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Iran leader tells women's rights activists not to try to change laws

Ayatollah decries West as a model

TEHRAN -- Activists should not try to change Islamic laws relating to women's rights, Iran's supreme leader said yesterday, two days after one campaigner was reportedly sentenced to 34 months in jail and 10 lashes.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei also lambasted the West for using women as a tool to advertise products, make money, and to satisfy "disorderly and unlawful sexual needs," state television said.

He was addressing a group of women, most dressed conservatively in head-to-toe black chadors, ahead of today's anniversary of the birth of Prophet Mohammad's daughter, Fatima, when Iran honors mothers and women.

Campaigners say Iranian women face difficulties in getting a divorce and criticize inheritance laws that they say are unjust. They also challenge laws that say a woman's testimony in court is worth half that of a man's.

The Islamic Republic rejects allegations that it is discriminating against women, saying it follows sharia law. "We are witnessing in our country that some women activists and some men are trying to play with Islamic laws . . . in order to harmonize them with international conventions related to women," Khamenei said. "This is wrong."

"They shouldn't see the solution in changing Islamic jurisprudence laws," Khamenei, Iran's highest authority, was quoted as saying.

But he indicated that some Islamic rules regarding women could change if jurisprudence research led to a new understanding, state television said.

Although women are legally entitled to hold most jobs in Iran, it remains a male-dominated society. They cannot run for president or become judges, but in recent years they have started to work in police and fire departments.

On Monday, an Iranian court sentenced a women's rights activist to almost three years in jail and 10 lashes for attending a banned rally, her lawyer said on Tuesday.

Lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh said Delaram Ali, 24, was her fourth client to be convicted over last year's protest in favor of female rights. She said that the sentence would be appealed and that Ali was free on bail.

Rights activists and Western diplomats say Iran is taking a tougher line against dissent in general, possibly in response to increased international pressure over its disputed nuclear activities.