3 July 2000, Volume 3, Number 26
TEN JEWS AND TWO MUSLIMS GET PRISON SENTENCES. The Fars Province Revolutionary Court passed sentences on 13 Jews and four Muslims facing espionage charges on 1 July. There will be no executions, but 10 of the Jews and two of the Muslims received prison sentences, lashings, and cash fines, according to IRNA. International reaction to the sentences is condemnatory, while Tehran is defiant. All the same, there are voices in Tehran that question the entire trial.
Hamid Tefilin, the main defendant, got a 13-year sentence. His lawyer, Shirzad Rahmani, complained that "The verdict issued by the court is unfair and my client has not had any activity in the espionage network," IRNA reported. Asher Zadmehr was sentenced to 13 years, also.
Naser Levy Hayyem was sentenced to 11 years, Ramin Farzam to 10 years, and Javid Ben Yaqub was sentenced to nine years in prison.
Farhad Seleh, Shahrokh Paknahad, and Farzad Kashi received eight-year sentences. Faramarz Kashi received a five-year sentence, and Ramin Nematizadeh received a four-year sentence.
Two of the Muslim defendants, Ali-Akbar Safaie and Mehrab Yusefi, received two-year sentences. Teymour Rezaie, Hossein Qabileh, Nejatollah Burukhimnejad, Omid Teflin, and Navid Balazadeh were acquitted due to insufficient evidence.
But the case is not closed, and there may be more arrests. Fars Province judicial chief Hojatoleslam Hussein Ali Amiri said that since several of the accused are abroad and due to insufficient evidence about some of the accused, the case would be open until the return of the fugitives and completion of investigations, IRNA reported.
It was never clear whether or not the defendants would face capital punishment. Amiri said they would be executed only if it is proved that they are at war with God (mohareb), IRNA reported on 21 June, and he added that no such charges were brought against any of the defendants. Public Prosecutor Ayatollah Morteza Moqtadai, however, said that the suspects have been found "culpable of spying for the Zionist regime and according to law, they are eligible to be sentenced to death or prison terms," IRNA reported on 25 June. The next day, according to IRNA, Amiri repeated that the mohareb charges have been dropped and the suspects will not face the death penalty.
Even before the sentences were announced, lead defense attorney Esmail Nasseri argued that the "judiciary does not have the legal right to disclose the verdicts publicly until they have gone through the appeals process and are final," AP reported on 27 June. Nasseri also complained that legal procedure was not followed when the names of the 13 Jewish defendants were publicized, whereas those of the eight Muslims were not, which was "the right thing to do." Also, the attorneys for the 13 Jewish suspects have repeatedly stated that the "confessions" they made are inadmissible, and that broadcasting them over state media was an unacceptable breach of legal protocol. Amiri rejoined that the court has enough other evidence to corroborate the confessions, IRNA reported on 21 June.
Many foreign observers questioned the fairness of the trial. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said on 30 June that "The Iranian community needs to live up to its commitments to afford the suspects due process, in keeping with internationally recognized legal standards. The manner in which the trial has been conducted does not meet those standards and we will be watching carefully." And once the sentences were pronounced, foreign officials who had spoken highly of Iran before were critical.
President Bill Clinton, in a written statement, said "We call upon the government of Iran to remedy the failings of these procedures immediately and overturn these unjust sentences." Clinton said that he was "deeply disturbed by the verdicts," and the Iranian government "has again failed to act as a society based on the rule of law, to which the Iranian people aspire."
Canadian Foreign Minister Lloyd Axworthy said in a statement that "Canada has serious concerns about the manner in which the trials were conducted and the verdicts arrived at." French President Jacques Chirac also registered his unhappiness with the conduct of the trial. The British Foreign Office said that "We are deeply concerned at the news of the sentences imposed on some of those tried for espionage in Shiraz." A Dutch Foreign Ministry communique said: "The Netherlands government has learned with horror of the heavy sentences passed by a court at Shiraz." It added that "The trial was not conducted in accordance with internationally-recognized legal principles."
In reaction to the expressions of concern, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi called on these governments to "observe the principles of international law regarding other countries' right of sovereignty and to refrain from interfering in the domestic affairs of other states."
Tehran-sponsored foreign organizations also voiced their irritation about the foreign commentary. Ahmed Jibril of the Tehran-sponsored Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine denounced the criticism of Iran, according to IRNA, and he said that the trial was Iran's internal affair. He added that "the Zionists and Westerners have intensified their propaganda against the Islamic Republic of Iran immediately after this saboteur gang was busted." Also, Palestinian Islamic Jihad spokesman Abul Ass-Said told IRNA that Western concern about the case was a form of "blackmail" meant to deal a "political blow" to Iran.
