TEHRAN, Iran (AP) – A leading Iranian reformist and opposition supporter has been barred from traveling abroad and attending a nuclear disarmament conference in Japan, one of his aides said Friday.
The ban against former pro-reform President Mohammad Khatami is part of an ongoing crackdown to eradicate opposition and muzzle dissent against Iran’s clerical rule.
Khatami’s aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, told The Associated Press that security officials ordered Khatami not to leave the country.
The aide said Khatami was to have left Iran on Thursday to attend a nuclear disarmament 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 Khatami has not issued any statements on the development.
Khatami became a target of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s clique after the former president publicly backed opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi following last June’s presidential election. The opposition says 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 Khatami.
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.
In Japan, Emiko Nakamura, spokeswoman for the InterAction Council, confirmed Khatami’s absence from the conference Friday. She said the organizers received an e-mail from Khatami’s office 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 Ahmadinejad, to protest the travel ban. The two urged Ahmadinejad to lift any restriction and allow 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,” 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.