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Wednesday, 27 November, 2002, 19:05 GMT
Iranian student activists face charges
Iranian students hold up a picture of condemned lecturer Hashem Aghajari
Student protestors are due in court on Saturday

Iranian student leaders arrested on Tuesday face charges of acting against national security.

The students had been active in recent demonstrations, triggered by the death sentence for apostasy passed on the liberal university lecturer, Hashem Aghajari.

Hashem Aghajari
Aghajari: Sentenced to death for comments about Islam
Arrested on the orders of the revolutionary court, the students were released after a night of protests by reformist leaders but are due to appear in court on Saturday.

The main student organisation has issued a defiant statement calling for a referendum on the legitimacy of the right-wing hardliners who control much of the power.

Meanwhile, a leading reformist figure has warned that the hardliners are planning to declare a state of emergency and eliminate the reform movement.

Hardliners denounced

After the detained student leaders were freed, the Tehran council of the biggest student group, the Unity Consolidation Bureau, issued a defiant statement containing thinly-veiled criticism of the country's supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, and outright denunciation of the hard-line right-wingers who operate in his shadow.

Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Mohammed Khatami
Leader: Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei
Power: The real power in Iran. Control the hard-line Guardians' Council, which approves all laws, the judiciary and armed forces
Where they stand: Committed to Islamic revolution. Opposed to any reduction in their powers and normalisation of relations with the US

Leader: President Mohammed Khatami
Power: Control the parliament and enjoy widespread popular support
Where they stand:
Back greater democracy, reducing the power of the Guardians' Council, and reform to the legal system

The regime's leadership, it said, should have valued the protests of the students and stepped in to rectify the situation, but had unfortunately chosen to dismiss the protesters as either enemies or deluded.

This was a clear reference to comments made by the leader at Friday prayers last week.

The true enemies, it said, were those who ignored and even stifled the voice and the will of the nation, whose hands were stained with blood, who would attack liberal newspapers one day, students the next and then take a professor to the gallows for his opinions.

It said the only peaceful way out was to go to the people with a referendum which would determine the level of legitimacy and acceptance enjoyed by the claimants of power.

It said that in the coming days it would conduct just such a referendum itself among the scores of thousands of students on campuses in Tehran.

Whether it will be allowed to do so remains to be seen.

Despite the release of the student activists, a climate of political crisis continues, especially as the case of the condemned lecturer, Mr Aghajari, remains unresolved.

And the leader of the biggest reform faction, Mohammed Reza Khatami, who is the president's brother, has warned that the hardliners were trying to provoke trouble to justify imposing a state of emergency and suppressing the reform movement.

See also:

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