Many Iranian observers have recognized that the so-called confessions are probably coerced, and they also question the fairness of the trial. Shiraz parliamentarian Reza Yusefian said that there may be a parliamentary committee established to "study and investigate" the case in order to "answer some ambiguities." Yusefian said that "we believe the public opinion should be satisfied that judicial trials are held and verdicts are issued away from political pressures and influences," "Iran" reported on 28 June. (Bill Samii)
COMMEMORATING THE 1999 STUDENT DEMONSTRATIONS. The one-year anniversary of the government's violent suppression of student demonstrations in Tehran and across the country will occur from 8-14 July. In Iran, preparations for the event's commemoration started well in advance. Observers outside Iran, however, seem to have forgotten about the security forces' brutal assault on Tehran University, the murder of students in Tabriz, the mass arrests, and the secret trials.
It is rumored that the Office for Strengthening Unity and the Islamic Union of Students and Graduates have invited students from the provinces to attend rallies in Tehran, according to the 22 June "Resalat." The Islamic Society of Students, furthermore, will commemorate the anniversary with a series of programs titled "From Tragedy to Epic." It also is rumored that personnel from the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, Basij Resistance Forces, and Ministry of Intelligence and Security have been pre-positioned to initiate actions that would serve as a pretext for a government crackdown, the Student Movement Coordination Committee for Democracy in Iran reported.
Some of the regime's other preventative steps include arresting students all over the country, especially any potential leaders. Heshmatollah Tabarzadi, leader of the Islamic Union of Students and Graduates, brought this situation to President Mohammad Khatami's attention in a letter, the "Tehran Times" reported on 10 June. Tabarzadi himself was arrested on 18 June. Tabarzadi was arrested in July 1999, too, shortly before the outbreak of violence last year. Another activist, Hamid Alizadeh, was summoned by the court on 18 June, SMCCDI reported. Alizadeh was arrested last July, also. Student activist Abolfazl Passebani was arrested recently, too, according to SMCCDI. And at the end of May it was reported that student activist Ardeshir Zarezadeh was arrested.
And this is just the tip of the iceberg. Arrests of scores of students in Isfahan, Mashhad, Shiraz, Tabriz, and Tehran have been reported. And according to the 19 June "al-Sharq al-Awsat," it is feared that students sentenced to death for their part in last year's riots may be executed as a deterrent. Furthermore, Hojatoleslam Mohsen Rahami, attorney for the plaintiffs in the case against law enforcement personnel who assaulted Tehran University last year, was arrested on 28 June, IRNA reported. Rahami, along with attorney Shirin Ebadi, was "detained on charges of disturbing public opinion in connection with taped remarks against some officials," the Tehran Justice Department said.
In a singular reversal of the general trend, in the last week of June student leader Ali Afshari was released from prison after being held for almost two months. He had to post about $60,000 in bail, having been arrested for his participation in a controversial conference in Berlin. Some steps are being taken to prevent a recurrence of the violence, also. Some 47 members of parliament introduced a bill that would ban police and soldiers from university grounds.
Parliamentarian Saidi, who was once an active member of the Office for Strengthening Unity, warned that repression will not work against the students. He said in the 12 June "Bayan" that "the perpetrators must know that the student movement cannot be bullied away. This is a movement which marches ahead with strength and perseverance." (Bill Samii)
INTERNATIONAL DAY AGAINST TORTURE MARKED. The United Nations promoted events to support victims of torture and to press governments to end the practice on 26 June. Governments were urged to sign and comply with the UN convention against torture, which is defined as any act in which severe pain or suffering is inflicted by officials on someone in order to obtain a confession or information; or to punish somebody for an act he or she is suspected of committing. Torture also could involve inflicting pain on the basis of discrimination. Article 38 of the Iranian constitution also bans torture. It says that "all forms of torture for the purpose of extracting confessions or acquiring information are forbidden. Compulsion of individuals to testify, confess, or take an oath is not permissible."
Despite this legal proviso, the use of torture in Iran is widespread. Yet little is heard about this subject in the country itself. This is because torture has an impact on not only the immediate victim of this barbaric practice, but on the family and others close to the victim. Inge Genefka, secretary-general of the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims in Copenhagen, told RFE/RL why all these people stay silent about torture. She said that "Torture is an illness that neither the victim nor, obviously, the perpetrator is inclined to reveal because it is so shameful, it so much attacks the dignity of the victims."
