April 1998, Week 2

FarsiNet FarsiNews

Iran law sets tough rules on press photos of women Apr 14
Iran rial recovers as currency traders arrested Apr 14
Iran Begins Military Exercises Apr 13
Iran cabinet urges public not to march for mayor Apr 12
Iran criticizes UN report on its human rights as biased Apr 12
Ayatollah Intervenes in Mayor Fight Apr 9
Iranians Invited to Meet Shalala Apr 9

 

Iran law sets tough rules on press photos of women
TEHRAN (Reuters) - Iran's parliament has passed the general outlines of a controversial law that aims to toughen the country's rules on the publication of photographs of women.

The official news agency IRNA said in a report on Sunday night that the law seeks to ban "the use of women as a tool by publications in the form of photos or in content."

It did not elaborate on the law, which needs to go through another parliament vote. It must also be approved by the Guardian Council, which has the final say on parliamentary legislation.

The legislation has come under fire from opponents, including Culture and Islamic Guidance Minister Ataollah Mohajerani, who see it as ambiguous, creating the potential for many interpretations that could restrict press freedom.

A group of conservative parliament members had demanded more rigid rules after publications used photographs of women, most of them in full Islamic dress, in an apparent effort to boost circulation.

They further pressed the issue when a court last month penalised a magazine head on charges of running "obscene pictures" of U.S. President Bill Clinton's alleged lovers.

Iran enforces a strict Islamic dress code requiring women to wear a loose garment covering their body and hair, allowing only their face and hands to be seen. Of the few photographs of foreign women that Iranian magazines print, many show them wearing hats and long dresses.

Iran rial recovers as currency traders arrested
TEHRAN (Reuters) - The Iranian rial recovered slightly on Monday after police arrested illegal currency traders in Tehran following a 17 percent fall in the past few days.

The fall of the currency from 5,250 rials to the dollar on Saturday to a low of 6,300 rials late on Sunday followed a government decision last week to raise the exchange rate at which state banks sell dollars to travellers going abroad.

Tehran's illegal but active black market is widely used by Iranians ranging from private individuals to industries needing hard currency to import spare parts and raw materials.

Tehran's Jomhuri street, normally packed with currency traders, was quiet late on Monday except for a few daring traders who quietly approached potential customers, offering a rate of 5,700 rials to the dollar.

Earlier in the day, police arrested dozens of traders who were taken away in several mini-buses, witnesses said. Traders were asking for 6,120 rials to the dollar until the arrests began.

The rial has also come under pressure from weak oil prices, which are some $4 below Iran's budgeted price for oil. The oil price decline threatens to undermine Iran's economy which relies on petroleum exports for more than 80 percent of its hard currency earnings.

Before last week's decision, widely seen by economists as a result of falling oil revenues, travellers could buy up to $1,000 at an official rate of about 3,000 rials to the dollar.

Under the new directive, the rate would be the equivalent of a floating exchange rate quoted on the Tehran stock exchange which stands at about 4,800 rials to the dollar.

Iran in 1995 banned free market currency exchanges, imposing the rate of 3,000 rials to the dollar to stop a free-fall in the rial after the United States announced sanctions against Iran. The rial had fallen to as low as 7,000 to the dollar.

The move led to relative stability in the rial's exchange rate. But it was a setback to government efforts, along with other market reforms, to unify Iran's multiple exchange rates.

Deputy Economy Minister Morteza Qarebaghian, quoted by the daily Salam, said: "The recent hike in the black market rate is a temporary and psychological phenomenon which will subside in the coming days and we will seriously deal with people who disrupt the currency market."

The 1995 controls also required exporters to exchange their hard currency earnings at the official rate in state banks, causing a sharp drop in non-oil exports.

Tehran lifted these restrictions early this year and now exporters are allowed to sell their hard cash on the stock exchange at rates closer to the street market rate.

Iran Begins Military Exercises
TEHRAN, Iran (AP) -- Iran began wide-ranging naval exercises off its coast Sunday, promising to unveil for the first time thre e Russian submarines that have been added to its fleet.

Adm. Abbas Mohtaj, commander of the Iranian navy, called for cooperation among nations in the region and an end to the foreign military presence in the area, the official Islamic Republic News Agency said.

The nine-day exercises, on both sides of the Strait of Hormuz, through which 20 percent of the world's oil passes, are aimed a t strengthening the country's combat capabilities, the agency reported.

The U.S. Navy usually stations 15 to 20 warships in the gulf to patrol its shipping lanes -- a point of contention with Iran, which considers the gulf under its sphere of influence.

Bruce O. Riedel, assistant U.S. secretary of state for South Asia, said during a brief stop in Bahrain on Sunday that the U.S. military presence in the Gulf was aimed at maintaining stability in the region.

``We have for long been concerned about some of the behaviors of the government of Iran, its efforts to acquire weapons of mas s destruction, its military buildup, its support for terrorism,'' said Riedel, who is accompanying Bill Richardson, the U.S. a mbassador to the United Nations, in his tour of the region.

