Relentless pressure by Iran's conservatives on their reformist rivals, using their control of the courts notably to silence pro-reform newspapers, is aimed at winning next year's presidential elections, in the view of analysts in Tehran.
Having lost control of parliament in May despite similar tactics, the conservatives have stepped up their offensive, leaving the reformists close to President Mohammad Khatami with their backs to the wall from the very start of the new legislature's term.
They scored a major triumph on Sunday, when supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, whose powers are almost unlimited, ordered parliament not to try to overturn harsh laws on the press voted in the last days of its predecessor.
On Tuesday, as thousands of people mobilized by conservative groups demonstrated outside the parliament building against reformist deputies who had criticized Khamenei's ban, the press court put the boot in.
It ordered the closure of Bahar, the last major pro-reform newspaper in the country, run by Khatami's press adviser Said Pour-Azizi, claiming it had failed to act after previous complaints and had published "fabricated stories and outright lies."
"For the conservative and Islamic right the stakes are high -- above all else they must ensure the regime remains anchored to their ideology of Velayat-e-Faghih", the authority of the supreme leader, analyst Daryush Abdali said.
"Their tactics are clear. They want to reduce the reformists' room for maneuver, preventing them from mobilizing their electorate to give Khatami a second term."
At the same time deputies who jibbed at Khamenei's decree, which sparked fighting on the floor of the parliament and a walkout by some reformists, say they have been receiving anonymous threats.
As well as closing a score of newspapers the various tribunals, including the Press Court, the Revolutionary Court and the Special Court for Clergy, have targeted individual journalists and other supporters of Khatami.
The conservative daily Qods said Wednesday that Culture Minister Aytollah Mohjerani, a bane of the right, and his deputies responsible for press matters faced prosecution for alleged financial misdemeanors.
The Revolutionary Court is pursuing leading reformists for their participation in a controversial "anti-Islamic" seminar in Berlin at which the regime was criticised.
Another liberal journalist close to Khatami, Masud Behnud, had an arrest warrant issued against him Wednesday after failing to respond to a press court summons regarding 85 separate complaints.
A particular target seems to be the Islamic Iran Participation Front (IIPF) headed by Khatami's brother Mohammad-Reza, whose critical statements carried by Bahar prompted the closure of the daily.
On Wednesday in parliament, conservative deputy Bahman Akhavan attacked Mohammad-Reza Khatami and Ali-Reza Nuri, brother of former interior minister Abdullah Nuri who was jailed by the clergy court last year over the contents of his newspaper, Khordad.
"While the sons of the nation were defending the Islamic motherland you were studying for your doctorates abroad," Akhavan said.
Under the succession of blows against the reformists, many of them political novices, the older radicals who were in power in the 1980s are urging them to ride out the storm.
"We need to keep calm," parliamentary speaker Mehdi Karubi, a former radical who swung behind Khatami, was quoted as saying Wednesday.
Karubi, who had to read out Khamenei's decree on Sunday, said it was not the first time such a thing had happened and it would not be the last -- TEHRAN (AFP)
© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com )