By Ali Raiss-Tousi
TEHRAN, June 28 (Reuters) - Iran's hardline constitutional watchdog body has rejected a bill defining political crimes and seeking to guarantee free speech and dissidents' rights after a recent judicial clampdown, newspapers said on Thursday.
The 12-man Guardian Council, dominated by conservative clerics, said the political crimes law passed by parliament last month was "unconstitutional" and "contrary to the religion", the daily Norouz said.
Reformist MPs had overwhelmingly passed the bill, proposed by supporters of moderate President Mohammad Khatami, requiring "political offences" to be heard by juries at public courts, not by Revolutionary Courts or military tribunals.
The legislation also limited the amount of time dissidents could be interrogated in temporary confinement to 15 days and entitled political prisoners sentenced behind closed doors without the benefit of a jury to a re-trial.
The feared Revolutionary Courts have arrested dozens of liberal Islamist intellectuals in recent months and hardline press courts have banned some 40 pro-reform newspapers, jailing a number of their journalists.
Many of the recent detainees have been held in solitary confinement in military detention centres for more than 100 days.
"Without this law,...thinkers, political figures and those who merely voice criticism would continue to pay for their acts by being jailed," reformist deputy Davoud Soleimani said during a parliamentary debate before the bill was passed.
Iran's constitution stipulates that all press and political offences are to be heard by juries at open trials, but many "political offenders" have so-far been tried by single judges, behind closed doors.
Parliament is expected to reject the Guardian Council's demands to ammend the legislation, in which case the bill will be sent for final adjudication to the Expediency Council, a body of advisors to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Khamenei, widely seen to be close to hardliners who are at loggerheads with the president's reforms programme, appoints leading Guardian Council members and the powerful judiciary chief.
SUPREME LEADER DEFENDS JUDICIARY
Khamenei publicly defended the conservative judiciary chief in a speech on Thursday and warned reformers not to criticise the courts.
"Some people are trying to reach their own political ends by strong criticism of the judiciary in newspapers or by bringing political pressure. This cannot be allowed," Khamenei said. "If this becomes a norm, it can no longer be tolerated."
He also warned people not to protest against the prison sentences handed down against reformist activists.
"Defending criminals sentenced by the law is contrary to the law and a crime in itself. This should be clearly understood."
Two reformist MPs, Hossein Loqmanian and Issa Mousavi-nejad, have received prison sentences of 13 and 12 months from hardline courts this month.
Loqmanian was charged with slandering the judiciary and Mousavi-nejad has been sentenced for "making an inciting speech", the official IRNA news agency said on Thursday.
Enraged reformers have accused the judiciary of double standards and say the sentences contradict laws which grant parliamentarians immunity in carrying out their official duties.