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Iran Report: April 24, 2000

24 April 2000, Volume 3, Number 16

JANGALI MOVEMENT REVIVED. Just as Mirza Kuchek Khan and his followers in Gilan fought against government repression and injustice during the Jangali movement of 1914-1921, citizens of that northern province are fighting back again. Rasht residents showed, during three days of demonstrations in mid-April, that they will not tolerate the interpretation of acceptable social interaction that Iran's hardliners advocate and attempt to impose, and they are tired of waiting for the civil society and rule of law they have heard so much about since 1997.

On 14 April, clashes between young Rasht citizens and local Basijis erupted after the Basijis stopped a young woman, who was with a man, for inappropriate attire. An eyewitness added that "Several baton-wielding Basiji arrived on motorcycles. They began to beat up young men whom they accused of trying to pick up girls," AFP reported on 17 April. Angry citizens attacked banks and other buildings, and burning tires were used to block city streets. The clashes ended after Law Enforcement Forces intervened and arrested about ten people.

The violence continued the next day. As residents of Rasht tried to commemorate the Sham-i Qariban religious ceremony, they were set upon by hardline pressure groups under the pretext of "promoting virtue and prohibiting vice," "Asr-i Azadegan" reported on 17 April. In the resulting clashes, deputy provincial security chief Ali Baqeri told the 18 April "Khorasan," more buildings were attacked and damaged. This lasted about two hours, until the LEF intervened. State television reported that the "ring-leaders" were arrested by the LEF "with the people's assistance."

At what is presumably a state-organized demonstration on 16 April, according to state radio, people "marched in the main city roads where they expressed their disgust and dislike towards those who have been responsible for the unrest." As they marched they chanted, according to "Khorasan," "If Khamenei gives the order for jihad, the world's armies can't stop me; Khamenei is another Khomeini and his leadership is successful leadership." According to state radio, "the demonstrators called on the relevant officials to deal firmly with those who are responsible for the recent riot."

That seems very unlikely, as the incidents have resulted in a disagreement between deputy provincial security chief Baqeri and Supreme Leader's representative Hojatoleslam Sadeq Ehsan-Bakhsh, according to AFP. Baqeri claimed the Basij is responsible, while Ehsan-Bakhsh claimed that "Bagheri programmed the whole thing." Just a week earlier, Rajabali Mazrui of the pro-Khatami Islamic Iran Participation Party was attacked when he was in Rasht, according to "Khorasan." (Bill Samii)

TEHRAN RECOUNT TO RESUME. The Guardians Council, which is charged with supervision of Iranian elections, informed the Interior Ministry on 16 April that it will resume the recount of votes in Tehran. Previously, the Guardians Council and the Interior Ministry stopped the recount and said that after checking results in about 500 ballot boxes, the changes were inconsequential (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 13 March 2000).

In an interview published by IRNA on 18 April, however, Guardians Council secretary Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati referred to "the holidays and preparing the grounds" when he explained the delays in announcing the final Tehran results. He did not say when the recount would be concluded.

Jannati said the 28th to 33rd places were being reconsidered, rather than just the 29th through 31st, because five people had filed complaints. He explained, furthermore, that "the Guardians Council had two reasons for repeating the process; firstly, from our point of view, after the first recounting in which 528 ballots were counted, the ambiguities still remained and the possibility of any change in the results existed, and secondly, because of the false interpretations of the early results of the first recounting process. Therefore, to remove these charges we decided to continue the process."

When asked about the cancellation of election results in Khalkhal -- which resulted in riots -- Jannati said the Guardians Council is not obliged to give a reason but it will do so when "it seems fit." If the Guardians Council makes any mistakes, Jannati said, "it is only the Supreme Leader who is entitled to warn the council thanks to his absolute jurisprudence." (In October 1998, Jannati said that "We are only responsible to the authority that appointed and installed us," i.e., the Supreme Leader).

