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Iran Report: April 12, 1999

12 April 1999, Volume 2, Number 15

NEW YEAR STARTS WITH CRACKDOWN ON PUBLICATIONS. Tehran's "Zan" daily was closed on 6 April by the Judiciary. It was punished for publishing a cartoon ridiculing the current Iranian interpretation of the principle of "blood money." As it now stands in Iran, the compensation one must pay to a murdered woman's family is less than that which must be paid to a murdered man's family. Hojatoleslam Gholamhossein Rahbarpour, head of Tehran's revolutionary court, said "publishing a caricature in which blood money, one of the main judicial and religious principles of Islam is ridiculed [is considered a] direct insult." Rahbarpour also cited publication of a letter from the ex-empress of Iran, Farah Diba, as a "blatant anti-revolutionary act." "Zan" frequently irritates hardliners, and it was suspended for two weeks earlier this year. Faezeh Hashemi, publisher of "Zan" and daughter of Expediency Council chairman Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, had to cancel a scheduled trip to the U.S.

On 4 April, "Zan" was warned about the letter by the Islamic Guidance and Culture Ministry. "Zulfaqar" biweekly and "Sobh" monthly also received warnings that day. "Zulfaqar" was warned for publishing offensive photographs. "Sobh" was warned about an article titled "Violence and Crisis Creation in Strategic Management." "Sobh" is unpopular with some figures in the Iranian government because it frequently reports on corruption and mismanagement. Its application to become a biweekly was denied, according to its January-February issue, and last year, its proprietor and chief editor, Mehdi Nassiri, was banned for four months and fined.

A warning of this sort of hardline crackdown came during the Friday Prayers sermon of 26 March from Judiciary chief Ayatollah Mohammad Yazdi. In what can be seen as a criticism of Islamic Guidance and Culture Minister Ataollah Mohajerani, he said religious scholars, rather than the Ministry of Islamic Culture and Guidance, can say whether or not publications are Islamically suitable. When newspapers resumed publication after a two-week break for the No Ruz holiday, "Hamshahri" responded. It wrote, on 3 April, that Yazdi must be afraid of the press if he attacks it only when it cannot respond.

Faezeh Hashemi questioned the legality of the action against her publication, telling the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA): "The revolutionary court's move against Zan daily is outside this court's legal bounds...The charges against Zan should be heard by a press court." In an interview with RFE/RL's Persian Service, Ali Nazari, managing editor of "Arzesh" magazine, said about the vague rules: "Every time the press in Iran is warned by officials, we are told that we have crossed a red line, although no one has bothered to tell us where that red line is." He continued: "When Tous and Jame'ah were closed down [in 1998], they gave the same explanation that these two publications crossed the red line."

Finally, "Neshat" daily, in a 7 April editorial, asked in frustration: "How Should We Write the News?" Yazdi appeared to answer in the 9 April sermon when he condemned "Zan" for publishing the letter. (Bill Samii)

A CAMPAIGN AGAINST MOHAJERANI. Newspaper closures are not the only factor making the position of Islamic Guidance and Culture Minister Ataollah Mohajerani look increasingly precarious. He is unpopular with hardliners and is criticized frequently. The January resignation of his tough deputy, Ahmad Bourqani, made attacks against Mohajerani even easier (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 8 February 1999). On 6 April, "Jomhouri Islami" reported that Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei had criticized Mohajerani for wanting to hold No Ruz celebrations in Persepolis. The same day, "Kayhan" daily quoted conservative parliamentarian Ali Zadsar Jirofti, who said: "With the opening of the Majlis in the new year I will do my utmost to impeach Mohajerani. This is the best No Ruz gift I can give to the Hezbollah Islamic community." In the 9 April sermon, Semnan Friday Prayer leader Hojatoleslam Sheikh Abbas Ali Akhtari, who was discussing "Zan," criticized the Islamic Guidance and Culture Ministry for licensing newspapers which he claimed act against "independence and freedom."

