Iran judiciary chief undercuts president over music concerts

Music and other public performances are a sensitive matter in the Islamic republic given concerns among religious conservatives

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A cultural row in Iran over concerts being cancelled was reignited Sunday when the country's judiciary chief appeared to criticize President Hassan Rowhani's liberal remarks on the subject.

Music and other public performances are a sensitive matter in the Islamic republic given concerns among religious conservatives about creeping "Westernization". But there is a desire from other groups, particularly younger citizens, for greater artistic freedom.

Permissions are tightly controlled by the culture ministry but even officially approved events have recently been halted at short notice.

Organizers, artists and reformist media have blamed local governors and other officials for stopping the events.

Rowhani, addressing the subject on June 13, said that if a concert is officially approved and people buy tickets their plans should not be disrupted.

"Such interventions are a violation of people's rights," he said.

"When a legal permit is issued it is absolutely wrong for other bodies to intervene when they have no legal right to do so. If the judiciary wants to act in this regard it should have legal justification."

However, Sadegh Larijani, who heads up the judiciary responsible for prosecuting crime and administering courts, seemed to undercut Rowhani in a speech Sunday attended by the president.

"I was sorry to hear somewhere a cleric say that banning these concerts was against the people's rights," said Larijani, who like Rowhani is also a cleric.

"This is really surprising. One of the rights of the people is that things should not be against Islamic rules."

Having said the issue had been overblown by the media, given nine concerts out of 300 had been stopped since late March, Larijani went further in what seemed to be thinly-veiled criticism of Rowhani.

"Second and more important is that some executive officials of the country have an improper understanding and they say that if we have given a permit then no one has the right to revoke it," Larijani said.

"Well, this is wrong. The judiciary has responsibilities regarding forbidden conduct. Revoking of permissions is dependent on the law."

Rowhani, a moderate elected in June 2013, has recently clashed with Iran's senior clerical establishment over domestic issues.

After a speech on May 4 in which he said it was the job of police to enforce the law but not to deliver Islamic guidance, conservative lawmakers wrote a letter protesting Rowhani's remarks, saying it was up to the government "to defend Islam in any meeting".

Rowhani also last year spoke out about draft legislation that would have given more power to police and volunteer militias to enforce women's compulsory wearing of the veil.

The proposed law was later ruled unconstitutional.