New York, March 14, 2000 — A leading reformist newspaper publisher who was shot in the face on March 12 is battling for his life in a Tehran hospital. Saeed Hajjarian, 47, an advisor to President Mohammad Khatami who also publishes the newspaper Sobh-e Emrooz, which has consistently criticized Iran’s hard-line religious rulers, may have suffered irreversible brain damage. He remains in a coma.

CPJ is seeking to determine the motive for the attack, but news accounts suggest that Hajjarian may have been targeted because of accounts published in his newspaper last year linking Intelligence Ministry officials to the murder of several leading reformist intellectuals. (Hajjarian himself served as a deputy minister in the Intelligence Ministry during the 1980s.) After the articles appeared, Iranian authorities were forced to admit that “rogue elements” from within the Intelligence Ministry were responsible for the killings.

He was shot twice in the face by a gunman who then escaped on the back of a high-powered motorcycle, driven by an accomplice. Under Iranian law, only government security forces may operate such motorcycles.

Hajjarian is a former hard-liner who took part in storming the United States embassy during the 1979 Islamic revolution led by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. As one of President Khatami’s closest advisers and a leader of the reformist Participation Party (“Moshariqaat”), he was one of the principal strategists in the recent election campaign, in which reformist candidates won three quarters of the decided seats.

President Khatami condemned the shooting of Hajjarian as a desperate act by those who have lost the battle against progress, according to the Iranian state news agency IRNA. “Assassination is the sinister method used by those who have lost any hope of being able to stop this nation’s future-oriented move,” said Khatami.