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Iranian conservatives step up attacks on reformers

TEHRAN, April 22 (AFP) - An impeachment bill against a key minister, pressure on the press, the jailing of a liberal cleric -- these are just the latest attacks on Iran's reform movement by the conservative regime.

Political tensions, already high for several weeks, reached a new crescendo Wednesday with the submission to parliament of a censure motion against Culture Minister Ataollah Mohajerani.

The minister and government spokesman, who is close to reformist President Mohammad Khatami, is responsible for much of the relaxation of press and artistic restrictions in Iran over the past two years.

Mohajerani was given 10 days to explain himself to parliament and to solicit a new vote of confidence.

The conservative-dominated parliament is critical of his supervision of the press and growth of "vulgar movies" during his term in office, according to the official IRNA news agency.

His alleged sins also include "encouraging establishment of relations with the United States ... harming the national unity ... and insult against various institutions," IRNA said.

Last year the same parliament cast out another Khatami lieutenant, interior minister Abdollah Nuri, who was stripped of his duties for having "increased insecurity" in the country.

The 31 parliamentarians supporting the Mohajerani censure motion accuse the minister of "closing his eyes to subversive activities" by the press.

They singled out certain publications "which blatantly propagandize monarchy, corruption and prostitution," while attacking the "revolution, the Islamic republic and its fundamental principles."

Above all, he allowed moderation newspapers to promote the resumption of relations with the United States, they said.

Some of the charges refer to the case of Faezeh Hashemi, an MP and daughter of former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, whose moderate Zan newspaper was suspended two weeks ago for publishing a new year's message from ex-empress Farah Diba.

In another blow to reformers Wednesday, liberal cleric and university professor Mohsen Kadivar was sentenced to 18 months in prison by a special, ultra-conservative clerical court.

Kadivar, who was convicted of spreading propaganda hostile to Iran's Islamic regime, is considered a leading light of the reform movement in Iran.

He was detained in February for writing a number of articles calling for political life in the Islamic republic to have more autonomy from religion. Kadivar, who is Mohajerani's brother-in-law, vigorously last week the charges laid against him by the court during the only session of his trial.

However, the judiciary, like parliament, is run by conservatives.

Parliament also decided in principle to remove the influential, pro-Khatami Hamshahri newspaper from the direct control of Tehran's liberal city hall, paving the way for a possible takeover by conservatives.

Meanwhile, former Tehran mayor and reformer Gholamhossein Karbaschi filed a fresh request Wednesday for a review of his corruption trial, which would mean a suspension of his two-year sentence, said his lawyer Bahman Keshavarz.

The supreme court rejected a previous appeal Tuesday, but he remains free under judicial supervision for now.

The conservatives, who rely on the strict positions taken by Iran's supreme guide, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, have said recently that the "internal enemy" is more dangerous than any adversary abroad.

Iran's moderate president, who has been trying to swim against the conservative tide, called Saturday for "freedom of opposition" so long as it remains within the framework of the law and respect for religious values.


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