But in interviews with "Tehran Times," parliamentarian Musa Qorbani said an impeachment is not in the offing; parliament deputy Mohammad Reza Khabbaz said although some MPs favor Mohajerani's impeachment, it "will not be in the national interest;" and Mashhad's Hamid Reza Taraqi said although "people, Friday Prayer leaders, teachers, and families of the martyrs" are ready to interpellate Mohajerani, their real objective is to "reform the Ministry of Culture." MP Kamal Daneshyar echoed this last sentiment in "Sobh-i Imruz" on 8 April. "Khordad" said on 7 April that Mohajerani is being threatened with dismissal so he will shut down reformist papers like "Sobh-i Imruz," "Khordad," "Arya," and "Zan." Mohajerani wrote in "Ettelaat" on 8 April that he would rather resign than abandon his beliefs. (Bill Samii)

KARBASCHI LOSES APPEAL, APPEALS AGAIN. Judicial spokesman Fotuvat Nassiri Savadkuhi said on 6 April that Iran's top court rejected Tehran Mayor Gholamhossein Karbaschi's appeal and upheld the sentence. Karbaschi appealed his July conviction once, and it was reduced in December. He then entered another appeal. Karbaschi may have to pay a fine of over $500,000, avoid political office for ten years, and serve two years in jail. Karbaschi's lawyer, Bahman Keshavarz, told Reuters on 6 April: "We are making another appeal to the Supreme Court. We hope to produces some results." "Neshat" reported on 8 April, however, that another appeal will not be considered.

Some observers, Reuters reports, see Karbaschi's situation as a blow to President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami, since Karbaschi is partly credited with Khatami's successful election. But it is not entirely clear if Karbaschi is still allied with Khatami or if he shifted allegiances elsewhere to gain some leniency (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 4 January 1999). Also, if the pro-Khatami makeup of the recently-elected Tehran municipal council is allowed to stand, then a similarly-inclined mayor may be chosen. So the Khatami sentencing, combined with the closure of "Zan" newspaper, may be an attack on the Executives of Construction Party and it could indicate a diminution in the political standing of Hojatoleslam Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. (Bill Samii)

COUNCIL ELECTIONS STILL DEBATED. Over a month has passed since the council elections, but the debate over the eligibility of elected candidates in Tehran continues. Central Election Supervisory Board chief Hojatoleslam Ali Mohammad Savoji is to meet with First Vice President Hassan Habibi, who heads an arbitration committee, to discuss the issue, "Tehran Times" reported on 4 April. The disputed individuals are former-Interior Minister Abdullah Nuri, former Intelligence and Security Ministry official Said Hajjarian, ex-hostage taker and student leader Ebrahim Asgharzadeh, Mohammad Atrianfar, and Ahmad Hakimipour. The final composition of councils in Ardebil city and Bandar Abbas is also disputed due to vote count irregularities, "Iran" daily reported on 4 and 8 April, respectively. There were complaints of similar irregularities in Qom, Ahvaz, and Shiraz, "Resalat" reported on 15 March. Director General of the Interior Ministry's Elections Bureau, Seyyed Javad Zaker Qadimi, told IRNA on 7 April that results in 20 cities have not been confirmed yet. Allegations of irregularities have prompted criticism from conservatives. Parliamentarian Ahmad Rasulinejad, for example, said the handling of the election bore a resemblance to the previous monarchic period, when the powerful "Thousand Families" hand-picked elected officials, "Arya" reported on 14 March. (Bill Samii)

CLERICAL CRACKDOWN CONTINUES. Hojatoleslam Mohammad-Ali Nejad al-Hosseini was arrested by the Special Court for the Clergy amidst allegations that he is close to dissident cleric Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, the pro-Khatami daily "Sobh-i Imruz" reported on 4 April. But Ahmad Montazeri, the Ayatollah's son and spokesman, denied the relationship in an interview with RFE/RL's Persian Service.

Also, formal charges against Islamic intellectual Hojatoleslam Mohsen Kadivar were specified a month after his detention, "Iran" newspaper reported on 4 April. He is charged by the Special Court with spreading propaganda against the system of the Islamic Republic, spreading fabrications, and causing public anxiety. The indictment states that Kadivar suggested that since the revolution a climate of oppression exists, and he also said: "We are facing problems regarding the issue of freedom. One model of freedom is freedom for the opposition and for those who are opposed to the method and actions of the rulers."

Kadivar's lawyer, Ayatollah Seyyed Hossein Musavi-Tabrizi, said his client objects to the Special Court's jurisdiction and has requested bail. Musavi-Tabrizi said he has not met Kadivar for over two weeks. Kadivar's access to his family also has been limited.

England-based lawyer Abdolkarim Anvari, in an interview with RFE/RL's Persian Service, said the charges are legally inappropriate because Kadivar expressed his views in a newspaper interview rather than disseminating them in written form himself. And Article 23 of the constitution, Anvari said, specifies that "no one may be molested or taken to task simply for holding a certain belief."

