Iran's biggest morning newspaper suspended publication today after Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini denounced it as "deviationist" and hard-line Moslem mobs attacked its provincial offices.
The suspension highlighted a mounting controversy here over press censorship and raised tension between right-wing Khomeini followers and an increasingly disenchanted liberal and leftist minority.
Ayandegan, an independent daily considered Iran's best published a special edition protesting the attacks and challenging the government to declare publicly its position on press freedom. Three of the issue's four pages were blank.
Many newstands refused to handle the paper out of sympathy with Khomeini, Iran's de facto head of state,ILLEGIBLE threats ILLEGIBLE Some volunteer vendors, mostly students, were beaten or had their papers seized.
The Khomeini camp and the government strongly deny that they are censoring the press. But critics charge that authorities have instigated indirect "mob censorship" by mobilizing demonstrators or, in some cases, newspapers' own printshop employes to intimidate dissident journalists or prevent the publication of articles deemed unfavorable.
Thus, the critics say, the leaders of the Islamic republic, who opposed censorhip under the now-deposed shah, are behaving much the same way in the name of "the revolution."
The latest controversy over the issue began Thursday when Ayatollah Khomeini called a boycott of Ayandegan in reaction to two articles.ILLEGIBLE was about an interview he gave to the ILLEGIBLE Le Monde, in which he was quoted as blaming the assassinations of former chief of staff Gen. Mohammed Vali Gharani and Revolutionary Council member Ayatollah Morteza Motahari on "American agents" while absolving the Iranian left.
The other was an investigative piece on the terrorist group Forqan, which claimed responsibility for the assassination. That article, based on Forqan literature obtained by the paper, described the group as a Moslem fanatic organization opposed to the clergy. It thus raised the prospect of a religious schism in Iran.
Khomeini's headquarters in the holy city of Qom said, "ALL mass media including newspapers and magazines may refer to [Khomeini's] office to ascertain the correctness of news concerning the ayatollah," according to a translation by the official Pars news agency. "This office is not responsible [WORD ILLEGIBLE] which may have dangerous consequences," the statement added.
Editors at Ayandegan said the version of the statement conveyed to them amounted to an order, rather than a request, that news about Khomeini be checked with his headquarters.
"It stated explicityly that all news about his eminence has to be checked by the office," said an editorial writer. "This amounts to some form of censorship."
Iranian journalists said that two afternoon dailies, which had already knuckled under to pressure from the Khomeini camp, printed accounts of the Le Monde interview in their Thursday editions but ommited the objectionable part on instructions from Qom.
Le Monde quoted Khomeini as saying, "I accuse ILLEGIBLE of having assassinated General Gharani and Ayatollah ILLEGIBLE who served the shah are hiding behing Forqan a pseudo-religious organization." According to Le Monde, he added that the Iranian left was not involved in the murders.
Massive mourning ceremonies for Motahari earlier this month turned into anti-communist demonstrations as many marchers blamed the assassination on leftists.
"Some people want to follow the shah's policy of putting out different news for internal and external consumption, an Ayandegan editor said. Blaming U.S. agents for the murders may have been convenient abroad denying internal divisions, he said, but in Iran the leadership "wants to avoid giving the impression of flirting with the leftists."
However, the Ayandegan editors said they thought their lengthy investigative piece on Forqan was probably a more important factor in provoking Khomeini's wrath.
The story provided evidence of "anunderground fight among Moslems," specifically between the Shiite Moslem clergy and radical flowers of the late Ali Shariati, a popular Islamic writer who espoused somewhat anticlerical views.
"It is too dangerous for people tosee schisms," one of the editors explained.
Columnist Mohammed Ghaed said a commentary on the state-controlled television last night accused the paper of "receiving money from Zionists and the Shah." This morning, he said, the official radio added "Communists" to the list of alleged donors.
"Publishing he paper as we used to is impossible," Ghaed said. "We either have to go underground or stop publishing." He added that staffers did not want to print an underground pacer.