- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 5, 2006


TEHRAN — Newspapers have been closed, intellectuals arrested, satellite dishes confiscated and Internet traffic disrupted in what is seen as a delayed crackdown more than a year after Mahmoud Ahmadinejad became Iran’s president.

The trend is prompting some reformers and traditionalists to come together in an unlikely alliance to oppose the president.

The state-owned newspaper Iran reopened recently after a six-month closure prompted by a caricature that mocked ethnic Turks, Iran’s most powerful minority, which sparked weeks of rioting. But several reformist journals remain off the shelves.

Iran’s leading pro-reform daily, Shargh, was shut down in September, as was Nameh, a political journal with liberal leanings. On Oct. 19, a new moderate daily employing many of Shargh’s journalists was pulled from circulation and banned from publishing political news or analysis. Foreign reporters also have been expelled.

It is all part of a crackdown that many Iranian commentators have been predicting since the election of Mr. Ahmadinejad in June 2005. In recent months, several intellectuals and political activists have been arrested and a series of measures put in place to restrict Iranians’ access to information from abroad.

Moves to confiscate satellite dishes and increased filtering of Web sites, say many Iranians, are returning Iran to the dark days immediately after the Islamic revolution and before the eight years of gradual reforms implemented by President Mohammed Khatami.

“This government is growing like a cancer,” said a home painter, who asked not to be identified for fear of retribution. “They are slowly changing everything. It’s not that I’m depressed — I’m shocked and helpless.”

Last month, the government ordered Internet service providers to reduce the speed of Web access for homes and cybercafes. The slower connection speed will make it more difficult to access and download Western news, movies and television programs. It also will impede efforts by dissidents to upload information onto the Web.

As part of a process of gradually silencing opposition to a government that has yet to deliver on promises of economic reforms, dozens of followers of a charismatic Shi’ite cleric were arrested in late September. They are thought to have been taken to Section 209 of Tehran’s Evin Prison, which is run by the Ministry of Intelligence, according to Amnesty International.

One of those arrested was Kianoosh Sanjari, an activist sympathetic to Ayatollah Mohammad Kazemeni Boroujerdi who had been providing details of the detentions on his blog until the day of his arrest. Amnesty International reported that Mr. Sanjari is being held incommunicado and is at risk of being tortured.

A struggle also is taking place inside the Islamic republic’s power core, as the reformist and conservative officials band together to confront Mr. Ahmadinejad’s hard-line factions in coming elections for the Tehran city council.

The results of this contest will determine the direction in which Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader and ultimate decision-maker in Iran, will lean on issues such as the country’s nuclear program.

“Now people realize that [Mr. Ahmadinejad] is more right-wing than the [conservatives],” said an Iranian businessman who has known the president for several years. “That’s why an alliance is being established with the reformists, an alliance that I would not have imagined even in my wildest dreams” before Mr. Ahmadinejad came to power.

Cultural censorship also has increased, with the banning of Oscar-nominated Iranian director Bahman Ghobadi’s latest film, Half Moon. It features a woman singing, an act that is banned in Iran.

“Imagine my frame of mind when, having placed all my hopes in this film, after having done everything so that Iranians could see it, the government then decides it cannot be screened,” Mr. Ghobadi said in an interview.

• The byline is withheld from this story at the writer’s request for fear of official retaliation.

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