RFE/RL Iran Report – 02/14/2005

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RFE/RL Iran Report
Vol. 8, No. 7, 14 February 2005

A Review of Developments in Iran Prepared by the Regional Specialists
of RFE/RL’s Newsline Team


Intelligence and Security Ministry earned a reputation for
persecuting and killing dissidents in Iran and abroad and for
economic corruption in the first 15 years of its existence (1984-99).
An apparent purge of the ministry in 1999, after some officials were
linked with the serial killings of dissidents, apparently helped to
rehabilitate its reputation. As the reformists’ eight years in
the executive branch wind down, some observers wonder if the reform
of the ministry will be reversed.
President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami met with senior
Intelligence and Security Ministry officials on 1 February and
expressed his pride and happiness with their performance, the Islamic
Republic News Agency (IRNA) reported. He noted that the ministry
contributes to the public’s sense of security, and only spies and
traitors need to fear it.
Former Iranian parliamentarian Ahmad Salamatian, who now
lives in Paris, told Radio Farda that Khatami is contrasting the
ministry’s lawful behavior now with its excesses in the past,
such the serial killings of dissidents and economic corruption. This
also contrasts the current leadership of Hojatoleslam Ali Yunesi with
that of Ali-Akbar Fallahian-Khuzestani (1989-97), Salamatian told
Radio Farda. The big question, Salamatian said, is will the ministry
resume its old ways when the Khatami presidency ends? Will the
reforms that Khatami and Yunesi brought about in the ministry remain?
The big change in perceptions of the Intelligence and
Security Ministry occurred in 1999, when alleged rogue elements in
the ministry were arrested for murdering dissidents and
intellectuals. The minister at the time, Hojatoleslam Qorban Ali
Dori-Najafabadi, resigned, and many other officials were purged from
the organization. The former ministry officials allegedly went on to
create parallel intelligence and security bodies that are affiliated
with other state institutions, such as the judiciary, or the
police’s Public Establishments Office (Edareh-yi Amaken Omumi).
The Intelligence and Security Ministry, meanwhile, came to be seen as
an institution that was apolitical and less corrupt than it had been
in the past.
Fighting corruption is a good way to make enemies.
Intelligence and Security Minister Yunesi said in December that the
prevalence of competing institutions hindered the fight against
corruption, “Sharq” reported on 11 December. “The majority of these
struggles were carried out as a result of political or factional
considerations or even by personal will. They were surrounded by a
ballyhoo, and sometimes they got to the point of execution but then
the struggle would be stopped abruptly.” Yunesi described corruption
as a threat to all institutions, including the Intelligence and
Security Ministry. He said many of the businesses associated with the
ministry had been closed down, although this met with a lot of
resistance and resulted in a loss of revenues. Yunesi said the
government has compensated for these shortfalls, adding that the
ministry is now fighting land speculation, a prevalent form of
corruption in which people trade land that actually belongs to the
government but which is not accounted for properly.
More recently, Yunesi dismissed the justifications used to
close the Imam Khomeini International Airport in spring 2004 (see
“RFE/RL Iran Report,” 19 April and 17 May 2004). Islamic Revolution
Guards Corps personnel closed the airport on its first day of
operation, on the grounds that a Turkish firm’s role in operating
the facility posed a security risk. The legislature interpellated
Roads and Transport Minister Ahmad Khoram after the airport’s
closure for giving the contract to the Turks, and the legislature is
considering scrapping the contract altogether. The airport still is
not in use. Yunesi said on 23 January that there are no security
concerns, IRNA reported, and he referred to the closure as “a mistake
that will be made up for.”
There was little Iranian hard-liners could do about these
seemingly contrarian views and actions. But after the 2004
parliamentary elections conservative domination of the legislature
resumed, and with it came efforts to regain control of the
Intelligence and Security Ministry. In November 2004, Ardabil
Province parliamentarian Hassan Nowi-Aqdam said the legislature is
considering a bill to separate the Intelligence and Security Ministry
from the executive branch, the Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA)
reported. He said, “The [ministry] has lost its awe and power; the
ministry is no longer in control of the security units in various
state departments and other ministries; the intelligence material
passed to the [ministry] by these units are unreliable; moreover, the
security units are more loyal to the departments where they work,
instead of being loyal to the [ministry].”
This proposal met with a great deal of resistance. Former
Vice President for Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Hojatoleslam
Mohammad Ali Abtahi warned on 26 November that approval of the bill
would eliminate supervision of the Intelligence and Security
Ministry, ISNA reported. Retaining its status as a ministry under the
executive branch means that it is supervised by the legislature,
Abtahi said. He added, “While such decisions are being made parallel
intelligence bodies are undermining the activities of the
[Intelligence and Security Ministry].” Tabriz parliamentarian Akbar
Alami said on 26 November that such a development would turn the
Intelligence and Security Ministry into a frightening institution,
ISNA reported. He explained that the ministry cannot turn against the
people if it is supervised by the elected president and parliament.
After that initial furor, little came of the plan to make the
ministry some sort of stand-alone institution. Yet some of the
initially informal parallel entities have now become more
institutionalized. “Aftab-i Yazd” reported on 19 December that the
Department for Social Protection now has a formal charter. Its
responsibilities are almost identical to those of the Organization
for the Propagation of Virtue and Prohibition of Vice (Amr be Maruf
va Nahi az Monker). Its personnel will gather intelligence, an
Intelligence and Security Ministry responsibility, and also engage in
activities that are normally the responsibility of the police and the
President Khatami told a boisterous student audience in a 6
December speech that the ministry is “the most trustworthy source of
security in your system,” state television reported. From a
comparative perspective, this may be true. But there is no guarantee
that this will continue to be the case if a hard-liner wins the June
2005 presidential election. And even if the ministry continues on its
current path, the so-called parallel organizations might well
continue on theirs. (Bill Samii)

