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Hardline Iranian court ends hearings, Nouri defiant

By Ali Raiss-Tousi

TEHRAN, Nov 10 (Reuters) - Iran's hardline Special Court for Clergy on Wednesday wound up hearings in the trial of leading reformist cleric Abdollah Nouri, charged with political and religious dissent. (Related photo: here)

The court gave Nouri, a former vice-president, eight days to submit his final written defence. A verdict from the panel of conservative clerics is due within a week after that. Nouri has already predicted he will be convicted.

The sixth and final day of hearings focused on Nouri's outspoken and popular newspaper Khordad and its alleged insult against Islamic sanctities in an article on the ``hejab,'' or Islamic dess code for women.

``You cannot enforce the 'hejab' with clubs and batons,'' said Nouri, in defiance of the prosecutor who had accused him of maliciously insulting Islam.

``You cannot claim religion is limited to your own particular understanding of it,'' said Nouri, a leading ally of moderate President Mohammad Khatami.

In another closely watched case, journalists gathered in support of outspoken editor Mashallah Shamsolvaezin, on trial in another court for alleged forgery and insulting Islam.

More than 100 supporters met at the offices of Shamsolvaezin's Asr-e Azadegan daily to denounce what they called a conservative campaign against the press that has seen five major pro-reform newspapers closed in less than two years.

Shamsolvaezin remains in jail, pending a third hearing on Saturday before a hardline-led special press court.

Nouri was repeatedly interrupted at the trial by the judge and the prosecutor, in an apparent effort to cut short his sharp criticism of the conservative clerical establishment, which has been widely covered by reformist newspapers.

The most sensitive part of the trial, relating to Nouri's alleged political backing for dissident Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, was a bitter dispute between Nouri and the court, which barred him from reading his complete defence.

Montazeri has been under house arrest since 1997.


The prosecutor also demanded that the flourishing reformist press publicise his legal arguments and those of the judge, accusing them of only focusing on Nouri's statements.

``The prosecutor's interjections are political and not legal,'' a reformist editor at the court told Reuters. ``And they are being published anyway. He just wants first page coverage.''

Charges against Nouri, who has likened his trial to the Inquisition, accuse him of advocating the restoration of ties with Iran's arch-foe the United States, questioning Islamic doctrines, and insulting the late revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

Reformers say the charges are an attempt by the conservative establishment to bar Nouri from February's parliamentary elections, in which he was expected to top the moderate ticket.

A conviction could also mean a lengthy prison sentence and the closure of the outspoken Khordad newspaper.


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