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Wednesday, June 2, 1999 Published at 18:41 GMT 19:41 UK

World: Middle East

Iran's conservatives go on the offensive

Conservative forces are determined to resist the Khatami revolution

By Vickie Maximova of BBC Monitoring

Charges against the director of Iran's official news agency, Irna, have been published in the Iranian press.

The accused, Fereydoun Verdinejad, was held in prison for six hours on 29 May on the orders of a special government employees' court and then released on bail of $100,000.

The Tehran Times newspaper says Mr Verdinejad was charged with embezzlement, "mockery of public organizations", and "spreading of lies, slander and groundless accusations against others".

According to the paper, the complaints had been lodged with the court by the conservative-dominated Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB), Iran's only broadcasting organisation, the Judicial Organisation of the Armed Forces, the Law Enforcement Forces and 20 right-wing members of parliament.

Mohajerani: Prime target

The arrest of Irna's chief has been the latest move in what appears to be a renewed harassment campaign against major outlets of the pro-Khatami press.

[ image: Deposed Shah's widow was given a platform in liberal press]
Deposed Shah's widow was given a platform in liberal press
Analysts believe that the main purpose behind Mr Verdinejad's arrest was to step up pressure on one of President Khatami's main allies, Ataollah Mohajerani, the minister of culture and Islamic guidance, to dismiss Mr Verdinejad.

The minister has until now refused to bow to these demands.

But he has been forced to shut two heavyweight pro-Khatami newspapers, Jameah and Toos, and to sack his deputy Ahmad Borqani and moderate his reforming press policies.

He has also had to take a series of political steps behind the scene to escape impeachment by parliament.

Successes for the old guard

In fact, some moderates accuse Mr Mohajerani of accepting a compromise in order to keep his portfolio, which is regarded as vital for Mr Khatami's reform efforts.

Mohammad Reza Zohdi, the managing director of Arya, another pro-Khatami newspaper, launched after the president's election victory, was released on bail on 2 June.

He was arrested by the Press Court on 28 May on charges of "libel, spreading lies and disturbing public opinion, and revealing secret military information".

The influential moderate newspaper Zan (Woman), run by Faezeh Hashemi, daughter of former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, was closed in April by a decision of the Revolutionary Court.

[ image: Mohajerani: Minister under pressure]
Mohajerani: Minister under pressure
The paper aroused conservative anger when it printed a message by Farah Diba, widow of the late Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, who was toppled by the 1979 Islamic revolution.

According to the Iranian press, the court also objected to a caricature which appeared to criticise Iran's Islamic laws, under which the blood money (paid by a murderer to obtain a pardon from a death sentence) for murdered woman is half that for a man.

In May, Entekhab, a right-wing daily, reported that Issa Saharkhitz, Director-General of the Domestic Press Department of the Ministry of Culture, was summoned to the Revolutionary Court and later had to resign over allowing Zan to publish a special issue during a press festival, despite the ban on the paper.

Spring offensive

According to some pro-Khatami newspapers, the aim of the conservatives is to close all pro-Khatami newspapers, remove Mr Mohajerani from office and convict all intellectual writers and journalists who support Mr Khatami's reform programme.

It can be argued, however, that what some see as conservative spring offensive against the liberal media is coming up against a wall of resistance.

The closure of Zan provoked demonstrations among students; Mr Mohajerani's impeachment proceedings did not succeed; finally, Mr Borqani was replaced by another close aide of Mr Khatami, Shaaban Shahidi.

But some Iranian newspapers believe those behind the conservative anti-media campaign are unlikely to give up before the next parliamentary Majlis held in March 2000.

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