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Editors ask Khatami to defend the press

TEHRAN, Oct 2 (Reuters) - Two leading Iranian journalists appealed to reformist President Mohammad Khatami on Saturday to break his silence on the mounting pressures against his allies in the press.

In an open letter to the president, Hamid Reza Jalaiepour and Mashallah Shamsolvaezin asked Khatami -- who has fostered Iran's independent press in his campaign for a civil society -- to shield them from their powerful critics.

The pair have been associated with three newspapers shut down by the authorities. The last one, Neshat, was closed only last month by the hardline Press Court for insulting Islamic values and the publisher sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison.

Jalaiepour and Shamsolvaezin also appealed to the new head of the judiciary to spare them from political pressures.

``Either tell us officially that our activities are illegal, or that they are not in line with the national interest, and in such a case we will bitterly accept to remain silent and inactive...

``Or tell us clearly from which government body we are to get the minimum of political and professional security to continue our activities,'' they said in their letter to Khatami.

``Dear Mr President, your younger brothers appeal to you not as the country's highest executive authority...but as the person executing the reforms to tell us where exactly we stand in this programme. What are our rights and duties?''


In a separate letter, the two editors asked judiciary chief Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi to help them: ``(Shall) we forget our civil and religious rights to freely choose a profession...because of extra-legal pressures, or (shall) we continue our activities without even a minimum of security?''

Signed texts of the two letters were faxed to Reuters. Neither Shamsolvaezin, the editor-in-chief of Neshat, nor Jalaiepour, another key executive, were charged in the latest case.

But it marked the third time a paper with which they were associated had been closed by the judiciary, dominated by conservative critics of Khatami's political and cultural reforms.

In their letter to the Khatami, they said it was time the president, as leader of the reform movement, stood up to the hardliners in defence of the independent press.

Neshat, they said, was tamer than their two earlier publications but it was the only one to have its publisher sentenced to jail. `

`Esteemed Mr President, even if the activity of Neshat newspaper is deemed as political activity, it is a political activity looking toward reforms, not political activity looking toward gaining political power. Therefore, in principle it shouldn't be the subject of so much sensitivity.

``We believe that this sensitivity toward Neshat is because it was defenceless, not because it was politically dangerous.''

The press has emerged as a central battleground between reformers around Khatami and the conservative establishment, with three major dailies closed within the last six months.


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