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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 parliament.

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.


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