Iran: Supreme Leader quashes parliamentary debate on press-code reform

August 7, 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

VIA FACSIMILE: 212.867.7086

Your Excellency:

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) wishes to protest your arbitrary and ill-advised decision to quash a proposed parliamentary bill to amend Iran’s harsh press laws.

According to international press reports, the Majles (parliament) was scheduled to debate the bill at its opening session yesterday in Tehran. The bill would revise the current code, which was passed in March by the outgoing Majles, in order to:

  •  Remove the judiciary’s current power to close newspapers without a hearing and court order.
  •  Bar courts from demanding lists of newspaper staff members to prevent banned publications from reopening under a new name. This has been standard practice in Iranian journalism since last summer, when conservative elements launched a crackdown against the reformist press that has so far resulted in the suspension of 22 newspapers and magazines, according to CPJ research.
  •  Remove hard-liners from the press court jury and oblige the judge of the press court to respect its rulings.

Unfortunately, Your Excellency chose to short-circuit this vital debate by sending the Majles a letter in which you ruled that any modification or amendment of the press code was “not in the interest of the regime.” You further stated that your aim was to keep the press from falling into the hands of “the enemies of Islam, the revolution, and the regime.”

One day after this legislative debacle, another pro-reform journalist was arrested in Tehran. According to wire-service reports, Ahmad Zaid-Abadi, a reporter for the reformist daily Hamshahri, the organ of the Tehran municipality, was arrested on the orders of press-court judge Said Mortazavi. His detention is believed to result from articles that he published last year in a number of reformist newspapers.

Also on Monday, the pro-reform weekly Cheshmeh Ardebil in northwestern Iran was suspended for four months on charges of “disturbing public opinion” and “insulting Islamic sanctities,” according to The Associated Press. The paper’s director, Naser Jafari, was fined one million rials (US$125). Cheshmeh Ardebil is the 22nd publication that conservative authorities have banned since March; all but one backed President Mohammed Khatami’s liberal agenda, according to our research.

While it may be in the narrow, short-term interests of conservative elements within Your Excellency’s regime to stifle independent discussion of the many challenges currently facing the Islamic Republic of Iran, such gross censorship is most certainly not in the interests of the Iranian people. Rather than invoking “enemies” in order to silence criticism, Your Excellency should allow the open, uncensored media debate that is essential for democratic discourse.

As an independent organization of journalists dedicated to defending the rights of our colleagues around the world, CPJ urges Your Excellency to order the immediate release of Ahmad Zaid-Abadi and all other Iranian journalists who are currently jailed for their work, to restore Cheshmeh Ardebil‘s publishing license, and to withdraw your ban on parliamentary discussion of the proposed press-law reform bill.

Thank you for your attention to these important matters. We await your reply.


Ann K. Cooper
Executive Director