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Sunday, 26 November, 2000, 15:19 GMT Khatami laments limited powers

The young are fed up with the slow pace of change By Jim Muir in Tehran

The reformist Iranian President, Mohammad Khatami, has made his clearest expression yet of frustration at his inability to implement change and discharge his constitutional duties.

Mr Khatami said the powers of the president were not sufficient to enable him to prevent violations of the constitution.

The president was addressing a special commission set up to monitor implementation of the Iranian constitution with the focus on the highly topical issues of press and political crimes.

Mr Khatami said the heaviest burden borne by the president was his pledge to safeguard and carry out the constitution.

After three and a half years in office, he said, he felt obliged to announce that the presidency did not have sufficient powers to discharge that duty.

In practice, Mr Khatami said, he was unable to prevent violations of the constitution or to ensure compliance with it in cases where it was not being implemented.

Trials 'flawed'

The commission chairman had earlier issued a hard-hitting report in which he said the recent prosecutions of journalists and the closure of reformist newspapers were in breach of the constitution.

Addressing the issue of press and political crimes, President Khatami said that in line with the constitution such trials should be held in public.

A jury should decide on culpability, he said, while the judge should simply pass sentence.

In many of the recent political and press trials of reformist figures, the judge has played the role of both prosecutor and jury.


Mr Khatami's frustration at his limitations is more than shared by the millions of Iranians who voted him into office, especially the young.

Students meeting at a campus rally shortly after the president's speech chanted slogans condemning the conservative-dominated judiciary for its prosecution of the reformists.

While frustration is running high, student leaders continue to urge calm.

They argue that extremism and violence only play into the hands of hardliners striving to cling to power following their general election defeat in February.

President Khatami himself, dismayed at his inability to meet the hopes of his supporters, has yet to decide whether to stand for a second term of office in presidential elections next May.

Wednesday, 6 December, 2000, 16:56 GMT Khatami bemoans 'lack of power'

Students demand the release of jailed dissidents Iran's reformist president, Mohammad Khatami, has said he lacks sufficient power to do his job properly and guarantee the constitution.

Speaking to several thousand people celebrating Student Day in Tehran, Mr Khatami accused his hardline opponents of trying to cling to power at any expense.

He called on the students, who helped bring about his victory in the 1997 presidential elections, to stand firm against those who advocated violence.

It is the second time in less than three weeks that the president has bemoaned his impotence to to stop violations of the constitution.

Mr Khatami's term as president ends next year, and the BBC's Jim Muir in Tehran says it is thought he will run again.

'Unfair' trials

Holding pictures of Mr Khatami and of jailed dissidents, the students chanted slogans demanding the release of all political prisoners.

Many journalists and reformist figures have been jailed or prosecuted recently as part of what many see as a campaign to silence liberal voices.

Mr Khatami told the crowd that, as president, he could not interfere in the workings of the judiciary, which was independent.

He said that it was not for the students to judge whether the accused were innocent, but those being tried should have the right to a fair trial.

"Unfortunately, some press violations have been tried without jury," he said.

"When I see the law is broken I should be able to stop it immediately and send it for investigation. But I don't have this prerogative. I should have it to do my job properly," added Mr Khatami.

Mr Khatami urged the students not to allow themselves to become disappointed and demoralised.

In turn, they said they understood the problems he was up against.

Iran riots blamed on hardliners BBC Nov 2000

The disturbances went on for several days By Jim Muir in Tehran

The Iranian parliament has produced a report which largely blames hard-line Revolutionary Guards for several days of unrest in August in the western city of Khorramabad.

One security officer died and many other people were injured and the unrest led to sharp recriminations between reformists and hard-liners.

It is the third official report into the Khorramabad riots and like its predecessors, it highlights the rift within Iran's ruling circles between reformists and conservatives.

The report from the reformist-dominated parliament accuses Revolutionary Guard commanders of inciting their followers and ancillary Islamic volunteers to disrupt a student congress held in Khorramabad.

The parliamentary team said the clear participation of Revolutionary Guards and related elements on one side in the disturbances was one of the reasons why it took so long for the unrest to be brought under control.


The report called for numerous prosecutions of Guards commanders. It also blamed the local police commander for negligence and it accused the city's Friday Prayer leader of incitement too.

The violence broke out in Khorramabad after hard-line activists attacked the local airport to prevent two prominent reformist thinkers from addressing the student congress.

The unrest went on for five days, causing one death, many injuries and a great deal of damage.

One of the earlier reports, carried out on behalf of the conservative controlled judiciary, blamed reformist provincial officials and it exonerated elements of the Revolutionary Guards and the Islamic volunteers.

A second report by the National Security Council blamed the trouble on high national political tensions, but it concluded that Revolutionary Guards and volunteers had played a role.

The parliamentary report is sure to be rejected by the conservatives as biased and one-sided.

The new chamber, led by reformists since their general election victory in February, is already at odds with the conservative dominated Council of Guardians, which has to approve all legislation.

