Fri, Aug 15, 2003 - Page 6 News List

Conservatives in Iran reject trio of civil-rights bills

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , TEHRAN

Iran's hard-line watchdog agency rejected three bills Wednesday approved by parliament that could have expanded civil rights. The move is another blow against the reform movement that has been limping along since 1997.

The Guardian Council rejected two bills that required Iran to adopt UN conventions on eliminating torture and discrimination against women. The third bill, on elections, was aimed at curbing the council's power to bar candidates from running for office.

Council's spokesman Ibrahim Azizi said that the bills were rejected because they were unconstitutional or against the Islamic law.

But the move was widely considered as a blow intended to undercut the reform movement before the next parliamentary elections scheduled for next February.

The Guardian Council has already set up offices around the country to identify potential candidates and examine their political records. Reformers have said that the offices are illegal.

"We had predicted that the council would reject the bills because the current structure of the council is like a book that has been printed a million times and everyone is familiar with its contents," said Jafar Golbaz, a member of parliament, the Iranian Labor News Agency reported.

He said that the time had come for parliament to use its constitutional power and put the election bill to a referendum.

"By putting the issue on referendum, the fate of the matter will get out of both the Guardian Council and parliament's hands," he added.

President Mohammad Khatami acknowledged in a speech on Tuesday that his reform agenda had largely failed and warned his hard-line opponents that they were alienating the country's youth.

Scores of activists, frustrated with the slow pace of reforms, remain in jails since the 10-day pro-democracy protests around the country in June.

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