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Monday, 29 April, 2002, 16:53 GMT 17:53 UK
Iran journalist jailed for 23 months
A boy sells reformist newspapers in Tehran
A boy sells reformist newspapers in Tehran
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By Sadeq Saba
BBC Regional Analyst
A prominent reformist journalist in Iran has been sentenced to 23 months in jail on charges including spreading propaganda against the state and insulting officials.

The journalist, Ahmad Zeid-Abadi, was first detained about two years ago and spent seven months in prison before being released on bail.

Ahmad Zeid-Abadi
Mr Zeid-Abadi has condemned Palestinian suicide bombers
His conviction comes at a time when it had appeared that the hardliners in the Iranian leadership were adopting a new policy of tolerating dissidents in the face of increasing pressure from the United States.

In the past few months, hardline courts in Iran have uncharacteristically released liberal dissidents from jails, rather than putting more of them behind bars.

Sixty or so opposition figures have been freed after spending months in solitary confinement on charges of plotting to overthrow the Islamic regime.

The heavy sentence is disturbing news for the optimists in the country

And a prominent liberal opposition leader, Ebrahim Yazdi, has returned home from abroad without being detained - although an arrest warrant had earlier been issued.

Reformists have been so encouraged by these developments that some have suggested that a new rationality may be prevailing among the hardliners.

But the heavy sentence against Mr Zeid-Abadi on charges of propaganda against the state is disturbing news for the optimists in the country.

Individual case?

It is too early to make any judgement about the motive behind this move.

This could still be an individual case since the authorities are particularly unhappy about Mr Zeid-Abadi's recent outspoken condemnation of Palestinian suicide bombers.

Or the appeals court may yet take a more lenient approach towards him.

It is also interesting to see whether other journalists and liberal figures who are awaiting their sentences will be given similar heavy punishments.

Some observers also suggest that the ruling against Mr Zeid-Abadi may signify that there are divisions among the Iranian conservatives and that some extremist groups are intent on continuing the offensive against the reform movement in the country.

See also:

18 Jun 00 | Middle East
Iran MPs demand press freedom
11 Jul 00 | Middle East
Student anger at police acquittal
08 Jul 00 | Middle East
Violence at Iran student protest
24 May 00 | Middle East
Iran's hardline parliament bows out
28 Apr 00 | Middle East
Rafsanjani slams Iran's liberal media
26 Apr 00 | Middle East
How far will Iran's conservatives go?
21 Feb 00 | Middle East
Analysis: Obstacles to change
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