The life and [troubled] times of the Islamic Republic ofIran
Hundreds of employees from a Tehran refinery and of Tehran gasolinestations staged a sit-in on Taleghani avenue in Tehran on Sunday, in frontof the main building of the Oil Ministry. The demonstration began at 8AM on Feb. 16 and continued peacefully up until 4 PM, when units of theSpecial Guards of the Islamic Revolution were called in and began to attackthe demonstrators.
Information on the oil workers strike was first distributed by the Flagof Freedom Organization, an opposition group based in Paris, France. Subsequentreports, with new details, were transmitted by the Constitutionalists Movementof Iran and by the Mujahidin-e Khalq, an opposition group based in Iraq.Most of the opposition reports estimated the number of demonstrators as"several thousand." The exile groups all confirmed the late-afternoonattack against the demonstrators by the security forces. [FFO, CMI, NCRstatements, 2/16/97]
According to eye-witness reports from FDI observers in Tehran, the SpecialGuards troops called in to break up the demonstration fired shots in theair and arrested dozens of workers. Opposition groups reported that theirsources had observed the security forces hauling away demonstrators bythe busload.
For several days prior to the sit-in, representatives of the oil workershad been engaged in negotiations with the Oil and Labor Ministries on awide range of issues. Workers complained that their salaries had laggedway behind Iran's staggering inflation, but also asked for better workconditions, better schools for their children, and better fringe benefits.
The sit-in was preceded by several weeks of intermittent work-stoppagesand slow-downs. "This is only the beginning," said Dr. ManoucherGanji, Secretary General of the Flag of Freedom Organization.
The Associated Press reported on Sunday from Tehran that some 300 riotpolice armed with batons took up positions outside the ministry after breakingup the demonstration, "detaining hundreds of demonstrators and takingthem away in buses." [AP 2/16]
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamene'i has fired the commander of theLaw Enforcement Forces, Rev. Guards Brigadier Seyfollahi, after widespreadcriticism of the LEF's inability to quash internal dissent and a growingcrime wave throughout the country.
Khamene'i announced he was sacking Seyfollahi on Feb. 15. The formerLEF commander has been kicked upstairs to the Armed Forces General Staff.He is replaced as LEF commander by Rev. guards Brigadier General HedayatLotfian. [Tehran Radio 2/15]
Although Khamene'i praised Seyfollahi while sacking him, it should benoted that the LEF has been subjected to mounting criticism in the state-controlledpress and in the Majlis for its inability to stop a growing crime wavethroughout the country, from drug smuggling in the eastern provinces, tomurder, burglaries, embezzlement, and corruption everywhere else.
In recent months, the LEF has come increasingly to be deployed against"counter-revolutionary" forces, whether these be striking workers,Sunni demonstrators in Kermanshah, or dissident intellectuals.
Key Senators, including Majority Leader Trent Lott, have called on PresidentClinton to intensify pressure on the Tehran regime, and to support freedomand democracy in Iran.
The letter to the President was dated Feb. 10 and signed by ten Senators,following the lead of Alfonse D'Amato (R,NY).
"We urge you to maintain and intensify your efforts to isolatethe Iranian regime through diplomacy and multilateral fora, since thereis simply no reasonable cause to believe this regime can be reformed fromwithin," the Senators wrote.
The Senators urged the President to craft new measures aimed at endingthe Islamic Republic's support for international terrorism, its massivehuman rights abuses, and its pursuit of nuclear weapons, while drawing" a very clear distinction between the regime and the people of Iran."The President should also "make it very clear in your public commentsabout Iran that U.S. policy is aimed at changing the behavior of the regime,not at penalizing the Iranian people," the Senators wrote.
"We strongly believe that the United States can encourage democratsinside Iran by extending a hand of friendship to the Iranian people. Weurge you to put support for democracy and human rights at the very centerof your Iran policy. A strong, free, and democratic Iran is in America'slong-term strategic interest."