This second recount may not go so smoothly. Tehran's governor, Ayatollah (his name, not his rank) Azarmi, told the 17 April "Aftab-i Imruz" that the Guardians Council's request to open the ballot boxes is illegal. This is especially so because the hardline Guardians Council does not want the generally reformist Interior Ministry to be present during the recount. The Interior Ministry, "Tehran Times" reported on 18 April, will not comply with what it sees as an unconstitutional request.

Meanwhile, protests over the cancellation of election results in the South have resumed. People from Saravan Kovar and Kharameh constituency in Fars Province blocked the main road between Shiraz and Bandar Abbas, IRNA reported on 18 April. The protesters also rallied in front of the district governor's office and damaged some public buildings and facilities in Sarvestan, which is south of Shiraz.

Despite the cancellations, the Islamic Iran Participation Party is confident of maintaining a reformist majority in parliament. The party believes that it will control a minimum of 175 seats in the new parliament, IRNA reported on 19 April. Its top candidate for the post of parliamentary speaker is Hojatoleslam Mehdi Mahdavi-Karrubi, secretary of the Militant Clerics Association (Majma-yi Ruhaniyun-i Mobarez), and the candidates for deputy speaker are Mohammad Reza Khatami and Hojatoleslam Majid Ansari. (Bill Samii)

UNREST IN NORTHWEST. Not all the recent civil disturbances are directly related to political or social issues. Locals attacked the municipality building in the northwestern settlement of Alamdar, and after security forces were called in to restore order, there were reports of injuries. In this case, locals were objecting to the government's effort to relocate the local market, Baku's "Reyting" reported on 19 April. (Bill Samii)

IS VIOLENCE NATURAL? On the heels of the March attempt on the life of Tehran city council member Said Hajjarian, a Tehran daily speculated that violence may be embedded in Iranian society. If the assassination attempt was the work of foreign intelligence services, "Kar va Kargar" suggested on 18 March, they must believe that some Iranians think that "the physical elimination of rivals, and the articulators of opposition to them, can be a basis for terrorist operations." Supporting the theory that the incident can be traced to "members of a stubborn clique," on the other hand, are the "ideological discords and differences within the family of the revolution [which] have become so deep and widespread that some people can easily be incited to spill the blood of others."

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's sermon on 14 April, in which he advocated the use of force, supports the view that violence is an inherent Iranian feature. His comments, however, should be viewed within a theological and historical context. And although other officials and commentators supported Khamenei's comments, there has been as much, if not more, commentary condemning violence and suggesting that most people would prefer to settle their differences in a civilized manner.

A debate on violence has been conducted in the Iranian print media over the last few months, Khamenei pointed out, but he wondered if there was more to this than met the eye. He said that there is legitimate violence that is prescribed by the law -- punishment, for example. There is also illegitimate violence, when one person attacks another. "When the Islamic state has to deal with bullying, aggression, riots, and instances of law-breaking, it must be tough and decisive. It must deal with matter violently. It must not be frightened of the word violence."

Khamenei said that the "enemies" have other motives when they reject all violence, rather than differentiating between legitimate and illegitimate violence. He warned that "We must not allow ourselves to be deceived by what the enemy puts out on the airwaves." "Legal violence is good. It is necessary. Unlawful violence is bad. It is ugly and it is a crime."

These sentiments -- legal is good, illegal is bad -- seem fairly straight-forward. Other parts of the sermon, however, appeared to identify who is a legitimate target of violence. In this sermon, as well as the 20 March No Ruz sermon, Khamenei emphasized national unity as a key part of national security. Khamenei stated that reform is always desirable, because in generic terms, it means improving the system. But some people are promoting "Americanized reforms" that are opposed by "all our country's officials, all our devoted people, and all the vigilant organs of state." Khamenei did not say what these Americanized reforms are, nor did he identify their advocates. But they are not contributing to unity and are therefore threatening national security. Presumably, they will be identified by individual actors and vigilante groups and dealt with accordingly.

