April 24, 2000
His Excellency Sayed Ayatollah Ali Khamenei
Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran
c/o Permanent Mission of the Islamic Republic of Iran to the United Nations
622 3rd Ave, 34th Floor
New York, NY 10017
BY FACSIMILE: 212-867-7086
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is outraged about the recent closure of 14 Iranian newspapers and the imprisonment of journalists Akbar Ganji and Latif Safari.
On April 23 and 24, Iranian judicial authorities ordered the indefinite closure of 14 newspapers and magazines for “continuing to publish articles against the bases of the luminous ordinances of Islam and the religious sanctities of the noble people of Iran and the pillars of the sacred regime of the Islamic Republic.” A communiqué issued by the authorities on April 23 and published in the local press added that the newspapers had been closed in order to “prevent them from committing new offenses, from affecting society’s opinions, and arousing concern among the people.”
The first wave of closures coincided with the April 23 jailing of Latif Safari, director of the banned daily Neshat, which was closed by court order in September, 1999. Safari was taken to Evin prison after an appellate court upheld a 30-month jail sentence that the court had imposed on September 20, 1999. Safari was convicted on several charges, including defamation, inciting unrest, and “insulting the sanctity and tenets of Islam.” These charges stem from articles published in Neshat during Safari’s tenure as director, including an opinion piece that challenged the use of capital punishment in Iran.
The banned publications are: Asr-e-Azadegan, Fat’h, Aftab-e-Emrooz, Arya, Gozaresh-e-Ruz, Bamdad-e-No, Payam-e-Azadi, Azad, Payam-e-Hajar, Aban, Arzesh, Iran-e-Farda, Sobh-e-Emrooz, and Akhbar Eqtesad.
One day before Safari’s imprisonment, journalist Akbar Ganji, who writes for the daily Sobh-e-Emrooz, was arrested after being summoned by a Revolutionary Court to hear a number of complaints filed against him concerning articles that he had published in Iranian newspapers. The official Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA), citing Ganji’s attorney, reported on Saturday that a total of ten complaints had been filed against the journalist by government institutions that included the Revolutionary Guards, an elite military unit under Your Excellency’s direct control, and the Intelligence Ministry.
At least three other Iranian journalists are currently in prison as a result of their journalistic work and in clear violation of their internationally guaranteed right to free expression. We note with grave concern that this recent wave of attacks against the Iranian press follows public statements Your Excellency made last week in which you said that “there are 10 to 15 papers writing as if they are directed from one center, undermining Islamic and revolutionary principles, insulting constitutional bodies and creating tension and discord in society.”
As a nonpartisan organization of journalists dedicated to defending press freedom worldwide, CPJ views the imprisonment of Akbar Ganji and Latif Safari and the banning of 14 newspapers as a flagrant violation of their right to free expression, as guaranteed under international law. Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights grants all people, including journalists, the right to “seek, receive, and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”
CPJ urges Your Excellency to exert your influence to ensure that all five journalists imprisoned in Iran are freed immediately. In addition to Ganji and Safari, Mashallah Shamsolvaezin, Mohsen Kadivar, and Abdullah Nouri are also serving lengthy prison sentences for journalism-related offenses. We also call on you to ensure that judicial authorities immediately reverse Sunday’s decision to close the 14 newspapers.
Thank you for your attention to this urgent matter. We look forward to your timely response.
Ann K. Cooper