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Wednesday, 24 July, 2002, 18:15 GMT 19:15 UK
Iran bans reformist newspaper
Anti-US protest in Iran
Political tensions have been running high in Iran

The leading reformist newspaper in Iran, Norouz, has been banned for six months on the orders of the Iranian judiciary, which is generally seen as dominated by hard-liners.

The paper's director, a senior reform figure who is also a member of the Iranian Parliament, was sentenced to six months in jail.

Norouz is the latest of dozens of reformist publications shut down by the judiciary in the last two years.

It is the most important of the reformist dailies and acts essentially as the voice of the biggest reform faction, the Participation Front.

Protest at previous newspaper closure
Reformists say they still get their message out

But it may well have just produced its last issue.

The judiciary ordered the ban to take effect as of Thursday, and the closure was no surprise.

The paper and its director, Mohsen Mirdamadi, have been the subject of a multiple prosecution involving more than 30 complaints against them from various right-wing quarters.

In addition to the ban - which in theory is just for six months - Mr Mirdamadi was also sentenced to six months in jail, a fine and a four-year ban on engaging in press activities.

However, no summons has yet been issued for his arrest and it is questionable whether he will actually go to jail.

He is a distinguished member of parliament and heads the Maglis foreign affairs and national security committee.

Intervention

The judiciary did try to jail a reformist MP last December, but there was such an uproar that the country's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, had to intervene and pardon him so he could be released.

Iranian President Mohammed Khatami.
President Khatami is locked in a struggle with hard-liners

Mr Mirdamai said the closure of Norouz was another sign of failure on the part of the hard-line opponents of reform.

Despite all the closures, he said, the reformists had managed to fill the gaps and to keep up their contact with the people.

It is understood that the same team has already prepared another newspaper, to be called Rouzeno, to fill the gap left by Norouz.

Fifty lashes

The head of the journalists' syndicate, who is also a reformist deputy, said the banning would have many domestic and international repercussions.

The lawyers' syndicate, meanwhile, is also outraged over decisions by the judiciary, which has passed and confirmed sentences on several liberal lawyers.

The lawyers took part in cases relating to the serial killings of writers and intellectuals four years ago and other political cases.

One of the lawyers, Nasser Zarafshan, has been sentenced to five years in prison and 50 lashes.

The syndicate described the flogging sentence as indefensible and unjustifiable. The appeal has been dismissed.

See also:

05 May 02 | Middle East
04 May 02 | Middle East
29 Apr 02 | Middle East
28 Apr 02 | Middle East
08 Aug 01 | Middle East
18 Jun 00 | Middle East
08 Feb 02 | Country profiles
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