Khamenei's comments struck a chord, for they seemed to give carte blanche to those who oppose reform and who are willing to impose their views violently. One of the most dramatic statements came from the Islamic Revolution Guard Corps (IRGC), and it was broadcast on 16 April. It said that "if necessary, our enemies, be they small or large, will feel the reverberating impact of the hammer of the Islamic revolution on their skulls and the impact will be so strong that they will never be able to engage in hatching plots or committing crimes."

The "enemies" and their "overt and covert agents" were identified as those who oppose God and who after suffering setbacks in the early days of the revolution have returned to the political arena. The IRGC statement complained about certain unnamed newspapers that advocated separation of church and state, according to IRNA. It also said that some "insiders" now deny that the Islamic Revolution has enemies, and some journalists say that the Father of the Revolution Ayatollah Ruhollah Musavi-Khomeini's ideas are out-dated. Such views are propounded by the revolution's enemies abroad, and they will be defeated through unity. "When necessary, we shall swoop on them like lightning and we shall legally deal with them and we shall not hesitate to do so indiscriminately."

The timing of Khamenei' sermon was not a coincidence. He was trying to end the media debate about violence, and he also was defending actions of the Basij and Law Enforcement Forces when they enforce rules of social conduct. Also, the sermon came right before the week of "Promoting Virtue and Prohibiting Vice " started. In a theological context, furthermore, it should be noted that the sermon preceded Ashura, the day commemorating the martyrdom of Imam Hussein at Karbala. Imam Hussein and his followers preferred to fight, rather than submit.

Taqi Rahmani, speaking in Rudsar, Gilan Province, warned that "Violence-seekers are familiar with latest methods, measures, and even modern theories of violence and use them under the guise of religion," Akhbar-i Eqtesad" reported on 2 April. Islamic intellectual Abdulkarim Sorush condemned promotion of violence in the name of Imam Hussein. He went on to say that Muslims have learned the lessons of courage, forbearance, and martyrdom from historical events, but "Imam Hussein always kept the path of dialog open with both his friends and his enemies." Sorush pointed out that "Honor is not tantamount to bullying or coercion," IRNA reported on 14 April.

Religious Iranians do not act without explicit or implicit instructions, Mohammad Qaragozlu editorialized in the 12 April "Fath." "Schoolchildren are taught that the smallest religious issues require reference to the writs of theologians," so the assassinations and violence conducted by so-called "rogue elements" and "extremists" must be investigated thoroughly enough to reveal their "hidden layers." But before doing so, Qaragozlu writes, "we suggest the closure of all platforms and venues used to propagate and encourage violence and that religious leaders (Friday prayer leaders) as well as cultural and political leaders and mass media consider the condemnation of violence part of the religious duty to prevent vice."

Brigadier General Aminian, commander of the ground forces' 77th Division, said that breaking down issues in terms of insiders and outsiders violates the spirit of the constitution, "Arya" reported on 18 April. Aminian warned that "The foremost threat to the country's unity and national security is violence and violence-prone individuals." (Bill Samii)

CRY HAVOC. A number of factors, not least the Supreme Leader's recent sermon about violence, have led to rising tensions in Iran. The assassination of an IRGC officer and recent reports about a possible IRGC coup against President Mohammad Khatami sparked accusations, denials, and warnings. The 18 April showing of a videotape of a Berlin conference, at which reformist figures (such as journalist Akbar Ganji) ridiculed current issues, caused further tension. And finally, the parliament approved a restrictive new press law.

Having disappeared on 29 March, IRGC Colonel Hussein Burbur was found dead with signs of torture on his body on 4 March. The reformist press reported that Burbur's death was related to his involvement in smuggling with a criminal named Houshang Riazi (a.k.a. Esfandiar Rashidi). Deputy Law Enforcement Forces commander Mohsen Ansari discussed the case, "Fath" reported on 19 April, but did not shed much light on it. Ansari said the murderers were Riazi, Khoshyar Eskandarzadeh, and Mortazi Askar-Najafi, but he was not sure how they lured Burbur to the killing ground.

