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Banned Iran paper denounces "political" ploy, vows new daily

TEHRAN, Sept 6 (AFP) - The editors of a pro-reform Iranian daily closed by the conservative courts denounced the ban Monday as a political ploy to silence Iran's reform movement and vowed to start another paper immediately.

Editors from Neshat said Sunday's "illegal" closure, the fourth time a leading pro-reform paper has been shut down this year, was purposely engineered by conservatives ahead of February's key parliamentary elections.

"The conservative faction's scheme to close newspapers and restrict freedoms just six months ahead of the legislative elections is doomed to fail," Neshat official Latif Safari said at a heated Tehran press conference.

"You can shut down a newspaper but you can never silence the voice of the people or keep them from thinking and speaking their minds," he said, vowing that a new daily with the same staff would be on newsstands by Thursday.

He said the courts were "acting in the interests of the conservative faction and to the detriment of freedom and democracy in Iran," adding that the paper had been directly threatened by press court chief Saeed Mortazavi.

"He told us that if we did not stop publication, he would order security forces in to smash the bureau and lock the doors," Safari said.

"This was a political act."

But Neshat editor-in-chief Mashallah Shamsolvaezin also put part of the blame on reformist President Mohammad Khatami, saying the president had "failed to demonstrate his authority."

The courts ordered the closure of the paper on Sunday after it published an editorial last week saying Iran should do away with the death penalty and Iran's strict "eye-for-an-eye" Islamic law of retribution, in keeping with universal standards 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.

The moderate press came to Neshat's defence Monday with similar charges that the closure had been an unabashed attempt to muzzle the reformist press ahead of the parliamentary polls.

The regime's conservative faction "plans to remove the print media in its way in whatever way possible," said Kasra Nuri, political editor of the moderate daily Aftab-e-Emrouz.

"The closure was a pre-planned measure on the agenda and ... the pace of such closures will accelerate" as Iran gets closer to the February vote, Nuri said in a joint interview with several editors in the English-language Tehran Times.

Morteza Kazemian, political editor of the reformist daily Khordad, echoed the charges, saying the closure of the paper before a case had even been brought to trial "runs counter to the constitution and is an illegal move."

"No problem will be fundamentally settled" by closing Neshat or any other paper, he said, calling the ban "an exercise of power."

Khordad itself said in an editorial that the closure "was obvious proof of the anger among conservatives and their opposition to the reforms" of President Mohammad Khatami.

"They see their survival as the destruction of others," it said.

Only the hardline Jomhuri Eslami paper came out in support of the move, attacking the culture ministry -- which is close to Khatami -- for having allowed Neshat's editors to work at the paper after their earlier publications had also been banned by the courts.

Pro-Khatami reformists are hoping to end the conservative majority in parliament in February's vote but with the closure of Neshat have lost another important mouthpiece for their reform agenda.

Neshat is the fourth pro-Khatami paper to be banned this year. The court-ordered closure of the Salam daily in July set off student protests that erupted into six days of deadly riots after demonstrators were attacked by security forces and Islamic militants.


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