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Iranian official calls for end to press crackdown

TEHRAN, June 3 (Reuters) - A senior Iranian culture ministry official has appealed for an end to harassment of the liberal press by the conservative-led judiciary after a spate of arrests of newspaper directors, newspapers reported on Thursday.

Seven newspaper and news agency managers allied with President Mohammad Khatami have been summoned to court in the past week, putting pressure on the government to intervene.

``I formally protest the mistreatment of the press corps. Currently, journalists do not feel safe,'' newspapers quoted the Deputy Culture Minister on press affairs, Shaban Shahidi-Moaddab, as saying.

``The press court should act in a manner compatible with the dignity and honor of the press. Our managing editors have a good reputation'' to protect, said Shahidi-Moaddab, himself a former journalist.

The moderate press, widely seen as the vanguard of Khatami's reforms, has angered the conservative clerical establishment, which accuses it of undermining Islamic and revolutionary values.

The conservative-majority parliament is considering a law to limit press freedom ahead of crucial legislative elections next March.

In April the moderate daily Zan (Woman), run by Faezeh Hashemi, daughter of former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, was ordered closed by a revolutionary court.

The Iranian press has enjoyed increased freedom since Khatami's 1997 election.


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