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Iran Report: September 27, 1999

27 September 1999, Volume 2, Number 38

SUPERVISORY POWERS OF GUARDIANS COUNCIL REINFORCED. The process of strengthening the power of the Council of Guardians of the Constitution to influence the February parliamentary election continues. The council has just sent a letter to Parliament speaker Hojatoleslam Ali-Akbar Nateq-Nuri regarding the newly approved election law, according to the 21 September "Sobh-i Imruz." In this letter, the Guardians Council said the election law is contrary to Islamic law and the constitution. Specifically, it objected to the portion of the law stating that rejected candidates should be given the reasons for their disqualification, because "in some cases the explanation could create corruption and destroy an individual's reputation." The counter-constitutional aspect of the law, according to the Guardians Council, refers to Assembly of Experts elections.

A newly-approved Private Members Bill for the Amendment to the Election Law also increases the Guardians Council's power. The bill states: "Should governors or district-governors of constituencies fail to carry out their authorized duties and fail to consider warnings issued by officials supervising [the election procedures on behalf of the Guardians Council], and if in the view of the Guardians Council the presence of the aforementioned governors is a source of harm to the soundness of the elections, and on the basis of a request by the Guardians Council, the Ministry of the Interior has a duty to suspend the individual from his post," "Khordad" reported on 20 September. Normally, governors are proposed by the Interior Ministry and approved by the Council of Ministers.

With the approaching parliamentary election, the most powerful weapon in the anti-reformist arsenal is the Guardians Council. This body, according to the constitution, has the power of "advisory supervision" of elections. It has used this power to block the candidacy of individuals in all but one of the elections held in Iran since 1979. In August, the parliament approved an amendment to the electoral law that said, according to state television, "the Guardians Council will have the supervisory task in every stage of the parliamentary elections. This supervision will be expedient and comprehensive in every election related to the Majlis."

Interior Minister Hojatoleslam Abdolvahed Musavi-Lari has been outspoken in opposing the Guardians Council's interpretation of "supervision." He was no less so this time. In an interview with "Sobh-i Imruz" on 20 September, he complained that, "The approval of this ratification by the Guardians Council will make a mockery of responsibilities and will confuse the boundary between supervision and administration. We could have dealt more rationally with the problem of regional governors." In an interview with "Khordad" on the same day, he explained: "the Guardians Council is responsible for supervision and the Ministry of Interior is responsible for administration, which in turn it hands down to governors and district governors. Any move which damages the separation of responsibilities or puts the supervisor in place of the administrator is contrary to the constitution." And speaking in Ilam on 24 September, he said that the government tried to reach an "understanding" with the parliament and the Guardians Council on the election law, "but unfortunately the Guardians Council rejected the single article that was supposed to be the basis of the agreement." (Bill Samii)

ENTERING THE PARLIAMENTARY RACE. The deadline for registration of parliamentary candidates is not until January, but already speculation is increasing about who will actually enter the race (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 23 August 1999). The biggest question concerns Hojatoleslam Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, who currently heads the Council for the Discernment of Expediency. A private member's bill in parliament already made him an exception to the rule that a candidate must resign from government office three months before registering for the election.

Hashemi-Rafsanjani was speaker of parliament in the 1980s, and if elected, he will almost certainly resume the legislative body's leadership, replacing Hojatoleslam Ali Akbar Nateq-Nuri. Some observers think the announced retirement of Hojatoleslam Abbas Vaez-Tabasi as supervisor of the Razavi (Imam Reza) Shrine Foundation in Mashhad means that Nateq-Nuri will replace him there. Also, there are indications that Nateq-Nuri sees the writing on the wall. Parliamentarian Taha Hashemi said in the 19 September "Aftab-i Imruz" that Nateq-Nuri will not be a candidate because he is "tired."

