WHISTLING IN THE DARK
8 November 1999, Volume 2, Number 44
WHISTLING IN THE DARK
On 4 November, Iranians celebrated the anniversary of the seizure of the
U.S. Embassy in Tehran by holding rallies, making speeches, and burning
flags. This year, the 20th anniversary of beginning of the hostage
crisis, coincided with the day Father of the Revolution Ayatollah
Ruhollah Khomeini was exiled to Turkey in 1964 and university students
were killed by imperial troops in 1978.
The impact of the students' action in 1979 is being felt today,
and it is not something most Iranians would celebrate. RFE/RL's Persian
Service interviewed university professors Fereidun Khavand, Fariborz
Raisdana, and Houshang Amirahmadi, who all agreed that the hostage
crisis destroyed Iran's relations with the U.S., something that has cost
Iran billions of dollars. Iranian products now have poor access to the
huge U.S. market. Also, Iran cannot buy goods from one of the
lowest-cost producers, particularly in the oil technology field.
Finally, all countries now consider Iran a high-risk investment.
Shortly before the 4 November celebrations, the U.S. State
Department reiterated its willingness to engage in a dialogue with Iran.
But perhaps because this year's anniversary coincided with other
significant events, this offer was rejected and the anti-American
rhetoric became more heated than usual.
The Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) reported "crowds from
different parts of the capital gathered in front of the former U.S
Embassy," and the rally was addressed by Expediency Council Secretary
Mohsen Rezai (Rezai is a good candidate for an anti-U.S. speech because
his son is seeking asylum there now.) In Tehran, tens of thousands
(Reuters) or several thousand (Agence France Presse) people burned four
U.S., one Israeli, and one British flag, and they chanted "Death to
America," Down with the USA," and "Death to the usurping Jewish regime."
Similar rallies were held in other cities, too, according to state
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei also discussed the U.S. in
a 3 November speech that "The New York Times" described as an
"anti-American diatribe that was stunning in its virulence." He said
only "simpletons" and "traitors" favored restoration of relations with
the U.S. Khamenei also denounced "abject and vile pen-holders" who think
Iran's economic problems will be solved if U.S.-Iran relations are
normalized. "Nothing has changed, the U.S has its arrogance and
oppressiveness as before," Speaker of Parliament Ali-Akbar Nateq-Nuri
added, noting that "The U.S. ...is still living under the umbrella of
the Zionists." Islamic Revolution Guard Corps commander Yahya Rahim
Safavi told a gathering of youth center managers to beware of plots by
the "global arrogance," state television reported.
A counterrally organized by the Office for Strengthening Unity
was held on 3 November at the Tehran University mosque. This event
"attracted only a few hundred people, mainly students," according to
AFP. The crowd chanted in support of President Khatami. The organizers
spoke out against burning American flags and shouting extremist slogans
because it caused friction between Iranians. The previous day,
Hojatoleslam Rasul Montajabnia of the relatively moderate Militant
Clerics Association (Majma-yi Ruhaniyun-i Mobarez) advised against
burning the U.S. flag during an address at Ilam University, saying that
Iran's argument is with the U.S government, not its people.
Friday Prayer leaders also sermonized against the U.S. as 4
November approached. Rasht Friday Prayer leader Hojatoleslam Sadeq
Ehsanbakhsh said "Whenever Iran's independence is threatened by America,
our people will destroy the White house in a suicide action," according
to "Iran" newspaper. In Qom, Ayatollah Ebrahim Amini-Najafabadi
sermonized that "America has never stopped its plots against Iran."
Regarding earlier statements by U.S. officials about a willingness to
hold bilateral discussions, Amini said: "it is still using the same
bullying tone and even worse. ...None of our officials are prepared to
accept America's tyranny, our people are not prepared to do that
In Tehran, Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati said he had a list of "some
30 crimes that the Americans have committed in this country." Among the
crimes was America's failed attempt to rescue the hostages. After going
on for a while about perceived misdeeds, Jannati urged people to
participate in the 4 November rallies, adding that, "This is one of the
basic pillars of our policy."
