TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iranian President Hassan Rouhani criticized in remarks published Thursday the recent arrests of journalists amid an ongoing crackdown on expression by the country's hard-liners.
According to a report in the state-owned daily IRAN, Rouhani said hard-liners "misuse" remarks by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on the possible spread of U.S. influence in Iran as an excuse for the detentions.
The president was referring to Khamenei's statements this week that reflect deep suspicions of the United States and prevailing views among hard-liners in Iran that U.S. policies are a threat to the country.
The paper quotes Rouhani as saying the hard-liners are "exaggerating the case" and making baseless arrests. The Iranian president spoke during a Cabinet meeting Wednesday.
"We shouldn't detain one or two people, here and there, while exaggerating the case and saying there is a 'current' (U.S.) infiltration in Iran," Rouhani said.
He also said that he hopes everyone in the country understands that it's not permissible to "abuse" Khamenei's statements for "personal, group and factional interests." Khamenei has the final say on all major policies.
Earlier in the week, the semi-official Fars news agency reported the arrests of five Iranian journalists, including two known reformists. The detentions follow the arrest of others, including two poets and a filmmaker.
The crackdown and the sharp rhetoric come amid the hard-liners' push against a nuclear deal with world powers and ahead of crucial February parliamentary elections.
On Wednesday, Hamid Reza Moghaddamfar, an adviser to the powerful head of the Revolutionary Guards, said the crackdown against pro-Western writers and journalists is aimed at fighting U.S. "infiltration that is aimed at overthrowing (Iran's) system."
On Thursday, Fars reported that Commerce Minister Mohammad Reza Nematzadeh banned the import of American consumer goods.
The decision came after Khamenei on Sunday warned against importing American consumer goods as sanctions are lifted under the nuclear deal.
Iran's imports from the U.S. reportedly reached $140 million in the first half of 2015, around 60 percent higher than in the same period in 2014. The imports mainly consist of medical devices, food and seeds.