The Council recently rejected a parliamentary interpretation of the press laws, which now has to go to yet another constitutional body, the Expediency Council, for arbitration.

Wednesday, March 3, 1999 Published at 02:33 GMT

Iran's women show political muscle

Iranian President Mohammad Khatami's eldest sister was among the winners as moderate and female candidates performed well in the first nationwide local elections since the revolution.

In a major blow to the conservative clerical establishment Iranian reformists look certain to seize control of Tehran's city council.

Partial results give supporters of moderate President Mohammad Khatami at least 12 of the 15 seats, with independents likely to get the other three seats.

Results in several thousand small towns and villages have been published, but officials say those for the big cities will take several days. In the central desert town of Ardakan, the president's hometown, his sister Fatemeh Khatami, 61, came top in her contest winning 15,600 votes with the next candidate winning about 6,000 votes.

"All I can say is that I hope I will be able to serve the people," said the mother of six, a former local government adviser in women's affairs.

Election campaigning Tehran style

'Giant step'

Women made up 5,000 of 300,000 candidates running in last Friday's elections to city and village councils. Counting in some areas is still continuing with final results expected on Friday.

Women were reported to be front-runners in at least 20 cities with nearly all of them supporters of the president, who has encouraged women to play a bigger role in politics.

The top female vote winner in Tehran is Jamileh Kadivar in third place. She is a former adviser to President Khatami,

"Iranian society appears to want to give women the chance to prove themselves. Men have not done so well, and so people think `let's give the women a chance,"' she said .

Deputy Interior Minister Mostafa Tajzadeh, head of the electoral commission, described the vote as "a giant step towards participation in the country's public administration".

Forced out

Former Interior Minister Abdollah Nouri, who is leading the reformers, received the highest number of votes in the capital.

Mr Nouri was forced out of government last year because of his support for greater social, political and cultural freedom.

Hardliners had also tried but failed to disqualify him from running in Friday's landmark election.

The nationwide polls were introduced by Mr Khatami to help break the centralised grip of the conservative establishment.

State radio said about 25 million voters cast ballots - a 65% turnout.

In the holy city of Mashhad, the stronghold of influential conservative cleric Ayatollah Abbas Vaez-Tabasi, the four front- runners are independents, followed by reformers and conservatives, according to the Abrar newspaper.

Reports from central Isfahan, the most politicised city after Tehran, showed reformers leading by a wide margin.

Local journalists said pro-Khatami candidates were set to take seven of 11 city council seats, with the balance going to conservatives.

Wednesday, 23 February, 2000, 11:53 GMT Iranian women seek equality

Flyer for Jewish candidate Hilda Rabih-Zadeh

Three years ago, women voted in their millions for reformist President Mohammad Khatami. He in turn is now encouraging them to play a bigger role in politics.

A record 513 women stood in the 18 February polls. They made up about 7% of candidates nationwide, and nearly 15% in the capital Tehran.

''Until now, women's rights and sensitivities were derided in Iran and it is our role and our obligation to restore these rights," says one candidate, Vahideh Talaqani.

She is one of several women members of the pro-Khatami Islamic Iran Participation Front who are campaigning for equal pay and the abolition of forced marriages.

The restrictions imposed on women in Iran are less severe than in some of the Gulf Arab states, which bar women even from driving.

But the Islamic law in force since the 1979 revolution places women under male supervision and requires them to follow a strict dress code.

Over the past 20 years, the Iranian clergy have stressed the traditional family role of women and the majority of conservative clerics still believe men are superior to women.

This is evident in a number of religious and civil laws, which many women candidates are seeking to change.

For example, the value of a woman's life in Iran is half that of a man's in terms of blood money, and her testimony in court is also worth half that of a man.

A woman is rarely granted custody of children unless they are very young. And, if her husband dies, his father gains authority over the couple's assets.

'Bad treatment'

But President Khatami has said that, according to Islam, there is no difference between men and women.

And last year a senior cleric, Ayatollah Yosef Sanei, made headlines when he declared there should be nothing to stop a woman becoming president or even supreme religious leader - a post generally believed to be ordained by God.

Ayatollah Sanei said women's ''bad treatment'' since the Islamic Revolution contradicted the teachings of Islam.

And he said it was wrong not to allow women to become judges or to accept them as full witnesses in courts.

There were women judges before the revolution, but they were removed in 1979. In recent years they have been brought back, but so far only in an advisory capacity.

However, many commentators say women have made significant gains since the revolution, compared with life under the shahs.

Iranian women are generally well educated and more women now attend university than men.

They are gradually moving into male work spheres, such as the police force, and they have entered the government.

One of Iran's vice-presidents, Masoumeh Ebtekar, is a woman, and women held 14 of the 270 parliamentary seats before the general election.

Women candidates also did well in last year's local polls - the first since the revolution - winning the highest number of votes in 109 cities.

As in 1979, when they were in the vanguard of the street protests that toppled the Shah, Iran's women are once again playing a dominant role in the movement for change.

