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Iran editor indicted by hard-line court

TEHRAN, Iran, April 11, 2000 (Reuters) -- Leading pro-reform editor Emadeddin Baqi was summoned to Iran's hard-line press court and indicted on multiple charges Tuesday, fellow journalists said.

Baqi's colleagues at Fath newspaper told Reuters that charges against him included acting against state security, insulting religious values and libel.

The plaintiffs included Tehran's conservative justice chief, as well as the intelligence ministry and the state broadcasting organization, dominated by hard-liners.

Baqi, a prominent figure among Muslim intellectual activists, was freed on 300 million rial ($37,000) bail, his colleagues said.

The intelligence ministry was foremost among the accusers with 27 lawsuits against Baqi, including one based on a speech he made to students in the southern city of Shiraz five years ago.

Another complaint referred to an article in which Baqi had protested against the imprisonment or house arrest of 12 ranking Shi'ite Muslim religious leaders including Iran's senior dissident cleric Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri.

Reformers have protested the summoning of journalists by the special press court, to no avail.

Under existing Iranian law, a newspaper's publisher -- not the individual writer or editor -- is legally responsible for the content of all published material.

The case against Baqi, himself a former cleric, is the latest in a series of blows to the reform movement struggling against Iran's conservative establishment.

Monday, influential editor Mashallah Shamsolvaezin began serving a 30-month sentence for insulting religious values, the most common charge brought by conservatives against the pro- reform press.

He had paved the way for much of Iran's press revolution with a series of maverick dailies, all but one of which has since been banned.

Iran's courts have closed several pro-reform publications and banned some of their publishers from press activities.

Special clerical courts, meanwhile, have silenced members of the clergy who managed newspapers.

But reformist journalists have often reopened their publications under new names, using more liberal licensing rules introduced by Iran's moderate President Mohammad Khatami, who was elected on a reform platform in 1997.

The court will continue interrogating Baqi Sunday, his colleagues said.