Iran Court Closes 12 Reformist Papers
TEHRAN, Iran, April 23, 2000 (AP) — A dozen pro-democracy newspapers and magazines were missing from newsstands Monday following a ban by Iranian hard-liners who have openly challenged presidential reforms widely backed by the liberal press.
Eight major daily newspapers and four weekly or biweekly magazines were among the publications closed down by order of the hard-line judiciary in Tehran late Sunday, the official Islamic Republic News Agency reported.
A judiciary statement quoted by IRNA said the publications were closed for ``printing material against the lofty Islamic principles and commands.''
The closures intensified a media crackdown that has included the imprisonment of two leading reformist journalists over the past two days.
The latest developments came three days after Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the hard-line supreme leader whose powers supersede those of the elected president, said there were 10 to 15 reformist papers undermining Islamic and revolutionary principles, insulting constitutional bodies and creating tension and discord in society. His comments were widely seen as a warning to all reformist newspapers and journalists.
Only four reformist newspapers — Akhbar-e-Eqtesad, Sobh-e-Emrooz, Mosharekat and Bayan — were in print Monday. It was not clear why they were not included in the ban.
On Sunday, police seized Latif Safari, director of the banned Neshat daily, and took him to Tehran's Evin prison, his son, Amir-Hossein, told The Associated Press. Safari, whose arrest comes a day after authorities detained the nation's top investigative reporter, is the third journalist to be imprisoned this month.
Safari was sentenced in September to 27 months in jail for insulting Islam, police and lawmakers, and provoking riots with articles about an attack on a Tehran University dormitory by police and hard-line vigilantes, his son said. The raid last July, in which one student was killed, ignited riots in several large cities, the worst unrest since the 1979 Islamic revolution.
An arrest warrant against Safari was issued last Wednesday after his appeal was denied, said his son, who is a journalist at the liberal Asr-e-Azadegan daily.
Before Safari's sentencing last year, the hard-line judiciary had closed down Neshat, the nation's top reformist newspaper, on charges that included insulting Islam.
Safari's arrest comes amid efforts by hard-line opponents of President Mohammad Khatami to limit press freedoms and crack down on a liberal media that has widely backed presidential reforms. Nearly every leading reformist journalist has been summoned for questioning by the judiciary, which is controlled by the hard-liners.
On Saturday, Akbar Ganji, the nation's top investigative journalist, was summoned to court and arrested on the spot for violations of the press law.
Ganji, whose articles in several reformist newspapers had suggested a shadowy group of hard-line officials were behind the murders of five dissidents in the fall of 1998, is something of a national hero. His books about the killings are best sellers.
Earlier this month, the judiciary upheld the conviction of Mahmoud Shams, editor in chief of Asr-e-Azadegan, giving him a 2 1/2 -year jail term on charges of ``insulting religious sanctities.'' Shams has been a leading voice for press freedom.
In March, Saeed Hajjarian, another leading journalist, was shot in the face and gravely wounded. Reformist newspapers and officials have blamed the attack on hard-liners.
The campaign against the liberal media could intensify if the strongly conservative Guardian Council approves legislation passed Tuesday by hard-liners who dominate the outgoing Parliament to give the judiciary more teeth in curbing outspoken newspapers.
Khatami hit back at his opponents Saturday, saying the hard-liners were pushing the country toward ruin and despotism by claiming that reforms threatened both Islam and Iran's revolutionary ideology.