AFFAIRS. In the past month, Expediency Council Chairman and former
President Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani has granted a number of
interviews to Iranian media and another to a U.S. newspaper. As he is
one of the most powerful and influential individuals in Iran, his
remarks on topics such as Iran-U.S. relations and the nuclear issue
are always important.
His remarks are even more noteworthy now, as observers wonder
whether Hashemi-Rafsanjani plans to run in the June presidential
They also provide an interesting study in contrast between
comments intended for the Western and those crafted for the Iranian
In a 9 February interview with state radio,
Hashemi-Rafsanjani said that Western, and especially
Washington’s, comments about Iran have become more aggressive
recently. He went on to dismiss this development, saying it
represents “a need for a tangible enemy and [to] introduce that enemy
to their nations.”
Hashemi-Rafsanjani said on 6 February in an exclusive
interview with “USA Today” that Tehran is unconcerned over
Washington’s tough recent statements about Iran. He said the
resumption of Iranian-U.S. dialogue should be preceded by an American
goodwill gesture, such as the unfreezing of Iranian assets that he
estimated to be about $8 billion plus interest. He said he is one of
the people who can restore relations between the two countries and
indicated that there is no need for continued difficulties. “The mere
fact that I am sitting here talking to you is an indication that we
have no differences with the American people. This would not happen
with an Israeli journalist. We want good relations with the American
people. There has to be a dialogue between the governments, but what
can one do when your government has always wronged us?”
In a 30 January interview with the Iranian Students News
Agency (ISNA), Hashemi-Rafsanjani’s tone was more belligerent.
“The Americans continue their hostility against us. They have always
thought about bringing us to our knees in some way, but they have
always failed.” He predicted that the United States will not act
against Iran, but if it does, “we can do great things…. They are
wounded and they might engage in foolish actions. But ultimately they
will be defeated.” Hashemi-Rafsanjani said there is nothing new in
what Washington is saying, “but I evaluate their policy of hostility
to be serious.”
Hashemi-Rafsanjani told state radio on 9 February that
Iran’s willingness to negotiate with Europe about the nuclear
issue is a “positive step.” “This was a collective step by the system
and we all agreed and remain in agreement over the issue,” he
explained. He also signaled unhappiness with the Europeans, however,
saying that they are “not practicing what they said before.” He
warned that killing time will not be effective.
Hashemi-Rafsanjani sounded a similar note in his interview
with “USA Today.” “I’m not satisfied with the progress of the
work, but I am happy that the talks are going on,” he said, adding,
“It might have a negative effect if the United States joins.”
In his 30 January interview, Hashemi-Rafsanjani expressed
confidence that the nuclear issue will be resolved in Iran’s
favor. He said Iran has the technology to create its own nuclear
fuel. Intensified international oversight, he said, is not a problem.
“Everything is transparent, and nothing will happen to us,” he added.
Hashemi-Rafsanjani attributed international concern about the nuclear
issue to a continuous desire to humiliate Iran. “We must try to
protect our dignity,” he said. He went on to say that Iran possesses
nuclear technology that it can put into action quickly.
In another interview, which appeared in the 17 January issue
of “Sharq” newspaper, Hashemi-Rafsanjani stressed the importance of
diplomatic engagement with the West. He said he advocates
“ideological realism” and acknowledged that “observing Islam leads to
some limitations.” Hashemi-Rafsanjani also acknowledged the value of
President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami’s “Dialogue of
Civilizations,” saying, “Intellectual interaction is an important
issue in the life of human beings.” He added, “It can be peaceful and
solve problems.”
On these major foreign policy issues, Hashemi-Rafsanjani
sounded a fairly similar tone in all interviews. His interview with
“USA Today” focused more on Iranian-U.S. relations, but that was
likely a reflection of the interviewer’s interests. He was fairly
consistent throughout the interviews, although the terminology used
with Iranian media was arguably more aggressive. That could have as
much to do with the translators as it does with
Hashemi-Rafsanjani’s intentions, however.
The daily “Aftab-i Yazd” on 9 February criticized
Hashemi-Rafsanjani’s statement about the possibility of renewing
relations with the United States. Is there any point in negotiating
with the government that he described as bird-brained, the daily
asked. Moreover, it continued, would it not have been easier to
resolve differences between the two countries when Hashemi-Rafsanjani
was president (1989-97)?
A commentary in the 9 February “Etemad” said using the media
to express foreign policy opportunities can have positive results.
First, this can eliminate the American public’s “Iranian taboo”
and demonstrate Tehran’s openness, the paper argued. Such a
dialogue, it added, shows that a new understanding between the two
countries is possible.
Many people wonder whether Hashemi-Rafsanjani intends to be a
candidate in Iran’s next presidential election, which is
scheduled to take place on 17 June.
Five individuals have announced that they want to be the main
conservative candidate — Tehran Mayor Mahmud Ahmadi-Nejad; Ali
Larijani, an adviser to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei;
Expediency Council Secretary Mohsen Rezai; Tehran parliamentary
representative Ahmad Tavakoli; and another adviser to the supreme
leader, Ali Akbar Velayati.
Two individuals have said they would like to be the reformist
wing’s candidate — former parliamentary speaker Hojatoleslam
Mehdi Karrubi and former Science, Research, and Technology Minister
Mustafa Moin. A third person, Supreme National Security Council
Secretary Hassan Rohani, has been touted as a possible candidate, but
he said he will not decide until the end of the Iranian year (20
Hashemi-Rafsanjani said in the 6 January “USA Today” that he
has not decided on his candidacy yet and that he would prefer that
someone else be the people’s preferred candidate. If no other
candidate emerges, he said, “I might announce [my candidacy], but we
have two or three more months.”
He made similar points in the 30 January ISNA interview.
Hashemi-Rafsanjani said his candidacy depends on a popular and
capable manager coming forward. “Personal capability and support with
the vote of the people must exist together,” he told the agency.
Hashemi-Rafsanjani said his general inclination is against being a
candidate because he does not want people to think “the regime is
dependent on only a few people.” He conceded that it is too early to
make his decision and that for this reason he has not thought
seriously about a program for running the country. Asked which
candidate he would support if he does not run, Hashemi-Rafsanjani
said he has not yet made a decision.
Economic affairs were discussed in three of the interviews.
Asked by “USA Today” about “the biggest problem facing Iran now,”
Hashemi-Rafsanjani said there are no major problems. He conceded that
unemployment and inflation are “chronic conditions” that must be
resolved. He acknowledged the role of subsidies in reducing the cost
of living.
Hashemi-Rafsanjani was perhaps more forthcoming about this
issue in the ISNA interview. Asked what he would do if elected
president, he said, “We must do something for the segment under the
poverty line to have a dignified life.” He added that such a goal
“can be achieved by creating a complete social security and creating
employment in the country, without harming economic prosperity.”
Hashemi-Rafsanjani bristled when asked if curing Iran’s
“sick economy” is the only reason for relations with industrial
states, “Sharq” reported on 17 January. He said he does not accept
that expression, and the problems that existed when he was president
were minor. “Please say ‘economic difficulties’ instead of
sick economy,” he said. He agreed that the economy’s dependence
on oil is problematic, but added that “the problem goes away” if
there is a good 10-year plan incorporating judicious taxation and if
the people and the country’s officials are determined.
There was no great difference in Hashemi-Rafsanjani’s
interviews on most domestic issues, and he was fairly consistent
regardless of the interviewer’s nationality. Iran suffers from
double-digit unemployment and inflation, and he tried to understate
the extent of economic problems in his “USA Today” interview. Such an
approach could reflect a desire to make the country look good for a
predominantly foreign audience. (Bill Samii)