Jurist Kambiz Nowruzi told "Iran" on 7 April that the charges come under Article 168 which specifies that press and political offenses will be tried openly and in front of a jury. Responsibility for what is in a newspaper, furthermore, rests on the managing editor.

"Sobh-i Imruz" on 4 April asked for the real reason behind Kadivar's detention, since the charges are inadmissible and inappropriate. Paris-based lawyer Abdolkarim Lahiji referred to Kadivar as a "prisoner of conscience," "Jahan-i Islam" reported on 7 April.

The Office for Fostering Unity, a pro-Khatami coalition of student groups, demanded that hearing be an open one which is broadcast by state radio and television, and Mrs. Kadivar said that it would be an open hearing in a 6 April interview with "Iran." (Bill Samii)

PAKISTAN RELEASES KILLERS OF IRANIAN DIPLOMAT. Five members of the Jangvi Brigade of the Sunni Sipah-i Sahaba Pakistan (SSP), who had been sentenced to death for the 1990 killing of Iranian diplomat Sadeq Ganji, are to be released, Iranian state radio reported on 3 April. Pakistani officials said their country's Supreme Court ordered this step, fearing retaliation against the judges. Two days later, according to Germany's dpa, Jangvi Brigade leader Riaz Basra died in a shootout with police in Sargodha, Punjab Province. Basra was implicated in the Ganji murder also, but he escaped from custody in 1994 and had a $100,000 price on his head for killing 118 other Shia Muslims. The next day, however, provincial Governor Shaid Hamid said it was just Basra's aide, Shehrezad Wariach, who died. Tensions in the province are already high due to the Muharram ceremonies scheduled for the end of the month. To prevent the usual Shia-Sunni clashes, police plan to take 250 clerics into protective custody. Security throughout the province will be handled by the army. (Bill Samii)

AZERBAIJAN ACCUSES IRAN OF SUBVERSION. Azerbaijani National Security Minister Namig Abbasov accused Iran and Russia of conducting "coordinated intelligence activities in [Azerbaijan]," as well as "joint economic and political sanctions," Turan news agency reported on 29 March. Abbasov said his organization had apprehended 13 Iranian intelligence operatives, including one who had diplomatic cover. The Iranian embassy in Baku rejected the allegations, IRNA reported on 30 March. On 1 April, Iran's ambassador to Azerbaijan, Ali Reza Bigdeli, explained the origins of the accusations. He said, IRNA reported, that the two neighboring Muslim countries needed to strengthen their ties but this was against the interests of some countries. Bigdeli explained: "the U.S. and the Zionist regime make the development of their ties with the Republic of Azerbaijan conditional on restricting ties with Iran." (Bill Samii)

LEBANESE LEADERS ON IRAN. In a 25 March interview with Qatar's Al-Jazira satellite television, Lebanese Prime Minister Salim al-Huss discussed his country's relationship with Iran. He said: "Our relations are very good. There is no doubt that Iran also supports Lebanon in confronting the Israeli aggression." In describing Hizballah, he said that although it is not part of the Lebanese military, Lebanon "supports the Lebanese resistance, given that this is a legitimate right for any people who have parts of their territory occupied by a neighboring state. We support the resistance." In a 12 March interview with Cairo's state-owned weekly "Al-Musawwar," Hizballah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah answered suggestions that Hizballah exists because it is supported by Syria and Iran. He said the party's ideology is Islamic and is not connected with foreign states. "Therefore, we did not import an ideology, and if some people say this ideology is Iranian, I tell them this is wrong. This is because the ideology in Iran is the Islamic ideology, which the Muslims brought to Iran. This ideology is even exclusive to the Jabal Amil ulama. The Lebanese are the ones who had the greatest influence in Iran on the cultural and religious levels in the past centuries. So what does importing have to do with it? The cadres, leaders, and martyrs of this party are Lebanese." Nasrallah also said that his organization is not just a military one, it is an "Islamic, jihadic, political, social, cultural, and popular movement." It will not, therefore, lose its raison d'etre when foreign forces leave Lebanon, he said. (Bill Samii)

TEHRAN'S APPROACH TO KOSOVO CRISIS SHIFTS. During the first week of NATO airstrikes intended to prevent Serbian ethnic cleansing against the mostly-Muslim Kosovar Albanians, Iran, as head of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), found itself pushing for a solution through its bilateral partner, Russia. During this phase, Iran's rhetorical tone was relatively moderate (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 5 April 1999). The more hardline nature of Iranian commentary increased as of April. Simultaneously, concentration shifted more towards the OIC and away from Russia. Finally, Iranian aid to Kosovo refugees commenced.

