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Iran Report: July 19, 1999

19 July 1999, Volume 2, Number 29

'DAYS OF RAGE' IN TEHRAN. The demonstrations initiated by the violent suppression of an 8 July rally objecting to the closure of the daily newspaper "Salam" and the newly adopted press laws seem to have caught everybody, including Iranian observers, by surprise. It appears that the Office for Strengthening Unity, the main coalition of student groups, organized the initial rally. This organization, President Mohammad Khatami's Islamic Iran Participation Party, the Qom Theological Lecturers Association, and many others expressed deep dismay over the actions of the police, the Ansar-i Hizbullah, and the University Basij, which resulted in many injuries. Governmental bodies, such as the Supreme National Security Council (SNSC), the Higher Education and Culture Ministry, and the Tehran city council also expressed their displeasure.

As the demonstrations continued and casualties mounted in the following days, concern grew that the situation was spinning out of control through the work of provocateurs (students blamed disguised hardliners, while the government blamed agents of foreign powers). On 11 July the Interior Ministry warned that unlicensed demonstrations would not be tolerated. University administrators warned students to be vigilant. The Office for Strengthening Unity warned that it did not endorse "any extremist and unlawful moves," and political groups affiliated with the 2nd Khordad movement (the date of Khatami's election) appealed for calm and canceled a rally planned for 14 July. President Khatami urged demonstrators to cooperate with the government, the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) reported on 12 July.

On 12 July the German agency dpa reported that the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps was backing up the police. That night there were more clashes between students, the Ansar-i Hizbullah, and police. Using tear gas and batons, the police emptied the university. This resulted in many more injuries, necessitating a "parade of a voice on a loudspeaker called all medical students to help," according to "The New York Times."

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei addressed the nation in a 12 July speech. He condemned the 8 July attack: "It is wrong regardless of the name under which it is done. It should be condemned." While seeming to acknowledge that some may be unhappy with him, he said different opinions are permissible: "We do not mind if there are different points of view and political differences." He also said there should be "limits to your political activities and political infighting. You should draw a red line."

But Khamenei's other comments indicated a reluctance to address the causes behind the unrest. He warned "watch out for the enemy...Try to see the invisible hands; try to recognize those who are behind it." He blamed the "spy agencies of the world" and America specifically, which was met with chants of "Death to America, Death to Britain, Death to Monafeqin [hypocrites] and Saddam, Death to Israel" and more chants of "Death to America."

Khatami also addressed the situation in an interview broadcast on 13 July. He promised to investigate the causes behind the student unrest, and said, "we will try not to confront the violence with violence but with special and legal means." Khatami noted that the "issues raised, the slogans chanted...are all meant to induce division and engender violence in society."

Meanwhile, students were chanting "Khatami, where are you? Your students have been killed," Reuters reported on 14 July. In a letter to "Neshat," a student wrote: "They were looking for someone, they were looking for any traces of him. Yes, they were looking for Khatami, not that he would do anything about it, but simply that he would come and listen and see them cry."

A unity council representing the students also condemned the violence, saying it only incriminated them, IRNA reported on 13 July. They also requested the dismissal of law enforcement chief Hedayat Lotfian; transfer of law enforcement powers to the Interior Ministry; and dismissal of hard-line elements from security agencies. They also wanted open trials for those who ordered the initial attack; return of the corpses of dead students; an apology from the SNSC; and a removal of the ban on "Salam" daily.

On 14 July an official rally was held in Tehran. Placards declaring "Death to America" and "Death to Israel" were abundant, as were those pledging allegiance to Khamenei. SNSC secretary Hassan Rohani told the crowd that "those involved in the last days' riots, destruction of public property, and attacks against the system will be tried and punished as [those at war with god] and [those spreading corruption]." He went on to say that most of them were already under arrest. He also vowed vengeance against countries that supported the demonstrators, according to Reuters. (Bill Samii)

THE USUAL SUSPECTS. Defense Minister Ali Shamkhani, according to state television on 13 July, said "forces loyal to the values of the revolution...will restore full any cost." Since that time security has been strictly enforced, and the daily "Kar va Kargar" reported on 15 July that detainees were driven away by the busload. The students' unity council accused the authorities of arresting over 1,400 people in Tehran, AFP reported on 17 July. "Neshat" reported that three members of the Nation of Iran Party--Khosrow Seif, Behzad Namazi, and Mehran Mirabdolbaghi--were detained. In Isfahan, "Arya" reported on 17 July, four student leaders will be tried for issuing a statement condemning the police crackdown. The Ministry of Intelligence and Security said that some of those arrested had received money and guidance from abroad, IRNA reported on 18 July.

