Country Summary

In certain respects, the press in Iran is among the liveliest in the Middle East. Newspapers and magazines regularly engage in substantive discourse on a variety of political, social, and economic issues affecting the Islamic Republic of Iran. But certain topics­namely, criticism of public officials and the ideals of the Islamic Revolution­are strictly off limits to journalists. In May, spiritual guide Ayatollah Ali Khamenei alluded to these restrictions when he warned members of the press that the “principles of the revolution and the regime of the Islamic Republic is a red line that must be respected.”

Those who dare to cross this so-called “red line” risk prosecution under the press law, which is frequently invoked to fine, censor, or imprison outspoken journalists. Iranian authorities­particularly the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Affairs­actively monitor newspapers in order to identify those who violate the law’s many restrictive provisions, which include bans on the publication of false information and news that harms national interests.

In January, Abbas Maroufi, editor in chief of the monthly magazine Gardoon, received a six-month prison sentence and 35 lashes for “publishing lies”­the result of an article that described the 17-year-old Islamic Republic as a period of “depression” in the country’s history. Maroufi, who was also slapped with a two-year ban on working as a journalist, eventually fled to Germany before the sentence could be enforced. Other notable incidents of state censorship in 1996 involved the radical daily Salam and the weekly newspaper Bahar. Both were temporarily suspended in March without explanation. Officials from the newspapers speculated that their criticisms of the government’s handling of the March 8 parliamentary elections sparked the suspension.

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