TEHRAN 14 Oct. (IPS) Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi-Shahroudi bluntly told Sunday the Iranian President Mohammad Khatami to avoid interfering in the regimeís Judiciary affairs, reminding him that the Constitution do not recognise the right of immunity for lawmakers who contravene the laws.

Responding to a letter sent by Mr. Khatami to the Head of the Judiciary concerning the "constitutional rights" of MMs (Members of the Majles), rights that are grossly ignored by the leader-controlled Judiciary, the Iraqi-born Ayatollah Hashemi-Shahroudi expressed "astonishment" and in return, observed that the president had no responsibility concerning legal matters but the follow-up of their implementation.

In his letter dated 10 October, President Khatami had invoked some articles of the Constitution concerning lawmakers immunity and the presidentís "responsibilities" concerning the application of the laws, "advising" the "honourable" Head of the Judiciary power "not to allow the Constitution being ignored by judges".

In that letter, described by many observers as one of presidentís "few firm actions" aimed at harnessing the Judiciary that acts as the "political and police arms" of Ayatollah Ali Khamenehíi, Mr. Khatami had expressed "serious concern" over the prosecution of some MMs by Islamic revolutionís courts, noting that this practice was against the right to immunity the Constitution has recognised for peopleís representatives when speaking in the House.

Reformists in particular and the great majority of Iranians who had voted for Mr. Khatami were hoping that the unprecedented letter would herald a "new era" in which the President would oppose, or at least continue to denounce the Judiciaryís "systematic" violation of the laws, imprisoning dissidents and clamping down of the independent and reformist press.

The embattled President had pointedly protested the cases of Mr. Hossein Loqmanian and Mrs. Fatemeh Haqiqatjou, both reformist deputies from the western city of Hamadan and Tehran, stating that deputies should not be arrested or put on trial for their opinions, when expressed during Majlesís public debates.

The outspoken Mrs. Haqiqatjou was sentenced to 22 months in jail in August after she confirmed cases of physical and psychological tortures and mistreatment of political prisoners, some of them detained in secret prisons operated by special units of the Islamic revolution guards intelligence controlled directly the leaderís office as well as by prison authorities.

Her colleague has been sentenced to 13 months in jail for "slandering" the judiciary and a deputy, Mr. Isa Mousavinezhad, has been given one year in prison for his role in public unrest in the western city of Khorramabad last year. All three are still free pending appeals, said the official news agency IRNA.

According to the Judiciary, under Islamic canons, the laws are equal for every one, including the president and lawmakers do not enjoy immunity, even in the parliament.

"Since, according to the Constitution and ordinary laws as well as the jurisprudential principles, judges are fully independent in their interpretation of the laws and issuing verdicts, nobody, not even the Judiciary Chief, has the right to interfere with their decisions" Mr. Mahmoud-Shahroudi observed in answer to the Presidentís letter.

But jurists, lawyers and experts rejected this argumentation, observing that the Head of the Judiciary who, in turn, is appointed by the leader of the regime names judges.

Analysts noted that the exchange was one of the very few cases in which the Heads of the Judiciary and the Executive confronted each other publicly.

Actually, in his response to Hojjatoleslam Khatami, Ayatollah Hashemi-Shahroudi expressed ""surprise" at the "great coverage" of the "affairí by both the local and international media "at a time that "the current situation of the region requires unity and national harmony as well as further unanimity among the regimeís officials".

"The (Presidentís) letter, dealing with the case of two MMs and its subsequent coverage on the Internet and the media was the cause of a surprise", Mr. Hashemi-Shahroudi said, reminding Mr. Khatami of the "responsibilities" that the Iranian Islam-based Constitution has define for the heads of the three powers, observing that "anyhow", the issue "needed to be settled by the heads of the three stateís branches", the pro-government IRNA reported.

"As you have yourself complained repeatedly of the issues which stoke up crises and tensions in the society, such arguments which need careful scientific and legal studies, should be examined in expert circles, before being brought into the media attention and becoming a cause of concern and doubt", he added.

"Considering the harsh remarks made by Mr. Hashemi-Sahroudi in his answer to Mr. Khatami, one gets the impression that the Judiciary do not recognise him even the simple right of verbal warnings", one analyst commented, asking for anonymity.

In an editorial published Sunday, the English-language "Iran News" called for an immediate end to the current political rivalries between the reformists and conservatives, warning that this situation will threaten national interests.

Commenting on Mr. Khatami's warning to the Judiciary regarding the treatment of lawmakers by courts that are controlled by the conservatives and sentences passed on some of them, the paper noted that since the beginning of the 6th Majles on May 2000 up to the present time, almost 30 MMs have been summoned by the courts with some of them having actually been convicted and sentenced to jail, including Mr. Loqmanian and Mrs. Haqiqatjoo.

However, it added, this presidential notice, the only option left to the president, "has no teeth", since the Constitution has no provision to deal with the situation if the Judiciary Chief decides to ignore the President's notice.

It is however unfortunate that despite the reasoning and protests of the reformists, the Judiciary continues to put increasing pressure on the reformist members of the Parliament, regretted the paper.

According to "Iran News", one reason why the reformists have been unable to fulfil their promises of reform and are under increasingly strong conservative pressure is due to the fact that although the reformists may have captured 80 percent of the Majles seats, the conservatives still control 80 percent of the levers of power".

"In fact, it is this breach of Constitution that compelled Khatami to serve a notice to the Judiciary", "Iran News observed.

It also blamed President Khatami for taking "too long" to have taken the current decision against the Judiciary, expressing the view of many Iranians.

"The reformists excessive views and actions since the overwhelming election victory of President Khatami are partly responsible for the current situation in the country's domestic politics", the daily pointed out.

Giving a subtle but indirect clue as who might have encouraged Mr. Hashemi-Shahroudi to be so hard with the popular President, the paper cited "the example" of the reformists attitude in politically destroying former President Ali Akbar Hashemi- Rafsanjani, currently the head of the powerful Expediency Council.

Iranians expressed "delight" when Mr. Hashemi-Rafsanjani was badly defeated and humiliated in the last Legislative elections, coming the very last among candidates for Tehran.

It described the current situation of the reformists as being like a "wrestler" who, despite the support of the spectators and the referee, is unable to beat his powerful opponent.

After mentioning that the Judiciary owes its power to the conservatives who control the regime "and therefore, has the upper hand over the two other branches of the system", the daily observed that the powerful leader-controlled Guardian Council and the state-owned public media, such as Radio and Television are also controlled by hard liners.

"In view of these facts and under the present circumstances, neither of the two major political groups is capable of devising and implementing policies and as a result, the affairs of the state are held hostage to their rivalries" the paper concluded. ENDS JUDICIARY KHATAMI 141001