Hussein Marashi of the Executives of Construction Party, with which Hashemi-Rafsanjani is connected, gave a variety of statements regarding Hashemi-Rafsanjani's candidacy. According to the 22 September "Keyhan" newspaper, Marashi said: "Mr. Hashemi-Rafsanjani--if the interests of the country dictate and he himself deems it necessary--will stand for the Majlis elections." In "Tehran Times" on the same day, Marashi did not rule out such a possibility. But a day earlier, "Aftab-i Imruz" quoted Marashi as saying Hashemi-Rafsanjani would not stand for parliament.

Taha Hashemi believes Hashemi-Rafsanjani will be elected and will head the parliament because "people recognize the need for calm if the government is to implement its programs and for internal and external security." He also said Hashemi-Rafsanjani would do well because of his experience in parliament and in government. Hashemi, in a 6 September interview with "Tehran Times," said that another point in Hashemi-Rafsanjani's favor is his "ultrafactional position." This refers to his membership in both the conservative Tehran Militant Clergy Association (Jameh-yi Ruhaniyat-i Mobarez-i Tehran) and the more moderate Militant Clerics Association (Majmae Ruhaniyun-i Mobarez).

Yet Hashemi-Rafsanjani's multiple memberships may split the electoral tickets. The pro-Khatami Office for Strengthening Unity said Hashemi-Rafsanjani will not be included on its list of candidates, but they have other candidates in common with the Executives of Construction and the Militant Clerics Association. Faezeh Hashemi of the Executives of Construction ruled out a joint platform with conservative candidates, according to AFP on 13 September, although she acknowledged that "there are certainly candidates whom we (conservatives and reformists) both support."

Other public servants are resigning so they can be eligible for the February election. For example, two members of the Tehran municipal council have resigned, according to IRNA on 13 September. "Iran," IRNA's Persian-language newspaper, reported on 21 September that the governor-general of Bushehr has resigned and the governor-generals of Gilan and Lorestan tried to, although their resignations were not accepted. It is rumored that, so far, at least 15 presidential advisors have resigned their posts to participate in the election, "Akhbar-i Eqtesad" reported on 23 September.

But parliamentarian Abbas Abbasi of Bandar Abbas is not impressed. He described some Khatami supporters as "insects," according to "Akhbar-i Eqtesad."(Bill Samii)

SUPREME LEADER'S DEPUTY CHOSEN? Expediency Council chief Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani's ambitions may go higher than speaker of Parliament, if a report about the 6-8 September Assembly of Experts meeting turns out to be accurate. The main items of business at the meeting dealt with the leadership, but the overall results of such meetings may prove more surprising and more significant than indicated by official statements. The weekly "Aban," for example, speculated that the Assembly of Experts selected Hashemi-Rafsanjani as the deputy and successor to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, "Arya" reported on 20 September. (Bill Samii)

'NESHAT' TRIPS OVER 'RED LINE'... Speaking at a press conference in Shahr-i Kord in Chahar Mahal va Bakhtiari Province, Minister of Islamic Culture and Guidance Ataollah Mohajerani said his ministry does not monitor or censor the press, IRNA reported on 20 September. But he indicated that there are limits. Mohajerani explained: "The existence of red lines in the press is not a hidden and unknown fact and any managing director should observe his limits in this connection because this is the law and not individual preferences that draw borders of the press."

Iranian journalists and publishers frequently complain about the vague rules under which they must operate and the ill-defined "red line" they must not cross. On 21 September "Neshat" Publisher Latif Safari was shown where the red line is drawn. The Press Court, under Hojatoleslam Said Mortazavi, found Safari guilty of insulting Islamic sanctities, defaming the Law Enforcement Forces commander and conservative parliamentarians, and of inciting college students, IRNA said. "Neshat" faced a total of 74 charges.

Safari was sentenced on 25 September to two and a half years in jail and barred from journalism for five years. 'Neshat's' publishing license was revoked.

Only a few days earlier, 111 secular nationalist figures had written an open letter in which they urged a repeal of the ban on "Neshat" and the removal of Mortazavi from the Press Court, "Akhbar-i Eqtesad" reported on 19 September. They expressed concern that the newspaper closures would have an impact on the pending parliamentary elections.