The letter was the first time prominent U.S. politicians have openlycalled for a support to democratic opposition forces inside Iran..
Following the announcement that the 15th Khordad Foundation had uppedthe bounty on British novelist Salman Rushdie's head by $500,000 to $2.5million, a state-controlled daily in Tehran has once again given its unequivocalsupport to the death edict.
"Let us put it very straight...this issue will not be resolvedunless the damage is redressed and this certainly would not happen unlessRushdie meets his fate,'' the English-language Kayhan International wrotein an editorial. [2/16]
Meanwhile, the Islamic Republic Guards Corps (IRGC, or Pasdaran) issueda statement on Thursday, Feb. 13, saying that Moslems across the worldwould not rest until they killed Rushdie. The 15th Khordad foundation hadupped the bounty on Rushdie's head the previous day.
"Muslims of the world have always considered Salman Rushdie anapostate and shall not rest until Imam Khomeini's order is implemented,''the Rev. Guards statement said. "Rushdie should know that in the endhe will be burned on the fire which he started." [Jomhouri-e Eslami2/13]
A radical Tehran university student group also urged the governmentto actively participate in Rushdie's execution. "We seriously urgeesteemed officials of the sacred Islamic Republic... to disregard internationaldiplomatic norms and take action to implement the revolutionary fatwa,''the students said. [Salam 2/13]
In London, Rushdie told the Independent on Sunday that British intelligenceagents had told him that the British government has expelled "a coupleof dozen Iranians" from Britain for attempting to carry out the deathedict. "They did not get close. I was not told any more details,"he told the newspaper. All of those expelled, Rushdie said, had been Iraniangovernment agents, contradicting Tehran's claims that it would not sendout hit teams to execute Rushdie. [Independent on Sunday, 2/16]
Also in London, exile politician Mehrdad Khonsari has proposed thatthe Rushdie fatwa be handed over to a council of senior Muslim clerics,to determine its legality.
While senior clerics in the past have ridiculed the fatwa as illegaland illegitimate (See "Rouhani proposes "solution" to Rushdieaffair," in Newswire 24), Khonsari appears to be motivated by an urgeto save the regime, not Salman Rushdie.
In his "proposal for ending the Rushdie impasse," Khonsaristates that his over-riding concern is to "remove the obstacles"blocking better relations between the Islamic Republic and the West, sothat Western oil companies will have free reign to develop Iran's oil andgas resources, regardless of Iran's political system.
"There is no question any longer that the future prosperity ofour nation and the destiny of our future generations is today dependenton a number of critical decisions, likely to be made in the next few years,which will prove decisive in determining the future economic prospectsof our nation. Consequently, FRONT LINE is committed to a political platformthat is able to remove any obstacles - the Rushdie episode being only onein a number of important outstanding issues - contributing to Iran's isolationin all international circles," Khonsari writes [Front line statement2/14, emphasis ours]
Once the Rushdie fatwa is lifted, Mr. Khonsari seems to be saying, BritishPetroleum (and others) will be having a real romp down in southern Iran.
Nowhere in Mr. Khonsari's statement are the notions of internationally-recognizedstandards of human rights, or pluralistic democracy given even a passingmention. Instead, the Rushdie "impasse" is seen as a legalisticproblem that can be resolved by appealing to a different judge, while thestructures and power centers of the Islamic Republic remain intact.
In a dramatic and forceful departure from the status quo in Europe,the London Times newspaper has urged the British government to abandonthe policy of appeasement toward Tehran taken by its European partnersand support Washington's tougher stance of sanctions against the Tehranregime.
"Tomorrow (Friday) is the eighth anniversary of the fatwa againstSalman Rushdie, and the news from Tehran is grim. One of the most powerfulmembers of the Iranian clergy, Ayatollah Sanei, has declared that the fatwastill stands and that the bounty on his head will be increased, at leasttemporarily, to $2.5 million, in order to incite 'Muslim or non-Muslim,including Rushdie's bodyguards' to assassinate the author of The SatanicVerses."
