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Iran Hard-Liners Thwart Speech

December 31, 2001

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TEHRAN, Iran (AP) _ Most people paid little attention when the gentleman from western Iran rose in parliament to denounce the hard-line judiciary as undemocratic. Hossein Loqmanian said nothing other reformists who control the legislature hadn’t said before.

The hard-liners, however, took special notice. Loqmanian was charged with ``insulting″ the courts. After more than a year of hearings and appeals, he was sent to prison Dec. 25 for 10 months. His colleagues fear he is only the first among them who will be jailed as hard-liners open a new front in the long war over the legacy of Iran’s 1979 Islamic revolution.

Since the case against Loqmanian began, three other reformist lawmakers have been hauled into court on similar charges. Two were convicted and their sentences upheld on appeal but they have not yet been taken to jail. The third awaits an appeals court decision.

``We simply cannot give in to illegal actions by a judiciary that is determined to trample the legal rights of the nation and their elected lawmakers,″ said one of the three, Mohammad Dadfar.

The appeals court has upheld a seven-month prison term against Dadfar, who represents the southern city of Bushehr, on charges he insulted authorities and spread lies. He said he was surprised he had not already been jailed.

``The main goal of the 1979 Islamic Revolution was freedom. We are fighting for the same cause now after the revolution. I don’t mind going to jail for speaking,″ Dadfar said.

Reformists want to ease Iran’s strict Islamic social codes and introduce Western-style political ideas, such as guaranteeing free expression. Their promises won them landslides in presidential elections in 1997 and 2001 and legislative elections in 2000.

The hard-liners, through the courts they dominate, have shut down liberal newspapers and jailed hundreds of reformist journalists, activists and students in the past two years on charges of insulting officials and religion.

Though Loqmanian’s case marks the first time a legislator has been sent to prison, a number of senior Iranian officials have been jailed after the judiciary found them guilty of corruption and opposing Iran’s clerical rule.

Reformist lawmaker Rajabali Mazrouei said his camp’s policy of ``respectfully″ calling on conservatives to respect popular will has been a failure.

``We need to involve the people themselves to get them to come forward and defend their rights themselves,″ Mazrouei said.

That can be a dangerous proposition. Police arrested at least four people in Hamedan, the jailed lawmaker’s hometown, on Sunday after more than 1,000 demonstrators took to the streets in support of Loqmanian, witnesses told The Associated Press.

Later Sunday, the judiciary issued a statement saying Loqmanian was jailed for calling the courts ``unjust,″ for describing journalists ``guilty of insulting Islamic sanctities″ as ``brave,″ and for denouncing the courts’ decision to close offending newspapers.

Loqmanian was sent to Evin Prison in northern Tehran. A stay at the prison has become almost a badge of honor for reformists.

``Evin is again getting a reputation of hosting men of the pen and knowledge,″ said his fellow lawmaker Dadfar.

Hard-liners draw their power from control of unelected institutions such as the Guardian Council, which oversees elections and pronounces on legislation; the courts; and police.

They also have the support of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the final say on all state matters. He tries to play a balancing role but has mostly sided with hard-liners.

Lawmakers ``don’t enjoy judicial immunity,″ the official Islamic Republic News Agency quoted the judiciary as saying in its statement about the Loqmanian case.

``Insult is a crime and courts shall investigate such crimes,″ the statement continued.

The parliament responded that legislative immunity was provided in the constitution to ``deter dictatorship,″ IRNA reported. Legislators also accused the judiciary of trying to ``practically close down the parliament.″

``We assure the Iranian nation that the parliament will use all its legal capacities to end arbitrary and irresponsible acts such as imprisonment of lawmakers,″ IRNA quoted a statement issued by the group as saying Sunday.

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