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Iran reformers call for probe of hardline judiciary

TEHRAN, Jan 28 (Reuters) - More than 70 Iranian MPs have signed a petition calling for an investigation of Tehran's hardline judiciary, behind the arrest of liberal activists and the closure of reformist publications in the Islamic republic.

"Under the constitution, the judiciary must defend individual and social rights and freedoms," the official news agency IRNA on Sunday quoted Ibrahim Amini, a member of parliament's judicial committee, as saying.

"Unfortunately, the judicial trend has led to public mistrust and been used as a weapon to confront reformers," he said. "To uphold civil rights, we need a healthy climate and fair judges".

The petition is to be handed to parliament's presiding board. Amini said the signatories wanted an investigation of "violations and discriminations" against the accused as well as mistreatment of prisoners.

The judiciary is dominated by hardliners opposed to social and political reforms favoured by embattled President Mohammad Khatami and his supporters in parliament.

The Tehran judiciary led a mass crackdown on dissent last year by closing more than 30 publications and imprisoning journalists and political activists.

Last week, more than 150 members of parliament signed a petition to the chief of judiciary demanding that the judicial apparatus respect citizens' rights.

Judicial officials have spurned such calls and pressed on with their campaign. A reformist member of parliament was briefly detained on Sunday for a critical remark he made in parliament.

The move alarmed many reformist deputies. Nasser Qavami, head of parliament's judicial committee, called on Sunday for an urgent bill to grant immunity to MPs against judicial action.

"We need to pass a law as soon as possible, or our deputies will face numerous problems given the current situation in the judiciary," IRNA quoted Qabami as saying. "The constitution clearly states that deputies can express their views freely".


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