Tuesday, 1 August, 2000, 16:10 GMT 17:10 UK Iranian women to lead prayers

Iranian women play a central role in Iran's reformist movement Islamic religious leaders in Iran have lifted a ban on women leading prayers.

They will now be able to lead congregations of women worshippers for the first time.

The measure is intended to counter declining interest in Islam among young Iranians, particularly young women.

Until now only men have been allowed to lead congregational prayers in both the Sunni and Shiite Muslim traditions.

'Major development'

The religious decree, or fatwa, was issued by six senior clerics, or 'marjas' (sources of emulation in religious matters).

Women are to be allowed to lead congregations of women in prayer, particularly on Fridays, the main weekly communal prayer.

Ali Asghar Nuri, an Education Ministry official, said the hope is that the decree will encourage young women to join in prayers.

"The employment of women as leaders of Friday congregation prayers at the head of other women during prayers held at schools constitutes a major development," Mr Nuri told the Iranian news agency Irna.

Women's victory

The change in law and practice is being seen as a victory for women's movements in Iran, where the traditional male privileges in politics and in the clergy are being challenged.

Women have played a central role in recent years in the reformist movement that now dominates the Iranian parliament, and in the election of reformist president Mohammad Khatami in 1997.

Wednesday, September 8, 1999 Published at 09:44 GMT 10:44 UK

Iranian women get image boost

Iran's women have had a clearly-defined image since the Revolution

By Regional Analyst Pam O'Toole

The Iranian Ministry of Education says it is going to revise the way in which women are portrayed in primary school text books.

Education Minister Hussein Mozafar has said that texts for primary school pupils would be changed during the coming year, while those for older students would be revised over the next few years.

Mr Mozafar said he regretted the "lack of enough knowledge about women's capabilities" and vowed they would have a "thoroughly changed" image in classroom texts.

New image

The announcement is being regarded in Iran as an attempt by the government to respond to rising demands from women for greater rights and a change in the way they're portrayed in the official Islamic media.

Iran's women played an important part in the election of the reformist President Mohammad Khatami two years ago and since then have been striving for a more active role in public life.

Iranian women are well educated; in recent years more girls than boys have passed university entrance exams. In theory, at least, they can enter most professions, although some women complain of a so-called glass ceiling which makes it harder to reach the top positions.

More women than ever before have been elected to parliament and to local councils set up earlier this year. These representatives are becoming increasing vociferous about womens' rights.

But despite such advances, women are still usually portrayed in Iranian text books and films as the mothers, sisters or daughters of central male characters, or obeying the orders of male superiors at work.

Insufficient knowledge

Mr Mozafar has admitted there are too few senior women officials in his department, putting this down to what he described as insufficient knowledge about womens' capabilities.

Womens' activists will be hoping that a revision of the way women are represented in school text books could go some way to remedying this.

But Mr Mozafar has not specified what kind of changes he has in mind. And President Khatami's reformist government will be aware that any attempts to introduce a major change in the way women are portrayed could meet with strong resistance from Iran's conservative faction.

Wednesday, 18 October, 2000, 15:55 GMT 16:55 UK UN criticises Iran's human rights

President Khatami's reforms are being undermined By the BBC's Eurasia analyst Malcolm Haslett

Iran's human rights record is improving slightly, but this limited progress is being undermined by a serious clamp-down on the independent media, according to a United Nations report.

The findings, published by the UN's special investigator on Iran, Maurice Copithorne, highlight the disappearance and murder of intellectuals, journalists and politicians.

His report says that Iranian prisons remain full and executions are still "suspiciously high", and suggests there is growing evidence of the use of torture by law enforcement agencies.

However, Iran has denounced the report as one-sided. A foreign ministry spokesman says it is "an interference in Iran's internal affairs".

Mr Copithorne also criticises Iran's institutional framework, particularly the powerful Guardian Council, which he says is a major barrier to a more tolerant society.

Democracy 'growing'

The UN's special rapporteur on Iran, Maurice Copithorne has not been permitted into Iran since 1996.

An experienced Canadian lawyer, Mr Copithorne corresponds with the authorities in Teheran.

On the positive side he reports that "electoral democracy continues to grow".

In recent years Mr Copithorne has welcomed moves by President Khatami to make the government more accountable to citizens.

The parliamentary elections of February were a further important step in this direction, he said.

Disidents 'disappear'

But reformers face formidable opponents.

The most dramatic and far-reaching development this year, the UN special rapporteur says, is the accelerating attack on press freedom.

Mr Copithorne notes that almost the entire reformist press has been shut down.

A promised reform of the judiciary has also not got off the ground.

Mr Copithorne also deplores the fact that the disappearance and murder of prominent intellectuals and dissident politicians are not being properly investigated

This is giving credibility to the view that an open enquiry would lead to persons in high places, Mr Copithorne says.

Barrier to progress

The UN is particularly critical of the powerful Guardians Council, made up of senior clerics and lawyers, which is supposed to ensure strict adherence to the Islamic constitution

According to Mr Copithorne the unelected Council is known for its "capricious conduct".

