PARIS 6TH Feb. (IPS) In her blistering report on how she and her husband, the Reuters correspondent Jonathan Lyons, had "fled" Tehran Friday, after being "invited" by the Iranian authorities to leave the country, Mrs. Geneive Abdo, who has reported from Iran for the Paris-based International Herald Tribune and The Guardian of London since 1999, confirmed what Iran Press Service wrote Monday: That their saga is a "black stain" on the visage of president Hojjatoleslam Mohammad Khatami.

Both journalists fled Tehran after warnings that they faced almost certain punishment for an interview they conducted with Mr. Akbar Ganji, a well-known investigative journalist who is serving a ten years prison term.

"Telling virtually no one and fearful of arrest at any of the three checkpoints at Tehran's grim and heavily guarded airport, my husband and I slipped out of Tehran before dawn on Friday", she wrote in the Monday edition of "The Trib", adding, "But it was only the next morning, after we arrived in London, that I realised just how close our close call had been".

In fact, she had been sharply criticised for the interview not only by the hard line "Keyhan", the mouthpiece of the security services, but also by the reformist press supporting the embattled President.

"I was harshly condemned in the official "Iran Daily" newspaper, run by President Mohammed Khatami's close allies. "Expulsion in this case is not an option," the newspaper said.

Shortly thereafter the trouble began - not with the conservative authorities but with Mr. Ganji's "reformist" allies.

First, Mr. Ganji's friends and family accused me of deliberately distorting his views and threatened legal action under the same harsh press laws that have been used against pro-reform journalists like Mr. Ganji and his three cellmates. This came after they had approved the translation of his statements for publication.

Then the director-general for foreign press in the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance, the most influential institution still run by the reformists, told me that it was illegal to interview a political prisoner.

(If there is such a crime under Iranian law, then no one has been able to point it out).

At the same time, my husband, Jonathan Lyons, who had conducted the interview with me, was told that the matter was under investigation. Reuters was told that it should prepare itself for the consequences.

Mr. Ganji's allies in and around the government of Mr. Khatami had decided that Western-style press freedom was too much of a good thing. Mr. Ganji's radicalism in the interview, his warning of a possible social explosion, and the denunciation of theological "fascism" had made the broader reform movement vulnerable to criticism from the conservative clerical establishment.

The volatile Mr. Ganji, confirmed as a reformist hero after a hard-line court in January put him away for 10 years for dissent, could not be discredited; so I had to be.

In other words, a reform movement built on a platform of free expression and overseen by a philosopher-president would prefer to jail accredited Western journalists than to surrender any control over the political process. The reformist slogans of "pluralism" and "civil society" are little more than weapons to be turned against one's rivals.

This point was openly acknowledged by the young man who had arranged the prison interview with Mr. Ganji. An aspiring journalist himself, he slipped the questions and written responses past the guards at the notorious Evin prison in Tehran.

"I am so sorry this has happened to you," the young man wrote to me as the public attacks on me began. "This shows that once in power, the reformers would behave just like the conservatives."

Mr. Khatami's landslide election nearly four years ago ushered in a climate of promise and hope. He quickly became the smiling mullah who would craft an Islamic democracy in Iran.

Instead, Mr. Khatami has done more to preserve the system established by the Islamic Revolution than any conservative politician could have hoped to do. Many of his key loyalists - a handful of crusaders for reform - are now in prison, after a Revolutionary Court made harsh sentences public in January. At least 30 progressive newspapers and journals have been shut. Pro democracy student demonstrators are serving long prison sentences.

Shortly after I returned from vacation in early January, I received a telephone call from a senior press official who was angered by one of my stories. "We told you, no more scoops," he said. Within a month I was gone.

The "Iran Daily" article Mrs. Abdo refers to in her own article was published in the paper’s "Opinion" column, entitled "Ganji Victim Of Abdo's Private Agenda" on 3 February, and written by a certain Justin Williams, a name that could well be the new nickname of Mr. Hoseyn Shariatmadari, the official interrogator of intellectual dissidents at the Intelligence Ministry and an adviser to the lamed leader, Ayatollah Ali Khameneh'i, who appointed him as Editor of Keyhan.

Here are large excerpts of the article:

"As a result of a media controversy following the publication of excerpts of the interview conducted with Ganji, Ms. Geneive Abdo has been accused by Ganji of distorting his remarks".

