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The BBC's Jim Muir
"Mr Sheikh's family say they do not know where he is being held"
 real 28k

Monday, 26 March, 2001, 13:31 GMT 14:31 UK
Iranian court detains student leader
Paperboy sells last edition of Dowran Emrouz before closure
Reformist newspapers are the target of hardliners
By Jim Muir in Tehran

A leading figure in the Iranian student movement, Ibrahim Sheikh, has been arrested on the orders of a revolutionary court in Teheran, according to reports.

He is the latest in a long series of pro-reform figures to be detained by the judiciary in what has been widely seen as a heightening of the struggle between hardliners and reformists in advance of presidential elections in June.

According to members of his family, Mr Sheikh was summoned to the revolutionary court in Teheran as a witness in the case of another prominent student leader, Ali Afshari, who was arrested last November.

But when Mr Sheikh appeared before the court the judge ordered his detention.

Mr Sheikh's family say they do not know where he is being held, nor has it been announced what charges he may face.

Undermining Khatami

His arrest is being seen as the latest move in a continuing campaign by the judiciary, which is generally regarded as conservative-controlled, to inflict as much damage as possible on the reform movement in the run up to the presidential elections in three months time.

President Mohammad Khatami
Khatami has been powerless to stop the clampdown on the reformists
The reformist president, Mohammad Khatami, has not yet announced whether he intends to stand for a second term.

Iranian analysts believe the aim of the campaign is to undermine him so much that if he does stand it will be from a weak position or he may even be demoralised enough not to run at all.

Powerless

Just over a week ago Mr Khatami was powerless to prevent the courts from closing down four more reformist publications following earlier bans on more than 30 others.

A week before that more than 20 liberal opposition figures who support him were arrested.

About a dozen are still being held amidst indications they may be put on trial for plotting to overthrow the regime.

There is also much attention focused now on the case of a pro-reform cleric, Hassan Yousefi-Eshkavari. He was arrested last August.

There are persistent but unconfirmed reports that a special clerical court may have rejected his appeal against a death sentence on charges which include apostasy.

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See also:

18 Mar 01 | Middle East
Iran cracks down on opposition
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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