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Tuesday, 13 March, 2001, 14:09 GMT
Nine Iranian activists freed
President Mohamed Khatami
Mr Khatami spoke out for democracy on Sunday
Iran's hardline Revolutionary Court has released nine of the 21 opposition activists arrested at the weekend, whose detention has sparked outrage among reformist MPs and political parties.

According to relatives, the activists have been released on bail while the Court carries out further investigations. The men are charged with of plotting to "overthrow the system."

We demand the Court discloses the place of detention and respect the basic legal rights of the detainees

Iranian MPs open letter
One of the released men described being held in solitary custody in tiny cells about one metre wide, and blindfolded before being let out.

The activists are members of a moderate opposition group known as the religious-nationalist alliance, which supports the reform policies of Iranian President Mohammad Khatami.

Although Mr Khatami remains popular, virtually all of his proposed cultural and political reforms have been quashed since his election in 1998 by a fierce conservative backlash.

MPs regret

On Tuesday, more than 150 MPs signed an open letter to the nation expressing their regret over the latest crackdown.

Iranian journalist  Ahmad Zeid-Abadi
Mr Zeid-Abadi had been out of prison only days
The official IRNA news agency quoted part of the letter as reading: "We demand the Court discloses the place of detention and respect the basic legal rights of the detainees."

Among those still in custody is prominent journalist Ahmad Zeid-Abadi, who was released on bail last week after spending eight months in prison on charges of insulting Islamic values.

The arrests on Sunday evening came only a few hours after President Khatami told the Iranian parliament that democracy was the only way forward in the Islamic Republic.

'No reason given'

The group were detained after a raid on the home of an opposition activist, Mohammad Baste-Negar, where they were holding a meeting.

The allegations are baseless, they have no option but to release our colleagues too

Freed pro-reform activist
The wife of Ahmad Zeid-Abadi told the BBC that no reason had been given for the arrest of her husband and his associates.

She said members of the religious-nationalist alliance have been holding this regular meeting for more than a decade.

The group is popular with some sections of the middle classes and it supports President Khatami's reforms.

Conservative ire

Conservative-controlled courts have jailed some other members of this group in recent months, including the veteran dissident figure, Ezzatollah Sahabi.

Others arrested include Ali-Reza Rajaei, who won a seat in parliamentary elections last year but was later disqualified by a conservative-run election supervisory body.

A former chancellor of Tehran University, Mohammad Malaki, is also among those taken away by security forces, apparently on the orders of the revolutionary court.

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See also:

11 Mar 01 | Middle East
Khatami: Iran must have democracy
04 Mar 01 | Middle East
Key Khatami ally sentenced
28 Feb 01 | Middle East
Iranian reformist journalist jailed
04 Feb 01 | Middle East
Western reporters 'threatened with jail'
20 Dec 00 | Country profiles
Country profile: Iran
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