a plan for eliminating these obstacles or restoring press freedom. The government has just "limited itself to expressions of verbal sympathy," according to the letter.

A commentary in the 22 September issue of the "Toseh" daily also expressed unhappiness with the state of the press. It pointed out that on the previous day its correspondent and photographer were reporting on a rally when they were arrested and manhandled by Law Enforcement Forces personnel. The journalists showed their press credentials, but this had no effect and they were taken away.

And on 17 October, the Tehran court issued a summons for "Hambastegi" Managing Editor Qolam Heidar Ebrahim Bay-Salami. He told IRNA that the complaints against him are from the Hajj and Pilgrimage Organization and the Islamic Open University, and he was given two weeks to prepare.

Over 50 publications have been shut down since mass press closures began in April 2000. Many of the closures are "temporary" pending a trial to determine the publication's ultimate fate. Columnist Ali Mazrui points out in the 7 October "Noruz" that except for five cases that were settled in court, the others are still under what he terms "temporary suppression." For that matter, the Press Law does not cover a subject called "temporary suppression," he writes. Mazrui wonders why the Judiciary acts so quickly to close publications but then moves so slowly to begin legal proceedings.

Freedom House's "Not Free" rating for Iran puts the country in a minority. According to the Freedom House survey, there are 86 "Free" countries (40.69 percent of the global population) in which a broad range of political rights are respected, compared to 48 "Not Free" countries (35.61 percent of the global population) in which basic civil rights and political liberties are denied to citizens. (Bill Samii)

KHATAMI WARNS OF LACK OF JOBS. President Mohammad Khatami told parliament on 23 October that 42 percent of the people seeking jobs every year cannot find employment. Khatami added that the unemployment rate stands at 13.8 percent. Earlier in October there was a warning that the absence of employment opportunities could lead to a "crisis" (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 15 October 2001). A similar view was expressed in the 5 October "Toseh," which said that the lack of available jobs threatened Iran's national security and unemployment would be the country's "most important economic and social problem in the next few years." Within 30 years, the article warned, Iran will have the world's tenth-largest population, and it is necessary to create hundreds of workshops and small factories to provide jobs. Moreover, the national economy needs "fundamental reform."

A 25 October meeting in Mahmudabad, Mazandaran Province, issued a statement that demanded legal protection for temporary office and factory workers, IRNA reported. The statement said that employers should not be able to lay off contract workers without presenting a legally acceptable justification, it asked for the right to strike, and it called for comprehensive social-security coverage for workers and their families. The statement described the lack of job security for the contractual workers as a problem that especially affects younger people. (Bill Samii)

KHATAMI CAUTIONS JUDICIARY CHIEF. President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami urged Judiciary chief Ayatollah Mahmud Hashemi-Shahrudi, in a 10 October letter, to "implement the constitution correctly and refrain from violating its articles." This letter, which was distributed among parliamentarians, voiced the president's concern about the trials of parliamentary representatives -- he referred specifically to Hamedan's Hussein Loqmanian and Tehran's Fatimeh Haqiqatju -- for things they have said.

Khatami's letter noted that parliamentarians are immune from prosecution for what they say, and he cited the relevant articles of the constitution. 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." 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."

Shahrudi's reaction on 14 October was fairly dismissive. He suggested that the issue be studied in "expert circles" before being brought to the attention of the media, where it could cause "concern and doubt." Shahrudi said that the judges are free to interpret the constitution as they see fit: "Since judges, according to the constitution and ordinary laws as well as the principles of jurisprudence, are independent in their interpretation of the law and issuing verdicts, nobody -- not even the judiciary chief -- has the right to impose its interpretation of the law on judges." This statement implied that a judge's power exceeds that of the president.

Other observers weighed in on the following days. Speaker of Parliament Mehdi Karrubi said that the president has a "special place" in the constitution, IRNA reported on 21 October, and the president must guard the constitution. Deputy-Speaker of Parliament Mohammad Reza Khatami said that a national referendum on this issue could resolve the issue of parliamentary immunity and also determine the extent of presidential prerogatives, IRNA reported on 21 October. Responding to a suggestion that the Guardians Council might object to a referendum, he said that it was up to the parliament to decide on a referendum because a referendum is not legislation that needs the council's approval. The Islamic Iran Participation Party welcomed the president's actions, "Noruz" reported on 18 October. The IIPP statement said that the Judiciary had not responded to earlier private warnings and asked why Shahrudi is asking for private discussions now.

