SHIFTING SIDE, MOHAJERANI JOINS HARD LINERS, ATTACK "TOOS" NEWSPAPER
PARIS 24TH SEPT. (IPS) The surprising approval of Mr. Ata'ollah Mohajerani, the Islamic Guidance Minister in charge of the press concerning the closure of the liberal newspaper "Toos" and the arrest of its owner and 4 editors and senior journalists by the Islamic Revolution's Tribunal came as a shock to Iranian and international journalistic and intellectual circles.
The newspaper, considered a fervent supporter of president ayatollah Mohammad Khatami was closed abruptly on 16th September following a violent attack against some "independent" publications that had contested both the ayatollah Ali Khameneh'i poor handling of the Afghan crisis as well as his position as the supreme leader of the Islamic Republic.
In a speech delivered to the commanders of the Army of the Islamic Revolution, the lame duck and sick ayatollah had warned against what it termed as a "creeping cultural assault against Islamic principles and values" aimed at undermining the attachment of the faithful and dedicated Iranian people to Islam"
"Now I'm waiting to see how the officials in charge are going to deal with these publication, otherwise, it's easy to put an end to their malicious activities", Mr. Khameneh'i had warned.
Less than 24 hours latter, Toos, the most respected and courageous Iranian newspaper with a circulation of over 200.000 was shut down on orders from the Islamic Revolution Tribunal and its senior editors, including Mr. Mohsen Sazegara, the Publisher, Mr. Mohammad Reza Jala'i Pour, Chief Executive Editor, Mr. Masha'allah Shamsolva'ezin, the Editor, Mohammad Sadeq Javadi Hesar, the owner of the title and Ebrahim Nabavi, a senior editor were arrested on charge of "seditious activities against the security of the State".
[On his way back to Tehran from the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur where he learned about his paper's closure, Mr Sazegara had a serious heart attack and upon his arrival, he was immediately taken to hospital instead of going to prison].
Mr Mohajerani's unprecedented criticism of Toos came as Mr. Mohammad Reza Sadeq, a Deputy Director General and Alireza Khosravi, the Social Desk editor of the official news agency IRNA were arrested following a complaint filed by Mr. Mohsen Rafiq Doust, the all powerful Chairman of the sprawling Deprived Foundation against the agency's story about the failed armed attack on Mr Rafiq Doust by unidentified men.
According to a dispatch by IRNA, those who fired from a hilltop direct into Mr Rafiq Doust's office are poor and needy people angry with the Foundation, which was established by the grand ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeiny to help needy and poor people.
But, under Mr. Rafiq Doust, a former Revolutionary Guards commander and Minister appointed by the ayatollah Khameneh'i, it has become a state within the State, one of the richest organisations in the world, controlling more than 600 key industrial complexes, some of the country's biggest and lucrative businesses, firms and hotels, farms and factories left by their owners after the Islamic revolution of 1979, owning airline and shipping companies, dealing in oil and arms, export and import and above all, facilitating Iranian funding of some Islamic organisations such as the Lebanese hezballah of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
[Both men were released Thursday on a 100.000.000 rials bail, or more than 30.000 US dollars according to official rate of 1 dollar to 3000 rials, the Agency announced, adding that in the event, Mr. Rafiq Doust had withdrawn his complaint.]
According to the Minister, not only Toos had crossed all red lights, but because of its attachment to the outlawed but tolerated Iran Freedom Movement (IFM) of the late Mehdi Bazargan, it had, by its "irresponsible and provocative articles" helped "disturbing and confusing" the political and social order of the country by "questioning religious values", a clear reference to the ayatollah Khameneh'i's admonition of the free press.
"Toos would try hard to present itself as defending the present and supporting his views while in fact it was the mouthpiece of the IFM and the people running it fighting for power in the one hand and weakening the Party of Servant of Reconstruction. If I would have been member of the jury, I would have done taken exactly the same decision", Mr Mohajerani, a founder member of the newly formed party asserted to the surprise of the Iranian intellectual and liberal community.
Interviewed by the Persian Service of the BBC, Dr Ebrahim Yazdi, the General Secretary of IFM rejected as "baseless" Mr. Mohajerani's declaration, pointed out that no one among the newspaper's editors, owner or journalists were member of the IFM nor that the paper had any attach to his organisation except for doing its job by talking time to time to some members of his party, a reference to an interview with Mr. Amir Entezam, one of the founders of IMF and a former Deputy Prime Minister under Mr Bazargan.
Jailed for 17 years, Mr. Amir Entezam described in graphic details the appalling situation of Iranian political prisoners, the mental and physical tortures he was subjected to by prison authorities, including Mr. Lajevardi, criticised the religious leadership and called for the separation of religion from the state and politics.
According to some observers in Tehran, Mr. Mohajerani's public support for the widely unpopular as well as illegal decision of the Islamic Revolution Tribunal is expressed in an attempt to escape from a possible and imminent impeachment from the conservative-dominated Majles, or the parliament.
The Guidance Minister was under violent attacks and criticism from the Judiciary and the Legislative because of the freedom he was accused of having brought to an otherwise tightly controlled press and was rumoured that he would be impeached unless he could harness some publications, like Toos that "dared" to right about some "tabboo" subjects like the role, the position, the mandate and the responsibilities of the leader.
In fact, Mr Mohajerani has always been considered as one of the strongest pillars in the "reformist" president's government and a strong voice for more political freedom. The other one, the hojatoleslam Abdollah Nouri, the former Interior Minister was forced to resign two months ago by the Majles and on orders from the leader who controls all key powers, including the Judiciary, the Legislative, the armed forces, the intelligence and security machines and the foreign policy to name some.
Other analysts speculates that the surprising support Mr. Mohajerani expressed for the Judiciary's decision, a power considered as Mr Khatami's "number one opponent" has been approved by the president as "Toos" had become more a liability than assistance in implementing his political and social reforms.
"Until now, Mr. Khatami enjoyed the unconditional support of the people, especially the young and women while Mr Mohajerani was credited for the little freedom the press enjoyed since the election of Mr Khatami last year. But after recent blunders such as the regrets he expressed at the murder of Asadollah Lajevardi, the man held responsible for the execution of thousands of political prisoners, both Khatami and Mohajerani have exhausted their capital of sympathy. Khatami is a lone man and prisoner of the hard liners", one senior Tehran political analyst pointed out. ENDS MOHAJERANI 2499803