AS PRESIDENT CRITICISES THE TV, POPULAR JOURNALIST IS JAILED

LONDON 22ND (IPS) President Mohammad Khatami Saturday broke out his silence over the bitter controversy created by the leader-controlled "Voice and Visage of the Islamic Republic" (VVIR, or the Radio and Television) for screening parts of a stormy seminar held early this month in Berlin showing anti-Iranian theological regime activists blasting the Islamic Republic.

"I am totally opposed to the way the VVVIR raised the issue which provoked the feelings and caused great concern among the committed sections of the society and those who seek the country's dignity and honour," the president said in his first reaction to the bitter controversy provoked by the conservatives concerning the Berlin meeting.

Seventeen prominent Iranian reformist journalists, secularist and dissident lawyers, scholars, intellectuals, experts as well as a revisionist cleric attended the three-days conference to debate the aftermath of the last Legislative elections that were swept by the reformists supporting President Khatami.

Supervised by the German Foreign Ministry and organised by the Greens-leading Heinrich-Boll Institute, the meeting was disrupted by noisy groups of Iranians political dissidents and exiled led by the Stockholm-based Iranian Communist-Workers Party (ICWP) who denounced the participants as supporters of the Islamic Republic invited by Germany to pave the way for the upcoming visit of the Iranian president to Berlin.

In a two-parts reporting of the conference, the State-run Television showed only parts where a professional Iranian call girl taking off her clothes except the scarf, as a protest against the suffering of Iranian women under Islamic rules, a bare arms woman dancing sexy Iranian dances and a man who stripped nude, exhibiting pictures of Iranian clerical leaders, scenes considered in Iran as offending Islam and the Islamic revolution.

Most of these extravaganzas were arranged by some Iranian immigrants seeking legal refugee status from German authorities by taking pictures of themselves with the exhibitionists in order to justify their claims as genuine opponents to the Iranian regime.

The footage also highlighted phrases from some speakers denouncing anti-democratic aspects of the present theological regime that one of the participants compared to a "mentally retarded child".

Chosen deliberately to provoke Muslim Shi'a zealots mourning the beheading of Hossein, one of their most venerated imam, prompted mixed reactions from the people, the clergy, political parties and government officials, with some condemning the Television for screening the scenes and some calling on the authorities to take stern action against all those who took part at the conference, with a high ranking cleric terming it as "haram", or religiously forbidden.

Most particularly singled by the conservatives-controlled hard line press were Mr. Akbar Ganji and Hojatoleslam Hasan Yusefi-Eshkevari, a prominent Islamic philosopher and reformist.

Addressing officials of the Higher Education Ministry, Mr. Khatami said while what the VVIR did was "wrong" but also that what occurred in Berlin too, was not "acceptable", the official news agency IRNA reported.

As he was speaking there, Mr. Ganji, the outspoken investigative journalist, analyst and scholar who attended the Berlin conference was arrested on orders of the Press Court and immediately hauled off to Tehran's Evin prison after a hearing before the notorious tribunal.

Mr. Ganji is known for his investigations, published in articles and books, exposing the role played by both former president Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and his Intelligence Minister, Hojatoleslam Ali Fallahian in the assassination of more than eighty dissidents as well as the murder of five politicians and intellectuals, including Mr. Dariush foruhar, the leader of the secularist Iranian People Party and his wife Parvaneh Eskandari in late November 1998 by senior officials of the Intelligence Ministry.

Because of this, he was the subject of a vicious campaign orchestrated by Mr. Hashemi-Rafsanjani in the hard line press, particularly "Keyhan", the mouthpiece of the Intelligence Ministry.

The reason behind Keyhan's vindication against Mr. Ganji is that the Editor of the newspaper, Mr. Hossein Shariatmadari, who is appointed by Ayatollah Ali Khameneh'i, the leader of the Iranian theological regime to this job is himself an official of the Intelligence Ministry denounced by Mr. Ganji for his role in conducting the interrogations of many dissidents.

A member of the editorial board of the reformist "Fath" daily Mr. Ganji appeared Saturday at the press Court to defend himself against charges of "violating press law and insulting Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in an interview with a Berlin newspaper.

He blasted the VVIR for "providing the people with false information", IRNA quoted him as saying to reporters before his arrest.

"These charges have nothing to do with the Berlin conference", Mr. Ganji explained, pointing out that his at the meeting were against the ICWP and the (Baghdad-based, Iraq supported and financed) Mojahedeen Khalq Organisation (MKO).

"If the VVIR is really seeking the truth, it must broadcast the entire text of my speech", he proposed, like the President did.

He promised that the full text of the Berlin meeting would be put at the disposal of the people through the press very soon.

"I am prepared to participate in any debate and the script of the film will make it clear to what extent they (Television's authorities) have lied", he said, adding "Instead of arresting the key elements (behind the serial killings) they are seeking to take us into jail" but they are ignorant that these structural changes have not been created by individuals so that a group or a wave could prevent them from continuing".

"Reforms will succeed and the future is bright," he said, stressing that taking dozens of people to jail or assassinations would solve no problem.

Ganji's lawyer Gholamali Riahi said outside the courtroom that his client was innocent of any offence.

The arrest comes just days after Iran's outgoing conservative parliament approved tough new measures against the increasingly vocal and critical pro-reform press.

In a veiled criticism to recent inflammatory declarations by Ayatollah Ali Khameneh'i against the independent press, Mr. Khatami said Iran needed tranquillity.

"Debate and criticism are signs of vibrancy. The government, the nation and the elite of the society are required to pay attention to the necessity of peaceful atmosphere in the country", he said.

The outraging TV provocative reporting on the Berlin conference was also criticised by the Islamic Culture and Guidance Minister Ata'ollah Mohajerani who described the VVIR' move as "politically motivated and far from being a just and fair action".

"If all the conference proceedings are shown and all the discussions at the meeting were published correctly, it would shed light on efforts which have been made to damage the personality and honour of the participants and to the people would understand the realities of the conference", he pointed out, expressing the views of the participants as well as personalities and organisations that had been repulsed by the footage attributed to the VVIR's leader-appointeed Ali Larijani.

To appease the wrath of Mr. Khameneh'i, the Islamic Culture and Guidance Minister Ata'ollah Mohajerani promised Saturday "to do our utmost to remove the preoccupations and concerns felt by the supreme leader about the press", reminding that however "the main work has to be done by the press corps itself".

In remarks made last week, the badly lamed Khameneh'i described the Iranian independent press as "enemy" working hand in hand with foreign agents.

Mr. Mohajerani termed as "false' rumours about the closure of a certain number of newspapers, adding, "should a newspaper be closed, it has to be done through legal procedures".

"If pressures are exerted to close down the newspapers, then I would be forced into becoming an instrument for closing them or resigning, in that case I would prefer to tender my resignation" Mr. Mohajerani warned stressed.

In order to justify the broadcast, Mr. Larijani, a former officer of the Revolutionary Guards Intelligence Department had maintained that 'according to his queries from such religious authorities as head of the judiciary system Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi-Shahroudi, broadcasting the footage was permissible for showing the atmosphere of the conference''.

He was answering charges from senior clerical authorities like Grand ayatollah Hosseinali Montazeri who had condemned the screening of nude and dance scenes as un-Islamic.

Mr. Larijani was barred from taking part at cabinet meetings in January 1999 after he allowed a hard line cleric to broadcast a documentary aimed at proving that the "chain murders" of nationalist dissidents in November 1998 was the work of agents close President Khatami. ENDS GANJI ARRESTED 22400