Conservatives bear down on reformers with more arrests
by Kianouche Dorranie
TEHRAN, Jan 28, 2001 (AFP) - Iran's conservative-led courts stepped
up the pressure on President Mohammad Khatami's reform movement Sunday
with the arrest of a pro-reform MP and a second journalist in as many days.
The arrests came as reformists still reeled from Saturday's verdict
in the closed-door trial of 18 secret agents for the 1998 murders of four
dissidents which they charged left many questions unanswered.
The reform-majority parliament was debating the last budget of Khatami's
tenure ahead of June's presidential elections when word came that MP Hamid
Loghmanian had been jailed for statements attacking the courts. Furious
MPs vowed to take action after what they called the "arbitrary"
jailing of Loghmanian.
He was freed later in the day, parliamentary speaker Mehdi Karubi said,
cited by the state IRNA news agency.
Parliament has been pushing for immunity amid reports the judiciary
is preparing cases against several reformist MPs including the president's
brother, Tehran deputy Mohammad-Reza Khatami.
The head of the parliamentary judicial and legal commission, Nasser
Qavami, was quoted by IRNA as saying Sunday that a bill to grant immunity
should be drawn up and ratified in the parliament as soon as possible.
Otherwise, given the current atmosphere in the judiciary, deputies will
face "a lot of problems", he said.
Mohammad-Reza Khatami's party meanwhile blasted the verdict in the trial
of intelligence agents over the killings of two nationalist leaders and
two outspoken writers.
Three defendants were sentenced to death, and five were given life sentences
in what one analyst said seemed to have been a cover-up.
"The judge and the judiciary chief well know that one day the light
will be thrown on this affair," the Islamic Iran Participation Front
(IIPF) said, cited by IRNA. "Many points remain unanswered."
The IIPF had said the case would be a "big test" for the credibility
of the courts, which have hampered the president's reform movement with
wholesale press closures and the arrest of top journalists and editors.
The list of imprisoned writers grew Sunday with the arrest of Hoda Saber
from the editorial board of the now-banned progressive review Tomorrow's
Iran (Iran-e Farda).
Colleagues and family toldthe 39-year-old Saber, affiliated with the
tolerated but officially outlawed opposition Iran Freedom Movement, had
been jailed by Tehran's revolutionary court.
There was no word on the reason for his arrest, a month after the review's
director, Ezzatollah Sahabi, was jailed following a speech attacking conservatives
at a campus rally in Tehran.
Sahabi vowed the "politics of repression will not be able to last"
and accused conservatives of using "religion and the belief of the
people" to block President Khatami's efforts at reform.
Both he and another speaker at the rally, student leader Ali Afshari,
were arrested and their whereabouts remain unknown, according to their
Afshari's father was also reportedly arrested Saturday for criticising
the courts in his weekly magazine.
President Khatami, who has yet to announce whether he will stand for
re-election in June, has recently gone public with his frustration at his
limited powers in the face of his conservative rivals.
The trial for the dissident murders, held in camera despite appeals
by reformists and the victims' families, was mired in controversy after
the intelligence ministry acknowledged "rogue" agents were responsible.
It denied top officials were involved, while the agent named as the
mastermind was later said to have committed suicide in prison.
The judge in the case said Saturday that two defendants given life sentences
could still be prosecuted after they implicated the then- intelligence
minister in their testimony.
The accusations against Ghorbanali Dorri-Najafabadi mean a revolutionary
court will now try the pair again for acting against national security,
the judge said. They could be given the death sentence.
Seven other defendants received lesser sentences while three men were
Families of the four victims -- nationalist leader Dariush Foruhar and
his wife Parvaneh, as well as liberal writers Mohammad Pouyandeh and Mohammad
Mokhtari -- boycotted the trial in protest.
"What matters is that we find out the truth," daughter Parastou
Foruhar toldfrom Germany. "And that hasn't happened."
The murder of a fifth intellectual around the same time in late 1998,
writer Majid Sharif, was not dealt with in the trial.