Meanwhile, Friday Prayer leaders during their 16 July sermons blamed many sources--factionalism, newspapers, and the U.S.--for the unrest. In Tehran, Ayatollah Hassan Taheri-Khorramabadi said opportunists, oppositionists, and "a group of people working for our foreign enemies" want to cause unrest. "In Tehran in particular, they had planned a conspiracy and wanted to endanger the country's security." He also condemned factionalism, because "certain newspapers and journals exacerbate these disputes." He ascribed America's actions to its reluctance to see "a stable Islamic government anywhere in the world. It is afraid [that Iran] will become a model for other Muslims of the world. It is, therefore, striving to rise against this government by whatever means possible."

Ayatollah Sadeq Ehsanbakhsh of Rasht said: "I advise the two factions to refrain from promoting enemy propaganda against the revolution and causing tension in the country." Birjand's Hojatoleslam Hussein Sadeqi blamed "Salam" daily for publishing the document which caused its closure, thereby enflaming student passions. He also said: there was a hidden hand behind [the demonstrations]." In Qom, Ayatollah Abdol Vaez-Javadi-Amoli urged vigilance and said: "The enemies are waiting for a window of opportunity to undermine our national security. It was for that reason that America and Israel described the deviationist moves of rioters as being democratic and the officials' reaction to them as being tantamount to violating human rights." (Bill Samii)

DEMONSTRATIONS IN THE PROVINCES. Although most of the news about student demonstrations came from Tehran, there were demonstrations in the provinces, too. Such events occurred in Rasht, Yazd, Mashhad, Isfahan, Khorramabad, Hamadan, Shahrud, and Tabriz. Also, student unions in Bandar Abbas, Zanjan, Gorgan, Semnan, Yasouj, Maragheh, and Arak issued statements condemning police suppression of the initial events, IRNA reported on 11 July.

At a demonstration on the campus of Tabriz University, scuffles broke out between students and the Basij Resistance Force. Mohammad Javad Farahangi, a Basiji theological student, was shot, and authorities later claimed they had arrested the culprit, a provocateur and member of the Iraqi-funded Mujahedin Khalq Organization.

The Tabriz municipality said a number of other people were hurt and public buildings damaged. Between 10 and 15 people needed hospital treatment after the Tabriz fighting, the newspaper "Arya" reported on 12 July. Police entered Tabriz University on 11-12 July and arrested over 50 students, "Arya" reported on 14 July.

In an interview with RFE/RL's Persian Service, a Tabriz student who requested anonymity said about 4,000 people attended the demonstration, and she estimated that 100 were injured in the scuffles. The authorities blamed the students for the outbreak of violence, but she rejected this. She said that the Basij attacked the students, and they just fought back.

Students in Tabriz demonstrated about the same issues as students in Tehran, the interviewee told RFE/RL. They wanted freedom of the media and the release of Heshmatollah Tabarzadi, editor-in-chief of "Hoviat-i Khish" weekly. She said the students also objected to the closure of the newspaper "Salam" by the Special Court for the Clergy.

In an interview with RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service, Iranian-Azeri academic Mahmud Ali Chehragani said the Tabriz demonstrators started at the university and marched about five kilometers to Mansour Avenue. Along the way offices and banks were attacked and government vehicles destroyed. The commotion ended only after negotiations reinforced by a massive security presence.

