In his first major address to the nation since his May 23 election,Mohammad Khatemi told a crowd at the June 5th commemoration of AyatollahKhomeini's 15th Khordad expulsion from Iran in 1963, that the governmentmust respect the rule of law, and that the "civil society" inIran must be further developed.
Referring to the role of the Majlis, Khatemi said that while Parliamentperformed an important oversight role, "The public can also defendits rights and monitor its affairs by setting up, expanding and strengtheningcivil organs, legal organizations and groups and parties... and througha thinking and critical press."
He also placed emphasis on the rule of law. "All of us - both thegovernment and the people - must strive to respect the law. All of us mustperform our duties within the framework of the law. The law has specifiedthe people's rights. The law has also defined the limits of the government'sauthority.... No faction or group has the right to impose its will andpreferences, no matter how benevolent and well-intentioned they may be,on other people outside the limits of the law." [Internatonal IranTimes, 6/13]
While Khatemi appeared to break new ground in his appeal, he has beenrepeatedly taken to task by conservative elements within the regime, asother reporting in this week's newswire shows
Key leaders in Parliament have warned President-elect Mohammad Khatemithat he will face strong opposition from the Majlis, if he attempts togo against their wishes in his choices for key Cabinet positions..
Ali Movahedi Savoji, a top supporter of Majlis speaker Nateq-Nouri,said Khatemi would have "no problem" if he appointed Cabinetmembers from all factions, but warned him to "stage close negotiationswith the Majlis" on his Cabinet picks. In particular, Savoji said,Khatemi should retain Velayati as Foreign Minister, since "it wouldtake at least four years for a new foreign minister to be in full authorityof this ministry." [IRNA 6/11]
The Tehran daily Salam, which strongly supported Khatemi during theelection campaign, warned that the conservative faction in the Majlis "isgetting ready for a serious confrontation with the president-elect"over his [Salam 6/11]
Majlis deputy Mohsen Yahyavi told Iran News that Parliament expectedKhatemi to send his Cabinet nominees to Parliament for consultations priorto officially nominating them, "to maintain the tradition of his predecessors."The paper cited rumors that Central Bank Governor Mohsen Nurbakhsh andTehran Mayor Gholamhussein Karbaschi were being cited as potential Cabinetpicks. [Iran News 6/12]
Two hard-line newspapers have issued clear warnings to President-electKhatemi not to take his campaign rhetoric about human rights, the ruleof law and democracy too seriously. On June 7, Kayhan and Jomhouri-e Eslami,the mouthpieces of the Information Ministry and Khamene'i respectively,called these notions "western conceptions certainly not those of theIslamic revolution."
In a reference to Khatemi's campaign rhetoric, Kayhan complained ofpoliticians who "discuss ideas such as human rights, the role of thepeople, democracy, freedom. These notions only please the Westerners andthe enemies of the Islamic revolution. Such position is a blatant diversionfrom the ideals of the Islamic revolution."
Faezeh Hashemi, the daughter of outgoing president Hashemi-Rafsanjani,believes "women should certainly be present in the cabinet,"although she noted that "so far, there have been no discussion withme. The objective of my activities has been to enhance the status of women.I hope women participate in the cabinet."
There is strong speculation that she will be appointed to the new cabinetof Khatemi. If chosen, she would be the first woman minister since inceptionof the Islamic Republic. [Akbar 6/8]
Ten senior Iranian government officials, all close to outgoing presidentRafsanjani, said on June 14 they would form a new political party withinthe next two months. If they carry out their pledge, it will directly challengethe 1987 ban on political parties.
The founders of the new party are the six members of the pro-RafsanjaniServants of Construction Group, Abdallah Nouri (the former Interior Ministerand candidate for Majlis speaker), Majlis MPs Faezeh Hashemi (daughterof the president) and Seyed Hussein Marashi, and Deputy Oil minister, AliHashemi.
