Young Iran dramatist lands in big political drama
By Mehrdad Balali
TEHRAN, Oct 31 (Reuters) - An Iranian student seeking to dramatise
his deep religious idealism in a small campus play has found himself at
the centre of a wider political drama and facing an uncertain future.
An Iranian court is due to issue verdict on Tuesday after a trial earlier
this month of the author, Abbas Nemati, and three others held for allegedly
insulting a Shi'ite Moslem saint in a satirical sketch published in an
obscure university journal. (Read the play:
The play, which evokes Shi'ite Islam's 12th Imam, an untouchable figure
whose return to earth is believed will usher in a period of perfect justice,
sparked an uproar among religious hardliners, who called it blasphemous.
But Nemati, a sophomore law student, and his co-defendants argue they
had no intention to insult the Imam or the faith.
One of Nemati's close relatives, who requested anonymity, said the
play was only a ``crude and thoughtless'' exercise by an aspiring screenwriter.
``He has no interest in politics. He likes to write movie scripts.
The walls of his room are lined with scripts. He has more books on screenwriting
than about law,'' he told Reuters.
The relative said the play was Nemati's first chance to have a work
HARDLINERS SEE WESTERN INFLUENCE
Conservatives have called the play a by-product of Western liberal
influences in Iranian campuses, a trend they say is helped by the more
tolerant cultural policies of reformist President Mohammad Khatami.
The president himself condemned the play but said the offence was compounded
by the hardliners' efforts to turn it to political advantage and ensure
their own survival.
Nemati's relative said the author is a ``strictly devout'' Moslem,
and a product of one of the solidly-religious schools set up after the
1979 revolution to educate the youth in the mold of Shi'ite Islam and untainted
by western influences.
``He is radical in a religious sense. He follows Islamic teachings
to the letter. He is even more pious than the rest of his family,'' he
Nemati's mother, fully wrapped in the black chador, a trademark of
more pious women in Iran, sat quietly inside the judicial complex in Tehran,
awaiting a word on the sentencing.
``I don't think he will easily get off the hook. The judge is very
unpredictable,'' said the relative, referring to judge Saeed Mortezavi,
who presided over the trial.
``We are all suffering from this ordeal. It has really turned our lives
Mortezavi accused the defendants during the trial of insulting the
12th Imam as part of a wider effort to undermine the nation's religious
and revolutionary faith.
NO DEATH SENTENCE EXPECTED
Under Article 513 of the criminal code, insulting the Imam carries
a possible death sentence, while lesser slights earn up to five years in
Nemati's relative said the play should be evaluated from an artistic
point of view.
``He didn't mean to offend anyone. When you portray a bad guy in a
story, you can't expect him to speak like a good person. So that does not
necessarily reflect the opinion of the author,'' he said, referring to
the main character, Abbas, named after the writer.
Nemati, obviously shaken by the affair, told the court during his trial
that he wrote the play to ``serve the interests of religion.''
The writer surrendered himself to the authorities after the other suspects
were arrested in a campus swoop.
Reflecting the sensitivity of the case and general sympathy for the
defendants, Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has called for