Some members of parliament, meanwhile, are acting to define the red line more clearly. According to a report in the 22 September "Arya," a parliamentary committee is amending the press bill that is already under consideration to make it even more restrictive. The amendment says a Press Court judge can overrule a jury, he can close a newspaper without a hearing, and Revolutionary Courts can hear press cases where national security is involved. (Bill Samii)

...AS DO STUDENT PLAYWRIGHTS. Newspapers are not the only media outlets that must contend with the "red line." On 23 September the Ministry of Intelligence and Security announced that two people were arrested for writing an offensive play about the 12th Imam that "injured the religious feelings of students and the noble people of Iran." The play was published in a student magazine at Amir Kabir University. The MOIS acted on a complaint in the hardline daily "Kayhan" from Ayatollah Hussein Nuri-Hamedani. A subsequent statement from Nuri-Hamedani said, according to state television on 24 September: "Enlightened and realistic individuals are quite aware of the fact today that the enemies of Islam have employed every trick so as to weaken the Muslim people's faith and religious beliefs. ...our dear and committed students dissociate themselves from these flagrant and blatant doubt our dear students will respond to these offensive deeds." He warned: "The devious writers who harbor such thoughts do not realize that such tricks and mischievous deeds will not be tolerated in the land of the Lord of the Age, may God hasten his lofty advent, and will face a tumultuous response." In a 25 September statement, the office of the deputy Islamic culture and guidance minister for press affairs condemned the publication and "praised the [MOIS's] wise action in arresting two people responsible for the offensive story," IRNA reported. (Bill Samii)

PREVENTING FUTURE UNREST IN TABRIZ. Twenty-one people recently received jail sentences for their parts in the violent demonstrations that occurred in Tabriz last July (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 20 July 1999). Four days after the convictions were announced, Deputy Interior Minister Mustafa Tajzadeh said the report on the Tabriz University incident will be published soon, the "Hamshahri" newspaper reported on 20 September. Tajzadeh added: "The instigators of such incidents, whatever their motives, must be put on trial in a fair manner and they must face the punishment prescribed by the law." He said the authorities are not trying to exact vengeance, they just want to preclude the recurrence of such incidents. At a meeting of students, professors, and chancellors of Tabriz universities, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said another way of preventing a recurrence is to increase students' political awareness, according to state television on 20 September. He explained that "If students are politically aware, they will not be influenced by political currents and they will not become instruments in the hands of the enemies of the Islamic state." (Bill Samii)

INTERNATIONAL PROTESTS AGAINST DEATH SENTENCES. Several Internet petitions have been organized to protest against the death sentences against four people announced by Revolutionary Court Judge Gholamhussein Rahbarpour (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 20 September 1999). One of these is being organized by California State-Northridge Professor Nayereh Tohidi ( Another is being organized by the Coordinating Committee of Workers' Left Unity ( Meanwhile, Baku police dispersed a 22 September picket against the death sentences and the imprisonment of Iranian student leaders that was organized by the Union for Integral Azerbaijan, the AssA-Irada news agency reported. (Bill Samii)

HUSSEINIAN PROTECTING FALLAHIAN? A recent speech at Mashhad's Haqani seminary by Hojatoleslam Ruhollah Husseinian, head of the Islamic Documents Center and member of the Special Court for the Clergy and the Press Court, implicated several close associates of President Mohammad Khatami in the murders of dissident intellectuals and writers last autumn. By naming names, this added detail to statements he made last January (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 25 January 1999). In his most recent speech, Husseinian blamed Khatami-supporters for killing the prime suspect, Said Emami, who supposedly committed suicide in June. Husseinian's statements have reinvigorated demands that former Minister of Intelligence and Security Ali Fallahian be questioned about the series of murders (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 28 June 1999).