"The genesis of the clandestine question-and-answer session also bears scrutiny. The facilitator for that event is an early 20-something Iranian who is a frequent visitor to the Guardian-Reuters office in Tehran. He delivered both the questions and answers she posed. The hard facts of the falsified English version as opposed to the original Farsi answers of Ganji, however, are not matters of speculation.

"Abdo writes in the lead paragraph of the Guardian dispatch titled "Jailed Iranian dissidents predict bloody backlash", that, "Akbar Ganji has predicted that a violent backlash against the conservative establishment will free him and his fellow prisoners from dictatorship". Check that quote against the original and it is simply not there".

"Future events will act as a detonator for an explosion", Abdo blatantly juxtaposes Ganji's words from a different part of the inter-view (sic!), giving the distorted and sensational impression that Ganji is talking bloodshed instead of political reform. No doubt this makes for fascinating and incendiary reading.. But the fact remains that here too; Abdo is falsifying Ganji's statements.

"What also begs analysis is the apparently symbiotic relationship the Guardian correspondent has entered into with elements in the conservative press and, unfortunately, in the judiciary long bent on sullying Ganji's veracity. This is a potent line of attack against an essentially defenceless Akbar Ganji, especially when it bears the imprimatur of internationally renowned news organisations like Reuters, the Herald Tribune and the Guardian.

"As documented above, she has victimized an already bloodied but unbowed Akbar Ganji to burnish her own reputation as the wannabe American journalistic authority on the Iranian reform movement. And this is not the first time she has misreported. Reform strategist Abbas Abdi, the student grouping Office to Consolidate Unity and the Iranian Jewish community has in the past been outraged by her egregious opportunism.

"Relevant officials should deliberate on her right to continue working as a journalist in this country. Expulsion in this case, however, is not an option. This would make her a so-called media martyr while there is nothing heroic in what was published worldwide in her article of 26 January.

"Whatever is done to curb Abdo's sleazy tactics should be fully explained and documented to journalist associations worldwide in addition to, of course, her employers

"The lady has also breached the Iranian Press Law in publishing fabrications and distortions. She is not a diplomat and does not enjoy immunity from prosecution under Iranian law. Geneive Abdo has a multi-pronged agenda she is in hot pursuit of. "The Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance, the judiciary, a number of Majlis commissions and Iranian journalist groups all need to take a long hard look at what this lady is up to", Iran Daily said.

And here are some observations offered by Iran Press Service:

The article is a "copy conform" of the products "made" by the very Department that was created at the Intelligence Ministry by Mr. Sa’id Emami, the man the authorities offered as the "mastermind" behind the murders of a hundred Iranian intellectuals and politicians inside and outside Iran in the past 10 years and "Brother" Shariatmadari.

None of the Iranian media, including the dreadful Keyhan, the official news agency and Iran Daily, while insisting they had in hand the text of original Q&A in Farsi, dared to prove the alleged "distortions".

Not only Mr. Ganji has not personally accused Ms. Abdo of any wrongdoing, but also Iran Press Service has learned from highly informed sources that the vehement, but empty protest by Mr. Ganji’s brother, Asqar, was "imposed" on the family by the authorities.

We are not aware of any complaints being formulated against Ms. Abdo by Mr. Abdi, the Office of Consolidating Unity or the Iranian Jewish Community. But what we know is that since quite a time, Keyhan and Mr. Shariatmadari were active in wanting the closure of the Reuters office in Tehran, by accusing Mr. Lyons, an American citizen, being a spy.

Typical to "akhundi" behaviour, Iranian authorities, both reformists and conservatives, "profited" from Mrs. Abdo’s article to deal with each other’s accounts, but while the hard liners are in their known roles, the attitude of Mr. Khatami’s "clique" is shameful, as here too, they try to become more catholic than the Pope.

Meanwhile, in a letter to both Ayatollah Khameneh'i and Hojjatoleslam Khatami, the Association of Iranian Journalists Abroad (AIJA) strongly denounced them for the "barbarian" treatment reserved to Mr. Lyons and his wife over the interview, observing that this was a "repetition", on a "mini scale" of the Berlin Conference farce. ENDS JOURNALISTS EXPELLED 6201