DATE=4/23/2000 TYPE=CORRESPONDENT'S REPORT TITLE=IRAN/PRESS CRACKDOWN NUMBER=2-261643 BYLINE=DALE GAVLAK DATELINE=CAIRO CONTENT= INTRO: Iran's conservative-run press court has closed at least three pro-reform and liberal newspapers - as part of a growing crackdown on growing media freedoms under reformist President Mohamad Khatami. And a second prominent journalist has been imprisoned since Saturday. Dale Gavlak reports. TEXT: Iranian editors called the court order unlawful but say they may simply have to comply with it. Administrators at the mass-circulation dailies (Asr-e Aza-degan and Fath) say the press court ordered them to cease publication immediately. A biweekly paper (Iran-e Farda) was also banned. Tehran's top religious leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said elements of Iran's press had been turned into what he called "bases of the enemy." The press court has also jailed a second journalist Sunday, refusing Latif Safari's appeal of ahis two- and-a-half year prison term. /// OPT /// Mr. Safari said he would rather go to prison and serve an illegal sentence in order to unmask those who incessantly break the law." /// END OPT /// He was sentenced last year on charges of insulting Islam. Saturday the court detained investigative journalist ,Akbar Ganji, who published articles suggesting a link between former Iranian president, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, to the 1998 murders of several intellectuals and opposition leaders. The crackdown was not wholly unexpected. The ayatollah's conservative Revolutionary Guards had recently warned journalists to be ready for they called a "blow to the head." And last week, the outgoing conservative parliament passed tough new measures against the media. Hardliners partly blame the pro-Khatami press for their stinging parliamentary defeat in February. Newspapers have flourished since Khatami was elected in a landslide victory 3 years ago. In an unusually direct move, President Mohamed Khatami hit back at the hard-liners opponents, saying opponents of reform and press liberalization are pushing Iranian society toward ruin and creating the grounds for dictatorship." (signed) NEB/DG/JO 23-Apr-2000 14:11 PM EDT (23-Apr-2000 1811 UTC) NNNN Source: Voice of America .