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Updated: April 16, 2010 19:55 IST

Iran bars reformist leader from Japan conference

AP
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Former Iranian President Mohammad Khatami, gestures to his supporters during a gathering in Tehran. File photo: AP.
Former Iranian President Mohammad Khatami, gestures to his supporters during a gathering in Tehran. File photo: AP.

One of the senior leaders of Iran’s opposition reform movement, former President Mohammad Khatami, has been barred from traveling abroad to attend a nuclear disarmament conference in Japan, one of his aides said on Friday.

The ban against Mr. Khatami is part of an ongoing crackdown to eradicate opposition and muzzle dissent against Iran’s clerical rule.

Mr. Khatami’s aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, told The Associated Press that security officials ordered Mr. Khatami not to leave the country.

The aide said Mr. Khatami was to have left Iran on Thursday to attend the conference in Hiroshima, Japan.

“He failed to make the trip because he was informed by security officials that a travel ban has been imposed,” the aide said. He refused to discuss details and Mr. Khatami has not issued any statements on the development.

Mr. Khatami became a target of the hard-line leadership after he publicly backed opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi following last June’s presidential election. The opposition says President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s re-election was fraudulent and that Mousavi was the rightful winner.

A massive wave of pro-reform and opposition protests provoked a bloody government crackdown during which more than 80 demonstrators have been killed and hundreds of Iranian rights activists, journalists and reformists arrested. More than 100 opposition figures and supporters have been put on a mass trial since August. The court has handed down about a dozen death sentences so far and more than 80 prison terms ranging from six months to 15 years.

Iranian hard-liners have also called for an arrest, trial and execution of Mr. Khatami.

Mr. Khatami’s 1997-2005 presidency promised democratic reforms in Iran but his program was undermined by hard-liners who saw his policies as betrayal of the principles of the 1979 Islamic revolution.

The New York-based International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran said the travel ban against Mr. Khatami was “part of systematic effort to contain criticism.”

The group said the ban was a “violation of his freedom of movement and part of a broad but futile effort to contain critical voices and prevent them from having contact with the international community.”

In Japan, Emiko Nakamura, spokeswoman for the InterAction Council, confirmed Mr. Khatami’s absence from the conference on Friday. She said the organizers received an e-mail from Mr. Khatami’s office on Thursday night saying he was unable to attend due to an unexpected development in his country.

Former Swedish Prime Minister Ingvar Carlsson and his Canadian counterpart, Jean Chretien, issued a joint statement from the venue, addressed to Mr. Ahmadinejad, to protest the travel ban. The two urged Mr. Ahmadinejad to lift any restriction and allow Mr. Khatami to join the conference.

“We strongly protest this restriction on his freedom,” the two former prime ministers said. “International dialogue and mutual learning is especially critical on the crucial subject of nuclear disarmament because Iran is such a prominent participant in this debate.”

In Iran, reformist lawmaker Nasrollah Torabi also condemned the ban.

“Authorities must answer to the public about the travel ban against a popular global figure,” Mr. Torabi was quoted as saying by the reformist Web site Parlemannews.ir.

He said the ban only isolates Iran further from the international community and that it could lead the world to believe Iran is against nuclear disarmament.

Also on Friday, Iran’s semi-official Fars news agency said an arrest warrant has been issued for Mahdi Hashemi, the son of influential former president Hashemi Rafsanjani.

There was no confirmation from the judiciary. Mr. Hashemi, who has left Iran and reportedly stays in London, has been accused by hard-liners of stoking post-election unrest.

Keywords: Fighting dissent

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