President Khatami defended his position and its associated responsibilities on 23 October. He said, according to IRNA, "The president, according to the constitution, is the second supreme official of the country." This controversy is not likely to disappear if Khatami is serious about defending the parliamentarians targeted by the hard-line Judiciary or if he is serious about his powers. It is possible, though, that he is just trying to look tough for those who are dissatisfied with his apparent passivity. Or it is possible that he is trying to regain some of the ground he lost in the humiliating episode of August, when his inauguration was postponed until the parliament was forced to accept Shahrudi's nominees for the Guardians Council. (Bill Samii)

UNHAPPINESS WITH INTERIOR MINISTER GAINS MOMENTUM. Speaker of Parliament Hojatoleslam Mehdi Karrubi said on 21 October that not enough deputies have signed the motion to interpellate Interior Minister Hojatoleslam Abdolvahed Musavi-Lari. Fourteen deputies confirmed their interest in Musavi-Lari's interpellation in a letter to Karrubi, according to "Tehran Times," and Lahijan representative Iraj Nadimi said that he and several other deputies have a similar proposal in mind if this one fails.

Unhappiness with Musavi-Lari surfaced in late September-early October because the Interior Ministry did not consult with Kurdistan Province representatives about their new governor-general (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 15 October 2001). Other parliamentarians are unhappy with Musavi-Lari because he raised the status of his birthplace, the town of Mohr in Fars Province, to that of a city. This would entitle Mohr to a greater share of government funds. The signatories of the interpellation motion called this move "discriminatory," according to "Abrar."

The Interior Ministry (part of the executive branch), is responsible for choosing governors-general. Kashan Deputy Hassan Tofiqi, in an interview with the 4 October "Entekhab," denied that having parliamentarians (the legislature) involved in selecting the governor-general would create a conflict of interest. Tofiqi said that the deputies' objection was to the individual chosen specifically for Kurdistan because he is a weak administrator. An article in the 2 October "Seda-yi Idalat" also pointed out that Kurdistan Province is ethnically distinctive. The parliamentarians are not demanding the appointment of a specific individual. What they really want is a person who is "native, efficient, and familiar with the problems and issues of the region." The daily said that the government's top envoy to the province should know Kurdistan and be capable of solving its problems. (Bill Samii)

SATELLITE TELEVISION BAN UNLIKELY TO END. Reformist Iranian parliamentarians have called for an end to the ban on receiving satellite television, "Hayat-i No" reported on 22 October, but the government, which is blaming satellite-television broadcasts for recent riots (see above), has resumed confiscating private satellite dishes in Tehran. Police trucks full of dishes were spotted in the Jordan and Shahrak-i Qarb districts and in the Ekbatan residential complex, according to dpa on 25 October.

In 1994 the Interior Minister declared dishes illegal unilaterally, and then hard-line figures said that satellite dishes were like American flags and the programs they received were part of a cultural war. A law banning satellite dishes went into effect in 1995.

Research conducted by Tehran University and by Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting in the mid-1990s indicated that television is the country's most popular medium, Steven Barraclough of the Australian National University writes in "Satellite Television in Iran" ("Middle Eastern Studies," vol. 37, no. 3 (July 2001)). In light of the high literacy rate, this could be explained by low press-circulation figures. The programming offered by IRIB was not very entertaining during the 1980s because the programs had to support the war effort and the regime -- some Iranians referred to "Mullahvision," Barraclough writes. After the war ended, state television tried to include more entertainment.

Iranians first encountered satellite television at the 1993 International Book Festival in Tehran. Satellite television became immensely popular -- there were 500,000 dishes in Tehran by 1995. After the interior minister's unilateral ban, a vigorous debate on the subject emerged in the press. And after the law went into effect, confiscation of the dishes began. Iranians reacted by disguising and hiding their satellite dishes, leading Barraclough to suggest that as long as the dishes are not obviously visible and unless there is a specific provocation, the government hesitates to bother the owners.

IRIB reacted to the increased competition and to general public demand by making its programming more diverse and by increasing the number of channels from three to six. By 1995, about 1,000 facilities for rebroadcasting satellite television signals to remote regions were operating. In late 1997, furthermore, IRIB launched its international channel, Jam-i Jam. IRIB signed a 10-year contract to exchange footage with CNN, Barraclough writes, and CNN is allowed to use IRIB's satellite uplink facility. IRIB also has an exchange program with BBC.

