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Iran Report: January 17, 2000

17 January 2000, Volume 3, Number 3

ANTI-CORRUPTION CAMPAIGN FACTIONALIZED. The state's anti-corruption campaign has snared one of its first targets, but his prosecution may have more to do with his political tendencies than with any crimes. The National Control and Inspection Organization, which combats corruption and supervises proper implementation of laws, summoned former Deputy Minister of Islamic Culture and Guidance Ahmad Burqani. Burqani is charged with allocating foreign currency to the press on a preferential basis, "Tehran Times" reported on 9 January.

This is a surprising allegation, because a report from the Islamic Culture and Guidance Ministry, described in the 13 October "Aftab-i Imruz" and "Manateq-i Azad," demonstrated that hardline publications received 23.57 percent of foreign exchange distributed among the press, while reformist newspapers got just 5.67 percent of the subsidies. "Kayhan" and "Resalat" alone received three times more money from the Islamic Culture and Guidance Ministry than "Sobh-i Imruz," "Khordad," "Salam," "Neshat," and similar publications. (Rafsanjan's "Kowsar-i Kavir" claimed on 23 October that these figures were falsified.)

Burqani was known as a defender of press freedom during his time in government, and he is still consulted on media issues. As such, Burqani was held in high esteem by the reformist 2nd Khordad movement, while he was excoriated by the hardline media. But Burqani's association with the Islamic Iran Participation Party and outspokenness on the inadvisability of Hojatoleslam Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani's candidacy for parliament appears to have earned him some enemies, too. (Bill Samii)

CANDIDATES REJECTED AND GUARDIANS CRITICIZED. Minister of Intelligence and Security Hojatoleslam Ali Yunesi, whose agency provides some of the information used to determine eligibility of candidates for the February parliamentary election, said that the MOIS had been very restrained in judging people, "Entekhab" reported on 12 January. This time the MOIS rejected only about 4 percent of the applicants, while in the past the percentage was 12 percent. Yunesi even said that the danger of public apathy towards the election outweighed that of inappropriate people being elected. The same day, the Election Central Supervisory Committee announced that it had examined the applications of over 6,800 candidates, state television reported. On the basis of the Guardians Council's regulations, the candidacies of 140 individuals were rejected because they did not meet academic qualifications or because they had not resigned from government posts in time. Rejected candidates have until 7 February to appeal.

These statements would have been more encouraging if they had come a few days earlier. The official "Iran" newspaper reported on 9 January that many 2nd of Khordad members--the name given to reformists identified with President Mohammad Khatami's election--including some 30 members of the current parliament, had their candidacies rejected by the Guardians Council. Mohsen Armin, Behzad Nabavi, and Hashem Aghajari of the Mujahedin of Islamic Revolution Organization were rejected, as were Abbas Abdi, Hamid-Reza Jalaipur, Ahmad Burqani, and other members of the Islamic Iran Participation Party. Other well-known individuals whose candidacy was rejected are Ebrahim Yazdi of the Freedom Movement, and the imprisoned Hojatoleslam Abdullah Nuri. The following days, calls for reconsideration and for help were heard.

"Iran News" warned that the rejections could result in a "national crisis," so a solution must be found "before it is too late." Teheran parliamentarian Soheila Jelodarzadeh said the Guardians Council should amend the rejections, the 11 January "Mosharekat" reported. An alliance of Iranian dissidents--such as Ezzatollah Sahabi and Abbas Amir Entezam--who had only 5 of their 30 candidates approved, asked the president to defend their rights. But Azam Taleqani, a former parliamentarian whose candidacy was rejected, countered that Khatami does not have the means to make changes.

Others said the number of rejections was exaggerated. Burqani, for example, denied that he had been rejected, although this may be because he wants to appeal the ruling and does not want to detract attention from party activities. Another member of the IIPP, Gorgan parliamentarian Qorban Ali Qandahari, explained its strategy in "Mosharekat." He said the IIPP is pursuing the matter of the rejections en masse and will demand that the Guardians Council provide documented proof. The Interior Ministry announced on 14 January that 758 applicants were rejected.

A "senior member of Khatami's political faction" said that Khatami was criticized for not defending his supporters more vigorously, Kuwait's "al-Watan" daily reported on 11 January. Khatami responded that a way around the problem could be found through meetings with the Guardians Council and with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The Saudi daily "Al-Sharq al-Awsat" suggested that Khatami is non-confrontational and a compromise might be found that permits him to claim a victory. These reports are supported by 13 January reports that the Guardians Council asked for disqualified candidates to submit their appeals in writing because of possible misjudgments in disqualifying them.