Massoud Behnood, a political analyst in Tehran, told the BBC's PersianService that the new party could be expected to follow the policies ofPresident Rafsanjani would try to contain economic policies of the leftistsupporters of Mr. Khatemi. [BBC Persian Service, 6/14]
The daily Jomhouri-e Eslami has reported that the reelection of Nateq-Nourias Majlis speaker went uncontested because it was Ayatollah Khamenei'swish. "The view of the leader of the revolution was the reason thatwe made Mr. Nateq-Nouri a candidate for the post of the Majlis speaker,"Tehran Deputy Abdallah Nouri told the paper. Nouri said he was asked notmount a challenge to Nateq-Nouri's speakership.
"According to an earlier decision, the Majlis Hezbollah Assembly(majma') had chosen me as the candidate for the post of speaker, but oncethe view of the exalted leader was known that the post of the speaker shouldgo to Mr. Nateq-Nouri, I withdrew my candidacy and acted accordingly,"Abdallah Nouri said.
Referring to the way he got word of Khamenei's wishes, he said: "Iwent to see his excellency and there were matters of expediency on hisexcellency's mind and he informed me that it should be this way."Nouri also alluded to the upcoming battle over Khatemi's cabinet confirmationand said that "if the majority of deputies decide to stand againstMr. Khatemi's cabinet, he will certainly have difficulties, but if thedeputies coordinate themselves with Mr. Khatemi there will not be muchtrouble [Jomhouri-e Eslami, 6/2]
Nouri was the only challenger in the race for the Majlis speakershiplast year, but lost by a wide margin.
For all those who were under the illusion that the public voted forKhatemi hoping to enjoy more personal freedom and openness under his presidency,Resalat has some news for you. "The people have voted, first and foremost,for religious ideals, the Islamic Republic, and their country's independence.The propaganda by some in the Western media on the elections stemmed fromtheir wrong assessments of the Islamic Revolution and of the people ofIran."
Resalat, which backed Nateq-Nouri in his bid for presidency, is generallyhappy with Khatemi's performance in his first press conference. The editorialadds "we should see if the principled and clear stands which rosefrom a man like Khatemi, who is committed to the system, the revolutionand the Leader in his meeting with the world's mass media has made us happy?By us we mean all those who did not vote for him. If we are happy and satisfied,then we should definitely know that we have a healthy heart, and we thinkthat all those whose heart beats for Islam, the system, the leadership,and the country's progress must be happy and satisfied with yesterday'sremarks." [5/28]
Former Revolutionary Guards minister Mohsen Rafiq-doust, who currentlyheads the multi-billion dollar state-controlled conglomerate, Bonyad-eMostazafan, has recently increased his personal security, Salam daily reportedrecently.
"The way Mr. Rafiqdoust moves on the autoroutes in Tehran is notcompatible with his position as chairman of a foundation," the papersaid. "A great number of vehicles and motorcycles escort his Mercedeswhen he moves around the capital. What is the reason for this unusual measure?"[Salam 6/10]
One of Khatemi's first acts as president-elect was to reassure the regimeand its clerical supporters, by opening a congress in Tehran on the revivalof Islamic thought under Khomeini.
Speaking at the inaugural ceremony in Tehran on June 1, Khatemi saidKhomeini's doctrine persuaded the world to return to religion and divinevalues. "The late Imam's Revolution was the accomplishment of a moveto build a civilized society based on religion, whereas the West foundedits civilization by turning its back on religion,'' he said.
Nevertheless, Khatemi also got in a subtle at Khamene'i, saying thatin Khomeini's view an individual has the right to determine his fate andis not expected to merely obey the orders of the authorities. He addedthat both men and women should exercise this right. [Iran News, 6/2]
The commander of the Basij forces, Rev. Guards Brigadier Afshar, tolda Tehran press conference on June 11 that the Basij will give militarytraining to more than 2 million Iranian boys and girls this summer at campslocated throughout the country.
