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IRAN - Nov. 11 - Biggest Trial Of Dissidents Begins.

Tehran's Revolutionary Court opens a trial, accusing 31 members of the banned Freedom Movement of anti-state activities. Those who are on trial include Mohammad Tavasoli, former mayor of Tehran, Hashem Sabaghian, interior minister in the first post-revolutionary government, Ahmad Sadr Javadi, former justice minister, Abolfazl Bazargan, son of the late prime minister Mehdi Bazargan, and at least two other members of the Bazargan family. (This is the biggest political trial to be held in the country since the 1979 Islamic revolution. The Freedom Movement formed the core of the first post-revolutionary government that was forced out of office within months by the ruling theologians. The religious nationalists have since challenged the absolute authority of the position of the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and were gaining strength as an opposition movement). The reformist Participation Front, the largest party in the Majlis, denounces the trial as politically motivated. Diplomats say it will complicate negotiations that Tehran has just started with the EU on a trade and co-operation agreement that includes a clause on human rights. Journalists and relatives of the accused are barred from Branch 21 of the Revolutionary Court.

Of 31 people accused, six defendants have been held since mass arrests on March 11, 2001, while the others are on bail. A separate trial of about 20 other political activists associated with a loose alliance of opposition nationalists is expected to start soon. Lawyers say they challenged the authority of the court to hold the trial, saying it should be open and held before a jury. The trial is a serious embarrassment for Pres. Khatami whose pro-reform programme has been repeatedly blocked by his hardline opponents in control of the judiciary. Khatami has sharply criticised the arrests. His supporters say the trial was timed to begin while the president was in New York for the UN General Assembly, where his efforts to improve relations with western governments during the crisis in Afghanistan are under the spotlight. US-based Human Rights Watch called for the release of the accused and denounced the trial as falling short of international standards, saying: "These individuals are pawns in the power struggle between Iranian reformists and the conservative clerics who still control the judiciary".
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Publication:APS Diplomat Recorder
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:7IRAN
Date:Nov 17, 2001
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