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April 2000, Week 4
|Three More Papers Shut Down in Iran||Apr. 29|
|Iranian Soccer Player Banned||Apr. 28|
|Iran Run-Off Campaigning Begins||Apr. 27|
|Analysis-No Winner yet in New Caspian Great Game||Apr. 25|
|Journalist Arrested in Iran||Apr. 23|
|Khatami Blames State Television for Screening Controversial Conference||Apr. 22|
|Iranian Demonstrators, Police Clash||Apr. 21|
|Iran Rejects U.S. Concern Over Warning to Iranian Press||Apr. 21|
Three More Papers Shut Down in Iran
By Afshin Valinejad|
Associated Press Writer
TEHRAN, Iran - Iranian hard-liners shut down three more newspapers Thursday, including one owned by reformist President Mohammad Khatami's brother, pressing their campaign against publications that have fueled public support for reform.
About 200 students demonstrated against the closures at the Shahid Beheshti University in northern Tehran in the early hours of Friday, said an Iranian journalist, speaking on condition of anonymity. The students burned tires and threw stones at university buildings and were dispersed by police after about an hour.
The media closures, now numbering 16, are hampering Khatami's allies' political ambitions. Only one reformist paper remained publishing Thursday as campaigning started for the May 5 run-off elections, which will decide 66 seats in the 290-seat parliament, or Majlis.
The ruling clergy was stunned by the first round of voting in February, in which candidates linked with reformist parties won about 70 percent of the seats.
Since then, hard-line authorities have annulled 12 reformist winners, giving two seats to hard-liners and calling for run-offs in the others. They also said they might call for recasting votes in the capital, Tehran, where reformists won 29 of the 30 seats. The capital's vote, they said, was marred by fraud and inconsistencies.
But amid the media blackout imposed on reformists, Khatami's allies campaigning in this round will have a tougher job competing.
The Press Court, which is dominated by hard-liners, justified Thursday's newspaper closures by saying Mohammad-Reza Khatami's newspaper and the two others had violated press laws. It gave no details of the violations.
Mohammad-Reza Khatami has been closely allied with his brother's national campaign to loosen social, political and cultural restrictions. The only reformist paper still allowed to publish is Bayan, which has not been as outspoken as the others.
Without support from the press, reformist lawmakers and candidates might have to wait until Parliament resumes session on May 27 to restart direct dialogue with the people: the constitution mandates that Parliament debates be broadcast live on state radio.
"The reformists are under siege. They are looking to the opening of the Majlis as the cavalry," said Saeed Laylaz, an analyst who used to write for the Azad daily before it was closed down Monday with a court order issued by the hard-line judiciary.
There are clear signs the hard-liners are trying to claw their way back into control of the Majlis, which in February they lost for the first time since the 1979 Islamic revolution. Hard-liners have considerable power thanks to their dominance over the judiciary, the state broadcasting media and the Guardians Council that supervises elections.
Absent much of the reformist press, a lackluster campaign began Thursday for the May run-offs. In most cases, the 66 seats up for grabs May 5 were left open because no candidate won the minimum 25 percent in the first round.
The council announced first-round results only Wednesday two months after voting but said the Tehran seats were still in doubt.
So far, it said, 185 places outside the capital were confirmed, and 66 would be voted on May 5. It was unclear when authorities planned to fill the 10 left by their annulments after the first round, or how they would resolve the objections over the 29 reformist wins in Tehran.
Holding 120 of the 185 confirmed seats, reformists need just 26 more for a simple majority. The 29 Tehran seats in question would give reformists firm control.
The allies of President Khatami, a maverick cleric, have appealed for calm, saying unrest will play into the hands of hard-liners who are looking for a pretext to delay the Majlis opening. The constitution requires the Majlis be inaugurated on time, except in an emergency.
"When there is tension or crisis in society, everyone should apply wisdom and self-restraint ... and act within the framework of the law in order to calm the crisis and meet the needs of society," Iranian TV reported Khatami as saying during a meeting Thursday with the Tehran city council.
Protests and riots erupted in July in Tehran and several other cities when hard-liners closed a single reformist newspaper. The protests were quelled by a hard-line crackdown, but the unrest the worst since the revolution shook the clergy's authority.
There have been a few protests since the latest closures, but they have been small, peaceful and contained inside universities.
"By remaining calm we are showing our own political maturity," said Javid Rahmanqoli, a university student in Tehran. "The other side wants us to react, but we won't, not because we are afraid of a crackdown, but because we have the maturity to understand the rules of the game."
