Reformist Iranian daily answers anti-Islam charges
By Ali Raiss-Tousi
TEHRAN, Sept 20 (Reuters) - Iran's leading pro-reform newspaper, already
under suspension, went on trial on Monday on charges of insulting Islamic
values and spreading propaganda against the state.
Press Court Judge Saeed Mortazavi rejected defence claims that his
pre-trial order to close the daily Neshat early this month was illegal,
and ordered the publisher to drop his protest or face five days in jail
for contempt of court.
``Jail me for five years, but abide by the law,'' publisher Latif
Safari told the court.
``The forced closure of Neshat without a court hearing in the presence
of a jury was unlawful, and if you want to proceed with this hearing in
this manner, then there is no need for our presence,'' he said.
A total of 74 charges against Neshat, including police complaints
of defamation, are under review by the court, which has the power to ban
the newspaper and fine or jail the editors.
It can also ban members of the editorial team, who have already had
two other dailies closed down, from further journalistic activity.
The closure of the outspoken Neshat marked the latest blow by the
conservative-led judiciary against liberal newspapers which have thrived
in a climate of greater freedom granted by moderate President Mohammad
It followed a firestorm of criticism from conservatives who accused
the newspaper of opposing the Islamic principle of retribution, summed
up in the injunction ``an eye for an eye,'' in a recent article against
The clerical establishment also said publication of an open letter
from a veteran opposition politician asking supreme leader Ayatollah Ali
Khamenei to stay out of factional politics had insulted Iran's Islamic
At first, Neshat's editors thought they had defused the crisis by
publishing an apology as agreed with the new leadership of the judiciary.
But days later, Judge Mortazavi stepped in to ban the newspaper pending
Legal analysts said Neshat's best defence was to try to draw out the
proceedings until September 23, when a new and more liberal press jury
is expected to be sworn in.
But Mortazavi -- who doubles as prosecutor under the Iranian system
-- appeared intent on moving the chaotic hearing forward as quickly as
possible, holding sessions through the noon prayers and pledging to keep
the court in session until late in the day.