General Afshar said that 20,000 Basij force bases have been mobilizedfor the purpose, and would focus on military training, sports, religiousteachings, as well as art, cultural, and historical sight-seeing. He saidthat 120 sports and cultural clubs, as well as 1004 mosques, would cooperatewith the Basij for its summer programs. [Tehran Radio 6/11]
Ansar-e Hezbollah leader, Rev. Guards Brigadier General Hossein AllahKaram, has now stated in public that Supreme Guide Ali Khamene'i instructedhis group to break up pro-Khatemi rallies during the election campaign,and that all of his actions "were in accordance with my obedienceto Ayatollah Khamene'i."
In a prepared statement, which was printed in full in Kayhan and Resalatdailies, Allah Karam further explained the goals of his organization, whichhe referred to as Hezbollah, thus identifying it clearly with the regime'sseparation of the world into the Supporters of God (Hezbollah) and Supportersof the Devil (Taghout). (See the statement by FDI Board member AyatollahMehdi Rouhani in this regard).
The day before the presidential vote, Karam declared that "forKhatemi to be elected, he must first pass over my dead body." AfterKhatemi's victory, Salam replied that "The people passed, but no onerealized they were walking over a dead body." [Iran Press Service,6/2)
"1) With its presence in the election arena, the Hezbollah ledall the groups and factions involved to adopt principled slogans and declaretheir commitment to the absolute guardianship of the supreme jurisconsult,Grand Ayatollah Khamene'i. This proves that nonreligious slogans have noplace in our Islamic society. For our part, we consider adherence to theVelayat-e faqih of the era [Khamene'i] as being the only factor which canbring about true popularity.
2) The Hezbollah asks God to bear testimony to the fact that it hasbeen carrying out its duties with the sole aim of obeying the vice-regentof the Imam of the Age [the 12th Shiite Imam]. Today, the Hezbollah continueson this path and, instead of entering into arguments and quarrels withcertain ignorant individuals, it is prepared to endure all the ongoinginsults and slander so as to ensure that the enemies will be unable toreap any benefit and the biased elements will be deprived of any opportunityto attain their aims. Our task is made joyous and sweet by these very loftyaspirations.
3) Today, the esteemed leader and the Muslim people of Iran are awaitingthe fulfillment of the promises given at the time of the election and alsothe materialization of all the slogans declared at that time. At this juncture,when the leadership and the people are looking forward to the future, theHezbollah, for its part, considers itself to be duty bound to be presenton the scene and carefully observe the trend of materialization of theIslamic promises given at the election time. [Resalat, Kayhan, 6/1]
Hossein Allah Karam was responding, in part, to a court summons he receivedfor speeches he made during the election campaign that were deemed "offensive"and "insulting" to candidate Mohammad Khatemi. After the complaintagainst him was handed over to the Tehran Special Judicial Complex [Mojtama'-evizhe-he qaza'i-ye Tehran], he was summoned to court and an order for hisprosecution was issued. Allah Karam was accused of "spreading lies"about Khatemi. [Salam, 5/22]
President-elect Mohammad Khatemi needs to get his priorities straight,a key regime cleric said one week after his election.
Addressing a Friday prayer ceremony, in Tehran, Ayatollah Jannati exhortedthe president-elect: "Mr. Khatemi! You must first pay attention toGod, second to the Leader, third to the Islamic Republic, and fourth tothe people." [Radio Tehran, 5/30].
Some Khatemi supporters believe the order should be reversed.
Radio Israel, in reporting Ayatollah Jannati's remarks, quoted "informedpolitical sources" who called Jannati's statement a warning to Mr.Khatemi not to step out of bounds in his calls for democratization. [KolIsrael 5/30]
Other conservative dailies also warned Khatemi not to step out of bounds."The new President must obey the Islamic Republic and the Velayat-efaghih," Kayhan warned in an editorial [5/31].
