[Click here to read exerpts from Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's recent speech denouncing the independent media]
UPDATE: On Monday the judiciary reversed its closure order against the daily Sobh-e-Emrooz for reasons that remain unclear. The total number of closed publications currently stands at 13.
New York, N.Y., April 24, 2000--The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) today expressed outrage over the closure of 14 Iranian newspapers and the imprisonment of journalists Akbar Ganji and Latif Safari, by hard-line political forces trying to muzzle the country's vocal pro-reform press.
In a letter to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the New York-based press-freedom watchdog called for the immediate release of Ganji, Safari and three other imprisoned journalists and urged that the sweeping judicial ban against the newspapers be reversed.
"The decision to ban the 14 newspapers amounts to state censorship on a massive scale," said CPJ executive director Ann K. Cooper. "It is even more outrageous that Akbar Ganji and Latif Safari have actually been deprived of their liberty for the 'crime' of publishing opinions with which judicial authorities happened to disagree."
Excerpts from Ali Khamenei's April 20 speech denouncing the independent media
"Unfortunately, the same enemy who wants to overthrow the [regime] has found a base in the country. Some of the press have become the base of the enemy. I am neither against press freedom nor variety in the press. I would be happier if instead of 20 newspapers, there were 200 papers that were a guiding light as stipulated in the Constitution, and wrote in the interest of the people and religion. The more such newspapers, the better."
"But there are newspapers (publications) whose only aim is to create tension and make people cynical of the regime. It seems that 10 to 15 newspapers (publications) are guided from one center; they write similar headlines that make it look like the country is losing everything. They kill hope in the youths, weaken the spirit of confidence in officials; they insult official institutions..."
"Even the Western press is not like that... This is press charlatanism!"
"They insult the Constitution, insult the country's policies, they exaggerate issues... An assassination attempt takes place, before it is clear, they accuse the revolutionary guards and the basij and the clergy. Why are they so much against the basij?''
"There are good people in many of the publications -- both writers and managers. But in the midst of them, I find footsteps of Abdullah Bin Obey [someone who betrayed Prophet Mohammed].''
"I didn't want to speak so frankly and explicitly about some of the publications, but I had no choice. I spoke to officials. The honorable President, like me, is not happy. I heard that he gathered some of them and counseled them [Khatami last week met managing editors of the papers and told them to keep a lower profile]. I don't think if counseling works...''
"They don't give a chance to the people to breathe... Always a conflict...''
"I find this current press propaganda harmful to the country, to the youths and the future and faith of the people."
"They are trying to shatter everything that is sacred. They are questioning Islamic issues, they are questioning the revolution, not with rational arguments, but wrong methods."
"I am only complaining to you... Of course one of the enemy's aims is to provoke your emotions, I caution you not to do anything outside the law because of emotions or in support of someone. I will not allow it. Take notice. It is not difficult for the enemy to plant four mercenaries among the honest Hezbollahis and create tension and clashes under the pretext that it is in support of the leadership (supreme leadership)."
"I only wanted you to know, the public to know what the enemy is doing in the country and what the aim of the enemy is--to make people lose their faith and separate the past and present generations."
"They are belittling one of the prides of the past 20 years which was the holy defense, the eight year war ... They are now questioning the war, they are questioning the fighters, the martyrs, the revolutionary guards and the army."
"Only an enemy is capable of doing such a thing. Those who do it in the newspapers are not really the enemy, they are just ignorant."
"Officials must know that this is a big danger and if the danger is not dealt with, the enemy will take one step forward...''