Another approach was described by the 11 January "Iran Vij." That paper said that some 2nd Khordad candidates are registering in the provinces, in the hope that they will not attract the attention of the Guardians Council. The success of this approach remains to be seen.

The rejections have sparked criticism of the Guardians Council. Savajbalagh and Taleqan's current parliamentary representative, Jaffar Golbaz, whose candidacy was rejected on grounds of insufficient commitment to Islam and to the system, said: "Maybe their kind of Islam, Koran and 'Naj al-Balagha' [Imam Ali's book] are different from mine. ..." He continued, "Iran" reported on 11 January: "I have taken part in the [Iran-Iraq] war, I am disabled from the war, I have been to hajj and I observe fasting during Ramadan. Still, the four members of the Guardian Council are Muslims [and not me]."

Hojatoleslam Hadi Khamenei, whose candidacy for the 1998 Assembly of Experts election was rejected by the Guardians Council, told students at Khajeh Naseredin Tusi University on 11 January that the disqualifications were illegal and part of a bid to undermine public participation. At Isfahan's Friday Prayers, Ayatollah Jalal Taheri said the Guardians Council should permit the election of parliamentarians who will not interfere with the efforts of the 2nd of Khordad movement and the government, "Hamshahri" reported on 9 January. He urged the Guardians Council to trust the people and let them elect their preferred candidates. Ayatollah Kazem Nurmofidi of Gorgan expressed similar sentiments. But at the 14 January Friday Prayers, Taheri said rejected candidates should appeal, and he discouraged criticism of the Guardians Council.

Hardline newspapers initiated a defense of the candidate rejections. "Qods" said the attack on the Guardians Council was the next project of the "serial newspapers" (so called because they are closed by the Press Court and then reappear under a new name). "Jebheh" compared the 2nd of Khordad movement with the Munafeqin (hypocrites), which is a derogatory term for the detested Mujahedin Khalq Organization.

Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati defended the Guardians Council even before its decision had been announced. During the 7 January Friday Prayers sermon, he said that "One day...we will say why some people's [qualifications] were rejected. We will say what they have done and what kind of records they had." But he went on to say that they do not want to do that because it might hurt people and undermine public attitudes. Jannati frequently resorts to the threat of revealing secret information. When there was an uproar over candidate rejections in 1994, he said: "Some of the candidates have loaded files in the courts, which have not yet been investigated for one reason or another." And in October 1998, he refused to discuss disqualifications in order to avoid creating tension. (Bill Samii)

NEWSPAPERS EXPLAIN THEIR CONCERNS. In the first week of January there was reason to believe that the press was in for a respite from factionally-motivated legal pressures, as the parliament postponed voting on a restrictive press law for three months. But less than two weeks later, managing-directors of several reformist newspapers -- "Iran," "Hamshahri," "Akhbar-i Eqtesad," "Mosharekat," "Manateq-i Azad," "Sobh-i Imruz," "Aftab-i Imruz," "Asr-i Azadigan," "Fath," and "Arya" -- wrote a letter to President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami indicating their concern about the pressure to which the press remains subject.

The letter--published in "Hamshahri" on 12 January--stated that if the newspapers themselves sometimes take a political turn, it is in the interest of, and because they are practicing, democracy, and not because they are against the government. The same applies when they expose cases of official corruption. Nowadays, the letter says, the prohibition of vice and the promotion of virtue are societal duties, and this is what the press is doing. The signatories indicated their resentment at being accused of harming national security, when all they are doing is asking questions.

This occurred in a recent and prominent case that involves Said Hajjarian of "Sobh-i Imruz." On 3 January "Kayhan" reported that a warrant for Hajjarian was issued because he failed to appear before Press Court Judge Said Mortazavi. The next day Hajjarian's lawyer, Gholamali Riahi, told "Sobh-i Imruz" that a warrant was not issued for his client, who has always cooperated with the court in answering charges that were brought in July 1999. The Ministry of Intelligence and Security, the Islamic Revolution Guard Corps and the Basij, the Law Enforcement Forces counterintelligence unit, the Judicial Organization of the Armed Forces, the Tehran Prosecutor's office, state broadcasting, and several hardline publications are among the plaintiffs.

