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INTRO: Iran's conservative-run press court has closed 
at least three pro-reform and liberal newspapers - as 
part of a growing crackdown on growing media freedoms 
under reformist President Mohamad Khatami.  And a 
second prominent journalist has been imprisoned since 
Saturday.  Dale Gavlak reports.
TEXT:  Iranian editors called the court order unlawful 
but say they may simply have to comply with it. 
Administrators at the mass-circulation dailies (Asr-e 
Aza-degan and Fath) say the press court ordered them 
to cease publication immediately. A biweekly paper 
(Iran-e Farda) was also banned.
Tehran's top religious leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei 
said elements of Iran's press had been turned into 
what he called "bases of the enemy." 
The press court has also jailed a second journalist  
Sunday, refusing Latif Safari's appeal of ahis two-
and-a-half year prison term.  /// OPT /// Mr. Safari 
said he would rather go to prison and serve an illegal 
sentence in order to unmask those who incessantly 
break the law."  /// END OPT /// He was sentenced last 
year on charges of insulting Islam.
Saturday the court detained investigative journalist 
,Akbar Ganji, who published articles suggesting a link 
between former Iranian president, Akbar Hashemi 
Rafsanjani, to the 1998 murders of several 
intellectuals and opposition leaders.
The crackdown was not wholly unexpected.  The 
ayatollah's conservative Revolutionary Guards had 
recently warned journalists to be ready for they 
called a "blow to the head."  And last week, the 
outgoing conservative parliament passed tough new 
measures against the media. 
Hardliners partly blame the pro-Khatami press for 
their stinging parliamentary defeat in February. 
Newspapers have flourished since Khatami was elected 
in a landslide victory 3 years ago. 
In an unusually direct move, President Mohamed Khatami 
hit back at the hard-liners opponents, saying 
opponents of reform and press liberalization are 
pushing Iranian society toward ruin and creating the 
grounds for dictatorship." (signed) 
23-Apr-2000 14:11 PM EDT (23-Apr-2000 1811 UTC)
Source: Voice of America

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