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Iranian court bans main opposition group

TEHRAN, Iran – Iran’s hard-line judiciary dealt a heavy blow Sunday to the country’s reform movement, banning the nation’s only real opposition group and closing down four pro-reform newspapers, the official Islamic Republic News Agency reported.

Accusing Iran’s Freedom Movement of seeking to overthrow the Islamic establishment, the Tehran Revolutionary Court banned the group and threatened to prosecute offenders.

”I think the Islamic Republic as a system is strong and stable and any group that talks about its collapse is stupid and foolish,” political activist Farzaneh Roostayi said.



Meanwhile, four reformist papers were ordered to stop publishing because of their ”numerous and continuous violations of the law,” state-run Tehran radio reported.

Roostayi said hard-liners were targeting reform movements ahead of presidential elections in June.




”They fear the people will again vote for and confirm their support of reforms,” said Roostayi, whose husband, the prominent activist Reza Raiis Toosi, was arrested and jailed earlier this month.

In 1997, moderate President Mohammad Khatami, promising social and political reforms, won a landslide victory – to the shock of the ruling hard-line clergy, who had backed one of their own.

Sunday was the last working day in Iran ahead of holidays for the New Year, or Nowruz, which begins March 21.

Quoting a court statement, IRNA said 21 liberal-minded activists arrested last week for conspiring to topple the Islamic establishment were linked to the reformist Freedom Movement.

The movement, which advocates a democratic government based on Islamic ideology but not run by clerics, does not have legal status but had been tolerated by Iranian authorities and enjoyed limited freedom.

The group was formed in the early 1960s by Mehdi Bazargan, who served as prime minister for 11 months in Iran’s interim government following the 1979 Islamic revolution. It is now headed by Ebrahim Yazdi, who is currently on medical leave in the United States.

Attempts to get comment from the movement’s leaders were unsuccessful. Most are in jail.

According to Iranian law, plotting to topple the Islamic establishment amounts to waging war against Islam and the Islamic state, a charge that carries the death sentence.

”I think all of these attacks are against President Khatami himself. They cannot tolerate him, and to harm his prestige and his position, they are ready to harm the whole system and the establishment,” Roostayi said.

Nine of the 21 arrested have been released, but 12 others, some of them university teachers, remain in detention.

According to Tehran radio, the four newspapers ordered closed by the press court were the daily Dowran-e-Emrooz; two weeklies, Mobin and Jame’e Madani; and the hugely popular monthly Payam-e-Emrooz.

An employee at Jame’e Madani, speaking on condition of anonymity, told The Associated Press that the paper received a letter from the judge of the press court, Saeed Mortazavi, ordering the closure. He did not provide other details.

Officials at the three other papers and the press court were not available for comment.

Reformist allies of Khatami have been locked in a power struggle with hard-liners who control unelected institutions, including the judiciary and security forces.

Hard-liners have closed down 37 publications, all but two of them pro-reform newspapers, and jailed more than four dozen reformist journalists and political activists during the past year.

AP-WS-03-18-01 1333EST


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