First of all, among Iranian leaders there is agreement that Kosovar Muslims require help. There is a consensus, and not just among conservatives, however, that the current approach is inappropriate and is part of a Western power play against Russia. Furthermore, there is a belief that NATO's actions now are hypocritical, because Western states had ignored Serbian atrocities against Bosnian Muslims. The solution to the crisis, say these individuals, should have come through the UN General Assembly or the Muslim community.

During his Friday Prayer sermon on 2 April, Expediency Council Chairman Hojatoleslam Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani said that "if the Islamic world was coordinated and had stopped these atrocities, NATO would not have had a pretext to go there." While admitting that helping the Kosovars is a good thing, "the problem is that this is being done by an organization like NATO led by America."

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on 5 April that "what is happening to the Kosovar Muslims today, the same thing which befell the Bosnian Muslims as well as the Muslim people of Palestine, is a consequence of Western democracy which deals with anyone and any group opposed to them, in the severest manner." He went on to describe the NATO raids as part of a plot directed towards "annihilation of the Muslims in Europe."

Speaker of parliament Hojatoleslam Ali Akbar Nateq Nouri said at the opening of parliament on 6 April, according to IRNA, that "the Serbs and NATO have reached a consensus for annihilation of Muslims and for helping the U.S. to realize its new world order scheme." The deputy chairman of the parliamentary Foreign Relations Committee, Mohammad Javad Larijani, asked visiting French deputies why NATO was acting now to halt ethnic cleansing of Albanian Muslims when it had not acted to stop "ethnic cleansing [that] has been conducted by the Zionist regime in occupied Palestine for about 50 years now."

"Kayhan International," which is affiliated with the Supreme Leader's office, said on 6 April that the NATO air strikes should be seen in the context of what it sees as bad relations between the U.S. and UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. The publication went on to say that the air strikes would serve as a precedent for the U.S. and its allies to attack any perceived enemies. "Iran" daily editorialized on 3 April that "the Serbs' warmongering move in Kosovo" resulted from American and European failure to punish "Balkan war criminals" under the Dayton peace accords.

Second, emphasis on the OIC continues. Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Morteza Sarmadi met with Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov and Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov on 1 April and "voiced concern of the world of Islam, especially that of Iran, as the OIC chairman, over the crisis." Turkish Foreign Minister Ismail Cem said that his country expected Iran, as head of the OIC, to do more about Kosova, and he had spoken with Kharrazi about this, Ankara's semi-official Anatolia news agency reported on 7 April. Cem said everyone believes "Turkey is the real protector of the people of Kosovo."

On 7 April the OIC Contact Group--Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, Malaysia, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, and Turkey--met in Geneva. The OIC said it would participate in internationally-led peacekeeping operations, and it would establish an office in Geneva to coordinate OIC assistance. Kharrazi called on the UN to end the Kosova crisis, and he complained about UN Security Council weakness. The Iranian Foreign Minister put "the main responsibility for the crisis squarely on the shoulders of Belgrade officials," IRNA reported, because the crisis "provided NATO with an excuse to conduct strikes against Yugoslavia."

And finally, Iran continues its unilateral approach by fulfilling its earlier promise to send aid. The Red Crescent Society, according to dpa on 5 April, sent blankets, tents, and food to Albania. More supplies--a 30-ton consignment--arrived in Tirana on 8 April, IRNA reported. Around 20,000 Kosovars sought refuge in Albania last year, another 120,000 fled to Albania since the air strikes started, a further 30,000 Kosovar Serbs fled north into Serbia, and around 550,000 people, roughly one-quarter of Kosova's pre-conflict population, have abandoned their homes, according to the International Crisis Group.

Also, Iran sent up to four planeloads of weapons to the Kosova Liberation Army (UCK), Albanian officials and arms traffickers claimed in a 3 April "New York Times" report. An unnamed U.S. official expressed concern that proposed Western military aid to the UCK "would 'provide a platform' for Islamic fundamentalists from Iran, Iraq, Sudan, Afghanistan, and Pakistan." This latter statement bears a striking resemblance to Israeli Foreign Minister Ariel Sharon's comments about the possibility of Islamic states in Europe being the source of "extreme Islamic terrorism." The Israeli Foreign Ministry sought to defend Sharon's statement by citing a "secret report...disclosing that the Albanian underground that is acting to secure independence for Kosovo is mostly, or to a large part, funded by Iran," Israeli Defense Forces radio reported on 8 April. (Bill Samii)