United Nations High Commissioner on Human Rights (UNHCHR) rapporteur
recently concluded a visit to Iran, and at her final news conference
she spoke out against the shortcomings of that country’s legal
system in terms of gender issues.
The next few years are likely to prove challenging for those
who want to change the legal system, but it appears that gender
politics are in transition and improvements are likely to emerge in
the long run.
The UNHCHR’s rapporteur on violence against women, Yakin
Erturk, urged the Iranian government on 6 February to approve the
Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against
Women (CEDAW), Radio Farda reported.
A proposal that Iran join CEDAW is just one of 33 bills
addressing gender issues that were introduced by female legislators
in the 6th parliament (2000-04), Ziba Mir-Hosseini wrote in the
winter 2004 issue of “Middle East Report”
(). The Guardians
Council rejected all of them, but 16 became law after being watered
down by the Expediency Council. The proposal that Iran join CEDAW —
along with 16 other bills — is now up to the conservative-dominated
7th parliament, Mir-Hosseini wrote.
Mir-Hosseini went on to suggest that the outlook is not good.
Ten of 12 female legislators are members of the Zeinab Society, which
is funded by the Supreme Leader’s Office. Moreover, these women
have criticized their female predecessors for introducing legislation
that allegedly went against the teachings of Islam. This criticism
included CEDAW.
Erturk met with women’s groups, nongovernmental
organizations, scholars, the media, and state representatives during
her one-week visit to Iran, which began on 30 January.
Giti Purfazel, a lawyer and women’s rights activists in
Iran, met with Erturk. Purfazel told Radio Farda that the UN official
appeared to have a genuine interest in learning about the situation
in Iran. She noted that women have fewer legal rights than men and
that they face physical violence at home, but there is little they
can do about this.
“For example, if a woman goes to court and says, ‘I have
no feelings toward my husband,’ or, ‘Because of his abuses at
home, I have no feelings for him and want to separate from him,’
they will not support this. The woman must really convince the court
of this and convincing the court is very difficult.” Purfazel said.
“A man, because of Law 1133, can divorce his wife at any time. A
woman does not have this legal right.” Purfazel compared the current
legal system with one that existed 1,400 years ago, and she said
people cannot live this way. Addressing the issue of polygamy,
Purfazel said, “Today’s woman cannot think the way a woman
thought 200 years ago, 300 years ago, therefore she cannot tolerate a
rival wife.”
Purfazel also told Radio Farda that Erturk wanted to know
about punishments for women, including stoning. Purfazel referred to
legal punishments and the physical punishment that women suffer at
home. She also noted that the blood money (diyeh) one must pay for
killing a woman is half the amount for killing a man. The same
principle applies to witnesses. A woman’s testimony is only half
as valid as a man’s. In some cases, Purfazel told Radio Farda, a
woman’s testimony is ignored if a man’s testimony is not
available to back it up.
According to Mir-Hosseini in “Middle East Report,” women like
former Tehran parliamentary representative Fatimeh Haqiqatjoo are
struggling to change Iran’s “patriarchal society.” Iranian women
have inherited a “legacy of pain,” she wrote, and they yearn for “an
elusive freedom.” Haqiqatjoo has criticized hard-line excesses in her
speeches, condemned the president for not appointing female cabinet
members, and urged government ministers to place women in senior
There were 13 women in the 6th parliament, and they were very
public figures. Mir-Hosseini argued that they successfully challenged
existing parliamentary conventions, such as wearing the
all-encompassing chador, sitting in an area that kept them separate
from male colleagues, and eating in a curtained off portion of the
dining hall.
The next parliamentary elections are not scheduled to take
place until spring 2008, and conservative domination of the
legislature indicates that the course of gender issues in Iran
remains troubled in the short term.
The impetus of the demographic changes that are taking place
in the country, however, strongly suggests that the situation will
improve in the long run. After all, approximately two-thirds of the
population is under the age of 30, and more than half the
country’s university students are female. If and when they become
politically active, these educated and youthful women could seek to
effect substantive legal reforms. (Bill Samii)

Yussefi-Eshkevari was released from jail on 6 February, relatives
told IRNA. The cleric was arrested in August 2000; his seven-year
sentence included four years for saying that dress codes for women
are unnecessary in Islam, one year for his participation in the
spring 2000 conference in Berlin about reform in Iran, and two years
for disseminating false information. An appeals court reversed the
death sentence. (Bill Samii)

