Iran: Reformist paper banned for violating news blackout

New York, July 16, 2002—The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) condemns last week’s ban on the reformist Iranian newspaper Azad.

On July 11, Tehran’s Press Court ordered the pro-reform daily to cease publishing indefinitely because it had violated a government directive banning media commentary about the resignation of prominent cleric Ayatollah Jalaleddin Taheri.

Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, which is headed by President Muhammad Khatami and includes other top government officials, had issued the directive a day earlier, on Wednesday, July 10, and instructed publishers not to take a position “for or against” Taheri. [Click here to read CPJ’s July 11 Iran news alert for more details.]

On Thursday, July 11, Azad published a front-page story discussing Taheri’s resignation and supporting critical statements the cleric had made about the government. The paper was banned later that day and has not appeared on newsstands since.

“The media blackout on Ayatollah Taheri and the closure of Azad are crude attempts to silence public debate about a story of national interest,” said CPJ executive director Ann Cooper. “There can be no justification for these acts of censorship. We call on Iranian authorities to reverse both bans immediately.”

Taheri, a prominent cleric and associate of Ayatollah Khomeini, the leader of Iran’s 1979 Islamic revolution, resigned on July 9 as the leader of the Friday prayers in the city of Isfahan, about 400 kilometers (250 miles) south of the capital, Tehran. In his resignation letter, published in some reformist newspapers on July 10, Taheri accused the government of corruption and said that the promises of the revolution had not been realized.

According to CPJ research, 49 Iranian publications have been closed since a crackdown on the press began in April 2000. At least three Iranian journalists are currently imprisoned for their work.