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The BBC's Jim Muir in Tehran
"I think we're moving into a very troubled period"
 real 28k

Sunday, 8 April, 2001, 21:22 GMT 22:22 UK
Iran arrests condemned
supporters of reformists
The arrests are a further blow to supporters of reform
The Iranian President, Mohammad Khatami, has strongly criticised a new wave of arrests of liberal activists and intellectuals by agents of the ultra-conservative Revolutionary Court.

"I do not see such measures as benefiting the (Islamic) system and people... I cannot help feeling regret," the reformist president said.

The BBC's Tehran correspondent Jim Muir says it is rare for Mr Khatami to make such a direct comment on the judicial crackdown on reformists.

More than 40 people were detained in a series of raids in Tehran and other cities. They were accused of attempting to overthrow the Islamic regime.

'Climate of intolerance'

"Boosting the climate of intolerance in society will dishearten intellectuals... Our nation desires nothing more than freedom, progress and guaranteed rights," state television quoted Mr Khatami as saying.

President Khatami
President Khatami: There are doubts about whether he will seek re-election

He said the most serious threat to the country's political system was a situation where its rulers could not justify their conduct to the people.

Those detained are said to be connected with the Freedom Movement - an opposition group which is formally banned, but was until recently largely tolerated.

It was the second big round-up of liberal reformists in less than a month, and comes ahead of a presidential election in June.

President Khatami has indicated he will only run again if he can implement his promises of reform.

Prominent figures

Those arrested are reported to include the son-in-law and the nephew of the late Mehdi Bazar Gan, who founded the Freedom Movement. He was briefly the country's first prime minister after the revolution in 1979.

Iranian journalists
Reformist newspapers have been targeted in the crackdown

Another prominent figure said to have been arrested was Hashem Sabaghian.

He headed the committee which welcomed Ayatollah Khomeni back from exile in 1979, and was interior minister in the first revolutionary government.

Iran's biggest reformist party, the Participation Front, also strongly condemned the arrests. It said they ran counter to the spirit of freedom, justice and legality.

Court's position

But the head of the Revolutionary Court criticised those who condemned them, saying they were ignorant of the facts.

He repeated the accusation that some of those detained were in touch with violent opposition groups outside the country which were bent on overthrowing the Islamic regime.

The judiciary has said that people arrested a month ago from the same group would be accused of plotting against the system - a charge which could carry the death penalty.

Pre-election crackdown

More than 20 liberal opposition figures were detained in Tehran a month ago. Some have since been released.

Amid rising tension ahead of the presidential elections, the arrests are seen by reformists as part of a campaign by hardline conservatives to undermine and discredit then.

The judiciary is widely seen as a stronghold of the hardliners.

Since last year, dozens of reformist newspapers have been summarily shut down, and numerous reformist figures have been prosecuted and jailed.

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See also:

18 Mar 01 | Middle East
'Conspiracy to overthrow Iranian regime'
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
14 Jan 01 | Middle East
Analysis: Backlash gathers pace
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