In his opinion it represents a major obstacle to making the government more accountable to people.

Rejecting the UN's findings, Hamid Reza Asefi, of Iran's foreign ministry says they will be preparing a "detailed and substantive response" to the United Nations.

The report is "completely one-sided and has been prepared without considering the realities and the huge positive changes which have come with the stabilisation of the Islamic Republic of Iran," he said.

  Tuesday, 17 October, 2000, 07:31 GMT 08:31 UK

Rape and murder on rise   in Tehran 17 October, 2000

    Discrimination against   women is still rife in Iran   By Iranian affairs analyst Sadeq Saba   New statistics in Iran show an alarming increase in the number of rapes and murders in the capital Tehran.   A government newspaper,   Iran, has reported that   in the past six months alone 30 women have been   victims of rape.   The official Iranian news agency, IRNA, has also reported that two men have been hanged in public in the holy city of Qom for abducting and raping underage girls. The evidence is a huge embarrassment for Iran's Islamic authorities. The new statistics suggest that in every six days a woman in Tehran is raped and murdered. Young victims The Iran newspaper says that most of the 30 months were between 25 and 35 years old. The youngest victim was a 15-year-old girl who was apparently gang-raped and her mutilated body was then left on the outskirts of Tehran. The faces of all the victims were burned to conceal their identity.

The paper said the victims were mostly runaway girls who fell victim to criminal gangs.

It cited police statistics saying the number of runaways in the capital had risen 30% in the past year, with more than 900 girls being arrested. Police say that most of them were 16 to 17-years-old.


Experts told the paper that one of the main reasons for the higher number of female runaways was discrimination against girls in Iranian households.

It is also believed that many girls who take to the streets are victims of violence at home.

The crisis is so acute in Tehran that the authorities have recently established a safe home for runaway girls.

The Iran paper gave no figures about the number of rape victims in other Iranian cities. But Iranian officials have expressed grave concern in recent months over a rapid rise in prostitution and suicide among women.

Apr 98 Political Football changes the Face of Iran Christopher Dickey N Z Herald

TEHERAN - Her hair is partly hidden by a scarf. A long, dark wrap comers most of the rest of her body, but her cowboy boots still show, and when she crosses her legs, you see she is wearing jeans. Tahmineh Milani aged 37, is a modern woman of Iran. She directs movies. She chain-smokes Marlboro Lights. And she loves football. Her weary features take on a whole new life when she talks about the day last November when Iran's national team qualified for the World Cup drawing 2-2 with Australia: in Melbourne and the whole country went wild. For the better part of 24 hours, Teheran was gridfocked with celebrations. Women ripped off their veils, and the religious thugs who nornally try to intimidate them were begging them to put the scarves back on. Men poured bootleg in paper cups for passers- by. Teenagers danced in the streets. "The Government here is always turning towards sadness, turning towards grief" said Milani. But the vast majority of Iran's people are young, 54% under 18, 65% under 25. "They are waiting for moments of joy" says the director "and there was so much joy that and nothing could contain it." Twenty years after Ayatollah Khomeini brought his Islamic Revolution to Iran,a demographic and cultural tidal wave is hitting the regime he left behind.

President Mohammad Khatami, 55, has clearly benefitted from the change. His pledge to modernise Iran by replacing religious zealotry with the rule of law won him more than 70 per cent of the vote in last year's presidential elections. Mr. Khatami and his allies are reformers, not revolutionaries. They do not want to throw their Islamic system away altogether. But already he has engaged the United States in an unprecedented exchange of conciliatory gestures. And he is winning some rounds in his struggle with hardliners led by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the "supreme leader' and political heir to Khomeini. Last week Mr Khatami chalked up another victory. His ally Gholamhossein Karabaschi, the Mayor of Teheran, was jailed by conservatives on charges of graft. As angry young demonstrators took to the streets, Mr Khatami negotiated a quiet compromise. The mayor was freed on bail. Some educated Iranians already call Mr Khatami Iran's Mikhail Gorbachev. His efforts to promote openness and restructuring, they predict, may unleash forces that could destroy Khomeini's brand of dictatorship. "If you'll excuse the cliche," says literary translator Goli Emami, "it's impossible to put this genie back in the bottle." A more apt analogy might be to the Prague Spring. Today's revolution, if it can be called that, is being made not at the barricades but at the box offices of movie theatres and in the bleachers of sports stadiums. Women, despite their Government-imposed garb, are also more empowered and more present in the workplace than ever in Iranian history.

Wednesday, 13 December, 2000, 19:23 GMT New clampdown on Iranian journalist

Mr Behnoud (centre) is awaiting the court's verdict By Jim Muir in Tehran

A leading Iranian journalist, Massoud Behnoud, has appeared in court in Tehran accused of disturbing public opinion and spreading lies and propaganda against the Islamic system.

