Top Iran reformer says dissent charges 'illegal'
By Jonathan Lyons
TEHRAN, Oct 12 (Reuters) - Leading Iranian reformist Abdollah Nouri
has denounced his indictment by a Special Court for Clergy on charges of
religious and political dissent as ``illegal.''
His condemnation of the court raises the stakes in a struggle between
the conservative establishment and moderates backing President Mohammad
In an interview due to be published late on Tuesday, Nouri, the top
vote-getter in this year's race for the Tehran city council and close adviser
to Khatami, called the clerical court a rogue body.
But said his trial on October 20 would allow the people to see the true
face of his conservative rivals.
Excerpts of his remarks were obtained by Reuters before scheduled publication
in the pro-reform daily Aftab-e Emrouz.
Nouri's bid as the reformist standard-bearer in parliamentary polls
early next year faces derailment after the court charged him with insulting
leaders of Iran's Islamic system, backing ties with arch-foe the United
States and sullying the memory of late revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah
``The Special Court for Clergy is an illegal body,'' Nouri said. ``However,
it will provide a forum where things will be clarified, and the people
will know who are the friends and who are the foes of the Imam (Khomeini).''
REFORMISTS DENOUNCE INDICTMENT
Reformist allies denounced the indictment and the expected closure of
Nouri's Khordad newspaper.
The charges were seen as part of pre-election moves by conservatives
to prevent a repeat of the humiliation they suffered at the hands of Khatami,
who won an unexpected landslide victory over the establishment candidate
in May 1997.
A conviction, or even a pending charge, could be grounds for his disqualification
from the February 18 parliamentary elections by a powerful conservative-led
body which oversees the polls.
``I think that these events must be seen in the framework of the parliamentary
``Nouri is the most outstanding candidate from Tehran and both he as
a person and his newspaper Khordad can be very influential in the elections
and their outcome,'' pro-reform commentator and editor Saeed Leylaz told
``We believe this time period was chosen to remove Khordad from among
the newspapers and Nouri from the election race as part of a larger scenario
by the conservatives to tighten their grip on the seats in the next parliament,''
``In the (pro-reform) front, Abdollah Nouri is the most beloved political
figure after President Khatami.''
NEWSROOM MOOD SUBDUED
In the newsroom of Khordad, the most prominent of the reformist newspapers
still allowed to publish, the mood was subdued. Many feared for their jobs
but said they might try to put out a new daily if Khordad were closed.
``The main aim is that Nouri will be eliminated from the elections,''
said one editor. ``The elimination of Nouri is completely against the president.''
Other charges against Nouri, a mid-ranking Shi'ite Moslem cleric, included
backing Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, a top dissident theologian
now under house arrest, and challenging the existence of absolute truth
If convicted, Nouri could face many years in prison and lashes, and
legal experts say Khordad -- founded after conservatives in parliament
expelled him from Khatami's cabinet -- was likely to suffer the same fate
as three other major reformist dailies closed by hardline courts in the
past seven months.
``We smell conspiracy and animosity from the general content of (his)
newspaper and there is no other choice but to believe that these are done
with malice and forethought,'' said the Special Court for Clergy's indictment.
``Our warnings and recommendations were to no avail.''
Nouri recently resigned from the Tehran city council, which he had chaired
after topping the polls, to clear the way for a run at parliament. He was
widely tipped as the reformists' candidate for parliament speaker if they
won the elections, a position now seriously in doubt.