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Hard-liner court in Iran jails pro-Khatami activist

TEHRAN, Iran, April 30, 2000 (AP) -- The head of Iran's largest reformist student group was jailed Sunday in a widening crackdown by hard-liners, who reportedly also are seeking to remove two top pro-reform Cabinet ministers.

Ali Afshari, head of the Office for Fostering Unity, was sent into detention after several hours of questioning by the Revolutionary Court in Tehran, said officials of the student group, speaking on condition of anonymity.

It was not clear if Afshari was charged with any crime. Judicial officials were not immediately available for comment.

Conservatives in the Islamic clerical regime have over the past two week closed down 16 newspapers, arrested two journalists and questioned numerous reform activists in a backlash to preserve their power against the increasingly strong pro-democracy movement.

Newpapers reported Sunday that the outgoing parliament, which is controlled by hard-liners, has summoned Culture Minister Ataollah Mohajerani and Interior Minister Abdolvahed Mousavi Lari, both leading supporters of reform, to face impeachment proceedings.

The student leader Afshari and two newspaper editors -- all staunch allies of popular President Mohammad Khatami -- were questioned by the court about their presence at a conference in Berlin, Germany, earlier this month, at which slogans criticizing Iran's religious government were chanted.

The editors -- Ezzatollah Sahabi of Iran-e-Farda magazine and Hamid-Reza Jalaipour of the Asr-e-Azadegan daily -- were freed after their interrogation. Both of their publications have been banned.

After his release, Jalaipour said the court told him that his participation at the Berlin conference "was an act against Iran's security and that I had propagated against the Islamic Republic."

Jalaipour said the men had tried to defend the ongoing reforms at the conference, but were attacked by anti-government Iranians in exile.

"It's a strange situation. Abroad, we are attacked by anti-revolutionaries as agents of the Islamic establishment in Iran, and at home they attack us as agents of the enemies," Jalaipour told The Associated Press.

On Saturday, the same court arrested two women reformists for attending the Berlin conference. A third woman activist, Jamileh Kadivar, the wife of Culture Minister Mohajerani, has been asked to appear in court on Monday for questioning, Jalaipour said.

Mohajerani has allowed the pro-democracy press to flourish since Khatami's 1997 election and narrowly survived an impeachment vote last year. Lari became Interior Minister after his predecessor, Abdollah Nouri, was impeached by hard-liners three years ago. Nouri is now in jail, serving a five-year sentence on charges of religious dissent.

It was not immediately known when the impeachment process against Mohajerani and Lari will begin.

The hard-liners' actions are seen as an assault of some of the main bases of support for Khatami, who has worked to loosen the strict Islamic limitations on political and social life. Khatami allies wrested control of the parliament from hard-liners with an overwhelming victory in February elections.

On Saturday, in his strongest reaction yet to the hard-liners, Khatami insisted that his reforms were unstoppable. Khatami also rebutted charges that the reformists were anti-Islamic and foreign-inspired.

Reformers fear that the conservative clergy is trying to instigate violence as a pretext for bringing troops into the streets and declaring a state of emergency so as to delay the opening of the new parliament on May 27.