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Liberal Iranian cleric sentenced to 18 months in prison

TEHRAN, April 21 (AFP) - Mohsen Kadivar, a liberal cleric charged with spreading propaganda hostile to Iran's Islamic regime, has been sentenced to 18 months in prison, his lawyer announced Wednesday.

Hossein Musavi Tabrizi told the official IRNA news agency that Kadivar, who is close to reformist President Mohammad Khatami, had been sentenced to prison by the hardline Special Court for Clergy.

Tabrizi said he will disclose details of the sentence later and noted that it can be appealed within the next 20 days.

Kadivar, considered a leading light of the reform movement in Iran, was detained in February for writing a number of articles calling for political life in the Islamic Republic to have more autonomy from religion.

A cleric and university professor opposed to the religious hardliners, he vigorously rejected last Wednesday the charges laid against him by the court during the only session of his trial.

He denied he was an "enemy of the state," charged that his trial was unconstitutional and said the court was not competent to try his case.

"Investigation into political and press offenses must be carried out in the presence of a jury and by a qualified court of the judiciary. The Special Court for Clergy is not a part of the judiciary," Kadivar said.

But Mohammad Salimi, head of the court, shot back that the charges against Kadivar were "not political or press offenses."

The special court, which operates independently of the judiciary and almost always behind closed doors, has been heavily criticised over the arrest, which sparked demonstrations nationwide.

The special court was created in 1985 by the leader of the Islamic Revolution, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomenei.

In an unusual move, members of Kadivar's family and several journalists were allowed to attend last week's court session.

Some 200 journalists signed a petition saying Kadivar's arrest was unconstitutional and an "offense" against Iran's writers and intellectuals, while the streets of Tehran were plastered with pro-Kadivar posters.

His trial came amid a new and fierce offensive launched by the powerful conservative faction against supporters of President Khatami and moderate newspapers.

Khatami on Thursday insisted that freedom of thought and expression was "a must" for society, even as supreme guide Ayatollah Ali Khamenei warned against "the enemies inside" whom he said were more dangerous than those abroad.


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