The fact that the alleged warrant was described by "Kayhan," "Resalat," and state broadcasting, according to the 5 January "Aftab-i Imruz," indicates a publicity campaign against Hajjarian, who is close to Khatami. Newspaper editor and Islamic Iran Participation Party founder Abbas Abdi told the 5 January "Aftab-i Imruz" that the case was against Hajjarian personally, rather than against his newspaper. Even if the newspaper was closed, Abdi said, ten more would take its place.

Hajjarian, as well as Yadollah Eslami of "Fath" and Ghafur Garshasebi of "Asr-i Azadegan" were summoned by the Press Court on 16 January for having reprinted an interview with Ayatollah Hussein-Ali Montazeri that appeared in a British newspaper. The directors are accused of spreading Montazeri's political ideas, a charge that Abdullah Nuri faced last year.

Hussein Shariatmadari of the hardline "Kayhan" newspaper is supposed to be tried in the third week of January on charges that include defamation, publishing state secrets, and upsetting the public. Among the plaintiffs are several reformist newspapers, including the banned "Neshat," and imprisoned former Tehran Mayor Gholamhussein Karbaschi. Shariatmadari's trial has been postponed several times.

"Arzesh," "Peik-i Azadi," "Bazaar-i Ruz," and "Qods" all received written warnings from the Islamic Culture and Guidance Ministry, "Tehran Times" reported on 12 January. They were warned for, respectively, continuous violations of the law and creating tension in the political setting; publishing improper pictures; publishing "cinematic letters and distorted news about

Several press cases started at the end of December. Among these were hearings for Ahmad Asadi of the weekly "Qeseh-yi Zendegi" and for Jalal Rezai of the daily "Sobh-i Varzish" and the weekly "Ayeneh." The hearing of Abdolhamid Mohtashem of the hardline "Yalisarat Al-Hussein," who was to face complaints brought by Mohammad Salamati and Behzad Nabavi of the Mujahedin of the Islamic Revolution Organization, was postponed.

A new daily called "Heyat-i No" appeared on 16 January. Its director-general is the moderate Hojatoleslam Hadi Khamenei, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's brother. The newspaper's target audience is intellectuals and students.

The Supreme Cultural Revolution Council had looked into the status of Iran's press, Guardians Council member Ayatollah Mohammad Yazdi said during the Friday Prayers of 24 December. The resulting report indicated that "the press in the country left much to be desired," while Islamic Culture and Guidance Minister Ataollah Mohajerani presented an opposing view. Moving decisively, President Khatami appointed a committee to investigate the matter further. Yazdi, however, called for "steps to stop the publication of insults, lies, and disrespectful and seditious statements which create discord in society."

Grand Ayatollah Mohammad Fazel-Movahedi-Lankarani said, state television reported on 20 December: "The press must always protect the religious and revolutionary environment in our society." But, he complained, "the press had deviated from its path." Fazel-Lankarani condemned newspapers that repeat statements heard on foreign radios: "I do not at all consider newspapers and publications which write things with the aim of pleasing America and Israel to be friends of the revolution, the state, or Islam."

These differing interpretations on the role of the press are reflected in provincial cities, such as Shiraz or Mashhad, too. Local officials representing the conservative view were quoted in an October of issue of Shiraz's "Nim-Negah." One, for example, said: "Some publications have gone beyond the limit, and have made trivial matters into very important ones...They have disturbed the atmosphere of society."

In the 11 October issue of Mashhad's "Payam-i Hamun," however, an alternate view was heard in a message for the press court and the parliament. The newspaper recounted a story of a father who kept sending his son to school, and because the boy hated school, he kept killing his teachers. This pattern continued until somebody told the boy, "summon your father and kill him. As long as he is alive you will have to go to school." (Bill Samii)

CHEHRAGANI GETS TREATMENT. Iranian officials vehemently rejected allegations made by sources in Azerbaijan about shootings and mass arrests in Tabriz last week (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 10 January 2000). Tabriz parliamentarian Balal Samarqandi, Tabriz Governor Abbas Khorshidi, and an "informed source" at Tabriz Governorate all said that such reports were fallacious, "Tehran Times" reported on 11 January. The "informed source" said there were less than 50 demonstrators and they were dispersed before their meeting was held. Khorshidi said there was a small gathering that was dispersed because the organizers did not have permission. The article also said statements about the popularity of Iranian-Azeri nationalist Mahmoud Ali Chehragani are false.