Mr Behnoud, who was a regular contributor to the BBC World Service, was also accused of gathering news and information for the BBC's Farsi programme, which the prosecutor said had made the Islamic revolution the target of biased propaganda.

He is the latest of many reform-minded journalists to be prosecuted in a press crack-down that has seen more than 30 liberal newspapers closed in recent months.

The prosecution also allege that drugs and alcohol were found at Mr Behnoud's house, although he denies any knowledge of banned substances.

Press court

Mr Behnoud, who has more than 35 years' experience as a journalist, rejected all the charges against him, but expressed regret that his writings had caused offence.

He has been in prison since his arrest in August.

The bulk of the charges relate to articles Mr Behnoud wrote in the Iranian press, in which he was deemed to have been undermining the Islamic system.

Ali Khamenei

Press crack-down

He and his lawyer argued that such charges should have been brought before a special press court with a jury, but the judge in this public court rejected that line of defence.

The case has been concluded, and the verdict should be delivered within a week.

Mr Behnoud is the latest in a long line of pro-reform journalists to be hauled before the courts, which are widely seen here as operating under the influence of hard-line conservatives.

Several journalists have been sentenced to lengthy jail terms, while more than 30 newspapers have been shut down in a display of right-wing power over the past few months.

Sunday, 17 December, 2000, 22:18 GMT Iranian reformists arrested

Iran's supreme leader is currently above the constitution By Jim Muir in Tehran

Two more prominent reformist figures, Izzatollah Sahabi, a veteran opposition politician, and Ali Afshari, a student leader, have been arrested in Iran.

They were taken into custody after being summoned to a Revolutionary Court in Tehran for remarks they made at a recent student gathering.

The arrests are the latest in a series of moves against reformist targets by the hardline judiciary.

Izzatollah Sahabi said recently that he would welcome being put in jail.

He believed that political life in Iran was currently so restricted that reformist figures could have more impact on the public by being imprisoned than they could at liberty.

The judge at the revolutionary court questioned the two men, then ordered their arrest on charges of insulting the Islamic system.

At the student meeting Mr Sahabi had said that a system based on political repression could not last for long.

Referendum demanded

Mr Afshari had called for a referendum to be held on the right-wing interpretation that regards the position of the Supreme Leader as being above the constitution.

The judiciary reains dominated by hardline conservatives, despite their defeat in the general elections held in February.

Mr Sahabi is currently the subject of no fewer than four separate prosecutions.

Reformists on trial

One for a recently banned publication that he ran and another for taking part in a controversial conference in Berlin in April, for which a number of leading reformists are currently on trial.

Among other people recently arrested is Nasser Zarafshan.

He's the lawyer for some of the families of dissident writers and intellectuals who were murdered in a series of killings two years ago.

It emerged that the murders involved senior officials in the intelligence ministry.

Eighteen people have been charged; their trial is to begin next Saturday.

Thursday, 14 December, 2000, 20:25 GMT Senior reformer quits in Iran

Mohajerani submitted his resignation in April Iran's President Khatami has accepted the resignation of his Culture Minister, Ataollah Mohajerani, who has been a leading figure in the country's reformist movement.

Mr Mohajerani had been fiercely criticised by conservatives who accused him of encouraging an erosion of moral standards.

He offered his resignation some months ago, but the president initially refused to accept it.

In his resignation letter, Mr Mohajerani did not spell out the reasons for his move, saying only that requirements in the field of culture and the arts had made it impossible and inappropriate for him to continue in the job.

Mr Khatami has now given Mr Mohajerani the post of chairman of the Organisation for Dialogue of Civilisations - a body he set up to promote his call for international peace and understanding.

State television said he had appointed Mr Mohajerani's deputy, Ahmad Masjed-Jamei, to replace him.

Last week, in an address to students in Tehran, President Khatami confirmed that Mr Mohajerani - whom he described as a dear friend - had offered his resignation but said the situation was still under review.

Liberal press

Mr Mohajerani is widely credited by reformists for the flourishing of an outspoken liberal press, which has been largely stifled by Iran's right-wing judiciary in recent months.

The BBC's Jim Muir in Tehran says it was well known that the minister had incurred the displeasure of the country's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Mr Khamenei gave the green light in April for a crackdown on the press, which saw more than 30 pro-reform publications banned.

Reports say Mr Mohajerani's new post will give him the opportunity to deal more with culture than politics.

He has frequently emphasised that the government should create an environment in which artists and writers can develop their creativity.

Friday, 22 December, 2000, 21:13 GMT Dissident murder trial to start in Iran

The trial is one of President Khatami's main successes By Jim Muir in Tehran

Iran is preparing for the opening on Saturday of the trial of 17 people accused of carrying out a series of murders of dissident writers and intellectuals two years ago.

The killings erupted into a major scandal when it was revealed that senior officials of the intelligence ministry were involved; they are among the accused.

The serial murders have been a major element in the continuing struggle between hardliners and reformists within the Iranian clerical regime.

There is no doubt that the exposure of official invovement in the serial killings has been one of the biggest achievements, perhaps the biggest, of the reformist Iranian president, Mohammed Khatami.