Resalat went even further in its commentary on the elections. "Wewarn the followers of Mr. Khatemi not to insist on their victory, sincethis insistence might create negative jealousies and could harm Mr. Khatemi."In particular, the paper warned, liberalization moves by Khatemi couldprompt the Majlis to "stop the process." [Resalat 5/31]
Resalat's comments came after Ibrahim Yazdi, the leader of the LiberationMovement of Iran, called on Khatemi to repay voters who gave him a landslidevictory by loosening the strict Islamic laws by the clerical regime. "Youare now deeply indebted to the people, and committed in the eyes of God,history and the nation," said Yazdi to the Associated Press. [5/28]
Jailed Iranian journalist Faraj Sarkuhi is slated to go on trial earlythis summer, on trumped up charges. Sarkuhi's arrest late last year arouseda furor among Iranian journalists and was widely protested by foreign governmentsand international human rights organizations.
On June 5, the editors of three major Parisian daily newspapers - LeMonde, La Croix-L'Evenement, and Libération - sent an appeal toIran's president-elect Mohammad Khatemi to release Sarkuhi. The letter,sent at the request of Reporters without Frontiers asks Khatemi "touse his influence toward the release of Faraj Sarkuhi, (...) who has beenjailed because of his commitment to the freedom of the press in Iran."
The three remind Khatemi that "during the campaign for the presidentialelection, you made a pledge in favor of the freedom of expression and humanrights in your country."
"It is thanks to you, when you were the Minister of Culture andIslamic Guidance, that the Iranian press was able to enjoy unprecedentedfreedom," the letter reads.
Faraj Sarkuhi, arrested for the last time on January 27, has ostensiblycharged with "attempting to leave the country illegally." Thejournalist had already been held in solitary confinement for 47 days inNovember 1996.
The French League of Human Rights expressed its concern for "theuncertain future" of Faraj Sarkuhi on June 5. [AFP 6/5]
According to former president Abolhassan Banisadr, Sarkuhi's trial couldstart in early to mid-June [Munich Sueddeutsche Zeitung, 5/31]
Iranian pharmacologist and Islamic thinker Abdolkarim Soroush was blastedin the Tehran press for having spoken out on CNN shortly after the presidentialelections in favor of greater freedom. "The outcome of the electionswas a big No to all that is happening in our society, especially as faras freedom is concerned," Soroush said.
The conservative Resalat daily called Soroush's comments "a briefsummary of the poisonous propaganda by Western media against the Islamicsystem," and reminded Soroush that "the person who was electedby the Iranian nation is a Seyed [descendant of the Prophet], a clergyman,and the son of an Ayatollah" who furthermore "had the supportof the Militant Clerics." [Resalat 5/29]
After two Iranian writers Mohammad Ali Eslami Nadushan and Mehdi Parham,published articles in Ettelaat singing Khatemi's praises, Kayhan openlythreatened to disclose "in a documented manner" details fromthe person lives that could prove embarrassing or even lead to the imprisonment."Shall not these two men learn from Saidi Sirjani's fate?"
Sirjani, a renowned Iranian writer, died two years ago ostensibly froma heart attack while in the custody of the Information ministry. [IranPress Service, 6/8]
The daughter of a prominent Tehran lawyer, Mohammad Assadi, has confirmedearlier reports that her father was recently sentenced to death. Assadihas been in a Tehran jail for the past four years. [FDI 6/14]
Also last week, the People's Fedayeen Organization of Iran declaredthat three of its members - Hassan Kariminia, Mehrdad Ehsani, and SaeidJavadi - who have been in jail for the past six years, have also been sentencedto death. Two months earlier, two other members of the organization - MohammadReza Rasti and Heshmat Khodadad - were executed, the group said.
In a dispatch from Tehran entitled "Crisis for Iran's Intellectuals,"Newsday reporter Nicholas Goldberg writes on the chilling effect on Iranianintellectuals of a terror campaign unleashed by government security forces.
The murder of writer Ibrahim Zalzadeh, whose stabbed body turned upat the morgue in Tehran, is only the last in a long chain of murders anddisappearances directed at Iran's independent writers and publishers, Goldbergwrites. Zalzadeh, whose magazine was closed after the government cut itssupply of newsprint, told friends he felt threatened by the government."What's more, his death came in the wake of similar misfortunes thathave befallen writers and intellectuals such as Ghaffar Hosseini, AhmadMir-Allai and Ahmad Taffazouli, among others," Goldberg writes. "Inall, more than a half-dozen of Iran's intellectual elite have been mysteriouslykilled in the past two years here."