The elite Revolutionary Guards, backbone of Iran's military force, warned last week that reformists would "feel the revolutionary hammer on their skulls" if they failed to fall in line.
Iranian Soccer Player Banned
The Associated Press|
TEHRAN, Iran - A soccer player in Tehran has been suspended for six months and fined $1,200 for taking his shirt off and pulling down his shorts when he celebrated his goal in a televised match, his coach said Thursday.
Mohammad Mailikohan said the incident took place during a cup match last week between Saipa, the Tehran club he coaches, and city rival Pas when 19-year-old striker Mohsen Rassuli celebrated his late goal. Saipa won 1-0 to reach the semifinals.
Rassuli, who was making his debut for Saipa, was wearing briefs under his shorts, but such behavior in public is virtually a taboo in Iran, where Islamic laws are strictly observed.
"The court does not have the right to issue a verdict against the player. It is up to the disciplinary committee of the football federation to punish him," Mailikohan, a former coach of Iran's national team, told The Associated Press.
He said he had admonished the young striker and that Rassuli had already apologized for his behavior but that now he feared the harsh verdict may ruin his future.
The court announced its sentence on Wednesday.
Iran Run-Off Campaigning Begins
The Associated Press|
TEHRAN, Iran - Iranian candidates started campaigning today for the second round of voting in legislative polls that have set off a fierce confrontation between hard-liners and reformists.
In recent days, 14 newspapers have been closed and two leading pro-reform journalists detained as hard-liners resist loosening social, political and cultural restrictions. Supporters of President Mohammad Khatami's reforms have responded with peaceful protests, with their leaders warning them not to give the hard-liners a pretext for harsher measures.
Run-off elections will be held May 5 for 66 seats that were not decided in the February polls for the 290-member Parliament, or Majlis. More than 120 candidates in 52 constituencies scattered across Iran started their weeklong campaigns, lining the streets with posters and handing out leaflets.
Iranians delivered a severe blow to hard-liners when they overwhelmingly voted for reformers in February's elections. Following their defeat, the hard-liners have been hitting back, using considerable power derived from their control of the judiciary, the state broadcasting media and the Guardians Council that supervises elections.
Analysis-No Winner yet in New Caspian Great Game
ALMATY-(Reuters) - A gateway to the East was the prize in the 19th Century Great Game played out in Central Asia by Britain and Russia. Today, huge reserves of oil and gas are the spoils in a fierce competition between major powers.
Top officials from China, Iran, Russia, Turkey and the United States outlined their vision for the region at a World Economic Forum in Kazakhstan this week, all courting eight former Soviet states around the Caspian Sea. |
They portrayed their interest in the region as one of mutual cooperation, not colonial expansion. "Those who think national interests are a throwback to Russia's imperial thinking are tragically mistaken," said Russia's Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Khristenko.
And all sought to play down the political stakes, focusing instead on the economic benefits of opening up borders, building new export pipelines and rebuilding ancient trade routes. Iran's First Vice-President Hasan Habibi called for greater integration across Eurasia, allowing the newly independent states to avoid falling hostage to distant powers.
"What we have witnessed in the past two or three centuries in the region is the prevalence of political and ulterior motives of powers outside our region which undermined the proper use of its resources and wealth," he said. But delegates at the summit held out little hope of any significant rapprochement between countries more prone to squabble over territory and resources than to cooperate.
"There is a surreal gap between the words spoken at the conference and the realities, in terms of economic development and regional cooperation," said Alexander Lesser, a Kazakh-based lawyer specialising in metals and hydrocarbons.
ENERGY THE BIGGEST PRIZE
Control over the flows of oil and gas from Central Asia and the Caucasus, and the political clout and leverage that brings, is the main prize for the winners in the new game, even more than the hydrocarbons themselves. Russia inherited the dominant position, and continues to control virtually all oil and gas exported from the east of the Caspian via the sprawling Soviet-era pipeline network. But it has been weakened by economic and military decline and now faces new challenges.
"Russia does not have the military means to do much in the Caspian because of its war in Chechnya, nor the economic means," said Olivier Roy, director of research at France's National Centre for Scientific Research.
The United States continues to push plans to bypass Russia to the north and "rogue state" Iran to the south by running oil and gas export routes from east to west to regional ally Turkey. Energy analysts question the economics of the projects, saying high costs and bickering between participating countries could yet scupper them.
Tehran, sidelined due to U.S. economic sanctions, criticises U.S. policy, arguing that pipelines south across Iran are the cheapest option.
China signed energy deals worth $9.5 billion with Kazakhstan in 1997, hoping to secure its growing energy needs long term.
