Clerics court convicts reformist publisher
By Jonathan Lyons
TEHRAN (Reuters) - Iran's special clerical court Sunday found the publisher
of the leading pro-reform newspaper Salam guilty of printing classified
material and defamation, the official IRNA news agency said, raising the
prospects the influential daily will be silenced for good. (Related
The agency said Mohammad Mousavi-Khoeiniha, a powerful leftist cleric,
had also been found guilty of publishing insulting language and misleading
``The majority of jurymen did not consider the publisher of the daily
deserving a commutation of sentence,'' IRNA said.
A final judgement, which could include the permanent closure of Salam,
exclusion from press activities for Mousavi-Khoeiniha or even his imprisonment,
was due later.
The conviction of the publisher, one of the driving forces behind the
1997 election of moderate President Mohammad Khatami, follows six days
of pro-democracy protests set in motion by the hardline clerical court's
original ban against Salam, issued on July 7.
The protests culminated in street riots in central Tehran and demonstrations
in many other cities, all part of the worst unrest since the aftermath
of the 1979 Islamic revolution.
Earlier in the day, a jury of eight clerics heard charges that Salam
had published a classified document, slandered provincial officials and
accused MPs of complicity in an anti-press campaign with a rogue secret
agent charged with masterminding last year's serial murders of secular
``Salam is trying to create turmoil and instability in the basic pillars
of the system and the revolution,'' charged parliamentary deputy Hamid
Reza Taraqi, one of the plaintiffs.
He said the newspaper was playing into the hands of ``global arrogance
and the Zionists'' -- political vernacular for Iran's arch-foes the United
States and Israel.
Behind the fight over the fate of the newspaper lies the broader struggle
between Khatami and his reformist allies against the entrenched interests
of the conservative establishment.
``I say from the bottom of my heart and soul that our Islamic republic
system can only carry on if it guarantees the maximum of legitimate freedoms
within the framework of the constitution,'' publisher Mousavi-Khoeiniha,
a cleric with impeccable revolutionary credentials, told the court.
He denied the document in question had been classified and said Salam
deserved praise, not vilification, for issuing a public warning of a threat
to the entire system by a rogue agent who later died in custody, reportedly
by deliberately swallowing depilatory powder.
Still, he appeared resigned to the likelihood the court would close
down Salam, which had almost single-handedly championed Khatami's maverick
``From the very beginning I had no intention of complaining or appealing
the court's decision or even the court's jurisdiction. These people are
chosen by the supreme leader and I am not protesting anything,'' said Mousavi-Khoeiniha,
a former prosecutor-general.
In fact, the publisher only appeared in person after the direct intercession
of the judge, who asked him to attend the hearing rather than submit a
written defense. In court, he kept his answers short and ignored repeated
political attacks by his accusers.
The passive defense offered by Salam, say analysts, reflects widespread
anticipation the hardline clerical court would rule against the newspaper.
Among the eight-member clerical jury are two prominent hard-liners,
including the head of the Islamic Propagation Organization.
Supporters of Salam also argue the case belongs in front of the Press
Court, not the Special Court for Clergy which operates outside the judicial
As such, they say, it is more a partisan forum for political and ideological
control of the clergy than a court of law.