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Sehaty Foreign Exchange

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Iran's reformist press accuses MPs of preparing clampdown

TEHRAN, July 6 (AFP) - Iran's reformist press expressed "serious concern" Tuesday as the country's conservative-dominated parliament prepared to debate legislation tightening up controls on the media.

Editors from a dozen newspapers published a joint statement accusing the bill's promoters of paving the way for "restrictions on the press, practically no job security for the country's journalists and preliminary steps for closure of various press institutions."

The editors called on the culture ministry of prominent reformer Ataollah Mohajerani to "seriously defend the rights of the press corps" against the draft legislation proposed by 20 conservative MPs.

The freedoms currently enjoyed by the press constitute the "backbone of President (Mohammad) Khatami's political and cultural development plans," the editors said.

Details of the bill have yet to be released ahead of the parliamentary debate which opens Wednesday but reformers have repeatedly criticized it as an attempt by conservatives to muzzle free speech ahead of key parliamentary elections in February next year.

Press reports say the bill would deprive newspapers of the right to trial by jury by transferring press cases to hardline revolutionary courts.

It would also make journalists as well as editors-in-chief legally responsible for violations of the press law.

Although Iran's moderate press has enjoyed considerable freedom since Khatami's election in 1997, it has recently come under mounting pressure from hardliners within the regime.

Last week, Khatami and his entire cabinet expressed opposition to the moves in parliament, saying they could "further restrict freedom of expression."


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