3 April 2000, Volume 3, Number 14
NO ACCORD ON ALBRIGHT SPEECH. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei's 25 March comment that "The Iranian nation and its authorities consider the United States to be their enemy" seemed to nip in the bud any possibility of a U.S.-Iran dialog, but if anything, his remarks led to even more commentary on the subject. The most graphic indication of this was a picture of the U.S. and Iranian flags, side by side, on the front page of the 28 March "Ham-Mihan."
The accompanying article was titled "Relations with America; Bright Spots and Dark Spots" and cited several political commentators. Hussein Marashi of the Executives of Construction Party said U.S. Secretary of State Madeline Albright's acknowledgement of Iranian grievances opened the door for a dialog. "If there is a dialog between our two countries it will serve our national interests."
The Islamic Iran Participation Party's Mohsen Mirdamadi advocated a united approach to the issue. He said that from the Supreme National Security Council to the parliament, all governmental bodies must follow the lead of the Foreign Ministry, rather than their own initiatives. He added that the Friday Prayers sermons are not the place for political commentary.
General Secretary of the Islamic Labor Party Abolqasem Sarhadizadeh also advocated a united approach, saying that Iran should follow the lead of the government and the Leadership. Sarhadizadeh did not think American acknowledgement of Iranian grievances was sufficient. He called for an outright apology and said that the basic grievances persist. Sarhadizadeh added that there are Americans who speak the truth and Iran must take advantage of this.
The Islamic Engineers Society's Hassan Qafurifard complained that while the U.S. calls for a dialog, it still accuses Iran of supporting terrorism. He contended that the U.S. supports the Mujahedin Khalq Organization and it has a $20 million budget for anti-Iranian activities.
Parliamentarian Hussein Ansari-Rad of the IIPP said that Albright's speech "requires a positive response at the same level," "Sobh-i Imruz" reported on 27 March. He suggested that a national referendum on relations with the U.S. would be appropriate. The same day, "Kayhan" suggested that Iran should bring a case against the U.S. before an international court, "using the explicit confessions of American officials."
Speaking at the Tehran Friday prayers on 31 March (12 Farvardin, Islamic Republic Day), Hojatoleslam Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani said that Albright is trying to "deceive the people and this country's youth." He added that "America should definitely apologize to the Islamic Republic and the people of Iran." Rafsanjani said Iran would welcome a goodwill gesture, but "America is not showing any kind of goodwill and it has not stopped its hostility. We cannot see any positive sign in its deeds or words."
And commentator and satirist Said Ebrahim Nabavi had this to say in the 29 March "Asr-i Azadegan." "Let me say a word about this American woman who talked so much. If this Bill [Clinton] is a man let him talk, why does he send a poor woman that God has stricken? We don't accept his words, who is a man, let alone this woman's. This woman, who is over fifty years old, didn't she make that scandal with Bill? The scandal that raised the protest of America's Guardians Council. It is unacceptable that he sent her."
Nabavi goes on to say that if America is sincere, it should reimburse Iran for all the cheap oil it purchased during the monarchy. And why did Albright only mention the 1953 coup against Prime Minister Mohammad Mussadiq, he asked rhetorically. What about the mysterious death in 1947 of Jafar Pishevari, who had established an autonomous Azerbaijan People's Government in Tabriz with Soviet backing? (Bill Samii)
THE LONE GUNMEN. When Minister of Intelligence and Security Ali Yunesi announced the arrest of 10 people in connection with the 12 March shooting of Tehran Council member Said Hajjarian, he said that they were acting independently and that only one of them was remotely connected with the Islamic Revolution Guard Corps. At a 29 March meeting with IRGC commanders, President Mohammad Khatami thanked them for their cooperation with the MOIS and Supreme National Security Council in the apprehension of the would-be assassins, IRNA reported.
Khatami may be satisfied with the investigation, but others are not. On 28 March, Emadedin Baqi of "Fath" was summoned to appear before the Revolutionary Court for alleging that there is a cover-up in the case. Baqi had given interviews in which he said there is a shadow organization with agents throughout the government, and it hatches plots, perpetrates violence, and is responsible for the Hajjarian shooting. Baqi also alleged that Yunesi is helping these plotters by cooperating in the cover-up. "Asr-i Azadegan" columnist Mohammad Quchani was questioned for two hours by the MOIS about his report of a cover-up, "Fath" reported on 30 March.