Sometimes it is hard, furthermore, to have much sympathy for the victims of torture, according to a commentary in the 28 March "Asr-i Azadegan." The daily pointed out that some of the Iranians who are imprisoned or are being tortured today were, in fact, carrying out torture a few years ago. "They did not imagine that torture will be changed into a 'method' that could be applied against everybody, even themselves, in another situation."
Bacre Waly Ndiaye, director of the New York office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, told RFE/RL about some of the complaints received by the commission's special rapporteur. "Among the practices most commonly described by the rapporteur are electric shock to private parts and extremities, beating on the soles of the feet, suspension by the limbs, scalding by boiling water, uncomfortable and humiliating positions, and death threats."
Some of the better known cases of physical or mental torture in Iran concern the students arrested for involvement in the demonstrations in Tabriz and Tehran last July, the Tehran deputy mayors arrested in the corruption case of Tehran Mayor Gholamhussein Karbaschi, the suspects in the serial murders case, and the 13 Jews accused of espionage. One of the rare occasions in which the Iranian judiciary has tried to stop torture occurred in the case of the young men arrested for shooting Said Hajjarian last March. But the public has little confidence in the judiciary. As pointed out by Ahmad Zeidabadi in an April interview with "Akhbar-i Eqtesad," "Not only does the judiciary not have a positive record of redressing injustices done to citizens, it is itself accused of putting illegal pressures on them."
The judiciary's motives, furthermore, are suspect. It later turned out that the allegations stemmed from the judiciary's desire to discredit a bureaucratic rival--the Ministry of Intelligence and Security, rather than from any desire to promote justice.
To really eliminate torture in Iran requires thorough and systematic changes, according to a February commentary in "Mosharekat." Prisoners should not be isolated for extended periods, the daily suggested, and if they could meet with their families and lawyers regularly, there would be no opportunity to torture them. "If we do not start today, tomorrow will be too late. One day it is the turn of opposition figures, intellectuals, writers, and ideological opponents, and another day it is the turn of mayors. ...God knows whose turn it will be tomorrow." (Bill Samii)
AMNESTY REPORT ON IRAN REJECTED. Amnesty International's "Report 2000," covering events in 1999, singled out Tehran for the government's arrest and continuing imprisonment of hundreds of student demonstrators; unfair trials; the closures of newspapers and the arrests of journalists; torture; corporal punishment; and executions. Released on 14 June, the report also noted Iran's persecution of religious minorities, such as Bahais and Jews.
Amnesty also criticized Iran because "no charges had been laid and no one had been brought to trial" for the serial murders of writers and political dissidents. The international human rights organization said it had sent several letters of inquiry to the Iranian government requesting information on the case, but it had not received a response, nor was it permitted to visit Iran.
In a response to the report, Judiciary chief Ayatollah Mahmud Hashemi-Shahrudi said the serial murders case was complex, and he "expressed satisfaction with the legal proceedings of the case," IRNA reported on 18 June. He explained that the investigation addressed political motivations and the mastermind of the murders. Shahrudi rejected Amnesty's report and told students in Kerman that the report "had been publicized under the influence of powerful global lobbies."
Other Iranian observers ascribe ulterior motives to Amnesty International, also. An open letter from religious scholars in Qom, published in the 24 April "Entekhab," warned that "the objective of international organizations such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, and conventions in defense of women's rights, and those of minorities of thought and religion, is nothing but to control Third World countries with the aid of cultural tools. They want to rule the world. ...they use dark tricks to make revolutionaries and free men all over the world lose hope." (Bill Samii)
A TOUGH NEIGHBORHOOD. Relations between neighboring states are almost inevitably rocky at times and smooth at others. Recent reports concerning Iran and the Republic of Azerbaijan demonstrate that although neighboring states may have shared political interests and ethnic ties, they can also use these very factors against each other.
Muslum Yusufzade, allegedly an associate of Tabriz-based ethnic Azeri dissident Mahmudali Chehragani, was arrested in Baku recently, "Yeni Musavat" reported on 24 June. Yusufzade is reportedly a member of the National Liberation Movement of Southern Azerbaijan (NLMSA), and he was fleeing an Iranian round-up of Azerbaijani nationalists when he came to Baku. He claimed he was being persecuted by the Ministry of Intelligence and Security and requested asylum.
As for Chehragani himself, the United Azerbaijan Association claims that the Iranian government has cut off his phone to isolate him, and it recently tried to "poison him," "Yeni Musavat" reported on 24 June. A South Azerbaijani Women's Council was established in May to support Chehragani's case, Baku's Space TV reported.