Chehragani, a dissident and Azeri nationalist, said there was an ethnic aspect to the Tabriz demonstration. He said Azeris in Tabriz want recognition of their national rights. They also want implementation of Articles 15 (lingua franca is Persian, but use of regional and tribal languages in mass media and for teaching is allowed) and 19 (all people, regardless of ethnic group, enjoy equal rights; "color, race, language, and the like, do not bestow any privilege") of the constitution.

Students from the Turkmen areas of Iran also demonstrated. In an interview with RFE/RL's Turkmen Service, Nurjan Ak described their concerns. He said the main issue was the press law and newspaper closures. Sensitivity to this issue stemmed from a recent attack on "Sahra," a Turkmen-language daily that opened after Khatami's election. Ak, a member of the Ashgabat-based World Turkmen Humanitarian Association, said there also is unhappiness with state radio broadcasts from Gorgan. He said the language used is a mix of Turkmen and Persian, and the programming consists of government propaganda.

In sharp contrast, students in Ardabil canceled a previously planned protest gathering, IRNA reported on 13 July. They did so in reaction to the calls for calm from Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Mohammad Khatami. The students' statement expressed concern that opportunists would misuse the situation. It should be noted that citizens from Ardabil are noted for their religious enthusiasm and their loyalty to the state, having lost the second highest number of men to the 1980-1988 war with Iraq. (Bill Samii)

STATE MEDIA COVERS UNREST. There are hundreds of licensed publications in Iran. The Tehran press is dynamic and brings to light issues that the leadership would rather have hidden. Newspapers there reflect many different political tendencies and serve as unofficial party organs. Outside of Tehran, however, each city has only one or two daily newspapers. Outside the major cities, furthermore, newspaper circulation is relatively limited.

Much of the population, therefore, depends on Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting or foreign radios, such as RFE/RL, for information on current events. IRIB is in the hands of hard-liners: IRIB Director Ali Larijani was chosen by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Some analysts assert that state radio and television's "coverage" of the violent demonstrations in the country, combined with the Iranian government's continuing efforts to silence the domestic press--which served as the catalyst to the demonstrations--are the best argument for broadcasting honest and objective news to Iran.

Initially, IRIB coverage of the events was non-existent. On 11 July "Iran News" editorialized about "the deliberate indifference of the IRIB toward news coverage," whereas information about the 8 July police assault on the university students was carried on the Islamic Republic News Agency wire. The English-language daily said if IRIB had reported the withdrawal of the Ministry of Intelligence and Security's complaint against "Salam" newspaper, the whole affair might have been avoided, or at least averted. Not only does this explain why people listen to foreign radio services, "Iran News" wrote, but it also explains how rumors can spread so easily.

Defense Minister Ali Shamkhani, in an interview broadcast by IRIB on 13 July, accused foreign media of misrepresenting the events. He said "headlines published by foreign press [and] the pictures broadcast by some foreign media" are "signs of a well-coordinated move." Therefore, "we are going to end this much-favored filmmaking session by the satanic global arrogance and Zionism, so as to prevent any further damage to the justice-seeking reputation of our students." This meant that all scripts and video footage were reviewed by government censors before they could be transmitted, according to sources at CNN.

To block evidence of the violence, police rounded up photographers, "The New York Times" reported on 13 July. That day some of the worst violence occurred, with police, Basij Resistance Forces, and club-wielding thugs suppressing a student march. Reporters were not allowed to go to the scene or to take photographs, "Hamshahri" reported on 14 July, and only reporters from hard-line publications were allowed to take photos. Reporters were released only after having their notes and film confiscated. They were threatened and had to seek shelter in private homes.

This was not always possible. While going home, an employee of "Neshat" newspaper was stopped by armed men. While searching him, according to "Neshat" on 14 July, they discovered papers with the logo from "Jame-eh" newspaper and accused him of being "the correspondent of a mercenary newspaper." They then destroyed his car. A photographer from "Keyhan" was shot in the leg and members of a German television crew were beaten up, according to "The Los Angeles Times."