Ministry reformed

When, in January last year, the intelligence ministry suddenly came out with a bombshell announcement admitting that some of its officials had instigated the murders, that statement did not come out of the blue.

It was the product of enormous pressures exerted behind the scenes by Mr Khatami and his supporters.

A month later - again at President Khatami's insistence - the minister of intelligence resigned.

Since then the ministry itself, once an unquestioned bastion of hardline power, has undergone many changes.

It is now regarded as being virtually in the reformist camp.

The whole affair of the serial murders has in general played to the benefit of the reformists.

But that by no means implies that it has tilted the balance decisively in their favour.

Even as far as the killings case itself is concerned, they have not had it all their own way.

Reformists disappointed

Many reformists have been pressing for a complete and thorough investigation of all the roots of the scandal, however high and however far back they may go.

But so far they have been disappointed.

Reformist journalists who have been exposing the case are in jail; so too is one of the lawyers for the victims' families.

In other areas of the struggle the reformists have suffered major setbacks, as the entrenched hardliners strike back after their general election defeat in February.

The reformists may have populist support, but they have yet to succeed in dislodging the grip the hardliners have on many key areas of the power structure.

Saturday, 23 December, 2000, 16:29 GMT Three held in Iran murder trial

Foreign media were moved from the trial location An Iranian court trying a landmark case against 17 people accused of carrying out a series of murders of dissident intellectuals has ordered three defendants to be detained in jail.

The court also ordered that the entire trial would be conducted behind closed doors, citing "reasons of national security". Pro-reform politicians had hoped for an open hearing.

The killings, which took place two years ago, erupted into a major scandal when it was revealed that senior officials of the intelligence ministry were among the accused.

The murders have been a major element in the continuing struggle between hardliners and reformists within the Iranian clerical regime.

Victims included the Nationalist politicians Dariush and Parvaneh Forouhar, who were knifed to death in their home, and writers Mohammad Mokhtar and Mohammad Jafar Pouyandeh.

Two men accused of masterminding the killings are already in prison. The 12 other suspects, accused of being accessories to the crime, were released on bail.

Another of the alleged masterminds behind the killings - Said Emami - reportedly killed himself last year by drinking a bottle of hair remover in prison.

Only three of the defendants have been publicly named. They are former officials of the Intelligence Ministry, including two heads of department.

When the session at the Armed Forces Court in the centre of Tehran ended, officials said the trial had been adjourned until Monday.

The BBC's Jim Muir in Tehran says the exposure of official invovement in the killings has been one of the biggest achievements of reformist President Mohammed Khatami.

Ministry reformed

The announcement by the intelligence ministry in January last year that some of its officials had instigated the murders was the product of enormous pressure exerted behind the scenes by Mr Khatami and his supporters.

A month later - again at President Khatami's insistence - the minister of intelligence resigned.

Since then the ministry itself - once an unquestioned bastion of hardline power - has undergone many changes.

It is now regarded as being virtually in the reformist camp.

The whole affair of the serial murders has played to the benefit of the reformists. But they have not had it all their own way.

Reformists disappointed

The families of the victims are not satisfied with the way the case is being handled, and have said they will boycott the proceedings.

They say the prosecution case is flawed, omitting some key testimonies and leaving many important questions unaddressed - not least that of ultimate responsibility for the murders.

Many reformists have been pressing for a complete and thorough investigation of all the roots of the scandal, however high and however far back they may go.

But so far they have been disappointed.

Reformist journalists who have been exposing the case are in jail. So too is one of the lawyers for the victims' families.

In other areas of the struggle the reformists have suffered major setbacks, as the entrenched hardliners strike back after their general election defeat in February.

Saturday, 13 January, 2001, 19:01 GMT Iranian reformers jailed

Akbar Ganji is one of Iran's leading investigative journalists A court in Iran has imposed heavy prison sentences on a number of reformist intellectuals who attended a controversial conference on the country's future in Berlin last year.

Seven of the 17 defendants, including prominent campaigning journalist Akbar Ganji, were given prison sentences of between four and 10 years.

The sentences have provoked a strong reaction in Germany, with reports that Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder has cancelled a trip to Iran.

The Iranian ambassador has also reportedly been summoned for a meeting with German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer.

The Berlin conference was organised by the Heinrich Boell foundation, which has strong links with the German Green Party.

Conservative backlash

Its disruption by exiled opposition activists was seen as a direct challenge to the Islamic constitution by hardliners in Tehran.

The academics, translators and journalists were charged with undermining national security and making propaganda against the Islamic system.

Iranian conservatives were angered when state television showed footage of the protests, which included a man removing his clothes and a woman dancing with bare arms.

BBC Tehran correspondent Jim Muir says the sentences were harsher than expected and are bound to cause outrage among reformists and deep concern in diplomatic circles.


Three of the accused received particularly severe punishment.

Mr Ganji, who has made powerful enemies by his exposure of the killings of dissident writers and intellectuals by elements within the regime, was given 10 years' imprisonment and five years' internal exile.