TURKEY WANTS MULTIPLE SUPPLIERS Turkey's main goal as a growing net consumer of oil and gas is to secure multiple suppliers, and plans to import gas via new pipelines from Turkmenistan and Russia and oil from Azerbaijan. With aims so diverse among the region's eight former Soviet states and major powers bordering them, no clear winner may emerge from the new Great Game, delegates said. Simmering tensions between countries in the Caucasus and Central Asia and the limited capacity by surrounding states to assert control point to ethnic nationalism becoming the region's main ideological factor, Roy predicted.
And it is not all about oil and gas.
Journalist Arrested in Iran
By Ali Akbar Dareini|
Associated Press Writer
TEHRAN, Iran -A journalist probing the 1998 killings of five dissidents by intelligence agents was arrested Saturday, the latest attempt by Islamic hard-liners to curb Iran's liberal press.
Akbar Ganji's arrest came as newspaper editors and publishers complained to the culture minister Saturday after Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, condemned the reformist press as "enemies" of the 1979 Islamic revolution.
Islamic hard-liners, who control the judiciary, have been cracking down on the liberal press that has flourished since the 1997 election of reformist President Mohammad Khatami.
Khatami, who rarely speaks out directly on the power struggle with hard-liners, made one of his strongest condemnations yet against opponents of liberalization.
"Those who say that reforms are against the principles of the revolution are pushing society toward ruin and creating the grounds for dictatorship," Khatami told a meeting of education officials Saturday.
Nearly every leading reformist journalist has been summoned to court for questioning in recent weeks, with conservatives in the clerical regime feeling hard-pressed after reformists' overwhelming victory in February parliamentary elections.
Ganji was arrested in court, where he had been summoned to answer charges that his articles violated Iran's press laws, said his lawyer, Gholam-Ali Riyahi.
Court sources said Ganji was taken to the Tehran's Evin prison.
"This is the price I have to pay to pursue the case of the murders," Ganji told reporters as he headed into court. "But the future is bright. No one created the reforms and nobody can stop them."
Ganji, who wrote for several dailies including Fath and Sobh-e-Emrooz, had been reporting on the killings of five pro-reform dissidents, which the Intelligence Ministry later blamed on "rogue agents."
His articles suggested the killings were ordered by senior hard-liners in the ruling Islamic establishment. He also repeatedly called on those behind the murders to come forward or be exposed.
The two judges who ordered Ganji arrested also cited his attendance at a controversial conference about Iran held in Berlin, Riyahi said. That conference, attended by several pro-reform last week, provoked outrage in conservative circles after state-run television broadcast footage of an Iranian woman dancing and other participants chanting slogans against Iran.
Culture Minister Mohajerani told a news conference that editors and publishers from 22 papers had came to him Saturday to complain about Khamenei's use of the word "enemy" referring to the press.
Khamenei, a hard-liner who holds the final say in the government, told a large crowd in a Tehran mosque Thursday that 15 to 20 newspapers were "bases of the enemy" and were undermining the principles of the Islamic revolution.
Mohajerani said he would try to arrange a meeting between Khamenei and the journalists. "I know and I am sure that none of them are enemies and they see the leader as a kind father," he said.
Earlier this month the judiciary upheld the conviction of editor Mahmoud Shams on charges of "insulting religious sanctities." Shams, of the reformist Asr-e-Azadegan daily, was sentenced to 2½ years in prison.
Last month, Saeed Hajjarian, a close aide of Khatami and a friend of Ganji, was shot in the face and badly wounded. Reformist newspapers and officials have blamed the assassination attempt on hard-liners.
Khatami wants to ease the political, cultural and social restrictions imposed by the clergy's rule, but the hard-liners say that would dilute the ideals of the Islamic revolution. The reformists have little power to stop the conservative clergy, which control the judiciary, the military and the broadcast networks.
Khatami Blames State Television for Screening Controversial Conference
TEHRAN - XINHUA - Iranian President Mohammad Khatami on Saturday criticized the state television for screening parts of a controversial conference on Iran in the German capital of Berlin, which sparked condemnation by the conservatives. |
"I am totally opposed to the way the IRIB raised the issue which provoked the feelings and caused great concern among the committed sections of the society and those who seek the country's dignity and honor," Khatami said in his first reaction to the hue and cry caused by the Berlin conference.
A number of Iranian reformists attended the Berlin conference on "Iran after the February Elections" organized by the Heinrich Boell Foundation. The conference was disrupted by members of the People's Mujaheddin, an organization outlawed by Tehran, who accused the Islamic regime of "violating human rights in Iran."
