Conservatives tighten proposed press law
TEHRAN, Sept 22 (Reuters) - A conservative parliamentary committee
has proposed new restrictions on Iran's press, a main battleground between
reformers around President Mohammad Khatami and hardline rivals, newspapers
reported on Wednesday.
The daily Arya said that the commission had amended an already restrictive
draft bill to strengthen the powers of the Press Court judge, allowing
him to overrule the jury.
The amendments are yet to be approved by the conservative-dominated
Other provisions would give conservative bodies a greater say in the
jury's selection, tipping the balance away from reformers. They would also
effectively block the moderate jurors' tactic of blocking press hearings
by failing to show up.
Finally, the draft provisions explicitly give the press judge, appointed
by the conservative judiciary, the right to close newspapers and imprison
editors without a prior hearing.
They also provide for special Revolutionary tribunals to hear media
cases involving alleged threats to national security.
Conservatives say greater restrictions on press freedom are needed
to safeguard Islamic and revolutionary values.
A leading reformist editor, Abbas Abdi, vowed the changes would not
stop moderate journalists.
``We journalists will continue doing whatever we have been doing even
if this law is passed. This law cannot stop the new wave which has arisen,''
he told Reuters.
Abdi said he expected reformist deputies to boycott any vote on the
bill, seeking to deprive the chamber of a quorum.
The changes in the law appear aimed at closing the last few loopholes
that the pro-reform press has used to defend itself against a conservative
onslaught that has already seen the closure of a number of prominent dailies.
Khatami, who drafted the current liberal press law as culture minister,
has made the creation of an independent media one of the cornerstones of
his social and political reforms.
But he has been forced to stand by helplessly as his press allies,
including the daily Salam that fuelled his maverick election campaign in
1997, have been closed by the courts.
The outline of the tough new press law was approved in July, but the
Khatami administration vowed to fight back ahead of a final vote.