A translator at the German embassy, Saeed Sadr, was also given a 10-year prison sentence, while another translator Khalil Rostamkhani was given nine years in jail.

A student leader, Ali Afshari, was given five years' imprisonment and an opposition leader, Izzatollah Sahabi, was jailed for four-and-a-half years.

Feminists jailed

Two prominent and internationally known feminists, the lawyer Mehrangis Kar and the publisher Shahla Lahiji, received four year jail terms.

Others were given suspended jail sentences or fines, while six defendants were acquitted. The convicted have 20 days to lodge an appeal.

Another of the accused, liberal cleric Hassan Yousefi-Eshkevari, is being dealt with by a special religious court.

The case has been condemned as medieval by Iranian reformist groups and criticised by international human rights organisations. Saturday, 13 January, 2001, 08:58 GMT

Conference that created a furore

The conference debacle was a gift to anti-reformists The Berlin conference in April which has led to the conviction of a number of Iranian reformists was intended to be a serious examination of the situation in Iran.

Iranian reformists had scored a sweeping victory in general elections two months earlier.

A number of prominent journalists and intellectuals travelled from Tehran to take part in the meeting, which was sponsored by a foundation associated with the German Green Party.

But the opening session was noisily disrupted by Iranian exiles believed to be from a radical communist faction.

The conference broke up in disarray when the opposition exiles refused to stay quiet even after they had been allowed to have their say.

To make matters worse, one woman dressed indecently by Islamic standards started performing a provocative Oriental dance.

Strip protests

Later, another woman stripped to her underwear while a man took all his clothes off.

These images and the speeches made by hecklers, in which they attacked the Islamic system, caused uproar after their broadcast by Iranian state television two days later.

More than 140 members of the Iranian parliament denounced the 'Iran after February election' conference as "counter-revolutionary" and insulting to the Iranian nation.

They accused them of advocating "US-style reforms" and called on the Iranian judiciary to bring to justice those Iranians who went to Berlin to attend the conference.

Right-wing newspapers accused them of treason for consorting with the enemies of the regime, and a hardline cleric was quoted as demanding their death for "undermining Iran's revolutionary principles".

Arrests followed, and seven of the 17 people put on trial have now been jailed.

Reformists embarrassed

Reformists themselves, clearly embarrassed by the affair, were outraged by the broadcast.

They accused state television, which is controlled by conservatives, of trying to create conditions which would make it impossible for the new reformist-dominated parliament to do its work.

The Islamic Revolution Mojahideen Organization, one of the leading reformist groups, said that the hardliners were "seeking to justify an anti-reform coup".

Moderate President Mohammad Khatami and his allies want to loosen the strict Islamic laws and social restrictions that have been in place since the 1979 Islamic revolution brought the Shiite clergy to power.

The most visible sign of his reform programme has been the emergence of an outspoken press that has questioned the actions of the hardliners.

But a number of newspapers have been shut down on the orders of courts controlled by conservative clerics, and attempts to change the restrictive press law have not been successful.

Friday, 9 February, 2001, 15:58 GMT Police disperse Tehran demo

Protests have been staged in other towns More than 20 anti-government protesters are reported injured and 100 arrested after clashes with Iranian riot police in a Tehran park.

About 3,000 Iranians had gathered in Mellat Park and were chanting anti-government slogans before police intervened, the French news agency AFP reported.

Armed police fired warning shots and tear gas and beat some protesters with clubs after protesters chanted and held banners reading "We are against the Islamic Regime," and calling for freedom of expression.

The demonstration came as Iran was holding 10 days of celebrations to mark the 22nd anniversary of the revolution that overthrew the Western-backed Shah.

Several protesters who fled the area were beaten by police on nearby roads, witnesses said.

Large contingents of the Basiji Islamic militia and riot police had been posted at Mellat Park before the gathering, which had been called by exiled opposition groups.

Baton-wielding militiamen charged at the crowd, dragging many protesters behind police lines where they were beaten before being herded onto buses, Reuters reported.

Hardline backlash

The demonstrators chanted for freedom of thought and shouted their opposition to Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

The crowd booed when Basiji members shouted slogans supporting the Ayatollah: "Khamenei is the leader, an heir to the Prophet Mohammad."

A number of student leaders and pro-democracy activists have been jailed and more than 30 newspapers banned in the past year, in a hardline backlash against President Mohammad Khatami's liberal reforms.

The campaign has pushed Mr Khatami and his reform programme to the sidelines, leaving many young people, one of the driving forces behind his 1997 landslide election, disenchanted.

The park where the protest was staged is a popular place for outings by Tehran residents on Fridays, the Muslim holy day.

More protests

Demonstrations also took place on Friday morning in the western cities of Urumieh and Qazvin and the eastern city of Bojnurd, during which several people were injured, AFP reported.

Witnesses also said there had been two powerful explosions in the Mellat Park area on Thursday night.

