A leading Iranian newspaper has been shut down for publishing an interview with a woman accused of being a “counter-revolutionary” homosexual.

The ban on Shargh, the favourite newspaper of Iranian liberals, comes amid growing pressure on the press in Iran and follows the closure of fellow moderate daily Ham Mihan last month.

It is the second time in less than a year that Shargh has been shut down by Iranian officials.

On Saturday the newspaper published a full-page interview with Saghi Ghahreman, an expatriate Iranian poet who lives in Canada, under the headline “Feminine Language.”

“The main reason for the ban was an interview with a counter-revolutionary who promotes immorality,” Alireza Malekian, the director of press in the culture ministry, told the state-run IRNA news agency.

Mehdi Rahmanian, Shargh’s licence holder and managing director, told Agence France-Presse (AFP) : “We had an article which was an interview with an expatriate writer. They said she had moral problems, they say she is homosexual and promotes that in her weblog. But we talked to her as a poet.”

Malekian told IRNA it was now up to the judiciary to decide in court whether the ban should be permanent.

“This person is a known element who even promotes immorality in her cyber publication,” he said.

Ghahreman is the editor of a website called Cheragh which focuses on Iranian lesbian and gay issues.

Shargh’s lawyer Mahmoud Alizadeh Tabatabai said: “Interviewing an individual cannot be a reason for closure when there is no vice in that interview.

“The reason for the ban is unlawful because the judiciary has not protested against the individual who was interviewed,” he said, according to IRNA.

The hardline daily Kayhan, known for its repeated attacks on the moderate press, said in its Monday edition that Ghahreman was head “of the Iranian homosexuals organisation.”

“Media observers believe that Shargh has interviewed this homosexual while aware of her sick sexual identity, dissident views and porno-personality,” it added.

Shargh had only returned to the news-stands in May after serving a nine-month ban for publishing a cartoon deemed offensive to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Yesterday Shargh published a front-page apology for the interview, saying it had been “unaware of this person’s personal traits” and would in future “avoid such people and movements.”

Ghahreman made no explicit reference to homosexuality in the interview, but said that “sexual boundaries must be flexible… The immoral is imposed by culture on the body.”

Iran’s moderate press has been stunted by a spate of closures under President Ahmadinejad.

Ham Mihan, directed by former Tehran mayor Gholam Hossein Karbaschi, was shut down in July, less than two months after the authorities allowed it to reappear after a seven-year ban.

Culture Minister Mohammad Hossein Saffar Harandi has also denounced a “creeping coup in the press” while last month authorities banned the moderate labour news agency ILNA.