Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s top press adviser was taken into custody to begin serving a six-month jail sentence after being convicted of publishing material deemed insulting to the country’s supreme leader.
Ali Akbar Javanfekr, who is also the head of the state-run IRNA news agency, is one of dozens of Ahmadinejad’s allies detained since April 2011 in the fallout from a political feud between the president and the country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Iran’s hardline political establishment slapped down Ahmadinejad and his supporters after the president briefly challenged an order from the country’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei over the choice of intelligence chief.
The semiofficial Fars news agency said judicial agents detained Javanfekr late Wednesday. IRNA said Javanfekr was arrested as Ahmadinejad, who had shielded his press adviser in the past from arrest, began his speech at the U.N. General Assembly in New York.
The case against Javanfekr began after he wrote in an official publication that the practice of women wearing a head-to-toe black covering known as a chador was not originally an Iranian practice but was imported. This was considered offensive by hardline Iranian clerics.
An Iranian court convicted Javanfekr last November of “publishing materials contrary to Islamic norms,” and also banned him from journalism activities for three years. The charges against him included insulting Khamenei, who has the final say on all state matters in Iran.
Javanfekr resisted an attempt by the judiciary to arrest him last November when his loyalists clashed with law enforcement forces inside the building of his office. Ahmadinejad reportedly intervened to stop the imprisonment of his close ally and confidant.
Meanwhile, authorities shut down a moderate newspaper late Wednesday after it published a caricature that hardliners have interpreted as insulting to war veterans.
The daily Shargh was ordered closed by the Press Supervisory Board over the caricature, state TV’s website reported.
But the caricaturist, Hadi Heidari, posted messages on his Facebook page saying his work has been misinterpreted by extremists and that his caricature simply criticized those who blindly follow others.
Iran experienced a wave of newspaper closures during a confrontation between reformers and hard-liners during the 1997-2005 tenure of former reformist President Mohammad Khatami.
The judiciary has shut down more than 120 pro-reform newspapers and jailed dozens of editors and writers on vague charges of insulting authorities since 2000.
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