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The law only protects them

What rule of law?
The one that only benefits conservatives

January 18, 2001
The Iranian

Mohammad Khatami's election as president nearly three years ago raised a lot of hope. For the first time a leading cleric promised reforms that would emphasize the democratic aspects of the 1979 revolution rather than its religious ones. Khatami also made"rule of law" his main campaign slogan.

But Saturday's stiff prison sentences against reformist journalists and intellectuals made it abundantly clear -- again -- that the rule of law has only benefited the ruling conservartives.

The judiciary, which takes its cue from Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, has closed down more than two dozen newspapers and magazines and jailed some of the staunchest supporters of reform -- all because they supposedly broke the law. What law? The law that says you cannot undermine the security of the state. Who determines that? Conservative judges who have declared a holy war on dissent.

Meanwhile, the parliament, where the reformists won a huge majority in last year's elections, has also become powerless in the face of opposition from the conservative-led Council of Guardians. Any bill with the slightest hint of reform is shot down by the council as unconstitutional or un-Islamic.

The conservatives have essentially hijacked Khatami's rule-of-law promise and turned it against his government and supporters. You can just hear the conservatives laughing at the reformists: "You want the rule of law? We'll give you the rule of law."

Reports from Iran and stories from travelers indicate that people are deeply disappointed at the recent turn of events. Many have become convinced that their votes which led to the election of a reformist president and parliament have meant virtually nothing.

The bad news for the conservatives is that suppressing peaceful and reasoned dissent will not put and end to the reform movement but will inevitably make it more radical and violent. People's desire for freedom and democracy will not go away by shutting down newspapers and jailing critics. It will only become stronger.

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