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Wednesday, 28 February, 2001, 15:44 GMT
Iranian reformist journalist jailed
Iranian student protests
The jailing of journalists has provoked student protests
By Jim Muir in Tehran

Another prominent reformist journalist in Iran has been sentenced to a lengthy jail term.

Massoud Behnoud, who was a frequent contributor to the BBC's Farsi Service, was given a 19-month prison sentence after facing charges of spreading untruths and insulting the Islamic system.


The way the judiciary has been operating has caused uproar in reformist circles

He is the latest in a long series of reformist figures to be jailed as part of what liberals see as a crackdown by the hardline conservatives.

Mr Behnoud, who is one of Iran's most distinguished journalists, was arrested last August and only released on bail after his court appearance in December.

He was found guilty of spreading lies and insulting the Islamic system and its leaders.

He had also been accused of possessing alcoholic drinks, which is illegal here, but was acquitted on that charge.

Courts busy

Mr Behnoud has 20 days in which to lodge an appeal. He should not have to go to prison until after that process is completed.

President Khatami
Khatami: dismayed by right-wing backlash
More than a dozen reform-minded journalists are already in jail, some of them serving even longer sentences on similar charges.

In the past two or three weeks, the courts - which are generally seen as a bastion of right-wing power - have been exceptionally busy.

At least 24 journalists and other reformist figures have been summoned or prosecuted in that period alone.

The way the judiciary has been operating has caused uproar in reformist circles.

Angry scenes

It has provoked an open rift between the judiciary and the Majlis or parliament, which is now dominated by reformists since their election victory last year.

There were angry scenes at the latest parliamentary session when a letter from the head of the Revolutionary Court was read out, attacking a reformist deputy who had expressed concern over recent arrests.

The biggest union of university professors last week wrote to the country's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, asking him to intervene to stop what it called a vast and systematic wave of attacks on reformist targets.

Political tensions

There are many manifestations of sharply rising political tension in advance of the June presidential elections.

The incumbent reformist president, Mohammed Khatami, has not yet announced whether he intends to stand again.

He is said to be dismayed by the right-wing backlash which has destroyed many of his achievements and jailed many of his associates.

Before agreeing to run for re-election, he is likely to want solid assurances that he would be able to do more next time round.

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