OUTSPOKEN DISSIDENT MOHSEN SAZEGARA ARRESTED (Update)

TEHRAN 18 Feb. (IPS) Mr. Mohsen Sazegara, an outspoken dissident and critic of the Islamic Republic and the leader, Ayatollah Ali Khameneh'i, was arrested Tuesday, his son and relatives reported.

The arrest, by unidentified security agents, follows the last letter he wrote, entitled "First Step, Last Word" in which he repeated his acerb criticism of the theocratic regime, its leaders from both left and right, and proposed a referendum for defining the nation's future regime.

His arrest came as a delegation from the United Nations Human Rights Commission is visiting Iran for the first ime in the past seven years and is expected to verify arbitrary detentions, torture of political prisoners, keeping them in undisclosed prisons –said to be operated under the control of Ayatollah Khameneh'i -

A veteran journalist and a candidate to the last presidential elections, Mr. Sazegara proposed peaceful civil disobedience and nation-wide strikes in order to force the conservatives to accept the referendum.

In his last letter, Mr. Sazegara had pointed to the regime’s shortcomings and asked why a system that, during 25 years, has systematically failed to solve endemic problems of the country, including growing unemployment, social, cultural, economic difficulties, widespread corruption at highest level of the leadership, prostitution and many other ills, should continue in office.

"Now that the theocracy has proved its incompetence, it is time to be replaced by a plain secular, democratic system", he suggested, adding his voice to that of Mr. Akbar Ganji, another dissident who, in a pamphlet named "Manifesto for Republicanism", also suggested a nation-wide referendum on the future of the present Iranian regime.

With other friends, including Dr. Qasem Sho'leh Sa'di, a former member of the Majles and another critic of the regime, Mr. Sazegara created recently the "National Coalition of Iranians for Freedom", a new political group struggling save the country from disintegration and chaos brought upon by the present rulers.

According to his son, Vahid, Mr.Sazegara was arrested by plainclothes men immediately after leaving his residence around noon local times, brought back to home to confiscate "every kind of document, recorded or written, diskettes, tapes, computers, then taken to his office, "ALL Iran" where also the agents took all existing documents, before being transported to an undisclosed location".

Vahid told the independent Iranian Students News Agency ISNA that he did not know to which organ the men who arrested his father belonged and added that at a time of the arrest, he was accompanied by a friend whose fate is not known.

In his opinion, the controversial letter, a recent book, entitled "Islamists Against Islam", also published on his internet site "www.alliran.net" and his activities could explain the arrest. ENDS SAZEGARA ARRESTED 18203