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Monday, 27 August, 2001, 08:05 GMT 09:05 UK
Judiciary defends Iran floggings
Students demonstrating with posters of President Khatami
Students are pressing for greater freedom
By Jim Muir in Tehran

Amid rising concern over a recent series of public floggings, the Iranian judiciary has said that such punishments were only being inflicted on those whose crimes were themselves committed in public.

In recent weeks, several hundred young men are reported to have been publicly lashed for offences including drunkenness and harassing women.

The level of concern provoked by the spate of public floggings and several recent hangings was evident at a meeting between several senior government ministers called by the parliamentary national security committee.

They included the ministers of the interior, foreign affairs, intelligence and justice, as well as the Tehran police chief.

Newspaper accounts of the meeting said all the ministers expressed their opposition to the practice of public lashing.

Counter-productive

Most argued that it was counter-productive as a deterrent and was alienating public opinion both at home and abroad.

Three women walking in Iranian city
Harassing women can lead to a public flogging

The Tehran Police Chief, Mohsen Qalibaf, was quoted as saying the judiciary had initiated the flogging campaign without regard to the law and without coordinating with the law enforcement agencies.

Clearly on the defensive, the deputy head of the judiciary told the meeting that such punishments were only being applied to those whose offences had been committed publicly, outraging public morals and sentiment.

The judiciary is widely seen as a stronghold of entrenched hardliners opposed to the reform movement.

The crackdown on what it regards as moral corruption among young people has caused widespread unease and it has become the latest issue in the ongoing struggle between the hardliners and reformists.

It has also triggered a sharp theological debate among clerics, with hardliners arguing that public floggings and hangings are an immutable element of Islamic law, while more moderate figures have said they lack Koranic justification.

President opposed

The reformist President, Mohammad Khatami, has spoken out against the practice, saying that harsh punishments were not the answer to social corruption.

Iran's President Mohammad Khatami
President Khatami does not control the judiciary

He added that in a society rife with poverty, discrimination and corruption, young people could not be expected to stay on the straight and narrow.

Most of those critical of the floggings do not dispute the merit of the punishments themselves.

The controversy is over whether they should be carried out in public.

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The BBC's Jim Muir
"The judiciary is widely seen as a stronghold of entrenched hardliners"
See also:

29 Jul 01 | Middle East
New floggings in Iran
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
20 Dec 00 | Country profiles
Country profile: Iran
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