Parliamentarian Kurosh Fuladi believes the case is connected to the serial killings of 1998, which were linked to a gang within the MOIS, and he believes that the assassins are part of a wider network. Fuladi told the 27 March "Asr-i Azadegan" that "Certain resources have been provided for the terrorists ... It is not possible to act without moral and material support." An editorial in the 28 March "Ham-Mihan" said that if the vigilantes in civilian clothes who were mentioned in official reports about the July 1999 assault on a Tehran University dormitory were prosecuted, then Hajjarian might not have been shot.
Ayatollah Sadeq Khalkhali told the 28 March "Fath" there are many similarities between the Hajjarian case and the serial murders. He said that "They [the shadow organization] number between 80 to 100 people. They get together and make certain decisions. They have an organizational structure and it is clear that they are much more organized than ordinary people." He called for prompt and decisive action: "These people must be taught a lesson in keeping with the Koran. If we act leniently, we will be defeated by a bunch of anarchists and a group of willful and dissolute people."
Hajjarian, meanwhile, underwent surgery on 26 March, and there are plans to send him to Germany for further treatment. But it seems clear that murder and mayhem will not eliminate Iranians' quest for change. The family of Piruz Davani, an author who disappeared in 1998 and presumably was murdered by the MOIS, released a statement that "Everyone knows it is not very difficult to assassinate freedom-loving and popular individuals, but thinking and ideas cannot be destroyed," according to the 28 March "Asr-i Azadegan." (Bill Samii)
MOIS CHIEF ON REFORMS AND SERIAL MURDERS. When it was reported in January 1999 that Ministry of Intelligence and Security personnel were behind the serial murders of Iranian intellectuals and dissidents, hardline parliamentarians, in connivance with the Armed Forces Judicial Organization, "planned to exploit the current climate and to embark upon a psychological war against the MOIS," "Fath" reported on 7 March. They recognized that the MOIS was in a weakened position, and they sought to eliminate the agency because it supported President Mohammad Khatami's reforms, according to "Fath." The hardliners' failure at the polls in February eliminated this threat, the daily reported.
It was not just hardliners who wanted changes within the MOIS; the public at large wanted them too. "If this ministry harmonizes itself with the aims of the government in an appropriate manner, many of its defects and malfunctions will be removed," "Neda-yi Yazd" editorialized last March. In a series of interviews published in "Entekhab" in January 2000, MOIS chief Hojatoleslam Ali Yunesi sought to describe some of the structural reforms he has implemented, what he perceives as continuing threats to national security, and the continuing investigation of the serial murders which led to the resignation of his predecessor.
The calls for reform arose when it was revealed that Said Emami, an MOIS director, headed the gang of assassins. Yunesi said that Emami had passed several security reviews, and "it is not as though someone who has been selected will never, at a later stage, be approached by our opponents and become corrupted." But either way, we are obliged "to take the structural reform of the [MOIS] seriously." To this end, Yunesi created a "culture undersecretary." This is because "our young generation is distancing itself from this culture; and we are guiltier than anyone else for not having been able to offer our genuine Islamic and national culture to the young generation." Yunesi added that just arresting people and banning books was not the solution.
Yunesi also said that the MOIS requires supervision and greater accountability to the parliament and the government. "I have created an inspection and supervision department ... If the people have any complaints about the performance of the [MOIS] or over power abuse by an individual and they complain to me, I will immediately inform the inspection department." Yunesi added that "I consider myself answerable to the parliament."
When Yunesi was asked about the lack of transparency and delays in the prosecution of those guilty of the serial murders, he said that broadcasting confessions or providing incomplete statements to the media would only muddy the waters. Broadcasting confessions, Yunesi added, "was an immoral practice and we banned it ... it is against the law" (which does not explain why the "confessions" of people arrested in connection with the July 1999 riots were broadcast).
