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Thursday, November 11, 1999 Published at 19:10 GMT

World: Middle East

Iranian cleric found guilty

Nr Nouri used the court as a platform to make outspoken comments

Abdullah Nouri, the former Iranian interior minister and close associate of President Mohammad Khatami has been found guilty by a special clerical court on 15 charges.

The announcement did not specifically make clear what Mr Nouri had been found guilty of.

[ image:  ]
A statement issued by the jury did though restate the charges against Abdullah Nouri.

Mr Nouri's supporters say the prosecution is a move by conservatives to eliminate him from contesting next year's general elections in Iran.

The trial is widely seen as part of a power struggle between the conservatives and the reformists in Iran.

The BBC's Alix Kroeger: "If he is imprisoned President Khatami will have lost another ally"
Mr Nouri, a close ally of reform-minded President Mohammad Khatami, is seen by many reformists as a possible candidate for the position of speaker in the Iranian parliament.

[ image: Mr Nouri is a close associate of moderate president Mohammad Khatami]
Mr Nouri is a close associate of moderate president Mohammad Khatami
The trial, which went through six sessions, centred on Mr Nouri's use of his newspaper to air the views of political groups and factions outside the Iranian mainstream.

But Mr Nouri has also been accused of challenging some of the basic tenets of Islam, such as beards for men, headscarves for women and a ban on dancing, and of questioning the absolute authority of the country's supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei.

The BBC's Pam O'Toole: "The trial has become a focal point in the struggle between conservative and moderate factions"
Mr Nouri used his court appearances as a platform to make outspoken declarations on a number of subjects previously considered taboo in Iran and push forward the limit of public debate.

There is no real precedent for a trial of this kind in Iran, so there is no clear indication what Mr Nouri's punishment might be.

The jury's verdict now goes back to a judge who will give the final verdict and sentence - expected within a week or ten days.

Media attention

"If the Special Court for Clergy did not exist, without any doubt Abdullah Nouri would not have had the opportunity to... say things that have remained unsaid for a long time," the pro-reform daily newspaper, Sobh-e Emrouz said.

The trial has been surrounded by intense media attention, with the pro-reform press featuring it on their front pages.

Enhancing popularity

Throughout the trial, Mr Nouri refused to recognise the competence of the special clerical court, which operates outside the judicial system and is viewed by many observers as hardline and conservative.

Correspondents say the trial has served to enhance Mr Nouri's already considerable popularity.

Mr Nouri, who was impeached as interior minister by hardliners in parliament last year, was the most successful candidate in the Islamic republic's first ever municipal elections almost nine months ago.

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