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Sehaty Foreign Exchange

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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 supporters.

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 acquitted.

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.


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