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The BBC's Jim Muir in Tehran
"It's more than likely that the highly conservative Guardians will send the bill back for amendment"
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Sunday, 27 May, 2001, 15:56 GMT 16:56 UK
Iran MPs challenge political trials
Iranian parliament
Parliament approved the bill overwhelmingly
By Jim Muir in Tehran

The Iranian Parliament has approved the first draft of a bill which defines political crimes and strengthens the rights of political prisoners - the first such legislation since the Islamic Revolution in 1979.

The bill still has to be debated and ratified in detail, and it can only pass into law if endorsed by the conservative Council of Guardians, which decides whether legislation is in line with the constitution and Islamic tenets.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei
Conservatives like Supreme Leader Khamenei may oppose the bill
Since the Islamic Revolution, many people have found themselves jailed in Iran for political offences.

Yet this is the first attempt to produce a law which would define such crimes, what procedures should be followed and what rights political prisoners should have.

The broad lines of the new bill were given overwhelming approval by the Majlis, which has a large reformist majority.

Trial by jury

Given the objections voiced in parliament by some of the minority right-wing deputies, it is more than likely that the highly conservative guardians will send the bill back for amendment.

In revolutionary courts there is no jury, and the judge is both prosecutor and arbiter

Critics have already attacked it for suggesting that political trials should be held in open civil courts with juries which could overrule the judge.

In revolutionary courts, where many political cases have been tried, there is no jury, and the judge is both prosecutor and arbiter.

The bill defines as a political crime any politically motivated action directed against the Islamic regime or its interests, or against the rights and freedoms of its citizens.

But it says that expressing opinions about the system, or criticising the performance of officials could not be considered political crimes.

In recent months, dozens of liberal figures have been arrested and jailed.

Such prosecutions and the conditions in which the prisoners are held would become a thing of the past if this new bill were to pass into law as it stands.

  • A court ruling which would have debarred President Mohammad Khatami from holding a re-election rally on Monday is reported to have been reversed.

    A spokesman for the president said that after lengthy negotiations officials of the Justice Department had agreed to lift the ban.

    It was imposed on the grounds that election candidates are not allowed to use state-owned property for campaigning.

    Up to 30,000 people are expected to attend the president's rally which is taking place at the Shiroudi stadium in the capital, Tehran.

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    15 May 01 | Middle East
    Iran court cuts reformist's sentence
    30 Apr 01 | Middle East
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    26 Apr 00 | Middle East
    How far will Iran's conservatives go?
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