Forces Logistics Minister Admiral Ali Shamkhani said, in the daily
“Sharq” of 7 February, that “since the first day I took the office, I
have said that we do not need nuclear arms,” IRNA reported. Shamkhani
said Iran has signed international nonproliferation treaties and its
nuclear sites are open to international inspectors. Shamkhani also
said that, before the revolution, Iran depended on foreign advisers
and foreign sources, but the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War gave Iran the
opportunity to design and produce its own defensive equipment, state
radio reported.
In the same article, Deputy Defense Minister Admiral Mohammad
Shafii-Rudsari referred to Iran’s production of the Shihab-3 and
other missiles, as well as tanks and armored personnel carriers.
Shafii-Rudsari added that Iran can design and produce all kinds of
ships. Brigadier-General Hussein Alai, chairman of the Iranian armed
forces’ Aviation Industry Organization, said Iran manufactures
unmanned aircraft, can make six types of helicopters, and it is
trying to build passenger aircraft. (Bill Samii)

Ambassador to Kuwait Jafar Musavi on 6 February denied that Iran is
interfering in Iraqi affairs and charged that the United States is at
fault, IRNA reported. “[It is] the United States that is meddling in
Iraq’s domestic affairs with its occupation. Iran does not even
have one military personnel [sic] in Iraq,” he said. Musavi did not
say how many Iranian intelligence officers are active in Iraq.
“Iran’s spiritual influence does not mean it is meddling with the
country’s affairs. We are committed to the principle of
noninterference in the domestic affairs of any country,” Musavi said.
(Bill Samii)

…AS IT REFURBISHES HOLY SITES. Iranian construction efforts in the
holy cities of Al-Najaf and Karbala are continuing, “Siyasat-i Ruz”
reported on 20 January. The Imam Ali shrine is located in Al-Najaf.
The shrines of Imam Hussein and his brother, Abbas Alamdar, are
located in Karbala. Karaj Friday prayer leader and supreme
leader’s representative Hajj Hussein Shadiman, who heads the
office for repairing the holy sites in Iraq, described laying a water
pipe on the Karbala road to the holy shrine, which makes this the
first time it will have piped water. Now there are fire hydrants and
fire-fighting equipment around the shrine, Shadiman added. Other
construction projects include a ceremonial hall, as well as a health
center. A great deal of work was done on cleaning up the Imam Ali
shrine. Shadiman said individuals wanting to aid the construction
process can make donations, or if they prefer, the office will design
projects for individuals or groups that want to contribute
independently. (Bill Samii)

Iranian cities hosted rallies on 10 February to mark the anniversary
of the day in 1979 that Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini returned to Iran,
international news agencies reported. In Tehran, people carried
effigies of U.S. President George W. Bush, U.S. Secretary of State
Condoleezza Rice, and Uncle Sam (see
201, and
2981135866.jpg). Participants in the Tehran rally issued a resolution
accusing Israel of fomenting regional instability, expressing support
for the Palestinian people and, in IRNA’s words, “saying the
Zionist threats stem from the U.S. support for the Israeli crimes.”
Participants also emphasized what they see as Iran’s legitimate
right to use nuclear energy. (Bill Samii)

secretary-general of Lebanese Hizballah, on 10 February congratulated
Iran on the 26th anniversary of its Islamic revolution, IRNA
reported. He said the revolution is rooted in Islamic values and
justice, and movements relying on these factors are invincible.
Lebanese Shi’a spiritual leader Sheikh Muhammad Hussein
Fadlallah said on 6 February that Iran is a target of the U.S.
government, the Lebanese National News Agency reported. He called for
unity among the Iranian people so they can confront conspiracies,
“because the political and security circumstances surrounding Iran at
this stage are no less dangerous than those that confronted it
immediately after the victory of the revolution.” He said Iran will
have a bigger regional role in the future. (Bill Samii)

Iranian involvement in international terrorism continues to be a
major concern for some Western states. Tehran continues to reject
such accusations, leveling its own counter-accusations in response.
President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami said, at a 10
February rally in Tehran, that Iran’s revolution is the “target
of aggression” by Islamic reactionaries and bigots who decapitate
hostages and assassinate their opponents, state television reported.
It is also falsely invoked, he suggested, by “those who wage war
under the pretext of defending freedom, supporting human rights, and
fighting terrorism.” Superficially, it appears that these two
currents — “one in America and the other in the [Middle] East” —
oppose each other, Khatami said. However, he charged, the United
States nurtured the reactionary terrorists and now they are a tool in
its hands. The current hue-and-cry over Iran is psychological warfare
meant to cover up past failures, Khatami alleged. Iran is ready to
defend itself, he added: “Should they dare to attack, Iran will turn
into a burning hell for aggressors.”
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei told Iranian Air Force
personnel on 7 February that foreign powers do not oppose
dictatorships, Iranian state radio reported. He said the White House
has organized terrorist acts, and the CIA “directly or indirectly
created and supported” the individuals it now names as notorious
terrorists. He accused the United Stated of training and arming the
Taliban and Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan so that these organizations could
weaken Iran. Khamenei said the United States is hostile to Iran
because the Islamic Republic says “no” to Washington’s demands.
“They expect us to surrender to a global dictatorship,” he added.
Khamenei accused the United States of wanting to eliminate the
Palestinian people and supporting a “mad dog” that attacks every
Palestinian. Khamenei predicted that the United States’ Middle
East policy will fail.
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi on 8
February dismissed British allegations of involvement in terrorism,
IRNA reported. “It certainly does sponsor terrorism,” Prime Minister
Tony Blair told a parliamentary committee about Iran on 8 February,
AFP reported. “There’s no doubt about that at all.” Blair said
Iran has an obligation to help bring about Middle East peace.
Assefi charged that Blair’s comments reflect the
influence of “the Zionist regime” (an Iranian reference to Israel).
Assefi claimed that some Western states are terrorist safe-havens and
that the United Kingdom supports Israel, which he claimed exemplifies
state terrorism. Said Rajai-Khorasani, a former Iranian
representative to the United Nations and currently a university
professor in Tehran, told Radio Farda that Blair’s comments were
a mistake. “We have seen this sort of cooperation between Mr. Blair
and Mr. Bush before, when they wanted to attack Iraq without any sort
of legal remit from the United Nations or even the European Union. It
was in such a political atmosphere that Mr. Blair told the British
parliament that ‘we cannot abandon our confederate.'”
On the third day of a counterterrorism conference in Riyadh,
Saudi Arabia, participants tried to focus on practical solutions and
avoided touchier issues, such as defining terrorism, Radio Farda
reported on 7 February. Among the practical issues that require
attention are individuals’ economic well being, young people, and
the emergence of political Islam. Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah also
called for the creation of an international counterterrorism center.
An argument between the Iranian and U.S. delegations took
place on the sidelines of the event, international news agencies
reported. The Iranians took exception to the definition of Hizballah
as a terrorist organization, and they reportedly compared the
perspectives of the United States and Al-Qaeda. Amir Seyyed Iravani,
head of the Iranian delegation, claimed that Iran is the world’s
biggest victim of terrorism and it has suffered the greatest damage
as a result of this phenomenon. Iravani also discussed the connection
between international narcotics trafficking, weapons smuggling, and
terrorism. Iravani said the “worst form” of terrorism takes place in
Palestine. (Bill Samii)

