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Tuesday, 2 January, 2001, 18:32 GMT
Iran murder trial: Four confess
Police in Tehran
Foreign media have been barred from the military court
Four of the defendants on trial in Tehran for a series of murders of political dissidents and writers have made confessions in court.

Three of the accused admitted to carrying out some of the murders themselves, while a fourth man said he had supervised the killing of nationalist opposition leader Dariush Foruhar and his wife Parvaneh.

The confessions follow an admission by the principal suspect, Mostafa Kazemi, a former security chief, that he ordered the killings.

Five of the 18 people being tried have now admitted their involvement.

The authorities have blamed what they describe as rogue intelligence agents for the murders.

Correspondents say the murders have shocked Iranian society and undermined efforts by reformist president Mohammad Khatami to present a new image of Iran abroad.

Major scandal

In addition to Mr Forouhar and his wife, leading pro-reformist writers Mohammad Mokhtar and Mohammad Jafar Pouyandeh were also murdered.

President Khatami
President Khatami faces a delicate task in reforming Iran
The killings erupted into a major scandal when it was revealed that senior officials of the intelligence ministry were among the accused

The case has become a major element in the continuing struggle between hardliners and reformists within the Iranian clerical regime.

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

Reformers dissatisfied

The hearings are taking place behind closed doors for what officials describe as "reasons of national security".

Pro-reform demonstration
The case has come to symbolise the reformists struggle
This has angered pro-reform politicians who had hoped for an open hearing.

The families of the victims are also dissatisfied with the way the case is being handled, and have said they will boycott the proceedings.

Having been granted access to the files, 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.

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See also:

30 Nov 00 | Middle East
Iranian journalist names names
29 Nov 00 | Middle East
Iranian reformist trials to reopen
28 Nov 00 | Middle East
Iran bans popular youth title
09 Nov 00 | Middle East
Uproar as Iran judge accused
19 Jul 00 | Middle East
Iran timeline
20 Dec 00 | Country profiles
Country profile: Iran
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