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Iran publicly flogs 13 for alcohol, harassment

TEHRAN, Aug 15 (Reuters) - Iranian authorities have flogged 13 men in a downtown Tehran square for drinking alcohol and harassing women in the latest in a spate of public punishments ordered by the hardline judiciary.

The official IRNA news agency said late on Tuesday the lashings were carried out during the evening rush hour, bringing traffic to a standstill on Tehran's main north-south thoroughfare.

This was the ninth reported case of public floggings in Tehran since elections on June 8.

Norouz newspaper on Wednesday quoted witnesses as saying blood flowed from the bare backs of the young men as they were whipped. The latest round of public lashings, which started after the re-election of moderate President Mohammad Khatami, have been publicly endorsed by the hardline judiciary chief as punishments aimed to deter others.

Although young men and women are routinely flogged in detention centres on morals charges, public lashings had until recently been rare, especially in more cosmopolitan Tehran.

The Interior Ministry, reformist political parties and several parliamentarians have criticised the recent judicial crackdown as an attempt to discredit the president and his embattled reformist allies.

Judiciary Chief Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi, appointed by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, is accused by reformists of trying to derail Khatami's attempts to bring social change. He has also called for more public hangings. Newspapers have reported three public executions were due to take place in different parts of Tehran on Wednesday, another two in the northeast city of Mashhad and 11 hangings inside the capital's Qasr prison.

TEHRAN, Aug 15 (AFP) - Four men accused of theft and illicit sexual relationships were publicly flogged in Iran's eastern Khorassan province, the Khorassan daily reported Wednesday.

It said one of the men, whose identities were not revealed, received 100 lashes for having illicit sex while three others were given 74 lashes each for theft. A steep rise in public floggings have sparked a new political dispute between conservatives and reformists backing moderate President Mohammad Khatami's promise for social reforms.

"vehemently" criticised the "rising tide of public floggings carried out on young people convicted of social vices."

"These floggings, instead of making victims repentant, increase public sympathy for them, aside from being contrary to the Islamic objective of imposing lashes," Deputy Interior Minister for political affairs Mohammad-Javad Haqshenas told the state IRNA news agency.

Other reformists argue the public beatings are harming Iran's image on the international stage.

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