That same day, 13 July, state television repeatedly broadcast revolutionary songs and slogans. It exhorted viewers to attend government rallies on 14 July. Among the themes of the slogans were: "maintain order and safeguard unity," "renewed allegiance," and "the enemy intends to catch the particular fish in muddy waters." The Turkmen-language service of state radio, broadcasting from Gorgan, carried the following reports in its ten-minute newscast: people support the Supreme Leader; troublemakers caused disturbances in Tehran; CNN and other Western agencies are fabricating reports; and America and Israel support those who create unrest.

The Tehran newscast drew an even more explicit picture. After 9 minutes of video and commentary about the damage and the funeral of a casualty in Tabriz, there was a 3-minute piece about U.S., Israeli, and Mujahedin Khalq support for the demonstrations. Then 10 minutes of Khatami saying the demonstrations harmed the system and some people were taking advantage of the situation, was followed by 9 minutes of commentary condemning the BBC and State Department spokesman James Rubin for their statements about the demonstrations.

On 14 July, state radio and television broadcasts in Tehran carried a live relay of the government rally. Subsequent Tehran newscasts on all four channels were longer than usual due to coverage of the rally. Normal programming was interspersed with video footage of the rally. Programming in Mashhad had no local news. Instead, most of the newscast was dedicated to a statement from the Supreme Leader, Khatami's remarks on dealing with rebels, and the pro-government rally in Tehran. Later newscasts said the demonstrators condemned "troublemakers" and "corrupt groups," while the leader of Pakistan's Jafari Shia group said the unrest in Iran was led by the United States. State radio broadcasting in Turkmen from Gorgan carried Khamenei's message; Khatami's meeting with IRIB staff to discuss the unrest; coverage of the rallies; and repetition of the SNSC's warning to "troublemakers."

To make sure that public perception of the day's events was tightly controlled, the government shut down the mobile telephone service in Tehran. This also eliminated a means of communication for the demonstrators, "Tehran Times" reported on 18 July, and "Qods" claimed it was for security reasons. (Bill Samii)

TEHRAN TORTURE TRIAL TERMINATED. Habibollah Asgharoladi, head of the conservative Islamic Coalition Association, said, "[General Mohammad Reza] Naqdi's trial is another test for the judicial system," "Iran" reported on 11 May. If so, the system failed this test, too.

After numerous delays, the Tehran Military Court issued a verdict in the case of Naqdi, who was tried on charges of having tortured several Tehran municipal officials. The evidence given by the torture victims was used against now-imprisoned Tehran Mayor Gholamhossein Karbaschi during his trial on corruption charges. If it was determined that the evidence was secured improperly, the Karbaschi conviction might have been overturned.

That now seems unlikely. Naqdi was acquitted of ordering torture but sentenced to eight months imprisonment for slandering Karbaschi, "Keyhan" reported on 10 July. "Sobh-i Imruz" also reported that Naqdi is banned from any governmental jobs.

The trial's 11 sessions, which lasted 50 days, were closed to the public. Naqdi objected to a closed trial in a letter reproduced in the daily "Jebheh" on 19 June. If the trial was open, Naqdi wrote, he could disprove the allegations made against him by different newspapers. He especially objected to a crossword puzzle in "Neshat," in which his name was the answer to the clue "name a torturer who was put on trial."

"Khordad" reported on 6 May that the Tehran City Council petitioned for an open hearing. "Iran Daily" objected to a closed trial on 13 May, saying national security was a pretext for hiding embarrassing revelations. The English-language newspaper said the conduct of the trial is "directly related to the social reforms promised by the Khatami administration."

Last autumn Naqdi criticized newspapers for publishing reports about a young soldier who had gone berserk and shot a number of his colleagues. "Salam" complained on 3 December that the press is an easy target for people like Naqdi. But, "Salam" asked, "is the reason for [such events] the writing of these very articles about the police, or is the main reason that some of the police commanders have forgotten their duties and mission to provide security for the nation and are engaging in political disputes?" The outcome of the trial, as well as the recent demonstrations in Iran, show that the form of "security" provided by Naqdi and his ilk is increasingly unacceptable for Iranians. (Bill Samii)

