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Journalists Demonstrate in Iran

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) Apr. 12 -- Journalists protested Wednesday against the jailing of a leading liberal newspaper's editor-in-chief on charges of insulting Islam, while some 400 people demonstrated against the annulment of reformists' election victories in their towns by a hard-line body.

An appeals court on Monday upheld the conviction of Mahmoud Shams, editor-in-chief of the daily Asr-e-Azadegan, but reduced his prison term by six months to 2 1/2 years. Shams, who had been out on bail during the appeal, immediately began serving the sentence.

Shams was a leading voice for press freedoms amid the power struggle between reformists led by President Mohamad Khatami and hard-liners in the ruling clergy in Iran's Islamic government.

``If the conservatives think they can solve their problems through arresting and jailing journalists, we are ready to be taken to jail so that their problem is resolved,'' leading reformist writer, Abbass Abdi, said at a protest by 200 journalists in the paper's offices in Tehran.

Shams, who is also known as Mashallah Shamsolvaezin, was tried on charges of insulting religious sanctities in articles he published last year in the now-banned Neshat daily.

In Feburary elections, the reformists won control of the parliament from hard-liners for the first time since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Hard-liners, however, still control important government bodies, including the Guardians Council, which must approve all laws and has authority of elections.

Residents from the towns of Khalkhal in northwest Iran and Damavand in the suburbs of Tehran staged two separate protests outside the Interior Ministry after the Guardians Council last week canceled the election victories of Khatami allies in the towns.

Carrying placards denouncing the council, some 200 residents of Khalkhal gathered in the morning to protest the decision to cancel the election of reformist Keikavous Khaknejad and award the seat to Mottahar Kazemi, a hard-liner. The council said Khaknejad won through intimidation and vote buying.

In two earlier protests in Khalkhal itself, demonstrators hurled stones at government buildings and public buses. At least 10 buses were damaged and scores of windows were smashed.

Another 200 residents of Damavand gathered in front of the Interior Ministry in the afternoon, some of them shouting, ``Guardians Council, give back our votes.''

The council canceled the results and ordered a revote in the town without explanation.


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