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Iran's Press Courts Carry on Press Crackdown

TEHRAN, Aug 15 (Reuters) - Iran's hardline Press Court opened a new case against a convicted publisher on Tuesday, one day after a top judiciary official suggested the crackdown on the pro-reform press could be winding down.

The court summoned Mohammad Reza Zohdi, sentenced last month to four months in jail on separate press charges, to answer new allegations. His Arya newspaper was closed for good.

"Today's interrogations were about new charges against Zohdi sent from the Revolutionary Court which had ruled that the Press Court was competent to investigate," his lawyer told Reuters outside the closed courtroom.

Zohdi's return to court came less than 24 hours after a high ranking official said the head of the judiciary was not happy with the mass closure of reformist newspapers and that the ban on some of them could be lifted soon.


Deputy judiciary chief Hadi Marvi said on Monday the crackdown on independent, pro-reform newspapers was not official policy but the result of certain "interpretations" by the hardline press court judges.

But defence lawyers have greeted his comments with caution.

"There is no room for optimism until these words become action. There can only be hope when we see them actually lifting the bans," said Gholamali Riahi, an attorney dealing in press cases.

A wave of clampdowns against reformist writers and newspaper editors began in April after supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei accused the independent press of being "bases of the enemy."

Khamenei, who personally ordered parliament to kill debate on reforming Iran's draconian press law earlier this month, is widely seen as close to establishment hardliners opposed to cultural reforms.

Around 25 reformist publications have been closed and many journalists imprisoned for allegedly insulting Islamic values or undermining national security since the April crackdown.

International media watchdog Reporters without Borders has accused Iran's leaders of turning the country into a jail for journalists and has called for the release of all those held.

Zohdi outraged the conservative establishment by publishing a letter by jailed student Akbar Mohammadi decrying what he said was severe torture inflicted upon him in prison in order to extract confessions.

The student had been sentenced to death for his role in pro-democracy protests in July 1999 by the Revolutionary Court, but Khamenei later reduced the sentence to 15 years in prison.


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