A recent point of contention arose over seemingly contradictory
statements from Washington. In early-October, State Department spokesman
James Rubin suggested that a military option is possible against whoever
is responsible for the 1996 bombing that killed U.S. servicemen in Saudi
Arabia, which in Iran was perceived as a direct threat. But in
mid-October, Assistant Secretary of State Martin Indyk said the U.S. has
not set preconditions for talks with Iran. Rubin clarified these
statements in an interview with Shirzad Bozorgmehr of "Iran News." (It
is probably just a coincidence that Bozorgmehr also works for CNN.)
Iranian state radio responded on 28 October to Rubin's call for a
dialogue by saying that, "as long as the U.S. continues to expand its
hostile policies towards Iran, any type of discussion between the two
countries would be fruitless."
During an October visit to the Persian Gulf, U.S. Secretary of
Defense William Cohen said that the U.S. military presence there helps
deter an Iranian strike against the Arab states. Iranian state
broadcasting said on 21 and 22 October that Cohen's remarks were
"indecent and meddlesome" and intended to promote arms sales and ruin
Iran's relations with its neighbors. Columnists for the Arabic
newspapers "al-Hayat," "al-Khaleej," and "al-Rai" ridiculed Cohen's
assertions about the Iranian threat.
Then IRNA reported on 2 November that U.S. Vice President Al
Gore, while speaking at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy,
referred to Iran as "repressive and fundamentalist." Foreign Ministry
spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi said Gore's "unfounded and baseless"
comments, coming "as the forthcoming U.S. presidential election
approaches, were only aimed to please the Zionists." What Gore actually
said was that the "repressive arm of fundamentalist rule" was used
against demonstrators during the summer. (Bill Samii)
RUSSIA ADMITS TECHNOLOGY TRANSFER TO IRAN.
Speaking at a 2 November news conference in Oslo, Russian Prime Minister
Vladimir Putin said "Russia is not interested in enlargement of the club
of nuclear powers," according to ITAR-TASS. But he added that "it would
be silly to let anybody use this to press our firms, enterprises in the
military industrial complex, from world arms markets." The Russian prime
minister was reacting to Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak's comments
that Israel is concerned about the spread of nuclear and missile
technology to Iran.
The previous week, "The Times" of London reported that Russian
and Iranian companies are using the Caspian Sea as a route for smuggled
parts used in Tehran's Weapons of Mass Destruction programs. Such parts
come not only from Russian suppliers but from European ones, too. This
smuggling program is reportedly part of a secret agreement signed by
Iranian Minister of Roads and Transport Mahmud Hojjati-Najafabadi when
he was in Russia in August, according to the "Times." The Russian
Foreign Ministry rejected the veracity of the "Times" report, Interfax
reported on 25 October. It said the story was based on "insinuation" by
those who want "Russia and the United States to quarrel and to put
pressure on Moscow so that it halts its cooperation with Iran."
In this case, the Russian Foreign Ministry may be telling the
truth. Putin's 2 November comments indicate that Russia does not feel
any need to hide its cooperation with Iran in creating weapons of mass
destruction. (Bill Samii)
PAST LIGHTS WAY TO FUTURE IN NURI TRIAL.
Hearings before the Special Court for the Clergy in the case of
"Khordad" Managing Editor Hojatoleslam Abdullah Nuri got underway on 30
October. Three previous high-profile trials suggest the ways this case
will have an impact. Whatever its formal outcome, the trial will serve
as a platform for an eloquent speaker to undermine some of the
shibboleths of the ruling conservatives, which is what happened during
the April trial of Hojatoleslam Mohsen Kadivar. Also, the summer trial
of "Salam" Managing Director Hojatoleslam Mohammad Asqar Musavi-Khoeniha
can serve as a model for the political impact of this trial. On that
basis, Nuri's trial will keep him out of politics for the immediate
future, and "Khordad" probably will be closed.
A key to Nuri's defense is his view that the Special Court for
the Clergy is unconstitutional and illegal. This position is not without
precedent; the same defense was used during Kadivar's trial in April
(see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 19 April 1999 and 26 April 1999). Nuri told
the 19 October "Manateq-i Azad" that he hoped the trial would be
broadcast so that the public can judge the court's legality, as well as
his guilt, just as there were demands that Kadivar's trial be open. Nuri
also promised to say in court that he opposes the house arrest of
Montazeri, which "has no legal or Sharia [Islamic law] basis." During
the 3 November hearing Nuri also criticized the failure to provide
honest answers about last autumn's murders of dissidents.