Portions of Husseinian's speech were carried by "Sobh-i Imruz" (19 September) and "Iran News" (20 September), and there was commentary about it in "Arya" (18 September), Manateq-i Azad" (19 September), and "Aftab-i Imruz" (19 September), to name just a few. "Arzesh-ha," formerly the mouthpiece of Hojatoleslam Mohammad Mohammadi Reyshahri's Society for the Defense of Values of the Islamic Revolution, of which Husseinian was the deputy, purported to carry the "complete and uncensored" transcript of Husseinian's speech on 23 September.

Husseinian claimed to have access to all the files on the autumn murders and the related interrogations. Political commentator Ali Reza Alavi-Tabar and columnist Akbar Ganji wondered why Husseinian would have access to such sensitive documents in the first place. The Armed Forces judicial organization issued a statement, carried by IRNA on 20 September, that Husseinian did not have access to such files and "any claim in this respect is a sheer lie." Husseinian later claimed that he had a lot more to say about this issue, but he had refrained from doing so because Iran needs "peace and tranquillity," "Tehran Times" reported on 23 September.

In another portion of his speech, Husseinian claimed one of the MOIS officials arrested in connection with the murders, Kazemi (also known as Musavi), was connected with dissident cleric Ayatollah Hussein-Ali Montazeri and by implication, the Mehdi Hashemi gang.

Husseinian claimed that the killers were incited to act by Tehran Municipal Council member Said Hajjarian, Foreign Ministry official Mohsen Aminzadeh, and Mujahedin of the Islamic Revolution Organization spokesman Mohsen Armin. Because these three are Khatami confidants, Husseinian's statement can be seen as an attempt to slander the president. Their other connection to the case is that all three were officers in the MOIS.

Husseinian also claimed that the confession of Said Emami was worthless. While this is probably true, Husseinian's reasoning is not very convincing. He said that the interrogators were "two of the leftist boys of the Intelligence Ministry. ...the faction that does not want the case to be discovered." They also encouraged Emami to attempt suicide, according to Husseinian, claiming they would rescue him and help him get away, but they did not live up to their deal.

Emami was involved with "hundreds of foreign operations related to the Hypocrites [the Mujahedin Khalq Organization]" according to Husseinian. Akbar Ganji wondered if this related to the numerous killings of exile Iranian dissidents that occurred during the eight years when Ali Akbar Fallahian was Minister of Intelligence and Security. In a 19 September interview with "Aftab-i Imruz," Ganji said Husseinian is trying to protect the "keeper of the keys."

Not only are there demands that Fallahian's role in the murders be investigated, but there also are demands for his dismissal from the Assembly of Experts. For his part, Fallahian has stayed silent on the matter. But as columnist Akbar Ganji noted in "Khordad" on 5 September, "He should not think that through his silence, the people would forget the matter in time." Ganji cites the warning in Ayatollah Khomeini's will against "wicked people" serving in parliament, or indirectly, the Assembly of Experts, because they might cause irreparable damage to Islam and the state. So while Fallahian refuses to answer to the parliament, he should answer to the Guardians Council, which claims the responsibility for investigating candidates' eligibility for the Assembly of Experts.

"Keyhan" defended Fallahian on 5 September by dismissing "Khordad" as a "newspaper close to [Ayatollah Hussein Ali] Montazeri's household" ("Khordad" is run by Hojatoleslam Abdullah Nuri, a former Montazeri student). "Keyhan" went on to imply that accusations against Fallahian stem from his part in "uncovering and punishing the monstrous Mehdi Hashemi gang" (Hashemi was related by marriage to Montazeri). (Bill Samii)

MARVI: SOME JEWISH SUSPECTS CONFESSED. Hojatoleslam Hadi Marvi, the Judiciary chief's first deputy, said "the 13 Iranian Jews who are under arrest are 'accused' of spying, we are not saying they 'are' spies. He continued, "Iran News" and "Sobh-i Imruz" reported on 20 September: "Until the accusations are proven to be true in a court of law, they (the 13 Jews) are considered to be 'accused' of spying." Marvi said evidence against the 13 is based mainly on their confessions, although only some of them have confessed. Marvi said it is up to the judge to decide whether the case is held in open or closed sessions. He added that the accused will be allowed to choose their own lawyers but pointed out that a jury is not necessary because the 13 are accused of political offenses.

