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Iran hardliners again attack reformist media

TEHRAN, May 30 (Reuters) - Several Iranian publishers close to Iran's moderate President Mohammad Khatami have been detained but most, including the head of Iran's official IRNA news agency, have been released on bail, newspapers said on Sunday.

They said Fereydoun Verdinejad, director of IRNA and publisher of several leading newspapers, was freed on bail on Saturday after six hours in detention on charges filed by conservative MPs, state broadcasters and elements of the police and armed forces.

The publisher of the reformist daily Arya, Mohammad-Reza Zohdi, also went to jail on Saturday on charges of ``publishing slanderous material, disturbing public opinion and exposing military secrets,'' pro-Khatami newspapers said.

Zohdi could not meet bail set at 210 million rials ($70,000) and remains in prison, they said. The 43-year-old IRNA director was freed after posting 180 million rials bail, they added.

Publishers of the moderate dailies Sobh-e Emrouz and Neshat, Saeed Hajarian and Latif Safari, were also summoned to court on unspecified charges. Both managed to post bail.

The reformist press, widely regarded as the vanguard of Khatami's vision of civil society and political development, has provoked the ire of the conservative ruling establishment who accuse it of undermining Islamic and revolutionary values.

The latest attacks against the media are also part of an overall offensive by conservative elements in parliament to revise press laws and restrict press activities ahead of crucial elections to the national assembly next March.

Details of Verdinejad's charges have not been made public but journalists told Reuters the case stemmed from complaints over a cartoon in the Persian-language Iran newspaper which ridiculed the conservative-controlled state television.

Verdinejad, a former senior intelligence officer now close to the reformist president, was acquitted by a press court last year of charges of ridiculing a hardline MP in a cartoon and weakening police authority by printing critical articles.

In April this year, the moderate daily Zan, or Woman, run by Faezeh Hashemi, daughter of former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, was ordered closed by the revolutionary court. Zan was charged with anti-revolutionary propaganda after printing New Year's greetings from the fallen empress of Iran.

Iran has enjoyed increased freedom since Khatami's 1997 surprise electoral victory, as he has advocated greater pluralism and defended freedom of thought and expression.

($1-3,000 rials at the official rate)


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