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Wednesday, 15 August, 2001, 16:59 GMT 17:59 UK
Row over public floggings in Iran
Iranian student demonstrators
Iranians have enjoyed greater freedoms recently
A row has broken out in Iran over the growing number of public floggings of young people accused of drinking alcohol or making sexual advances.

Reformists say the punishments are an attempt by Islamic conservatives to discredit the reformist government.

But a leading Iranian conservative, Ayatollah Naser Makarem Shirazi, has joined the criticism, saying the public floggings should be stopped if they reflect badly on the Islamic state and Islam.

In the latest series of floggings, 13 young men accused of drinking alcohol were lashed with a whip in a square in central Tehran on Tuesday.

Iran's President Mohammad Khatami
President Khatami may be the target

The public lashings have been endorsed by leaders of the judiciary as punishments aimed at deterring others.

Qorbanali Dorri Najafabadi, a member of the conservative-dominated Expediency Council, said: "We cannot be merciful towards corrupt people who put the security of society in danger," he said.

'Adverse effect'

But some religious leaders are questioning the validity of public punishments according to Islamic law.

"If punishments carried out in public have an adverse effect on public opinion, they should not take place in public," Ayatollah Shirazi said.

Tuesday's floggings were carried out during the evening rush hour, bringing traffic to a standstill along Tehran's main north-south thoroughfare.

The Iranian newspaper, Norouz, quoted witnesses as saying blood flowed from the bare backs of the young men as they were being whipped.

It was at least the ninth public flogging since the reformist President Mohammad Khatami was re-elected in a landslide victory in June.

Poster advertising women only fashion show
The penalties for flouting public morals are severe

Reformists say the punishments are an attempt to derail President Khatami's attempts to bring about social change and are damaging Iran's image abroad.

Although men and women convicted of flouting public morals are routinely flogged in detention centres, public lashings have been rare, especially in the capital.

The increasing use of public punishment has created anxiety among the Iranian youth who have been enjoying more social freedoms since President Khatami came to power four years ago.

See also:

23 Jul 01 | Middle East
Iranian minister condemns floggings
16 Jul 01 | Middle East
Iran reformist jailed for six years
12 Jul 01 | Middle East
Iranian adulteress stoned to death
11 Jun 01 | Middle East
Poll boosts Khatami reform bid
11 Mar 01 | Middle East
Khatami: Iran must have democracy
20 Dec 00 | Country profiles
Country profile: Iran
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