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Hardline revolutionary courts chief replaced

TEHRAN, April 17 (Reuters) - Iran's judiciary chief Mahmoud Hashemi-Shahroudi has removed a renowned hardliner from the head of the country's feared Revolutionary Courts, the official IRNA news agency said on Monday.

Ali Mobasheri, a former judge at Tehran's Court of Appeals, has been named the new chief judge of the Revolutionary Courts, the agency said.

His predecessor, Gholamhossein Rahbarpour, has been transferred to the Administrative Justice Tribunal.

``Rahbarpour was a known hardliner, so in itself this is a good sign for judicial reforms. But Revolutionary Court judges act independently and they may well not be willing to change,'' Ali Khosravi, a private attorney, told Reuters.

He said Rahbarpour, an outspoken conservative, would retain influence in his new post. ``Deputy chief of the Administrative Justice Tribunal is still a big job for him, but in a less sensitive area.''

Rahbarpour was heavily criticised by Iranian lawyers last year for calling 13 Iranian Jews held on espionage charges spies, before their trial had even begun.

``It is clear that these persons are spies, there is no doubt about that,'' he had said. The judiciary was forced to clarify his statements amid domestic and international uproar.

Rahbarpour had also announced the death sentence of students arrested after pro-democracy protests in Iran last July. The students, at least one of whom has protested to being tortured during detention, remain on death row.

Legal experts say that the judiciary chief Shahroudi, appointed last August, appears keen to overhaul the justice system but faces serious opposition.

``Serious reforms have not taken place, there have been some some replacements but not in the scale of true reforms,'' Khosravi said. ``Shahroudi's powers are limited.''


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