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The BBC's Jim Muir in Tehran
"A series of grisly murders of liberal intellectuals"
 real 56k

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

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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.

The affair has been a major element in the on-going struggle between reformists and hard-liners.

The BBC's Jim Muir
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.

Akbar Ganji's supporters
Reformist journalist Akbar Ganji is now in jail
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.

Young supporters of President Khatami
Young people in Iran are pushing for change
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.

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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
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Iran timeline
20 Dec 00 | Country profiles
Country profile: Iran
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