TEHRAN, August 8 (AP) - Thousands of hard-liners gathered outside the Iranian parliament Tuesday to shout insults at a reformist lawmaker who had dared to challenge an order from the country's supreme leader.

Inside, reverberations continued to be felt from Sunday's extraordinary parliament session, when orders from supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei squelched reformists' attempts to loosen the country's restrictive press laws and set off scuffles in parliament, known as the Majlis. Reformist Ahmad Pournejati resigned as head of parliament's Cultural Committee to protest the ban on debating the press law.

Pournejati's cultural committee had proposed an amendment to the press law and called for a parliamentary debate on it that was canceled Sunday on Khamenei's orders.

"A one-sided heavy propaganda campaign has been launched with a certain political direction aimed at destroying the parliament, especially its cultural committee," Pournejati told parliament Tuesday, while the protesters chanted anti-reform slogans outside.

In their second day of anti-reform protests, the demonstrators called for the execution of Mohammad Rashidian, one of several lawmakers who called for debating the country's current restrictive press laws despite Khamenei's orders.

In his arguments in parliament broadcast live on national radio Sunday, Rashidian referred to Khamenei, the country's top political and religious authority, as Mr. Khamenei, without the title ayatollah, and implied that the religious leader was not acting in accordance with Islamic law.

"Traitor Rashidian must be executed," shouted the protesters, who also called for the expulsion of the handful of other lawmakers who had called for defying Khamenei's orders. Protesters carried large posters of Khamenei and his predecessor Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the leader of Iran's 1979 Islamic revolution.

"The American stooges and incompetent lawmakers must be expelled from parliament," shouted the protesters, some of them draped in the black-and-white checked scarves usually worn by members of hard-line Ansar-e-Hezbollah group.

Many hard-liners in Iran believe that any comment against the Islamic establishment is provoked by the United States.

Also Tuesday, Iran condemned U.S. comments on the press debate as "interference" in the country's internal affairs, the official Islamic Republic News Agency reported.

"It is necessary for others to refrain from meddling in the internal affairs of other states, including Iran, by observing international rules and regulations," the agency quoted Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid-Reza Asefi as saying.

In Washington Monday, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the United States had "very serious concerns" over the suspension of debate on the bill.

The latest tensions threaten to worsen a political rift between Khamenei, and supporters of reformist President Mohammad Khatami.

In February elections, Iranian hard-liners lost control of the legislature for the first time since the Islamic revolution.

One of the hard-liners' last undertakings in the previous legislative session was to force through the restrictive press law. The laws have been the basis for a ban on 25 publications - all but one pro-reform newspapers - and the arrests of several prominent journalists.

The 25th banning came Tuesday, with the pro-reform Bahar daily ordered closed, an editor at the paper said on condition of anonymity.

In May, Bahar editor Saeed Pourazizi, who also is head of news and information in President Mohammad Khatami's office and one of the president's close confidants, was summoned to court to answer accusations of spreading lies and dissent.

Since Khatami's 1997 election, the hard-liners have lost considerable power, but they still retain control of the judiciary, military and television network and are backed by Khamenei, who has the last say on all matters. Though unelected, Khamenei's word outweighs Khatami's.

more from beliefnet and our partners
Close Ad