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Sunday, 13 January, 2002, 18:37 GMT
Iranian MPs stage walkout
Women walk in front of posters for MP elections in Tehran
MPs say the judiciary is trying to destroy parliament
Jim Muir

About 60 reformist deputies in the Iranian parliament, the Majlis, have staged a brief walkout from parliament to protest against the recent jailing of one of their colleagues.

They are also protesting against the prosecution of other MPs by the judiciary, which is widely seen as a bastion of right-wing power.

The reformists see all this as a concerted campaign by the hardline judiciary to thwart the will of the people as expressed in all recent elections.

The confrontation between the reformist-dominated parliament and the judiciary is the latest focus for an increasingly heated struggle between the two factions.

The man at the centre of the current row is Hossein Loghmanian, the elected member of parliament for the western city of Hamedan.

He was arrested and jailed over two weeks ago, to the outrage of his colleagues.

He had been sentenced to 10 months imprisonment on charges of insulting the judiciary in remarks he had made on the floor of the house.

Constitution violation

At least two other MPs also have prison sentences hanging over them but they have not yet been arrested. And it is believed that as many as 60 others may have cases pending against them.

Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei
Iran's supreme leader has refused to intervene

The reformists, who dominate the Majlis, see all this as a concerted campaign by the hardline judiciary to thwart the will of the people as expressed in all recent elections.

They believe the prosecutions are in clear violation of the constitution, which establishes parliamentary immunity.

That view is supported by reformist President Mohammed Khatami, but the judiciary and its hard-line supporters have argued that Mr Loghmanian and others have broken the law and that there is no immunity for that.

Referendum call

All efforts to reconcile the confrontation between Majlis and judiciary have so far failed.

Some reformist deputies have spoken of staging mass resignations or demanding a referendum. Others have called on the country's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, to intervene, but so far he has been non-committal.

The reformists believe the next step will be the prosecution of numerous reformist deputies on economic corruption charges as part of a right-wing scheme they believe is aimed at bringing the parliament down.

Their conservative critics however, accuse the reformists themselves of attacking the judiciary precisely in order to head off such corruption prosecutions.

International intervention

As the climate becomes even more embittered, the crisis over Afghanistan is also drawn into the equation.

Reformists are warning the hardliners that by tarnishing the image of Iranian democracy abroad and behaving like the Taleban, they may be preparing the way for eventual western intervention against Iran.

While the right-wingers accuse the liberals themselves of trying to precipitate just such a development as part of a plot to overthrow the Islamic system and to save their own political lives.

See also:

29 Dec 01 | Middle East
Iran court cuts reformists' sentences
26 Dec 01 | Middle East
Anger as Iran MP is jailed
19 Apr 00 | Middle East
Iran outcry over rowdy conference
18 Oct 00 | Middle East
UN criticises Iran's human rights
14 Jan 01 | Middle East
Germany's 'concern' at Iran verdicts
09 Nov 00 | Middle East
Uproar as Iran judge accused
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