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Sunday, 18 March, 2001, 13:11 GMT
'Conspiracy to overthrow Iranian regime'
Iranian parliament
Half of parliament has condemned the arrests
By Jim Muir in Tehran

A revolutionary court in Iran has said that more than 20 nationalist figures arrested a week ago were conspiring to overthrow the Islamic regime - a charge that could carry the death penalty.

Some of those arrested have since been released.

The detentions have been condemned by the biggest reformist party and by more than half the deputies in the Iranian parliament.

Judiciary chief Mahmud Shahrudi (L) and President Mohammad Khatami (C)
Move seen as a struggle between reformists and hardliners
The arrest of 21 of what is known here as the Religious Nationalist Movement last week, has been widely seen as part of the intensifying struggle between reformists and hardliners as tension increases in advance of the June presidential elections.

The arrests were carried out following a raid last Sunday on a gathering at the home of one of those detained.


That came just hours after the reformist President, Mohammad Khatami, had delivered an address to parliament arguing that democracy and change were the only viable course for Iran to follow.

Since then, nine or 10 of those detained have been released on bail.

Iranian journalist  Ahmad Zeid-Abadi
Prominent journalist Ahmad Zeid-Abadi: Still in custody
But the others, among them some well known liberal figures, are still in prison.

Their families say they do not know where they are being held.

Now, the revolutionary court says it has indisputable evidence that they were involved in conspiracy to overthrow the Islamic regime by infiltrating legitimate reformist groups and abusing the media to spread false rumours.

Death penalty

Such accusations amount to a charge of 'moharebeh,' or making war against the system.

Conviction could carry the death penalty.

The court accused those detained of co-operating with the Iran Freedom Movement, a liberal opposition group which is formally banned but has been partly tolerated.

Now, apparently, no longer so. The court's statement said the movement was not entitled to carry out any activities and defenders would be vigorously prosecuted.

The arrests have been strongly condemned by the biggest of the reform groups, the Islam-Iran Participation Front.

In a letter to the judiciary, it described the arrests as incredible and inexplicable.

More than 150 deputies in the reformist dominated parliament have also denounced the detentions.

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See also:

13 Mar 01 | Middle East
Nine Iranian activists freed
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
20 Dec 00 | Country profiles
Country profile: Iran
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