TEHRAN — Iran's supreme leader has pardoned the popular, reform-minded former mayor of Tehran after seven months in prison, a move seen as part of an effort by hard-liners to project a more moderate image ahead of parliamentary elections.
Gholamhossein Karbaschi was imprisoned on corruption charges, which he denied, and sentenced to two years in prison. Now he is poised to plunge back into public life and will soon launch a daily newspaper, according to Parvin Emami, a journalist who is working with him.
"I think that involvement in politics has a price, and Mr. Karbaschi has paid that price. Now he should be allowed to return to the field as an active politician," Emami said Tuesday.
Reached by telephone at his home in Tehran, Karbaschi declined to comment.
Tehran radio said judiciary chief Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi had requested that Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, pardon Karbaschi.
The pardon had been expected since Karbaschi left prison earlier this month after being granted a leave. It was not known when the pardon was granted.
The Feb. 18 legislative elections are shaping up as a showdown between candidates calling for more social openness and freedom of speech and hard-liners who fear that the Islamic roots of Iran's 1979 revolution are being forgotten.
While trying to shore up their popularity, the hard-liners also are handicapping their reformist opposition. The Interior Ministry said this month that 402 would-be parliamentary candidates, most of them pro-reform, had been disqualified by a hard-line electoral supervisory council.
Iranians, who overwhelmingly support President Mohammad Khatami's political and social reforms, began turning their backs on hard-liners after Karbaschi's embezzlement trial in 1998.
Karbaschi's conviction left many Tehran residents believing that they had been robbed of an honest, effective leader by hard-liners whose real target was Khatami.
Karbaschi's sentence also banned him from public office for 20 years. It was not clear whether the ban would remain in force.