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Iran says it spares four students from hanging after July unrest

TEHRAN, Iran, April 30, 2000 (AFP) - The Iranian judiciary said Sunday it had commuted death sentences on four students condemned for their role in the unrest of July last year into 15 years in jail for each, the official news agency IRNA reported.

The statement came after conflicting reports on the fate of Mehrdad Sohrabi, Ahmad Batebi, Abbas Deldar and Akbar Mohammadi.

It said the sentences had been commuted by Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on the recommendation of judiciary head Mahmud Hashemi-Shahrudi.

Pro-reform newspapers had published contradictory reports, saying that three students had been sentenced to death and a fourth had been acquitted.

On March 1 reformist papers also published a letter to Hashemi-Shahrudi from Mohammadi complaining he had been tortured and ill-treated in prison since his arrest.

"I was hit with an electric cable, hung up by a rope and violently beaten," he said, adding that he had gone deaf in his right ear, lost two nails on his left foot and suffered from kidney pain.

"The prison doctor ordered me to hospital but up until now I have not been taken there and I continue to suffer," he said.

Mohammadi was found guilty of throwing Molotov cocktails at the security forces at Tehran University on July 9. His brother Manucher, who was portrayed as a ringleader of the disturbances, was jailed for ten years.

The July unrest, the most serious in Iran since the aftermath of the 1979 Islamic revolution, broke out after police raided a student dormitory to break up a protest meeting at the closure of a reformist newspaper.

The troubles, which according to official figures caused three deaths, were finally quashed by the Islamic Bassiji volunteer militia, with hundreds of arrests.

Sunday's announcement came after the closure by the conservative courts of some 15 newspapers and periodicals which back reformist President Mohammad Khatami in the past week, along with two others.

The suspensions sparked sporadic protests by students in Tehran and other cities, but they have been peaceful and police have stayed away.

The trial of 20 policemen who took part in the dormitory raid is also going on in Tehran.