By Golnaz Esfandiari, RFE/RL
A power struggle in Iran spilled over on November 22 onto the front page of the government newspaper "Iran." In an unprecedented act of protest, the state daily published its front page without a headline.
The government daily "Iran" went without a headine in protest.
The blank space on the front page of "Iran" was yet another open sign of the deepening rift between President Mahmud Ahmadinejad and powerful hard-liners close to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Ahmadinejad and his entourage -- described by their conservative rivals as "the deviant current" -- have been accused of trying to limit the role of the clergy.
The daily was apparently protesting against an assault on November 21 by security forces that reportedly targeted Ahmadinejad's media adviser, Ali Akbar Javanfekr.
Javanfekr, who is the chief editor of the state news agency IRNA, has become in recent days a key figure in the conflict between the rival conservative factions.
In an interview with the "Etemad" daily published over the weekend, Javanfekr blasted religious hard-liners and accused his opponents of abandoning the ideals of the Islamic Revolution.
"What have we 'deviated' from? Yes, we have deviated from those friends, from their beliefs, behavior and interpretations," Javanfekr, told "Etemad."
Ali Akbar Javanfekr at his press conference on November 21
The interview led to the suspension of the reformist daily. A day later, the judiciary announced that Javanfekr had been sentenced to one year in prison for "publishing materials contrary to Islamic norms." Javanfekr was also banned from journalistic activities for three years.
Javanfekr was convicted for articles about the head-to-toe chador that angered hard-liners.
The November 21 raid on the offices of "Iran" took place shortly after Javanfekr ,in a defiant press conference, defended the critical remarks he had made against the hard-liners.
Tear gas was reportedly fired and some members of the newspaper staff were injured.
Javanfekr has denied he was arrested in the raid. Reports, however, say that he was briefly handcuffed and detained.
The "Iran" daily said the November 21 raid by the judiciary, during which more than 30 staff members were arrested, hampered it in its work.
The daily added that the white section on the front page was a reminder of the assault, while expressing hope that "such a regretful incident will never happen again."
Blogger "The Minority Report" writes that those arrested in the raid were all government backers who were active in the clashes with the "sedition," a term used by conservatives to refer to the 2009 postelection protests.
Quoting some of those detained in the November 21 raid, the blogger writes that they faced egregious insults that also targeted the Iranian president.
"You are all groupies of Ahmadinejad and [Vice President Hamid Baghaei]. Be sure that we will also bring your Ahmadinejad here blindfolded," one of the security officers told a detained "Iran" staffer, according to the blogger's account.
Ahmadinejad has not publicly commented on the incident.
The growing tensions come ahead of the March 2012 parliamentary vote and reflect attempts by both camps to exert greater influence on politics in the Islamic republic.
Copyright (c) 2011 RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036. www.rferl.org
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