Iran's Conservatives Shift Strategy

Apr18 (Stratfor)

Iran's conservatives appear to be reconciling themselves to the likelihood of improved economic relations with the West. Two recent events � the seizure of an Iraqi tanker and an ongoing espionage trial � appear to seek favor with the United States and Europe. But conservatives appear to have launched a simultaneous crackdown. Actions on both of these fronts indicate that conservatives are bracing themselves for the social unrest that economic change will undoubtedly bring.

On April 14, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's supreme leader, warned that government-sanctioned violence has a place if it aims to protect the state, implying that force will be used to stave off unrest. Two days later, the leader of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, Rahim Safavi, warned that enemies of the 20-year-old Islamic revolution would feel a 'sledgehammer inside their skull," in a statement carried by Tehran Radio.

These statements appear to be part of a larger strategy by conservatives who control key institutions, such as the courts and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).

On one front, Iran's conservatives � a broad mix of both religious, cultural and military leaders � appear to be sending reassuring signals to the United States and Europe. The IRGC, elite troops controlled by religious leaders, have been responsible for halting Iraqi oil smuggling in the Persian Gulf � a move sure to please Washington. Responding to European concern at the espionage trial of 13 Iranian Jews, the conservative judiciary has suggested reduced charges against all but three defendants, access to defense lawyers and time for these lawyers to prepare.

Leaders appear to be reconciling themselves to the possibility of ties with the United States and Europe, while bracing for the social backlash that such change could bring.

Across a broad domestic front, conservatives appear to be engaged in a broad crackdown aimed at curbing the effects of economic and social reform.

Evidence can be found across Iran. Khamenei gave his warning during prayers in Tehran. The Council of Guardians is actively trying to keep reformers from taking the seats they won in the February 18 parliamentary elections. The council has nullified or overturned the results of eight elections in six different towns � Bandar Abbas, Minab, Gachsaran, Damavand, Khalkhal and Firuzkuh. The conservative Council of Guardians on April 16 overturned the election of a reformist candidate in West Azerbaijan province, in northwest Iran.

The council also began to recount votes in Tehran, but stopped when it became apparent that their candidate might lose his seat. Allies of President Mohammad Khatami originally won all of the disputed elections.

The basiji, Iran's religious militia, has renewed attempts to enforce Islamic dress codes, a move that sparked street clashes between young people and the basiji in the northern city of Rasht April 14, according to Agence France Presse. The outgoing conservative-led parliament also approved a series of press restrictions as one of its final acts. Additionally, on April 15 police arrested a member of the Tehran City Council who had fingered one of the suspects in the shooting of Khatami deputy Said Hajarian.

It appears now that the majority of the Iranian leadership agrees that Iran should engage the United States and Europe; only a few months ago, official opinion was divided. But recent disagreements within OPEC underscore the point that Iran cannot depend on an oil-based economy, and it can't build an industrial economy without western investment. Iran will continue to adjust its external policies to fit U.S. and European interests.

Until now, conservatives have argued that the price of economic opening was too high � that social upheaval would follow. This opinion seems to have been altered as conservative work to control � and probably pre-empt � social upheaval.

Religious persecution in Mongolia

13 Years in Prison for �Erroneous Religious Propaganda�



A Mongolian citizen of Kazakh descent has been sentenced to 13 years in a prison labor camp in western Mongolia on charges of propagating the Christian faith, the Compass agency reported on April 7.

According to Christians in Kazakhstan, who had previously been in regular contact with the jailed Christian, police officials in the Bayan-Olgey district of western Mongolia arrested Marat Kojash late last summer. A letter of notification from the police states that Kojash was guilty of �distribution of erroneous religious propaganda.�

The police document, signed by two officers, declared: �According to the Constitution of the Republic of Mongolia, only the Buddhist and Islamic faiths may be propagated.�

A native of the village of U-xusin, Kojash is a medical doctor who reportedly came to faith in Christ the previous year through radio broadcasts in the Kazakh language. When he wrote to receive more information, he was put in touch with local Christians in neighboring Kazakhstan, who began to correspond with him regularly. In the months prior to his arrest, Kojash had been sharing Scripture passages and other literature, audio tapes and video cassettes with others in his home village interested in Christianity.

The stiff sentence sending Kojash to a labor camp in the Gobi Altai district of southwest Mongolia is believed to have been issued in early November, 1999. He was also ordered to pay $7, equivalent to one month's salary. All the Christian literature and media items in his possession were confiscated and destroyed, and Kojash was ordered to sign a statement confessing his alleged �crime� and renouncing any further contact with Christians in Kazakhstan. It is not known whether Kojash was allowed a lawyer in his defense.

Sources in Kazakhstan who had been corresponding with Kojash, confirmed that they had recently received a mailed packet containing five documents related to Kojash's case, all stamped with an official seal in the Mongolian language. Along with statements from Kojash's father and police officials, the packet contained a declaration warning Kazakh Christians against attempting any further contact with Kojash or anyone else in Mongolia. The recipients were instructed to refrain from sending any more literature or tapes into Mongolia.

Despite the statements of the police officers, the 1992 Mongolian Constitution does guarantee freedom of conscience and religion to all its citizens equally, along with requiring separation of Church and State. National laws allow proselytizing by registered religious groups, as well as contacts with co-religionists outside the country. An estimated 4% of Mongolia's 2.5 million citizens are from ethnic Kazakh and Uighur descent, traditionally rooted in Islam.

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