By Golnaz Esfandiari, RFE/RL
One of Iran's oldest newspapers has defiantly criticized a media ban on covering former President Mohammad Khatami.
In a front-page editorial published on December 9 by the Ettelaat daily, managing editor Mahmud Doaei, a cleric, said the ban violated Iran's constitution and called on President Hassan Rohani to intervene and halt the "illegal process."
A day earlier, Doaei was summoned to a special clergy court for publishing excerpts of a Lebanese newspaper's interview with Khatami.
The interview with Lebanon's As-Safir daily was reprinted by Ettelaat on its front page on December 6 alongside a photograph of Khatami, who has come under increased pressure over his support for opposition figures Mir Hossein Musavi and his wife, Zahra Rahnavard, as well as cleric Mehdi Karrubi. All three remain under house arrest for challenging the Iranian establishment.
Doaei, a member of the inner circle of the Islamic republic's founder, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, wrote that he told the Tehran prosecutor that his newspaper will not accept the ban on publishing comments, statements, and photos of Khatami
"I told him that this decision is arbitrary, there is no legislation or law in this regard, and that Ettelaat won't accept it," Doaei wrote.
He referred to Khatami as "the noble, popular, and distinguished character of the revolution," adding that his Ettelaat will continue the "rational process" of covering news related to the former president.
Doaei wrote that the newspaper considered the coverage "a service to the [Iranian] establishment and the  revolution."
Such public criticism of media restrictions is exceedingly rare in Iran's heavily censored press.
The media ban on the reformist Khatami, who served as president from 1997-2003, was formally announced in February by Iran's hard-line judiciary, which warned that media violating the restrictions would face legal action.
Hard-liners have been referring to Khatami, who remains popular despite his failed attempts at reforms, as one of the leaders of the "sedition," a term used to describe the opposition movement that took to the streets in 2009 to protest the disputed reelection of former President Mahmud Ahmadinejad.
Judiciary spokesman Gholam Hossein Mohseni-Ejei on December 9 appeared to suggest Doaei had pledged not to violate the ban, telling Iranian media that the editor had signed a "commitment."
"It is true that the managing editor of Ettelaat, Hojatoleslam Doaei, was summoned to Tehran's special clergy court, he was investigated, and a pledge was obtained from him," Mohseni-Ejei said in comments published by the hard-line Fars news agency.
Doaei's editorial, however, appeared to contradict Mohseni-Ejei's statement.
Meanwhile, Khatami has thus far remained silent about the row.
In recent months, Khatami's supporters have attempted to challenge the ban by sharing his photographs and statements on social media under the hashtag "We will be Khatami's media."
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