Serzh Sarkisian, who also serves as secretary of his country’s
presidential security council, left for Tehran on 7 February, Noyan
Tapan reported. Sarkisian and his colleagues were invited by Supreme
National Security Council Secretary Hojatoleslam Hassan Rohani and
are scheduled to meet with Mehdi Safari, who heads the Iranian
Foreign Ministry’s CIS department, and former Iranian Ambassador
to Armenia Farhad Koleini. Serzh met regularly with Koleini when
Koleini was ambassador in Yerevan.
Sarkisian met with President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami,
Supreme National Security Council Secretary Hojatoleslam Hassan
Rohani, and Expediency Council Chairman Ayatollah Ali-Akbar
Hashemi-Rafsanjani on 8 February, IRNA reported. Khatami told the
visitor that the two countries should work on developing economic
cooperation, and he referred to the provision of natural gas.
Sarkisian mentioned connection of the two countries’ railways.
Rohani said the provision of gas and electrical power is important
for regional security and economic affairs. Rohani also promoted a
direct dialogue between Baku and Yerevan to resolve the
Nagorno-Karabakh dispute. Sarkisian ruled out a phased settlement of
the issue and called for a grand bargain that would settle all
related disputes. Hashemi-Rafsanjani said Iran is willing to mediate
in the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute.
The Armenian delegation left Tehran on 9 February. (Bill

Security Council Secretary Hojatoleslam Hassan Rohani said, in a 7
February interview with Iranian state television, that the White
House’s Greater Middle East Peace plan represents an effort to
destroy the region’s Islamic traditions. The plan is also part of
an effort to let Israel dominate the region politically and
economically, Rohani claimed.
The Greater Middle East Peace Initiative, which encouraged
Arab and South Asian governments to democratize, was introduced about
one year ago and immediately caused controversy, according to the
“Financial Times” of 27 February 2004. Arab observers reportedly
criticized the initiative for diminishing the Israeli-Palestinian
conflict. In the face of regional resistance, the plan was scaled
back by September 2004.
U.S. President George W. Bush referred to the Middle East
extensively in his 2 February State of the Union address
ml). He said the U.S. will continue to work with its regional friends
“to promote peace and stability in the broader Middle East.” He noted
positive developments in Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, and Saudi
Arabia. “To promote peace in the broader Middle East,” Bush said, “we
must confront regimes that continue to harbor terrorists and pursue
weapons of mass murder.” He then referred specifically to Iran’s
purported role as a state sponsor of terrorism. It is not unlikely
that this reference is what really annoyed Rohani. (Bill Samii)

IRAN BUYS AUSTRIAN SNIPER RIFLES. Austrian arms manufacturer
Steyr-Mannlicher has exported 800 sniper rifles to Iran, ORF
television, AFP, and “Wirtshaftblatt” reported on 9 February. The
Austrian Interior Ministry issued an export permit for the .50
caliber rifles, which have a 1,500-meter range, and depending on the
type of ammunition, can penetrate armored vehicles. “We asked the
Iranians to give us a certificate stating that the end user of the
weapons would be the Iranian police, who would use it to protect the
country’s borders and to combat drug trafficking,” said Austrian
Interior Ministry spokesman Rudolf Golilla, AFP reported. According
to “Wirtshaftblatt,” the Defense Industries Organization and the Drug
Control Headquarters are listed as recipients of the rifles. The
former organization is part of the Defense and Armed Forces Logistics
Ministry. Austria’s Social Democrat Party has reportedly asked
the foreign minister and the interior minister to come to the
legislature to discuss the issue behind closed doors. (Bill Samii)

President for Atomic Energy Qolam Reza Aqazadeh-Khoi, who heads the
Iranian Atomic Energy Organization, said in a 6 February interview
with state television that Iran can recover fairly quickly from an
attack on the Bushehr nuclear facility. There would be economic
damage, he acknowledged, but Iran’s know-how, designs, and
capability would not be damaged. Even the physical damage could be
repaired, he said, because of the lessons learned in the 1980-88
Iran-Iraq War.
Turning to Iran’s mastery of the nuclear-fuel cycle and
ability to produce uranium hexafluoride (UF6), Aqazadeh-Khoi said
there are only seven or eight factories in the world that can make
UF2, UF6, uranium oxide, and uranium metal. He did not mention the
location of the Iranian factories. (Bill Samii)

Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator Hassan Rohani warned on 6
February of “retaliation” and an acceleration of Tehran’s efforts
to master nuclear technology if the United States or Israel attacks
its atomic facilities. Iran says its enrichment of nuclear material
is only for peaceful purposes allowed under its international treaty
obligations. But Washington fears that Iran is enriching nuclear
material to build nuclear weapons. U.S. officials say all options
remain open, but military strikes against Iran are not on
Washington’s agenda for now. The United States is backing an
initiative by European negotiators due to meet with Rohani in Geneva
in the second week of February. European diplomats say they want
Tehran to suspend all uranium enrichment as a guarantee it is not
trying to build nuclear weapons.
Rohani’s tough words to the U.S. and Israel follow
criticisms by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice against what
she called Tehran’s “loathed regime of unelected mullahs.”
Rohani’s warnings also follow a suggestion last month by U.S.
Vice President Dick Cheney that Israel could launch pre-emptive
strikes against Iran’s nuclear enrichment facilities if it feels
threatened by them. Israel, thought to be the only nuclear-armed
state in the Middle East, has not said it will attack.
Rohani told Reuters on 6 February that Tehran will
“definitely have greater motivation” to accelerate the enrichment of
nuclear material if Iran is attacked by the United States or Israel:
“I do not think America itself will take such a risk because America
knows very well that we will strongly answer such an attack. The
Americans are very well aware of our capabilities. They know our
capabilities for retaliating against such attacks.”
Cheney said on 6 February that the United States backs a
diplomatic effort by three leading EU states (Britain, France, and
Germany) aimed at persuading Iran to abandon nuclear enrichment. But
Cheney says Washington is not ruling out a military option in the
future or other alternatives to diplomacy.
Rice, on a week-long tour of Europe and the Middle East, has
been communicating the same message to leaders in those regions.
Speaking in a widely quoted BBC interview that aired on 6 February,
Rice said the United States remains focused on diplomatic efforts
with Iran: “We believe that this is a time for diplomacy. This is a
time to muster our considerable influence — we the alliance — our
considerable influence, our considerable ‘soft power’ if you
will, to bring great changes in the world.”
Analysts say Washington still appears to be far from making a
decision on military strikes. That’s because the European
diplomatic initiative is still underway with a new round of
negotiations scheduled to start in Geneva on 8 February.
European diplomats in Vienna say they want Iran to suspend
all uranium enrichment programs — even those for peaceful use of
nuclear energy — as a guarantee that Tehran is not seeking nuclear
Alex Standish, editor of the London-based weekly journal
“Jane’s Intelligence Digest,” told RFE/RL: “The diplomacy that is
going on at the moment from the European Union — particularly from
the United Kingdom, France, Germany — is to persuade the Iranians
that this is not in their interest. And that it makes them a
potential target, possibly, for an attack in the future, even if it
is not currently on the agenda, from either Israel or the United
States.” On the other hand, Standish concludes that the U.S.-led
invasion of Iraq and the diplomacy over North Korea’s nuclear
programs have convinced many Iranian officials that the only way to
thwart military strikes by Israel or the United States is to become a
nuclear-capable country as soon as possible.
U.S. officials and independent experts say that, at its
current pace, Iran probably will not be able to produce a nuclear
weapon for at least another three years.
Remi Leveau, a professor emeritus at the Institute of
Political Studies in Paris, notes that the United States has so far
refused to be involved in direct negotiations with authorities from
Iran’s conservative Islamist regime. “Obviously, Iran wants to
discuss [these issues] seriously [and] directly with the United
States. If there is no direct involvement of the United States in
terms of recognition [of Iran and the] prospects of a common vision
on the future of the Middle East — and especially in relationship
with Iraq or the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — the Iranians will
just keep talking with the Europeans. But, I think, without really
wanting to come to a significant agreement.
In his 6 February interview, Rohani called for “equal
negotiations” between Iran and the United States, saying that
agreement could be reached with Washington if talks are conducted, in
his words, “as two equal countries with equal rights.”
Rohani also suggested that any breakdown in its talks in
Geneva will be the result of U.S. pressure on the EU diplomats.
“Basically, America and Europe, regarding Iran’s nuclear issue,
have some common aims and some united views. In regard to some other
goals, they have different views and think differently. Since the
beginning, the Europeans have adopted a policy based on talks and
negotiations with Iran. The basis for America’s dealing with Iran
was threats. But at the same time, we are in talks with the
Europeans. And we hope the Americans, by pressuring the Europeans,
are not going to destroy the talks and cause their failure.”
In Tehran on 7 February, Iranian Vice President and Atomic
Energy chief Gholamreza Aqazadeh-Khoi told Iranian state television
that the negotiations with British, French and German diplomats will
enter a crucial phase when they begin the next day. Aqazadeh-Khoi
said the conclusion of three months of nuclear negotiations is close.
But he said European negotiators need to be clearer about their
plans. (Ron Synovitz)

and Armed Forces Logistics Admiral Ali Shamkhani said, in a 10
February speech in the central Iranian city of Yazd, that Europe and
the United States are using a “good cop, bad cop” approach in dealing
with Iran’s nuclear program, IRNA reported. Two days earlier,
negotiators from France, Germany, the United Kingdom, and Iran began
closed-door discussions in Geneva. The talks were scheduled to last
three days.
Supreme National Security Council Secretary Hojatoleslam
Hassan Rohani said on 9 February in Mashhad that Tehran will decide
if continuing the discussions is worthwhile after it has determined
the Europeans’ level of commitment, IRNA reported. Rohani also
said the United States is trying to make the Iran-EU talks fail, IRNA
In her statements on the issue, U.S. Secretary of State
Condoleezza Rice has not conveyed the impression that she wants the
Iran-EU talks to fail. She said in Brussels on 9 February, “The
Iranians have to be held to their international obligations. We
haven’t set any timetables. We continue to be in completely close
consultation with the Europeans about how it is going, about whether
progress is being made.” Rice said at a news conference in Paris on 8
February, “The Iranians know precisely what they need to do, and I do
want to say we are appreciative of the efforts that the EU-3 are
making with the Iranians to give them a path back to the
international community because they clearly are engaged in
activities that make everyone suspicious about what they are doing.”
U.S. President George W. Bush sounded a similar note on 9
February in Washington when he said, “I look forward to going over to
Europe to continue discussing this issue [Iran’s nuclear program]
with our allies. It’s important we speak with one voice.” He also
said, “The Iranians just need to know that the free world is working
together to send a very clear message, you know: don’t develop a
nuclear weapon. And the reason we’re sending that message is
because Iran with a nuclear weapon would be a very destabilizing
force in the world.” (Bill Samii)

