TEHRAN (Reuters) - Iran has temporarily closed down the newspaper of leading reformist Mehdi Karoubi, who angered hardliners by saying some opposition protesters had been raped in jail, the website of his party said.
Tehran prosecutor Saeed Mortazavi denied that the Etemad-e Melli daily, which together with the party website offers a way for Karoubi to reach his supporters, had been banned, Mehr News Agency reported.
“Technical printing problems were the reasons for not distributing the paper (on Monday),” Mortazavi said.
The website of Karoubi’s party, which is also called Etemad-e Melli (National Trust), said the newspaper was closed down late on Sunday on the orders of Mortazavi’s office.
The newspaper did not appear on newsstands on Monday and its managing editor said he did not know whether it could be published again on Tuesday.
Karoubi, a cleric, came fourth in the disputed June 12 presidential election. He and the moderate runner-up, Mirhossein Mousavi, say the vote was rigged to secure hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s re-election. Ahmadinejad denies it.
“Last night a representative of the prosecutor’s office came to the Etemad-e Melli printing house and announced the temporary shutdown of the daily,” the party website quoted Karoubi’s son Hossein as saying.
The ISNA news agency, citing managing editor Mohammad-Javad Haqshenas, said the daily was targeted because it planned to publish a statement by Karoubi on its frontpage on Monday.
In the statement, carried by the party’s website on Sunday, Karoubi responded to “insults” against him by his hardline opponents and said he would not be not silenced.
“We have no further information on whether we can publish the paper (on Tuesday), because the judiciary officials talked only about banning Monday’s edition,” Haqshenas said.
The June poll and its turbulent aftermath have plunged Iran into its biggest internal crisis since the 1979 Islamic revolution, exposing deepening divisions within its ruling elite and also further straining relations with the West.
Iran arrested hundreds of people after the vote during its worst street unrest since the revolution three decades ago.
At least 200 people remain in jail, including senior moderate politicians, activists, lawyers and journalists. Iran has staged three mass trials against detainees.
Karoubi angered many hardliners when he said on August 9 that some detained protesters, both men and women, had been raped. The charge was rejected by the authorities as “baseless.”
Some hardliners have called for him to be arrested or tried if he failed to prove the abuse allegations. Karoubi says he has evidence of mistreatment of detainees. Last Thursday, he said some of those arrested were killed under torture.
A hardline cleric, Ahmad Khatami, told Friday prayer worshippers last week that Karoubi’s allegations had made “America, Israel and other enemies happy.”
A pro-reform clerical group, the Assembly of Combatant Clergies, issued a statement in defense of Karoubi on Monday.
“Instead of a thorough investigation on what Mr Karoubi has said, he has been severely insulted,” it said.
Many of the post-election detainees were held in south Tehran’s Kahrizak prison, built to house people breaching vice laws. At least three people died in custody there and widespread anger erupted as reports of abuse in jail spread.
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has endorsed Ahmadinejad’s re-election, ordered the closure of Kahrizak last month.
Additional reporting by Hashem Kalantari and Reza Derakhshi; Writing by Fredrik Dahl; Editing by Peter Millership
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