Tehran resents the attention given to Chehragani's case. Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi said, according to the 17 May "Ekspress," that "I am surprised that the Azerbaijani papers are paying so much attention to the issue of Mahmudali Chehragani. This man is an Iranian citizen and that issue is our internal matter. If he has broken the law, he will be punished. I think that this subject should be closed."
Reports of Iranian intrigues aimed against the Republic of Azerbaijan also persist. Given the close security relationship and various pacts between Iran and Armenia, such reports border on the possible, although the sources of such reports are not the most reliable. Baku's "Bizim Asr" reported on 13 June that an official Iranian delegation of business-people had visited the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh enclave, and Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps has established ties with the Karabakh Armenians. Iran also is supplying the enclave with arms and ammunition, according to Azerbaijani nationalists. Mahir Javadov, who is living in exile in Iran and whose brother led an unsuccessful coup attempt in Baku several years ago, told Baku's ANS television on 29 May that a coup in Azerbaijan is very likely and could happen at any time.
And, in late-April, representatives of two militant Islamist organizations (the Ikhwan al-Muslimin and the Hizb al-Tahrir) met in Qom with officials from Iran's Ministry of Intelligence and Security, according to "Ekspress." The Iranians received a message that "Iran bears special responsibility for the establishment of Islamic values in the region it borders on and it is important for it to take measures corresponding to the situation," while in Azerbaijan, "the number of people who have become servants of international imperialism has increased and they may become a threat to the entire region."
There are, however, other signs that Iran and the Republic of Azerbaijan have some common interests. A specially-trained detachment of Iranian personnel has been assigned to Baku's Amay company (which belongs to Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliev's brother, Jalal). The detachment's task is to create disturbances that would serve as a pretext for suppressing the opposition, "Yeni Musavat" reported on 3 June. It also is possible that an extradition treaty between the neighboring states will permit the exchange of Mahir Javadov for Piruz Dilenchi, who heads the NLMSA. The two countries have already held several prisoner exchanges (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 20 March 2000). (Bill Samii)
THE MORAL HIGH GROUND. Cambridge University's Peter Avery recently commented, when asked what is retarding an Iran-U.S. rapprochement, that "they both occupy the moral high ground." The truth of this observation was demonstrated in a recent exchange of official comments. What might be more worrisome is a related comment by an Iranian official that was meant for a mainly clerical audience.
Iranian President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami said, in an interview broadcast by Iranian state radio on 27 June, that "the Americans should totally change their words and deeds, if they really want to transform the relations between the two countries. Unfortunately, the Americans' words, as well as their deeds, have many negative aspects. This shows that their perspective on various issues is not correct. These issues must be fully resolved."
Khatami had said earlier in an interview with the "al-Hayat" daily that "the United States of America does not have good policies towards Iran. Iran has not backed off in any way on its principles and American accusations against Iran are unrealistic accusations. ...It is the United States that stands accused of interfering in Iranian affairs and creating problems for the Islamic Republic," the so-called moderate said. Khatami went on to say that Iran's hostility to the Middle East Peace Process stems from the belief that it will not work and is, in fact, "immortalizing the Israeli occupation of Palestine." Khatami added that Iran will not interfere in the peace process.
In reaction to a 26 June question about Khatami's "al-Hayat" interview," U.S. State Department spokesman Phil Reeker said that "we have no illusions that decades of mistrust between our two countries can be wiped out overnight. We are prepared to be patient." Reeker added that "we have offered to engage in an official dialog with Iran in order to address the serious issues which divide us, including Iran's support for opponents of the Middle East Peace Process, terrorism, and Iran's continuing efforts to acquire weapons of mass destruction."
A lot of patience may be required. Speaker of parliament Hojatoleslam Mohammad-Mehdi Mahdavi-Karrubi said on 2 July, according to IRNA, that "the behavior of [the] U.S. government and politicians only raised the wall of mistrust and a lot of effort is required to break this wall. " Karrubi went on to say that "it is very difficult to draw an optimistic picture for normalization of Iran-U.S. ties. "
Such comments may discourage those who hope to see a rapprochement between the U.S. and Iran. Comments that may cause more immediate concern came from Minister of Intelligence and Security Hojatoleslam Ali Yunesi. "Islam is the only force that can resist Western hegemony and it poses a serious danger to Western civilization," he told a gathering of clerics on 10 June, according to state radio. (Bill Samii)