Journalist sentenced, papers shut down

New York, May 10, 2002–In the latest wave of Iran’s ongoing crackdown on the press, the country’s conservative Press Court has sentenced two journalists to prison and banned three newspapers during the last two weeks.

CPJ learned that on May 8, Iran’s Press Court convicted Mohsen Mirdamadi, a member of Parliament and director of the leading reformist daily, Norooz, of insulting the state, publishing lies, and insulting Islamic institutions in articles the paper had published.

The prosecutor general had originally filed the charges against the paper in December 2001.

The court sentenced Mirdamadi to six months in prison, banned him from practicing journalism for four years, and ordered him to pay a 2 million riyal (US$1,149) fine. The court also banned Norooz from publishing for six months.

Mirdamadi has appealed the decision. A source told CPJ that while awaiting the appeal, the journalist remains free and his paper continues to publish.

Papers closed
On May 4, the Press Court banned the daily Iran, which is published by the official Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA), after it ran an article in April saying that Prophet Mohammed enjoyed listening to female singers.

The same day, the Press Court also banned the daily Bonyan. According to a source in Iran, the court cited the Precautionary Measures Law, a pre-revolutionary statute that allows courts to seize “instruments used for committing crimes.”

The court said that Bonyan, widely known for its critical reporting, had stolen its name and logo from a provincial weekly. But a source told CPJ that the charge appeared to be a pretext to punish the paper for its reformist editorial stance.

The ban against Iran was lifted the following day, but the privately owned Bonyan remains closed.

Last week, Iranian authorities sentenced Ahmed Zaid-Abadi, a leading reformist journalist, to 23 months in prison. He was originally charged in August 2000 after giving a series of lectures at several Iranian universities. However, the verdict in the case came after he made controversial statements about the conflict in the Middle East in an interview in Bonyan several weeks ago.