Reformist dailies temporarily banned

New York, February 20, 2004—The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) condemns the Wednesday, February 18, suspension of two Iranian reformist-leaning dailies by Tehran’s Press Court. The suspensions came just before Iran’s controversial parliamentary elections, which are being conducted today.

According to Mashallah Shamsolvaezin, spokesman for the Iranian Committee for the Defense of Freedom of the Press, the dailies Yas e No and Sharq both received notification on Wednesday evening that the court had ordered them temporarily suspended. The move came after they published portions of an open letter on February 18 from several reformists who had resigned from Parliament. The letter criticized Iran’s spiritual leader, Ali Khamenei, and asked if he was complicit in the decision to bar several reformists from running for parliamentary seats. Iranian authorities consider criticism of Khamenei intolerable, and therefore it rarely appears in Iranian newspapers.

Shamsolvaezin said that no other papers printed portions of the open letter, and, according to press reports, publications had received prior warning from officials not to print it. Yas e No and Sharq are both high-profile reformist dailies.

The court orders said the suspensions were temporary, but most newspapers in Iran that the Press Court has temporarily banned have not reopened.

“These suspensions are unacceptable and clearly aimed at stifling public debate ahead of elections,” said CPJ Senior Program Coordinator Joel Campagna. “We demand that the both Yas e No and Sharq be allowed to reopen immediately.”