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Wednesday, 28 June, 2000, 12:48 GMT 13:48 UK
Iran judges warned over press freedom
President Khatami
President Khatami tells judges to keep a sense of balance

Iran's President, Mohammed Khatami, has criticised the recent closures of reformist newspapers by the country's conservative-dominated judiciary.

In a speech reported by Iran's news agency, he warned the country's judges that they risk losing public confidence if they do not resist political pressures.

In another development, two pro-reform lawyers have been detained on charges of disturbing public opinion, on the order of a religious court.

Iran's courts have shut down 19 newspapers and ordered the detention of several leading journalists and political activists in the past two months.

Khatami supporters
Khatami has won widespread support in Iran
Many Iranians believe the crackdown is part of an orchestrated attempt by hardliners to undermine reformists, following the victory of reform candidates in February's parliamentary elections.

President Khatami, who has won widespread support among Iranians for his policies since his election in 1997, noted in his speech that it had become frequent practice for judges to close newspapers.

If a system creates peace in a society by using force, violence, and intimidation, it has secured a temporary peace in a cemetery in which people are nothing more than animated corpses

Iranian President Mohammed Khatami
Mr Khatami called on the head of Iran's judiciary to commission a group of experts to draft clear-cut criteria to define and adjudicate alleged press offenses.

In his address, President Khatami also stressed the importance of respecting the constitutional rights of Iranians.

And he said the country's authorities should foster what he called spiritual and logical links between people and the system.

Ayatollah Khamenei
Reformist pressure: Khamenei tells judiciary not to yield
"If a system creates peace in a society by using force, violence, and intimidation," Mr Khatami said, "it has secured a temporary peace in a cemetery in which people are nothing more than animated corpses."

Hardline views

However, Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei urged the judiciary not to be influenced by reformist pressures for greater press freedom.

Ayatollah Khamenei is regarded as being close to the view of hardliners although in recent months he has sought to avoid public differences with the more moderate President Khatami.

However, Ayatollah Khamenei is the final authority in Iran and appoints the key officials in the judiciary, broadcast media and the security services, who are all regarded as conservatives.

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See also:

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Iranian publisher defies court
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