And during the 4 November hearing, just as the 1979 seizure of
the U.S. Embassy was being commemorated, Nuri pointed out that Iran
could not ignore the world's most powerful country. He demonstrated that
Iran needs the foreign investment, and that the U.S. has a great deal of
influence over international financial institutions. He also pointed out
that the 1995 deal with French oil company Total was made on unfavorable
terms because U.S. firms were not competing for the contract.
The July case of Hojatoleslam Mohammad Asqar Musavi-Khoeniha,
managing director of the daily "Salam," serves as a precedent for
possible outcomes of the Nuri trial. That case was intended to silence a
leading figure in two of the reformist 2nd of Khordad (the date of
Khatami's election) groups (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 9 August 1999).
Nuri was touted as the reformists' favorite candidate for speaker of
parliament. If Nuri is convicted, however, it will keep him out of the
parliamentary race. His imprisonment is not necessary, because the
Guardians Council, using the power of advisory supervision and
additional powers granted unto it by the newly adopted election law, can
block anybody's candidacy without providing any explanation.
When Musavi-Khoeniha was convicted, his prison sentence was
deferred owing to his revolutionary credentials. But he was banned from
publishing activities for three years and "Salam" was banned for five
years. Taking that case as a precedent, it seems very likely that
"Khordad" will be closed, too. (Bill Samii)
IRANIAN STUDENTS WARNED, FOREIGN ACADEMICS FUNDED.
Sentences are still being handed out for those accused of involvement in
the July unrest. And the students involved in writing a supposedly
blasphemous play for the student publication called "Mowj" have been
given prison sentences. These actions are intended to serve as a warning
to other students and young people that future deviations from accepted
norms of behavior would not be tolerated. The timing of this warning is
particularly relevant, because some people may want to protest against
the possible conviction of Hojatoleslam Abdullah Nuri.
Manuchehr Mohammadi was sentenced to 13 years in prison, "Qods"
reported on 28 October. His "confessions" were broadcast on state
television in July, and they were edited to make it seem that Mohammadi
and other student protesters were agents of foreign powers. Ahmad
Bateni, the student wearing a bloody shirt who was featured on the cover
of "The Economist," received a ten-year sentence, according to an
unconfirmed report from the Student Movement Coordination Committee for
Democracy in Iran.
On 2 November the Press Court sentenced three Amir Kabir
University students--Abbas Nemati, Mohammad Reza Namnamat, and Ali-Reza
Aqai--to prison sentences of up to three years for their role in
producing a satirical play about the 12th Imam. A fourth defendant, a
professor who said he was not paying attention when the students read
the play for him, was acquitted.
While elements within the Iranian regime may be trying to
intimidate students at home, internationally they are trying to burnish
Iran's image and legitimize Tehran's activities. The Iranian Ministry of
Education and the Islamic Center of England is funding two three-year
fellowships--worth approximately $279,000--at London's School of
Oriental and African Studies, London's "Sunday Times" reported on 24
October. The Islamic Center is headed by Ayatollah Mohsen Araqi, Supreme
Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's representative in England. Academics in
other Western countries receive Iranian funding, too. Not only could
this make them sympathetic to the Iranian government, but also it might
even affect their teaching and their policy recommendations. (Bill
TEHRAN EXPANDS CRACKDOWN ON MEDIA.
On 1 November, Maurice Copithorne, the UN High Commissioner for Human
Rights, said that freedoms of the press, expression, and association
have declined in Iran since July. He added that the judicial system must
be reformed and persecution of the Bahai minority must stop. Executions
(138 reported between January and August) for unknown crimes, torture,
failure to pursue the case of dissident intellectuals and journalists
murdered a year ago, and repression of this summer's demonstrations are
other major human rights problems in Iran, according to Copithorne.
Copithorne told the UN General Assembly that President Mohammad Khatami
seems committed to reform, "but the slow rate of implementation is
leading to increasing skepticism." Iran's UN envoy, Mohammad-Hassan
Fadaiefard, said the report was based on "false" information and
allegations provided by opposition groups, adding that the report lacked
"objectivity" and showed absence of "understanding" of Islamic norms.
