News coverage of economic sanctions barred by Iran

New York, July 12, 2012–Iranian authorities have issued new censorship guidelines barring domestic news outlets from reporting on the impact of Western economic sanctions, local and international news outlets reported Wednesday. And, with at least three imprisonments reported, the government is continuing its years-long anti-press campaign.

“Our country is not in a position to allow the media to publish (any) news or analysis which is not compatible with the regime’s and national interests,” Mohammad Hossieni, the minister of culture and Islamic guidance, said in a statement posted on a government website. Although the local media have generally refrained from publishing information on the sanctions in the past, they have occasionally printed statements from officials that indicate the negative effect of the embargoes, news reports said.

Iran has been subject to severe economic sanctions by Western countries since it began building its nuclear program in 2010. The sanctions are focused mostly on the oil and banking sectors, which the Iranian economy relies on heavily, news reports said.

“Ordinary Iranians can see for themselves the effects of sanctions, particularly those in the banking and oil industries,” said CPJ Deputy Director Rob Mahoney. “Further censoring the media and preventing them from reporting on daily life will only widen the gulf between the reality people experience and the reality the government would like journalists to portray.”

News reports have also documented new developments in the cases of imprisoned journalists in Iran.

  • On July 4, police arrested Ali Moslehi, a journalist for the reformist news website Jonbesh-e-Rah-e-Sabz, in the city of Kashan, according to reformist news websites. Authorities did not disclose any information on his whereabouts or condition, or the charges against him. Moslehi’s family told Jonbesh-e-Rah-e-Sabz that a car with four unidentified men had pulled up on the street and abducted Moslehi, the website reported.

  • An independent Iranian blogger turned himself in to authorities on June 19 to begin serving his one-year sentence, news reports said. Arash Rahaee Mehr, who had written critically about the regime on his own blog, had been charged with “insulting the president” and “propagating against the regime,” according to reformist news websites. Mehr was first arrested in the aftermath of the 2009 presidential election, news reports said.

  • Another journalist also began serving a prison term last month. Said Moghaneli, editor-in-chief of the banned Azeri-language publications Yashmagh and Yarpagh and the banned monthly literary publication Dilmaj, started his six-month jail term on June 26 in the city of Tabriz, according to reformist news websites. Moghaneli, a frequent contributor to other Azeri-language magazines and newspapers such as Azari and Aftab-e-Azerbaijan, was charged with “propagating against the regime” and “interviewing with foreign media,” news reports said. The journalist was first arrested in June 2011 and released three months later on bail, the reports said. It is unclear when Moghaneli was convicted and sentenced. In December 2011, an appeals court upheld his prison sentence.

  • One imprisoned journalist served one month in solitary confinement in Rajaee Shah Prison, which houses violent criminals and is notorious for its vile conditions, according to news reports. Bahman Ahmadi Amouee, a contributor to reformist newspapers who has been jailed since 2009, is serving a five-year prison sentence on charges of “propagating against the regime,” and “acting against national security,” according to news reports. Amouee was transferred back to the prison’s general population today, news reports said.

  • Another imprisoned Iranian journalist, whose health has deteriorated in jail, began waging a hunger strike more than a month ago. Mohammad Seddigh Kaboudvand, a Kurdish journalist and human rights activist who was the managing editor of the weekly Payam-e-Mardom, has protested authorities’ refusal to grant him a furlough to see his son who was diagnosed with leukemia, according to news reports. Kaboudvand, who has been jailed since July 2007 and is serving an 11-year sentence, is in very poor condition, his wife told the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran. He has also repeatedly been denied requests for medical leave and has suffered three attacks in prison over the past several years, news reports said.

“The least Iranian authorities can do is allow Mohammed Seddigh Kaboudvand to visit his ailing son for a short time after spending five years behind bars,” CPJ’s Mahoney said. “The government should free all journalists who are being held simply for expressing their views.”

Since 2009, Iran’s regime has maintained a revolving-door policy for imprisoning journalists and has held dozens of journalists at any given time. When CPJ conducted its annual prison census on December 1, 2011, Iran was holding 42 journalists in custody.

  • For more data and analysis on Iran, visit CPJ’s Iran page here.