Tehran, Iran A hard-line Islamic court banned the leading opposition party Saturday and ordered 33 leaders jailed for as long as 10 years each. The court said Freedom Movement leaders acted against national security with the intention of "overthrowing the establishment."
Meanwhile, the younger brother of reformist President Mohammad Khatami was at odds with Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, over whether to normalize relations with Washington. Mohammed Reza Khatami called for rapprochement, but Khamenei said such thinking meant giving in to America's expansionist policy.
The court is one of several hard-line institutions controlled by unelected clerics who have thwarted reform efforts of Mohammad Khatami since his landslide 1997 election. Iranians, who overwhelmingly backed Khatami's program of political freedoms and reforms, have become increasingly frustrated by the perceived lack of progress.
Freedom Movement party leader Ebrahim Yazdi described the verdicts as "unconstitutional," but said the continued repression of reform efforts would only further alienate Iran's conservative establishment from the country's people.
Iranians are "aware of the realities and will not be deceived," Yazdi told The Associated Press on Saturday.
Yazdi was not among those sentenced. He was undergoing cancer treatment in the United States when party members were arrested in March 2000.
The official Islamic Republic News Agency reported the reformist party's leaders were convicted of "acting against national security for the purpose of overthrowing the establishment ... having contacts with foreigners, including diplomats of foreign countries, propagating against the Islamic republic through public speeches, collecting classified information and insulting the authorities."
Those who received jail terms, ranging from four months to 10 years, remain free and have 20 days to appeal.
Eight others were ordered to pay fines of up to $6,250. Eleven were acquitted, according to the agency. The court also dissolved parties close to the Freedom Movement.
The verdicts come months after two dozen party members were tried behind closed doors.