"Tehran Times" went on to cite a statement from Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliev's office that Chehragani's alleged demands for medical attention in Azerbaijan were absurd and had been spread by people trying to ruin relations between the two countries. The statement added: "we make endeavors to promote mutual cooperation with Iran in the fields of politics, economy, and culture."

Azerbaijani ambassador to Tehran Abbasali Hassanov provided more detail on promoting cooperation in an interview with IRNA on 10 January. Hassanov said "due to the high quality of Iran's technical and engineering service and low price of the Iranian products, economic and trade cooperation with the Islamic Republic of Iran is top on the agenda of the Azerbaijani government." Iranian firms are building a highway in Azerbaijan, too. Hassanov also described an agricultural accord between the two countries, as well as discussions on manufacturing buses and mini-buses, construction of a clinic, and two noodle factories. President Aliyev is to visit Iran soon.

Also, the Baku-based National Liberation Movement of Southern Azerbaijan and the United Azerbaijan Movement no longer need to worry that Iranian-Azeri nationalist Mahmoud Ali Chehragani is being denied medical attention. He underwent eye surgery at Zakariya Hospital in Tabriz on 9 January, Baku's Space TV reported the next day. The broadcast went on to say that Iranian "officials did not impede the operation." But on 12 January the NLMSA announced that Iran's Ministry of Intelligence and Security plans to kill Chehragani by setting fire to his house, Turan reported. (Bill Samii)

NOBODY'S HAPPY: IRAN'S STANCE ON CHECHNYA. Russian armed forces entered Chechnya on 30 September, a week after its air force started bombing the Chechen capital, Grozny. And now, Russian troops are telling Western reporters that hundreds of soldiers are dying in the attempt to capture Grozny. Russian military analyst Pavel Felgengauer said, according to "The Guardian" on 11 January: "The Russian military is losing the initiative and the other side is taking the initiative. We're seeing a drastic change. The guerrillas are highly mobile. The Russians are making tactical mistakes and are too thinly spread."

This is not how the Russian military sees the situation, preferring instead to blame the presence of foreign mercenaries. The press center of the Russian Eastern Group of Federal Forces reported that "emissaries sent by [rebel field commander Shamil] Basayev and [rebel leader Movladi] Udugov are continuing to recruit mercenaries in the Near East. In the past week alone about 200 citizens of Iran, Turkey and Saudi Arabia have arrived in Chechnya...[as have] several citizens of Ukraine and Pakistan," according to a Russian public television broadcast on 7 January. The Russian military also claimed that unofficial Chechen spokesman Movladi Udugov and Chechen Vice President Vakha Arsonov visited the Republic of Georgia to recruit members of the paramilitary Mkhedrioni with the promise of future assistance in settling the Abkhazia conflict (Chechens allegedly fought on the Abkhaz side in that conflict).

The Iranian Embassy in Moscow called these reports a "flagrant lie," Interfax reported on 7 January, saying: "Iran had expressed its respect for Russia's territorial integrity on many occasions and views the Chechen problem as Russia's internal affair." The Russian claims were rejected as slanderous and unfounded by the Georgian Foreign Ministry, also, according to Caucasus Press and "RFE/RL Newsline" on 7 January. Mkhedrioni Political Secretary Tornike Berishvili, furthermore, denied that any of his organization's members intend to fight on the side of the Chechens.

But the Russian military is not the only source suggesting there is an Iranian hand in the Chechen conflict. Lebanese officials learned, according to the 9 January "Sunday Telegraph," that many of Hizballah official Imad Mughniyah's operatives are going to Chechnya to fight and provide training, and Chechen commanders have visited Hizballah facilities in the Bekaa Valley. Also, Mughniyah, who was involved in many of the suicide bombings and kidnappings of the 1980s, was identified as the person responsible for a 3 January attack on the Russian Embassy in Beirut, according to the "Sunday Telegraph."

The lone attacker was killed, but Lebanese security forces somehow learned that he was trained by Mughniyah. Mughniyah himself was to participate in the attack, but his paymasters in the Iranian Revolutionary Guards persuaded him to keep a low profile. The "Sunday Telegraph" goes on to say that Mughniyah is in contact with Saudi terrorist Osama bin Laden, and unnamed "Western intelligence experts" are concerned that these two will work together to aid the Chechens.