from 24 Norwegian businesses will accompany Norwegian Interior
Minister Borge Brende when he visits Iran in the second week of
February, “Aftenposten” reported on 8 February. So far, almost 50
firms have done preliminary studies on working in Iran or are already
active there. According to the Norwegian daily, the delegation
includes firms involved in shipping, energy, law, and education.
This development occurs as many Western firms are
reconsidering their activities in Iran (see “RFE/RL Iran Report,” 1
and 7 February 2005). Companies that have decided to forego future
business with Iran include BP, Thyssen-Krupp, and General Electric.
The assumption has been that firms are giving in to U.S.
pressure, but the 8 February “Wall Street Journal” reports that the
business climate in Iran is not very inviting and refers to the
legislature’s revision of a contract with a Turkish mobile phone
company and its intervention in a contract with a Turkish-Austrian
consortium to operate the new Imam Khomeini International Airport.
(Bill Samii)

Minister Mohammad Rahmati said on 8 February that Imam Khomeini
International Airport will be opened in April, IRNA reported. He said
the airport will initially have one foreign flight a day, and this
amount will gradually increase. Keeping the airport closed is not
economical, Rahmati said.
Islamic Revolution Guards Corps personnel closed the airport
on its first day of operation in the spring of 2004 on the grounds
that a Turkish firm’s role in operating the facility posed a
security risk (see “RFE/RL Iran Report,” 19 April and 17 May 2004).
The legislature interpellated Roads and Transport Minister Ahmad
Khoram after the airport’s closure for giving the contract to the
Turkish company, and the legislature is considering scrapping the
contract altogether, IRNA reported on 23 January. No decisions have
been made on who will operate the airport. (Bill Samii)

Radio Farda, moderated by Radio Farda broadcaster Mariam Ahmadi,
examined the state of political prisoners under two regimes with
participants Reza Moini of the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders
(RSF), Dr. Nemat Ahmadi, a jurist and lawyer in Tehran, former
political prisoner Majid Derabeigi and Dr. Mohammad Maleki, a former
head of Tehran University. Audio and a Persian transcript of the
roundtable, titled “Political Prisoners and Political Offences:
Experts Examine the State of Political Prisoners under Two Regimes,”
can be found on the Radio Farda website at


Mariam Ahmadi (MA): 22 Bahman 1357 [11 February 1979] is
recorded in history as the date of the victory of the Iranian
revolution. Like other revolutions, that revolution had its slogans,
which in the days leading to 22 Bahman were distilled into three
principal demands for independence, freedom and an Islamic Republic,
but which had previously included, in the marches and demonstrations
of autumn 1978, calls for social justice and an end to corruption.
There was talk of the freedom of speech, a free press and the release
of political prisoners. Indeed, demonstrators’ demands for the
release of political prisoners became reality before the 11 February
victory of the revolution. People went to prisons with flowers,
pastry and cakes and opened their gates. How long did that freedom
last? What happened to the promises to turn prisons into museums;
what indeed has become of the idea of political prisoners and
political offences in Iran’s political culture? Reza Moini of the
Paris-based Reporters Without Borders said:

Reza Moini (RM): Political prisoners have been an issue in
our society for more than six decades. Going back, we see that
prisons in the modern sense were instituted from about 1300 [1920s],
naturally giving rise to the issue of political prisoners.
Specifically the law known as the black law, passed in 1310 [1921]
under Reza Khan, provides the basis for the present-day law utilized
by the Islamic Republic, as the law dealing with internal and
external countersecurity offences. Article 498 of that law
essentially seeks to disperse or prevent the formation of any group,
and fight organized movements in Iran. The political prison has
gained in scope at every historical stage.

MA: How many political prisoners did we have in the years
from 1977 to 1979, and which political groups did they belong to?

RM: Sadly there has been little work in Iran on figures and
statistics in that regard, and from what I have seen I can say that
the figures they have given indicate a group of political prisoners
numbering between 2,500 and 3,000 for those years. These were mostly
concentrated in Tehran, in the Qasr prison, and then the Evin prison.
>From late 56 [late 1977 to early 1978], and as a result of American
pressures for greater liberties, a number of prisoners were released,
but the very issue of political prisoners was one mentioned by the
opposition both inside and outside the country.

MA: I asked Dr. Nemat Ahmadi, a jurist and lawyer in Tehran,
what he thought of the erstwhile revolutionary slogan, “The Political
Prisoner Must be Freed,” 26 years after the revolution. Ahmadi said:

Nehmat Ahmadi (NA): The people they arrest, who are famous
political figures, like Mr. Ezzatollah Sahabi or Mr. [Nasser]
Zarafshan are political personalities. Their actions are political,
and these people remain in prison on charges all society and people
know are political in nature. But adding insult to injury, judiciary
officials state that as political offences have not yet been defined,
we cannot consider these people political offenders for now. I think
that at the very least, we have moved backward.

MA: But was there a definition of political offenses under the Shah?

NA: Unfortunately we did not have one then either. The
difference then was that we had military courts separate from the
judicial system, and the people they said had acted against national
security were tried in military courts. Reviews and appeals were
appealed to the highest ranking person in the country.