Yunesi rejected suggestions that the serial murders case undermined public confidence in the MOIS. He said it is an "immense organization" in which Said Emami's security department played only a minor role. Yunesi complained that journalists focus on this issue, while the activities of the foreign analysis department, counter-intelligence/counter-espionage department, and the technical procurement department remain unacknowledged.
"Cultural degeneration is the most major threat" to national security, Yunesi said. This is linked with "the challenge of the new generation, the distancing of this new generation from the revolution, cultural degeneration, economic threats including unemployment and inflation, the differences between the forces loyal to the revolution, and the breakup of national unity."
Two months later, Yunesi again discussed structural changes within the MOIS. He told the 8 March "Aftab-i Imruz" that he had not encountered any problems so far and "the tumor in the [MOIS] was ripped out with the President's determination and the Leader's backing, and I promise you that nothing like that will happen again."
Yunesi admitted, however, that there were problems with the serial murders investigation. The original investigatory team, of which he was a member, had been replaced, because "We thought the investigations had strayed from their original aim of dealing with the murders. In addition, we were not satisfied about the way the people were being kept informed about the case." (Bill Samii)
CHANGES IN JUDICIARY... Iranian justice, long criticized for its arbitrariness and for the severity of sentences-- such as stoning, lashing, and amputation of limbs -- started changing in summer 1999, when Judiciary chief Ayatollah Mohammad Ali Yazdi was succeeded by Ayatollah Mahmud Hashemi-Shahrudi. During the ten-year tenure of Yazdi, the Judiciary came to be seen as a political body that used the law to close newspapers, silence dissenting voices, and protect the powerful. So when Shahrudi took over, it was hoped that the courts would resume their proper role in supporting the law, thereby restoring public confidence and a sense of security.
The first step in achieving such reforms was to replace some of the most politicized judicial officials. Presidential chief of staff Mohammad-Ali Abtahi told "Neshat" in September that "the Judiciary is expected to cleanse a powerful minority in the country's legal system that is trying to politicize this serious and important body � away from the main body of the Judiciary."
Many of these hardline officials are graduates of the Haqqani seminary. Hojatoleslam Ali Razini and Hojatoleslam Gholamhussein Mohseni-Ejei -- both of whom now serve in the Special Court for the Clergy as prosecutor and chief, respectively -- served in the Judiciary and are Haqqani graduates. Other graduates are Revolutionary Court Judge Gholamhussein Rahbarpur, Documents Center chief and Special Court member Ruhollah Husseinian, and former Minister of Intelligence and Security Ali-Akbar Fallahian. Ayatollah Mohammad Taqi Mesbah-Yazdi, the proponent of violence against outsiders, is an official at Haqqani seminary.
Razini and Mohseni-Ejei were replaced in late 1999. More Haqqani alumni will be replaced after the parliamentary elections, "Iran" announced on 29 January. The Judiciary is suffering quantitative personnel problems, too. Deputy Judiciary head Ayatollah Hadi Marvi said that there are shortages of administrative staff, which has resulted in court backlogs and a shortage of branches, "Vilayat-i Qazvin" reported on 14 February.
Judicial reform also requires changes in the current laws. But on his departure from the Judiciary, Razini warned that "the methods and procedures that are currently used in the Judiciary would not change," according to a 28 August "Mobin" article. Indeed, Forouzan Asaf-Nakhai wrote in "Mobin" that graduates of the Haqqani seminary, and many others, believe that theological writings on practical law are sufficient for running the state and should not change. Such thought conflicts with the belief that there must be new judgements in keeping with current requirements of the age.
When Shahrudi took over the Judiciary, therefore, he faced a difficult challenge. Those who wanted to reform the laws would have to change attitudes on "the rights of children, the rights of women, the rights of citizens, the rights of the accused, the rights of convicts, people's rights vis-�-vis the ruling establishment," according to "Mobin." Asaf-Nakhai wrote that "The most important mission of the new head of the Judiciary must be changing the judicial structure from a punitive form of penal code -- which was common in the European system of law during the Middle Ages and which is still true of our judicial system -- to a system of legal correction and rehabilitation."