The 17 April "Asr-i Azadegan" accused the hardline publications of manipulating this issue. They called Burbur a "martyr," although his death was under suspicious circumstances, just because he was linked with the IRGC. The reformist daily said that "the conservatives long to see one of its supporters killed by one of the reformists so that they can use the incident as a pretext to confront the [reformists] in a violent manner."

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei was approached by several IRGC commanders who expressed their concern about the system's future after the recent reformist success in the parliamentary elections, "Asharq al-Awsat" reported on 18 April. They threatened to act against the reformists. Khamenei received similar messages of concern from "some conservative religious scholars and some members of the Assembly of Experts." They urged Khamenei to cancel the election results and extend the current term of parliament by another year. Khamenei rejected all these suggestions and warned of a civil war if the IRGC acted, according to "Asharq al-Awsat."

Fueling the belief that the IRGC is planning a coup was its aggressive 16 April statement (see above). In Tehran, this is being called Statement Number 0, in the belief that Statement Number 1 will be the announcement of a coup. The Mujahedin of the Islamic Revolution Organization responded to the IRGC in a statement published by "Iran" on 19 April. The MIRO warned that the hardline "Power Mafia" is trying to manipulate the IRGC to achieve its own ends: "the Power Mafia intends to turn this popular force into a suppressive entity to confront the nation." After its proud history in the war with Iraq, the IRGC may be reduced to the level of "jack-booted soldiers of the third world who seek to increase their power through suppression of writers, by banning newspapers and through fear and intimidation."

The Berlin conference video sparked strong reactions, too. Former Guardians Council member Ayatollah Abolqasem Khazali was quite explicit. "Kill them [reformists] wherever you find them," "Sobh-i Imruz" quoted him as saying on 19 April. "If the enemy does not attack you, you should attack them." Only the day before, Ayatollah Taqi Mesbah-Yazdi warned that "those who go on about reformism are, in fact, trying to revive the traditions of apostates of 2500 years ago in Iran's Islamic society," "Fath" reported. (The penalty for apostasy is death.)

Tehran University's Student Basij held a rally on 18 April to protest against the Berlin conference and reform, according to state television. "Thousands" gathered, condemned the conference attendees as "the standard bearers of the 2nd Khordad," and carried placards saying "we support Islamic-revolutionary reforms but American-style reforms, never." The next day, bazaar merchants closed their shops as a sign of their opposition to the Berlin conference and their support for the Supreme Leader.

There also is unhappiness in the media about a new press law that the parliament passed on 18 April. The Guardians Council has ten days to approve it. The new law permits Revolutionary Courts to prosecute press cases and prohibits the reappearance of banned publications under a new name. The new law prohibits criticism of the constitution, and it makes journalists, as well as publications' directors, liable for what appears in the press. This new law is similar to the plan recommended by the now-deceased Ministry of Intelligence and Security official Said Emami (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 12 July 2000). The passage of the first draft of this law in July 2000 was one of the sparks that ignited massive disturbances. Afterwards, parliament postponed acting on the bill, leading to speculation that the new parliament could overturn it.

The press had a difficult time over the last year (March 1999-2000), "Fath" reported on 3 April. 78 Tehran and 57 provincial publications lost their licenses. Iran's journalists and media figures are facing difficulties this year, too. IRNA director Fereidun Verdinejad was summoned by the Press Court on the basis of a complaint from the Law Enforcement Forces, the Basij, the Antisacreligious Acts Office (Amr be Maruf va Nahi az Monker), Bojnurd Friday Prayer leader Hojatoleslam Mehman, parliamentarian Ahmad Rasuli-Nejad and the director of the banned "Panjshanbeh-ha."

"Hayat-i No" publisher Hojatoleslam Hadi Khamenei was summoned by the Special Court for the Clergy, "Fath" reported on 10 April. "Bayan" publisher Hojatoleslam Ali-Akbar Mohtashemi-Pur was summoned by the Special Court for the Clergy on the basis of articles that appeared in his daily. The same day, Mashallah Shamsolvaezin, editor of "Asr-i Azadegan" and the banned "Neshat," received a 30 month jail sentence. Journalist Akbar Ganji received another death threat, "Fath" reported on 16 April. Two days later, Ganji was summoned by the press court on the basis of complaints from former MOIS chief Ali Akbar Fallahian, his deputy, and the LEF, "Iran" reported.

