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Head of banned Iranian paper to stand trial next week

TEHRAN, Sept 13 (AFP) - The trial of the director of Iran's Neshat newspaper, banned for publishing "anti-Islamic" articles, will begin in the press court next week, justice officials said Monday.

Latif Safari will appear next Monday to answer 73 charges in a public trial in the presence of a jury, Iran's justice department said in a statement carried by the official IRNA news agency.

Neshat, which is close to reformist President Mohammad Khatami, fell foul of Iran's conservative-controlled judiciary after publishing two controversial articles earlier this month.

In the first article the paper called for an end to the death penalty and Iran's strict "eye-for-an-eye" law of retribution.

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

Khamenei had made the paper's closure virtually inevitable after decreeing that journalists who opposed the retribution law were "apostates" who themselves were liable to be put to death.

Iran's moderate Culture Minister Ataollah Mohajerani said the closure of the paper was not legally justified while the paper's editors said the ban was a "political coup" to muzzle the pro-reform press ahead of next spring's parliamentary elections.

The July closure of Salam, another reformist daily, set off student protests that erupted in six days of bloody riots after demonstrators were attacked by security forces and Islamic hardliners.


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