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The BBC's Jim Muir
"Diplomats here in Tehran are shocked at the severity of such sentances"
 real 56k

The BBC's Rob Broomby
"The sentences have caused concern in the German capital"
 real 28k

Monday, 15 January, 2001, 12:46 GMT
Iran sentences spark row
Akbar Ganji
Akbar Ganji (right): Faces 10 years behind bars
Iran has bluntly rejected German criticism of stiff prison terms given to reformist intellectuals who had attended a conference in Berlin.

The Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman, Hamid-Reza Asefi, said German leaders "must treat this matter wisely in order to avoid damaging bilateral relations".


Those people... did not commit a crime, and their treatment by the judiciary was wholly factional and politically motivated

Mohammad-Reza Khatami
But the case has brought internal divisions back to the surface in Iran. The deputy speaker of parliament, Mohammad-Reza Khatami - brother of President Mohammad Khatami - said he believed the sentences were politically motivated.

The Iranian ambassador to Berlin was summoned on Sunday to hear the German Foreign Ministry express profound concern about the sentences.

German 'interference'

The ambassador replied that the Iranian judiciary was independent and that German sensitivity over the sentences amounted to interference in Iranian affairs, Iranian television reported.

German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder
Gerhard Schroeder has reportedly postponed his trip to Tehran

And Mr Asefi said "any link between this trial of Iranian citizens and relations between Iran and Germany is unacceptable and unreasonable".

But Mohammad-Reza Khatami, who heads Iran's largest pro-reform party, told the Iran News daily that the defendants "did not commit a crime, and their treatment by the judiciary was wholly factional and politically motivated".

Seven of the 17 defendants, including prominent campaigning journalist Akbar Ganji, were jailed for between four and 10 years.

Schroeder visit 'off'

Iranian TV said there were no grounds for the cancellation of a planned visit to Tehran by German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder - as some German press reports have suggested.

Prison sentences
Akbar Ganji: 10 years, plus five in internal exile
Saeed Sadr: 10 years
Khalil Rostamkhani: Nine years
Ali Afshari: Five years
Izzatollah Sahabi: Four-and-a-half years
Mehrangis Kar: Four years
Shahla Lahihi: Four years

President Khatami paid a landmark visit last year to Germany, which is Iran's biggest trading partner.

The conference in Berlin was held to discuss the progress of reform in Iran.

Its disruption by exiled opposition activists was seen as a direct challenge to the Islamic constitution by hardliners in Tehran.

The academics, translators and journalists were charged with undermining national security and making propaganda against the Islamic system.

Iranian conservatives were angered when state television showed footage of the protests, which included a man removing his clothes and a woman dancing with bare arms.

Appeal

Three of the accused received particularly severe punishment.

Mr Ganji, who has made powerful enemies by his exposure of the killings of dissident writers and intellectuals by elements within the regime, was given 10 years' imprisonment and five years' internal exile.

A translator at the German embassy, Saeed Sadr, was also given a 10-year prison sentence, while another translator Khalil Rostamkhani was given nine years in jail.

A student leader, Ali Afshari, was given five years' imprisonment and an opposition leader, Izzatollah Sahabi, was jailed for four-and-a-half years.

Feminists jailed

Two prominent and internationally known feminists, the lawyer Mehrangis Kar and the publisher Shahla Lahiji, received four year jail terms.

Others were given suspended jail sentences or fines, while six defendants were acquitted. The convicted have 20 days to lodge an appeal.

Another of the accused, liberal cleric Hassan Yousefi-Eshkevari, is being dealt with by a special religious court.

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See also:

20 Apr 00 | Middle East
Court summons for Iranian reformists
14 Jan 01 | Middle East
Analysis: Backlash gathers pace
13 Jan 01 | Middle East
Conference that created a furore
04 Oct 00 | Country profiles
Country profile: Iran
23 Oct 00 | Middle East
Row deepens over Iranian cleric
21 Oct 00 | Middle East
'Moderate' paper faces Iranian court
13 Aug 00 | Middle East
Iranian MPs pledge to continue reform
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