Satellite-dish sales in Iran climbed sharply after 11 September 2001. Most foreign broadcasts are not in Persian, and those which are in Persian tend to be politicized. Mujahedin-i Khalq Organization broadcasts from Iraq, for example, spend a lot of time praising that terrorist group's leadership, and they have limited appeal. Los Angeles stations, such as Pars TV and NITV, broadcast statements by the son of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, Iran's last Shah, but they carry more entertainment and sports and are quite popular. The power of these latter two stations was demonstrated in the week starting 21 October, when NITV urged Iranians to take to the streets to protest against the government. Iranians actually did so, rioting after losing a World Cup soccer qualifying match. They chanted slogans against the government and destroyed property.

For the last 22 years the regime has been able to suppress such demonstrations of public unhappiness, regardless of outside prompting. The greater danger to the regime could be the "luxuriant lifestyles and products paraded on the screen," according to ANU's Barraclough, because they are "enticing and disturbing" in light of the relatively weak economy. Barraclough suggests that if IRIB invests its time and efforts wisely, it may be able to compete with the possible return of legal (and therefore cheap) satellite receivers. In light of these most recent demonstrations, the legalization of satellite dishes does not seem likely in the near future. (Bill Samii)

MILITARY STRESSES IDEOLOGY AND PRODUCTION. In the past month the Iranian armed forces have held several interesting exercises and activities and have seen some personnel changes. The exercises are interesting because their focus seems to have been more ideological than tactical. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei addressed commanders from the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps on 20 October and told them about the importance of self-purification and practicing selflessness. He said that these are necessary practices for IRGC personnel.

A military and cultural camp called the "standard-bearers of the victory in Khuzestan" opened in Ahvaz, state television reported on 19 October. Some 20,000 Basijis from Khuzestan Province units participated, and according to Basij commander Brigadier General Mohammad Hejazi, they "showed their spiritual values in the various ceremonies held in the camp -- that is, the prayers, mass prayers, and suchlike." There also were firing exercises by artillery and ground forces. Earlier, the 17th Division of the Army's Ali ibn Abitaleb Corps launched the 10-day Haydar Karrar war games near Qom. Colonel Abdullah Araqi, the corps commander, said that the exercise was being conducted to increase the "political and ideological insight" of his troops, and also to increase military power. Araqi said that political and religious personalities would give lectures, "Tehran Times" reported on 11 October.

Minister of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics Ali Shamkhani announced on 16 October that new personnel appointments in the MODAFL are meant to enhance efficiency. Brigadier General Amin Shariati is the new deputy head of the Armed Forces Engineering Department, Brigadier General Hussein Mansuri is the new managing director of the ETKA Organization, Rear Admiral Issa Golaverdi is the new head of the Armed Forces Geographic Organization, and Mojtaba Haeri is the new head of the Armed Forces Committee for Land Studies and an adviser to Shamkhani.

Military efforts to achieve self-sufficiency are continuing. On 22 October state television described the design and manufacture of the second generation of armored vehicles by the Armored Research Department of the Industrial Organization. These vehicles are better able to withstand two-stage armor-piercing missiles. The special features of these vehicles are "relative low cost, greater efficiency, high performance, lightweight, and quick assembly." At the end of September state radio announced that the Army Ground Forces have, for the first time in the Middle East, successfully changed the engine and power-transfer unit of a Chieftain tank. Moreover, ground forces personnel designed and constructed the cooling, radiator, and fan systems. Colonel Zavar, who heads the tank-reconditioning team, said that this has greatly reduced Iran's foreign currency expenditures. State television, furthermore, announced that Iran is among the world's top 20 missile-building countries. Mr. Yadgari, deputy head of the Aerospace Industries Organization, said that production began with anti-armor missiles (the Tufan series). Then Iran began making surface-to-surface missiles. Then it started making anti-ship missiles. (Bill Samii)

CORRECTION. The "Supreme Council for the National Unity of Afghanistan" that was created by Mohammad Zahir Shah and the Northern Alliance (United Front) will not consist of 120 groups, as stated in the "RFE/RL Iran Report" of 22 October 2001. The council will have 120 members -- 50 chosen by Zahir Shah, 50 by the Northern Alliance, and 20 by other political and ethnic groups.