CRACK DOWN ON PRESS LINKED TO KHATAMI'S VISIT TO THE UN

PARIS 17TH SEPT. (IPS) The crack down of the independent press and the arrest of liberal journalist and intellectuals that is conducted in Iran on orders of the ayatollah Ali Khameneh'i was linked to the forthcoming visit of the ayatollah Mohammad Khatami to the United Nations.

The shutting down of the liberal publications continued unabated in Tehran in the past 24 hours, as opposition organisations and personalities both inside and outside the country warned against a "dangerous crack down" on the liberties in Iran.

The Islamic Judiciary which is directly controlled by Mr Khameneh'i, ordered the closure of "Rahe Now" (New Way) Weekly and the "Iran e Farda" (To Morrow's Iran), detaining their editors and senior writers.

The axing of the independent press and dissident journalists started after the lame duck and sick leader of the regime, the ayatollah Khameneh'i unleashed Tuesday against what it called a "creeping, devastating cultural campaign targeting the faith of the good Iranian Muslims".

Few hours after the speech, the Islamic Revolution Tribunal closed down the liberal daily "Toos" and put under arrest its Publisher, Mr Ahmad Jala'ipour and Editor, Masha'allah Shamsolva'ezin on charges of "attempt against the security of the State and the public's interests".

Mr Mohsen Sazegara, the owner of "Toos" described as "illegal" the decision by the Islamic Revolution Tribunal to close down his paper, adding that the Judiciary, which is controlled by the ultra conservatives, was planing to bring the press under the control of the ayatollah Khameneh'i.

Interviewed by the Persian service of the BBC, Mr Sazegara said he was cutting his trip to New Zealand to visit his family to go back to Tehran even though a warrant had been issued against him.

He said though the leader, like anyone else in the country, is entitled to be angered by the press, but his criticism and complaints must still be channelled through existing legal path and means and not outside the constitution.

Other analysts linked the sudden harnessing of civil liberties provided by the government of the ayatollah Mohammad Khatami to his forthcoming visit to the United Nations where he is to address the General Assembly on Monday.

"Probably, Khameneh'i, Rafsanjani and all other conservative clerics who are angry at the president's popularity both inside and outside Iran are afraid of his trip to the World organisation where one is certain of the warm welcome he will get there", speculated one observer in Tehran.

This is a correct assessment, considering the fact that the current crack down against the liberal press and personalities badly harms the position of Mr Khatami.

No wonder then that the Iranian Foreign Ministry immediately denied a report from New York saying that the Iranian and the US Foreign Ministers were to meet for the first time face to face in the framework of the Afghanistan's 6 members Neighbouring Nations Conference plus the United States and Russia. Those countries are Iran, Pakistan, China, Tajikestan, Uzbakistan and Turkemenistan.

 

As in such times, the conservative establishment organised a nation-wide campaign in support of the leader's decision to curtail press freedoms.

Communiqués, petitions, marches and meetings were organised, civilian and religious personalities, including some journalists, calling for the necessity to stop what is described as "abusing freedoms".

Ayatollah Morteza Moqtada'i, Tehran's Revolutionary Court Prosecutor announced Thursday he was going to form a surveillance committee to supervise the activities of the press.

Such a decision is totally illegal, as all matters concerning the press must be dealt by a special press tribunal which works under the responsibility of the Islamic Guidance Minister.

The conservatives push the crack down with vigour at a time that the Guidance Minister, Mr. Ata'ollah Mohajerani, the conservative's "bete noire" is visiting Syria.

In his speech, the ayatollah Khameneh'i did not said what article in which newspaper he considers as undermining the faith of the Muslims.

But informed sources said he certainly had been angered at articles criticising the mishandling of the Afghan crisis but most particularly one article attributed to the late grand ayatollah Abolqasem Kho'i saying that the concept of Velayate Faqih, that is the corner stone of the present Islamic regime of Iran and of which the ayatollah Khameneh'i is the representative does not exist in Islam.

According to some observers, the conservative are taking advantage from the explosivity of crisis with Afghanistan to curtail the limited freedom the Iranian press and civil society is enjoying since the ayatollah Khatami scored an overwhelming victory in last year's presidential elections.

"What the conservatives are after is to transform Khatami into a weak president on the orders and in line with the conservatives. They want him to stay, but separated from trouble makers such as his Guidance Minister Mohajerani or his former Interior Minister Abdollah Nouri", pointed out one analyst.

In an open letter to president Khatami, Reporters Sans Frontieres, an independent organisation dedicated to the defence of press freedom protested to the closure of Toos as well as the arrest of several of its staff.

Former president Abolhasan Banisadr denounced in a communiqué issued in Paris to both the arrest of Mr. Abbas Amir Entezam, as well as to the closure of the daily Toos, the Iran e Farda monthly and Rahe Now weekly.

A former Deputy Prime Minister under late Mehdi bazargan, the grand ayatollah Khomeiny's first Prime Minister, Mr Amir Entezam spent 17 years in Iranian jails, endured humiliating psychological and physical tortures.

"These violations (to freedom) that took place at a time that the regime has conducted the nation to the brink of war with Afghanistan is part of a creeping coup from the conservative wing", says Mr. Banisadre

The Iranian National Conference and the Iranian Islamic Societies also issued similar statements. "This regime is crumbling. To save itself from collapse, it has created tensions with Afghanistan and increases violence against the population", the INC said. ENDS 2 TOOS CLOSED 1799820