Iranian lawmaker freed after boycott threatened

Wednesday, January 16, 2002

TEHRAN, Iran -- A lawmaker jailed for speaking out against a hard-line campaign against supporters of Iran's liberal president was freed from prison Tuesday after the country's supreme leader ordered the release to defuse a mounting political crisis.

Hossein Loqmanian left Evin prison in northern Tehran hours after the parliament speaker, Mehdi Karroubi, led a walkout from the legislature. Karroubi said he would not preside over the 290-seat body as long as Loqmanian remained imprisoned.

Loqmanian's release was hailed as a victory for liberals, who had vowed to fend off what they called an attempt by conservatives to intimidate parliament, a stronghold of the reform movement.

Parliament is dominated by pro-democracy supporters of President Mohammad Khatami, who has been locked in a power struggle with Islamic hard-liners. They have closed dozens of liberal newspapers and jailed or harassed presidential allies over the past year.

Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is regarded as the leader of the hard-liners, but he sometimes rules in favor of the opposition when tensions threaten to explode. A boycott by legislators could exacerbate tensions in a country where student groups, politicians and others have been clamoring for greater political and social freedoms.

Khamenei has the last word on all matters, and he alone can pardon prisoners.

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