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Journalist arrested following his conviction; newspaper

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders deplores the arbitrary and repressive methods of a regime whose culture minister recently accused the media of promoting a "creeping coup" against the government. In early July 2007, judicial officials have ordered the suspension of the daily "Ham Mihan" and the permanent closure of the daily "Moshareket", while the news agency ILNA's future seems uncertain after government pressure forced its director, Masoud Heydari, to resign.

"Iranian officials accuse the media of conspiring against the regime and of trying to destabilise it by means of investigative reporting," the press freedom organisation said. "Such paranoid discourse is used to justify censorship and the closure of news media. Blocking access to news, summoning journalists for questioning, arresting them or making them pay exorbitant amounts in bail - the harassment takes many different forms."

Reporters Without Borders added: "The president's office, government ministers and the judicial system all work together to silence the remaining independent news media. After putting government supporters in charge of most news organisations, the regime is cracking down with increasing determination on all the others who do not swear allegiance."

"Ham Mihan" was suspended on 4 July at the request of Tehran prosecutor general Said Mortazavi, who argued that it was illegal because there were procedural "errors" in the trial in 2000, when it was suspended for calling for an improvement in relations between Iran and the United States. The day it resumed publishing, on 13 May 2007, it ran a front-page story about the US-Iranian talks in Baghdad. It also defied a government ban on reporting the disturbances that followed the introduction of petrol rationing on 27 June.

The next day, another judicial decision confirmed the definitive closure of "Moshareket", a daily which had also been suspended since 2000. The former mouthpiece of the pro-reform Participation Front, it was suspended during a judicial campaign against the opposition press. Defending its closure, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's press adviser, Mohammad Ali Javanfekr, said: "When a news media puts itself at the service of a political group opposed to the government, it becomes a tool for sabotaging and weakening the government, aiming to quietly overthrow it."

ILNA director Heydari resigned on 3 July after several months of government harassment. A pro-reform news agency founded in 2003, ILNA has covered government crackdowns on women's movements, students and workers in great detail. It has also been the target of bureaucratic sanctions ranging from a ban on attending government events to harassment of its reporters. Another Iranian news agency reported that a judge's order was responsible for the fact that ILNA's website can no longer be accessed.

Journalist Ejlal Ghavami of "Payam-e mardom-e Kurdestan" (a weekly that has been suspended since 2004) was meanwhile arrested on 9 July, exactly one month after a court in Sanandaj (in Iran's Kurdish northwest) sentenced him to three years in prison for "inciting the population to revolt" and "working against national security." He had been arrested two years ago while covering a peaceful demonstration.

Iran's Supreme Guide, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and the Islamic Republic's president, Ahmadinejad, are both on the Reporters Without Borders' list of press freedom predators. A total of seven Iranian journalists are currently in prison.

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