The conservative-controlled IRIB screened some footage of the conference, including an overseas Iranian woman dancing without Islamic dressing. The conservative bloc was outraged, condemning the meeting "religiously prohibited."
More than 140 outgoing conservative Majlis (parliament) members on Wednesday called on the judiciary to punish those who attended the conference. A prominent journalist Akbar Ganji was jailed on Saturday in connection with the event. Khatami underlined the need of security and tranquility in the country, saying no action should be taken which may worry "the leader, the nation, the faithful and the youth about national security."
The conservatives, who control most of the state powers but suffered a series of setbacks in elections over the past two years, try to play up religious sentiments of ordinary citizens against the reformist allied with the president. The reformists defended the Berlin conference and accused the conservatives of trying to use the incident to undermine Khatami's reform programs.
Iranian Demonstrators, Police Clash
By Afshin Valinejad|
Associated Press Writer
TEHRAN, Iran (AP) _ Demonstrators clashed with police Friday and at least 150 people were arrested in the third day of protests after hard-liners annulled a reformist's election victory, a local journalist said.
"The protesters hurled stones at anti-riot police and set one of the police cars on fire," said the journalist from the town of Sarvestan in southern Fars Province.
It was not immediately clear whether anyone was in the police car when it was set on fire and there were no immediate reports of casualties.
The journalist, speaking on condition of anonymity, said hundreds of anti-riot police were patrolling the streets of Sarvestan. Police also banned gatherings of more than three people in the town.
"The situation is very tense and the streets are littered with broken glass, burned tires and stones," the journalist said. The protests began Wednesday.
The town is one of several districts where hard-liners have overturned results from the Feb. 18 parliamentary elections, which saw an overwhelming victory by supporters of President Mohammad Khatami's liberalization program over conservatives in the clerical regime.
In Sarvastan, the Guardians Council disqualified the victor, pro-reform candidate Zeinolabedin Tahmasbi, and awarded his seat the runner-up, hard-liner Saadollah Rousta-Tasouji.
The Guardians Council, which is dominated by hard-liners and supervises the elections, gave no reason for the disqualification.
Police have arrested five members of Tahmasbi's election campaign, the journalist said today.
Many of the protesters wore white shrouds, a practice adopted after the 1979 Islamic revolution that signifies readiness to die for a cause.
"We have been insulted. Our votes are being wasted. We are not seeking violence, but we are also not going to compromise and accept any other person than the one whom we voted for," one of the protesters told the journalist on condition of anonymity.
On Thursday, Sarvestan shopkeepers closed their stores and some 10,000 people gathered in front of the governor's office to demand that the original results be recognized. Anti-riot police were called in from the provincial capital of Shiraz shortly afterward to control the situation.
Last week, residents from the towns of Khalkhal in northwest Iran and Damavand in the suburbs of Tehran staged protests after the Guardians Council canceled the election victories of reformists there.
Iran Rejects U.S. Concern Over Warning to Iranian Press
TEHRAN -XINHUA - Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi on Friday turned down the concern of the United States over a warning to the Iranian freedom-seeking press.
Asefi termed the remarks by the U.S. State Department Spokesman James Rubin on Thursday as "a flagrant interference in Iran's internal affairs," the Islamic Republic News Agency reported.
Rubin said the Iranian press has played an important part in political developments and the U.S. are worried whenever free press is challenged anywhere in the world or any statements are made that question the fundamental right of free expression. |
Rubin made the remarks after Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei made a warning on the same day that the Iranian press should respect the constitution and Islamic values instead of becoming tools of the enemy. Khamenei said he is suffering from some phenomena that a number of the papers have turned into bases of the enemies and are doing the same as the British, the U.S. and the Israeli broadcasting agencies are trying to do.
Asefi said that based on the Islamic teachings and the Iranian constitution, the country attaches great importance to the freedom of speech as well as the press. "Safeguarding and strengthening the rights of the noble Iranian nation including the freedom of speech is one of the most fundamental policies of the Iranian government and will not be influenced by others' comments," he said.
The Iranian pro-reform press came under mounting pressure of the powerful conservatives, who dominate most of the sensitive organs but suffered a series of serious setbacks in elections in past two years. The conservative judiciary has summoned a number of reformist journalists and publishers to courts on charges of defamation or propagating against Islamic values, even sending some of them to prison.
The outgoing conservative parliament on Tuesday passed an amendment to the press law imposing more restrictions on the press, which was believed to have played an important role in the overwhelming victory of the reformists, main supporters of President Mohammad Khatami in the February parliamentary elections.