REPORTING FROM TEHRAN AND BEIRUT -- Authorities in Iran have sentenced President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's media advisor 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, Iranian media reports said Sunday.
The move coincided with the official decision to slap a temporary ban on a leading reformist newspaper, Etemad. The ban came a day after the daily published an interview with the same media advisor, who slammed conservative opponents of the president, according to Iran's Mehr News Agency.
The dispute casts light on the mounting political tensions between Ahmadinejad and rival conservative hard-liners ahead of legislative elections scheduled for March. Some critics have accused Ahmadinejad and his chief of staff of undermining Islamic values, among other allegations.
Ahmadinejad may seem a hard-liner to the West, but at home his principal rivals are religious conservatives.
The Ahmadinejad media advisor taking the heat is Ali Akbar Javanfekr, the managing director of Iran's official Islamic Republic News Agency, and also the head of the magazine IRAN. He was convicted of publishing an offensive piece in an August edition of IRAN that explored the lives of Iranian women and the history of Islamic dress for women -- an article deemed contrary to "Islamic principles," local media reports said.
Meanwhile, Javanfekr's criticism Saturday of conservative opponents of Ahmadinejad in an interview with Etemad apparently sparked a temporary shutdown of the paper. Several Iranian news agencies reported that authorities had imposed a two-month ban on the paper for publishing "lies and insults."
Etemad's managing editor, Elias Hazrati, suggested that the ban was a direct result of the provocative and prominently displayed interview with Javanfekr, the president's media advisor.
"We had edited parts of the interview but it must have still not been deemed acceptable," Hazrati was quoted as saying by the Iranian news agency Mehr.
In his comments to Etemad, Javanfekr responded to critics who have accused the president of being surrounded by a "deviant current" that seeks to undermine the country's powerful clergy.
"If they meant the deviant current is a deviation from their own beliefs, we confirm it," Javanfekr said. "The Principalists [conservative hard-liners] have not realized that they are a lost cause in politics."
--Ramin Mostaghim and Alexandra Sandels
Photo: Ali Akbar Javanfekr, center, managing director of Iran's official Islamic Republic News Agency, in a file photo dated June 7, 2011. Credit: Abedin Taherkenareh/EPA