Mohammad Javad Haqshenas, the Interior Ministry's
director-general for political affairs, mentioned another problem
relating to newspaper closures. He said in the 2 November "Iran Daily"
that closing newspapers and prosecuting press figures will undermine the
public's ability to participate fully in the February parliamentary
elections. This is because, according to Haqshenas, "In our country,
each member of the press community represents a certain school of
The current press law under consideration in parliament will
strengthen the government's ability to close publications and punish
journalists and editors (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 18 October 1999).
About 300 journalists signed a petition calling for suspension of the
proposed law, "Sobh-i Imruz" reported on 27 October. Also, members of
the reformist 2nd of Khordad (the date of Khatami's election) group met
with 150 members of the legislature and asked for suspension of the
Some parliamentarians are threatening to stage a walkout if the
bill comes up, in order to prevent the formation of a quorum. Deputy
Faezeh Hashemi, however, warned that if this tactic is used in this
case, hardline parliamentarians might resort to it in the future,
"Tehran Times" reported on 27 October. Another parliamentarian,
Hojatoleslam Majid Ansari, predicted that the voting on the press law
would go ahead, "Sobh-i Imruz" reported on 3 November. Mohammad Baqer
Nobakht of Rasht explained that the parliament must maintain good
internal relations so voting on the third five-year development plan
goes ahead successfully.
Meanwhile, Mashallah Shamsolvaezin, former editor of the banned
daily "Neshat" and current editor of "Asr-i Azadegan," was arrested and
taken to Evin prison on 2 November, several weeks after the warrant for
him was issued. New charges against him include forgery, illegal use of
forged documents, and forging the signature of Hussein Baqerzadeh
(author of an article criticizing capital punishment). Earlier charges
against Shamsolvaezin were for allowing the publication of articles by
Baqerzadeh and Emadedin Baqi (who had urged Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali
Khamenei to distance himself from hardliners). Shamsolvaezin's trial is
scheduled for 8 November and he refused to post bail, which was set at
about $58,000 (at the unofficial exchange rate). In September, "Neshat"
managing director Latif Safari was given a two-and-a-half year prison
sentence and banned from publishing for five years (see "RFE/RL Iran
Report," 27 September 1999).
A possibly more positive development is a report that the daily
"Bayan" will hit the newsstands on 13 November. The new publication will
make use of the banned "Salam" newspaper's facilities, "Manateq-i Azad"
reported on 3 November. Former Interior Minister and Ambassador to Syria
Ali Akbar Mohtashemi-Pur will be its editor.
But the court cases of Shamsolvaezin and of "Khordad" Managing
Editor Abdullah Nuri increase the likelihood that "Asr-i Azadegan" and
"Khordad" will be closed. This is further evidence that the law is being
manipulated by the Judiciary to eliminate reformist newspapers before
the February elections. And it will serve as further evidence of the
worsening human rights situation in Iran. (Bill Samii)
HARDLINERS STILL FEAR MONTAZERI.
The men in Iran who exert power in the name of Islam are still afraid of
one man: Ayatollah Hussein Ali Montazeri-Najafabadi. That may be for
good reason, because although the 78-year-old Montazeri has been under
intermittent house arrest for the last ten years, he continues to have a
substantial and vocal following. The state, in turn, has supposedly
issued a decree (which, if it exists at all, remains unpublished)
forbidding writing about Montazeri. Moreover, it persists in punishing
those who publicize Montazeri's views. But attempts to silence Montazeri
and his supporters appear increasingly desperate.
A number of Montazeri's supporters have been arrested for
publishing a book he had written, "Arya" and "Aftab-i Imruz" reported on
2 November. Akbar Tajik-Saeedi, prayer leader at a Tehran mosque, was
convicted by the Special Court for the Clergy in the last week of
October for "propagating for Montazeri, spreading lies, and confusing
public opinion." Tajik-Saeedi was one of 180 clerics who signed a letter
protesting Montazeri's confinement.
