Criticism mounting against powerful Iranian religious
TEHRAN, March 8 (AFP) - Reformers stepped up the pressure on Iran's
special religious court Monday amid growing public anger at one of the
Islamic regime's most hardline institutions.
A reformist MP lashed out at Iran's all-powerful Special Court for Clergy
(SCC) over its arrest of liberal cleric Mohsen Kadivar, who is increasingly
being seen here as a political prisoner in a case that has sparked public
demonstrations and widespread outrage.
"No one should be arrested for expressing his opinion," Qodratollah
Nazarinia told the English-language Iran Daily.
"If there are any additional charges pending against Kadivar, the
SCC must notify the public," he said.
Even conservative MP Ali Moalemi agreed that the SCC had failed to give
a satisfactory explanation why Kadivar, a leading figure among Iran's reformers,
had been jailed by order of the court last month.
"The SCC must provide proper explanations as to the reasons for
Kadivar's arrest," he said.
Nazarinia stressed that the Iranian public have come to see Kadivar
as a political prisoner being detained for his dissident speeches against
the Islamic regime.
The vigorous debate over his arrest, a daily staple of newspapers here,
marks a new freedom to criticise the Islamic regime under reformist President
Mohammad Khatami, whose supporters handily defeated conservatives in last
month's first-ever municipal elections here.
But the vague official statements about Kadivar's detention are signs
that the hardline court, which operates behind closed doors and independently
of the judiciary, has yet to embrace the spirit of democracy and openness
that has marked Khatami's reformist agenda.
Nearly every day contradictory reports emerge in the press over Kandivar's
detention and whether or not he will be allowed to hire a defence attorney.
The moderate Zan paper on Monday said Kadivar was due to be released
in the next few days, citing parliamentary sources.
The pro-government newspaper Iran said Sunday that the trial had been
postponed because Kadivar had insisted on hiring a private lawyer.
Conservative judiciary chief Ayatollah Mohammad Yazdi told reporters
last week that it was too early to comment on Kadivar's case because the
investigation was not yet completed and the charges still not known.
But the SCC itself said Saturday that Kadivar had been arrested for
"spreading false information and propaganda hostile to the regime."
Yet critics insist the liberal cleric, who has been fiercely critical
of the Islamic regime, is being held simply for his dissident views.
Kadivar was arrested for "seeking freedom and fighting against
the political power monopoly," said Akbar Ganji, another prominent
liberal whose own newspaper was banned by the regime.
He taunted authorities by saying he was guilty of the same "crimes"
himself and should be arrested, the Khordad newspaper reported last week.
The pro-government Jahan-e-Islam paper said Sunday that even if the
SCC comes forward to announce charges, it will be "too late"
because the Iranian public already believes Kadivar is a political prisoner.
On Sunday several hundred students demonstrated in Tehran over Kadivar's
arrest, defying calls from the jailed critic's family to postpone the rally
over fears of violence.
The students chanted "Kadivar must be released" and "Death
to the monopoly," a reference to the regime's hardliners.
The public criticism is unprecedented for the SCC, established in 1985
by the Islamic republic's founder, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.
The court is charged with trying cases involving the Islamic regime's
clerics and has in the past been well above any public condemnation.
But along with reports on the case, newspapers here have been full of
often dense arguments about the court's legitimacy -- something unthinkable
before Khatami's 1997 election.
Some 200 journalists signed a petition saying Kadivar's arrest was an
unconstitutional "offense" to Iran's writers and intellectuals
and the streets of Tehran have been plastered with thousands of pro-Kadivar
The SCC has said typically little about the uproar, though on Saturday
the Iran paper cited a court representative who perhaps best summed up
its powerful and unclear ways.
"Ordinary people lack the knowledge to differentiate between what
is permissible and what is not," he said.