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Leading reformist editor of Neshat newspaper arrested

TEHRAN, Nov 2 (AFP) - Iran's press court finally arrested veteran reformist newspaper editor Mashallah Shamsolvaezin Tuesday on a warrant issued more than two weeks ago and jailed him pending trial on November 8, his lawyer said. (Related photo: here)

The move against Shamsolvaezin, who has repeatedly thumbed his nose at the courts by bringing new titles to the newsstands to replace banned newspapers, came as the same court jailed three student writers for blasphemy.

Shamsolvaezin's lawyer Nemaat Ahmadi told AFP that press court judge Said Mortazavi had set bail of 500 million rials, or 166,666 dollars at the official exchange rate of 3000 rials to the dollar.

"But Shamsolvaezin refused to pay the bail," his lawyer said, "so he was taken to prison."

"The court issued the arrest warrant and jailed Shamsolvaezin in his capacity as the editor-in-chief of the Neshat daily," he said.

The judge, whom reformers regularly accuse of doing the bidding of their conservative opponents, issued the warrant against Shamsolvaezin after he failed to appear to face charges of insulting Islam.

The charges arose from an article in Shamsolvaezin's last daily Neshat, which questioned the validity of the death penalty and Iran's "eye-for-an-eye" law of retribution.

The popular paper was banned in September in a move editors said was a "political coup" designed to muzzle the reformist press ahead of key parliamentary elections in February.

Shamsolvaezin has repeatedly said the case against him has "no legal basis".

State news agency IRNA meanwhile reported that the press court had handed down two three-year jail sentences and one of six months in another high-profile trial.

The court found three students, respectively Mohammad-Reza Namnabati, Abbas Nemati and Ali-Reza Aqaii guilty of blasphemy in a play they published in a student magazine.

Mehdi Sajadehchi, a university professor charged with encouraging the students over the play, was pardoned.

IRNA quoted a Tehran justice department statement as saying that sentences had been reduced because the defendants had shown repentance.

The play, accused of mocking the belief of Iran's Shiite Muslims in a so-called "hidden" imam or Mahdi who will return to usher in an age of justice, provoked outrage among conservatives here.

Many called for the perpetrators to be hanged and one senior police chief even volunteered to perform the execution himself.

But the Entekhab paper reported last Thursday that a representative of Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei had expressed hope that the court would consider "strong mitigation" in its verdict.

Khamenei also warned in a sermon last month that he would not tolerate "any arbitrary, individual or overly emotional reaction" to the play.

"Nobody has the right to react on the basis of feelings and assume the right to defend the values of Islam," he said.

Reformist President Mohammad Khatami charged that the uproar over a very small circulation magazine was a deliberate ploy to tarnish the fledgling moderate press which is a centrepiece of his reforms.

The courts have closed down four leading pro-Khatami dailies so far this year, and Iran's conservative-dominated parliament is moving to tighten restrictions on the press.

The activities by the press court came as the split between reformists and conservatives in Iran widened, with the two sides preparing to stage rival demonstrations to mark the 20th anniversary of the US embassy hostage-taking.


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