"After five years of 'critical dialogue' with Tehran, it is timeto accept that the fatwa is unlikely ever to be revoked as long as Iranremains a theocracy dominated by fundamentalist imams. There is no signfrom that quarter of the compassion and mercy which are such central conceptsof Islam. Ayatollah Sanei is head of the 15 Khordad Foundation, an influentialIslamic organization connected to senior figures in the Iranian regime.President Rafsanjani's claim that the Ayatollah and his foundation areno more than private bodies is mere sophistry."
"If Mr. Rafsanjani wishes to disown the fatwa, he has only to sayso, publicly and unambiguously, and to supply the written guarantee ofMr. Rushdie's safety which Britain has sought for the past eight years.But the Iranian President, who is anyway expected to lose office in theelections next July, has offered only weasel words. Ayatollah Sanei alsowarned other presidential candidates not to distance themselves from thefatwa against Mr. Rushdie. It seems unlikely that any likely leader willdare to challenge the late Ayatollah Khomeini's cruel anathema. "
"The Foreign Secretary, Malcolm Rifkind, has two choices: to supportthe American policy of sanctions against Iran, or to align Britain withthose European partners, notably Germany, which have argued that toughmeasures would only strengthen the hard-liners in Tehran. The bankruptcyof 'critical dialogue' means that the option of appeasing Tehran by continuingnormal trade and diplomacy while the fatwa still stands should now be ruledout."
"Sanctions should never be imposed lightly, but the case for solidaritywith Washington against state-sponsored Iranian terrorism is now very strong.When the new American Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, visits Londonnext week, it would be a welcome gesture for Mr. Rifkind to announce thatselective sanctions against Iran were being actively considered. Europeis no longer pursuing a credible policy on the Rushdie affair. Nor is itlikely to do so unless Britain offers to take a lead." [London Times2/13]
Another Iranian intellectual, Dr. Habibollah Peyman, has been blockedfrom foreign travel as he was attempting to fly to London from Tehran'sMehrebad airport, the opposition Iran Nation's Party revealed on Feb. 13[INP statement 2/13]
Dr. Peyman, the leader of the Militant Muslims Movement in Tehran, confirmedthe incident in a telephone interview with the Persian service of the BBCon the following day.
"On Thursday, around 8 AM, I arrived at the transit hall of Mehrebadairport to fly to London," Dr. Peyman told the BBC. "I intendedto give a speech at the University of London, called 'The Social and historicalreasons for the lack of progress in establishing democracy in Iran.'"
Dr. Peyman's account of the incident demonstrates the confusing andconflicting powers Iranians confront in their everyday lives. "Atthe transit hall of the airport," he said, "one of the MOIS personnelconfiscated my passport. When I asked the officers of the LEF at the airportwhat was the problem, they answered that from their point of view therewas no problem, but from the viewpoint of the MOIS something was wrongand that I should refer to the MOIS to check the case." Dr. Peymanspeculated that he was probably stopped from leaving the country becauseof the topic of his speech, and commented: "I believe that these kindsof moves by the regime should be protested." [BBC Persian service2/14]
The travails of Faraj Sarkuhi, whose 14-page letter is now availablein English on our human rights page, is not finished his worries. The INPhas reported from Tehran that the woman who accompanied him to the airporton his ill-fated trip to Germany last November, Ms. Parvin Ardalan, isnow missing and has presumably been arrested by the authorities. Friendsbegan to notice her absence two weeks ago. [INP weekly bulletin, 2/16]
Meanwhile, in an interview with the Persian-language service of theVoice of America, Sarkuhi's wife, Farideh Zebarjad, claimed that her husbandwas being detained and tortured because of his efforts to set up a democraticwriters' association in Iran. She noted that his troubles began in 1994,when he got 134 writers to sign an open letter demanding greater freedomof expression from the Islamic Republic authorities. [VOA 2/14]
Iranians in exile staged demonstrations against the Islamic Republic,focusing on the arrest of Faraj Sarkuhi, at a number of IRI embassies andconsulates around the world on Feb. 10 and Feb. 11, the 18th anniversaryof the regime.
