Maryam Sinaiee writes for The National:
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's government is seeking to divert attention from hardline rivals' allegations that some of the Iranian president's allies, including his chief of staff, are involved in black magic and exorcism.
The government is doing so by assuming the leading role in the battle against occult practices and nonconformist ideologies.
Alireza Afshar, acting interior minister in executive affairs, told Nasim Online, a news website, that the ministry had commissioned a non-governmental organisation to identify those engaged in divination and exorcism as well as "deviant schools of thought and false Gnosticism".
Under Iranian laws various kinds of occultism are punishable by fines and jail terms of up to seven years.
Occult practices such as fortune-telling, divination and black magic have always existed in certain strata of Iranian society and were largely tolerated unless individuals claimed to be victimised or defrauded.
In a later interview Mr Afshar added "devil-worshippers" as subjects of the intended crackdown. Devil-worshipper is the collective term that authorities in Iran often use to refer to underground rock bands and young people dressing unconventionally or "western-style".
A political analyst from Tehran said: "By reducing the fight against occultism to the ordinary diviners and fortune-tellers, and of course launching an attack on nonconformist youth culture, Sufi sects, [and] non-Islamic Gnostic groups such as popular Indian theosophical cults, the government can divert attention, at least for a while, from their own involvement in practice of the occult against their rivals."
Esfandiar Rahim Mashaie, Mr Ahmadinejad's chief of staff, is considered the main cause of the occult brouhaha.
Ayatollah Mohammad Taqi Mesbah Yazdi, a hardline cleric who was once thought to be Mr Ahmadinejad's mentor, recently claimed that Mr Mashaie had cast a spell on Mr Ahmadinejad. As many as 25 men associated with Mr Mashaie were arrested last month on charges of sorcery and black magic.