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The BBC's Jim Muir
says the reformists involved are quite well known
 real 28k

Sunday, 18 March, 2001, 22:27 GMT
Iran cracks down on opposition
Paperboy sells last edition of Dowran Emrouz before closure
Four reformist newspapers have been shut down
A revolutionary court in Iran has effectively closed down a major opposition group after accusing it of trying to overthrow the Islamic regime.

The Revolutionary Court said 21 nationalist figures arrested a week ago for alleged conspiracy were linked to the Iran Freedom Movement, a liberal reformist group.

Although the group had already been formally banned, its activities had until now been partly tolerated.

The move came as the conservative judiciary also ordered the closure of four reformist newspapers.

Struggle

The Iran Freedom Movement advocates a democratic government based on Islamic ideology, but not run by clerics.

''All activities of the so-called Iran Freedom Movement are forbidden and illegal,'' said a court official, quoted by state radio.

Judiciary chief Mahmud Shahrudi (L) and President Mohammad Khatami (C)
Move seen as a struggle between reformists and hardliners
Last week, the authorities arrested 21 members of what is known as the Religious Nationalist Movement in what has widely been seen as part of the intensifying struggle between reformists and hardliners in the run-up to June's presidential election.

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

The arrests were made during a raid last Sunday on a gathering at the home of one of those detained.

The group had been celebrating the release of reformist journalist Ahmad Zeid-Abadi, who had been freed on bail after eight months in prison.

Released

The raid came just hours after 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, including Mr Zeid-Abadi, 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 arrests have been strongly condemned by the largest 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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