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Last Updated: Wednesday, 16 July, 2003, 18:49 GMT 19:49 UK
Iran probes journalist crackdown

By Pam O'Toole
BBC regional analyst

Iranian President Mohammad Khatami has ordered two ministers to investigate the latest crackdown by the conservative-dominated judiciary against journalists and citizens, says Iran's official news agency.

The crackdown - launched after a series of protests last month in which students shouted slogans against Iran's supreme leader and the conservative clerical establishment - has led to the arrest of dozens of student leaders and pro-reformist journalists.

President Khatami said he was responsible for ensuring freedom of expression in Iran. He was sorry that journalists had been poorly treated and he asked his justice and intelligence ministers to launch a review.

Young Iranians in Tehran's Evin prison following student protests
Dozens of people were arrested during recent protests
Earlier in the day, his vice-president for legal affairs told reporters that the Iranian-Canadian journalist Zahra Kazemi had died as a result of a brain haemorrhage caused by a beating while in custody last week.

Ms Kazemi's case has prompted an acrimonious exchange between Iran and Canada.

Her 26-year-old son, Stephan Hachemi, is campaigning to have her body returned to Canada.

President Khatami has ordered a separate, urgent, inquiry into her death.

There have been a series of sometimes contradictory reports about who might have held Ms Kazemi and for how long.

An Iranian Government spokesman has been quoted as saying that the Tehran prosecutor's office - part of the conservative-dominated judiciary - ordered her arrest and that she was not handed on to the intelligence ministry until later.

The latest round of arrests is part of a long running power struggle between Iran's powerful conservatives - loyal to the country's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei - and the reformists.

President Khatami's camp may now be preparing to fight back. But he is under intense pressure.

Recently some of his closest supporters added their voice to growing demands for his resignation because of his inability to carry out his promised reform programme.

The president has said he will resign if the people want him to go.




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