- The Washington Times - Monday, August 21, 2000

"Iran will never become the Soviet Union," said a leading Iranian cleric on Friday. By that he meant the current regime would not fall, either at the hands of the United States or anyone else.But recent events highlight how much Iran currently resembles the late Soviet Union. Iran's "supreme leader," Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has been using Soviet-style, thought-control repression, crushing the freedom of the press with his considerable powers. That suppression is beginning to dampen the widespread, though misplaced, optimism generated by reformers' sweeping victory in February's parliamentary election. Mr. Khamenei has made clear that he, and not the pro-reformist President Mohammad Khatami, controls Iran.
The most recent casualty of the ayatollah's crackdown was the pro-reform newspaper, Ava, which means The Voice. On Thursday, one of Iran's courts imposed a permanent ban on the paper and barred its director, Mostafa Izadi, from ever doing any type of journalism again.
The court ruled that Mr. Izadi was trying to undermine the supremacy of the nation's supreme religious leader through his paper, and it was probably right. Just printing the truth in Iran is a major threat to the clerical regime. The media have exposed the regime's brutality and corruption and fans the people's already desperate desire for change.
The courts have now done away with that problem. Every independent newspaper in Iran has been closed, and the ayatollah has blocked Parliament's efforts to limit the court's crackdown on media outlets. Earlier this month, Ebrahim Nabavi received the Iranian Press Guild Association award as the country's best satirist … on his way to jail. Mohammed Ghoochani was jailed one day after he was given an award for best political writer.
So despite the similarities with the Soviet's muzzling of the press, Iran's ayatollah has no intention of easing into any kind Iranian glasnost. Discontent with the regime's limits on ideological and economic freedom won't have any outlets, setting up a potentially dangerous political explosion. So any power shift in Iran won't mirror Russia's relatively peaceful transition. In that respect, at least, Iran may distinguish itself from the Soviet Union: Iran may face a bloodier future.

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