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Saturday, 27 November, 1999, 16:42 GMT
Profile of Abdollah Nouri
Abdollah Nouri: Impeccable Islamic and revolutionary credentials

By BBC Iranian affairs analyst Sadeq Saba

One of the leading reformists in Iran, Abdollah Nouri, has been sentenced to five years in prison for political and religious dissent.

A Special Clerical Court found him guilty of publishing sacrilegious articles and opposing the teachings of the founder of the Islamic Republic, the late Ayatollah Khomeini.

Mr Nouri is one of the closest associates of the Iranian President, Mohammad Khatami, and a former vice president and interior minister.

Khomeini's protege

Abdollah Nouri is the most senior Islamic politician to be sentenced to prison since the Iranian revolution 20 years ago.

As a mid-ranking cleric, he has impeccable Islamic and revolutionary credentials and a long history of service to the Islamic Republic.

The leader of the Iranian revolution, the late Ayatollah Khomeini, appointed him as his representative to many important organisations, including the Revolutionary Guards.

The current supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, has also appointed him as a member of a powerful council which advises him on major policies.

Oustpoken reformer

Mr Nouri served as interior minister under the former president Hashemi Rafsanjani and he was a member of parliament when President Khatami won his stunning election victory two years ago. Mr Khatami gave him his old portfolio back despite fierce resistance from conservatives.

Mr Nouri was generally seen as the most outspoken reformist in the cabinet. He was also one of the most important officials to support the leading dissident cleric, Ayatollah Hussain-Ali Montazeri, who has been under house arrest for the last two years for questioning the authority of Ayatollah Khamenei.

Mr Nouri was sacked from his post of interior minister last year by the conservative-controlled parliament for his defence of political and social freedoms. But Mr Khatami immediately brought him back to his cabinet as a vice-president.

He stood down from this post to take part in the municipal elections in February and was elected as the leader of Tehran's city council. But he recently resigned this post as well to stand for next February's crucial general elections.

Newspaper his downfall

Mr Nouri established a daily paper, Khordad, last year, with the intention of supporting Mr Khatami's reformist policy. The paper has been advocating freedom of expression, human rights and a modern and democratic Islam.

It was the content of this newspaper which eventually provided his opponents with an opportunity to indict him.

Mr Nouri sees himself as loyal to the Islamic Republic and during his trial insisted that his activities were only for ensuring its survival. He believes that if people fail to achieve their demands through peaceful means, violence and revolution become inevitable.

Nonetheless, he is the "bete noire" of conservatives and it is believed that the supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, dislikes him. This is because he has been calling for limitations of his vast powers in the past few years.

Mr Nouri is well respected and he is seen as a man of high principles. His outspoken and aggressive defence during his trial has enhanced his popularity.

In the short term, his conviction is a severe blow to reformists. But in the long term, such actions may backfire.

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See also:
16 Jul 99 |  Middle East
Analysis: Iran's divided society
27 Nov 99 |  Middle East
Iranian reformer jailed
20 Nov 99 |  Middle East
Iranian cleric 'ready' for prison
11 Nov 99 |  Middle East
Iranian cleric found guilty
01 Oct 99 |  Middle East
Khamenei moves to heal leadership rift

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