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Iran's judiciary calls on moderate minister to tolerate criticism

TEHRAN, Sept 8 (AFP) - Iran's conservative judiciary on Wednesday called on moderate Culture Minister Ataollah Mohajerani to accept criticism, following the minister's complaint over a misrepresentation of his meeting with the new judiciary chief.

"You should be able to accept criticism," said Abdol-Reza Izadpanah, advisor to judiciary chief Ayatollah Mahmud Hashemi-Shahrudi, indirectly mocking Mohajerani, known for advocating tolerance of criticism.

"Being familiar with the manner of news dissemination and circulation, you should know that only items which are novel and newsworthy are reflected in the press," the judiciary official said cited by the official IRNA news agency.

"That which was said during your meeting with Hashemi-Shahrudi, was the judiciary's advice on institutionalizing the legitimate freedom (of the press), and facing elements which threaten freedom," Izadpanah said cited by IRNA.

Izadpanah clearly outlined the judiciary's expectations from Mohajerani's ministry, stressing the need to legally confront those who threaten freedom with a superficial representation of it, as well as the prevention of crises in the press community.

Mohajerani, in a letter to the new judiciary chief published in papers here Monday, called on Shahrudi to "make public the context," of their dicussions "in a manner that does not ignore the services of the culture ministry."

Reports had said the minister, a close ally of reformist President Mohammad Khatami, was "summoned" by Hashemi-Shahrudi on Sunday in connection with the closure of the pro-reform Neshat daily.

The culture ministry has responsibility for issuing press licences and came under fire from the conservative press Monday for granting a permit to Neshat, largely staffed by editors from previously banned papers.

The daily was shut down Sunday for allegedly offending Islam and Iran's supreme leader after it published an editorial calling for an end to the death penalty, and Iran's "eye-for-an-eye" law of retribution, in keeping with universal norms of human rights.

Neshat also published an unprecedented open letter from an opposition leader questioning the authority of supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, an illegal act under Iranian law.

It is the fourth pro-Khatami daily to be shut down this year and its editors vowed Monday to have a new paper, under a different title, back on the newsstands this week.

Since coming to office in 1997, Khatami has put an easing of press restrictions near the top of his reform agenda, leading to a flourishing of newspapers and a new openness in discussion of the nation's political affairs.

But the conservative-dominated courts have fought back by banning newspapers and arresting or interrogating dozens of journalists.


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