So far there is no reliable evidence of an Iranian hand in the Chechen conflict, although Iranian criticism of Russian conduct is still mild to non-existent. Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi did say on 5 January, according to Iranian radio commentary the next day, that "the innocent Muslim people of Chechnya were the main victims of the bloody conflict. State radio expressed concern that even if the Russians succeed in capturing Grozny, the conflict will just become a guerrilla war. Iranian deputy parliamentary speaker Hassan Rohani visited Moscow from 11-15 January. Beforehand, the Russian Foreign Ministry stressed that it "accepts the balanced position of the Iranian leadership on the issue of Chechnya," Interfax reported on 10 January. And even after the General Victor Kazantsev said all Chechen males aged 10 to 60 would be taken to a "filtration camp," the Iranian position remained unchanged.

While Russia may be satisfied with the Iranian position on Chechnya, other observers, such as former Hizballah official and founder of the "Revolution of the Hungry," Sheikh Subih Tufaili, are not. According to "Al-Mustaqbal" on 8 January, Tufaili addressed the issue by sending a message to "the resistance fighters and their supporters, 'particularly our people in Chechnya, who are being killed and exterminated before the eyes and the ears of all the peoples in the world, and we do not hear any word or protest or objection, not even from the Arab and Islamic capitals.'" The UK's "Al-Muhajiroun" condemned the Iranian regime's list of "crimes perpetrated against divine law," including its failure to support Muslims in Chechnya. (Bill Samii)

CHEMICALS FROM ISRAEL. Haifa-based Carmel Chemicals, through its Kenyan branch, has been supplying Iran with glycerin monocerate, melamine, titanium dioxide, cyclohexanol citrate, and urea resin. Carmel Chemical executives and their Iranian counterparts have discussed the sale of British-made electric engines and equipment for a formaldehyde-producing plant, Tel Aviv's "Yediot Aharanot" reported on 31 December. Also discussed was the sale of 99 percent-pure glycerin, which can be used to make explosives. Such transactions are against Israeli law, according to Israeli officials.

Carmel Chemicals belongs to the Dankner family, which owned a chemical factory in Shiraz before the Islamic revolution. In 1996 the Dankners purchased Kenya Industrial Plastics outright, according to "Yediot Aharanot," in order to use it as a cut-out for its shipments to Iran. Basel-based BSB is part of this operation.

Marco, the commercial director of Carmel Chemicals, said: "the policy is to sell to the Iranians. You can do business and sell them whatever you want, but you cannot import anything from there unless you apply for a license." "Yediot Aharanot" explains: "Trade between Carmel Chemicals and Tehran is very intensive, and amounts to thousands of metric tons of chemicals a year, at times two to three shipments a week since 1996. The Dankners guaranteed payment for the goods through letters of credit from two banks in Tehran (the Tejarat branch in downtown Tehran and the Saadi branch of Melli Bank) and Barclays Bank in Kenya."

Gabi Bar, director of the Israeli Industry and Trade Ministry's Middle East department, said that "in Israel it is forbidden to trade in chemicals with Iran." David Dankner, however, said: "If the State of Israel had thought this was not right, it would have stopped it. I don't want to say that it was done with permission, but there was tacit permission."

The Dankner family took out a full-page advertisement in "Yediot Aharanot" in which it said any such exports were made by Carmel Chemical. The advertisement went on to say that such transactions were never forbidden by the Israeli government, which would have done so had they been illegal. (Bill Samii)

ANGER OVER COLOMBIAN PROJECT. Reacting to a report that Colombia had banned Iranian participation in a slaughterhouse project due to U.S. pressure, "Tehran Times" -- a daily affiliated with the Islamic Propagation Office -- said on 10 January that "The U.S. move once more proves that Washington follows a policy of double-standard. Washington says something for international consumption but acts differently in reality."

The Iranian daily was reacting to a 6 January ABC News report that said U.S. congressional and military officials had persuaded the Colombians to back away from building a meat-packing plant and slaughterhouse in Colombia's Demilitarized Zone with Iranian participation. The location of the facility caused concern, because it is in a part of Colombia controlled by the anti-U.S. Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), and the U.S. military is providing counterinsurgency training to the Colombian military.

According to ABC News, the U.S. government also was concerned that the facility would be used for terrorist-training. U.S. concerns are not baseless. Similar facilities were used by Iran in Bosnia and Romania as cover for intelligence operations. There also was concern that the FARC or Iranians operating with it might link up with Hizballah organizations operating in Paraguay, Brazil, and Argentina (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 27 December 1999). (Bill Samii)