Others also believe that the laws and punishments must change. Deputy Judiciary chief Marvi pointed out that some of the sentencing regulations must be rewritten. Citing the number of people serving prison sentences for writing bad checks, he said that Ayatollah Shahrudi believes imprisonment will not resolve the problem. The issue of "blood money" (diyeh) will have to change, too. Lawyer Mehrangiz Kar complained to "Neshat" in September that citizens' rights are based on their gender, religion, and opinions. She called for a review of the Press Law and suggested a restructuring of the Special Court for the Clergy, "which considers itself the source of all religious thinking."
Efforts toward judicial reform required new legislation. In September the parliament started reviewing a bill that would give Shahrudi more sweeping powers. The law would permit more senior judges to preside over the more complex cases. The new law would also allow Shahrudi to bypass the presidential cabinet when submitting legislation to the parliament. Finally, Shahrudi would have the power to overturn judgements that he believed violated the law.
The law was passed in December, but surprisingly, it encountered opposition from the administration. Vice President Mohammad Ali Saduqi said the government was "opposed to the Judiciary having administrative independence," according to "Hamshahri." "Entekhab" noted two weeks later that Shahrudi needed such powers if legal revisions were to go ahead, and "This goal is so broad, comprehensive, and laudable that it seems to be unachievable except with the full cooperation of the Legislative, Executive, and Judicial powers." The daily noted that the Guardians Council, of which former Judiciary chief Ayatollah Yazdi is a member, had returned the legislation to the parliament for revision.
By January 2000, however, it was clear that Shahrudi was serious about reforming the Judiciary. Hojatoleslam Izadpanah, director-general of public relations for the Judiciary, announced that anybody who opposed Shahrudi's reform program would be dismissed, "Sobh-i Imruz" reported. And Shahrudi said that "The whole structure of the legal formation is subject to revision," "Entekhab" reported on 8 February.
In March, Izadpanah confirmed the replacement of several judicial officials, and he said that judges would thereafter outrank other officials in the Judiciary, "Tehran Times" reported. In order to address the backlog of press-related cases, a new branch of the Press Court was formed. Tehran Justice department chief Abbas-Ali Alizadeh said they still needed 1897 more judges to deal with the backlog. Judiciary spokesman Hussein Sadeqi told Reuters that there are plans to set up a specialized Judicial police force. And Seyyed Mahmud Bakhtiari, head of the Prisons, Security, and Correction Organization, said that a study to revise penal codes and sentencing practices is underway, IRNA reported on 16 March. (Bill Samii)
...ARE INCOMPLETE. With or without judicial reform, it appears that some things may never change. Take the power of connections. Morteza Rafiqdust will be released from prison soon, "Asr-i Azadegan" reported on 28 March, although he received a life sentence for embezzlement of 123 trillion rials (about $70 million). His cohort, Fazel Khodadad, was executed (see RFE/RL Iran Report, 20 December 1999). Morteza is the brother of former Oppressed and Disabled Foundation chief Mohsen Rafiqdust.
Transparency and accountability remain scarce, too. The trial of security officials for raiding a Tehran University dormitory last July is still going on, but most observers believe that the real culprits, high-ranking and powerful figures with governmental connections, should be in the dock instead. The case of 13 Jews and several Muslims who were arrested on espionage charges early last year still has not come to trial, despite promises to the contrary from official spokesmen. Ten of the 13, furthermore, have been denied access to lawyers, Maurice Copithorne, Special Representative of the Commission on Human Rights on the Islamic Republic of Iran, said on 30 March. And the case of the 1998 (and possibly earlier) serial murders seems no closer to coming to trial.
The press is not free from judicial interference. Mohammad Reza Khatami was summoned by the Press Court on 30 March, presumably in connection with allegations in "Mosharekat" about a cover-up in the shooting of Said Hajjarian. And journalist Emadedin Baqi was summoned by the Revolutionary Court in relation to the same matter. (Bill Samii)
IRANIANS WITHOUT FRONTIERS. Until recently, many Iranians cited political reasons when they fled their country and sought refuge abroad. A Western immigration officer told RFE/RL that the top three reasons they would give for suffering government harassment were engaging in "un-Islamic activities," membership in the illegal Mujahedin Khalq Organization, or "handing out leaflets." The refugees would claim that they did not know what the leaflets were about, they were "just helping a friend." The Western immigration official speculated that Tehran must be full of leaflets because he had heard this claim so often.