CHANGES IN GOVERNMENTAL AND QUASI-GOVERNMENTAL ORGANIZATIONS. Recent weeks have seen interesting human resources developments in two quasi-governmental organizations. Mohsen Rafiqdust, head of the Oppressed and Disabled Foundation (Bonyad-i Mostazafan va Janbazan), announced on 7 July that he is "ready to leave the post to a younger and more powerful person," IRNA reported. Rafiqdust has headed the foundation for ten years. Under him, the foundation has become a multibillion dollar conglomerate with up to 700,000 employees. Furthermore, the foundation reputedly funds the ultraconservative Ansar-i Hizbullah. In recent months newspapers have mentioned former Defense Minister Mohammad Foruzandeh, Mohammad Javad Iravani from the Agriculture Ministry, and former Commerce Minister Yahya al-Eshaq as possible successors. Rafiqdust will become the new chief of the Law Enforcement Forces, "Arya" reported on 17 July.

Hojatoleslam Mohammad Ali Taskhiri has resigned as head of the International Assembly of the Ahl al-Bayt (House of the Prophet; IAAB), "Tehran Times" reported on 4 July. The IAAB was created to promote Shia unity. Taskhiri also serves in Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's private office, is first deputy minister in the Islamic Culture and Guidance Ministry, and heads the Islamic Culture and Relations Organization, which administers Iranian propaganda efforts abroad.

Possible replacements for Taskhiri at the IAAB are former Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Velayati or Ahmad Pur-Nejati, who currently serves in the Office of Presidential Advisers--Information Dissemination Affairs as a member of the Mass Media Advisory Board, "Arya" reported on 7 July. "Resalat," however, reported on 7 July that Taskhiri had resigned from the Islamic Culture and Relations Organization, and his replacement by Velayati was a possibility.

Pur-Nejati also may replace Fereidun Verdinejad as head of IRNA. According to the 17 July "Iran News," Verdinejad will be the new ambassador in Moscow.

There are also developments in legislative bodies. Ayatollah Abol Qasem Khazali and Ayatollah Mohammad Aqa Emami-Kashani have resigned from the Council of Guardians of the Constitution, "Entekhab" reported on 10 July. There is no news yet on their replacements. (Bill Samii)

IN MILITARY AND CIVIL AVIATION. General Habibollah Baqai said Iran began production of its own fighter aircraft, called the Azarkhash, "Jane's Defence Weekly" reported on 28 June. The Azarkhash, which is designed for air-to-air combat and ground support, weighs around 8,000 kg and can carry 4,000 kg. According to "Jane's," the aircraft is built with Russian components and Iranian-designed radar.

At a nationwide gathering of the ideological and political clerics of Iran's Army Aviation, it was announced that Army Aviation maintenance experts throughout the country now conduct the major overhaul and renovation of rotary wing aircraft. This results in foreign currency savings equivalent to 60 billion rials, "Hamshahri" reported on 12 June.

Also, Iran's Payam Aviation Services Company is to buy two An-124 heavy cargo aircraft and two Tu-204 passenger aircraft from the Russian firm Aviastar. Aviastar General Director Gennadii Korotnev and regional official Sergei Ryabukhin went to Tehran in the last week of June to discuss the deal, Interfax reported on 28 June. The project was first discussed in summer 1998, when an Iranian delegation visited the Ulyanovsk region. At that time, the creation of a maintenance center in Iran was also discussed.

The purchases from Aviastar may help satisfy the needs of Iran Air, the country's passenger airline, which how has 32 aircraft and needs many more. Iran Air's deputy managing director, Ahmad Sanei, told IRNA on 12 June that the company needs a total of 148 aircraft in the next 20 years to transport an expected 36 million passengers. Sanei went on to say that this would require $650 million in investment annually.

New aircraft are needed to maintain safety standards as well. Most of the company's aircraft are Boeings purchased before the 1979 revolution but the U.S. government is unwilling to permit Iran to buy from the American firm. So Iran has turned elsewhere.

Nor are new aircraft the airline's only need. Iran Air intends to hire Japanese flight attendants to handle tourists from Japan, according to the Economist Intelligence Unit. (Bill Samii)