Iran jails pair of award-winning reformist writers

Two of Iran's most distinguished reformist journalists were arrested at the weekend as they were honoured at a press awards ceremony.

Two of Iran's most distinguished reformist journalists were arrested at the weekend as they were honoured at a press awards ceremony.

Ebrahim Nabavi did not even get to the ceremony, where he won the prize for best satirist. As his name was read out, he was on his way to Evin, Tehran's infamous prison. Mr Nabavi, a household name, wrote for several of the newspapers that have been at the forefront of President Mohammad Khatami's reform programme.

Mohamed Ghochani, in his early twenties, was named best political writer at the awards ceremony. He wrote for the popular Asr-e Azadegan newspaper, now banned. He was summoned for questioning on Saturday and was seen being taken from court to prison yesterday.

Rajabali Mazrouei, a reformist MP, said: "This is not a press festival; this is a press funeral." Even one of the judges at the award ceremony was missing: Ahmad Zeidabadi was jailed last week.

Mr Khatami paved the way for a free press when he was elected in 1997. Newspapers backed his reforms and questioned the repressive system in Iran. Papers that had been closed by courts were reopened by editors under new names.

Journalists and writers such as Akbar Ganji and Emamedin Baghi published books exposing the links between senior officials and a number of unsolved murders. Yesterday two of Mr Baghi's best-selling books were banned.

Just before they were voted out in elections this year, the hardliners who dominated the last parliament passed laws under which the reformist press has been silenced and its leading figures sent to Evin.

The reformers, who won a landslide victory, promised to overturn the law but last week their bill was overruled by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the final say on all matters in the Islamic Republic. Since then, five prominent writers have been detained in eight days. Behind all the arrests is the name of Saeed Mortazavi, the judge presiding over the hardline press court.

Since Mr Khamenei's intervention over the press bill, it has been rumoured in Tehran that hardliners were looking for a pretext to dissolve parliament. Yesterday 48 reformist MPs issued an open letter to the nation, promising to push ahead with reforms. "As your representatives," they wrote, "We warn the reactionary and opportunist currents to cease their unsuccessful attempts to make the nation lose faith in reform."

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