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Tuesday, 11 April, 2000, 21:01 GMT 22:01 UK
Iran's post-election media battle
front page
Jailed: how Mr Shamsolvaezin's paper viewed the case
In the eight weeks since Iran's parliamentary elections, the political pressure on the Iranian press and media has escalated.

It has been characterised by a tough crackdown on pro-reform journalism by conservatives in the judiciary and parliament.

Reformers won a convincing victory in February's voting at the expense of the conservative religious deputies, and the new legislature is due to convene at the end of May.

But this week the outgoing parliament, dominated by conservatives, set in motion a series of tough amendments to the press law.

Before February's victorious reformers take their seats, the outgoing deputies are seeking to expand the role of the courts in monitoring the press.

It was the first reading in parliament of these reforms which sparked the student demonstrations of July 1999.

Summoned to court

Post-election Iran now sees reformist supporters of President Mohammad Khatami in the press being summoned on an almost daily basis before the strict Press Court.

On Monday, an influential pro-reform journalist, Mashallah Shamsolvaezin, began serving a 30-month sentence in Tehran's notorious Evin Prison after months of legal wrangling.

Mr Shamsolvaezin, editor-in-chief of the Asr e Azadegan newspaper, was found guilty of insulting religious values - a common charge brought against pro-reform editors and journalists.

On Tuesday, Fath newspaper staff writer and editorial board member Emadeddin Baqi was summoned to the Press Court and indicted on multiple charges.

These include acting against state security, libel and - needless to say - insulting religious values. The complaints were lodged against him by both the Information Ministry and the state broadcaster, Voice and Vision of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Last week, Mohammad Reza Khatami, brother of the Iranian president and leader of the main reformist faction, was charged with inciting public opinion and released on bail by the Press Court.

The price of reform

The case against Mr Khatami, the publisher of the pro-reform daily Mosharekat, involved an article that implied a possible high-level cover-up in the attempted assassination of Saeed Hajjarian, a leading pro-reform strategist and ally of the president.



If they persist in their policies, the most that they will achieve is social disintegration and collapse, which is bound to drag them under as well.

Mosharekat newspaper

The shooting has prompted a rash of charges and counter-charges between conservatives and reformists, prompting the judiciary to call on newspaper editors to exercise caution in reporting on the attack, which left Mr Hajjarian in hospital in critical condition.

Commenting in Tuesday's Mosharekat on the jailing of Mashallah Shamsolvaezin, the journalist Abbas Abdi said that this was part of the price Iranians had to pay for their hoped-for reforms.

"I do not wish to criticize the legal validity of the sentence here... But the friendly admonition should be made that, if the opponents of rule by the people believe that they can prevent the realisation of the general will in this way and pretend that nothing has happened, they are utterly mistaken," Mr Abdi said.

"And if they persist in their policies, the most that they will achieve is social disintegration and collapse, which is bound to drag them under as well."

The current press law states that only managing directors of newspapers can be held responsible for a newspaper's contents. Reformist politicians and journalists, as well as many lawyers, believe Shamsolvaezin's jailing to be illegal.

Trigger for violence

The political tension spilled over into real unrest last weekend, when rioting broke out in Khalkhal, north-west Iran.

Iranian Television was accused of triggering the unrest when it announced that February's ballots in the Khalkhal constituency were annulled, changing the election of a reformist candidate to a victory for the runner-up hardliner.

Although the reformist-held Interior Ministry condemned the violence, it also criticised the poll reversal and the TV for broadcasting the decision.

BBC Monitoring (http://www.monitor.bbc.co.uk), based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.

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See also:

11 Apr 00 | Middle East
Iranian reformist jailed
09 Apr 00 | Middle East
Thousands mourn Iranian movie legend
08 Apr 00 | Middle East
Mass arrests after Iranian riots
06 Apr 00 | Middle East
Row over reformist's shooting
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