And on 23 April it was reported that "Asr-i Azadegan," "Fath," the biweekly "Iran-i Farda," the weekly "Aban," and the pro-reform dailies "Arya" and "Aftab-i Emrouz" were among a dozen reformist publications that were banned by the Judiciary. It also was reported that investigative journalist Akbar Ganji was arrested. Indeed, it seems that the "dogs of war" have been released. (Bill Samii)

ANOTHER ARREST IN HAJJARIAN CASE. Tehran municipal council member Ahmad Hakimipur was arrested on 14 April in connection with the 12 March attempt on Said Hajjarian's life. Judiciary officials claim that one of the gunman's accomplices distracted Hajjarian with a letter of introduction written by Hakimipur.

The Tehran municipal council issued a statement that Hakimipur's arrest was just an attempt to divert the investigation, while the real culprits, who are known to everybody, go free. Several members of the Islamic Iran Participation Party said Hakimipur's arrest was a mistake, "Abrar" reported on 17 April.

Deputy Judiciary head Ayatollah Hadi Marvi said on 18 April that the shooter, Said Asqar, had confessed "explicitly." A report that appeared in "Iran" on the same day, however, claimed that a leading suspect named Qassemi had fled to Pakistan by air.

Hajjarian continues to recover and has regained the ability to speak. (Bill Samii)

JUDICIARY CHANGES CONTINUE. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said during the Friday Prayer sermon of 14 February that "We need judicial reforms" and "We need reform in the field of laws and regulations." As part of efforts to implement judicial reforms, hardline officials, particularly graduates of the Haqqani seminary, are being replaced (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 3 April 2000). The most recent Haqqani alumni to lose his position is Revolutionary Court Judge Gholamhussein Rahbarpur, IRNA reported on 17 April. Hojatoleslam Ali Mobasheri, former judge of Tehran Province appeals court, replaced Rahbarpour. Rahbarpour has been assigned as deputy chief of the administrative court that examines complaints against government institutions.

Deputy Judiciary head Ayatollah Hadi Marvi said that the judiciary's financial independence is being increased with the government's cooperation. Marvi added that judiciary chief Ayatollah Mahmud Hashemi-Shahrudi hopes to decrease the number of prisoners, rather than increasing prison capacity. (Bill Samii)

TEHRAN CONSIDERS PRO-CHECHNYA MARCH. Said Emin Ibrahimov, chairman of the international committee to protect human rights in the Chechen Republic, told a 12 April press conference that the Iranian Foreign Ministry has been asked for permission to stage a march in Iran. Ibrahimov explained, Baku's "Zerkalo" weekly reported on 13 April, that "The main purpose of the 'peace and human rights' march is to draw the attention of the world community and international organizations to the genocide of the Chechen people being carried out by the Russian government and to its consequences."

At the Group of 77 meeting in Havana, Iran's (non-existent) role in settling the Chechnya crisis (as well as those in Kosova and Afghanistan) received praise, IRNA reported on 12 April., But given Iran's actual record of indifference on the Chechnya issue, it seems unlikely that permission for any protest marches will be granted.

The UK's "Al-Muhajiroun" organization issued a statement on 17 April that a fatwa has decreed that Russian President-elect Vladimir Putin should be "put on trial in an Islamic court for his crimes and for capital punishment to be applied." Earlier this year, "Al-Muhajiroun" condemned the Iranian government for its failure to support Muslims in Chechnya (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 17 January 20000). Groups of Naqshbandi Sufis and Kaderia Sufis from Iran, on the other hand, are accused of supporting the Chechens against Russian forces, "Moskovskie Novosti" reported in late March. (Bill Samii)