If an Iranian's application for refugee status is rejected, he or she must return to his or her country of origin. This is not so easy, because Tehran usually does not acknowledge their nationality. A recent incident in France, however, indicates that Tehran is facilitating the illegal entry to the West of some Iranians. French police recently apprehended five Iranians who entered illegally from Italy. They are part of an 18-member group that arrived in Rome on 18 March. French police say that they had official passports equipped with Schengen visas, but with false names and numbers, according to RFE/RL's Persian Service. Such passports are only available to personnel from Iran's Ministry of Intelligence and Security.
Other who try to leave Iran must rely on smuggling bands and illegal methods. Germany's Federal Border Police recently arrested two Iranians who ran a refugee smuggling operation, Munich's "Focus" reported on 27 March. The gang smuggled Iranians to Frankfurt's Rhine-Main airport and provided them with false documents, and many of them were provided with tickets to the U.S. or Canada via another Iranian's travel agency. Mahmud Reza Farzanehnia was arrested in Seoul for entering the country on a false passport, "The Korea Times" reported on 17 March. Farzanehnia fled Iran in 1996 to avoid persecution for his political activities at Tehran University, police said.
The Tanjung Ledong Marine Patrol Unit arrested 9 Iranians who were attempting to illegally enter Indonesia on 15 March, Medan's "Analisa" reported. A month earlier, Teluk Nibang police arrested 16 Iranians for the same offense. Police in New Zealand broke up a gang that specialized in smuggling Iranians, Iraqis, Afghans, and Pakistanis, Radio Australia reported on 13 March. Malaysian marine police detained five Iranians as they tried to flee to Indonesia, Kuala Lumpur's "Utusan Malaysia" reported on 24 February. Two weeks earlier, 17 Iranians and Iraqis were detained by the police. 19 Iranian illegal immigrants arrested on 15 February while trying to enter Australia have requested political asylum from Australia, the U.S. and the U.K., Jakarta's Antara" reported on 24 February.
Greek border guards arrested two Iranians as they tried to cross the Turkish border with stolen Dutch passports on 5 January. The two admitted that they bought the passports for $2500 dollars in Istanbul. And in December, Sweden's Immigration Board said it is making it harder for Iranians to visit the country because "a record number of Iranians have defected in Sweden and want to stay here," Stockholm's "Svenska Dagbladet" reported on 22 December.
Those who seek refugee status often cite religious or political persecution as their reasons for fleeing. But many of those who leave the country to study in foreign universities do not want to return either. Reza Mansouri, a Tehran academic who has studied Iran's brain-drain, estimates that 40 percent of those who leave on government-funded scholarships refuse to come home, "Business Week" reported on 28 February. Even Iranians educated at home are eager to leave. 25 percent of Iranian university graduates are working abroad. And their motivations are basic: they want opportunities that are not available under Iran's weak and state-dominated economy or in a workplace dominated by cronyism and corruption. (Bill Samii)
UPROAR OVER IRANIAN STUDENTS IN RUSSIA. St. Petersburg's Baltic State Technology University (BGTU) rector Yuriy Savalyev was suspended on suspicion of having allowed Iranian students to study "subjects with a bearing on missile technology," Moscow's "Kommersant" reported on 30 March. The order for Savalyev's dismissal, which was marked "secret," came from Russian Education Minister Vladimir Filippov after the U.S. State Department accused BGTU of offering foreign students instruction in building Weapons of Mass Destruction and missiles.
In 1998, the U.S. listed BGTU as an educational establishment that might offer foreign students instruction in the production of WMD, and 25 Iranian students were taken off the university rolls. Subsequently, a new contract was signed between BGTU and Tehran Technical University, in which 500 Iranians would be trained over a period of eight years. According to the newspaper, the combined annual tuition fees would total $2.5 million -- five times what the university receives in state subsidies. About 100 Iranian students commenced their studies at BGTU last autumn.
Savalyev contends that the charges against him are "unfounded and baseless." He opined that "the Americans have launched an attack on his establishment because they themselves want to train the Iranians and sell them weapons." (Bill Samii)