Three more pro-reform papers shut down

Click here to read more about press freedom conditions in IRAN.

[Click here to read CPJ’s protest letter of April 14

[Click here to read CPJ’s news alert of April 21]

[Click here to read CPJ’s news alert of April 24]

[Click here to read CPJ’s protest letter of April 24]

[Click here to read exerpts from Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s recent speech denouncing the independent media]

New York, April 27, 2000 — Hard-line political forces continued their crackdown on Iran’s reformist press by closing three more newspapers, bringing to 16 the total number of publications shut down in the last week.

The leading dailies Sobh-e-Emrooz and Mosharekat (which is directed by President Muhammad Khatami’s brother Muhammad Reza Khatami) and the Isfahan-based weekly Ava were ordered closed by judicial authorities for alleged violations of the press law, according to the official Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA).

IRNA also reported that Iran’s press court had ordered the Isfahan-based weekly Ava to close for publishing false news with the intent of disturbing public opinion, among other charges. The case was based on complaints filed against Ava by a number of government institutions, including the Intelligence Ministry, the Revolutionary Guards (an elite military force under the direct control of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei), and the Special Court for Clergy in Qom.

Iranian authorities did not publicly state their justification for closing Sobh-e-Emrooz and Mosharekat. Judicial authorities had previously ordered Sobh-e-Emrooz to close on Monday, April 24, but the ban was reversed that same day for reasons that remain unclear.

The Iranian judiciary is controlled by conservatives who are generally hostile to the social and political liberalization program associated with President Khatami and his allies in the reformist camp. Conservatives recently lost control of parliament in February’s crucial general election, giving Khatami a broad popular mandate.

On April 23 and 24, judicial authorities decimated the reformist press with the indefinite closure of 13 newspapers and magazines. This onslaught provides further evidence that anti-reform elements still wield great power in Iran, despite their defeat at the polls.

As of today, only one national pro-reform newspaper, Bayan, was still available on newsstands in Tehran and other cities. The judicial crackdown has dealt a crippling blow to the lively political debate being carried out in the Iranian press since May 1997, when Khatami was elected president.


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…”