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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.

There were brawls during the conference
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.

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See also:

24 Feb 00 | Middle East
Iran's unique election
26 Feb 00 | Middle East
Khatami's caution to West
22 Feb 00 | Middle East
Reformers promise freedoms
21 Feb 00 | Middle East
Iran's hardliners at crossroads
21 Feb 00 | Middle East
Analysis: Obstacles to change
18 Feb 00 | Middle East
In pictures: Iran goes to the polls
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