Iran's embassy in London sent a letter containing similar assertions to the UN, according to the 6 September "Haaretz." In addition, that letter wondered why the international community immediately said the suspects are not spies. After all, Israel has declared its enmity to Iran, the Tel Aviv daily added, and it spies on allies like the U.S. As a specific example of this, the Iranian letter supposedly cited the case of former U.S. naval officer Jonathan Pollard, who delivered classified documents to Israel's Washington embassy.

In his interview with "Iran News," Marvi said it is not clear when the trial will actually take place, because some of the people involved "are currently abroad." Russia has already asked Iran to issue a visa to the president of the Russian Jewish Congress, Vladimir Gusinskii, so he can attend the trial, Interfax reported on 2 September. "Kayhan International" promised on 19 September that the suspects will receive a fair trial "with all the guarantees the law provides." Whether this is meant as a threat or a reassurance is not clear.

As it is, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak is not reassured. "Haaretz" reported on 23 September that Barak is considering a more active policy to secure the Jewish prisoners' release. Until now, Israel has tried to act through its allies, believing that an open interest on its part will only complicate the situation, but "it has become clear that Israel's silence has not helped the arrestees." (Bill Samii)

DEFENSE, SECURITY, AND LOGISTICS. During the period 22-28 September, Iran celebrated Sacred Defense Week "to commemorate the martyrs of the Iraqi-imposed war" (1980-1988), and from 21-28 August it celebrated Government Week. In the days surrounding these events, a number of Iranian-manufactured military goods were displayed to demonstrate Iranian self-sufficiency.

The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Air Force commander, Brigadier General Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, announced on 20 September that his organization will produce its own helicopter gunship by the end of the third five-year plan (2004). He added that a 15-passenger helicopter will be test-flown by the end of 2004, and the Shahed 5 helicopter has successfully completed its test flights. IRGC's Brigadier General Zaafari said, according to IRNA on 21 September, that Iran has begun mass-production of the second and third generations of the Zolfaqar tank. The new vehicle is lighter and more agile, and it has more accurate laser-guided targeting.

The surface-to-surface Zelzal missile, which is built by the IRGC, was displayed in Tehran during ceremonies marking the start of Sacred Defense Week, IRNA reported on 22 September. It was allegedly built without foreign assistance. The Fajr-Darya surface-to-surface missile will be tested during the "Ettehad" war games in the Sea of Oman, according to Navy chief Admiral Abbas Mohtaj as reported by IRNA on 22 September.

Defense and Armed Forces Logistics Minister Ali Shamkhani said on 25 August, according to IRNA, that his ministry can design and produce all essential hardware for the defense sector, which indicates the "vital role of the defense industry in the country's development." Among the projects Shamkhani inaugurated was a production line for a special type of explosive that was previously imported. On 28 August, Shamkhani described other projects which deal with, for example, barrels for air defense artillery and rotor blades. Shamkhani said: "With God's blessing, we have been able to cut one of the links of dependency and some of the parts, previously bought from abroad...are now produced in the country." On 23 September, a factory that manufactures Nuclear, Biological, and Chemical warfare protective suits was commissioned by Shamkhani.

Greater self-sufficiency is more necessary now than before because some of Iran's foreign suppliers may become unavailable, according to articles in the 24 June edition of Paris' "L'Express" and the 23 August edition of Brussels' "De Morgen." They report that arms dealer Jacques Monsieur, who has been a long-time supplier of Iran's, is being investigated by the Belgian public prosecutor. He has been such a good supplier that the Iranian government allegedly gave him a diplomatic passport, which imparts diplomatic immunity, "De Morgen" reported. (Bill Samii)