June 28, 2015 / 10:55 AM / in 2 years

Rouhani aims to bring transparency to Iran's legal system

DUBAI (Reuters) - Iran’s judicial system must become more transparent and political crimes should be clearly defined, President Hassan Rouhani said on Sunday, in some of his strongest comments on domestic reform since taking office.

Iran's President Hassan Rouhani arrives for a bilateral meeting with Indonesia's President Joko Widodo on the sideline of the Asian African Conference in Jakarta April 23, 2015. The 60th Asian-African Conference is held in Jakarta and Bandung from 19 to 24 April 2015. REUTERS/Mast Irham/Pool

The president, elected in 2013 with a promise to enact social reforms and create a more open political environment, has so far seen his efforts thwarted by powerful conservative factions, particularly in the judiciary.

Speaking at a televised judicial conference in Tehran, Rouhani called for more transparency in the prosecution of so-called political and security crimes that have seen large numbers of Iranian activists and journalists put behind bars.

“I hope we can define and codify political crimes during this government, with the cooperation of the judiciary, and put forward and approve a bill so it is clear what is a political or security crime,” he said.

Rouhani also took aim at the judiciary’s sometimes capricious application of other laws, a phenomenon that frequently disrupts daily life in Iran.

“Our judicial system must be transparent for everyone... even if the law is transparent, our judicial processes must also be transparent and accessible to the people,” Rouhani said.

“We can see that a single law can have many interpretations, and the judge can make his own presumptions when he delivers a verdict.”

Rouhani has spent most of his political capital in the past two years selling nuclear talks with the West, cajoling a skeptical population and combating powerful factions opposed to his policy of engagement.

CONCERTS CANCELED

But in recent weeks, with those negotiations entering their final days, he appears to have turned his attention to domestic issues.

Two weeks ago, he criticized law enforcement authorities for cancelling several concerts at short notice and without explanation, even after the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance had given them licenses.

“When a license is given, it is completely inappropriate for another body to cancel it without the right authority,” Rouhani said in a televised news conference on June 13.

“In cases where the judiciary wants to get involved, there must be legal justification for it to do so.”

But he will continue to face resistance. Ayatollah Sadeq Larijani, the head of the judiciary, took the stage shortly after Rouhani on Sunday and insisted there was legal justification for cancelling the concerts.

“Cancelling concerts is within the law... if (the government) gives permission for concerts where young men and women will be dancing together, that is not right,” Larijani said.

Reporting by Sam Wilkin, Editing by William Maclean and Rosalind Russell

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