MA: I asked Majid Darabeigi, who was a prisoner in both
regimes, why he was sent to jail:

Majid Derabeigi (MD): We were a group of students under the
Shah, involved more in democracy activities, in various areas, and
did political or professional related work. Because of that, one or
two of our friends were denounced for another reason, and they were
tortured, and that led to our being tortured so we would admit to
acting against the state. Because we did not respond to that charge,
they made other charges against us, like taking part in student
demonstrations and reading banned books. I was given a three-year
jail sentence in a court, though that was reduced to one year as I
had did not have a criminal record. The second time, under the
Islamic Republic, somebody reported me and I was arrested, and they
grabbed me firmly in the street and accused me of being a member of
some organization. As I denied being a member or supporter of that
organization, I was for about 16 to 17 months subjected to
interrogation and torture intended to extract some form of
information from me. They did obtain a lot of information from me,
and one of my accusers then was this Mr. Said Hajjarian, who is now
one of the reformist leaders inside the governing system. He went to
the place where I worked and compiled a little dossier for me, to the
effect that I was engaged in propaganda against the Islamic Republic.
I will not go into details as they are peripheral to the issue.

MA: One of the demands of political prisoners these days is a
separation and categorization of political prisoners. I asked Nemat
Ahmadi about the categorization of political prisoners under the

NA: We had independent wings in those years. There was an
unwritten law and unwritten method whereby for example, Wing Three of
the Qasr prison was for political detainees. Political prisoners were
familiar figures in those days. Ayatollah [Hussein Ali] Montazeri was
a prisoner, Ayatollah [Mahmud] Taleqani was a prisoner, so was Mr.
[Akbar] Hashemi-Rafsanjani. The [present supreme] leader [Ali
Khamenei] was a prisoner. There was a very large range of student
prisoners, a large group of Marxists, the Mujahedin Khalq
Organization, and [left-wing] Fadai guerrillas had supporters, and
they were well-known for their factional affiliations. There was a
certain order in prisons at the time, and the former regime kept
these groups in particular wings, and it was rare to bring people
into public prisons. When they did take political prisoners into
public wings as a punishment, that created a lot of trouble. People
found it unacceptable that some young or elderly people or clerics
should go to jail, and when this happened, it always backfired, and
even the ordinary prisoners realized that these were good people and
could not be offenders. After the revolution, Evin became the place
for keeping prisoners from [political] groups and the like, and after
76 [1997-98] when effectively lawyers began to visit prisons, there
were less dissident prisoners. The difference was that
communications, radio and television, and newspapers broadcast their
voices to a wide audience inside the country and abroad. Today, as
soon as there is a hunger strike for example, most news agencies find
out about it, whereas in the past we see how Mrs. Ashraf Dehqani, who
was sentenced to die, escaped prison without the foreign media
reporting it.

MA: Although political offences were not defined in the
Pahlavi period, military courts would investigate charges of a
political nature.

NA: Now Article 5 of the Law on the Formation of the Public
and Revolutionary Courts has given the task of categorization to the
revolutionary court, which deals with security and related offences.
But we see many cases like those of Abbas Abdi and Akbar Ganji who
did not have dossiers with the revolutionary court, but were taken to
ordinary courts that dealt with their cases.

MD: In certain respects you could not compare prison under
the Shah with the Islamic Republic, because the composition of prison
in each period changes. There was a time when only political
opponents were in prison under the Shah. In the Islamic Republic, at
one time there was a mass of mostly youngsters under 20 in prison.
Times changed and there was a very high concentration of detainees in
prison in the Islamic Republic, and we did not have that
concentration under the Shah. The same goes for the various forms of
torture. Both regimes used harsh, exhaustive tortures, but when the
atmosphere improved, they would turn to psychological torments. For
example we may compare the prisons of the Islamic Republic to the
last years of the Shah, when police bodies had penetrated everywhere
and if they caught someone, they caught them with plenty of evidence.
Physical torture under the Shah was much harsher than in the Islamic
Republic, but the psychological torments of the Islamic Republic are
far worse, and the unsuitable prison conditions.

MA: I ask Reza Moini what happened to the prisoners who were
released at the outset of the revolution:

RM: Naturally, after the revolution many former prisoners
became the principal organizers in the political scene until the
suppression of that sector when they were arrested generally and in
large numbers. I would make an essential observation about these
arrests, as an example for society today and tomorrow, which is that
some of those prisoners who were now in government became torturers
in the Evin prison. Their names are numerous and there are many types
among them. Some of the best known include the Evin prison butcher
Mr. [Asadollah] Lajevardi, and then there are the types who were
occasional interrogators, like Mr. Karbaschi the former Tehran mayor.
He has admitted in his writings that they would sometimes call him
and he would go to Evin and speak to former political prisoners and
guide them, as it were. The bitter question remains, how could
prisoners turn to torturers? Among the prisoners of the Shah who were
well-known and were later executed under the Islamic Republic, we can
cite Shokrollah Paknezhad, Ali Shokuhi, Alireza Tashayyod, Mehran
Shahabeddin, Enayat Sultanzadeh, Said Sultanpur and Manuchehr

MA: Ayatollah Khomeini said, in a speech at the Behesht-i
Zahra [cemetery], that graveyards had flourished under the Shah, in
an allusion to the execution of political prisoners. Dr. Mohammad
Maleki, a former head of Tehran University and member of a welcoming
committee for Ayatollah Khomeini [returning from Paris] in 1979,

Mohammad Maleki: Yes, he said that the Shah came and made
sure cemeteries flourished, because the Shah had martyred a number of
dissidents and tortured them, and they said these things because of
goings-on in prisons. Our generation perhaps never imagined that the
events of the 60s [1980s] would happen in Iran, that the horrific
event of 67 [1988] would happen in Iran where thousands of men and
women were martyred, so that not only was there no more room for
bodies in other parts of the Behesht-i Zahra, but they had to go
elsewhere, the old Tehran cemetery they called Kufr Abad [City of
Lies] and other particular names I do not wish to repeat, and throw
the youngsters and bury them with bulldozers. That is when we saw who
really made the cemeteries prosper, more than the Shah, and who
destroyed the country. (Translation by Vahid Sepehri)

Copyright (c) 2005. RFE/RL, Inc. All rights reserved.

The “RFE/RL Iran Report” is a weekly prepared by A. William Samii on
the basis of materials from RFE/RL broadcast services, RFE/RL
Newsline, and other news services. It is distributed every Monday.

Direct comments to A. William Samii at [email protected].
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