Iranian police raid offices of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's press aide
REPORTING FROM TEHRAN AND BEIRUT -- The drama surrounding Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s top media advisor, who was reportedly sentenced to jail for an article deemed offensive to Islamic values, took a tumultuous turn Monday.
The media advisor, Ali Akbar Javanfekr, held a defiant news conference, then police descended on the Tehran offices of the daily newspaper Iran, which Javanfekr edits.
Anti-riot police fired tear gas into the newspaper's offices and reportedly arrested more than 30 staff members.
Smoke could be seen rising from one floor in the eastern wing of the building. Outside, police hauled groups of men and women into minibuses. Reports also said authorities seized computers.
The episode appears to be the latest escalation in the mounting split between Ahmadinejad and rival conservatives. The president’s biggest rivals are hard-line conservatives and clerics.
Political tensions are mounting ahead of March legislative elections. Conservatives accuse the president’s chief of staff of leading a “deviant current” aimed at marginalizing Iran’s powerful clergy.
During the weekend, authorities sentenced Javanfekr, who also heads the official Iranian news agency, to a year in jail and banned him from working in journalism for three years because of an article that was deemed to have violated public decency and Islamic principles, news reports in Iran indicated.
The article included an interview implying that the chador -- the black, cloak-like garment wore by conservative Iranian women -- was rooted not in Islamic tradition, but instead originated in 19th century Paris, according to Reuters news agency.
Officials also placed a two-month ban on a leading reformist newspaper, Etemad, after the daily published an interview in which Javanfekr criticized conservative rivals opposed to Ahmadinejad.
The conservative Iranian Mehr news agency declared that Javanfekr had been arrested, handcuffed and taken to jail.
But Javanfekr on Monday told Reuters he was at work and denied reports of his detention.
"I am in my office at the Iran newspaper building and deny all these arrest allegations," he told the news agency.
At the news conference, Javanfekr said he reserved the right to exercise his freedom of expression.
“People of Iran have rights as citizens.... We should not give an impression to the world that here society is strangled," he said. "We respectfully express our minds."
Javanfekr praised what he called the achievements of Ahmadinejad’s administration, contending that the president represents the "revival of revolutionary values and discourse." He said the president had increased the number of hospitals, factories and industries during his time in office.
He also suggested Ahmadinejad holds a bit of international stardom, citing what he called the “Ahmadinejad effect,” and even suggested that the Occupy Wall Street movement and the Arab uprisings were inspired by Ahmadinejad’s policies.
"Once I was among the entourage of Ahmadinejad in New York and the taxi driver did not even charge us when he found out we were the entourage of Ahmadinejad,” he said. “The Wall Street occupying movement and awakening movement in the Middle East and North African countries took inspiration from Ahmadinejad’s anti-capitalism and anti-USA imperialism.”
-- Ramin Mostaghim and Alexandra Sandels
Photo: Ali Akbar Javanfekr, center, managing director of Iran's official Islamic Republic News Agency, in June 2011. Credit: Abedin Taherkenareh/EPA