His description of what happens to books that do not make it throughthe office of the censors is funny, yet emblematic of the kind of today'sIran. "Perhaps nothing is as eerily symbolic of what's going on asthe pulping of books. It's happened on numerous occasions: The Ministryof Culture and Islamic Guidance takes books that have already been printed,but not yet distributed, and they hold them in a warehouse while reviewingthe content. If they decide the book should not be allowed into the stores,they take all existing copies - in one case, there were 11,000 of them- and bring them by truck to a cardboard plant, where they are washed ina big pot to get the ink off. The pages are then shredded, and finallyare cooked into a paste. The paste is then recycled into cardboard."
Goldberg reports how entire books are "copied unofficially andpassed hand-to-hand through Tehran. Underground newsletters are distributedby fax." One person in the publishing business is quoted as saying"self-censorship is extremely common. First, the writers kill theirown creativity and suppress their talent so their books will be acceptableto the regime, and then the editor makes further changes. You can imaginewhat the result is."
Abbas Maroufi, whole magazine, Gardoun, was closed down for supposedlycriticizing the regime and insulting its leaders believes that "theregime is determined not to see the reality that is before them. They knowthat writers are like a mirror, and that if you let them write, you cannotany longer ignore the reality. "
One publisher tells Goldberg that "he had 35 books - some withthousands of copes already printed, others in manuscript form - currentlygathering dust in the office of the censors at what is euphemisticallyknow as the 'Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance.'" [Newsday,6/2]
Swiss lawmakers, emboldened by the Mykonos trial in Berlin and the exposureof the Austrian cover-up of Iranian government involvement in the murderof Iranian Kurdish leaders in Vienna, have demanded that a Swiss courttry two Iranian agents in absentia for the murder of Kazem Rajavi, a seniormember of the Mujahedin Khalq organization and brother of MEK leader, MasoodRajavi.
Eugene David, chairman of the Parliamentary Group for Human Rights,told the Associated Press there was 10 times more evidence than in theGerman case. [AP, 6/13]
The accused, Mohsen Sharif and Ahmad Taheri, were arrested after themurder in Paris. But the French government sent the two back to Iran insteadof extraditing them to Switzerland, despite pleas from Swiss authorities.The French gave no explanation for their action other than saying it wasin their "national interest."
A leading opposition figure in Tehran, retired General Amir-Rahimi,has reportedly told an exile opposition journalist that the Iranian armedforces have reacted in "dissatisfaction mixed with silence" toKhatemi's election.
In an interview conducted by Homayoun Moghaddam, an exile journalistwho also publishes a weekly opposition news bulletin in Germany, Amir-Rahimisaid that Khatemi "has no authority at all," and reasserted hiscall for a republican form of government in Iran. "When [Khatemi]says he will obey the Velayat-e Faghih, we can understand... that the presidentis occupying a job, nothing more. First, the country shall be a real Republic."[Navid, 6/2/97]
In a pre-election editorial, “Exploitation in the Name of Relief,” IranNews sharply criticized the Iranian foreign ministry for allowing the U.S.to portray itself as “benevolent and kindhearted" for having respondedto the humanitarian needs of earthquake victims.
The editorial took issue with US Department Spokesman Nicholas Burns'explanation of the earthquake relief aid, when he said: "We have ourdisagreements with the Iranian Government but we don't have any argumentswith the people of Iran."
“What Burns and his bosses in Washington have still to learn is thatnot only the government in Tehran, but the entire Iranian nation has 'arguments'with them,” the editorial claimed.
“And to our own Foreign Ministry we would like to ask whether $100,000is really that important to us? Why has the Ministry kept silent beforethe US official's derogatory remark? We expected the Foreign Ministry tobrief the concerned officials in the Government, and a big 'NO' shouldhave been the response to the US.” [5/15]