However there has been no official comment on the blasts, and no claim of responsibility.

The Iranian news agency IRNA confirmed that police had dispersed the demonstration which it said involved 300 mostly young protesters demanding greater freedom of expression.

"Some opposition groups outside the country had previously called on their supporters to stage demonstrations against the Islamic Republic of Iran today," IRNA added.

Armed opposition

Its report did not mention any casualties or arrests.

An Iranian armed opposition group, the People's Mujahedeen, said that thousands had demonstrated in Urumieh, with police arresting dozens, AFP reported.

The group said that revolutionary guards had used "truncheons, knuckle-dusters, nail-studded whips and chains" on protesters in Tehran.

AFP said that a spokesman for the group also said that it had killed or wounded a number of government troops on Thursday in attacks on Ilam, near the Iraqi border, and again in attacks on Friday morning, with "enemy" installations and fortifications suffering heavy damage.

Saturday, 10 February, 2001, 17:08 GMT Khatami attacks hardliners

Tens of thousands attend Khatami's speech in Tehran Iranian President Mohammad Khatami has marked the anniversary of the 1979 Islamic revolution with an attack on religious hardliners who he said were attempting to impose their own interpretation of Islamic rule on the country.

"It is immoral to misrepresent Islam, the revolution and the Islamic Republic," he told tens of thousands of people in Tehran.

Fresh unrest broke out in the capital as he spoke. Security forces clashed with anti-government protesters and arrested a further 50 people in a second day of unrest.

Mr Khatami said religion and freedom should not oppose each other and accused conservative forces of working against the wishes of the people.

"The commandeering of this revolution and religion to the benefit of parochial and dark views which oppose the interests of the people is immoral," he said.

"They have declared that anyone who disagrees with this parochial and dark viewpoint should be crushed and destroyed."


Mr Khatami said the establishment of the Islamic Republic, which overthrew the pro-western Shah, led to the end of the subjugation of the people of Iran but also to the right of the people to determine their own government.

"Under the meaning of the Islamic Republic, our understanding of the government is that it must be answerable to the people."

Mr Khatami's reform policies have come under increasing pressure from conservative hardliners.

More than 25 pro-reform newspapers have been closed down and many leading liberal activists have been imprisoned.

Some 100 protesters, mainly students calling for more freedom of expression, were reportedly attacked by security forces as President Khatami addressed the masses in the capital.

On Friday, riot police in Tehran broke up a rare anti-government demonstration by several hundred people urging greater freedom of speech. Friday's rally was called by Iranian dissident groups based abroad and took place in Tehran's largest park.

Witnesses said the police and members of the hardline paramilitary Basij volunteer forces beat up people, some of whom were unwittingly caught up in the clash.

Other demonstrations were also reported in the western cities of Urumieh and Qazvin and the eastern city of Bojnurd.

The official Iranian news agency IRNA says three to four hundred people took part in the Tehran rally and that 50 were arrested. It denied reports that some of the demonstrators were injured.

Monday, 12 February, 2001, 17:42 GMT Khatami warns hardliners

President Khatami's reforms are under threat Iran's reformist President Mohammad Khatami has issued a tough warning to conservative forces in country, saying that security could get out of control if the people were deceived.

Mr Khatami said the biggest danger threatening Iranian society was misuse of power by the establishment.

Durable stability could only be achieved, he said, if the establishment recognised differences of opinion.

Mr Khatami's comments reflect an ongoing power struggle with hard-line factions, which have used the judiciary and the military to curb his plans to ease social and political restrictions.

'Narrow concepts'

Addressing the conference on public security and national unity at the Interior Ministry, Mr Khatami thanked the Iranian people for "tolerating pressures and organised attempts to disappoint" them.

He said: "There are those... who accept no change.

"Their God is their narrow and dark concepts that fight all the people's demands in the name of religion.

"We should be worried that, God forbid, one day our people will feel the authorities are not meeting their real demands and that dirty hands have succeeded in disappointing them and thus alienating them.

"Under such circumstances, no military, security or judicial power will be able to save the country."

Conservative backlash

The hardliners control key, unelected institutions, including the judiciary, broadcast networks, the military and police.

Since losing power in parliament a year ago, conservatives have tried to reassert their power by closing reformist newspapers and jailing prominent reformists and journalists.

On Saturday, Mr Khatami also used an address to thousands of people celebrating the anniversary of the Islamic revolution to attack hardliners who, he said, sought to "misrepresent Islam".

But unrest broke out in the capital as he spoke, with clashes between security forces and students seeking greater freedom of expression.

First Local Elections in 2500 years NZ Herald 1999

Iranians voted yesterday in the first local elections in the country's 2500 year history as a part of a package of reforms to create a civil society within the existing Islamic system. Election officials said 39 million Iranians aged 15 and up were elibible to voite at more than 52,000 polling stations involving more than 300,000 hopefuls contesting 197,000 seats in town city and village councils. Moderate president Khatami and his colleagues are looking to the vote to help break the grip of the conservative clerical establishment.