Iran cabinet urges public not to march for mayor
TEHRAN (Reuters) - The Iranian cabinet on Sunday called on Iranians not to hold rallies or demonstrations in support of Tehran's jailed Mayor Gholamhossein Karbaschi.

A cabinet statement carried by Iran's state-run television said the call was in the interest of "sustaining peace and tranquillity in the society."

"Considering the sensitivity of the issue and the situation of the people, the problem would be resolved quickly," it said.

The statement said the cabinet, chaired by President Mohammad Khatami, expressed its regret that despite the guidance of Iran's spiritual leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to solve the issue, no proper action had been taken.

Earlier on Sunday the Jomhuri Eslami newspaper reported that Interior Minister Abdollah Nouri had issued a permit for students to hold a rally in support of the mayor outside Tehran University on Tuesday.

Nouri also called for a referendum to resolve a row over Karbaschi and announced the creation of a centre for his defence, the Iran Daily newspaper reported.

"If the case of the mayor and the municipality is a national issue, why is a poll not conducted to learn of the peoples' views? A referendum must be held," the paper quoted Nouri as saying.

Nouri will also open the Interior Ministry's doors to the public to visit the newly-created "Centre for Karbaschi's Defence," which was due to open on Sunday, the newspaper said.

The centre would highlight the mayor's works in the past eight years, Nouri told the official news agency IRNA.

Nouri's moves were the latest signs of support for Karbaschi, a close ally of President Mohammad Khatami, whose arrest has brought into the open a clash between conservatives and moderates brewing since Khatami's election last year.

Karbaschi is charged by the conservative-led judiciary with embezzlement, misappropriation of funds and mismanagement.

Supporters of the mayor, who is considered a moderate, reject the detention as politically motivated.

The judiciary denies this, pointing to the cases of several of Karbaschi's top aides who have been convicted on similar charges.

But Nouri's actions also spawned criticism in the conservative press and accusations that the minister was biased.

"Mr Nouri is performing the role of an activist in a political faction rather than the role of interior minister," the hard-line Jomhuri Eslami said in a commentary.

"The interior minister is expected to act more maturely. Instead, the Interior Ministry has become the headquarters for causing tension in society," the paper said.

The heads of Iran's three branches of government met on Saturday night to discuss the issue of the mayor, the Tehran Times said, adding that influential former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani was also present.

"These four officials reached some sort of conclusion," the paper said, but without giving details.

Iran News said Karbaschi's wife had backed out of a planned news conference on Saturday night, leading to speculation that the mayor had not wanted to stir things up in case a deal was in the making.

"Since the heads of the three branches of power were meeting on the issue last night and steps are said to be under way to free the mayor, he did not want to escalate the crisis," it said.

Iran criticizes UN report on its human rights as biased
TEHRAN, Iran (AP) Iran defended its human rights record Friday against a critical U.N. report, calling it inaccurate and culturally biased.

On Wednesday, a U.N. investigator had condemned the rising number of executions in Iran particularly the practice of stoning people to death.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Mahmoud Mohammadi said the report did not reflect the true situation in Iran and was biased against the Islamic legal system, state-run radio reported.

"Iran is committed to the preservation and promotion of human rights and to fundamental and recognized freedoms, in accordance with international agreements, Islamic values and the constitution," Mohammadi was quoted as saying.

In his report, investigator Maurice Copithorne, a Canadian lawyer, said that despite Tehran's pledge to reform, at least 199 Iranians were executed last year 95 of them in public.

He said the figure was a sharp increase over previous years. He also said the number of cases of stoning may be higher than previously thought.

Under Iran's Islamic law, people convicted of murder, drug smuggling and spying can be sentenced to death. Stoning is thought to be rare, and used against adulterers and prostitutes.

Copithorne acknowledged the efforts of President Mohammad Khatami, who has spoken of bringing about political and social reforms since his government took office last August.

"The government has begun to take measures to this end and, to its credit, is encouraging a wide-ranging public discussion," Copithorne said in his report.

Ayatollah Intervenes in Mayor Fight
By Afshin Valinejad
Associated Press Writer
TEHRAN, Iran (AP) -- Iran's supreme leader has stepped in to quell a power struggle among clerical rulers over the arrest of Tehran's reform-minded mayor, the official news agency reported today.

Mayor Gholamhossein Karbaschi was arrested Saturday on embezzlement allegations that supporters blamed on political opponents. The case has highlighted the feuding between moderates and hard-liners over the course of the country, nearly 20 years after the Islamic revolution.

The rare public show of discord apparently prompted Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to act, underlining the urgency of the situation.

On Wednesday night, he summoned the heads of the government's branches to ``exchange views on the issue of the mayor of Tehran,'' the Islamic Republic News Agency said.

