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Khatami Threatens Resignation Over Power Struggle with Hard-Liners

Khatami threatens resignation over power struggle with hard-liners
Move comes in response to widespread dissatisfaction

Government continues crackdown on pro-reform press

The Daily Star, 7/14/03 

A university professor whose death sentence provoked nationwide protests until it was lifted by the Supreme Court has been sentenced by an appeals court to nearly four years in jail, his lawyer said.
The Sunday announcement came a day after President Mohammad Khatami said he would resign if Iranians ­ dissatisfied over his failure to deliver promised reforms ­ want him to leave office, according to  press reports.
Hashem Aghajari, a history professor at
Tehran’s Teachers Training University, was sentenced to three years, 11 months and 29 days. The verdict also barred him from running for office or occupying government posts for five years and suspended a previous sentence of 74 lashes, lawyer Saleh Nikbakht told The Associated Press.
Aghajari was sentenced for insulting Islam and questioning clerical rule during a speech in western Iran last June.
Khatami’s first-ever offer to resign comes amid continuing attempts by ruling hard-line clerics to stymie his reform agenda and the deepening public discontent over the country’s slow pace toward democratic change.
“We are not masters of people but servants of this nation. If this nation says we don’t want you, we will go,” Khatami was quoted as saying Saturday by the government-owned daily, Iran.
He made the comments in a speech in Karaj, west of the capital, on Thursday, but state-run television and radio censored the part of his speech dealing with a possible resignation.
Khatami has repeated in recent years that he has been powerless to stop hard-liners violating the constitution and acting against voted reforms.
The closure of more than 90 pro-democracy publications in the past three years, the arrest of dozens of prominent intellectuals and writers and closed trials without jury were open violations of the constitution, he said.
Khatami has said he was responsible under the constitution to stop such violations, but the hard-line judiciary has ignored his warnings.
Last November, Aghajari was condemned to death, banned from teaching for 10 years, exiled for eight years to three remote cities and sentenced to receive 74 lashes.
Iran’s Supreme Court lifted the death sentence in February, saying the charges were inconsistent with Aghajari’s speech, and returned the case to the issuing court for review.
Nikbakht said the appeals court issued its verdict on April 26 and that he was notified on June 9. He said he did not announce the verdict because it coincided with student-led protests against the ruling Islamic establishment.
“I would have been accused by the judiciary of inciting public opinion,” he said.
Nikbakht criticized the verdict as “an insult to justice and the judiciary.” He said the appeals court ruling made new charges against his client, including libel and spreading lies.
Nikbakht said he had appealed the new sentence earlier this week.
It was not immediately clear whether this would be Aghajari’s last appeal. Aghajari’s sentencing last November provoked the biggest student protests in Iran in three years and highlighted the power struggle between the country’s liberals and hard-liners.
He initially said he would not appeal the death sentence, challenging the judiciary to carry it out. But his lawyer filed an appeal over Aghajari’s objections.
Both the Parliament and Khatami denounced the death sentence. But hard-liners, who dominate government bodies such as the judiciary and police and accuse reformists of undermining the principles of the 1979 Islamic revolution, defended the sentence.
Also Sunday, the editor of the reformist daily Yas-e-Nou said two of the paper’s journalists had been detained.
Vahid Pourostad and Hossein Bastani were detained Saturday evening, said Mohammad Naimipour, a prominent lawmaker. He gave no further details.
Relatives said the two were arrested on charges of “threatening national security.”
Prominent student leader Saeed Razavi Faqih was arrested Thursday on similar charges, relatives said. Faqih had organized student protests to condemn Aghajari’s death sentence.
Khatami also came under attack from liberals, including prominent philosopher Aldolkarim Soroush, who accused him of failing to push for reforms since his May, 1997, election.
“The peaceful and democratic uprising of the Iranian people against religious dictatorship in May 1997 was a sweet experience,” Soroush said in a letter addressed to Khatami.
“But your failure to keep the vote and your wasting of opportunities put an end to it and disappointed the nation. Now, failures have turned into unrest.”
Soroush was referring to last month’s student-led protests against the ruling Islamic establishment and the continuing arrests of student leaders and writers. ­ Agencies


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