In London, the exiles were joined by members of the British PEN club.In Los Angeles, several thousand exiles gathered in front of the Westwoodtown hall to stage their yearly protest against the regime. As in earlieryears, their demonstration was ignored by the U.S. media.
In Paris, some 1,500 Iranian exiles demonstrated on Feb. 14 againstthe Rushdie fatwa and the European Union's continued policy of "criticaldialogue" with the Tehran regime.
The son of Grand Ayatollah Mohammad Shirazi, who was recently releasedafter more than 18 months in jail, has reportedly escaped to Syria andhas requested political asylum, the INP reported in Tehran.
Until now, the escape of Hojjat-ol eslam Seyed Morteza Shirazi has notbeen reported by other sources, including the followers of Grand AyatollahShirazi. [INP statement 2/12]
In what may be pure coincidence, IRI Defense Minister Dr. Mohammed Forouzandehmet with his Syrian counter-part in Damascus two days following Seyed Shirazi'sreported escape. The two were scheduled to discuss defense cooperation,although press speculation noted their talks occurred as Israel was increasingits protests of Iranian arms deliveries via Syria to Hezbollah in Lebanon.[UPI 2/14]
Nine months after the arrest of Grand Ayatollah Ya'sooboddin Rastegaariin February 1996 by the Special Court for Priests, Tehran finally acknowledgedit was detaining the 70-year old dissident cleric on trumped-up charges.
In a letter issued to one of Rastegaari's supporters by the IRI embassyin Toronto, Canada on Nov. 18, 1996, following inquiries by Amnesty International'sUrgent Action Network, the regime stated he had been repeatedly imprisoned,sentenced to house arrest and eventually to internal exile. from whichthe 70-year old escaped and had to be put (definitively?) behind bars.
"Referring to your inquiries regarding Mr. [sic] Ya'sooboddin Rastegaari,the Embassy would like to clarify that Mr. Rastegaari was arrested formisinforming and activities against the security and public order of thecountry.
"First he was sentenced to ten years of supervised residence insideIran and was pardoned and released later.
"Again he committed the same crimes and was convicted to five yearssupervised settlement in Yazd (a town in the Central region of Iran).
"He escaped from his residence without authorization. Therefore,he was sentenced to two years imprisonment and he will stay until the terminationof his conviction term," the letter from the IRI embassy in Canadaconcluded.
Grand Ayatollah Rastegaari is perhaps best known for having organizeda mourning ceremony for Grand Ayatollah Shariat Madaari in 1986. ShariatMadaari was the driving force behind the 1978 revolt against the Shah,was later repudiated by the Islamic Republic, put under house arrest, and- supporters say - executed by the regime in 1986.
Rastegaari was jailed for two and a half years for his offense. Afterhis release, he was re-arrested on charges of having performed a publicprayer without getting permission from the appropriate authorities. Triedbefore the Special Court of Priests, he was sentence to one year in jail.He has been jailed several times since.
In February 1996, secret police raided his home in Qom, confiscatingbooks and papers and arresting him. For several months, his whereaboutswere unknown. Finally, he was tried before the Special Court for Priestsin August 1996 and sentenced to three years imprisonment. He had no accessto a lawyer for the trial and was not allowed to defend himself. The triallasted only a few minutes.
After months of appeals, Ayatollah Khamene'i agreed to release him onNov. 25, and he left prison on Dec. 21. Almost immediately, Rastegaariwas placed under house arrest, where he has remained.
Ansar-e Hezbollah thugs have struck again, this time assaulting a crowdof mourners on Feb. 12, who had gathered for the commemoration ceremonyof well-known nationalist journalist, Ahmad Anvari, who died in the cityof Karaj one week earlier. The ceremony was being held at the Seyed mosquein Isfahan. During the attack, the Hezbollahi thugs beat Anvari's son,Majid Anvari, and were eventually kicked out of the mosque by Hojjat-oleslam Mehdi Tahami, who was delivering a speech in Anvari's honor.