The government leaders included President Mohammad Khatami; Hashemi Rafsanjani, head of the powerful Expediency Council that sets government policy; parliamentary speaker Ali Akbar Nateq-Nouri; and Chief Justice Ayatollah Mohammad Yazdi.

Khatami and Rafsanjani, a former president, are moderates. Nateq-Nouri, who was defeated by Khatami in the May presidential election, and Yazdi follow hard-line policies.

Khamenei, in a statement issued by his office and carried by the news agency, instructed the president and chief justice to ``coordinate fully'' on the matter and ``to fully observe laws of the nation and justice.''

He demanded the two sides report to him on developments relating to the case against the 44-year-old mayor.

As Iran's supreme leader, Khamenei has the last word on all affairs. He succeeded the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in 1989.

The arrest of Karbaschi, who spent his fourth night in Tehran's Evin prison Wednesday, presents Khatami with his most serious challenge since taking office in August.

The pro-Khatami Iran newspaper today accused the hard-liners of seeking to negate the popular mandate the president received in last year's election.

``People have elected Khatami and will support his government and will not leave the scene,'' the daily said in an editorial.

Abdolrahman Tajudddin, a legislator from the central province of Isfahan where Karbaschi served as governor before moving to Tehran in 1989, said pro-Khatami factions might take their cause to the streets.

Some groups were seeking a permit to hold a rally in support of Karbaschi, sources at the Interior Ministry said today.

Khatami's Cabinet raised the stakes when it announced it would continue to recognize Karbaschi as mayor of the Iranian capital. The interior minister has questioned the independent judiciary's competence.

At the time of the mayor's arrest, prosecutors said he personally instructed some city council officials to misappropriate public funds. The alleged wrongdoing is part of a much wider corruption scandal plaguing the city.

Karbaschi was reportedly implicated in embezzling funds in the Boostan shopping complex project in western Tehran.

But moderates complained that the mayor was being targeted by hard-liners just because he ran Khatami's successful presidential election campaign.

As Tehran's mayor for more than eight years, Karbaschi has won applause for improving public services and the appearance of the capital. But his management style, which some see as high-handed, has earned him many critics, particularly among hard-liners.

Iranians Invited to Meet Shalala
By Barry Schweid
AP Diplomatic Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) -- In another sign of improved U.S.-Iranian relations, a group of Iranian wrestlers got an invitation to meet with a member of President Clinton's Cabinet.

Their travel schedule after the World Cup of Freestyle Wrestling in Stillwater, Okla., prevented the meeting with Donna Shalala, health and human services secretary, who served as a Peace Corps worker in Iran. But State Department spokesman James P. Rubin said Wednesday, ``They made clear they appreciated the gesture.''

Rubin said the Iranians' participation in the championships last weekend ``went very well, and ... the Iranian wrestling team was very pleased by the hospitality shown them.'' Russia won the championships, the United States was second and the Iranian team finished third among six national teams.

American wrestlers received VIP treatment on a groundbreaking trip to Tehran in February and the Clinton administration had hoped for parallel treatment for the Iranians.

The administration and the Islamic Republic are feeling their way toward reversing two decades of hostility. Several U.S. scholars have visited Iran and said they were surprised by their warm reception.

The administration is moving cautiously, but there are echoes of the happy pingpong diplomacy under the late President Nixon that opened the door more than a quarter-century ago to U.S. relations with communist China.

The invitation to the wrestlers to meet Shalala was made through the Iranian mission to the United Nations in New York and a small diplomatic office Iran is permitted to have in Pakistan's embassy in Washington.

Formal relations between the two countries were broken off in 1979 after Iranian militants stormed the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and took Americans hostage.

Besides the implied diplomatic message, the offer to see Shalala also was designed to make amends for the two-hour delay the Iranian team experienced in Chicago, on the way to Oklahoma, so the wrestlers could be fingerprinted and photographed by U.S. officials.

The episode convinced officials at Iran's foreign ministry that there had been no shift in Washington's policy.

U.S. officials downplayed the incident, and State Department deputy spokesman James Foley said Monday that federal law requires such procedures for unofficial, nonimmigrant visitors from four countries that are on unfriendly terms with the United States -- Iran, Iraq, Libya and the Sudan.

When the State Department at the end of the month reports to Congress on countries it considers to be supporters of terrorism, ``There is no reason to believe that Iran will be removed from the list,'' Rubin said.

And despite Iran's pledges of reform, the number of executions in the country is rising and human rights violations continue, a United Nations investigator said Wednesday in Geneva, Switzerland.

Maurice Danby Copithorne, a Canadian lawyer, said at least 199 Iranians were executed in 1997, 95 of them in public. He said that figure was a sharp increase, but gave no figures for previous years.

Even so, the Clinton administration responded warmly when Iranian President Mohammad Khatami proposed a dialogue with the United States after his election eight months ago.

Gradually, administration officials have become convinced the proposal is genuine and they have lowered their rhetoric.

There have been several cultural and athletic exchanges, and Americans are able to travel to Iran, although they have been cautioned to take care.

 

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