Iran Judiciary Shuts Last Two Reformist Papers
By Ali Raiss-Tousi
TEHRAN (Reuters) - Iran's hard-line judiciary shut down the last two
major national newspapers from the reformist camp Thursday, bringing to
16 the number of publications banned this week. Photo
The two newspapers, including a leading daily published by a brother
of President Mohammad Khatami, were the last hit in a wave of closures
that began Sunday.
``Two separate statements made available...by the justice department
of Tehran said the two dailies had been informed to stop publication due
to violation of the press law,'' the official IRNA news agency said.
Reformers fear the press crackdown is part of a larger campaign by hard-liners
to end the movement for social and political change launched under Khatami.
Khatami called for calm in the face of the brewing crisis.
``In times of social crisis or tension, everyone should act with wisdom
and self-control and work toward curbing tension and defending the interests
of society within the framework of laws while...remaining faithful to principles,''
state television quoted Khatami as saying.
``Those...who want to act in today's world without respecting the people
and the popular will are mistaken,'' Khatami told members of the reformist-dominated
Tehran city council.
Students on campuses across Iran earlier held peaceful protests against
the bans and thousands boycotted classes in support of press freedom.
The banning of Mosharekat daily, run by the president's brother Mohammad
Reza Khatami, and of the outspoken Sobh-e Emrouz, followed the closure
without trial of 14 other pro-reform dailies and journals.
Judiciary, Government Clash
Tehran's justice department, controlled by the clerical establishment,
said Thursday the original bans were in response to articles that ``disparaged
Islam and the religious elements of the Islamic revolution.''
The judicial body defended the crackdown and criticized the Culture
Ministry, responsible for the once-flourishing press, for not taking action
against the newspapers itself.
``If the ministry had performed its duties...the judiciary would not
have been forced to take legal action in order to defend religious principles,''
it said in a statement.
The Culture Ministry, which is loyal to President Khatami, said earlier
this week the press closures were unlawful and called for an immediate
lifting of the press bans.
Officials also closed Ava, a journal close to top dissident cleric Ayatollah
Hossein Ali Montazeri, under house arrest since 1997 for criticizing Iran's
system of supreme clerical rule.
The bans, which have hit 11 dailies and five journals, have so far not
provoked the impassioned response that greeted the closure in July of the
reformist daily Salam.
Then, a pro-democracy rally was set upon by the security forces and
hard-line vigilantes, touching off the worst unrest since the aftermath
of the 1979 Islamic revolution.
More than 1,500 students were arrested after six days of unrest and
at least two of them are now on death row after conviction by the feared
Reformers are worried that the bans and propaganda against reform by
the state broadcast monopoly, controlled by hard-liners appointed by supreme
leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, could prepare the ground for a further crackdown.
Leaflets are being discreetly distributed in Tehran warning of a campaign
of terror and a possible coup d'etat planned by a ''crisis committee''
run by some commanders of the security forces and elements of the state
radio and television.
The judiciary's press clampdown came after newspapers started asking
questions about the ``crisis committee.''
Thousands of students boycotted classes Wednesday in defense of freedom
of expression. Protests were held at university campuses in Tehran and
a dozen other cities.
The students chanted slogans backing freedom of the press and denounced
state television for what they said was political bias. The protests were
peaceful and caused no serious incident.
Khamenei said last week some reformist newspapers had been turned into
``bases of the enemy,'' remarks widely seen here as heralding the campaign
against the independent press.