According to reports from Nimrooz in London, the attackers were ledby a well-known leader of the Isfahan Hezbollah branch, Haj Agha Kaveh.[Nimrooz 2/14]
A group of teachers from the 20th district of the Ministry of Educationin Tehran staged a demonstration in front of the Tehran town hall on Wednesday,Feb. 5, to protest the government's failure to fulfill its commitment tobuild them new houses. As part of their benefits programs, the teacher'shad regularly been paying into a housing investment trust over the pasteight years, but discovered that it now contained insufficient funds tofinance the houses as promised.
The lack of adequate housing is a growing problem among the middle classesand among government employees. A similar problem existed in 1978 and wasone of the reasons the middle classes rallied to the revolution againstthe Shah. [INP weekly bulletin 2/9]
Large crowds chanting "Death to Israel" and "Death toAmerica" marched in Tehran on "Jerusalem Day" (Feb. 7),and listened as President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani denounced Israel duringas a "dragon" created by the West.
Demonstrators stepped on Israeli flags laid on street pavements andburned a large map of the Jewish state. A resolution read at the rallysaid: "The liberation of Jerusalem and its return into Islam's bosomis only possible through armed struggle and a united anti-Zionist front".
Speaking before Rafsanjani, parliament speaker and presidential candidateAli Akbar Nateq-Nouri blasted Israel as a "bastard" state. "Theonly path to salvation is to struggle, resist and wage war. May God giveyou (Palestinians) victory. I hope one day we will celebrate your victoryand the destruction of Israel," Nateq-Nouri said. [Reuter 2/7]
Feb. 10, 1997
The Honorable Bill Clinton
The White House
Washington, DC 20500
Dear Mr. President,
We are writing you to express our support for a strong and clear U.S.policy toward Iran during your second term.
We urge you to maintain and intensify your efforts to isolate the Iranianregime through diplomacy and multilateral fora, since there is simply noreasonable cause to believe this regime can be reformed from within. Thefailure of European countries to obtain any meaningful results throughcritical dialogue with the Islamic regime in Iran is indicative of thekind of response that the United States can expect from a similar approach.
We hold the regime in Tehran responsible for the behavior the U.S. governmentand its allies have found so objectionable: its use of terrorism as a toolof foreign policy, its efforts to subvert neighboring governments, itsviolent opposition to the Middle East peace process, its pursuit of a clandestinenuclear weapons program, and its abysmal human rights record.
In crafting new measures aimed at ending this objectionable behavior,we urge you to draw a very clear distinction between the regime and thepeople of Iran, and to make it very clear in your public comments aboutIran that U.S. policy is aimed at changing the behavior of the regime,not at penalizing the Iranian people.
We strongly believe that the United States can encourage democrats insideIran by extending a hand of friendship to the Iranian people. We urge youto put support for democracy and human rights at the very center of yourIran policy. A strong, free, and democratic Iran is in America's long-termstrategic interest.
A current report by the U.N. Human Rights Commission confirms that politicalexecutions, discrimination and breaches of human rights have reached anall-time high in Iran. In light of these very disturbing facts, we urgeyou to put support for democracy and human rights at the very center ofyour Iran policy. A strong, free, and democratic Iran is in America's long-termstrategic interest.
We encourage you and the Secretary of State to state publicly and consistentlythat the United States supports the sovereign right of the Iranian peopleto choose their form of government by democratic means. The United Statesbecame a great nation by providing decisive leadership in the world inpromoting human rights and democratic principles. Your continued supportof these ideals will undoubtedly have the approbation of the American peopleand other Western nations.
Senators Trent Lott, Spencer Abraham, Launch Faircloth, Carl Levin,Connie Mack, Alfonse D'Amato, Thad Cochran, Daniel K. Inouye, Joseph I.Liberman, Craig Thomas.