One of the charges against Hojatoleslam Abdullah Nuri, managing
editor of "Khordad," is that he promoted Montazeri's political views
(see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 18 October 1999). The Special Court for the
Clergy's prosecutor, Hojatoleslam Neku-Nam, referred to a Supreme
National Security Council decree that forbids promoting the dissident
cleric's views. But as "Sobh-i Imruz" pointed out on 18 October, "this
decree has been neither printed in the Official Gazette nor been advised
to the press. It is said to be a classified document."
Mohammad Hassan Alipur, managing editor of the weekly "Aban,"
also is accused of promoting Montazeri. In a hearing before the Special
Court for the Clergy, Alipur said his weekly "always printed news about
Montazeri and reflected his expert views within the framework of its
task to inform the public," Aban reported on 11 September. Regarding the
Supreme National Security Council decree forbidding promotion of
Montazeri, "Alipur said that he was totally unaware of the existence of
such a decree." Although he asked for a copy of the decree, the court
did not provide him with one. The Special Court for the Clergy also
charged Alipur and "Aban" with printing the views of reformist cleric
Hojatoleslam Mohammad Taqi Fazel-Meybodi, who has been identified as a
The weekly "Ava," which is close to Montazeri, was sent to the
Press Court by the Press Supervisory Board in August, according to
"Hamshahri." Also, the Islamic Culture and Guidance Ministry stopped
giving financial support to "Ava," "Aban," and "Payam-i Hajar" because
they published photos of and articles about Montazeri, "Neshat"
reported. The Qom governor-general's political deputy was suspended from
government service and fined for reproducing Montazeri's statements
using government facilities, "Resalat" reported on 12 September.
The government's efforts to keep Montazeri out of the public eye
have not been very successful. The Organization of Former Members of
Parliament issued a statement requesting the end of Montazeri's house
arrest, "Khordad" reported in mid-August. Next to a large photograph of
the cleric, "Iran-i Vij" asked in late August: "Does the house arrest of
Ayatollah Montazeri conform to Islamic law?" Also, Hojatoleslam
Nadi-Najafabadi requested an end to Montazeri's house arrest, "Sobh-i
Imruz" reported on 19 September.
In fact, Montazeri has been the subject of a debate that started
in August with the publication of his statements about violence and the
state in "Khordad" and "Aban." Montazeri said, "Violence occurs when a
government responds to its own people's complaints against the state's
deviations, and demands for their rights, with acts of suppression,
instead of granting their rights or placating them. Violence occurs when
the government acts like an alien aggressor, instead of...being kind to
the people who are the true owners of the state."
Referring to the prevalence of thugs, vigilantes, and goon
squads, Montazeri said this "method is being pursued in the Islamic
Republic by a group using paramilitary teams and immature persons."
Montazeri went on to call for open debate and said the lack of security
undermines investor confidence.
Parliamentarian Mohammad Javad Larijani responded to Montazeri's
comments in an interview published in the 16 August "Neshat." He
asserted that Mafia-like groups that seek the physical elimination of
their opponents wage violence. It also is waged by "some groups who feel
that people like them. However, they believe that this has not been
translated into gaining positions of power." Larijani said that
Hojatoleslam Mehdi Hashemi's gang exploited Montazeri's name in the mid-
to late-1980s. Now, Montazeri is being exploited by those who "favor a
secular and liberal government."
"Neshat" columnist Emadedin Baqi wrote on 21 August that
attempts to link Montazeri and Mehdi Hashemi are based on ignorance, and
furthermore, Larijani's argument is full of historical mistakes. The
next day, Baqi wrote that Montazeri saw the relationship between the
government and the people as a social contract, and "If the rulers do
not meet those claims and demands [of the people], the contract becomes
invalid." Baqi went on to say that, "Larijani has joined the faction
involved in oppressing the people."
Trying to discredit people and institutions by linking them with
the Mehdi Hashemi gang and by saying that they are un-Islamic is a
frequent tactic of hardline publications and their supporters, Baqi said
in an interview published in the 6 September "Khordad." Such tactics are
very harmful, Baqi said, explaining that "Attempts to further political
objectives by exploiting religion and the Koran over the past 20 years
have caused irreparable damage to the standing and position of religion
in this society." (Bill Samii)
Compiled by A. William Samii.
©Copyright 1999, Radio Free Europe
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