- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 2, 2003

TEHRAN, Iran, Feb. 2 (UPI) — A court in Iran sentenced two pollsters to prison terms for carrying out an opinion poll on U.S.-Iranian relations, media reports said Sunday.

Abbas Abdi, a prominent reformist politician, was sentenced to seven years and his colleague, Hussein-Ali Qazian, received an eight-year prison term, the reports said.

The charges brought against them also included collaborating with elements related to U.S. and British intelligence services and unauthorized ties to the U.S. Gallup polling agency. Their polling institute, Ayandeh, was accused of being engaged in a Western-sponsored psychological war to overthrow the Islamic establishment.

The two men, along with several others from a similar institute, were arrested and tried after the release of the survey in September that indicated three-quarters of Iranians favored resuming ties with the United States.

Washington broke ties with Iran after Islamic militant students, among them Abdi, stormed the U.S. embassy in Tehran in 1979 and held some 52 staffers hostage for more than a year.

Abdi, an influential member of the leading reformist party, the Islamic Iran Participation Front, is a well-known journalist and a pro-reform ideologue. In recent years, he became a fierce critic of Iran's non-elected conservative clerics to the extent that he urged reformist President Mohammad Khatami to quit if he failed to implement reforms.

Abdi also proposed that reformers resign from the legislature if two key bills backed by the president were rejected by the conservative Guardian Council.

The bills aim at strengthening the president's power and ending the Council's veto power over election candidates.

Among the eight pollsters who have faced trial so far are the ex-deputy culture minister and currently a reformist parliamentarian, Ahmad Bourghani, and Mehdi Abasi-Rad, an editor with the state-run Islamic Republic News Agency. Bourghani is charged with illegally spending state funds and complicity in misusing the Culture Ministry's logo, while Abasi-Rad is accused of inciting public opinion by publishing the results of the survey.

Reformist politicians have denounced the case as politically motivated, saying it is intended to undermine Khatami's administration and suppress freedom of expression.

Khatami's government has also lambasted the trials, claiming the Intelligence Ministry had cleared the pollsters' activities.

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